Saturday, June 22, 2013

Same Story - Different Facts

There was big news in the financial community this week as the prison term for former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling was reduced. There were a number of legal reasons behind the reduction and you can read about it at and, among others. These two articles are quite different in tone and focus but that is not the topic for today.  Nor is the reduction of the Skilling sentence. Rather it is about getting the facts and reporting them accurately.

There is a minor detail in each of these stories that is quite different. The Bloomberg story says one thing and the story says another. (Can you find it without looking below?) 

This small discrepancy makes me wonder what might be wrong in other stories we read. While a small thing, it was so noticeable that it changed what I planned to blog about today.

The fact in question: Bloomberg says Skilling lost his oldest son while incarcerated and Fortune says he lost his youngest son. While the death of any child is devastating for the parents,Skilling's tragic loss is not the at issue in this blog. Accurate reporting is.

By the time you read this, one of these sites may be corrected so I copied the pertinent sentences below so you could see them for yourself.
  • Prosecutor Patrick Stokes said that both of Skillings’ parents and his oldest son died while he was incarcerated, calling that “a tremendous tragedy.”(Accessed 6/22/2013 at 8:15 AM)
  • During the time Skilling has been in prison (he's now incarcerated at a low-security facility outside Denver), both his parents and the youngest of his three children have died. (Accessed 6/22/13 at 8:18 AM)
Most readers probably don't catch things like this because they don't read stories sourced from two news organizations one right after the other. They tend to have their favorites and read only those sites. 

I bring this to your attention as a reminder that we cannot believe everything we read, regardless of the source. We also must give our family and friends a little leeway if they cite a story that has facts that differ from the ones we read. The above examples are proof that "facts" can be wrong and it is up to us to confirm them before we believe them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Smartphones and World Peace

CBS Sunday morning opened yesterday with a feature about communication, or the lack of it, centering primarily on smartphone use and whether or not such use was detrimental. Is a cell phone physically harmful? If the user isn't paying attention and walks off a train platform onto the tracks - yes. Having access to the Internet for research is helpful and even stimulating; converting all communication to texting and Facebook isn't.

I state at the outset that I love my smartphone. It is a terrific tool and helps me do many things more efficiently. I confess that I rarely text beyond the simple 'where to meet and when' types of messages. I find a phone call is often more efficient if the message is a complex one.

While watching the news piece, I suddenly had a concern about smartphone use that was not mentioned. I wondered how world leaders in the next generation will communicate if they merely text one another.

Some will say that instant communication can bring nations together. I totally agree - as long as we are talking about the general population. However, it is the leaders of nations who determine inter-global relationships. If they never meet face-to-face, how are they to judge intent?  You can't see a smile in a text. Does an emoticon truly replace expression? Of course not. Anyone can insert an LOL or a smiley face when what they really mean is that they intend to start a war. Without face-to-face or voice-to-voice dialogue, it is impossible to interpret body language or vocal tone. If we cannot see or hear how someone is reacting to what we say, we cannot adjust or restate. 

Our future leaders are not learning the skills necessary for complex human communication. By not teaching them, are we sowing the seeds for the dystopian world that is so popular in our current culture? I certainly hope not.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

State Farm Ad a Mystery

You know the ad - the one where a man is phoning State Farm's call center at 3 AM and his wife comes into the room and doubts he is speaking to State Farm. She grabs the phone and asks, "What are you wearing, Jake, from State Farm?"

This commercial irritates me so much I click away from it. When it happened again last night, I decided it was time to figure out what bothers me so much.

1. Why is this man calling State Farm at three in the morning? Why isn't he in bed asleep? Does he suffer from insomnia? He seems wide awake.

2. The husband is speaking softly - out of courtesy? Or does he do this a lot and he doesn't want to get caught at it - again.?

3.  The commercial implies that the spouse already has suspicions about her husband's behavior. If she didn't, her first thought when hearing that he is talking to State Farm would be that there has been an accident, not that he is talking to a woman.

4.  Perhaps the wife is exasperated because her husband prowls around all night and she can't get any sleep. Maybe this is just one night in a string of nights with him making calls at odd hours.

5.  Or, if this woman is such a shrew, why is this guy still with her? Why would he put up with such behavior if, as suggested, she always acts this way?

I suspect this ad is supposed to be funny. For me it's just plain irritating. If this were a book or a television drama, one of them would be a murder victim. Perhaps it's the writer in me but I like commercials that make sense and this one doesn't. In fact, why it's still running is a mystery to me.