Random Matter


by Mike Cronin

Five items of interest this week.  In no particular order:

There was bit of brouhaha this week over a Tallahassee, Florida school sending a waiver home with kids that would allow them, with parental consent, to opt out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Conservatives painted the move as a sacrilegious, PC attempt to erode patriotism. The same kind of outrage is evident when protesters burn or otherwise desecrate the flag.  When I see people doing that it makes me mad. But those of us who love freedom and liberty have to be consistent in our defense of them. All of our freedoms are under attack, including freedom of speech. Even though we may hate the idea that there are people out there who do not love America, even though we may be angered by their actions, we have to respect that they are free to voice their displeasure just as we can voice ours.  Regardless, a loyalty oath that is made into a compulsory ritual to be performed by those who have not yet attained the age of reason can be no more reliable an indicator of patriotism than a confession extracted by torture can be relied on as evidence at a trial.

If we ban law-abiding citizens from owning or possessing firearms because they might misuse them to commit or attempt to commit mass murder, then by the same logic we should also ban law-abiding citizens from owning or possessing propane tanks for gas grills (Columbine, 1999), fertilizer and diesel fuel (Oklahoma City, 1994), light aircraft (Austin, TX, 2010), passenger cars (Reno, 1980), gasoline (Happy Land nightclub arson fire, NY, 1990), envelopes (Anthrax episode, 2001).  Oh, and let’s not forget commercial aircraft (9/11). In fact: “Guns aren’t even the most lethal mass murder weapon. According to data compiled by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, guns killed an average of 4.92 victims per mass murder in the United States during the 20th century, just edging out knives, blunt objects, and bare hands, which killed 4.52 people per incident. Fire killed 6.82 people per mass murder, while explosives far outpaced the other options at 20.82. Of the 25 deadliest mass murders in the 20th century, only 52 percent involved guns.” Note the source. This isn’t from the NRA or some other pro-gun organization, but the liberal Slate magazine just after the 2012 Aurora school shooting!

We are so pre-occupied trying to achieve “diversity” that we have neglected the concept of unity.  Do we live in the United States of America or the Diverse States of America?  Corporations, institutions, and other sizable employers are now hiring C-level “Diversity and Inclusion” executives.  They are the interior decorators of the company organization chart – their job is to color-coordinate the work force!

George Orwell’s 1984 showed us a dystopian future where everybody was under surveillance by Big Brother. What Orwell didn’t see coming was that the technology works both ways.  Citizens in the developed world can buy a smartphone or webcam or other recording gear and take video of the police and government, at least in most public areas.

Some day in the near future, artificial intelligence, or A.I., may render the concept of the nation-state and representational government obsolete.  Having humans connected to some form of A.I. is becoming a staple of science fiction. Neal Asher, Alastair Reynolds, and others have imagined futures where people are implanted with, or “augmented” with devices that allow them to connect and communicate via direct neural interface. John Scalzi dreamt up the colorful “BrainPal,” a kind of advanced Siri inside your head. Imagine if we could do away with almost all of the government and participate directly through our neural links while a wise, super-intelligent, ultra-rational A.I. provided guidance?  I don’t know if A.I. will bring us dystopia or utopia or something in between, but it is coming soon.