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Friday, February 24, 2012

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Friday Morning Eye-Opener: The Two-Headed Fish That Ate Common Sense

by Kevin Coupe

Did you hear the one about the fish with two heads?

No, this is not a joke. Far from it.

According to the New York Times, “variously mutated brown trout” have been traced to some Idaho creeks, not far from mining operations operated by JR Simplot Co. (The fish were the offspring of fish caught in the wild and spawned in captivity.)

Photos of the fish were included in the appendix of a scientific study that concluded “it would be safe to allow selenium - a metal byproduct of mining that is toxic to fish and birds - to remain in area creeks at higher levels than are now permitted under regulatory guidelines.” JR Simplot is looking for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a ruling that would allow it to exceed current acceptable selenium levels.

According to the Times piece, “Selenium is a naturally occurring element that, when disturbed, can be released as a toxic byproduct of human activities like farming, mining and burning coal. The regulation of selenium pollution is, for example, a highly contested issue in mountaintop coal mining in West Virginia and in agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

“The metal can also affect human health, with symptoms including hair and fingernail loss and numbness in fingers and toes. It has been regulated in drinking water since the 1970s. But the metal is far more dangerous to aquatic egg-bearing animals like fish, birds and reptiles - a fact revealed in the early 1980s when excessive selenium in agricultural runoff resulted in fatal deformities in waterfowl at the Kesterson Reservoir in California, including missing eyes and feet, deformed beaks, legs and wings, and protruding brains.”

Now, I’m not a scientist. But this does not seem like such a hard decision for the government to make.

In musical terms, the shin bone is connected to the knee bone. The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone. It isn’t hard to make the connections.

In movie terms, I think about Quint making certain connections in Jaws:

“You go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark's in the water. Our shark?

Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we've received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again...

Selenium in the water? Two-headed deformed fish in the water?

Time to make a change in how things are done.

In this case, it does not seem like it requires some Eye-Opening revelation. It seems like simple common sense.

Connecticut Considers Mandated Labeling For GMO Products

The Hartford Courant reports that the Connecticut State Legislature’s environment committee is considering “a bill that would require all genetically engineered foods to be labeled and also to create ‘best practices for GMO farming’.”

It should come as no surprise that advocates are lining up on either side of the issue.

"We have a right to know what's in our food,'' Bill Duesing, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, said in written testimony submitted to the committee. "It is required that a water bottle tell us how much fat, protein and carbohydrate is in that water, but currently we don't know if the ingredients in our food are genetically engineered.''

On the other side, Gregory J. Costa, director of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), told lawmakers this week that “genetic modified ingredients are no different nutritionally and from a safety standpoint than other foods that do not have genetically modified ingredients.”

The Courant frames the issue this way:

“The European Union gives its members the power to ban genetically modified food, and France, along with several other countries, have taken that step.

“But in the U.S., the Federal Food and Drug Administration has studied genetically modified food and determined that it need not be labeled, so a number of states are addressing the issue. Lawmakers in Alaska passed a measure requiring labels on genetically modified fish in 2007, but no state requires labeling on all genetically modified food.

“Food industry opponents say a patchwork of state rules will make it more expensive for them to do business. They favor a voluntary labeling system.”

KC's View: Label them. As this point in our history, anything less than complete transparency is a foolish approach to take.

Technology makes it easy. Put the information available via a QR code, so that people can access it if they want it or need it.

But just do it. And stop coming up with reasons not to. (And, BTW, the only reasons the states are doing it is because the feds wouldn’t. A national system would be better.)

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Amazon Gets Grief For Changes In Bay Products Programs

Internet Retailer reports that changes that Amazon.com has been making to its baby products shopping program - called Amazon Moms - have been generating some discontent among some consumers - 1,600 of whom have signed an online petition objecting to the moves.

According to the story, Amazon has reduced the standard diaper discount from 30 percent to 20 percent, has decreased a complimentary Amazon Prime membership that was part of the program from nine months to three, and has even stopped enrolling new members without offering an explanation.

The petition, in part, reads: “Times are very rough, unemployment is high, money is getting harder and harder to come by. This discount is the only way some people can afford to buy the necessities they need for their children. Imagine what we can do if we ask Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos to remove the charge for Amazon Mom and give us back the original discount.”

