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.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Jim Gilmore joins Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, and leaves the race after a poor showing in New Hampshire.
Jim Gilmore’s candidacy this year was improbable—but even more improbable was the minor cult of personality that developed around it.
The former Virginia governor never had a chance. Not, like, in the sense of Lindsey Graham, a candidate with national standing but no path to the presidency. More in the George Pataki sense: a guy who had no real business in race, but was running anyway. Except that Gilmore made Pataki look like a juggernaut. Also, Pataki saw the writing on the wall and had the sense to drop out in late December. Gilmore soldiered on, and ended up as the last of the truly longshots to leave.
The result was that Gilmore turned into a sort of folk hero. Not for voters, mind you—he managed only 12 votes in Iowa and 125 in New Hampshire, and his campaign was funded largely by loans from himself. Because of his low support in the polls, Gilmore only made the cut for the very first kid’s-table debate in August, and then again for the undercard in late January. Other than that, he was shut out completely.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.