Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old news experiment - 2

Last year I found a temporary source of free high quality newspapers. They were a few weeks out of date but that was no problem. Unfortunately the source has since dried up. But I still have a few left and I use them for self-experimentation. Like in: Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters.

Borges quote - During WW-II Jorge Luis Borges did not want to read the "common" newspapers with all the war news. He did not find it culturally relevant and did not want to be distracted by this "noise". Instead he decided to read the classic literature about the Punic (?) wars.
Yesterday I spent a lot of time on Google but I could not find the source of the quote. It may have come from the book "Seven Nights" (no it didn't - I leafed through the whole book).

Research questions - With the thin stack of year-old newspapers in front of me it's difficult to formulate the research questions:
  • What news is still interesting after one year? Does it add a missing puzzle piece to my picture of the world? Does it stabilize my world view? (very subjective!)
  • What news is still relevant after one year? Does it show a relevant trend? Can and should I act on this news?
  • Is it useful to read the newspapers? Or can I spend my time better?
Detailed results - It takes about 2 hours of breakfast time (with tea and cake and laptop) to work through 4 quality newspapers. Most of the time is spent scanning headlines. A few articles are worth digging deeper. I've cut out 5 pages to keep. These are the main points:

Economics trends:
  •  Higher oil prices are bad for aircraft companies - America wants to use strategic oil reserves - More work is needed to pump oil from old wells - Dispute about levels of Saudi oil reserves after a cable on WikiLeaks.
  • More energy security through European gas pipeline network.
  • Threat of inflation in Europe - Fear of inflation in America.
  • Gold has never been so expensive - Investors are interested in Zimbabwe (platinum, diamonds, gold, chromium) and Mongolia (gold, silver, copper, lead, iron, uranium, coal).
  • Moody's downgrades Greek debt to B1 - Athens is angry.
  • Mervyn King sharply criticizes the bonuses of bankers.
  • China is afraid of inflation and rising prices - The four problems of China: high cost of housing, inflation, unjust income distribution, corruption - China spends more on the internal security apparatus than on the military - Social unrest is growing.
  • S&P has downgraded German banks because the state will likely not support them - German banks have loaned 37 billion to American municipalities and these are in financial problems.
  • Maersk has built the biggest container ship that can carry 18.000 containers.
  • Paul Krugman: What's happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab - an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. The shock doctrine is on full display.
Economic details:
  • Insider case against hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam.
  • Coca Cola it striving for more sustainability in the company.
  • Dutch Rabobank has survived the crisis well.
  • There is doubt if the Renault employees were really involved in espionage for China.
  • The creditors of Parmalat want more money.
  • The interest on the Irish debt might be reduced.
  • Credit Suisse might have supported American tax flight.
  • Glencore is a secretive commodities trading empire.
Information technology:
  • Every day web 10.000 pages link to Facebook - Facebook is becoming a closed "Internet inside the Internet".
  • Skype going into video-telephony and advertisement.
  • IPads and apps are hot.
  • Cloud computing "will give IT wings".
  • Computer industry desperately needs professionals.
  • Advertisers pay well for the chance to be linked to female bloggers - has 100.000 followers.
  • What role did modern media play in the Arab spring? They are important, but not more than that.
  • The current religious crisis is different from the previous ones because this time we are totally uninterested in the question of God, we believe we can abolish any concept of God (Erkenntnis die: Wir koennen uns nicht fassen. / Und finden keinen der uns Goettern gleicht. / Und keinen, der uns hilfe reicht. / Wir sind uns ohne Gnade ueberlassen. - Guenter Kunert) - The SPD wanted to remove the crucifix from the meeting room of local parliament.
  • Eugenics under Franco in Spain, stealing the children of potential communists.
  • The British first heartily cooperated with Gadaffi and now they want to topple him.
  • 7.5 million Germans are "functionally illiterate", they can read short sentences but not longer texts, they cannot fill out a form, men: 60%, women 40%.
  • Letters of Hans Fallada have been found in the Israeli national library. He writes about his loneliness, his illness and his fears. (Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein.)
  • The attack of the populist government on "elite" culture and "leftist hobbies" in the Netherlands.
  • A book was published on the letters of Bruce Chatwin.
  • With more cheap digital weather stations the temperature levels are being reported in tenths of degrees (like: 0.2), this precision is totally useless.
  • SkySails could reduce energy consumption in shipping.
  • Scientists did not distort climate data, US inquiry finds.
  • Watson, the computer, won the world "jeopardy" championship, humans do not mind very much.
Analysis - The collection above is heavily biased. It is strongly filtered in several steps:
  • Most of the things that happen in the world go unobserved and unreported.
  • The reported news is selected by the media corporations and news editors - they select what their readers want to pay for.
  • From the published news I select what I find remarkable, interesting or valuable - most probably I'm extremely biased and I'm searching for news that supports my general world view - it is easy to deduce my world view and political orientation from my selection above.
How much direction does the information give me - is there any actionable information?
  • I cannot do anything about the economic information. I can watch the trends unfolding but I'm unable to influence them. I cannot hide - as one of the 99% I'm too late to buy gold, and these times are too unpredictable to invest in anything. I could invest in a fund using a broadly spread portfolio but I'm unable to predict how close we are to bottom.
  • I can (and do) watch the sociological, cultural and scientific trends with interest, but again because these are emergent properties of society I can do relatively little about them. Governments were and are rotten. I will vote carefully in any next election, but will that help?
  • I see the direction the IT field is taking and it is useful to gain knowledge in that area. But I already know and do that.
Preliminary conclusion - working hypothesis
  1. Reading a year old newspaper does not differ much from reading a current newspaper.
  2. Most of the information is short term noise.
  3. Most of the long term trends are already known.
  4. Very little information is actionable.
  5. Most of the news amplifies feelings of insignificance and powerlessness.
  6. It is possible to find solace in culture and art.
  7. It is better to not read the newspapers at all or to concentrate on art and culture.
This is a much more negative conclusion than I expected! I don't know if I completely agree with myself and if I'm willing to follow-up on this conclusion. More thinking and experimenting to be done!

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - 1,7,8 March 2011
International Herald Tribune - 26-27 February 2011
Guenter Kunert
Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters

1 comment:

  1. The only news I missed on a two week hiking holiday was the announcement of a railway strike on the day of my intended home journey.