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    Published on: October 15, 2021

    Three stories about change.  One has to do with cars that have manual transmissions.  One has to do with the tech habits of young people.  And the third has to do with an Aston Martin that runs on wine and cheese.  KC finds the common denominator.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    The Washington Post this morning reports that "a bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a bill that they say would prevent tech platforms from using their power to disadvantage smaller rivals, signaling growing momentum in Congress to rein in Silicon Valley giants.

    "Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that they will introduce legislation early next week making it illegal for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google to engage in “self-preferencing,“ the tech giants’ practice of giving their own products and services a boost over those of rivals on their platforms.

    "The bill would effectively outlaw an array of behaviors that lawmakers describe as anticompetitive, like Amazon sucking up data from sellers on its platform to copy the products in-house or Google prioritizing its own services over rivals’ in search results."

    Meanwhile, Axios reports that the Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), chairman of the House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee, has introduced a new bill that would, under certain circumstances, remove protections - commonly referred to as Section 230 provisions - currently available to online platforms.  Those protections prevent platforms from being sued for content posted by users, but the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act would remove those protections if "they knowingly or recklessly use a personalized recommendation algorithm," or "the algorithm recommends content that materially contributes to physical or severe emotional injury."

    The story notes that "the bill is the latest attempt to tweak tech's shield after mounting frustrations from both Democrats and Republicans about Facebook, YouTube and Twitter's content moderation practices."

    KC's View:

    It remains to be seen how much this legislation actually gets passed, since the bills' introduction almost certainly will be greeted by an influx of dollars and lobbyists dedicated to preventing them from become law.

    I like the basics of the House bill, because I think that Section 230 needs repeal or revision, but I still have questions about the Senate bill.

    Self-preferencing may be more effective and obvious online, but that's exactly what happens in many retail stores, where private label products can be given preferential treatment compared to - and sometimes even to the exclusion of - national brands.  These same retailers often make decisions about what own-label products to offer based on sales numbers generated by brands.

    I think the intentions may be good, but the Senate efforts may reflect a lack of understanding about how retail works.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) said yesterday that it signed a deal with delivery solutions provider DoorDash to provide services to its independent retail customers.

    According to the announcement, "UNFI’s arrangement with DoorDash will give local grocers the opportunity to leverage the DoorDash platform to build an ecommerce and delivery offering that meets the needs of their customer base while enabling UNFI to expand its end-to-end and last-mile-delivery services to its suite of eCommerce solutions for retailers of all sizes. With grocery delivery through DoorDash, consumers can order their groceries and essentials on DoorDash’s marketplace app and website with no time slot, queues, or minimum order size required."

    “Our relationship with DoorDash will make it easier for independent retailers to offer online grocery ordering and delivery. We know demand for this functionality continues to be very strong, and to remain competitive retailers need solutions that offer simple installation and avoid extra labor costs,” says Matt Whitney, UNFI’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer. “As the leading last-mile logistics company, DoorDash already has the extensive logistics network in place for grocers to leverage.”

    KC's View:

    This is an area in which independents need help, so this is a good idea … as long as they're not signing a deal with the devil by making available to DoorDash their sales and customer data.  That could be a fatal mistake.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    The New York Times has a story about how, while it seems logical that "plant-based food companies like the publicly traded Beyond Meat and its privately held competitor, Impossible Foods, would be better for the environment than meat processors like JBS," some environmental advocates are saying that, in the words of George and Ira Gershwin, it ain't necessarily so.

    From the Times piece:

    "The problem, critics say, is that neither Beyond Meat nor Impossible Foods discloses the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from its operations, supply chains or consumer waste. They also do not disclose the effects of their operations on forests or how much water they use.

    "But on its website Beyond Meat claims that consumers who switch from animal to plant-based protein can 'positively affect the planet, the environment, the climate and even ourselves.'  Impossible Foods says that switching to plant-based meats 'can be better than getting solar panels, driving an electric car or avoiding plastic straws' when it comes to reducing your environmental footprint."

    KC's View:

    The Times notes that "in response to growing investor concerns about the risks of climate change on corporations, the Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing a rule that would force companies to report their emissions, although it remains unclear whether the agency would also have companies account for emissions that came from supply chains and consumer waste."

    The SEC should, because transparency about claims - especially these kinds of claims - ought to be a minimum requirement for companies.  Period.  End of story.

    Published on: October 15, 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…

    •  Here are the US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  45,639,012 total cases … 741,893 deaths … and 35,205,258 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  240,507,418 total cases … 4,899,770 fatalities … and 217,796,994 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 76.8 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 66.4 percent being fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 12.9 percent of the population age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  The Boston Globe reports that "an advisory panel to the US Food and Drug Administration voted Thursday to recommend Moderna’s booster shot for people 65 and older, adults at high risk of severe COVID-19, and adults who have increased COVID risk at their workplace, at least six months after their second dose.

    "The recommendation mirrors the criteria and categories used in the authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots last month, and it puts Moderna one step closer to receiving clearance for its booster from the FDA. Yet some questions remain.

    "After the scientific panel’s recommendation, the FDA is expected to announce its decision on the Moderna booster shot by early next week. The FDA isn’t required to follow its panel’s recommendation, but typically does.

    "If the FDA follows the panel’s advice, another advisory panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scheduled for later next week, will offer more specifics on who should get a Moderna booster. The CDC will have the final word on that."

    •  CNBC reports that when Walgreens Boots Alliance reported higher-than-expected Q4 earnings yesterday, it was at least in part due to "a surge in demand for Covid-19 vaccines amid a growing number of employer mandates … During the fourth quarter, Walgreens administered 13.5 million vaccines — nearly double the approximately 7 million it had expected in the three-month period. It is poised for another wave of vaccinations as people get booster doses and younger children are expected to soon qualify for the shots."

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    •  GeekWire reports that Amazon plans two new Amazon Fresh grocery stores for the Seattle area, one currently under construction in North Seattle  and one planned for Federal Way, south of the city.

    The story notes that Amazon "has 18 Fresh stores open to date, including two relatively new locations in the Seattle region. A store opened in the Factoria area of Bellevue, Wash., in June and another opened in Seattle’s Central District in August."

    •  Food & Wine reports that two New York City plaintiffs have filed suit against Chick-fil-A, charging that "beginning in early 2020, despite advertising flat delivery fees on orders, the chicken chain also had higher menu prices for delivery, which the plaintiffs claim is 'deceptive and untruthful' … The lawsuit concludes that this 'secret' additional markup on delivery items is essentially a 'hidden delivery fee' that 'deceives consumers into making online food purchases they otherwise would not make' since Chick-fil-A 'misrepresent[s] the actual costs of the delivery service'."

    Chick-fil-A has not yet commented on the suit, which is seeking financial compensation as well as an order for Chick-fil-A to end the practice.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    •  The Associated Press reports that "the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since the pandemic began, a sign the job market is still improving even as hiring has slowed in the past two months.

    "Unemployment claims dropped 36,000 to 293,000 last week, the second straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the smallest number of people to apply for benefits since the week of March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified, and the first time claims have dipped below 300,000. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily since last spring as many businesses, struggling to fill jobs, have held onto their workers."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "nearly 40% of U.S. households said they faced serious financial difficulties in recent months of the Covid-19 pandemic, citing problems such as paying utility bills or credit card debt, according to a recent poll. About one-fifth have depleted all of their savings. 

    "U.S. households are struggling in many ways over a year into the coronavirus pandemic, according to the poll conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio.

    "Nearly 60% of households earning less than $50,000 a year reported facing serious financial challenges in recent months. Of those, 30% lost all of their savings, according to the poll."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Johnson & Johnson has "placed into bankruptcy its liabilities for tens of thousands of claims linking talc-based products to cancer, hoping to drive a settlement of personal-injury claims that are expected to grow for decades to come.

    "The healthcare company said Thursday that a corporate affiliate holding talc-related liabilities had filed for chapter 11 protection 'to resolve all claims related to cosmetic talc in a manner that is equitable to all parties, including any current and future claimants.'

    "The chapter 11 filing makes J&J the latest company to turn to chapter 11 as a mechanism to settle large numbers of lawsuits over defective products or other harms."

    •  USA Today reports that "a study released recently by SeeLevel HX, a customer experience measurement company, found wait times for receiving a drive-thru order increased by more than 25 seconds in 2021.

    "The study classifies the total time customers wait for an order from the moment they enter the drive-thru to the moment they get their order. The study found drive-thru customers waited an average of six minutes, 22 seconds. Last year, it was five minutes, 57 seconds."

    According to the piece, "The study found that of the 10 big fast food brands, Chick-fil-A ranked first in order accuracy this year, followed by Taco Bell and a three-way tie between Arby's, Burger King and Carl's Jr.

    "The increase in drive-thru times and inaccurate order comes as the U.S. faces a significant labor shortage sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic."

    •  CNBC reports that "McDonald’s will test the plant-based McPlant burger created as part of its partnership with Beyond Meat in eight U.S. restaurants next month … Starting Nov. 3, McDonald’s customers in Irving, Texas; Carrollton, Texas; Cedar Falls, Iowa; Jennings, Louisiana; Lake Charles, Louisiana; El Segundo, California; and Manhattan Beach, California, can order the McPlant for a limited time."

    The story points out that "the trial is the latest step in McDonald’s cautious march to add plant-based meat to its menu. The company has taken its time to learn more about the longevity of meat substitutes and consumer demand, even as other fast-food chains raced to add the trendy item to their menus."

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    •  Publix Super Markets announced three promotions:  Kyle Davis, Director of Warehousing, will be promoted to Vice President of Distribution … Chris Haake, Business Development Director of Grocery Retail Support, will be promoted to Vice President of Replenishment and Purchasing Support …. and Merriann Metz, Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, will be promoted to Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    The other day we took note of a Wall Street Journal report that the US Preventive Services Task Force, which is described as a body that "reviews evidence and offers guidance for preventative healthcare services," has drafted a recommendation that "people in their 60s or older shouldn’t take aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke because risks likely cancel out the potential benefits … The draft recommendation will be open to comment for the next month or so before the task force releases a final recommendation."  The recommendation runs counter to advice that has been given by doctors for decades, that a low-dose aspirin taken once a day can lower health risks.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I’ve taken a low dose aspirin for 10 or 11 years now.  My maternal grandfather suffered a major stroke about a month after retiring.  Had to learn to walk and talk all over again.  He was never right after and passed away after a few years and another stroke. 

