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    Published on: September 14, 2020

    Here's a segment from last Friday's interview with sportswriter-author Mike Lupica that I wanted to save for this morning…

    Lupica has been one of the best sportswriters in the country for four decades, so I wanted to ask him:  Who is the best leader/head coach/manager you've ever seen?  And why?

    His answer:

    Remember … 

    "Robert B. Parker's Fool's Paradise," by Mike Lupica, is available on Amazon, from the iconic independent bookstore Powell's, and at your local bookseller.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    The wildfires that have destroyed millions of acres on the west coast in California, Oregon and Washington, killing dozens of people, and making the west coast the region on Earth with the most hazardous air quality - setting off much debate about the degree to which we are seeing our future if more serious work is not done to combat climate change - Portland-based Green Zebra said that it would donate five percent of the weekend's profits to the local Red Cross.

    In an email to customers, Green Zebra - which, let's face it, is struggling for its own survival because of the pandemic, having recently closed two of its four stores - advised how to donate directly to charities, how to get up-to-date information about the fires and evacuations, and even offering its own chart.

    I thought this was an Eye-Opener, especially from a company that has a lot its mind these days.


    Published on: September 14, 2020

    TikTok, the Chinese-owned short-form video app, has chosen Oracle to be its US "technology partner," spurning a competing pitch from Microsoft and Walmart.

    However, by referring to the tentative deal as a partnership rather than as an outright sale, TikTok seems to be gambling that it can satisfy US regulatory issues without selling the unit.  Executives there, the Washington Post writes, believe "the deal will satisfy worries from the Trump Administration and others that its Chinese ownership could open the door for Beijing to obtain U.S. consumer data, according to a person familiar with the talks who asked to speak anonymously to discuss the deal."

    The New York Times had written that "a deal with Microsoft and Walmart could draw on Walmart’s digital sales background to turn TikTok into a kind of e-commerce app for both creators and users, people involved in the talks said … A deal with Oracle, the enterprise software company, would be more of a data play. Oracle could use TikTok’s data about social interactions to benefit its cloud, data and advertising businesses, the people said."

    KC's View:

    I may be wrong about this - I know very little about this subject - but this somehow doesn't feel like a done deal to me.  I think betting that the federal government will allow a partnership as opposed to a sale seems like a long shot.  It isn't just the facts of the case, but also the fact that the case is playing out during an election season, which heightens the odds against it.

    Either way, though, I think that Walmart has showed its hand - when these kinds of businesses are available, it is going to be in the mix, as a way of building relevance and accessing new customers.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    Amazon announced today that in addition to the 33,000 corporate and technology positions for which it now is hiring, it also plans to hire 100,000 "regular" employees in the United States and Canada.  Those employees will work in the some 100 buildings that Amazon plans to open this month alone, which include fulfillment and sortation centers, and delivery stations.

    Amazon said that "the roles offer a starting wage of at least $15 per hour, and in select cities Amazon is offering sign-on bonuses up to $1,000 to new hires. On top of Amazon’s minimum $15 wage, the company offers full-time employees industry-leading benefits, which include health, vision and dental insurance from day one, 401(k) with 50 percent company match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave and Amazon’s innovative Career Choice program, which pre-pays 95% of tuition for courses in high-demand fields."

    The Wall Street Journal offers the following perspective:

    "Amazon experienced a wave of orders this year after coronavirus restrictions pushed millions more people toward online shopping. The company added 175,000 warehouse workers in March and April, 125,000 of whom Amazon said in May it would keep permanently … Including temporary workers that the company describes as seasonal, Amazon has more than one million employees world-wide. Its total head count in the U.S. without seasonal employees exceeds 600,000, with more than 100,000 of those in the corporate ranks."

    KC's View:

    Think of those people as soldiers in Amazon's battle against Walmart, and the buildings as just the beginning of the effort to fortify the front lines.  

    Adding 100,000 people to the US non-corporate ranks is like increasing your head count by 20 percent, if my (often questionable) math is correct.  (The Canada portion throws the numbers off a bit, but you get my point.)

    That's a lot of people.  It is roughly 15 percent of the total number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week.


    Published on: September 14, 2020

    From the Washington Post:

    "There are few chief executives more identified with the companies they run than Jeff Bezos.

    "But the 56-year-old Amazon founder, and the world’s wealthiest person, will one day need to pass on the reins of the e-commerce giant. And an heir apparent has emerged in recent weeks: Andy Jassy, the 52-year-old head of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the company’s cloud computing business, who was one of two No. 2s in Amazon’s corner offices.

    "The likelihood of Jassy’s being Bezos’s successor increased when the other deputy, Jeff Wilke, who ran Amazon’s retail business, last month unexpectedly announced plans to retire early next year. Wilke, 53, and Jassy shared a spot in the corporate hierarchy and were both seen to be groomed for the top job, according to current and former executives who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the matter.

    "To most, Amazon is known as a massive online marketplace where they can buy books, housewares, televisions and more. But Jassy’s Amazon career is defined by his leading Amazon into a wholly new market, cloud computing, a business the company has come to dominate just as aggressively as it leads in the world of e-commerce. And the fact that Jassy is now most likely to succeed Bezos offers insight into Amazon: that the company still values high-risk, high-reward bets and is less defined by online shopping than some might think."

    You can read the story here.

    KC's View:

    The only thing I don't get about this admittedly entirely speculative story is how a 56 year old white guy would be looking at a 52 year old white guy as a possible replacement.  Maybe if Bezos gets hit tomorrow by a bus, or by a falling space satellite.  Bbut it seems to me that if Bezos is planning to stick around for another decade or more - and there's no evidence that he's thinking otherwise - then I think it is at least possible that thew net has to be cast wider and more inclusively.

    Published on: September 14, 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, there now have been 6,710,031 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 198,533 deaths and 3,975,097 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 29,206,669 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 928,830 fatalities and 21,041,840 reported recoveries.

    •  The Washington Post quotes Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as saying that he finds the nation's latest coronavirus statistics to be "disturbing."

    According to the Post, Fauci "pointed out that the United States is 'plateauing' at about 40,000 new coronavirus infections and 1,000 new deaths reported each day.  Fauci listed reasons for caution heading into the fall: colder weather pushing people indoors and aiding the spread of the virus as well as tests increasingly coming back positive in some parts of the country, including the Dakotas and Montana. Public health officials have also expressed worry about the novel coronavirus colliding with flu season.

    "The baseline of infections should be brought down, Fauci said, 'so when you go into a more precarious situation like the fall and the winter, you won’t have a situation where you really are a at a disadvantage right from the beginning'."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Case numbers surged in the Northeast this spring. They spiked early this summer in the South and the West. And now, even as parts of the country experience rapid improvement, reports of new infections have soared in the Midwest … Through Friday, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and Iowa had added more recent cases per capita than all other states. As restrictions were loosened around the country, some local governments in the Midwest urged people to take the virus more seriously, and considered possible new limits on bars and face mask requirements in public.

    "'When things opened up, it was like, 'We’re ready to party,''said Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System. Kansas has seen some of its highest daily case averages in recent weeks.  'We didn't get the initial surge that New York did, so people weren’t as shellshocked.'  But, he added, 'all of the sudden, that caught up with us.'

    "The upticks have prompted alarm and fear in places that had until now avoided the worst of the pandemic."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "As recently as mid-July, Arizona was in the midst of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak. It repeatedly logged more than 3,000 cases a day, putting it in a category alongside more populous states such as Texas, Florida and California as the hottest of the nation’s hot spots.

    "Two months later, Arizona is telling a different story.

    "The number of newly reported cases in the state fell 72% in August, compared with a month earlier, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over that same period, the number of deaths in the state fell by roughly one-third.

    "Arizona’s apparent turnaround contrasts with what happened in those other hot-spot states, whose conditions have improved but not as much. Reported cases in Florida, California and Texas dropped 54%, 21% and 29%, respectively, last month.

    "Health experts and officials attribute Arizona’s improvement to a host of issues, such as Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision in mid-June to allow cities, towns and counties to enact more restrictive measures, such as mask mandates. He later limited bars to take-out and delivery service and put capacity restrictions on restaurants."

    •  CNBC quotes Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen as saying that he believes the cooking-at-home trend spurred by the pandemic will continue even as the coronavirus recedes:

    "When we talk to our customers, what they tell us — and it’s fascinating — if they have young kid they love baking with their kids, and it’s something they enjoy doing together. If they have older kids, it’s like, ‘Well, we really enjoy time together,' … So everything that we can see, it’s something that will be a long-term trend because people have, one, learned how to cook and, two, found they really enjoy it. And the other thing that’s special, is when families eat as a family, they stay together. The kids don’t get into as much trouble. Those kinds of things."

    McMullen adds, "But for us the thing that gives us the most excitement, our customers are telling us they actually enjoy it.."

    Well, that and the fact that sales and profits are pretty good.

    But McMullen and the folks at Kroger are smart enough to know that they can't be complacent about any of this stuff.  There's no such thing as permanence anymore.

    •  CNBC reports that Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, said yesterday that "a recovery for the aviation industry will have to wait until a Covid-19 vaccine  is approved and widely available, a milestone he said the company projects the country will reach toward the end of 2021."

    "In a business like ours, demand is not going to come back until people feel safe being around other people, and that’s going to take a vaccine," Kirby said.  "And that’s just the reality. Some businesses can recover earlier, but in aviation and all the industries that we support, it is going to take longer."

    CNBC writes that "the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the airline industry, bringing business travel to a virtual standstill, preventing U.S. residents from traveling internationally, and curbing leisure trips.

    "Kirby said that barring new federal legislation, United will be forced to lay off 16,000 workers as soon as next month, after the existing funds that were allocated in March dry up. He said that the company continues to burn through $25 million per day amid a decline in revenue of 85%."

    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "Artu, the Automatic, Bar Boulud, Bella Luna, Bergamot, Coda, Cuchi Cuchi, Dante, Deep Ellum, the Friendly Toast, the Frogmore, O’Leary’s, Parsnip, the Pour House, Stella, the Table at Season to Taste, Tango, Wit’s End. . . . These are just some of the Boston-area restaurants that have closed since coronavirus began to decimate the dining landscape. Many were around so long they felt like old friends. We grew up in these places. We gathered there as college students, went on dates and got engaged, celebrated life’s milestones.

    "According to Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, 3,600 of the 16,000 restaurants that existed in the state on March 1 - or about 23 percent - have not reopened. This is just the tip of the iceberg, say many who work in the industry. The number is only going to grow in the coming months, affecting not just business owners but employment levels. In July, Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate of any state at 16.1 percent."

    •  Variety reports that Wonder Woman 1984, the superhero movie that was expected to be a summer blockbuster before the pandemic forced a delay of its release until October 2, has been delayed yet again, to a Christmas 2020 release date.

    The decision comes as Christopher Nolan's Tenet, after several delays, was released to theaters a couple of weeks ago to what Variety calls "muted" ticket sales.  Many theaters around the US remain closed - including in Los Angeles and New York - which limits how much box office can be done in the US.

    My Chicago son went to see Tenet the other day - it was a 12 noon matinee, and the 400-seat independent theater only was allowing some 75 people in.  Plus, only about half that many showed up.  His reaction was that the mask requirements, distancing and obvious cleaning procedures made him feel safe, though he was glad it was the first show of the day.  But he said he'd be a lot less likely to go to a big chain like AMC to see a movie - the whole thing was just this side of nerve-wracking.

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The French government declined to introduce new lockdown measures on Friday even as coronavirus cases soar in France.

    "The country reported nearly 10,000 new infections on Thursday, prompting officials to examine new approaches to curb the spread of the virus."

