Wednesday, August 17, 2005

US Foreign Policy

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hypothetically Speaking...

Suppose I was a car salesman and you were in the market for a new car. Then suppose I showed you a car that looked like exactly what you want in a car (whatever that may be: sleek, boxy, sporty, luxurious... whatever). And then I told you that it was priced just within your desired price range (again, whatever that may be). Then I asked you if you wanted to take a test drive. You'd want to go, wouldn't you?

So we get in to the car and I hand you the keys. The first thing that you notice is that the driver's seat is quite comfortable and that there is plenty of leg room and head room. The interior is elegantly styled and everything seems well laid out and easily accessible. You turn the key in the ignition while I fasten my safety belt. As the engine is turning over, you are momentarily confused and distracted as you realize that there is no accelerator pedal, nor is there any evidence of a gear shift. You don't say anything because all the while I am giving you an overview of the electronic seat adjustment mechanisms and you can't get a word in.

As the engine catches, the car begins to move forward without any prompting from you. With a sudden pang of fear you put your foot down where the brake pedal should be, only to discover that there isn't one of those either. So you spin the steering wheel vigorously to avoid hitting the other cars in the lot. I suggest that you aim toward the exit and, not having time to consider the implications of this, you do so. I then suggest that you also fasten your safety belt. You see my point, and so you yank the belt across your waist and plunge the metal tongue into the waiting buckle. You feel a momentary sensation of well-being as it clicks into place. That sensation rapidly dissolves as we exit the dealership lot doing about 50 MPH in a 30 MPH speed limit zone.

The car continues to accelerate as you frantically weave in and out of traffic. I begin a comprehensive demonstration of the pinpoint precision climate control features. At that moment you hit upon what should have been the obvious solution. You turn the ignition key back to the off position... but, to no avail. I point out that one of the great features of this car is that once you turn it on, it just keeps going no matter what, and then I try to draw your attention to the state of the art Alpine stereo system with 25 watts per channel, Dolby 5.1 Surround, and built-in XM satellite radio. By now the car is doing about 90 MPH, but you can't tell because the digital speedometer readout has morphed into a Victoria's Secret advertisement. Behind us is a wake of traffic accidents that you've caused.

As the vehicle tops 120 MPH, the sun sets behind the hills. You search the dashboard desperately for the headlight controls. When you can't find them, you ask me pleadingly where they are. I smile and boastfully inform you that this car doesn't need headlights because the windows have the patented infrarex nightvision coating which allows you to see the road even during the new moon. To which you exasperatedly point out that even if that's so, the other cars can't see us in the dark. I then reveal the small wet bar in the center console, offer you a complimentary Heineken, and suggest that you relax and enjoy the eerie, greenish scenery.

By now you can't even guess what speed we're going as the road obstacles approach like major league all-star fastballs. It's all you can do to keep the car on the road as you begin to cry like a frightened toddler. I smile reassuringly and say that I know how to cheer you up. Leaning forward, I hit a button on the dashboard above the stereo. A 36" LCD TV pops up in front of the windshield. The screen glows to life. America's Funniest Home Videos (the holiday marathon edition) is on. As I chuckle at Bob Saget's shtick, you eye the telephone poles whizzing by with growing resolve.

Now... Supposing all that, would you think that this car is a good buy? No? Well then why do you think that the juggernaut of western civilization is such a brilliant design? Just because it's lousy with luxuriant creature comforts, cutting edge festoonments, space-aged polymers, gadgety geek toys, throbbing sub-woofers, over-the-counter anesthetics, pervasive softcore porn, near-instantaneous digital gratification and 24-7 video inanities?

Right. Me too.