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    Published on: January 7, 2022

    Even more optimism from KC … he cherry-picks from a list curated by in a story entitled, "99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2021."  There are some really hopeful nuggets in there, and the overall message seems to be a positive one - that despite the fact that there are days when it seems like the only way to get through is with a dose of Xanax or a large Tito's and soda, there is much to celebrate.

    Not to say that we're done.  Not by any means.  One of the things about the list is that virtually every achievement comes with the suggestion that there is much left to do.

    You can see the entire list here.

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    Content Guy's Note:   Back in 2013, I wrote a piece in this space that got a lot of positive response both because of the story it told of a remarkable individual and the broader message about how to live a life well and fully.  I've reposted it once or twice since then, and since tomorrow is the anniversary of the event described herein, I wanted to do so again … albeit with a couple of edits to make it up to date.

    I've been thinking about the notion of personal mortality lately.

    There is the old saying, "Nothing sharpens the mind like the sight of the hangman's noose," and I think that's probably a good thing. We all face the noose, whether natural or unnatural, at some time or another and in some way or another, and it is good to keep it in mind ... not because we want to become obsessed with death, but because it can make us think more about life.

    It is like the line from The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

    I'm thinking about it this morning because 35 years ago tomorrow, a friend of mine died. 

    His name was Vic Magnotta.

    I first met Vic at Iona Prep, where I was a student (in the loosest possible definition of that word) and he was taught both gym and communications. I wasn't all that great in gym, but I loved his communications class. He taught film and TV production, and I took to it like a duck to water. Vic had worked in the film and television business, following up a stint with the Special Forces in Vietnam with a brief career as a stuntman; he then turned to teaching, as he looked (I think) for some other level of fulfillment in his life.

    Vic was the closest thing I've ever had to a mentor. Despite some personal tragedies in his life, he was the most consistently cheerful and optimistic person I've ever met. He wouldn't accept second-best work from me, and after I graduated from Iona and went off to film school, we stayed in touch. He eventually returned to the film business, working as a stuntman, stunt coordinator, producer and second unit director. (If you've ever seen Taxi Driver, you've seen Vic - he plays one of the Secret Service agents in the film, taught Robert DeNiro everything he needed to know about being a veteran, and coordinated all of the stunts.) Among his other credits were Raging Bull, Fort Apache, The Bronx, and The World According to Garp (he played Garp's wrestling coach at the beginning of the film).

    Vic and I even tried to develop a couple of film and television projects together, which, even though none of them ever went into production, was enormously fun and satisfying. (He also, in addition to being the stunt coordinator on the film, was head of security for a film called Somebody Killed Her Husband, which was the first feature film for an actress named Farrah Fawcett after she left "Charlie's Angels." He hired me to work on the security detail for the film and for Farrah, thus providing me with a credit that works as a conversation starter even to this day.)

    Thirty-five years ago, Vic was doing what should have been a minor stunt in a forgettable movie called The Squeeze. (You have to pay the mortgage, y'know.) He was supposed to drive a car off a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, into the Hudson River.

    Vic used to say that stuntmen are the furthest thing in the world from daredevils, because they believe in meticulous planning for every possible eventuality. In this case, the car was carefully rigged. Vic was strapped in so that he'd be safe. The car frame was reinforced, and the windshield was set so that once the car was submerged, he'd be able to kick it out, unstrap himself and swim to the surface. There was a team of divers in the water, waiting for him, just in case.

    Except that, despite all the preparations, something happened when the car hit the water. The windshield immediately gave, slamming in against Vic, instantly breaking his neck and killing him.

    He was 43.

    Thirty-five years ago, I woke up to the all-news radio station and heard a report that "a stuntman has been killed doing a stunt by the Hudson River." Somehow, even though I did not know that Vic was working on the film or that he was doing a stunt that night, I knew it was him.

    A few days later, the funeral took place in a church that was packed to the rafters with people who knew Vic from all walks of his life. From the film business. From his time as a teacher. From when he'd considered the priesthood. There were former football players he'd coached. And there were people who'd worked with him in various charitable pursuits. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people just like me, who were better men because they'd known Vic, and because he'd challenged us to try new things, to embrace life no matter what curves it would throw at us.

    I suspect that more than a few people who were in the church that day, or who had known Vic during the four decades into which he packed an amazing amount of living, did what I did - in 1989, when my second son was born, we named him Brian Victor. It seemed like the least we could do.

    In the New York Times obituary, Vic was described as "the consummate movie stunt man. He drove cars off bridges, turned flips on horseback, rappelled down the sides of burning buildings and scrambled up 100-foot masts on tall ships. He was known as 'the Bear.'."

    To this day, on my dresser, there is a small stuffed bear that he owned, and that his mom gave me after he died. And on my office wall is the picture that you see, above.

    I have no idea whether Vic ever thought about the metaphorical hangman's noose, though I suspect that having served in Vietnam and then being in the business he was in, it had to cross his mind from time to time. But he certainly lived his life and conducted his business as if he knew it were there, lurking in the shadows, and that the time we are given is to be savored and exploited - in the best possible sense of that word - to the fullest.

    That's today's lesson, and today's Eye-Opener.

    To get busy living, like there is no tomorrow.

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    Digiday has a story about how H-E-B "is banking on Facebook’s live shopping feature to reach more shoppers, who are increasingly spending more time online due to the on-going pandemic …  the Facebook series features local chefs and allows viewers to purchase H-E-B products used during the tutorial, down to the very bowl that the chef is using. On average, the Facebook virtual life classes rack up hundreds of thousands of views. One video in particular, which focused on French cuisine, pulled in nearly 500,000 views."

    This series, the story says, creates "community engagement" that works "to build brand awareness and keep H-E-B top of mind."

    Meanwhile, Sprouts Farmers Market has announced a new weekly series of livestreams, available this month via Facebook, that it says is designed to allow consumers to convert their wellness-related New Year's resolutions into purchases that reflect those adjusted priorities.

    The livestreams are being hosted by author-chef Candice Kumai, and can be accessed - either live on Thursdays, or in recorded form - here.

    KC's View:

    This is what is called "contextual commerce" in some quarters, but for me, it is all about the age-old skill of storytelling, which is something that too few retailers work at.   I love stores where, when you walk in (and access their websites, and engage with any of their communications efforts) you get a sense of the company' narrative.  It isn't just aisles and packages and checkouts … there is a guiding intelligence involved that is looking to create a relationship, not just make a sale.

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    Axios reports this morning that today the US Supreme Court will hear arguments over two of the Biden administration's most controversial Covid-19 policies -  a rule set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) saying that companies with 100 or more employees must have vaccine-or-test procedures in place, and another saying that health care workers at facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds must be vaccinated.

    A ruling by the Supreme Court is seen as critical in setting the tone for the nation's response to the pandemic, which has gotten more complicated in recent weeks because of the Omicron variant, which while seeming to be less serious in nature also seems to be more infectious - fewer people are dying, but the stresses on the health care system remain enormous.

    Opponents of the federal rules say that they are an example of federal overreach and an abridgment of personal freedoms.  Proponents say that the rules are both legal and necessary in order to get the nation back to some level of normality.

    The New York Times writes that "the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld state vaccine mandates in a variety of settings against constitutional challenges. The cases before the court are different, as they primarily present the question of whether Congress has authorized the executive branch to institute the requirements.

    "The answer will mostly turn on the language of the relevant statutes and on whether the administration followed proper procedures in issuing the requirements."

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "technically, the justices - all of whom, according to a court spokeswoman, are fully vaccinated and have received booster shots - don’t have to issue a definitive decision on whether the administration’s vaccine rules are lawful. Instead, they are considering whether President Biden’s team can implement them now while more detailed litigation continues. The cases, however, will require the justices to assess whether the White House has credible claims that it stayed within legal boundaries as it has sought to use longstanding laws to implement aggressive rules in the name of public health."

    KC's View:

    It is funny.  I got an email yesterday from an MNB reader advising me about the Supreme Court hearing, saying, in part, that the OSHA rules are "being challenged by 47 US Senators, 120+ US Congressmen, dozens of states/state OSH Agencies, & countless business groups.  This ruling has far more potential to wreck the already fragile economy than supply chain if 25% of never-to-be vaccinated workers potentially leave the workforce.  Please provide fair and balanced reporting on this watershed SCOTUS ruling."

    Okay.  To be fair and balanced, isn't it important to point out that 53 US Senators then are not challenging the rules … that more US Congressmen are not challenging them than are … and that at least some companies - Starbucks comes to mind - actually are getting ahead of the federal rules with their own policies.  Hasn't the Business Roundtable been generally supportive of vaccine mandates?

    I've tended to be in favor of vaccine mandates, but I must admit that I've grown less sure that they make a lot of sense.  I still think that everybody who can get vaccinated ought to get vaccinated, and I still believe that people who talk about mandates being a threat to personal freedoms ought to focus more on a broader responsibilities we have to our families, friends, neighbors and communities;  with freedom comes obligation, I think.

