Good News

Because “A Few Things I Learned At Our Local Fourth of July Event” is too long for WordPress’ title field.

Actually, it’s probably not, but it’s not a limit I want to test.

But I digress–and I haven’t even gotten started yet.

Anyway, in this era of divisions, isn’t it nice to know that some things haven’t changed?

Faced with an unobstructed patch of grass, kids still break into spontaneous somersaults and cartwheels.

An ordinary spherical balloon, inflated with air, can still lure children away from their cellphones.

Giant slides and rock-climbing walls…
05-1
draw block-long lines of kids and putative adults.

Mexican hot chocolate is a perfect drink for those moments when you’re waiting for the fireworks to start and freezing your tail off.

(Would it be crass to point out that without immigration, we wouldn’t have Mexican hot chocolate? What the heck, I’ll be crass. I’ll also point out that two of the four food vendors were of Latin antecedents, and the pizza sellers were Indian. I’ll let you guess about the folks selling kettle corn, funnel cakes, fried oreos, and cotton candy.)

Moving on.

Speaking of tails, the police still come up with–dare I say it? Oh, go ahead–wacky ways to project a friendly image.
05-2
Realistically, the officer wearing the suit was probably the only person there who wasn’t freezing his tail off.

Even in a time of drought, climate change, and consequent heightened fire risk, amateurs still feel the need to stage their own firework shows.

A firework show doesn’t need music, nor does it need smiley-faced and heart-shaped fireworks to be compelling.

And children still find ways to be amusingly cynical. One young girl last night had been oohing and ahhing along with the crowd until a particularly bright, spectacular, waterfall bloom appeared. While the rest of the crowd gasped, she proclaimed in tones of great boredom, “I saw that at Disneyland.”

More Paranoia

Well, despite Thursday’s post, I’m still here. Still pissed off, though, so I hope y’all will indulge me in another day of paranoia.

Possibly I’m only still here because I’m not a registered Democrat. As noted idiot Alex Jones of Info Wars informed the world yesterday, the Democrats are starting a civil war on Wednesday. So the Republicans may be a little too distracted to deal with a single independent shouting into the void.

I’m not sure what the problem is here. Wasn’t Jones one of the people calling for more civility from the left? Just can’t please some people, I suppose.

Yes, Jones really said/tweeted it. Called it “breaking news,” even.

Let’s get real, here. Nobody–and I mean nobody–can start a war on demand. Well, okay. Starting a war is no problem. A few cyberattacks, few grassy-knoll assassinations, and well-placed bombs, and Bob’s your uncle. But on a schedule precise to the day? Excuse me while I go laugh hysterically.

Yeah, the provocation can be scheduled, but until the other side strikes back, you don’t have a war. Remember, it takes two to tango, but only one to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Still, it was nice of Alex to give us a couple of days to get ready. I hear all the Democrat-owned supermarkets and big box stores are having special sales. If your local store isn’t offering two-for-one pricing on Kevlar and popcorn, you know the corporate higher-ups are Republicans.

Come to think of it, if he’s got credible evidence that “Democrats” are going to indulge in major provocation, shouldn’t he be reporting it to, say, an organization whose job is to stop terrorist plots? Oh, no wait, the official word from the right is that the FBI isn’t capable of finding the soles of their shoes, much less a threat to America.

Hmm. Speaking theoretically here–I’m a novelist, this is what I do–if I was trying to provoke a war, I’d make sure those crackers, bullets, and bombs were aimed at the institutions and people most capable of defending whoever or whatever I was rebelling against.

Do you suppose Alex is afraid Democrats don’t consider him important enough to attack and this announcement is his way of trying to raise his importance? “Oh, look, I blew the whistle on your plot. Better kill me before I blow the cover off your next operation!”

Got news for you, Alex. Very few Democrats consider you important enough to waste time or money on. If Info Wars or you personally suffer an attack Wednesday, it’s more likely to have been done by your own side as an excuse to take the next step in their plan. You’re not rich enough or highly placed enough to be making targeting decisions, so by definition, you’re expendable.

Seriously though, this kind of pronouncement is a can’t-lose for Alex and the alt-right lunatics he’s talking to. If anything happens on Independence Day, he can trumpet that he told us so. If nothing happens, his warning saved the day. And either way, it’s an excuse to crack down on somebody.

