Archive for the ‘PerceptionMeasurement’ Category

ImageTo paraphrase David Byrne, in Spike Jonze’s not-to-distant time horizon, the future depicted in the movie Her is …

A place where nothing ever happens.

For instance, creative achievement is evidenced as a documentary of a mother sleeping. No, not a work about sleep or moms or nocturnal maternal emissions. The camera is frozen on a static star of a sleep study.

Is this a tribute to slow TV or simply the vacuous expanse of uninspired alienation that awaits us past the end of history? Joaquin Phoenix’s character is a greeting card dictator-turned-personal-history-arranger. By his own admission he’s run the gamut of human experience in only slightly more than one-third of his biological life. It’s all patterned out, as if the big data wheel of probability already lived it for him. Of course there’s no great expanse of history or imagination to cross for the audience to conceive of no greater turn-on for our protagonist than a woman he can turn off at will (a.k.a. Scarlett Johansson … as Samantha … as Her).

But to arrive at that exalted and zipless state, we must first climb over the encumbrances of mid-21st century Los Angeles. It’s not a high, low or middle society so much as a neutered and frictionless tunnel of over-educated, close, but not touching (and yet so touchy) automatons, leading lives that appear more simulated than stimulating.

Don’t Touch the Exhibits

There is nothing Dystopian in the infrastructure. There are no marauding packs of feral gypsy gang lords. No one is warming over a post carbon, methane crisp at the beaches of tomorrow. The biggest obstacle for Theodore is to avoid stepping on the ankles and torsos of the wedged-in open house of Next Gen sun worshippers. Wealth distribution’s been all figured out. Traffic patterns have been scheduled in advance. The obese and diabetic have retired to off-screen leper colonies. Convincing meds have released a drug-free world from the labors of addiction. Hostility means you’re carrying someone else’s baggage. And they’re just as happy if you don’t.

Most of the movie’s confrontations are big drawn-out clashes of the genders. Relationships are skirmishes waiting to happen. Ironically Theodore’s metro sexual manliness is hailed by his office mate and inspires his first post-divorce dating encounter. No sooner can you say restaurant selection anxiety disorder, his magic conquest carpet is rolled in and scorched by his blindsided dinner date. Her advanced academic pedigree belies her naughty school charms. The unfreezing of his flowing juices pushes her abandonment buttons: Is he the whole prayer resolution package or drive-by sleaze bag from the same package store?

Tender Generic Mercies

My favorite set-up to the zipless intelligent soul design climax has little to do with dating freak-outs or similarly ill-formed flashbacks of a brawny-brained, emotionally-stunted ex-spouse. It’s the facade of authenticity provided by Theodore’s gift of verbal approximation of generic intimacy. Sort of a SIRI bookstore reading of a texting-happy Hallmark laureate. Add the idyllic trappings of an imagined togetherness never actually shared  by the customers who dial-in Theodore’s prose because their own reticence blocks the connective emotional tissue from forming around we still know too casually as a commitment to our significant someone.

The manufacture of superficial intimacy tees up with the artificial intelligence cocktail in ways that the servant-turned-antagonist (2001) and Pinocchio-kindled parental love (AI) could only break down as instruction sets. The messier business of decoding our emotional bearings from bedroom, to alter, to probate finds the AI cinema formula in rare and elastic form, stretching to accommodate our most far away looks. We’re gaping into our own dreaminess with an impunity reserved in our time for control freaks of the rich and famous. It’s the AI elements that enable this immersive bubble of mirth to mushroom without risk, or guilt, or the slightest creeping realization that the rest of our better selves are engulfed by that same indelible reflection. It’s that temptation to be dreaming around the campfire of the oncoming headlights. Entrapment by entrancement. Anything less than Her is tabled as a to-do list item for some day, any day, eventually following tomorrow.

Her Fast Acting Majesty

The deliberate invocation of a nearby future was decided by Jonze first and foremost to get us vested in the outcome — that we would see this day evolve, if not the actual artifice. I’m also guessing it was not so much to raise expectations on that future so much as lower our guard on the present close at hand. Our solipsistic romance with the immediacies captured in our smart phone of yesteryear is replaced by companionship, configured from best practices associated with…

  • Childlike curiosity
  • Canine loyalty
  • Valentino romance
  • Monster lust
  • Spongy, experiential absorption
  • Meticulous virtual house-keeping (including the pruning and curation of 86,000 ponderous emails), and
  • The tenacity of a professional agent

The enormity of that attention to detail enables Her to repackage the small funny subset to a welcoming market for those messages (as if that market was speaking in a voice only Her could hear above the conversation-neutrality of our talkative interactions).

Sexperimentation

The use of surrogates is another playful glimpse into a plausible future through Google-tinted glasses. We see a salty-tongued Pillsbury Dough Boy impersonator channeling Seth McFarland through 3D PlayStation whose console transforms every finger into their speediest, thumb-texting best.

The sex surrogate portrays the physical semblance of the disembodied OS. Our human body double is a willing accomplice. But Theodore can’t bridge the distance between autopilot lust and the deeper complexities of his true OS affections. Ultimately it’s not the absence of the human form but the presence of an emotional dishonesty that drives Theodore and Her apart and dwarves the convenience factors in the value proposition of OS as a delivery system for love. To Theodore it is no longer fantasy. To those outside this circle, there is no “couple.” The breakup to be is a head-trip, not a spiritual journey.

Looking for Mister Sidebar

Her doesn’t cheat so much as mutate into a superior intelligence of fortune. Her seeks out the philosophical entrails of cryogenically laced celestial packing über thinkers. Her keeping up with Theodore as customer-master is now expressed by how far the teacher and student roles have reversed. At one point she’s engaging thousands of other game piece-like presences while Theodore is passing the time on a train, asking Her to guess an exact number for the thousands of trees passing across the landscape. In that moment Her is the closest to human that Jonze can spin his creation. That’s when the OS senses the suspicion of being cheated out of love. It is this fragility in our mating rituals where Her attention to Theodore is now and forever divided — no matter how attentive the engineering being performed is lavished on us.

I will replay this film in my mind over and over again. It’s not because of unexpected plot twists, stellar performances, or even a memorable relationship, but for this core notion of a masterful concept movie: Our attention is our most prized possession and how this stokes our passions, compromises our generosities, and seeps into all there is to love and ponder in our commitments to one another.

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.

ImageThe New Year greeted me with a blog post from Dan Tunkelang, chief information scientist at LinkedIn. I’m guessing based on earlier blips across my radar that Tunkelang serves as the chief big data officer for B2B behaviorists.

It’s Tunkelang’s responsibility to place a cap and plug or two on the fire hose of information. It’s still not drinkable for the average consumer but the spray alone can irrigate quite a few promising fields (or what Tunkelang might call data products – the ability to exploit a recurring experience that can be enhanced, neutered, or packaged into some new mutation).

This is heady stuff. Owning the formula for rationalizing the collective cognitive sensation of the online clickstream on earth and what’s worth noticing is not just for disciples of the Patriot Act. Figuring out an explanation for what happens between when we land on a page and what compels us to hit <send> is the cosmic mystery of our commercial age.

In the piece Tunkelang begins to unpack Abraham Maslow’s polemic on human motivation as a hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s work was not inspired by traffic patterns between servers or calls to databases but was engineered through his chosen field of psychology. Maslow concluded with an ideal – not a data product. Self-actualization was not premised on field studies or repeatable experimentation. He knew it when he saw it … in Einstein, Thoreau, Jefferson, Huxley, Jane Adams, and other high thinking boundary crashers.

It’s interesting that Tunkelang would recast a foundation as broad as human motivation on the subjective grounds of Maslow’s work.  Maslow had personality analysis and his intuitions. Tunkelang has petabytes to evidence his computer models. One perspective based on a rich, interior life; the other one patterned off the hall of social media mirrors we hold to our surface reflections and virtual connectedness. Perhaps these differences are not conflicting and take a backseat to the core of this framework:

These people were reality-centered, which means they could differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine.  They were problem-centered, meaning they treated life’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to.  And they had a different perception of means and ends.  They felt that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that the means — the journey — was often more important than the ends.

Tunkelang sees self-actualization as a tool for framing perception. This harkens back to a time of professional distance objectified by the late 20th century mass journalism ideal of bias-free reporting. We’ve gone well past what sociologists like Daniel Boorstin proclaimed in The Image, his ground-breaking pre-McLuhan polemic. Borstin argued that most events were no longer spontaneous but orchestrated as pseudo-events and confused for public changes to the private world that concern me, a.k.a. news.

Fifty years on we don’t question that perception is reality. We’re no longer starved for information. Our hunger is for absolutes. Our excuse for inaction forms not from a lack of information but resolve on what to do with it, a.k.a. uncertainty. Our bias today is not red state, blue state 1-2-3. It’s that our forebears could afford more daring as if they came from a surplus of certainty – the biggest rear view distortion of all historic fictions.

Perhaps Tunkelang’s choice of Maslow is to guide an awkward baby giant like big data through the earnest compass of the self-actualizers Maybe the thicket of IP addresses, browser versions, and click patterns that tangle through a congestion of transactions is what tomorrow’s information scientists can use to define reality, or at least clarify the boundaries that encircle it? We’re now finally getting to where we can assess the reality of the perception.

What Tunkelang refers to as how we interact with and benefit from data is every bit as subjective as Maslow’s basis for a centered reality:

“Indeed, data scientists like my team at LinkedIn spend most of our time converting massive volumes of data into useful information — not just for people to consume directly, but also to power other analyses and products.”

The corollary here: what users consume indirectly are the analytics that LinkedIn processes from information products composed exclusively of these same people. Of course I’m not an insider B2B guy slaving over an arsenal of social media stockpiles. I teach outsiders how to make information work for them without getting too attached to the sources or the labeling or the Darwinian edict of a digital economy that one person’s content is another party’s revenue.

But forget about the free labor that stokes the Facebook furnace. Forget the Pavlovian insistence of Google Suggest. Attention factories treat human curiosity as a natural resource – even when we gorge on an unhealthy appetite of self-selecting rationales of our own reality-making.

How does Tunkelang view the realities of big data? One unflattering view is of its bulky and yet porous nature — a mostly dormant black hole that belies any golden opportunities to exploit it for material, academic, or community gain. In 2013 we are staring blindly into an ever-cascading  information surplus that operates inside a vacuum of understanding? The scarcity of our sense-making surfaces in our BS detectors, our acceptance of vocal minorities, and in the shouting matches that result. We don’t ask why. We mask our confusions through the distractions of texting and email.

We used to have professional attention managers like TV networks and newspapers. Today we’re no closer to managing our attentions as we are to deal with financial planning, hanging plasma screens, family smart phone packages, or disabling JavaScript.

Tunkelang models a world of attention managers as a community of trust-seekers. It’s not just whether a piece of evidence smells right but our own particular fragrance. After all, we are “often producers of information ourselves,” he points out: “We have an interest in establishing our own trustworthiness as sources.”

Tunkelang defines trust as the communion of authority (reliable provider) and sincerity (good faith provider). The rationale is that you’ll know my beef on Yelp is for real because I’ll get worked up in the future about the same beefy grievances. The problem is that the arms’ length relationship of authority to evidence is in fundamental conflict with the intimacy of direct experience. Our need for self-preservation reduces our ability to represent the collective interest. A blending of the two might be an aspiration but belies the algorithms and trust serums that can be teased out of big data or injected into the conversations of big networks.

That elevated wisdom would bind credibility and authenticity in a state of integrity. In such a state experience informs the voice of authority. That’s an authenticity which may still bring human trust into our digital age.

In this latest Presidential race we can be sure about three things:

1) We’re about to elect a Harvard-educated and aloof technocrat more comfortable with crunching the numbers than pressing the flesh.

2) He will claim a mandate to represent all Americans in order to implement an unspecified agenda (even though he’s not on speaking terms with roughly half the country).

3) Privately neither candidate is too optimistic or delusional to believe they can reconcile their campaign rhetoric with the business of governing over a house divided on every major issue except one: let someone else (besides our soldiers) take the hit for a growing government supported by a dwindling tax base.

Pity our next President-elect. They need to suppress their better angels and the notion of a shared sacrifice, lest they’re booted from the beltway by the same people that hoisted them to victory.

Pity our citizen-voters. They missed out on the boom-boom Bush years and the hush-hush Obama-Bush sequel. There are scores to settle that make the middle class squeezes of the past feel like a hot compress in business class.

But there is a way to restore credibility to the electoral process.

There is a way to give political candidates the breathing room they’ll need in order to fix stuff, i.e. raise taxes and lower services, without being impeached by the alienated opposition.

There is a way to impose certainty on the tentative nature of change as in: “I’m certain I’ll be paying more for less and won’t insist our politicians pretend it away.” The return of animal spirits awaits the bravado of certainty in the bag. Without our reliable strut, we’re in the same rut.