    Was enough to convince me around the age of 50 to take some precautions.

    Personally, I am going to stay the course.  Both options are bad, stroke or stomach bleeding but for me the fear of a stroke, much worse.  

    On the subject of Jeff Bezos' space aspirations, MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

    While it’s none of my business what Bezos wants to explore I would submit that Amazon continues to miss the greatest branding opportunity in decades and possibly ever.

    With his many billions he could purchase giant swaths of the Amazon rain forest and create a huge national park/preserve.

    Jobs could be offered to locals to run it instead of the continued deforestation.  They could call it Amazon International Park, and brand it as “saving the lungs of the planet for all time”.

    Now THAT would be something far more beneficial for humanity than private rocket ships.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    •  In the fifth and deciding game of the National League Divisional Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-1, and now will move on to play the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series.

    •  In Thursday Night Football, ther Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 28-22.

    KC's View:

    I'm pleased to see the Dodgers advancing, but let's not pretend that the call that ended the game and series last night, saying that Wilmer Flores swung at a Max Scherzer pitch when he clearly held up, was a good one.  It wasn't, and it was a terrible way to end a matchup for the ages.  (Though, to be honest, I'm just glad the game didn't go into extra innings - I'm exhausted from these late-night games.)

    I don't understand why such a call is not reviewable, especially at that point in a playoff game.  It should be.

    Published on: October 15, 2021

    The actor-writer-director-producer-TV host Stanley Tucci is out with a memoir, "Taste: My Life Through Food," that is a breezy, conversational tour through his life as a series of meals.  Actually, it is more than that - Tucci has had a diverse career and interesting life, living at various times in places ranging from Florence to London and hanging out with people like Ryan Reynolds and Meryl Streep - but it is the food that gives the book and his experiences an organizing structure.

    Recounting his boyhood in a Westchester County suburb of New York City, Tucci writes of the extraordinary meals that his mother would concoct, even on Fridays when the household budget was running thin and "simple, inexpensive fare" would be on the menu,  (His father was a teacher.). The solution would be something like pasta con agile e olio (pasta with garlic and olive oil), which he remembers as being delicious.  I found this to be a little disconcerting because I also was raised in Westchester County, my father also was a teacher, and when our household budget got thin we ate cereal for dinner.

    This wasn't the only time I felt that way while reading the book.  He writes of his mother's risotto Milanese and fresh crab;  I remember my mother making way too much tuna noodle casserole and opening way too many cans of beets. (Even now, decades later, I still cannot stomach beets of any kind.)

    But I don't hold this against Tucci.  Far from it.  His culinary education, aided by a year during which his family relocated to Italy and advanced by a career that has taken him around the world and to some amazing dinner tables and restaurants, is highly entertaining, and delivered with a kind of arch sophistication that would not be out of place in a Tom Stoppard play.  At every moment, he seems like the kind of person you'd like to have a meal with, in part because the food and drinks would be great,  and in part because the conversation would be be conducted  by someone who is a born and practiced raconteur.

    While some memoirists would layer on the tragedies from the beginning,Tucci chooses to mostly deal with his at the end of the book.  His first wife, Kate, died from cancer.  In recent years, he dealt with his own cancer of the salivary gland, which threatened his ability to eat and speak normally.  But even these events are portrayed with an understanding of how lucky he is, having remarried (to a woman who seems to like food as much or more than he does) and started a young family.  And, he can eat and taste food again.

    All in all, "Taste" is a delight - funny and insightful, with a dollop of recipes, all offered by a born storyteller.  And it made me hungry.  Constantly.

    Longtime readers of MNB won't be surprised by this.  I've reviewed a number of Tucci's projects over the years - his Big Night is a favorite movie of mine, and one of the best films ever made about food.  And I was a big fan of his CNN documentary series,, "Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy."  To be honest, I've always felt a kind of rooting interest in his career.

    I actually met Tucci a couple of times back in the late nineties, when he expressed an interest in directing or producing a screenplay I had written.  There were a couple of days when his producing partner at the time, Beth Alexander, and I did a series of meetings in Hollywood to pitch it to a number of studios.  (Alas, it did not sell.  Oh, well.  It was still a great experience.). And Tucci and I went to the same acting school, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, though I'm older than he is and was there a number of years earlier (and, unlike him, only lasted a year).

    But none of that matters in terms of the pleasure I think you'll get from "Taste."  Go get it.  Make yourself a martini or pour a glass of wine.  And enjoy.

    I have a terrific wine to recommend to you this week - the 2018 Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, which comes from Monterey, California, and is wonderfully intense.  I'm reliably told that most people like it with roasted chicken, salmon or some sort of game, but we had it with homemade pizza, and it was delicious.

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

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.