As military and civilian commanders clamoured for information on a minute-by-minute basis, computers such as the IBM 473L of the United States Air Force were being used for the first time in the midst of a conflict to process real-time information on how, for example, to allocate military forces. Yet even with the growing availability of computers, sharing that information among military commanders involved a time lag. The idea of having the information travel between connected computers did not yet exist.
After 13 days of scrambling forces to carry out a potential attack, the Soviet Union agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba. Nuclear war was averted, but the standoff also demonstrated the limits of command and control. With the complexities of modern warfare, how can you effectively control your nuclear forces if you cannot share information in real time? Unbeknown to most of the military’s senior leadership, a relatively low-level scientist had just arrived at the Pentagon to address that very problem. The solution he would come up with became the agency’s most famous project, revolutionising not just military command and control but modern computing too.
Last November, Texas health officials imposed a new rule requiring funeral arrangements—either burial or cremation—to be made for fetal remains. The rule, which also applies to miscarriages in a doctor’s office (though not to those that occur at home), was roundly and rightly condemned as both nonsensical and inhumane. (In late December, it was temporarily blocked by a federal judge, and the case is still in the courts.) But I couldn’t help thinking of it in a somewhat different light as I read A Book of American Martyrs, Joyce Carol Oates’s slippery, searching new novel, which brings the reader deep inside the mind of a militant anti-abortion crusader and, in so doing, relentlessly dissects the liberal pieties surrounding the subject.
Jaroslav Kalfar’s “Spaceman of Bohemia” is not a perfect first effort. But it’s a frenetically imaginative one, booming with vitality and originality when it isn’t indulging in the occasional excess. Kalfar’s voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks. He has a great snout for the absurd. He has such a lively mind and so many ideas to explore that it only bothered me a little — well, more than a little, but less than usual — that this book peaked two-thirds of the way through. Sigh. Don’t we all.