Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Buckle up

Posted by metaphorical on 13 April 2007

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
—Margo Channing (Bette Davis), All About Eve

In an odd and tragic sidelight to the Imus fiasco, N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine is in critical condition after a near-fatal car accident last night.

Corzine was being driven to the governor’s mansion by a state trooper, in a state police vehicle, to chaparone the meeting between Imus and the Rutger’s women’s basketball team. Rutgers is, of course, the state university of N.J., and it’s located not far from the mansion, which is Princeton, which in turn is not too far from the state capital in Trenton. According to the NY Times account,

In a 9 p.m. news conference at the hospital here, Col. Joseph R. Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said that a red pickup truck entered the highway “erratically from the shoulder,” causing a white Dodge Ram pickup truck to swerve left. The governor’s driver, State Trooper Robert Rasinski, swerved to avoid the white truck, but hit it, and then slid into the guardrail, with the impact on the passenger side.

The red truck, which apparently caused the chaos on the highway that resulted in Corzine and Rasinski’s injuries, didn’t stop, and is being sought.

Governor Corzine was traveling, as he normally does, in a two-car caravan. Officials said the two troopers in the car following Mr. Corzine stopped to care for him rather than chase the red truck.

Let me first say that I like Corzine, and wish him nothing except a full recovery. Before moving to Manhattan last summer I was a N.J. resident for over a decade. I voted for Corzine for the Senate and then for Governor.

And I certainly wish the best for state trooper Robert Rasinski, who apparently did a hell of a job avoiding the white truck.

That said, I want to focus in on one sentence in the Times story. The Times doesn’t seem to consider it to be very important; it’s more than half-way down the article’s 1100+ word length; it’s a one-paragraph sentence that isn’t discussed further at all. (The emphasis is added.)

Mr. Fuentes said he was unsure whether Mr. Corzine was wearing a seatbelt; he often does not.

Corzine often does not wear a seatbelt–even when riding in a N.J. state vehicle, with a N.J. state police driver, in a two-car N.J. state police caravan. N.J., as I well know from having lived there when it was enacted, has a state-wide mandatory seat-belt law.

I understand it’s hard to order your boss around, but surely we have enough images of telling, when it comes to security and safety, truth to power —the West Wing, where the Secret Service puts President Bartlett through all manner of indignities whenever it needs to, comes to mind —is it really hard for a state trooper to say, “Governor, I can’t put this car in gear until you have your seatbelt on”? Is it really hard for three different N.J. state troopers to enforce the law when adherence is trivial and the violation is literally within spitting distance?

We have a reason for seat-belt laws; it’s that people are too stupid to be counted on to put them on by themselves. It may not be a great law (it may in fact be a paternalistic intrusion of state power and an instance of the losses of personal freedom, major and minor, that are all too common these days), but it’s the law. Corzine and Rasinski have already been punished for their transgressions, but it seems to be the two troopers in the trail-car, and the state police department itself, have some penance to do. And does the Times not plan to look into the illegality of it further?


31 Responses to “Buckle up”

  1. Blue Athena said

    This has been updated to a confirmation that he was not wearing the belt. It looks like that is now becoming the main story. It exemplifies the way in which people fail to recognize how their own risk-taking affects others…in this case an entire state.

    My own personal peeve has always been with high-risk mountain climbers with kids. I still remember one parent taking the children to visit the site in India where the other parent had left for the fatal (and utterly unnecessary) climb. Parents or other vital members who don’t wear helmets on motorcycles are another source of irritation. You have a responsibility to society. Get with the program.

    Take your risks in youth or after retirement. Don’t screw with your kids, tax payers, fellow insurance contributers or others who depend on your continued health.

  2. Ian said

    It looks like that is now becoming the main story.

    It does look as if that’s becoming a major spin on the story. I’m skimming through Google News, and it looks as if few if any of the articles from more than an hour or two ago emphasize the lack of a seatbelt, whereas most of the recent ones (last half-hour) either include that in the headline or in the first sentence. (See below) As for the Times specifically, I ran across this as well:

    The Politics of Buckling Up
    New York Times, NY – 1 hour ago
    Jon S. Corzine said this morning that the governor apparently was not wearing his seat belt when he was critically injured in a car accident Thursday …

    So it looks as if the Time is more or less on the story, but apparently separated the bare-facts article from a more opinion-type piece. Pretty reasonable, I think.

