Magazine article The Nation

Pete Goes (Anti)Ballistic

Magazine article The Nation

Pete Goes (Anti)Ballistic

Article excerpt

My grandson, Pete, is simultaneously perusing the New York Times and playing chess with our next-door neighbor, who chortles and takes Pete's rook.

Pete is four and a half and is about to overtake Leonardo da Vinci, both in art and science. The neighbor is 43, an ex-intelligence officer and a spokesperson for the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. He outweighs Pete by 191 pounds but, as noted, is no match for the kid upstairs, if you get my meaning. The big guy captures Pete's rook. "You are weak on defense, kiddo," he chortles. Pete slithers his queen across the board. "Checkmate," says the kid. "You are weak on defense, here and at work." He points to the headline:

KEY MISSILE PARTS ARE LEFT UNTESTED AS BOOSTER FAILS

"His team just flunked yet another of many missile tests, Gramps. A leaky defense umbrella, if ever I saw one."

"We only flunked the first, most proven, reliable stage of the test, kiddo," says the big guy. "The most sophisticated, complicated, experimental, unsuccessful, least likely elements of the test never got a chance to fail, so how do you know they wouldn't succeed? As Defense Secretary Cohen said, 'The test was a disappointment, but it was one of those failures that was at least expected.'"

"Congressman Curt Weldon was on the Lehrer NewsHour," I venture. "He bulged his eyes and pumped his face full of blood and shouted at me through the television, 'How much is New York City worth?!! Is it $60 billion or $100 billion?!!!'"

"That question is a mindless and clever smokescreen," says Pete. …

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