Archive for January, 2020

Service of Hints of Swindle: 148 Luxury Cars a Clue?

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Photo: thebalance.com

I wonder how Joe and Jane Citizen get by unscathed when Jeff Bezos’s phone is hacked and Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, falls for a Ponzi scheme to the tune of $340 million.

“Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, who began raising money in 2011, admitted to a scam that involved swindling sophisticated corporate investors who earned valuable federal tax credits for helping finance a renewable-energy business. Authorities seized and auctioned off 148 luxury vehicles owned by the Carpoffs, including a 1978 Pontiac Firebird once owned by Burt Reynolds.” Dave Michaels wrote this in “Owners of Solar Company That Swindled Berkshire Hathaway Admit to Running Ponzi Scheme,” in The Wall Street Journal. The Carpoffs company: DC Solar Solutions Inc.

The attractive tax credit promised in the deal–30 percent–almost covered the initial investment. “The investors generally assumed an obligation to contribute millions more to the business through promissory notes, the SEC’s lawsuit says,” according to Michaels. Berkshire Hathaway “reversed income tax benefits it had earlier recognized.”

Photo: gr.pinterest.com

“’By all outer appearances this was a legitimate and successful company,’ said Kareem Carter, special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigation in Northern California. “But in reality it was all just smoke and mirrors—a Ponzi scheme touting tax benefits to the tune of over $900 million.’”

The Carpoff’s attorney said that they turned to the dark side–doing illegal things–to save the company. It started out legit.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission also sued the Carpoffs in a civil complaint filed in Sacramento. The SEC said the couple, whose business is in bankruptcy, siphoned off at least $140 million of investor funds to pay for their personal expenses, which included the sports cars, dozens of properties, and a share in a private jet service.”

Have you fallen for something that’s too good to be true? [My medicine chest is filled with face creams that promise to remove wrinkles.] Do you think that investors should look into the private lives of management which, in this case, would have revealed a spendthrift lifestyle which is the opposite of Warren Buffett’s.  Buffett still lives in the home he bought in the 1960s.

Photo: pymnts.com

Service of Complaining: It Can Feel Good But Does It Do Any Good?

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Photo: thebosshow.com

I love to complain which no doubt is why I’ve written this blog twice a week for a dozen years. Once I’ve identified what’s really bothering me, which often happens after griping about it, I usually move on. No goody-goody two shoes here: I’ve carried some big injuries or affronts for years but as for the day-to-day grumps I can shed most and move on using my mother’s mantra: “Bury the bone but remember where you’ve buried it.” [After I’d produced a string of gripes she’d ask, with a tone of irritation: “anything else?” I often ask the same question to myself today.]

Micaela Marini Higgs lined up a bunch of evidence on the subject in her New York Times article, “Go Ahead and Complain. It Might Be Good for You.” The operative word is might. “Constantly complaining can be an easy way to frustrate our confidantes, but there is research that shows it can also be a useful tool in bonding and helping us process emotions like stress and frustration.” Higgs quoted Robin Kowalski, a professor of psychology at Clemson University: “In short: Yes, it’s good to complain, yes, it’s bad to complain, and yes, there’s a right way to do it.”

Photo: thebalancingcareers.com

Higgs described three varieties of complaint: venting, problem solving and ruminating/dwelling. She reported: “Knowing which behavior you’re engaging in, and with what purpose, can help you put in place habits that will not only make your complaining much more strategic, but also help improve your emotional health and build stronger relationships with the people around you.”

Warned Margot Bastin at the department of School Psychology and Development in Context at the Belgian university KU Leuven, “Making complaining the primary focus in our relationships can make us dwell on our problems for longer, triggering a stress response. Bonds built over mutual dissatisfaction can also prove brittle once one person’s problem has been resolved.”

It’s normal to complain because, as Higgs observes, life isn’t perfect. Kowalski said “Inhibiting the disclosure of our dissatisfaction ‘can produce a negative effect,’ because it not only stops us from naming our problem but also prevents us from getting to the root of it.”

Higgs quoted Tina Gilbertson, a psychotherapist and the author of “Constructive Wallowing.” She said: “complaining is, ideally, totally solutions focused.” Quoting Dr. Grice Higgs continued “Though venting is not as focused on solving problems, ‘there are also really positive benefits,’ because it allows us ‘to get things out in the open and get our feelings heard so they don’t build up and cause stress.’” Angela Grice is a speech language pathologist specializing in the use of mindfulness-based practices. She “previously researched executive functions and neuroscience at Howard University and the Neurocognition of Language Lab at Columbia University.”

Photo: crosswalk.com

Other benefits of blowing off steam Higgs noted in her article include helping put the gripe in perspective and “words to our feelings;” it’s good both psychologically and emotionally; feedback helps gain perspective and the hope is that you’ll do something about the situation.

According to the experts in the article you want to avoid “always find[ing] something to complain about. The same goes with rehashing a problem over and over again, whether with friends or in the echo chamber of the internet.” Keeping a journal helps blow off steam about smaller complaints.

Has anyone stopped you from venting or criticized you for doing so? Do you find complaining constructive in getting over irritations and finding solutions to them? Is there a difference between a complaint and a critique or review of a restaurant experience or seminar for example?

Photo: verywellmind.com

Service of Delight in a Low Tech, Effective Invention

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

Photo: deerfieldvet.com

A friend whose husband had dementia described a harrowing moment when he disappeared one afternoon on their walk home from the grocery store. Her arms were full of parcels so she wasn’t holding on to him and it started raining so she’d pulled up her hoodie, partially covering her vision. She was distracted for only a moment and when she turned around her husband was gone. That day she found him. Similar incidents happen daily to adults and children whose caretakers must call the police to help find them.

Photo: pinterest.com

“About 613,000 people were reported missing in 2018 to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center. About two-thirds of them were children,” reported Leslie Brody in her Wall Street Journal article, “Scent Kits Aid Tail-Wagging Detectives in Search for Missing People.” The kit is a simple tool to help bloodhounds find anyone who is lost.

Brody wrote: “Detective Christopher Nichols of Maywood’s K-9 Unit said he hopes the kits will be useful for finding people who tend to wander off, including the elderly with dementia and children with autism. It is urgent to give a search dog something with a unique scent to trace, but in some cases none can be found, he said: The missing person’s dirty socks, for example, may have been contaminated by mingling with other people’s laundry.” Maywood is in New Jersey.

Photo: anythingpawsable.com

The kit, Find ’em Scent Safe, that costs about $20, was developed by a police captain, Coby Webb, who is also treasurer of the National Police Bloodhound Association. “The kit has gloves and gauze for pressing on the user’s neck or armpit to pick up odor. The gauze goes into a plastic bag and then a small gray box that goes into the user’s freezer. In an emergency, the family can hand it to investigators. Police don’t store it.”

Brody reported that some families monitor people who tend to wander with GPS devices but that batteries could die, the wanderer could enter an area with no cell service or they might remove the device. Find ’em’s box design “helps protect it from tampering,” while dirty socks stored in the freezer can be tinkered with.

Citizens of Maywood–where Detective Nichols works–can get a free kit. “The police are promoting their offer…..at senior centers and schools for students with disabilities.”

What other simple tools like the scent kit have you heard of that can turn around a dangerous situation? Are there other preventative measures people can take to control the outcome of an emergency?

Photo: pethealthnetwork.com

Service of When a Headline Underplays Scary News

Monday, January 20th, 2020

Photo: thoughtco.com

I’ve mentioned here before that I passed college economics by figuring out the answers to exam questions and writing the opposite. Economic theories made no sense. I’m not comfortable writing about the economy but this post is also about the delivery of news which is something I’ve studied.

The headlines to Josh Zumbrun and Anthony DeBarros’ Wall Street Journal article soft-sold some daunting repercussions of the administration’s tariff war with China. The online headline was “Trade War With China Took Toll on U.S., but Not Big One,” and the print version was “Trade War Takes a Muted Toll on U.S. Economy.” The words I focused on were “but Not Big One” and “Muted Toll.”

Photo: rfdtv.com

Readers don’t have far to read before alarms ring. Following are the first two paragraphs:

  • “Farmers took a big hit. Importers of auto parts, furniture and machinery choked down punishing tariffs. Investment between the world’s two largest economies dropped.
  • “Much of the U.S. economy is largely unscathed by two turbulent years of trade war with China, economic indicators show. Yet economic growth is trending near 2% in 2019, well short of the Trump administration’s goal of 3%.”

According to Zumbrun and DeBarros the administration says the war is worth it. “The deal ‘protects American innovation and creates a level playing field for our great farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs,’ said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, adding, ‘President Trump protected the American worker and fundamentally changed our relationship with China.'”

Photo: focusmagazine.org

The reporters wrote that Benn Steil, who directs international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, claimed that the president could have achieved the same deal without side effects two years ago. Economists predict years may go by before we can realize the actual repercussions.

Zumbrun and DeBarros subsequently reported in detail on the impact of the tariffs on agriculture, inflation and prices, bilateral trade, investment and economic growth. A few excerpts:

  • Agriculture: “Annual S. farm exports to China plunged from nearly $25 billion in recent years to below $7 billion at its low point in the 12 months through April 2019.”
  • Inflation and Prices: “While Mr. Trump frequently claimed China would pay the tariffs, they have been paid by S. importers.”
  • Bilateral Trade: “After decades of surging commerce between the world’s two largest economies, trade took a sharp step back. S. exports to China dropped by nearly $30 billion, while imports from China fell by over $70 billion, for a decline of over $100 billion in trade.”
  • Investment: “Investment in the S. economy slumped. Foreign direct investment slowed to nearly a halt in the early part of 2018, and was weak again in mid-2019.” Nancy McLernon, president of the Organization for International Investment, pointed to trade tensions as the cause.
  • Photo: vox.com

    Economic Growth: In early 2018, the Trump administration celebrated 3 percent growth and forecast the same through 2019 along with a prediction that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates. “Instead, as the trade war wore on, the administration began imploring the Fed to slash interest rates to bolster the economy. The Fed cut rates three times. Even so, the economy has cooled toward 2%.” In addition, “the boost from the 2017 tax overhaul was beginning to fade” wrote  Zumbrun and DeBarros and last, the reporters ID’d the impact of uncertainty–“the constant unpredictability of what happens next,” said Ayhan Kose, director of the World Bank’s global macroeconomic outlook.

Do you think the gap between the news in the article and the headline occurred because the headline writers hadn’t read the article or because the facts don’t match the philosophy of the Wall Street Journal‘s publisher and the staff wanted to be sure that the story ran? Do tariffs worry or impact you?

Photo: 123rf.com

 

 

Service of Borrowed Books from the New York Public Library

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

NY Public Library on east 96th Street. Photo: facebook.com

Visiting the New York Public Library branch on East 96th Street with my mother is one of my earliest memories. The system is 125 years old this year. As a result, it publicized statistics of most-checked out books over time which is significant because it’s the second biggest library in the country, behind the Library of Congress.

Photo: amazon.com

There was a distinct difference between the genres of books most borrowed by library habitués last year vs. those over time.

  • In 2019 citizens most checked out six adult fiction and four nonfiction books, leading with Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming.”
  • The most borrowed since the beginning included six children’s, three fiction and one nonfiction book. Number one is “The Snowy Day,” a children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats.
  • The range of publish dates of last year’s favorites is 2017 to 2018; over time from 1936 to 1997.

Top 10 takeouts in 125 years

  1. “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats, [1962]: 485,583 checkouts
  2. “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss [1957]: 469,650 checkouts
  3. “1984,” by George Orwell [1949]: 441,770 checkouts
  4. “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak [1963]: 436,016 checkouts
  5. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee [1960]: 422,912 checkouts
  6. “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White 1952]: 337,948 checkouts
  7. “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury [1953]: 316,404 checkouts
  8. “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie [1936]: 284,524 checkouts
  9. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling [1997]: 231,022 checkouts
  10. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle [1969]: 189,550 checkouts

Top 10 takeouts in 2019

  1. “Becoming” by Michelle Obama biography [2018]
  2. “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover [2018]
  3. “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng [2017]
  4. “A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult [2018]
  5. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens [2018]
  6. “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee [2017]
  7. “Circe” by Madeline Miller [2018]
  8. “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty [2018]
  9. “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou [2018].
  10. “Milkman” by Anna Burns [2018]

Are you sad to learn that there are no children’s books on the 2019 list? What would the reason be? Have you read any of the books on the two lists? What are some of your favorites both recently and over time?

Photo: nypl.org

Service of Late Night Shopping Online

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Photo: dreamstime.com

Erica Martell suggested this post after buying a vacuum cleaner late one night that, she wrote, she’d been thinking about for some time. A few days later, I fell for a drastic discount on a Marimekko jumpsuit. Martell continued: “People have some interesting late-night shopping habits.”

Mary-Ann Russon, BBC News business reporter wrote “New data from the John Lewis Partnership Card shows that one in 15 purchases are now made between the hours of midnight and 06:00.

“The research shows that the number of purchases made in this period rose by 23% in 2018, compared with 2017.

“Retail analyst Chris Field told the BBC that technology improvements have prompted this new trend.

Photo: covergirlshapewear.com

“‘It’s partly to do with the more recent generations of mobile phones, and the retailers are becoming much more sophisticated,’ he says.”

We’re not speaking peanuts. According to optinmonster.com: ” Online shopping is growing so fast that the global online shopping market size is predicted to hit 4 trillion in 2020. And in the US alone, we’re expecting to have 300 million online shoppers in 2023. That’s 91% of the entire country’s population!”

In the infancy of QVC, a colleague bought drawers full of jewelry. I missed that temptation. There’s something else about looking at fashions on my phone during a boring TV show or commercial. The compelling photos and ease in buying are part of the attraction.

At what time of day do you buy online? Should you stay away from websites that sell items that might be tempting to you when you’re tired?

Photo: stokker.com

Service of Cartoons

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Photo: montsinai.org

I was given every chance to show talent for drawing or painting when young. Sadly I’m like a tone deaf person who loves music: My stick figures are not convincing and I admire people who can translate on paper or canvas a thought or scene.

Nevertheless I see material for cartoons all over the place. Here are recent examples that a sketch would capture far better than I can with words.

Achoo

I was passing an urgent care office—they are at street level all over Manhattan, many with large windows neither frosted nor with shades drawn.

Behind the reception desk at one was an attractive staffer blowing her nose into an enormous wad of Kleenex. Struck me funny.

Ying &Yang

Photo: lenoxhill.northwell.edu

Walking to the subway this week on 77th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues I passed on my left a Christian Science church and on my right, Lenox Hill Hospital. The contradiction brought a smile.

Seating Arrangements

The subway car was jammed the other day. A little boy about 10 sat next to his mother. She didn’t suggest he give up his seat to fellow passengers encumbered with packages, disabled or elderly. The scene inspired this invented scenario: In every seat are kids and 20-somethings. Standing are people with canes, crutches or pregnant.

Do you come across scenes that would make poignant or amusing cartoons? Do you have a favorite cartoon?

Photo: Alamy.com

Service of What’s The Back-Story? I’ll Almost Never Know

Monday, January 6th, 2020

I love to make up back-stories. I do it when I overhear conversations, embroider about something I notice or that happens.

I received a package addressed to my apartment that wasn’t for me. The doorman looked up the name and said the man had moved out in 2016. He added, “The return address has the same last name as the one on the package. I wonder what that’s about?” It dawned on me that the sender may be the recipient’s ex wife. Perhaps she came across a bunch of his things and sent them to an apartment they’d once shared. She didn’t know he’d moved. I’ll never know the truth.

There was the remarkably silent couple in their 60s or 70s at a stunning restaurant with toothsome food in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Why didn’t they speak even to discuss the menu or react to what they’d just tasted? Did they have a fight? Did they never speak in public? Were they struggling with some bad news? Did one of them have a sore throat? I’ll never know the truth.

Photo: pinterest.com

The couple in the pub in Georgetown was out of the 1960s. She wore a flip teased to death held in place with a can of hairspray. He barked orders to the wait staff. Because of where we were and what they looked and sounded like I guessed he was a military officer who had retired in the DC area. When the couple left the restaurant I asked our waiter to confirm my speculation. “He owns the pub!” he said, which explained how he got away with the nasty tone he used with the staff.

I see men schlumped in chairs at almost every retail store I visit. They’re either looking into space, sleeping or curved over their phones. Why don’t they tell their significant others that they don’t want to be there? It’s so easy to drop the spouse off and go for a cup of coffee or to a store that would interest them or even to stay home. I’ll never know the truth.

Do you like to imagine what the back-stories are?

Photo: boredpanda.com

Service of Will Your Pooch–or Parrot–Pass the Scrutiny of a Co-Op Board?

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Photo: facebook.com

Decades ago I experienced a light version of Katherine Clarke’s story “So Your Dog Can Roll Over. Can It Pass a Co-op Board Interview?”  A co-op board member interviewed a tenant in our rental apartment to learn about Prunella, a mixed breed almost dachshund, before giving us the final approval for our apartment purchase. Our neighbor was insulted when that’s all they wanted to know–nothing about us. Prunella hardly ever barked. After she died, we adopted Cassie who did nothing but express her displeasure in an operatic voice when we weren’t home. So much for that.

Clarke reported: “Boards have reason to be selective as incidents like dog bites can open them up to legal liability. In some cases, boards are demanding headshots, résumés and even recommendation letters specifically for pets to protect themselves.”

Photo: dogbreedplus.com

She described pet owners who dressed them to the nines, brought them to a dog shrink to figure out the right balance of xanax and zoloft so they didn’t appear totally zonked, put one in a baby carriage because it had recently pulled a tendon and hid turkey in her pocket so the dog would stay in her lap. One couple buying a pied-a-terre drove 13 hours with two pets and spent the night at a pet-friendly hotel in NYC for a few minute review. Another prospective tenant borrowed her friend’s older, calmer poodle as hers had a tendency to act nut-so in front of strangers. She’s in and nobody has noticed the switch.

One prospective owner told Clarke: “My worst case scenario was that Lainie, the princess, would bark or jump on everyone and demand a tremendous amount of attention and Larry, who doesn’t hear so well, would pay no attention to us and walk all over the place. When he doesn’t like something, he will whine. And he can’t really hear you when you say, ‘Shut up, Larry.’ ”

Photo: wagandtrain.com

Clarke wrote that one dog  “had to sit with a third-party ‘dog whisperer’ brought in by the board for a 10-minute evaluation, during which she [the owner] just quietly observed the pooch. Occasionally, they bring another dog into the room to test their response.”

One dog owner’s pet likes to “run through people’s legs from behind” when meeting someone new. She avoided an interview by producing sufficient information at the initial stages. She submitted a resume with photos and lists of likes–“treats, snoozing, playing fetch, tiny humans, radishes, apples and pears” and under qualifications she wrote “doesn’t shed.”

Clarke reported that “Many co-ops have banned certain more aggressive breeds. One particularly strict co-op on Lower Fifth Avenue has banned Alaskan Malamutes, Caucasian Mountain Dogs, Chihuahuas, Chow Chows, Dachshunds, Dalmatians, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, Huskies, Jack Russell Terriers, Lhasa apsos, Old English Sheepdogs, Papillons, Pekingese, Pinschers, Pit Bulls, Presa Canarios, Rottweilers, Toy Poodles and Schnauzers, according to its rules.”

Birds are subject to scrutiny as well. One board insisted on meeting a parrot in midwinter even though the real estate agent pleaded special dispensation for fear the tropical bird would suffer in the cold in the trip to the meeting. “One particularly memorable incident, which the harrowed real estate agent ‘dubbed ‘Parrotgate,’ involved convincing the board of an Upper East Side co-op to accept a tropical four-inch-tall bird.” The agent said “No one wants to ride in an elevator with someone with a bird on their shoulder.”

I have owned and sold two co-ops and after the first swore I’d never again go near such a harrowing purchase and sale but I did. Buying and selling in certain buildings without a pet will cause extreme anxiety. Have you come across stressful unexpected hurdles in trying to buy a property–co-op, condo or private home?

Photo: home.bt.com

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