For those of you who have no opinions of your own, I invite you to adopt mine.
DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The director of the CIA has been sent on a diplomatic mission to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Where is the Department of State? I'm afraid this sends the message to governments around the world that it's the CIA that's running our foreign policy.
I've heard the pilot of our spy plane in China called a hero on the news. My cousin, a former F4 pilot in Vietnam, says he should be disciplined for not ditching the plane in the South China Sea. As he points out, that would have been standard procedure; and once the plane was under control the chances of the crew bailing out safely and being picked up by the navy were nearly a hundred percent.
And how is it that Wong Wei's state-of-the-art jet fighter was rammed by our 40-year-old turboprop? Seems to me any modern fighter that wanted to avoid being rammed could have done just done that. And would Wong Wei (Feldman) have intentionally rammed the aircraft of the pilots with whom he had become friendly? Remember he had been flashing them his e-mail address.
The facts as presented once again just don't fit together. I think we need a new interpretation, so here goes: If you wanted to give our new global rivals a big pile of bad intelligence regarding our eavesdropping abilities, how would you do it? I'd load up an old plane full of crappy gear and let it fall into their hands. Make it look good. Get a friendly foreign pilot, with whom you've established e-mail contact, to bump your plane. He dives into a cloud and bails out. A waiting sub picks him up. He goes to San Diego and picks up his new identity. The plane full of bad gear lands in China, where it's dismantled and copied. Big phony international diplomatic incident.
So what would I have put in that plane on those hard drives? Personal dirt on the leadership for sure. Intercepted phone calls to mistresses. Anything one of them might use to blackmail another. Make sure their mutal mistrust is well-earned. Every computer component would have some achilles heel built in, in hopes that the Chinese are going to copy it without taking the time to understand every little circuit and run it straight into service. Maybe each processor contains some clipper chip components that will allow us to hear what they're hearing.
On the other hand I might be just a dupe of the CIA, writing this to try to confuse the Chinese and make them suspicious of their intelligence windfall.
THE WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL
I'm the only one in the country that's against this thing. I learned that the example set by the WWII generation was that doing the right thing is its own reward, and that free men fight tyranny not for recognition or parades or memorials, but because it's the thing to do.
The fact that there was no official memorial to the generation that made the greatest sacrifice was testament to their nobility. The construction of a gaudy doo dad on the mall cheapens the principles that mobilized the country against fascism.
Two things bother me about nuclear energy:
1) It creates the most poisonous material known to man.
2) People who are in favor of it pronounce it NOO-kya-lur. Would you let a thoratic sturgeon give you a cataract bypass operation?
STRATEGIC MISSILE DEFENSE
I'll bet George W. is the only Republican who sincerely believes in this fairy tale. The rest of them know that SDI is a way to create a whole lot of defense programs that are classified highly enough so that the money doesn't have to be accounted for. People who fear the critical moment when the "impervious missile shield" is switched on need not worry. It ain't going to happen. All that money is just going to go away and you're not going to know how it's spent.
RTJ -- 6/10/2001
HONORS AND AWARDS
Honors and awards are tokens used by self-appointed authorities to reward and encourage certain kinds of behavior and express approval. If you accept an award you legitimize that body's authority to judge you and your colleagues and your profession. This goes for everything from cub scout arrow points to Emmys and Oscars to the Nobel Prize.
Twelve years ago I submitted a screenplay for consideration for a WGAe Foundation Fellowship. The screenplay, titled "Hatchie Bottom," was not only a piece of garbage, it was a first draft of a piece of garbage and I knew it. I sent it in because I had the form and an extra copy. It was a case of either mailing it away or throwing it away. Well, I'll be a son of a gun! I was awarded a fellowship. Craig Fisher at the Writer's Guild of America in NYC sent me a check for something like two thousand bucks. If the professionals at the Writers' Guild can't tell good writing from bad, what is any award worth? Accolades are a crap shoot. Disapproval is arbitrary. Who can give praise or criticism that you can believe?
I'll never know, but I'll always suspect that my award resulted from complaints that so many awards had previously gone to writers in New York and California. They were probably eager to fund any submission at all from flyover country. I was likely the beneficiary of affirmative action. I got the same resume credit as the guy with talent who was really trying. In fact, some hardworking talented undiscovered writer probably skipped some meals because I got the grant that he deserved. I bought a set of golf clubs.
Don't seek awards. They're just not meaningful and they put you under the condrol of people who bestow awards.
TALK SHOWS AND BROADWAY MUSICALS
Television talk shows and classic Broadway musicals share the following characteristics:
1) At predictable intervals the action stops and somebody sings a song.
2) The progression of the evening's entertainment is determined by a rigid, contrived and traditional structure that has evolved through decades of trial and error.
3) Being "on" at eleven o'clock is preferable to being "on" at any other time.
4) We suspend our expectations of reality and of truth in favor of the art form's internal reality. Everybody is pretending to be unrealistically enthusiastic, friendly and happy. In the course of normal daily contact we'd find the behavior strange, but we accept it as one of a set of artistic conventions which comprise the form. The host always compliments the guest's movie even though most of them suck and the host probably does a lot of fast forwarding if he watches the film at all. We accept "viewing the clip" and "the long commercial break before the musical guest" and "biggest star first" within the talk show format just as we expect "boy meets girl" and "finale with entire cast" and "happy ending" in each classic musical.
TALK SHOWS IN GENERAL
You know you've made it in the entertainment business when you can no longer be forced to go on a talk show. The big stars just don't do talk shows, and they're the only ones who can do what they want, so doing talk shows must be unpleasant. Lower echelon entertainers don't do talk shows unless they are selling a book or a movie. They disappear at all other times. The only people who deliberately try to get on talk shows are undiscovered comedians and musicians, who have their material all ready and will not be required to face the host. The other class of people who seek out spots on talk shows are those that appear on Jerry Springer and Howard Stern.
Is it my imagination, or are the musical interludes between the jokes in Jay's monologue getting longer and longer, and has Jay begun to repeat the punch lines two or three times? There's an awful lot of talking and music filling empty space between jokes.
Notice next time Jay Leno introduces an attractive female guest who is wearing a short skirt and high heels. As she sits and crosses her legs, he'll take a sip of water and peer at her legs over the rim of his coffee mug. He doesn't do that as male guests sit, but if Leah Thompson trots out in heels and hose, Jay stares like a bird dog. (Takes one to know one, eh?) Once you notice, it's plenty obvious.
In the Star Trek universe, the Klingons are supposed to be the butt-kicking badasses of the galaxy, but in hundreds of episodes and movies I don't recall them ever winning a military engagement of any consequence.
All game fish are aggressive predators. It is their aggression that allows them to be caught. People are the same way. Aggressive people are so proud of the trait that they can't imagine a circumstance in which aggressive behavior would make them vulnerable.
CONSUMER MIRACLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED #1:THE PLASTIC SODA BOTTLE
It costs almost nothing. It weighs almost nothing. It can withstand any temperature and pressure extreme a person can tolerate. It can be sterilized and reused and sealed air tight and it's damn near indestructible. Can you imagine how many hundreds of pounds of oak barrels Columbus had to carry just to have water for his Atlantic crossing. I'm sure he would have liked to trade a couple hundred pounds of oak for a couple hundred pounds of oranges and salt pork, not to mention the extra goods he could have carried back on the return trip.
CONSUMER MIRACLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED #2: THE DIGITAL WATCH
For ten bucks you can get a watch that you never have to wind and won't gain or lose ten minutes a year and you can drag it through the mud and rinse it off with a garden hose. Forty years ago that kind of accuracy would have cost you a month's pay, and such a watch would require frequent mechanical attention and would be so delicate that you'd only wear it on special occasions.
CONSUMER MIRACLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED #3: CUBIC ZIRCONIUM
This manmade gemstone has more flash than a diamond and is within a hair of being just as hard. Cultured people sneer at it for no reason other than its price tag. Thirty years ago you'd have to be rich to buy a stone approaching the quality of a forty dollar CZ. Today even the most modest income can afford some flashy doo dads that in the past would have impressed kings, emperors, pharohs and potentates.
CONSUMER MIRACLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED #4: FIRST CLASS STAMP
Somebody will come to your door and hand deliver a letter up to one ounce to the door of anybody in the country that you specify for less than forty cents. Not only that, somebody will drop by every day without charge just to see if you need their services. That's the best deal in history.
ARMIES OF CLONE SOLDIERS
It's a stupid idea, but I'll bet a thousand dollars that within ten years some idiot will give it a try. How can I be so sure? Because the world is full of idiots and some of them have money.
Why do I think it's a stupid idea? Lots of reasons. Here they are:
1) The lead time on a clone army is twenty years. By the time those embryos are ready for the battlefield, Sadam or Muammar will have changed their minds about the kinds of soldiers they want cloned. The political and military situations will have changed entirely. Suppose back in the 1970's the US had begun a clone regiment expecting them to be useful in a war against Russia or North Korea. They would have made their clones out of people adapted to cold and snow and ice. Unfortunately, when they would have come into service, the cold war was over and our fight was in the deserts of the middle east.
2) Do you really want an army of identical soldiers? If you start an army of a hundred thousand soldiers and long about age twelve you discover that one has asthma attacks triggered by the exhaust fumes of the latest fighting vehicles, all the clones will have that same latent weakness. Another thing to consider on the subject of identiticalness is personality. I'm sure Jesse Ventura was a valuable asset to his SEAL unit, but do you think his company commander would like to be in charge of two hundred Jesse Venturas? Would they all want to go into politics after their term of service? What's going to happen when they all simultaneously reach those rebellious teenage years?
3) They're clones, not robots. They're regular people and there's no reason to expect them to be obedient or grateful regarding the circumstances of their creation or loyal to the power that created them. Lots of these ideal soldiers might decide to use their talents in other fields or in opposition to the prevailing power. For instance, if you clone ten Saddam Husseins, they're going to kill each other off and the survivor will go after the original.
RTJ -- 8/1/2001
I read the first book, but haven't seen the movie. The pivotal plot element of Hagrid's dragon egg should have been introduced earlier in the story. As it is, it seems like an afterthought.
I got an entirely different solution to Hermione's logic problem with the potions.
I'll bet those televangelists are glad to see Harry Potter come around. They were having a hard time selling Barney the Dinosaur as the antichrist and the Teletubbies as corruptors of youth.
Many of the story elements in book one are held in common with the first Star Wars movie. Harry and Luke are both orphan children of noble parents, raised by abusive relatives, extracted from that situation to recieve magical training to do battle with the forces that orphaned them. These story elements occur throughout literature. The fact that they are so often used (check the stories of Jesus, Moses, Joseph and others in the Bible) suggests that they satisfy some universal craving in the human psyche.
While Harry Potter is a well-told and entertaining story, it's just the latest in a series of retellings. Rowling found a new way to push the old buttons. Of course, when was the last time anybody came up with anything truly original?
I'm amazed at the marketing juice behind this thing.
WAR IS GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY
False. We tend to believe it because the two world wars were good for the American economy. Those wars were very bad for the economies of the countries that participated most. Remember that the U.S. entered WWI a few months before the war ended. All the other countries had been fighting for four years, and even the winners were hurting.
America's active participation in WWII started a couple of weeks before 1942. The rest of Europe and Africa and Asia had been at war since 1936 with the Spanish Civil War and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. There were battles in the Pacific and North Africa and Italy, but was 1944 before we put troops into northern Europe. The emergence of America as a superpower is due to the fact that we avoided the fighting and sold weapons to the combatants. According to Hollywood, the U.S. fought the axis by itself, but the U.S. was a lesser player in World War II.
THE MYSTERY OF INTELLIGENCE
If you and I met on the street, within thirty seconds we could size one another up as to which one of us is stronger, richer or more attractive. I could tell by the thickness of your arms, your posture, the depth of your chest, your car, your haircut, the tone of your voice. There would be no need for a contest. You wouldn't have to see my bank account. Who's richer we could tell. Who's stronger we could tell. Who's better looking we could figure pretty closesly.
If I'm smarter than you, you're never going to know it. I've never known anybody who thought he wasn't the smartest guy in the room. If you're a janitor at an MIT faculty meeting, you're telling yourself, "Oh, sure, they've got BOOK smarts, but I've got PEOPLE smarts and STREET smarts."
Take for example President Clinton, Rhodes Scholar, bona fide 140+ IQ on standard tests. I've personally witnessed his being called an idiot by people who are confused by the menu at Subway.
Want to argue about it? Send me mail.