Service of Extras

September 3rd, 2015

Categories: Bonus, Radio, Restaurant

Smoothie 1

Morning radio talk show co-host Todd Schnitt recently shared his frustration when he was unsuccessful at persuading the server at a well known NYC juice bar chain to top off his $8 smoothie with what was left in the blender container. He noticed the container in a lineup by the sink. Its fate was to be washed after its contents were tossed. He’d taken a big sip of his drink to make room.

Len Berman, his co-host on the WOR 710 morning program and the news director, Joe Bartlett, asked Todd if he’d gotten what he’d paid for. He said, “Yes.”  So that’s it then, they concurred: They didn’t feel he should have received a bonus.

smoothie 2Executive producer Natalie Vacca agreed with Len and Joe and added that had she managed the branch, she’d have suggested that staff use the extra for samples to bring in new customers. Someone observed that at Starbucks there’s little if any leftover and that the manager at the smoothie place should better train the staff in portion control to avoid costly waste.

According to Yelp, there are no more Brigham’s luncheonettes in Boston though Wikipedia notes otherwise. In its heyday, when I lived in Boston, branches were sprinkled throughout the metro area. The restaurant’s milkshake/frappe was spectacular and it came in a large glass, served with  what was left in the metal blender container–the equivalent of almost another full glass of the ambrosia, my favorite being coffee or strawberry.

milkshake 2There are some businesses in which extras continue to happen. Waiters will surprise guests with a free dessert or after dinner drink. At The Perfect Pint, a pub at which I ate lunch quite often this summer, my friends and I received a free second glass of iced tea or Coke, something I’d not before experienced in NYC. [The food is terrific here as well.]  Last night we had dinner at Mckinney and Doyle in Pawling–delicious as always. My husband was adding the tip to the credit card receipt when the hostess came with a second one. She said, “We owe you $20–here’s the correct bill.” Turns out that wine is half price on Wednesday night. We welcomed the nice surprise!

In public relations, many provide extra services, such as a tweak of a client’s letter or other small project not covered in an agreement yet not big enough to upset a budget applecart.

Is a business wrong minded to give extras? Do customers appreciate them or take them for granted? Do you appreciate them?

Extra

Service of Unicorns: It’s Nice to Believe

August 31st, 2015

Categories: Building and Remodeling, Business Decisions, Cheating, Con jobs, Marketing, Small Business

Uncorn

One of my first eye-openers happened years ago with the now defunct Cue Magazine that covered going’s on in NYC and was a reliable guide for eons. After arriving late at the movies a few times because of inaccurate listings and event and restaurant recommendations turned from being editor picks to sponsored ones that weren’t  always so hot, the resource lost its usefulness.

Angie’s List may be following a similar model, according to Abby Haglage in thedailybeast.com, which is too bad: It sounded like such a good idea. The answer to the title of her piece, “Is Angie’s List Making Business List Owners Pay for Top Spots?” appears to be “yes,” and it’s only a part of the problem. Its well known mantra for its 3 million US subscribers, “Reviews you can trust,” should be tweaked to “Sponsored reviews to take at your own risk.”

Figures don’t lie and should be a big hint. Haglage reported that “76 percent of the company’s $315 million total revenue came from service providers” translated to advertisers; Membership accounted for 23 percent. She also wrote about Jeff Blyskal’s 2013 findings in Consumer Reports. He similarly debunked the influence of consumer opinions in determining the order of listings, starting with the best, noting they favor advertisers.  

One customer, Janell Moore, filed a class action suit this spring. The kitchen home remodelerremodeling contractor she found on the list left her project in the lurch and didn’t respond or return the $4,000 she’d paid. Wrote Haglage: “Moore claims it was only after leaving a negative review of the company that she was able to see other negative reviews, which led her to believe that the rating system wasn’t done fairly.”

Moore’s complaint contends that members are duped into thinking the lists are arranged according to quality of review. In reality they are determined according to who paid the most for the listing. And according to Haglage, there also were complaints from hundreds of Consumer Reports readers.

“Angie’s List falsely assures consumers that ‘service providers cannot influence their ratings on Angie’s List,’” reads an opening section of Moore’s 28-page complaint. “These and similar statements dupe potential and existing members into believing that Angie’s List reviews, ratings, and search results are valuable and trustworthy because they reflect unfiltered feedback of consumers, for consumers.”

home builderThe company has filed a motion to dismiss. Haglage explained: “In a section titled ‘How Angie’s List Works,’ the company says that it’s transparent about money being involved in its rating mode. ‘Members are expressly told that service providers may pay to offer such promotions and that as a result they may be placed ‘at the top’ of search results.’”

There’s another side to the story—that of taking advantage of small business people. It’s not unusual for advertising fees to be flexible and an example in the article shows how elastic. One Minneapolis-based landscape and construction business owner, Stanley Ganadek, had this experience Haglage reported: “After a few positive reviews on his page, reps called asking if he’d be willing to pay $33,000 to stay at the top of the page. Genadeck, who talked them down to $3,000, created a YouTube video to help protect other business owners from spending too much.” The landscape owner confirmed that you can’t pay to be on the list but sales reps—almost 2,000 of them–call when you’ve received two reviews and according to Haglag, they call and call and call.

Who hasn’t had a bad experience with a contractor, real estate agent, vendor, hair stylist or dentist that a friend, business colleague or relative recommended? Do you think Moore’s complaint and those of Consumer Reports’ readers have merit or does caveat emptor play here and that consumers should be punished for their naïveté? What about the model of picking on small business owners who might not be informed about how advertising works—all’s fair, right?

small business 1

 

Service of More Isn’t Always Better

August 27th, 2015

Categories: Uncategorized

Millbrook neighbor's trees 018

More isn’t always better even when speaking of food or makeup, plantings or building height. We all have stories. I’m sure you’ve seen average looking citizens sport the Lady Gaga/Tammy Faye Bakker dramatic makeup look thinking they’re glamorous when just a touch would be better.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

For me there was that memorable celebratory roast beef dinner upon college graduation with a two-inch slab of meat that overwhelmed the plate and smothered my appetite. I was skinny and ate enormous quantities of food in the day but even so…too much!

Here are some recent examples.

Tree Huggers

I had to get this topic off my chest so my husband no longer has to hear me whine and see me wince every time we drive by this neighbor’s house. I feel that they have exploited their property and I can’t figure out what they are trying to achieve with their smorgasbord of trees to which they seem to add more every few weeks. I’ve not before seen anything like it on private property either here or abroad.

They have planted such a hodgepodge that they have destroyed what was once an elegant property. My photos top and bottom don’t make my point for a reason: From my photo styling days, the camera likes “more.” Driving by makes a far more crowded impression. If they wanted to live in a forest, why not buy a house in a forest?

jacket with fringeI like to postulate their reasons for rogue planting. Maybe husband or wife is a dendrologist studying what thrives in upstate NY. [Dendrologists study woody plants.] Or maybe their son or daughter owns a garden center and they want to be supportive. Or they love their [unscrupulous, untalented] landscape architect who gets paid a fee based on the cost or number of plants/installations. Or maybe this is the latest fashion and hopefully, like fringe on the edges of women’s suit jackets launched by Chanel years ago [see photo at left], it will have a short life.

Sky High

One World Trade Center. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

One World Trade Center. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

I’ve mentioned before that once he experienced the first east coast blackout, my father said he’d never rent an office on a floor higher than he could comfortably reach by stairs. I thought of him when I read an article in crainsnewyork.com, “How tall can NYC’s skyscrapers go? You won’t believe the answer: As towers surpass 1,400 feet, one structural engineer predicts 2,000-foot spires are around the corner—and maybe even half-mile-tall spires will follow suit.” [I was puzzled by the 1,400 foot reference as according to Google, One World Trade Center has far surpassed it at 1,776 feet.] We see three skyscrapers-in-progress from our apartment windows. There are days where dense clouds obliterate the top floors making me think, “There goes the view” and “I hope there are no disoriented pilots out today.” Our apartment building has 22 floors, two passenger elevators and one service elevator. My husband arrived home one day and none were working. It happens. Imagine if you lived on the 39th floor.

