Friday, April 8, 2011

A Lament, and A Question: Please Weigh In!

Well, if you haven't heard yet, the news from Wisconsin's state Supreme Court race has just gotten positively bizarre: Thanks to a previously unreported 10,000 or so votes, the seemingly-defeated incumbent now appears to have a 7,000-vote margin of victory against the once-triumphant challenger whose paper-thin margin of fewer than 300 votes was wiped away. Given that the race itself had become a proxy war in the highly charged battle over union rights for public employees, the emotional uproar brought on by this revelation is almost impossible to exaggerate.

I have two thoughts about these latest developments.

The first, and big-picture observation, is that except for who actually wins, the new numbers really don't change the overall landscape. Before the vote-canvassing upset Thursday, I thought the smartest (if fairly obvious) observations were from those who saw etched in these numbers the deep and fairly even division of the state's residents. The margin is still in the area of one percentage point; we're talking roughly 1 person for every 8 or 9 square miles in the state, or little more than 100 people per county. So we're likely to see-saw a bit over the next few years, as we have in the past, as momentary circumstances edge first one, then the other party over the top. In that way, we're an awful lot like the whole country. (And our governor's lame claim that somehow it was just "Madison" vs. "the rest of the state" was absolute horse-pucky.)

As an aside, a county-by-county map of the vote [which appears not to have been updated since Thursday's revelation] points out something else: That majorities for one candidate or another are notably greater in individual counties, suggesting that Wisconsin has experienced the "Big Sort" phenomenon that Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing wrote about in a book of that name published three years ago.

There are, of course, already dark conspiracy theories being spun. I am not a huge fan of conspiracy theories. I think Oswald probably did kill Kennedy, acting more or less alone, I don't think 9/11 was an inside job, and so on.

But I do admit to questioning the way the 2000 Florida vote was wasn't resolved. I do think that big, corporate money in campaigns has hijacked our political system in ways that we are only dimly aware of, serving an agenda in the interests of wealth rather than democracy.

As I said to DairyStateMom this morning:

"I don't want to be a sucker for a conspiracy theory. I also don't want to be a sucker for a conspiracy."

And so I end with a question and hope to get some serious responses in comments:

What is the most bizarre theory about a long-hidden conspiracy you can recall that actually turned out to be basically true?

And that latter point is key: basically true according to a reasonably broad consensus. Kennedy theories and 9/11 debunking haven't reached that threshold yet -- nor have any of the other examples I cite above, whether I am inclined to believe them or not.

Any suggestions?


  1. "I don't want to be a sucker for a conspiracy theory. I also don't want to be a sucker for a conspiracy."

    Excellent line!

    Alas, the only crazy conspiracies I can think of right now are ones that were considered, then weren't carried through. Like explosives in Castro's cigars.

    Hmm. There are various causes for war: Bay of Pigs, Tonkin Gulf, the Maine...

  2. I remember reading about an event at which CIA Director William Casey and Allen Ginsberg were guests. That in itself is bizarre enough, but that's not the conspiracy. Ginsberg accused the CIA of drug-trafficking in Cambodia during the Vietnam War; Casey said that was ludicrous; they made a bet. (Ginsberg staked his vajra; I can't remember what Casey staked. This is all from a biography of Ginsberg.) They are both dead now, but of course the CIA's practice of funding the war in Southeast Asia with drugs (not just using drug traffickers as informants) has since been documented thoroughly. Whether the desire to keep the opium pipeline flowing was one of the reasons for the war is less clear.

    A 1974 Pentagon commission said the Maine was not blown up by the Spanish. This still seems inconclusive, however. What is clear is that the administration wasn't sure at the time either, but they played it up to get that utter stinker of a war underway.

    The Gulf of Tonkin incident was non-existent.

    The WMDs in Iraq were not only non-existent, but we knew they were.

    Like Will, I'm a fan of the great ones that never happened. My all-time favorite true but unsuccessful conspiracy was the CIA plot against Castro's beard: they were going to put Nair or something like it in his shoes, or was it his underwear? Our tax dollars at work.

    It does make working for the CIA sound fun. I imagine them sitting around, getting stoned on hash straight out of Cambodia, giggling, "I got a better one. We put Nair in his BVDs!"


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