The Week: What Caught Our Eye

March 6, 2021

A bright orange sunset in clouds over a frozen, snow-covered lakeThe sky as campfire: The late afternoon glow near the Goodnow Flow in Newcomb. (Mary Acker)

Good morning, Colleagues and Friends:

“If I Ran the Zoo” came to mind this week, not just because Dr. Seuss was in the news, but because Albany is. Never satisfied to play second fiddle when it comes to national scandal, Albany reclaimed its storied place on the stage of high political intrigue. The allegations are very serious. The chatter is everywhere, so in the Seussian tradition:

What was he thinking? You might be asking
In the limelight he was just basking

Then all hell broke loose, he lost his mo

Will he stay or will he go?

DINNER AND DRINKS: Bolton Landing, the charming lakeside town that already punches far above its weight when it comes to extraordinary dining options, is getting a new restaurant and new operators promising new selections for an adjacent liquor store. Renowned mixologist Richard Boccato and his wife, Patricia, are joining Kirby Farmer and Kristan Keck, the husband and wife who operate Wm. Farmer and Sons in Hudson, to open The Gem, named for one of the Lake George islands near Bolton Landing. It is expected to open later in the season. Little Gem Liquors is expected to open by May 1.

THEIR HAPPY PLACE: A survey commissioned by the Warren County EDC and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in Lake Placid found high interest among respondents in relocating to the Adirondacks. Nearly 7,000 were surveyed and 91% said they would consider moving to the Adirondacks with the right housing options and ability to work remotely. Nearly 25% indicated they were either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to relocate here in the next five years. Some indicated they have already moved or are on their way, having recently rented or purchased homes in the Glens Falls/Queensbury area.

THE BOOK BEAT

BOOK BIND: Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that controls the late author’s books and characters, ignited a skirmish in the endless culture wars with its decision this week to stop publishing six books, citing their portrayal of Asian and Black people. One of them, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” helped Theodor Seuss Geisel transition from advertising work to writing children's books as Dr. Seuss. Michael Saltsman in The Wall Street Journal sees another example of “our present fixation on judging revered historical figures (subscription) by their worst sins rather than their best contributions,” and concludes, “Our country’s history is filled with imperfect people who nevertheless did remarkable things.” Media critic Howard Kurtz weighed in on Fox, while a Washington Post columnist (subscription) asked, “Why would anyone think it is less problematic for a kid to be exposed to racist caricatures of … people than for him not to be?”

SCHOOL OF SCANDAL: The exclusive all-girls boarding school is set in leafy Connecticut, a safe hideaway for daughters of the elite, steeped in tradition and about to be engulfed by scandal. That’s the setup for “All Girls,” the new novel by Saratoga Springs native and Stanford grad Emily Layden of the Layden family of Capital Region writers. Her dad Joe has published 30 books; uncle Tim Layden is a distinguished former Sports Illustrated writer now working for NBC, and cousin Kristen Layden is a writer and producer of Apple TV’s “Morning Show.” Of Emily’s book, The New York Times says, “the pages turn fast and the girls are complex, compelling and written with incredible tenderness.”

BAKED GOODNESS: Troy Millin, a junior at Albany High and a member of the school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, is an outgoing young man, so being kept out of the classroom for nearly a year has been hard. He’s also in the culinary program at the Abrookin Career and Technical Center and loves to bake. His passion for baking and desire for service has led to some very happy moments for Capital Region veterans and their families. As Troy observes, “I feel like dessert connects with your soul.”

FOND FAREWELL: The University at Albany parted ways with longtime men’s basketball coach Will Brown, who led the Great Danes to five NCAA tournaments before ending his tenure with three straight sub-.500 seasons. He said goodbye in a gracious letter to the community in which he thanked UAlbany for the opportunity, expressed pride and gratitude in his players and even thanked the media for their coverage. Let’s hope the Capital Region community hasn’t heard the last of Will Brown.

SURVIVAL STORY: Mira Rosenblatt had no fear of the coronavirus vaccine. “I am not nervous. I've been through way worse,” she told staff at the hospital in Brooklyn. She is 97 now and clearly remembers what life was like at 21, when she escaped a Nazi death march, fled into a wilderness, slept in holes in the ground and ate worms to survive.

OPERA OUTDOORS: The Glimmerglass Festival, which typically stages its season performances at the Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown, announced that it would hold its 2021 season on an outdoor stage, with socially distant lawn seating. The festival, which was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, is scheduled to run from July 15 to Aug. 17.

ADJUST YOUR AIM: Hitting financial targets is, of course, critical to success in almost every organization. But leaders who focus on financial measures with their employees are emphasizing the wrong message, the authors of a piece in Harvard Business Review argue.  Mission and purpose matter more. “The events of 2020 remind us: Employee engagement is the lifeblood of an organization,” they write. “What your team thinks, feels, and believes about your organization, and their own work, drives their behavior — and their behavior is what determines your success or failure. … When we know our work matters to an individual person, we rise to the occasion.”

EMAIL OVERLOAD: Best-selling author and professor Cal Newport is out with a new book that makes the case for doing away with email, or at least dramatically limiting its use in the workplace, as a means of improving productivity among knowledge workers. He tells Fortune that dumping email is “shorthand for the bigger issue — what I call the hyperactive hive mind workflow.”

A PARTON SHOT: Dolly Parton, a national treasure who of course wore a top with holes in the sleeves for the occasion, got her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine this week and celebrated with an updated version of her 1973 classic “Jolene,” in which she tells skeptics: “Don't be such a chickensquat, get out there and get your shot." Recall that she donated $1 million last year to help fund vaccine research.

THIRTY YEARS OF CHILLS: Vanity Fair brought together stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins to talk about “The Silence of the Lambs” 30 years after its debut. The psychological thriller was a pop culture sensation, and a nightmare for the growers of fava beans. It also was the third — and most recent — film ever to win all five major Oscars. “I do love it when people will say, ‘Can I get you a nice Chianti?’ I still love it,” Foster said. “And there’s no part of me that’ll ever be tired of it. Mostly because it’s just such a damn good movie.”

ON TARGET: Target increased sales by $15 billion in 2020, more than its total sales growth over the previous 11 years combined, as it captured a significant share of the shift in buying patterns that started early in the pandemic. The retailer more than doubled its digital sales, and net earnings overall increased by more than a third. Target, which is helped by its standalone store model, wide aisles and very visible efforts to make customers feel safe in its stores, said it gained nearly $9 billion in market share from rivals in 2020.

A closeup image of ice coating a tree branchWinter clings tightly in the Northeast. Will the week ahead bring a hint of the approaching spring? (John Bulmer)

FINISHING THE WORK: Eric Means was among the most accomplished developers in Detroit, a hard-charging 47-year-old whose company was in the midst of two projects worth nearly $100 million when he died unexpectedly. His widow, a high-powered executive in her own right, is determined to see the work through to completion, (subscription) even as she deals with obstacles, learns the business on the fly and raises two toddlers, one of whom continues to recover from a heart transplant. 

THE NATURE OF CITIES: Landscape artists and photographers typically practice their craft in the open spaces beyond what’s come to be known as the built environment. A young photographer in Oakland has turned her lens inward, finding beauty and deep meaning in cityscapes, particularly in predominantly Black communities. She views herself as part artist, part archivist, chronicling the life of neighborhoods in the path of gentrification and challenging what it means to experience and enjoy nature. 

OVERLOADED CIRCUITS: The yearlong global pandemic has changed daily life in countless ways, including our ability to think, plan and remember things that used to be routine. What to do: Focus on one task at a time, and be sure to get plenty of fresh air.

STARS IN TWILIGHT: Albert Pujols of the Anaheim Angels and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers are two of the biggest stars baseball has produced in the 21st century and two of the best right-handed hitters in the history of the game. Despite a social media post by Pujols’ wife that he would be retiring after the season, and despite dramatic declines in production, both players say their focus is on the field. Still, best to enjoy watching them while we still can.

TRANSFORMER TIFF: Newton Howard lives in a $4 million home in one of Washington’s toniest neighborhoods. A research professor at Georgetown, he also happens to be a passionate fan of The Transformers; he likes the message of humans coexisting with machines. Which was fine, until he asked his neighbors to coexist with two sculptures that guarded his door. The kids loved them. The adults, not so much.

CLEANUP TIME: Heidelberg, a city of 160,000 in southwest Germany, is paying residents bonuses to buy electric vehicles and providing free public transportation for a year for those who give up their cars entirely. It’s also building bicycle “superhighways” to its suburbs and designing neighborhoods to encourage walking, all to bring the city that is home to Germany’s oldest university thoroughly into a modern, emissions-free era.

MY HOMETOWN: Whatever you think of Elon Musk, he’s nearly impossible to ignore. The entrepreneur behind Tesla, SpaceX and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. wants the latter to soon be located in Starbase, Texas. Mind you, Musk isn’t moving anywhere; he’s suggesting that the town of Boca Chica change its name.

AIM FOR THE STARS: Speaking of Elon Musk — we told you he’s nearly possible to ignore — here’s your chance to travel around the moon in one of his rockets. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is looking for eight people to join him for the weeklong journey, planned for 2023.

SNACK ATTACK: Nothing like news to make you feel worse about that half-bag of potato chips you scarfed down the other day. We know highly processed foods aren’t great for us, and now we’re learning that they share much in common with addictive substances. No wonder you can’t eat just one.

POKEMON TURNS 25: You may not know Tajiri Satoshi, but you certainly know the game, and characters, inspired by his childhood love of collecting bugs. He created Pokémon in 1996, and it has since become one of the most successful franchises of all time. CNN takes a deep dive with a piece it headlined, with only slight hyperbole, “How 151 fictional species took over the world.”

HIDDEN TALENT: People know Winston Churchill as the prime minister who led Great Britain through World War II with dogged determination and unflinching courage. You may not know he also was a talented artist. One of his paintings, made as a gift to President Roosevelt and the only work Churchill completed during World War II, just sold at auction for nearly $12 million.

A CUT OF KINDNESS: The rules at Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Indianapolis are straightforward — no hats in class. So when a student was sent to his office for refusing to remove his cap, principal Jason Smith naturally wondered why. Turns out the kid’s barber had butchered his hair. Smith had just the solution.

LONG OVERDUE HONOR: Tom Ammiano is a prominent gay leader in San Francisco, but 63 years ago, after winning the final one-mile race of his junior year at Immaculate Conception High School in New Jersey and earning a coveted varsity letter, he learned the race suddenly wouldn’t count. No letter. He suspected he knew why. With behind-the-scenes work from others determined to right a wrong, he finally received his letter.

LIVES

DENNIS DePERRO became the 21st president of St. Bonaventure University in 2017 and soon after started reshaping it, growing enrollment for in-person and online classes and appointing commissions to examine and better address critical issues on campus. "He was one of the finest human beings I've ever met," the college's chief communications officer, Tom Missel, told The Buffalo News. “He was such a grand spirit that it just didn't seem fair for him to be taken away this soon. He had so much more to give us.” DePerro, a Buffalo native, died of COVID-19 complications at 62.

IRV CROSS was a broadcasting pioneer, a star defensive back in the NFL who in 1975 became the first Black full-time analyst for a network TV sports show, CBS’ “The NFL Today.” He was part of an extremely popular team that included Brent Musburger, former Miss America Phyllis George and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Only Musburger survives. Cross died in a Minnesota hospice at 81.

VERNON JORDAN was a towering figure, physically and politically, (subscription) a Washington wise man who had played an important role in desegregating education in the South and later led the National Urban League and the United Negro College Fund. He was a liberal who never let race or politics get in the way of friendship. He advised CEOs and Presidents, chaired Bill Clinton’s presidential transition team in 1992 and remained a friend of the family for decades. He died at 85.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
— Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax

THE SIGNOFF

HEAVEN ON EARTH: Hershey announced this week that is was releasing, for a limited time, the Reese’s Ultimate Peanut Butter Lovers Cups, with a peanut-butter candy shell replacing the traditional chocolate. Two questions: What took so long, and why is this only for a limited time?!?

THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Lisa Fenwick, Mark McCormick, Tara Hutchins, Claire P. Tuttle, Kelly Donahue and John Brodt.

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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