Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Real and imaginary threats to America

These are wild times and there are definitely things to worry about, but unfortunately the rains of misfortune are also bringing many crazy worms to the surface.

For instance, one story doing the rounds is that the 5.8 quake of 23 August 2011 (I was in Long Island at the time and it was mildly interesting) was caused by a nuclear explosion. For some, this segues into talk of a vast secret network of underground tunnels, stolen nuclear weapons and some kind of underground battle. Illuminati, aliens, the lot.

Worse, the excitable conspiracy theorists appear to be doctoring the data. See the alleged seismograph readout in the link above, which looks most odd because (unlike with normal earthquakes) there seem to be no p-wave tremors before the major shaking; then see the actual readouts from the Seismological Observatory at Virgina Tech. To save you the bother, here they are:

What are the nutters thinking when they do this? Are they like those mediaeval monks at St Denis, Naples and elsewhere, who created and manipulated effigies so that they appeared to speak to the faithful? Believers themselves (we must hope they were not simply cynical), they considered it their duty to perpetrate pious fraud in order to foster the faith in others. Is that what we have here, now?

Yet it seems there are more mundane, yet real, threats we should guard against. For example, according to this article (htp: Robert Wenzel) it seems that the United States government is choosing where to hold a trial for Julian Assange, according to vested local interests that may influence the kind of jury he will face. If true, this makes a mockery of justice - and my reading of John Grisham's fiction suggests that such manouevres are quite believable, perhaps common.

Meanwhile, Americans are thrown into a panic by the Islamic bogeyman, who in the worst atrocity on US soil ten years ago claimed under 3,000 lives. Every life counts, and we have New York fire and police in our extended family, so I don't for a moment undervalue the horror of what was done that day. Yet look at the year 2000 for comparison: the 9/11 toll is less than deaths ascribed to asbestos (3,750), medication errors (7,391), chewing tobacco and snuff (7,430), alcohol (85,000), infections acquired in hospitals and long-term care facilities (90,000), medical errors (98,000), adult obesity (111,909) and active smoking (389,290). Should the Patriot Act include provisions for hunting down and destroying brewers, tobacco companies, insulating firms, doctors, nurses and the makers of Twinkies?

The real threat to America is its own government, which uses fright tactics to cause its citizens to abandon their Constitutional safeguards against tyranny. The battle may be lost here in Britain, where our unwritten constitution has been so easily and quickly subverted; but I would urge my American friends to go back to those yellowing documents stored in Washington DC, so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." If you do not throw down your coat and stand to fight here and now, then where and when?


James Higham said...

The 90%-10% theory goes that when one investigates, one doesn't stop at the 90% because sometimes the last 10% alters the picture considerably.

Most important is not to fall back into well worn ruts such as "whack-job", "conspiracy nutters" etc. Much better to follow the evidence to the end.

I found other sites and graphs and this:

As it turns out, a comment on this:

… went:

I followed the link to the photograph supposedly from Washington and Lee University. It wasn’t a .edu website but it had a Virginia Tech. tag on the name. So I Went to Virginia Tech Seismology for some readouts.

It looks like someone doctored the graph linked to your blog article because the actual readout does show what might be called a p wave.

I did some exploration of my own and came up with this:

Most earthquakes occur along plate boundaries where tectonic stress is greatest. Unlike the West Coast, the East Coast is situated near the center of a tectonic plate and resides on what geologists call a passive margin. This is not to say that earthquakes don’t occur in Virginia, but they are much different than in California. West Coast quakes can be very shallow and often break the ground surface, while in Virginia they usually occur at depths of anywhere from three to fifteen miles and it is not always possible to associate a specific quake with a specific fault. In general, East Coast earthquakes are less energetic than those on the West Coast, but due to the coherency of the basement rock (think concrete slab vs. brick patio) they are felt much farther away. The affected area can be up to ten times larger for a similar magnitude event.

So what do we get out of all of that? Nothing proved, nothing disproved. Could have been nuclear, might not have been, perhaps the graph was doctored for mischievous reasons. For what mischievous reasons? So that sharp-eyed pundits would jump on it, conclude as they have about nukes then someone calm and assured comes in and says it wasn’t one university, it was another and that the real graph shows p waves. Nuke theory falls to the ground.

But as the last link shows, it doesn’t fall to the ground. We’re actually left not knowing one way or the other.

The great danger is that the seemingly calm, "scientific" pundit who comes in later, saying, "Oh for goodness sake, this was doctored," or "This does not corroborate it at all," is quite likely to be a shill.

What he's done is get the original feisty pundit to "discover" signs of nefariousness which have been planted [remember the later commenter mentioned someone doctoring the graph], then he can come in with the real graph[s] and that's as far as any average person will explore.

There is a type of mind, very prevalent among those who chant "conspiracy theory" the moment anything happens, who are happy to leave off an investigation once someone erudite appears "to have spoken", as if that carries more weight than the original.

This is a tried and tested technique for deflection and is intended to blunt anyone who can be caught out this way.

There are big stakes being played for in the U.S. right now and this sort of technique is par for the course on the battlefields of the thought leaders.

Sackerson said...

The quake originated beneath the town of Mineral, Virginia in the Central Virginia seismic zone as per your last link. I'll use Occam's Razor on this one and discount the aliens on dragonback.

Anonymous said...

"the excitable conspiracy theorists appear to be doctoring the data. See the alleged seismograph readout in the link above, which looks most odd because (unlike with normal earthquakes) there seem to be no p-wave tremors before the major shaking;"

A seismogram from the seismograph in W&L's Science Center of the 5.9 earthquake in Virginia.

(no doctoring there, Sir)

"then see the actual readouts from" the Virginia Polytechnic Institute :

Virginia Tech's seismograph records today's quake. Credit: Brian Romans, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

(isn't that interesting ?)

same seismogram shown on another website :

This seismograph board on display outside of Virginia Tech’s small geoscience museum in Derring Hall shows seismic activity during Tuesday's earthquake recorded by a seismometer on the university's campus in Blacksburg.

another seismogram, this time from the IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) :

24-hr Seismogram from closest station, CBN Fredericksburg, VA (08/23/11)

I guess "There is a type of mind, very prevalent among those who chant "conspiracy theory" the moment anything happens" like James Higham said, but there's another type of mind that is prevalent among those who chant "conspiracy theorIST" the moment anyone dares to question anything, and is not very different from the type of mind of those who chant "Burn the Witch !" ;)

Sackerson said...

Anon, thank you for your detailed comments. The differences between the readouts are interesting and Virginia Tech's show some brief leadup whereas some of the others look zero-to-hero.

My prejudice is indeed to look for the simplest and everyday explanation, and I think this is healthy given the tendency of the internet to wild speculation; I am amenable to reason and evidence, though, so if someone can show me why I really should believe that things were stable until suddenyl there was a huge nuclear blast, then I'm prepared to believe it.

James Higham said...

It wasn't the explanation - it was the emotive language. The explanation itself we're all pretty well agreed on, Sackers.

Sackerson said...

You're a stirrer yourself, James.

Sackerson said...

And if you care to see examples of what causes me to lose patience:

Sackerson said...

Ah, yes, this I think is the first one I saw:

... so yes, crazies, conspiracy theorists and nutters.