    France is not alone.  Bloomberg reports that Western Europe has passed "the U.S. in new daily Covid-19 infections, re-emerging as a global hot spot after bringing the pandemic under control earlier in the summer."  Western Europe is defined as the 27 countries in the European Union plus the U.K., Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

    The Post writes:  "In a press conference Friday evening, Prime Minister Jean Castex acknowledged a 'manifest degradation'  of the situation but said that citizens would have to learn how to live with covid-19 for the next few months.  'The virus will be around for a few more months, and we must managed to live with it without being dragged back into a logic of general confinement,' he said."

    Merde sacrée.  I hope they know what they are doing.  The 'manifest degradation' may not be in the health situation, but in the willingness of the French leadership to do the right thing, or believe in the population's willingness to do the right thing.

    I was emailing over the weekend with a friend of mine from Oregon.  I reached out because I was concerned about his safety because of the fires, and he wrote back, "We're great.  Because we’re Italian residents, we were able to snag a flight back to Milan last month.  In our little corner of the Alps, the covid infection rate is basically zero, nothing’s burning and there is no election going on.  Thank god for the internet to keep us insane."

    But one of the things that people have to do - even in the corners of the world where the pandemic has receded - is to never get complacent, and never let up the pressure on the coronavirus.

    •  French fashion house Louis Vuitton reportedly plans to come out with a designer face shield that will include its signature LV pattern and gold studs, describing it as "an eye-catching headpiece, both stylish and protective" that can be converted into a hat.

    The cost:  $961 (US).

    Note:  The face shield is not recommended as a substitute for an actual face mask.  Louis Vuitton also sells those - for $250.

    Merde sacrée.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey predicts that "when things return to normal," and the pandemic recedes, "there will be a lot of people who don’t go back to shopping in-person."

    The Journal notes that "since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the U.S. in March, consumers have been ordering more groceries online, making bigger purchases at a time and avoiding lingering in Whole Foods’ aisles. To meet the rush for grocery deliveries, the chain temporarily closed some urban stores to walk-in shoppers and converted them to handling online orders only. The grocer is also expanding its pickup operations."

    On the company's acquisition by Amazon:  "The best way to put it would be: If we had to make the decision all over again, would we make this decision? The answer is yes, because Amazon’s been a great partner. They’ve helped us evolve; they’ve helped us get better at technology, delivery. We’re taking on the parts at Amazon that can help Whole Foods be a better company, but they haven’t tried to consciously change our culture … Amazon has a culture that asks a lot of questions. We took a little longer to get used to that, but that’s no big deal. That’s how you learn things. They’re trying to understand our business. They want to know everything. And I think that’s healthy."

    KC's View:

    What Mackey - and a lot of people - seem to forget is that when Amazon bought Whole Foods, the business was in some trouble … that's why it could be acquired.  

    We can have a different discussion about whether Whole Foods has lost a step since the acquisition.  I don't see it in my local Whole Foods, but a lot of folks who have a better sense of these things do.  

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    •  Yahoo Finance reports that Walmart "will start sharing its internal diversity stats twice a year instead of annually, in the midst of a searing national debate over equality.

    "In its first-ever mid-year diversity and inclusion (D&I) report covering fiscal years 2019 through 2021 year-to-date, the company has seen a 7.42% increase in management-to-management promotions for people of color. That cohort of employees now accounts for 44.6% of those promotions this year, according to Walmart data.

    "Elsewhere, the company also posted a 2.97% increase in officers of color, with 24.89% of those officer roles held by people of color. The company also saw a 2.2% increase in U.S. people of color new hires, now comprising 55.03% of new hires."

    Walmart chief people officer Donna Morris says that the more frequent diversity reports are aimed at providing a more “real-time” picture of the retailer's progress.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    •  The BBC reports that Tesco is joining Amazon and Walmart by getting into the drone business.

    According to the story, "A Tesco drone delivery trial will see small items dropped off at customers' homes within 30 minutes of ordering.

