Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Econ Student, Terrible Granddaughter?

Another Christmas has come and gone, and with it, another round of returns, exchanges, re-gifting, or in some cases, simply tossing our unwanted gifts on the trash heap. Although retailers in recent years have made things easier with the advent of the gift receipt, there still exists a large economic loss after every holiday season.

This crossed my mind the other day as I was wrapping presents. For my grandmother, I had gotten a $10 frame to hang on her wall, with a decorative engraving inside that read "Family Faith Friends" or something like that. Admittedly, it wasn't the most thoughtful gift I'd ever purchased for Grandma, and to be safe, I opted for a gift receipt. When I was wrapping the gift, I was about to get up to find the receipt, but then remembered every unwanted gift I'd ever received, and how many of those came with no option to return or exchange. I sat back down and thought to myself: screw it, let Grandma feel the dead-weight loss of Chrismas this year.

Terrible, I know.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

2 years have passed since my mother, Nancy, died of cancer. We had our differences, and we had a lot of distance between us for most of my life, but her death marked a profound change in my life that I've never really mentioned. My brother and I were there at her bedside many nights in the last few months of her life, talking, or reading, or watching TV together. Slowly, she lost her energy. She eventually would barely wake up, and when she did she couldn't make sense of what was going on around her anymore. People who haven't witnessed slow degenerative death seem to have a misconception that death from illness is peaceful and quiet and quick. It rarely is. Being 21 years old and caring for a parent while they slowly slip away is one of those things that just changes you. It forces you to grow up. Here I am, two short years later, living and working in Washington D.C., breaking out of my former shyness. My life has changed drastically from where I was. I kind of feel like the growing up experience was my mom's "final gift."

Thanks, mom.

Check out my eulogy, here.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

I Won!

Last week, there was an op-ed writing contest for the Cato interns. Long story short, I won! Here's my editorial:


Twenty years ago, the internet was still called the Information Super Highway, satellite dishes were humongous backyard-eyesores, and cable television only had 36 channels. My, how times have changed.

This week, the FCC will hold a meeting to discuss a recent report that could lead to expanded regulation of cable television. A federal law passed in 1984 determined that if the cable industry ever grew "too dominant" and passed the 70/70 rule - that is, if cable services reached 70% of people and 70% of those people became subscribers - then the FCC would be given new powers to regulate the industry.

The FCC's recent figure of 71.4% cable-subscription rate has been contested by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Their estimates place that number at just below 60%. Also, cable providers have been losing subscribers over the years to satellite and phone companies that provide video services, and the industry as a whole has seen stock prices flat-line or decline in recent months.

The aim of the FCC's expanded regulatory powers, should the 71.4% figure be deemed accurate, would be to promote a competitive environment and "diverse information sources." This is roughly translates to ensuring that enough women and minorities get to own or lease cable channels, and requiring cable providers to carry those channels. Let's entertain this idea for a moment: if currently successful cable channels are dropped by broadcasters in order to carry channels that, diversity-friendly or not, previously had no market for them, what exactly is the benefit to the cable TV customers? Additionally, how will this increase competition for the "too-dominant" cable TV industry?

Competition for cable television providers already exists. Direct TV, Dish Network, and Verizon FIOS are the first three competitors that come to mind. The internet is quickly becoming a fierce competitor, too, with peer-to-peer video sites like Joost, and music and video marketplaces like iTunes providing everything that cable companies do, either for free in the case of Joost, or for a small per-download fee. The internet represents an unregulated gold mine for diverse information sources – Google news provides news from over 4,500 sources daily, and Youtube has become a cauldron for user-generated video entertainment.

It's unclear just exactly what cable regulation would accomplish – aside from more red tape. Television media is currently in a transitional stage, as video-on-demand and digital video recorders are giving consumers greater choices about what, when, and how they watch television. The freedom to choose what we watch and how we watch it will not be stopped by bureaucrats who purport to know what we ought to have access to. As consumers, we can be certain of one thing: as technology continues to evolve, our choices will continue to expand.

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