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Counting crows

BirdsOnWireThe photograph at the right has been altered, but it represents something I actually saw, but didn’t have a camera to record: a long row of black birds sitting on a wire with one white bird at the end. When I saw that I was reminded of a discussion in philosophy class about proving a negative. The question was “does examining black crows shed any light on the question of whether or not there are any white crows?”1

One sees the examination of black crows in many fringe arguments, such as ones that say that the Egyptian Pyramids could not have been built without the help of space aliens because examination of some suggested construction techniques (black crows) can’t explain how they were built.

We see the examination of black crows in the Cold Case Posse report of a thousand experiments unsuccessfully trying to scan a birth certificate that results in a PDF file like that from the White House. (I don’t necessarily believe the 1,000 experiment story, but that’s beside the point.)

The first birther crow counters examined scanning software and concluded that no such software created layers, so no white crow (an authentic Obama scanned birth certificate) existed. Ivan Zatkovich (a real expert witness and not a birther) counting crows said that “[w]hen a paper document is scanned on a scanner and saved as a PDF file it normally contains only a single layer of graphical information” and concluded that the layers (of different resolutions) indicated one of the following must be the case:

1. Someone was changing the content of both the text and the stamps.
2. Someone was systematically enhancing the black text layers for legibility, and then enhancing the stamp overlays separately for legibility.

Of course everybody today acknowledges today that Zatkovich’s conclusion is spurious, since several PDF scanning and creation software packages normally create layers of different resolutions (e.g. Adobe Acrobat) through a process Adobe calls “adaptive optimization.”

More vigorous crow counting examined the “halo” effect surrounding the text on the PDF. They counted software that created halos and finding none concluded that no white crow existed. Zatkovich also made this mistake:

The PDF document was then modified in some fashion (e.g. layers, white halo).

Zatkovich concluded, however, that what he saw was consistent with modification to increase readability, not necessarily modification to deceive. Still he never found that what he saw could be an automatic optimization process in standard software. Currently, Garrett Papit repeats the halo argument in his report for the Cold Case Posse:

Optimization does not randomly add a white halo or white space beneath the text

However, he only counted black crows, and failed to find the white crow (for example this from a paper on MRC compression):

Since the selector plane is binary and the edge transitions are smooth, it is not possible to contain all the Foreground in one plane and all the Background in another. The effect in images is that of a “halo” around the text in the FG/BG planes…

A large number of other black crows have been counted by birthers and John Woodman in his book, Is Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate a Fraud? deals with these misguided efforts.

Garrett Papit for his part continues to count black crows (software that doesn’t create multiple 1-bit layers). Is there any doubt that it is just a matter of time before this one falls like the rest2? After all, we have pictures of white crows already! [Update: The software was eventually discovered, it was the firmware in a Xerox WorkCentre 7655 that the White House owns.]

image


1The answer is, by the way, that there are white (albino) crows.

2One problem is that high-end PDF software to scan and convert documents to PDF format can be rather pricy, one example over $1,200. A birther may rightly argue that I haven’t proved that the Obama certificate is legitimate. I respond that the proof is in the State of Hawaii’s verification of the documents entire content (click on the BC image for that verification). This article just documents a series of debunked claims from birthers about the long form and their continued retreat from prior positions. If I had to choose between a massive conspiracy involving the White House, the State of Hawaii an who knows who else placed against the incompetence of birther volunteer document wonks, it should be obvious what I and any rational person would choose.

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15 Responses to Counting crows

  1. avatar
    nbc August 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Nice analogy. Papit has not shown himself for some time now on ObamaBirthBook.com but I am sure he is getting the message.

  2. avatar
    richCares August 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    A document on security paper will have anomalies if scanned into a pdf format. That’s part of what the security paper does, it’s normal. It is so stupid to focus on the pdf copy while ignoring the original plus ignoring the verifications the state of Hawaii provided.
    Did the cold case posse Contact the White House to view the originals Hawaii sent – NO!
    Did the cold case posse Contact any of the reporters that saw the originals Hawaii sent – NO!
    Did the cold case posse Contact Savanah Gunthrie who saw and touched the originals –NO!
    Did the cold case posse Contact John Woodman who did an exhaustive report on this – NO!
    .
    All those NO’s mean case closed, it’s over. Focusing on the PDF copy is foolish.

  3. avatar
    gorefan August 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    nbc:
    Nice analogy. Papit has not shown himself for some time now on ObamaBirthBook.com but I am sure he is getting the message.

    He showed up here in an apparent drive-by:

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/2012/08/misteaks/#comment-205360

  4. avatar
    Sam the Centipede August 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Doc C:

    If I had to choose between a massive conspiracy involving the White House, the State of Hawaii and who knows who else placed against the incompetence of birther volunteer document wonks, it should be obvious what I and any rational person would choose.

    Not just “placed against the incompetence” but “placed against the incompetence and prejudice” – you are very (overly?) fair-minded in the way you evaluate the claims of birthers as if they were made by normal folk.

    The rest of us probably apply a more subjective and perhaps Bayesian plausibilty-based approach. I certainly assume that almost anything that the birthers assert is a lie concocted to further their racist, seditionist agenda until demonstrated otherwise. When a birther says “no halos”, I think “liar liar pants on fire” and feel no duty to investigate further.

    Which makes it great that you (and John Woodman and the others in your gang) take the time to provide the refutation.

    The dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (a corollary of a Bayesian approach, but not one that logic-based philosophers are always comfortable with) is a useful touchstone, and leads to its own corollary: treat everything a birther says as a probable lie or misrepresentation.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 7, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks for reminding me of that one. I saw it but didn’t have a chance to read it at the time. I have since replied:

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/2012/08/misteaks/#comment-205455

    gorefan: He showed up here in an apparent drive-by:

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/2012/08/misteaks/#comment-205360

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Given the birther reputation among “normals” it seems hardly worth the effort to insult them further.

    However, I would caution against your approach of dismissing birthers offhand. Every now and then they something that is true — not that means anything — but true. One can easily fall into a trap by not taking an opponent seriously, even though they usually don’t warrant it.

    Sam the Centipede: Not just “placed against the incompetence” but “placed against the incompetence and prejudice” – you are very (overly?) fair-minded in the way you evaluate the claims of birthers as if they were made by normal folk.

    The rest of us probably apply a more subjective and perhaps Bayesian plausibilty-based approach. I certainly assume that almost anything that the birthers assert is a lie concocted to further their racist, seditionist agenda until demonstrated otherwise. When a birther says “no halos”, I think “liar liar pants on fire” and feel no duty to investigate further.

  7. avatar
    Potter, J. August 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    “Garrett Papit for his part continues to count black crows (software that doesn’t create multiple 1-bit layers). Is there any doubt that it is just a matter of time before this one falls like the rest2? After all, we have pictures of white crows already!”

    Do you need examples of such PDFs? I have stated often that I have plenty …. unfortunately I don’t own the mean of production. Thus the files are not mine to share. I’m still at a loss to believe that birthers pretend such files don’t exist.

    It’s not like they are 4-leaf clovers.

  8. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 7, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    Can you say what the means of production are? Garrett will have to test them for us.

    Potter, J.: Do you need examples of such PDFs? I have stated often that I have plenty …. unfortunately I don’t own the mean of production. Thus the files are not mine to share. I’m still at a loss to believe that birthers pretend such files don’t exist.

  9. avatar
    JPotter August 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Can you say what the means of production are? Garrett will have to test them for us.

    Sure, as we know very well, PDFs dutifully report their parentage. Yeah, he would want to test it 600 times. And yes, the birther’spurts would simply shuffle along, eventually to the ultimate(?) retrenchment: “We must have our own authentic ginuwine cer-tee-fried copy of the LFBC to test!”

    I didn’t think they would be happy; I was asking if you personally needed examples to satisfy yourself. Orif your statement meant public examples were needed to burst Garrett’s bubble.

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    What I need is a road map to making my own legitimate scan that looks like Obama’s PDF.

    JPotter: I didn’t think they would be happy; I was asking if you personally needed examples to satisfy yourself. Orif your statement meant public examples were needed to burst Garrett’s bubble.

  11. avatar
    JPotter August 7, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    What I need is a road map to making my own legitimate scan that looks like Obama’s PDF.

    The most “promising looking” come from this machine:

    [xmp:CreateDate>2012-07-17T09:03:04-06:00Xerox WorkCentre 75352012-07-17T10:13:55-05:002012-07-17T10:13:55-05:00Xerox WorkCentre 7535</pdf:Producer]

    Has all the goodies …. jpeg'd background at low res, multiple higher-res 1-bitmap layers (multiple colors is needed), the halos (haloshhalosHALOS!), all the right algorithms (JBIG2, FLATEDECODE, etc).

    I made a few attempts at finding a similar model to test drive. No luck yet. And unless you're ready to buy, Xerox doesn't care. Work gets in the way of playing detective. I need to start lying.

  12. avatar
    Paper August 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    I find the way to deal with this kind of thing is to be clear about what matters. So, a birther may say something true about a PDF process, for instance, and I need not react to that point as if it is automatically wrong or a lie. It is enough to see that the context is a lie or a mistake. If beyond all reason the PDF is somehow a forgery, then the best that possibly means for birthers is that it is a forgery of accurate information as verified by Hawaii. The absurdity of such a proposition is enough by itself.

    Rabbit holes can be interesting (learn new things), but birthers like to get people all wrapped up in their rabbit holes and then forget about the trees and sky above the ground. They also like to get people wrapped up into reacting to their rabbit holes. That’s a fairly common rhetorical tactic, beyond birthers. But rabbit holes lead to rabbits, not to the masterminds of an imaginary conspiracy.

    On the other hand, Bugs Bunny probably would lead a birther to Elmer Fudd just for the fun of it.

    Sam the Centipede: When a birther says “no halos”, I think “liar liar pants on fire” and feel no duty to investigate further.

  13. avatar
    LW August 7, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    JPotter: And unless you’re ready to buy, Xerox doesn’t care.

    If the front door doesn’t work, I may be able to provide a back door. The product I’m associated with used to be an integral part of Xerox’ high end products. I was only ever tangentially involved with the Xerox relationship, but I know a couple of people who were onsite back East a good deal of the time.

    I hesitate to bug them, and have them bug their Xerox contacts in turn, for something as silly as birferism, but if nothing else pans out, it could be an option.

  14. avatar
    Keith August 8, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    In Australia we have a lot of ‘big box’ office supply stores that all have significant printing/duplicating services. I don’t know what brand they use off hand, but isn’t there something similar in the States? Shirley there must be someone with a Xerox Workcenter.

  15. avatar
    JPotter August 8, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    Keith: In Australia we have a lot of ‘big box’ office supply stores that all have significant printing/duplicating services.

    I was thinking along the same lines. So far, haven’t found any accessible to the public around here. Xerox machines are pricey. American companies are cheap. There are three companies that sell . service said machines here …. but only open during office hours … and my own employer has his own ideas about what I should be doing during those hours. So unreasonable.