Service of Puzzling Popularity in Fashion, Architecture and Digital Aids

November 18th, 2019

Categories: Architecture, City Living, Fashion, Fashion Accessories, Garden, Transportation

Photo: jcrew.com

The usefulness or wisdom of some popular products or devices baffles me. Here are a few examples:

Vested Interest

I like the look of vests and own some but not the quilted ones for use outdoors. Sure they look great but don’t people’s arms get cold when they wear them without an overcoat or jacket?

On a Tear

Photo: levi.com

While I admire jeans that are worn from use over years–I have some myself that I wore for years to garden [when I had one] and to clean house. I’ve not seen one person who looks good in jeans with faux rips, tears and holes. They are obvious and sad.

Romantic Garden Elements

When I bought my house eons ago I thought a gazebo would be a wonderful addition to the pond surround and envisioned picnics and early evening meals there. An interior designer friend warned me that I’d never use it, would have to maintain the wood and that because of its design the weather would soon destroy it. I never bought one but still think some are stunning and romantic. They remind me of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies–didn’t they dance in and out of one?

Photo: backyardbuildings.com

Last summer I attended a luncheon party in a gazebo that was equipped with screens–an essential addition: We didn’t share our meal with one fly or mosquito. I still question the practicality of these elegant wood structures.

Where’s the Bus?

Passenger information display systems indicate the number of stops away a bus is [or the expected wait time]. They are terrific when they work: You can determine whether to wait at the express or local bus stop–they often are a block apart in NYC and you can miss a bus if you’re not waiting at the right spot. The information is handy in decision-making: Do I give up waiting and walk or take a taxi to get to an appointment on time?

The problem is they are unreliable and often don’t work: You don’t know when to rely on them. I took the photo below early one weekday morning. In fact, a limited/express Select bus showed up first–none appear on the screen. And while the nearest bus stop was in sight of where I stood, there were no other buses in view even though the digital sign indicated two locals were one stop away.

Are there popular clothing styles, architectural elements or transportation improvements that puzzle you and make you question why people buy them?

Service of Who Vets the Details for a Prince?

November 14th, 2019

Categories: Art, Artist, Fake, Fundraising

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

The characters in this post are Charles, Prince of Wales, a British businessman, James Stunt, and a convicted painting forger Tony Tetro.

Javier Pes covered the incident on artnet.com in “Prince Charles’s Charity Displayed Paintings by Picasso, Dalí, and Monet—Until a Convicted Forger Claimed Them as His Own.” He wrote that Stunt lent “works supposedly by Monet, Picasso, and Salvador Dalí to Dumfries House, the historic property in Scotland that is a cause close to the heart of the heir to the British throne.”

Dumfries House Photo: dumfries-house.org.UK

Stunt got them back after Tetro announced he’d painted them. He also said that Stunt knew they were fake because he’d ordered them for his home. The faux artist added that “there is no way that these paintings could pass even the lightest scrutiny. The canvases are new, paint is modern, stretcher bars are not correct or period.”

The coverage implied that the Prince should have known better and we don’t know if he’d ever seen the canvases. Pes wrote: “The British royal, who is a former trustee of London’s National Gallery and grew up surrounded by Old Masters, must have been delighted when the flamboyant British businessman James Stunt agreed to lend 17 works.”

“LE FERMIER ET SON ÉPOUSE” by Joan Miro Photo: joan-miro.net

Stunt was also on the griddle. Quoting the Daily Mail‘s account and what Stunt said, Pes reported: “ ‘What is the crime of lending them to a stately home, [to] the Prince of Wales and putting them on display for the public to enjoy?’ He stopped short of accepting that he knew they weren’t originals,” added Pes.

Pes wrote: “Tetro, who was found guilty of art forgery involving works by Dalí, Miro, Chagall, and Norman Rockwell in the past, now makes what he calls ’emulations’ of Modern masterworks. Stunt ‘knew with 100 percent certainty that these works were by me,’ Tetro said, a claim that Stunt denies. ‘We discussed the subject of the paintings and many of the particulars. These were decorative paintings that were purposely made by me as decorations for his home.'”

It’s hard to tell who was pulling the wool over whose eyes in this $136 million art scam. Was Stunt trying to gain provenance for fakes he knew were such? Did he really know what he bought from Tetro? Was the Prince of Wales, who was trying to generate funds for a historic Scottish property, taken to the cleaners by Stunt, whom, Pes notes at the end of the article, went bankrupt this summer? Should the Prince’s front people/handlers–or the folks in charge of fundraising for Dumfries House–have done a better job at vetting the background of the theoretically munificent businessman before accepting his offer? Or should the Prince have known better?

Photo: vootelecom.co.uk

Service of Two Sides of the Story

November 11th, 2019

Categories: College, Journalism, News, Newspapers, University

Photo: hvinnovationgroup.com

A news story should represent both sides of a story and a reporter owes it to readers to attempt to shoot for this balance. Let the readers decide. As a public relations practitioner there are times where the most I can hope for in a negative story is the chance for my client to share his/her point of view and I am grateful when the reporter gives my client the chance.

That’s why this debate at Harvard caught my eye and surprised me.

Marc Tracy wrote “Harvard Newspaper Faces Backlash Over ICE Article” for The New York Times. Criticism against the 146 year old daily was made by campus groups Act on a Dream and Harvard College Democrats. They reprimanded The Harvard Crimson for writing that the reporter had contacted for comment Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] for the article “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.”

Photo: thecrimson.com

The editors wrote: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.”

Act on a Dream had organized the rally described in the Crimson. Furious, the group launched a petition “demanding that The Crimson vow to never contact ICE again and to apologize for the ‘harm it has inflicted.’ ” They gathered 650+ online signatures.

One grievance by Act on a Dream was that ICE had a “long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them.”  Even though the rally had already taken place when the story ran, they claimed that tipping off ICE could endanger undocumented immigrants on campus. Harvard College Democrats said “It’s very much in line with our values. It lines up with our commitment to protecting these movements, making sure people’s voices can be heard, that intimidation from ICE doesn’t prevent these students from exercising their right to mobilize and organize.”

Photo: wsaz.com

Tracy wrote “It is one of the first tasks a journalist learns on the job, a routine aspect of reporting: asking for comment from people or organizations that are mentioned prominently in an article, especially those cast in a harsh light.”

The Crimson “stood by its reporting.” The paper’s president and managing editor “wrote that ‘every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.'” They cited approval of the practice by the Student Press Law Center and Society of Professional Journalists.

Tracy quoted University of Michigan law professor Margo Schlanger “who specializes in civil rights and prison reform.” He wrote about Schlanger that “while she understands the protestors’ concerns, the paper had done nothing unethical.” Quoting Schlanger: “They’re trying to make ICE a pariah agency” and that it was “not responsible journalism not to call the agency to ask them to respond to things.”

Where do you stand: Should a newspaper reporter always try for comments from people representing all sides of a story or are there exceptions and have the rules changed?

Photo: tes.com

Service of Research

November 7th, 2019

Categories: Cheating, Failure, Fake, Research, University

Photo: stemcell.com

I admire researchers for so many reasons. It can take decades for them to make a discovery and years more to prove it. Diligence, the ability to fight frustration and dissent are just three characteristics of this valiant group.

I was distressed to read Noam Cohen’s New York Times article, “M.I.T. Shuts Down ‘Food Computer’ Project” about the world-renowned research citadel. The allegedly promising venture–The Open Agricultural Initiative [OpenAg]–involved greenhouses, called food computers, designed for crops that grow in air–without soil or sunlight. In addition to those in food computers at the university there were larger greenhouses in shipping containers in Middletown, Mass.

M.I.T. Media Lab. Photo: news.mit.edu

Cohen wrote: “The once-celebrated M.I.T. Media Lab micro-greenhouses were supposed to grow food under virtually any conditions. In the end, they worked under almost none. And now, M.I.T. has turned off the lights, possibly for good.”

He added “The project has been accused of misleading sponsors and the public by exaggerating results while the Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its financial ties to the convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein.”

The director of the OpenAg program, Caleb Harper, posted images and videos on social media “that looked like experiments” and exaggerated or made false claims. Former researchers said he bought plants and put them in the “food computers” pretending they’d grown there. They said that data would have “little scientific significance” because they could not “control the conditions within the boxes.”

The Middletown containers were closed down recently because they dumped wastewater “with 20 times the legal limit of nitrogen underground.”

M.I.T. Photo: news.mit.edu

According to Cohen, Harper boasted that food computers he’d sent Syrian refugees in camps gave them “the means to grow their own food inside the camp.” Instead, these computers ended up “in a Jordanian research lab where they faltered because of hot, dry conditions and technical failures.”

The project attracted $millions in sponsorship funds and heaps of positive publicity including the likes of “60 Minutes” and a TED Talk.  I wager it received the acclaim and financial support based on its affiliation with M.I.T. Such shenanigans can’t help the university’s reputation and I wonder who minds the store in such institutions to prevent this kind of tempting fabrication from happening more often.

Photo: twitter.com

 

Service of Who Influences You Now?

November 4th, 2019

Categories: Cosmetics, Influencers, Marketing, Promotions, Social Media

Photo: emojis.wiki

When Pete Wells, The New York Times’ restaurant critic, recently gave legendary Brooklyn steakhouse Peter Luger zero stars, down from two, his review–Peter Luger Used to Sizzle. Now it Sputters–which knocked the stuffing out of the place, drew plenty of attention on local media.

Peter Luger steak Photo: pinterest.com

I’ve not heard of similar impact if a social media venue gave a thumbs down to a product or service. Yet companies believe in their significance to move goods and are paying plenty to get a thumbs up from people they’ve identified as social media influencers to rave to followers on Instagram, Facebook and the like.

According to Suzanne Kapner and Sharon Terlep in their Wall Street Journal article: “What began as friends and family sharing their favorite products has become a lucrative advertising industry of celebrity endorsers, influencers and meme creators. Such paid endorsements, known as sponsored content, are the online equivalent of a 30-second TV spot. Big-name stars can command $100,000 or more for a single YouTube video or Instagram photo.”

As so often happens, greed among some has weakened the value of what had become a good thing for the influencers. [The jury is still out as to whether such endorsements actually sell product and with some manufacturers the bloom is already off the rose.]

Photo: ipsy.com

The reporters wrote in “Advertisers Sour on Online Influencers,” that “a whiff of deceit now taints the influencer marketplace. Influencers have strained ties with advertisers by inflating the number of their followers, sometimes buying fake ones by the thousands. They also have damaged their credibility with real-life followers by promoting products they don’t use.”

The long Journal article gives examples, excuses and alternatives–some advertisers are now using their customers instead of celebrities to endorse products instead–but the paragraph above hits the crux of the flaws in the concept whereby consumers lost trust in influencer claims.  In addition, advertisers can’t track or confirm the success of a YouTube video or Instagram endorsement.

In fact Ipsy, the beauty products company that launched the trend eight years ago is “Now the brand leading the way again, this time by pulling back” from endorsements by influencers.

Click farm. Photo: core77.com

Nevertheless Kapner and Terlep reported that the influencer industry is still lucrative: Global estimates range from $4.1 to $8.2 billion/year in 2019 versus $500 million four years ago. Influencers have made 50 percent more each year in the last two. “Prices per Instagram post range from $200 for an influencer with as few as 10,000 followers to more than $500,000 for celebrities with millions of followers, according to Mediakix.”

One flaw: So-called influencers can easily bolster their follower numbers by hiring “click farms” that “employ people to inflate on-line traffic.” For $49 and $39 you can buy 1,000 YouTube and Facebook followers respectively and that number costs $16 on Instagram, one pundit estimated.

Do traditional reviews influence whether you’ll try a restaurant, product or buy tickets to a movie or Broadway show? Do you check out Yelp or websites that report what customers or patients think of establishments or doctors like ZocDoc? If a celebrity you admire says he/she likes a product on social media or anywhere else, do you give it a try?

