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    Published on: February 14, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Everybody has a story. I'd like to share one from an MNB reader … not that it has anything to do with business, except that I'm pretty much able to find a business lesson almost anywhere.

    The story comes from MNB reader Charlie Fowler, who wrote me the other day after I did a brief obit for Ralph Kiner, who was one of the most prodigious sluggers in Major League Baseball history, as well as the longtime announcer for the New York Mets….

    I thought you might enjoy a Ralph Kiner Story.
    1954 . New York Giants. Spring training..Phoenix....I was a rookie pitcher (just out of the Army, along with Willie Mays).
    Leo Durocher started me against the Chicago Cubs.
    I forget the exact inning but I was pitching against Ralph with the bases loaded. ( Two outs)
    A two and two count and Wes Westrum called for a curve ball.
    I threw a beautiful sidearm curve ball right over the outside corner of the plate
    which was a perfect strike. I started to walk off the mound and head for the dugout
    when I heard the umpire yell, " ball three"....I couldn't believe it. Next pitch called by Wes,
    was another curve ball This time, I threw it overhand and hung it...I think
    (it has never been reported by anyone) that Neil Armstrong found it on the moon.

    I do believe that Mr. Kiner had a habit of hitting " moon shots"

    I hope you enjoyed this little trip back to a time when baseball players were there for the fun
    of the game we all loved and not for the double digit millions of dollars per year.

    I did. And do. On all sorts of levels.

    First of all, you cannot imagine the pure joy it gives me that MNB is being read by someone who played with Willie Mays and pitched to Ralph Kiner. (That's a picture of Fowler and Mays, above.)

    And I love the way Charlie Fowler describes the scene … it could have happened yesterday, the memory is so clear. You know that he can still see that first curve, and hear the umpire's voice, and still is kicking himself for that second pitch…

    As for the business lesson … well, it seems to me that in all our businesses, there are times that we do everything right, and it still doesn't work out. And so we have to do everything right a second time, and maybe a third time … until we get the result we're looking for.

    Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't.

    This morning, I want to thank Charlie Fowler for sharing a bit of his past, a little bit of history, in a way that makes me smile.

    He reminds us that everybody has a story…

    It indeed was an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    In the wake of the data breaches that affected tens of millions of customers at Target and Neiman Marcus, a new coalition of trade associations has been formed to focus on cybersecurity, saying that will be "exploring paths to increased information sharing, better card security technology, and maintaining the trust of customers."

    According to the announcement, the "partnership will encourage collaboration across the industries, focused on the following principles"…

    "Information sharing is paramount to warding off cyber attacks and protecting data. We are stronger together than divided and must warn each other about cyber threats being waged against all our defenses. The financial services industry has a robust information-sharing mechanism through the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) that could serve as a forum or model for further information sharing across sectors."

    "Other innovative technologies must be implemented, such as systems that will transmit payment data in a way that is unique and dynamic to reduce the risks. Ongoing innovation will be needed to outpace the threats."

    "We must forge partnerships among all stakeholders of the payments ecosystem to collaborate on long-term, comprehensive solutions to the threats that are growing to card-not-present situations and the mobile environment."

    The coalition includes the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the Financial Services Roundtable (FSR), the American Bankers Association (ABA), the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), The Clearing House (TCH), the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the National Grocers Association (NGA), the National Restaurant Association (NRA), and the National Retail Federation (NRF).

    The announcement says that "participating trade associations will form working groups made up of themselves, member companies, and other stakeholders. The working groups will be focused on increasing threat information sharing, innovative technologies that adds safeguards to protect consumers within the payment system and other areas like national data breach laws. While this forum will serve as an effective way for the industries to discuss areas of agreement, equally important, this forum will be a platform to discuss areas of disagreement and seek solutions."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that "four dairy workers at a Wisconsin farm linked to Nestle were charged with animal cruelty after being caught on hidden camera beating, whipping and cutting animals." The four employees have been charged with 11 counts of animal cruelty.

    According to the story, "The workers belonged to Wiese Brothers Farms in Greenleaf – a dairy that supplied a cooperative named Foremost Farms. Foremost Farms is a cheese supplier to Nestle’s pizza division, which makes the DiGiorno brand."

    When the video first went viral late last year, Nestle immediately cut ties to the farm, and decried the animal cruelty, saying it goes to great lengths to audit such situations and would "not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better."
    KC's View:
    I'm not big on corporal punishment, but I do think that if these clowns are convicted, part of the sentence ought to include beating, whipping and cutting.

    I also want to reiterate another point.

    Wisconsin is not a state that has passed so-called "two party consent laws," which make it illegal for organizations to shoot and distribute such videos. Such laws are as appalling as the behavior they are designed to protect.

    Companies like Nestle, I believe, ought to go on the record as being against two party consent laws, and make statements like the following: "Such videos are never comfortable to watch. Such videos often reflect badly on our businesses. But such videos also, unfortunately, sometimes are necessary because they expose unethical and illegal behavior that otherwise might be hidden in the shadows. And so, while such videos may cause us some bad moments in our offices, they help to eliminate much worse moments for the animals that are being mistreated, and in such cases, the ends justify the means. Justice Louis Brandeis was right when he said, 'Sunlight is the best disinfectant'."

    They ought to go on the record with such statements. But I'm not guessing that it is likely.

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    Interesting story in Fast Company about PillPack, described as "a new service out of Somerville, Massachusetts, that aims to be the Amazon Prime of prescription medication."

    According to the story, "PillPack is an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day. You don't have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, or refills; PillPack takes care of all that for you. All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what's inside when it tells you to."

    The story goes on to say that "What makes the PillPack system so well designed is how idiot-proof it is. Getting started on PillPack is as easy as transferring your existing subscriptions from your local pharmacy: according to PillPack, the process takes less than five minutes. Once you've signed up, PillPack will assemble your medication, presorting the medicines into individually sealed packets lined up chronologically; any interim medication you need while your first PillPack is being assembled is mailed overnight. You get new PillPacks every two weeks. When you get your first shipment, all you do is tear off the first packet and swallow the pills inside at the date and time printed on the front. New PillPacks are automatically sent to you when you need them; four weeks before your last scheduled refill of a prescription, PillPack's pharmacists will follow up with your doctor for a renewal."
    KC's View:
    This is an interesting story, and a good example of how retailers can make reasonably simple adjustments in a way that really is shopper-centric.

    One thing, though. The story concedes that PillPack is not a new idea, and that long term care facilities have customized pill packs for residents for years. This is just the first time its been made available to the broader retail spectrum.

    This may be true. Except that I can remember several years ago being in a Lunds or Byerly's store, and they were offering precisely the same service.

    Which, I'm thinking, tells us a lot more about how proactive and customer-centric the folks at Lunds and Byerly's are than it does about how original the PillPack idea is.

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    The BBC reports that "Tesco has deactivated some customers' net accounts after their login names and passwords were shared online."

    According to the story, more than 2,000 people with accounts on Tesco's website had their information was posted to a text-sharing site; Tesco says it believes that the information "had been compiled by hackers using details stolen from other sites.

    The story notes that "the attack is not the first time that Tesco has fallen victim to cyber-thieves. In early 2013 hundreds of owners of Tesco Clubcards reported their loyalty card account had been penetrated."
    KC's View:
    Get used to seeing these stories. They're going to be happening a lot.

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) yesterday announced the six winners of its 2013 Community Outreach Awards, recognizing "the creative, charitable programs established and carried out by food retailers to enhance the lives of those in the communities they serve."

    Two winners were selected across three categories: programs addressing food insecurity, youth development and neighborhood health improvement programs, with the winners receiving $1,000 each to invest in their initiatives. The winners include:

    • PCC Natural Market, where "shoppers contribute cash donations and reusable bag rebates to fund the purchase of bulk food, which is repackaged at bi-monthly parties at 10 partner food pantries."

    • Hy-Vee, which has a "yearly campaign, created in 2002 to reenergize a 25-year-old partnership with Iowa’s largest food pantry, (that) showcases Hy-Vee associates’ creativity and consumers’ generosity."

    • Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland, which, through a partnership with the City of Baltimore and nonprofits, hosted a event that "allowed citizens to voluntarily surrender guns and receive a $100 ShopRite gift card."

    • First Alternative Co-Op, where "shoppers using reusable bags place their vote between charities and, over the course of the year, 16 charities receive a proportional donation.

    • Safeway, where "high-schoolers from local underserved communities participate in workshops and activities structured to help students achieve professional success despite life challenges.

    • Big Y Food Stores, which has a youth program that focuses on Y-AIM: "(a)chieve academically, (i)spire to attend college, (m)ove toward personal, family and community advancement."
    KC's View:
    I've always thought that stores can only be as vibrant as the communities they serve, and to the degree that they make themselves part of those communities. That can obviously be defined a lot of ways - from making sure that people have enough to eat, to helping to make sure education is a top priority among kids, to working to take guns off the street.

    Good for them all.

    Published on: February 14, 2014

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

    Reuters reports that Sobeys, the Canadian supermarket chain that acquired Safeway's Canadian assets last year, is selling 30 stores in western Canada as part of its agreement with that nation's antitrust regulators. Twenty-nine of the stores are being sold to Overwaitea Food Group, for $391 million (US), and one is being sold to Federated Co-operatives Ltd.

    Reuters reports that Mexico's Grupo Bimbo will buy Canada Bread Company for $1.66 billion (US). The acquisition, the story says, "builds on Grupo Bimbo's large U.S. acquisitions in recent years and strengthens its position as a top breadmaker in North America

    • Jos. A Bank Clothiers said yesterday that it will acquire Eddie Bauer for cash and stock based on the outdoor clothing retailer's "enterprise value" of $825 million.

    The combination will create “substantial opportunities for growth and synergies while allowing two iconic American brands to share core competencies and demographically similar customer bases,” Jos. A. Bank said.

    While acquiring Eddie Bauer, Jos. A Bank also has been fending out attempts by Men's Wearhouse to acquire it, which came after its own failed attempt to acquire Men's Wearhouse.

    This is all exhausting. Though the good news, as I've pointed out before, is that it seems likely that we'll all be able to go to Eddie Bauer and buy one down jacket and get three for free.

    BTW … here are two interesting though probably useless facts about Eddie Bauer, a company that has been in and out of bankruptcy and owned at various times by corporations such as General Mills and Spiegel. One is that it LL Bean considered buying it a few years ago, which strikes me as a much better fit, but didn't make the deal because it did not make economic sense. The other is that it was run about a decade ago by a well-respected marketer and Harvard Ph.D. named Jack Sansolo … who is a cousin of our own Michael Sansolo.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    Reuters reports that JC Penney has replaced its CFO, with Ed Record, a former financial executive at companies that include Kohl's and Belk, replacing Ken Hannah, who took the job in 2012 and is leaving JC Penney for undisclosed reasons.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    • Ralph Waite, who came to fame as the father on "The Waltons" back in the seventies after a movie career that included roles in such classics as Cool Hand Luke and Five Easy Pieces, and who lately had continuing roles on such series as "NCIS" (as Mark Harmon's father), has passed away. He was 85.

    • The Associated Press reports this morning that Jim Fregosi, the former six-time All-Star baseball player as well as a manager for the Philadelphia Phillies, California Angels, Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, has died after an apparent stroke while on a cruise with other baseball alumni. He was 71.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    The Pew Research Center is out with a new study, the Los Angeles Times reports, saying that "a record number of American women are 'marrying down,' tying the knot with a husband who is less educated than they are."

    The story goes on (and I'm going to quote it in its entirety here):

    "Nearly 21% of married women in 2012 were better educated than their spouses, a threefold jump from 1960, according to the Pew Research Center. By contrast, a bit less than 20% of men had more formal education than their wives.

    "In the more than half-century that Pew has tracked the issue, this is the first time that a higher percentage of women than men have married down.

    "The dynamic is due partly to the well-chronicled fact that women have surpassed men in college graduation rates in the last two decades.

    "Among college-educated newlyweds, 39% of women pledged their undying devotion to a non-grad. Only 26% of men did the same.

    "Even with their superior education, however, women aren't necessarily marrying down when it comes to income, according to the report. About 58% of better-educated women earned less than their husbands. Only 39% of women earned a higher salary."
    KC's View:
    Why am I not surprised by the implication that even better-educated women are earning less money than men with lesser academic credentials?

    I'm also not surprised by the central finding - that women increasingly are better educated than their spouses. I've lived with that reality for years - Mrs. Content Guy has both an MBA and a Masters in Education. I've got one lonely BA (and I was a film student).

    As I told her yesterday when I emailed her this story, it just goes to show that she's always been ahead of her time.

    Finally, isn't this just another way of saying what we guys have always known?

    After all, the Pew Research Center probably spent a lot of money to find out that women are "marrying down," but I don't know a guy out there who would not admit that he "married up."

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    Monday, February 17, is Presidents’ Day here in the US, which traditionally means that all sorts of retailers put stuff on sale - everything from cars to mattresses - in order to pump up their Q1 sales numbers. But it also is a federal holiday, which means that I’m going to take the day off. Be back Tuesday.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    Responding to the piece we linked to in The New Yorker about Amazon's economic impact, one MNB user wrote:

    There once was a time when capitalist went gaga over companies that actually made money. Amazon has a P/E of 612. That means they make virtually no money. Google's P/E is 31 by way of contrast. If you think Amazon is creating a good economic life for America you are dreaming.

    I can give you all kinds of quotes like this: "Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association, wrote that for every $10 million that shifts from bricks-and-mortar stores to Amazon, 33 retail jobs are lost. “That would mean, for 2012 alone, Amazon cost the U.S. 42,000 jobs just last year."

    It is what it is but I'd prefer that Amazon made money while destroying jobs as Walmart and Google did.

    There's a reason your boy Bezos spends millions lobbying in Washington. He needs the juice the Fed is supplying every month to the economy. You may not pay the bill when it comes do, but I assure you your children will.

    So we can put you in the "undecided" column?

    One MNB reader had some words of advice for Home Depot as it invests in e-commerce initiatives:

    If they want to make any money at it, I have a suggestion.  If you’re going to offer free shipping, don’t send individual items ordered separately.  I appreciated the free shipping, but was amazed that a tube of caulk came in one box (and a big box at that), the cord to heat your roof in another box, the plug to regulate the cord for your roof in yet another box, the brine sprayer (which did not work and ended up going back, but caused me to run to the store – grrrr, I was trying to avoid the store), and finally the bottles of brine.  I can see the liquids being shipped separately, but the rest could’ve all come together.  Maybe they came from different distribution centers, but it just seemed disorganized and expensive (for them) or maybe the markup is so high they can absorb that shipping cost?  That could be, since I found the same TV trays I ordered from Wal-Mart on Home Depot’s website for $30 more, LOL…

    Regarding what I characterized as an epic blunder by the AOL CEO, one MNB reader wrote:

    Interesting to see a CEO who came from Google, running a company founded on the internet, seemingly out of touch with the impact of social media.  It just goes to show why senior leaders should consider carefully scripted messages for their audiences.  It’s unfortunate since my experience is town hall forums tend to be informal and conversational.  Nothing is ever that simple.

    And from another:

    Interesting article on Tim Armstrong and his misspeak about “two distressed babies.”

    My own company had a town hall meeting with employees about a year ago and a very similar situation occurred.

    It became very obvious to employees (a company of less than 1,000) that a few people in our organization had incurred dramatic health issues and they showed in a bar chart, how that impacted the company’s profit numbers.  I think that just saying health care costs went up would have been sufficient but they called out a handful of chronic cases which made it easy to figure out who they were talking about.

    What I find more disturbing is the hearts of people who don’t see a problem with calling it out.   People shouldn’t have to think about what they say when they are talking about the life and death of a child but in this day and age, that is not the case.  Greed in corporate America has gone beyond anything I’ve experienced in my 30 year career and I don’t see it getting any better.
    It will be the downfall of a lot of companies long term.

    Sometimes blunders like this are helpful because it wakes employees up to what they are dealing with and leaves no question about what some top executives really do care about. 

    I say the employees at AOL are better off knowing than not knowing.  Just my thoughts…

    It is like the old Michael Kinsley line, that when a politician commits a gaffe, it means he actually told the truth.

    MNB reader Mike Franklin wrote:

    Maybe, just maybe, Tim Armstrong should have said,  last year there were two distressed babies" that had cost more than a million dollars to care for, but because of our insurance plan,  the babies are doing well, and the parents have become a stronger contributing piece of our workforce. Oh, and by the way, Wall Street may begin to beat us up this year because we only made $2.2 billion, but as a socially conscience company we will maintain our current benefits…but I’m asking each and every one of you to help move this company forward with your hard work and creative contributions because I need you more than you need me!


    On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

    I don't know if you recognized the irony that on the same day you quipped about McDonald's quality "It's not a cheap shot if it's true" you featured the story on the problem with Starbucks - that its own success has created a furious backlash. If you look at your original text, there is no reason one could not effectively substitute McDonald's for Starbucks at every turn. The McDonald's brothers were magnificent innovators. Following in the footsteps of other great innovators like Henry Ford, they created a reliable, affordable, great-tasting product within a wonderfully efficient experience. Ray Croc had the bold vision to bring this experience to the masses-in the process creating one of the world's most iconic brands. When McDonald's opened in Moscow the lines were more than 2 miles long(!).

    Moreover, like Starbucks, McDonalds has reinvented itself several times. And to this day it enjoys great customer loyalty. True, its sales have been sluggish as of late, but that's nothing new, and that same scenario will almost inevitably plague Starbucks from time to time in the future.

    And similarly, McDonald's success has inspired plenty of backlash. Many point to its global ubiquity, it's less-than-stellar quality and it's alleged "unhealthy" food. Plenty of people argue that Starbucks has dumbed down a true high-quality coffee experience and it too has been the subject of much scorn in the nutrition community for its ultra-high calorie concoctions.

    Looking at grocery, what Starbucks has done for coffee is almost precisely what Whole Foods has done for food retail. Its team members are food experts, it has transformed traditional boring food retail into a theatrical experience. And yet, I never see you mock Safeway, Kroger and the like?

    Just to be clear, like you I don't prefer McDonald's and I routinely visit Starbucks. Not because I love their brand, but because it's quick and it gets the job done.

    P.S. I hope you take the following comment as constructive and not mean-spirited. When people write/speak about their own preferences in the language of a marketer or brander, they end up sounding like a giant douchebag. Marketers don't love their foods, products or experiences -- people do. I used to work with a guy who was a marketing professor and whenever we went someplace to eat he would often talk about how much he loved the brand experience "Gosh, Potbelly really knows how to inspire my customer's a great brand proposition that really resonates with my values.."

    I would always have to intercede with "Hey (expletive deleted), shut up and eat your damned sandwich. Nobody's here to listen to your lecture or insights…"

    First of all, I take very little personally. And I've been called worse than a "giant douchebag." By relatives. (Though that may be the first time I've been called that on MNB…)

    I would only argue that a) this is all about taste, and b) it is my impression that people do come to MNB in part for my insights.

    I suppose some would equate McDonald's and Starbucks. I wouldn't. I think one specializes in industrialized, mediocre food, and the other specializes in democratizing higher-denominator coffee and food. I cheerfully concede that this is a matter of taste; if you don't like Starbucks (see the next email), you won't agree with me on this.

    But that's okay. These differences of opinion lead to interesting discussions and, quite frankly, keep me in business.

    One other thing. I think the folks at Safeway and Kroger would disagree with the assertion that I've never mocked them. Just as I've taken shots at Whole Foods and, yes, even Starbucks, from time to time.

    I believe in equal opportunity mockery.

    From another reader:

    I don't like Starbucks -- there, I said it.  And I don't care who knows it (although I'll ask to remain anonymous for other reasons...)

    I don't like the taste of their coffee -- it tastes acrid and burned to me.  The explanation I was given by the owner of a small independent makes infinite sense to me -- that because they take so many beans, they sometimes end up buying inferior beans just to feed the massive demand that they've created, and so end up over-roasting everything to achieve that consistency across batches that is so crucial to quality control.  I'll give them kudos for finding ways to deliver a consistent product across 20,000+ outlets -- but it still tastes burned to me.

    I find I no longer have a tolerance for over-sweetened anything -- so all the frappucinos and double-sugar lattes have zero appeal for me.  Better for my waistline, and my health in general.  And I'm one of the minority who can taste artificial sweeteners of any kind - pink stuff, blue stuff, yellow stuff, it all tastes funky to me.  I'm avoiding more and more artificial ingredients - I'm not a purist by a long shot, but I'm finding that the cleaner my food, the better I feel.

    So I don't shop at Starbucks -- I bought a large coffee (regular coffee) last week in Vegas, because I was working a show and it was the only chance to get a cup of coffee.  It tasted burned and acrid, but I persevered for the sake of my team, as they hadn't done anything to deserve a boss who'd had no caffeine.

    For me, it has nothing to do with envy -- it has everything to do with the fact that I just don't like the product.

    All perfectly legitimate points.

    And from another:

    Appreciate you bringing the USA Today article about Starbucks to our attention – great and I’d argue thought-provoking read.  But I have to say, the prospect that there are millions of Americans (and untold others) that are jealous of and direct hate toward Starbucks for its success is immensely troubling and I gather systemic in the minds of a growing number.  I don’t generally get on the soap box, but talk about troubling – if it ever becomes “in vogue” to bash the entrepreneurial, meteoric successes of our business world, that seems to be a huge de-motivator for progress.  Maybe we’re already there?  I hope not. 
    I’m no fan boy, but for those that bash and look with green-eyed-glare at Howard Schultz, consider this – we could do a lot worse.  The man has some quirks and whatnot but in general is an icon of American progress in business.  He hasn’t gone all Hank Rearden on the country, and there’s something to be said for that.

    You get extra credit for the Ayn Rand reference. We appreciate cultural allusions here on MNB.

    A few more emails about Bob Hermanns…

    From MNB reader Terry Exner:

    I want to thank you for your recent column.  I worked for Bob at Lucky North, and he WAS a true gentleman.  This was so important during a time when women were just beginning to make inroads into the world of supermarket executives.  Bob was a mentor and a joy to work with.  He will be missed.

    From another reader:

    Kevin, I worked for Mr. Hermanns briefly at Lucky stores NFD in the late 80s. He was a great mentor, giving and kind. and gone too soon. He will be missed.

    Ands from MNB reader Jim Lukens:

    Bob and I were good friends and work associates since the day he hired me in Minneapolis 30 years ago this week.

    I've been in this business for 43 years and with the constant change in the industry it's easy to lose touch with friends and co-workers but Bob always made it a point to connect with me several times a year. Always asking questions and a superb listener.

    In our work lives Bob and I had some difficult challenges to face but Bob's cool, calm and collected demeanor was an inspiration.  He was a brilliant guy and a good friend.

    Finally, on a less sobering subject, I took note yesterday of the planned retirement of Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees at the end of the 2014 season, and I commented:

    I'm not a Yankee fan, but I have nothing but respect for Jeter, who, it seems to me, played the game the way it ought to be played and showed nothing but respect for his fellow players, the fans, and the Yankees. That counts for a lot.

    That said … I don't want to be a grump here, but I'm getting tired of these retirement tours that star ballplayers seem to take these days. That's what Mariano Rivera did last year, and I found it tiresome. I don't think that opposing teams should ever applaud an opposing team member … instead, they should show him enough respect to treat him like the enemy until his final game has been played.

    MNB user Peter Stamos wrote:

    Your comments on Derek Jeter…spoken like a true Red Sox Fan.

    Except that I'm not.

    MNB reader Gary Harris wrote:

    I don't want to be a grump here, …but, since there aren’t any Mets who would receive the same sort of reaction, I'm getting tired of these retirement tours…

    From another reader:

    I am like you  - not a Yankee fan, but it’s hard NOT to root for a guy like Jeter. He is consistent, he is steady, he plays through injuries (when possible), he rarely, if ever, has a harsh word for other players, teammates or opponents, he doesn’t pout, he doesn’t complain about umpiring or other factors affecting the games and he doesn’t appear to be an “all about me” type of person. He also has a great track record of winning (having success in his chosen profession). He just does it by being a great example. He does it with respect for the game, others and with class…

    Man if that’s not a leadership model, I don’t know what is…hats off to Derek Jeter - first ballot Hall of Famer (IMHO).

    MNB reader Gary Zook wrote:

    I agree with you to some degree about the retirement tours.  In the case of Jeter he is a good player and played the game the right way and I hope when the Yankees come to Chicago in May to play the White Sox that I don’t’ have to sit through a presentation for Jeter on his last game played in US Cellular Field.  It will be bad enough having to deal with all the Yankee fans that will be there Memorial Day weekend.  HAHA  On the other hand what Mariano Rivera did on his tour behind the scenes was very cool.  For him to take the time at each city to sit down with office people, concession stand workers and ground crews for them to meet him and ask him questions was truly class act.  This will be Paul Konerko’s last season with the White Sox and in baseball and I know he’s not going to want to do a retirement tour because that’s just not him.

    Can’t wait for baseball to start.

    Listen, I want to be clear about this.

    I understand why people might think that this is just anti-Yankee bias speaking, and that I will change my tune in 2025 when David Wright retires from the Mets having led the team to three World Championships, won two MVP awards, and hit .330 for his entire career while finding as cure for world hunger during the off-season. (Man, I have to stop drinking in the morning….)

    But seriously…I actually think that I'd feel exactly the same way about any player on any team. (I feel that way about football players who celebrate in ornate fashion after scoring touchdowns. Shut up and play the game. Scoring and winning ought to be enough.)

    Remember the old John Updike line about Ted Williams, who hit a home run in his last career at-bat in Fenway Park and would not even take a curtain call, running into the dugout and then to the clubhouse, because "Gods don't answer letters."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2014

    I've been looking forward to Monuments Men since the project - written and directed by, as well as starring George Clooney - first was announced. It seemed like a natural … a story with some basis in fact, a World War II background that seemed to have resonances of The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone, and co-stars that included Matt Damon,John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray. How could it miss?

    Well, unfortunately, it does. Not by a lot, but enough to make Monuments Men a little disappointing.

    The story is, at its core, true. During World War II, Hitler amassed an enormous amount of art from the countries he invaded, with the goal of essentially owning all of western culture to the extent that he could. And the plan, if Germany were to fall, was to burn all the artwork, a loss that would be incalculable.

    The movie picks up with Clooney, playing a Harvard art historian, pitching FDR on why the IUS should endeavor to save all these works of art. He then has to assemble a team, just as he did in Ocean's Eleven, to track down the artworks and save them both from Hitler's minions and Allied bombing runs.

    The problem isn't that the story isn't fascinating. It is. But I think Clooney may be trying to do too much here, telling too many stories with too many fragments. Instead of his cast playing off each other, they're sent in too many directions to pull on different plot points, and nobody has enough to do. Strangely enough, I think he might've been better off had he fictionalized the story a little more, giving it a stronger narrative line.

    That said, I actually enjoyed much of Monuments Men. Clooney makes serious pictures for adults - and is there another current actor who can claim an output over the past 15 years or so that equals the likes of Out of Sight, Three Kings, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Perfect Storm, Ocean's Eleven, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, and Good Luck, Syriana, Michael Clayton, Up In The Air, The Ides of March, The Descendants and Gravity? Sure, Monuments Men may not quite reach that level, but it is an intelligent attempt that, if nothing else, made me want to read more about the subject.

    And one other thing. reminds us that our culture is not just defined by government, politics, public policy, health care and educational issues. In fact, we also are defined by our art … by the pictures we paint, the plays that are mounted on stages across the country, the books that fill our libraries, bookshelves and even tablet computers, the songs that we sing and listen to, and the movies and television shows that we watch. This is not to say that all art is good or should be for everybody … far from it, because all that would produce is lowest common denominator art. We should encourage art at both the center and at the fringes, whether we like it or not, because art in all its various forms and permutations - unlike government and politics - often is the best, or at least most accurate representation of what is in our hearts and souls. And a society that does not respect culture in this fashion, and nurture its artists, is not a society that will survive.

    At least, in my not-so-humble opinion.

    BTW … in 1964, the superb director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days In May, Black Sunday) directed a nifty black-and-white war thriller called The Train, starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Schofield, that used the Nazi/art plot to better advantage. Despite my film school education, and the fact that Lancaster is one of my favorite film actors (I met him once, and a more charismatic person would be hard to find), I couldn't remember ever having seen The Train. So having read a number of Monuments Men reviews that mentioned The Train, I did what any red-blooded cinephile would do under such circumstances - I streamed in on Amazon, and discovered a really good movie that is totally watchable.

    (A digressive note here. In addition to the Frankenheimer movies mentioned above, one movie of his that is worth seeing if you have not is French Connection II, a sequel to the iconic Gene Hackman police thriller. It is a completely different movie than the original, taking place entirely in France, and Hackman delivers what in many ways may be his finest performance, albeit one that didn't get a ton of attention because the movie was a "sequel." But it is a fabulous movie and worth catching up with if you get the chance.)

    If you did not see it during its run in theaters, I would suggest that you rent or stream About Time, the Richard Curtis (Love, Actually movie about time travel.

    Except that it really isn't about time travel. That's simply the MacGuffin, the plot device that allows Curtis - perhaps our least cynical major film director - to explore the meaning of love. While the movie is nominally about having the ability to go back in time and fix your mistakes, what it ends up really being about is treasuring each day, and embracing every opportunity, so that you don't have to go back in time to do so.

    I've now seen About Time four times - twice in theaters, and twice at home - and it officially is in my list of all-time favorite movies. Not because it is great cinema, but because it touches my heart every time I watch it. (And, for the record, my kids love it, too … it has become a kind of bonding experience for us, even across thousands of miles.)

    See it. Enjoy it. And then go hug your parents, or your children.

    I cannot tell you how lucky I've been this week. While the snow and sleet have been falling on my home in New England, I've been working in Florida … the other day, I enjoyed a breakfast of blackened dolphin at Lorelai's in Islamorada, and then drove through the Keys listening to Jerry Jeff Walker on my iPod.

    Doesn't get much better than that.

    Have a great weekend. Stay warm and dry. I'll see you Tuesday.

    KC's View: