Service of Art as Investment

July 30th, 2015

Categories: Art, Value

Blank canvas

You write, paint, design or invent something and it’s yours to do with what you like which is what German artist Gerhard Richter did with his early paintings—he disowned them. Does it make a difference if you’ve sold the picture, article, book, or product to someone else?

In “Collectors Alarmed As Gerhard Richter Disowns Early Works From West German Period,” on artnet.com, Henri Neuendorf explained. “The painter has developed a reputation for rigorously editing his oeuvre, routinely striking works from catalogues, Tagesspiegel reports. Now, the artist no longer acknowledges works from his early West German period.

“Between 1962 to 1968 he experimented with a realistic, figurative painting style—a style which he evidently dislikes so strongly that he has specifically excluded it from his catalogue raisonné.”

Catalogue raisonnés help authenticate pictures. Neuendorf wrote: “If a work isn’t included in a works catalogue, the value will inevitably decrease.”

He asked: “Should an artist be allowed to shape his own artistic legacy by excluding certain artworks from his oeuvre? That may well be an artist’s right. But should artists be able to edit their own catalogue raisonné? After all, as a historical document surely the works catalogue must be exhaustive and academically accurate if an artist’s legacy is to be fully understood and appreciated by future generations.”

People at the top of their game in other industries have a hard if impossible time erasing their pasts. Should artists whose works cost $millions be exempt when their actions impact collectors who have invested in them? Is this one more reason to buy art that you love rather than work you think will increase in value? What if other artists follow Richter: Will this precedent deflate the contemporary art market that for some artists is exaggerated? 

Untitled by Cy Twombly sold for $69.6 million @ Christies in 2014

Untitled by Cy Twombly sold for $69.6 million @ Christies in 2014

 

 

 

Service of Internet Love: Security & Swindles

July 27th, 2015

Categories: Caveat Emptor, Internet, School, Technology

 

Caveat emptor

 

While a third of couples who have married between 2005 and 2012 have met online, according to a National Academy of Sciences survey funded by eHarmony, Internet love isn’t always lovelier the second or 20th time around. This was made clear by two examples in the recent news.

Caveat Emptor I

I hadn’t heard of Ashley Madison, the online dating site for married people who want to cheat on their spouses and whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair,” until I read that its database had been hacked. The hackers warned that they might divulge personal information unless the website, which claims to have 37 million members, is shut down. According to cnn.com, “The hackers called themselves the ‘Impact Team,’ and the potential release includes ‘profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.’”

Apart from the fertile ground for profitable blackmailing, “The hackers — or hacker, perhaps — appear to be upset over the company’s ‘full delete’ service, which promises to completely erase a user’s profile, and all associated data, for a $19 fee.” The hackers claim that the most important information—names and addresses—are not removed. “Avid Life Media also said that it had hired ‘one of the world’s top IT security teams’ to work on the breach.” Between the leaky “full delete” service and the hacking, I doubt that Ashley Madison members are sleeping well at night.

Caveat Emptor II

Last week Elizabeth Olson wrote in The New York Times about women who were swindled by older couplemen they’d met on Internet dating sites. She was unable to report the total number of people pulled in but noted that according to the Federal Internet Crime Complaint Center in just six months–between last July and December 31–grievances representing $82.3 million were made by almost 6,000 people. In one case history in her story, “Swept Off Her Feet, Then Bilked Out of Thousands,” a woman sent nearly $300,000 to a fellow who claimed to be in Ghana on business and ran into snags. Another didn’t tell her family about the $292,000 she sent to another con-person.

Hacking into a dormant dating profile is how it generally starts, Olson learned from Vermont’s Attorney General office’s Public Protection Division. The fake lover alters age, gender, occupation and quickly asks the target to continue to communicate with them via email, phone or instant message. The swindler creates trust and then a sense of urgency/need of cash.

It’s become such a problem for women mostly in their 50s and 60s that AARP has asked dating sites to up their surveillance for romance cons wrote Olson. Its Fraud Watch Network suggests that users check Google’s “search by image” function to see if the new contact’s photo appears on other dating sites under different names. Google also has romance scam sites on which to confirm suspicious language.  The FBI’s Internal Crime Center also shared clues: Watch for someone who says they love you, asks for money so they can visit and then, if you refuse, reprimands that you don’t love them back; tells you that your “romance is destiny or fate;” or that they are from the US and are going overseas for business or to attend to family.

Given the high profile triumph of hackers are you amazed that so many would voluntarily put such intimate information about themselves—not to speak of their marriages–in such a potentially compromising situation? I know people under 40 who have met their life mates on dating sites and others who are older who haven’t. How might older people safely level the online playing field?  In addition to the Internet, local pub, through work or religious institution, where else might people meet once they’ve left school/college?

The Heartbreak Kid

The Heartbreak Kid

Service of Apology III: Do You Need To Say “I’m Sorry?”

July 23rd, 2015

Categories: Apology, Cheating, Food, Forgiveness, Retail

Love means never having to say you're sorry

In “Love Story,” Eric Segal wrote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I wonder if the co-CEOs of Whole Foods think that their customers love them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A friend gave us a gift card to Whole Foods and we enjoyed our purchases. They charge more than other supermarkets for some things and so what? There are those who think that if they pay a lot for something it must be good and while the grocer sells a far bigger range than meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, the store is known for its organic fare. Its regulars are not hurting anyone by spending their money there.

NYC dept consumer affairsCharging more is one thing; overpricing another. In “Whole Foods admits overcharging, blames employees and apologizes,” in The Washington Post, according to reporter Will Greenberg: “The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs [DCA] wrote: ‘New York City stores routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products — including meats, dairy and baked goods — resulting in customers being overcharged.’”

Greenberg quoted Walter Robb and John Mackey, Whole Foods co-CEOs’ explanation about “the stores’ fresh products, including sandwiches, squeezed juices and hand-cut fruit, [that] were often weighed or labeled improperly, with store employees labeling their pre-packaged products at prices higher than they should have been. Mackey said there have been a ‘very, very small percentage’ of weighing errors.”

Small percentage? This weighing glitch happened on all 80 pre-packaged items that the inspectors tested in different stores around New York City. Quoting a statement by DCA commissioner Julie Menin, Greenberg wrote: “Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate.”

weighing foodI asked a cashier at a different well known grocery operation about this. He said he’d been in retail all his life and had previously worked at Whole Foods. He noted that it’s easy to make a mistake on the tare weight, which measures the container/packaging that is subtracted in the pricing process. He said an employee might forget to change it from one item to another. If it was this simple, and represented such insignificant amounts of money, why didn’t the CEOs say so?

I twice listened to the video of the co-CEOs posted in Greenberg’s article and re-read the article. Three words were missing: I am sorry. Yet the word “apologizes” is in the article’s headline.

In the video, Robb and Mackey spoke to their customers. They said they’d ramp up training; have audits gauging progress made and give free any item that a customer questioned and was improperly priced in the store’s favor. They also thanked their customers for shopping there.

Will you continue to shop at Whole Foods and weigh what you buy? Does admitting improper weighing and labeling amount to an apology? If your customers love you, do you even need to apologize?  What do you think of bosses who take little blame themselves?

Thank you for shopping

Service of Tit-for-Tat

July 20th, 2015

Categories: Politics, Tit-for-Tat

John McCain

Senator John McCain angered Donald Trump by calling his followers “crazies,” so Trump smacked back by belittling McCain’s war record stating that he’s “not a real war hero… because he was captured.”

If one man thinks this way there are millions who agree with him. I wonder how many of them haven’t spent two seconds at war or in the military—like Trump–or who haven’t lived with people who did.

Armed forcesSoldiers, seamen and airmen aren’t in charge of where to be and when—they follow orders–so how can they be blamed for being placed in harm’s way and perhaps captured, or worse? Once captured and severely tortured, Senator McCain passed up a chance to be released so others might leave first. For five plus years he didn’t know whether or not he’d live another day.

I’m sensitive about Trump’s comment and the issue it raised because my dad was a prisoner of war. He escaped—twice, the second time successfully—and was able to function after surviving the horrors he saw and experienced. He’s my hero.

Who are Trump’s heroes? What’s his game? His comments make me want to strike back at him—but I don’t subscribe to his tit-for-more-than-tat, below-the-belt approach which reminds me of the way children fight in a playground. Is this the reaction a statesman or woman wants to evoke; does it represent a sound negotiating technique?

J G Brown's "The Peacemaker"

J G Brown’s “The Peacemaker”

 

 

Service of The Who in Who’s Who

July 16th, 2015

Categories: Credentials, Scams, University

Who are You

Following are two “Who’s  Who” scams. The first was created by lazy folks. It came by email and may, in fact have been a front to encourage people to click on a poisoned link without promise of a listing in an unrecognized research tool. The folks directing the second went to more trouble, first forming a fake university alumni group which then offered the “benefit” of joining a pricey impersonator “Who’s Who.”

Simple Scam

A message in my SPAM file began: “You were recently chosen as a potential candidate to represent your professional community and be ranked along side of our industry experts.” It was in the SPAM file for good reason.

SpamAn additional excerpt: “Through our publishing alliance we select potential candidates based not only on their credentials but also focusing on criteria from professional directories, associations, and trade journals…..This time honored tradition has become a hallmark revered by the upper echelon throughout Corporate America; A virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of prominent professionals.”

I have until August to respond and there’s a characteristic scam alert: I must verify the information they have about me by clicking the link they provide. Sure: Hold your breath.

Faux Alumni Group Who’s Who Come-on in Sheep’s Clothing

Photo: wikimedia.org

Photo: wikimedia.org

We all get scams like this but a friend told me of a double scam also involving a “Who’s Who” clone that she might easily have fallen for but didn’t. She thought she was signing up for her university’s alumni association group on LinkedIn.  She filled out her information for the “closed group” and awaited word on admission.

She soon heard from a representative of the group (aka salesman) who introduced himself as “the senior director with who’s who distinguished individuals alumni of the university of ____.” He asked her to answer some questions to verify that she was an alum and told her that one of the perks of joining this group was that members would be added to “Bristol Who’s Who.”

He pressured her to sign up for the Who’s Who double—which cost plenty–adding that it would be most beneficial to her personally and professionally, and specified she had to do so by a deadline–a possible clue that something’s amiss. What’s the rush?

She became more suspicious when at first she understood she’d have to pay a fee for the LinkedIn group membership and then, when she asked again, he said she didn’t. He even floated the promise of new business saying he was on the board of a company that was a fit with her specialty.

He consistently left messages on her mobile and work phones to get her to agree to be included in the Who’s Who “honor.” When she inquired if she needed to pay the hefty sums for the Who’s Who inclusion to be a member of the alumni group on the social networking service he said “No.”

She phoned the University Alumni office and learned the correct name of the official LinkedIn  group which she joined free, with no strings.

Will the Real Who’s Who Please Stand Up?

Who's who in AmericaMarquis Who’s Who publishes the flagship and well known “Who’s Who in America” and the others—“Who’s Who in American Politics;” “Who’s Who of American Women;” “Who’s Who in Science and Engineering,” to name a few. According to Wikipedia, “Marquis requires no publication or processing fees from the persons selected as biographees [sic].”

Have you been approached or tempted by publishers of ersatz “Who’s Who” directories? Have you found online a company or organization you thought was legitimate and it turned out its name was deliberately close to what you wanted to first dupe and then pull you in?

Wolf in sheep's clothing

 

Service of It Matters

July 13th, 2015

Categories: Details, It Matters, Teachers, Uncategorized, Value Added, Work

It matters

Photo: mycutegraphics.com

Photo: mycutegraphics.com

 

You can be the most sensitive person in the universe and still be innocently and inadvertently indifferent to something that’s significant to another person.

A friend teaches a reading class to six first graders. Each has a book and there’s one for her. When the class was over one day, the smallest child in the class asked if she could please carry the books back to the homeroom. My friend, who reminded me that children this age love to be helpful, said thanks but that it didn’t matter as another child was doing it. The diminutive child looked her in the eye and said, “It matters to me.” So my friend asked the other child if she’d share the “load.” The child handed three of the books to her classmate, keeping the rest for herself. The little one beamed all the way back to homeroom.

In a vastly different scenario, Jim Brownell said to me: “This is a dump but it doesn’t have to look like one.” I’d just admired the transformation of the Millbrook, N.Y. transfer station [photo below]. As you approach it now there are three flags–American, Army and Marine–posted in a generous bed of mulch they’d installed. Brownell and Joseph Magnarella, who is in the photo, are the transfer attendants responsible for the makeover. Brownell is a Marine [on NCIS I learned once a Marine, always a Marine]; Magnarella is former Army.

When I first noticed the makeover, only the American flag and two poles were in place. Brownell expected the other two flags shortly. I left work early July 3—the dump is only open three days a week—to grab a photo for this post and only two flags flew. I asked Brownell for permission to take a photo and explained the nature of my post. He suggested I wait for the missing Marine flag, especially in light of the title. “It matters,” he said. [He was on vacation the day I returned for the photo.]

Can you share examples of something insignificant that nevertheless mattered a lot to you or to someone else? How about employees who go above and beyond because where they work–and how it looks–matters to them?

Joseph Magnarella a transfer attendant at the Millbrook, NY transfer station he transformed with Jim Brownell.

Joseph Magnarella a transfer attendant at the Millbrook, NY transfer station he transformed with Jim Brownell.

Service of Being a VIP

July 9th, 2015

Categories: Audacity, Bicycles, Etiquette, Students, VIP

Photo: dailymail.co.uk

Photo: dailymail.co.uk

I found out why I so often hear crickets after I’ve held open a door to wait for a much younger person to pass regally past; why some youthful cashiers at full price grocery stores are comfortable watching me place my purchases in bags while they don’t participate; why there’s silence in return when I greet a young tenant on the floor of my office building or in the elevator of my apartment and why I must fight for a spot on the sidewalk if I’m walking against heavy foot traffic at rush hour. I’m a native New Yorker. I know how to negotiate crowds at a clip. At least I did at a time in which citizens respected each others’ space.

Helicopter parents 2So what’s the reason for the behavior I described above? These people are VIPs. Here’s proof.

David Brooks [below, left], identified them on page 6 of his book “The Road to Character,” [Random House, 2015], which I’ve begun to read [and so far like very much]. He reported responses to a 1950 Gallup Organization query of high school seniors who were asked if they considered themselves to be “a very important person.” Sixty five years ago 12 percent answered “yes,” as compared to 80 percent of seniors asked the same question in 2005.

 David Brooks The Road to CharacterNo wonder I was almost run over by two bikers as I crossed the street corner during a short walk in midtown yesterday. The light was green for me but they were in a rush; I was in the way.

This VIP approach is a striking turnabout for a person who, as a kid, often heard “The tail doesn’t wag the dog.” In the day we didn’t cotton up much to faux VIPs. We’d giggle at young officers who’d swagger or show conceit or arrogance for no reason when I was the 20-something Air Force wife of a lieutenant the same age.

Do VIPs who have earned their stripes resent all this competition? Do VIPs owe consideration to their underlings? Who changes a light bulb in an office full of VIPs? What happens when an artificial VIP disagrees with his/her boss or instructor or when two VIPs are married to one another? Are so many ersatz VIPs only in America?

VIP room

Service of Cost vs. Benefit in Healthcare: Who Decides?

July 6th, 2015

Categories: Insurance, Medical, Medical Care, Medicine, Pharmaceutical

Photo rinehartclinic.org

Photo rinehartclinic.org

This New York Times article, “Cancer Doctors Offer Way to Compare Medicines, Including by Cost,” made significant—if terrifying–points in addition to how cost impacts what drugs a patient may get. Given their ineffectiveness, I wondered why those given as examples are prescribed in the first place.

If you or a loved one has a heart condition, don’t click away just yet: Reporter Andrew Pollack noted that cardiology societies are following in oncologists’ footsteps. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend soon affects patients with any and all conditions if it effectively cuts costs for insurers. 

Actor Robert Young playing Marcus Welby, MD

Actor Robert Young playing Marcus Welby, MD

Pollack wrote “Roche’s Avastin, when added to chemotherapy, had a net health benefit of 16 out of 130 possible points when used as an initial treatment for advanced lung cancer. Its monthly cost was $11,907.87, compared to $182.09 for the chemotherapy alone.

“Eli Lilly’s Alimta for that same use had a net health benefit of zero with a cost exceeding $9,000 a month compared to about $800 a month for the drugs it was compared to in the clinical trial.”

Later in the article Pollack spelled out the rating system: “Drugs for advanced cancer are given a score from 0 to 130. Up to 80 of the points are based on a drug’s effectiveness in prolonging lives, delaying the worsening of cancer or shrinking tumors. Then up to 20 points can be added or subtracted based on side effects. And up to 30 bonus points can be granted if the drug relieves cancer symptoms or allows a patient to go without treatment for a period of time.” 

Actor Hugh Laurie who plays Dr. House

Actor Hugh Laurie who plays Dr. House

Regardless of cost why would anyone prescribe a drug that benefits a patient from zero to 16 “points” out of 130?

Other news that was unsettling: “The release by the American Society of Clinical Oncology of what it calls its ‘value framework,’ is part of a change in thinking among doctors, who once largely chose drugs based on their medical attributes alone.” [The underline is mine.] Silly me: and I thought doctors still prescribe what they do according to how a drug helps a patient.

According to Pollack the average cost of cancer drugs runs $10,000/month and some as much as $30,000/month. This is information, Dr. Richard Schilsky said at a news conference, that some doctors don’t know nor do patients. Schilsky is chief medical officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. [Why is this significant? Even if you've been paying for health insurance for eons and have hardly used a cent until you need to, you can reach the ceiling when off goes the insurance spigot.]

Pollack wrote that this value framework considers the cost to the patient and the health system.  I assume “health system” translates to government supported Medicare and Medicaid plans. 

Ingrid Bergman playing Dr. Constance Petersen

Ingrid Bergman playing Dr. Constance Petersen

As a result, Pollack observed, doctors are now put in the role of “being stewards of societal resources.” He continued, “That is somewhat of a controversial role for doctors, since it might conflict with their duty to the patient in front of them. But the oncology society said it did not see those roles as being in conflict.”

Other points Pollack made include:

  • A rep for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said the cost of drugs represents only 20 percent of treatment.
  • The cost of drugs is unrelated to how “novel it is or whether it prolonged life versus just shrinking tumors.”
  • In Britain, a drug is rated according to its “cost per extra year of life they provide adjusted by side effects and symptoms.”
  • Starting in June United Healthcare requires “oncologists to get prior approval from the insurance company for every cancer drug they administer. The company will then track what happens to patients and eventually provide information to doctors about how well each drug works.”

Summarizing the questions:

  • Why prescribe a drug that does little if anything to better a patient’s health or length of life?
  • Is a doctor who chooses a drug for a patient based solely on its medical attributes old fashioned and out of step and will he/she soon be forced out of work by insurance companies?
  • If a patient can scrape together the co-pay of a super expensive drug, can an insurance company refuse to pay its part? Then what?
  • Will United Healthcare only use its approval to track drug effectiveness, as Pollack suggests, or eventually will it control costs by refusing to pay?
  • Is the American Society of Clinical Oncology correct when it asserts that there is no conflict for doctors who are now made responsible for the country’s medical resources and their responsibility to their patients?
  • Unless people have unlimited incomes, most adults are aware of what they pay for food, beverages, clothing, shelter and only recently have they become aware of the cost of healthcare. Isn’t this a good thing?

  pills 2

Service of What If III

July 2nd, 2015

Categories: Contingency, What If

Photo: frontlinefirst

Photo: frontlinefirst

I wrote the last “What If” in 2010 so while this one’s the third it’s not exactly a series.

I told a friend about a potentially dicey situation where I might have been left behind on a railroad platform upstate with no money, car or house keys, mobile phone or ID because the train could have taken off without me. On the train were my handbag, luggage and husband.

Photo: etsy

Photo: etsy

Her reaction to my story surprised me. She  didn’t ooh and ahh as I thought she might about the circumstance but instead she said, “What would you do if that happened?” and reminisced about how when she was little her grandma would sew a secret pocket in her dresses where she could tuck emergency money. “What if,” her granny would say, and then mention some possibilities of how the stash might come in handy. [This thinking ahead characteristic could be one reason the friend is a crack planner, trends forecaster and tactician.]

So first I strategized about how, if abandoned on a railroad platform in the relative middle of nowhere, I’d get hold of some money so I could catch the next train: I’d walk to a gas station, ask to borrow someone’s cell phone and call a friend to rescue me. But playing the grandmother’s game, I also told myself that I should remember to always carry some money on me which in summer is tricky if I’m not wearing a jacket or clothing with pockets, which is most of the time.

In your personal life, do you think of contingencies or do you relax and deal with something that happens when it does? Do you treat your work the same way or do you try to anticipate and parry potential hitches? Do you squirrel away mad money and if so, where?

 

Photo: fencingclub.us

Photo: fencingclub.us

 

Service of Canaries in the Coalmine

June 29th, 2015

Categories: Charity, Homeless, Panhandlers

 Homeless in NYC

I am seeing more beggars in my travels around NYC and increasing numbers of people sleeping on the street such as the men in the photos above and to the right. They are hard to see in these poor images taken within a few days of one another. One is tucked beneath steps in Katharine Hepburn Garden on 47th Street off First Avenue and one is on steps up the street from my office on East 45th near Second Avenue.

One panhandler who disappeared for years reemerged near Grand Central Station the other week, much plumper than her younger self but with a similar cardboard sign asking for help. Was she OK all those years or hanging out elsewhere?

I was astonished by a man in his 60s who was also begging one rush-hour outside of Grand Central. He was well groomed, wore a gray business suit, white shirt and necktie and held a sign that said he was going on job interviews and was looking for work and to please help. Who knows whether he was in trouble or a creative conman? Tragic whether he so desperately needed money that he resorted to the streets or was taking money from kind people who couldn’t afford to help but did anyway.

homeless in NYC 2To confirm my anecdotal observations I looked for statistics but was unable to come up with the number of panhandlers in NYC [or anywhere else] at any time.

I found a recent one about homelessness in a New York Daily News headline from an article by Harry Stevens and Greg B. Smith from February: “Thousands of New Yorkers living in dangerous ‘cluster units’ as homeless population tops 59,000, a record high: The homeless count represents a 10% jump during Mayor de Blasio’s first year in office.”

So that addresses why I’m seeing more people sleeping on the street, but it’s not proof of an increased number of beggars. Michael S. Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, Inc. and clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School wrote: “Contrary to common belief, panhandlers and homeless people are not necessarily one and the same. Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle, and only a small percentage of panhandlers are homeless.” Scott’s article, “The Problem of Panhandling,” was on his organization’s website.

Editorial written by people involved with charities that help indigent citizens urge the public not to give money to panhandlers but instead to donate to legitimate organizations funded to address ways to earn legitimate income and where to get food and shelter. I’ve always heard this.

Have you noticed more panhandlers and homeless people lately where you live or work? Does this situation indicate an economy more troubled than publicized or that charities have fewer funds to help people in need or that your city or town isn’t doing its job to help the underserved?

Photo: i09.com

Photo: i09.com

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