Letters from our readers.
Nov. 21 1996 3:30 AM

A Bunch of Hot Air


There are a couple of problems with the statistics cited in Jodie T. Allen's "Killer Air Bags."

First, Allen overestimates the cost of air bags. Because each consumer only pays for the air bags in his or her own car, the cost of each life saved is no more than the cost to the owner of a vehicle. The total cost of an air bag is $500--this breaks down to $166.67 per year on a three-year lease. Air bags lower insurance rates; hence, there may be savings on the above figure. And anyway, that figure would seem to be a rather small price to pay for additional safety.

Second, the article states that only 1,136 lives have been saved by air bags, while 650,000 air bags have been deployed since 1985. However, the 1,136 figure is based only on accidents in which death might have occurred if air bags had not been installed. It does not take into account the number of accidents in which the injuries might have been more serious if air bags had not been installed. It also doesn't reflect the number of lives saved that might have been lost due to accident-related complications.

Restraint systems aren't perfect, but they do offer another level of protection. Being aware that there may be a problem with air bags will help us minimize that problem in the future--small comfort, I know, to those who have already lost loved ones.


--Michael Solomon

Homo Economicus Absurdus

So, the 2.97 seconds it takes to put on your seat belt is just too long a period to make economic sense.

The Brookings study Jodie T. Allen cites in "Killer Air Bags" calls, at least implicitly, for us to assign a value to our time, and to use that to determine the value of the total time we spend buckling up. There are (at least) three problems with this approach:


The first lies in the assumption that all three-second periods are worth the same. All time was not created equal. A three-second period before getting in the shower is worth far less than three seconds taken from the middle of my daughter's wedding. Buckling up always occurs between activities--we are accustomed to treating that time between activities as a buffer period during which several small tasks are addressed and uncertainties are guarded against. So the time, in practice, will not be missed.

The second, related problem is that the value of a unit of time is partially determined by the duration of the total period in which that unit falls. Put simply, 20 uninterrupted minutes are worth far more than 400 individually occurring three-second periods. And you don't get to cash in your buckle-up episodes like casino chips.

But, as the last problem I'll outline suggests, neither of the previous two objections matters. It only makes sense to worry about the time it takes to put on a seat belt if it actually results in a delay in our progress. Does it? Many of us put on our seat belts while the car is in motion. Others do so while warming up their cars. The rest of us can live on the edge until the first red light--when we can buckle up in obscene leisure.

Aside from the problems with these basic assumptions, I was duly awed and intimidated by the complexity of Allen's analysis.


--Andrew Fano

Swollen Insensitivity

Readers of "The Culture of Impotence," by Franklin Foer, should know that the 13-year-old Impotence Institute of America is neither a clinic nor a business, as was inferred by the writer. [See Slate's correction, in last week's "Readme."] In fact, it is the only nonprofit, nonvested health association that provides impotence education. It sponsors 55 nationwide Impotents Anonymous chapters, which were not founded by individual doctors, as the writer states. Our helpline (800-669-1603) provides factual and unbiased information.

More than 50 million Americans are involved in relationships where the man is impotent.


Exciting developments in impotence treatments offer millions of these men and their partners renewed hope for a better quality of life.

It is unfortunate that your writer elected to treat this topic with a flippant disregard for the emotional stress associated with impotence. The accompanying illustration, combined with the overall tone of the article, demonstrates a petty insensitivity to the emotional anguish of aging. Impotence is no joke. In an article about the loss of sexual virility among older men, we find a lack of compassion among younger men.

--Marion Parkerpresident & chief staff executiveImpotence Institute of America

Erection Injection, Yes

"The Culture of Impotence," by Franklin Foer, was humorous, but also glib and smug. Injection therapy has truly benefited hundreds of thousands of men and women.

I would describe the process like this:

A man is engaged in foreplay, or anticipates being so engaged soon. He excuses himself briefly, wipes the side of his phallus with a small alcohol wipe, and uses an auto-injector to painlessly inject a small amount of medication. Over the next five to 15 minutes, the medicine produces heaviness in, and engorgement of, the penis. With stimulation (visual, manual, oral, fantasy), this engorgement becomes a normal erection, with which he can satisfy his partner and himself.

Having treated many hundreds of men with this technique, I must say that it is safe, effective, and dependable. Moreover, it costs much less than $25 per use (closer to between $5 and $10). Satisfying sexual relations have helped to keep many couples together.

Why do men drop out? Poor teaching, poor motivation, lack of opportunity, and, very rarely, a failure of the treatment itself. Although this glib and witty piece in Slate suggests this is some sort of snake-oil therapy, it certainly is not!

--Steven Varady, M.D.Florida Center for Impotence

Active Faith

Stephen Chapman's response to Andrew Sullivan is riddled with reductive thinking and cheap rhetorical tricks. Chapman doesn't realize that revelation is not a set of propositions one accepts, but an encounter in which one is moved beyond oneself. It's analogous to an encounter with a work of beauty. Neither the beauty of the artwork nor the truth of Scripture's word can be proved using some supposedly neutral line of reasoning. Instead, both are given to human freedom, and each calls for a choice.

But the real question is not what faith means, but what Chapman means by "illogical" and "without evidence." What exactly would count as "evidence" for Chapman? Clearly, many find it very reasonable to believe that God exists, despite their adolescent need to have it proved to them, as if metaphysics and mathematics were the same discipline. For these people there is evidence, but not proof persuasive enough to meet the mythological standards of neutral rationality, a standard that no philosopher in his right mind would defend today. Is there a rational basis for thinking that God exists? Yes, but the answer depends on what counts as "evidence," and what one means by "rational."

Finally, a note on God's concern. We can, of course, continue to ask why there is evil in the world. But, at some point, we also have to face the fact that this is the world we live in, a world where evil often seems to triumph, and death appears to have the last word. In this context, the cross not only inscribes God's concern, but also proclaims, with the resurrection, God's ultimate victory, a victory for which we can ardently work and hope.

--Anthony Kieke-Sciglitano