Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 12:26 pm


Was there ever really a doubt? But now we know.

I had to stop and think for a minute when I found myself rooting for government regulation of the internet -- but then I realized that what I'm rooting for is not regulation of content but regulation of how the content is delivered: the interface between the content and the real world. We have to regulate the latter so it doesn't squash the freedom of the former.

So, what's the next step? Can Congress authorize the FCC to regulate the delivery of internet services, the same way it regulates telephone and radio? On what grounds does it make sense to say that the FCC can regulate non-broadcast digital media like cable TV, but not the internet? Is there any chance at all that any changes which actually get made will be based on something sane and reasonable?

Probably not while government operates the way it currently does... which is why I need to get back to work on InstaGov, if circumstances will ever allow it.
Saturday, January 30th, 2010 07:56 pm

written in response to this article forwarded to me by a relative who thought it was funny; cross-posted from here

I'm sure you're familiar with this joke:

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A (in butch woman's voice, accompanied by glare): That's not funny.

I'm afraid I'm having a similar reaction to Sanders's piece. Since I detest knee-jerk reactions, I thought I should try to convey why I find it un-funny, though I do not expect to succeed.

Imagine if you will that scientists have discovered that a small asteroid is due to hit the Earth in about 50 years. It's not a dinosaur-killer, but big enough to cause noticeable effects globally and severe effects locally. Let's say the best predictions are that it will wipe out the island of Bermuda, and probably cause tsunamis along the American coast for thousands of miles from South America up to the mid-Atlantic.

The orbital mechanics are such that if we mount a major space initiative within the next 5 years, we can completely deflect the asteroid from hitting the planet, with a good margin of safety. After that, the margin gets narrow pretty quickly; by 10 years out, there is currently no known design powerful enough and light enough for us to be able to get it off earth and out to the asteroid in time.

And of course, the sooner we start, the cheaper the solution will be.

For some reason, the tourist industry gets the idea that if people believe this prediction, tourism will suffer -- especially in Bermuda -- so they bizarrely mount a campaign to convince people that it is bad science, a hoax perpetrated by money-grubbing NASA scientists and the aerospace industry.

The mainstream media, seeing no sales in trying to explain science to the public, cheerfully shows "both sides of the controversy" -- respected astronomers are pitted against tourism industry PR people representing themselves as equally respected astronomers, even though they are not. Phoney "institutes" are set up to emit papers showing that the asteroid will come nowhere near Earth -- or was really just a lens aberration -- or will actually be a tremendous benefit as long as we are prepared for it -- or really won't matter in the long run, because Earth has been hit by asteroids before, and we're still here, aren't we?

The real scientists are largely baffled by the onslaught of skilled PR and manipulation; knowing that thousands or millions may die if nothing is done, they gamely keep trying to explain the danger.

Some scientists, in the interest of being as accurate as possible, admit that the size of the asteroid isn't known to a high degree of precision; it may be small enough to burn up in the atmosphere, or cause much less damage than expected. The error margin in its orbital elements is sufficient that it might even miss Earth altogether. Although this in no way changes the fact that most estimates of impact location and size are in agreement, the PR people seize upon these admissions as proof that the scientists are trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes -- "They don't really know! Why should we spend billions of dollars on this when even the Asteroid Alarmists admit that they don't really know?"

Now, let's pause the scenario for a moment.

Can you imagine the frustration and outrage of the scientists and their supporters, as these PR dolts with their folksy camera-friendliness are able, in a few minutes on an evening "news" show, to smarmily dismiss the significance of millions of research-hours it took to find this likely collision among many petabytes of astronomical images, to gather the additional evidence needed to confirm or refute the initial conclusion, to run simulations on the various impact scenarios, to publish and criticize and defend papers on the major details? ...while the tourism industry spends, mostly behind the scenes, millions of dollars on their PR -- millions which could have stepped up the interception program dramatically and possibly solved the problem ahead of schedule for less money, while also reaping countless positive side-effects?

Can you appreciate the insanity of the fact that, despite the diligence of the scientists, the rigor of the scientific process, and the obvious ploys of the anti-science PR people, most people believe the PR over the scientists?

