I Regret To Inform You That The Drive Is At It Again

Earlier this month, there was an “amazing article” at The Drive about the current semiconductor shortage, written by some “tech-writer” chump who’s never set foot inside a dealership. I know it was amazing because all of the usual suspect idiots on Twitter told me so. It’s a wonderful example of the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect, except in this case I absolutely remember that everything else written at The Drive is also complete and utter garbage, not just this particular piece of writing that falls within my expertise.

Outside of the technical content that anybody with an internet connection could verify, all of the conclusions that this author drew are completely false, some of them harmfully so. I really don’t want to do this, as my heart rate doesn’t need the additional stress, but I feel an obligation to you to point out how incredibly stupid everything in this article was.

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Weekly Roundup: Who Could Remember Her Edition

I’ve seen altogether too much of Jason Segel. Not just because the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, CONSOOMED by your humble author last night for the first time just thirteen years after its 2008 premiere, both begins and ends with full-frontal scenes of Segel’s personal equipment, but also because he has appeared in seemingly fifty percent of the random media serving as background noise in this house. He was part of How I Met Your Mother and is a reliable bet to appear in any of the “Apatowverse” movies.

About those films, which have woven themselves into the fabric of American psuedo-culture the same way Seinfeld and Friends did two decades before: Some of them are very funny (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), some are uncannily perceptive (Superbad) and one of them verges on being genuinely artistic (Get Him To The Greek, the only Apatow film that would have piqued the interest of Joseph Campbell or Robert Bly).

There’s always been something about the entire oeuvre that has annoyed me, however, and after seeing Forgetting I believe I can now articulate it in reasonable fashion.

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Notes From The Valley

Like the woman who was never President, it is necessary for the proprietor of this website to have a public and a private position on many issues. There are three primary reasons for this. The first, of course, is that there is a little gang out there with a (not-quite-as-)secret(-as-they-think-it-is) Facebook group trying mightily to parse every single thing I write into reasonable grounds for termination. This task, while daunting, is at least possible in the right conditions, whereas the alternative path, which would involve being better at my job than I am and therefore rendering me superflous, is impossible for people of their pathetic capabilities.

The second reason is that I have no wish to oppress my readers with too much blatant opinion-giving on political topics. My liberal readers wouldn’t like my opinion on social issues; my conservative readers wouldn’t like how I feel on issues like tariffs, unionization, and economic justice. No matter who you are, I guarantee you we disagree on something. Heck, I can think of a half-dozen issues on which Brother Bark and I are probably on opposite sides of the bench.

Last and not in any way least, there’s what I call my privilege of isolation. I’ve chosen to live in a place where protests/riots/whatever simply don’t happen and likely never will happen, largely because most of my neighbors would see such an occasion as a fine opportunity for a turkey shoot. (Here at Riverside Green, of course, we own nothing more frightening than a solid array of airsoft pistols, one Crossman BB gun, and the King James Bible.) Those of you who follow the news will be very aware of a recent incident in which a Columbus, Ohio police officer shot a young woman who was yelling “I’m going to stab the fuck out of you bitch,” as she attempted to, uh, stab the fuck out of another young woman. Although I live twenty miles from the event, there has been zero impact here. No marches, no looting, no fiery but peaceful protesting. Therefore, I like to defer commentary on this stuff to people who have skin in the game, so to speak.

One of those people with skin in the game is the writer of the “Up In The Valley” blog. I had dinner with him in Van Nuys on Tuesday the 13th, before the Floyd verdict and the Ma’Khia Bryant stabbing/shooting. We discussed the future of America; I view it from a distance, but he has a seat in the front row.

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Grand Unified Theory, Or “Rising Sun” Redux?

Before you can reach the TOE, you have to satisfy the GUT. This is not a Pervert’s Guide To Dating, but rather the current state of science. We’d like to have a Theory Of Everything that would explain the creation and operation of the Universe in detail, but such a TOE is reliant on a working Grand Unified Theory that explains the quantum-level interactions of various forces. The purpose of the various atom-smashing colliders around the world is to observe those interactions at very high energy levels. Apparently there’s a merging of the electromagnetic and weak forces into an “electroweak”; that’s a clue.

Don’t ask me to explain any further, I majored in 18thC Brit Lit. As far as I know, the real purpose of a “Loop” is to put the soul of your big brother into a depressed-looking robot.

The American Left has a Grand Unified Theory to explain everything that happens in America, and that theory is Racism In All Its Forms. Everything you don’t like about America, or indeed about life, is probably somehow due to racism. It is the original sin from which all others flow, as documented in its holy text, The 1619 Project. When non-whites commit an offence against this ideology, as was the case with Enrique Tarrio of the Proud Boys, we are told it is due to “multiracial whiteness”, in which the Person-of-Color is, ah, possessed by the dybbuk of an evil white person.

Don’t ask me to explain any further, I majored in 18thC Brit Lit. As far as I know, the dybbuk is primarily a science fiction phenomenon.

There’s no GUT for the American Right, which makes sense because nowadays the Right contains the nonconformist side of things. A hundred years ago, the Right was a unified whole with a functioning GUT — it was called “The Bible” — and the Left was the nonconformist side that couldn’t decide if it was a labor movement, an art movement, or a sexual-liberation movement. Still, in order to provide any alternative to the Uniparty, the Right needs a way to explain why things are the way they are, one that doesn’t involve racism, because that’s like trying to create an electric vehicle infrastructure where you burn gas in a turbine to create electricity, if that makes any sense.

The nice people at Tablet have just published a paper that does a pretty good job of explaining America’s current state in a single word. That word is: China. The individual facts of the paper are not in dispute. Only the conclusion is open to debate. It’s scary — but we’ve seen this movie before. Or have we?

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The Worst Job In The Supermarket, The Limits of AI, And That Tablet Essay

About three years ago I wrote about the ethics of stealing from automated supermarkets. In the short space of time since then, theft from the machines is way up, perhaps aided by attitudes like this. Looking back at that little essay, however, I think I missed one of the most important aspects, perhaps the most important aspect, of the changeover to self-checkout, namely:

How to turn four unhappy-ish jobs into a single miserable one.

So let’s talk about that. And we’ll look at that hotter than hot essay on TabletMag, too, because they’re directly related.

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Review: “A Children’s Bible”, by Lydia Millett

I swear on a stack of copies that it’s a blistering little classic: “Lord of the Flies” for a generation of young people left to fend for themselves on their parents’ rapidly warming planet… “A Children’s Bible” moves like a tornado tearing along an unpredictable path through our complacency. The novel works so effectively because it’s an allegory that constantly resists the predictable messaging of allegory. Millet’s wit and her penchant for strange twists produce the kind of climate fiction we need: a novel that moves beyond the realm of reporting and editorial, a story that explores how alarming and baffling it feels to endure the destruction of one’s world.
Take this book, eat it up.

You can read the rest of the review, which swerves breathtakingly between garden-variety midwit-ism and rank stupidity, at The Bezos Blog, but I think you get the idea: A Children’s Bible is a book very much of the moment, very much awarded, very much read by The Right People. Last night I took ninety-three minutes away from Call Of Duty: Warzone to read the thing. This was not wasted time; not in the slightest. As a work of fiction, A Children’s Bible is little better than its vampires-and-magic-brooms bookstore contemporaries — but as a lens both into current thinking and my own thought process, it’s pretty good.

(Warning: spoilers for this book after the jump).

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The End Of The Road… And Track

Maybe we had no right to call it Road&Track in the first place. We had a reason to do so: there were half a million subscribers out there who had already paid for a year’s worth of R&T and expected to receive something with that name on the front cover. What they ended up getting for their money was… definitely not business as usual.

You probably know the story, or at least some of it. In 2012, Hearst moved the magazine from its posh digs in Newport Beach to an anonymous Ann Arbor industrial park. Not a single staffer came along, although they all received some sort of offer. Peter Egan agreed to contribute on an occasional contracted basis, and that was it. The change was made to save money and also to acquire the services of Larry Webster, who had agreed to reboot the magazine from scratch with the best talent he could beg, borrow, or steal from elsewhere.

The resulting magazine was Road&Track in name only — but that was okay, because that name needed a bit of polishing. By 2011, the “book”, as they say in the business, was suffocating under the weight of its own bland momentum. I have a few issues from that period; they’re full of comparison tests in which all the cars managed to be winners, industry news reported a few months too late, and painfully drab historical articles that often transparently relied on a single, already published, source. In his final contribution, published this month, Peter Egan recalls how he and his co-workers would sit in the Newport Beach office and watch the sun set. That’s a pretty good metaphor for what was happening out there in 2011. Much of the magazine could be summed up in the single phrase, “Back then, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them! ‘Gimme five bees for a quarter’, you’d say.”

What happened next was at least different. Now it’s officially dead.

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Vignettes of Human Sacrifice In The Current Year; Two Tough Questions

“Blood alone moves the wheels of history!” Dedicated watchers of The Office may recall an episode in which Dwight is named Salesman Of The Year at Dunder Mifflin and has to give a speech. His frenemy Jim “helps” him by writing a speech supposedly drawn from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, featuring the above line. Apparently, Mussolini did say this, in 1914 when he was he was suggesting that Italy join the Allies in attacking (or defending against, depending on one’s biases) Germany.

It’s hard to see where ol’ Benito was wrong about that. Human history is an endless parade of winners and losers, with the former continually feasting on the latter. Usually metaphorically. Usually. It takes a lot of losers to grease the wheels of Progress, and a lot of blood.

The massive societal changes of 2020 are no exception to this rule. Target and Amazon are winners; small businesses are losers. Capital wins; labor loses. Billionaires thrive; the middle class craters. Broadly speaking, it’s been a year of victories for the Blue Tribe, losses for the Red Tribe, and profound unease for the Greys. Yet the machine requires some Blue blood in the wheels if it is to move smoothly, thus the two profoundly disturbing stories we’re about to discuss and the two tough questions raised by these stories.

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How Smart Can You Be If You Ain’t Got No Body?

The rate at which a middle-aged man is going to grow new leg bone and/or ligament tissue is

a) fairly fixed;
b) not fast.

Which gives me time to catch up on various blogs, including the one written by Scott Locklin. His post “Open Problems In Robotics” warms my heart, because he and I have come independently to some of the same conclusions, and have been influenced by some of the same concepts. He’s a scientist, while I’m a computer scientist. The gap between these two professions is immense, and entirely to the advantage of the real scientists. Yet since I’m also a writer by trade, allow me to take a shot at making a few things clear(er) on this particular topic.

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