Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Quote of the day

Just watched (at 5:12 pm eastern time) an exchange between Wolf Blitzer and Jack Cafferty on CNN. Cafferty went on a rant about Kerry's comments yesterday. Not the comments themselves, of course, but rather their effect:

"Why is John Kerry speaking anywhere about anything? What does he symbolize when it comes to the Democratic Party? Failure. He lost the election in 2004. . .

[Howard Dean should say to Kerry:] 'Go get on your boat. Go fish. Go play soccer. Go out and commune with nature. Sit in the woods until the election is over. Please don't talk. Please don't have your picture taken. Just go away.'

He symbolizes failure. You know, watching the Democrats try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is a spectator sport in this country, and here they go, flirting with it again. . . Why is he talking to anybody? . . . Wait till the election is over. It's not helping."
You can almost hear him thinking, "With all the help we're giving you, how can you possibly not win this thing running away? Get out of our way, we'll take care of it." I think he's worried.

I'll look for a video link, and if I can find one will post it.

UPDATE: Welcome Hot Air readers. You might also be interested in GOP senators who are sitting on their cash (here and here), a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the government has a cloaking device, what CBS News thinks of the current Congress, or what Ted Turner had to say about North Koreans being "thin." Enjoy.

UPDATE 2: Here is a link to the transcript. The portion in question is a little less than half way down.

UPDATE 3: Don Imus has advice similar to Jack Cafferty's (via Drudge):

Regarding the contention that this was just a "joke" gone wrong, well, the only person who knows that for sure is Senator Kerry. As for the broader opinions of the military by some on the Left, though, I will direct your attention to some excellent comments by John at Power Line. Money quote:
"Why are liberals so determined to hang on to these discredited stereotypes of the past? I suspect it is because the young men and women who serve in the armed forces are a constant reproach to liberals' facile, politically-motivated pronouncements on foreign policy. Iraq is a disaster (never mind that I voted for it)! But the young men and women who are stationed there don't think so. They re-enlist in remarkable numbers; a large majority believe in their mission; and they are working hard, risking their lives, and making considerable progress on many fronts. So it's helpful for liberals to think: what do they know? They're only soldiers--they must be dumb!"
Obviously there are many people who don't think like that. But I know from my own experiences that such an attitude definitely exists.

UPDATE 4: "Mel Gibson without the booze."

Way, way too much time on their hands

Happy Halloween!

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Occam & Reynolds

Occam's Razor, a bedrock of clear thinking:

"Occam's razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or 'shaving off,' those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. In short, when given two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon, one should embrace the less complicated formulation."
I'm the government. I want you to think terrorists took planes and flew them into the World Trade Center. Therefore, I take planes and fly them into the World Trade Center, right?


What I would actually do is remote control a plane towards the tower. Then, when I was right there, I would "switch to invisibility" at the same time that charges would detonate in the tower to mimic an explosion. Under this government issue cloak of invisibility, the actual plane would then be flown out to the sea, where it would be directed to crash in order to destroy the evidence of the ruse.

Mr. Reynolds used to work for the government. If that isn't proof that the government isn't smart enough to pull stuff like this off, I don't know what is. But wait, he was "a former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor 2001-2002." That means he worked for Bush. He must be a plant! Damn Karl Rove!

To be fair, this paper didn't even make the cut of some of the other conspiracy theorists:

"Therefore, we present our analysis below for your critical review with the product warning that our analysis has failed to achieve the highly sought-after 'Journal of 9/11 Studies' seal of approval."
Highly sought after indeed.

(Hat tip: Screw Loose Change)

Monday, October 30, 2006

This ad brought to you by the DNC

I had the TV on in the background before while I was on the computer. As you would expect for the week before the election, over the course of an hour there were candidate ads for senate, congress, some state-wide races and some local ones. I wasn't even looking at the screen a few minutes ago when a new ad started with the following voice over:

"Stepping up when the do little congress won't."
OK, must be a Democratic ad for something. It continued:

"On issues like immigration, the minimum wage, stem cell research, and the environment, states are taking the initiative, and California leads the pack."
California? I'm in New York. What candidate thinks they should mention California?

"Tonight, the Golden State's tough new laws, and what they mean for you. When Katie Couric reports from LA on the CBS evening news. See it now."
Wow. And they're surprised that no one trusts them.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Quote of the day

"Bush hatred is silly and parochial and reductive: History is on the march and the anti-Bush crowd is holding the telescope the wrong way round." - Mark Steyn

Friday, October 27, 2006

There is still time to make a difference

As a follow-up to my earlier post here, I just spent some time on PoliticalMoneyLine looking at the latest cash on hand figures for the various Republican senators and candidates. First, more bad news about the overall state of the NRSC, from the committee reports:

As I said before, what a disaster. Given the incredible importance and closeness of the election, though, are our existing Republican senators in any position to help out? Here are the latest cash on hand figures for current Republican incumbent senators:

I took the polling data from here. So, we have incumbents who aren't even up for reelection this year sitting on $46 million in cash, and people who are running this year but up by over 30 points sitting on another $19 million. That's $65 million in total.

Think among them they could come up with $10 million or so for the NRSC in about 24 hours? I do.

Think another $10 million or so of ads in two or three key races might be enough to save some seats? I do.

I know that I am ignoring the PACs they run, etc., and that I am also in a way penalizing those who have done a good job raising money. The fact remains, though, that these resources are currently there, and spending down some of them over the next two weeks may be the difference between a majority in the next congress or not.

So, how do we get some pressure on these senators to get their checkbooks out? Dole clearly isn't up to the challenge - the pressure is going to have to come from elsewhere.

[As an aside, I'm sitting here thinking through GOP monetary campaign strategy in a coffee shop in NYC's East Village. If the people around me knew what I was typing away about, they would probably throw me out. Or something worse . . .]

UPDATE: Power Line quotes Charlie Cook on the MD Senate race, which he now thinks is a toss-up:
"One question is whether the national Republican Party will get involved in the race now that polls show a closer-than-expected contest? Advertising in Maryland, particularly in the Washington, DC media market, can be expensive and there are only 11 days left. If the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee or the Republican National Committee does become engaged in the next few days, they could make a difference just by matching what national Democrats have spent and launching some attacks on Cardin."
There's a place for some of that money. NJ would be another good choice. Actually, to hit NJ you need to buy time in NY and Philadelphia. Generic ads in the Philadelphia market would have the added benefit of helping Santorum as well. MO, TN, and VA would seem to be the other candidates for more help.

If you're up by over 30 points, kick in 20% of your cash - you don't need it. If you aren't up for reelection until 2010, kick in 20% of your cash - you'll have plenty of time to get more. If you're up for reelection in 2008, kick in only 10% of your cash in order to be extra cautious. If the existing GOP senators all did that, it would mean an additional $11 million for ads in the coming 10 days.

Don't any of them want to be chairmen next year?

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part VII - Conclusion

(Note: This is the seventh (and final) in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy on October 11th. Earlier parts: I, II, III, IV, V, and VI.)

Cory Lidle and Tyler Stanger crashed their small plane into a residential building over two weeks ago. In the intervening time, I’ve obviously spent quite a few hours on the event, first reading and monitoring the Loose Change message board that dealt with the tragedy, and then transforming my notes into a series of posts on this website.

Why in the world would I do this?

Actually, that question should be broken up into two parts: why would I decide to spend time challenging the conspiracy theorists at all, and why would I decide to use the Lidle tragedy as a means to do so? Let me answer the second question first.

The Cory Lidle crash was a horrible tragedy. Its exact cause is not known at this time, but – as I mentioned earlier – it appears to have been the result of a failed u-turn attempt by an inexperienced pilot in a narrow flight corridor that left little room for error. If these early indications wind up being borne out, then we will need to seriously look at the flight rules around Manhattan that allow for a situation like this to develop.

The specific findings of the eventual accident report notwithstanding, the Lidle crash was also very simple. A small plane with two civilians in it crashed into an anonymous tower on the eastern edge of Manhattan. It happened in the middle of the day in one of the busiest places on the planet. There were scores of witnesses. Within minutes multiple camera crews were on the scene, broadcasting pictures live. Within an hour or so the fire was out. Within two hours or so we knew the identity of at least one person on the plane. No further events ensued. While those first headlines that a “plane crashed into a building in New York” left all of us (especially in New York) stressed and worried, we also quickly put our worst fears to rest by examining what was going on and the evidence regarding what had happened.

In its combination of tragedy and simplicity, the Lidle crash offers us a test. If you develop a new model, technique, tool, or the like, you test it to make sure it performs as you might expect. The best way to test something is with known data; if it produces the answer you expect and know is right, then the model may be considered validated (at least partially). On the other hand, if it fails to replicate answers that you already know to be true, then you have a problem. In such a case, the model is faulty, and needs to be fixed or replaced before you can hope to get any information from it about things you don’t know yet, or that are more complicated.

As I described above, we know what happened in the case of Lidle, and in fact we knew what happened rather quickly. In that sense, as a “test” of cognitive ability, rationality, and visceral instincts, the Lidle crash is a rather simple challenge. My reason for highlighting it in the context of the Loose Change adherents and other conspiracy theorists is to see how well they performed under such “test” conditions. To put it another way, if they can’t get something as simple as this right, why on earth would we trust what they have to say about the tougher stuff (i.e. 9/11)?

My friends, they failed miserably.

Note that it is not enough for them to say today that they now believe that the Lidle crash was an accident; at this point 16 days later, only someone truly deranged would think that it was a conspiracy of some sort. No, we can still call them out even by focusing only on that first day after the crash. What were their instincts - should we trust them? How was their ability to focus on key issues, to process information, to separate data from noise? Could they recognize honest, conflicting reports from the scene as the mistakes they were? Did they adjust their theories based on the evidence, or attempt to adjust the evidence to fit their theories? Did they effectively police their own members’ sloppy thinking, or were all opinions tolerated in the spirit of there being no such thing as a “bad question”? Did superstition or deduction direct their “analysis”?

You need to learn to walk before you can run. Analyzing the Lidle crash was like learning to crawl, and figuring out the events of September 11th and its aftermath is like running a marathon. If you can’t do the former, you will be utterly useless in tackling the latter. This event was the “control,” and the “control” has shown us that the tool, the model, the movement is not to be trusted.

What are some things that characterize the conspiracy movement? Lazy intellectual standards. Incredibly poor knowledge of mathematics, especially statistical theory. Little accountability. An apparent unfamiliarity with the science of chaos, complex systems, and self-organizing phenomena. Paranoia. An unparalleled ability to data mine themselves to ridiculous conclusions. A disarming tendency to attribute evil and complicity to large swaths of their fellow man. Delusions of grandeur, and other related psychoses. Perhaps most importantly, a rejection of the scientific process, under which there always exists a theoretical set of evidence that would prove your hypothesis wrong. No such evidence exists for the conspiracy monger, for it would only go to further “prove” the conspiracy. Conspiracy isn’t a theory to these people; it is a religion.

Now back to first question: why worry about it? If you are reading this blog, more likely than not you already think that the 9/11 conspiracy movement is nuts. You forget about them if possible, ignore them when necessary, mock them only when you absolutely have to face them in one context or another. In general, you think that they are not worth your time or attention. I know this impulse, and have personally followed it myself for the past few years.

The trouble is, we need to speak up. Too many of our fellow citizens are now taking their gibberish seriously; one survey in the US reports that over a third of the population thinks that the government was somehow complicit in the attacks. Too many of our politicians (mostly on the Left, I observe with no joy) give some of them rhetorical safe harbor. DNC chair Howard Dean thinks there are "interesting" theories raised. Too many entertainers think that it is somehow professionally beneficial to nod approvingly in their direction. Too many of the “cool” and the “hip” think that of course the government was in on it, and too many of their friends think it is enough to change the subject when such garbage is brought up.

Our responsibilities, though, are much greater. Some among us are doing the heavy lifting; sites like Screw Loose Change and 9/11 Myths – to name but two – are doing the yeoman’s work of confronting the conspiracy theorists head on. They’ve earned our appreciation, and deserve our help. And not, I may add, simply in the world of “debunker” websites. Instead, we must move beyond talking just to ourselves, and make the case among the broader public. What the conspiracy theorists charge is intellectually dishonest, but just as important morally reprehensible. Yet they do it with impunity, casting their development of “alternative explanations” as some sort of noble cause, instead of the bankrupt, self-aggrandizing bout of mental masturbation that it is. Such impunity should end.

Challenge them. Confront, don’t coddle. Mock mercilessly. Get angry. Get indignant. Don’t let them get away with skulking in the intellectual shadows, preying on innocent people who would know better if they took the time, but are instead taken in by pseudo science and slick appeals to their worst instincts. Cast light upon these shadowy arguments, and watch them fade away as a result. Sunlight is a wonderful disinfectant, and we’re allowing too much of the conspiracy world to exist in a social twilight – generally dismissed, but still allowed to fester.

Why did I do this? Because it has to be done. I hope that you will help.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

But who will speak for the trees?

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link - it is actually one of the only things I still read a hard copy of) ran a front page story about a controversy brewing in San Francisco over . . . trees:

"'Wanted' posters went up around the Tenderloin last year, featuring Ms. Abst's photo. Someone circulated pamphlets disparaging her. Residents yelled at her in the street. Ms. Abst's offense: trying to plant 400 trees in the area. 'I had no idea that cleanliness, beauty, and safety could get people so riled up,' the 58-year-old says.

In San Francisco's Tenderloin, residents aren't fighting the usual gentrification battle over displacing low-income families. Instead they are fighting for the neighborhood's gritty ambiance."
I've actually stayed in the Tenderloin a few times over the years. It is a pretty good neighborhood for finding (especially along the periphery) cheaper tourist hotels, and I've hit it when I've been on a particularly tight budget. It is also notoriously crime-ridden, and full of a number of other problems. Definitely not the place for everybody (before all of you run off to book your rooms). And, to be blunt, it could use some trees.

Carolynn Abst opened a business there in 1999, and moved into the neighborhood to live with her husband as well. I mention this to suggest that, having been there a number of years now both professionally and privately, she certainly has earned the right to participate in local politics and issues. Then again, I guess not everyone agrees:

"Ms. Anarchy says she frequently consults with Mr. Sycamore to figure out ways to stop beautification efforts. She attends neighborhood meetings held by the likes of Ms. Abst in order to disrupt the gatherings, loudly seeking to refocus the proceedings on her agenda of rights for sex workers. 'I'm giving voice to the voiceless,' Ms. Anarchy says."
The group that put out the wanted posters is called Gay Shame and refers to itself as "a Virus in the System." Visiting their website is the kind of thing that you do on a slow afternoon is order to get a chuckle. Today was just such a day.

They are actually against gay marriage. Of course, that is because they are against all forms of marriage:

"Don't forget-marriage is the central institution of that misogynist, racist system of domination and oppression known as heterosexuality. Don't get us wrong-we support everyone's right to fuck whomever they want-we're just not in favor of supporting the imperialist, bloodthirsty status quo."
They are also so against pretty much any form of economic prosperity and commerce that they even targeted the business that has been in the neighborhood for over 30 years and gives them free meeting space (despite not being able to make its own rent). Oops:

"Gay Shame frequently encounters hostility for challenging inconsistencies; we consider this risk-taking a measure of our own integrity. Nevertheless, we do have a reputation for making rash decisions, and the stencil outside Modern Times did not improve our (usually undeserved) image. Nor did it help to articulate our politics-- we ended up removing the stencil from the sidewalk with a toxic can of chemicals. Some within the group believed that we were backing down from our politics, but most of us were glad to find a remedy to an uncomfortable situation."
They may be against most businesses, but they certainly know what they are for - sex in public:
"While sex is not legal in bars, My Place has been renowned for decades as a backroom dive. Clearly, the bar is walking a delicate line in order to stay open, but talking about 'getting rid' of the clientele who have kept the bar open and hiring 'sex police' to do the ABC's job is unacceptable, and furthers a reactionary, silencing agenda. . . We will not accept a crackdown on public sex. . ."
They are definitely no fans of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and are probably the only people in the country who think he is some kind of far right stooge They do have a mayoral platform of their own, though (which I will give them the benefit of the doubt about and assume is satire):
"All members of the SFPD and any other law enforcement agency will be used as nutritious compost to fertilize Golden Gate Park.

