Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How a Conspiracy Theory is Made

Remember Richard Clarke's famous quip about 9/11 conspiracy theorists? Well, it's probably not his alone, but it was something along the lines of how most 9/11 conspiracy theories assume the U.S. government to be extremely intelligent and competent, neither of which is true.

Then there's my own take on conspiracy theories, which is that they're 'all the fun without the work.' The idea behind that is that it's REALLY HARD to sift through all the pages of books like Terry McDermott's "Perfect Soldiers" with complete bios of all the 9/11 hijackers, or technical manuals about steel and high temperatures, but REALLY EASY to watch a movie like "Loose Change," scratch your chin in a coffeehouse and spout pseudo-intellectual babble about "Cui Bono" while citing Rosie O'Donnell and Charlie Sheen's engineering expertise, or some idea about how the U.S. government fabricated the identities of 19 men out of thin air.

But conspiracy theories never look the same from the other side. I got to spend five years on the active duty side of things with the Navy, and yes, there were a couple of those 'magic moments' where one gleans insight into how a decision was made or a result spun, and then how some in the media or other forms of chatter tried to explain it as having some greater, larger meaning than it ever really did.

In my salad days as an undergraduate, I also got to see things from the inside of a daily newspaper, where I could literally hear a decision being made about which photo to print during coverage of some rally (all the photo people ever cared about were light, contrast, the other technical aspects) and then get to hear someone's interpretation the next morning about how "they" (remember, I love the mythical 'they') must have chosen to run such-and-such a picture because it showed students of [insert political or ethnic identity].

So anyway, after voting this morning at the Masonic Center, I got a kick out of this passage from Choosing a Soundtrack today, which predicted a potential train wreck that might result from poll workers' difficulty locating streets and names in a book that lists them in alphabetical order:

i can see where this is going. somewhere towards 8pm tonight, some voter getting to the front of the check-out line is going to discover that his or her name, once his or her name can be located among the seemingly-to-the-poll-worker random lists of names and streets, will already have a check in the box beside it.

how could that possibly happen?

best practice would be rulers and lines, manned (or womanned) by people with a working knowledge of the dictionary, or, at least, alphabetical order.

Besides the humor but oh-so-true aspect of people fumbling around with the alphabet or basic organization (I just took the census worker test on Sunday, which tests those very skills, and yes, there were multiple people in the room who failed), here's the next direction that could go: Someone crying 'conspiracy' based on the 'D' or the 'R' coming after his or her name, or some other part of their identity (gender, race, religion, etc.)

I don't necessarily blame them right off the bat. If I went to vote, and someone at the poll station wrongly told me I had already voted that day, I'd be pretty upset. It's very easy though, to see the next step -- rather than just assume utter incompetence (the actual culprit), instantly get on the phone with the local media outlets, get on the Internet, contact the losing side, and scream about how there's a conspiracy going on in Massachusetts to disenfranchise [insert party or other form of identity].

People love these types of things, because a 'story' about a bogeyman, or a conspiracy, or something that's really pulling the strings and causing disorder is in some ways much more comforting than the thought of various intelligence agencies not talking to each other, or the thought that the failure on the part of our government to protect us from something already spelled out in a Tom Clancy novel could leave so many of us at risk.

Or that the kid on South Park could've dropped a deuce in the urinal just because he was in a rush and didn't want to miss recess.

Or that the Army and the Navy couldn't speak *jointly* enough to tell each other that those planes on the horizon on a sleepy Sunday morning in 1941 weren't the *other guy* doing an exercise.

Or, yes, that someone in downtown Lowell has a box checked next to his or her name, not because he or she already voted, but because a little old lady wearing white tennis shoes needs refresher training on ABC order or a new prescription for her eyeglasses.

But c'mon, is that really possible? Compared to the bogeyman, that just seems like a letdown..


kad barma said...

You obviously haven't already seen Michelle Malkin's pre-emptive arguments for a "voter fraud!" cry in case of a Brown loss in her latest column. (She's as much of a waste of Sun space as Peter Lucas and the repetitive R-slated editorializing, but I digress).

To her credit, there's video of actual (likely) fraud in Lawrence right there on her post, in addition to links to pictures of illegally placed Coakley campaign signs, so it's not as if she's completely without a point to make, even if it lacks a certain amount of credibility because of its extreme bias. (For example, digging around on the net for a source for a quote about our "notoriously plagued" electronic voting systems, she had to go to the voice of St. Lawrence County, (what, you've never been to Postdam, NY?), the Gouverneur Times, of Gouverneur, NY, to do it, and that, journalism students, is what's known as a reach).

Myself, I'm always specifically and extremely offended by campaign signs too close to polling places, and I never fail to call the cops about it every single time I encounter it, even if the signs are for the hack(s) I plan to vote for. (You should too). I'm also 100% in favor of increased scrutiny of absentee ballots, in case you're wondering.

Best day of live television to be had in a long time.

The New Englander said...

Fair points, and I know corruption cuts both ways -- well, thankfully, the result was clear enough that we won't spend the next few weeks or months mired in lawsuits.

I know you don't like either party -- and we might both like to see more than two parties -- but at least two are better than one, which I think is part of the *message* in all of this..

C R Krieger said...

Sometimes it is just bad decisions.  When my son C R R Krieger was living with us—he had taken a job with Lattice Trading—he registered to vote by mail.  Fortunately for me I got to the polls first and voted.  He was not amused when his name was not on the list of voters.  We went down town to complain (they did not suggest a conditional ballot).  He was very upset.

I think the card came in, they looked at the name and address and said to themselves, duplicate.  Thus, into the circular file.

Regards  —  Cliff