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Birtherism as “make believe”

Over the years, I have attempted to find models to help me understand birthers. There are learned papers on the subject of conspiracy theory from the disciplines of history, psychology and political science. (Some of those are linked in my bookmarks, and some of the books are listed among the recommended one on the sidebar.)

Today as I was replying a comment at Gerbil Report™ about anti-birthers (Obots) who they say are now working with Mike Zullo and providing him with valuable information, I felt a sense of déjà vu. This was the comment from FatherTime (grammar errors in the original):

I’ve been watching this all day and I find it funny how Dr. C comes out first to challenge that no Obot has flip. Of all the Obots it was Dr. C.

I didn’t know but I have heard our good Dr. C was the one who flip but I’m sure he don’t want his follower Obots to know this. He also protest too much if he had not flip with his Challenged.

I may not have known before but now I’m sure Dr. C is the one who flip. Now I want to know who the other Obot is?

Upon reflection, the sense of familiarity comes from my early childhood, from fantasy games we played. They were so very much like the comments at Birther Report (albeit BR is much nastier than any kids I ever knew). These games consisted of some kind of fantasy scenario (army men, cowboys and Indians, Zorro) where we made up the story as we went along. In these stories we would sometimes dispute things, things completely contained within our completely made-up scenario. Sometimes we could get very angry in these disputes.  Birthers play games like army men, Perry Mason and CSI. We didn’t call them “role playing games” back then; our term was “make believe.”

The test of a model is whether it is predictive and whether actually provides value. I have a feeling that I’m going to have more peace of mind dealing with birthers at BR if I view them as adult children playing make believe.

6

Disgusted birther leaves country

Paul Irey (pictured right) knows how to use a typewriter, but not so much how typewritten documents are converted into electronic documents through scanning and image processing. His biased pseudo-expert analysis of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and other documents has been foundational in several birther lawsuits, such as those by Douglas Vogt and Orly Taitz. Most recently he has weighed in on behalf of Chris Strunk in the ongoing attempt to revive his 2012 suit against the New York Board of elections. (Nothing Irey could say can remedy Stunk’s lack of standing.)

Charles Kerchner has published an email from Irey in which he says [italics replaced by underscores]:

Meanwhile I am leaving the country to reside elsewhere.  I may stay out of the country regardless of the outcome of my efforts … as our national problems are not all caused by this present usurper … that to me seem impossible to solve … mainly due to the tightly controlled media that prevents information such as I have described here from ever reaching you.  Fear is not the reason for my leaving.  It is disgust with the amazing amount of corruption and disregard for our constitution … and the likelihood of serious “fundamental” changes in the future.

One has to note with irony the fact that the “information” that Irey says is suppressed is being discussed right now on this Internet web site.

I had the opportunity to talk to Irey when he appeared on the RC Radio show way back in 2011. I found him a sincere fellow who was totally unable to see straight when it came to looking at evidence about Obama. He said he knew Obama’s birth certificate was a fake before he even looked at it!

I suspect that reinforcement from folks like Strunk, Vogt, Kerchner and perhaps rightwing nut job web sites, trying to outdo each other in exaggeration of their imagined usurpation of the US presidency, has gotten Irey so worked up that he’s actually leaving the country. If he’s leaving for negative reasons, then I feel sorry for him.

One of the great insights in my life is “it’s not about me.” That principle guides me away from making grand symbolic statements, such as leaving when some people don’t act the way I think they should. The proper response is to engage those I disagree with and work to change things. Irey has the right to his politics and his view on how the country ought to run, even though I think he is 100% wrong on some of his conclusions about President Obama. Irey’s leaving the country isn’t going to change anything, and is a futile gesture.

29

Birther cop in Ferguson

The Americans Against the Tea Party have a couple of interesting videos up. The first shows citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, including CNN reporter Don Lemon, being pushed off the sidewalk by police. The officer involved has been identified as Dan Page, and Page is a birther—that is evident from the second video where Page says President Obama “was born in Kenya.” He doesn’t like blacks, Muslims and gays either.

Following the video, characterized by several news outlets as a “racist rant,” going viral on the Internet, Page was suspended from the St. Louis Police Department.

Mr. Page is being inducted into the Birthers from A to Z list.

Read more:

Jesse Ventura, birther?

imageWill I have to add James George Janos (aka Jesse Ventura) to the Birthers from A to Z list? The former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler has launched a podcasting series, “We the People,” and in the first episode, he covers the birther issue, according to the online edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

During the premiere episode last week, Ventura interviewed [Adam] Carolla and discussed the Pope and the birther issue.1

Minnesota-themed web site Vita.mn goes further to say:

Yes, you read that right. He still has questions about the birther issue.

Ventura has been a guest on the Alex Jones InfoWars show, and Ventura hosted a series of programs titled “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura,” covering everything from reptiles in the British monarchy to HAARP.

But is Ventura a birther? None of the news stories cited above actually link to the podcast, but I do:

So on the question of whether Ventura is a birther or not, I found this smoking gun. In a discussion of the recent Rasmussen poll on conspiracy beliefs, Ventura says:

It’s not shocking to me that Republicans, like in this survey, believe that Barack Obama wasn’t born here, well, because they want to. It gives them an excuse then, if they believe that. They’re anti-Obama and it reinforces their belief.

Jesse Ventura doesn’t sound like a birther to me. He does say, as a general proposition, that questioning the official story is “healthy and good.”


1Note that Ventura does not discuss the Pope and birthers with Adam Carolla, but before the Carolla segment.

Birther Trek: Concepts

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In our five-year mission to seek out comprehension of the Birther Universe (BirtherVerse), I have come across quite a number of interesting concepts. In this late-stage retrospective, I’ll reprise some of them.

One of the most useful of the concepts I learned studying the birthers is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In the simplest terms, the less someone knows, the more they think they know (and vice versa). This error in valuation of expertise underlies much of a birther’s view of evidence, and explains why someone with no experience in forensic document examination, or electronic file analysis, thinks that they are competent to render an 100% certain opinion on Barack Obama’s birth certificate. This human foible is not unique to birthers, and I find myself fighting it every day. I think that knowing how one makes mistakes helps reduce the number of them.

Another fun concept is the Crazification Factor, an observation that a significant number of people (sometimes set at 27%) just say crazy things. I was going to say that it explains really odd polling results, but I don’t think it actually explains anything. It is just an observation, and because of it, the numbers of birthers shouldn’t be seen as surprising. Human beings are just less rational than they seem on the surface.

Another idea that I found helpful was the influence of community. Birthers who believe crazy things seem deluded. Delusions have three characteristics: 1) they are believed with certainty, 2) they do not respond to counterargument, and they are patently untrue. A clinical diagnosis of delusion has an exception, and that is when the delusion is held by one’s community or sub-culture, such as birther Internet social networks. (I think sub-culture is useful in understanding the bizarre comments at Birther Reports that would be socially unacceptable in general.) On that same line, historian Richard Hofstadter describes a “paranoid style” of thinking that is not actually clinically paranoid. Paranoid style thinking differs from paranoid thinking in that the subject thinks that the conspiracy is out to get everybody, not just him.

I suppose no discussion of birthers would be complete without mentioning confirmation bias. Put simply people tend to more readily accept information that is in line with what they already believe, and to reject information to the contrary. Again, this is a weakness we all have to some degree and being aware of it can help avoid mistakes.

Are you blogging more… But enjoying it less?

Borrowing an advertising slogan from Camel cigarettes, I introduce this research article about the Orly Taitz web site. I have never fully trusted poll numbers on birthers because a poll respondent does not necessarily tell the truth, nor do polls measure birther enthusiasm. One other source for information comes from the public participation on birther blogs.

I have published site statistics from this blog covering the past 3 years, and at the present time interest measured in page views on this blog is on the decline. What about birther sites? Generally birther web sites do not publish their activity statistics. Orly Taitz has a page hit counter2 of dubious value, and as of last month, verified numbers from her site are available at Alexa.com, but there is no historical data.

One way to value site engagement is to look at comments1, and while it is tedious to do, it is possible to count comments on a WordPress blog by crawling the entire site, and this is what I have done for Orly’s blog. Here’s the result  from March of 2010 to the present:

TaitzComments

The high point is January of 2013, the month Barack Obama began his second term as president. Of course any measure of comments at the Taitz site is affected by her moderation policy and the fact that she deletes comments and articles. Also this doesn’t account for any technical errors in my data-gathering software, or historical data loss.

Just for comparison, here are the comment numbers for my site added for the same period:

WebComments

Given statistics that suggest Taitz has twice the number of page views than here, the relatively small number of comments is really striking.


1Most blog visitors do not comment, so comment numbers don’t equal visits, but comment numbers can be studied over time. One thing of note is that visitors here have more to say about the articles than they do at Orly’s site. While the average article here has about 65 comments, the number there is around 4. Of course Taitz has many times the number of articles that I do.

2The Taitz hit counter first appeared in November of 2011 with an initial value around 22,518,751. Here is a chart roughly showing monthly values over the prior month using historical values from the Wayback Machine:

TaitzHits

While her comment totals are tapering off the past few months, her hit counter seems to be trending up.