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This is the way March ends

not with a bang but a whimper

Weather lore says that March comes in like a like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Applied to birtherism, March came in with bluster and high expectations of the great denouement of the “O-bots,” the shattering of their universe. Here on the last day of March, let’s take stock of the month:

  • Orly Taitz endorsed by Pastor Manning, only to find herself joined at the hip with his homophobic street sign
  • Tea Party Nation repudiates Taitz claim of endorsement
  • CalGuns repudiates Taitz claim of endorsement
  • Michael Shrimpton video gets no traction
  • FBI evidence of theft by threat, witness tampering and felony obstruction of justice by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office reported
  • Former Cold Case Posse member Brian Reilly describes unprofessionalism within the Cold Case Posse
  • Congressmen Labrador and Huelskamp express disinterest in Sheriff Joe investigation
  • Doug Vogt’s mysterious “friendly judge” does not come through
  • McInnish appeal denied by Alabama Supreme Court (7 – 2)
  • Larry Klayman faces Bar disciplinary action in DC
  • Birther Walter Fitzpatrick III jailed
  • Birther Lucas Daniel Smith reportedly jailed in the Dominican Republic
  • More delays in Taitz’ Mississippi lawsuit, strengthening Defense case for sanctions
  • Supreme Court declines to hear Robert Laity appeal.
  • Birther Report doesn’t go live with its new super secure server
  • No announcement from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office about an Obama investigation
  • No press conference, charges, investigative reports, or anything else of substance from Mike Zullo and the Cold Case Posse
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average up 136 points for the month of March
  • Universe pretty much the same

Check out my 2009 poem, “We are the Birthers.”

Now, let’s play the birther theme song!

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Birther eschatology

Many moons ago I taught high school students in Sunday School. It was an exceptional group. One of the most popular features of the class was the weekly $5 or $10 word, some fancy theological term that I would explain, and then they would feel good about knowing something their parents didn’t (except for our pastor’s kid). The $5 words were shorter or simpler than the $10 words. “Eschatology” was one those $10 words.

Eschatology is the branch of theology dealing with the end of the world. Modern evangelical Christians use the phrase “end times,” and Birthers have been using the phrase “universe shattering” of late. I introduced this month with an article titled, “Birther apocalypse,” and I will end it on a similar theme.

Of course today is the last day of March, the last possible day for the birther’s anticipated “Universe-shattering March Reveal.” Nothing happened on the Carl Gallups radio show last Friday, and I haven’t heard of any press conferences scheduled for today. I think it safe to say that March will end without the universe being shattered.

If interested, you can click back to my 2012 article, “The Long Form and the Great Disappointment,” for a quick look at an apocalyptic Christian sect called the Millerites and how their predictions of the end of the world didn’t pan out. That group fell apart after a couple of bad predictions. The modern Jehovah’s Witnesses were influenced by the Millerite tradition. They predicted the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth to occur in 1914. They postponed the date a few times, converted it into some sort of heavenly event, and then quietly gave up on dates.

The birthers, like Christians in general, have been undaunted by multiple failures of predicting future events. Christians have come up with literally hundreds of date predictions for the end of the world, as far back as 4th century. Birthers have been saying “any day now” for 5 years. Specific Christian sects do not seem to survive more than a couple of failed dates—new dates come from new sects. Birthers, however, don’t seem to have any limit for disappointment. It almost seems that Mike Zullo  can get away with an infinite number of failed promises. Perhaps the difference is that he’s never quite specific, whereas Christian apocalyptic prophets set dates, or maybe birthers aren’t really all that committed to Zullo in the first place and so the disappointment is less.

There are obvious parallels between Christian and Birther eschatology, and some differences. One parallel is in the righting of injustice and the vindication of the righteous. Christians look to the final judgment of the wicked and birthers look to Obama being removed from office and convicted of a crime. They look towards universal recognition that they were right all along.

Another parallel is the punishment of their enemies. The Christian Book of Revelation described the ultimate end of Satan:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
(ESV) Rev 12:9

and

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
(ESV) Rev 20:15

The birther parallel to Satan’s angels is what the Birthers would call “O-bots.” They look to the execution of Obama for treason, bringing to Mind LoneStar1776’s YouTube video, “Public beheading.” The O-bots are destined for a similar fate.

Where Birthers and Christians differ is that following the travail of the end of the world, a time of joy results:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
(ESV) Rev 21:4

By contrast, the extreme right wing seems to be married to perpetual doom, no matter what happens. When Obama leaves office, they’ll just latch onto something else that’s destroying the world.

Dr. Conspiracy’s Guide to Eschatology

Christian Birther
Satan NWO Banksters
The Beast / Antichrist Barack Obama
The Whore of Babylon Ann Dunham
The Devil’s angels Obots
The Day of the Lord Universe Shattering
The Lake of Fire Federal prison
The Messiah Mike Zullo
The Church The Birthers
The Great Tribulation The Collapse of the US Economy and race riots
The faithful acknowledge Jesus is the Son of God The faithful acknowledge Obama is the son of Frank Marshall Davis
Heaven / The New Jerusalem (no corresponding concept)
The Scroll that only the Lamb of God was worthy to unroll The Reed Hayes Report
144,000 The number of birthers
The three plagues that killed 1/3 of mankind ObamaCare, ObamaCare and ObamaCare
The Rider on the White Horse Joe Arpaio
The Last Judgment Alabama Supreme Court decision in McInnish TBA

Feature: Intro to birthers

I’ve added a new item to the Features menu: “Intro to birthers.” I realized that some people arrive to the story late and may not know what birthers are about, so I wrote a brief outline and history.

It will probably be enlarged in the future.

Occam’s birther

I suppose the most straightforward explanation of what birthers do is that they do it because they are birthers, rather than for some other more complicated reason.

So does Mike Zullo really believe his own evidence? The most straightforward answer is yes, and that his continued delays reflect a belief that eventually his investigation will come together and that he will someday get somewhere. Saying that Zullo believes his own theories does not make Zullo a good and virtuous person, it doesn’t mean that he responsibly uses the money the Cold Case Posse receives and it doesn’t mean that he is always truthful.

By the same token, the most straightforward view of Douglas Vogt’s appeal to the US Supreme Court is that he believes that the law requires a judge to give him access to a grand jury and that his forensic foray is sound research. He may hope to benefit from the publicity in book sales, but that’s not the primary motivation.

And finally the most straightforward view of Birther Report’s recent fundraising effort for a new server is really based on a real belief that they could be shut down at the whim of the Obama Administration and that owning their own server prevents that. The delay in implementing the new server comes from the difficulty in getting someone to configure it, or that they haven’t come up with enough money to pay for the services—and not because the whole thing was a scam.

Of course, the most straightforward explanation is not always right.

Studying the birthers

debunking helps

A new report. “Echoes of a Conspiracy: Birthers, Truthers, and the Cultivation of Extremism.” has been published in the January-March edition of the journal Communication Quarterly by university researchers Benjamin R. Warner and Ryan Neville-Shepard studying the effects of the media on belief in conspiracy theories. Two theory types were selected for the study: birthers and truthers (9/11 conspiracy theorists).

In the study, carried out separately for truther beliefs and birther beliefs, subjects were exposed only to the conspiracy theory or the conspiracy theory plus debunking material or just unrelated stuff. Their level of belief was measured before and after. The study tested what we often call the “echo chamber” in comparison to more open competition of ideas. Media included magazine/newspaper reports, videos and blog comments (alas not from here).

The results were, to say the least, surprising.

First, among birther material, debunking was markedly effective in reducing belief, unlike the truther results where belief increased even when debunked. In the real world birthers tend to be conservative and truthers liberal, but in this study belief change proved unrelated to party affiliation, suggesting partisan filtering was less a factor.

I was interested in the criteria for measuring birther belief. They used three statements that mirror definition of a birther:

  • President Barack Obama was born inside the United States (Reversed);
  • Obama’s birth records were faked to cover up his Kenyan birth;
  • Obama is not constitutionally eligible to be president because of his birth status.

There were 147 participants in the birther study, aged 17-30, were recruited from universities (in Missouri and Indiana). It would be interesting to see of the results held for the older, less educated individuals who make up a disproportionate share of actual birthers.

The Science 2.0 web site has an article about the study, and I left the following comment there (the only one so far):

Birthers on average are less educated and older than the persons selected for the study here. It certainly would be interesting to see how folks of another generation and outside universities respond.

Probably the most interesting result to me was that political affiliation didn’t affect the results, suggesting that partisan filtering was not a factor; however, in order to hear the debunking message, one has to be exposed to it, and the folks who frequent Alex Jones or Atlas Shrugs 2000 are not going to be listening to CNN.

Birther addiction

imageThe closest thing I can come up with for such irrational optimism is gambling, only in the case of the lottery, somebody wins. The birthers will never win.

– Dr. Conspiracy, June 2013

I have a collection of insights that help me make decisions and through which I try to make sense of the world. One of those insights is the addictive nature of intermittent reinforcement1, thought to be a mechanism behind gambling addiction. Intermittent reinforcement (sometimes behavior is rewarded, and sometimes not) can be more effective than positive reinforcement in animal models. I apply this principle in understanding primitive religion (throw maiden into volcano to make the crops grow next season), to risky speculative financial behavior2, and to my own hope that someday I will break even playing Windows Solitaire.

Michael Shermer’s book The Believing Brain explains the conspiracy theory phenomenon through the physiology of the brain and how particular regions of the brain carry out tasks such as pattern recognition and nonsense rejection. (Conspiracy theorists have too much of the former and not enough of the latter.) I think, however, that intermittent reinforcement may also be significant in understanding the extremes of birtherism.

My opening quotation goes against my thesis in that it suggests that birthers are never rewarded, but that isn’t true. Then never win in court, and they never win presidential elections, but they certainly feel like they win or they anticipate winning. Is not the expectation of a reward a happy thought, a reinforcement in and of itself? Orly Taitz often reads signs of victory. In 2009, Taitz misinterpreted something from Judge Carter and proclaimed that her lawsuit would would go to trial on the merits, which would have been vindication for Taitz, and just recently Taitz read into a dismissal from a Maryland judge a promise of a favorable outcome. Sheriff Arpaio’s involvement with Obama’s birth certificate was hailed widely by birthers as the certain undoing of Obama and Zullo/Gallups do everything they can to foster anticipation. It seems to me that the roller coaster swings between exuberant optimism and loss, experienced by the birthers, mirrors the feelings of a gambler’s winning and losing.

This brings me to a September 2013 article by Cody Robert Judy, birther litigant and presidential candidate, titled “The Birthers are Losers! The Birthers Are Winners!” Despite some misinformation about ObamaCare, the article is pretty mainstream. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually have any examples of birthers winning. Never mind. :oops:

Even blogging can be a response to intermittent rewards, when some articles are well-received and some barely commented on. There’s that anticipation of one big scoop.


1I always called it “variable rewards.”

2I just finished an audio book project (as a proof checker) of The Three Clerks by Anthony Trollope, which contains the story of a young man ruined by speculation.