Reading Recommendations: In Which Captain Save-A-You-Know-What Surrenders His Commission

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Thus spake Samuel Johnson, and he was correct. (Note to the reader: a fortnight is two weeks, or fourteen days, from the Old English.) Many of my friends expect the Boogaloo to come in a few fortnights. I don’t really believe in the Boogaloo, but I think there’s something therapeutic about it. Like religion, prison, and true love, the Boogaloo offers a drastic reduction of possibilities. It’s easier to worry about fields of fire from your second-story windows than to wonder what kind of a man you’ll be in society when you’re in the bread line with everyone else, and you’ve started having to pull your own teeth for lack of dental care. We all know in our hearts that a Great Depression, or even a Not-So-Great Recession, leads to years of quiet, grinding desperation. Far better to imagine that the future holds a series of running gun battles with depersonalized Others who will be morally inferior to us but also, one hopes, much less practiced in the manual of arms for the AR-15 (USA) or Marlin 1894 (Canada) or Maringer Vorpal (here in non-firearms-owning Riverside Green, where we study the blade).

You get the idea. It’s easier and more pleasurable to imagine violent action than lengthy misery. Yet here we are, with our focused minds. For me, this focusing has led to an odd… flattening of empathy.

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A Modest Proposal: It’s Time To Tax Those Autojourno Freebies

Good artists create, and great artists steal. Right? About ten years ago, I read a few short pieces by Canadian writer Michael Banovsky regarding the incestuous ethical blind spots of the automotive “journalism” business. Those pieces resonated strongly with me because I’d seen similar, albeit much lower-budget, antics during my time racing, and writing about, BMX bicycles.

“Bano” gave up his crusade pretty quickly and went on to crank out years’ worth of fairly standard fare for various north-of-the-border news sites, but he’d inspired me to carry the torch without him. I wrote dozens of articles for TTAC, Jalopnik, and elsewhere about the revolving door between automotive PR and automotive journalism, about the back-slapping buddy culture in the business where the readers are viewed with naked contempt, about how the perks poison the product. It got me blacklisted, uninvited, slandered, and doxxed. Thankfully, the story didn’t end there because there have been a few people courageous enough to hire me and print my work despite the near-universal chorus of caterwauling disdain from the pimps and players in motoring PR. I’m grateful for those people and their courage, while also being aware that it won’t last forever. Which is okay. I’ll leave this game the same way I entered it: on my own merits.

There is, however, something sadly ironic about the fact that Banovsky has decided to return with a vengeance to the field of automotive meta-criticism just as TTAC, a once-fierce proponent of his original ideas, has finally collapsed into a weak-kneed regurgitator of press releases and public-relations drivel. The site that made its name with courageous reviews of everything from rentals to stealth drives at dealers now sends its top people on multiple first-class, five-star freebie trips every month to suckle uncritically at the engorged teat of manufacturer largesse.

Which doesn’t mean Bano’s bomb-throwing is incorrect, just that it’s tardy. And after reading his latest piece, I’m willing to suggest that we take his ideas to their logical conclusion.

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This CRISP(r) Is Bananas

Genetic modification via CRISPR is the only way to ensure that we can all have cheap bananas. Amusing, WIRED buries the lede pretty far down: the banana disease spreads via… wait for it… migrant banana workers.

The #Blessed part of the world wants four-season tropical fruit so we can all live our best lives. The #NonBlessed part of the world has to trudge around doing the work, and the corporations have ensured that there’s a legal framework to make it possible. Cut down the demand from DUMBO or the insane practice of permitting open borders for the purpose of cutting corporate expenses, and the problem never comes up. But it’s okay. We can use genetic editing to fix the problem. We can all learn to use CRISPR, the same way they are trying to force every elementary student in America through a “learn to code” process. And then we can unleash hell.

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“I care about social justice, but — I don’t want my kid to be a guinea pig.”

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about the importance of ensuring the proverbial “leg up” for our children, and I said something along the lines of, “If there was a button that killed a thousand kids in some far-away land and gave my son a Harvard Law degree at the same time, I’d push it without hesitation.” He responded, quite sensibly, that he would not do that for his daughter.

The irony of the situation is that we’ve both already done worse, and for less. Here’s proof. It costs four dollars per person to provide 20 years’ worth of clean water in Africa. My son has at least four thousand dollars’ worth of bicycles. So I’ve cheerfully doomed a thousand kids to a life without clean water so my child can finish third overall in the Gold Cup Regional Championship for 9 Novice riders. (I’m so proud of him I could almost faint, by the way.) He broke his new wheelset at the last race so I’ll be ordering another wheelset for him… that’s $800 bucks, or 200 kids without clean water. There’s no false equivalency here. I am absolutely certain that some parents have told their kids, “Hey, ride that old bike another year, and let’s do something charitable for kids who don’t have everything that you have.” I’m not going to do that.

But if a couple Gs worth of bicycles amounts to a moral choice — and it does — what about spending $40,000 a year to make sure that your child doesn’t have any blacks or Hispanics in his school? Even better, what does it mean when the people spending the money are some of the nation’s foremost voices for “social justice”?

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How The People’s Liberation Army Of China Took Control Of The Amazon Clown, And Others

I can’t tell you how many times I have had people on both sides of the ideological divide in this country mock me for my devotion to American-made products. Rarely do they bother with my central premise: that this country is better off when we make our own stuff and pay our own people to make it. Instead, they use snark (HOPE U ENJOYED UR MEXICAN TRUCK LOLZ POOPY BUTTZ!!!) or assume an arch, world-weary pose (“Outsourcing and overseas manufacturing is inevitable, here’s an article from Vox or Buzzfeed about it, try not to be such a stupid hick”) to imply that I’m either hypocritical or hopelessly naive.

They’re wrong, of course. This country is strongest when we are self-sufficient, not when we serve as an upscale suburb and retirement community for Asians flush with the immeasurable bounty of our uneven trade. For the past thirty years, we’ve made a spectacularly bad deal with China and others, to wit: We’ll send our factories to you, then buy your products, then you can use our money to outbid us for our land, which you can then keep forever. Some of my friends describe this as the ultimate in Boomer narcissism, essentially giving away the country to ensure that they can ride the party all the way to their graves, but the attitudes involved have effortlessly leaped from my father’s generation to my own and beyond.

Faced with this literal sale of our heritage to overseas interests, it’s common for the world-weary crowd to say something about how the Japanese were doing the same thing until their banks collapsed, neatly ignoring the fact that Chinese banks, unlike Japanese banks, tend to be supported (or undermined, if you read ZeroHedge) by securities drawn on the American government. They’ll also tell you that according to the Church Of Thomas Flatworld, every nation should do what they do best; the Chinese make stuff, we sell land, and it’s great!

Well, it’s all fun and games until the Chinese People’s Liberation Army creates a hardware hack to take control of Apple’s data centers and the Amazon Clown, er, Cloud. Which has happened.

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Feminist Mein Kampf At The Rapey Dog Park

How many of you remember Alan Sokal and his mildly famous academic hoax perpetrated against Social Text? The purpose of Sokal’s hoax was to prove that there is virtually no substance whatsoever to “social science”; he succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Twenty-five years later, most sane people understand that the vast majority of social science, philosophy, and “(whatever) Studies” taught at universities is utter and complete garbage, using the jargon and conventions of real science to thinly clothe a naked emperor. (The linked article takes a hard shot at Derrida, which personally pains me, but I have to admit that much of Derrida, Focault, et al is just nonsense despite the fact that an intelligent critic can derive real advantage from reading them.)

If the “Sokal affair” amounted to a headshot against social science — and it did — then what you’re about to read amounts to digging up the corpse of social science, defiling it, then burning it in the town square.

Many papers advocated highly dubious ethics including training men like dogs (“Dog Park”), punishing white male college students for historical slavery by asking them to sit in silence in the floor in chains during class and to be expected to learn from the discomfort (“Progressive Stack”), celebrating morbid obesity as a healthy life-choice (“Fat Bodybuilding”), treating privately conducted masturbation as a form of sexual violence against women (“Masturbation”), and programming superintelligent AI with irrational and ideological nonsense before letting it rule the world (“Feminist AI”). There was also considerable silliness including claiming to have tactfully inspected the genitals of slightly fewer than 10,000 dogs whilst interrogating owners as to their sexuality (“Dog Park”), becoming seemingly mystified about why heterosexual men are attracted to women (“Hooters”), insisting there is something to be learned about feminism by having four guys watch thousands of hours of hardcore pornography over the course of a year while repeatedly taking the Gender and Science Implicit Associations Test (“Porn”), expressing confusion over why people are more concerned about the genitalia others have when considering having sex with them (“CisNorm”), and recommending men anally self-penetrate in order to become less transphobic, more feminist, and more concerned about the horrors of rape culture (“Dildos”). None of this, except that Helen Wilson recorded one “dog rape per hour” at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon, raised so much as a single reviewer eyebrow, so far as their reports show.

The only remaining question, stolen directly from our legitimate but Russian-subverted forty-fifth president: “What difference does it make?”

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Congratulations On Your $1,000 Donation To Puerto Rican Relief (At Gunpoint)

True confessions time: Until today, I was under the impression that the American response to the hurricane crisis in Puerto Rico had been a little, shall we say, stingy. How could you blame me for feeling this way? The media has continually told me about our stingy response. Hell, it’s been worse than stingy; it’s been trashy. Fully ten percent of the food aid to PR consisted of candy or snacks that you CANNOT FIND at Whole Foods! The idea that you would hurriedly box up a bunch of aid to starving people and have THE NERVE to let a full tenth of it be the kind of food that rich people in Los Angeles wouldn’t buy… We might as well have dropped Fat Man (the bomb, not the self-congratulatory automotive journalist) on the place and let it vaporize in the nook-u-lar flame.

Well, it’s time for you to feel better. I just sent a thousand dollars to Puerto Rico. So did you. In fact, I’ve been sending about $250 a year to Puerto Rico since I was a teenager, give or take a few bucks. And there’s more to come.

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WeWork, WeLive, WeGrow, WeDie

“Always working or always semi-working.” That phrase basically sums up my life for the past two decades. For about twelve years I ran a Web-hosting co-op in addition to working anywhere from three to nine other contracts at a time. It enabled me to spend money like water on every ridiculous thing and activity possible; I could have saved money like water but that wasn’t the point of working eighty hours a week. While there are certainly people out there with a thoroughly domesticated sense of delayed gratification, I’ve never been one of them. If I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone, I expect to take a champagne bath afterwards. Simple as that.

Somewhere around 2010 I started closing up shop on the tech-biz stuff so I could use my spare time to write about cars. This doesn’t pay nearly as well but the twelve-year-old me never had any dreams of running a Web hosting business and in any event the hosting model was going the way of the lowest common denominator. Nowadays I spend about 45 hours a week in tasks associated with my day job and another 20 hours at the keyboard. Sometimes I spend 10 or 20 hours of top of that accumulating the experiences about which I’ll write later. There was a five-day period a while back where all I did was go to work then write until 4am then sleep until 8am then go to work, just to meet deadlines. I never truly know when the work will arrive or what demands it will make. Take this week for example; it was supposed to be a vacation from both my “careers” but I had a couple of things fall in my lap so I’ve turned the vacation into a work-cation and I’ll end up writing for 25 or 30 hours total before Sunday ends.

What makes this state of affairs bearable is that it is entirely voluntary. At any moment, I can quit writing and just become a cubicle bee like everyone else. It would mean an end to the supercars and the outrageous trips and the race weekends, but that’s very different from losing my home or not being able to feed my son. At the end of the day, I would still be a relatively healthy middle-aged man with 2,600 square feet in the suburbs, a Porsche in the garage, and the ability to eat dinner at a steakhouse without kiting a check. Most importantly, I have a home. I think of it as mine and in truth every year it becomes closer to being entirely mine. I am free to do what I want in it: leave towels on the floor, walk the halls at night, crank up a 100-watt guitar amp and noodle until the paintings on the wall sympathetically shiver.

This quaint notion, of having one’s own home where one is free to retreat from and forget about work entirely, is apparently just too unproductive to survive.

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