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Friday, May 22, 2020

Mass Graves and Bread Lines Forever!

The plague for me started at a social gathering where we were talking about the plague. And the next week we were attempting to pack up work and work from home. That didn’t work for me for a few weeks. I had to go back to work because what I was sent didn’t work from home. I wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of people working from work, all with the lights off, trying not to draw attention. There was a whole floor full of us, pretending not to notice that we were still at the office.

Then they broke out the hand sanitizer vats. That lasted all of two days before they white flagged the effort. At that point most of us had become convinced that we needed to be home. One woman was so frustrated with the laptop she had been assigned that she scooped up her desktop from work and took that. I’m not sure how well that was going to work, but God bless her, anyway.

My own laptop was some 17 pound thing repurposed from the return to lessor pile. It has little stickers on it. And it didn’t work. Then it worked and there were connectivity issues. One by one they all became resolved, my whole work environment eventually illuminating element by element.

And here I have been, plugging away by myself, working somewhat similarly to what I do in the office, only without human contact. My social event has become an online event. My writer’s group is going to computer chat. Dating is out. It was a pain in the butt anyway, but now it’s impossible.

The adventures out are memorable, each one less routine than the next. The people you want to see, you can’t. The people you do see, you don’t want to. The vast majority of folks you interact with are attempting their best behavior. Because being an ass would be pointless. There is this oddball minority of non-compliant types, mostly milling at quickie marts and fast food places. I am convinced most are homeless people, taking advantage of the disruption to invade spaces they would normally be chased out of.

I had a quickie mart employee snap at me yesterday. I’ve had a couple of people snap, including one in my apartment building. I can tell from talking to some pals that this situation is not wearing well.  As for me, I have projects. So many projects I may be dead a few years before getting to them all. I called to offer a local merchant of mine money for a gift certificate, in hopes it would help him stay afloat. He nicely talked me out of it.  The shop is owned by a well endowed party and will reopen soon. They’ve has a number of offers of cash, of which they have no need. I’ve been attempting to ply my favorite restaurants, to the degree it is feasible. I think half of them are in trouble. Those still operating have shortened up their menus to some degree.

At the start of this, toilet paper disappeared. Pages of type were spent explaining that the problem was intractable. Supply chains are blockchain fixed to deliver one third to one half of all butt wipery to industry. It was a failure of the capitalist system. Wipe your bums with napkins.

Then all of the toilet paper returned. Capitalism un-failed? Some of this stuff is not the regular brands. (Quick! What’s your regular brand of toilet paper?) It’s one step up from the ‘please poop elsewhere’ brand your office uses but one step down from fluffy bunnies for your hind that most of us are used to. Someday a business historian will do a survey of all of the brands which appeared just for the plague. Toilet paper is now sale priced. Hand sanitizer, when it appears, is going for what oven cleaner used to. Oil lost all of its value. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela may now be safely swallowed up by the Earth. Up may be down, but it’s not all bad news.

Beef is reportedly scarce, however here in Chicagoland it seems pork and bacon are what’s vanishing. This week ribs disappeared. Next week something else will take its turn on the privation lottery.

Not bad as disasters go, except for the 100,000 dead.

The corporations letting us know they care ads have subsided.  It was hard to differentiate them.  Big private ventures stuck the boss’s puss on the ads. The guy who invented a pillow now want to sell us a book on how he used to smoke crack. He hopes it will be a movie. Faceless trusts flashed their logos after an ‘Up With People’ rehash. Frito Lay refused to show us its logo, saying it didn’t matter. Our world remains flooded with artists podcasting from basements.

At some point during this crisis metrics should have descended. The governor of Illinois believes in it. Parts of the Federal apparatus seem to believe in it. Our president believes in lying and selling snake oil. The metrics say that his acting rationally would have saved 30,000 lives so far. No telling how many people he can kill until he’s punted into the ashcan of history come November. They have come up with the metrics we need to hit before its safe to reopen. And we aren’t hitting them. And we’re opening back up, anyway. Predicting something worse isn’t a matter of pessimism, but rather logic. Wishing that the big cheeses in their ivory towers with their science were just plain wrong hasn’t worked yet.

Then we were all enlisted as soldiers. Now this is a war and we are all targets without weapons. A cure, widespread available testing, anything other than the dark ages solutions are not on the horizon.

I’m not sure what will be said of this era. I suspect we will not come out looking like stable geniuses.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Mister Fun Responds to the Coronavirus

E pluribus unum, fellow Social Distancers.  Parting  the mists of a heady cocktail of long bouts of rerun television and the occasional bleating of Kate Smith word jazz patriotism, comes time for our own vacuous corporate hood ornament to shine anew with fervent sentiment. Good lord, what does that mean? Why are the divorce attorneys and Burger King taking to television to respond to the Coronavirus? And why are they making more sense than the current president? Maybe, unlike Trump, they know that they have nothing to say other than “Hope for the best, expect the worst”  and exit the flatscreen stage before some inkling to question their motives sets in. Trump just stands there, every day at about 4:00 PM and… Let’s just forget about Trump for a moment. And the next moment and the next moment. Come on, try! There. Doesn’t that feel better? And it does not require a mask or a shot or an effective treatment or a cure. Which is good, since most of us don’t have the sort of things.

We here at Hil-Gle’s Intercontinental Operations Conclave in sunny Chicagoland are doing our best at playing Club Fed. Unlike a real minimum-security prison, we are doing our own laundry and making our own meals. We have restricted our making phone calls only to those people we have thought about for the past ten years. Thus far we can report that everyone we have contacted electromagnetically is not dead. Which is good, since our electromagnetic séance capabilities are somewhat limited. Proactive plans to cover additional communications contingencies are predicated on the term-fluidity of our current cable TV compact and whether or not there is a cash award for using ‘proactive’, ‘contingencies’ and ‘predicated’ in a sentence. We are not holding our breath, despite the larcenous levels of remuneration demanded by said cable ‘provider.’ First, they jack up my rates and then I am confined to home. Talk about being vice twisted by the googies.

Speaking of googies, let us think of them like Trump and try not to think of them. Easy enough for you to do. They’re not your googies.

Hil-Gle has always wondered what it would be like to live through a dystopian novel. Plague would not have been our first choice of background menace, however. Hil-Gle is not sure what flavor of Mad Max it would  prefer to hopefully survive, but this does suck.  A comet strike would be worse, as would a persistent solar flare. Those would be more or less quick but might still suck because there would be nothing on cable TV, ever again. I suppose the upside is no Fox News. (We would insert a joke about a plague which only kills Fox viewers, but that may prove too close to reality to voice, even in jest.) Much like He Who We Are Not Thinking About, Fox News has made the scatological switch and twitch back between plague denial, plague political conspiracy and feel good stories about Americans helping Americans during this time of crisis. Nice of them to go from National Enquirer to Stars and Stripes. (People under 100 take note: National Enquirer was a newspaper which specialized in lying as a form of reporting and Stars and Stripes was a military publication noted for stories about grunts making good.) Normally this is the time of year when internet search engines are abuzz with inquiries as to where Gonzaga is located. Basketball and sports in general seem like a minor loss compared to ACTUAL CONTACT WITH ALL HUMANS (as opposed to the idiots at the grocery store.) Let me make this clear to all of you diseasoids out there—STAY AWAY FROM ME. We joke, really, when we’re not blubbering like the sissies we are or shouting at the television when He Who We Are Not Thinking About comes on.

Speaking of ranting, we here at Hil-Gle have decided to postpone all ill feeling towards China and communism and totalitarian bastards in general. Not that this makes these people more palatable, just that there is no point to it. Yes, the Red Chinese government is entirely to blame for this. Each and every death is on their hands, the real testament to their rise as a world power. Our lack of resources for dealing with this mess is on us, on greed capitalism, on an overt willingness to exploit people we know are slaves just to save a few pennies. There will be plenty of time to contemplate this, once all this mess is over. They have a saying in baseball about how a having a good manager as opposed to having a bad manager accounts for about a 10 point difference in win/loss percentage. In American football, the coach has a much greater impact. While there is no question that He Who We Are Not Thinking About is a zero as leader, it’s unclear which game our government’s actions are analogous to.  American culture is robust, our institutions generally sound, but no one has ever designated the Federal Government a “back up” program before. Previously it was the instrument which created the Free World.  

Hil-Gle is compiling a listing of things not to think about now. Better to think about nicer things or at least make this time work for you. Oh, who the hell are we fooling. The prisons are full of people attempting to make time work for them. Consuming distractions in quantity with variety is the best most of us can hope for. We had not even started to contemplating business continuation, much less loans, when our own Mister Fun appeared at our door, demanding that we lay him off. When last we spoke with Mister Fun he had departed our employ to toil in the campaign of one Michael Bloomberg. You may recall Bloomberg’s ads, if not the person himself. You may recall that there’s a political campaign in the offing, also. When last we checked, Michael Bloomberg was not one of the viable candidates, having fallen to a venom-clad impression from Liz Warren’s dick.  I’m sure I recall Bloomberg stating that he would put the remainder of his massive war chest on the line reminding us all of the person or persons who still are viable candidates. Unlike this nation’s fine divorce lawyers and the now reemerging Shamwow guy, the Democrats and the campaign itself are social distancing. This seems a strange strategy until Hil-Gle remembers his every 4:00 PM or so date with He Who We Are Not Thinking Of. Every word out of his mouth is the best advertisement for anyone else.

As for Mister Fun, he was commissioned to craft an advertorial manifesto in You Tube form for the wonderful ex-Mayor of New York--which Mister Fun took his damn time with. He’s now on the second draft of the shoot script. This would be fine, if it were timed for the general election. And Michael Bloomberg were still a candidate. Hil-Gle has opted not to option this work, given that Hil-Gle is not Michael Bloomberg. This makes Hil-Gle part of a progression of monied entities to decline patronage for the completion of Mister Fun’s You Tube masterwork. While we are sure that such is indeed ‘epic’, it is not something that a confined to home forever game publisher can justify expenditure upon. Note: when Hil-Gle is considered a monied party, hell has frozen over. But we don’t want to stiff Mister Fun (horrifying in any permutation to contemplate), so we have offered him an opportunity to perform something like work, after which we will promptly sack his ass. Hil-Gle is not sure how this constitutes a favor, however it beats having Mister Fun live in our car.

My Fellow Humans:

Please allow me to respond to the coronavirus. The term respond is broad, although I am sure that it is not intended that I should address the virus directly. I do intend to address the subject of the virus, however not the virus itself. I am not a virus whisperer. I do not speak virus or Mandarin. I would be at a loss as to which orifice to speak into. Please be assured that I would attempt to speak to the virus if it were in you and it could be reasonably expected that it would do any good. In which case, I would be happy to speak into whichever of your orifices is most expedient in doing the trick. That’s the type of man I am—bravely offering to perform useless rituals. Sadly, I am not alone.

There is nothing a true huckster dislikes more than not having a monopoly on a subject.  He may dislike it, although it is rare that one is first in with the offers of snake oil or hopium. What hucksters really dislike is when their acts have become shop-worn through previous repetition. There is a certain degree of modeling that goes on in the huckster field and only a finite number of huckster moves. After a while you are more playing to audience expectations than you are to making an actual sale. And that ain’t right. This is where we are on Coronavirus. There is a set format. And I have only limited latitude in its application.

First let me emphasize how important Hil-Gle is to the support of its community. It isn’t, but that’s part of the gig. Hil-Gle and Mister Fun himself are here to eat, poop and buy things. As long as Hil-Gle continues to have money it will continue to do so. Adding to this is an aspiration to not resort to cannibalism or looting or eating unhygienic foods. These are stretch goals. Allow us to rah rah for those unfortunate souls in the service sector, stocking our shelves, tending the sick, facing the perhaps lethal public. This is not shocking news: you have lost life’s lottery. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be working from home shelter in place are doing so safely thanks to your support.  That most of you are not paid better is a crock of crap. Hil-Gle is itself supported by what has been dubbed an essential worker. The essential part is that this person continues to be paid. Nothing is certain, ever—and these times serve as an excellent reminder of that maxim.

Allude to other historic struggles mankind has overcome. There’s a big pot of things that we’ve done, issues solved, especially on the disease front. And plagues do die out. In the middle of it, however, it’s bad form to randomly babble preambles like “when the history of this crisis is written” and then pull specific panaceas out of thin air, such as “big data”, “internet” or “nanotech.” That has no value. That’s just being a tout. Whatever the solution is likely to be will be based on education, insight, talent, luck and hard work.  Fate will choose a hero and give his weapon a name.  Until that happens, there’s a body count to endure.

Emphasize common sense and togetherness.  Unless you have a space suit handy, your survival is probably predestined by biology. The carriers are going to live. The infirm and the susceptible are at risk. Masks, handwashing and social distancing are mitigation rituals with unknown ratios of efficacy. Common sense says shutting down all society should work. Even that is not certain and it’s certainly not a solution.  Keep in mind that much of what you are being instructed to do as far as safety is concerned is largely a distraction.  Help out with what you can, if you can. Given that no testing is likely to take place to determine which of us can help and which of us is a mobile hazard, any help you render is a risk. Your biggest role in this is to remember what has transpired. Remember the charlatans, the nimrods, the parasites and the gougers. In the aftermath there will be a rewriting of history which needs to be thwarted. We need to hold people accountable, for the housecleaning to follow.

Suddenly lose interest in the topic and talk about your pets.  This is a unique characteristic of the coronavirus crisis. Chances are, your career is not a big deal. It only seemed like it was. If you’re lucky, you’re surrounded by the people who matter to you. Take some joy in that. Make it a point to take your opportunities for happiness where they can be found. Maybe we will all be better grounded after this is all over.

End on a Hopium Note. I would if I could but I can’t so I won’t. This is over when it’s over and it is only over for you when it’s over where you are.  There’s a lot of us in this. We’re pretty smart as a lot. No society in history has ever evaporated as the result of exposure to a single plague. That said, this is the stuff of nightmares. Most of us will wake up from it. Those who don’t will leave us all the lesser, will have been robbed of their potential. This did not have to be this way. There are guilty parties in this. We owe it to the lost to make sure this does not happen again.

Keep calm. Keep score. Good luck.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Anyone But Trump!

I suppose I should take my banner down now. After all, I got what I wanted. He’s impeached. Nancy says impeachment is forever. Maybe it is. I don’t know.  I was hoping for something more in the way of Trump not being president than what we got.  My fantasy about him being perp walked out of the White House, and then sent to the World Court to be tried for crimes against humanity, with all of it resulting in an Old Testament resolution was never going to happen. In reality, I am willing to split the difference between that and him getting off Scot free.

As of this writing, there is some chance of us suffering another four years of Trump. Mind you, I was counting on the baked in humanity of elected officials to remove Trump the first time.  Senators are exceptional people, even ones from Wyoming and South Carolina.  Surely it dawned on at least 60 of them that Trump is an unvarnished nut case. As my father says, self-interest trumps reason. I’m not sure in what world any number of Luddite judges and tax cuts for polluters and plutocrats somehow outweighs giving a monkey nuclear weapons. But here we are.

I have been protesting this, on occasion.  As is the lot of all true patriots, lately my protests have amounted to rewriting a superhero role-playing game.  It has recently dawned on me that the only tool for removing Trump is the Democratic Party.  Speaking as an authority on multi-function tools, my confidence is not inspired. It isn’t over yet, but things are not looking all that great.

I am convinced that we could beat Trump with a bucket of warm spit.  And I am willing to support the candidate who most resembles such. Many of my fellow Democratic Voters have higher standards, some slanting towards preference for a Giant Vampire Zombie. I don’t think we need to be quite so inclusive in our identity politics this time around. We might want to go with the closest Sane Human Being model available—if only to sway other sane human beings.

Let’s be clear what we are up against. We’re talking about a president who crafts concentration camps for toddlers. We’re talking about a president who LOST the plurality of votes cast by a Houston. We’re talking about a president whose last campaign manager and previous personal lawyer are in jail. We’re talking about a president whose administration has been staffed by visible Disney villains. (Not Marvel Disney villains. Not Star Wars Disney Villains. Disney Disney Villains.) We’re talking about a president who has picked fights with our peaceful neighbors. Who pisses off Canada? This should not be hard, folks.  

Although Trump is Conservative-aligned, he is not on any intellectual level a Conservative.  Sadly, Conservatives are water carriers for plutocrats and polluters, but there is a vocal third of them who can be swayed to support a non-Giant Vampire Zombie. At Trump’s core, he’s a bigot. He has that vote, along with the cadre of Bible thumpers, gun loonies, plutocrats and polluters that the Republican Party conglomerated over several decades. There’s no point in playing to any of them. But that still leaves a lot of folks, an overwhelming majority who are available to be tapped provided that they are NOT shaken to the point of viewing their electoral choice as being a binary between loathsome equivalents.

My own two first choices are out. Kamala Harris and Corey Booker did not make it to post time in Iowa.  I have since thrown money at Elizabeth Warren. I have a personal recommendation on Elizabeth Warren. People who know her says she’s brilliant. While Elizabeth Warren isn’t willing to write off Elizabeth Warren, I am. She now reminds me of every teacher I ever hated. I flirted with Bloomberg, until I saw him live fire. If only Bloomberg partially resembled his own advertising, he would be a walk in. Instead Bloomberg is the less pleasant version of what Joe Biden is—way past his use by date.  This doesn’t leave me with much, other than a predilection for not directly supporting any other candidate. I am voting for the winner of the Democratic nomination, Giant Vampire Zombie or not.

It should not be this interesting. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

WDMA Promo For Web

Ok, it's something less than a masterpiece, but I am at least starting to get a hang of this program. I love new computer programs that do exactly half of what old programs did with twice the difficulty.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Auto American

Sometime back this blog reported that electric cars would soon be replacing conventional models in sales popularity. Gas stations would close shop. Older cars would evaporate, simply on the basis of comparative cost of opertation. A humming, pollution-free land of wonder was just around the corner.

Insert crow into mouth. Chew. Actually what’s been happening is that cars themselves are disappearing in favor of the even less economical Carry All. What the hell is a Carry All? It’s the blanket term for an enclosed bed truck, which covers the SUV, minivan and Nissan Cube. That’s what people are buying. Terms such as ‘SUV’ or ‘Durango’ or ‘Jeep’ or ‘Suburban’ are just descriptors of trim level, and not very accurate at that. We’re all buying little freaking trucks. It was Hudson which introduced the step-down slide in and sit car over 50 years ago. Today we have gone back to step up vehicles. And none of them are electric.

But wait! There are electric cars.  There’s the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla and…. There are also red headed left handers, too. And electric cars are about as common.  If one is generous, a claim could be made that electric cars are replaying the adoption rate of the cell phone. No one had one. Doctors, lawyers and bigwigs had them. Then… wait a decade… everyone has one. Even by that scheme the electric car is well past due. I fear that it is time for me to admit defeat.

Allow me to wax moronic explaining my odious predictive failure.  The cell phone analogy is entirely wrong. Cell phones did not replace anything. They were an entirely new idea. They replaced the pay phone—the phone no one owns—and perhaps the pager. But it’s not so much an evolution of the phone as it is a grafted extension of the phone system. At its core the cell phone is a hybrid of the walkie talkie and the telephone. It’s a walkie talkie that calls into the phone system. By contrast, the telephone is something that is wired to your house or wired to a wall and then transmits via wire to other wired receivers. Adopting the cell phone did not require someone to come into your home and yank all the wires out of your walls and then issue you a new receiver with all new parts. Instead, they just hung enough antennas and then made the anchors (the cell phones) cheaper and cheaper. And today the only communication system wired into your house is the internet, usually concurrent with Cable Television. Yes, today no one uses the telephone, now called a land line. But this isn’t because it’s been yanked out. Cars are different.

Cars are car part containers. No matter what brand or model, your car is 90% alike to all other cars. For any car system, there are all of maybe three variations. The spark plugs in your 1978 Delta 88 are identical to the ones in your 2017 Honda Civic. Ditto the nuts and bolts and glass and radio and pads and shocks and catalytic converter. What variation there is can be attributed to size constraints. The gear box of your F-150 is a bit different than the one in your Smart For Two. The greatest differences are in the body--a vast idiosyncratic package for your collection of largely non-unique components--and in the transmission, the mechanical force system, which needs to be custom configured specifically or you will go flopping down the road as opposed to rolling.  It’s a tailored suit and a fancy set of shoes thrown over very similar interior bits.

There are two approaches to building an electric car. Approach One (Techno Salvage): invent only the systems that you need to, specifically the engine and the fuel container. The engine is a bunch of electric stuff and can be distributed. You’re not carrying fuel anymore. You just have to make room for batteries. Approach Two (Rainbow Gold): Reinvent everything. Build the car around the constraints of the electrical drive system.  Both approaches suck equally. Two factors have limited the electric car’s development thus far. First, electric cars, no matter how they are configured, are not 90 % alike to other cars. Many electric cars are not 90% alike to other electric cars. They are more different than other manufactured items. If plumbing were at a similar stage of standardization, only the rich would crap indoors. Second, and most importantly…

Elon Musk is an idiot.

He’s an idiot who can land a spent rocket engine back on its mooring.  He’s an idiot who can plausibly dig a hole to China. He’s an idiot who can successfully design and market a home use flamethrower. (I had the idea first. Really.) He can will a lot of things into being. Without a doubt he is one of the most successful dreamers in the world today. The auto industry is a pile of manure and does not deserve Elon Musk. And the sooner he figures that out the better all humanity is going to be.

When it comes to the electric car, Musk’s Tesla is clearly the pick of the litter.  Of the three electric car start-ups from a decade ago, his is the only one to have produced a car that functions. Second place goes to the group who produced a car that did not function. Third place is from a group which did not produce a car. So Musk is Peggy Flemming in an Olympics in which the two other contestants did not skate.

Musk has followed the accepted historic pattern. Entice investors. Don’t use your own money. Start with a bling car to stir up interest. Once the bling thing is generally perfected, strip it down to a mass production archetype and then scale up manufacturing of the affordable model. Everyone from Columbia to Henry Ford did it this way. Ford’s first car wasn’t the Model T, it was the Cadillac. Once that car was perfected, Ford used what he learned and made the Model T. (Very long story short.) GM’s founding makes were Buick and Cadillac and then they scaled down to Chevrolet and Pontiac and other plebian makes. Although following in their footsteps so far, Musk has missed two steps which will inevitably be his automotive undoing.

Historical Missed Step One: R&D is something you buy. It is not something you do. Innovation is a thing that happens in someone’s garage in the middle of the night. Or it takes place in a university. It cannot be willed into being through spread sheets and benchmarks and project management. It is a creative process with a high failure rate. You hand the successful innovators dump trucks worth of cash. The failures you don’t have to pay.

