Thursday, October 19, 2006

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.

1 comment:

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