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.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
Climate change means the end of our world, but the beginning of another—one with a new set of species and ecosystems.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 degrees and a peak of 102 degrees. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
Attempts to remedy America’s dauntingly long history of racial and gender inequity can, at times, feel slow and incremental. That’s why when it comes to narrowing the economic disparities between certain groups, it’s important to celebrate progress—more minorities graduating from college, more female executives, a shrinking gender-wage gap. Those are all certainly good things, but sometimes, dwelling on these achievements means missing the underlying failures that allow inequity and division to persist, and grow.
For instance, recent data released by the U.S. Census showed that small business ownership growth between 2007 and 2012 was highest for women, particularly businesses owned by minority women. On the surface, that sounds great, but the figures can be deceptive. In 2012, women were the owners of about 36 percent of the country’s small businesses, and men, about 54 percent, according to data from Pew Research. (The ownership of the remaining 10 percent of businesses in Pew’s count were either jointly owned by men and women or were owned by large, diverse groups.) And the growth of minority women as business owners increased by 215 percent between 1997 and 2014. That’s impressive, but it belies the fact that the group has historically made up such a small share of the industry, that just about any growth would look astronomical.
How the Islamic State uses economic persecution as a recruitment tactic
Before Islamic State militants overran her hometown of Mosul in June 2014, Fahima Omar ran a hairdressing salon. But ISIS gunmen made Omar close her business—and lose her only source of income. Salons like hers encouraged “debauchery,” the militants said.
Omar is one of many business owners—male and female—who say ISIS has forced them to shut up shop and lose their livelihoods in the process. The extremist group has also prevented those who refuse to join it from finding jobs, and has imposed heavy taxes on civilians.
“ISIS controls every detail of the economy,” says Abu Mujahed, who fled with his family from ISIS-controlled Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. “Only their people or those who swear allegiance to them have a good life.” When they took over Deir al-Zor, ISIS gunmen systematically took control of the local economy, looting factories and confiscating properties, says Mujahed. Then they moved in, taking over local business networks.
Understanding social norms for the phone means accepting the fact that the things we call "phones" are actually computers.
When the telephone was new, it was a sensation. And not an altogether positive one. Sure, it was a machine that enabled a person to speak—as if by magic—to another person in another place in real time. But also, what if ghosts were sneaking through the line? This was a real concern.
Another panic point: What if the telephone created an entire “race of left-eared people,” as The New York Timesreported in 1904. “Watch a telephone for half a day, and it will be seen that almost every person that uses the instrument will place the receiver to the left ear.”
Along with questions about the physical and supernatural effects of the telephone came deliberations about etiquette. What was the proper greeting? (“Ahoy hoy,” was Alexander Graham Bell’s pick. Thomas Edison preferred “Hello.”)
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR: