Other Magazines

The Cost of the Death Penalty

The New Yorker on the expense—and bureaucratic mess—of executing a criminal.

Today, Other Magazines reads Newsweek, New York, The New Yorker, the Weekly Standard, and Harper’s to find out what’s worth your time—and what’s not.

Must Read
Jeffrey Toobin, writing in TheNew Yorker, recounts the agonizingly slow bureaucratic hold-up in the state of Georgia’s prosecution of Brian Nichols, who faces the death penalty for four murders that he has already confessed to committing. The state has thus far shelled out $1.2 million for Nichols’ defense, Toobin reports. “The Nichols case,” he writes, “illustrates a troubling paradox in death-penalty jurisprudence: the more heinous a crime—and the more incontrovertible the evidence of a defendant’s guilt—the greater the cost of the defense may be.”—C.W.

Best Rant
In a fawning piece about Fred Thompson in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson goes on a scathing, yet amusing, rant about the superficiality of running for president. Ferguson argues that Thompson never fit into a world where “you smile and smile and pop your eyes wide open in delighted wonder at the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of faces and places that circles before you, and you haven’t the time or leisure to settle on a single one.”—C.M.

Best Campaign Article
The transformation of Bill Clinton from “elder statesman” to “hatchet man” is the subject of a scathing Newsweek article. His laser-beam focus on Obama seems to be angering the press much more than the voters, who are still enamored with him. And with both Clintons on the warpath, Obama sometimes gets a bit frazzled: “I can’t tell who I’m running against sometimes.”—J.R.

Best Political Anecdote
TheNew Yorker’s James McManus has the scoop on the poker game that Barack Obama and fellow Illinois state Sen. Terry Link started up 10 years ago, when both were freshman legislators. Obama was a calculating player, a third senator once recalled: “When Barack stayed in, you pretty much figured he’s got a good hand.” As this article points out, however, “a rock-solid image made it easier for Obama to bluff.”—C.W.

Best Underdog Story
Harper’s paints über-fringe Republican presidential hopeful John Cox’s Iowa effort as half-humorous, half-touchingly tragic. The quirky piece centers around what ensues when a candidate has one of the required M’s (megalomania) without the more important one (money).—N.M.

Best Contrarian Piece
William Kristol’s editorial in the Weekly Standard reflects on President Bush’s tenure and realizes it wasn’t all that bad. He thinks that Americans may start to realize this in the coming year, leading to higher approval ratings for Bush. While it seems far-fetched at first, Americans’ feelings for Bush may warm as their attention is diverted toward presidential hopefuls and away from the president himself.—C.M.

Scariest Statistic
Harper’s leads its index with the frightening statistic that the current projected total cost of medical care for U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is $500 billion *, or roughly equal to the amount that has been spent on both conflicts to date.—N.M.

Best Economy Piece
Newsweek’s cover story analyzes the “The Great Global Market Freak-Out of 2008.” While the United States may have pulled along the global economy for some time, developing nations may now be able to extricate themselves and travel under their own power.—J.R.

Best Forward-Thinking
Harper’s dissects the history of the American economic bubble and predicts the next one: alternative energy. With all the ingredients in place—government regulation to aid the industry, a rapidly growing market, and increased media attention—it might be time to get in on the ground floor of that tofu-powered car IPO.—N.M.

Best Test
New York gives nine high-rolling strollers a spin. With prices going up to more than $1,000, the quality of baby technology varied: Some are as nimble as a cat; others required multiple strangers to lift, maneuver, or pack up.—J.R.

Best Short Story
In The New Yorker,Tessa Hadley constructs an engrossing account of two aging British women who spend a winter day scrubbing down a factory for extra cash for the holidays.—C.W.

Best Travel Story
The unlikely growth of Colombia as a tourist destination is the subject of a piece in Harper’s. Despite recent decreases in kidnapping and guerilla violence, a Colombian jaunt is probably not for the Club Med set—highlights include a visit to a cocaine-making lab, hiking in a mountain range mostly controlled by paramilitaries, and a stop at the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s former home.—N.M.

Best Line
In P.J. O’Rourke’s Weekly Standard “Letter to Our European Friends,” O’Rourke explains the state of the presidential race to our neighbors across the pond. He summarizes the Democrats’ Iraq policies with this: “Democrats intend to end the war, but they don’t know when. Democrats are making the ‘high school sex promise’: I’ll pull out in time, honest!“—C.M.

Correction, Jan. 29, 2008: The original article incorrectly said the total amount spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts was $5 billion. The actual figure is $500 billion. (Return to the corrected sentence.)