In receipt of receipts

by Henry on August 4, 2006

Over at TAPPED, it being a Friday evening, Michael Tomasky complains about “receipts”:

bq. What bugs me is receipts. In this town, sales clerks everywhere are ceaselessly forcing sales receipts into your hand. What the hell is this about? I go into a CVS (a horrifying experience under any circumstance). I get a couple things. It comes to $4.38. Do most people really want a receipt for $4.38? Who still goes home and enters $4.38 into a checkbook? I simply cannot believe that 51 percent of consumers really want their receipts for small purchases like this.

He wouldn’t want to be “travelling to Italy”: any time soon.

bq. It was a classic stakeout: for some time government agents had the Bar Venezia in Stigliano, a small town in Italy’s deep south, under surveillance. This February, as Salvatore, oblivious of the trap about to be sprung, came out into the street the team moved in with cool efficiency. … The crime: dealing a 100-lire bag of popcorn without a scontrino (cash register receipt). The penalty: a 300,000-lire (about $240) fine for the bar owner who had sold the popcorn, and one of 33,000 lire for Salvatore – who had to be bailed out by his father, seeing that he is only 7 years old.

In Italy, if you purchase something, you need to get the receipt and keep it handy for a few minutes. Otherwise, you’re liable to be fined if a member of the Guardia di Finanzia asks you to produce your receipt and you can’t. The rationale is that shopkeepers aren’t liable to ring up purchases and provide receipts if they can get away with it; the cashflows from receiptless purchases are easier to hide from the relentless gaze of the tax inspectorate. Thus, the law tries to force the issue by pressganging citizens into demanding receipts under the threat of (admittedly not very large) fines. It’s a bit of a shock to the system for people brought up on Anglo-American notions of the law (certainly, I found it rather surprising when I found out about it myself).

Update: “Bruce Schneier”: has an interesting essay on the ways in which receipts help counter fraud.

Maladministration of Organs

by Cosma Shalizi on August 4, 2006

Kieran’s post about his book on organ donation gives me a hook to write something about the other end of the system, about organ recipients and the institutions which are supposed to match them up with donated organs. More specifically, how one such institution, the Kaiser HMO of Northern California, quite spectacularly failed several thousand people who were depending on them, by not matching them up. The story has been around since early May, when it was broken by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber in the Los Angeles Times (cached here), since confirmed by an investigation by Medicare/Medicaid. It doesn’t seem to have gotten all that much attention among the blogs, but it’s outrageous, and deserves, for that reason alone, to be better known.

(I was hoping to end my guest-blogging here by kvetching about econophysics, which is merely trivial; but that will have to wait until next week, back at my own blog.)

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Robert Wokler is dead

by Chris Bertram on August 4, 2006

I’m really very sorry to hear the news of the death of Robbie Wokler. Wokler may well have known as much about the life and work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as anyone of the past half century. Sadly, much of that knowledge never made it into print, as Wokler was often reluctant to hand over final versions of his work to editors. Maybe there is material that will emerge. His essays, though, on Rousseau — and on the Enlightenment more generally — were often brilliant, insightful, iconoclastic and scholarly, all at the same time. He was a lively character, who often asked questions at conferences in a pretty robust manner, and was often willing to share a few drinks afterwards. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to learn from him a little. There’s “an obituary in the Times”:,,60-2296552,00.html , I’ll add more as an when I hear of them. UPDATE: Josh Cherniss has “a fine appreciation”:,,1856123,00.html in the Guardian.

Israel’s War Crimes

by Daniel on August 4, 2006

Following on from last week’s post on Hezbollah’s War Crimes, it would seem appropriate to follow up with a discussion of the actions of the state of Israel with respect to the Geneva Conventions. Human Rights Watch has an excellent and thoroughly-researched report on the subject of whether the civilian casualties in Lebanon have been the result of collateral damage to legitimate military actions, or whether there have been instances of illegitimate, intentional or excessive violence against civilians. It concludes that there is certainly a case to answer. There is also the issue of whether the war crime of “reprisals” has been committed – the carrying out of acts of violence against civilians in order to put pressure on their government to carry out some desired course of action, which is of course called “terrorism” when non-state actors do it.

I had prepared a post on this subject, but the Human Rights Watch report is so much more thorough that I think it’s better to base discussion on that (by the way, the comments on the Hezbollah war crimes post were very civilised and intelligent, let’s repeat that). My summary of the report’s conclusions would be that the proposition that the IDF “takes the utmost care to minimise civilian casualties” has been falsified to a high degree of certainty, and even the weaker claim that the IDF does not intentionally target civilians looks a lot less certain than one would previously have believed. The attacks on infrastructure such as the LibanLait dairy look not at all like legitimate attempts to shut down Hezbollah and very much like attempts to intimidate the Lebanese population; unless we are prepared to postulate a truly colossal series of blunders, it looks very bad indeed.

Israel has in the past been able to maintain, with some justification, that there can be no “moral equivalence” between its actions and those of the terrorists; an important point when the physical effects of the IDF’s actions have been so many more deaths than the physical effects of terrorism. Whatever the jus ad bellum, this issue of jus in bello matters a lot, and speculation about the long term genocidal aims of the President of Iran simply cannot justify war crimes now. The gradual disintegration of the clear distinctions between the conduct in war of Israel and that of its enemies, which are very important in maintaining Israel’s international diplomatic reputation, ought to worry the Israeli government a lot more than it apparently does.