April 19, 2007

making sense of the senseless

Posted in Cho Seung-Hui, Iraq, President Bush, Virginia, Virginia Tech at 12:50 pm by alonac

Last Monday, a very lonely, severely mentally disturbed man opened fire in a Virginia Tech classroom, ending the lives of 32 bright and promising students. Immediately, news crews from around the country descended on Blacksburg. President Bush along with his wife came shortly after to pay their respects. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, called for a moment of silence.

I watched in horror and grieved for the parents of those young men and women whose lives ended that day. The next day, as our nation was still trying to make sense of the Virginia tragedy, now prominently labeled the worst mass murder in our history, more than 170 people died in Iraq.

 What happened in Virginia last Monday happens in Iraq every day. Let’s imagine the unimaginable now: A mass shooting like the one in Virginia, happening here on our soil every day. This tragedy in Blacksburg really brought it home.

 On the daily basis we hear of young American and Iraqi lives ending in Baghdad. Granted, it is a very different conflict but the cost is ultimately the same—someone’s dreams, hopes, ambitions, disappearing with a shot, a bomb, an accident. Yet we, Americans, are becoming more and more desensitized to murder. One difference however is that the House Speaker isn’t observing minutes of silence, and our President isn’t attending funerals for the young American soldiers who lost their lives fighting this senseless war.

 So what we do is analyze, research, try to get into the minds of the killers, in other words, we try to make sense of the tragedy. When we can’t make sense of the tragedy, we resort to partisan politics, backstabbing, and infinite punditry. In the midst of all the infighting within our government, more and more lives are being lost on the daily basis.

 Maybe this would be a good time to stop and think about how inconceivable, unfair, and utterly tragic it is to have someone’s life vanish before our eyes.  And it doesn’t ultimately matter whether that life was in Blacksburg Virginia, Baghdad, Darfur, East Timor, Israel, or anywhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 9, 2007

Pundit’s ego at the expense of tolerance

Posted in Don Imus, MSNBC at 5:53 pm by alonac

Racist remarks have been flying out in the open all over cable networks lately. Some fine examples that come to mind: Glenn Beck, one of the more outrageously bigoted figures on TV asking the first Muslim congressman if he’s “working with our enemies;” John Gibson on FOX calling on all white people to have more babies to prevent the horror of having black and brown people from becoming the majority population by 2020. In the latest racist slur—Imus’s describing the women’s basketball team at Rutgers as “nappy-headed ho’s.” As David Carr writes in Monday’s New York Times, Mr. Imus’s slur was “the kind of unalloyed racial insult that might not have passed muster on a low-watt AM station in the Jim Crow South.”  Aside from the fact that these comments create publicity nightmares for network executives and the hosts themselves, what kind of a message are these networks really conveying to the public?

 Sure, these guys are clamoring for ratings and trying to get attention. This, however, is the case where bad publicity is bad publicity. Message boards are raging about Imus’s comments. But I wonder about not just the reaction of the public, but the larger picture these racist statements are really exposing.   Racism and intolerance show pundits’ own need of sensationalizing the news and their ego, thus resorting to bigotry and ignorance instead of educating and inspiring the public. In reality, the media is increasingly becoming a divisive force in the public, whereas in my understanding, it should do the opposite. I think it is the liberal pundits who have to be especially careful. If we want to put a Democrat in the White House in 2008, we have to tighten up our message and unite the public behind solid and factual reporting and non-biased debate, free of racist, ludicrous or illogical statements.

April 8, 2007

How Arianna Huffington Missed the Boat.

Posted in British Sailors, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tony Blair at 10:51 pm by alonac

Arianna Huffington called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the most “reasonable guy in the room,” this week because of his kind treatment of the British soldiers during their 13 day stay in Iran. “President of Iran was preaching forgiveness and making the diplomatic gesture of releasing the 15 British sailors,” writes Huffington.

Now, let’s get this straight. Iran used the sailors as a tool in negotiations with the British. At the end of the day, both sides used diplomacy and averted a potential conflict. However, when the hostages were to be released, Ahmadinejad didn’t hesitate to stage fifty cameras around himself to capture every moment of him shaking hands with his captors. The smiley leader of Iran acted like the greatest host, sending the sailors off with a big warm smile. Doesn’t Ms. Huffington see this shameless act of publicity for what it is?

I am not opposed to giving props to Iran, or whomever, for their diplomatic efforts. Something tells me our warmongers in Washington would have used very different tactics to free our guys if they were captured in Iran. In fact I think it is Tony Blair who deserves a big round of applause for his firm resolve, yet unfailing politeness. At the end of the day, Mr. Blair is the one who earned the title of “the most reasonable guy in the room”. Huffington’s post begs the question—regardless of one’s political beliefs and convictions, shouldn’t common sense prevail above all?

 

 

March 29, 2007

Bushy’s latest PR disaster

Posted in Iraq, President Bush, White House PR at 6:35 pm by alonac

Some astonishing things are happening in politics lately. Forget the Attorney General saga or the fact that we’re in the fifth year of war with no light at the end of the tunnel. Our President quoted an unnamed blog yesterday that was apparently written by an Iraqi, who claimed that the markets in Baghdad are starting to get busier and people are returning to their homes in Baghdad. There are even some neighborhoods in Baghdad where one can go unescorted by security. In other words—it’s getting better, folks. One CNN reporter urged the President to immediately return from the Neverland where he’s been hiding because there simply aren’t any safe neighborhoods in Baghdad.

Moreover, somehow this erroneous information migrated to the McCain camp and he also quoted this blog to drive this positive and uplifting message to his potential voters. So basically what we have here is this: Short of turning on television, reading horrendous exposes in the papers and magazines, let’s just source a questionable blog, which was probably sponsored by our government to begin with. We all remember that famous Lincoln group that was fabricating stories about “progress” in Iraq in Iraqi papers. That group was formed by the Pentagon’s “Department of Propaganda” a few years back to create uplifting bullshit about the dismal situation on the ground. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Lincoln Group is behind these blogs as well.

This drives the point I made a few months ago. Are blogs really ceasing to be one of the last honest mediums and becoming too groomed to serve a political or public relations purpose? There is nothing wrong with public relations professionals monitoring and potentially working with bloggers.  But let’s not get carried away quite yet. Senior administration officials quoting these dubious sources to once again lie to the American public is beyond appalling.  Our own White House is in its own P.R. disaster and I really don’t know how they’re going to spin out of this one. I wonder if Bush’s P.R. team is monitoring the dismay of the American people expressed through countless blogs with the same gusto as this “positive” information emerging from Baghdad.  Somehow, I doubt it.

March 28, 2007

Wal-Mart tries again

Posted in New York City, Wal-Mart at 1:10 pm by alonac

Great article in this week’s New Yorker about Wal-Mart and its desperate attempts to improve its much tarnished reputation. To his credit, the writer, Jeffrey Goldberg, tries to paint a balanced picture and not trash Wal-Mart, and its P.R behemoth Edelman too much.  But you can’ help but wonder: How sleazy and deeply flawed Wal-Mart is as a company and what would it be like to have them as a client?  You can find the article here:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/04/02/070402fa_fact_goldberg

The problem with having Wal-Mart as a client, and having to stand by it as vehemently as Edelman does, is to try to genuinely believe in the fact that Wal-Mart can do a lot of good. I really wonder how many of the intelligent sophisticated employees of Edelman really truly believe this.  Sure, Wal-Mart isn’t all bad. Provide thousands of items at great discounts? Check. Employ thousands and possibly scrape people off welfare? Check. Provide medical coverage for employees? Check. Sounds good right? What if that medical coverage has a $3000 deductible, as Goldberg points out, which is unaffordable for those with a salary of $17,000? I can’t afford that kind of a deductible and I have a much better job. What about all the sweatshops where these “cheap” items come from. And all the resistance to unions. How would one “spin” that?

Wal-Mart is a very difficult client. Wal-Mart belongs in its own bucket of sleaze, and whoever gets into that bucket with them becomes almost as sleazy as they are. Working for Wal-Mart is almost equivalent to being Cheney’s publicist. I wonder what kind of a moral breakdown I’d have to go through to be Vice’s spokeswoman. I couldn’t even imagine.

 Just as I was writing this, I learned that New York City blocked Wal-Mart from opening a store here. According to AP, Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council said “We don’t care if they’re never here…We don’t miss them.” Thank you, Ed, we sure don’t.

March 26, 2007

On Elizabeth Edwards

Posted in Elizabeth Edwards, John Edwards at 8:44 pm by alonac

Allow me to veer off my usual observations about the online business and public relations and comment instead about one remarkable and graceful lady–Elizabeth Edwards. I applaud the decision of John and Elizabeth to continue campaigning, although her body will be ravaged with an unforgiving form of cancer for a long time. Bone cancer is incurable. It spreads through the body, immersing one into a remarkable and constant pain. Ironically, one can live with bone cancer for years but it is a very tough existence.

 

The only reason I know this—my mother died of bone cancer almost 15 years ago. I witnessed her suffer for several years and imagined in horror what Mrs. Edwards might be going through a few years down the line. I also know what her children will go through. And they will need an immense amount of support.

 John and Elizabeth Edwards need a lot of strength to pull through their personal crisis in order to continue campaigning. For now they are in the game, and that shows a lot of character, not to mention ambition. I honestly think that John Edwards is the dark horse of this presidential race. But somehow I wonder if the couple will instead turn their presidential aspirations into an opportunity to bring awareness to bone cancer, which unfortunately doesn’t get much attention. I almost wish Mrs. Edwards will also set up some kind of an organization for the children of bone cancer sufferers. Maybe this will be Mrs. Edwards’ role.   As a public figure, thrust into the spotlight by her disease, Elizabeth Edwards has a lot of power in her hands.  Although as sick as she is, she needs to first and foremost take care of her health. I hope she puts this power to good use. I wish her well.

March 21, 2007

All Hail Mizz Vanity

Posted in dating, online dating at 7:23 pm by alonac

Are you hot enough to be a coveted date for those who’re seeking love online? Well, one self-proclaimed 8.2 Jason Pellegrino says Internet dating services attract a lot of desperate people but they aren’t necessarily good looking. The solution? To start your own dating service and admit only people who’re above 8.0. Whatever that means. In other words, good looking. Very good looking.  You submit your photograph, and the online community votes whether to “admit” you into their “hot” clan or not.

 

Sorry, Jason Pellegrino, but you’re hardly an original. A few years ago I had the pleasure of renting a room from one particularly vain lady who one day appeared on Good Morning America…representing BeautifulPeople.net. For those who don’t have the time to waste on mediocrity, they can attempt to join Beautifulpeople.net. All they have to do is submit a photograph and then over a 72-hour-period, the members vote them in. Or, of course, not vote them in. One hefty fee later, and you’re one of the rare beautiful people. Diane Sawyer was puzzled to no end. But BeautifulPeople.net’s people relented and said they have a right to exclude anyone who’s not up to their standards. And they’re proud of it.

 

I went on both sites just to check them out. Of course I can’t “surf” the desirable singles because I have to be voted in first. But Beautifulpeople.net makes it absolutely no secret that this is a highly privileged site designed for good looking people only. Their goal is to narrow down the pool of dating applicants only to those who’re gorgeous enough to be admitted to say a Hampton’s Party, or New York fashion week, and thus, their website. Not surprisingly, half the pictures of the new members posted on the site showcased new members very scantily clad. And have I mentioned they were all white?

 

At first this all seems really funny. It’s partially funny because these sites take themselves so seriously. But somehow, reading about these websites made me reminisce about the days when Internet was truly anonymous. When you could be whomever you wanted without having to showcase your six pack to be admitted to yet another artificially created and somehow very coveted club. But all that said, maybe these people have a point. Good looking people want to be near good looking people. It makes them feel special and accepted. Maybe they have a hard time finding dates as well, which makes them not that different from those lonely fat desperate types they want to run away from. So, for today, let’s all hail vanity and its right to exist online and off. And for those of you who don’t have to surf to find love, bless your lucky stars for your hottie significant other.  

March 16, 2007

Please don’t fly JetBlue in the winter

Posted in crisis communications, JetBlue at 5:35 pm by alonac

I actually use JetBlue quite a bit to fly home to California. Boy, am I glad I am not flying home tonight. Once again, JetBlue is canceling all of its two hundred something flights out of New York City. Crisis PR aside, this will affect JetBlue’s business. My first reaction—is flying JetBlue a good idea altogether?

 

JetBlue said on its website the passengers will be allowed to rebook the flights for further date. The airline also introduced a passengers’ bill of rights a month ago, potentially making other companies and airlines follow suit. The bill of rights first and foremost promises the customers to be treated fairly if the flight doesn’t leave the gate on time. But what about a cancellation? Is this a fair treatment?

 “We’ve always tried to take a wait-and-see approach with the weather … believing that people want to get to their destination late, rather than never,” White said Friday. But since the Feb. 14 storm — and the maelstrom of complaints that followed — JetBlue has had “a shift in thinking,” Sebastian White, JetBlue spokesperson, told Associated Press.  

Back in February, during the storm when thousands waited for hours on end,  the public was more inclined to forgive JetBlue because of the good reputation the airline has established in the past. This time, the airline is being too cautious and thus, can be seen as becoming unreliable.

 This is no longer about their public relations, which, as I mentioned before, they handled very well. This is about someone being able to book a flight and actually get to the destination without overtaxing other airlines because of your airline’s shortcomings. This is about knowing the airline will do everything in its power to actually get you to your destination. At the same time, would you rather be stranded at an airport waiting for conditions to improve or know that your flight is cancelled and thus make other arrangements? As I am writing this, I learned that American Airlines cancelled something like 100 flights out of JFK, and Delta cancelled 65. I am looking out of my window and the weather looks dismal.  Maybe it is better to know you’re not going anywhere in advance. Maybe this is good PR after all.

When life gives you lemons, eat Quiznos

Posted in crisis communications, Quiznos at 3:37 pm by alonac

According to Consumerist, a shopper blog, Quiznos has a regulation in its crisis management plan that says that in  the event of natural disaster, terrorist attack or other ills, the company’s sandwiches should be immediately distributed to relief workers, victims, city workers, and others. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, of course, if the sandwiches are to be given out to help out the struggling the community. In reality, Quiznos wants to make its brand as visible as possible for publicity purposes and exploit the natural disaster to push its products.

You can find the blog here:

http://consumerist.com/consumer/quiznos/quiznos-manual:-natural-disasters-are-good-pr-opps-243571.php

 Let’s say for fairness sakes, that there’s nothing wrong for a company to seek publicity. All companies do that, as well they should. But to exploit natural disasters to push its own brand? I say that’s blatantly wrong. Perhaps Quiznos never meant for any of it to sound so harsh or for any of it to leak to begin with. I have a hunch Quiznos will go into serious damage control over this. Sad to say, if something serious were to happen and Quiznos were to go through with their plan, it sure would make them look good. This little leak is a stark reminder that corporations and their publicity practitioners ought to be more and more careful of leaks and have to be prepared for all sorts of crisis communications. 

March 8, 2007

How did we trust the guy named Essjay?

Posted in wikipedia at 3:05 pm by alonac

Turns out that one of Wikipedia most “prolific” contributors, who went under pen name Essjay, and claimed to be a professor of theology was…nowhere near that. He was a 24-year-old Ryan Jordan who didn’t even finish college.

 Now, Wikipedia has fully entered crisis PR and said that it is going to seek proof of credentials from all the contributors. Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, told the Associated Press that contributors would still remain anonymous but the company would require proof that they actually went to school and got a degree in something. Not a bad start, considering Wikipedia already has something like 1.7 million entries in English alone, it’s about time.

 I must admit, I relied on Wikipedia a lot in the last year. For the most part, it seemed like a trustworthy source, although I would always be tempted to check facts. I did see a few mistakes (Apple launched iPod in 2003. Really? No, can’t be.) but for the most part, Wikipedia provided a very good basis for information.

This story made me realize that much more how much of what we read, see, or buy online is based on trust and trust alone.  I don’t really think about this trust,  I have been an active participant in the online space for years. I do it automatically. These types of stories make me think and really pause. How much fraud is out there to begin with? How did Ryan Jordan, a man with such a non-descript name, parlay his way into writing thousands of articles, some of which, I am sure became reference points for other people? The founder of Wikipedia is said to be a big believer in anonymity. Maybe this very anonymity has its downsides too.

 That said, there’s a bad apple everywhere. Let’s this be just a bad seed. But let’s also think every time we read something on these user generated sites. We shouldn’t take it all at face value to begin with.

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