Way, way back at the dawn of history, when I was a wee lad and IBM still ruled the computer industry, I was briefly focused on learning a language that has since passed into obscurity. It was IBM’s “everything” language: PL/I. The computer giant had dedicated serious resources to develop a language that would be “all things to all men.” It would satisfy the science nerds who programmed in FORTRAN. It would please the commercial wonks who programmed in COBOL. And it would mollify the academics who believed that ALGOL was the only decent way to express an algorithm.
PL/I was one of the first languages to be too big for the computers on which it was used. The PL/I compiler for the IBM 360/65 on which I learned it made over 80 passes over the source code before it could create a relocatable object module. Why? Well, when your compiler’s design objectives include the ability to compile FORTRAN and COBOL code without modifications, you have a few obstacles to surmount. I knew a couple of PL/I freaks who used up more time running the compiler than they did on the execution of their applications. After I’d played with it a bit, I grew disgusted and decided to turn my attention to “the language of the gods:” IBM 360 assembly language. Some of the mistakes I made in IBM assembler were glorious enough to shut down the entire computing center. One of them is still memorialized on that building’s Wall of Fame.
(Hey, if you’d managed to code an error so severe that all OS/360 had to say about it was “I’m sorry. You’ve made a mistake. I think I’ll be dying now,” you’d be pretty proud of it too.)
But enough of that. I was just thinking about one of PL/I’s innovations: the ON CONDITION statement. This feature, new among programming languages in its day, specified a condition which required special, “emergency” handling. When the condition was recognized by the program, it would trigger an immediate transfer of control to a designated routine that would handle it. A program could specify several such conditions and handlers for them.
Societies have “ON CONDITIONS” built into them, too. Most don’t explicitly “code handlers” for them. Nevertheless, they exist. Thomas Jefferson – remember him? – explicitly noted one in what the late Gene Burns liked to call “the birth document of the Republic:”
…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
However, societies are a bit more uncertain about whether they’ve detected the indicated condition than are computer programs.
It might seem a bit disconnected, but what has the above on my mind are two recent developments, one more recent than the other. The first is nicely expressed by a graphic I stole from Ninety Miles From Tyranny:
That’s an ongoing condition that many well-meaning Americans, averse to “offending” anyone regardless of the reason or the context, have been coping with for about thirty years. I’m sure my Gentle Readers have detected it, though what their personal ON CONDITION handlers have done about it has varied widely.
My ON CONDITION handler immediately acts to reinforce and intensify the “offense” whenever the occasion arises. The reactions have been uniformly gratifying. The “offended” are seldom aware of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It appalls them to be informed that it’s not illegal to abrade their sensibilities. Their ON CONDITION OFFENDED handlers usually prove inadequate. Express their disapproval orally? No effect. Swing at me? Not recommended; I’m old and conspicuously armed. That leaves sputtering in outrage, which buys them nothing.
(No, I’m not a “nice person.” But you knew that already.)
I believe this is the only way to defeat the cancer of “political correctness” which has done such harm to American public discourse. The “offended” seek to silence us. They’d like to render any expression of disapproved sentiment illegal, but failing that they’ll use the “offense” weapon for whatever it can buy them. Until the “purchasing power” of being “offended” drops to zero, their campaign to censor the rest of us will continue.
The second item of interest is the odious Hunter Biden and his sale of his “art.” Great God in heaven! If there’s ever in the history of the world been a less talented “artist,” that worthy’s name has gone unrecorded. Indeed, several of those “artworks” were created by blowing paint through a straw. In what bizarre universe is this considered an artistic technique?
But wait: there’s more! According to the reports, the gallery holding this sale will keep the names of the purchasers confidential! Thus, huge amounts of money can be funneled to Hunter Biden for his trash “artworks” without anyone knowing the sources. Is it not superb!
How much more outrageous does arrant, undisguised corruption have to get before it triggers America’s ON CONDITION handler?
Perhaps the problem is that American patriots have only one “programmed response:”
While it is a bit wholesale, that response is well suited to a state of affairs in which a gaggle of totalitarians have captured the federal government and are busily working to destroy the nation. But our ON CONDITION handler has defined the condition to a high degree of detail – perhaps too high. The narrowness of that definition might have emboldened those whose aim is “to reduce [us] under absolute Despotism.” They’re taking larger and larger “slices” of our “salami.” And that means that, in Larry Correia’s words, when the handler is finally triggered, it will “make Bosnia look like a trip to Disneyworld.”
I don’t like what I’ve been thinking. However, dispelling it and concentrating on purely personal matters has proved ever more difficult as the Usurpers have progressed. What about you, Gentle Reader?