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June 6, 2009

Trading Baby sings — 'You're like a dolphin to me'

Noodling around YouTube looking for my most favorite eTrade "Trading Baby" commercial — the one where the kid on the right up top keeps bursting into song — I happened on the variation above.

"Sweet melody, oh harmony...."

Below,

the commercial that started this.

June 6, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

What is it?

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Answer here this time tomorrow.

June 6, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

What's a Bonaerense? Hint: it's not someone who went to Bonnaroo.

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James Surowiecki's column in the current (June 8/15, 2009) issue of the New Yorker, besides being most instructive and amusing, taught me a wonderful new word (see headline up top).

As always when reading about the economic travails of Argentina, it's almost impossible to believe that this once-rich country, in 1900 among the most prosperous on the planet, has somehow mismanaged itself so badly as to now be a Third World-like financial basket case.

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Change We Can't Believe In

As you walk into the Retiro train station in downtown Buenos Aires these days, you pass a long line of people snaking their way from the station’s entrance to a single window. At first glance, this is unsurprising: what’s more common than a queue in a train station? But there is something distinctive about this line: it ends at a window bearing a sign that reads “Coins.” The people standing patiently in line are not, it turns out, waiting to buy train tickets. Instead, they’re waiting to do something that’s become very difficult in Buenos Aires: make change.

The Retiro queue is a sign of the most peculiar economic crisis in recent memory: the great Buenos Aires coin shortage. For well over a year now, small change has been hard to come by there. Stores hang “No Coins” signs in their windows, and offer candies instead of change. Taxi-drivers round up—or down—to avoid giving up precious coins, while smaller merchants sometimes turn away business if you have only bills to offer them. The government has fined banks thousands of pesos for refusing to hand over coins, and, in October, the city’s subways became temporarily free when the booths ran short of change. For the average Bonaerense, everyday transactions now entail a complicated calculation of where coins can be acquired and when they will be needed.

That’s especially true because most people need change to get around Buenos Aires: the city’s buses accept only coins. This has made them an obvious culprit in the shortage, as they take in millions of pesos in coins but, unlike other businesses, don’t hand any out. If the bus companies hold onto the coins rather than depositing them in a bank, they can make a significant dent in the amount of change in circulation. And they did have an incentive to do this: before the government cracked down on them, they were reselling coins to businesses at a hefty markup.

But the buses alone can’t be responsible for the shortage: they’ve been coin-operated for many years, while the coin famine is a recent phenomenon. So two other theories of the origin of the crisis are regularly floated in the city. The first is that the left-wing government of Argentina is conspiring to make the right-wing government of Buenos Aires look bad, before coming to the rescue itself. And, indeed, the national government is supposedly implementing a plan for electronic bus cards, though it’s now well behind schedule. The second, and more common, explanation is that people are hoarding coins because inflation is making the metal in them more valuable than their face value.

Hoarding of this sort, and the resulting coin shortages, was once a recurring economic problem, one that the Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla dubbed “the big problem of small change.” But these shortages were thought to be a feature of premodern times, when coins were made out of precious metal, and people literally brought silver to the mint to have it turned into coins. If the value of silver rose beyond the face value of coins, hoarding silver was a natural response. Today, coins are government-issued tokens, and their value is theoretically unconnected to the metal they contain.

This isn’t to say that the material worth of a coin’s metal can’t still exceed its face value; the rising value of zinc, for instance, meant that, last year, every new penny issued cost the U.S. Mint about 1.7 cents. But hoarding no longer makes sense unless it’s done on a large scale, and most people in Buenos Aires are not melting down their coins into hunks of copper. Yet, even if they’re not, the anxiety that others might be hoarding coins and melting them down seems to have been enough to start a panic. Hoarding causes shortages, but shortages also promote more hoarding.

It’s no coincidence that this kind of panic has taken hold in Argentina: the country’s history of financial crises has made people there profoundly skeptical of the way markets work. The sharp spike in inflation in the past couple of years, for instance, was almost certainly exacerbated by Argentina’s previous experience with hyperinflation. Businesses that have gone through an episode of hyperinflation become understandably alert to the threat of it: at the first hint of inflation, they’re likely to increase prices, since they’ve learned that if they don’t, and inflation hits, their businesses will be wrecked. In the same way, when it comes to holding onto coins, people hoard first and ask questions later.

You could, then, dismiss the Buenos Aires coin shortage as an anomaly. But the Argentine experience actually underscores the degree to which all modern financial systems depend on confidence, and the problems that erupt when that confidence disappears. In the U.S., after all, the chaos of last year both led to and has been exacerbated by a shortage of its own: credit. As people became worried about the health of the system, they took money out of any investment that smacked of risk and put it into cash (bank deposits have soared in the past six months) or government bonds. That, in turn, made others more anxious: less willing to lend and more interested in holding onto their money. Fear bred a credit crunch, which, in turn, bred more fear. And if fear has left the Argentines with too few coins, it has left us, paradoxically, with too much cash (and too little credit). This isn’t to say that financial crises are all in our head; certainly our own was sparked by problems that were very real. But there is an irreducible psychological dimension to both crises and recoveries. And if it’s hard for people in Buenos Aires to give up their pennies, think how much harder it will be for Americans to start taking risks again.

June 6, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Special Edition

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Designed

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by

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Sebastian

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Errazuriz.

June 6, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Increment

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Great title for David Ignatius's new novel of covert action, centered on Iran's quest for the bomb and thus very timely.

Tight and credible without introducing ridiculous plot elements.

Unlike most stories of its ilk, it doesn't degenerate toward the end in an attempt to tie up all the loose ends but, rather, leaves things as messy as the real world.

"The Increment was (and is) a selected unit of SAS soldiers... allocated for use by SIS, the British equivalent of the CIA. MI6 undercover intelligence officers do not and never have had the fabled 'license to kill' of James Bond mythology. But when such jobs are required, it is the increment whose rules of engagement may permit the lethal use of firearms." — The Center for Public Integrity.

Excerpts at Google Book Search.

Highly recommended.

June 6, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sandal Gel Cushion

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From the website:

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Sandal Gel Cushion

Soft gel pad wraps around the toe peg of your sandal, protecting the sensitive skin between your toes.

Set of 2 self-adhesive and removable gel cushions.

Also helps relieve burning ball-of-foot pain.

Works with any sandal with a toe post.

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$10.98.

June 6, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Open Mind — by Yoan Capote

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One of Cuba's leading artists, his conceptual pieces like that above —  shown this past spring at the 10th Havana Biennial — often focus on paranoia and isolation.

June 6, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

SoundClip iPhone Audio Booster

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From the website:

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SoundClip iPhone Audio Booster

Louder iPhone sound — no batteries needed

During critical iPhone gaming sessions in the conference room we find ourselves sometimes having to put our ears to the bottom of our iPhones just to hear important game noises over the din of corporate buzzwords and powerpoint presentations.

Sad really. 

Furthermore, when we want to show clever YouTube videos to our co-workers at the pub often times the sound is barely audible... and those landscape mode games... we always block the speaker with our hands.

Luckily the SoundClip directs sound from the built-in speaker on the iPhone toward you to increase the clarity and volume for movies and music.

It also makes games easier to play without blocking your iPhone's speaker.

A tuned conical deflection chamber designed to make the audio from your iPhone clearer and also slightly louder.

Sound waves are reflected toward you, instead of away, so you feel more involved in your game, movie, or music.

SoundClip amplifies iPhone audio by 10dB between 6kH and 20kHz, resulting in a cleaner, more accurate response.

For iPhone 3G.

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$7.99.

June 6, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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