The Week: What Caught Our Eye

October 22, 2022

Photo of boat in river during an autumn day.We’re in that special season in Upstate New York: A taste of winter in the morning, summer in the afternoon. (Skip Dickstein)

Good morning, Friends and Colleagues:

Turns out a head of lettuce outlasted the head of state. Lizzie We Hardly Knew Ye Truss stepped down this week after only 44 days as British Prime Minister, the shortest tenure for a PM in history. Left-leaning British tabloid The Daily Star sponsored a cheeky live feed to see which soggy head of lettuce — an unrefrigerated, wig-wearing head of iceberg or Liz Truss — would wilt first. The Lettuce lost.

Fret not. While PMs come and go, Larry the official cat of Number 10 Downing remains at his post, part of the permanent government.  “The King has asked me to become Prime Minister because this nonsense has gone on long enough,” he tweeted this week.  

If the politics practiced by humans isn’t enough, an artist-researcher at the nonprofit art and tech organization MindFuture has created a new political party in Denmark that is driven entirely by artificial intelligence. Called The Synthetic Party, it is designed to mimic the collective political and policy preferences of the one in five Danes who belong to fringe parties. It even has a machine leader, Leader Lars. The creator is hoping a few humans will stand in for him and be elected to Parliament running on the party’s platform.

HOMEGROWN SOLUTION: We’ve built too few homes in America for 20 years. As a result, a nationwide home shortage has driven up prices and rents. But in Upstate New York, a Habitat for Humanity chapter, run by a former Lehman Brothers banker, is pursuing a novel solution: Building not just one home for one family, but 25-unit mixed-income condos, according to the Glens Falls Chronicle’s Cathy DeDe, who broke the story. It could be a first anywhere in the world.

PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE: Passive House, a design and construction method that promotes considerable energy savings in homes and commercial buildings, is being utilized with increasing frequency in communities in Upstate New York. Designed to maximize efficiency and comfort and minimize carbon emissions, Passive House buildings are viewed by some as a hedge against an extended loss of power or heating fuel, because of their design and material.

Satellite photo of Vermont.If you think the foliage has been out of this world this fall, you’re right. Here’s NASA’s view of New York and Vermont from space.

RETHINKING RAKING: This time of year, paper lawn bags sprout along roadsides, stuffed with crunchy leaves on their way to the landfill. Raking is as much a part of fall as cider donuts and Yankees baseball, but experts say it’s time to reconsider, suggesting instead that you mow your leaves or put them around the base of trees and shrubs to act as a natural fertilizer. About 10.5 million tons of yard clippings, including leaves — a source of methane as the matter decays — went to landfills in 2018, USA Today reported.

CRAB CRASH: Snow crab, the most abundant Bering Sea crab species that is caught commercially, are disappearing so fast that Alaska officials this week canceled the snow crab harvest for the first time ever. Benjamin Daly, a researcher with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told CNN the snow crab population shrank from around 8 billion in 2018 to 1 billion in 2021. Observers are concerned that as oceans warm and sea ice disappears, the ocean around Alaska is becoming inhospitable for the species.

MISS UNITED STATES: Lily Donaldson, a doctoral student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., was crowned Miss United States last Sunday in Memphis, Tenn. A Tennessee native competing as Miss New York, Donaldson is studying Controlled Environment Agriculture at RPI, where she holds a master’s degree in Lighting. She advocates for STEM and arts education for disadvantaged students in Memphis. Donaldson previously worked as a software developer for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and the NASA DC Space Grant Consortium. 

SHE’S NO. 1: Diane Hendricks grew up the fourth of nine girls on her family’s dairy farm in rural Wisconsin and knew by the time she was 10 that she wanted more than life on the farm. She dreamed of bigger things, and by the time she was 22, she started achieving them. She and her husband, a roofing contractor, started buying and fixing up homes they rented to college students. Six years later, they went all-in, buying two struggling building supply stores and imagining a business that emphasized customer service to its base of builders and contractors. Thus began ABC Supply, the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing, siding and windows. Widowed since 2007, Hendricks, who wears her love of country on her sleeve and has donated more than $40 million to Republican political candidates and causes, is the sole owner of ABC and a real estate development firm who’s worth $12.2 billion, triple her net worth from five years and making her by far the most successful female entrepreneur in U.S. history.

MY WAY, NOW THE HIGHWAY: The employee in charge of the public drinking water system in Richmond, Vt., near Burlington, resigned after it was discovered that he had reduced fluoride in the water to half the recommended amount, citing his personal belief that current fluoridation policy is not legally required or scientifically sound, and poses “unacceptable risks to public health.” He filed monthly reports as required, with the accurate fluoride levels, but no one noticed for years.

PLS, NO: High-stakes consulting and banking are known for their high-pressure, always-on cultures, especially for those early in their careers. To survive and advance requires the willingness and stamina to work as long as the job requires, and to regard personal time as secondary to the expectations of demanding bosses and clients. Laptops and cell phones are never more than a few minutes away, lest they be tardy in responding to the message they all secretly dread: “Pls fix.” “Few things,” The Wall Street Journal reports, “panic young professionals like getting the notes.”

A BOW FOR STEVE: The workers at the Burger King in Syracuse knew him only as Steve. He’d been a regular for 10 years, buying his cheeseburger and coffee or soda every day and quietly watching the world through its big windows. Steve didn’t say much, but he was pleasant and didn’t bother anyone. The workers would remind him to dress for the freezing winters. They cared for him. So when he didn’t come for a few days, they started asking around. The tragic answer: He was killed by a freight train, having failed to heed the blaring horn as it approached from behind. There was no obituary for Steven Mercarter, but there is a memorial to him, at his booth, where his friends at Burger King left a coffee cup, a soda cup, a wrapped cheeseburger bun and a sign that reads, WE WILL MISS YOU STEVE REST IN PEACE.

ECLIPSE’S LAST STOP: Everyone on the Seattle bus system knew Eclipse. She was the black lab-bullmastiff mix who, for years, would ride the bus, alone, to a Seattle dog park. All she needed was to see out the window to know where to hop off. Surprised passengers and regulars alike were delighted by Eclipse, whose owner this week shared the sad news that she had died in her sleep. King County Metro, the area transit service, made a music video about Eclipse in 2015 and posted a tribute to her this week: “Eclipse was a super sweet, world-famous, bus riding dog and true Seattle icon. You brought joy and happiness to everyone and showed us all that good dogs belong on the bus.”

SCENT SENSE: Anyone who has a dog can tell you how sensitive they are to someone’s mood. They have an uncanny knack for knowing when to nuzzle, when to play, and when to lay low. When you consider that dogs can be trained to sniff out just about anything, it should come as no surprise that they can smell changes in human breath and sweat that indicate when someone is stressed. A new study found dogs can detect stress with a high level of accuracy, lending credence to the notion that our dogs understand us and providing trainers with additional insight for their work with service and therapy dogs.

REMEMBER EXPO 67? Fifty-five years ago, Montreal welcomed the world for an international exhibition called Expo 67. Sen. Mark Drouin of Quebec developed the idea to celebrate both Canada’s 100th birthday and the progress of humanity. More than 100 governments participated, and 50 million people visited, including two kids and a pony from Boston.

LIVES

ROGER WELSCH was a noted folklorist when he quit his job as a tenured professor at the University of Nebraska and moved with his family to a tiny town in the center of the state, hoping to scrape together a career writing and speaking about the state’s folkways. It was a long struggle, but Mr. Welsch became an expert in farm equipment and wrote 40 books, including “Everything I know about Women I Learned from my Tractor.” He became the “Postcards from Nebraska” correspondent on Charles Kuralt’s CBS program Sunday Morning.  He founded a Liars Hall of Fame. Politicians were ineligible for induction. “Only amateurs,” he said. He was 85.  

LAURA ANGLIN had many important roles in more than two decades of public service, including turns as the New York State budget director, overseer of $6 billion a year in pension benefits for current and former state employees, and New York City’s deputy mayor for operations, a position from which she led the city’s pandemic response. “She always had an attitude that we could address any problem, and in a long career really believed in the power of government to do good,” former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told The New York Times. In 2009 she became the first woman to lead the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 100 private institutions in New York State, a position she left in 2016. She died of lung cancer at 57.

BENJAMIN CIVILETTI was born in Peekskill, N.Y., became a trial lawyer and federal prosecutor and, as President Carter’s last Attorney General, implemented post-Watergate reforms at the Justice Department. He argued for the release of 52 American hostages in Iran before the International Court of Justice. At home, he focused on fighting white-collar crime, stepped up enforcement of antitrust and civil-rights laws and oversaw investigations into President Carter’s friends and his brother, Billy Carter. He was 87.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS:

“For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell.”
—    Economist Deirdre McCloskey

THE SIGNOFF

PARTY HOUSE: Have you ever dreamt of having a cozy Irish pub nearby? A Boston-based company is now renting out blow-up versions of an Irish pub, complete with brickwork, chimneys, a fake fireplace and light fixtures printed right onto the vinyl and serving authentic Irish beverages, suitable for backyard get-togethers. Inflatable pubs are available in several U.S. and international locations.  Sláinte!

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THANK YOU to our contributors: Bill Callen, Ryan Moore, Skip Dickstein, Cathy DeDe, John Brodt, Lisa Fenwick, Troy Burns, Claire P. Tuttle 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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