Archive for December, 2017

Service of Remorse: Inaction You Can’t Take Back

Thursday, December 28th, 2017


I heard a true story on WSHU Radio, an NPR station, one recent Saturday evening on, pretty sure, “The Moth Radio Hour.” It was told by a man originally from Pakistan where the story took place. His father had a good job and his mother, who stayed at home, nevertheless made money cooking and sewing. They wanted for nothing. However the children had to work to make money for frivolous things. He was good at math so he tutored other students for his pin money.

Someone told him that a local gas station was selling American hot dogs so he went to investigate and bought two. He was eating the first one on the street when he passed a man with his son. The child asked his dad for a hot dog just like the one he was munching and the father said that they couldn’t afford it.


The storyteller kept walking and to this day, he said he regretted that he’d not given the second hot dog to the child.

I have similar memories of missed opportunities to give or help or requests that I burdened others with that haunt me. Do you?


Service of Christmas Card Trends

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

I love receiving greeting cards. Whether for Christmas, Halloween or our birthdays, I display them and enjoy looking at them. This December, as always, we were thrilled to receive some wonderful cards, many with updates and lovely messages.

I noticed a few trends that in some ways reflect society today:

Flat cards

There were more flat cards than previously and while they were nice and waste less paper, they can be harder to display. We also received fewer e-cards than in the past.

Peace and joy was a prominent theme and there were only two religious cards. One stunner–of trees–was handmade and another was of a Christmas scene captured by a talented photographer.  Many are decorative, colorful and cheery.

We received only one what I call “my son is enjoying Harvard; my daughter has a job at Goldman Sachs and we just returned from a whirlwind trip around the world” letters i.e. the typed messages that boast many successes. I suspect that is because most people use Facebook and Instagram throughout the year for that purpose.

Have you noticed a change or trend in this year’s holiday wishes?

Service of Who Will be Left? Are Companies Jumping the Gun?

Thursday, December 21st, 2017


I covered this subject in October in “Service of Why Now? Does Today’s Indignation & Punishment of Sexual Harassment & Assault Have Legs?” Why the same subject so soon again? The topic continues to haunt me as it expands like wine spilled from an entire magnum of red on a white tablecloth. The corporate skin and ear, once so thick and deaf to women reporting abuse, has suddenly become thin, sharp-hearing and trigger happy.


What inspired today’s post? I couldn’t find the Tavis Smiley show last Wednesday night and the next morning learned that PBS suspended the distribution of his show due to misconduct allegations against him.

The PBS investigators wouldn’t tell Smiley who is accusing him of what, he said in a Facebook video, [and later on Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight]. On Facebook he added: “I have never groped, coerced or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.” I wonder if he’d had help with his statement from his lawyer as the word “inappropriately” hit me funny. When is groping, coercion or exposure appropriate in an office setting or am I being picky and naive? Later he admitted to one or more consensual relationships with staff.


As I mentioned above, Smiley is not employed by PBS; it distributes his program which makes his case different than Sam Seder’s. Seder, an MSNBC political commentator and podcast host of the “Majority Report,” was fired and for a different reason: He was accused by a far-right activist for writing an “inflammatory tweet he posted in 2009,” according to Jonah Engel Bromwich in The New York Times. The cable channel had the grace to rehire Seder after thousands signed a petition in Seder’s favor, reaffirming that the tweet in question was “meant to be satire.”

The tweet: “Don’t care re [Roman] Polanski, but i hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/ a great sense of mise en scene.” Seder was reacting to support of Polanski by the French culture and foreign ministers. It was “a cutting parody of a statement defending the director,” wrote Bromwich. As you may recall Polanski “was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 in connection with” the rape of a 13 year old in the 1970s.

Here’s MSNBC president Phil Griffin explanation for reinstating Seder in Bromwich’s article: “‘We made our initial decision for the right reasons — because we don’t consider rape to be a funny topic to be joked about, but we’ve heard the feedback, and we understand the point Sam was trying to make in that tweet was actually in line with our values, even though the language was not. Sam will be welcome on our air going forward.’”

