Archive for August, 2018

Service of Newspapers—When The Good Guys Win

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Photo: philly.com

On one side of this post is a man who did extremely well, lived simply and used his fortune to help the newspaper industry, and many others. On the other is a private equity firm that pushed for a tariff against Canada to allegedly help some US businesses while threatening the survival of others. Amazingly, our system worked and the good guys won. Read on.

Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest. Photo: mercersburg.edu

“I can’t think of any cause that we support that’s more important than the support of the newspapers,” Mr. Lenfest said in 2014. That’s H.F. Lenfest, known as Gerry, who died early in August. James R. Hagerty wrote Lenfest’s obituary in The Wall Street Journal.

These weren’t just words for Lenfest and his wife Marguerite. They paid $88 million for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com four years ago and in 2016, “donated that company to a nonprofit, now known as the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, charged with preserving quality journalism in Philadelphia and testing ideas that might sustain fact-based news reporting elsewhere,” wrote Hagerty.

In all, the Lenfests have given away $1.2 billion. In spite of Lenfest’s financial success in the cable TV industry, the family lived modestly—keeping the house they moved into in 1966, for example. Their son Brook said his father “rode city buses and flew coach” because people in coach were “more open to conversation.” [The Lenfests gave $14 million to Teach America after Gerry Lenfest chatted with the founder he met on the train to NYC.]

Photo: ehshumfinancial.com

At the same time as this stalwart attempt at saving an industry takes place the Department of Commerce was supporting a tariff on Canadian newsprint that would raise the price as much as 30 percent ringing the death knell for many papers and causing severe cutbacks in staff and production in others. The tariff was to save jobs here. It appeared to back wealthy cronies at a private equity firm who pushed for the tariff because they own a US newsprint business. Some wondered if there wasn’t another agenda: to cut off yet more arteries of information that feed [legitimate] news to communities across the country.

A few days before the International Trade Commission’s decision–made yesterday–William Mauldin told the story in: “Bad News for U.S. Papers, but Tariffs Are Paying Off for One Rock Capital –Private-equity firm headed by a Washington and Wall Street veteran pushed for the tariffs on behalf of its North Pacific Paper and hope they are affirmed in a coming trade-commission vote.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

He reported that after salaries, newsprint is usually a newspaper’s second biggest cost. The increased cost “threatens the viability of small-town papers across the country, forcing reduced publication days, layoffs and other cut backs. Canadian mills have historically supplied a large portion of U.S. newsprint.”

He continued: “Some industry observers say a Trump administration, led by a president antagonistic to the media, is unlikely to be sympathetic to newspapers.” A White House spokeswoman said such a claim is “absurd.”

So what happened yesterday? Tom Kludt and Jill Disis at CNN.com wrote: “In what amounts to a blow to the Department of Commerce, which upheld the tariffs earlier this month, the International Trade Commission found that the imports of Canadian paper do not hurt American producers. The commission’s vote was unanimous.” Commissioner David S. Johnson, a Texas Republican, serves as chairman.

Do you predict the success of the Lenfest Institute’s research may save the newspaper industry? Are philanthropists like the Lenfests who gain little more than personal pleasure from their generous gifts, few and far between? Were you surprised by the International Trade Commission’s unanimous decision regarding what Thehill.com called the “Trump tariffs?” Did you also see the proposed tariffs as the administration’s attempt to punish and diminish the fourth estate? Dare we extrapolate this decision, with David and Goliath overtones, as a turning point where responsible commissioners based their decisions on facts and not due to pressure from a bully–with more to come?

Photo: thedailystar.net

Service of Fleeting Impressions: Eye-Popping Displays, a Dash of Vintage and Middle Eastern Vibes at NY Now

Monday, August 27th, 2018

MT masking tape, Japan

In a quick visit to NY Now, the former New York International Gift Fair, I saw striking, contemporary displays by companies with decades under their belts as well as vintage-inspired products and some Middle Eastern accents.

MT, a Japanese masking tape manufacturer, had a most outstanding display [photo above and below right].

MT masking tape, Japan

At first I thought I was looking at long plastic straws in wonderful colors suspended from above and only on closer inspection did I realize that I was looking at unrolled spools of masking tape meticulously installed! MT’s tape is made of Washi paper. Its website claims that the paper is strong and “extremely thin compared with those made in other countries.” The company—its factory launched in 1923–stands by its adhesive which it claims leaves no trace when removed. Its color range may be more extensive than most. For sure its booth designer is visionary and the installers extremely patient.

Meloria by Graziani, Italy

My photo doesn’t do justice to the striking Meloria by Graziani booth. Like MT, its fresh look belies the age of the manufacturer: The candle company was founded in Tuscany in 1805 and Meloria is one of its brands. Ball-shaped candles, some, in saturated colors, joined pastel hues and naturals reminiscent of lush hedges, cherries, cabbages and oranges as well as a shiny black 8-ball. Unlike many booths crowded with choices, this one focused on only two shapes, the ball and tapers with a twist.

Alexander Girard wooden dolls

You couldn’t miss the giant replicas of Alexander Girard’s family of wooden dolls in the Vitra booth. The original human and animal characters designed by Girard in 1953 to decorate his home in Santa Fe are in the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany. According to the website, the dolls are made and painted by hand today and precisely replicate the originals.

Filt string bags

Mahogany

Booths with a vintage spirit included Mahogany’s flannel nightwear in patterns inspired by the 40s and 50s and Filt’s string bags colored brightly to distinguish them from the natural originals that for decades European shoppers brought to the market to fill with comestibles.

I noticed a Middle Eastern vibe in some of the booths such as Zenza Home, Selamat Designs and jazzy tablemats in the back wall of Kim Sebert’s booth. I also thought the crystal fireplace in Kathryn McCoy’s booth would fit well in a Middle Eastern style manor house.

Have you noticed retailers with remarkable displays, seen or received any great gifts recently or noted striking trends in your forays online or about town? Are you surprised that some venerable brands–a candle manufacturer over 200 years old and a maker of masking tape almost 100–excel at projecting a hip, trendy image?

Kathryn McCoy

Selamat Designs

Zenza Home

Service of While We Were Distracted by Stormy, Omarosa, a $15K Jacket & Michael Cohen…

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Photo: nationofchange.org

Cable and social media are obsessed with Stormy, Omarosa, the $15K Paul Manafort jacket, the Cohen admissions and other almost daily forehead-slapping bits that distract from and mask crucial changes by the current administration none of which are topics around the water cooler.

Daniel Nelson wrote in sciencetrends.com that the administration cut out the yearly budget for NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System which measures greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and “will likely stymie efforts to combat global climate change.” The savings was $10 million/year. [By comparison, the Mexico wall is estimated to cost $70 billion to build and $150 million/year to maintain.]

Photo: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory

According to Nelson, “Kelly Sims Gallagher, the director of the International Environment and Resource Policy Center at Tufts University says that the decision was ‘a grave mistake.’”

The program supported research big and small. It:

  • ensured that countries adhered to the Paris climate accord because it measured reductions in emissions
  • provided data for 65 projects to understand how forests keep carbon out of the air
  • prevented deforestation of tropical forest in developing nations
  • tracked dissolving carbon flowing from the mouth of the Mississippi River into the Pacific Ocean
  • helped Providence I. reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Meanwhile Betsy DeVos was busy unraveling consumer protections in another sector—for-profit colleges. [Examples: chains which train automotive mechanics, cosmetologists, cyber security techs and, like the now defunct Trump University, real estate investment specialists.]

Photo: economicdevelopment.org

According to Erica L. Green, DeVos “formally moved to scrap a regulation that would have forced for-profit colleges to prove that the students they enroll are able to attain decent-paying jobs.” In her New York Times article, Green described the sector as “scandal-scarred” noting that the now rescinded gainful employment safeguard was made during the previous administration.

Photo: autotraining.edu

The rule under Obama “revoked federal funding and access to financial aid for poor-performing schools” where graduates were left drowning in debt with poor job prospects. Green reported that since 2010, when the Obama administration began to tighten the rules, almost half the career programs and schools have closed and the student population shrank by more than 1.6 million. The president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the industry’s trade group, admitted “The sector today is so much better.”

Who will be left holding the bag to pay defaulted loans under the DeVos change? Taxpayers.

“‘The Trump administration is once again choosing the interests of executives and shareholders of predatory for-profit higher education institutions over protecting students and taxpayers,’ said John King, the Obama-era education secretary charged with enforcing the rule, who called the move ‘outrageous and irresponsible.’”

Attorney generals of 18 states have sued to delay enforcement of the DeVos reversal.

Here are the reasons her department gives for rescinding the gainful employment rule:

  • Research ignored by the Obama administration “undermined the ‘validity of using the debt and earnings comparisons.’”
  • They found that “‘a troubling degree of inconsistency and potential error exists in job placement rates’ that ‘could mislead students in making an enrollment decision.’”
  • It was “burdensome” for schools to disclose their data.
  • “the Obama regulations ‘reinforce an inaccurate and outdated belief that career and vocational programs are less valuable to students and less valued by society, and that these programs should be held to a higher degree of accountability than traditional two- and four-year degree programs that may have less market value.’”

Maybe someone can explain these arguments to me.

Is there a chance that these reversals—and their negative impact–will be part of voter decisions at the November midterm elections? Do you think that they are widely known? Are the extraneous headline-grabbing distractions deliberate to keep our eyes off the many far bigger birdies? They sure are working, don’t you think?

Photo: pinterest

Service of Contests for Kids: We’re All Winners

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Contests that teach, encourage and reward kids to better themselves and/or their communities help us all.

Author Karen Russell told NPR “New Yorker Radio Hour” listeners on a recent August weekend about how proud she was to treat her family to a pizza when she was a kid. An avid reader, she’d qualified for a free pie with one topping through Pizza Hut’s Book It program. She’d read 10 books.

Books tossed recently at the Millbrook, NY Transfer Station

Book It was founded in 1985. It runs from October 1 to March 31 for children from Kindergarten to the sixth grade and homeschoolers can also participate.

Things may have changed since Russell won her pizza. She read printed books and today many children use Kindles and other tablets. Some may still record their books on paper and some access an app that reaches teachers who track their participation. But the goal remains–to promote reading.

The National Road Safety Foundation [NRSF] conducts contests for kids to help its campaign to drive down the number of traffic accidents, deaths and injuries here. I know about it because a colleague, David Reich, runs and promotes the contests. One is “Drive2Life,” in its seventh year, in which teens submit messages to be turned into public service announcements [PSAs] to warn drivers about the dangers of speeding. This year’s winner, a California 8th grader, received $1,000 and a trip to New York where he collaborated with Emmy Award-winning producers to script, film and edit his winning PSA, “Cars Aren’t Toys.” The PSA aired on “Teen Kids News” on 150 TV stations.

Photo: fcclainc.org

In addition to Drive2Life, there are NRSF Drive Safe student contests in Washington DC, LA, Chicago and Atlanta as well as Safe Rides Save Lives for members of Family Career and Community Leaders of America [FCCLA] and #DrivingSkills101 for Students Against Destructive Decisions [SADD] Chapters nationwide.

Can you name other great contests for children? Did you participate in any when you were a kid?

Photo: washingtonautoshow.com

Service of Cart Before the Horse: Corporations Collaborate When Foolproof Locks on Internet Security Don’t Exist

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Photo: edgarstewart.com

Thank goodness all giant corporations aren’t leaping into bed together to share respective expertise and information although some are inching in that direction and others are raring to go. It won’t be long.

But first a digression: In arriving at the topic for this post I counted seven fuzzy attributions in one newspaper article. Isn’t that a lot? Laced throughout a recent front page article in The Wall Street Journal I read: “According to people familiar with the conversations; the people said; a person familiar with the discussions said; some of the people said; said people familiar with the matter; some of the people said and people familiar with the matter said.”

Photo: clckinmoms.com

Nevertheless I believe the topic is valid and am troubled by its implications. The title and subtitle: “Facebook to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users. Facebook has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about customers as it seeks to boost user engagement data.”

Reporters Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and AnnaMaria Andriotis wrote that Facebook had spoken with people at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and U.S. Bancorp “to discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger.” Facebook Messenger is a messaging app and platform.

What did “people say” about the conversations? “Facebook has talked about a feature that would show its users their checking-account balances, the people said. It has also pitched fraud alerts.” In addition, “Facebook asked banks for information about where their users are shopping with their debit and credit cards outside of purchases they make using Facebook Messenger.” Messenger has 1.3 billion active monthly users according to the reporters.

Photo: pinterest.com

Timing could be better for this outreach. The reporters reminded readers about current investigations in which Cambridge Analytica accessed data on some 87 million Facebook users without user OK. “‘We don’t use purchase data from banks or credit-card companies for ads,’ [Facebook] spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana said. ‘We also don’t have special relationships, partnerships or contracts with banks or credit-card companies to use their customers’ purchase data for ads.’”

Banks are tempted by the digital reach and doing business with online platforms with healthy and growing businesses. Even though Facebook has introduced what it says are safety features, “Bank executives are worried about the breadth of information being sought, even if it means their bank might not being available on certain platforms their customers use.”

While PayPal and Square have beaten banks to the punch in the world of mobile commerce many customers continue to be comfortable with traditional ways of paying such as credit and debit cards, cash and checks.

Photo: timeanddate.com

Some deals between big players are already struck though I question their purpose: American Express members can reach a rep through Facebook. [Why would you need to do that?] Paypal users can send money through Facebook Messenger and Mastercard’s Masterpass digital wallet lets customers place online orders with some merchants.

Before all these mergers of communications, customers and data happen, shouldn’t there first be a firm grasp on digital customer privacy? Why are we becoming so lazy: Is it so onerous to check a balance on your bank’s website that you need Facebook do it for you? Can you believe that AmEx members can’t reach out to a company rep but instead need Facebook to do it for them? These “benefits” appear to potentially favor everyone but the consumer—do you agree?  Do you pay for things via mobile wallet, credit or debit cards, cash or checks? And last, does an article with more than a few generic attributions disturb you?

Photo: canyourelate.org

Service of Changing Taste: The Lowdown and the High

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Photo: 13.com

Question: What do smart marketers do when consumers cool on their once hot product? Answer: Develop the next trend.

Beer consumption has slumped—Americans chose wine or cocktails over beer in 2017 for the first time. Saabira Chaudhuri and Annie Gasparro wrote that drinkers “are thinking about other things: taste, value, beer bellies.”

Photo: stealingshare.com

In their Wall Street Journal article they cite Beer Institute stats: the brew was 60.8 percent of people’s drink of choice in the mid-1990s. Last year it dropped to 49.7 percent. People 21 to 27 years of age chose beer 65 percent of the time in 2006 vs. 43 percent two years ago according to Anheuser-Busch InBev SA.

Enter brewers like Lagunitas, a Heineken company, among several “diving into the deep end of the cannabis-infused drink pool.” The brand introduced a sparkling water drink for sale in California called Hi-Fi Hops according to Steve Huff on maxim.com. “Lagunitas says their 420-friendly fizz comes in two strengths: a lighter version with 5mgs of THC and a stronger one loaded with 10mgs of the only reason anyone messes with cannabis anyway (it’s the THC that brings the mellow, in case you didn’t know).” THC stands for tetrahydrocannabidinol.

Photo: forbes.com

According to Huff, “If anything, the beer maker is a little late to this game. Blue Moon founder Keith Villa is producing craft beer loaded with THC. Corona is ready to join the game, too. And California vintners have been infusing wine with weed for a while now.”

Cannabis is legal in Canada but is against federal law here. Mike Adams, contributing writer at Forbes, wrote that “Molson Coors, the second largest brewer in the world, is reportedly trying to get into the game.” It’s considered by some currently a risky venture for sales in the U.S right now though “the beverage sector alone is expected to produce $15 billion a year, according to statistics from Cannabiz Consumer Group.”

Photo: newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org

Adams reported that in Canada the market might jump from $5 billion to $22 billion because, as a Canadian brewer planning to introduce a cannabis beer observed, “Smoking has lost, and beverages are how we like to become altered.”

Do you think that cannabis drinks will take up the sales gap for breweries made by decreased beer sales? Will pressure by breweries, along with other interest groups wanting to make cannabis legal, convince lawmakers to change the law in the US? Have you tried a cannabis drink?

Photo: thedrinkbusiness.com

Service of Subscriptions: A Winning Business Model—Sometimes

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Photo: Tundra Restaurant Supply

Before Amazon customers buy a toothpick, its 100 million Prime subscribers have handed the company from $77.88/year to $119/year, representing the cost to students and everyone else respectively. [Some may be grandfathered at $99.99.] Nobody outside the company seems to know the breakdown so you can’t do the math but 100 million paying $1/year would represent a tidy sum.

Subscribers get benefits such as free fast shipping for eligible items, shopping deals, streaming films and TV shows.

Photo: videoblocks.com

According to Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post, “The real money, though, is in the buying power these shoppers wield: Prime members reportedly spend an average of $1,300 a year on Amazon, compared with $700 for its customers who are not members.” And it seems that many of the former don’t comparison shop.

The subscription model works for others such as Netflix, which Siegel reported has 125 million members. Health clubs too—which count on people paying for a year and not returning after a few months.

Photo: What’s-on-Netflix.com

On the other hand, MoviePass has had trouble calculating its fee and benefits–a shame as the concept originally served a purpose, especially for customers in cities where one movie ticket costs upwards of $15. Its monthly fee will soon increase to $14.95 from $9.95. According to Nishant Mohan in The Wall Street Journal, “MoviePass, which has more than 3 million members, lost $98.3 million on $48.6 million of revenue in the quarter ended March 31.”

Tuesday’s Journal reported that the company would limit subscribers from one movie a day to three a month. Ben Fritz wrote that the company had forecast 5 million subscribers by December 2018 which chief executive Mitch Lowe admits might not happen quite that fast. He told Fritz: “Ultimately, I believe this is a 20 million-subscriber business over the next three to four years.”

Meanwhile, it’s trying to stay afloat. It has competition such as AMC Entertainment Holdings with 175,000 members with a monthly $19.95 charge to see three movies a week at its US theatres. MoviePass “plans to limit the availability of first-run movies opening on more than 1,000 screens during the first two weeks.” It also has had technical glitches. One recent day its app featured showtimes for e-ticketing theatres, only, and none others.

I’ve noticed disgruntled customers gripe on social media. One subscriber wrote on Facebook: “I’m unable to cancel my account. They say you’re liable for a year. It’s crazy. You have to go thru their app for customer service and that took more than 2 hours.”

Have you had trouble getting out of a subscription? How many times can a company stumble and succeed in the end?  Are there some subscriptions you endorse? Any you don’t?

Photo: crisistimes.com

Service of Favorite Things Possibly Gone in Moments

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Niece Alison & mug from John

If we’re lucky, we own and can treasure some favorite things.

Carr fire Photo: Axios.com

Millions don’t have this luxury starting with Californians now homeless due to the Carr conflagration, just one of many. Then there are those who also have lost everything in other fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods and some half a million in the U.S. living on the street or in their cars because they can’t afford an alternative. Favorite things are the last thing on their minds.

Glenn Close told The Wall Street Journal Magazine’s Thomas Gebremedhin that her mother’s gloves were among her favorite things. I understood that: I have a worn pair of my father’s leather ones on a shelf in my living room which I mentioned and photographed in “Service of Remembering.” About her mother’s Close said “I find them hugely comforting. Sometimes, when I need it, I put them against my face.” I lay my hand on top of my dad’s gloves for reassurance.

My bet is that most favorite things are small and of little intrinsic value. I know of only one photo taken of my parents on their wedding day. It’s on my wall [photo left].

In addition to books, the physical things I hold dear are mostly small: two coffee mugs nephew John gave me and countless photos—some framed—nephew Edward has shared [see the photo above for one of the mugs and one of the photos]. A copper cocktail jigger from sister Elizabeth and wooden recipe box she gave me decades ago make me feel at home. Daily I wear a ring and bracelets from dear ones along with my wedding band.

A ceramic and a china bowl—one a friend made, the other, a wedding gift—join lovingly-used Vietri dinner and pasta plates [right] we hand-carried from Italy and decorative kitchen towels that I keep until they are in shreds. I love my posters; a cartoon of my father; a vintage silver Tiffany cocktail shaker; key rings; a photo of my parents on a motorcycle in France that Edward framed for us; an oil painting of my mother as a child and my parents’ everyday silverware.

And I’ve just started.

What are some of your favorite things? Do you think “there but for the grace of God go I,” when you hear about devastating natural disasters that turn lives upside down?

Service of Keep it Short: Economists Resist the Trend

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

We’d all do well to heed Blaise Pascal’s apology: “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.” It might be among the first well known quotes to recognize the benefits of taking the time to self-edit. I’m horrified at some of my first drafts bloated with superfluous words and appreciate it if I have time to revise.

Ben Leubsdorf made it clear that many academics in the economics world haven’t received Pascal’s message. Until recently they haven’t recognized the trend to share sometimes life-changing information in increasingly reduced sizes. Think social media.

Leubdorf wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “The average length of a published economics paper has more than tripled over the past four decades, and some academics are sick of wading through them.”

Photo: nature.com

He quoted MIT professor David Autor who launched a [lengthy] Twitter hashtag, #ThePaperIsTooDamnedLong, inspired by a working paper about minimum wage. He compared wading through the 94-pager to “being bludgeoned to death with a Nerf bat.”

The American Economics Association [AEA] “announced last year it would launch a journal dedicated to publishing only concise papers, at least by economists’ standards—nothing longer than 6,000 words, or about 15 double-spaced pages.” But that’s not expected to happen until next summer. One economist predicted that this approach might attract 600+ papers the first year.

That was Amy Finkelstein of MIT. She told Leubsdorf that significant papers written in the1950s by future Nobel Prize winners Paul Samuelson and John Nash covered public good and game theories in just a few pages. “Some journals today seem wary of publishing such quick reads.” In 50 years the top five academic journals covering economics upped average paper size from 16 to 50 according to a University of California, Berkeley analysis.

Paul Samuelson Photo: nobelprize.org

“It isn’t unusual for economists to include a number of statistical checks to confirm each finding’s validity, similar points made with several different data sets, lengthy reviews of past research, multiple appendices with technical details and page after page of Greek letter-laden formulas that require, well, a Ph.D. to understand.”

Katharine Anderson told Leubsdorf that the time it takes to write and read/review a lengthy paper becomes a huge commitment. The Carnegie Mellon University economist explained that these papers must make/prove many different points while academic papers in other specialties need make only one or two. Boston University’s Samuel Bazzi said that these papers include redundancies “to head off possible quibbles that might come up during the review process.”

Do you think briefer academic papers in a specialty such as economics will positively impact the quality of research or at least the dissemination of information? How is it that eminent economists in the 1950s could make their points—and win Nobel Prizes—reporting breakthroughs in 16 pages while today some need 50+? Do the blinders to essential changes in communications by this community reflect on their abilities to forecast?

Photo: economcsdiscussion.net

Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email


Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Clicky Web Analytics