Main Menu

Epilog

The Obama Conspiracy Theories blog started in December of 2008 and continued during the 8 years President Obama was in office. It began with the purpose in mind of collecting and critically examining some of the stories about Obama circulating on the Internet. It was never anticipated that the so-called Birther Movement would be alive eight years later in tabloids, blogs, 226 lawsuits, commentary, YouTube video channels, and even in the 2016 presidential campaign.

This blog drew an eclectic online community, and at its height had over 30,000 users per month who left over a quarter million comments. A few initial articles about Obama’s birth certificate grew in number to 4,223, both about conspiracy theories and a legal theory that denied eligibility to Obama because of his non-US-citizen father.

The blog closed to new articles at noon on January 20, 2017, as President Obama left office, but it remains a comprehensive resource on the Birther Movement. For an index to some of the debunking done on this blog, see: “The Debunker’s Guide to Obama Conspiracy Theories.” Here are some favorite articles.

Dr. Conspiracy continues to blog as “Kevin” at Blog or Die!

Note: Unfortunately some web content is ephemeral. While this site contains extensive hyperlinks to original sources, some of those sources have not stayed the course, particularly court resources and some local newspaper coverage. Replacement of dead hyperlinks is an ongoing project.

Conclusion

Barack Obama and I have 8 years to look back on—he looking at the important issues of our time—I looking back on the Birthers. Somehow I think I got the short end of the stick!

Some people have the gift of being gracious. I’m not one of them. If you aren’t lifted to the heights by the remarks that follow, just attribute it to my lack of skill, not a lack of feeling.

I want to thank a vibrant online community who helped make this blog fun, those who put a face on some of those 30,000 anonymous visitors at our blog’s peak, who encouraged me, who caught my mistakes, who contributed ideas for stories, who did significant research, and who kept me honest. I won’t mention individuals because there are simply too many of them. Just look around. I consider you all friends.

As for the Birthers, while this blog would be nothing without them, I will not thank them and those who, with whatever motives, incited them. They are a blot on our country’s history and we would all have been better off without their activity. Even so, this blog is its silver lining.

I want to thank several bloggers and to recognize their work. John Woodman did careful and well-documented research both into birther claims about Obama’s birth certificate, but also the legal basis for some of their other ideas. He not only blogged about it, but published a book. Presidential Candidate Loren Collins did some fantastic research into lies about the President’s parentage and into the origins of the birthers, making his case like the attorney he is. Loren also has an excellent book entitled Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation of considerable value in this age of “fake news.” Reality Check had a wonderful radio show (check out the podcasts) with significant topical guests, and his blog still has interesting new content in these latter days of the Birther Movement. RC’s anonymity  stood as testimony to the incompetence of birther investigation, and he researched and popularized the debunking of the Cold Case Posse using a Xerox machine. I want to recognize and thank Tes for her compilation of birther lawsuits and the evidence in the Melendres case, something I think will continue to be a valuable resource in the future. Tes also wrote some early guest articles here. I value having her as a friend. (There are many more bloggers of note.) The anonymous (but not to me) Jack Ryan created and published a massive and invaluable collection of documents concerning the birther lawsuits that I relied upon every week.

A special shout out goes to Bill Bryan who more than anyone I think, helped to build the anti-birther community. Bill got folks to show up at events, something the Birthers couldn’t do. Bill was a role model of courage in the face of birther threats and his personal story of triumph over adversity is an inspiration. The Fogbow is the place to be when it comes to combatting right-wing nuttery.

I want to acknowledge a few Birthers for being brave enough to put forwards ideas on this blog and say around to defend them the best the could, in particular Jerry Collette, and Bob Gard. I want to acknowledge Bryan Reilly for having the rare gift among Birthers, the ability to look at the facts and change his mind, and it’s certainly a big deal that he chose to publish his articles here.

Last, but hardly least, I want to think my wife Ms. Conspiracy for putting up with all of this. We married a year before the Obama Conspiracy stuff got started.  She has tolerated  me spending long hours at the keyboard, and listened to countless narratives on what the Birthers are up to. She has a good working knowledge of the topic, even though she never reads the blog. [Update: she read its last two entries.]

So ultimately, who won? “Birther” is now a term of derision in the English vocabulary. Barack Obama was elected twice and served two full terms. He was not impeached. There were no Congressional investigations of his identity documents. His approval rating upon leaving office is phenomenal. Birthers lost 226 lawsuits. Still, the country took a turn for the crazy over the last 8 years. A turncoat Birther was even elected president. I think it’s too soon to count winners and losers.

Thomas Jefferson probably did not say “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” but it’s a good idea. I challenge each of you, current readers, or those who come after this blog has long closed down to new articles: stay vigilant, check the facts, know your biases, and don’t tell lies. The truth will set you free.


PS: This article is set to auto-publish at noon tomorrow (January 20). At that time I will be presiding over a meeting of my local Civitan club whose motto is “Builders of good citizenship,” where I and our membership will together pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Never let the fake news crowd claim the mantle of patriotism. There is nothing patriotic about smears and character assassination.

Cold Case Posse disbanded

Following a statement of his strong commitment to the posse system, new sheriff of Maricopa County Paul Penzone said in a news conference, that he will identify those that do not meet the mission of the organization, and in particular the “Cold Case Posse is  disbanded.” Penzone indicated that the member(s) of that group will be notified.

I don’t think politically motivated sham investigations outside of its jurisdiction should be the mission of anything associated with law enforcement. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Questions have surrounded the CCP since it became involved in Arpaio’s birth certificate investigation, particularly regarding financial oversight. The Posse is a 501(c)(3) but it reports its activities to no one, not the IRS and not the Sheriff’s Office. How much was spent on con men and junkets has not been accounted for publicly. One news report mentioned a $40,000 number attributed to the Sheriff’s Office, and $10,000 came out in an email disclosed during the Melendres case. Those came before Zullo’s relationship with the Italian forensic laboratory. In an official filing, the CCP stated:

Maricopa County Arizona is definitely a governmental unit and since we are it affiliates again that requirement of filing said form does not apply to us.

However, when I contacted the Sheriff’s Office to obtain the oversight records, they said:

The Sheriff’s Office is in no way involved in the day to day financial dealings of any posse that works under the authority of the Sheriff. … They conduct their own fundraising and handle their own financial matters completely separate from the Sheriff’s Office.

Watch the video (starting around 12:15) from KPHO in Phoenix.

CBS 5 – KPHO

Thanks, Paul, for a nice going-away present. I wish you and the people of Maricopa County the best going forward.

The Cold Case Posse as a corporation apart from the Sheriff’s Office still exists as long as they continue to file the paperwork with the State of Arizona. Their web site shut down some time before November 15 last year, but the MCSOCCP.org domain was inexplicably renewed until December 9, 2017.

H/t to CarlOrcas.

OCT in photos

I wish I could share the warm feeling I get scrolling through the articles and comments on this blog. Birthers can be tedious, but I had some really good times, and I tried to make it worthwhile for my visitors too.

WordPress has a feature for scrolling through its media library, so I can see thumbnail images from the blog en masse (click to enlarge):

PhotoArray

Regrettably, you readers can’t do that, but I’ve selected a few pages with favorite photos on them and tagged them “fav-photo” so that you can scroll through those pages if you have the interest. There are so many photos that it’s hard to select just a few.

The mathematics of date stamp angle similarities–Part 2

The experiment is described here. Results will be presented later. Any suggestions about the experimental design are welcome.

This part presents an experiment in which I attempt to answer the question of how consistent date stamp angles are when a document like Obama’s is stamped.

Experimental Design

I begin with some assumptions: The first is that the person who stamped the date in Box 20, “Date accepted by Local Reg.” is same person who signed Box 21, “Signature of Local Registrar.” That means that the same person who stamped Obama’s certificate also stamped that of Johanna Ah’nee, the one Mike Zullo said was copied for part of a putative fake Obama certificate. Indeed, most published birth certificates contemporary with Obama’s were signed by “V. K. Lee” and I’m going to conclude that she signed literally thousands of birth certificates every year. That was her job, stamping dates on Box 20, day in and day out, year in and year out. Such repetitive tasks will create muscle memory and they can be completed with little conscious effort. Lee had been signing certificates for years before Obama was born.

In my experiment I created facsimiles of a blank Hawaiian birth certificate, and stamped a bunch of them. I created 50 samples and used the following procedure:

  • Remove a form from a stack
  • Pick up a rubber stamp and stamp inside Box 20.
  • Sign the form
  • Place the form in another stack face down
  • Repeat the procedure for 10 forms
  • Push back the chair, get up and walk around so that my precise sitting position and body posture could change
  • Increment the date stamp
  • Repeat the entire procedure 4 more times, completing all 50 forms.

I am making the “blank” form available as a PDF file so that others can check my results. (The text “Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital” was left on the form for scaling purposes.) Note that my form is bigger than Obama’s birth certificate because it’s not reduced like the birth certificate. I can determine actual size by the 10 characters per inch spacing of the typewriter font.

The next experimental concern is measuring the stamp angle and assessing the margin of error in that measurement.

Results

imageMs. Conspiracy (who also holds the MS degree) offered a criticism of the experimental design. She felt that rather than pick up a stamp, a pen, a stamp, a pen, etc. that an office worker would stamp them all, then sign them all. So I did an additional run of 20 forms stamped without putting the date stamp down. These weren’t signed. The two trials were named Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 respectively and the forms for review are in the order stamped.

Notes

  • It seemed that variation was more caused by the angle at which the stamp was grasped, than the position of the arm.
  • Paper positioning is also a source of variation.
  • I was surprised in the amount of variation in angle seen in Experiment 2. I’m not sure why.
  • The forms in Experiment 1 were printed directly from the “paint” program. That program then printed to PDF and the PDF was printed for Experiment 2. The two forms are not exactly the same size.

The mathematics of date stamp angle similarities–Part 1

Mike Zullo’s investigation into the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate has been plagued by inexpert testimony. First Zullo presented image analysis by people who didn’t know what they were talking about. Next he presented contextual criticism of the document based faulty memory, lack of expertise on vital records and a falsified historical document. He accepted the results of investigators who knew nothing about vital records in his debunked certificate numbering scheme. Finally Zullo found a real expert, a handwriting analyst, who seemed to agree with Zullo, but who had no known background in the field of electronic documents and high-end compression algorithms. (The Reed Hayes report was never shown to the public.)

Most recently in Zullo’s December 15, 2016, attempt, he seemed to be making a statistical claim, even though his sources were not qualified by Zullo as statisticians, and Zullo’s refusal to disclose the methodology and analysis used confounds peer review.

What I will do in this article is talk in general about a statistical fallacies that may  underlay Zullo’s argument, and then in Part 2 present my own experiment and analysis.

Debunking many birther claims is within the reach of the non-expert. If a birther says “X” is impossible, it is only necessary to show an example of “X” to prove it false. This business of the date stamp angles is going to require some expertise. Plausible–sounding statistical arguments can be wrong. As I frequently say, “I am not a real doctor, but I have a Masters Degree, in Science!” For this debunking, I am going to play the expert card, my MS in Mathematics from Clemson University.

image

Fallacy

The week I was born a man made 28 passes in a row at a Las Vegas dice table, something said to have only one chance in ten million of happening. Remarkable? The fact is that millions play dice every year, and that when something like this happens, it makes the newspapers. If an experiment is tried enough times, then unlikely outcomes become likely to occur. Ignoring the number of trials is the fallacy. Unusual events pique our interest, but they should not surprise us. These things happen every week.


A great example is the Pick 3 lottery number winner in Illinois the night after Obama was elected President: 666. What are the odds of that? Would you say “one in a thousand” (.001)? Notice that the event happened the day after the election, not on the day of the election. If it happened on the day of the election, the same claim of oddity would have been made. So isn’t the question better answered “what is the probability that 666 would come up within two days of the election?” So the .001 probability becomes .001999.  But wouldn’t an anomaly have been declared if the number came up on Obama’s birthday? Inauguration day? The day the Electoral College voted? And would a claim had been made if the number came up in Hawaii’s lottery? If a longer winning number started or ended with “666”? The question becomes: “what is the probability that 666 could come up in some context related somehow to Barack Obama over some period of time?” There are many significant Obama events and things that can be coincidental with them. So what the actual question is: if you look at every detail of Obama’s life and every item coincident to it, what is the probability that a few odd things will be found? (And what about my 666 watch story?)

Another statistical fallacy, the prosecutor’s fallacy, was made by Christopher Monckton’s when he used calculations of the improbability of a combination of anomalies he thought were in Obama’s birth certificate as evidence that it was a fake.

At its heart, the [prosecutor’s] fallacy involves assuming that the prior probability of a random match is equal to the probability that the defendant is guilty.

For instance, if a perpetrator is known to have the same blood type as a defendant and 10% of the population share that blood type, then to argue on that basis alone that the probability of the defendant being guilty is 90% makes the prosecutor’s fallacy (in a very simple form).

— Wikipedia

His case was further undermined by the fact that his anomalies weren’t anomalous and that he used calculations for independent events, when the events were correlated.

Improbable events occur in our lives all the time. What were the chances that my wife visiting Kiev (population 2.8 million) in the Ukraine would have a chance meeting on the street with another graduate of Auburn University, when neither of them was wearing any emblem of that school? Do the math!

imageHere’s another example: The old philosophical problem of proving a negative. The example is the proposition, “all ravens are black.” It can’t be proven because it is false, but white ravens are rare. What is the probability that I would come across not one but three of them? If I decided to go looking in my back yard, the answer is “extremely small” (I don’t get ravens at all), but if I went looking for “white raven” in Google Images, not so unusual. And to tweak the result further, in all honesty I wasn’t looking for a set of three when I started out. I changed the rules after the fact.

The story has gone around that college math professors get extra income by betting their classes that at least two people in the class will have the same birthday. Would you take that bet? Let’s do the math:

We’ll pick our first student and then compare that one to each of the others. Each student we compare has a 1 in 365 chance of matching, and a 364/365 chance of not matching. For the next student there are 363 dates that won’t match the first two, so the chance of theirs being different is 363/365. One multiples the two fractions together to get the compound probability of the teacher losing the bet for two students. The amazing result is that at 23 students, the odds are roughly 50/50 that there will be a match. For a class size of 30 the professor has a 75% chance of winning and with a class of 100, the chance of the professor losing is about one in a million. The object of the story is that improbable events are likely to occur in large samples.

The same mistake, ignoring sample size, leads to false identifications associating two online personages. What are the chances that two different people posted photos from the same PhotoBucket account and live in the same state, and have initials “RB.” I don’t know the odds, but there are two.

Let’s bring the examples a little closer to home. Let’s say I have a Hawaiian birth certificate, and an instance on one form where two characters have a certain spatial relationship, and then find another form where the two letters are in exactly the same relationship to each other. Let’s say that through some argument (that may be fallacious) you determine that the odds are one in a thousand that pairs would correspond. Have I found a very unlikely event? The answer is no for at least two reasons. First, I picked the pair after I found the correspondence. There are 196 typed characters on Obama’s birth certificate, yielding 19,110 pairs of characters to compare. So finding a one in a thousand event in a sample of 19,110 is not unlikely at all; it’s almost inevitable (better than the one in a million in our birthday example). The second error is assuming that the positions of the characters is independent. In fact a typewriter is designed to consistently put characters in exactly the same relation to other characters, line by line, day by day, in a grid that is 6 lines per inch vertically and 10 characters per inch horizontally. So rather than compute a probability assuming that the spacing is random (events are independent), we should be asking the question of how probable is it that these two character pairs are in the same relative position given that they were typed on the same model of typewriter (and based on font analysis, it appears that the same model Kapi’olani hospital typewriter typed all of its birth certificates), and likely the same typewriter.

Let me emphasize that we do not know anything about the methodology, analysis or assumptions made in the reports that Zullo talks about, but refuses to release. They may be sophisticated or naive, but they are almost inevitably wrong unless you assess the probability of a massive mutigenerational cover-up of the facts of Obama’s birth involving multiple administrations of both parties in the Hawaii Department of Health and numerous White House staffers and the President of the United States as having a probability greater than one in a thousand. I doubt that we will ever see the analyses from Mike Zullo. I cannot critique what I haven’t seen and the confidentiality of his relationships with his experts is a screen that Mike Zullo can hide behind.

What I do know is that the analysts Zullo consulted did their work based on samples that Zullo supplied, samples that could have been selected to skew the outcome. For example, we know that Reed Hayes was given the White House birth certificate PDF to look at, while not being shown the photographs of it, photographs that call into question his conclusions that no paper document existed. Hayes naively saw the pixelated portion of Stanley Ann Dunham Obama’s signature as proof that the signature was done in two parts, when in fact this was Xerox layer separation artifact that Hayes would not have seen had he been given other images of the birth certificate to work with. Was ForLab shown all of the date stamp samples in my article, or was the very close 1959 date angle omitted, and the very different Nordyke certificate, stamped by a different clerk, included?

Stay tuned for Part 2 where Doc gets his hands dirty with a real experiment.