    Google News finds … Sorting by “date” (hopefully actually reflecting the time the story appeared) looks like this (skipping duplicate stories, and only including the first sentence if the headline doesn’t mention seatbelts) …

    Spokesman: Corzine Wasn’t Wearing Seat Belt

    NJ Governor Critical After SUV Crash
    Jon S. Corzine was apparently not wearing his seat belt as required by law …

    NJ Governor Critical After SUV Crash
    Jon S. Corzine was in critical condition Friday but expected to recover after his motorcade was hit on the Garden State Parkway and crashed into a guardrail …

    NJ governor on ventilator but stable after crash
    Jon Corzine was heavily sedated and breathing with the help of a ventilator on Friday after an accident while en route to a meeting with fired radio host …

    NJ governor likely not wearing seatbelt at time of crash
    Jon Corzine remains heavily sedated at this hour, according to doctors at Cooper University Hospital. The governor is on a ventilator and can answer simple …

    Sources: Crash sent unbuckled Corzine flying inside Tahoe
    Jon S. Corzine was not wearing a seat belt …

    More details released on truck involved in Corzine crash
    Jon Corzine in critical condition. The truck is described as a late 1980’s or early 1990’s model Ford F150 pickup truck, said Sgt. Jeanne Hengemuhle, …

    Aide: Injured NJ governor apparently did not wear seat belt

    NJ governor hurt in parkway crash

    NJ Gov. Corzine in car Accident, Leg Broken

    New Jersey’s Corzine Remains on Ventilator, Sedated (Update1)

    –The 1-hour mark–

    Corzine will remain incapacitated for at least a week
    Governor Corzine was not wearing a seatbelt when his SUV crashed …

    New Jersey governor critical in motorcade crash
    Jon S. Corzine was apparently not wearing his seat belt as required by law …

    Corzine improving, apparently wasn’t wearing seat belt

  3. digglahhh said

    First let me note, that in a literal sense, “ordering your boss around” is not applicable here. The troopers’ job is to enforce a certain set of rules, one of which was being broken by Corzine. The troopers are the boss(es), or at least authority figures in the expressed dynamic. That said, I understand how their perception of Corzine as the overall greater authority figure results in the troops having trepidation about doing their job.

    To address Athena, you seem rather prescriptive about this. I’m not really comfortable with giving any instruction beyond advising that each individual should do his/her best to take an appropriate level of precaution and responsibility in all endeavors in which he/she engage. You might notice that the sentence I just wrote is entirely meaningless, arbitrary and invitingly subjective. That’s both the point and the problem…

    Without trying to be a smart aleck, I’d ask at what point does somebody’s life become negligibly meaningful to friends, family and society, and therefore expendable?

    Wearing a seatbelt is obvious because it is not intrusive or prohibitive, physically or emotionally. But what about climbing? What constitutes “high-risk?” Who is the arbiter of the acceptable level of risk and danger? The only answer is that the individual him/herself is responsible for those distinctions, which brings us back to the arbitrary, meaningless and subjective advice I offered two paragraphs back.

  4. I should post before going to work I guess; it was the first question both the missus and I had this morning over our coffee. I could have beaten the headline traffic jam by hours.

    Athena, I wrote about some of the risk-and-personal-responsibility issues about a month ago (here) in the context of the Mt. Hood rescues. There the focus was the rescues, not the families left behind.

    To single out mountain climbers we’d have to first know what the risks really are, relative to activities we don’t condemn people with families for undertaking, such as lots of highway driving, flying one’s own plane, scuba diving, eating steak tartare,and so on. That’s extraordinarily hard to do.

    For a really interesting analysis, we might contrast as well living a sedentary life of 48-inch waists, twelve-packs of Bud, and weekend barbeques. Finally, we could wrestle with the question of whether the father or mother in question was a better parent on all the other days of the year because he or she sometimes went climbing. I don’t have any answers myself, but I have lots of questions for those who raise the issue.

  5. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh, I agree we aren’t going to get any tight definitions, but, as I think you would agree, that doesn’t make it meaningless. In answer to your question, I’ll put it this way: If you’re an abusive asshole who has embezzled money from your family members, I couldn’t care less if you wear a seat belt.

    Metaphorical, I actually read that original post and I’m afraid I didn’t agree with you. I would, in fact, impose a tax on climbing equipment. I didn’t comment originally because I wanted to find some better numbers on the exact number of hours driving people engage in, the number hiking, and the number climbing. But I think we all know which are the most dangerous per hour, and which are required for basic economic, physical, and mental health. I have no problem with their existence, but I think people should pay to indulge in the unusual element of risk.

    And as for mushroom pickers…I had a friend who, at age 10, was hospitalized along with her father for eating the wrong mushrooms gathered in the woods. I would find this hobby very difficult to tax, but I have little sympathy for amateurs involved in mushroom picking.

  6. Blue Athena said

    And yes, I put obese parents in a similar (though not identical) category. I, for one, strongly support China’s new weight requirements for adoptive parents. Don’t be so sure about what “we” do and don’t condemn.

  7. digglahhh said

    But I thought you were concerned with how the risk imperiled others? Surely the welfare of others does not cease to be a concern if the irresponsible party is an abusive embezzler… In spirit, I agree with you, but I think you may contradicting yourself there.

    What do you mean “indulge in the element of risk?” At what point does the risk become taxable? Somewhere between crossing the street and helicopter skiing, but where?

    One could argue that the real risk is living a sheltered and boring existence, that playing tackle football in the snow, even with no protective equipment is intrinsically better than playing it on a video game system. The risk continuum is not two-dimensional, there are all sorts of risks inherent in our behavior that are completely independent of safety.

  8. digglahhh said

    I guess we were posting at the same time, Athena. your last post clears up your point of view somewhat. But what about even more abstract behaviors related to one’s safety.

    How do we tax, say, promiscuity?

    What about, taxing one’s freedoms as a protective measure, or a way to discourage irresponsible actions?

    How do you feel about curfews? Dress codes? These too, in the abstract sense, are “taxes” aimed to promote safety and responsibility.

  9. Blue Athena said

    Could you make clearer the contradiction? I don’t see any in what I’m saying. Others are less likely to be hurt by the irresponsible death of the abusive embezzler.

    Extra risk becomes taxable when it has little benefit over other less risky alternatives and when it is easy to tax. Just because a line is difficult, doesn’t mean we don’t draw it. Otherwise we’d have 8 year olds drinking, voting, smoking, driving and getting married.

    One could certainly argue your tackle football vs. video game example. But when you talk about competitive horseback riding (jumping) vs. soccer or sky diving vs. swimming, the argument looks less silly. Yes, it is a continuum. But again, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility as a society to draw a line — even if it is only a non-binding socially recognized line.

  10. Blue Athena said

    Crossed again. I don’t know about promiscuity, although that will probably be handled one day in insurance premiums. Some things simply may not be practical to tax, however, and that may be one of them.

    I have no problems with curfews or dress codes for minors. I think the weights and balances will usually not win out in adult communities, although there are obviously some exceptions in areas with rioting and the like.

  11. “But I think we all know which are the most dangerous per hour”

    Athena, with all due respect, I don’t think we do (where “we” really means “we,” that is, you and me, and not some condescending euphemism for “you”).

    We know, for example, that overwhelmingly, in terms of numbers of rescues and dollars spent, backcountry rescues are of hikers, not climbers. (Climbers read guidebooks, have appropriate clothing and equipment, can read the weather, and have survival skills, just four of the many things that distinguish them from most day-hikers.) The popular conception is way off base here, not least because the popular press tends to call anyone who gets lost in the mountains a “climber.”

    What we don’t know is how many hiker-days vs climber-days are contained in those statistics. Nor do we have lots of other stats. We might also want to distinguish climbing Shoestring Gully on Mt Webster, a snow and ice hike where a rope is really useful for about 25 feet, from a winter ascent of Mt Hood’s North Face.

    Then there’s the question of where to draw the line. Rock climbing, as opposed to mountaineering, is probably at least as safe, statistically, as scuba diving. Skydiving is riskier than either but has, gruesomely, no rescue costs. Of course, you’re concerned about the little ones at home here and not rescues.

    I think a more sensible approach is that those who engage in risky behavior be insured, and I might not have any overwhelming problems with that so long as insurance companies were required to provide such insurance, at rates that genuinely reflect the risks involved. Then I’d like to see insurance companies insure those who eat a lot of meat and dairy at rates that reflected the true risks, so this is quite a societal overhaul you might opening the door to.

    The subject of risk is a very important but difficult one. Researchers are now wondering if we’ve made playgrounds too safe with rubber matting and by all but banning unsupervised play. In point of fact, the number of playground injuries has always been low, mainly involving broken arms that heal completely.

    We’ve created an artificial world that fails to teach kids their simplest actions have consquences. So I’d suggest that even for playgrounds, to say nothing of mountains, we don’t intuitively know which risks “are required for basic economic, physical, and mental health.”

  12. digglahhh said

    Well, the embezzler is less likely to hurt anybody argument is fine. I’m with you. I’m down with Ward Churchill, with pacifism as pathology, that the only thing that is right is that is what stops wrong.

    But your original argument mentioned that you should do these things when you are young or old, when less people rely on you and so forth. That is not a moral argument.

    I don’t care if the CEO of Monsanto chokes on a peach pit, is the victim of a defective bungee cord or however he dies; it probably make the world a better place. But he is still loved and depended on by his family and friends, and I thought that was part of your original argument.

    “Little benefit over other less risky alternatives,” is basically meaningless. The benefit is determined by the person engaging in the action.

    Not to mention that vague, interpretive language like this is the most direct route to selective enforcement or categorization along any sort of demographic line to fit whatever the oppressive agenda du jour is.

  13. Not to mention that vague, interpretive language like this is the most direct route to selective enforcement or categorization along any sort of demographic line to fit whatever the oppressive agenda du jour is.

    Ahhh, so on this analysis, is Athena a full-fledged member of the oppressive class, or just one of their petit-bourgeois toady lackeys?

  14. Blue Athena said

    I withdraw my statement on what “we” know. I should not speak for others. I will stick to a purely theoretical set of issues.

    It don’t see this as a societal overhaul, since we are already doing this for cigarettes and alcohol (both in taxes and insurance policies). Why is a risky sport more similar to meat consumption than to alcohol consumption? Alcohol offers, arguably, as many or more health benefits than meat consumption. Or do you object to taxes and insurance premiums on alcohol and cigarettes?

    I do, by the way, agree that playgrounds and child activities have, in general, been made far too “safe”. My issues only regard parents and people in positions of responsibility. Health and learning issues for children are a whole different issue, and laws, I suspect, are driven now by the low fertility rate combined with the extreme liability issues and lack of state health care system. All in all, a different ballgame.

  15. Blue Athena said

    “That is not a moral argument.”

    Are you saying it was immoral or not based on moral principles?

  16. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh, I am not a fan of being unnecessarily vague, but I sense that you and I have different linguistic philosophies. Your faith in the capabilities of human languages to divide and represent reality, is a faith I have long ago determined is unrealistic. This is not to say I don’t believe in being as precise as possible, but you seem to be at odds with your own observations:

    “You might notice that the sentence I just wrote is entirely meaningless, arbitrary and invitingly subjective. That’s both the point and the problem…”

  17. digglahhh said


    Paying specifically and precisely for your own risk, is the cousin of the abolition of the insurance system, no?

    If we move toward a model where we, as consumers of medical insurance, (tragically, that’s an actual term) are willing only to pay for the likelihood and extent to which we will use the medical services, that how far are we from the “out of pocket” model?

    Some people get sick a lot and others don’t. Sometimes those results are even attributable to irresponsible personal behavior. So, I might have to cough up a few bucks for the guy next door’s eating habits… It’s not a big deal, that’s kind of the idea behind insurance in the first place. The fact that some people stand to benefit more (or use the system more than others) is inherent.

    You want to take a bigger piece of the pie? What do want me to tell ya, start smoking.

    if you’re a vegan with an intense exercise regimen whose in good health, why not roll the dice… Ask you employer for fifty cents on the dollar for what they pay for your insurance plan.

  18. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh, there’s a big difference between paying to be in the same gambling pool with others who are similar level risk takers, and having gambling pool at all.

  19. Blue Athena said

    That was meant to read:

    “there’s a big difference between paying to be in the same gambling pool with others who are similar level risk takers, and having no gambling pool at all.”

  20. digglahhh said

    I understand that, Athena. I’m just saying that I don’t have a problem with being one of those in the pool who takes fewer and smaller risks.

    As to your previous question, I just meant that I didn’t think your original argument was based on moral grounds; I wasn’t judging the morality of it.

    I don’t really understand your point about me being at odds with my own observations. I don’t think you can legislate risk or define risk. And yes, I am against the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

    I’m also abstaining from answering Meta’s question. Quite the instigator there.

    Pitting loyal readers against one another in the hopes of more site hits are we?…

  21. Blue Athena said

    Actually, I was kind of hoping you’d tackle that one. :) Can we have a rule that you have to? I’m feeling kind of oppressive today…

  22. Blue Athena said

    I did, actually, intend the embezzler argument to be a moral one. As a Vague Utilitarian, I think the non-abusive, non-embezzler has a higher moral imperative to wear his or her seat belt…all else being equal.

  23. Blue Athena said

    To be pointlessly “specific”, let’s make that a Vague Rule Utilitarian.

  24. digglahhh said

    Actually, being in a gambling pool with similar level risk takers kind of undermines the gambling aspect of it and makes it more of just a pool, no?

    In a large scale pool that covers each individual’s use and cost, there is an element of gambling inherently involved. The complete opposite of that is out of pocket.

    If you go further specify the risk rates and make them reflective in the premiums you move closer to the out of pocket model, it is not necessarily a bad thing, probably a good thing to some extent. But, there’s a tipping point where it would begin to undermine the notion of large scale insurance.

  25. Blue Athena said

    I’m starting to think we have different definitions of gambling.

  26. Blue Athena said

    Let’s assume you have a society in which all persons have identical risk acceptance levels. They all have the same hobbies, all of which involve some level of risk. There are no other people in this society. All have the same insurance policy.

    I don’t think this is, even at this extreme, an out of pocket model. It is still a gambling model.

    I think I am looking at each of these “risk pools” as societies, whereas you are looking at them next to one another. I guess I can see how you are saying it is in some sense closer to an out of pocket model, in that the people end up paying closer to what their out of pocket costs would have been. It’s really how you look at it. But I don’t think it undermines anything. The insurance is still valuable and there is still a gamble, or risk, by being a member of the subgroup.

  27. lauredhel said

    Someone who doesn’t wear a seatbelt whilst accompanied in a car isn’t just costing society/their insurance company money in the event of a crash; they’re directly imperilling any other person in the car.

  28. digglahhh said


    First, I want to apologize if I have been coming off as overly-aggresive, my writing style just happens to be confrontational and sometimes that is more apparent to me than others. Usually, I’m reminded of it by comparison.

    When I was talking about your original argument that wasn’t morals-centric, I wasn’t referring to the embezzler (that was obviously a moral argument). I was referring your first comment when you said that people aren’t generally cognizant of the extent to which their risk and related irresponsibility affects others. I didn’t think that argument was based on specifically moral grounds. The embezzler point was. And, in fact, that is what prompted me to question your line of reasoning and point out the manner in which I thought the two statements were contradictory, specifically, that the victim being a piece of shit doesn’t change the fact that his irresponsibility may have trickle down effects on others who may not be pieces of shit.

  29. Blue Athena said

    Oh, yeah. That was just a “people are stupid” argument. Well, OK, maybe more a statement of a fundamental premise that people are, in fact, stupid.

  30. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh, I didn’t notice anything overly aggressive in your writing style. Now, for contrast, on SurplusValue’s blog, someone just called me a “fucking idiot”…though it was actually kind of funny in context.

  31. good post. Sometimes I wonder if it all comes down to survival of the fittest.

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