Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Diatribe on the News

I'm fascinated by world events.  At times I'm a voracious news-consumer, at other times I turn away in disgust, boredom or despair.  I don't have a television, so most of my news comes from the on-line versions of newspapers.  My morning set of bookmarks go in order: New York Times, Talking Points Memo, The Guardian, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Irish Examiner, Караван, and El Colombiano.   The New York and Munich papers have the best grasp on world events, and the Guardian has the best commentary about North America.  TPM's obsession with US politics at every level gives a hint of what may be bubbling up in the next news cycle, if I care to know - which lately I mostly don't.  Караван ("Caravan") and the Irish Examiner are ways to check in on places I have lived and maintain an affection for: Almaty and Cork.  The Medellin paper, El Colombiano I occasionally read in order to learn some Spanish.

My RSS feed brings me articles from a handful of more specialized sources - on climate change, energy, and cultural politics.

I skim, which is why I can no longer watch television news at all.   In reading I can ignore all the groundless speculation about the Malaysian airliner (of course it fell into the ocean!) or the politics of Obamacare (of course the Republicans are going to lambast it!).  The specialized blogs hammer away at their familiar obsessions.  So, even in my queue of newspapers and blogs I read only a smattering.

Lately, day to day reporting has interested me less and less.  Crimea is a case in point.  I can empathize with Crimean friends without needing to master the minutiae of the situation.   Putin has it, isn't going to give it back, it's neither very surprising nor outrageous, and it's not really our problem - at least in the ways that the media discuss it. (That is, the idea that the US and Obama have to - but can't - project their power abroad, that they have to hold the line on sovereignty, that sanctions need to be imposed, etc. is all entirely predictable and pointless.)  I might be interested in a discussion about the global collapse of liberal democracy and our conservatives' unabashed admiration for Putin, or how fossil fuel constraints underly Russia's assertiveness and Europe's passivity - but I'm not interested enough to wade through all the other nonsense, since the best case scenario is usually to hear something I've already worked out in my own analysis.

When Egypt (or the rest of north Africa) lurches toward anarchy, it will be because they have too many young men and not enough wealth, and the geopolitical influence (and oil money) that allowed them to navigate into that cul de sac - are gone.  Who has the megaphones and who is suffering and dying at the ends of the truncheons will not be the crux of the matter, though the stories will all be about that.  If people come up with a different way out - then that would be news!

When India starves it will be because they put their economic faith in globalization instead of building a country that could look after itself - not because of the political clowns who organize the pogroms.  When Japan retreats to isolationism and China re-orients its empire away from supporting the global economy - not only will none of this surprise me, but the undercurrents of culture, economics and energy, which make it all seem so likely (if not inevitable) will remain outside of the stories that the media are willing to tell.  In the US, the combination of a destroyed and eviscerated public political practice, combined with economic decline and elite predation makes the rise of our own Vladimir Putin seem probable, and I'm interested in analyses that speak to that - but for that you have to wade into the blogs.

On the other hand, something that caused my ears to prick up was that the mainstream media actually conveyed the IPCC's assertion that the food system is at risk from climate change.  Here is one of those basic underlying dynamics that we have to understand if we are going to make sense of what happens in Egypt or Syria or California.  Agriculture (and thus civilization) relies on a climate that is predictable enough to raise enormous quantities of food.  We're getting the first impacts of destabilization, and the scientists (who understand the scale of the future impacts which are already built into the system) are beginning to panic.  The stakes are being raised.  Responses, political and material, are being called for with a new urgency, even as the fundamental rigidity of the status quo remains in place.

But that's news!