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    Published on: June 11, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    You may have seen this story on Friday, because despite the fact that they only do a weekend show on National Public Radio, the retirement of Tom and Ray Magliozzi got a lot of headlines.

    The Boston-based Magliozzi brothers have, for 25 years, done a show called "Car Talk," which is an idiosyncratic and comic auto advice show.

    "My brother has always been 'work-averse,'" said Ray, 63, of his brother Tom, 74, and their reason for retiring. "Now, apparently, even the one hour a week is killing him!"

    Slate reports that "fans of the show ... won't have to live without their weekly 'Car Talk ' fix. NPR says that it will use a combination of repurposed portions of old shows and the occasional update from the Magliozzis to produce new shows that will continue to air on member stations. The brothers will also continue to keep up their website and their weekly column."

    I thought about the Magliozzi brothers a lot this weekend, even though I was only an occasional listener (if I happened to be in the car on Saturday mornings) and my knowledge of automobiles is limited at best. (I know how to put gas in the car and how to change a tire. Beyond that, I'm pretty much useless.)

    But the Magliozzi brothers and "Car Talk" are such a great example of how to make what can be arcane or even esoteric information accessible to everyone, with humor and style and passion.

    More than ever, retailers - whether they are selling food or clothes or cars or whatever - are in the information business, because consumers have more of it at their fingertips than ever before. But, as we all know, too much information can almost have a paralyzing effect ... and so it falls to the retailer to help the customer sort through it, to find what is applicable and relevant.

    One could do worse than to use "Car Talk" as a role model. I have no idea how to change a gasket. But I could listen to the Magliozzi brothers - or Click and Clack, as they referred to themselves - talk about it for hours.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an effort by litigators to refile - albeit on a smaller scale - a gender discrimination class action lawsuit against Walmart could get stymied as a federal judge said he was "seriously concerned" that the new case as the same "fatal flaw" as the original, which got tossed by the US Supreme Court.

    That original case, decided more than a year ago, was dismissed by the US Supreme Court because it said that there was no official company policy saying that men should be paid more than women or promoted more frequently.

    U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco reportedly asked the plaintiffs' attorney, Brad Seligman, if it is true that essentially all personnel decisions are delegated to store managers and not coordinated by Walmart headquarters.

    But Seligman replied that "plaintiffs now have evidence of bias by some of those actually in charge, the company's 20 California district managers and four regional managers, who approve all pay and promotional decisions.

    "That evidence includes remarks by Walmart's then-chief executive, Thomas Coughlin, to district managers in 2004. According to the revised lawsuit, filed in October, Coughlin told them the key to success in choosing leaders was a 'single focus to get the job done,' and that 'Women tend to be better at information-processing. Men are better at focus'."

    The Chronicle writes that Walmart's attorney, Theodore Boutrous, "dismissed Coughlin's statement as a 'stray remark' and said women complaining of discrimination can seek individual remedies, like the 2,000 employees who recently filed claims against Walmart with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."
    KC's View:
    I think it is a lot easier to accept the idea that Coughlin's comment was a "stray remark," as opposed to reflective of a cultural bias against women, if you have testicles. Otherwise, not so much.

    Personally, I've never bought to argument that there was not an ingrained, pro-male cultural bias at Walmart. I think that the company is doing its best to eradicate that bias now ... but to say it did not exist strikes me as stretching credibility way beyond the point of reason. I understand why the company has to defend itself, and I understand that every legal tool needs to be employed in that defense.

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that the Windy City "is reaping the benefits of the Obama administration’s healthy-food initiatives, announcing Friday a partnership between the CTA and a non-profit to bring fruits and vegetables to Chicago’s South Side 'food deserts,' which officials said will double the number of people now being served."

    The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a $45,000 grant last week to Fresh Moves, which will now add a second bus to its existing efforts to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to under-served communities.

    • The Washington Post has a story about how Philadelphia - which has "the highest obesity rate and poorest population of America’s big cities" - also has " an ambitious plan ... to put healthy food on every table."

    The city is spending $900,000 to encourage 632 corner stores to invest in the sale of healthier foods. According to the story, "The city has recruited 632 corner stores — of 2,500 overall — to its Get Healthy Philly initiative. Of those, 122 have gotten more intensive support, been supplied with new fridges to store produce and connected with wholesalers from whom they can buy at lower prices. It is also working with schools to improve nutrition and helping neighborhoods launch farmers markets, a multifaceted approach officials hope will improve public health."
    KC's View:
    As someone said in one of these stories, just because one lives next to a Mercedes dealership doesn't mean they are going to buy a Mercedes.

    There is no guarantee that this is going to work. But that said, obesity and poor health tend to be a bigger problem in poor neighborhoods than wealthy neighborhoods, and I've heard enough people say that this is both an economic and national security crisis to believe it.

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    The New York Times, in a piece entitled "French Women Worry About Getting Fat, Too," looks at how the Jenny Craig is being adopted by Nestle in France.

    The Times writes: "Selling an American-style weight-loss program to France would seem an absurd business proposition: from a French point of view, Americans might appear better equipped to give pointers on how to gain weight than how to lose it. The obesity rate in the United States is around 35 percent, compared with 14.5 percent in France. But the rate of increase in France has been worrying: in 1997, the obesity rate in France was only 8.5 percent. The government has initiated a series of antiobesity measures meant to restore traditional healthy eating habits (including last year a near ban on ketchup in school cafeterias)."

    And so, "The French Jenny Craig box is smaller, its interior container more elegant. Instead of white foam, the packaging is brightly patterned, like a chic shopping bag. Inside, there are dishes like boeuf bourguignon and velouté de tomates. The meals seem more grown-up and sophisticated than the American versions, so many of which seem chosen to evoke childhood favorites."

    Jenny Craig's approach in France, the story says, "is to try to persuade clients that the plan is not a departure from French culture but a return to its fundamental values. To sell this novelty to the French requires convincing them that they are in fact resisting rather than succumbing to the inexorable influence of American eating habits — that the American scourge of obesity can still be neutralized by the power of French tradition, even if that tradition comes in the form of vacuum-sealed, shelf-stabilized products."
    KC's View:
    Wouldn't it be interesting if someone in the US could subscribe to the French jenny Craig plan? I wonder how much interest there would be...

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    Reuters reports this morning that Tesco under CEO Philip Clarke continues to experience difficulties in its home UK market, with same-store sales down 1.5 percent for the first quarter.

    The story notes that this was in line with analyst expectations and "marginally better than a 1.6 percent decline in the fourth quarter of its previous financial year." However, Clarke says that stagnant confidence levels makes it difficult for the company to make headway, and he remains confident that his strategic plan - which involves building fewer new stores, improving private brands and expanding staffing levels to improve customer service - is the long-term answer to Tesco's woes.

    The story also reports that Tesco "won market share in 11 of its 12 international markets, though in the United States its loss-making Fresh & Easy chain saw a moderation in its like-for-like sales growth."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    Kantar reports that Kroger has launched a 2.0 version of its mobile application, allowing consumers "to load digital coupons to their loyalty card." In addition, the story says, "shoppers can now select which banner within the Kroger family of stores they shop," the app also "includes a new store locator functionality and store details information."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    On Friday, MNB took note of a new study on private brand usage conducted by Perception Research Services (PRS) that suggests that "the vast majority of shoppers still purchase some Private Label products on a regular basis (86% - on par with the 84% seen in November 2010). This is true across income groups and other types of classification."

    I commented that while I was not surprised by the numbers, " it also is important to point out that while PRS conducted the study, it is not saying who paid for it. Not that the sponsor makes the numbers illegitimate, but it is always important to be transparent about this stuff."

    Ana Sandoval, a spokesperson for Perception Research Services, sent me the following email:

    Thanks for including our Private Label (PL) survey results in today's newsletter. I want to let you know that the PL study was not commissioned by or for any clients. It was a self-funded study to gauge shopping habits. We regularly field such studies to keep a pulse on shopper and consumer habits and trends.

    Thanks for the clarification ... and apologies if it seemed like I was disparaging your company or the study itself.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    CBS News reports on a new study from the Mayo Clinic suggesting that three cups of coffee per day "might stave off Alzheimer's for older adults experiencing memory declines. The study of 124 older adults with mild cognitive impairment ages 65 to 88 found that caffeine and coffee intake was associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia or a delayed onset of the disease ... With few side effects, the researchers say coffee is a safe an inexpensive way to offer dietary protection against Alzheimer's memory loss."

    The story notes that " previous studies have tied drinking coffee to protective benefits against Parkinson's disease, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers."

    I hope this is all true. Because if it is, I'm gonna live to be 200.

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that "pork producers say U.S. consumers will pay more for the meat if the industry abandons the practice of confining sows to single stalls to appease food companies including McDonald’s Corp. demanding open pens."

    Companies like McDonald's, Kroger and Safeway have been pushing for open stalls because of pressure from animal rights activists, who say that the single stall gestation crates are cruel and inhumane.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    • Jeff Martin, executive vice president of merchandising and marketing at Ahold USA, is leaving the company "for personal reasons," the company said on Friday. His role will be filled by Carl Schlicker, COO of Ahold USA, until a full-time replacement is named.

    Advertising Age reports that PepsiCo has hired Mauro Porcini, 3M's longtime design guru, as its first chief design officer, "charged with creating a culture of design at PepsiCo as well as globally managing design for a variety of key food and beverage brands. His reach will extend from package design to advertising, industrial design and digital experiences."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    Not surprisingly, I got a lot of reaction to a story and commentary posted on Friday about a JC Penney Father's Day ad that features a real-life gay couple, Todd Koch and Cooper Smith, and their children. (Apparently this follows on the heels of a Mother's Day ad that featured a lesbian couple that nobody paid much attention to.)

    An organization called One Million Moms (OMM), an outgrowth of the American Family Association, has objected to the ad - accusing it of "promoting sin" - and called for a boycott ... much as it did when JC Penney hired openly gay Ellen DeGeneres to be its spokesperson. (That boycott was, to put it mildly, unsuccessful.)

    I commented, in part:

    Now, I don't want to be too cynical about this. Sure, it is true that JC Penney has been fighting some marketing and financial headwinds lately, and that a controversy over gays and lesbians in its advertising could serve to a) take people's minds off the other issues, and b) differentiate it from the competition. But those can't be the only reason for these ads.

    The thing is, more people are going to notice the gay ads because people are calling for a boycott (which won't work, by the way). So OMM is actually doing JC Penney a favor by getting this story into the news.

    It is interesting that OMM, if it can be believed, actually wants JC Penney to be "neutral" in the culture wars ... since it has no intention of being neutral.

    I don't want to inflame the culture wars here, but I do have to say that I am not neutral on this issue. I have a sister who is a lesbian, and who is lucky enough to live in a state where she has been granted the right to marry her partner. She's been with this partner for something like a quarter-century ... in my family, except for Mrs. Content Guy and me, it is the romantic relationship with the longest staying power. I'm proud of her, I'm happy for her, and I cannot be neutral when other people want to judge her with language of intolerance.


    MNB user Steve Kneepkens wrote:

    It is really unfortunate that this is even an issue. This world spends way too much time talking about homosexuality.

    From a biblical perspective it is mentioned a mere 12 times ( which is symbolic in itself). While hunger, prayer, the poor, and love are mentioned over 3,000 times.

    We are so focused on something that should remain private, and we are losing sight of all the truly important issues that confront our society today.

    So – let's throw it out there. 99% of the human race does not run around shouting about who they sleep  with – why do others? – why should I care? So let it go. My goodness.

    But here is what I do know; Everything is upside down.  In Isaiah he states that you know the end times are near when good things become bad and bad things become good.

    So- we always make an argument based on our personal experience. You support your sister which you should – And GOD bless you for that. But understand that there are people who have principals based on their faith and that is the foundation of their value system. Why can't they speak out as well?

    The government and society is clamping down. The patriot act is really scary, the 24oz soda being banned is really scary, our debt is really scary, our removal of religious symbols is really scary, the centralization of power in Washington is really scary, and now shutting out opposition views is really scary.


    From another reader:

    It is a poor business decision to do something that you know will antagonize potential or current customers.  I am sure that Kohls would be happy to take that business if JCP wants to alienate some of their shoppers.  Companies like JCP should stay "neutral" on controversial issues and stick to business.  They owe that to their stakeholders.

    Still another MNB user wrote:

    It seems to me that JC Penny is taking sides in the “culture war”.  While I harbor no ill will towards gays I don’t want corporations “pushing” the view that it is “normal” in my face.  LGBT only make up less than 4% of the population.

    I'm not sure everyone agrees with that number.

    Another MNB user pointed out:

    Great article on the JCP “gay” ad.  Thanks for sharing this article, your opinion (which as usual, is right on), and most importantly, your story. 
     
    Companies need to appeal to the LGBT demographic.  It’s vastly underserved and it has over $800B in spending power which is roughly equivalent with the African American community.  Our 1,300 member LGBTA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and ALLY) Business Council at Target HQ launched our first ever Pride assortment this year on target.com/pride and came under attack from bigots/bullies as well.  [It wasn’t easy to get it approved as we knew we’d come under attack but our leadership invested in us and felt it was the right thing to do from a diversity and inclusion stand point even though we knew the consequences].  The assortment sold out on June 6 and we are donating every single dollar of every sale [not just the profits!] which totals $120,000 to the family equality council which is an organization that cares and promotes equality for LGBT families.  I’m excited to see so many companies including Starbucks, Nike, Microsoft, Amazon, JCP, Macy’s, Target, and many more stand for equality for all employees and customers.  Hopefully more companies join the bandwagon and we can wipe out the close mindedness of the One Million Moms [actually 40,000; not 1,000,000]…..


    Another MNB user wrote:

    Why is it that tolerance is a one way street with Gays? They are trying to force people to accept their lifestyle. Why don’t they tolerate my right to not accept that type of lifestyle? Why don’t they tolerate my right to disagree with them? I don’t try to cram my Christian lifestyle down their throat. I don’t care what they do, but don’t try to force me to accept, or cram that lifestyle down my throat.

    I have to be honest here - I don't know what this email means.

    I have never met a gay person in my entire life who was intolerant of people who are heterosexual or Christian. Never. Gay people just want acceptance, not converts. And I know some gay people who are a lot more Christian in the way they live their lives than some heterosexual people I know.

    From another reader:

    You know I really don't care who JCP uses in its advertising, but it kind of plain to see that they are using these people to generate controversy so they get more publicity. I am restating the obvious. The other obvious thing is that many people feel as I do, that your preference is your preference and quite frankly its a private thing, not public. If I don't agree with your preference I still think its your right to choose. I don't think my family needs to be exposed to your choices because you want to gain notoriety, acceptance for your choices or possibly convert my family all to sell a few more SKU's. People like me will just pitch the catalog when it comes to my home, cancel my credit card and not do business with the agenda pushers. Why, because if they have the right, I also have the right of refusal. Keep your mouth shut, run a clean business with value for all people, leave the homo-hetro phobic crap at home, where it belongs. I bet you make more money that way.

    One MNB user responded:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I want to really try and keep this short and sweet because I don’t want to get too “punchy” on the issue. So here goes, 1. The attention puts a spotlight on JCP which is probably the opposite of what OMM wants to happen; and 2. I think these groups are out of control, I mean, did they ever stop to think about where people (all kinds, shape and sizes) come from? I saw a statement once that resonated with me so much, (because I am with you on the issue, though it’s my cousin not a sibling) it was something  along the lines of: if you have an issue with gays when are you going to start blaming the straight people who birthed them?

    Ignorance I tell you!


    From another reader:

    One million moms? More like five thousand bigots.

    MNB user Dan Bowen wrote:

    Good for you re: your support of your sister and the ads. I could not agree more.

    From another reader:

    I would like to pipe in on this ethical issue by saying JCP has every right to go after customers of all orientations.  They have this right because we live in the USA where they are free to advertise as they see fit and, where consumers are free to make choices based on what we believe retailers stand for.  Personally, my Christian beliefs line up with OMM and I will be less likely to shop at JCP due to these ads, however, I don’t fault them if they believe they need to appeal to people different than I to increase sales.

    I also agree that this is just a side show compared to the other risks they are taking at the moment.


    Yet another MNB user chimed in:

    I just have to get this off my chest. I have nothing against religion…it’s just not for me. I’m more of a naturalist. However, in my study and readings on religion and in particular the bible, I have come to the conclusion that, among other things, one purpose of the bible was to separate Man from nature, and in doing so prohibit some natural behaviors, that a handful of uneducated philosophers (no, they were not oracles of a myth) felt were unbecoming. The non natural Blustering and fulminating  Ranting of these “men of god”, taken as the unquestioned law of man,  have caused misery throughout the last 3,000 years...and it continues.  Live and let live naturally. This could get me into trouble.

    Not here.

    MNB user Pam Gossard wrote:

    OMM needs to relax.  I am a Christian myself and I take God's word very seriously.  However; I absolutely love Ellen Degeneres and I will certainly not boycott JC Penney because she is a spokesperson for them.  What does her sexuality have to do with advertising clothing, grills, bedding, or washers and dryers??  Ellen's heart, her kindness, her charity, is what is important not to mention she is hilarious.  If God has an issue with Ms. DeGeneres, he will take it up with her - it's not our job!!

    Amen.

    From still another reader:

    I just wanted to send you a quick thank for your response on the JCP issue.

    As a Lesbian who has experienced discrimination in the workplace, being forced out of a long term job because of my orientation when a new manager arrived, and who is now fortunate to work for an employer who respects my diverse lifestyle it is always a pleasure to see someone who takes pride in a family member who is gay.  My family has always shown the same support that you give your sister and her partner and it meant a lot to me that you were willing to take a stand in your blog.  I also applaud JCP for their inclusive ads.


    And, from another reader:

    I appreciated your comments about your sister and her partner today.   I am currently studying to become an Accredited Domestic Partnership Advisor and hope to complete the ADPA certification exam next month.    This designation, which is only available to those who have already completed another major designation such as CFP, CPA, JD, CFA, etc., will demonstrate evidence that the holder is proficient in advising same-sex couples regarding their financial planning.   It will cover issues such as tax planning, estate planning, account titling, and more for same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples who are not married.   There are currently fewer than 250 advisors in the US who hold this designation, but the numbers are quickly growing.   Living in Iowa (which was the second state in the US to approve same-sex marriage), I believe there will be a growing need for these services 

    I would agree.

    My feeling about this is simple. I think the JC Penney ad was designed to appeal to - and show commitment to - the LGBT community. That said, I think the folks at JC Penney knew it would stir up controversy garner the company some free publicity, and even distract from some of the competitive and financial issues with which it is dealing. I think the ad was both sincere and calculated.

    I'd say that, on balance, JC Penney was successful on all counts.




    Finally ... Thank you to the hundreds of you who sent me emails on Friday regarding my daughter's high school graduation and 18th birthday. The outpouring of sentiment was touching, and your own stories made me smile.

    And yes, you're right ... her good looks indeed suggest that I married well. And up.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2012

    • Timothy Bradley won a controversial split decision on Saturday night in his WBO world welterweight title fight in Las Vegas against Manny Manny Pacquiao, with observers saying that even those who felt that Pacquiao won the fight conceding that he seemed to have lost focus, did not have his timing, and that his legs weren't there in the later rounds.

    A rematch is expected.

    • It was a horse race that millions were looking forward to, but that lost much of its juice once I'll Have Another, which won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, pulled out and retired from racing because of tendinitis in his left front leg. But the Belmont Stakes was run anyway, and won by Union Rags by a neck, with a final time of 2:30.42
    KC's View: