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Birther math (part 1)

One of my least favorite sayings is “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” That’s about the same thing as saying “all allegations are at least partly true.” What I say is “where there’s smoke, there may be someone blowing smoke.” The smoke/fire fallacy is central to Birther math that says that if you add up enough allegations, regardless of their value, you get some level of proof. Put another way, they say that if you add zero enough times, you get something greater than zero.

In this article, I apply the mathematical definition of zero to a A Catalog of Evidence – Concerned Americans Have Good Reason to Doubt that Putative President Obama Was Born in Hawaii by attorney Mario Apuzzo. The Catalog (as of today, June  26, 2010) contains 35 items.When the original items are too long, I will not copy them here, but provide only a summary or indicate the omitted section with ellipses. The reader can (and is urged to) get the full text from link above. Quotes indicate text from the Catalog.

(1) “Obama’s step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, told Bishop McRae, who was in the United States, during a telephonic interview on October 12, 2008, while she was in her home located in Alego-Kogello, Kenya, that was full of security police and people and family who were celebrating then-Senator Obama’s success story, that she was present to witness Obama’s birth in Kenya, not the United States

This story is certainly ground central for the birther explosion. In the recording, Sarah Obama does say she that she was present when he was born. She doesn’t say where she was present, nor precisely who “he” is (it could mean Obama father or son). However, she clearly corrects Bishop McRae when he jumps to the conclusion that Barack Obama II was born in Africa. The translator Ogombe says on the recording: “Sir, she says he was born in Hawaii.” Links to the recording and English transcript are available in an article here. The only reason anyone believes this indicates Obama was born in Africa is that the recording was cut off before the clarification in most early published copies, and folks like Mario Apuzzo try to spin the full version to say something it does not.

Score: 0.

(2) The Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation, reported that at an event in May 2010, honoring Obama’s step-grandmother, who is known there as ‘Momma Sarah,’ she commented that, ‘Even the US President passed through my hands.’”

Here is the citation to where it was said. Barack Obama did visit Africa as a young adult and met his step-grandmother. I looked around for other uses of this phrase “passed through my hands” and found this reference from an African clergyman:

Bishop Kolini’s retirement is inline with the denomination constitution that mandates the bishops to retire at 65.

“I think I have done my part and it is time for me to pass on the mantle I am an old man who needs to grow old a happy man because those that passed through my hands are now responsible people, I now have a reason to thank God for the gift of the ministry he imparted in my life” Kolini said.

Robert Mugabe uses the phrase for university students:

In my small way, starting in 1976, I made up my mind to educate one Zimbabwean child a year at Lander University. As I speak, fifty-eight Zimbabweans have passed through my hands. I will say to my grandchildren, dream and also implement your dream; here a little, there a little: it will add up.

In the dozens of examples I looked at, not one referred to the birth of a child. One might find one, but it would be unusual.

Score: 0.

(3) The Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, Peter N.R.O. Ogego, confirmed on November 6, 2008, during a radio interview with Detroit radio talk-show hosts Mike Clark, Trudi Daniels, and Marc Fellhauer on WRIF’s “Mike In the Morning,” that “President-Elect Obama” was born in Kenya and that his birth place was already a “well-known” attraction;

This is clearly a misinterpretation, since the “well-known attraction” is the village of Kogello, not the Coast Hospital in Mombasa. The Ambassador’s assistant, the next day, said that the Ambassador was misunderstood, and that the Ambassador had no way of knowing where Obama was born. This theme will re-occur I suspect. The testimony of someone who has no reason to know something carries no weight.

Score: 0.

(4) Ms. Odhiambo a Member of the Kenyan Parliament said in session and recorded in the official record of the Kenyan National Assembly on 5 Nov 2008 on page 3275 that Obama was a son of the soil of their country;

Of course “son of the soil” is a metaphorical term, and again Ms. Odhiambo has no reason to know where Barack Obama was born, so her testimony, even if it were something specific, carries no weight. One African commenter on this blog said:

I should add the the term ‘son of the soil’ means we have ADOPTED u as one of our own mostly u have brought Honor & , so everywhere in Africa Obama is a son of the soil. Bill Clinton is also regarded as a son in many parts of Africa

Score: 0.

(5) Several African newspapers said in 2004 that Obama was born in Kenya. Also see this more recent one in Ghana. Africa’s press knows what the American media refuses to investigate. There have also been other reports in the media that Obama was born in Kenya. A good list of these reports may be found at where actual screen shots of the stories may be viewed;

Again, none of these newspapers provides any reason that they have such information or any reason to know, and so their testimony is worthless. Some have even printed retractions. And particularly why would a newspaper in Ghana know anything evidentiary about where Obama was born? Compare:

A major sign of hope is embodied in Obama’s personal background as a product of at least three civilisations (American, African and Islam), with a wider multiculturalism in Indonesia, when he was a child, and in Hawaii, where he was born and spent much of his childhood.

Ali A Mazuri
The Standard newspaper (Nairobi, Kenya)

Score: 0.

Do we see a pattern emerging? Stay tuned for Part 2.

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21 Responses to Birther math (part 1)

  1. avatar
    dp June 26, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

    That’s a commonly misused phrase. What people seem to forget is that smoke is an observable fact. And if you see a lot of black smoke billowing about, you can be reasonably sure there is a fire somewhere, and you should probably start to get concerned. Observable facts can certainly lead to a conclusion even if the final fact is not yet readily apparent.

    Birthers take things that are not facts at all and assume if they repeat them enough that means something.

    It does not.

  2. avatar
    SluggoJD June 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Not only is the sum of their talking points 0, but the sum of their IQs as well.

  3. avatar
    Bovril June 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Where there is “smoke” there may be

    Smoke
    Mist
    Fog
    Effluvium
    Foul vapours
    White phosphorous
    CS gas
    About 200 different industrial gases
    Solid CO2 and hot water
    Magicians
    Arsonists
    Firemen
    Marker for a hot LZ or dustoff

    With Birfers I prefer Foul Vapours and Effluvium myself

  4. avatar
    aarrgghh June 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    to the layperson, birther math might seem a bit puzzling and, dare i say, more than a bit silly, but trust me, this constitutional crisis of biblical proportions is adding up to the end of this country as our forefathers envisioned it. all it takes to understand that is investing just a few minutes to learn birfer calculus.

  5. avatar
    aarrgghh June 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    doc, do you have a typo in this passage, to which i’ve added a correction?

    “Of course “son of the soil” is a metaphorical term, and again Ms. Odhiambo has [no] reason to know where Barack Obama was born, so her testimony, even if it were something specific, carries no weight. One African commenter on this blog said:”

  6. avatar
    Majority Will June 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Bovril: Where there is “smoke” there may beSmoke
    Mist
    Fog
    Effluvium
    Foul vapours
    White phosphorous
    CS gas
    About 200 different industrial gases
    Solid CO2 and hot water
    Magicians
    Arsonists
    Firemen
    Marker for a hot LZ or dustoffWith Birfers I prefer Foul Vapours and Effluvium myself

    Deep Purple over water.

  7. avatar
    misha June 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    aarrgghh: I read your birfer calculus.

    It reminds me of what I heard in my grandfather’s circle:

    One Russian is a playwright.
    Two Russians is a revolution.
    Three Russians is the Kremlin.
    Four Russians is the Budapest String Quartet. (who were all Jewish)

  8. avatar
    G June 26, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    aarrgghh: to the layperson, birther math might seem a bit puzzling and, dare i say, more than a bit silly, but trust me, this constitutional crisis of biblical proportions is adding up to the end of this country as our forefathers envisioned it. all it takes to understand that is investing just a few minutes to learn birfer calculus.

    Your article was simply awesome, aarrgghh. Thanks for providing the link here & sharing it!

    :)

  9. avatar
    James June 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    3) The Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, Peter N.R.O. Ogego, confirmed on November 6, 2008, during a radio interview with Detroit radio talk-show hosts Mike Clark, Trudi Daniels, and Marc Fellhauer on WRIF’s “Mike In the Morning,” that “President-Elect Obama” was born in Kenya and that his birth place was already a “well-known” attraction;

    Big one. The Kenyan Ambassador said he sounded confused but he certainly doesn’t during the radio show.

    I’ll take his word for it. As the radio hosts put it, Who is going to argue with his excellency?

    Score: 80

  10. avatar
    misha June 26, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    James: 3) The Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, Peter N.R.O. Ogego, confirmed on November 6, 2008, during a radio interview with Detroit radio talk-show hosts Mike Clark, Trudi Daniels, and Marc Fellhauer on WRIF’s “Mike In the Morning,” that “President-Elect Obama” was born in Kenya and that his birth place was already a “well-known” attraction;Big one. The Kenyan Ambassador said he sounded confused but he certainly doesn’t during the radio show.I’ll take his word for it. As the radio hosts put it, Who is going to argue with his excellency?Score: 80

    1 – link, please.
    2 – Get a deposition. Anything else is hearsay.

  11. avatar
    Whatever4 June 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    Sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s a smoke machine.

  12. avatar
    misha June 26, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    Whatever4: Sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s a smoke machine.

    Sometimes where there’s smoke, it’s intestinal methane being lighted. Which is 100% of what Denialists expel.

  13. avatar
    JoZeppy June 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    James: 3) The Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, Peter N.R.O. Ogego, confirmed on November 6, 2008, during a radio interview with Detroit radio talk-show hosts Mike Clark, Trudi Daniels, and Marc Fellhauer on WRIF’s “Mike In the Morning,” that “President-Elect Obama” was born in Kenya and that his birth place was already a “well-known” attraction;Big one. The Kenyan Ambassador said he sounded confused but he certainly doesn’t during the radio show.I’ll take his word for it. As the radio hosts put it, Who is going to argue with his excellency?Score: 80

    You must really hate America to take the word of a foreignor, who has provides nothing reason to back up his statements, doesn’t speak English as his first language, later corrects his statement (which you discount), over the clear, unambiguous, statement of a government official of a State of the United States, who says that she has examined the official state records, and Obama was born in that state.

    Why do you hate America so much?

  14. avatar
    Majority Will June 26, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    Whatever4: Sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s a smoke machine.

    But never enough cowbell.

  15. avatar
    misha June 26, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    Majority Will: But never enough cowbell.

    “I’ve got to have more cowbell.”

  16. avatar
    AnotherBird June 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    Some of the newspapers articles the birthers didn’t even take the time to read. There saw the title and got all excited.

  17. avatar
    Majority Will June 26, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    misha:
    “I’ve got to have more cowbell.”

    “Don’t Fear the Birther” (we’ll be able to fly)

  18. avatar
    The Sheriff's A Ni- June 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

    misha: Get a deposition. Anything else is hearsay.

    Well, Your Honor. We’ve plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence.

  19. avatar
    Majority Will June 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    The Sheriff’s A Ni-:
    Well, Your Honor. We’ve plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence.

    Nice Lionel Hutz reference. He’s a SCOTUS justice compared to these idiotic birther lawyers.

  20. avatar
    The Sheriff's A Ni- June 26, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    At this point, any Mario post should come with a pic of good ol’ Lionel.

  21. avatar
    Passerby June 27, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    I somehow had never seen a transcript of that conversation with Obama’s step-grandmother, even the abbreviated one, although I did listen to it at one point. The transcript really just confirms my impression of the tape, though–that that was one confusing conversation. I mean, you’ve got a whole bunch of people in the room, all talking at once, one guy trying to translate for everybody, and his English is not exactly perfect.

    Not casting stones, of course. He speaks English better than I speak any non-English language. But still, he was obviously struggling for the right words sometimes.

    And then, just to make it worse, McRae and his guy seem to be unwilling to shut up for five seconds at a time and let them talk.

    So yeah, even from only the first five minutes, I’d have a hard time accepting that as evidence of what Mrs. Obama really was saying. That situation is just asking for misunderstandings. The additional part of the tape just makes that more clear.

    Probably discussed to death already, I know. I always seem to be a little behind.

    As for the ambassador, if he says he was misunderstood, I don’t find that hard to believe either. Radio dude just slipped that in there all casual-like, and he wasn’t enough on guard to catch on to it. Even without translation difficulties, in the course of a casual conversation stuff like that happens, and radio guy was, it seems to me, trying to trip him up.

    Guys: if he was born in Kenya, and this is known, you really should be able to come up with something better than this.