The Week: What Caught Our Eye

September 18, 2021

Sunrise along a rural roadStep on the gas, and you may almost catch summer as it heads over the hills of Halfmoon, N.Y. (John Bulmer)

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Fall never gets its due. It’s the season of disappointment over summers too short, plans unfulfilled. It’s the season of anticipated dread about what lies ahead. And yet it may be the most beautiful of all. The pace has slowed, the air has cooled, the afternoon sun is still a friend, and the hills are in full flame. Cider doughnut, anyone? Fall begins Wednesday. Give it another look.

REPRODUCING THE RESULTS:  The scientific breakthrough that eventually protected millions from Covid-19 began with competition over a photocopier — in 1997, at the University of Pennsylvania, where Professor Katalin Karikó and Dr. Drew Weissman each was jockeying to reproduce scientific reports. Their joint work laid the foundation for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. They will be in Albany this week — along with Dr. Barney S. Graham of the National Institutes of Health — to accept Albany Medical Center’s distinguished Albany Prize, which in its 20 years has been bestowed, notably, on eight people who went on to win Nobels.

ART WHIRLED: Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, has built her own mega-organization for the people: The Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Ark. She amassed a collection of Georgia O’Keeffes, Mark Rothkos and Edward Hoppers, hired a renowned architect, created a 120-acre campus on the edge of a natural spring and, almost on cue, the coastal elite art world erupted in … outrage. The kind of righteous anger reserved only for Walmart heirs. What, they demanded, gives Alice Walton the right to squirrel away works of art in backwater Bentonville? Twenty years later, 5 million people have visited, including many who had never been to a museum of any kind before, and Crystal Bridges is growing its space by 50 percent.

OFF TO SCHOOL: It’s back-to-school time, and at Van Wyck Junior High School in East Fishkill, N.Y., the desire to return to in-classroom learning applies even to non-traditional students. This week, a five-foot alligator showed up. The alligator lives in the district, so we can check that box. She apparently crawled over from a nearby apartment. When police arrived, a responding officer said: “(S)he was kind of in shock, and so were our officers because that's not a normal activity here in East Fishkill, to come across an alligator.” Local officials have put their top investigator on the case.

A reflecting pool with a statue and red flowersTHE TRASKS: Thomas Edison might never have been able to bring to market his electric light bulb without the support of Spencer Trask, his longtime sponsor and financier. Trask was an original leader of Consolidated Edison and a trustee of the Edison Electric Light Company, the predecessor to GE. He also helped a Gray Lady in distress, saving The New York Times from bankruptcy and setting it on the path to greatness as its chairman. In the tranquility of Saratoga Springs, he found refuge with his wife, the author Katrina Nichols, at the home they called Yaddo, where he set about trying to save the mineral springs and end gambling. Trask died in a train accident on the snowy New Year’s Eve of 1909, as he returned from Saratoga Springs to New York. The Spirit of Life monument in Saratoga Springs’ Congress Park honors Trask’s leadership in philanthropy and preservation. The sculpture commissioned by his widow is a remarkable artistic collaboration between sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, best known for the creation of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. And Yaddo itself remains today a monument to the Trasks’ devotion to original ideas, love for Saratoga Springs and support for art and artists.

COWS CREATE JOBS: Central New York and the Southern Tier have struggled for years, but increasingly agriculture is saving its bacon. Two years ago, Wells Enterprises, the third largest ice cream manufacturer in the United States and still family owned, acquired Dunkirk-based Fieldbrook Foods. It’s investing $87 million in new production lines and adding as many as 70 jobs. Now, Great Lakes Cheese has announced it will build a new, $500-million factory in Cattaraugus County to turn out pepper jack, colby jack, swiss and various cheddars, relying on 32,000 cows and probably 600 people. And Greek yogurt maker Chobani, which took up residence in Chenango County 14 years ago and today employs 1,000 people, is preparing for an initial public offering that could be worth $10 billion.

OUTSTANDING IN THEIR FIELD: Richard Ball of Schoharie, the state’s agriculture commissioner; state Farm Bureau President David Fisher of Madrid; Laurie Griffen of Saratoga Sod Farm; and John Dickinson of Ideal Dairy Farms in Hudson Falls make City and State’s Power 50 in New York Agriculture.

NO COKE. NO JOKE: There’s a national shortage of truck drivers, and the latest casualty is Coke. You may have a hard time finding the real thing in New York.

DUTY CALLS: Massachusetts is dealing with a school bus driver shortage that is so severe the governor activated 250 National Guard troops to help get students back and forth to school. School systems across the nation are reporting similar concerns. In an August survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said a shortage of bus drivers is their number one concern, which is pretty incredible when you consider every one of the survey respondents is dealing with the challenge of educating students in the middle of a pandemic. Gov. Kathy Hochul ruled out activating the National Guard for a similar purpose in New York, calling it “outside the current scope” of the Guard’s duties.

OH, GIVE ME A HOME: At one point this summer, there were 1,200 permanent and seasonal job openings in rural Warren County, N.Y., and fewer than 180 available homes, with most in the highest lakefront price ranges. That mismatch is eating economic opportunity out of, well, house and home. It’s the same story nationally. For 15 years, we’ve built too few homes to meet the increasing demand. “We’ll need to do something dramatic to close this gap,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. Among the people in need of housing are young families with children, young professionals starting careers, single working people with children and seniors transitioning from their longtime family residences. Many communities would embrace this growth as a welcome revival, as would school districts where enrollment has been on a long downturn. To address the challenge, EDC Warren County is holding a second community meeting on Wednesday. The public is invited. Pre-registration is required.   

A JUROR’S BURDEN: North Country Public Radio’s Emily Russell is a fine young journalist, a gifted storyteller who one day will have a national audience, if that’s what she wants. This time, the subject was herself — specifically, her experiences serving on a jury for a criminal trial in Essex County, and the hidden emotional price that is paid for jury service. “I was wrecked after the first day,” she reports. And when it was time to deliver the verdict, “For me, that was the hardest moment of all, one I’ll never forget. … I knew, in part because of my opinion, people's lives were about to change forever.”

a hornet's nest high in a pine treeOUT ON A LIMB: A sky-eyed reader this week spotted a hornet or wasp nest high up in a tree and forecast a long, cold and snowy winter. There may be some truth in that prediction, according to the old maxim: See how high the hornet’s nest, ’twill tell how high the snow will rest.

MAMMOTH UNDERTAKING: A startup named Colossal announced this week that it intends to resurrect the woolly mammoth by editing elephant DNA. The goal is to reintroduce them to the Siberian tundra in a bid to fight climate change. The group has $15 million in initial funding. Not everyone is a fan.

PICTURE IMPERFECT: The Haiku Stairs — 3,922 steps that span the Ko'olau mountain range on the island of Oahu — are being dismantled and removed after years of trespassing, often by people looking for that perfect social media post. The stairs date to World War II, when the U.S. Navy needed a high point for transmitting top secret radio signals to ships in the Pacific. Not even the prospect of a $1,000 fine was enough to prevent an estimated 4,000 people from visiting the steps each year.

JON STEWART RETURNS: Fans of Jon Stewart, the longtime host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, are delighted to know he’s making a return to regular programming with a show on Apple+ called “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” But be prepared: It’s not a steady stream of satire and sarcasm. Those who have followed Stewart’s career since he left “The Daily Show” are aware of his advocacy on behalf of first responders, and the new show is more like that, a current affairs program that takes a serious look at issues like veterans’ struggles to access proper health care and benefits.

VANDALISM FOR VIEWS: This week’s installment of “Wait. What?” takes us to TikTok, where some users are trying to one-up each other by vandalizing school bathrooms and posting their handiwork on the platform. They call it the “devious lick” challenge. TikTok says it’s doing its best to take down the content and reminding users of its policies against posting criminal activities. Incidents have been reported in multiple states, including Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas.

LESS COLORFUL FALLS: The good news for Northeast leaf peepers: Climate change is unlikely to have much of an effect on the kaleidoscope of colors that pops each fall. The bad news: Invasive species like the emerald ash borer and the hemlock wooly adelgid are destroying those species so quickly that some of the spectacular color contrasts may be lost forever. If you’re interested in a different way to see the foliage, several scenic rail trips are available.

COVID LESSONS: An NPR health reporter who has covered the coronavirus pandemic from its early days recognized the symptoms as they crept in. Even though he was fully vaccinated, a breakthrough case had him in its grasp, with five days of misery that he compared to a bad bout of the flu. Looking back, he reports, he wishes he had continued to take precautions, and said the experience has changed the advice he offers others: “Don't leave it all up to the vaccine. Wear masks, stay away from big gatherings with unvaccinated people, cut down on travel, at least until things calm down.”

HE DID HIS JOB: An alarm on his phone alerted Peter Hemans that water was entering the basement of Hackensack Middle School in New Jersey the night of September 1. The remnants of Hurricane Ida were rolling through, and Hemans, the school’s head custodian, knew that meant trouble. So he headed to the school, navigating around flooded roads, went to the basement and stayed all night, making sure the emergency pumps were working properly and preventing damage to the building on the eve of a new school year. “I like to make sure that my job is done,” he told NPR.

HELL OF A HALLOWEEN: If you’re game for a Halloween that’s not lame, check out the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze now open at the sprawling Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. There are lots of Halloween events in the land of Sleepy Hollow, but the Blaze does tricks with 7,000 lighted pumpkins carved by artisans — everything from disembodied heads and boogeymen to larger-than-life figures. Now in its 17th year, the Blaze draws 175,000 visitors and it’s a treat.

OPTICAL ILLUSION: A photo this week of Death Valley National Park blanketed in white surprised and delighted viewers who were amazed at such a sight in a place that routinely reaches 120Ëš F. It wasn’t snow (though it can snow there, believe it or not) — it was salt that had been pulled to the surface following a recent rainfall.

RISKY BUSINESS: Researchers have longed observed that the day of the week has an effect on stock market returns, suicide rates and attendance at medical appointments. A team at The British Academy thinks it may know why — their research suggests that fluctuations in risk tolerance are the explanation, with the willingness to take risks declining steadily from Monday through Thursday before ticking up again on Friday.

LIVES

SAM “BAM” CUNNINGHAM was an imposing fullback at the University of Southern California and a future star for the New England Patriots when he put on a performance that many credit with opening the door to Black football players at the University of Alabama. Cunningham and his Trojans teammates traveled to Birmingham in 1970, their first trip to the Deep South, and stomped the Crimson Tide, with legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant later confiding that he knew he needed to recruit Black players to stay competitive. After that game, Alabama fans knew it, too. Cunningham, whose brother Randall was a star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, was 71.

NORM MACDONALD was a comedy legend, his deadpan delivery, quick wit and hilarious characters etched forever in the memories of “Saturday Night Live” fans from the 1990s but whose influence far outlasted his four-year tenure at SNL. He continued to write, perform and entertain, including a brief turn as Colonel Sanders in spots for KFC, and in 2004 Comedy Central named him one of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all-time. He died at 61 after a long battle with cancer that he had kept private.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

Summer should get a speeding ticket
— Unknown (or maybe that should be “Everyone north of the 40th parallel”)

THE SIGNOFF

MOOLOO: Scientists in New Zealand experimented with 16 cows to see if they could, in essence, be potty trained. Turns out they can. Don’t laugh; management of livestock waste is a serious environmental issue in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Thank you to our contributors: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Lisa Fenwick, Tara Hutchins, John Bulmer, Claire P. Tuttle, John Brodt, 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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