The week (May 26th): Nobody asked me, but…

With apologies to Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

WHAT IS IT ABOUT NEW CIA DIRECTOR Michael V. Hayden that makes me think of the slippery national security advisor (played by Harris Yulin) in the movie Clear and Present Danger. Is it that Hayden always seems to have a handy explanation, even when he is confronted with contradictory statements? Or is it that, despite the uniform, he seems the consummate CYA bureaucrat?

WHILE DISTRICT ATTORNEY MIKE NIFONG's case against the three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape appears shakier and shakier, all of the evidence in the case hasn't been revealed. A motion filed by defense attorneys for David Evans, the third Blue Devils player charged with raping an exotic dancer at an off-campus party in March, claims that the alleged victim did not identify Evans in a first photo lineup eight days after the party (only selecting him in a later lineup); the lawyers are asking for "narrative reports" on the lineups.

While legal journalist Stuart Taylor, Jr. says in the National Journal that based on what is known now, he is "about 85 percent confident that the three members who have been indicted on rape charges are innocent and that the accusation is a lie," it's much too early to put this case in the Tawana Brawley hoax category.

Meanwhile, the local Durham paper, the Herald-Sun, has reported that the state NAACP will seek a gag order in the case. Al McSurely, an attorney who chairs the North Carolina NAACP's Legal Redress Committee, told the Herald-Sun that his organization would "try to intervene in the case to file a 'quiet zone/let's let justice work' motion." McSurely argued that defense lawyers "are violating the State Bar's rules of professional conduct that discourage comments outside court that are likely to prejudice a case" and the alleged victim's rights to a fair trial might be jeopardized.

Forget the gag order. Here's a better solution: an expedited trial. Rather than waiting until spring 2007 for a trial, Nifong should push for the earliest possible court date. If anything, you would think the prosecution would want to move quickly before witnesses' memories grow hazy.

THANKS TO A FRIEND WHO FORWARDED THE CITE, I have a better understanding of why fire spread so quickly in World Trade Center 7, apparently leading to the building's dramatic collapse after the 9/11 attack. In January, a judge threw out a civil suit brought by Con Ed and insurance companies against the City of New York alleging "that the city had improperly designed and installed a fuel system for the backup electrical system that supported its Office of Emergency Management on the Manhattan building's 23rd floor."According to the Associated Press, the plaintiffs argued that "the city maintained large tanks of diesel fuel in the building and…the tanks caused the fires to grow out of control." Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein dismissed the suit on the grounds that the city's actions were "a good faith effort" to "facilitate civil defense.'"

As I recently reported in Neither Red nor Blue, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will release its draft report on the WTC 7 collapse this fall.

ONE OF THE STRANGEST HOME RUNS in memory came the other night when Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees lofted a Tim Wakefield knuckleball pitch into the seats above the Green Monster at Fenway Park. A-Rod had no idea where he had hit the ball–he initially looked straight up and then back over his shoulder, trying to locate the ball. That's one reason why knuckleball pitchers provide such great entertainment; perhaps Major League Baseball should mandate every team has to have one knuckler as a starter (and you could argue that would represent less of a rules change than the designated hitter for the American League).

SO NOW THE FRENCH are preaching about how American women use too much make-up (according to the New York Times). The Times quotes one French social commentator as describing the American "painted doll" look as "vulgaire." To give the story a bit of quantitative backing, the newspaper quoted a 2004 poll that claimed "64 percent of American women said they sometimes use foundation, compared with 47 percent of French women; 81 percent of Americans use lipstick compared with 70 percent of French women."

But aren't there more fresh-faced beauties in the state of California (population of some 36 million) than in all of France (60 million population)? As the Beach Boys once told us:

I been all around this great big world
And I seen all kinds of girls
Yeah, but I couldn't wait to get back in the States
Back to the cutest girls in the world

I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls

SPEAKING OF EUROPEAN SENSIBILITIES, Christopher Hitchens has another brilliant column in Slate on the shameful treatment by the authorities in Holland of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian ("Dutch Courage: Holland's latest insult to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.") If what Hitchens describes isn't appeasement, this time of Islamo-facism, then what is it? Three cheers for the American Enterprise Institute, which has offered Hirsi Ali a job in the U.S. if she must leave the Netherlands.

MY PICKS for the NCAA Division One lacrosse championship this weekend in Philadelphia: top-seed Virginia will defeat Syracuse and Maryland will beat UMass in Saturday's semifinals, leading to an all-ACC final on Monday. Look for Virginia to remain undefeated, defeating the Terrapins for the third time (a tough feat) and winning the national championship.


Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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Social networks: the next new new thing

So now online social networking is the next new new thing (to borrow a turn of phrase from the talented business journalist Michael Lewis).

Web-based social network sites are increasingly surfacing in news and business reports: you'll find lots of coverage of Facebook.com, MySpace.com, Friendster, Tagged.com, Linked-in, and, (depending on your definition of a social network), Flickr, YouTube and even Wikipedia.

There is some hype, reminiscent of Web 1.0 in its breathlessness: Fast Company magazine headlines a June story: "The Network Unbound: How TagWorld and other next-generation social networks could feed your business–and maybe even change the world."

But there is clearly something more than buzz going on; this isn't a 21st century version of CB radio. Rupert Murdoch owns MySpace.com. There are reports that media giant Viacom offered $2 billion (NOTE: "billion" is not a typo) for Facebook.com, a site which was started some two years ago by Harvard University students, and was rebuffed! Even the former actor (and soccer player) Andrew Shue has jumped aboard what has been called Web 2.0, hawking ClubMom.com, which "offers mothers a platform to start businesses."

That is not to suggest these social network sites will continue to grow at their current rapid rate. (Beware trend analysis. Elvis impersonators surfaced at a breath-taking clip in the 1990s; had the exponential ersatz Elvis trends continued, every fifth person in America would be wearing sunglasses and singing "You ain't nothing but a hound dog.")

What might slow the social network surge?

For starters, there are only so many hours in the day. As alluring as these virtual communities can be, there is a burn-out factor to consider. Just as many have started, and abandoned blogs, there will be a natural attrition. Look for fragmentation, as well, as some sites grow too large and users seek a narrower connection around specialized interests.

There are also questions about the boundaries for privacy, confidentiality and member authenticity.

It's definitely a bit of a Wild West today; students using Facebook have learned that risque postings, including photographs, can come back to haunt them as college administrators, campus police, potential employers and other outsiders peruse personal web pages.

A number of varsity and club sports teams (Northwestern, Wake Forest, Catholic University, Elon and Quinnipiac) have been embarrassed by initiation photos floating in Webspace and posted on Badjocks.com, photos often "borrowed" from Facebook and other social network sites. As Elon athletic director Alan White told USA Today: "Once these things get out, there is no such thing as privacy.You are vulnerable. It can explode on you, and it can be all over the universe."

There is also the issue of member authenticity, which is often linked to safety concerns. How do you really know who is who in an online environment? How to keep the online wolves from the sheep? Myspace.com has had to confront the problem of older sexual predators invading its largely teenage community–it has appointed a security czar and is deleting profiles of under-age users (those under 14).

Future social historians will no doubt turn to a recent news release by a venture called Matecheck.com, which seeks to verify the bona fides (especially the marital status) of men joining online dating sites, as a glimpse into what America 2006 was like:

“As the online dating industry matures, a need for a service like MateCheck is crucial,” notes Andrew Maltin, MateCheck’s CEO and Co-Founder. “Think of MateCheck as the E-Bay rating system of dating,” says Maltin. “Would you buy products from someone who has received negative feedback? Well, you certainly shouldn’t trust your heart to a man with a negative DateScore.”

Maltin's comments provoke other thoughts: as American capitalism commercializes social networks, will members "trust their heart" to faceless, profit-seeking corporations? An overly-commercial approach may very well diminish the sense of community these networks have engendered.

Do these online social networks offer more than, to use Fast Company's phrase "feeding business"? Can they "change the world" as potential political players? Joe Trippi and Howard Dean built a presidential campaign around that notion; Moveon.org and other lefty groups apparently believe that their online social networks will transform electoral politics.

Some skepticism seems in order. In the 2004 presidential election it was old-fashioned, physical social networks in the form of Christian churches in Florida and Ohio who turned out the vote and delivered the key electoral votes to George W. Bush. (Political correspondent Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine filed a brilliant story, "Who Lost Ohio?", which recounted the GOP's reality-based get-out-the-vote (GOTV) success on the ground in Ohio).

Perhaps that will change for the 2006 Congressional elections, or in 2008, and the virtual will trump the real. But I'd argue that we are still one generation away from any translation of online social networks into political clout. And when and if that transformation occurs, I would not assume that it will take a left-of-center slant.


Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (May 19th): Nobody asked me, but…

With a bow to the incomparable Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

HOW ABOUT A MORATORIUM on the phrase “speaking truth to power”? When CIA Director nominee General Michael Hayden, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Rep. Jane Harman and Michael Kinsley all use it within a few days, you know it’s losing whatever meaning it ever had. I’ve never cared for the phrase; there’s something overwrought about it.

THE USUAL DEFENSE INDUSTRY SUSPECTS–Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing–apparently love President Bush’s $2 billion high tech border control plans. The New York Times says they will all be in the hunt for these juicy federal contracts. But where is Halliburton on that list? It seems un-American that Dick Cheney’s favorite corporation might miss out on the latest windfall.

SOMEHOW I DON’T THINK they will find Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa’s remains on that farm in Michigan. Isn’t a spot under the 50-yard-line in Giants Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands a more fitting resting place?

FORMER DUKE LACROSSE CAPTAIN David Evans, the third man charged in the alleged rape of a stripper at a team party, is certainly acting like an innocent man. He has loudly proclaimed his innocence, and noted that he has cooperated with the authorities. Evans’ attorney has provided the results of a privately-arranged lie detector tests that appears to exonerate the former Blue Devils player.

Does Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong have evidence above and beyond what has been made public that has spurred his prosecution of the Duke Three? Traces of a date rape drug in the accuser’s blood? An eyewitness? A member of the Duke team who will testify against his fellow players?

With the trial date set for spring 2007, it may be some time before the truth emerges. Beware those with the greatest certainty about this case–what happened that night still remains a mystery.

IT’S A SHAME THAT TAYLOR TWELLMAN of the New England Revolution didn’t make the U.S. World Cup soccer team, because he’s a gutsy player with a great work ethic who knows how to score goals.

IF THE NOVEL IS SUPERIOR to the movie version of The DaVinci Code, as many critics argue, then Ron Howard and Tom Hanks may have an Ishtar-Waterworld-level flop on their hands. And the reviews are brutal

THE NAME NEVAEH (Heaven spelled backwards) is now the 70th most popular girl’s name in the United States. Bostonians are used to the concept: the popular former Red Sox shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, now a Dodger, was (backwardly) named after his father, Ramon.

JOHN MCCAIN gave essentially the same commencement speech at Liberty University, Columbia and the New School–and the Republican Senator’s support of the Iraq war was not well received in New York. McCain’s presence on Rev. Jerry Falwell’s campus was widely interpreted as McCain’s olive branch to the Christian conservative wing of the GOP; as Michael Kinsley and others have noted, many Republican conservatives don’t trust McCain, despite an impeccable right-of-center voting record, and will support him only as part of an ABC (Anybody But Clinton) strategy.


Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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Questions of national security: what to believe?

There is a natural tension in a free society between the need for secrecy on matters of national security, and the need for openness and disclosure about what our government is doing.There are legal, and practical, limits to what the media can report about the intelligence community (CIA, NSA, etc.); recently, those limits have been stretched.

Most of what has surfaced publicly (in the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today) on the Bush Administration's domestic surveillance program, and on the reasons for recent shake-up at the CIA, has come from leaks.

The problem becomes: what can be believed? And, more importantly, what is the significance of some of what we are learning?

Watching the coverage over the past several weeks has raised a number of questions in my mind–questions that are not being fully addressed, or answered, by the elite media. Partly this is because, I would argue, that reporters on the national security beat are held captive by their sources. The potential for manipulation is greater when reporting on intelligence issues, because there are fewer ways to double check or verify what is being leaked. The result is coverage that is less than complete.

Here are five of those questions:

1). How had the CIA been performing under its recently ousted director Porter Goss?

The initial press reports suggested an Agency in turmoil, paralyzed by partisan in-fighting; those around DNI John Negroponte apparently spread the word that Goss' alleged mismanagement was the cause of his removal. The Washington Post's David Ignatius wrote a column entitled: "How the CIA Came Unglued." Conventional media wisdom was that Goss and his partisan "Gosslings" had damaged the CIA with heavy-handed management and an obsession with loyalty and plugging leaks.

But then a story by Mark Mazzetti appears on the front page of the New York Times (found here) casting some doubt on the Goss-as-hack frame:

For all its dysfunction and recent failures, the CIA that General Michael Hayden stands to inherit is far along a path toward rebuilding its network of foreign stations and replenishing ranks that were eviscerated during the years after the Cold War.

The rocky 19-month tenure of Porter Goss was characterized by turf battles and the bitter departure of many seasoned operatives. Yet it was also a time when a flood of new recruits entered the agency and the CIA opened or reopened more than 20 stations and bases abroad.

Some on the Right, such as Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard ("CIA 1–Bush 0") are arguing that Goss' attempts at reform were blocked by an "intransigent bureaucracy":

Goss arrived at the CIA with at least two goals: stemming the flow of leaks from the Agency and reforming the directorate of operations (DO). They were difficult tasks. The DO has long viewed itself as untouchable, a problem for a bureaucracy that emphasizes recruitment numbers over risk-taking, and budget increases over penetration of the enemy.

What Hayes can't explain is why the Bush Administration would abandon its choice for the CIA role after 18 months.

So what are we to believe?

2). Did the CIA need house-cleaning? Does it need further reform?

The 9/11 Commission concluded that CIA had failed on assessing the threat of Osama Bin Laden. The Senate Intelligence report found the same on the weapons of mass destruction question. Former CIA director George Tenet assured President Bush that Saddam's possession of WMD was a "slam dunk."

But now retired CIA officials and current intelligence operatives are apparently arguing that the CIA had it right in the past but was slighted, or ignored, by the Bush Administration. This revisionist view would maintain that the Goss reforms (firing or retiring Old Guard managers; moving assets into the field from headquarters; clamping down on leaks and CIA-authored books and articles) were unnecessary and damaged the Agency and its morale.

If the revisionists are right, then the massive reorganization of America's intelligence establishment is mistaken–an overreaction to a flawed analysis.

So what are we to believe?

3). Can an intelligence czar–the role now filled by Negroponte–improve American intelligence? Or does it promote groupthink–the very ill it was partially designed to cure?

The theory, as espoused by the 9/11 Commission and its advocates in Congress was that the DNI position would manage the numerous federal intelligence agencies, coordinating efforts and insuring that the President received the best intelligence analysis possible.

And yet the Negroponte record so far has been one of empire-building (twice the number of staffers as budgeted, according to some reports), an appetiite for political in-fighting, and little patience for dissent.

Further, Negroponte and those around him (including CIA director nominee Hayden) seem entranced by technology and Sigint (signals intelligence). While Hayden is paying lip service to the notion of supporting human intelligence collection by the CIA, it's hard to imagine he can overcome an NSA world view fixated on gathering and analyzing emails and cell phone calls.

So what are we to believe?

4). What are we to make of the NSA domestic surveillance program? A lawless threat to privacy? An effective tactic against terrorists? Or "whiz bang" technology in search of an application?

The USA Today story that the National Security Agency had been compiling the phone records of millions of Americans raised fears in Congress among both Republicans and Democrats about possibly illicit domestic spying. That General Hayden was the architect of the program makes it even more troubling to some.

What has been lost in the uproar over the legality of the program is the question of effectiveness. What little reporting on the subject I've seen has suggested that the data mining and phone surveillance has produced little, if any, actionable intelligence, at an unknown cost.

So what are we to believe?

5). Will this new, centralized approach to intelligence safeguard us against terrorist attack? Will the President receive better assessments of other threats, like the Iranian nuclear program?

Jurist Richard A. Posner has argued that the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (the product of the 9/11 Commission's findings) overestimated the benefits of centralized control over intelligence; Posner has further questioned whether such reforms would prevent surprise attacks.

The assumption is that a "fixed" centralized intelligence system will allow the U.S. to thwart planned terrorist attacks, and an intelligence czar will provide accurate strategic intelligence to policy makers–avoiding the "slam dunk" analytical mistakes of the past.

My experience with centralization and the culture of large organizations makes me question this assumption; further, in a networked world, where flexibility and speed are at a premium, it is hard to embrace any solution that involves more bureaucracy and slights the human factor.

So what are we to believe?


Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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‘The deeper they burn’

Robert Pinsky asks and answers an interesting question in his Poet's Choice column in the Washington Post's Bookworld: "What is a prose poem? Who knows?"

Pinsky then dances around the definition, suggesting it has something to do with "speed and compression," or the "deft, mysterious creation of feeling from a few words," or the idea of movement in prose.

The Academy of American Poets offers us a somewhat more precise explanation:

While it lacks the line breaks associated with poetry, the prose poem maintains a poetic quality, often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and rhyme. The prose poem can range in length from a few lines to several pages long, and it may explore a limitless array of styles and subjects.

Say again? The Academy acknowledges the confusion: "the prose poem essentially appears as prose, but reads like poetry."

Hmm. Where should we place Ernest Hemingway's six-word story (composed in response to a challenge)?

Baby shoes. For sale. Never worn.

That certainly meets Pinsky's definition of a "deft, mysterious creation of feeling from a few words." What becomes harder is drawing the line between poetic prose and prosey poems. For example, take the following passage from Marguerite Duras' novel The Malady of Death:

And she, in the room, sleeps on. Sleeps, and you don't wake her. As her sleep goes on, sorrow grows in the room. You sleep once, on the floor at the foot of her bed.

She goes on sleeping, evenly. So deeply, she sometimes smiles. She wakes only if you touch her body, the breasts, the eyes. Sometimes she wakes for no reason, except to ask if the noise is the wind or high tide.

She wakes. She looks at you. She says: The malady's getting more and more of a hold on you. It's reached your eyes, your voice.

You ask: What malady?

She says she can't say, yet.

Prose or poetry? It has the feel of poetry to me, a sparseness and yet an emotional depth. Duras' entire novel, (in a minimalist translation from the French by Barbara Bray), strikes me as an extended poem in prose. Yet, despite its brevity, The Malady of Death meets all the requirements of fiction (a narrative, characters, etc.) and it has the ambition of fiction: to explore the depths of human heart.

When I consider some of my favorite authors and the elegance and beauty in their choice of words, the manner in which they evoke the felt life, I am reminded of Pinsky's "deft, mysterious creation of feeling." Consider the final two sentences from Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses:

He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds flew chittering among the dry bracken and horse and rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come.

Poetry or prose? Does it matter? It's the control over words that these authors/poets have, their economy, their ability to hint at something profound with one descriptive adjective ("darkening") or the use of cadence or repetition, that gratifies the reader.

As England's poet laureate in the early 19th century, Robert Southey, once wrote: "It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn."


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The week (May 12th): Nobody asked me, but…

With another nod to the legendary Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

SORRY, I CAN’T TAKE any pleasure in seeing Barry Bonds close in on Babe Ruth’s second place record of 714 career home runs. Babe Ruth’s granddaughter has refused requests to witness Bonds’ attempt to tie or surpass the Yankee hero saying: “I just don’t want his {Ruth’s} name mixed up in steroids.” She’s right. The numbers put up by Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the other allegedly-juiced sluggers of the late 20th century have to be considered suspect. Blame the Lords of Baseball (the owners and commissioner) for looking the other way as the steroids abuse problem grew worse; as long as fans came to see the long ball and TV ratings soared, nothing was said or done.

DOLPHINS APPARENTLY RECOGNIZE the distinctive whistles of close relatives, suggesting that, like humans, they have a “naming system.” A study of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida has shown that they have their own signature whistles. Researchers Vincent Janik (St. Andrews University), Laela Sayigh (University of North Carolina at Wilmington) and Randy Wells (Mote Marine Laboratory) deserve credit for expanding our knowledge of these amazing mammals. Wells directs Mote’s marvelous Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which has been studying bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, for some three decades.

SEVERAL CRUCIAL QUESTIONS LOST in the furor over the ouster of Porter Goss at CIA and the announcement of Air Force General Michael V. Hayden as his possible replacement are these: Did the CIA get it right on terrorism pre-9/11 and on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did the CIA need reform? Was Goss correct in looking to both restore CIA human intelligence capabilities and to retain the Agency’s analytical mission? Will DNI John Negroponte’s apparent need to centralize control of the “intelligence community” prove to be a positive step (one advocated by the 9/11 Commission), or a recipe for more bureaucracy, group think, and a over-reliance on signal intelligence (sigint)?

If you believe that the CIA’s performance during George “Slam Dunk” Tenet’s tenure was exemplary, as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius apparently does, then you’ll buy the Goss-as-partisan-hack frame being sold by the permanent Agency bureaucracy. If you think a centralized command and control approach to intelligence will work in a networked world, then Negroponte’s consolidating moves make sense. Count me out: both assumptions are flawed in my book.

COLLEGE LACROSSE’S NCAA championship playoffs begin Saturday. In Division 1, look for Virginia (the undefeated top seed and favorite), Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Maryland in the Final Four.

The best team not in the tournament? Duke, whose season was cancelled after the alleged rape of a stripper at a party attended by most of the team. Two Blue Devils players have been charged with sexual assault. Meanwhile, defense attorneys are claiming a second round of DNA tests shows no conclusive match to any team member. District Attorney Mike Nifong’s case is looking shakier and shakier.

BULLY FOR QWEST for balking at the National Security Agency’s request (as part of a anti-terrorist program) for the calling records of their customers without legal back-up. The Washington Post reported that: “A lawyer for Joseph P. Nacchio, Qwest’s former chief executive who left the company in June 2002, said he had refused to give call records to the NSA when no warrant or other legal process was provided to justify the government’s request.” Apparently AT&T Inc., BellSouth Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. rolled over and coughed up the data without a court order or warrant.

Maybe the NSA program is vital to the national security; if so, it should be child’s play to get the necessary court orders. If we are going to trade off some of our privacy to combat terrorist threats, it should be with appropriate legal safeguards.

MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI is backing away from earlier comments that the Democrats might seek impeachment of President Bush if they gained control of the House in November. The problem, of course, is that “putting the toothpaste back in the tube” isn’t the easiest thing to do. Pelosi has given conservative Republicans a rallying cry and GOP direct mail fund raisers great copy for their pitch letters (along with the time-honored technique of mentioning Hillary Clinton in the first sentence of their campaign contribution appeals).

And I am not making any of this stuff up…


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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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Update on the WTC 7 report release

UPDATE: The NIST 9/11 WTC 7 report was released Aug. 21, 2008. Read more about it here.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology now says that its draft report on the World Trade Center Building 7 collapse (officially entitled “WTC 7 Structural Analysis and Collapse Hypotheses”) will be released for public comment this fall. When I contacted the NIST press office this week, they told me that NIST plans to issue its final WTC report by the end of 2006.

This should bring relative closure to the scientific/engineering investigation of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack–and the additional lessons learned should aid in the design of future skyscrapers in a world where terrorism will remain an ugly fact of life.

Those 9/11 conspiracy theorists who continue to argue that the WTC 7 was destroyed by a rigged explosion (often claiming it was part of a sinister governmental scheme) won’t be satisfied; they’ll be angered by any report that doesn’t expose the alleged grand plot behind the tragic events of 9/11. Nonetheless, the NIST WTC 7 report should offer enough scientific detail to convince some of the well-meaning gullible (often found, sad to say, on American college campuses) to reject the full-blown paranoid fantasies about what happened.

There are several credible theories about the WTC 7 collapse (all of which involve physics, not fantasy). While the 47-story building wasn’t directly hit by the jetliners, falling debris from WTC 1 apparently started fires in WTC 7. To their credit, the scientists and engineers initially looking at this have admitted they aren’t sure how the fires caused the collapse. They will now look at several hypothesis and test models to try to find out what happened, relying on the scientific method.

A number of websites offer striking video of WTC 7 collapsing, and conspiracy proponents argue that buildings won’t implode so neatly unless there are demolition charges involved (the hapless Charlie Sheen raised these suspicions publicly); but Dr. Thomas Eagar, an MIT professor and engineer who studied the collapse of the Twin Towers has an explanation for this, one he gave NOVA a few years ago. (It also applies to WTC 7.)

Have you ever seen the demolition of buildings? They blow them up, and they implode. Well, I once asked demolition experts, “How do you get it to implode and not fall outward?” They said, “Oh, it’s really how you time and place the explosives.” I always accepted that answer, until the World Trade Center, when I thought about it myself. And that’s not the correct answer. The correct answer is, there’s no other way for them to go but down. They’re too big. With anything that massive — each of the World Trade Center towers weighed half a million tons — there’s nothing that can exert a big enough force to push it sideways.

Eager’s “back-of-the-envelope” theory seems logical (you can find his original paper here and the NIST report on WTC 1 and WTC 2 here.) He also has some interesting things to say about the intensity of the fires in the WTC disaster.

The NIST WTC 7 report in the fall will no doubt shed more light on this aspect of the 9/11 tragedy. Applied Research Associates, Inc., the firm responsible for the draft report, will include the findings of structural engineers and physicists who have studied dam and building failures, and the results of a number of computer simulations and materials tests.

While the report will effectively end the scientific investigation of what happened at the World Trade Center in New York in mid-September 2001, we will continue to struggle for emotional closure over 9/11 and its aftermath. That will take much, much longer.



Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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