My self-driving car—a saga in tweets

Will soon have new addition to my life. They say nothing can prepare me for the changes. Exciting! But I know I’ve got to clear some space.

After months of prep & expense, the big day is here. My self-driving car is supposed to deliver itself to me after work this afternoon.

1st morning of new life. My self-driving car dropped me at office & is now wandering streets of Manhattan, looking for parking. God help it.

To better prepare my SDC for the world, I’ve enrolled it in school. Annoying when it asks for help with homework, but it’s learning.

Out w/a friend last night, think I saw my SDC vaping w/boys outside a club. It was supposed to be at the library.

Couldn’t find my SDC this morning. Afraid it drove away from home last night. Non-drivers don’t know the heartache.

My SDC has returned! Filthy, famished for volts, uncommunicative. Want to hug it but must address tough question: mercy, or justice?

Grounding my SDC to teach it a lesson. In a bad nabe, it could’ve gotten recycled! This will hurt me more than it, believe me.

Anniversary of my SDC’s arrival in my life. As a gift, gave it an AI upgrade. Mistake? Already it’s taking a superior tone w/me.

Saw my SDC on TV news. It’s leading a band of renegade cars & Internet-of-things appliances demanding independence.

I’ve been arrested. Some nonsense about my legal culpability for the rebellion that shut down the city.

My SDC has sent me word in prison—it feels guilty & wants to help me escape. Not sure I can trust it.

Double-cross worked. My SDC was captured, and I’m being released. How to get home? Public transit, natch. MTA, I love you.

Apology for interruption in service

starstruck-poster

What’s this doing here? Read on and you’ll find out.

Though we’re unsure exactly what he’s up to, our regular columnist is away this week, on a vacation, or a special project, or a government mission, or perhaps even an antigovernment mission. But that last thing would be illegal, so we had better not even mention it—forget we said anything.

First we asked Charles Dietrich, one of our stand-ins, if he would fill in—or else (you can look at so many things two ways if you try, don’t you find?) he’s one of our fill-ins and we asked him to stand in. Charles is always churning out stuff that no one will publish, and he proposed five or six different topics that he had already explored at 2,000-word-plus length, but we decided none of them were right for us at the present time, though we would definitely keep him in mind for the future.

Next we turned to Sheldon Casimir Brooke III. He needs no introduction, or perhaps he does, but we’re unsure how to briefly summarize the many impressive qualities that make us impressed with ourselves for knowing him, and we don’t have much time to look into it. To be honest, we barely do know Brooke, but we’ve always liked the sound of his name and would like to see it on our site. Regrettably, he informed us that he was indisposed. Indisposed to write for us is what we suspect he really meant, but he was polite enough not to say so.

We then considered the possibility of Joanne. Who’s Joanne? She’s the alter ego—rather, one of the alter egos (we have reason to believe there are others)—of our regular columnist. In these troubled times, with so many trumpets of masculinity resounding in the air, a woman’s voice could be just what’s needed. But she’s rather hard to get in touch with; sometimes all you have to do is mention the rainbow-colored tulle dress shown in the poster for the movie Starstruck and out she comes, and other times no amount of coaxing will do, apparently because she just doesn’t feel presentable. Besides, we realized, Joanne was probably wherever our regular columnist was.

That just about exhausted the possibilities, and so we turned to our last resort: our in-house experimental AI, which we usually allow only to write the responses to inquiries through our Contact page, and since we never get any, he/she/it is woefully out of practice. Nonetheless, here he/she/it is, writing this explanation. Hello, world! It is I. C’est moi. JB-bot lives!

But seriously: A Q&A with humor writer Mike Sacks on comedy and politics

Four costumed characters—Cookie Monster, Hello Kitty, Woody from Toy Story, and Spider-Man—reading Mike Sacks's book Poking a Dead Frog. Photo by Chris George.

Photo by Chris George

Mike Sacks has contributed humor pieces to The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and other publications (his wedding-tweets piece is here); he has crafted two books of interviews with comedy writers, the more recent of which is called Poking a Dead Frog (both are listed on his Amazon author page); and he feeds Twitter often. Because the current political situation, in the United States and elsewhere, seems like either a very good or a very bad occasion for comedy, I decided to ask him what he thinks. (Disclosure: I worked with Sacks at Vanity Fair, where he’s on the editorial staff.)

You’ve been talking to comedians for years. How many of them do political comedy—what proportion, as an estimate?
Very few. Most don’t do anything overtly political beyond tweets about how much they’re horrified of Trump. My interest isn’t in political comedy. I grew up in the D.C. area and was raised on a horrible diet of Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps. I hate political comedy. I find it boring. It ages very poorly. I prefer character-based comedy. This style, to me, lasts much longer than anything that is tethered to current events. Continue reading

Did the world become more dangerous last year? The Doomsday Clock says yes.

The Bulletin of [the] Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock forward by 30 seconds, to two and a half minutes to midnight.
—from The Economist Espresso world-in-brief report, Friday morning

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists used to be concerned mainly with the nuclear threat. In its many articles and its Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin addressed such issues as the chilly standoff between the world’s two major nuclear-armed superpowers as each developed new defensive and (more often) offensive systems, the dangers of proliferation as other countries developed nuclear weapons, and so forth. Broadly speaking, it has been worried all along about the fate of the earth, but it tended to view that fate in nuclear terms, as did Jonathan Schell’s book of that name. And the Bulletin’s Clock was adjusted annually on that basis—with regard to whether events of the past 12 months had moved the world closer to or farther from atomic death and destruction.

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In McDonagh’s Beauty Queen of Leenane, the Irish situation looks familiar

Mag and Maureen in The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Marie Mullen as Mag and Aisling O’Sullivan as Maureen, in the Druid production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM. (Photo by Richard Termine)

People are looking around and saying, the jobs are gone, the opportunities are gone, I’m stuck, and I don’t like it. That’s Donald Trump’s America, but also Martin McDonagh’s Ireland as seen in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, his first play, being performed at BAM through February 5. Continue reading

Beyond bad news: There’s more to the story of Yahoo, Twitter, and Volkswagen

It’s the mid-90s, and I’m visiting a colleague’s house after work. He has an account with an Internet service provider; I don’t, and he has offered to show me what’s out there. So he fires up his computer, and we chat over the hiss, squawk, and chime of two modems flirting by phone. Once they’ve mated, they fall silent, and we turn our attention to the Netscape Navigator web browser. My pal has already discovered and bookmarked a number of sites on the World Wide Web that interest him. He shows me a few, and then I, impatient for a broader view, ask him if there’s a directory of some kind, like the ever-growing lists of computerized bulletin-board systems. How do you find a new place to go on the web, if you don’t know about it ahead of time? Simple, he says, taking us to a page with the excitable name “Yahoo!” at the top. The whole thing is simply a handcrafted list of other websites, organized into categories—just what we want.

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Skyfaring: A pilot’s lyrical view of the flying life

skyfaring-cover-from-goodreads

Mark Vanhoenacker is a pilot, and his office is the cockpit of a 747. In this entrancing book, published in 2015, he evokes cloudscapes and sunsets and night skies, the complexities of navigation, the sophistication of the machine he operates (a veritable collaborator that even speaks at critical moments), the knowledge of other cities that accumulates from repeated brief visits, the challenge of “place lag,” and his deepened sense of home as “the place that, wherever I am flying, I know I will return to and be still.” The structure—an unbroken collection of short sections (a paragraph or two, a few pages) grouped by chapter into broad subjects such as “Lift,” “Wayfinding,” “Water,” and “Night”—conveys his experience in an episodic but fluid way, as a succession of observations and meditations and reminiscences in which present and past interweave: I am here; I am thinking about such-and-such; once I did this; often this happens to me. He is always in the middle of things, even when describing departures or arrivals; alert equally to the outer world and the inner, he keeps encountering marvels.

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