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Category: Culture

3Doom
Were you a little spooked when someone made the first 3D printed gun? Did it trouble you when you realized that anyone with the digital designs for the component parts and a 3D printer could make assault weapons in unlimited numbers in his basement? Me too.

I guess this technology kind of snuck up on us. When I first heard about it, it sounded like the set-up for and absurd joke. Copy your ass on this Xerox machine, and… Ha ha. Now it doesn’t seem so funny. Handguns, assault rifles, and who knows what else can now be conjured up practically out of thin air — bringing us one step closer to a society bristling with armaments and soaked through with paranoia.

This is sobering, to be sure, but I think we could probably cope with it all — if only technology would stop and take a breath. It won’t, though; it never does. The next big breakthrough, no matter how absurd it may seem conceptually, is waiting just around the corner.

If 3D copying can challenge us with its consequences, how will we react to the next logical link in this chain of creation? What if that advance carries us beyond our ability to deal with its unforeseen outcomes? What if it brings a change so fundamental that one deranged person could use it to destroy us all?

What if the next big thing is 4D printers?

Yes, I am talking about printers that can make guns — that travel through time! I don’t want to be an alarmist, but what if the Persians had had AK-47s at Thermopylae? How different would our lives be if The 100 Years War had lasted a week? Where would we be now if the redcoats had been packing Uzis?

If these scenarios fill you with icy dread (and they should), remember that we set ourselves up for this. If only we’d had the good sense to say, when those first big Xerox monstrosities hit the market, “No thanks, I’ve got a mimeograph machine.”
No Click for You
I don’t click on links to Sarah Palin stories anymore. If I see one online, I take a breath and move on. I’ll admit it’s hard sometimes. The links are often accompanied by an unflattering photo, and I have no doubt that if I clicked through, I’d find fresh reasons to justify my dislike of her.

I don’t need any more reasons, though. I’m up to here with reasons, and no, I don’t want to discuss them. Perhaps if she still had power and somehow constituted a real threat to the things I cherish, I might feel differently. But she doesn’t; she is now officially famous and nothing else. There is no payoff for me in hating on Sarah Palin, so why should I poison myself with all that bile?

There are some situations in which I could justify a little self-poisoning, I guess. Hating someone who is trying to kill me might actually help protect me from the killer. The hate might supply a heightened awareness and help keep me on my guard. This would be hatred as a self-preservation strategy. But if the hate object poses no threat, then why damage myself? Hate without a good rationale is hate for its own sake, and that will suck the humanity right out of you.

It’s much better to simply ignore such people. I will let Sarah Palin go on living her life, doing what she does, and just ignore her by not clicking on her links. Clicking would not only damage me by activating my own hate feedback loop, but it would directly benefit her. Somewhere, someone is counting those clicks, tallying reader interest in Dear Sarah. Each click gives her more of the very thing she thrives on: fame. It’s like a contribution to her campaign for Internet notoriety, and I refuse to take part in that.

I don’t click on links to Donald Trump stories, either. Nor on those beckoning me to some new outrage from Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. Their power is illusory, a product only of their ability to score attention for themselves, and I will not add my clicks to their balance sheets.

Politicians are another matter. Unlike the simply famous, they have pledged to uphold the public trust. As a member of the public, I take that pledge seriously, even if they don’t. If they welsh on it, then they deserve my attention. I feel righteous in granting them the full measure of my animus. I suspect that such an attitude is somehow self-defeating as well, but I can’t help myself. It’s part of my dues for living in a democracy.

Sarah Palin isn’t a politician anymore, of course. She was, and she was a lousy one, and now she’s become something like a zombie politician. She speaks to crowds, she travels around on her bus tour, and reporters faithfully record her pronouncements, but ultimately she’s no more consequential than the Octomom or Lindsay Lohan’s sideboob. She is the living dead. And she is completely dead to me.

When I do inadvertently click through to a Palin story, I am always sorry, as if the association, even by accident, has sullied me in some way. Valuable seconds are lost from my ever-shortening life. The brief rush of angry revulsion I feel is never worth its corrosive effect on my soul. I don’t want to hate her; I don’t even want to think about her. All I want is for her to go away. And that’s pretty easy, really. All I have to do is press “delete” and move on.
The Nine Billion Names of God
That’s the title of an old short story by Arthur C. Clarke. He assigns Tibetan monks the task of compiling and transcribing those nine billion names. At the time of the story, they’ve already been at it for thousands of years, and just as they’re finishing up…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

No matter; I have some questions for those monks. First, did you proofread the list for spelling? I’m guessing God will notice if even one of the nine bil is wrong. Second, did you use an appealing, easily readable font? You can’t go wrong with Times New Roman, I suppose, but how about Baskerville Old Face for a hint of understated omnipotence? And third, are you sure that your list includes every name ever assigned to God? I have no doubt that it includes Yahweh and Allah and Krishna and all of your top gods. You couldn’t have overlooked those.

But does it include, for instance, Jesus H. Christ? One might be tempted to dismiss this offering as nothing more than an oath of angry frustration, one that takes the Lord’s name in vain. But what does that mean exactly — take the Lord’s name in vain? That you gave him a shout out and he didn’t hear it? That he did hear it and ignored you? That’s what doing something “in vain” means, isn’t it? To try it and fail? I don’t get it.

Still, it must mean something. It’s one of the commandments, after all. Does it refer to cursing in which God is invoked, as most people would conclude? I don’t think so. Do you really think God is going to establish the Ten Most Important Rules Ever and waste one on outlawing “God damn it” or “Jesus H. Christ”? If he did, gosh, gee, golly, cripes, crackers, jeemineez, holy smoke, goldang it, dad gummit, and jumpin’ jehosaphat would also be proscribed. God would not be so stupid as to see these as anything other than poorly disguised curses. In fact, he might be even more offended at being taken for an easily duped deity.

So I’m saying add Jesus H. Christ to the list — right along with all those cute, fake-reverent euphemisms for God. Whatever that commandment means, it can’t possibly be about swearing, unless it’s swearing falsely, and Jesus H. Christ is nothing if not an honest expression of emotion.

By the same token, I’m not sure Christ on a crutch should be in there. It could be tagged as redundant, and we don’t want to be caught padding just to get to nine billion. The same goes for Kee-rist and hey, Zeus! Jiminy Crickets, moreover, should be disallowed simply to avoid confusion with the famous insect.

I don’t know what standards guided Arthur C. Clarke’s monks used in separating real names from pretenders, but I’m hoping they opted for a liberal, inclusive attitude. I think a genuine Supreme Being would be secure enough in his own identity that he wouldn’t mind a few nicknames or even a curse or two in his name. After all, any publicity is good publicity. Just be sure to spell all nine billion right…and steer clear of Comic Sans.
Brainbox
I have a memory of a video that depicted what happens to a brain during a concussion. I briefly tried to find it online but then thought better of it. The chilling memory is enough. The sight of that poor, defenseless organ sloshing violently around inside the skull (the result of, let’s say, a collision in football) was enough, back then, to make me want to curl up on the couch and never go outside again.

That’s because the slamming and buffeting is so extreme you’d conclude that even the slightest bump on the head could send you into a permanent vegetative state.

That would be an exaggeration, of course. Despite its squishiness, the brain has proven (over a hundred thousand years or so) to be pretty resilient. It’s floating in spinal fluid, and that goo is viscous enough to provide some cushioning at moments of impact. Still, it’s not as if the thing is tied down or anything. It bangs around in there like a clapper in a bell. What it really needs is some serious padding.

Well, not “need” so much, but if we want to keep watching football, something has to be done to stop all the concussions. Otherwise, I am convinced they’ll have to ban this ridiculously dangerous sport. I guess we could wait around until players with brain padding evolve naturally, but so far that process has been painfully slow.

If nature won’t do what needs to be done, then human science will have to step into the breach. I propose that in the summer between the senior year of high school and the beginning of the freshman year of college, potential pigskinners undergo brain surgery designed to lessen the effects of violent head trauma. I see a total removal of the skull, followed by the installation of a suitable padding material, then replacement of the cranium with any extensions that might be necessary.

For the padding, we might try latex foam. It certainly makes for a comfy bed. Bubble wrap could work too, especially if it were made from the finest of space-age plastics. And if we can’t afford space age, then why not use those Styrofoam packing peanuts? Whatever it takes to save our young people from crippling brain injury — while allowing us to watch them use their heads as battering rams.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon