retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Now here’s something I simply do not understand.

There was a story in the Los Angeles Times the other day about how there is some debate in the state of Utah about the possibility eliminating the 12th grade from the state’s high schools. The thinking behind the proposal is that most seniors fritter away the year and don;t enjoy it; the cold fact behind the proposal is that the move would save the state a lot of money and put a dent in its $700 million budget deficit.

Now, it doesn’t mean that these kids would miss an entire year of high school. If I’m reading the story correctly, it just means that they’d theoretically get four years of learning done in three years.

But it simply doesn’t make sense.

At age 17, most kids are not ready for college. They’re also not ready to face the real world if they don’t go to college.

Somehow, this proposal reflects the problem with education. More and more, school systems and state education departments are approaching problems with a jam it in, get it done, save some money philosophy that does not respect the critical nature of education in a global environment that demands more knowledge and understanding, not less.

To follow through on this Utah proposal, it seems to me, would be classic tactical thinking that would ignore the importance of strategic imperatives.

More on the Michael Sansolo snowblower saga...

You should not that after Michael’s two columns bemoaning the fact that as the snow fell on Washington, DC, he was sitting there with a snowblower in his garage that he could not get to work. (He used this situation as a metaphor for business planning..or lack of it.)

Well, one of the unique things about the MNB community is how many of you sent Michael suggestions for how to fix the snowblower...some complicated, some easy, but all offered with heartfelt concern.

He tried a few things, and then went to an auto parts store for advice. This is what happened, in Michael’s own words:

Based on a recommendation from an employee in the store, I went back to work on the snow blower.  He suggested I ignore the instruction to prime the engine with three pumps and give it 20 pumps instead.

I did and the snowblower kicked on...for one second.

I did it again and got to two seconds.

Then I primed it four more times and wonder or wonders, the machine came back to life.

Of course the snow is so melted and heavy now that it actually pulled my gutters off the house, and the snowblower is pretty much useless for the moment.

But it is working. And now that it is, it also means Washington will never have snow again!

I just keeping thinking about Michael’s poor wife, who had to deal with shoveling much of the snow while he was traveling around the country to much warmer climes. All he had to do was tell her to prime the damned engine 24 times, and the snowblower would have solved all her troubles...

But he didn’t.

If I’d made that mistake with Mrs. Content Guy, the results would not have been pretty.

Now here’s a story that caught me completely by surprise.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the West Hollywood City Council has approved legislation prohibiting pet stores there from selling dogs and cats. The odd thing is, the Council didn’t have to do it...because there are almost no pet stores there that actually sell dogs and cats.

The reason? Animal activists have been successful in lobbying against the sale of such pets on the grounds that they usually come from so-called “puppy mills” and “kitten factories” that mass produce the animals with little concern for their care, health or breeding. Many of these pets end up in shelters and being euthanized...and, in fact, between three and four million cats and dogs are euthanized each year in the US.

And so, a national movement is beginning to grow that is trying to put these breeding factories out of business.

I find this fascinating. And I had no idea.

That’s the great thing about this job. I learn something every day.

I also didn’t know this until a few days ago:

Next Monday, February 22, is National Margarita Day.

Need I say more?

However, because I don’t want to be slammed for being unpatriotic, it should also be pointed out that February 22 also is George Washington’s birthday. His 278th birthday, to be exact.

So have a margarita. And raise a toast to George.

I’ve had a chance to catch up on some movies over the past week, and saw a couple of terrific ones.

Crazy Heart is the new movie starring Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a down-on-his-luck country singer who finds himself driving around the southwest playing hole-in-the-wall venues, drinking and smoking himself into a near stupor as he is simultaneously consumed by bitterness and lethargy. This kind of character could almost be a stereotype, except that Bridges - simply one of the best actors in the history of American film - invests him with a kind of real wounded dignity that is palpable; when his Bad Blake is onscreen, you can practically smell the tobacco and bourbon, the portrayal is that vivid.

The script and direction by Scott Cooper avoids sentimentality as it explores a relationship that Blake has with a writer and single mom played by the luminous Maggie Gyllenhaal; their connection is so fragile that it catches Blake by surprise...and yet the level of his personal dysfunction is so deep that his ability to connect with this person is severely compromised. And the songs, mostly performed by Bridges - an accomplished musician in real life - are wonderful, advancing the plot and illuminating character at every turn.

There’s are great cameos by Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell (who shows off some nice pipes as a younger country star who was mentored by Blake and now has become a much bigger star). But the magnetic center of this film is Bridges, who is as good as he’s ever been - and that’s saying something.

When you watch his performance in Crazy Heart, you almost certainly are watching the guy who is going to win the Best Actor Oscar this year.

When I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He’s a major director, though an erratic one. And I can find myself loving certain parts of his movies, while hating other parts.

Inglourious Basterds, which is marginally about a fictional all-Jewish commando squad sent to Germany during World War II to hunt and kill Nazis, is no different. And yet, I could not take my eyes off it. There are parts that are too long, but then again there are set pieces - like the entire first section of the movie - that are almost unbearably tense and have almost a Hitchcockian quality. And what I really loved about this film was that it seemed utterly fearless. Also quirky, bizarre, sometimes off-putting, funny, disturbing, and outrageous. But mostly fearless.

I recommend it highly. But it is not for the faint of heart.

I also saw The Hangover. I thought it was funny, though not the groundbreaking laugh riot that some people seemed to think it was. Though maybe I’m just getting old...

My wine of the week is the 2007 Point Break North Coast Red Wine from Longboard Vineyards. It’s got some Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Zinfandel...and they all blend into a delicious wine. Enjoy...and thank me later.

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

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