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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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New Essay

Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

The Middle East Number's Game

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Listening to a radio debate on the current Middle East crisis, one of the panellists for the Israeli position condemned what she called "the game of ratios." This is the use by pro-Palestinian (and now Lebanese) groups of the ratio of civilians killed by Israel in comparison to their own side. In both cases, Israel, with the world's fourth largest army, invariably wins by about 6:1 over terrorists.

In both figures, of course, the proportion of civilians as opposed to legitimate targets killed is probably relatively the same. And this is why this number's game presents too simple a case of the situation in the Middle East. If it were 6 civilians killed on the Palestinian side to 1 Israeli military target assaulted on the other, then the figures would immediately illegitimate Israel's response. But, of course, neither suicide bombers nor military planners who factor in collatoral damages stand on such morally elevated ground.

And yet, in spite of my efforts to read a respectable newspaper, to listen to the Today programme, I find it impossible to avoid looking at the numbers behind this reportage. The political context that underlies the mathematics is so turbulent and densely intertwined with thousands of years of historical contest that the ratios of death are the only thing that, to this naive observer, seem to make any form of comprehensible sense in a conflict of which the successes and aims of both sides are otherwise starkly unclear.

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Posted by Alistair at 4:52 pm


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