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To the reader: I made these notes when I traveled to Germany, Poland and Latvia with the Missoula (Montana) Mendelssohn Club on their overseas concert tour during the summer of 1989. The tour was part of the club’s tradition regarding Missoula’s International Choral Festival, held every three years, and I was their publicist. The Berlin Wall would come down that November; but at the time of this visit, communism and its rules still prevailed, and reminders of WWII were perhaps more impactful for their stark simplicity. The Mendelssohns experienced extraordinary hospitality – and music – in Poland.

An elderly man mows the weeds between the long rows of barracks. He sits on an old tractor, pulling what looks like an ancient kind of mower attachment. There is no expression on his face.

The old barracks and the guardhouses on this side of the barbed wire are made out of wood, something unusual to see in our brief time in Poland. The barracks are long, low buildings, marching row after row, not even having the decency to sag after all these years.

The main building at the entrance to the camp looks the part: all brick, very much an administration building, very much an entrance guardhouse as well.  It stretches horizontally to either side of the entrance gate, called the “Gate of Death.” The railroad tracks enter the camp through that gate, extending almost a mile toward the back of the property. The length is such that many boxcars could have been accommodated at one time, disgorging hundreds upon hundreds of terrified human beings as if they were cattle entering a slaughterhouse – as, indeed, they were considered to be.

There is no monument at the other end of the tracks. There are not signs anywhere. The camp accepts visitors but resists the trappings of a tourist destination.

Farther back in the camp there are rows of chimneys standing in ancient military precision through the fields, ghosts of buildings long since gone. Utility poles with electric wires run the length of the grounds, and on these wires, birds are singing.

The barbed wire remains, attached at 20- or 30-ft intervals to cements posts. The wire is tapered and curved inward at the top. There are perhaps 12 to 15 strands of barbed wire along the straight shafts of the posts, then four to six more tightly packed strands on the inward curve. Every four posts, there is a light.

It is empty, this camp, but not silent. The mutterings of the tractor and mower can be heard across the grounds. Small piles of hay are heaped in mounds four or five feet high. Workers come along with pitchforks to load the hay into trailers, which are towed away by a truck.

Visitors from our group wander through the compound, talking softly. A small breeze moves through the grass. A haze covers most of the sky, making the sun a pale, dirty yellow which casts no shadows.

Not half a mile away is a major railroad switching yard. Between the yard and the compound, perfectly ordinary Polish houses dot the tree-line country road. A couple of women ride by on bicycles; a tourist bus rumbles by. It does not stop.

At first, the woods at the far end of the compound, beyond the end of the tracks, look inviting and cool in the summer heat. But there in neat, precise German fashion, are the sites of the burning pyres, the gas chambers, and, of course, the sewage and water filtering equipment. It all shows meticulous planning, these 45 years later; everything is orderly, efficient, engineered – planned. All of it planned.

People from our group walk by in clusters of two and three, discussing what they have read or heard until now – and how this building must have been such-and-such, and that site must have been so-and-so. I try to hear the silenced voices but cannot; yet it seems their shadows move through the grass.

Near the entrance, the last load of hay moves out of the gate. We walk back to our buses, discussing other things. A look back at the skeletal buildings, the stillness, the silence. This, too, I think, they have done to Poland. But like birds on the wire, the Poland we have known keeps singing.

 

 

 

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Things I Will Miss about Facebook

  • Patti Atkins’ sense of humor.
  • Connecting with friends across the country that I haven’t seen in years or may only get to see once a year.
  • Updates from Back Country Horsemen.
  • Gorgeous scenery shots of places I love.
  • Photo tours from friends traveling abroad.
  • Watching friends’ kids and grandkids grow up.
  • Great support from friends and family expressed during rough times and joy during great times.
  • Being able to congratulate friends, family and colleagues on achievements and successes.
  • Enjoying some great discussions when I have the time.
  • Inspirational quotes from Michael Bell.
  • Sharp political commentary from various sources – who thankfully are on other platforms as well.
  • Environmental alerts; hope they are on other platforms, too.
  • Paul Salopek’s posts from his Out of Eden Walk. Thankfully, he’s everywhere.
  • Great dancing videos from way back when; and that good old rock ‘n roll.
  • Great sarcastic humor from several special people.

 Things I Will Not Miss about Facebook

  • Shots of food, of meals; folks, it really does take a professional photographer to make food look appetizing.
  • People who STILL don’t know the difference between to, too and two; their, they’re, and there; affect and effect; that “would’ve” is a contraction for “would HAVE,” not “would of;” the difference between allude and elude; and that apostrophes are used to indicate the possessive (the boy’s ball), not the plural (the boys kicked the ball). It’s a credibility thing in my book; I don’t believe your post if you can’t even use basic grammar and punctuation or know what words mean. Grammar nerd here.
  • Comment threads which turn snarky and political after a perfectly innocent post on an unrelated subject. Don’t you people have jobs?
  • Posts with no caption or explanation explaining what they are.
  • Posts not configured for social media and iPhones, with print too tiny to read.
  • Posts which assume a 10-minute video is worth your time. Rarely.
  • Name dropping. Destination dropping. (Showing off.)
  • The assumption that by posting, I might convince someone of a different point of view. Nahhh.
  • Zuck’s complete blindness as to the importance of personal privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve been off this blog for a long time. First, a lot of job and personal changes were distracting; then, I felt completely overwhelmed these last two years with the overload of information we’ve all faced. It’s been hard to sort out my thinking.

But I keep coming back to a core principle: while our methods and means of communication have changed – while the very tone of our communication has changed – I’m not at all sure we’re hard-wired as human beings to change as rapidly. It’s much more difficult these days to think through things carefully, deliberately, strategically; it’s much more difficult to find those sources which you can rely on for valuable perspective. So too often we stop at the headlines; too often we fall for slogans; too often, we go for the most simplistic explanation, disregarding all the grays in a preferred black-and-white scenario; too often,  we give way to the cheapest, easiest kind of emotion that takes no thought, no self-discipline. The easy way out is not as much because we are lazy (though I, for one, often am). The easy way out is a recognition that we can’t adapt readily to the rapidly changing complexities of the world we live in.

We want simple. We want push-button answers. We want to feel safe and secure again, like we belong.

But the answers aren’t there; simplicity isn’t there. So what do we do?

I would suggest that we slow down. Step back from absorbing so much information; winnow things down to what you really need in your life. Take stock of what you most need to do to succeed at your job and in your personal life. Eliminate the superfluous.

Decide on one or two causes you want to focus on during this time of upheaval. For me, there are three major issues: First Amendment rights, the environment, and women’s issues. I donate to some organizations fighting the same battles; and when I can, I take an active role. This summer, due to other obligations, being active has been difficult. But I still have a voice and a conscience, and I can still speak out.

Simplify. Don’t listen to all the voices; they won’t all add to the discussion, they won’t all provide useful information, and too many of them will just clutter up your brain. Take care of your brain, take care of your spirit. Don’t demand of yourself that you acclimate and adjust all at once. There is so much value in walking slowly.

 

 

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Excellent article on the value we provide to our younger colleagues – and the value they provide to us:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2017/12/03/heres-why-companies-should-hire-a-modern-elder/#2b12a1c47b57

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The question mark on the title is because I’m hoping it’s not true.

I frequently told my students that the first thing any dictator (or would-be dictator) does is go after the intellectuals, destroy knowledge, and prohibit free speech. I told them their education was the one single thing that no one, ever, could take away from them. I was thinking of Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” years ago in China when I said that, and of similar instances in other countries throughout history. I  didn’t have a sense then of anything similar happening in this country, but I wanted the students to know the difference between what they had available here and what people in some other countries – such as North Korea today – didn’t have.

And yet in such a very short span of time, here we are – running into it headlong.

Those of you who have followed me on Facebook or even Twitter are probably aware that I’m avidly following the journey of Paul Salopek as he walks “Out of Eden.”  As National Geographic describes his journey on that same page, “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek is retracing our ancestors’ ancient migration on foot out of Africa and across the globe. His 21,000-mile, multiyear odyssey began in Ethiopia—our evolutionary “Eden”—in January 2013 and will end at the tip of South America.”

Mr. Salopek often combines observations about our current western world with thoughts about the history of the places he walks. In the December 2017 issue of National Geographic, he write Part Six of his story, reporting from the Old Silk Road, a network of routes stretching from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan and beyond in Central Asia. The Old Silk Road routes are ancient, used 2500 years ago for trade between China and the Roman Empire.

He is walking through a Muslim world, and writes, “The paradox of Islamic extremism today if that the historical caliphate that jihadists so desperately wish to resurrect would likely repel them. At the height of its power in the Middle Ages, the Muslim world flourished precisely because it wasn’t fundamentalist – it was tolerant, open, inquiring. The freewheeling and polyglot spirit of the Silk Road was one key to this. ‘Central Asia was a major center of learning at that time,’ says Shakzukhmilzzo Ismailov, a historian at the Khorezm Mamun Academy museum in Uzbekistan. ‘We produced many world-class scientists.’

“…But my interest in the region stretches back earlier – to a period spanning the eights to the 15th centuries,” Salopek writes. “At that time Silk Road entrepôts (ports, cities or trading posts) …rivaled or even outstripped Europe in intellectual achievement. This was the Arab Golden Age of science, art and culture…”

He goes on to describe specific achievements of the era, saying “The Silk Road’s noisy bazaars of alien products and ideas – Renaissance European, ancient Greek, Indian, Persian, Chinese – stoked this intellectual explosion. So did a new school of religious thought…which injected rationalism and logic into religious doctrine, fanning scientific inquiry. ‘There were practical reasons too,’ Gavkhar Jurdieva, an architect in Khiwa, tells me. ‘To survive in this desert you need farming. And to farm, you need to understand irrigation, and that requires engineering. We used math to feed ourselves.'”

Ultimately, Salopek writes, “It wouldn’t hold. Weakened by dynastic struggles,the caliphate began to crack at the edges. A purifying movement called Asharism took root against ‘outside elements’ of thought: This smothered most fields of scholarly research beyond religious study. The Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258. The lights of a gilded era blinked out.”

As he watches modern-day tourists in the region, Salopek continues, “…I think about how few people in the world today know how a light bulb works. About the willful ignorance behind climate change denial. About the closing of the public imagination in the West and the resurgence of populism, of tribal nativism. It is an instructive time to be rambling the Silk Road.”

He wonders if, as Kublai Khan once asked of Marco Polo, our journey takes place only in the past.

 

 

 

 

 

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Notes about ethics

Sept. 18, 2017

September is ethics months, and as with most of you, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the ethical problems we are seeing all around us. I wasn’t sure where to begin with an article about our ethical challenges and responsibilities as public relations professionals. Talking about the small challenges we face each day – Should I fudge on my time sheet to look better? Should I score points with the client by saying yes, I can pretty well guarantee this social media campaign will work? – seemed a little like rehashing old territory. We’re people who have signed onto our PRSA Code of Ethics. We’re supposed to know this stuff.

But what happens when you become aware of wrongdoing in your own organization or in a client’s organization? Should we blow the whistle, and if so, how and when? What will be the consequences to us personally?

Two good friends and colleagues, Dr. Cary Greenwood, APR, Fellow PRSA, and Mary Beth West, APR, Fellow PRSA, have written about what it is to be a whistleblower, and when to quit the battle.  Greenwood conducted a study titled “Whistleblowing in the Fortune 1000: What practitioners told us about wrongdoing in corporations in a pilot study” which appeared in the Public Relations Review (Volume 41, Issue 4, November 2015, Pages 490-500). She found that just under half, about 44 percent, of the respondents knew about some kind of wrongdoing, and of those, about two-thirds had reported it. The greater majority, 81 percent, said that reporting wrongdoing was not part of their job.  Nearly a third of those who reported and were identified suffered some form of retaliation.

West wrote on her blog, just this week, about her own experience as a whistleblower. In “What is your Whistleblower Threshold?” she described her experience in an unexpected role herself that she self-describes as investigative journalist and activist. I remember following her tale earlier in the year on her Facebook posts. She was, as always, clear and articulate, but had a seemingly intractable foe. She ended her post saying, “Survival mentality dictates that you cut your losses when you finally decide you’ve stopped caring – or the thing you cared so much about which prompted your whistleblowing is no longer worth caring about to the extent of the pain being inflicted by those who feel threatened by your challenges to their actions, over an organization that they – after all – largely control.”

Because her battle caused her enormous personal and professional pain, I can understand that last paragraph.  There comes a time when you wonder if the battle is still worth it.

There are also some battles that go on for years.  Since 2000, I’ve been involved in a whistleblowing effort as part of a protest against the military’s mandatory, experimental anthrax vaccine. I got involved when my son, then in the Air Force, was required to take the first three shots in the series, saying back then that they’d “just done that to the wrong mother’s son.” During the first few hours that I researched the vaccine online, I wasn’t alarmed. There were lots of reassurances that it was both safe and effective. Eventually, however, the truth began to surface. The Pentagon had asked the manufacturer of the vaccine which veterinarians use for cows and sheep – called the cutaneous or “of the skin” anthrax vaccine – to reconfigure it so that it could be used against aerosolized, or air-borne anthrax. The manufacturer did. The Pentagon used the new vaccine – without researching it, although in all fairness you can’t exactly spray people with anthrax and hope the vaccine works – and without testing or licensing it. It was experimental, and mandatory. To make matters worse, the manufacturer falsified the expiration dates on some lots of the vaccine; used vaccine that had become contaminated; and changed it once again without notifying the FDA.

I went to D.C. to hear testimonies before Congress from service members and veterans. With the help of the pilots leading the effort and many professionals lending their services pro bono, I formed a national group. I went back to D.C. twice to walk the halls of Congress, educating any staffer who would listen about the dangers of the anthrax vaccine. I wrote a “friend of the court” brief for a lawsuit. For a time, the vaccine was declared illegal. That lasted about two years. Then the FDA declared it to be legal, and that was that. These days, the number of shots has been reduced, the vaccine is supposedly safer, and I’m not aware of the same number of complaints. I’m mostly aware of people wanting to know how they can refuse the vaccine (if ordered to take it, they can’t.).

One of my fondest memories is from a radio interview I gave shortly after 9/11. If you’ll recall, there were post office workers in D.C. who received anthrax spores in the mail, and thanks partly to some members of our group, they had the sense to refuse the vaccine and insist on antibiotics instead (Cipro was the recommended drug at the time.). The radio station was somewhere in Ohio, and the announcer asked me if I wouldn’t want to take the vaccine if there were a threat of aerosolized anthrax. “No,” I said.  “You can actually recover from anthrax, but you can’t recover from the effects of the anthrax vaccine.” First time I’ve ever heard “dead air” for about a full minute on the radio.

My son is long since out of the military, and is just fine. He’s a pilot now, flying cargo for a company in Utah. As for me, I run a website at http://mvrd.wordpress.com , which is being redone. I discovered I can’t emotionally handle talking every day to the veterans whose health has been severely compromised or even destroyed by the vaccine. I was constantly crying for their suffering and for their country’s betrayal (this also happened in Australia and Great Britain, just FYI). But because a lot of those men and women became good friends, and because I’ve watched these last 17 years as they’ve sometimes made progress, and sometime just endured, I keep the website going.

Three of the major things I’ve learned from my own activist years are these:

1.      If you repeat something often enough and long enough, people really do believe it.  No one checks the source documents anymore. The fight against half-truths, lies, alternative facts and fake news can never be dropped.

2.      If something affects people personally, they will speak out and often take action. It was because of my son that I got involved. It was because of her own battle that Mary Beth West spoke out this week. It was because she had been a whistleblower and suffered retaliation herself that Cary Greenwood changed the course of her career and became a nationally renown researcher and instructor in the field.

3.      Even if you don’t have a job at stake, which I didn’t, there can still be negative consequences to your activism. I had stepped out as a leader on the national stage concerning the anthrax issue, and as such was subjected to both intense criticism and conspiracy theories concerning my involvement – even from members of my own group. There was an incredibly painful transition when I stepped down. A lot of people who were furious that the group was disbanding had no interest in helping to run it or to contribute financially. Others were sure I had some evil intent, and spread lies all over the internet. The pain lingered for some time. Still, years later when the FDA (or someone) floated a proposal to test the anthrax vaccine on civilian children, there was a tremendous outcry and the attempt was shut down. I like to think we had something to do with that.

It is tempting and easy to turn a blind eye and say, “whistleblowing isn’t part of my job.” I’m sorry, but it is. If we are to be leaders in our profession — and I would submit that every single member of PRSA is a leader precisely because of our Code of Ethics — then we must speak out about ethics, and speak out constantly, all the time. A fear of retaliation is a genuine fear: we can’t afford to lose a job, to risk not supporting our family, to see our own reputations trashed. But sometimes we must take up the battle. If we turn a blind eye, we are part of the problem. Be authentic; be fair; be accurate; be transparent. And most of all, be ethical.

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The following remarks are in answer to a conversation thread on Facebook the last few days. Part of the argument was about whether Democrats or Republicans were more responsible for trying to limit freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These remarks don’t cover all exceptions to freedom of speech by any means, but are just brief remarks that come into play when discussing what tragically and outrageously happened in Charlottesville this past week.

bill-of-rghts-scrollFirst Amendment rights and restrictions:  Charlottesville, and the broader view

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I’ve often said this is the amendment for which I would give my life, and I still feel that way. Regarding what happened in Charlottesville, the first thing to note is “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

But the second thing to note is one of the exceptions to free speech:  “You can’t make offensive remarks or personal insults that would immediately lead to a fight. You also can’t threaten violence to a specific person unless you’re making an obvious exaggeration (for instance, “I’m going to kill my opponent at the polls”). Finally, you can’t knowingly say things that cause severe emotional distress or incite others to ‘immediate lawless action.”

In 1951, the Supreme Court concluded in Dennis v. United States that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the speech of people plotting to overthrow the government.”  From http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2017/03/21/culture/politics/6-exceptions-to-freedom-of-speech.html

In my opinion, the Nazi flags and symbols, and the blatant racism in Charlottesville absolutely incited others to “immediate lawless action,” and caused them severe Freedom Of Speech Quotes. QuotesGramemotional distress. That’s not to say the violence was right – only to say that the violation of freedom of speech falls squarely into the above description. The demonstrators knew they were inciting violence. They were quite sure of what they were doing. They were quite sure of the outraged reaction they would get. The entire episode hearkens back to the civil rights era of the 1950s and the 1960s, but not in a good way: it’s as if we remember nothing and have learned nothing. We obviously have a lot of work to do.

President Trump’s response is not something I’m going to address here. The last two sentences of the preceding paragraph will have to do.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are not partisan issues. They are written into the Constitution and interpreted by the courts. There are certain aspects of the law that ARE under threat, and that all of us should know:

Libel and Slander    The following information is taken directly from the textbook, Public Relations – A Values-Driven Approach, Fifth Edition, by David W. Guth and Charles Marsh, 2012, Pearson Education, Inc. Page numbers are included as applicable.

Libel has to do with the written word; slander, with the spoken word.

These are the four criteria that have to be met when proving in a court of law that libel or slander has occurred:

  1. Defamation – any communication that unfairly injures (“defames”) a person’s reputation and/or ability to maintain social contacts.  A truthful statement cannot be considered defamatory; and you cannot defame a dead person.
  2. Publication – the communication of a defamatory statement to a third party.  That includes emails and other forms of transmission; the word “publication” here isn’t limited to the press or print publication.
  3. Identification: the defamatory statement has to have identified the person or the group of people, or has to provide enough information that the person or group could be identified.
  4. Damage – There has to be evidence that the person or organization suffered injury or damage as a result of the defamation, whether it be financial injury or the loss of social esteem.
  5. Fault – A plaintiff (the person filing a claim in court that he or she has been libeled) – can demonstrate fault by proving that the defamatory statement is untrue.  A truthful statement is NOT defamatory.   (Paraphrased from pages 472-473, Public Relations, A Values-Driven Approach.)

shutterstock_292409498 There is a further burden of proof if a person is a public figure or a public official.  A public official is someone who has been elected or appointed to office who has significant public responsibility and is engaged in policy making. A public figure is someone who has widespread notoriety or has injected himself or herself into a public controversy in an attempt to influence its outcome.

Public officials and public figures have to prove that there was actual malice, defined as “knowing falsehood or a reckless disregard for the truth.” (New York Times v. Sullivan) (Paraphrased from pages 473-474, Public Relations, A Values-Driven Approach.)

 In my opinion, this additional burden of proof is a good thing. If you are elected or appointed to public office, or if you inject yourself into a public controversy in an attempt to influence the outcome, you have to be able to withstand criticism, like it or not, and you have to proof that the criticism was done in “knowing or reckless disregard for the truth” if you want to legally object to it.

The threat to this law is Donald J. Trump. He wants to loosen libel and slander laws because, as we all know, he cannot stand criticism. He doesn’t realize that this law protects the public from the government controlling speech – as it should.  Info here: http://dailycaller.com/2017/03/30/donald-trump-wants-to-change-libel-laws-to-combat-negative-new-york-times-coverage/

Freedom of the Press:  No, the press isn’t perfect; news outlets aren’t perfect. Too often the line is blurred between information and entertainment; too often what is supposed to be a news article is actually an opinion piece that belongs on the op-ed page or in the opinion section, clearly labeled. Too often, advertisers have held sway over the financial stability of a news outlet.

But just as often, investigative reporting has played its traditional and critical role in holding the government accountable and helping to right wrongs in our society. The following is from https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/freedom-press

“The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971)

“The freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment, is critical to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people. A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing. It is also a vibrant marketplace of ideas, a vehicle for ordinary citizens to express themselves and gain exposure to a wide range of information and opinions.“

We all kshutterstock_423746350now the myriad complications to the press caused by social media, and the changes in communication brought on by so many cyberspace options.

However, once again, the main threat to our necessary freedom of the press is Donald J. Trump with his constant attacks on the press as fake news. His attacks are combined with his own proliferation of lies and half-truths that he uses to present an alternate reality which caters to people’s fears and biases.  One opinion on this is here: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/346492-the-trumpian-threat-to-freedom-of-the-press

Again, to repeat what Justice Hugo Black said, the press is supposed to serve the governed. That’s you and me. Despite all the problems with the press and the media, their rightful role is to serve as the “Fourth Estate,” the watchdog of the government. One of the good things about our current political climate is that many reporters are doing just that, no matter who likes it – or does not.

 

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