The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by J.C. Nossiter
The Morning Mendacity
Friday, November 19th, 2004
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?
Joan Nerdling was not given to breaking rules.  A sober, neatly-dressed woman, she lived quietly with a ginger cat named Samantha and a canary who made do with the sobriquet “birdie.”  Joan toiled as a senior statistician in an obscure government department.  Although mild-mannered, she had a streak of stubborn intellectual curiosity.  This proved to be her undoing.

Her obscure government department was devoted to the interpretation of polling data collected by organizations other than the government.  That made the data she studied slightly suspect, at least to Joan, although its sometimes questionable legitimacy also gave the numbers an intriguingly raffish quality -- at least to Joan.  Rarely did she come across data that simply made no sense at all.  Such, however, was the case the other morning.  Joan read the new poll conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes* with growing incredulity.

Among other findings, PIPA reported that 74% of all Americans of every political stripe believe that if Iraq was not building WMD and not supporting Al Qaeda, we should not have invaded that country.  Also according to PIPA, 85% of those who voted for  Mr. Bush believe that invading Iraq was the right thing to do.

Joan was not political, but she did read newspapers. She knew that Iraq was neither building WMD nor supporting Al Qaeda before the U.S. invasion. “So an overwhelming majority of Americans believe we should not have invaded Iraq if Iraq wasn’t making WMD and supporting Al Qaeda.  Iraq was doing neither of those things.  Yet an overwhelming majority of people who voted for Bush think he was right to invade Iraq.  Either this study was very badly designed, or all the people who voted for Bush are utter – no, that can’t be.”

So, trained statistician that she was, Joan Nerdling scrutinized the methodology of the PIPA study for flaws.  She found none.  That’s when she broke all sorts of government rules. Unable to comprehend how voters could make such a stupid mistake, Joan hacked into a top secret government database and generated a list of the respondents to the PIPA survey.  One of them, she discovered, was a neighbor, a middle-aged investment manager with whom she was slightly acquainted.  After work that day she rang her neighbor’s doorbell.

“Good evening David.  I’m sorry to intrude, but there’s something I’ve got to know.  Do you remember responding to a survey about your attitudes to foreign policy?  You do?  How about your answers, do you remember those?  Oh good.”

So Joan asked the key questions on the survey, taking careful note of David’s responses.  They mirrored the PIPA survey results.  Joan scratched her head.

“David, don’t you understand that you’re contradicting yourself?  How can you say that the invasion was wrong if Iraq had no WMD and wasn’t supporting Al Qaeda, and yet also claim that the President made the right decision in going to war?”

David saw no contradiction.  “Don’t you understand that Iraq HAD no WMD, and WASN’T supporting Al Qaeda?” Joan snapped.  She was losing her patience with David.

“I follow the news” he replied, “and I don’t think that’s necessarily so.”

“But what about the 9/11 Commission Report, and the Duelfer Report?  The government itself says Iraq had no WMD and wasn’t supporting Al Qaeda. I know you’re not an idiot David, at least not a complete idiot.  If A can only be true if B and C are true, and both B and C are false, then A must be false.  That’s only logical. Only a moron would draw a different conclusion.” Joan spoke with uncharacteristic asperity.

“I said I followed the news” said David slowly.  “I follow Fox News.”

That’s when Joan broke all the rules of neighborliness, and several local laws, by throwing the potted plant in the front hall through David’s TV.  She tried to explain to the arresting officers that she was only acting in David’s best interests, but they were unsympathetic. Sitting in her cell at headquarters, Joan concluded, logically, that the arresting officers must also get their news from Fox.


©J.C. Nossiter, 2004
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