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Conspiracy theory article at the NY Times

I’ve just finished reading a quality article at the New York Times, titled: A Theory of Conspiracy Theories. Executive Editor Bill Keller points out that it is not just right-wing racists who harbor conspiracy theories. Even educated liberals fall victim to such beliefs.

The Times, of course, has a dog in this fight too because they are one of the traditional authorities that most (I hope) folks go to when trying to decide between conflicting stories. Keller wrote:

Suspicion hardens into full-blown conviction when people lose faith in authorities, says Knight, who edited “Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America.” The present day, he told me, when Internet access has sparked a proliferation of competing, self-appointed authorities, is a particularly fertile time for conspiracy theorists, who might ask: “ ‘Why would you believe The New York Times? Why do they have a monopoly on truth? Surely Twitter and WikiLeaks are just as trustworthy.’”

Some readers might ask a relevant question at this point, and that is: why should we read this blog instead of those authorities? My only answer, and about the only justification for this web site is simply that the issue in its details are not important enough to warrant much coverage from authorities like the Times. Keller makes one suggestion that was very much on point for me when he says:

…evidence, laid out dispassionately, engaging without mocking, is still our best recourse.

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66 Responses to Conspiracy theory article at the NY Times

  1. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    I left the following comment at the Times:

    As someone who spends a lot of his time debunking conspiracy theories, I found this article very relevant to me, pointing out one difference between the professional journalist and bloggers like me sometimes: as Keller writes, “evidence, laid out dispassionately, engaging without mocking, is still our best recourse.” I take that as personal challenge to do better.

    Indeed this whole article is a challenge to the view that conspiracy theorists are sub-human idiots who just need to be slapped around a little bit (verbally of course). It is also a call to think about information channels in the future and how we will filter a billion competing voices.

  2. avatar
    good gravy June 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    “evidence, laid out dispassionately, engaging without mocking, is still our best recourse.”

    -i call bullshit. sorry.

  3. avatar
    Head Researcher June 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    The Internet Article you quoted said this:

    “Maybe, then, there is a little birther in all of us. Fenster, a law professor and author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture,” says a sense of conspiracy is “almost an instinctive response to strange events.”

    My Principal has long said the notion that believing something is fishy is a healthy defense mechanism. For example, in “The KISS Matrix 2.0- Getting Closer to the Truth”:
    ===============================

    Going forward, it is questionable whether or not the terms “Birther” or “Birtherism” even apply. But, as I wrote in the famous “

    New Horizons In Birtherism!!! (A White Paper)

    [I]f all Birtherism was ever about was just “getting Obama”, then we should just evaporate into the dustbin of history. But I think it was always about more than just that. What we must seek to preserve, is the underlying DISTRUST OF GOVERNMENT which caused us to be Birthers in the first place. We just didn’t fall for some PICTURES on the Internet, or somebody we don’t know in Hawaii “swearing” that they had seen the “real thing.” This DISTRUST is a necessary DEFENSE MECHANISM for our country (America) to survive. There is a long tradition in this country (America) of our Presidents just lying to us like dogs!

    So, there will always be a need for “Birthers” just as there is a need for a “Tea Party”, even though nobody is dressing up like Indians and dumping boxes of tea into Boston Harbor. I hope “Birthers” becomes the new term for “people who just don’t blindly accept the party line.”

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter
    ==================================

    New Horizons was first published in August 2010. Recently she published:

    http://birtherthinktank.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/obotski-kaa-kaa-just-trust-the-government-lies-the-obotski-taught-us-no-2/

    Perhaps the biggest question of all for “The Opaque Years” is why was there such reluctance by the Obotski to call for disclosure of the long form???

    The Head Researcher, as Agent.

  4. avatar
    Greg June 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    There will always be a place for birthers like there will always be a place for the brave souls who cling to the theory that vaccines cause autism! It’s all about an unhealthy distrust of the government. The difference being that vaccine denialism kills people while birthers only cost themselves their credibility and perhaps a few months in prison.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Head Researcher: Perhaps the biggest question of all for “The Opaque Years” is why was there such reluctance by the Obotski to call for disclosure of the long form???

    Because to do so would be to concede that there was any validity in the birther claims. I said early on in Ken Dunbar’s radio program that I would like to see the long form and would frame it and put it on my wall. This I have done.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Head Researcher: So, there will always be a need for “Birthers” just as there is a need for a “Tea Party”, even though nobody is dressing up like Indians and dumping boxes of tea into Boston Harbor. I hope “Birthers” becomes the new term for “people who just don’t blindly accept the party line.”

    Author Mark Fenster argues that dismissing conspiracy theories as pathological or marginal flattens contemporary politics and culture because they are—contrary to popular portrayal—an intense articulation of populism and, at their essence, are strident calls for a better, more transparent government.

    I can envision future technology as empowering people and enabling a more transparent government. However, birthers are a terrible model for anything good in the future. Birthers went beyond healthy skepticism to engaging in the basest rumormongering, and fell easy prey to political operatives and con men. “Birthers” is already a byword for the lunatic fringe, the worst of the contrarian movements.

  7. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Birthers went beyond healthy skepticism

    I find it quite interesting that you considered birthers exhibiting healthy skepticism at one time. When was the turning point?

    When I read the title of this post, the OJ Simpson trial came to mind. I found this piece which could easily be rewritten with a birther theme:

    http://dt.org/html/FramingOJ.html

    Point here: reaction to evidence that some find so clear but not others.

    Here is some interesting insight for the verdict (just as birthers have their reasons):

    Moran dismissed the trial issue of domestic violence.

    “This was a murder trial, not domestic abuse,” Moran said. “If you want to get tried for domestic abuse, go in another courtroom and get tried for that.”

    (wow)

    Aschenbach, in an ABC telephone interview last week, tearfully explained why she changed her original guilty vote.

    Lead detective Philip Vannatter “made misstatements” on the witness stand, she said. Former detective Mark Fuhrman, discredited as a lying racist, cast too much doubt on the most prized evidence – a bloody glove found on Simpson’s estate.

    “I thought it was possible it was planted,” Aschenbach said. “And most of the evidence was DNA evidence and that’s what was so shaky.”

    (DNA is shaky evidence)

    ***

  8. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    charo: I find it quite interesting that you considered birthers exhibiting healthy skepticism at one time. When was the turning point?

    IMO, positing an alternate theory and attempting to obtain evidence to support it is perfectly acceptable. So, as regards birthers,if someone in 2008 wanted to say, “It’s possible he was born in Kenya” and go there and attempt to find evidence, I couldn’t fault them, as long as they did so honestly. That means taking the entirety of witness testimony, not twisting words, obtaining actual, as opposed to fraudulent documents. It also means that after a reasonable effort to find evidence to support one’s theoory comes up dry, you move on. You certainly don’t claim the theory is true despite the lack of evidence.

    Similarly,having your day in court is everyone’s right. But having your 3 years in court isn’t. Getting someone with standing and trying your luck in court is fine. But when you lose, and you appeal and it reaches the Supremes and they let the verdict stand, that’s it. Coming back again and again with the same rejected arguments is abuse (not argument, that’s next door). It has to be kept in mind that in an adversarial political system, challenging a candidate’s credentials is really a matter for their opponents (those who actually get off their duffs and run) not self-appointed enforcers.

  9. avatar
    Majority Will June 4, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Scientist: . . . is abuse (not argument, that’s next door)

    But are they vacuous, toffee-nosed, malodorous perverts? 😀

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    charo: I find it quite interesting that you considered birthers exhibiting healthy skepticism at one time. When was the turning point?

    I don’t know whether I would say that birthers ever had healthy skepticism, but certainly after the Obama campaign released the birth certificate in 2008, that ended anything that could be called healthy skepticism. Pretty much every birther in existence today signed on after that point.

  11. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Scientist: IMO, positing an alternate theory and attempting to obtain evidence to support it is perfectly acceptable.

    Way back, Phil at The Right Side of Life respectfully asked for how to obtain a copy of the transaction for a birth certificate request. He was told by Fukino’s office “private.” Okay, fine, that is an acceptable answer. She later testified that President Obama posted his certificate on the internet. That is acting inconsistently. If it is acceptable to make that statement, a receipt is not out of bounds. This testimony was given to support a law to stop “vexatious” requests. IMO, the number of requests was exaggerated. If the requests were all the same, how can popping out a form letter be all that difficult anyways? My concern was that it has a chilling effect for the future when this issue is long gone. She released a statement at some point that said Obama’s certificate was not handled any differently than any other. We know that recently it was supposedly moved and placed in a special vault. This was done after her statement but what happened to treating it like any other certificate? A distrust of employees?

    My main issue for a long time was with Fukino (Linda Lingle never saw anything and is irrelevant regarding the actual certificate). I also doubted that Barak Obama Sr. was listed on the birth certificate. One of my reasons was that in a published article, his name was spelled Barak. That in conjunction with some evidence that Obama Sr. and Stanley Ann Dunham never lived together gave some indication that he didn’t play any role as a father from the moment of birth. That made the arguments about his referring to his race as African suspect. I didn’t believe that he was even at the hospital. Newer evidence suggests that some things about other women that is not necessary to discuss, although it doesn’t matter now.

    I could go on even more, but for EVERY comment I made, I backed it up with some kind of evidence until I came to my own conclusions by information on a FOIA request. Much of the rude remarks toned down but I still had the aura of “birther” for some. During the “Trump era” when I read that a former staffer said that Obama put out the COLB to resolve the issue of his citizenship, I had a doubt start to surface. That simply could not be true. The only reason even now that I can think of for making the statement was that he was just deflecting without any facts because Trump was making headlines because the press took interest.

    That is my winded response to your comment that it is acceptable to present an alternate theory and trying to seek evidence. It didn’t seem acceptable for me to do it at the time. :cat2:
    (I wanted to try a smiley)

  12. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    charo: Way back, Phil at The Right Side of Life respectfully asked for how to obtain a copy of the transaction for a birth certificate request. He was told by Fukino’s office “private.” Okay, fine, that is an acceptable answer. She later testified that President Obama posted his certificate on the internet. That is acting inconsistently.

    No. In one case she refused to release a copy of the contents of an internal document. In the other case she was commenting on what was in the public record.

  13. avatar
    obsolete June 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    charo: I also doubted that Barak Obama Sr. was listed on the birth certificate.

    So you thought the “Long-Form” info would be different from the COLB info, even though the COLB info was taken from the “Long-Form”?
    All because someone misspelled “Barack” as “Barak” in some unnamed article?
    You are not making much sense.

    And again, what is so hard to believe about Obama Sr’s race being reported as “African”, whether by his wife or himself?

  14. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: No. In one case she refused to release a copy of the contents of an internal document. In the other case she was commenting on what was in the public record.

    Whether or not there was a receipt even was not answered. Her statement, when you read it, was validating the COLB without using those words. She was not an average Jane commenting about something. I’ll have to find her statement.

    In any case, that was my reasoning at the time.

  15. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    obsolete: So you thought the “Long-Form” info would be different from the COLB info, even though the COLB info was taken from the “Long-Form”?
    All because someone misspelled “Barack” as “Barak” in some unnamed article?
    You are not making much sense.

    And again, what is so hard to believe about Obama Sr’s race being reported as “African”, whether by his wife or himself?

    I am summarizing past thoughts.

  16. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    charo: I will agree your response is long-winded. It also misses my point. The evidence for the alternate theory could never possibly have been in Hawaii. It could only ever have been in the alternate location proposed for the birth (presumably Kenya). Nitpicking at Hawaiian bureaucrats was, in my opinion. simply a reflection of laziness on the part of most birthers and the fact that they never really wanted to get their fat behinds off the chairs in front of their computers. This is further evidenced by the typical turnout in the low double figures for any real-world birther event. I mean, a movement wiith supposedly millions of adherents and you could never get more than 20 to show up in person? That’s ridiculous!

    No, the birthers were never serious in their “quest”. if they were they would have gone to Kenya. In fact, when I heard Trump sent his “investigators” to Hawaiii (or more accurately pretended to) I knew he wasn;t serious either. If you want to prove someone was born in Kenya, YOU HAVE TO GO TO KENYA TO FIND THE EVIDENCE.

    i hope that was clear.

  17. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Scientist: Obama

    whatever

  18. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    For more than a year, the Department of Health has continued to receive approximately 50 e-
    9 mail inquiries a month seeking access to President Barack Obama’s birth certificate in spite of the fact
    10 that President Obama has posted a copy of the certificate on his former campaign website.

    http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2010/Testimony/SB2937_TESTIMONY_JGO_02-23-10_LATE.pdf

  19. avatar
    US Citizen June 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Here we’re considered “the enemy” and “obots” by birthers, yet we charge nothing and tell the truth.
    In the meanwhile, people like Corsi charge for lies and are applauded for their efforts.

    I think one line to be drawn between healthy and unhealthy skepticism is whether a person is gullible enough to pay to be lied to.

  20. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Scientist: YOU HAVE TO GO TO KENYA TO FIND THE EVIDENCE.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article4897758.ece

    You just have to make sure to get authorization for a work permit.

  21. avatar
    Sef June 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    charo:
    For more than a year, the Department of Health has continued to receive approximately 50 e-
    9 mail inquiries a month seeking access to President Barack Obama’s birth certificate in spite of the fact
    10 that President Obama has posted a copy of the certificate on his former campaign website.

    http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2010/Testimony/SB2937_TESTIMONY_JGO_02-23-10_LATE.pdf

    It is also true that 50% of the population have a IQ less that 100.

  22. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    charo: You just have to make sure to get authorization for a work permit

    Oh, so it’s hard work to investigate in Kenya, so let’s harass Hawaiian bureaucrats instead? Being a real reporter is hard work, as opposed to being a “Girl Reporter” typing in your air-conditioned home office. Real reporters get beaten up and killed. But that how real stories get broken so that Girl Reporters have something to write about besides their failed romances.

    I’m sorry, all you’re offering is excuses.and excuses don’t prove your case.

    This reminds me of the old joke of the guy looking under the lamppost for his lost wallet. The cop comes by and asks him where he lost his wallet. The guy says, “Over there in the alley”. “So,” the cop asks him, “Why are you looking here?” The guy replies, “Because it’s dark in there.”

  23. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Scientist: Oh, so it’s hard work to investigate in Kenya, so let’s harass Hawaiian bureaucrats instead?Being a real reporter is hard work, as opposed to being a “Girl Reporter” typing in your air-conditioned home office.Real reporters get beaten up and killed.But that how real stories get broken so that Girl Reporters have something to write about besides their failed romances.

    I’m sorry, all you’re offering is excuses.and excuses don’t prove your case.

    This reminds me of the old joke of the guy looking under the lamppost for his lost wallet.The cop comes by and asks him where he lost his wallet.The guy says, “Over there in the alley”.“So,” the cop asks him, “Why are you looking here?”The guy replies, “Because it’s dark in there.”

    Lead birther wen to Kenya and got detained there. Isn’t he the one to whom who were referring GO TO KENYA!

    Why are you so angry? Everything has gone your way.

  24. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    went

  25. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Sef: It is also true that 50% of the population have a IQ less that 100.

    And therefore 50% have an IQ over 100? (Glass half full half empty)

  26. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    charo: Lead birther wen to Kenya and got detained there. Isn’t he the one to whom who were referring GO TO KENYA!

    Actually “lead birther” by which I assume you mean Jerome Corsi was not a birther when he went to Kenya or after he came back for that matter. Corsi said in his post-Kenya-travel book, The Obama Nation:

    “Obama has been in Africa three times,” Sayid insisted. “The first time was in 1986….”

    You won’t find a hint that Obama was born outside the US in that book, nor anything to suggest that Obama is ineligible to run for President.

  27. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    charo: Lead birther wen to Kenya and got detained there. Isn’t he the one to whom who were referring GO TO KENYA!

    Corsi is a big fat loudmouth who would get thrown out of just about anywhere. If you’re serious you send a low-key person who knows what they are doing. Or you hire locals. Kenya is not North Korea or some rigidly controlled police state. It’s a fairly open country that welcomes many foreigners. What it comes down to is “Oh, it’s a bit difficullt to go to Kenya. It’s hot and you need shots and there are lots of people with funny names there and someone might not like me. So I’ll sit at my computer and send EMails to Hawaii and cry about conspiracies”. That’s poppycock and if you truly graduated law school you know it is.

    The bottom line is that Hawaii doesn’t track and record Kenyan births, only Kenya does. So the only place you can ever go to prove someone was born in Kenya is Kenya. If I want to prove my postulate I have to do the experiments that prove it. I get no points for whining about how hard they are.

    charo: Why are you so angry? Everything has gone your way

    i’m not angry. I’ve told you many times, I’ve regarded this issue as a joke from the start. Really, who cares where the President was born? If you want a serious constiitutional issue, take a look at signals interception. Now there is something that actually matters http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

    As far as things going my way, the FACTS have been on the anti-birthers side from the very start. Smart people should have realized that on day 1 and looked elsewhere.

  28. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    Scientist: Corsi is a big fat loudmouth who would get thrown out of just about anywhere. If you’re serious you send a low-key person who knows what they are doing. Or you hire locals.

    hahaha backtrack backtrack. Sorry, clandestine opposition research is not covered in law school. Why don’t you just admit you didn’t know Corsi went to Kenya?

    Good evening

  29. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Actually “lead birther” by which I assume you mean Jerome Corsi was not a birther when he went to Kenya or after he came back for that matter. Corsi said in his post-Kenya-travel book, The Obama Nation:

    You won’t find a hint that Obama was born outside the US in that book, nor anything to suggest that Obama is ineligible to run for President.

    Point is, he went to prove something negative about Obama. That is what birtherism is all about, isn’t it?

    Good evening

  30. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    charo: Why don’t you just admit you didn’t know Corsi went to Kenya?

    I knew he went there. Probably before you did, I don’t consider him competent to investigate whether it’s hot in Death Valley in July. He’s a scam artist.

    The fact is the birthers nevermade a serious effort to try to confirm that Obama was born in Kenya because they are lazy (physically and intellectually). Why didn’t Trump send his “investigators” to Kenya? Why didn’t Berg go? Lazy, lazy, lazy…

  31. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Scientist: If I want to prove my postulate I have to do the experiments that prove it. I get no points for whining about how hard they are.

    All this pontificating and smart a@#erry comments about laziness and excuses based upon my sarcastic comment that you have to get a work permit first. I wrongly figured that you would read and see that Corsi was detained for failure to get a work permit, hence my comment. Good grief.

  32. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    Scientist: I knew he went there. Probably before you did, I don’t consider him competent to investigate whether it’s hot in Death Valley in July. He’s a scam artist.

    Oh,, so you believe Orly et all are competent? Riiiight.

  33. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    Greg: The difference being that vaccine denialism kills people while birthers only cost themselves their credibility and perhaps a few months in prison.

    Remember this?

    I think we should not be taking those shots [swine flu immunizations], we should not allow our children to be immunized with those shots, there has to be a serious criminal investigation by the military into the epidemiology of those cases at the 29th Palms Marine base, which is also a known FEMA camp.

    Orly Taitz

  34. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    charo: Point is, he went to prove something negative about Obama. That is what birtherism is all about, isn’t it?

    No, of course not.

  35. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    charo: Oh,, so you believe Orly et all are competent? Riiiight

    None of the birthers are competent at anything. How is that my problem? If there had actually been something to their charges, competent political pros would have jumped in. The fact that none did is what they call a “tell” in poker. You needed only to look at the “Who” to be pretty confident the “what” was garbage..

    charo: I wrongly figured that you would read and see that Corsi was detained for failure to get a work permit, hence my comment. Good grief.

    A three year old article is not news. Semi-smart people would either be discrete enough not to get detected.or would hire Kenyans or people already living in Kenya. Actual smart people would have realized the whole “Kenyan birth” story was pure hocum just from the logiistics and common sense perspective.

  36. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    Scientist: None of the birthers are competent at anything.How is that my problem?If there had actually been something to their charges, competent political pros would have jumped in.The fact that none did is what they call a “tell” in poker.You needed only to look at the “Who” to be pretty confident the “what” was garbage..

    A three year old article is not news.Semi-smart people would either be discrete enough not to get detected.or would hire Kenyans or people already living in Kenya. Actual smart people would have realized the whole “Kenyan birth” story was pure hocum just from the logiistics and common sense perspective.

    Your not so subtle point that I am stupid for being a skeptic at any point without actually saying the word stupid (or other synonym) in order to stay in compliance with Doc’s somewhat loose enforcement of policy, is duly noted.

    As prior history indicates, it is time to take care of family responsibilities.

    Stupidly yours,
    charo

  37. avatar
    Scientist June 4, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    If one is skeptical of a theory it should be because one has a better theory. Otherwise one is simply being contrary for the sake of being contrary. The birther’s first step should have been to come up with a theory/narrative that made more sense than a child being born where his parents lived. They never did. Therefore, the skepticism was more reflex contrarianism than a thoughtful skepticism.

    Have fun…

  38. avatar
    charo June 4, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Scientist:
    If one is skeptical of a theory it should be because one has a better theory.Otherwise one is simply being contrary for the sake of being contrary.The birther’s first step should have been to come up with a theory/narrative that made more sense than a child being born where his parents lived.They never did.Therefore, the skepticism was more reflex contrarianism than a thoughtful skepticism.

    Have fun…

    The typical young woman in 1961 would more than likely not travel to Kenya, let alone give birth there. But Ms. Dunham was of a different spirit. You can see that by an examination of her life in total. Her giving birth in Kenya would not have been as far fetched as it would have been for others her age. I quote now from the “OJ framed” link from my first comment on the thread:

    There is a lesson to be learned here: once committed to a point of view, people develop a vested interest.

    http://dt.org/html/FramingOJ.html

    It was not hard at all for me to believe that Obama was born in Hawaii when FOIA documents confirmed it. I had no vested interest. I was leaning mainly toward Obama Sr, not being named on the COLB and partially explained why above. That would not have affected eligibility but would have mattered. I didn’t start a blog or a campaign over the issue. I made no youtube videos.

    For some reason you are guilty of reflex contrarianism (is that a word?) when it comes to me, when I am not even a birther.

    Stupidly yours,
    charo

    Go Herman…

  39. avatar
    Rickey June 4, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Getting back to the Times article which inspired this particular thread, I have a liberal friend who is very intelligent and well-educated, but who believes that a plane did not crash into the Pentagon on 9/11. He was in D.C. that morning and he says that (a) he did not see a plane and (b) he was in a taxi and heard the WTOP newscast say that a truck bomb had gone off at the Pentagon.

    After questioning him at length, I determined that he was always several miles east of the Pentagon, and of course the plane came in from the west. I pointed out that there are numerous eyewitnesses who saw the plane prior to impact. I also found the transcript of WTOP’s broadcast that morning, and there was never a mention of a truck bomb.

    His response to the transcript? It was scrubbed on orders from the government. He believes that the D.C. plane was shot down by the Air Force and the government rigged the explosion at the Pentagon so that there wouldn’t be any criticism for shooting down the plane.

    Many experts believe that conspiracy theories flourish because some people cannot wrap their heads around the idea that mediocrities such as Lee Harvey Oswald are capable of committing acts of such great significance. I suspect that birthers share this affliction. They can’t believe that Obama was legitimately elected President, so it had to have been the result of a massive conspiracy.

  40. avatar
    sactosintolerant June 5, 2011 at 2:04 am #

    Yes… getting back to the article somewhat (I haven’t read it), I think one of the good things that can come out of this for those of us that were never birthers is hopefully more skepticism about conspiracy theories that confirm our world views. I’m a big fan of truth, the Socratic method, empiricism, logic, etc., but I also know I’m susceptible to reflex belief in those theories and, even before birtherism, had to guard myself against believing, say, Bush was a f-up in the national guard.

    Anyway, what I’d like to know and haven’t seen anything about so far, is what, if anything, can be done to make people less susceptible to conspiracy theories. I’ve felt that more of a grade school focus on critical thinking would be good in general, but maybe especially for guarding people against this stuff.

  41. avatar
    sactosintolerant June 5, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Also, while I agree in theory thy mockery isn’t the best approach, when facts backed with supporting documentation don’t convince someone, it seems all you can do is mock or ignore.

  42. avatar
    Keith June 5, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    sactosintolerant: Anyway, what I’d like to know and haven’t seen anything about so far, is what, if anything, can be done to make people less susceptible to conspiracy theories. I’ve felt that more of a grade school focus on critical thinking would be good in general, but maybe especially for guarding people against this stuff.

    Exactly. Education. Educated people are more difficult to exploit than the ignorant.

    Look at the systematic destruction of the American education system that has taken place over the last 25 or 30 years and the rise of institutions that exist for the sole purpose of exploiting the resulting population of pliant drones like WND and Faux News. This is going to take generations to repair and people like Murdoch and Paul are going to be fighting it tooth and nail while conmen like Farrah and Corsi and Beck sit back and laugh.

    That is the big conspiracy folks – ensure a population of exploitable drones can hardly think and breathe at the same time.

    Like hiding a book in a library, hiding your conspiracy amongst a thousand other conspiracies, even convincing people that a proper education is itself an evil conspiracy, is the easiest way to ensure suspicion about your conspiracy gets lost.

    The fog is so thick that even my discussion of this topic sounds unbelievable. Remember the old saying just because you know you are paranoid, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t somebody out to get you? Well just because there are a lot of nutty conspiracy theories around doesn’t mean that there are no ‘actual’ conspiracies around.

  43. avatar
    Scientist June 5, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    charo: The typical young woman in 1961 would more than likely not travel to Kenya, let alone give birth there. But Ms. Dunham was of a different spirit. You can see that by an examination of her life in total. Her giving birth in Kenya would not have been as far fetched as it would have been for others her age

    If the story had been that she and Barack Sr went to live in Kenya that might have been believable. But it was known right from the start that Barack Sr was at U Hawaii in the fall of 1961 (he graduated in June 1962, completing a 4 year degree in 3 years, so he could hardly have missed any time there) and that Ms Dunham was definitey in Seattle in Jan/Feb 1962. So what we were left with from the birthers was a quick jaunt to Kenya to give birth and then hightaiiling it back to the US a couple of weeks after. And I’m sorry, no matter how “adventurous” Ms Dunham was, that never made sense.

    There are some conspiracy theories that start out as legitimate hypotheses. It was not totally unreasonable in the 1990s to propose a link between vaccines and a disease of unknown causation like autism. It wasn’t unreasonable in 1984 for Peter Duisberg (a very respected virologist) to consider the link between HIV and AIDS not fully proven. I don’t think I can give birtherism credit even for beginning as a potentially possible hypothesis.

    The other difference I see with birtherism and these other conspiracy theories is the fundamental unimportance of the matter at hand. HIV has killed millions and devastated economies in southern Africa. Autism is a horrible thing for the families afflicted. 9/11 killed thousands and led to wars still ongoing. Even the OJ case at least had a significant impact on him and on the victims’ families. But, I’m sorry, where a President was born just isn’t that important. Not even close. Yes, it might (depending how a court would rule) be a technical violation of the Constitution (of a clause that most constitutional scholars look upon as quite dispensible) but, as I pointed out above,,the NSA violates the Constitution every single day, and they violate the parts that everybody agrees are absolutely central.

  44. avatar
    Northland10 June 5, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Rickey: Many experts believe that conspiracy theories flourish because some people cannot wrap their heads around the idea that mediocrities such as Lee Harvey Oswald are capable of committing acts of such great significance

    I, myself, was a bit disappointed when “Deep Throat” was revealed to be Mark Felt. I was likely hoping for something with more, “flash.” I suspect this is where germ of a conspiracy theory can begin.

  45. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 5, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    I’m planning to read a couple of books by the authors mentioned in the Times article. If I’m going to bill myself “Dr. Conspiracy” I guess I should work on my academic credentials.

  46. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 5, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Scientist: the NSA violates the Constitution every single day, and they violate the parts that everybody agrees are absolutely central.

    I was just watching the Nova documentary: “The Spy Factory” on this very point.

  47. avatar
    John Potter June 5, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    After only a week of investigating this topic, I am now convinced that, for the hardcore, birtherism has become a cult. They blindly accept and fawn over any material that backs them up, and viciously reject anything that doesn’t fit. Most disturbingly, and tellingly, they save their most violent reactions for those who used to agree, but now accept that the birther position is counter-productive if not plain wrong/silly. By cutting off more and more sources of information and opinion, they are isolating themselves and digging in deeper, ensuring they will only receive continued reinforcement. Judging by their writings, and by the quality of the stuff they’re lapping up at WND, these guys need interventions. See for yourself:

    http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=301329

    It’s bad enough to make insinuation off of unrelated facts, to string together assumptions into a “theory”, but that “analysis” is the mental equivalent of playing with the contents of your diaper! This page, by Corsi himself, makes Vogt look brilliant.

    Even worse are the secondary sources, trying to build their own following off of this base. I was corresponding with a radio host, an intelligent guy, and when confronted with this level of hucksterism, he would only comment, “I thought it made good points” and he would say no more about it. A true snake oil reseller.

    It heartens me that everyone in my ‘real’ life thinks I am silly for even having a passing interest in this. I guess that’s my own reinforcement LOL

    Started reading The Believing Brain in an attempt to clean out my own. I recommend it highly. It’s timing with Corsi’s book release is hysterical.

  48. avatar
    Rickey June 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    charo: I also doubted that Barak Obama Sr. was listed on the birth certificate. One of my reasons was that in a published article, his name was spelled Barak.

    That’s a pretty flimsy basis for having suspicions.

    A few years ago a well-known singer/songwriter/producer named Lee Hazlewood died. He may have had his surname misspelled more times than any other person in the music business. You can find many records of songs which he wrote or produced wherein his surname is misspelled “Hazelwood” on the label.

    I went to high school with a girl named Judy, but by the time she was a senior she decided to spell it “Judi.” A woman I know named Jane now spells her name “Jayne.” I know of a dentist from Russia whose first name is Yulia but since coming the the U.S. she spells it “Julia.”

    There used to be a professional basketball player named Harthorne Nathaniel Wingo. His parents intended to name him after Nathaniel Hawthorne, but somehow the name “Hawthorne” was misspelled “Harthorne” on his birth certificate.

    Things such as that happen all the time in the real world. People tend to place too much significance on anomalies which oftentimes are easily explained.

  49. avatar
    charo June 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Rickey: That’s a pretty flimsy basis for having suspicions.

    A few years ago a well-known singer/songwriter/producer named Lee Hazlewood died. He may have had his surname misspelled more times than any other person in the music business. You can find many records of songs which he wrote or produced wherein his surname is misspelled “Hazelwood” on the label.

    I went to high school with a girl named Judy, but by the time she was a senior she decided to spell it “Judi.” A woman I know named Jane now spells her name “Jayne.” I know of a dentist from Russia whose first name is Yulia but since coming the the U.S. she spells it “Julia.”

    There used to be a professional basketball player named Harthorne Nathaniel Wingo. His parents intended to name him after Nathaniel Hawthorne, but somehow the name “Hawthorne” was misspelled “Harthorne” on his birth certificate.

    Things such as that happen all the time in the real world. People tend to place too much significance on anomalies which oftentimes are easily explained.

    The spelling came from a professional journal, which true, could have been in error. Also, that was not the only reason, as I stated. Is it really necessary to keep harping on it? I gave the information to be helpful as to why I thought as I did, maybe to give insight as to someone’s thought process who was a questioner (I hate the word birther). I know that it is a mistake on my part to have ever done it in the first place and even bigger mistake to revisit it. As a friend of mine likes to say, it’s water under the bridge now, but if you want to keep hammering away, whose to stop you. This blog seems to be a necessary outlet for either anger or one’s entertainment.

  50. avatar
    charo June 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I should say that I am not interested in either the anger or the entertainment. There is always something to learn from an experience, positive or negative. There comes a point when no purpose is served for the discussion. That is a different point for everyone.

  51. avatar
    G June 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Scientist: If the story had been that she and Barack Sr went to live in Kenya that might have been believable. But it was known right from the start that Barack Sr was at U Hawaii in the fall of 1961 (he graduated in June 1962, completing a 4 year degree in 3 years, so he could hardly have missed any time there) and that Ms Dunham was definitey in Seattle in Jan/Feb 1962. So what we were left with from the birthers was a quick jaunt to Kenya to give birth and then hightaiiling it back to the US a couple of weeks after. And I’m sorry, no matter how “adventurous” Ms Dunham was, that never made sense.There are some conspiracy theories that start out as legitimate hypotheses. It was not totally unreasonable in the 1990s to propose a link between vaccines and a disease of unknown causation like autism. It wasn’t unreasonable in 1984 for Peter Duisberg (a very respected virologist) to consider the link between HIV and AIDS not fully proven. I don’t think I can give birtherism credit even for beginning as a potentially possible hypothesis.The other difference I see with birtherism and these other conspiracy theories is the fundamental unimportance of the matter at hand. HIV has killed millions and devastated economies in southern Africa. Autism is a horrible thing for the families afflicted. 9/11 killed thousands and led to wars still ongoing. Even the OJ case at least had a significant impact on him and on the victims’ families. But, I’m sorry, where a President was born just isn’t that important. Not even close. Yes, it might (depending how a court would rule) be a technical violation of the Constitution (of a clause that most constitutional scholars look upon as quite dispensible) but, as I pointed out above,,the NSA violates the Constitution every single day, and they violate the parts that everybody agrees are absolutely central.

    Great post.

    I agree on all your points.

  52. avatar
    G June 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    John Potter: After only a week of investigating this topic, I am now convinced that, for the hardcore, birtherism has become a cult. They blindly accept and fawn over any material that backs them up, and viciously reject anything that doesn’t fit. Most disturbingly, and tellingly, they save their most violent reactions for those who used to agree, but now accept that the birther position is counter-productive if not plain wrong/silly. By cutting off more and more sources of information and opinion, they are isolating themselves and digging in deeper, ensuring they will only receive continued reinforcement. Judging by their writings, and by the quality of the stuff they’re lapping up at WND, these guys need interventions.

    Well said.

  53. avatar
    Rickey June 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    charo: This blog seems to be a necessary outlet for either anger or one’s entertainment.

    Hey, I was just passing along some insights which I have developed through several decades of investigating ‘suspicious” anomalies.

    When someone answers “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” to a question that he of she should know, that is suspicious. A misspelled name? Not so suspicious.

    And even if it turned out that Barack H. Obama Sr. wasn’t his father, so what? Without looking it up, how many people can name Bill Clinton’s father? Or Gerald Ford’s father?

    It seems to me that the people who are fervently anti-Obama are obsessed with finding something in his past which they can use to try to embarrass him. Which is fine, if you are looking for something which he actually is responsible for. But since when do we hold a President’s parents against him?

  54. avatar
    G June 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    charo: Is it really necessary to keep harping on it? I gave the information to be helpful as to why I thought as I did, maybe to give insight as to someone’s thought process who was a questioner (I hate the word birther). I know that it is a mistake on my part to have ever done it in the first place and even bigger mistake to revisit it. As a friend of mine likes to say, it’s water under the bridge now

    For the record, I understood your posts above as what you intended – to merely try to show what tangents led you along a certain line of thought at the beginning of your journey – not to actually argue those points or even address reexamining the validity of those arguments.

    Just wanted to let you know that your message made it across as you intended to some here.

    I thought your closing point was also well stated for moving the conversation forward from here – “water under the bridge”. Agreed.

  55. avatar
    Keith June 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    I’m planning to read a couple of books by the authors mentioned in the Times article. If I’m going to bill myself “Dr. Conspiracy” I guess I should work on my academic credentials.

    Here’s another great source: Robert Anton Wilson: Everything is Under Control: The Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories

    This is a sample excerpt

  56. avatar
    charo June 5, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    G: For the record, I understood your posts above as what you intended – to merely try to show what tangents led you along a certain line of thought at the beginning of your journey – not to actually argue those points or even address reexamining the validity of those arguments.

    Just wanted to let you know that your message made it across as you intended to some here.

    I thought your closing point was also well stated for moving the conversation forward from here – “water under the bridge”.Agreed.

    Thanks, G. Always good to have your input. Hope you are well and have a good summer.

    charo

  57. avatar
    obsolete June 5, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

    Rickey: A few years ago a well-known singer/songwriter/producer named Lee Hazlewood died. He may have had his surname misspelled more times than any other person in the music business. You can find many records of songs which he wrote or produced wherein his surname is misspelled “Hazelwood” on the label.

    Lee Hazlewood is one of my all-time favorite musicians. Phil Spector copied the “wall of sound” from him.

  58. avatar
    roadburner June 6, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    charo: The typical young woman in 1961 would more than likely not travel to Kenya, let alone give birth there. But Ms. Dunham was of a different spirit. You can see that by an examination of her life in total. Her giving birth in Kenya would not have been as far fetched as it would have been for others her age. …

    possibly from her adventurous disposition, but simply looking ath the travel logistics for that time and taking into account she´d have been 8+ months pregnant at the time, it would have been a pretty hard journey and anything but a `quick jaunt´.

    bottom line – far fetched would be the starting point on a descending scale.

  59. avatar
    Loren June 6, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: books

    I’d also recommend “Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History” by David Aaronovitch. I just finished it, and it has some about the psychology of conspiracists and a lot about the origins of several major conspiracy theories.

  60. avatar
    bjphysics June 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Scientist: a technical violation of the Constitution (of a clause that most constitutional scholars look upon as quite dispensible)

    I have not heard this before can you provide a link to validate that “most constitutional scholars look upon [the NBC clause] as quite dispensible”?

    Thanks

  61. avatar
    Scientist June 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    bjphysics: I have not heard this before can you provide a link to validate that “most constitutional scholars look upon [the NBC clause] as quite dispensible”?

    I might have over-reached as no formal vote of schoolars has ever been taken to my knowledge..

    Here is an artiicle from Robert Post from 1995 in which he calls it “The Constitution’s worst provision”

    http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5000314324

    Let me turn the question around and ask whether you know of a lot of constiitutional scholars who defend it as having a valid purpose in 2011? Do you know of data that suggests naturalized citizens are less loyal or would necessarily make bad Presidents? The most ringing defense I’ve heard is simply a variant of Mallory’s “because it’s there”

  62. avatar
    The Magic M June 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    > but simply looking ath the travel logistics for that time

    And the fact that Mombasa was at the other end of the country compared to Obama Sr’s roots, with Nairobi in the middle. So even the birther story of “she went there to reconcile with Obama Sr and then had the baby there” does not add up.

  63. avatar
    bjphysics June 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Scientist: I might have over-reached as no formal vote of schoolars has ever been taken to my knowledge..Here is an artiicle from Robert Post from 1995 in which he calls it “The Constitution’s worst provision”http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5000314324Let me turn the question around and ask whether you know of a lot of constiitutional scholars who defend it as having a valid purpose in 2011? Do you know of data that suggests naturalized citizens are less loyal or would necessarily make bad Presidents? The most ringing defense I’ve heard is simply a variant of Mallory’s “because it’s there”

    Sci, Thanks for the link.

    I think we need a separate thread to discuss to pros and cons of the NBC provision and I’m will to do that in the next “open thread” or a thread for that purpose.

    Phyz

  64. avatar
    ballantine June 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    There have been a few law reviews on the subject, but generally, the continued vitality of the natural born requirement has not been discussed too much. I don’t think these law reviews were by any big-time scholars. There have been many, many attempts reaching way back into the early republic to do away with the requirement altogether, but obviously none have succeeded. Of course, it is pretty difficult to actually amend the Constitution and the failure to actually amend didn’t mean it didn’t have significant support

    However, I think it is telling how everyone piled upon the “McCain is eligible” bandwagon without much legal analysis at all. The fact is that no one could imagine that McCain would not be eligible no matter what the founders thought or where he was actually born. Almost no modern scholars appear to want to define such eligibility requirements narrowly as such seems to be an undemocratic and dated concept. Hence, modern scholars, and the latest court decisions, seem to look to who was a citizen at birth. One can make a plausible argument that this was the position of the founders, but I think the better argument is that it was not. Nevertheless, I do not think a court would find anyone ineligible if there was a plausible interpretation that they were eligible. Of course, no court would even question that eligibility of someone born on US soil. Eventually, however, they may have to rule on the status of persons born outside of the United States, persons the court has repeatedly said can only be made citizens by naturalization statute.

  65. avatar
    Scientist June 6, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    ballantine: There have been many, many attempts reaching way back into the early republic to do away with the requirement altogether, but obviously none have succeeded

    There was a recent attempt by Orrin Hatch, but it was seen as specifically designed for Schwarzenegger at a time when he was very popular, so Democrats didn’t jump on board (though they didn’t actively oppose it). I honestly don’t see solid arguments or data to support the natural born clause and seriouly doubt if the Constitution were being written today anyone woold be proposing such a restriction (especially without clearly defining who is and who isn’t). On a more general note, it is a simple statement of fact that the US Constitution is the oldest such document around. Most of the major democracies have Constitutions that were written in the last 30 years (except for Britain which has an unwritten one). Is having an 18th century Constitution really the best way to go forward iin the 21st century? Will it be so in the 23rd century? The 25th? Will passing an occasional amendment every 30 years (often on fairly minor matters) be enough?

    I realize this isn’t the topic here, but there really is so little left to even discuss regarding the butt ends of birtherism that maybe a thread on the subject would be worthwhile.