Monday, May 5, 2014


Humankind provides an encouraging track record of visionaries vindicated by posterity, prescient thinkers proclaiming beliefs which, over the passage of time, are ultimately accepted as correct.

“Some day people will know that the earth revolves around the sun.”

“Some day people will come to realize that germs, unseeable to the naked eye, are the cause of many of our illnesses.”

“Some day network executives will learn that writers will pass up enormous paydays in favor of working on delivery platforms that will allow them to make their shows exactly as they imagined them.”

All these and many other prescient predictions as well eventually came to pass.  (There are no “Network Notes” when you are making webisodes for telephones.)  It took a while in some cases, and in the interim, many visionaries suffered heartbreak, ostracism and burning at the stake.

RELIGIOUS “HERETIC”:  “I’d have killed for just ostracism.” 

But eventually, the sun came out and the truth was illuminated from the darkness.  Or a metaphor that’s considerably more artful.

During the eighties, I identified with these intrepid “Truth Tellers”, expressing an opinion that got me not ostracized, but derived or even worse ignored, “even worse” because when you’re derided, at least you are being acknowledged as an insufferable pain in the ass rather than being treated as if you were invisible.  Though, albeit a step up, that is unlikely to keep you from therapy.

Here’s what I was derided about.  Starting in the early 1960’s, there began to be a drumbeat of concern about nuclear weaponry.  It all started with Hiroshima – “We got one, and we’re using it.”  Then the Soviet Union got one and, though you didn’t hear it, a starter pistol had been fired, and the nuclear “Arms Race” was off and running.

From then on, it was a hop-skip-and-a-jump (where are all these “Track and Field” references coming from?) to furious debates about a “Missile Gap” – who had more missiles that could blow up the world – or at least our half of it followed almost immediately by their half of it, or vice versa, depending on who pressed the button first. 

Presidential elections in those days hung on which candidate could more persuasively assure us that they would never let us ‘lose the ‘Missile Gap.’”  We were assured that if they made more, we would make more.  So there was nothing to worry about. 

Except somebody using them.

I thought about all that.  Though not a scientist, I was aware – because I was not entirely stupid – that, to protect itself, a country did not need something like eleven thousand (a number that sticks in my head) nuclear missiles.  You really only needed one.  Maybe a couple for “back-up” in case the original one, for some reason, was unable to be fired.

“We’re a Jewish missile, and it’s Saturday.”

That’s silly, but you know what I mean.  You always need a spare set of keys.

But did you really need ten thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine of them?

It came to mind, “Those missiles are expensive.  And we are producing a lot more of them than we are ever going to use.”  Why did we need so many?  One from them, one from us – or one from us and one from them – and Boom! – an event for which the word “smithereens” was waiting to be used. 

The only good thing to emerge from that situation was Dr. Strangelove, a transcendent movie but you wouldn’t want to be there.

The thing is, they kept “hucking” us about that “Missile Gap” – “they” being saber-rattling politicians goaded by companies that made missiles and sold them to the government, because who else was going to buy them?

REGULAR PERSON:  “I’d have to build a silo.”  

We had a certain number of missiles; they had a certain number of missiles, those numbers apparently confirmed by – I don’t know; they didn’t have satellites back then, so I guess spy planes taking aerial photographs and our spies or their spies sneaking into missile places and counting them by hand.

It appeared to me that we had way more missiles than we could actually use, the minimum number of which was likely one.  It seemed like stockpiling eleven thousand of them was being overly cautious, like a guy wearing a pair of suspenders and eleven thousand belts.  How bad were we worried about being caught with our pants down?

To save money – and I assumed the U.S. government is interested in saving money but I could be wrong about that – the Defense Department only needed to order a handful of actual working missiles, and the rest of them – the ones being counted by our enemies – could easily be made out of cardboard.

Okay, not cardboard – in case the spies on the ground went up to them and said, “This looks like corrugated paper” – but from a material that, to the educated eye, appeared to be an actual missile. 

The advantages here are obvious.  Cost reduction.  And you didn’t need to spend countless “Man Hours” guaranteeing that every missile was going to work. 

You don’t need eleven thousand real missiles because you are only going to use, at most, a couple of them.  And if you’re not going to use them all, then they don’t all actually have to work.

Let our enemies count them to their heart’s content.  We are not going broke making unnecessary missiles.  If the only issue is the number, why not fool them into thinking we have way more missiles than we actually do.

I have stood by that argument for a number of decades.  And in all that time, I do not believe anyone I explained it to has ever once agreed with me.  Normally, I get stares.  Sometimes, I get crossed off “Invitation Lists” for parties I am already attending.  I guess that’s for next time.

PARTY GIVER:  “I do not want that ‘cardboard missile’ guy in my house ever again!             

Finally, the point.

I am listening to 1775 by Kevin Phillips.  They are gearing up for the Revolutionary War.  The revolutionaries have nowhere near enough gunpowder.  In fact, a lot of the early battles were lost because the Continental Army simply ran out of bullets, and consequently – wisely – ran away.

REVOLUTIONARY:  “What were we going to shoot them with?” 

The book then exposes an ingenious subterfuge.

Get this, skeptics and naysayers.

In their arsenals, the Revolutionaries filled hundreds of barrels with sand, to fool the British spies into thinking they had more gunpowder than they actually did!

Normally, visionaries are vindicated by future history.

Yours truly?

Vindicated by the past.

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