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Category: Culture

Whether Permitting
It is not my habit to make New Year’s predictions, but I’m thinking of making it one. To that end, I am declaring 2017 as the Year of Do It Yourself. I hereby forecast that the DIY spirit will reign over almost every facet of our lives this year.

Especially politics. Whatever you say about Drump (“hornswoggler” was recently added to the list of options, along with “feculent”), you have to credit him with being the ultimate DIY candidate. Like any good do-it-yourselfer, he didn’t follow the instructions. And yet he got elected! All that remains is for his project to fail horribly (not that I’m rooting for that, understand, unless he’s standing under it when it collapses). Now that he’s done it, anyone who’s willing to spew the stupid and cruel can be President.

In the world of journalism we’re already halfway there on DIY news. Now we can eliminate “reporters” and just make it up ourselves. If you’re a newcomer, here’s the technique: think of something you want to have happen, then imagine an “event” or set of “facts” that would make it more likely. Write about your imaginary reality on Facebook. It goes viral, and that’s it — you’re writing the first draft of history!

Speaking of alternate realities, why not just live in one all by yourself? New advances in virtual reality have put us on the cusp of living endlessly exciting and fulfilling lives without any of the risk or expense. While it is true that actual reality itself is kind of a DIY opportunity, why should we have to settle for some grinding, humdrum existence when we can go anywhere, be anybody, and kill anyone we want over and over again? It’s a life ripe for the living — as long as Mom keeps supplying the pepperoni pizza and Mountain Dew.

Our new digital world, in fact, makes DIY possibilities of all kinds more likely. Want your own air force? Buy a drone. Now buy another one. Keep it up, and pretty soon your neighbor won’t dare park his big, stupid SUV in front of your house.

While the DIY theme will dominate the year, it should be noted that a strong countervailing trend will also continue. Let’s call it the Don’t Do It Yourself craze. DDIY is also driven by technology, mostly of the robotic variety. Self-motivating vacuum cleaners and self-driving cars will soon be followed by self-shooting guns and self-taking selfies.

The new DIY journalism we mentioned will be nicely complemented by the DDIY fad. Consumers of news will not check their sources even more in 2017 and continue not exercising common sense nor using simple powers of deduction. Heavy reliance will be placed on stories that are self-fact-checked and self-skepticized.

In a final example of a paradox, wrapped in an irony, sweater-vested in an incongruity, we will see “reality” TV be converted to 100% CGI using the latest in motion-capture systems. Those systems will be fitted to robots that have been programmed to move more realistically than real people. The result: we won’t have to witness the dehumanizing effects of these shows on actual humans. Maybe we can get somebody else to watch this stuff, too.

I am tempted to make a projection, based on all these trends, regarding the future of humanity itself, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. I haven’t decided yet whether to DIM or DDIM.
TV Dinner
Call me crazy, but I like food.

I’m fairly sure, however, that I am not crazy. It’s well documented that most people like food. It keeps them alive after all, and it tastes good. That’s bit of a miracle when you think about it. If you absolutely need to have something, there’s no need for it to be fun. We’d be eating sawdust if that were the only way to keep this fabulous dream going.

But we lucked out. There is a huge array of food choices, most of which do not revolt us. Some people even like beets and liver and monkey brains. If eating animal flesh offends your dietary ethics, the utterly defenseless plant kingdom can take up the slack. If a dog-based main course is a cultural taboo for you, there are plenty of cute animals to take Fido’s place. There might even be enough butter or hot sauce or bacon to make that sawdust palatable. The point is there’s something for everyone and it’s all good in its own way. But there are exceptions.

Chief among them is TV food. It offends me in a way that eating my one of my own pets never could. That’s because TV food is a filthy lie.

Take pizzas. No matter who’s hawking them — Pizza Hut, Straw Hat, Round Table, or Papas Murphy and John — when we see a piece being pulled apart from the main pie great steamy ropes of hot cheese trail behind it. Now be honest. Does this happen with your pizza? One or two threads may hang on, but nothing like those nautilus cables of molten mozzarella. Real cheese doesn’t do that. These images violate the sacred, unspoken pact of honesty between us and our food, and they are a lie.

And let us also consider the TV steak. Have you ever seen such perfect black stripes on your hunk of beef? Of course not. Just as that hot pizza cheese is pure plastic, those grill marks must be industrial grade acrylic paint. Now look at the garden fresh salad that comes with it — lots of exquisite lettuce flying through the air in slow motion, plump red tomatoes bouncing with joy into your generous bowl, your choice of gorgeous dressings squirting and splashing everywhere. All served with loving care by proud minimum wage workers and consumed by beautiful families who instantaneously melt into euphoria as it touches their lips. Lies, all lies!

I am not fooled, and what’s more I do not shrug off these deceptions. Under the law, there is such a thing as permissible “puffing” in advertising. One may slightly inflate the quality of one’s product as part of a sales pitch. Under my code, however, there is an exception for food. I want full transparency from a substance that is about to enter my body. That applies to labels and menus, and it applies to images of food on my big-screen 4K Ultra HDTV.

I have no secrets from my comestibles, and I expect them to reciprocate. If that is crazy, then the whole world has gone mad.
I Could Car Less
It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally reached a decision. I owe it to the planet, I owe it to the kids, I owe it to myself. I hereby resolve that I will never drive a car again.

Instead, I will use public transportation. I refuse to burn fossil fuels simply for my personal convenience. I will not add my vehicle to the worsening crush of traffic. There is no way I can permit my selfishness to ruin our world for generations to come, so I must end my affair with the internal combustion engine.

As you can imagine this is a pretty ambitious undertaking, so before I take the plunge I have a couple of small conditions that will need to be met. For starters I’d like the bus to meet me whenever and wherever I want. I realize that such an expectation might test the limits of our rapid transit infrastructure, but I am more than willing to meet the infrastructure half way. I don’t really need an entire bus to come and get me, so how about a one-person drone? Excuse me if I’m stating the obvious, but unlike stodgy land-based transport drones can simply fly above the rush hour traffic. That works for everyone’s convenience. Oh, and it would have to be electric. Otherwise what’s the point?

Also, since driverless vehicles are practically a thing already, why don’t we throw that feature in as well? If they were all plugged into the same system and constantly talking to one another, they would definitely be safer. Especially if ejection seats were standard equipment.

I assume that my fellow citizens would also like to use these flying robot taxis, so we’d need to have a fleet of at least 10,000 available here in my county, perhaps at a central location. I think we all ought to be able to count on a pick-up within five minutes after calling. That seems fair to me and completely doable. One could call a drone to get oneself to the hyperloop station, arrive at one’s stop in a trice, than call another to get one to that appointment for one’s aura adjustment. What could be simpler? I’m surprised no one has thought of this before.

I know that such a system is still a few months away, but the technology is there. Until my first flying robot taxi arrives, I’ll try to drive less and continue to do a lot of coasting in neutral. It’s the least I can do, but I am more than willing to do the least I can do.
Future Imperfect
Predicting the future can be a tricky matter. Everyone wants to know what’s going to happen there, but it’s really hard to find out before we arrive — which is why predictions are in such high demand. This also explains why there’s not much of a market for predicting the past.

It should also be said that any projection involving human activity is particularly chancy. The current political season is adequate proof of that. Even Nate Silver, chief stat man at the FiveThirtyEight probabilities website, pronounced himself “humbled” by the rise of Donald J. Trump. Whether you’re predicting politics, sports, or the longevity of Hiddleswift, the human element adds too many variables to permit a reliable call.

Purely scientific forecasts are another matter, at least theoretically. Predictability is what the scientific method is all about. Only data is important; every effort is made to eliminate the taint of human stupidity and prejudice. It is impossible, of course, to screen out the dreaded observer effect, to say nothing of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which I will say nothing of. Generally, though, science has proven to be pretty solid oracle.

Weather is an area where, in theory, we should be pretty good at predicting. Science and the observance of real phenomena are at the very heart of meteorology. The quality of the science involved and the density of factual input has gone way up in recent years. So why do their forecasts suck?

Okay, “suck” might be a little strong. I’ll give them this: they’ve gotten “the sun will rise tomorrow” right for as long as I can remember. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful for that perfect record of prognostication, but it’s only fair that we talk about the less-than-perfect, too.

Take last week. On Monday, the forecast for my small mountain community included a high temperature of 75. It eventually topped out at 94. Fine. I understand that conditions can change, and that the slightest alteration in the mix of phenomena can throw off even the most careful projections. That said, what about Tuesday? 76 was predicted; my final high reading was 94. I was beginning to suspect a trend, but when the weather page told me Wednesday’s high would be 77, I still chose to believe the experts. We ended up hitting 100.

I know: “Ohhh, poor baaaaby.” And believe me, I know exactly where you’re coming from because I was born there. I admit that I was not really harmed by this misleading information. If the mistake had gone the other way, and the temperature had turned out to be balmy rather than broiling, I probably wouldn’t have complained.

But hear me out. These predictions appeared in a newspaper…as news. This is what is going to happen, they seemed to say. You can count on it because our job at the newspaper is to print reliable information so people can make good judgments about their day-to-day lives. These figures aren’t the product of some BS artist like Nate Silver, they are the end result of a careful scientific inquiry. You can take them to the bank, they imply, and deposit them in a nice, safe money market fund.

But no. They were wrong — by a lot! Three days in a row! No correction was ever printed. No attempt to explain the enormous disparity was ever made. No refund was posted to my account. And not a word of apology was uttered.

This whole experience has been an epiphany for me. I’m not sure how it will affect my relationship with meteorologists, my local daily, or newspapers in general. This much I do know: if they tell me the sun will rise tomorrow, I will believe it when I see it.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon