Monthly Archives: September 2020

FUD

I spent almost a decade working for a major medical equipment manufacturer. that made and sold products like CT and MRI scanners. These came with price tags in the millions of dollars, so competition was fierce, and customers wanted to make the best possible decision as to the best product.

Our most significant competitor was General Electric whose products were very good. Picker International, the company I worked for, would often be the first to introduce new technology. We used to joke that sometimes that the leading edge was actually the “bleeding edge.” GE might have lagged behind, but by doing so, they were able to observe and then develop a competitive, yet more mature product.

One of the sales tactics we often faced was referred to as FUD–Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Competitors would ask customers if they were sure that the new technology would work. What if this or what if that? Our biggest competitor could end their sales pitch with the following statement:

No one ever got fired for buying GE.

The statement was true. However, I don’t know of any case in which someone got fired for buying a GE competitor. Nevertheless, this the argument carried a lot of weight and was difficult to counter because it is impossible to prove or disprove a negative.

FUD is a powerful persuader that is not dependent on specific, proven facts.

Now that you know what FUD is, look for it in today’s political rhetoric

The US Constitution

Yesterday was Constitution Day, which marks the signing of the US Constitution on 17 September 1787. With all of the turmoil in our society, I struggled to figure out how to write about it without throwing gasoline on anybody’s fire. This is the best I can do.

The constitution is a marvelous document both imperfect and the product of its time. Twenty-five times it has been amended (There are 27 amendments, but the 18th [Prohibition] and the 21st [repeal of Prohibition] cancel one another).

While much of the constitution describes the mechanisms of government, but to me the very soul of the Constitution is its preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These days I read about people demanding their constitutional rights—a just and reasonable demand. However, without making a judgement about their position, I wonder how many of these people have actually read the Constitution. [Related story]

Sadly, it seems there are too few who acknowledge their responsibilities, as well as their rights. Members of the military and elected officials swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from foreign and domestic threats. I have experience with the military, and believe most are, in fact, committed to that oath, to the extent that they are willing to give their lives to do so. I do not have a similar personal familiarity with elected officials. However, I do not believe death is a significant risk for them. As near as I can tell, their risk seems to be limited to not being re-elected.

I suggest that one of the responsibilities we share is to have some familiarity with this marvelous document. I urge everyone to read the US Constitution.

Better yet, make it a habit to read it once a year—on Constitution Day.

Anti-Social Media

In the early days of the Internet, its primary users were academics who saw it as a forum for the free exchange of ideas. As such, it was afforded some legal protection by Section 230, which says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

That’s Section 230 in its entirety—short, sweet, straightforward. However, as we know, no good deed goes unpunished. Today, much of the internet is used as to present falsehoods, launch attacks, conduct illegal transactions, etc. all while remaining anonymous.

Why? Section 230 treats “interactive computer services” as conduits, like telephone companies. The phone company (supposedly) neither knows nor cares about what you say on the phone. On the other hand, newspapers, radio, and television must adhere to certain guidelines. For example, they cannot broadcast the tone used by the National Weather Service for emergencies unless it’s either an emergency or a clearly identified test. Likewise, certain language is prohibited.

The infamous website Backpage, protected by Section 230 until it was shut down, acted as a link for sex—including sex with minors. How many of these “sex workers” were, in fact, victims of human trafficking?

So, what’s the difference between communication and content providers? I see at least two major differences:

  • Telephone conversations are between two people or, in the case of a conference call, to a group of people who choose to participate. In any case, the audience is limited in some manner.
  • Mass media, like newspapers, radio, and television are intended to be available to anyone.

To my mind, social media are, today, more like mass media. In fact, I don’t see a fundamental difference. So why aren’t they regulated like other mass media?

Money.

The owners of social media have made so much money that I believe it is unlikely, if not impossible, for any control to be imposed.

When I write a blog, even when I’m aggressively challenging someone’s position, I endeavor to write factually, civilly, and coherently. I hope someday, this will be the norm. With Section 230 in place, this is unlikely.

How About a Little Reality?

(Typing one-handed–sorry)

A million years ago, when I was in uniform, if there was a threat, I expected immediate notification of whatever was 1) known, and 2) expected. My Sailors knew, far better than me, what was important. Their experience and expertise allowed me to coordinate efforts to support them. They were better at their jobs, thank God, than I was.

When a unit is being fired upon, when a squad is pinned down by a sniper, or a ship is taking on water, the facts–however ugly–are important. If the troops at a certain position are under attack, it doesn’t matter if they are calm. Reality is reality. If they have a reasonable view of the operational environment, they will do everything to succeed.

Some politicians worry about how events make people feel. I recommend that they worry more about giving people the information to make rational decisions. Adults who feel badly, unless personally affected, will be fine.

Being upset is better than being dead.

75th Anniversary WW II

Seventy-five years ago, the Second World War ended.

That was my parent’s war. The Greatest Generation’s war. At that time, every American was, in one way or another, invested in it. It was a very different time with very different values.

In a small gesture, I’ve been watching Band of Brothers–the story of one company of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army during World War II. The first time I saw any of this series was at the Pat Tillman USO in Afghanistan. I didn’t see much of it, as I was waiting for transportation to a FOB (forward operating base) or something. Nevertheless, the small exposure piqued my interest. Years later, my family gave me the set of DVDs.

The movie portrays the essence of the soldiers’ experiences. if not every precise detail. The movie is too intense for some, so the first time I watched it was with my son, Adam, when everybody else was away on a trip. Even for me, it was intense–as well it should be.

Today, when people view the history of warfare, some say, “I don’t get it, what was in it for them?” They’re right they don’t get it,” and it’s sad that they have passed through this life without  experiencing honor, courage, commitment, and camaraderie.

Survival of the Republic

Is progress really beneficial? I’ve been contemplating that–seriously–and I’m not sure.

George Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College. The initial idea was to avoid political parties. The candidate with the most votes became president, and the second place became Vice President. Therefore, George Washington became President and John Adams the Vice President.

After Washington served two terms, John Adams was elected the president, with Thomas Jefferson in second place and therefore the Vice President. The next election, Jefferson opposed Adams, won, and became president. Voila, the effort to avoid political parties died.

John Adams, who was one of the driving forces for independency, as it was called at the time, was described by others as “obnoxious and disliked.” His personality was matched by a short, rotund body, with few teeth. He might have been brilliant, but was not, in any way, attractive.

If Adams made a harsh comment, in those days, it would have merited little notice. Newspapers of the time were small and printed weekly or less. President Adams pronouncements would have been little noticed outside of Washington, DC.

Today, every comment, statement, quote, burp, or fart is immediately broadcast across the world with video of the incident, commentary, point and counterpoint within minutes.

Washington might survive today’s news cycle. Adams and his successor, Thomas Jefferson, probably wouldn’t.

Think about that. Think about the republic without Adams and Jefferson because of 24/7 cable news. I’m not saying it’s better or worse–I’m just asking you to think about it.

Are we better off today?