business news in context, analysis with attitude

Just a couple of weeks ago, I joked here on MorningNewsBeat about the possibility that someday fat people will be charged more than thin people to ride on airplanes – a notion that doesn’t seem so far-fetched in a week when Delta announced that it will charge a whopping $50 for a second bag to be carried under the plane.

It also doesn’t seem so outrageous when I read this week’s Supermarket Guru update from Phil Lempert, in which he notes that because of an existing law in the UK, “about twenty-five percent of parents are now being charged a 17.5 percent tax on their children's school uniforms due to increased levels of obesity – and therefore larger sizes. On average, parents with overweight children pay an additional 20 pounds (or about $40) per year. The tax only applies to those children over 13 years old. Currently, estimates show that in England one third of all children aged 11 to 15 are overweight and according to the International Obesity Taskforce, it is estimated that 220,000 more children will become obese each year. The British Government has also approved ‘fat reports’ being sent to parents twice: once at age 4-5, and again at 10-11 years old (a plan that has also been debated here in the U.S.).”

I agree with Phil when he writes that “what I do like about these programs, especially the school uniform fat tax and fat reports is that it raises awareness and offers parents the information they need to identify the problem, which hopefully leads to helping their children eat better and exercise more. Take a look around you: my fear is that as more people become overweight we will forget that our bodies don't come naturally with that bump between our chest and waist and we will lose our perspective and our health.”

It does seem to me, however, that sometimes – however unintentionally - we can create a environment in which intolerance can fester. And I say this as someone who believes that people who do not take care of themselves should be charged higher insurance premiums than those who do (though there ought to be a compassion index for people who have specific medical issues that prevent them from being in shape, and people ought to get points for effort).

I also say this as someone whose parents probably would have had to pay that clothing tax when I was growing up…though I suspect that if money were involved, we would have been seeing fewer big bowls of mashed potatoes on the dinner table. And maybe that’s the point.

The news broke yesterday that a NASA exploratory mission has detected a lake on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, that contains liquid hydrocarbons, including liquid ethane, which is a component of crude oil.

Just scientifically, this is extraordinary news, since it makes Titan the only body in our solar system known to have liquid on it.

But economically…well, let’s just say that ExxonMobil almost certainly is already smacking its corporate lips at the possibility of getting building oil platforms on Titan. After all, this is what I’d really offshore drilling.

Of course, ExxonMobil – having only generated $11.68 billion in profits during the most recent quarter, 14 percent above the same period a year ago – probably is going to want the government to pay for any spaceships that have to be sent to Titan, will want tax breaks for its efforts, and probably will charge consumers even more for their gasoline because, after all, the oil is being imported from a foreign country. A really, really foreign country.

I have to admit that for most of its run on television, I was an enormous fan of “The X-Files.” Except for the last season, when David Duchovny’s obsessive FBI agent, Fox Mulder, hardly appeared, it was a consistently interesting and challenging TV series with strong performances by Duchovny, Gillian Anderson’s fellow agent Dana Scully, and a terrific supporting cast of freaks, conspirators, murders, monsters, and aliens. The premise of the series was that Mulder believed in the paranormal – especially the existence of aliens and a government conspiracy to hide their presence – and Scully was the skeptic charged with debunking his theories. The relationship between Scully and Mulder was sophisticated, adult and even intellectually erotic…and the series produced some of the creepiest, scariest hours ever shown on network TV.

That said, the new movie that updates the series (that was cancelled seven years ago), “The X-Files: I Want To Believe,” isn’t everything I would have hoped for – it is more like a pretty good episode of the series rather than a feature film that expands and deepens the show’s mythology and psychology. But I liked it – in part because I enjoyed seeing Mulder and Scully onscreen again, and in part because while the movie isn’t as graphic as many of the movies made these days, it is about as graphic as I care to watch. (You can't pay me to go to any of the slasher movies that seem to get released every other week – I’d spend half the time with my eyes closed, and I’d probably have nightmares for a month.)

So I recommend “The X-Files: I Want To Believe,” but with the caveat that it may be too mild for a lot of people. There is very little violence, and there are no explosions, and no special effects that I am aware of. And for that reason alone…I approve.

I was changing planes this week at Dulles International, an when my flight was delayed, I noticed a hamburger stand called Five Guys. I remembered Michael Sansolo mentioning the chain to me, and I was hungry, so I decided to try a cheeseburger with fried onions, tomato and barbecue sauce. (They offer a range of toppings…that’s where the customization comes in.)

And I gotta tell you – it was delicious. Really delicious. Juicy and flavorful and it cost me about three bucks.

As readers of MNB know, I tend to be dismissive of fast food…but Five Guys struck me as being proof positive that a fast food burger doesn’t have to taste like one. I’m guessing that one of the advantages that Five Guys enjoys is that it doesn’t try to do a lot – it just sells burgers, hot dogs, fries and drinks. That’s it. Out of simplicity can come a kind of elegance.

I obviously have not been paying attention, since according to its website Five Guys has stores all over the country. (Including a bunch here in Connecticut, though none near me.) I can tell you this, though. If you like a good burger and you haven’t tried Five Guys, go for it.

Couple of wines to recommend this morning:

• 2006 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Pinot Noir, from his new Sonoma vineyard, which is a little bit darker and richer that some pinots, and tough enough to go with a great steak.

• 2006 L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon, which is bright and fresh and fragrant – a perfect summer wine.

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


KC's View: