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    Published on: January 16, 2020

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy … coming to you quite literally from the road this week. It has been a busy week, and so I took advantage of the rare quiet moment to record this video.

    Back before the Christmas holidays, I had a chance to go see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and review it here; I wasn't wild about it. While there were some good moments, I thought it ultimately was an unsatisfying conclusion to three trilogies about the Skywalker clan.

    After spending some time thinking about the movie, I was able to figure out why I like the Star Trek movies and TV shows more than I like most of the Star Wars sagas. At their best, the Star Trek stories are about people, and the Star Wars films are about myths … and I prefer stories about people. I don't think there is a right or wrong, just personal preference. And I like Star Trek, which is why I am on pins and needles about "Star Trek: Picard." which premieres next Thursday. I can't wait.

    That said, I must admit to having seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker twice. Once on its opening night, by myself, and then again about a week ago, when I went with Mrs. Content Guy, who wanted to see it.

    I'm glad I did, because I learned an important lesson from the second experience.

    When the movie was over, Mrs. Content Guy - fully aware of my nitpicking tendencies and dissatisfaction with the film - said she liked it, that as a causal fan, it did everything she could ask in wrapping up an extended nine-film story. She wasn't arguing with me and my perceptions, just letting me know that there was a different way to look at the movie. For the more casual fan, it worked.

    And then, as we were leaving the theater, there was a man and a little kid walking nearby, and I heard the kid say, "But Dad, I don't understand. What happened to Jar Jar?"

    Now, for the uninitiated, Jar Jar Binks was introduced in the second trilogy of films, which was about events that took place before the first trilogy of films. He was a CGI-created Gungan who was widely hated by fans and must-criticized for characteristics that veered into racial caricature. Pretty much nobody liked Jar Jar.

    But for this little kid, Jar Jar was an important character, and she wanted to know what happened to him, and why he wasn't part of this movie.

    Both Mrs. Content Guy and this little kid demonstrated an important point that also is a business lesson - that you can't always assume that everybody sees things the same way. One has to allow for the possibility that what we don't like, other people will love, and what we love may not be appreciated by other people. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have opinions or standards or make decisions based on our own taste. But come to the decision-making process with a little humility, and understanding that even after decisions are made, we may have to do a little listening.

    That's what is on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Between now the its premiere date in April, No Time To Die, the 25th movie in the James Bond franchise, as well as the fifth - and last - time the British spy will be played by Daniel Craig, we're all going to see a lot of promotion and advertising related to both the film and its various marketing partners.

    One of those is Heineken beer, which has been associated with the Bond films since Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, but to be honest, the commercials haven't been that great. The new one, however, is really good … probably because Craig seems all in, as opposed to be doing it out of a sense of duty. There's a sense of self-deprecation and a sense of humor, and that almost always works.

    You can see it at left.

    I have no idea how much beer this will sell, but it is a charming entry in the series that whets the appetite for when James Bond returns.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    CNN reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have announced the end to a months-long E. coli outbreak that infected a total of 167 people in 27 states," including 85 hospitalizations and 15 cases of kidney failure linked to the outbreak.

    The CDC says that people can now eat with confidence romaine lettuce from Salinas, California, which had been identified as the source of the contamination, while the FDA says that its investigation into the causes of the outbreak are continuing.
    KC's View:
    Retailers probably should not toss out whatever signs they've been using to inform shoppers about E. coli contamination. History suggests that this is a temporary respite, and that it won't be too long before we're all again told not to eat romaine lettuce.

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    The BBC reports that Walmart-owned Asda Group has launched a new sustainability initiative, with plans to open a new "sustainability store" in May that will test new ways to reduce the company's environmental impact, especially by cutting down on plastic packaging.

    According to the story, "The store will house a 'naked florist' selling plastic-free bouquets, and will also sell loose produce such as cucumbers or mushrooms without any plastic packaging. In addition, the branch will have a 'reverse vending machine' for recycling plastic bottles."

    The BBC says that each test will last a minimum of three months so that Asda can evaluate success and failure.

    The company "recently committed to reducing plastic by 15% by February next year, as well as making all of its own brand packaging fully recyclable by 2025," the story notes.
    KC's View:
    This stuff may cost money up front, and I'm not entirely sure that three months is enough time to evaluate some initiatives. But in the end, these are not so much expenses as investments, and will end up being good for companies in the long run.

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    The Los Angeles Times has a story about salad-centric fast food chain Sweetgreen's efforts to deal with the issue of waste:

    "Since 2010, in-store signs have assured diners 'Nothing from inside Sweetgreen goes to the landfill.' But for most of the time since, that hasn’t been entirely true. In many of the company’s biggest markets, municipal composting was and is nonexistent. Even where it was available, composters often refused to handle bioplastics, forcing the company to come up with its own solutions, of sometimes dubious efficacy."

    In addition, Sweetgreen has found that not everyone is being completely honest about their claims - there are plenty of red flags out there:

    "Its executives acknowledge how hard it can be to live up to its ideals, particularly when it comes to garbage. The fragmented nature of waste management systems, the dearth of facilities that process bioplastics and the many tradeoffs around price and sustainability have made it difficult at times for Sweetgreen to match its rhetoric, or even know when it was failing to."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    Reuters reports that Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos has committed $1 billion to help small businesses in India online, "reaching out to some of his fiercest critics in a goodwill visit that saw him donning traditional Indian attire and fly a kite with children … Amazon said it will setup digital centers in 100 Indian cities and villages to help businesses get online to sell their goods and will offer support in marketing and logistics.

    "The investment of $1 billion will help bring more than 10 million Indian businesses online and enable exports of India-made goods worth $10 billion by 2025, it added."

    Both Amazon and Walmart have faced intense criticism in India, with allegations that they have violated "Indian law with deep discounts" and discriminated "against small sellers by promoting select big ones. The companies deny the allegations."

    This week, those criticisms turned into an official antitrust probe launched by the Indian government.
    KC's View:
    I wonder how different the world of e-commerce in the US would be if at some point Bezos and Amazon had spent $1 billion to help smaller competitors here to get online. Pretty different, I'm guessing.

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    • From The Motley Fool: "A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) flexibility to allow hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) to be sold as a dietary supplement … Cannabis investors, and no doubt hemp farmers, were cheering the possibility that regulatory barriers for the CBD market could be removed by congressional action."

    It was that rare act of bipartisanship. "House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., filed the bill amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C), and it is co-sponsored by James Comer, R-Ky.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Thomas Massie, R-Ky."

    The story points out that "the FDA threw cold water on the CBD industry in November when it issued a warning to consumers and CBD producers saying that it was illegal to market CBD by labeling it as a dietary supplement. Although the agency cited 'many unanswered questions' about the safety of CBD, the real issue was a provision of the FD&C that prohibits an active ingredient… that prohibits an active ingredient of an approved drug to be sold as a dietary supplement."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    • Alexa may in fact be ready to ascend to the throne. At least one kind of throne.

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The bathroom is poised to become one of your home’s smarter rooms thanks to a raft of new fixtures, furnishings and, yes, toilets.

    "Kohler Co., Toto Ltd. and other companies that outfit bathrooms are adding sensors, artificial intelligence and smart speakers into their products, many of which were on display earlier this month at the CES consumer technology showcase in Las Vegas. These premium products, some costing thousands of dollars, included a toilet embedded with an Alexa smart speaker and a bath mat with sensors that capture data on a person’s weight and posture, so they can be analyzed."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    • From the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

    "Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton announced Wednesday she's establishing a Whole Health Institute to improve health care," describing the current state of affairs as "a disease care system not health care system."

    The story says that Tracy Gaudet, formerly of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, will be the Institute's new director.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • It ends up there are are winners in the various Sears contretemps.

    The lawyers.

    From the Wall Street Journal: "Suppliers that stocked the shelves during Sears Holdings Corp. ’s bankruptcy are being forced to swallow losses and some employees won’t get severance they are owed, even as law firms are guaranteed full payment for their work on the retailer’s chapter 11 case."

    The story notes that "Sears filed for bankruptcy in October 2018 after more than a century in business. Mr. Lampert bought the retailer’s best assets for $5.2 billion last winter, leaving the remains of the business behind in bankruptcy. By the summer, the shell of the old Sears was running low on cash as it faced unpaid bills from vendors and suppliers that piled up during its chapter 11 case."

    In fact, the story says, various law firms and advisors have racked up more than $200 million in bills that must be paid in full, even as the bankruptcy judge in the case is pushing vendors to take 33 cents on the dollar for what they are owed.

    The story makes the case that this isn't unusual, but that doesn't make it any less disgusting. It can, in fact, be summed up with a two-word phrase. The first word is "cluster."

    • Target said yesterday that its same-store sales during the November-December 2019 holiday selling season were up a mere 1.4 percent, as opposed to the 5.7 percent increase that it saw a year earlier. Toy sales were said to be flat.

    CNBC writes that "CEO Brian Cornell said Target 'faced challenges throughout November and December in key seasonal merchandise categories.' But 'because of the durability of our business model, we are maintaining our guidance for our fourth quarter earnings per share'."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    • Publix announced that Pete Mowitt, its Vice President of Product Business Development for Bakery and Meat, will retire from the company after 44 years of service.

    When he steps down in April, Mowitt will be succeeded by Norman Badger, currently the company's Charlotte Division Regional Director.

    • Target announced that Mark Schindele, the company's Senior Vice President of Properties, has been promoted to the role of Chief of Stores.

    At the same time, Target said that Jill Sando, the company's Senior Vice President - Home Merchandising, has been promoted to be its Chief Merchandising Officer for Style and Owned Brands.

    And, it said that Christina Hennington, Target's SVP and Group Merchandise Manager - Essentials, Beauty, Hardlines and Services, has been named Chief Merchandising Officer of Hardlines, Essentials and Capabilities.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 16, 2020

    There is considerable speculation that the New York Mets could be the next Major League Baseball team to be affected by the current cheating scandal that already has gotten the Boston Red Sox manager and both the general manager and manager of the Houston Astros to be fired.

    Here's the background.

    After an investigation, Major League Baseball issued a report concluding that the Houston Astros participated in systematic cheating, using technology to steal opposing teams' catchers' signs so that hitters would know what pitch was about to be shown. (It is legal to steal signs the old fashioned way - by eye - but not to use technology.) The MLB report implicated Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, suspending them both for one year and fining the team $5 million and taking away several draft picks. The Astros then fired both Luhnow and Hinch.

    The same report directly implicated Alex Cora, who was the bench coach for the Astros at the time of the cheating, and who had later been hired to be manager of the Red Sox, who also were being investigated for cheating. After some deliberation - and after a lot of media coverage and pressure - the Red Sox fired Cora (though they called it a mutual decision) without waiting for MLB to rule about his future.

    The problem for the Mets is that during the offseason they hired Carlos Beltran to be their manager - and Beltran is directly implicated in the same MLB report as being involved in the cheating scandal. MLB said it would not penalize players in the case, but the Mets are now facing a lot of scrutiny and pressure to live up to the bar set by the Astros and Red Sox.
    KC's View:
    Beltran must go. Now. The Mets can't dither, because spring training begins in less than a month, and they need a manager not connected to a cheating scandal. They need to come down on the side of integrity in a world where that quality seems to be valued less and less.

    Again, let's remember the line from Robert B. Parker: "Baseball is the most important thing that doesn't matter."