The Week: What Caught Our Eye

January 14, 2023

Photo of trees in front of a red sky.“There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” Bernard Williams. (Photo by Tina Suhocki).

Good morning, Colleagues and Friends:

The literary world drew its breath sharply last Sunday when the news came of Russell Banks’ death. Banks was a literary lion, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He died where he lived quietly, at home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., though the place he inhabited in letters was far larger.

The New York Times placed Banks in the first rank of contemporary novelists and said, “the prolific author of 21 works of fiction and nonfiction … brought his own blue-collar background to bear in his writing, delving into the psychological pressure of life in economically depressed towns in the Northeast, their stark reality often shadowed by the majestic Adirondacks of northern New York State.”

He was a friend to other writers, including Paul Grondahl, a master of the craft himself, veteran Capital Region author and journalist and executive director of the New York State Writers’ Institute, who, at our request, offered this warm appreciation of Banks and his place in the literary world and the long line of great Upstate New York writers.

A DEBT PAID FORWARD: Stephen Raymond served for 20 years as a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officer in the rural Adirondacks, but like law enforcement people across the state, he was called to New York City shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The fatal lung, bone, and brain cancers he developed later were linked to his exposure to airborne contaminants at Ground Zero. His widow missed the deadline for survivors to file for state death benefits. Now, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Matt Simpson and state Sen. Dan Stec and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul will ensure that Raymond’s family receives $2 million in benefits. Some of the money may be used for a scholarship fund for environmental conservation officers and their families.

ENERGIZED: Modernizing a 55-mile-long electric transmission corridor to help New York State meet its ambitious clean energy goals is a monumental task, especially when the corridor runs through 11 towns and alongside hundreds of homes and businesses, including dozens of agricultural properties. Transmission developer New York Transco is nearing completion of that very project and things have gone remarkably well, due in large part to the company’s commitment to invite community feedback every step of the way. Behan Communications is proud to be part of the project team and recently explored Transco’s community-focused approach in this mini-documentary.

GREAT OUTDOORS: There’s a reason it’s called that. Researchers over the years have documented the benefits of being outdoors, and a recent analysis by data journalists at The Washington Post lends further credence to the call of the wild. Using thousands of time journals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, they concluded that farmers, loggers and foresters are the happiest, least stressed workers of any major industry category, even though their occupations are more dangerous than most and they report the highest levels of job-related pain. Digging deeper, the journalists looked at the off-work activities that people said gave them the most meaning and happiness. No. 2, behind religious and spiritual, were sports, exercise and recreation — also better outdoors, also associated with higher incidences of pain. Their conclusion: Pain is the price people are willing to pay for the benefits of being outside. “Even on your worst day — something has broken down and you need to get wood to the mill — the wind’ll blow and you’ll inhale a familiar scent — that pine sap — and it’ll just take you to a place of peace instantly,” the co-owner of a South Carolina forestry business told the Post. “It’s therapy. The woods is therapy, the forest is therapy. You can have the worst day ever but when you get out here? The forest just takes it all away.”

ALICE SMILES ON ALBANY: The Albany Symphony has a new album that’s drawing national praise. The Symphony performs Lewis Carroll-inspired musical works — some of which have never before been performed — composed by the daring David Del Tredici. The New York Times calls these long-awaited performances a “booming, psychedelic marvel,” and says of one passage that conductor David Alan Miller “and his Albany players … make (it)  sound like a million bucks in the new recording.”

Old photo of a country road.Not everyone is in a hurry to get where they’re going. Some, in fact, are quite happy with the peace and solitude of a humble dirt road. (Photo: Library of Congress)

ROADS TO RENEWAL? What is a road, really? And are they all the same? Are they just the drags of daily drudgery? Or can some be paths of inspiration and renewal, places to think, wander, meander and get lost? In the bucolic community of Chatham, N.Y., people are wondering why all the roads need to be paved, why some can’t be intentionally preserved in more rustic shape. “I just always thought dirt roads gave our area character,” says one resident who favors slowing the advance of asphalt. 

YES, WE ALL WON: Damar Hamlin was discharged from a Buffalo hospital a little more than a week after he suffered cardiac arrest and required resuscitation on the field during a game in Cincinnati. Hamlin’s condition united the nation in prayer and concern, and people flooded his charity with donations in a demonstration of support. Hamlin’s charitable work is just getting started; he’s selling T-shirts emblazoned with the first words he said to doctors in Cincinnati, “Did we win?” Proceeds will go to first responders and the University of Cincinnati Trauma Center, where he was treated in the days after he collapsed. 

TOO HOT TO TOUCH: President Truman’s supposed line about politics came to mind this week: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The issue: Gas stoves. A study linking childhood asthma cases to gas stove usage, and a comment on it by a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, ignited a new battle in the culture wars. “The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner,” declared Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands,” said Republican Rep. Dr. Ronny Jackson. The National Review mocked “Biden’s War on Gas Stoves.” And for her part, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worried aloud about the potential health impacts of gas stoves but said she would be keeping hers because she rents. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka Jr., a member of the CPSC ignited the firestorm, sought to quell the flames: “To be clear, CPSC isn't coming for anyone's gas stoves. Regulations apply to new products.”

STAGED JUST RIGHT: The pandemic dimmed the lights, muted the music, and darkened the doors of many performance venues, but the intrepid leaders of The Park Theater in Glens Falls, N.Y., and The Strand Theater in Hudson Falls, N.Y., found creative ways to stay alive and cater to their audiences. Now, the two theaters, both upstarts reborn and restored in historic venues, are bringing jazz, rock, folk and big band sounds plus storytelling, comedy and films to their communities. Audiences are loving it.

CLIPPED WINGS: Southwest Airlines got a little space to work on fixing its reputation in the wake of its holiday debacle this week when another glitch, this one in a Federal Aviation Administration computer system, halted airport departures for hours on Wednesday morning, leading to thousands of delays and cancelations.

IDENTICAL STRANGERS: Good luck calculating these odds: There are two Brady Feigls playing professional baseball. Both pitchers. One is 27, the other 32. Each stands 6 feet 4, has a red beard, high cheeks, square jaw and dimples, and wears sports glasses with black frames on top and rimless bottoms. In 2015, the same surgeon performed the same procedure on each’s pitching elbow. Yes, they’ve been confused for one another. They even check baseball cards before signing. So they took DNA tests. The result: No biological connection.

PIPING DOWN: Companies and their leaders, once quiet on political and social issues, have spoken out in recent years on a range of hot topics, weighing in on matters of racial, gender and marriage equality, immigration policy, criminal justice, gun laws and climate change, with language affirming this or aligning with that. Sometimes they’ve spoken up on economic and foreign policy issues that directly affect their business interest; other times, in solidarity with their employees on social issues. Bloomberg’s Beth Kowitt, whose beat is corporate America, thinks those days are over, driven by political backlash and strong indications that people don’t want to hear it. “It’s enough to give a company pause before hitting send on that press release, Tweet, or annual report letter,” Kowitt writes. “Enterprises that have made speaking out on social issues core to their brands — the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss & Co. and Salesforce Inc. — will continue to do just that. But from the rest of corporate America, expect less talking even as companies continue to back social and political causes in meaningful ways.”

BUCKLE UP: One reason CEOs are opining less about social issues: they’re busy trying to manage in this economy. According to the latest EY CEO Outlook Pulse, 98% of 1,200 global CEOs surveyed expect a recession. Almost half foresee a moderate slowdown, the rest a recession worse than the global financial crisis of 2008-10. You’ll recall that JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon rattled the markets last May when he yelled  brace for a hurricane. This week, he dialed back that dire forecast back to “storm clouds’’ that were already overhead. And consider this: Consumer confidence is rising as inflation worries ease.

FIXING THE OZONE: Efforts initiated in the 1980s to halt or reverse damage to Earth’s ozone layer, which protects life on the planet by absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, appear to be working, according to a scientific assessment backed by the United Nations. Global use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, the main culprits in ozone depletion, has decreased 99% since an international agreement phasing out use of CFCs and other ozone-harming chemicals took effect in 1989. The assessment found that the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980 levels for most of the world by 2040.

WATERY TREASURES: An expert in wooly mammoths said on Joe Rogan’s podcast — which attracts an estimated 11 million listeners per episode — that the Museum of Natural History in New York City dumped thousands of mammoth tusks in the East River in the 1940s because they had nowhere to store them. He cited a draft report detailing the transportation of 500,000 tusks from Fairbanks, Alaska, to New York City, and revealing the dumping spot was at East River Drive and 65th Street. The tusks, obviously much more valued today than they were 80 years ago, could potentially be worth tens of millions of dollars, and already divers are showing up on the river hoping to cash in. And in Maryland, an aspiring young paleontologist made the find of a lifetime, and she’s only 9. Molly Sampson and her older sister both asked for and received insulated hip waders and fossil sifters for Christmas, the better to pursue the hobby they share with their dad, looking for shark teeth in the shallows of Chesapeake Bay. In 10-degree weather on Christmas morning, Molly plucked from the water a 5-inch-long Otodus megalodon tooth from a shark that lived millions of years ago and was thought to be 50 feet long.

LIVES

JEFF BECK was, as The Associated Press headline described him, a guitar god, first as a member of the Yardbirds and later as a soloist known mainly for hard rock and funky blues. He won eight Grammy Awards and was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — once with the Yardbirds in 1992 and again as a solo artist in 2009. Joe Perry, the lead guitarist for Aerosmith, told The New York Times in 2010, “Jeff Beck is the best guitar player on the planet.” Tributes to him poured in from musicians around the world who recognized him as an influential genius who exhibited seemingly effortless mastery of his instrument. He died at 78 after a short bout with bacterial meningitis.

ADOLFO KAMINSKY put his life on the line every day, and in the process helped save the lives of thousands of his fellow Jews in France during World War II. He learned to remove stains while working at a dry cleaner, a skill he put to work altering official documents to change Jewish-sounding names to gentile-sounding ones. The forgeries allowed many to avoid deportation to concentration camps or escape from Nazi-held territory. He once produced 900 fake birth and baptismal certificates and ration cards in three days for 300 Jewish children in group homes who were about to be rounded up, forcing himself to stay awake by reminding himself of the people who would die if he didn’t. He estimated that, by the end of war, he and the underground network he was part of helped save 10,000 people, most children. He was 97.

LISA MARIE PRESLEY was the only child of Elvis Aaron Presley, sole heir of his estate and Graceland residence, and an accomplished recording artist in her own right, having released three albums, one of which attained gold certification in the United States. Moreover, she was the mother of four children and a dedicated philanthropist, who long oversaw the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation. Her final public appearance, just two days before her death, was to witness Austin Butler’s Best Actor award at the Golden Globes for his portrayal of her father, a performance she called “genius.” She died unexpectedly at 54.

CHARLES WHITE’s alma mater, the University of Southern California, became known as Tailback U. for the sensational running backs it produced, five of whom won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player. Two of them, O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but none has more career rushing yards as a Trojan than White, whose 6,245 yards remain the school’s all-time record. The 1979 Heisman Trophy winner, White was a two-time All-American, a two-time Rose Bowl MVP, and played nine years in the NFL. John Robinson, his coach at USC and with the Los Angeles Rams, called White “the toughest player I’ve ever coached.” He died of cancer at 64.

MARCIO FREIRE was a big-wave legendary surfer, one of three Brazilians who were known as the “Mad Dogs” after conquering the giant wave “Jaws” in Hawaii, a feat captured in a 2016 documentary. He was practicing toe-in surfing — a surfing technique that uses artificial assistance to allow the surfer to catch faster-moving waves than was traditionally possible when paddling by hand on giant waves along the central coast of Portugal when he was overcome. Lifesaving measures failed, and he died at 47.

BERNARD KALB covered wars, revolutions, and diplomatic breakthroughs for nearly 20 years for The New York Times and then for many years more at CBS and NBC, where he worked alongside his younger brother Marvin. He covered virtually every overseas trip with Henry A. Kissinger, Cyrus R. Vance, Edmund S. Muskie, Alexander M. Haig Jr. and George P. Shultz during their tenures as secretary of state. He was 100.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“It’s odd when a congressman holds up his right hand to be sworn in and everyone’s like, ‘You know what? Don’t bother.’”
 – Jimmy Fallon, commenting on former Wall Street whiz kid, real estate baron, animal charity founder, Horace Mann, Baruch College and NYU alum, volleyball superstar, and newly seated Long Island Congressman George Santos … or whatever his name is.

THE SIGNOFF

M&M’s NEW PACKAGING IS CAUSING A STIR: That is an actual headline on a report about M&M’s offering a candy pack featuring all female M&M’s characters. A talking head offered this thoughtful analysis: “I think that makes China say, ‘Oh, good, keep focusing on that. Keep focusing on giving people their own color M&M’S while we take over all of the mineral deposits in the entire world.’” We have our doubts that anyone in China is saying that or thinking a lot about an American candymaker’s consumer product decisions, but hey, you never know.

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THANK YOU to our contributors: Bill Callen, Paul Grondahl, Ryan Moore, John Brodt, Tina Suhocki, Claire P. Tuttle, Lisa Fenwick, Leigh Hornbeck, and Tara Hutchins.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.  www.behancommunications.com

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

Let’s make it a conversationmark.behan@behancom.com

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