9/11 Conspiracy Theory Gets Blessing From Cold Fusion Physicist

Several posts on Daily Kos have mentioned the announcement of a “study” by a Brigham Young University physicist who claims that the World Trade Center was destroyed “not just by damage and fires, but through the use of pre-positioned explosives.”

The author, Steven E. Jones, doesn’t present any new evidence in his study, and so far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to account for the stored kinetic energy of objects on the scale of 34 stories of the South Tower of the WTC falling several hundred feet (“…this block turned mostly to powder in mid-air! How can we understand this strange behavior, without explosives?”)

Aside from that, before people go running off into the wilds of conspiracy theories, they should take into consideration that Mr. Jones has already been associated with one physics-related debacle: the fizzle-out of cold fusion in the late 1980s.

While Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann were the better-known figures in the fiasco — because they grabbed the spotlight the day before they’d agreed to meet their collaborators Jones and Paul Palmer (both from BYU) — the minute I saw “physicist” and “BYU” on the same page with what looked like seriously flawed science, something clicked.

I don’t know why the conspiracy theory explanation is so attractive to people, but I do know that all fantastic claims have to be taken with a grain of NaCl. Doubly so if they’re being peddled by someone who’s passed off the snake oil of bad science in the past.

The Scary, Scary Portland Business Tax

Four people. That’s all it took to generate a front-page story by Jim Redden in the Portland Tribune on how small businesses are abused by the Portland-Multnomah County Business Income Tax (BIT). Well, that and a coordinated effort by the owner of the company that employed those four people, David Lister (a possible challenger to City Councilman Eric Sten and darling of Jack Bog) and the Cascade Policy Institute.

Redden’s article says Lister claims that the $3,600 in BIT he paid last year was a “major reason for the move” from a building he owned on NE 33rd and Knott to SW Greenburg Road in Tigard. He’s quoted as saying the difference between Portland taxes and his $55 Tigard business license will make three monthly payments on his new building (i.e. $1,200/month).

I’ve been a sole proprietor with a business license in Portland for over a decade myself. I, too, do software development. And as someone who works with numbers, a couple of things don’t add up for me.

Near the end of the Redden article, Lister and his partner are described as wanting a larger office building. In the same section, the article states they bought their NE Portland office sometime after a lease taken out in 1987 expired. Call me cynical, but even prices for office buildings in Portland have gone up a little in the last 15 years. The price difference between a commercial property in Portland and something of a similar size in Tigard could make that $3,600 look like chump change.

Old Office / New Office

Another thing that struck me is that Lister’s new office is just shy of 12 miles from his old office, according to Mapquest. They’re not easy miles during rush hour, either. The direct way involves a stretch of I5. Any route has to cross a bridge. I don’t have any idea where in the city Lister lives (if he’s planning to run for City Council, he has to live in Portland), but if he’s living in SW Portland, Tigard’s going to be a lot closer to his own home than his old location, which might have had a fair amount of sway (I say that as someone who’s recently begun commuting to Vancouver every day). On the other hand, if he lives somewhere near his former office, making a round trip of 24 miles would use up about a gallon of gas in a car with better mileage than your standard SUV. Do that 5 times a week for 48 weeks of the year and pay $2.50/gallon and you’re out $600 — a significant chunk of that $3,600 savings. Adjust up or down for your make and model. Depending on where he and his employees live, he could just be shifting a significant portion of his BIT to gasoline. On the other hand, if they’re all closer to the new location, I can see why that wouldn’t have been mentioned in the article since it would have detracted from the story of how taxes drove him out of the city.

Finally, how significant is it that a 4-person company moved out of the city? How did that rate a front-page story in the Tribune? Couldn’t the Tribune find anyone else who made the same claim as David Lister? Because Lister seems to have gotten an awful lot of press with the Tribune, despite running a pretty small company. In March 2004, he was quoted in an article on workplace profanity. In August 2005 in an article on Sten (also by Redden). In an article from last November on the election of Mayor Tom Potter. In August 2004 on the Portland Development Commission. He’s not any small businessman who decided he couldn’t afford to or didn’t want to pay what he viewed as an unfair tax, he’s an activist against the BIT. He’s thinking of running for public office (although his plan to move his business out of the city is about as good a way of getting elected as a presidential candidate moving his own business to the Cayman Islands). He’s the only person Jim Redden could find to interview on this topic? And he didn’t ask some very basic questions about real estate and commuting? That just doesn’t add up.

The Interationale

Donnie Fowler at the Huffington Post is but one of the latest to claim that the US needs to stay in Iraq to clean up its own mess. “Iraq is not yet ready to clean up our mess, and if we withdraw our military from the country now, the chaos that currently exists would only worsen.”

What Fowler either doesn’t realize — or thinks that other people are too stupid to realize — is that this philosophy dovetails perfectly with the Bush administration’s preemptive war doctrine. Is there a country you’d like to occupy? Don’t think you can get the US public to back your invasion scheme (like who’s going to stop you?) Just draw up some crayola pictures of mushrooms, call ’em New York and LA, and send the Marines.*

Once you’re there, you’re there. Either things will go well or they’ll go poorly. If everything’s hunky-dory, the government you’ve installed will invite you to stay (or else). If they go bad, you and Donnie Fowler can always say you need to stay to clean things up. Never mind that you weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

* Lest anyone think this is something new, here’s a 40-year-old song on the subject:

Send the Marines
by Tom Lehrer (1965)

When someone makes a move
Of which we don’t approve,
Who is it that always intervenes?
U.N. and O.A.S.,
They have their place, I guess,
But first – send the Marines!

We’ll send them all we’ve got,
John Wayne and Randolph Scott;
Remember those exciting fighting scenes?
To the shores of Tripoli,
But not to Mississippoli,
What do we do? We send the Marines!

For might makes right,
And till they’ve seen the light,
They’ve got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
Till somebody we like can be elected.

Members of the corps
All hate the thought of war;
They’d rather kill them off by peaceful means.
Stop calling it aggression,
Ooh, we hate that expression!
We only want the world to know
That we support the status quo.
They love us everywhere we go,
So when in doubt,
Send the Marines!

Let’s Misremember

Reporter William Douglas‘s article on the trouble President Bush enountered in his trip to the Summit of the Americas had a decided lack of historical perspective, not to mention a curious omission (emphasis added):

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – Troubles at home followed President Bush to Latin America on Friday as thousands of protesters and Venezuela’s defiant left-wing leader got his trip to the Summit of the Americas off to a rocky start.

Enduring the lowest public-approval ratings of his presidency, Bush followed a path well-trod by previous presidents in trouble at home who sought relief abroad. But if he expected to get a break during his talks with 33 other leaders at a seaside resort, he was sorely disappointed.

. . .

His inability to find public approval even far from home is somewhat unusual for U.S. presidents who are mired in domestic trouble. Even at the height of the Watergate controversy, for example, Richard Nixon basked in adoration from foreign crowds, who never quite understood what Watergate was about.

Bush has been unpopular abroad since his election and far more so since he began saber-rattling for the Iraq War. His approval numbers overseas have been bad all along, there have been protests in virtually every country he’s visited, and the common assumption that US interests were involved in the attempted coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez haven’t increased his popularity in South America which has a long experience with US meddling in their governments.

The idea that “troubles at home” and “domestic trouble” are at the root of the protests is ridiculous. Perceived US imperialism, seen through the lenses of the free trade agreement and the Iraq War are primary motivators for the protests.

Finally, the idea that top US officials — including Nixon — have always gotten good receptions overseas is just ignorant of history. Nor are protests against US leaders anything new. This is from the Senate Historical Office’s Vice Presidents of the United States 1789-1993, discussing then-Vice President Nixon’s 1958 tour of South America:

When he set off for South America in 1958, he anticipated an uneventful tour that would merely distract him from his attempts to talk the administration into cutting taxes at home. He was unprepared for the vehemence of the anti-American demonstrations he would encounter from those opposing U.S. policy toward Latin America. In Peru, Nixon was blocked from visiting San Marcos University by a crowd of demonstrators chanting “Go Home Nixon!” He was met in Venezuela by hostile crowds that spat at him as he left his plane. In the capital, Caracas, the scene turned violent. A mob surrounded his car and began rocking it back and forth, trying to turn it over and chanting “Death to Nixon.” Protected by only twelve Secret Service agents, the procession was forced to wait for the Venezuelan military to clear a path of escape. But by that time, the car had been nearly demolished and the vice president had seen his fill of South America. President Eisenhower sent a naval squadron to the Venezuelan coast in case they needed to rescue the vice president, but Nixon quietly left the country the next day.

Nixon did meet non-violent crowds in other countries — like China — but that’s hardly surprising considering that China was less inclined to allow protests in 1971 than they are now. As President, Nixon met demonstrators throughout his 1969 trip to Rome, Berlin, and Paris. I wasn’t there — I was a bit young to go dashing off to Europe in the late ’60s — but I do know about it.

Fun With Numbers: Latin American Edition

If you got a larf out of the way overwhelming support for the Iraq War was bolstered by the constant repetition of the number of countries participating in the “Coalition of the Willing” (including Rwanda, Tonga, Moldova, the Solomon Islands, etc.) or got a kick out of how maps showing large, sparsely-populated counties were used to pimp President Bush’s 2004 electoral “mandate”, you’ll be happy to know that the administration’s skill at promoting meaningless figures is has been taken on his tour of South America.

Sometime Bush buddy, Mexican President Vicente Fox is following the White House playbook, describing how the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas enjoys near-universal support in the hemisphere despite the opposition of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:

Fox argued that the 29 countries that want to forge ahead should form the trade zone on their own — even though that would leave out Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela and dash hopes of creating a bloc that would eclipse the European Union.

Twenty-nine countries sounds like a lot, until you think about the five countries that are mentioned in the quote as not happy with the agreement. Argentina’s pretty big. And, uh, doesn’t Brazil cover a huge chunk of South America, and have some huge cities, to boot? Just who are those other countries in the 29 besides the US, Canada, and Mexico?

Well, there’s Belize and Barbados (with a little over a quarter-million people each). Antigua and Barbuda (one country), Saint Kitts and Nevis (one country), Dominica, Granada: they have a total of less than 270,000 combined. (All figures quoted here are July 2005 estimates from the CIA World Factbook.)

In fact, the population of the five countries aligned against the agreement totals out to over 260 million. The population of the other 29 countries is nearly two and a half times that: slightly more than 608 million.

If you exclude North America (the US and Canada), however, the populations of the countries in Central and South America are virtually even. Those 27 countries have a combined population of just under 280 million.

Country Population
Antigua and Barbuda 68,722
Barbados 279,254
Belize 279,457
Bolivia 8,857,870
Canada 32,805,041
Chile 15,980,912
Colombia 42,954,279
Costa Rica 4,016,173
Dominica 69,029
Dominican Republic 8,950,034
Ecuador 13,363,593
El Salvador 6,704,932
Granada 89,502
Guatemala 14,655,189
Guyana 765,283
Haiti 8,121,622
Honduras 6,975,204
Jamaica 2,731,832
Mexico 106,202,903
Nicaragua 5,465,100
Panama 3,039,150
Peru 27,925,628
Saint Kitts and Nevis 38,958
Saint Lucia 166,312
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 117,534
Suriname 438,144
The Bahamas 301,790
Trinidad and Tobago 1,088,644
United States 295,734,134
Argentina 39,537,943
Brazil 186,112,794
Paraguay 6,347,884
Uruguay 3,415,920
Venezuela 25,375,281

MAX 2005: Using Flash Media Server 2.0 (10:15am, 18 October)

Brandon Purcell talked about the upcoming release of the new version of the Flash Media Server.

FMS2.0 makes it possible to use an edge server scheme, in which an origin server holds the definitive version of content files and multiple edge servers are the actual points of contact for client applications, rather than the live server splitting scheme employed by current versions of FCS.

Edge servers take in requests for content and combine all requests for new content into a single stream of requests between each edge server and the origin server, or spit cached content out without disturbing the origin server at all.

Routing management and re-routing auto-discovery are features built into the new Flash 8 Player. When I figure out exactly what that means, I’ll get back to you, but I believe it has to do with the ability to change target servers based on something similar to an http redirection, as a browser would do.

Notes say Brandon mentioned a technique called edge chaining, which sounds painful, but likely involves multiple edge servers operating in unison.

Brandon compared the new On2 video codec in FLV files. He said there is no support for it in the Flash 6 or 7 Player but that an option in FMS2 allows you to set AutoStreamTypeSwitching to accomodate multiple Player releases.

FMS2 has new developer and admin features, supports RTMPS (secure real-time) protocol, DLLs, and has a Java SDK. It has a SWF admin console, a shared object browser, can stream metadata, and has better performance.

And that, my friends, is the last session report I have for you from MAX 2005. Just a couple of weeks late, but if I hadn’t waited, I couldn’t have posted the link to Brandon’s presentation notes which he just put up yesterday himself! I do have some other things to say, and I’ll get to them ASAP.