Friday, April 23, 2010

I think that I do have a fundamental difference of opinion with some about how to approach this.

Its not that *any* crack will bring down the whole logical (or skeptical or speculative) edifice. If I truly believed that, then virtually any of the thousands of objections raised by the "truthers" would puncture the official story. What I believe is that there are real limits to what we can know about something. I also believe the specific structure of the argument is important. Gage has done the best job in the 911 "truther" movement that I have encountered at creating a well structured argument. Not every piece of evidence in an argument is equivalent. Its not as if an argument is just one massive "or" function or one massive "and" function. Its much more complicated - and so the structure of the argument is important. The "truthers" behave as if its a massive "or" so that the mass of objections by their sheer number and weight brings down the official story. The "skeptics" behave as if its a massive "and" function so that if one piece of a "truther" argument is incorrect, the entire critique is invalidated. And they treat their opponents as if their response is the opposite.

If we're going to get anywhere with this, we have to identify the structure of the argument. What is required for a conclusion, *really*?

I focused on the scientific and the physical rather than the culture and subjective because it was a part of the story I could get my hands around, and it is also the most compelling argument. Gage's presentation is powerful and though provoking. It demands a sufficiently thoughtful consideration. I am only just *barely* convinced the impacts and fires brought down the towers. To me, the most convincing piece of evidence is the video showing the dimpling of the curtain wall. Without that, the floor-sag theory is damaged by what we all know about the NIST tests. This is another reason why my personal scale is just *barely* to the conventional side on this. The provenance of that video is very important and I really can't establish it right now.

My point in critiquing engineers is that Gage is representing ae911truth. Structural engineers are indeed entitled to an opinion - *if* they have made a deep study of those kinds of structures and those kinds of failures. Otherwise we really don't have a right to an opinion - we just think we do. And I made my point about architects, I think. My engineering background makes me qualified to be intriqued by the arguments and to consider the arguments - but I'm not an expert. Just because I buy or don't buy a technical argument, doesn't mean crap. I'm *not* qualified to have an opinion. I haven't spent several decades studying structural failures. I am only qualified to attempt to understand the arguments presented and any conclusion I make is still ripe for negation when someone more qualified comes along and points out the flaws in my understanding.

The "pointing out" bit is very important. Its why I'm strongly in favor of open investigation and discussion. I haven't seen anything that overwhelmingly convinces me that we know how the collapse happened. I just know what I think based on the crap (pro and con) that is available for consideration. I'd like to not make my judgment based on *crap*.

I disagree that the criminal court has any superiority at reaching the truth. Courtroom argument is a social exercise - it is about trial by verbal combat. A courtroom conviction has no necessary relationship to the truth, as the numerous overturned death penalty convictions demonstrate. A courtroom argument is a way to make a cultural and communal decision about blame and consequences - but it isn't a way to seek the truth. Did OJ do it? If the highest, best, most qualified courtroom in the land found that the towers collapsed just as the official account says they did, or that they did not, would you believe them? I don't think so.

Finally, one detail among many, I don't contend that the collapse took slightly longer than free-fall. I am saying that we are not discussing any evidence that indicates how long it took at all. A difference between 10 seconds and 15 seconds is highly significant. Its the difference between a "pancake" theory or "pseudo-pancake" theory and the claim of demolition. If we are going to claim the collapse took 10 seconds - which is one of *the* essential claims, not just any old crack in the argument - we have to be able to establish that with great certainty. I don't see that we can do that given the evidence that I've seen, including Richard Gage's excellent presentation.

To me, the strength of Gage's presentation is that it establishes that this isn't a slam-dunk. We need a careful and have a public conversation on this. Its why I use the "truther" label but always in quotes. The labels that get thrown around in identifying the sides in this argument are pejorative. There's a serious discussion to be had here. It is not crazy to think the conventional account is incomplete and inaccurate. I do think its irrational to conclude the WTC was The American Reichstaag as so many have. We might have reason to suspect it. We might have reason to doubt the official story. But that's all we have *reason* for.

Suspicion is not conclusion. Speculation is not proof. In either direction. We are free to suspect and speculate. We must not get confused about what we are doing. An expression of speculation is not a defensible claim of proof. A "truther" or a "skeptic" makes this mistake constantly. I speculate that there is more to the WTC story than meets the eye. I can defend that speculation. I can defend it better than I can defend the claim that the official story is the gospel truth. But I cannot defend the claim that there is evidence that the collapse was an inside job, orchestrated by coordinated elements of the US government in high positions of authority. I've looked at the arguments and I don't think that argument can be made. We might speculate about its possibility or plausibility - but that is a different argument.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

911 Truth.

My friend Joel, inspired me to give an accounting of my beliefs about 911. I think the circumstantial evidence is provocative but inconclusive and difficult to prove one way or another. So I stuck with the physical problem, as an engineer. I joined Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. I find their presentation, as evangelized by Richard Gage, very interesting and thought provoking, although as an engineer I don't find it as damning as Richard Gage seems to think.

Remember this: Neither Engineers nor Architects are scientists. They are often pseudo-scientists. I say this as someone who has been working among engineers since 1984. I *am* an engineer. That's 26 years. Engineers tend to idolize science and rationality but do not understand it. They are great at solving problems and horrible at understanding what can and cannot be proven. Scientism is an occupational hazard. A profound overconfidence in their ability to understand the world is common. I say this with love and experience. Engineers need to get the hell over themselves.

And Architects - don't talk to me about architects. An architecture degree is a degree in aesthetic design - it has nothing to do with function, science, engineering, etc. It is the job of the civil and structural (and very rarely - architectural) engineers to make the imaginings of the architects come to life. An architect's opinion on the technical aspects of a physical event mean just about nothing. They are trained to create style and beauty - not to solve physics problems.

This is not to disrespect architects - it is just to remember the limits of their practice. Asking an architect about a highly technical problem like the 911 collapse is like asking a painter about digital camera design. It just doesn't make sense.

My position is that the collapse of the Twin Towers is ambiguous. I don't think the official story is very water tight, but neither is Gage's account. I'm a member of ae911truth. My best guess at present is that the official physical account of the collapse is, for the most part, true. But this is with the scales just *barely* leaning that way. Here's why:

- The towers did not collapse at free fall speed. We saw the wave of destruction travel down the *face* of the towers at near free fall speed. We have no photographic evidence of the collapse of anything behind the walls of the towers. It is all hidden in the cloud.

- There is photographic evidence showing the remnants of the core, standing quite high immediately after the collapse - maybe 30 stories. This weakens the "amazingness" of the collapse. It wasn't so amazing. The question "how did the core collapse" is often raised. It looks to me like it didn't collapse in the way the ae911truth presentation claims that it did.

- There is also video evidence showing the crimping of the curtain wall on the opposite side of one tower from the impact. You can see it being pulled radically inward in accordance with the official collapse account including the sagging of the floor joists. You can see it snap at the moment of collapse, just as the official technical analysis sets out.

- While the towers were designed to take an airplane's impact and stay standing, they were not designed to have the supports along an entire side of the building snap. The curtain wall is highly interconnected, like a zipper, or a mosaic of interlocking tiles, and it has to support 40% of the weight of the building. It can only do this through its connection to the core at the roof. It is entirely plausible to me that breaking the curtain wall along an entire side of the building could damage the integrity of the building catastrophically, especially when you add the suddenness of the simultaneous failure across the curtain wall. That's not the kind of damage the building was designed to take.

- Accounts of the "neatness" of the destruction are exaggerated. There were great piles of concrete rubble and twisted and bent girders from the core.

- The potential energy analysis of the "pyroclastic cloud" is unconvincing. One engineer did the analysis - there are many assumptions that could just be dead wrong or even impossible to assess given the evidence we have. But again - I am totally in favor of an open technical debate on these points. Refusing to look at it and writing it off gets us nowhere. Unlike many areas of speculation and intrigue - there actually *is* objective evidence here to examine.

- The towers do not collapse into their footprint, they explode outward - or at least, a dust cloud explodes. Some pieces of the structure are thrown some distance, but I remain unconvinced that this expanding dust cloud is evidence of explosives.

- The "disintegration" of "the pile driver" is unconvincing. It is a highly interpretive take on the available video. I buy the argument that the pile driver theory of collapse is flawed - I don't buy the alternative scenario of a "disintegrating pile driver" that is offered. I see the "pile driver" twist and fall in a rising cloud of dust. I don't see it disintegrate.

- The arguments about "no skyscraper has ever fallen into its own footprint from an office fire" is also not convincing. The Empire State Building, which suffered an impact with no fire, is an entirely different design. The twin towers were a very adventurous, radical, unprecedented design. Knowing how the curtain walls were constructed and that they support 40% of the building, the progressive and symmetric failure of the curtain walls is understandable.

- The "squibs" are not at all a smoking gun and other explanations are plausible and consistent with the official collapse account.

- Some of the anecdotes *are* strange, the seeming underground explosions, the molten material apparent in the videos and reported by eye-witnesses. It makes for intriguing speculation - but I am unconvinced.

Now, having said that, no one that I know of has done a convincing job of analyzing the collapse. I think we really don't understand the collapse well. It is quite mysterious. I also don't think the ae911truth critique is convincing enough. There are too many exaggerated, ambiguous, and subjective points in their presentation.

Even Stephen Jones, whose allegations I find very interesting, is not technically convincing to me. The mere presence of trace elements reminiscent of an explosive is not enough, and the ae911 presentation does not give enough technical detail to make a conclusion. It is a provocative piece of information - but it does not convince me that explosives were used. What it *does* convince me of is that Jones' line of reasoning needs open and peer-reviewed debate. As an electrical engineer I don't know much about chemistry, so I have many questions about what kinds of conclusions can be drawn from Jones' analysis. Jones' opinion is clear - what isn't clear is whether it is a technically defensible opinion. Only an open debate with his peers will produce that clarity.

Far more unbelieveable to me is the collapse of WTC7. It *did* collapse like a demolition and the odds of a tower doing that by chance are too much for me.

My tentative conclusion - and it really hangs on very thin evidence - is that WTC 1 & 2 collapsed from the plane impacts and fires, but that WTC 7 was demolished to prevent further damage to the surrounding buildings.

With sufficiently convincing evidence I could be convinced otherwise - which is why I support the ae911truth call for a better scientific investigation into the collapses. I am not entirely certain that this investigation hasn't happened. I need to use my university library access to do a review of the professional journals. There's a lot that never makes it to prime time - or even to the dusty corners of the internet.

Finally, I don't find the "social" and circumstantial arguments presented by Griffin convincing. Griffin may be a professor of theology and philosophy, but his argumentation doesn't show it. I agree that there is a lot that was wrong with that day, probably most interesting are the military exercises taking place that day about a "terrorist ramming a plane into a building" that confused the military response. To me, this *does* suggest that someone with inside information about the military was connected with the attack. This is not the same thing as concluding the exercise was orchestrated to confuse the response. More likely, the attack was orchestrated to occur on the day that the exercise was planned. Was the exercise even a deep secret? Griffin never discusses that that I know of.

Much is made of Cheney's "orders" about the approaching plane. As much as I deeply hate Cheney's actions in office, all I can say about this is that I don't know of anyone adequately responding to this anecdote. If an investigation found that Cheney's orders were actually benign, would any 911 "truther" buy it? Even if it were the truth?

So, in conclusion, its far, far easier to raise questions about an event than it is to actually prove or disprove anything. I could make an accusation in one sentence that it would take an expert a couple of hours to compose a response with sufficient references to support it. If the response wasn't ready-made, it might take a week or much longer to research it and definitively address it. Point being - we can always raise objections much faster than they can be addressed. I'm looking for the most coherent account given what we have evidence for. A mountain of objections doesn't convince me. Give me a convincing argument for those objections. For now, I'm not very inclined to think that 911 was literally The American Reichstaag. I think the neocons used and abused the event with glee and enthusiasm. I don't think anyone in power in the West planned it and executed it.

And I think the sooner we're able to actually talk about these questions in way that is based in evidence and reason rather than emotion and denial (I'm talking more about the official story adherents now) the sooner questions will be put to rest, at least sufficiently for reasonable people. I'm sure that no matter what, some will never be convinced.