Archive for the ‘NewsMedia’ Category

15 year-old David Oats speaks to the GE Time Capsule's lowering into the former landfill that bore not one but two World's Fairs. (October 16, 1965)

15 year-old David Oats speaks as the Westinghouse Time Capsule is lowered into the former ash heap that bore two World’s Fairs.

Jerry, my soon to be 21-year-old son recently found his inner blogging voice. He’s come to channel his love of myth and legend into literal interpretations from comic books to the episodic depictions of super and sub-heroic versions of Hollywood films.

The strictest of his guidelines is that the antagonist should cause pain, suffering, and hold no redemptive qualities (other than serving as the vanquished prey of the superhero). To Jerry, if they’re not 100% certifiably devil-made, it’s not just the good guys who are threatened:

    • It toys with the plausibility of the characters.
    • It messes with the plot twists.
    • How can good triumph over evil when we have to continually reassess who has which power and in what supply?

Remembering the Good
That same purity restriction is rarely lifted for the non-fiction twists of the life narratives we eulogize for absent family and friends. Their departure is enough of a presence to strike even the suggestion of disrespect from any eulogy. It’s etiquette the living rarely need to remind us to practice. It’s a simple grace. It’s a lowering of the guard in the intimidating face of the eternal. Death strips the adornments we carry as standard-bearers and role models. That naked soul we praise at the memorial service will favor the way our loved ones wanted to be remembered — even when we have no memory of their instructions. But the best remembrances leave open the unfiltered sincerities of the people they were, not the stations they rose to, not the positions they held.

If anyone in my life is up for challenging my son’s purified formulations, that person is David Oats (1950-2008). A recent Internet search casually slipped in a series of his obituaries. That buffer of time provides a rare opportunity to remember David as an extreme example of heart-melting communion and shadowy behavior. I remember David as being better and worse than the most of us.

I knew him for a short, intense period nearly 30 years ago when I was transitioning from the Neverland of a self-designed college curriculum to the externally imposed demands of adulthood. The turbulence of that transition was spiced by his capacity for open-ended generosity and stone-faced obstruction. The fact that I stumbled into his passing obliges me to put his influence into perspective without confusing wholesale rewrites for an undignified burial.

Political and Guileless

David’s irrepressible charm was his most glaring foible. He was willing to tell you not only what you wanted to hear. He had an uncanny knack of convincing you he’d held the same wish — even the same belief system. For a 22 year-old college grad this was shear intoxication: not just the chance for a pay check, or even meaningful work, but a dream job of working for David. Simple naiveté can’t explain away that wide a gap between a life imagined and the one being lived. But when you and David shared a core belief, that was no self-delusion. That was a plan of action!

Image

Hillary Clinton and David Oats at a press reception in the early 2000s.

One of those plans vice-gripped my imagination for the better half of the two formative years between when I started my Div. III (a.k.a. senior thesis) and when I moved out of David’s apartment. The theme of my academic studies (the history of the New York World’s Fairs) was the proverbial message in the bottle. In those days the bottle was addressed to the President of the 1989 New York World’s Fair to be.

Camera Ready

My final project with Andrew Morris-Friedman was a video documentary starring David Oats as the community-organizer, consensus-building answer to the impervious kingpin, power-brokering Robert Moses who ordained the ’39 and ’64 Fairs as a means to secure his park legacy.

David’s legacy consisted of trespassing through a construction site fence. And like some page out of Mayberry RFD the apprehended junior citizen punk was brought before Emperor Moses himself. After making some gruff noises about neighborhood safety, Moses assures young Oats that his park will be returned to his community with amenities ‘o plenty once the fair ended. The fact this account of their unlikely meeting ran in David’s New York Times obit says more about the journalism instincts of a future and failed promoter than the actual guest list for calendaring in a visit to meet that day with Bob “Fair Chairman” Moses.

To Andy and me, the exploratory nature of staging a third New York Fair wasn’t a tribute to David’s powers of self-invention. It was the generational realization that ginormous spectacles spoiling for sponsorships found their way to Flushing Meadows. We were just lucky enough to hitch a ride on the next repeating cycle.

And Forgive Us My Trespasses

On a more grounded note, I had no job lined up, or plan B, or even a post Hampshire place to crash. The notion of “home” was a waning option. I couldn’t go home for as many reasons as there were no home feelings lost in that acknowledgement. After a prolonged viewing session of David’s political video catalog I asked what the prospects were to continue in both video consuming and producing roles while figuring out how to land on my untested feet. My wish was granted.

In retrospect that’s where I should have stopped taking wishes come true for granted. This is an arrangement that exceeded the imaginings, let alone the realities of the move-onto-anyplace-but-where-I-came from post liberal arts degree crowd. I should have seen this simple kindness for what it was — a temporary respite from the workplace pressures to come.

But the trance-induced allure of the future-leaning ’89 Fair is where I dwelled. That fixation held my unwavering focus through the tentative first steps into a dead-end internship at a media journal and onto a wedding / Bar Mitzvah video gopher at the Film Center on 9th and 45th — shouting distance from the sound stage run by Liz Dubelman, my first fiancé.

The Uncollected Rent

My daily presence in David’s inventive and unpublished life came with its own set of constraints and expectations. My guesswork is based on what he must have anticipated on the day I moved in. Over those summer weekends Liz would drive in from Jersey on the weekends. Just the simple arranging of it prompted a reshuffling in his shadowy preferences for floating out of range and below the radar. For instance, delivering dial-tone to his Kissena Boulevard kitchen only occurred after Liz voiced her concern that phone service was not an opt-outable preference in pre-cellphone society. David’s penchant for cash-only transactions suggested a level of privacy that regarded the mundane transactions of the market as outside and unwelcome intrusions. His unwillingness to give references or open his networking doors for Andy and me meant three things to Liz:

      • The 1989 New York World’s Fair was a no-go
      • David would never admit so much, and
      • His intransigence hinted at a fundamental truth about a President of an Enterprise that was not to be: he was a fake — not a con artist per se, but a serial bluffer nonetheless.

I’m not sure history would be as reproachful as a future spouse crashing a cloistered bachelor pad, glass-enclosed floor models of former fair pavilions, and VHS-enabled broadcast archive. One need not peer too closely into David’s fantasy construct1989logoions to find only facades behind the blueprints and fabrications acting as placeholders for actual ground-breakings.

The real history lesson here is not that the sunny disposition David carried was concealing a diabolical nature. It’s that his personal nature of “taking me in” was a selfless act, not some kind of an investment or quid pro quo. My being “taken in” was a reflection of my inexperience and compromised living situation. What made this so difficult to accept was the stiff exit price he exacted when Liz and I moved to our first Manhattan studio the following spring. That move precluded my own smaller scale alternative universe — one that I’d cultivated, leveraged, cataloged, and squirreled away since the age of 5. Unlike most lost childhood collections, this one was repossessed by a rent-free landlord.

That remittance transpired without threats, confessions, or basic forms of cooperation. From one obfuscation to the next busted plan, my lost collection represented the same control fantasy that filled David’s postwar garden apartment stocked with television histories, one-of-a-kind recordings, and Fair memorabilia. The aftertaste of his deception took as long for me to cycle through as a whole drumbeat of shoulda coulda woulda charades: the fate of the ’89 Fair, the run of an ’88 Cuomo for President campaign, the vagabond fairground buildings fallen into decay, and all those lost NYC Olympic bids to come.

It sounds juvenile, I know. But it runs a course deeper (than I imagine) when your mom’s the culprit for tossing your cards out (along with your comic books and matchbox cars). I wouldn’t know. I never collected matchboxes or comics.

Robert Moses and David Oats outside the Chairman's office in the Administration Building (now the Queens Museum).

Robert Moses and David Oats outside the Chairman’s office in the Administration Building (now the Queens Museum).

Post Scripts

About six months after my cards were banished to memory, I got in touch with his former partner at the Queens Tribune and local Congressman (until this year) Gary Ackerman. After I shared some of my gratitude and misgivings I asked for some insight about David — a perspective I couldn’t possibly gain from such a shielded and specific view of his old friend — distorted by the short, intense time we had shared together.

With hints of frustration, admiration, and humility, Ackerman said a curious thing: “It’s a good thing David wasn’t born a girl, because he’d never stop being pregnant.”

I should have realized that this observation from a well-regarded politician was about as sincere a rationale I was likely to receive for closing the books on David as my adopted and short-term older brother figure.

I suppose in the movie version, David Oats would be the hero and villain. He would be played by the same character. Which side of him wins out, I cannot say. But if the movie were true to the person the audience would forgive him for putting the world he wanted to believe in ahead of the one we live in. Maybe if we understand that about David, we can free up our own narratives where our real world superpowers can do the most good.

Twitter, Facebook, Google – none of the big three content aggregators are pledging net neutrality when it comes to sending and receiving news feeds outside their site domains.

Image

Copyright All rights reserved by mrg5_tv

In the past two years they’ve all rejected that tireless and under-appreciated workhorse of boundary-free newsfeeds – RSS. All three have removed the ability to consume their feeds (or anyone else’s) via the open standard of RSS in favor of proprietary formats written to their own APIs.

Logging out of the RSS loop has a lot more to do with shuttling web traffic than shuttering the need for open content standards. In a world of cost-free information, RSS has managed to outlive its market without outlasting the need for it.

In his article Embrace, Extend, Extinguish: How Google Crushed and Abandoned the RSS industry, Ed Bott documents the decade long demise of Google Reader from up and comer to down for the counter:

“In an era of mobile devices, where synchronizing content and settings between multiple locations is a crucial feature, losing Google’s sync platform is literally a killer.”

Oh my. Why is it that every trade opinion that passes as critical thought is based on the viability of an existing business model? The writing on that prophetic wall is this: If it’s too small for Google to keep the lights on, why still carry that RSS torch?

Bott concedes the point that RSS is still a viable channel for content delivery but not without the ping tone required in its consumption by mobile devices:

“Of course, Twitter and Facebook made a very large dent in the usage of RSS, but there’s still a market there. A big one, in fact, if measured by the standards of a business that’s not Google-sized. And now, with Google abandoning that service, any business that uses RSS gets to go back to the glory days of 2006. Ugh.”

As a business model it seems that RSS is a victim of its own success. An open standard co-opted into the activity streams of big social media. Leave smart phones out of it and you still have a surefire standard for delivering pull-based newsfeeds. That’s the stuff we know we’ll want to read in advance. RSS eliminates step one: the need to track it down before the more essential step: catching up to it within a sea of distractions and unfiltered merchandising.

The problem in a post Web 2.0 world there is at best a casual relationship between the utility of a technology and its commercial viability. RSS was invented at a time where content was still a monetizable notion. The investment lights have dimmed now that connection’s been severed by big social and search media.

The rationale in question starts with the assumption that:

  • RSS is useful
  • It should be upheld as a delivery standard; and thus,
  • A bankable asset for any apps outfit that knows how to thread the name-dropping needle so that subscribers can track topics and ideas as easily as they can follow celebrities and human train wrecks.

After all, how could 5.3 million Delicious users go wrong? Easy. The ping tone went dead years ago on Google Chrome itself which never saw an RSS feed it failed to render correctly.