KC's View: I have no idea what’s going on at Amazon, but moves like these do threaten to undermine the perception that it is a customer-centric enterprise.

Kroger, Cincinnati Reds Look To Get People Out To The Ballgame

The Business Journal reports that the Cincinnati Reds have announced a new partnership with Kroger, offering “tickets for sale through Ticketmaster retail outlets inside 57 Kroger stores in Dayton, Cincinnati, northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana.” In addition, “those fans who purchase tickets at a Kroger Ticketmaster location will receive a voucher for a free ‘Kroger Meal Deal‘ - a regular hot dog, 16 oz. soda, a bag of chips and a snack - at Great American Ball Park. The offer only applies to tickets for weekday games for seats in the mezzanine or terrace line sections.”

KC's View: Cool.

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Google Agrees to Limit User Trackability

Bloomberg reports that Google has agreed to allow “a ‘do-not- track’ button to be embedded in its Web browser, letting users restrict the amount of data that can be collected about them.

“The world's most popular search engine is joining other Web companies to support the anti tracking initiative, which prevents an individual's browsing history from being used to tailor ads.”

The story notes that Google “is getting into the initiative as the Obama administration unveiled plans to provide consumers more control over their personal information online. Congress should enact a privacy bill of rights for Web users, the administration said in a report released today. Revelations about potential privacy vulnerabilities during the past year have spurred calls from regulators and lawmakers for better protections for data online and on internet connected mobile devices.”

KC's View: These kinds of moves are going to become increasingly important for internet companies, I believe, as consumers become more and more sensitive about the use of their information.

This is something I’m sensitive about. On MNB, I’ve always tried to be careful about not abusing my readers’ information and accessibility. I’m always amazed when I see other websites sending out what in essence are sales materials from paid sponsors to their email lists...maybe that’s what their readers signed up for (though I doubt it), but I know that’s not what MNB readers sign up for. You have to respect your users. And that level of respect is something to which companies like Google are learning to be more sensitive.

Executive Suite: Jim Donald Joins Extended Stay As New CEO

Extended Stay Hotels said yesterday that it has named Jim Donald - the former CEO of Starbucks, Pathmark and Haggen - top be its new CEO. He succeeds Gary DeLapp, who is expected to remain with the company as a consultant.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, “The hiring marks the rare choice of an outsider to lead a U.S. hotel company. It comes as the 685-hotel chain is looking to revitalize its business after investors bought the chain out of bankruptcy proceedings two years ago.”

And, the Journal writes: “Extended Stay plans to consolidate its brands later this year and to refresh itself under one name with a new logo, according to a person familiar with the matter. Extended Stay currently operates with five brands, including Extended Stay America, Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel and Homestead Studio Suites Hotels.

“As part of the plan, the company plans to invest more money to improve its hotels, said people familiar with the matter. The plan includes renovating two- thirds of Extended Stay's properties over the next 18 months, replacing and upgrading mattresses, carpet and paint, one of the people said. Hotel rooms are expected to get flat-screen televisions, this person said.”

KC's View: Better than almost anyone I’ve ever met, Jim Donald understands that competitive wars are won on the front lines, not at headquarters. He gets the fact that it is the unique combination of people, facilities and price that can make a company a winner - and that’s true whether it is a supermarket chain or a hotel group.

It sounds like Extended Stay is going to double down on whatever brand equity it has, and really focus on the hotel experience. (My view is that a hotel room needs five basic qualities: a good mattress, a great shower, large and thick towels, a flat screen TV and free internet.) And I have to believe that Jim Donald is precisely the right person to push this company to the next level.

The only loser in this deal are the folks who write me every time their company gets into trouble saying that we all need to lobby for Jim Donald to get the top job.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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MNB’s Tales of Tesco

Bloomberg reports on speculation that Tesco may look to increase its presence in South Korea by taking a majority stake in Hi-Mart, the market leader there. The story notes that “Tesco already has exposure to the South Korean market through its subsidiary Homeplus, which operates 125 retail stores and 267 supermarkets.”

FastNewsBeat

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Campbell Soup “is planning to put its soups in new packages, such as pouches, as part of its plan to spark growth in its namesake business ... Campbell will by no means abandon selling its soup in cans, but is expanding its packaging into new areas and planning to add soups with bolder flavors - including Thai tomato coconut and tomato roasted garlic bacon - to appeal to what it sees as a new consumer landscape.”

The iconic soup company also said this week, the Journal writes, “that it will expand its flagship brand into the simple-meals category with a line of ‘Skillet Sauces’ that can be added to cooked chicken or beef to create a quick meal. The products are among the more than 50 new products it is planning to launch in its next fiscal year.”

Nam News reports that Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel said yesterday that the company plans to convert only 230 stores to its P-fresh format in 2012, compared to 400+ stores converted last year.

“Over time as we completed and we [complete revamps in] those markets, we believe that this cadence is a more appropriate cadence as we go forward,” Steinhafel said. “Secondly, we're working on a lower cost investment on some of these, and so we're just looking at extending out the program a little bit.”

• The Associated Press reports that as part of a cost-cutting effort, Procter & Gamble plans to eliminate 5,700 jobs over the next 18 months; P&G said that “ it hoped to save $10 billion by the end of the fiscal year ending in June 2016.”

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

RIP

• Chuck Sprinkle, the former president of the United Grocers Co-op and Save-Mart Supermarkets, passed away Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Your Views: Belief Systems, And Rediscovering The Classics

Got the following email about Supervalu:

For twenty-plus years I worked for companies providing services to American Stores, Albertsons, and Supervalu. During that time the competitive sets in markets where their banners operated changed dramatically, as did those sets in virtually all US markets. Not too many years ago, for instance, Jewel and Dominick's combined shares were upwards of 70% of the Chicago market, a far cry from today when relative newcomers Target, WalMart, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Supervalu's own Save-A-Lot, and more, as well as a vastly expanded Aldi's, have brought more locational convenience as well as shopping niches to the marketplace. Competitive changes clearly have affected existing business operations. But they have, too, in markets where Safeway and Kroger and others operate seemingly with greater success than Supervalu and its direct predecessors. Why?

In one manner or another, Supervalu and its predecessors have attempted to succeed by saving their way to salvation. Corporate American Stores management was most often characterized by employees as bean counters with no vision for development. Albertsons was a successful, mostly smaller cities and towns operator that got in over its head with the acquisition of banners in major markets. It didn't compete successfully against bigger players. Supervalu operated and had a virtual lock with its Cub retailing operation in the Twin Cities but was essentially a successful wholesaler with not much hardball retailing experience. Its Board and corporate management saw an opportunity to accomplish a ten-year growth objective in one fell swoop by acquiring several Albertsons banners in major markets. It made an enormous financial investment, the adverse effects of which are still a major burden. Among management decisions by all three owners, staffing cuts were executed as an important part of the way to improve profitability.

Not surprisingly, in every instance, business and store operations and profits suffered even as competition increased, notwithstanding the efforts of dedicated, capable in-market employees among all banners.

What's the future? Quite possibly the acquired banners will be sold off to competitors. Kroger, for instance, might find Jewel attractive, and possibly Acme as well. And Supervalu would be free to re-focus on its wholesale operation.





Regarding one of Amazon’s key programs, MNB user Karyn Chenoweth wrote:

We have used Subscribe and Save and love it, for the most part.  The part I don't love is that of the 4 items we have on the S&S plan, 3 have been discontinued.  We get an email saying that particular variety of coffee or towels or whatever is no longer available but hope we can find something else that works.  Where I think Amazon misses here (and I am a HUGE Amazon fan, so while this is a minor inconvenience in the scale of things, I have high expectations for them) is that the "discontinued" email could and should also contain other available options and easy choice.  Rather than make me go search for a different variety and figure out what's similar, provide options that are available and give easy continuation of the service. 




We had a piece yesterday that took note of how Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Co., decided to give preferential treatment to beer-drinking customers as opposed to wine-drinking investment types when he took the company public 17 years ago ... a move that I said reflects putting a greater emphasis on Main Street rather than Wall Street.

To which MNB user Ron Sarasin responded:

I am one of the guys who took advantage of Jim Koch’s IPO offer which allowed the purchase of 33 shares at $15 per share ($495).  (Jim is a friend and I was president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association at the time).

I still own the shares and haven’t thought much about them in the interim.  After reading your article I looked them up and they closed yesterday at $104.58.


Happy days are here again!

And MNB user Karen Shunk wrote:

I’ve always been a big fan of Jim Koch, but I watched with interest an episode of Bloomberg’s The Mentor where he mentored the guys who run Oceanside Ale Works in Oceanside CA (near San Diego).  If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here.

He listened very carefully to them and tried to offer insights not just based on how he did things, but in a manner that related to what was important to them and their environment.  I was greatly impressed by Jim.  Although I (sadly) live nowhere near them, I now follow Oceanside Ale Works on Facebook and I am very impressed in their growth and the connections they have forged with their community.  And I look forward to trying their beer!


I’ve never met Jim Koch, but always have wanted to. He’s always struck me as the prototypical example of the enlightened CEO ... and he makes a product I very much enjoy drinking.

One of these days...




We also wrote yesterday about a New York Times interview in which ad agency CEO Steve Stoute talked about having people sign the company’s mission statement in the same way they might sign a constitution, because adherence to a company’s culture and belief system is critical to success.

MNB user Jarrett Paschel wasn’t buying:

Re: Steve Stoute’s bragging about the “belief system,” he has created for his organization - a sort of mission statement that he requires his team members to sign. It’s precisely this kind of messianic, delusional crap that causes team members to become cynical and bail from organizations.

Team members in great organizations don’t want to have to pretend to subscribe to some phony mission statement or ideology, they want concrete actions like profit sharing, selling great products and services and, most importantly, autonomy to do their job well. That’s what keeps Zappos together. They have the authority to solve problems. Ditto for Whole Foods, whose informal mission statement is “we have no mission statement.” Please.

And nowhere is this more evident than the Millennials. As you pointed out yesterday, most don’t want a career in retail, and many complained of dishonesty. Well duh! Millennials see right through this pretense. Over on reddit, one of the Internet’s largest communities, I’ve read dozens and dozens of threads written by employees of places like Best Buy. These kids actually love(d) their jobs and really liked helping people. Yet as a group they almost always end up quitting because they were constantly being pressured to up-sell to meet store quotas—rather than helping customers—while simultaneously having to clap hands and pretend to “believe” in some kind of mantra dreamed up on a corporate retreat. Honestly. Do we really think so little of the same kids that we raised to be bright and clever?

Despite what (some!) aging boomers want to “believe,” building a great culture is about concrete action. None of Stoute’s team members are going to “catch a cold” if they have great jobs with tangible outcomes. And by the way, this is precisely what Jim Koch did do. He didn’t ask anyone to subscribe to his belief system, He took action.


You make a legitimate point...except that I think you make a mistake by casting this as an either-or decision.

Stoute wasn’t bragging, it seems to me, as much as he was responding to questions. And I’m not sure that he doesn’t do the things you suggest.

I think there is room for both approaches within enlightened organizations.




I took a shot the other day at Taco Bell, which reportedly will shortly offer a new innovation - it plans a line of Doritos Locos Tacos with shells made entirely from Doritos” described as “Taco Bell on the inside and Doritos on the outside.”

I wrote: That sounds really, really disgusting. Though somehow fitting as Taco Bell looks to celebrate its 50th birthday.

Which led one MNB user to write:

Any chance you could quit hating on Taco Bell long enough to view them realistically for what they are, which is a very innovative, low-cost provider of the lowest common denominator of fast food?  This is a company that is constantly bringing in new, cost efficient menu items that are helping to drive positive comps,  YUM brands is up over 28% this past year.  We keep hearing so much around "innovation" these days and TB is clearly a leader in this category. This is a company that's helping to keep the dining room lights off in many American
homes.  They have a terrific "drive-through diet" menu that cuts much of the fat and calories out of the typical fast food item.  Mountain Dew specifically designed their Baja Blast for TB food, that's innovation and a differentiator (whether you like the drink or not-I've never had it.)  A Doritos shell taco?  That's brilliant and I'm sure will spike enough interest to at least drive a ton of trial. It may only last a month but I can't wait to see what's next.  Drop some change, literally and figuratively, and go grab some lunch.


I’d rather discuss philosophy with Madonna.

Sorry. But you lost me at “lowest common denominator.”




Inevitably, the debate continues about whether Pete Rose should get into the Hall of Fame.

MNB user Pat Patterson wrote:

Points about Rose not being elected to the Hall of Fame that I haven't seen expressed come directly from Pete Rose's agreement with Bart Giamatti, then the baseball commissioner, negotiated in 1989.

From point 4 of their agreement "Peter Edward Rose acknowledges that the Commissioner has a factual basis to impose the penalty provided herein, and hereby accepts the penalty imposed on him by the Commissioner and agrees not to challenge that penalty in court or otherwise." 

The penalty referenced is outlined in point 5 of the document as follows: "the Commissioner, recognizing the benefits to Baseball from a resolution of this matter, orders and directs that Peter Edward Rose be subject to the following disciplinary sanctions, and Peter Edward Rose, recognizing the sole and exclusive authority of the Commissioner and that it is in his interest to resolve this matter without further proceedings, agrees to accept the following disciplinary sanctions imposed by the Commissioner.

Peter Edward Rose is hereby declared permanently ineligible in accordance with Major League Rule 21 and placed on the Ineligible List.”

The document further allows that Rose can request reinstatement under provisions of the major league baseball contract which he has done at least twice and failed to be removed from the "permanently ineligible list.  In 1991 the Hall of Fame voted to ban players on the permanently ineligible list.  At the last nominating session the BBWAA, by rule, could not nominate anyone who last played prior to 1992.  The Veteran's committee is also bound by rule from nominating any player on the permanently ineligible list.

In a nutshell, finally, Rose agreed to being placed on the permanently ineligible list for whatever reason(s) he had at the time.  He has followed the rules attempting unsuccessfully to being removed from the list.  He has since gone the "Mea Culpa" route to try and generate some support, again to no avail.  Do his accomplishments merit Hall of Fame?  No doubt, but after breaking the rules he agreed to this path and should grow up and accept the price for his actions.  Life can be unforgiving.


From another MNB user:

My dad, born in 1910, was a long time Cincinnati Redlegs (now the CIncinnati Reds) fan and had tickets to every season opener.  I got to go with him on many occasions.  I am not a great fan of Pete Rose in part because I don't think he is a very nice person (be prepared to pay for any autograph).  But from what I know he never did anything to influence (fix) the outcome a game he had a bet on, and did not bet against the Reds when he was part of that organization as a player or manager.  Now, illegal use of steroids can be said to have influenced the outcome of many games.  For that reason I'd distinguish what Rose did from what the drug users did.

I believe we only have Pete Rose’s word for it that he did not bet on Reds games. Which is sort of the point. He casts a shadow on the integrity if the game.

As for steroids...I’ve gone on record to say that if I had my way, people like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would not get into the Hall of Fame.

Call me a purist. But these guys have hurt my game. Not their game. My game




I have to admit that the following email really is my favorite kind...and not just because MNB user Christina Harrison said nice things about me:

Morning!  I’m the woman who wrote in a while back about her brother-in-law buying the blueberry pancake mix at Cub that had no  blueberries in it – just chunks of dextrose.  You are fabulous and EVERYBODY in our office reads you every day.

I just saw your comment about your daughter finally expressing an interest in the classics.  My 10 year old son and nephew, Ben & Nick, have recently expressed the same interest and I’m struggling with what classic movies would be appropriate for them.  I went to the library and found several versions of Top 100 films, but there were none oriented to kids.  To be clear, I’m no prude.  We actually had both boys sit down after the Oscars last year and watch The King’s Speech including the f-word scene because we thought it was important to show his breakthrough.  On the other hand, horse heads in peoples beds might be too much. 

Something fast paced to keep their attention?  Suspenseful, yet not gory?  Philadelphia Story might be too hokey?  All About Eve is my favorite classic and that might be okay.  Maybe Hitchcock?  Rear Window or The Birds?  I love musicals, but as soon as Gigi breaks into “The Night They Invented Champagne” (our fave) they will run out of the room.  I would greatly appreciate any advice you could share.


I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you asked.

Ten is actually a tough age for this. You want to protect them, but then again the odds are that they’ve seen and heard things you’ve never seen and/or heard, and video games have sort of destroyed their ability to appreciate pacing. Also, I’m not sure what the definition of “classic movies” is. Does this have to do with how old it is? Or just the sensibility?

If I were putting together a film festival of older films for 10 year old kids, there’s probably what I’d start with...

From Hitchcock, you can choose from North by Northwest, The Birds or Psycho. (Sort of depends on whether they scare easy.)

Jaws. (Again, how easily to they scare? This is just a great monster movie at its core...)

In sports movies, I’d pick Rocky and/or Hoosiers.

In westerns, go with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In older stuff, go with Casablanca and His Girl Friday (though I may be pushing my luck here).

How about American Graffiti? Or even Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or Tootsie? Or The Great Escape? Or The Sting?

Young Frankenstein is a great choice that seems to appeal to kids of all ages.

You want a musical, go with Singin’ in the Rain...which I think is pretty accessible to kids.

The thing is, I’m not sure there is an ultimate list of great movies for kids. You have to sort of get a feel for their sensibilities and tolerances, and then try to push the envelope a bit without making it seem like homework. Like I said yesterday, this was always a lot easier with my sons (especially my oldest, who at a young age liked watching movies like The Third Man) than my daughter.

I think what is most important is expanding their range of interest a bit, helping them understand that movies like Transformers and Fast and Furious, while they have their place, are not what movies at their best are really all about.

The coolest thing is when you find something they like, and you get to sit there together and share it. So make some popcorn, and let me know how it goes.

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

OffBeat: Moving Pictures

Sunday night are the Academy Awards, which means that I’m going to use this space to tell you what movies and actors I would have voted for, if I had a vote. These are not predictions; I have a generally lousy record of picking actual winners. Just one Content Guy’s opinion...

Best Picture: I’d be choosing between The Descendants and Moneyball, and I’d pick The Descendants.

Best Actor: George Clooney in The Descendants.

Best Actress: Viola Davis in The Help. (I just hope they don’t give it Meryl Street for the wretched The Iron Lady. And I can;t work up any enthusiasm for seeing Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, a movie that looks like it’d be watching paint dry.)

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in Beginners.

Best Supporting Actor: Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, a great comic performance in one of the year’s funniest movies. It deserves to be recognized.

Best Director: Alexander Payne for The Descendants.

Best Original Screenplay: I’m really torn on this one, since I could vote for Bridesmaids, Margin Call or Midnight in Paris. I loved all of them...but probably Midnight in Paris is the one I loved the most.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Again, I’m torn between The Descendants and Moneyball, but I’d probably vote for The Descendants.

As I said above, I’ll probably end up wrong. I’m looking for The Descendants to do well, but I have a feeling that The Artist - which I liked a lot, but didn’t feel was quite good enough - is going to pick up a bunch of awards.

We’ll see.




Speaking of movies...

Last weekend, I saw Safe House, the Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds thriller about a treasonous former US spy being hunted by unknown parties and getting an assist from an inexperienced field agent holding down the fort at a South African safe house. I liked this a lot more than Mrs. Content Guy - she grew bored with all the fights and car chases, which I thought were pretty well done. Safe House is a solid B-movie, well-done, workmanlike, and an entertaining evening at the movies. Nothing more, nothing less.

To be fair, I like movies about retired or aging spies who are forced back into action. Always have. There are better ones out there that you could rent ... the other night, for example, I found that Hopscotch was on Netflix, and I watched this comic thriller with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson about a CIA agent gone rogue. Unlike Safe House, which is all testosterone and momentum, Hopscotch is cleverly written and directed, features Matthau at his most irascible, and is just a fun movie of the type they don’t make anymore. (I feel old just writing those last few words, but what are you going to do?)

There’s another reasonably competent movie in this “retired spy” genre that has just come to DVD - The Double, with Richard Gere and Topher Grace, about the hunt for a Russian assassin. Not great, but diverting enough for an winter evening when you have nothing else to do.




Of course, such movies are better if you are sipping a good glass of wine...

And I had some great ones this week:

The 2008 Innocent Viognier, from Victoria, Australia ... a truly fabulous white wine that, as it happens, was part of the MNB Wine of the Month selection. Click here for more info. We had it with this great tilapia and tomato and onion dish that I make, and it was really, really good.

The 2009 Chianti Ruffina from Fattoria di Basciano in Italy ... which was wonderful with the chicken parmesan I made the other night.

And finally, the 2006 Pinot Noir from Michaud Vineyard in California’s Monterey County...also terrific with just about anything.




That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

Slainte!

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