You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.


Plodding the treadmill at the gym today, on the cusp of Congress voting the health insurance bill, I came into the middle of a History Channel feature on the history of volcanoes at Yellowstone National Park. I didn’t have earphones, but read the scrolling text over the beautiful photography and graphic seismic maps. Driving home, reflecting on what I saw and read, I came to what at first may seem an odd conclusion – space travel may become the next great health care challenge.
Not health care insurance, or even the provision of health care itself, but long-term health care for the human race, not to mention the rest of life as we know it. When Einstein said that the greatest challenge to humankind might be extending our compassion across time and space, I thought he was referring to the need for more selflessness. But after watching the history channel piece, I think he may have meant that man’s challenge is to extend our very being across the vastness of time and space, before our ancient earthbound homeland destroys itself, not in battle, but in turning itself inside out once again.
Let’s look at what we know, as reported in the Yellowstone TV special. Visitors are drawn to the park by the hot cauldrons of mineral water bubbling and steaming to the surface, and by the dramatic geysers. What are they? Obviously, they are made of water that is heated deep below and pushed to the surface under variable pressure. Why? Because 10 miles below lies a 25-mile wide pool of liquid rock, molten at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit – twice as hot as a pizza oven. This heats natural water coursing through the thick hard crust, and that’s what we see bubbling up.
Scientists have found evidence of ancient lava on the earth’s surface a hundred miles from the center of Yellowstone, yet where are the remnants of the ancient volcanic mountain from which it burst? Gone. Why is the mountain gone? Because the volcanic blast was so large, so devastating, some 640,000 years ago, that it totally destroyed the mountain, which rained down as lava and dust from a cloud that covered the entire west of the U.S. It was what scientists now call a super volcano. The ancient rim remnants are 45 miles wide. The fields of lava it left behind have evolved into the vast plains of trees and grass that cover the area now.
Also evident in the area are the parallel scratches on surface rock that indicates the previous movement of glacial ice, yet there is no current evidence of mountains high enough to support such glaciers. Why? Previous volcanic activity must have thrust up the land to heights high enough to support the freezing of snow into glaciers, and then those mountains disappeared into volcanic oblivion.
Yellowstone had been riddled by many, many earth tremors since such measurements began a hundred years ago. Why? That molten sea is still active though trapped below miles of hard rock. Scientists, using modern measuring equipment and space observation, have also detected evidence of a series of super volcanoes going back millions of years that have left traces of rims that have moved in a vast V-shape pattern through the area. They have also detected a deeper, active volcanic mass, stretching at least 400 hundred miles beneath the Yellowstone pool, in a rising chimney shape. What could that all mean? Plate tectonics at work. As the earth’s surface has moved above its core through the ages, the chimney has thrust up its magma in different places at the surface, tracing the giant V of super volcano rims.
So, what does the future hold? Obviously, the Yellowstone region, even without any current volcanic mountains, is seismically active. The many small earthquakes indicate that the molten pool and the magma chimney beneath it are restive, even through the thick surface rock. This suggests that pressure is continuing to build, and someday will again burst through the surface in another catastrophic super volcano, perhaps devastating much of America.
This planet Earth we love and which many of us work so hard to conserve, is probably not done with us. Like perhaps millions of species before us, not to mention the many we see in jeopardy to this day, we may face ultimate atomization. In fact, it is almost surely inevitable.
So why space travel? If man is to have any opportunity to extend that compassion Einstein, in his vanity, seemed to have thought we possess, colonizing other planets in this and perhaps other solar systems may be our only feasible destiny.
How much time do we have? Visit Yellowstone and check out Old Faithful. The long-term health of the human race may depend on our collective conclusions. Keep that in mind when legislation and incentives for space travel next come around.

White House Plans Post-Passage Campaign to Support Health Measure


WASHINGTON—The White House plans to launch a public relations campaign promoting the health care overhaul if and when it passes, and it has already identified individuals whose stories the president would highlight.

At the same time, supportive outside groups are planning television ads and events around the country promoting and explaining the legislation, if it becomes law, and they are considering creating a new nonprofit organization to orchestrate their message, according to people familiar with the planning.

Together, the efforts would aim to reshape public attitudes, which run against the bill. They could provide political cover for lawmakers who voted for the measure and face tough races this fall.

Complicating the effort is that most of the provisions would not take effect until 2014, including the new exchanges, or marketplaces, that would sell insurance under new rules and with federal subsidies for some consumers. So, the White House plans to highlight provisions that take effect right away.

Those include new rules that bar insurers from rejecting children because they are already sick. The White House has already identified specific parents of sick children who are willing to tell their stories.

It’s not clear how much success the White House will have. The Obama administration tried hard to make the case for the economic stimulus plan after it became law, but polls show that the stimulus remains unpopular.

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who tracks attitudes on health care, said that the intensity of opposition may soften if the bill passes. But he doubts that overall public views will shift much.

“After a year, people feel like they’ve made up their minds, and it will be a little difficult to change them,” he said. “There’s not that much time left between now and November.”

Among advocates of the legislation, some of the advertising would be done by outside groups such as Families USA, a consumer group. Ron Pollack, president of the group, said planning is under way to run TV ads and to stage events around the country.

For their part, opponents plan to continue their attacks on the measure even if it becomes law.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, said Republicans will continue to pound Democrats for special deals in the Senate bill, even those that are repealed through passage of a companion piece of legislation.

Another problem for Democrats: cuts to private Medicare Advantage plans begin in 2011. If insurers pull out of some markets, as they have in reaction to past cuts, seniors may complain and put added pressure on Democrats.

Mr. Steel said Republicans will also focus on an increase in funding for the Internal Revenue Service, which must implement the requirement that people get insurance.

“Does anyone think this bill gets more popular when the American public begins to feel the effect of tax hikes, Medicare cuts and an army of new IRS agents?” he asked.

Write to Laura Meckler at

Today is Albert Einstein’s birthday. He was born in Ulm, Germany (1879), and his pre-kindergarten fascination with a compass needle left an impression on him that lasted a lifetime. He liked math but hated school, dropped out, and taught himself calculus in the meantime. Einstein worked for the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, where his job was to evaluate patent applications for electromagnetic devices and determine whether the inventions described would actually work. The job wasn’t particularly demanding, and at night he would come home and pursue scientific investigations and theories.

In 1905, he wrote a paper on the Special Theory of Relativity, which is that if the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same in every frame of reference, then both time and motion are relative to the observer. That same year, he published three more papers, each of which was just as revolutionary as the first, among them the paper that included his most famous equation: Emc2. E is energy, m is mass, and c stands for the velocity of light.

Einstein received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. He said, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”

I thought I’d add the following perspective on why man might want to go into space, which was part of the closing of my 2005 essay, “French Fried — From Monticello to the Moon,” which you can find at  Albert Einstein thought that perhaps the greatest challenge facing mankind is to “widen our circle of compassion” across both time and space. Our ethnic and geopolitical squabbling might pale into insignificance if our compassionate circles were wide enough, he reasoned.

Supreme Court Ruling Spurs Corporation Run for Congress

First Test of “Corporate Personhood” In Politics

Following the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to allow unlimited corporate funding of federal campaigns, Murray Hill Inc. today announced it was filing to run for U.S. Congress and released its first campaign video on

“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”

Murray Hill Inc. is believed to be the first “corporate person” to exercise its constitutional right to run for office. As Supreme Court observer Lyle Denniston wrote in his SCOTUSblog, “If anything, the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission conferred new dignity on corporate “persons,” treating them — under the First Amendment free-speech clause — as the equal of human beings.”

Murray Hill Inc. agrees. “The strength of America,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “is in the boardrooms, country clubs and Lear jets of America’s great corporations. We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?”

Murray Hill Inc. plans on spending “top dollar” to protect its investment. “It’s our democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “We bought it, we paid for it, and we’re going to keep it.”

via Murray Hill Inc. | Company.

News media, especially television, has long been critiqued for putting too much emphasis on sensationalism, hence the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Toyota’s accelerator problem and ex-Congressman Massa’s “snorkeling” reputation prove the adage is alive.

Yes, many Toyota owners have reason for concern, and the media is treating the Toyota accelerator issue, incident by incident, as if the very act of driving a car is a major risk in modern life. Yet, less than 2% of auto accidents are equipment related, while 95% are driver caused. Sure, we hear about the dangers of texting while driving, but with nowhere near the continuing cacophony of media blasting on Toyota’s problems. Drunk driving gets some attention, but nothing equal to an annual U.S. death toll that exceeds total deaths to date in Iraq by five times.

Talking about Massa, the media seem determined to delve into every aspect of his personality quirks and sexual dallying, while they ignored all but the rant when retiring Congressman Kennedy complained on the floor of Congress over the media’s indifference to the Congress’s first debate since 2001 on whether to stay in Afghanistan. The upshot of the 3-hour debate was a vote of 356-65 to stay in Afganistan. I had to dig out that info on the internet, because the media didn’t think it was worth covering a Congressional debate related to a war that has cost a thousand lives and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, to date. Sure, you can watch Congress debate on C-Span, but who’s watching. The old networks and cable meanwhile target their infotainment empires on relatively minor, yet sensational issues while “Rome burns,” in relation to vastly more important issues.

Maybe our media’s values are no more distorted than those of some Americans, but their oversight of the real issues is grossly distorted and irresponsible. Much of the news media no longer deserves the protections offered them under the Constitution. That’s a level of condemnation they should think about. Many news people should be embarrassed by their fellow “professionals.”

With Spring coming on, one tends to think of boating, and while I’ve certainly enjoyed the little pocket trawler SeaBell, at 1995 Nimble Nomad, and the only one of it’s kind on Geneva Lake, it may be time for me to consider parting with it, as I’ve found I don’t use it as often as I once did. I’ve noticed a number of viewers of my blog visit postings in which the SeaBell is featured. If you might be interested in owning her, and taking good care of her, let me know soon, before I begin to actively market the craft.

Toyota’s continuing PR crisis, today highlighted by news leads on a run-away Prius, is not running out of media space. It could be “accelerating,” to use a touchy word. As Toyota unveils its latest buyer incentives, today’s news story has gotten coverage equal to the infamy of recent weeks. I don’t recall seeing the term “Continuity Crisis Communications” used before, but Toyota is sorely in need of a communications plan that factors in a crisis that promises to keep reemerging, not for a few days or weeks, but perhaps for months, or even years.

They will be in need of “Continuity Crisis Communications,” the term I just coined, even if they do finally get to the engineering issue(s) that cause run-away acceleration in some cars of some models. Thanks to potential incidents with cars not adequately fixed (among millions out there), law suits over everything from deaths to lost vehicle value, and financial repercussions that could impact Toyota long-term, this crisis may never quite go away. While news media may tire, and be distracted elsewhere, as they inevitably do, this combination of mega and micro incidents and issues may plague Toyota long-term. Conventional PR tactics may prove insufficient to manage Toyota’s reputation, and the reputational fallout may go on and on.

In terms of public relations strategies and tactics, Toyota will need to stay focused on the customer, taking care of their needs and problems, borrowing whatever empathy they can for support in fixing problems akin to a cancer that won’t seem to go away, and keeps emerging, and challenging the best care and technology available.

Toyota needs to enlist the public as allies in solving the kind of problems that seem unfair and to have come out of nowhere. Patience, determination, professionalism and an unwillingness to surrender to the foibles of technology must be engendered in Toyota’s “publics,” from employees and dealers, to customers and families, to NGOs and governments. Yes, Toyota is a victim too, and needs support and time to re-instill their great tradition of quality, reliability, value and above all, safety. That is Toyota’s long-term PR challenge.

As Jerry Lewis might say on his telethon, “the cure is out there and getting closer every day, if we all work together to find it.” PR can’t make up for actions, but PR can explain and build empathy for the actions being taken.

March 2010
« Feb   Apr »

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,764 other followers