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    Published on: December 22, 2011

    This commentary is available in text and video form. The content is similar, but not word-for-word. Enjoy both, or either...

    Christmas is just days away, and you have a lot to do.

    So this morning, there will be no lessons, no metaphors, no movie or obscure pop culture references.

    Just best wishes for a terrific holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and whatever you believe in.

    Today is the final MNB of 2011. As is the custom around here, we’re going to take a little time off to catch our breath, sleep a little late, read some books, go to a bunch of movies, and just generally recharge the batteries.

    I can’t wait to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, among others, and I need to finish Michael Lewis’s “Boomerang” before I start on Michael Connelly’s new Harry Bosch novel, “The Drop.”

    I hope you’re able to do the same...or whatever it is that makes you happy...during the next week or so.

    MNB will be back on Tuesday, January 3, 2012, for the beginning of what I hope will be a fun, eventful, energetic, and, yes, even prosperous year for all of us. (I’m counting on it being a great year, since it may be the last one we have left - the Mayan calendar famously says that December 21, 2012, will be the end of the world and all humanity.)

    In the meantime, the MNB archives will be open, as always.


    And Happy Holidays!

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Great piece by Jessica Goldstein in the Washington Post about how she recently went to the Whole Foods store in Foggy Bottom, and found that it had a Hannukah display. “A whole display for Hanukkah! Change has come to America,” she writes.

    But wait a minute. Maybe not. And this is where Goldstein’s writing offers the kind of barbed indignation that we love here at MNB:

    “I see the classic supermarket screw-up: Whole Foods is selling matzoh. Matzoh and matzoh balls and a wide variety of matzoh-y things would be just spectacular if this were a) a Passover display or b) the cracker section, but it is neither. It is Hanukkah which, for the uninitiated, is not Passover and is not a holiday on which one eats matzoh. What Whole Foods is really displaying is a casual kind of ignorance for which there is no excuse.

    “The War on Christmas gets all kinds of sparkly graphics on the TV news, perhaps because Christmas decorations lend themselves quite nicely to all things sparkly. But for those of you who care about the less-sparkly things in life, this is what a swipe at Hanukkah looks like: It looks like a callous kind of carelessness, a sign that the great Whole Foods, which manages to ensure that organic pasta comes packaged in biodegradable boxes made of locally grown hemp, cannot devote all of 30 seconds to a Wikipedia search for ‘Hanukkah food’.

    “I’m not demanding some kind of extreme cultural awareness wherein the manager of Whole Foods understands what the letters on the dreidel stand for or even attempts to provide a definitive spelling of ‘Hanukkah.’ (Seriously, don’t worry about it.) I am not even suggesting that Hanukkah is worthy of equal retail real estate as Christmas.

    Hanukkah is celebrated by a smaller number of people than Christmas is, and it’s a less important holiday than others in the Jewish calendar. Scale your decor accordingly.

    “However, it would be just lovely if Whole Foods could spare half a minute to getting their Google on and figuring out that matzoh, in fact, has negative nothing to do with Hanukkah, that the only teeny tiny connection this flat non-bread has to the festival of lights is that they both have something to do with the Jews, an association as logical as stuffing stockings with chocolate bunnies on Dec. 24.”

    I love writing like this. Not only is she indignant, but she’s funny about it, and the imagery is perfect.

    (I love it when she adds: “I expect this kind of cluelessness from the grocery store in my hometown of Berkeley Heights, N.J., where there are maybe 12 Jews total, four of whom are related to me. But in Washington? You couldn’t find, I don’t know, one Jewish person to double-check the display?”)

    The Eye-Opening business lessons here are simple. Don’t make assumptions. Pay attention to the little things. Because if you don’t, it can come back and bite you on the tucchus.

    One positive note: The Post reports that “the Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom responded via Twitter this morning to apologize and say it had pulled matzoh off its Hanukkah display.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted yesterday that “will make it tougher for employers to stall union organizing drives inside the workplace, one of the biggest changes in decades to how workers join unions.

    “The changes, which take effect April 30, delay employers' ability to complete a legal challenge that can drag out the process of voting to form a union at a private-sector workplace. Companies often contend that certain workers aren't eligible to vote on union formation because they're actually management, or that certain part-time workers should be excluded from the vote. For some employers, these challenges keep unions from taking hold for months or years.”

    Legal challenges, according to the new rules, now will have to take place after unionization votes. The two Democrats on the NLRB said that the change will eliminate “unnecessary litigation” that can interfere with the rights of organized labor. The one Republican on the NLRB abstained, which the Journal called a symbolic rejection of the premise.

    According to the Journal,, “Although union participation has fallen steadily in recent years, the changes could speed up union-organizing efforts at companies in the health-care, communications, transportation and service industries. The changes also could prompt more workers and labor groups to hold union-organizing elections, with the hope of getting a better shot at a vote without delay.”

    However, there could be a delay in the elimination of union vote delays.

    The Journal also reports that “the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which counts three million members, said it filed a lawsuit Tuesday night to challenge what it called the ‘ambush election rule.’ The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, contends the rule deprives employers of a fair opportunity to explain to employees the costs of unionizing.”
    KC's View:
    This is one of those stories that I actually find hard to figure out.

    On the one hand, it seems to me to be entirely fair that employers not be able to use various legal tactics to delay unionization votes.

    On the other hand, employers also ought to have the ability to avail themselves of all legal options in arguing against unionization, and haste can be the mother to disaster.

    That’s okay. I figure that next time a Republican becomes president, he or she will simply change the makeup of the NLRB, and that new panel will change the rule back.

    Because that’s how politics work.

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Ray LaHood, the US Secretary of Transportation, announced yesterday that the Obama administration will not “back a proposal to prohibit drivers from talking on cellphones, even hands-free devices, giving a boost to car makers and mobile-phone companies that stand to lose if regulators impose a ban.”

    The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last week called on all 50 states to pass such a ban, saying that cellphone usage while driving - whether for talking or texting - was creating a culture in which distracted driving was causing auto accidents in the same way - though not to the same extent - that driving while impaired does.

    However, hands-free calling "is not the big problem in America," LaHood said at a Wednesday press conference.

    The Journal notes that while the NTSB can make recommendations, the Department of Transportation has rule-making authority in the area of auto safety. Therefore, LaHood’s declaration is seen as a kind of final word on the issue.

    According to the story, “nine states and Washington, D.C., ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving and 35 states, including D.C., prohibit texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. But no state has an all-out ban on cellphones.”
    KC's View:
    Thus, concerns about unwanted government intrusion are answered, at least on this score.

    I do believe, however, that every state should ban texting while driving, and using hand-held cellphones while driving. That strikes me as simple common sense.

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that “dollar stores have evolved into a go-to spot for holiday shoppers on a tight budget or trying to get more value for their money. In contrast with the often dingy spaces they once occupied, many have undergone renovations and are stocked with a bounty of Christmas trees, wrapping paper, toys and inexpensive electronics for the holiday season. Some even carry steaks.

    “With the job market and economy still unsettled, dollar stores are predicted to perform robustly as shoppers of all incomes flock there to pick up cheap decor and presents. For the fourth quarter, the category is expected to post a sales increase of 4.2% or higher at stores open at least a year, according to business data firm Thomson Reuters.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    USA Today reports that White Castle plans to start testing the sale of beer and wine at one of its units, as it looks to build sales and profits.

    According to the story, “The food famously craved by stoners in the 2004 movie Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle can be had with a glass of wine or a domestic or seasonal beer at a Lafayette, Ind., restaurant that fuses a conventional White Castle with a new concept for the company called Blaze Modern BBQ. Wine costs $4.50 and beers start at $3.

    If the concept continues to work, the story says,, the company will try rolling it out to other co-branded restaurants, though there could be legal limitations on putting beer and wine in single unit White Castles.
    KC's View:
    In a previous life, when I went to places like White Castle, it usually was because I had the munchies because of too much to drink. Serving beer and wine might complicate the process to an extent I cannot begin to ponder...

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    • Ruddick Corp., having sold its thread-making subsidiary, has informed the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it plans to change its corporate name to Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc., its remaining business venture.

    According to the proxy statement, the new name “better describes its current operating activities and long-term strategic focus than the current name.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    Internet Retailer reports that “the percentage of web shoppers intent on making a purchase remained stable at 29% of site visitors in Q3 of 2011 compared with the same period last year. But the rate of those who made a purchase declined to 54% compared with 63% in the prior year quarter. That’s one result of a quarterly report by shopper survey data provider iPerceptions Inc. that gathered information from more than 140,000 consumers who visited 335 retail and e-commerce sites that use iPerceptions products ... Among those visitors who said they went to a web site to make a purchase, 35% said they did not complete a transaction because they couldn’t find the product they were looking for and 34% said the product they were looking for—and found—wasn’t available. Other reasons for unfulfilled transactions included unclear pricing and comparisons (13%) and a lack of product information (9%).”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    ...will return in 2012.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 22, 2011

    I have never quite forgiven the makers of the original Mission: Impossible movie for turning Jim Phelps, the hero of the sixties TV series, into a bad guy for the film reboot. I’ve always thought that it was just a cheap plot twist, and one that put hero Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise, on something of a pedestal.

    That said, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the fourth in the series, is a terrific spy thriller, probably the best in the series, and absolutely worth seeing. Directed by Brad Bird (amazingly, this is the first live-action film for the director of the animated films The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) with breezy self-assurance, MI-GP takes a relatively coherent plot about the potential nuclear destruction of the world by a mad scientist and flavors it with strong performances, a series of fabulous foreign locales, and some action sequences that are positively breathtaking.

    These set pieces are done with a high level of style and a great sense of fun, which is something the previous films lacked. The centerpiece of the film has Cruise scaling the tallest building in the world, in Dubai, Spider-Man-style, and if you suffer from any fear of heights (as I do) these minutes of the film will make your stomach clench. But there also is an amazing chase sequence in a vertical, mechanized auto garage in Mumbai, and an escape from a Russian prison that is set to Dean Martin singing “Ain’t That A Kick in The Head.” And even a small, relatively unimportant sequence that has Cruise and co-star Jeremy Renner (excellent as a CIA analyst with a secret) trying to board a moving train is done with panache. In addition to Cruise and Renner, Paula Patton and the always hilarious Simon Pegg round out the excellent cast.

    One of the things I liked best about MI-GP is that throughout most of the film, the IMF (Impossible Missions Force, not the International Monetary Fund, which stole the acronym) has been disavowed by the US government, meaning that they don;t have access to all the toys and gadgets that typify the series. What this means is that sometimes the stuff they do have doesn’t work right...which means that they have to overcome these obstacles with plain old grit, derring-do and ingenuity. Which is exactly what a Mission: Impossible movie should be about.

    One suggestion. MI-GP was partially shot in IMAX format, and it is absolutely worth spending the money to see it in an IMAX large-format theater, if you can. The movie is breathtaking in this format - it opens on a shot of Budapest, and Mrs. Content Guy literally gasped it was so amazing. (And IMAX heightens the tension during the Dubai climbing sequences as well.)

    A business lesson? One of the things that the Mission: Impossible series has done right, even if I did not always love the movies, was to bring on directors who had their own styles and take on the material. Brian DePalma, John Woo and JJ Abrams have all given their MI movies distinctive characteristics, and I think that has been smart - it keeps the series from being too predictable. I never would have believed that Brad Bird would be the best of them, though ... and if they do a fifth movie, I kind of hope they hire him again so he can try to top himself.

    Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - a terrific popcorn movie that you should definitely see, and try to see in IMAX.

    I have two red wines two recommend to you this week...

    The other night I was making risotto, and my sister and her partner contributed the wine to the evening....and it was the very pricey but utterly delicious 1999 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Just wonderful. Normally I would say that such a wine should be saved for a special occasion, but sometimes I think that good food, lively conversation and people you love are plenty special enough.

    The other wine I would recommend this week is the 2009 Sangiovese di Remagra Superiore, which is a little bolder than a chianti and perfect with Italian food and a spicy red sauce. (And about a tenth of the price of the Caymus.)

    That’s it for this week...and, as noted above in FaceTime, this year.

    Have a great holiday...and I’ll see you on Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

    KC's View: