But first, since my readership is not only very small but also, I suspect rather elite, I had better explain what the controversy is, for those who have somehow managed to avoid it. A number of right wing loonies, terminally freaked out by the accession of Barack Obama to the presidency, have for a while now been claiming that he was not actually born in the United States, and therefore does not meet one of the Constitutional criteria for eligibility. This must not be confused with a quite different claim, which has not yet actually gained much attention, that Obama is not eligible to be President because he was not born in the "lower forty-eight." Those folks, whom I have dubbed "forty-eighters" or "mainlanders," have still not gotten over the inclusion of Alaska and Hawaii in the Union. But I digress.
The birther bubble has captured the paranoid fringe that seems now to constitute the mainstream of the Republican Party, with the result that a dozen Republican members of the House of Representatives have actually introduced a bill requiring all future candidates for the Presidency [no retroactivity there] to produce birth certificates.
About three days ago, a document surfaced on the Internet purporting to be a KENYAN birth certificate of Barack Obama. [Once again, I must assure my readers that I am not making this up. I am afraid this would be a difficult political environment for Jonathan Swift. He would be hard pressed, if he were alive today, to produce satires that could be counted on not to be taken seriously by a sizeable segment of his readership.]
The first thing that happened was that a number of knowledgeable private citizens went on line to point out a raft of impossibilities and inconsistencies in the supposed document, among which were the fact that the city in which Obama was said in the document to have been born was not a part of Kenya on the date listed on the document, and so forth.
But just yesterday, someone out there in cyberspace weighed in with an astonishing discovery that pretty well exposed and exploded the whole Kenyan birth certificate scam. Here is the essence of the discovery, as laid out Politijab, from which it was picked up by The Washington Independent, and from there appeared on Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish, the site where I encountered it:
One of my friends in the small community of Obama “birther”-debunkers passes on quite the discovery: a 1964 “certified copy of registration of birth” from Australia, easily available on Bomford.net, a genealogy site. There are striking similarities between this document and the one Orly Taitz is passing off as a “Kenyan birth certificate” for Barack Obama.
- The design is identical, down to the seal at the top and the classifications (”Christian name,” etc) used for identifying the baby.
- The “registrar” on the Bomford document is G.F. Lavender. On the Taitz document, it’s E.F. Lavender.
- The “district registrar” on the Bomford document is J.H. Miller. On the Taitz document, it’s M.H. Miller.
- The number of the book is identical on both documents: Book 44B, Page 5733.
What’s more likely — that two Kenyan bureaucrats shared last names with two Australian bureaucrats, and that the numbers on both certificates were identical? Or that someone used this document, available online for anyone who wanted to look, to forge the Obama “certificate?”
Think about it. In less than forty-eight hours, this extraordinarily obscure form is surfaced and shown to be the source of the phony birth certificate! It would have taken an old-fashioned researcher six months to find the Australian document, if indeed it was ever found.
All this put me in mind [for rather obscure reasons] of a book I read four or five years ago. When I thought of the book, I realized that I could not think of either the title or the author. So I went to Google and entered "jellybeans" and "wisdom," which were all I could recall from it. Instantaneously, in the very first position, up popped The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki which was indeed the book. Just to explain: Surowiecki begins with the charming fact that when a group of experts are asked to estimate the number of jellybeans in a very large jar [a favorite contest at State Fairs and such], it turns out that their estimates are much farther from the actual number than the average of all the guesses of ordinary folks who walk by the booth. This leads him to a general discussion of the many cases in which there is a collective wisdom in crowds that is equal to or superior to the expertise of the cognoscenti.
The collective knowledge of the uncounted millions of people who inhabit the web is vast, and the web serves as an extraordinarily efficient device for accessing and disseminating that knowledge.