The Mouth of the Serpent

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..."

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All opinions my own.




The Parable About The Truth And The Lie (Vladimir Vysotsky)

Excerpted from Russian Poetry in English. Cynical but wise.

- Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal

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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

A Very Moving Moment On Last Night's Episode Of "Shark Tank"

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.

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All opinions my own.

PR Has To Pass The Smell Test

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.

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All opinions my own.


Why Propaganda Doesn't Work


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.

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All opinions my own.


Idiocracy 3.0


One day when she was five, my daughter looked up at me and asked, "Mommy, was the world black and white when you were growing up?"

Right or wrong my kids were both raised with lots and lots of TV time. And watching some of the innocent old shows, like I Love Lucy and My Three Sons, she had come to the obvious conclusion.

I was talking with a colleague about how much TV we were raised on, as well. I confided that the moment my parents brought home the huge brown boxlike structure in approximately 1979 was one of the happiest days of my life.

Today of course it's a big taboo for kids to watch TV without parental monitoring, if they are allowed to at all. Introducing myself to the mother of a toddler at synagogue, I asked her what type of shows he likes, and her response was, "We don't have a TV."

"Then what do you do with him all day?"

"Uh, play."

Well that was an awkward moment. But apparently I am not the only lousy parent in synagogue; according to a November 2016 article by Steve Rosen published in the Kansas City Press, "studies show that kids will be exposed to millions of commercial messages and marketing pitches on television, radio, the internet and other social media, even game systems, by the time they’re teenagers."

Now, when I was growing up I didn't just watch TV; I read a lot of books, too. And that might have saved my brains from turning to complete mush, because the ever-present ads on TV are meant to completely manipulate your thinking, simplify it and steer it toward the purchase of whoever is advertising on your favorite show. If you ever watch the documentary Supersize Me, about one man's experiment eating McDonald's food only, there is a segment about marketing-as-mental manipulation that is completely fascinating.

The 2006 movie Idiocracy imagined a frightening, dangerous, sad future where people were so bombarded with advertising and soaked in materialism that they lost the ability to either critically think or to care. And of course, branding--with its emphasis on navigating the consumer through complex buying choices--contributes heavily to this social climate. For example, the classic book Brand Simple, by Allen Adamson (who runs a consultancy with the same name), is all about leading your customer through this decision-making process so that ultimately they choose you.

But the problem with "thinking brand first," of course, is that once you begin to think in overly simplified terms it's hard to go back and get your mind working. We saw this happen during the election season, with media conversations limited to a brief overview and discussion of at-the-moment headlines, absent historical context, shades of gray, or complicated characters. Rather, we got heroes and villains; Tweets; talking points; and of course, the screamingly provocative headline, designed to make you think one way or the other.

This is not a good situation, this idiocracy we've come to tolerate and even celebrate. "Give me the elevator speech," we demand. "Can't you fit your resume on one page?" "I don't read anymore, I scan." "What's the Cliff's notes version?"

Because here is what's happening. On the one hand, we're filling up the freight train of life with input that goes well beyond the human capacity to assimilate and integrate it quickly. Ideas, laws, technologies, news, research, and so on. (Like with dieting, one day it's "cut out the fat" and the next day it's "lose all the carbs.") Impossible to keep up, and we have major decisions to make.

That train is only going faster and faster.

Yet our minds are poorly equipped to handle all this complexity. We have deliberately dumbed ourselves down, or accepted the dumbing down, when we should be thinking more and more critically and clearly.

In my mind, "Idiocracy 1.0" was superstition, eventually superseded by science. "Idiocracy 2.0" was branding, delivered by TV or computer, and it is being superseded by a populace which increasingly realizes that nether the government nor the corporation can be trusted to handle its interests.

But "Idiocracy 3.0" is by far the most dangerous: It is the submission of human thinking to artificial intelligence. We think that just because a computer can absorb it all and spit it back to us, that we will get to sit back and play an extra round of golf.

But one day the machines will take advantage of our laziness, our arrogance and our complete inability to steer the ship. They will be programmed by the best of us.

And we may well find ourselves serving them, principally occupied by making them dinner.

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Photo by NovelRobinson via Pixabay (Public Domain). All opinions my own.

MUST WATCH: Dr. Steve Pieczenik: We Did The Counter-Coup Through E-mails And Assange

A very wide-ranging interview that will help you understand what's going on behind the scenes during a very confusing time in American history.


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All opinions my own.

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