Tue, Feb 13, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Cartoonish policy has no one laughing

By Brian Kennedy 甘迺迪

"Rube Goldberg gets his think tank working and evolves the simplified pencil sharpener: Open window (A) and fly kite (B). String (C) lifts small door (D) allowing moths (E) to escape and eat red flannel shirt (F). As weight of shirt becomes less, shoe (G) steps on switch (H) which heats electric iron (I) and burns hole in pants (J). Smoke (K) enters hole in tree (L), smoking out opossum (M) which jumps into basket (N), pulling rope (O) and lifting cage (P), allowing woodpecker (Q) to chew wood from pencil (R), exposing lead."

There is a cartoon that illustrates this "solution" to pencil sharpening. Use your mind's eye to envision it. The cartoonist who created this, and many similar, solutions to practical problems was Rube Goldberg (1883-1970).

Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist born in San Francisco. His most famous work was the cartoon series "Inventions," an example of which opened this article. The "Invention" cartoon always used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants and animals to accomplish everyday simple tasks in the most complicated ways. Goldberg was a master at discovering harder ways to achieve easy results.

Goldberg would have made an excellent presidential advisor, much better than Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) of the Academia Sinica. The approach to problem solving made famous by Goldberg and his "Inventions" remind me very much of Taiwan's political problem solving, a good example of which has been the almost decade-long saga of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四).

Whether we should or should not have the plant is not the issue of this commentary -- it is the Goldberg approach that has been taken towards that subject and others. I would hope that the phrase "Rube Goldberg" enters local political analysis because it is a very apt, very useful phrase to describe Taiwan political "reasoning." I should mention that the phrase "Rube Goldberg" is in most American dictionaries.

It is an unfortunate reality that politics here is largely one huge Rube Goldberg "solution" after another. What is funny in a cartoon strip is not so funny in real life. Such "solutions" in Taiwan get people killed, waste huge amounts of money and reduce the strength, vitality and competitiveness of this nation.

It is a never ending source of amazement to me how the Taiwanese political structure can find the most convoluted solution to the most mundane task. That "ability" extends from the president down to the lowest level clerk in this country. If this nation intends to remain competitive internationally, if it intends to further progress towards being a modern democracy, if it intends to avoid just becoming a forgotten backwater somewhere in Asia; then this nation would do well to stop relying on a Rube Goldberg approach to problem solving.

As for the fourth plant, here is a solution. After spending millions of dollars in previous years (A), the president makes a campaign promise to stop construction (B). After the election, the president cancels construction (C), the Legislative Yuan demands reversal of decision (D), the Council of Grand Justices takes case under review (E), gives nonsense, non-reply (F). The Legislative and Executive Yuans duke it out (G). In a reversal, the president offers to mediate (H). There is talk of a referendum (I). The president tries to sell his party on idea of restarting construction (J) ... to be continued.

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