Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Money, Wealth, and Happiness

Tyler Cowen at the Marginal Revolution is writing a book on welfare economics. It will surely challenge much of the nonsense I was forced to learn 68 years ago in grad school. He has recently posted a portion of the text, discussing the question of whether wealthier people are happier.

I love the question. I was first introduced to it by Tibor Scitovsky's classic, The Joyless Economy.

My low-brow reaction is that if I didn't think more stuff would make me happier, I'd stop working as hard as I do.

Please. No comments about my not being a rational maximizer.

Ford YOU, You Condi Lincoln Ashcroft!

[thanks to JC for the pointer]:

WASHINGTON - You're an Ashcroft! No, you're the Ashcroft!

Imagine hearing that exchange in a movie - you'd think that Hollywood had come up with a crazy new insult. Well, it turns out that some airline passengers watching the Oscar-nominated film "Sideways" on foreign flights are, in fact, hearing "Ashcroft" as a substitute for a certain seven-letter epithet commonly used to denote a human orifice.

The Post's Monte Reel, based in Buenos Aires, tells us he heard the former attorney general's name substituted at least twice in "Sideways" dialogue when he watched the film earlier this week on an Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Lima, Peru. The movie was shown in English and the dubbing was done "in the actual voices of the actors," Reel reports. Star Thomas Haden Church utters the A-word....

Ashcroft did not return our phone message, but we're certain he was busy and not just being an...

This story reminds me of the all-time classic movie, Johnny Dangerously.

I wonder what it costs to dub in these word changes.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Did a German Former Waitress Lose Her Unemployment Benefits Because She Refused To Become A Prostitute?

Norman Seibrasse has just posted to the Econ-Law e-mail list run by Lloyd Cohen that the answer is a qualified "yes".

The entrepreneurial brothel owner mentioned ... earlier ... was apparently the first brothel owner to use the system and when she did the algorithm matched the job to the waitress. A letter was then automatically generated informing her of the opportunity. There is a box to check to accept or decline the job on a form which must be returned. When she declined, the system automatically cut her benefits. To this point everything happened without human intervention. She then complained to human authorities who immediately recognized the match as an error and reinstated her benefits.
The algorithm was immediately changed.

How Good Is Socialized Medicine?

The Emirates Economist links to this story about a 7-year-old in the UK who was sent to the U.S. for treatment. It is only one incident, but it is instructive. Although many people from the U.S. come to London, Ontario, for transplant surgery, the net flow is typically of patients from Canada going to the U.S. to avoid the long waits in Canada.

Update: see here for another incident. Unfortunately examples of the problems that arise with non-price rationing abound.

Life Expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Ben Muse has a chart from the Economic Report of the President, 2005, showing a dramatic decline in life expectancies in many sub-saharan African countries. Ben quotes from the report,

As a result of its lethality and the relative youth of its victims, HIV/AIDs has reduced life expectancy by more than 20 years in many African countries. Life expectancy in some countries is projected to fall to roughly 30 years within the next decade, whereas in the absence of HIV/AIDS some were expected to approach or exceed 70 years.
No matter how you value a human life in these countries, "free" condoms would have a net positive benefit-cost result. How long will it take aid organizations to move full speed in this direction?

The Other Larry Summers Controversy

With all the flap over what Larry Summers may or may not have said about the comparatively small number of women in the sciences, I have not seen any recent references to this memo from him back in 1991:

'Just between you and me shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [least developed countries]?" So wrote Treasury Secretary designee Lawrence Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, in a 1991 World Bank internal memorandum arguing for the transfer of waste and dirty industries from industrialized to developing countries. There's more: "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.... I've always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City." After the memo was leaked, Summers apologized, saying it was intended to be ironic and that it was offered as a thought experiment.

Later reports suggest that someone else actually wrote the memo, although Summers's name appeared on it.

But here is the question that remains unanswered, and that should be atop the list of questions posed by the senators who have to confirm Summers's appointment to replace outgoing Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin: "Ironic or not, from your point of view, what was wrong with the logic of the memo?" The notion that poor countries should import pollution and waste is just an unsavory application of the economic theory of the U.S. Treasury Department, shared also by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, to a lesser extent, the World Bank. In this worldview, poor countries should exploit their "comparative advantage" of low wages, or access to natural resources, or lower environmental standards.

Not that I like or agree with the tone on that site. I actually thought the arguments in the memo were worth pursuing, and I have used it in my teaching for years.

Given that flap, and how it was handled, his latest hip-shots should be less surprising. I can't imagine the former controversy was related to God and equality, though.

Can We Buy Off Our Enemies?

Probably not. If we tried, we would just create an incentive for more people to become our enemies.

Tom Hanna quotes favourably from Alex Tabarrok at the Marginal Revolution that the cost of buying and freeing the slaves was considerably less than the cost of waging the War Between the States. But that is a lot different from buying off the Syrians or the Sunnis.

Direct per capita costs for north were $140. Cost of the north buying and releasing the slaves would have been $90 per capita. Direct and indirect costs to the liberated land, the south, totaled $490 per capita.

Fast forward to 2005:

Cost to give every Iraqi citizen 5 years income (based on pre-war GDP): $189.6 billion. I suspect that even the much feared and overhyped Sunni population might settle their asses down and run the terrorists out themselves if we just paid them well enough.

Cost to buy off all Syrian troops in Lebanon with $1 million each. $16 billion.


My conclusion: Failing to buy off one's enemies? Priceless.

I'm sure Tom isn't serious. Offering money to buy off our enemies would just create an incentive for others to become our enemies. North Korea has been playing this game for years, and Iran is playing it with everyone these days.

Analogy: Trying to bribe a kid to stop having tantrums just encourages the kid to have more tantrums in the future.

People respond to incentives.

Us Old Folks Can See Better and React Faster Than You Young Whippersnappers

Older people can see larger, high contrast images better than younger people can, according to this summary of research from McMaster University [it is the fifth article down on this site]:

Seeing the big picture

Psychologists from McMaster University have discovered that the aging process improves a certain ability -- being able to grasp the "big picture," says Plebius Press. The study, published in the journal Neuron, dispels the myth that older people always perform more slowly and worse than younger people. Researchers measured how long it took for study participants to indicate in which direction a set of bars moved across a computer screen. Younger people were faster when the bars were small or low in contrast. However, when bars were large and high-contrast, the older people were faster. "The results are exciting," says Patrick Bennett, the study's senior author, along with Allison Sekuler, "because they show an odd case in which older people have better vision than younger people."

Click here for more information on the study.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Provider" Blacklist of Men

My impression is that this site refers to "providers" of services other than the internet services provided by ISPs. It seems to be a list of males in and around NYC who participate on the Craig's List but are undesireable for some reason.
I created this blog to inform my fellow female providers of the names and email addresses of grimy men that use Craigs List in NYC and the tri-state area. I will post men that bs, vice stings and any other kind of crap thats going around in this underground world.

To tell the truth, I wasn't going to post about that site until I saw that the Young Liberals are proposing that Canada legalize prostitution.

FEDERAL GRITS will be asked to support legalizing prostitution when they gather for their convention in Ottawa next week, Sun Media has learned. A resolution prepared by Young Liberals calls for the removal of the Criminal Code offence of communicating for the purposes of sex in return for money.


"The sex trade is a profession central to the subsistence of many Canadian citizens" and the fear of being charged drives hookers into "dangerous and harmful locations," the resolution reads.

I have a friend with a big old Victorian house near the Clinton Slots (a mini- casino with slot machines and a bit of OTB for horse races). Two weeks ago I mentioned to her, in jest, that their house would make a great brothel (note: the conversation began because she was playing a madam in a play I was directing). She thought the idea sounded pretty fascinating.

At least one Liberal Senator (a federal appointment for life in Canada) agrees with the Young Liberals.

"It's a great idea," said Grit Senator Mac Harb, who has long supported decriminalizing the world's oldest profession and giving municipalities the power to license and regulate brothels in designated red-light districts.

"I think you will solve a problem that isn't going to go away," Harb said.

In 2003 there were nearly 6,000 prostitution-related charges filed in Canada.

UPDATE: This morning (Friday), this same Senator published an editorial advocating the legalization of prostitution (thanks to Jack for drawing this to my attention). I wonder why the National Post made this editorial available for no charge, something they rarely do.

What's Wrong with Coal-Fired
Electricity Generation?

Columnist Rory Leishman has recently taken on the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and the McGuinty Provincial Liberal gubmnt. The Liberals are closing down Ontario's coal-fired generating stations, based on incomplete and quite possibly incorrect evidence that they are seriously harming the environment.

McKitrick, Green and Schwartz[in a study for the Fraser Institute] challenge the methodology used to compute [the] estimates of death by air pollution. In the Toronto case, they argue that if the model used by the health board were applied to the much higher levels of air pollution in the 1960s, "it would attribute at least half and, in one case, more than 100 per cent, of monthly deaths in Toronto to air pollution."

On the basis of Environment Canada data and alternative epidemiological studies, the Fraser experts conclude: "Air pollution in Ontario has been successfully reduced under existing regulations and is generally much lower than 30 years ago. Current evidence does not provide consistent support for the claim that levels of air pollution are a significant source of risk for death or disease."

What about global warming? According to the OCAA, Ontario's coal plants account for "approximately 20 per cent of Ontario's greenhouse-gas emissions (causing climate change)."

The Fraser authors counter that coal-fired plants in Ontario are responsible for only "about one-10th of one per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and shutting them down will not make a perceptible difference." Besides, Ontario would have to compensate for the loss of coal-fired power in the short-term by importing more electricity from coal-fired plants in the industrial U.S. Northeast.

As the Fraser study itself says,
Surprisingly, despite the large potential impacts of closing the plants, there has been no systematic evaluation of whether this action will confer net benefits on Ontarians. There is no question that coal-fired power plants contribute to Ontario's air pollution emissions. The question is whether the harm associated with these emissions exceed the social and economic benefits of the electricity they provide. Our review of the evidence suggests that the coal-fired plants have a relatively small environmental impact and that closing them will have large, adverse economic consequences that will fall disproportionately on low-income households.

Astronomy Photos

For astronomy photos posted daily, check out Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

Some of the recent photos have been truly amazing. Phil Miller also has posted some of them on Market Power.

[APOD link courtesy of Trolling in Shallow Water, where there is also a fun comment about a recent cartoon featuring a nuclear attack submarined inappropriately named the "Jimmy Carter"].

Lampposts, Vandalism, and Insulation

In Wavrechain-sous-Denain in northern France, vandals damaged a lamppost. As a result, a live wire was left in contact with the post. The charge in the lamppost was strong enough that when a dog urinated on the lamppost, it was electrocuted and died.[Thanks to JC for the link]

It let out a yelp and died on the spot.

The owner received a shock when he tried to help the dog and was taken to hospital, the town hall said.

Even if the vandals could be apprehended, they are probably judgement-proof, meaning they will not be able to compensate the dog's owner for having caused the short. So who should bear the loss, given that it has happened? Who is the least-cost bearer of this risk? The municipality or the dog owner?

In addition to questions of foreseeability [see Water Mound 1 & 2], the answer depends on the cost of making the insulation and wiring stronger and less susceptible to short-out damage from vandals versus the value of a dog. This is not a fun calculus to have to make in public, and yet politicians and courts must make choices like this all the time.

Houston's Clear Thinkers
re: the Supreme Chief

There is fascinating and stimulating blog called, "Houston's Clear Thinkers". It recently posted some reflections on the NYTimes article about who might succeed Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the U.S. Supreme Court. The leading candidates are

1) Michael W. McConnell of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit,
John G. Roberts of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia,
J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and
J. Michael Luttig of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and
Samuel A. Alito of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, who is mentioned as "another possible candidate."

The person who wrote this piece says,

This is a high caliber list of intellectual heavyweights who, I believe with the exception of Judge Alito, are all former Supreme Court clerks. My personal favorite for the appointment is Judge Roberts, who I have found to be an absolutely superb thinker and writer in the opinions that he has penned while on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

As I have posted before, I would think that Richard Posner would be an excellent, though improbable, choice. And why not Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Canadian Budget: C+

The Liberal gubmnt tabled (i.e., submitted to Parliament) its budget for the upcoming fiscal year today. Last month the feds reported that we had had yet another year with a surplus, and there was much speculation about whether taxes would be cut, more spending would be undertaken, and/or there would be some pay-down of the debt. Here are some highlights:

  • Corporate tax rates are being cut a bit over the next several years in several ways.
  • The Registered Retirement Savings Plan tax-deductible savings programme will have a much higher limit, inducing more saving.
  • The RRSP cap on including foreign investment in our portfolios has been completely and immediately lifted -- we can fully diversify our portfolios globally. It has been argued that this change had a big impact on the value of the Loonie late this afternoon.
  • More spending for national defence; Canada hasn't had much in recent years.
  • Too much money for Canada's Kyoto commitments and the environment (see here for why I say "too much"). As I have said before, there is no reason to subsidize exploration and development of alternative energy technologies; if the feds would just tax the snot out of carbon-based fuels, we'd all be scrambling, via the market, to find alternative energy technologies and make them marketable.
  • Redistribution of a portion of the federal gas tax to the large cities.
  • The big mistake: federal gubmnt funding for child care, which has likely created yet another costly entitlement programme. This is almost a moral hazard problem in that guaranteeing young couples that the gubmnt will pick up the day-care tab will induce more of them to have more children(see these links for other criticisms); I don't see any reason to subsidize this activity any more than subsidizing the purchase of big recreational vehicles (Phil Miller refers to his children as "the durables"). As of now, it appears to be a voucher-like plan, but just wait. My prediction is that the feds will become increasingly involved and squeeze the private schools out.

Update: for more highlights, see this story at the CBC.

Also, see here for The Fraser Institute's recommendations. It looks as if they will be happy with much of the budget, but certainly not all of it.

The Wall Street Examiner

As I have posted before, The Wall Street Examiner is a good read (and the articles there are still available at no charge for the rest of this week). Here's an excerpt from one of the articles:

The Fed added $3 billion in 5 day repos for the holiday weekend, far short of what was needed to cover $8 billion in expiring bills. We knew that would happen. We also knew that since the IRS would be pumping another wad of Friday party favors into the bank accounts of early filing taxpayers, it would be no problem.
For more pithy analysis and discussion like this, click on the blog ad at the upper right.

I also linked to this information here, trying to explain the recent flattening of the yield curve.

Would You Clean Your Room for Pay?

Students at The University of Michigan are being offered money to keep their dormitory rooms clean. The Emirates Economist explains why.

Interestingly, I expect they would not be willing to do the same amount of cleaning of someone else's room, for the same pay.

SGR 1806-20: the mother of all magnetic flares

A really big bang within the galaxy has recently occurred:

Stunned astronomers described yesterday the greatest cosmic explosion ever monitored — a starburst from the other side of the galaxy that was briefly brighter than the full Moon and swamped satellites and telescopes.
The high-radiation flash, detected Dec. 27, caused no harm to Earth but would have fried the planet had it occurred within a few light years of home.

Thanks to Jack for the pointer

Normally reserved skywatchers struggled for superlatives.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Rob Fender of Southampton University in southern England.

“We have observed an object only 20 kilometres across, on the other
side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a tenth of a second than the sun emits in 100,000 years.”

“It was the mother of all magnetic flares — a true monster,” said Kevin Hurley, a research physicist at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Unholy Alliance:
Curling Canada & the CBC

I posted earlier that my wife and I have just taken up the sport of curling. I became fascinated with the game more than 20 years ago because, when I first started watching it on television, my wife, along with the announcers on TSN(cdn), did a thorough job of explaining the rules and strategies. During that entire period, TSN did all the round-robin broadcasting, covering every end of every major tournament during the round-robin play; CBC held the broadcast rights for the semi-finals and finals.

Last summer, when the contract to televise curling was up for renewal with the Canadian Curling Association, TSN made a bid for the entire contract, including the semi-finals and finals. The response from CBC was to bid for the entire contract as well. While I had a preference for the TSN announcers and telecasts, I didn't really care all that much who won the contract. ..... until I found out what CBC was doing with their broadcasts. The television schedule is posted here.

It turns out that CBC is not broadcasting any of the morning draws (games). Why not? No reason is provided in any of the material I have seen.

Furthermore, CBC is not showing any of the round-robin play during prime time! At least they are not showing curling on the standard CBC over-the-air channel. Instead, they are showing it on something called "Country Canada", which, quite frankly, I had thought was a possibly a really weak country music channel.

That would be okay, I guess, if Country Canada were part of some standard cable package. It isn't; it is available only via digital cable or satellite. In addition, it is such a pathetic network, that it averages 500 viewers per day (900 per day during prime time).
[I'll bet I could get more viewers than that if I set up a network devoted entirely to my economics lectures!]
Currently, viewership for the channel is minuscule, with 500 people tuning in daily and the total rising to 900 during prime time. Lee said a great deal of marketing is planned to try to drive curlers to subscribe to the channel, which can be obtained only through a digital receiver or a satellite dish.

I couldn't believe it! I was so distressed, I fired off the following letter to the Curling Canada Association:
Okay, folks. Whose wise idea was it to show curling on CBC's extremely lame "Country Canada"???? We don't get it where we live, and we will now miss a LOT of curling.

I sure hope CBC paid somebody a lot of the taxpayers money to make sure that fewer Canadians now have less access to watching curling on television.

I was wrong; we can get Country Canada here if we sign up for digital cable. And so this morning, we committed ourselves to spend a lot extra over the next few years to get digital cable boxes so we can watch curling. As I said, I was furious. And then I read this from

... under terms of its licence from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Country Canada is permitted to allot only 10 per cent of its broadcasting week to amateur or professional sports. Based on Country Canada's 18-hour day, that equates to 12.6 hours for the week. According to a schedule posted on the CBC's website, it will be more than that, no matter how the nine-day event is sliced into a seven-day period. And that doesn't even account for any extra-end games or tiebreakers.
In other words, the CBC bid taxpayer dollars for something that the regulations will not permit them to show in its entirety.... What a bunch of #%#^%^. The CBC finally figured out how to get around this problem by fobbing off coverage of two of the prime time matches to The Score, the Canadian CTV all-sports network. I haven't been able to find any financial details of the arrangement, but I'll bet the negotiations were amusing.

To make matters even more insulting, here are excerpts from the [apparent form letter] response I received from the Curling Association:

...the new television agreement will provide more hours of exposure on the main CBC network than any other sport, amateur or professional, except for NHL Hockey once it returns to arenas around North America.
Yes more on CBC, and a whole lot less in total. I don't see how this sophistry is of any benefit to the Canadian Curling Association.

In the final analysis, the CBC’s proposal was stronger.
How so? Did the CBC hire some executives of the Canadian Curling Association [and/or their relatives] as consultants??

If indeed the CBC offered to pay more than the TSN bid for the broadcast rights, and then all they are doing is making curling fans angry and inhibiting the viewing of the matches, it is time for the Auditor General of Canada to investigate why the CBC is misspending taxpayer dollars in such a frivolous manner.

Most importantly, the CBC is making more live curling coverage more
widely available to more Canadians than ever before.
This is a specious argument. CBC reaches a few more people than TSN because its rebroadcasts and transmitters are subsidized everywhere; and I can readily imagine that considerably fewer will be watching curling during prime time when it is available only on digital or satellite. More people seeing less curling, with considerably less total viewership does not sound like a strong proposal to me.

Teaming up with CBC means we’re able to deliver world-class curling to
99% of all Canadian households.
This is total nonsense: reaching maybe 1% more households for 50% less air time has to amount to less total viewership. This situation cannot be good for curling in Canada.

Every game is available live and there are no longer any tape delays.
This is just plain wrong, and if that is what the CBC promised, they are in breach of their contract. And by repeating it, the Curling Association is flat-out lying to its fans and correspondents.

So here are some possibilities about what is going on:

  • Maybe someone somewhere is on the take.
  • Maybe the Canadian Curling Association was seriously hornswaggled by the CBC negotiators. If so, the CCA should fire its executive, its lawyers, or both.
  • Maybe the CCA was paid a whole bunch of money by the CBC --- an offer they couldn't refuse. In which case, they should just say so and not lie about it, and
  • Maybe the CBC made such a tremendous offer in order to use curling to promote their new channel. After all, it worked for Fox the first time they obtained an NFL broadcasting contract. The difference is that Fox offers other programming people want to watch.

And if the last option above explains what happened, it is yet another example of how bureaucrats who are spending taxpayer money [directly or indirectly] make decisions that might help expand their bureaucracies but which are truly poor business decisions.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

New Opera:
The Barber of Baghdad

Whether these threats and attacks are inspired by Muslim fundamentalism or by secular determination to unsettle Iraqi society, they exemplify how difficult it is to create and maintain freedom in any society.

From the L.A. Times (registration required):

In what some describe as a Taliban-like effort to impose a militant Islamic aesthetic, extremists have been warning Iraqi barbers not to violate strict Islamic teachings by trimming or removing men's beards.

Giving Western-style haircuts or removing hair in an "effeminate" manner, they say, are crimes punishable by death. "They went to all the barbers," said one threatened hairstylist, Ali Mahmood, 28. "They told them not to shave beards. They told them no sideburns. No American styles. They told them none of this or they would die."

Since the threats began a little more than a month ago, at least eight barbers have been killed, and a dozen shops have been bombed, colleagues and police say....

Mahmood, the 28-year-old who was threatened, has quit cutting
hair after eight years and now works as an armed bodyguard for Western clients. He considers his new job less dangerous than cutting hair.

I might be willing to risk my life for some things, but I really doubt if I would do so to be a barber. Instead, I, too, would probably change professions, possibly to become a freedom-fighter.

Long Rates, Short Rates,
and the Fisher Equation

Does nobody understand the Fisher Equation?
Or am I missing something?
Since the Federal Reserve began raising short-term interest rates last June, intermediate and long-term rates have moved lower, confounding many observers, even Fed head Alan Greenspan.
The above quotation is from an article in Barron's [$ subscription required], reproduced in The Financial Post [also $ subscription reqd;h/t to Jack].

I don't know for sure, but it looks as if the facts fit this explanation:

Suppose the Fed is tightening the money supply a bit, thus driving up short-term interest rates. This scenario is consistent with their actions last week in which the Fed appeared unwilling to re-fund all the T-bills coming due.

If the above is correct, then it is possible that the markets see this action by the Fed as an attempt to head off serious inflation in the future, which would reduce long rates as the expected rate of inflation drops. This explanation is consistent with this quote from the same article:
The Fed’s policy-setting open market committee reiterated earlier this month that policy makers still expect to raise the fed funds rate target at a “measured” pace, the modifier used by the central bank to describe its anticipated pace of tightening in quarter-percentage-point increments.
The Fisher Equation:

The nominal rate of interest = the real rate of interest + the expected rate of inflation.

Why Are British Media So Anti-Semitic?

It wasn't the U.S. or Canadian media that mis-reported about Jenin so seriously and prevalently. It was the Brits:
Nothing captures the insidious drip-drip of Jew hatred provided by the British media so clearly as the continued ritual invocation of the "Jenin massacre" two years after it was conclusively established that no such thing ever occurred. In the annals of shoddy, propaganda journalism, the reportage of the battle in Jenin by the British media, including the BBC, deserves a full chapter.
There were many more, similar incidents involving Jenin [click here to read more]. Why would the British media do such a thing? Here is one possible explanation.

Interviewed by Martin Himel in Massacring the Truth, Tim Benson, director of the British Cartoon Society, explains the award for the best political cartoon of 2003 to Dave Brown for his portrayal of a grossly fat Sharon dropping Palestinian babies into his mouth. Benson calls the cartoon a great one because of its emotional power.

What about the emotional power of Jewish children blown to bits by suicide bombers? Himel asks.

"Jews don't issue fatwas against journalists," Benson replies.

I see. The British media are afraid of fatwas, but U.S. and Canadian journalists aren't? I wonder why there's a difference.

[link courtesy of BenS]

The 22 Categories of Depravity

Some psychiatrists have now derived a "depravity index" to assess how bad is bad when one person kills another. [thanks to Jack for the pointer; registration required] Here it is, in increasing order of depravity:


1 Those who have killed in self defence and who do not show psychopathic tendency.
2 Jealous lovers who, though egocentric or immature, are not psychopathic.
3 Willing companions of killers; aberrant personality — probably impulse ridden with some antisocial traits.
4 Killed in self defence, but had been extremely provocative toward the victim.
5 Traumatized, desperate persons who have killed abusing relatives, and also others (for example, to support a drug habit) but who lack significant psychopathic traits and are genuinely remorseful.
6 Impetuous, hot-headed murderers, yet without marked psychopathic features.
7 Highly narcissistic but not distinctly psychopathic persons, with a psychotic core, who kill loved ones (jealousy an underlying motive).
8 Nonpsychopathic persons with smoldering rage who kill when rage is ignited.
9 Jealous lovers with psychopathic features.
10 Killers of people “in the way” or of witnesses (egocentric but not distinctly psychopathic).
11 Psychopathic killers of people in the way.
12 Power-hungry psychopaths who killed when they were “cornered.” (Jim Jones and Children of God cult massacre, Guyana.)
13 Inadequate, rageful personalities.
14 Ruthlessly self-centred psychopathic schemers.
15 Psychopathic “cold blooded” spree or multiple murderers.
16 Psychopaths committing multiple vicious acts.
17 Sexually perverse serial murderers (among the males, rape usually a primary motive, with killing done to hide evidence; systematic torture not a primary factor).
18 Torture-murderers with murder the primary motive.
19 Psychopaths driven to terrorism, subjugation, intimidation and rape short of murder.
20 Torture-murderers, with torture as the primary motive, but in psychotic personalities.
21 Psychopaths preoccupied with torture in the extreme, but not known to have committed murder.
22 Psychopathic torture-murderers, with torture their primary motive.

Oh good. So now psycho/sociopaths will have even more reason to try to fake remorse.

Jack's reaction: " I suspect juries will leap on this to avoid wrestling with it themselves. But this escape will be employed only for the less evident, non Jeff Dahmer cases. The law DOES need some attempts at consistency. Hopefully this will be in a constructive direction. I'm not sure."

Update: BenS sent the above list to a judge, who replied,

A couple of people sent this to me--both highly skeptical. I'm not so sure. I have definitely seen gradations of evil in criminal cases and an effort to define and identify some of the factors that make up evil strikes me as useful. How it gets used may be another matter.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Viagra Spam Under Attack

Microsoft and Pfizer have joined forces to try to eliminate much of that Viagra spam e-mail that clutters our mailboxes.

Pfizer said two websites named in the suit sold "potentially dangerous medications" unapproved by regulators.

The websites involved are CanadianPharmacy and E-Pharmacy Direct.

In addition, Microsoft has filed three suits against web spammers who promote online drug stores, such as Discount RX, Virtual RX and

"Together, these pharmacy spam rings have allegedly sent hundreds of millions of e-mail messages to Microsoft's MSN Hotmail customers within the past year alone," the joint statement said.


Computers in New York received online orders which were then sent to a call centre based in Canada before being processed in India, the lawsuit claims.

The pills were then shipped from India to the US and delivered by an air freight company based in the US.

As BrianF, who sent this to me, says, "This is part of the reason the FDA is reluctant to OK reimportation of drugs from Canada via internet pharmacies. Just because a site appears to be in Canada doesn't mean the drugs are coming from Canada."

Why is Microsoft involved in these suits? What risks does Microsoft face from these arrangements?

Anti-WalMart = Pro Old Building Owners

Subsidies [and related gubmnt regulations] rarely help suppliers of mobile factors of production. But they really help the owners of fixed factors of production. I wrote about this effect over a decade ago with the explosion of suburban shopping malls. As more malls were built, the owners of downtown buildings and land saw their rents plummeting and fought the growth of malls any way they could. Cases were made to halt construction of suburban malls for many reasons, but the primary economic effect was to benefit (albeit temporarily) the owners of downtown real estate.

Here is a further example, from Always Low Prices, of real estate owners' blocking (or attempting to block) changes in how commerce is carried out.
An unoccupied shopping center may be a form of urban decay, but to compare it to water or air quality is a stretch. It merely gives Wal-Mart's opponents another means to block a store. Nobody who can hire a lawyer should be allowed to go out of business because of Wal-Mart lest their building go unoccupied.
In case you didn't figure it out, that last sentence is sarcasm.

Pensions and the Aging Population

Steven Landsburg has written the best piece, by far, explaining the case for creating public policy toward pension plans that will induce people to save more. It points out that
  1. There are going to be lots more retired old people wanting lots of goods and services.
  2. There are going to be fewer younger people, as a proportion of the entire population, producing stuff for themselves and all the old people.
  3. As a result of 1 and 2 above, either people will have to consume less per capita in the future or economies will have to produce a whole lot more per worker.
  4. One of the best ways to get more output in the future is to encourage more saving and investing now.

Others have said this, many times, but he said it so well.

The looming bankruptcy is both absolutely real and absolutely insignificant. You could reverse it in an instant by changing a definition or two. Keep benefits exactly as they are, but call only half of them "Social Security benefits"; call the rest something else, like, say, "Geezer Pleasers." Social Security taxes would exceed "Social Security benefits." Voilà, no more bankruptcy.

That's just what we do in Canada, only we call it "Old Age Assistance" instead of "Geezer Pleasers"; nice name, though.

The true crisis lies elsewhere. It has nothing to do with bankruptcy, nothing to do with definitions or accounting tricks, nothing to do with
lockboxes or anything else about the way the system is structured. Instead, the crisis is completely defined by the fact that in the future (as in the present) there will be only a finite number of goods to go around, and in the future (unlike in the present) there will be a lot more old people clamoring for a share...

If you want to address the Social Security crisis of the future, you must adopt laws that encourage saving in the present. There's nothing else you can do.

Big tax breaks to induce people to save for retirement will go a long way toward this goal.....

because, after all, people respond to incentives.

For a good take on U.S. Social Security reform, read what Kip has to say.

Save a Tree??

As a result of economic development and rapidly rising incomes, more people in China are using toilet paper, resulting in some concern about wood pulp supplies.

Wang Yueqin, vice-director of Shanghai Paper Trade Association, said... he was "beginning to worry about the large wood consumption" and the industry needed to consider other technologies and uses.

"We are trying to encourage the application of new materials and technologies," he said, pointing to one factory in Jiangsu province now making toilet paper from straw.

Another in southern Guangxi has managed to produce tissues from sugarcane. ...

"The 140,000 tons of tissues and toilet paper Shanghai uses every year consumes some 80,000 tons of wood pulp, equal to about 300,000 tons of wood," said Wang.
The price system should do a pretty good job of encouraging people and producers to consider alternatives.

One textile merchant said he hoped the pressure would reinvigorate use of the handkerchief, at least for runny noses.
"At least"??

h/t to JC

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Couple Build Startup Into Blog Powerhouse

I thought the piece entitled, "Couple Build Startup Into Blog Powerhouse " on Yahoo would be about Craig and Betsy, with a mention of Katie. Maybe they will be the subjects of the next article in the series.

h/t to Jack

Those Crafty Folks in Boise, Idaho

People have demonstrated over and over again that if regulators try to stop them from doing something they want to do, they will find a way to do it anyway.

In 2001 the Boise City Council passed an ordinance banning total nudity in public unless it had "serious artistic merit" -- an exemption meant to apply to plays, dance performances and art classes.

As you might imagine, at least one strip club eventually became a part-time art studio.

On what it calls Art Club Nights, the Erotic City strip club charges customers $15 for a sketch pad, pencil, and a chance to see completely naked women dancers.

Teague [the club owner] said he got the idea when a customer asked if he could get in for free to sketch the dancers. Realizing that "art classes" were exempt from the law, Teague decided to bill Mondays and Tuesdays as art nights, and let the dancers go without their G-strings and pasties.

In the two months since they began, Art Club Nights have drawn full crowds of 60 people but no police citations, he said.

Regardless of your views on the morality of this situation, you have to recognize the important economic prinicple underlying it:
People respond to incentives.

The Difference between
North Korea and South Korea

In case you haven't seen this before, here is a depiction of the amount of light being given off across the earth at night. This particular photo focuses on North and South Korea. As Kent says,

Tyranny truly plunges societies into darkness - in more ways than one.

I expect that many countries will want to buy North Korea's unused Kyoto carbon quotas....... or at least they would if any of them really intend to take their Kyoto commitments seriously (not that I am arguing they should --- see here).

Is there any chance the photo was photo-shopped to create this effect? I've seen it before, so if it was photo-shopped, it had to have been done quite some time ago.
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