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    Published on: January 18, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    There is a good piece in Fast Company about how to think, using two iconic fictional characters as a reference point. Here's how the story frames the discussion...

    "Are you a Dr. Watson or a Sherlock Holmes?

    "If we could choose between a Watsonian and Holmesian mind, I’m sure most of us would prefer Holmes. He’s brilliant and perceptive: the consummate problem-solver. He’s an intellectual badass, capable of reading a complete stranger’s biography based on the guy’s cuff links. Sadly, most of us are like Dr. Watson: perfectly observant and well-intentioned but unknowingly judgmental and blind to the small, critical detail."

    The story goes on:

    "Holmes practices mindfulness, which sounds new-agey, but is actually quite practical. Mindfulness means focusing on only one problem or activity at a time ... This means that focusing on one activity or thought at a time will help you notice or remember details in your work, the things your read, and the people you talk to. This kind of focus will also make you better attuned to how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally."

    The piece uses as its reference point a book by Maria Konnikova entitled "Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes." The author suggests that the ability to focus is a vastly underutilized and critically important quality, saying, “Your attention is a finite resource ... Even when we’re walking down the street--not on the phone, not listening to music but simply thinking about what we’re having for dinner--we’re not really noticing the world around us.”

    Which is interesting, because it sounds like what she is suggesting is that in order to be effective in business and in life, what we need to do is not practice epistemic closure, in which we are not open to what is going on around us, but rather be practitioners of empiricism, which allows us to factor into our thoughts and feelings the reality of the moment, not just our preconceptions.

    You can read the entire piece here.

    One final note: there is another line of reasoning that suggests that in order to be more like Sherlock Holmes, what we really need is a sidekick who is willing to be in awe of our every deduction. When I interviewed the mystery writer Robert B. Parker years ago, he suggested that Sherlock Holmes's conclusions were not all that startling ... but were made more so by Dr. Watson saying, "Good Lord, Holmes, that's extraordinary!"

    (This is less so in the new and excellent BBC modernization of the Holmes mythology, "Sherlock," in which Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson have more of an equal partnership>)

    But, of course, a good flunky does not make for a good leader. Just a good fictional hero.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    Pure play e-grocer FreshDirect said this week that it "will begin expanding its service from Center City Philadelphia to the Greater Philadelphia area suburbs ahead of schedule, due to the tremendous success of its launch in Philadelphia, and the immense pre-registration from suburban Philadelphia residents."

    Earlier this week, FreshDirect was made available to customers who live in parts of Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties. Beginning Jan. 28, FreshDirect will further expand its delivery zone to reach the majority of the Greater Philadelphia area including zip codes in: Chester County; Bucks County; Camden County; Burlington County; and Mercer County.

    After serving the New York Metro area for the past decade, FreshDirect launched in Philadelphia on October 1, 2012 ... FreshDirect has expanded from delivering to most addresses in Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens to the Bronx and many areas in Bergen, Nassau, Westchester, Hudson, Union, Essex, Morris, Passaic and southern Fairfield Counties.
    KC's View:
    The e-grocery sector continues to grow, slowly but surely, as these services appeal to a customer base that increasingly finds it to be relevant to how they live their lives.

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    The Huffington Post has a story suggesting that while Walmart's commitment to buy more American goods to sell in its stores may be driven both by patriotism and a desire for positive public relations, it may also be that Walmart believes it will save the company money.

    Michael Levy, director of the Supply Chain Institute at Babson College, suggests that "the shift to American-made products will allow Walmart to cut costs on transportation and inventory," and adds, “Walmart’s not going to do things that are going to cost them more money.”

    The story goes on:

    "Already about two-thirds of the products sold by Walmart's U.S. unit are American-made, grown or sourced, according to Reuters. But on Tuesday, the company announced it would aim to buy $50 billion more in U.S.-made goods over the next 10 years, in areas like appliances, sporting goods and towels." Plus, "as the cost of Chinese labor rises and the cost of energy for manufacturers in the U.S. continues to fall thanks to cheaper natural gas options, America is becoming a more inexpensive place to produce goods, said Michael Zinser, a partner at the Boston Consulting Group. Plus, it costs less to move goods when you’re closer to the source, he added."
    KC's View:
    I absolutely believe that the "Made in the USA" movement has real potential to get some traction and become a greater force. And not just because - full disclosure - one of MNB's sponsors is a company that provides "Made in the USA" certification. It just seems to make a lot of sense right now, politically and economically.

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    Forbes writes that Starbucks' decision to introduce a $1 reusable cup, pitched as away of cutting down in trash, also may be green in another sense:

    "Besides winning Starbucks points with some environmentally minded consumers and possibly keeping tons of paper waste out of landfills, the program offers Starbucks a number of opportunities to grow sales ... The cups cost $1. When customers lose them, accidentally sit on and crush them, or forget to bring them back, that’s another $1. When they wear out — reports are they’re good for maybe a month if you don’t run them through the dishwasher — that’s another $1.

    "How many bucks might that add up to? Many stores reported they were selling out of the cups, and a YouGov Omnibus snap poll taken at the beginning of the month showed 28 percent of Americans had purchased or planned to purchase one. There are 233 million Americans old enough to drink coffee, so that’s about $65 million dollars if each of those consumers only buys a reusable cup once. Given how well we all remember to bring our reusable grocery bags back to the store, Starbucks could easily see repeat sales of the cup and even more revenue."

    Ironically, the environmental impact may be less significant, at least in the short-term. "The program’s environmental benefit is a question mark," Forbes writes, "as the cups’ #5 plastic is not easy to recycle — many curbside recycling programs won’t accept it. Maybe Starbucks will encourage more outlets to accept it, which would be a real plus. Knowing Starbucks, they’ll improve the program as they go, so a switch to a more easily recyclable material is also a future possibility."
    KC's View:
    Go figure. Starbucks may have found yet another way to print money.

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    • Delhaize Group said this week that its Q4 sales in the US were up 1.9 percent, suggesting that the revitalization efforts at Food Lion were beginning to work - even as a new Delhaize America CEO, Roland Smith, is revamping management and the organizational structure, as well as closing underperforming stores.

    The company said that total Q4 sales, including all global operations, grew 2.3% to the equivalent of $7.57 billion.

    • Royal Ahold reports that its US same-store sales during the fourth quarter were up 1.4 percent, higher than analysts expected and a likely reflection of shoppers' decisions to stock up before and after Hurricane Sandy.

    Q4 same-store sales in the Netherlands, Ahold's home market, rose 0.2 percent, after being up 2.5 percent in the previous quarter.

    Total fourth-quarter sales rose 7.5 percent from a year earlier to the equivalent of $10.4 billion US.
    KC's View:
    The positive and trending-up numbers at Delhaize offers, I think, a valedictory for some of the executives who now have left the company. Not to say that the company did not need change, maybe even radical change ... but things were moving in the right direction.

    It is fair to suggest, I think, that the new initiatives and leadership will be helped by a tailwind moving them right in the right direction.

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that "has launched a version of its MP3 store geared specifically toward Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPod Touch that allows users to buy their music from Amazon on their devices and then access it anywhere. Through Amazon's MP3 mobile website for iPhones and iPod Touches, users can make purchases directly from on these devices for the first time."

    The move follows the company's announcement in December that it was releasing "an instant-video app that would allow users to stream or download Amazon Instant Video movies and TV episodes from their video library directly on their iPhone or iPod Touch."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    Reuters reports that a new report from the National Academy of Sciences questions "whether the U.S. government's food stamp program adequately provides for healthy diets for the more than 47 million low-income people who rely on the benefit." The study finds "that the aid for families to pay for groceries, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, does not factor in many barriers to finding affordable, nutritious food by inner-city shoppers."

    Food stamp usage went to record levels during the recent recession and has remained high, though some question the efficacy and efficiency of the program.

    According to the story, "Panelists said the dearth of affordable supermarkets in many cities means that urban dwellers, who represent a high proportion of those in poverty, must pay more for healthy foods. They also questioned basic assumptions built into the program about how Americans prepare daily meals, especially for single parents. Food stamps are intended for buying cheap basic ingredients and unprocessed foods."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    Two things about yesterday's story about the Fortune Top 100 Places to Work list...

    • One. I said Wegmans was ranked fourth. It was actually fifth. I have no idea how I screwed that up.

    • Two. I missed QuikTrip, the Oklahoma-based convenience store chain, which has consistently made the list over the past decade, and this year came in at # 66. (Thanks, to MNB reader Kerley LeBoeuf for pointing this out to me.)

    Sorry about that.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    If there are two stories that have prompted a lot of email recently, it has been the various pieces that touched on the gun control controversy and the Lance Armstrong admission that, indeed, he used performance enhancing drugs while competing as a world champion cyclist.

    Since it is friday, a day on which I'm more willing even than usual to venture off the beaten path, I thought this would be a good time to post some of these emails. If you're not interested because this is not business-related, feel free to skip these emails. I just thought the emails were generally thoughtful and worth posting, though I have no burning desire to make this an ongoing MNB debate.

    Regarding guns...

    One MNB user wrote:

    As the wife of a law enforcement officer, this is a HUGE subject in our house. Obviously because of my husband’s occupation we have guns. Yes, plural with an S. I never thought I would be a gun owner but low and behold, I am. Turns out I’m actually a really good shot. It think it comes from years of me being a knife person. Great aim.  
    Couple of things from the law enforcement point of view:

    • It’s always easier to say “just increase police presence.” Where are the resources going to be pulled from? Think about your community. How many schools are there? Bet you more than 10. One officer per school puts that many less officers on the streets.

    Criminals take note of this. A rise in day time home burglaries and merchant robberies will rise. So, you just pay for more officers, right? When we ask the community to raise a little tax to fund 1-2 more officers, or give the current force a raise they haven’t had in 5 years or to keep their current medical coverage, the vote nine times out of ten is no. Now you want these same communities to fund an additional officer per school? With every contract renegotiation officers, like many other professions, are losing more and more. They can’t strike. It’s against the law for them to do so. That’s why you see teachers, nurses and hotel workers doing it and not cops. But they face the exact same issues, plus put their lives on the line every day for complete strangers. And do so proudly.

    • The Second Amendment. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  What this means is you have the right to bear arms legally because IF there is ever a need to assist those who provide security for our freedoms, you are prepared to do so. This can be small scale of providing protection to your family from a home invader (police did not arrive in time,) to extremes like a foreign invader comes-a-knocking on the door (think if on 9/11 planes were used to air drop people fully armed into Times Square), or if your own government comes knocking down your door and forces you into submission (Nazi Germany, anyone?) I use modern scenarios because people think that mentality which was used what only thinking of the “now” in the 1700’s. Our brilliant forefathers knew better and fully understood that history will repeat itself if it does not learn from itself. So they prepared the people to have the ability to defend themselves if the government agency formed to protect them is unable to or fails to. You must do so legally. That is was a well regulated one is. Legal gun owners, following the laws. That is why when you are convicted of ANY felony, the first right you lose is the right to legally bear arms. Not even jail time is first.

    • Your quote “I continue to believe that an idiot or a paranoid person with any sort of gun is more dangerous than an idiot or a paranoid person without one” The only thing wrong with this quote is you used the word GUN. It should have been a blank space. Because a CAR, a KNIFE, a SAW, a CELL PHONE, a PLANE, a CANDLESTICK with Cornel Mustard in the Library, etc are all more dangerous with an idiot or paranoid person. But your quote is pretty perfect in showing that it is PEOPLE not guns that hurt. Any criminal will commit a crime with whatever weapon is at their disposal.

    • We need to address mental competence. Our society for as advance as we are, still refuse to address mental issues. Children are checked every year to make sure their hears, ears, eyes and growth is all normal. Why aren’t they checked for mental health as well. That needs to become mandatory. Also, once you are diagnosed with something, we need to ensure that it doesn’t develop into something else, like schizophrenia with the onset of puberty. Mental health is a much larger threat to our society. Then add alcohol and drug use when these people get older…

    We do need good gun laws. Laws that do not chastise the legal citizen for excising their Constitutional right.
    I would prefer you don’t print my name as having an officer for a husband is a very touchy subject for me as I will defend his job to death. He faces “the crazies” on a daily basis and does things for strangers I would only do for him and my kids. As an off the record cop comment goes, “Why don’t these tragedies happen when we are about to send voters to the ballots.”

    From another reader:

    The argument that the founding fathers wrote the Second Amendment as a catch all for weapons used some 230 years later is a bit short sighted.  Yes they were visionaries and intelligent men for their time.  But they were human beings who could only see so much into the future and little changed from the early 1700's to the late 1700's unlike the rapid changes we have seen in the last 50 years.
    After all, these were the same guys who wore wigs, thought slavery was ok and didn't think women should be allowed to vote.

    From still another reader:

    You asked:  “I keep wondering who, exactly, these "tyrants" are who are going to try to take away our freedoms.”
    I don’t know who these “tyrants” are either.  History shows that they don’t just appear, they tend to grow.   One example of a commonly defined tyrant was the duly elected chancellor of Germany, elected by popular vote in 1933….   The German people, or the world for that matter, apparently didn’t see him coming either.

    MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

    Regarding the 2nd Amendment: if the Constitution declares well run militias to be NECESSARY and that need is the basis for people to have un-infringed upon access to arms, where are the militias?  It seems the Constitution mandates the States to actually have militias—to the point of stating them to be “necessary”.  If you get licensed to own a gun and register one, does that imply entry in a contract to serve voluntarily in state-run militias?  It seems like we have one side of the coin without the other, and the militias are the necessary prescriptive for the right of gun ownership. So, where are they?

    From another reader:

    I too can’t fathom that our founding fathers had any idea we would have the types of weapons we have now anymore than they could have predicted we could put an entire library of books on a device smaller than the Declaration of Independence!

    To be 100% transparent, I am not against guns. Since 12/14/12 though,  I have given this topic considerable thought. I have asked my friends who are gun advocates to  provide me one , just one,  sensible reason why we need firearms like the ones used at Sandy Hook Elementary. I receive a lot of answers like “it’s our right,” “it’s a mental health issue,” “we need protection from intruders or the government”. Still waiting for the one sensible reason….

    Also, I disagree with the MNB reader that states the founding fathers “didn’t care about the types of weapons.” Pretty sure the founding fathers were more concerned about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness vs instantaneous ways to end multiple lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. And let’s be realistic, history has shown, single persons or small factions are no match for potential threats of tyranny anyway. That is why we have a well regulated militia and now a department of defense to deter oppression.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I will go you one better on the gun-control topic: institute a 100% complete & total ban on all forms of private gun ownership in the United States ("private", i.e., military & law-enforcement excepted), with any & all private gun ownership, in and of itself, being grounds for long prison sentences (let's say 25+ years), BUT with the quid pro quo that any crime committed with even the presence of a firearm, in and of itself, be grounds for capital punishment.  No exceptions, no "fair warnings."  Period.

    And as an adjunct to this policy, a revision to the rules of US criminal law to say that a defendant's presumption of innocence is withdrawn, and replaced with the civil-trial rules that assume neither guilt nor innocence.  In another time, the presumption of innocence served the useful purpose of helping avoid cases where an innocent defendant would be wrongly convicted; in modern-day America, I don't think we can afford this luxury anymore.  If the choice we face as citizens (recall here your piece a year or so ago about a book, I believe, titled The Big Sort) effectively boils down to living in a police state or living in lawless, violent anarchy, sad to say, but I'm afraid I'd have to vote for the police state.  In too many places in this once-great country, there is no more safe & sane middle ground anymore, and realistically, there never will be during our lifetimes under current laws.

    If these views brand me as the nation's most reactionary liberal, or its most radical conservative (yes, that is what I meant), then so be it.  Let the debate continue.

    I fear that if you want to suspend a core value like the presumption of innocence because we can't afford it anymore, and kill anyone who even possesses a gun in the commission of a crime, then we may be further down the road to tyranny than I want to believe.

    One MNB user chimed in:

    It seems to me the strongest proponents of gun rights can always quote “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” but never seem to recall or point out it is prefaced with “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”.

    That could mean guns are for militias or it could certainly be interpreted as regulation is a condition for freedom to bear arms.

    Either way somewhere in the middle ground called compromise we have to all be able to agree that clip sizes, certain assault type weapons and availability of mental health care need to be evaluated as we try to protect everyone’s rights. And when I say everyone I ALSO mean protecting the rights of the 27 innocent people and their countless family and friends who’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness were permanently infringed on by a madman with ridiculously powerful weapons enabled by woefully inadequate mental health care system.

    And another comment:

    I do not want to get into the larger debate of gun control.  On a general basis agree with your comments on the issue of Guns.  My personal solution is to boycott any company that sells guns (including WalMart, Big 5, Sports Authority, etc).  if they want to sell guns they can, but I will not support companies that sell weapons designed to kill our fellow man.

    Regarding Lance Armstrong, for whom I showed very little sympathy in my commentary earlier this week, MNB user Bradlee N. Farnworth wrote:

    I would tread lightly if I were you.  You may make a mistake (possibly a BIG mistake) someday and may need to ask for forgiveness.  I hope for your sake the injured party does not tell you to go to “hell”.  The last time I checked Mr. Armstrong is simply a man..nothing more and nothing less.  We all make stupid mistakes, some bigger than others..but I am quite sure there is not a perfect man or women walking this earth.
    I hope for your sake when you do something wrong or hurtful, you are extended more understanding than you extended to Mr. Armstrong!

    The cheating is one thing. But for me, it is the way Armstrong sued anyone who accused him of cheating, trying to bully his way past all the accusations, that I find really galling.

    From MNB user John Franklin:

    Lance is a cheat and a liar, and I think that his narcissism and indeed pathological denial is what most disappointed those who supported and fought for him when the finger-pointing began. He does have a wonderful story, and has motivated many cancer fighters and survivors. Now, we all but know that it was without basis, and a lot of people struggle with the shattering of that fairy tale.

    His narcissism and self-serving is further reflected in his past relationships – he left the girlfriend who helped him through his battle with cancer, left the wife and mother of this older children for a celebrity musician, and left her because HE didn’t want more kids at the time, which he later did with another woman when it suited him better. It seems to me that his anticipated confession to Oprah once again goes to what will serve Lance best: because he wants the ban lifted so that HE can compete in triathlons. I, for one, will be watching that interview with great interest to see whether he appears sincere and contrite in any apology that he may make to those who watched and supported him.

    From MNB user Mike Franklin:

    What really is amazing about Lance, is that he travelled two roads simultaneously, one left a path of lies, people destroyed and corruption…the other left a path of compassion and assistance for those vulnerable to a culturally induced and devastating disease. Now, it’s virtually impossible to punish Lance without impacting those who need his help.

    MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

    I found this PED case to be most distressing. Cycling seemed to be such a pure sport, one in which everyone could participate, all you need is a bike. I kept hoping that the truth that would come out would be that he truly didn’t use PED, it was all a mistake. This confession seems insincere, like the only reason to confess is so he can compete. I feel bad for his charitable organization and the distance they have needed to place between themselves and Mr. Armstrong. I am with you, whether he ever competes at anything again is not my problem, issue or concern.

    With all due respect, if you thought cycling was a pure sport, you weren't paying attention.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2013

    Zero Dark Thirty is, to my way of thinking, easily one of the best movies of the year, not just because of the technical and artistic accomplishment, but because it is that rarity - a film that forces one to think, to reconsider even deeply felt positions, and then remains in the consciousness long after the movie has ended. Its sense of immediacy as a "you are there" quality that is both unexpected and extraordinary.

    The film is a lightly fictionalized look at the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and one of the most remarkable things about it is that even though we all know how it ends, Zero Dark Thirty is a nail-biter, a thriller of uncommon skill that is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, the team that gave us The Hurt Locker. It also features one of the best performances of the year - Jessica Chastain as Maya, the obsessive CIA analyst who spends a year chasing Bin Laden; she is based on a real person, and Chastain is remarkable as a character who is Javert-like in her quest.

    Zero Dark Thirty has generated a lot of controversy because it portrays incidents of torture, including waterboarding, perpetrated upon suspected terrorists by CIA field agents seeking information regarding the whereabouts of Bin Laden. A number of politicians and CIA officials have attacked the film, saying that it incorrectly shows that torture lead to actionable intelligence. But the critics miss the point - a portrayal of torture does not equate to an endorsement of torture, and Zero Dark Thirty seems at best ambivalent about whether torture was justified. But since the first portrayal showing torture comes immediately after we've heard tapes from 9/11, there is a sense of an equivalent response, whether or not it worked. And yet, at the same time, there is the sense that torture diminishes the torturer as much as it does the victim. As I said, the scenario is complicated and the creative approach is thoughtful. (And, to be honest, I suspect that the politicians criticizing it are mostly upset that the American torture is being portrayed onscreen, as opposed to really believing that it did not happen ... though I would never doubt, for example, that Sen. John McCain finds the incidents of torture to be reprehensible. They are. Which is the point.)

    Zero Dark Thirty also is a film with a number of business lessons, since it is a movie that is about process - it is about the importance of passion in any enterprise, and how bureaucracy often can be the enemy of achievement. Watch the various CIA officers in the film as they jockey for position within the organization, and then watch the CIA look for marching orders from the political establishment. In some ways, it is amazing anything gets accomplished, and Zero Dark Thirty demonstrates that while people like Maya can be difficult to manage, it is people like Maya who make things happen, who turn goals into achievement.

    I have not seen all of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar ... but for me, of the ones I have seen, Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2012. It is a remarkable piece of work that focuses, at its core, on the notion of consequences - moral and otherwise.

    I have a wonderful wine to recommend to you this morning - the 2008 Isabel Mondavi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which is smooth and delicious and perfect with risotto and seafood. (And it is from Oregon, which is even better.)

    Three years ago today, Robert B. Parker passed away at age 77. The prolific author died of a heart attack at his desk ... which somehow seemed appropriate.

    At the memorial service, his son, David Parker, said, in part, that his father's life offered a definition of how to be a man:

    “Like his, my intimate relationships are abiding, loyal, deep and passionate. Like him, I think that what one does, one should do well. If we like eating we should eat well, we should cultivate our senses, we should dress well and learn what suits us, we should play at things that matter and not be idle or trivial.

    "We should travel and know something of the world, we should learn another language. We should view all things, except romantic love, skeptically. We should puncture piety, challenge orthodoxy, we should be secular. We should be cultured without being effete, erudite without being pompous, smart without being glib. We should follow our own law consistently. People we love should know that we won't let them down. We should be funny.”

    When it happened, I wrote the following:

    As a fairly young journalist, I once had the opportunity to interview Parker; I think it was in conjunction with the publication of “A Catskill Eagle.” I can vividly remember driving to Boston to meet him at the bar of the Ritz, a location often used in the Spenser novels. He was kind and patient, and answered every question as if he’d never heard it before, though I’m sure that at some level he’d heard all the questions before. He wasn’t a tall man by any means, though his thick muscularity wasn’t disguised by the natty navy blazer he wore. Parker also had an enormous grin that suggested he was enjoying his life more than anyone had a right to. When the interview was over, he insisted on paying for the beer; it was just the capstone on an afternoon that remains one of the best I’ve ever had as a reporter - meeting and talking to, and being taken seriously by, someone I idolized. Parker used to say that he believed that the reason people liked his books was that the language had almost musical beats, and they could hear it even as they read it. For me, and a lot of people like me, that language was part of the soundtrack of our lives. Short, punchy sentences. Colorful dialog. Vivid characters. Literature’s comfort food, may be the best way to describe it.

    It's been three years, and the characters he created - especially Spenser, as now rendered by Ace Atkins - live on. As do the lessons he taught.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: