Sorry for the lack of updates the last two weeks. I took a vacation and went down to Myrtle Beach and avoided the internet as much as possible. While there, I read a book called "The Black Swan" that deals with what is in some ways an really obvious premise: we can't know the future. However common sense this is, businesses and governments are often blind to it. They make forecasts, because it's obviously a good thing to plan and have goals. But, the problem often comes from the fact that they treat these forecasts as hard and fast reality instead of mere guess work. People seem built by evolution to take the present and project it out into the future. As a result, you wind up with people believing that housing prices and the stock market only go up, or that health care costs will only spiral out of control until everyone is bankrupted, or that a warming trend of a few decades is proof that the world is going to turn into a Venus-like hell where our cities vanish beneath oceans and what land is left is desert.
One of the counter-intuitive bits of advice the author gives is that people should stop reading newspapers and watching the news on a daily basis. He's making his argument mostly from a financial sense, since there is evidence that people who check the price of a stock frequently are less able to judge it's performance accurately than someone who only looks at it once a month or so. There's a tendency for people to confuse information with knowledge.
I've decided to follow this advice. I'm a news junky. I listen to NPR any time my radio is on in my car or my house. I frequently read two newspapers a day, one at lunch and a different one at dinner. Then, I spend hours in the evening cruising political sites like realclearpolitics and drudgereport. I think I can safely say that my typical day includes at least 4 hours devoted to consuming news. I don't think, however, that I wind up with 4 hours of knowledge for my efforts. So, I'm switching off NPR when I drive in favor of books on CD. I'm going to skip newspapers in favor of books when I eat alone. Instead of cruising realclearpolitics, I'll spend more time writing.
At least, that's the goal... who knows what the future will actually hold.
One reason I'm not that concerned that my knowledge of world events is going to suffer is that I really feel as if newspapers, NPR, and most news outlets have stopped reporting on world events in any meaningful way. Rather than spending a week reporting on the details of a climate change bill, NPR and cable news will instead bring on pundits to make claims and counterclaims and focus on what is likely to happen in upcoming votes. During political campaigns, there is almost no coverage at all of any issue with any substance or depth, and instead the news cycles are mainly dominated by reading the entrails of the polls and the airing the bloviations of spin doctors from the various campaigns.
The bias in our news system isn't one of liberal or conservative. It's one of punditry and prophecy over facts and history. Our news is forward focused, and recent history seems to vanish. The talking heads making inaccurate predictions six months prior are still on the air making predictions of what will happen next week. Actual reporting would, by neccessity, have to report on what has happened in the past. It would take time to gather actual data. But, time is no longer on the side of facts. The news cycle demands that something go out on the air every minute of the day. Reporters are to produce stories mere hours, or even minutes, before they hit the air. If a thing happened yesterday, it's old news, already forgotten. No one is going to spend weeks or months digging down to establish truth. I'm not certain that reporters or politicians or the citizens recognize truth any more. Everything is now just spin and position. Indeed, the more an "issue" is discussed by the media, the less sure I become of any actual facts underlying the debate.
So, I'm jumping off the wheel. I've been spun enough.