The result is that we early adopters and independent sorts face a new bait and switch dilemma: Take what big search and social media serve up for exploratory grabs but follow the money before you trust your intuitions for there is no free Google lunch. And we might do well to cast a wary eye beyond next gen beta pilots but something as basic as blocking sites in Google search results.

Writing in the Washington Post Ezra Klein writes that such untimely shutdowns…

“…[A]ll have me questioning whether I want to keep investing time and energy in ‘free’ Google products or whether I need to start looking for paid services that are explicitly making money off the thing I am paying them to do.”

In 2013 aggregators still haven’t figured out pull media. Until someone can aim news products at content consumers as well as friend updates on Facebook it appears that RSS will be relegated to hobbyist -journalists like Klein and the Atlantic’s James Fallows. As one of those pariah-researcher types I’d rather entrap my information than line the sights of would-be Ad Words sponsors.

RSS is one of those private label markup languages that’s been branded as an activity stream by the social media creature elites. But if your primary goal is to make plausible contacts instead of instant monetization, there’s a lot more to be done than hear first about how a friend-imposter’s posted their latest bowl of snacks to their daily food updates.

The easiest way to round up to the most active feeds is to browse (not search) major news sites for their RSS sections. That’s because there’s no standard way that webmasters work this into their architectures. Here are a few examples:

You could parse this out with a splash of Google syntax + semantics:

inurl:rss “(monitor | track | discover | uncover | reference)(startups | companies | sales | leads)” “subscribe to”

Here are a couple of suggestions for embracing RSS even when big search and social are backing away:

1) Know your news flow:

The news volume of newsfeeds are erratic at best. Some channels are spam channels, a fool’s errand of cross-posted press releases that should never rise from the cutting room trading floor. Others may have lofty and expansive labels like WSJ.com: Deals & Deal Makers. But if you sample the stream you’ll see a trickle. There’s a world of difference between trying to tap a definitive source of transactional details versus a “word on the street” describing one subjective take on yesterday’s foot traffic. It’s actually more promising to start with the fire-hose (e.g. WSJ.com: US Business) and then reign it in with filtering that reflects your information-seeking priorities.

2) Know your aggregator:

At first blush a dedicated RSS engine like Fresh Patents (http://tgs.freshpatents.com/search-rss.php) looks promising. The content’s fact-based, plentiful, and non-commercial, (i.e. uncontaminated by search media spam). However, if your goals are marketing or sales-related, you might as well go back to school for your engineering degree. ‘Launch’ refers to “a launch and disconnect clutch for the electric motor of a P2 hybrid powertrain.” ‘Startup’ is not about fledgling bootstrap firms hoping to turn the corner on their latest angel round but a literal key turning inside a literal ignition: “During startup of a DC/DC converter.” You get the picture.

3. Know that RSS is transactional:

One reason RSS is oversold and underperforming is this notion it’s like another communications channel (something you turn on and off). It’s not the definitive response to fruitless searches or the final word on being up-to-date. It’s a rapid-fire trail of updates crunched together in the form of news articles, database results, or changes to a list, i.e. most emailed stories. At its most passive, setting up an RSS feed is a three-step process: (1) picking your feeds; (2) filtering them down to a manageable size; and (3) trapping results that are in useful enough form to act on directly in the form of a lead or a contact or a list of references.

One answer to the limits of RSS is to forsake it completely in cases where you already know what you’re looking to track. For example if you have a finite number of search targets to track, you can set up camp outside specific customer and/or competitor websites and be alerted to specific page changes at WebSite-Watcher (http://www.aignes.com).

If you’re still game for proper RSS feeding here’s a simple, unchanging success factor: Your reader or the interface you use to review, flag, track, search, and ultimately transform into your own priorities. There will always be a need for a world-class RSS reader, if not a market.

ImageThere’s a new storyteller on the horizon of human discourse. In May’s Wired, The Rise of Robot Reporters, Steven Levy chronicles the first tentative steps of a Chicago-based start-up called Narrative Science to dis-intermediate a news media in decline. Narrative Science, says board member and former Doubleclick CEO David Rosenblatt, is a “company that turns numbers into words.” What it does with that contrivance is the news room equivalent for turning the post Gutenberg belief in movable typefaces into delusions of pure wish-fulfillment — and profit.

Why Narrative Science?

It’s cheaper to manufacture  stories by tweaking algorithms. How does Levy rationalize that “Ninety percent of a news” will be baked in huge software ovens by 2027? Intelligence engines like those of Narrative Science will expand the sense-making machinery of the market — not displace the last journalists standing. But what happens when the robonews creates press accounts of events now off the official storytelling radar? Will we cast ourselves as the protagonists in stories of our own making? In a customized news product will we even feign an interest in outcomes that don’t include us or the generic abstractions that fill up the media calendars of today? Think consumers, voters, fans, parishioners, and the faceless legions that don’t really “get us.”

And when our self-interested leaders and blowhard media step over the line, they lump us into these groups and we get defensive. Sometimes we even tune out at not-so-subtle recent suggestions that bad news made a personal appearance in places and people we know and love.

So we sequester ourselves in experiences we control. And in a market of one we prefer to curate our own media pages from a source that will remain blameless: It earns our trust by presenting our own acceptable truths within worlds of our choosing. And if Narrative Science releases an insemination product we are no longer mere readers, listeners, or viewers but receivers to signals we were born to host. We can we can select spheres of our influencing too. That’s something no self-respecting journalist could deliver without compromising personal dignity and the professional reputation needed to stay employed: their power to persuade.

Why the News Media?

They can only shrink to a former glory profile that cuts a running hum of temporal impressions. What does persuasion look like to the reporter in the street today? It’s a sharp elbow above our personal radars and into the realm of foreground noise. But do we really need the paparazzi in camouflage for celebrity safari? Do we care that news organizations are in the business of embedding their checkbooks into an improvised explosive called the corporate news exclusive? When the competition for attention shifts to sports, who’d really pine for the locker-slamming platitudes of the post game show? Do the players long to justify their mistakes to sensation-seeking error-prone reporters? The fantasy league stats can speak for themselves.

Why us?

It’s not that we can’t handle the truth. And it’s not that we turn away from bad news. It’s that we prefer not to face someone else’s truth — especially the kind that means bad news for us. How is this behavior written into code? Levy writes about a strict adherence to data patterns as a perceived bug in the program:

“[N]ot long after the contract began, a slight problem emerged: The stories tended to focus on the victors. When a Big Ten team got whipped by an out-of-conference rival, the resulting write-ups could be downright humiliating. Conference officials asked Narrative Science to find a way for the stories to praise the performance of the Big Ten players, even when they lost.”

In other words the new black media box couldn’t read the social cues. It couldn’t weight the institutional pecking order of big amateur athletics: that the elites lost to the lesser-thans. Other rewrites don’t address hierarchies but the airbrushed portraits of our personal histories:

“Likewise, when the company began covering Little League games, it quickly understood that parents didn’t want to read about their kids’ errors.”  

The Serialization of Personal Reality

So how does artificial news tune out the necessary realities? According to Levy all it takes is for a battery of meta-writers to “educate the system.” Meta-writers are the human-based interpreters who devise the templates for pre-assembling the scripts that the algorithms follow to spawn these production bylines:

  1. From the blatantly transactional: What are the best restaurants in X city?
  2. To the slightly obtuse: What are the best private tutors for my kid needing help in Y so she can get into $?
  3. To the downright conceptual: Do I let Z medication run its course or elect to do the surgery?

Having addressed human events the real growth in the twenties will hinge on accounts of events without direct human intervention. Think about a camera crew assigned to your fantasy league. Imagine a press junket angling to photo-op their way into the gamifications of your choosing? What may have passed for myopic in a lapsed media age will set the standard for the new authenticity. What could be more sincere than to place our own creations on news platforms staged by the likes of Narrative Science?

Authenticity needs to act in cahoots with a disinterest and elevated credibility in order to be taken seriously outside our own orbits. That’s where our flights of fancy are grounded in a fact base, no matter how self-selecting those data sets:

“They put a box core and play-by-play into the program, and in something close to 12 seconds it drew examples from 40 years of major league history, wrote a game account, located the best picture, and wrote a caption.”

Headless hedders. Scoops without digging. Instant analytical gratification. Sounds like these alternative realities are being packaged to go. And no one’s going to miss the classifieds.

Artificial News, Real Growth

The market potential for artificial news manufacture is limited less by 20th Century conventions like the public interest or journalism ethics than by legalities — specifically the likelihood of fraud that manifests in our unwillingness to think for ourselves. Here are three hypotheticals:

1) Synthetic People. Narrative Sciences can juice the Klout scores of skin deep fabrications. That means the marketers don’t have to pony up actual perks for the drones who tweet their praises.

The temptation to generate celebrity mannequins could falsify outcomes as much as personal appearances. Hammond foresees an appetite to flesh out the statistical accounts with off-the-field developments like player injuries or legal problems.” That’s right. The very thing purged from the news cycles of the little league press becomes fair game once the merchandise becomes eligible for demotions, endorsements, and all forms of a professional sport referred to by the Roberts Court as “free speech.” Factoring in these frailties may create a better system: (1) for not only detailing but (2) analyzing our games, and conversely (3), gaming these very same systems by tossing a single grenade-like insinuation into the contagions of tomorrow.

2) Markets of One. The self-selecting machinery will reference a breadth of experience so shallow and constrained as to make our present day cable news echo chamber sounds as “fair and balanced” as the carnival barkers would have us believe:

“[T]he low cost of transforming data into stories makes it practical to write even for an audience of one.”

In today’s media climate all the pandering and hubris and alarmist jive in those opposition camps has been reduced to background noise. But there is no house divided in an audience of one. There are no deals to strike. There are no hard feelings to patch up. There is no further filtering or curatorship required. Our Google glasses have already filtered out all aspects of reality that hold no claims on us. And our narrative headsets bleed into our ears and bake a reaffirming acceptance into our tuning sections.

3) Disconnects. It’s one thing to draw from forty years of big major league data records to depict or simulate an event. It’s quite another to outsource its meaning — how it connects to us. To Hammond that’s the highest potential growth area — not recaps of little league games but packaging management reports or handicapping empty prophesies like this blog post for example.

Then again if we lose our independent streak, could we also lose some of our misplaced anxieties about a world too big to fathom, let alone shape? This may be just what the national health plan doctor ordered, whether through our own initiative or underwritten by our bankrupt Nanny State.

The real story behind Narrative Science isn’t about health care politics. It isn’t that robonews will replace journalists but that it will sell us on the worlds we don’t need to be sold on — the ones of our own design — until we can no longer detect where the authoring ends and our imaginings begin. No longer alerted, confused, entertained, or merely informed, we will be entranced. And it will take narcotics stronger than tomorrow’s news to distract us from the stories we’re told.

ImageMy dad didn’t hand down a few things. One is the ability to fix stuff. Another is his love of the New York football Giants.

One of my dad’s favorite stories features the fatherly advice of Archie Manning after completion of the Giants over Patriots Superbowl sequel. In the story Archie the Elder counsels first born Peyton to steer clear of New York in his own landing rights scouting reports. Eli, on the other hand, has the thickness of skin to labor under the media glare. It’s the younger Manning with fewer expectations and greater poise. The verdict? Eli now leads the National League of Manning in Super Bowl rings.

But here’s the latest chapter: With the Jets signing of suddenly displaced Tim Tebow, Manning family relocation plans have boomeranged back to the Big Apple .

If the Mannings are a football’s family dynasty, Tebow is an aura that anchors the t-bow(n) in a gridiron trinity. His heavenly father calls the plays. And when he huddles with his new teammates next year what kinds of formation-making will he be scrimmaging? What other earthly improbabilities are now within striking distance or even his passing range?

1) If I can make it here: This is a locality that trades in stocks, not flocks. Will Tebow’s charisma continue to attract the ardent following that he did in Denver? Is anyone even in the position of posing as a charisma transition authority here? This potential impasse makes the tug between Tom Brady’s allegiance to Giselle Bundchen of Hollywood and the townies of greater New England look like a resolvable quandary. The last time a U.S. President’s popularity reached 90% George W. Bush stood in the post 9-11 rubble with bullhorn firmly in hand. That was probably the last time anyone ever sampled Manhattan as American soil. New York is no more an All-American city as it is any town U.S.A. or a town for that matter. Ancestral soul mates can wander below 96th Street for lifetimes and never share the same checkout line, subway platform, or rain check from their local Apple stores.

2) Back pages to fill: The void that the Jets have hired Tebow to fill is not an actual vacancy at quarterback but the empty column inches of empty tabloid fodder. In this game of inches where New York comes down in the Giants or Jets column depends on whose competing stories hold the popular sports imagination. Jet coach Rex Ryan is one losing season away from rousing and brash to boring and blowhard. Can the aura of Tebow grow coattails that extend past the bellowing and shadowy girth of Friar Ryan?

3) Quarterback by committee: Assuming the stranger-things-than-Jeremy-Lin-have-happened scenario, Ryan platoons Tebow with his underachieving incumbent starter, Mark Sanchez. Yet in terms of the air game, the juries still out on whether Tebow even qualifies for his pilot license. He’s got that canon of an arm whose misfirings remind us city elders of the opening credits to F-Troop — and that’s without fortress Tebow even being knocked off his mountings.

So if there’s a questionable cultural fit and a non-vacancy for a loose canon-armed quarterback, maybe Tebow’s speed, strength, and agility can grace the number one hard luck New York franchise — even if that team already fields an entire staff of misfires by committee. After all, that athleticism includes winning the James E. Sullivan award as the nation’s most outstanding specimen — in any sport! His raw gifts prompted Joe Collier this week to Tweet…

“If Tebow played baseball, would he swing the bat or would the ball just go over the fence with his willpower?”

What if he was a pitcher? JimyYankee2 cast a sardonic eye at Tebow’s unflattering passing stats to predict a 2012 mark of 20-10 with a 5.55 ERA on a team that scores 4.0 runs per game.

Back to that hard luck curveball of a boomerang within boomer range — The New York Mets. Those post Madoff Mets will lead the majors in one important column — salary attrition. In fact the drop-off is so precipitous it may be sending super agents like Scott Boras to the poor house. Plead Boras:

“The major franchises who are getting the majority of revenues should provide a product, or an attempt at a product, that has the near-highest payrolls commensurate with the markets they are in.”

Translation: big market teams like the Mets can only buy destinies, not build them, for the betterment of the shareholders, the players, and Boras. Boras is especially irritated that lean times afflict his second largest market as well:

“The New York Times’ Vincent Mallozzi notes, Boras once noted that the Mets and Dodgers ‘used to shop in the steaks aisle and now they’re in the fruits and nuts section.’”

But Tebow is not going Hollywood.  Before home-school gave way to high school, he did once play baseball before his mortal passions were covered in pigskin. Full disclosure: is this really news to anyone in Manhattan or the rest of America?

The real serum test for any future apparitions of Monsignor Met will be about what happens in the clutch. The one legacy bridging the team’s recent success with its more immediate failures is the inability to execute under pressure. Perhaps this is that thundering glide path in the deliverance of Tebow to Broadway: The shear theatricality of his unscripted rescues; his analytically-defying finishes in the face of accomplished stat-hounds.

This spring the Mets will move the fences in at forbidding Citi Field and ask their fans for a forbearance that dwarfs the size of the original TARP package. Tebow, on the other hand, can reign down the boomerangs. And he has only his savior to credit.

When I was working for a political consulting – slash – polling boutique in the late eighties a pre-maturing graybeard named Ed Reilly took me out to dinner. The gesture was a sign of thanks for ceding my personal life to the firm and forbearance for the blank checks yet to underwrite battles yet to be waged. (A personal life would claim me before I spent away a career in politics). The son of a Boston firefighter Reilly managed to straddle the line between a rip-snorting unionist and a pedigree kingmaker, spoiling for both fights and the spoils from winning them. Like so many pre-Aaron Sorkin era politicos, Reilly would ride the painstaking obscurity of his polling outfit to fabulous wealth through the Gucci-laced corridors of K Street.

As I remember the dinner was not about feasting on the vanity and self-importance of trade associations but about the eternal flame that draws all young operatives to the heart of the Beltway, world capital of the influence industry. By then Reilly had little appetite for progressive platforms or blue sky agendas. Most of his client-candidates were moderate or split-the-middle Democrats who appealed more to independents than liberals.

It was late ’88 and Ed was still smarting over the Lee Atwater-architected trouncing of sensible Michael Dukakis by pumped-up Poppy Bush 41. “Our party just doesn’t get it,” fumed Riley. “We invite the press into the backs of our campaign planes and buses because we care what they think and say. Then they go hunting for stories that don’t exist.” The Republicans care about one thing and that’s controlling the message: “They don’t give a rat’s ass what the media thinks — no invites, no complications.”

I’m reliving Reilly’s frustration at the insinuation by Newt of the “Grandiose Old Party” that the non-Fox news media are apologists for Obama’s failings. The fact the charge packs as much punch now says what?

* That our discourse has barely evolved — even backslid over the last generation of elections
* That Gingrich is hot, callous, and ravenous — three helpings that land far and wide of Obama’s plate
* That the messengers are shot down before they can squeeze off their debating points

I’ll be wondering about the messenger piece as Obama enters through the Congressional Chamber doors for his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. He will be staring openly into the very real perception of playing the co-star on the national political stage. However, in terms of his efforts to yank the spotlight most of those energies will be channeled on his path to the podium. It may seem like the sideshow lies in the fist-bumps, flesh-presses, and cordial waves ‘n winks as Obama makes his way to the center of the hall. But actually, most of his energies will be channeled towards that tightrope walk through the superficial entanglements of the pageantry. The fact he’ll arrive nearly depleted once he reaches the podium is not the story here.

The address itself will be a slam-dunk. He’ll nail the talk down. No flaps in these gusty political headwinds. Even the melody of his speech will be encoded automatically. Energy-wise Obama will give this address in his sleep and even his fiercest adversaries will know he’s in prescient control: the commander in speech. In fact he won’t just float over the hall — he’ll have his batteries recharging at the same time. But will that electrify his base anywhere as much as his tentative hold on power unifies the opposition? Obama may be a conciliator-pragmatist-moderate. But in his heart of hearts there is a fierce and uncritical belief that his detractors will do the right thing for the country in spite of their hostilities. That unyielding and romantic calculation has cost the country more than the benefit of a second Obama term.

Raising the Debt Ceiling on Inner Drive

In the book The Obamas we confirm the credible assertion that Barack lives in the same town as Michelle and the girls. And even though he can’t take the dog for walks he can share the same dinner table at least 5 out of every 7 evenings (baring crises and mid-terms). But the aspiration of family man is one with the sincerity of Barack the soloist:

* The guy whose much more comfortable debating the merits of Constitutional Law than the glad-hander

* The guy more tuned to schools of thought than to the schools that his adversaries’ kids just got into

* The guy oblivious to whose dates on what calendar were coming up when the time’s ripe to cash in on minting his next round of political capital

We were told by author Jodi Kantor of former Super Bowl parties where guests were invited to crunch pretzels and brewskies. We were told that Barack sat in his assigned chair for the game and never let the affairs of his super bowl party state interfere with the play-by-play or the halftime updates. The President of the United States was on the periphery of a room that he did not work and the evidence is this:

People who would otherwise stab him in the back are now entering through the front. There is no echoing chamber. Even in his own conflict averse party there are no minions, lieutenants, or defenders of the faith. Want to get Joe Biden to shuddup? Make him your veep and you shan’t hear a peep. We’ve gone from the Priceline-like bid-ups on the Lincoln bedroom during the Clinton occupancy to the mothballing of the mattresses and couches. Such is where strange bedfellows come to make exceptions to their unyielding public stances.

Gridlock We Can Count On

If the firework could be choreographed on the percentages then we’d have some positive correlation between unemployment numbers and favorability ratings. Then we’d have an Obama-Romney crash test that the operatives can rationalize. Gingrich is not waiting in the wings. He is fanning the flames of a sunburst as clarifying as a biker weekend tailgating down on a Federal Reserve meeting. See what the 99% elites think of that! What the right-skewing public seeks is the bloodbath that vanquishes the calculation and cleanses the resentments of a white America whose time is past — except perhaps when it comes to settling American elections.

Obama’s been called as many names as he’s learned to ignore since the bully-bigots of Indonesia threw rocks at him on his way to school. But the one name he can’t ignore is the scorched path between entrance and podium that gets gussied up as Big Gov versus Big Biz. Little Guy versus Small Biz. Taxes on the rich versus sacrifice for all. So long as Obama answers to the name of introvert we’re stuck in false choices. It’s sealing a deal he never signed up for and is no more prepared to make now than as a school boy in the streets of Jakarta.

So in the end how does Obama justify his second term? America can’t forgive temptation neutral technocrats. He could reprise his dress-down of Chief Justice Roberts over Citizen v. United in 2010: The single biggest reason for the side-show status of this season’s State of the Union. But as any populist-turned aristocrat like Reilly will tell you: We voters warm even less to knew-all-alongs than know-it-alls.

If the status quo was in friendlier territory, Obama could defend healthcare as a right with the same zeal that Bush 41 got elected attacking abortion and flag-burning. So why does one approach sound like a hail Mary with no time on the clock while the other runs the same clock out by sitting on the same ball? Picking a fight with George Stephanopoulas might keep the drive going. But the best way in is to beat the messenger to the punch of a quiz show called “medical bill in the mail.” The answer for us in Massachusetts is that we can pay them off without the help of venture capitalists or loan sharks.

From the front of the envelope to the back of the plane: Thank you, Governor Romney and Chairman Riley.

I’ve been thinking about the Occupy zones that contain the placeholders of our attentions.  There’s no point in these containers if they don’t tell a narrative or register an opinion or at least elicit a “See? Made you look” moment from billboards of competing story lines.

One point of reference on last week’s Penn State head-linings played to the taking of umbrage: institution swallows its own common decency while its own misplaced pride plays on to restive gallery. I fancied some further riffing before the story crashed (until next indicting-worthy revelations) of an Occupy Paterno movement.

Non Amateur Status

It would free academics from the hypocrisy of pretending to educate entertainment prodigies in the athletic achievement sciences. We send kids in to play kid games and then skim off the extra revenue normally targeted for agents and athletes: amateur status? Not for the for profit side of American Universities. Not even for the private side of Friar Joseph’s diploma mill.

If we deign the 21st century the place to be for Gens Z1, Z2, Z3… then why not relegate King Football and his gridiron fortress to the car repair and radiology certification track? That way our generations W, X, and Y can continue to engorge our sports bureaucracies of higher earning. We can reserve a sliver of the largesse for these crash-tested NFL rejects when they need to get a life and the ROTC is broke — which it will be with or without on-campus occupy movements.

The outrage from the cover-up played to the same script departures we’ve seen in other bastions of orthodoxy that prefers eating one’s own to turning the insiders out. Something about the value of the tribe over the letter of the law: “The news is a shocking surprise to us this week, but it was not news to Penn State,” wrote Canuck, my friend and umbrage-carrier.

I know nothing of Penn (either as State, Zoil, or ‘n Teller). But I do know that our cultural breadth of awareness is spilling out into the streets of our own Occupy Zones. Just as surely as ADD is the cost of business as usual it is equally true that all those zigzag attention bursts create a much wider awareness circle than existed in the linear world of who-knew-what-and-when insinuations. In fact our very expectations around what passive heresay and active engagement means is rife for a recall election.

Am I saying that I, cyber-citizen, am paralyzed at the neck up by too many calls to action? Maybe. But what I’m trying to hear from this argument is how to teach sound judgement in an age biased towards…

  1. passivity masquerading as open-mindedness
  2. piety passing for an accurate moral compass reading

No Country for Sanctimonious Saps

Curiously a competing narrative broke in our own email thread from the notion that there was a narrative here in the first place. It was the notion that our cultural media diets could no sooner fast for one news cycle than an army of anchor people would teleprompt us around a random sequence of disconnected events. The upshot? Feel the communion of the traveling news-givers. My pal Pondish is a former reporter and feels only alienation:

“Perhaps this will fade, but I suddenly seem all but incapable of summoning outrage about, well, nearly everything.  More to the point I find it enervating the degree amount of outrage around me.  I joked last week that I was relieved it was election day, and that I was glad we would be choosing a president and put this nasty, divisive campaign behind us.  Likewise, I’ve been unable to summon much visceral enthusiasm for Occupy Wall Street and have alienated more than a handful of people, having missed that the officially sanctioned response is, “Occupy Wall Street! Fuck Yeah!”  And honestly, the whole Penn State miasma seems to have gone over my head.  I simply don’t buy the idea that an entire university needs redemption and soul-searching (although as of today, Obama says it’s the entire nation that needs to take a deep look inside) because of someone witness a perverted act in a shower years ago.” 

The bromide continues:

“Well, sorry, but no.  The state of my soul is pretty good.  I am not culpable or complicit. And neither are you. What happened at Penn State doesn’t seem to have deeper meaning or to serve as an indictment of the broader anything.”

“We seem to have entered an age where we can no longer separate ourselves from events in the world.  What happens to one of us happens to all of us.  We leave flowers in front of the Apple store (seriously?) because Steve Jobs is dead.  We must instantly contextualize everything, find the storyline, understand What It Means.”

Dead Sea Narratives

It’s ironic that these forced narratives are happening over social networks and not broadcast networks. Everyone’s taking their media cues in the age of long tails wagging old dogs, dead tree industries, and the onset of wholesale media climate change. Are we those splintering factions or the collective beehive? A community unified if only by its disconnected nature.

No matter whose side of which story we’re inclined to believe, there’s an angle to play, a bone to pick, and an argument to be made about who wins and loses. It’s just as interesting that whether the parables address…

(1) child molestation,

(2) codes of silence,

(3) the corruptible role of money in collegiate sports, or

(4) the senility status of its many figureheads

… these models were sculpted from journalism clay. These are the tenets of universal media from biblical tabloid times. Facebook has 800 million unpaid contractors on its payrolls. That’s one script few are departing from.

As for my cronies let’s just say that a contrarian is someone who’d rather be wrong than be misled: “Don’t blame me. I voted for Nader.” I can get over the fact that Pondish won’t be bringing me flowers. It’s too late for Andy Rooney and I’m reasonably certain he laid the same argument to rest at the foot of the JFK Jr. floral parade. My soul is shifting on stable ground whether I donate a new helping of platelets to the Red Cross before Thanksgiving or after.

I’m also all but certain to resist his hair-thinning threshold of the dispassion he speaks. Still, a daily scrub of ego removal and a few trace scatterings of nihilism could keep my accounts more honest. The stories I could tell might not succumb to my own spoiler alerts or the plays I send in.

The main thing I guess is to expect nothing from our world and try to give something back in return. It’s not out of altruism or naiveté but the transcendent conceit that our lives do make a difference. What’s the catch? Our lot is to figure out what tiny speck of the world that will benefit from our most abundant virtues.

If we greet each morning with that determination can we sideline the demons in us? Or is that the cost for righting the injustices that flourish when the culture anchors our news?

“Categorizing is necessary for humans. But it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising these categories.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We’ve come to know where we live as much by local food movements as our schools and property values. In the last decade “buy local” has come to mean that we’re creating environmental sustainability, healthier diets, and more close-knit communities by eating the food planted by the farmers who work the same lands that support us and our grassroots economies.

Can the same be said for information, really? If we limit our inputs to what’s nearby aren’t we limiting our perspectives? If we shop locally for our news how can we generalize the broader forest from the specific trees? Our collective self-interests stick close to home. Aren’t we further compromising our own narrow focus by foresaking the interdependencies and complexities that can only form by holding our own hides up to a more inclusive global perspective?

Localizing information sounds like an open invitation to invite in what Taleb calls “the contagion” or the herd mentality that traps independent thinkers into parroting the same parochial mindsets:

“The process of having these people report in lockstep caused the dimensionality of the opinion  – they converged on opinions and used the same items as causes.”

That uniformity of perspective-taking is not about one’s sourcing as it is about reporting; for our purposes this is the 24/7 news cycle. This formula is not set to increase to a 25/8 cycle no matter how dense the news flow, how rich the implications, or how clued in the recipients. Rather Taleb is suggesting a need to defy the pattern by tabling judgments; a need to ignore loops expecting to  be closed in time to declare some daily distortion, fueled by the need for definitive outcomes.  Filling air time is one thing. But we confuse it for filling our mental shopping carts with all the evidence we need to decide …

  • guilt or innocence
  • one party over another
  • winners and losers

None of this defines a local information as a movement — a force for good — or even for food for thought. Localizing the information we’re fed means sourcing our news providers well enough to know their locales and to see through their own self-referential conceits, blinders, and potential conflicts of interest. Until we know where a fact was selected, when an interview was granted, or who took the time to file a FOIA, we will be taking our information sources on the same blind faith that poisons us on factory beef and processed food.

Whether our informants are networks or neighbors we need to know of the company they keep before we can build the same independent perspective we insist of our news providers. The leading bias is self-selection. Nature abhors a vacuum. Talk may be cheap and free speech may prove expensive. Vacuums are pure legend to the media will never acknowledge the existence of one. Still, that doesn’t obviate our need as researchers to cultivate a balanced media diet.

Localizing the intentions of our news providers is one place to start.


The dark fantasy of an evil twin brother to Facebook may come to lodge inside the inflating vacuum of influences vintage to this post credible century. It may inhabit a place once reserved for reporters who arbitrated once definable and containable questions like:

Can the public handle the truth about…?”

Facial truth may arrive without malevolent intentions. Some may even be noble in their naivete. For instance, it may be a libertarian impulse from the Good List of Craigs. If no one knows what breeds we kennel on the Internet then surely there’s a universal understanding that flies under the longest of tails we wave. In the book of Craig, what people do in their uninhibited privacy is not only their own business but endows the publisher with the right of keeping their total headcounts under the roof of a one SF-based Victorian.

It may be the egalitarian bromide of the net neutrality sage who believes that all data packets were created equal under a Constitution that protects free speech by splitting the difference between the right to remain silent and the right to remain anonymous.

It may be a social media partisan who believes that transparency, consensus, and may-the-best-idea win are all wrapped and sealed in the protective popularity of a Survey Monkey referendum.

It most certainly is a loyal Wikipedia correspondent who adheres to the sacred tenets of the ancient disciple scribbles. Thou shalt do no original research (or synthesis of two or more existing ideas) in the unquestioning isolation of their passive voice and their hollow curiosity.

With those seeds in motion is the particle-smashing collision that awaits this doubting world be that surprising? Would we really be spinning off the orbit we’re on now to subscribe to a site where:

Alias predators post dubious half-truths that only needs a popular vote to determine how convinced the fence-sitters are that they’re getting the whole story.

How would we stop these allegations?

As Andrew Morris-Friedman imagines the only way to lower the temperature without changing the subject is to post even more reprehensible stuff to attract even higher scores. One can’t see their accusers unless they suffer the fools of self-effacement. That’s how we actually identify our detractors in a world devoid of credibility — by being our own worst enemies.


The most fundamental disconnect of current state web 2.5 lies between our dual roles as content producers and consumers. It’s one thing to shed aliases and handles as fluidly as we’re pressed for passwords. It’s quite another to be torn between our need for peer approval and self-protection. That’s not a minor misalignment. That’s a deep and impassable identity crisis. How the two are reconciled is not the next big app. It’s the staging ground for the gathering storm perfection of:

* The rise of Facebook
* The fall of journalism
* The abyss of credibility

For the last five years or so we’ve been feeding the sociable media beast with friend affirmations. We want a sense of belonging, of inclusiveness. But if we pay for that community-building with back-scratches and platitudes that leaves a gaping hole between what we hope to be expressed and what we know to be true. It’s not that Facebook praises are empty but enforced by a culture of reciprocal transparency. As much as positive reinforcement is the elixir of choice for self-expression, it leaves us hungry for how others perceive us. It’s tone deaf to the indifference of outsiders. Those are the potential employers who background check us out. But they’re not looking for suitors, social circles, or listening to our echo chamber of megaphones.

They just want to know they can trust us and can’t just take our word for it.

What would happen if none of us were allowed to post to our own social media profiles? Would our friends make up for the shortfall? Could our enemies commit “face crimes” and libel us with half-truths and fabrications? In a regulated web, non-vested observers would honor their own reputations by speaking to objectives, standards, and rankings — not how they’ve been blemished by greatness or influenced by the people they’re profiling. Sounds like the ghost of journalistic myth-making? Sounds like a reason to pay for content in cash — not gratitude.

Build It — and They Will Dump

In the web 3.0 future to be this darker Facebook will be compensated from both sides of the message exchange. Anonymous enemies will get to post unsubstantiated kiss-and-tells once they sign-up. Group members will pony up too. But they’ll have to preempt these negative reviews with their own cathartic self-examinations. Post enough of these face-saving gestures and perhaps they can learn the actual identities of their blasphemers. Now that’s a business model no practicing journalist is in any position to bargain over.

The most intriguing difference in floating the counterweight to Facebook idea is that my peers see it as a license to print money. “You can’t call it ‘BlackFace Book’ — too facial,” one friend quipped. They suggested names like ‘Disgrace Book’ or even ‘Evil Facebook’ and the servers would crash from the endless lines of partisans queuing at the chance to shape a fair and balanced view for each profile holder: “can I subtract you as my enemy?”

However, when I rolled out the same business plan to a 20-something colleague they headed immediately for the cyber-bullying exits. ‘Controversial’ was the diplomatic term they used for unleashing the innert tensions between editorial control and open source opinionating. That perspective carries a greater educational value than any social or anti-social medium and the business models that will dwell there.