Check out this and this and this and this, and of course, this, too.
The lesson here? You cannot fool the blogosphere. Sooner or later you're going to get busted.
So if any other companies are thinking of surreptitiously hiring secret word-of-mouth "buzz agents" to shill for them, please bear in mind an axiom that politicians have known for years: the ability to keep a secret is inversely proporional to the number of people involved in your conspiracy.
So if you want to secretly hire one or two shills to plug your products, go ahead. You'll probably get away with it, at least for a while, for all the good those one or two shills will do you.
But hiring 10 or 20?
It's like picking up a gun only to shoot yourself in the foot.]>
Look back in history and you'll see that the United States has witnessed several upsurges of patent activity very similar to today's. The first one occurred in the 1880s, during the time of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, when the average number of new patents issued each year jumped 56 percent, to about 20,000 annually, compared with the 12,000 patents issued yearly the previous decade. This patent boom corresponded, of course, with rapid advances in the emerging steam, railroad, telegraph, telephone, and electric power industries that signaled the industrialization of the U.S. economy.
The next big increase in patent issuances began around 1902 and lasted until 1916 or so, when the number of patents granted doubled from 20,000 per year to around 40,000 annually. This was the period of the newborn automobile and aircraft industries' most rapid early-stage growth.
Patenting levels then remained relatively stable at about 40,000 per year until around 1960 or so, when the revolution in plastics and other synthetic materials along with boom-time growth in the aerospace and computer industries pushed patenting levels to 60,000 per year. And there they remained until the early-1980s, when new patent grants jumped to about 75,000 per year as the personal computer and other emerging high-tech industries of Silicon Valley began to power the whole of the American economy.
That level of patent activity steadily increased over the next decade to 120,000 or so patents issued annually. Then, in 1998, new patent issuances again exploded by almost 33 percent and have continued to grow slowly but steadily ever since to about 180,000 each year as the dot-com boom and then the emergence of Web 2.0 businesses began to power economic activity.
The point is, whenever the United States has undergone a major industrial renaissance during which technology advances led not only to the birth of new industries but to the reshaping of existing ones, patenting levels have risen dramatically. It is precisely such an economy-transforming renaissance that we are witnessing today.
To be sure, there are many problems with the quality of software patents being issued today. Almost half cite no non-patent prior art, which is a real tip-off that the inventions being patented may not be as novel and non-obvious as claimed. And the emergence of "patent trolls" who buy up patents for the sole purpose of extorting (er, excuse me, "litigating") licensing fees from companies they claim are infringers is also a problem.
But the number of patent lawsuits declined 10 percent last year. And the patent office is coming under increased pressure to reform its clearly-inadequate examination proceedures -- not the first time in its history that the USPTO has had to adjust to new technology and new challenges.
The point is, there is no evidence that, taken as a whole, the economy is suffering from any patent-induced slowing in innovation activity. Everywhere I look, at least, invention and the birth of new companies and industries appears to be going ganbusters.]>
He doesn't listen to advertising anymore. He no longer trusts corporate spokespeople or their messages. In fact, according to the 7th Annual Edelman Trust survey released just last week, people now say their most credible source of information about a company and its products is “a person like me” -- a trust level in peers that has skyrocketed from only 20 percent three years ago to 68 percent today (versus a trust level for corporate CEOs that has now plummeted to only 28 percent).
This lack of trust, of course, has major bottom-line consequences. More than 80 percent of people surveyed say they would refuse to buy goods or services from a company they do not trust. And new research also shows that negative consumer comments on blogs have a direct impact on corporate brands, earnings and share prices.
The fact is that consumers are no longer willing to put up with shoddy products, indifferent service, and lack of accountability and transparency. What's more, they are demanding a decision-making voice in shaping the products, services and media they consume. TiVo is one example of this new take-charge attitude on the part of consumers. Another is the fact that, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey released earlier this month, half of all teens in this country -- and 57% of those who use the internet -- have created a blog or web page, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online, or re-mixed content into their own creations.
Indeed, the consumer now demands more of business -- and thanks to blogs and other new consumer-empowering technology and media, he can now get it. Companies who meet these new expectations are rewarded. Those that don't see their businesses punished as never before.
How should business leaders respond to this new insurgent marketplace? How can they use blogs and other new "voice of the customer" media to develop a new and more democratic relationship with customers -- one that leverages customer insight and initiative to create more effective marketing, branding, product development and public relations strategies that materially enhance firm success?
Richard Edelman, CEO of the world's largest public relations agency, took the lead in answering this question when he posted what amounts to a new mission statement for his firm last Friday: As he noted, the traditional approach to corporate communications has always been a controlled process of scripted messages delivered by the firm to investors and consumers. But this top-down corporate communications model is now being supplanted by a peer-to-peer, horizontal discussion. And as a result:
"The consumer has become a co-creator, demanding transparency on decisions from sourcing to new-product positioning."
How to do business when the customer increasingly calls the shots is fast becoming a strategic issue for the executive suite.]>
"Corporate types steadfastedly refuse to believe that the post-marketing world is better ... blogging is considered an adjunct to marketing, 'just another channel' to carry messages, slightly recast perhaps, to one 'segment' of the 'market.'"
This tendency to define blogging as merely a new-fangled marketing vehicle -- and the business media are just as guilty of this -- has always bugged me, too. Indeed, 3-5 years from now, blogging's value in marketing may be seen as the least of its many benefits to business. Product development, enterprise management, the creation of new businesses -- these functions may turn out to be be the chief beneficiaries of corporate blogging initiatives.
What then, is the role of the marketer in the blog-fueled new commercial epoch in which customers increasingly call the shots in business?
I have some ideas ... chiefly revolving around marketers becoming facilitators of the customer insight and initiative that will increasingly become the fountainhead of enterprise success.
But does Boyd have other ideas? Does anyone?
Or are we truly moving into uncharted territory here?]>
The number of Fortune 500 companies with strategic public blogging initiatives, after all, is still quite small -- somewhere between 3-4%, depending on how you figure it. Many of those firms are what you might call "the usual suspects" -- i.e., technology firms such as IBM, Sun and Microsoft that are enmeshed in network culture. And basically none of them are the sort of brand-name consumer powerhouses that could really push blogging and related customer-contact media into the mainstream of everyday business.
By itself, this delay is not surprising, especially when you look at the history of early corporate involvement with the Web a decade ago. When the World Wide Web first emerged in 1994, some pundits predicted the "imminent demise of the shopping mall" as name-brand consumer product firms rushed to set up online stores. In point of fact, it took four years for the dollar volume of online shopping to even hit the $1 billion mark -- in other words, to even reach half the size of the real-world market in blow dryers.
Change, it turns out, usually takes longer than the pundits predict. Especially change in the business world.
But it does beg the question: What are the factors or conditions that will drive mainstream American firms to truly embrace external public blogging -- whether for marketing, product development or other purposes?
I asked two authors of business blogging books -- Jeremy Wright and Debbie Weil -- for their thoughts on this question:
Jeremy Wright, a corporate blogging consultant and the author of Blog Marketing, named three factors holding back a stronger corporate embrace of blogging:
"First, these things take time. It never happens as fast as we imagine. Second, the software tools are in many cases still too immature for enterprise use. And third, a clear ROI (return on investment) from blogging remains to be demonstrated."
As for Debbie Weil, also a blog consultant and the author of the forthcoming The Corporate Blogging Book, she stressed the psychological roadblocks to corporate blogging:
"Fear is the single most important thing holding corporate America back from embracing blogging. Fear of being open, fear of a two-way conversation, fear of not being able to control the message, fear of the time commitment."
Wright and Weil make good points, to which I would add one more:
Blogging really is not for the faint of heart or the control freak -- two personality types usually thought to be well-represented in the ranks of management.
That's because, first of all, there really are dangers involved in tearing down the traditional barriers to direct customer interaction with the firm. There are a lot of angry consumers out there -- their anger fed by decades of having to deal with shoddy products, indifferent service, and the lack of corporate transparency and accountability -- and now, thanks to blogging, for the first time in history they can finally hit back. Just ask Dell, Sony, Kryptonite, Circuit City, and others whose brands, if not also their revenues, have taken a beating from the blog-fueled revolts of angry customers.
But just as important, blogging will ultimately force companies to abandon many of the traditional ways they have always managed not only their public affairs but their marketing and product development functions as well -- not least by giving customers a far more powerful and direct voice in enterprise decision-making than has ever been the case before.
In short, blogging requires firms to turn many of their operations inside out -- or, more accurately, to reverse the polarity of corporate thinking and practice from inside out to outside in.
Think about it: With notable exceptions, most large companies have always operated on a push-driven model, creating everything from their products to their marketing messages in-house and delivering them to what has always been (until now) a passive consumer marketplace. Now, thanks to blogging and other new developments, the transmission belt to the consumer is reversing direction, and marketing and new product insights will increasingly flow from the customer to the company.
That's a huge, epic change -- the sort of change that will require a lot of "tough love" for executives to embrace.
As Weil noted:
"If you put blogging in the basket of corporate communications it runs absolutely antithetical to so-called current best practices."
Ain't that the truth.]>
That's a good point. As Cass notes:
Many people had commented on the GM blog, but many did not receive a response from GM, even through customers perceived that they would receive a response.
Cass has suggestions for how GM could handle the issue in the future.
Anyway, thanks to John Cass for his good work on this issue.]>
The article was eventually killed because the evidence I found did not prove the original proposition that there's a firm, direct or causal correlation between share price performance and the decision by a firm to blog.
Recently, Chris Anderson and Ross Mayfield announced a research project called the Fortune 500 Business Blog Index to continue the research into this issue. A number of commentators are interested in what develops, including Henry Lambert and Doc Searls and Debbie Weil.
I'd like to point out some problems with Chris Anderson's original supposition:
While it's true, as Chris notes, that F500 companies that blog have lower one-year share performance than those that don't, statistically this is no more relevant, as Sun's Jonathan Schwartz pointed out to me, than "the share price performance of firms whose CEO's answer their own email vs. those that don't."
The problem is that the percentage of F500 companies that blog is too small, the time period looked at in share performance too short, and the factors and timing behind any one company's decision to start blogging too varied to lend any real support (as yet) to Chris's original supposition.
Plus, when you factor in the five year data on share performance -- and especially the 5-year share performance against industry averages -- this makes even less of a case that share price is any real indicator of whether or not a company decides to blog.
True, there are a number of firms that started blogging clearly because they were suffering image problems that their traditional PR methods failed to redress -- Microsoft, GM and Boeing are cases in point. Interestingly, though, while Microsoft's share price is down nearly 9% the past year, Boeing's is up 29%. Go figure.
Which is exactly my point.
Meanwhile, other companies such as IBM and Sun are clearly blogging because they're enmeshed in network culture and wanted to get closer to their customers and developers. That's just a fact.
One other hardly-minor problem with Chris's supposition:
If you're trying to show that it's corporate malaise that induces companies to blog, then you've got to look at their share price performance PRIOR to starting to blog, which is different for every company.
To say that GM's share price performance over the last year that it's blog has been in existence is down 29% tells us NOTHING about what induced it to decide to start blogging 15 months ago when the decision was first made.
If you want to make any correlation between the last year's share price performance and GM's blogging efforts -- and it would be foolish to do so -- you could only conclude that blogging had hurt the company.
But in fact, as I note in my "First Year Report for GM's Blog" , there's no evidence that it has hurt the company and more than a little evidence that it has helped GM -- at least in the image and PR arenas.
The fact is there's no way to make the firm correlation Chris wants to make between corporate share price doldrums and the decision to start blogging.]>
"We had to do something to humanize the company and create a fresh image for GM," Wiley told me. And blogging was the solution they came up with.
All of which raises an interesting question: Do most companies tend to start blogging, as General Motors did, only when they're in trouble? In other words, is blogging a form of "tough love" for companies in crisis?
To be sure, surveys of companies that blog reveal a variety of motivations behind their efforts. But given that only 3 percent of Fortune 500 firms even have a public blog in the first place -- a clear indicator of the hesitancy and fear which still hamstring corporate acceptance of blogging -- it's not clear how much we could learn from such surveys anyway.
That said, it's certainly not difficult to find companies that have openly adopted blogging as an antidote to either poor corporate performance in general or ineffective public relations and marketing communications efforts in particular.
"When European competitor Airbus edged Boeing in passenger plane sales last year, the U.S. aircraft manufacturer decided to take its pitch to a growing audience in the blogosphere," noted the Anchorage Daily News recently. The blog, which generates 16,000 hits per month, is written by Boeing marketing vice president Randy Baseler. According to a spokesman for Boeing, "If you're a customer deciding between an Airbus product and a Boeing product, maybe [Randy's Journal, as the blog is called] tips you a little in your decision making."
And then there's Microsoft -- or more to the point, Robert Scoble, the poster boy for corporate-sanctioned employee blogging. Originally, Scoble worked at NEC, where he used his blog to resolve customer complaints and get product feedback. According to the Economist, Scoble's blogging work caught the attention of Lenn Pryor, Microsoft's "director of platform evangelism," who thought Scoble might be able to help Microsoft with its image problems.
Pryor, it turns out, used to be afraid of flying, but he discovered that by listening to the uncensored pilot and control tower communications over channel 9 at his airplane seat, "the irrational nature of my fear started to fade." Pryor wondered if, by listening to the honest, uncensored communications of Microsoft insiders, the supposedly "irrational" fears of Microsoft among many developers and customers might similarly be eased.
So Pryor hired Scoble to serve as the reassuring "pilot" of Microsoft's blogging effort. Three years later, it appears that Scoble, through candid blog postings that are sometimes quite critical of his new bosses, has accomplished what literally hundreds of millions of dollars in Microsoft image advertising and public relations initiatives over the last ten years could not -- i.e., the humanizing of a company once reviled as a monopolistic bully.
As the Economist put it:
"He has ... succeeded where small armies of more conventional public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has made Microsoft appear marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world, and especially to the independent software developers that are his core audience."
Would Microsoft even have hired Scoble had its own traditional public relations efforts not been so ineffective? Scoble has no way of knowing the answer to that question. But he did tell me that "being on top and being fat and happy certainly does seem to keep some companies from doing initiatives like blogging. It's hard to change when what you're doing seems to be working fine."
Not everyone believes that most companies tend to start blogging only when they're in trouble, of course. Executive blogger and Sun Microsystems president Jonathan Schwartz, for example, dismisses the idea that there is any connection between, say, a company's share price and its decision to start blogging. Instead, Schwartz insists, he and others at Sun started blogging simply because it allows them to communicate more effectively with the firm's customers and developers.
"Don't make blogging into something dark or mysterious," Schwartz told me. "It's just a way to communicate with more authenticity and transparency. In fact, ten years from now, probably all effective CEOs will have a blog. I really believe that."
Whatever the reasons why companies start to blog, one thing is certainly clear: it is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, blogging presents major challenges to the traditional ways companies manage not only their public affairs but also their marketing and product development functions -- not the least being that it gives customers a far more powerful and direct voice in enterprise decision-making than has ever been the case before.
But in a marketplace in which 90 percent of new products fail because of what R&D managers call "an inadequate understanding of the voice of the customer" -- and in which, according to a new study by Intelliseek, consumers trust recommendations from bloggers and their own peers far more than they do either advertising or media reportage -- it would seem that most companies could benefit mightily from a stronger customer voice in their affairs.
Certainly that's the view at GM, Microsoft, and Boeing, who all discovered that blogging's "tough love" was just the remedy for what ailed them.
"We had to do something to humanize the company and create a fresh image for GM," he told me. "I knew that a few quick PR hits wouldn't do the job -- that it would take something like a blog to really shake things up. But I could see the carcasses all over the place of companies that had tried to do gimmick blogs. So I was insistent that our blog had to develop a real conversation with our customers. That was the only way it would do any good."
So Wiley brought his proposal for a blog to GM management, and got the go-ahead -- initially for a small-block engine blog for enthusiasts of the company's 1960s muscle cars (which was eventually discontinued in October of 2005), and then for the launch on January 5, 2005 of a GM Fastlane blog -- one of corporate America's first executive blogs -- to be written by company vice chairman and product guru Bob Lutz.
Almost immediately, Lutz's blog turned into a free-for-all between the company and its customers. Typical was a February 2 posting by Lutz in which he addressed this reader complaint about the quality of GM vehicles:
"I'm still looking for an excuse to ‘buy American,’ after switching to Japanese vehicles 15 years ago. With all the talent and resources that GM has, why can't every GM division have at least one vehicle that is best in class for design, quality and performance? AND outsells the Japanese competition?"
In response, Lutz insisted that GM is "trying to live down a reputation that was probably at one time deserved, but is no longer justified." He went on to cite favorable J.D. Power and Consumer Reports quality surveys for several GM brands, and then offered this challenge to his readers: "Don't take my word on any of this. Check the data, and go make comparison drives."
Lutz's post that day generated a phenomenal 122 comments, roughly 40 percent of them negative. Typical was this response from Nicholas Weaver: "If GM wants to dispel [its] bad reliability reputation, then it's going to have to beat the Japanese brand and do it for several years." Noted another critic named Susan: "GM needs to work on interior quality and refinement. The panel gaps on the hugely expensive Cadillac Escalade [are] just unacceptable."
But there were also many positive comments, including this one from Diego Rodriguez, a product design and marketing expert who operates the popular MetaCool blog:
"Quality is an international language, and no one firm can claim a lock on it just because they're Japanese or German or whatever. The proof is in the pudding, and I just might have to go out and test drive a Buick. There, I said it."
Interestingly, a number of readers were grateful simply to have someone -- anyone! -- in authority at GM listening to customer complaints and suggestions:
"Bob, thanks for putting up this weblog. It's [great] to be able to give you feedback." Added reader Jeff Crew: "As a car enthusiast, do you know how exciting it is to have a peak 'behind the curtain'? This is absolutely outstanding!"
Now, after a year into GM's blogging experiment, Wiley told me he believes it's been a resounding success. To be sure, the company remains in a deep financial crisis, as its latest earnings reports and layoff announcements demonstrate. But to Wiley, who never expected blogging -- or, indeed, any experiment in new communications strategy -- to solve the company's sales and earnings challenges, the results of the first year of blogging are clear.
"For one thing, some of the suggestions from readers have made it onto the desks of GM designers, which I think in the long run will improve the quality and appeal of our vehicles," Wiley explains. "But beyond that, I do think that there is less of a tendency to call GM a dinosaur relic lately. In fact, the Business Week cover story on blogging [last May] even referred to us as 'surprisingly nimble.'"
Bottom line? "While it is difficult to pin down a quantum shift," says Wiley, "I feel confident that we have challenged the tired old stereotypes about GM."
I'd have to agree. And I might add that GM seems to have done everything right. GM's chief blogger (company vice-chairman Lutz) spoke in an honest and personal voice. He kept the PR department away from the blog's content. And the blog was equally open to both praise and criticism -- in other words, it was an authentic exchange between the company and its customers.
I'll wager that GM's more honest and intimate relationship with key customers will prove to be a formidable advantage in the company's efforts to surmount its current market challenges.]>
As soon as it became apparent that [Iraq] wasn't a war that could be fought and won overnight, our society of "instant gratification" became nonplussed. Support for the war waned, and Hollywood and the mainstream liberal media took it upon themselves to launch a NEW attack on America...an attack of words, designed to undermine the war effort and the administration of our President.
Instead of blaming the people, perhaps these pro-war bloggers should consider that it's the strategic and tactical incompetence of the Bush administration that's the real cause of the quagmire of Iraq.
As my pal Dick Haggart of Anchorage -- who wore a "No Hard Feelings" tee-shirt to lunch at Pete's Sushi Spot today --put it, Do the math!
He notes that December 7, 2005 marks the 993rd day since we invaded Iraq. In that time, we've organized a couple of elections. But the insurgency is deadlier than ever, sectarian chaos is growing worse by the day, basic services and oil production are at lower levels than before the war, the Iraqi army which is supposed to stand in for us is a joke (according to articles in the military's own newspaper, Stars and Stripes), and we seem to be no closer to victory -- i.e., a stable democratic Iraq -- than when we began this mis-adventure.
By comparison, 993 days after Japan put most of the Pacific Fleet on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, we had leap-frogged two-thirds of the way back across the Pacific, gutted Japanese naval and air power, were preparing to invade the Phillipines and Iwo Jima, had run the Germans out of North Africa, Sicily, and half of Italy, had pulled off the greatest seaborne invasion in world history by landing in Normandy on D-Day, and had already liberated most of France. Meanwhile, our Soviet allies, pushing from the East, had destroyed several German armies and were already closing in on the Third Reich's eastern border.
In other words, the war was basically won, and it was just a matter of time before our enemies were finally crushed and forced to surrender.
So instead of mouthing platitudes about "staying the course," perhaps the administration's supporters should ask themselves why the United States could accomplish so much in less than 1,000 days against the greatest military and sea powers of World War 2 -- Germany and Japan -- yet can't seem to make any significant headway against a third world rebel force that doesn't own even a single tank, ship or airplane.
The answer, of course, lies in Bush's fatally-flawed war on terror policy. We invaded the wrong target, we fractured our own alliances in doing so, we turned vast sectors of the world's population against us, we refuse to even supply our own troops with the proper equipment, translators, etc., and we've turned the country into a factory for the mass production of suicide bombers.
Way to go, Bush!
The truth is, the White House botched it. And the polls show people know it.]>
The days are over when a business could market a crappy product or treat their customers like marks and assume that the worst that would happen is that they get a few angry letters they could then just dump in the round file.
Thanks to blogging, the customers can now hit back -- big time!
The latest example comes from a blogger who had a bad experience with PriceRitePhoto.com, one of those ubiquitous online electronics retailers. As reported by Shankar Gupta of Media Post Publications reported:
48 hours after "Thomas Hawk"--a pseudonymous tech and photography blogger based in San Francisco--posted a nightmare tale of hard sells, threats of legal action, endless delays, and runarounds, PriceRitePhoto.com has found its Web site in shambles, and its listings removed from prominent shopping aggregators like PriceGrabber.com and Yahoo! Shopping.
I don't doubt "Thomas Hawk's" complaints are accurate, because I experienced the very same unscrupulous "up-sell" techniques followed by "I'm sorry we're out of stock" from six (count 'em, 6) online retailers when I recently tried to buy a new camcorder without all the extra batteries, lenses, etc.
Anyway, Hawk's story, which he posted on his Digital Connection blog, was seen by 125,000 readers, some of whom apparently took swift vigilante action. Reports Gupta:
Howard Baker, a manager with PriceRitePhoto.com, said the business had suffered "millions of dollars" worth of damages in the last two days, apparently at the hands of consumer vigilantes who had read the Digital Connection post.
"In the last couple of days there was one disgruntled customer that posted a blog that caused thousands of people to come out of the woodwork and jam our Web site," said Baker--citing viruses, denial-of-service attacks, and thousands of prank calls. "We're talking to our attorneys this afternoon, and will probably be taking legal action."
On second thought, maybe not. According to Gupta, PriceRitePhoto.com's owner, Ed Lopez, later posted this apologetic email on the site:
"On behalf of Priceritephoto I would like to sincerely apologize for the negative experience that you have experienced with our company," the e-mail read. "We are doing a comprehensive review of our company's procedures to ensure that something like this never occurs."
The Kryptonite fiasco. Dell Hell. And now PriceRitePhoto.com. Oh yes, and there's also the saga of Circuit City false advertising and customer abuse, also reported on the gadget blog Gizmodo.
More proof that blogging is "tough love" for companies that need to change their ways. How many more battered and bloody companies will have to litter the corporate landscape before business wakes up to the new, customer-empowered marketplace we're living in?]>
But if a report this week in Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the U.S. military, is to be believed, we're not going to be "standing down" until a good while after hell freezes over. Here's the lead paragraph from the Stars and Stripes article:
HAWIJA, Iraq — Despite having spent a year in the Iraqi army, Pvt. Juma Ali Khalaf, who says he does not know how to read or write, has never been formally taught how to fire his AK-47, which he carries daily in his job as a checkpoint guard in northern Iraq.
The 21-year-old Sunni Arab soldier, who says he joined the army for one reason — “I need the money” — had a chance to learn basic soldiering skills this month during a weeklong basic training crash course taught by members of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky.
But wait, it gets worse. The one week training course, which is held on the grounds of Forward Operating Base McHenry, is supposed to prepare these Iraqi troops to fight in what Stars and Stripes concedes is "one of northern Iraq’s most active insurgent areas." Unfvortunately, the results, noted the article, were not exactly encouraging:
Despite rosy predictions, the first group’s initial day of training got off to a shaky start. The small group of soldiers who showed up Saturday morning — originally they numbered 33, but two showed up five hours late — were scantily equipped for the mission. Between them, they carried six helmets. One complained that his boots did not fit. Others made a litany of requests for basic equipment.
The American trainers tried their best to mold these recruits into warriors capable of taking on hardened Jihadist fighters. However, as the Stars and Stripes piece noted:
Just an hour into shooting practice, a group of soldiers retreated to a nearby berm and put down their weapons, saying they did not want to continue.
But no matter. So as not to conflict with Pentagon and White House claims that over 200,000 Iraqi soldiers have been trained and equipped, all 35 of these Iraqi troops were deemed "ready for action" and graduated with full honors at the end of the training course.
Well, actually, the training was shortened to only five days, presumably because they couldn't keep the guys from wandering off any longer than that.
First Business Week ran a highly-favorable cover story entitled "Blogs Will Change Your Business." Their advice: "Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out. Our advice: Catch up ... or catch you later."
Then Forbes countered with a surprisingly-histrionic cover story entitled "Attack of the Blogs." Their advice? Be prepared to fight back, because blogs can "destroy brands and wreck lives."
Now, reports Jane Genova, Harvard Business School has weighed in with its endorsement (albeit with caveats) of corporate blogging. The smartest advice from Harvard? They quote Debbie Weil: "Don't let the PR department write your blogs. Bloggers will sniff it out, and when they do, you will lose all credibility."
Why all this schizoid corporate hesitancy about blogging? It's because blogging really isn't for the faint of heart or the control freak. In fact, blogging forces companies to throw out many of the traditional ways they have managed not only their public affairs but their marketing and product development functions as well -- not least by giving customers a far more powerful and direct voice in enterprise decision-making than has ever been the case before.
That's enough to make any CEO reach for his or her anxiety meds.
Morale is pretty lousy where I am, but I don't hear guys complaining about the lack of support back home. By "morale," of course, I don't just mean "I feel good." Morale describes how much troops believe in the mission at hand.]>
Now if the mission at hand is actually to bring democracy to this country, than frankly morale was shot a long time ago. The first time I was down here I heard troops saying that we just needed to bomb this country into oblivian and go home. That's a standard gripe and not entirely serious, but then, it does show that there is a certain lack of faith in the idea of spreading democracy here.
I have actually tried to ask fellow soldiers, "So do you think we're really spreading democracy down here?" That question elicits various responses from blank stares to outright laughter. Not once have I heard a soldier answer in the affirmative.
Morale is poor for a number of reasons, and it's true that support from home plays a role. But it's not the support of the common American people that we are lacking most, but the support of our government leaders who have repeatedly undermined -- and are still undermining -- this war by failing to provide the proper numbers of troops, training, and resources that we need.
So if we're going to dick around instead of treating this mission seriously -- and empty platitudes to "stay the course" don't count as taking the mission seriously -- we might as well go home.
Says blogger and screenwriter Roger L. Simon (who gave a fascinating interview for my book):
Finally a pro-democracy, pro-US involvement feature film about Iraq. I'm placing a bet right now this movie will go through the roof, to the consternation of many of Willis' peeers.
Now, I respect Roger, both as a blogger and as a novelist/screenwriter. But I think he's letting his frustration with the public's declining support for our Iraq mis-adventure get in the way of his better judgement here. For as Roger ought to know better than any of us, the last time Hollywood tried to pump up support for an unpopular war, the result was a disaster.
Remember The Green Berets, the 1968 pro-war epic starring John Wayne? Critics at the time called it "unspeakably stupid," and not just because it substituted white men in blackface for the dreaded Vietcong, Georgia pine forests for the tropical jungles of Vietnam, and a sun setting to the east off a beach in Da Nang for the usual place where the sun sets for the rest us in the real world (i.e., the west). The script was godawful, the characters aburd, and as a piece of political propaganda it was about as effective in generating public support for the war as General Westmoreland's "light at the end of the tunnel" speech -- which is to say, not effective at all.
Plus, it was a box-office yawner which, despite its big-budget special effects, generated only $21.7 million domestic compared to such 1968 hits as Funny Girl ($58 million), 2001: A Space Odyssey ($56.7 million), The Odd Couple ($44.5 million), and Bullitt ($42.3 million).
To be fair, Simon hedges his bet a bit by noting that his faith in the success of the forthcoming Bruce Willis flick is "a risky prediction in the movie and political worlds." But he says that given a new poll of public opinion showing that 70 percent of people surveyed say criticism of the war by Democrats hurts troop morale, he "feels pretty secure" about the film's ability to tap what he feels is a deep vein of latent popular support for U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Simon, however, is mis-reading the meaning of those poll numbers. Of course most Americans -- including that majority of Americans who oppose the war and believe that the Bush administration misled us into it -- recognize that lack of public support for the war is bound to hurt troop morale. How could it be otherwise? If you're a soldier on the ground in Iraq and you realize that you're risking your life for a cause that the majority of your countrymen no longer believe in, how could this not affect your morale to some degree?
But the alternative is to allow this futile war to continue without question or criticism, and thereby sacrifice many more troops than would otherwise be lost if only the current war policy were changed to reflect the reality of conditions on the ground in Iraq -- including the reality that it's the presence of U.S. troops itself that is fueling much of the insurgency and chaos in that country.
At bottom, I think what's driving Simon's enthusiasm for Hollywood's latest attempt at war propaganda is the mistaken belief that it's the media's unflattering portrayal of the situation in Iraq that is responsible for the declining public support for the war.
The same was said about the media's role in the loss of public support for the Vietnam War, of course, but in neither case was this true. In fact, a slew of studies -- most especially this one -- have demonstrated conclusively that while media coverage can have some modest, short-term effect on public support for a war, its impact pales before what Clausewitz, in his seminal work On War, viewed as the only two truly decisive determinants of public support for a war -- 1) whether or not the government has a clear and decisive war policy, and 2) whether the objective situation on the ground is getting better or worse.
If either or both of these are going against you, then no amount of gung-ho media coverage or pro-war cinema is going to maintain public support. And the real-world proof of that lies in the distance we have traveled since May of 2003, when it seemed (for a short while after Saddam was toppled) that Bush and his neocon planners really knew what they were doing in Iraq -- and when, as a result, 76 percent of the public supported the war effort.
Now -- post-failed WMD intelligence, post-Abu Ghraib torture, post-daily suicide bombings, post-political gridlock in Baghdad, and post-an insurgency that never really is on its "last legs" like the war apologists keep assuring us -- we know that the White House's war policy was really no policy at all. It was all just hubris, combined with the neocons' willingness to sacrifice the lives of working-class men and women to their ideologically-driven and negligently-planned campaign to remake Iraq and the Middle East into a pro-American bastion.
All they've accomplished -- apart from the deaths of 2,100 Americans and about 50,000 Iraqis -- is to transform Iraq into a factory for the mass production of Jihadists and the Middle East into a cauldron of anti-Americanism.
And because those are the facts on the ground, all of Hollywood's action stars together can't put this humpty-dumpty war policy back together again or reverse the majority view in America that this war is a lost cause.