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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Time Was On Geithner's Side; the Explanation of How Time Really Works; and, of Course, Star Trek

Order in the Cabinet, and the Geithner Appointment

It really is amazing how timing can be everything. If Geithner gets nominated after the start of the parade consisting of Daschle, Killefir, Kirk (not James Tiberius, who's addressed, in a way, below) and Sibelius, rather than before that parade started, there's arguably just no way he gets approved. In fact, there's no way he does anything but withdraw . . . especially considering the position for which he was nominated, and especially considering the extent to which some of the later withdrawals were on account of virtual footfaults compared to Geithner's admitted missteps.

Now, don’t get me wrong - I'm not taking a position on whether he should or should not have gotten approved; I'm only remarking about the extent to which the ordering of moments in time can have such an enormous impact on a period in history. If Geithner winds up being as significant a figure as it looks like he might, there's no way to even try to estimate the impact of the fortuitousness of his spot in line as the nomination process unfolded.

All of this rang to me of those crazy halcyon days of Zoë Baird (she's not our attorney general because she had a nanny?!) and non-Justice Douglas Ginsberg. Around the same time was Bork's failed nomination because he . . . um . . . had the audacity to publish in a way that actually expressed a point of view on the law. As with all of these types of things, people get tired of the issues raised, and plow through issues that once would have been devastating but later would have the effect of opening old wounds. Isn't it interesting how Scalia gets confirmed almost unanimously?

In a way, that's just what happened with Geithner, as I think that people were not willing to reopen Baird-type inquiries. But then, once Daschle & Co. jumped on board (in particular, Daschle), the process returned to its zero-tolerance approach. Doesn't it seem that Geithner could never have survived that?*

Anyway, let's return to the point I'm trying to make about the timing, rather than the substance, of it all. Everyone knows the old saw, "timing is everything," but the Geithner situation has a different spin to me. I guess what I'm saying is that this timing issue is not a timing issue in the Sliding Doors sense (I still can't believe that movie wasn't better than it was). We're not left to wonder what if something wasn't given a chance to happen; we're rather left to ruminate about mere ordering. The issue isn't when they made their possible tax or other mistakes or anything like that, or whether the Geithner nomination happened during the wrong window of time. Here, it's the almost surreal and not-overly-obvious impact of the mere ordering of the nominations, all of which are happening essentially concurrently in the scheme of things. For example, if Geithner gets nominated after the Daschle debacle transpires, rather than vice versa, and the Geithner tax issues then come up, then the nomination is, I think, clearly DOA.** Wow.

How Time Really Works

Moving on from Mr. Geithner, whenever I think about anything having to do with time, my mind wanders to such things as 12 Monkeys, Memento (Nolan's genius was evident from the get-go) and Star Trek's various and numerous temporal rifts/distortions (not meaning to betray my allegience to the original series, the return-of-Tasha-Yar episode of TNG may well be as good as any episode of series television ever). Those efforts are not much of a secret, though, and so I turn my attention to my time-based obsession with a certain episode of The Twilight Zone.

I refer, oddly enough, not to Rod Serling's absolutely amazing B&W efforts from the 50s and 60s (what a visionary he was!). Rather, I refer to a 1986 episode from the generally tragically bad second-generation (color) version of The Twilight Zone. That's the series with the horrible Grateful Dead remake of the theme song and the pathetically written (but valiently delivered (by Charles Aidman, sounding sorta like John Forsythe)) voice-overs at the end of each episode. While the original Zone may well be a Top One or Two Show of all time, all of the Zone reduxes were essentially, albeit not literally always, awful (even Forest Whitaker couldn't save one of the incarnations!).

Well, every dog has its day, and what to me is one of the cleverest turns anywhere ever (!) appears in the Adam Arkin episode, "A Matter of Minutes," which is co-written by Harlan Ellison. In that episode, a couple wakes up in a time-confused state, and finds that various parts of their world have been turned into white empty voids. They see a bunch of faceless blue men moving stuff around, and grow more confused. They eventually make their way to Adolph Caesar, the blue men's supervisor.

Caesar explains to Arkin and his wife that time is constructed as a series of minutes, one flowing smoothly into the other. Each successive minute has to be built, hence the need for Caesar and his men. As one minute expires, we seemlessly enter the next.

The couple is incredulous - c'mon, that explanation is just silly, right? But Caesar then asks whether they've ever gone to the spot in their house where they've left something, looked everywhere in the area and then, exasperated, moved on to another place to search. He continues, "You look everywhere and then you look again, and they're right back where you thought they were in the first place." The implicit explanation: you were never wrong; it's simply that the blue men had messed up in building the earlier minute, and fixed it by the time you went back to the same place, in a later minute. Not only is this pure genius, but I'm quite convinced it's true. This has to be the way time works - it is indeed the only thing that explains the real-world state of affairs that Caesar so deftly describes.

(To those looking for for further tie-ins here to King's Langoliers (which I regard as a virtual thematic copy of this Zone episode) or to the awesome Blue Man Group, I am sorry to disappoint; the purpose of this part of the post is merely to explain the way time really works.)

Star Trek

Having mentioned Star Trek, I cannot conclude without further mention. I admit it (as the Shatner "get a life" line from SNL rings in my head) - I am jumping out of my skin to see JJ's Star Trek. Shamefully, I haven't seen it yet - my priorities must be wildly askew. It sounds like he may have figured out a way of bringing what may be some of the best, most fully developed fictional characters ever created to today's audience, in a way that's simultaneously (i) true to the original and (ii) accessible to those with today's sensibilities. It should be a neat temporal distortion to see it with my boys (sorta like driving around in a '69 'Vette with early Zep playing***), especially with the knowledge that this effort will undoubtedly spawn a new thread of STs (not unlike the way Craig's Bond has for JB (although I still want Clive Owen!)). Suffice it to say, however, that (and the married among you will understand this) I won't be seeing it today on Mother's Day!
* Frankly, I'm not entirely sure how Rangel is getting through similar stuff.

** By the way, speaking of DOA, the original DOA is quite the movie (putting the more recent Crank to shame), having giving us the utterly classic line, "I want to report a murder . . . mine."

*** While we're on the subject of visionaries like Serling and Corvettes, credit needs to be given to the designers of the '68 'Vette, the lines of which would be totally current if they came out today. By the way, I know there was way (way) too much stream of consciousness in this post, but it's been a problem of mine ever since reading Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and admiring the approach taken by Benjy (no relation to Howard Stern's Benjy) therein. Maybe the temporal-shift theme brought it to the fore. Oh, well.

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