Mary supports terrorism in all its forms…as long as the right people get hurt!! . . .

Last year over 169 homeless people dies on the streets of San Francisco. This year 16,900 rich fascist politicians will take their places. . .

Unemployed activists will be given productive employment throwing rocks and boulders through the windows of all live-work loft-style condominiums until all loft owners are forced to take shelter in the bay."
At this point, I'm inclined to sponsor a tree myself, if for no other reason than to piss them off.

Quick Lidle series update

I know some of you are waiting for the final piece in the Lidle series. Sorry, I meant to have it up already, but other things have gotten in the way. If it isn't up late tonight, it will be up tomorrow.

My apologies.

How many reporters does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Jack Shafer has a very good piece today on the reaction of many journalists to job cuts in newsrooms. I think it builds nicely on some things I said in an earlier post. Shafer makes an excellent point about the number of journalists working today:

"It's hard to sympathize with the woe-is-us crowd of journalists when you learn that the number of full-timers employed by U.S. news-media organizations today has increased by almost 70 percent compared with 1971, according to The American Journalist in the 21st Century. The book doesn't even include in its census the new jobs in online newsrooms or at the business-wire upstart Bloomberg News."
After I wrote that earlier piece, I saw somewhere a similar figure for the overall growth of journalism jobs over the past few decades. Can't seem to track it down now, though.

Of course, this ignoring of the overall jobs picture is the same mistake that most of the media makes in their general economics coverage - focusing on job losses at specific companies, while ignoring more-than-offsetting job creation at other (typically smaller) firms. In that light, maybe it isn't that surprising that they ignore the journalism job figures, too.

Why does Shafer think that journalists do this?

"Why do so many journalists inflate the importance of their role in our culture? Well, dentists brag about the miracle of dentistry, don't they? I suspect that the egotistical proclamations of journalists really mask the low esteem they hold for the total product they produce. If you fillet the average daily newspaper—cutting out the sports section, the comics, the crossword, the horoscope, the opinion pages, the entertainment coverage, and the special sections devoted to home, dining, medicine, travel, cars, real estate, and TV listings—relatively little of the democracy-enhancing, life-sustaining reportage they boast about actually gets printed."
And that, in the end, has to be what hurts the most.

Mr. President, pick up the phone

This is just inexcusable. Overall, Elizabeth Dole's leadership of the NRSC has been a disaster - out-recruited, out-fundraised, out-maneuvered. What's past is past, though. As of today, what can be done is that those GOP Senators sitting on ample financial resources can pony up, and fast. If it means you need to run a few more fundraisers next year to refill your account, then that is what you do. If they don't do it on their own, it's time for the President to do some old fashioned arm twisting. In case any of them haven't noticed, the stakes, are, um, kind of high.

For what it's worth, I've thought for a while (say the last two months or so) that the Republicans were going to lose three seats this election, leaving them with 52. I guess I should stick with that, although if I was going to update it today, I might drop down to 51. 52 will probably require winning either Montana or New Jersey; either is possible, but both are looking tougher.

UPDATE: Blogs on the left are getting the right idea, and pushing their flush candidates to shift resources for the common good. When are the blogs on the right going to do the same? The clock is ticking. . .

North Korea & hunger

In the comments to this post of mine on Ted Turner and North Korea, Safe-Keeper suggests checking out the film "Children of the Secret State." It is a 45 minute film produced a few years ago for the Discovery Times channel, although I had missed it at the time. You can watch it here. Well worth your time.

If you watch, think again about Turner's "thin" quip.

Lest you think that the hunger in the film is a thing of the past, check out this story from the BBC (hat tip: Captain Ed).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Training for the revolution

I remember while in school myself hearing stories about the type of - well, to be blunt - indoctrination that occurs in the top education schools in the country. The New York Sun recently had a piece on the very issue, in the context of Columbia:
"The problem extends beyond that issue, however, in New York and beyond. Every new instructor minted by Teachers College who uses these ideas in our schools will rob New York students of opportunities for a better future. The flap over indoctrination at Teachers College comes the same day as the news that fewer than half the eighth graders in the city's public schools passed a state math test. It's a juxtaposition as jarring as that of the Nobel prize and the derision of merit. How are the city's schools to produce the next Nobel laureate if their teachers are taught that merit is an 'ideology' that exists to justify discrimination? Truth is, no one would mind so much about teachers' views about the 'legitimacy of the social order,' or lack of it, if the teachers were producing students who can pass the math test."
I would be willing to guess that many (most?) graduates of these programs would not find the material in question particularly controversial. In not doing so, though, they would inadvertently demonstrate how isolated the academy is from those it purports to think for and lead.

As for me, I guess you'd call me a bit of an educational traditionalist. Diagram sentences, drill algebra - learn the foundations until they are second nature. Teach people the skills of communication and the rigor of mathematical thinking, and then you'll be well on your way to educational success.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part VI - Names, Names, & More Names

(Note: This is the sixth in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy last week. Earlier parts: I, II, III, IV and V.)

So let’s play along for a bit. Let’s say that the Cory Lidle crash was, in fact, some type of conspiracy. What would the purpose of it be? We’ve talked already about a couple of general possibilities, but I find them rather unsatisfying. No, there must be some goal behind this that is a bit more concrete. But what? Luckily, the posters at the Loose Change message board stepped into this vacuum. They were quick to start thinking through the key issue: who or what was the real target? Someone in the plane? The building itself? Maybe even someone inside the building?

You would think that we should be thankful, in a morbid way, that it was an athlete in the plane. Imagine, for example, if the person in the plane had been some government worker, etc. Then the story in conspiracy land would have been all about how a key figure in the 9/11 cover up was being silenced. Surely there’s no way that someone would think that Cory Lidle was specifically targeted in some devious plot.

Oh, guess again, my friends. Guess again. From the message board:
"or maybe cuz the mob lost a lotta money on the yanks in the playoffs. but yea .. i dunno ... kinda far fetched .. but i would be open to the idea with a lil evidence"
Not to be too blunt, but as a Yankees fan I can assure you that, if there were to be retribution for their disappointing performance this postseason, Mr. Lidle would not be on the top of anyone’s list.

Another poster also thought that Lidle was the target, but for a reason much more related to 9/11:
"what if today's event was an old mafia tactic. the victim being a celebrity...in this case the new york yankees' own cory lidle, someone who is dear to the city. what if this is the elite's way of saying to the NYPD, 9/11 rescue workers, new york in general...anyone thinking about going public: 'SHUT UP. WE CAN REMOTELY GUIDE PLANES INTO BUILDINGS ANYTIME. WE CAN KILL YOUR HEROS AND WORSE. SHUT UP.'"
This is one of my favorite quotes from the message board, because it is a beautiful twofer. On the one hand, it supports the idea of the original conspiracy (with the added passive reference to guided planes). On the other hand, it helps explain why there isn’t more evidence of the conspiracy, since everyone who knows is under this ongoing death threat. Brilliant. Here’s the thing, though: how are all the cops, rescue workers, etc. – tens of thousands of people – supposed to know that this was a message to them? Presumably most people (unlike the enlightened conspiracy theorists) think that the crash was an accident. If that is the case, how are they dissuaded from coming forward? Did they send out a memo or something? If any NYPD officers are reading this, did you get the memo? Could I see it?

No, I’m sorry, it seems rather unlikely that Lidle was the target himself. But what about the real estate? In this space-constrained, real estate-obsessed town, maybe the real victim was the building itself? Truthers certainly were concerned, and sprang into action:
"someone find out who owns this building
i'm looking into who was housed there."
As they furiously clicked away on the internet, they tried to coordinate real time research with each other:
"someone look into jack resnick and sons, 110 east 59th street.
i can't research 3 things at once "
Right away, though, they knew the real name they were looking for:
"Anybody have the exact address for this building? I've heard East 70th and York street, NYC but I'd like to check address with ownership, if possible. Larry Silverstein for example owns more property in NYC than just the WTC site. Don't know if I'd be able to find ownership but I'd like to try."
This quote came early on, obviously; it didn’t take long for the exact address of the building to come out. But the fact that it came so quickly illustrates an important point: the conspiracy theorists don’t observe events, eventually find something lacking in their logic or presentation, and then look for alternate explanations. They start, from the very first moment, looking for angles. They don’t adjust their theory to fit the world; they adjust the world to fit their theory.

It is sort of like you handing me a watch (without a second hand), and me immediately saying, "This watch is stopped! This watch is stopped!" Then, a few seconds later the minute hand moves, and I simply ask for another watch. At which point I scream again. Every so often, it might turn out that you actually hand me a watch that has stopped. That has nothing to do, however, with my obvious inability to diagnosis problems with timepieces.

The Silverstein angle didn’t pan out, but the conspiracy theorists finally found something else they liked:
"another point to note is that the part owners of the belaire is none other than the cantor group. yes, the same cantor group that's building the new freedom tower.

By all means, go to the website the poster provided. Go to the bottom of the page, and see the link for the Cantor Seinuk Group under "Companies involved in this Building." Click on the link. You’ll see that they are involved in the Freedom Tower (gasp!). You’ll also see, however: 1) they are a structural engineering firm, not an "owner;" 2) they have "worked on more that 60% of the major NYC buildings in the last decade;" and 3) there is an enormous list of buildings right there that they have been involved with (and the vast majority of them appear to be in New York City).

So, what is this observation supposed to mean then? I mean, really, on this one I’m having trouble even figuring out what the conspiracy angle is. That since they helped build this building back in 1988, they will know how to bring it down with a small plane? That somehow they are testing something to put to work on the Freedom Tower? Really, I am at a loss.

On the other hand, look at that list of buildings again – there are a lot of them. What are the chances that a random tall building in New York has involved this firm in some way? Not that high, but not trivial. Remember, though, what we said in Part V about statistics and probability. Think about all the different firms that are involved in the World Trade Center or the site’s reconstruction – owners, architects, engineering firms, construction firms, etc. Think about all the different buildings across the city that each of these firms has been involved in. What are the chances that a randomly selected tall building in New York has some connection to one of those World Trade Center players? Virtually a lock, which means it proves nothing.

Let me make two other observations about the idea that the building itself was a target. First, some posters were very interested in who had the insurance policies on the building. Um, sorry to break this to you guys, but the cost of real estate in New York is already through the roof. You don’t need to torch a modern high rise on the Upper East Side in order to make money; you just have to open the front door. This isn’t some abandoned warehouse district in a shady part of town. Second, if you were going to crash a plane on NY’s east side in order to steal the election/increase terrorism worries/rally people around the flag, etc., you have a much better target. All the plane would have to do would be to head another 30 blocks south, and it could have plowed into the headquarters of the United Nations, right along the water. In fact, the plane passed the building as it was originally heading up the river. Now there would be a target with some pizzazz, if that is what a conspirator was looking for.

So, it seems that the building itself wasn’t the target. There is, however, one aspect we haven’t looked at yet. What about someone in the building? Before I turn to the message board, let’s just acknowledge how stupid it would be to try to kill someone this way. You’re going well over 100 miles per hour, yet supposedly you are counting floors, etc. to try to aim for a specific apartment. There have got to be easier ways to get to someone. But I digress.

The posters weren’t as dismissive as I am, however. One thought that it could have been a kindred spirit:
"what would be if there was an 'important' person inside the building? Maybe a truther? Who's the owner of that apartment?"
Let me blunt. If the government was really in the midst of a great conspiracy, and thought that some of those truthers were getting a little too close, don’t you think they might find a little less conspicuous (and more effective) way to take them out? Remember, these are the guys responsible for the greatest conspiracy in the history of the world. Regardless, I think I smell delusions of grandeur among the conspiracy movement.

Someone else is getting ready for the new James Bond movie that is coming out next month:
"follow the links, and you'll find that indeed this was probably a mi6/cia safehouse of some sort.
apartments 46d/e are held in trust by the u.s. state department, and the plane hit the 40th floor.
the state department routinely holds in trust apartments for "friendly" agents.
did they miss their intended target?
was it just an "accident", that they happened to fly into the building across the street from where the u.n. envoy from north korea lives?
was he the intended target?
who was at the controls of the plane?
was it lidle or was it the 'flight instructor'?"
First off, which is it: targeting a safe house, or the North Korean ambassador? Oh, it doesn’t matter – just keep throwing everything you can come up with at the wall until something sticks. By the way, for people who are unfamiliar with New York, that area of the city is absolutely filled with diplomats, UN workers, etc. The UN is only 1.5 miles away. Once again, think about what I said regarding probability theory - probably every block has someone of signficance on it.

One more poster, if any of you are still with me:
"so what we have at this moment is something that needs to be delved into further.
accident? maybe.
attempt to get rid of an agent that had outlived his usefulness? possibly.
suicide by lidle? doubtful
was the doctor who lived in the apartment the intended target? good question.
there's a game afoot here, but i can't yet point my finger directly on it. i'm dancing all around it, with a lot of you sending me tantalizing bits here and there, that add a piece to the puzzle.
i won't say any more on this subject until we can piece the puzzle completely together......................................"
There is a great choice of words in the midst of that mind-blowing quote: "piece the puzzle." See, to many of these guys that’s what the world is, a giant game. They are like kids playing dress up and concocting a fantasy world of the imagination. The problem is, too many of the adults among us are taking them way too seriously. So in that vein, let me answer one thing this poster raised: was it a "good question" to ask if some poor doctor in that apartment was targeted? No, it was an asinine question. Your teachers lied to you. There are such things as "stupid" questions. You’ve just asked one. Please stop.

I find sifting through conspiracy theorists’ websites disheartening, alarming, depressing, and infuriating. I feel dirty afterwards. I am not a masochist. Why then, you may ask, have I been spending this time over the past week bringing you highlights of their reaction to the Lidle crash. For that answer, you’ll have to read the final part of this series, on why all of this matters, coming on Monday.

Note: I’ve left quotes from the message board as they appeared, and haven’t corrected spelling, etc. Also, Loose Change has upgraded their site over the past few days, and the old message boards no longer appear available. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bush channeling Bono

This is quite funny, and really well done. A nice break from conspiracy theories. (Hat tip: the Corner)

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part V - Statistics, Numerology, & Other Things to Do with Numbers

(Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy last week. Earlier parts: I, II, III and IV.)

On October 11th, 2006, Cory Lidle’s plane crashed into 524 East 74th Street in New York City.

Do you get it? Can you believe how diabolical the government is? We need to get the truth out.

What, you don’t see it yet? The Loose Change posters did. Come on. OK, I’ll help:

524 East 72nd Street
5 + 2 + 4 =11
7 + 2 = 9

9 and 11 – 9/11! Get it?

Oh, and don’t forget the date: 10/11/06. A number of posters were quick to point out that if you flip the numbers upside down, you get 9/11/01. Those bastards . . .

Um, but wait. Actually, if you flip the date upside down, you get 90/11/01. No, no, no, they reply; you drop the zero before the single digit year (i.e. 10/11/6). Oh, OK. But, if that is the case, why don’t we drop the extra zero in the 9/11 date, too (i.e. 9/11/1). Well, then it won’t match up with the “10” representing October in the date of the crash. But . . .

Boy, this is getting a little convoluted. And it is also one of the most unmitigated piles of utter crap you are ever going to encounter. I’m actually embarrassed that I am taking time out of your life to tell you about it. But if this is the way many of the conspiracy theorists think, it’s important to realize just what they are talking about.

Had enough? I’ll spare you the pain of too many cuts of this type from the message board. Here is just a little sample:

"This is really weird and the day is Number 11."
Well, that’s not too bad. People always like to point out little coincidences like that. If they had stopped there, I would have rolled my eyes and moved on. But no:

"the illuminati are very big into numerology ... this could perhaps mean something"
The Illuminati? That’s a little more out there, don’t you think? Raising the question certainly meant something, though – just no where near what he intended.

Others used the mystical power of numbers to shoot down the idea that someone specifically was targeted for death by the plane (more on that gem of an idea, by the way, tomorrow):

"While it might be important to know who lived in this building, I just dont see how it can transend the numerology. I believe the plane was ment to hit this paticular building strictly because the perps like to play with numbers, and want to remind the public to vote repulican before elections. Not saying your wrong, but the numbers to me seems like no coincidence, so that puts me in doubt if someone was an intended target."
All this talk about significant numbers reminds me of a story. It was a year or two after 9/11, and I was walking past Ground Zero. There was a conspiracy theorist set up there, equipped with placards and the like. His version, though, went back further than most. In fact, he thought that the conspiracy had started back in the Nixon administration. How did we know this? Well, Nixon had been President when the 9-1-1 emergency phone system had been put into place (or so he claimed – this chronology suggests Johnson was President at the time). The selection of 9-1-1 as the number to call had been done as part of a 30+ year process of training the population to mentally associate those digits with tragedy, in preparation for the 9/11 “attacks.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Had enough yet? I thought so. Since I have your attention, though, allow me a brief sidetrack into statistics. In a lot of what you read in the conspiracy world, there is a pretty basic misunderstanding of probability theory. This poster unintentionally highlights the problem:
"This is covering up old things or part of the becoming ones. It seeems like part of a bigger plan to me. They need this I cant put it together but think about it.. What happened here?? A baseball players plane hits a building. How many of you have hit building with an airplane?? Or do you know anyone? And not just that.. look around."
The problem with this and other observations is that they confuse two different probabilities: on the one hand, the chance, ahead of time, of a specific, fairly rare "coincidence" happening; and, on the other hand, the chance of any of a wide variety of "coincidences" happening. The chance of the first is quite low, while that of the second is a lot higher.

An example might help. Here is one that is used in lots of statistics classes. Say you are one of 50 students in a lecture hall. What is the chance that someone else in the room shares your birthday? What is the chance that any two people in the room share a birthday? Here’s a graph I put together with the answers to those questions for class sizes up to 50:

The calculation is fairly simple. I can detail it if you want, but I figured I’d spare most of you the pain.

You can see that while the chance of someone else having your birthday is quite low, the chance of two people in the room having the same birthday is almost a lock. This is an important result, and not intuitive to most people who have never taken statistics.

It is this phenomenon at the core of many conspiracy claims. To tie it back to our last post, what is the chance of a specific piece of paper selected ahead of time surviving a fire? Low. What is the chance of a number of random pieces of paper surviving the fire? Very high.

I’m not sure if you found that statistics detour useful, but it is a mistake that people make all the time, and conspiracy people make more than most. It is sort of like saying, "What is the chance that I will win the lottery this week?" (very low), versus, "What is the chance that someone will win the lottery this week?" (a heck of a lot higher). Lots of times when conspiracy theorists start something with, "What are the chances," it is a good idea to keep this distinction in mind.

Next time, we’ll watch as the research tools of the conspiracy movement are focused on finding out who was affected by the Lidle crash. I promise you, I haven't used up all the good quotes yet.

Note: I’ve left quotes from the message board as they appeared, and haven’t corrected spelling, etc. Also, Loose Change has upgraded their site over the past few days, and the old message boards no longer appear available. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Brave, very brave

Other bloggers have already made similar points, but I just had to briefly chime in: under what rationale does CNN decide to show videos of snipers shooting American troops, but not images of cartoons mocking Mohammed?

"CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons out of respect for Islam."
Does it follow then that showing the video displays a lack of respect for the military? A few days later they offered a more detailed explanation:
"CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself."
I guess they have no concern that showing sniper attacks on troops might, oh, I don't know, "add fuel" to any controversy about the war?

The point I want to make is not whether or not they should have shown the video today. Rather, I wanted to highlight that decision in the context of the earlier cartoon call.

CNN - they will speak truth to power. Unless, of course, the power threatens to kill them.

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part IV - Burning Passports & Other Questions of Physics

(Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy last week. Earlier parts: I, II, and III.)

If you follow any of the 9/11 conspiracy talk, you will note that the discussions frequently involve physics or the other sciences. You’ll be treated to arguments about steel melting points, debris patterns, controlled demolitions, and hole sizes. Frequently there is just enough marginal scientific commentary to make it sound as if they are just “raising questions,” when the real story is that they ignore the available resources and answers in order to keep their conspiratorial ruse afloat.

A simple example is the oft-heard complaint that the World Trade Center came down as if it were a controlled demolition, resembling the video records of such instances that we’ve all seen on TV over the years. Their lack of comfort in the appearance of the collapse, however, begs the question: what should it look like when a building that size fails? By what fact base do they believe it should look differently than it did? You get the sense that many people think a building falling is like a tree being chopped down, and that they believe the towers should have tipped over from their bases, eventually falling to the ground on their sides, stretching out for many city blocks.

Of course, that is preposterous. A tree is solid, while the vast majority of the towers’ volumes were empty air. When structural integrity fails, gravity takes over, pulling everything down. To think otherwise is to ignore the most basic laws of physics and engineering, all because the visual manifestations of a building collapsing in on itself appear similar, whether the proximate cause was a controlled demolition or airliners plowing into its side.

Many of the arguments conspiracy theorists make originate from assertions regarding physical realities that simply aren’t true. Returning to Cory Lidle’s accident, look at this poster from the message board:

"the plane didnt pentrate through the building, it was only going 150-200MPH max... you would expect the plane to be intact just like a normal car in a crash would be. What kind of plane debri was found on the ground?"
Why, exactly, should a plane traveling that fast, 40 stories up, and flying into a massive building resemble the wreckage that a car would produce during an accident at, say, 50 miles per hour? Well, because they say it should, that’s why. This is obviously nonsense, even before taking into account the different materials used and the split of the plane wreckage between the affected apartments and the street below.

The most indignation, however, regarding the physical evidence is saved for the fact that Lidle’s passport was found among the wreckage on the street below. As one poster demanded:

"passports should never be found damet!"
You might wonder why this is such a big deal for the conspiracy world. Well, one of their pet peeves about the “official” 9/11 explanation is that a hijacker’s passport was found among the wreckage. In their mind, it should have been incinerated. In fact, this belief is so deeply ingrained in the conspiracy mindset that the recovery of Lidle’s passport incensed the masses.

Some reactions were just a little shock:

"They found his passport in the street in all the rubble.
That sounds so wildly familiar to the stuff they told us about 9/11 hijacker's passport (as if to say -- see such a thing is possible). Absolutely amazing."
And this:

"Odd how that passport of the pilot ended up in the street. That was quite a blaze coming from that building. Wonder what else from the airplane was in the street?"
Well, let’s see, there were the bodies and a good part of the wreckage for a start. No matter, suspicions were raised:

"the passport thing alone is enough to say 'where have we heard that one before?'
i want to know more....................."
At least this poster is honest enough to say he is using his imagination:

"my imagination says that the passport today was to PROVE the possibiliity of a passport on 9/11."
This poster, on the other hand, is sure it’s not his imagination at work:

"its bullshit and its to support the finding of the terrorists passport from 911"
The ongoing discussion among the conspiracy theorists wound up focusing on two issues: 1) why would Lidle have his passport, and 2) why didn’t the passport burn in the crash. With regards to the first point, people thought it was awfully fishy:

"I wonder why an American citizen is flying around inside the United States with a passport in the first place. Those are for overseas use."
They are also an excellent form of general identification, establishing both citizenship and identity. I generally use mine when opening a bank account, starting a new job, etc. Another poster:

"I have a passport, the only times I ever use it is when I go overseas. Never had anyone ask for one here inside the United States. Most people don't even recognize one when they see it."
That seems a little hard to believe. Finally, a simple question:

"You need your passport to fly around in the U.S., even as an ID?"
Why did Cory Lidle have his passport with him that day? I didn’t know the man, so I can’t be sure. But here’s a thought: he was leaving the next day to fly to his off-season home in California. Given that, he certainly had packed most of his things already. Is it that hard to fathom that he would have all his “important papers” together in one place, such as a brief case or back pack? Things like passports, pilot licenses, etc. He certainly would have had his passport with him in NY, since he needs to travel to Canada for games during the season. In fact, I find the idea of keeping things like passports and pilots licenses together with other important stuff rather unremarkable, especially when you are about to hit the road. I’ve certainly done things like that in the past (albeit minus the pilot’s license).

If he did have the passport with him, why wasn’t it destroyed? As one poster asks:

"Seriously, are those things made of indestructible titanium alloys, or paper?"
Someone else goes into a bit more detail:

"What I find amazing in this passport story is that IT was found in the street below; it obviously had to get there from the airplane after it had crashed into the building. We saw the fire coming from the building, it was pretty intense. I'm holding my passport right now and it's paper, I won't try but I am pretty sure I could set fire to it with a simple match. Just oddly curious in the sense also that it was alleged that a 9/11 hijacker's passport was found in the street after the towers collapsed. I maintain the same odd curosity about that as well."
First of all, an observation about what happened last week. Plane hits building. Parts of plane (especially the heaviest part, i.e. the engine) continue into the building. Other parts of the plane, however, do not penetrate, and proceed to slide down the face of the building and crash down below. This isn’t tough to figure out; you can see the giant black mark on the side of the building where the plane slid down. So, right off the bat, it is not the case that the passport had to somehow leap out of the building after the crash. Nor is it necessary to think, as this poster did, that pilot training includes the following:

"There must be a 'what-to-do-when-I-fly-my-plane-into-a-building-in-10-steps' booklet in every aircraft.

1. Get axe
2. Break window
3. Open your coat
4. Reach for your inside pocket
5. Grab passport
6. Lift passport out of inside pocket
7. Get hand out of your coat while holding passport
8. Get ready for throwing
9. Aim to broken window
10. Throw passport out of aircraft."
More importantly, all this talk about the passport (or any other specific piece of flammable material) being unable to survive a crash in nonsense. As the most obvious example, remember the sky of lower Manhattan being filled with paper floating to the ground on 9/11? I do, despite the fact that there was an inferno going on inside.

Let’s try a thought experiment (actually try this at your own risk, I accept no liability). Imagine taking a large glass bowl or baking dish. Fill it up with small pieces of things flammable – pieces of paper, cardboard, wood chips, etc. Treat some (or even all) of them before hand with lighter fluid or something similar. Go outside and stand ten feet or so from a brick wall. Light the contents of the bowl on fire, and then with all your might hurl the bowl at the wall. Of course, make sure no one is around, and that you are wearing appropriate protection.

You will notice two things, among others: firstly, debris from the bowl – especially small pieces – will be all over the place, and not in some simple little pile at the base of the impact site. Secondly, many pieces of the flammable “debris” will have not burned. Sure, under ideal circumstances all or most of it would have – say in a furnace. But in the real world, the force of the impact will knock much of it away, and some of that will wind up not burning.

This is, of course, only a metaphor for what actually happens in a crash or other tragedy, and you can tweak the experiment as you like. Two takeaways will remain, though: small pieces of debris will be remarkably scattered, and much otherwise flammable, remarkably scattered debris will wind up not being destroyed. Just because conspiracy theorists claim this shouldn’t happen doesn’t make it true.

Why are the posters so hung up on this? Because the Cory Lidle crash provides a “control” for some of their claims about 9/11. If a passport survives this crash, then is it unthinkable that it could survive others? Of course not. Instead of facing this fact, conspiracy theorists would have you believe that someone got their hands on Lidle’s passport before the crash, and then planted it among the wreckage right after to substantiate some of the 9/11 evidence from five years before. What is more likely – that, or the fact that not everything burns in a crash?

Next, we look at the numerology of the Lidle crash, as well as some other observations about mathematics.

(Note: I’ve left quotes from the message board as they appeared, and haven’t corrected spelling, etc. Also, Loose Change has upgraded their site over the past few days, and the message boards appear to be down as a result. I’ve left the link to the original board intact, assuming it will be back up at some point.)

UPDATE: Loose Change now has a new forum (registration required) that doesn't seem to contain the old threads. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part III - Suspicious Timing

(Note: This is the third in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy last week. Earlier parts can be found here and here.)

A bang. A screech. A crash. A roar.

Sounds like that cause the average person to turn towards the source to see what is happening. A special few, however, turn the other way, thinking the action is a distraction from what must really be going on. After watching too many Hollywood movies, they are convinced things never just happen.

Can there ever be just a car crash, just an accident, just a coincidence? If not, when do actual accidents happen? You know, where someone is going too fast and skids, slips on ice and falls, over estimates his own abilities and crashes. Are they all hidden away someplace else in another conspiracy, leaving the public’s “capacity for accidents” left to be filled by the nefarious plots of the powers that be?

With regards to the Cory Lidle crash, there was a significant period of time before it was known who was on the plane. Before then, talk about head fakes and the like, while silly, was slightly more tolerable. After it was known, however, to think that this was still some secret government mission is, well, a bit batty.

Let’s turn again to the message board. Right in the beginning, moments after the news hit, people were awfully sure of themselves:
"this is deliberate, mark my words.
it takes attention away from the real issues."
Consider your words marked. Another poster had an even more dire prediction:
"The Martial Law bill will be signed right now."
Of course, when none of these things came to pass, there were certainly no apologies being offered. Other people are to be held accountable, not necessarily these guys.

Well after it was clear that it was Cory Lidle on the plane, board posters were still claiming devious plans:
"Kansas City Shuffle, my friend. Look the other way, see what has been obscured by this smoke screen. Maybe there's something behind this."
Oh, and don’t forget about the President:
"Bush sabotaged the plane so you would all get side tracked to the real matter at hand."
The great part about all of these, of course, is that there is no way to disprove them, and those who offer such predictions don’t even pretend to try to provide evidence themselves. It’s similar to many of the tactics used by conspiracy aficionados: all they are doing is “raising questions” - who can be against that?

For the record, I haven’t found anything that happened on Wednesday, October 11th that received inadequate attention because two individuals crashed a plane in New York. With all the conspiracy guys right on top of it, you’d think they would have found out what the real story was by now.

Up next, a look at some of the physics of the conspiracy claims, and specifically the issue of finding passports at crash sites.

(Note: I’ve left quotes from the message board as they appeared, and haven’t corrected spelling, etc. Also, Loose Change has upgraded their site over the past few days, and the message boards appear to be down as a result. I’ve left the link to them intact, assuming they will be back up at some point.)

UPDATE: Loose Change now has a new forum (registration required) that doesn't seem to contain the old threads. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.

I'd be in more trouble if they asked for capitals

Can you pass the third grade? I wish there was a bonus for speed.

Monday, October 16, 2006

John in Wonderland

I'm sorry, but if John Spencer thought the NRSC was going to pour money into the NY Senate race, he's delusional (via the Note):

"He said National Republican Senatorial Committee head Elizabeth Dole promised him millions last year. But the political weather has darkened for Republicans, now worried about saving endangered seats. When Spencer went to Washington last week for the money, Dole sent him home empty handed.

'I'm deeply disappointed in their lack of courage,' he said. 'To actually give me nothing is an outrage.'"
In case he hasn't noticed, the party actually has a couple of other races that it is keeping its eyes on, maybe ones a tad bit closer than Mr. Spencer's bid.

If you run for Senate, it is your responsibility to raise money for your campaign, not to claim "outrage" that the national party is choosing to devote resources to races where, you know, their candidate is maybe within 20 points.

The NY GOP disaster looks as likely as ever.

UPDATE: And Bruno positions to take as little heat as possible, although what he is saying is true.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part II - Chaos and Its Consequences

(Note: This is the second in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy last week. Part I can be found here.)

If one looks at some of the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, many of them include and/or are prompted by some bit of eyewitness testimony. Usually that testimony conflicts with other people at the scene, or even with the complete recollections of the same people being cited. Nevertheless, if a single person claims to have seen something that doesn’t fit with the “official” version of events, this is taken as an indication that a conspiracy is afoot.

Last week, when Cory Lidle’s plane hit a building in New York City, I already happened to have the television on. I switched to the coverage of the accident about 10-15 minutes after it occurred, and then had on a variety of stations covering the situation for the next few hours. If you were watching the coverage – and especially if you were following the coverage across a few different stations – you couldn’t help but notice discrepancies in many initial accounts. There were differences between what different stations were saying (presumably because of differences amongst their sources), and even differences among the accounts on the same station.

One of the most obvious discrepancies was whether the craft in question was a helicopter or a fixed wing airplane; it was this discrepancy, incidentally, that originally led me to want to write about this, in order to illustrate how well-meaning people can get facts wrong. And, quite frankly, some of them were wrong. This was a fairly simple, knowable fact. There is but one correct answer (unless you maintain that there were two aircraft involved). There is no gray area here, no room for interpretation.

In case you are wondering, let me say that it is abundantly clear now that it was a single, fixed wing plane that hit the building. If you don’t think that’s the case, well, I guess we can talk about it. But given all the evidence that suggests otherwise, the onus will be on you to show why that is not correct.

If it is true that that is the case, why did some people say they saw a helicopter? Simply put, they were mistaken. Remember, things happen quickly, circumstances are scary, chaos abounds, and situations are confusing. This is incredibly important to realize: people make mistakes, including about what they see, and especially under stressful situations. They don’t do this because they are necessarily evil or conniving; they do it because they are human. Someone hears something, turns, and looks. Maybe they turn in time to take in the situation, maybe they turn in time to see a blur, maybe they turn in time to see the immediate aftermath. The mind tends to fill in the details in circumstances like these, especially when the situation is traumatic and someone wants to have seen the whole thing. Our minds are actually incredibly good at filling in details to augment limited information sets and make sense of a situation. For example, think about being on a phone call with bad reception; your mind is filling in lots of blanks (word and parts of words missed) based on context and other clues, making (or trying to make) a sensible whole out of fragmented parts.

There is also a natural human impulse to want to be important, and no one is more important in the aftermath of a tragedy than an “eyewitness.” Concurrently, there is a subconscious desire to make what you saw newsworthy, to subtly fill in blanks, or say things with more certainty than you probably should. Someone who says they really didn’t see much gets interviewed quietly and quickly; someone who says they saw the whole thing gets to have their family watch their interview on the news that night played time and again. Hence, our bias to matter.

Back to the conspiracy theorists and their message board. One of the posters actually almost had his hands on the answer and didn’t even realize it:
"Lot's of conflicting reports coming out right now about the crash. Reports of odd things from eye-witnesses. It's as if nobody is 100% sure what's going on so soon after a tragedy. What does it all mean? I don't know."
As I said above, it means that people make mistakes. Some are confused, some are mistaken, and some are even right. You find out who’s who by looking at the totality of the accounts and the evidence, not by hanging the conspiracy shingle on a single conflicting, contradictory account.

In addition to the plane/helicopter discrepancy, there was also initial confusion about the path that the flight had taken. The correct path was later identified by radar records and other means, but early on it wasn’t clear which way it had come. Different channels were offering contradictory accounts:
“cnn showed the fight path coming from teterboro, going up to 1500 ft. as it reached the west side of manhattan. it flew straight across manhattan island, turned south upon reaching the east river, then turned right after dropping down to 400 ft., flying directly into the building.

mayor bloomberg just said that the plane came up the east river after circling the staue of liberty twice.

the plane can't be in 2 places at once.”
That’s right, the plane can’t be; another case of some witnesses being wrong. Here’s another poster:

"why is there 2 different versions of the direction the plane came in from? one version is that it corcled the statue of lberty 2x before heading north along the east river, then turning into the building. that would make it a left turn into the building not a right turn.
the other version has the plane flying across manhattan island, coming from west to east, across restricted airspace, and turning south along the east river before turning right into the building.
the video of the plane hitting the building suggests that the plane was on a beeline course for this building, not from the river but coming in directly across from the southwest."
Regarding this last quote, one further point. I watched that video the poster is talking about. It doesn’t show the plane coming in from the southwest; in fact, it shows exactly the opposite, looking at the north face of the building as the plane hits it, traveling towards the southwest. The poster made a mistake about what they saw. Not unlike some people on the ground.

The funny thing is, many conspiracy types want it both ways. On the one hand they will jump on any discrepancy in accounts as a sign that something is wrong, and at the same time they will point to any too-quick consensus as, well, a sign that something is wrong. To put it another way, there is never a set of circumstances that tells them there is not a conspiracy. To wit:

"Well this was not a terror attack. It must be true because its in the news! No but really they covered the whole thing very fast and now things are suddenly so clear about it. People what else is happening Right Now as we are blinded listening to the news and concentrating only on this?"
And another poster:

"Talk about drills btw. Oh yes they are bragging about how they have learned from all the drills. They ansver everything so knowingly, like this happened already a month ago!"
So for some there simply is no set of information or evidence that suggests they can be wrong; any information provided will always indicate a conspiracy among us. That’s not logic or reason at work; that’s fanaticism.

Coming up next, a discussion of the “Kansas City Shuffle.”

(Note: I’ve left quotes from the message board as they appeared, and haven’t corrected spelling, etc.)

UPDATE: Over the past few days, the Loose Change website has had a revamp. The old forum appears down, and they now have a new forum (registration required) that doesn't seem to contain the old threads. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes

Posted by a lawyer friend of mine. I think the woman has a good case.

UPDATE: I realized after I posted this that I probably should have also included a warning. The link is really disgusting; click through at your own risk.

UPDATE 2: A doctor friend of mine writes:
"Just wanted to let you know that I've seen those surgeries, and connecting the colon to the vagina is not all that hard to do. In fact, its one of those things that surgeons 'double check' to make sure they haven't done."
I had no idea. Regardless, if you are a surgeon, for the love of god, please double check.

Loose Change on the Upper East Side: Part I - Introduction

Two days ago, Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and a flight instructor named Tyler Stanger crashed a small, single engine plane into an apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Both perished in the accident, although miraculously no other lives were lost. The investigation into the tragedy continues, although initial indications are that the accident may have been the result of a botched u-turn attempt over the East River.

Watching the events unfold on television, I was struck by how confused many of the eye witness accounts were in the initial chaotic moments. Hmm, I thought, this might make an interesting blog post. While I was thinking about it, I stumbled across this posting at Screw Loose Change, which then led me to this message board at the Loose Change website. For those who are unfamiliar, the guys behind Loose Change are among the more prominent of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

My oh my, did I ever hit the mother lode of material for mocking. My plan then was to put together a posting on some of the wackier things people were saying about this accident. A funny thing happened on my way through the loony bin, though: I had way too much material. Cutting and pasting from what I thought were the best quotes and points, I quickly had six full pages of excerpts, way too much material for a typical blog post of reasonable length. So, I am going to try a little experiment, and put together a miniseries, if you will, on a single topic. There will be six posts to come after this one:

• Part II – Chaos and Its Consequences
• Part III – Suspicious Timing
• Part IV – Burning Passports and Other Questions of Physics
• Part V – Statistics, Numerology, and Other Things to Do with Numbers
• Part VI – Names, Names, and More Names
• Part VII – Conclusion: Why This Matters

All the postings will come over the next few days. If this experiment works out well, I might use it on occasion for other topics that are best dealt with in longer form. We’ll see how it goes.

Right off the bat, though, let me fess up to an unusual coincidence, and let the conspiracy mongers among us get their research tools out. I live about 50 blocks south of the plane crash this week, and on September 11th, 2001 I lived about 30 blocks north of the World Trade Center (different apartment, obviously). I know there are forces in the conspiracy movement that will undoubtedly determine I’m some how in on it. In my defense, however, I will point out that in the intervening time I lived in Philadelphia a few years for grad school, and to the best of my knowledge there were no serious aeronautical events down there during my presence. Of course, I probably just moved down there for a bit to knock everyone off the scent . . .

So sit back and enjoy. Part II will follow later today. In the meantime, if you missed it, check out the South Park from this past week on the 9/11 conspiracy theorists (part 1, part 2, part 3). As Cartman sings in the episode:

“Is it wrong for me to ask questions?
Is it wrong to seek the truth?
I can’t just blindly accept their version.
I can’t base my logic on proof.”
Hopefully we’ll be doing a bit better than that. More to come.

UPDATE: Over the past few days, the Loose Change website has had a revamp. The old forum appears down, and they now have a new forum (registration required) that doesn't seem to contain the old threads. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ted's excellent North Korean adventure

Fresh from a trip to North Korea, Ted Turner was interviewed on CNN by Wolf Blitzer a few weeks ago (hat tip: Megan McCormack). It was - especially in light of their recent (attempted?) nuclear test - quite an extraordinary performance. Let's get right to Ted:

"But I had a great time. I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There's really no reason -- no reason for them to cheat or do anything to violate this very forward agreement. I mean, I think we can put the North Korea and East Asia problems behind us and concentrate on Iran and Iraq, where, where we still have some ongoing difficulties."
So far not a lot of surprises. Probably about what you've come to expect from the guy. You can disagree with him on the substance (which I certainly do), but no showstoppers so far. Continuing, what does Ted think of the North Korean leader?

"Well, I didn't get, I didn't get to meet him, but he didn't look, in the pictures that I've seen of him on CNN, he didn't look too much different than most other people."
Well, that makes me feel better. What cutting edge, insightful analysis. Glad he seems to think that, if you don't see horns or something coming out of the guy's head on TV, everything is hunky-dory. Still, at this point I generally just think that Ted's an idiot, as opposed to evil.

But wait, it was just a matter of time. What about the issues of starvation and economic desperation? Ted's on it:

"Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars."
Disgusting. Millions of people starve to death, millions continue to suffer from malnutrition - never mind the other human rights abuses - and Ted Turner offers quips about people being "thin." I am literally at a loss for words. Maybe he thinks keeping people thin is a smart move for when guards "spear" them to drag them back across the border (hat tip Austin Bay). (By the way, that article link is not for the squeamish, but turning a blind eye to the actions it describes is also not for the humane.)

Well, maybe Ted (or you) doesn't care about human rights, or the domestic situation in North Korea. What about the threat they pose to the US or regional peace?

"And North Korea never posed any significant threat to the United States. I mean, the whole economy of North Korea's only $30 billion a year. It's less than the city of Detroit. It's a small place, and we do not have to worry about them attacking us."
Is that right? Here is what their "unofficial spokesman" said just the other day:

"Kim is unique in that he is the first to equip Korea with sufficient military capability to take the war all the way to the continental US. Under his leadership the DPRK has become a nuclear-weapons state with intercontinental means of delivery. . . Unlike all the previous wars Korea fought, a next war will be better called the American War or the DPRK-US War because the main theater will be the continental US, with major cities transformed into towering infernos."
Hyperbole aside, I guess we aren't supposed to listen to what people actually say. Back to Ted - what does he think we should do? Is North Korea really a threat?

Turner: "Let's give 'em a break. Give 'em a break And besides, even if they do -- even if they do threaten us again, the threat is non-existent to the United States. They can't threaten us. I mean, it's like a flea attacking an elephant." [typo corrected]

Blitzer: "What about those ground to ground missiles that they have, and the CIA-"

Turner: "They can't reach us."

Blitzer: "Well, they can reach Japan. They can reach South Korea. They can reach a lot of our allies-"

Turner: "They can't reach the USA, and we can pound them into, into oblivion in 24 hours."

Blitzer: "But, you don't want to get, you don't want to get to that. There are some estimates, by the way, that could reach Alaska."

Turner: "Well, what, the Aleutian Islands? There's nothing up there but a few sea lions."
This is Ted Turner's world. Nuclear threat against our troops overseas? Acceptable. Nuclear threat against our allies South Korea and Japan (whom we are obligated by treaty to defend)? Acceptable. Nuclear threat to the US itself? Acceptable, since it's only some islands in Alaska (wait till his environmentalist friends hear about this). Of course, you have to trust that we know exactly how far those missiles can go, and that North Korea doesn't develop (or already have) the means to deliver them further, and that there is no possibility of them passing them along to another hostile group or regime. Come to think of it, such knowledge probably wouldn't cause Turner to shift his world view at all. I mean, he seems unconcerned with a nuclear threat to Tokyo; why should San Francisco get him up in arms?

Has Turner been denounced on the Left? If not, when did the Left come to this? When did it become OK to ignore the starvation of a people by callously noting that they looked "thin"? When did it become OK to not worry about nuclear weapons held by a mad regime when they can only hit your soldiers, allies, and outlying territory? Is Ted Turner simply psychotic? What depravity.

It is said that youth is wasted on the young. If this interview is to be believed, freedom may be wasted on Ted Turner.

City #1, meet city #2

"I'm not physically capable of driving anywhere near Chicago without driving into it. I just can't bring myself to depress the accelerator and keep going past, even if the city is 500 miles to the north. Those of you on the coasts who have never been there have no idea. Unless you live in New York, Chicago is better than your city. Sorry, that's just how it is." (link)
As someone who has lived in both Chicago and New York, that sounds about right. No offense intended to the rest of the country, of course.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A tale of two protests (or three)

You've probably seen the story already, but last week there was a lovely display of what passes for freedom of speech (or lack thereof) up at Columbia University. Here is the initial story from the Columbia Spectator, and here is an update talking about the use of Facebook in trying to identify the protesters. There's been lots of blog commentary about this already, for example here, here, and here. What I always find depressing about stuff like this are the "yes, but" free speech advocates. As in (from the first article):

"'I don't feel like we need to apologize or anything. [YES] It was fundamentally a part of free speech. ... [BUT] The Minutemen are not a legitimate part of the debate on immigration.'"
Sounds remarkably like lots of people who don't like anyone disagreeing with them. Like I said the other day in a slightly different context, there is no right not to be offended. It shouldn't need to be said, but freedom of speech actually means freedom for those with whom you disagree as well. Inconvenient, I know, but that's the way it is (or at least is supposed to be).

As far as I'm concerned, this is much more my type of campus protest these days, courtesy of my graduate school alma mater.

All this talk of college protests, though, had me reminiscing about some of the protests from my undergrad days here. One story in particular stood out. Back when I was in college, California passed Proposition 187. For those who don't remember, it was a ballot measure that eliminated certain benefits for illegal immigrants in California. Quite controversial at the time, it passed with 59% of the vote, though it was never enacted due to judicial review.

Anyway, one day on campus (in Connecticut, obviously) about a month after the election, I was walking with a friend in the campus center. There was a table set up (as was quite typical), in this case to sign petitions, "Against Prop 187." Known for always getting a kick out of engaging with the protesters of the day (my favorites were the guys from the Workers Vanguard, but that's for another time), I approached to find out more.

So, I walk up, and one of the woman manning the operation asks me to sign. I ask her what the petition is for, and she starts telling me about the evils of the measure. Stepping in when her need for breath made her (thankfully) stop talking for a second, I said: "That may all be true, but those arguments were for before the election. The election has come, the measure passed, and now it's going to be stuck in the courts thanks to challenges, etc. What's the point of a petition regarding a pending court case involving a duly passed statute?"

"It's important that people know how we feel," she offered, also starting to look a little uncomfortable at having to answer a question at all. Doesn't this guy know he's just supposed to sign?

After a few more equally unenlightening exchanges, the conversation was getting tedious. About to leave, I did inquire as to what they were going to do with the petitions themselves.

"Oh, we're bringing them to the Governor," she said.

I will tell you, I was taken aback, and a little impressed. Maybe I had sold her short. True, a petition trying to influence a court about a case in front of it struck me as inappropriate and obtuse, but on the other hand at least they were making the effort to get these things all the way out to California, and in the hands of the person who would be responsible to enforce the law itself.

"Wow," I offered, "you're bringing these out to Gov. Wilson?"

"Oh, no," was the quick and sort of confused reply, "Gov. Weicker." For those of you who don't know, Lowell Weicker was the governor of Connecticut at the time. And, even better, he hadn't run for reelection that year, and so was a lame duck in the midst of the transition out of office.

So, it seems that the great plan was to convince the governor of Connecticut to mount some form of protest against the great state of California for the law. All options were to be on the table - public condemnations, sanctions, retaliatory measures. Alas, thanks to judicial intervention, the full force of Connecticut's retaliatory powers never were brought to bear. But I'm sure California was quaking in its boots.

At this point, realizing I had nothing left to add, I headed off for my lunch, secure in the knowledge that passionate people were letting the powers that be know how they felt. Never mind that they were the wrong powers.

And that my friends was my witness to the great Connecticut-California Embargo of 1994. Never heard of it? Why am I not surprised . . .