The Echo Chamber
Friday, November 01, 2002
  1:38 PM

"What Paul Wellstone might have thought of the memorial rally."
---by way of Peggy Noonan


  9:21 AM

A Risk Analysis for War in Iraq

Many of those who have argued against war in Iraq have pointed out that the chances of Saddam actually deploying a weapon against us are very low. Others have said that the war is justified because if we were attacked, the damage done to our country would be extreme. Both groups have a point, but I believe that rational analysis favors the conclusion of those who advocate war.

The following analysis may look tedious, but stick with me, there is a payoff. Judge Learned Hand came up with a famous formula for determining the rationality of preventing a given danger:

Is B greater than or less than P * L?


B is the burden of prevention (expressed as a dollar amount).

P is the probability of the perceived danger occurring (expressed as a percentage).

L is the gravity of the injury which is risked (expressed as a dollar amount).

Please don’t ask me why Hand used an “L” for "gravity" or why he didn’t pluck his eyebrows. I just don’t know.

I agree with those who have argued that the probability of Saddam deploying nukes against the U.S. either directly or indirectly via terrorists is low (of course this ignores the other more probable danger – nuclear blackmail). Let’s say the chance of him deploying the nukes is only 1 in 100. Plug “.01” into the probability variable.

If the enemies of this country obtained a nuke, it is unlikely that they would hit us in a remote or unpopulated area. They would try to hit a major city like New York, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. The damage would be unimaginable. The region where the blast would occur would remain uninhabitable for years. The entire city would be effectively lost. The entire country would be traumatized. But for purposes of this argument I will use a very conservative figure of $100 trillion dollars. Plug “$100,000,000,000,000” into the gravity "L" variable.

$1,000,000,000,000 = .01 * $100,000,000,000,000

This means that it would be rational to spend up to $1 trillion dollars to prevent a 1 in 100 risk of Saddam causing us $100 trillion dollars in damage.

“The initial military operation alone could cost $48 billion to $93 billion, if 10-year interest costs are included,” said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.”

“After hostilities end, the costs to return U.S. forces to their home bases would range between $5 billion and $7 billion,” said Crippen. Further, the incremental cost of an occupation following combat operations could vary from about $1 billion to $4 billion a month."

That’s $100 billion to win the war and bring our guys home. At $4 billion a month for occupation, we could occupy Iraq after the war for almost 19 years before we would spend $1 trillion dollars.

The biggest problem with this analysis is that we can't gauge with precision the actual likelihood of Saddam developing a nuke and then deploying it either directly or indirectly (via terrorists) against us. But I still see this as a real risk that a rational leader would seek to prevent. 

Thursday, October 31, 2002
  11:16 AM

The Jerusalem Post has published an editorial by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach entitled, “Can a pre-emptive war be a moral enterprise?”
A woman friend of mine who was in a loveless marriage for 15 years threw a party for her friends when she finally got divorced. Insulted that I did not attend, she called me up and asked me if I would have preferred that she remain in a miserable union.

"Of course not," I said. "Tragic as it always is, divorce is sometimes necessary. But no divorce is ever a cause for celebration."

The same is true of war. War is like chemotherapy. The good and innocent cells are going to be killed along with the bad. But where there is a cancer that threatens to snuff out life, what is one to do but fight back?

This editorial should be read in full. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2002
  1:41 PM

An Intellectual Conversation

On February 12, 2002, 60 scholars published an open letter entitled “What We're Fighting For: A Letter from America.” This letter made the case for war on terrorism.

There was a response from scholars in Saudi Arabia. This response was “reportedly orchestrated by Safar b. Abd al-Rahman al-Hawali, the Wahhabi former head of the department of theology at Umm al-Qura University. Their central point was that America had itself to blame.”

---via The Weekly Standard
Last week the American scholars replied back. This new letter, entitled “Can We Coexist? A Response from Americans to Colleagues in Saudi Arabia,” is divided into four parts: 

  10:10 AM

I don't know that I've ever seen such bloody shirt waving as last night's funeral for Senator Paul Wellstone.

It was shameless. It was without class.

I hope Minnesota shows that it expects better.

For the first two hours, speakers remembered the eight with poignant anecdotes. But when Wellstone's friend and longtime campaign treasurer Rick Kahn took the stage, he adopted the late senator's fiery speaking style and abruptly demolished the leaky dike that had held back most political speech since the accident.

"If Paul Wellstone's legacy in the Senate comes to an end just days after this unspeakable tragedy, our spirits will be crushed, and we will drown in a river of tears," Kahn said. "We are begging you, do not let this happen."

Four large screens then showed Mondale in the crowd.

I really shouldn’t be surprised. This, after all, is the party that invented Borking and brought us James Carville and his Wah Room. But for heaven’s sake, this was a memorial service! At one point speaker Rick Kahn even suggested that Republicans help Mondale win this election (audio link).

I fear we have passed a dangerous threshold. We have passed a point where our leaders cannot cross the aisle for a memorial service without fear of being politically ambushed. Can anyone argue that this is somehow good for our country? I think not.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynold's opinion.

UPDATE: Eulogy for Wellstone
Daschellus Caesar, Act III, Scene 2)

Friends, Democrats, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come not to bury Wellstone, but to endorse Mondale.
The elections that men win live after them;
The ones they lose are oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Wellstone.
Our party is nothing if not ambitious:
If it were to lose control of the Senate, would be a grievous fault,
And grievously Wellstone trailed in the polls.
Here, under leave of Clinton and the rest--
For Clinton is an honourable man;
Clinton, Kennedy, McAuliffe, Lautenberg;
So are they all, all honourable men (ha ha!)--
Let this not be Wellstone's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But internal polling data says he was going to lose;
And winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.
No, therefore, let us rally for Mondale, his successor,
And bring him great victory.
He hath proposed the taxes greatly to increase
Whose ransoms will the general coffers fill:
When that the special interests have cried,
Mondale hath wept with them:
Is this not how the game is played?
Ambition should be made of stern stuff:
And, brother, are we ever ambitious;
Daschle is an honourable man.
You all did see that on C-SPAN
Jim Jeffords presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did did not refuse: now that is ambition, baby!
Yet Daschle says he is not ambitious (who doth he fool?);
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to eulogize poor, dead Wellstone,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You want to keep control of the Senate, right?
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for Wellstone
When you can be out working for a Mondale victory!
Bag the funeral and let's have a rally!
My heart is not in the coffin there with Wellstone,
For I must vote early and often for Mondale.

(Apologies to the Immortal Bard)

---A comment by Michael Morley at Vodka Pundit.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002
  2:04 PM

A Fed-ex truck has blown up in Missouri in a hugh explosion and the only one reporting it is LGF. Updates latter.

UPDATE: Apparently it was just a fuel tank explosion caused by the truck striking a post

  11:36 AM

The BBC is reporting that the Russian press is "puzzled" and "indignant" with the lack of sympathy being expressed by the U.S. media to Russia for those lost in the Moscow terrorist attack:
"We wept sincerely with America" on September 11 but US journalists "did nothing but say that what had happened was a blow to Putin, one that he deserved".

"It was very hard to find a quote in a US newspaper expressing sympathy, support or solidarity," laments Komsomolskaya Pravda.

The Russians are learning bitterly that our liberal press will give Muslims a pass on any act of terrorism if there is some excuse - any lame excuse will do. It can be an ancient grudge, or some perceived slight. It can be the "occupation" of territory captured in a defensive war.

It really doesn't take much for some in our media to rationalize the killing of unarmed civilians by Muslims. I suspect we would have heard more "root cause" arguments from our media after September 11 had the attack on the U.S. occurred in "flyover country." But since they attacked the home of the liberal media, they apparently had gone too far.

Radical Muslims went too far when they decided that the infidel world must be killed or be converted at gunpoint. In case you think I'm mischaracterizing the brutality of radical Muslims please read this translation of a Pro-Chechen Islamist Website. At the website is a discussion over what should be done with hostages after they are captured. The discussion points out five possiblities:

  1. A polytheist prisoner must be killed. No amnesty may be granted to him, nor can he be ransomed.
  2. All infidel polytheists and the People of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians) are to be killed. They may not be granted amnesty, nor can they be ransomed.
  3. Amnesty and ransom are the only two ways to deal with prisoners.
  4. Amnesty and ransom are possible only after the killing of a large number of prisoners.
  5. The Imam, or someone acting on his behalf, can choose between killing, amnesty, ransom or enslaving the prisoner.
Frankly, I'm not to thrilled about any of these interpretations. 

  11:01 AM

Mark Steyn writes in the National Post:

Stop Making Excuses for Muslim Extremists

Go read this one in full. 

Monday, October 28, 2002
  10:37 AM

And the Reward for Self-Righteous Journalism Goes To...

ABC News has been working with mystery writer Patricia Cornwall on a special about a serial killer in Louisiana. ABC News was upset to learn that Ms. Cornwall pledged $25,000 to a reward fund established by the victim family that Cornwall had been interviewing for the special. ABC News believes that this created a conflict of interest.

---Scroll down to "Donating to the Cause" at this link for the story.
What conflict? Is ABC News afraid to side with the victims over the serial killer? If that's the problem, they need to rethink their journalistic ethics.

I imagine the real problem is that they don’t want to appear to be paying for an interview. Still, this is very indirect. A novelist with whom they apparently have never done business with before makes a pledge (not a payment) to a fund (not the victim family) that would award for information leading to an arrest.

That’s three degrees of separation. ABC News should lighten up. ABC has gone so far to be neutral, that in essence they are siding with the instigator of the tragedy – the serial killer himself.

Serial killers have been known to get a sadistic thrill out of the news coverage of their crimes. And ABC News, like every other news agency, profits from the tragedy. These facts alone do not make newsgathering morally deficient. But these facts do confer the moral obligation on ABC News to do what it can to mitigate the tragedy where doing so would not compromise journalistic integrity.

This victim family wants the killer brought to justice, not money. This family is willing to pledge its own money toward finding this killer. This family is cooperating with a “for profit” news organization not to make a profit themselves, but in order to keep the story alive and in the public mind. ABC News is not above allowing itself to be "used" by the families for this purpose. So how is journalistic integrity compromised by contributing to this fund?

Instead of lecturing Ms. Cornwall, ABC News should commend her pledge and then match it. At least. 

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