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The inability to find any record of Harrison J. Bounel means he must be a real person!

The American Thinker published an article, “Barack Hussein Obama and Harrison J. Bounel,” by criminologist Jason Kissner today that argues that the association between the name Harrison J. Bounel and Barack Obama in some unspecified transaction in a public database is much more than coincidence or an attempt at identity fraud. While the argument is couched in the language of probability, no actual math was harmed in the writing of the article.1

Detractors of the birther Social Security fraud theory point out that no one has been able to locate this Harrison J. Bounel who birthers claim is a real person to whom the social security number used by Barack Obama was originally assigned. If such a person existed, debunkers say, then one ought to be able to find some independent record of him.

Kissner turns the tables and says that the inability to find other records of Bounel is proof that he is a real person (are you confused yet?).  Kissner’s argument is that the database record could not be fraudulent because it would have been too difficult to actually find someone with no other record in order to perpetrate the fraud.

Kissner’s claim is inserted in a straw man argument refuting the idea that some anti-Obama person created the fake record for Bounel. I suppose someone might have speculated on the possibility that the public record for Bounel with Obama’s SSN was created for the purpose of creating an anomaly in Obama’s record (I might have even done it), but I think it is more likely to be an error or an attempt at identity theft. The straw man context is not important because Kissner’s argument fits the real argument of random error or fraud as well as it does the straw man.

Kissner’s fallacy, however, is the ad hoc assignment of probability to something that’s already happened. It’s like looking at the winning lottery number and saying “what are the chances this number would come up?” and then arguing that the lottery must be rigged. In order to make the probability argument, one has to set the criteria in advance, or they have to be necessary. The fact that the name “Harrison J Bounel” doesn’t belong to anybody is not necessary to the hypothesis and so it’s not significant, no matter how improbable it is.

But the probability of coming up with a name belonging to nobody isn’t that low; in fact, it’s easy. I took the names “Kissner” and “Bounel” and used them with the first and middle names of the members of my immediate family (6 total). I got only one hit on Google for the 12 names I tried.

And finally Kissner’s argument works equally well against Obama fraudulently using an SSN belonging to Bounel: How could Obama have found someone so totally devoid of any record?

What Kissner won’t address is: assuming Harrison J Bounel is a real person (birther hypothesis), what are the chances that there is no record of him anywhere, not birth announcement, obituary, immigration record, census, city directory, grave, genealogy nor criminal record?

Read more:

1Kissner did some math in another article. The math was right, but the assumptions he made were unreasonable.

I think his derisive comments about me stem from envy, that I grabbed Dr. Conspiracy before he did. Kissner is involved in a range of crank conspiracy theories including the Boston Marathon bombing, Loretta Fuddy’s death, Obama’s SSN, Obama publicist brochure and MH370 Plane Conspiracy Theories.

Sorting out Reggie Love

Please see update at the end of the article.

The latest big story among the birthers is a comment by Reggie Love, former body man to Barack Obama.

The American Thinker web site (see Ugly list at the bottom of the page) has an article based on a YouTube video, the original of which has been been removed, but copies remain (the birth certificate stuff starts at 7:45). The gist of the story is that Obama told Love about “finding” his birth certificate, saying that this version of the source of the long form birth certificate differs from the White House story of obtaining it from the Hawaii Department of Health two days before it was released.

That interpretation of events is obvious nonsense. In context, one cannot tell when the certificate was found in the Love story. The certificate that Obama’s attorney showed the White House Press Corps was dated April 25 of 2011 and obviously was not something he “found” among family papers, or could have found.

You can listen to the excerpted video linked above. Here’s a transcript I made (repeated words omitted):

Love: I remember when he found, he finally found his birth certificate.

Interviewer: It took a little too long.

Love: Well, hey, you come from — your parents don’t live together. They travel all over the world. Documents get lost. And so he wanted to just like have like an impromptu press conference, to just walk in to the press briefing room in the White House and just like put the birth certificate down on the podium. And everyone was like, “that’s a really bad idea.” But he was really gung-ho about doing it he because he was so irritated about it.

The American Thinker  surmises that this certificate Obama found is the same one released in April of 2011, and that a fake story of it being issued by the State of Hawaii was created to give it credibility. We have no information as when Obama told Love about finding the Certificate. Love’s remarks were made after the certificate’s release to the Press.

You will pardon me, but I have just been reading about JFK assassination conspiracy theories and about the “single bullet hypothesis” accepted by the Warren Commission. The American Thinker is putting forward a “single certificate hypothesis.”

There is a much more benign and plausible explanation of the statement of Reggie Love, the “two certificate hypothesis.” It goes this way: Obama indeed did find his birth certificate, possibly the very one he mentioned in his book Dreams from My Father (page 26), sometime after becoming President. So why not show this certificate rather than get a fresh one from the State of Hawaii. I can think of two reasonable alternatives:

1) The found certificate was not an official state certificate, but a souvenir from the hospital. Hospitals give out such things, but they are not official.

2) Obama’s attorney advised publishing a certificate with a chain of custody–issued by the State of Hawaii, personally delivered to Obama’s attorney, and hand carried  from Hawaii back to Washington. I like this second alternative because it explains why it was hand carried rather than sent by an express service.

Considering that the Hawaii Department of Health said specifically:

On April 27, 2011 President Barack Obama posted a certified copy of his original Certificate of Live Birth.

I find my simple explanation far more likely than The American Thinker version that requires a big conspiracy and lots of people in Hawaii and Washington telling lies. And of course it is also possible the Love just got some details wrong, assuming that the certificate had been found, when in fact it was not.

We may have to wait for the Obama Presidential Library to see this yet undisclosed certificate if it exists.

Update: New information published in the book Double Down: Game Change 2012, adds considerable further detail on the finding of the birth certificate. What the President found was a hospital souvenir booklet described:

a small, four-paneled paper booklet…. On the front was an ink drawing of Kapi’olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital, in Honolulu. On the back was a picture of a Hawaiian queen. On one inside page were his name, his mother’s name, and his date of birth; on the other were his infant footprints.

The Obama Presidential Library

The George W. Bush Presidential Library has been in the news of late, and I understand that George Washington’s library is coming soon. Leave it to the Obama’s critics to take this occasion to say something nasty about Barack Obama, and Ed Lasky used the topic as a jumping off point for a a bit of fantasy published at The American Thinker. Of interest to us is the section dedicated to what Lasky imagines will not be in the library:

There will be vast areas of empty space that normally would be allocated to showcase accomplishments that led to the presidency. There will be no shelves taken up with such things as college transcripts…

To Lasky’s credit, Obama’s birth certificate is not among the imagined missing documents—that topic was raised by someone else today.

On this afternoon’s NPR News Quiz, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the closing political predictions question asked the panelists was what would be “the big exhibit the Obama Presidential Library”, and Maz Jobrani answered:

Obviously, a copy of his Kenyan birth certificate, with the caption: “Ha Ha.” (Big laugh from the audience.)

That led me to wonder whether Obama’s long-form birth certificate would be part of the exhibit at the real future Obama Presidential Library. While the birther nonsense is unimportant to the big picture of the Obama presidency, it is hardly something that can be ignored. I can hardly think of a better thumb of the nose to the birthers than to include one of the certified copies from Hawaii at the library. 😉


Apparently Obama read this article because a few hours after its publication, the President, addressing the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, mentioned how people had suggested that his presidential library should be in his birth place but he said he preferred it to be in the United States.

Grading the American Thinker

I was intrigued by the title of a post at The American Thinker blog by Jason Kissner, titled: “Bayes’ Theorem and Mr. Obama’s Literary Agency.” Dr. Kissner is reported to hold a Ph. D. in criminology. Bayes’ Theorem is a result from probability theory.  The Wikipedia article gives one interpretation1 of it: “it expresses how a subjective degree of belief should rationally change to account for evidence.” “Obama’s Literary Agent” refers to a 1991 publicist’s author portfolio brochure that says Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

I’m a mathematician by training and in graduate school I taught math and graded papers. I thought I’d see if there were something I could grade in this paper at The American Thinker. In order to grade a paper, one must first get inside what the writer is saying and understand the argument. I’ll save everyone a lot of time and say that Dr.  Kissner concludes that the answer to how likely it is Obama was born in Kenya is about 50%, which is remarkable, to say the least.

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The crisis is over

Two camps

Among those birthers who claim that Barack Obama is not a natural born citizen because his father was British, there are two camps. One camp says that their view is trivially obvious, well settled in Supreme Court decisions; everybody knows this, they learned it in high school, and anyone who disagrees with them hasn’t read the Constitution. This by far comprises the largest group.

The slightly more realistic camp contends that the courts went awry some time back and that the parental requirement for Presidential eligibility has been lost (and rediscovered by them). This was the approach Leo Donofrio took at the beginning, saying US v Wong was wrongly decided and that he wanted to make “new law.” Such a loss of original intent is plausible, they might argue, because the issue doesn’t come up very often: the only effect of the phrase “natural born citizen” is in Article II of the Constitution in regards to who can be President (and all US Presidents except the first few and Chester A. Arthur have been born in the United States to two US Citizen Parents).

Today a new article has appeared at The American Thinker under the name Monte Kuligowski titled: The Obama Ballot Challenge: A Crisis of Confidence. It seems to come from the second camp’s point of view. The author wrote:

In former times, there would have been doubts as to whether Obama would even be a citizen without a formal renouncing of foreign allegiance. But based on wayward interpretations of the 14th Amendment, if we believe Obama was Hawaii-born, we must conclude that he is at least a U.S. citizen — regardless of his British/Kenyan allegiance at birth and his adoption1 in Islamic Indonesia.

But a 14th-Amendment citizen is not necessarily a natural born citizen.  Contrary to 14th-Amendment jurisprudence, the requirement of sole allegiance to the United States from birth onward has never been stricken from the Constitution’s eligibility clause.

The writer understands that judicial interpretations are not in his favor. What he doesn’t understand is that it is the Birthers who have forgotten the Constitution’s original intent, not the courts.

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Ghostwriters in the sky

Author Obama

Author Obama

During the last election, rumors flew about saying that former radical and education activist Bill Ayers wrote all or part of Barack Obama’s book Dreams from My Father. This rumor morphed into a small cottage industry of analysis trying to prove Ayer’s involvement in the book including a series of articles by WorldNetDaily columnist Jack Cashill.

These allegations have been repeated in a number of right wing web sites such as The American Thinker and The Free Republic. Now WorldNetDaily has a new article, Author confirms Bill Ayers helped Obama write ‘Dreams’.

Of course, the “author” WND talks about is not the author of Obama’s book, but that of a new book, Barack and Michelle: An American Marriage by Christopher Andersen. Andersen should know because he had access to unnamed sources close to Obama. I should say that Cashill claims Andersen supports his view (in fact I have no confirmation of this).

The scenario alleged is in the typical nobama style. If alleges a fact (Obama was facing a deadline) that no one can easily verify but might accept because it it plausibled, it alleges another fact (Ayers lived nearby) that is non-trivial to verify and then it offers another allegation (the neighbors knew…) that no one can easily verify, but might accept because it is plausible and asserted.  It is a good example of substitution of speculation for evidence made in the form of an argument. But this claim has no more substance to it than the travel ban to Pakistan argument, the born in Kenya argument and the Indonesian adoption argument: none.

So did Bill Ayers write Dreams from My Father?   There is nothing in the WND article that would lead a rationally thinking person to jump to any conclusion.