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    Published on: June 19, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    From the website of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture:

    "Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as 'Juneteenth,' by the newly freed people in Texas."

    The site goes on:

    "Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day. Although it has long celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans.

    "The historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times."

    That historical legacy now is being seen in the context of the racial strife and civil unrest taking place in the United States, sparked by the deaths of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks, and questions that are being raised about systemic racism and the criminal justice system.

    The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that "Texas became the first state, in 1980, to declare Juneteenth as a holiday. Forty-seven of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia acknowledge or observe Juneteenth as a holiday … Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota haven’t formally approved Juneteenth as a state holiday."

    The spotlight that has been trained on systemic racism has brought with it attempts by various companies to acknowledge the importance of Juneteenth.

    For example, Target announced that it is making Juneteenth an annual company holiday, paying store employees time-and-a-half if they work on that date, and pledging to donate $10 million toward social justice and rebuilding efforts in its Minneapolis home market, which has been at the center of many of the protests.

    The Journal writes that "Twitter Inc., Square Inc. and Nike are among companies that said Juneteenth would be a paid day off for employees, while others have canceled corporate meetings that day or encouraged employees to engage in education or community work."

    New Balance sent an email to employees and customers this week, saying that "In support of the Black community and to further the important dialogue about racial inequality and social injustice, New Balance will close our operations in the United States, including the retail stores we own and operate, to recognize Juneteenth on Friday, June 19th, 2020, as the emancipation from slavery of African Americans in this country in 1865.

    "We recognize the significance of this milestone in the fabric of our history and stand alongside all of those advocating for equality and against racism. We believe this is an important time to acknowledge and educate ourselves on the history, experiences, sacrifices and achievements of African Americans and reflect with family and friends on how we can work to shape meaningful change for an equal and inclusive path forward."

    CNBC  has an accounting of some of the companies observing Juneteenth and how they are doing so.

    "Allstate has announced that Juneteenth from now on will be regarded 'as an annual company holiday to provide Allstaters the opportunity to reflect on this monumental event and engage in their communities' …  Altria announced that this upcoming Juneteenth would be regarded as a 'Day of Healing' for its employees. It’ll be a paid, companywide holiday, the release added, 'to allow employees time for personal reflection and healing' … Best Buy announced it will offer employees a 'paid volunteer day' this Juneteenth, adding that it will be recognized as a companywide holiday starting next year … General Motors announced plans to hold moments of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on Friday, the same amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck … In a memo circulated to staff, Google, a unit of Alphabet, urged its employees to cancel all unnecessary meetings scheduled for this Friday, Juneteenth.  'We encourage all Googlers to use this day to create space for learning and reflection, so please don’t schedule any unnecessary meetings,' the memo said.  'Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to find moments of connection as a community' … National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said Juneteenth will be recognized as a league holiday and ordered the closing of the NFL office … Spotify, a music-streaming service, announced that Juneteenth would be a paid holiday for all employees."

    CNBC also reports that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is encouraging employees to cancel all meetings today and take advantage of a “range of online learning opportunities” provided by the company.  He wrote in a memo:

    Over the past few weeks, the Steam and I have spent a lot of time listening to customers and employees and thinking about how recent events in our country have laid bare the systemic racism and injustices that oppress Black individuals and communities.

    This Friday, June 19, is Juneteenth, the oldest-known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. I’m cancelling all of my meetings on Friday, and I encourage all of you to do the same if you can. We’re providing a range of online learning opportunities for employees throughout the day.

    Please take some time to reflect, learn, and support each other. Slavery ended a long time ago, but racism didn’t.

    Jeff

    The Juneteenth observance also is bringing attention to companies' efforts to make their workforces more diverse.

    Take, for example, this piece from Bloomberg:

    "As civil unrest over systemic racism roils the U.S., Walmart Inc.’s chief executive officer has pledged to make changes giving the company’s 340,000 Black workers more opportunities.

    "According to the company’s latest diversity report, they need them.

    "The share of senior Black executives at the world’s largest retailer has declined since 2015, while the share of Black mid-level managers has stagnated, the report shows. The information is only updated through 2018, so does not account for recent promotions and departures, and the company says the numbers have improved since then."

    The story points out that "it takes a lot to move the needle inside Walmart’s 1.5 million-person U.S. workforce, which is 21% Black overall. Walmart has appointed Black executives to some high-profile roles in recent months, such as Dacona Smith, who is now chief operating officer in the U.S., Latriece Watkins, an executive vice president running the U.S. consumables division, and Kelvin Buncum, who runs the retailer’s Neighborhood Markets division. Smith and Watkins started their careers at Walmart."  The Bloomberg story points out that Walmart hardly is alone in needing to become more diverse, and "Walmart’s leadership ranks are more diverse than the overall retail industry, according to composite figures provided for comparison in Walmart’s diversity report."

    Walmart also has pledged $100 million to address the issue, which the story says "suggests that the world’s largest retailer wants to set the pace on reducing racial inequalities, rather than just muddle along."

    We've had stories this week about how PepsiCo is retiring the Aunt Jemima brand because of the built-in racism of the name and image, and that brands such as Cream of Wheat, Uncle Ben's and Mrs. Butterworth's also are reconsidering the images they have long used in their brand identities.  (I would suggest that it is way past time for them to end the use of offensive and stereotypical names and images, and that they should simply get it done.  Dithering at this point in time is unacceptable.)

    I must admit that I was a little startled this morning to read a BBC story about how "Colgate-Palmolive is reviewing Chinese toothpaste brand Darlie as firms reassess race stereotypes in products."

    The name "Darlie," apparently, translates to "black person's toothpaste," and the brand "features a caricature of a man with blackface make-up."

    As offensive as all that it is - and it is profoundly offensive - it was even more starting to read the Colgate-Palmolive statement saying that "for more than 35 years, we have been working together to evolve the brand, including substantial changes to the name, logo and packaging. We are currently working with our partner to review and further evolve all aspects of the brand, including the brand name."

    This 35-year evolution has included the decision - in 1989! - to change the name of the brand to "Darlie" from "Darkie."

    I'm sure that someone will say that this is Asia, not the US, and that things are different there.  Which I think is a crock - basic decency and sensitivity and respect for human rights and dignity ought not pay attention to boundaries.

    There is so much work to be done to address issues that are deeply pervasive.

    In The New Yorker today, Jelani Cobb has an excellent piece in which he observes that "Juneteenth exists as a counterpoint to the Fourth of July; the latter heralds the arrival of American ideals, the former stresses just how hard it has been to live up to them."  And he writes that "there's a paradox inherent in the fact that emancipation is celebrated primarily among African-Americans, and that the celebration is rooted in a perception of slavery as something that happened to black people, rather than something that the country committed. The paradox rests on the presumption that the arrival of freedom should be greeted with gratitude, instead of with self-reflection about what allowed it to be deprived in the first place. Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones."

    I got the following email from an MNB reader yesterday:

    So does this mean Chef Boyardee and Lucky Charms are going to be removed next for stereotyping Italians and Irish. Should Colonel Sanders of KFC be removed next for stereotyping the Southern gentleman? Should Irish, Italians and Southerners petition those companies to remove those characters because it makes them feel “uncomfortable” and because such characters promote stereotyping?

    I do not think these characters will be removed simply because we as a society have not been conditioned to attach any negativity to these characters. This is fortunate for those companies that own these characters as it prevents them the unnecessary hassle and cost of rebranding their products.

    It is also interesting to point out that the same movements that want more inclusivity of people of color are actually removing imagery of people of color from the consciousness of the wider public. What is even more interesting is that, as far as I know, they have not proposed any alternative character of a person of color to replace the ones that are going to be removed. Because of this, we will have more brand characters that are white instead of people of color in the wider market.  This of course will fuel more demands of inclusivity. I guess the cycle will never end.  

    First of all, let me be clear.  As an Irish-American, I'd be happy to start a petition to get rid of that stupid leprechaun.

    This reader does make one accurate point - that the characters are not seen by people as being negative.  But it ignores the fact that the portrayals of black people by some brands are deeply rooted in how their entire race was sublimated and enslaved by our culture, and that the results of this "American original sin" infect our society to this day.  And the comments about what images will replace the ones that are removed just strike me as entirely tone-deaf.

    I got another email this week from an MNB reader who wrote:

    As a black professional in the supermarket industry, it has been very hard to tolerate the discrimination I have received over the past 40 years.  It has also been difficult to read some of the responses you have received from some industry leaders. I just wanted to thank you for your comments regarding the Aunt Jemima branding issue.  I truly appreciate you being an advocate for, and understanding the need to, recognize and eliminate the systemic racism realities of our industry and our country.

    I'm going to be honest here.  I didn't know much about Juneteenth until recently.  I was only sort of vaguely aware of its meaning and history.  So shame on me.

    I've known this reader for a long time.  To be honest, I had no idea about the discrimination and intolerance that this reader has encountered.   I should've known.  I just never thought about it.  I never even asked. Again, shame on me.

    But this, I think, has to be about learning.  About trying to understand the ways in which we as a culture come up short, and trying to do better.  About how I as an individual can do better. About knowing that when we talk about being the "land of the free," it doesn't really mean much unless we all are free - and that means not being judged by the color of our skin but rather by the goodness of our hearts.

    A quick postscript…

    As I was about to post MNB this morning, I saw a 93-year-old black woman, who clearly was around in the sixties for that civil rights movement, interviewed on the news, and she was asked if she ever gets tired of having to push and fight for her rights as an American.

    "No!" she said.  "Gee whiz, no.  I'm not one of those people who is sitting in a rocking chair thinking that the Lord is going to come get me.  He's gonna have to catch me."

    From her lips.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    Michael Sansolo joins KC to talk about how a reality reflected in the current baseball impasse - owners and players treating each other like adversaries instead of partners - can also be seen in retailer-manufacturer relationships, as well as the internal workings of many companies.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    Albertsons yesterday said that it is going ahead with an initial public offering that "could net as much as $1.51 billion for existing shareholders led by Cerberus, the private equity group," the Financial Times reports.

    FT writes that Albertsons "is seeking to take advantage of a rebound in the stock markets," and is hoping that this attempt to go public will be more successful than other efforts.  It aborted one attempt in 2015 because of unfriendly markets, and then tried to do it through a proposed acquisition of Rite Aid, which also didn't work out.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that "the initial public offering would give Albertsons a more-than-$10 billion valuation if its stock prices at the midpoint of its $18-to-$20 target range, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company’s stock is likely to begin trading publicly late next week, according to people familiar with the matter."

    The Journal points out that "the offering won’t yield proceeds for Albertsons because the stock sale is coming from existing shareholders. The IPO will allow Cerberus Capital Management LP, Albertsons’s private-equity backer, to start cashing out of a roughly 15-year investment. Cerberus is expected to own 31.9% of Albertsons following the offering, according to the filing."

    MarketWatch writes that Albertsons is banking on recent results during the pandemic giving it "momentum," and that it will "continue delivering profitable growth going forward." The coronavirus pandemic "has significantly increased" demand for food-at-home and online sales, and the company has built up its curbside pickup and other systems that it believes "will meaningfully improve the overall customer experience and enable us to drive growth and market share," it said.

    KC's View:

    I'll say the same thing here that I've been saying about every other company celebrating strong results driven by pandemic demand.

    It wasn't hard to have strong sales over the past few months.  If I had enough toilet paper, my garage could've had strong sales.  What will be harder is maintaining momentum … of figuring out how to propel the company forward without being complacent … and deciding how the company should be different post-pandemic, and then implementing that strategy.

    Consumers don't give a rat's patootie about IPOs.  What they care about is whether a store - their store - is relevant and resonant.  The IPO they care about is whether a store is Intuitive, Pertinent, and Outstanding.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States as of this morning, there have been 2,263,756 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 120,688 deaths and 931,079 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 8,602,039 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 456,791 fatalities and 4,552,243 reported recoveries.


    •  From the Los Angeles Times:

    "Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public or high-risk settings, including when shopping, taking public transit or seeking medical care, following growing concerns that an increase in coronavirus cases has been caused by residents failing to voluntarily take that precaution.

    "Newsom’s order came a week after Orange County rescinded a requirement for residents to wear masks and as other counties across California were debating whether to join local jurisdictions that had mandated face coverings … Under state law, residents who violate the new requirement could be charged with a misdemeanor and potentially face a financial penalty, according to a representative for the Newsom administration."

    Newsom said in a statement that "simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered - putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease.  California’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations. That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”

    The Times story notes that "the mask requirement comes as California and Los Angeles County saw single-day highs in coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a clear sign that the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of waning in the state. More than 5,300 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in California thus far, including almost 3,000 in L.A. County."

    It is critical for California to get back to work … and to show the rest of us the way.  After all, it isn't just the state with the largest economy, but at $3.1 trillion its economy is the firth largest in the world, just below Germany and above the UK.  


    •  Fox News reports that "American Airlines has temporarily banned a passenger who they kicked off a flight Wednesday after he refused to wear a face mask.

    "Brandon Straka, a popular conservative activist, had just boarded a plane at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday when a controversy erupted over his lack of a facemask. After arguing with multiple American Airlines personnel, he obliged their request to get off the flight. He was then rebooked on another American Airlines flight to Charlotte and then to Seattle."

    American Airlines spokespeople said that Straka's "actions and statements were inconsistent throughout his journey."  Straka said that he was "fed up with what he called conflicting messages from politicians about face masks and what is acceptable during the coronavirus pandemic."

    This is why we need the federal government to say what California has said.  If you are in an enclosed place of any kind with other people, other than a private home, you have to wear a mask.  No argument, no equivocation, no ambiguity.  If we're going to end the pandemic, we have to do the patriotic, selfless thing - wear a mask.


    •  From the Columbus Dispatch:

    "A southeast Ohio couple is being sued by the state for hoarding hand sanitizer and selling it for 11 times the price to profit off of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "Marcus and Ellen Fultz of Athens are accused of using an Amazon account to resell hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer, which are in high demand because of the pandemic. According to the lawsuit, they stocked up on bulk quantities of the sanitizer and listed them for sale, jacking up the price by as much as 1,017.3%."

    Throw the book at them.   Put them in work-release, and have them sanitize public schools during the fall semester.


    •  The Washington Post has a story about an unexpected byproduct of the pandemic and the nation's shelter-at-home policy - "a nationwide shortage of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies," because when people don't go out, it halts "the flow of coins through households, businesses and banks."

    Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, told the House Financial Services Committee, that "the Fed has been working with the U.S. Mint and reserve banks to fix the temporary issue."

    “The places where you go to give your coins, and get credit at the store and get cash — you know, folding money — those have not been working. Stores have been closed,” Powell said. “So the whole system has kind of, had come to a stop. We’re well aware of this. … As the economy reopens, we’re seeing coins begin to move around again.”

    Now that I think about it, I've hardly used cash over the past few months … and the coin jar into which I normally throw my loose quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies has remained pretty static.  I wonder, though, if this is another case of the pandemic accelerating what was going to happen anyway, moving us closer to being a cashless society?


    •  From Variety:

    "AMC Theatres, the world’s largest exhibitor, has unveiled plans to re-open after coronavirus forced it to close its more than 600 venues in the U.S. for nearly four months … As part of that process, AMC is reducing its seating capacity in order to help people social distance, it is implementing new cleaning procedures, placing hand-sanitizing stations throughout its theaters and encouraging contact-less and cash-free concessions."

    I'm just not there yet.  I really want to be, but I cannot see myself going to a movie theater for several months … and this has to be a problem for theaters, since I see a lot more movies in a year than the average consumer.

    But here's my bigger problem.  AMC says it won't require customers to wear masks because it doesn't want to bet drawn into a political debate.  But masks shouldn't be political.  They are a way of keeping other people safe … and AMC, by not requiring them, makes itself an even less desirable place to go.


    •  From Los Angeles Magazine:

    "If you want to get your pump on without contracting the deadly coronavirus, a Redondo Beach gym is offering accommodations once available only to convicts in 24/7 solitary confinement at a supermax prison.

    Inspire South Bay Fitness on Artesia Boulevard has redesigned its weight room to incorporate a series of isolated workout pods built from pipes and shower curtains where clients can lift weights without inhaling their fellow iron pumpers’ respiratory detritus. The pods—which took three days to construct—not only protect clients from infection, they are also a cheap alternative to installing plexiglass dividers.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    I was thumbing around the other night, looking for something to watch, and saw an interview with Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

    What fascinated me, as much as anything else, was his bookcase.  (Look to the left, over his right shoulder.)

    Behind him, there was an interesting grouping of books…

    "Witness to Power," John Erlichman's chronicle of the Nixon presidency and his role there.

    Walter Isaacson's biography of Albert Einstein.

    "Bossypants," comedic essays by Tina Fey.

    And three books about W.C. Fields.

    I think that's wonderful.   It shows a breadth of interests that speaks well of someone who has spent the majority of his life in public service … and probably reflects an understanding of context that we want from someone in public service.

    Which is something we all should pursue.  IMHO.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    •  Bloomberg reports that two pension funds are suing Walmart, accusing it of illegally mishandling opioid painkillers sold through its in-store pharmacies for years.  Both funds are Walmart shareholders.

    According to the story, "Media reports and information revealed in a mass of opioid lawsuits in federal court show how Walmart failed to comply with laws mandating monitoring of sales of the highly addictive painkillers, attorneys for the Norfolk County Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System of Detroit said in their suits."

    Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said that "there is no credible basis to conclude Walmart or its board engaged in any misconduct. We will respond in court as appropriate.”

    In addition to the lawsuit, "Walmart and several U.S. pharmacy chains face a November trial before a federal jury in Cleveland in which states and municipalities will seek billions in damages for the companies’ alleged failure to recognize “red flags” about heavily repeated sales of the painkillers."


    •  Reuters reports that "Walmart's Mexican unit has launched a mobile phone service available throughout the country, the retailer said on Wednesday.

    Called 'Bodega Aurrera Internet y Telefonia,' or BAIT, the service offering prepaid calls and internet usage is available at Bodega Aurrera, Mi Bodega and Walmart store formats … Walmart de Mexico, known as Walmex, said in a statement that the offering is meant to help populations in rural areas, and that shoppers at its stores would receive additional 'megas' of data usage."

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    •  Bloomberg has a story about how UK e-commerce business "are betting that the shift to the web" taken by consumers during the coronavirus pandemic "will stick" as the nation reopens.

    According to the story, "U.K. online sales as a proportion of all retailing reached a record high of 33.4% in May, the Office for National Statistics said."

    The story goes on:  "At least some of that business will remain, potentially at the cost of physical shops that were already struggling to compete against customers who increasingly prefer to buy online. Older shoppers trying to minimize their exposure to Covid-19 by avoiding crowds, continued home working and an aversion to lengthy queues should keep the clicks coming … Many workers are also still doing their jobs from home or are furloughed, and won’t have the opportunity to pop into shops. There’s also the lingering fear of catching the virus and contributing to a second wave."

    “There has been a surge in people shopping online for the first time and, given they tend to be older demographics who are most at risk from Covid and therefore more likely to be wary of busy places, they may continue to favor it over the longer-term,” Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director for industry association IMRG, tells Bloomberg. “The problem for high-street retailers is that many were having trouble making the finances work anyway, and Covid has accelerated a shift that was happening slowly.”

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    •  Big Y Foods announced that Theresa Jasmin, since 2016 the company's vice president of finance, has been named CFO.  She succeeds William Mahoney, who has retired.  The company noted that Jasmin is the first woman to ascend to its c-suite.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    Actor Ian Holm, perhaps best known for his role as Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, has passed away.  He was 88.

    Among the other films in which Holm starred:  Nicholas and Alexandra, Young Winston, Robin and Marian, Alien, Chariots of Fire, Time Bandits, Brazil, Naked Lunch, Big Night, The Fifth Element, Incognito, Joe Gould's Secret, The Day After Tomorrow, The Aviator, and Ratatouille.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    Last week I wrote about discovering the John Sandford-Lucas Davenport novels through "Masked Prey," the 30th in the series.

    This prompted a ton of email.

    One reader wrote:

    Read the Virgil Flowers extensions of the Lucas Davenport series too...more good reads.

    I am currently on a tear through all of Ace Atkins novels...an author who I picked up from your reviews on the blog...so thanks!

    My pleasure.  There is a new Ace Atkins book, "The Revelators," due out in July.  Can't wait.

    MNB reader Carl Henninger wrote:

    Loved your comments on the Lucas Davenport book. I have been reading them for many years. When you are done with its series, be sure to read the Virgil Flowers books, Sandford’s other character.

    From another reader:

    Start with the first Lucas Davenport book. And read the rest in as close to the order they were published as possible. His life and responsibilities progress throughout the series. Another character from the “Prey” books, Virgil Flowers, also has a series of books. He is a more rebellious character.

    MNB reader Pete Sandford (no relation to the author) wrote:

    I've been reading MNB for 16 years and look forward to it everyday … You've written often of some of your favorite authors, and they (Parker, Connelly, Child) are

    some of mine as well. I've wondered why Sandford was not on the list. Today I found out why.

    I encourage you to follow the development of Lucas Davenport's career from the beginning with "Rules of Prey."

    Thank you for alerting me About Ace Atkins.

    Some others that I read that you might enjoy include: Robert Crais, Jonathan Kellerman and Harlan Coben.

    MNB reader Mark Boyer wrote:

    I too just got started with Sandford’s ‘Prey’ books and started with a couple deep in the series. And I liked them a lot, so went back to the first and have been working my way through chronologically. The challenge is remembering which ones I’ve read. I didn’t realize so many words could be appended to ‘prey.’

    And from another:

    I am surprised you haven't read the prey series before now. I highly recommend it, also pick up a Virgil Flowers novel. I have enjoyed both series and need to get back into them.

    I think I got the message.

    Published on: June 19, 2020

    I've always been a Jerry Seinfeld fan, and was intrigued by his new Netflix special, "23 Hours To Kill," after having an interview with him on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast.  (It is a really good interview, even though much of it is Maron trying to get Seinfeld to be more introspective than he has any intention of being.  Just the tug of war is worth listening to.)

    And so, last weekend, I watched it.  All 60 minutes of it.

    A few days later, I watched on YouTube, I watched a new Dave Chapelle special - a 27-minute standup routine recorded earlier this month in an outdoor Ohio venue where the audience was small, masked, and appropriately distanced.  The set is called "8:46" - which is, of course, the amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee pressed on George Floyd's neck, killing him and setting off an extended spasm of protests, demonstrations, and national self-examination.  (Prosecutors now are saying that it was actually 7:46, not 8:46,  But no matter.)

    To be fair, "8:46" isn't really a stand-up routine, because that would imply that there are jokes.  It really is more of an extended monolog, or even more accurately, a 27-minute scream of agony, delivered with raw emotion and bitter intelligence.  I find Chappelle's "comedy" in general to be problematic - he often can be sexist and homophobic, but he also manages to hone in on certain truths in a way that makes him hard to turn away from.

    That's certainly the case with "8:46."  The set plays like a workshop version of a monolog still in development, but there's also a sense that this is exactly what Chapelle is going for - there is no finish for the nation's race problem, and so there is no finished version of this routine.  Chapelle wants to talk about racism and victimization in all their complexity, and he wants us to feel his pain.  We do.

     If it isn't comedy - or even stylized satire of the kind that Lenny Bruce or George Carlin excelled at - it struck me as powerful, visceral and very much of the moment, however difficult the moment happens to be.  And impossible to turn away from.

    I cannot say the same about the Seinfeld special.

    At a time when the nation is enduring multiple challenges, "23 Hours to Kill" struck me as utterly tone-deaf.  Clearly taped before the pandemic closed the country down (maybe they should've held it for a year and let memories of current traumas fade a bit), the special seemed both familiar and stale - it is like Jerry has morphed into Shecky Greene. (Younger MNB readers - meaning anyone under 50  - have no idea who he is.  But he was huge in Vegas in the sixties and seventies.)  Seinfeld is telling the same  kinds of jokes that he always tells, and there's no sense of spontaneity or discovery.  There's no question that he is a craftsman … and he gets more laughs in a minute than Chapelle gets in his entire 27 minutes.  Now 65, Seinfeld probably can keep doing this act for another couple of decades.  

    But the one that will stick with me is Chapelle's 27 minutes of pain turned performance art.

    My wine of the week:  the 2018 Chateau La Fleur Clemence from Graves, France - a white Bordeaux that I found to be surprisingly light and perfect with grilled salmon.

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

    Stay safe.  Stay healthy.