Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016


"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV."- 1984 ad for Vicks cough syrup


Yesterday Scott Burns, the CEO and founder of GovDelivery (disclaimer: not an endorsement) published "The Elephant in the Room...Is Government the Worst Possible Customer?" on LinkedIn.


As someone who has worked for the government for more than a dozen years, and who frequently helps define requirements for government IT projects, I was interested to hear a vendor's idea of the things that are taboo to say.


His list of reasons why venture capitalists shy away from government as a customer, in brief: 1) excessive customization requirements 2) excessively cost-based decision-making and 3) excessive paperwork.

Overall I agree with Burns' assessment, and hope that the next Administration will take on the challenges he outlines. It will not be an easy undertaking, for the following reasons:

  • Excessive customization requirements are a mask for self-interest. Frankly, many departments, functions, and jobs are outdated and even superfluous. Commitment to a true commercial-off-the-shelf IT solution, together with the adoption of private-sector best practices, makes that obvious.
  • Excessive cost-based decision making is a mask for self-interest. The government has a notoriously high IT project failure rate for many reasons, chief among which is the ignorance and risk-aversion of those writing contract requirements. If you know your stuff, you aren't afraid to specify what a quality solution is. If you don't, you can always defend your decision by saying it was the cheapest. In the end, such thinking is always just the opposite - a costly mistake.
  • Excessive paperwork is a mask for self-interest. Government contracting is currently a nightmarish field of endeavor. I have known some outstanding professionals who work in this area and all of them were unusually well-schooled in the law and also unusually thick-skinned when it came to dealing with the sharks inside and outside the agency who relentlessly pursued their own agenda and financial self-interest regardless of whether it benefited the agency's mission.
In my view it is unnecessary to implore individual government professionals to solve these problems. Rather, we have to take a sledgehammer to the structural incentives that enable them to persist.


Regardless of who we work for, I think most people can agree on the very basic idea that government exists to serve the taxpayer. The taxpayers do not exist to prop up a bloated, inefficient and self-serving bureaucracy.

_________________


All opinions my own. Photo by Mathias Buehler via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Monday, July 25, 2016

On October 8, 2013 the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy released survey results showing that:
  • Most Americans (62%) had a positive view of federal workers (and a majority had a positive view of the federal agencies they were asked about)
  • Almost none (19%) trusted the government itself "to do what is right just about always or most of the time."




Over the years I have received many email chains ("Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:") portraying the government as corrupt or inefficient while hearing verbal anecdotes of federal employees who went the extra mile to help out.

Clearly, federal employees are dedicated. The 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, administered by the government's Office of Personnel Management shows that more than 90% of respondents "view their work as important, are willing to commit extra effort when necessary to get their jobs done, (and) consistently seek out ways to do better."

Feds are also committed to integrity and precision; they don't give you spin. Only 43% of respondents to the survey agreed that "senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce," and 55% agreed that "my organization's senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity."

The father of classical public relations, Edward Bernays - who propagandized for the U.S. government in favor of entering World War I - once famously wrote that "propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government." But today, ambiguity around the nature and purpose of government messaging has in my view created the current environment of distrust.

A better course of action would be to charge Federal employees with disseminating government information in such a way that fact is clearly distinguished from message.This is the model followed by the UK, and we should adopt it here.

______________________

All opinions my own. Child grasping hand photo by Christian Scheja via Flickr(Creative Commons) Worker photo by "ginkgo" via OpenClipArt.org. Building photo by "derkommander0916" via OpenClipArt.org. U.S. Capitol image by "Gerald_G" viaOpenClipArt.org.


In recent months I've had to de-friend a number of people on Facebook. I enjoy hearing diverse views but it has degenerated to this:
  • "Well I know where you get your news."
  • "The fact that you could even say that means you aren't worth debating."
  • "You need help."
  • "That comment is beneath you."
  • "You're an ignorant idiot schmuck."
How has civil discourse sunk to such low levels? A great article by Sean Blanda, "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb," explains it in terms of psychology, the "false-consensus bias." Essentially we are confounded when other people show signs that they don't think the same way we do.

On social media, being confronted by different viewpoints leads us to assume the worst. If you don't agree with me - well then you must be crazy!
"We and our friends are the sane ones and ...there’s a crazy “Other Side” that must be laughed at — an Other Side that just doesn’t 'get it,' and is clearly not as intelligent as 'us.'"
The problem with allowing the "false consensus bias" to proliferate, says Blanda, is that we lose out on the opportunity to actually learn something from those who vehemently disagree with our views.
"If we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this."

As Blanda rightly points out, it is important that we preserve the civic town hall that is Facebook and other forms of online conversation. That is a social need. And it is important for each of us to practice listening, not just preaching, in these forums.

But there is another problem here that must be pointed out as well. When the virtual world becomes a place of forced consensus, those with dissenting views are essentially shut down from airing their unique and valuable points of view.

This can happen in a lot of ways. It can take the form of direct, rude comments as above. But it can also happen in other ways.
  • Shock: "You're supporting who? Really?"
  • Expressions of concern for you, when you begin sharing a lot of news about social ills that really make people uncomfortable: "Don't you think it's a little too much?" 
Sometimes people are actually supportive: "Thank you for sharing that," they might say. Or you see that they've shared your post with others. That is the good side of an online interchange.

I've been part of conversation that changed my own views about the world. Politically, religiously, culturally, psychologically. Whether it's others who have completely different views, or respectful disagreement where the flaws in one's argument are pointed to and countered. Those are the most fruitful conversations of all.

One thing I know. You will never get squashed sharing a personal anecdote or funny statistic; a photo of your family at a family barbecue; cat videos; peace mantras; or anything with Kim Kardashian and/or Taylor Swift. Those topics are safe.

But is that really all there is, safety?

For your sake, and our sake, the world that depends on your uniqueness, please do not be a sheep.

Whether other people like it or not, we all need to hear what you're thinking.

_____________________________

All opinions my own. Photo credit: Craig Sunter via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It is very common for abusive people to compartmentalize themselves.

Last night there was a story on Quora about "the weirdest classmate you ever had." Someone wrote about going to school with a classmate who was brutal and sadistic because his father sexually abused him. The father was discovered online to be a pedophile. Yet this same man successfully prosecuted the brutal kidnap-rape-and-murder of two little girls, and was considered a hero.

Israel has a lot of movies about the Holocaust and dealing with the difficulties of reconciliation with Germany. There is this movie "Walk on Water" where the Israeli Mossad agent falls in love with a German woman. He is supposed to kill the Nazi war criminal and I won't spoil it for you but the whole thing is his moral dilemma over what to do in the present versus how to handle justice for the past.

In America 2016 we have the difficult problem of a Donald Trump candidacy. On the one hand there are those who say he's the nicest guy ever, the best thing to happen to this country since Swiss cheese. Well maybe not Swiss cheese...okay, maybe steak and french fries with a side of salad. Whatever.

On the other hand are those who've been cheated, sexually assaulted and possibly raped (it's horrible even to have to write this), ad nauseam until you see that the "other side" of Trump is some combination of psychopath, sociopath and dictator.

For my part I can easily picture him totally losing his shit, threatening them with silence and pretending that nothing ever happened.

At the ripe old age of 45 I have learned that no human behavior should shock me - should shock us. I am learning to stop painting people in black and white terms. I am learning that there are many ways to look at a situation, not just one way, and that the "right answer" can depend very much on circumstance.

Last night as I watched the Republican National Convention I decided that the Two Sides of Trump will likely dog him, and us, throughout his entire Presidency if he is elected. I realized that the public would have to hold him accountable at every turn, to criticize the foolish things he does, his narcissism and egotism, his failure to realize how some of the offhand comments appear to the public. We will have to watch at every turn that he protects freedom of the press and does not persecute those who disagree with him.

The point is, at the end of the day any attempt to base your vote on "who the candidate is" is foolish. As somebody wrote very eloquently on Facebook, "95% of people are assholes," or something like that.

You have to look at the people behind the person. You have to look at the brand. What goes into political Brand Trump is clearly a work in progress.

____________________________

All opinions my own. Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Monday, July 18, 2016



This information was good fifteen years ago, and it's still good now. Adapted from: Communicators Guide for Federal, State, Regional, and Local Communicators, Federal Communicators Network, 2000, pp. 23-27. Information is quoted, condensed and slightly rearranged for readability and flow. 


THE DO’S

  1. Communicate. Don’t hide behind “no comment.” Even if all you can say is that you don’t know, say so, say why and when you think you will know. Reporters look favorably on people who are trying to be helpful.
  2. Put people first. Communicate your concern about the victims. Help the people most affected by the crisis. In the case of accidents, remember to deal with victims’ families before any other group. If they want you to, intercede on their behalf with the news media.
  3. Be available at all times to respond to your various publics. Take your time in explaining difficult issues to reporters. Know media deadlines and don’t rely only on news conferences. Monitor media accounts and quickly correct errors by contacting the reporter or correspondents. Follow up with the news media to keep them updated about what preventive actions were taken after the crisis ended.
  4. Prepare key points you want to make ahead of time. Make them short and to the point. Try to repeat them several times during the news conference or interview.
  5. Provide brief, precise answers to questions. Don’t ramble. Use plain language. Short answers also help alleviate nervousness.
  6. Be sensitive to legal restrictions regarding information, such as the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act. Know what kind of information is public and what must be withheld.
  7. Stay with the crisis throughout its duration.

THE DON’TS

  1. Never lie or speculate. Provide only factual, confirmed information.
  2. Don’t be defensive. Be prepared for aggressive questioning. You might have to answer the same question several times.
  3. Don’t attempt legal battles in the media. Express assurances that matters of litigation or potential litigation will be investigated thoroughly.
_____________
This information is adapted from the FCN Communicators' Guide as a public service. This best practice guide was produced by independent volunteers. No representation of any individual, agency or other organization is expressed or implied. Photo via Wikipedia.

Sunday, July 17, 2016



Photo by Sharyn Morrow via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I still remember my Zayde’s (z”l) voice, how he never raised it even to the level that most of us would consider normal talking. Yet he was not a soft-spoken man either, because his words were words of steel.
Zayde understood that I was not like other children. For one thing nobody could tell me what to do. This did not stop my father from trying, and as he had a natural tendency toward control it was inevitable that my neck would stiffen in response even if he said so much as “please come to the Shabbos table.”
Family relationships are complicated. It bothered me to see how my father kept trying to win Zayde’s approval. I think if it were me I would have been very angry. But Bubbie (z”l) had been in Auschwitz and Zayde escaped from a Romanian labor camp. So my father kept his head down and diligently observed Kibud Av VaEm anyway. To a level that way surpasses anything I would consider obligatory.
Regardless of the subtle discord I loved my Zayde anyway. His love made up for the fact that my father never seemed to think much of me. Looking back it seems inevitable — dad never able to express his true feelings to his dad, holding himself to a very high level of respect, and in turn expecting the same servitude from me. Which I experienced as unacceptably controlling.
Yes, I was just a kid. But I was always overly mature for my age. Probably a combination of nature and nurture; my mother treated me as an equal, as an adult. Frankly it felt confusing to live that way. Unhesitatingly, Zayde helped balance me. Never preached, but he did not shy away from teaching me — sometimes by quoting the halacha and always by being encouraging. 
“You are a good girl,” he would say. “You are very nice.”
I remember he used to drive me crazy asking which set of grandparents I preferred more. “Here or Monticello?” and by that he meant my Grandma and Grandpa (z”l), who lived in the Catskills.
Was that him being petty? I don’t know. It sure felt painful.
Because the truth of the matter was, despite how well he treated me, I enjoyed going to Monticello more. I am ashamed to admit it: For many years, my patrilineal relatives’ Chasidish clothes and mannerisms repulsed me. As I looked at them the Holocaust came alive.
They were so kind to me. Their own families had been gunned down. I was one of the few that were left.
I could not bear to think of it, I cannot think of it now, the tears start flowing again and I feel fresh blood coming out of a wound that never seems to close over.
Monticello was a relief because I could pretend that such things could never happen again. Although my mother’s parents did not get me in the same way as my Zayde did; they were very Litvish, straightforward, not emotional and not mystically inclined whatsoever. (Grandpa, famously, once threw me out of the house for talking about G-d nonstop.)
For her part, my grandmother loved me in a way that is hard to describe. The truth is she really loved all of the children and grandchildren equally, there was no playing favorites on her side. But that did not stop me from feeling a special connection.
When we made Shabbos over there, the basics were not something we ever had to talk about. I don’t recall a single argument over tznius, a single debate over whether we could use the TV, a single piece of food that was not unquestionably kosher.
Did we debate the halacha? Sure. Oh my G-d, the adults argued endlessly, all the time. Why are Chassidim always late? What is with this feminist movement and its crazy ideas?
I remember that they always ganged up on my dad, the token Chassid. And my grandmother used to say, “Oh Alex!”
My grandmother always felt like he was hassling me. She used to say — when I would leave the dining room table and sit on the couch adjacent to it before we did the benching, and my father would tell me that I have to stay and bench first — “Please stop making such an issue!”
My father and I are at peace now. If we could have my Zayde and my Bubbie back, my Grandma and my Grandpa, I believe we would rewind the clock and erase all the stupid fighting.
I remember one time I was talking with Aunt Sari about why I had become nonreligious. This was about three years ago.
“Blame Hitler,” she said.
In the conversation I understood her words only vaguely. I sort of got what she meant, that the Holocaust had messed us all up.
“You grew up in a fucked up family,” she said.
And continued, “You didn’t see a single consistent model of halacha.”
I, the great orator, tried to get around her but failed utterly. I explained that halacha just didn’t “work” in my life.
“You just do it,” she said. “What’s the big deal?”
The world we live in is secular; “my values” and “your values” are considered relative in nature.
“We’ll leave the light on for you,” said my aunt. Because she knows that I am religious at heart.
Of course, I am not religious enough. Worse, because I espouse one thing and do another, I am a hypocrite.
But we are where we are. Getting on the scale gives us a reference point from which to begin.
In the end, some will always argue for “kilograms.” Others will only trust “pounds.”
But all of us know that body weight exists. An if we stuff our faces to the max, we will probably die from overeating.
_______

Friday, July 15, 2016





On November 17, 2015 the Department of Defense issued an update to its Joint Publication 3-61, Public Affairs, the second update since its original issuance in 2005.


(Unlike the civil service, which operates without a shared set of standards for public affairs, the military has developed clear and concise guidance about how this vital function is supposed to work.)

In reading the publication, my first reaction was appreciation. This is a very sophisticated document. For example, early on we are reminded to tell only the truth:
"PA [public affairs] personnel will release only accurate, fact-based information....Denying unfavorable information or failing to acknowledge it can lead to media speculation, the perception of cover-up, and degradation of public trust....Once an individual or unit loses the public perception of integrity, it is nearly impossible to recover."
Of course, my second reaction was dismay. If the thinking is so good, how can the reality be so disappointing so often?

I believe the answer lies, as usual, in the disconnect between ideals as they are expressed on paper, and reality as it is lived in the organization.

The former can be reduced to logic, at least in theory.

The latter is far more messy.

We still don't understand exactly how organizations work, but we do know that they represent a dynamic interplay between such things as self-expression, cultural norms, and (yes) the raw display of power.

The fact of the matter is, even the doctrine that appears in a guidebook is little more than a social construction. In our country, official communication is supposed to represent accountability. Elsewhere, the situation may be just the opposite, as censorship and manipulation are explicitly endorsed.

What we write and what we do. All of it is socially determined, and the actions we undertake ultimately create a feedback loop that influence the next iteration of the guidance.

I am reminded of a law professor's rejoinder to a student who critiqued his wearing of a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt to class as inappropriate.
"Like the humans who make it, Law (sic) is biased, noble, aspirational, short-sighted, flawed, messy, unclear, brilliant, and constantly changing. If you think that Law is merely a set of rules to be taught and learned, you are missing the beauty of Law and the point of law school."
Here is one thing I do know for sure. It is this that keeps me grounded, both as a person and as a communicator: The truth-seeking instinct is basic to human existence.

For ideas about communication come and go. Culturally they differ, geographically they differ, historically they differ and they even differ based on the current mad dash for technique. For more than fifty years, branding has had its "moment"; the past decade or so has witnessed the exponential rise of social media. Who knows what the trend of tomorrow will be, who will use it, and how that "idea virus" will spread?

But we still read the classics. We cannot put them down. For there is something in human nature that seeks incontrovertible truth. It is a basic to our biology - truth means knowing threat from opportunity. On a spiritual level, it is that moment when we connect our frail selves to the Divine.

And the opposite holds as well. When we try to deceive our audiences, even if it's just a little bit, they know it. And in today's lightning-quick Information Age, they jump away online to a better source of information.

So you really don't need a guidebook to tell you what to do.

Just picture in your mind a homing pigeon.

Picture it relentlessly searching for its home.

Picture your audience doing the same thing with the information you give them.

Know that they have a reliable radar, to filter out truth from falsehood.

________________________

All opinions my own. Photo of homing pigeon by Andreas Tepte via Wikipedia (Creative Commons).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016



"Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.   Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance."

 - " The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black," The New York Times, 10/25/2015

Racial discrimination is everywhere. So please don't tell me that you, personally are "colorblind" or that a movement such as "Black Lives Matter" is "racist."

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' most recent survey on "Public-Police contact" (2011), there is a disparity in perceptions by drivers about whether police are pulling them over for legitimate reasons or not. Only 68% of Black drivers felt this way, versus 74% of Hispanic drivers and 84% of White drivers. And Black drivers were three times as likely as White people to be searched: 6% versus 2%. (The search rate for Hispanic drivers was highest, at 7%.)

Numbers don't tell stories.

I once had the painful experience of listening to a colleague tell me about the "traffic-stop problem," which can reduce even the most dignified, accomplished human being to the equivalent of a cornered animal.

My colleague said that she routinely coached her son about how to dress. She was afraid that if he looked too casual (or wore any type of hoodie, obviously) he would get pulled over by the police and maybe shot.

She was afraid when he left home because she did not know if he would return.

We pride ourselves on overcoming racial discrimination in the workplace but the evidence shows we haven't come all that far. Except when it comes to hiring, we tend to "pull over" White people as opposed to those who seem demonstrably Black.

Remember "Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?" (2003) This National Bureau of Economic Research tested whether "White-sounding" candidates would get more responses than "Black-sounding" ones when applying for jobs.

Indeed, the "White-sounding" candidates were 50% more likely to get called.

While it's true that this survey is dated, one of the study's primary researchers, Sendhil Mullainathan, told Politifact in 2015 that "large gaps" remain. Northwestern University professor David Figlio, also quoted in the article, said much the same thing.

So...racial discrimination: What can YOU do about it?

Two things.

First, please do not pretend that race, ethnicity, gender, and other categories of identity simply do not exist. That is not a plan. That is denial.

Second, please do not think you will ever understand the experience of another human being as they walk this planet.

Self-consciousness, real consciousness is what's needed.

We can start by having a conversation with ourselves.

______________________

Cover photo by Leah Lockheart via Flickr (Creative Commons). Photo of via Wikipedia.

Monday, July 11, 2016

In the first stage, you do what you have to do. Hands over your ears, you march. Elementary school, high school, college, job and maybe grad school. Maybe the military, maybe marriage, maybe kids.
There go your boots on the pavement. Do you hear the rain? That's about all you hear, in the protection of your uniform, as you methodically put one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
In the first phase of your life, success means that you've made a commitment to avoid "distractions." You have to work, work work at whatever you are doing, and do the best you can not to look up.
Inside the bubble you train your thinking mind to stop itself from thinking so very much. Like a pair of noise-canceling headphones, busy-ness drowns out the sound.
Is it limiting? Sure. But it's also soothing: You don't have to deal with anything -or anyone.
But what you may not realize, at that stage, is that your first phase of life is where you most resemble a caterpillar. Yes, you hatched out of your egg - but it's only the first birth out of two.
In the second hatching of life the caterpillar actually consumes itself. It eats itself up into a little ball - yes, it literally digests its own body.
And then it emerges a beautiful butterfly. A delicate, beautiful, ethereal being totally different from the fuzzy worm it used to be.
A creation that flies high above the Earth. 
The life of a butterfly has a profound lesson in human terms.
You start out by living in a routine. It's the office, it's Starbucks, it's yoga class and Saturday Night Live and hanging out with friends or family on Sundays. It's kids, and playgroups, and putting them on the bus for the first time.
It is familiar, that's for sure. You get a coffee with one shot of espresso in it. You know exactly which seat is near the "good plugs," so that you don't go a minute un-charged. You know your food, your clothes, your neighborhood and it seems like that's the way it will always be.
But one day something starts gnawing at your stomach. You don't know quite what the feeling is, because it isn't something you have experienced before.
It's like you want to scratch an itch, but on the inside. 
Soon, like the caterpillar, you find that you are very much eating yourself alive. You're asking the difficult questions, because they've found you. And boy do they give you heartburn.
Are you happy with the way you've lived your life?
What happened to your relationships while you were getting things done?
Homeless people, you saw them - did you feel anything at all?
Where did your faith go? Or what do you believe in? Who are you?
So many questions. You are eating yourself alive. 
Not because something is wrong. But because it's almost time for you to fly.
None of us really understand what another person goes through. But I do feel fairly confident, at midlife, observing this: The second phase of life, what we know as a "mid-life crisis," is fairly inescapable. 
I know because I've been there. I'm still there. (I'll let you know how it goes.)
Seriously, let's be honest, we all know this - personal growth isn't pretty. And we can't really do it in private. More likely we're in the glare of a lot of fluorescent lights.
So if you're going through your second hatching right now, or you know anybody who is, don't think of it as an unpleasant bad thing.
Instead, please give yourself a hearty round of applause.
For if you've made it this far, the next part of your journey will surely be amazing.
___________
All opinions my own. Cover photo by CasparGirl via FlickrMarchingcaterpillar and butterfly photos via Wikipedia. Photo of family by Randen Peterson via Flickr. Photo of homeless man by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr. Tangled cord photo by Prawnchop via Flickr. Jumping out of plane photo by Royal Navy Media Archive via Flickr. (All Flickr photos are Creative Commons.)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I was done with Judaism and I was angry about being done and I was telling my aunt Renee all about it.

It was about seven years ago; that was the last time I ever saw her, before she made Aliyah to Israel.

We were not too far from the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC. Its words are from a speech he gave on March 15, 1941, nearly a year before Germany declared war on the United States and we responded in kind.

A fuller quote from the speech explains why Nazism was not only an existential danger but an ideological one. It is the sick idea that there are a few superior people who deserve to rule the many, and that if they have to do so by force then so be it.
"Nazi forces are not seeking mere modifications in colonial maps or in minor European boundaries. They openly seek the destruction of all elective systems of government on every continent — including our own; they seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers who have seized power by force."
The President explains that the Nazis’ followers were brainwashed into thinking things would be better, more orderly, more stable in the future idealized “new order.” But that is not the way stability works. For stability is based on freedom. Freedom yields willing participation by the many over a long period of time.
"Yes, these men and their hypnotized followers call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order. For order among Nations presupposes something enduring — some system of justice under which individuals, over a long period of time, are willing to live. Humanity will never permanently accept a system imposed by conquest and based on slavery."
No matter how pious somebody seems to be, if they act to control other people’s lives, they are nothing more than evil.

Sometimes it takes us awhile to figure out what is happening. But eventually that lightbulb does go off in our brains.
"These modern tyrants find it necessary to…eliminate all democracies- eliminate them one by one. The Nations of Europe, and indeed we ourselves, did not appreciate that purpose. We do now."
My aunt Renee is observant but she did not try to proselytize me like religious people tend to do when confronted with an angry nonbeliever.

She simply said, “You owe it to yourself to explore your heritage first.”

Those 10 words.

They were the beginning of a very painful journey, one that I am still on.

Because I had been running away from a corrupt, cultish version of Judaism that did not resemble the observant ways I had learned in my youth.

In my mind I never conceived of the possibility that my own personal experience was part of a much larger problem. Which can be briefly stated thus:

Orthodox Judaism itself had become more and more tyrannical, and it was suffocating me.

Was it a coincidence that we walked near the FDR memorial that day?

I don’t think so.

Tyranny is a social disease — a cancer that can spring up anywhere. Even among those who have survived it.

The intervening years have left me wandering, or maybe more like stumbling, along a path that feels something like “coming back to faith.”

Something else is happening as well. Something hopeful, something shocking, something spontaneous that I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would live to see.

Observant Jews themselves are gathering in a loosely networked movement.

We are waking up to that fact that some people use religion as a cover for something that is truly, deeply evil.

Our G-d is One G-d and He gave us the Holy Torah by which to live our lives. Good people can disagree, can have a healthy debate about what the moral course of action is in any given situation.

But bad people have to have their way. And when they try to have their way, they inevitably claim that G-d Himself is behind them.

Truly Orthodox Jews are not tyrants.

We have come to take our religion back.

More on this to follow.

_____________________

All opinions my own.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

So there's this "Ask A Manager" Q&A that's gone viral, at least judging by my own newsfeed and the fact that Buzzfeed did a whole piece on it.

You can read the whole thing for yourself, because it's pretty interesting. But the bottom line is that this manager wouldn't let an employee take two hours off to attend her own college graduation (!).

Of course the employee quits on the spot, after effectively telling the manager off by providing her with a list of all the time she's covered for others.

The manager's question - seriously, she actually asked this - was whether she should do the former employee a favor and send her a letter chastising her.
"I want to reach out and tell her that quitting without notice because she didn’t get her way isn’t exactly professional."

There is more to the story, including the part where the manager implies that perhaps the employee doesn't know any better because she used to be homeless and a foster kid.

Of course by this point we are all enraged at the manager's lack of basic humanity-slash-common sense and the advice columnist (Alison Green) tells her off appropriately.
"If anything, you should consider reaching out to her, apologizing for how you handled the situation, and offering her the job back if she wants it."

Why did this Q&A hit home for so many of us who read it?

I can't speak for other people, but for me it was dismay that the title of "manager" is so easily bestowed on incompetent people.

In this case, the person asking the question clearly demonstrated an inability to do her job, or even perhaps to understand it:

  • She readily admitted to letting someone with concert tickets take off the time, because "there was cost involved" (by that logic, is a college graduation, and all that it represents, cost-free?)
  • She readily admitted to basing her decisions about involuntary overtime on seniority only, without using any discretion as to extenuating circumstances or other factors.
  • She put her employee, the lowest person on the totem pole, in the excruciatingly uncomfortable (and impossible) position of having to ask more senior people to cover for her on a day off.


Here's the thing: Management requires actual work. Not an abdication of your duties.

What that means is, you don't just decide on a set of across-the-board factors for making a decision and then impose them without using your brain.

It means that you don't put people in humiliating situations.

It means especially that when your least senior person is your best performer, you do everything in your power to develop them, all the way up the chain.

Sadly many people look at the management profession as little more than "herding sheep," "implementing leadership decisions," or "keeping the trains running on time."

But it is so much more than that.

It is ultimately about shepherding people, so that they get the most - and give the most - every moment they are employed with the organization.

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All opinions my own.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


As a private citizen I am raising my voice in protest at this travesty of justice. There is only one law of the land. Not two sets of laws, one for the powerful and one for everybody else. While I support her candidacy as versus Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted for gross negligence for her use of a private email server as Secretary of State.

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All opinions my own.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
- The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President (1801-1809)
There is explicit slavery and implicit slavery, and most of us are tied up in chains of some kind.
Often we do not see these chains. Maybe we've been trained not to see them. Or somebody said that they fully ought to exist.
The lesson of July 4 is that we have the right to live in freedom. It is not only a war fought and won nearly 250 years ago. It is an aspiration, it is a way of life, it is a global dream, and it is the ultimate American value. 
We must fight for our freedom, and for the freedom of other people, every single day. We understand instinctively, very early on, that no human can be our true Creator, our boss. In the words of women's rights activist Gloria Steinem, we realize exactly this:
"You're not the boss of me."
Here is what I personally believe. None of us came into this world at random. We have a purpose given to us by the One Above. Our life is dedicated to finding and serving it. And we will account for our deeds, including how close we got to the target, when we cross into the next Existence.
All of our efforts depend on cognition. The realization that we have stuff to do over here, and we have the right to choose to do it - or not. We can get lost in glamorous illusions like money, or addicted to pursuits that waste our time. 
But the only thing that has any meaning is carrying out our mission. And we cannot do that if we are, mentally or physically, or in any way, slaves to somebody else. We must be free.
Freedom always requires a declaration, even that battle cry is only a "still small voice," as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov put it, inside your head. 
You must see yourself as equal to all others in worth. Not inherently better, and not inherently worse. In the words of Aunt Eller from the classic musical Oklahoma
"I don't say I'm no better than anybody else, but I'll be danged if I ain't just as good!"
Freedom is the joy of watching the fireworks. It is the joy of the flame that dances inside of you, when you realize that nobody can truly own you unless you give them permission.
The precious and hard-won nature of freedom makes July 4th one of my favorite holidays. There are always those petty dictators, some of them well-known and others who will be known only to you.
Freedom is an inalienable right. Know that a human being who behaves like a tyrant has no business having authority over any of them. As the Declaration states:
"A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Wishing everyone a happy, safe, and meaningful holiday.
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All opinions my own. Photo and transcript of the Declaration of Independence via the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States of America. Portrait of President Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale via Wikipedia. Fireworks photo via Wikipedia.