The path to Obama's birth certificate, as told by someone who's looked
credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Donald Trump is making a big show of his sudden, flamboyant conversion to "birtherism"--the absurd belief that President Obama wasn't born in the United States. Trump has dispatched private investigators to Hawaii to look into Obama's origins, and he's getting plenty of mileage from an often-credulous media by insinuating darkly about what they're finding. Republican voters seem to like it.
Lost in this circus is that Trump is hardly the first Obama opponent to harbor these suspicions--or to act on them. The path his investigators are presumably taking is a well-trodden one. Others have already looked. And one of them agreed, on the condition of anonymity, to walk me through exactly what Trump's private eyes will find. Here's what I learned:
When you go to Hawaii to investigate Obama's birth, what you're looking to examine are public records. They're easy to find. Fly into the Honolulu airport, rent a car, and drive downtown to the state library. You can't miss it: it's practically in the shadow of the gold-leaf King Kamehameha statue in front of the Aliiolani Hale, the former palace. Once inside the library, head downstairs where they keep the microfilm. Obama was born (they tell us) on August 4, 1961, but you'll want the August 13, 1961 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, because that's when the birth announcement appeared. When you've loaded up the film, flip to the back pages, to the section of the paper called "Vital Statistic." This is the record of births, marriages, and deaths provided by the Hawaii Department of Health's Bureau of Vital Statistics. When you get to Page B-6, scan down the lefthand column--there it is, toward the bottom:
Congratulations! You've located the birth announcement. Nothing indicates obvious Kenyan-Communist plotting or the nefarious handiwork of Bill Ayers. And the competing paper, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, also published an announcement. But you'll want to be diligent and investigate that address. So you'll head back upstairs and hunt down a copy of the Honolulu City Directory. Actually, because these documents are snapshots in time, you'll want the city directories from 1960 through 1962, to see if you can establish any pattern of movement.
After you've lugged them to a table, you'll find the address: it turns out to belong to the Dunhams, who are the parents of Ann Dunham, Obama's mother. If you keep looking, you'll also discover that Barack Obama Sr. is listed at a separate address, 625 11th Ave. in Kaimuki, close to the University of Hawaii. So you can surmise that Obama's parents may not have lived together. You can also find a newspaper article in which Barack Obama Sr. talks about how he is going to Harvard. A short while later, Obama's mother, Ann, returns to using her maiden name, Dunham, and several years after that, the parents divorce. And that's all you're going to find.
Obama was born at the Kapiolani Medical Center, where he (or more likely his mother) was issued a "certificate of live birth," the cat-nippy phrase that gets the birthers howling at the moon. You can visit the Kapiolani Medical Center. But you can't obtain a copy of Obama's certificate of live birth because the Federal Health Information Privacy Act of 1999, which protects medical records from public scrutiny, forbids it. The Obama campaign probably worsened the situation by releasing this copy of a certificate of live birth--worsened it because this is obviously only a copy (printed from a computer) and not the original. So the effect on the birther rumors was like the effect of steroids on Barry Bonds: it made everything bigger and uglier.
But the point is, that's it. That's the whole paper trail, all there is to find. My friend says you can do the entire investigation in a single day: Leave DC first thing in the morning, obtain the documents, and you'll still have time to sip a mai-tai on the beach before catching your flight home in the evening. He even went on Expedia and made me an itinerary: the whole trip would only cost $1228.40 (mai-tai not included). So, for me, the takeaway here is that Trump is a fool; he's getting robbed by his investigators, who are taking their sweet time in Hawaii; and he's not going to turn up anything. Also, I'm going to bring this surprisingly reasonably priced itinerary to my editor's attention and see if I can't wangle an assignment.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.
Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of Americaby Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.
Highlights from seven days of reading about entertainment
British Cinemas Need to Do Better for Black Audiences
Simran Hans | Buzzfeed
“The myth that black people don’t go to the cinema becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, predicated on the assumption that cinemagoers are only interested in seeing themselves represented on screen. This seems to be at the heart of the problem.”
Hump Day: The Utterly OMG Magic Mike XXL
Wesley Morris | Grantland
“Not since the days of peak Travolta and Dirty Dancing has a film so perfectly nailed something essential about movie lust: Male vulnerability is hot, particularly when the man is dancing with and therefore for a woman. It aligns the entire audience with the complex prerogatives of female desire.”
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.