October 23, 2003

Just Some Random Stuff

I love writing, but I HATE typing. I HATE writing with a pen. I HATE writing with a pencil.

If it were up to me, I'd be able to use some sort of mental telepathy to transmit my thoughts directly to paper. No more of losing a minute thought because I couldn't locate the that dastardly "Q" key. No more losing a funny analogy to the ether when I pause to question the spelling of a word. I'd just push my index fingers against my temples and think really hard, really focusing, until my thoughts bake their way into readable text, like hidden lemon juice writing being made visible when held near a toaster.

I know that they make special voice recognition software that transcribes spoken language into text, but the products are often so flawed I wonder if the underlying base code is not, in fact, comprised entirely of a compendium of old viruses and worms. In addition to being rather expensive, the products (such as IBM's ViaVoice) often can't distinguish between "there, their and they're" or any other multitude of English nuances that can trip up even the most polished grammar nazi.

Besides, you're still relying on a middleman to get your thoughts down. Instead of a keyboard, you have a headset and software and, ultimately, your voice. I, for one, have a terrible time speaking my mind. It all comes out in a jumble of nothings because, like typing, my mouth simply can't adequately convey what the hell my brain is trying to tell it. The mouth can only spew forth one thought at a time, while the brain can process several thoughts at once, and five out of every six thoughts have to be set aside due to the mouth's ineffectual design.

Those extra thoughts just kind of sit there for awhile, waiting for the spoken thought to have its say. But, if the one thought takes up the mouth podium for too long, the remaining thoughts eventually start to wander off, miffed that they haven't been given equal time. Don't piss off a thought. They'll leave you.

Just my own take on the Rumsfeld memo that the media jumped on like lions on a gazelle: I honestly don't understand what all the fuss is about.

Every week, our magazine staff meets on Wednesday morning to get updates from everyone and to brainstorm. Our publisher often asks very pointed questions to find out where everyone is on a particular article or to find out where managing editors are in getting their particular issue together. We try to guess where the technology marketplace may go, particularly where IBM is concerned, and come up with article ideas accordingly. By all accounts, we have a pretty successful portfolio of magazines we produce, but we're always wondering where and how we could be doing better.

With that in mind, let's turn to Rumsfeld:

The questions I posed to combatant commanders this week were: Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment? Can a big institution change fast enough? Is the USG changing fast enough?

Or, as my publisher might say: Are we reaching our readership base? Are we doing enough to entice advertisers? Can we find a niche magazine market regarding IT that hasn't been exploited by several other publications? To me, Rumsfeld is asking good questions that should inspire thoughtful and, hopefully, fruitful discussion.

With respect to global terrorism, the record since Septermber 11th seems to be:

We are having mixed results with Al Qaida, although we have put considerable pressure on them — nonetheless, a great many remain at large.

USG has made reasonable progress in capturing or killing the top 55 Iraqis.

USG has made somewhat slower progress tracking down the Taliban — Omar, Hekmatyar, etc.

With respect to the Ansar Al-Islam, we are just getting started.

Again, this seems pretty straightforward. He's assessing US strengths and weaknesses, successes and shortcomings, etc. It would be pretty pointless to hold a meeting in which everyone agrees that we're just doing super great at everything, engage in a round of handshakes and break for an early lunch. Don't you think?

But then, there's the quote most of the media seized upon:

It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog.

For me, that's, like, well, duhhhhhhh. Anybody who honestly thought we'd initiate military campaigns to overthrow despicable regimes and new Statues of Liberty would sprout from the sand a couple of weeks later were disillusioned to the point of being institutionalized. But, how does the media spin that quote? For awhile, MSNBC.com had their lead story headlined "Grim Outlook." Today, I can't find that article, which has apparently be switched with "Rumsfeld questions war on terrorism." Or "Rumsfeld: Mixed results in war on terrorism."

All of this reminds me of one of my journalism classes in college. Each student was assigned a specific campus beat, and my beat was campus security. One night, campus security was called to deal with a fight between three students. Not particularly newsworthy, but one student was roughed up enough to require stitches. My professor encouraged me to find an angle to MAKE it more newsworthy.

That angle, it turned out, was that *gasp* alcohol was a factor. What a shock. Still, for a dry campus, the fact that a fight ensued, on campus, with three inebriated students suddenly became the story. When my professor eventually posted the story on our campus news Web site, it was headlined something like "Booze Sparks Brawl." Alcohol became "Booze." A scuffle became a "Brawl." Basically, a non-story became "News."

Likewise, a leaked Rumsfeld memo, which pretty much outlined everything anyone with half a functioning mind already knew, became a news story that indicated we may be LOSING the war on terrorism. Questions transmogrified into "Doubts" simply through the way in which the words were presented. Or to quote the lead paragraph of the MSNBC.com article:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned whether the United States was doing enough to win the war on terrorism, citing "mixed results" in the fight against al-Qaida in a pointed memo to top Pentagon officials last week.

Rumsfeld is portrayed as having doubts about the war on terrorism, and THAT became the story. THAT'S what became news. And THAT'S part of what's wrong with the big media today. Sensationalism sells, at the expense of integrity.

Posted by Ryan at October 23, 2003 11:19 AM
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