Sunday, October 7, 2012

Breaking Bad: Available Evidence

It's been killing me: How can Walt be free at 52 (albeit miserable, evidently alone and more in fear of his life than ever) since Hank now knows (or soon will realize) that Walt is Heisenberg.

Here's a possibility: Walt comes clean (how can he not?) but blackmails Hank. What story would Hank's superiors be more likely to believe? That  Walt eluded Hank's scrutiny, or that Hank was in on it? Hank has even accepted money from Walt for medical bills.

But the fact that neither family is living beyond their visible means supports the conspiracy theory. It's all in the family. The settling up will come someday, but needn't now.

Walt has already decided to quit the meth business; this is another pressure point to Hank since he wouldn't be asking the DEA ASAC to turn a future blind eye, only the lies that were necessary in the past. 

Clearly, even if this is the scenario for season 5, part II, it won't hold forever. Hank wouldn't take this lying down. He'd play for time, to figure a way out if this mess. And we know Walt is in New Hampshire nine months later evidently alone and on the run.
No, it won't be the feel good hit of 2013.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Get Over It: It Was a Fair Fight, And Obama Blew It Himself

I can't help but think that many of my liked-minded friends have completely missed the point of last night's debates. It doesn't matter how much dissembling Romney might have done, or how preposterous the internal logic of his statements may add up to. The moderator's role is a sideshow — moderators are a stupid modern convention that clever politicians know how to play.

Debates are not about policy discovery. They are theater. That is all. It's all about heart.

The day before, and the day after — that's the time to score the head. On stage it's all about your media training.

What makes so many Obama supporters angry is that the distance between head and heart were so wide. But there is nobody to blame for that, and for the appearance — the performance — that conveyed.

I saw Felix Salmon today (thanks again for RT'ing, even if, as you explained, it must have been a mistake / the result or boredom or all you have left to do when your own Twitter feed blew up) and after some witty (One-sided. Guess which side) banter I told him how I had watched the debate.

Even I didn't realize it until today: I essentially stopped listening after the first question to live blog it (along with the entire planet, apparently), and kept one ear and one eye open for a clue that the dynamic was changing.

Obama lost because he didn't take the initiative. He even looked at times as if he didn't want to be president anymore. He's made a case for a Democrat, but not for this Democrat, and for a person who has often seemed so blasé in office — in stark contrast to the often passionate 2008 campaigner — this is not a good meme to feed.

The setup now is for Biden to take the heat off, and for Obama to close strongly. 

But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and that was it

Here's the Storify of my Obama / Romney Twitter live blog.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How The Blog Ethic Will Cripple Debater Romney

One of the most important modern advances in journalism — courtesy, mind you, of the ethics of blogging -- is the opportunity for writers and publisher to own up to mistakes in the same place, time and fashion where the mistakes were made.

Journalists have always had an obligation to correct their errors, of course. Not all have, of course. And the truth can be elusive, even a matter of opinion sometimes.

But what isn't up for debate is requirement to tell the same audience you deluded that a) you were wrong and b) here's the truth.

Not to pile on, but newspapers haven't always been too good at this. Even when they have grudgingly acknowledged error, they did so in an error section that only the curious few bothered to check, often exposing themselves to the story in question for the first time. Once the paper was out it was out, and gone. Fish wrap. No sane publisher was going to spend valuable paper and ink to re-print old news, just so an error could be acknowledged and fixed in the proper venue.

But blogs changed that. Blog posts never go away. They beg to be fixed, and the right audience will always see the fix, no matter when they discover the story.

Oh, if it were only always this in politics.

The old adage that it takes a second for a lie to go around the world while the truth addles to catch up is not only true in politics, but it has been weaponized. Sound-bite savvy politicians know that even if they have to walk it back that will only be to a smaller, and — more significantly — different audience. Convenient lies are shared only for an audience that is not the target demographic. So there is no real downside to telling a whopper if your big worry is that someone on Fox or MSNBC is going to point that out to the choir a day or even hours later.

But debates are different. They are like blogs to the old media convention of fail now, fix later (and elsewhere).

In a well-moderated (and fought) debate, nobody will be able to get away with anything. Because there are two people, right here right now, who will call you out. To the same audience who heard the lie. In real-time.

This was part of Tim Pawlenty's problem in the GOP primary debates. He called out Romney by using the phrase "ObamneyCare" in some friendly forum, and declined to man up on stage with Romney himself.

This will not be a problem when Mitt Romney faces off with Barack Obama tonight debates and two more times.

And this is the risk to Romney. His best material is ... questionable. But deploying Obama surrogates to opine on cable TV about the challenger's Medicare and welfare shots at the president does nothing to prevent the continued spread of that propaganda, even though it has been identified clearly by "fact-checkers" as false. The asynchronous nature of statement and rebuttal (and a lack of shame) enables the lie in the daily give-and-take of a campaign. With both parties, and a ref, on one stage it shouldn't be possible to slide out from under a smear.

Romney survived the GOP primary debates, with only a few big stumbles — Brother, can you spare $10,000? He's good in formal settings, and he has the best debate prep team money can buy.

But what he can't do on stage is argue like Romney. That is the path to embarrassment and humiliation and the death sentence that is appearing "unpresidential." That may be why there is talk of prepared "zingers" — a tactic to derail seriousness, play out the clock and fight for tomorrow's viral video sound bite.

But you can't live on improv alone. Maybe if there was one debate, but surely not when there will be three.

Which leave one possibility: The Big Reveal.

I can't wait I hear Romney's argument for himself on debate night. Because if I do, I will be hearing it for the first time.

(Photo: "Teacher's Pet")

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The NY Times & HTML5: "This Is A First Step."

I felt a tiny burst of joy on my morning commute today when I read that the New York Times was going to launch an HTML5 version of its digital edition. Then I had a cow when I discovered that it was iPad only.

I Tweeted disapproval with my usual reserve:

I also wrote to the Times, which quickly responded:

"We wanted to test the Web App among a highly engaged audience of NYT subscribers, which made the iPad a natural choice," spokeswoman Linda Zebian wrote back. "This is the first step, but the HTML5 format does allow us to explore the idea of launching Web-based apps other platforms in the future."

Indeed it does. The question is, why wait and do even a tiny bit of damage to your street cred as a leader in the digital arena? And invite unfavorable comparison (as I did) to the Financial Times, whose HTML5 app works great on both the iPad/Safari and Nexus 7/Chrome/Jelly Bean?

@OttoBerks had a thought:

This makes sense, and hews to the Times' reply.

It just all seems a little strange. Sure the Android universe isn't huge in tablets, but it is huger than iOS on smartphones (and, guess what, the FT web app rocks there as well).

Why rush — especially since it doesn't seem to be an end-run around the iTunes store; the Times will continue to make the app available, unlike the FT, which pulled it to save that 30% fee.

The Times has lovely iOS and Android apps — the latest upgrade for the Nexus 7 makes it leaner and more navigable. But the appeal of using HTML5 — apart from the cross-platform advantage the Times has forgone for the time being — is that you are better able to lay things out and, more importantly, apply updates dynamically. For a news app the latter is critical and the former an increasingly nice-to-have, since one of the features of the paper itself is the ability to offer nuanced hierarchal clues besides just top-to-bottom headlines.

I'm looking forward to seeing this new Times app on my iPad, when I get home tonight. But it would be AWESOME, New York Times, if you could knock out the Android version by the time I take my evening commute ...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Where Angels Fear To Tread: Bernd Debusmann

Five years ago I wrote about the start of an era at Reuters. Now it's time to write about the end of two.

Bernd Debusmann is leaving The Baron after one of the most storied careers not only at that news agency but but surely in journalism.

He reported from more than 100 countries since joining the company in 1964 and, five years ago, was the marquee name when Reuters began an opinion service with three writers.

They don't make them like this anymore. If ever there was a living Le Carré character, it is Bernd, from his lifelong passion of jumping out of airplanes (most of the time, I think, with a parachute) to the 7.65 mm round, delivered with a silenced pistol on behalf of someone who didn't care for his reporting.

Bernd leaves with that bullet still lodged near his spine, and with the admiration of generations of reporters who got to watch how it was done, day-in-and-day-out, even on those rare occasions when he wasn't being shot, threatened or thrown out of some country.

Generations more may yet benefit from his unique insights and experiences; there is talk of a book. The Reuters career ends but the writing continues, we are promised.

In a farewell letter Bernd alludes to his first Reuters Opinion piece. It was — to quote Joe Biden — a BFD.

I joined Reuters Opinion when they started letting anyone in. But Bernd was Jackie Robinson: entrusted with creating a franchise that lurking internal critics would have brought down at the first hint of trouble. Bernd had the street cred, of course, but he also had gravitas literally no one could question.

Here's another way to understand it: Only Nixon could go to China. Only Debusmann could have launched Reuters Opinion.