Service of Leveling the Playing Field for Admission to Top Public Schools

August 22nd, 2019

Categories: Admissions, Competition, Education, High School

Photo: lemongrad.com

Speed reading lessons gave some school kids a leg up in my youth. [My parents didn’t spring to finance that trend.] I didn’t know of test prep in the day though I sure could have used those classes: My pencil-paper-multiple test-taking skills are atrocious.

Leslie Brody reported in The Wall Street Journal that Ronald Lauder and Richard Parsons spent “an additional $1.5 million on their campaign to preserve the admissions test to elite New York public high schools, this time by providing free test preparation and advertisements encouraging more students to take the exam.” The team had previously spent $860,000 for advertising and lobbying. Their initiative is called the Education Equity Campaign

Photo: chalkbeat.org

Lauder graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and Parsons was the CEO of Time Warner. According to Wikipedia, Lauder’s school “is ranked #49 in the National Rankings,” fifth within New York, 6th in the NY metro area and 67th among STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] high schools, reported usnews.com. “Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college.”

The campaign’s objective: “to help low-income students in underrepresented communities get into the eight specialized high schools.” [Wikipedia listed 9]. In addition to the Bronx High School of Science these are Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Technical, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical and Stuyvesant.

What’s the impetus for this initiative now and the philanthropist’s attempts to bolster a different avenue for the underserved population to follow for admission to some of the best high schools in the city? Mayor de Blasio wants to deep six the exam “to better integrate the public high schools.” Specifically he wants to “admit the top 7% of performers from each middle school citywide, using course grades and state test scores.

Photo: twitter.com

In 1970 CUNY, the City University of New York, experimented with changing the standard admissions recipe in favor of open admissions to level the playing field for the diverse city population. Some say that this ruined the stellar reputation of one of the top schools in the state if not the country at the time. CUNY accepted any high school graduate whether or not they had taken the Regents exam. I skimmed nyc.gov “History of Open Admissions and Remedial Education in the U.S.” and read that five and six years later the trustees twice voted to “reestablish admissions standards.” The first plan would have required CUNY applicants to demonstrate 8th grade competency in reading and math; the second would have required those community college students who did not have a minimum high school average, class rank, or General Equivalency Diploma score to obtain remediation through a ‘transitional program.’”

Skipping ahead: “In the 1990s, the university had begun to try to restore the balance between the two and a return to bachelor’s admission standards that emphasized Regents courses, high school grades and standardized testing….”

This is a tough topic and there may be no perfect solutions. Given the unevenness of student competition in public schools in any city, what do you think of de Blasio’s approach–to fill the best specialty public high schools from the top 7 percent of each public middle school in NYC? Or do you think that the Education Equity Campaign’s goal to train underserved students to take the admission tests is a fairer answer and one that would better capture the top students in the city? Is free prep for some and not everyone fair to middle class parents who may not have the means to pay for such classes for their children? What do you suggest?

Photo: educationequity.nyc :

Service of a Bad Sign: Who Approves the Proofs?

August 19th, 2019

Categories: Bank, Bridges, Details, New York City, Potholes, Proofing

Photo: wshu.org

It’s not just road signs in the NY Metro area that need to be corrected at significant expense, but sloppy work by admins that when added up must cost corporations a pretty penny.

I read an Associated Press story in The New York Post which reported that all the signs to the newly named Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge need patching to add his initial–M. “The nearly $4 billion bridge over the Hudson River opened last year. Connecting Westchester and Rockland counties north of New York City, the span replaced the former Tappan Zee Bridge — or, officially, the Gov. Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.”

Photo: lohud.com

The article continues the “missing ‘M.’ fixes come as a state agency is also correcting a misspelling of the name of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. For over 50 years, one “Z″ was missing.” Hmmmm.

On a far smaller scale, a bank put the III that had been at the end of my husband’s name at the end of mine, i.e. Jeanne-Marie Byington III. I called to correct the error for future statements. It took three calls and additional incorrect references to my name for III to disappear.

At another institution, I changed a joint account to one in my name. After asking me all sorts of financial questions for 10+ minutes, the customer service person ordered new checks. [I may be the last person on earth to use checks.] I noticed that the account numbers on the new checks matched those of the closed account. Can you hear the bounce of checks near and far had I not caught the error?

As for the road signs: Who proofs them? Must we spend money to fix them right now when funds could be better applied to road repair?

So who pays for the reprinted checks? I don’t know what to think about the banks’ administrative errors except that I hope that the departments at each institution that add and subtract deposits and withdrawals do a better job.

Photo: yonkerstribune.com

Service of I Never Thought It Would Happen Here: Warnings about Travel to the U.S.

August 15th, 2019

Categories: Tourism, Travel, Travel Warning, Trust

Photo: newyorktour.com

Most American tourists who plan to visit countries that are in the news due to unrest read the State Department’s website to evaluate the danger before booking the trip. International travelers no doubt check in with the keeper of their country’s travel warnings as well.

It breaks my heart that we’re now the subject of warnings by other countries. The potential impact goes well beyond the slap at my national pride and obvious financial repercussions.

Our state department assigns each country with one of four numbers to reflect the safety of travel: 1=exercise normal precautions; 2= increased caution 3= reconsider travel and 4= do not travel. Businessinsider.com recently focused on South American countries reporting1’s such as French Guiana, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Suriname and 2’s Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Guyana and Columbia to 4: Venezuela.

Photo: newyork.cbslocal.com

The reasons for Venezuela’s last level: “The State Department warns of crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of US citizens. The agency ordered government employees and their families to leave the country in January 2019. There are also shortages of food, electricity, water, and medicine. The agency warns against travelling between Simón Bolívar International Airport and Caracas at night and not to take unregulated taxis from Simón Bolívar International Airport.”

Claire Parker’s Washington Post article “Gun violence in America prompts Amnesty International and a growing list of countries to issue travel warnings” raised my eyebrows and made me sad: How can this be happening in MY country?

Parker wrote: “A travel advisory the organization issued Wednesday ‘calls on people worldwide to exercise caution and have an emergency contingency plan when traveling throughout the USA. This Travel Advisory is being issued in light of ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country.’ ”

Parker added that Uruguay and Venezuela “have also discouraged their citizens from traveling to the United States, citing this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, as indicators of danger and a rise in hate crimes. The Japanese Consulate in Detroit, meanwhile, released a statement Sunday calling the United States a ‘gun society’ and urging Japanese nationals to stay alert after the Dayton shooting.”

Photo: thrillist.com

She continued: “These are just the latest countries and international groups to label gun violence in America a safety concern. In recent years, Germany, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand have issued similar warnings about travel to the United States.”

Shouldn’t Washington pay attention to this dramatic shift in image that points to the United States as an unsafe place to visit–and by extension, doubts about the security of this country as a safe place in which to park money? You’d think that this would be a wakeup call to immediately revise gun sale regulations and enact measures to ensure reasonable private gun ownership for an administration that honors the almighty dollar above all else.

In addition to lives, which seem to be last in a line of priorities for Congress, and the shame of the well-deserved reprimand by the international community, much more is at stake than hotel, restaurant, and airline bottom lines. Real estate and American-owned businesses should be prepared to suffer losses as international investors seek safer havens for their treasure.

And it’s not just violence-by-guns turning tourists away. A Crains New York news alert on Wednesday August 14, 2019 warned: “Chinese tourists sidestep NYC as trade war rolls on.” To end on a fittingly mercenary note, who, in DC, is watching the store?

Photo: bustle.com

Service of Healthy Frozen Desserts–But is it Ice Cream?

August 12th, 2019

Categories: Fake, Faux Food, Ice Cream

Photo: saltandstraw.com

I have tried ersatz food and have learned that if for whatever reason I cannot find the real thing, I’d rather pass. This goes for meatless burgers, diet sodas or sugarless salad dressing and cookies.

Someday I would like to be proved wrong. In the case of ice cream, my verdict about the increasingly long list of faux treats stands–based on what they sound like: No thanks.

Plant based products at Expo West 2019 Photo: vegtv.com

Anne Marie Chaker’s Wall Street Journal article, “‘There Was Something Else Ground Up in the Ice Cream,’ Children Revolt at Plant-Based Treats,” brought me up to speed on the artificial landscape for ice cream. She wrote “For ice cream lovers, it is the summer of our discontent. Eager to woo health-conscious consumers, food brands are marketing a growing range of ice cream alternatives made with ingredients such as avocado, cauliflower, beets, zucchini, oats and navy beans.”

One man in her article passed on dairy-free ice-cream [an oxymoron?] made of avocado. Other frozen treats in this category include ingredients from soy to sweet potato, pea protein to coconut.

Some dairy ice creams are supposedly healthy, promoting benefits like being “light” while including probiotics. Additional ingredients are spices or vegetables such as turmeric, cinnamon, spinach, zucchini or cauliflower. I like these vegetables and seasonings but for dinner, not in ice cream.

Chaker reported: “Ice cream must contain at least 10% milk fat for it to be labeled ice cream, according to federal regulations. Farm to Spoon bills itself as a ‘plant based frozen dessert’ while Snow Monkey pints made of banana purée and other ingredients say it is a ‘superfood ice treat.'”

I might like these frozen desserts if they tasted OK, but not as a substitute for my favorite food group. Maybe they’d work as a side to a main course. Have you tried any of these exotic concoctions? Would you seek them out? What faux or tampered with foods to make them healthy do you like? In referring to ice cream in Chaker’s article, several people used the word “fun.” Don’t vegetable-based frozen treats sound anything but fun?

Real ice cream Photo: tatecooking.com

 

 

Service of Why Women Stress Over Maintaining a Tidy Home

August 8th, 2019

Categories: Chores, Housework, Marriage

Photo: housebeautiful.com

I drove my husband nuts when I’d tidy the apartment before a trip lest the plane crash and family and friends, clearing out the place, think I was a crummy housekeeper. When our house was for sale, I’d scour every inch when strangers I’d never meet viewed it.

Claire Cain Miller addressed probably why my husband didn’t care and why I stressed about it: the condition of where we lived reflected only on me.

The headline of her New York Times article was: “Why Women, but Not Men, Are Judged for a Messy House– They’re still held to a higher social standard, which explains why they’re doing so much housework, studies show.”

Photo: scarymommy.com

Miller didn’t address something just as important to me: I like returning to a neat and clean home if I’ve been away at work for a few hours or on a trip.

Miller wrote: “Even in 2019, messy men are given a pass and messy women are unforgiven. Three recently published studies confirm what many women instinctively know: Housework is still considered women’s work — especially for women who are living with men.”

One of three studies concluded: “Socially, women — but not men — are judged negatively for having a messy house and undone housework.

Photo: howdoesshe.com

“The additional time that women spend on unpaid household labor is a root of gender inequality — it influences how men and women relate at home, and how much time women spend on paid work.” She reported that according to Department of Labor stats “women spend 2.3 hours a day on house tasks, and men spend 1.4 hours.”

Indoor chores are mostly women’s and outdoor ones–more weekly than daily–are men’s. Men who live where there are no lawns to mow or cars to wash don’t pick up additional indoor tasks she reported.

“When participants” in a study where 624 people were shown photos of either messy or neat rooms, “were told that a woman occupied the clean room, it was judged as less clean than when a man occupied it, and she was thought to be less likely to be viewed positively by visitors and less comfortable with visitors.” Respondents were harder on messy men, concluding that they were lazy slobs.

