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, December 17, 2005

The Sound of Music:
Best Movie of All Time?

Many members of The Philistine Liberation Organization have argued persuasively that The Sound of Music was the best movie ever made. In fact, a discussion of this argument is scheduled for the next PLO Conference.

So you can imagine the delight of some PLO members as we learned that The Sound of Music was going to be televised this evening. Correspondents were Rondi Adamson, Alan Adamson (co-blogger at Curling), along with EclectEcon.

EclectEcon: The best movie ever made is on tv tonight on many different channels at 8pm.

Time to fire up the old microwave (to make some popcorn)!

Alan: A night for a major PLO party!

My TV Guide says 7pm. Would not want anyone missing what there is to be done with Maria!!

Rondi: It's on at 7! Yes, I've known about this all week and have been REALLY looking forward to it. Following the PLO theme, I thought I would have CheezWhiz and crackers, rather than something as classy as popcorn.

Alan: I have to confess, after my generally positive experience with King Kong, I am thinking of tuning in tonight.

Rondi: I'll be very happy to have converts of any kind, even if they're not whole-hearted! (Hey, you can blog about it!)

EclectEcon: This entire exchange is definitely blogable. Any objections?
confession time: I'll probably watch the NFL instead.

Alan: please blog - my guess I will be back and forth between the nfl and SoM

Rondi: None from me. You might want to mention I'll be partaking of some pretty classy Cotes du Rhone, as well. I'm not a *complete* rube! Mmm...cheez whiz and red wine...

(Al, you'll see, at the end, it doesn't indicate in any way, shape or form, that the von Trapps walked to Switzerland in 24 hours! That is, if you stay awake...)

Alan: I am sure I will be asleep at the point of their amazing trip from Salzburg to Switzerland. I am willing now to accept that the movie makes no commitments about how that magic heppened. Or how long it took.

EclectEcon: Well, I didn't mean I'd live-blog it! Rondi, you should do that.

But live-blogging is generally more successful if it is well-advertised, as in, "Hey folks, next Xday at 7pm I'll be live-blogging the Sound of Music."

Rondi: Nah, the Sound of Music is best enjoyed in a relaxed manner...

Alan: Man is it good!! Ollie [his cat?] and I are totally hooked now.

Rondi: It is awesome.

Jeffery Sachs: East Coast Elitist Interventionist Who Knows How to Solve the World's Problems

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University, is a very smart man. He knows a lot and knows how to express himself better than I could ever hope to. I recently listened to the interview with Sachs on It was everything I expected.

The solutions to world poverty (and other problems) proposed by Sachs are vague. They sound great, in that they involve promoting investment (he explicitly mentions building roads) and holding project managers accountable.

You know what? That is pretty much the same stuff we were taught by east-coast liberal interventionists 40 years ago, when I was an undergraduate. They know best.

Here is an interesting example: Sachs seems to think malaria would be wiped out if people would just donate a buck or so to help buy mosquito netting for all the poor people in Africa. And just what does Sachs think would happen to this netting? I am willing to bet that after a year, less than a third would still be in use as mosquito netting.

My solution to world poverty? There clearly are no quick fixes, but here are some things that will help future generations:
  • Stop listening to planners and interventionists who, no matter how sincerely they care, will end up enriching themselves and, especially, society's rent-seekers.
  • Create secure property rights and legal entitlements. Exchange and growth cannot be fostered without these as part of the framework.
  • Promote free trade, both internally and externally.
Along these same lines, in a recent editorial in the NYTimes [reg req'd], Tim Harford (the Undercover Economist) points out that reducing internal barriers to trade would go a long way toward improving efficiency and promoting development in many countries.
Part of the problem, of course, is that landlocked African countries are linked to the outside world by long, decrepit roads and underdeveloped ports in neighboring countries. But determined growers can move bananas along even lousy roads. The real problem is elsewhere: three-quarters of delays are the result of red tape, not port handling or inland transport. These delays, caused by senseless bureaucracy, unnecessary forms and archaic inspection practices, can often be eliminated with a stroke of a pen by a country's chief executive. Even the more sophisticated reforms, like introducing electronic filing, or using software to guide sensible risk-based customs inspections, require only small outlays. What's more, such reforms increase the interception of smuggled goods and discourage corrupt customs officials.
And therein lies the difference between The Economic Way of Thinking and the Elitist Interventionist Way of Thinking: Sachs wants to build roads; Harford wants to cut red tape.

. . . .

Friday, December 16, 2005

TypePad's Woes

Something isn't working at TypePad. Here is what they have posted:
Blogs are up. However, we are displaying backup copies of weblogs from a few days ago, so some of your newest content may not be showing.
I am really curious: what kind of commercial service is it that doesn't maintain access to ghost backups, hourly backups, or at the very least, daily backups? Many of my favourite blogs are now showing only postings from a week ago or earlier.
So much for the "45 free days" ...

More Evidence that Sex Sells

As if we needed any confirmation, look what happened to the hits on this blog after people started Googling and Yahooing and Whatevering "UWO student strip tease" and related topics, looking for the pictures and videos of the young woman at this university who performed for a roomful of young men:

To check the data over 30 days, click here. In his observation about a mid-day version of this graph, Phil Miller says,
Ever wonder why there are so many porn sites and why there are so few mostly-economics blogs? Me neither.
... It's a demand-side phenomenon!!!!
To tell the truth, I hadn't noticed ...

Residents' Choice: A threat to the President's Choice Brand?

In Canada, the Weston food group, Loblaw's, Zehr's and other grocery chains carry an in-store brand of many items called "President's Choice"; on average, this brand is higher quality than most store brands or most no-name varieties of the products.

Recently, an acquaintance who wishes to remain anonymous, has proposed that a group of us send the following letter to Loblaw's (Most of the names have been changed to preserve anonymity):


Dear Sir:

I am a member of a quartet of business men—an economist, a physician, a pharmacist and a sociologist who are planning a new product. We have been advised by the son of one of our members (who started law school in September) that there is a possibility our new product will infringe on your copyright, trademarks and patents. And we wish to reassure you on our new product and secure your permission to go ahead.

We plan on producing a new series of food products under the name RESIDENTS' CHOICE.

Our exclusive line of food products is targeted at the residents of nursing homes who have special eating needs not satisfied by other products such as your own President’s Choice foods. For example, your President’s Choice Caesar Sourdough Croutons are difficult (or shall we say hard) to eat because of their crispiness and are loaded with spice and acids (such as fumaric acid and citric acid) whereas our RESIDENTS' CHOICE Croutons will be unbaked pieces of Wonder Bread without the crust, or flavors added, much softer and less irritating on the gums of 90-year old residents.

Our line of RESIDENTS' CHOICE foods were developed by experts who are concerned with the health and vigor of nursing home patients in mind.

The market was studied by an expert with a great deal of experience with foods, the economist Dr. John Palmer, who is famed for his work with butter substitutes, and developed a theory of Margarine Utility.

Dr. Hippo Crates has had much experience with older patients and his own mother is 109 years old. He has been much reputed and has commendations and references from the captains of several seaworthy student boats, and has had very few student deaths, or pregnancies of the girls whom he had close contact with under his ship patronage licence.

Our pharmacist, James Jones, will be testing each of our RESIDENTS' CHOICE foods with mortar and pestle analysis of stress tolerance, permeability, and component correlation analysis. His analysis of digoxin digestibility following ingestion of peanut butter is well-known as the Jones Jive analysis and can be found in a recent issue of the Drug Store Gazette.

Finally, as the sociologist looking at group dynamics and eating in inbound collectivities, Dr. Peter Headcase shall be in charge of compatibility analysis and relationships among the different RESIDENTS’ CHOICE FOODS. He is well known for his study of Feedback and Foodback. (You may recall the recent case of another new product company which attempted to secure permission from the Law Counsel of Coca-Cola for his Kiet Doke which sounds a lot like Diet Coke).

We shall look forward to your reaction to our plans and your blessings.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dietary Advice for Christmas

These ten commandments were sent to me by Jack, a physician, so they must be correct:
The Christmas Ten Commandments

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labour Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Orange Woody's in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO what a ride!"

Curious about Drug Interactions?
Check Out This Site

My favourite drug dealer, JB, has pointed me to this site, where one can check the interaction effects of various drugs. He cautions, though, that one must use internet information judiciously.

Yet Another Reason Not to Support the UN:
Map Obliterates Israel

The United Nations held a "Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" last week. A large map of “Palestine,” with Israel literally wiped off the map, featured prominently in the festivities.

Here is the full article that appeared last week.
Here is the map:

For more about why I seem so strongly pro-Israel, see what Mark Steyn has written [h/t to Jack]. Here is an excerpt:
So let's see: We have a Holocaust denier who wants to relocate an entire nation to another continent, and he happens to be head of the world's newest nuclear state.

(They're not 100 percent fully-fledged operational, but happily for them they can drag out the pseudo-negotiations with the European Union until they are. And Washington certainly won't do anything, because after all if we're not 100 percent certain they've got WMD -- which we won't be until there's a big smoking crater live on CNN one afternoon -- it would be just another Bushitlerburton lie to get us into another war for oil, right?)

So how does the United States react? Well, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the comments of Ahmadinejad "further underscore our concerns about the regime."

Really? But wait, the world's superpower wasn't done yet. The State Department moved to a two-adjective alert and described Ahmadinejad's remarks as "appalling" and "reprehensible." "They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the government of Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of that community," said spokesman Adam Ereli.

You don't say. Ahmadinejad was speaking in the holy city of Mecca, head office of the "religion of peace," during a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. There were fiftysomething other heads of government in town. How many do you think took their Iranian colleague to task?

Well, what's new? But, that being so, it would be heartening if the rest of the world could muster a serious response to the guy. How one pines for a plain-spoken tell-it-like-it-is fellow like, say, former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali? As he memorably said of Iran, "It's a totalitarian regime." Oh, no, wait. He said that about the United States. On Iran, he's as impeccably circumspect and discreet as the State Department.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Toronto Not Prepared for Pandemic;
and quarantine won't work

If a Pandemic, such as Avian Flu, were to hit Toronto, the city's health professionals would not be able to deal with it very well, according to David McKeown, the city's medical officer of health [from National Post; Date: Nov 25, 2005; Section: Toronto; Page: 15 ($, no link available), h/t to Jack]:
A severe pandemic could render as many as 914,000 people sick, hospitalize 14,000 individuals and cause 4,300 deaths, according to Toronto Public Health.

If faced with this worst-case scenario, hospitals may be forced to reject some patients, either those suffering from the flu or those with other ailments. “In any emergency, whether it is a plane crash that sends a bunch of people to the emergency room or a city-wide pandemic, the health care system will set priorities and triage to make sure the most urgent health needs are attended to,” Dr. McKeown said.

An extreme outbreak would overwhelm not only hospitals, but also morgues. The city could be forced to store dead bodies in refrigerated trailers, said Barbara Yaffe, director of communicable disease control.

A second public health report released yesterday suggested quarantine measures cut disease transmission rates by about 50% during the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, because the incubation time for influenza is far shorter than for SARS, officials do not think quarantine would control a flu pandemic.

“Influenza is also very highly infectious and will likely be transmitted widely in the community before contacts could be identified and placed in quarantines,” Dr. Yaffe said.

The doctor added it is unclear whether wearing surgical masks would protect the public during an outbreak, saying that further study is needed. “There is currently no evidence available that the use of masks in public settings will be protective when the influenza virus is circulating widely,” Dr. Yaffe said. “However, we do know that individuals that wear a surgical mask properly at the time of exposure may benefit from the barrier provided.”
Jack's assessment:
Acknowledgement that short incubation period for H5N1 would likely render quarantine efforts ineffective and also that the emerging plan seems to be steering towards protection of 'key' personnel rather than saturating early invasion zones, as the WHO plan outlines. Inability of hospital system to handle even current load is admitted. Mormonize, I say. Those old nuclear bunkers of the 50's are going up in value ....

The Expected Marginal Benefits of Drinking:
in moderation, can it help keep you slim?

Can drinking help keep you slim? From the Daily Mail (h/t to BenS):
People who drink moderately every day are significantly less likely to become obese in later life than teetotallers, researchers found.

However, the image of the potbellied ten-pint-a-night man still holds true - those who indulge in binge or heavy drinking are 46 per cent more likely to become obese than those who don't touch a drop.
So, it is drinking in moderation (not to excess) that might be associated with a lower probability of obesity. And it is far from clear that there is a direct causal link.

If there is a causal link between drinking and weight control, though, it appears that the expected marginal benefit is positive for the first drink or so, but then turns negative.

In my own case, I know that the causal relationship does not work this way. Once I have even one drink, my inhibitions are greatly impaired, and I start eating any junk food I can get my hands on. But if there is nothing of interest in the house, I'm happy to run to the variety store (a half block away) in my bathrobe and slippers for some junk food.

Even in the winter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

UWO Student Stripper

There have been many visits to this blog lately from people using Google and other search engines to try to find the video of a UWO student who performed a strip tease for some guys who lived in her residence hall.

I do not have the photos or the video.

You can probably find them by following some links at this site.
You might also find some of the discussion there of interest.

And for those who want to know, yes, I saw a few of the photos;
and, no, I do not recognize the student.
For those who would like to read more, here is some news coverage of the incident.

Obscured thinking and shadowed language

This conference is not quite so racy as the one held by the same group last year, but it looks just as interesting. Unfortunately, they do not have a web page, so here is their call for papers:
April 6-8, 2006
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario

Obscured thinking and shadowed language

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the notion of "darkness" in its various conceptualizations and codifications, both throughout history and in the present. We emphasize the idea of the dark as a terrain of constant negotiation, and as a concept with a plurality of meanings and implications. The conference seeks to elaborate upon these diverse perceptions of darkness, from the idea of the abyss in philosophy or astronomy to darkness in photography and other visual arts, from theology and psychoanalysis to literary metaphors and tropes, and other potential ways of constructing, thinking about, or representing darkness in the present.

Suggested Themes:

dark humour…underworlds & afterlives…the void…a little Night-music…St John of the Cross…

mestizaje… minority languages …metaphors of blindness…Lacan…chiaroscuro & the Baroque…behind the veil…camera obscura …Freud…film noir …rhetoric of the absolute…black holes … nihilism and nothingness...the dark side of language: euphemism & taboo …

the death drive & the unconscious…Prince of Darkness: political justice & ethics…the abyss …things that go bump in the night…Nietzsche…the shadow play…not-white magic …

a flash in the darkness: phenomenology & post-structuralism…Heart & Liver of Darkness…

the visible invisible…Jung…negative theology…forgetting…Deleuze …black box…creation/destruction…the vanishing point…Calderón’s prison…“ít was a dark and stormy night"

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers on literature, linguistics, literary theory, philosophy, theology, visual arts, music, cinema, science, etc.

Proposals in English, Spanish or French (250-500 words) should be accompanied by a short CV and address, and submitted by January 9, 2006.

Please send submissions to:

Graduate Student Conference
Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Room 115, University College
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada N6A 3K7
Tel: (519) 661-3196 – Fax: (519) 661-4093
Or e-mail to: Monica Rettig ( ) or Meredith Snyder (
I'm going to submit 20 minutes worth of economics jokes. I expect these folks would view that as a great example of dark humour. Now that I think about it, these folks might view anything I write as an example of "Dark Matter."

Smorgasbords, Marginal Utility, Information, and Expectations

From Wikipedia:
Smorgasbord is an anglification of the Swedish word Smörgåsbord. It is a buffet style table in a restaurant, or a holiday feast at home, prepared with many small dishes. For a fixed amount of money, you are allowed to eat as many of these as you wish.
Phil Miller has a link to an interesting variation on Smorgasbords — all you can drink for a fixed price:
About 200 undergraduates from the London School of Economics rampaged after an end-of-year fancy dress party, where they paid a flat £5 entry fee to drink as much as they liked for free between 11 am and 2 pm.
First blush economic analysis predicts that people will consume food, beer, whatever is offered at such an affair, up to the point at which the marginal utility is zero. And this analysis is correct so far as it goes. That's what most of us teach our intro students in economics when introduction the concept of marginal utility.

But there are some additional, important considerations that rational maximizers will tend to make:
  • The more I consume of one beverage or type of food, the less utility I will get from a different beverage or food (assuming that marginal utility drops off dramatically as stomach capacity is approached). As a result,
  • It might be better to view the problem as a constrained optimization with stomach capacity, drunken stupidness, or alcohol poisoning as the constraint. Is it the constraint that causes the reduction in utility?
  • The previous two points are short-run. But in most instances, the pleasure from eating is contemporaneous with the eating, but the pain of over-eating comes later. Similarly, the pleasure of drinking in these situations comes with the drunkenness, while the agony of the after-effects comes later. Depending on the consumer's rate of time-preference, and depending on one's expectations and information, the point at which one reaches an expected utility maximum varies from person to person.
With these considerations in mind, one can make some empirical predictions and observations.
  1. Assume younger people have a higher rate of time preference, and/or
  2. Assume some younger people have less experience and less information, thereby forming incorrect expectations about the expected utility from these activities.
  3. That helps explain why we don't see drinking and eating binges in senior citizen communities.
In other words, we older folks quit earlier, in part, because when we look at the expected net present value of future utility, we have better information. Hence we know when to quit without the ensuing negative utility that results from over-indulging.

Well, most of the time we do....

Monday, December 12, 2005

Second Best Biz-Blog in Canada

It was disappointing that EclectEcon was not voted the best biz-blog in Canada, but given that I never thought of it as a biz-blog, I guess second best out of the many that were nominated is pretty okay. Thanks to everyone who voted for this blog.

Cutting the GST:
"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid"

Shortly after Stephen Harper's proposal to reduce the GST, I wrote,
Stephen Harper seems to be drifting increasingly away from sensible economic policies. This drift is both disappointing at best.

His latest pronouncement is to promise to lower the GST from 7% to 5%. For those of you outside Canada, the GST is the Goods and Services Tax, something like a national sales tax or value-added tax. Lowering it would not be a great economic policy.
Many readers, especially at the Western Standard, disagreed with my position (see the comments there).

My colleague, Jim Davies, obviously agrees with these views [In the interest of accuracy, I learned most of this material from him, so it is probably better to say that I agree with his views]. Here's is an excerpt of his comments made for the CBC [h/t to Worthwhile Canadian Initiative].
"Most serious work done by economists who specialize in public finance indicates that the GST is a more efficient tax source than the income tax," Davies told the Canadian Press. "If the income tax cut is designed properly, it can provide similar benefit to lower-income taxpayers."

"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid," he said.
The same CBC piece quotes Bill Robson at CDHowe as sharing these views:
"If you want tax cuts that are going to promote work, going to promote saving, help us invest more and raise living standards in the future, the GST is not the tax you would go after."

Robson said it would be better to cut personal income taxes.
If we want to reform the GST, let's get rid of the exemptions and broaden its base.

"The Big Lie"

I often pride myself on being rationally ignorant about many things: given what I already know, and given my priors and expectations, I'm often unwilling to look into matters when someone tells me something. What are the expected benefits of doing so? Usually they are much less than the expected costs, so I let it go.

Within this framework, it is easy to understand why "The Big Lie" works as a strategy for despotic control. The ruler's subjects are told some horrid lies. And the costs of checking them out are made very high (the threat of pain and torture does that). After awhile, the subjects hear the same big lies often enough that they find it easier to believe the lies than challenge them. It is frightening.

Now read this [h/t to JC].
Commonplace in Islamic media and intellectual circles are accusations that Jews concocted the Holocaust, they control the media, they are Nazis, they inject HIV into Muslim children, they drink the blood of Muslim children, and of course that they are taking over the world, according to the Anti-Defamation League and as displayed across the pages of prominent Islamic newspapers.

The result is that Islamic leaders and media are systematically indoctrinating their people to believe all the ills of the Muslim world are the fault of someone else.

When such audacious statements and beliefs are brought to the attention of those in the West, the tendency is to brush them aside as ridiculous but ultimately harmless. We often subscribe to the "let them believe what they want to believe" mentality.

This is a dangerous fallacy. History has shown time and again that such beliefs are not harmless.

We must recognize that when the "Big Lie" is left unchallenged - as it was in 1930s Germany - humanity pays a heavy toll.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Avian Flu:
the impact on the chicken market

If Avian Flu continues to creep forward as a threat to human health, once it becomes a full-blown pandemic [see Tyler Cowen's latest posting on this topic], the ominivores among us will probably have to cut way back on the chicken we eat. The reason, though, will not be because of fear of transmission from the meat to humans. Rather, the reason will be that working with chickens will become increasingly risky.
Imagine being one of a team of 12 people who go into a chicken barn at midnight to catch 22,000 chickens in 4 hours so they can be shipped off to the processor. Chicken catchers are in constant contact with chickens. They get scratched, and despite wearing masks (which most do not do in our area), they breath a lot of pollutant material.
As the risk of contracting Avian Flu grows, people will be more reluctant to become chicken catchers. And those who do will insist on being compensated both for the increased risk and for the increased costs of wearing additional protection. These increased costs will greatly reduce the supply of chicken meat. They will also dramatically reduce the value of chicken production quota in jurisdictions like Ontario that practice supply management.

If I were a chicken farmer, I would be tempted to sell the farm and quota; I do not think the market has fully capitalized or adjusted to this risk.

Tim Harford Challenges Perfect Complementarity

The two socks of a pair are perfect complements, right?

Not if you buy two dozen pairs of identical socks.

See Dear Economist.

Law and Order

There is no single thing that has disturbed my sleep pattern more than the television series, "Law and Order". Once they started showing re-runs at 11pm (Eastern time) on A&E and then switched to showing the re-runs at 11pm on Bravo, I have had trouble getting to bed at a decent hour.

The series, and its offshoots, have been captivating. As one of my friends wrote to me a number of years ago, "oops, gotta stop writing. L&O is about to start."

I have noticed lately, though, that I am less interested in the show. It's not just that I'm losing interest in the re-runs; I don't like the new episodes so much either.

Rebekah, at Composite Drawlings, explains why the shows have gone off her list, and I expect these reasons go a long way toward explaining why I have lost interest, too. Be sure to read her entire piece, but here's a short excerpt:
These pitchmen who have been writing the series — all three of the shows for that matter — seem to think that it's okay to vilify an entire religious group, and, for that matter, the majority of the country. Teaching a child right from wrong obviously must come into conflict with teaching a child about truth and love and all that warm fuzzy moral relativistic stuff, right? Oh, and the fundamentalists who kill and maim are never Muslims or atheists or anybody else, are they (except in the case where they're victimized into some unsavory act)? No matter what the crime, it's always white-bread Christians at fault, as far as these guys are concerned.
That wasn't the case when Moriarity played the assistant DA.

Pennies, Coins, Dirhams, and Fils

I have long argued that Canada (and the U.S.) should stop minting pennies and stop using them (for example, see here and here). My argument has been
  • Pennies don't buy anything any more.
  • The transaction costs of using pennies are seriously non-negligible.
  • When transportation and other costs are included, minting pennies generates negative seigniorage.

Imagine if the smallest-valued coin had the purchasing power of only one-quarter of a U.S. penny. In such an economy, one can readily imagine that people would just stop using the coin. And that is pretty much what has happened in the United Arab Republic [h/t to the Emirates Economist]

Despite Central Bank of UAE figures saying that 1, 5, 10 fils coins are in mass circulation, residents and shopkeepers say they rarely see them.

“The Central Bank has not withdrawn from circulation any of these denominations and continues to issue them according to the needs of banks in the amounts they require on a weekly basis,” Rashed Al Fandi, UAE Central Bank’s executive director for banking operations, told Emirates Today.

“The large quantities of these denominations in circulation shows their availability in the market.” The Central Bank maintains that there is a demand for small fils coins and that the denominations are in circulation in significant quantities.

But if you buy vegetables and fruits in Dubai, you are likely to end up with a bill that totals 95, 48 or even 60 fils. Stores round off the bill, often in favour of the customers.

“We round it off to the nearest 50 fils or one dirham,” says Zorayda Esquerra of Carrefour, Bur Dubai. [1 Dh = 100 fils]

Plus de change .... The Canadian Mint says the same thing:
Banks want the pennies, so we mint them.
They take the orders from the chartered banks as a sign of demand, a sign that people actually want these small, useless coins. But that is just plain silly.

Look at the markets: people do not want these small coins. In Canada, people take and leave pennies in the penny cups at cash registers. In New Zealand and Australia, virtually everyone is happy to be rid of their one-cent and two-cent coins.

In the United Arab Emirates, people round to the nearest 50 Fils. And they do this not because the smaller coins are unavailable; they do it because they are a nuisance.

The solution is to declare legally that pennies (in North America) and small-denomination coins in the UAE are no longer legal tender but must be accepted for deposit by financial institutions.
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