It seems bizarre to think that anyone -- even those scientists who lean towards thinking that the asteroid probably will not cause enough damage to worry about -- would work against honest discussion of what is clearly a genuine risk of some significance... or even against having a solution ready, just in case.

And yet many do -- seemingly ignoring the possibility that if they are wrong, millions of deaths, billions of dollars in property damage, and possibly trillions in economic damage, could be the result of the inaction they are promoting.

Now enters our Sanders-analogue with a humorous piece entitled "43 Things to Do Instead of Being Hit by a Meteorite", which speculates about what people (especially Asteroid Alarmists) will find to do in 50 years time when the meteorite completely misses and/or is found to have been a figment of scientists' overworked liberal imaginations. He wittily skewers the fretting and fussing of the Meteor-heads as they go into mass hysteria when the asteroid fails to appear as prophesied, finds dozens of potential uses for imaginary meteorite fragments, lampoons the shock of coastal homeowners when they unexpectedly aren't able to cash in on their tsunami insurance policies.

Maybe it's funny if you truly believe that the threat is completely made up. Maybe it's even funny if you believe the threat to be so unlikely, and the cost of averting it so impossible, that it's simply not worth worrying about.

Neither of those things would appear to be true in the case of global warming -- and even though nobody is seriously disputing this anymore, the petty pot-shots and dismissals continue to come in.

Sure, it's witty. The humor is part of the damage it does: it reduces a genuine threat -- however unlikely it may be (although the smart money seems to be on the idea that it is very likely indeed) -- to something nobody should waste two seconds thinking about, much less learning about and discussing seriously.

It is the sports jock tripping the geek and laughing when the geek falls down -- even though the geek happens to be right... or maybe because the geek is right. The fact that it matters a lot more than some petty schoolyard disagreement doesn't seem to enter into the jock's mind; the same behavior is still socially acceptable to a lot of people, so they laugh along because they want to be on the side that's winning.

If the above analogy doesn't make it clear why I don't find Sanders funny, then I might suggest comparing global warming denial to people who said that Hitler wasn't anything to worry about -- but if I said that, then by Godwin's Law I'd automatically lose the argument.

Related: deadly asteroid impact denial

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 06:19 pm

#15.


People who never admit they're wrong -- or, more precisely, people who make a completely wrong statement and then, when presented with overwhelming evidence that they should be embarrassed to have been found anywhere near it, merely retreat into a more vague statement without admitting even a tiny bit of error... or change the subject entirely. (I know this doesn't sound very year-specific, but then you haven't been party to some of the political arguments I've been having with a certain relative. Perhaps I'll post relevant excerpts, if I ever have time. I should probably start with "Glenn Beck isn't so bad"...)

(I'm working on a way to keep score.)

#14.


Anyone who votes Republican whilst claiming to be fiscally conservative.

#13.


Climate change denialists who mainly oppose taking action against global warming because they don't want to make any "huge changes to their lifestyle".

For one thing, this is backwards; if we don't take action, there will be huge changes. But I guess that's the future, and who cares about that? I'll be gone, you'll be gone...

#12.


Fossil fuel addicts who claim, with apparent sincerity, that oil extraction technology will always keep improving and therefore we will always be able to get enough oil. (Are these the same people who invested in real estate at the peak because housing prices will always go up?)

#11.


Hell, anyone who votes Republican at all, without some clear mental deficiency as an excuse.

#10.


People who, apparently with the best of intentions, make statements like "we keep making the same mistakes"... "we never seem to learn from the past"... "we heedlessly threw away the tremendous gift we had been given"... ...when talking about ghastly political mistakes on just about any topic: wars, the environment, race relations....

Who's this "we"?

No. "We" knew the Iraq War was wrong. "We" knew Afghanistan was a bad idea. "We" knew the environment needed to be protected. "We" knew we needed to be investing heavily in alternative energy (back before gasoline had spent any significant time over a dollar a gallon). "We" never approved of torture, or spying on our own citizens in the name of "national security". "We" knew people should be treated equally regardless of gender, or color -- or sexuality.

Don't try to pin this on "us"... and in that word, well-meaning people, I do include you.

It wasn't us who made these tragic "mistakes", and then made them again and again.

It was our misguided leaders -- and the psychopaths who control them. Remember that. We don't need the guilt of thinking we are responsible for the muck filling our national Augean Stables as we struggle for the motivation (and resources) to clean them up.

#9.


Anyone who votes against the environment while claiming to be "conservative".

#8.


People who try to convert liberal disappointment in Obama into an admission that he's just as bad as Bush. No. We're sad because Obama didn't undo (well... hasn't yet undone...) as many of Bush's tragedies as we would have liked. Would McCain have undone any of them at all? Or would he have committed more? Remember "we might be in Iraq for 100 years"? Would Sarah Palin have argued forcefully that government policy should be evidence-based?

Note that there is some truth to be found when hunting in this direction -- see "the two-party system" -- but any claim that the two parties are equally bad requires selective use of a high-powered badness microscope.

#7.


Bush supporters who claim to be terrified of Obama, because he [insert something that Bush did and Obama has shown no sign of doing].

#6.


The "post-9/11 world", in which the imminent threat of dark-skinned men in turbans smuggling in Really Big Scary Bad Non-Christian Weapons is supposed to make us wet our pants and beg the government to take more of our freedoms away (when we're not busy hating it for raising "our" taxes and interfering in the private business of innocent megacorporations what never did no harm to nobody).

Terrorism has always been a threat; nothing has changed -- except that by our heavy-handed stomping on anthills and blowing up civilians in our war on abstract ideas ("terrorism" -- how can you kill "terrorism" with military troops?), we've given them some real reasons to hate us. Thanks, already, but can we have a little less "Homeland Security" now?

Addendum: ...and people who think we need more of this... and anyone who isn't horrified when someone says that.

#5.


"Patriots" who claim to "love America" while doing everything they can to eviscerate the parts of it that I like. (Related: people who claim that "America is a Christian nation", and cite as evidence things like "In God We Trust" on our coinage -- added in 1956 -- and "one nation, under God" -- also introduced in the 1950s, under pressure from Christian groups. Can you say "planting the evidence", boys and girls?)

#4.


Capitalism cheerleaders who are so certain that the private sector is always more efficient than the government but don't seem to have a clue about what makes competition work for the common good (as opposed to working for private benefit)... or even seem to think that private benefit is the whole point. It's okay if people get ripped off, because how else are you going to make a profit? (Perhaps this peeve should be further generalized as "zero-sum thinking".)

Not that I think I need to prove this point, but these people always strike me as being analogous to an automobile engineer who notices that the engine would be able to run a lot faster if it wasn't attached to the transmission, which really just slows the engine down... and hey, wouldn't it be even better if we just took out all those pistons and things and just poured gas directly on the spark plugs?

#3.


The two-party system, which commonly forces us to choose between psychopaths rather than voting for people whom we actually believe might do a good job -- because if we did that, the wrong psychopath might get in.

#2.


People who claim to be supportive of rational, skeptical inquiry and yet stigmatize attempts at rational, skeptical inquiry into certain subjects by branding them as "wacky conspiracy theories" -- no better than creationism, Holocaust denial, or flat-earthism.

As if real, genuine conspiracies never actually happen. As if the only real, genuine conspiracies are the ones where the perpetrators are caught and the media officially pronounce them guilty. What's so wacky about acknowledging that our leaders frequently have their own hidden agendas which are not always in our best interests, and that they would frequently prefer to prevent proper investigation rather than risk that their own secrets might come to light in the process?

You can disagree with 9/11 Truthers and Kennedy Assassination Theorists all you like, but it is a simple fact that the official stories against which those groups protest are full of bizarre inconsistencies and omissions; railing against such protests is its own form of denial. Calling them "wacky" is argument by ridicule, unworthy of a rational skeptic.

Call them wrong, but don't call them crazy. (And if you call them wrong, be prepared to offer your evidence.)

#1.


The way media consolidation has resulted in near-centralized control of our national consensus, and the way people seem to be pretty much unaware of this... or perhaps fatalistically resigned to not being able to do anything about it. (Maybe this isn't so much a peeve as a warning, but #1 had to stand out somehow, right?)

Those who control the debate control the outcome -- and those who control the debate are a frighteningly small number of very rich, very isolated (from us) people.

I have a strong suspicion that this has done more than anything else to bring us to this point: sick, demoralized, increasingly indebted to our financial fief lords, and too busy working to notice how we've been funneled and guided into that situation.

Can anyone think of a good reason why anyone -- any individual or company -- should have the right to control more than one broadcast or cable channel, anywhere?

What we have now is worse than a non-competitive media monoculture: it is very nearly a Pravda, an outlet for the establishment to tell us what to believe. Oh sure, there are a few dissenting voices thrown in for authenticity -- but at the end of the day we all know what's "important"; we know what they want us to know, and we also know that the alternative viewpoints are basically irrelevant (because they're, y'know, "alternative").

We need to restore a healthy ecosystem of individual voices and true disputational discourse to the realtime media, or we will never regain control over our country and ourselves.
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Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 05:26 pm
I was thinking about the Range of Positions I had posted earlier, and realized it would work much better as a series of non-interdependent questions. By answering each of these questions, we can quantify our positions on this topic in such a way as to prevent both mindreading (having one's beliefs mistakenly assumed) and position-dancing (changing one's unspoken premises as needed to support one's point).

Here are the questions I have come up with so far. Feel free to post your answers as a comment, or put them elsewhere and post a link as a comment.

My answers are here.
Friday, September 18th, 2009 08:06 pm
I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist. - Teresa Nielsen Hayden.


You don't know me, I expect - I'm an intermittent (manic-depressive, really) reader of Less Wrong, a website on which [personal profile] woozle has posted a few times, and this is in fact where I encountered this individual. On that site, we had a moderately animated conversation about 9/11 wherein [personal profile] woozle explained the grounds of his suspicions and I explained the grounds of my dismissal of his suspicions. At the end of our conversation we suggested that this community might be a reasonable venue for a discussion of the matter.

That said, I by no means claim the sort of personal investment in this discussion that [personal profile] woozle has - I have never spent much time being concerned with the chronology of the September 11th, 2001 hijackings - so I cannot promise to be well-researched in my remarks. My hope is merely to do the following small things:

First. Assert the official story as I understand it, noting a few elements which are subject to controversy. It will be much like woozle's telling, of course, but there are a few points on which we differ.

Second. Establish a working definition of conspiracy theories and the problems thereof, paying especial attention to well-known general principles.

Third. Justify skepticism towards the deliberate-enablement story and towards the controlled-demolition story in the context of these first two points.

I am sympathetic towards [personal profile] woozle's position, you must understand - I included the above cute little quotation from a moderately-famous Internet personality for this very reason. But in the interests of sanity, recognizing that most stories aren't true, I think it important that the newcomer begin from a position of wariness. And while skepticism for the official story is present in his account, skepticism for contrarian accounts is absent.

I expect each of the three aforementioned points will require a post in and of itself.

(For the record, on woozle's scale, I am inclined toward B, but have no reasonable objections to the positions described by A through E.)
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Friday, August 14th, 2009 02:43 pm
American Republicans and conservatives are often accused of being stupid, and not without just cause.

I'm not so sure that they are actually stupid, however, regardless of how clearly stupid their actions are. I suspect more that they are victims of a memetic virus -- one which is so effective at distorting the judgments and perceptions of its host, and at spreading through certain populations, that its effects bear some similarity to mass hypnosis.

The way the meme seems to work is by co-opting the victim's moral sensibilities toward its own defense, very much the way a biological virus does. The meme substitutes itself as a stand-in for all the things which individuals normally might want to protect -- self, family, community, society, country, civilization -- and re-interprets "harm" solely in terms of itself.

In other words: If you (verbally) attack the meme, the individual reacts as if you had (physically) attacked or harmed one or more of these things. Remember how dissent against Bush was treason, how gay marriage is going to destroy civilization and/or our families and children, how liberals and Obama hate their country and "want the terrorists to win™"?.

The meme has now evolved (irony, anyone?) to the point where it has learned to repel the standard defenses of individuals in an enlightened society (reason and logic) and has made significant inroads towards infecting our larger national defense mechanisms (schools and mainstream media, for example).

The meme itself might be stated something like this:

"Our beliefs and values are precious and sacred. We must therefore defend them against all outside influences. Since we know in advance that our beliefs are true and precious, anything which contradicts them is evil and false, and anyone who brings forth such evidence is either deluded or evil. We should not even trust our own senses and reason to guide us, since among our precious and true beliefs is the knowledge that humans are innately bad and untrustworthy -- so if we find our human reason leading us to thoughts which might contradict our precious true beliefs, then those thoughts are themselves deluded and evil and we must work diligently to cast them out lest the evil within us grow and consume us and those we care about."

I don't know for certain how to fight this bugger; viruses are notoriously difficult to kill. As with biological viruses, it may be that prior exposure* to the lies and distortions used by the meme -- along with debunking of those lies (antibodies?) -- will help. This is the sort of approach used against specific meme-inspired causes, such as creationism and global warming denial, and while it clearly has not killed the virus, it has kept it contained.

I would suggest that we need a more organized effort to apply this methodology to meme-defensive ideas in whatever area of concern they may pop up.

Is anyone aware of a project that is already working along these lines, besides my own severely time-limited efforts (Issuepedia)?

* Some people appear to latch doggedly onto the first piece of information they are given about a political subject, sometimes believing it even more firmly when presented with contradictory information. The meme certainly exploits this tendency, and this would also be a clear indication that "immunizing" such people with prior knowledge of the meme's fallacies could be effective.
Sunday, July 19th, 2009 12:37 pm
I'm starting this page as a holder for this link, which is a wiki page showing the argument so far -- plus my latest responses -- in a hierarchical form.

Past experience suggests that people will be more comfortable commenting on a journal-style page than on the talkpage for a wiki -- so feel free to comment as if that page's contents were posted here. (I tried just posting the HTML here, but DW plaintexts most of the tags.)

I may add more discursive explanations here later on, if it seems like a good idea.
Sunday, July 19th, 2009 11:46 am

The "Inside Job" Position

...can be summarized thusly: the hijackers enjoyed substantial assistance, at least in the form of passive failure to take steps to stop them or actively taking steps to prevent others from stopping them (and possibly much, much worse).

Not all "Truthers" agree on all of these points, but the general consensus seems to be that:

  • WTC1, WTC2, and WTC7 were not brought down by the heat of the jet-fuel fires, which had largely burned out by the time the collapses occurred, but by what appears to have been controlled demolition (a nonstandard variant thereof in the case of WTC1 and 2, but almost textbook for WTC7).
  • The inability of the military to intercept in time is a huge anomaly (the lack of transponders is only a mild hinderance -- the interceptor jets never even got close to the planes due to a series of apparent "miscommunications" and other snafus), and one that has never been officially explained in any believable way -- but evidence appears to point to several deliberate delaying tactics on the part of top Bush administration officials; Rumsfeld and Cheney are heavily implicated. At the very least, someone should have lost their job -- but as I understand it, there have not even been any reprimands.
  • The fact that the hijackers performed terribly in flight school and yet accomplished (on a first try!) what experienced pilots have described as a very difficult maneuver in one case -- a steep hairpin turnabout to hit the newly-reinforced side of the Pentagon, without accidentally hitting the ground -- is another huge anomaly.
  • The fact that Bush deliberately ignored many warnings about an imminent attack (including a top-level briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US", and another showing WTC1 and WTC2 in crosshairs) -- while later claiming that "nobody could possibly have foreseen this" -- is another huge anomaly pointing at inside assistance, one of many smaller bits of circumstantial evidence (Why did Bush did not immediately evacuate from a widely-known location almost directly under the flight path of a major airport as soon as he was told of the first impact? Why did Bush and Cheney refuse -- in violation of both law and investigational procedure -- to testify on the record and separately? Why is there a pattern of orders from the White House which served to stop or hinder investigations into individuals who later became the 9/11 hijackers? There are pages and pages of such questions which I have not yet had time to catalogue.)
  • The fact that evidence of this huge crime was rapidly hauled off (removed from a crime scene) and destroyed without proper investigation indicates that someone should have been indicted for obstructing investigation of a crime -- yet there have been no such indictments. Whether you agree or disagree with the official view, such obstruction is itself a crime -- and if the official view is true, proper investigation could have prevented the whole "9/11 conspiracy" meme from taking off in the first place. (It's not just the rubble from the towers that was destroyed, either; there has been extensive destruction of tape recordings and other valuable evidence which might have settled many questions definitively.)
  • Circumstantial, but suspicious (and why wasn't it investigated?): There were reports of security guards entering the building over a weekend not long before 9/11, when the security cameras were off due to "maintenance" -- so the normal security records of their activities (some of which might have survived the towers' destruction, possibly confirming official explanations of their activities) did not exist. Why were the security employees not interviewed about their activities?


About the Media

To be thorough, because it will probably come up, it is necessary to mention the ongoing mainstream media subserviency to the government. This doesn't prove anything, but helps explain why the media has been so faithful to the official story when they should have been asking questions (and, therefore, why most people aren't even aware of the questions) -- and makes it much easier to understand how most people came to accept that story even though it does not hang together.
Sunday, July 19th, 2009 10:45 am
2009-12-08 update: I've rethought the idea behind this post and rewritten it as a quiz consisting of a set of independent questions. See this entry.


There is a range of positions to take on 9/11 and the official explanation thereof; here is a sampling, ranging from "conformist" to "not credible":

The List

A. The official story is essentially correct and complete. Our leaders, whatever their flaws, acted in the best interests of our country and of civilization in a tremendous crisis and did the best they could to investigate this horrendous crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.

B. The official story is essentially correct, though investigation could have been less sloppy and more thorough. There was some political infighting which hampered investigation unnecessarily. There are probably a number of details we will never know, but knowing them would not significantly affect our understanding of the events of that horrible day. Further investigation is not needed, and would only be a waste of time and money.

C. The official story is sufficiently incomplete and/or self-contradictory that there really should be a new investigation, if only to get those conspiracy nuts to take a stress pill and get on with their lives.

D. The official story is not only incomplete and self-contradictory, but it is also pretty clear that the investigation was actively obstructed. The fact that nobody has been charged with obstruction of justice is highly suspicious, and is an indication of a large cover-up of some kind (though this does not necessarily implicate the cover-uppers in the original crime, nor does it necessarily indicate the involvement of high-level government officials in the cover-up). There should be a new investigation, and it must be set up in a way to prevent the same cover-ups and obfuscations from occurring again.

E. The official story is not only incomplete and self-contradictory, but it is also pretty clear that the investigation was actively obstructed with the cooperation and knowledge of top-level officials. This is highly suspicious, and leads one to wonder what they are protecting, but it is probably nothing worse than a realization that they screwed up badly in allowing the attacks to happen, and not wanting that fact to come to light.

F. Although there is no "smoking gun" and most of the relevant evidence is circumstantial, the overwhelming body of that evidence points clearly to top-level deliberate enablement of the terrorist attacks. It may have been passive rather than active -- opportunistic rather than planned -- but the truth remains that given the choice of taking action to prevent the (then-hypothetical) attacks or leaving the door open, there is strong evidence that multiple doors were left open.

G. There is evidence of active collusion by top-level Bush Administration officials in the events of 9/11. This collusion includes: hampering and shutting down investigations of those who later became the 9/11 hijackers, hampering and shutting down US translations of tapped terrorist communications, deployment of most of the air interception force to a distant location and other changes intended to slow down the interception response, Cheney apparently refusing to authorize some sort of fire on one of the planes, and numerous other actions.

H. There is a large body of evidence that the towers were not brought down by the planes but by internal explosions of some kind. The nature of these explosions is unclear, but there is considerable resemblance to controlled demolition. It is not known who could have planted the explosives, or how they could have gotten past security to do so, but the fact that the official investigation has casually brushed off the very idea of explosions (and failed to follow up on several strong leads, including the involvement of GWB's brother Marvin in the company providing security for the WTC and odd security activity in the twin towers just a few weeks before 9/11), despite the evidence, is beyond suspicious.

I. A cabal of top US officials (including Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld) conspired to engineer 9/11. The planes were all rigged with remote-control autopilot devices, security officers planted the explosives on the twin towers (and WTC7) during the weekend when security cameras were off due to a maintenance-related power failure.

X. For thoroughness, some theories which Just Don't Fit or make any kind of sense: There were no planes; TV videos were faked using live CGI, witnesses who saw planes are suffering from "suggested memory" syndrome... or they weren't planes, but missiles... or the planes weren't normal civilian airliners, but special planes with blacked-out windows, and some sort of weird devices strapped to the fuselage; the real flights were swapped for these planes at an undisclosed location, and the fate of the passengers is unknown. The towers were brought down by antimatter beams, or "micro-nukes", or Muppets from outer space*.

(*yes, this is guilt-by-association and argument-by-ridicule; my point is that I don't believe these assertions anymore than you do. If I had seen an even slightly compelling argument for any of them, I wouldn't be dismissing them.)

Labels

I would call [F] (and up) "contrarian", but I'm not sure it's fair to call [F] and [G] "conspiracy theories", since all they are asserting is that (a) the official explanation is unsatisfactory, and (b) there is evidence of shenanigans which needs to be investigated.

[H] seems to be firmly defined by the public as a "conspiracy theory" -- I suppose the "theory" is that the towers were deliberately brought down rather than falling as the natural consequence of the aircraft collision, but the theory doesn't say anything about a conspiracy. [H] doesn't know how it happened or who did it, just that the public and official explanations don't fit the data. The phrase "conspiracy theory is nonetheless used as a brush to tar [H] as no better (no saner, no more plausible, no more reasonable or measured) than [I] or even [X].

[I] is definitely a conspiracy theory.

My Views


The Truther phrase "9/11 was an inside job" obviously refers to [I], but it also fits [D]-[H] -- and it is on that basis that I agree with and support it.

[D] seems to me the minimum defensible position, and [H] the maximum. [I] is credible as a theory, but the emphasis at this point should be on following the evidence wherever it may lead -- not presupposing a conclusion and looking for evidence that fits it. (Not scientific. Nekulturny. Bad.)

I started from the position that the towers collapsed due to mechanical damage and overwhelming heat, but found myself unable to dismiss the evidence of explosives. (I can remember at least one reversal, where I had initially bought into explosives but then convinced myself that pyro-mechanical collapse, and the unusualness of the circumstances, were sufficient to explain the evidence... but then I saw more evidence, and more evidence...) Hence my classification of [H] as "defensible" while [I] is "just a theory".

Obviously, though, I am willing to defend any of the contrarian points up through [H], and will even defend the proposition that [I] fits the available evidence (though it is certainly far from conclusive).
Sunday, July 19th, 2009 10:05 am
The following is how I understand the popular stance, a.k.a. "what most people believe", a.k.a. "what anyone except a wild-eyed conspiracy nut knows to be true"; please do correct me if I am misrepresenting it in any way. (I have also posted it as a page on Issuepedia.)

The Story

On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists working for Al Qaeda and on the orders of Osama bin Laden boarded four airliners as passengers. Soon after take-off and using only boxcutters as weapons, they overcame the crew and pilots, took over the controls, and succeeded in directing three of the planes into their intended targets -- WTC1, WTC2, and the Pentagon. On the one remaining aircraft, passengers heard via cellphone about one or more of the other incidents, and decided to fight back, resulting in the plane crashing into an uninhabited field in Pennsylvania, thereby probably saving many lives.

The military jets which are normally deployed within minutes to intercept troubled aircraft were unable to intercept the planes before they reached their targets, in part because the commercial jets' transponders had been turned off, making them difficult to track.

Overcome by the intense heat from the burning jet-fuel and having had their insulation partly stripped away by the impact, critical structural elements in WTC1 and WTC2 became sufficiently soft that the block of stories above the impact collapsed one or more floors in the impact area; the momentum built up from this initial collapse was sufficient to collapse the less-damaged floor below that and ultimately the rest of the building (one floor at a time in a downward progression). The mostly-intact upper floors presumably collapsed on themselves when the accumulating pile of rubble ran into non-compactable soil or bedrock below street level.

(The damaged Pentagon also burned out of control for some time, resulting in collapse of its upper floors over the impact area.)

Fires and debris from the collapsing WTC1 and WTC2 heavily damaged or destroyed several other buildings, starting fires throughout the World Trade Center complex which burned out of control for the rest of the day and eventually caused WTC7 to collapse that evening.
Sunday, July 19th, 2009 08:46 am
I'm aware that most rational people have apparently decided that the events of 9/11 are more or less as described in the government accounts and popular media.

This baffles me greatly, having spent a fair amount of time studying the available evidence. Even if you don't buy the alternative explanations, to say that the official story is essentially accurate and complete is overlooking some very serious contradictions -- and there is a great deal of evidence that it is not only wrong, but systematically and deliberately wrong.

A rational examination of the situation seems in order, then.

I started to make this one long post, but I'm realizing now that it might be more readable (and ensuing conversation less tangled) in several parts. So we'll start with the official story, and then look at the various positions on the accuracy of that story. I'll add links here as each part is posted.


Terminology

I'll use "official" to mean what has been stated in a government-sanctioned report (e.g. the 9/11 Commission, the NIST study, possibly other documents), "popular" to mean what most people seem to believe and/or what is generally claimed in the popular media, and "contrarian" to mean any position disagreeing with both of those stances.

Although the popular stance is largely based on the official story, my understanding is that the official story leaves a lot of gaps which have been "filled in" by the media and the public without any real evidence, and that there may even be some contradictions between popular and official views.
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Thursday, May 28th, 2009 09:54 am
The other day, it somehow came up that [personal profile] harena's 12-year-old wanted to watch the "Devil in the Dark" episode of Star Trek. Having not watched it in maybe a decade or more, I sat down and watched it with him (from a VHS tape I apparently recorded in ~1987).

== BEGIN SPOILERS ==
For those not familiar with the episode: a human mining colony is experiencing sudden and mysterious deaths as well as missing and damaged mining equipment, all of which are soon traced to a frightening creature who strikes with lightning speed and vanishes, horribly charring its victims with acid and leaving nothing but ashes and bits of bone. The creature even completely removes a pump vital to the colony's survival. The colonists and their leader understandably want the creature killed. Long story short: Spock makes mental contact with the creature, finds that it is very intelligent and that the humans have been unknowingly destroying its eggs; its attacks and vandalism were an attempt to protect the eggs and drive the humans off. Spock arranges a truce, the creature returns the pump, and she and her children begin helping with mining operations, making them all "embarrassingly rich".
== END SPOILERS ==

At the end, we were talking about how this is an example of why it's better to try and understand your "enemies" than to fight them, and it occurred to me that this is probably the thing I liked most about Star Trek: positive-sum thinking, as exemplified by things like talking to an "enemy" and finding that what they want is totally compatible with what we want, and all we have to do is avoid stepping on their toes; the idea that trustworthiness and communication are more important than weaponry; that we don't have to destroy others in order to get what we want; and so on.

Further, it occurred to me that the basic premise of this episode -- the "devil" in the dark becomes an ally -- epitomizes the exact opposite of the kind of "demonization" thinking nurtured and promoted by the neocons: there are those among us who may seem innocent but are in fact enemies of everything we hold dear; they must be sought out and eliminated, without negotiation.

Lately I've been having some rather intensive online discussion with a fellow claiming to be a "progressive" conservative. I was initially rather skeptical that "progressive conservatism" wasn't an oxymoron by definition, but it's looking like it may actually be theoretically possible, depending on how you define "conservatism" -- if nothing else, I'm beginning to think that "progressive conservatism" is as good a name as any for a philosophy which is primarily being practiced, these days, by those calling themselves "liberals".

What he hasn't been able to show me, as far as I can tell, is how the public policy choices he supports are any more "conservative" than choices I might prefer.

I had labeled the philosophy I was defending as "rational liberalism", to avoid confusion the wide range of "liberal" values, much or most of which I agree with but which can get pretty loopy in places (albeit generally less alarming or outright dangerous than many neocon beliefs), but after watching this episode I found the phrase "Star Trek liberalism" bouncing around my head...

...and then it occurred to me that what I am actually doing is saying something like this: Neocon/Republican philosophy is a radical departure from the values which seem the best to me and which I grew up with, many of which are demonstrated by the better Star Trek episodes. The moral values displayed in those episodes are the values I want to preserve, in the face of the "post-9/11 world" claims that we must clamp down on freedoms and lower our standards if we expect to survive the terrorists (and abortionists and gays and America-hating liberals).

In short: I am a Star Trek conservative.