Archive for
March 2015

Comments for Sunday, Mar. 29, 2015 thru Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - Yesterday, I asked an Anthrax Truther how he would determine if a word was "commonly used" or not.  He responded by providing a link to a web site HERE which is really interesting.  His argument was that, of the 60,000 words on the list at that web site, "aver" was #24,437, which he feels somehow makes it a "common" word.  He also found a source HERE which says that a person without a formal education knows about 35,000 words.  The Truther neglected to notice that that same source estimates that there were over a million words in the English language.  So, 35,000 out of a million words means that the person "without a formal education" knows only 3.5% of all the English words there are.  It does not mean he knows 35,000 out of 60,000 words.

But, I digress (which is word #26,034 on the list).

That web site which ranks how frequently words and phrases are used has a lot of interesting features.  I wanted to see what words were in the same range as "aver," so I asked it to list words starting with #24,450.  It listed 50 words, and the only word in the 50 that was previously unfamiliar to me was "aver."  So, I tried some higher numbers.  I tried staring the list at #50,000.  To my surprise, I found that "jack-o-lantern" was #50,011 and "crying" was #50,028.  How can "crying" be an uncommon word?  Even more surprising, "motorcoach" was #59,028 and "throw-up" (synonymous with "vomit") is #59,029.  And "hand-counted" was #59,975.  So, clearly the list is NOT a list of common words based upon what words typical people use and know, but only a list that was developed by a computer looking around the Internet for how many (or few) times each word is used.  It's only a list of what things people put on the Internet.

But, it's very interesting none-the-less.  Word #59,994 is "prang."  While it's not a word in my vocabulary, I recognized one of the sources where it was found:
"Learnt the tricks in camouflage.  Till this accident made a prang of things.  How can I help you, Mrs. Peel?"
It's John Steed talking to Mrs. Emma Peel in the 1960's British TV series "The Avengers."  According to the web site (and other dictionaries), the definition of "prang" is: "(British) a crash involving a car or plane."  Of the 22 examples the web site provides for uses of the word "prang," only one even remotely fitted that definition - the John Steed quote.

I'm not sure what I learned from all this, but it was an interesting way to spend an afternoon, and it did give me something to write about here.  

Monday, March 30, 2015 - Hmm.  Some guy named "Trevor Noah" is going to replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show when Stewart leaves later this year.  According to USA Today:

Noah is a South African comedian and actor who got his start on soap operas, then hosted reality television before moving to comedy full time in 2008. The 31-year-old made his first appearance on The Daily Show back in December, offering an outsider’s perspective on the American experience.
I remember that appearance on The Daily Show.  Unfortunately, I remember it as a strangely unfunny appearance.  But, there's a very funny clip of him describing his impression of American sports at the link HERE.  Other links HERE and HERE indicate he could be a good replacement.  Time will tell.

Sunday, March 29, 2015 - Last week went by incredibly quickly.  Maybe it was because I spent a large part of it arguing with Anthrax Truthers on my old interactive blog.  The arguments were very interesting for me, since I felt I was making headway in showing the Truthers that their arguments were blatantly false.  Or, failing that, I was proving to any and all other readers of the blog that the Truther arguments were nonsense and often outright deliberate lies.

It all abruptly ended when "DXer" (as he calls himself on Lew Weinstein's blog)  attempted a vile and disgusting personal attack, apparently in response to being shown to be wrong for the umpteenth time.   As a result of that personal attack, I decided to put an end to over thirteen years of arguing with him and to simply ignore and delete all of his posts from that point onward.

At about the same time, the other Anthrax Truther who regularly posts to the blog declared that he doesn't care if I think his posts are incoherent babble, he's going to continue to post what he wants to post.  So, after he stated that twice, I stopped allowing him to post directly to the blog, and instead I began showing only a summary of whatever he attempted to post. That way I can concisely summarize his rambling, incoherent arguments and respond equally concisely.  Although I really thought I made some good points with him last week, those good points were clearly just ignored.

For example, in a post HERE, the Truther made it clear that he cannot understand how I can disagree with him if I held beliefs similar to his many years ago and I learned I was wrong.  He indicated he cannot understand anyone learning they were wrong.  He dug up an interesting discussion I had on the alt.true crime forum in December 2001, when I was knocking around a very early hypothesis about who was responsible for the anthrax attacks.  I had no particular suspect in mind.  I simply hypothesized that the killer lived in New York City ... 

Based mainly upon three things: (1) He picked the New York Post as a target, (2) Kathy Nguyen's unexplained death, and (3) it's an easy drive to Trenton from NYC.....

I realize I have to rethink some things, but I still think the guy is a New Yorker. While the Post might be sold outside of New York, it's not a likely
target for someone who doesn't know New York well. It's a New Yorker's newspaper that isn't well known outside of New York.  IMO

At the time, I also thought that the Brokaw letter was the original and the New York Post letter was a Xerox copy of it.  I also didn't believe that Dan Rather got an anthrax letter, and I thought the size of the letter paper was unusual - probably European.  (I didn't realize the letters were trimmed to different sizes until I got large FOIA copies of the letters.)  And, I thought some hoax letters sent from Indianapolis, Indiana, were connected to the anthrax letters.

During the course of the that forum thread, I realized that I was wrong about how Dan Rather's assistant became infected.  Someone posting as "Martha" told me that Dan Rather received an anthrax letter.  I replied:

It's my understanding that his mail was just cross-contaminated.  I haven't seen any copies of his letter, and all authorities mention only the letters to Brokaw and the Post (and AMI, of course).  If Rather got an actual anthrax letter, please show me some reference about that.
And later I wrote:

I'd been discounting these as cross-contamination, but I goofed on that.  Any cross-contamination from the Brokaw and Post letters wouldn't have specifically hit CBS and ABC without hitting a lot of other places in NYC.

So, there were apparently letters addressed to Rather and Jennings, too, but they were discarded and destroyed before anyone became aware of what was going on.

That's going to force me to rethink my suggestion that he watches Brokaw - except for one nagging piece of information.  It still looks like Brokaw got the original letter and the others got photocopies.

The Truther on my blog was particularly interested in my hypothesis that some hoax letters sent from Indianapolis were related to the anthrax attacks.  Here's part of the exchange I had with "Martha" back in December 2001:
Me:  He traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana, sometime within the year prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Martha: Based on what?

Me: Based upon the threatening letters the terrorist wrote and mailed from there. The letters are described in a story published by The New York Post on Nov. 1. 

The Nov. 1, 2001, NY Post article is HERE.  One of the Indianapolis letters was supposedly addressed to Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly.  According to NewsMax, the other Indianapolis letter was sent to Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity.  (There's a forum discussion of the letters HERE.)

In a comment for my old web site a year later, on December 1, 2002, I wrote:

I spent some time trying to find out if the "Indianapolis letters" were ever mentioned anywhere except that one article in The New York Post back on November 1, 2001.  Today, I found one other mention in from the same day quoting Sean Hannity and including this additional comment: 
Hannity said that he'd begun receiving the suspicious mail last winter and again in August. 
So, while it was previously only suspected that there may have been "threatening letters" mailed in August, making the timing of the first anthrax mailing very clearly connected to the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, this now seems confirmed.   However, it would certainly be nice to verify that the handwriting on the Indianapolis letters was indeed identical to that on the anthrax letters.  This all seems much too critical to the case to have been ignored by the rest of the media.  I don't understand why they ignore it.  I'd really like to see comments from some unimpeachable source on this.
Evidently, I was trying to connect the hoax letters and the anthrax letters to the BTWC convention.  About a month later, on January 18, 2003, I wrote:
An attempt to get copies of the "Indianapolis letters" via the Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts (FOIPA) ended today with a reply from the FBI saying they didn't know what I was talking about - or in their terminology: "No records pertinent to your FOIPA request were located by a search of the automated and manual indices."
I was also doing a lot of research into hoax letters, putting the results on my web site HERE and HERE.

A comment I wrote on April 11, 2004 also sheds some light on why I changed my mind about the Indianapolis letters.  My post was about a lengthy article by Rachael Bell on the Court TV web site (which seems no longer to exist):

It's also interesting that Ms Bell concludes with a Chapter about the Indianapolis letters, i.e., the letters Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly claim were "the exact same handwriting" as in the attack letters.  I once thought those letters were significant, too.  But since that time, I've seen at least a dozen of samples of handwriting which people believe are "the exact same handwriting" as in the attack letters, but which I don't see as even being similar.  I'd still like to see those letters, if just to see how similar the handwriting really is. 
That was the last time (until today) that I wrote about the Indianapolis letters.  So, somewhere in the past ten years I stopped believing the Indianapolis hoax letters were connected to the anthrax attack letters.  I found there was no evidence to support such a belief.  And, I'd found lots of evidence indicating that the Indianapolis letters were just some of the many unrelated hoax letters that were relatively common at the time.

