Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hey, What Happened to the Blog?

There’s no point in hiding any longer – yes, I’m Derivative Man, and one of the four people in the world who really understand Wall Street finance. I’ve been huddled with our nation’s leaders for six days on the bailout, and you don’t want to be in a room with these people for 16 hours straight. When Sen. Charles Schumer decided to give a working example of naked shorts at midnight last Wednesday ….

OK, it’s all hogwash (although I’ll bet you’ll have a hard time getting an image of ol’ Chuck out of your imagination.) I’ve been working like blazes to get the next issue of Stone Business primped and polished before heading to Verona, Italy, for the huge Marmomacc trade event. Something had to go on idle.

I’ll make it up to readers next week with some reports from the road as I cross a continent, an ocean, the Alps and invariably some Italian truck drivers along the way. You’ll also get a sense of what’s happening at Marmomacc, which resembles more of a small city than a trade show.

To those few who’ve missed me, my apologies. Keep reading.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

 

The November Surprise?

Granite countertops seem to be fading from local TV screens – save for some consumer advertising – but don’t think the reports on radon and radiation are gone for good. If there’s any life in the theme for getting back on the tube, it’s slightly more than a month away.

Since the beginning of the month and the long-awaited minutes on NBC’s The Today Show, the lineup at our Radon Theater remains much the same. A San Diego station gave the story another run on Sept. 19 for the latest entry.

If there’s going to be another slew of local news reports, it’ll be in four weeks or so. Think November, or at least the very end of October.

And, think ratings. Halloween is considered the usual start for one of the two “sweeps” months (May is the other) for Arbitron viewer ratings. It’s when the networks roll out all sorts of special programming, and local stations manage to uncover government corruption, tales of incredible courage and the occasional neighborhood Nazi concentration-camp guard.

Granite, radon and radiation can be a real bell-ringer, and may even spur a few investigative follow-ups from earlier in the year. Don’t be surprised when countertop shots pop up on the local news teaser halfway through Heroes or Boston Legal.

The kicker could be reports on lawsuits involving granite countertops, although one still hasn’t surfaced. It’s not from lack of trying or, to be more-descriptive, trolling for toxic torts.

One Houston law firm apparently had ideas about this, and posted an online video of the very same kitchen countertop featured in the KHOU-TV report in May. The accompanying soundtrack went through a litany of household health problems; unfortunately, the video went off the Net shortly after its debut on Radon Theater.

Other sites are attempting to prime the legal pump, most notably Lawyersandsettlements.com from Online Legal Marketing (OLM) in Santa Cruz, Calif. The company researches and publishes news from its own research department and, as the site explains, “from interviews with lawyers and victims.”

A page entitled “Granite Countertops Source of Dangerous Radon” offers two write-ups reciting personal health problems – although both use pseudonyms for the subjects, such as “Sarah S.” Go to the bottom of the page, and there’s a link to help you get your own story assessed by a lawyer.

What’s a bit curious, however, is a news item attributed to “Nebraska TV” on Aug. 18 with the following lead:

Radon testing in homes with granite countertops four counties in Nebraska have returned higher than normal readings.

However, click on the link associated with the article, and you’ll go to an Associated Press article. And, if you read carefully, you’ll notice that the AP article is about naturally occurring radon in the soil of central Nebraska – and the folks at OLM deliberately inserted “countertops” into the story for their own site.

I sent an email to OLM about this a few weeks ago. In the meantime, one of those anonymous-source articles about countertop woes found its way to an English-language stone Website in China.

And the altered clip from AP’s still there at the OLM Website.

— Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

About That Letter …

No, that wasn’t a piece of malicious spam that hit the mailboxes of the masses in the stone industry this week. The letter for StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas bearing my name is authentic, right down to the mug shot. (Who else would claim to look like that?)

OK, so it’s a bit unusual for an editor to participate in a promotional mailing for an event, especially one that the magazine doesn’t own. Maybe more than a few of you out there wonder why I did it.

Well, the show’s promoter – Hanley Wood – asked nicely, and there’s always something to be said for good manners. And, as I stated in the letter, I did it for free.

The reason behind the letter, though, is more than just being a good guy. For all the grousing I’ve done about air travel and hotels and convention centers in my life, I still believe in trade shows.

Anyone who’s read Stone Business over the years know that I’ve run hundreds of copy inches previewing various trade events. I scour the Internet and promotional booths at trade shows to find even more trade shows to add to our Calendar section, which gives our art director fits in fitting proper Portuguese and Turkish typography.

Despite a continual fear of air travel, I get on planes for 11-hour flights across continents and oceans. I’ve braved Italian autostrades, Spanish bomb-sniffing dogs and airliners stuffed with high-school cheerleaders, full of pep and butterscotch lip gloss, headed to Orlando. And I’ll do it again a week from Monday, as I head to Marmomacc in Verona, Italy.

I believe that trade shows are the great community events of industry, especially with a producer-oriented trade like stone. Sure, I’ve had moments of painful dullness during some events, but there’ve been many more hours of seeing interesting products and meeting fascinating people.

Trade shows also mark a moment of solidarity within an industry, where people give up money and time to meet and move their trade forward. The main purpose is to buy and sell, but there’s also a statement being made about the state of an industry.

It’s why I also spend a lot of time and effort encouraging people to attend, of which this week’s letter is a logical result. You’re part of an industry with your work every day, but a trade show is really the best way to participate and join together with others in the field. You can shop in a supermarket of suppliers and talk shop with just about anyone else walking the aisles. And you’ll always take away something of value.

Maybe it’s StoneExpo/Marmomacc Americas. Maybe it’s Coverings. Maybe it’s an event thousands of miles away in Brazil, Spain, China, India, Italy or wherever else the stone trades meet. Wherever it is, just go. We’ll all be the better for it.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

Water on the Rocks a Bad Mix at EPA

At last – a government agency story that doesn’t include radiation, radon, falling slabs, silicosis or any other hazard where someone in Washington thinks they have the best answer. In some ways, though, it’s worse: Water features using natural stone are naughty.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s more than just stone. It’s anything that involves a decorative use of water outdoors, all in the name of sustainable development.

The EPA’s proposed WaterSense® Program for new single-family homes and townhouses (of three stories or less) doesn’t have any patience with “ornamental water features,” and that includes small splashing streams as well as large cantera fountains.

In fact, according to a support statement, the list of nixed aquatic features includes, “fountains, ponds, waterfalls, man-made streams and other decorative water-related constructions provided solely for aesthetic or beautification purposes.

“Because these water features serve no functional or practical purpose,” the support statement continues, “their water use is not considered efficient.”

If that isn’t sufficiently full-steam Soviet-style agitprop in tone – strangely reminiscent of this – consider that pools and spas get no slack, either. The WaterSense regs equate the surface area of these people-oriented facilities to that of a grassy lawn, and only 40 percent of a home’s landscape can be “turfed.”

The WaterSense rules, all with the aim of encouraging the efficient use of residential water, also include indoor regulations in terms of fixtures, including the types of appliances used. The proposed program cites research on how much water can be saved with niceties like front-loading washers.

And there are studies about what happens when you get rid of those water-wasting outdoor features, right?

Uhh … well, when it comes to pools, just swap them out for “turf” in any of the program’s studies, and you can see that reducing the lawn area from, say, 80 percent to 40 percent would reduce water usage by 25 percent. This would work just the same for a home’s pool, as long as it’s a large moat used for training swimmers competing at the 2012 London Games.

And all those other features, including the ones with natural stone? It turns out that there’s no supporting bit of data on how much water you’d save by not having them. The EPA isn’t going to try to figure it out, either, citing “the variability of associated with outdoor water usage across the country.”

Of course, the time for comment on these rules passed earlier this summer, so it’s only a matter of time before backyard stone waterfalls join 1959 DeSotos among the ranks of the truly wasteful. Luckily, compliance with WaterSense will be strictly voluntary.

For now.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

 

 

A Compounded Grief

Finally, a memorial of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will be dedicated at one of the three sites of our national tragedy. The fact that there’s only one is a sad story in itself.

The Pentagon Memorial, dedicated today, came together when a group of dedicated people worked hard to create a place of remembrance. It augments a very simple and poignant reminder of the crash of American Airlines 77; there’s one block of the Pentagon’s limestone facade that still bears the soot and grime of the event, with a simple inscription of “September 11, 2001.”

The new memorial matches that simplicity, noting those who perished on the plane as well as those in the building. The design, which incorporates the ages of the 184 victims, recognizes the gravity of the event as a whole, but also the personal toll, life by life.

As someone who’s written annually about Sept. 11 and the commemorations associated with it, I can’t praise enough the work of those who brought the Pentagon Memorial from concept to concrete reality. However, there’s still a problem remaining as we mark the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Actually, there are two. One is in the fields near Shanksville, Pa., and the other sits in lower Manhattan. The crash sites of United 93, American 11 and United 175 draw those seeking to pay respects, but the locations remain essentially empty.

Every Sept. 11, the stories run again about the difficulty of building the monuments, the money needed, the concern to “do it right,” the drive to have things done by the fill-in-the-blank anniversary. Maybe next year, we can save the effort and just pick an article from three years ago and run that.

Yes, erecting a memorial isn’t easy. It also takes time and money. In the case of the New York and Pennsylvania sites, however, it seems that all the concern lies with ever detail but one: us.

Sept. 11 wasn’t a long event from long ago, such as a war. Nor is it a dedication to a famous figure. That day was the nation’s trauma, played out in real time on the streets of our two major cities and viewed live on tens of millions of television sets. We experienced, as it happened, the crashes, the fires, the grief as a national landmark burned and two buildings fell, taking along scores of anxious, desperate people.

People just like us. We all suffered the shock, the pain, the loss. Those monuments represent the places where we can offer our respects, share our grief, mourn the dead and renew our spirit.

The immediacy and communal participation of the tragedy of Sept. 11 changes the traditional notion of memorials. The process needs a schedule measured more by the clock than the calendar. It needs symbols beyond an empty pasture and a cavity in a skyline. And, it needs a drive beyond what’s current on track.

I will forever be haunted by Sept. 11. What happened that day changed my life, as it did for millions of others. My own memorial is a U.S. flag that hangs outside my front door, 24/; I’ve went through four or five flags and several lamps to illuminate the stars and stripes during darkness.

I’d only hope that others see the light as well, and realize that 2011 isn’t the deadline in Pennsylvania and New York. We’re already past due.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

 

StatWatch: Stone Imports, June 2008

Information on U.S. stone imports becomes available a few months after the fact; right now, June marks the latest data available. Some in-depth analysis of stone imports at mid-year will be available in the October 2008 Stone Business (and you can sign up for a free subscription here), but an overview of June figures offer some interesting insights.

Stone-import information offers one of the few ways to gauge the health of the U.S. dimensional-stone industry. Depending on the expert you happen to talk to, imports make up 80 percent to 90 percent-plus of stone usage for interior and non-hardscape exterior installations.

The following is courtesy of the U.S. Commerce Department and International Trade Commission. All figures give are for June 2008 (along with a comparison with June 2007 data). “Worked” stone is material that’s been shorn from boulders and blocks, and then cut in standard dimensional measures (such as slabs and tiles) and polished.

Worked Granite Value

Total: $104,915,156 (-21.63%)

Sector leader: Brazil @ $35,104,341 (-28.73%)

Backfill: June turned out to be one of the lesser months of first-half 2008 for worked-granite value. All major players showed declines of 20% or better, except for China’s -12.72%.

Worked Granite Volume

Total: 171,366 metric tons (-20.10%)

Sector leader: China @ 68,320 metric tons (+71.07%)

Backfill: China’s export push in tonnage made it one of granite’s few highlights so far in 2008. Brazil’s June shipments to the United States in June fell by one-third from the same time last year.

Worked Marble Value

Total: $26,277,019 (-5.32%)

Sector leader: Italy @ $12,608,763 (+20.53%)

Backfill: Turkey showed a 26.68% gain in June. China showed an overall gain in first-half 2008, while Spain’s U.S. deliveries fell by 25%.

Worked Marble Volume

Total: 20,487 metric tons (-22.54%)

Sector leader: Italy @ 5,957 metric tons (-1.03%)

Backfill: Italy maintains its dominance in U.S. marble deliveries while maintaining premium prices. China continues to mount a strong challenge, but at low per-ton cost.

Travertine Value

Total amount: $34,664,911 (-26.31%)

Sector leader: Turkey @ $21,597,957 (-25.86%)

Backfill: Turkey continues its dominance. Peru showed overall first-half 2008 strength, although values are less than a tenth of Turkey’s.

Travertine Volume

Total: 83,423 metric tons (+12.47%)

Sector leader: Turkey @ 67,520 metric tons (+25.62 %)

Backfill: Turkey basically owns the U.S. market in sheer tonnage. The big mover among the rest is the United Arab Emirates, growing its June imports by more than 400%.

Slate Value

Total: $8,113,735 (-20.87%)

Sector leader: China @ $3,553,742 (-23.96%)

Backfill: India is a close second at $3.07 million, but saw its U.S. business decline by 17.48%.

Other Calcereous Value

Total: $17,554,212 (-14.86%)

Sector leader: Italy @ $3,066,929 (+14.11%)

Backfill: In this primarily limestone category, Lebanon showed the largest June growth at 39.47%.

Other Stone Value

Total: $21,916,526 (-9.57%)

Sector leader: Brazil, $5,311,865 (-10.50%)

Backfill: Among the leading countries in this catch-all category, Canada posted the only June gain at 7.45%.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

You’re Pulling My Lens!

The vigil finally lifted at 7:47 a.m., as NBC’s “The Today Show” broadcast its report on granite countertops and radon/radiation. The network originally indicated a Sept. 2 air date, but the force of Hurricane Gustav and the Sarah Palin whirlwind bounced the segment around (an teaser ran during the show’s third hour yesterday, but the report didn’t make it) before this morning’s appearance.

Despite some wordplay on the Marble Institute of America’s “Truth in Granite” effort with NBC’s on-air teaser (“We’ll get to the truth about …”), the report didn’t represent a home run for any side of the debate, save for radon inspectors looking to line up more business. Anyone familiar with the debate in the past few months likely recognized Dr. Bill Llope from Rice University and radon reader Stanley Liebert, but the segment also featured health-risk assessor Jack McCarthy hired by, as the narrator notes, “the granite industry.”

The “Today” report comes as the latest foray by the electronic media to tackle the issue, as reporters attempt to cram enough comprehensible information in four minutes or less to satisfy the Short-Attention-Span-Theatre requirements of standard broadcast news. It’s not a knock against the on-air folks; this is an open-ended issue where you can’t point to a particular stone or point-of-origin as the culprit, so there’s no definite conclusion.

Every one of the reports seem to have the same wrap-up: Get a radon test of your home. And getting a whole-house test – not someone just reading a countertop – is good advice.

It’s also worth noting that the broadcast reports, as the summer progressed, seem to take a more-skeptical tone and involved fairly straightforward reporting (although the swell of “doomsday” music as cameras for the “Today” report focused on a meter display was over-the-top). But, don’t take just my word about it – see for yourself.

At Stone Business Online, I’ve started Radon Theater, with links to as many broadcast reports I could find. (The one link to YouTube™ is because I couldn’t find any other reference online.) There are also a few extras, such as the Houston law-office video that goes over the same ground as the KHOU-TV report, although the narration on the former is worth noting. (And Liebert, the radon inspector who keeps popping up – he’s pictured in “What’s Lurking in Your Countertop?” from the New York Times as well – gets his own section.)

I’m sure this’ll raise the ire of those who wish all these reports would just go away. But, it’s important to see how the story’s evolved.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.