Driverless in Manhattan: A Comedy

Drat. It seemed I had been proven wrong yet again. Just two months after having written that “The Self-Driving Car is Only an Oxymoron” and would never be a reality, I was confronted last week by headlines screaming a variant of : “Self-Driving Cars Will Roam New York City Streets Next Year.” The headlines were everywhere, from the New York Times to NPR, and the import was clear — driverless (or autonomous, or self-driving) cars are here, and ready to go on the streets of New York. (And if they can make it there….)

So I was on my way back to my hut in the Slough of Despond, there to lick my wounds a while, when I said to myself, “Wait a minute, perhaps we should read a bit beyond the headline and the first paragraph.” And what I found there made me smile again, briefly. Continue reading

Irma Coverage: Slinging in the Rain

Breaking news: it’s raining here, too. (Wikimedia photo)

The history of humanity is a succession of stories of triumphs over disaster. That’s why they call us homo sapiens sapiens, which translates as “really, really smart dudes.” (Oh, wait. That’s not what they call us, it’s what we call ourselves. Still.) This past weekend, yet another triumph over yet another disaster. And I’m not talking about the resilience of the people of Florida, or the bravery of first responders or the fiendish cleverness of global-warming hoaxers; I’m talking about modern TV journalism as applied to disasters.

For days now, the best available satellite technology, fiber-optic communications, digital electronics and state of the art rain hoods have been deployed to provide us, the viewers, with unparalleled views of people who are too dumb to come in out of the rain. There are, apparently, hundreds of these people working in television. They are marvelously diverse, they come in all colors, genders, races and religions — although there are probably no conservatives, because they don’t believe in hurricanes. Continue reading

A Gift from the Great Predator

The Great Predator makes a selection. Does he also bring a gift? (Photo by featherlightphoto.com)

I have not lately spent as much time afield in search of nature’s lessons as I once did. Nature has responded by striding up to my recliner and dumping lessons in my lap. She’s like that: maddeningly impervious to urgent investigation, then suddenly extroverted when your attention wanders.

The other day I was observing the one ritual that remains inviolable in our household — happy hour — from my perch on the second-floor deck that overlooks the east pasture. It has been a remarkable summer here, with no heat waves (half the days in August we did not even turn on the air conditioner), and rains frequent enough that the grass is lush and the roads are not dusty. This long spell of perfect weather, I have decided, has been given to me by the universe so that I can think and write more objectively about global warming. Continue reading

The Global War on Tourism Intensifies

This is the enemy army, just disembarked from its troopship in the background. We must stop them on the beach. (Wikimedia Commons photo.)

“Tourism kills what tourism touches,” Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have said. He said it a long time before Airbnb, Uber, cheap cattle-class airfares and $100 cruises, the advent of which has made what he said even more valid. Now, across the world, a backlash is rising against militant tourism and the suffering it inflicts on the innocent. Some disgusted locals in Barcelona inscribed on a wall this summer, “Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?” Other Catalans vented by temporarily hijacking tour busses and slashing their tires.

Similar outbursts have occurred across Europe this summer as besieged residents of quaint destinations reacted to the overcrowding, pollution, inflated prices and hideous clothing of foreigners wandering around their streets at leisure. In addition to Barcelona, Mallorca, San Sebastián, Dubrovnik and Venice saw anti-tourist demonstrations this summer. Continue reading

Digital Advertising: The Rise and Fall of Crappy Crap

Loud, obtrusive, surgically targeted, and, apparently, utterly worthless: digital ads.

A funny thing happened at Procter and Gamble in the last quarter of 2016. P&G manufactures hundreds and hundreds of consumer products, and with annual revenues of over $65 billion a year is one of the largest advertisers in the world — it spends something like $8 billion a year — and in the final quarter of last year it made a significant change. It cut $140 million from its budget for digital advertising, just in that quarter. That amounts to a reduction of $1.5 million per day. And nothing happened.

Let’s be clear about what digital advertising is. It’s the ad that pops into view in the middle of your Facebook page, or your Google search, or that suddenly obscures an article you’re reading until you can figure out how to get rid of it. Or, and this is my personal favorite, it’s the video that starts playing loudly despite the fact that you have your computer sound muted; and after you mute your sound again, the ad simply unmutes it and carries on. It’s the ad for a new refrigerator that appears on just about every page you look at, right after you send an email to a friend about looking for refrigerators. Continue reading

The “Self-Driving Car” is Only an Oxymoron

Note that this “driverless car,” like all “driverless cars” now on the road, has a driver. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….(Wikimedia Photo)

Over at Tesla, Google, and Uber — and now the contagion has reached Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and beyond — the smartest guys in the room are talking autonomous vehicles. Over at every hedge fund, venture-capital and wealth-management shop in the universe, the smartest guys in the room are throwing money at the concept. Why? Because it’s the Next Big Thing, that’s why. Billions of dollars are in play.

Which is why we are seeing an avalanche of faux-news stories about the coming era of driverless cars, how they’re on the streets now, how well they are doing in testing, how soon there will be nothing but driverless cars on all our roads. And all this chum in the financial water has served its purposes: the hedge fund sharks, and the Masters of the Universe they serve, are in a feeding frenzy; and the gullible public is giddy with anticipation.

Meanwhile people with a lick of common sense are saying, wait a minute, doesn’t this sound oxymoronic, like clean coal, or safe sex? In today’s world, people with licks of common sense do not get funding to answer their questions, and therefor the skeptical questions you might have about “driverless cars” are almost unanswerable. Until right now, right here: Continue reading

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