Monday, March 22, 2004

Doing the Time Warp Again

I moved to Connecticut just after the summer of love and experienced there for a second time and in the same sequence the fads, enthusiasms, and disappointments I had lived through in California. Like a golf tournament on television, the Cultural Revolution aired in New Haven with a tape delay. Two years later I spend a couple of days in Jonesboro, Arkansas where tie-die tee shirts were just appearing after an even longer lag. And for all I know, the Jefferson Airplane is finally touching down in Burkina-Faso even as I write this note.

News can’t travel faster the speed of light, but it can certainly travel slower. Most of human history has taken place in eras before the telegraph and radio allowed the events of war and diplomacy to take place more or less contemporaneously—the well-known instance of the Battle of New Orleans, fought weeks after the combatants had made peace, was no anomaly. But the time warp still applies to the spread of political facts among the general population, because such information travels through the retarding medium of the popular media and it’s transmission is slowed still more by the time it takes bemused, preoccupied, and poorly informed people to register it and pass it on—flatworms can learn a Y-maze in fewer reps than it takes the average American to notice that George Bush is a liar.

It sure isn’t September 1967, but deja vous has set in again for those of us who’ve been paying attention. It is quite startling to encounter media accounts that are just now taking notice of the extraordinary failures and deceptions of the Bush administration when the facts were in evidence years ago. It was often enough to read past the leads in newspaper articles or simply to apply commonsense to big, obvious facts. Richard Clarke’s “revelations,” for example, offer very little that wasn’t easily accessible in the public record back in 2001 and 2002. Similarly, the world press knew that the alarmist stories about the aluminum tubes, the mobile bioterror lab, and the Niger yellowcake were sheer propaganda the same week the administration put them out. I certainly did and I wasn’t trying that hard. And how can anybody possibly be surprised that the Bush policies are driving the deficit to historic levels? The man ran on an economic platform that asserted that 2 + 2 = 5. Although you don’t need to know how to calculate a hypergeometric distribution to detect the teensy error in that mathematics, the arduous journey from the premises to the conclusion is still under way for many Americans.

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