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Our All Consuming, Incomprehensible News Cycle

Nassim Taleb observed that "the opposite of education isn't ignorance but miseducation." With miseducation your head is stuffed, but stuffed with nonsense. That is equally true of current events as it is of pedagogy. The dangerous opposite of information isn't the absence of a signal, but disinformation. The victims of miseducation and disinformation are both brimming with knowledge, only of the wrong kind.

For example there is tension brewing in the Middle East:

Saudi Arabia's air force intercepted seven missiles fired from Yemen on Sunday and, in the debris that rained down on residential suburbs from the interceptions, one man was killed, the Saudis said in a statement.

Coalition forces spokesman Col. Turki Al Maliki said the missiles were fired from Yemen at four target areas, and all the missiles were intercepted and destroyed, according to the statement.

This isn't the first time the kingdom was the target of missile strikes from neighboring Yemen, but it is the first time there's been a fatality on Saudi soil. After previous interceptions, the Saudis responded with airstrikes on the Yemeni capital of Sana'a. The response to a fatal incident such as Sunday's is likely to be even more punishing.

It's part of an undeclared war between the Russian/Syrian/Iranian alliance on the one hand and the U.S./Saudi/Israeli grouping on the other. The post-ISIS region remains in flux, according to John Bolton. Although David Brennan of Newsweek uses hyperbolic language in his article, he is essentially correct in pointing out there are real foreign policy dangers facing the United States:

As carrier strike group commander Rear Admiral Steve Koehler told USNI News, “The threat picture in Syria is just crazy: How many different countries can you cram in one different place, where they all have a different little bit of an agenda? And you put a tactical pilot up there and he or she has to employ ordnance or make defensive counter-air decisions with multiple people.”

That would be news to most, and the public can be forgiven for not seeing it. Because the talking points ceaselessly trumpet Trump's subservience to Putin, and take every opportunity to emphasize Stormy Daniels' revelations as the big story. With the spotlight leaving all else in the dark, who could possibly imagine trouble in the shadows with Russia under those circumstances?

A similar kind of distortion is bending that other big headliner, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook has been severely punished. It's stock value has dropped more than $70 billion since the news of its connection with the controversial company were first revealed.  Never has "cool" so rapidly evaporated. Elon Musk has canceled SpaceX and Tesla's Facebook accounts.

But what is it being punished for? The chastisement of Facebook has been driven arguably less by its questionable data custodianship of private data and more by its association with the latest hate object of the media, Cambridge Analytica.

With misinformation as with miseducation, the public sees but not in due proportion. Its calculations are put all out of reckoning. The image of the world is presented like a reflection in a funhouse mirror, with certain aspects greatly enlarged while others are minimized almost to invisibility.

Perhaps never in human history has the average man been bombarded with so many stories.  Yet paradoxically, never has the public been in greater danger of strategic surprise. If it is caught at unawares, the reason for its blindness won't be lack of bandwidth but in all the things it imagined were important that weren't.

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For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.

Books:

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. This book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty but also experience wrenching change. Professions of all kinds - from lawyers to truck drivers - will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar. Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, MIT's Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and a new path to prosperity.

Open Curtains: What if Privacy were Property not only a Right, by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. This book is a proposal for bringing privacy to the internet by assigning monetary value to data. The image of "open curtains" is meant to suggest a system that allows different degrees of privacy, controlled by the owner. The "curtains" may be open, shut, or open to various degrees depending on which piece of data is being dealt with. Ultimately, what is at stake is governance. We are en route to control of society by and for the few rather than by and for the many, because currently the handful of mega tech companies are siphoning up everyone's data, for nothing, and selling it. Under the open curtains proposal, government would also pay for its surveillance in the form of tax rebates, providing at least some incentive for government to minimize its intrusions ... (from a review by E. Greenwood).

Skin in the Game, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In his new work, Taleb uses the phrase "skin in the game" to introduce a complex worldview that applies to literally all aspects of our lives. "Never trust anyone who doesn't have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will profit and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them," he says. In his inimitable style, he pulls on everything from Antaeus the Giant to Hammurabi to Donald Trump to Seneca to the ethics of disagreement to create a jaw-dropping tapestry for understanding our world in a brand new way.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

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