Monday, January 12, 2009

The Smell Test

This is going to be a combination of current commentary, and a revisit of an earlier rant. However, my thoughts on both are about the same thing: public appearances. I'm not talking about how people dress, because nine times out of ten I really couldn't care less about that. I'm talking about backing up what you say.

As we know, recently Israel and Palestine got into yet another shooting match, over the Gaza Strip. Until now, this is a topic that I've never commented on, not only because some people can be really jingoistic about it, but because to be honest I don't think either side is even close to being in the right. However, in this context I think that it is important to say something to the Israeli government and military: if you want people to stop calling you a psychopathic bully committing war crimes and genocide, it would probably be in your best interests to stop bombing schools, hospitals, UN relief missions, ambulances, houses, and even some of your allies. Just a thought. Yes, I know that Hamas and their ilk like to hide among civilians, which genuinely makes the job of wiping out terrorists hard -- fine -- but you're never going to look like the good guys, if you keep grabbing land that doesn't belong to you, or blast the hell out of women and children. HOWEVER, you might just create more terrorists, who now have a good reason to hate your guts. I'm just trying to help.

The other thing, is people's response to my rant last year, over conspiracy theories. Specifically, I'm getting criticized over the fact that I don't buy the theories on 9/11. I've since looked into this in more detail, but my position stands: the stories are overblown at best. Now, since the theme of this blog is appearances, let's give the conspiracy guys some credit by establishing why these theories are popular in the first place: the U.S. government not only contradicted itself in a lot of places, when the 9/11 attacks were being investigated, but it went to the trouble of keeping some critical information out of the public eye, supposedly for the sake of national security. As anyone familiar with the McCarthy Hearings knows, this can definitely be a load of bunk. However, some of the theories concocted to explain this, aren't much better.

For example, there are people who say that the World Trade Center was demolished by explosives, as opposed to destroyed by the plane crashes. I've already explained why I feel this is very unlikely -- namely, the fact that these buildings were hit by two fairly large jetliners, which tend to burst into huge fireballs on impact -- but some people weren't too pleased with this. So I looked into this, and sure enough the engineering community seems to be pretty divided on this issue: a lot of engineers say that it was a demolition, but at least as many say it was the plane crash. It doesn't help that eyewitnesses are split on this, as well. So personally, I think it's dangerous to make an absolute statement, on something that even a group of experts and the people who were there can't agree on.

Another popular theory is the idea that the Pentagon wasn't hit by a plane, despite forensic evidence that suggests otherwise -- including bodies and debris found at the scene -- and that Flights 77 and 93 never crashed at all. Their passengers, supposedly, were deplaned safely, and asked to go into hiding. Think about this for a minute -- there is considerable physical evidence that both of those planes went down, not to mention a lot of eyewitness testimony. On top of that, between this and the demolition theory, you would need tens of thousands of people involved, and staying quiet, to pull something like this off -- and we're talking about a country where people will talk about their farts in insanely casual detail. There's simply no way, that something that sensational would stay quiet for long, especially when there's a very captive audience.

While we're on the subject, I'd like to talk about why these sort of theories aren't taken seriously in the first place, besides being -- by definition -- highly implausible. For one thing, a lot of those who take conspiracy theories seriously, use a lot of circular arguments. This means that someone holds a position so strongly, that anything proving it wrong is shrugged off as a cover-up. For example, a radical left-wing magazine called Counterpunch hired an aerospace engineer to look into the official story of what happened to the World Trade Center. What he found was that the buildings were destroyed, because of crash damage from the planes -- and he wrote about it in very intricate detail. Popular Mechanics interviewed about 300 other experts and came to the same conclusions -- so the demolition theorists all said that these experts are in on the conspiracy.

Another problem is that if you look into it in any detail, the motives are hardly ever the same, from one theorist to another; some say that it was staged to start a New World Order, some say that it was to create an excuse to invade the Middle East -- like the U.S. ever needed one that extreme before -- some even say that it was an elaborate form of insurance fraud! Again, if these people can't even agree amongst themselves, as to why the government would stage a massive terrorist attack, how do they expect anyone else to take it seriously?

I don't really have any more to add to that, except to say that whenever you hear some really outlandish statement, you should always look into it. Yes, that does include everything I've ever said on this blog. In this case, great places to start are Popular Mechanics, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and any newspaper with decent global coverage. Don't take someone's word for it, just because you like what they say. It may really be that they're just saying what you want to hear. Enough said.

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