Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Dr. Strangelove, "On Thermonuclear War," the CIA, and Nostalgia

Fred Kaplan wrote an article in the October 10th NY Times (Truth Stranger than 'Strangelove') that emphasized how closely Stanley Kubrick's 1964 movie "Dr. Strangelove" adhered to government thinking, convention, and personalities in the early 60's. According to the article, Daniel Ellsberg (a foremer RAND analyst) recently recalled that he turned to a colleague after seeing the dark comedy and said, "That was a documentary!"

The character of Dr. Strangelove supposedly represented the RAND Corporation's Dr. Herman Kahn, who wrote the disturbing insider classic "On Thermonuclear War," a huge book which I read carefully when I was 13-years-old, specifically because it was so vociferously denounced by liberals of all sorts at the time.

Kahn's sin was to discuss nuclear war in prosaic terms, to imagine how it could be survived, and how victory could be achieved even after millions die: dangerous thoughts with such potent weapons!

When I interviewed for a position with the CIA in 1987, I was unprepared for my emotional reaction. I wondered whether I would be mad, in a proper liberal way, at the secretive power of the company, or bedazzled by the cutting-edge technology, but none of that happened. Instead, I was overwhelmed with wave after wave of nostalgia. All the things that would make my teenage self swoon with delight were at last nearly within reach. Details of the Soviet war machine, and ours. Rockets and bombs. Telecommunications and satellites. Code speak and indecipherable runes. And yet that was all my old, teenage self.

I remember listening in the darkness to a lone frog croaking in a tiny, drought-stricken rivulet that flowed past a car dealership in Tyson's Corners, Virginia, as I struggled after the interview with the decision whether or not to join the company. I decided that Gorbachev's recent overtures to the U.S. probably spoke poorly for the CIA's immediate future. The CIA would become less, not more, influential with time, as detente waxed and as we all learned to get along.

I didn't know the half of it! The unanticipated collapse of the Soviet Union (unanticipated by most, that is, except by a few imaginative Soviet dissidents) practically derailed the agency. The current vicious policy struggles with the Pentagon threaten to make the CIA irrelevant: the Pentagon is bigger and badder than ever today. Cheney and Wolfowitz and Perle and Rumsfeld and Cambone encroach on the agency's power, and the CIA is forced into drastic black-bag jobs to expose Pentagon-supported traitors like Ahmed Chalabi. In a way, I'm glad I didn't join after all. Nostalgia doesn't extend all the way back to Roman Empire-like backstabbing and degeneration ('Sutsugua' indeed!)

Still, I can remember my first reaction as a ten-year-old to "Dr. Strangelove." As I recall, it was the Saturday Night Movie on NBC television in 1966, and I tuned in late. I gathered that it was a drama, in the manner of the tragic nuclear-war movie "Fail Safe," which had aired a few weeks prior, but I slowly noticed an unwanted, disturbing satirical edge. I remember protesting, "Wait! This isn't funny! What do they think they are doing? 'There won't be any fighting in the War Room': don't they realize some people will laugh at that?"

And yet it got funnier and funnier, and even I started chuckling after a while (and is that Peter Sellers? I thought the other guy was Peter Sellers?)

This is not, I repeat NOT, funny! Nostalgic, maybe. But NOT funny!

What a waste of federal scientific funding!
Electoral Forecasts - the Blogosphere Speaks

(from Fafblog)

Earlier I was talkin with swing statologist Dr. Brian Brainologist about the swing state of Iowa. You can tell he's an expert on accounta his real plush chair in his real leathery library!"

Whoever wins Iowa will win this election, period," says Brian Brainologist. "Without a doubt." But surely Dr. Brainologist is exaggeratin because there is also Florida an Pennsylvania an Michigan an Colorado an - "No, Fafnir, those states won't matter," says Dr. Brainologist. "It will all come down to Iowa. All of it. All of it, Iowa." Well, that is an important point I suppose an Dr. Brainologist does have a very large brain so - "NOTHING MATTERS BUT IOWA. ALL IOWA. ALL. IOWA. ALLLLLLL."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Electoral Forecasts, Cheap

OK, here are the numbers you have been waiting for. My call on the presidential race is, for the first time, moving to the right of the decimal point. The final popular vote will be:

Kerry 49.8%
Bush 49.2%

This will be valid whether or not Bush attempts a pre-election surprise. In all likelihood bin Laden has been dead for some time and al Zarqawi will not be taken alive (besides, he doesn't have the same level of significance of bin Laden). The surrender of insurgents in Fallujah could happen but again without effect. I fully expect al Qaida or offshoot groups to attempt a major terrorist attack in the days before the election but it is highly unlikely to be on American soil. A bombing of an embassy in a third world country or an anti-aircraft missile attack on a civilian airliner, again in a third world country, would be the most probable scenario. But an airliner with a few Americans or Israelis going down in, say, Egypt would not be a big event for most Americans (how much attention have people paid to the terrorist attacks last week on Israeli tourists in Egypt?).

So there is my prediction. Have the champagne ready on election night, though with the closeness of the race it may not be decided immediately (Bush is mobilizing forces to make sure republicans will use any trick necessary to win in close states). But in spite of that effort I remain confident of a Kerry victory.

Good shot! I tend to be a bit more optimistic. I say Kerry 50%; Bush 48%; Nader, Badnarik and others 2%. Kerry gets 325 electoral votes (winning NM, NV, MO, OH, FL, WI, MN, ME and WV), and Bush gets 213 electoral votes (winning IA, VA, NC and all of CO). Very similar to your prediction: a very close race, but Kerry gets the turnout edge.

Myself, I don't think Al Qaeda is interested in particular in a pre-election surprise. They don't need any excuse to continue to do the things they do. Their eyes are on the bigger prize: a clash of civilizations! I doubt they have the same sensation of Gotterdamerung we have, with this particular election. They are looking for Crusaders, man!

Actually, I've noticed a pre-election calm settling in. Very little newsworthy is happening. That is probably a bad sign of things to come. Karl Rove must be busy.
Is This What Gets Me To Finally Visit Europe?

Sure looks tempting. Tickets look awfully cheap too, but there is the air fare and hotel to worry about.....

Kylie will play her biggest ever tour next year to follow the release of her first comprehensive greatest hits package “Ultimate Kylie”, which is released this year on Nov 22. The European leg of the tour, entitled "Kylie Showgirl; the Greatest Hits tour" will open in Scotland in March, will then move to continental Europe, and return to the UK in April, ending in London at Earls Court in May.


Tickets are £37.50 for all dates. £32.50 tickets will also be available for the Earls Court show. They are limited to 6 per person.

Kylie will play the following UK dates:

MARCH 19 GLASGOW SECC (0870 040 4000)

APRIL 19 BIRMINGHAM NEC (0870 909 4133)


MAY 2 LONDON, EARLS COURT (0870 160 8989)

24 HOUR TICKET HOTLINE 0870 735 5000 and credit card bookings are subject to booking fee) Stay tuned to for the all the latest tour news!

'Twas the night before Frances

Florida humor, courtesy of Dwight in Tampa:

'Twas the night before Frances
When all through the state
Not a gas pump was pumping
Not a store open late

All the plywood was hung
On the windows with care
Knowing that a hurricane
Soon would be there

The children were ready
With flashlights in hand
While bands from the hurricane
Covered over the land

And mamma with her Mag-Lite
And I in my cap
Had just filled the bath tub
For flushing our crap

When out on the lawn
There arose such a clatter
I sprang from the closet
To see what was the matter

The trees on the fence
And the neighbor's roof torn
Gave the fear of us dying
In this terrible storm

With a little wind gust
So lively and quick
I remembered quite clearly
Our walls weren't brick

More rapid than eagles
Her courses they came
And she whistled, and wafted
And surged all the same

Off shingles! Off sidings!
Off rooftops! Off power!
Down trees! Down fences!
Down trailers! Down towers!

In the center of Florida
She continued to maul
Screaming Blow Away!
Blow Away! Blow Away All!

As wind ripped and tossed
The debris through the sky
I peeked out the shutters
At cars floating by

So go to the safe-room
My family did do
With a portable radio
And batteries too

And then, in a twinkling
I heard on the set
The end was not coming
For a few hours yet!

As I calmed down the kids
And was turning around
Through the window it came
With a huge crashing sound

A tree branch it was
All covered in soot
The wind blew it smack-dab
On top of my foot

A bundle of twigs
Now lay in a stack
And my living room looks
Like it was under attack

The wind - how it howled!
The storm - very scary!
Myself and the family
Were all too unwary

The dangers of hurricanes
Are serious, you know
They are taken for granted
As Frances did show

With the winds dying down
And the danger beneath
I noticed my tool shed
Was missing its sheath

So I grabbed my last tarp
And nailed it on down
Then I got in my car
And I headed to town

The traffic was awful
And stores had no ice
My five gallon cooler
Would have to suffice

Generators were scarce
Not one left in town
There were trees on the roads
And power lines down

FEMA was ready
With people to work
Electrical companies
Came in from New York

And in the midst of
This peculiar routine
Another storm emerged
Named Hurricane Jeanne

I sprang to the car
And gave my family a whistle
Then away we all went
Like a Tomahawk missile

You could hear us exclaim
As we drove out of sight
"The hell with this place,
Vermont seems just right!"

(author unknown)
Cave Art

It's nice to see the canvas of history, even before it is filled. Backstage at the Eagle Theater in Old Sacramento, and in the back stairwell, like Cro Magnon shamans in a Holocene cavern, musical theater afficionados have scrawled their signatures and graffiti everywhere over the years. The signatures are fun to read, and many of them were made by acquaintances and friends (e.g. Dena Lozano, Kathleen Reilley, Kris David, Kathy Davi, etc.) The signatures seem to date from 1992 forwards, with many from 1999-2000: Runaway Stage's last season there. I like the pair: "Dignity, Always Dignity," (director John Lee) and "Dance Belts, Always Dance Belts," (Pedro the Sparrow).

DMTC will have its Kid's Wall, Lobby Waterfall, and Name-A-Seats, but I wonder if there will also be a less-formal commemorative wall somewhere, for a new generation of musical theater shamans?

This afternoon, I deposited DMTC's weekend take at Bank of America, and crossed the street to eat lunch at the Alhambra & K St. 'Del Taco.' There was no line at the counter, so I was able to quickly order and then take a seat at a small table in the dining area. Even before I could unfold and start reading today's Wall Street Journal, however, the order was ready. So fast! Apparently the fast food crew had been idle: the rainy afternoon must have scared off the normal, fairly scruffy 'Del Taco' clientele.

I picked up my order, sat down, started reading and eating, and fell into my usual, bovine lunchtime oblivion, caught up in the latest Wall St. insurance scandal, John Kerry's understanding of terrorism, and half a dozen other pertinent issues of the day. Two young African-Americans, a man and a woman, stood near my table. The man suddenly announced: "Paramedics are here!"

I looked up, and EMTs were swarming into the restaurant. A fire truck and an ambulance had materialized in the parking lot, where seconds before there had been none. The woman asked the man, "Did you call 911?" The man nodded yes, and she put her hand up over her mouth, as if to suppress laughter - maybe absurd laughter about the size of the official response??? Meanwhile, I'm sitting there with a stupid smile on my face, suddenly distracted from the pressing issue of inadequate help for the developmentally-disabled in poor counties in Ohio, and thinking: "What the HELL is going on?"

I looked left, and clearly visible just fifteen feet from my table, a man, perhaps homeless, lay on the floor. He had apparently been there the entire time, in some kind of acute distress, but in my food and information frenzy, I had somehow utterly failed to notice him.

The paramedics propped up the man, quizzed him, and ultimately decided to take him to the hospital. I guess it wasn't just the weather that had spooked the clientele, but I had been grateful for the short line at the counter, and never considered other possibilities.

I'm still startled about how little attention I had paid to my immediate surroundings. How many other things happen all the time, right under my nose, that I somehow completely miss? I feel like a grazing dinosaur in a tropical Cretaceous world, not noticing the approaching asteroid, even as it obscures the sun and scatters the birds....

Monday, October 18, 2004

Strange News Items

Bobby Fischer both boasts, and worries, about his manhood.
Beware of giving your money to polka band leaders.
The way Bush and Company mislead and lie.