Fraysters calculate the value of a Slate contributor's life.

Fraysters calculate the value of a Slate contributor's life.

Fraysters calculate the value of a Slate contributor's life.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
May 27 2004 6:50 PM

The Cost of Doing Business

Fraysters calculate the value of a Slate contributor's life.

Once again, a Stephen Landsburg Everyday Economics entry generated a stream of quality traffic in the Fray. Yesterday, Landsburg posited the idea of sending vermiscripters — those who author computer worms — to the chair for their crimes. Not everyone who read the piece grasped its rhetorical conceit, but after running into countless Naderites with clipboards on the streets of Austin prior to the candidate filing deadline, I realized that nuance isn't a national virtue — even in the age of irony.

Among those who got it, but still love a good policy debate is GeoffsPneuma (by the way, check out Geoff's blog here) who points out that Landsburg fails to account for the fact that "the costs of computer hacking do not distribute evenly across the populace. They fall most directly on the heads of the wealthiest."

Fozzy brings up a great point — humans factor risk on a perceptive calculus:

How a person values risk is largely dependant on how they've been conditioned. For example, most coal miners are not people who have explicitly weighed the actuarial risks of the job against the pay scale. Rather, they are carrying on a family tradition in a community with limited other options. There is often little calculation.

A study that determines that people are more afraid of flying than driving does not prove that flying is more dangerous than driving. Humans operate off of perceptions, not necessarily truth. Economists must be careful to enlighten, not to simply enforce observed ignorance.

Here, TheFiend79 delves deeper into computing a statistical value for a human life (an exercise that la_rana elevates to parody here with a government regulated marketplace), then in a separate post, here, wrestles with the deterrence argument:

if deterrence is the ONLY reason for executing people, then we are saying executing one person is worth the deterring of the death of somewhere between 0 and 100 statistical lives, which society value at 0 to say 1 billion dollars. But if other crimes cause more damage (1 billion is not chump change, but relative to a 10 trillion GDP, it's pretty small), then on the grounds of deterrence, those crimes should be capital as well in the name of deterrence. For example, if second-hand smoke kills 50,000 people a year as is claimed, or 500 billion dollars of statistical value, then if we started executing smokers on the spot for holding cigarettes near non-smokers, not only would it likely be an effective deterrent (who wants to die for carelessly smoking near a non-smoker?), but our deterrence would be far more beneficial to society (moral and legal qualms notwithstanding). Clearly that is absurd, so we'd better find a better reason to support the Death Penalty if we're going to keep it.

Another regular Fraywatch contributor who has issues with deterrence is post_hoc_prior here:

[Landsburg] is assuming that the effect of executing hackers on future hacking has a lower bound of zero. What reason is there to believe that executing one hacker will *deter* the rest of them?

This is logically equivalent to asserting that killing some Iraqis will make the rest of them *less* likely to want to kill us. Or that the Israelis and Palestinians can solve their problems by escalating the level of violence indefinitely. Meanwhile, back in the real world, history tells us that violence and brutality beget violence and brutality in a classic vicious circle, in which the only achievable "stable equilibrium" is that of genocide.

Finally, HopefulCynic laps up the satire in his economic argument for offing Landsburg — giving new meaning to the ol' "publish or perish" aphorism … KA3:45 p.m.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Is William Saletan Slate's Samuel Coleridge? Fray contributor and stats maven john_manjiro thinks so. He parallels Saletan's oeuvre on the war in Iraq with the poet's evolution from an Enlightenment supporter of the French revolution to a wary skeptic — saddened by the overzealous bloodletting that occurred in the name of the cause. With that, Fraywatch presents the Saletan v. Coleridge, "Iraq: An Ode" remix:

Subject: "The Death of Romanticism"
From:  john_manjiro
Date:  Wed May 26 0706h

Iraq: an ode
by William Saletan

I

Ye Clouds! that far above me float and pause,
Whose pathless march no mortal may control!
Ye Ocean-Waves! that, wheresoe'er ye roll,
Yield homage only to eternal laws!
Ye Woods! that listen to the night-birds' singing,
Midway the smooth and perilous slope reclined,
Save when your own imperious branches swinging,
Have made a solemn music of the wind!
Where, like a man beloved of God,
Through glooms, which never woodman trod,
How oft, pursuing fancies holy,
My moonlight way o'er flowering weeds I wound,
Inspired, beyond the guess of folly,
By each rude shape and wild unconquerable sound!
O ye loud Waves! and O ye Forests high!
And O ye Clouds that far above me soared!
Thou rising Sun! thou blue rejoicing Sky!
Yea, every thing that is and will be free!
Bear witness for me, wheresoe'er ye be,
With what deep worship I have still adored
The spirit of divinest Liberty.[
1]


Maybe Bush is a fool. Maybe he suffers from the naiveté that, in the view of many Europeans, makes the United States a dangerous, blundering giant. Or maybe he breathes the idealism that rescued Europe, liberated Kuwait, and saved the Muslims of Kosovo. Maybe the lie of 2003 isn't that strength comes from ignorance but that it comes from a preoccupation with history, with the ethnic hatreds of Europe and the autocracies of the Middle East. Maybe with care and perseverance, flowers can bloom in the desert.

Maybe Bush's worldview is a little bit Orwellian. And maybe he's right.[2]

II

When France in wrath her giant-limbs upreared,
And with that oath, which smote air, earth, and sea,
Stamped her strong foot and said she would be free,
Bear witness for me, how I hoped and feared!

With what a joy my lofty gratulation
Unawed I sang, amid a slavish band:
And when to whelm the disenchanted nation,
Like fiends embattled by a wizard's wand,
The Monarchs marched in evil day,
And Britain joined the dire array;
Though dear her shores and circling ocean,
Though many friendships, many youthful loves
Had swoln the patriot emotion
And flung a magic light o'er all her hills and groves;
Yet still my voice, unaltered, sang defeat
To all that braved the tyrant-quelling lance,
And shame too long delayed and vain retreat!
For ne'er, O Liberty! with partial aim
I dimmed thy light or damped thy holy flame;
But blessed the paeans of delivered France,
And hung my head and wept at Britain's name.


American troops have seized Baghdad. Saddam's henchmen have fled. Iraqis are rejoicing in the streets. Vice President Dick Cheney and other authors of the war plan are crowing we told you so. I've got an I-told-you so, too. But it isn't about winning the war. It's about winning wars without killing thousands of people.

Three weeks ago, based on early reports from Iraq, I suggested that war against repressive regimes no longer necessitates massive casualties. Opponents of the war fired back. Some argued that war was always immoral; others argued that this war was hasty or unjust. All agreed that the immorality of war was based on the immorality of killing. Now that Baghdad has fallen, here's my question to peaceniks: Are you against killing, or are you against war? Because what happened in Iraq suggests you may have to choose.[3]


III


"And what," I said, "though Blasphemy's loud scream
With that sweet music of deliverance strove!
Though all the fierce and drunken passions wove
A dance more wild than e'er was maniac's dream!
Ye storms, that round the dawning east assembled,
The Sun was rising, though ye hid his light!"
And when, to soothe my soul, that hoped and trembled,
The dissonance ceased, and all seemed calm and bright;
When France her front deep-scarred and gory
Concealed with clustering wreaths of glory;
When, insupportably advancing,
Her arm made mockery of the warrior's ramp;
While timid looks of fury glancing,
Domestic treason, crushed beneath her fatal stamp,
Writhed like a wounded dragon in his gore;
Then I reproached my fears that would not flee;
"And soon," I said, "shall Wisdom teach her lore
In the low huts of them that toil and groan!
And, conquering by her happiness alone,
Shall France compel the nations to be free,
Till Love and Joy look round, and call the Earth their own."



