The Week: What Caught Our Eye

July 31, 2021

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

You’re right: This is the summer we waded for. The Capital Region has soaked up almost nine inches of rain in July (4.5 is normal), making it the third wettest July since at least 1826, when the National Weather Service began keeping records for Albany.  

A man standing amid tall pine trees, with a lake and mountains in the background.Duane, the Adirondack community in Franklin County, was named in honor of a New York City mayor. On a summer afternoon at Debar Pond in Duane, New York City seems a long way off.   (Nancie Battaglia)

TO ESCAPE SUMMER heat (when that was a thing), urban stress and to regain or protect one’s health, the only place to go, he wrote, was the Adirondacks. The year was 1869. The author, Bostonian William Harrison Murray — clergyman, Yale graduate, outdoors enthusiast, and father of the American vacation, the term journalists coined as people vacated tiny city apartments for the great outdoors. “I believe that, all things being considered, no portion of our country surpasses, if indeed any equals, in health-giving qualities, the Adirondack Wilderness," he wrote. The BBC looks back.

OTHER EXCURSIONS: Afar, a website for travelers, recommends new hotels to try if you’re headed to New York’s Catskills or Hudson Valley. And we’re apparently not the only ones who can’t get enough of beautiful Lake George: Travel Awaits names it a top U.S. destination for lakeside RV camping.

MENTAL NOTES: Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles was all over the news this week for her courageous decision to stop competing in the Olympics, citing the need to “protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” Her withdrawal comes weeks after Naomi Osaka, one of the best women’s tennis players in the world, dropped out of the French Open rather than comply with the tournament’s media availability requirements, also citing the need to care for her mental health. Both women have been widely applauded for their decisions, and for the spotlight they are putting on mental health. Patrick Runnels, the chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at a hospital in Cleveland, told “Mental wellness is an important component of performing at any level, and taking it seriously matters.”

OLYMPIC (HAND) WRINGS: Shocking upsets. Unexpected departures. A 16-hour time difference. Multiple channels to keep up with. And a general sense of apathy. The Tokyo Olympics had started just a few days before, but a trio of Los Angeles Times journalists agreed that, as the headline said, the Games are turning into NBC’s worst nightmare.

CONFRONTING BURNOUT: Herbert Freudenberger was a psychologist at a clinic that provided medical services to underserved communities in 1974 when he observed and wrote about what he called “staff burn-out,” which he described in ways that remain familiar today: fatigue, headaches, emotional edginess, loss of motivation. Burnout discussions are back, though we tend to focus on so-called knowledge workers — doctors, teachers, office workers — as if similar stresses do not apply to jobs everywhere. That’s a mistake, writes Victoria Turk in an essay for Wired. “While it may be little comfort to those suffering, there could be an upside to our current burnout reckoning,” she writes. “It presents an opportunity to reconsider our relationship with work – not just on an individual level, but on a societal one.”

A robotic skeleton of a dinosaurEngage with a robotic skeleton of an Ankylosaurus and other dinosaurs in Saratoga Springs this summer.

DINOSAURS AT THE SPA: Horses are not the only beasts in motion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.  Universal Presentation Hall has opened a 12-week exhibition called Dinosaurs in Motion, featuring life-sized metal sculptures with exposed mechanics that illustrate science and technology principles in a fun and engaging way. The exhibition weaves science, art and innovation themes throughout and touches on each of these educational topics at each sculpture. The art portions highlight sketching, drawing, and sculpting; the science segments explore kinetics, biomechanics, and robotics; and the innovation areas encourage observing and experimenting. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for youth.

FORCED SEPARATION: The Detroit of 1941 was a place surging with ambition and wealth, the unquestioned heart of American manufacturing might and whose industrial prowess would earn it the nickname The Arsenal of Democracy during World War II. It’s also where white real estate developers, struggling to obtain financing to build a new neighborhood adjacent to a Black one in an era of redlining, built a concrete wall 6 feet high and a half-mile long. Much of it still stands. Eighty years later the wall, and the policies that led to it, continues to have repercussions for the people who lived in its shadow.

COMFORT INN: A four-bedroom bed-and-breakfast in Tivoli, N.Y., became a 22-person pandemic pod, attracting students, a podcaster and others who shared chores, prepared group meals and participated in various organized activities, all without a single case of the coronavirus. A documentary is in the works. “The most interesting aspect to me was that this house was entirely filled with people who didn’t really know each other before the pandemic,” photographer Jessica Chappe told the Times Union of Albany, N.Y. “In a time that felt isolating and constricted, this pod created a sanctuary for community.” 

CALLING OUT HATE: As editor of the Miami Herald, Monica Richardson receives her share of vitriolic feedback from rageaholic readers, but the email she received after her newspaper pointed out the selective enforcement of a state law banning protesters from blocking highways was especially vile in its racism and hate. Her response: To publish the email and invite her community to talk about it.

ENGINEERING KINDNESS: A teacher in suburban Washington, D.C., who was expecting her first child confided to a colleague that she was worried about how her husband, who has often used a wheelchair since brain surgery in 2017 left him with trouble keeping his balance, would be able to take their child for a stroll. The colleague runs a creative lab at the school where students are encouraged to participate in hands on projects. He put the challenge to a team of high school students who, after several months of design and experimentation, created a product that would enable her husband, and other people with mobility challenges, to safely walk with the baby.

TASK FORCE PUSHBACK: Early this month, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York announced the formation of a task force to address and combat the surge in gun violence in Rochester and Buffalo, involving local, state and federal agencies. Similar federal-led initiatives are rolling out across other cities in the country. But some community members say the task force, which touted progress in a news release late last week, was formed without input from community groups or leaders and seems intent on returning to the mass incarceration era of the 1990s.

DISINFORMATION FOR HIRE: Sadly, that’s a thing. Unscrupulous operators create campaigns built on falsehoods to question vaccine safety, promote oppressive regimes or fake anti-government sentiment, many of which are quietly paid for by governments or prominent political figures. The practice has become, in the words of one observer, “a boom industry,” and its practitioners are getting better at it as they learn and adapt. Sick stuff, but here we are.

BRAINY BIRDS: Cockatoos, who had a moment in the U.S. during the 1970s when one named Fred was the constant companion of TV detective Tony Baretta, thrive in the wild in the suburbs of Australia, in part because they’ve taught each other the intricate technique for opening and foraging from curbside trash carts. “In an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment with unpredictable food sources, opportunistic animals thrive,” Isabelle Laumer, a behavioral researcher at UCLA, told The Associated Press.

FORKS UP, PHONES DOWN: A well-composed Instagram post can serve as its own kind of word-of-mouth advertising for a bar or restaurant, but some are starting to push back against the constant glow of smart phone screens, betting that banning photos — and in some cases the visible presence of a phone — will be appealing to patrons who just want to enjoy a good meal. “Phones are the barrier to conviviality,” one restaurateur told the Evening Standard of London. “Your phone is not a tool for eating, it should not be on the table with your knife, fork, glass and bread.”

DREAMS UP IN SMOKE: The charming little 1936 cottage was their cozy home for 30 years when the owners put it on the market. Sixty-two showings and 32 offers followed. With an offer of $100,000 over the $287,000 asking price, the New York City buyers thought they had their Hudson Valley dream home in hand. A day before the closing it burned down.

CHANGE AGENTS: One of the 10 most sought-after management jobs right now, according to the executive search firm Cowen Partners, didn’t exist before 2020, and certainly not as a title with a defined role. The job: keeping staff engaged and connected while working from home. It has become a hugely important role, especially in larger companies with a lot of people working remotely. Say hello to the Vice President of Productivity and Remote Experience.

TAKING DOWN TIME: Workers in the U.S. say they plan to take more vacation time this year and to check in on work less frequently than in years past, according to a survey published by the consulting firm Korn Ferry. One hidden benefit to employers: 80% of respondents say they've had a breakthrough work idea while relaxing on vacation.

LEADARRRRSHIP LESSONS: We think of pirates as murderous marauders, swashbuckling villains of the high seas. We don’t often think of the leadership skills that a captain like the famed and feared Blackbeard employed to keep his crew inspired and working together. Harvard business professor Francesca Gino writes that Blackbeard’s ship “was arguably more progressive and equitable than American or English society at the time,” and invites today’s business leaders to ask: Am I the captain that my crew would choose as its leader today?

INCOME TEST: Ulster County, in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, launched a social experiment in May, offering $500 a month to 100 randomly selected residents (more than 4,200 applied) for one year, no questions asked and no strings attached. The concept is universal basic income, popularized by Andrew Yang during his unsuccessful 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Several cities across the U.S. are experimenting as well, and some progressives are pushing to make universal basic income a permanent feature of the U.S. economy.

MILITARY MANEUVERS: Apache, Blackhawk and Medevac helicopters will be flying over the Adirondacks in August in the most concentrated Army combat-ready training exercise since 2018. The exercise will involve 27 aircraft from the U.S. Army’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Drum and prepare crews for the challenging conditions they may face in combat. In Michigan, the U.S. Air Force plans for the first time ever to use a civilian highway to practice takeoffs and landings. “Our efforts are focused on our ability to train the warfighter in any environment across the continuum so our nation can compete, deter, and win today and tomorrow,” the commander of the local Air Force base said.

ELECTRICAL TRANSFORMERS: Vermont’s Green Mountain Power has begun transforming its power grid, shifting from large generating plants and long transmission lines to a less centralized approach that makes it easier and more efficient to tap renewable sources and battery storage. The goal is to transition completely away from fossil fuels as an energy source, requiring complex systemwide reconstruction and engineering workarounds necessary to create a reliable, carbon-free power grid. Time magazine goes in depth to describe Green Mountain Power’s innovative efforts, and why success is so important to achieving the nation’s climate goals.

SMOKY FINISH: Caleb Ganzer was early in his career when he landed the coveted sommelier job at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, regularly praised as one of the world’s finest restaurants. In 2017, he was named one of Food & Wine's sommeliers of the year. Now he’s facing charges of setting fire to the outdoor dining areas of multiple Manhattan restaurants.

ABOUT THAT NAME: The Cleveland Indians announced recently that they would change their name to the Guardians starting in 2022. The choice had a lot of people scratching their heads. Bloomberg CityLab has an excellent explainer on the significance and symbolism of the name to Clevelanders, whose city has been watched over by the regal Guardians of Traffic since 1932.

ODDS AND ENDS: Emphasis on odd. A snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo has tested positive for the coronavirus (all we want to know is, who got within 6 feet?); his enclosure mates were in quarantine. Eight gorillas in the zoo’s Safari Park tested positive in mid-January, and in April 2020 a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive. In Florida, a man spent thousands of dollars and nearly a decade building a hydro pod — essentially a makeshift hamster wheel — that he hoped to walk in, on water, from Florida to New York. He made it about 25 miles. (Unintended hilarity: the Coast Guard said he’d need to do a few things before he tries again, and that failure to comply “is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $95,881.”) A cat missing from its home in Peabody, Mass., since 2015 was reunited with his owner after he was taken to a veterinarian who scanned his microchip. The owner, Margaret Kudzma, had never stopped looking for him, and had even founded a nonprofit whose mission is to help lost and feral cats. If you loved the look of the old-school Pizza Huts so much that you would want to wear their colors, now you can, thanks to a new, limited-edition clothing line. And if you’re just dying to drop $200 on a plate of fries, you can do that, too, if you have the patience to wait up to 10 weeks.


RON POPEIL grew up with a father who was an inventor and salesman. He began hawking products as a teenager at open-air fairs. Then television called: The father of Ronco presents the Vegematic, the Pocket Fisherman, the smokeless ashtray and hair in a can, among many other products consumers never knew they needed, he invented skip-the-retailer commerce with late-night TV commercials and became a pop culture icon. He was 86.


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

—    William Henry Davies


METALLICA ROCKS: A foundation funded by the heavy metal rock band Metallica has awarded $25,000 to Grand Rapids Community College to support a program that provides career skills and hands-on welding experience to members of underserved communities in Western Michigan. This is Metallica’s third grant to the program, which the band helped launch in 2018. “We are passionate and grateful to these trades and tradespeople,” Metallica frontman James Hetfield said.

THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Lisa Fenwick, Nancie Battaglia, Claire P. Tuttle, John Brodt, Tara Hutchins, 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.

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. 

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