USA '08 In a last-ditch attempt to spook credulous Americans into voting for John McCain, a Republican congressman and his brother-in-law have offered $10,000 to a software-wielding Oxford don, asking for proof that Barack Obama's memoir was written by former domestic terrorist William Ayers.
As first reported by The Sunday Times, Dr. Peter Millican - a philosophy professor at Hertford College, Oxford - recently received an "urgent call" from a California businessman named Robert Fox, brother-in-law of Republican lawmaker Chris Cannon. According to Millican, Fox offered him $10,000 - about £6,200 - to prove alleged similarities between Obama's 1995 bestseller Dreams from My Father and Ayer's 2001 memoir Fugitive Days.
Millican has developed software that compares prose styles as a means of determining whether works were written by the same author.
"On Sunday 26th October 2008, just nine days before what promised to be an historic US Presidential election, I received an urgent call from Bob, a man close to a Republican Congressman in the American West," Millican writes on his website, Philosophy and Computing.
"He wanted to enlist my services in an effort to prove a scandalous allegation against Barack Obama, which - if justified - would surely impact on his prospects in that election. Namely, that his famous 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, on which so much of his reputation was built, was in fact authored largely by Bill Ayers."
For months, right-wing media outlets and various Republican party members - including presidential candidate John McCain and running-mate Sarah Palin - have played up past meetings between Obama and Ayers, who once lived in the same Chicago neighborhood and worked together on local education reform and anti-poverty initiatives.
Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, the radical anti-war organization famous for bombing public buildings in the 1960s and 70s. He's now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Efforts to contact Fox and Cannon were unsuccessful. But in speaking with The Sunday Times, each said the other had initiated the offer to Millican. After receiving the call from Fox, Millican look a cursory look at the two memoirs and determined it was "very implausible" they were written by the same person. A deal was struck for additional analysis, but according to Millican, Fox and Cannon soon got cold feet.
Apparently, if the tests turned up negative, Fox didn't like the idea of Millican making them public. And Cannon didn't want the world to think the tests were funded by the Republicans.
Ah, but the tests have turned up negative. And Millican has made them public. In a new post to his website, the Oxford professor says he's "totally confident" that the allegations about the two memoirs are false.
"In view of what I have found, and the intrinsic unlikelihood of the hypothesis, I would be astonished if anything came to light to reverse this verdict," he writes. "I hope that interested visitors to this site, whether Democrat or Republican or indeed entirely independent of American politics, will be pleased to discover that the probable next leader of the free world did not get his impressive first book written by Bill Ayers." ®