#12 Turd Sandwich featured on Blue-Plate Special Edition

Rather than having an Open Blog Friday, as has been the tradition here on Gone to Texas, we decided to use a more appropriate name given some of the items on the menu today.

First, let me define a blue-plate special, which is a staple down at Sparky’s Diner and other fine eateries around the land.  It refers to a low-priced menu item common for about thirty years, beginning in the 1920s.  It usually changed daily, and featured one meat and three sides on a single plate.  The catch is the special of day came with no substitutions.  In other words, you eat what you get.  Take it or leave it.

Today seemed an appropriate time to introduce the ShadeyHill Ranch version of the blue-plate special given the revelation earlier in the week that President Obama referred to our Libyan Adventure as a turd sandwich in a private conversation, as reported by NBC News White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie.

But, before we get to that catchy presidential phrase, let’s go back to the president’s speech on March 28 regarding why we are involved in Libya and the role of the US military in defending forces opposed to Libya’s strongman Big Mo Ghadhafi.

The political brain trust here at the ranch watched in amazement as the president violated every rule in what I have called The 4Cs of Credible Communication: Clear, Correct, Concise, and Consistent.

Those of you who took a speech or communication course in high school or college may remember the basic communication model:

Message => Sender => Medium => Receiver

Interpretation of the message and feedback complete the successful communication process.  Any glitch along the way, though, can produce negative outcomes of varying degrees.  Miscommunication on a first date may result in no second date.  On a global scale, miscommunication could mean nuclear war.

Too many variables in the aforementioned model, such as type of message, characteristic of sender/receiver, choice of medium, etc., led me to develop my 4 Cs of Communication.

I’ve asked colleagues and my university students over the years to find credible communication examples that do not incorporate all 4 Cs.  And to date, no one has done so.

Here are brief definitions of each C.

Clear

Let’s start with Clear, although I should point out that no C is more important than the others.  A graphic is the easiest and best example of this category.  Your organization probably has a set of graphic standards dictating the appropriate use of your logo so that it’s clear and easily identifiable.

Clear also refers to the meaning of a word or of your organization’s message.  The writer’s guidelines for a Public Relations Society of America publication, for example, say not to assume the reader knows everything.  “Clearly explain or identify anything that may not be common knowledge.”

Have you ever received unclear directions?  A Cuban friend looking for directions in a small Mississippi town was told to drive down the street and turn left at the tar place.  He never saw a tar place, but he passed a tire store a couple of times.

Concise

I always tell anyone who will listen that you should write as if you had to pay for each word.  That means you don’t use more words, or bigger words, than needed.  Sounds simple enough, but even the best of the pros get carried away.  A few years ago, PRSA sent out a news release with an opening sentence containing 63 words, of which 20 were in the dependent clause that started the sentence.

How often have you seen “on a permanent basis” or “on a daily basis” instead of “permanently” or “daily”?  Is it wrong or offensive to use three or more words instead of one?  No, but why would you?

Adding just one word to a phrase may not seem like much, but it can make the phrase look silly.  A local university frequently touts that its students come from more than 130 different countries.  I hope so, because it would be really weird if the 130 countries were the same.

Consistent

Consistency may be contrary to nature, according to Aldous Huxley, but it is imperative to credible communication in any form.  Again, one of the PRSA writer’s guidelines says to use parallel structure.  Why?  Because it keeps your points, items, or phrases consistent.

Consistency also can keep you out of trouble.  Nothing raises suspicions among journalists, or significant others, more that inconsistencies in your story.

Even if there is nothing nefarious going on, you must be consistent in message, style, and information.  A national corporation bragged in its news release that its Houston aquarium had 600,000 gallons of underwater tanks, while its brochures placed the gallons at a half a million.  Nitpicky?  Maybe.  But it’s still not consistent. And not correct, since I’ve never heard underwater tanks counted in terms of gallons.

Correct

You would think correct information is a given for any organization, particularly one that wants stakeholders to take it seriously and wants to maintain control of its message.  Incorrect information doesn’t help one’s credibility.

When I worked for a state university, I used to say that being an institution of higher education means we have to look like we have a higher education.  One year, for example, the university’s annual financial report had four mistakes on the cover, six on the first page, and five in the letter from the VP.  Accountants may have written the report, but the number of mistakes in the first few pages could call into question the accuracy of the numbers.

Misspellings (alright), wrong words (irregardless), noun/verb agreement (media doesn’t) are bad on their own, but imagine the damage from incorrectly identifying someone in a photo.  A non-profit organization’s magazine not only gave the wrong name to the wife, but used the first wife’s name.

The best example of the 4 Cs in use is the simplest.  Not long ago, some guy wanted a CHI-TOWN tattoo.  When finished, it was clear (easily read), concise (seven letters), consistent (one color, same font and point size), but it came out CHI-TONW.

Back to the turd

President Obama’s rambling 20-minute speech came up short in clearly defining why he  committed US military power to the UN-sanctioned action undertaken by forces from NATO and a few Arab nations, some already facing uprising from their people.

According to Obama, NATO is in command of the operation to establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. And that clearly is not the case.  The commanding three-star general is a Canadian, yes, but he reports to the commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Forces Command, Naples, who is a US admiral who reports to the head of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Command, Europe, who, by definition, is always an American.

And, let’s not forget the United States pays 22 percent of NATO’s budget, almost as much as the next largest contributing nations, Great Britain and France, combined, as pointed out in a fact-checking piece from the Associated Press.  There’s a good, old saying that reminds us that he who buys the paint gets to choose the color.

OK, so we can make a case that on this one pretty important issue, President Obama was neither clear nor correct.

As for the president’s assertion that “our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives,” once again he violated my 4Cs, two of them, in fact: Correct and Consistent.

Prior to his speech, the president let everyone know that regime change was the goal of our Libyan Adventure. Yes, one can make an argument that saving lives through the destruction of Big Mo’s military may lead to Ghadhafi leaving office voluntarily or in a body bag. But, the fact that our forces intervene with extreme prejudice on behalf of those seeking Big Mo’s political or physical demise is not the same as standing guard around them and issuing the warning of “None shall pass.” To do that, of course, would mean putting boots on the ground.  And no one with any common sense believes we don’t already have boots and more in the Libyan desert.

Continuing the humanitarian theme, the president said he “refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

OK, fair point. I have often criticized another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Khofi Anan, who stood by with the rest of the world and watched the slaughter in Rwanda when he was UN Secretary-General. But, we’ve seen other nations commit violence against their people in the last month without any hint of US military intervention.

As pointed out in the AP story, forces loyal to the Ivory Coast’s illegitimate president Laurent Gbagdo have used heavy weapons against their own people, killing nearly 500 supporters of the legitimately elected president.  More than one million people have fled that nation since the start of the violence.

Let’s not forget Darfur where Amnesty International says more than 90,000 people are believed to have been killed since 2003, with another 200,000 thought to have died from conflict-related violence, and more than 2.3 million people internally displaced.

And don’t get misled into believing we are protecting our oil interests in Libya. As pointed out in a USA Today article, the US gets about 44,000 barrels of oil a day from Libya, which is less than one-percent of our total oil imports.  In comparison, Saudi Arabia accounts for a little over nine percent of our imports.

Probably the strangest moment in the president’s speech came when he tried to disguise this turd sandwich as a gourmet burger when he related a story about jubilant Libyans coming to the aid of two US fliers who had to bail out of their aircraft near Benghazi.  It would have been a touching ending to this sorry excuse for a speech, except for one thing the president failed to mention.  At the time, NATO was investigating reports, including broadcast and published reports by British media, that NATO forces sent in to rescue the US airmen shot at least six villagers, including a boy who may have had a leg amputated.

Fearless Fosdick, the Al Capp police detective, used to shoot diners in the head to keep them from eating poisoned beans.  I’ll withhold any comparison with Obama and his turd sandwich.

Al Qaeda in the mix?

A turd sandwich, as with sausage, may not be something you want to watch being made under normal circumstances; however, when this turd involves the possible arming of individuals who have killed thousands of Americans on US soil and continue to wage their brand of holy war against us, then we might want to poke around and see what’s inside.

After the president’s speech this week, Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, said our nation picked up what he called “flickers in the intelligence of potential al Qaeda, Hizbolla participation among the rebel groups in Libya.”

The UK’s The Telegraph reported that senior British government figures described his comment as “very alarming”.

Some folks say this is no different than when we armed the Taliban in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which seemed a good thing at the time, but not so wise now.  The big difference here is that the Taliban has never attacked US citizens on US soil.

So, the more you look at this turd sandwich on the plate, the more it seems to stink, and no amount of special sauce is going to make it better.

Why MBA students can’t write

Our first side on the blue-plate special deals with a recent story in The Wall Street Journal titled Students Struggle for words, business school put more emphasis on writing amid employer complaints.

The story really tells us nothing new, not if you have any contact with the writing skills of college students, particularly business students.  Or, if you spend much time reading business journals and reports.  According to the story, employers and writing coaches say B-school grads ramble a lot, use big words inappropriately, or send out emails that are not appropriate for the subject.

Essay scores for students taking the GMAT, that’s the Graduate Management Admissions Test, fell about six percent between 2007 and 2010.  While that may not be a statistically significant decline in the writing ability of these future biz whizzes, it does back up the anecdotal evidence from employers.

In case you didn’t notice, this topic goes back to the importance of my 4Cs of Communication.  My MBA in finance, together with my journalism experience, allows me to understand and report on financial stories easier than a journalist with no business background.  I used to ask the heads of journalism departments why they don’t require their journalism majors to take business courses, such as basic economics or accounting.

My reasoning is that when these students graduate, chances are good that they will work for a small-town newspaper where some of the biggest stories of the year involve the annual budgets of local government agencies, like school boards and city councils. I can’t tell you how many tasty stories I’ve found buried within these budgets.

But each time I brought it up, the excuse was that business courses fall under the business schools while journalism resides in the liberal arts.

Of course, I felt obliged to point out that business schools have started teaching writing courses, which would seem to knock down one side of that silo.

The Wall Street Journal piece backed me up on this one.  The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, plans to double its communication coursework to 12 classes starting in 2012. The University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business hired two writing coaches last fall after complaints about the writing skills of its graduates.  And at Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration, some students have professors and a writing coach grading their papers.

Now, maybe journalism schools will follow suit and hire some writing coaches.  Just this morning a smiling local TV news anchor told us that Texas lawmakers decided to dip into the state’s rainy-day fund to get them through the budget season.

Maybe she confused hard-ball politics in Austin with the start of baseball season. You realize I’m just being kind.

Hunker in the bunker, Bunkie

Our next side comes to us courtesy of London’s Daily Mail, which carried a story about how you and I can fork over $25,000 to reserve a spot in an underground doomsday bunker planned for the plains of Nebraska.

The paper says reservations for the 137,000-sf underground compound that can accommodate 950 survivors have jumped 1,000 percent since the Japan earthquake last month.

Vivos is a California-based outfit that claims the planned global network of underground shelters will protect the thousands of people inside from “most catastrophes, including a pole shift, super volcano eruptions, solar flares, earthquakes, asteroids, tsunamis, nuclear attack, bio terrorism, chemical warfare and even widespread social anarchy.”

The folks behind this idea say Vivos is privately funded and not associated with any religion.

Besides the peace of mind that comes with knowing everyone you know is dead, but you survived, you will enjoy all of the modern conveniences of home, and more.  Each complex will have four levels of residential suites, a dental and medical center, kitchens and bakeries, pet kennels (no word if pet reservations cost extra), a prayer room, a fully stocked wine cellar because I mean, who wants to survive the end of days without a nice chablis, and a jail for miscreants.

So, Bunkie, does the idea of this bunker sound good to you?  Well, it’s not first-come-first-served.  No siree. You must fill out a profile that the selection committee will use to determine if you have the right stuff to contribute to the long-term survival of the entire group.

There is no immediately indication that one criterion is the ability to spot a turd sandwich.

Snooki in high cotton

And that brings us to our third side on today’s blue-plate special.

Media reports today tell us that Snooki Polizzi of TV’s Jersey Shore this week got paid $32,000 from the Rutgers University Programming Association to talk about hairstyles, fist pumps, and GTL. That’s gym, tanning, and laundry for those not in the know.

The money came out of the mandatory student activity fee, and the people handling the funds apparently thought it was money well spent.

Who’s to say?

Rutgers this year decided it would break tradition and shell out cash for a speaker for its May commencement.  They booked Nobel-winning novelist Toni Morrison for only $30,000.

We’ll have to wait to see what pearls of wisdom Morrison imparts for her thirty grand.  As for Snooki, she is reported to have told students to “study hard, but party harder.”

There was no mention if a turd sandwich was part of her fee.

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About John David Powell

John David Powell - Gone To Texas is a daily blogcast from ShadeyHill Ranch carried exclusively on Blog Talk Radio at www.blogtalkradio.com/johndavidpowell. We feature discussion of events in Texas and the world hosted by multiple Lone Star Award-winning journalist and author with 5 decades of news and broadcasting experience.
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