Office romances are mundane. Some go sour; others are forbidden according to company policy. I wonder how investigators are able to distinguish which accusations described abusive and frightening behavior and which may have at one point been consensual. Might any represent payback by a jilted lover or even by an ignored, delusional, colleague or staffer hoping to catch the eye of a celebrity or boss?

Companies are free to fire whom they want but I get the feeling that fear and chaos in the C-suite has resulted in some too-quick reactions. Smiley is not on trial and is not an employee so I suppose nobody owes him any information about who reported him.

Is it OK, appearance-wise, for companies to revert to this country’s witch-hunting puritan roots and indict without a trial? Does this reaction let off the hook executives who previously dusted complaints under the rug and often fired the women who reported them?

Kudos to MSNBC for reinstating Seder but shouldn’t the company have investigated first and fired Seder second? And what about all the real cases of abuse and coercion involving average citizens affecting hotel and restaurant workers? Do they count?


Service of What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You: Essential Facts Relating to Health, Yours and the Country’s

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Donna Hammaker, Esq & Dr. Thomas M. Knadig, EdD

Did you know that:

  • Congress defines what “equivalent” means when it comes to generic drugs and that the therapeutic effectiveness of a generic might actually be half as that of the brand according to this definition? More below.
  • About 1/10th of the U.S. population has no health insurance; most of them are earning middleclass incomes and the lack of coverage causes two deaths every hour?

I learned this at an eye-opening program of the Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society of Greater New York [HPRMS]. Nancie Steinberg, president, introduced the speakers Donna K. Hammaker, Esq. and Dr. Thomas M. Knadig, EdD, who addressed representatives of some of New York City’s most prestigious hospitals and health organizations and the marketers and PR professionals who counsel them.

While some of what I heard was shocking, the takeaway as a consumer was nothing new: When it comes to your health, be informed and ask questions.

About the reference to generic drugs above, Hammaker said you could not pay her to take generic drugs from India or Israel. She mentioned “brand generics” by Novartis and Pfizer that seemed to pass muster.

The speakers, on the faculty of Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, and authors of three textbooks for students and health care managers, the most recent of which is Health Care Management and the Law, shared data-driven facts and statistics gathered in the last two years.

Laced in the discussion were factoids about the Affordable Care Act, such as that much of it was first addressed during the Nixon administration and that many people are unaware of what’s in it. Healthcare has been Hammaker’s professional focus as a lawyer and yet even she was surprised by bits that she learned by studying it. [One wonders how many lawmakers are still in the dark and yet they call for changes.]


A caveat: I’ve posted sound bytes throughout this post. On just one of these topics alone, Clinical Trials, Hammaker gives a three hour lecture in which she addresses the differences between brand and generic drugs. There is similar backup in her latest 830 page book and hours-long lectures relating to her other contentions and conclusions. For example in Health Care Management and the Law the authors reference court decisions relating to the use of reprocessed medical devices which, in the interest of brevity, I don’t go into here.

Following are just a few highlights based on a list the authors handed out and subsequent discussion.


  • “Reprocessed medical devices are a cause for concern, as the FDA standards are not always strictly adhered to, patients are not necessarily informed they are receiving a reprocessed device, and such devices are often obtained from unregulated sources, such as the Internet.” Hammaker recommended that before undergoing a procedure that a patient specify on the hospital consent form that he/she wants a new device as well as the name of the manufacturer of the device. She explained, for example, that some hip replacement devices are made of cheaper metals that tend to break. In addition, she reported, the FDA is lifting restrictions in this area.
  • Photo:

    “Over 60 percent of the yearly $1.9 trillion employers spend on health care costs go toward treating tobacco-related illnesses.” We learned that it is legal for an employer to refuse employment to a smoker. In addition, an employer can charge current employees who smoke more for insurance; force them to take smoking cessation classes as a term of employment and conduct random tests [of hair] to identify smokers.

  • “Estimates indicate 90 million people in the US live with a preventable chronic disease [such as diabetes and hypertension often caused by such factors as smoking and obesity], the ongoing care for which amounts to 75 percent of the annual $3.3 trillion health care budget.” As health insurers are no longer covering illnesses and disease that could have been prevented, Hammaker asked, “Is this a direction we want to take?”
  • “While the biggest burdens to the U.S. health care system are depression and gun violence, they receive scant attention in the health care reform debates; yet the cost of gun violence in the US is equal to the cost of smoking, obesity and other preventable health care illnesses combined. Estimates of civilian gun ownership have been as high as 330 million vs. the U.S. military and law enforcement that possess approximately 4 million guns. The nation’s risk pools absorb $1.4 billion yearly to cover anticipated costs of treating victims of fatal firearm assaults.”

There are a lot of hot topics here and no doubt people who disagree with some conclusions. [We know people who suffer from a disease–chronic Lyme–that many physicians and insurance companies don’t recognize.] Were you surprised by any of this information? Are you more assertive in dealing with your health issues and those of family members today than you were in the past? Are you concerned that information like this is not readily available making it hard to protect yourself appropriately?


Service of Just So: Foibles That Are Right for You but Excessive to Others

Thursday, December 14th, 2017


Everyone has a foible they insist on or a process they prefer that others might find excessive, irritating or ridiculous.

I sat next to a woman at a luncheon recently who mentioned that she’d ironed the bills she was giving to building staff as the bank didn’t have crisp new ones for her holiday envelopes. She inspired today’s post. I’d heard of this before: My mother would also ask for new bills for this purpose however I never saw her iron any.

Before we go to the dump—aka transfer station–upstate, my husband reorganizes the paper garbage so it ends up looking like a gift or a perfectly packed suitcase. When there may be 35 other things to be done, the time it takes him to prep rubbish does exasperate me but to each his own.


My friend Bob can’t stand an unmade bed. I don’t like seeing the toilet seat left up. Some must grind their exotic coffee beans moments before brewing and others don’t want a bartender to bruise the gin. [I never understood how you could bruise liquid. I mix tonic with my gin in summer and it’s never turned black and blue.] I knew a woman who deemed the house ready for company as long as the wastebaskets were empty. The rest of the place could look as though a hurricane had just passed through.

I visited a home where the husband followed his wife around the kitchen and if she stirred something on the stove he’d take the spoon from where she’d rested it and wash it. He couldn’t stand a mess.

Are you known for habits that others might question or do you know others who like certain things just-so that you think may be overdoing it?


Service of Second Careers Started Later in Life

Monday, December 11th, 2017



Folks are living–and remaining vigorous and creative–much longer than before and are reinventing themselves after award-winning careers, sometimes doing both at once. Here are three inspiring examples.

The Voice of Radio

Len Berman

I listen to “Len Berman in the Morning” on WOR 710 radio. Len made a name for himself as a beloved TV sportscaster before he hung up his mic for a few years. Three years ago he launched a radio program to wake up the NYC metro area with a partner.

He’s the star now in a tough market, a flourishing generalist–and a gentleman–in a medium that is his to dominate with his guest co-hosts sharing thoughtful, funny, honest—but not disrespectful—fast-paced commentary.

He mentioned on-air the other morning that although he’d been offered another sports TV gig when he left NBC, he didn’t accept it. He must have been waiting for something new and exciting—and certainly challenging given the punishing length and time of the show, 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Since becoming the principal player, he seems to be having a wonderful time.

 Fitting Furniture

Michael Miller in the American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn Museum booth

I first met Alexandra and Michael Miller at my client’s American Fine Craft Show at the Brooklyn Museum where they exhibited furniture. Before I saw their whimsical tables and sideboards in person, I’d worked with images of their work that they describe as “handcrafted furniture featuring marquetry and inlay to create imaginative visual stories.” These hinted that the Millers were hip 30-something designer-artisans. They are the former–hip–but not the latter. Before launching Everyman Works, LLC two years ago, they designed and sold prints for packaging, illustration, interior décor and textiles around the world.

So where did furniture fit the picture? “Our decision to open the business came from the outcome of an injury,” said Alexandra. “Michael was convalescing and bored with reading and jigsaw puzzles. He decided to do a bit of marquetry, something he’d enjoyed as a boy. Having made the piece, the idea of applying it to a small table took hold and when it was finished, we both knew there was the germ of a good idea in front of us. Using a contemporary approach to an ancient craft was intriguing.

“We didn’t always dream about doing this; we never thought we could do it better than anyone else; and we were pretty certain we wouldn’t make a lot of money! However, the desire to create is deeply entrenched in us both. Our imaginations and design abilities are, as yet, no less diminished due to age – so why not use them,” said Alexandra.

“Our friends and colleagues were at first astonished and then supportive; our family incredulous and then anxious! They asked ‘Why, are you doing something so risky at this time in your lives?’”

As to the future of their business, they hope “that everyone would have a piece of Everyman Works furniture in their homes!!!” Alexandra added, “Seriously, we hope to keep designing to our own truth; encourage others to view furniture differently; and to make enough money to remain independent for as long as possible.”

Fudge Sauce for Thought

Francine Ryan

Francine Ryan founded “Francine’s Outrageous Fudge Sauce” in October. She continues to be president/CMO of The Ryan Group, a thriving enterprise which she describes as “Not an ad agency. A solutions agency.”

For a decade Francine gave the sauce–she created the recipe–to clients as a holiday gift. She now sells it at high end venues such as the Golden Goose Gala in Garden City, N.Y. and the Monmouth Conservation Foundation holiday event in N.J. There India Hicks, Princess Diana’s bridesmaid, former model and owner of a lifestyle brand, was one of her many customers. (Hicks later posed happily with a spoonful of sauce for posting on Instagram and purchased the sauce to take with her to England – perhaps to serve at dinner with her godfather, Prince Charles?) “Once potential customers get a taste, 75 to 90 percent will buy a jar,” Francine said.

Francine Ryan, left, with India Hicks

The business is a family and friends affair. “One son in law signed me up for an LLC; a dear friend is trademarking the name; another son in law is building a website, a son and daughter work on sales and marketing and my husband, who named it, designed the label and is contributing the creative for the website.”

Her friends were enthusiastic with one exception, a fellow in the food business. He asked: “Why are you doing this at this stage of your life?” She replied: “Why not?”

Another, who dresses some of NYC’s most prestigious retail windows said “What an incredible idea,” admitting that she was jealous and also wants to do “something that’s mine.” A grateful recipient of the sauce agreed with the second friend and reminded Francine that Stonewall Kitchens, now owned by Heinz, was started by two men selling blueberry preserves at fairs in Maine. A former editor of a major magazine said “It is absolutely fabulous and I’m not putting it on ice cream or anything else except my tongue.”

It’s far too soon in the life of this fledgling business for Francine to predict far into its future. For now she envisions applying for certification so she can sell at Farmer’s Markets in upscale environs, at more events, and perhaps at select retailers where customers can taste the sauce on ice cream. She’s also looking into a local commercial kitchen to produce more jars from bigger vats. Currently she produces 100/day. Want to order a bottle or two? Call 917-796-7586 or email

This successful marketer of sophisticated products and concepts glows like an ingénue when she watches the reactions of people tasting the sauce. “It’s the best feeling in the world when only you can make something that people are mad for. I can continue as long as I want to; I love stirring the vats and having my family involved.”

Do you have a dream second career in the back of your mind at a time you might otherwise be considering hanging up your work gloves? Can you share the names of others who have similarly ventured into uncharted waters?

Photo: Pinterest

Service of Fair Wealth Distribution

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

A homeless man hangs out in a post office satellite the size of a small room that is unattended but has a self-service mail kiosk that I use frequently to weigh and mail packages. I’m afraid to be alone with him so I walk by with package in hand. He’s there on my way to and from work.

A few blocks away I found myself in a Godiva chocolate store earlier this week with a friend who was making a purchase. I noticed the handsome Swarovski luxury box [photo above], priced at $125 or $2.08/per chocolate. There are millions in the city who would relish such a gift to share with family and friends but I don’t think that they will be the recipients. I envision the executives and business owners who will receive it who may wince at the calories or put the box out at the reception area or not even bother to take it out of its gift bag.

All the talk about the one percent got me thinking of something that has always been true: The people who don’t need and often could care less about expensive gifts receive them. This goes for taxes, benefits and holiday presents.


Which led me to think: I wish that there was a City Harvest for holiday business gifts. City Harvest rescues food from restaurants and other venues with leftovers in NYC and distributes it to the hungry. This hypothetical organization would scoop up unwanted or unneeded executive gifts and redistribute them to those who would appreciate them.

However, the concept wouldn’t work because corporations send notes to vendors asking them to restrict gift-giving to a modest sum, maybe $25, or they forbid gifts altogether. Executives receive their gifts at home. And they can’t admit to receiving expensive gifts as they aren’t supposed to get them so how could they volunteer to give away something they shouldn’t own in the first place?

Some businesses send electronic holiday wishes noting that they donate to charity the money normally spent on cards and postage. I hope they really do.

I don’t mean to pick on Godiva or other purveyors of luxury treats and manufacturers of gifts like chef’s knives, drones and wireless headphones. It just seems that giving fancy business gifts to the wealthy is like bringing diamonds to Amsterdam.

Similarly, does it make sense for the wealthiest to benefit from the tax plan that’s about to be voted on in Washington, causing a deficit for the poorest and middle class to shoulder via paltry tax reductions and reduced Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits?

If you were giving a gift to a wealthy client, what would it be?


Service of Pushing the Envelope: What Does it Take for a Bank to Get the Message?

Monday, December 4th, 2017


Parents expect their kids to test them daily but is it natural for a bank, caught red-handed in one scandal, to again test a federal regulator with another cheat just a year later? I’m referring to Wells Fargo, once a stalwart bank with stellar reputation and the third largest in the US.

Last year staff, to gain bonuses, created as many as 3.5 million accounts, some fictitious, others without customer approval. In addition to the chink in its standing, this cost the bank a $35 million penalty, restitution to some customers and a freeze on executive golden parachutes. Plus the chairman was forced to resign.

What now? “A federal regulator has advised Wells Fargo & Co.’s board of directors that it is weighing a formal enforcement action against the bank over improprieties in its auto-insurance and mortgage operations,” according to Gretchen Morgenson and Emily Glazer in their Wall Street Journal article, “Wells Fargo Gets New Warning.” The regulator is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency [OCC].


The reporters wrote: “This summer, the bank conceded in a news release that for years it had forced nearly 600,000 customers who financed their car purchases with Wells Fargo to pay for collision coverage they didn’t need. The bank said about 20,000 customers had their cars wrongly repossessed. Those customers failed to pay the improper insurance charges.”


In addition they reported: “The bank has also said it charged some customers improper fees to extend the interest-rate commitments they received from Wells Fargo on their mortgage applications. In October the bank said it is reaching out to around 110,000 customers who paid a total of $98 million in such fees, and expects refunds to be lower than that total because, the bank said, it ‘believes a substantial number of those fees were appropriately charged under its policy.’”

The OCC “gave the bank credit for identifying the irregularities in its insurance operations but characterized Wells Fargo’s management of compliance risk as ‘weak.’ The report also said the bank had underestimated the amount of restitution it owed to wronged customers.”

Does today’s business atmosphere, inspired by Washington, give signals to businesses to push the envelope and hope for the best? Recent indicators include loosening of climate regulations, and the appointment by the president of Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when Mulvaney doesn’t believe in restrictions. Do the small fries in this country feel sufficiently threatened yet? Why would a bank allow its reputation to take such a beating?



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