And the truth will set you free!
Aspen, CO Colorado
Let’s start with this basic truth: One of the essential functions of government ” any government ” is keeping its citizens from knowing the truth.
Never mind that stuff about picking up the garbage, paving the streets, locking up criminals or any of that folderol. First things first: The truth must not be known.
Remember, as the saying goes, the truth shall set you free. And government and freedom … well, they’re like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (or should I say “Cheney and Satan”) ” never seen together.
Oh, wait. Bad analogy. Jekyll and Hyde are never seen together because they’re the same person (or, in the case of Cheney and Satan, the same demon). But government and freedom are more like matter and antimatter: Bring ’em together and both are annihilated.
Where were we? Right. Government and truth, incompatibility of.
One of the main ways governments keep the truth safely hidden away is by using language that obscures it. You look at the words, and they seem like they ought to mean something, but as soon as you think about what they actually mean … they disappear like human rights behind the Iron Curtain. (Outdated reference, I know. But I had to balance out the whole Cheney/Satan thing.)
My favorite bit of meaningless jargon these days is “negative growth.” You hear it all the time when they talk about recession. A recession is defined officially as a time when the economy has “two successive quarters of negative economic growth.”
Um, OK. But, excuse me, what is “negative growth”?
“Growth” means “more.” “Negative” means “less.”
So “negative growth” is like saying something is “bigger on the smallness scale,” which means it’s smaller. And when something “grows” in a “negative” way, it … shrinks!
So a recession is when the economy shrinks for two quarters.
Why don’t they say that? Because it would make sense.
And while we’re on the subject, how about “plausible deniability”? Which, in truth, means lying about a lie. Plausible deniability involves setting things up so you can tell a lie and get away with it.
I’m pretty sure it was something that came out of a Republican administration. I’m not blaming it on the Republicans because they lie more than Democrats. It’s because they lie so much better.
In fact, allow me to point to President Bill Clinton, who specialized in something that should be known as “implausible deniability.” Clinton would tell lies that were so deviously clever in their “deniability” that no one even considered them deniable.
They were just flat lies.
For example, “I never had sexual relations with that woman.”
Mr. Bill thought he was being very clever with that one, because one can argue that “sexual relations” only means … hmmm, let’s find an acceptable term … OK: “Sexual relations” only means the full, official reproductive act. It does not include the particular form of nonreproductive gratification that he most definitely did indulge in with “that woman.”
So Mr. Bill could insist that he wasn’t lying.
Except that no one paid any attention to his meaningless weasel ” his implausible deniability.
Wait! Sorry. Got sidetracked again. Because, of course, I was talking about the Burlingame affordable-housing project.
(And please, for the sake of everyone who cares about the English language, do not call it Burling-gate. Jeez! How absolutely bereft of imagination do you have to be to tack “-gate” on the end of everything?)
The problem with Burlingame is … well, I’m not sure anyone really knows exactly what the problem is. Is it just that the voters were misled by bad numbers in a PR brochure? Or is it that the project went way over budget? Or is it that the budget was modified too many times without anyone knowing? Or is it that no one had any idea what the budget was? Or what the project cost? Or was supposed to cost?
No one knows.
And the government sure as heck isn’t going to provide any answers. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t.
Why not? Because, as I pointed out right at the beginning, governments aren’t designed to communicate actual truth.
Even when they try. If they were to try.
Just today, I read that the city is hiring someone to do a “performance audit” on Burlingame. A “performance audit”? What does that mean? Oh, roughly speaking, nothing.
They said it means figuring out how the city could have done a better job ” but they insist it doesn’t include figuring out what went wrong. So they’re going to figure out how to avoid the mistakes that they’re not going to look at.
It’s like driving blindfolded and trying to avoid the potholes you can’t see.
Good work, guys.
In fact, there is some indication that part of the problem was that the various costs of Burlingame were overlooked (I use that term instead of “ignored” or “hidden” because I am extremely polite) because they were shuffled around among a variety of different categories, funds and budgets. Long-term. Short-term. Capital. Operating. Hard costs. Soft costs. Soft porn. No, wait. Sorry.
I seem to recall reading somewhere (how’s that for a sharp reference ” damn near a genuine scholarly footnote?) that it is impossible to calculate the real cost of the U.S. presidency, since many of the expenses are hidden in bizarre places. Some of the security costs, for example, are tucked away in the budget for White House landscaping and gardening ” as if those Secret Service agents are just a special sort of cleverly sculpted (and heavily armed) shrubbery.
I don’t think I’m making that up. But if I am … well, it ought to be true. Because the larger point is that governments just naturally tend to hide things. Billions for nuclear weapons research somehow wind up listed under “school lunches: juice boxes.”
And millions for Burlingame wind up listed under … well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
And, just by the way, that “performance audit” ” our blindfolded guide to making things better ” is supposed to cost $40,000.
Except that price may change.
By how much? No one knows.