Human Intelligence, Human Ethics

By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall (Rated GO

From a long-ago Christmas, I still have a trio of Radio Shack instruments in an attractive 1980s plastic case: a battery-powered clock, a thermometer, and a hygrometer. A barometer would have been a good fourth, but I already had one.

The Radio Shack gizmos are so old that they were made in a free nation, Taiwan. My metal and glass barometer is an antique; it was made in the U.S.A.

Such things have been around for hundreds of years, and no well-appointed home or office was without them. With them, a thoughtful individual—keeping a record and working out calculations with a pencil and a calendar from the funeral home or the feed store—could reach reasonable conclusions for anticipating weather conditions for the next few days. In determining weather conditions for agriculture, construction, railways, road conditions, hunting, and other purposes, these simple machines and the complex human brain were essential.

For years, radio and television meteorologists still employed such devices, as well as on-the-ground observations sent to them via radio or telephone. Now, whenever the electronic hijackers permit, weather casters have access to all this information and more via computers.

But the electronics are unreliable.

When you look at the thermometer on your porch, you are reading the numbers on that thermometer, not a message telling you what the numbers are said to be on some other thermometer in the area. Your thermometer might or might not be reliable in itself, and it might or might not be positioned properly, but it is in your line of sight.

If the weather services are hacked, the power fails, or that far-away thermometer is down, you can still observe your thermometer. The same obtains with your mechanical clock, your hygrometer, and your barometer. There are no third parties between you and them—no computers, no satellite signals, no radio waves, no electrical lines, no hackers.

Most of us—including your ‘umble scrivener—access weather information via the television, radio, the Orwellian telescreen that looks like a small version of the mysterious slab in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, increasingly, our nifty little Dick Tracy watches.

The problem is that we access weather reports and other sorts of information only with the permission of people who don’t like us.

I type this on a little machine bearing a fine old American name, but which was made in a slave-labor camp. So was my clever fruit-named watch, my desk lamp, the glowing electronic components which send and receive all the household messages, the dehumidifier glowing prettily in a corner of the room, and most everything else of recent vintage.

Chairman Xi—the Big Rocket Man—can shut it down in an instant. So can a sixteen-year-old.

Chanting “Back. To. Basics.” is as reactionary of a ball cap slogan as “Learn. To. Code.” But between those two rigid positions, there is a logical alternative: learn and practice the basics (no one ever hacked a steam locomotive, a slide rule, or a tube radio), and extend them into the limitless possibilities of research and development in this country.

Until we make that happen, we are a third-world country dependent on the whims of other nations. And that sixteen-year-old.

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