Unintended Consequences

Congress often passes laws that have unintended consequences.  The sociologist Robert K. Merton wrote a paper about the subject as early as 1936.  Some of unintended consequences are serendipitous, but others are negative or perverse.  It seems that Congress has a way of introducing negative or perverse consequences.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was designed to increase revenues for America and protect American jobs, but it almost single-handedly destroyed the world’s economy.  And was it President Clinton’s administration that caused taxes to be raised on luxury boats?  The result was that the poor guys who made boats were suddenly out of work.

Individuals can cause unintended consequences as well.  When I began to write my book, The Insider I had no ill will against anyone.  Yet, as the book is about to appear on the market, I found I have caused damage to a great American astronaut.  I had no such intention.

It was in 2002 that General and astronaut Thomas Stafford produced his book, We Have Capture.  It is a good book and I recommend it.  The General is an American hero.  Unfortunately, Stafford thought he was the first American to reach the secret Soviet launch station called Baikonur in April of 1975.  He said so in his book.

General Stafford was not at all the first American to reach that space launch station.  If it were not central to my book, I would have said nothing, but my book is about the guy who did get there first, and why he went there.

The Insider is about Tad Benson, MD, a space medicine scientist.   President Kennedy got him to agree (through Hugh Dryden) to go to both Moscow and Baikonur to share ideas on space medicine.  Oh, I know there are lots of people who said Khrushchev and Kennedy never reached an agreement on this subject, but they are wrong.  Benson spent almost nine years traveling back and forth to the USSR, doing what he could to keep both cosmonauts and astronauts alive in space.

I knew Benson.  He was a serious man a good friend who died too early.  I checked with various agencies of the federal government to find out what he was doing during the years 1962-1971, and found that Benson had been a contractor to the NSA, CIA, NASA and other groups.  I found that he also got an award from the USSR for his work.

There was a stranger on Gen Stafford’s plane to Siberia.  He was on the bus when it arrived at the launch station.  Stafford did not mention that Soviet scientists hugged and otherwise ganged up around the stranger, slapping him on the back and ignoring the other Americans.  Tad told me about it, and the story appeared elsewhere in the Internet.  Tad said that the other scientists wondered, “How did the Soviets know this guy?” but they were never told.

So I told the story in my book The Insider, with as much detail as I could.  Tad was dying as he told me and we did not have a whole lot of time.   I did not set out to take any of the glory that General Stafford richly deserves.  But I did want to tell Tad’s story because I am one of the few in the world who knows it.  And my health isn’t all that great.

The really sad part of the story about Tad and his heroic adventures is that I am not allowed to use his real name.

Agony of a New Book

Anybody can write a book.  Producing a book is very hard.  It is right up there with producing a new product for a large company such as General Electric.  I have done both and I am not sure which is more difficult.

A new appliance starts with the drawings and specifications.  From these you have tools made and you buy equipment that holds the tools.  You design the tests and find space for the rest of the production facilities including assembly lines.  You make sure pilot models work as they are made on equipment you will use in actual production.  And you assure that the boxes they are sold in are made correctly, fit the product and look good.

Authors would be well-served if they had a mental image of the finished product sitting on their shelves.   They need a rough idea of the plot, but must be flexible.  Characters do not always do what you want them to do.  So plot changes will probably occur.  A new book requires front and back covers, well-edited text, pictures of acceptable quality, readable type size with the correct font.  Covers do sell books, you know.  Chapters must be appropriately ended.  A book is in fact a list of details that must be accomplished before it can be completed.  Tables of contents and indexes must be prepared.  There seem to be no end of concerns for you to handle personally before the book is ready for production.

Finally, each author of a new book is an entrepreneur, trying to sell copies in the face of stiff competition from many other authors with the same idea.  But if he has a good story, he will never be at rest until he has written it and has seen the book on people’s shelves.

In spite of all this, I have completed my last book.  I named it The Insider.  It is a novel about an American doctor who spent nine years flying into and out of the USSR during the Space Race when the US and USSR were competing with each other to be the first to land a man on the moon.   President John F. Kennedy got Premier Khrushchev of the USSR to allow a NASA doctor to visit the USSR’s secret space launch site about 1963 in spite of problems in Cuba and other US-USSR conflicts.   These two world leaders were looking far ahead in the space business.

All the experts say it did not happen.  But it did and the man they sent was a friend.  The few Government records that still exist support the NASA scientist’s story, even though most were hidden from me and any other writer.  It seems that most writer-experts relied on the CIA to tell them the truth, or they relied on people in the USSR to tell them the full story.  You may have noticed that books by and about Khrushchev just did not talk about the space program.   It seems that the US Congress did not know about the doctor, either.  If they did, they would have blabbed about him to everyone they knew.  But they thought there was a serious competition and had no idea we were helping the Soviets.

But that was over forty years ago, almost fifty years now.  Do you think anybody is willing to release the files on this simple doctor who helped keep Soviet cosmonauts alive?  Not in this country.  Perhaps one Soviet cosmonaut is still alive who might be interested in telling what he knows.

Anyway, the pain of producing The Insider is almost over.  The anticipation of the joy of upsetting self-proclaimed “experts” has kept me to the task.  I don’t have any more book ideas now, and this will be my tenth book, so I think I will quit.