Archive for November, 2011

Service of who’s the Boss?

Monday, November 28th, 2011

whos-the-boss

A friend who lives in New Jersey sent me this guest post.

It covers several vivid examples of frustrating civil disservice. In a period of high unemployment, with thousands willing to take the place of the rude, inefficient staff she describes, I wonder how these people keep their jobs. They also seem to have no idea of who the boss is.

She writes:

After the freak late-October storm, the debris from our decimated trees was piled so high along both sides of our narrow road that cars could barely navigate.  I called town hall to find out whether the township would be collecting the debris or if we, the homeowners, would need to find a way to dispose of it. I was told that the township would collect it all within three weeks. 

snowstormThe township underestimated how long it would take to collect the mountains of debris in our hard-hit town.  As our yard services collected leaves and put them in the road for collection, it became almost impossible to drive down our one-way road without damaging the car.  We were among the last in our town to have power restored, so I had hoped we would be among the first to get our branches collected.  A dream, as it turned out.  The county and the towns around us began to clean their streets, but we saw the piles get bigger as more deadfall and leaves came down and were added to the piles.

On the day before the three weeks expired, I came home to find my street blocked.  I didn’t mind because it meant the township was finally collecting the debris.  It also meant that all traffic had to go the wrong way up my one-way road.  So anyone leaving home and heading out the correct way was encountering a neighbor trying to get home and coming the wrong way.  With next to no road left to start with, it was a disaster. 

snowdebrisAt the end of the day, the crew had barely cleaned up in front of the first four houses.  Municipal employees are not known for working weekends, so I assumed it would be Monday before they resumed.  And at the rate they were working, it would take a week just to clean our road.  By then, town hall was closed so I called the police station to find out what information they had.

I got a snippy female desk officer who basically told me that the township was doing this out of the goodness of its heart and had no obligation to assume what should’ve been the homeowners’ responsibility.  So I should just be patient.  She repeated that over and over.   So I lost my cool, developed a little attitude of my own and finally hung up on her. 

The more I thought about what she’d said, the madder I became.  The officer’s attitude spoke volumes about the sense of “us” vs. “them” you see so often in local government.  And she clearly felt part of “us” – meaning municipal government — as opposed to “them” – meaning residents.

The municipal government is not some paterfamilias dispensing favors.  It comprises elected officials, who serve at the will of the residents, and municipal workers, who are hired to serve those same residents.  Their salaries and the costs associated with providing services are covered by the taxes we residents pay.  My township is in Essex County, NJ, which means those taxes are pretty hefty.  The township, then, is us – the people who reside there.  

The whole thing recalled a situation several years back.  One of our neighbors (a serial “flipper” who got caught when the economy headed south) tried to get four variances to subdivide an unsubdividable property. At one of the endless hearings, I found myself making a speech to the planning board members about the essence of their job:  to represent the rights of the many against the rights of the few.  Those of us opposed to the subdivision and what it meant for our neighborhood – the majority of households around the property in question – did not have the sense that the planning board understood that.  All too often lately, it seems that elected officials and the civil (too often uncivil) servants they hire forget who the boss really is:  We, the voting, tax-paying people.

Have you had such an experience with local authorities? Any ideas of how taxpayers can get efficient, cordial service from them? How do taxpayers cajole civil servants to do their jobs and represent their interest? Do you think they realize who the bosses are?

 bad-attitude

 

Service of Hugs

Friday, November 25th, 2011

hugs2

I was crossing the street on Park Avenue and 72nd  in Manhattan when I heard persistent honking. Next thing, a very tall driver leapt out of his blue van, marked “Hamilton Air,” that was stopped for the light. He ran toward an elderly man who was also crossing the street. The driver wrapped his friend in his arms giving the diminutive old fellow a giant hug: Smiles all around.

hugs31As he walked his friend to the other side of the street, a woman who also observed the scene smiled at me and said, “We need more hugging in the world.” The driver ran back to his van in time to catch the green light and nobody honked in all this time. For NYC: Remarkable.

The very same day I was walking east on 43rd Street when I heard a man making soothing sounds so I looked to see why. In his arms was a beautiful black cat. The man was cooing, chatting with and hugging the creature and both seemed happy and content, making me feel cheerful in turn.

Don’t you think that hugs are curative?

 hugs1

Service of Too Much of a Good Thing

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

giant-ice-cream

Why do so many marketers beat a good idea into the ground? Black Friday is the latest example.

