Friday, December 17, 2004

Another Fart in a Whirlwind

An expensive fart, an eighty-five million dollar fart in a whirlwind no one needs. The Star Wars test suffered an ‘anomaly’ which my dictionary defines as a ‘deviation from the normal.’ But that can’t be true because normal in this program is failure.

Star Wars wasn’t needed when conceived nearly twenty years ago in a world that still had a viable cold war, mainly because the Russians, who were our only possible nuclear foe at that moment, could easily have overwhelmed Reagan’s dream with multiple warheads.

Then of course the wheels came off the Soviet threat and walls and curtains came a tumbling down, much to the chagrin of our fat-cat defense contractors who had just begun to smell the bacon frying. A dead issue, a stillbirth. Regrettable, but so it goes and Lockheed and Raytheon would just have to find (or wait for) another pork barrel.

If Star Wars had been a Broadway show . . . but then, who can ever tell?  

No script could have foreseen George W., who was at the time contentedly cleaning up Texas’s death row, simultaneously losing an election and declared winner by a Supreme Court embarrassing itself in a decision to which it wouldn’t even sign its name. The most wild-dramaturgy dared not cast Rummy as his secretary of defense, dreaming dreams of an American domination of the earth from space. Gadzooks, a scripting like that would have to reach for characterization all the way back to the Nixon and Ford administrations and that’s surely too long a reach into far too murky a history. Even in the extreme unlikelihood of such events unspooling themselves it would take a catalyst of enormous proportion to reprise Star Wars . . . and how could that possibly happen? What deus ex machina would suffice? An attack on New York by some shadowy terrorist group? Nah. An attack so egregious, so profoundly stunning and elegantly staged as to galvanize the entire country? Not possible and certainly not believable in terms of fictive stagecraft.

Ah well, there’s no business like show business.

The above scenario fell into place and Star Wars planned its opening, a dazzler financed by the above-mentioned Lockheed-Raytheon combine. But a funny thing happened at the out-of-town tryouts. The damned interceptor missiles kept missing the incomers, even though the trials were carefully scripted and the screwups just kept happening as billions dribbled out the windows of opportunity.

What to do? Make Rummy confess that it’s not really about a shield? That the actual purpose is to develop technology to dominate space? That Dr. Strangelove is reprised as well, with Rummy in the Peter Sellers role?

The newspapers speculate that this most recent failure (the interceptor missile refusing to come out and petulantly sulking in its silo) may spark renewed debate in the congress concerning the viability of the program. But which program? The purported one that promises a shield from North Korea’s creaky ICBMs or the covert one that forebodes world domination from space? At this telling they’re both pretty shaky concepts, but it would be nice to at least call the failed research by a proper name. As for congressional ‘debate,’ Senators are still trying to sputter over the controversial stealth satellite program by another name when they raise hell about cost/benefit ratios.  It’s against the law to name it. Can you believe that? Sigh. You probably can.

But this latest fiasco simply can’t be a missile shield. There’s no one out there capable of hitting us with a nuclear tipped missile. Sure, there could be and quite possibly will be a nuclear incident where the delivery vehicle is a canoe or a backpack or ice cream truck and then wouldn’t it be nice to be able to zap the offenders from outer space instead of mounting another messy invasion?

Unless of course the canoe or backpack or ice cream truck was Saudi.

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