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    Published on: May 1, 2020

    KC did a video commentary yesterday about a surplus of potatoes in Belgium caused by the pandemic.  One of the reactions he got brought him home to why he started MNB in the first place ... because he could hear the people sing.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    The food supply chain - from a likely meat shortage in the US to a potato surplus in Belgium - clearly is in a bit of turmoil.

    Now, from the Washington Post, comes Eye-Opening news of another disruption … the story concerns Dohn & Dohn Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky, which "has supplied the mint used by Churchill Downs — two tons of it annually — for the mint juleps served at the Kentucky Derby since 1980."

    The problem:  The farm has all the mint, but there's no Kentucky Derby.  The annual horse race has been postponed because of the pandemic from early May to early September.  (They hope.)

    The Post writes, "Mint takes up about 2.5 acres of Dohn’s 10-acre farm, which also grows kale and collard greens. The plants that were supposed to be harvested for Churchill Downs this year instead will be mowed off and regrown with the triple hope that the race will be run in September, that spectators will be allowed to attend and that they’ll still have an appetite for the cocktail consisting of mint, bourbon and simple syrup."

    But if not … well, I'd suggest that Mrs. Content Guy's favorite ice cream is Mint Chocolate Chip (preferably Graeter's), and so maybe there is an alternative use for all that mint.

    We're willing to do our part.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    Walmart plans to expand its two-hour Express Delivery program from the 100 stores where it has been successfully piloted to 1,000 stores over the next few weeks and then to close to another 1,000 stores shortly thereafter - one more sign that of the company's continued willingness to engage Amazon in a pitched e-commerce battle.

    USA Today writes that Walmart says it "will expand the program because of customer demand during the coronavirus crisis. Express Delivery has more than 160,000 items including groceries, toys, electronics and other daily essential items available to order for the two-hour delivery … Express Delivery orders … include an additional $10 over current delivery fees. Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited customers ($12.95 monthly or $98 per year) just pay a $10 fee per order."

    "We know our customers' lives have changed during this pandemic and so has the way they shop," said Janey Whiteside, Walmart's chief customer officer in a statement. "We also know when we come out of this, customers will be busier than ever, and sometimes that will call for needing supplies in a hurry."

    TechCrunch offers this analysis:  "Like Walmart’s other grocery deliveries, Express deliveries are handled by Walmart’s external network of delivery partners, which vary by market. The retailer won’t comment on if those additional fees are split with their partners, or how, if so.

    "There could be backlash against a system like this, given how it favors a wealthier customer at a time when food and other critical supplies have run short. During the pandemic, store shelves have often been bare as consumers hoarded things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Lysol cleaners. Now, consumers are being warned that meat shortages are expected soon."

    KC's View:

    It is simultaneously a perfect time and a tough time to expand a service like this … perfect because people need it more than ever, and tough because there is so much stress on the system.

    But Walmart continues to reinvent itself as retailer - while tending to avoid coloring outside the lines and expanding into ancillary businesses like Amazon does.

    This is going to be like Gladiator, with Walmart and Amazon in the Coliseum, battling it out in the knowledge that what they "do in life echoes in eternity."

    (Or at least for a couple of fiscal years.)

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    Amazon said yesterday that its first quarter sales were up 26 percent to $75.5 billion compared to the same period a year ago, but also reported that Q1 net income was down to $2.5 billion, from $3.6 billion a year ago.

    CEO-founder Jeff Bezos said in a prepared statement that the "current crisis is demonstrating the adaptability and durability of Amazon’s business as never before, but it’s also the hardest time we’ve ever faced."

    The hard times will continue.  As the Seattle Times reports, Bezos "warned the company’s stockholders that Amazon intends to spend the entirety of its expected $4 billion in second quarter operating profit, and then some, on 'COVID-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe,' including 'hundreds of millions to develop our own COVID-19 testing capabilities'."  The money will be spent on "personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of our facilities, less efficient process paths that better allow for effective social distancing, higher wages for hourly teams, and hundreds of millions to develop our own COVID-19 testing capabilities.

    "There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, and the best investment we can make is in the safety and well-being of our hundreds of thousands of employees. I’m confident that our long-term oriented shareowners will understand and embrace our approach, and that in fact they would expect no less.”

    In that statement, Bezos said:  "“Providing for customers and protecting employees as this crisis continues for more months is going to take skill, humility, invention, and money.  If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small. Under normal circumstances, in this coming Q2, we’d expect to make some $4 billion or more in operating profit. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on COVID-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.”

    The Times notes that some Amazon employees are planning walkouts today "to protest what they see as an inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic. The company is also ending a policy … granting employees unlimited unpaid sick leave during the pandemic."

    KC's View:

    I got a couple of emails yesterday from MNB readers marveling at Bezos' shareholders-should-take-a-seat comments, which essentially argued that the company was going to spend an entire quarter's profit - and more - on dealing with the short-term and long-term impacts of the pandemic.

    I would argue that Amazon really has no choice - that it needs to invest this $4 billion and more in order to maintain its dominant e-commerce position, sustain its approach to innovation, and do the things it needs to do in order to satisfy its customers and be a good employer (and it has some work to do in the latter case).

    This isn't a cost.  It is a clear-headed investment.  My guess is that it pays off.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    In releasing financial results yesterday, Albertsons said that since the beginning of the year, it has "experienced significant increases in customer traffic, product demand and overall basket size in stores and online as customers adjust to the circumstances around COVID-19.

    "As a result, identical sales increased 47% during the first four weeks of fiscal 2020 (ending March 28, 2020), and increased 21% during the second four weeks of fiscal 2020 (ending April 25, 2020). Quarter to date identical sales for the first eight weeks of fiscal 2020 increased 34% compared to the comparable period during fiscal 2019."

    Albertsons yesterday said that its Q4 same-store sales were up 1.8 percent, and digital sales growth that was up 32 percent.

    For the just-completed fiscal year, same-store sales were up 2.1 percent, and online sales were up 39 percent.

    The company says that Q4 revenue was $15.4 billion, up from $14.0 billion during the same period a year ago.  Net income was $67.8 million during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019 compared to net income of $135.6 million during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018.

    The last fiscal year's revenue was $62.5 billion, compared to $60.5 billion during the previous year.  Net income was $466.4 million during fiscal 2019 compared to net income of $131.1 million during fiscal 2018.

    KC's View:

    Business is good, but Albertsons needs to keep focusing on how it will invest in the future … which means it has to think hard about what that future looks like.  It needs to have small teams at each of its banners focusing on how their stores will be fundamentally different 18 months from now than they were 18 weeks ago.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    Macy's plans to "reopen all of its 775 stores, including Bloomingdale’s, Bluemercury and its major flagships in Manhattan, in the next six to eight weeks," the New York Times reports.

    Here's the plan, according to the Times:

    "The reopenings are expected to start on Monday, with 68 stores in Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Macy’s will reopen 50 more locations on May 11. The company’s stores have been closed since March 18 because of the coronavirus pandemic, causing the majority of its sales to disappear.

    "Macy’s expects its reopened stores to bring in only about 15 to 20 percent of their typical business at first and 'slowly build' from there, the company’s chief executive, Jeff Gennette, said during a presentation. Whether shoppers would return, he acknowledged, was an open question."

    The stores won't be the same, the Times writes:  "'No touch' consultations will be the rule at beauty counters. Ear piercing, bra fittings and alterations will be temporarily suspended. Fitting rooms will be limited. Employees will wear company-issued cloth masks. And trying on dress shirts? Forget about it."

    KC's View:

    I always found Macy's stores to be kind of antiseptic when when the economy was in better shape … and the problems it had only have been exacerbated and highlighted by the pandemic.   Hard to imagine that people will go rushing back to Macy's for the compelling, differentiated and entertaining experience of shopping there.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, there are 1,095,304 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 63,871 deaths and 155,737 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there are 3,321,771 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 234,404 deaths and 1,049,876 reported recoveries.


    •  Amazon-owned Whole Foods said yesterday that it plans to provide free, disposable face masks to customers entering its stores, and will request - though not require - that shoppers wear masks.

    Amazon said yesterday that "to help protect the safety and health of our Team Members and communities, we will be requesting customers wear masks in Whole Foods Market stores … Within the next week, we will be offering free, disposable masks to all Whole Foods Market customers nationwide when they arrive at the store to shop. If customers don't already have their own face covering, they will be able to pick up a mask at the entrance of the Whole Foods Market store."

    Business Insider reports that "Amazon said it has also provided masks to all Amazon employees, delivery service partners, Amazon Flex drivers, seasonal employees, and Whole Foods Market Team Members.   The company also recently provided face shields to Whole Foods workers and Amazon Prime Now shoppers."

    What a smart idea.  Though I think they should go the whole way, and require that customers wear them for the time being, since any customer not wearing a mask is putting other customers at risk.  Since I happen to be one of those customers from time to time, I take this personally.


    •  Kroger yesterday "announced the launch of an expanded Dairy Rescue Program, designed to support children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic through the summer months. In partnership with its dairy cooperative suppliers and farmers across the Midwest and South, Kroger will process and donate about 200,000 gallons of additional milk to Feeding America food banks and community organizations through the end of August, uplifting its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative. 

    "Kroger’s Centennial Dairy partnership in Atlanta, GA with Dairy Farmers of America, to direct 24,000 half-gallons of milk to support health care workers and first responders in Augusta, Macon and Savannah, GA during the pandemic over the next month."


    •  Kroger also announced this week "the launch of Social, Social – a new weekly, nationwide stay-at-home celebration designed to bring its millions of customers together safely at home, uniting through food and festivity. During this unprecedented time, we’re all looking for little moments and activities to spark joy.

    "The Social, Social campaign kicks off this Saturday, May 2 from 4-6 p.m. ET with a modern spin on the old-fashioned ice cream social. The event will be hosted every Saturday until June 9. For a list of weekly themes, visit the Kroger Social, Social Facebook event page."

    Essentially, shoppers who are interested shop for products featured in the week's Social at Kroger, ands then download a digital kit to help them plan for the event, which is held on social media.

    Great idea for creating community at a time when people are yearning for connections.  Sort of a virtual happy hour, but without the booze.


    •  The Associated Press  reports that "American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said Thursday they will soon require passengers to cover their faces during flights, following the lead of JetBlue Airways.

    "The move comes as airlines big and small contemplate how to comply with social-distancing recommendations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic."


    •  Axios reports that when people begin flying again, they may find enormous changes in the experience - more, even, than after 9/11.  Experts say that for one thing, everything will take longer.

    Among the changes that passengers may find:  "Masks and social distancing are only the beginning … Passengers might need to upload a document to confirm the presence of COVID-19 antibodies before they fly … Passengers could be required to arrive at least four hours ahead of their flight and pass through a 'disinfection tunnel' or thermal scanner … The pre-flight safety video might include sanitation procedures. In-flight magazines will be removed, seat back pockets emptied, and passengers will likely use their own devices to watch videos. An in-flight janitor might keep lavatories and other high-touch areas disinfected after passenger use."


    •  Interesting piece about a technology that could find its way into the retail sector from the Seattle Times:

    "Paine Field Airport in Everett began screening passengers’ body temperatures with a thermal camera Wednesday because fever is a known symptom of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

    "Passengers are screened before reaching the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, according to an announcement by Propeller Airports, which operates Paine Field.

    "The machine used, an Elevated Body Temperature Detection System, never touches passengers and is noninvasive.  If the machine detects fever, the passenger will be screened again, and the passenger and airline will decide whether the person is well enough to travel, according to the statement."


    •  McDonald's reportedly is changing its supply chain procedures in response to expected meat shortages created by processing plant closures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.  Instead of restaurant management ordering the meat that they think will need, the company now will calculate demand and send meat based on those numbers.

    MSN reports that "while McDonald's is able to meet the system's needs at this point, distribution centers went on managed supply and restaurants on controlled allocation as of Wednesday out of an abundance of caution.  The new approach does not necessarily mean that McDonald's is facing shortages, but instead that the company is more closely monitoring and managing meat supply across the U.S. as the situation changes on a daily and hour basis."


    •  Politico has a story about how California's Modoc County - described as a "desolate" location " with fewer than 9,600 residents, "located in a 4,200-square-mile corner of northeast California that borders Oregon and Nevada" - plans to defy Gov. Gavin Newsom's statewide lockdown order by allowing bars, restaurants and churches to open this weekend.

    The story says that "Modoc officials submitted a plan last week to Newsom outlining their proposal to lift the statewide lockdown order, but the governor has given no indication he intends to free individual counties from his statewide restrictions. The county issued a strategic reopening plan this week that would allow bars, restaurants, churches and non-essential businesses to reopen indoor operations with proper social distancing — all banned under Newsom's current restrictions."

    Politico notes that rural Modoc, "like many counties far from the coast, diverges from the California known nationally. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-1, while 71 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election."

    Heather Hadwick, deputy director of the county's Office of Emergency Services, characterized Modoc's position this way:  "We’re not in this at all to defy anything. We align with the plans. We’re just at a different phase in this because of where we are and how we live  … Somebody has to step up for rural California and we just happened to be the first."

    This is going to be an ongoing debate that will take place within a lot of states, as well as across the country among states that share borders.  Not every location will be at the same stage of pandemic spread, and so people will want to either relax or toughen the rules based on local conditions.  That's totally understandable, but there is the problem that a virus neither understands nor respects the concept of borders … and so there will be tensions brewing, probably for months.


    •  From Axios:

    "New York State Attorney General Letitia James has joined a growing group of critics in calling on cable and satellite TV providers to rebate Pay-TV fees to consumers … Her argument is that consumers shouldn't have to pay the same amount for cable and satellite packages, which include expensive sports networks, when those sports networks aren't carrying any live sports."

    In letters to TV providers, James asked them to "immediately prepare and provide plans to the attorney general's office for how they will provide financial relief to consumers until live sports programming is resumed … At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing."

    I think this is a fair point.  If you have a cable package because you want to be able to watch baseball games, and there are no baseball games, you ought to be entitled to a some sort of refund or reduction on your monthly fees.  And the cable companies ought not be able to fall back on the claim that they are showing games from 1976, which is not exactly the same thing.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

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

    •  From USA Today:

    "U.S. consumer spending plunged 7.5% in March, reflecting the growing impact of the coronavirus pandemic as Americans complied with stay-at-home orders.  The Commerce Department said that the spending plunge was accompanied by a sharp 2% drop in personal incomes in March, with both declines attributed to impacts of efforts to deal with the pandemic."

    The story notes that "consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity and has been the economy's standout performer in recent years."


    •  Apple yesterday reported that even though its stores were closed for part of the quarter,  revenue was $58.3 billion, up one percent from the same period a year ago.  The reason:  Apple's services revenue was $13.3 billion, up 17 percent year over year.

    There may be a lesson in here for other retailers.  If you only focus on selling stuff - and especially if you are selling stuff that other retailers sell - then it makes sense to develop and offer services that differentiate your business.  Apple's product lines may themselves be differentiated - I'm a dedicated user and fan, and so I have a bias toward almost all things Apple - but it is not the only company selling computers and smart phones.  So getting into the services business has been an incredibly smart move.  It is what we always talk about here on MNB - being not just a source of product, but a resource for consumers.


    •  The Chicago Tribune reports that Amazon now is hiring "for the brick-and-mortar grocery store it’s opening in south Naperville.  A job posting for 'grocery & food service associate' can be found on the company’s website. No opening date is provided."

    The story notes that interior work has been ongoing in the former Dominick's location, though Amazon has not disclosed details about the store - which may or may not be part of the new grocery chain that it has talked about launching this year, but seems to have been delayed by the pandemic.

    “Join us as we launch a new Amazon grocery store in Naperville,” the job posting says. “We are passionate about creating a shopping experience that customers will love. If you are customer-obsessed, like learning new things, and want to contribute to end-to-end store operations for a new business, this is the place for you!”

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    •  Variety reports that Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has hired former Starbucks executive Shelli Taylor to be its new CEO, succeeding founder Tim League in the role.  League now becomes executive chairman.

    The story notes that Taylor spent nearly two decades at Starbucks "and most recently served as president of United Planet Fitness Partners, overseeing over 169 facilities across the country."

    Alamo, which "specializes in unique programming, combining independent and blockbuster films, as well as classics and 'hard-to-find' cult favorites," closed its 41 locations in March because of the pandemic.  Variety says that "it is holding off reopening its 21 Texas locations, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to reopen movie theaters this weekend."

    KC's View:

    Challenging time to become the CEO of a movie theater chain, albeit one that always has differentiated itself through smart programming and a strong food-and-beverage program.  

    Normally, I would suggest that when a company hires a former Starbucks exec to run the company, they must be thinking about scaling up and expansion, but there may be limitations to such a strategy at a time when at-home viewing has become more prevalent than ever, and we have no idea when people will start going to theaters again.

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    Got the following email from an MNB reader:

    Today’s letter regarding restaurants reopening using disposable utensils and menus, and the environmental concern over it is something I’ve been thinking about even before the talk of reopenings. The shift to picking up take out food from restaurants where we would normally go to sit and eat has already necessitated a huge upswing in plastic takeout containers and portion cups for sauces, dressings and condiments.  Many of the “nicer” restaurants that didn’t normally have to-go options had switched to more environmentally friendly leftover containers but had to switch back as these were not appropriate for transporting hot, fresh food. Some of these places have also had to buy single-use plastic bags, now that our state’s tax/ban has been suspended. Same with grocery stores reintroducing plastic bags since we aren’t allowed to use the reusable bags we all bought. 


    We took note yesterday of a USA Today report that "Major League Baseball officials have become cautiously optimistic this week that the season will start in late June, and no later than July 2, playing at least 100 regular-season games, according to three executives with knowledge of the talks … And not only would baseball be played, but it would be played in their own major-league ballparks, albeit with no fans … MLB is considering a three-division, 10-team plan in which teams play only within their division – a concept gaining support among owners and executives. It would abolish the traditional American and National Leagues, and realign the divisions based on geography."

    Prompting one MNB reader to ask:

    The key question for all this: Designated hitter or no?

    I know.  That actually was my first thought - is this going to turn into a ploy to get the National League, where they still play real baseball because pitchers hit, to accept the designated hitter rule used by the American League.

    I hope not.

    MNB reader Amy Leathers wrote:

    Thank you for the insight on the MLB season. Growing up in New England I am naturally a huge Red Sox fan, but now I live outside Seattle, Washington, so my baseball viewing is limited to cable tv. My husband is a Cubs fan, but we’re starting to warm up to the idea of catching some Mariners games just for the fun of experiencing ball games live again.

    For Christmas last year, my husband bought really good seats for one of the Red Sox / Mariners games that was originally scheduled to take place on April 11 in Seattle. I was thrilled at the thought of getting to see the Red Sox play live again!  And that date worked for our schedules (he periodically travels for work). When that game didn’t happen, my husband called about a refund for the tickets. They were very expensive tickets (first base line), and we NEVER would have spent that kind of money if it wasn’t great seats for the Red Sox (or the Cubs). He was told NO REFUNDS because the season is technically “postponed” not cancelled. Ok, so at least we still had hope of getting to see this game at some point.

    If the divisions realign as the USA Today article shows, the Red Sox won’t come to Seattle, and I won’t get to watch my team play live. Like I said, we never would have spent that kind of money to see another team play the Mariners, and if the MLB won’t honor a refund at that point, it will be incredibly disappointing and I will have to rethink my MLB subscription.

    Every team should want to do everything possible to make fans happy - and I hope the Mariners do the right thing.  I'll be disappointed if they don't.


    Regarding the new Wegman shopping app, MNB reader Sarah Hamaker wrote:

    As a Wegmans loyalty card holder in Fairfax, Va., I received an email a couple of weeks ago about Scan and Pay being available at the Fairfax store. I downloaded the app, but couldn't finish the process until I was actually at the Wegmans store using its WiFi. Kind of inconvenient, but on my next shopping trip, since I had to wait in line for a few minutes to enter the store, I finished syncing my loyalty card to the app.

    However, when I opened the app, there was no information about how to pay (did I have to link a credit card? Pay at the self-checkout?), whether I had to bring my own bags and bag as I went/scanned, etc. Other apps generally have a short tutorial to walk you through how to use it, but not the Wegmans app (and not in the email touting the app).

    So I shopped as usual and asked the cashier upon checkout how the Scan and Pay app worked--no, I didn't have to use my own bags, I simply scanned a barcode at the self-checkout to pay and could bag my groceries there if I wanted to. She indicated I wasn't the first customer to ask those questions. It kind of surprised me because Wegmans usually does a pretty good job in disseminating information and has done a decent job with helping customers practice social distancing in its stores, etc.

    Will I use the app next time I shop? Maybe, but I'd like it better if it integrated with the current Wegmans app on my phone that I can use for online ordering or creating a shopping list. Do I really need two Wegmans apps on my phone?

    MNB reader Arne Hendrickson wrote:

    Regarding Wegman’s SCAN app, It will be interesting to see if shrink increases as people “forget” to scan an item here and there.


    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    "Don't cry for me Argentina":  I am a semi-retired self employed consultant and not dependent on what I earn these days.  But some self employed consultants are dependent on those earnings.

    A client just notified me that they were discontinuing our consulting agreement.  That company is an importer/wholesaler that has a both a retail and significant foodservice customer base.  Sales are down as imported goods are hard to get, and demand from foodservice customers is drastically reduced.

    The federal unemployment coverage for self-employed persons in such situations would not appear to qualify, not that I would have ever applied anyway.  But a lot of such self-employed people who need help will not be able to qualify for that help.  The assistance is geared toward people who are prevented from working due to Covid19 restrictions (infections; quarantine) and cannot work from home.

    So the unemployment/impaired employment impact is somewhat worse than the reported numbers. 


    And, lots of email about the Belgian potato surplus, and my call for us to show solidarity with that nation by eating more french fries…

    MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

    Anything I can do to help my friends in Belgium, even if it means higher cholesterol, that's a cause I can get behind!

    From another reader:

    With you, Kevin.  Now if they’d only need help with Godiva chocolates!  

    And another:

    KC... behind you all the way... but truthfully we started eating more potatoes the minute we were quarantined! The only thing we have cut back on is weighing ourselves... 

    And another:

    I too will stand with you and consume a minimum of 2 extra servings of "freedom fries" per week. I might even go above and beyond and do a third serving. Together we can make a difference. 

    And still another:

    I was stationed in Germany for three years, if you are going to eat French Fries in solidarity with the Belgians you need to eat the fries with mayonnaise, not ketchup. Just sayin.

    I can do that.  Especially in the interest of avoiding an international incident.

    And MNB reader George Denman wrote:

    Having been an exchange student in Belgium from 1972 -1973 living just outside Liege, in the little village of Deigne’, I am in 100% solidarity with my Belgian brother in eating more frites every day! 

    No-one made better frites than Maman Hodchamps. She would serve me up a full plate every day. Now a full plate for her was like a double Large McDonald’s version. I miss those hand-cut double fried frites along with a serving of endive salad and a cold Stella Artois.

    Whoa.  You're making me hungry…and thirsty…

    Published on: May 1, 2020

    It has gotten a lot of attention since there are no actual sports to watch … but "The Last Dance," on ESPN, is a fascinating 10-part documentary series about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls - and especially Michael Jordan - as the team goes for its sixth championship in Jordan's last year with the team.   I won't even try to describe it here … I can just tell you that even if you aren't a basketball fan, this is one of the most compelling sports documentaries I've ever seen.  Watch it.


    Bad Education, on HBO, is the based-on-a-real-story film that portrays the you-can-hardly-believe-it tale of Frank Tassone, a charismatic Long Island school superintendent who stole millions of dollars from the district where he worked over a series of years.

    Played by Hugh Jackman with a kind of smarmy charm - he is expert at manipulating the school board for whom he works as well as convincing students that he understands their challenges and needs - Tassone also happens to be good at his job.  The film makes clear that even as he is defrauding his employers, he also has managed to propel the district forward in national rankings (though he monomaniacal about it in a way that is more than mildly disturbing).  And so, when his theft is discovered, the outrage is matched by extraordinary disappointment.

    Tassone is more sympathetic than Pamela Gluckin, an assistant superintendent who has been committing her own fraud.  She is played to brazen perfection by the great Allison Janney, who as always manages to prove that she is capable of pretty much anything.

    Bad Education has as its protagonist Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), a high school student assigned to write a puff piece about the district; in a delicious irony, it is Tassone who encourages her to write something more serious, and she takes his advice, eventually uncovering the various frauds.  And it is extremely well crafted - as awful as Tassone's misdeeds are, it actually is kind of sympathetic about his sociopathy;  as the movie goes on and his secrets start to close in on him (Tassone also is a gay man with a long-time partner in New York and a boyfriend in Las Vegas), it is a measure of Jackman's skill that we feel sorry for him even while being appalled at his behavior.

    In the end, Bad Education's lesson is how having the wrong priorities - whether it be national rankings or nicer cars or bigger houses - almost always get you in trouble, sending you down the wrong path.


    I had the opportunity the other evening to watch The Stranger, a 1946 Orson Welles-directed film about Nazi (played by Welles) hiding out in a small Connecticut town after World War II.  Loretta Young plays his wife, and Edward G. Robinson is the government investigator trying to bring him to justice.  It is great stuff, done on a small scale, but you can tell that it has been directed by the same intelligence that gave us Citizen Kane.


    A few folks asked me how the spaghetti al tonno I said I was going to make turned out … and I would say, in all modesty, that it was wonderful (and tasted even better than it looked):


    Also had a wonderful rose - the 2019 Rotation Rose from California, which when served cold was perfect with my pasta dish.  (I also could've gone with a chianti, but the Rose was handy.)


    And finally, because you asked:


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

    Stay safe.  Stay healthy.