Friday, August 18, 2006

The Silly Revival of "Existentialism"

After a long hiatus, I have decided to reactivate this blog and comment on a trend in the Western media. The trend is to use the term "existential", or one of its many derivatives, to provide a sort of intellectual cachet to otherwise mundane thinking and writing.

I was alive during the 1960's when existentialism was very popular as a philosophical movement, spurred on by Jean Paul Sartre and other French intellectuals. The term was rubbed into the ground by overuse. Its true and limited meaning became lost in a constant deluge of malapropisms by writers who were earnestly seeking to establish their intellectual bona fides. I suspect that most people who use the term mean by it "very real", as for example "an existential threat of terrorism" means "a very real threat of terrorism". In effect, it underscores the existence of the thing posited and fleshes it out. This is not however the original meaning of the term "existential" and it certainly bears little relation to the philosophical movement known as existentialism.

Existentialism is a viewpoint that asserts that all things are defined by the manner of their existence. This is sometimes simplified by noting that existence precedes essence. That is, the act of existing and the way in which something exists determines its essence. This preeminence of existence over say description (or essence) is very different than what we are used to thinking in our daily life. We are used to thinking in terms of ideals, which, though we cannot prove they exist literally, still affect our lives in meaningful ways. We take serious such thoughts as "being willing to die for one's country or family". By contrast, existentialism would say that such thoughts cannot have any value or be true unless one actually dies for one's country. Only then would one have the existential proof of the passion asserted. Until then, it is just cheap talk.

To see how limiting existentialism is, consider a choice between A and B. If I ask you which do you like better A or B, you can tell me. You tell me that given the choice, you would choose A. Existentialism says that this assertion is of no real value, since the ONLY way we can know for sure if you like A or B is for you to actually choose A or B. Therefore, it is your action that defines what you like. Not your assertion. In economics we have something very similar to this proposition. We call it revealed preference theory. It was developed by Paul Samuelson in the 1940's. By taking prices and income and looking at your behavior, your preferences for bundles of goods will be revealed. It is your market behavior that is mapping out your preferences. Your actions are defining your preferences. Existentialism is an extreme form of this asserting that your preferences do not exist until you engage in market behavior. By the way, existentialism would tell us that the only way you could prove that you were indifferent to A or B would be for you to remain unable to decide -- like Burdian's ass.

Existentialism does not rule out the existence of God. It is not atheism, although there are quite a few atheistic existentialists. There are also Christian existentialists. No doubt other faiths have their adherents to existentialism. It is in some ways deceptively persuasive. It is a revolt against Platonic theory that posits the existence of ideals. For example, many people say that the Christian Church is only an imperfect man-made organization here on earth. It doesn't measure up to the ideal in the mind of God. It has many failings, but these failings are Man's alone and not shared by God. The existentialist would say that the Christian Church is defined by how it acts, by how it functions, and by how it succeeds. It is not to be excused by an appeal to some ideal that doesn't exist. Similarly, if international communism murders hundreds of millions of people, this too defines communism. One cannot simply excuse it by saying that it wasn't the "REAL" or 'PURE"communism. Communism, like everything else is defined by how its existence is played out.

Why then have I used the phrase "silly revival" in the title?

Existentialism ignores the fact that we attach varying degrees of doubt to all statements, even those which appear to be factual. To say that I like A more than B merely forces the listener to impute a degree of credibility to the proposition. The devout existentialist would refuse to attach any credibility to the proposition prior to my actually making a decision. But surely this is fatuous. No one acts that way. We all live our lives making judgements regarding the credibility of the information we receive. We are forced to do this by the nature of living. We do not demand so called "existential proof" of everything before we believe it. We believe people who claim they would like to become suicide bombers for the cause of Islam. In fact, we refuse to let such people board airplanes...even when they joke about such things.

Existentialism appears to tell us that we should wait to see how things develop before we act upon our suspicions. We could make a long and silly list of things that were not "existential" threats. Saddaam Husein was not a threat to America, there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, not all followers of Islam want to cause havoc and mayhem, ... etc. Existentialism reminds us that it is only when we see clear actions , that we can pass judgement on others' intentions and act accordingly. No pre-emption is allowed.

It shouldn't be hard to see that this is a clear path to suicide for anyone wanting to adopt it as a guide for behavior. Silly for anyone to follow, though many appear to want to follow it nevertheless.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Who was Sinclair Lewis?

Foreign students who willingly study the English language usually complain that American and English novels are too long and too hard to finish. I can sympathize with that feeling, but I remember when I first came to Taiwan in 1987, I had NO television (or air conditioning). Personal computers were still in their infancy. And, the Internet was a gleam in the eye of a few scientists. At that time, I sat at home in a large room, with an unfamiliar and rather irritating fluorescent light (we only use these in bathrooms and perhaps kitchens in the US) reading novels. Lots and lots of novels. All kinds of novels. Sometimes, I would walk down to 7-11, the neighborhood convenient store -- or convenience store, as you wish -- and pop some microwave popcorn to eat as I read these books.

I read 60 novels in one year.

Its hard to imagine something like that happening today. And, it helps explain why that people in the past were so productive in music, art, and literature. They had to be. There simply weren't that many choices. Not that many diversions. It also explains, in part, why that expats tend to become engrossed in their home country. Once again, little time for local entertainment, more time for serious study of their roots.

Now, usually my tastes are quite varied, but I thought it was an excellent time to specialize and read some of the great masters of English and American literature. It was fun, because I didn't have to worry about taking some convoluted test at the end to prove I understood the books. You see, it was reading on my terms.

Out of all of those authors, from Joseph Conrad to Ernest Hemingway, from Theodore Dreiser to William Faulkner, the one author who gave me the most fun (excluding Mark Twain, who is really in a class by himself) was Sinclair Lewis. Who was Sinclair Lewis and why are his novels so important?

Sinclair Lewis was a writer who was born in the state of Minnesota in 1885 and who wrote many of his books about mid-Western American life. He was most productive in the 1920's ( the roaring 20's ) and 1930's (the depression years). His book Main Street is probably the most famous of his works. He was the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he won in 1930. He also won a Pulizer Prize in 1926. Some of you may have seen the movie adaptation of his famous book Elmer Gantry -- a movie starring Burt Lancaster. Although it is a cliche, I can tell you in all honesty that "I read the book, and the book is better than the movie".

Lewis wrote about the follies and shortcomings of the typical American personality during the first half of the 20th century. He wasn't bitter about American society, but he wasn't complacent either. He was contemptuous of the hypocrisy and self-important, self-assured nature of religion and politics in America. He treated business as largely the art of mass deception through advertising and hype. But, the enduring nature of his writings are that they highlight the rather silly way we all tend to live our lives. I love his honesty and sincerity, even though I often disagree with his assessments.

You can find free online copies of both Main Street and Babbitt at the remarkable etext library of the University of Virginia. I will provide a link in the "news" section of my website ----

http://www.kleykampintaiwan.com

See you there.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Unreasonable Success of American Talk Radio

I. Recent History of Radio and Technical Change

A story is playing out in America today which is truly amazing. It involves an old invention (the radio) coupled with probably the most powerful force on earth (the Internet). The combination of these two has led to an important new political force which is reshaping government, the media, the economy, international relations, as well as our own personal everyday habits, at least in America.

I will take it as given that we all have roughly the same prototypical notion of a conservative and liberal. I don’t want to get into any epistemological arguments about the true definition of a conservative. I will leave that to philosophers who have the time and the patience to explore such questions.

Radio itself is not conservative. It is a device or a machine. Indeed, it has been used by both conservatives and liberals. The history of radio is a story of constant adaptation. Talk radio is merely the most recent of these adaptations. Let's look at the history of radio as mass communication.

In the 1930's radio was the most emotional type of mass media around and was used effectively by FDR in his fireside chats, by pundits such as the eventually disgraced Father Charles Coughlin, and by such innovators as Orson Wells and his Mercury Theater, with its now historic “War of the Worlds” radio program.

Radio in the US was nearly destroyed by the advent of television in the 1950's. It survived by creating AM broadcasts of popular music and sports for young people and religious programs aimed primarily at adults. Popularity of radio was given a substantial boost by the creation of the transistor which gave radio its distinctive portability. Radio became something you could carry with you anywhere at anytime. The transistor made car radios economically feasible. Soon every car sold in the world came equipped with a car radio. When the FM band was introduced, the problem of static and noise was solved and the number of listeners rose once again. Radio remained important outside of the US during the 1960's and 1970's due to Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, the BBC World Service, Radio Moscow, etc. However, these types of programs with their commentary and analysis were seldom heard in the US and their formats were largely ignored by station managers.

You will remember that radio programs were capable of being recorded on cassette tape long before television programs had that capability. One could record a radio program and listen to it over and over. This meant that quite complicated programs which required intense concentration could be made, since the program could be reviewed over and over.

During the 1970's and 1980's radio in America got a boost with the creation and expansion of National Public Radio. NPR provided America with both in depth news and commentary. It gave people a reason to turn off their televisions and it was widely listened to by motorists during the morning hours with Morning Edition and in the afternoon with All Things Considered. Late at night, all across America, one could listen to Larry King on the Mutual Broadcast Network, as he gave countless numbers of interviews with newsmakers and took calls from listeners. There were numerous other shows and hosts at this time, and so was born the idea of talk radio.

Talk radio got a tremendous boost with the advent of Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh established his program on AM radio to counter-balance what he perceived was a liberal bias in the popular media. He was an unabashed and unrepentant conservative Republican and was willing to state his views in stark, but nevertheless entertaining, ways. Many people criticized his show as nothing more than the simple-minded ranting of an ill-informed, mudslinging Republican hit man. Nevertheless, he became immensely popular with millions of listeners each week and his success spawned literally hundreds of copycats. He is therefore rightly considered the founding father of conservative talk radio.

Rush’s radio call-in program and its clones were obviously helped by the creation of the cell phone. Mobile phones allowed motorists listening to programs to call in and participate in the show, even during the morning rush hour and so called afternoon drive time. This core of listeners (Rush called them “dittoheads”) then tuned in to the show whenever they were at home, as well. Similarly, 24/7 streaming over the internet by radio stations such as WABC in New York and KRLA in Los Angeles, became popular and talk radio was quick to adopt this form of broadcast – free at first, but increasingly requiring a subscription. Rights issues continue to be a problem for the internet, although these are slowly being worked out by legislation and by litigation.

Currently, for some rental cars in the US, you can request XM Radio, which is a huge assortment of programs, rebroadcast through a satellite, with crystal digital clarity, part of which is conservative talk radio. XM Radio can be received nearly anywhere in the US, even in one’s house, provided you have the right equipment.

Thus, from a technical point of view, the transistor, car radios, cassette recording, AM-FM broadcasting, national syndication, call-in programs, cell phones, the internet, and most recently XM satellite radio, have all been factors which have led to the enduring success of talk radio today.

II. Are Americans Becoming More Conservative?

The distinguishing feature of American talk radio is that it is conservative. Probably less than 20% of broadcast hours are hosted by people who have a self professed liberal (or progressive) bias. Conservative talk radio programs are often characterized as nothing more than cheerleading shows for the Republican Party. They are hard hitting and often acerbic, to the point of being insulting, to some weak hearts. It is very much like the wild west of yesteryear, with gunslingers freely walking the streets and looking for a fight. Talk show hosts today think nothing of calling their listeners “fools”, “pigs”, “ignoramuses”, etc. But, setting the histrionics aside, can we explain the success of talk radio by viewing it as a natural market response to an increasingly conservative public.

When confronted by this fact, that most shows on talk radio are conservative, the typical response is that talk radio is merely a reaction to a general news media which is inherently biased towards liberal ideas. Talk radio constantly hammers at traditional media which is, according to it, relentlessly biased towards the Democratic Party and socialist philosophy.

There are really two questions here: (1) whether or not the media has a clear liberal bias, and (2) whether or not the US is becoming more and more conservative. The best evidence we have for the first question comes from the Pew Foundation and from a recent study discussed by Robert Barro in the Weekly Standard. The Pew study interviewed employees of media and found a distinct liberal bias which was really an admission by the employees of media. Barro’s article discusses a more scientific study. It first takes a well accepted liberal/conservative ranking of members of Congress based on voting records. It then counts the number of times which these members cite the top 200 prominent think tanks. Finally, it looks at how many times these organizations are discussed in the top 20 prominent media outlets. By doing so, it creates a reasonably accurate measure of liberal/conservative bias in the media. The basic finding is that the media is clearly liberal in its focus. The conservative bias to talk radio may very well be a reaction to this liberal media bias.

Unlike most media, talk radio has a free and unrestricted market. There have been numerous attempts to introduce liberal talk show hosts (e.g. Mario Cuomo, Alan Dershowitz, etc.) which have either failed or been greeted by the listening public rather lukewarmly. The current continuing effort is Air America, which has been a financial disaster and has not generated much excitement, despite being touted by traditional media and internet giants (e.g. Real.com). For the most part, it has hobbled along receiving financial support from liberals and liberal organizations. It is interesting that Air America is a highly orchestrated response of the Democratic Party and its supporters to the grassroots success of conservative talk radio. It was a political creation rather than a natural product of market evolution. By contrast, Alan Coombs, a self-professed liberal has been quite successful in talk radio.

But, even if we accept that talk radio is a response to a highly biased general media, is it possible that talk radio is successful because Americans as a whole are becoming more conservative.

The evidence that the US is becoming more conservative is harder to confirm scientifically. The simplest and perhaps best evidence is that more and more conservatives are being elected to office in the US. Ronald Reagan was given two terms despite the problems he encountered. George Bush 41 was only given one term, but Congress was decidedly conservative at the time and Bill Clinton was elected twice by being a centrist. George Bush 43 was given two terms and the Congress is currently in the hands of the Republicans. The 2004 election was a clear choice between conservative and liberal philosophies, and President Bush won the popular vote by over 3 million votes. Most governors in the US are Republicans and most states are Red. The Democratic Party, now a large umbrella group for various one issue voters (e.g., abortion, gay rights, minority rights, socialized health care, anti-war, tax the rich, etc.) has been forced to seek candidates who vaguely embrace all of these polarized political views. Thus, we have candidates like John Kerry, John Edwards, and Howard Dean, who are clearly left of center in the Democratic Party, if such a center can even be defined now. Many adult Americans simply cannot take the Democratic Party seriously anymore. And, the success of talk radio has come to reflect this.

Recent polls taken by the Gallup Organization also show that Americans are indeed becoming more conservative in their views. This shift is due in part to the natural response of a country which was attacked. It should be remembered that September 11th was actually and attempt to bring down the American government by political, military, and economic assassination. No other country has been so exposed to such a sneak attack by such a shadowy and elusive organization. The American response has been decisive and measured.

So, talk radio may best be described as embracing a new sense of "nationalistic populism”. It is therefore no wonder that talk radio hosts have been viewed as wrapping themselves in the flag. It is no wonder that their programs have been decried as hate speech by those who support a more internationalist approach to problems. The response of the mainstream media has been to see it as their mission to present a more liberal view of the news, thus balancing the pernicious effects of talk radio.

III. The Effect of Talk Radio on Politics Now and in the Future

It is certainly possible that talk radio has itself been instrumental in making Americans more conservative. However, I suspect that most economists would probably disagree with this view, since it assumes that the media is controlling the market, rather than the media simply responding to conditions of demand and supply for information.

In any event, many people are now convinced that talk radio played an important role in helping George Bush and the Republicans in the recent 2004 Presidential elections. Bush won because Kerry was unfairly attacked by the universe of talk radio. His Vietnam record was smeared and he was portrayed as a fanatic for lost liberal causes. He was a man who could not be decisive, according to most talk radio hosts. In this time of war crisis, John Kerry could not be depended upon to lead the country in a strong and decisive manner.

There is little doubt that Kerry was unmercifully attacked by talk radio. Certainly, I heard many cases of Democrats who claimed they would not vote for Kerry after hearing about his anti-Vietnam War activities. Talk radio also provided instant spin and fact checking after critical moments in the campaign. These rectifications included the CBS fiasco concerning Bush’s National Reserve service, Michael Moore’s and George Soros’ attempt to influence the election, as well as the various controversies surrounding the Presidential debates.

Gallup polls similarly indicate that an increasing number of Americans are getting their information and news from news/talk radio, as well as from the Internet. Talk radio is the natural complement to internet streaming. The blogs that have become very popular are providing talk radio with continuous spin and fact checking, all in real time. A good example is Hugh Hewitt, who is heard on hundreds of radio station across America. He made a television appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News. One hour later he was discussing the audio clip made of the television show on his own KRLA talk radio program—freely streamed all over the world. Shortly later it appeared on his personal blog, hyping his book explaining how that blogs are changing the media. He claims that there are now over 5 million people with daily blogs. This type of free wheeling news and commentary is common every day in the US and is available to anyone with an internet connection and a sufficient knowledge of the English language.

We should welcome this development of talk radio. It is a truly democratic form of news gathering and dissemination. But, with it comes an increased need for a discerning eye to properly weigh and assimilate all of the information one receives. It is this need to instill a sense of critical analysis into people, rather than blind trust, which will determine the future of talk radio and whether it will be a net gain or loss to society. A free, open, and unfettered medium is the only hope we have to achieve this. We should each of us welcome the challenge.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Spooky Action at a Distance

I remember, as a young man, watching an astro-physicist named Robert Jastrow on television discussing the enigma of the interaction of matter. His remarks were deceptively simple, but they had a big impact. Let me tell you what he said, in essence.

Imagine two particles of matter separated by nothing but space. Call one of the particles A and the other B. Now suppose that A moves. We know that B will also move. The reason for this is the familiar force of gravity. But, how is this possible if A and B have nothing between them. How is the gravitational force communicated between A and B? Professor Jastrow was asking us to think how that gravitation could be propagated (mechanically) through a vacuum. If you or I could move something around, say a piece of furniture, without touching it, we would no doubt be considered magicians. Gravity, which is intrinsic to all matter, does exactly this. Yet it is not considered magic. Isn't science at least as interesting as some magician levitating an over-aged woman in a bathing suit?

But wait, things get much more intriguing.

Albert Einstein, someone who needs no introduction, created a revision of Newtonian mechanics with his Special Theory of Relativity. The fundamental axiom which he relied upon was the constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum (300,000 km/sec). Einstein had said that it was physically impossible for any coherent signal, bit of information, piece of matter, or radio signal, etc. to move faster than the speed of light. The reason is that as things accelerate towards the speed of light, their masses increase without bound. Therefore, it would require unbounded amounts of energy to accelerate them to the speed of light. Achieving the speed of light is difficult to contemplate, but going faster would certainly be impossible. Light photons, by definition, can move at the speed of light, but they have no mass. Neutrinos can similarly move at the speed of light, but have no mass at rest. Einstein was adamant in saying that information could not be transmitted in ANY fashion at speeds exceeding the speed of light.

What this means is that if the moon were to experience a wobble, the earth would feel its effect after a short period of time. It would not feel the effect instantaneously. Gravitation is not propagated instantaneously. Einstein was denying the existence of “action at a distance”. In fact, he declared that all four fundamental forces – gravitation, electro-magnetism, the weak, and the strong forces – propagate at speeds less than or equal to the speed of light (note: light is electro-magnetically produced). Action at a distance refers to an effect being felt instantaneously, in addition to being transmitted through a vacuum. Einstein denied that action at a distance was possible.

This complicates the puzzle which Jastrow was pointing up to us. Not only is there nothing in between the two particles A and B, but A's effect on B occurs with a delay. The particle B “feels” the movement of A only after a short period of time depending on the distance between the two particles; this despite there being nothing between them to slow things down.

Despite how it looks though, things were far from settled by Einstein. The story took a dramatic turn with the advent of quantum physics in the late 1920's. Werner Heisenberg, Neils Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and Paul Dirac had put together a spectacularly successful story of the behavior of electrons (matter) and light. Their theory was generated out of the peculiar outcomes of experiments and theorizing done by Max Planck. It was totally revolutionary and incredibly precise in its predictions (at least for electrons and light). Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman has claimed that there is now no experimental doubt about the validity of quantum theory as applied to electrons and light.

The problem with this is that experiments using quantum theory have shown quite conclusively that if quantum theory is true, then action at a distance, in at least some form, must be accepted!

Einstein was aware that quantum theory (something he clearly disliked) could be challenged by an experiment which could only validate quantum theory by simultaneously validating action at a distance. The experiment was devised by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen and is called the EPR experiment. According to the experiment—if quantum theory were true then particles separated by a wide gulf of space would still experience a special type of correlation. If the space were made sufficiently wide, such entanglement between the particles would imply superluminal speeds in the transmission of information (required for the entanglement) between the two particles. It would be as Einstein put it, “spooky action at a distance”. To vouchsafe the correlation between the two particles implied by quantum theory, the state of one particle would have to be transmitted to the other particle instantaneously. If this correlation were altered and could be detected experimentally, then one would have to conclude that quantum rules were not valid, at least at large distances. Einstein was so sure that action at a distance was impossible (because of his faith in relativity) that he attempted to use this to disprove quantum theory.

Years later, experiments such as those of Alan Aspect, based on an important theorem by John Bell of CERN, showed convincingly that quantum theory was upheld. This meant that action at a distance was not only possible, but was necessary. The experiments showed that reality is in fact built out of one seamless cloth. How this works is not clear, but very few physicists will disagree with this statement. It is usually expressed by saying that quantum effects are not local. And since nearly everything is governed by quantum rules (except perhaps gravity and radiation), this means that everything is connected instantaneously.

Such considerations make it all the more understandable why that Sir Arthur Eddington, the late English astronomer, once commented that "not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Staying Clear on Iraq

(This editorial expresses my own views and not the views of Tamkang University. It is written to encourage students to freely voice their own opinions in English on matters of importance.)

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No doubt many of my students have quite diverse views on the war in Iraq. I am well aware that there are a large number of people who oppose the actions of the US government -- fair-minded people who oppose the war, but who did not support Saddam Hussein. They see the war as an arrogant, unilateral use of American military power, perhaps even for economic gain. By definition, such are the classic conditions for imperialism, and there are some people who feel America has indeed become an imperialist power.

On the other hand, there are other people (called neo-conservatives) who do not feel that it is bad for America to assert its power, if the results are for the greater good. They do not shrink from the term "imperialism", but embrace it. They believe that the US has a duty to use its power to ensure democracy and economic freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from oppression. From their perspective, the same power was used in the past to free Europe from the Nazis and to free Asia from Imperialist Japan. The neocons feel that the same principles exist today as existed 60 years ago.

Who then is more nearly right? And, how is a student to make up his or her mind about America?

I think it is important for us to stay clear on some very simple facts surrounding the American role in Iraq. Complicated conspiracies and convoluted political intrigue only serve to mislead us from the truth. Here are some basic facts and straightforward inferences that need to be remembered when thinking about the US in Iraq:

(1) Prior to the war, the oil in Iraq was exclusively controlled by Saddam Hussein and his psychotic sons. The oil is now under the control of a democratically elected government in Iraq(elections were on January 30, 2005). It is not clear how Iraq will use this oil in the future, nor how the people of Iraq will benefit from the oil. But, almost any arrangement is better than what was in place during Saddam's reign of terror. Any regime which has a rich natural resource, but unwisely uses it to sponsor terror and violence is likely to lose that resource. The oil rich countries of the Middle East need to realize this. Iraq has become an excellent example of this.

(2) Weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq. Before the war, the United Nations produced unanimous resolutions in the Security Council calling for Saddam Hussein to allow weapons inspectors unfettered access to suspected sites, as well as a complete explanation of when, where, and how known weapons of mass destructions (including tons of anthrax) were destroyed. The US parted company with France, Germany, and Russia over Iraq in 2003 by not returning to the Security Council to get authority to wage war on Iraq when it failed to comply with the UN resolutions. The US felt it had sufficient authority since the original resolution threatened serious repercussions if Iraq failed to comply. US intelligence had been informed by senior officials in the Baathist Party that Iraq had WMDs. The Bush Administration, in the wake of the 911 attacks, decided to eliminate Saddam as a potential threat.

However, after the ousture of Saddam, no WMDs were found. How can this be? Was Bush lying and only looking for an excuse to invade Iraq? What explanation can cover all of the above facts? Here is one possible inference.

Perhaps Saddam Hussein thought that he did have WMDs. Otherwise, he would have simply avoided war by letting the UN inspectors back into Iraq. Maybe he was lied to by the military leaders below him. They did so to save themselves. Saddam and his hierarchy believed that they had access to very destructive weaponry and therefore they did not fear the US. This is why Saddam was surprised to find the Iraqi army unwilling to fight. They lied to Saddam about the weapons, just as they lied about the war when they were losing it. If this is true, then certainly Bush or the CIA could not know more than what Saddam knew. This is a point not discussed in the mainstream media.

(3) The US has been in Iraq for over a year now. It has nearly 130,000 troops there and has lost nearly 1800 individuals. Some people have called this an occupation. They say that if the US stays in Iraq, the Iraqi government will not have any independence. It will be a puppet government. Yet, the US army is in Korea, Germany, and Japan. No one is seriously saying that these governments are under the control of the US. The troops are there as part of a larger security arrangement. They may be redeployed or completely withdrawn at anytime, depending on the governments involved. The Phillipines asked the US to leave Clark and Subic bases and the US complied. Troops have been withdrawn from Saudi Arabia, as well. US troops will be withdrawn from Iraq when it is clear that the democratically elected government there is capable of defending itself and the free system that is in place. There will be no cut and run.

Many students will feel the US has broken international law and has become unilateralist. Their criticism of America is both natural and commendable. No one should merely accept that the US always does the "right" thing. On the other hand, we need to understand what were the alternatives. And, in Iraq we can at least now say that the Iraqis have a chance to decide their own future. Isn't that worth the sacrifice?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Is there Anything Good about a Typhoon?

Well, its early in the season, but we're on course for a big typhoon to hit Taiwan. This means nearly 100 mph winds and lots of rain. I've seen these before, and I can't find anything to be happy about.

Walking outside during a typhoon is not advisable....unless you're the Incredible Hulk. First there's the downed electric power lines soaking in puddles of water. Next, there's the shattered plastic storefront signs hurtling through the air, like shrapnel from a suicide bomber. Then there's the cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. that are barreling down the road oblivious to you the pedestrian. Finally, even after the typhoon has departed, there are the inevitable rockslides and mudslides. Some of these have been known to bury whole residential complexes, not to mention the huge boulders rolling off the mountains on the East coast that predictably flatten a passing SUV.

I can think of many ways to go in this world, but being sliced, diced, and smashed real well by a typhoon is not one of my favorites.

Did I mention the flooding? Oh yeah, there's the flooding. When Herb came through several years back, two of the three bridges near my house washed away. The one small remaining (very flimsy) bridge had to accommodate most of the residential traffic in Nankan, Taoyuan Hsien. And, we were the lucky ones. People living on the flood plains of the Tamsui and Keelung Rivers woke up to water that was chest deep.

Another thing that makes life miserable during a typhoon is the water and power outages. Nothing like 100 F temperature and no air conditioning to make life more meaningful. So, get the whole family and pile into the car. Turn on the AC and begin searching for some cool and pleasant oasis, like a Tesco or the mall. Whoops! 50,000 other people have the same idea. Lots of snarling traffic. But, then you reach the promised land. A place where you thought it would be cool and you could have respite from the nasty heat. Forget it. It's just like home, only crowded. And, since the water has stopped flowing, none of the usual food courts are operating. Now the wife's mad.

Ah, but then a week later. After all the trouble has left and the typhoon has departed, you wonder why you thought things were so bad. Things are so peaceful and serene. You get on the web and for a lark decide to check out the Central Weather Bureau's website at http://www.cwb.gov.tw/V4e/index.htm BINGO! There it is again. A new large swirling mass of white forming 1500 miles from Taiwan and moving west in an ominous fashion. Makes you feel like a bowling pin, huh. STRIKE!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

London Bombings -- More of the Same

The recent bombings in London were hardly surprising. The Russell Square area of London is where the University of London and British Museum are located. It is where J.M. Keynes lived during the time he wrote the General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. However, extremists of the cult of death now want to destroy our modern world and replace it with their own realization of an 8th century religio-fascist ideology.

This is a cultural war and everyone is involved, whether they like it or not. Contrary to the views of the mainstrean media (MSM), it is not Bush's war or Blair's war. It is our war.

It is impossible to close our eyes and assume terror doesn't exist for us. The events of 911, the Bali bombings, the Spanish bombings, and now the London bombings, remind us that there are terrorist groups which have a global reach, a fanatical superstitious outlook, and absolutely no compunction about killing innocent people to achieve their goals. It is a movement of death that embraces suicide and brooks no dissention.

How do you as a student fit into all of this?

The first thing to remember is that ALL of the terrorists in the world today were students at one time or another. Apparently, education is no panacea for the problems we face. Still, I can't help feeling that education is most successful when we question the beliefs that we and others hold. It is this questioning that matures our minds and helps us to avoid extremism.

Second, we live in democracies. Our representatives in governments make policies to deal with terror. That means it is important that we keep our governments focused. We need to experiment. Policies that don't work need to be replaced with ones that do work. You need to vote.

Third, we need to take away the terrorists' money. We should demand that all banks be completely transparent in their operations. Most international terrorism would completely collapse if we required total transparency. The same goes for tax returns. This is usually unpopular with rich people, since they like to hide their income and wealth. (For the UK response see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1572452.stm)

Finally, questioning our beliefs doesn't mean that we give equal weight to everyone's ideas. We need to avoid the trap of moral relativism that says our views are no better or worse than anyone else's. Of course some views are correct and others wrong. As Kant said " Have the courage to trust your own understanding". If you use your reason and keep a questioning spirit, the true path to a better world will naturally present itself. That is the value of an education. No need for bombs.