March 2005 Archives

Short, interesting piece on the employment prospects of Indian students getting an MA in Econ (though, I don't know how much this can be compared to a Master's in econ here in the States -- I would tend to believe it's a bit more rigorous than our terminal Master's programs).

Of the 100 students graduating in MA Economics from the Delhi School of Economics this year, none will end up as a college lecturer.

In fact, with corporate houses snapping up toppers in the field year after year, faculty members fear there might be a shortage of qualified people to teach the subject in the coming years.

The process is probably a bit cyclical. The salaries are likely to drive more people to apply, which makes competition more fierce on graduating, corporations pick off only the very top, and eventually the people who made admirable though not stellar marks will go into teaching, and future potential classes could be made up of those who either excel or have the drive to work hard at what they like rather than those seeking a quick path to a higher salary. Of course, "teaching" econ in the US is usually a euphamism for long bouts of data crunching and editing, with the occasional class mixed in. Personally, it's research I want to do, so this isn't a slight in any way. But i suspect that the emphasis may be more on the side of teaching in those places that aren't endowed with considerable research funds. And some of my favorite teachers, the ones who made me want to pursue higher levels of a subject, were not those who published the most frequently.

Also, as the environment improves for both professional work and research (as I assume it would do as more companies hire, more schools see the value in having larger classes, the benefits of research driven institutions, etc.), it's likely that a greater percentage of the students that came to the States, the UK, or Canada for higher econ degrees would choose to return. I wouldn't bet on the "shortage of qualified people" being either severe or long-lasting.

Public Education


Conservatives are often accused of wanting to destroy public education, but most don't; libertarians are much more forthright in their desire for government to get out of the education business. Being a libertarain conservative, I'm open to a compromise that at least breaks the monoploy. An article in the New York Times points to Dayton, Ohio where my dream is coming to a reality(Thanks to Joanne Jacobs):

Forty charter schools have opened in Dayton, and nine more have received preliminary approval for next fall. That would give this city of 166,000 people about as many charter schools as are in New Jersey, which has a population 50 times larger.

Today 26 percent of Dayton's public school students are enrolled in the taxpayer-financed but privately operated schools, a rate far higher than in any other American city.

Academically, few of the charter schools have proved to be any better than Dayton's public schools, which are among Ohio's worst. Now the authorities are warning that the flow of state money to the charters, $41 million this year, is further undermining the traditional school system.

The article says that the competition has sparked reform, but charters don't outperform the government run school system. If a charter isn't performing to a certain level, that school should be closed or at the very least have its funding removed. The same should be said for school district schools.

Open Source In Brazil

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Brazil: Free Software's Biggest and Best Friend

SÃO PAULO, Brazil, March 28 - Since taking office two years ago, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has turned Brazil into a tropical outpost of the free software movement.

Looking to save millions of dollars in royalties and licensing fees, Mr. da Silva has instructed government ministries and state-run companies to gradually switch from costly operating systems made by Microsoft and others to free operating systems, like Linux. On Mr. da Silva's watch, Brazil has also become the first country to require any company or research institute that receives government financing to develop software to license it as open-source, meaning the underlying software code must be free to all.

My initial reactions are two-fold. First, I wonder if this is something akin to cell phone usage in developing countries. Since the cost of landlines and maintenance plus the wait time to get one from the government are all so high, cell phones are quickly becoming commonplace in areas that hadn't had phones of any kind. Is free software for computers going to make computer access spread more rapidly than if these people and places all had to pay license fees to Microsoft, Apple, or whomever?

Secondly, there's a difference between someone knowingly contributing to the open-source stock of code, and someone being forced to give over innovations to it. Perhaps since the companies and institutes that are developing software with the suppose of government aid would have otherwise seen their products become owned by the state the open-source licensing regulation isn't necessarily an impediment to advance. If that's not the case, though, and these companies were simply getting support without the expectation that their work would be forfeit, I'd worry that declaring it all open-source upon creation will stifle some of the work. Without the ability to retain rights and thus make some sort of return, the incentive to produce may be dampened.

Yao is Irrelevant

Don Boudreaux links to Bryan Caplan's clear explanation of the danger of misinterpreting averages, and writes about an example he uses in Econ 101:

I use average height to explain to my students the problem with taking averages at face value. Suppose the average height of my class of 200 students is calculated and turns out to be 5�8�. Then let Yao Ming walk into the classroom. Because he is 7�6� tall, he will increase the average height of people in the classroom � but do nothing to the heights of any individual in the classroom.
The logic makes sense to me, and is a good point to make, but adding one person with an extreme attribute to a large group will usually have little effect on the resulting mean value.

I made that point when measuring the average hourly pay of Wal-Mart workers. Adding in the $10 million salary of WM's CEO H. Lee Scott increases the hourly wages of a million Wal-Mart employees by about half a cent an hour. This is irrelvant for almost all purposes. As I wrote, the median and the mean are close enough for all but nit-picking.

I'll make the same point with adding Yao to Econ 101. 7�6� Yao Ming will raise the mean height of Don's 5�8� 200 student class by approximately .11 inches. The new mean is 5�8.1��. All this means is that whether or not Yao is added is irrelevant for almost all purposes of measurement -- but is extremely important for fielding a basketball team from Don's students.

(Here's the arithmetic: 200 students at 5'8'' yields 13600 total inches. Adding in 7'6'' Yao yields 13690 inches. Dividing by 201 yields 68.11 inches on average -- or 5'8.11'')

An article on Wired News makes the claim that a shortage of silicon might be getting in the way of a boom in the use of solar energy.

As demand for clean energy continues to grow, the solar industry forecasts millions of photovoltaic systems will dot the landscape by the end of the decade. However, a severe shortage of the silicon used in the systems threatens to dampen solar's growth.

According to a recent solar-energy report from the nonprofit Energy Foundation, the U.S. solar industry could grow by more than $6 billion per year if the technology becomes cost-competitive with electricity from fossil-fuel sources.

(Link in original text.)

That's a mighty big "if" in that last sentence. A lot of things might grow if the underlying technology suddently became easy and cheap to produce.

Despite the repeated calls for government action (new programs, tax breaks, rebates, etc.) by some of the interviewees, industry seems to be doing exactly what one should expect:

Homan said that from 2000 to 2004, silicon manufacturers could not justify capital investments because the price for their products in the solar industry had dropped to less than $30 per kilogram, or below many companies' costs. Demand for silicon from semiconductor manufacturers and the solar industry has increased sharply since then, and the price has nearly doubled, Homan said.

In the short run (before new plants could come online), I would think a sudden spike in demand for silicon as would be occasioned by a new government policy would only exacerbate the problem. Since silicon makes up less of the production costs of a microchip, chip makers' demand are likely to be more inelastic than that of the solar power technology companies.

