Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Lethal Toys of the Top Dogs

                                                     By MORT PERSKY

 What I was reading on the New York Times website Sunday night was a piece I assumed the Times intended as one of the most important news stories in its Monday paper, a story headlined "Domestic Drones on Patrol," telling us that skies over our own country may soon be thick with drones watching us, and perhaps doing other things to us, not all of them specified. Chris Anderson, who left magazine editing to start his drone-and-robotics business, flat-out says to the writer of this piece: "The sky's going to be dark with these things." 

Then I realized the Times was treating this not as a news story, but as a business feature in which what Anderson said was perhaps slightly more controversial than Delta's ordering a few passenger jets.

The problem is that we are given, and read, stories of mammoth, dangerous changes with the same low expectations of human morality and behavior that our leaders and media keep justifying. Result: this baleful news fails to awaken what the story demands: a cry of human pain rising to the heavens along with the intent to drive every drone airplane not only from use in this country but from the skies around this world.  

But instead of joining an outcry, I found myself about to add my two cents' worth to a calm, rational discussion by Times readers, almost a carbon copy of what we got a day earlier from Bill Keller, the former editor of the Times, who wrote his Sunday column on virtually the same subject.  Keller's piece appeared on page 7 of the Sunday Review section. The section cover was taken, after all, by a piece describing a new reason to doubt Affirmative Action -- it might hurt its beneficiaries' educations.

Page 7 was the place, and the two-word headline "Smart Drones" was all Times editors apparently thought their big piece about think-for-themselves drones deserved, even though Keller was discussing, with a minimal sense of discomfiture, drones which will decide on their own, no questions asked of the citizenry deploying them, who and what to blast off the ground all by themselves. And all present seemed to think they could certainly do this with no great objections from them. 

Drones appear to be scheduled to do it not only without citizen input, but with no human input whatever, the present low involvement of humans in dronery already apparently too high for both the Times and the U.S. government, which has been enjoying a long field day of taking actions with little, if any, citizen input and no more protest than local police can handle. 

And it's very much like the field day they plan to keep conferring on drones -- or toy planes, as I call them, not because they're toys but because of the child-like, let's-try-this-and-make-a-buck mental state of those who order them, manufacture them, use them, run them, and the top dogs who decide for the rest of us that it's OK to use them. 

What? Somebody out there thinks we should ask somebody else, somebody we don't already know is in full agreement with us, if there's anything wrong with what WE decided to do? Well, Barack and everybody else learned from George W. Bush that nothing of the kind is required. It is much more essential, they've decided, to carry out their own wishes on behalf of a government they think should divorce itself from the self-scrutiny once held to be the business of democracy.  

*         *         *