Intervention

I have always been a big supporter of the UN. One of my biggest dreams is to work there, even though I’m aware that dream may never come true. I have always thought their mission was just and great…they just never had the teeth to back up.

Recently, they sent peacekeepers into the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a more robust mission. They will be armed fairly heavily and can carry out offensive operations, as opposed to just keeping the peace between warring factions. I think it’s about time and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had the decision been made sooner.

Humanitarian missions have popped up a bit recently. Bill Clinton said that his largest regret from his eight years is not doing more in Rwanda. Obama has decided to help in Syria, though they must be careful in how they go about doing it. One country cannot police the world, but one organization made up of many countries could, perhaps, have a better chance of bringing about peace.

The Economist rightly pointed out, however, that these UN troops, donning blue helmets and the UN badge, cannot take sides. They cannot side with one group on behalf of the world. As the story pointed out, their neutrality is key.

I also think it’s worth noting that the troops will come from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, other African nations. Canada, historically, has been a leader of missions offering soldiers and resources and they absolutely must be commended for this. But people have often said that African nations should help with African crises. We heard it in Rwanda, Darfur and other conflicts. The African Union has often been called upon.

All of the units should be in place in a month or two, the first ones arrived in early May. We should keep an eye on this, as it will be an important deployment. One that may shape peacekeeping missions in the future.

Driving along in my automobile…

Marketplace on NPR was talking about self-driving cars earlier in the week as part of their Freakonomics series. It seems that while flying cars are out of the picture for now, a self-driving car may not be far off.

There are about 34,000 car deaths a year and many, many more injuries. Many of them are attributed to human error. But, according to the report, more than 80 percent of drivers consider themselves above average. I have driven the roads, people, you are not all above average drivers. In late March I was involved in a three-car accident when a man rear-ended my car on I-95 going 60-70 miles per hour, hitting me hard enough to crash into the car ahead of me. We were both stopped due to heavy traffic. He probably also considers himself an above average driver. My back for a few months would disagree.

See, I love the idea of a driverless car. Both for the reason I listed above and I love the idea of being able to turn on my car, tell it where to go, then read a book or something. That’s one of the reasons I love public transportation so much. I make sure I get to the train station and on the train, then I can do whatever I want until I get to my destination.

Of course, the safety argument only works if everyone is in a driverless car. Otherwise they could be like sitting ducks on a road full of idiot drivers.

The radio report said it could have an impact on the disabled and elderly as well. Allowing them more independence by using a vehicle without necessarily driving it. It could also drastically reduce driver fatalities. It would have an impact on drunk driving as well as distracted driving.

Really…it would be amazing.

But, would we go for it? The report talked about our American love affair with cars. And not just cars, but the romanticism of taking to the open road and driving on a long car trip. This is not a romantic notion I share, but I understand that other people do. The host Kai Ryssdal joked that they could take the steering wheel out of his cold, dead hands.

Cost is another issue to consider. Right now the cars are only allowed in test drives. Universities have courses set up to be as realistic as possible, with turns and unexpected hazards.But remember how expensive hybrid and electric cars were? They’re still extremely expensive. The government offers tax credits for many of them to encourage more people to buy. Given the technology that goes into a driverless car, could any driver, or any 99% driver, be able to afford it?

Speaking of the technology, it’s pretty cool. Some of the technology is already in use in cars with drivers, like emergency braking, lane-keeping, cruise control, auto-parking and other features. The cars rely on sensors, GPS, ultrasound and wi-fi sometimes. The cars can map out the road and respond quickly. In some models they can communicate with each other. There is a computer where the spare tire goes in some models.

As with all things technological, there is still a lot of risk. As good as computers are getting, there are still some things that require humans, even if we may not be as good at driving. The Economist article I linked to said the snow-covered roads and construction still pose challenges for the autonomous vehicles (they pose challenges for humans, too, I might add). Also, there is always a concern about malfunction and technology failure. My iPhone is amazing, but it still crashes sometimes. In addition, could hackers disrupt the workings of the cars? Would this be the next frontier for cyber-terror? One would hope that the cars would all come with some sort of person-override in case of emergencies.

Not to mention, the ever-present Skynet fear that creeps in when people talk about machines taking place of people.

It won’t be overnight and it will undoubtedly be a long, long time before these cars are on the road in any sort of significant manner.

I am at peace with the idea that flying cars may ultimately be limited only to the Jetson family. However, I would like to see autonomous cars in my lifetime. Think of all the reading I can do.

I wear your granddad’s clothes…

The recession has changed pretty much every aspect of our lives, particularly the millennials who have seen most of their lives delayed as jobs dried up and student loans inflated. Something that impacts our lives on such a daily basis, through headlines, job rejections and working a part-time, minimum wage job while trying to pay off tens of thousands of dollars to pay off that bachelor’s degree starts to reflect in the culture.

A horror movie a few years ago called “Drag me to Hell” focused on a loan officer who refused to extend a woman’s loan leaving her to face foreclosure.

Turn on the radio and you’ll hear Macklemore sing about going thrift shopping and “poppin’ tags.” I had to look that one up, but it means either stealing or taking the tags off of an item and replacing it with a clearance tag.

Not to mention movies about people losing everything in the economy and so many story lines revolving around the stock market, 401Ks and layoffs.

Culture has moved away from decadence, gold chains, big cars and the other trappings of that lifestyle. We watch shows like the Real Housewives and laugh at how ridiculous they seem. Bravo recently showed a documentary called “The Queen of Versailles” about the Siegel family of Westgate Resorts fame. They were building the largest home in America (based on Versailles) and had to stop construction after the economy tanked. The documentary showed their family, the way they live and the delusions she clung to as she tried to live her old life on today’s budget. It was both riveting and sad.

And maybe it’s for the best that idea goes away. A return to living within our means would be ideal. Part of why it was so easy to talk people into mortgages they could not afford ¬†was the desperation of people to have that image.

Maybe as our culture shifts away from the Benjamins and more toward the $20 in my pocket, we’ll stop existing from bubble to bubble, paycheck to paycheck and crisis to crisis.

This is overly simplistic, I know. And the problems of income inequality and the inability for a family to make a living wage have to be tackled. But a rebranding campaign about what constitutes wealth and normality may be overdue, as well.

  • Tweets!