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How To Understand The Breakdown Of Civil Discourse

People have trouble understanding each other.

When people identify with a certain group, and need to understand the opposing point of view, often an intermediary is required.

The intermediary, who understands both sides, has a critical social function, is not reducible to a diplomat or a mediator.

  • The diplomat's function is to work with people regardless of whether they truly understand their culture or not. 
  • The mediator's job is to bring two opposing sides to some sort of consensus agreement, even if each will never be able to fathom what makes the other one tick.
In contrast to both of the above, the intermediary creates empathy between the two sides. They do this by providing insight into what makes each one tick, speaking in the native language of the audience.

In the professional world, an intermediary may have any number of job titles. But all of them act as some sort of liaison. 

The liaison comes from both Group A and Group B. This gives them substantial knowledge, footing and credibility in each one, and the ability to translate between one and the other.

Because the liaison is fluent in two languages, so to speak, he or she almost automatically synthesizes between the two and creates a higher level of understanding in their mind.

The liaison is skilled at doing this because of the inherent human need to live in a cohesive manner, not in a way that artificially divides one portion of life from another.

Mechanically the process of translation occurs when the liaison takes elements of the two sides, puts them together mentally, then re-translates back down to each group.

As they do so, they speak fluently in the language that is unique to that specific audience.

An obvious example is parent and child. They come from two different generations and lack shared cultural references. They have diametrically opposing goals, of course; the one seeks to protect while the other struggles for independence.

When I was growing up in the '70s, we used to call this "the Generation Gap." (Now it's not so fashionable to use this term because parents can't admit they're getting old.)

In order to effectively bring a child into society, we as a society employ many organizations to immerse themselves in the world of children so that adult messages about values, responsibility, and so on can be conveyed to children in an indirect, seemingly impartial way that draws on the unique language and attitudes of a youth population. 

There is no further need to belabor this point: For society to function effectively, we need people who speak multiple languages and can weave them into a single whole, or at least a patchwork quilt to keep us warm.

The problem today, at least in American society, is that we lack individuals who are ready, willing and able to translate between deeply divergent perspectives.

The media used to fulfill this function, but it has stopped, and the alternative media is inadequate.

If we are to resume functioning as a stable society, we need to rebuild the liaison function, preferably within the media but also throughout our social institutions.

It's not just about "getting along" with each other, but also about weathering the many challenges we face, now and in the future.

As President Abraham Lincoln famously said, "A house divided itself cannot stand."


All opinions my own.

A Response On The Matter Of Child Abuse By Rabanit Yehudit Yosef [Translated]

Muting the cruel attacks / Rabanit Yehudit Yosef

Subtitle: A tsunami of tears from an anonymous mother; about whom the rabbi and teacher (Rav Ovadia Yosef) said (quoting the Mishna in Nezikin/Baba Kama/Chapter 4/Verse 9)  “there is no guard but a knife”; and also, silencing mechanisms continue to claim victims

Description: The weekly opinion column of Rabanit Yehudit Yosef, the 

Date: Dec. 9, 2016

Source (original Hebrew):

Since the death of Maran (the Rav and teacher, Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l), many questions have come to me, almost every day, about the customs of his home on various issues. (And) in the three years that have passed, many books have appeared that show his conduct and way of life. Some of them suffer “only” from a lack of precision. Others are exaggerated inventions and facts without basis, proving the fertility of the Oriental imagination.

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call about a subject that we almost never talk about in these parts (among ourselves). But with the proliferation of cases lately, it seems that it is time to break the deafening silence and cry out, if only slightly, the silent cry of the children around us. Who knows? Perhaps it will be this that will prevent the next instance of it happening in the future.

There is no doubt that this is the nightmare of every parent. At the heart of every mother, who sends her young children alone to school or to the local neighborhood store, nibbling quietly, is a fear from the danger that lurks specifically within their neighborhood.

Any reasonable person understands that we are talking about a ticking bomb, that collects victims and takes casualties at an alarming rate.

Only in recent days has there been publicized, one after another, stories of cases that are appalling to all.

We do not presume to rule on the law, G-d forbid, but sometimes it seems that stories like these have become a kind of routine. This time a neighbor, this time a smiling man from the synagogue, this time an educator, this time a dignified rabbi. Everyone looks completely normal, amiable and harmless. But in their heads they are hiding a monster. In one moment of sick madness, they mercilessly slaughter pure souls.

Among us (meaning the rabbis who hear about such attacks), every such “happening” adds to a loud moan of (collective) despair. But for the victims and their families, it is an abyss of suffering, scars and bleeding wounds that will will have an effect until their dying day.

When this anonymous mother called me, and gently asked, “How did the Maran (zt”l) teach us to handle such an attack, that happened at a school?” I did not expect the tsunami of tears that flooded from her eyes for the next few minutes. She did not share the details, but she did teach me the terrible consequences of silencing and concealment.

Of course this is a complex and difficult subject, and the adjudication of it is entrusted to the traditions of the rabbis. When they brought such cases to the Maran’s desk, he would first ask them to consult with a local rabbi, with an emphasis on that person being qualified and responsible. That person would investigate thoroughly, with determination and sensitivity to the accuracy of the detail, and give his opinion on how to act.

Indeed, you cannot generalize, and understanding each case depends on knowing many details. In certain very specific cases, Maran decided that rigorous, professional care from within the community may be a more effective way of handling it, if there were the tools and the necessary guarantees to prevent a future incident.

But with many stories that were presented to him, the Maran cried out from the depths of his heart: "What's the question? It is forbidden to ignore this!" And he instructed the requestor to contact the legal authorities. 

“There isn’t a single prohibition (associated with contacting law enforcement),” he would say, “this is a great mitzvah!” And he would use the Talmudic phrase, “When a bull stumbles, there is no protection but a knife!”

Sometimes it seems that attackers simply take advantage of the values ​​of Judaism to continue dastardly deeds. 

As people reared within our community, they are familiar with the mark of Cain that is branded on the forehead of a “Moser” (tattletale). And they believe that the mercifulness which pulsates in our community will prevent us from going to extreme lengths (to stop them).

Specifically because of this, the sword (power) of the rabbis or of law enforcement, which may serve as a deterrent to a future “killer,” he needs to find a way to take care of himself, before he finds himself condemned to the pillory. So why do we still choose to remain silent?

Cliche as it sounds, all of us think of gentle and pure children. Children whose biggest worry is their sticker collection or their dolls. G-d forbid, in one moment, to carry on their backs unspeakable worries and strange horrors. (We believe that) a boy or girl who is attacked will never be able to return to a regular, normal life.

So the next time you see someone from “our world” whose innocent blood was spilled, think about *your* children. Think about the parents who have been condemned to a life full of suffering and coping. About the family that is shocked and shattered to pieces.

Self-righteous proclamations such as "He will change", or "We are endangering his children," only lead other children into a bottomless pit.

Are we able to take responsibility on our narrow shoulders? Or will we protect him (the offender) and let him walk around undisturbed, all the way to the next victim?

Thank G-d, in recent years, awareness of this issue has risen dramatically, and the extent of silencing has decreased. But you can still find those that help “bury” terrible stories, just to keep the good name of the community—or worse, the attackers. No less criminal are the self-appointed “therapists” who use a variety of methods of coverup, without the required supervision of rabbis. They are “askanim” (community representatives) without certification.

All of these people will be prosecuted for every drop of blood that bleeds from the hearts of victims and their parents.

One a well-known school principal came to Maran (zt”l), who claimed that we should raise awareness among educators, because they can identify and deal with the problem of the lack of professional tools.

As was his way, the Maran (zt”l) said to immediately go forward and move on this.  

And at the same time he opened up his own book, “Halichos Olam,” (“Laws of the World”) in front of this principal, which was published in those days, which said: “It is the responsibility of the teacher to give his heart to his students, so that they shouldn’t be hurt by men who are not honest. And (as a result of the correct actions of the teacher in this regard) our camp will be holy and pure.” The Maran wrote there that this is “halacha lemaaseh” (a Jewish term meaning “practical application of Jewish law” as opposed to theoretical principle).

Even alongside the duty of an educator, we as parents are not exempt from what is required. Against criminals who walk around freely, educating our children about protecting themselves and coping (with the reality that predators exist) is the right thing to do. This is a matter of “pikuach nefesh” (life and death, where a person’s life is considered to be at risk, necessitating strong action).

It is understood that one is required to consult with professionals in order to know how to speak with a child of any age according to their level of understanding, from an abundance of caution not to introduce excessive fears. But it is on us to know that we did everything in our power!

One of the teachings of the Maran (zt”l) regarding the education of children was the duty to give them the feeling that they can tell and share anything. Our children need to be absolutely sure that in every difficult or sad situation they have someone to run to and tell, without their being reversed into the “guilty” party, a candidate for punishment.

For this reason, the Maran (zt”l) (also) strongly warned of the damage of punishing children more than they deserved. Instead of making them closer to us, this creates walls of revulsion and detachment. Each child looks to his parents for protection and sanity. But the moment of truth, at every stage of life’s contests, we are not there for him.

To know of professionals, this is the first and basic step, from a series of steps that we have to undertake as responsible parents. A child who lives with the clear feeling that he will be embraced and loved if someone ever threatens, hits or abuses him, is able to save himself and his environment (e.g. to continue to function) if it should actually happen, G-d forbid.

And above all, honest and sincere prayer, from a mother who worries (for her child) and cries (when they get hurt, G-d forbid) will never be rejected.


All responsibility for this translation is my own and any errors are my own as well.

How to Comment on Social Media

Some people get stuck with the concept of commenting on social media.

Commenting and writing are really two different things. There are lots of books, articles, presentations and 1-2-3 posts that will tell you how to build a professional presence online. The general idea on that point is to build a body of work that proves to the world you are a credible, trustworthy presence in whatever sphere you claim to operate in.

Yes, commenting is a form of "writing," but the emphasis is much different. After all, comments are a reaction, they are in a sense defensive, whereas the act of putting something out there is proactive, creative, it takes initiative, and it is fundamentally offensive, not in the warlike way but in the sense that you are moving first.

By their very nature--at the risk of repeating myself--comments put you on the defense. So you have to have good reason for saying what you have to say; in a sense your words are an interruption.

We are living in defensive times, anyway. Every word you put out there matters. It establishes who you are; even the slightest opinion can and will be scrutinized; your command of the facts, and more importantly, how to articulate them, portrays you as either a respectable person or a fake, flake or dummy.

Plus, think about who you're talking to. People who care about the world, but also people who are anxious--about economic instability, inexplicable war and aggression, the overwhelming nature of modern life, with its constantly changing technologies, as well as the constant onslaught of more and more laws and regulations and rules. People undereducated in so many ways, including in the capacity to engage in critical thinking. People who have been silenced and censored for so long, the very act of getting online feels revolutionary.

When you really think about it, making a comment to such an unknown audience is risky. No matter how benign your words, somebody out there will no doubt at some point take offense.

You may deserve a challenge or a correction on legitimate grounds. Or, they may get ideological with you. And they will challenge your comment as an example of "fake news." They will say that you don't know what you're talking about, and meet your statement with a hundred links plucked from somewhere else on the Internet. They will attack you personally.

You comment, they comment and suddenly it is an endless and unproductive protracted debate that makes everyone look bad for the simple inability to end it.

From a communication point of view, then, we have to look at the social media comment just like any other form of information transmission. What are the qualities of a comment that make it most effective, and what are the things you should avoid?

Let's break this into some "Dos" and "Dont's," in no particular order:

  • Identify yourself if you can.
  • Say what you have to say without censoring yourself.
  • Express your truly held beliefs.
  • Share facts that can be independently validated, or opinion columns with the caveat that this line of thinking makes sense to you or is a good read (but obviously you are not expected to validate it).
  • Refer people to a source where they can independently assess the quality of the information you're providing.
  • Be polite and respectful, remembering that you are talking to an actual person, not hitting a punching bag and remembering that other people are watching what you say and what you do. Even if you're anonymous, your behavior sets a precedent for others.
  • Hold people accountable for the implications of what they are saying, but recognize common ground first, if you can.
  • Generally, help to further a productive dialogue that gets people closer to the essence of whatever topic is under discussion.
  • Make statements of support for what another person is going through or sharing of an emotional nature.
  • Censor yourself because you are afraid other people won't like you.
  • Behave recklessly. You've heard the term "drunk tweeting?" Don't let that be you.
  • Say things that you know have no basis in fact.
  • Attack people for having a certain opinion.
  • Engage in personal attacks or make offensive statements.
  • Make reckless statements.
  • Take money in exchange for making comments that appear to be un-sponsored. It's one thing to announce yourself, but quite another to lie.
  • Tell people that they have no right to post a certain thing on a certain platform because there are other places that are more appropriate--you are not the "platform police."
Of course, these are comments based on my own experience and common sense. Like always, it's not any kind of official guidance, does not represent a legal opinion, and is really only the beginning of what could and should be a much larger area of study--especially when you consider how much easier it is to throw a few words and a link into the world than to author an original and well-thought-through piece of researched content.

All opinions my own.

Thank you to my national and international readers

Just wanted to take a moment and thank the good people who take their own precious time up to read my blog. Most of you come from these wonderful countries.
  • United States 
  • France
  • Russia
  • Poland
  • Ukraine
  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • China
  • Slovakia
  • Canada
I am proud to say that my father came to America by way of Canada, Israel, and was born on the border of Hungary and Romania. I am proud of my Eastern European heritage, my connection to the land of the polite--Canada--and of course the land of my religious heritage, Israel. 

May God bless us all, may He keep us safe and focused on doing the right thing always.

- Dannielle, a.k.a. "Dossy" Blumenthal


All opinions my own. 

The Most Troubling Thing About "Fake News"

As a professional communicator, I am well aware that our primary social institutions both make and distribute fake news.

Politicians do it. What is political messaging, really, if not the promulgation of a narrative that twists the facts in service of an agenda?

Governments do it. It's called "disinformation," "psychological operations," and "propaganda."

The news does it. We don't need to go into that. Survey after survey shows that only a minute percentage of Americans actually trust the mainstream media.

The alternative news does it too, on both sides. Let's be honest; just because a "citizen journalist" produced a story, that doesn't make it more believable.

Magazines do it. Who do you think is promoting "new and stylish" products but corporate sponsors, working through celebrities who in turn hire very cool PR people?

Music promoters do it, obviously. As beautifully as you sing in the shower, just being good at what you do isn't going to get you a record deal (or whatever they call it nowadays). In fact, a great many untalented people have their songs played over and over again until we "decide" that we really like them.

Want to introduce the next big product craze? Have you invented tomorrow's "must-have?" You'll have to get into Best Buy or Target or Staples or Costco. And how do you get there? Well it sure helps if you're an "Oprah's Favorite" pick, or if you've made an appearance on "Shark Tank."

Who gets to be a "supermodel?" Which actors and actresses become household names?

What about the medicine your doctor is suggesting you take? Are they at all influenced by the free samples they've received this month?

The most troubling thing about "fake news" is not that some people deliberately craft it in order to make a buck, gain legitimacy, get elected, or even stir up a needless war.  That stuff is pretty much a given.

No, what is troubling now is how effective "fake news" producers have been at:
  • inventing the term;
  • creating fake news themselves;
  • convincing other people to believe it;
  • positioning non-fake news providers as purveyors of same; and
  • instigating ordinary, unbiased people to fear and loathe anybody branded as a "fake news" provider.

We Americans may not agree on everything. But we must agree to unite on this.

The First Amendment isn't up for debate.

You are free to disagree with me, but you can't label me a criminal because I will not go along with your cause.

All opinions my own.

You've Got To Pick Your Battles

Yesterday I did a very difficult thing and removed four posts from my blog. I did it because the subject was that scandal known as "pizzagate," and I'm not going to get into it here, and you can call me a conspiracy theorist if you want, but it is obvious to anyone with eyes that the media is determined to squash this story.

As PR professionals say, "the coverup is worse than the crime" and so the fact that every single mainstream outlet is determined to label it false without offering any reason for this, or an investigation of its own, it is quite telling. Just like during the election, there is obviously a narrative at play, and anyone who dares to step outside and think critically is immediately branded badly.

But I took the posts down. Because you have to weigh the risks and the benefits of doing things. And while Twitter and Facebook are fine places for social activism, a professional blog about communication sometimes is and sometimes isn't. Yes, it is true that my posts centered on issues like censorship, free speech and critical thinking. Still and all, given the unstable climate we are living in right now, it felt like taking a very delicate balance and tipping it too far.

This not the first time that I've had to be careful about when and how I talk about the social cause I've chosen, which is eradicating all forms of sexual abuse, violence, exploitation and trafficking from this planet, and particularly such assaults on children. (There have been other issues, too, but this one is by far the most prominent.)

About ten years ago, I started to become aware of institutionalized sexual abuse in the Jewish community, and to talk about it. One case in particular caught my attention, in which an unlicensed "therapist" was enabled to abuse a girl he was "helping" and the entire community lined up against her. Ultimately, the predator was sentenced to 103 years in jail.

But in order for the justice system to get there, the victim and all her advocates had to overcome a culture extraordinarily wedded to silence, denial, shame and fear. The intervening years have seen great advances in discussion of the phenomenon of institutional and religiously based sexual abuse in the community; now it is not difficult at all to bring up such topics.

Yet many times when I would write about this--primarily on Facebook--people would ask me if I was not a bit "obsessed." They would say, "you're making the community look bad, don't you see all the good people do?"

The bottom line is, my talking about such a taboo subject was an embarrassment to many people. And though one can easily say "this is their problem, not yours" the reality is that shouting from the rooftops is not always the right thing to do.

And so, rather than trying to raise awareness alone, I lent my voice to others, sharing the work of investigative bloggers and especially endorsing the work of the breakthrough organization Jewish Community Watch.

I believe that life is fundamentally about making a difference. We all have something important to say -- that is our gift from God.

The skill of a great communicator is to know when and how to say it.


All opinions my own.

When It's A Bad Idea To Mistrust The Government

Today my Twitter feed is alive with concerns about H.R. 6393, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. 

This is the bill that authorizes a year of spending by U.S. intelligence agencies, including The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI); the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); the Department of Defense; the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); the National Security Agency (NSA); the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force; the U.S. Coast Guard; the Departments of State, the Treasury, Energy, and Justice; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO); the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); and the Department of Homeland Security.

A couple of examples: "If Senate Passes H.R. 6393 it will Declare Alternative Media Illegal! No more Infowars, Drudge, many Others!" Another: "WAPO is the symptom, H.R. 6393: Intelligence Authorization is the problem - get ready for the McCarthy committees." See screenshot.

The actual bill, however, doesn't say anything about shutting down alternative media. It does however authorize three things, all of which make sense from an intelligence point of view:
  • "Submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on the counter-messaging activities of the Department of Homeland Security with respect to the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
  • "Counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence."
  • "Publish on a publicly available Internet website a list of all logos, symbols, insignia, and other markings commonly associated with, or adopted by, an organization designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189(a))."
While it is true that there was a political attempt to insert Russia into the U.S. elections as a messaging agent, it is also true that all countries use political messaging as a tool for exerting international influence. The intelligence bill explicitly sets forth the expectation that we will do so, and will of course counter others who are trying to use such messaging against us.

Another example of misplaced mistrust is opposition to the DOJ's Rule 41, which is intended to secure a court venue for remote computer searches.  This is a rule that enables law enforcement to more efficiently find and stop child predators and criminal hackers who hide behind the Internet, as explained by Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, writing at the blog:
If agents are investigating criminals who are sexually exploiting children and uploading videos of that exploitation for others to see—but concealing their locations through anonymizing technology—agents will be able to apply for a search warrant to discover where they are located. 
And second, where the crime involves criminals hacking computers located in five or more different judicial districts, the changes to Rule 41 would ensure that federal agents may identify one judge to review an application for a search warrant rather than be required to submit separate warrant applications in each district—up to 94—where a computer is affected.
The Congressional Research Service offers several examples where Rule 41 searches have already helped law enforcement. At least one case (the first one mentioned below) shows that limited scope provided limited results for investigators:
"The first publicly reported court case which relied on a NIT [network investigative technique - law enforcement jargon for remote searches - DB] was in 2007, where the government obtained a Rule 41 search warrant to identify a Myspace user who had made bomb threats to a high school. The warrant...explicitly did not permit access to the content of any electronic messages."
"In 2012...the government initiated Operation Torpedo, which involved the
take down of a large-scale online child pornography network....Ultimately, based on this information, 14 individuals were brought to trial on child pornography charges."
Again, there is opposition to an expanded Rule 41, with some civil rights advocates arguing that the DOJ is unnecessarily trying to expand its powers and infringe on the rights of ordinary citizens. As put it,
"This expansion is supposedly justified by the technological arms race law enforcement agencies (like the DOJ and FBI) continuing to claim they're somehow losing, despite billions of tax dollars and years of perfecting their skills. Rather than work within the confines of the Fourth Amendment and other related considerations, the government is looking to create a broad and permanent downhill slope to ease its investigative burden."
Unfortunately, the level of mistrust in--and, I would argue, the outright fear of--the government has risen to such levels that literally every action it takes is suspect. This is not to argue that every law, rule, regulation and policy is right--far from it--but rather that mistrust and fear make it impossible for people to consider its actions objectively.

In terms of fear of the government, perhaps the best example I can think of right now is the very low number of people who have signed the "Investigate the PizzaGate Claims" petition right now on (This is a petition that law enforcement investigate claims of a pedophile ring operating in Washington, D.C., a story that emerged from Election 2016 Wikileaks.) The level of interest on social media is obviously very high -- a Google Search of the term "Pizzagate" yields 2,340,000 results--but only 173 people have signed so far.

The response, when I asked about this, was essentially that "you'll get a lot more signatures on January 20," e.g. when President-elect Trump is inaugurated.

But as Congressman Trey Gowdy has pointed out, repeatedly, the wheels of justice do not operate on a timetable. And, obviously, they should not depend on who is in power.

In matters of holding the government accountable, we cannot lose our balance, either this way or that. We should insist on pointing out what seems wrong or misguided, but this should not mean that we dissolve our capacity to think rationally, and fall into paranoia.


All opinions my own.