That's why it puzzled me when the Anthrax Truther wrote that he couldn't understand why, if I believed over thirteen years ago that the Indianapolis hoax letters were connected to the anthrax letters, I didn't fully accept the Truther's current beliefs that all sorts of other hoax letters mailed around the time of the anthrax letters were all sent by the same people who sent the anthrax letters.

The answer is simple: During the past 13 years I've learned that what I believed in December 2001 was just putting 2 and 2 together and getting 573.  There are no facts or evidence to support any belief that any hoax letters were connected to the anthrax attack letters.  And the Anthrax Truther certainly doesn't have any such evidence.  (I do suspect, however, that the J-Lo letter MAY have been sent by Bruce Ivins.  But, it was not a hoax letter of any kind.  It was more of a love letter sent to a woman who played a psychiatrist in a recent movie, a psychiatrist of the type Ivins desperately wanted to find.)

I live and I learn.   When I find my current hypothesis is wrong, I develop a new hypothesis.  That is the way hypotheses are supposed to operate. The Truther, however, seems totally incapable of learning or admitting he was wrong.  Like every Anthrax Truther I've ever encountered or read about, he doesn't have an hypothesis, he just has a mistaken but unshakable belief.

The question is: How much time can I take away from my novel writing to spend on trying to get him to understand that his beliefs are wrong?  I'm clearly already spending far too much time on it.

(By the way, even though I now simply ignore DXer's attempted posts to my interactive blog, he sent me an email yesterday evening.  It contained another vile and disgusting personal attack, plus it contained an argument about the word "aver" that was so silly and ignorant of reality that I simply had to write about it this morning on my blog HERE.)

Comments for Sunday, Mar. 22, 2015 thru Saturday, Mar. 28, 2015:

Saturday, March 28, 2015 - An interesting article in the Washington Post today about the Germanwings Flight 9525 disaster contains this comment:
On Saturday, Germany’s Bild newspaper quoted an interview with a former girlfriend of Lubitz’s who described a man who suffered from both vivid nightmares and delusions of grandeur.

“At night, he woke up and screamed: ‘We’re going down!’ because he had nightmares,” the former girlfriend told Bild. “He knew how to hide from other people what was really going on with him.”

She added that last year he had warned, “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then everybody will know my name and remember it.”
I suspect that a desire to "change the whole system" and to someday have everybody "know my name and remember it" is also the motivation behind many of the young people who are attempting to join ISIS.  Delusions of grandeur.

The Post article also contains this information about Andreas Lubitz's religion:
“He was inconspicuous, normal, nice,” said Michael Dietrich, the pastor at the Luther Church in Montabaur who taught Lubitz’s confirmation class.
It's hard to imagine a radical Lutheran killing himself and 149 others for some Lutheran cause.  I'd say his religion has nothing to do with what he did.

Thursday, March 26, 2015 - Hmm.  On the news this morning they were saying that it currently appears that the co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, of
Germanwings Flight 9525 deliberately killed himself and 149 others.  While I don't want to distract from the fact that this was a terrible and horrific tragedy, I cannot help but wonder: How long will it take for the conspiracy theorists to dream up a conspiracy theory?

It hasn't escaped my notice that it is just one year and 18 days since another pilot apparently deliberately crashed his plane, killing himself and everyone else aboard.  That flight, of course, was Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-370.  On the other hand, there have been SIX other airline disasters between the two "deliberate" crashes, so "deliberate" crashes are not any kind of "pattern."

Everyone is going to be digging into every aspect of Lubitz's life.  Conspiracy theorists will almost certainly find something to build a conspiracy theory upon.  They just need to dream up some way to argue that the US government did it  -- somehow.  They'll argue that all of Lubitz's friends say he was a nice guy who they cannot believe would do such a thing, proving it was a conspiracy.  And no one will ever be able to convince the conspiracy theorists they are wrong.

Update from a source HERE:

Some military aviation experts say that an Italian military plane switched its transponder to the emergency code #7700 at 10.35, right near the site where the Germanwings plane began its descent, the Daily Mail reports. Investigators should be able to work out whether the incident was "a coincidence or possibly had some relevance to the passenger jet's demise", the publication says.
That should be enough to generate at least 10 conspiracy theories.  A source HERE tried to list the "top 5 conspiracy theories," but as of this moment has only come up with three.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - Ah!  As expected (see yesterday's comment), the Anthrax Truther who posts to my old interactive blog used another pretentious word today.  He wrote:

1) you yourself have averred numerous times with me and DXer in threads that Ivins' printing looks NOTHING (yes, nothing) like the printing in Amerithrax.
I had to look up the word "averred," and I asked the Truther why he didn't just use the word "stated" or "asserted" instead.  He has yet to respond. 

Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary site has a section where visitors are asked to tell where they heard the word.  Some of the answers are:

George Washington used the word aver in his first inaugural speech

This word is common in the making of court decision, pleadings made by a lawyer, a part of conjunction used in the language of law.

the coroner song in the Wizard of Oz! As coroner I must aver; I thoroughly examined her....

"Aver" is a word I picked up years ago; I don't remember where anymore. I used it in a research paper, but my professor isn't familiar with the word, so I looked it up to verify to him that it is an appropriate word to use in the context I used it in.

Cross word puzzle. The clue was affirm. After answering the other questions "aver" was left. I was verifying that it was an actual word.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."....

"For all averred, I had killed the bird.
That brought the fog and mist."...
I  have two law dictionaries in my personal library.  Checking them, I found that "The People's Law Dictionary" doesn't include the word or any variation of the word, but "The Plain-Language Law Dictionary" has the word "averment," which is defined as: "A positive statement of fact, often made in a trial in opposition to an argument by an adversary (an opposing party)."

So, while the rest of the Anthrax Truther's comment containing the word "averred" was deemed to be "incoherent gibberish," and he appears to have misused the word (it should be "averred to me," not "averred with me"), the Truther did demonstrate and confirm what I wrote yesterday:
couching familiar ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility
And, he gave me something to write about today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - Groan!  I'm only 23% done with reading
Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, fast and slow," and I was just notified that a new library book is available for me: "Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives" by Michael Specter.  I just downloaded it.  I've only got time to read while eating breakfast and lunch, so that's only about 20 or 30 minutes of book reading per day.

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" is a fascinating book.  I'm probably filling up my Kindle with the notes I'm making.  Here's one passage about the joy of writing:
People who experience flow describe it as “a state of effortless concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems,” and their descriptions of the joy of that state are so compelling that Csikszentmihalyi has called it an “optimal experience.” Many activities can induce a sense of flow, from painting to racing motorcycles—and for some fortunate authors I know, even writing a book is often an optimal experience. 
(I found it difficult to believe anyone would have a name like Csikszentmihalyi, but there's a page about him on Wikipedia.) 

Another interesting passage worth noting:
The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it.
Here are a couple passages I saved to use sometime in an argument with an Anthrax Truther who constantly uses obscure words when he posts to my old interactive blog:
If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.
My Princeton colleague Danny Oppenheimer refuted a myth prevalent among undergraduates about the vocabulary that professors find most impressive. In an article titled “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly,” he showed that couching familiar ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility. 
Somehow, however, I don't think he'll change his ways.  He'll just argue that it is the people who think such words are "obscure" who are viewed as having "poor intelligence and low credibility."  And no "expert" can change his mind.II

Monday, March 23, 2015 - I enjoy writing, and one reason I have this blog is because it gives me ample opportunity to write down and to clarify my thoughts about various subjects by putting those thoughts in writing.  I keep remembering someone saying, "How do I know what I know until I see what I write?"   Only it was probably expressed a bit differently:
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" -- E. M. Forster

“I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.” -- Flannery O'Connor

"I don't know what I think until I write it down." -- Norman Mailer

"...all writers are compelled to write to see what their words tell them." -- Donald Murray
One reason I continue to debate with Anthrax Truthers after 13 years of arguing, and after the Amerithrax case has been officially closed, is because such arguments can sometimes be very stimulating and educational.  And part of process is writing down explanations of things to see if I correctly understand them or not.  Writing down explanations forces me to simplify and clarify them.

For example, during the past few days on my old interactive blog I've gotten into an interesting debate about what "Case Law" might say about lay witness handwriting testimony.  The person who started the debate calls himself "DXer" on Lew Weinstein's blog, but his true identity is well known there, and it is also known that in real life "DXer" is a civil attorney in the State of New York.

As usual, DXer has been arguing a screwball BELIEF, and he wants me to prove that his BELIEF cannot possibly be correct.  He simply cannot be bothered with proving his own BELIEFS are correct.  And, he won't accept anything I say, of course, because, in his words I "
both lack common sense and are not qualified to address the Federal Rules of Evidence."

So, it's just a waste of time to argue with him -- except for its entertainment and educational value, and what use I can make of the discussion on this web site.

I have to wonder if DXer is really so ignorant of CRIMINAL law that he actually believes what he posts, or is he just being malicious and arguing nonsense to be a pest and a troll?  It's difficult to believe that he actually believes his nonsense.  And that indicates he's just being an obnoxious troll.  Here's what he wrote:
Ed, how many years passed between the infrequent incidents involving disguised writing and the witness statements you rely on? Five years? Six years? Seven years? Can you quote the witness statement you rely on, note the date of the statement and the date of the incidents? ....

You are off in the weeds because you do not understand how case law operates. You should go to the online annotation of the federal rules to find the controlling law interpreting and applying the federal rule of your particular interest, taking into account any other rule that applies and is cited in the controlling case law.

His argument appears to be that Case Law would prevent the DOJ's lay witnesses from testifying about recognizing the handwriting on the anthrax documents as being "similar to" Dr. Ivins' handwriting when Ivins was disguising his writing.  DXer seems to be arguing that Case Law might have changed what the Rules of Evidence so that the Rules do not allow a lay person to testify about recognizing handwriting if the handwriting was last seen more than x years in the past.

Of course, that is absurd.  That is NOT how Case Law works.  That would be equivalent to a situation where the law and the traffic signs say that the speed limit is 35 mph, but there might be Case Law buried somewhere in a law book that says it is 25 mph for teenagers, and that would make it okay for a traffic officer to use a law no one knows about to arrest a teenager for going 26 mph in a 35 mph zone.

I'm no lawyer, but I've seen how Case Law works in many movies and TV shows.  It was only a couple weeks ago that I watched "Anatomy of a Murder" for the 6th or 7th time.  The movie has an example of using Case Law (a.k.a "a legal precedent") in court.  Michigan Law says that the only way a person can be acquitted for murder due to "diminished capacity" (i.e., an "insanity" defense) is if the defendant could not tell right from wrong at the time of the crime.  In the movie, James Stewart and his partner dig through law books and find a "legal precedent" Case Law where it was ruled that a person CAN be acquitted of murder if that person had an "irresistible impulse," meaning he knew right from wrong but could not prevent himself from doing wrong.  The two defense lawyers use that Case Law precedent in court and win acquittal.

DXer evidently imagines that there might be some Case Law somewhere which prevents the prosecution's handwriting witnesses from testifying unless they saw the handwriting within the past x years or months.   

It is far, FAR more likely, however, that there can be no such Case Law, and it is totally up to the jury to decide if what a lay witness says she remembers about handwriting from years ago is credible or not.  If a lay witness is not allowed to provide such testimony, it would have to be part of the Rules of Evidence, not some exception to the Rules of Evidence that no one remembers.  You can't have a law with hidden exceptions to the law that no one remembers, where a person can charged with unknowingly breaking a law no one knows about.  And, that is what the prosecution would be doing if they had their lay witnesses testify about the handwriting, and then the defense lawyers found some obscure Case Law precedent where an appeals court ruled that a lay witness cannot legally testify to recognizing someone's handwriting if that handwriting was last seen more than 2 or 3 years (or 90 days) prior to trial.

In short, if there is such an absurd Case Law, it is up to DXer to prove it.  Until then, it appears he is simply demonstrating his ignorance of criminal law and the Rules of Evidence. Or he is simply being an obnoxious troll.

Sunday, March 22, 2015 - Last week, arguments with Anthrax Truthers continued over what the Rules of Evidence say about lay witnesses testifying in court about recognizing someone's handwriting.  One Truther continues to argue that only handwriting experts can testify about handwriting.  However, he also tried to get me into an opinion-versus-opinion debate by suggesting that, even IF lay witnesses were allowed to testify about handwriting in court, "
such a stratagem wouldn't be effective in a notional trial of Bruce Ivins."  Meanwhile,  the other Truther was making up his own Rules of Evidence by trying to argue that testimony by lay witnesses about handwriting would not be allowed in court unless it was about "normal handwriting" seen "on an ongoing, recent basis."

Until it is agreed that lay witnesses CAN testify about recognizing someone's style of handwriting, I don't see any purpose in any other discussions with the Truthers.  In order to make any progress toward solving disagreements, we need to (1) be clear on what CLAIM we are arguing about, (2) be certain that it isn't just a matter of opinion, and (3) agree on what constitutes proof of a claim

I did a lot of research and have a stack of additional citations and references ready to use if any Anthrax Truther should try to continue arguing that lay witnesses cannot testify about handwriting.  One such citation is on page 436 of a book called "Criminal Evidence" by Jefferson L. Ingram:  
In an appeal of a capital murder conviction, the defendant contended that some documents that were allegedly written by him were improperly identified by his former girlfriend and another associate.  The former girlfriend had been involved in a romantic relationship for several years and testified that she was familiar with the defendant's handwriting, that he had written letters to her, and that she could identify his writing style.  Another lay witness testified that he was familiar with the defendant's handwriting because he had seen him write notes at various times.  In this case, both lay witnesses testified that they were familiar with the defendant's handwriting and that, in their opinion, it matched or was similar to the handwriting on the documents alleged to have been written by the capital defendant.  The Alabama reviewing court held that the testimony was valid under Alabama's rule allowing lay witness opinion evidence and rule 901, which allow for the admission of nonexpert opinion as to the genuineness of handwriting based upon familiarity not acquired for purposes of litigation.
Another citation comes from page 286 of "Forensic Science and Law," edited by Cyril H. Wecht and John T. Rago:
Another permissible lay witness opinion is that of a skilled lay observer who has specialized knowledge based upon firsthand observation, which in turn creates the witness's unique ability to state opinions about these observations.  For example, a secretary may testify that a writing sample matches his/her boss's handwriting because he/she has been repeatedly exposed to his/her boss's handwriting.
The plan is that, once the Anthrax Truther accepts that he was WRONG and that lay witnesses can testify about recognizing handwriting (like Mara Linscott and Patricia Fellows in the hypothetical Ivins case), then the next step will be to get the Anthrax Truther to make a NEW CLAIM that can be either verified or debunked by finding facts and evidence. 

Most likely, he'll continue arguing his OPINION about what the defense would likely do if the lay witness testimony about handwriting was allowed.  He provided his OPINION on that in his recent post:

In cross examination the defense would elicit testimony from witnesses that Ivins' disguised handwriting when they saw it was so poorly disguised that one could readily recognize it. It was transparently his.

Then when the defense case-in-main came, the defense would:

2) call the Task Force's OWN questioned document examiner as a witness and obtain testimony that Ivins' printing was 'probably non-match' to that of the Amerithrax texts. With as many details as possible.

3) call the defense's own questioned document examiner who could then, in painstaking detail, likely using a projector, highlight all the differences-------likely in the dozens of features----------between Ivins' printing and that of the Amerithrax texts.
In MY OPINION, the Truther's beliefs about what would likely happen in court are totally preposterous.

1.  Lay witnesses are not qualified to give opinions on how "poorly disguised" the handwriting is or that "one could readily recognize it" or that "it was transparently [the defendant's]."  They can only testify that they recognized it and why they personally recognized it.  Period.

2.  What the defense would almost certainly do is cross-examine the lay witnesses and get their testimony that they cannot be absolutey certain about what they saw, their memories are not infallible, they are not handwriting experts, and they could be wrong.  They would only be testifying to what they remember seeing and thinking.

3.  The defense would NOT call the "Task Force's own document examiner."  There is NO GROUNDS for doing so.  NOR would the defense call their own "questioned document examiner."  Such "expert" witnesses would NOT be allowed to testify because they have nothing worthwhile to add and BECAUSE there are no documents to compare.  The lay witness testimony is about their MEMORY of documents Ivins sent them.  Those documents no longer exist (as far as we know). 

4. Once it is established that the witnesses could be wrong, it would be pointless to bring in "experts," since "experts" cannot claim that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the lay witnesses to be right.  Only an idiot would claim that. And it has already been established that the lay witnesses could be wrong, so there is no need for "experts" to testify to simply verify that lay witnesses can be wrong.   

It would be up to the jury to decide whether they believe or do not believe the lay witness testimony about handwriting.  And, even if they don't believe it, it would only be a minor point in the overwhelming circumstantial evidence case against Dr. Ivins.  In my opinion, it would certainly be insufficient to cause "reasonable doubt" about Dr. Ivins' guilt.  At most, it would just leave an unanswered question: Exactly how did Dr. Ivins disguise his handwriting so well? 
The lay witness handwriting testimony in no way changes the EVIDENCE proving that Ivins had means, motive and opportunity.

If the Anthrax Truther does try to argue his opinion about what the defense would do, compared to my opinion about what the defense would do, I'll try to get him to make a specific claim about what the law allows.  Then I'll have to show him that the Rules of Evidence do not allow his fantasies in court.

Based upon the Truther's previous arguments, he's also very likely to make some kind of baseless claim that such lay witness handwriting testimony is "not really evidence" because by itself it does not prove Dr. Ivins' guilt.  I can probably dig up a hundred citations explaining that an item of circumstantial evidence does NOT have to prove by itself that the defendant is guilty.

Time will tell what actually happens next.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to develop a story for my third sci-fi novel.

Comments for Sunday, Mar. 15, 2015 thru Saturday, Mar. 21, 2015:

Friday, March 20, 2015 - Yesterday, I took a picture of me and my 2014 Malibu, so I might as well post it here along with a picture I took of me with my 1993 Camaro in May 2010:

Me and my 2014 Malibu

                    and my 1993 Camaro

Among other things, the pictures show how much the trees have grown in five years, plus I weighed about 10 pounds more in 2010 than I weigh now.  I also just realized that the gas caps are on opposite sides.  If I hadn't put the pictures together, I probably wouldn't have noticed that until I stopped in a gas station.

Thursday, March 19, 2015 - While watching NBC News last night, I saw an interesting discussion about the handwriting analyses in the Robert Durst case.  This morning, someone sent me a link to an Associated Press (AP) article titled "Warrant: Handwriting analysis error delayed link to Durst."  It contains a description of the "Handwriting analysis error":

In 2001, Los Angeles Police Department document examiner William Leaver concluded it was "highly probable" that the envelope and note were written by Nyle Brenner, Berman's manager and friend. The assessment was "rubber stamped" by Leaver's supervisor, who told detectives this past September that she had not performed her own technical review.

Investigators had not initially analyzed examples of Durst's handwriting, and it wasn't until eight months later that a comparison was made to Durst's limited sample writings. Leaver said "similarities" were enough to request more exemplar writings, which police eventually obtained.

In June 2003, Leaver concluded the handwriting was likely Durst's. By then, Durst had been charged in Texas with murder for the death and dismemberment of Morris Black.

The conflicting assessments meant valuable time lost.


The AP article also contains Durst's lawyer's opinion of the handwriting analysis:

Durst's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said the conflicting determinations on the handwriting "shows you what junk science really is."
In reality, of course, handwriting analysis is just an opinion of an "expert," and experts sometimes make mistakes.  When working with a very small sample of writing done in block letters, the probability of error is even greater.  That's why William Leaver qualified his opinions with "highly probable" and "likely," instead of stating a conclusion about who certainly did the handwriting.

I can't find any sample of Nyle Brenner's handwriting to make a comparison to the tiny sample the document examiner was working with:

envelope and note in Durst case

ut, if Brenner's block handwriting is truly "similar" to the handwriting on the above envelope and note sent to  the Beverly Hills Police, then where is the "error"?  In hindsight, we now know it was not Brenner's handwriting.  But that doesn't mean the handwriting analysis was "wrong" at the time it was made.  If a handwriting expert knows he doesn't have enough information to be certain, and that more information might dramatically change his opinion, should he give no opinion, or should he give a qualified opinion?  Experts give qualified opinions. That is their job.  If they gave no opinion until they were absolutely certain, they would be virtually worthless, since they are almost NEVER absolutely certain.

I'm not much of a cartoonist, but I'm tempted to create a cartoon strip that would illustrate the following situation:
A young child asks his father, "Dad, does 2 and 2 equal 4?"

The father replies, "

The child asks, "You're certain 2 and 2 e
qual 4?

The father replies, "I'm absolutely certain."

So, the child then goes outside and tells another child, "My father says I'm right.  Two trees and two houses equals fo
ur tree houses."

Having all the information you can get before you come to a conclusion is always best, but it's not always possible.  So, when working with very little information, it's always best to qualify your conclusions.I
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
Francis Bacon, The Advancement Of Learning
Handwriting analysis isn't "junk science."  But, the findings are more about opinions than the kinds of near certainties you get in more "scientific" fields.   

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - This morning, my regular daily Google search for anthrax+2001 turned up a New York Times article dated yesterday with this headline: "Letter Bound for White House Tests Positive for Cyanide."  Here's the paragraph that contains the search terms (and an error I highlighted in red):

In the weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a series of letters laced with anthrax were sent to members of the news media and public officials in the Washington area, including the White House and members of Congress, prompting weeks of anxiety. The anthrax killed five people and sickened 17 others, and officials eventually blamed a military scientist who later committed suicide.
Nope.  The New York Times is mistaken.  No anthrax letter was sent to the White House in 2001.  The reporter (Michael D. Shear) evidently misread the information at the link he provided in the paragraph above.  The link is to an October 24, 2001 NY Times article which said,
Now it is the White House's turn to feel the anthrax scare. The deadly germ turned up in a remote White House mail room whose letters pass through the giant postal facility in Washington where at least four workers have been infected, two of whom have died.
Yes, spores resulting from cross contamination showed up at that facility, but there was no anthrax letter addressed to the White House.  The reporter just doesn't have a good memory of the details of the 2001 anthrax attacks. 

Parts of yesterday's Times article were reprinted in many other places, including the Houston Chronicle.  But, I see The Columbus Dispatch contains a different version:
After the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a series of letters laced with anthrax were sent to members of the news media and public officials in the Washington area. As a result, letters and packages destined for the White House are screened at remote locations.
So, the Times is aware of the error.  Interestingly, a source called "The Intercept" has been providing this important additional tidbit of information:

The envelope listed a return address for a man who the alert says has a record with the Secret Service dating back to 1995, which includes sending a package covered in urine and feces.

That person has sent multiple packages over the years; the most recent package was received on June 12, 2012, which contained mini alcoholic beverages.

So, as usual with almost any "breaking news," you have to look around and wait to get the full and correct story.  And there is no guarantee that any of what is now known is either "full" or "correct."  We just need to remember that, if some of the story is incorrect or incomplete, chances are it is because of a human error, not the deliberate result of a criminal conspiracy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - I really did a lot of thinking about my third sci-fi novel yesterday, writing down some hilarious bits of dialog that might work well in the book.  But, I still don't have a story for it.  All I really have is an interesting new character to add to the three main characters from the first two books.  I went to bed last night trying to come up with a story line.  Usually, that means that when I wake up in the morning I'll have some possible ideas to pursue. 

But when I awoke this morning, all I could think about was differences between the front-wheel-drive on my 2014 Malibu versus the rear-wheel-drive I had in the 1993 Camaro I traded in for the Malibu on Saturday.

I'd been noticing that making turns in the Malibu was different.  I can't easily make turns at the speeds I'd turn in the Camaro.  I wasn't sure what the difference was.  This morning I realized it's the front-wheel-drive.  That brought to mind all the videos I'd seen over the winter of cars sliding into one another.   I'd been hearing that front-wheel-drive provided better traction in bad weather, but I was now wondering if that was really true - or is it true only when going straight?

So, I did some research this morning.  The first web page I found (HERE) has a lot of negative things to say about front-wheel-drive (FWD) and positive things to say about rear-wheel-drive (RWD):
Accidentally run over a curb in a solid axle RWD car, for instance, and you probably won’t break anything. But hit a curb (or even a deep pothole) in a FWD car and the odds are much higher that something expensive will be damaged. This is why cop cars and other “service” vehicles are overwhelmingly RWD.

The other advantage RWD cars offer is better balance — and because of this, better handling. While a FWD car has most of the weight of the engine and transaxle (the transmission and axle assembly are one unit in a FWD car) over the front wheels, a RWD car spreads the weight of its drivetrain more evenly front-to-rear. This is why most sports cars — and virtually all race cars — are RWD.
FWD cars are nose-heavy, which isn’t optimal for handling — especially high-speed, high-load handling. A related problem is that the front wheels have to do two things at once — put the power to the ground and steer the car. This, too, is not optimal for a performance/sporty car. In a high-powered FWD car, it can sometimes be difficult or awkward to keep the car pointed straight ahead as the car accelerates. The front wheels may jerk to the left or right — a problem called “torque steer.” Modern FWD cars are less prone to this thanks to electronic traction control, but it’s still not the hot set-up for performance applications — which is why very few “serious” performance cars are FWD.
Ah!  I'm no longer driving a sports car, so I shouldn't try to make turns like I was in a sports car.  A rear-wheel-drive car might be better in snow, where the danger is getting stuck.  But it seems it would be much more dangerous to make a turn.

Another web site (HERE) says this about FWD cars:
The center of gravity of the vehicle is typically farther forward than a comparable rear-wheel drive layout. In front wheel drive cars, the front axle typically supports around 2/3rd of the weight of the car (quite far off the "ideal" 50/50 weight distribution). This is a contributing factor in the tendency of front wheel drive cars to understeer.
Ah!  So, it really is that the Malibu can't make the turn as easily.  The nut holding the steering wheel needs to adapt to the different turning characteristics.  The car is nose heavy and the physics of mass and trajectory make it want to go straight while I want to turn.  So, I have to slow down more when I make turns.  And that will be quadruply true when the streets are wet or icy.  It's not a problem, but I'd been led to expect just the opposite from FWD vehicles.  Live and learn. 

Monday, March 16, 2015 - The first sentence in yesterday's comment isn't 100% true.  While I didn't think about getting to work on my third sci-fi novel at any time last week, an idea for the novel did pop into my mind on Friday.  However, the idea just sat there, doing nothing, because it didn't seem viable.  Then, last night, I watched the 2002 Mel Gibson movie "Signs," and thought about how it seemed to be a variation on "War of the Worlds," telling only the story of a farm family who had no knowledge of the "big picture" as seen by scientists and people who actually saw the aliens land.  It kind of fitted with my new idea.

Then, this morning, as I lay in bed waiting for it to be time to get up, the idea I got from an old screenplay of mine that I explored in my first two sci-fi novels gelled with the idea that I got on Friday, with bits of "Signs" and with the idea behind a different sci-fi screenplay I started writing years ago but never finished.

Boom!  It all gelled into a terrific idea!  But, it's not a story.  It has the characters from the first two books, and it has a new character from the other screenplay of mine, but it has no beginning, middle or end.  So, it's still just an idea.  It's an "Earthlings meet Alien Visitor" idea something like "The Day the Earth Stood Still," but also very different. 

I've got a lot of thinking to do to see if I can turn it into a good story.   (Boink!  Another very interesting piece of the idea puzzle just popped into my head as I was editing this comment.)

Meanwhile, I also have to think about what I'm going to do with this web site.  I'm sure no one wants to read about my endless battles with Anthrax Truthers who just argue the same things over and over and over and over.  And writing about writing would be equally uninteresting on a day-by-day basis.  It takes months to go from one writing step to the next, i.e., from the idea to the first draft, to the second draft, to the third draft, to trying to sell it, etc.  And if my new idea doesn't pan out, it could take even longer to get a better idea.

This web site has turned into something of a "journal," describing my adventures while exploring Anthrax Truther psychology and other areas.

It seems to be another "idea" that hasn't yet gelled into what I hoped it would become: a place where I can write about interesting things just for the fun of it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015 - Last week, I didn't have time to even think about getting to work on writing my third sci-fi novel.  When not arguing with Anthrax Truthers on my old interactive blog, I was trying to make up my mind about buying a replacement for my 1993 Camaro.  I truly HATE buying cars.  It's something I do so rarely that I have no real expertise in it.  Last week, the decision boiled down to making a list of pluses and minuses for two different cars, and test driving each.  Yesterday, the test drive of an gray 2013 Camaro was all negative, and I ended up buying a silver 2014 Malibu (with 1,500 miles on the odometer), getting $2,100 for my 1993 Camaro on the trade-in. 

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about catching up with the 21st century by buying a cell phone and having to figure out how it works.  The car buying experience showed how out-of-date I also was in car technology.  I didn't know how to open the trunk of the Malibu.  The salesman showed me the button for it on the "key."  While doing the test drive, I tried just using the actual key to open the door, instead of the remote button, and alarms started going off.  It took me a few seconds to figure out that I could shut off the alarms by using the key remote, although I'm not sure exactly what I did.  I couldn't figure out how to turn on the radio.  The salesman showed me.  It also took me a few seconds to figure out how to open the hatch to the gas tank cap on the Malibu.  (I'd noticed that on the Camaro the hatch wouldn't close tight.)  The "negative" that really turned me off for the Camaro was that there's no way I could lay my arm on the side window opening while driving.  The window is too small and the opening is too high up.

One good thing, all the new things I had to learn in order to drive the Camaro were the same when I test-drove the Malibu.  But there are still some things I need to figure out.

When drove my Malibu into my garage, the car headlights were on or turned on.  I turned off engine and had to sit around and wait for the headlights to turn off in order to confirm that that is also a "new technology" that wasn't on my 1993 Camaro.
  Also, while adjusting the rear-view mirror, I somehow triggered "OnStar," which told me very loudly that I wasn't currently registered with OnStar.  There was no owner's instruction manual in the glove compartment.  This morning, I found it on-line as a 426-page pdf file, but there may also be a button somewhere on the Malibu's dash to view it on one of the screens.

While I was trying to adapt to 21st Century car technology yesterday, I was also
waiting to see what tactic an Anthrax Truther on my old interactive blog will use to avoid admitting that he made a major error.  He seems to be trying to change the subject or change the argument.

His error was a months-long argument that only certified handwriting "experts" can testify about handwriting in court.  But, I showed him document after document which PROVED and explained that it is fairly ROUTINE for lay witnesses to testify in court about recognizing someone's handwriting.  And I found other documents to use if the first batch isn't sufficient to convince him. 

Click HERE to view some of the games the Truther is now trying to play in order to avoid admitting he was wrong.  He's trying to change the argument. 

First, he argued that I cannot be certain who the handwriting witnesses would be, since the Amerithrax Investigation Summary doesn't name them. Here's what it says on page 89 of the Summary about one of the witnesses:
a witness who had received a number of packages and cards over the course of several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s was shown copies of the letters and envelopes used in the anthrax attacks. The witness thought that the handwriting on the envelope addressed to Senator Daschle reminded the witness of Dr. Ivins’s writing. If the witness were to receive a package with that writing on it, the witness would think of Dr. Ivins. The witness noted that, in particular, the style of the block letters with alternating heights stood out, as did the slant of the writing. The witness said that this was the type of writing Dr. Ivins used when he disguised his handwriting as part of a joke.
It's perfectly clear that from the supplementary documents that Mara Linscott would the "witness" mentioned in that section.  But, the Truther argues that that is just my opinion.  He wants to change the argument to be about whether it is just my opinion or what the facts and evidence say.  It's his way of getting around admitting that it doesn't make any difference who the witness is, he or she would still be able to testify in court about recognizing the handwriting on the anthrax documents as being like the handwriting Bruce Ivins used when he wanted to send the witness notes using a DISGUISED handwriting style.

The Anthrax Truther also tried to change the subject in a different way by arguing that the witness is not really a "witness."  He wrote:

The two mentioned informants of pages 89 and 90:

1) are not witnesses.

2) are not presented in the document as being eligible to testify about the printing. For that reason their 'witnesshood' is entirely honorary.

3) would not have been eligible to testify about the printing under any circumstances.        
It's total nonsense, of course.  The witnesses are presented as being able to testify about the handwriting.  Their knowledge about Ivins' handwriting dates to times before the anthrax mailings.  It's not something they studied after the crime was committed.  The Truther is just trying to change the argument to be over whether or not someone identified as a "witness" in the Summary is really and truly a witness.  Or is their "witnesshood" entirely "honorary" and maybe just a figure of speech used by the author(s) of the Amerithrax Summary?

It's all totally silly, of course.  The Truther just doesn't want to admit that he has been arguing total nonsense for months, and that a lay witness definitely can testify in court about recognizing someone's handwriting. 

And it's probably silly of me to argue for years with any Anthrax Truther.  But, it's a challenge to see if I can ever get any one of them of them to admit to being wrong about anything.  So far, the evidence indicates it cannot be done.

Comments for Sunday, Mar. 8, 2015 thru Saturday, Mar. 14, 2015:

Thursday, March 12, 2015 - Yesterday, on my old interactive blog, I created a new thread about "Handwriting Evidence."  I did it in response to a Truther's repeated mistaken claims that a lay witness cannot testify in court about recognizing someone's handwriting.  He believes only handwriting "experts" can testify about handwriting.  The hope is, that by focusing on this one subject, I can somehow convince the Truther that his beliefs are wrong.  He cannot provide any proof that he is right, of course.  I don't think he's ever even tried.  All he can do is endlessly argue his mistaken interpretations of Rule of Evidence 701.

But, I CAN provide proof that he is wrong.  And this morning I did so.  I cited a legal paper titled "
Lay Opinion On Handwriting Permitted Under FRE [Federal Rules of Evidence] 901(b)(2)." 

I also quoted a legal paper HERE which says:

"a competent layperson may provide opinions on certain subjects that are specifically permitted by rule, statute, or case law. Some of these are:

Another person's identity
Another person's sanity
Demeanor, mood, or intent
And I quoted another legal paper HERE which says:
"The so-called opinions of ordinary witnesses are received where it is impossible for the witness to detail all the pertinent facts in regard to a subject matter in such manner as will enable persons not eyewitnesses to form an accurate judgment in regard to it. So, an ordinary witness may give an opinion or conclusions upon questions involving identity, HANDWRITING, size, color, weight, value, time, distance, speed, visibility, audibility, physical appearances of fear, anger, excitement, intoxication, insanity, and in many other matters where it is not practicable to put the jury in possession of all the primary facts upon which the opinion is based."
I could probably find dozens more such articles AND actual lay witness court testimony about handwriting, but what would be the point?  The Truther is unlikely to admit that he was wrong.  So, I'll just wait to see how he rationalizes the proof shown above in order to continue his mistaken belief that ONLY a recognized expert in handwriting can testify about handwriting in court.

I suspect he'll just change the subject or vanish for awhile -- and then reappear to argue his same mistaken beliefs over again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - Okay, this morning I completed and filed my federal income tax forms.  I also changed the security software on my new laptop.  This afternoon I completed and filed my state income tax forms.  So, those tasks are no longer hanging over my head, which means I can now start focusing on developing and writing the third novel in my three-book sci-fi series.

As mentioned in some previous comments, while eating breakfast and lunch each day, I'm reading a psychology book called
"Thinking, fast and slow."  I think that book is going to play a large role in my writing from this point on.  It seems really helpful to view fictional (and real) characters as thinking both "fast" and "slow," with each character thinking differently in any given situation.

This is probably a bad example, but today's statistics for my old interactive blog are very unusual.  Here's a graph that illustrates what I mean:

visitor for March 10, 2015
For some reason, there were 93 visitors visiting during one hour this morning, and the next hour there were 79 different visitors.  As you can see, the previous highest peak was 16 visitors in one hour on March 4. So what happened?  There doesn't appear to be any explanation in the other statistics graphs and lists.

A person who is an optimist (like me) might assume that something that was written yesterday on the blog got a lot of attention.

A person with experience having search engines do many views in a short period of time (like me) might assume that all those visits were from a search engine.

A person (like me) who received an link-filled email from a conspiracy theorist this morning with about 200 people carbon copied on the email might put 2 and 2 together and assume that the visits are somehow connected to the email.

A person (like me) might just shrug and feel there isn't enough information to make any kind of assumption, and he'll just wait to see if more information appears or if the situation repeats tomorrow.  Then he'd do some "slow" thinking.

I was all four people today, ending up as the last of the four.

Monday, March 9, 2015 (B) - This afternoon, I went through a little exercise of "fast thinking."  I was looking for a parking spot in the lot at my gym, and I turned into one of the three aisles between parking slots to find a car in the middle of the aisle.  There was enough room to get by, so I drove past him.  But, as I did, the driver of the car started yelling at me that it was a one way driveway and that I was an idiot for going the wrong way.  I ignored him and drove on, finding a space in the next row.

The other driver's "fast thinking" convinced him that it was a one way driveway and that I was going the wrong way, plus I needed to be told of that in an angry tone so that I wouldn't do it again.

My "fast thinking" told me that last fall, before they repaved the lot and drew new lines for the parking slots, it was a one-way aisle.  But, it wasn't any more.  My "fast thinking" also told me it was best to just ignore the other guy and continue on.  If I had stopped to advise him of the error of his ways, he would very likely have gone in to "road rage" mode, regardless of who was in the right. If someone's ego is so massive that they have to yell at others who they believe are in the wrong, that ego isn't going to easily accept being shown to be an idiot.

Monday, March 9, 2015 (A) - This morning, someone on my old interactive blog brought to my attention another book on human thought processes.  The book from 2005 is Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink.  While it looks very interesting, it also appears to look at only one part of the two parts of human thought analyzed in the book I'm currently reading,
Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, fast and slow."

Amazon's overview of "Blink" says:

Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of an eye-that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?
It seems to be all about "fast thinking," and why one person's "fast thinking" can be very different from another person's "fast thinking."  The reason for that is because our experiences and the way we do things are different.

In my response to the Anthrax Truther's comment this morning, I explained that my experiences make me automatically distrust people who propose conspiracy theories.  I've done a LOT of research into conspiracy theorists, and I've argued with a lot of them.  That makes it nearly automatic for me to distrust them.  The experiences of conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, apparently cause them to automatically distrust "the government."  Plus, their automatic distrust of "the government" makes them automatically distrust any evidence provided by "the government" (or by anyone who agrees with "the government").  They trust only themselves and people who agree with them.

The question then is: WHO IS RIGHT?  The only way to answer that question is to sit down together to objectively weigh and evaluate all the facts and evidence.  While I constantly ask to do that, it is something the conspiracy theorists absolutely refuse to do.  Their reason: They believe that anyone who disagrees with their conspiracy theory beliefs is either too stupid or too brainwashed to think clearly.  As a result, they see no point in discussing evidence with non-believers, other than to explain that all the so-called "evidence" provided by "the government" isn't really "evidence," and that non-believers are just too brainwashed or stupid to understand that.

As long as they continue to think that way, no disagreements can be resolved.  

(It hasn't escaped my notice that this could also explain a lot of Republican thinking and why nothing can get done in Congress.)      

Sunday, March 8, 2015 - During breakfast and lunch last week, I've been reading Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking, fast and slow."  I started out thinking (fast) that it was a book about the thought processes of two different types of people: one type which thinks "fast" and the other type which thinks "slow."  It turns out that everyone thinks both "fast" and "slow." 

"Fast thinking" is basically an automatic reaction.  I.e., you jump when hearing a loud noise.  "Slow thinking" is done when you need to figure things out or need to be very careful.  I.e., someone asks you what the last four digits of your social security number are.  Everybody does both types of thinking, but we don't always do them under the same circumstances.  An English teacher might automatically correct someone's English without thinking.  It's a habit resulting from years of teaching.  It's also an example of "fast thinking."  A person who is not an English teacher might not even notice the grammatical error unless they were trying to figure out something about the person talking.  Then they might utilize "slow thinking" to conclude that the grammatical error is an indicator of minimum schooling, or basic carelessness, or a fascinating mistake by someone whose native language is not English.

One very interesting aspect of fast and slow thinking is that fast (automatic) thinking might be totally wrong, and you might KNOW it's wrong, but you have no control over it and cannot prevent thinking that way.  You can only accept and acknowledge that you are thinking incorrectly and shift to "slow thinking" to avoid doing the wrong thing as a result of your uncontrollable "fast thinking."
  The illustration of this used in the book is the famous Muller-Lyer illusion:
muller lyer illusion
The "fast thinking" part of your brain will continue to tell you that the top horizontal line is longer than the bottom horizontal line even though you've measured the two lines every possible way, and the "slow thinking" part of your brain knows beyond any doubt that the two horizontal lines are the same length.

Biases are generally the result of fast "thinking."  No matter what the facts and evidence say, we may stick with our biases and ignore the facts and evidence.

Of course, I had to start wondering if this could somehow help explain why Truthers and conspiracy theorists of all types routinely accept their biased beliefs as being true and correct, and no amount of facts and evidence can change their minds.  Is some automatic part of their brain seeing things that a little bit of "slow thinking" would very quickly show to be nothing but misunderstandings?  Or are they so accustomed to making decisions using biased "fast thinking" that they are no longer capable of realizing that they could be wrong?

Truthers, of course, feel the same way about me.  They argue that I am so biased toward believing everything "the government" says, that I mindlessly accept every claim and statement - without any thought of any kind.  And then, of course, a moment later, they'll criticize me for disagreeing with the FBI's testimonial evidence that Dr. Ivins somehow disguised his handwriting when he wrote the anthrax documents.  They argue I accept everything the government says while at the same time arguing that I do not accept everything "the government" says -- which they probably see as evidence that even I do not trust "the government," proving that the "the government" should never be trusted. 

No matter what the facts and evidence say, they'll spin everything to fit their "fast thinking" biases.  They are not incapable of "slow thinking."  They use it every day to figure out how to twist things to make them fit their "fast thinking" biases.

An interesting example of this came up on my old interactive blog yesterday.  An Anthrax Truther found an article about two different series of anthrax hoax letters that were sent out from from northwest London and Manchester, England in October and November 2001.  The Anthrax Truther posted a question to ask me about the letters.  It was immediately clear to me that he was going to argue that those British hoax letters were sent by a member of the same "Anthrax Gang" he believes was responsible for the real anthrax letters.  Since he believes that this "Anthrax Gang" also sent out the Assaad letter, the St. Petersburg hoax letters, and just about every other hoax letter he knows about where the real culprit hasn't been caught, it was clear that all that was needed for him add another crime to the list committed by "The Anthrax Gang" was for the crime to (1) become known to the Anthrax Truther, (2) for pictures or details of the hoax letter to be published, and (3) for the crime to be unsolved.

He was using "fast thinking" to conclude that the British hoaxes were from the same Gang.  I was using "fast thinking" to conclude that he was wrong.  His "fast thinking" utilized his anti-government bias and his limited knowledge of the hoax letter crimes.  My "fast thinking" utilized my lengthy, detailed research into the subject of anthrax hoax letters.  It was clear there were thousands of hoaxes that the Anthrax Truther was unaware of.  By his logic, as soon as he became aware of the thousands of unsolved hoax letter crimes, he would have to conclude they were ALL sent by the same "Anthrax Gang."

I pointed out the numbers to him yesterday.  I referred him to a study I did in March 2002, which includes this quote from Richard Preston's book "The Demon in the Freezer":

"[David Lee] Wilson was head of the [FBI's] HMRU [Hazardous Materials Response Unit] between 1997 and 2000, and during those years the number of credible bioterror threats or incidents rose dramatically, up to roughly 200 per year, or one biological threat every couple of days.  Most of them were anthrax hoaxes."
I also searched for a list of news articles about hoax letters that I once compiled, but I couldn't remember where it was.  I found it this morning HERE at the end of the first web page I complied about the handwriting on the letters.  Click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE for other references about anthrax hoaxes.

Meanwhile, the Anthrax Truther has gone silent.  Based upon past experience, the "slow thinking" part of my brain has logically concluded that he'll either disappear for awhile and then return to argue the same thing all over again, or he'll now change the subject and argue a different "fast thinking" bias.

Comments for Sunday, Mar. 1, 2015 thru Saturday, Mar. 7, 2015:

Friday, March 6, 2015 - The arguments about the Amerithrax investigation that have been going on for over 13 years are still raging on my old interactive blog.  An Anthrax Truther just endlessly argues his beliefs while ignoring the evidence. And, as always, when he is shown to be wrong, he just changes the subject and starts arguing some other belief which, in the past, was also shown to be wrong.

I keep looking for some way to force him to discuss the evidence, but he believes that arguing that he does not believe the evidence is the same as discussing the evidence.  I explain the evidence to him, and he argues that there should have been different evidence, and because the Department of Justice didn't make public the imaginary evidence he wants presented, they must be hiding the "real" evidence, which he believes was "exculpatory" of Dr. Ivins.

It's an endless cycle.  All it does is prove over and over that there is no way to hold an intelligent conversation with an Anthrax Truther. And that's something that has been well known and repeatedly confirmed for over a decade.

Thursday, March 5, 2015 (B) - The fact that Boston Bombing conspiracy theorists and Truthers are alive and well, even though Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is admitting that he was involved, made me wonder about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and those conspiracy theorists and Truthers.  Doing some quick research, I found a Wired Magazine article dated today which is titled, "The Most Logical (And Craziest) MH370 Conspiracy Theories."  But, more interesting to me is another article dated today, from, which tells the status of the search for MH370.  It's a series of questions and answers.  Here's the question and answer that interested me the most:
Q: What is the status of the search?

Vessels scanning the sea floor for wreckage using sophisticated sonar have covered about 40 per cent of a "priority search area" in the remote southern Indian Ocean spanning 60,000 square kilometres.

Nothing has been found yet apart from several shipping containers in the Australian-led operation, which is due to be completed in May. Authorities have not yet decided what will happen if nothing turns up by then.

The stormy southern hemisphere winter is expected to begin affecting any future operations within months.
I was virtually certain, of course, that the plane had NOT been found.  If it had been found, everyone in the media would have been reporting on it.  But, it's always interesting to check on the status of a major mystery.  Conspiracy theorists and Truthers love mysteries where it is possible to blame the government (particularly the U.S. government.)  I love mysteries, too.  Mostly I love them because they always seem to separate people into three distinct groups: (1) the conspiracy theorists who believe they know what happened, although they cannot prove anything, (2) the people who do not want to "waste money" on solving mysteries and who just want to forget about things that seem scary and uncontrollable, and (3) those who will spend years and lifetimes trying to finding evidence which will conclusively prove what happened. 

I like to cheer on that third group.  Keep up the good work, guys!

Thursday, March 5, 2015 (A) - When I saw on the news last night that
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not dispute his involvement in the Boston Marathon Bombing, I wondered how that would be interpreted by the Truthers and conspiracy theorists who believe the bombing was a government plot and that Tsarnaev is innocent.

Looking at the comments following an ABC news article about the case, I soon found that some of the Truthers and conspiracy theorists are still voicing their screwball beliefs.  One Truther calling himself "We shall not invade" posted comment after comment stating his opinions.  Here's an example:

He’s innocent though. Give me one spiff of evidence that proves he is guilty. I have hundreds of ammeter footage that proves the two brothers were setup and are innocent. Of Course you might have not seen them because they are censored and the corporate media would never touch on them.
So, he has "ammeter footage" which proves the two brothers were set up?  Like all Truthers and conspiracy theorists, "proof" is whatever fits his beliefs.  In another post, the same guy wrote:
I have seen zero evidence that these two suspects had anything to do with the bombing. Apparently that video where they placed the backpacks does not exist, it was a lie! Why were they pushing this lie for that long? The backpacks that exploded were completely different than the backpacks that the two brothers were carrying.
To which someone replied:
So, you don't believe Dzhokhar when he admitted that he and his brother were the bombers?
And "We shall not invade" responded:
I won’t believe it until I see his face in court, not just drawings and see him actually say those exact words! I’m not believing corporate media and heresy.
Somehow, I doubt that he'd even believe it if he saw Dzhokhar confess in person.  He'd probably still argue that he has proof that Dzhokhar was set up, and that Dzhokhar was being framed and manipulated by the government and the media.

Later in the comments section, a different Truther, "Son of Dorothy," posted this:

And to think it only took two years to convince this kid that he was responsible for something that he only thought he was involved in. Look at the pictures - he wasn't even wearing the same backpack. Interestingly enough, members of the contract for hire military company, Craft International, WERE photographed that day wearing the exact same type of pack prior to the attack. Huh... I wonder what that was all about...
Later, when someone asks him if he is also a 9/11 Truther, "Son of Dorothy" responds with this:
Why not? It's just as plausible as the governments conspiracy theory that's NEVER been proven, btw. Congress spent more money investigating Clinton's affair than they did 9/11... did you know that?
A third Truther calling himself "Spirittoo" seems to have had most of his comments deleted by the "media," but in one that was not deleted he wrote:
this whole thing is a farce the corporate news is lying once again to promote the government agenda ... there is plenty of evidence on line that shows those boys had nothing to do with the bombing. Of course the corporate media is ignoring it like they always do.The fact that so many are saying hang the guy is because they fell for the corporate propaganda
A Boston Globe article on the subject is followed by relatively few comments, but there's still a Truther among them,  "Knomore" wrote this:
How likely is it that during the course of this trial we will find out who really was behind this dastardly act? America is like a haunted house. Distortions, lies, misdeeds and guilt sooner or later come home to roost.
So, the Boston Bombing Truthers are alive and well and are still arguing their beliefs.  Of course, nothing will change their minds, because all the proof will come from the people they do not trust. 

On the positive side, an NPR Blog HERE has some interesting comments where people discuss and argue about how the jury system works.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - While eating lunch yesterday, I finished reading a book called " Good Old Days My Ass: 665 Funny History Facts & Terrifying Truths about Yesteryear" by David A. Fryxell.  So, this morning during breakfast I started reading "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.  I'm only in the "Introduction," but it has already gotten into some fascinating areas.  The author (a psychologist) is writing about how he got interested in the subjects of judgement and decision making.  He indicates that a large part of the book will be about analyzing "biases of intuition."  The book says this about a discussion he had on that subject with a colleague named Amos Tversky,
We already knew that people are good intuitive grammarians: at age four a child effortlessly conforms to the rules of grammar as she speaks, although she has no idea that such rules exist. Do people have a similar intuitive feel for the basic principles of statistics? Amos reported that the answer was a qualified yes. We had a lively debate in the seminar and ultimately concluded that a qualified no was a better answer.
and this:
Even statisticians were not good intuitive statisticians.
"Intuitive statistics" are our understanding (or belief) about how common something is.  For example, if everyone around us agrees with our belief about something, we tend to think that most people around the world would also agree.  And that would also make it "correct." In reality, we could be just be a tiny cluster of people who somehow got the same misunderstanding about something.

But, I should probably wait until I've read more of the book before I do any summaries.  I found "biases of intuition" to be an interesting term because of the long debate I recently had with someone who believed that "junk mail" pertained only to unwanted advertising received in the mail. And another case where someone believed that everyone parks their cars with their windshield wipers propped up away from the windows when snow and ice are forecasted.  Others from the same area of the country had never seen anyone do that before.  Those are (as I currently understand it) "biases of intuition."  People tend to think it's common everywhere because it appears to be common around them.

Meanwhile, I watched another Oscar-nominated movie last night.  I watched "Foxcatcher," which was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, winning none.   While I found the movie to be watchable and sometimes interesting, I had to put it on "pause" at about the midpoint so I could quickly get on the Internet and try to find out what it was "about."  All I was seeing was a couple amateur wrestlers getting involved with a very creepy member of the du Pont family.  My quick Internet research found that "Foxcatcher" was a "true crime" story.  So, I watched most of the rest of the movie wondering who was going to kill whom.  When the killing takes place in the last few minutes of the movie, it was no big surprise.  The only thing that was a surprise was the realization that the movie was "about" why and how the murder happened.  It's a character study.  I might have enjoyed the movie more if I'd known that before I rented it.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - This morning, when I did my regular daily Google search for news about anthrax+2001, up popped a Washington Post article titled "Should texts, e-mail, tweets and Facebook posts be the new fingerprints in court?"  The article was subtitled "Inside the debate over whether our language choices are as distinctive as our DNA."

The article showed up because this paragraph contains both the word "anthrax" and the year "2001":
But as language specialists enter the legal world, they find the stakes are high, the science uncertain and the scrutiny intense. Take the cautionary tale of Don Foster, the English professor turned temporary gumshoe from Vassar College who documents in “Author Unknown” his transition from the comforts of academia to criminal investigations and the constant pressures of media exposure. Foster made headlines for connecting a funeral elegy with Shakespeare (he graciously recanted when subsequent scholarship suggested a different author) and for fingering Joe Klein as the author of “Primary Colors.” He went on to such high-profile cases as the Unabomber and JonBenet Ramsey investigations and was sued for defamation by Steven Hatfill after writing a Vanity Fair article that, the suit alleged, implicated the scientist in the 2001 anthrax mailings. (The case was settled out of court.) Foster said in an e-mail that he deeply regrets “ever having waded in[to] the minefield of examining documents” and having faced, as an expert witness, adverse parties who “introduced material dredged up on the Internet.”
So, Don Foster deeply regrets "ever having waded in the minefield of examining documents"?  I hope that sentence has been read by a disciple of Foster's who used a version of Foster's illogical logic to identify someone who he probably still suspects of being the anthrax killer.

More interesting is the issue that Truthers have used to dispute the FBI's finding that the anthrax spores in the 2001 anthrax letters were grown from seed spores which came from a flask controlled Dr. Bruce Ivins.  The Truthers argue that it the FBI did not provide sufficient scientific evidence showing the reliability of the techniques used to identify flask RMR-1029 as the source.  The arguments over using linguistics are the same: i.e., there are no scientific statistics which can be cited in court to show how reliable a given linguistic "finding" really is.

Even a possibly unreliable finding, however, can provide a key clue to solving a case.  Here's another interesting section from the Post article:  

Roger Shuy, the now-retired Georgetown professor often regarded as the founder of forensic linguistics, who once helped identify a kidnapper by alerting police that the term “devil strip” — found in the ransom note to describe the patch of grass between a sidewalk and a street — is used almost exclusively by people from Akron, Ohio.
How did Mr. Shuy determine that "devil strip" is a term "used almost exclusively by people from Akron, Ohio"?  How reliable was that determination?  Does it really matter?  I seriously doubt that it was the only evidence used to prosecute and convict the kidnapper.  But it may have been a key clue that led the police in the right direction, even if it had very little "reliability." 

I found the Post article to be very interesting.  I might accept that "our language choices" can be "as distinctive as our DNA," but I seriously doubt they can be reliably "as distinctive as our DNA."  Unlike a DNA analysis, which is largely automated, a linguistics "finding" is almost entirely an opinion based upon the choices made by an "expert."  That "expert" has no fixed word pattern to work with.  So, everything depends upon what word patterns the "expert" chooses to use and how much of an "expert" he is in looking for similar patterns in a constantly changing and growing base of data.  Plus, a criminal can attempt to change his linguistic patterns.  He cannot change his DNA.

Sunday, March 1, 2015 - When I told some people that I'd bought a "disposable cell phone," they all told me they'd never heard of such a thing.  "They'd never heard of a "burner phone" or "throwaway phone," either.

They're all just different names for the same thing, of course: a pre-paid cell phone.  I didn't ask, but they probably also never heard of that term.

I was somewhat surprised, since "disposable phone," "burner phone" and "throwaway phone" are terms frequently used on cop and detective shows on TV.  Drug dealers, hit men and other criminal types constantly use disposable phones, because they're relatively "untraceable."  You can pay cash when you buy it.  You can get a new phone number to use with the phone.  The phone has no GPS tracking capability.  No one can trace it to you.  And if you suspect the police are trying to find out who is using the phone number you've been using, you can throw away the phone, buy a new one and get a new number.

Of course, you can also do as I and millions of others have done: you can buy a disposable phone because it is relatively inexpensive ($7.99 for the phone and $19.99 for three months of "air time"), and it allows you to carry a cell phone around with you for emergencies, even though you may never actually use it.

It comes with a lot of options and extras.  I took a photo with my new cell phone and sent the photo to myself via email.  It was a picture of what I can see out the window of my office, as taken from the chair by my computer:

cell phone photo

I didn't even have to set up an email account to SEND the email.  My cell phone number was used as my outgoing email address at  I think sending the email and photo used up about 10 of the prepaid 140 minutes, but I now know it can be done and how to do it.

While I bought the phone to use in case of an emergency with my car, it was also bothering me that I'd written two sci-fi novels where the main characters use cell phones all the time, but I'd never actually owned one.  All I knew about them was what I'd seen on TV.  That didn't help me to figure out how to type text on it.  There are no instructions for how text typing works.  I had to figure it out.  Now, when I see someone spending lot of time using his or her thumbs to type some text into their cell phone, I know it doesn't have to be a long message, it can just take a long time to type because of the way the typing process works.

Now I can fully understand why there are laws against texting while driving.  It seems insane that anyone would even try such a thing.  The first day I carried it around with me, the new phone rang (or more accurately "chimed") once while I was driving.  I didn't even try to take it out of my jacket pocket.  It would have taken too much of my attention to open it and to try to figure out how to answer.  It turned out to be a text message from the phone company telling me that the phone was now fully operational. 

Which reminds me of a different technical problem: When I first tried to print out the first chapter of my second sci-fi novel, it didn't print.  I tried again, and again it didn't print.  Looking for a reason, I found that, although I'd printed things several times before, my new laptop computer had for some reason changed the "where to print" option to  "OneNote 2013."  I had no idea what that was.  Researching it, I deduced that I had somehow unwittingly put a couple copies of the first chapter of my book in "the Microsoft cloud."  When I get some time, I'm going to have to try to figure out how to delete those pages from "the cloud."

I also discovered that I could have used the security software I have on my old computer on my new computer for no cost.  The software package I have on my old computer covers three computers.  I didn't realize that when I spent about $50 for six months of security software for my new laptop.  Those six months will be up at the end of March, so now I have to figure out how to safely make the change to use the software from my old computer.

Back in October, when I bought my new laptop, it came with one month of free security software.  I had to delete that security software in order to install the security software recommended by the store.  Somehow, between the time I deleted the free software and the time I successfully loaded the six months of paid-for security software, a whole bunch of viruses appeared in my laptop.  I had to take the laptop back to the store to get the viruses cleaned out.  So, I'm a bit apprehensive about deleting the security software I now have on my laptop in order to load the software I used on my old computer.  Is there someone out there just waiting for me to turn off my security software -- even just for a second -- so they can load viruses into my laptop?

And then, of course, there's the touch pad "problem," which I've written about at length.  I'm no longer certain it really is a "problem."  It could just be caused by the fact that I don't do things with my laptop the way "normal people" do them.

Things didn't used to be this complicated.

good old days

© 2015 by Ed Lake