This goes to the basics of knowing what business you are in. At some point Musk decided that he was a battery manufacturer. This is like owning a monopoly on helium when your aim is to find a use for balloons. Auto manufacturers are in the business of screwing together auto parts and putting such under a nice canopy. They are not in the business of inventing auto parts. Traditionally most auto innovations came from either other basic industries (inevitably exploiting university research) or from auto racing. (Traditionally most innovations come from someone employed in R&D at another auto firm who has been working on a side project on his own in his own garage. He comes to you with an innovation that he could not get green lighted at his employer and is now handing off to you the ready to go perfected product for one large lump sum.) In short, the time to go into the electric car business is AFTER the battery technology is perfected, not before.

Musk has also decided to reinvent the way cars are sold. That part of the process is actually NOT BROKEN. The whole make cars, ship them to dealers, dealers hit up banks and send you money cycle works. Dealers will also fix your cars and sell your parts. It keeps you in coin and makes life happy for customers. Musk’s system of build them and set them in a lot and then take pot luck ties up a lot of cash. And his custom of using salaried auto hikers to do the customer’s tax and regs and physically drive the car to the buyer’s home has efficiencies only a pizza delivery service can appreciate. How does one buy a Tesla in the first place? As opposed to having dealerships, which would lend some visibility to his product, Musk puts the burden of making the purchase and arranging financing on the customer. With predictable results. *

Musk’s answer to the cash flow issue is to float bonds and then scramble to pay for them. And to seemingly blow weed prior to investor conference calls. Not that the process of business itself is all that high and exalted, but if you fail at it, you fail.

Musk isn’t the con man Tucker was. His car works and can be produced. It’s everything else he’s screwed up, much to the detriment of the electric car field.  Failures such as this are common, since…

Historical Missed Step Two: The Auto Industry is a Mausoleum for Money. Major Auto Manufacturers are Vulture Capitalist Creations. What do Ransom Olds, Henry Ford, David Buick and Walter Chrysler have in common? They were all kicked out of firms that they founded. Not necessarily the firms they are known for, but they were all booted at one time or another. None of the existing Big Three American auto makers is the result of a successful start-up. All of them are cobbled together remains of failed or amalgamated firms. General Motors is an amalgamation of several HUNDRED former manufacturers. Chrysler is what remains of Maxwell, which itself was culled from the wreckage of United Motors, an entity spawned from the failed Bicycle Trust monopoly. Jeep is what is left of Overland, a failed parts client of GM. Jeep was obtained through merger with American Motors, an amalgamation of Nash and Hudson. Hyundai was a program to provide reliable cars to shipyard workers. It was only after merging with KIA that Hyundia obtained drive system technology needed to sustain themselves as an actual exporter. The list of firms which are lumbering husks of other firms runs on and on, with no sunshine seen for start-ups.

It could be argued that Ford is a successful start-up. Ford took a payoff from the original Henry Ford Motor Company (which became Cadillac and then General Motors), took his staff and their experience and went to start a new firm.  That firm, Detroit Automobile Company, failed within a year. The firm we now know as Ford is itself a recapitalization. (“Recapitalization” is a big word for screwing the original investors and making off with the assets.) Like all auto companies, Ford diversified (in one instance funding Dodge) and amalgamated (taking over Lincoln Motors). Ford and Musk are both visionaries of a type, although Ford’s vision had less to do with emergent technology than it did guidance to a specific price point, expanding the reach of the car to the average citizen. Like Musk, Ford had his run-ins with Wall Street and government naysayers. At one point the government threatened to turn over control of Ford to Nash Motors. Musk has gotten into as much trouble as he is likely to—which is to say that Tesla is irrelevant and not worth the government’s lead to shoot. In the end,  Ford was not quite a vulture, but was vulture enough to muddle through. And in the end, I think Tesla is what a vulture eats.

I do still believe that the electric car will be a big thing. Just not anytime soon. And it won’t be coming from Elon Musk, who will be long gone to his orbital habitat to blow weed to his heart’s content by the time we get an electric car under $20,000.00. Musk’s flame out has undoubtedly discouraged others from jumping into the electric car fray. But the global auto industry has other issues.

There is a 40% global production overcapacity in the auto industry. Sounds ominous. Many cryptic and dire things can be plausibly extrapolated from just this factoid. In fact, the industry as a whole ponders this daily. It’s the auto industry’s version of Zen meditation.

What does this factoid boil down to? Remember I told you that modern auto companies are mostly vulture capitalist creations. (There is another factor that I will explain later.) Each firm has inherited a lot of stuff, generally for pennies on the dollar of their actual value. And they are not using 40% of it.  If they actually needed this stuff, it would cost them a fortune to buy it. So they are sitting on it, even though they don’t need it. And they make payments to maintain it. If this sounds silly, then you obviously do not own a storage locker. The auto industry rents lots of storage lockers, figuratively speaking, crammed to the gills with stuff which is highly valuable only to the auto industry.  No one wants to give up their horde. The way the game has been played thus far is to acquire additional hordes when a competitor goes out of business.

Sort of. That game has actually been over for a little while. It can only be played within national borders. The game is over here in America, since there are only two players left. GM and Ford cannot amalgamate. They can only eat foreign car companies, but that capacity is limited by the other factor that I hinted at. Bluntly, many car companies are Government Sponsored Enterprises. Germany has two major car companies, BMW and VW. VW is essentially a jobs program. If Hyundai isn’t an actual bodily appendage of the South Korean government, it certainly qualifies as a condom. Fiat is the crown jewels of Italy, having amalgamated all of its civilian and sports car lines. Japan’s many auto makers are situated somewhat similar to those in the US circa 1950, but their government’s cradle to grave welfare state is not factored into their export’s prices. They are effectively jobs programs also. It’s the same story everywhere. The upswing of this is that the market is littered with irrational actors.

I’m not saying that this is bad. And it’s not unique to the auto industry. It just means that they are not glass eyed utilitarians. They are beholding to labor unions and social factors and humanity in general. Many are the civilian putz-facing ends of national military industrial complexes. Again, this does not make them bad, but it does make their behavior a tad unpredictable. The good news, from an electric car perspective, is that zero emissions is an agreed on goal. The bad news is, electric cars are not the highest priority. There are three priorities ahead of it, one of which is a distraction and one of which is a chimera.

Distraction: Waiting for Godot. China has a billion potential auto buyers. The minute, the second, the microsecond, China swings those doors open all global production overcapacity evaporates. Or at least mine does as I carve out my unfair share of this virgin and prosperous market. Heh heh heh. Wrong, round eye! Wrong, rising sun bastard! Wrong, fish and chips, frog eating, kraut eating eurosimpleton! The Glorious People’s Republic which is rising to consume all the Earth will make its own damn cars. China’s people are not your customers. They are China’s customers. Mother Mao Funny Money stays home. If there is one thing that we can take away from decades’ worth of economic engagement with the People’s Republic of Chinese Earth it’s is that they are a giant leech black hole squatting on the face of global capitalism. If allowed to, the Chinese may sell us cars—replicas of western cars, really—but they will largely drive their own cars—also replicas of western cars, really. The Chinese may eventually even have electric cars, provided we make the batteries easy enough for them to copy. So Godot is a no go.

Chimera: Sometime some time ago all of the great IT minds migrated away from dull science fiction science to the heady Wall Street fairyland of the Hedge Fund. There they toiled away, night and day, on computers which would make NASA blush, plugging in predictive programs which would guide the already well to do in becoming even more so. The behavior being predicted was binary in nature, buy or sell. And after many decades of continual development involving some of the best paid mathematicians and theoretical programming architects on Earth, the net cumulative result of these efforts HAVE ZERO EFFICACY.  Given this, what makes anyone think that we can program a car to drive itself?  

Wait! We have autonomous drones which fly and shoot missiles and kill people. No, we do not. The drones that kill people are radio controlled. They have human operators. We do have autonomous munitions, which react well to sensors and can read maps to hit stationary targets. In theory, we could have flying killer robots any day now, but that’s not the benchmark that we are attempting to have parity with. Both flying and killing are comparatively easy. A flying killer robot does not have to stop behind the school bus which is halted at the railroad tracks even though no train is coming.

Wait! Computer models are getting better all the time. We now predict the weather with near flawless accuracy. While this may be true, I remind you of the collective failures at predicting the stock market. The weather follow’s God’s rules—and God is pretty consistent. Driving is the weather, plus human psychology, plus physics in random ratios changing by the second. It’s easy enough for a 16 year old to be passably good at, but beyond the capacity of a machine which adds in groupings of two no matter how kryptonian its sensor array may be nor majestic its branch routines.

Wait! There already ARE self-driving cars! What are you blathering about? Long answer short: they’re not safe.  The only way to make them workable is to designate “auto-pilot” only lanes. If we go down that route, we might as well just have an effective mass transportation system and dispense with cars altogether.

Look, I’m probably going to have to hang up another ‘I was wrong’ sign here. But I cannot help but feel that we are all being sold a load of crud. The first delusion is that the self-driving cars are for us consumers--that we will all be entitled to flop down in our buggies one day muttering “home, James” and be mystically whisked off while we enjoy nappy time. As fun as that sounds, we are not the market. Nor are they attempting to put the Ubers under. It’s the truck drivers that they are out to un-employ. Mark my words, once it becomes obvious that robo-trucks are a hazard to the highways, the trucking firms are going to demand “auto-pilot only” lanes. (And they will ask that the robot delivery trucks be allowed to operate at night in urban areas.) This is all a not very high tech scheme to avoid paying rednecks as well as claim ownership of the public way. I say we nip this in the bud. If you want to send freight across the country largely unattended there’s a thing called the choo-choo. But if you are using the roads that were made for us, for our enjoyment, for our personal transportation, and are sending corporate farm hog sludge from Amarillo to Providence, then we demand that you hire a redneck to guide it. **

A factoid frequently pitched by the computer car people goes “Did you know that the average car is only in operation 2 % of the time?” As if the entire auto thing wasn’t massively wasteful in and of itself. The pitch then goes on to postulate “Imagine a world where an operating car could simply be summoned to your door as needed? When not in use the car moves to places where it is likely to be summoned. In such a future, no one would need personal cars at all.” Imagine a world where your wife summons an automated car at 3:00 AM only to find the podmobile’s faux leather bucket seats encrusted in vomit. Imagine a world where your wife has done her grocery shopping and decides to leave such in the podmobile until someone gets home to hike them in. Wait! She can’t! Imagine a world where at a high volume time of day your wife has to share a podmobile with someone who smells. Or because of the communal nature of podmobiles, she is not allowed to stow stuff for future use, rearrange her face, fart, sing off key or do any of the other personal Zen things the dickless are so fond of. We can’t get women to use mass transportation as it is. By what fit of Imagineering is this going to work? Until you can reprogram women, this is a non-starter.

What appears to be in it for the car companies is a belief that these roving automatic car fleets will need to be replaced on a consistently short-cycle basis. As it stands, the average current car is lasting in excess of a decade. Not surprisingly concurrent with this phenomena, car payments are now extending well past their traditional three year horizon. I don’t know how great these cars are, but few people are prone to give up on something they are still making payments on. And once you’re through paying on something for five to seven years, most folks are content to drive it into the ground. Beyond stockpiles of crud, this is where the rest of the 40% overcapacity is coming from. People are just holding onto cars longer.

Lost in this is Ford’s original idea of making cars affordable. Given the constant median wage in the United States, an affordable car would be from $12,000 to 16,000. If you look around, you will find that there are few if any new cars at that price. There are a number of reasons for this all of which boil down to (A) the car manufacturer needs to make $2000 per unit just to send you a box and (B) the retailer needs to make $1000 just to sell you a box. You can also add in about $5000 worth of mandated crud on each car. That’s $8,000 out the door to give you about a ton of nothing. Any further things, such as a door handle, are going to cost you more. The next big auto innovation, whatever it might be, will address this issue, but for the moment the entire industry is stuck.

Right now selling you a hybrid or electric vehicle is a dicey proposition. Both have systems which may not last the life of the payments. Both require replenishments costing thousands of dollars at the five to seven year mark. This is not a design for a happy customer.

Which brings us to the electric car’s final impediment, the last auto industry distraction. In order to stay in business the auto makers have to sell cars people want to buy. Largely these are the aforementioned Carry Alls in their various plumage. The industry makes good money on these things even though they are entirely a technological and environmental dead end.  It’s good money now, but it is just treading water. The industry as a whole is going to have to pick a future and then go there.

*Tesla’s claim is that they are manufacturing vehicles which they have already sold. In short, everything off of their assembly line already has a buyer.

**The Interstates were not really made “for us” although interconnecting roads were. Prior to the rise of the automobile, the roads in America did not connect. It was the auto industry, and us the consumers, who pushed to put through connecting and improved roads. The interstate system, which is where a lot of the freight travels, was dreamed up by Eisenhower as a military necessity. Like the internet, it just happens to have civilian applications. It was felt that the interstates would encourage intra-American tourism, mostly via car. They were NEVER intended as freightways and the trucks should not have been allowed on them. We have railroads.

Note: Our Grand Opening for the WDMA site had been delayed a bit. We hope to have the front page redesign done relatively soon.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weird Detective Mystery Adventures Living Edition Soft Premier

Psst! It’s alive… ALIVE! The latest edition of Weird Detective Mystery Adventures is now alive and resident on the HIL-GLE.com website. We’re a couple of years late on our initial promise, but this is not simply a cut and paste job. The entire text has been re-written and re-formatted for ease of play.  WDMA has been expanded with new ability listings and streamlined reference sections. We believe our changes have improved the material as well as the game experience. Please let us know what you think.

We will be installing snappy promo text on our front page sometime in August. As time goes on, we intend to update and upgrade the game’s various pages. In its current form, the text is standing in as the preliminary draft of our new Streamlined Edition.

The Streamlined Edition will appear in PDF, EBook, Print On Demand and Print editions at some time in the future. The first steps in this direction will be made near the end of the year. This edition has been in the planning and testing stage for the past five years. We are also looking forward to the release of campaign setting and judge materials in support of this edition.

At this point we are inviting your input. We are still in the process of pruning the text for typos as well as detecting those areas which are in need of improvement. To this end we will be announcing a play test and revision incentive program on our home page soon.      

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