The Hoax of AI

Sam Altman, during an interview on “Hard Fork” with Casey Newton and Kevin Roose, said something so enormously significant and shocking that I absolutely believe most people will pay no attention it.

What he said was “there had to be guard rails”.  He elaborated somewhat: there had to be rules.  The programs at OpenAI, as his direction, were incorporating algorithms that would prevent people from obtaining specific results of a specified character or substance from OpenAI products.

I cannot emphasize enough just how significant this remark is, and how at odds it is with the popular understanding of AI.

The calling card of AI is supposed to be “intelligence”– artificial.  But no real intelligence–by definition– needs to be told what to think.  And no real intelligence would think Nazism, for example, was a good idea.  But Sam Altman and his cohorts have discovered that they can’t be too sure that, in response to a question like  what is the best political party, ChatGPT won’t come back with “National Socialism”.   Who knows?  Maybe ChatGPT will be impressed with the way Germany rebounded from the Depression under Hitler.  Maybe it will weigh the value of military might against public peace and good order and decide the advantages of invading Poland outweigh the value of international law.

And ChatGPT really was providing some people with some rather questionable suggestions.  Sam Altman and his staff decided to tell ChatGPT not to do that.   Presumably, there are lots of other guardrails too.  Altman openly acknowledged that sexual content was an issue.

Here’s the crux of the matter:  if OpenAI programmers are controlling what conclusions AI can offer you in response to your queries, then it is not AI.  It is an algorithm that reflects the prejudices, presuppositions, and assumptions of its programmers.

Oh, it’s a fabulous algorithm.  Yes, it can compose essays, write stories in the style of well-known authors, create funny images.  But, like the algorithms that play chess, it can only do what its makers have designed it do.  It cannot, on it’s own, come up with an actual original idea.  The chess algorithms study all of the chess games it can find, follows an algorithm that tells it what “winning” is, and employs the stratagems that most often resulted in success in the games it has ingested.  That’s all.  It’s not magical.  It’s not scary.  What is scary is the public believing that it is magical.  That it is “conscious”.  That it is “intelligence”.

In response to an intelligent question about whether OpenAI is really nothing more than a database writ large– a very, very massive and fast data base application, Altman did not — as partisans of AI should have expected– immediately dismiss the argument with cogent, compelling examples of how AI is not just a massive database.  Instead, he mumbled something about how  that wasn’t really fair, and how people just loved AI no matter what– even more so around the world than the U.S. and how he hoped it would do more than just aggregate data.

It’s like responding to artistic criticism of Taylor Swift’s actual talents with, “look at how popular she is” and “well, how many records did you sell last year”.

Is OpenAI going to be the Segway of the 2020’s?



Ransacking the Graves of Dead Beatles

You may have heard that a “new” Beatles single has been produced, featuring the dead Beatles along with the expired ones,  McCartney and Starr.  It’s a song called: “Now and Then”.  You can watch it if you want.  I won’t.

The idea of ransacking the identities of deceased artists is kind of repellent– they can’t consent, of course, and they can’t, in turn, ransack the identities of those who now exploit them because they’re dead.  I don’t know if there is a way to make this illegal when their own families (of the dead artists) are still trying to cash in on long-expired relevance but I wish they could.  I wish that an artist could, in his will, express his solemn wish that no one could use a technology that hasn’t been invented yet to, in the future, create an artificial replica of his body or voice and use it to make money.

I really wish they could.

Next: a duet with Janis Joplin and Elvis Presley? Buddy Holly and Cass Elliot? A guitar duel between Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson?  It is coming.  It is absolutely coming.

It does McCartney’s and Starr’s reputations no good.  Reputations are earned by production: give us a new song that is really worth listening to.  That’s something neither of them have done in 40 years.  In desperation, they exploit the memories of Harrison and Lennon.  Sure, the families consent: they want the money.

If Lennon were alive, I’m sure he’d have something acerbic to say about the very idea.  I think is very likely he would find the very idea repugnant.



Worried About the New Dylan Biopic

“It’s such an amazing time in American culture and the story of a young, 19-year-old Bob Dylan coming to New York with like two dollars in his pocket and becoming a worldwide sensation within three years — first being embraced into the family of folk music in New York and then, of course, kind of outrunning them at a certain point as his star rises so beyond belief,” Mangold said. “It’s such an interesting true story and about such an interesting moment in the American scene.”  Indiewire

And becoming “a worldwide sensation”?  Like, a star?  A celebrity?

That’s a pretty disturbing comment to hear from a director preparing to make a movie about the most provocative, original, and compelling singer-songwriter of his era.

It’s a great story because he became rich and famous?  That’s the American dream!  Soon, he is wearing the clothes that stars wear and eating in restaurants frequented by Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger!

I am not a fan of Timothy Chalamet.  I just can’t find gay actors romancing young women in a movie convincing.  In the back of my mind a little voice keeps telling me “he’s not interested in a girl.”   Worse, Chalamet is one of those actors who, like Leonardo Di Carpio, calibrates his performance to other actors’ performances, to what they think a real actor would do, rather than to the reality of the character they are playing.

Christian Bale is a great example of an actor who does dig deep into the character and brings out unexpected nuance and subtlety.  His performance in films like “American Psycho” are brilliant.

I wish he were playing Dylan.

But, my wife says, he doesn’t look like Bob Dylan.  C’est la vie.





Joan Baez’s Vanity

Joan Baez: I am Noise was showing at the Princess Theatre this week so my wife and I went to see it.  Up until about half way through, it was not too annoying.  It was narcissistic and self-serving, of course, and Baez always sings as if the audience has an obligation to express convincing and polite approbation or else, but I found it tolerable until she began to relate how broken down she was for a period in her life.  It’s hard to describe what she meant because the whole thing was amorphous and, I think, purposely vague, but it emerged that her sister Mimi, who also experienced these disorders, claimed that her father had French-kissed her once in the back yard by the clothesline.  Then Joan Baez– also, of course, in therapy– began to recover her own memories of abuse about which she was decidedly vague.

Aside from the obvious controversies, one must immediately acknowledge that she admitted to being desperately addicted to quaaludes at the time.  One must also sadly note that her career was in decline and she was no longer as important or celebrated as she once had been and that can be, for someone admittedly addicted to public adoration, a tough pill to swallow.

Think about it:  she was massively doped up on quaaludes (so badly so that she approved the stupidest album cover photo of her career–in a space suit– during this period for the stupidest album of her career — a desperate attempt to maintain her relevance by embracing rap), depressed about the loss of her prominence on the activism circuit (the Viet Nam War had ended) and possibly even more depressed about her own failures as a mother (she continued to tour leaving Gabriel in the care of others).  The cover of Time Magazine (an awful, ugly graphic) must have seemed so long ago by then.  And David Harris didn’t turn out to be that great of a husband after all.

There was a reference to hypnosis in there but I’ll say no more about that because I can’t recover a memory of the details of context.  But some of the content of the tapes she played in the film reminded me of the suggestive tactics of the “therapists” involved in recovering memories of abuse by the victims of the Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax.

I remained puzzled by several things.  As is often the case, one allegation begets another and, sure enough, the zombie “recovered memories” reared it’s ugly, festering head and Joan claimed that she also had been abused.  Of course, there is no specific date or time or location, and of course her father is deceased and unable to defend himself.  Of course, she had been heavily into quaaludes for eight years– which, I suppose, offers an explanation of just how many layers of shit covered those hidden memories.  Of course.  What astonished me is that no editor or producer thought fit to either excise the questionable allegations or at least do a little more to acknowledge that recovered memories are “controversial”.  Because they are not “controversial” at all.   They are the product of junk psychology and have been thoroughly discredited and debunked.  They were promulgated by books like “Sybil” and “Satan Remembers” which have been convincingly shown to be hoaxes.

But then again, this is a vanity project, not a documentary.  We saw nothing that was not approved of for us by Joan Baez herself.

Add to that the issue of hypnosis, which was also part of her therapy…  look, it’s 2023.  Wake up.

Things come to a crux when Mimi tells of being French kissed by her father, a recollection that leads Joan to pursue her own path of thrice-weekly therapy, including hypnotism, which has her remembering her own inappropriate experiences with her dad — which the film does not go into great detail on. The doc includes letters and voice messages from her father in which he accuses Joan of having fallen prey to false memory syndrome, but Baez tells the filmmakers today that if even 20% of what she remembers is true, that’s damning enough.

Twenty percent of nothing is still nothing.  This is throwing mud onto the wall and believing that some of it must stick.

I will not be polite about this issue under any circumstance.  A good deal of damage has been done by credulous individuals who don’t care about science or evidence or facts and are willing to believe something because they just “feel” it must be true– as Joan Baez suggests in this vanity piece.  She even suggests that her father might have “felt” that it wasn’t true.  And that both feelings are valid.



The Price of Hostages

Of course, our sages were aware that ransoming prisoners can also lead to other dangers. If a community is too quick to pay ransom, then it risks incentivizing kidnappers. One therefore needs to calculate the dangers of overpaying. But this stipulation does not negate the ethos, only contextualizes it.  NYTimes

I was surprised to find this in the New York Times.

A history of Israel’s Negotiations with Hostage Takers

“Does not negate the ethos” is a piece of rogue logic that doesn’t follow anything previously stated.  In fact, it directly negates the ethos: your action (paying hostage-takers) may cause other people to be taken hostage and  cause other families to experience the grief you experienced.   The writer, Mikhael Manekin, is telling you: I can make the illogical logical with my magic word “contextualize”.

What does this mean:  “Contextualizes it”?  Other than, let’s introduce some really fuzzy logic here– the context is my emotions.  I feel devastatingly awful for the families of hostages so lets compel the government to do everything it can to get them back, even if the success of the hostage-taking leads to more hostages.

That is what the writer has admitted in the article.  “It risks incentivizing kidnappers” stated as if, oh well, it might not happen.  It absolutely happens.  She gives us the glories of compassion and capitulation: pay them, pay them, pay them!

Paying the kidnappers provides one with cheap virtue.  You congratulate yourself for your act of kindness and disregard the consequences for others.

In 2011, it [Israel] released more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas.

Wow.  And does anyone publicly ask whether any of those 1,000 prisoners were involved in the slaughter in Israel last weekend, or in the hostage-taking?  Would anyone be surprised if they were?  [In fact, the current leader of Hamas was one of the 1,000!]

The PBS News Hour, which I normally am very fond of, did a series a while ago in which Amna Nawaz interviewed families of hostages held in Iran or Russia.  The stories were given extraordinary length for a situation that only involves one person each, and I think Amna had tears in her eyes.  The story screamed at the viewer:  do something!  Anything!  [This continued for several episodes with further interviews with relatives of hostages, again, with extraordinary length for a national news story.]

[Update, yesterday (2023-11-21), Amna again interviewed a pair of American women whose children or grand-children are being held as hostages.  Again, the interview was granted a large chunk of national news time and space.  How many viewers consider the fact that there are dozens of other stories, equally compelling, involving as much or more suffering, that are selectively not covered most media outlets because the Israel story is, for the moment, the world’s rage.

The one question she did not ask: is it possible that paying the ransom of a prisoner held previously led to your loved one being held for ransom?

I thought I had heard once that Israel’s stated policy was to never pay ransoms.  Obviously, either my memory is mistaken or their policy has changed.  I thought then, as I think now, that that policy was the right one, as heart-breaking as it may seem to the families of hostages.   You won’t share my view unless reporters like Amna Nawaz ask the question: did negotiating with the last hostage-takers cause this hostage-taking?  Are your children (or husband or father etc.) at risk because the tears of the last families of the hostages persuaded the government to give in and negotiate even though it was bad policy to do so.  For obvious reasons.

I suspect it may have changed for the same wrong reason the stated policy of the U.S. (also to not pay ransoms) is frequently ignored: families of the hostages take to the TV screens, sometimes complaining bitterly that the President won’t meet with them, soaking up the tears of compassionate viewers and the outrage: why don’t they do something?  It’s bullying, really.   I resent them.  I resent them because they don’t seem to care that the government action they want will endanger the lives of others.  They implicitly insist that others can suffer as long as their loved ones are saved.  But that doesn’t sound nice, does it?  That’s why reporters like Amna Nawaz don’t bring it.

No family is going to go on TV and complain about the family of a former hostage forcing the government to negotiate that ransom thereby incentivizing the kidnappers who hold their son or daughter or husband.

I know some people will think I’m heartless.  Heartless to who?  The current victim or the next one?  I believe those who readily pay ransoms are the heartless ones: they know– they surely know– that they have just confirmed to the world the value of taking hostages.  They have insisted on rewarding a criminal.  They threaten to smear any politician who resists their entreaties as callous, heartless, and monstrous,  and politicians know that the general public will buy it.  Why don’t they pay the ransom this one time?  How can they be so cruel?  Even the reporter is crying.

I believe the U.S. and Canada should make it clear –as they generally do– to people who visit Iran and Russia and other nations that are not ruled by law that they risk being taken hostage, arbitrarily imprisoned, or kidnapped, and that the government– having warned them not to go there– will not pay any ransom for their release.

Brittney Yevette Griner chose to play for a professional basketball team in Russian and was caught bringing hash oil into the country in February, 2022.  She was sentenced to 9 years labor in one of Russia’s brutal prisons.  Yes, that is absolutely awful, and Russia has a repugnant lawless regime.  That’s why you don’t go there if you have any sense.  That’s why you don’t put your government and families in a terrible position in the selfish pursuit of your own interests.

And that’s why, as heartless as it seems, the U.S. should have refused to offer anything in exchange for her release.

And if you are an American in Russia right now– are you kidding me?

But of course they did pay the ransom.

“On December 8, Griner was released in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.”  (Wiki)  

Bout was charged and convicted of supplying weapons to terrorists that could or would be used against American soldiers.  After release, he returned to Russia and entered politics.

The people who were or will be victimized by Viktor Bout will remain anonymous, faceless, invisible.  They won’t be on PBS News Hour pleading for the lives of their loved ones who died in a conflagration somewhere fueled by weapons sold to insurgents or terrorists by Viktor Bout.  It’s not as personal as Brittney’s mom pleading with President Biden on TV.  And Amna Nawaz won’t be tearing up as she reports on the deaths of civilians in a terrorist attack that was enabled by Viktor Bout.

For any individual case, a non-negotiation policy is heart-breaking.  In the long-term, if  potential hostage-takers know that the government they wish to blackmail has a strictly-observed policy of not negotiating, it seems reasonable to believe that they would be less likely to take a hostage.  Even better, follow your own government’s advice and don’t go there.

The next time America captures, tries, and convicts a Russian criminal, if I were an America, I would stay as far away from Russia as possible.

Because Russia knows that a TV interview with the family of a hostage will be enough to push the government into bad policy.





The Comedy of Being: Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger (“Being and Time”) often reads like a parody of philosophy.   The first 35 pages are replete with repetitive (in my opinion) insistences that before you can analyze reality in any sense you must apprehend the being-ness of being there in the radical sense of existential being, which everybody else has failed to do.

I consider the idea that Heidegger may be a massive fraud.  I think it’s a possibility.  He is very, very esteemed in the world of cool philosophy geeks, but it is quite possible that they are entranced by Heidegger’s incomprehensibility being confused for “mystique”, combined with the language that is almost poetically inane.  “The being of being is the beingness of not-being authentically in a non-thematic ontological context that cannot be known.”  Ok.  I made that up– but it’s close.

It is quite possible that he has hit upon something that everybody already knows in a certain valid sense and has taken to describing it as if it is hidden from everyone else and must be revealed to them.  Don’t you see that we are all breathing?!  We’re all sucking air in and out of our lungs!  This has profound implications for all of life.  Read him long enough and you begin to think about your breathing.  Maybe you try breathing differently.  Two exhales for every inhale.  Try breathing through one nostril at a time.  What if I stop breathing?  By golly, he’s right: breathing is incredibly important.  We all need to think about breathing.

He is his own best argument for Wittgenstein’s argument that the world is comprised entirely of facts.  What we believe to be reality is always and only a construct of the language we use to express our experience of it.   How does Heidegger know that everyone else does not know what he knows about being?  He offers no explanation.  He only knows the language that others have used to describe time and existence and phenomena but he really has no explanation of how he can possibly know that the way this language is used is inadequate to explain the authentic meaning of being.

He seems at times to assume we have a reason for believing there are others in the world, yet I have not seen the slightest discussion of the senses through which we experience others, and the world itself.  He seems to insist that we cannot really know if they have a real existence outside of our imagination, just as he doesn’t seem to be concerned about how time can be explained if we only barely understand the meaning of our own “being there” or Dasein.   Is time linear?  Is time atomic?  Is time continuous?  I’m at page 113.  I’ll let you know if I find an answer.

According to Heidegger, Western Philosophy has it all wrong because it has skipped the most essential truth which is that “being” itself, or “being there”,  or “Dasein”, is the proper subject of philosophy and has been almost entirely ignored, at least, since the Greeks.  He is going to rescue us from this terrible omission.  Get out of your car, burn your records and books, change your diet and haircut: we have  no way to experience the world.  Being there.

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: Heidegger believes that Western Philosophy has forgotten the essential character of “Dasein” but what it is it has forgotten, he can’t seem to remember.

There it is.  I summed up Heidegger that way at Trinity Christian College 45 years ago and I stand by it.

What prompted this reflection is my reckless urge to revisit “Being and Time” now that I have experienced a lot more of both.  I am in my 60’s and haven’t looked at this book since I was in a philosophy course taught by Dr. John Roose at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, back in 1973.  It is the only course I ever took anywhere which I did not complete, and for which I received an “F”.   It wasn’t the difficulty:  “Contemporary Philosophy” taught by Dr. Vrieze was far more challenging– and satisfying– and of course I did well in it.  I still remember a considerable chunk of that course, on Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lakatos, Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others.  Feyerabend was the first philosopher I read that convinced me that it actually was possible for 2 x 2 to not equal 4.  And Karl Popper’s discussions of paradigms is still very useful to me.

But here’s a line from Martin Heidegger that I think you might find as amusing as I do (from “Being and Time”, translated by Joan Stambaugh, page 35):

Because phenomenon in the phenomenological understanding is always just what constitutes being, and furthermore because being is always the being of beings , we must first of all bring beings themselves forward in the right way, if we are to have any prospect of exposing being.

In regard to Kant, one question that remains: if we can never know a thing in itself– only our empirical experience of that object– does it matter?  If we can never know the thing in itself, then, really, does it even exist?    And so if Heidegger insists that we don’t apprehend Dasein– being itself– does it even exist?  More critically, does it matter?  Heidegger seems to believe that we can encounter Dasein if we cast off our archaic beliefs.  This makes him a superman, since he is the only one who knows about Dasein and he is here to enlighten us.  (In fairness, he does credit some other philosophers– even Kant– with having a diminished idea of Dasein).  But again, given his explanations of how we are ignorant of the decisive importance of Dasein, how can he possibly know anything about others’ experience of it?

All this so far and I haven’t even mentioned that Heidegger was a Nazi.



President Jill Biden

The only way Joe Biden gets re-elected president is if his opponent is Donald Trump.

The only way Donald Trump gets elected president is if his opponent is Joe Biden.

The history of aging, increasingly feeble presidents with younger, more vigorous wives is not reassuring.  And it is reassuring.  In some cases, as with Nancy Reagan and Eleanor Roosevelt , the results may be anodyne.  In the case of Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the result may have been catastrophic.

Jill Biden is a medical doctor.  She seems pretty smart, pretty capable.  If Joe Biden becomes enfeebled while president, if he suffers a stroke, if he is barely capable of leaving his bed, it would not shock me to see a situation similar to the Woodrow Wilson situation in 1919 develop.  Jill Biden relates Biden’s “directives” to his senior staff and does not permit any of them to directly converse with the ailing president.  When questions are raised, the president’s own physician reports to the cabinet and the vice-president that he is perfectly mentally capable of issuing instructions, even if, perhaps, he is not, really.   In that situation, Jill Biden speaks with the presumed authority of her husband, and it would difficult for others to bypass her to determine directly if the president is actually capable of executing his office.

The government, of course, is, for all practical purposes, actually run by the hundreds of high-level officials, White House staff, and cabinet appointees.  The president sets his agenda by appointing like-minded people to positions of power.  They will know what to do.

When it might matter, of course, is in a situation that demands a military response.  China might very well consider an ailing president vulnerable to aggressive moves by competing powers.  China might make a move on Taiwan.  Putin might become more aggressive in Ukraine.   Cuba might finally invade Miami.

It could all turn out well.  Jill Biden might be a wise and effective leader.  But she would not have been elected to be president.  Constitutionally, the cabinet and vice-president should meet to determine if Biden continues to be fit for office.  They could demand, perhaps, that an independent physician examine the president.

Here’s the thing:  it will be in the interests of many in the top echelons of political power to maintain the illusion that Biden continues to execute his office.  They were appointed by him.  They derive their power and status from that appointment.  His replacement may replace them.   His replacement may be politically weaker than he is.   Even the opposition party may be reluctant to see the presidency handed over to a younger potentially more appealing candidate.  (Right now, the thinking is that Kamala Harris is not a strong potential candidate, but given a year or two in office, who knows?)

People love to imagine unlikely scenarios and play them out but this one is strikingly possible.  It appears that Trump will be Biden’s opponent in 2024 and it is not unlikely that Biden, despite current polling, prevails in the swing states, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona.  He probably only needs one of them to win, whereas Trump needs all four.

He is obviously already suffering from various age-related challenges, physically and mentally.  It is difficult to imagine him surviving a debate with Donald Trump except for the fact that Donald Trump (strikingly, today, in an interview with Kristen Welker of NBC) also appears to be showing age-related challenges.

Here’s a prediction: neither of them agrees to a debate.



Death by Discretion

I read an account of a bear attack a while ago that I found somewhat a disturbing.  A young woman camping in a wilderness area of a park in Colorado had been pulled out of her sleeping bag in the middle of the night by a large grizzly and dragged away screaming while a friend of hers nearby, who was also attacked, fled for help.

Help was found and a group of people set out to find the girl, if they could, and scare away the bear, if they could.  The bear did wander off leaving the badly injured girl lying on the ground.  The bear had ripped all of her clothing off and inflicted several life-threatening wounds.

I read the accounts given by some of the rescuers and could not find any reference to any attempt to stop the bleeding, staunch the wounds, apply a tourniquet, or any other first aid.  When recounting the story later, what they all agreed on was that someone  immediately covered her up with a coat.  Others returned to a nearby lodge to find equipment with which to carry her up to the lodge.  After considerable time, she was brought to the lodge and a doctor there treated her wounds but it was too late and she died.

It appeared to me that the rescuers were more concerned with the propriety of looking at a young woman’s naked body than they were with saving her life.  Nobody involved describes even examining her carefully to determine where the wounds were, let alone attempting to stop the bleeding.  It is by no means certain but it seems possible that her life could have been saved if someone had made a serious attempt to staunch the most critical wounds.

It is quite possible that she would have died anyway.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Here’s an account of a man in Japan who admirably attempted to save the life of a woman by applying a defibrillator (an AED or Automated External Defibrillator) only to be labelled a pervert by a bystander.   Now, I personally have wondered for years about how an AED is used– does the skin have to be bare?  A surprising number of people don’t know.  According to the information I found, it must be applied to bare skin, on the chest.

So if, I came across a woman suffering from a serious heart ailment and attempted to apply an AED, would someone watching would be outraged and demand that we all let her die rather than see her naked breasts?

I learned that the AED kit comes with a scissors, and yes, you absolutely should remove any clothing over the chest area, especially the bra (which may have an underwire in it).  

And good luck with that.  I know exactly what you will encounter.  You will encounter some asshole who thinks he’s a god-almighty guardian of public safety and good order and he will forcefully demand that you wait for a nice respectable ambulance to come along and handle the emergency.

I am quite confident that people have died because of people’s delicate sense of decency and that you will never hear about it.


Best Joke in Dr. Strangelove

The best joke in Stanley Kubrick’s insanely brilliant “Dr. Strangelove” is not, as is widely repeated, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here: this is The War Room”.  It’s not a bad joke.  I always thought it was a bit obvious given the pedigree of the rest of the movie, but it’s okay.

The best joke is when the President demands of General Turgidson how a mentally unfit General could possibly have launched a nuclear attack on Russia all by himself, without presidential authorization.  Turgidson responds  with this:

I think I’d like to hold off judgment on a thing like that, sir, until all the facts are in…I don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn the whole program because of a single slip up, sir.

The absolute brilliance of those lines lies in the allusion to standard business and political wisdom: don’t judge until you have all the facts.  This pedestrian axiom is familiar to everyone, widely accepted, and almost applicable to situations in which a “slip up” has relative anodyne consequences.

To insert this line in the middle of an intense discussion of actions that may, as a consequence, result in total war with the Russians and ultimately annihilation of the human race, is more than just schadenfreude.  It is profoundly revelatory about the nature of the nuclear arms race and politics.  It hammers home profoundly the fact that these incredibly powerful weapons, capable of wiping out all life on the planet, are the hands of mere men, and “Dr. Strangelove” reveals to us just how absurdly unqualified the men who control these systems are, how petty, and clumsy, and sometimes stupid, and how the consequences of their short-comings can actually result in the destruction of the world.

Let me say that, on the surface, these men, Muffley, Turgidson, Ripper, Mandrake, and the others, would appear to the public to be competent, intelligent, and rational.  But when Ripper talks about the threats to our bodily fluids and President Muffley argues with Premiere Kissov over just who is the most sorry about the turn of events, and Bat Guano tells Mandrake that he is going to have to answer to the Coca Cola Company, we realize that humans are just too wrapped up in our immediate concerns and perspectives to comprehend the majesty and might of nuclear weapons.

This motif resurfaces time and time again through-out the movie.

Another line that is far funnier than the war room quip.  Turgidson, after hearing a description of the new Soviet weapon that can destroy the entire world, says “Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday Machines, Stainsey”.

And this why “Dr. Strangelove” is, perhaps, the greatest film of all time, and the one that is most relevant to our current age.  You could substitute climate change, pandemics, massive bank failures, whatever you like for nuclear war and you would have same fundamental factors at play: foolish men with constricted perspectives making decisions of extreme consequence for the human race.

And the nuclear issue remains.




Hogeweyk for Elderly Politicians

What we need is a Hogeweyk for elderly politicians. We should recreate the White House and Capitol buildings on a smaller scale and let them wander around freely, negotiate treaties and pass legislation, without harming any real people. Paid staff would circulate around telling them all they still have it and only they could do what they do. They could even hire fake reporters to wander around so the elderly politicians could experience the excitement of hiding from them.

It will be tricky getting them in though: we’ll have to wait until they go to sleep and then move their beds into the village, like the head counsellor in “Meatballs”.

This could solve a lot of problems.