You’ve Got Answers? Explainer’s Got Questions

Explainer’s inbox is crammed with nearly 5,000 questions (and counting) posed by Slate readers over the past three days. The crack Explainer team (including Explainer Emeritus Emily Yoffe, who recently came out of retirement) hasn’t been able to read every reader question yet, much less answer them.

But keep them coming! Perhaps it’s appropriate that there are more questions than answers this week. Here are some of the best questions among those that Explainer has sifted through so far. In the days and weeks ahead, Explainer will answer these questions and link to the answer, whether that answer comes from Slate or from another news source.


1. Why can you turn off an airplane’s transponder? What purpose would that serve?

2. Can you turn off a plane’s cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder? Why isn’t all the “black box” data collected at a remote location? Would that be possible?


2. The Washington Post reported that the Bush administration prevented the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from briefing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. What rules govern when the president can prohibit congressional intelligence briefings?

3. Where does Osama Bin Laden keep his $340 million? Why can’t we freeze his assets?

4. Cell phones work on airplanes; why does the Federal Aviation Administration prevent you from using one? What’s the maximum altitude at which a cell phone will work?


5. Everyone keeps reporting that this is the longest trading suspension of the stock markets since the Great Depression. How long were the markets suspended then, and why?

6. How does eliminating curbside check-in make airports safer?

7. Is there a central authority among air traffic controllers? At what point did someone know that several planes had been hijacked?

8. Can a plane’s black box survive a jet fuel fire? If so, why isn’t everything made out of the same stuff?

9. Why do experts say the hijackers must have had assistance from airport ground crews?

10. Can Congress declare war against an individual or group, or can it declare war only against nation-states? How does a declaration of war affect the legal rights and civil liberties of U.S. citizens?

11. Will Sept. 11 be remembered as the deadliest day in American history? William Safire referred to the casualties on U.S. soil during the Civil War battle of Antietam, but what about battles fought abroad? How many died on D-Day? A related question: The news media say this is the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Is it the worst terrorist attack in world history?

Next question?