Sunday, May 29, 2005

Creative People

I’m into an interesting book by Howard Gardner, called Creating Minds. He does an analysis of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Eliot, Stravinski, Graham, and Gandhi, and looks for any connecting trends/characteristics/personality traits that lead to a definition of what it takes to be creative in one’s field. Much of the book is historical and biographical, but the second part is an analysis of what Gardner believes he has found. The seven figures do share one trait, which is that they revolutionized their fields. They also were contemporaries.

Main conclusions reached by Gardner:
- each came from middle-class homes and were close to one parent
- each was encouraged to learn and work hard
- each made a first breakthrough about 10 years into a career, followed by a second breakthrough after another 10 years; after a third ten-year period, no more works that can be called ‘breakthroughs’ but rather they were elder statesmen or got into more philosophical work related to their fields
- each had periods of isolation where work was the priority
- each had friend or small support network that were used as sounding boards for the work; these friends/colleagues were also easily put by the wayside by the creator, and simply used to check the work
- each had child-like characteristics and connections
- each had no problem with dismissing authority figures in their respective fields

The seven individuals profiled by Gardner each had the “Eureka!” moment that is fantasized by so many individuals in all fields of study. A very interesting analysis of such moments of insight was done by Zenpundit back in April, and there are indeed many connections between Gardner’s analysis and Zen’s I would like to point out.

I found it most interesting that the seven featured giants had the ten year periods of insight and creativity. Insight, as outlined in Zen’s analysis, is built around the interplay of horizontal (visionary thinking) and vertical (expertise or mastery of a given domain) thinking. I agree that modern Western society is built around vertical thinking, if for any other reason there is so much knowledge in any field of study that individuals need to specialize and master one specific field. The seven creators are no exceptions to this rule. One needs to know what is happening in a field before one can revolutionize and change the field (unless one is actually creating a new field and there is no previous experience to build from). The more difficult aspect of a revolution is horizontal thinking, which is identified by both Gardner and Zen as being connected to children. To be a visionary, one needs to think outside the box and be open-minded and risk-taking, as children naturally are (children, though, do not possess the expertise to know whether or not any thoughts are even relevant to a given field). I think the key here, at least with the seven creators, is that they all did two things. They isolated themselves (which is what is needed for adults to think outside the box), and they did not hesitate to step on and dismiss existing foundations of their fields.

I am most familiar with Einstein, and an example of this revolutionary attitude is shown by the ease in which he threw out the notion of ‘the ether,’ a mysterious entity that supposedly permeated all space and was the medium responsible for light wave propagation. Experiments designed to test and prove the existence of ether failed (Michelson-Morley experiments), and theorists such as Lorentz (the leading expert of Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory in the late 19th century) developed theories to explain the failure of the experiments while keeping the ether hypothesis intact. Lorentz suggested that objects shrink in the direction of motion they are following, and he developed a series of equations that showed the magnitude of such a phenomenon. Lorentz actually came up with the correct equations (now known as the Lorentz transformations) but for all the wrong reasons. Einstein, who was isolated from mainstream physicists because he was in a patent office job rather than in a formal academic position, simply went against all the experts and dismissed the entire concept of the ether. He reasoned from two postulates that space and time are interconnected and derived, from first principles, all the equations proposed by Lorentz, and much more. This was the special theory of relativity. Because of his isolation and the ease of which he was willing to dismiss the physics foundations of the day, Einstein had made one of the great discoveries in the history of science.

It becomes, generally speaking, more difficult to make significant, creative contributions to a field as one ages, and there are several reasons for this. Perhaps most significant is the amount of bias one develops over time. It becomes more difficult to see outside the box and remain as open-minded as in younger days, since experience creates biases. Normally as you age, more responsibilities are placed on you, whether it is family and children or requests for lectures or performances of previous works, and there are more distractions, which can take away time for isolation. And many creative figures in certain fields may develop interests in other fields, or simply experience ‘burnout.’ Whatever the reasons for a particular individual, these are some reasons why significant contributions seem to die out after about twenty years, as suggested by Gardner.

Monday, May 23, 2005

1905 - A Year to Remember in Physics

Almost everyone knows the story. A 26-year old patent clerk, who at the time was a no-name in the world of physics, publishes five papers and revolutionizes not only physics, but the whole worldview of our place in the universe. In addition, his discoveries paved the way to a nuclear age. Albert Einstein’s 1905 was indeed special and likely unparalleled in the history of not only science, but human thought.

Consider that he laid the mathematical foundation for molecular motion (in describing Brownian motion); quantum mechanics (explaining the photoelectric effect); and revolutionizing our understanding of space and time. Oh, and he also came up with E = mc2. Each of these discoveries is worthy of scientific immortality, but Einstein wrote the articles largely in a four-month period. There are countless articles and books explaining Einstein’s science and life, so it is not my place to repeat what has already been said.

What I want to point out are a couple of science nuggets Einstein worked on that are not as well known as special and general relativity and the photoelectric effect. Two examples are stimulated emission and Bose-Einstein condensation. The theories for each of these phenomena were developed by Einstein via quantum mechanics, which is ironic since he spent a good portion of his career trying desperately to develop an alternative to Quantum mechanics and its probabilistic handling of the subatomic universe.

Stimulated Emission is the ‘se’ segment of laser, which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Einstein was able to reason (around 1917) that in certain types of systems, population inversion is possible. This means there are more atoms in an excited state than in a ground state. Photons, or ‘particles’ of light (hypothesized by Einstein in 1905 to explain the photoelectric effect), that are in the system are therefore more likely to stimulate the emission of other photons from an excited atom than to be absorbed by an atom. It turns out that a photon that is emitted by stimulated emission will have the same frequency (i.e. be the same color) and have the same phase as the original photon. This is called coherent light, and it is the reason laser light is so intense and remains focused over large distances. Presently lasers are used in everything from laser pointers to communications to price scanners to leveling tools to surgery. They are also used in a process called laser cooling, which makes use of a photon’s momentum (yes, relativity says things with no mass can have momentum!) to slow atoms to almost zero speed; this means the temperature can approach one-billionth of a Kelvin, which is nearly absolute zero!

Ultra-cold temperatures are just what the doctor ordered to make a strange state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. These gentlemen predicted back in the early 1920s that certain particles called bosons, or particles with integer values of spin, can occupy the same energy states when cooled down. Einstein and Bose made use of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (you know a theory is weird when a rule of nature is uncertainty) in quantum mechanics to reason that at very low temperatures, where motion almost ceases to exist, the momentum of the boson is well-known. The uncertainty principle states that is the momentum is well-known, the position cannot be well-known. Because quantum mechanics treats particles as waves, and waves can overlap and interfere with each other, the wave functions of the bosons are spread out and overlap, meaning we can think of multiple bosons as occupying the same volume of physical space. Think of moving your fists towards each other, and instead of hitting each other and stopping, your fists merged together and occupied the same space like a ghost’s fists might do. Sounds weird, no?! This goes against almost everything we were taught in our science classes. The trouble is this does happen. Over the past decade, as ultra-low temperatures became possible, scientists have created Bose-Einstein condensates. A possible use of this phenomenon may lie in quantum computing, but we will almost certainly see applications in the near future.

We are still testing Einstein’s theories fifty years after his death. This year has been designated the World Year in Physics to commemorate the centennial of Einstein’s big year.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

American Model of Public Schools Needs to be Kept Intact

American public education makes for an easy target for America’s woes. How often do we hear or read that American schools are in shambles, that our kids are not learning, that rather large minority student achievement gaps exist, or that we are falling behind the world in education. There is some merit to these complaints and claims, but on the flip side, like most things, there is also some good that comes from our public schools. For instance, our top science and math students can and do hold their own in international competition (last year, for example, the U.S. Physics Team won in international competition), we have the highest worker productivity in the world, record numbers of students are taking AP exams in high school, and the U.S. has one of the highest literacy rates in the world .

One aspect of our education system that is often overlooked is the amount of freedom students have, compared to students in other countries, to choose courses both in high school and college. Sure, there are graduation requirements in core subjects such as English, math, science, social studies and history. But there is also the choice of electives that we can take advantage of to pursue personal interests or to check out because of curiosity that forms a major strength of our education system. The U.S. does not presently require high-stakes testing that determines a career path or college choice. Even colleges look beyond SAT or ACT exams in a more portfolio-based admissions process.

This is not the case in other Western, industrialized nations or many Asian/Pacific nations, however. In Germany, for example, those students who will go on to the university are identified by the 4th grade year of school. The same type of national curriculum and/or exam and relatively early determination of the path an individual student is to take is done in Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan, China, Singapore, and others. The results of a single exam or impressions of academic ability at a relatively early age largely determine the future of children in those countries. As an educator, this educational model disturbs me because I have seen firsthand numerous examples of students who are highly intelligent, but have test anxiety or work slowly to ensure they are correct, and these types of students do not do as well as they should on standardized exams. I know of many other young scholars who simply did not mature intellectually until their junior or senior year of high school, or even later in college, and then they were well on their way to successful careers in technical fields. If the U.S. had a similar system in place as the other countries mentioned above, these bright minds may very well have been stuck in a lower tier school or career, and the talents and potential contributions to society they may have made would never have a chance to be realized.

With the high-stakes testing brought about by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, I do have fears of a national testing system that parallels much of Europe and Asia. Whether or not this is part of the right’s agenda, I know it would be a terrible mistake to edge closer to those other models. We need academic freedom for all students, so they may discover and learn about the areas of study they love and are competent in, even if it takes one a little longer than the average. The Harvard educator Howard Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences back in 1983, and I am a firm believer in the concept behind his theory (although I would replace the word ‘intelligence’ with ‘competency’). Whatever the language, I think each of us knows we have certain strengths in some subjects and are noticeably weaker in other areas of study. But in the U.S. we have a chance to be exposed to all areas of study throughout our school years. We have the freedom to choose whether we pursue the sciences, math, languages, athletics, the arts, or other non-academic paths after high school. We discover what our ‘intelligences’ are and then pursue them, or perhaps even work and gain experience in other areas we are weaker in. Many nations do not allow their students these same options, at least not to the same extent as American students. In my mind the American public education model, even with the obvious problems that exist, has played a significant and overlooked role in our development as a superpower, because individuals choose what paths they take rather than the state, based on some exam result (it is interesting to note that the Brits, as of this year, are beginning to allow more personalization and breadth in their high school equivalent grades, as stated in an Education White Paper, perhaps influenced by the American model). Maintaining and strengthening our public education system is therefore vital to the future of the U.S. Without it and the academic freedom built into the system, I am convinced we will run the risk of losing our status and place as a global leader.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Growing Concern of the U.S. Losing Its Science/Technology Lead

There is a growing number of articles in the popular press that are picking up on the notion the U.S. is steadily losing its once dominating lead in science and technology. Clearly numerous other nations have begun massive expansions of their own R&D budgets, most notably Asian countries such as China, India, and, for some time now, Japan.

Some indicators of our diminishing lead include a large and growing dependence on foreign graduate students to keep our research programs (especially university) running, an increasing percentage (nearly half) of U.S. patents going to foreigners, a smaller percentage of scientific publications (e.g. only 29% of articles in Physical Review in 2003, down from a peak of 61% in 1983), and fewer Nobel Prizes going to Americans in the sciences (only half since the late 1990s). There is also the usual concern about the performance of American students on international math and science exams, where we have fallen behind numerous countries. The U.S. will lose its lead in areas like high energy physics in two years, when the Europeans commission the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva (and after we scrapped the Superconducting Supercollider back in the early 1990s), and we have lost our lead in some medical research areas such as stem-cell research. While we have tens of thousands high school students participate in science fairs and science competitions, China has 3 million doing the same.

Our superpower status was developed largely on the back of our science/technology/engineering dominance. The U.S. economy has been dependent on technology for the amazing gains in productivity in manufacturing, agriculture, and energy sectors. Clearly, our military dominance is based almost entirely on our technology lead. But, as our research universities, still the envy of the world, have educated many in the rest of the world, larger percentages of foreign students have been taking their knowledge and experience back to their home countries. Again, Asian students are leading the way.

One question I have been interested in deals with whether we have a shortage of American students going into science, math, and engineering. While that has been largely assumed and discussed by academics and politicians, I came across two articles that present quantitative arguments that no such shortage exists. The arguments are based on job markets for engineers and scientists. For example, Richard Ellis and George McClure point out problems with The National Science Board’s conclusions in 2003 about the decline of the U.S. lead in science and engineering. One point is that there is a “glut” of PhDs in America, where typically hundreds of applicants try to gain small numbers of tenure-track positions in university science departments. They also point out that by 2015, there could be as many as 3 million technical jobs outsourced by American companies. Sustained unemployment among engineers and computer scientists also suggest that the talent is there, but there is no place for them to go. A second article by Michael Teitelbaum, program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a major supporter of science research, asks the question, “Do we need more scientists?” He points our similar statistics about unemployment in various science fields as well as the fact that there are other, more lucrative and attractive fields of study our best and brightest may opt for, such as legal or business professions.

Both articles cited above make valid points. Most analyses have focused on the supply of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. However, the statistics concerning the demand for scientists and engineers have been overlooked. Quite simply, if young, bright American students who are looking at the job market to try and decide on a major see tremendous outsourcing in technical fields, unemployment trends, and smaller salary potential in technical fields, they will choose other majors. This is hard to argue with. Until demand and incentive catches up with supply, the U.S. should expect to see the rest of the world continue to make gains on the U.S. lead in science and technology, if not take the lead away from the U.S. in more and more technical areas.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Scientists and Teachers Fight Back Against Attacks on Science Curricula

It is important to challenge efforts to include creationism and intelligent design in science curricula. This is taken from NSTA Express (May 10, 2005):

Teachers, Scientists Vow to Fight Challenge to Evolution
As the Kansas State Board of Education began hearings last week to determine the fate of the state’s science standards, a story in The Washington Post looked at the efforts of teachers and scientists to address the evolving tactics of intelligent design proponents who are gaining ground with their “carefully marketed theory.” According to the article, “…scientists and teachers are mobilizing to fight back, asserting that educational standards are being threatened by what they consider a stealth campaign to return creationism to public schools.” The article looks at the outcomes of various evolution battles fought by scientists and educators and notes a tactical shift to become more active in the political debate. To read The Washington Post article, go to

In a letter to the members of the Kansas State Board of Education, NSTA supports Kansas Science Education Revision Committee's Draft Two of the standards because it represents the “best practices of the National Science Education Standards and exemplifies good science.” To read the letter, go to

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Cool Site - Interactive Modern Physics

Kudos to the U. of Colorado at Boulder's Physics Department for their interactive site dealing with some modern physics topics. Check it out if you are interested in fundamental quantum mechanics and how a number of modern devices work.

Friday, May 06, 2005

New Class of Bunker-Busting Nuclear Weapons

A news brief in the science journal Nature (Nature 435, 8-9 (5 May 2005)) reports results of a study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that looked at the consequences of so-called ‘mini-nukes’ the Bush administration would like to use as bunker busting bombs. The results suggest that civilian casualties could be as high as one million, if a bomb powerful enough to destroy facilities hundreds of meters below ground was used near population centers. See Nature 423, 469; 2003 for an earlier article about the spread of radioactive material from such explosions. The NAS study suggests conventional weapons may be nearly as effective, without such devastating risks to civilians.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Electromagnetic Pulses

Zenpundit asked about electromagnetic pulse weapons and a basic description of how they work, so I hope this helps.

A growing concern relating to potential terror attacks on the U.S. is the use of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons. EMPs were first observed in the 1940’s when a variety of atomic bomb tests were conducted. In order to understand, in a very basic way, how pulses of electromagnetic radiation are created, one needs to understand that, according to classical electromagnetic theory, electromagnetic radiation (which includes microwave, radio, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma radiations) is formed when charged particles are accelerated.

When an atomic bomb detonates, for example, whole nuclei of heavy atoms such as uranium and plutonium are literally ‘blown apart,’ and large amounts of charged particles (electrons and nuclear ions) as well as photons (‘particles of light,’ or pure electromagnetic energy) are produced. The charged particles are accelerated at very high rates, creating additional photons that can have high energies in the gamma ray region. The highest intensity occurs in a very short time period, the result of which is a sudden burst of electromagnetic energy, or pulse, that radiates outward from the detonation point.

Perhaps you already have experienced a ‘mini-EMP’ during lightning storms. A lightning bolt is a stream of electrons that is accelerated down from clouds, and some times your radio or television reception is momentarily disrupted due to lower level electromagnetic radiation produced by the accelerated electron stream. This gives one an idea of the effect EMPs may have on electronic equipment and infrastructure. If a power grid, transformer substation, power lines, satellites, airplane, radio transmitter, telecommunications centers, or anything electronic is irradiated with a high energy, high intensity EMP, not only can signals be disrupted but large induced electric currents (via electromagnetic induction) can form that physically damage the circuitry of the device. Especially vulnerable are microprocessors and any sort of computer chips, which are meant to work with small electric currents. Obviously, this is an amazingly dangerous class of weapons that could cause chaos on battlefields as well as in cities. And unlike nuclear weapons, EMP devices can, in principle, be made relatively easily and cheaply.

As one may expect, much interest in EMP weaponry has existed since WWII. It has been suggested that a substantial EMP weapon could be produced with some basic materials for a price of $400, and here lies a major threat since al Qaeda and other organizations or rogue nations would be able to afford and build them in large quantities. One design that would be relatively simple to build and cheap to produce is called a flux compression generator, where a tube of explosives is placed inside a coil of copper, and a bank of charged capacitors (devices that can store electric charge) provides energy for a magnetic field. When the explosives detonate at one end of the tube, one can imagine the magnetic field being compressed out of the other end of the tube, creating the pulse. There are other types of EMP bombs and devices that have been considered. For a detailed article on EMP weaponry and their consequences, see

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Evolution is a Scientific Theory

In my previous post, I argue why Creationism and Intelligent Design are not scientific theories because there is no test or observations that provide physical evidence for the underlying foundation of those models, which is a Creator or supernatural intelligent entity. Why, then, is evolution the dominant and overwhelmingly favored scientific theory that tries to account for the development and variety of life?

Science uses physical evidence as the cornerstone of many conclusions it reaches. This may be direct evidence as well as indirect evidence, where patterns emerge that support a particular conclusion. My background, for example, is in high energy particle physics. As a member of the team at Fermilab that discovered the top quark, I can state from firsthand knowledge that I, or anyone else, have never seen a top quark! And yet we claimed discovery. To many, this may seem odd and contradictory. The way it worked in the case of the top quark was that a theory, called the Standard Model (SM), predicted that a top quark should exist (for a variety of reasons). The SM makes a series of predictions about the properties of a top quark such as what other sets of particles it can decay into (the top quark is radioactive, and spontaneously ‘dies’ and turns into other types of particles). The SM can even predict probabilities for decaying into each set of particles. The top quark lives for an incredibly short period of time before it decays, and we simply do not have the means to observe something directly for such a short period of time. What we looked for were the second and third generation particles from the original decay. Like a puzzle, those pieces were put together in various ways to see where they came from. When this was done, one has a consistent and conclusive result, along with specific mass and measurement of other properties of a particle that is unique and fits into the theory, so we were confident that it was a top quark. This result was published and scrutinized by the rest of the scientific world, and the results were confirmed at another independent experiment at Fermilab. The study of evolution, as well as many other areas of science, works in similar ways.

