Sunday, February 25, 2007

Anna and (The) Economist

Last Friday, I, Aco, and some friends had lunch at the School of Dentistry's refectory -- in building E, should you are curious where it is. While walking our way to that place, he told me that The Economist read a hilarious obituary on Anna Nicole Smith. Later on I looked upon that piece and can't agree more with Aco that it's a tragic yet comically amusing.

Now I'm going to ask Manager: if even the prestigious The Economist takes the trouble in making such obituary, can we do the same thing on, say, the late actress who has been found dead in a hotel near Salemba not so long ago?


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Market Failure: Fake Scientist and Her Wild Pink Yam Pills

A frequent visitor of this cafe once told me that he's amazed with economist abhorrence toward banning or regulation. Well not always. The standard text-book told us that government regulation might be needed if competitive market fails to prevail. And one among reasons why market does not work efficiently is the problem of incomplete (asymmetric) information.

And this is the hilarious yet tragic example of it: the fiasco of self-proclaimed scientist turned TV celebrity and best-selling author in UK. Here is the lead:
For years, "Dr" Gillian McKeith has used her title to sell TV shows, diet books and herbal sex pills. Now the Advertising Standards Authority has stepped in. Yet the real problem is not what she calls herself, but the mumbo-jumbo she dresses up as scientific fact, says Ben Goldacre.
Certainly, if the article is correct, the viewers of her TV shows, buyers of her books, and consumers of her Wild Pink Yam and Fast Formula Horny Goat Weed Complex pills are doomed. Consumers who do not have information as Dr (err, no) Gillian McKeith has (or pretends to have), buy products with no medical value --while in fact efficiency-wise they shouldn't buy those fake products at all.

To prevent that thing happens and to rectify the market efficiency, economics allows various government related authorities to step in --Advertising Standards Authority and Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, in this case.

You see, mate. We don't always hate government and loathe regulation.

ps: Following Aco, I was about to post a picture. But on the second thought, I don't think the horny goat pix is appropriate here in the cafe.

We'll miss you, Chief!

Imagine a soccer match between Persija Jakarta and PSM Makassar. Before the match, there is this opening attraction and all that. From Persija side, there is a parade of ondel-ondel (native clowns of Betawi). From Makassar, they have a guy acting and dancing in a costume resembling Sawerigading (the main character from the I La Galigo epic).

What do you think? I bet many Indonesians, or at least those sitting on the Senayan bench (the stadium, not the House) would enjoy the show.

But in Illinois, this could mean a big thing: racism. It has been years that every time our basketball team is playing, the audience is divided: pros and cons with regard to the using of an Indian chief as the mascot of Fighting Illini (that's the team's proud name). Some think the mascot honors the American Indians, some think it is derogatory. (As for me, I always enjoy the solemn dancing. The first time I watched the game I did not understand why some people with Illini t-shirts were standing and some sitting, with a very high tension between the two groups).

And the tension continues, to the parking lots, to the street, and even to the department halls. Professors are divided. Students hold demonstrations, for and against.

Honestly, I don't know which one is politically (in)-correct. It is just that, whenever I bought a ticket, I expect some fun. And the Chief was fun.

But now, he's leaving.

(Picture from

Update: A friend from Ole Miss emailed me:
I am sad he is gone. I am against the idea that animals are meant for mascots for which humans are too highly dignified. Why don't we change all college team symbols to some respectful human character and drop the word 'mascot'?

A funny fact...The U of Mississippi mascot is Colonel Reb, an old Southern plantation owner. (Although, he looks more like a confederate leader to me.) You know what plantations represent: the slavery. Now, that's clearly wrong. They have not abolished the mascot, they just decided to keep him off the frontlines of sporting events. But you see the confederate flag all over the campus when there is a game. Confederate flag license plates, confederate flag doormats, etc.
See this: I miss the Chief.
She is right: hypocrisy it is.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Flood Rescue Strategy: Saving X or Y?

It seems that the flood has been receded. It is now somewhat safe to launch a slightly provocative quiz on the subject. Here it is.

There are two types of area that has been submerged by flood in a city, X and Y. X is located in a riverbank and inhabited by low-income people, the ones who can only afford the cheaper almost-like-slum housing by the river. They get used to, and are better prepared to, annual flood. Yet, once the flood hit like this year, they have to face higher level of water, and danger, coming into their way. Despite little grumbling, they still can smile --as seen on TV.

Y area, on the other hand, has never been inundated, except this year. The population is relatively well-off people, middle class who can afford suburban housing in, supposedly, flood free residential area. By that, understandably it was really desperately shocking for them, unprepared as they were, to see the water swallowed their properties. When the shock ceased, they enraged, blamed the authority --any authority--, and some of them started to take legal action against the city government --as read in newspapers headlines.

You are the city administrator in charge for rescue scheme. You are, however, only equipped with limited resources --personnels, money, boats, etc-- to be deployed, that doesn't allow you to cover both areas. Now, which area that you are going to intervene, X or Y?

To make things more complicated, your boss, the elected official, called you up. He wanted to make sure that the disaster would not obstruct his chance for running in the next election for his second term.

And your answer, please? And why?

The best answer will be awarded free coffee and cheesecake, specially prepared by Manager. She hates the flood, it reduces the cafe revenue.

p/s: This quiz is a modification of Amartya Sen's illustration on the problem of informational base for evaluative judgments and the theories of justice and social ethics, in his book Development as Freedom, page54-56.

You may want to replace the flood with sharp rise of poverty level right after a massive economic crisis; people in X the chronic poor; people in Y new social climbers who just managed to escape the damned poverty line, --thanks for recent economic boom--, but are hardly too far away from it yet; and the call from your boss a democracy. And instead of a flood rescue plan, it's a poverty alleviation program.

Of course, the prize of a sensible answer will be increased accordingly. Perhaps, a ticket for Java Jazz would do, Manager?