Photo: cosmeticsbusiness.com

Service of a NJ School District Punishing Kids for Unpaid Lunch Bills

October 31st, 2019

Categories: Deprivation, Food, Punishment, School, School Lunch, Tradition

Photo: columbustelegram.com

What is it about school systems and children’s lunches that brings out the worst in some? In May, 2017 I wrote “Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming,” exposing administrators in Canonsburg, Pa. who humiliated children whose parents hadn’t paid their lunch fees, not letting the kids eat. Earlier, in a different post, I suggested the NYC school system pay for breakfast and lunch for kids who couldn’t afford it and lower their spending on laptops from the Rolls Royce version they had in mind to a serviceable but cheaper model.

Photo: northersey.com

Recently Ella Torres wrote about a Cherry Hill “New Jersey school district [that] is banning students with school lunch debt from attending extracurricular activities, including prom and field trips” or from buying a yearbook. The ABC news journalist reported “Middle school students who owe $75 or more in school lunch fees will face the same punishment, while elementary school students will be barred from participating in after-school events and attending class trips.”

Torres quoted a grandparent who said: “It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying a bill because they don’t want to.”

A senior asked the board ” ‘What are colleges gonna think?’ noting how important extracurricular activities are on applications.”

According to Torres, NJ.com reported that meal debt in the district was over $14,000, counting students of all ages owing $10 or more.

At least the district still feeds kids who owe lunch money.

Photo: impactteachers.com

The school superintendent, Dr. Joseph Meloche, said: “Money is certainly something that we have to deal with. That’s our world, but that’s not the most important thing that we’re addressing in terms of the policy and the work that’s being done. It’s about supporting children and supporting families … sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing to do.”

I haven’t changed my mind: Depriving or punishing kids over issues of food is atrocious. Do you agree? Prom, the yearbook, extracurricular activities and school trips are big deals for kids. Will deprivation cover the debt? Is this an appropriate way to teach kids a lesson–making them pressure their parents to pay up when it’s the school that should be doing so?  Are there jobs kids–especially the young ones–can do to pay off some of the debt? How do other districts handle it–taxes or fundraisers?

Photo: tes.com

Service of Insurance: What it Pays For, Making Coverage Easier and When a Company Should Consider Ducking Coverage

October 28th, 2019

Categories: Business Insurance, Church, Health Insurance, Insurance, School, Statute of Limitations

Photo: aiche.org

If I had back all the premiums I’ve paid for everything from renter’s and owner’s to car, life and health–even Social Security–insurance I’d be a wealthy woman as many would be. I admit that when I’ve needed it, I was grateful for the coverage.

For humanitarian reasons I question how insurance companies can get away with not covering a sick person for lifesaving medication and related legitimate health expenses. Drugs that aren’t on approved lists aren’t covered nor is unlimited home health care which is cheaper and in most cases far better than carting off a person to a nursing home. In this post I write about a pharmaceutical company that’s addressing how to help insurance companies pay for a pricey drug.

I also question whether an insurance company should have to pay an organization’s settlement and legal expenses in cases of abuse. The exception would be legal expenses. They should pay them if the accusations prove false.

Medical

Here’s a creative way that pharmaceutical company Novartis is helping insurance companies pay for Zolgensma, the most expensive drug in the world. I first read about it this summer in a Wall Street Journal [WSJ] article by Denise Roland, “Insurers Limit Access to $2 Million Drug.” One dose of the innovative gene therapy helps prevent a rare condition in young children from getting worse.

They are born without a gene that controls the muscles that allow them to sit up and later, stand on their own. When this article was written, insurance companies were reluctant to spring for the money to pay for the one injection because they weren’t sure it would work. It is meant to halt the progression of the disease, it doesn’t reverse or cure it. It is most effective when given in infancy, before symptoms appear.

Photo: zolbensma.com

Things have changed since summer. Recently Novartis made concessions to help patients acquire the drug. Denise Roland and  Carlo Martuscelli explained the company’s compromises in the WSJ article “Novartis Lauds Launch of World’s Most Expensive Drug.”

Novartis agreed to refund some of the cost to the insurance company if the drug didn’t work. It also offered to divide the cost evenly over five years [though few insurers have opted for this choice]. Sales of $160,000 in the first three months have exceeded analyst expectations. CEO Vas Narasimhan “said on a call with reporters that 99 percent of patients who were eligible for Zolgensma were receiving it, although some must go through an appeal process to do so.” Regardless, Narasimhan said patients “on average” received the drug within 30 days of requesting it.

Insuring Abuse

On the other hand I wonder how some insurance customers think that they should collect and why a company should pay them.

The title of a recent WSJ article by Nicole Friedman and Ian Lovett was: “Insurers Face Wave of Costly Child Sex-Abuse Claims–As 22 states move to ease victims’ pursuit of damages against alleged abusers, disputes over decades-old policies loom.” In New York, the Child Victims Act gives victims a year to report abuse with no time limits.

Photo: correllfirm.com

The reporters wrote: “Most of these institutions, such as churches or schools, are expected to try to use liability insurance to cover some of the cost of defending against these lawsuits and paying potential damages.” They continued ” The legal disputes underscore the complexity of litigating decades-old claims and the uncertainty about how much money will ultimately be available to compensate victims.” It could be $billions they estimated.

According to them insurance companies have already paid 20 to 80 percent of settlements for victims against churches. [The New York Archdiocese has been compensated in one or another way since 1954.]

Photo: businessinsurance.com

As the statute of limitations kicked in, insurers calculated what their exposure would be. Now that it has been lifted for a year, those calculations are out the window and exposure to compensation has increased, but not without complications. “Many institutions and insurers don’t hold on to decades-old policy documents, and it can be difficult to track down details. Sometimes ‘insurance archaeologists’ are hired to hunt down evidence of old policies,” Friedman and Lovett reported.

They identified additional reasons to derail compensation: Did the policyholder know about the alleged abuse? “Liability insurance policies typically cover negligent acts but not intentional ones.” And should a claim cover one alleged abuser or each of his victims?

Do you agree that health insurers/Rx plans should cover costs for medicine, generic if necessary–even expensive experimental drugs?

What about an institution with a sexual predator among its employees?  Should court or settlement costs be eligible for insurance coverage if the person is proved guilty? Wouldn’t this be like my buying insurance to cover my legal and bond costs were I to be accused of robbing a bank?

Photo: witc.edu

Service of Pride in Work

October 24th, 2019

Categories: Apartment Living, Construction, Hair Salon, Management, Pride, Work

Photo: youtube

Hair-raising

I have been going to the same hair stylist and salon for years. Support staff in the establishment changes frequently. Most recently this neighborhood business hired a hair washer who, when he’s finished rinsing, adds a spectacular head massage for minutes–no extra charge [though my appreciation appears in his tip]. Heaven. When not washing hair he never sits still, sweeping away every hair practically as soon as it hits the bright white floor. Who knows if he loves what he does but his pleasant nature and fervor insure that he’ll always get work. He’s at the salon a few days a week and is a bartender at night.

Hauntingly Charming

I forgot I’d dashed off a note to the manager of my apartment building. I admired the fall decorations that appeared in the entrance early in the month and the abundant flowers planted outside. When I passed him in the lobby weeks later he beamed and thanked me for my note. I’ve written before about him and the 510 apartments he oversees. He runs the 38 story building as though it was his private home.

Brick by Brick

In the 30s, east of Second Avenue in Manhattan, there are sterile streets spanning two blocks–no stores, no doors to apartments or offices–just road and narrow sidewalks on either side, which is unusual. The passages permit vehicles quick access to the Midtown Tunnel that runs under the East River connecting this borough and Queens.

I walk through one almost daily on my way to and from work [photo left and below]. It was out of commission and closed to pedestrian and vehicle traffic for a few days to lay down new sidewalks and brick walls. This particular morning a crew was adding some finishing touches. As I sauntered past I said to the crew chief “looking good” and he stopped me to point out particulars of his men’s handiwork. He was so pleased someone noticed the brickwork and sidewalks and joyfully shared some finer points.

It is a pleasure to be around people who act as though they like what they do, who do their work well and with pride. Can you share examples?

Service of a Potentially Hidden Hurdle to Sell a House

October 21st, 2019

Categories: Big, Historic, Landmark, Real Estate

photo: homestratosphere.com

I prefer old to new homes and am distressed to learn when a historic home hits the dust.

But a twist unearthed by Wall Street Journal reporter Kris Frieswick in “When a Home Is Suddenly Called ‘Historic’” gives me pause about buying one with history. Her subhead tells it all: “Historic designations are becoming controversial as third parties seek landmark status on a home, often against the homeowner’s wishes, as a way to block demolition or development of a property.”

askbelmontcitizens.wordpress.com

She wrote about one couple who was on the cusp of selling their St. Petersburg, Fla. home and had made an offer on another when out of the blue they received a certified letter that put the brakes on their sale. They needed a last piece–a demolition permit–to close the deal to the purchaser, a developer planning to tear it down.

The next door neighbor had alerted the local Community Planning and Preservation Commission and filled out an application to give their home a historic property designation which froze the sale until the City Council approved it or rejected the demolition block put on it.

Photo: dcurbanmom.com

“Potential buyers of property in an established historic district can learn before a purchase what changes are subject to oversight by a historic commission. But with third-party application, when anyone in a community can request a historic designation on a property at any time, homeowners wishing to demolish or significantly renovate the exterior of their home could be stopped by restrictions they never bargained for.”

I’ve seen once beautiful neighborhoods destroyed by people with little taste and fat wallets who demolish charming, vintage smaller homes tucked into stunning landscaping grown over years only to fill almost the entire lot with a monstrosity [photos top, right and left]. The originals were not historic homes but replacing them with giant eyesores bereft of mature perennials, trees and bushes is nonetheless visually criminal in my opinion.

Do you support the concept of a third-party application to a preservation commission about a neighbor’s home that can delay or stop a sale? I empathize with neighbors who fight to maintain the charm of where they live. At the same time I sympathize with someone anxious to sell.

Should a homeowner refuse to sell to a developer or individual planning to tear down a place with significance to a community? Shouldn’t people avoid buying such a home in the first place if they want the flexibility to sell to any and everyone?

 

 

Photo: appuntiturisimo.it

 

Service of Calling a Spade a Spade

October 17th, 2019

Categories: Authenticity, Fake, Farmers, Faux Food, Food, Spade a Spade, Substitutes

Photo: Steamit.com

I can’t sell a ring with glass in the setting and call it a diamond; I can’t call a synthetic textile cashmere, linen or silk no matter what it looks or feels like.

So why is it OK for the substitute milk producers to call their oat, almond or coconut alternatives milk?  And what about the food fiddlers who use the meat word to ID their plant-based alternatives?

Photo: Nexgrill.com

In “Dairy, Beef Products Fight for Shelf Space with Plant-based Alternatives,” Wall Street Journal reporters Heather Haddon and Jacob Bunge write about what cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are doing about it.

They wrote: “Now, cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are starting to push back. Trade groups representing meat and milk producers said Monday they are ramping up marketing to underscore the difference between their cattle-made products and new rivals made from soy, almonds and peas. Plant-based replacements make up just 1% of the U.S. meat market by volume, Nielsen said.” [Nielsen the polling company.]

Photo: timesunion.com

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “also want legal limits on the ability of plant-based producers to call their products milk or meat. This year 45 bills have been introduced in 27 states that seek to police the labeling of plant-based products and cell-cultured meats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a hearing last month on how to update dozens of labeling standards governing food products, including plant-based meats.”

The FDA is currently reviewing 13,000 comments that chime in on whether meat and milk can appear on packaging. One of the advocates for plant-based substitutes for meat thinks it’s unfair to bring the government into the discussion.

I think it’s simple: if it’s not meat or cow [or goat’s] milk the manufacturer shouldn’t use the words meat or milk in labeling and marketing. Your thoughts?

Photo: youtube

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