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    Published on: December 16, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The other day it was holographic store greeters. Now, it is yet another technological innovation that is just a little bit mind-blowing.

    USA Today reports that Kraft has developed a new sampling machine that “dispenses its mousse-like Temptations dessert by Jell-O, but only to the product's target market: grown-ups. The machine, developed by Intel, can detect facial age with a special camera that scans your face and determines if you're an adult or a kid. If the machine detects a child, it shuts down and asks the child to step away. If it detects an adult — bingo — the sample can be dispensed.”

    First, I wonder how it would react to a 57-year-old man occasionally accused of having the emotional maturity of a 15-year-old? Just curious....no specific reason.

    Second, do you think there will ever come a time when this kind of stuff will just seem like same-old, same-old?

    I hope not. Because I just love being wowed on a regular basis.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    There is a great piece in the Harvard Business Review by Peter Merholz that considers “The Future of Retail,” and suggests that the best stores will be the ones that find their own humanity.

    Some excerpts:

    • “Between 1994 and 2011, the number of farmers markets across the United States grew from 1,755 to 7,175. While much of this growth is likely due to a broader understanding of the importance of eating local, fresher, and seasonal, I also suspect that it is driven by a desire of many people to shop differently — in pleasant family-friendly contexts that enable low-key, face-to-face interactions with merchants.”

    • As the Apple Store demonstrates ... retail needs to get more human at all levels. One place we're seeing this is in the experience of paying for an item. The road from tills to cash registers to large and complex point-of-sale machines has lead to an increasingly literal divide between the buyer and the seller. Store employees spend more time looking at their displays than at the customer — and the customer is left looking at the back of the display, which is rarely an attractive sight. But at the Apple Store, you don't need to wait in line to purchase your items from someone behind a counter. Purchases take place anywhere in the store, and the customer and sales associate typically stand side-by-side during the transaction, which is executed on a modified iPod Touch.”

    • “For the longest time, retail used technology as a way to automate or make more efficient the interactions between buyer and seller, typically at the cost of any connection or relationship between the two. (But) the technologies that are succeeding don't supplant people, or make them more efficient, but instead ease transactions and encourage something that can never be replaced by machines — the conversational interaction between people. In our increasingly connected world, people crave authentic human interaction, and the future of retail is going to look a lot more like it did in the more distant past (or still does in markets and bazaars), and a lot less like the bureaucratically-driven mass consumerism we grew to expect in the twentieth century.”
    KC's View:
    I’m not smart enough to get published by the Harvard Business Review, but I’ve been arguing for a long time that retailers that invested in self-checkout systems as a way of cutting back on labor were making a fundamental mistake - that they should have been taking the money they were spending on cashiers and spend it instead on people working in the aisles, talking to shoppers, helping them find things, creating relationships and maybe even (gasp!) selling them stuff.

    The power of great retail is not just in selection and location and price. The differential advantage, I have always believed, is in the people on the front lines who define a store through their work and attitudes and commitment.

    Most people go to the supermarket far more often than they go the the Apple Store, but I’d be willing to bet that the people who patronize both stores have a far better sense of the people working at the latter than the former. This isn’t just a shame, but an opportunity lost.

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal has a story noting that “the price gap between the print and e-versions of some top sellers has now narrowed to within a few dollars - and in some cases, e-books are more expensive than their printed equivalents.” That’s a shift from when Amazon first introduced its Kindle e-reader - back in 2007, Kindles were expensive and e-books generally went for $9.99. Now, Kindles can be bought for as little as $79, but e-books can be more expensive than what Amazon is charging for hardcovers.

    This shift, the Journal suggests, means that “new owners of Kindles and Nooks may be in for sticker shock on Christmas morning.”
    KC's View:
    We’ve been having this conversation at home for months, where Mrs. Content Guy - who loves her Kindle but is generally agnostic about whether she reads physical or e-books - objects to the fact that e-books aren’t dramatically cheaper than the physical variety, since there is no ink, paper or shipping involved.

    My position on this - and she does not really agree with me - is that this has been a natural progression, and that e-books now are being sold for their convenience and portability, not their price advantage. I actually think this is a good thing - the value we put on books should be based on the thinking behind them, and the talent that went into the writing, not the format in which we read them. (Being a writer, this is perhaps a natural position for me to take. Other than curiosity, I have no stake in whether someone reads the book Michael Sansolo and I wrote in its paper-and-ink incarnation, or on a Kindle/iPad/Nook. I am only thrilled and grateful that they are reading it.)

    Now, let’s examine this in a broader retail context. Could it not be argued that one of the ways that some retailers get into trouble is by putting too much emphasis on the cost of product, by engaging the competition in pricing battles that ultimately cannot be won but that manage to diminish the value of what the retailer has to offer? Sometimes, by telling shoppers that everything has to be cheaper, cheaper, cheaper you drive expectations to the point where that becomes their primary point of reference, which makes it harder to offer products and services that aim higher.

    Back to Amazon. The pioneering e-tailer has made no secret that it wants to make money on content, not hardware. Hence, the lower pricing on Kindles and higher pricing on books. And when you think about it, pricing a Kindle at under $100 instead of more than $300 easily could make a difference in whether one buys a Kindle; pricing an e-book at, say, $13.99 instead of $9.99 may be less of a decision-swayer. So I think that Amazon is making a good decision here. (Besides, charging more for e-books is potentially better for writers, while charging more for Kindles has no impact on we ink-stained wretches. So I have a dog in this hunt.)

    By the way, there are a couple of other interesting e-book notes that could be seen as supporting my position.

    One is that the Los Angeles Times is reporting that for the third week in a row, Amazon is selling more than one million Kindles a week. (It also is interesting that despite some consumer dissatisfaction about the new Kindle Fire tablet computer, Amazon says that it is “the bestselling, most-gifted and most-wished-for product on the website.”

    The other story also is from the LA Times, which reports that author Walter Isaacson plans to add to his best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, perhaps through an addendum or annotations that cover the Apple co-founder’s death in October. For people who bought the biography as an e-book, that means that the publisher could offer the revised version as an update, perhaps charging just a small fee as opposed to asking people to pay for an entire new book. This would make a lot of sense; how many people would actually buy a new physical copy just to have the added material, versus people who be happy to pay a couple of bucks for the new stuff? I hope this is how they do it, because it will highlight one of the clear advantages of e-books.

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Author Hank Cardello has a piece in The Atlantic in which he recounts his participation in a Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) summit designed to find ways to help major food industry companies address the national obesity crisis. The goal was not vilification and demonization of the mainstream food industry, but rather define sustainable and profitable ways to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

    Cardello writes that this was not a “kumbaya session. The PHA has secured corporate pledges to improve the nutrition of the foods they sell and serve, and to hold companies accountable for their promises. Among the commitments obtained to date include:

    • “Walmart will build or expand up to 300 stores in areas lacking access to grocery food, and reduce sodium and added sugars by 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, by 2015;

    • “Darden (parent to Olive Garden and Red Lobster) will reduce calories and sodium by 20 percent in the next 10 years and increase healthy options on their children's menus by automatically including fruits and vegetables as a side and milk as a drink;

    • “Hyatt Hotels will also make kid's menus healthier by automatically including fruits and vegetables instead of fries or chips, and by offering free refills on low-fat milk.”

    Cardello concludes: “While this effort is clearly a step in the right direction, several questions remain: Can self-interest groups molt out of their skin and adopt more constructive stances to help solve obesity? Will more companies join with pledges to improve the foods that they sell? Are the promises substantial enough to reverse the nation's childhood obesity epidemic?”
    KC's View:
    While I am totally sympathetic to obesity activists, sometimes they forget that the corporation they are trying to influence have shareholders who are interested in profits, not calorie counts or brownie points. They can’t just toss out traditional products that people continue to buy - and that parents feed their kids - just because they want to affect the obesity trend.

    This is all a process. I’m optimistic enough to think that even baby steps in the right direction are an indication of progress.

    (It is not like these products are being built to kill people, like tobacco products essentially are. Which is why I apply a completely different standard to that industry.)

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Fast Company has a piece about possible scenarios that could unfold as a result of the global recession. These four possible paths are:

    1. “The economy is prosperous and entrepreneurial, local government thrives (but national government is weak), society is optimistic but still divided between the 1% and the rest of us, and we mostly buy items from local brands, individual producers, and online exchanges. Our relationship with brands is unpredictable, and largely based on peer recommendations and quality of products (the dollar store isn’t so popular anymore). The concept of ‘sustainability’ is important at the local level, but on a larger scale, our own needs are more important.”

    2. “The global economy is flourishing, consumers spend like crazy, and large companies rule. These big companies are trusted and counted on to offer solutions to pressing environmental problems. We purchase items from brands we trust and all-encompassing ‘shopper-tainment’ villages. ‘Sustainability’ is thought of us a mainstream issue, but one that doesn’t require a lifestyle change because businesses will deal with it. Local government is weak, but national government is strong. Popular products include branded, specialized local produce, personalized products (i.e. cereal made to order, soap bars with individual scents), and patio heaters powered by household waste (an example of consumers not having to change their lifestyles to mitigate environmental damage).”

    3. “The economy here is uncertain, everyone is worried about climate change and extreme weather events, local communities are increasingly looking to alternative economic models ... and the government has lost our confidence. There is a general distrust of big business, and people buy local and direct. Peer-to-peer swap services are also popular, and people increasingly produce their own food in urban farms. Word of mouth and product quality are far more important than brand loyalty. Popular products include the ‘UGrow’ service, which lets users sell their produce through regional and national distributors; hemp ( just in general); and an online filtering system that lets users set geographical parameters on their purchasing decisions.”

    4. “This world has an economy that is slowly recovering from the recession, strong national identities, big businesses that are required to follow strict government environmental guidelines, and centralized governments. Consumers purchase things from trusted brands, even buying in to long-term contracts to get better value. Everyone is happy to share personal data with companies that provide quality, durable products. The most popular products include meals delivered from the local supermarket using anything you want from the store; retailer leased washing machines, dishwashers, and other appliances; and personalized health products (smoothie with statins, anyone?) ... One thing that’s still in trouble: transportation, which hasn’t changed much since today. Congestion is a huge problem, even in the face of sky-high oil prices. Supply chains have largely integrated vertically, and they efficiently use transport infrastructure, including air ships and ultra-long freight trains.”
    KC's View:
    It probably is most likely that reality will reflect a mash-up of all four.Still, they are all interesting scenarios to consider, and to think about where companies will place their bets.

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Advertising Age reports that “at a time when consumers are increasingly interested in local food movements, where their food comes from and what's in it, McDonald's is highlighting some of its growers.

    “On Jan. 2, the world's largest restaurant chain by sales will launch a campaign featuring four of its U.S. beef and produce suppliers ... The campaign will include TV, print and digital, as well as additional paid and earned media. It's expected to run sporadically through 2012.”
    KC's View:
    McDonald’s already has designated which growers on which it plans to focus. No surprise that there is no mention of any cardboard manufacturers ... who should be on the list, because that is what much of McDonald’s food tastes like.

    They can talk about their suppliers all they like, but it isn’t going to make the food taste better.

    Last night, I went to a place called Big Buns, in Arlington, Virginia, and had a terrific hamburger - thick and juicy, laced with cheese, and piled high with tomatoes, grilled onions and peppers, and served with a tangy chipotle aioli. Sure, it was a little more expensive than a McDonald’s burger ... but it was enormously more flavorful.

    Life is too short to eat crappy hamburgers. (Or drink cheap wine or beer. Or eat lousy food.

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    We spend a lot of time debating here debating about the future of the US Postal Service (USPS), so it was interesting to see this item from DutchNews.nl that was passed along by an MNB reader:

    The economic affairs ministry is set to allow the Dutch postal service PostNL to scrap Monday deliveries, the Telegraaf reports on Thursday.

    Junior minister Henk Bleker says the move is necessary because of the increase in email and the fact that few letters are delivered on Monday anyway, the paper states ... The former state-owned monopoly is currently reorganising its delivery services following the start of cheap competition from budget delivery firms who focus on mass mailings and pay their workers per item delivered rather than a fixed salary.

    KC's View:
    In the US, we put off the hard decisions and don’t deal with reality.

    It reminds me of a line from the movie Black Rain, when the Japanese detective (Ken Takakura) tells Michael Douglas’s corrupt NY detective, “In Japan we fix problems. In America, you fix blame.”

    The world has changed a lot since 1989, when Black Rain came out, but there remains a lot of truth in how the quote defines American attitudes.

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    • The Sacramento Bee reports this morning that Northern California’s major supermarket chains have agreed to another contract extension, guaranteeing that their stores will remain open through the holidays.

    According to the story, “Raley's agreed to extend the contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers union until Jan. 24 for its Raley's and Nob Hill stores. Raley's Bel Air subsidiary extended the contract to March 24. A Raley's spokesman didn't have an immediate explanation for why the dates are being staggered.

    “Safeway and Save Mart extended their UFCW contracts until Feb. 25, said Ellen Anreder, a spokeswoman for the union.

    “The union and the grocers have been negotiating since September and have extended the contract four times. The negotiations cover much of Northern California and include three UFCW locals, including Roseville's massive Local 8.”

    • The Kroger Co. announced that four of the UFCW/multi-employer pension funds to which the company contributes will merge into a new fund effective January 1, 2012 . This new arrangement is expected to reduce Kroger's annual pension contribution expense and will secure the pension benefits of more than 65,000 Kroger associates.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Got an email the other day asking if we could provide a list of all the wines that I’ve recommended in “OffBeat” this year. I like to think that we’re nothing if not responsive...and so, here it is. I enjoyed all of them ... and hope you will, too.

    2003 Chateau Quinault Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
    2004 Cantina Terlano Nova Domus Riserva
    2004 Chateau Peyros Madiran
    2005 Catena Malbec
    2005 J. Bookwalter Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Columbia Valley
    2006 Duffy Waldorf Zinfandel from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley
    2006 Havens Merlot from Napa Valley
    2006 Vigneti La Selvanella Chianti Classico Riserva
    2006 Villa Travignoli Chianti Rufina "Riserva
    2007 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
    2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah
    2007 Director’s Cut “Cinema” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah, from Francis Ford Coppola.
    2007 Proprietary Red (Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Petite Sirah/Petit Verdot/Merlot) Duncan & Sachs, “D&S,” from California
    2008 “1583” Albarino de Fefinanes
    2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay, from Washington’s Columbia Valley. 2008 Line Shack Chardonnay
    2008 Paradise Ridge Chardonnay
    2008 Sebastiani Chardonnay, from Sonoma. 2008 Turley Zinfandel from the Dusi Vineyards on California’s Central Coast
    2009 “Layers,” a beautifully blended white wine from Peter Lehmann Wines of Adelaide, Australia
    2009 Albarino from California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard
    2009 Alto Nero Davola from Sicily
    2009 Bell Sauvignon Blanc from Northern California
    2009 Ben Marco Malbec
    2009 Black Pig Albarino, from the Galicia region of Spain
    2009 Bogle Chardonnay, from California.
    2009 Bontanica Chenin Blanc from South Africa
    2009 Ceretto Blange
    2009 Christian Bernard Select Block Gamay
    2009 Diemersdal Reserve Chardonnay from South Africa
    2009 Dolcetto d’Alba from Granducato
    2009 Don Guido Chianti
    2009 Dornier Cocoa Hill Chenin Blanc 2009
    2009 Fedelitas M100 red
    2009 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Malbec
    2009 Francis Coppola Director’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
    2009 Gavi Borghero, from Italy
    2009 Joseph Drouhin Saint Veran
    2009 La Crema Chardonnay from Monterey
    2009 Leone d’ Oro Gavi
    2009 Marquesa de Valserrano Rioja Blanco
    2009 Paradise Ridge Sauvignon Blanc
    2009 Paringa Estate Chardonnay, from Australia
    2009 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc - Viognier blend
    2009 Ransom Wine Company Cattrell Vineyard Pinot Noir
    2009 The Black Shiraz, from Australia
    2009 Torbreck Woodcutter’s Semillon from Australia’s Barossa Valley
    2010 Catamayor Sauvignon Blanc
    2010 Chateau Haut Selve
    2010 Flavium Godello, from Vinos de Arganza in Spain
    2010 Francis Coppola Black Label Pavilion Chardonnay
    2010 Francis Coppola Director’s Pinot Noir, from Sonoma
    2010 Honig Sauvignon Blanc
    2010 Pie de Palo Viognier
    2010 Ponzi Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley
    2010 Prendo Pinot Grigio Vignetti Delle Dolomiti
    2010 Victorino Albarino
    2010 Vina Tabali “Reserve” Viognier, from the Limari Valley in Chile
    2010 Zull “Lust & Laune” Gruner Veltliner
    Telegram Sauvignon Blanc from California
    The Messenger “Telegram” Chardonnay from California
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Christopher Hitchens, the journalist/essayist/intellectual/iconoclast/professional provocateur, has passed away. He was 62, and had been fighting Stage 4 esophageal cancer since he was diagnosed with the disease in June 2010; since that diagnosis, however, he continued to turn out a wide range of pieces.

    Indeed, in his final piece for Vanity Fair, he wrote about “the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.”
    KC's View:
    Never met the guy, but I felt I knew him from many pieces of journalism that he’d produced over the years. I also have no idea if I would have liked him, since Hitchens seemed possessed of a kind of condescension that suggested that he believed fervently that he was not only the smartest guy in the room, but probably the smartest guy in whatever city he happened to be in. (To be fair, he may have been.)

    But I do know this. While I might have disagreed with him on many things, I never read any piece that Christopher Hitchens wrote without thinking about the subject in a different way. And that may be the best compliment, the best testament, one can pay to someone in his profession.

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 41-14.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Got a lot of email about our story the other day about new federal recommendations that states pass laws prohibiting automobile drivers from all cell phone usage, even the hands-free variety.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Is there some kind of difference between hands free cell phone conversations and the ones I have with my wife sitting beside me in the car each day on the way into work?

    From another reader:

    Why stop there?  Lets ban eating in the car, talking to passengers, yelling at your kids, turning the channel on the radio, looking at the speedometer...

    MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

    Distractions will remain after phones and texting are banned.  I was rear ended by someone not paying attention because they were changing the station on the car radio.  Ban radios?  Every day on my hour commute, I see people eating, putting on makeup, singing along with the radio, talking to other passengers, wrestling with their kids in the backseat, reading a newspaper/ book/ kindle.  Are we going to ban all of these distractions (ok, I’ll go along with banning the driver from reading!)?  How about the distraction of  the GPS shouting out directions at every turn?

    What we need is trained drivers who understand the need to pay primary attention to their driving.  Driver education is either not available or insufficient to train the new drivers coming out of high school.  I was amazed that a younger friend had never heard the term ‘defensive driving’ in her class.  They need to be trained to avoid that distracted driver.  As my trainer said about a hundred years ago, it doesn’t matter how good a driver you are.  There will always be bad drivers on the road.  YOU need to be ready for them.


    MNB user Chuck Lungstrom wrote:

    In regard to banning cell phone usage while operating motor vehicles.  If you want to know the true motivation for any action, you should always follow the money.  I think you are indeed on to something when you suggest that this ban would be more about creating a money flow to the local governments than about safety.

    Perhaps a good follow to this would be to ban passengers as well.  We all know how distracting conversation can be with a real live person sitting next to you in a vehicle. Single person occupancy is a logical solution to this problem.  Observation by law enforcement is much easier also as it is a little more difficult to conceal a person than a phone.

    Car manufactures could be compelled by government to produce a whole new line of single seat vehicles that would make it impossible to violate this law, but then that would interrupt the money flow wouldn't it?

    What to do, what to do..... stall the new production line and lay off workers or slow the money flow to local governments?

    Why do people go into public service when there are such difficult decisions to make.... oh wait, it's for the money!

    Hypocrisy knows no bounds.


    I actually was sort of kidding when I said that this was about non-taxation taxation.

    From still another reader:

    Won't this ban cause gas consumption to rise?  Let's see, first, no cell phones and I guess having a conversation with a passenger would be distracting so that would follow.  The result: no car pooling.

    Seriously, if you use hands free and voice activated dialing how that could be any more distracting than carrying on a conversation with someone you are traveling with?

    Why isn't the entire governmental apparatus trying to get the economy going instead of taking time to do this?  Our US Senator was touting the fact that he got a law passed that regulates "puppy mills"...I suppose that will employ puppy mill inspectors and a few people more in the Dept. of Agriculture.

    It's easy to see why 10% approval rating is being generous!


    But another reader chimed in:

    Woo hoo!    The NTSB finally “gets it”.    We do not have an absolute right as citizens to endanger the lives of others by talking on a phone while driving down the road.   As an example of someone who cannot divide their attention between a phone call and driving, I refuse to answer calls on my phone without pulling to the side of the road.   Very few of those incoming calls would ever be considered to be so important that I couldn’t wait to arrive at my destination to respond.   Despite having used hands free devices while driving in the past, I still cannot focus on both activities simultaneously.

    I drive a high-speed 40 mile round-trip commute every day, in addition to driving over 30,000 miles annually.   I never cease to be amazed by the behaviors I witness from others behind the wheel….and this is the more sparsely populated, white-bread Midwest I’m talking about.   I can only imagine the greater magnitude of stupidity exhibited in urban areas.

    I’m not a big fan of government intervention into our lives, but this is one of the few times that government may be able to save us from ourselves----and others.





    Also got a lot of email about our story focusing on complaints about the new Kindle Fire.

    MNB user Bill Drew wrote:

    I received my Kindle Fire via UPS last Wednesday and immediately downloaded Lee Child's new short story (which is only available on line).  Unfortunately, I can't read it because the device won't turn on.  It's dead, and no amount of charging helped.  I'm a bibliophile - give me a paperback and I'm happy as a clam - and as such was fighting the switch to an e-reader tooth and nail.  Hell, my wife wanted to throw a party after I told her I had ordered the thing!  I think I'll get used to it, but first, I'll see firsthand how Amazon handles my claim.  We've been Prime members for years but have never returned anything due to malfunction.  I'm curious, and I'll let you know what happens.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I am one of those disgruntled first users. And I had already decided this puppy was going back to the manufacturer when I read with some interest I was not alone in my disenchantment. Out the gate, extra shipping charges to get to me in time for my vacation,  I took this KFire on a long vacation journey thru se asia. While I loved the concept, the execution didn't deliver.  The touch screen is truly crap. Also, some idiot designed the bookmark placement to overlay precisely where the key navigation emblem is. You can tap to your hearts content, 7-10 times, till you get the screen to move to the desired place.  NOT good screen sensitivity. The page turns have erratic staying power.  It is easy to shut off by accident.  But the clincher to the return decision was when the wireless on/off switch just would not turn off despite many, many tries with every possible digit and pressure experimentation. This accelerates the battery drain unnecessarily and left me uneasy about the lemon aspect of the unit.  For $50 more, I would just as soon do the Nook but my husband did the research and convinced me the Kindle had the fire…  Hype was good ; delivery was not.

    Get an iPad and use the Kindle app. It is fabulous.




    And, there was email about our coverage of how Lowe’s - and then Kayak.com - decided to stop advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim” reality show because of pressure from some groups suggesting that the humanization of Muslim-Americans actually would be hurtful to traditional American values. I’ve commented that demonizing people because of their religion is antithetical to traditional American values.

    Several people suggested that “The Daily Show” piece about the issue was terrific. Which is true and worth seeing here. I only did not mention it because saying that “The Daily Show” is brilliant in how it deals with issues like these just seems redundant.

    One MNB user, who I know had only my best interests at heart, cautioned:

    Kevin: You’re dealing with dynamite….just saying’.

    I know. But if I didn’t dance among the rhetorical land mines from time to time, this wouldn’t be worth doing and it wouldn’t be MNB. Right?

    MNB user Christine Myres wrote:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, eloquently expressed. I have just (again) used company time to write to Lowes and tell them I am no longer a customer … they won’t miss my money probably, but it’s the only way I have to express my dismay and disgust at their willingness to roll over & play dead for the supposedly-Christian right.

    From another MNB user:

    You are accusing Lowe’s of no “backbone” for sticking to their guns under very heavy pressure to not run ads on a particular TV show.  Sounds like backbone to me.  Why is Lowe’s the focus of the ad pulling why not the others that pulled their ads.  By following your logic should we judge retailers by the shows they choose not to sponsor and not the ones they do sponsor.  A retailer made a decision to not support a show.  Ok, let all the pundits and bloggers say what they want it isn’t their money.  The Customers will decide with their pocket book and the politicians are merely looking for votes.  I really don’t care if Lowe’s advertises on that show or not, it is their money and their choice.  Should we judge you by the wines you buy and endorse?  No.  Thanks for listening to my rant.

    Actually, I’m completely comfortable being judged by the things I say, the things I like and dislike, and the opinions I express. If I were not, I’d have to find myself another line of work.

    I have no problem with X company making advertising decisions based on the content of a show. In fact, I am surprised when they do not. (Which is what Kayak.com’s CMO would have us believe about his initial decision to advertise on “All-American Muslim.”) Companies should advertise on shows seen by their core and potential shoppers, and stay away from those that do not; they also need to support programming that is in synch with their views of the world.

    What I object to is when a company reverses itself because of pressure from people that I view as intolerant of others who do not share their religious and cultural views.

    I really like this email from another reader:

    First, let me say I’m a smaller-government tea-party embracing strongly libertarian= leaning republican voter.  I consider myself more conservative that the religious right for one simple reason, I hold no religion above any other.  I have my beliefs and others are entitled to theirs.  That to me is conservatism, the protection of our freedoms not the pushing of our beliefs on others either directly or through censorship.  The Florida Family Association is engaging in censorship to influence the social fabric of America by trying to manipulate what is aired and viewed. 

    You could argue that American values are based on Christian values, but you would be mistaken if you equate that to living in a Christian nation.  Regardless of the percentage of the population that are Christian or at least profess themselves to be, the US Constitution which has this little idea in it called Separation of Church and State.  That little statement is important, it’s what makes us American.  And what will ultimately be our strength if we protect that most precious value.  I detest religious radicalism no matter the source.

    Even the good book states...Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Censorship is wrong!


    But MNB user Linda Good disagreed:

    You are incorrect that intolerance for people living in America with subversive motives will diminish American exceptionalism.  The very core of muslim values is to conquer and subjugate infidels…aka anyone that is not a muslim.  Read A God Who Hates by Wafa Sultan, a muslim now living in America, and see what she has to say about her muslim associates living in this country.  If America is to survive as free country with one set of laws for everyone it is imperative that our Constitution and values be protected.  Sympathy for muslims, allowing their “religious”-based law (sharia) to be recognized in this country will be the toe-hold they are looking for to begin the muslimization of this country and the end of freedom as we know it.

    I don’t often quote the Bible. (I am far more likely to cite Jimmy Buffett, Robert B. Parker or William Shakespeare.)

    But when I read the previous email, the following line came to my mind:

    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for their is the kingdom of heaven.

    Amen.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 16, 2011

    Okay, this may have seemed a little creepy to anyone who might have paid attention.

    But the other afternoon, I decided to go see The Muppets. My wife and kids wouldn’t go with me, I didn’t have access to any little kids to use as props, and so I manned up and went down to the fabulous AMC Theater in Port Chester, NY. Nobody made a lot of money on this show ... other than me, there were two old ladies in attendance. (I’m not sure this made me feel worse or better.)

    That said ... I’m really glad I went, because The Muppets is a wonderful move and loaded with business lessons.

    The Muppets has the knockabout, easy feel of one of those old Mickey Rooney “let’s put on a show” movies; in fact, it even has a brief cameo by the 91-year-old Rooney. Which tells you a lot about The Muppets, since it is a movie made as much or more for those of us who have fond memories of the old “Muppets” TV series that was syndicated in the late seventies. Kids will get a lot of the jokes, but there are a ton of sly references (both New Coke and Tab make quick appearances) that will only make sense to people of a certain age.

    The Muppets has as it central character a fellow named Walter - he clearly is a Muppet, except that he has grown up in Smalltown, USA with his human brother Gary (Jason Segal). The movie begins as Walter takes a trip to Hollywood with Gary and his girlfriend of 10 years, Marty (Amy Adams), thrilled to have an opportunity to visit the famed Muppet Studios and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the famous Muppets from afar. He’s crushed to find out that the studio is in disrepair and that the Muppets have scattered; Kermit is living, Norma Desmond-like, in a Bel Air mansion. But when Walter discovers that an evil oilman, Tex Richman (played with glee by Chris Cooper), plans to buy the studio and drill for oil there, it sets in motion a plan to bring the Muppets back together to hold a telethon to raise enough money to save the studio.

    That actually sounds more complicated than it is. The Muppets moves along with a knowing, breezy quality - always aware of it is, and yet completely sincere and without guile. The writing is crisp, the musical numbers are cheery, and The Muppets is never less than terrific entertainment. I’m really glad I went. Even by myself.

    Now, the business lessons...

    If you own something valuable,you have to nurture it. Disney bought rights to the Muppets (other than those owned by the “Sesame Street” folks) in 2004, more than a dozen years after the death of Muppet founder Jim Henson. Somehow, since then, the Muppets became virtually irrelevant to American culture ... which seems like such a shame since Kermit may at one point have been almost as well known as Mickey Mouse. But it was almost like once they bought the property, they did not know what to do with it.

    Passion rules. And one person’s passion can be a game-changer. One of the reasons this movie works so well is that star Jason Segal loved the property and brought the idea of reviving the franchise to Disney. He was the real power behind the movie, and you can feel the passion coming right off the screen. It is instructive that he was able to do something that the whole Disney corporation could not. (To Disney’s credit, there has been considerable coverage about how the company realized understood that it needed to get out of the way and not apply to much corporate-think to the movie. And it shows.)

    You have to appreciate the people who work for you. And they need to hear it. And feel it. When Kermit tried to get Miss Piggy - now working as editor of Paris Vogue to come back to the act, she rejects him - because she feels that he never really appreciated her. And, as the movie makes clear, the whole thing doesn’t work without Miss Piggy and Kermit singing ‘The Rainbow Connection.” Kermit learns a valuable management lesson ... as should we. (And by the way, I teared up a little bit at “The Rainbow Connection.” And I’m not ashamed to admit it.)

    Even in a cynical world, a sunny attitude can pay dividends...if only because it is so refreshing. At one point in the movie, Chris Cooper’s character says that The Muppets simply are obsolete and irrelevant in a “hard cynical world.” But The Muppets proves that this most definitely isn’t true, and I hope that it is the beginning of a fresh, new and long life for The Muppets.

    Speaking of cynicism ... there is some boob out there in the cable TV universe saying that the new Muppet movie is trying to brainwash kids into being anti-business and pro-Socialist. This because the bad guy in the movie is a Texas oilman.

    This is just silly. First of all, it is a movie. About, in essence, sock puppets.

    Second, it seems to me that you have to have a bad guy. To suggest that it cannot be a Texas oilman is to apply a kind of reverse political correctness to a family entertainment. (And let’s face it. Unless you happen to be a Texas oilman, there are few better bad guys out there than Texas oilmen. Except maybe bankers. But don’t get me started.)

    Third...and let’s pay close attention here...this movie was made by a corporation - the largest media company in the world in terms of revenue, and number 65 on the Fortune 100 list. Not that kids know this ... but they also don’t make political connections from a character who, as much as anything, is modeled on Snidley Whiplash.

    The only person trying to make political points with The Muppets is this cable TV guy. If he doesn’t like what The Muppets stand for, he should go see something else.




    A big thank you to the folks at The Fresh Market, who last week sent me a really amazing present to just thank me for producing MNB each day. Kevin, the assistant manager at their Westport, Connecticut, store, called me out of the blue and said that they wanted to give me some Graeter’s ice cream - they knew from reading MNB that I think it is the best ice cream on the planet, and they wanted to celebrate the fact that they are the first chain selling it on the east coast.

    And so they did - they gave me five cases of Graeter’s ice cream. (You’d be amazed how much stuff I threw out just to make room in my freezer. And my wife and kids suddenly are looking at me in a brand new light.)

    So thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.




    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday as we count down the last few days before Christmas vacation.

    Slainte!
    KC's View: