business news in context, analysis with attitude

We spend a lot of time here on MNB talking about the value of the family dinner, that kids who eat supper regularly with their families tend to get better grades, be better adjusted, avoid drug and alcohol problems, and even have fewer obesity issues.

Well, there was a piece on Slate the other day noting that family dinners are good for parents, too:

“The research by lead author Jenet Jacob of Brigham Young University found that among 1,580 parents who worked at IBM, those who said their jobs interfered less with being home for dinner tended to feel greater personal success, and success in relationships with their spouses and their children. The working parents—both mothers and fathers—had all of these buoyant feelings if they made it home for dinner more regularly, even if they still worked long hours. They also felt more kindly toward their workplace. Parents who missed dinner at home because of work, on the other hand, felt gloomy about their professional futures.”

The one downside of this study seems to be that women seem to get more out of family dinners than men…but that may be because they a) take more responsibility for bringing the family together for a meal, and b) allow themselves to focus on the occasion rather than be distracted.

Which only proves, yet again, that women generally are smarter than men.

Great comment from CNBC’s Dylan Rattigan, appearing yesterday morning on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. He suggested that people who are concerned about over-regulation in the wake of the recession and economic hard times should actually push for complete transparency at all levels of the system, that regulations aren’t needed when completely transparency is required.

That strikes me as an attitude that in some ways cuts across the regulatory universe. Regulation isn’t as necessary when transparency is the rule rather than the exception.

The thing is, people can't have it both ways. You can’t have deregulation and lack of transparency.

Recent events seem to have proven that.

There was a story in the Boston Globe the other day noting that “at least 10 cities and towns and thousands of Massachusetts consumers are paying more than $2 a gallon above market rate for their heating oil this winter after locking into prices that seemed like a bargain only a few months ago.

“Experts were predicting last summer that rates could rise as high as $5 a gallon and thousands of panicked customers, including some local governments, signed on to a fixed rate - then watched the price of oil plummet as much as 50 percent. They are now discovering that terminating or renegotiating their contracts will be costly, if it is even possible.”

The general feeling seems to be that people should be able to get out of contracts that now seem unreasonable.

Which I don't really understand. A contract is, after all, a contract. And my understanding is that oil companies went out and bought oil before the price drop based on the number of people who signed fixed rate deals…and, by the way, it could have as easily gone the other way, and it is unlikely that these towns and citizens would have let the oil companies out of their contracts.

I have some experience with this, by the way. I’m one of those people who locked in a fixed rate, and now is paying way above the market for heating oil. (Mrs. Content Guy maintains, with some degree of accuracy, that this was more my idea than hers.)

But it never occurred to me to try to get out of the contract. I signed the paper. Maybe next year, it will go my way.

Got an email the other day from an MNB user referring me to predictions by some guy named Gerald Celente, CEO of some organization called the Trends Research Institute, who is predicting that “by 2012 America will become an undeveloped nation, that there will be a revolution marked by food riots, squatter rebellions, tax revolts and job marches, and that holidays will be more about obtaining food, not gifts,” according to a Fox News story.

Celente goes on, “It’s going to be very bleak. Very sad. And there is going to be a lot of homeless, the likes of which we have never seen before. Tent cities are already sprouting up around the country and we’re going to see many more.

“We’re going to start seeing huge areas of vacant real estate and squatters living in them as well. It’s going to be a picture the likes of which Americans are not going to be used to. It’s going to come as a shock and with it, there’s going to be a lot of crime. And the crime is going to be a lot worse than it was before because in the last 1929 Depression, people’s minds weren’t wrecked on all these modern drugs – over-the-counter drugs, or crystal meth or whatever it might be. So, you have a huge underclass of very desperate people with their minds chemically blown beyond anybody’s comprehension.”

Methinks that this guy has seen “Escape From New York” too many times.

Listen, I know things aren’t looking real rosy at the moment. But are we heading down the road toward anarchy and third world status?

I can't believe that. I refuse to believe that.

On the other hand, a prediction that we’re going to survive the economic downturn might not get as much publicity as doomsaying.

Tell you one thing, though. I’m thinking it is time for a new Snake Plissken movie.

Good culinary news from the Newark Star Ledger:

“Gone are the guilty excesses of the past decade; fancy multi-course tasting dinners on the town; highly sought after cult wines and culinary must haves like rare white truffles unearthed from faraway hills in Tuscany or Japanese bred dry-aged Kobe beef.

“These days it's more about comfort and good value; sitting around the kitchen table with family and friends savoring steamy bowls of thick-as-fog pea soup, a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of bargain bin vintage.”

Sounds like heaven to me.

That said, I have to admit to having enjoyed a particularly wonderful and ever-so-slightly excessive dinner on New Year’s Eve…a black fettuccine made with squid ink served with chilies and chunks of lobster. It may have been one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, and we enjoyed it at the new Port Chester-New York restaurant opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, the Tarry Lodge.

This is a terrific restaurant that serves wonderful Italian food that is not too expensive, and has a great wine list and wonderfully helpful staff. It’s gone immediately to my list of favorites…in pat because you have a nice meal there, or can simply stop by the bar after a movie for a plate of pasta and a glass or two of red wine.

Again, it’s my idea of heaven.

BTW, I had a chance to sample some new bottled pasta sauces from Batali that are being introduced into the marketplace, and they are excellent – they have a bit of an edge to them that make you think that they weren’t developed using lowest-common-denominator thinking.

Which is high praise in my book.

I also have a wonderful wine for you to try – the 2005 Chateau Saint-Nicolas, a wine from France that is thick and smooth and just about perfect…40 percent Merlot, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20 percent Cabernet Franc. Yummmm!

As for movies, I loved “Frost/Nixon,” and liked “Valkyrie” more than I expected to. In both cases, the audience knows how it all turned out (Nixon never rehabilitated his reputation, Hitler wasn't assassinated) but the movies make getting there all the fun.

That’s it for this week.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


KC's View: