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Monday, January 23rd, 2006 | ISSN 1556-5696

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This Evening!
Michael Shermer on Art Bell’s
Coast to Coast AM radio show

Monday, January 23rd
11pm—2am, Pacific Standard Time

Tonight, Michael Shermer will appear on Art Bell‘s Coast to Coast AM national radio show. George Noory presents the “Skeptics Cage: Two go in, one comes out.” Michael Shermer will be debating one scientist each hour on various aspects of new scientific thought. The line-up: Dr. Gary Schwartz, Russell Targ, and Dean Radin. You can tune in live on AM radio stations across the US (free), XM radio channel 165, or you can pay for a subscription to the podcast from the Coast to Coast AM website.


This image of the Orion Nebula reveals at least 153 glowing protoplanetary disks (dubbed “proplyds”) that are believed to be embryonic solar systems that will eventually form planets. (NASA image courtesy of GRIN)

lecture reminder…

The Soul of Science
Bootstrapping Meaning, Purpose & Spirituality

with Dr. Michael Shermer

Friday, January 27th, 9:30 am
at James Randi’s The Amazing Meeting 4
at Stardust Hotel, Las Vegas

How can we find spiritual meaning and purpose in a scientific worldview? Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one’s place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond our selves. There are many sources of spirituality; religion may be the most common, but it is by no means the only. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality. Science does this in spades. Dr. Shermer shows how.


Susan Blackmore speaking at the 2005 annual conference

Brain, Mind & Consciousness
– our 2005 conference now on DVD!

A three DVD set of the Skeptic Society’s “Brain, Mind & Consciousness” conference is now available. Held at Caltech in May 2005, this includes 30–50 minute talks by Michael Shermer, Roger Bingham, Christof Koch, Alison Gopnik, Richard McNally, Terry Sejnowski, Susan Blackmore, John Allman, Paul Zak, Hank Schlinger, and Ursula Goodenough.

ORDER the 3 DVD set >

READ Lee Traynor’s synopsis of the conference >

The Environmental Wars:
The Science Behind the Politics

– announcing our 2006 annual conference!

June 2nd–4th, 2006
California Institute of Technology

with Dr. Brian Fagan, Dr. Gregory Benford, Dr. Donald Prothero, Dr. Michael Shermer, special guest Michael Crichton, and others to be announced.

Every year the Skeptics Society hosts a conference which sees skeptics from all across North America and Europe converge for lively conversation, debate, and collaboration. Each conference centers around a specific theme, which allows us to cultivate an expert and informative panel of guest speakers.


photo of “Ground Zero” by Roderick Yang

In this week’s eSkeptic, we present Richard Morrock’s review of The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11, by David Ray Griffin (Olive Branch Press, 2004, ISBN 1566565529)

Richard Morrock is a writer based in New York. He has been active with the skeptics movement and has lectured on a variety of subjects to skeptical groups in New York and Philadelphia. He is also involved with the International Psychohistorical Association, of which he has served as vice president and newsletter editor. He is currently working on a book on psychohistory, along with a musical comedy based on the first term of the Bush administration.


9/11:
A Date That Will Live in Infamy

review by Richard Morrock

David Ray Griffin’s fanciful tale of Bush administration complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attack is a perfect example of the kind of conspiratorial thinking discussed by George Case in Skeptic Vol. 11 No. 4. There isn’t much to be learned about the fateful events from Griffin’s silly book, but he gives us some useful insight into the origins of paranoia.

Most writers on a subject do what is called research on the material, which means reading books, conducting interviews, and tracking down documents. This consumes far too much time and effort for conspiracy buffs like Griffin. His approach consists of asking disturbing questions, ignoring the actual evidence, speculating about the possible answers, assuming the worst-case scenario, and then drawing up his indictment of the administration based on his assumptions, even where they are in flagrant contradiction to widely-known facts.

Starting with the dubious “who benefits argument?”, Griffin concludes that since President George W. Bush profited in terms of political capital from the 9/11 attacks, he had to be behind them. Given that premise, he argues that the U.S. government masterminded the whole catastrophe from beginning to end, with the al-Qaeda hijackers being either innocent bystanders or U.S. secret agents. The planes that hit the World Trade Center — Flights 11 and 175 — were actually piloted by remote control, with their command center at No. 7 WTC, the 45-story office building across a narrow side street from the North Tower. In addition, the impact of the planes did not cause the buildings to collapse; that was the work of controlled explosions set off inside the Towers. As for the Pentagon, it was a guided missile or, no, maybe a military plane that hit the building, with Flight 77 disappearing inside the smoke and flames. And Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, PA, was actually shot down by the U.S. military because the passengers were on the brink of taking it over. The Bush administration didn’t want the hijackers taken alive, Griffin insists, because they presumably could have proven their innocence. How strange that 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui should have been kept alive after the 9/11 events, not to mention the mastermind of the affair, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, captured in Pakistan and now in U.S. custody.

One of the points Griffin raises is why the South Tower collapsed half an hour before the North Tower, although it was struck 15 minutes later. From this alleged discrepancy in the official story, Griffin concludes that the government had planted explosives in the WTC the previous weekend, using a power blackout as cover, and had dynamited the buildings. He never considers the other explanation: the South Tower collapsed faster because the plane impacted on a lower floor, and more floors were therefore set on fire. Any glance at the photograph of the second impact will show this.

He fails to explain why the government would have waited nearly an hour to explode its bombs in the South Tower, which would have allowed many people to escape; the North Tower didn’t collapse for one and 3/4 hours, and nearly all of the WTC workers who died were in the impacted floors or above. Did Bush’s remote control have a low battery?

Griffin actually does claim that No. 7 WTC, which collapsed at 5:20 pm, was blown up by explosives, and this is taken as proof that Washington was behind it. But what would the motive be? Blowing up an already-evacuated office building after thousands had died in the Twin Towers would seem like a waste of dynamite, not to mention office space. Did Bush think that public opinion had not been sufficiently inflamed by the 3,000 deaths? Do most Americans even know that a third office building, far smaller than the Towers, was also lost on that day? Griffin never explores that possibility that No. 7 was demolished because it had been contaminated by the white dust from the nearby North Tower. Explosives were used because, at 45 stories, No. 7 was too tall for a wrecking crane.

Jet fuel is kerosene, argues Griffin. Kerosene could not have caused a fire hot enough to melt steel, which happened at the Twin Towers. Perhaps Griffin has never attended a barbecue, where kerosene is used to ignite charcoal briquettes, and the charcoal fire then cooks the food. Something similar happened at the Twin Towers, where the jet fuel ignited carpets, furniture, books and papers, which then produced enough heat to bring down the burning floors; their impact on the floors below produced the force that led to the Towers’ collapse.

There is the question of what Bush knew on the morning of 9/11 and when he knew it. Some have claimed that Bush was lying when he said he saw the first impact on the Twin Towers, since there had been no live coverage of that attack; the second impact, about 15 minutes later, was covered by cameramen photographing the fire from the first. It would seem likely that when Bush watched the second crash on TV, as he waited to enter the 2nd-grade classroom in Florida where he was planning to read My Pet Goat, he mistakenly thought he was watching the first. Not until about 20 minutes later was he informed that there were two crashes, indicating a terrorist attack rather than an accident, and at that point he started to look worried. About six or seven minutes later, he left the school.

Well, why wasn’t he, or his staff, concerned about his being targeted by the terrorists? Doesn’t that prove, as Griffin indicates, that Bush was aware he was in no danger, and therefore involved in the attack? Not necessarily, given that both attacks were in New York, a thousand miles from Florida, and the attack on the Pentagon hadn’t happened yet. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the hijackers could have singled out the Sarasota elementary school; all of their targets were highly visible landmarks which could be identified from many miles away, whereas urban areas have numerous indistinguishable schools.

Why wasn’t the Air Force ordered to shoot down Flight 77 as it streaked through the sky on its way to hit the Pentagon? The official 9/11 Commission story is that planes were sent north to intercept Flight 11, with the White House and Pentagon unaware that it had already crashed in New York, and that the threat was coming from another plane, heading in from the west. Griffin believes that Vice President Dick Cheney, in charge of the situation in Washington while Bush was flying to Nebraska in Air Force One, deliberately avoided intercepting Flight 77 so that the Pentagon would be struck. One wonders what Donald Rumsfeld, still in his office at the Pentagon, might have had to say about that! Griffin asks why the Pentagon wasn’t evacuated, but never considers the fact that the government had no idea which target in the Washington area had been selected by the terrorists. Nor does he concern himself with the political fallout if an enemy attack on United States soil had been followed by our military leadership fleeing in panic from their still-intact offices.

Then there is the matter of the disappearing wreckage at the Pentagon, of which conspiracy buffs have made much. Photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the impact show no sign of airplane debris. That must mean that it was a missile that hit the Pentagon, implicating our diabolical government once again. Official accounts indicate that Flight 77 smashed through several of the concentric rings that make up the Pentagon, so that the wreckage all came to rest well inside the building.

Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania as the passengers attempted to wrest it back from the hijackers, may actually represent the one instance where Griffin does cast some light on the matter. The original official story had it that the passengers made their way into the cockpit, but that the plane crashed during the brief struggle. Later, it was announced that the passengers never made it through the door, and the government speculated that the pilot, Ziad Jarrah, downed the plane as the desperate fight broke out in the passenger compartment. Of course, given the fact that Jarrah planned to sacrifice his life for this mission, it doesn’t seem likely that he would have aborted it while there was still some chance of success. Griffin indicates that open cell phone lines recorded two explosions during the fight, followed by the sound of rushing wind; he reports an eyewitness saying that the plane disintegrated in the air, and mentions that one engine was found a mile and a half from the rest of the debris.

This is proof to Griffin that the Air Force downed Flight 93 with a missile, making the government responsible for the deaths of the heroic passengers who nearly foiled the fourth hijacking. He backs up this improbable claim by mentioning that someone saw a white military plane in the sky near the hijacked flight, overlooking the detail that military planes on such a mission would travel in formations of two or more, and that they are rarely white.

Griffin also mentions that the Flight 93 hijackers declared that they had a bomb when they took over the plane, but that the passengers regarded this as a bluff. He never considers the possibility that the hijackers were not bluffing, and that they set off the bomb (more likely two) when they were rushed by the passengers. This would account for the explosions, the sound of the wind on the cell phones, the crash of the plane, the engine landing more than a mile from the fuselage, and the peculiar path of the flight in the last few minutes before it crashed. In the map in the 9/11 report, Flight 93 makes a U-turn in northern Ohio after being hijacked, and then heads southeast, in a straight line, aiming directly for Washington. While over western Pennsylvania, it veers to the left and then makes a clockwise semi-circle, as if Jarrah has suddenly found it impossible to steer. Was this the result of a missile, a fight in the passenger compartment, or the desperate hijackers setting off their bombs?

The 9/11 attacks made Americans feel helpless, even more so than our defeat in Vietnam. Theories of administration complicity in 9/11, based on total denial of even the most self-evident facts, serve as a defense against these admittedly uncomfortable feelings, and allow us to feel omnipotent once again. Our government is all-powerful and all-knowing; a bunch of Middle Eastern fanatics couldn’t possibly take us by surprise, could they? Better a government that’s totally evil than one which leaves us helpless in the face of foreign terrorists.

10 Comments »

10 Comments

  1. Russell Willmoth says:

    First I want to make it clear that I am not a supporter of the conspiracy theory: I believe that the 9/11 attacks were planned oragnised and carried out by a group of fundamentalist moslem extremists.
    However I think that the debunkers of the conspiracy theories find they have to debunk everything. The fact that the fundamental thesis of the conspiracy theorists is blatently wrong doesn’t mean that they have it all wrong.
    The issue where I have doubt is the last plane, with the “all American heroes” who tried recapture the plane.
    First the BBC reported that fighter planes were tracking the plane, and then reported that the plane had been shot down. Secondly the calls from cells phones. I have tried hundreds of times to make calls from a flying jet-airliner using a regular cell phone and it is impossible. These calls from cell-phones – how were they made?

  2. Michael Gaspar says:

    I am not invested in any particular theory of what happened on 9/11. But I do believe that the 9/11 Commission Report, while succeeding in its main purpose of political damage control, failed to meet reasonable standards of criminal/forensic investigation. For example the collapse of WTC7 isn’t even mentioned in the Report let alone explained. No critical thinker should be satisfied that the Commission deserves the last word on this vital subject.

    The disappointing thing about debunkers like Morrock, Michael Shermer and others is that in their rush to convince the reader that 9/11 “conspiracists” belong in the same doghouse as believers in alien abduction, the Loch Ness Monster or a living Elvis, they ignore the glaring inadequacies of the official account and the many legitimate questions that skeptics have raised. They are quick to misrepresent the views of influential skeptics like Griffin, and to treat all dissenting arguments – the credible and the crazy -with uniform disdain.

    I have read Griffins’ works and I believe that Morrock’s critique is unfair and even dishonest. For instance, nowhere does Griffin advocate that flights 11 and 175 were piloted by remote control or that there was a command centre at WTC7. Nor does he propose that explosives had to have been planted in the Twin Towers a week before their collapse, during a blackout.

    Griffin is lampooned for not having conducted original research, but one has to wonder how Morrock’s credentials as a playwrite or psychohistorian have made him an expert on thermal physics, airline crash scenes, or other technical subjects.

    I did find it interesting that Morrock offerred his own theory as to why WTC7 was brought down by demolition, perhaps not realizing that the party line maintains that fire was responsible. Maybe this makes him just another conspiracy wacko.

    A further aspect of Griffins’ work that is given short shrift is that he is actually fairly self-critical. There is a section in Part 3 of his book, “Possible Problems for a Complicity Theory”, which speaks very well for Griffins’ ability to search out the potential flaws in his arguments. If Morrock had simply plagiarized this passage it would have been a far more compelling critique that his own offerring.

    I am very disappointed that Skeptic Magazine does not do a better job examining such an important controversy.

  3. martin (engineer) says:

    Mr. Richard Morrock,

    I’m sorry to say that you sound a lot more like a government stooge than a true skeptic. Instead of exploring the events of 9-11 with an open and discerning mind you simply pounce on everything that Griffin presented in his book. You focus on explaining how unlikely it is that the Bush Administration may have been complicit in the 9-11 attack. You present no documentary evidence of any sort to support your argument. Instead, perhaps you should be more focused on explaining how unlikely it is that three steel and concrete buildings collapsed at nearly free-fall speed (mainly) due to fire (according to the official theory) even though this has never happened before or nice 9-11. Yes buildings 1 and 2 were hit by airplanes, but not building 7. There is ample video evidence and witness testimony to examine the collapses of the buildings in a scientific and objective manner, which I have done.
    Without throwing any accusations, it is extremely unlikely that plane crashes and fires alone brough down buildings 1, 2 and 7, especially considering the manner in which they came down–accelerating all the way down.
    I am an engineer by training and profession, a skeptic by nature, and I did my research on this subject, perhaps you should too.

    -martin

  4. Dave Sorensen says:

    @ martin (engineer)
    I understand that you are an engineer and that you’ve looked into these claims. However, here are some things you may have overlooked.
    1) Buildings 1 and 2 were struck by planes flying around 500 MPH nearly full of jet fuel. What other high rise building can you name where this occurred? It was the structural damage to the columns that first led to a tilt (important point), and then most of the perimeter and core columns missed each other on the way down,which led to a total collapse. Or let’s say a 100,000 ton piledriver effect.
    2) The collapses of WTC 1 and 2 were not even close to free fall. Free Fall for the towers would be about 9 seconds. Estimates from video analysis puts the collapse time at around 15 seconds. The fact that you can see columns and other building material falling faster than the building itself refutes this notion.
    3) Building 7 had fires that was unable to be fought by the FDNY for 7 hours. The fires were spread out on around 15 floors and around 5 PM the entire building was practically on fire. We have dozens of eyewitness accounts from the FDNY and bystanders and video evidence that corroborate this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgcZZfzm7Pw
    http://wtc7lies.googlepages.com/WTC7_Eyewitnesses.xls

    Building 7 started with an internal collapse of the East penthouse, which starts the collapse 9 seconds before we see the front of the building collapse. It took 14 seconds, not 9 and again this is no where close to free fall speed.

    • Rob Denehy says:

      I’ve never heard anyone comment on the fact that the jet fuel was goin 500mph as well as the mostly metal airplane.rrock’s statement that WTC 7

      In the videos, you can clearly see that some parts of the plane go all the way through the building and out the other side. Wouldn’t a good portion of the fuel follow?

      The business of “finding” some of the hijackers’ ids on the streets of New York [not sure where I heard that one] is ludicrous.

      Suggesting that WTC 7 was intentionally destroyed because of contamination by “white dust” is also absurd. The building was on fire, yet some ad hoc group found and used sufficient explosives to do what looks like a controlled demolition in about 8 hours, secretively? Come on!

      And I watched the film of those buildings coming down. Granted, I have no experience with high temperatures, massive structures or materials science; but, to me, it looked as if the outer shell of concrete was being pulverized and then falling outward as if from a waterfall. That image troubles me greatly, as I would have expected larger chunks of concrete, rather than the relatively fluid looking mass of debris that poured out over the sides of the collapsing building.

      I would love to hear you engineers’ takes on these observations, if you’re still in the conversation.

      • Rames says:

        The fuel is located in the wings and under the middle portion of the plane, some 25 metres behind the cockpit of the plane.

  5. martin (engineer) says:

    Dave,

    There is plenty of witness testimony and video evidence in the public domain to show that planes and fuel, and whatever other office items burning in buildings 1 and 2 could not have cause the rapid, sudden and symmetric collapse of those buildings.
    I will focus on building #7 as it is a much more obvious example of controlled demolition.
    Hydrocarbon fires have never in history caused a total collapse of a steel-framed building.
    Moreover, even if a fire could cause a steel building to collapse, it is statistically extremely improbable that all support columns would have failed simultaneously and symmetrically. The building came down straight into its footprint.
    Lastly, explain to me how these firefighters knew the building 7 was ‘going to blow up’ (in their own words).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58h0LjdMry0

    • Rames says:

      The building’s metal structure did not fail as you suggest.
      The cladding of the metal structure was damaged by the impact of the aircraft. Once exposed the steel structure begins to bend and melt at only 1500 degrees C. Once the structure begins to bend that floor loses its physical integrity. Once that happens that floor collapses. Once one floor collapses the floor above naturally fall with it. This means the next floor underneath is then supporting all the floors above, in a way that it was never designed to – this leads to progressive failure of each floor.

    • Stan4o says:

      Martin, I like how you suggest , that even the Firemen are part of the grand scheme :)

  6. Dar Butler says:

    Why is the focus always on the building structure or the mechanics of the conspiracy or the official story?
    This line of reasoning is akin to arguing that just because business and political cronies of Bush and Cheney made money hand over fist in no-bid government contracts and/or the massive draining of the treasury, it does not mean Bush is a reptile alien.
    Then arguing the controversy:
    Well, his skin is slightly greenish and scaly! I’m a dermatologist, I know!
    Nonsense, that’s an inflammation reaction common to Texas heat! Here’s scientific research to prove…
    Ad nauseum.

    By definition, 9/11 was a conspiracy, by islamic fanatics or whomever.
    And by definition, it was a failure of the U.S. government to protect its citizens from attack.

    All other meaningful considerations should flow from there.

    By any measure 9/11 shed light on how deeply flawed, politically, our government has become and how poorly it – and apparently its citizenry in demanding accountability – has become in reacting to reality.

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