    "Based at Tesco's Oranmore store, County Galway, the drones will deliver 'small baskets' of goods to the local area.

    "The drones, supplied by Manna, which already runs medicine delivery trials in Ireland, will launch next month."

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    •  From Fox Business:

    "Sur La Table is will close 73 stores as it restructures following bankruptcy proceedings.

    "Asset disposition firm B. Riley’s Great American Group announced 17 additional store closings Friday on top of the 56 Sur La Table had previously planned.

    "The Seattle-based high-end kitchenware store will hold liquidation sales at the closing store locations, offering discounts of as much as 30% off original prices, according to the announcement. The sales are expected to last about five weeks, or until all the merchandise is sold. Retail furniture, fixtures and other equipment will also be sold at some locations."

    It was just a month ago that Marquee Brands partnered with CSC Generation to buy Sur La Table.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    •  Big Y Foods announced that Michael Cormier, the company's senior director of center store, has been promoted to the role of vice president of center store.

    •  The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that "John Kelly, executive vice president of public affairs and social impact at Starbucks Corp., announced this week in a LinkedIn post that he was stepping down from the Seattle-based coffee chain.

    "Kelly will take some time off and then be in an advisory role through the end of the year, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in a letter to employees, which Kelly shared publicly on LinkedIn. His next endeavor will include work with Howard Schultz and Vivek Varma at the Emes Project as a senior advisor to Teneo, a global consulting firm … Gina Woods, who has been with Starbucks for nearly 16 years and currently serves as senior vice president of brand and reputation marketing, will act as interim leader while a replacement can be found for Kelly’s role."

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    •  Sir Terence Conran, who through design and an extensive fleet of retail stores popularized modern design, passed away over the weekend.  He was 88.

    The New York Times obit describes him as "a London designer and retailing magnate who eased the gloom of postwar British austerity with stylish home furnishings affordable on a teacher’s salary, and then suffered financial reverses before reinventing himself as an international restaurateur and doyen of modern design."

    The Times goes on to say that Conran "was an entrepreneur of mercurial moods and missionary zeal who created an empire to market his designs, stores known in Europe as Habitat and in America as Conran Shops.  After his business declined, he opened restaurants in London, Paris and New York - notably Guastavino’s, a dining cathedral under the tiled terra-cotta arches of the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan.

    "He wrote scores of books on design, cooking and other subjects; turned a London warehouse riverfront into a fashionable South Bank commercial development; founded the Design Museum, Britain’s only museum for contemporary products and architectural designs; and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He also married four times, had five children and collected wildflowers, butterflies, old master paintings and Bugatti pedal cars."

    At one point, at the company's heights in the late 1980s, Conran had 900 stores around the world, 35,000 employees and billions in annual revenue.

    While he was given his knighthood in 1983, Conran famously said he only used the title when making reservations.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    Regarding my two-part interview with Benjamin Lorr about his book, "The Secret Life of Groceries," one MNB reader wrote:

    Fascinating interview, just ordered a copy of the book.

    I got a number of such emails last week, which makes me happy.

    And for those of you who may have missed it … the two-part interview ran last Thursday and Friday, and you can get the book from Amazon, or from one of the nation's best independent booksellers, Powell's, or at a bookstore near you.

    One MNB reader responded to something I wrote on Friday:

    You are correct that companies need to diversify. It amazes me that it has taken this long and still needs work, however your statement about whites being the minority by 2045 is misleading. They will be less than 50% of the TOTAL population but will still be the largest group and by a significant margin with hispanics the next largest at 29%.

    Absolutely correct.  I fixed the sentence as soon as I got your email.  Thanks.

    Another reader had a different reaction to the piece:

    Seems that we can’t train management to just hire the best people.  I have concern about what amounts to reverse racism.  I just wish people hearts were right so that we didn’t need this.  50 years I was in business it always worked for me, treat people equally and you will be better off as a persons a business.  If I considered candidates equal I always opted for the minority.

    I experienced an episode that might have caused some to be racist.  When I graduated from graduate school, I applied for the management program at a large retailer.  I had worked for the retailer part time in two different cities while attending college and the management at those stores encouraged me to take the management exam, which I did.  A couple of weeks after I took the exam I got a call to come to their headquarters.  Thinking I was going to be offered a job I was excited.  When I got their the manager told me that I had made the highest score on the test but they couldn’t hire me that hiring cycle because they had to hire minorities because of quotas.  I know how that feels.....I just wish we could get our hearts right.  No one should have to feel that way.

    A lot of peoples' hearts are not right.  That's why we need companies to address systemic racism, and why government needs to make sure that bias is not institutionalized.

    Which, I grant you, is a lot easier said than done.  Gotta start somewhere.

    One MNB reader expressed a certain cynicism about Kroger's strong quarter:

    Yes, while they are making off the wall profits, their essential workers gain nothing-except a better chance of getting COVID-19!!!

    I mentioned on Friday that I'd been listening to the new Bruce Springsteen song, "Letter To You," part of a new album scheduled to be released next month.  It is a terrific song, with classic E Street Band energy, and the Hollywood Reporter wrote that "the album includes nine songs recently written by Springsteen, and three new versions of previously unreleased tracks from the 1970s: 'Janey Needs a Shooter,' 'If I Was the Priest' and 'Song for Orphans'."

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Ditto on your brief review of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter To You”, a beautifully written tune with enjoyable background studio clips that demonstrate the commitment he still gets from his E-Street band members. And your review, whether you knew it or not, comes nearly precisely on the 8th anniversary of your favorite Wrigley Field concert, Sept 10th, 2012.

    It was the best concert experience of my life.  No question.

    The mention prompted MNB reader Thomas Gordon to write:

    Thanks for the FYI on the Springsteen song.

    I wanted to call out that Janey Needs a Shooter, which was never released, was performed in front of Warren Zevon, who loved the title.  Springsteen told him to run with it, so Zevon wrote Jeannie Needs a Shooter, and gave Springsteen a writer’s credit.

    I’ve always loved the Zevon version, which shares a little of chorus of Springsteen’s song, but is more high-energy.

    Thought you might want to see the other version from a great musician and one of the best songwriters in modern history.

    Forgot to mention, Springsteen was a friend of Warren, and played on his last album (which was recorded while Zevon declined chemo so he could record the album), singing on Disorder in the House, and then right after he died, Springsteen and the E Street Band covered Warren’s “My Ride’s Here” in Toronto, calling him a great American songwriter.

    If you haven’t gone deep on Warren Zevon, you should check out some of his songs, he is a terrific writer, and I have loved his music for years.

    I love Warren Zevon.  Thanks for all the references.

    From another reader, on another subject:

    Great interview with Mike Lupica.  A couple of things jumped out to me as I listened and watched two people who are great at their craft.

    You both are great listeners.  I loved how you would ask the question and then get out of the way.  And he really listened to your questions before jumping in with a response.  The newspaper industry has really trained you both well.

    I was in awe of Mike Lupica’s humbleness.  He has accomplished so much, yet is very humble and still has the inquisitiveness of a cub reporter.  It is easy to tell you both love what you do.  Thank you for bringing him to your audience and I look forward to many more great interviews.

    Published on: September 14, 2020

    In Week One of the National Football League season…

    NY Jets  17, Buffalo  27

    Green Bay  43, Minnesota  34

    Philadelphia  17, Washington  27

    Cleveland  6, Baltimore  38

    Indianapolis  20, Jacksonville  27

    Las Vegas  34, Carolina  30

    Chicago  27, Detroit  23

    Seattle  38, Atlanta  25

    Miami  11, New England  21

    LA Chargers  16, Cincinnati  13

    Arizona  24, San Francisco  20,

    Tampa Bay  23, New Orleans  34

    Dallas  17, LA Rams  20

    In the US Tennis Open men's singles championship, Dominic Thiem defeated Alexander Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6.

    In the women's singles, Naomi Osaka defeated Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 (6).