retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    For two iconic US institutions, reality has reared its ugly head. One actually seems to be dealing with it.

    The US Postal Service (USPS) says that its losses during the 2010 fiscal year more than doubled to $8.5 billion, up from $3.8 billion a year earlier. The brain trust at the USPS says that a combination of the recession and email led to the increased losses, despite the fact that it has been aggressive about cutting costs ...and the argument continues to be made that the country needs to move to five-day-a-week mail delivery to put the post office back in the black.

    Meanwhile, USA today reports that “regulators have begun granting telecommunications companies the go-ahead to stop mass-printing residential phone books, a musty fixture of Americans’ kitchen counters, refrigerator tops and junk drawers.

    “In the past month alone, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania approved Verizon Communications's request to quit distributing residential white pages. Residents in Virginia have until Nov. 19 to provide comments on a similar request pending with state regulators ... Since 2007, states that have granted permission to quit printing residential listings or that have requests pending include: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.”

    The argument is that most people use the internet to get phone numbers, and that it is both more efficient and environmental to only give the phone books to people who ask for them.

    According to the story, by the way, “the first telephone directory was issued in February 1878 — a single page that covered 50 customers in New Haven, Conn.”

    Certainly the phone book folks aren’t getting rid of the yellow pages anytime soon, and I’m guessing those generate a lot more revenue. But eliminating mandatory delivery of the white pages is the first step in that direction, and if they’re smart, they’re planning for that eventuality. Now.

    Unlike the post office, which seems completely disconnected from reality.

    And that’s my Monday Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Last week, faced an uproar when it was revealed that it was selling a book that promoted pedophilia and looked to establish a code of conduct for pedophiles. The online bookseller’s first response to criticism was to say that it does not engage in censorship and would sell even titles that it finds to be objectionable; but then, Amazon relented and pulled the $4.95 book from its site.

    Over the weekend, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got into the act, demanding that Amazon remove books about dog fighting and cock fighting from its site.
    KC's View:
    Last week, I wrote the following:

    I think the default setting in any bookstore is - and probably should be - in favor of a free and unfettered press.  But they probably should have moved faster to stop the sale of a book that promotes pedophilia, just as (I assume) they would not sell a book teaching people how to make a bomb.  (I'm guessing that there may not have been any discussion of this book by actual, real people until it was already online...and then they went to the default position.  Not selling books that advocate illegal behavior strikes me as an appropriate place to draw the line, and hardly qualifies as censorship.

    In about 15 minutes, I got an email from an MNB user that contained a link to a book on Amazon that actually explains how to make a bomb.

    I also got a bunch of emails on this subject, and about my reaction to it. You can find some of them in “Your Views,” below, and I’ll save my additional comments for that forum...

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    The American Dietetic Association Foundation is out with a new poll, reported by HealthDay News, revealing some fascinating statistics about the eating habits of children:

    • “Breakfast is sometimes missed by 42 percent of white children and Hispanic children, and 59 percent of black children.”

    • “Breakfast is rarely or never eaten by 12 percent of white and Hispanic children, and 18 percent of black children.”

    • “Dinner is not eaten all the time by 22 percent of white children, 34 percent of black children and 38 percent of Hispanic children.”

    • “Dinner is rarely or never eaten by 3 percent of white children and 5 percent of black and Hispanic children.”

    • “Snacks are often eaten to replace skipped meals ... Snacking immediately after school was reported by 56.7 percent of white children, 57.8 percent of black children and 59.1 percent of Hispanic children.”

    • “Regular snacking in the evening after dinner was reported by 24 to 26 percent of all the children, while about 23 percent of white kids, 30 percent of black kids and nearly 24 percent of Hispanic kids said they often or always ate snacks while watching television.”

    There is some good news for the supermarket industry in the poll:

    • “The proportion of daily family meals eaten at home increased from 52 percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2010, and nearly 73 percent of children are now eating at home on school nights, compared with about 52 percent in 2003.”

    • “Most children (51.4 percent of whites, 56.5 percent of blacks, 63.8 percent of Hispanics) said their families never or rarely (less than once a week) eat at fast-food or sit-down restaurants.”
    KC's View:
    In some ways, these numbers seem to contradict themselves, suggesting that kids are eating more snacks but less fast food. But maybe that is the effect of the recession.

    I’m glad to see that more people are eating at home, because of all the positive social and cultural implications. But clearly we - and by this I mean parents, not governments - need to be better about how and what we feed our kids. Because you can trace some of these numbers right to the nation’s obesity crisis. (More about that issue below, in “Your Views.”

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    The New York Times Magazine yesterday had a piece about so-called “food deserts, defined as “urban neighborhoods where there are few grocers selling fresh produce, but a cornucopia of fast-food places and convenience stores selling salty snacks ... the residents of food deserts, apparently, are not providing enough profit to be offered more healthful grub. These are places where the market for nutritious sustenance has essentially failed.”

    A possible solution to this problem is being tested in Chicago, the Times wrote, where “Walgreens, the drugstore chain founded in that city more than 100 years ago, started selling an expanded selection of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, at 10 locations selected because they were in food deserts. The experiment in creating these ‘food oases’ is intriguing because it involves a well-known retail brand not typically associated with groceries — and, really, because it involves a well-known retail brand at all.”

    While Walgreens isn’t saying how the test is going, it does concede that the format has been developed to expand beyond the Windy City, the Times says that the implications may be even greater:“It’s certainly easy, given the scope of the food-desert challenge, to imagine other municipalities encouraging Walgreens to bring its concept elsewhere; customers in other cities who have heard about the effort have already starting asking local Walgreens managers when produce will be available. Meanwhile, more non-junk-food items and ready-made meal options (sandwiches, for example) have been spotted at drugstore chains like CVS and Duane Reade; Wal-Mart has said it will test smaller stores within cities instead of at their fringes.”
    KC's View:
    Nothing like competition to bring good food to poor neighborhoods.

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Phusion Projects, the company that makes Four Loko, has agreed not to send any more of the controversial premixed caffeine-and-alcohol drink to New York State.

    Four Loko already has been banned by Michigan, Washington, Utah and Oklahoma, and retailers that include Haggen, Wegmans and Tops have said they will not sell it any more.

    The company said that it made the promise to state officials because it wants to be known for cooperation, not controversy.
    KC's View:
    Too late. Four Loko is quickly becoming the poster child for irresponsible marketing, of a willingness to exploit young people’s worst instincts for money.

    If I were Phusion, I’d start spending some money on R&D...and maybe coming up with something a little more palatable.

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) said over the weekend that he wants to see a federal investigation - by the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission - into charges that there is lead content in some reusable shopping bags.

    There are some concerns that the lead in the bags, found at Winn-Dixie and Publix, could leach onto food, or could flake off and accumulate in landfills, creating long-term environmental issues.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Reuters reports that Walmart and Sears have announced that their stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day this year in states where local laws allow them to be open.

    Kmart also plans to be open on Thanksgiving, continuing its recent tradition, but Target says its stores will be closed on the holiday. Toys R Us plans to open its stores at 10 pm on Thanksgiving to get a head start on the ‘Black Friday” traditional beginning of the end-of-year holiday shopping season.
    KC's View:
    I have to agree with the way Reuters describes this trend...that it “is the latest in a creeping commercialism of Thanksgiving, once strictly a holiday for family gatherings, gorging on turkey and pumpkin pie, followed by a nap or walk.”

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Weis Markets announced that in honor of America Recycles Day - which is today - every company associate has signed the Weis “Trash Treaty,” which commits the employee to take part in the company’s recycling programs. This trash treaty is displayed in the Company’s stores, and in it Weis associates acknowledge that “trash disposal is expensive and is a source of pollution that creates unnecessary greenhouse gases. And each associate pledges to understand the benefits of recycling to the environment and their company.”

    "We are proud that all Weis associates are participating in America Recycles Day and are making an effort to conserve natural resources by recycling every day," said David Hepfinger, president/CEO of Weis, said in a prepared statement. "Today, it’s not just about trash or garbage. There’s more to it and we want our associates to be more aware of what can be recycled or reused.”

    According to the announcement, Weis has two pilot programs evaluating the feasibility of composting food waste typically thrown in the dumpster. Since the largest portion of a grocery store's waste stream is food waste, Weis Markets is looking for ways to recycle food waste and turn it into compost.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Bloomberg Business Week reports on the evolution of the “pop-up store,” noting that “the first generation of stores, which cropped up in the early part of the decade, were often little more than shelving and cash registers in empty mall space with a makeshift sign draped over the old tenant's marquee. They opened for a month, then disappeared. Many retailers have since hopped on the trend and upgraded the format with more spending on in-store displays and fancy signage to blend in better with their mall neighbors. And while pop-ups can bloom in any season, the holidays remain an ideal time for temporary stores, given the heavy foot traffic.”
    KC's View:
    The interesting thing about the current state of pop-up development is that in addition to retailers such as Toys R Us, manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and Levi Strauss are using the concept to connect directly to consumers ... which means, at some level, that they are disintermediating the traditional retailer. Not completely, but a little bit...and one has to wonder to what extent this trend could grow if the gambit is successful.

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has vetoed the legislation that recently was passed by the city’s Board of Supervisors banning the inclusion of toys in kids’ fast food meals, a law that was designed to curtail what was described as predatory marketing of unhealthy meals to children.

    However, the veto is likely to be overruled since the original vote by the supervisors was 8-3, enough to override a veto.

    Newsom said that while he understood the motivation behind the legislation, he believed that parents, not government, should decide what kids should and should not eat.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    The Chicago Sun Times reports that in Chicago, three Cosi restaurants and one Wingstop location are testing out new Coca-Cola new touch-screen soda fountain machines that dispense as many as 106 products and flavor combinations. The combinations include things like Orange Coke, Peach Sprite and Raspberry Diet Coke.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Barnes & Noble has decided to devote 3,000 square feet in five of its mega-stores to children’s games and toys, which “will replace the music and DVD departments of those stores and will feature more than 2,000 educational games and toys.”

    It is part of a broader refocusing at Barnes & Noble, according to the story, as the brick-and-mortar retailer looks to figure out where it fits in a world where e-books and online shopping are changing consumer behavior. “The retailer is now building out 1,000-square-foot in-store boutiques at all 717 of the consumer bookstores that feature the Nook e-reader and related accessories,” the Journal writes.

    “Barnes & Noble recently unveiled a Nook Color e-reader that will go on sale later this month.

    “In addition, Barnes & Noble has completed a nationwide expansion of its educational toys and games departments in all of its stores and now offers more than 1,000 related products.

    “Along with the toys and games aimed at young kids, the chain is offering adult games and puzzles intended for those 13 and older.”
    KC's View:
    This is a sign of things to come, as retailers redefine themselves because of all the structural changes taking place in how people shop and what they buy. Everything ought to be on the table, though it is critical for retailers to be vigilant about protecting their brands.

    That said, I would point out to Barnes & Noble that one can buy games and toys online, and often for less money. So I’m not sure this addresses the real problem.

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart “is actively on the hunt for acquisitions in Japan as it focuses on creating greater scale to further reduce its cost base.

    “The move comes as the world's largest retailer by sales aims to beef up its international operations, the fastest-growing arm of its business, as sales in the U.S. continue to slump in the face of tepid consumer spending and a saturated market.”

    The Journal notes that Walmart seems to be growing stronger in Japan, and wants to create greater scale.

    “We are interested in growth [in Japan] and willing to increase market share through M&A,” Scott Price, the president/CEO of Wal-Mart Asia, tells the paper. “We do need scale [in Japan] and we have been very open about it. We want to take over stores where the current operator is not successful and wants out, or acquisitions that fit our model and are not troubled.”

    • The US District Court for the Northern District of California has given final approval to a settlement of between $43 million and $86 million that resolves a class action wage and hour class action suit against Walmart. In addition to the settlement costs, Walmart has agreed to develop electronic systems to assure that no future breaches occur.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    The Financial Times reports that it appears that French retailer Casino will beat out Tesco in its efforts to acquire 40 supermarkets in Thailand from Carrefour. The cost of the acquisition is expected to be the equivalent of about $950 million (US).

    According to the story, “Tesco had been seen as a leading contender for the Thai assets given that it is the market leader in the country, and that it has a history of doing deals with Carrefour, the world’s second biggest supermarket group by sales. However, Tesco may have been forced to divest some of the stores for competition reasons, making a deal uneconomical. It was also said not to have bid as aggressively as some other potential buyers.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    Reuters reports that “the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary November reading on consumer sentiment came in at 69.3, up from 67.7 in October and slightly higher than the median Reuters forecast of 69.0. The reading on the overall index was just above the 68.2 average of the last four months but below the post-recession high of 76.0 from June, according to the report.”

    • Supervalu announced that its Shaw’s division has re-opened three renovated stores - in in Marshfield and Wareham, Massachusetts, and Middlebury, Vermont - “designed to provide customers with a comfortable shopping experience and quality products that are healthy and easily prepared with a central focus on delivering premium customer service.”

    • Valassis announced that it has entered into an agreement with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) “to develop and execute in-store marketing and media programs. The new partnership will maximize efficiencies across the A&P family of supermarkets and ultimately create a shopping environment that directly meets consumers' needs.”

    “We could not be more excited about partnering with A&P in this essential area,” said Michael Kowalczyk, Valassis Vice President and General Manager of In-Store Marketing. “The in-store customer experience that A&P is creating will no doubt redefine the food, drug and mass merchandise sector, and Valassis is proud to be able to assist in that mission.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    As noted above, I got a lot of emails over the weekend about the censorship controversy - it was discovered that the site was selling a book defending pedophilia, and after initial resistance, the company decided to stop selling it.

    My comment was that while I abhor the notion of censorship, it seemed to me that it was completely within Amazon’s rights not to sell the book, and that not selling books that advocate illegal behavior strikes me as an appropriate place to draw the line, and hardly qualifies as censorship.

    One MNB user wrote:

    In this situation as we often find, it is about the grey area and how we define it. While I don’t think there are many people other than the author who think this book should have been sold, written, or even conceived, the first amendment protected the right to do so.  If one of the world’s largest book sellers chooses not to present this, then where do they draw the line?  Ok, lets say we all agree teaching how to violate children is bad.  You mentioned bomb making, and I think most of us agree that is bad as well.  Amazon caries several examples of this, including the Anarchist’s Cookbook which is arguably one of the most famous repositories of explosive knowledge.  Now how about growing and distributing Pot?  While some states have “legalized” it to some extent it is still illegal at the federal level and in most states.  Now we get to where many people would be for or against Amazon choosing to carry or not carry the material.  So where does Amazon draw the line?  It is a hard question with no good answers for a business that wants to grow and prosper through new and loyal customers.

    I am personally torn on this issue.  On one hand I don’t want that type of material out there helping those doing harm to the most vulnerable among us.  On the other hand I am uncomfortable with other people, companies, or (god help us) the government being the filter of what information I have access to.

    MNB user Matt Mroczek wrote:

    I'm certainly not in support of pedophilia.  However, blanket censoring of books that promote illegal behavior discourages positive social change.  Had you lived in the South in the early 1800's, would you have been opposed to a book that discussed how to participate in the Underground Railroad?

    And MNB user Marianne Konvalinka wrote:

    The book received way more attention through the uproar than it ever would have otherwise. As you pointed out, anyone who purchased the offending article could easily be tracked, which might have (for them) unintended consequences.

    If the policy is not to carry books that promote illegal behavior, where does that leave Lolita, Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (among others)?

    Poor judgment, certainly, but I don’t think the answer is quite so easy.

    It was interesting that in all the emails I got, none of them came out and said that Amazon had made the right decision on a black-and-white issue. Which I think is reassuring, because this certainly is a question where nuance matters.

    I certainly don’t think that this is an easy problem to deal with. And you’re right - once Amazon decides to not carry books on one controversial subject, it opens the doors for other special interest groups to pressure the company not to carry books on other subjects, or not do business with third-party sellers that offer such books. (I can see it now - some group of radical vegans will call for Amazon to stop selling books about barbecue. Or some radical anti-cinema group will say that Amazon shouldn’t be selling books about the movies, especially that provocative tome, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.” The dominos will fall, and the results could be scary ... especially if some politician who thinks that Sen. Joe McCarthy is a positive role model decides to build a political career on the notion that not all speech should be free and only certain kinds of speech are appropriate/patriotic.)

    To be honest, I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m not sure there is one simple answer. This is a minefield of exposed nerves and loud special interests, and just venturing in is likely to cause Amazon some intestinal distress.

    I know this. I’m a father, and the idea of selling books about pedophilia bothers me greatly. I’m also a pet owner, but the idea of selling books about dog fighting doesn’t bother me nearly so much.

    But I do not know where to draw the line on what can be sold. (Not what can be written...because that’s a different issue. Anything can be written. But I’m not sure that deciding not to sell a certain book is the same as censorship. But again, maybe I’m just splitting hairs...)

    I do know this. I think I would be far more likely to stop doing business with Amazon if it were to become aggressively censorious - or whatever the word is for a company not selling products on certain topics - than I would if Amazon simply takes the position that it is an open forum for the selling of books, and does not make editorial decisions on content.

    On the subject of small stores, MNB fave Glen Terbeek sent the following email:

    Small is going to be the long term trend, or reality, not just a recent fad.  The overall economic trends that weren't mentioned in the article are store saturation and the Internet/related technologies that together are driving prices down to the "lowest common denominator", making it unprofitable for retailers to carry many items, under the old store based, buy and resale model.

    As a result, a retailer in the future will need to compete and make money by creating value above and beyond distribution value.  Today, it would be cheaper for the manufacturers to deliver directly to the shoppers using a common "agent" (think of  a local, specialized shopper's FedEx, UPS)  which makes all items available quickly. Compare this to having only their high volume items going through redundant stores at a high cost.  If you don't  believe me, just think of the gross margin and trade dollars that go to the retailers (probably 40% of the retail price) that can easily pay for the quick response delivery fee.  And that doesn't even consider the marketing productivity that would result.  Closing the gap between creating shopper demand and fulfilling that demand represents huge economic benefits for the manufacturers.  And the shoppers would be enjoying a logical, personalized shopping experience provided by the agent, that would be hard to beat in a real store environment.

    Small stores will be the future.

    Last week, MNB took note of a HealthDay News report on a new study from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, saying that “obese teenagers are 16 times more likely to become severely obese adults than teens of normal weight.”

    As the story notes, “Severe obesity -- defined as a body mass index above 40 -- heightens the risk for a number of health complications, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and arthritis. In addition, people who are severely obese can expect significant reductions in life expectancy.”

    I commented:

    And obese adults, I think we all can agree, are a drain on the nation’s economy and ability to be productive.

    Which is why it makes sense, in my view, for schools to be more careful about they serve kids in school and be more comprehensive about nutrition education. And it makes sense for companies to incentivize employees to live healthier lifestyles, and make people accountable for when they do not.

    MNB user Lisa Bosshard wrote:

    First a question - Have You Ever Been Obese?

    I have... and now I'm not, so I have a unique perspective to add to this...   In fact, I've lost over 160 lbs. when I was once over 300 lbs. in weight.   While these are staggering numbers, I seriously challenge your statement about being a drain on the economy and ability to be productive.   At 300+ pounds, could I have gone out and plowed a field by myself, No, but at 100'ish pounds I still can't; weight has nothing to do with, lifestyle however does.   I have a desk job and have all of my adult life.  Weight is not an issue in what I "do" to earn a living.  I pay my taxes which I earn by working - regardless of my weight.  I'm healthy and will tell you that I was also one of the healthiest "fat" people you would ever meet.   Being obese did not make me a lazy or less productive member of society.  What exactly is your definition of being productive?

    So, your statement is not something I agree with and frankly that type of thinking is part of what leads to prejudice against obese people.   Something to consider... not all fat people get that way by eating!   And, in case you're wondering.... I worked out 2-3 times a week in a gym with a trainer as a fat person and still work out as a skinny person - so I did live a healthy lifestyle even then, but based on your thinking, would have been penalized simply due to BMI or weight.

    I do however agree that more has to be done for children including a comprehensive nutritional education as obesity in kids is an epidemic.  I'm just not sure we can get there as a nation with a thought process that all "fat" people are there because they are unproductive...

    MNB user Kelly Cox Semple took exception to my position:

    I have been a regular MNB reader for years, so I know your position on obesity is plainly fat = bad. My usual reaction when you drive down that well-worn road is to mumble and be frustrated (though I have written to you on occasion in the past). But today, you crossed a line. How DARE you call me a “drain on the nation’s economy and ability to be productive.” And how presumptuous of you to say "we can all agree" about that.

    I earned my Bachelor’s Degree while working as many as four jobs at once to pay for it -- carrying a full course load, participating in numerous extracurricular activities, and volunteering. Sure, lots of college kids juggle huge workloads, but I did it while morbidly obese. What's that you say about productivity? Since graduation, I have been full-time in the work force with no unexplained gaps. I have worked in my current industry for 17 years, in a succession of roles o! f increasing responsibility. I work 50+ hours a week in my job, plus I work part-time at the business my husband and I own. We have one full-time employee and one part-time employee (not including ourselves), and we regularly employ the services of numerous local contractors. We pay our taxes religiously. We contribute to our community. My husband works 80-90 hours per week, and has had 5 days off in 3 years (3 of those were Christmases -- the only day of the year that our business is not open). I have been volunteering for various charitable organizations since I was 14 years old, and have served on the Board of Directors for the regional branch of one nation-wide organization. Together, my husband and I are a hard-working gear in the engine of the American economy. And we're both fatter than anyone you know.

    Moreover, we are healthy -- and we have the blood tests and satisfied doctors to prove it. We contribute more money to my company-sponsored health program than we get out of it during the year. We are NOT more expensive because of our size.

    Do you know who the true drain is? SICK people. Sick people are the ones who lose time at work due to illness, thereby reducing productivity. Sick people are the ones whose medical expenses are high, causing them to take far more out of the system than what they put into it, thereby driving up the cost to everyone. Sometimes, sick people are so sick that they don't work at all and collect disability benefits from the government. More of a drain on the economy. But efforts to address health issues in this country cannot simply target sick people because it's not acceptable to BLAME sick people for being sick. However, in our diet-obsessed culture, it is not only acceptable to blame fat people, it's expected.

    If all the hype about diet and exercise were genuinely about health, body size would be irrelevant. Shouldn't thin people also strive for health? So please, stop speaking as if you are an expert on the relationship between body size and health.

    First of all, thanks for your email. I feel bad if you viewed my commentary as being a personal attack on you; that certainly was not my intention, though I completely understand why you feel that way.