What’s your favorite “too much” story?

Millbrook neighbor's trees 019

Service of You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me

August 24th, 2015

Categories: Chutzpah, Manners, Theatre, Unconscious

Bus with Selfish Passenger

This post is similar to “Service of Chutzpah” that I wrote this winter: In spite of the greatly improved weather and beautiful long summer days, the clueless, thoughtless bug is still in the air.

Bus Stop

I was on a bus when an able woman in her 40s entered with a marketing cart bulging with purchases. I empathize: I don’t have a marketing basket but after a visit to Trader Joe I often carry two heavy shopping bags. On the style of bus we were on that day, I’d head for the connecting area between the two sections where there’s plenty of room to stash bags, suitcases or a marketing cart—on the metal floor in the photo above.  

If you look carefully, you can see her shopping cart hogging the aisle in the front of the bus. The subsequent logjam resulted in frazzled nerves and delays. When the bus driver asked her to move the cart, she didn’t budge until she got out four stops later.

I don’t have that kind of nerve.

The Show Must Go On

Here are two early July head-slapping examples involving members of NY theatre audiences.

Patti LuPone ripped the phone out of a woman’s hand without missingShows for Days a beat as she played a diva, Irene, in “Shows for Days.” She’d been texting throughout the star’s performance at Lincoln Center. According to Beckie Strum in the New York Post, her co-star Michael Urie said her performance, “…was good and it didn’t disrupt the momentum of the play.” Lupone told Playbill that the LED smartphone screen disrupts audience members and actors alike. She was particularly annoyed because earlier that day the matinee performance was punctuated by ringtones and the screech of a faulty hearing aid.

Before a performance of “Hand to God” at the Booth Theatre another audience member jumped on stage to try to charge his cell phone on what turned out to be a prop that wasn’t plugged into an outlet. Robert Viagas wrote on playbill.com, “It’s nice that people feel at home at Broadway theatres — but perhaps they shouldn’t feel this at home.”

Behind the Curtain

And in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Pia Catton wrote “Phones Rankle Offstage, Too.” In just one example she described a typical incident. “Opera singer Jennifer Rowley, who performs at the Metropolitan Opera and London’s Covent Garden, said she once auditioned for a director who, exasperated by her chosen song, started out barely paying attention. ‘He immediately pulled out his phone and starting texting while I was singing,’ said the soprano, whose high notes ultimately proved more captivating than his screen. ‘When it got interesting, he stopped.’”

I can’t tell if these people—none of whom are kids–are stupid, feel entitled, are unconscious, suffer from extreme selfishness or come from a different planet. And you? Have you noticed or read about other such incidents of late?

Jennifer Rowley, photo: classicalvoiceamerica.org

Jennifer Rowley, photo: classicalvoiceamerica.org

Service of Trade Magazines: A Gift to Businesses

August 20th, 2015

Categories: Bargain, Credit Card, Economy, Magazines, Retail

NY Now

Earlier this week I visited a small segment of what was the International Gift Show—called NY Now these days, “tradeshow for the home, lifestyle and gift market”—highlights of which I’ve covered in past posts. I thought I’d form an impression of whether or not same sex marriage has impacted this industry’s products, color and design, but I stopped taking notes when I learned that there wasn’t a NY Now catalog to be had in the Javits Center: They’d run out–a first. OK, so everyone else studies their tablets. I miss my printed catalog, a wonderful resource.

Instead, I brought back to the office a stack of trade magazines. I’ve always had a weak spot for paper Card by egg pressgoods and Stationery Trends’ summer 2015 issue, the first one I opened, didn’t disappoint. I appreciated the hand of the cover, the stock on which it was printed, the layouts and many of the graphics of the featured cards such as one by Egg Press, “you’re my cup of tea,” photo at right, chosen to illustrate the article, “A Kinder, Gentler Navy.”

From the other issues I learned a lot about what is going on at retail, the economy and why.

Warren Shoulberg, [photo right, below], is one of the best writers, thinkers and speakers in the industry. In his opinion piece in HFN’s August 15 issue, the magazine’s editorial director covered retails’ rediscovery of outlets. After reviewing outlet history, he reported that today TJX is “outperforming virtually every other retailer in America.” [It owns TJMaxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods.] He warned that the format isn’t foolproof and mentioned the now defunct Loehman’s, Filene’s Basement and Conway. [I don’t know Conway, but to be fair the first two had long runs.] 

Photo: tallyhofarm.co.uk

Photo: tallyhofarm.co.uk

Shoulberg wrote, “what drives this channel is the pursuit of the bargain, not necessarily the bargain itself.” To make his point, Macy’s shoppers, he observed, can enjoy similar deep dish discounts if they add up all available coupons and promotions.

In his commentary in Home & Textiles Today, Shoulberg, who is editorial director here as well, explained why the home textiles and furnishings Warren Shoulbergbusinesses are faltering: fewer new households. And why is that? College grads “and other 20-somethings are increasingly moving back into—or never leaving in the first place—their parents’ homes.” Shoulberg cites Pew Research Center findings that this situation is the worst “in recent memory” including the Great Recession. This reason, he wrote, has more impact on sales of these categories than housing starts or any other. He suggested that “If the kids are back home, that’s where the industry needs to be, too.”

He doesn’t have enough to do so Shoulberg’s also a contributing columnist at Gifts and Decorative Accessories where he advised that industry to become, like others, i.e. “more highly concentrated.” He continued, “But maybe, just maybe, there are economies of scale when companies get together and join forces.” Business-wise he’s right, but I long for a burgeoning 21st Century Arts & Crafts Movement, which the most exciting and creative aspects of this industry represent. Professionally and personally there are few places I enjoy visiting more than a wonderful craft fair—and the NY Gift Show—I mean NY Now.

In her LDB Interior Textiles editorial, Wanda Jankowski reports on a major shift in attitude regarding consumer spending in this country: Since 2008, the editor-in-chief wrote, “US consumers have learned to defer product gratification and accept that they can have something they want only if they figure out how to pay for it.” Good for us, not so good for retail.

In Nicole Leinbach Reyhle’s article, “What You Need to Know Now About The Upcoming EMV Changes,” in Museums & More, I learned that credit card fraud in the U.S. is around $8.6 billion/year and that experts expect it to increase to $10 billion this year. EMV, according to Google, “is a technical standard for smart payment cards and for payment terminals and automated teller machines which accept them.” Not good, though valuable, news.

What trade or specialty magazines—online or printed—do you follow? In making business or personal financial decisions do you take seriously the impact of the trends and developments such trade pundits share? Do you think what they write about their industries has significance well beyond them?

 

 

New York Stock Exchange, photo en.wikipedia.org

New York Stock Exchange, photo en.wikipedia.org

 

 

Service of Hope: Art and Flowers

August 17th, 2015

Categories: Art, Gardening, Government, Hope

 

Creatures left these perennials alone this year.

Creatures left these perennials alone this year.

I was full of righteous indignation when I first read Sonja Sharp’s Wall Street Journal article, “‘Summer Streets’ Art Swiped Again.” As the title hints at, for the second year, people stole art that was made into signs. The project was commissioned by the Department of Transportation [DOT]. 

Not a blossom in sight.

Not a blossom in sight.

A similar thing happens to me though the perpetrators are animal, not human. I returned to our house on Friday night to discover barren sticks where zinnias and dahlias once thrived. Where were the flowers that I’d patiently deadheaded, fed with Milorganite that has a smell repellant to deer [and me], and watered? Answer: In some wild creature’s stomach. Something like this happens every year. More later.

Sharp wrote about what she described as “A series of cheeky street signs bolted high above Manhattan intersections” commissioned by the DOT to enhance areas of the city throughout August. Starting with 30, some installed seven feet high, she reported that there were only a handful a week after they were installed. “’It’s the nature of signs in public,’ artist Stephen Powers said upon learning that his vinyl-on-aluminum ‘emotional wayfinding’ series had apparently been dismantled by sticky-fingered fans. ‘They print a lot of ‘Stop’ signs and they print a lot of ‘One Way’ signs because they tend to walk.’”

Summer Streets 2015Reading about the stolen signs my kneejerk reaction was, “With so much that needs attention, what the dickens is the DOT doing spending resources and staff time on a project involving cool signs that just scream to be taken and always are?” And “Why hang some so high that few would notice them in the first place?”

Adding insult to injury, the first sentence in DOT’s “About” section reads: “DOT’s mission is to provide for the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods in the City of New York and to maintain and enhance the transportation infrastructure crucial to the economic vitality and quality of life of our primary customers, City residents.”

Sharp quoted a DOT press release: “These signs will surprise and delight passersby offering them clever food for thought.” So what does this have to do with the mission?

Later she added about the artistic street signs: “’The miracle of it is they’ll live forever on Instagram,’ Mr. Powers said of his work, adding, ‘That’s kind of where art lives now.’”

So what about my flowers? I have a perennial garden that survived relatively unscathed this year [photo at top] so I’m lucky. Once a pond dweller rodent broke every stem and had the nerve not to eat the blossoms of black eyed Susan’s, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort and other flowers I look forward to seeing and picking. Other summers, deer decapitated every colorful top leaving a lozenge-shaped garden of tall green leaves and beaver felled a precious cherry tree we’d planted and nurtured for years.  Like the DOT, I have a list of repairs to which I should direct money and time yet I spend it on flowers.

My husband is blessedly understanding and calm about the annual financial and floral devastation. About the latter, he says, “It’s nature.”  Isn’t the DOT working with similar trust and anticipation?

Do you also think these instances are analogous? Do you repeatedly toss money at hopeless causes?

 

A day after I took this photo the orange zinnias, like the dahlias in the middle, were also gone.

A day after I took this photo the orange zinnias, like the dahlias in the middle, were also gone.

Service of a New Twist on Identity Theft: A Hemorrhage in Medical Care

August 13th, 2015

Categories: Identity Theft, Medical Administration, Medical Care, Theft

identity theft

Identity theft has spread from retail and banks to hospitals according to Stephanie Armour who reported the new contamination in her Wall Street Journal article, “How Identity Theft Sticks You With Hospital Bills: Thieves use stolen personal data to get treatment, drugs, medical equipment.

The only way that Kathleen Meiners, the mother of a man in his 30s with Down syndrome, could stop harassment by a hospital that claimed he’d had an operation was through the newspaper’s intervention.  Mrs. Meiners figured her son would quickly be off the hook after bringing him to the hospital so staff could see he’d had no procedure for a leg injury. But someone had to pay for the operation the identity thief had undergone so the hospital, ER physicians and radiologist continued to go after her son, eventually via collection agencies.

There’s more. With the thief’s medical charts “folded into” the victim’s, a person who doesn’t have diabetes might be shown to have it or the thief’s blood type might be listed as theirs. Mrs. Meiner’s son had no drug allergies but was listed as having some. Guess what? The victim can’t see the messed up medical records to untangle them because of privacy laws that protect the thief’s information.

Mrs. Meiners son isn’t alone. Armour wrote about a Florida woman who was charged for a foot amputation who showed up at the hospital to point out her two feet to no avail. A man learned someone had stolen all his benefits when he was refused a prescription refill.

Armour continued, “Fueling medical identity theft is the surge in electronic medical records and data breaches at insurers and health-care providers. Medical identity theft—in which someone fraudulently uses data to bill for medical services—affected 2.3 million adult patients in 2014 versus 1.4 million in 2009, according to a survey published in February by the Ponemon Institute LLC, a research concern.”

EmergencyTo help stem the tide, insurance companies have formed a Medical Identity Fraud Alliance and the FBI, Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] and the Justice Department are also investigating, according to Armour. And hospitals are getting into the act she wrote.  BayCare Health System in Florida asks patients if they want the veins in a palm scanned which is then “converted into a number that correlates with the patient’s medical record.” Other hospitals ask to see photo ID and are increasing digital security. Medicare cards distributed by HHS will no longer imbed social security numbers or show code according to a law the President signed in April.

“Unlike in financial identity theft,” wrote Armour, “health identity-theft victims can remain on the hook for payment because there is no health-care equivalent of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which limits consumers’ monetary losses if someone uses their credit information.” In Ponemon’s survey “65% of victims reported they spent an average of $13,500 to restore credit, pay health-care providers for fraudulent claims and correct inaccuracies in their health records.”

Armour reported that social security, Medicare and Medicaid numbers are sold on the black market for $50 vs. $6-$7 for a credit card number. The latter can be cancelled quickly hence the lesser value. “Sometimes, health-care providers are the perpetrators,” she wrote. “Federal prosecutors charged Dr. Kenneth Johnson with using Manor Medical Imaging, a Glendale, Calif. clinic, to write prescriptions for drugs and then sell them on the black market.”

Were you aware of this twist in identity theft? What can be done about it?

Identity theft 2

Service of What to Do With Tidbits of Time

August 10th, 2015

Categories: Pet Peeves, Power

20 minutes

I listed 23 pet peeves in two posts four and five years ago and have no idea why I left out this one because it has driven me nuts since my first job out of college—if not before.

Say I have an appointment to speak with someone at 3:00 pm. I call and they say, “Can you call me in 20 minutes?” I reply “Yes,” if it works, and quickly hang up as I figure they are on the other phone, on deadline or that something’s come up that prevents them from keeping our appointment.

I’ve always wished that the person who is moving the time would say, “I’ll call you back in 20 minutes—that OK?”

But they never do. I know why: Power.

appointmentIn addition to messing up my schedule, the person has pinched this 20—or whatever number of–minutes from me because I can’t lose myself in another project. I know myself. I’ll look up and an hour may have elapsed.

Am I alone at feeling irritated?

What kinds of projects do you start when you only have a tidbit of time? Under what circumstances do you tell the other person, “Could you call me in 20?” or do you always say that?

Irritated

Service of DNA to Train Pet Owners

August 6th, 2015

Categories: Dogs, Entitlements, Pets, Spoiled

 

My nephew Barry at the vet.

My nephew Barry at the vet.

My idea of capturing DNA off garbage tossed on otherwise pristine country roads isn’t as farfetched as I once thought [though I haven’t yet figured out the part about matching/connecting it to the perpetrators’ genetic footprint.]

The board of a Brooklyn condo with about 440 apartments, One Brooklyn Bridge Park, did a similar thing. Some owners of 175 dog residents allowed their furry charges to defecate and urinate in public indoor spaces leaving it up to staff to clean up, ignoring countless pleas to stop. As a result tenants now have to register each pet for $35, DNA is taken, checked against traces found and fees meted out.

Dog puppyIn December 2014 building staff recorded the number and types of incidents, according to Ginia Bellafante reporting in her New York Times article “Using DNA to Fight Dog Owners’ Discourtesy in Brooklyn.” That month there was “a mix of diarrhea, feces, urine and vomit: found on virtually every floor including the main lobby and north and south lobbies; found in all five elevators and with the staff cleanup time ranging from 10 to 50 minutes (average time roughly 20 minutes) per incident.”

Bellafante noted that the waste problem at One Brooklyn Bridge Park was especially bad in inclement weather. Can you imagine paying to live with such neighbors? That honor doesn’t come cheap. Bellafante wrote that two bedroom apartments “of modest size” cost $2.5 million. NYC and many other municipalities have poop scoop laws for streets and sidewalks to enhance cohabitation of man and pooch. You’d expect, at the least, that civilized people would exhibit similar respect inside their own homes.

Dog trainingAccording to Bellafante a Tennessee-based biotech company’s subsidiary, Poo Prints, does the trick at this apartment house and in over 1,000 other buildings in NY and around the country. She reported that in Naples, Italy an effective dog genetic testing program comes with $685 fines for violators. Through genetic matches, One Brooklyn Bridge Park has charged seven owners $250 per occurrence since May. The initiative seems to be working.

I’ve owned dogs in NYC and their companionship made it well worth daily walks through snow, Dog phys.orgrain, heat or gloom of night. It wouldn’t occur to me to use the public areas of any place in which I live or visit as a pet WC and inflict my pet’s mess on others much less expect staff to clean it up. Accidents happen. My five month old puppy freshly adopted from Bide-a-Wee peed in the elevator of a Brooklyn co-op I lived in years ago. I was immediately on the job with paper towel, disinfectant and Nature’s Miracle to make amends. Later, because the elevator carpet was still wet when a neighbor asked the doorman about the stain, the doorman, a dog person, [and a very nice man who sensed my distress] told him: “One of the children spilled his soda.”

I thought animal lovers were a breed apart, especially those who invite pets to join their families. This story proves me wrong. Have you ever before heard of such an epidemic of slothful, disrespectful, inhuman behavior?

Dachshund

Service of Specificity: Bias-Free Language and Politics

August 3rd, 2015

Categories: Political Correctness, University, Words

 

 

Photo: sacnas.org

Photo: sacnas.org

I first read about this University of New Hampshire language guide kerfuffle on The Daily Beast and then linked to Holly Ramer’s Associated Press story, “UNH president offended by bias-free language guide,” on the pressherald.com.

Ramer wrote: “The president of the University of New Hampshire says he’s troubled and offended by many parts of a ‘bias-free language guide’ developed by students and staff, particularly a suggestion that using the word ‘American’ is problematic because it fails to recognize South America.”

She added: “He [Mark Huddleston] says it’s ironic that a well-meaning effort to be sensitive ended up being offensive to many people, including himself.” He made clear that “free and unfettered speech” is the policy of the university, not the language guide.

UNH unh.eduA few days later The Washington Post’s Janell Ross picked up the story in her “The Fix” column. She added a layer to the story that explained why we are now reading about a guide first published two years ago. “What has followed is a takedown of what a young conservative journalist and his editors regarded as a kind of fiendish political correctness happening at the University of New Hampshire. Of course, the guide at the center of this story is itself intended as a takedown on cultural insensitivity. Wheels within wheels.”

Peter Hasson is the “young conservative journalist,” a Texas correspondent for a conservative online publication, CampusReform.org, “wholly funded by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to equip and train young conservative activists, journalists and future candidates, Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and the institute’s founder and president, told me.” [Janell Ross is the “me.”]

In addition to “American,” according to Ross, Hasson listed other words he “deemed problematic” that were flagged in the guide: homosexual; illegal alien, Caucasian, mothering, fathering, foreigners. Quoting the university’s website, the purpose of the guide is to “invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.” Instead of homosexual the guide recommends “same gender loving.” Preferable to “illegal alien,” is “undocumented immigrant” or better yet, “asylum seeker.”

I’m all for changes that help improve communications, which by that definition, also removes the sting of bigotry from language and maintains accuracy and clarity. Not all these examples do that. Does “Asylum seeker” address people who only come here to find seasonal work so as to send money home?  What to do with Caucasian, defined by Google as “white skinned of European origin,” which I am. As Seinfeld and his cronies used to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” so if it applies, what is?

I first became sensitive to the American North/South issue after spending a summer in Chile, Brazil and Argentina as a teen. There, which America I was referring to mattered. But why delete the word “American” from everything? Isn’t the audience pertinent? If I’m writing about a family-owned company with headquarters in the same Massachusetts town for its 100 years, and I’m sending a press release about it exclusively to media in the U.S., a subsequent reference to “American company” is clear, accurate and unbiased.

Where do you come out in all of this: Should the president of a university know what’s on the institution’s website long before a controversial part of it hits the press? Are liberals the only ones who are sensitive to the impact of words? Is the converse true—that conservatives don’t care? Isn’t “bias-free language” a less opinionated description of what is also called political correctness? Do other countries associate word-choice with politics?

 

Photo: worldofmaps.net

Photo: worldofmaps.net

 

 

Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email


Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Clicky Web Analytics