Tag Archives: information

“Numero Zero” by Umberto Eco

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As a result of the recent passing of Umberto Eco, I decided to bump this book up on my reading list. It is his most recent book, and sadly, his last one. It’s a short novel and fairly easy to read—not nearly as challenging as some of his other books. Still, it is classic Eco, steeped in conspiracy and social commentary, with ample references to history and literature.

This is a story about a newspaper in Milan that stumbles upon a conspiracy that may connect Mussolini with the Vatican, and suggests that Mussolini’s death was fake. There are lots of references that probably would have meant more to me if I was better versed in Italian history, but that did not detract from the book in any way. There is one criticism about this book, though, which I should probably get out of the way first. Personally, I thought the translation was very weak. It almost seemed like someone plugged the text into Google Translate which then spit out a translation void of nuance. This is especially noticeable in the dialog. All the language is flat and it is almost impossible to discern one character from another.

“But it’s like calling John XXIII the Good Pope. This presupposes the popes before him were bad.”

“Maybe that’s what people actually thought, otherwise he wouldn’t have been called good. Have you seen a photo of Pius XII? In a James Bond movie he’d have been the head of SPECTRE.”

“But it was the newspapers that called John XXIII the Good Pope, and the people followed suit.”

“That’s right. Newspapers teach people how to think,” Simei said.

“But do newspapers follow trends or create trends?”

(p. 83)

So in the previous excerpt, there are actually three people taking part in the dialog, but it is virtually impossible to tell one from another based upon the tone of the person speaking. I suspect in the original Italian, there was more nuance in the voices, but I cannot be certain about that. Anyway, now I can talk about what I liked.

This book’s strength is its critique against the news media. I’ve read essays by Eco where he addresses problems with news media, but here he presents his ideas creatively through fiction.

One of the ideas that Eco puts forth in this book is that news organizations actually create the news.

It’s not the news that makes the newspaper, but the newspaper that makes the news.

(p. 49)

This is true. The newspapers and news stations decide what is news and what is not. They decide what information is disseminated to the populace, and often these decisions are influenced by political agendas and advertising. In addition to the news media deciding what is “news,” there is another issue that impedes one’s ability to find important and unbiased news, and that is the fact that in the digital age, news is buried and hidden within a “sea of information.”

The point is that newspapers are not there for spreading the news but for covering it up. X happens, you have to report it, but it causes embarrassment for too many people, so in the same edition you add some shock headlines—mother kills four children, savings at risk of going up in smoke, letter from Garibaldi insulting his lieutenant Nino Bixio discovered, etc.—so news drowns in a great sea of information.

(pp. 140 – 141)

This passage makes me think a lot about FOX News and their scrolling ticker across the bottom of the screen. On a regular basis, the word ALERT! in red appears and pulls your eyes toward the ticker, distracting you from whatever is being discussed in the report. I cannot help but wonder if the timing of the alerts is orchestrated. As an experiment, I think I will watch closely and note what is being discussed each time an alert flashes at the bottom of the screen.

While this was not my favorite Eco book, I am still glad I read it and it is certainly worth reading, in spite of the translation issues. It’s a quick read and as with everything that Eco wrote, it is impossible to read this book and not come away a wiser person for doing so.

Cheers, and keep on reading!

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“Enlightenment and Common Sense” by Umberto Eco

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This is a short essay included in Turning Back the Clock that addresses the question: What is an enlightened thinker? While he lists several traits that are found in the modern enlightened thinker, he asserts that two essential qualities are common sense and skepticism.

While I am in complete agreement regarding Eco’s assertion about common sense, I am somewhat more skeptical when it comes to his claim on skepticism (a pun is intended here). While it is true that healthy skepticism promotes inquiry and testing of claims that are posited as fact, in the information age where a quick Google search can turn up supporting “data” for any claim, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, skepticism has opened the door to the denial of proven information that is crucial to society and humanity. The perfect example is climate change. The theory of biological imperialism asserts that a species will alter its environment to make it more conducive to its survival and comfort. It’s a hard theory to refute. If you accept this premise, then it stands to reason that humans, in modifying their surroundings, have changed the environment. When you consider this fact in conjunction with scientific evidence of changes in the climate and their connection with human activity, then our impact on climate change should be evident and not disputed. In spite of this, there is no shortage of “skeptics” who reject scientific findings and bolster their views with supporting data from “experts” in the field (often hired by corporations). And there is the problem with associating skepticism with enlightened thinking.

While I agree with 99% of what Eco asserts, I feel he is off in this area. There is a real danger in skepticism and I feel that common sense is much more important than skepticism. Hence to quote the old adage: Common sense is not all that common.

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Black Widow: Issue #7

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I liked this issue a lot. First off, it’s set in San Francisco, which is such a cool city and I have some great memories from there. Secondly, the issue includes an appearance by Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil. It is revealed that Daredevil and Natasha once had a very intimate relationship, but in typical Black Widow fashion, the details of the relationship and their split remain hidden. Lastly, the writing, artwork, and storyline are all very good and consistent with the comic series.

There is a great quote from the end of this issue that has me thinking a lot about current world events.

It’s more difficult to distinguish the good from the bad every day—and she needs people that she can trust. Because the world is full of people she can’t.

Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking about how divisive the world is nowadays and how with the plethora of information available it becomes difficult to get a clear view of a situation. We have the Russia/Ukraine conflict, Israel and Hamas, Republicans and Democrats, the list goes on. I can scan Yahoo news and read articles from different sources demonizing each side of every conflict. How can one feel certain about which side is right or wrong anymore? The lines seem to become more and more indistinguishable. For me, I try to educate myself as much as possible, to practice critical thinking, and not take anything for granted. History had demonstrated that there are always at least two sides to every story. I find it best to reserve judgment and keep an open mind.

Thanks for stopping by and keep reading.

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Magneto: Issue #6 – Collective Memory and Information Overload

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This issue continues where Issue #5 left off. Magneto is tracking down the Marauders, who were responsible for brutal assaults on mutants. It is made known that the individuals who make up the Marauders are genetic replicas, so when one dies, that Marauder is replaced by another. The issue concludes with the implication that Magneto has a plan to reprogram a group of inactive Marauders to do his bidding.

There is a great passage in this issue that addresses collective memory and how media overload has impacted it.

What the Marauders did all those years ago… is almost forgotten now… a dozen other, more terrible tragedies jockeying for room in the collective memories of those who might have cared.

I find this a powerful critique on our society. In the information age, we are fed a continuous stream of news, data, information, opinions, ideas, and so forth. While the nerd in me finds this exciting, I am not a fool and therefore recognize the downside, which is that there is too much information for people to digest adequately. Out of necessity, we must forget past events to make room in our minds for the new, which never ceases to demand our attention. We have 24-hour news stations constantly pushing stories at us, forcing us to stay focused on what they deem to be the important news story of the moment.

I have gotten rid of cable TV and hence stopped the pseudo-news stream which bombards most individuals. Still, I read the news everyday online, which means I am exposed to a lot of news stories. But at least I can take it in digestible doses so as to prevent overload. Hopefully, this will allow me to maintain a memory of important historical events, because in my opinion, history is important.

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