Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Do better 'things' make a better life?

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

Into each computer owner's life, some rain -- or glitches -- must fall, as it has for me lately. A writer with a crippled computer is like a ski instructor with a broken leg.

Which prompted nostalgic thoughts of long ago, and the small, incredibly thin manual typewriter I toted around Korea in 1950-51 as a combat correspondent writing about exploits of troopers of the First Cavalry Division.

Banged around, filthy with dust, relying on an ancient cloth ribbon with ink, it never failed. I typed stories on onionskin paper that were delivered to a Signal Corpsman for transmission by ancient landline Teletype.

Speed was unknown. At best, hours passed before an editor somewhere could read it. Today, reporters in war or covering a faraway conference or breaking news can zip their work from laptop computers via satellite for instant reading a half world away in seconds -- unless a thingamajig fails and requires a tech with brain surgeon skills to fix it.

Today's automobiles are engineering marvels -- except when a small part starts an engine fire and tens of thousands of cars or trucks must be recalled. (I never heard of a Studebaker, now defunct, or Model A Ford being recalled before "modern" autos.)

Medicine? Unparalleled miracles performed everyday -- except when a surgeon amputates the wrong leg or a floor nurse gives a patient a fatal dose of medicine.

Modern food is keeping us alive longer -- if we survive cholesterol overloads or occasional E.coli poisoning.

Modern schools with the latest learning gadgets have mostly replaced decrepit, hot/cold classrooms -- yet students are underachieving in math, English, reading.

More colleges than ever and more college graduates with better skills -- if potential jobs haven't been moved overseas by CEOs to save the cost of hiring Americans for their skills.

The justice system has the finest courtrooms, wide ranging laws enforced by professional police, more prisons. But American prisons have larger populations than anywhere in the world -- a testament to a corrections system that doesn't correct.

Americans can boast of the world's most powerful and benevolent democratic government -- but one that's broke and the world's largest debtor.

Thematic cornerstones of the 43rd U.S. president's administration are "moral values" (except when allowing torture and physical abuse of "combatant" prisoners and of fibbing to citizens) and "freedom" (except for freedom of same-sex marriage).

Yep, life is better with all those better "things" that come along with being a modern world.

Except, of course, when better things fail us because humans who control them are failures.

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