Easy New Trick for Full Employment and a Roaring Economy

We can solve all our problems if we just study more. Let me explain.

(I’m taking a course on writing clickbait headlines. How’m I doin?)

The best minds of the age have been grappling unsuccessfully with the central economic mystery of the age: how to keep consumers buying houses, cars and cheap crap from China when they don’t have jobs. The Best Minds tried turning houses into ATM machines; they tried dropping no-limit credit cards from helicopters over urban areas; and of course they tried, over and over again, lowering taxes on billionaires. Nothing seems to have worked.

All along, the solution was right under our noses. As dramatically as America has turned from a nation that made things, into a nation that consumes things, so, just as dramatically, it has turned into a nation that spends unlimited amounts of money researching the answers to stupid questions. If you don’t think it’s a major industry, flourishing right under our noses, consider a sampling — just a small sampling — of the 204,000,000 results I got when I Googled “a new study says:”    Continue reading

The Columbo Gambit: Just One More Thing

The TV detective Columbo had a favorite ploy: he would allow his suspect to seem to outwit him, and then, as he was shambling out the door in apparent defeat, he would turn and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” And that question would crack the case like a hatchet applied to a year-old egg.

I highly recommend yielding the hatchet of “one more question” as we wend our way through the age of fake news and truthy information. In many cases, the suspect’s prepared answers all indicate innocence, truth and utter reliability, until we can think of that “one more question” that reverses the magnetic field and exposes the guilt.

A recent, pretty spectacular example: The suspect says he has discovered a worm that eats plastic, so all we have to do is cultivate the worm, set billions of them to work, and we can continue, guilt-free, to litter the planet with water bottles. Almost out the door to buy a case of water, we think to ask: wait, worms are larvae, what does the moth eat? Guilty response: the moths eat beeswax, and any significant increase in their numbers would doom bees and thus humanity. Hmmm. Continue reading

A New Administration Takes Control of the House

When you put a dumb slob in charge of the House, it’s amazing how fast things go downhill. (Photo by Ryo Chijiiwa/Flickr)

Almost a week ago now, She Who Must be Obeyed decamped to Florida. That left me, for the first time in ages, in total charge of the government of this House, and gave me a chance to deconstruct the oppressive administrative state under which I had been suffocating.

I began by signing several executive orders repealing long-standing, senseless regulations. It is now okay, for example, to leave the toilet seat in the up position, for the convenience of the male member of the household, so to speak. Eating ice cream directly from the carton, for hours at a time, is perfectly acceptable. Portion control, especially where steaks and french fries are concerned, is a thing of the past. Having a beer for breakfast, or declaring happy hour to be any hour that appears on a clock, are now deregulated practices. If any of these practices have serious side effects, I don’t know about them, and if I don’t know about them they cannot possibly hurt me. Continue reading

Repeal Obamacar and Set Car Insurance Free

See, it’s drivers like this who are ruining the insurance industry under Obamacar. No more, if the Trumpists have their way. (Wikimedia Photo)

The Trump administration is preparing legislation to repeal and replace Obamacar — their name for the automobile insurance industry, which they say is imploding because of President Obama. “The American people are sick of being forced to buy this hated insurance,” said a Trump spokesman who declined to be identified on the grounds that the President is certifiable and could turn on him at any moment.

“The first thing we’ve got to do,” said the spokes individual, “is get rid of the mandate. It is simply not fair to make everyone buy one-size-fits-all insurance. Or to ask someone whose Mercedes is parked in an air conditioned garage most of the time to pay for the mishaps of someone running around and running into things in a 1989 Honda. In the future we’re only going to sell car insurance to people who don’t have car accidents. Besides, people don’t want to have car insurance, they want access to car insurance, and we’re going to give them lots of choices they can’t afford. Because freedom of choice is what matters.” Continue reading

Driverless Cars: Their Time Will Never Come

The driverless car. An idea whose time will not come. Ever.

Can we just get real here for a minute? Our streets and highways are never going to be populated by a significant number of driverless cars. Any more than our lives are going to be enriched by attentive robots exhibiting artificial intelligence. We are no closer to deploying fleets of driverless cars now than we were to having a flying car in every garage, as the illustrated predictions in Popular Mechanics and the like insisted through the 50s and 60s. And 70s and 80s. (I should have warned you about the disorientation a sudden dose of realism can have; sit down and breath into a paper bag, it will pass.)

The deafening hype we are hearing about driverless cars is the sound of an entire industry trying to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to itself. Everything we hear about the auto industry is good (“2016 U.S.Auto Sales Set New High Record”) because everything we hear comes from the auto industry. And yet its healthy glow is beginning to take on the ghastly sheen of a dead mackerel. Continue reading

The Last, Best Metaphor: Black Slime Covers All

“Blue slime cover’s girl’s hand.” This headline is true. And this is what slime looks like. “Black slime covers Washington Monuments” is not a true headline. And that’s not what slime looks like. (Photo by Kelly Taylor/Flickr)

“Blue slime cover’s girl’s hand.” This headline is true. And this is what slime looks like. “Black slime covers Washington Monuments” is not a true headline. And that’s not what slime looks like. (Photo by Kelly Taylor/Flickr)

The headline was arresting. Or to be more contemporary about it, it was excellent clickbait. “Black Slime Creeps Over Washington DC’s Most Famous Monuments.” What a fabulous metaphor for everything that’s wrong with Washington, with the Empire, with the Industrial Age (no doubt the source of the slime), hell, with everything! I couldn’t click fast enough. (Anticipation made me forget, momentarily, a hard-won and oft-won lesson: anytime a quote is so perfect for your purposes that you can’t believe it’s real — it isn’t real. No exceptions.)

“A mysterious black slime has been steadily oozing over Washington DC’s most famous monuments,” said the Daily Mail version of the story, one of hundreds to appear worldwide. How perfect! Whether your pet peeve is gridlock, or the campaigns, or inaction, or transgender marriage, this is what happens to the source of the evil! It gets slimed! The stuff writes itself! Continue reading

Technology is Now a Cancer. Stage Four. Metastasized.

internet of things

This is your brain on technology. Get help. (Image by techinfographics. com)

“New and improved” is now an oxymoron. Every single day my cell phone tells me that 10 or 20 apps have been “updated” and none of them ever work better. Instead, a phone that worked perfectly when I got it now tells me, 10 to 20 times a day, “Unfortunately, Moto has stopped.” The operating rule in technology for years now has been, if it isn’t broke, graft something onto it so we can advertise it as new and improved. Continue reading

Bored on the Fourth of July

beach closed“Hi, Twits and Likees and BFFs. Can’t find the right emoticon for our family’s bummer of a long weekend. As you know, because we’ve been posting about it all year, we planned the trip of a lifetime to Florida’s Treasure Coast beaches over the 4th. But when we got there the beaches were covered with a green, toxic, smelly curd that some genius compared to guacamole but I never saw an avocado tree anywhere so that doesn’t make any sense. Continue reading

Peak History

historyWe live in a country whose citizens — make that residents — are increasingly averse to complicated thought, indifferent to veracity, and reductionist in their thinking (every thing and every thought and every person is and must be either one kind of thing, or another kind of thing, no additional choices allowed). In such a country history has few friends.

History is too hard. You have to find out what happened, and then you have to figure out the context of the events — what led up to them and what followed — so you can tease out their significance for your time and place, and even after doing all that it may not be clear. Far easier to decide first what history means, and look up a few facts to “prove” it. Works for Fox News. And what they have made of journalism, we are making of history. Continue reading

The Fall, and Further Fall, of Broadcast Journalism

fortune teller

Get into a dignified line of work, he says. Go into TV journalism, and you’ll never have to be harassed or humiliated like, you know, a hedge fund guy. (Photo by Vito Fun/Flickr)

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, we were young, and journalists. We thought of ourselves as initiates in a brotherhood (which it was, mostly, then, the sisters came later), followers of a calling, and most importantly members of a profession.

A profession, according to the dictionary, is an occupation “that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.” We were never big on the “formal qualification” part — although we had to have an FCC licence to put our hands on the controls of a broadcasting station — but we did train. For many years I spent hours each week being grilled on the word choices in my scripts (Lewis, have you no idea of the difference between continuous and continual?”) and my pronunciation of them (“Lewis, I did not hear any sub-guttural value in that initial G, and where was the labial stop at the end of ‘ship’?”) Continue reading