Besides attending a delightful birthday party yesterday, I spend quite a bit of time writing the series of articles, Birther math (parts 1-7) , that examined A Catalog of Evidence – Concerned Americans Have Good Reason to Doubt that Putative President Obama Was Born in Hawaii of 35 concerns over Barack Obama’s birthplace (and other things) by Mario Apuzzo.
When I studied Symbolic Logic, taught by the philosophy department of the University, we discussed the goal of that discipline: that a philosophical argument could be expressed in symbols and using the Predicate Calculus, a question could be answered logically and without controversy. When a dispute arose, philosophers would say, “let us calculate.”
How do you represent doubt and anxiety with symbols?
The application of this approach becomes difficult in practice due, I suppose, to the complexity of human thought, and to the fact that the answer one gets depends to a large extent on how the problem is stated, and here is where Apuzzo’s Catalog comes in. A great deal of what Apuzzo wrote would indeed be difficult to fit into the predicate calculus. How do you represent the truth or falsity of a question? How do you represent anxiety and doubt with symbols? Make no mistake, the Catalog is all about questions, anxiety and doubt; evidence and logical argument are rare. In fact I don’t recall seeing anything in his Catalog that would be admissible in court except perhaps in a closing argument and even there I can hear defense counsel objecting to every sentence. “Prejudicial” is a word that I think accurately characterizes the whole thing.
The Catalog is largely “spin”
My critics claim that I am a master of “spin.” While I am not shy about expressing opinions, I try to avoid bias. In the analysis of the Catalog, however, itself largely “spin,” my only possible response was often to unwind the spin, and that involves spinning something down — which is a kind of spin (spin here meaning to persuade that something should be looked at from a particular point of view). (Apuzzo says “you should look at this with suspicion” and I say “this is perfectly normal.”) I would much have preferred more claims from Apuzzo like the one where he says that Obama’s step grandmother said Obama was born in Kenya where I could factually reply that the transcript shows the translator as saying “Sir, she says he was born in Hawaii.” But alas, straightforward factual claims were rare.
It is nothing more than a smear.
A key word in the title of Mr. Apuzzo’s article is “doubt.” Apuzzo’s list is admittedly a catalog of doubts, not one of evidence. While Apuzzo is mostly content to cast doubt on true things, he sometimes stoops to outright lies such as number 32 where he says that”No one at Columbia [University] remembers Obama at Columbia.”(see Birther Math (part 7)). That fact that Apuzzo would repeat a lie like this, whether it came from an intentional disregard for the truth or from inexcusably sloppy research, points out what we are dealing with in his Catalog. It is nothing more than a smear.