Saturday, January 24, 2015

Geekdom Disabled

We're not very high-tech folks, so when computer glitches or complex updates baffle us it's nice to be able to let experts deal with the problems. We buy a Geek Squad service package for that purpose, and it has served us well.

The Geek Squad has an outpost about 20 miles from our home in a Best Buy store.  We journeyed there yesterday with a desk-top puter that had developed several small, but irritating, problems. We also wanted professional installation of a new program similar to one that had been difficult to get running properly in the past.

Help available electronically only.
The resident geek eyeballed us, the tower I had carried in, and a brief want list we handed to him. "Sorry," he said, "our system is down and we can't log in any work. Looks like you have a virus, for one thing. You can call our 800 number and someone will talk you through fixing that."

"But we come here for service because we don't like doing walk-through fixes on the phone. Can't we just leave it here as usual?"

"You can't leave it, we can't sign in any new work until our system is up."

Amazed, I asked if I was failing to understand something. The geek assured me I was not.

Apparently geeks are now so high-tech they are unable to write on a piece of (oh, horrors) paper, the name of a customer, the date puter hardware was left for service, and what was needed. In our case, we even provided the piece of paper with the "what's needed" part already written. A duplicating machine nearby was working perfectly, so an old-fashioned  writer would have been able to hand a copy of a note to us in a matter of seconds.

I've noticed some young clerks have great difficulty doing basic arithmetic when no machine is available to make calculations for them. But this was my first encounter with an apparently fully functional adult who couldn't or wouldn't create a simple hand-written note. How ridiculous is our supposedly sophisticated cyber world becoming?


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Failed Hope

Sometimes it's interesting to look back at statements of our hopes to see if dreams came true. A small commentary and remembrance about journalism appeared nearly seven years ago in a book I authored, "Days With The Dads." Obviously, my wish that the "yellow journalism" experiencing a resurgence in the electronic media would turn out to be only a temporary phase did not come to pass.

News reporting in the U.S. has become steadily worse, and there are no indications it will get better. With only minor changes, my 2008 item follows.

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Yellowish Journalism

By the time I became public relations coordinator at the McCoy Job Corps Center in 1967, "yellow journalism" was almost a thing of the past in the U.S. The practice flourished in the 1890s and early 1900s, when powerful publishers emphasized sensationalism, bias, and phony images in their newspapers to boost circulation. 

Although yellow journalism gradually yielded to objectivity in news reporting, some of the bias in images and presentation stayed around a long time.  At the extremes in my lifetime were the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Manchester Union-Leader in New Hampshire.  The Cap Times stood ready to flail any available Republican; the Union-Leader displayed similar antagonism toward Democrats.

The McCoy Job Corps Center was about an equal distance between the communities of Sparta and Tomah in Wisconsin.  News media in Sparta treated us with respect, and often gave welcome support.  Not so in Tomah.  The radio station, especially, seemed to delight in whacking us below the belt at every opportunity.

Sparta businessmen and other community leaders hosted a farewell luncheon for our staff members in 1968 shortly after the announcement that the McCoy Center was being closed. (It was one of 16 centers closed by the federal government for "economy reasons").  My boss, the manager of public and community relations, was away job hunting, so I inherited the task of speaking on behalf of our organization.

I spent several hours preparing my remarks.  Three sentences that brought considerable applause were: "I came here after working for the biggest corporation in this State.  Our center managers sometimes grappled with more problems in the first few hours of a day than the corporate executives had to deal with in a typical week.  But our people faced the challenges, solved every one of the problems, and made the McCoy center a success."

A reporter from the Tomah radio station was taping the proceedings.  Starting that afternoon and lasting throughout the next day, the station played my comments as part of its news reports.  However, the last of the three sentences was omitted.

Unfortunately, the yellow journalism practiced by the Tomah radio station made a comeback in  21st century electronic news media.  Fox News obviously slanted its television presentations and images to support archconservative political views.  MSNBC was accused of doing the same thing on the liberal side. Various talk show hosts were even worse.  Let us hope this is a passing fad and not a trend back to what would be an undesirable norm once again.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Don't Read for the New Year

If  you react a bit slowly to the New York Times' Bestseller List, be of good cheer.
A November entry, "The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America's Grasp," by Marin Katusa, may go down in publishing infamy as one of the most-wrong analyses of the international situation ever issued.
 
Skip this one.
Katusa, a self-proclaimed energy expert, tells us that Russia has wrested control of the energy trade from Saudi Arabia and that Putin's rule has his country in the midst of a rapid economic renaissance. 

How are those statements looking a scant two months after the book was published? Russia's currency is in free-fall. So much oil has flooded world markets that Putin's economy, which depends almost entirely on energy exports, is tanking. The Saudis demonstrated their powerful influence on world energy markets at the most recent OPEC meeting when they refused to cut production to shore up falling crude oil prices.

If you missed  "The Colder War," rejoice.