“But there was a key difference: Unlike for women, participants said messy men were not likely to be judged by visitors or feel uncomfortable having visitors over.” My first husband had an aunt who, I was told, washed her kitchen floor as often as two to three times a day. I never dared invite her.

Miller interviewed one psychologist who said many women thought “‘I should relieve my husband of burdens’ — it’s so automatic.’”

You’d think that these days when both parents work and fathers help with chores their sons will spend more time doing them as adults. “So far,” wrote Miller, “what we know about the next generation is that girls are doing less housework. But boys aren’t doing that much more.”

My boss in one job said that if her wastebaskets were empty she considered her home was ready for company. And you? If you live with someone, how do you divide the chores? Do you feel that women are on the hot seat where keeping a home tidy is concerned and that men are off the hook? Does such thinking impact dynamics at work?

Photo: liveabout.com

Service of Loosey-Goosey with the Time: Tut-Tut Amtrak!

August 5th, 2019

Categories: Rail Travel, Transportation, Travel

Photo: blog.amtrak.com

I am spoiled by Grand Central Terminal and passionately dislike the way Penn Station in NYC operates because it treats its passengers like cattle. You can’t stroll to your seat at leisure as early as 15 to 20 minutes ahead of departure as at GCT. Instead you’re lined up like convicts and treated little better than cattle. More about my recent on-boarding experience below.

Because I’d not been to Penn Station in a dog’s age, I visited to buy my ticket the Monday before a Thursday trip upstate. I had no idea what the lines were like on a weekday in summer and with an 8:15 a.m. departure, didn’t want to get there early yet still miss my train.

I asked for a one-way trip to Whitehall, NY. My hostess told me the time and I’d confirmed it online.

“That train leaves at 7:15,” said the ticket clerk. In fact, it did. [My hostess was surprised because she’d called Amtrak the day of my arrival and the voice message matched the online information, confirming an 8:15 a.m. departure.] I wonder how many people missed the train that travels only once a day.

For no reason I could fathom we subsequently had a 45 minute layover in Albany.

I asked for a schedule—to learn the destination station and also the stop just before mine. “There are none,” said the clerk.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

On my second arrival at Penn Station at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday I found two lines of passengers and asked the person ahead of me, “Does this train go to Canada?” Answer: “Yes.”

Turns out there were two trains going to Canada: one to Montreal and the other, Toronto. I had no idea where my train was headed—remember: there were no schedules to reference and my ticket [photo above right] identified only my destination.

Meanwhile an Amtrak employee was shrieking at the passengers, treating us as though we were imbeciles if we were in the wrong line. The secret was in the number that was printed on the ticket. There it was on mine, along with many other lines of numbers, without any ID as to what that number referred to.

Photo: nyclens.com

At Grand Central there are stairs to negotiate to reach a few tracks otherwise there are mostly ramps and an optional elevator or escalator broken up so each ride is short. For Amtrak, to reach the platforms, there are steep, narrow escalators that aren’t convenient if you’re juggling a suitcase, handbag, tote with reading material and cup of coffee. [I won’t buy a cup of coffee before boarding again if my hands are full!]

Fortunately I thought to pull out my ticket to show the angry, screaming Amtrak employee before I reached the front of the line that headed for the escalator, where she stood. With all her caterwauling, never once did she ask the passengers to have their tickets in hand. She was a terrible representative for any business.

This intro to the trip was a shame as the train itself was comfortable, clean and accommodating. Unlike Metro North’s commuter trains out of Grand Central, this one had upholstered seats, tray tables, a waste container, several WCs and water as well as a snack car.

Have you been surprised–good or bad–by a travel experience lately? When confronted by a grouch who screams at you and the other passengers, do you respond in kind?

Photo: frugalfrolicker.com

Service of Check Washing: My Check Becomes Your Check

August 1st, 2019

Categories: Post Office, Scams

Photo: handwritingdocumentexamination.com

Hank Goldman, a loyal follower of this blog, urged me to “write about the scams and games targeted at senior citizens purporting to be get-rich-quick schemes where the victim soon winds up being poor. They are related to the oldies where a voice with a bad phone connection claims to be a grandson asking for money.”

These schemes against the vulnerable aren’t new. Long before ATM machines a great aunt was taken to the cleaners by someone who had her withdrawing big sums of money from her bank account until a suspicious teller finally called her son. I don’t remember what the swindler’s story was or where she met him—just that it happened.

The elderly aren’t the only vulnerable targets either. Scoundrels give hope to the terminally ill and those wanting to look forever young, gladly sucking their money with placebos and short-term pricey solutions some of which may do nothing and others potentially more harm than good.

Photo: 1st.postalinspectors.uspis.cov

Back to seniors as marks. Goldman zeroed in on one trick: “the literal washing of checks, in acetone–nail polish remover. The bank information remains intact while the acetone erases everything that the check writer has entered… Then the perpetrator signs the check and enters the new amount.”

Where do they find the checks? “They fish them out of mail carriers’ large plastic boxes [photo below, center] parked in luxury buildings where they easily identify the envelopes meant for doctors,” wrote Goldman. “This happened to me with a check for my dentist. The perpetrator took it when the doorman was looking away. The dentist had a few instances like this.”

Photo: cvs.com

Added Goldman. “This trick is easily done if you use a regular ballpoint pen. Instead, use a roller ball pen because that ink is less easy for swindlers to wash off.”

I’d written previously about the new mailboxes in NYC in the “Sticky Mail Boxes” section of “Service of Wacky things People Do.” The boxes no longer open wide enough to accommodate a fat 9 x 12 envelope. They are designed with thin slits in which to slide a letter or two to prevent anyone from fishing for checks.

Nothing will stop those up to no good. I wonder how postal delivery staff will protect mail theft from open containers in future. Has one of your checks been “washed” or do you bank on the Internet exclusively? Have you heard of new scams we should know about?

Photo: mercurynews.com

Service of Counting on a Brand: Bye-bye Microsoft E-Library

July 29th, 2019

Categories: Abandoned, Books, Brand Loyalty, Branding, E-books, E-Commerce, Research, Technology

Photo: crosswordology.com

How do you know you can trust a brand to keep its products in business and parts available for as long as you need them? The question doesn’t apply anymore just to major appliances, motor vehicles, furnaces, solar energy technologies and gadgets like VCRs, CDs and DVDs. The subscribers to Microsoft’s E-Library know what it’s like to be left in the lurch. I heard about their loss on NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Josh Axelrod reported “Starting in July, Microsoft will be closing its e-book library and erasing all content purchased through the Microsoft e-bookstore from devices. Consumers will receive a refund for every e-book bought.”

Photo: e-library.co.za

I read traditional books but some of my best friends rely on e-books. I’d be irritated if I’d paid for a book and was left hanging at a crucial juncture when Microsoft pulled the plug.

Garcia-Navarro interviewed Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, who pointed out that losing a book you’ve annotated and use in your job is more than exasperating. Think of lawyers, teachers or academic researchers who have spent time to study a book and write themselves virtual Post-It notes on manuscripts. The additional $25 refund doesn’t make this customer whole, said Perzanowski who also wrote the book “The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy.”

“In a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, Perzanowski found that users are often misled when they click the ‘Buy Now’ button, thinking that they’ve gained permanent ownership of digital content.

Photo: garageenvy.com

“‘You can go out and buy a car and you think you own the car because it’s parked in your garage,’ Perzanowski says. ‘But in reality – how it functions, who can repair it, what replacement parts are compatible with it – all of that is controlled through software code. And, so I think that line between the physical and the digital is getting increasingly blurry.’”

