The Class Act

At a desk in the Kremlin in Moscow in the Soviet Union on planet Earth revolving around the Sun in the Milky Way galaxy of the Andromeda local cluster within the Kanobi super-cluster of the Universe in the mind of God there sat a computer scientist cursing her terminal. True, she was connected to the largest network in Russia, but she knew that at this moment somewhere in the United States there were thousands of programmers using machines light-years beyond the capabilities of even the best that her government could offer. There had to be a better way. And, since she, Pushka Buttonov, was Commissar of Technological Assessment and Procurement, it was her task to find it. The Premier was counting on her. 

While capitalism can exploit the working class (as those of us who work for a living know so well), communism has a way of sapping the life-blood of a people to the point that there is no incentive to do anything more than those tasks outlined by the government. Lacking the drive to compete with better, faster, and shinier products, the Soviet Union had slumped, producing inferior goods. To make matters worse, the United States had followed a path of all-out spending to produce the S.D.I. canopy. The Soviets had determined to close the “technology gap”, focusing on laser and particle beam guns. In these areas they equaled or even surpassed the United States, but were stymied when faced with the reality that they could not produce the complex computer systems to control the guns. 

Pushka had to succeed. She had considered all of her options and had agonized until she knew what she had to do. 

“Honorable Premier, fellow members of the Politburo, today my presentation will focus on the five-year plan of the Office of Technological Assessment and Procurement, to close what is called in the language of Pravda, ‘the technology gap.’”

The entire present members of the Supreme Soviet stood to applaud her as Pushka straightened her speech papers on the podium that stood on the stage in front of the massive red silhouettes of Lenin and Marx. As the applause subsided, she continued. 

“We have analyzed the problem that exists. It is a serious problem that faces us: briefly, we cannot match the Americans in computer technology! The marketing techniques of the west are strange to us. They thrive upon their class structure: who has a more expensive car, house, spouse. Proletariat rubbish class system!”

The crowd applauded.

“Yet, because of this class system, the government has forbidden the sale of all the products of the high technology giants (Cray, IBM, DEC, Control Data, Plexus, etc.) to the Soviet Union. Without the technologies of these companies, we will never catch the Americans in any of the areas of computer science from artificial intelligence to PAC-MAN.”

Her statement made some of the members of the assembly gasp.

“But, we have a plan to procure functional, yet unmarketable American computer products: class-less machinery. Security measures will not allow me to divulge the plan at this time, my fellow comrades, but you can rest assured this equipment will be procured!”

She received another standing ovation as she left the stage and made her way back to her seat. Now all she had to do was find the “class-less machine”. 

Technological Assessment and Procurement Inter-office Memorandum

From: Pushka Buttonov
To: Class-less Procurement Team

Please use the following criteria in selecting the candidate machines:
* The machine must come from a defunct American computer manufacturer.
* The machine and its software must have been proven reliable in daily use.
* The machine must have been found class-less (unmarketable) in the American computer marketplace.

Please submit the findings of your search by the end of the month, at which time phase two of the procurement will commence.

“Synapse 10th Annual Bankruptcy Picnic Control Central, Deedee Allmen, at your service,” perked the voice on the phone. “Are you making reservations for the July 4th picnic in Fremont?” 

Pushka tried her to disguise her accent, “Yes, I knew a Mr. …” she paused as she quickly looked through a list of names on her desk, “… John I-OH-HAH.” 

“Friend of Johnny Iowa, huh? How many tickets will you need?”

“One will be sufficient, thank you.”

“What’s you’re name and where do you want me to send the ticket, honey?” 

“Pushka Buttonov, The Kremlin, Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

“Okay, its on its way. See you at the picnic!”

“Attention! Attention! All participants in the Beer Guzzling and Three-Legged Race report to the judges’ stand next to the bleachers!” spoke Zarathustra from the growl of an outdoor loud speaker. It was hot and the air was filled with barbeque smoke laden with starter fluid. It was a perfect day: not a cloud in the blue and brown and green California.

“I’m Johnny Iowa. I understand that you told Deedee that we were friends. How come I don’t remember who you are?”

“Mr. Iowa, according to your file, there was an office party in June 1985 in which you participated in acts of…”

“Okay, okay, we’re friends. Uh, this here’s my wife, Suzie Cremecheese, and my two children, Arnold and Sharon.”

“How quaint.” 

“Now, just a minute, Pushy Buttercup! I’ve had enough of this!” 

“Sir, the only thing you have had enough of is beer! I’ve collect the all data I needed.” 

In the clear sky above them, the bankruptcy picnic participants could hear the beat of helicopter blades and could see round air-blown patterns in the grass that indicated where it would land. But no one could see the helicopter – somehow it had been cloaked. Then, as if from the tale of the Trojan Horse, a sliding helicopter side door appeared in mid-air from which jumped thiry armed Russian soldiers, who surrounded the gathering. They quickly divided the former employees of the former company from their families and escorted them into the nothingness surrounding the door. As the door slid shut and the blast from the blades intensified and the roar of its engines increased, the loved ones stood staring into space, waving good-bye to nothing.

“You must increase your productivity or you will never see your Auntie Em again,” Pushka announced from her supervisor’s platform overlooking the makeshift computer lab. The room had once been the secret Kremlin basement hiding place of Nikita Krushchev who would steal away in the night and think the great thoughts only he could think. “We will bury you” was an old favorite, along with “Oh, yeah, Kennedy? Well, you may think those are missiles, but in fact they are giant cigar advertising props for the Cubans.” Occasionally he would take off his shoes and bang them on the floor whenever a real deep thought would hit him. 

“We’re doing the best we can, Ms. Buttonov,” replied George Frankenstein, leader of the restoration project. “It’s been ten years, and a lot of us have had our technological growth stunted by UNIX! We need more time and patience. We need extra 68080’s and more card cages, and these cast iron keyboard have got to go, too. The installation of the remote systems is just about complete. We will be ready to test in two weeks.

“… Well, grandson, that was a long time ago! The Russians forced them to put the new Synapse system on line. When it was turned on, it was detected by Norad at Cheyenne Mountain and the United States launched a first-strike. In a way, those brave Americans from Synapse saved us from the Russians. They were all six feet below ground-zero at the Kremlin when it was vaporized!” 

“But, Grampah Iowa, you were in Russian, too! How’d you get out alive?” 

“Well, I was installing the last system in an underground salt mine in Siberia. It had a head crash (that was back in the days before bubble memory replaced disk technology) and I replaced the heads. When I was running disk diagnostics, the entrance to the mine caved in from the nuclear holocaust going on outside. If I hadn’t been running diagnostics then, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.” 

“Gee, Grampah, then diagnostics saved you?”

“No, grandson. Everybody knows that diagnostics are a very bad evil…”