Not in Kansas Anymore
Back in August, it was as normal as any other August in Arlington, until the amazing gusts of the Derecho Storm whipped their way through the cherry-tree lined avenues. We had a native cherry tree in our back yard that was teetering on the edge of the fence line, and I watched it out the window that was getting sucked in and out, as the locomotive sound of the winds swooshed and churned through the neighborhood. Please don’t come through the window, I thought. Don’t land on a neighbor. Wicked Witch of the West music played in my mind…
It uprooted, but thankfully didn’t fly across the neighborhood, like so many other trees and their weak limbs did. Ultimately, we ended up paying a pretty penny to have the gnarly, wild cherry tree, which was sick, cut out and stump ground out to prevent termites, but jeez! Who knew the business of tree-work was the song and dance that it was?! I started to wonder what else could be done with so many of these trees that had also come down in the wake of the impending storms of the year.
You wouldn’t believe how many solicitors come to our new house about tree work. They show up like right before meals- like they have this sixth sense for people’s rears about to hit seats for dinner. Imagine a lovely steaming dinner that has just been plated. The family is about to be gathered together to sit and relax together for the first time all day… DOOR BELL. DOG BARK. TREE PERSON TRUCK. No thanks. Thank goodness it wasn’t a woman with a picnic basket on a bicycle.
Century old oaks, maples, poplars and cedars plummeted to their demise, uprooted by those gale-force winds, taking out power lines, cars and many homes in their timber paths. What now? What do you do with these once magnificent trees that are no longer going to be providing their shade and privacy? Glorified fire wood? No, there is another answer.
Yes, there is some clean up involved, but the trees didn’t just have to be hacked to pieces. In many instances, these trees played a vital roll in a life story; a family history or heritage. Sigh- nostalgia is about to happen: A child was reared under those branches, lovers carved their initials and impending promise to each other under a knot, a stubborn kitty climbed to the tippy-top and stayed there mewing for hours. Many of these trees tell our story, and when they topple down, they don’t have to go away, taking that story with them.
Revealing the True Story
Local artist, Marcus Sims of Treincarnation has taken his keen sense of sustainability, along with integrity for the product itself, the wood, and creates amazing, useful and soulful pieces of art and furniture from fallen trees.
Of course, over the last few months, with the sheer amount of tree damage the Washington, DC area has been the brunt of, he has seen an increase in business; however, Sims has been creating with “nature in mind” for over twenty years. When I asked him if he had noticed an increase in people seeking him out in the last few years, he said “yes, people want to have a piece of their beloved tree…to have it milled into lumber and made into something,” something tangible, and something that they can take with them if they happen to move.
His clients want anything from huge logs of oak honed into bookcases and trellises; his own headboard is a Houzz.com-worthy massive slab of maple. Sims’ designs work in conjunction with the client and the wood itself to “reveal and set off the beauty of the wood.” It makes me think that he is allowing the wood to tell that story of each moment that it towered over before it came down.
The Man Behind the Curtain
Maybe he is sort of like the Great and Powerful Oz. Sims doesn’t really know what he is going to get to make magic out of until he gets his whole tree to play with! For instance, he was commissioned to make square benches for the Janney school out of the Janney Oak when they were going to do their major expansion in DC.
“Only when the logs were brought to me, and I could see the wind-shake on the inside (the separation on the tube of the tree) could I see that I would have to do something different. My colleague, Cecil Smith, suggested that we separate the inner column from the outer wood, and use the ‘halftubes’ to create the benches.” These pieces of Janney history now sit on the Janney School’s elementary playground and continue to be a part of the school’s rich history, but in a much more elegant way than being hacked into firewood.
Yes, trees can be milled to lumber for floors and siding and actual lumber for construction, but there are some trees that people may want to make into something a bit more special like their “beloved [enter tree name here].” As we are catching full stride into the new year, we can only hope that no more insane storms bring their wrath; but if there is anything we have learned, it is that there are options to do things more sustainably and people like our artist friends who think with nature in mind.
Too connected: FTC eyes Facebook antitrust lawsuit
(BUSINESS NEWS) Following other antitrust hearings, we’re expecting to hear more about the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, soon.
Facebook might be wishing it had kept the “dislike” button.
On September 15, the Wall Street Journal announced that the Federal Trade Commission was preparing a possible antitrust lawsuit against the social media titan. Although the FTC has not made an official decision on whether to pursue the case, sources familiar with the situation expect a determination will be made on the matter sometime before the end of 2020. Facebook and the FTC both declined to comment when asked about the story.
The news comes following a year-long investigation by the FTC that has looked into anti-competitive practices by the Menlo Park-based company. This past July, the United States House of Representatives held hearings in which they grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook regarding their business practices. In August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified in front of the FTC as part of the department’s antitrust probe into the organization.
The FTC seems to be especially interested in Facebook’s past acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, which they believe may have been done to stifle competition. In internal emails sent between Zuckerberg and Facebook’s former CFO David Ebersman back in 2012, the 36-year-old seemed worried that the apps could eventually pose a threat to the social media conglomerate.
“These businesses are nascent but the networks established, the brands are already meaningful, and if they grow to a large scale the could be very disruptive to us,” Zuckerberg wrote to Ebersman, “Given that we think our own valuation is fairly aggressive and that we’re vulnerable in mobile, I’m curious if we should consider going after one or two of them.”
When Ebersman asked him to clarify the benefits of the acquisitions, Zuckerberg stated the purchases would neutralize a competitor while improving Facebook.
“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc. now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again.” Zuckerberg said.
This isn’t the first time the FTC has investigated Facebook either. Last year the agency fined the company $5 billion for the mishandling of user’s personal information, the biggest penalty imposed by the federal government against a technology company. As a part of the settlement with the FTC in that case, Facebook also promised more comprehensive oversight of user data.
If the FTC does pursue an antitrust suit against Facebook, it could end up forcing the social media giant to spin off some of the companies it has acquired or place restrictions on how it does business. Considering how long it will take to file the litigation and prove the case in a courtroom, however, it seems that Zuckerberg will once again be “buying time.”
What you need to know about the historic TikTok deal (for now)
(BUSINESS NEWS) No one really knows what’s happening, but the TikTok deal’s impact on business, US-China relations, and the open internet could be huge.
So, maybe you’ve heard that Oracle and Walmart are buying TikTok for national security!
Um, not exactly.
Also, Trump banned TikTok!
Sort of? Maybe?
The terms of the proposal seem to shift daily, if not hourly. The sheer number of contradictory statements from every player suggests no one really knows what’s going on.
Just one example: Trump said the deal included a $5 billion donation to a fund for education for American youth. TikTok parent ByteDance, said, “Say what now?”
Here’s what we think we know (as of this writing):
Oracle and Walmart would get a combined 20 percent stake in a new U.S.-based company called TikTok Global. Combine that with current US investors in China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, that would give American interests 53 percent. European and other investors would have 11 percent. China would retain 36 percent. (On Saturday Trump said China would have no interests at all. But that does not jibe with the reporting on the deal.)
Oracle would host all user data on its cloud, where it is promising “security will be 100 percent” to keep data safe from China’s prying eyes. But reporting has differed on whether Oracle will get full access to TikTok’s code and AI algorithms. Without full control, skeptics say, Oracle could be little more than a hosting service, and potential security issues would remain unaddressed.
Walmart says they’re excited about their “potential investment and commercial agreements,” suggesting they may be exploring e-commerce opportunities in the app.
The US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, still has to approve any deal.
As for the TikTok “ban” – which isn’t really a ban because current users can keep it – the Commerce Department postponed the deadline for kicking TikTok off U.S. app stores to September 27, to give time for the deal to be hammered out. Never mind that it’s still not clear whether the U.S. government has authority to do that. Unsurprisingly, ByteDance says it doesn’t in a lawsuit filed September 18.
Whatever happens with the whiplash of the deal’s particulars, there are bigger issues in play.
According to business news site Quartz, moving data storage to Oracle mirrors what companies like Apple have done in China: Appease the Chinese government by allowing all data hosting to be inside China. A similar move could “mark the US, too, shifting from a more laissez-faire approach to user data, to a more sovereign one,” says China tech reporter Jane Li.
In the meantime, TikTokkers keep TikTokking. White suburban moms continue to lip sync to rap songs in their kitchens. Gen Z continues to make fun of the president – and pretty much everything else.
And downloads of the app have skyrocketed.
Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?
The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.
While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.
When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).
In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.
However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.
Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.
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