Depleted Uranium -- Worthy Of Exclamations Points!
The Letters to the Editor section of the Idaho Statesman continue to provide an endless source of amusement. Take the letter (at the bottom of this link) in Tuesday's paper from one of the more prolific LTTE writers (he's got an anti-Bush letter in there once a month, which is the maximum allowed; in fact, he's got so much to say about President Bush that he wrote a 109 page book about it). Here's the letter in its entirety:
Madeleine Albright believes U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iraq to try to oust Saddam Hussein justified the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children![Emphasis mine] You can tell that what he has to say is important, because he uses four (!) exclamation points! I've wondered before whether or not the Idaho Statesman has any policy on requiring the use of actual facts in reader's letters, or if you're just allowed to make stuff up, and they'll print it. Apparently it's the latter. The writer is correct that Uranium-238 has a half life of over 4 billion years (actually it's about 4.46 billion years), but he says it as if that's a bad thing. What this means is that the odds of an atom of Uranium-238 that gets in your body actually decaying anytime in the next 50 years is essentially zero (it's something to the minus 7th power, if I did my calculation right). Sure, if you get a speck of it in your lungs a few atoms will probably decay during your lifetime, but the dose you get from that is miniscule compared to what you get from the sun every year. (For those interested, this article about the evils of Depleted Uranium goes into excruciating detail about the U-238 decay chain, without ever mentioning the long U-238 half life.) For those not familiar with how half lives work, if you see a half life of over a million years, you can consider the substance essentially not radioactive for all intents and purposes.
Similar attitudes toward civilian deaths in Iraq exist today; they're obscured behind the term "collateral damage." This is in spite of the fact we have no legal or moral right to be in Iraq killing anyone. Iraq was as blameless on 9/11 as Canada or Mexico!
We've committed an aggressive criminal war, like those we condemned under Hitler. Our enduring bases and embassy in Iraq reveal intentions to control oil and expand our empire. Few of our 295 million citizens approve these actions.
Our crimes include using depleted uranium munitions (DU) with a half-life of 4.4 billion years! When DU ammunition explodes, it creates radioactive gas containing microscopic particles that litter the countryside and alter peoples' DNA. A ton of DU dispersed on the battlefield releases many Hiroshima bombs' worth of radiation. The U.S. has used approximately 4,600 tons since 1991! Over 89 percent of service persons in Iraq in 1991 are on medical disability; they also beget deformed babies.
Our government is contaminating the Earth with radiation from DU munitions. Become informed; help change this behavior.
I love his claim that a ton of DU releases many Hiroshima bombs of radiation. I've never seen that one before... it's brilliant! As long as the reader doesn't know anything about science, they'll read that and say, "Oh, Depleted Uranium is really bad". The more saavy readers will, of course, realize that this radiation is released over the next 22+ billion years, and the Earth will be a charred, lifeless body circling a white dwarf star before a lot of the uranium emits even one radioactive particle.
So, both of those statements were actually true, if a little misleading. How about the last highlighted statement, that "89% of service persons in Iraq in 1991 are on medical disability"? This one is flat out wrong. A lot of "progressive" websites (like the one linked above) mention that huge numbers of Gulf War Era veterans are receiving medical disability. What they don't mention is that anyone who's been in the military during the last 15 years is a "Gulf War Era Veteran"; they take the number of people who have been given a disability rating since 1991, and divide that by the number of troops in Iraq in 1991 (697,000, of whom about 609K have left the military, and thus became eligible for disability ratings). Since I personally know that there are people who have received disability ratings since 1991 who weren't in Iraq, the assumption the writer makes is just plain mistaken, and his stated number is equally wrong. (As of 2001, the actual rate of disability determinations for veterans who were in Iraq during 1991 was about 26%, with many of these being for knee injuries.)
I am impressed, though, that he waited until the third paragraph to mention Hitler. Most progressive letter writers don't have that kind of self-discipline.