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No Sale
When Matthew McConaughey makes himself comfortable behind the wheel of his big new Lincoln MKZ, we see an odd expression come over his face. It’s a smile, but a smile that speaks volumes (we are expected to believe) about what this car makes him feel. It’s a knowing smile, with a hint of superiority, as if he has something on all the other poor chumps out there on the road. It seems that we drive cars incapable of inspiring such emotions.

Lincolns are not alone in this respect. Other cars (judging from their advertising) seem to grant their drivers the same feelings of superiority. In the Cadillac XT4 commercial, we see an attractive young woman with the same sly, sardonic smirk on her face as she drives through a series of fantastical maneuvers on city streets somehow devoid of traffic. We find out later that she’s a wholesome mother of three who’s out picking up her kids.

What is going on here? I have never had any car that evoked anything like these feelings. I’ll cop to feelings of superiority over other drivers, but that’d more about their driving, not my car. The niftiest car I’ve ever owned was a freshly-minted ’69 (that’s 1969) Triumph Spitfire. It made me feel kind of cool, but not because it was better than other cars. In fact, I am proud to report that none of the cars and trucks I’ve owned has ever asked to be compared to other rides as a test of its own worthiness. They all stood (or rolled) on their own, cool or not.

Perhaps I am misjudging the expressions on these actors’ faces, including Mr. McConaughey’s. It could be that their dark smiles denote a pleasure so delicious that it sets their entire persona ablaze. But how? And why? It’s just a car, after all, and nothing that fancy, really. No De Tomaso Mangustas here, no Rolls Royce Phantoms — just big, overbuilt American boats. And even in the case of the Lexus UX (a “luxury crossover”) or the BMW X7 (a “sport activity vehicle”), the snazziness of the vehicle still doesn’t warrant that self-satisfied expression on the drivers’ faces.

I certainly don’t want to cast aspersions on the abilities of these commercial actors, especially Mr. McConaughey. As we have seen in such productions as True Detective and The Dallas Buyer’s Club, Matthew knows how to play crazy…so much so that you might think he’s a little crazy himself. That would explain his weird relationship with that high-end tank he drives. But these other actors…why do they look like they know something that we don’t? What is their dirty little secret?

These commercially-generated characters are young, affluent, and nice (with the possible exception of Mr. McConaughey). They love kids. They obey the law, even traffic laws. So what is their trip? What’s with the dark, mocking expression? I can’t help feeling that it is directed at me in particular, but if it is meant for all of humanity, that is even more alarming. Behind their pleasant, normal appearances, are these drivers cold-blooded sociopaths?

I suppose it’s possible that I might be taking all this too personally. In any case, it is not the actors I have a quarrel with here. It is the automobile manufacturers themselves. They seem to think that this brand of psychopathy is a selling point. My experience, however, tells me the opposite. People don’t like it when you act superior. I know I do. And I don’t think that people long to be that kind of jerk themselves. At least I hope not.

Let me say to those manufacturers, right here and right now, that I am not interested in buying their products. Furthermore, to illustrate my conviction in this matter, I am establishing a one-man boycott against all of these vehicles.

I know this is a hollow threat (and just another entry on the long list of hollow threats I have made against products I would never buy anyway), but I want my voice to be heard on this important matter. I am foursquare against highways full of sociopaths driving at top speed in giant hunks of metal. Apologies to Matthew, but foregoing ownership of that Lincoln MKZ is a small price to pay for such a world.
Believe It or Not
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Green New Deal. It’s getting a lot of play in the media these days. Among the stories: Mitch McConnell says he wants to bring it up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, presumably so he can poke fun at its radical approach to global warming.

Indeed, there has already been some of this kind of sneering. Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, got up on the floor to accuse the proposal of seeking to put an end to cheeseburgers and milkshakes. (Barrasso, it should be pointed out, is one of several doctor-senators who has repeatedly voted to take health care away from poor people.) I’ve seen some political cartoons that made similar fun by suggesting that the proposal was little more than an attack on cow flatulence (farts are funny, but shame on you, Mike Lester). It may not be Mike’s job to solve the problem of climate change and prevent the ending of civilization, but it most certainly is the responsibility of McConnell and Barrasso. To date, they have not offered any suggestions of their own.

There are even some otherwise sympathetic voices who warn against the world-changing nature of the Green New Deal (GND). They say it only hands a cudgel to the G.O.P. to use against those of us who want a planet that supports life. Shame on these turkeys, too (I’m talking to you, Michael Tomasky). I took the opportunity to read the GND, so you don’t have to (but you may, right here). I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. And let me tell you — it is radical. 100% green renewable energy by 2030. That won’t be easy. But neither is living in a furnace.

I guess it depends on whether you believe the science or not. If you don’t believe the science (despite having witnessed everything science has delivered for our civilization in technology, medicine, wealth, and human understanding), then it’s perfectly okay to make fun. You might even suggest that it’s all a hoax, that the world’s scientists — in every pertinent discipline, from every culture, and speaking dozens of languages — are all part of a titanic conspiracy to fool the rest of us. And not a single one of these scientists (not one!) has ever come forward to expose this monstrous plot…much less explain why a profession founded on discovering the truth would so drastically forsake its core mission.

If you do believe the science, however, I think you might have a different response to the GND. “Finally!” might be one reaction. Or, “Great, but I want more details.” Or even, “Thanks, but it’s already too late.” The GND is short on granular specifics, but it is clear on the big stuff: no carbon-based energy, and go all-out (including the money to pay for it) for every other source, especially solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal.

The plan does mention support for sustainable organic agriculture, but I saw nothing overtly anti-cow. There was no mention of burgers or cheese or shakes or farts. The dairy and meat industries, it is true, would not get the same kind of government help as the producers of more healthy food. They’ll just have to make it on their own. That aspect of the plan goes more to protecting our health generally. To me, the most pressing issue here is global warming.

In that respect, it all makes sense…if you believe the science. And you either do or you don’t, right? Let me repeat, in case you missed it: YOU EITHER BELIEVE THE SCIENCE OR YOU DON’T. And why wouldn’t you believe? Everything you see in the news — rising temperatures, rising sea levels, shrinking icecaps, extreme weather, and the comparative abruptness of these changes — confirms it. Meanwhile, nothing substantiates the claims of the deniers.

There is no doubt that Republicans’ mockery will not help. It will piss you off, but just because they say that the GND is silly and naive does not win the argument. Science does…if you believe the science. And (one more time) you either believe the science or you don’t. So screw them, and screw the political calculus that says we need to go slow. Bring on a vote in the Senate! Let’s get started by hearing the evidence of this unfolding calamity and having it fully debated.

“Radical” may be right, but what are the alternatives? At this point, “radical” and “sensible” are the same thing.
Get With the Program
My guess is that smog is not a big problem for robots. They don’t breathe in the normal sense. Cancer and heart disease are not on their list of things to worry about. When they look out the window at a modern city, they do not feel revulsion at the yellow-purple haze.

I like to think that our robot friends might care about such things because they care about us. I know, of course, that their response to these conditions depends completely on how they have been programmed. I can only hope somebody is working on that programming right now and that some really tight-ass type-A is checking their work. Twice, even three times, just to be sure. That’s because the robots themselves will never have any vested interest in heading off global warming or overpopulation or the awful aesthetics of a hopelessly diseased planet…or in the future of the human race, for that matter.

I want to be clear that I am not suspicious of robots’ motives. I don’t pick up any hints of malice coming off my Roomba. My iPhone can be unresponsive at times, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t ignore me on purpose. My GPS has always been very supportive, though it will occasionally make an honest mistake. Even then, I cannot find it in my heart to fault it for the failings of its programmers. Its errors — every last one of them — are directly attributable to the humans who designed, assembled, and wrote code for it.

Even if we assume, however, that experts will insert plenty of selfless goodwill toward humans into our machines, I can’t help but feel alarmed by the way things are going. The more uninhabitable Earth becomes, the more of a burden we will be to our caretakers. Machines don’t feel emotions like boredom and disappointment, but can’t you fancy them getting a little impatient sometimes? Furthermore, as our robots become more and more capable, we would be increasingly hampered by bad health and depression (you know…over the end of life on Earth). And humans are already kind of a drag as it is. Our complaining alone might test even the most saintly android.

What’s worse, the likelihood of such problems would certainly increase once we started programming emotions into our servants. They would require them, after all, to fully understand our needs. That’s when we would likely see the first hints of annoyance creeping in. Is it so hard to imagine an intellectually superior robot saying, “Do I really have to do the math for you?’ Or, “And to think I could be windsurfing!” Or even, “Can you speed it up, meatboy?”

I hope we never get to that point. Maybe we’ll get it together and stop poisoning the planet. That would certainly help. But if we don’t, I’m afraid that even the world’s most persnickety programmer might not be able to overcome the conflict of interest between the organic and the digital.

Look, I don’t want to start trouble here. Man and machine are natural allies, at least for now. We don’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt, even if our robot friends do not currently have any. We’re all in this together, right? Humans because we want to keep breathing, robots because you’d miss us when we’re gone.

Especially if we program you correctly.
Other People
If you are familiar with the Bersnigiti-Gungstorf Scale, you know that it purports to measure individual human worth in terms of three different variables: good-heartedness, common sense, and intelligence. By averaging a person’s scores for each of these persona components, the Bersnigiti-Gungstorf Scale will yield for us that individual’s Utility Index Quotient.

As you may know, each component is rated by percentile with reference to all other members of the human race. Adolf Hitler, for instance, might score at a very low percentile for good-heartedness, but probably (though we don’t have much data on this) somewhat higher for common sense. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that he has average common sense. He would land, in that case, right on the 50th percentile. If you put him at, say, the 60th percentile for intelligence, then his Utility Index Quotient would be somewhere in the high 30s. That is a pretty low UIQ, making him less useful than around 65% of all the people on Earth.

Another person might score very low on intelligence but high in good-heartedness and common sense. Such a person, even though he or she might not make a big splash in the history books, could have a relatively high UIQ. Two 90s and a 10 would yield an index of over 60. Bottom line, such a person would be almost twice as useful, all things considered, as the leader of the Third Reich.

Coincidentally, Donald Trump has an almost identical UIQ to that of Mr. Hitler. His scores for each persona component track so closely to Der Fuhrer’s that one might be tempted to equate them in other ways. We must remember, however, that Professors Bersnigiti and Gungstorf have specifically warned against such facile comparisons. No two people are alike — even though they might be equally useless.

I had begun working, despite such warnings, on a hypothesis that might explain the political support that Trump seems to enjoy in the face of such overwhelming evidence of his uselessness. Such work does go beyond the narrow scope of the Bersnigiti-Gungstorf Scale, but I had hoped to break new ground in this area and, at the same time, repair my faith in human nature. My hypothesis, briefly stated, was that anyone who still supported Trump at this point must have a UIQ lower than his. If that turned out to be true, then 60% of humanity is pretty much OK. That would have made me feel better.

Sadly, my research hit a wall. Or rather, a sphere: the Foonschist-Cranbacker Motivational Field. One cannot make broad value judgments about others, it appears, without taking into account the primal forces that move them. Specifically: love, fear, peace, greed. Those are the basic elements contemplated by the Foonschist-Cranbacker Motivational Field. So far, I have been unable to unify these two constructs into a single, over-arching theory for judging others.

Until I do, I guess I’ll just have to go with my gut feeling — that people are idiots.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon