Securing a Place for Fact

Societies the world over face a challenge today: How to sift reliable information from the rubbish? How to ensure that public policy debates will start with information rather than remain in paralysis as known information is denied?

Saturn, north view (Nasa-JPL: Cassini)

A Factual Accountability Branch 

Some have proposed an extra branch of government to oversee objective standards. Style-wise this branch would likely remain rather low-profile: not as much engaged with the public directly as with the other branches of government, for whom it provides information and clarifies disputes.

In Taiwan we have something like that fourth branch: the Oversight Yuan. In practice this 'objective standards' oversight branch mainly creates and administers tests. To work for the government in any capacity, applicants must pass standard qualifying exams. No passing score, no joband no well-placed relative can help. This tradition has a long history here. Those who don't know Zimbabwe from New Zealand can't work in the Immigration Office, and those who don't know ozone from dihydrogen monoxide don't get jobs in the Environmental Protection Office. Capable people tend to get government jobs and the jobs have higher pay than average attached to them. The situation contributes to both government work and higher education being held in popular esteem. Both get results.

A similar branch of government with a slightly expanded role could suit other democracies. The goal of this Standards branch would be to give policy makers the means to base policy on objective data. We need to ensure that public policy is rooted in sound science. Such a branch could also take on accounting tasks, such as those we see provided in the US Congress by the Congressional Budget Office. The existence of such a branch could help improve the quality of public debate by squaring public discussions with verifiable factual data.

Saturn, backlit (Nasa-JPL: Cassini)

Accreditation for Reliable Information Suppliers

A compelling case to be made for the accreditation of news providers. We are currently living through the 'wild West' era of the Internet and this would be of enormous help to the homesteaders. It would work something like the accreditation of schools and maybe a bit like the assignment of stars to hotels. News sources would submit to a process and be evaluated for reliability. Those that prove solid are accredited, perhaps with tier levels assigned based on resources and reliability. With such a system in place it becomes easier for public servants to take an approach to the Net rather like the American FCC has always taken with radio and television. The regulating body could require, say, that all social media operating in the country provide X amount of material in every user's news feed from Tier 1 level information sources. Or something.

Accreditation would help to get market pressures working again for the public. Publishers of news will see it as in their best interest to compete for principled journalists, develop news-gathering resources, and hire qualified staff.

An organisation performing this accreditation role would need some government independence. After public discussion we may well feel that the accreditation role is best realised by an international organisation. If international, representation should still be limited only to those representatives of countries that guarantee speech freedoms. The goal of accreditation is not to regulate opinion, and nothing stops the lovers of tabloid rubbish from distributing and consuming what they love. The goal is to meet a public need: to give consumers a solid place to start in determining factual reliability.

Kurt Andersen, in a recent, thoughtful article for The Atlantic, speaks of our 'need to adopt new protocols for information-media hygiene.' Above are some ideas, submitted for the good of the community.

Meanwhile, on another planet...
(Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)


A friend asks 'Are we in a simulation? If so, how would we find out?'

In 1875 Georges Bizet wrote an opera, Carmen. The title character is a Romani woman in Spain. She works in a cigarette factory by day while moonlighting as a member of a gang of smugglers.

Carmen  (Maria Ewing)

She may be taken as an exemplar of some questions artists encounter in aesthetic philosophy.


Does Carmen know she's in an opera?
No. She would say she's in Spain.

Does Carmen know she's singing?
The singer who portrays Carmen is singing. Carmen herself sometimes sings and sometimes doesn't. Sometimes she's got a little melody going ('la la la') but sometimes she's just telling somebody off.
Carmen does know when she is singing and when she is not.

Is Carmen free?
No. She's a character. Her lines and story are set.
In those lines, of course, she says she is free.

Is Carmen at least free in her own universe?
She insists to other characters that she is free. Her actions, though, suggest a person who is fiercely driven. Tragedy results when she encounters another personality as driven as hers.
Meanwhile, the view she expresses in private is fatalistic. Everything that happens, she says, is already present in the cards you are dealt.
For all her talk about freedom Carmen seems to feel she never really chooses anything.

How can Carmen find out she's a character in an opera?
She can't. The only way she could find out is if her opera was about a character who finds out.


Carmen exists in a universe that obeys certain laws. Her world is one in which people go around singing as atoms in ours go around forming molecules. No one thinks anything of it. It's just how the universe works.

Carmen will always come to a tragic end. The events of her life are built into the structure of her universe. It's a closed loop.

Carmen suspects as much. But she will never discover this for a fact, because the only existence she has is in a place where she is not a character at all. She is a real person.



Vintage 1929

Cheers to conductor Bernard Haitink,
born 1929 March 4 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

On the Summit


Another birthday?

Yow. Cue music!



O, mia patria

Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate; 

Go, thought, on wings of gold;
va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,
go settle over the slopes and the hills,
ove olezzano tepide e molli 
where waft, soft and mild, the fragrant
l'aure dolci del suolo natal!
sweet airs of our native land.

Del Giordano le rive saluta, 
Greet the Jordan's river banks
di Sionne le torri atterrate.
and Zion's towers now toppled.
O, mia patria – sì bella e perduta! 
Oh, my homeland – so beautiful and lost!
O, membranza, sì cara e fatal!
Oh, memory, so dear and cruel!

Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati, 

Golden lyre of the prophets,
perché muta dal salice pendi?
why hang silent on the willow?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi, 
Rekindle our hearts' memories
ci favella del tempo che fu!
and speak to us of times gone by.

O simile di Sòlima ai fati traggi 
All you who have experienced a similar tragedy,
un suono di crudo lamento,
sound a primal wail of lament.
o t'ispiri il Signore un concento 
May the Lord inspire a grand utterance
che ne infonda al patire virtù.
to give pain some dignity.

'Va, pensiero' (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves)
Nabucco (1841)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Libretto by Temistocle Solera (1815-1878)

Metropolitan Opera Chorus
October 2002



It's Show Time

'You know I'm retired from hero work.'
'As am I, Robert. Yet here we are.'


 (Pixar, 2004)


'O God, who once stirred love and hope in our souls, now kindle a passion for liberty.'

Giuseppe Verdi

Duet: ‘Dio, che nell’alma infondere’
Act 2, Don Carlo (1867)
Placido Domingo (Don Carlo), tenor
Louis Quilico (Rodrigo), baritone
Metropolitan Opera (1983)


'1001 Nights' available for listening

Some have asked when 1001 Nights: The Radio Play will be available for listening on demand. I am happy to report that the show now is. You can find the audio at the ICRT web site and in the 'On Demand' menu of the ICRT Radio app.


The e-book can be downloaded from SmashwordsAmazonApple, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, and other online book shops.

Thanks as always for your kind interest. Enjoy!


Don't Think Twice

... It's really alright.

 Here's Eric Clapton.



Opera in Cinema

What makes opera such a powerful element in many films? In this short video essay provided by the English National Opera, Lewis Bond suggests that where film often reflects our experience, opera refracts it. The result injects an element of raw but universal feeling into the story.



Taiwan Mussorgsky Project at CJCU

Shao-Hsun Chang, pianist
in recital at the Chang Jung Christian University
Tainan, Taiwan

11.22 Tuesday 19:00

featuring Mussorgsky: 'Pictures at an Exhibition'
with images of the Taiwan Mussorgsky Project

It’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. – Mark Strand



1001 Nights: The Radio Play

Let's escape.

'1001 Nights: The Radio Play'
premier broadcast

11.03 Thursday 22:00 (10:00 pm)

ICRT FM100 Taiwan

featuring the voices of

Chia-Hsuan Lin
Paul Batt
Ruth Landowne Giordano
Alton Thompson

and the music of

Nikolai Rimsky-Kosakov

produced by

Tim Berge and Ping Lu

written and directed by 

Alton Thompson

based on
'1001 Nights: The Short Story'

inspired by the medieval classic

Want to catch the broadcast online?
Just check your time zone below and visit us at ICRT.

11.03 Thursday 14:00–14:30

Auckland, New Zealand
11.04 Friday 03:00 (UTC+13 hours)

Sydney, NSW, Australia
11.04 Friday 01:00 (UTC+11 hours)

Japan / South Korea
11.03 Thursday 23:00 (UTC+9 hours)

Manila, Philippines
Hong Kong and Macau, China
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
11.03 Thursday 22:00 (UTC+8 hours)

Jakarta, Indonesia / Vietnam / Thailand
11.03 Thursday 21:00 (UTC+7 hours)

New Delhi, India
11.03 Thursday 19:30 (UTC+5:30 hours)

Dubai, UAE
11.03 Thursday 18:00 (UTC+4 hours)

Baghdad, Iraq
11.03 Thursday 17:00 (UTC+3 hours)

Istanbul, Turkey
11.03 Thursday 17:00 (UTC+3 hours)

Johannesburg, South Africa / Cairo, Egypt
11.03 Thursday 16:00 (UTC+2 hours)

Abuja, Nigeria / Paris, France
11.03 Thursday 15:00 (UTC+1 hour)

London, UK
11.03 Thursday 14:00 (GMT)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
11.03 Thursday 12:00 (UTC-2 hours)

11.03 Thursday 11:00 (UTC-3)

USA Eastern / Ontario and Quebec, Canada
11.03 Thursday 10:00 (UTC-4 hours)

USA Central
11.03 Thursday 09:00 (UTC-5 hours)

USA Mountain
11.03 Thursday 08:00 (UTC-6 hours)

USA Pacific / British Columbia, Canada
11.03 Thursday 07:00 (UTC-7 hours)

USA Hawai'i
11.03 Thursday 04:00 (UTC-10 hours)