Robot Game Theory

Did you ever play with Legos?

Me, I spent my time trying to find all the little tiny Lego pieces that I had lost in the carpet before my Dad stepped on one is his bare feet and ended up tossing all of them into the trash.

This guy decides to model evolution.

A little modification, and it seems like you could have your own kitchen-floor version of Hawk-and-Dove. At the very least, it's an ingenious use of everyday items to expore a complex concept. On a larger scale, and with more programming savvy, I would imagine it could be possible to test various strains of mutations, resistance, stability of equilibria, etc.


when two robots reproduce, each recieves a copy of the other’s genetic code. the outcome for each possible action for each life routine is a random choice between the two parent codes. this alone would result in some pretty booring children, given that both parents are initialized with the same code, so i added a roughly 1 percent chance that a mutation will occur for each action that is copied.

the idea is that a robot which is better capable of maneuvering around without getting stuck will have a better chance of finding another robot and procreating.

If Jason Striegel, the author of the hack, were to post his code, I just might be induced to spend a couple hundred bucks making a ton of these one weekend. Yes, it does sound fun. And yes, I do understand that I have a problem.

Edmund S. Phelps of Columbia writes in the Bangkok Post:

There is a movement in medicine to require that applications for licences to sell a new drug be evidence-based. By contrast, trained economists view their discipline as having already achieved this scientific standard. After all, they express their ideas with mathematics and arrive at quantitative estimates of implied relationships from empirical data.

But economics is not evidence-based in selecting its theoretical paradigms. Economic policy initiatives are often taken without all the empirical pre-testing that could have been done.

I'd suggest extending it even further. A good deal of all policy is put into place without sound evidence to suggest that it really might work. I think it comes from a tendency to believe (rightly or wrongly) that some initiative is "unique", or at least very unlike anything that has gone on in the past. Further, explaining that generazliations from a similar, though not perfectly analagous, policy enacted elsewhere are applicable despite cosmetic differences would be, for most people, less thrilling than whatever's on CSPAN-3 at 4am.

I've remained rather agnostic on the whole Social Security reform debate because I've heard a good deal of sound arguments from both the pro- and anti- camps. I have to balance my own preference for returning decision making back to the individual with the reality that making personal accounts "add-ons" is really just another expansion of a system I have grave concerns about already. That said, neither side is swaying me with actual evidence supporting its theoretical arguments (or refuting the other side's).

My suspicion is that this is where status quo bias in most policy decisions gains a good deal of strength. No matter how messed up a system or program is now, the chance that it could be made even worse will bring out in force those people for whom things are "not too bad". It's hard to get people into the streets when a lot of the beneficiaries of a change either don't understand the change, aren't convinced of the change, or, frankly, don't exist yet. Why, to some people, are future benefits of intangibles enough to cover the present costs of things like war when the potential, tangible future economic growth of generations is not enough to restrain economic interference and protectionism?

Truck, Barter, and Exchange

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Much of what I have read lately references the words of Adam Smith that inspired this blog's name.

THIS division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.

Adam Smith - An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 1776. Book I, Chapter 2

In his 1964 SEA address, What Should Economists Do? ($) James Buchanan quotes Smith's text, and get's right to it:
Somewhat surprisingly, it seems to me, the relevance and the significance of this "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange" has been overlooked in most of the exegetical treatments of Smith's work. But surely here is his answer to what economics or political economy is all about.

Economists "should" concentrate their attention on a particular form of human activity, and upon the various insitutional arrangements that arise as a result of this form of activity. Man's behavior in the market relationship, reflecting the propensity to truck and barter, and the manifold variations in structure that this relationship can take; these are the proper subjects for the economist's study.

In other words, study what people do to make economic activity successful. Notice that Buchanan cuts off "exchange" for rhetorical effect. I've noticed that many others routinely do this.

For example, Deidre McCloskey, in "What Would Jesus Spend?" from last year:

The desires of people who followed Jesus--or Mohammad or Amos, or for that matter Buddha--might well become different from those they typically now indulge. But that doesn't change how the system would work best. It would get the high-speed presses for printing Bibles by fostering a system of private property in which people's ideas and their labor seek their best employment in printing--what the blessed Adam Smith called the "simple and obvious system of natural liberty." And it would get the airplanes to Yosemite by allowing alert consumers to seek reasonable deals in travel, what Smith called the propensity to truck and barter.
While writing in Reason Dr. McCloskey uses the full quote:
Dickering, or as Adam Smith put it, "the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another" is "a necessary consequence of the faculty of reason and of speech." Smith was vividly aware of the faculty of speech, but nonetheless confined his system to the more behavioral and observable and quantitative division of labor. Hayek, who first came upon the idea (Smith�s and the inklings of his own) when attempting during the Great War to lead men in an Austrian brigade speaking a dozen different languages, nonetheless confined his extension of Smith to the division of information.
Via AL Daily, we now find Gavin Kennedy using the phrase to describe what Adam Smith really meant:
He saw society as becoming naturally harmonious through the intense dependence of each person on the labour of every other person and taught that the propensity to "truck, barter and exchange" led to people serving their own interests best by serving the interests of others from whom they needed daily necessities.

That is his true legacy, the melding of his moral sentiments with liberty, justice and his economics. It is time his legacy was claimed back.

As I wrote last year, I still think a closer, scholarly look at why Smith uses all three words is warranted.

Photos of Economists

I've spent way too much time looking at Robert Gordon's excellent Photos of Economists, 1969-2005. My favorite -- I'm not certain why -- is the young Don McCloskey.

The Ideal Healthcare System


Don Boudreaux writes that the Canadian healthcare system -- the rules and regulations imposed by the Canadian government on its apparently grateful peons -- is inevitably dysfunctional:

And yet, many Canadians continue to fancy themselves "lucky" to be saddled with such a system for providing their health care....

How on earth can a system that invites consumers to treat a scarce good as if it were free possibly work? Isn�t it inevitable � isn�t it utterly unavoidable � that any such system will suffer dysfunctions and troubles that make consumers worse off rather than better off?

I think this both identifies and ingores the critical point about health care/insurance in modern democracies: this dysfunctional system is exactly what people want.

I am guessing that in the common wisdom of Canadians and Americans, the very archetype of a "good" health "insurance" plan -- and hence an ideal "healthcare system" -- is one in which all the care one wants comes without delay or cost. The essential principles of this ideal are very simple; in terms of the American consumer:

1) the full premia are paid by one's employer or the government

2) there is no co-payment for any office visit

3) there is no co-payment for any prescription medication

4) all pre-existing conditions are covered in full

I'd also suggest the following criteria, but these are not as important as the first four:
5) any doctor -- especially top-notch specialists -- can be seen just by making an appointment, preferably on the same day

6) all surgical, restorative, remediable aspects of dental and vision care
are completely covered

7) whatever the patient asks for -- x-rays, antibiotics, anti-depressants,
repeated toxin screening, appendectomies -- is provided immediately without question

That these criteria are unworkable in reality is irrelevant; the healthcare system in utopia is not subject to the constraints of scarcity or opportunity cost.

This post could have gone on my Wal-Mart blog, but is of more general interest.

British dairy farmers are implying that milk and cheese consumers are too stupid to realize that they should want higher prices, collusion with continental producers, and government protection from those big-bad hypermarkets!:

IF DAIRY farmers want to see an increase in the pence per litre they get for their milk, they'll have to look for help from Europe warns NFU North West Dairy Board Chairman - Ray Brown....

"The supermarkets would not stand for it and would simply find a way to get cheaper imports of milk from the continent. Something I believe the British consumer does not want to see happen because it would not be to their long term benefit..."

"We sometimes forget in this country that a lot of our European neighbours suffer similar problems in regards to milk price. Companies like Wal-mart (who own Asda) are global so we have to challenge them as a European force and not just a British one.

"If we stand together as Europeans we can be represented by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and he can then urge the World Trade Organisation to protect our market. But we have to do this as Europeans. There is no way we could do this as a single British entity.

"Therefore, I believe it's vitally important that our new European allies are secured very quickly."

Of course, once dairy prices are controlled by a distant political machine, the British milk consumer will have no direct say in this matter. But isn't that the point?

iTV For Me, Please

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For people interested in the possibilities of the question Kevin ventures below, here's a link to an interesting paper (RR: I've done it, but I'm not going to put the file up for free) about the potentials for implementing television via broadband connections.

I really can't imagine that this isn't the way television is going to move in a few years. TiVo, and similar DVR tools, strike me as a sort of an intermediary step in the process, a slight shift towards video on demand. The stream is still set, but the box lets you grab what you want from the stream. The issue now, of course, is just moving to the point where the stream only starts when you ask for it.

The bigger issue, however, is what happens to the traditional method of paying to produce TV. I recently read a brief discussion on someone's blog (and please, if you know where, post a comment and I'll make the appropriate attribution -- I dislike "disembodied" references) about the role advertising plays in "subsidizing" the production of the paper: the revenue from people buying a newspaper doesn't cover the cost of production. Since much the same occurs for TV, the idea that people are going to call up their own shows presents a massive problem. Do you want to spend the extra time downloading a show that has 11 minutes of commercials? Fully one third of a regular sitcom download would be for advertising. Basically, you'd be paying to watch ads. Ads, of course, that you'll simply skip or fast-forward through. (And I'd give it about 12 hours before someone cracks the Digital Rights Management encoding and starts posting "edited" versions of the shows online like they do now.)

My best guess right now is that we'll get closer to some sort of iTunes-like service for television shows. The hardest part, I would think, is figuring out the pricing structure. Right now I pay something to have basic cable through a digital box so I can use the DVR. But that's hundred of potential channels I can surf. The effective price per show is miniscule right now. Are you willing to pay even $0.50 to download an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond when you had 200 channels 24 hours a day for $49.95 a month? Perhaps the payments would be per studio/"network" (in quotes, given the antiquated notion that term takes on). $2.00 a month for everything NBC has to offer. I'd welcome it, personally.

Among the major benefits I could foresee? Shows more people want, and improved ability for smaller studios to compete. Given the ability to price discriminate at such a low level, there would be far more information about the demand for certain kinds of shows. Plus, as more popular distributors start charging more to offset server loads and bandwidth usage, people might be induced to check out the lower-price options, and start stumbling on shows they might not have seen before.

Maybe this isn't all that far away, either. Check out what the revitalized Battlestar Galactica has been doing with their site. Audio commentaries (like those found on DVDs) are available, and the entire first episode is viewable, commercial-free.

[Personal plug: This is one of the most intelligent series on TV now. Whatever conceptions you may have had about the original schlock-fest, this is radically different. Strip away the standard nods to the hardcore sci-fi fan base, and nothing else - especiallly not West Wing -- comes close to having so rich a discussion about subjects ranging from the tensions between branches of government, the definition of humanity, the role of secrecy and the State, even cloning and the use of torture. Agreeing with the slant of the show isn't necessary to appreciate their willingness to make the issues messy.]

Comcast's Advertising

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Speaking of Comcast, although Bob notes their quick service compared to socialized medicine, I find their advertising, which is regularly mailed to me and reproduced at left, annoyingly deceptive.

Frankly, who really cares about the $1 for one month gimmick? What's the bottom line? How much will the basic & digital cost me, after all taxes, every month. The fine print offers no assistance to the snarky consumer:

Offer applies to Full Basic and Digital service for $1.00 per month for 1 month. After promotional period, regularly [sic] monthly rates apply.
Of course, it is impossible for Comcast to list all of its prices in print advertising, given the plethora of options and plans.

They have much better pricing options online. Just entering your address brings up all the monthly rates, but does not include applicable "franchise fees, taxes and other fees" that "may" apply.

Of course, most retail establishments do not list after-tax prices, but then final prices are obvious, as sales tax on retail goods and services is a standard flat percentage, depending on type of the good or service in question.

Companies selling goods that have multiple taxes, fees, and other charges -- like telephone, cable tv, and airlines -- can always insist that it is not their fault that the tax schemes are so complicated, but I'm not so sure the mess is to their disadvantage...

I forgot to mention that I must also thank my neighbors in our large condominium building for leaving their wi-fi networks open. As far as I know, it's illegal to run your cable TV wiring into your neighbor's home, but of course, it is not illegal to run your wi-fi internet through your neighbor's wall... what happens iif TV becomes available on demand through your internet connection?

T&B Breaks 200,000

Sometime last night -- and we do get plenty of people through the evening, largely I suspect because of the time zone issues for those interested in the dinar -- Truck & Barter had it's 200,000th hit.

Thanks to everyone who's visited, commented, returned, and, most especially, linked to one of the facets of Brancato Industries.

Open Networks

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I really should thank one of my neighbors for leaving their wireless network open for me to hop on. My own internet access went from poor before a technician "fixed" it the other day to very bad this morning to nonexistent this afternoon. I could be irritated that the problem wasn't fixed after the first visit, but the prompt service from Comcast has helped keep me calm.

Ian has posted his thoughts on Muni wifi. Carrying on some of his thoughts as I freeload on my neighbors, I am somewhat impressed by Comcast's prompt service in addressing the problem even though it's not fixed. Why some people think that government is best at delivering services is beyond me. If I was on a government network, it's not a wild guess that it would not be the next day that a technician is sent to my apartment to address the matter. After all, if in countries with socialized medicine the waiting lists lasts more months, how long long would it take to get a technician to fix my cable modem?

As Ian points out, Muni wireless does nothing to enhance competition and would mostly likely reduce broadband offerings. It's hard to compete with free, although AOL seemed to against the likes of NetZero. Right now, I'm happy somebody left their wireless network open. Thankfully, there is another provider besides Comcast in the area.

Edit: I forgot to say that while I should thank my neighbors for the free bandwith, it may cause them to close it down. It's better to have a backup,

Steven Pinker's essay on taboo topics reminded me of two social cliches (cliched in my work environment, anyway). I think they illustrate an interesting ambiguity (or incompatibility, and sometimes persistent confusion) about what it means to establish credibility.

Known Unknowns


Well, this post is a bit of a stretch, I know, but all I can say is that there is a direct and negative relationship between the amount of work I have and the quality of my posting. Still and all, I think this article at New Scientist is interesting enough to point to: "13 Things That Do Not Make Sense."

Of particular fascination to me was the last one, on the question of cold fusion:

AFTER 16 years, it's back. In fact, cold fusion never really went away. Over a 10-year period from 1989, US navy labs ran more than 200 experiments to investigate whether nuclear reactions generating more energy than they consume - supposedly only possible inside stars - can occur at room temperature. Numerous researchers have since pronounced themselves believers.

With controllable cold fusion, many of the world's energy problems would melt away: no wonder the US Department of Energy is interested. In December, after a lengthy review of the evidence, it said it was open to receiving proposals for new cold fusion experiments.

Also fascinating, though, are the questions that remain not just "out there", but about the basic functions of the human body:

In her most recent paper, [MADELEINE Ennis, a pharmacologist at Queen's University, Belfast] describes how her team looked at the effects of ultra-dilute solutions of histamine on human white blood cells involved in inflammation. These "basophils" release histamine when the cells are under attack. Once released, the histamine stops them releasing any more. The study, replicated in four different labs, found that homeopathic solutions - so dilute that they probably didn't contain a single histamine molecule - worked just like histamine. Ennis might not be happy with the homeopaths' claims, but she admits that an effect cannot be ruled out.

My point? Well, mostly that I find this stuff amazing. But also to point out that, amid all the talk about the effects of economics becoming a field that looks more and more like applied math, that even those truly "hard" sciences are still facing plenty of issues for which they simply do not have a good answer, despite libraries full of incredibly hard formulas and institutes full of million dollar experiments. The lack of a perfect answer, I tend to think, isn't indictment of a method. But surely there is room for more than one. At least, that's my hope as I spend my evenings trying to catch up to, well, what feels like most 8th graders in the hopes of soon moving into more rigorous economic study...

Closer to Drilling in ANWR

Well, that was close: 51-49.

"This is more than a battle over the wildlife refuge," Mr. Kerry said in a statement. "It's a battle over two very different visions of our energy future. The president has a plan to sell off our public lands to the special interests that his own scientists and economists admit will not make us less dependent on foreign oil and will not lower prices at the pump."
Mr. Kerry is right. Oil is a special interest. So are the environmental groups. So? ANWR drilling will not make America more or less dependent on foreign oil, and will not raise or lower gasoline prices. But it will give a quite a load of money to Alaskans.

Of course, all these informative points are really, really besides the useful (political power) point, which is that it seems the oil interests have bought off enough politicos to actually make this happen.

I'd like to know how much of this rent seeking is social cost versus pure transfer to politicians...

In what seems like one of the most astonishing forecasts so far this year, John O. Norquist predicts that the new urban architecture of continually-depressed Buffalo, NY will lead to a boom real estate market over the next twenty years:

Buffalo may find itself in the forefront of tomorrow's urban revival, the keynote speaker for the "Smart Growth Is Smart Business" series told nearly 300 people Tuesday evening.

John O. Norquist, president of the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism and former mayor of Milwaukee, was the inaugural speaker at Nichols School for an eight-part series that will run through Dec. 8.

"I think Buffalo in the next 20 years will prove to be one of the best real estate markets in the United States," he began. Then the tall, bearded Norquist quipped, "You can start the process of ending your feelings of depression any time now."

Flashing images on the screen from cities around the world, Norquist made a case for the comeback of mixed-use city blocks with apartments above retail stores.

"Buffalo has a good architectural heritage with mixed-use buildings," he said. "This is illegal in most cities...."

"Some might have called it cluttered," he acknowledged, "but it has tremendous real estate value per acre. In fact, downtown Buffalo has higher value per acre than any other part of the city, because the urban core produces wealth and value."

By maintaining the old, he said, Buffalo has a treasure just waiting to be revealed.

Folks, I'm not convinced architecture can save Buffalo. After all, this is the Buffalo of $190,000 six-bedroom homes we're talking about. This is the Buffalo that lost 11% of its population in the 1990's. In 2000, the median value of homes was $59K, compared with $149K in the entire state. While the unemployment picture of Buffalo City improved markedly in 2004, the unemployment rate is still at 7.2% compared to a national rate of 5.4%. It's possible that Buffalo will see large gains in real estate prices, should the economy (and the weather) improve markedly, but I'm not convinced.

I really have only one question regarding this rosy forecast: Is Mr. Norquist investing his own retirement savings in Buffalo real estate?

There's an interesting article at Wired about the development of (this time, legal) biodiesel co-ops. Biodiesel is still often a sort of moonshine fuel that people take it upon themselves to mix up for their own use. Of course, I have no real opposition to that, other than the fact that production can be highly dangerous in large quantities. (It can be dangerous in small quantities as well, but as a fan of personal responsibility, I worry less about someone blowing themselves up while trying to turn the run-off from last night's fried chicken into fuel than when they are trying to scale up and making enough to power a KFC, the explosion from which could take out a pretty decent radius.)

What I find most compelling, however, are some things that are pretty much side comments through the article. To wit:

Anyone wanting to sell biodiesel to the public must also get approval from state and federal environmental agencies, Alovert said.

"It's against the law for people to sell fuel or fuel additives to the public without registering with the EPA," said Alovert [a "Berkeley, California, activist who teaches classes on making biodiesel]. "That is a difficult process for small-scale producers to go through."

What's that you say? Regulation is often hardest to overcome for the small entrepreneur? It isn't an unalloyed good for society that makes us all safer and only really costs some of those big companies a few dollars profit? Color me gobsmacked! But if this, this theory is true, then wouldn't I have to accept that regulation could possibly be a bit of a stopper on the wellspring of new ideas and innovations? After all, if some small-scale producers find the process difficult, and don't have the time and money to wade through the process, who should we expect to live through it besides the more capital-rich companies? My God, the implications of this would be...

Well, enough of that. Let's see how people are trying to cope with the presence of EPA regulations:

Politicians in several cities, meanwhile, are eagerly passing pro-biodiesel resolutions to show they are doing something about the environment and America's fossil-fuel addiction.

"We have to start looking at more environmentally friendly options," said Boston City Councilor Maura Hennigan, who announced her run for the mayor's office this week. "People are going to look to the city government for leadership if this is going to take off."

Well, I suppose there's potential here of "working for change from the inside". But you'll pardon me if I'm skeptical of this, seeing as time and energy was spent on getting a governmental body together so they could be "pro-" something just to look like they're active. Who ever said I really want to see government doing more?

But there might be another piece of this puzzle.

"Most of the people enforcing codes regarding fuel production have a safety mentality evolved from the dangers of petroleum manufacturing," said Brian Winslett, director of Blue Ridge Biofuels, a co-op in Asheville.

Blue Ridge wants to set up a biodiesel production plant in Asheville's River District, an old industrial area that is gradually being reclaimed by artists, according to Winslett.

But the codes for industry in urban areas have become so strict that "you cannot thread one pipe or seam yourself," Winslett said. "It all has to be done by certified engineers. Those requirements can be crippling."

You don't say.

It's that time of year again...

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For those of you who are into the whole b-ball thing this might be of interest: the Dancecard Rankings from Jay Coleman and Allen Lynch (the link for Allen Lynch on the page is his email -- not using it because I don't think we need to increase his chances of receiving spam).

I'm more of a football and lacrosse guy myself, but from this perspective, I can get into just about any sport. I know baseball is usually the sport that attracts people fascinated with data work, but I think that area's pretty well covered. Anyone with good data sets for college lax and can send me a file/link is up for a beer or several if you're ever in the DC area....

(With apologies to Marginal Revolution)

From the Technology Liberation Front I see that some kind-hearted government folks are looking at the possibility of extending V-Chip technology to our iPods (of which I am now a proud owner; the Cult card comes soon) and assorted other media. In fact, Senator Clinton is going to be introducing legislation that would

“create a program to study the impact of electronic media on children’s cognitive, social and physical development, focusing in particular on very young children and infants. The program will also examine the links between media consumption and childhood obesity.”

So the fear is that all of this access to technology is making kids fat? Then why make technologically delivered media an easier crutch?

Hillary: “Just a decade ago, we made great strides to keep children away from inappropriate material. But we face a complex new world. All across our country, kids today are playing increasingly violent video games while sending instant messages to friends and strangers on-line and listening to music they’ve downloaded on their I-Pods. How does a parent today who wants to protect their child from violent or explicit content have a chance? Parental responsibility is crucial, but we need to make sure that parents have the tools they need to keep up with this multi-dimensional environment. All of us need to rise to this challenge.”

(Quote from TLF.)

See, I think people have this exactly backwards. Here's my argument. Suppose I really do believe that there ought to be some sort of governmental intervention in people's personal eating habits. In that case, I want television, music, movies and video games to be as graphic and filthy as is entirely possible. Blood, gore, graphic sex, hate-filled language, mistreatment of minorities and women -- and that's just the Disney channel. In fact, I'd suggest government subsidies to pornography producers, tax breaks to video game companies researching high-definition evisceration graphics, and endless loops of George Carlin's "7 words" on the public access channels. Rap music written by serial killers. Government research into more and varied spam for impotence drugs and kinky sex phone lines.

That's what will make my kids skinny. After all, if television, games, movies, and music got so horrendous, then there's no way in hell I'm letting my kids just sit around and surf the web or channel-flip. Go on, then, boy. Get out into that great big world; Congress says its good for you.

Sigh. Using technology to regulate choice simply makes it easier to rely on the technology, and thus makes it more likely to have overweight children. It's not like Rolie Polie Olie is lower on carbs that Blue's Clues. And all that thumb work on the X-Box might wear off a Tic-Tac or two, but that's about it. My friends weren't thinner than me because they played Super Mario Cart while I was mowing down Nazi's in Castle Wolfenstein.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the technology isn't really the issue. I'd offer the suggestion that technology happens to be a strong indicator for something else. Something that boils down to personal choice on child rearing, for good or ill. (I played a lot of video games growing up, and never once have I considered taking a semi-automatic to school.)

In my opinion, regulating technology is wonderful way to feel like you're "doing something", but if my money is being spent to figure out why kids are fatter today than they were 20 years ago, is it too much to ask that the people doing the study ask slightly better questions?

IMMEDIATE UPDATE: It only dawned on me after posting this what this post might do to the Google Ads and search results. If it gets bad, I'll move the bulk of the post "below the fold" to see if it helps.

Open Source Tax Software

Via Slashdot, I found a link to this OSS program for doing your taxes.

Of course, you could always try, but I'm sufficiently skeptical about online-only services to avoid anything I can't do when I'm not hooked up to the internet.

Demand for Wi-Fi

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Got a great e-mail from Kevin about the Muni Wi-Fi post below. Tons of interesting questions and issues, and I owe him a decent reply. Part of the note, however, was a question about data concerning the demand for wi-fi services. Having spent a few minutes online looking, I've yet to find anything decent that doesn't cost over cool grand (though, there are some really interesting reports out there -- if anyone cares to forward something on, I'd be obliged, but I'm not encouraging breaking distribution or licensing agreements).

This Yahoo news item reports some interesting facts from a report (that I've attempted to request -- no response yet) done by TeleAnalytics.

-- In June 2004, there were more than 25,804 broadband-provisioned hotels in the 28 countries researched, with more than 91% having one or more Wi-Fi Access Points. -- More than 15,662 of these hotels were in the US, and they are responsible this year for 44% of the total, worldwide Wi-Fi business plus consumer segment revenue. -- In June 2004, Marriott International, Inc. was leading, with more than 314,000 rooms in US broadband-provisioned hotels. Holiday Inn was second with 288,000 rooms. -- Hotel Wi-Fi Usage growth was found to depend heavily on Wi-Fi coverage. Between March 2003 and March 2004, US usage growth for most market subsegments was, percentage wise, in the three digits range. -- The airports Wi-Fi segment was a late bloomer, but today usage growth is phenomenal. The current growth rates, sometimes over 350% in a six-month period, are clearly nonsustainable. But, with current usage at a fraction of one percent of enplaned passengers, the untapped potential is significant. -- Consumer hotspots usage shows none of the uniformity of the hotel Wi- Fi service adoption. In the observation window (March 2003 to March 2004), there were scores of consumer hotspots with less than 7 sessions a week, but few had as many as 300 a month. -- Usage growth in the consumer segment was non-uniform as well, and few market subsegments managed even a 50% year-to-year increase.

It's just an excerpt. The one big thing I took from this limited view is that demand for wi-fi is still concentrated on the traveling business user. The exceptionally high variance in usage of consumer hotspots (7 a week to 300 a month) shows, at the very least, a highly uneven demand for wireless services throughout cities. That, of course, may help to explain why companies aren't clamoring to wire up massive tracts of land simply in the speculative hopes that people will suddenly run out to buy wireless cards and sign up for service.

(If they did, in fact, do so, would internet service companies end up with an "abundance problem" akin to what Chris Anderson talks about at The Long Tail? And for that matter, would the "economics of abundance" issues be a case to examine Say's v. Keynes' views of gluts? Anyway...)

I won't link to the stories, but rather just to the Google search results for "demand for wifi", if you'd like a sense of the writings on the subject. By and large it's technology companies simply reporting, without much to back it up, that the demand for wireless is "skyrockting", or some other positive-sounding adjective. I'm perfectly happy believing that the demand for wireless is increasing. If that's the case, though, the companies will certainly follow to provide service. If it's not, however, beyond the obvious places like airports and hotels serving business travelers, then perhaps the proponents of wireless everywhere are overestimating the benefits of rolling out such a system?

More on Muni Wi-Fi


As you can no doubt tell, I've become fascinated by issues surrounding municipally-provided wireless internet service. In my online travels, I just found the site The author recently released a report on the current state of muni wi-fi projects that can be downloaded here.

The report is offered largely without analysis, since the author's clear and openly-stated view is that municipal wireless systems are pretty much an unadulterated "good". The derision in the report for those who may oppose such things is clear. The site itself is rich with information, and does often link to those who disagree (though it's mostly to inflate some sense of controversy about the idea that telcom companies paid experts to look into the costs and benefits of muni wireless; that the experts came down on the side of the telcos is certainly not surprising, but doesn't entirely negate parts of their arguments, so a more on-point debate gets lost in favor of pointed fingers and cries of "follow the money!!!").

For a more local debate, check out, a group dedicated to preventing anti-muni wireless legislation in Texas.

MuniWireless fails to even move me slightly due its lack of addressing one major point: how does government provision of the service promote competition? At the limiting example, why would anyone choose a pay service over a free one? Those that would, for benefits such as on-time service, cutting edge speed, or timely roll-out of innovative products is a much smaller subset of the original population. The creation of a free system is likely to make the acquisition cost of new customers for the private companies higher since more time and energy has to be expending in developing "extra" services or convincing people that there's a good reason to ante up a second time. (NB: I do realize that I'm using the term "free" far too loosely; in terms of people's behavior, however, I would tend to believe that they'd act as though the extra taxes and lost opportunities were almost nil once they hear that they can get access to MS Games or Truck&Barter for free anytime they like.) And if that does happen, this just limits the competition in the private sector since larger, more established companies will be in a better position to invest money in acquiring those new consumers. Startups aren't as likely to have the capital to push into a marketplace where the basic service is free and "expanded" options are harder to roll out.

Not to be outdone, has numerous oddities, two of which are excerpted below:

Just as rivers and ports, followed by railways, highways and airports were once essential determinants of where companies chose to locate and where industry flourished, so, too is access to broadband today.


What do we have instead in HB789 [the proposed anti-muni wireless legislation in Texas]? * The incumbents are seeking to lift price caps, enabling them to reap the profits of duopoly.

Well, the first point would require a discussion of asset mobility. Things such as land and airports, once in place, are incredibly expensive and difficult to move or replicate. Wireless technology, on the other hand, is not. If there was enough reason to send a line out to a business, or a couple of businesses, I'd bet a company like Verizon would find a way to do it, considering that the cost would then be lower on a per-capita basis. The up-front costs aren't as daunting as for, say, a railroad. Railroads, of course, are a poor example here. The rapid expansion of train use is closely related to the private sector's involvement. Though, perhaps this isn't such a bad example, since the government did involve itself in the rail industry through anti-trust regulation and declarations that access to the rails was something of a right. The causality above is simply backwards: once access was widespread and thus vital, only then did the government attempt to wrest control. Given the debates over outsourcing, physical limitations on the mobility of assets seems to me a red herring of an argument. There is little reason to believe it would be "good for business" to make a taxpayer fork over money so a small business doesn't have to pay for dedicated broadband lines. And by ignoring the size of businesses that could be "helped", is being evasive: no large company could function on the amount of bandwidth a municipal system would allow. A firm of 500 people looking for the ability to transfer huge files continuously isn't going to pick where to locate because the town center has enough capacity for a few coffee shops full of people checking their email and reading Evites.

The second point is just scare tactics, akin to the claim that monopolists can charge whatever they darn well please. No mention, though, about why if there's no competition for tax collection, marginal tax rates aren't around 95% to pay for all the wonderful, competition-enhancing things government could bring business like free cars and homes for all the employees.

A military intelligence officer in the US Army Reserve makes an interesting case for blogging to be incorporated into the world of intelligence analysis. Essentially, the argument relies on the distributed nature of information, and using blogs as a way to reduce the barriers and costs of sharing information.

Seems like a decent idea to me, though one has to wonder what the institutional policies might be for contributing information to a wide audience. The compartmentalization of information is often a justification for the existence (and thus the bugets) of groups within agencies. I'd be hard pressed to think of an agency that's eager to have its specialty shared, unguarded and uncredited in any way useful to the agency.

This all brings up my disappointment at the demise of the "Terrorism Futures Market". After all, if the case for blogs at the CIA, DIA, or NSC is the benefit from reliance on distributed information, what better than to make that information easier to contribute, faster to interpret, and come with strong pecuniary incentives to contribute? Rather than sift through blog posts and comments, attempting to sort out the wheat from the chaff, time might just be better spent watching contract prices rise and fall. The distaste for the issue, I think, was largely the interpretation that people would be "betting" on death. Contracts for "attempts" at assassinations, attacks, coups, etc., might seem crass, but if one of them is right, and the act is averted, then the gain is mutual: those investing in the contract receive the payoff, counter-terrorism agencies get accurate infomation, and if all goes well, the action is averted (though it could still count as an "attempt".) Of course, those who decried the terrorism futures market never seemed to complain about life insurance. Betting on your own death is ok, I guess.



On the advice of my unbelievably dedicated guidance counselor, I took the SAT and the ACT:

Most students will score about the same on both tests.
Uh, not me; I did not perform exceptionally well on the SAT -- even the math section --, but I nearly aced the ACT. (I cannot recall the exact scores for either). In fact, I think the ACT is what got me accepted at Columbia's engineering school.

My advice: Underachievers, take the ACT! It seems clear to me that many top-performing kids are hyper-stressed, and can't deal with another test. But those of you who find yourselves way down in the class rankings, and can't understand why high school is stressful for so many, may find the marginal benefit way higher than the marginal cost.

H/T: The other Craig Newmark.

On the Value of Reciprocity

Due to some function of the spam filter at Knowledge Problem, a comment I attempted to submit was rejected a few times. (Whether or not this should be considered a feature rather than a bug, I'll leave up to you.) Professor Kiesling generously offered to post it as a "guest post." Unorganized and disjointed, I suggest reading it as the comment it was intended. Then move quickly on to her more cogent thoughts on institutional change, as well as competition over WiFi. A subject -- indeed the very article -- I've discussed before.

Have you ever been a bartender? I have. (Along with a movie mogul and a Comic Book Guy.) One of the common practices of some bartenders, and one that is catching on in coffee-houses and other places where food service comes from behind a counter more often than not, is the placement of a "tip jar" near the cash register. Of course, you've all seen them. You don't ever really see them empty, though, do you? That's because, more likely than not, the bartenders put in the first dollar. The thought is that this will inspire people who look upon the jar to place one of the dollars they receive in change into the tip jar (this is also why you tend to get back five ones in change, rather than a five dollar bill).

Does this really make a difference? Well, while it turns out that there is someone out there who is very into studying the practice of tipping, the question on whether or not this "first dollar concept" actually helps to increase total tips isn't addressed in any of the papers I read through.

(NB: This is not to say the papers aren't worth the time to read. They are fascinating in their own right. As a note to restauranteurs: offering candy with the bill does, in fact, seem to increase the amount of tip left. But speaking from the other side of the table, I'm not so hot on the suggestion of a lot of touchy-feely from the servers. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the positive effect from interpersonal touching is a result of the gender of the respondent and the perceived attractiveness of the server in relation to the diner. Guys tip attractive women more. Homely guys tip very attentive, very attractive servers a lot more. I can't speak for the women. It's harsh, but it's true.)

As I posted a comment to Kevin's post directly below, I couldn't help but wonder if there is something similar, though opposite about comment counts. Does a 0 comment count induce people to refrain from commenting? Could it be that few comments on a blog overall might reduce the incentive to comment, despite the traffic levels of the blog? That is to say, with better information, people might tip more or less (as is borne out in a couple of Lynn's studies that show longer duration with a server, such as more courses or expectations to return, the higher the tip), thus increasing the sensitivity of the tip to the performance of the server. Assuming, that is, people expand their expectations to consider that a server giving other people good service will do the same for them. So, If people are coming back to T&B, but routinely see few comments, do they feel that commenting really isn't necessary? As opposed to, say, Kevin Drum or Little Green Footballs, where the first comment is often simply "FIRST!" as though there were some pride-of-place benefit. Of course, the ongoing chat about the Iraqi Dinar is a notable outlier here.

Taking into account what people might otherwise be doing with their time, commenting on sites isn't "free". (And we greatly appreciate everyone who takes their time to do so here at T&B.) So in some ways the amount of commenting could be considered as that extra amount of time (a tip) someone is willing to give over and above simply reading the posts (dinner). But as can be seen from the papers linked to above, the overall tipping levels don't necessarily serve as a good measure of the quality of the service at an establishment. (Something up for some debate, mind you.) Unlike tipping, people will know how motivated others have felt to give a little bit more of their time by seeing the numbers of comments.

Should we expect tipping to be a better driver of good service if people knew more about what others were tipping at a restaurant? And, does commenting on a blog post have "tipping point" where x comments start to generate a larger incidence of commenting?

Disorganized Borders


Today, I'm in Bohemia, NY.

Being near the center of Long Island, Bohemia is not really notable, or even separable from any other "town" or "village", except that it is really close to Southwest-friendly MacArthur Airport. Unfortunately, the Bohemia Borders bookstore is also notable -- for having no economics section. I expect this at Waldenbooks and the like, but a regular-sized Borders? Thomas Sowell is crammed into Marketing and James Surowiecki is in Small Business something-or-other. Henry Hazlitt is dismembered...

This would not be so bad except that the nonfiction books are not shelved by major category and author. In fact, they're sorted by an Borders-internal 4 digit code not indicated on the exterior of the shelves, and then by author within each major category and subcategory. Without staff assistance, it could take somebody ten or fifteen minutes of searching to actually find the book he's looking for.

Is this an intentional disorienting strategy to get people to ask for help, or just plain stupidity?

UPDATE 3/8/05: The Borders in Riverhead, NY has a three-shelf economics section, but the Borders Cafe here upped its coffee price to $1.75 while leaving the price on the board at $1.65. That's a big no-no in my book; Wal-Mart would be lambasted for such practices. To me, it looked at first that the server was pocketing a dime per cup, and I couldn't understand how that could possibly be worth it. And I only noticed because the bill came to $1.90, and I was agast that the sales tax rate on coffee would be 25/165=15.2%, but it was actually only 15/175 or 8.76%.

As most people know by now, big cuts are coming down the pike for the aeronautics division of NASA, as the administration chooses to refocus funds on the space mission of the agency. The agency will be looking more towards competitive sourcing as a way to develop projects. Not a terrible thing, in my mind, though I do think there are still a few things NASA is right to have under its jurisdiction.

All this happens, of course, at the same time that private initiatives into reaching space are increasing their tempo. Fast Company has an interesting piece on a company called SpaceX and their Falcon I, looking to put small payloads into orbit on a budget far below the traditional cost. (I promise it won't be all Fast Company, all the time. I just recently found their blog.)

If industry is the place to turn for aeronautics innovation, and the private sector is responding to the success of SpaceShipOne, then what exactly is it "we" are hoping public fund expenditures will achieve?

I got confused about how Movable Type works, forgetting that "save" by default means "publish". Thus I have now published two copies of an early draft (broken HTML and all) of something I wasn't sure that I wanted to publish anyway.


original version: I have spent twenty minutes or so trying to figure out how to make them go away, with no success so far except deleting the "entries" and a correct (I hope) understanding of what happened (and that a published article is evidently a separate copy of the "entry" it was made from). If someone wants to take mercy on me, please feel free to delete the published articles. Meanwhile, I'll probably continue trying on my own for a while.

updated and hopefully-final version: They seem to be gone now, yay. Perhaps someone took mercy on me (but didn't send an email?) or perhaps they were in fact deleted when I deleted the entries, and I was having some sort of (cache?) problem which kept me from seeing the change on the main Truck and Barter page.

Here's a shocker: turns out, no one in business really uses game theory, despite it's being taught to nearly every MBA candidate in the US. (I'm sure this will warm Kevin and Steve's hearts.)

Fast Company: First, we scoured the literature. We selected a relevant portfolio of 40 publications and submitted our queries. We tried again. And again. And we found . . . nothing . There were plenty of mentions of government spectrum auctions, and A Beautiful Mind came up hundreds of times. Not quite what we had in mind.

Perhaps, we thought, the media just doesn't get it. Undaunted, we assembled a panel of 30 respected game theorists around the world, and we sent them a survey asking, "Can you think of any examples of real, live companies that have consciously applied game-theoretical concepts to a real business problem?"

The response was . . . a deafening chorus of head scratching.

"The short answer is, I don't know," said David Levine of UCLA. "Let me think about this," replied MIT's Muhamet Yildiz.

Not to be too snarky, but having been in a few classes with MBA candidates at UChicago...I'm not sure they do much with the economics they were taught either.

UPDATE: Turns out, Fast Company did find someone who may be putting game theory to good use. Though, he might not really know it: Shaq.

Game Theorists Say... "There must ... be a credible commitment on the side of the relational monitor to the prescribed function in each contingency."

Shaq Says...
"It's about honesty ... I'm like toilet paper, Pampers and toothpaste. I'm definitely proven to be effective."

Hmmm. Perhaps it's not that people actually be knowingly applying game-theoretic strategies, but simply act as if they were?

If you haven't, yet, you really ought to read Prof. Kiesling's three posts on institutional change: one, two, three.

Done? Good. Now, take a read through this concise discussion of the loose organization of internet "governing bodies." Then (yes, there's more), take a quick gander at this short note about rising sentiment to have the control of the internet centered at something like the UN.

Yeah, I got shivers too.

No, it's not truly competing groups, but I do think the differentiation between controlled, centralized organization versus a more organic growth illuminates the potential hazards of something like the above occuring (over and above it actually being the UN that decides it should run the internet).

Panera's Wi-Fi Down Nationally


There are about 6 weeks left before my dissertation must be defended; I have traveled to NY so my mother can babysit while I write. And write I did, as Panera Bread's free Wi-fi service is down in every store nationally. It has been out since yesterday, and though leaving me with no distractions, greatly inconveniencing me.

There is no alert on Panera's webpage, the store managers here are clueless, and tech support was unhelpful. At least the latter removed the silly recorded warning message they had up yesterday: "we expect to have this resolved as soon as possible", or something very close.

Also, after living away from Long Island for about 5 years, I can finally hear the LI accent. Wow.

Ogling Google

I'm a huge movie buff. Love the things. Watch 'em all the time. Old, new, foreign, domestic, amateur, whatever. Almost got into the movie-making biz after college. Well, I was in it for a short time. Discovered I hated it. Possibly the worst career any thinking person can have unless you get to be the writer, cinematographer, or director. If you're not, it's sheer, living, breathing hell. Had a similar experience with the world of comic books. But that's neither here nor there. Add to this, though, T&B's penchant for discussing Google-related issues, and I can now work in that small reference to other personal interests.

Without further ado (read: blather), Google now has a new operator for searching: "movies:".

Give it a spin. It actually works quite well. Of course, this will certainly not enhance my productivity.

(Aside: The post's headline strikes me as a great title for a blog that does something similar to Always Low Prices. But I think it's ground that's being covered elsewhere.)

Getting High in Paradise

The following accounts tell the grim story of the drug abuse situation in the Maldives:

My mother first introduced me to sex. A family friend abused me for money to support her mother�s drug usage. I was abused at the age of nine years. As my mother was an addict she sent me with a man asking me to do whatever he says. There I was abused. I came and told my mother about it and she pretended that she didn�t know that he was such a bad person. After that I heard mom encouraging him for the act saying that I might deny, as I was a child. My abuse was one main reason I had to use drugs in order to avoid stress. Thereafter sex is nothing precious for me. I had sex when I was 12 years old with my boyfriend. Later as I started using drugs I wanted to support my addiction so I got into a relationship with a dealer. My boyfriend does not allow me to be with many addicts or to go and buy drugs from others. I mostly use in my room at home with my boyfriend.

-female drug user

Wife of a brown sugar and hashish oil abuser had the following story:

On those days when my husband had taken a lot of drugs I ask my children not to irritate Dad. Not to make him promise to do anything for them or give anything to them. Because I know that he will not be able to keep the promises he makes to the children.

Sometimes I felt like killing all of my children and myself. There were days when I was not able to afford basic needs. Like a sanitary napkin when I have my periods. I go out in the night and collect plastic bags and make pads for myself. On such occasions people approach me thinking that I am a prostitute. I had no way of supporting my three children and myself so I had two affairs. They were with people who approached me when I go out at night to collect �things�.

My in -laws blame me for my husband�s drug use. They say that he uses drugs because of me. I feel very heavy inside as I feel that there is nobody who understands me. The fact that I do not have my husband by my side makes the hurt more. After my husband was taken away this time I felt lonelier than ever before. We were much close physically and mentally this time than any other time.

In Maldives the legal system interacts to make drug situation more complicated as the following story of a 19 year old boy illustrates:

I was dependent on brown sugar by the age of 16 and started stealing from home and outside. I used to steal from shops, mug people on the streets, cheat people for money and even begged on the streets. I continued like his until I was caught robbing a shop and sent to jail for two weeks and the brought to house arrest.

I was sentenced within a week and was banished. During my banishment, I used cologne and alcohol. I was brought back to house arrest after one year and then released after six months.

The above quotes are from the UNDP sponsored first ever comprehensive study of drug abuse in the country, Rapid Situation Assessment of Drug Abuse Situation in the Maldives 2003. Though the approach and the sampling used could have been better, it illustrates the grim situation facing an entire generation of Maldivians. Newspaper reports constantly remind of ever worsening of the situation. The Government�s response has been to spend more money on rehabilitation, getting more committees set-up and even praying to God for deliverance from drugs.

For Discussion & Comment: How could the Maldives effectively control the drug abuse situation in the country? Legalization is not an option- Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country where all forms of alcohol and drugs are banned for locals. Quoting John Stuart Mill, "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign" will not work.

Here is good survey of illegal drugs from The Economist. Here are drug policy experts on the blogosphere; Mark Kleiman, Drug War Rant of Pete Guither and Vicesquad.

Here is a recent story from New York Times Magazine about drug abuse, My Addicted Son.


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