    To be clear about my perspective...I have wrestled with weight issues all of my life. I have been as much as 40 pounds overweight at certain times of my life, which I think technically means that I have, in fact, been obese. Maintaining what I view as a healthy weight - through portion control, the intelligent consumption of healthy food, and a consistent exercise schedule - is a constant struggle...but because I always feel better and perform better when I am lighter, I view it as a worthy struggle. (I lost more than 30 pounds a couple of years ago by eating smart. jogging 30 miles a week and boxing three days a week...but then hurt my knees, got depressed, stopped exercising, ate more, and put all the weight back on. These days I’m trying to eat smarter, am biking five days a week, and have lost 15 pounds in the past few months. The struggle continues...but it would be a mistake to suggest that I have no personal experience with it. On the other hand, I remember someone once telling me that that most conservative Catholics tend to be converted maybe that explains what appears to be a certain edge to my attitude.)

    Now...let’s be clear. Your description of your schedule and productivity made me tired just to read it. And I accept your position that you are healthy, regardless of your weight.

    But I’m not sure your experience reflects the greater reality - that a large percentage of people in this country who are obese tend to suffer from other, resultant health problems, which are expensive to treat and affect the nation’s overall productivity.

    I applaud you for being the exception. But based on what I have read - and I cheerfully concede that I am not an expert - it is hard for me to accept that the obesity epidemic is not having both a health and economic impact on the country.

    On a related subject, we had a story last week about a professor who went on a junk food diet and lost weight - because he limited his daily caloric intake, and didn’t worry about nutrition. This raises questions that further study needs to answer...but the questions certainly are interesting.

    One MNB user responded:

    One man’s experiment for two months doesn’t exactly rise to the level of scientific study that would move me to abandon all the actual clinical research that has been done. As much as I like donuts, Doritos and Oreos, they do not constitute a nutritionally balanced diet that will help me ward off aging and disease in my golden years!

    Nor was he suggesting that his experiment did mean that all the other evidence should be thrown out. All he was suggesting was that his experiment revealed an unexpected result, and that more study is required.

    From another MNB user:

    Doesn't it make you want to see if it's also the food that makes you unhealthy?   What if  Supersize Me, arguably the most disgusting documentary that I've ever watched, was redone but on the same premise of the Twinkie Diet? That could be interesting...

    MNB user Jill Hedin wrote:

    With all the eating disorders our teens our faced with, and American obesity levels at an all time high, a professor putting across a message that implies a steady diet of Twinkies, sugary cereals and saturated fatty chips even has potential health benefits is pretty irresponsible. Finding a diet that allows you to keep your weight and body healthy is challenging enough. Putting messages like this out there, especially for our youth, is only making healthy eating decisions, choices and habits harder to achieve. There had to be body fatigue and energy level issues with this sort of diet along with other side effects not mentioned.

    Those of us with years of healthy eating choices under our belts find this sort of study full of holes. Maybe there is more to it, but I sure hope there is more clarification to come. Besides, to maintain a healthy body, a crash diet is not the way to go. Learning portion control while continuing to make healthy, nutritional food choices and listening to the body has kept me heart, body and mind healthy for almost 10 years.
    Keep writing, Coupe! Your articles are exhilarating!


    Another MNB user wrote, about the entire subject:

    You are right…what is the definition of health and how do we achieve health?  Americans tend to want a silver bullet when it comes to health, a quick and easy answer to resolving years of neglect – usually in the form of a pill or a fad diet. Well, there are no silver bullets and health is not defined by weight. Health is not defined through a lack of symptoms, but the harmonious symbiosis of our seven bodily systems leading to a quality of life throughout longevity. It takes a lifetime to accomplish.

    And, we continue to get emails about Michael Sansolo’s column about the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert rally, and the broader topic of civility in our discourse.

    One MNB user wrote:

     I am all for a good discussion around ideology – but the information being shared around about what the Republicans want to do now that they have power is a bit repulsive to me and, if taken forward, will backfire just like what happened to the other side over health care.

    Full disclosure – I lean a bit to the right and have voted the conservative side of most tickets over the past 30 years.  I am more about fiscal restraint and an end to entitlements while still being in favor of free choice for all (whether health care, sexual orientation or whatever).

    If this country wants to continue to be the greatest country in the world, we will stop moving our elections to the third world space of mud slinging and fringe politics.  The US is like the Titanic – very difficult to turn and a bit cumbersome to operate.  What we need are dedicated citizens (not politicians) that want something better for everyone in a 10 year window – not pork for their constituents in the next six weeks.

    I find Colbert and Stewart funny – sometimes very funny and sometimes only mildly amusing.  The only time I turn them off (and I turn off O’Reilly or Fox News in the same fashion) is when they have found the horse, beat it into submission and then begin to beat it into the ground.  Raise the issue, have civil discussion about what is possible, define a few possible solutions and MOVE ON.

    Speaking as someone who has beaten his share of dead horses, I agree with you.

    MNB user Bernie Ellis wrote:

    I have to agree with your assessment of the current incivility in this's getting scary. What your unnamed MNB reader misses in his comments on Colbert and Stewart is that they are entertainers, just like Beck, Limbaugh and all the others on TV and radio spewing hate and anger. They will all continue to preach these things as long as people listen. Progress is made when people have civil conversations about serious issues. We have big issues facing us and as Mr David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's Budget Director,  pointed out on 60 Minutes right before the election...... neither the Republicans, Libertarians or Democrats are telling the truth about what we need to do to move forward and solve our budget problems. We need to increase taxes, reduce entitlements and cut defense spending to solve the problem. The Presidential Commission on the deficit is a great first step if people would just listen, think and then discuss these very difficult subjects we might be able to solve our issues..

    Everyone needs to compromise. I guess that's a dirty word today...... unfortunately.

    It was amazing, annoying and more than a little distressing last week when the deficit commission started talking about the tough choices that will need to be made, and people on both sides of the aisle started coming up with reasons why certain things could not be done.

    “Everything is on the table” has to mean that everything actually is on the table.

    But in this case, the table may be rigged. And progress may be elusive.

    MNB user Bruce Christiansen wrote:

    My final thoughts on this....the fact that some of your readers found this effort to be patently liberal while pundits like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were offended that they felt Stewart/Colbert lumped liberal pundits as being as bad the the conservative pundits proves three things to me:  Stewart/Colbert made their point perfectly, they appear to have struck exactly the right balance, and self examination is a painful exercise, because I may learn I am wrong.

    And finally, MNB user Tad Mancini wrote:

    In  response  to  yesterday’s “I  will  not  be  civil  to  Democrats”  rant,   I  am  reminded  of  a  quote  from  Aristotle - “It  is  the  mark  of  an  educated  mind  to  be  able  to  entertain  a  thought  without  accepting  it.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 15, 2010

    In Week Ten of National Football League action...

    Baltimore Ravens 21
    Atlanta Falcons 26

    Tennessee Titans 17
    Miami Dolphins 29

    Cincinnati Bengals 17
    Indianapolis Colts 23

    Detroit Lions 12
    Buffalo Bills 14
    (Thank goodness!)

    Carolina Panthers 16
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

    Kansas City Chiefs 29
    Denver Broncos 49

    Dallas Cowboys 33
    New York Giants 20

    Seattle Seahawks 36
    Arizona Cardinals 18

    St. Louis Rams 20
    San Francisco 49ers 23

    Houston Texans 24
    Jacksonville Jaguars 31

    Minnesota Vikings 13
    Chicago Bears 27

    NY Jets 26
    Cleveland Browns 20

    New England Patriots 39
    Pittsburgh Steelers 26

    And, in Dallas on Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao delivered a good old fashioned butt-whipping to Antonio Margarito, winning the title in the 154-pound weight class - the eight different weight class in which has won a title.

    And this doesn’t even include another class in which Pacquiao is ranked - politics. He is, in fact, an elected Congressman in the Philippines who indicated last week on “60 Minutes” that he was not ruling out an eventual run for that country’s presidency (which at the very least might make contentious international summits a little more interesting).

    KC's View: