Wednesday, August 29, 2007

China go-between stokes Clinton warchest

Check out yesterday's Wall Street Journal for a sharp piece of investigative reporting on seemingly shady contributions to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

A businessman named Hsu who is a big backer of Hillary and Democrats seems to have used a working class Chinese family in San Francisco to funnel $55,000 to Clinton's campaign and another 150k in lolly for other Dems. The businessman was an early promoter of "engagement" with the Chinese communist government, the Journal noted.
In today's edition, Hsu claims the contributions were by a man named Paw who is now working for him and that nothing illegal had occurred. Paw's father, a mail carrier, and other members of the Paw family live at an address in San Francisco previously used by Hsu.

The Journal pieces appeared during the transition from Bancroft control to Murdoch takeover. Given Murdoch's own coziness with Chinese reds and his detente with Hillary, it looks like the staff chose their publication time wisely.

Update Aug. 30
Hsu has been a fugitive from California for 15 years, reports the LA Times. He was facing three years in prison in a stockholder swindle. Rather than escaping to Hong Kong, as was assumed, he went to New York and resumed his wheeling and dealing, this time becoming a major Democratic Party contributor.

He was hiding in plain sight, often being photographed at Democratic events. Yet, Clinton's staff evidently did no check on Hsu's background to forestall questions about "Asian moneymen" that dogged her husband's campaign.

Hsu may have felt that being politically connected would protect him, as well it might have, had not the WSJ staff had the nerve to run a story that the incoming Murdoch may well have found objectionable.

I'm also wondering about the source of Hsu's wealth. Did Beijing have anything to do with his obtaining seed money for new ventures? Did a connection with Beijing have anything to do with his ability to evade arrest? These are questions for the FBI, of course -- if we could trust that bureau, which we can't.

Wiretap wobbles
Intelligence chief Mike McConnell's public admission that telecom companies are a crucial part of warrantless wiretapping may have damaged the government's claim that lawsuits against those firms must be barred based on the "state secrets" privilege.

But, even had he not said so, wouldn't introduction of the state secrets argument imply that the telecom companies were involved? So the secrets must be about specific aspects of the raft of surveillance programs authorized by Bush after 9/11. Yet it is hard to believe that judges aren't competent to winnow out those aspects that must remain classified.

Upon signing the bill into law, Bush himself said that he wants Congress to pass better (he meant retroactive) lawsuit liability protection for entities that "allegedly helped" American security. The term "allegedly" was no doubt inserted by a lawyer, but its use is logically absurd. That is, "allegedly" means "yes or no." So if telecom firms didn't help, they don't need liability protection. They only need that protection if they helped the NSA or other spook outfits. So we have Bush and McConnell both in effect lifting the states secret ban when it suits their public policies.

As I said in a Znewz1 circular, though Congress rushed through a bad provisional warrantless wiretap law, what we really see is that the control clique is scrambling to try to regain their accustomed unfettered access to anybody's communications. In the wake of the New York Times' NSA disclosures, a number of news reports pointed out that long before 9/11 feds had enjoyed special "national security" arrangements with telecom firms whereby company executives simply looked the other way and didn't inquire about warrants.

The lawsuits have forced these firms to tighten up and make sure that laws are obeyed. Their best protection against liability is a warrant issued by a court.
But even a crooked judge is not going to grant the unfettered access that spook control freaks, representing the Council of Oligarchs, want. This lack of access may not have much to do with terrorists, but it has a lot to do with the economic advantage that comes with being an insider.

Bush is right about the current law being inadequate: it's inadequate for the oligarchs. Because telecom lawyers will be watching every P and Q for the remaining five months of the interim law's time span. Telecom statisticians, who are top rank, will be, or should be, watching government activity for signs of irregularity that could imply abuse.

The "system" has always relied on the power of intimidation. We can listen in at any time. So don't cross us. But now that effect is greatly weakened. The intimidators and control freaks have to go to all the bother of sending out spook crews to monitor specific political or economic "undesirables."

But even if a pro-oligarch law eventually is passed by Rockefeller and others, the telecom firms could still face hassles. A judge might view a hold-harmless clause with jaundiced eyes if their is sufficient evidence to indicate the firm should have had reason to believe that the government order was illegal. Obeying an illegal order can itself be illegal.

Kryptograff blog back
My Kryptograff blog came back to life (coincidentally with Gonzales' ouster) and after I asked Google/Blogger whether a federal agency had ordered the blog censored.
So far they haven't replied to my email.

