The Week: What Caught Our Eye

May 28, 2022

The American flag, with the sun shining through the fabric“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy (Skip Dickstein)

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Guns threaten Americans’ freedom. 

When the greatest nation on Earth is utterly powerless to protect innocent children in schools, shoppers in supermarkets, riders on subways, workers in offices and factories, young people in bars and theaters, students in college and the faithful in churches and synagogues, we have lost. When Americans are not safe going about their daily lives, we have sacrificed the very freedom that American military men and women gave their lives to protect. 

May there always be a day set aside on our calendar, and enough self-reflection in our souls, to recognize that our collective failure to act, our timidity, our acceptance of the unacceptable is a direct threat to the freedom we profess to cherish. The truest tribute that can be paid our fallen soldiers is to protect the freedom they secured for us.

On a much lighter note, this weekend is also the unofficial start of summer and the growing season, so, plant yourself in the garden. It’s a good time to start your tomatoes and maybe some celery, chives, okra, onions and parsnips. If you love garden-fresh tomatoes, as we do, and want to know how to grow them perfectly yourself, this item is for you. The good news, according to gardening expert Jessica Damiano: although tomato plants can be a little fussy, they aren’t difficult to grow. And over the next few weeks, think beans, sweet corn, cucumber and eggplant.

BETTING MACHINES: In the four years since the Supreme Court invalidated a federal law prohibiting sports betting in most states, $125 billion has been wagered legally in the United States. To put that in context, $125 billion is more than the amount that was spent on pet food, supplies and veterinary care in the entire country last year. And that’s with only 29 states and the District of Columbia having sports gaming establishments in place.

37% OF WHAT? Mathematicians believe they have devised an elegant way to make better life decisions. They refer to it as “optimal stopping” theory, but most people call it the 37% rule. It helps people decide when to stop exploring options and make a choice. For example, if you’re house-hunting and find one you like, should you buy it or keep looking for an even better deal? How many people should you interview before hiring an assistant? In short: Reject the first 37% of your options and pick the next one that’s better than all of the initial choices. 

WHAT WE EARN: Saratoga County residents have the seventh highest median household income of any county in New York State, only one spot behind New York County (Manhattan), according to a new report by Stacker. Average household income in Saratoga County was estimated at $84,291; in Manhattan, it was $86,553.The top-earning counties are the northern New York City suburbs and Long Island: Nassau, Putnam, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland. Rensselaer County ranked 11th in the state, Albany 14th, Schenectady 15th, Warren 21st.  

ON THE PROWL: A pair of bear encounters made news this week. In Upstate New York, a Boy Scout from Cooperstown was jolted awake when a bear bit him through his sleeping bag as the boy and his friends snoozed beneath the stars. Fortunately for them, the bear retreated. Unfortunately for the bear, he was later trapped and euthanized. And in northern Wisconsin, a couple trying to scare a bear away from a bird feeder were injured when the bear, which had a cub nearby, charged through the window of their home and attacked. The husband eventually got to a gun and killed the bear.

ESPN TROUBLE: A little over a decade ago, ESPN had more than 100 million cable and satellite subscribers. At the end of 2021, that figure had shrunk to about 75 million, with people cutting the cord at a rate of 22,000 per day over the course of a year. Company executives seem confident that loyal viewers will be willing to switch to a streaming subscription service if and when the time comes to transition away from the current business model, but media critic Clay Travis has his doubts. “Instead of continuing to peddle the lie that streaming will save ESPN,” he writes, “Disney CEO Bob Chapek would be smart to cut ESPN adrift while he still can and find a buyer, almost at any price. Otherwise, he’s going down with two ships, the ESPN cable business and the ESPN streaming business. Because pretty soon the math doesn’t lie, ESPN is going to be costing Disney billions of dollars a year.”

HOOKED ON PHONICS: Are children natural readers whose skill is magically unlocked because they are drawn to stories, plots and characters they enjoy? Or must they be taught to sound out words and learn phonics and vocabulary first? Because reading is the foundational skill for all other learning, the reading establishment has been debating this question for decades. Now a major thinker on reading education is revisiting her original theories and leaning into phonics.

DON’T GUESS, TEST: For decades, business leaders have been warned about an overreliance on gut instinct and personal experience in decision-making, so we perhaps can conclude their gut tells many executives that experimentation and analytics are overrated. Drawing on the experiences of Harrah’s Entertainment, Sony, Bank of America, and Lego, Harvard Business School’s Stefan Thomke and Gary W. Loveman argue that business leaders must act more like scientists, relentlessly questioning assumptions, investigating anomalies, devising testable hypotheses that can be quantifiably confirmed or disproved, running experiments that produce hard evidence, and probing cause and effect. Doing so, they write, can help companies discard ineffective practices, increase marketing and operational efficiency, boost customer satisfaction and sales, find new sources of growth, and even turn around struggling businesses.

An aerial image of green fields and forests, with a highway in the foreground, and soft wispy clouds in the skyWelcome summer, with verdant pastures and beautiful skies, as seen over the Taconics. (Kevin Kelly, Crown Focus Media)

RE-EXAMINING HISTORY: To the extent that the typical American thinks at all about Haiti, the images tend to be unpleasant — grinding poverty, political corruption, sickness, natural disasters. The root causes of the troubles that plague the Caribbean nation are another matter and tend to be ignored completely beyond academic and policymaking circles. The New York Times takes a deep look at Haiti’s history of colonization and financial exploitation, often at gunpoint, a past that crippled the country’s ability to invest in itself and created chronic political instability.

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE: Congratulations to the outstanding reporting team at North Country Public Radio, which this week won seven regional Edward R. Murrow Awards, including for overall excellence in a competition that included all small market radio stations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

TICK TALK: A tick whose bite can cause people to become allergic to meat is making its way north from its traditional territory in the southcentral and southeastern U.S. The lone star tick, named for the white spot on the back of adult females, are now being found in New Jersey and on Long Island, with sporadic reports farther north along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest. Symptoms vary from person to person, from as mild as tingling in the mouth to as severe as anaphylactic shock.

OUT OF THIS WORLD: American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have been living and working side by side for more than 20 years on the International Space Station, with the U.S. even relying on Russian rockets to get its astronauts up there for about a decade. The relationship has endured through various conflicts and turf battles on Earth, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has upended everything, including long-term prospects for continued cooperation in space.

FAMILY REUNION: Will served in the Air Force for 2 ½ years, rising to the level of crew chief, before schizophrenia sent him down a dark and lonely path to a tent in Westerlo, N.Y., where an Albany County mobile crisis team found him and brought him to Samaritan Hospital in Troy. Though he struggled to communicate, the nurse assigned to him found an obituary for his mother that referenced a brother, Walt. Close as children in Montana, they hadn’t seen each other for more than three decades. With the help of colleagues, the nurse, Renee Schepisi, tracked down Walt and put in motion an emotional reunion with what she acknowledged was a strange question: do you have a brother named William?

GHOSTS OF THE DEEP: We brought you news recently of the discovery of a body in a barrel that had been dumped in the rapidly receding waters of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir and the drinking water source for Las Vegas, among other communities. The surface this week dropped below 1,050 feet elevation for the first time, yielding even more discoveries — of sunken vessels that now sit on dry land.

WASTE NOT: In the early days of the pandemic, when hand sanitizer was hard to find, New York State launched a program to have gallons of it produced by state prison inmates. If you spent any time in a New York State public facility — office buildings, parks — there’s a good chance you saw the big plastic pump jugs with the NYS Clean label, and an even better chance that you got doused with the watery substance the first time you pressed the pump thinking you were going to get a palm full of gel. They made so much that they couldn’t get rid of all of it, and now, an estimated $4 million worth of the sanitizer is about to expire on pallets at a former airfield in Central New York.

SINCERE APOLOGY: In Facing Out, we usually look outward. Today we must look inward. Behan Communications was notified earlier this week that a news release our firm issued on behalf of our client Fort William Henry Corp. in Lake George contained language that Fort Ticonderoga had used in its communications. Using this language was dead wrong and a violation of our standards. We pride ourselves on original work and integrity in all that we do. Trust has been the fundamental tenet of our client and media relationships for the last 33 years. This was a lapse for which Fort William Henry, its employees and leaders are not responsible. We were wrong and for that we have sincerely apologized. The writer of the news release has accepted full responsibility and is no longer affiliated with our firm. 

LIVES

FRED AUSTIN knew all about highways and bridges, parks and airports, bike trails, fish hatcheries and ghosts. A Princeton University-trained engineer, he was the go-to expert for public works projects in Warren County, N.Y., for more than 30 years and even in retirement helped the county complete projects on time and under budget. Keeping Warren County’s rural, mountainous roads passable during harsh winters was a point of pride. “Out west,” he said, “when there’s a major snowstorm they close the roads. Here, we have to find a way to keep them open.” After leaving county service, he joined the Fort William Henry Corp. in Lake George, where he oversaw construction of the modern grand hotel, special projects, and research into paranormal activity at the historic fort. He brought the Travel Channel’s “Portals to Hell” program to Fort William Henry. He was 85.

PAUL McCULLOUGH embraced each guest like an old friend who had arrived at his door for dinner. Quick with first names and strong handshakes, the welcoming pat on the back and, of course, the very best table. He set the gold standard for front-of-the-house hospitality in New York’s Capital Region for decades at Creo, McGuire’s and most recently at 15 Church in Saratoga Springs. Fastidious about food selection, imaginative preparation and presentation, he nurtured some of the greatest talents in local dining. He was 61.

RAY LIOTTA was best known for his role as real-life mob associate Henry Hill in the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie “Goodfellas, one of a string of swaggering tough guy roles on either side of the law. In recent years, he put that image to use in commercials for 1800 Tequila. He had a warm side, too, such as when he played the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” "I used to think, when I first started acting, that I had to experience everything to be able to do it,” he told The New York Times in 1992. “But then I realized that what acting is is using your imagination.” He died in his sleep at 67 while in the Dominican Republic to film the movie “Dangerous Waters.”

ROGER ANGELL ran the fiction section for The New Yorker for decades, succeeding his mother Katharine Sergeant Angell White and no doubt pleasing his stepfather, E. B. White, and his biological father, Ernest Angell, an attorney who became head of the American Civil Liberties Union. But that was just a day job. His real occupation, the one for which he will be remembered, was as poet laureate of baseball, reporting more often than not from the stands, not the press box, remembering always for whom he was writing. He was 101.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“When are we going to do something? I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough!”
—    Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, whose father, Malcolm, was assassinated by gunmen in Beirut in 1984.

THE SIGNOFF

BEST FRIEND: Eva, a 2½-year year-old Belgian Malinois, took on a hungry mountain lion in Northern California, nearly sacrificing her own life to protect her 24-year-old owner. The owner and a passerby in turn rescued Eva, who is recovering from injuries to her head and face.

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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