Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time vs The Economist (Economist 1, Time 0)

Travel does terrible things to a person. Take an otherwise rational being, and stick them in a succession of economy class seats and airport concourses for long enough, and they'll start shopping in completely idiotic ways, endorsing intelligent design and otherwise showing that they've abandoned their senses.

That's how I ended up buying a copy of 'Time' magazine, for the first time in ages. I was desperate. Jet lagged, unwashed, rumpled, crabby and also (perhaps the airport food, or the diet in Las Vegas) flatulent to the level of a superpower, if only I'd had any control over it. Worse, I'd finished the novel I had with me (Cormac McCarthy's riveting, dark, spectacularly violent Blood Meridian) and read the current and previous weeks' editions of The Economist cover to cover, including the advertisments.

It was awful. So bad I struggle to explain it. Think of a cross between news-lite and vacuous celebrity drivel. They had a 'Technology Roundtable' where they rounded up some people who had made a lot of money, and asked them dumb questions, leading to answers that were barely coherent sometimes, and rarely interesting when they were. Jay Adelson (CEO of Digg) had this to say about 'The future of free news':
Increasingly, over time, I think information is ubiquitous. I think that I will be able to get a lot of that data - sometimes not even assembled by an individual - to give me the answer that I want. And for that, I will not have to pay.
Clearly he spent more time on getting his hair right for the 'interview' than on the answers, and Time spent more on photography than editing. If anyone can see an argument here, or even a hint of an analysis, please let me know. The best answer gets a free (slightly used) copy of Time magazine.

Anyway, it's easy to take pot shots. The cool thing is that there is one story, a review of an exhibition, that was covered in the Time and one of the two issues of The Economist that I had just read. So my weary flatulent self read the one with the other in recent memory. And the comparison is most instructive.

The exhibition is currently at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It is covered in in Time on November 23, 2009 (pp112-2) and in The Economist on November 12th.

The Economist says something coherent, historically informed and useful. In 650 odd words. Time take a bit over 1050 words, and chuck around pomposities like 'rectitude' and barbarisms like 'Bauhauslers'. Sigh. And there's some outright vacuous smoke. For example:
... there's a color photograph of Gropius' righteously Cartesian office, with a right-angular chair resting on a grid-patterned carpet and a grid-patterned tapestry hanging on one wall.
Uh. Well. No. That's bollocks. Regular geometric patterns are a staple of ancient art from all over the world. They massively predate Descartes. And a 'Cartesian' set of co-ordinates assigns every point an address, it has axes so that points are identified by signed distances along the two (or three) perpendicular axes. Calling a rug with a grid on it 'Cartesian' is just pseudo intellectual tosh.

Next time I'm buying the National Enquirer.

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