Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Trends and Prognostications

Predicting the future for anything has always been tricky. Methods such as reading stars and the entrails of sanctified animals never really seemed to be all that effective, and despite all of our best technology, we can't get decent weather forecasts beyond five days.

Daily Kos takes a gander at the tea leaves and is already laying out the script for the right's withdrawal out of Iraq and inevitable ass covering. Aside from any political motivation, I want to examine the "Iraq is going to hell," statement and the trend that it implies.

Just about every prediction you here, be it crime rates, global warming, population, tax revenues, etc., tend to rely on the basis of "If present trends continue..." What strikes me is that very few people seem to realize what a whopping big assumption that is.

If one were to have a quantifiable value of how good things are in Iraq at any given moment, and use that value as the vertical axis with time as the horizontal axis, one could then observe the change of how things are in the country over time. The main thing to notice is that the graph would NOT be a straight line, the rate of improvement or deterioration will change over time. All predictions of the future rely on the graph suddenly freezing at the current rate of improvement/decline, a presumption that is the only one that can be categorically considered wrong. The prediction that Iraq is going to deteriorate far enough for the US to abandon the country is as unsupported by current events as rosy images of a free and prosperous Iraq in five to ten years based on shifting hold-out tactics three months ago.

Above all else remember: We are talking about human beings here on both sides. Each one has free will to exercise the power they have, from President Bush deciding to withdraw, nuke, or anything in between; to al Sadr aceding to the governing council or inciting his followers to martyrdom; to some random dude in the Shi'ite community joining a mob or saying, "Screw this", and going home to watch a soccer match. The impact and obviousness of that impact of each of those choices will vary, as will the size of that impact (Butterfly Effect). Either way, the best we can have is a plan and a readiness to follow through with it with our best considered actions to keep it on track.

As for me, I'll keep ignoring these long range prognostications until someone can tell me for certain if I'll need an umbrella for Thanksgiving.

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