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Saturday, December 31, 2016


This week a young Muslim man, Ahmed Khalifa, witnessed a man assault a Jewish woman while she was praying. In his words:
"I was on the Q train siting across from the victim. And the perp just came out of nowhere and hit the poor Jewish lady in the face hard enough that she was bleeding."
The attack happened on a New York subway train at the Newkirk Avenue station in Brooklyn.


Ahmed chased the man all the way from Newkirk Avenue to Coney Island, a distance of nearly five miles.

OnlySimchas.com has a fuller account of the incident, including an interview.

This isn't Ahmed's first act of heroism; he previously saved a homeless man from jumping to his death on the train tracks. What is so amazing, so awesome about this young man is that he translates his belief into a total focus on doing the right thing. He says:
"I just want people to know that no matter what race, religion, belief, etc. you are I think of everyone as equal and I’ll do anything to make sure people know that."
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the zealousness of Matisyahu, the Jewish priest who killed the Greek official who tried to force him to make a pagan sacrifice. This great religious leader went on to lead the Jews in our miraculously successful fight for freedom. 

As a Jew I find that all religions help me get closer to God. It is a closeness that often proves elusive, and I crave it.

Jewish people most often inspire me with principled-ness -- a stubborn determination to do the right thing, even if it means disagreeing with everybody else.

Christians inspire me with their unbelievable faith and capacity for forgiveness, and spiritual rebirth.

Buddhists teach me compassion and a focus on solving the practical problems associated with human suffering.

And Muslims inspire me greatly as well. I see the holiness of their faith. They are fighters for God and of God.

____
All opinions my own. Photo of Newkirk Avenue subway station via Wikipedia.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Yesterday I went to New York and was so happy to be there I didn't mind walking blocks and blocks in the rain just to see Times Square.

It was as though my feet were as light as air, and I didn't have a care in the world. All the troubles and the worries on my mind virtually melted away, as I visited this place I have always loved and enjoyed so much.

Thinking about it on the way home, I realized that it doesn't do any good to be depressed, anxious and worried--about anything. While it's true that negative emotions can be useful in signaling that something is wrong, there also comes a point where you can lean on the emotion as a substitute for action.

In other words, your mind engages in the cognitive fallacy of telling itself that feeling upset about a thing is your duty as a concerned individual and even acts as a means of changing whatever in the world is wrong.

But the reality is, that's just not true. The only way to actually influence a negative reality is to physically do something positive. And the act of that doing, generally cheers you up.

Some people think they can't make any difference whatsoever--after all, they are weak and the power of evil seems so strong! This kind of thinking makes everyone depressed, and the Rebbe (may his memory be for a blessing) warned strongly against it:

"We have seen how one individual (Hitler) brought the world to the brink of destruction, but for the mercies of the King of the Universe, Who ordained that 'the earth shall stand firm; shall not fall.' If such is the case in the realm of evil, surely one's potential is much greater in the realm of good. For, in truth, creation is essentially good, and therefore more inclined toward the good than its opposite."

- from the November 25, 2016 issue of "L'Chaim," a newsletter published by the Chabad-Lubavitch

This Chanukah, and as we head into calendar year 2017, I'll be remembering the Rebbe's message. Just as we light a single light against infinite darkness, so too even one small act by a single human being, regardless of the odds, can do a world of good.

Always stay positive--and continue to do one small constructive thing at a time.

Here's to life, and love, and lots and lots of laughter. Never stop your feet from dancing in the rain.

_____

All opinions my own.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

They created a new executive position and my colleague got the position.

"Work for me, it will be fun," she said of the new department. (It was called Strategic Communications.) "You're strategic."

"I don't know." I had a sinking feeling.

But I did it, because I'm stupid. Left the one boss, who headed up the original department, to go and work for the second.

Why was I stupid?

Because the first boss knew how to fight for territory.

The second one was honest, and she liked to share.

"Here, please take my information," she used to say enthusiastically. "How will we succeed if we don't collaborate?"

It wasn't three months, of course, before I had to get information from the old boss.

"What do you want?" She eyed me warily from the corner of her eye. "Don't look at those papers over there."

"Uh, uh, uh," I stammered.

"Hurry up!"

"Uh, I was just wondering, do you have the research on social media that I did for you last year? That binder?"

"Oh, the puppet master needs information, huh? What's the matter, you aren't that strategic without my help?"

At that she laughed mightily and pretended to rifle around the scattered papers on her desk.

"Sorry, looks like I can't find it," she said. "I guess you'll have to go it alone."

SLAM!

And that was the end of Strategic Communications, pretty much; my colleague ended up leaving the office, and sure enough I went to work for my old boss once again.

The point is, whenever you make a move in business, you've got to do it from strength. If you don't know how to negotiate, your opponent will surely slaughter you.

Which brings me back to the armrest.

I was on a flight back home from vacation, praying that the seat next to me would stay empty.

But of course, it did not stay empty and a wealthy-looking woman said, "Excuse me, miss, but that's my seat."

Whereupon I let her in, and immediately upon sitting, she proceeded to put her elbow all over the armrest that sat between us.

At first I noodged her back a bit, ever so gently, sort of ha-ha-ing and hoping that we would reach some kind of amicable agreement over this little space of property.

All was well for a few minutes, but then I took my arm away to reach for my headphones and computer.

Sure enough, there she was again, her elbow wildly on my side, leaning back innocently and watching TV. Her face wore a small, pleased smile and she pretended to be deeply absorbed in watching a cooking show.

This annoyed me to no end for about half an hour, and I realized that there was no winning this territorial war. She was going to have her armrest, and that was the end of that.

So I took to watching TV myself, and as is my usual habit, watched 35 channels a minute, flipping and flipping and flipping so that I could see multiple shows at once.

Also I put down the tray table and tried to get on the wi-fi, a frustrating exercise, and many times knocked out the headphone cord from the armrest, requiring me to replace it over and over again.

It occurred to me, on observing how I behave on a flight, that I am probably the most annoying person you can possibly travel next to, unless you count that guy who brings three smelly hard-boiled eggs on, and knocks them onto the seat to unshell them, one smelly egg at a time.

There's the bigger picture; you let the armrest lady take one for her elbow, but what you get back is non-complaining rights over everything else that you do.

The funny thing is that without saying one single word to one another, we seemed to have reached an agreement we could live with.

And as we got off the plane, hurrying to avoid all the other passengers, I thought we would never speak at all.

But she stopped me after we got off the plane.

"Have a great trip, wherever you're going, miss," she said.

"Same to you," I replied. "It was a pleasure sitting next to you."

You never know, right?

I should have gotten her name so we could connect on LinkedIn.

_____________

All opinions my own.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016



I saw how many they went

Too many of them did not return

Friends separated, houses broken,

Tears of families spilled



Buds of people flowers that didn't flower

The hope in our heads, the love in our hearts, the dream in our spirits so we continue in our path.



The silence has disappeared for it, again sounds of war

Another soldier returns, wrapped in what? In the flag of the country

Blood and tears absorbed by the land

And another shocked mother is left with just a picture

The hope is locked in the heart, the strong nation will not fold over

Because the son of a bitch that can stop Israel has not been born.




Give me the hope to accept what there isn't

The strength to change what there is.

Come let's continue, our life is in front of us

It's not late because tomorrow is a new day

The dream will perish if we lose the hope

So reach out to love.



You promised a dove, in the sky there's a hawk

Brother, poisonous twig pricks, this is not an olive branch

Living in a dream, everybody talks about peace

But they shoot, oppress, pull, squeeze the trigger

In a world of suicide attacks, the people are still talking

Living in an illusion of righteousness,

They widen the rift in the nation.



Pass madness every day in order to survive

Don't want to live in order to fight,

Sub fights in order to live

Plant hope, sends out roots

Shield in my body for the dream

So it won't be shattered to splinters



Enough, enough with the hurt, enough with the tears

A year that the land bleeds not sleeping and why?



Give me the hope to accept what there isn't

The strength to change what there is.



Come let's continue, our life is in front of us

It's not late because tomorrow is a new day

The dream will perish if we lose the hope

So reach out to love



G-d, give me the hope to accept what there isn't

Give me the courage to try to fix the world.

Come let's continue, our life is in front of us

It's not late because tomorrow is a new day

The dream will perish if we lose the hope

So reach out to love



G-d, give me the hope to accept what there isn't

Give me the strength to change what is

Give me the courage to try to fix the world.



Come let's continue, our life is in front of us

It's not late because tomorrow is a new day

The dream will perish if we lose the hope

So reach out to love.


- "Tikvah," Subliminal, English Lyrics

____
All opinions my own.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Child sex traffickers advertise their victims by taking photographs of the kids in hotel rooms. You can help rescue them.

Here are some fast facts:
  • We don't know exactly how many children are trafficked in the United States each year. A Department of Homeland Security fact sheet, citing the Department of Justice, estimates 100,000-300,000.
  • A 2015 survey of survivors of child sex trafficking found that 63% were advertised or sold using the Internet. (It was conducted by Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University, for Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's nonprofit, Thorn.)
  • The survey also found that the survivors were initially trafficked as young as age 5. The average age was 16.
  • Backpage was the most commonly used site for web-based trafficking of victims, followed by Craigslist and Facebook.
  • 50% of child victims are boys, according to research conducted by John Jay College (2008) and cited by Jodie Gummow for Alternet.
Part of the problem with shutting online child sex trafficking down is the language: Traffickers design coded language specifically to evade detection and prosecution. Gummow quotes Tina Frundt, a survivor herself, who assists the FBI in their efforts: 

"Most providers are unfamiliar with the lingo and code words used by pimps and buyers so we’re missing it.”

Tina's ordeal began when her trafficker, nearly 30 years old, lured her in at the age of 13. He "groomed" her by listening to her troubles with seemingly endless patience, building up her trust, until she agreed to travel with him to another state. 

Once there, he and his friends gang-raped her, and she lost her freedom. She had a daily quota to meet, and was raped by up to 18 customers daily to achieve it. Any hope of escape was dashed by regular beatings, including with a baseball bat, having the door slammed on her fingers, and getting burned by cigarettes. She had little hope:

"Not only was I shocked, I was scared. What would happen to me if I did try to leave, and who would believe me if I told them what was going on?"

Eventually Tina was rescued, but that did not come without its cost. She was thrown into juvenile detention--as though she were the criminal and not the victim. 

Reading such stories, one can easily fall into despair at the plight of these children. We feel helpless--there are so many of them--what can we do? 

But it is possible to help, particularly during this holiday season, when many of us are traveling. Just by taking a couple of photos of your hotel room, you can help law enforcement to identify hotels where children are being held.

Making a difference is easy:
1.    Snap 4 photos of your hotel room (no faces, please)
2.    Navigate to https://traffickcam.com/ on your web browser
3.    Email your photos to yourself
4.    Input the name of the hotel you stayed at
5.    Click the camera icon to upload your photos

Of course, nowadays, people are suspicious of initiatives like this. You're probably thinking, "Who is TraffickCam and where are these photos going?" 

According to the Washington Post, the app was developed by Washington University researchers in association with The Exchange Initiative, which offers "resources, information and networking solutions to combat sex trafficking in the United States." EI was formed by Nix Conference & Meeting Management "to empower individuals and organizations with real resources to help end sex trafficking." Here is more information about its leadership.

I visited TheCode.org, a travel industry initiative dedicated to ending child sex tourism, and indeed Nix Conference & Meeting Management is listed as a "top member." Here is a link to their Board of Directors, as well as the entire list of top members for 2015.

There's been positive media coverage by TheNextWebTechCrunch, and more.

The app is still in its early stages, and while "success stories" are not yet available, there is both national and international interest in using this simple yet powerful app.

So this looks like the real deal. And you can make a difference.

Because even in today's polarized world, all of us can agree that one victim of this horrendous crime is one victim too many.
_________________

All opinions my own. Thank you to Joey Seich for making me aware of this app.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Genesis 7:1-5 introduces us to Satanism.

God has told Adam and Eve not to eat from a certain tree, and the serpent approaches her to dispute Him.

"Did God really say that?" says the serpent.

"He said not to eat from it or to touch it, or we'll die," says Eve.

"He's just afraid," answers the serpent. "He doesn't want you to know as much as him. You won't die."

It is after this, of course, that Eve eats from the tree and gets Adam to do the same.

And the two of them are expelled from the Garden of Eden, after which humanity suffers mortality together with so much pain.

All of this could have been avoided if Eve hadn't listened to the tempting words of the snake. He promised her more power than God...and look at how women ended up. 

The word "Satanism" sounds completely crazy, like something out of a church sermon or that old Saturday night skit, but the voice of that serpent is still so tempting.

We human beings are the dust of the earth, we are nothing. But the devil infiltrates our minds, and fills the psyche with egotistical wishes and dreams. 

As in that typical movie-villain threat: "I've got more money (power) than God, and I will crush you."

This episode comes to mind as I think of President Obama's "parting shot" at Israel, after nearly a decade of pretending (not very well) to be a friend of the Jewish people, and of justice.

After saying "we've got your back" to Israel, Obama backstabbed them instead. He allowed the UN to condemn all Israeli settlement activity in its own land - not only the West Bank but also the Jewish part of Jerusalem. Because of this vote the sovereignty of the Western Wall has also now been called into question.

This is a man who has an unbelievable gift of speech, who had an incredible power to unite the entire world. Not just because of his office, but because of his unique background and his ability to relate to almost any person he met.

But he chose instead to go down the path of Satan, biting into that apple of temptation. I can imagine the Devil whispering in his ear: "Don't be afraid of God, Mr. President. God is really afraid of you."

Maybe today the President woke up feeling like a champion. 

But I have a feeling the thrill will not last very long. 

God will one day soon come upon the President, saying "Where are your clothes, Barack? For you are naked."

"Who, me? I didn't do anything," Obama will say. "It was the Devil, he tempted me. I - I - I..."

_______________
All opinions my own.




Friday, December 23, 2016

Excerpted from Russian Poetry in English. Cynical but wise.

- Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal

________

The Parable about the Truth and the Lie

The gorgeous, delicate Truth was beautifully dressed,
Bringing joy to the cripples and orphans in stride.
The flagrant Lie had invited this Truth as a guest,
Telling her, why don't you stay over here for the night?

....With a mug of a bulldog, the Lie was crooked and sly, -
- The Truth's just a tramp, so, why all this ado?
There's no difference at all between the Truth and the Lie, -
Strip them both naked, you'll never know who is who.


The careful Lie weaved the ribbons out of her tresses,
Grabbed the beautiful outfits that the Truth often wore,
Took her money, her watch and her documents out of the dresser,
Spat on the floor, cursed aloud, and went for the door.

Not until morning did the Truth realize what transpired,
And when she looked at herself, she was taken aback, -
Someone already got hold of some soot and had mired
The untainted Truth, and abandoned her, dirty and black.


....Their report had concluded with cruelty, hatred and meanness,
(As they pinned on the Truth someone else's offense)
There's a scum that's called Truth, but frankly, between us,
She just drank herself naked, and the rest is pretense.

....Even now, an oddball upholds the pure Truth's travail,
But, if truth be told, there's little of Truth in this guy:
- The untainted Truth will one day surely prevail
If it acts in the fashion of the blatant, deliberate Lie.


1977

By Vladimir Vysotsky
Translation by Andrey Kneller

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I don't know if you caught the show, but in the last segment they had a guy whose invention was an add-on for trucks.

Until he stepped into the tank the episode was somewhat painful to watch, especially as an arrogant salesman got a dressing down and a magician overvalued his act by millions.

But the last "audition" was so moving it left several of the sharks, and me, in tears.

The man said that his hometown of Sparta, North Carolina had been devastated by the economic downturn in recent years. He took no credit for his idea, just said that God had given it to him. He needed to earn a living, of course, but his bigger goal was to help Sparta and our Nation to rebuild ourselves and grow economically.

[Warning: spoiler ahead.] One by one, each of the sharks tried to convince him to go overseas for manufacturing. He steadfastly refused, giving reason after reason for keeping all the work here at home. It was obvious he had something else in mind beyond the excuses about quality, copycatting, and so on. It was clear he wouldn't be swayed by any argument that staff would be needed to supervise the work overseas.

Seeing that he was inflexible, the sharks said no, one after the other. But Robert Herjavec paused before refusing. He talked about his father, an immigrant who felt so proud and lucky to be here even though people made fun of him all the time.

I'll be honest with you, I thought that Robert and this guy were talking past each other. "Made In The USA" is not an anti-immigrant platform or ideal at all. And people in America are hurting pretty badly as solid manufacturing jobs go offshore where the labor is cheaper.

But in that moment, watching him, I thought of my own father-in-law (may he rest in peace), a brilliant man who also lived a humble life, working in a garment factory. I knew him very well, I lived next door to him for more than two decades, and I was constantly amazed at how a man who had to watch every penny carried himself with so much dignity and ran to give charity to pretty much anyone who asked.

I began to sob, thinking of him and how I miss him so very badly. On the screen I saw Barbara Corcoran, who normally puts on a very tough face, wiping tear after tear from her eyes.

Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Kevin O'Leary looked over at Robert and they didn't say a single word.

I watched all this and I understood how fundamentally humiliating it is for men, in particular, to get up and get their faces punched in as they slave to earn a living. The Biblical curse on Adam was "by the sweat of your brow shall you earn bread" and in the pain on Robert's face, I really felt it.

Work is not just a way that we earn money. It is a basic source of self-esteem. You can say that "everything comes from God," and it does, but we are all human beings and it is easy to feel like a failure, like nothing we do is ever good enough.

It is easy to hate on rich people and assume they are automatically arrogant. But I'm not so sure this is true.

My experience has been that if you take the time to get to know people one at a time, you see that they are much more human than you think.

________


All opinions my own.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Previously I argued that propaganda is not a good use of organizational resources. In fact it is counterproductive, because today's information consumer is savvy enough to seek alternative versions to any manipulated version of the truth.

But public relations remains useful. The profession can broadly be understood as "portraying the organization in its best possible light," balancing truthfulness with a commitment to advocating their particular point of view. (See the values statement of the Public Relations Society of America.)

Sadly however I frequently find that PR efforts don't live up to the values they should. And this isn't because its practitioners lack expertise, although of course some do. Rather, nine times out of ten the fault lies squarely in the lap of the client.

Let me explain. Most of us, as consumers of information, can readily tell when something "smells." In particular, the vicious U.S. presidential campaign of 2016 forced all of us into a graduate seminar on advanced political communication. Now, we are such a cynical bunch. No sooner does a piece of "news" creep into the headlines than the hordes descend to dissect it, criticize it, analyze it, and debunk it if at all possible.

But a kind of cognitive failure occurs when these same people turn into information promoters. When it's somebody else's kids, it's easy to come out and say it: "That's an ugly baby." For their own product or service (child), no amount of praise is too high: "Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous."

A good example of this cognitive fallacy in action is Hillary Clinton's loss in the election. A poorly led PR effort blames the Russians, the FBI and "angry white men" for the loss. But a more credible analysis, one offered by Democratic insiders, posits that insularity itself was to blame. 

How willing is the client to do a "murder board?" This is a somewhat scary but apt term for assembling a group of smart people to criticize the client before they go out in front of a public audience.  I've participated in some of these, no-holds-barred, and they are a fantastic tool for the intelligent, organizationally and psychologically healthy client.

Clients who fail the "smell test" have no tolerance for criticism. And I have worked for other clients who were like this. It is the PR professional's job to protect the client's reputation by asking them the difficult questions, but these clients just didn't get it. 

Once I told a client repeatedly that their basic business model made no sense to me, or anyone I described it to. The response: "How can you ask that? Didn't you read the brochure?"

Another client had a scandal brewing in the background. I asked about it. The response was: "Be careful with questions like that."

One person threw a sheaf of papers in my face; they weren't averse to talking about potential criticism, but only certain people were qualified to offer their thoughts about it.

Another yelled at me over and over again. The unspoken policy depended on a kind of "magical thinking," involving "good news or silence." All were expected to abide by that policy, even in private. 

Now, the truth is that clients can get lucky; maybe a public blowback over their activities isn't going to happen, or will never make much difference.

But that doesn't change the nature of good work, or what the PR person is professionally bound to do for the client. And the #1 duty of the PR person is--to be blunt about it--to tell you that your shit actually does stink. Each and every time.

This is what I love about the TV show "Shark Tank," where potential investors ask difficult questions of aspiring entrepreneurs. Often they're mean, so mean it's stinging. Yet to play along with someone's fantasies of grandeur is worse in the end--not just financially, but emotionally as well. As people sink their entire selves into the businesses of their dreams.

Back to PR: It really doesn't matter what you're selling, be it products or services or ideas. The public is growing ever more sophisticated by the day. Especially in difficult economic times, in times of social turmoil, people are scrutinizing every word you say and every single thing you do.

More than that, they will actually distort the words you utter, they will portray your intentions inaccurately, they will string together unrelated items and they will concoct stories about you based on their worst prejudices and fears.

The world we live in is increasingly unforgiving. If you're a stupid, dysfunctional client, you will find it impossible to squeeze by on lavish photo ops and press releases.

______________

All opinions my own.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Every year the widely respected public relations firm Edelman does a global survey to measure people's trust in various social institutions. The 2016 survey showed that worldwide, trust in the media has increased and is now at 57% (+6) among the "informed public" and 47%  (+2) in the "general population."

But those numbers are still not great. And in the United States, according to Gallup, trust in the media has fallen "to a new low," with only 32% of Americans professing "a great deal" or "a fair amount."

In America, at least, the problem could be one of misplaced expectations. That is, pop culture frequently serves up the dynamic, dedicated, selfless reporter who will stop at nothing to get to the truth. The movie Spotlight is a perfect example, as it tells how reporters at the Boston Globe revealed large-scale child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. 

So a lot of us think that journalists are "supposed" to be free, independent and objective. But the reality is actually much different: Corporations own the media, and governments exert influence over what they say. So the starting point for all mass reporting is by definition not "the truth."

Further, the media has historically been used as a vehicle for propaganda and falsehoods. In "The Real History of Fake News," (Columbia Journalism Review, December 15, 2016), David Uberti notes that American journalism has a "very long tradition of news-related hoaxes," citing the work of Georgetown University Professor Jonathan Ladd, author of Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters (2011). Says Ladd: “The existence of an independent, powerful, widely respected news media establishment is an historical anomaly."

Uberti further quotes President Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1807: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

If the media is not and was never meant to be a repository of truth, it is by definition not going to deliver news objectively. Most people, having witnessed the repeated falsehoods uttered by and perpetuated in the media, therefore do not trust it. 

Take this line of thinking a step further, and it becomes obvious why propaganda does not work. Over time, people have learned not to trust what they see in the news. Yet governments persist in the use of propaganda, which is really biased reporting in the attempt to influence public opinion.

The logical person, perceiving that the media is out to sell them a story, will not automatically believe the narrative. Rather, they will question the story that is seemingly being shoved directly down their throats. And they will deliberately seek out counter-narratives, in order to find out what the media isn't telling us.

All nations have their interests, of course, and they practice the art of using words to gain more power. As Winston Churchill famously put it: "Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions." 

But politicians do not understand that their listeners are also "prosumers" - proactive, empowered consumers with global access to information. They will spend hours debating the relative benefits of a vacuum, they will fight endlessly over Starbucks versus Dunkin' Donuts, and yes, they will access both domestic and foreign television and social media to form their opinions on the news.

For that reason, propaganda as it is traditionally understood is doomed to utter failure. And every penny spent on it is wasted.

What is the alternative?

Re-conceive the nature of propaganda itself. It is not about conveying a "consistent message that makes us look good." 

Rather, it is about actually telling the truth, and revealing how the enemy is lying. 

You may not be able to say everything, but you can at least tell your side of the story, warts and all. 

It goes without saying that foreign propaganda can and will be accessed by domestic audiences. To think they can be separated is to make a false distinction, much like the line often drawn between external and internal communication.

Also, if you do bad things, illegal things, no amount of propaganda is going to "fix" that. In fact, "massaging the truth" (i.e., lying) only makes it worse. 

It's time to retire the term "propaganda." It is a waste of time and a waste of money.

____
All opinions my own.