I am learning not to write things off so quickly. The modern world is a maze of mind forged manacles and tantalizing chimeras. And genuine change drivers in the form of new data and innovation. Picking one from the other is an art. There’s a huge pile of things which are partially untrue, a mismatch between a legitimate need and the prevailing solution offered.
Some calls are easy to make. Bitcoin is garbage. Its underlying blockchain truth is a miasma, a much touted nothing to see here. Imagine a world wherein every penny that passes through your hand has a pedigree, a provenance, a trail for every transaction for which it was used, yet no identification of previous owners. Now imagine a world where there is a need for such a thing. You can’t. There isn’t.
But wait, there’s less! Further imagine a world where you can just mint money. Ok, maybe not you or me, but people with high-end computers. This is much better than money printed by governments and managed by central banks, right? The implications to monetary policy, fiscal policy, and the dismal science aside, this is something akin to allowing people to make money out of Play Dough. Cults of people toting tokens which only those in the know will accept as a store of value is nothing new—and most of these people are crooks or tax cheats. What is sort of new is that the store of value itself is so worthless. Put as much encryption and electronic paper trail as you like on it, a bitcoin is a token pegged to nothing and worth what you can get for it. Once the forces of gravitational common sense come into play, bitcoin’s lack of backing turns it back into Play Dough.
Any commodity which oscillates due to the pronouncements of old weed blower Elon Musk doesn’t have much intrinsic going for it. The crackdown is starting in all quarters of all governments. The question is whether the collapse will come before or after the eventual ban. The only known utility for bitcoin is as a transition state for turning yen, rupies, rubles and other third world funny money into something else which can later be cashed in for dollars or euros (or pounds.) Plus, it seems to be very useful for wholesale clandestine narcotics purchases and ransom payments. I guess it’s not all bad.
Given that I seem to be in the minority on Bitcoin, I have begun to reassess my opinions on other topics our blog covers, starting with Flying Cars. HIL-GLE Wonderblog has led the universe in defining what is and what is not a Flying Car. Briefly:
Definition of a Flying Car
In order to qualify as a 'Flying Car' a vehicle must encompass the following three concepts.
1. Vehicle must be able to take off and land without a runway or dedicated external support facility of any kind.
2. Vehicle must be capable of conventional garaging.
3. The operation of a Flying Car may be no more complex than that of other conventional consumer commuter vehicles.
By this definition, no one has invented a Flying Car. Ever. There have been some nifty swings at it, however.
This fine 1935 concept eventually matriculated into the helicopter, certainly an innovation, but not something most of us hop into and fly to the grocery store. It is my contention that like the Northwest Passage, the Flying Car concept may prove to be impossible to make reality. The last actual production Flying Car was this model.
The wish fulfillment spirit of the Flying Car concept is to democratize the experience of flight itself. The aim is to leave your door, pick up on wings, and fly off to wherever it is you wish to go.
Although you do not have to Hawkman French kiss the spirit of the Flying Car, you do have to at least air kiss it. If it isn’t making defying gravity fundamentally more obtainable, then the Flying Car concept has no value no matter how close to the letter of the definition one gets.
What has been invented thus far are a set of recreational aids for rich people to show off in. If it isn’t built for the masses, then the Flying Car is immaterial. Our last Flying Car was close to a million dollars a copy, assuming it were ever produced. The Flying Car mentioned in Air Trails above was a little more affordable. It was pricey for a car, reasonable for a crop duster, yet in the end a toy. You want dreams realized to be more than distractions. We shoot for revolution!
With the most modern of our Flying Cars now spirited off to China, we are left with only a quad-drone which seats one and is remote controlled. And this thing…
This is the I-Tec Maverick produced by Indigenous Peoples’ Technology and Education Center. I want one, for two reasons: (1) I hate tailgaters and no one in their right mind would close within fifteen feet of this propeller pushed monstrosity; and (2) It is far and away the coolest dune buggy ever. It is affordable to the point that I could bankrupt myself and buy one. And the people at I-Tec are cozy with the spirit of the Flying Car, phrasing their mission statement as to “provide tools and technologies to God-followers in frontiers (sic) areas to meet their needs.” Not just a French kiss, a soulmate French kiss. Sadly, passion and exuberance count for so little in the world of aerodynamics.
Not shown is the method for providing lift and navigation. Because the concept falls down right there. This magnificent thing is actually strapped to a parachute. To be generous, the wing is a glider chute, attached in a specific (I’m hoping) way to various parts of the dune buggy frame. It’s sort of a self-propelled para-glider, a nifty idea on its own and truthfully the making of a fine tourist road-side enterprise if it functioned efficiently.
Unfortunately, efficient functioning is not a feature of the Maverick. Also not shown is the comical method by which it gets into the air. In my mind’s eye I imagine that the chute is dragged behind our dune buggy, fills with air, and then we are off on our merry way. In reality, liftoff requires a very large mast thing which holds the chute aloft until the buggy can attain air speed. In insurance terms, the mast would be a “cumbersome javelin object capable of impaling anyone on the ground during undirected free-fall,” which kills its potential as an ad hoc carnival attraction. It’s unclear at what point the mast becomes jettisoned, however its mere presence is a design flaw which must be overcome if the Maverick is to ever show any promise.
How does it fly? It does have a rudder. Whether this is functional or aspirational, I am not sure. My guess is that it has roughly the same handling profile as the average hot air balloon, only less forgiving. Your choices are probably vectored on up or down or the way the wind is blowing. With practice, you might be able to tack into the wind. Much depends on how much flying time the unit delivers and how skilled one can become with the controls offered. We do know that the thing crashes and that the NTSB will not investigate such, because they do not consider the I-Tec Maverick an airplane. Because it is a dune buggy strapped to a parachute.
You do have to appreciate the attempt, however. As spectacular methods of suicide go, the Maverick is reasonably priced, unlike: An anonymous bidder paid $28 million at auction this weekend to join Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on a trip to space. The first crewed flight of his Blue Origin company is set to launch on July 20, for the roughly 10-minute trip. The bidder beat 20 rivals in the charity auction on Saturday with proceeds going to the company’s foundation, which aims to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM. Bezos is among several of the world’s richest men racing towards space, with Virgin’s Richard Branson and Tesla’s Elon Musk also vying for a place in the commercial space travel industry.
Note to Prospective Wealthy Space Adventurers: Rocket travel is about as safe as tight-rope walking is for tight-rope walkers. The people we send into space are usually highly trained. Like tight-rope walkers, they usually come back in one piece, because they are so highly trained. You are rich. That does not mean that you are magic. If something goes wrong, you have NO SKILLS to help you get out of danger. Mind you, no one is going to miss Jeff Bezos or Elan Musk, but you might be of some import to your own field. In this ventured risk, you are performing no function of value to yourself, your field, or your society. If things go wrong, you get blown to pieces. And that might be the optimistic side of the downside. (I’ll miss Richard Branson, but I will get over it.)
On the other hand, there may not be any way to talk these people out of it: Corporate psychopathy, especially in high-level leaders, is a real problem that could cost businesses billions of dollars each year, writes University of San Diego professor Simon Croom in this piece for Fortune. "Psychopathy is up to 12 times more common among senior management than among the general population," he writes. "When some of the defining traits of psychopathy include egocentricity, predatoriness, recklessness, a lack of empathy, and a propensity for manipulation and exploitation, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see how a high percentage of unrecognized psychopathy in senior management could lead to all kinds of problems for organizations, their employees, their customers, and society at large."
I suppose comparing the idle rich self-made billionaires to corporate executives might be unfair. I will live with it.
I previously un-wrote off the Electric Car. There has been some additional positive prognostication on our Electric Car beat: Electric vehicles should be cheaper to buy on average than combustion vehicles in about five years, without subsidies. Most of the folks currently in the Electric Car field are still the same old actors, which does give some pause. And some of the new actors are embracing another trend on our beat, the hideous SPAC: Lucid Motors, the Saudi-backed electric-vehicle startup waiting to go public via a blank-check company, is ready to take on Tesla—and it has been for a while now. The startup is facing more setbacks thanks to Covid-19 supply chain disruptions and delays, and a global chip shortage.
This isn’t enough for me to re-write off the Electric Car as much as it is for me to write off Lucid. Let me get this straight. You are a startup. Backed by Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth funds. And you need money. From SPACs (money invested by people who didn’t know what they were investing in.) This is to take your company to the level it can sell shares to people who do know what they are investing in. Got it. I bet you any money they do not have a functioning car yet. Why don’t you take what money you have left from failing to develop a car and buy yourself a seat on the rocket ship? It’s much less painful than what the Saudis are going to do to you.
Even the Rocket Ships are SPAC: This morning, Astra becomes the first space company to trade on the NASDAQ, having completed a SPAC transaction with Holicity, which was started and funded largely by cellular phone pioneer Craig McCaw. The transaction raised $500 million for Astra, which it will use to build out its low-earth orbit satellite platform business. Rocket Lab is close to closing a similar SPAC transition. All told, analysts believe space infrastructure investment will top $10 billion this year, up from a record $8.9 billion in 2020.
Best guess: Neither Astra nor Rocket Lab will ever launch anything. They won’t even blow up tourists. If you have any hesitation as to where the SPAC is heading, we conclude with: It’s the latest twist in the world of blank-check mergers: A company plans to go public with a SPAC (that’s a special-purpose acquisition company for the uninitiated) and use it to buy back an affiliate that it took public. How does it plan to do that? By using another SPAC, of course.
