business news in context, analysis with attitude

I recently had the opportunity to read a story about a speech given in Ireland by just-re-elected Senator Feargal Quinn, in which he warned that while the Irish economy has been humming along, there is the danger that the society there will only see the rewards of prosperity and not embrace the challenges of maintaining its role in the world.

I thought some of his thoughts were worth sharing – in part because the situation he describes in Ireland sounds very much like the situation here in the US. Also, Quinn’s essential message is that Ireland is becoming a party society, rather than one focused on scientific and economic achievement; he noted in his remarks that statistics show that an extremely low percentage of Ireland’s university students are interested in starting their own businesses. Since he’s one of Ireland’s great entrepreneurs, I’m not surprised that this concerns him.

Much of Ireland’s recent prosperity has been tied to its ability to attract and nurture technology companies, but Quinn warned in his speech that Ireland’s “supply of engineers is drying up, not expanding as it should be, as we need it to be. In today's party society, fewer and fewer young people are prepared to embrace what they see as ‘hard subjects.’ Hard subjects like mathematics, the foundation for any pursuit of disciplines related to science and engineering."

In his speech, to a technology symposium, Quinn called for inexpensive and easy access to broadband Internet services, saying that this would help encourage young people to embrace the full potential of a knowledge society. “It simply beggars belief that a State that could develop such an enlightened attitude to scientific research should be the very same State which through inertia and ineptitude has allowed Ireland to languish year after year in the lower reaches of the international league of broadband penetration,” he said, noting that to be a leader in the knowledge society without universal access to broadband would be “like saying, a hundred years ago, that we were going to tie Ireland's future to the development of the motor car, but that in the meantime the people of Ireland were going to have to do with bicycles.”

It isn’t easy to make the kinds of statements that Quinn is making. After all, things are good, even great, in Ireland. Make too many cautionary remarks like these, and you end up looking like a clergyman in a house of ill repute.

But somebody has to make the hard statements, in government and, yes, even in business. Someone has to be willing to say, even when things are good, that not only can things be better, but that without constant care and nurturing, things can most assuredly get worse.

Somebody once told me that the Lake Mary, Florida, Publix store has one of the best supermarket delis in the country, and after visiting it for a few minutes this week, I’d have to say that I agree. Outstanding layout and design, wonderful product range, and a sales staff that is helpful without being overbearing. Nicely done on all counts.

However, I think one of the store’s best assets is a woman named Judy who works at the “Aprons” sampling counter – she was friendly, talked knowledgeably about the food she was preparing and handing out to customers, and was on-target when she took us to the cases right behind the sampling counter, where every one of the ingredients she was using was available for sale. The recipe cards were right there and easy to read, and even Mrs. Content Guy – making a rare foray into a supermarket – was impressed and wondered aloud why there are no Publix stores in Connecticut. (If it hadn’t been about 150 degrees and 150 percent humidity, she might have suggested moving MNB World Headquarters to Florida.)

Anyway, kudos across the board to Publix for the Lake Mary store. And especially to whoever had the bright idea to hire Judy and make her the face of that store. Brilliant.

I think I understand the credit crisis, and why the stock market is taking a bath. But I do have a question.

If credit is going to be harder to come by, does that mean we’ll all be receiving less junk mail from banks and other financial institutions offering credit cards, mortgages, home equity loans, etc…?

Because if that’s the case, the credit crunch actually could be a good thing.

Most people thought I did the right thing in ignoring a certain San Francisco Giant this week, even when his steroid-enhanced body managed to break Major League Baseball’s career home run record.

But a couple of people thought I should have at least acknowledged the achievement, even if grudgingly.

But you see, I honestly don’t think there was an achievement. This has nothing to do with him being a bad guy, though the evidence suggests that he is an awful human being.

This has to do with cheating. And it has to do with not respecting a game that is much bigger than him.

You know who I like?

Mike Bacsik, the mediocre pitcher who threw the home run ball, who handled the situation with class and aplomb. From everything I read, he respects the game and understands his role in it.

He may be a mediocre pitcher, but he seems like a terrific guy.

I just finished reading the new Elmore Leonard novel, “Up In Honey’s Room,” and it is good, not great. The thing about Elmore Leonard is that his novels have a kind of musicality to them, almost like jazz…they have beats and riffs and rhythms and when they’re working right you just get carried along on the melody, watching and listening as his offbeat characters unfold before you. Not sure what it is, but I had trouble with the melody this time…or maybe it is just that I’ve heard it before, and had trouble re-engaging with it. As I said, good Leonard, but not great.

On the other hand, “The Bourne Ultimatum” is a wonderful action movie that has, at its very cool center, a hero who ends up with enough heart and soul for a dozen action flicks. Matt Damon has never been better – or more Steve McQueen-like, which is high praise – as the hero Jason Bourne, the amnesiac CIA killer running from his past while trying to figure out his future. Or maybe he’s running to his future while trying to figure out his past. No matter.

Not sure where I read it, but somebody pointed out that the three Bourne movies have almost existential questions are their core. In the first one, “The Bourne Identity,” the hero asks, “Who am I?” In the sequel, “the Bourne Supremacy,” the question changes to, ‘What have I done?” And now, in what may be the final film in the series, the question changes again, to “Can I escape who I am?”

It is a terrific movie, with great direction by Paul Greengrass, and excellent supporting turns by Joan Allen, David Strathairn, and Albert Finney.

Go see it.

I got some email yesterday asking me what my favorite cuts are on “Instant Karma,” the new CD made up of old John Lennon songs performed by modern artists, with all the profits going to Amnesty International for use fighting for change in Darfur, Sudan.

Easy choices.

“Nobody Told Me,” by Big & Rich. “Imagine,” by Jack Johnson. “Working Class Hero,” by Green Day. And the title song, “Instant Karma,” by U2.

My wine of the week isn’t available in most stores; in fact, you may have to order it directly from the winery. But it is well worth the effort – the Francis Coppola Reserve 2005 Viognier from the Russian River Valley. It has a clean, smooth taste that goes wonderfully with roasted chicken…or just on its own on a warm summer night.

It doesn’t get any better.

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

KC's View: