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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:

The war on Islam

This title was carefully selected and I hope readers will get the point from what follows.

Barack Obama didn’t release his birth certificate in 2008 to prove he was not born in Kenya; he released it to counter the equally silly claim that his middle name was Mohammed amid stories that he was Muslim. Since that time and up to the present video from Wayne Allyn Root, the claim has been leveled against Barack Obama that he is Muslim and not Christian.

While Obama doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, it’s no secret that he attended a Christian church. At an Easter prayer breakfast in 2011 [link to entire remarks]:

I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason — because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection — something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective

I know about the text because it was quoted by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America presiding bishop Mark Hanson. That, and what accompanied it, did not sound like it came from a Muslim. To Muslims, Jesus was a prophet, not divine. Continue Reading →

Fox News leads media blackout of Operation American Spring

I ran a Google query to find out what Fox News Channel is saying about Operation American Spring. They aren’t saying anything–the only hits were from Fox Radio’s token liberal, Alan Colmes.

I will admit that sometimes Fox News makes editorial decisions based on its Republican bias, but in the case of Operation American Spring, I think that the lack of coverage at Fox (and CNN and MSNBC and the hometown Washington Post) is not a matter of editorial bias, but that it’s just not a real story. I even checked the US Capitol Police web site, and there’s nothing there about OAS.

It’s always useful to keep in mind the difference between real law enforcement, real lawyers, real forensic document examiners and real journalists—compared to citizen bloggers like me.1 I expect that real journalists have made some calls to people in the know to find out whether there is anything to “Operation American Spring” beyond some web sites and social media. The fact that there’s no media coverage probably means that they have found that there’s no national mobilization and that there is going to be no event of note. If even 10,000 protesters were coming, not to mention the 10 million fantasy league fans, it would be big news.

Dog bites man v. Man bites dog

I understand that there is somebody in front of the White House protesting something every day, so that in and of itself protest is not news. In order to be news, something special is required, such as the presence of a celebrity, like actress Maria Conchita Alonzo.

image

Organizers

One cannot argue with the fact that Obama supporters can organize. They make phone calls, they knock on doors, they raise big money, and they motivate people. I get the impression that the right-wing types behind Operation American Spring are more in line with the movie cliché, “if you build it, they will come.” Reports on OAS web sites say that they haven’t even applied for demonstration permits (required for groups of 20 or more).2 They say that the 10,000,000 people coming will not be in groups that large—sounds to me like a lame excuse for a lack of organization.

Of course, the Operation American Spring folks aren’t building anything, but rather are trying to tear something down, something that for all it’s failings, is much beloved by my country folk: the Constitution, the ballot and the rule of law. Most Americans don’t want to be Egypt.


1It’s also worth noting the difference between real community organizers and keyboard astroturfers.

2Here, by the way, are the areas where demonstrations are permitted.

Speculation on the Hayes report

or

Is handwriting analysis a science?

One of my favorite anecdotes regards the emperor of China. So the story goes, a controversy arose as to the length of the emperor’s nose, a question hard to answer because no one outside the court had ever seen the emperor, and those who had seen the emperor were forbidden to speak of the emperor’s visage. So it was decided that the people of China would be polled to decide the question. Untold millions were asked the length of the emperor’s nose and the results were tabulated, giving a final figure precise to 7 decimal places.

Since Mike Zullo, the only one besides Reed Hayes who is reported to have seen his report on Obama’s  birth certificate, isn’t sharing it, and has reportedly even copyrighted it, I feel a little like one of those Chinese subjects surveyed about the emperor’s nose when talking about the Hayes Report.

Unlike the emperor’s nose, we have a little bit to go on, some comments by Reed Hayes on a notorious murder case noted by a commenter1 here.

I was not a follower of the JonBenét Ramsey murder case but a little boning up at the Wikipedia (they need money by the way) yielded the necessary background. A central element of the story was a handwritten ransom note left at the Ramsey home. Speculation abounded as to who had written the note. A grand jury determined that sufficient evidence existed to charge the parents of child abuse leading to death, but the district attorney refused to sign the indictment (this only learned in 2013), and there remains unmatched DNA evidence pointing to an unknown male (along with an unmatched palm print and a pubic hair).

The ransom note had to be a magnet for every graphoanalyst and graphoanalyst wannabe and Reed Hayes proved no exception and here we get into the question of whether handwriting analysis is a science, because if it is a science, its results should be repeatable. Consider this little vignette from The Rocky Mountain News:

A well-known national handwriting expert said Monday he is 99.9 percent certain John Mark Karr wrote the ransom note found near the scene of JonBenet Ramsey’s murder. … Curt Baggett, the Texas-based co-founder of the School of Forensic Document Examination [said comparing the ransom note to a high school yearbook signature] “That there are so many similarities pushes the odds up into the seven digits.” …

One person who could find himself on the other side from [Baggett] … is Honolulu document examiner Reed Hayes, author of a textbook on forensic handwriting analysis.

"I do see a few similarities between the writing in the yearbook and the so-called ransom note, but not enough that I would identify him as the writer.

"In fact, I would lean more toward him not being the writer."

Ronald Morris, who spent 23 years as a document expert with the Secret Service said both where getting ahead of themselves, criticizing conclusions based only on copies.

Hayes later told CNN, “there`s a problem here in that my colleague seemed to be reaching these strong conclusions of identification based on improper comparison material. You know, we`re looking at…” (the clueless reporter didn’t let him explain), but by Hayes own statement, an analysis has to be based on proper comparison material, and that should be a factor considered when and if we see the actual Hayes report. I do not think Hayes has any original documents.

Hayes didn’t give a percentage, but he has an opinion as to who wrote the Ramsey ransom note, reports the Honolulu Star-Bulletin :

[Hayes] makes it clear that he is not working on the case in an official capacity, but says the note is a ruse, basing his opinion on copies of the note and handwriting samples sent to him by fellow graphonanalysts. He says Ramsey’s mother Patsy was the likely note writer, although no consensus has emerged among his colleagues.

Hayes said then that handwriting analysis is 80-90% accurate, and this from someone who is reportedly saying now that Obama’s birth certificate is a 100% forgery.

A handwriting expert will say that their conclusions are base on experience and training, but a discipline that yields unrepeatable results and relies heavily on personal judgment is not solid science. The National Science Foundation on study on Forensic Science stated:

Although there has been only limited research to quantify the reliability and replicability of the practices used by trained document examiners, the committee agrees that there may be some value in handwriting analysis.

The other thing we can conclude about the Hayes Report is that it must be based on faulty analysis because it is wrong. The document he claims is a forgery is about as well-authenticated as any document you’re likely to ever see.


1Commenters provide valuable contributions and in a sense this blog is “crowd sourced.”

Mining outrage leaves behind toxic tailings

I wrote an article called “Mining outrage” nine years ago in another forum. It was prompted by that label being applied to Bill O’Reilly and I don’t remember the precise vein of outrage he was mining back in 2004 on his TV show, The O’Reilly Factor. The point was that he used emphasis, rhetoric, telling half the story and sometimes misdirection to get people unjustifiably upset about things, to make them feel outraged. Mining outrage is a mainstay of partisan political talk radio, and the worst examples (particularly in intellectually dishonest outrage mining) seem to be on the Conservative side with Rush Limbaugh the miners’ union boss and the Republicans in Congress happily on board. (Keep in mind that I don’t have access to Liberal talk radio.)

When I was growing up, you had three TV network news organizations, major newspapers and news magazines that might have had a tiny slant in one direction or another, but generally told the story straight, and were quite responsible in using the appropriate level of concern about the stories they reported. AM radio played music. Today, those sources are still around, but there are so many other news sources that don’t subscribe to the canons of journalist integrity. There has always been some yellow journalism, but it has now exploded to the point that most people get their news from the dumpster. Indeed in a recent poll, Fox News was found more trusted as a news source than CNN on the Boston Marathon bombing story.

Birthers mine outrage as well and tap in to nascent racist feelings among their crowd. In either case what results is a cadre of people who are outraged, and being outranged not thinking straight, and not thinking straight, being outright nasty and combative. Outrage also makes people act hastily and stupidly. It is my feeling that folks are more nasty and belligerent than they used to be, Congress is more nasty and belligerent than it used to be, and that the explosion of low-quality alternative news sources and nasty and belligerent commentators is largely to blame, and those people who get rich by making other people angry really outrage me.

The road ahead

They wouldn’t vote for Obama anyway

I speak for myself, and perhaps for a lot of you, in saying that the one thing that made the birthers important, and what focused our attention on them was the possibility, even though we didn’t acknowledge it, that deep down we feared either that the birthers could influence the outcome of a close election and defeat Obama, or that a loss by Obama would signal a shift away from fact-based decision making in the country. Our hopeful mantra to ward off birthers making a real difference was “they wouldn’t vote for Obama anyway” and as I listened to CNN coverage last night, I didn’t hear the word “birther” mentioned one single time.

In fact, one of the last things I thought about last night was even bothering to look at what the birthers were saying, so irrelevant they seemed. However, prompted by a comment I saw on Twitter, I did drop by Orly’s web site where I found 4 separate huge titles urging her supporters to call the Romney campaign and demand that he not concede until all the votes were counted. One began “STOP!!!” How silly it sounds that a dentist in California and maybe a few hundred people who read her blog last evening could make the slightest difference in the decision-making process of a presidential campaign. To me the silliness of the attempt is emblematic of just how irrelevant birthers really are once history has intervened and said: “no, birthers didn’t effect the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election.”

Every day for weeks now there have been multiple alerts from Google News on keywords like “Obama birth certificate” and “Orly Taitz.” There were none last evening. Yesterday morning I saw, for example, something from the Dallas Morning news below that I cannot imagine being written today:

And while the discourse was often petty — with obsessions over gaffes, Obama’s birth certificate and Big Bird — the candidates offer vastly different visions on taxes, changes to entitlement programs that serve tens of millions of Americans.

The road ahead, I believe, will be characterized by a sharp drop in any mainstream concern over birthers, and with that lack of attention, birthers lose their power, a power that was never more than a specter of the crazies running the asylum. Interest in birtherism will now truly become, as Obama termed it, “bemusement.”

Nut cases will not shut up. They live in a world of denial in which the election is just one more proof of the evil Obama thugs taking over the country. My neighbor talked yesterday about leaving the country if Obama won, but they won’t leave the country—things are going too well for them here. Orly Taitz will continue her lawsuits and lose, and likely garner stiff sanctions in the process. Her donations, such as they are, will dry up. I think the “two citizen parent” crank legal theory will have the wind knocked out of their sails because it no longer has any chance of influencing voters.

So what does this mean for me?

The birthers always surprise, and I’ll cover whatever crazy twist they come up with; however, there is no urgency any more. I can practice bemusement.