Planes, Trains and Technophiles


I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I listen to politicians talking, I get a headache.

Listen to what’s been said, publicly, during this election cycle or the previous one, by people trying to convince me that they should be in charge of things:

Trump: “I’m going to build a wall, a beautiful wall.  And it will have a beautiful door…”

Clinton: “I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.”

Perry: “The third agency of government I would do away with – the education, the uh, the commerce and let’s see. I can’t the third one. I can’t. Sorry Oops.”

Sanders: “We’re going to have a revolution. We’re going to raise the minimum wage and make college education free for everybody.”

Bush: “I have a lot of really cool things that I can do…”

Sometimes I wonder if, during the sixties, all these people attended the same college and took some really bad acid.

But, every once in a while, somebody says something right and I know it’s right. Carly Fiorina did this several weeks ago.  She was talking about cyber security. She said that the government doesn’t understand technology—that it’s afraid of new technology.  She said that anyone who is President ought to go to the CEOs of technology corporations and ask for their help.

If you’re under 60, you may not know this:  At the outbreak of World War Two, President Roosevelt turned to the private sector and yelled “Help! I need guns and ammunition and tanks and planes!”  And guess what?  They did it.  The auto industry is a great example:  In 1941 (the year the war began), more than three million cars were manufactured in the United States. During the next four years of the war, only 139 cars were made. Chrysler made airplane fuselages. General Motors made airplane engines, guns, trucks and tanks. The average Ford car had some 15,000 parts. The B-24 Liberator long-range bomber had 1,550,000. Ford turned one out every 63 minutes.

If you want to know the real story behind WWII, read about how private enterprise became the “Arsenal of Democracy” because the President asked them to do it. It was an astounding achievement that has never been duplicated.  When there’s a dire need, no country can make it happen faster or better than us.  Why?  Because we have smart people.  They’re not running for President, but we do have smart people.

Here’s how I know Carly is right about technology.  I spent a lot of my life in the private sector.  But the last ten years have been spent in a government office, dealing with government organizations and entities.  This is a typical phone conversation on nearly every day of those ten years, and usually several times a day:

THE GOVERNMENT:  “That requires Form 22bx and a copy of any of Mr. Smith’s W2s and his drivers license.”

ME:  “Yes, I have all that here.”  (I probably don’t need to tell you that I have it filed digitally and am looking at it on a computer screen.)

THE GOVERNMENT:  “Mail that to us and we can begin the procedure.”

ME: “That sounds time-consuming.  Is there a faster way of getting this done?”

THE GOVERNMENT: “Our fax number is 123-456-7890.”

ME: “Do you have e-mail? I mean, we might not save an entire tree, but surely we’ll be guaranteeing somebody an extra toothpick or something.”

THE GOVERNMENT: “We are not allowed to send or accept e-mail.”

ME: “Well I just have to ask. Why not?”

THE GOVERNMENT: “I just told you. We’re not ALLOWED to use e-mail.”

ME: “You told me the what, not the why.  I asked the why.”

THE GOVERNMENT: “E-mail is not secure.”

ME: “Listen to me. Please, just listen. The information we are talking about comes to you in digital form.  That means that, reduced to its bare essentials, it’s binary code.  It’s just a whole lot of little ones and zeroes traveling through the line to your office.  The only difference between my e-mail and your fax is that you have a little machine on your end that hears all those little ones and zeroes, and says “Hey! That’s binary stuff!  I always print binary stuff!”  And it does.  Sure, e-mail can be stolen, if you’re real smart and know what you’re doing, and stealing Mr. Smith’s Form 22bx is like the most important thing in your life. Ever.  But think about this: What happens to that fax if it prints out and lies on the fax machine?  Let’s say you walk up to use the fax machine and there’s the piece of paper lying there.  You’re going to look at it, because you can probably drop it off on somebody’s desk on your way back.  And get this: if it’s something you’re not supposed to see—something really juicy, like Mr. Smith’s Form 22bx—I suspect you’re going to read the whole thing.  It’s human nature.  Now, having thought through all of that, which do you think is more likely in your office?  A normal office worker or a wild-eyed, demented hacker in the basement?”

THE GOVERNMENT: “We’re not allowed to use e-mail.”

ME: “I’m licking the thtamp.  I’m licking the thtamp and thalking at the thame time.”

OK maybe that wasn’t verbatim, but you get the picture.  Our government isn’t simply lacking knowledge. Our government mentality is based in fear.  Young people (translate that as “the people who will be running things in ten years”) aren’t interested in e-mail and desktop computers. They’ll be carrying their information, likely wearing it and possibly surgically implanting it.  They sure as hell won’t be faxing it. You show me a fifteen year-old who knows what a fax machine is, and I’ll show you Mr. Smith’s Form 22bx. Our government isn’t years behind in technology.  It’s decades behind.

Private enterprise is not the hideous monster that some politicians have painted.  There are dishonest and disreputable people in the world. Spoiler: They’ve always been there and they will always be there. Get over it, and be cautious out there.  But can you imagine, for a moment, who would be the world leader in cyber security if our government would simply ask private enterprise for their expertise? How would we fare, if we used the knowledge and capability of successful people and companies–organizations that must please their customers or cease to exist? FDR is not my all-time favorite President. But he was smart enough to know when he didn’t know something.

Where is the leadership that knows its strengths and weaknesses?  Why aren’t we the Arsenal Of Everything?

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