Over the past century and a half, literally thousands of scientists have independently studied the theory of Darwin. The main premise of evolution is that all life forms evolved from common ancestors. Billions of years ago single-celled organisms developed naturally, and over time genetic mutations transformed those organisms into new species. Evolution does not address how the first organisms formed, but rather describes a process where new species form from older species. Those that are best suited to survive in the environment survive, those who are disadvantaged perish…the ‘survival of the fittest’ concept, or natural selection. How does one test this theory? One way is to look for evidence that supports the idea of new species that resemble earlier species (ancestors), as well as evidence for an increasing variety of species over time. This evidence has been found in fossil records, and more recently in genetic patterns that suggest links between related species.

Evolution suggests that a great period of time is required for speciation to take place, and ample evidence exists that the Earth is multiple billions of years old. While some like to argue there are holes in the fossil record (but it is worth mentioning that these holes tend to fill in more and more each year as new fossils are routinely discovered around the world), the case for evolutionary principles becomes more convincing when evolution can be observed directly with modern, living organisms. No, I am not talking about seeing a man develop from apes. Instead, within relatively short periods of time one can observe many generations of shorter lived organisms such as bacteria. It is becoming apparent that antibacterial soaps lose their effectiveness over time. Why? Because the types of bacteria the soaps initially killed mutate relatively frequently and sometimes the offspring have a new genetic makeup that allows them to resist the effects of the soap. Those offspring are better fit to survive the environment, and they prosper. Before long the original species of bacteria is terminated but a new strain persists and flourishes. Think about new strains of flu and cold viruses, and so on. We are observing evolution in real time.

Of all the thousands of scientists who have done experiments and studied the stacks of evidence related to an evolutionary hypothesis, the overwhelming majority has reached the same conclusion: the principles of evolution are supported by multiple streams of data, observations, and experiments. This is the scientific process, and evolution is a grand example of a scientific theory. Creationism and intelligent design have not been supported in a similar scientific manner, and remain in the realms of religion and philosophy.

Why Creationism and Intelligent Design Do NOT Belong in the Science Classroom

Presently nineteen states are considering proposals that would require including Creationist/Intellectual Design (C/ID) models of the origin of life in high school science curricula. It is argued that these are alternative explanations of the origin of life to evolution, and therefore need to be presented side-by-side so students can choose what they believe. However, there is one serious problem with the inclusion of C/ID in a science class: C/ID are not scientific theories, and simply are not appropriate to study in a science class.

Science is a process that is used to try and understand the world around us. Scientists are child-like in the sense we ask countless questions about why and how things work the way they do. But, of course, religion and philosophy are also areas of human intellectualism that attempt to understand the world around us, so a natural question becomes how is science different? In a word, experimentation. In other words, scientists base conclusions on observations and results of controlled experiments that are repeatable by other, independent groups. Models, theories, and conclusions that cannot be tested in a way that yields direct, physical evidence that conclusions can be based on are not scientific. As a brief example, Aristotle concluded by philosophical/logical arguments that heavy objects should fall faster than light objects. This logical, intuitive conclusion makes sense to most people, and in fact that was the understanding for many hundreds of years. The problem is, the conclusion is incorrect when one actually observes the physical world. In the absence of air, a feather really does fall at the same rate as a 1-ton boulder.

