A Current Events Commentary Blog from a Public Relations/Marketing Perspective.
Donald Tremblay, a PR/Marketing specialist who has been “making it rain” for over a decade reviews today’s news, sports, entertainment, etc . . .

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eucharistic Dilemma

Ever since Vatican II and the secular unrest of the 1960s, the American Roman Catholic Church has been dominated by cafeteria Catholics: a term used to describe Catholics who pick-and-choose which Church teachings they will follow and which they will ignore. Church doctrine and dogma are treated like a Wendy’s salad bar. When asked to defend their actions cafeteria Catholics cite the intellectually flawed concept of “primacy of conscience”.

Primacy of conscience teaches that our conscience should be the final arbiter in deciding what is right and wrong. On the surface this seems obvious. Since childhood we have been taught to listen to that inner voice telling us what paths to follow. But what if our conscience is malformed or immature? Many argue that “reason” alone is enough to guide our conscience in its decision-making, but that is a dubious claim considering some of the philosophical systems Man has conceived throughout history. For ex, utilitarianism: “The idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility: that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people.” At first glance this view may seem logical because we live in groups and communities, but on further inspection we realize that it makes no provisions for the inherent dignity of the individual. Under utilitarianism citizens would be justified, perhaps even encouraged, to euthanize those “unproductive” members of society, such as the sick and the disabled. Hence, what is unthinkable to most consciences would pose little dilemma to a utilitarian. He would justify it as a “reasoned” judgment selected in the best interests of society.

I raise the issue of primacy of conscience because the concept has become newsworthy again thanks to Providence, RI Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. It was reported last week that in 2007 Bishop Tobin asked Representative Patrick Kennedy to stop receiving Holy Communion because of his pro-choice views. Since 2007 there have been many instances of U.S. bishops not only discouraging pro-choice politicians from receiving the Eucharistic, but in some cases demanding outright that they don’t. Considering the Church’s position on abortion, a strong message against it is necessary. But is denying the Eucharist the wisest course of action?

Receiving the Eucharist is the central act of worship in the Roman Catholic faith. Catholics believe that at consecration the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. Refusing to distribute the Eucharist to a Catholic is akin to ejecting them from the Church community, an act which does have historical precedence. For ex., in 1 Corinthians St. Paul indignantly rebukes a man who is living with his father’s wife and warns that “the one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst.”

I am conflicted as to whether the Church should deny the Eucharist to those who “remain in sin”. I am concerned that it will do more harm than good. After all, the Church teaches that once a cleansed soul accepts the Eucharist it is infused with Sanctifying Grace. Although those who support abortion rights are considered guilty of mortal sin and thus not capable of receiving Sanctifying Grace, wouldn’t they still reap some spiritual benefit from receiving the Lord’s body and blood? Wouldn’t receiving the Eucharist increase their chances of experiencing a conscience-altering, spiritual awakening?

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the Church is right from a spiritual perspective and a public relations perspective. Abortion is anathema to the Church and, truthfully, the best way to deliver that message is to ban abortion rights supporters from participating in Catholicism’s central sacrament.

Yet, something about it still troubles me.

Perhaps it is nothing more than me being guilty of believing in the primacy of my own conscience.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Collusion? Fraud? Science?

According to the British daily The Guardian, last week “hundreds of private emails and documents allegedly exchanged between some of the world's leading climate scientists during the past 13 years have been stolen by hackers and leaked online.” The files were taken from University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit and they purportedly provide “evidence that some of the climatologists colluded in manipulating data to support the widely held view that climate change is real, and is being largely caused by the actions of mankind.”

If true this is an explosive revelation.

These accusations of collusion are not surprising considering the cult-like loyalty the global warming movement demands from scientists and the public alike. Then again I am a global warming skeptic so my opinion is somewhat jaded. I believe the global changes we are witnessing are simply part of the natural evolution of the planet. For ex., just as there were ice ages before Man appeared on this planet, there will be ice ages after we leave it. Our presence here is incidental. Plus, I find it telling that the global temperature has not risen since 1998. As to the motivation behind a coordinated effort to promote the global warming message, I say, “Follow the money.”

For ex., on Nov 2, 2009, The New York Times published a revealing article about global warming flag-bearer Al Gore. Apparently, in 2008 Gore and the firm he is a partner at (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) provided venture capital to Silver Spring Networks, which “produces hardware and software to make the electricity grid more efficient.” Silver Spring was seeking financing for an energy-savings technology. As a thank you for investing in its company, Silver Spring retained Gore and another partner in the firm (John Doerr) as unpaid corporate advisers. Less than a year later “the Energy Department announced $3.4 billion in smart grid grants. Of the total, more than $560 million went to utilities with which Silver Spring has contracts.” Needless to say Gore and his firm will benefit mightily from his “lucky” investment.

Money is also important for another reason. It is no secret that scientists rely on grants for survival. Research money depends on a scientist’s ability to convince a philanthropist or a foundation that his/her field of study is of paramount importance. Essentially, securing funding is more often determined by a scientist’s PR campaign than by the comprehensiveness of his/her research data.

Nevertheless, despite my skepticism toward the global warming movement, I doubt the University of East Anglia's hacked e-mails are the smoking gun that naysayers hope it is. After all, isn’t it a little “convenient” how easily these damning clues were discovered? A series of e-mails and documents proving global warming to be the greatest scientific fraud of our time just happen to be sitting on a university’s hard drive waiting to be exposed? I guess it is possible that scientists forgot the e-mails existed or that out of carelessness or arrogance they ignored the possibility of hackers. But it seems unlikely. The neatness of the discovery would seem to support the assertion by Kevin Trenberth of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado that the hackers “cherry-picked from the stolen data and distributed selected documents.”

For the time being I’ll reserve judgment until more investigations are completed. In the meantime it will be interesting to see whether global warming skeptics will have any success convincing the mass media that this is a story worth pursuing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are The French Fortune Tellers?

Maybe it’s because they’re French. Maybe it’s because they come from an intellectual tradition preoccupied with misery. After all, Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables; Jean-Paul Sartre wrote Being and Nothingness and Nausea; and let’s not forget Albert Camus’ masterpiece The Plague. Hope doesn’t exactly spring eternal within the borders of our European ally. Could it be this mindset that is responsible for Societe Generale‘s recent actions? Or is the French bank two steps ahead of the rest of the world with respect to the economic fate that awaits us all?

According to the London daily The Telegraph, Societe Generale “has advised clients to be ready for a possible ‘global economic collapse’ over the next two years.” In its report (Worst-Case Debt Scenario) the French bank warns its clients that “as yet, nobody can say with any certainty whether we have in fact escaped the prospect of a global economic collapse.” When one of Europe’s most powerful banks institutes contingency plans to help its clients survive losses from a worldwide economic devastation, it is time to recognize that our financial health is in even worse condition than we thought.

President Obama and Congress are desperately trying to convince Americans that things are slowly improving. They cite recent gains in the stock market and four consecutive months of increased U.S. Industrial Production. But those positive indicators are overwhelmed by the bleaker and more numerous negative indicators, such as a 10.2% unemployment rate and the possibility of a second round of home foreclosures. With its “things are getting better” PR campaign already taking a beating, the last thing the federal government needs is the release of a report like the one produced by Societe Generale.

That is the problem with public relations: it is only as good as the subject it is promoting. If that subject is without substance it will collapse eventually like a house of cards . . . sort of like what the French believe is the destiny awaiting the global economic community.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

But It's Still Just A Big Mac

Does a Big Mac or a Filet-O-Fish taste better when you are seated on Danish furniture? The owners of a McDonald’s restaurant in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea think so. The fast-food establishment’s European flair is meant to appeal to the younger crowd. Throw in some flat-screen TVs and free wi-fi and you have the hippest hamburger joint in NYC.

“The eatery is outfitted with outlets for plugging in laptops, upholstered vinyl chairs instead of Fiberglas seats bolted to the floor, subdued lighting and employees whose all-black uniforms suggest a hip boutique.”

It is an interesting marketing ploy. At the very least customers will flock to the fast-food out of curiosity. The problem will be getting them to return. The d├ęcor may be European, but the menu is not. Patrons are offered the same menu they’d be given at any other McDonald’s restaurant.

And unfortunately a Quarter Pounder will not sit any easier in your belly because you are sitting in an “urban designed” chair.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Welcome to the Land of Oz

Perhaps www.recovery.org exists in a parallel universe, one where jobs can be created in districts that don’t exist. How else can federal stimulus money be credited with increasing jobs in phantom locales? Then again all things are possible in the Land of Oz—otherwise known as Washington, D.C.

An ABC News exclusive has exposed data errors on www.recovery.gov, a website created by the Obama administration to “foster greater accountability and transparency in the use of money spent through the stimulus program”. According to the site Puerto Rico’s 99th congressional district logged an increase of 291 jobs after receiving a whopping $47.7 million in federal stimulus money. Arizona’s 15th congressional district reports 30 jobs saved or created thanks to an infusion of $761,420 in federal money. Similar job growth has been reported in various Oklahoma and Iowa districts. The problem is that many of these districts, including the two just mentioned, don’t exist. So where are the hundreds of millions of dollars that are said to have been spent in these districts?

The Recovery Board was created to keep tabs on the federal stimulus money. The Board’s communication director claims that the mistakes on www.recovery.org are nothing more than accounting errors caused by recipients who don’t know their congressional districts. Ok, that’s possible. I confess that when I vote I have to be reminded by election workers of what district I reside in. So maybe the federal money has been spent legitimately and maybe those created/saved jobs are not figments of the imagination. In that case once the accounting discrepancies are resolved, the data will line up properly. Sounds reasonable.

However, considering the track record of Congress and the Obama administration’s convoluted explanations of where the stimulus was being spent, would anyone be surprised if much of the recovery.org data was merely smoke-and-mirrors? Would anybody be shocked to discover that the money allocated to these “districts” is in actuality unaccounted for? And how will an American populace that is confronting a 10.2% unemployment rate respond when it discovers that the federal government is boasting about creating/saving jobs that may not even exist?

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is Our President Oblivious?

Is our president oblivious or does he simply not care about the impact his gestures have on the American public? One thing is certain: whatever his motivation, President Obama’s actions often leave observers scratching their heads in disbelief.

Seven months ago the president created an uproar by bowing to the Saudi king. Bowing to a foreign leader would bring grief to any U.S. president, but what made this especially upsetting is Obama’s ties to Islam. (A similar reaction would be elicited were a Roman Catholic American president to kiss the papal ring). Yet, despite the fury his bow generated, President Obama did it again. This time he chose to bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito. Why?

The president has spent the past several months apologizing for America’s past indiscretions, legitimate and imagined. Maybe his bows are a show of humility to those he believes we have wronged. Perhaps the bows are nothing more than signs of respect. After all there is no reason to assume that our president has evil intentions. Yet, one wonders how he can be so mindful of showing respect to the world community, but act so callously to Americans?

Case in point: Last week 14 people were murdered at Fort Hood allegedly by Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan. The president first addressed the massacre while attending a Tribal Nations Conference in Oklahoma. Instead of opening the Ft Hood tragedy press conference by offering his condolences to the victims, the president first thanked Kevin Calvey and the Department of Interior, and then gave “a shout out” to a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It wasn’t until two minutes into the press conference that the president even mentioned the bloodbath. Stunning, truly stunning.

Aren’t any of those high-powered administration publicists warning him that he is alienating the American people? Or have they warned him and been summarily ignored? One cannot blame Americans for wondering whether their president lacks empathy for the very people who elected him. People criticized President Clinton for not making a decision without first polling the public. I’m sure those same people would rather have a president who cares too much about their opinions than one who doesn’t seem to care at all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

CUNY Math and the Mayoral Election

Thursday’s New York Daily News reported that “during their first math class at one of CUNY's four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem. “ Frightening? Yes. Yet as disastrous as those figures are there is another element to this story that disturbs me. Why is it that the public is only now learning of these facts even though CUNY’s Council of Math Chairs submitted this report to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in September 2008?

At the risk of sounding cynical, it was quite convenient for Mayor Bloomberg that these figures weren’t released until after the Nov 3 mayoral election. Considering Bloomberg won by only 4.6 points and that education reform under his watch was a major element of his platform, it is fair to ask whether these disastrous math statistics could have swayed the election.

Did City Hall bury these findings, or pressure others to do so, until Mayor Bloomberg was firmly entrenched in office for another four years? Or was it merely coincidental that the results of this report were released less than two weeks after the election?

Luckily for Mayor Bloomberg what could have become a PR disaster never materialized.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Global Warming Hype

The global warming community has orchestrated the most successful marketing blitz that I have seen in years. Not since Chicken Little have so many feared that the sky is falling. But are we dangerously close to causing our own destruction or is this simply global warming hype?

I am not a climatologist, a geologist, or any other “ologist”, so my knowledge of the subject is limited. What interests me are not the scientific facts, but the scientists themselves who reject the very idea of global warming and who even go so far as to mock the concept. Some of these naysayers have been ostracized by their peers; some have even been blackballed by the scientific community. Professor Ian Pilmer of Adelaide University is among these skeptics. In fact, he has been labeled the global warming ‘denialist poster boy’. In Thursday’s edition of The Telegraph, Pilmer argues that global warming is not caused by CO2 and that the major producer of CO2 is volcanoes, not Man. He also adds that “we have had huge climate change in the past and to think the very slight variations we measure today are the result of our life - we really have to put ice blocks in our drinks.’"

So why then are so many scientists falling in step with the global warming party line? Research funding.

“’In previous times people got wonderful research grants in a war against cancer and they achieved a lot of money for that. Now we have a war on climate change and we have a huge number of people out there who have their career staked on it and are beneficiaries of this process.’"

Is Pilmer’s defiance warranted or is he willfully ignoring the scientific evidence?

Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is certain: Pilmer deserves credit for standing firm against a tsunami-sized PR wave that would drown most skeptics into silence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shock Still Sells

For nearly 12 years I served as Public Relations Director for the professional boxing promoter Main Events. The company promoted some of the biggest pay-per-view events of the past two decades, such as Holyfield- Foreman, Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, and Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield. It also promoted “Howard Stern's New Year's Rotten Eve 1994” ppv event. One afternoon while seated around the conference room table, my co-workers and I each predicted what we thought would be the highest-selling PPV event in history. Unanimously we agreed that it would be a live execution: a hanging, the electric chair, a firing squad, etc . . . Morbid? Yes. But considering the public’s hunger for the outrageous, it is also probably accurate.

Whether it is a shock jock spewing edgy comments or a television program testing the nudity boundaries of network television, marketers know that people want to be stunned. The more mechanical and rote our lives become, the stronger the need for a jolt to awaken us from our daily slumber. The trouble with shock is that eventually we become desensitized, resulting in the need for even more extreme measures to grab our attentions.

This week’s episode of the teen drama “Gossip Girl” featured a sexual threesome. Although many parents were upset by this prurient gimmick for increased viewership, if history is any indication the episode will probably score high ratings. As the NY Daily News pointed in a recent article, “When advertisers boycotted the launch of 'NYPD Blue,' while initially financially problematic, it helped boost early audiences and made that show a long-running hit.”

And therein lies the problem. We consumers lament the “crap” we are served by the TV and movie industries; yet we continue to gobble it up in ever greater amounts (see reality TV).

So who is to blame but ourselves?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Swine Flu Fiasco

The U.S. Government is desperately trying to pass universal healthcare legislation. Nearly all Americans believe healthcare costs are outrageous and that something needs to be done. So one would think that the federal government would capitalize on this disaffection by using its swine-flu vaccine distribution program as a showcase to prove it can facilitate healthcare services.

Well, if that was their intention then they failed miserably from a public relations standpoint.

On Friday the Associated Press reported that “some of New York's biggest companies, including Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, received doses of swine flu vaccine for at-risk employees, drawing criticism that the hard-to-find vaccine is going first to the privileged.” (Wall Street Gets First Crack at Vaccine!- Click Here) Despite President Obama’s declaration that the swine-flu is a national emergency, reports abound of widespread vaccine shortages for those deemed by the CDC to be at greatest risk, children and young adults up to age 24. How’s that for a PR mess? White collar workers from hated multi-national corporations receive the vaccine, but your average inner city or middle-America citizen is left high-and- dry. Regardless of the accuracy of this class warfare view, this is the perception of many people. At a family party I attended yesterday the general response to the U.S. Government and its role in the Wall Street/swine-flu vaccine debacle was, “And these are the people who want to run our healthcare system?”

Sadly, yes.