    But … it has become increasingly clear that mandates only exacerbate political polarization.  They shouldn't, but they do.  And so, I just think that as many people as possible ought to get fully vaccinated, behave responsibly in terms of masking and physical distancing, and live their lives.  I think insurance companies ought not cover the medic al expenses of people who are not vaccinated, and that maybe we ought to get tough about what activities we allow unvaccinated people to engage in.  (Though, this of course, won't do much for the polarization problem.)

    I think it is interesting that a number of highly regarded scientists are arguing that we ought to move beyond a "beat the virus" mentality and shift into "live with the virus" mode.  But this approach, while it focuses on a long-term mindset that recognizes there will be new variants and more viruses with which to grapple, vaccine mandates may be critical to the fight.

    I have no idea what to do other than this.  If the Supreme Court strikes down the rules, I'll accept that.  If it upholds the rules, I hope opponents do the same thing.  And beyond that, I'm going to try to behave responsibly, and I'm going to live my damned life as best I can.

    That fair and balanced enough for you?

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    For ten bucks a month, Taco Bell said yesterday, its customers can purchase a new Taco Lover's Pass that will allow customers "to redeem one of seven iconic tacos a day for 30 consecutive days at participating U.S. locations."

    The pass can be acquired via the Taco Bell mobile app, which then  can be used to access the savings.

    The company said that "the national launch of the Taco Lover’s Pass follows its successful September 2021 test in Tucson, Arizona, where many fans took advantage of the taco a day for 30 days. Amongst the Taco Lover’s Pass purchasers, 20 percent were new to the Taco Bell Rewards Program, and an additional 20 percent renewed for a second time with the fan favorite Doritos® Locos Tacos Supreme being the most redeemed taco."

    CNBC notes that Taco Bell "has struggled to recover late-night and breakfast sales throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but it relaunched breakfast in August. The subscription program will likely encourage more frequent visits from customers, who might choose to order additional items with their subscription taco."

    KC's View:

    Once one is willing to accept the notion that what Taco Bell is selling are actually tacos - and yes, I know I'm being a bit of a snob here - then this looks like a potentially effective program.  Because, let's face it, nobody is going to eat just one … and the potential for creating a fast food habit is strong.  And that's what you want - to be thought of as the first, best option for whatever it is you are selling.

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    CNBC reports that "Walmart and FedEx plan to add thousands of electric delivery vans produced by General Motors to their massive vehicle fleets in the coming years, the companies announced Wednesday.

    "Walmart has signed a new agreement with the Detroit automaker to reserve 5,000 BrightDrop vans, while FedEx – BrightDrop’s first customer – is building on an initial order of 500 vehicles that GM began delivering last month.

    "FedEx on Wednesday said it has agreed to a deal for 2,000 more vehicles over the next several years. That order could potentially increase to 20,000 electric vans, according Richard Smith, FedEx regional president of the Americas."

    Terms of the deals were not disclosed.

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    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:  59,564,116 total cases … 855,843 deaths … and 42,089,198 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  301,121,144 total cases … 5,492,061 fatalities … and 257,728,090 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78.7 percent of the US population age five and older, and 74 percent of the total US population, have received at least one dose of vaccine, with 66.3 percent of the five-and-older population, and 62.4 percent of the total population, being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that just 35.3 percent of the total US population has received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  More than 30 trade associations - including the National Grocers Association and FMI-The Food Industry Association - have written to the Biden administration asking that it "accelerate efforts to ensure test kit and supply availability and recognize the essential role of the industries represented below, by taking steps that would prioritize testing availability and access to tests for our nation’s critical infrastructure. Doing so would prevent interruption to critical goods and services at a time when Americans need them the most and would help to protect those workers who remain on the front lines of the pandemic."

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    •  CBS News has a report from CES in Las Vegas in which it writes about food-tech startup Beyond Honeycomb, which it says "is developing a kitchen robot that learns to reproduce dishes cooked by world-class chefs. Using sensors that acquire the molecular data of a dish while cooking, the AI-driven robot spends the next 48 hours learning the skills necessary for creating that dish.

    "The food sensors allow the robot to digitize the texture and taste of the original dish and replicate it at the molecular level. Beyond Honeycomb says it aims to reshape commercial kitchens and create a digital platform that will allow chefs around the world to reproduce their dishes three times faster."

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week but remained at historically low levels, suggesting that the job market remains strong.

    US jobless claims rose by 7,000 last week to 207,000. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week gyrations, rose by nearly 4,800 to just below 205,000.

    "Despite the increases, the numbers show that weekly claims are below the 220,000 typical before the pandemic struck the US economy in March 2020."

    At the same time, the Wall Street Journal writes, "U.S. hiring slowed in December to 199,000 new jobs, though the U.S. added a record number of positions in 2021. The jobless rate declined to 3.9%, the Labor Department said.

    "Last month’s payroll gains left the U.S. economy with about 6.4 million more jobs than at the end of 2020—more than in any year on record—but the nation remains 3.6 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Three friends tapped family ties to the boards of public companies including Designer Brands Inc. and Albertsons Cos. to get tips that gained them at least $4 million in illicit trading profits, according to law-enforcement officials.

    "Two of the men - hedge-fund manager Kris Bortnovsky and fintech entrepreneur Ryan Shapiro  - were indicted Thursday in Boston and charged with securities fraud and conspiracy. The third trader, David Schottenstein, agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, according to court records.

    "Mr. Schottenstein, the founder of a sunglasses retailer, passed illicit tips to his friends that he got from a cousin who is a board member of Designer Brands, the parent company of the Designer Shoe Warehouse chain, according to prosecutors and regulators.

    "The cousin also knew about grocery retailer Albertsons’ 2018 plan to merge with Rite Aid Corp. because his father served on Albertsons’ board of directors, according to court filings. The cousin shared the undisclosed merger plan with Mr. Schottenstein, who prosecutors say traded on the information and shared the tip with his friends.

    "The traders purchased shares of Rite Aid, whose stock price rose after the deal became public in February 2018, and other securities that would pay off if the merger became public, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed a separate civil fraud lawsuit against the three men.

    "Court documents don’t name Mr. Schottenstein’s cousin, who wasn’t charged … Mr. Schottenstein will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, according to an agreement made Wednesday with the Boston U.S. attorney’s office. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years as well as a financial penalty of at least $250,000 and forfeiture of $634,000 in trading gains."

    •  FMI – The Food Industry Association yesterday endorsed a proposed rule from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would "address the hidden 'claw back' fees charged by drug middlemen that have caused pharmacies to shutter their doors and have cost patients more money at the pharmacy counter. 

    "These payments, known as direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, were designed to be applied at the point-of-sale to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries. However, a vast majority of DIR fees are 'clawed back' from pharmacies by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) long after a drug has been dispensed to the customer, and therefore, are rarely used as intended to reimburse or otherwise reduce the cost of a drug. According to the federal government, pharmacy DIR fees have grown by 91,500% between 2010 and 2019."

    FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said that "this proposed rule would generate savings and increase price transparency for pharmacies and their customers alike by halting predatory practices among PBMs.  These behemoths regularly impose fees on pharmacies long after the point of sale while charging patients more up front for their drugs."

    •  Macy's announced that it is closing six of its full-line department stores and one Bloomingdale's outlet store as it looks to "optimize and reposition our store fleet to more effectively support our omnichannel sales growth and expand market share."

    CNBC writes that "in mid-November, Macy’s announced it would be closing about 10 stores in January. The retailer had been on track to shut more locations, but it said it was reconsidering when to close the roughly 60 remaining open stores out of a batch of 125 closures the company targeted to go dark by 2023 … Last January, Macy’s had announced a list of dozens of department store locations to be closed as part of its three-year plan. But the pace of closures is slowing as the company operates a leaner portfolio of stores today. It has 516 full-line Macy’s department stores, according to its website."

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    Peter Bogdanovich, the obsessive film enthusiast and critic turned Hollywood director responsible for three modern classics -The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc, and Paper Moon - has passed away.  He was 82, and no cause of death was announced.

    KC's View:

    Bogdanovich never lived up to the early promise of those three films, though there are few directors who have gotten off to such a fast career start.  Later films and personal behavior reflected some questionable choices, though he always was around, making small movies, writing about the heyday of Hollywood filmmaking (he worshipped John Ford, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles), and acting occasionally (he played Lorraine Bracco's therapist on "The Sopranos.")

    But here's the deal.  Those three films are as good as movies get, and if you want to get an education about film, read his "Pieces of Time."  

    Published on: January 7, 2022

    Being The Ricardos, Aaron Sorkin's new film on Amazon Prime Video about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, works on many levels, including as a treatise on crisis management - the lessons reflect the old Colin Powell line about how "bad news isn't like wine - it doesn't improve with age."

    Rather than writing and directing a conventional biopic, Sorkin has telescoped three seminal events in the lives of Ball and Arnaz into a single week - it isn't historically accurate, but works for purposes of drama.  The week is one in which an episode of "I Love Lucy" is being written, staged and filmed for later airing, but the three crises threaten the stability of what was then the most popular television show in America.

    Crisis 1:  Lucy is accused of being a communist.  It being 1953, and the country being in thrall to a misanthropic demagogue named Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin), this isn't a good thing.  The problem is that Lucy actually did register as a Communist once, but it was a tribute to her grandfather (who was a Communist), not a statement of political beliefs.  Still, if the label sticks, she could lose her show and career.

    Crisis 2:  Desi has been photographed with another woman, and that picture has shown up in the media.  The problem is that Lucy suspects that Desi - who was her husband, business partner, and acting partner on "I Love Lucy" - indeed is being unfaithful, though this picture doesn't prove anything.  She knows it is a fake, but worries that there a larger issue with their marriage.

    Crisis 3:  Lucy is pregnant.  In 1953, people  weren't allowed to be pregnant on television.  Even if they were married.  (Couples, after all, were shown as sleeping in separate beds.). The network and advertisers are trying to figure out ways to hide the pregnancy (though it won't be a problem if the communist label means the program gets canceled).

    I'm not really worried about spoilers here - anyone even lightly familiar with Lucille Ball and "I Love Lucy" knows, at least in general outline, how things turned out.

    The lesson of Being The Ricardos is about confronting crises head on, at least to the degree possible.  Arnaz (who was a visionary when it came to television production)  simply tells the network that Lucy Ricardo is going to be pregnant on the show, and he has enough muscle (and political acumen) to make it work.  And he also simply informs the live audience about the truth behind Lucy's politics, and trusts that transparency will carry the day.

    The charges of infidelity are a little trickier, of course - the picture may be a fake, but Arnaz was in fact a serial womanizer and alcoholic.  But that's more a marital issue than one of bad publicity.

    Sorkin's talent is for creating tension even in situations where we know the ending.  His particular brand of walking-and-talking exposition - so vivid in The American President, "The West Wing," "The Newsroom," and the new Broadway version of "To Kill A Mockingbird" - is perfect for a project like this in which we expect the repartee to be clever and the wits to be sharp.

    He's also good at casting and eliciting strong performances.  Nicole Kidman, I think, is excellent as Ball - though it is important to remember that for the most part, she is playing Lucille Ball, not Lucy Ricardo.  (I think Sorkin's decision to show her comic instincts through visual "thought balloons" is ingenious - you can see her working out the geography of physical comedy.)  Javier Bardem, while he doesn't look anything like Arnaz, seems to capture both his business savvy and wounded masculinity.  And among the supporting cast, I really liked the always great JK Simmons as William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy."

    I really liked Being The Ricardos as a behind-the-scenes look not just at a Hollywood classic and the people who made it, but also at the business strategizing that, as it ends up, not only kept it on the air but made it timeless.

    I really wanted to like Don't Look Up, the new film on Netflix from director Adam McKay, whose most recent work was the impressive The Big Short and Vice;  those films reflecting a veering into more serious territory from this previous work on Anchorman and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

    And Don't Look Up had a promising premise - a comet is going to crash into Earth in six months, and the two scientists who detected it (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) can;'t get anyone to pay attention (including the president, played by Meryl Streep).

    Now, I am perfectly willing to accept the idea that if, in fact, scientists said they had detected a comet on a path to collide with Earth, and that it would be a "planet killer," roughly a third of the population would distrust the science, say it was some sort of media/liberal conspiracy, and deny the verified scientific findings.  But for me, at least, Don't Look Up is way too close in tone to Anchorman when it should've been more like The Big Short.  

    Some of this is a political miscalculation on McKay's part - he's using the comet as an allegory for climate change - and I just don't think it works.  And the performances, to my eyes, at least, seem overwrought - Streep, and Jonah Hill as her son/chief of staff, are just awful.

    This could be a persistent Netflix issue - its films tend to bring together big talents but sometimes (as in the case of movies like Red Notice, Spenser: Confidential) need someone really smart to take a couple more passes at the scripts.

    To be fair, Don't Look Up seems to have been a big hit for Netflix.  But it mostly left me not wanting to look at all.

    I also wanted to review Spider-Man: No Way Home this week … but thought I'd do it a little differently…

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

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.