business news in context, analysis with attitude

Today is Veteran’s Day in the US, and yesterday was the 230th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.

Great description of the Corps by Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, in 1945:

The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!

Last week in this space, I noted that Delta Air Lines is shutting down its low cost Song subsidiary, but wants to keep some of Song’s cultural qualities in its mainstream airline, but not all of them (Song had no first class, but Delta won’t give that up). And, it is no longer offering free membership in its lounges to top frequent fliers.

My feeling was that what we’re seeing is a company and a brand that is floundering, with no sense of what its differential advantages are.

Further proof came yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal reported that even as many airlines are cutting costs wherever possible, they are spending more than ever on their airport lounges. “The launch of spruced-up clubs is being spurred by increased competition in the airline industry -- especially from discounters such as JetBlue and AirTran,” the WSJ wrote. “In the new budget-conscious travel environment, these clubs are one of the few remaining advantages that the traditional airlines have over growing discounters. The clubs can also breed customer loyalty and influence which traditional airline a passenger flies. If a traveler belongs to the club of just one airline, for example, they might be more prone to buy a ticket on that carrier.”

Of course, while many airlines are using this strategy, Delta isn’t one of them – it isn’t improving its facilities, and is making it harder to access them.

You can’t compete by doing nothing to highlight and strengthen your differences. And Delta clearly has decided – whether it knows it or not – that it isn’t going to compete.

I know exactly how important these clubs are. I’ve been a United Red Carpet Club member for years – and it is something of a necessity, not some self-indulgent luxury. When I’m on the road – which is how I spend about a third of my year – being able to research and write stories from the relative peace and quiet of a Red Carpet Club is critical to making MNB happen every day. It earns United and its partners enormous loyalty on my part, because it simply makes it possible for me to do my job.

This is the kind of business model that more retailers ought to be imitating. Not the kind that does nothing to focus on differential advantages.

Saw the Jodie Foster terror-in-the-skies movie “Flightplan,” and have to say I was pretty disappointed. She’s great – she always is – but the script doesn’t hold together as well as it should and somehow the building of suspense seems slightly off-kilter. “Flightplan” isn’t nearly as good as the excellent “Red Eye,” which also took place mostly at 30,000 feet.

Was in Portland, Maine, earlier this week and found out that brewpubs are alive and well…and apparently flourishing in that city, which seemed to have them on almost every corner.

Went to one of them – Gritty McDuff’s. The Original Pub Style Beer was terrific. The hamburger was big and juicy and roughly the size of a Frisbee. (Not that we’re complaining.) And the sweet potato fries were wonderful.

“Lost” on ABC continues to get better and better. Terry O’Quinn’s Locke continues to be one of the most interesting characters on television. I find Daniel Dae Kim’s character of Kim to be more and more intriguing every week. And Evangeline Lilly clearly is the person in the world with whom you’d most want to be stranded on a desert island.

Last Sunday’s “West Wing” Live Debate episode was terrific – theatrical television that actually was about something.

Here’s my prediction for how the show’s fictional election ends, by the way.

If NBC decides to renew “West Wing” for another season, Jimmy Smits’ character wins. But if they decide to retire the venerable series, Alan Alda wins.

I don’t like to get overly political, but I have to weigh in on one of the best suggestions I’ve seen in a long time for how to improve the US Congress.

Sen. Jon Corzine won the New Jersey gubernatorial race this week, which means that he gets to name his replacement.

And while it is unlikely to happen, there has been one great suggestion.

Three words.

Senator Bruce Springsteen.

Two excellent and affordable red wines for you to check out this weekend.

• 2003 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Shiraz from California, which we enjoyed the other day with a cup of the excellent chili and a cheeseburger at Clyde’s of Georgetown down in DC.

• 2003 Heron Pinot Noir, also from California – it’s smooth and spicy at the same time, and excellent with salmon.

By the way, we got an email the other day from an MNB user asking about what the perfect wine would be to bring to Thanksgiving. We gave it a lot of thought, and here is our number one recommendation:

Bring with you a bottle of the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir. I think the 2003 is what’s on shelves right now…and it is always wonderful and comes from a terrific vineyard.

That’s it for this week.

Have a good weekend. Sláinte!!
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