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    Published on: April 9, 2021

    The votes are in at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon distribution facility, and the online retailer has won a solid victory over the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).  Seventy-one percent of those casting ballots - which represented about 55 percent of the total workforce there - voted not to unionize.

    In the words of the Wall Street Journal, this handed "the tech giant a victory in its biggest battle yet against labor-organizing efforts that fueled national debate over working conditions at one of the nation’s largest employers."

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) still has to certify the vote.  However, the total number of challenged ballots, even if they all were in favor of unionization, would not be enough to overcome the deficit faced by the RWDSU.

    The Journal notes that "the Bessemer facility employs less than 1% of the roughly 950,000 Amazon employees in the U.S., but the vote emerged as a watershed moment for a company that hired faster than almost any private corporation in history last year."

    The New York Times puts it a little more starkly:  "The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., dealt a crushing blow to labor organizers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions have been ripe for unions to make advances.

    "Amazon, which has repeatedly quashed labor activism, had appeared vulnerable as it faced increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world for its market power and influence."

    The Hill writes that "despite the union’s loss, the effort in Bessemer seems likely to be a prelude to more worker activism at Amazon plants in the U.S.

    "The RWDSU says it has heard from hundreds of Amazon workers across the country since the Alabama plant went public.

    "Even if only a handful of those interested workers manage to mount a union drive, the conversation appears to have shifted."

    RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said, "We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.  Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union."

    Amazon's response:  "“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true.  We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”

    Bloomberg writes that "citing documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the RWDSU accused the company of 'corrupting the election' by pressuring the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox on Amazon property in an effort to make employees to cast their ballots there rather than someplace more free of company surveillance. Employees have also said that Amazon used mandatory group meetings and one-on-one discussions to predict harmful consequences if they unionized.

    "Amazon has said that it hosted 'information sessions' so employees could 'understand the facts' about unionization, and told the Washington Post that the mailbox was a 'simple, secure, and completely optional' way to make voting easier. The company declined to comment on Appelbaum’s accusations."

    KC's View:

    I do think that the celebration at Amazon should be short-lived, because it is going to have to figure out how to deal with similar  movements around the country.  Alabama always was going to be problematic for union organizers - it is a so-called "right to work" state where, even when a business is unionized, workers do not have to join in order to keep their jobs.  The question was whether Amazon's treatment of workers, as characterized by organizers, was sufficient to get people past an anti-union prejudice.

    The question is how a similar vote might've gone in California or Ohio or Illinois or New York.  I suspect Amazon may be about to find out.

    In addition, this will only draw more Congressional scrutiny, with new calls to regulate the company's growth or break it up.

    Amazon better learn to tell its story more effectively, and work on having a better story to tell.  I think that it positions itself as the very paradigm of 21st century business, and so it becomes a requirement that it behave like one.  I'm not sure that it measures up on that particular scale.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    Netflix distinguished itself from its earliest days by how it defined its mission and competition, which drove it to offer proprietary context and disrupt its way to becoming the top streaming service.  But in the last research period, Netflix may have lost close to a third  of its streaming market share.  KC considers the lesson this teaches all retailers.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    Advertising Age reports that Walmart has hired Jean Batthany, for five years the vice president-Global Creative at Walt Disney Parks Experiences and Consumer Products, as its first-ever Chief Creative Officer, reporting to CMO William White.

    In the role, Batthany is said to be leading "the vision for consumer centric communications across all channels" and "collaborating to develop breakthrough and innovative marketing at all consumer touch points."

    Walmart is reaching out beyond the usual suspects in broadening its approach to marketing - it also has hired Courtney Carlson, who most recently was head of North American marketing at Under Armour, to be its senior vice president of marketing.

    KC's View:

    The hirings certainly are a signal that Walmart has ambitious plans to improving the experiential nature of its stores, and it also suggests that it understands the importance of making sure a synchronized customer experience cuts across all its platforms.  This approach isn't just good for customers; it also creates something that can be more effectively monetized by the retailer, which on the record about its aggressive plans for luring advertising spending to its businesses.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    From Axios this morning:

    "America’s financial titans are coming to a consensus: We are on the early edge of the biggest economic boom since World War II, with the promise of years of growth after the privation of the pandemic … JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said this week in his annual shareholder letter: 'This boom could easily run into 2023 because all the spending could extend well into 2023.'  Goldman Sachs has raised its U.S. growth projection for this year to 8%, which would be the biggest economic expansion in generations."

