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Chump Change

The missing American nickel. Plus: Skyscraping. Torture niceties. NPR and Neumayr. Stern dismissal. Plus more.


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Re: Lawrence Henry's The Mystery of the Vanishing Nickel:

Lawrence Henry asks if there are "any ideas?"

Yes. Round all transactions to the nearest nickel and eliminate pennies. (There must be an economic law at work because, at the end a long day of shopping, despite all attempts to get rid of them, I inevitably find four pennies in my change.)
-- Gordon Paravano
Sedona, Arizona

Nickels are heavier, so people would rather have dimes and quarters.
-- unsigned

"Any ideas?"

Yes. The ubiquitous "penny cup," found next to most retail cash registers.
-- Dave Lawson
Granbury, Texas

Considering the price of nickel and copper and that it costs about 3 cents to make a "nickel." Do you see an aluminum "nickel" for the future?
-- Doug Olson
Salina, Kansas

In response to Mr. Henry and his inquiry concerning nickels. As a cashier (my second career) in a supermarket, I tend to give out the correct amount of coins when I give change, so I do use nickels quite often in change back. I can't speak for the other situations he has inquired about, but I can offer my opinion. Being 56 years old, I was educated back before calculators, New Math, Fuzzy Math, and English as a second language became the norm. Therefore, unlike the younger generation, I have a solid background concerning where nickels are appropriate in the change mix, plus I have no problem opening up a packet of coins when needed, including nickels. So while he may have experienced the plight of most people today concerning change back, there are a few bastions left of places where change is given back in the old-fashioned way. Which brings out another concern that I have myself and that is the lack of a slot in the cash till for half dollar (50 cents) pieces. Now that is really an issue that needs addressing.
-- Pete Chagnon

In response to Lawrence Henry's inquiry as to the mystery of the nickel I'd like to add a few observations from my over twenty years in the hotel business.

While his coin counting was accurate based on the change amount (one cent to 99 cents) there are other factors involved that determine commonality in change received. For example, most bars don't add tax to the price of a drink (it's backed out by us accountants) and we like to price them in increments of $3.50 or $4.25, etc. Thus in that situation there is a need for lots of quarters.

Some businesses tend to go through more pennies. The state of Oregon has no sales tax so when you go shopping and everything is $XX.99 you will go through tons of pennies. Pricing has a big effect on what type of change you get back even in variations of spending. An example would be a vendor at a football game selling merchandise and prices everything in whole dollars. Based on this pricing he could maybe go through more 1's than 5's.

I agree with the dime theory in that they can be used in combination with others to forgo using quarters when low, but dimes are also packed more efficiently than the others. A roll of pennies is 50 cents, nickels $2, quarters $10 and dimes are $5 per roll. But since they are smaller than the others you have lots more of them if you have the same value on hand of each type -- say $200.

And just for Mr. Henry's curiosity, this is the usual coinage breakdown initially issued to most of our cashiers throughout the hotel: 4 rolls of quarters, 3 rolls of dimes, 2 nickels, 2 pennies, totaling $60.00.
-- Greg Barnard
Franklin, Tennessee

P.S. If you are going to a men's club I suggest stocking up on 1's and 5's. :-)

Maybe this is the reason for "The Vanishing Nickel"?

From "Around the Nation" on the Washington Times for January 9, 2005:

3.6 million nickels disappear with trucker
MIAMI -- A truck driver has disappeared with the 3.6 million nickels he was hauling to the Federal Reserve Bank in New Orleans, police said Friday.

Angel Ricardo Mendoza, 43, picked up the coins, worth $180,000, Dec. 17 from the Federal Reserve in New Jersey and was supposed to haul the cargo -- weighing 45,000 pounds -- to New Orleans for a trucking company subcontracted by the Federal Reserve, police said.

On Dec. 21, Mr. Mendoza's empty truck and trailer turned up at a truck stop in Fort Pierce, Fla. Miami-Dade police, the FBI and the Federal Reserve police are investigating.

-- Bob Johnson
Bedford, Texas

I've collected my daily change (by denomination to simplify rolling for deposit) "forever" and concur with Mr. Henry that nickels are vastly outnumbered by quarters received in change from retail transactions; in my personal experience, dimes are also in pretty short supply but do indeed outnumber nickels.

Where I quibble is with his math. Perhaps before criticizing retail clerks, Mr. Henry should review:

(1) Number of dimes in optimal change combinations from .01 to .99: This contained an error-within-an-error. First it is inexplicable that he overlooked "70" as well as 20, 45 and 95 when identifying the "2 dimes" combos. I've tried and tried and can't come up with fewer coins than 2 quarters + 2 dimes.

Second, although he did indeed account for the "1 dime" part of "2 dime" combos in his initial total of 60 dimes...there are not just 3 more dimes for the "2 dimes" combos (he must have only accounted for 20, 45 and 95) - or, not merely 4 more using the correct "basic 2 dime combos" count - there are 3x5 more (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, etc.) - or again, correctly, 4x5 more. In short, one each per 2-dime combo. Total of 80 dimes in the series, not 63.

Coincidentally this matches my personal experience in nickel-to-dime ratio.

(2) Noting that 3 dimes and a nickel is .35, not .55, at first I thought he meant clerks rip us off and substitute dimes for quarters one-for-one; but then why 3? And if the clerk "broke" one quarter as 2 dimes & 1 nickel, then "substituted" 1 dime for 1 quarter...there's another nickel "short" as well. Running into a dead end with this approach, I presume he intended to say that the clerk gave 50 cents in quarters...which would be FIVE dimes and a nickel, to make .55.

Alas, before or after correcting the math, my experience aligns pretty well with the 40:80:150 ratio that there "should" be for change, so this may all be much ado about nothing. Let's hope Mr. Henry continues to succeed as a writer so he doesn't have to enter the retail clerk profession and upset that balance! \;-)
-- Kevin Amaro

Lawrence Henry replies:
Correct, I forgot 70 cents. Wrong on the 80 total. Adding in 70 should add two more on the dime side, and one more iteration of 1, 2, 3, 4, for 69.

As for "three dimes and nickel," that was a typo. I meant to write "three dimes and a quarter."

Knew somebody was going to catch me on the count. Good job.

Re: Marina Malenic's Kissing the Sky:

Thanks for Ms. Malenic's paean to skyscrapers, structures with which I am somewhat obsessed. On my 3-week tour of China this past summer, the guides focused on the ancient: Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terra Cotta Warrior's, etc. Personally, I was more captivated by having dinner on the 55th floor of the Jin Mao while watching ships travel down the Yangtze at sunset and rooting around the Bank of China building in Hong Kong on a Sunday morning in complete awe (even if the Chinese do consider I.M. Pei's masterpiece to be bad feng shui). However, the most fascinating of all modern structures in China isn't particularly tall (only 690 feet), just enormous and breathtaking -- what can one say about the Three Gorges Dam? What was fascinating about this tour of China is that out of 40 people I was the only one prepared for the modern side of China, the skyscrapers, the cities and the "New Dam." Skyscrapers are awesome and I hope to someday see all of them.
-- Ben Berry
Washington, D.C.

Re: Mark Goldblatt's Torturous Decisions:

War is indeed a nasty business, Mr. Goldblatt, and your musings prompt a couple of observations. Whatever Congress decides, officially, about the limits and procedures of interrogation with regard to indiscriminately homicidal terrorists, I find it hard to believe that this will have much practical effect in the field. If soldiers' lives can be saved by extracting information, I think that many interrogations will be characterized by using the rule book more as a guide than an ironclad directive. It's soldiers who fight this war, and the bond between them will never be completely at the whim of civilian lawyers deciding what looks good to pollsters, Democrats, and the nations of the world, many of whom despise us. Soldiers of the rank-and-file require humane treatment; on that I believe we would all agree. But with regard to your thought experiment about how far to go to obtain information from a terrorist who was thwarted in his attempt to blow up a commercial plane, I think you forgot to list choice number (6): kill him if necessary. We are at war, and any murderous hijacker (as opposed to a soldier) is prepared to be sent to his god if he is caught in such an act. As a nation we should have the moral courage, not to spare him, but to send him on his way if he refuses to cooperate. It's the very nastiest of businesses, war.
-- Gerald Brennan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

I am not exactly sure what Mr. Goldblatt is suggesting in his article. If it is that we need a discussion concerning the definition of torture, in this country, then this will be futile. For there is no necessity for any discussion.

Torture is very specifically defined as severe mental or physical pain, excruciating physical or mental pain or even great physical or mental pain. These are the dictionary definitions. The wearing of panties upon one's head, being subjected to sleep deprivation tactics, threats of physical harm, minor physical discomfort, such as standing for long periods of time, does not constitute torture as defined in most dictionaries. If it did, most fraternities and even the U.S. military would be guilty of torturing their own members.

The point of this is that any effort to change the existing definitions of torture is only to further a political agenda. That agenda is designed to harm the current administration of this country.

Some opponents of the current administration have attempted to engage the administration in debate concerning the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conference and Convention to terrorist combatants held by the U.S. Most international legal scholars agree that these treaties do not cover fighters who are not members of a national military force and who are not wearing a distinctive uniform. The rational espoused for debate concerning this is treatment of U.S troops in combat. It should be noted that U.S. troops in Iraq were apparently summarily executed after capture and sexually assaulted by Iraqi military personnel (in both Desert Storm and the current Iraq action) or by militias acting as agents for the government of Iraq. As our troops had engaged in no such activities at that time, our adherence to the conventions does not seem to have made any difference, effectively rendering this argument void. When our troops engaged in coercive techniques, possibly in violation of the above stated conventions, they were charged and are in the process of being tried for criminal behavior.

Once again, there is a domestic political agenda at work here that has no bearing upon the laws and conventions of land warfare. Therefore, it would seem to be inadvisable for the Bush administration to even engage in these discussions at all.

The activities of the Federal government, in fact all governments, should be the subject of scrutiny by the citizens of those governments. But, the activities of those governments must be guided by applicable rules and laws. They should not be subject to the current feelings of the media or the loyal opposition. It must be remembered when we deal with terrorists and terrorist organizations, internationally, we are not dealing with either foreign armies or foreign criminals, but with an entirely new type of evil entity. Any debate should be conducted concerning the classification of these persons and what rights, if any, Congress wishes to grant to them. But, whatever rights are granted, there has been no documented instance of torture by U.S. personnel in this action and it is not advisable to redefine torture to cover activities which are not.
-- Michael Tobias
Ft Lauderdale, Florida

Re: Mark Goldblatt's "Many of us would start to feel queasy around #2; few of us, I hope, would proceed to #4." Those who would survive and save others would proceed in a New York minute to option # 4; option #5 might take another millisecond or two. And the terrorist would begin to sing like a canary when he or she saw they were dealing with no-nonsense people with conviction and steel in their spine.

One wonders: Why has no one yet, from either the administration or the mainstream media, asked of Alberto Gonzales' inquisitors which option they would exercise and why? If they claimed the premise was too hypothetical, then ask them to consider what they'd do if the lives of their wives, children and parents, even friends or colleagues, were at stake.

One also wonders: Why is it the Democrats, liberals and leftists cannot-will not-acknowledge we are at war and with an unconventional enemy? In what level of denial, ignorance or cowardice do they exist to believe these thugs, murderers, rapists and torturers will respond to anything less than decisive, lethal, overwhelming force?

Could it be that too few of them have military experience or that of combat? What?
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

Re: George Neumayr's Torturing Alberto:

In his article, "Torturing Alberto," George Neumayr does not contribute to journalism. He rather puts forward patriotic rhetoric. Mr. Neumayr failed to mention what NPR pointed out: in his memo, Mr. Gonzales reduces torture to an act that results in death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily function. This leaves open all the sexual abuse as far as I see. It also leaves open back boarding -- a water torture method. And I would imagine that other means of torture could be done as long as they are not done for extended periods of time.

Mr. Neumayr, please be a reporter, not an attack dog. Give the country true journalism and let us choose our personal bias. As for Mr. Gonzales, he does not have the integrity to be attorney general.

As for abortion: that's a tough issue, who would say it's a good thing? But in the end you're denying one person's rights. The lady's to choose or the infant's to life. When does life start? Too many question. And we are a secular state so you may leave Catholic views out because they are not catholic.
-- Eric Fredell

Sometimes circumstances make it appear that morally questionable or wrong actions are the only possible course. But it is morally offensive to provide advance or abstract justification for misbehavior.

Tu quoque is usually a weak argument. Patrick Leahy apparently thinks the constitution is a "living document" (so he shouldn't object to the denial of procedural rights to terrorists, etc.). Does Mr. Neumayr agree that it is a living document, its meaning shifting to suit the convenience of whoever cites it?

American misbehavior in what we call the war on terror, or even the appearance of misbehavior, is obviously going to be politicized by Leahy or Anne Applebaum or any others Mr. Neumayr might quote to further their own political agenda. Those opposed to that agenda should be the first to insist on scrupulous respect for common sense norms of morality, for the constitution, for international law, and for accepted rules of engagement.
-- Peter Moody

Re: Colby Cosh's Stern in Space and Bob Crosswhite's letter (under "Are You Sirius?") in Reader Mail's Stern Discourse:

With respect to this Howard Stern nonsense, I must begin by saying that I've never listened to his show and intend never to do so. However, I note with some dismay a letter on your website from someone styling himself "Bob Crosswhite," who writes, in part, "Those who listen to the mindless [stuff] that Stern puts out didn't help to put a group of evil, unprincipled people in charge of our once great country."

Setting aside, for the purposes of this missive, the unfair and utterly inaccurate characterization of the current administration, one feels nonetheless constrained to correct the quoted sentence. In fact, it is precisely the sort of people who listen to Howard Stern who did put a group of evil, unprincipled people in charge of our country -- twice. I refer, of course, to the administration of President Clinton and spouse, who, together -- aided and abetted by a group of the most corrupt, dissembling, and incompetent appointees ever to find employment in public service -- subjected the United States to eight years of the most evil and unprincipled government our history has witnessed since the Founding. The variety of degenerate, egomaniacal antics on display in the White House, and in Washington generally, during those eight horrible years were made possible by exactly that segment of the American electorate which considers such antics an acceptable form of behavior; precisely the same sort of people who -- by all accounts -- listen to and enjoy the antics of Howard Stern.
-- Rufus Thompson

Re: Shawn Macomber's The Toomey Revolution:

I have recurring happy dreams of Toomey challenging Rick Santorum in the upcoming primary. Talk about party loyalty above principle.
-- Annette Cwik

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