There Is No Cat

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Monday, October 21, 2002

A real war on terrorism

Robert Wright had a fascinating, if very long, set of articles in Slate last month, originally published over a week-and-a-half, on what it would take to actually wage war on terrorism, as opposed to what the current administration is doing. He makes it easy to read by bolding the problems and italicizing the solutions, so if you're in a hurry, skip over all the normal text. His basic thesis is that we've got to help the less developed parts of the world to democratize and globalize and make it possible for intelligent people to make a decent living and express their urges in a constructive manner. If Mohammed Atta, for example, had been able to find that urban planning job he was looking for in Cairo, maybe he wouldn't have piloted a plane into the World Trade Center. He also makes the point that if we don't find a way to do these things, the advent of information technology like the Internet is going to make it much easier for ad hoc terrorist groups to form, whether in Saudi Arabia or in Montana. The basis of all this is that humanity is at a crucial turning point, with momentous technological and societal changes happening, and we can either understand and adapt to them, or we can muddle through and suffer the consequences in the form of major attacks for a few hundred years before we understand and adapt to them. He draws a parallel with the advent of the printing press in Europe, and how it stoked religious wars in the 16th and 17th century, and nationalist wars well into the 20th century, before Europe finally maneuvered itself into a position where internecine war is basically unthinkable (fringe countries like Yugoslavia notwithstanding). It's not a hopeful series of articles.

I find Wright's articles fascinating. I've been following his writing for a long time, mainly because my mom knew him something like twenty years ago when he was a cub reporter at a now-defunct newspaper called The Register here in New Jersey. Mom was the night typist at the paper, and I remember her telling me at the time about how she would have these fascinating philosophical conversations with this young reporter. That was Robert Wright. It's been interesting to watch his rise to prominence.

Posted at 10:57 PM

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


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