I really haven't paid much attention to the whole Obama birth certificate kerfuffle. I have some solid excuses. The best of these excuses are that I have a job and I'm not insane. But yesterday, after I finished the grading I had to do and updated some class related blogs, I decided to wander around the internets for a while to see what I could dig up.
The crux of the problem is that Hawaii went to paperless documentation back in 2001, so Barack Obama's original birth certificate may no longer exist, and some people are unconvinced by the paperwork that now stands in its place. Obama's Kenyan grandmother stated in an recorded interview that he was born in Kenya, though she recanted that later in the same interview. Guess which part the birthers like to listen to?
There have been lawsuits, but so far have gone nowhere because they have no standing. I'm not a lawyer, but the idea of "no standing" means those who brought the case could not prove how they were injured. For example, if I wanted to have Dick Cheney arrested for assault and reckless endangerment while intoxicated for that time he shot his hunting buddy in the face, I wouldn't be able to because I lack standing. I'm not his hunting buddy and it wasn't my face that got shot.
If you want to see what Jon Stewart makes of the birther controversy, click on the link.
There are some people trying to get famous on the back of the birther movement, but there are some already famous people among their ranks. Alan Keyes says he has standing because he got his ass whupped in the Senate race against Obama. Gold hucksters Pat Boone and Gordon Liddy are on record as not believing Obama is an American citizen. (Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars, can't recommend gold. $1000 an ounce looks like a strong psychological barrier, and it's currently at about $950.) Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney's boring non-gay daughter, also thinks the crazy people have a point. If you watch the Jon Stewart piece, you'll see that Latin-Loopy Lou Dobbs (he's loopy about Latins, he's not actually Latin himself) is still convinced the controversy "won't go away" because questions haven't been answered, even though the questions were answered on his show by his stand-in host Kitty Pilgrim.
You know how I ask you to boycott Fox News sponsors? The Southern Poverty Law Center wants Latin-Loopy Lou Dobbs' ass fired. They seem to think CNN is an actual news organization with integrity. This isn't the first time Lou has quoted allegations from zany fringe right wing websites as "facts" on his TV show.
We'll see how that plays out.
I went around the internets looking for something I could deal with: numbers. World Net Daily, a far-right wing website who are heavily invested in the birther controversy, commissioned a pollster to ask people questions about Obama's birth certificate. The guy they hired put together a questionnaire that would get laughed out of any legitimate polling organization, but according to his data, 62 out of 790 respondents said they were "troubled" by the "unanswered questions" around Obama's birthplace and his legitimate right to be president. If we accept the poll as validly produced, and that's a big if, this means the margin of error for 95% confidence is that about 5.9% to 9.7% of Americans believe this crap.
Those numbers sound believable to me. I'd say that you can find at least 5% of Americans, and sometimes a whole lot more, who will believe any nonsense you can come up with.
I'm not just talking about who killed JFK or why the untouched 47-storey tall building 7 of the World Trade Center complex also collapsed on September 11. I'm talking about people who believe we didn't land on the moon, that Elvis Presley is still alive and Paul McCartney is still dead. (As Padre Mickey quipped many years ago, this would explain why so much the music of Wings sucked so bad.)
I was just a kid when the "Paul is dead" conspiracy was popular. I was a big Beatles fan, so I didn't want it to be true, but I remember the creepy feeling of "OMG, what if it's true?" I wasn't invested in believing he was dead, but the feeling was strange and oddly compelling. I wasn't even nearly an adult at the time, so I can be excused for being gullible. On the other hand, I wasn't a kid when I saw that Orson Welles narrated cheesy documentary about Nostradamus, but I had the same feeling. I then bought the Quatrains of Nostradamus and my fears turned into boredom and incredulity.
There is no question that some of the birther movement's staying power comes from sore loser right wingers. Obama's race is also clearly part of the equation. But I ask my readers to think for a moment if there have ever been any conspiracy theories that they have accepted, even if for only a little while.
I myself was skeptical about Sarah Palin being the mother of Trig last year. I found the story of her taking a long flight from Texas to Seattle to Anchorage after her water broke, then a drive to Wasilla as being incredibly risky to the baby. I found the story of her being back at work three days after the premature birth horribly callous.
But I now fully admit that I was wrong about Sarah Palin not being Trig's mom. The story makes sense now. She is callous, and more than a little stupid. Moreover, her idea of "being back at work" meant that she could be contacted by phone, not necessarily that she went back into the office in Juneau. Now that we have the more easily verified explanations of Sarah Palin being vain, stupid and lazy, the more complex conspiracies are much harder for me to believe.
In closing, let me say this. You, too, can get a clean, close shave with Occam's Razor.
Try one today!
This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation.
When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.