The Deeper Magic


When I was young, I read the Chronicles of Narnia again and again. Not as much as read Swiss Family Robinson. But a lot.

There’s this passage I really hate in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, where Aslan has been brought back to life, having been ritually slaughtered by the White Witch. He explains why he’s alive. It goes a bit like this:

It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

Now, the lack of subtlety in the book aside (its intentions and allusions are written very much on its sleeve), this bit of text feels a bit like cheating. It feels like a deus ex machina, except instead of something semi-badass (the Eagles are coming!), it’s some yadda yadda. A bit of exposition to plaster over the why of it all.

I still kind of hate it.

But I also appreciate it. Not because of what it says on its face, but because (pardon the meta here) of the deeper magic it contains.

I think I’m the White Witch. But you don’t get off the hook: You’re the White Witch too.

The White Witch is someone who has glanced at something and accepted what she has found. She’s gotten the explanation she wants, and she’ll look no further. She finds the thing that lets her kill the lion but doesn’t find the next thing, the thing that lets the lion kill her.

The next thing is important.

I think a lot of thing have this deeper magic. I think we should keep digging. I think simple explanations are too easy, that there is more behind the curtain.

I think “thus far and no further” is never far enough.

Forecasting and the news

I occasionally like to listen the CBC World At 6, especially if I’m in the car coming home late from work, or going out somewhere earlier in the evening.

It’s by far the most interesting and in-depth news report on the radio today. But it’s not without its faults.

I don’t listen to the news often, read the newspaper, etc. I find the signal-to-noise ratio too high. The newspaper has to fill up a certain number of pages, the news segment has to be half an hour long, so obviously most of the time that’s just noise.

What new I do get from the internet is mostly tuned to what I find interesting — so not things that are particularly newsworthy. And when something interesting and newsworthy happens, well, I can’t really avoid seeing it.

I don’t watch cable news at all. This isn’t just because I don’t have cable. It’s also because the 24-hour news cycle is so much longer and needs so much more content to fill it, that the signal-to-noise ratio is almost always abysmal. Having watched (on vacation) some US cable news stations, I’m convinced that if I were to never watch a single minute of their programming, I would be immensely better off.

Specifically, what bothers me about news in general and cable news in particular is the professional talking head class that seem to cycle from newsroom to newsroom, acting as adjuncts to the professional news reader class. The things that they say seem often so divorced from any reality I recognise that I instantly tune them out. Either they’re prognosticating (always a bad idea) or trying to induce rage (and I have enough of that). I want to opt out of both future analysis and controversy generation. Neither is good for my health and wellbeing.

Prognostication in particular bothers me.

In fact, I wish the news were like Wikipedia, where every claim (but especially forecasts) has to be backed up. For instance, it would be nice to know that the analyst who’s predicting some economic measure has been right about 50% of the time. Then I’d know that he’s a particularly good analyst, as most of them seem to get it wrong most of the time. Especially when it counts bit time.

I suspect there wouldn’t be many analysts and professional prognosticators left.

Which would be a good thing.

An anecdote, then, to bring it full circle. The CBC World At 6 had just reported that retail sales in Canada were unexpectedly bad over the Christmas holiday. Not just bad, but seven time worse than the median analyst prediction. They said this, and then not 30 seconds later had an analyst forecasting what consumer spending would be like over the Easter holiday.

I switched the news off after that and listened to some (calming) music.

I’m just not sure how they expected me to take any of that seriously. Would you introduce your weather forecast by telling me that it had been seven times colder than you expected the day before? Or it had snowed seven times as much? Of course not. People take weather forecasting seriously. There’s a scientific method at work there. Weather is a dynamic and chaotic system, but our models are pretty sophisticated.

If your forecasts were off that much (and consistently off), you’d probably fire your meteorology department, or at the very least have them revisit the models that clearly aren’t working.

Why don’t we do the same thing with economists and analysts?