That account has been beset with morphing bugs. I take that as a back-handed compliment to our influence.

Fisk joins 9/11 doubters
Go to The Independent and search Fisk to read British journalist Robert Fisk's puzzlement about a number of 9/11 mysteries.

He denies being a witting part of a coverup conspiracy but says some facts are just too hard to ignore. Though his column indicates he doesn't know much about 9/11 inconsistencies, at least we are seeing a shift in attitude by a well-known journalist. And, his paper didn't kill the piece.

In the age of the internet, a British journalist can have quite an impact in America. Remember the Downing Street memos?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tenet seen as 9/11 slacker

The CIA's inspector general says George Tenet should be held accountable as the director who failed to institute proper coordination and planning that might have thwarted al Qaeda's attacks of 9/11.

I scanned the executive summary and found that the review team had ignored the truth: that al Qaeda was only a dupe in the attacks which were carried out by federally protected operatives. So the report is essentially worthless and simply tends to maintain the ludicrous fictional account. The IG should be held accountable for helping cover up treason.

It just dawned on me that my kryptograff blog was blacked out at about the same time the IG report was grudgingly released. The CIA hates being forced to declassify things, fearing it will look weak politically. So, maybe spookdom won't look so weak if a media critic's work is censored "coincidentally."

It should be easy enough to prove hacking by comparing my blogs with a random sample of other blogs to see whether the number of bugs on mine indicates a non-random pattern. But, why bother? Big Brother always has a Catch 22 to hide behind anyway.

Hacking: a form of hate speech

Those who have been playing games with my various blogs seem to be afflicted with one-up-itis, which is part of the control-freak syndrome.

The message is always essentially the same: We detest free speech and our only way to answer is by hacking and censoring.

For example, after I sent out a Znewz1 alert about federal employees censoring and spin-doctoring Wikipedia entries, my kryptograff blog was shut down, supposedly after a spam-hunter program spotted signs of spam. This happened previously to a related blog, but in that case one could still read it. This time not. Well, at least their cover stories are inconsistent...

The blackout was particularly irritating because I was unable to send a link summarizing the NIST's 9/11 collapse scenario for review by a group of scientists, some of whom were engaged in an email discussion of the plausibility of the government's 9/11 claims.

Whenever a particularly vexing bit of censorship (via some alleged bug or other computer "glitch") occurs, it always follows something I have written that threatens media control freaks: those who believe all power has been given unto them or at least who strenuously want others to think that.

Their game is, for one thing, to control the debate in the presidential campaigns. Simple as that.

Most likely suspects: feds operating through one or more cutouts.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Surely your'e joking, Mr Conant

Draft 3

The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed because of an O-ring defect, claimed super-physicist Richard Feynman. Though the shuttle commission didn't agree that the cause was definitely the O-ring, it did concede the possibility and pointed to the joint where that gasket was located as the source of the problem.

The commission also made a brief comment that sabotage was not an issue.

This comes up because I have just read John and Mary Gribbins' account of Feynman's role in the Challenger investigation in their book Richard Feynman, a life in science (Dutton, 1997). The British couple, who have co-written many popular science books, handily pieced together their account from various sources, tossing many accolades toward Feynman for his alertness and brilliance in solving that puzzle, as he had solved so many other puzzles.

But as a journalist somewhat familiar with intelligence and security agency trickery, another possibility jumps off the page: Feynman was being led around by the nose with planted evidence and a craftily helpful general. One cannot be sure whether or not the Nobel laureate was willingly being manipulated. Though a brilliant physicist, at this point Feynmann was suffering the ravages of intestinal cancer and was on his last legs.

Shortly after accepting the call to serve on the panel, Feynman went over to Morton Thiokol where he quickly discovered a report mentioning the O-ring flaw (just like that!). Once in Washington, Feynman was prevented by Chairman William Rogers from doing independent research, but with the help of the NASA chief and the exceptionally helpful general he managed to skirt that proviso, though his preparation barely counts as research.

Feynmann's now famous demonstration of how the O-ring lacked sufficient elasticity when exposed to cold was reported by the Washington Post and New York Times as some sort of breakthrough. Yet, the inquiry was still in its early stages. Whatever happened to Feynmann's vaunted love for the scientific method? Yes, he loved to play the performer. But why perform when the research had only barely begun?

Also, what about the chain of evidence? Can we really be sure that the bit of rubber provided by NASA was the real deal rather than a defective piece in some spook switcheroo? Can you imagine that a security operation wasn't monitoring every move and breath uttered by every commissioner? If you can, you don't know Washington security-politik.

Of course the propaganda value of Feynman's ploy was overwhelming, and the administration no longer had to worry about the political impact from the fears of sabotage that had been current at the time.

Certainly Feynman was terribly ill. But he was alert enough in his reports and public appearances to make it substantially likely that he realized he had done no real science but rather had misled the public and press into thinking a solution had been verified before anyone could possibly be sure.

The commission continued its "work" and eventually issued a report that included an appendix by Feynman. Obviously both the CIA and FBI would have been all over that case long before Reagan suddenly appointed the panel, apparently in response to press reports that NASA employees were in fear of their lives about what they knew. So what was the view of those agencies? The commission seems to have glided over those federal inquiries.

It's quite plausible that the Challenger commission was required to reach a conclusion ordained by the security system. Perhaps security chiefs feared looking bad or -- a darker possibility -- perhaps Soviet moles (remember the Walker spy ring and Aldrich Ames?) were being protected.

Here is one of the reasons sabotage was suspected: Challenger was set to deploy the last satellite needed for activation of a classified three-satellite military communications system. Other satellites intended for this system had been orbited during previous Challenger missions but several had become disabled. News accounts of the time said that a number of military satellite launches had gone awry, though I can now find no reference to that story on the net.

I'm not one of those who think that Gorbachev meant to rein in the KGB. The politburo chose him, I think, because he had the friendly used car-salesman persona more acceptable to the West than did his Oriental potentate predecessors, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko.

Be that as it may. I well recall a news story of the era that reported that NASA had -- before the arrival of congressional investigators -- buried under tons of concrete in deep pits nearly all the physical evidence recovered after laborious undersea operations. You probably won't find that story via Google.

On the day after the disaster (or maybe that night), NASA held a teleconference session with journalists from around the nation. One guy had the audacity to ask whether sabotage was a possibility. His connection went dead and the NASA person acted as though he hadn't heard the question -- which he may not have. That didn't happen to any other questioner, none of whom brought up that already taboo subject.

Yes all this may be so, but why Feynman?

One cannot help but wonder whether a chit was being called in for a youthful indiscretion.

Feynman was a pet of J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project. Later, the whiz kid made light of his propensity for breaking into safes, rather than bothering with red tape, in order to provide Oppenheimer with secured documents. Recent scholarship makes a strong case for Oppenheimer having been a crypto-communist before being called to lead A-bomb research.

Though liberal scientists still believe Oppenheimer got a bum rap for what they see as his principled resistance to development of the H-bomb, more jaundiced eyes wonder whether a communist conspiracy was in action to thwart development of the super. (Let it be known: I detest nukes and totally agree with James B. Conant's principled opposition to development of the super, though I see that such a program became inevitable.)

The Venona files tend to indicate that Soviet intrigue in Washington was, if anything, worse than anything Joe McCarthy could have imagined, and also tend to substantiate Whittaker Chambers' general claims, though not all his details. (Do you suppose the NSA is not still holding back much that is in those files?) George Kennan, in his memoir, averred that the communist conspiracy in Washington had, McCarthy notwithstanding, been quite bad.

At the time MIT graduate Feynman went to Los Alamos from Princeton University, communism was the "in thing" among young Jewish intellectuals as well as generally among those youths who considered themselves knowledgeable atheists. Sorry if you don't like that. True anyway. Think of physicist Theodore Hall, who changed his name from Holtzberg to avoid anti-semitic bias. The Harvard whiz kid, who joined the Manhattan Project as an 18-year-old, was identified as a Soviet agent in Venona files released in the 1990s. Before his death, Hall admitted having been a Soviet sympathizer willing to assist Stalin's A-bomb aims.

Then there was Michael Straight, who used his progressive magazine New Republic to thump McCarthy, while concealing the fact that he had been one of those reds in the State Department that McCarthy was targeting. Straight had joined the communists along with Kim Philby and others while students at Cambridge and had gone onto become an NKVD operative in the State Department -- though he served in World War II as a bomber pilot. President Nixon appointed Straight, a scion of the wealthy Whitney family, as a cultural czar at the National Endowment of the Arts, despite his having secretly confessed to having been a communist spy.

Most kids grow out of such conceits. But, once compromised, how does one escape control? An analagous situation would be that of a young drug dealer forced to do dirty work every now and then for the DEA or some other federal agency. Blackmail may easily have been at work in Feynman's case. Not that he is likely to have cared about himself. But his son, just embarking on a career in science, would have been a worry.

Of course, when assessing motives we should take into account Feynman's idiosynchratic character.

The Gribbins recount the ultimate Feynman anecdote:

In 1981, a colleague, Brian Hatfield, happened upon a van decorated with Feynman diagrams that was parked at Caltech. Hatfield noticed the indices on the symbols were down, as in xi rather than up, as in xi. Knowing Feynman's casual disregard for such conventions, Hatfield immediately suspected that Feynman was the van's owner.

Peeking in a window, Hatfield spotted a bale of hay. That clinched it! Had to be Feynman.

[A previous draft of this post misspelled Feynman.]

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Less is more in some vote recounts

The 2004 Florida election debacle is only one of a number of recent races in which the razor-thin result was slimmer than the margin of error.

But a vote-by-vote recount is a somewhat dubious proposition. How could one substantially lower the margin of error in the recount? The more votes that are counted, the greater the likelihood of error.

I recall that media firms hired a polling expert to redo the Florida count. Apparently he took measures to lower the error rate, but I am unsure by how much.

So a thought occurs: Why not simply do a random sample when recounting? There is always a specific number of sample elements that will do for a specific overall number of votes to get the result within a 99 percent (or greater) confidence level.

That sample number is always far lower than the population size. So -- as long as care was taken to assure true randomness in the sample -- one would expect that the error in counting votes in the sample would be much lower than in counting votes in the population. So that error, plus the error implicit in the normal curve, might well be kept lower than the error in a recount. That is, the sample result would, in these special cases, give the winner with more confidence than with a full recount.

Will states, or some election judge, authorize such a procedure in a very tight race? It would be a tough sell politically, since the public is likely to believe that a full recount would be more accurate in exceptionally tight races than a random sample result.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Most bridges lack dampers

A quick review of relevant Google pages convinces me that the vast majority of highway and train bridges lack dampers for absorbing vibration induced by earthquakes, vehicles, construction activity or other causes. Also, a question arises as to whether bridge repair crews should be required to bring portable dampers to the job site.

A federally financed study found in that computerized "smart dampers" could extend the lives of the nation's decaying highway bridges by many years. But no action seems to have followed that study.

A Taiwanese study pointed out the peril of resonance effects on truss-style train bridges and suggested that dampers would eliminate the dangerous resonance vibrations. Likewise, there is little or nothing on the net about use of such safeguards on U.S. railway bridges.

However, earthquake damage has prompted authorities in California and other quake-prone regions to order the retrofitting of bridges with dampers.

One type of damper is a counterweight that moves opposite the direction of swing and tends to tame the violence of the swinging. This type is found in skyscrapers and would have been in the twin towers, for example. Another type is a viscous or hydraulic damper which works exactly like an automobile shock absorber and is sometimes attached to cables on a suspension bridge or on a stay cable between the deck and the anchorage. (See Friction factor, Bridge Design and Engineering, July 10, 2003, via Google.)

Virtually no cantilever truss bridge -- the type that collapsed in Minnesota -- appears to come with dampers.

When tuned mass dampers are used on bridges, they are generally meant to subdue vibrations of the deck, rather than the structure as a whole, it appears. Of course, such dampers would still tend to curb vibration of the remaining structure if the vibration originated principally on the deck, as presumably occurred in Minnesota.

(For a good glossary of bridge parts, see )

A federally financed study published in 1999 by a University of Oklahoma team found that computerized "smart dampers" reduced maximum stress on highway bridges by as much as 65 percent in their computer simulation. The authors of the report, W.N. Patten, J. Sun and Annie Zeng, argued that such dampers could extend the lives of America's highway spans by many years, offering an intermediate alternative to the immediate replacement of the many substandard structures.

A Taiwanese study reports that though "steel truss bridges possess the advantages of light weight, high strength and ease of construction," a design problem is that high-speed trains may set off dangerous "multi-resonant peaks" of vibrations. That is, the bridge shakes in tune with its natural frequency, and may collapse.

Jong-Dar Yau, a construction technologist at Tamkang University, said his computerized model showed that tuned mass dampers effectively suppress these resonances during shaking from high-speed trains.

The tuning of a mass damper means to set it to absorb vibrations at specified frequencies. So one consideration might be whether in future construction crews bring mass dampers with them to offset construction vibration.

Regarding the resonance conjecture
I had forgotten the fact that soldiers are often ordered to break cadence when crossing bridges in order to avoid setting off resonance vibrations. We also know that the Millenium Bridge, a footbridge in London, had to be retrofitted with dampers after people walking on the bridge tended to match strides, triggering a resonance wobble.

Bizarre blackout
A spot check shows no further media interest in the matter of vibration or wobble and no interest at all in the matter of the use of dampers in order to safeguard lives. Either the search engines are being jiggered while I use them -- a distinct possibility -- or the word is out to avoid issues prominently mentioned here -- also a distinct possibility.

Aug. 10 2007.Yesterday's N.Y. Times had a story on a conjecture that a truss connector plate was the culprit. The story also acknowledged that some experts viewed jackhammer effects as a potential trigger.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A shaky situation

Every time a layer of concrete was removed from the I-35W bridge, it would wobble, construction workers have said.

The wobble would be a consequence of load redistribution, no doubt. The removal of the weight might cause the truss system to expand something like a spring. Now if those supports had fatigue cracks, those cracks could have expanded as the support system adjusted to the load change.

If the truss system would shift so noticeably after its load was lightened and shifted, one might expect that mechanical vibration from jackhammers and big pavement pounders would contribute to the weakening of the supports.

BTW, the word wobble appears in yesterday's stories, but not the word vibration.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Bad, bad, bad, bad vibrations...

You may have first read of the vibration conjecture concerning the Minnesota bridge collapse here, though Pat Doyle of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune quoted a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman as suggesting the possibility that vibration was potentially an important issue in a story that appeared Thursday, a day before my jackhammer physics post.

Following my post was an excellent Chicago Tribune story (see below) on the opinion of structural engineers about the plausibility of the vibration conjecture. Yet, TV news has mostly ignored that issue, as have major print media outfits, other than those that ran the Doyle story. An AP reporter also quoted one expert to that effect within a larger story, but no AP feature on that issue has shown up.

I ran a search of the words 2007, bridge, vibration (or vibrations) at the New York Times, Washington Post, London Times, Reuters and BBC and came up with zilch in every case. Likewise for searches of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. A Google search shows little coverage.

Still, today is Sunday, so it is possible the vibration angle will appear in various newspapers. Yet, the fact that it is missing from TV news -- as if Americans can't absorb the word vibration -- suggests a general agreement to spike the story.

So why would establishment media largely shrink from covering such an obvious follow-up issue?

Paranoia is a possibility. News chiefs fear being accused of putting ideas into the heads of terrorists. What if terrorists, posing as construction workers, use jackhammers to set off a bridge collapse? The fact that for any particular bridge the possibility of success is extremely remote wouldn't enter the discussion.

Then there are those in the invisible government who are horrified at the idea that yours truly might be on the right track about a structural collapse. Does that mean -- dear God -- that there are experts who agree with this critic about the 9/11 building collapses?

Political intimidation bill clears House

The House went along with the Senate's OK of a Bush demand for widened warrantless eavesdropping, reputedly as part of a "terrorist surveillance" program.

OK, so what terrorist in his or her right mind is going to make it easy for the NSA to eavesdrop? Don't you suppose they'll be using strong encryption -- provided by sympathizers in their region -- along with sophisticated measures such as digital pictures containing extra pixels that encode secret messages? True, it is possible to detect and just maybe decipher such messages, but the work involved certainly will slow down intelligence collection.

So then why pass such a bill? As one civil liberties activist noted, what this bill means is that there is a strong likelihood that politically active people will come under NSA surveillance.

The invisible government -- oligarchs, spook honchos, media potentates and a certain element of the hard left -- hopes to cow critics into silence. No? Recall the no-fly program. Many people who did not remotely fit the profile of a terrorist have nevertheless been barred from flying based on their political activism. Recall Bush's recent edict unilaterally authorizing the Treasury to freeze assets of anyone, including Americans, whose political activity was deemed to assist people who might be violent.

Fortunately the surveillance bill has a six-month sunset clause, but Congress nevertheless took a dangerous gamble with our liberty.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Senate endorses treason

The U.S. Senate has yanked both the impeachment, treason, abuse of power, and accountability issues off the table by backing Bush's demand for an expanded warrantless eavesdropping program.

The GOP, Lieberman and 16 Democrats voted to give Bush this power, and also voted to send a signal that they agree with "the system" -- oligarchs and media potentates -- in upholding the authority of Bush and Cheney despite outrageous evidence of treason on 9/11 and repeated abuses of power. They are saying Bush and Cheney are fit to lead.

It isn't only Bush, Cheney and a group of top-level spooks who are evading accountability, as this vote shows. It is also a group of business oligarchs who don't favor their dirty laundry being aired, as it inevitably would be in a close-up on treason.

Hopefully, the House will adjourn without acting on this despicable measure, but chances are that the wire-pullers will maneuver the House into going along.

Vibration a top suspect in collapse

Construction machinery vibration is high on the list of suspects in the Minnesota bridge collapse, according to a Chicago Tribune story.

Because of the bridge design, extraordinary care was called for in I-35W's concrete repaving work, experts told the Tribune's John Hilkevitch.

"Pavement pounding can damage a bridge truss member or the floor beams; precautions must be taken," said Karl Frank, a structural engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

An anonymous engineer who was on site prior to the collapse told the Tribune that there was a "lot of redecking going on and a ton of vibrations" from pavement grinders and jackhammers. "There was also a lot of equipment on the bridge -- probably more than they should have had on there."

The vibrations from the pneumatic hammers and from the 1000-pound ramming heads could cause one weakened truss to fail and set off a cascade of structural failure, experts told Hilkevitch.

The steel support structure under the roadway had shown signs of metal fatigue in a number of places, though they seemed routine and set off no alarm bells. But, small cracks can spread under persistent heavy pounding, according to Edwin Rossow, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University.

"If that is what happened -- and it's purely speculative at this point -- the newly weakened condition of the bridge would then be exposed to the heavy rush hour traffic on one side of the bridge, affecting how loads are delivered to the superstructure," Rossow said.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The physics of jackhammers and bridges

Jackhammer resonance may be a plausible suspect in the Minnesota bridge failure.

We know that the Twin Cities interstate bridge was structurally deficient but not considered highly unsafe.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it will take about a year to publish its analysis of the collapse. In the meantime, here is something reporters might want to ask experts, such as engineers and physicists: Is it plausible that, in a freak confluence of circumstances, a jackhammer set off resonance vibrations in the structure that led to a sudden critical weakening of a truss?

Slow-moving bumper-to-bumper traffic was stressing the bridge to the max. The faster traffic moves, the less the load per square foot.
However, despite substandard ratings, there had been no indication that the bridge could not support such a load.

But the combination of maximum load, substandard condition and vibrations set off by the jackhammer might well have triggered breakage of a joint or truss.

A witness told MSNBC of hearing the pneumatic hammer shortly before collapse. Construction crews were on the span doing deck repaving at the time. The construction company, which was not touching structural elements, would have had no reason not to proceed with work.

When a jackhammer is used on a ground-based roadway, it sets off minor seismic waves. But the earth is so immense and dense that the waves are rapidly dissipated. However, on a bridge, the waves first have to travel through the steel structure to reach earth.
Hence an undulating motion must occur, though in most cases one would expect the waves to dissipate harmlessly. But, in a freak choice of location, the jackhammer could set off waves that set up a near resonance with the bridge span or structural part.

Additionally, the waves travel different paths through the steel support system, meaning that it is possible that most or all might recombine at some critical point, giving a laser-like energy burst. Some waves, rather than fanning out and weakening, would travel in a near linear path, preserving their strength. And there is always the possibility that, after taking different paths, they merge in phase at full strength.

In the early 1940s the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed during moderate winds. Photos showed that the bridge span twisted at a near resonant frequency. Since then, no engineer has failed to take into account the potential for wind resonance.

But, how many would think of jackhammer resonance? A jackhammer doesn't put out a great deal of energy with respect to the potential energy of the bridge. Yet, the tool is a driver: it keeps adding energy, which could possibly result in the resonance-like focusing of wave energy at a critical stress point.

The jackhammer pumping energy into the bridge from some critical point, and at just the right frequency, is equivalent to someone pushing a child on a swing, giving a shove at regular intervals. It isn't long before the child is swinging at maximum arc and, if the pusher doesn't halt the resonance, an accident will occur.

This just in: "I would be stunned if this didn't have something to do with the construction project," said David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University. "I think it's a major factor."

Murdoch skirts anti-trust safeguards
The fact that no concerns have been voiced by U.S. antitrust regulators over Murdoch's takeover of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal shows either that U.S. trust laws are flawed and need overhaul or that Justice Department enforcement is inadequate.

One consideration should be the globalization of the Murdoch media. The heft of News Corp. overseas is not unrelated to the menace of media cartelism in America, but regulators are not making that connection.

Similarly, one would think that British and Australian regulators would be concerned that the acquisition of Dow Jones poses anti-competition concerns in those countries.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Random thoughts on political polling

The Gallup poll method is reputedly tried and true, but I am wondering whether it is really the best approach. Seems needlessly complicated to me.

However, the book I looked at is a bit outdated, so perhaps Gallup's method has changed. According to the book, Gallup's presidential campaign poll is based on a questionnaire designed to screen out people who aren't likely to vote. But the extensive questionnaire could itself introduce bias -- i.e., what type of voter is likely to have time or patience for such a session?

Here's how I would design a political poll. Gather data from several previous national elections to see the percentages of people who identify themselves as Democrat, Republican and independent who vote versus those who don't.

Take a random sample of Americans (only a few thousand are needed for a population of 300 million) and ask them how they plan to vote, and perhaps one or two other questions. Then weight the sample outcomes according to the percentages who in recent history actually vote.

This method should be highly accurate (95% confidence level) because it preserves the randomness while taking account of those who express an opinion but who end up not voting.

One can use this method nationally, for the popular vote, and state by state, for the electoral college result. What about big cities, with lots of Democrats, versus suburbs and rural areas, with lots of Republicans? As long as the sample for a state is random, these differences should tend to cancel out.

New exit poll strategy
Really, I doubt the claims that the 2004 exit polls were way off base because youthful poll takers across the nation nearly all ignored the randomization requirement and buttonholed "their type" who were more likely to be Kerry supporters.

However, a way to counter such a problem would be to change the randomization procedure, perhaps interviewing fewer people. The method used in 2004 required the interviewers to approach every 10th voter exiting a polling station. Yet, a proper random sample usually doesn't need 10 percent of the specific population. Neither is it necessary to check every precinct, though this makes the average person feel that the method is better.

Just as in pre-election polling, the key is a sufficiently large (but not huge) random sample from around the state. That is, X number of precincts are chosen at random. Interviewers are sent only to those precincts. There, Y number of exiting voters are queried. Quantities X and Y are easily determined using statistical methods.

But how do we ensure that interviewers don't bias the results?

Randomly sample the interviewers and have a monitor check for interviewer selection bias. Let the monitor assign a weight to the bias. So then a specific percentage of interviewers can be expected to have an average bias (standard deviation) in favor of one or the other candidate (assuming a two-way race).

Additionally, a panel of independent statisticians could review the exit poll results, with the option of a minority dissent.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Don't cry, fight

Well, if the Ottaways and disaffected Bancrofts are really upset with Murdoch's takeover, why not compete? Or does Murdoch's takeover deal include a no-compete agreement? Even if it does, one can always find ways to silently back a competitor.

Why not gather together a group of investors, some flush with Murdoch bucks, to set up a really new media outfit, one without all the baggage of antiquated ways? Form a hybrid of the best of the new and the old media to form a concern that makes a statement: Excellence, honesty and reliability are what we sell.

I doubt whether a no-compete clause can cover a general interest concern that includes expert business coverage. In fact, one can always make a legal case that there is a key difference between business news and financial news.

Though Murdoch is planning to parlay Dow Jones into a business news network that competes with CNBC (which for the next few years has exclusive rights to Dow Jones data), there is also this: an international conspiracy to limit the presidential campaign discourse and assure an outcome acceptable to Murdoch's silent partners. Whether this ploy will work as the information age rapidly morphs is hard to say.

Anti-dictator deal needed
No one in his or her right mind should trust that Bush/Cheney won't invoke some form of martial law in order to keep control.

What is needed is a deal that if Bush lifts a pinky one more time in that direction, impeachment proceedings will begin against him and Cheney. Pelosi, who would become interim president, would need to give her word that she would not run for election to the presidency in 2008. That would placate the current Democratic presidential candidates.

Unfortunately, that assurance would immediately make her a lame duck. But, the trade-off beats the peril of dictatorship. Amid new disclosures over Bush's sweeping surveillance programs, one can hardly claim that concern over the peril of dictatorship is merely a result of a paranoid conspiracy theory.