Bring on the killer robots, but not grizzlies

Michael Raffety


The same people who brought us the Internet are now working on robots for the Army. I’m talking about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also known DARPA.

While DARPA is working on killer robots, there are groups working to stop the Army robots, specifically Human Rights Watch. Look for the United Nations to next work through its various agencies to put the kibosh on “autonomous military machines.”

Getting on the anti-killer robot band wagon are Cuba, Pakistan, Egypt and Ecuador. None of these countries have what we would call impartial justice. Cuba imprisons and tortures anyone perceived as an opponent. Egypt has quickly ordered the execution of masses of those it considers opponents. Ecuador imprisons journalists and has shut down TV stations. Allegedly it is a democracy, but that’s also claimed about Putinocracy in Russia. Pakistan is just plain a mess.

So, what about those killer robots? The aim seems to be autonomously operated systems with a built-in “ethical governor” to be sure they are operating under the rules of engagement.

According to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Barry Schechter, there are already some self-operating systems. He cited Captor sea mines that hunt submarines on their own, Phalanx guns that automatically shoot down water-skimming missiles. He might have mentioned Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense.

Schechter wrote, “Experimental drones can now fly themselves, pick out their own landing zones and travel in mutually supporting swarms. A logical next step is to give these unmanned systems the power to fire on their own, delivering weapons on target faster and with greater precision than a human ever could.”

I’m betting autonomous drone swarms are a ways off and autonomous military machines are even farther in the future. I would see more value in human-controlled robots like what is now done with armed drones.

  • • •

The Center for Biological Diversity, which is a fancy name for a radical environmental group that makes sure the rest of us get stuck with crazy things, now wants to import grizzly bears to California. This has given the Sacramento Bee’s senior editorial writer the heebie-jeebies. She wrote a column about it and then an editorial. She’s not too crazy about importing grizzlies to California. The last one was apparently killed in Tulare County in 1922. I’m surprised there were any grizzlies that recently.

Tulare, of course, includes Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.

The only argument the Center for Biological Diversity can come up with is the grizzly bear is on our state flag. Give me a break.

Grizzlies once roamed all over the state. The Spanish found them in Monterey and probably in Santa Barbara. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read about California was called “California Before the Gold Rush.” It was based on diaries and letters. One of the most astounding images from the book for me was the description of masses of tule elk swimming across Carquinez Strait.

Wikipedia puts the tule elk herd population at 500,000 when the Europeans arrived.

And that’s what the grizzlies depended on for food. Just ain’t here anymore.

Now tule elk are found on Grizzly Island in the Delta, near a lake in southern San Joaquin County and near Lone Pine in Inyo County, at the northern end of Pt. Reyes National Seashore and in Santa Clara County’s Coyote Ridge.

Roosevelt elk are found from Redwoods State Park to the Olympic Peninsula.

I’m in Mariel Garza’s camp when it comes to grizzlies. Leave them in Montana, Idaho and Alaska. They are dangerous animals. They may not be able to climb trees, but at 35-40 mph they will outrun you before you can find a tree to climb.

A little booklet titled “Don’t Get Eaten” advises carrying pepper spray in grizzly country. Of course, you have to wait till the bear gets within 40 feet and hope you are not facing a headwind or a side wind that will blow the spray away and that you can unholster and unlock it fast enough to use it.

The book recommends pepper spray over firearms. “Facing a charging grizzly is combat shooting; people tend to panic,” the book said.

When I canoed down the Yukon River from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Dawson with an acquaintance I met at a youth hostel in Whitehorse, I had brought along a rifle with a scope. I picked it out especially for defense against grizzlies. It was a lever-action .44 caliber magnum. I worried that a typical 30-06 would just bounce off his skull. I wanted something that wouldn’t bounce. I couldn’t say I wouldn’t get the jitters if I had actually had to use it, but it made me feel a little safer, especially the night we camped in a spot where there were moose tracks, another car-sized animal inherently dangerous.

That rifle was later stolen in a burglary of my apartment in San Francisco. So when I later kayaked with a friend from Vancouver, B.C., to Ketchikan, Alaska, I bought another lever-action, this time a .308 caliber, which again was lost to a burglar when I lived on Reservoir Street in Placerville. The one time I was glad I had it was when we found bear scat where we were going to camp. Just seeing the bear poop gave me the heebie-jeebies and we paddled on further to look for another campsite.

Bring grizzlies to the southern Sierra and they will be trouble with a capital T. One year our family visited Yosemite in the spring after a heavy winter created fantastic spring runoff in the valley. On the way to Yosemite Falls I watched in horror as a family rolled grandma’s wheelchair closer to a black bear near the bathroom. The black bear was close enough that it was just plain foolish to try and enter the women’s side of the bathroom, though some did.

This state is full of fools like those. City slickers. Grizzly bears are no longer a realistic species for this state.


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