Creationism and, more recently, intelligent design, argue that a Creator (God) or supernatural intelligent entity is responsible for the complexity of life, in particular human beings. In intelligent design, for example, it is argued that even a single-celled organism, let alone a human being, is so complex that it is difficult to believe that it could have developed through natural, random processes. Only something that had a plan in mind could have produced the end result. This is a perfectly valid way of thinking, and it is the simplest way to explain the complexity of life. My question is, how does one test for the existence of the intelligent, supernatural being? What experiment can one do that can produce evidence that this model is correct? Almost by definition one cannot create a controlled experiment for the existence of God or some other entity. Because of the lack of experimentation for the basic foundation of Creationism and Intelligent Design, these ‘theories’ are absolutely not scientific. These belong in a science class as much as evolution belongs in a Sunday school class.

A future post will conclude this commentary about the essence of evolution, and why those who study science overwhelmingly believe in it. As a science educator, it is important for the general public to gain a better grasp of the nature of science and why we need to try to prevent movements that attack science from making their way into science curricula.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Possibility of making mini black holes

The concept of mini black holes has been around for a number of years, thanks to work done by Steven Hawking. Scientists are now pondering the prospects of creating mini black holes in the lab, when the Large Hadron Collider is commissioned in Geneva in a few years. Tests of quantum mechanics, general relativity and perhaps even string theory's (now called M-theory) prediction of multiple, unseen dimensions, may be possible.

What lies about Iraq?

I've been frustrated by the lack of any answer to a question I have had for a long time concerning the war in Iraq. It goes back to before the U.S invaded, and deals with THE reason the American people were sold on the war. We were to disarm Saddam Hussain. Saddam had large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including a substantial nuclear program. In addition, he had direct ties to al Qaeda, and Iraq played a role in the 9/11 attacks. Remember, President Bush originally did not say we were going in to change regimes, or install democracy in the Mideast, or fight al Qaeda in Iraq rather than in America, but rather disarm Saddam. In fact, it was implied that if Saddam somehow complied with a variety of United Nations (U.N.) resolutions, Saddam would likely remain in power.

We were able to put U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground as troops were being deployed to the Iraq border. Here is where my question comes into play. The weapons inspectors, headed by Hans Blix, had checked numerous sites around Iraq, including presidential palaces and military installations. Mr. Blix reported to the media that no weapons were found at the obvious places to look, and that was not a surprise. The decision to go to war, which is the ultimate decision any president will ever make, had to be based on "our best intelligence at the time." Well, the problem with the decision, in my mind at least, that Mr. Bush made is that he and the national security team had to have known our best intelligence was questionable at best, and likely bogus. The reason I say this is because I, sitting in my living room every night watching the news, realized our intelligence was flawed. How? Because the weapons inspectors reported that they were checking flagged sites provided by various intelligence agencies, including the CIA and British intelligence services, and highly suspected sites had no WMDs (I am trying to find the exact date of an NPR interview with Hans Blix where he explicitly stated this).

In other words, if we were checking high-confidence sites provided by the CIA, and every one of those sites turned out to be free from any hint of WMD, how could the president have any confidence at all in our intelligence?
Is this why Mr. Bush rushed to war, and rushed the inspectors out well before they were finished with their mission? Because no WMDs were found, why would the president not allow inspectors to continue to check more suspected sites to try and collect convincing evidence that would justify war? It is obvious that the war was going to happen regardless of what evidence existed, and the American people were, simply stated, lied to about why our troops had to go to war with an enemy that was not in any way an imminent threat or perpetrator of 9/11.
I have posed this question to my Republican Congressman, Mark Kirk, to the White House, to local papers, to friends who are supporters of the war, and I have received no satisfactory answer at all.
At this point we need to complete the task at hand and place the Iraqis in position to try and establish the rule of law and run their country with a more or less democratic government. The Bush administration has finally found a reason, after three or four attempts, to justify the war beyond an, "oops, we were not quite correct" sort of reason. I hope this all ultimately works out for the best, so our 10,000-plus troops and the 100,000-plus Iraqis will not have died or been wounded for nothing. Of course we all want eventual peace and, ideally, democracy in the Mideast, but we cannot forget the questions stated above. We have set a dangerous precedent for going to war, and we cannot let this happen again or be lied to by our leaders when the stakes are so high.