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    Published on: July 26, 2019


    by Kevin Coupe

    Longtime MNB readers know that we’re enormous Star Trek fans here. Michael and I - and, from all the evidence, a sizable percentage of the MNB readership - love all the various series and movies, seeing in their message, to varying degrees, a parable about what humanity is capable of and, unfortunately, too rarely achieves.

    Since it was announced, I’ve written here about the next new Trek series, which will be seen on the CBS All Access streaming service - “Star Trek: Picard,” focusing on Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise (from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), two decades after we last saw him.

    A new trailer came out the other day during ComicCon in San Diego, providing us with tantalizing new details and scenes from the series. including the presence of some old Trek friends. (And Picard has a dog. It is named Number One. Be still my heart.)

    Happy to share it here, as I will down the road as we await the series’ debut (probably in early 2020).

    And as I’ve said here before, I’m totally engaged.


    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    The Washington Post has a story about how “more than 1.3 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past decade as a result of private equity ownership in retail, according to a report released Wednesday. That includes 600,000 retail workers, as well as 728,000 employees in related industries.”

    The sector, according to the report, “added more than 1 million jobs during that period.” But because of private equity ownership, the bottom line has been a net loss.

    The Post story says:

    • “Women and people of color have been disproportionately affected by the layoffs as debt-ridden retailers closed thousands of stores, according to the report by six progressive nonprofit organizations and workers’ advocacy groups, including Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Popular Democracy.”

    • “Ten of the 14 largest retail bankruptcies since 2012 have been at private-equity-owned companies, such as Payless ShoeSource and Claire’s, according to the study.”

    • “Critics say large debt loads from leveraged buyouts make it difficult for otherwise profitable retailers to adapt to industry changes. When Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy in 2017, court documents showed that it had been paying $400 million a year toward its debt, often at the expense of profitability.

    According to the story, “Private equity firms and hedge funds have been aggressively buying up retailers since the mid-2000s, when a booming economy and low interest rates made leveraged buyouts particularly attractive. The firms pooled money — often from pension funds, wealthy investors and financial firms — and relied on large swaths of debt to acquire companies like Mervyn’s and Linens ‘n Things, with the goal of turning them around.

    “In practice, though, they routinely sold off real estate holdings, cut workers’ pay and benefits, and jettisoned jobs to turn a quick profit for investors, according to Heather Slavkin Corzo, a senior fellow at Americans for Financial Reform and the director of capital markets policy for the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions.”

    As with all things these days, there is a political angle. The Post notes that “the study comes a week after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would stop private equity firms from gutting companies and loading them with debt. Her plan would require such firms to shoulder those liabilities themselves instead of foisting them onto their acquisitions.”

    Not everybody, the Post points out, agrees with the report’s conclusions: “Industry groups say private equity firms make significant investments to help businesses grow, and that their returns help support pension funds for teachers, first responders and other government workers. They say such factors as increased competition and the shift to online shopping also have contributed to retail bankruptcies. ‘This report is biased and is focused on a sector that experienced tremendous disruption over the past decade,’ said Drew Maloney, president of the American Investment Council, which lobbies on behalf of the industry. ‘Private equity has a clear record of supporting millions of jobs across all sectors and investing in communities across America’.”

    You can read the full story here.
    KC's View:
    I’m sure that there are plenty of examples of how private equity has saved jobs and companies, but there also are tons of examples of the opposite - of how these organizations bought retailers but had no idea of what goes into retailing, and they promptly made decisions that undermined values and value propositions that had long been nurtured, and in doing so severed relationships between these retailers and their customers.

    It is ironic that this report came out as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin - a former investment banker and hedge fund guy who is accused in a lawsuit of being part of the cabal that bought Sears and then stripped it of its value - was accusing Amazon of destroying the retail business (and arguing that Walmart wasn’t so bad).

    (I’d love to know the last time Mnuchin was in a Walmart as a customer. Hell, I’d love to know the last time he was in a Sears as a customer.)

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    Amazon yesterday announced Q2 profit of $2.6 billion, up four percent over the same period a year ago but lower than analysts expected, a result at least in part because the company invested $800 million in shifting Prime membership from a two-day-delivery model to one day.

    Sales for the quarter were $63.4 billion, up 20 percent from the same period last year.

    The New York Times quotes CFO Brian Olsavsky as saying that “the costs for the rapid delivery were higher than he had anticipated. Productivity was ‘a bit off’ in Amazon’s vast fulfillment network as the company expanded its ability to ship more products in a day.”

    However, in the long run this probably is a good thing. “Millions more one-day packages went out this quarter than last,” Olsavsky said. “Customers are responding, and they like it.”

    Amazon also said that subscription services, like revenue from Prime memberships, gained 37% to $4.67 billion.

    Bloomberg notes that “while e-commerce remains Amazon’s biggest source of sales, other businesses such as cloud-computing, logistics for online merchants and advertising are growing faster and now generate almost half of the company’s quarterly revenue. The internet business is facing greater competition from rivals such as Walmart and under greater scrutiny from government antitrust regulators and lawmakers who argue Amazon acts like a monopoly to dominate the field.”
    KC's View:
    Nobody should be surprised that Amazon is willing to accept lower profits as it invests in a program that it believes will better serve its customers and give it a distinct differential advantage in the marketplace.

    Essentially, that’s always been the Amazon playbook. I’m sure they’ll continue investing in one-day delivery until they get bit right, and then they’ll move on to guaranteed 12-hour delivery, or eight-hour delivery, or using Star Trek-style replicators. Profits, Jeff Bezos seems to believe, and there to be invested.

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    Kroger and Ocado announced that they have broken ground in Groveland, Florida, on the site of what will be their second robotic distribution center., a 375,000 square foot facility that is costing $55 million to construct. The first is being built in Monroe, Ohio.

    What’s makes this interesting is that Kroger doesn’t have any stores in Florida.

    “Kroger is excited to enter Florida to redefine the customer experience through our industry-leading partnership with Ocado," says Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman/CEO. "There's a substantial demand for Kroger products and services in the state, and we're eager to offer a new and seamless experience through the customer fulfillment center, leveraging advanced robotics technology and creative solutions to provide customers with anything, anytime, anywhere.”
    KC's View:
    The fact is that you don’t need physical stores to serve customers any more - you need a great website and an outstanding distribution system and products that people want, along with the ability to market a virtual store to people. Hell, isn’t that Amazon’s entire business model? No reason why Kroger can’t do it in Florida or any other place it doesn’t operate (New England?) … and Florida makes sense because everybody these comes from someplace else, and a lot of them probably used to shop at a Kroger.

    In fact, Kroger probably has all their past shopper data, and should be able to figure out easily where they are now, what they might need or want, and then send them an email offering to give it to them.)

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    Wired reports that United Parcel Service (UPS), which recently decided to add Sunday delivery to its repertoire of services in order to keep up with the e-commerce-driven competition, “is working to become the first commercial entity authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to use autonomous delivery drones without any of the current restrictions that have governed the aerial testing it has done to date.”

    The tests that UPS has run have been in North Carolina, and have used drones to deliver blood and other medical supplies.

    Now, Wired writes, UPS “has applied for the FAA certification that will allow it to operate revenue-generating drone flights without those restrictions, and potentially become the first commercial entity to do so. If approved, its first operations will be for medical, commercial, and industrial customers. Regular consumers have to wait a while longer for drone-delivered tennis rackets and toilet paper.”

    It is expected that approvals could come before the end of the year.
    KC's View:
    I know there will be lots of questions, like will there be human operators at hand even for the autonomous flights, you know, just in case? What will happen if there is a mechanical failure? How will people react to drone deliveries? Will they have to opt in?

    But I have to be honest. I have another question: Will the drones be brown?

    Can’t help it. That’s what I want to know.

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    In Seattle, there seems to be a problem.

    There’s a soda tax in the city - 1.75-cents per ounce. In the first 12 months after it was imposed, the Seattle Times writes, “the program brought in 49 percent more money than expected ($22.4 million versus $15 million estimated).”

    It is these “surging revenues” that are seen as the problem. City health officials, when they approved the tax, said they were doing so as a way of discouraging people from drinking sugary soft drinks, where are seen as bad for people’s health. The tax, according to the Times “roughly doubles the price for a 12-pack of soda, so the city estimated consumption could logically plunge up to 40 percent.”

    Boy, were they wrong. It appears, the Times writes, that “soda consumption is going only up. The city budget office said revenues will be 8 percent higher this year than last (to about $24 million) and will continue to go up, though at a slower rate, in 2020 … more revenue coming in equals more ounces of soda being sold in Seattle. If the ounces sold is advancing at 8 percent this year, which is faster than Seattle’s population and job growth, it’s difficult to imagine how consumption of soda could be declining at all, let alone by double digits.

    “In fact the budget office showed that for this year, the soda tax is the city’s fastest-growing revenue source — faster growing than property, sales or real-estate taxes and faster than parking-meter or utility fees.”
    KC's View:
    Naturally, even as people debate the health implications of all this, local politicians are fighting about what to do with all the money.

    And apparently, in other cities where soda taxes have been tried, like Berkeley and Philadelphia, after a period when consumption went down it looks like people started to increase how much soda they were drinking, even at the higher prices.

    I personally don’t have a huge problem with soda taxes. I think that over-consumption can create health problems, and health problems can create public policy issues, and so it makes sense to craft a nuanced response to them. But it looks like this response wasn’t nearly nuanced enough.

    Which makes me think, maybe we ought not to take this approach. Not that we should ignore potential health and public policy issues, but maybe, just because the world is a tough place to live in, we ought not be too worried if people want to have a Coke. It makes them feel better, and feeling better is something that these days shouldn’t be underrated.

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    VentureBeat has a story about how Walmart is “blending the online and offline worlds using AI and automation,” developing a service for grocery pick-up that by year-end “will be available in 3,000 out of Walmart’s 5,000 stores.”

    The goal, according to the story, “is to enable Walmart customers to do this as efficiently and easily as possible. Their data shows that 65% of a customer’s order will be a repeat basket, re-stocking things they buy regularly … If 65% of a basket is stocking regular items, Walmart wants to ensure it’s using the massive amounts of data it collects to help a customer find what they want, before they even know they want it.”

    The belief is that by using AI to track past purchases, evaluate behavior, make recommendations and then enable the store to easily make orders available for pickup, Walmart leverage technology - leavened by human interaction that takes it to the next step - to capturing and keeping these online customers … and doing so without it becoming creepy that it has all that knowledge and is able to act on it.

    Lucinda Newcomb, Walmart’s e-commerce VP, says that “it all comes down to how Walmart frames the mission of the customer journey. Their customers don’t want to go to the grocery store, they just want to feed their families, with a lot less stress and headache.”


    • The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that “Walmart is expanding its testing of autonomous delivery vehicles to Bentonville, home of its global headquarters,” with plans to “deploy autonomous vehicles to deliver packages on a 1.8-mile section of Southeast Walton Boulevard.”

    The program has been authorized under an agreement that Walmart has with state regulators. The story says that “the vehicles to be used in the pilot program are Ford Transit vans, which are gasoline-powered vehicles that have been retrofitted to operate autonomously … Under the program, the vehicles won't be fully autonomous,” but will have drivers in the cars to take over if necessary.

    The Democrat Gazette writes that “Walmart has been testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona for almost a year. Walmart began testing driverless cars by Google spinoff Waymo in the Phoenix area last August. That project ferries riders to Walmart stores to pick up orders they placed online.

    “Earlier this year, Walmart began testing the use of self-driving cargo vans to deliver grocery orders. It contracted with startup Udelv to deliver online grocery orders, also in the Phoenix area.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    • A company called Standard Cognition which has been building checkout-free technology designed to help retailers compete with Amazon Go-style stores, said yesterday that it “has raised a $35M Series B funding round led by the EQT Ventures fund (“EQT Ventures”) with participation from existing investors Initialized Capital, CRV and Y Combinator. This brings Standard’s total funding to date to more than $86M … The funding enables Standard to continue to focus on making its early customers in the U.S. and Japan successful while growing the team and expanding both domestically and internationally.”
    KC's View:
    I visited the store about a year ago, and wasn’t all that impressed … mostly because it seemed like a very limited test designed to raise money from investors and get retailers to sign up to use it. It was afar cary from Amazon Go, which has fully functioning stores operating on an entirely different level. (It was also possible that the Standard Cognition store underwhelmed because of the stench of urine coming from right outside the door on Mission Street.)

    But … there’s no question that there are going to be bunches of companies developing various iterations of checkout-free technology, and that somebody is going to take it for a successful ride, and that the world is going to continue to change. I still believe that checkout-free tech is going to end up being as important to retail as scanning.

    Published on: July 26, 2019

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

    • Starbucks yesterday said that its Q3 sales were up eight percent compared to the same period a year ago, to $6.8 billion; US same-store sales were up seven percent, while global same-store sales were up six percent.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that the key to higher-than-expected growth was that “cold beverages helped drive growth in the afternoon.” In addition, “Data collected by Starbucks’s digital programs is helping the company better understand what beverages customers want.”

    The story points out that “Chief Executive Kevin Johnson said after taking over in 2017 that he would slow the pace of opening more upscale coffee shops and focus on improving the company’s existing stores. The chain is also opening new stores in markets where it has less of a presence, such as the central U.S.”


    • The Associated Press reports that in testimony yesterday before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Juul co-founder and chief products officer James Monsees said that “his company never intended its electronic cigarettes to be adopted by underage teenagers,” and that product was developed “for adult smokers who want to stop.”

    “Juul Labs isn’t big tobacco,” Monsees said, and committed to “combating underage use.”

    Really? Juul isn’t big tobacco? Then how come it took $38 billion from big tobacco company Altria for a 35 percent stake in the company? Juul’s products are just another method of getting addictive nicotine into people’s systems, and Altria’s entire business model is based on keeping people addicted (and then lying about it). The earlier people get addicted the better for these companies because it means more sales and profits … and if Juul says it wants to discourage underage usage, it is only because they got caught. You’ll excuse me if I’m just a scosche skeptical of anything these tobacco executives say.


    • Albertsons-owned Safeway reportedly has confirmed that a 16,664-square-foot vacant store that used to be a Safeway and later became a Fresh & Easy, in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco, will be converted to the Andronico’s banner.

    According to the San Francisco Business Times, the goal is to use the Andronico’s name - it was acquired by the company in 2016 - to attract customers from upscale Seacliff, the community next door.

    The company had planned to retire the Andronico’s name and instead use the Safeway Community Markets name, but now seems to have had a change of heart.

    Andronico’s was for many years one of the most respected specialty food retailers in the country, and so I am happy to hear that it may be getting a second life. I would, however, sound one cautionary note. Just calling it Andronico’s won’t make it an Andronico’s. You need talent and passion and commitment to high-quality food and highest common denominator service if you are going to live up to the reputation. Otherwise, you;’re just going to diminish the legacy and disappoint shoppers.


    Business Insider reports that “McDonald's is considering bringing another batch of international menu items to the US in summer 2020, with tests kicking off in Connecticut this August. Test items include Mexico's Savory Ranch Burger, France's Grand Premium Chicken Sandwich, Japan's McChicken McMuffin, and Canada's Carmel Brownie McFlurry.”

    The move follows a successful test this summer, when it brought international menu items to US stores for the first time.


    Real Simple reports that Trader Joe’s, looking to adopt more environmentally friendly policies, is reducing the packaging in its produce department, featuring more loose items than it traditionally has.

    According to the story, efforts to this point have been successful: “The goal was to eliminate a million pounds of plastic from its stores over this year and the grocer has already surpassed it - in fact, Trader Joe’s is projected to eliminate 4 million pounds of plastic from its stores in 2019, 2.5 million of which is coming directly out of the produce section.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    In this new Retail Tomorrow podcast, recorded at GMDC’s annual GM conference in Denver, we focus on the ways in which startups are working to disintermediate traditional retailers … how retailers can turn these innovations to their own advantage … why cultural resistance within companies can be the ultimate enemy of progress … and even brainstorm about a business model that could’ve made Toys R Us relevant again.

    You can listen to the Retail Tomorrow podcast here, or on iTunes or GooglePlay.

    The Retail Tomorrow podcast series is a production of GMDC, the Global Market Development Center.

    Our guests:

    • Patrick Fore, CEO and co-founder of Fleat.

    • Sterling Hawkins, co-founder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART).

    The host: Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “ContentGuy.”

    Pictured, left to right: Patrick Fore, Kevin Coupe, Sterling Hawkins






    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    I’ve gotten some emails from Portland, Oregon-area MNB readers wondering if I am going to have one of those casual get-togethers that we've done here the past few years.

    The answer is yes … let's get together Thursday night, August 8, at 5 pm, at Nel Centro, located at 1408 SW 6th Ave, in Portland. I'll plan on being there for a couple of hours, hopefully on the outside patio - and I hope that any MNB readers who'd like to stop by will do so.

    Once again, I’m thrilled that our get-together will be sponsored by Portland State University’s Center for Retail Leadership.

    Put it on your calendar.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    Yesterday we took note of a Washington Post report that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in the wake of an announcement that the US Department of Justice will conduct an antitrust probe in tech giants, said that it is a good idea because one of those companies, Amazon, has “destroyed the retail industry.”

    Mnuchin said, “I think if you look at Amazon, although there are certain benefits to it, they’ve destroyed the retail industry across the United States, so there’s no question they’ve limited competition. There’s areas where they’ve really hurt small businesses.”

    Asked if Amazon’s dominance is any different from Walmart’s, Mnuchin said, “In a way it’s the same, and in a way it’s different. People had those concerns about Walmart. As you see, Walmart developed a business where small businesses could continue to compete with them. And, look, Walmart ceded a lot of the retail business to Amazon.”

    My comment, in part:

    What a load of crap … I’m in favor of healthy and nuanced oversight. But Mnuchin’s rationale about how Walmart was less impactful on competitive retailers than Amazon, and how Amazon has “destroyed” retail, strikes me as utter nonsense.

    Many retailers suffering because of Amazon - and Walmart - have committed suicide. It isn’t homicide. Not by a long shot.

    Does Amazon have an unfair advantage over many retailers? Sure it does - because it has been more innovative, disruptive, insightful and in touch with what consumers needed and wanted even before those shoppers knew what they needed and wanted. Walmart had similar advantages just a few years ago, because it was able to identify weaknesses in traditional retail and then exploited them.

    That’s what insurgent retailers do. But what Mnuchin doesn’t understand is that this still leaves room for competitive retailers to find ways to come at the market with their own unique expertise and offerings. But they have to do it. They have to compete. They don’t get to just complain about how unfair the world is and how the government ought to regulate their competition out of their earned advantages.


    The Post also pointed out that Mnuchin has some experience with retail: He “is one of several former board members being sued by Sears Holding Corp. for allegedly stripping the retailer of billions of dollars as it spiraled into bankruptcy. Sears, the more-than-a-century-old American icon, filed for bankruptcy last year after years of mounting losses during private equity ownership.”

    I said:

    Oh yeah. This is the guy we want protecting the interests of “small businesses” - someone who was in cahoots with Eddie Lampert, who has done almost nothing to create value at Sears during his ownership and management of the company.

    Give me a break.


    One MNB reader responded:

    I completely agree with your view…at the end of the day, most retail operations are just conduits for manufacturers and producers to bring their goods to market trying to remember how to be different that the competition. But Amazon….Amazon is the slickest portal available for consumers today to purchase pretty much any every day or arcane product they may need. Products that are the same, no matter where they’re purchased. I mean, a box of Kleenex is a box of Kleenex no matter where it’s purchased, and no bricks and mortar retail operation can come remotely close to the variety of items found with just a couple of clicks on Amazon’s site. Bricks and mortar, or online, it’s all about the experience delivered…right?

    You hit on it in your response, the retail boogieman is not Amazon, it’s the decades old bricks and mortar fascination with LBO’s, and the resulting laser beam focus on consolidation, centralization, the search for elusive efficiencies, and achieving the appropriate ROI of the investor group at the expense of their customers’ needs that created the vacuum that Amazon so nicely filled. For many retailers today, the reflection in the mirror is the boogieman.


    From another reader:

    I agree with your point.

    Walmart mowed down its competitors at least Amazon lets its competitors sell on its site. Then, retailers cannot continue to just offer “less” of the same, with “less” customer service and no innovation.

    There are still retailers that get it.  I point to Trader Joes, Costco that still provide great customer interaction and good experiences.

    The other big guys…. Not so much.
     
    Oh don’t get me started on Sears… I’d love to sell that textbook on what not to do. Maybe a working title could be, “Customer?  Who needs them.”


    Let’s see if down the road we find out that Mnuchin has a financial connection to Walmart.

    From MNB reader Paul Durrenberger:

    Gee, do you think maybe this all came up because Mnuchin is a Trump Administration lackey?

    I know this Amazon rant is a new “Trump” thing, probably because he’s jealous of Bezos, but for years many people, myself included, have thought it’s been WalMart that destroyed small business in America.

    All you have to do is look at their locations, out along the expressways, away from little downtowns where small businesses just couldn’t compete with their prices because of Walmart’s size advantage. I really don’t think it was much else. It sure wasn’t quality, and it sure wasn’t the shopping experience. So people went because it was cheap crap all in one place!


    And from another:

    He’s shooting at the wrong target.  It’s the poor, dumb American consumer who’s “destroyed the retail industry.”  Nobody forced them to buy from Amazon.

    Not everyone agreed with me, however:

    I agree with you about the Sears thing, but disagree regarding Amazon. I don’t know what the numbers are, but brick and mortar stores are being affected. It would be great if you could come up with some numbers. Another thing: what are Amazon employees paid vs retail employees?

    Also, all the cardboard boxes used by Amazon, are wasteful. Not good for forests etc etc.  All this said, I have in fact, bought one or two things via Amazon. Only because my local store did not have what I needed.


    Never said Amazon is a perfect company, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that Amazon hasn’t had an impact on many retailers. I would agree with what MNB reader Stewart Sundholm wrote:

    To borrow a phrase (I am reading “The Everything Store”):

    “Amazon didn’t happen to retail, the future happened to retail.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 26, 2019

    Novelist Ace Atkins continues his remarkable series of Southern crime novels with “The Shameless,” the ninth he has produced in this ongoing and evolving chronicle of noble hearts and decaying souls in fictional Tibbehah County, Mississippi.

    While the novels have at their moral core Sheriff Quinn Colson, who left his career at a US Army Ranger to return home and find some measure of justice in a community infected by political and financial corruption, they’ve always been more than that. They are populated by a wide range of colorful characters who create in their deeds and language a highly specific - and, it seems to me, relentless truthful - portrait of a place and time. Some evince a kind of nobility - while they can be flawed and don’t always make the best decisions, they’re doing the best in often challenging circumstances. Some, of course, have embraced the corrosive effects of their own desire for power or money or sex or all of the above. But they’re all alive and made vivid in the writing.

    In “The Shameless,” Atkins has two plots running on parallel tracks. In one, Colson is dealing with a syndicate of ungodly politicians and miscreants who are endeavoring to take over Tibbehah County, knowing that they’ll have to go through Colson to achieve their goals. And, he’s investigating a cold case - the death two decades earlier of a teenager that some feel never was properly solved. This latter case has personal implications for Colson, since his uncle was the sheriff at the time; he also has to cope with a pair of New York City podcasters who come to Tibbehah to investigate the crime in the manner of NPR’s “Serial.” This latter touch adds an interest angle to “The Shameless,” since it gives us a couple of fish-out-of-water New Yorkers who see Tibbehah through completely different eyes.

    In reading Atkins’ Quinn Colson novels, I find myself reminded of the unique American patois and poetry practiced by the great Elmore Leonard. But there also can be found in the pages of his work evidence of the mindset of Ross Macdonald, who wrote about a very different place (Southern California, not the American South), but weaved throughout his plots echoes of the past - the crimes and behaviors of the present always had roots in the misdeeds of history, and you had to unravel both to understand either.

    That’s very much an ongoing theme of Atkins’ work. His characters have made choices earlier in their lives that dictate their lives today, or are very much the product of both nature and nurture that in many ways determine their current choices.

    “The Shameless” is terrific - once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. When it was over, I immediately was looking forward to the next chapter in this ongoing saga.



    I’m not sure what the denizens of Tibbehah County would think of the music at the core of the new movie Wild Rose, but I’d like to think that some of them might find it resonant and familiar. I hope so, because Wild Rose is a terrific movie, with a wonderful soundtrack.

    Wild Rose takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, of all places, and focuses on Rose-Lynn Harlan, who, when she emerges from prison, immediately resumes her attempts to have a career as a country singer. Apparently, Glasgow has a remarkably vibrant country music scene, and Rose-Lynn has the music running through her blood, infused in her bones, and even represented in a tattoo on her arm that says “Three chords and the truth,” because that, she says, is what country music is.

    Rose-Lynn’s problem is that she is a single mother - she had two children before turning 18 - and she so far has been able to get her mother to take on the responsibility of raising them. But now that she’s out of prison, the mom wants her to behave like a parent, but that’s the last thing Rose-Lynn wants to do. She’s selfish and driven and petulant and, amazingly, supremely talented. It is a combustible and irresistible mixture.

    Rose-Lynn is played in a star-making performance by Jesse Buckley, who strides through movie in cowboy boots and fringed leather jacket, utterly confident in her own talent and desire no matter what the world throws at her, but far less sure of her ability to be a mother to her children and a daughter to her mom; she can be simultaneously filled with bravado and insecurity. Buckley has an amazing singing voice, and Rose-Lynn leaves it all onstage whenever she’s out there. As flawed a character as she is, I think most movie audiences will utterly fall in love with her. And, she is matched in the movie by Julie Walters as her mom, who can be taciturn and caring in the same moment - even when she is the most frustrated with her daughter, you can feel the love she has for her. (Also, kudos to Sophie Okonedo, superb in a supporting role who hires Rose-Lynn as a domestic, and whose relationship with her is touching in unexpected ways.)

    Here’s the thing about Wild Rose - it seems utterly truthful in its approach to character and plot, and veers off into unpredictable territory. The movie surprises and touches and moves the audience with its emotions and its music, and there is none of the obvious manipulation of a wretched film like the recent version of A Star Is Born. All credit goes to director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor, who have confidence in their story and their ability to tell it in a nuanced way.

    Go see <>Wild Rose. I think you’re gonna love it, and that you’ll be downloading the music the first chance you get.



    I’m in Portland on my summer adjunctivity, which means that I’ve been able to visit two of my favorite wineries and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Two of them immediately come to mind - the 2015 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Pinot Noir, and the 2016 Carlton Cellars Auxerrois, which served cold is perfectly refreshing on a warm summer day or night. I’ll also add another one to my list - the 2018 J. Christopher Rosé made for Zupan’s, the best specialty grocer in Portland. All great stuff.

    This weekend is the Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. I’m guessing I may find some beers to recommend next week. Guy’s gotta have goals.



    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend … I’ll be back on Monday.

    Slàinte!
    KC's View: