Sunday, October 29, 2017

Godliness & Forced Religion -- They Cannot Coexist

As an emanation of holiness our souls are naturally tied to God and long to be one with His oneness.

It therefore follows that we do not need to be compelled to bathe in His light.

In fact, it's just the opposite.

We innately seek out His presence.

Without God in our lives, we fall into depression. Despair.

Without a higher presence overseeing all that goes on, the suffering of this world is incomprehensible.

Without the knowledge that there is an end to all of it, that justice will eventually occur, how can one even function?

The answer is this: Without God, all there is, is nothingness. As it says in Genesis, before God created the world it was "without form," meaning that no physical thing was distinguishable from any other thing. It was also "void," meaning that there was no substance to it, no meaning in it -- nothing.

Many years ago I went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing. I was the type of person people called "intense," and while that is still true, I also had a tendency toward depression. He blessed me to have good cheer. Though life is never perfect, that blessing largely stayed with me.

When you see the world through depressed eyes, everything looks bleak. Everything looks meaningless. It's actually painful to recall, and it's something I'd rather not think about, because I never, ever want to go back there.

For me, faith in God is the antidote for depression. I know there is meaning in the world. God animates us. God is what makes things work.

The antidote of formlessness and the void, is faith.

In just the same way as the body gasps and dies without oxygen, our souls literally cannot breathe without that connection to God.

So it is misguided for any religion to try and force faith on its children. I know intellectually that several things lead to the attempt. Number one, there is the belief that evil is tempting. And so one must brainwash ("indoctrinate" a.k.a. "teach") children the right values so that they don't fall victim too easily.

Another, less positive issue is that people in power tend to want to stay in power. They therefore promulgate the notion that they have a special knowledge about how one should conduct oneself at all times so as to be "good with God."

As such, innocent people, who sincerely desire to walk in His way, become susceptible to being "led," and "leadership" at some point becomes "force." Both women and men suffer from this kind of spiritual leadership.

As a Jew who was raised in the context of Orthodoxy, I understand and believe that God gave us the Torah as a very clear roadmap to morality. I believe that God rewards the good people and punishes the bad people as well.

However, I do not believe that God ever wanted or intended for religious leaders to "weaponize" the Torah so as to oppress their fellow Jewry. (And it follows that the same would hold true for members of other religions.)

Here's to the day when we let people express their spirituality naturally, and when religious leaders view themselves as enablers of that natural human need, rather than becoming obstacles.

We don't need corrupt leaders, in any religion, who add unnecessary obstacles and complexity, so as to create a role for themselves that otherwise would not exist.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by basker_dhandapani via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

Friday, October 27, 2017

10 Reasons I Continue To Strongly Support President Trump

  1. Believes sincerely in God and that his Presidency is a service of faith first.
  2. Affirms that life begins at conception and will work to end unrestricted abortion rights.
  3. Patriotism and respect for our Nation, its history and values.
  4. Speaks truth to power, being an independent President, bowing before no man, not playing Washington, DC's internal games; targeting corruption, speaking out about those who abuse public office for private gain.
  5. Is decimating ISIS, promoting national defense, symbolizing strength and resolve.
  6. Seeks at all times unity despite our differences, working across the aisle to achieve results.
  7. Is achieving economic growth, bringing jobs back to the USA, emphasizing manufacturing and middle-class prosperity; emphasizing tax reform.
  8. Promotes block grants to the states for healthcare, rather than inserting the federal government into the equation unnecessarily.
  9. Is actively and visibly going after after human traffickers, child sex traffickers, and pedophiles, including pedophiles in powerful positions -- working intelligently and methodically, bringing law enforcement together to do it.
  10. Is aggressively streamlining the federal government, cutting waste and increasing accountability, promoting what works and discarding the rest.
Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Image via Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Some Reflections On Jewish Love & Marriage

I graduated Bruriah High School, a religious yeshiva for girls, in 1987. Some of the graduating seniors got married right away. To me it was sort of a marvel, how quickly they sealed up their lives.

A lot of girls went to seminary for a year. That wasn't my plan; I wanted to get to college and out of the petri dish that was my insular little world. They used to joke that I took "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" because I loved New York City so much, and in particular Greenwich Village. And would go there as much as I could.

In my mind I was a feminist. Ask anyone who went to high school with me and they will tell you that I talked about Gloria Steinem all the time. For me, that was feminism.

As a feminist I did not want to get married. I believed, when I was young, that marriage -- or traditional marriage anyway -- singularly destroys women. That was the message I got, overtly and covertly, from any sort of feminist media.

But it is your unconscious mind that guides you. And what I saw from reality, not from TV and the movies, was that a man and a woman belong together. My Zayde and my Bubbie. My Grandma and my Grandpa. My husband's parents -- may all of them rest in peace. Today, living, thankfully, my uncles and aunts. My mom and dad. And yes, me and Andy, thank God.

I grew up in a time when gender was changing rapidly. But marriage was still expected. I started out at Touro College and people paired off right away. My first roommate (whose ice cream I infamously picked apart without asking, which meant that she was only my roommate for a day or so!) married her boyfriend. I met up with her decades later, apologized for the ice cream, and her kids went to the same yeshiva as my kids. Now they live just a few miles away and when I see her I tell her, truthfully, that she hasn't aged a day since high school.

One girl I went to school with at Touro, whose name I can't remember anymore, was so in love with her boyfriend and she married him during my freshman year in school. He died tragically. I still remember her eyes. She had these rings around them. It's hard to visualize because when I do that it brings back all the pain she bled.

My father did not let me to go the co-ed Frisch High School in Teaneck, which was my first choice. I wanted to study Talmud. I wanted to go to a "normal" school. Looking back I am glad that I went to Bruriah. Mainly because I went to a school, however suffocating, where the entire focus was the care and grooming of future young women as women. They taught me to type for two solid years, because "you might need to get a job." They taught me to wear my skirts long, and to keep my elbows and collarbone covered. They taught me -- Mrs. Newman (a"h) taught me, in her infamous senior-year sex education class, where everyone got to drop a question in the hat -- that there was nothing more fun than the private life of a married couple.

"You can even swing from the chandeliers," she said.

Which led me to visualize actually swinging from a glass chandelier, like in that movie The War of The Roses. So no special insight there. But her tone, one of excitement and wonder and happiness and awe, made its mark on me.

Marriage is the natural state of being. 

There is so much more to write on this subject, especially from a Jewish point of view. I haven't even scratched the surface.

But it seems to me that the number one problem young Jewish people face nowadays is the influence of secular society. It's not that people learn "marriage is bad." That's not the message whatsoever.

Rather, the corrosive, corruptible thing is the notion that marriage is optional. I mean yes, it is optional, in the sense that you shouldn't marry the wrong person if you can avoid it. You shouldn't be imprisoned in a life of domestic abuse. No -- of course not -- of course not, to all these things.

But the fundamental state of life is as a married couple. It is a married couple that partners and says "we do the best we can." It is a married couple that takes an honest look at itself, as a team and as a pair of individuals, and says, "this is the lifestyle we've worked out." It is a married couple that picks out dishes and silverware and a living room couch -- or that decides one person is better at this stuff than the other one (as is the case with me, who can't tell a good couch from a bad one).

It is a married couple that tells jokes about married people and a married couple that gets old.

Again, I am not arguing that people should just take the first person they can. Not at all, frankly that is a terrible idea. When it hits, it hits, and that's the end of it. I don't think that very young girls in particular, girls just 18 years old for example, should commit their lives to anyone. They're just too young.

But at the end of the day, the shopping culture of the West has given people a surplus of choice. The marketplace tells us we can custom-blend our makeup, custom-fit our jeans and custom-"craft" our salads. Surely our partner will be custom-made the same way?

They distort the notion of a shidduch, of a zivug. This is a luxury that our grandparents did not have, in their stark raving poverty and isolation. You had who you had in the community, and honestly, that was it.

When I was growing up my mother used to say, "Turn off the waterworks!" She used to say, "You're mad???? Get glad!"

It was a good way to handle me.

Marriage should be undertaken with the utmost of care. Preparing for it is imperative.

Yet things have gone to an extreme.

Marriage, to a nice and decent person who treats you well, is the human state of being.

All adults, whatever their religious beliefs and whatever their personal sexual orientation, are born for love. For a life of love and companionship with another person.

Let us stop asking young people to pass a million litmus tests. To prove their perfection in any way, to God, or themselves, or others.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by NGD Photoworks via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

Monday, October 23, 2017

“The Walking Dead” Premiere: Communicating Through Uncertainty

I've been watching The Walking Dead for many years. After the season premiere last night, I was prompted to think about leadership.


More specifically, how leaders talk to the people during times of uncertainty. 


Sheriff Rick and the crew were clearly outgunned and outnumbered, by the terrifying Negan and his gang. Sure, they had a plan to fight -- but no way of knowing if they would make it.


In real life, sometimes leaders think -- because they're paid to have or get the answers -- that if you don't know what's going on, or if you can't take control of it, then better to just keep quiet.


But having been a child of uncertainty -- my dad is an IT consultant, and we moved every year for a decade -- I can tell you that *not talking about things* rarely is a good strategy. 


Children are by nature helpless, and so they watch their parents for cues. If they don't get the needed information, they will make something up in their heads. When something goes wrong, in the absence of other information, they will readily blame themselves: false belief at least offers certainty. 


If too much time goes on and their parents simply say nothing, or offer up platitudes and lies, they mentally "check out" from the family. 


Fortunately my parents were not like that. They told me the knowns and the unknowns. Probably because I simply would not stop asking. 


Every time we learned of an impending move, my mother had the job of telling me. Face-to-face, a quiet room, a chance to ask all my questions. Nothing would be a surprise. And yes, of course I did get mad.


Reminds me of that time, a few years ago, when the government shutdown loomed. I was working at another government agency, which knew how to handle it: They took us into a room and let us let off steam. 


Not that it was pleasant, for anyone. Not that it increased morale -- not really. 


But it bonded the team together, and when we came back we were more cohesive than before. We had more trust.


During times of uncertainty, it's important to set up a psychological safety valve for the group. Part of that is admitting when you don't know things; part of that is letting people get angry. 


Here's something else leaders can do. In the television show, there was much airtime devoted to inspiring leadership messages. "We will win," the leaders declared. "We have survived so much." "I promise you, this is over."


On and on they chanted, knowing -- as their audience knew -- that the words might not be true. 


But they had the steady drumbeat of commitment, and in times of uncertainty, commitment is what people want and need to hear. 


Genuine words. 


Feel for your people, be there for your people, stand up and cheer them on.


That's what a real leader does when there is "no news to report."


It works. 


People occupy a job, but they want to serve a single united mission. 


It's a bonus if they get to work for leaders (and with colleagues) who continually express an interest in how they are feeling. And who speak with them regularly, giving whatever information they have as though sharing a loaf of bread.


These are the acts of servant leaders, and when we see them, they serve to inspire our faith.


Posted by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal on October 23, 2017. Blog content is hereby released into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

If Rapists Rape Anyway, Why Be Modest?

The deadly gang MS-13 uses the slogan "Kill, Rape, Control."

ISIS, a gang of terrorists that promotes murdering "unbelievers," also helped itself to sex slaves.

In the war in Bosnia in the early '90s, Muslim girls were taken as sex slaves en masse.

During the Holocaust, Jewish women were raped in the camps -- gang-raped, their bodies ripped to shreds inside and out.

Rape happens to 12 year old girls in strict religious communities.

It also happens to totally sheltered boys.

It happens to homeless kids.

It happens to movie stars.

It happens to toddlers and it happens to infants. The FBI just rescued a 3 month old and a 5 year old  sold for sex for a total of $600.

Why do rapists rape? Lots of reasons, but the short answer is because they want to and they can.

They know their victims, and they do it over and over again.

Modesty does not deter them.

So why be modest, then?

Not to prevent rape.

For a Jew, modesty is part and parcel of our value system.

It's about having a healthy relationship with yourself and with God. One where certain things are sacred, certain boundaries are kept, one where privacy is a sign of respect for yourself and for others.

Modesty means we see ourselves as "children of the most high God,” to quote Pastor Joel Osteen.

This is what it means when we read: “Walk modestly with your G‑d” (Micah 6:8) 
"The exact parameters of the requirement to dress modestly depend on the time and place. But the basic idea—for both men and women—is to wear self-respecting clothing, clothing that does not demean the person within by overly accentuating the body, as if it, rather than the soul and its character and qualities, is the primary element of personality." -
As others have pointed out, it's time to end that aspect of Jewish culture which openly or implicitly engages in "slut-shaming."

Slut-shaming -- even to the point of controlling what color lipstick they wear -- is a way of keeping women in the position of victim, even if they haven't yet been victimized, because the meta-message is that it is their responsibility to stop a predator when doing so is frequently impossible.

So let us be clear: It is the predator who is to blame for the sexual crimes they commit.

Not the victim, who so readily blames herself for failing to be sufficiently modest.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by voltamax via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

8 Key Points About Agency Messaging

This morning, October 17, 2017, I attended an excellent lecture by Prof. Lara Shane, a faculty member at American University. Prof. Shane is a top-caliber professional -- an alumnus of the Department of Homeland Security, CBS News, and the Partnership for Public Service, which cosponsored the event with the Federal Communicators Network.

The point of the lecture was to help communicators understand the concept of messaging. Although I think most of us know what that is by now, even to the point of excess, it is helpful to have a very seasoned, qualified and intelligent federal communicator break it down in a logical and step-by-step manner.

Prof. Shane incorporated concepts from Chip and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick, and she used a live example of dense government-style writing to show what many of us do wrong.

Professor Shane's Most Important Quotes
  • "Helping the American public is our ultimate goal."
  • "Just because we're communicating doesn't mean we do it well."
Key Point #1 -- You Need A Strategy
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • Who do we need to engage to make that happen?
  • Once they're engaged, what do we want them to do?
  • Why should they care -- how will this action benefit them?
  • Where will they see your message - use multiple channels
(Source: Prof. Shane)
Key Point #2 -- Nobody Believes the Government, So You Will Have To Prove Yourself
  • The audience has to believe that you are offering a credible source of information, but trust in government is at a historic low.
  • Implicit assumptions like "we're the government, we don't have to establish our authority" or "you have to trust us" don't work; actually they are counterproductive.
  • Feds do not seem to understand just how much the public mistrusts the government (during the event, as I was live-tweeting, someone jokingly responded - "let us know if they attempt to brainwash you").
  • Simplifying, even oversimplifying, is fine, but you need to balance that with copious amounts of open data, well organized.
  • Don't insult the public by treating them like they're stupid.
(Source: Me)

Key Point #3 -- If A Tree Falls And Nobody Hears It, The Tree Did Not Fall
  • Speak in the language of your audience.
  • Keep it as simple, clear and focused as possible.
  • If nobody understands you then you aren't saying anything. Too abstract: "broad mission area." 
  • Focus on a benefit to them, e.g. educate parents about emergency readiness -- they want to protect their children.
  • Offer a fun fact, e.g. "did you know that..."
  • Information has to be repeated 15 times to be remembered.
(Source: Prof. Shane)

Key Point #4 -- You're Probably Turning People Off By Making These Common Mistakes 
  • Jargon
  • Over-complexity
  • Unfocused multiple messages
  • Trying to include every single piece of information
  • Too much data and not enough of the human element
(Source: Prof. Shane)

Key Point #5 -- What Motivates People Is...People
  • It's often about emotion and identity, not just self-interest.
  • Focus on humanity - e.g. the problem exists on a large scale (data); here's how this person's life was transformed.
  • Fear only works when immediate action is needed, e.g. evacuation; don't do fear and anger as a default.
  • Think in terms of storylines - "David and Goliath," innovative/creative ways that agency helped solve a problem.
(Source: Prof. Shane)

Key Point #6 -- We Don't Control The Media
  • The media isn't automatically interested; it takes work to get them to pick up a story.
  • We live in a "sound bite" society -- people have a short attention span and you're competing against many other sources of information.
  • Tie your communication to something they care about, e.g. "federal employees are an early warning sign" when it comes to potential disasters.
  • Tie your story to current events, e.g. sexual harassment awareness and response.
(Source: Prof. Shane)

Key Point #7 -- Lawyers Should Do Law

  • Lawyer's job is "to keep us on legally safe ground" (Prof. Shane)
  • Communicator's job requires different skills - "move people to act" (Prof. Shane)
  • "Everyone thinks they're the best communicators. Especially the lawyers" (Prof. Shane)
  • Audience comment (W. Aaron French, on Twitter): "Battling this [attitude] is my professional work."
  • Another audience comment: "The lawyers think that they know everything" 
(Sources: Prof. Shane and audience)

Key Point #8 -- It Is Impossible To Read Some Of These Dense Government Documents (Even The Summaries)
  • No sentence from the federal government should be a paragraph long. (Me)
  • A press release should not read like a dissertation. (Me)
  • Audience comment: "Why didn't the really important things get bullets?" 
(Sources: me and another member of the audience)

Notes & Disclaimers
  • This is not a complete summary. I could not stay for the entire event, but live-tweeted as much as I could (see hashtag #FCNTRNG). For the sake of accuracy, I've tried as best I can to indicate who said what. The categories of information are mine as are the sub-headers.
  • Personal opinion only. As you read this, please keep in mind that event attendees do so in our own personal capacities, not as representatives of our agencies.
  • Public event. No secrets here; the event was live-streamed.

Public domain. See disclaimer; all opinions are my own. Photo by TeroVesalainen, CC0 Creative Commons, via Pixabay.

#MeToo: "Isn't It Enough Already?"

I think the worst thing about my most recent experience of sexual harassment was the shock.

I mean, I was literally just sitting there.

I thought we were talking about a report.

Until the words rang out in the air: "I think that you should lay it out like a Playboy."

Before that my colleague noticed something a bit off in the superior's behavior.

"You should be looking at her, not me," he said. "After all, it's her report."

I noticed that I was getting yelled at quite a lot, but I thought maybe it's because I'm annoying.

After the comment, I was literally stunned.

I stumbled out into the hallway, and, one at a time, I told people.

Nobody suggested I report it.

I, myself, had no desire for any trouble.

The injustice of it all burned in my cheeks, in my ears. It coursed throughout my entire body.

A couple of weeks went by and I still had to work on the report.

One day I received an email.

It contained a message highly critical of my work thus far.

Again I felt the anger.

It felt like some other agenda was at work.

I called a meeting, with the executive and my immediate supervisor, a positive and supportive person.

All throughout the room, on my desk, and on the side tables, I put down pieces of the report, critical content and the comments I had received, and planned to discuss this document one page at a time, if necessary.

I sat down at my desk, which was larger than usual for my pay grade.

Across from me sat the supportive supervisor and the executive who had made the disgraceful remark.

So many papers. So much material to go through.

I could feel the anger rising in me.

It was unstoppable, now.

It was going through the roof of my brain.

The executive, perhaps unsatisfied with his earlier stupidity or perhaps the victim of amnesia, opened his mouth and I could see he was about to berate me.

At which I said, "I'm so sorry, sir, but as you know I am simple-minded. All I can recall is that you said to lay it out like a Playboy."

The supportive supervisor looked at me in shock.

The executive who had made the remark turned beet-red. "Did I say that?" Emphasis on "I" and "that."

"Yes, sir, you did."

Needless to say, that job was over, though I tried as best I could to simply carry on, and none of us ever mentioned the incident in question again. And no, I was neither mistreated nor harassed after that.

When the job was over, I walked away with zero fanfare, they threw me a goodbye party, I thanked the executive in question for the opportunity.

And that, as they say, was that.

If you want to know why victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, molestation and rape cannot simply "get over it," it's because they keep hearing those words in their heads: "Isn't it enough already? Can't you just go on?"

My own, fortunately minimal experiences, have led me to understand that many others are going through much worse things. Male and female. Too often, as boys and girls.

It hurts a lot to speak up. It's painful. It's inconvenient. It takes time away from things we'd rather focus on.

But it's a necessary part of healing. It's the only way to get better.

And hearing from you helps other people as well.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by SusuMa via Pixabay.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Sad Subtext of "Menashe"

This isn't a movie review, because you can read that elsewhere. These are just a couple of thoughts on an outstanding film that I feel personally connected to, having grown up around some elements of the plot and the characters.

Briefly, Menashe tells the story of a Hasid from Williamsburg who is estranged from his son by the community, following on the death of his wife. That decision was made by a rabbi (the "Ruv") to whom everyone goes for advice, encouragement, support and leadership, and to settle conflicts as they occur.

The luminosity of this movie is that you are plunged right into the world of this community. The downside is that you aren't getting a total and complete picture, because some of the negative elements are downsized, minimized, or eliminated altogether.

Not that it is the responsibility of the moviemaker to produce a documentary. Not that he has to make you love or hate them.

I feel love for this community. I love the ideal of putting God first. I love the honesty, and the fealty to family. I love the Torah study and the primacy of one system that governs all of life.

But the system has its flaws, and Williamsburg, like any other ultra-Orthodox community, has problems that need to be dealt with. I'm not saying how, because I don't live there. But every person has certain inalienable rights: religious free will; parental rights, as long as there isn't abuse; a secular education; freedom from sexual abuse; and the right to inhabit one's own personal approach to gender and sexuality.

I loved this movie; in my way, I loved its idealized world. But the real me can't ignore the issues.

For one thing, no human being, even a spiritual leader, is all good or all knowing.

For another, while the movie showed the reality of poverty and its humiliating nature, it did not show much about how the hyper-controlled educational system psychologically scars many young people, other than their getting kicked out of school unfairly (for example, due to irreligious parental behavior) or being raised "too strict," or with too much homework.

There is no discussion of those who live virtually or completely on the streets because the community doesn't know what to do with them. It ignores pedophilia of young boys altogether, and the rape of little girls; we don't see what happens to those considered disgraced by abuse.

The phenomena of forced marriage is discussed, but overall women's rights issues are minimized as the right to go to school and a brainwashed woman arguing against her own right to drive.

We also don't see the suicides.

Menashe tells a compelling story very well. But it is irresponsible to consider this text absent its social context.

In the end, its best use may well be as a teaching tool.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved.

Hollywood Has A Human Trafficking Problem

The Hollywood problem is not Jewish men, it is not gay men, it is not opportunistic immodest women. It is human trafficking.

Over the past few days, a picture of Hollywood has emerged as the result of countless actors stepping forward. We see an organized network of people, seeking financial gain, who use the lure of work to defraud other people--women, men, and minors--into sexual activity. 

Here's how the scam seems to work:
  • Invite the victim, typically through an agent or assistant, to a location where they will "discuss" a project;
  • Possibly, provide alcohol or other inebriating substance;
  • Lure the victim from a public to an isolated space;
  • Initiate a verbal and/or physical attack;
  • Issue some kind of coercive threat to keep the victim silent--bodily harm, harm to one's career, legal difficulties, etc.;
  • Bring into the discussion the idea of a network, e.g. "if you cross me, you'll never work in this town again;
  • Possibly, engage an agent to "continue the conversation" as though the victim were actually going to get work, and then fail to provide employment; or, "reward" the victim with employment in exchange for their silence.
From the looks of it, some of these people are serial sexual predators in the sense that they restlessly seek people to victimize, over and over again.

Some appear to simply take advantage of a situation.

But by now it is clear that all who participate, are enabling, perpetuating, and contributing to an ongoing criminal enterprise. One which Hollywood did not want America to know about.

The question is only how much, how many, and over what period of time.

Our job, as Americans, is to disable the entire system. Here’s what that means.
  1. Stop patronizing sick Hollywood stuff. Movies that sexualize children. Movies that revel in rape. 
  2. Out the Hollywood predators, obviously, but not by rumor by victims coming forward to law enforcement. Put them in jail. 
  3. Hold Congressional hearings on the scope and extent of the problem, and its connections to other spheres: the music industry, the art industry, international diplomacy, rogue military and intelligence operations, and politics.
As we do so, we should keep in mind that although it may be psychologically comforting to displace our fear onto one religion (e.g. "old Jewish men") or one sexual orientation ("the gay mafia") it is also illogical.

In much the same way, it is classist and racist to focus our human trafficking investigations on developing nations, poor neighborhoods, prison populations, and gangs comprised mainly of people of color.

A true investigation will include wealthy, powerful White people in the United States as well--people we know, people we trust, people who live "close to home."

In these divided times it will be difficult to do, but we can keep the investigation nonpartisan. Working with the President, Congress can legislate human trafficking out of existence, once and for all, by:
  • Eliminating the financial incentive--closing loopholes that allow this criminal enterprise to flourish.
  • Eliminating the perversion incentive--putting predators in jail where they belong.
As part of this effort, we will need to empower internal auditors significantly, because corruption from within will always be a problem when significant law enforcement activities occur.

The United Nations can help by convening all the nations of this world into an international cooperative body that identifies human trafficking practices and perpetrators and cuts them off from the body of humankind.

Now, for the role of the citizen.

Late last year, a worldwide citizen investigation into "pizzagate" began. Inevitably the investigation into some very odd and inexplicable emails and images on an Instagram account were used as political fodder. One day, the hysteria culminated in a tragic display of violence.

Nobody ever thought that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children in the basement. But we also never got to the truth behind all this. One day, I am confident we will.

In the meantime, since I was there from the beginning, I feel confident in saying that researchers were motivated by only one thing: horror at the worldwide trade in children, and a fierce desire to protect them.

From Day One, researchers and experts alike stated that pedophilia, organized or not, has no political affiliation and favors no group.

We also said that we believed a massive coverup was taking place. We could not describe it precisely, though--largely because all attempts to cover the story in a journalistically typical way were thwarted. While it was hard for me, personally, to believe, it did seem very clear that some topics were sanctioned while others were considered off-limits, and anything to do with human trafficking was one of them.

This despite a fair amount of high-profile coverage in prior years.

But the Harvey Weinstein scandal shows that the "pizzagate" investigators were right: It is entirely possible for many people in high stations to hush up a rape culture. For whatever reason.

We will never stop being vigilant now. Here is what I would recommend on that front:
  • That the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, will formalize and expand citizen information pipelines to law enforcement -- in particular, the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.
  • That the President of the United States will empower the citizen investigator by offering them as many open data sets as possible to facilitate their research.
  • That the President of the United States will establish programs, internships, and jobs through which educational institutions, nonprofits, and private companies can partner with the government to investigate human trafficking crimes and help save lives.
People have information, they are great investigators, they are patriots who want to help. 

Let them.

Information saves lives, and we cannot rely on manipulated fake news, only on data, which is impervious to political and financial agendas.
Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by aitoff via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

On The Belief That Some Women Deserve It

I don't have to look very far to find victims, or the people who think they deserved it.

Many of them seem to think so, too.

There's the girl I knew who was taken from the playground and "something happened" to her. She disappeared from school, never to be heard from again.

No, she was just a kid.

There's the one who was sitting at home when the doorbell rang. The guy said he was "from the power company." 

She opened the door and he lunged. 

Should have checked his ID under the door. 

Should have called the power company.

Shouldn't have answered the door at all.

Another one had a dinner party and one guest stayed after the other people had left.

She knew him, he was "a nice guy."

But he overcame her.

Shouldn't have had a guy over to her home.

Shouldn't have been there with him alone.

Having a male in your home, when you're female, is an invitation to have sex.

Yet another person joined the military.

The only girl in the unit.

Attacked when she went to the bathroom.

What was she doing with all those guys?

Everybody knows that women in the military aren't safe.

The stories go on and on. As do the justifications.

Harvey Weinstein? Everybody knows that actresses sleep their way to the top. 

Let's face it, Hollywood is sleazy. 

They knew what they were getting into.

They didn't call the police.

How about women who want to become successful business executives?

You know what goes on at these conferences. 

I had a friend once who told me that she was sick on a job interview.

The interviewer said, "I'll give you a ride home."

"No, I don't think so," she replied, a bit suspicious.

"Don't worry about it," he said, in a tone that conveyed understanding. "I'm talking about a carpool."

And at that he nodded toward his colleague, who had helpfully appeared in the hall.

"Sure," she said. "Thank you."

In the car he said, "Let's stop off for a minute and get something to drink."

"I thought you were giving me a ride home," she said, now a bit afraid again.

"It's nothing," he said, nodding at the other fellow in the backseat. "We'll get you a cup of tea."

In the hotel -- "it's right in the middle of the city" -- he sat next to her in the booth, where he promptly grabbed her breast.

"What????" said my friend. She tried to get up, but stumbled.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said the man. "I lost control of myself, I swear it. It won't happen again."

My friend was unemployed, sick, and had no money to get home.

It seemed that the "carpool" had disappeared, too.

She nursed her tea and prayed for "happy hour" to be over.

Thoughts raced through her head, like this can't be happening and I don't know what to do and maybe it's all in my mind.

She went with him to the car and he took her to where she lived. The ride went uneventfully.

"Let me walk you to the door," he said.

"No, that's quite alright."

"Please, let me be a gentleman," he said.

Against her better judgment, she let him walk her to the door.

"Well good night," she said.

He stood there.

The mistake she made, in her tiredness and wish for all of this to be over, was to unlock the key and step in.

Because then the man pushed her in. And what happened next wasn't good.

"Look, I'm just not interested," she said. But by then it was too late.

He physically attacked her. 

Change course, she said to herself. Let's pretend this is a date.

"Can I make you a cup of coffee?" 

The idea was to "convince" him that he, with his immense charm, had somehow "magically" won her over.

He was lulled for a moment and she went into the kitchen and fumbled around. 

"Cream? Sugar?"

Frantically she picked up the phone, and brought it into the living room, where her attacker had made himself at home.

"This," she pointed to the phone, "is my boyfriend asking where I am."

The attacker, a clean-cut man with his government ID still hanging around his neck, looked at her intently. He seemed unsure if this was true.

"He is about three blocks away, and he is expecting dinner," she said, in a very serious tone. "If he shows up and you are here, then I am not responsible."

My friend is an unbelievably good actress and the attacker was convinced. 

Somehow, by the grace of God, he left her home.

A few years later, she went to a conference about sexual harassment.

My friend hit it off with another woman in attendance. 

They got to talking, and my friend shared her story about that horrible night.

"Oh my God," said the other woman. "Are you talking about---" 

With that, she named the attacker.

"Yes!" said my friend. "Why?"

"Because he did the exact same thing to me!"


"Yes, I had to jump out of a moving car to escape him."

Chills ran down my body as I registered the import of this story.

I recalled what I knew about sexual assault: It's usually not the boogeyman, but rather someone you know. A friend, a family member, a trusted member of the community, a person in authority. Even an acquaintance.

Add "potential employer" to that list.

My friend told me another story, about how she used to work in human resources, way back in the day.

There were always men in charge, men who held "parties" where women "voluntarily" attended to sleep their way to the top.

Men who protected her against other men who insisted she attend a "business conference" to "take notes," then confessed they "dreamed of seeing your hair on the pillow next to me."

Her protector at that time said, "If he ever tries that with you again, you tell me."

* * * 

So who are the women who deserve it, exactly?

Are they the ones who are "inherently slutty?"

Are they the ones who get drunk and pass out?

Are they the ones who run away from home, sometimes to escape the fathers and brothers who rape them?

Are they the ones who work as prostitutes or make porn?

Are they the ones who have career ambitions?

Are they the ones who want to work in Hollywood?

Are they bad girlfriends, bad mothers, terrible wives?

Did they make a wrong turn into an alley?

Should they have learned mixed martial arts?

Should they pack a gun, legally?

What are the women of the world to do?

Should they pay a man to protect them?

Should we always walk in a pack?

Stay out of the park?

Confine ourselves to busy streets, in daylight--no parking garages or parking lots or stairwells?

* * * 

It is easy to believe that "some women deserve it."

The belief makes you feel safer, I think. 

If it's their fault, then you have at least a tiny measure of comfort.

But the truth is, if someone gets a thrill from being a sexual predator, then they will find a way to attack.

What the victims do to prevent them can only go so far.

Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

How Poor Government Communication Strategy Fuels Paranoia

By and large, Americans in 2017 have a fairly negative perception of government–and things are far worse than they were 20 years ago. The government's failure to adapt its communication approach to reality is only making things worse.

Let's take a look at some data.

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,501 adults age 18+ nationwide, conducted April 5-11, 2017, asked people to pick one of three words that "best describes" their feelings about the government--"basically content," "frustrated," or "angry." To enable a comparison of data over time, Pew has repeated this survey annually.

Since 1997, the likelihood of describing oneself as "frustrated" has remained pretty much static, at slightly more than half (55% now, 56% then). But the likelihood of calling oneself "basically content" with the government is statistically much lower, with 29% choosing this word in 1997 versus only 19% in 2017. Meanwhile, the level of anger has nearly doubled in 20 years, from 12% to 22%.

Survey respondents don't trust "the government in Washington to do what is right," either, and their fondness for "the swamp" is diminishing speedily. In 1997, fully 39% said they trusted government integrity "always/most of the time." But 20 years later, that credibility--which could also be viewed as brand equity--has diminished to just 20%.

Mistrust of the government, of course, is part and parcel of American culture. Zelikow et al.'s classic work, Why People Don't Trust Government, points out three obvious reasons why: “Age-old suspicion of authority"; the “sense that politicians have lost their dignity"; and a “deeper set of accumulated grievances with political authority, institutions and processes in general."

The book was published in 1997, before the drop in citizen trust and contentment documented by Pew's annual survey. It was around this time that social media began to take off. And there can be little doubt that this technology, by enabling citizens to talk among one another and back to authority, has compounded the problem of mistrust in government.

It's hard to say for sure when exactly social media went mainstream. But the first bulletin board systems were online by the 1970s, and forums, newsgroups, instant messaging, and other forms of peer-to-peer continued to proliferate. By 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto captured the spirit of the day:
“Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine....Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies.”

As social media picked up steam, corporate, not-for-profit, academic and government leaders alike were confronted with a growing demand for immediate and thorough answers to their questions. As organizational consultant Gavin Rouble has pointed out, their tendency has been to do one of two ineffective things in response. One tactic is to "interpret being questioned as an attack on them," and instead of answering the question, "attacking the person who raised the question." Another is to "answer the question without actually answering."

Regardless of the reason for ineffective government communications, the result is the same: a not-very-tasty (to the citizen) layer cake, where "feelgood" efforts are the most prominent, and "unpalatable," difficult-to-handle, social-media-driven conversations are not only de-prioritized, they're left out of the cake altogether.

In the middle of the cake, there is visible compliance-driven reporting, but it's hard to get people excited about complicated data that doesn't always result in a good news story.

There is also a layer dedicated to customer service: In 2011, then-President Obama issued an Executive Order mandating improvements in this area, noting that "the public deserves competent, efficient, and responsive service from the Federal Government. Executive departments and agencies (agencies) must continuously evaluate their performance in meeting this standard and work to improve it."

Yet in 2017, the energy around customer service, from my experience and observation, remains at the individual level. Though there appears to be forward movement on a number of fronts (for example through the use of artificial intelligence-driven avatars), there remains a systemic problem handling complex inquiries, in multiple languages, with personalized and satisfactory resolution within a short timeframe, along the lines of successful mass retailers, such as

Open data was the subject of another Executive Order, issued in 2013, and the Office of Management and Budget issued a Memorandum outlining the expectation that government data would be issued in open, machine-readable format. In a relatively short time (meaning, the past several years) The General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Service has made a number of strides toward improving the citizen experience with government by leveraging open data; see for example the work of its 18F unit with the Federal Election Commission.

However, open data is still, for the most part, not a concept that most government communication shops see as integral to their missions. The graphic below, which I produced, shows the result of ineffective government communication strategy, using the layer cake analogy.

The U.S. government should have a clear and well thought out communication strategy, based on communication standards that stand regardless of which political party is in power. (Full disclosure: I co-authored a research paper on this issue for the Federal Communicators Network, for which I volunteer.)

The strategy should be updated annually, and success should be measured according to a clear set of goals and objectives. The U.K. has done this for several years.

Until the U.S. formally develops a strategy, we can establish a general, citizen-centered framework that takes into account the realities of today's social attitudes toward government.

The graphic below shows what this might look like: Responses to social media grace the top of the cake, followed by customer service, then open data, then compliance reporting, and finally outreach efforts based primarily on making citizens aware of the products and services they are entitled to.

The bottom line is this: Citizens are more educated and empowered than ever.

At the same time, their perceptions of government are deeply negative, and the situation is not getting better.

As such, if the government does not adapt effectively, citizen-to-citizen communication will ultimately eclipse what it has to say.

Moreover, mistrustful, angry and frustrated citizens are likely to misinterpret legitimate government communications as nefarious. The consequences of this misinterpretation include compounded hostility toward government, with myriad potential negative consequences. One of the most prominent among these is the tendency to favor unsourced “fake news” over accurate data.

The government can respond effectively to this situation by reversing its traditional approach to communication. In this framework, responding to social media is of critical and primary iportance.

To make this shift effectively, the default attitude must be to communicate, even if it’s to say that “we’re not at liberty to say.”

It goes without saying that corruption must be rooted out and eliminated regularly in order for any communication strategy to work.

Note: If you'd like to see this article in the form of a brief presentation, please click here.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own. Graphics produced by the author. Image source: Clkr-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Updated: Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein: Are They Really So Different?

On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published an in-depth investigation of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, with a focus on his alleged sexual harassment of young women over a period of many years, and "at least" eight settlements reached, presumably at the cost of the victims' silence.

The article features an interview with superstar Ashley Judd, who says he tricked her into a breakfast meeting that quickly turned into a protracted verbal tussle. How about a massage? Would she watch him take a shower?

“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask," said Judd of the encounter.

Weinstein promptly fired back, positioning himself as essentially a good guy who has been stabbed in the back by a troubled friend. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he deftly:

  • Calls her crazy: Brings up Judd's history of prior sexual abuse and "brutal" life story -- i.e., she's confusing a friend with an enemy.
  • Calls her a liar: Makes the claim that her earlier account, to Variety, is different from the one she told the Times -- i.e., that the problem is the discrepancy, not the fact that Judd had already mentioned her encounter with him before the Times story appeared. 
  • Ignores the power difference between them: Notes that she went on to appear in two of his movies and that "I even set her up on a date with my brother Bob" -- ignoring the obvious fact that people trying to survive and succeed will put up with a lot of stuff from people who are otherwise odious to them.

In her analysis of the story for The Daily Beast, Amy Zimmerman picks up on the choking level of outrage among women that the Times' story invokes.
"Even for women completely outside of Weinstein’s orbit, the Times story is sure to strike a chord, evoking the sort of mental calculus we revert to when engaging with a potential predator who is also a professional superior."
Certainly the story resonates with me. I can still feel the rage rising up in my throat as I recall a superior who instructed me to lay out a report "as though it were a Playboy," holding up two plain white pieces of paper side by side.

After the Times article appeared, Weinstein issued an apology which reads, in part:
"I came of age in the '60s and '70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it's not an excuse, in the office — or out of it. To anyone."
Reading between the lines I take Weinstein's statement to mean that 50 years ago, it was normal to harass the women who worked for you, but now he "gets" that women are actual people who feel actual pain.

It's not clear how real his remorseful words are though. Weinstein's done everything he can to shut everybody up about his predatory behavior until now; he tried to discredit Ashley Judd; he is threatening to sue The New York Times; and as for those settlements, “my motto is to keep the peace.”

It appears to have been a pattern that Weinstein liked to noodge, and noodge, and noodge until his victims finally gave in to him. As the Times reports:
"a female assistant says Mr. Weinstein badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked, leaving her 'crying and very distraught,' wrote a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, in a searing memo asserting sexual harassment and other misconduct by their boss."
Other women interviewed by the newspaper said he had a habit of "repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself" (emphasis added) in addition to "appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed."

The harassment was interwoven with work, such that Weinstein "could switch course quickly — meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next."

They tried to protect each other; "one woman advised a peer to wear a parka when summoned for duty as a layer of protection against unwelcome advances."

It also appears that Weinstein's behavior may not have been confined to employees, actual or potential. In an interview with The Huffington Post, television reporter Lauren Sivan claimed Weinstein trapped her in a restaurant hallway and masturbated in front of her until he ejaculated.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, now-President Trump was falsely accused of raping a then 13-year-old girl. Nevertheless, numerous allegations have been recorded of the now-President treating women like sexual objects.

Another New York Times article, published on May 14, 2016 (coauthored by Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey; the latter co-wrote the article about Weinstein) create an impression of a man who used his power and money to sexually exploit women:
"Unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace his offices at Trump Tower, at his homes, at construction sites and backstage at beauty pageants....fleeting, unimportant moments to him, but they left lasting impressions on the women who experienced them."
Later, Trump, dogged by a taped encounter where he bragged that he was so famous he could "grab 'em by the pussy," and known for his euphemistically titled "modeling parties," was asked about how women should handle sexual harassment. He provided a relatively realistic response:
“If there’s not a better alternative, then you stay. But it could be there’s a better alternative where you’re taken care of better.”
Sometimes people ask me how, as a feminist, I could support President Trump, given all that's been said about him.

[Author's Note: The section below has been updated to reflect online comments, such as this Tweet by John Podhoretz, and news stories from October 9-10, 2017, such as this Newsweek story, "The Men of Hollywood Don't Own Women: Rose McGowan Becomes Voice Of Weinstein Resistance." See also "Why The Harvey Weinstein Sexual-Harassment Allegations Didn't Come Out Until Now."]

Well, for one thing, our President is far from a sexual predator. I do believe he has a history of objectifying women, and I do believe he has treated some women with disrespect, even rage, at times.

But I believe that President Trump is overall a great patriot, an effective leader, and a good individual. All individuals are flawed.

Maybe Harvey Weinstein would say the same thing about himself. But from the raft of stories detailing his abusive behaviors, I don't think a comparable case can be made.

He donated lots of money to Democrats. It is good to hear that Democrats are walking away from this clearly very sick individual.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by James DeMers via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

The 10 Elements of Free Speech on Campus

The purpose of this post is to highlight the main points of the University of Chicago’s 2012 “Statement Of Principles On Free Inquiry,” later published as its “Statement Of Principles On Free Expression.”
  1. Vision: The purpose of a university is “free and open inquiry in all matters.”
  2. Mission: Therefore “it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.”
  3. Limits: This is not an “absolute” right.
  4. Common sense: Exceptions may include “expression, for example, that violates the law, is threatening, harassing, or defamatory, or invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.”
  5. Operations: “Moreover, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.”
  6. No Paternalism: Despite the need for some restrictions, “the University is committed to the principle that it may not restrict debate or deliberation because the ideas put forth are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the members of the University community to make those judgments for themselves.”
  7. No Peer Pressure: Commitment by the university means that “members of the University community must also act in conformity with this principle. Although faculty, students and staff are free to criticize, contest and condemn the views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
  8. Brainpower Is Your Power: “The proper response to ideas they find offensive, unwarranted and dangerous is not interference, obstruction, or suppression. It is, instead, to engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of those ideas and exposes them for what they are.”
  9. Protect Unpopular Ideas: “To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
  10. Brand Essence: “As Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university. Commitment to this principle lies at the very core of the University’s greatness.”

Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo of the University of Maryland’s McKeldin Library by rainesUMD via Pixabay (Creative Commons):