Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ideas In Action: 60 Years of RAND

RAND has published a 60-minute documentary about itself, intended mainly for internal consumption. This documentary was apparently the idea of Amy Pascal, who is (a) on the RAND Board of Trustees; (b) the fiftieth most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes.

When you consider a self-celebratory documentary commissioned by an institution for purposes of internal propaganda, you'd probably expect it to be mediocre viewing. But actually I think it is pretty good. With maybe just a little cutting, it could be shown for a general audience as a documentary on public television.

The original screening, which I saw some months ago, had a very compelling opening scene. It opened with television footage of a news interview with a RAND researcher. I have to paraphrase the dialogue from memory:

ABC News Anchor: Citing recent terrorist activity in the Middle East, the White House declared a security alert for Washington, D.C., today, which included the placement of surface-to-air missiles on the White House lawn. Wouldn't you say this was a paranoid overreaction?

RAND Expert: No, I would say that it is merely prudent... Thus far fortunately the U.S. has not experienced the kind of major terrorist violence that we've seen in some of the West European or Middle Eastern capitals. At the same time we haven't been immune to terrorist violence... Terrorists have not really attacked the United States from abroad, but it is conceivable. I think what we really see in terms of the protection at the White House is that the missiles are there because there have been cases in the past in which hijacked airliners have been threatened with crashing into major buildings.

About this time the date of the television broadcast was discreetly displayed in the corner... 1983. A murmur ran through the audience.

RAND Expert: If there were any incident, those charged with security would be seen as derelict in their responsibilities if they hadn't taken precautions.

It was a very effective scene.

Unfortunately the DVD version has been somewhat sabotaged because the filmmakers were not able to get permission to use the ABC footage on the DVD release! So the interview is not shown and instead the first scene consists of an apparent monologue by the RAND expert. I don't think it's as effective. It's a shame. But many other scenes in the documentary are still good.


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