I love to shop [but despise crowds] and adore a bargain and am sure I’m in the minority in my lack of enthusiasm for this day. I’m not convinced that you get the best prices in any case. Thanksgiving weekend I look forward to a visit to a low key craft show at a community college in Upstate NY.

black-fridayNevertheless, millions love and look forward to Black Friday. The family shopper lets his/her spouse take care of the kids at home and it’s off to the hunt well before dawn!

But Black Friday is leaking into Thursday which, as we all know, is Thanksgiving.  

Anthony Hardwick, a part-time Nebraska-based Target employee, did what he could to get the store to change its mind. He gathered 80,000 online signatures to petition Target to open at 5 am, as they always did, instead of at 11 pm on Thanksgiving.

According to “Target given 190,000 Black Friday protest signatures,” a Reuters article that quotes Hardwick along with news of another signature-gatherer: “‘Thanksgiving is a holiday for family to get together,’ said Hardwick, 29. ‘If you’re having your employees show up at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, they’re going to spend their day sleeping so they can get ready for the busiest shopping day of the year.’

Hardwick was willing and expected to work whenever Target opens whether on Black Thursday or Black Friday but he’s no longer on the schedule. The store moved the opening from 11 pm to midnight when Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s, and Best Buy welcome shoppers this year. They formerly opened anywhere from 3 to 5 am.

Meanwhile another Target employee delivered almost 200,000 protest signatures in Target shopping bags to the store’s Minneapolis headquarters a few days ago.

ambulanceEveryone is thankful to the doctors, nurses and hospital staff, fire and policemen and women, radio and TV engineers and on-air personalities, sports figures and endless others who have traditionally worked on holidays like Thanksgiving.  I agree with Hardwick: Shopping isn’t essential. The old saying about work left undone at the end of a frantic day–”don’t worry, it will still be there in the morning”–applies to all the stuff on super sale at Target and elsewhere.

If you were Target, what would you do? Open at midnight or at 5 am? Do you think that Hardwick is right or a spoiled sport? Was it good PR for Target to remove him from the work schedule? Do you think that a promotion called Black Friday needs to change its name if it seeps into another day?

 midnight

Service of Friendship

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

friendshipWe’ve written before about whistle blowers. In our society they are never rewarded.

The most recent example is the Penn State assistant football coach, Mike McQuery, who was placed in protective custody and on administrative leave last weekend because of his role in the Jerry Sandusky child molestation mess.

whistleblower2While thousands are angry at McQuery because his seemed to be the first pin in the nasty bubble that spilled filth over the school and their beloved coach Joe Paterno–his boss–some accuse him of not blowing his whistle loud enough. He didn’t follow up with the police after nothing happened once he reported a horrific assault on a 10 year old boy in the school’s showers. He said that he did and the police say he didn’t. Nor did he rush in to stop it–though again, he wrote a friend that he had.

No matter what he did or didn’t do, he was in trouble.

penn-state-football2But the subject of this post is friendship. Paterno was known for running one of the most reputable teams in college football–the Penn State players actually go to class and are not given professional-level goodies like cars, cash and prostitutes.

Yet he protected Sandusky, his longtime associate and friend, by restricting his report to going to his superior and when nothing happened, he didn’t initiate or demand an investigation nor did he report the incident to the police.

I don’t know if Paterno had good intentions: To protect his friend and longtime associate. Or like the school’s president, did he have in mind the university’s image and/or jeopardizing the team’s income generating future? Or did he question the source of the allegation?

He did seem to do one thing: Forget the innocent victims.

How far would you go to protect a friend? Would you continue to consider a friend a person who allegedly assaulted little children? Would you tell them what you’d heard?  dogprotectcat

Service of Preparing for Creativity

Monday, November 14th, 2011

beprepared

I was inspired for today’s post by what a weaver and fashion designer, Marsha Fleisher, Loominus Woodstock, wrote about how her ideas for color, pattern and design come to her. “When I am quiet, empty and in stillness, the process of creativity comes of itself. For me, this emptiness includes the absence of chaos, the slate needs to be clean, chores done, bills paid, dishes washed, lists cleared, calls returned. I am usually rewarded with a concept, color, texture, and interplay of designs, jacket detail, and a vision…magic.”

craftshow2011mfleisherlpasticheFleisher [her "Pastiche" coat is at right] is one of 200 artists and artisans who will exhibit their work at joint shows, American Craft Show NYC and Contemporary Art Fair NYC at the Javits Center, November 18-20. The craft/art show producers, Joanna and Richard Rothbard of American Art Marketing, are my clients.

artfairmicheldelgado2Another exhibitor, artist Michel Delgado writes: “I am in a powerful new place in my career as an artist.  The beginning of a painting had never been a comfortable place for me.  All the emotional and mental preparation would make me stiff.” Notes the Key West painter who was born in Senegal, “Now, I have nothing to hold back and have found a new journey altogether; trusting in whatever will occur.” His painting, “Unbroken Spirit,” [left]  is enamel on wood.

artfair2011mazzoniemeraldcatAlso a participant, Margaret Azzoni is exhibiting paintings of homes, interiors and dreams that she captures in watercolors, pencil and ink on canvas or paper. One of her mixed media works is “Emerald Cat,” right. Azzoni studied architecture at Princeton where she received a Masters degree. She says that the fluidity of painting provides “a relief from the rigid lines of the architectural drawings.”

artfair2011gutierrez_alejandro_-st“Not being constrained by the type of film in the camera, I’m able to work the settings to get the sensor to capture the light the way I want to,” says Roosevelt Island-based photographer Alejandro Gutierrez addressing the digital photography he plans to exhibit [such as "St. Maarten" at left]. “The instant feedback is very important; the equipment is portable, flexible and I’m not limited to one kind of camera. I don’t set up/style a photo but use the scene and existing light, street signs-I allow the pieces to happen.”

artfair2011yukouenoPart of the Contemporary Art Fair NYC, Yuko Ueno says “I was attracted to the beauty of butterfly wings and developed my own way of making them [at right]. Each butterfly piece has unique design, color and patterns from my imagination. Inspirations came from my dance background and passion for music.” She explains her Butterfly Project: “My goal was to deliver a message through my work that beautiful little creatures exist on this earth and to call attention to the fact that when trees and greens disappear, little lives disappear too.”

craftshow2011willcox_kimberly_lrArtisan Kimberly Wilcox wasn’t prepared for a fire that destroyed her studio in 2010 and changed the way she works and thinks. “Journey Home,” painted on reclaimed wood with acrylic, watercolor and pastel [left], is part of her “Gift of Receiving” series. “Artists are givers and it’s easy to be a giver,” she said. “After the fire, I became a receiver,” hence the series. She didn’t have brushes when she started this piece as they, too were lost: She painted with her fingers.

joycebluebeachquiltsmall2Joyce Malin [she's not an exhibitor] quilts for relaxation. She says “Designing and assembling the pieces and sewing them are escapes from the bad news on TV.” She noted that if she waited until all the chores were off her plate at work and at home she’d never design a quilt. She collects fabrics as others might accumulate stamps or coins. She carefully sorts, identifies and stores the swatches according to topic and color. She’s also an avid photographer and incorporates photographs on fabric into her newest work.

 

Remember Norton, the “Honeymooners” TV character played by Art Carney? Before he would write his name or a few words on a piece of paper, he would wave his hands around, flex his fingers to prepare himself, all the time driving the Jackie Gleason character, Ralph Kramden, crazy.

Before you write a proposal, a paper or an article, paint a picture, frame a photograph, establish a budget, launch a do-it-yourself project, draft a speech, how do you prepare? Do you work in silence, in the morning, midday or at night? What do you do to jolt creativity or your thoughts when nothing is happening?

ahamoment

Service of Paying Attention

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

pay-attention

November 5th marked the third birthday of this blog. In the 312th post, it seemed fitting to recognize its life with examples of the benefits of paying attention. That’s what the blog–and what service–is all about.

On our home fax last week came a query to: “Director/Owner From: Editor/Director Office” signed “Sincerely Corporate Office Publishing Department.”

It began: “We are pleased to inform you that your business has been selected to be included in the 2011/12 edition of Who’s Who Among Executives, Professional and Entrepreneurs nationally.”

At the bottom of the page the fax asks for your name, that of your company, address, etc. and a signature. Instructions are to fax back the info.my-name-is

So our business has been selected but the sender doesn’t know its or our names? Right.

Meanwhile, my husband got a call from his credit card company also last week. The rep wanted to confirm that a charge from overseas from a travel company was his. Amount: $6.37.  It wasn’t his charge so the company cancelled the card and issued him a new one. Speak about being careful and paying attention!

scamThe rep told him that scammers start with a small charge and if it goes through, they launch a big one. A colleague pointed out how much you could bring in if you got $6 from 100,000 people–tax free, no less!

Where/how do you think the creeps got my husband’s credit card number? Friends guessed from a restaurant charge receipt. Have you examples of payoffs for paying attention?

alert

Service of Stress

Monday, November 7th, 2011

stormhalloween2011-010-small3

As a Manhattanite born and bred I couldn’t help hearing the myth about how nasty, brusque and rude we all are and how pleasant, cordial, and kind country people are. So I’ve always bent over backwards to disprove the former, and I’m ready with an “Aha!” when I find instances that invalidate the latter.

Last weekend’s storm gave me fodder for some “Ahas!” [I took most of the photos in today's post at our house last Sunday morning, after the storm. The poor old tree at the top belongs to a neighbor.]

Huge limbs and entire trees littered roads after an early, heavy, deep Saturday snow did its damage, lending credence to the emergency status declared for Dutchess County. [In Connecticut, there are still 50 thousand homes in the dark over a week later.]

Only one lane of a two-lane main road was open as crews hadn’t yet had time to clear the debris, so there were lines of cars on either side waiting a turn to pass.

I stopped to let the other lane of traffic go by as the lane I was on had gone through for quite some time. A car behind me swept by and dashed through the tight corridor, acting nothing like a country gentleperson, more like a hopped up brat.

Once the opposite lane emptied out, I started to negotiate the tight open spot when from over the hill came an aggressive jerk who accelerated as he saw the situation, missing me by a hair. I just had time to back up and out of his way.

stormhalloween2011-004smallMonday morning we already knew that we would be in busses for the first lap of the trip to the city. Temperature was 23 degrees and there was ice all over the parking lot. Two busses with drivers were there but they let us stand in the cold. When they finally opened their doors, we asked to put our suitcases in the busses’ belly. “Can’t unlock it,” was the sour response, forcing us to struggle up narrow stairs and the aisle lugging our things in a vehicle designed to hold people and briefcases.

As three giant busses arrived at the station where we normally change trains, a train pulled out of the station. Once the passengers from four stations had hung out on more ice on the open platform for 15 minutes, I meandered over to a stationmaster I’d just noticed.

stormhalloween2011-006smallHe was brave to be out there with us and I soon learned we were finally in good hands. I asked him when our train was coming, figuring it had been delayed. He mentioned a time that was an hour away. I then asked if the train that pulled out just as the “connecting” busses arrived at the station was the train to NYC. Answer: “I apologize.” He did help out best he could by getting a train to the station 20 minutes early so we could be warm and dry while we waited for departure.

There were other similar smart thinking people in the aftermath. On Sunday morning we had a welcome breakfast at the diner in town. The diner had no electricity so there was neither heat nor light but a generator worked a stove. Eggs on paper plates and coffee in paper cups tasted delicious. Adjacent towns had no such luxuries. In one, early Monday, national chains were locked tight: Not a drop of joe to be had.

City people have enormous stresses year ’round simply to get to work on overcrowded subways and busses in rush hour. Country people felt stresses last weekend. Many of us had barely gotten over the costly stretches of no electricity during Hurricane Irene. Does nastiness and recklessness happen as a result of stress,  poor upbringing or what?

stormhalloween2011-005small1

Service of Brief is Best

Friday, November 4th, 2011

simple

In a New York Times “Common Sense” column in Business Day, James B. Stewart observed that Paul Volcker wrote the President a three page letter with an approach to curbing banks’ risk taking and “reckless speculation.”

The Volcker Rule took up 10 pages in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Stewart reported in “Volcker Rule, Once Simple, Now Boggles.”

paul-volckerThe regulations for public comment were published in mid October. The text: 298 pages with 1,300 questions on 400 topics. Stewart noted: “Wall Street firms have spent countless millions of dollars trying to water down the original Volcker proposal and have succeeded in inserting numerous exemptions. Now they’re claiming it’s too complex to understand and too costly to adopt.”

My first thought was this quote, often attributed to Mark Twain but written to a friend by 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter” or “Je n’ai fait cette lettre – ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.”

blahblahblah2And then I realized that the example of words on steroids reflected obfuscation, had nothing to do with good, concise writing and everything to do with pulling layers of wool and goodness knows what else over the public’s eyes.

As I envision hundreds of foxes in countless henhouses, I think of another saying from an unknown author: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” And then I think of the Occupy Wall Street Protestors about whom many complain because they don’t have a clear message. Maybe they have so many messages and so much to complain about they are undecided as to just where to start.

What do you think of the Protestors? What examples can you share of overlong copy with the primary purpose of tripping up, hiding information or confusing readers?

 fox-in-henhouse1

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