- Who wants a driverless car?—Wednesday, April 19th, 2017
There are a lot of people in the car-talk industry wondering what will happen when driverless cars are perfected. A lot of people looking back fondly on their own car ownership, and wondering why kids today don’t care so much about owning a car.
I’m not a control freak by any means but I bristle when I read that the driverless car is inevitable—a foregone conclusion. Is it just me or does anyone else feel like that the driverless car is being crammed down our throats at a break-neck pace by over-zealous techies who think that the driverless car is really cool, so we must all want one too?
I agree with Dunn that the current push for driverless cars is an artificial one. It may actually delay their acceptance, especially if the driverless cars pushed on us aren’t as safe as they need to be. I especially think that most people probably don’t want their own car to be driverless.
But think about the steps toward the driverless car. Think about all of your friends who hate parallel parking. Think about all the parallel parking spaces you’ve seen that were big enough for your car, but too small to ease into. A driverless car that works would be able to park in those spaces, spaces you would never be able to park yourself.
And what about taxi service? Would you prefer your taxi to be driven by a human or by a reliable computer? If you had the choice in some future city, which would you choose? Personally, I’d prefer to drive my own car, but I’d definitely prefer my taxi to be automatic.
Especially if it’s cheaper. How much of a taxi driver’s cost goes to maintaining the car, and how much to the driver and the driver’s managers? Only the maintenance cost remains with driverless cars. All of the costs that come with hiring and maintaining drivers disappear.
How much of the inconvenience of taking a taxi goes to finding one when you need one, with a driver who is reliable enough to get you where you need to go on time?
Driverless cars also solve several other parking issues. Imagine parking your car in the 15-minute loading zone right out front of where you need to be… and it’s programmed to leave and find a better parking space on its own, and return when you need it.
Or instead of leaving your car in the airport parking lot, you drive to the airport, get out in front of the terminal, and your car drives itself home, parks itself in your garage, and comes to pick you up a week or two later, knowing from your phone that you just landed and will be out front in about fifteen minutes?
- An I-35 book drive—Tuesday, April 11th, 2017
There’s nothing like a day spent browsing dusty tomes in hidden libraries. Getting a little antsy last week, I decided to drive up I-35 and visit some bookstores in Waco that I hadn’t been to in about two years. I also had a gift certificate for Cabela’s—about two years old—and there were some bookstores, as well as a barbecue place, in Salado, Belton, and Temple that I had bookmarked in Yelp but never visited.
I would have gone Monday, but one of the bookstores isn’t open Mondays, so I went on Thursday. The first bookstore I went to, Fletcher’s in Salado, is also an antique store. While the books are a bit tattier the setting is the coolest of them all. The books are shelved amongst the antiques, so you’re looking around old grandfather clocks, busts, and lights. I picked up a Thomas Sowell book there.
Next up, in Belton, I stopped at the McWha Book Store, where I found a book that’s been on my list possibly longer than any other book currently on it.
In Temple, The Book Cellar is actually down stairs and into a basement, and it sells both books and comic books. Another out-of-print book on my list showed up there, this time a C.L. Moore paperback.
I was pretty sure I’d find something nice at Golden’s Book Exchange and at Brazos Books in Waco, as I’d already been to them, and they both have a nice selection. Thanks to Brazos, it looks like I’m going to be reading Tim Powers’s fault lines series in reverse order, something that seems to be becoming a habit of mine. And it turned out Golden’s had a half-off sale starting on Thursday, unbeknownst to me, which meant that their half cover price was really a quarter of cover price. Yet another book on my list showed up there, making this an especially lucky trip, as well as a Sarah Hoyt sequel I didn’t even known existed.
- Toward a permanent political class—Wednesday, April 5th, 2017
Literary agent Janet Reid recently wrote complaining that (a) people who are not agents keep trying to fix how writers find agents, and (b) people who are not politicians keep trying to get into political office.
Trump, of course, is exhibit A. His administration is the rest of the alphabet.
This seems wrong to me on multiple levels. Novels are by authors, not by agents. Nor are they purchased by agents.1 Novels are purchased by readers.2 Do I want an agent who knows what she’s doing? Yes. Do I want agents in general to run the system by which I write and find readers, and by which I find authors to read? Do I want agents to create the laws by which books are written and distributed? Not by a long shot.
That’s the comparison being made: politicians make the laws we all live under. I don’t want literary agents taking that role in the world of books. Writing remains, and should remain, the province of amateurs, not the province of a special writing class. From Ray Bradbury3 to Harper Lee4 to Cormac McCarthy5, the field of writing is filled with people who came up by using their time to write rather than to get a degree in writing.
- A tale of two negotiators—Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
If you want to look at the difference between someone who knows how to negotiate and someone who doesn’t, look at Trump’s proposed budget and look at the House’s proposed “repeal” of Obamacare.
For years, Republicans have been promising repeal of Obamacare and to let people buy insurance again instead of outlawing it. They’ve even passed a few actual repeals—when those repeals had no chance of getting through former President Obama.
So now that they have a chance, what do they propose? A bill that not only doesn’t repeal Obamacare, but that doesn’t even repeal the parts of Obamacare that are causing skyrocketing health care costs. The Republican proposal continues to outlaw real insurance.
Real insurance lets us pay a nominal fee to protect ourselves against expensive medical needs that may or may not happen. But Obamacare—and the Republican “replacement”—still requires that any “insurance” we buy also cover the 100% probability that someone else will ask the insurance company to pay for something expensive that has already occurred.
That’s not insurance, that’s welfare by a fake name. There’s nothing wrong with having safety nets, but hiding the safety net under an Orwellian redefinition like this is guaranteed to make health care costs continue to skyrocket. Which, in turn, means that people will not be able to afford Obamacare plans.
But that’s really beside the point of my writing this. Why are congressional Republicans proposing this boondoggle instead of real reform? Because Democrats won’t let them pass real reform. Rather than propose real reform and let Democrats water it down, they are watering it down ahead of time without seeming to realize that Democrats will still want to make it worse.
Compare this to Trump’s budget proposal. It cuts funding for everything that doesn’t need funding: television stations that are practically self-funding anyway, abortion clinics that get tiny percentages from the federal government, assistance programs that get tiny percentages from the federal government. Research that will be performed by the private firms that stand to benefit anyway. Arts programs favored by the privileged few who can afford to pay for their own art.
It requires bureaucracies to justify their budgets instead of giving them the same budget they had last year plus some automatic increase.
Not only does Trump’s proposal start from a position of strength on reform, it also includes a built-in bargaining point: an increase in military spending. This was the Republicans’ biggest win during the sequester, and they seem to have stumbled blindly into it. The lesson Republicans should have learned from the sequester, which was probably the main reason the economy didn’t remain even more depressed than it did following the Democrats’ health care takeover and their billion-dollar “stimulus” boondoggles, is that Democrats can be tricked into trades if they don’t think Republicans will take the trade.
- Georgetown, Texas: Second-Hand Prose—Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
In the Georgetown Public Library is a Friends of the Library book sale that could almost double as an actual bookstore. The first time I went, I picked up several hard-to-find items from my list, including Michael Moorcock’s The Stealer of Souls. It’s also where I discovered Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy.
The second time I went, I picked up two of the Best American Short Story collections. I’ve been reading a bunch of these this year, after picking up the Salman Rushdie one at a big warehouse sale in 2015.
This may be the best library book nook I’ve been to. If you’re on a book tour of central Texas, the second best is about ten minutes further south at the Round Rock Public Library. Besides both having great used book sale areas, both are very nice libraries.
Second-Hand Prose is on the second floor of the library; if you feel like relaxing with your purchases, there is a nice coffeeshop on the first floor, with indoor and outdoor tables.
Oct. 24, 2016
The Best American Short Stories 2005 Katrina Kennison, Michael Chabon $1.00 trade paperback The Best American Short Stories 2009 Alice Sebold, Heidi Pitlor $1.00 trade paperback
May 7, 2015
Man and the Computer John G. Kemeny $0.50 mass market paperback Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power Robert D. Novak, Rowland Evans $0.50 mass market paperback The Stealer of Souls Michael Moorcock $0.50 trade paperback
- Trump outsmarts establishment again?—Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
A few weeks before the election, Greg Gutfeld tweeted:
thought experiment: Hillarys a widow or divorced. would surrogates like Newt still defend trumps behavior without Bill around? answer: yes
Now, I am a big fan of Greg Gutfeld. I don’t have cable but I watch his monologues every day via Fox’s YouTube feed. His jokes are usually more insightful than straight news journalism. But he’s missing a very important point with this question:
If today’s politicians—and the media, for that matter—were the kind of people who would refuse to enable Democrats who act abusively and illegally, voters would have felt no need for someone who talked like Trump.
The problem was not that Hillary was married to Bill. It was that Hillary viciously attacked the people Bill abused. She was more interested in maintaining her fellow politician’s power than in helping her husband get well. We saw the same play out when the press initially tried to cover up for Andrew Weiner. And when the press tried to cover up for Hillary, first when WikiLeaks leaked evidence of her crimes and unfitness for office, and then when Project Veritas did.
The establishment is more interested in protecting their phony baloney colleagues inside the beltway than in speaking the truth. More interested in afflicting those who afflict the comfortable, and in comforting those who afflict the afflicted.
If Hillary Clinton had divorced Bill, if she had been the kind of politician who recognized wrongdoing, there would have been no Trump running against her. If DC hadn’t covered for Weiner and for Filner, there would have been no Trump. If the media hadn’t been in the habit of covering up scandals such as those uncovered by WikiLeaks, there would have been no Trump.
But that’s the kind of place the establishment media have turned DC into. If Bob Filner had never left DC, he would have continued abusing women with no pushback from beltway politicians or the media. That’s why we got Trump.
Trump is, potentially, an existential threat against an insider clique, and they are reacting as if this is some sort of 11/9. But the amazing thing about Trump vs. the media is how utterly incompetent the media’s lies are. I know that I’ve linked to Scott Adams’s praises of Trump as a master persuader, but deep down, I still can’t see it. It doesn’t make sense that someone this blustery keeps coming out on top.
And yet, he does. Trump keeps fighting, where your average Republican would back down, and it works.
Take the latest -gate, about the Obama administration bugging Trump’s communications. It sounds crazy and conspiracy-minded so of course the media jumped on it and called Trump out for being crazy and conspiracy-minded.
- Election lessons: Obamacare and how compromise works—Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
Republicans need to learn how to compromise. Conservatives often complain that Republicans compromise too much, but that’s not really true. The problem is that Republicans pre-compromise. They start negotiations where they should end them. This is how they got Trump.
For example, Rick Perry has already said about the Department of Energy that “I regret recommending its elimination.” That may or may not be good policy. But if he’s going to try to reduce the size of the department’s bureaucracy, it is very bad negotiation.
It’s not compromise if it happens before negotiations start.
Democrats in congress, of course, love it when Republicans don’t know how to negotiate, and hate it when they learn. Just recently I saw a meme going around about how President Trump was putting the two-state solution on the table in order to encourage peace in the region and negotiate “a really great peace deal”.
Oh. My. God. Peace is now a “deal”.
Of course peace is a deal. It’s something you negotiate for. But it’s frightening for the establishment left to see a nominally Republican politician who knows how to negotiate. If the rest of the Republican Party learns, they could be in deep trouble.
The worst-negotiated policy in the United States today is probably the unaffordable care act. You can’t get much more hardline, or more economically illiterate, than one party forcing everyone from every state to not only purchase health care plans if they don’t otherwise have one, but to purchase the same health care plans. Within each level, the ACA forces nearly exact duplicates, allowing for practically no individual customization or even regional customization.
Republicans won two midterm elections on the promise of repealing the ACA, and have passed several repeals that President Obama vetoed. But now, they’re having difficulty repealing the ACA because they don’t know how to compromise. They don’t know how to negotiate. They’re giving up options before negotiations even take place.
The ACA shouldn’t be particularly difficult to repeal. Half the country hates it, and the other half doesn’t have to use it directly. This is partly because congressional Democrats made no attempt to bring Republicans on board. Because the ACA was a purely partisan vote, there is nothing wrong with repealing it on a purely partisan vote. The complete end of the ACA and everything it does should be an option in negotiations.
But Republicans are already signaling that a repeal that mirrors the law’s passage isn’t an option.
- Discretely and with quiet strength: the Underwood Champion Portable—Tuesday, February 28th, 2017
The typewriter is one of two mass inventions that made the modern age. Without the typewriter there is no personal computer. And the typewriter in its day meant clear and readable, precise communication between individuals. It also meant the modern novel and the modern author, who writes books by the sheet and box-load. The typewriter meant mass-producing authors and not just books. In this way, the typewriter also created the modern reader, by making it possible to stock large bookstores.
If I had my choice, I wrote six years ago, I’d get a typewriter that looked like the Underwood No. 5. It looks vaguely like one of those over-cerebral aliens with huge foreheads. It leaves no question that it’s a serious machine.
A little over a year ago, browsing through the San Diego swap meet, I met a different Underwood, a portable Champion. It’s much sleeker than the No. 5 and I immediately began revisiting what I really wanted in a typewriter. I had envisioned the No. 5 as more of a decoration than a tool, but the Champion looked like something I might actually use. By the time I finished wandering the swap meet, I had decided to try: I offered the dealer a much lower amount than the asking price, in cash, and walked out with my first, and still only, typewriter.
Until this, I never really used a typewriter to write. In grade school everything was handwritten (to the chagrin of the nuns) and in high school, I tried, once, to type a paper on my mom’s undersized plastic portable, but it was easier to write a word processor on my TRS-80 and type there. The keyboard was nicer, and the output was more readable.1
I took typing in high school one semester, but it was all practice. I don’t even remember if the typewriters in that classroom were available for typing papers for other classes. As I recall, it never occurred to me to ask.2