Who Is On The Line?

Hoax phone calls used to be funny. As a teenager, Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple computer, figured out the Bell System technical protocols- he and Steve Jobs had found the manual at the SLAC Library. Woz used this knowledge to call the Pope, pretending to be Henry Kissinger. His fake German accent was good enough to get the Holy Father out of bed. But before he took the phone, an aide figured out that it was some California teenager pulling a prank.

Gov. Sarah Palin does not have aides of comparable competence. A radio station in Montreal was able to lure her into a conversation with “President Sarkozy” of France. Despite the fact that the telephone appointment was on her schedule for several days, no one had bothered to call the President’s office to verify if it was legit. But we can excuse her because she never claimed to be an expert on France. Her area of expertise in Foreign policy was Russia, because she could “see it from her porch”. She cannot see France from her porch. But Canada borders on Alaska. So maybe she should have known something about Canadian radio?

It is also possible to be too careful. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) got a phone call from Pres. elect Obama. But she hung up on him. Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rep. Rahm Emmanual (R-IL) her colleague in Congress called to tell her it really was Obama. She hung up on him too.

I thought it was one of the radio stations in South Florida playing an incredible, elaborate, terrific prank on me. They got Fidel Castro to go along. They’ve gotten Hugo Ch├ívez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, ‘Oh, no, I won’t be punked.’ “

Oh, no, you punked yourself. But at least she didn’t threaten to go to war.

Not like the President of Pakistan. He put the Pakistani Air Force on high alert, because someone claiming to be the Foreign Minister of India called and made threats. The US Sec. of State had to make a call in the middle of the night to tell the jittery President that he had been punked. Exactly who thought it would be funny to risk starting a nuclear war is still not clear.

Some years ago, India and Pakistan established official protocols of communication, to prevent this sort of miscommunication: like the “Red Phone” connecting Washington and Moscow during the cold war . But perhaps His Excellency the President was on edge and did not notice which phone was ringing.

The real threat to peace may not be some nefarious scheme cooked up by an evil genius. Simple stupidity is more dangerous. And much more common.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
With a bang caused by a snicker

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