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    Published on: May 14, 2010

    First, let me be clear about the following rant.

    It is not political in nature...

    President Barack Obama said one of the dumbest things of his presidency the other day while giving a commencement address to Hampton University.

    He was talking about the enormous amount of content available to people via various venues, and why it is important to differentiate between substance and noise. He’s absolutely right about that. But here is the dumb part:

    "With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said.

    First of all, I find it hard to believe that Obama - who has two young children - does not know how to work an iPod. It is almost inconceivable. This is, after all, a guy who hardly was seen without a Blackberry during the 2008 campaign, and an iPod is a lot easier to work.

    Second, he may never have used an iPad, but he knows how to use one. Trust me on this. Obama is a very smart guy, and the iPad is incredibly intuitive.

    The real problem isn’t Obama’s facility with technology. The real problem is that he apparently - and surprisingly - has something in common with a lot of people who take a kind of idiotic pride in being uninformed about certain things. Like the people who seem to think it is a badge of honor to never have learned to program their VCRs.

    Come on, people. Much of this stuff isn’t that hard. And if it is, could we at least feel a little sheepish about not knowing how to do it.

    The list of things I cannot do is far longer than the list of things I can. For example, I do not know how to work on a car engine, I cannot build things, I cannot speak a language other than English and I don’t get opera. But I believe these are all character flaws, not things to be proud of.

    Stupidity is not a badge of honor. It is just stupidity.

    Too many people in this country see education and intelligence as somehow suspicious.

    There are simply too many people on the planet who take pride in their own lack of knowledge, their own closed-mindedness, their own ignorance. I’m shocked that Obama, for at least a few moments, cast his lot as one of them.

    In 2010 and beyond, one’s facility with technology ought to be a job requirement if you are going to be in any sort of political, governmental, or business leadership position. Be conversant. Be experienced. And be proud of it.

    Obama should have realized that iPods and iPads are tools of empowerment as well as means of distraction. What matters is the mindset of the person is using them.

    His message should not have been the implied one of “iPods and iPads can be a distraction.” His message should have been, “Go out and create the next iPod or iPad.”

    End of rant.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2010 reports this morning that the amendment to the Wall Street reform bill designed to limit interchange fees on credit and debit cards, introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), passed the Senate yesterday 64-33. Some of the opposition, the story notes, came from moderate Democrats who want to fast-track the overall reform bill so they can campaign on it for the November elections.

    “Democratic moderates worry that the new rules would hurt community banks that rely on the merchant fee to cover the cost of providing credit cards,” Politico writes.

    According to the story, “Durbin’s amendment requires the Federal Reserve to oversee the fees banks charge merchants when their customers use debit cards. It includes an exemption for banks with less than $10 billion in assets.

    “Trying to win over his colleagues, Durbin increased the amendment’s carve-out for the smaller banks. Originally drafted to exempt banks with less than $1 billion in assets, Durbin increased the limit to $10 billion to ameliorate their concerns. And when that move failed to sway the Independent Community Bankers of America, Durbin lit into the group, questioning its independence from the big banks. ICBA, Durbin said, is one of the 25 biggest issuers of plastic in the country. “‘They profit from the fees, just like the big banks do,’ he said. ‘They don’t come to their opposition with clean hands. They have a profit motive in opposing this amendment.’
    “ICBA lobbyist Jason Kratovil said the organization’s bank card division was created to help community banks afford to get into the debit card business by pooling their resources. The system works because neighborhood banks and behemoths like Bank of America receive the same fee for identical purchases. If the big banks are forced to accept lower rates, merchants will choose their cheaper cards over those of community banks, Kratovil said. But Durbin said that merchants would have to accept all cards in a network. If, for instance, a store accepts Visa, the merchant would have to accept all Visa cards regardless of what bank issues them.”

    Retail industry groups came out in favor of the passed amendment.
    “Today the Senate took a major stride toward restoring fairness and reason to the debit card interchange fee system by approving Senator Durbin’s amendment,” said Leslie Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute. “Requiring that the fees be based on the actual cost of debit card payments will generate significant savings, benefiting retailers and, ultimately, consumers. Customers will benefit as the amendment allows retailers greater flexibility in offering them discounts for lower-cost forms of payment.”

    “Main Street America bailed out the biggest banks in this country not so long ago,” said National Retail Federation (NRF) Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan. “Passage of the Durbin amendment ensures that those same banks won’t repay our generosity by undermining the fairness and integrity of the checking and debit card system.”

    And John Emling, senior VP for government affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said, “This is a great victory for consumers and retailers, small and large. With this vote today, the U.S Senate has stood up to defend consumers and retailers, small and large, protecting them from the excessive fees and anticompetitive practices imposed by big banks and credit card companies.” 
    KC's View:
    Sorry to say, but it is really hard for me to work up any sympathy for the banks. Any banks. That may not be fair, but so it goes.

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    The Arizona Republic reports that Bashas’ Inc. is in the process of negotiating with two investment banks for more than $200 million in financing that would, in addition to existing cash reserves, leave it almost debt-free and with enough money to emerge from bankruptcy and compete in the hotly contested Phoenix marketplace.

    The company’s fortunes have improved because its sales have improved as it has closed underperforming stores; the improvement of the economy has meant that so-called “exit financing” is available when it might not have been just a few months ago.

    Observers say the turnaround in Bashas’ competitive situation has been “remarkable.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    Kroger Texas L.P., an affiliate of The Kroger Co., reportedly has come to a tentative agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on a new contract that would cover more than eight thousand employees working at 87 stores in the Dallas market.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Members are expected to vote on it May 23 and 24.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    • The Moscow Times reports that Walmart is in early and informal talks to acquire Russian retailer Lenta, though the discussions are said to be so preliminary that they could take as much as a year to complete.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    USA Today reports that Taco Bell is introducing a $2 value meal consisting of a taco or burrito, a medium soda and a bag of Doritos - the least expensive value meal on the market.

    McDonald’s, by way of comparison, would charge $3 for a three-item value meal.

    The move is seen as a way for Taco Bell to build sales as the nation slowly emerges from a recession that has severely hurt the overall restaurant business.
    KC's View:
    There probably are people in the retail food business who think they are not competing with this kind of promotional mindset. But they are.

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    It was announced this week that Tribune Media Services has decided to stop syndicating the “Little Orphan Annie” daily comic strip, which has been a mainstay for many newspapers for more than eight decades, and has even spawned a Broadway musical and movie.

    However, while “Annie” may no longer have a home in the nation’s newspapers, she will apparently continue to live - online. Tribune said that it “is taking Annie into the
    Internet age by pursuing new audiences for her in digital media.”
    KC's View:
    Part of the problem is that “Annie” may be hopelessly dated, but the real problem is that newspapers are dying. People don’t need them anymore to get the news, and they certainly don’t need them to read the funnies.

    I read “Doonesbury” every morning. Online.

    No print or paper required.

    The bad news is that newspapers’ plight prove that technology and changing consumer behavior make almost every business vulnerable to obsolescence if the people running those businesses don;’t stay current and relevant. The good news is that there are always virtual long as you grab them.

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    The Los Angeles Times reports that a new study published in the European Heart Journal says that “rates of angina, nonfatal heart attacks and death from heart-related conditions was 60 percent higher in people who worked at least three hours beyond ‘the normal, seven-hour day’ compared with those who didn't work that amount of overtime.”

    In addition, the Times writes, the study found that “overtime-workers tended to be Type A people, who are more prone to heart disease, and to be more anxious and depressed. But did the overwork make them that way - or did they start out that way to begin with?

    “Maybe they were stressed out from all that work (chronic stress is bad for the heart). Perhaps they got less sleep (sleep deprivation seems to be linked to more and more health problems with each passing day). Maybe lonely people tend to work more overtime. Maybe chronic workers go to work when they're sick instead of staying at home in bed, as they should.

    “Whatever the answer to the chicken-egg question that these population studies (even the best of them) tend to leave one with, it might be good to play it safe and eschew wee-hour stints at the office in favor of taking a stroll or pulling a weed or two in the garden.”

    One final note: when it comes to working overtime, US workers are said to be way above the average.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    Not surprisingly, we continue to get email on the subject of government regulation.

    Just to set the stage, let me see if I can encapsulate the discussion to this point...

    There have been a bunch of stories lately about the role of government in a) regulating the way in which foods are marketed to minors, b) regulating the nutritional quality of foods served in schools, and c) regulating how much sugar, salt and other less-than-nutritious ingredients are included in various foods. While I think that the country would be better off if everybody were pro-active about being more responsible about raising the bar in the areas of nutrition and marketing to kids, there is a sizable group of folks who believe that the government has no business meddling in areas better taken care of by free market forces - and some of them believe that by being willing to consider the possibility that not all regulation is a bad thing - and I am still trying to figure out the right approach here - I am a socialist, an elitist, or both. (I believed I was just trying to be open-minded and thoughtful, but so it goes.)

    One MNB user wrote:

    I very much agree with your reader who states:

    “it is outside the mission of government to restrict the sale of food based on its relative nutritional value ... If sugar coated cereals are not good for children then how can one say that California or French wines with virtually no nutritional value can be good for adults?  Has a 7 year old on a sugar high ever caused a drunk driving accident?   Once you begin, where do you stop?”

    So very true, there is no end in sight once we start down this road of regulating individual choices for food, drink, goods, and services.  And then, human nature and entrepreneurship being what it is,  some enterprising individuals will start “bootleg Twinkies” and “black market double cheeseburgers –with extra sauce!!” sold in back alleys….

    During prohibition, alcohol was illegal in this country.  (Historical footnote – it’s how the Kennedy family made their money – selling bootleg whiskey during prohibition!  Check the facts, it’s true.  I dare you to print this!)

    It is also outside of the mission – legally, constitutionally or otherwise – to force any citizen to purchase a good or service.  That means assessing a fine on a citizen who chooses not to have health care!!!  We really have gone crazy, spiraling away from basic core values.  I know I’m not alone in seeing that personal responsibility, free will, choice is the foundation of whether this country survives or not.  All we have to do is look at history.  I believe “this experiment” will survive – by the very fact that we are able to have these discourses and communication.

    A couple of points here, if I may.

    Nobody is saying that companies won’t be able to make Twinkies, nor that people won’t be able to eat them. (Well, some people may be saying it...but I’m pretty sure they are the people who do things like accuse people with whom they disagree of being socialist or elitist, and who like to draw these lines in such stark terms that there is no room for reasonable discussion. ) You say things like “bootleg Twinkies,” and I’m sure you believe that hoards of marching food police are just over the horizon, and that they’ll take that Twinkie away from you when they pry it from your cold, dead fingers.

    Give me a break. This is not going to happen. If nothing else, we learned during the 1920s that Prohibition didn’t work....

    Another thing, and I want to make this point as gently as I can. One of the rules here on MNB is that people get to be anonymous if they want to, and I created that rule because I wanted to encourage open discussion without people having to worry about their jobs if they made points that are controversial or even politically correct. That’s why the sobriquet “MNB user” exists. It is a great rule, and I think it is one of the things that makes the discussions here on MNB unique.

    However... you asked for anonymity, and you got it...but there is a certain irony to the fact that you attack the Kennedy family for something done almost a century ago, by people who are long dead (and who really didn’t make a secret of those misdeeds), and then say “I dare you to print this.”

    That seems, shall we say, a little disingenuous.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Commenting on the flood of reaction to the prospect of the federal government inserting itself into the health aspects of children's foods, and by implication, into potentially anything & everything else that's left of life in America: you began your final summation with the plea, can we all take a deep breath, please?

    My take here is that the explosion of negative reaction to this next specter of federal intervention is exactly the result of people's perceptions of their own federal government being unwilling to do precisely that: slow down and take a breath from its headlong interventionist, progressive-at-any-cost policy agenda.  To say that federal policymaking activity since January 2009 has been intense doesn't begin to capture the real-life effects of Hope & Change.  When I step back from day to day life in this country and try to get my arms around the overall mood of things, here is the baseline I come back to time and again: "people" (many, if not most) have by and large (a) lost faith & trust in their government -- at all levels; (b) lost faith & trust in financial institutions (Goldman et al.); (c) have lost faith & trust in other big businesses (GM, Chrysler, Toyota); (d) have lost faith & trust in labor unions (SEIU, teachers unions, etc.); (e) have lost faith & trust in the legal system (Miranda rights for foreign terrorists; a tort system run amok); (f) have lost faith & trust in academia (Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., etc.); (g) have lost faith & trust in our election process (ACORN); (h) have lost faith & trust in organized religion (priest sex scandals; televangelists; Rev. Wright) and (i) perhaps as unfortunate & disturbing as any of these, have lost faith & trust in each other.  To the extent this is true -- and I do believe this is pretty much true -- how is anyone expected to "execute" in this society in anything but a frenzied, knee-jerk fashion?  The rush on seemingly everyone's part to simply try & hold onto whatever they may have left of life as they used to know & love it, it trumps everything!  "Guard it today! It'll be stolen by tomorrow!"  I think that's how many people have come to approach life in America.  Sad.

    So your comment about "can we please just take a breath", yes, I would say, this whole country needs to take a breath; the federal government, for one, since that institution is so much in the middle of so many of these frenzied debates.  But is that a reasonable expectation?  I would say no.  I don't see the Administration having any appetite for "taking a breath" amidst pursuit of its policy agenda; Congress, same thing.  What's the point of owning the White House & Congress by large margins if you're not going to use it to implement your agenda, come hell or high water?  Those elected officials didn't come to Washington to be "caretakers of somebody else's America"; they came there to substantially remake America in the image they personally wanted.  And so they are attempting to do.  At breakneck speed.  Before November!  Then, to get re-elected to boot!

    Washington has demonstrated in spades either their inability, or their unwillingness, to listen to the growing majority of Americans in the health care bill that was passed -- and in the way in which it was passed -- and that process became just the latest poster child of how Washington has no intention of "taking a breath"; so how reasonable is it to expect anyone on the other side of these issues to take a breath on their own?  "I can breathe next week," people might tell you; "Today, I've got to keep my house from being repossessed; I've got to keep my taxes from going thru the roof; I've got to keep my favorite radio talk show host from being pulled off the air; I've got to keep my Congressional boundary lines from being gerrymandered beyond recognition; I've got to try & keep English as a viable language in America; I've got to make sure a Gitmo detainee doesn't move in down the street; I've got to....Yeah, I'll breathe next week."

    I personally have never seen America so close to a sea-changing tipping point as I have witnessed her over the last year or so; not even at the height of Vietnam, not thru Watergate, nothing.  This place feels so close to cracking up once and for all into so many splintered & incompatible, irreconcilable pieces that God help us when that day comes.  Riots in the streets of Athens over budget cuts?  Assassinations along the Rio Grande border?  Wait'll it starts happening everywhere.

    To be honest, if I felt as victimized by the world as the people you describe in your email, I might have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I am not a guy who tends to have a lot of faith in institutions of any kind, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the fact that institutions by their very nature look to preserve their own status and power. By the way, that goes for most institutions, not just the ones I disagree with.

    Your suggestion that the current moment is worse or more polarizing than the days of Vietnam or Watergate is interesting, but I would disagree. Maybe it is all perspective, but during that time in our history there were riots in the streets, there were kids being shot on college campuses, and there was a president engaged in felonious behavior and a cover-up in order to preserve his own personal and political power. Things are tough, but none of those things are happening right now. The attacks are on our country are coming from outside the system, not from within.

    But I’m sure there will be a lot of people who disagree with me on that one, too.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Sometimes reading the "Your Views" section is both maddening and entertaining at the same time.  You can always count on a political discussion to whip folks up into a froth.  How about some perspective?  How many Captain Morgan's or Viagra commercials do we see during an episode of Spongebob Squarepants?  How vocal would this same "No Government" group be if they noticed that Cigarette companies were allowed to run fun cartoon character ads during The Fairly Oddparents?

    It seems to me that a rational person WOULD be upset if a certain type of food was actually banned from being sold, but I read these comments and they are so chock-ful-o hyperbole that it makes me dizzy!  We've had regulations for decades, but all of the sudden, since the last Presidential election, so many people are losing their minds and unable to see this stuff for what it really is.  Where was this outrage in the past?

    How about this:  As business people, shouldn't we objectively evaluate and quantitatively measure the ridiculous, dream world scenarios of government overreach cited?  Let's all agree on a date to measure the accuracy of each of the statements, and then let's decide if these folks are right or if they are wrong about government restricting the sale of food based on its relative nutritional value or removing alcohol from wine because it leads to alcoholism.  I think everyone knows what the results will be.

    Finally... whoever thinks that such regulation has anything to do with Socialism clearly has no clue what Socialism is.  When our government owns, operates and redistributes the profits from the food industry to social entities, then that is Socialism.

    MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

    Hang in there, Kevin. I don’t always agree with you, but I’ve always found your opinions thoughtful and well-reasoned.

    I’m thinking companies should be able to make what they want and try to sell what they make, but that some restriction on targeted marketing to minors isn’t such a terrible idea, and certainly won’t throw our democratic society down the drain that others see coming ever closer. I’d like to see government get more involved in physical education again. Whatever happened to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and mandatory gym classes for everyone? I was never a jock, got picked close to last for most team events, and didn’t play any organized sports. But on gym days I ran, jumped, played whatever game-of-the-week we were playing, and burned off some steam and some calories. I was in pretty decent shape til the desk job came along, now I have to relearn all that stuff again. But I see the value in it, and I’m glad my kids and grandkids do, too.

    I agree. There has to be a way to approach this issue that encourages greater personal responsibility ... gives better, more useful information to people ... but also sets up certain regulations so that young people are not exploited by a system set up to reward profit over responsibility. If this is done prudently, I’m not sure that it means the end of American civilization as we know it.

    Now, I am aware that regulatory fever can get way out of control. Which is why I am never in favor of regulation as a first option. But if you look at childhood obesity rates, and the impact it is having on the health care system in this country, it seems to me that we are way past the “first option” stage.

    MNB user Chuck Jolley wrote:

    I thought most of those people who attacked your point-of-view missed the boat.  At the very least, they only had one foot in the canoe as it was leaving the dock.

    The common theme is you were espousing a socialistic view and the government needs to butt out.  Many of the objectors were also trying to narrow the argument to their personal viewpoints/lifestyle instead of looking at the entire picture.  

    The fact remains that to many food processors are playing fast and loose with the rules.  Fruit Juice with less than 10% juice and a label that shows water and HFCS as the first two ingredients in flavored water.  Many fast food (quick service?) places vend lemonade that contains 0% lemon juice.  Of course, you have to read the very small type to know what you're getting.

    I say let the food business sell anything they want but the label has to be up front and readable - no mice type.  Food regs have to be realistic and aggressively enforced.  If a company wants to produce a liquid beverage that's only 10% juice, it will have to say so on the front of the bottle in type at least as large as the brand name.

    Then let the public choose.  Right now, too many products are masquerading as the real thing and the only way the public can know is to bring a magnifying glass to the supermarket.

    Publish this and let the responses/accusations begin.  I only ask that anyone who attacks my viewpoint also include their corporate affiliation so I can go the my neighborhood supermarket and check their companies product labels.

    A perfect example of what you are talking about, it seems to me, are the regulations that require restaurants to post calorie counts on menu boards. A lot of people don’t agree with me, but I think these laws are terrific...because they allow me to make an informed decision. Nobody is saying that some fast food chain cannot sell that triple cheeseburger with a half pound of bacon. Nobody is saying that I cannot buy it and eat it. But clarity and transparency allow me to make an informed decision.

    Someone explain to me why this is a bad thing.

    One point I did make yesterday was that there seems to be enormous sentiment in the food industry for government regulation of the interchange fees charged by banks, and I wondered aloud if this desire for federal intervention that would lower these fees is held by the same people who oppose government regulation related to the obesity issue.

    MNB user Bruce Crilley disagreed with my observation:

    Apples and oranges. That’s the difference between government regulating what we can say and government regulating what financial institutions can charge. Regulation that still allows markets the freedom to do business has been around since Teddy Roosevelt. Regulating not just what we can say (via marketing) but to whom we can say it is a relatively recent addition to government’s quiver of Big Brother”esque” assumed responsibilities.  As a communication professional, I would think this trend would scare the heck out of you.

    Be careful what you wish for Kevin, you just might get the government regulation you wished for and some you didn’t.

    I appreciate being called a communications professional. I tend to think of myself as just a wisenheimer with a laptop.

    But as a “communications professional,” I have absolutely no problem with regulations that require marketing efforts to be as accurate, honest and transparent as possible.

    I’m a lot more afraid of people who respond to people with whom they disagree by calling them “socialists.” The “Big Brother” we need to worry about is the one who tells us that there is only one way to think, only one legitimate opinion, only one approach to problems, only one answer. Theirs.

    One MNB user responded:

    Great point this a.m. re: anti government sentiment. Often noted: only impose government regs that help my business, but don't impose regs that restrict my business...even if they might help the overall economy.

    Or help encourage a great degree of healthy living, which would help cut the amount of money spent on health care, which would be good for the economy.

    MNB user Steve Loehr wrote:

    Credit card companies are monopolies and need to be treated as such. They raise fees in tandem and impose rules without any input from their customers. Credit card fees in the U.S. are the highest in the industrialized world - 4x higher than Australia, for example. Our company will pay over $28m in credit card fees this year - more than our health care costs! As we sell gasoline, every time gas retails go up, credit card companies automatically make more, as their fees are a % of sales (usually 2% or more). We do not want more government regulation in general, however, in this case, someone has to step up to force the credit card companies to be transparent and competitive in their regulations and rates.

    MNB user John Llloyd wrote:

    Now you’re talking brother. As a progressive in a sea of “anti government” grocers that march to the ditty ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say,’ here is a “liberal” with a “good Idea”.

    Gosh. I can live with being called an elitist and a socialist. But a liberal?

    I’m not sure we’re allowed to use that sort of language on a family website.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 14, 2010

    I was thinking this week about a piece I wrote for “OffBeat” not that long ago in which I was rhapsodic about our new Garmin. After being resistant to buying one for a long time, it took me about five minutes to fall in love with it once I installed it in the car.

    I got a bunch of emails responding to that piece, many of them in agreement but a few pointing out that the device has its limits...and that complete faith in its functionality is not always a good idea.

    I now know what you mean.

    One of the things we have discovered is that the Garmin seems to be almost totally useless in Manhattan. Not sure why, since the grid there hasn’t changed much in decades. But there have been times recently when the Garmin has been suggesting that we get off the FDR Drive four or five exists too early, even though there has been no traffic; once or twice, it has suggested making a left turn that would resulted in the car ending up in the East River.

    Go figure. Technology has its limits.

    This came together for me this week when I was thinking about my MNB Radio piece, which focused on a New York Times online column written by former major league baseball player Doug Glanville, in which he talked about the fact that while technology allows for scouting to be far more granular than ever before, information is useless to a player without an instinct for the game.

    Same goes for the Garmin. Sometimes you have to know, in your gut, what turns not to take, and what paths will take you where you want to go.

    Sounds like a business metaphor to me.

    One of the interesting things about Seattle is the fact that despite the heavy concentration of chain coffee shops, there also is a plethora of successful independents proving that there is always room out there for a entry that offers a quality product and experience.

    Case in point: The Coffee Crew, where owner Louise and her team made me an excellent latte and perhaps the best lemon muffin I’ve ever had in my life. (I am impressed by such things.) The cafe is a small one, but seems to be a magnet for local residents who like the neighborhood feel; it is just a few blocks away from the University of Washington main campus.

    Differential advantages have nothing to do with size. In this case, they have to do with a warm, melt-in-your-mouth lemon muffin.

    A big shout-out to the folks at NACS, who invited me last week to do an early morning breakfast session at NACStech about our book, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.” The hour may have been early, but the crowd was large and enthusiastic, and I appreciated the opportunity.

    By the way, while in New Orleans for the NACStech conference, I had a wonderful dinner at Emeril's original restaurant in the warehouse district.  Started with Homemade Andouille and Boudin with Southern Cooked Greens, Beer Braised Onions, Whole Grain Mustard and Emeril's Worcestershire Sauce...then moved on to Warm Mississippi Rabbit Remoulade with Fried Green Tomatoes, Benton’s Bacon, Citrus Salad and Horseradish Gastrique...and finished up with Creole Marinated Calamari Flash Fried with Olive Salad, Smoked Tomato Sauce and Parmesan.  Wow!

    I was drinking an Albarino (which seemed appropriate to the humidity) until the guy next to me, a guy named Jimmie Vaughn from North Carolina,recommended a 2007 Duckhorn Merlot, which was rich and thick and somehow perfect...

    I’m not a snob, though. While in the Big Easy, I also found my way to the Acme Oyster House, where I had charbroiled oysters, an oyster Po-Boy, and couple of glasses of Abita Amber.

    All great stuff.

    No desserts, though. Even though I live for New Orleans bread pudding. The rule is, if I drink I don’t eat dessert. Most of the time, I actually keep the rule.

    Which was a good thing, since Neil Golub of Price Chopper told me this week at FMI that I needed to lose a little weight. I agree with him, though I prefer to think of myself as entering my Alec Baldwin phase.

    Also this week, while on a brief sojourn to the Pacific Northwest, I had a terrific crab cake sandwich at Etta’s while Morgan - one of my favorite bartenders on the planet - poured me an excellent 2008 Corvidae Mirth Chardonnay, which was perfect with the gorgeous Seattle weather - warm and sunny.

    I was in Seattle to talk to a really interesting group - the local chapter of Marketing and Communications Executives International (MCEI), which was kind enough to ask me to do an after-dinner speech about our book, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.” MCEI basically is comprised of an equal number of agency folks and clients, in a wide variety of business segments - including the food business (Diana Crane of PCC Natural Markets is a member, and the person kind enough to get me the invitation).

    My point in mentioning this is to suggest that these kinds of cross-functional groups are an important part of being an enlightened business person. Which in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, we all need to be. At least, that’s my not-so-humble opinion.

    BTW...speaking of NACS...I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have been asked to moderate the organization’s Global Forum in Sydney, Australia, next month. I’ve never been to Australia, and so I’m looking forward to going down a few days early to see the sights. (Michael Sansolo is after me to do the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb...which scares the hell out of me since I have a thing about heights. But I may have to grit my teeth and do it...)

    Not sure how to pull it off yet, but I hope that at some point during my visit I’m able to get together with some of the MNB users from Down Under for a pint or two. If anyone has any ideas, let me know...

    Here’s another one for you...a little closer to home.

    On the evening of Friday, May 21, the Darien Public Library in Darien, Connecticut, will sponsor a talk by yours truly about “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies,” followed by a free screening of Bottle Shock, which was featured in the book. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come by and say hello.

    Speaking of movies...

    “Green Zone,” starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass - the duo that brought us the Bourne thrillers - is an excellent war movie that takes place during the early days of the Iraq invasion by the US, when soldiers were trying to find WMDs. While the movie has a political context, it mostly serves as a frenetic, edge-of-your-seat thriller...and Damon gives yet another superior performance as a soldier trying to do what’s right and get at a truth that some interests do not want exposed to the light of day.

    This movie is yet another Iraq war film that did not do well at the box office, but it deserves a better fate - rent it when it comes out on DVD, or download it when “Green Zone” becomes available. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

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

    KC's View: