business news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of Japan’s new case of mad cow disease, MNB user Erica Shafer wrote:

On the Supermarket Guru website yesterday there was a story about mad cow and Japan. Japan tests every ONE of its 1.3 million cows that are slaughtered and has come up with its third cow this year. The U.S. slaughters 36 million cows a year and next year expects to test 40,000 cows for the disease. Based on Japan's results, the chances are that 1 in roughly every 43,000 cows are infected with the disease. If the U.S. had the same infection rate as Japan. It would stand to reason that they only found 1 cow this year if they were indeed only testing around 40,000 cows.

Furthermore, assuming the disease rate was the same as in Japan, with over 36 million cows being slaughtered this year in the U.S., we should actually have close to 837 cows that are infected and in our food chain. That is a very large number, almost enough to stop me from eating beef (at least until they come out with some sort of certification saying that this cow, or mixture of cows for ground beef, has been tested to be free from the disease). If the U.S. has a better system than Japan for ensuring that the cows are just as safe, despite the fewer tests they perform, I would love to hear about it.

Kudos to for making an excellent point, and to Erica for doing the math in way that seems to make a lot of sense.

We got a number of emails responding to yesterday’s report and analysis of an interview with JetBlue CEO David Neeleman.

One MNB user wrote:

That is how companies should be run, no need for unions and employees are
happy because the employer actually cares. Imagine that. I have respected
them for some time now.

And MNB user Jonathan Lukens wrote:

I've been a JetBlue management fan for some time, having been a study of progressive management, Level 5 leadership (Meg Whitman, Neeleman) etc. and running an upstart myself.

It was actually Sam Walton who first coined, "If you're not serving the customer, or supporting those who do, we don't need you"...

On the union side, I think Jet Blue is heading in one direction, and Wal-Mart another...

We had a piece yesterday about proposed government oversight of RFID technologies. One MNB user responded:

As a consumer, I welcome some reasonable amount of government involvement in shaping the RFID future. I feel that, in a world free of restrictions, the P&G's and Wal-Marts of the world would have cameras and microphones in my car, in my bedroom, in my bathroom; maybe a Home Depot camera hidden in my garage, etc. Marketing people will stop at nothing in the pursuit of consumer information, unless there are rules that stop them. RFID promises many benefits for manufacturing, logistical, retail and other concerns, but I've yet to hear the real benefits for consumers explained. The only one ever mentioned is the idea of pushing your shopping cart through an archway and having everything automatically debited from your checking account without someone scanning the items individually. That doesn't seem so great if we also get the invasion of privacy that RFID could bring.

And MNB user Michael Bernstein chimed in:

I am of two minds when it comes to government intervention because, like you stated, it tends to retard the situation, not enhance it, but in the case of RFID, I'm thinking that some formal protocol needs to be developed to ensure that the potential "big brother" scenarios raised by critics does not materialize. I feel the potential efficiencies that are inherent with such a system must be balanced by the legitimate privacy issues that have been raised. Ground rules must be established, either voluntary or by government mandate, in order to ensure that no one is able to take advantage.

All you have to do is look at the situation facing Albertson's and its (alleged) use of its shopper's Rx records and other personal data for marketing promotions to see the potential impact RFID could have on us consumers and our privacy.

Lastly, just wanted to give you, as the kids say, "props" on your great site and lively debate. Keep up the good work!


On the subject of Toys R Us’s troubles, MNB user Mark McSwain wrote:

My 5-year-old son could tell you why Toys R Us is about to tank. They don't sell toys anymore. Over the past few years I have watched as toys have been replaced by clothing, DVDs, Electronics, candy and finally, groceries. Toys R Us has so scaled back the variety in the lines of toys that they carry, that I can find everything they carry at Wal-Mart or Target. I heard you speak recently where you said that Wal-Mart has not passion for the food that they sell. I think the same could be said about toys. If Toys R Us would get back into the business of selling toys, they might beat the odds.

Interesting perspective.

We have to be honest, we try to avoid Toys R Us at all costs, preferring to just order from and skip the hassle.

We got a lot of email about our story relating how the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) has opened Iraq’s first Subway restaurant – joining three Burger Kings and two Pizza Huts in that nation. AAFES plans to open more than 50 name brand fast food facilities over the course of the next twelve months as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

MNB user Phillip W Censky wrote:

I could be wrong, but the westernization of Iraq seems a little premature, given that less and less of Baghdad is safe for our troops or Iraqi police. Will these burger flippers be receiving hazard pay? While the presence of American fast food chains may be a symbol of progress to some folks, to others it's a polarizing lightning rod.

Another MNB user wrote:

Incredible! How do they expect us to believe that they truly have a plan to "help" the Iraqi people with news like this! Talk about a lack of respect for Iraq's cultural values. No wonder Iraqi's are afraid of the American influence – they get saddled with some of the worst aspects of our culture while the benefits are just a glimmer of hope years into the future. What a mess.

To be fair, we think the fast food joints are being set up primarily for the US forces that are in Iraq. But the criticism that the very existence of these businesses adds to the notion that the US doesn’t “get” the intricacies of the culture in Iraq seems like a legitimate one.

Another MNB user wrote:

Some people don’t care for us because they have a right and/or wrong view that we as a country tend to Americanize area’s that they believe should stay true to native custom or culture. This view is considered to be strongest in the area of the world where Iraqi’s reside, and also with people in Southeast Asia. With that said, we move forward anyway. We take the cultural imperialist view that we should ignore the majority view and cultural norms, and open our crap fast food to each and every one of their arteries?

Will this movement of QSR in Iraq solve the problems we have over there? Soon will we see: “Thin & Stuffed Crust pizza now number 1 and 2 of favorite meals displacing staples like Masgouf and Hamad,” in the WSJ or “Whoppers bring peace to Iraq,” seen via the NY Times front page. Finally, will Iraqi’s have to listen to Jared from Subway as well, or will they be spared? It’s the very least we could do.

But not everyone thought the fast food invasion was inappropriate:

Some people may not like fast food and they feel that it has destroyed the health of our kids. At the same time, fast food is what these young people eat and it seems that this "little piece of home" might be something that connects them to their regular life. With all of the other threats that they have to endure on a day-to-day basis, let's give them this one vice.

Finally, we got a whole bunch of email about various France-related stories that we’ve run this week…one that spoke enthusiastically about the French food shopping experience, and another that wrote about the plight of French winemakers.

On the former issue, MNB user Joan Toth wrote:

One of my favorite "grocery shopping" experiences was at a farmer's market in a small village near Beaujolais during the first few weeks of the Mad Cow outbreak a few years ago....

The local farmers had snapshots of the cattle - prior to butchering – showing the shopper that, presumably, Bossie was a young, healthy specimen, well taken care of in the French countryside, with no suspect feed in its diet.

On that same trip, we wandered into a little wine cooperative where the locals were gathered to sell their specialties - newly released Beaujolais Nouveau, sausages (with samples being grilled over grape leaves leftover from the crush), local duck confit, jams, breads, cheeses, all the local specialties.

What a great way to live.

Am I alone in being embarrassed that our grocery experiences in the U.S. offer endless endcaps of processed boxes of food?

No. You’re not alone.

At one point yesterday we commented about how much hostility remains towards the French, noting that we’d run an essay about Parisian food stores, and received a few nasty emails about the French.

We wrote: We would suggest to the folks sending us these largely unprintable emails that they should take a good look at the Content Guy’s last name to see if they are going to find a sympathetic ear; while we are primarily Irish American, there is a bit of French and Alsatian blood coursing through our veins. We like to think of ourselves as both Gaelic and Gallic…which probably explains why we have so much gall…not to mention our taste for beer and wine.

One MNB user responded:

No unprintable comments here, but no mystery on the "amazing hostility" either. You might want to read Bill Gertz's new book or look into the U.N. Oil for Food program and how scandal ridden it was. The French make it easy to dislike them in the best of times. Are you amazed at their general attitudes about everything and everyone else?

Bottom line the French not only didn't support the U.S. when they should have - they actively worked against us in technology and arms. Many people look at the recent and current deaths of American soldiers being at the very least enabled/assisted by the very country we shed blood for on the beaches of Normandy. When They needed us.

If it's hard to understand that hostility then maybe geo politics is a subject to stay away from. Sympathetic ear? I could care less what MNB thinks or feels about this subject. Frankly, I'm amazed, that you're amazed. Seems as if the sympathy is needed (and being asked for) for the poor French winemakers. The blood lines of your editors and writers have nothing to do with the subject at hand, nor does it offer any comic relief. Stick to the retail business. Was this unprintable?

Obviously not. In fact, it was a good deal more civil than some of the other email we got.

Here’s the thing. We recognize that there are two ways to approach this issue, and if people choose not to drink French wine because they disagree with the French government’s political positions, that’s fine. We’re only saying that we choose to distinguish between vintners and politicians…in fact, we know some French folks who don’t think much of their government’s decisions, either.

As for bloodlines not being comic relief, maybe you haven’t been paying attention. Here at MNB, almost everything is fodder for jokes. Passion and debate are no reason to lose a sense of humor.

MNB user Mike Eyerly also had a thought on the bloodlines issue:

You’re supposed to be an American first. But hey! It's all about the selfish American in today's age.

Rebuke noted. Point taken, even though we were kidding around. But we’re not sure what exactly was ‘selfish” about our comment and approach…

And another MNB user offered:

So its OK with you the insurgents in Iraq have new French weapons, allegedly?

No, it very definitely would not be OK, though the most important word in that sentence may be “allegedly.” If true, this would be something about which we would not have a sense of humor.

But again, we are trying very hard to distinguish between gun merchants and vintners. Maybe that’s a distinction that is both impossible and inappropriate in 2004…but we don’t think so.
KC's View: