Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tale of Two Realities

I have often wondered how different groups of people can see the exact same thing but come to entirely different conclusions. I'm not talking about the "difference of opinion" things, or the "I disagree on a technicality" things, but the "I reject the very premise of your reality, and have built my own version down here in the dank basement of my own mind."

Let's take a look at how the Los Angeles Times covered the new Senate Intelligence Committee report on the claims made as part of selling the Iraq war, and compare it to how the editorial page of the Washington Post, by which I mean Fred Hiatt, sees the exact same report on pre-war intelligence claims.

Los Angeles Times:

In a long-delayed report, the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday rebuked President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for making prewar claims -- particularly that Iraq had close ties to Al Qaeda -- that were not supported by available intelligence.

The Washington Post, i.e. Fred Hiatt:

But statements regarding Iraq's support for terrorist groups other than al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information." Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda "were substantiated by the intelligence assessments," and statements regarding Iraq's contacts with al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information." The report is left to complain about "implications" and statements that "left the impression" that those contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation.

Los Angeles Times:

The report on the Bush administration's case for war, 170 pages long, reads like a catalog of erroneous claims. The document represents the most detailed assessment to date of whether those assertions were backed by classified intelligence reports available to senior officials at the time.

The report largely exonerates Bush administration officials for some of their prewar assertions, including claims that Baghdad had stockpiles of illegal chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing a nuclear bomb. Even though those claims were subsequently proved wildly inaccurate, the report notes, they were largely consistent with U.S. intelligence at the time.

But the report says the Bush administration veered away from its own intelligence community's conclusions in two key areas: Iraq's relationship with Al Qaeda and the difficulty of pacifying Iraq after a U.S. invasion.

Statements in dozens of prewar speeches and interviews created the impression that Baghdad and Al Qaeda had forged a partnership. But the report concludes that such assertions "were not substantiated by the intelligence" being shown to senior officials at the time. [...]

Bush officials strayed even further from the evidence in suggesting that Hussein was prepared to provide weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda terrorist groups -- a linchpin in the case for war.

The Washington Post, i.e. Fred Hiatt:

[T]he committee takes issue with Bush's statements about Saddam Hussein's intentions and what the future might have held. But was that really a question of misrepresenting intelligence, or was it a question of judgment that politicians are expected to make?

Los Angeles Times:

On post-war prospects, the report contrasts the rosy scenarios conjured by Cheney and others with more sober intelligence warnings that were being presented to senior officials.

Cheney's prediction that U.S. forces would "be greeted as liberators" was at odds with reports from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which warned nearly a year earlier that invading U.S. forces would face serious resistance from "the Baathists, the jihadists and Arab nationalists who oppose any U.S. occupation of Iraq."

The Washington Post, i.e. Fred "I Allegedly Run A Fucking Newspaper" Hiatt:

Why does it matter, at this late date?

Basically, there are two interpretations of the report. One conclusion is that Bush, Cheney, and other war proponents drastically stretched the true meaning of what intelligence they did have in order to make a case not borne out by that evidence. They took some true intelligence, and some known-to-be-untrustworthy intelligence, and some "intelligence" that consisted of nothing more than nonsense fabricated by the administration intended to heighten the perception of imminent massive threat, and presented it to the public, and Congress, and even the United Nations in an attempt to make the case for preemptive war against a secondary power with no connection to the actual terrorist attacks we were supposedly responding to.

The other interpretation, which Hiatt elucidates masterfully, is (1) Who Cares, It's Old News, and (2) Well, They Didn't Lie About Everything, So There, and (3) You'd Better Let Them Stretch Intelligence All They Want Next Time Too Or You'll Be Sorry Because The Terrorists Will Get You.

I've largely given up trying to make sense of things like this. The same report, using the same words in the same order, and yet the conclusion it reaches is absolutely 100% divergent from... itself... depending on whether or not you are a reporter or an editorialist, or a Democrat or a Republican. Forget the politics -- it is fascinating simply as scientific phenomenon.

But I thought long and hard about this, and I believe I have finally come up with the only possible explanation for the apparent dual interpretations of political reality that have plagued us, these last years.

Somewhere in the early 1990s, I hypothesize that an invisible rogue dwarf star zoomed through our solar system. It looked like Jesus, and it smelled like pizza, and it bent the fabric of spacetime as easily as a full grown bull moose snapping a twelve-inch sapling. It radiated quantum singularities down upon all the planets, including our own, and those singularities were attracted by the principles of string theory, or yarn theory, or corduroy pants theory or something into the heads of every sentient or even half-sentient being on the planet.

And with that, the universe was literally split into two halves, according to the quantum charge of the singularity that happened to land in your head. If you got one of the quantum singularities that smelled like pepperoni pizza, your consciousness was shuffled off into one dimension, and if you got one of the quantum singularities that smelled like anchovies, you were catapulted into another.

I call this theory the Theory Of Transdimensional Scattering Jesus Pizzoid Brain Singularities, and it makes every fucking bit as much sense as anything else we have been subjected to for the past twenty years.

In fact it makes more sense, in many ways. One could argue that one of the most prestigious newspapers in America was perennially dedicated to fabricating the actual meaning of political events -- or one could simply assume that it's not we humans that are divided, at least not by choice, but that we are nothing but the sad products of a dual reality in which nothing is what it seems, and everything is in fact two separate things. We could choose to believe that absolutely flat propagandizing about events, as a news editor, is something cherished enough that it will garner you absolutely no bad consequences, ever -- or we can simply recognize that there are two distinct realities on this planet, and nobody is really ever right, or really ever wrong. It's just a matter of which dimension you inhabit.

In one reality, we're winning The Holy Goddamn Hell out of the war. In the other we're just stuck there. In one reality, our economy is dismal; in the other, we're all pooping diamonds. In one reality laws are laws, in the other, laws are like Schrodinger's Cat -- it's only a law if the President isn't the room, and if he is there then the law ceases to be a law and simply evaporates into thin air, and you're not allowed to ever actually know if the President is in the room or not because that would change the outcome of the experiment -- I mean, of the law.

It's not a matter of perspective, or rational judgement, or a sifting of facts to determine where the truth may or may not lie. It's a matter of the laws of physics being bent by a star that looks like Jesus and smells like pizza and which rains dimensional shifts softly around our ears, and denying any of it only proves you are not in one reality, but the other. The two realities are Separate But Equal. In each reality, Truth drinks at one water fountain and Bullshit drinks at another, and it is perfectly reasonable because that is the way it has always been, at least since the celestial Jesus Pizza Star trundled by.

Why the hell not? Who cares? Why should anyone presume any differently? The most defining characteristic of political reality is that there is in fact no political reality -- only things shouted into a fog. You can make anything true merely by saying it, you can make anything begin or end or continue just by believing it, you can make anything a success or a failure or a bowl of twenty four carat gold-encrusted corn flakes, and all by merely knowing how to purse your lips and knit your eyebrows in a certain way.

What the hell do I know? I am, after all, nothing but white trash -- not properly pedigreed to judge reality. I simply do not have the family ties to be able to parse words on their own and have them mean one thing, instead of two or five or twenty. I am merely a basket in a corner -- I am meant to receive the ragged wisdom of the press, not to spill it out again.

I have received one type of singularity from the Transdimensional Pizzoid, and other people have received ones with a slightly different odor, and we should simply accept that never again will our two realities meet.

It is the only thing that makes any rational sense. The only other possible interpretations are that we are all as stupid as sin. It will never, ever make sense to me, in my dimension, how glibly and smirkingly people can treat the butchering of other people's kids.


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