Thursday, May 11, 2006

One Truth From Many

Two special moments graced this last week, moments during which enduring truth took precedence over the truth of the moment.

"I never lie," once said my brother, "because I can never remember what I've said." Those of us with failing memories often find ourselves learning more than once that we must cling increasingly to the truth.

So it was that Mr. Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defence, this week told a questioner that he had never said that he knew for sure there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The questioner then reminded him of the exact words he had used in asserting this claim four years before. Rumsfeld appeared to have forgotten his earlier words.

Again and again he was reminded of words he'd forgotten.

Perhaps they were not moored to anything that was continuing.

Perhaps they were the best words he could say back then to make simple sense for the public of a world that was intrinsically chaotic and growing more uncontrollable by the moment.

Trapped now, he could not easily deny his prior words nor dare to admit that he no longer remembers them.

There are things that he knows that he will never know, and there are things that he doesn't know that he will never know.


In another special moment this week, our President demonstrated his devotion to constancy by chosing words to describe his nomination of General Hayden as CIA head that were almost identical to the words he used 18 months earlier to describe his nomination of Porter Goss, who has departed the post.

"He's the right man --at this critical moment--in our nation's history."

He may have forgotten what he had earlier said. But nothing else for him had changed. The words still rang true for him, and he said them.

So in the President, there is something continuing. He's just not aware of it.

Whether the speaker is self-contradicting, as Rumsfeld was, or echoes his own words as did the President, a truth emerges.


Piece by piece, the truth about the NSA surveillance program is coming out of hiding. Each new revelation opens more questions. At each revelation the President denies what's coming in the next installment. Any truth in his statements is overwritten by the facts that are next revealed. At first, we did not spy on Americans. Then we spied on phone calls only when they were to specific Al Queda numbers overseas. Then we collected all the phone records, but we didn't look at them without a warrant, and it is only for finding the friends of Al Queda.

Soon we will learn that each phone call record links to a name-and-address record in another file. If a terrorist calls Al's Garage, all the other people who called Al's Garage that day are just one database step away, one degree of separation, and of possible interest. If the terrorist's brother works there, then all the customers are of immediate interest.

After that we will hear that our phone calls were analysed by standard off-the shelf word recognition software. That isn't really "listening", is it? We will learn that our most precious and private conversations are of record. They can typed out by a machine, although probably with words misspelled.

It's predictable.


There is a truth market. If my newscast is truer - or at least truthier - than yours, I will probably get more listeners and a better salary. The more truths hit the marketplace, the more news can be sold. Truths are collected and connected. Contradictions are resolved.

What each truth has to do with the next is not always clear, but there's always someone willing to fill in the gaps. And someone else wanting to do a better job of it.

Is there a single truth? Lowercase "T" truth? A single true understanding of the world, underlying all the doubtful understandings, all the fallacy?

One appears to be under construction.

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