LATELY — 9 January 2002

Unlikely Movies; Arundhati Roy

Out of all the things that are in the world, I think the thing I’d like most is the ability to do things faster. Most of all I’d like to be able to write faster, I think.

You know that scene in American Beauty where the plastic bag is blown about by the wind? I thought that was entirely a special effect until I saw this piece of paper being blown around a few days ago. I shot some video: 160x120 (220k); 320x240 (720k). You’ll need QuickTime.

Arundhati Roy irritates me. Lachlan lent me The Cost of Living, which is a small book containing two essays, “The Greater Common Good” (about the Narmada Valley project, which is to displace million for doubtful and dubious ends) and “The End of Imagination” (about the evils of nuclear power, written in reponse to Pakistan and India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons). She writes with an annoying self-assured smirk that might be amusing to readers who think exactly as she does, but isn’t very effective in persuading others to come around to her point of view: “… ‘Deterrence’ is the buzzword of the people who like to think of themselves as hawks. (Nice birds, those. Cool. Stylish. Predatory. Pity there won’t be many of them around after the war. Extinction is a word we must try and get used to.)” I hope writing like that at least makes her feel better, because it’s not the least bit close to my English teacher’s model of good persuasive writing.

Of atomic weapons, she writes:

But let us pause to give credit where it’s due. Whom must we thank for all this?

The Men who made it happen. The Masters of the Universe. Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America! Come on up here folks, stand up and take a bow. Thank you for doing this to the world. Thank you for making a difference. Thank you for showing us the way. Thank you for altering the very meaning of life.

This is too much. On 2 August, 1939, Einstein famously wrote to Roosevelt urging him to develop nuclear weapons. He did this because he feared that the Germans would develop them first. And so (eventually) the Manhattan Project was born and from there we got Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Cold War, etc. Could Germany have developed the bomb? No, probably not. Was Einstein right to think that they might? Yeah, absolutely. So was Einstein wrong to plead with Roosevelt? No, he wasn’t. But now we have Roy in effect telling Einstein, “Thank you for altering the very meaning of life”? Why, thank you, Arundhati. Nuclear weapons may well be a bad thing, but “the Men who made it happen” don’t deserve this.