I suppose it was not entirely his fault. The Distinguished Visitor was only delivering a message, you see. While he was part of the faction that had created the message, he had not actually formulated what he was going to say. That, it became obvious, had been done by someone else.
The occasion was a joint Physics–Social Sciences colloquium at one of the campuses of the University of California. Ronald Reagan was president. The president had recently established his Strategic Defense Initiative, also somewhat derisively called his Star Wars Program . The topic of this day was defense against ballistic missiles using high-energy lasers (HELs). Since that was a big part of my professional activity, I was looking forward to the event.
The Distinguished Visitor was indeed distinguished. He was a key figure in the academic world, a presidential science adviser, a JASON (the top technical advisers to the Pentagon), and he had made significant contributions to theoretical physics.
The venue was the main lecture hall of the Physics Department. In marched the Social Sciences faculty. Down the aisle they strutted and captured the front rows, the seats normally reserved for the physics faculty. The physics professors, quite conscious of the deliberate insult, took the seats in the far back. There I joined them.
Eventually, the Distinguished Visitor arrived. He was late, well more than an hour late. “Traffic,” he mumbled as he began his lecture.
His thesis was the stupid silliness of using ray guns (i.e., HELs) to defend against unstoppable ballistic missiles. […]
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