Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Pre-Thanksgiving Assortment

1. Attack of the Highway Totalitarians.

Among the less tolerable nuisances of this age are the self-righteous who arrogate the privilege of running your life for you. Not all of them work for the government...yet. Some can be found on Long Island's major highways, every weekday morning and afternoon.

Some drive Priuses or Smart ForTwos, but not all of them. Some sport revealing bumper stickers about saving the Earth, but not all of them. And some stay strictly in the rightmost lane...but not all of them.

Some of them insist on driving in the leftmost lane -- the fast lane -- at 40 or 45 mph.

This is unacceptable, especially during commuting hours. Our road system is strained to its breaking point; the slightest disturbance from bad weather or an accident can lock up the Long Island Expressway for hours. As for New York City "gridlock days," please, let's not go there. That seems to bring all the crazies onto the roads, contrary to what the warnings are hoped to elicit.

In his arrogance and supercilious self-righteousness, the Highway Totalitarian presumes to limit others to the speed he deems most suitable for the advancement of his chosen Cause. Preventing "climate change?" Opposing "waste of resources?" Undermining "predatory capitalism?" All these Causes, and many others, seem to require slowing the rest of us down to his preferred rate of travel.

Such persons have no idea how many accidents they cause, by provoking poor behavior from drivers who have to get somewhere.

The only countermeasure is to get ahead of the Highway Totalitarian somehow, and then slow down still further. Eventually he'll become irritated with you and move to the right, freeing the lane of his autocratic rule. Sometimes it's only temporary, but that's better than nothing.

Given that most automobiles these days are "drive by wire" -- almost completely software-controlled -- a remote-control of some sort that would compel the Highway Totalitarian's car to speed up, change lanes, or explode spectacularly as a warning to others would be a big seller. Perhaps America's favorite marketer could come up with something along those lines. It really would make a fine Christmas gift, though it's too late for this year's holiday shopping and max-traffic season.

2. Insights Of Great Value.

The worthy Ace of Spades has written a column of unusual insight and value, which I exhort all Gentle Readers to read and absorb. Like Andrew Breitbart before him, Ace has grasped one of the central truths about conservative political outreach: It's too explicitly political.

The haymaker:

One of the problems with the right's attempts at media is that it is always -- or almost always -- expliclity political, and ergo argumentative (argumentative in the "good" meaning, but also often in the bad one). We're always trying to persuade in conservative media. Thus, conversion can only happen when people tune into us when they're in the mood to be persuaded that everything they used to think is wrong, and these other people have been right all along.

You know how all often people tune in to discover how wrong they've been about everything? Rounding off to the nearest integer, zero. Zero percent of the people tune in zero percent of the time to be told how very wrong they are about everything.

Taking it to three significant digits like Nate Silver, The Model projects that zero point zero zero percent of the populace searches for websites and magazines to tell them they are 100% wrong about everything zero point zero zero percent of the time.

The left doesn't do it like this. The left infiltrates non-political media and stuffs them full of political assumptions.

We say on the right we have better arguments. We do. Guess what? It doesn't matter. Because an assumption -- something you've grown to believe without even realizing you've been programmed, by dint of repetition, to believe -- will beat an argument every time.

Ace is dead on target. We're swimming against a cultural tide in which political messages -- left-leaning ones -- are subtly embedded, and so pervasive that they've descended into the unquestioned-assumptions stratum of most Americans' minds. Unless and until we take the initiative to assert a pro-freedom, pro-responsibility culture as the normal and preferred social matrix -- and learn to do it as subtly as the Left has done it to us -- we'll be trying, if I may borrow a phrase from John Hersey, to "beat bullshit with buckshot."

Ace's column is must-read stuff for anyone serious about wanting to help return the United States to a regime of freedom.

3. Killer Robots?

This piece at Fox News got me giggling at first, owing to the obvious "Terminator" reference...but I soon sobered up:

The government should ban autonomous, gun-wielding robots before it’s too late, Human Rights Watch is warning.

The group, which is dedicated to protecting human rights against oppression and discrimination, issued the warning in a 50-page report titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots .” It argues that bans are needed against fully autonomous drones and sentry robots under development in China, Germany, the United States, Israel, and more. Such robots lack human qualities needed to keep them in check, the group says.

"Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

Grant, first of all, that giving a machine "the power to decide who lives and dies" would indeed be a frightening thing. But inasmuch as such machines don't yet exist, I see this as an entering wedge, aimed at the U.S.'s current arsenal of armed drones under the control of human pilots at a distance. Such drones keep human beings off the battlefield, and as such are life-preserving devices. If we have to go to war, I'd greatly prefer that we fight that war with machines to the maximum possible extent, rather than with fragile human flesh and bone.

If Human Rights Watch's true agenda is to inhibit the U.S. from going to war at all -- it's a notably left-leaning group, so that's not much of a stretch -- I'd bet heavily that this protest against completely autonomous war robots, which don't yet exist and might never exist, is nothing more than a stroke indirectly aimed at further crippling American military power. We're already so casualty-averse that the prospect of major combat terrifies us almost into immobility. Removing one of the most promising devices for minimizing casualties would paralyze us still a time when the enemies of freedom are on the march literally around the world.

4. A Reprise From Long Ago.

Have a pure Thanksgiving thought from a more reflective moment:

Time is the ultimate gift.

Time is the medium within which we temporally bound creatures must work. Time is the dimension within which we plan, and execute our plans, and reap the rewards or the lessons they generate. But time is not ours to command....

This is the forward edge on the sword of time, the somber face of the ticking clock, that two-handed engine which will one day strike, and strike no more. We cannot bottle time. We are forbidden by the laws of the universe to know how much time we'll have. Though memory suggests otherwise, the only instant we can be sure of is now -- and it slips from our grasp before we can even finish pronouncing its name.

Your Curmudgeon is growing old. The sense of time running out has been weighing heavily upon him lately. He's been reviewing his goals, especially the ones that seem to be moving out of reach, and straining to make some sense of the things to which he's given his life. It's not a uniformly pleasant enterprise. It involves confronting a lot of utter folly and wondering how he could have been so stupid, as he was at Aunt Lil's dinner table three decades and more ago.

But it also involves appreciating how many opportunities he's had, how every pain visited upon him carried with it a lesson that would enlarge his understanding and prove valuable later in his life, and how even his worst failures were occasions for a great deal of hope and joy. This is the rearward edge on the sword of time: the ability to look backward over one's life and say, despite any and all regrets, "an ill favoured thing, but mine own," and therefore precious.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day in the year of Our Lord 2003, your Curmudgeon will give thanks simply for having lived. For having survived to laugh at his own stupidity. For having learned how much there is to know that he will never know. For having loved, often unwisely but never unwillingly, and having been loved in return. For all the failures, all the pain, all the triumphs and all the joys. These things are inextricably bound in the thread of time, whether Clotho spins it coarse or fine, whether Lachesis weaves it loose or dense, whether Atropos lets it run luxuriantly long or hacks it cruelly short. It was all pure gift, as is whatever portion remains to come.

Like any other sort of thread, this gift is what one makes of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I'll be back after the holiday weekend. Stay safe.


Martin McPhillips said...

Fran, having been your passenger in a car, I find it hard to imagine someone driving too slow for you.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Well, allowing first that Beth is the true leadfoot in the family, I must remind you, Martin: You haven't been in the shotgun seat with me at a time when I knew how to get where I was headed. Then again, if we except my morning commute, such times are relatively few.