    These experts could be wrong, of course, "but all point to the same data: This expansion will be kickstarted by trillions in spending from presidents Trump and Biden, the Fed's easy money, and piles of cash that consumers and companies accumulated during COVID shutdown."

    Axios notes that "the biggest risk to future growth remains the pandemic. The U.S. is far from herd immunity. Most of the world is further away still, with widespread vaccine access still a pipe dream for most poorer countries.

    "For now vaccine optimism is strong. But future outbreaks, lockdowns, and variants all have the potential to derail the boom."

    KC's View:

    If there's a boom, many retailers stand to be the beneficiaries … but it would be a mistake to be complacent about it.  Just because shoppers have money to spend, it doesn't mean they're going to spend it with you.

    An economic surge will also see new and innovative approaches to retailing that could disrupt somnambulant retailers, and I'd guess that competition from all angles will be tougher than ever.

    If 2020 was a trial, and 2021 is transitional, then it is critical to see 2022 as a transformative year.

    And never forget.  The last Roaring 20's ended with the Great Depression.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) has announced the launch of Community Marketplace by UNFI, which it describes as "a business-to-business digital e-commerce solution for emerging brands looking to expand distribution with UNFI customers. Community Marketplace modernizes the way brands interact with grocery wholesalers by allowing thousands of emerging products not currently available at UNFI distribution centers to be ordered on UNFI’s Easy Options website and shipped directly to retail customers across the United States."

    Using the marketplace, the company says, suppliers can "gain immediate access to UNFI’s digital infrastructure to promote and sell their products to UNFI’s broad customer base. Approved suppliers keep complete control of their inventory, order management, pricing, and shipping charges while attaining trial for possible traditional distribution expansion in the UNFI network. In turn, UNFI customers gain access to an even broader assortment of unique and local items with flexible order sizes and the convenience of ordering from multiple sources online in one place."

    KC's View:

    It is good for small suppliers looking to connect with retailers and consumers.  It is good for retailers that want to develop some semblance of a long tail.  And, if I'm reading it right, it sounds like good business for UNFI - it gets to dip its beak without actually jumping in the pond.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    Raley's this week released what it is calling its first-ever Impact Report, looking to track and highlight initiatives designed to "positively impact their people, communities and planet" and support its "purpose of changing the way the world eats, one plate at a time."

    Among the achievements:  "Opened the first Raley’s O-N-E Market, a unique shopping destination focused on wellness education and offering a highly curated assortment of products that meet high standards of health, nutrition and sustainability."  The company has indicated its intention to expand its use of the O-N-E format.

    Other notes from the report:

    •  "Continued outpacing the competition in sales of better-for-you items in categories such as clean label, grain free, non-GMO, keto, plant based, organic and nutrient dense."

    •  "Responding to COVID-19:  Invested more than $60 million in enhanced safety protections … Hired and trained over 9,000 new team members … Provided more than $15 million to team members through appreciation pay and bonuses … Donated $200,000 to purchase devices and internet access to allow students in low-income districts to complete schoolwork at home."

    •  "Community Investment:  Raised over $9 million, the equivalent of 6,482,118 meals, for 12 Feeding America aligned food banks through Raley’s Food For Families … Donated over $1 million in funds to causes and organizations to empower current and future generations to live healthier and happier lives."

    •  "Sustainable and Responsible Operations:  Diverted over 70% of all waste companywide from landfills … Donated 4.8 million pounds of food via Raley’s food rescue program … Continued commitment to and focus on ethical supply chain practices."

    KC's View:

    I like it when companies want to change the world.  Why aim low when you can aim high?

    The ways in which Raley's lays out its community commitments - more important than ever at a time when shoppers pay attention to values in addition to value - is impressive, and can be checked out in full here.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    Food & Wine reports that Opentable, the booking service for restaurants, has opened its own establishment - the Layla, in the Kayak Miami Beach hotel.

    The story says that "the team behind the bedouin-inspired restaurant hopes the latest advances in Opentable technology help you forget all about the online reservations platform while perched on a terrace overlooking a plate of baba ganoush and the oasis of the Collins Canal."

    In other words, Opentable is less a harbinger of broader strategic plans than it is a laboratory in which the company can test technology solutions that can help restaurants customize and personalize their offerings.

    Layla food and beverage director Daniel Levine tells Food & Wine, "This is really a design innovation lab for Opentable. For example, we can see everything you order with us, then leverage that to develop new technology. Say you always tweak a certain cocktail with your preferred spirit; next time you won't have to ask to have it your way."

    KC's View:

    I'm sure it has been a tough year for Opentable, which has suffered along with the restaurant industry that it serves.  Developing additional expertise that can improve restaurants' ability to deliver stronger service seems like a reasonable product extension for the company.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    Bloomberg Businessweek writes that "one of the most economically significant trends of the past few decades has been the emergence of a global middle class. The expectation that this cohort of consumers would continue to grow relentlessly, as rising incomes in developing countries lifted millions out of poverty each year, has been a central assumption in multinationals’ business plans and the portfolio strategies of professional investors.

    "You can now add that to the list of economic truths that have been upended by this pandemic. For the first time since the 1990s, the global ­middle class shrank last year, according to a recent Pew Research Center estimate. About 150 million people - a number equal to the populations of the U.K. and Germany combined - tumbled down the socioeconomic ladder in 2020, with South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa seeing the biggest declines."

    The story goes on:

    "Pew’s middle-income and upper-middle-income brackets encompass roughly 2.5 billion people—or a third of the world’s population. Buried inside these big numbers are many personal stories. Here we bring you four, from India, Brazil, South Africa, and Thailand. They’re tales of hard-won successes that evaporated overnight, along with well-paying jobs. Of once-­accessible luxuries, like steak for dinner or home internet access, now out of reach. Of dreams deferred, whether an automobile or an apartment."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    KC's View:

    What's really sobering about this story's implications is how many businesses have been created to cater to the middle class, and to appeal to now-crushed aspirations.

    There's a sentence in the story that I can't quite forget:  "Strivers face a far more uncertain future than in years past."  The issue is how deep the damage is, how long it will last, and what can be done to rectify the situation.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    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…

    •  The US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  31,717,404 total cases, 573,856 deaths, and 24,272,869 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  134,633,717 total cases, 2,917,837 fatalities, and 108,407,277 reported recoveries.   (Source.)


    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 112 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 66.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 229.4 million doses have been distributed."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. edged up, as immunizations continued to gain steam, with nearly a fifth of the population now fully vaccinated against Covid-19 … Despite the rise in the number of new cases, vaccination programs across the country pushed forward. Nearly 20% of U.S. residents are now fully vaccinated and an average of 3 million doses were administered each day over the past week, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Vaccination levels vary by state. In New Mexico, 27.2% of residents are fully vaccinated, while in Georgia, the figure is 14.5%, according to CDC data."

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    •  CNBC has a story about a new report from the Mastercard Economics Institute saying that "consumers across the globe spent $900 billion more at online retailers in 2020 compared with the prior two-year trend," and that while "shoppers are heading back to restaurants and returning to stores to buy clothes and shoes in person," the expectation is that "they will continue to stock their fridges and hunt for good deals online — a sticky habit developed during the Covid pandemic."

    Mastercard’s chief economist, Bricklin Dwyer, tells CNBC that "about 20% to 30% of the $900 billion in additional digital spending will continue into 2021 and the next few years.

    However, the long-term e-commerce gains will be uneven and will depend on what a retailer sells … Grocery and discount stores will see the most dramatic and lasting shift to e-commerce, according to the report.

    "Discount stores include dollar stores, wholesale clubs and other retailers that sell to customers at near-wholesale prices. Grocers will likely retain about 70% to 80% of the digital sales gains they saw during the peak of the pandemic and discount stores will hold onto about 40% to 50% of them, the report said.

    "For both sectors, online sales made up only a single-digit share of overall sales before the pandemic — creating an opportunity for more noticeable growth."

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes this morning about the McDonald's franchises that are slowly but surely vanishing from Walmart locations around the country.

    According to the story, "McDonald’s is closing hundreds of restaurants located in the largest U.S. retailer’s stores, the last vestiges of a roughly 30-year-old experiment between the companies. Around 150 McDonald’s stores will remain at U.S. Walmart locations after another wave of planned closures that are expected to finalize by this summer, according to the burger giant. At the peak of the partnership, there were roughly 1,000 McDonald’s restaurants inside Walmart stores."

    For decades, the Journal writes, the two companies "enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. The retailer delivered a steady stream of diners, and the eateries provided rental profits and a reason for shoppers to stick around stores."

    But the Walmart locations have become less desirable as customers shifted to ordering online and opting for delivery or pickup, never entering the stores.  And Walmart - which long has depended on rental revenue from other retailers to nudge up its bottom line - "is working to find new models for its store restaurants, focusing more on meals to-go, delivery and joining with small regional chains that appeal to local shoppers."

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    •  MarketWatch reports that Costco "said late Wednesday that its March sales rose nearly 18% to $18.21 billion, from $15.49 billion in March 2020, also an uptick compared with February sales … The retailer said same-store sales rose 16%, including a 13.9% rise for U.S. comparable-store sales. Online sales jumped 57.7%, it said."

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    •  Conagra Brands has named Chaly Jo Moyen, most recently the Senior Vice President of Strategy, Decision Science and Insights for Coca-Cola North America, to be its new as Chief Strategy Officer and President, Foodservice & International.

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    Yesterday we took note of a Wall Street Journal report that Instacart and DoorDash both are planning to launch their own credit cards.  The move allows both companies to build on both the business boom that their delivery offerings have experienced during the pandemic, and the relationships that they are directly developing with customers of their retail clients.

    I commented:

    So let me get this straight.  Retailers outsource their e-commerce functionality to Instacart, which is able to put them into that segment fairly quickly and easily, with a minimum of expense.  Retailers give Instacart a piece of the action, plus total access to all the customer data generated through e-commerce.  This allows Instacart to then solicit promotion dollars directly from manufacturers, and even weaponize retailers' own data to market against them if necessary.  Instacart also is able to open dark stores that will serve its markets without the benefit of a local retail partner (though it hasn't done so yet).  And now it will be able to market its own credit card and loyalty schemes directly to those retailers' shoppers, getting an even bigger piece of the action on transactions.

    I think that's a pretty fair assessment of the situation.  (Feel free to correct me if I am misunderstanding.)

    MNB reader Gregg London wanted to correct me:

    Kevin, I have a completely different view of Instacart, and Door Dash, and goPuff.

    I don't see these Firms as the "evil empire" the way most E-Commerce Providers and Investment Firms and Financial Reporters do.

    Instacart's growth, and expected growth with their upcoming IPO, was easy to see, years ago.

    In Retailers' quest to add Grocery Delivery some time ago (Instacart started in 2012), it was obvious that "information" would have to be shared - Customer Information (ie Demographics) and Item Information (ie Sales History, Analytics, and Trending).

    The fact that Instacart chose to develop, manage, and work with this Data, to their betterment, is - frankly - something that should be applauded. Right?

    After all, if the Retailers were concerned, why didn't they choose to replace Instacart?

    Why didn't they choose to maintain this level of Data for themselves?

    Why didn't IRI or Nielsen (or MSA or NPD) explore this opportunity?

    Yes, Instacart, and to a lesser extent, Door Dash, and potentially goPuff, can become their own Grocery Store(s), and they can do so quickly.

    But will they?

    Time will tell.

    At the end of the day, the question that has to be asked is - are Customers happy with Instacart? If they are, and if their Delivery Service increases Retailer Sales, Manufacturer Sales, etc., is there really a problem?

    After all, any percentage of something is better than one hundred percent of nothing.

    Would it surprise you to know that Customers of some of the larger E-Commerce Providers, actually REQUEST Instacart for Delivery?

    So that you know, I supplied the initial Item Data to Instacart, and I supplement the Data for both Door Dash and goPuff.

    That being the case, I like these Firms. They saw a need, and they sought to fill it. And they have done quite well.

    Even after losing Whole Foods as a Client (when Amazon acquired them several years ago), Instacart has continued to grow.

    How many Businesses can say that...can lose a Marquis Client, and not lose a beat?

    Did you know that Instacart is the 3PL Wing for Private Label Products from Kroger, Albertsons, and Ahold Delhaize?

    I have said this many times, and will continue to do so - I find it a bit disingenuous to complain about Instacart now, when so many Retailers gladly turned over Delivery to them.

    I agree with you that this was easy to see years ago.

    Nothing disingenuous about my attitude - I've been warning about this for years. (I can be accused of a lot of things, but when it comes to the Instacart story, disingenuity isn't one of them.)

    And as much as you admire these companies, I continue to believe (and you actually confirm this with some of your statements) that companies like Instacart are disintermediating retailers from their shoppers.  The credit card play only heightens the danger, as too many retailers give up what should be a proprietary advantage.

    Indeed, when their customers have become Instacart customers, some of these retailers may actually have one hundred percent of nothing.

    I hope when you worked for them, you got stock.

    MNB reader Joe McMenamin commented on my criticisms:

    I had to send you some props for your comments here.  Perfection!

    MNB reader Gary Breissinger wrote:

    You are spot on in your assessment of the situation.

    Once again many retailers utterly failed to recognize or misread a fundamental change in shopper behavior. This failure put them at a significant competitive disadvantage.

    Sadly, they have compounded their predicament by electing to use third party providers to bridge the competitive gap.

    Predictably, these “partners” are now building strong relationships with shoppers...and positioning themselves to ultimately disinter-mediate retailers from an important and profitable segment of their current customer base.

    Once again, short term executional expediency results in long term, strategic disadvantage.


    Commenting yesterday on how just 55 percent of employees at Amazon's Alabama warehouse cast votes in the union certification election, I wrote:

    It seems likely to me that however the initial vote count turns out, there will be legal challenges that will prolong the suspense.

    But I must admit that I cannot quite get over the idea that only 55 percent of the workers at the warehouse voted, and that the union thought this way a high turnout.

    Really?  Is it possible that 45 percent of workers don't even have a freakin' opinion? 

    What is seems to suggest is however the vote goes, it potentially can be won by a side that gets just 28 percent of the total workforce to vote its way.

    One MNB reader responded:

    It seems a lot more logical to infer that the 44% who didn't bother to vote should be lumped-together with the no-union voters.  In this case, silence connotes dissent.

    Disagree.  By that logic, every vote not cast in any election would be seen as in favor of the incumbent.  Though there might be some folks who would think that is a good idea.

    From another reader:

    Kevin- I’ve been involved in labor disputes in the past. My thought is that maybe the 45% that didn’t vote either didn’t want to get involved, or were fearful they would be fired for voting. Though legally you cannot be fired for voting, if you are a rabble-rouser, there are ways to let go of certain people for other reasons. Also, it’s so messy and there is so much tension. It may be that those people care, but just care about their job security more.

    Another reader chimed in:

    Kevin, the 2020 Presidential election was considered record turnout and roughly 66.1% of registered voters submitted ballots.  We get a new POTUS based on 33% of registered voters (and that’s on the high end) in most elections.  The Amazon Union vote is not unprecedented.

    Not unprecedented, but certainly lamentable.  In every election, I think every person qualified to vote ought to be able to vote, and should.  I like the Keith Ellison quote:  "Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender."


    Regarding Walmart's financial services and fintech ambitions, I wrote yesterday:

    Not big on predictions - I leave that to self-styled "futurists," and I just consider myself to be a pundit and a reasonably good guesser - but I'll make one here:  This is just the beginning of Walmart shaking up the banking world.

    It'll do so in two ways.

    First by undercutting legacy financial services on prices and offering people more for their money.

    And second, by going after the roughly five percent of US households that are unbanked … Walmart will make banking services accessible, transparent and desirable.

    One MNB reader thought I should stay out of the predictions business:

    Honestly, Walmart could mess up a one car funeral. 

    They may offer cheaper rates and more for your money on the surface. 

    However, look at the poor quality of their private label food offerings compared to retailers like H-E-B and Wegman’s and consider if trusting them with your investments is rational.


    We had some discussion here yesterday about the use of a "Suicide Ain't Painless" headline;  it was being used as a business metaphor, but the question was if it is too painful a word for some people, and therefore we should avoid it.

    MNB reader Jesse Sowell wrote:

    I, too, was put off by the headline. I wasn't offended by it, but it occurred to me that readers whose lives have been touched by the tragedy of suicide might be hurt. So I have sympathy for the reader who commented to that effect.

    I'm actually far more concerned with the counter-comment you printed today. Being sensitive to the feelings of others is not a lack of being "adult", or promoting a "victim" mentality. I'd say it's quite a good thing. What I find to be wrong is attacking people who show sensitivity to others, especially when using religion to justify the attack. That's not how any God worth emulating teaches us to behave.

    I hope that I was sensitive in my response yesterday;  I agree with you that it is wrong to attack folks who express their feelings about such things, and I hope MNB readers know that I'm open to criticisms.

    I've thought about it some, and I do think that if my life had been touched by a loved one's suicide, I probably would look for another term or phrase.  If that's the case, then it ought to be enough to avoid it in the future.

    What can I say.  I'm a work in progress.


    And finally, yesterday we took note of the FMI—The Food Industry Association's 2021 Power of Produce report, which "finds produce department sales reached $69.6 billion in 2020 - an 11.4% increase … shoppers are purchasing more produce than pre-COVID-19 pandemic with shoppers buying more fresh fruit (+8.9%) and more vegetables (+14.2%)."

    MNB reader Dave Parker wrote:

    It’s heartening for those of us who have campaigned for fruits and veggies since the advent of “5-a Day for Better Health” in 1988 to see an 11% increase in supermarket produce sales reported for 2020. But let’s remember the 25.5% increase reported for March 2020 over March 2019 at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown at about this time last year. All that product came into the supermarkets from foodservice channels. If we still see the increased level of supermarket produce sales after foodservice returns to pre-COVID levels, then we may be able to celebrate a real change in consumption habits. “More Matters!”

    Published on: April 9, 2021

    My only caution about The Father, the extraordinary new film starring Anthony Hopkins and written and directed by Florian Zeller, based on his play, is that if you have are dealing with a loved one struggling with dementia, its stark depiction of a man whose memories have been ravaged by the disease may simply be too painful to watch.

    For me, it has been several years since my dad was alive, though i remember his struggles with dementia vividly.  Perhaps because I recall my dad's condition so vividly, I found The Father to be revelatory - Hopkins is amazing as his character strains to understand past and present, and the film does a remarkable job of making us feel his confusion and how unmoored from reality he is.  The supporting cast - Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, and Mark Gatiss - is first rate, shading their constantly roles in a way that keeps Hopkins- and us - off-balance.

    The Father is as powerful a depiction I can imagine of the human cost of dementia;  it makes us not just understand elements of the disease, but to feel it emotionally.  But again, a warning - it simply may be too painful for some to watch.


    I finally caught up with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the film adaptation of the 1982 August Wilson play that is part of his 10-play cycle depicting various parts of the African-American experience.  The film, co-produced by Denzel Washington, is a fictionalized depiction of a 1920s recording session of a real-life blues singer, Ma Rainey, and her band.

    Played with raw gusto by Viola Davis, Ma Rainey is willful, proud, defiant, and angry - she is painfully aware that her race both defines and limits her art.  The fact that the recording session is being run by two white men - who manage to both cater and condescend to her at the same time - infuriates her, and the rage inhabits every line reading and every lyric.  The late Chadwick Boseman, in his final film role, plays Levee Green, a trumpeter with a high opinion of his own talent and potential;  but, because he also is Black, it remains to be seen whether his self-regard is inflated or realistic.

    Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a terrific film - written by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson - that is yet another piece of 2020 filmmaking that helps to illuminate elements of the Black experience.  Along with One Night in Miami and Judas and the Black Messiah, it is an example of film as art form.  Great work by all.


    The recent passing of Larry McMurtry prompted me to find the 1989 TV adaptation of his "Lonesome Dove" online, and I'm happy to tell you that it is good old-fashioned entertainment.  Its eight hours' playing time unfolds at a leisurely pace that would be almost impossible to replicate today - picturesque Western vistas and small but character-illuminating subplots give the actors time to breathe and imbue their iconic characters with a dusty, leathery sense of time and place.

    It actually is extraordinary how many of the actors - Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Chris Cooper and Diane Lane (so young in "Lonesome Dove" that I didn't realize it was her) - are still with us;  of the leads, only Robert Urich has passed away (he died in 2002).

    It takes a bit of a time commitment to watch "Lonesome Dove," but if you're in the mood for something elegiac, I recommend it.


    Finally … several years ago, a TV series based on the film Three Days of the Condor and its source material, the novel "Six Days Of The Condor," was released on a streaming network called Audience.  Don't kick yourself if you've never heard of it - neither had I.

    But now, the series - shorted to "Condor" - ids available on Epix, and I have to say it is pretty good - the times we live in call out for a good conspiracy thriller, and the adapted "Condor" serves up an healthy dose of paranoia leavened by a kind of precarious apprehension.  Max Irons takes the Robert Redford role, and he makes it his own, and a supporting cast of Brendan Fraser, William Hurt, Mia Sorvino and Bob Balaban certainly has me guessing about allegiances and duplicities.

    Check it out.  I think you'll be as engaged as I've been.


    The weather is warming, the patio furniture has been brought out, and so it must be time for rosé … which is why we found ourselves the other evening enjoying the 2019 Rosé del Borro - delicate and crisp and delicious.  Plus, it comes from Tuscany … which I find myself thinking about constantly since watching "Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy" on CNN.


    That's it for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.

    Sláinte!