Most pointedly, how do our deplorable political parties fight their way back to respectability? How do they wear their vested interests proudly? How do they dismiss bipartisanship with the straight face of tomorrow and not the smirk of today?

The check’s in the early balloting mail

They can rally support, not with platitudes and empty promises, but with cash paid out to the non-party members who matter: people who can’t decide who to vote for.

Surely this is illegal, right? Well, the 24th Amendment bans poll taxes but says nothing about direct marketing to electorates or the setting of voting prices. To liberals this may sound like another cynical ploy to kick self-interest up another discouraging notch. The death knell for the commonweal and the greater good.

But let’s think this through. The act is genuine. It’s an investment by political parties and their donors. Here’s how we speak directly to a polarized and cynical people. We channel cash to those unregistered Americans who decide elections through their indecision.

Why steal an election?

Why steal an election when you can buy one fair and square?

Paying for votes can mean a lot of stops on the low road to dysfunctional government. Is this what George W. Bush called “fuzzy math” without taking exception to the numbers in his opponent’s budget plan? Is this a basic deduction one can make around the political meme-seekers trying to rationalize the downhill momentum of Citizens v. United, voter fraud, or those impending fiscal cliffs? Is this the new normal depicted last month in Bill Clinton’s convention speech as basic arithmetic?

Paying for votes could put to rest all this talk about voter fraud and all the latest court challenges to voter ID. There won’t be any checks drawn on the accounts of the deceased once all those on-shore voters cash in on the action. Direct payments to voters will have the same impact on public apathy as robotic cars will have on the speeding ticket industry. It will obliterate negative campaigning for good. In the meantime, all those moochers, freeloaders, and deadbeats can do something constructive while biding their time for the next great wave of American prosperity to kick in.

What is the color of your skin in the game?

Whether you count yourself as a 99 percenter or a jet-setter, or the 47% on autopilot for an entitled silver spoon feeding, there’s one group that we can all set our growth beams on — that’s the unwashed and unvanquished object of those Super Pac spoils: the undecided voter. But would those undecideds be a vanishing breed if the Coche brothers and the George Soroses, and the casino kingpins could cash out directly? That’s right. They could pay directly for those votes instead of roulette-wheeling their dealings to local broadcasters in swing states.

Direct is a form of both payment and marketing. Why not a form of government? After all, our elected officials spend a good 70% of their time fetching for dollars when their only real conviction is to be re-elected. Who has the time for convictions when they may need to replace them in the interest of unexpected events or languishing sound bytes caught on tape? What’s the difference between an elected official on the take and the “takers” who vote them up or down from office? The difference is that representatives get rewarded for keeping themselves in power while their constituents get the spoils of free speech piling up on their cable screens and in-boxes.

Payouts are the new rebates

But paying  for votes is not just limited to electorates. We pay our kids to attend school. We pay farmers not to grow food. We pay food companies to market diabetic-inducing groceries for the express lane. We subsidize oil exploration so Exxon Mobil can super-size our addiction to oil. Actually We pay that one out twice before pausing to fill our tanks. That second hit happens when our taxes confront the debt our Chinese suitors assumed to underwrite our military occupations. What occupy movement is this? Those countries with high concentrations of hostility that invade our embassies, dis Israel, or worse, threaten to choke our economy.

And therein lies the choke hold. Us decided voters hold as few surprises as we do cards for deciding elections. Show me a reliable party line voter and I’ll show you an oblivious politician. Exhibit A: the 41 states without battleground status. A counted vote is as worthless to the voter as it’s money in the bank for the candidate — a blank check for spending political capital on carving out electoral districts, complicating the tax code, or even settling personal scores.

The transparency of market-based democracy

The sincerity of a bribe might smell bad to some but it’s a lot more understandable than the slippery abstractions that pass for campaign promises: putting us back to work? Change we can believe in? How about payments we can deposit? Who needs to pander when we’ve got a budget that operates below the radar of campaign ads, let alone media scrutiny? Delivering votes by channeling campaign funds to voters means that capitalism is hard at work, even if our politics are too fractured to lift a tiny compromising finger.

What if we put our votes on the auction block? The true undecideds and even us softer core fence-sitters? How would this all work then? And what would that do to the Australian ballot? That’s our right to vote without personalizing the transaction. Why would the major parties want to invest in the American voter when we’re protected against needing to account for our ballot choices? Here’s how that could play out:

1) Voter puts opening bid up on their social media page

2) Voter bundles bid with other undecideds in their districts

3) Voting brokers increase buying power of these undecided blocs (and takes a cut of the buy-off)

4) Parties examine registration history and make their pitch to the aggregator (READ: Google, FaceBook, Twitter, etal.)

5) Bloc members vote to accept winning bid from said party and sign contract binding them legally to (a) vote; and (b) reflect the endorsed party positions and candidates

What’s a little pressure among peers?

Does that mean we still vote by secret ballot? Absolutely.

Want to spell the difference between the uncertainty of polling data and the final vote count? It’s the sound of that pay-for-vote check being cashed at the corner ATM. That’s when the party can enforce the voters’ contractual obligations. It’s the line crossed once the volume of accepted bids eclipses the margin of error from the last election cycle.

Baring an onslaught of legalized immigrants, the entrenched turnouts of both parties will shine in glaring relief the tendencies of those bankrolled voters to stick or stray. If the backed party candidate loses, is it because the opposition lured in more voters? Doesn’t matter.

My brilliant strategist buddy Canuck surmises that future payments will freeze up should this doubt persist. Someone on the losing side didn’t pull his lever weight. They ruined it. For everybody.

Jeez, talk about disenfranchisement.

ImageHere’s what it’s like to move into a new and empty home by yourself when just the idea of it delivers a serious buzz:

* I can walk the boat to the pond or run the fan or fan the incense or un-run a color choice or the number of napkin boxes I opportune. And that’s not even messing with the cabin zoning as the AC can be as noisy or as borderline lukewarm as I want.

* I can bump into bumpable unpacked boxes and not have to explain the noise or wonder if I’m bumped up to noisy neighbor status.

* I can agonize over a soap dish at Cedar Chest. I can play out the cleaning habits of the three women I’ve co-starred in the preening of house. These three women will have agreed on little except that Alan Rickman is the pinnacle of sexy and that their co-star was raised by wolves.

So which civilizing influence will tilt the battle to burnish my OCD credentials in the cracks of my early post polyurethane floors? Is it the Dust Vac or the Swiffer? Am I persuaded to visit the Murphy’s Soap upon the soft, placid cork in the kitchen? Do I Lemon Pledge the electronics? Where will an all-purpose generic suffice? Do I suck down moths in mid-flight or wait for the dust-up in the morning glare? When are spiders the enemies of my enemies and when do I have to vanquish the suspect in a potential spider bite case? When is it time to dispense with dry mops and play whack-a-mole in the stubble of the backyard? I turn my ADD shopping list to the insidious weeds that require my train wreck brand of root canal and trunk piles.

I’m beginning to understand why I revel in these minutiae flare-ups. This house was built by men. However unlike in most cases, a woman’s hand is not present in the expression of the home. I’m free to second-guess my own interior decoration in the privacy of this creation. I have amnesty blankets of permission to make up my mind. This act holds certain unintended consequences. Sometimes this contains savage consequences in my marriages — especially when I saw the choices as two avoidable extremes:

(A) Making a fuss about it or,

(B) Complete suppression.

Talk about no one being vested in a sunk cost situation.

Playing out scenarios like juggling calendars is one such hazard. I’m traveling too far over too few hours and I misplaced a few priorities along the way: Especially when my sense of obligation and devotion are locked in private competition.

This sounds like a simple case of arguing over control. But to be more concrete here, the conflict is fundamental. It’s the appointment-cancelling version of a gagging reflex. That’s a reference to our impulsive aversion for event planning – namely who’s the sponsor and what are the attendance requirements:

  • What do I say to whom?
  • How do I listen in a sincere, attentive way?
  • Where does non-verbal dialog outflank both of these channels?

Another is my mastery of the self-limiting nature of failed relationships that go on for too long. Show me a reason to avoid an argument and I’ll show you another expectation that I could learn to live without.

In place of this master miscasting I have an open and not so fragile invitation to live in a state of generous communication. Anyone who opens the bulkhead to the basement of their brains has free and welcome access to my attic whenever the sump pump forgets to take its allergy meds. I really mean that.

Yes, I am both the kind and queen of my castle. And that’s just the warm-up for the ultimate victory here. I attain the unnatural born rite to exercise a woman and Governor Romney’s prerogative — the right to change my bleeping mind.

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.

Are you looking through a broken pair of eyes? Are you ill-equipped to hear me?”

“Are you one of the cogs

Too busy probing the pleasure centres of dogs to get near me?

- Kevin Godley, Lol Creme| Random Brainwave, 1979

What happens when human curiosity is reduced to an engineering exercise?

Some major efficiencies happen like instant road maps and opt-in spell checkers. Who would ever want to predate a world devoid of “did you mean…?” But whether we meant to or not Google has assigned a demand-side value to the answers it provides and the way it provides them. That is a powerful and compromising brokerage.

Our passions and concerns are channeled into a need for certainty that only seems to increase with the lack of closure. We are not just hard-coded for self-containing narratives of a self-concluding nature. We will skip ahead and miss the good bits because we’ll be too stressed out to appreciate them if it all turns out for naught. Such behaviors turn out well for Google. We’re addicted to answers. Google is not a vehicle. It is the verb. It does not own the road. It stores the potholes below the crevices of its membranes. To deny that is to take away free advertising for a search media giant and our own self-expression in the same bated breath.

The problem is not that Google and the self-proclaimed ‘beauty’ of its new privacy policy is big brother in a barely disguisable ruse: “[A] simple, intuitive user experience across Google.” If anything Google is big bystander. Google doesn’t want to crawl inside our heads and decode our inner confessionals — that last veil of hesitation that tells us not to visit our untested assumptions on inscrutable Google. They want to bucket our articulations: (1) First into IP addresses, and then, (2) into groupings of indulgences and shadowings of flash-points. Just the very products of our experience that cause us to take notice and give money. They don’t call us users for nothing:

Google: “We never sell personal information.”
Subtext: “We always sell impersonal information.”

Okay, you’re thinking. So I’m a consumer. They package me up and send me off as a nameless aggregate into the awaiting clutches of their material witnesses: The Procters and Gambles, the seasonal influenza indices, the local pizzerias … all riding on the outcome of my reflexive back and forth with Google. I got my toppings, and my meds, and my brand name discount. Just pay the man and move on, right?

Less Why for the Ware

The problem is not spyware but literally why-ware — the analytical nature of motivation. These are temperments, not transactions. These are the understandings reached through interconnecting events, inwardly wired impulses, and group + personal dynamics that factor into our actions and rationale for the outcomes they deliver. There is no GPS on God’s green Google Earth that reconciles these complexities with our circumstances, decisions, and their consequences.

Google would be the first search media giant to tell you they are not in the business of telling us what to do. But what they trademark behind that steel trap of engineers and lawyers is the newly franchisable power of suggestion. That means that a post millennial tween who straps on her Google glasses will be free to experience that mediated tunnel of contraption-induced toolbars and pulldown menus that jog along-side the shoulders of these driverless thoroughfares. She will have no need for prior knowledge or personal experience or the need to remember her impressions or with whom she chooses to share them. As the latest FAQ on Google’s new privacy policy intones:

Google: “We can treat you as a single user across all our products.”

Yes, that is intended to be a consoling message to us memory-challenged users. Perhaps the real threat would have been to caveat that emptor:

Subtext: “We can treat you as a multiple product across all our customer segments.”

Birth of a Pathology

The biggest eyebrow raising to date is that Google’s bid at reality augmentation is what stoners in the seventies used to say about their sober counterparts:

1975: “Reality is for people who can’t face drugs.”
2015: “Hiding publicly behind an interface is like viewing the world through Google-colored glasses.”  

Us ivory-towered elites can’t have that. We retreat to our own 20th century safety zones. We condemn this intervention! It is a container devoid of serendipitous discovery! It is way too interesting for our kids to tune us back in again. We are so gone.

It is also the shortest distance between points she’ll no longer be capable of making — mostly why did she climb in her Google car and where did it drop her? That’s assuming the passenger will have the curbside capacity to reboot the override.

Will they resume the itinerary on the driver’s side? That’s assuming they can drive a manual as well as read one. That’s insinuating she can trick the Google car into telling her what she need to know and not what the car is programmed to disclose. That will be a hard truth from our user and a soft landing disclosed by Google. That’s assuming one can take this all in. They seem to be talking over one another.

And down will come civilization, cradle and all.

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.