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Conspiracy v. accident

Things are going along just fine and then there is a crisis, a financial bubble bursts, unemployment surges, terrorists blow up something. We live in a world saturated with information and events, and it is only natural to try to make sense of them. One writer on conspiracy theories described them as a “poor man’s sociology,” an unscientific attempt to explain things.

The two large competing popular views of why events bad happen are that events are the result of an unseen malevolent hand engaged in a conspiracy, and the other is that things are more or less accidents and screw-ups (the Forrest Gump “**IT” happens view). Neither view is correct, a priori. Indeed both could be called a poor man’s sociology (or whatever scientific discipline one wants to apply). I do no agree that there are only these two alternatives. I believe that there are predictable natural processes too.

While there is serious debunking of the moon landing hoax conspiracy theory, and the 9/11 Twin Towers controlled demolition theory, much of what appears for debunking is begging question by saying things like, “the government can’t keep a secret,” or to attack the sanity of the one presenting the theory. I prefer to limit my own application of ridicule to conspiracy theories to the really silly ones, like the guy who says that teen aged Obama teleported to a base on Mars.

Certainly in the Obama Conspiracy debunking process, we do invoke accident, such things as part of a date missing from a selective service registration, or a publicist client brochure saying Obama was born in Kenya. But invocation of an accident is not enough. It should be argued that the accident is plausible: in the case of the date stamp finding other date stamps with parts missing, and in the case of the brochure obtaining the testimony of the one who wrote it. Birthers say that the oddities in Obama’s story are so numerous as to be implausible as accidents; however, much of what birthers include in that list of oddities turn out not to be odd. One must also take into account  that massive amounts of material were sifted to come up with that list.

One of my preferred techniques is to find internal inconsistencies in the conspiracist narrative.  An example is a birther narrative that explains artifacts in Obama’s birth certificate PDF to an inept forger, while at the same time the birther narrative says Obama was out into office by the CIA who has some of the best forgers in the world. Another basic technique is to demonstrate that birther premises are false, such as their premise that no one used the phrase African American in 1961 or there was a travel ban to Pakistan in place for Americans in 1981 when Obama traveled there. Contemporary government documents blow apart both those stories.

Finally, I expect someone putting forward a conspiracy theory to offer some tangible evidence beyond a coincidence. Birthers tried that with Obama’s birth certificate, but that all fell apart under close scrutiny. If that evidence is testimony, then I expect some explanation of how the witness knows what he claims (this is where the Tim Adams story fell down), or if it is expert testimony, then I expect the witness to be an actual expert.

Insofar as Obama birthplace conspiracy theories, I think the skeptics have done a solid debunking job, and have not relied simply on skepticism and ridicule.


Dr. Deb: Hacked and tapped

I was asked the question whether the Dr. Deb (drdebdrdeb) commenter at Birther Report had accused me of hacking her email account. (I certainly didn’t hack it, and I have no reason to think anyone else did.) Dr. Deb didn’t say that I hacked her, but she did say that “Soros and tax funded Obots” hacked her and have tapped her phone and are taping her calls. Dr. Deb sees a vast conspiracy of Soros and the Obama administration that includes hacking and even murder. She says that Linda Jordan, Orly Taitz, Doug Vogt, Mike Volin, Martha Trowbridge, Joe Arpaio and Mike Zullo have had their computers hacked too and are in danger of losing their very lives.

Looking at comments at Birther Report, I find a community that will believe almost anything about alleged government misconduct. The word that comes to my mind is “traumatized” to describe their reaction to a continual onslaught of fear-laced stories about a regime that is out to get decent people. They are too traumatized to think rationally and critically about the stories they comment on. For them, government hacking of their email accounts is one of the milder points on their paranoid landscape.

The Dr. Deb hacking comment collection

November 17, 2015, posting as boomerbabe (this one looks like fallout from the Melendres contempt trial)

Look at this from the perspective of the typical American.
Granted, they already know that the Feds have all of their information.
But just imagine the revolt that will occur when they discover that the Feds hacked their emails, their online banking information and their credit cards.
Brennan and Clapper along with Barry altered Barry’s birth certificate and the witness was murdered the evening before he was to testify.
Most folks do not know that Muslims have infiltrated our government at high levels.
It is already starting to drip drip. Just check out Drudge and The Conservative Tree house.

November 14, 2015, posting as boomerbabe

Am I the only one who no longer posts here as a result of the hacking by the Soros and fed tax funded Obots?
BR, we are appreciative of all you do and we all miss posting here (and I speak for many birthers).
We hope you shall ban these haters of the free enterprise system and our stolen freedoms.

October 28, 2015, posting as boomerbabe

Nice Visualization, WTT,
For the present, it would be nice if the regime stopped hacking citizen’s email accounts and tapping their phone conversations.
You aren’t the only one who thinks Barry Soetoro is the Antichrist.
He sure acts like he is The One!
I find it fascinating how Biblical prophecy appears to be playing out.

April 13, 2015 (posting as drdebdrdeb in all following)

Glad you mentioned that about Google. What Barry accomplished via “net neutrality” NOT affects our freedom of speech.Look at what his minions did to Sheryll Atkinson1 (sic)! They hacked her computer and inserted propaganda in an attempt to frame her. They also bugged Rosen’s phone as well as the phone of his parents. This is a corrupt Chicago murderous thuggery administration. Everything Bari et al does is political.
I forgot to include that in my response to the Rat, Kitty. Thanks for the reminder.

BR commenters seem to be already to play the hack card. On November 5, 2015 BornTexas said:

Very weird. My post that you replied to is gone. So are several more.
Says site administrator is reviewing for approval. Draw your own conclusions.
Or, did someone hack the site or ID?

And Deb replied:

It happened to me also. It never happened before except when I attempted to post via TOR. Has BR been hacked?


Father Time,
I attempted to reply to you again. This time the message I received was:
Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly.
I fear that this site has been hacked or taken over.

April 16, 2014

Hey Scott,
I just checked and saw something dated today. She has been hacked by Google. I was able to view the site on Mozilla Firefox.

I am concerned about government surveillance too, and I know that the NSA did collect telecommunications metadata, probably mine along with everybody else’s, and that the USA Patriot Act allows things that I wouldn’t agree with. Still, Dr. Deb, based on her online persona, doesn’t appear to be a threat to anybody, and certainly not the Obama administration. It looks to me like she he just acting paranoid.

1Sharyl Attkisson was a CBS News reporter who claims that her personal and work computers were compromised by some unauthorized access. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General did a forensic analysis of her iMac computer, and concluded that there was no evidence of unauthorized access to her computer. Attkisson and CBS News refused to provide to the DOJ what they claimed were independent forensic reports showing unauthorized access and alteration of file stamps on logs. The video showing characters disappearing on her computer screen was likely a stuck backspace key. There was no allegation that anything had been “inserted” into it to get her into trouble.


What would you expect from a birther?

Trump’s reign of error

The Donald has been in the news recently because he has said some things that weren’t true. One was that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were in the streets cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Another was a Tweet of bogus statistics on race and crime. Trump has made so many crazy remarks that it’s hard to keep track of them—everything from tax rates, the economic benefits of fracking in Ohio, the number of women and children among Syrian refugees, Hillary Clinton as birther, unemployment numbers and on and on.

Cheering Muslims on TV?

He didn’t just make that stuff up. Such stories circulate on the Internet. Even the right-wing propaganda news site Breitbart News has debunked the Jersey City celebration story but debunking doesn’t erase the Internet. As for Trump, he doesn’t admit mistakes, rather doubling down telling George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, “It was on television. I saw it.”

Black on white crime ?

The race tweet has a citation to the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco.”


The statistics are completely bogus, for example 82% of murders of white persons were committed by white persons, not black. The “Crime Statistics Bureau” appears not to actually exist. The image of the gun-toting masked man in the bogus statistics image comes from a YouTube music video (that may be in Arabic—not sure):



Twitter was the source of the image Trump Tweeted, according to blogger Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs passed on from a guy with a modified swastika for his avatar.


Social Media

I see junk like this all the time on social media (especially Facebook). Trump himself seems to be trending downward on Facebook:



It is disturbing is that a prominent public figure running for president of the United States cannot be bothered to check his facts, even though he can easily have people check them for him. A president has advisors, but Trump seems to think he needn’t consult his before smearing large groups of people.

But remember, Donald Trump is a birther. What would you expect from a birther?

Read more:


To err is human

I was listening to a public radio commentary about reactions the Paris shootings, and someone said something to the effect that “our lizard brains make us afraid.”1

imageOne of my all-time favorite books is Bruce Schneier’s “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World” (2003). In the book, Schneier points out that we tend to fear dangers that are rather unlikely, and not fear ones that we should be more concerned about. In years past my church has put on a live nativity scene at Christmas. It’s a nativity scene with real animals and people. Folks in the community can drive by and see it, or stop and get out of their cars. We haven’t done it lately because we’re lacking in volunteer leadership, but an objection was raised against restarting the activity because of “all the shootings.” Someone participating in the event is more likely to be killed in a traffic accident caused by an impaired driver than from getting shot in our peaceful part of town. Rather than installing security cameras, we might ensure the safety of our children more by, as one local church did, putting up posters about childhood obesity.

Humans instinctively do some things wrong. We overestimate our chances of winning the lottery for example. We overestimate the dangers of a horrific event. We overestimate our knowledge of things we know little about, and underestimate our knowledge of things we know a lot about. We evaluate evidence more favorably when it agrees with what we already believe and discount what doesn’t. These are all well-documented human traits. My concern is that not only do I know these things, but also those who would manipulate public opinion know these things. (My lizard brain makes me afraid.)

Many political leaders in the US are reacting to the Paris incident by demanding a stop to the resettlement of Syrian refugees, and other anti-immigrant measures. Islam as a religion is being called incompatible with American values (three-quarters of Republicans say this). When I heard a brief statement that Donald Trump was calling for registration of Muslims and ID cards for them, I immediately thought he was playing the “fear card” and images of the Third Reich came to mind (and apparently I wasn’t the only one with this reaction).

It is my unverified opinion that knowing about the errors in human thinking helps one avoid them. I say “helps avoid” not “prevents.” I’ve tried to understand myself and my own errors in thinking and judgment (what I call my “failure modes”) at least since high school. (Mr. Spock was a role model.) I don’t know how well I’ve done, but at least it is a constant theme. I took psychology in high school, but I do not remember anything about errors in judgment being covered, so if I would offer any change in public policy, it would be to teach such things in school.

Because I see my own irrational reactions,and my own errors in judgment, I am a little more prone to cut birthers some slack. Birthers are not that way because they are just mean SOB’s—they are human.

1A The “lizard brain” is a primitive region of the human brain, similar to that found in reptiles. It’s responsible for fear responses. Oddly, searching for “lizard brain” on the Internet most often leads to self-help material on how to succeed.


The universe-shattering list of missing evidence

Lacking any direct statement from Mike Zullo, we must resort to inference as to what his “universe-shattering” information was.

Mike Zullo’s de facto spokesperson Carl Gallups Tweeted on November 22, 2013, “BREAKING! BREAKING! BREAKING!  ANNOUNCED TODAY – Zullo: We have universe-shattering information PLUS: Arpaio is [‘fully engaged’ and was going to make something happen on this matter very soon.]” This is the month after Zullo and Arpaio met with Tim Blixseth and learned about Dennis Montgomery, and the month when Montgomery went onto the MCSO confidential informant payroll.

Gallups more recently said on his Freedom Friday program May 15, 2015:

And so read the article and please remember this: these CIA documents that are being spoken of in this investigation, this court case, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t make this stuff up. This stuff was uncovered through investigation, and you remember all this started with the birth certificate investigation. OK. That’s why Zullo some time back was talking about how this thing, why this thing was going deep and dark and why there were some legal loopholes and hurdles they had to jump over and earth shattering information and evidence coming forth. Well you’re starting to wade around the edges of it now. The edges of it. Go read that article. Read between the lines. Hear what I’m saying. Remember what Zullo said. So folks this is what we were trying to tell you a long time ago. This is dark, and it gets deep and it’s gonna get deeper and probably darker, so you’re going to want to pay attention to this. Whatever we can tell you, we will as we move along.

The article he refers to is a report on ABC 15 TV in Arizona about Arpaio and confidential informant Dennis Montgomery.

Mike Zullo downplays what Gallups knows and conclusions that might be drawn, saying to Sharon Rondeau who runs the Post & Email site:

People need to slow down. You don’t have every audiotape or videotape that was ever produced. You do not have the full story in context. The only people who are going to know what transpired as far as this certificate is concerned is going to be me and Montgomery. Nobody else can speak to this, and they shouldn’t.

Nevertheless, we know from emails made public as part of the Melendres v. Arpaio lawsuit that Dennis Montgomery was working on the Birth Certificate for Mike Zullo, and that Zullo’s Cold Case Posse had purchased an expensive video card for Montgomery and paid him $10,000 for something. We also know that Montgomery was excusing delays in delivering the birth certificate information because of something to do with three versions of Adobe software that had to be used.

Most recently, a March 27, 2014, list from MCSO Detective Brian Mackiewicz of demands from the Arpaio team to Dennis Montgomery has appeared in court documents. (March of 2014 was also the month Zullo had talked about for the never-delivered “March reveal” that birthers looked forward to with such great expectations.) Mackiewicz said that this list contained items Montgomery promised to provide pursuant to his “Free Talk Agreement” with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

PX 2922 2014-03-27 List 2 (Mackiewicz List) by Jack Ryan

The list references birth-certificate-related items: “Birth Certificate analysis for fraud,” “prove three different software versions were used on BC,” “provide proof CIA watermarks are contained in BC doc” and “provide other known CIA unrelated docs that contain same watermarks.”

On October 28, 2015, Mackiewicz testified that Montgomery never did provide any of this material. Zullo never revealed his universe-shattering information. Arpaio and his NSA consultants said the Montgomery information that was provided was

‘junk”and a total fraud. Zullo never backed down in his public pronouncements, attributing the delays to “legal hurdles,” and he remained, apparently, a true believer to the end, writing to Dennis Montgomery May 22, 2015:

Dennis I want you to know that I do believe you have what you say and if I ever have to testify that is exactly what I’m going to say.

Look, what is that dark mass rushing across the highway?

Sins, like chickens, come home to roost. - Charles W. Chesnutt

Jack Ryan Collections:


Corsi pre-debunked

Corsi is back with his silly story that Obama wears an Islamic wedding ring, him being married to his college Pakistani (male) roomate. Of course, anyone can see that Obama’s ring does not have an Arabic inscription, but rather is just a series of loops.

“Altered” claims Corsi, today to Alex Jones on his InfoWars program (reported by Right Wing Watch):

As he told “InfoWars” host Alex Jones in a segment today, fittingly titled “Obama Is A Muslim Radical Who Hates America,” the White House altered Obama’s ring following Corsi’s major scoop!

Corsi’s major scoop was October 10, 2012. It just so happened that Barack Obama visited Asheville, North Carolina a year earlier, October 17, 2011. I was there taking pictures, and I got excellent shots of Obama, his hands and his ring. So despite the claims of Corsi that the ring was altered after his “scoop,” I know for sure that the ring was just the same before Corsi’s scoop. My article with the photos also included another from 2009 from The Free Republic.

Note: my photos from Asheville debunked another Internet rumor: that Obama had removed the US Flag from Air Force 1.