Bewildering Stories

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2002: a Palindromic Odyssey

by Don W.

“Hope everyone will get what they deserve in this palindromic year of 2002.” — (a New Year’s wish received on the Net last January)

And that was the word I was looking for. I kept thinking of “palimpsest,” but that’s a parchment that’s been erased and overwritten. Which sounds like an excellent idea for 2001, the Year of the False Start. Are we to get what we deserve? Have a heart. Can’t we just live in interesting times and let it go at that?

Is there some mystical significance to the palindrome? The next one is 2112. That doesn’t ring a bell. The last one was 1991. Any significance? In 1001, the Vikings were on the march, and in 1111, the Mongols were saying, “I just want the yurt that’s next to mine.” Is something similar happening now, only it’s going to be high-tech interesting?

The latest “interest” — if one can call it that — is the rumor that the Russians will taunt the Chechen rebels by burying slain guerillas in pigskin. That is a VBI (Very Bad Idea). They’ll have revert to the time-worn NKVD and KGB practice of unmarked graves lest they be overrun by religious rescue squads. Martyrs would be cause for concern, but they don’t carry weapons.

If This Goes On, to cite a time-honored science fiction topos, will the Russians defend against hypothetical Transylvanian terrorists by having MiG’s circle over Moscow, loaded with silver bullets and wooden stakes? Will fanaticism be countered with garlic and footballs?

How might this affect the vaunted missile defense system? Surely symbolic weapons have a practical use even in that rarefied, high-tech domain. Let us examine some applications that Might Even Work.

When it comes to missiles, there does seem to be a reverse correlation between altitude and defense. That is, the lower the altitude of the incoming missile, the larger the defense that’s needed; the higher the missile, the more selective one can be.

High-flying missiles such as ICBM’s can be defended against most cheaply by throwing up sand. No lasers, no anti-missile missiles, just good old dirt. Flying moraines would sandpaper into oblivion warheads and decoys alike.

And if we run short of rocks and dirt, what better to fling into the path of missiles than our inexhaustible supply of garbage? Indeed, the motto “a rocket launcher in every landfill” would send weapons treaty-makers back to the drawing boards and tip the balance of missile power decisively toward defense.

All in all, the compacted-garbage defense appears to be the most environmentally sound. Presumably it would be vaporized as it impacted upon incoming missiles. Any remnants would drift down onto the countryside, where they would presumably decompose or be consumed by goats. The rest of the garbage would waft down onto tranquil city streets where no one would notice anything unusual about it.

Of course, low-flying missiles such as SCUD’s must be met with something more solid. However, it is not necessary to throw up a beach in their path. They are pervious to the Stonehenge defense, namely spring-operated dolmens that pop up whenever a bogey crosses the horizon.

Some may object that a dirt-and-trash missile defense requires the protection of innocent bystanders and the environment, all presumably gawking up from underneath. One could propose considering the alternative, but the point is taken. A possible civilian anti-missile defense defense would be iron umbrellas. They would be large and functional for such entities as cows and people; and small and tastefully decorated for smaller ones, such as cats.

Architects could join the anti-missile defense defense by designing rubber roofs for all buildings. Not only would they alleviate the cost and structural strain, but the larger pieces of anti-missile defense fallout would simply bounce off and not leave much of a dent, if any.

The only drawback to this anti-missile defense is that politicians will find it distressingly cheap. As a sop, I propose a variant on the Dirt & Trash system: the Nickel-and-Dime defense. That’s right: rocket America’s loose change into the path of oncoming missiles.

However, some parties may consider that as taking “spreading the wealth” a bit too literally. Very well: let contractors of all sorts reap billions by hoisting giant funnels over their factories and board rooms. Rebounding dimes and quarters could be quickly collected, exchanged at par and shipped to the nearest rocket base for relaunching as needed.

Thus we shall fulfill our palindromic destiny. World War III will be fought with rocks and garbage. As for symbolic weaponry, we will truly enter the MAD-O (Multiple Airborne Disgusting Objects) era when pigs begin to fly.


Copyright © 2002 by Don W.