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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:

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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

image

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.

Age and birtherism

It’s a well known fact that older Americans tend more towards birtherism than younger ones. Why is that? Is it the result of deteriorating mental acuity? Perhaps it is something else.

According to a new study reported in the New York Times, political leaning is correlated with birth year. The explanation is that one’s political attitudes are formed most strongly in their 20’s:

[whites born in 1941] … came of age under Eisenhower, who was popular throughout his presidency. By the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, people born in the early 1940s had accumulated pro-Republican sentiment that would last their entire lifetimes. …

In contrast, people born a decade later – baby boomers – were too young to be influenced much by the Eisenhower years. Childhoods and formative years under Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon left them relatively pro-Democratic.

It is also well documented that birthers tend not to be Democrats.

The universal reconciliation of all things

I tend to think in abstractions (comes from being a math student and later a software developer). It leads to thinking about how birthers and anti-birthers are alike, and how they are different.

One theme shared by birthers and their opponents is “truth.” (We even had a commenter early on who used the name TRUTH.) I’ve enjoyed reading and using a particular formulation that would fit here:

You use this word “truth,” but I don’t think it means what you think it does.

Birthers and anti-birthers both want the other side, and the undecided, to see the “truth.” They look to the universal reconciliation, but both claim that they hold a majority view (birthers say that most people agree with them but are afraid to admit it). This is not  a recipe for reconciliation or consensus. There is a significant asymmetry here: Birthers think their opponents know the truth, their truth, while birther opponents do not think that birthers know the truth. (Actually about 25% of persons polled believe that those responding as birthers in polls so so out of dislike for Obama, and not because they are birthers.) Birthers believe in an ultimate vindication while anti-birthers do not believe in the ultimate denouement of the birthers; conspiracy theories never die.

One image that has always been attractive to me is the scene from the 1989 movie Batman where Jack Nicholson as The Joker says to Batman: “You made me. Remember?” In the story Batman “makes” the Joker by dropping Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals, but the Joker had made Batman as well when he killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Obviously anti-birthers would not exist but for birthers. Whether birther opponents contribute to birtherism is a question I haven’t answered for myself.

imageThe other DC Comics image that birthers bring to mind is the character of Bizarro from the Superman books. Bizarro is a corrupt version of Superman, somewhat of an anti-Superman. The Bizarro motto is:

Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!

The Cold Case Posse is a Bizarro version of law enforcement, for example, and Orly Taitz is a Bizarro version of an attorney. Birther forensic analysis, citizen grand juries, politicians, journalists, attorneys—all distorted and corrupted imitations of the real things.

When I was a kid, the example of the Communist was used as motivation. Communists were supposedly dedicated, motivated, and hard-working, and so by implication we had to be more so in order to defeat them. Later historical analysis showed that the Communists of the 1950’s were not uniquely dedicated or hard-working.1 I think the dedication of birthers is equally overblown, at least by themselves. They write on the Internet, but when it comes time to show up in person, it’s crickets.

A neat wrap-up would be nice, but I don’t have one. The only significant events of the birther movement were Obama’s election, twice. That’s what actually happened. The rest is noise, sometimes interesting, but as Shakespeare’s Macbeth says:

Birtherism_Small


1A Russian joke from the 1980’s goes:

So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.