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December 9, 2005

What do the Cold War doctrine of 'Mutual Assured Destruction' and the Screaming Meanie alarm clock have in common?


They both produce their desired effect without having to demonstrate their capability.

Let me explain.

But first, allow me to digress.


I'm begging you.

Just this once, then I'll never do it again.

Now where's that tooth fairy?


Back in the day there was an attorney named Roy Cohn who, in his younger years, served as Senator Joseph McCarthy's right–hand man during the Communist witch hunt of the Cold War years.

Cohn later went into the private practice of law in New York where he was mightily feared by all who encountered him in the halls of justice.

He defined the term "scorched–earth" with regard to his approach to his legal adversaries.

Nothing — absolutely nothing — was sacred when he undertook to represent someone.

So much so that when an individual or company or attorney received a letter from Roy Cohn declaring Cohn's intention to file suit, the immediate response was to begin settlement negotiations.

Because no one in their right mind was willing to take a chance on what might happen in the courtroom once Roy Cohn began unsheathing his weapons.


Mutual Assured Destruction (whose acronym, MAD, is perhaps the most perfect one ever created) had its origins in the 1940s and 1950s and was shaped and refined by the very greatest strategic and military thinkers on the planet.


John von Neumann, Herman Kahn, Bernard Brodie, John Nash, all the great game theory and military strategists of those years spent their lives working to produce an equilibrium between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that would guarantee that if nuclear war broke out both countries — and the rest of the world — would be completely and utterly destroyed.

Thus, there could never be a winner.

So why bother playing?

Say what you will about the madness of the concept, it worked: nuclear war didn't happen and the Cold War ended.

So all the thinkers of the bygone era — at least those still alive — would say to you that this is proof that their strategy was a good one.

Just as I say to people who laugh at the deer whistles I've had on my front bumpers for years that I know they work because I've never hit a deer.

Which leads me to the Screaming Meanie alarm clock, featured here on October 8, 2004.

When I received mine I naturally tried it out to see what the packaging meant by "Warning: Will wake the dead."

Now I know.

Trust me on this: a 120 decibel sound will hurt you if you stay around it for very long.

So knowing this is what you will hear when it goes off provides an excellent incentive to get up and shut it off.

But here's where the MAD concept comes into play: if you set your regular alarm clock to go off two or three minutes before the Screaming Meanie, it's amazing how the alarm that you sometimes ignored or pretended not to hear in the past suddenly works perfectly.

Sure did with me.

The relief I felt as I got out of bed and turned off the not–yet–activated Screaming Meanie markedly attenuated my ordinary early morning grumpiness.

If you'd like to integrate Cold War game theory into your everyday life you start right here.


I recommend you opt for the MegaBomb equivalent, the model 220 ($39.99), for two reasons:

1) Unlike it's little sister, the model 110 ($29.99), which only has a countdown timer ticking off the minutes until the alarm goes off, the 220 has a clock and a timer. I find it preferable to have the time at which the alarm will erupt visible to me. Knowing when the fun starts is preferable to knowing that it will start.

2) The 220 offers a choice of 3 volumes: 70, 110 and 120 decibels. Now, you may say to yourself, "This is not my beautiful house!" — wait a minute, that's not right: hold on... — OK, OK, from the top: You may say to yourself that 110 decibels is almost as loud as 120. But you would be so wrong. Because on the decibel scale every 10 decibel increase represents a ten–fold increase over the previous volume. Trust me, 110 is plenty loud enough to wake up anyone but 120 indeed might even wake the dead. If you're gonna play the game then you might as well play it at the highest level.

December 9, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Sometimes Joe, it appears you have sniffed too much ether.

Posted by: Kim | Dec 10, 2005 8:40:03 AM

Nice bit of conditioned response programming!

Posted by: Mattp9 | Dec 9, 2005 8:04:56 PM

Roy Cohn hired my dad to pilot his boat from Greenwich, CT to Palm Beach, FL in 197something. His boat made it in pristine condition to the sunny beaches o' Palm and Cohn skipped out on the $2000 bill. Does that mean I'm famous by association?

Posted by: Louisa | Dec 9, 2005 4:42:01 PM

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