The culprit is a tool called Digital Rights Management or DRM software. “Your car, your smart home appliances, your home security system – all of these systems have software that allows for this kind of control over how the devices are used, and I think we’re going to see these same sorts of situations crop up in the context of physical devices that are being used in people’s homes.”

Have you lost the use of something you owned because there are no parts available to repair it or did you learn that, like the e-books you bought, you really didn’t own it at all? Do you factor in shelf life when buying things for your office or home or are you resigned to short-lived pull-by dates on almost everything but processed honey with its forever lifespan?

Photo: geofflawtononline.com

Service of At Your Age

July 25th, 2019

Categories: Age, Behavior, Illness, Old, Youth

Photo: calliopegifts.co.uk

You hear the expression, “at your age,” at both ends of your life. When you were young, did a parent, teacher or babysitter ever say, “You should know better at your age!”

At the other end of the spectrum, “Three of the most dreaded words in the English language for those over 65 are ‘at your age,’ ” wrote Helen Rabinovitz, a recent follower of this blog. This post was her idea.

Photo: metrosource.com

“My most recent encounter was at urgent care,” she wrote. “I’d been coughing for weeks and finally went to see a doctor. She stood in front of me—she was about 35–arms crossed and said…. ‘you realize, Helen, that AT YOUR AGE bronchitis can be dangerous.’”

She went on: “Of course I’ve also heard… ‘isn’t that too spicy to eat at your age?’ or ‘Shouldn’t you dress more conservatively at your age?’”

Photo: instantoffices.com

She added: “This makes me wonder…how old is ‘at your age?’ At what point do all of us poor, old and decrepit folks know that we’re actually ‘at your age’ old? Have you ever been frustrated when someone, who hasn’t had your life experience, says that to you? I’d like to respond, ‘at your age’ you should have better manners!!!”

Did people say those words to you when you were little? Do they in your middle years?  Do they irritate you too? We are expected to be inclusive in every other part of our lives. Will the sexagenarian and septuagenarian candidates for president and other high office help us overcome the age hurdle?

 

Photo: commuityrising.kasasa.com

Service of the Humbling Job Hunt That Doesn’t Have to Be

July 22nd, 2019

Categories: Compassion, Human Resources, Job Hunt

Photo: careerbuilder.com

I remember an interview at a major PR firm years ago. I left walking on a cloud even though there were no jobs for me. The HR manager was spectacular–he made me feel great about my career and my prospects and we laughed a lot.

Encouraging job-seekers is the gold standard and should be the mission of anyone responsible for adding staff or is in even the smallest part of the process. Unfortunately, it’s not the case as often as it should be. A positive approach and refusal also goes for decision-makers inviting vendors to bid on a project.

I’ve covered the tribulations of job hunting before, most recently last December in “Service of Employee Behavior” where I protested how important a simple follow up to a scrubbed candidate is, especially after the person has prepared for and gone through an interview process. If for no other reason, it frees the conscientious candidate from making repeated follow-ups to no avail. It is respectful and reflects well on the company.

Photo: mediabistro.com

There are exceptions: when the reply is a putdown the recipient would have been better off with silence. An example was the arrogant response to a friend’s outreach to a communications company which inspired this post. He was told he “wasn’t a fit.” [Actually, he was.] The reaction of a colleague, to whom I shared this incident, was “at least he got a reply. Most people don’t.”

Another friend arranges her calendar around the many telephone interviews that are essential to her job hunt. She waited for one scheduled call, rang the person when the phone stayed mute for minutes after the appointed time. Eventually she called him and left a  him a voicemail message.  She never again heard from this person. Outrageous.

A top editor told me, after she was laid off and had become a freelance writer, how sorry she was that she’d been so abrupt with or unresponsive to writers who’d approached her with story ideas after she’d experienced how it felt to be on the other side of the ask.

Is self-importance the rule or the exception for those in the hiring business whether for a job or a project? Have you come across exemplary people in these roles or outstandingly nasty ones?

Photo: integrativestaffing.com

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