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Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets by Lila Rajiva, Will Bonner

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Full Spectrum Dumbbells

That is why every public spectacle makes the headlines at least twice: first, in pleasant expectation; later, in miserable regret. The war in Iraq is no exception. The Independent ran a photograph of George W. Bush and Tony Blair on its cover in 2006. “Are these the only two men in the world who think the Iraq War is a success?” asked the headline.

In the public spectacle, blame, responsibility, truth, and consequences are usually extremely remote; the spectacle proceeds by separating cause from effect, reward from punishment, and truth from consequences. In private, the punishment usually fits the crime, not only perfectly but poetically. The fool is separated from his money. The reckless driver wrecks his car. The heavy drinker falls down heavily.

Still, eventually, even in a spectacle, there are consequences. Researchers recently tried to guess how much of a debacle the war in Iraq really is. They focused on the number of people who had died since the government of Saddam Hussein was run out of Baghdad. Various estimates came in, from a low of 300,000 or so to nearly a million. Estimates of the costs are similarly wide—from a couple of hundred billion dollars to more than $1 trillion—and projected into the future, as high as $2 trillion. Where does a nation already $65 trillion short get that kind of money? And how could the damage to its diplomatic prestige ever be repaired—at any cost?

We recall when the news of 9/11 spread around the globe. “We all ...

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