Maybe the media who laugh at Alex*. Or the ones who ignore him. Or the family of the girl who turned one of the decision-makers down when he asked her out in high school. Or anyone whose skin is darker than cornsilk, isn’t a particular brand of Christian, thinks health insurance is a good idea, or even (gasp) once voted Democrat.

* Yes, that means me, among others.

If the movers and shakers behind DT are ready to move into their endgame, all it would take is the sacrifice of one highly-visible pundit to give them an excuse for their own Kristallnacht. And all that sacrifice would take is a single well-prepared operative and a big pile of disinformation.

Why wait for Justice Kennedy to retire before kicking things off?

Okay, okay. Enough doomsaying and paranoid ramblings. I’ll have something cheerful for you in Thursday’s post–assuming, of course, that the civil war hasn’t started by then.

Final Straw

I don’t usually talk politics here. Generally, I prefer to keep the blog a respite from all the crap we face in our daily lives*. I may gripe a lot–especially about poorly thought-out technology–but it’s rarely a matter of life and death; you can read a post, hopefully snicker at the snark, and move on, safe in the knowledge that the world won’t be appreciably worse if you disagree with me.

* Note to any agents reading this: I think my novels fall into the same category. If you think there’s a place in publishing for stories that let readers escape their cares and woes, let’s talk.

But sometimes the piles of poop get too big and I need to vent.

I don’t expect to say anything you haven’t heard before. If you don’t want to read my political rant, feel free to skip today’s post. There will be toe beans tomorrow.

If there aren’t toe beans, it’s because I’ve been hauled off by the Gestapo. Check with ICE. Think that’s unlikely? Think again. We’re seeing more and more reports of Immigration actions hundreds of miles away from any border. Actions featuring demands for proof of citizenship from anyone who isn’t clearly “our sort,” i.e. a white male.

And yes, I am a white male. But I’ve often been asked if I’m Puerto Rican. That’s “other” enough that I might well be stopped and questioned. I don’t know about you, but I don’t routinely carry proof of citizenship. I’m not even sure what is considered proof today. A driver’s license isn’t. Is a passport? Or would I be better off carrying a picture of Trump’s ass so I could kiss it if questioned?

But I’m digressing slightly.

It’s not the Supreme Court’s triple-whammy on unions, abortion, and travel earlier this week. It’s not even Justice Kennedy’s announced retirement. It’s the current administration’s determination to lie, cheat, steal, and shit all over anything that might stand in their way.

If you think there’s any chance of Justice Kennedy’s seat remaining open until after the November elections–much less until the new Congress is seating in January–you really haven’t been paying attention. He retires July 31. I expect the first confirmation hearing before the Senate recesses on August 6.

Hell, it might even happen before his retirement. I fully expect the nomination of his replacement to be fast-tracked. After all, the Republican machine has a perfect excuse. Remember how bad for the country it was in 2016 when those awful Democrats and that horrible fake president refused to appoint a successor to Justice Scalia?

Don’t laugh. Everything else gets blamed on the Democrats. I’m amazed this hasn’t yet.

And that’s my point.

Part of that lying, cheating, stealing, and crapping is to immediately blame everything on the previous administration. Why? Because the tactic works. Over and over again, the opposition gets caught up in debunking the lies, and the actual issue gets lost.

Hey, here’s a charming little scenario for you. The current Supreme Court just demonstrated their willingness to accept “National Security” as an excuse for unconstitutional actions. The next court isn’t going to be less willing.

So, Justice Kennedy retires July 31. A new justice is rammed through the Senate at the beginning of August. Along about October 15, the White House issues an executive order citing potential foreign interference with the November elections. “As such, in order to safeguard America’s precious liberty, elections will be suspended until their security can be guaranteed.”

Let’s be blunt here. It could happen. And if it does, all the evidence we have–everything that’s happened over the past year and a half–shows that Congress and the Supreme Court will go along with it. Oh, sure, there would be plenty of Republicans expressing grave doubts about the consequences, even condemning the president. But there wouldn’t be any Republican action to override the order, and nothing offered by the Democrats would be allowed onto the floor.

At this point, I consider anyone who continues to self-identify as a Republican part of the problem. I don’t care whether they voted for Trump. Every Republican in Congress is part of the problem. Ditto Republican officials at the state level. They’re supported by Republican fund-raisers. They get votes from party members who–even if they held their noses and voted against Trump–continue to vote Republican tickets.

And anyone who thinks they can “take back” the Republican Party is living in a dream world. It’s gone.

There’s only one solution. If there’s an election in November, vote them out. And in the meantime, don’t get distracted by today’s crisis, tomorrow’s uproar, or next week’s revelation. Half of them are going to be manufactured as distractions from the previous fusses, and the rest are repetitions of one single idea: “We–us, the people in power–own the rest of you. You’re working for our benefit, and if you don’t like it, you can drop dead. We’ll even sell you the gun.”

Don’t argue. It just gives them another opportunity to lie.

Don’t rebut the lies. It only makes them stronger, in the same way a song you hear over and over turns into an earworm.

Between now and November, pick an issue. One issue. Clean water to Flint (or Puerto Rico). Asylum-seekers illegally detained. Police violence against minorities. Whatever is most important to you. Do what you can on that one issue. Don’t let yourself get distracted by any other crisis. There are enough of us to deal with everything–you don’t have to do it all yourself.

And on November 6, get your ass to the polls and vote. Vote your conscience. No politeness. No “Give him a chance.” No “He’s not really as bad as all that.” Just no.

SAST 11

Time for another Short Attention Span Theater. This one’s brought to you by the combined efforts of the local trees copulating furiously and the local felines all attempting to drape themselves across my body simultaneously. This is not a combination of events conducive to deep, restful sleep.

First up is your official notification that I’ll be taking two weeks’ vacation beginning Monday. There will be Friday posts continuing our current survey of toe beans. There will probably not, however, be any other posts. Enjoy the peace and quiet.


Let’s get the awkward item out of the way. If you’re sensitive to a certain four-letter expletive–the one beginning with “F”–I suggest you skip ahead to the next item.

Still here? Okay. This license plate and its handmade addendum were spotted in a mall parking lot.
24-1

I’ll note that the mall in question contains–in addition to a supermarket–a martial arts school, a musical instrument store, and several restaurants that actively court families as patrons. Not, in other words, a venue where most people would consider such language appropriate.

That said, I have to wonder if the owner of the car was the one who amended the license plate, or if it was done by someone who was annoyed by the owner.

The car didn’t have the dinged-up look one expects on a vehicle that frequently behaves rudely in traffic, so I doubt the sign was contributed by someone who’d been cut off entering the lot.

Perhaps it’s an attempt to foil license plate cameras? But those usually target the rear plate.

Or maybe the owner is just an asshole. If so, I’ll just note that there are any number of sites offering information about license plate owners. A quick search turned up several which claim to provide names, contact information, arrest history, and more for as little as three dollars a plate. Something to consider next time you feel the need to insult someone from the supposed safety of your four-wheeled fortress.


I spotted this in a recovery room after a minor medical procedure.
24-2

I have to say that the germ doesn’t look nearly evil enough, nor does it look sufficiently annoyed by the threat of handwashing. Maybe a few soap bubbles would help?

The real question, though, is how many people ask? Not just asking to be obnoxious, but because they’re seriously concerned that the person offering them a juice box might not have washed recently.


24-3What in God’s name are we teaching our kids?

That it’s appropriate to wear a mask at the dinner table? That plagues are equivalent to super heroes?

I won’t even get into how difficult it would be to eat with some of those masks on. But shouldn’t the manufacturers have asked themselves whether there was any value in masks so non-representational they need to have identifying labels?

Apparently I’m not the only one questioning these things. This was in the remaindered/closeout aisle at the local supermarket a few days after Passover.

Which raises another question: Should religious education really be left in the hands of a commercial enterprise?


And finally…
24-4What in God’s name are we teaching our kids?

That even multi-millionaire superheros have to get day jobs to live? That pole dancing is an aspirational career path*?

* No offense intended to those who choose pole dancing as a livelihood, whether or not they remove their clothing while dancing. But I suspect even those pursuing the option would admit that, in terms of long-term income potential and retirement savings, it’s down at the bottom of the list with working the counter at a fast food restaurant.

That one needs a fortune in technological wizardry to swing around a pole? Or is that point? Is there an epidemic of stripping on our nation’s playgrounds, and this is part of a discouragement campaign? If so, it’s a little bit better than cracking eggs in a frying pan.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think Bruce Wayne would be likely to earn more as a stripper than Batman? I mean, I’d find those boots, gloves, and utility belt a real turnoff.

Can’t Satisfy Everyone

Some days you just can’t win. Also known as “you can’t please everybody”.

Case in point–and I’m making no assumptions here about how tuned-in you are to the current news: On April 29th, a couple of black men were hanging out near Lake Merritt in Oakland. They had a charcoal grill, but they were in an area of the park that only allowed non-charcoal grills.

This is not what most people would consider a major breach of the law.

On seeing such depraved behavior–charcoal grilling in a gas-only zone–the average person would probably shrug. At most, she’d go over to the scofflaws and say, “Hey guys, you can’t use that grill here.” If she was an optimistic sort, she might even point them to the nearest area where charcoal grills are allowed.

And at that point, the outlaw grill-meisters would either move or they wouldn’t. Either way, the supporter of the law would feel a modest glow for having done her duty.

That’s not what happened in this case.

A white woman confronted the men and called the police. She then stood nearby for two hours until the police arrived, at which point she accused the men of harassing her.

Needless to say, this didn’t go over well in Oakland. A protest was organized. Fortunately, it was not a march through the streets. Historically, those haven’t turned out well in Oakland, with vandals and looters using the marches as cover and excuse to make matters worse.

No, this protest was appropriate to the situation: a mass barbecue in the same area of the park, complete with a city permit, local corporate participation, and a voter registration drive. Thousands of people showed up, and by all reports, a good time was had by all.

Except, one presumes, the woman who originally confronted the men.

The punchline here, and the reason I say you can’t please everyone:

As it should, the SF Chronicle ran a story yesterday about the protest. Today’s paper included a letter to the editor from a reader in Palo Alto who was deeply offended by the story. She said, in part, that she “found it upsetting to read of the carnage required to make this protest.”

Yup. She’s hijacking a protest against racial injustice to protest to expound on the moral superiority of vegetarianism and promote animal rights.

With all due respect to the letter writer, this is exactly the sort of mission creep that dooms projects of any sort. Focus, solve one problem at a time, or work in parallel. Don’t undercut the work of others or insist that they work for your cause as well as their own.

Unless, of course, you’re more interested in protesting for the sake of protesting, rather than achieving a goal.

The Group W Bench

The latest twist in the publishing industry–and the latest hot topic of discussion among authors, agents, editors, and other industry types–is the morality clause. Rachel Deahl’s write-up in Publishers Weekly is a good overview.

The TL;DR is that, in reaction to the #MeToo movement and high profile cases such as Milo Yiannopoulos, publishers are demanding the ability to drop an author if he or she says or does something the publisher believes will affect their ability to sell the author’s books.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. They range from “I don’t like it” to “I loathe it.”

I’d be less bothered–not okay with it, but less concerned–if such clauses were very narrowly drawn, citing specific causes for termination. Unfortunately, by all reports, current boilerplate contracts are very vaguely worded, giving the publisher free rein to decide what constitutes moral turpitude. As one agent notes in Ms. Deahl’s article, there’s nothing to prevent a publisher from using a morality clause to get out of a multi-book deal that isn’t earning enough.

There’s definitely an Alice’s Restaurant vibe here. Publishers want to know if we’re moral enough to “join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages” (or whatever else it was we wrote about that the publisher liked enough to offer a contract) “after bein’ a litterbug.” Except, of course, they want to make sure we don’t turn to littering after we’ve served our stint as pyromaniacs.

Full disclosure: The contract for The RagTime Traveler does not include a morality clause. I’m free to say and do what I want, hindered only by my recognition of the law, societal standards, and my ability to get a contract for the next book.

Realistically, even under the best, most author-friendly contracts, publishers have plenty of ways to free themselves from an author they’ve had second thoughts about. Ms. Deahl notes the typical clause giving the publisher the sole right to determine if the manuscript is suitable for publication. There are other such clauses, and there are semi- or non-contractural options, including failing to publicize the book or allowing it to go out of print.

But by adding a morality clause, publishers are giving themselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. It’s good to see agents objecting to morality clauses. But publishers still have the final say on whether they’ll modify or drop the clause if the writer and agent object. They already have nearly all of the power in the relationship–only a few of the highest-profile writers have the option of declining a contract over a clause the publisher refuses to drop or modify, nor is self-publishing always an option.

Despite publishers’ claims that morality clauses are solely for self protection and won’t be used for censorship or financial reasons, the bottom line is that the contract is the contract.

One piece of advice writers hear over and over at the beginning of their careers is “Don’t accept a publisher’s assurance that [specific term of a contract] is never enforced. Publishing is a business, and that clause is there for a reason. It will be enforced.”

As always, interesting times are ahead.


One housekeeping note: Google I/O begins on Tuesday. As usual, I’ll be writing up my thoughts on the keynote announcements. Since I can’t do that until after the keynote, Tuesday’s post will be later than usual. Don’t panic if you don’t see anything from me in the morning. I haven’t forgotten you.

Well, Scoot

For anyone who hoped the Era of Disruption was almost over, I have one piece of advice: don’t hold your breath.

We’ve made some progress, but far from backing off on the importance of disruption in defining business models, today’s corporate warriors are doubling down.

That’s right, we’ve left the first period of the era and entered the second: the Period of Meta-disruption. We’re now seeing the disruptors disrupted. Nowhere is this clearer than in San Francisco.

Uber, Lyft, and their various brethren set out to disrupt the taxi industry, and in large part they’ve succeeded, especially here in the Bay Area. But now we’re getting a wave of companies out to disrupt the ride-hailing business model.

Three companies–Bird, LimeBike, and Spin–are pushing motorized scooters as superior to ride-hailing over short distances or when traffic is congested–and when is it not?

San Francisco was late in regulating ride-hailing (just as they were late in regulating short-term rentals) and the Board of Supervisors is determined to get ahead of the curve on scooter rentals.

Frankly, they don’t have a choice.

The model all three companies are pursuing is “convenience”. They want to be sure there’s always a scooter nearby. That means depositing caches of them in high-traffic areas and encouraging users to spread them around by leaving them at the end of their rides.

Which is great for the companies, of course, but not so great for the general public who wind up dodging scooters left on the sidewalk, in bus zones, truck loading zones, doorways, and basically anywhere there’s enough room for them.

And that’s without even considering the impracticality of forcing riders to abide by state and city laws requiring helmets and forbidding riding on the sidewalk. After all, if the app won’t unlock the scooter if the customer isn’t wearing a helmet, nobody would bother with the service.

I do agree that it’s not the rental companies’ job to enforce the law, but they could certainly do a better job of reminding riders that they shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. Give ’em a great big warning–a sticker on the footboard, or a click-through screen in the app–and let the police take it from there.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t be necessary to get law enforcement involved on the parking end. It should be technologically possible to use the phone’s camera to take a picture of the parked scooter and then use a bit of AI to determine whether it’s been left in a safe spot. If not, just keep billing the user until they move it*. At fifteen cents a minute, people will figure out fairly quickly that it behooves them to not leave the thing where someone will trip over it.

* Or until someone else rents it, of course. Double-charging would be unethical.

All that said, despite the back-and-forth in the press between City and companies, I haven’t seen anyone address the question of privacy.

By design, the apps have to track users: where did they pick up the scooter, where did they leave it, where did they go, and how long did it take? All tied solidly to an identity (or at least to a credit card).

Who gets access to that information? Do the companies sell information to advertisers? Do the apps continue to track customers between scooter rentals?

Don’t forget, these companies think the way to launch their businesses is to dump a bunch of scooters on the street and let the market sort things out. Do you really want them knowing you used your lunch hour to visit a doctor? A bar–or maybe a strip club? How about a political demonstration?

Uber has certainly been tagged for over-zealous information collection. What safeguards do LimeBike, Spin, and Bird have in place to protect your identity?

Face It

Thousands–perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands–of people are deleting their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And that’s great. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when the exodus reaches critical mass and I can delete my own account.

Keep in mind, I created my account when I started doing the writing thing. In today’s world of publishing, the best thing you can do for yourself as an author is to promote your books. And the best–the only–way to do that is to go where the people are.

It doesn’t do much good to do promotion on MySpace, LiveJournal, or any place else your potential readers aren’t. Today, that means Facebook. Yes, Twitter to a lesser extent. Much lesser.

At Facebook’s current rate of decline, I should be able to delete my account around the end of 2020. And that’s the best case scenario.

I’m assuming here that Facebook’s claimed two billion users statistic is grossly inflated. I’m also assuming that there are a million account deletions a day, which is, I suspect, also grossly inflated.

‘Cause, as Arwa Mahdawi said in The Guardian, “…there is not really a good replacement for Facebook.” She quotes Safiya Noble, a professor of information studies at USC: “For many people, Facebook is an important gateway to the internet. In fact, it is the only version of the internet that some know…”

And it’s true. Remember when millions of people thought AOL was the Internet? I think they’ve all moved to Facebook.

They’re not going to delete their accounts. Neither are the millions of people who say “You don’t have anything to be concerned about from surveillance if you haven’t done anything wrong.” Ditto for the people who still don’t regret voting for Trump and the ones who say “There are so many cameras watching you all the time anyway, what difference does it make if Facebook is watching too?”

Even if there’s a lot of overlap among those groups, that’s still hundreds of millions of accounts.

(Why isn’t the paranoid fringe–the people who literally wear aluminum foil hats to keep the government from controlling their minds–up in arms about Facebook? Is it only because they’re not “the government”? Or am I just not looking for their denunciations in the right places?)

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon. Not until the “new hot” comes along. If the new hot isn’t just Facebook under another name. Don’t forget that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook. They’re watching you the same way the parent company is, and if one of them captures the next generation of Internet users, it’ll be “The king is dead! Hail the new king, same as the old king!”

Unfortunately, stereotypes aside, those people who are staying on Facebook do read. And that means I need to keep my account open, touting my wares in their marketplace.

I’ve seen a number of people saying “If you can’t leave Facebook, at least cut down the amount of information you give them.” Which is good advice, but really tricky to do. Even if you follow all of the instructions for telling Facebook to forget what they already know, there are other things they track. You can tell them to forget what you’ve liked, but you can’t tell them to forget how long you looked at each article. (Yes, they do track that, according to credible reports. The assumption is that their algorithms give you more posts similar to ones you’ve spent a long time on.)

And then there are those apps. Those charming, wonderful apps.

I checked my settings to see how many apps I’d allowed to access my information. There were only eight, which puts me way down at the low end of the curve. It’s down to four now, two of which are necessary to have my blog posts show up on Facebook. And when I killed off two of the four, I got popups reminding me that removing their access to Facebook does not delete any data they’ve already gathered.

Should I be concerned that I didn’t get a warning about the other two?

But let’s assume a miracle. Say, half a billion accounts get closed. The FTC fines Facebook an obscene amount of money*. What happens next?

* They almost have to. How many of those 50,000,000 accounts compromised by CA belong to government officials. Officials who are now very worried about what CA–and thus whoever they’ve shared that data with, starting with the Trump family, the Russian government, and who knows who all else–has inferred about their non-governmental activities, health, sexual orientation, and so on. If the FTC doesn’t hammer Facebook, heads will roll, no matter who has control of Congress after the November elections.

Absolutely nothing. Facebook goes on. They make a show of contrition, talk up new controls they’ve put in place to keep anything of the sort from happening again*. And they keep marketing users’ personal information to anyone who might want to advertise.

* It will. We’ve seen every form of access-control ever invented hacked. The information exists, it’s valuable, therefor someone will steal it.

That’s their whole business model. They can’t change it. The only thing that might–and I emphasize “might”–kill Facebook would be for them to say, “You know, you’re right. It’s unethical for us to make money by selling your private information. We won’t do it any more. Oh, and effective immediately, Facebook will cost you $9.99 a month.”

How Lucky!

I’m starting to think Larry Niven was right.

One of the subplots in his Known Space stories involves, in short, breeding humans to be lucky. He postulates strict birth control laws combined with a lottery to distribute one-child exceptions to the laws. After several generations, there will be people whose ancestors are all lottery babies.

Whether that constitutes luck, I’ll let you decide.

But in the context of the stories, the eventual result is a group of people who are so lucky that nothing bad can ever happen to them. Even things that seem unfortunate will ultimately prove to have been the best thing that could have happened to the person.

With me so far? Okay, now consider this quote from “Flatlander,” one of Mr. Niven’s stories set before the rise of the lucky. The protagonist is watching a group of hobbyists who restore and drive old internal combustion engine cars on a stretch of freeway (which they also have to restore and maintain).

They were off. I was still wondering what kick they got driving an obsolete machine on flat concrete when they could be up here with us. They were off, weaving slightly, weaving more than slightly, foolishly moving at different speeds, coming perilously close to each other before sheering off — and I began to realize things.

Those automobiles had no radar.

They were being steered with a cabin wheel geared directly to four ground wheels. A mistake in steering and they’d crash into each other or into the concrete curbs. They were steered and stopped by muscle power, but whether they could turn or stop depended on how hard four rubber balloons could grip smooth concrete. If the tires loosed their grip, Newton’s First Law would take over; the fragile metal mass would continue moving in a straight line until stopped by a concrete curb or another groundcar.

“A man could get killed in one of those.”

“Not to worry,” said Elephant. “Nobody does, usually.”

“Usually?”

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

We don’t need no steenkin’ breeders’ lottery to breed ourselves for luck. We’re already doing it. Every time you get into a car, you’re taking your life in your hands.

The Interstate Highway System has encouraged drivers to drive faster and faster, generating impatience with anyone who doesn’t get with the program. Merriam-Webster claims the first known use of the word “gridlock” was in 1980. Certainly the phenomenon, along with “road rage” (1988), has been around longer than that.

But even if we go with 1980, that means roughly 130,000,000 Americans have been born only because their parents were lucky enough to survive on the roads long enough to breed. By now, we’re into at least the third generation.

And it shows. People keep finding new ways to ramp up the danger level.

Drivers are no longer content to honk if the car in front of them doesn’t move fast enough when the light changes. Now they honk and pull around the laggard, using the shoulder, adjoining lanes, and even the oncoming traffic lanes. In the rain, regardless of the presence of pedestrians, and despite the drivers in the adjoining lanes doing exactly the same thing.

Somehow, most of them survive. How lucky!

The next couple of decades are going to be interesting, but at this rate, by the time the kids born in 2050 are old enough to drive, they’ll be too lucky to ever have an accident. Think of all the money they’ll save on insurance, vehicle maintenance, and transit infrastructure!

Too Many Choices

It’s that time of year again.

You know, the one where all the major sports are going at once. Baseball is in Spring Training, hockey and basketball are into the second halves of their respective seasons with the playoffs approaching, and football is all about trades and cutting ties with players who’ve been arrested.

On top of that, the ever-popular Oscar season is over and college basketball’s March Madness is just ahead.

And, just to make it a perfect sweep, Daylight Savings Time kicks in this weekend, leaving us to sleepy to figure out what time the games we wanted to watch are on. I stand by last year’s observation that there is literally nothing President Trump could do that would raise his approval rating more than to do away with DST. Okay, yes, resigning would be a more popular move, but it wouldn’t raise his presidential approval score. Somebody tell him how many jobs it would create, reprogramming all the computers and IoT devices not to make the change. Feel free to exaggerate by a few orders of magnitude; he’ll never know the difference.

But I digress.

Of course, this year we’ve also got the popular game of guessing which member of Congress will be next to resign and which member of the administration will be next to be indicted, subpoenaed, and/or censured. I jest, naturally. As long as they remain part of the administration, they’re in a consequence-free zone. Just ask Kellyanne Conway, who’s been found to have committed multiple ethics violations again, but will undoubtedly not be disciplined this time either.

But I digress again. Sorry, I’m a bit grumpy today. I take some consolation in knowing Democrats are misbehaving too. The resignation of the mayor of Nashville, TN is currently the top trending story on Google–stepping down is a condition of her guilty plea to charges of embezzling city money to finance an affair.

Ms. Conway’s latest peccadilloes scored two ranks lower than Ms. Barry. She’d probably have done better with a new act. Unless you’re the Rolling Stones, you can’t get away with doing the same show over and over again, after all.

Number Two, by the way, is searches for tornado warnings after Illinois residents were incorrectly informed a tornado was imminent. Not as attention-grabbing as nuclear missiles, perhaps, but enough to beat out illegal acts by White House employees. No word yet regarding whether this error was also a result of poor computer interface design, or whether the person responsible will cooperate with the investigation.

Anyway, I’m glad we’ve got such a variety of entertainment choices these days. Enjoy your sport-of-choice!