Archive for August, 2007

This feels like the setup to a Dateline episode.

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

This postcard arrived in my mail today. It was addressed to me. Well, me “or current occupant,” but they clearly got my name somewhere.

In case you can’t read it, it says, “Happy Birthday to a very special girl! Just for you! Save 25% on your entire purchase, valid during your birthday month.” At the Limited Too. There’s more than one thing wrong with that, trust me.

Maybe they somehow know I read this story at Slate about back-to-school shopping. It’s a good thing I’m moving soon. Maybe I’ll be able to get away from those stalkers at the Limited Too.

Merge Ahead

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

I was pleased to see this news last week that a federal judge declined to block the proposed merger between grocery store chains Whole Foods and Wild Oats. The newer news is that the Federal Trade Commission has indicated it will appeal. Here is a post from Prof. David Bernstein at Volokh calling the FTC’s position “unusually silly.” (And he quotes another commentator who labels it “ludicrous almost beyond belief.”)

So what is the FTC position that is so dumb? Well, essentially, the FTC argues that there is a regular grocery store market, consisting of all the big chains and other grocery providers, and a wholly separate market for organic food. Wild Oats and Whole Foods merging, the FTC says, would create an unhealthy concentration in this latter market in one company. Of course, this is ridiculous. For one thing, the merged company would still make up a very small portion of the overall grocery market. And, other “regular” grocery stores sell organic foods, too. The FTC has a simply bizarre definition of the relevant market.

I’ve been following this case not because I care a lot about organic groceries but because I care about radio. And the outcome of the organic grocery merger might have an impact on the pending merger of satellite radio companies XM and Sirius. (Disclosure: I’m an XM subscriber.) The satellite radio merger is facing some of the same hurdles as the organic grocery merger. It’s currently under review in the FCC and other agencies.

I really hope that the government doesn’t repeat its grocery posture in the radio merger. The National Association of Broadcasters, the lobbying group for “terrestrial” radio stations, opposes the merger, and is arguing in terms that sound a lot like the FTC’s. The NAB asserts that there are two radio markets in America — one made up of its members, and another, tiny one for satellite radio. One has to wonder why the NAB is so exorcised about a proposed merger in a market in which it asserts its members don’t compete. It claims to be looking out for consumers, so maybe it should have weighed in on the grocery merger, since it claims that the “satellite radio market” is as separate from its own as the organic grocery market is. (For a little more, see Truth on the Market here.)

But of course that’s not true. Terrestrial radio stations know they’re in competition with satellite radio (not to mention all sorts of other music, news, and entertainment options), just like large grocery store chains started stocking organic goods to compete with places like Whole Foods. I quit listening to regular radio precisely because I preferred the choices I could get via satellite. To pretend that there are two radio markets in the U.S. would be like acting as if the old broadcast tv networks aren’t competing with cable tv. The simplest way to show that the XM/Sirius merger would be good for consumers is to point out that, after a merger, I would have more choices, not fewer, because I would also be able to listen to Sirius content.

I have a feeling the radio merger won’t go perfectly smoothly, and I suspect I’ll probably have to end up buying a new receiver. But I’m willing to do that, just like I was willing to buy a new cable box when I got more channels. And here’s the best thing — if the merged company raises prices or reduces stations, I can always chuck it and go back to listening to regular radio for free, assuming it offers competitive options. So, yay capitalism!

Quasi-Catholic?

Monday, August 13th, 2007

I wrote a post a couple of months ago about whether religious conservatives would be able to accept Rudolph Giuliani as the GOP candidate. I mentioned Steve “Feddie” Dillard’s efforts to prevent such a perceived calamity. Now his website, Catholics Against Rudy, is up and running.

The CAR site is polished and professional, and I’m sure it’s helpful for what it’s trying to do. (Be sure to check out CAR’s MySpace page. Steve’s a Scorpio, so apparently Catholics are fine with astrology!) And here’s an AP story (with a quote from Steve) about Giuliani’s difficulties in trying to trade on his Catholic background when it helps him but elide the issue when it hurts him. (Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner linked to these sites — well, not the MySpace page — before I was able to, but I found them on my own.)

Ultimately, I’m still not convinced that Feddie and his gang are doing anything more than tilting at windmills. Giuliani may yet not end up winning the GOP nomination, but I think that would be more as a result of things like last week’s gaffe than disquietude from religious conservatives. I had more on this in my original post, and Ponnuru links to a recent poll suggesting that abortion opponents are supporting Giuliani despite his positions. I think that most voters just aren’t going to base their decisions on whether Giuiliani is Catholic enough.

I’ll try to remember to check in on the CAR site from time to time, and Steve is welcome to drop by and tell me why I’m wrong.

Agruing with TAPPED – episode 1

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

While not at the forefront of original political thought, I do greatly enjoy debating and arguing with folk on the other side of the political median. So as a springboard to hopefully more frequent posting, I’ve decided to pick one of the liberal blogs I read regularly and respond to posts that catch my attention (for whatever reason). At least to start out with, I’m using TAPPED for my sparring partner.

The post lately that’s been bothering me is one where Elisabeth Zerofsky points to a survey stating that Bush’s U.S. approval rating is lower than Stalin’s among contemporary Russians. Her final statement “Enough said” is a smug assertion that no other evidence is needed to demonstrate Bush’s evilness. This is stupid on so many levels that I think what bothers me the most is that it showed up on a site that I usually respect for it’s sanity.

First of all, of course a lot of Russians today like Stalin, because if they (or their parents) didn’t when he was alive they’d be dead now. Bush’s approval ratings would be great if he should ship off every one who didn’t like him to Antarctica, but America doesn’t quite work that way. Bush’s approval ratings are low because he mismanaged the toppling of an evil dictator and attempted crappy immigration reform. Stalin’s numbers are low because he brutally oppressed and murdered tens of millions of people. Of course those things must be on the same level to Liz.

Second, when the Russian history text books are blatantly teaching children that Stalin was the most successful leader of the USSR, that’s gonna skew some folks to your corner. I wonder if Ms. Zerofsky would be able to locate one school teacher, let alone text book, that says the same thing about George W? (Stephen Colbert does not count as a teacher.)

Third, standing against Hitler pads everyone’s approval a little bit. If W. helped end the holocaust I imagine his approval numbers would crack 40.

Fourth, Russia today is a shell of the former USSR, and many there long for the days when they were a feared superpower around the globe. Any strong historical leader looks a little rosier than who they’ve had lately.

I’m sure this is the kind of statistic that makes for great bar jokes at liberal conventions, but to post it in a political blog as a straightforward comparison is more than a little bit childish. On the bright side, at least we’ve moved on from everyone comparing Bush to Hitler. Maybe this counts as progress.

I know this was an easy post to shoot holes through, but I’m getting warmed up. The next one I tackle I promise will require more thought and effort.

More on the Golden Gate Bridge

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

I wrote here last week about the film The Bridge, about suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, at MetaFilter, there’s an interesting thread about a new study from the Marin County Coroner about the people who jump. The comments at MeFi turn into a pretty heated debate over the desirability of erecting a suicide barrier, if you’re interested in getting into that.