The Week: What Caught Our Eye

March 26, 2022

Photo of sun through the trees.

Early rays of the spring sun awaken a forest near the Tomhannock Reservoir in Melrose, Rensselaer County. (John Bulmer)

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

This is the spring of seeming impossibility in Ukraine.

“We will keep defending our homes and yours, our children and yours, our freedom and yours,” Anastasiya Stanko writes the world from Kyiv. “Every Ukrainian understands that Russia is fighting a war with the West. Today, they fight it on our territory, murder our children, and bomb our maternity hospitals. But Putin is using Ukraine to send a message to the entire world …  A message that the strongest will win while the world looks away.”

LIFE LESSONS: Many teachers report students with deep concerns about Ukraine, but those at Watertown High School in Upstate New York have more reason than most to pay attention. About 50 of the school’s 1,000 students have a parent in the military, most stationed at nearby Fort Drum, and teachers have been using the events in Ukraine to engage their students on a range of topics, including the right to free speech and to protest, refugee resettlement, separating fact from fiction in social media, the economics behind sanctions and the impact sanctions have on prices in global markets, such as energy.

VOICES OF CONCERN: The influential CEOs of Wall Street giants BlackRock and Oaktree Capital Management both issued letters this week in which they took stock of the grim situation in Ukraine and what it means both in the present and for the future of world economies, alliances and domestic and global politics. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink sees the dual impact of Russia’s aggression and the prolonged global pandemic reverberating “for decades to come in ways we can’t yet predict.” He predicts companies and governments worldwide will broadly re-examine dependences beyond their national borders and begin to bring production back or closer to home, with resulting effects on pricing as well as various regional economies. He also sees the crisis hastening global development of alternative energy sources to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels from unfriendly states. Oaktree co-founder and co-chairman Howard Marks writes often in terms of pendulum swings, and he sees a big swing away from globalization and back to domestic production and sourcing as an issue of national security for a number of countries. “For how long will the pendulum swing away from globalization and toward onshoring?” he writes. “The answer depends in part on how the current situations are resolved and in part on which force wins: the need for dependability and security or the desire for cheap sourcing.”

STORY’S HAPPY ENDING: Trevor Story was an all-star shortstop whose contract with the Colorado Rockies had expired, making him free to sign with any team. The Boston Red Sox had their own all-star shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, so naturally any discussions between Story and the Red Sox would be delicate. That is, until Bogaerts called Story and told him he wanted to be his teammate. In signing Story for six years and a reported $140 million, the Red Sox added another proven slugger to their potent infield and an insurance policy for shortstop should Bogaerts exercise his right to opt out of his contract after the season.

BEACH BALL: You’ve seen them: The eccentric types with headphones, tiptoeing between sand chairs, waving metal detectors over the beach in search of washed-up treasure. This week in Florida one of them turned up something more interesting than loose change: a 20-pound cannon ball at Vilano Beach, a few miles from the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the United States, built by the Spanish more than 300 years ago to defend St. Augustine.

SMOG SLEUTHS: New York City has a public health campaign that incentivizes people to report commercial vehicles that violate the city’s law against idling. The bounty is 25% of the $300 fine that scofflaws must pay, meaning each successful referral nets the reporting individual $87.50. One keen observer said he banked $64,000 in 2021 just by paying attention on his daily walks. It’s hardly easy money (subscription required), though — drivers have become more watchful themselves, and more than one has confronted someone documenting their idling.

ANOTHER PANDEMIC: The worst bird flu outbreak since 2015 is ravaging commercial chicken and turkey flocks in the U.S., with Nebraska officials reporting this week an outbreak among 570,000 chickens in that state. Similar outbreaks were reported in Maryland and South Dakota, leading to concerns that the disease is being spread by wild birds. The outbreak comes at a time when food prices are skyrocketing due to labor shortages, supply-chain problems and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a key wheat and corn exporter.

Olympic team in Lake Placid.

Lake Placid, the community that keeps the U.S. Olympic flame alive, this week brought together past Olympians and Olympic hopefuls to honor the 2022 local Olympians just home from Beijing. (Nancie Battaglia)

THE PROPOSITION: Hand it to Florida’s Palmetto High School and the legendary speech and debate coach Fran Berger. Year after year she lovingly whipped a bunch of wonky brainiacs into a fearsome force in high school debate. She did not live to see all of their success, but she knew she had helped nurture greatness. Among the kids she coached:  The former U.S. Attorney in Miami, a constitutional law professor at Stanford, and Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson (subscription required).

RUSSIAN ASSETS: Western allies are fairly well aligned in their sanctions against Russia for its invasion and ongoing assault on Ukraine. Not so well-aligned: Right-wing media in the U.S., who are amplifying and feeding Russian propaganda in an insidious cycle of affirmation, reinforcement and gaslighting that is creating an alternate universe in which Vladimir Putin, having been provoked by maneuvers in the West, is merely defending his country and its interests. “People are asking if the far right in the U.S. is influencing Russia or if Russia is influencing the far right, but the truth is they are influencing each other,” Thomas Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies Russian information warfare, told The New York Times. “They are pushing the same narratives (subscription required).”

GAME CHANGER: The Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that amateur athletes can benefit financially from their name, image and likeness (NIL), opening a door for paid endorsements that many amateurs have walked through. Typically, a company will contact the athlete and seek to work out a contract with that individual. Sports apparel maker Adidas has taken a completely different tack, announcing that it is creating a NIL network that is open to athletes on every team at 109 Division I colleges, creating endorsement opportunities for as many as 50,000 people.

PRESSURE POINTS: Two weeks ago, we shared the poignant story of Harry Miller, a high school football star who was recruited to Ohio State but retired just as the team was starting spring practice for the 2022 season, citing his mental health. Miller this week told the Today Show that negative messages and even threats from fans contributed to his decision. Not long after Miller announced his retirement, a heckling fan left the world’s former No. 1 women’s tennis player, Naomi Osaka, in tears. And Ash Barty, currently the world’s top-ranked women’s player, stunned everyone by announcing that she was quitting the game at 25, saying “I don't have the physical drive, the emotional want, and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore, and I just know that I am spent.”

THE FRUITED PLAIN: Newspaper reporters tend to be a contrarian lot, especially when it comes to outsiders passing judgment on the place they call home. So it was that a Kansas City Star reporter took umbrage when the online outlet Thrillist put Kansas last in a ranking of states for scenic beauty, and got readers around the state to send in their photos proving otherwise.

RENT-A-FRIEND: Shoji Morimoto has a gift for fading into the background. He had trouble keeping jobs because his employers thought he lacked ambition and didn’t care. If only they could see him now. In fact, they probably have, considering that Japan’s “do-nothing guy” has inspired a television series and three books with his “rent-a-stranger” business. When someone needs a nonjudgmental ear to listen, a familiar face to greet them, even someone to help them confront bad news, he’ll be there (subscription required) at a cost of 10,000 yen (about $85) per session, no emotional baggage attached.

GUIDING LIGHT: Kathy Jordan knew from painful experience that NBA teams didn’t give any thought at all to what their players needed to feel comfortable off the court. As the wife of a young member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, she had no idea where to live, where to eat, where to get her hair styled, and no one to help her figure it out. When she later got a job with the Indiana Pacers, she made it her business to help players and their families settle in to the Indianapolis community, even though none of that was in her job description. She even built a makeshift library in the locker room and filled it with books. Today, every team employs someone whose job is to help players and their families adjust to their new surroundings.

PICTURE THIS: One of the dozens of portraits pop artist Andy Warhol produced of Marilyn Monroe will go on sale in New York City in May and is expected to fetch “in the region” of $200 million, according to auctioneer Christie’s. The current auction record for a 20th-century painting is the $179.4 million paid for Pablo Picasso's “Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O)” in 2015.

AN EMPHATIC REVERSAL: New York City Mayor Eric Adams this week signed an order exempting city-based professional athletes and performers from COVID-19 vaccine mandates that apply to the city’s employers, which he attributed to economic necessity. He stood firm in the face of withering criticism that he hadn’t offered similar mandate relief to other workers in the city. “I'm mayor of the city and I’m going to make some tough choices. People are not going to agree with some of them,” Adams said. “I was not elected to follow. I was not elected to be fearful but to be fearless. I must move this city forward.” Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli called the decision “appalling.”

MORE BLESSED TO GIVE: MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, continues to make good on her pledge to give away her fortune (subscription required), distributing $3.9 billion to 465 nonprofits in just the past nine months. She has given to causes large and small, and her gifts often equal or exceed an organization’s annual budget. She has given away more than $12 billion since making her pledge in 2019, with an estimated $49.4 billion still to her name.

WHAT LIES BENEATH: Dead bodies naturally get the media attention, but these intrepid rescuers also go hunting for cars, trucks and snowmobiles. They get calls for prescription sunglasses, cellphones, and diamond rings, too. They are the elite dive teams who venture below the wintertime ice of Adirondack lakes to recover lost loot.

LIVES

MADELINE ALBRIGHT was the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, appointed by President Clinton in his second term after four years as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was 11 when her family immigrated to the U.S. from what was then Czechoslovakia and got her start in politics as an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, who would go on to serve as President Carter’s Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, she helped to bring Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO, a crowning diplomatic achievement, and in 2012 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died of cancer at 84.

NED JOHNSON used to carry a small flashlight just in case he ran across a Chippendale piece. The better to examine the joinery. He was a collector of New England furniture and Asian art. He took apart and reassembled staplers during business meetings and was passionately curious about almost everything, especially the stock market. He took the company his father founded to serve the wealthy and transformed Fidelity Investments (subscription required) into the retirement savings manager for millions of ordinary Americans. He was 91.

STEVEN WILHITE’s name may be unfamiliar, but his creation changed visual communication. A computer programmer, he created the GIF file format in 1987. The compressed format allowed the slower modems of the era to transfer images more efficiently. Today, GIFs are a mainstay of communication on the internet. In 2013, when the Webby Awards honored Wilhite with a lifetime achievement award, he played a GIF as his acceptance speech. He died at 74 of complications from COVID-19.

THOMAS HOWARD, a Yale-educated economist who lived in Westport, Conn., was reported missing when he failed to report to work or register his departure from a planned hike up Mount Colden in the Adirondacks. His body was found under four feet of snow, likely the result of an avalanche. An experienced outdoorsman, Howard was 63.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.”
— Barbara Kingsolver

THE SIGNOFF

BETTER LATE: A woman missed her flight Monday afternoon at Albany, N.Y., International Airport, so she exited the terminal through a security gate and tried to board the plane while it was on the tarmac. She didn’t succeed.

THANK YOU to our contributors: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Troy Burns, John Bulmer, Mark McCormick, John Brodt, Lisa Fenwick, Tina Suhocki, John Behan, Matt Behan, Tara Hutchins, Claire P. Tuttle, Kelly Donahue, and Katie Alessi.

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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