This is what happens when real assets get bid up. Suddenly there all sorts of synthetic opportunities in the ethers. Some of these are well meaning pipe dreams, but the majority are scams.
After China liberated our last Flying Car, I began to rethink my position on them as a power in the world. Surely any government willing to take on an entity like our last Flying Car manufacturer is not infallible. In fact, it shows a certain honest bungling to throw the People’s Money at what was clearly a failed venture without any redeemable public or military application. Maybe the Chinese Communist Party is just stupid as opposed to being actually evil? Then I read this: “They’ll find their heads bashed bloody against a great wall of steel.” That’s what Chinese President Xi Jinping, marking 100 years since the founding of the ruling Communist Party today, warned nations that “bully” China. Having achieved “historical inevitability,” he said, the People’s Republic, with 1.4 billion inhabitants, can stand its ground.
A fish rots from the head down. That man’s statements have been elevated to the level of “thought itself” amongst the Chinese Communist Party members. They seem to have stupid and evil down pat. Back here on Earth One, no one is bullying China. Some of us Freedom Inclined are a bit tiffed off about concentration camps on its soil, and some weird naval claims it has been making, and it essentially going back on all of the promises made to the people of Hong Kong, and some saber-rattling it is doing over in Taiwan, but no one is bullying 1.4 billion people nor their nuclear-armed government. Perish the freaking thought. Let’s hope they don’t reach for a bottle of insane to go with their Historical Inevitability word jazz. If they do, we’ll all be reaching for the Flaming Heart of Jeebus.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Flaming Heart of Jeebus, it is a monotheist icon which exists primarily on mass-produced funeral cards. It certainly cannot be Jesus, since His image cannot be rendered, but it is Jesus-Like. Printed on the card is a promissory statement that a group of holy types will be evoking the supernatural on the undersigned deceased’s behalf. This they are doing at the printed name’s request, one assumes in exchange for some pre-paid gratuity. I get these in the mail all of the time. The vast majority of them also come with an image of Jeebus, holding his flaming pulmonary organ in his hands.
Jeebus seems neither happy nor sad about this. In truth, he’s a hard read. The immolating organ is usually rendered with medical accuracy and occasionally adorned with mystical Latinate. When used as a symbol on its own, it is in Valentine’s Day form by way of the Human Torch.
I am familiar with most Christian iconography, but this one had me stumped. At no time in the gospels does the main character yank out any of his organs, or anyone else’s organs, nor do anyone’s organs burst into fire. This goes for the entire Bible text, which does feature some fantastic stuff, but no blazing body parts. The closest I could find was a bush setting itself on fire.
The Flaming Heart of Jeebus is clearly extra-canonical. Most icons of this nature are plagiarism from paganism. Even here, however, the detachable burning heart seems to have no parallel. Aztecs and Mayans would be a guess given that we do not have a full view of their belief systems. That said, there are no similar icons found depicted anywhere else in the occult spheres. It is unique.
As it turns out, it is of relatively recent origination, dating back to the 17th century. Although it is Catholic, the icon can be found sprouting in various roles among the older Protestant sects. There are several originators on record, all of whom attest to the same story.
A nun wishing to read her Bible in the original language petitioned the godhead for comprehensive fluency in Latin. Having been granted such by supernatural blessing, the nun found her gift to be not to her liking. The story’s credibility might have been enhanced somewhat if she had instead discovered that the Bible was not originally written in Latin, but that isn’t the way it is told. Instead, she just doesn’t like it. SO SHE TAKES IT BACK, like she’s returning something from Walgreens. Being customer-focused, the godhead offers to make an in-kind makedo to preserve her goodwill. The nun then asks for the godhead’s heart. In this case, the godhead is known to be dead and doesn’t actually need the heart. Per the story, there is nothing wrong with the nun’s heart. She would just like to have the godhead’s implanted. At no point is a purpose to this mentioned. The godhead proceeds remove his own heart and places it into the nun’s chest. What happens to her heart is not mentioned.
All of this would be a phenomenal back story to some subsequent saintly goings on. Little Sister Doesn’t Care For Latin is now the ambulatory vessel of a functioning organ from the House of David. Let the pronouncements and miracles commence! I can see a whole third book of the Bible starting here. Or a book of the Bible. Or something. Instead, she does pretty much diddly. She is a saint. (Actually, several saints.) But she did essentially pull an Iron Vic. Like the old golden age superhero Iron Vic, she’s been handed a lot of potential and she takes it and becomes a minor league baseball player.
I’m still at a loss as to why the image is on my funeral cards.