Bush tells us it's still about 9/11. He tells us terrorists are trying to "inflict harm on Americans" to make us "run from a challenge" in Iraq. He tells us we must be "resolute in our own defense." He tells us we must "spend what is necessary to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror." He conflates enemies. He spins circular logic. He appeals to our pride. He continues to misrepresent the terrorist connections on the basis of which he justified the Iraq invasion, and he expands the definition of the "war on terror" so that Iraq can be crammed into it anyway, along with dozens of other countries. Two years after 9/11, he has so thoroughly twisted the meaning of what happened that day that, in effect, he has forgotten what it was.[4]

IV

Forgive me, Freedom! O forgive those dreams!
I hear thy voice, I hear thy loud lament,
From bleak Helvetia's icy caverns sent—
I hear thy groans upon her blood-stained streams!
Heroes, that for your peaceful country perished,
And ye that, fleeing, spot your mountain-snows
With bleeding wounds; forgive me, that I cherished
One thought that ever blessed your cruel foes!
To scatter rage and traitorous guilt
Where Peace her jealous home had built;
A patriot-race to disinherit
Of all that made their stormy wilds so dear;
And with inexpiable spirit
To taint the bloodless freedom of the mountaineer—
O France, that mockest Heaven, adulterous, blind,
And patriot only in pernicious toils!
Are these thy boasts, Champion of human kind?
To mix with Kings in the low lust of sway,
Tell in the hunt, and share the murderous prey;
To insult the shrine of Liberty with spoils
From freemen torn; to tempt and to betray?

He doesn't measure his version of the world against anybody else's. He measures his version against itself. He says the same thing today that he said yesterday. That's why, when he was asked Tuesday whether he felt any responsibility for failing to stop the 9/11 plot, he kept shrugging that "the country"—not the president—wasn't on the lookout. It's also why, when he was asked to name his biggest mistake since 9/11, he insisted, "Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons [not found in Iraq], I still would've called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein." Bush believes now what he believed then. Incredible, but true.[5]


V


The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,
Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game
They burst their manacles and wear the name
Of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!
O Liberty! with profitless endeavour
Have I pursued thee, many a weary hour;
But thou nor swell'st the victor's strain, nor ever
Didst breathe thy soul in forms of human power.

Alike from all, howe'er they praise thee,
(Nor prayer, nor boastful name delays thee)
Alike from Priestcraft's harpy minions,
And factious Blasphemy's obscener slaves,
Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions,
The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves!
And there I felt thee!—on that sea-cliff's verge,
Whose pines, scarce travelled by the breeze above,
Had made one murmur with the distant surge!
Yes, while I stood and gazed, my temples bare,
And shot my being through earth, sea and air,
Possessing all things with intensest love,
O Liberty! my spirit felt thee there.

Bush, being Bush, thinks abstractions and good intentions will conquer such unpleasant facts. To Bush, they aren't even facts; they're illusions. The reality is the great narrative of the war on terror, whose infallible course is set by a higher power. "The way forward may sometimes appear chaotic; yet our coalition is strong, and our efforts are focused and unrelenting, and no power of the enemy will stop Iraq's progress," Bush insisted tonight. Close your eyes, and you can almost see it.[6]

[1] France: An Ode
[2] Dubyathink, Feb 27, 2003
[3] The Soft Bigotry of Loose Adulation, April 9, 2003
[4] Mission Creep, Sept 8, 2003

[5] Trust, Don't Verify, April 14, 2004
[6] Magical History Tour, May 24, 2004

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Proponents of same-sex marriage rights have mined public opinion polls for auspicious results, and there are several positive indicators — a Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research Associates poll this week shows that American under 30 overwhelmingly favor legal recognition of same-sex relationships. An Annenberg Election Survey poll published this week reveals that Americans oppose a constitutional amendment such as the FMA supported by President Bush by a 50-42% margin. What these polls don't illustrate is how Americans in the middle arrive at acceptance from a departure point of skittishness and discomfort. In response to the relative calm in what could've been a tumultuous week in Boston and around the nation, ShriekingViolet offers some answers.

Subject: "Radical acts of shocking normality"
From:     ShriekingViolet
Date:     Fri May 21 1027h

Perhaps the most amazing development in the dawn of gay marriage in Massachusetts is the near absence of controversy. There's been a fair bit of mouth-frothing histrionics from the usual suspects, but mainstream America seems mostly to have collectively shrugged at this historic occasion.

Perhaps this is because the recent acts of marital civil disobedience in San Francisco and elsewhere stole the thunder from Massachusetts. This week's events have been perfectly legal and mundane by comparison.

Perhaps it's because the news is still dominated by disturbing pictures of straight men and women piling straight, handcuffed Arab men into naked pyramids. After a month of that mess, the sight of happy brides clutching marriage licenses and posing for photographs seems too mundane and conservative to register on the shock meter.

Perhaps it's because there really is a slippery slope at work here. After years of slowly discovering that gay men and women are essentially the same as everyone else, and pose no threat to any person or social institution in America, the whole country is sliding down a dangerous path toward common sense.

Yours truly, ever the eternal pessimist, has actually begun to look at this issue from a glass-half-full perspective. Because no movement can ultimately succeed when the majority of people identifies more closely with the opposition.

Most white Americans, however uncomfortable they may have been with racial integration, ultimately took a good, long look at the ministers and peaceful marchers of the Civil Rights movement, and at the firehose-wielding police and the hatemongering Klansmen who opposed them, and sided with the protesters.

It is my hope, and indeed my belief, that most Americans will take a good, long look at the happy, perfectly normal men and women beaming with pride as they take their wedding vows, and at the wild-eyed angry people carrying "God Hates Fags" signs and taunting them, and see more of themselves in the newlyweds. Folks in Massachusetts will have two years to watch this drama unfold before the Constitutional Amendment turns up on their ballot. They will be asked to choose between upholding the vows of love and commitment made by decent people, or stripping away those marriage licenses to appease the wrath of those who preach discrimination.

It's just a hunch, but I think the shocking normalcy of gay marriage may ultimately sway moderate voters to take the side of something they understand — love and marriage — against something they don't — puritanical anger against an act of love.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Advertisement

Early Returns: Democratic fraysters aren't taking kindly to William Saletan's new feature, Kerryisms. Saletan pokes fun at Kerry's serpentine sentence construction and burdensome oratory, just as Jacob Weisberg has built a cottage industry mocking President Bush's malapropisms and on-the-job English language ulpan. Here, TheJew attributes Kerry's free use of subordinate clauses and modifiers as the candidate's

attempting to deal with sound bite culture and right wing distortion. The fact that he has to insert clarifications every five words is simply a result of the fact that he may only get ten words to some ears.

Iron_Lungfish offers the best indictment of the feature, namely that it's beneath Slate to join the food fight of anti-intellectualism:

What is created here is an equivalence between intellectualism and ignorance…

Jacob Weisberg has argued to great effect that George Bush's idiocy is a chosen idiocy … What Bush has counted on is the long and shameful American tradition of equating folksiness and ignorance with the masses, and intelligence and learning with elitism … What is happening here is not the stigmatization of wealth, background and privilege - what truly create the "elite" — but the stigmatization of intellect. George Bush wants you to hate smart people, and Slate is happy to tell you that's okay.

"Bushisms" accuses the president of being clumsy and stupid. Of what does "Kerryisms" accuse the Democratic candidate? Of "pointless embellishments." Of not speaking "plain english." Of being "evasive." Now, Kerry's overwrought rhetoric is a lot of things — it's anachronistic, it's long-winded, it's campaign poison. But how exactly is using a lot of big words inherently "evasive"? Kerry's full quote reads like an awkward mess — but there's nothing being hidden by this overly-flowery speechifying.

What kind of a statement is Slate making with this new feature, then? It can't simply be a devotional stance to journalistic tit-for-tat — Slate already has Mickey Kaus to drudge up any "Kerryism" out there. The only statement it makes is the statement George Bush has already been making: You can't trust that one. He's not like you. He's smart.

But MikeMillennium puts a positive spin on Kerryisms:

Saletan is performing a valuable service … by stripping out the senator's qualifying verbiage, he's giving us an image of the Kerry we'd prefer to have, a man of boldness and vision who has firm ideas and speaks in clear-cut sentences. With luck, this could persuade some that Kerry is worth a vote despite the problem of his equivocating. Then if he's elected, we'd have to hold our breath and hope that Kerry becomes bolder in deed than he was in word.

Moloch-Agonistes makes a quasi-Hegelian "case for Kerryisms" here, arguing that

whining about this new feature is kind of counterproductive. You just look like a sorehead--same as people who bitch about the Bush version … by complaining you're more or less conceding the point that Bushisms was simply a hatchet job. If it's a "snarky" dig to compare simple declarative sentences with the ones that actually come out of Kerry's mouth, then the justification for parsing the, ah, simple declarative sentences of his opponent moves several notches backward on the PartisanYammering-SoberAnalysis continuum.

Moroever, with the advent of Kerryisms, I think an argument can be made that its Gnostic twin got a whole lot more interesting. For a significant part of the electorate, this election really is in part about whether the model of a political leader ought to be "someone like me" or "someone I look up to." Looked at dispassionately, Kerryisms simply cuts JFK's remarks down to what he would have said if he were an example of the "something like me" model. It's not that this is what Saletan thinks he should have said, it's that this is what he might have said had he, like his colleague from Conn — ah, Texas, been a member of the pork rinds and motor oil school of electoral politics.

Basically, by moaning about Kerryisms you're removing an excellent post-facto justification for laughing at Bush. I think it's pretty clear that the examples chosen thus far are pretty much softballs. Unless you are truly a fan of Airplane-Cabinese, Kerry comes out looking fairly good, especially in comparison to G. Walker Texas Ranger.

And Publius — baron of brevity — sees and raises Saletan hereKA2:55 p.m.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Left Turn Only: Embedded deep inside a thread initiated by DallasNE on BOTF is a post by AdamMorgan on last week's upset election of the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress.  According to AM, the central factor in the Congress victory is that "the rural poor weren't participating in the economic prosperity," the same reason that the BJP won in 1998. AM writes:

If … the rural poor are going to benefit from the economic prosperity, and the political party in power is likely to benefit from it, the relationship that the central government has in Indians lives has to change.

Specifically, manufacturing jobs have to be created, as they were and are created in China. This is going to take a large investment in infrastructure development: roads, ports, railways. If this is going to happen, the government is going to have to collect taxes, much more than it's presently doing. And, if this is going to happen, the corruption that the central government is infamous for is going to have to be addressed seriously.

There's a wild card, too, in India's potential ascendancy — one that can be found in China's burgeoning (overheating?) economy:

Japan has been strongly involved in China's rapid economic development since the mid 1980s. Specifically, they have a large soft loan program … with the specific interests of aiding Japanese manufacturing companies. Japan, a couple of months ago, announced, after China launched a manned space ship, that it's going to phase out the $120 billion program it lends China and almost all of that money is going to be redirected to India. This could have as dramatic effect on India as it did on China. Concerning the politics, the next government, the Congress Party, could very well hugely benefit from this large Japanese investment.

Fray_Editor has yet to read a post on Gandhi's decision to drop out of the race for Prime Minister, but welcomes commentary on Dispatches Fray and Foreigners Fray on that or Congress' attempts to build a coalition government.

Here's the Pitch: Longtime Sports Nut reader august feels like Uni Watch has run its course. Here's his take:

I don't care about uniforms. I know that there are people out there who pay enormous sums of money for jerseys, and I would be interested in reading about that, but for Slate the story seems to be the clothes rather than the people who wear them…

If there are legions of "Uni Watch" fans out there, feel free to raise a chorus of dissent ... I suspect Slate is trying to take on stories that differ from the near ubiquitous sports coverage on the web and in other media, but somewhere in the quest to be unique you have grasped onto topics so esoteric that they completely miss your audience (which I take to be the portion of your well-educated readers who care about sports).

A steamy august tosses out some pitches for future sports nuts, including:

A few years ago there was a book, Bowling Alone, that suggested connections between participation in sports and participation in politics and other aspects of civic life. You could look at a few neighborhood leagues and see how this plays out…

I don't think it would kill Slate to do traditional sports stories … or (if this seems too redundant), then foreign sports. I'd like to know more about India and Pakistan's recent cricket series, Arsenal's undefeated season in English Premier League (call Nick Hornby!), who's likely to win Rugby world cup…

For the record, Fr_Ed believes that Major League Baseball home teams that wear solids should be banished — teams east of the Mississippi to old Exhibition Stadium and teams West to Candlestick Park

On the Crown: So far as john_majiro's (1) Q = k / (F - n) quality-of-posting formula, if you're scoring at home, Demosthenes2 has to be this week's Fantasy Frayster league leader. Check out his posts here, here and here.

The Offer Still Stands: I've notified the PTB that doodahman's bags are still packed … KA 10:45 a.m.