retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Somehow, it turned into religion week here on MNB. Not exactly sure how it happened, but I don’t think it is bad thing, even though the occasional person suggests that I am venturing into dangerous territory by commenting and posting other people’s comments on the subject of religion and how it sometimes intersects with commerce and culture.

Dangerous? Sure. Maybe a little bit.

But first of all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If MNB actually is going talk about stuff that other sites and people don’t talk about, then we actually have to talk about stuff that other sites and people don’t talk about. (At a site I worked for during a past life, they used to threaten to fire me when this kind of stuff came up.)

Just as important, the conversation this week has largely been both passionate and respectful about a tough subject. And, hopefully, thought provoking.

“Sunlight is the best antiseptic,” US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said. I agree.




Speaking of sunlight - and religion - I cannot recommend highly enough a terrific piece in the February 14-21 issue of The New Yorker that examines Scientology. Lawrence Wright has written an exhaustive article looking not just at the religion’s beliefs and history, but also at its impact on a variety of people, some from the religion’s hierarchy and some now viewed within Scientology as apostates. Fascinating stuff. And more than a little scary.




And one more on the religion front...

There is a new application available for the iPad and the iPhone that allows Catholics to go to Confession.

According to an Associated Press story, “The text-based app takes the user through the Ten Commandments, with a slew of questions attached to each, a process known as an examination of conscience, which penitents undergo before confession ... Once that's done, the app lists the user's sins and displays a written act of contrition, a prayer recited by the penitent. From there, it walks the user through the rest of the steps of confession and even advises when to say ‘amen’.”

The app was created because American Catholics go to confession less often these days than they used to, and the developers believed there was a market for a virtual confessional.

The only downside is that the application doesn’t give absolution - for that, you actually have to go a real, live priest.

The cost of the application: $1.99.

(If they’d charged more for absolution, it would have been like the old days, when the Church used to charge people for indulgences. Of course that didn’t work out so well, since it led Martin Luther to begin the Protestant Reformation.)




Another wonderful piece in this current issue of The New Yorker is a short article about motherhood by Tina Fey of “30 Rock” fame; it further cements my feeling that Fey is simply one of the funniest people out there.




Do you have movies that, if you happen to come upon it while flipping channels, you immediately settle in to watch until it’s over, even though you’ve seen it a bunch of times and almost know some of the scenes by heart?

I do. And one of them popped on the other night, and reminded me how much I like it - About A Boy, with Hugh Grant - a wonderfully heartfelt movie about growing up based on a Nick Horny novel and directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz. I came in about a third of the way through, and stayed until the credits ... and if you’ve never seen About A Boy, I heartily recommend it.




Until a week ago, if I had a vote I probably would have cast mine for The King’s Speech to win this year’s Best Picture Oscar, and Colin Firth to win Best Actor.

And then I saw 127 Hours. And was completely blown away by the direction by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), the script by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, and the starring performance by James Franco.

127 Hours is the true story of Aron Ralston, a hiker who, while trekking through a remote Utah canyon, is trapped when his arm is caught under a boulder and finally has to cut off his own arm in order to escape. It sounds like tough stuff, and is - there are about 5-10 minutes toward the end of the movie that are extremely hard to watch and listen to.

But 127 Hours is easily the most powerful, life affirming movie that I’ve seen a quite some time - it ultimately is about hope and, as cliched as it sounds, the triumph of the human spirit. Boyle gives the movie enormous energy, finding visual ways to get inside Ralton’s head and heart. And Franco, who plays Ralston, may be the only person who could have played this part - he is energetic and magnetic, idiosyncratic and driven - and he delivers an entirely original and compelling performance.

There’s even a business lesson in 127 Hours. (You knew I’d find one in there somewhere.) Ralston has enormous talent and skill as a hiker and climber, and he has all the right equipment. But in the end, these alone are not enough for him to escape. It is his passion for life, and his enormous heart and will, that ultimately are his salvation. The lesson is this: you need top talent, you need great technology, but ultimately it is only in combing these things with strength of character that you can achieve a winning and transformational performance.

This is not to diminish any other Oscar-nominated movie or performance. This actually was a pretty good year for movies (and I’ve now seen nine of the 10 Best Picture nominees). But 127 Hours is a miraculous achievement - even though I knew what the movie was about and how it would end when I walked into the theater, I was completely and utterly surprised by it. And thrilled by its achievement, from beginning to end.




My wine of the week is a great one - the 2009 Black Pig Albarino, from the Galicia region of Spain. If you’ve never had Albarino, it is time to try it - and this is a tasty example of a great white wine that is wonderful with spicy seafood dishes.




That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend.

Until Monday ... Slainte!
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