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It’s better to light a candle than to curse the birthers

HabitatRoofI didn’t go out intentionally to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy today, beyond titling the Open Thread, but if I had, I don’t think that I could have made a better choice than what I actually spent the day doing, helping to put shingles on a roof with Habitat for Humanity.

I was first motivated to look into Habitat through the influence of someone I greatly respect, former president Jimmy Carter. Now that I’m retired, I have more opportunities to get out and work on the houses, not just on Saturdays.

Besides getting involved in community service projects with Habitat, Civitan International and my church, I have also come to a greater appreciation for the importance of local government. To be honest, I’ve pretty much been involved in politics only every 4 years during the presidential race. The shenanigans  in my local town government, a scandal that just keeps on giving, have made it clear that local government won’t just work itself out if left alone.

So I think that the best way to remember and honor those who lost their lives on 9/11 is to serve our own communities in their place.

Note: The original title of the article was “It’s better to light a candle than to curse Obama,” a title directed at birthers. Then the title became “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the Republicans.” That second one is probably the one I would address to myself. But, this is a blog largely about birthers, so I put them in the title instead.



I failed to note two important anniversaries yesterday. I was reminded of the first by Bill Bryan via Twitter. It was the 6th anniversary of the first birther Obama eligibility lawsuit, Berg v. Obama, filed August 21, 2008.

The second is the 55th anniversary of statehood for Hawaii, admitted to the union August 21, 1959. I remember the year well because as a child I had a phonograph record titled “59 Anthology” from the Longines-Wittnauer company. Alaska became a state that year too. It was also the year the Russians crashed a rocket on the Moon, and when the Dali Lama fled Tibet.

Dr. Conspiracy, sworn peace officer?

iVotronic voting machine with standToday is the day of the historic election to decide the future form of government for our town. Vote “Yes” signs are all over. It’s 6:25 AM as I type this and, if all is going according to schedule, election managers have been at the town hall for 10 minutes already setting up the iVotronic voting machines, putting up signs, making sure that the site is physically accessible for everyone and preparing for the thousands of potential voters who will decide our town’s future.

In South Carolina, election managers are sworn peace officers with full powers to enforce election laws within the polling places. I have been seriously considering trying to become one of them. I am told that county-wide we are short 300 people. The pay is not all that good, $60 for a 14-hour day (and another $60 for attending training), but is is a civic duty and a public good to serve.

Negativity merchants

I just saw this in our Twitter feed:


This comes on the heels of a hilarious August 7 segment on Colbert Nation on the Ebola panic that makes the serious point that an Ebola outbreak is something we’re being told to be afraid of, even though no one has come down with Ebola in the United States yet.


All of this gives some context for a new university study published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences that says that conservatives tend to be more responsive to negative news than liberals. refers to the study in their July 29 article, “Secrets of the right-wing brain: New study proves it—conservatives see a different, hostile world.

The more nuanced journal article (which unlike Salon doesn’t mention birthers) says:

…A rapidly growing body of empirical evidence documents a multitude of ways in which liberals and conservatives differ from each other in purviews of life with little direct connection to politics, from tastes in art to desire for closure and from disgust sensitivity to the tendency to pursue new information, but the central theme of the differences is a matter of debate. In this article, we argue that one organizing element of the many differences between liberals and conservatives is the nature of their physiological and psychological responses to features of the environment that are negative. Compared with liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them.

Birther and DOCTOR

A comment by The Magic M about birthers failing a Turing Test, set me to thinking. I am old enough to remember when this was still topical. ELIZA was a computer script written by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT designed to imitate a human psychiatric patient. DOCTOR was another program  designed to make responses like a Rogerian psychotherapist. The programs didn’t understand much and the natural language processing was primitive. When the two programs processed each other’s responses, sometimes the exchanges would get pretty funny as I recall. Here is a fairly tame example from the Wikipedia:

Birthers are a lot better at natural language processing than these early computer scripts, but in terms of an insightful response, they are sometimes no better. For example, I tried to explain why I disagree with birthers. I said:

You may recall Jerry Collette, the author if the DIY Ballot Challenge. He brought a case in Florida. I exchanged emails with him, and got to know him a little. Because I respected the fellow, I took some time to explain exactly why I thought what he was doing was wrong-headed. In the article I wrote for him, I detailed at length why I think birthers are misinformed, and why I have arrived at an opposite conclusion.

If you’re interested, the link is here. It’s off topic to dump it all here.

And in reply I got this:

STOP. mmmkay.

We’ve been usurped. We’re being coup’d. And you foster it. cultivate it. promote it. want it.


Take care.

Given the lack of creativity of birther responses, one might well use DOCTOR in responding to them, such as in response the preceding:

How did you feel about being usurped?

A Rogerian dialog with a real birther is something I’ve wanted to do, but never had an opportunity for an extended exchange.

I get more responsive replies sometimes, but “Why do you hate America?” or “Are you an American” or “That’s Obot disinformation” are what seems more common. Certainly many of those responses could have been easily scripted. Oh, and the gerbils.