business news in context, analysis with attitude

Just some random thoughts this Friday morning...

This one had sort of fallen off my radar, so I was surprised to see the story the other day noting that the fight is continuing over whether Walmart should be allowed to build a supercenter near a historic Civil War battlefield in Northern Virginia. The debate came up in the news again because James McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, has agreed to join with opponents of the store - including actor Robert Duvall and documentarian Ken Burns - by testifying against it in the court case that is proceeding.

It was the way the facts of the case were arranged that drew my attention. The store is said to be not on the old battlefield, but near it. There are other stores in the area where Walmart wants to build, which suggests that the neighborhood is hardly sacred ground. And the two sides lining up on either side of the issue are resolute, though there seems to be greater public passion being expressed by those who would ask Walmart to build the store elsewhere.

Now, I’m not trying to draw a strict comparison, not am I suggesting any sort of moral or historical equivalency. But...when you read those facts, the scenario actually sounds like another case concerning an entity that wants to build a specific structure that will be near but not on the ground that some would view as sacred because it was the location of an extremely important historical event, and there is opposition even though the other business entities in the neighborhood are fairly mundane. And, the passion on both sides of this issue is considerable, though the people who want the entity to build its structure elsewhere have drawn more light and heat to the issue.

Interesting, huh? I am, of course, talking about the Muslim community center that is planned for two blocks from Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center towers that were attacked on September 11, 2001.

As I thought about it, it also occurred to me that some of the people who probably object to the Muslim community center might find themselves on the side of Walmart in Virginia, while the folks who object to Walmart’s building a store near the Civil War battleground might be, shall we say, less strident about the mosque being built in New York. Not everybody would have bifurcated interests, but I’d bet a fair number of people would.

Again, the issues are not the same, but maybe there are more similarities that people on either side of the two issues would care to admit. And I find this to be, at the very least, curious...and I wonder how much it all comes down to ideological posturing.

On another, completely non-business related issue, it was interesting to see the other day that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her country’s attempts to be multi-cultural had failed, and she called on her countrymen to, in the words of one news story, “to learn German and adopt Christian values.”

“We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here," said the chancellor.

And I’m thinking to myself, hasn’t Germany tried this approach once before?

People who don’t look like everyone else, who don’t act like everyone else, who don’t pray like everyone else (or don’t pray at all), and who have personal lives that don’t fit the majority’s definition of what is appropriate or acceptable ... these are the people who are the targets, and eventually the victims, of actions that can result from such statements.

It made me glad that the theory of the American quilt that so many of us were taught in school - and that some of us even remember - allows for the celebration of differences.

And here’s the business relevance, beyond the fact that customers are customers, regardless of their beliefs or persuasions. The person who comes up with the next great technological innovation may not be a Christian. By adopting a position like that stated by Merkel, Germany may position itself as a culture where that person will not feel at home, and that innovator/entrepreneur will choose to live elsewhere.

Like, hopefully, here.

“The Reversal,” the new Michael Connelly novel, is a terrific read. The book brings together two of Connelly’s protagonists from different series of books - Harry Bosch, the tortured and driven LA police detective, and Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln Lawyer” who makes a good living representing questionable defendants. For once, Harry and Mickey - in fact, half-brothers - find themselves on the same side of the law as Mickey is appointed a special prosecutor in the case of a kidnapper whose case was reversed two decades after he was convicted and sent to jail.

The writing is riveting, with chapters that alternate between the two main characters - Harry’s chapters are written in the third person, while Mickey’s feature a first-person narration. The conceit works - and Connelly constructs a relentless narrative that drives to its inevitable conclusion. It’s a page-turner.

It was a busy week to be in the Pacific Northwest. When we landed in Portland, our bags were held up and the airport was locked down because Vice President Joe Biden was in transit from a campaign speech, on his way back to Air Force Two. The following day, it was only good timing and the city’s wonderful Max light rail service that allowed Michael to get back to the airport despite the fact that President Barack Obama was in town for a speech.

But my favorite visitor to Portland this week was, in fact, Jimmy Buffett, who played the Rose Garden Arena on Tuesday night. For the first time in years, I’d missed seeing Buffett this summer because of bad timing ... and then, because of pure coincidence, he ended up being in town on Tuesday night. And so, I took Michael to his first Jimmy Buffett concert...and he will report on the experience next week.

My wine of the week - the 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah, which my friend Morgan poured for me last night at Etta’s - was delicious, and perfect for a cool, cloudy Seattle evening.

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

KC's View: