Unlikely Movies; Arundhati Roy

9 January 2002

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.