Mailbox Money

We live east of Bloomington, Indiana, on the way to Nashville, Indiana. Bloomington is a college town, the home of Indiana University’s main campus, with 40,000+ students. Nashville is, in contrast, a small arts community. They have artists, and sculptors, and jewelry makers, and woodworkers, and singers, and songwriters, and authors. Lots of artsy types.

Most art, you make and sell. You paint a painting, and you sell it. You make a piece of jewelry, and you sell it. You make a sculpture, and you sell it. Once sold, that’s it.

Songwriters and authors, though are different. When you write a song, every time someone plays it, you make money. Years after you wrote it, you still make money. Same thing for an author who writes novels. Years after you wrote it — assuming it’s still in print, or gets reprinted — you still make money.

Short stories are different than novels, by the way. You write a short story, and you sell it to a magazine, and that’s it. Someone once asked Isaac Asimov, a master of the short story format, why he stopped writing short stories and now only wrote novels. His response: “A novel is forever.” He was talking about the royalties.

Now the people over in Nashville who write songs have a term for royalties that show up whenever someone plays their song. They call those royalties “mailbox money.” You go out to the mailbox, and there it is: mailbox money. You didn’t do anything to earn it, at least not recently. It just shows up in your mailbox.

Now the royalties for one song or one novel won’t add up to much. But if you write a lot of songs, or you write a lot of novels, those royalty streams add up. Do it long enough, and you can end up getting quite a lot of mailbox money coming in.

That’s the secret to making money as an artsy type. Pick something that generates mailbox money, and then do a lot of it.

Weird Thoughts About Russia, Crimea, and the CIA

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. You would think we could have been friends with Russia, and it didn’t happen. Why?

Because the CIA didn’t want it to happen.

A wild allegation? Perhaps. I’ll attempt to explain it. Note that I have just written 16000 words in my latest novel in the last four days, and it is 3:40 AM as I type this, so I am not going to Google everything in this blog. It’s coming from memory. So on to the explanation.

Consider. Russia has six major naval bases. Starting at the top and going clockwise, they are Murmansk, Vladivostok, Sebastopol, Tartus, Kaliningrad, and St. Petersburg. Let’s consider each in turn.

Murmansk is on the Arctic Ocean. It is frozen in for much of the year. The Russians base their nuclear submarines here, because they don’t use the surface outside of port anyway. For surface ships, though, Murmansk is not a viable naval base for much of the year.

Vladivostok is on the Pacific Ocean. It is just a bit north of Russia’s border with North Korea. You remember all those movies about the Korean War and the winters and all the snow? Yeah, well Vladivostok is north of North Korea. The problem there is that the river dumps fresh water into the port, which floats out over the heavier sea water, and freezes on the surface. To combat this, the Russians heat the harbor to keep it clear. The Russian scientists also expect the climate to turn colder because the sun is going into a minimum. The Russians have just completed a huge new heat generating station in Vladivostok to keep the port open in winter.

Sebastopol is the major city in the Crimea, the region of Ukraine the Russians seized in 2014. The Russians have had a major naval base there since the city was founded in 1783. In fact, the city was founded by the Russian navy in order to put a naval base there. The Russian naval base there is older than the United States Constitution. Sebastopol is on the Black Sea, which means Russian ships have to transit the Bosporus Strait and the Dardanelles to reach the Aegean Sea and on into the Mediterranean.

Tartus is a Russian naval base in Syria. It is on the Mediterranean Sea. The Russians have both a naval and an air base there in an agreement with Bashar al-Assad.

Kaliningrad has a Russian naval base on the Baltic Sea. Access to the Atlantic Ocean is through the Denmark Strait. Kaliningrad is an all-weather port. The problem is that Kaliningrad is Russian territory that is not connected to the main part of Russia, sort of like Alaska is not connected to the main part of the United States. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland lie between Russia and its province of Kaliningrad.

St. Petersburg is at the east end of the Baltic Sea. It is not an all-weather port, as it is ice-bound for part of the year.

To review:
– Murmansk — ice-bound
– Vladivostok — major effort to keep open
– Sebastopol — all-weather port
– Tartus — all-weather port; located in Syria
– Kaliningrad — all-weather port; not contiguous to Russia
– St. Petersburg — ice-bound

So in the east, the only all-weather port the Russians really have on their own territory is Sebastopol, in the Crimea. The other reliable all-weather ports they have are Kaliningrad and Tartus, though neither is connected to Russia proper.

As I said, Sebastopol was actually founded by the Russian navy in order to build a naval base there in 1783. The Crimea has been Russian territory for a very long time. So where did the current hoo-hah over the Crimea and Ukraine come from?

When Ukraine was a part of the USSR, the Ukrainians didn’t particularly like being part of the USSR. There was a significant independence movement. They were trouble for Stalin, and Stalin was trouble for them. In 1932-1933, Stalin orchestrated a famine in Ukraine that killed 7-10 million people. Once Stalin had died, Krushchev tried to make nice with Ukraine by putting the Crimea under Ukraine in April 1954. Since the USSR was one big country, this is like transferring the western panhandle of Florida to Mississippi. It was still part of the USSR, it was just changing from one state to another. All well and good.

Then the Soviet Union broke up. Ukraine became its own country, and the Crimea went with it. This was OK with the Russians at the time, as Ukraine remained under Russian influence and the two countries were allied.

Here’s where the CIA comes in. The CIA was founded to keep an eye on the Russians. It was our Cold War agency against the Russians. Sure, they did other stuff, but the CIA’s main job was the USSR. Then, in 1991, the USSR broke up. And the CIA didn’t see it coming. Russia was their one job, and they didn’t see the breakup of the Soviet Union coming. Nice, huh?

But the other thing is that the CIA was now out of a job. Their main business was fighting with the USSR, and now it was gone. The one thing a bureaucracy is good at is self-preservation. The CIA started provoking the Russians.

In Ukraine, the CIA worked to turn the country to the West. It fomented and fueled pro-Western groups and politicians in the country. With a lot of Western guidance and money, the pro-Western forces won the Orange Revolution in 2004. And then Ukraine started talking about joining NATO and the EU. And the Ukraine still had the Crimea.

So in April, 2014, the sixtieth anniversary of the administrative transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine within the USSR, Vladimir Putin took the Crimea back for Russia. The Russians were not going to lose their 220-year-old naval base in the Crimea, and the city of Sebastopol — which was all ethnic Russians, not Ukrainians — to the West.

And the West went nuts. Because the Russians took back what was theirs. Hey, if you break off the engagement, you’re supposed to give back the ring. Ukraine broke off from Russia, and took the Crimea with it. Naughty, naughty.

OK, so there’s two more all-weather ports the Russians have, in Syria and Kaliningrad.

The United States has been demanding the regime change of Bashar al-Assad for years, but Russia supports him — because of the Russian naval base at Tartus. If the rebellion against Assad had promised the Russians a 99-year-lease with an option for 99 more ten years ago, Bashar al-Assad would have disappeared one night, and there would be no civil war in Syria. The Russians will do anything to keep Assad in power as long as he promises they can keep the base in Tartus and the West doesn’t. More scheming by us to cut off Russian naval bases.

As for Kaliningrad, the only land routes to Kaliningrad from Russia proper run through the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, or through Poland. And the Baltic states and Poland have both been turning west and want the United States to protect them from Russia. And we’ve been being buddy-buddy with both Poland and the Baltic states, without giving Russia any guarantees to Kaliningrad.

So, yeah, the Russians are more than a little miffed at us. And yeah, they tried to “interfere” in our elections, though on which side is less clear. They ran some Facebook posts. Whoopie. If they really wanted to interfere in our elections, they should have been taking lessons from the CIA. In addition to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, you should look up Mohammad Mosaddegh and Patrice Lumumba and consider what the history of Iran and Congo would have looked like without CIA interference.

So why are the Russians a threat to the US? Because the CIA has engineered the situation to make the US a threat to the Russians.

Which keeps them in business.

An alternative solution to “the Russia problem” would be to guarantee Russia access to the sea through its existing naval bases, and dissolve the CIA.



Category: Weird thoughts about the concept of Enough

Imagine that you are going to meet one of your friends over at his friend’s house. You get there, and your friend meets you at the front door. His friend, the owner of the house, has gone out to pick up beer. The two of you wander into the kitchen, looking for glasses for the beer.

You open a cabinet, and it is full — stacked full — of chocolate bars. Every imaginable kind. Hershey’s, and Lindt, and Toblerone. There¬†must be 100 pounds of chocolate in that cabinet. Wow.

So you check the next cabinet. Full of chocolate bars.

You check every cabinet in the kitchen. Every one is full of chocolate bars. You up your estimate to 1000 pounds. Maybe a ton.

You hear a noise, and, thinking it is his buddy coming home, your friend opens the door from the kitchen to the garage, and you both look to see if he has come back. But there’s no car in the garage. There isn’t room. Packed into the garage are dozens of industrial shelving units, and every one of them is loaded — stacked full — of chocolate bars.

Where’s Rod Serling when you need him, right? How much did all this cost? What must this guy have given up to purchase and accumulate so much chocolate? And why? He can’t possibly eat it all in his whole life.

You go back into the living room and sit to wait for your friend’s friend to come back, and you see plans on his coffee table for an addition to the house. There’s a huge new room planned, and it’s labeled “Chocolate Storage.”

This guy’s got a serious problem, right? It’s like he wants to corner the market or something. Become the Guinness Book of World Records winner of “owns the most chocolate”. No matter how much he has, it’s never enough.

That’s exactly the way some people act about money.

The Velocity of Money

The Great Depression was a seminal event of the 20th century. The Federal Reserve, established in December of 1913, was only sixteen years old when the bottom fell out of the stock market on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. The Fed’s moves in the 1920s and 1930s exacerbated rather than smoothed the business cycle. They fed the Roaring 20s and starved the 1930s, turning the normal business cycle into a disaster.

The Fed has acknowledged this for some time, if rather quietly. Their mistakes were the result of a fundamental misunderstanding, and led to big changes in their policies.

The Fed had thought that a booming economy needed more money in circulation. There were all these transactions going on, and without more money in circulation, the economy would be restrained by not enough cash to support the level of transactions. Conversely, in a recession, with fewer transactions occurring, less cash was needed, and so cash should be pulled out of the economy.

There was just one little problem — they had it exactly backwards. They fueled the boom, creating a bubble, and, when it popped, they contracted the money supply and destroyed the economy, not only of the United States, but most of the world as well. Subsequent research came up with a useful concept: the velocity of money.

The velocity of money is defined as the number of times a dollar changes hands in a year. More precisely, the velocity of money is the total GDP divided by the amount of money in circulation. If you have x amount of money in circulation, and each dollar passes from one person to another in a transaction n times per year, then the total GDP of the country is x times n.

This concept leads to conclusions that have proved more correct than the Fed’s disastrous exactly-backwards policies of the 1920s and 1930s.

In a recession, when people’s optimism is low and they worry about the future, they are not willing to spend money. They save what they can against the future hard times they see coming. Velocity goes down. Since the GDP is velocity times the money supply, the GDP will fall, perhaps sharply, if the Fed doesn’t inject money into the economy. So the Fed adds money, which helps hold up the GDP despite the reduced velocity.

In boom times, when people’s optimism is high and they see an improving future, they are willing to spend money. Velocity goes up, as people buy cars and appliances and houses they wouldn’t buy in a recession. Shrinking the money supply is the correct move here, because the actual goods and services making up the GDP can only increase so fast. Once the factories are running full-blast making all those cars and appliances, and all the carpenters and trades are working full-time building all those houses, the GDP can’t grow any faster on the short term. It will take capital investment, and time, to increase production.

Since the GDP is stated in dollars, even though it is composed of goods and services, only one thing can balance the equation if the Fed doesn’t shrink the money supply when velocity increases. Inflation makes the dollars worth less, so that the dollar-denominated worth of a fixed amount of goods and services can match the velocity times money supply on the other side of the equation. Another way to look at it is that, if the Fed doesn’t pull money out of the economy when velocity increases faster than production, the value of the money in circulation will decline to make up for what the Fed is unwilling to do.

Since pulling money out of the economy, usually through raising interest rates, is unpopular with both business people and with politicians who like deficit spending, the Fed usually does not pull enough money out of the economy to restrain inflation in boom times.

Maybe it’s time to look into inflation-protected bond funds.

(Note for all you econ types: Yes, I know that this is a very simplified discussion. It’s a blog post, not a graduate-level text on macroeconomics. Get over it.)

An Honest Conversation About Guns

This past weekend we had friends visit. Visiting Bloomington, Indiana, at any time is fun, but May and October are special. In May, the redbuds and dogwoods blossom, and in the fall, high color can be breathtaking. In spring, though, it’s the redbuds, and we have a lot of redbuds. They’re native, and grow at the edges of the woods. Which means along the highways. Like, on both sides, for miles.

Anyway, the fellow of the other couple and I had a late-night conversation — an honest conversation — about guns. Now he’s not anti-gun — he owns a few guns, and shooting on my private range was one of the possible activities this past weekend — but he tends liberal, and wanted to probe my position. Some of it was no doubt devil’s advocate, and he said as much, but it was interesting. I will try to reproduce much of it here.

You don’t think we need more gun laws?

No, I think we have way too many already, and they violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

But that’s in the context of a militia, and the militia is the National Guard.

No, it’s not, for two reasons. One, the same people who wrote the Second Amendment wrote the Militia Act of 1792 three years later. It defined the militia as all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45. So if you say the Second Amendment applies only to the militia, that still means everybody between 18 and 45.

Second, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England was written about 25 years before the Constitution. It was so fundamental in its analysis of the law it is still just called Blackstone. He wrote on statutory interpretation. The Second Amendment is, in his terms, composed of a predicate clause and an operational clause. The predicate clause is those “Whereas this and whereas that” clauses that begin many acts passed by Congress. The operational clause is the “Therefore be it enacted” part. Blackstone’s formulation, and it has been followed in statutory interpretation ever since, is that the operational clause — “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” — stands alone, and the predicate clause — “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” — is not used, unless the operational clause is ambiguous, in which case the predicate clause is used to resolve the ambiguity. The operational clause of the Second Amendment is not ambiguous.

It also says the militia has to be well-regulated, so it anticipates some regulations on guns.

No, it doesn’t. “Well regulated” at the time meant, and still does mean, “operating to a standard.” This is why clocks that were accurate enough to use to operate the railroads in the nineteenth century were called “Regulator” clocks. They kept the time to the standard specified for railroad operations. Such clocks were always marked as being Regulator clocks. So with the militia. The militia was to be organized and drilled to a standard, set by the Congress under authority of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, but the actual organization and drilling was left to the states. In any case, since it is the predicate clause, and the operational clause of the Second Amendment is not ambiguous, it isn’t relevant.


But I can own guns. How are my rights being infringed?

First, you can only own certain guns.

Well, you don’t want people having Tommy guns.

You asked how your rights under the Second Amendment are being infringed. That’s one way. You can’t own machine guns, at least not without a lot of paperwork and taxes and hoo-ha, and no more can be made for civilian use, which makes them tremendously expensive. You can’t own sawed-off shotguns, or short-barreled rifles, called SBRs.

The second way it’s being infringed is by paperwork. You have to fill out a Form 4473, and the gun store has to call the FBI and ask if it’s OK to sell you a gun.

But that’s not infringing your rights.

The hell it isn’t. A “fringe” is an edge. The Second Amendment basically says your right to keep and bear arms can’t be “edged about.” This is clear in other contexts. If you said your neighbor’s deck was infringing on your yard, you don’t mean he planked over your whole yard, or that his deck wouldn’t be infringing if it only covered half your yard. No, you mean it hangs over the property line anywhere, at all, even a couple inches. Same thing here. Words mean things. Same word, same meaning.

Look at it another way. We have freedom of religion spelled out in the First Amendment. Now if the government said, “Well, that doesn’t mean polytheistic religions, or religions that believe in reincarnation, or the Mormons, because those people are crazy,” people would go absolutely nuts. But that’s the way it is with guns. “Well, that doesn’t mean machine guns, or short-barreled rifles or shotguns.” That’s simply wrong. It’s unconstitutional on its face.

And filling out a Form 4473, and calling the FBI before selling you a gun? OK, so let’s say you need to fill out a Form 4474 before going into a church, and the priest has to call the FBI for permission every time you want to receive communion. Huh? Or same thing with freedom of speech. Well, you know, normal speech like standing on a street corner is OK, but you need to fill out a Form 4475 before getting an Internet connection, and have WordPress call the FBI for approval every time you post to your blog. You know, because those “large magazine” “fully automatic” web blogs are dangerous. They could be used to overthrow the government.

You don’t think the government should have records of who buys a gun?

The government should never have any records about who buys a gun, ever. Right now, for the most part, they don’t. The stores keep the 4473s, and the government doesn’t get them and isn’t supposed to keep records on the NICS calls. But I don’t trust them. So no, the government shouldn’t have any records of gun sales.

But what if someone who isn’t in NICS as a prohibited person goes to a gun store and gets a trunkful of guns, and then goes into the city, like Chicago, say, and sells them to gang members, and one of those guns kills a child? How are they supposed to track the gun’s provenance?

I don’t care.

You don’t care if someone kills a child?

No, I don’t care what hypothetical you offer, I don’t want the government keeping records of who has guns. In the twentieth century, 15 million people worldwide were killed by criminals, and 50 million people died in wars, but 100 million people were killed by their own governments, always after they were disarmed. That is what I worry about most. That is clearly the biggest danger to me, to you, to children, to everybody. That the government knows who has guns, and goes and rounds up the guns. Once disarmed, we are, like the 100 million people killed by their own governments in the twentieth century, at the mercy of government.

Do you know how many gun murders there are in the United States per year?

I don’t know. A hundred thousand, hundred and fifty thousand, maybe.

Nope. There are about 33,500 gun deaths per year in the United States. About two-thirds of those are suicides, half of them by men over 45. There are about 500 accidental shootings, usually someone shooting himself while cleaning a gun that hasn’t been properly unloaded. Most of those are probably suicides, too, as, if you commit suicide, your wife doesn’t get the life insurance payment, but, if you ‘accidentally’ shoot yourself in the head cleaning your gun, she does.

What you get down to is about 11,000 gun homicides per year. At that rate, it would take nine thousand years to equal the 100 million people killed by their own governments in the twentieth century. Guns aren’t anywhere near as dangerous as governments.

That was mostly by communist governments, by the way. If you want to make something that’s very dangerous illegal, you should probably start with communism.

So you would have everybody walking around with a gun all the time.

If they want to. We would be safer, not less safe. If a criminal knew that, if he pulled a gun out and started shooting, five or ten or twenty people would shoot back, he wouldn’t do it. These people are cowards. When confronted with an armed response, these shooters almost always surrender or shoot themselves.

What about the Las Vegas shooting? He was too far away to hit with a handgun.

I’m not so sure. That was a country western concert. Had it not been a gun-free zone, there probably would have been two hundred or more people there carrying. You’re telling me that if two hundred people started shooting back, that somebody wouldn’t have hit him, or that he wouldn’t have stopped shooting and sought cover with bullets flying all around him?

Sounds like the Wild West, or the Roaring 20s.

The biggest, most sensational shooting in the Wild West was the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Very famous, everybody’s heard about it. Three men dead. It was written up in the San Francisco paper, 800 miles away. That’s not even a hot weekend night in the Englewood district of Chicago.

As for the Roaring 20s, the biggest gangland shooting from the period was the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929. Again, very famous, everybody’s heard about it. Seven dead. It was in newspapers coast to coast. Again, when that happens in Chicago now, it barely makes the Chicago papers.

The Wild West and the Roaring 20s sound pretty good in that context.

But we have to do something.

No, we don’t. Or at least, not what you think. More people get killed by drunk drivers. Thirty times as many people get killed by medical mistakes. Go after those.

If you really want to bring shooting deaths down, give law-abiding people their Second Amendment rights back. The criminals don’t obey gun laws anyway. Get the gun laws out of the way of allowing law-abiding people to defend themselves. 98% of mass shootings since 1950 occurred in so-called gun-free zones. They’re not really gun-free zones, because the criminals carry guns into them whenever they want. What they really are is unarmed-citizen zones. No wonder they attract nut cases.

To bring gun deaths down, you need to repeal the gun laws that have driven gun deaths up.

Besides which, it’s my Constitutional right. Says so, right there: “shall not be infringed.”

Well, the Constitution isn’t hard and fast.

Oh, yes, it is. It’s a contract, among the sovereign states, from which the federal government derives all its power. Now if you want to change it, that’s fine. There’s a way to do that. Propose an amendment that would change the Second Amendment, then get that passed according to the rules. That would allow public discussion on all these issues.

And if it doesn’t pass, then the Second Amendment stands, as written.

And that means all these unconstitutional gun laws have got to go.


Where Are The Moderate Democrats?

It’s a serious question. Where are they? The ones we hear from every day are the screechers: Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren,¬† Tom Perez and Nancy Pelosi.

Some of yesterday’s moderates have taken up screeching as well, like Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff.

So where are the moderates? Where did they go? There are forty-nine Democratic senators, and one hundred ninety-two Democratic congressmen. But all we hear are the screechers.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he gave me the answer: They’re biding their time.

The screechers are running the Democratic Party right now. They expect a big blue wave in the November election, because they just can’t imagine how anyone would ever vote Republican again after Trump. They expect to win both the House and the Senate. And their agenda is out in the open. They are running on the repeal of the Second Amendment, the repeal of the Trump tax bill, no border security, sanctuary cities, and the impeachment of the president. And they expect to win, and win big, because, well, Trump.

You know, and I know, and moderate Democrats know, there will be no blue wave in November. They are gonna get shellacked. I haven’t made specific calls on the election yet, but the Republicans will pick up seats in the Senate and easily hold the House.

Why? Well, ISIS is seriously dead because Mr. Mattis, an inspired choice if there ever was one, made it a goal to kill them. North Korea is coming to the table because we finally stopped bribing them to misbehave. Britain and France, our oldest and best allies, are working with us on trouble spots like the Mideast again. Sure, May and Macron tut-tut Trump’s verbal excesses, but they like his policies. Most of the Sunni leaders in the Mideast think Trump is great. Read what al-Sisi of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Crown Prince bin Salman of Saudi Arabia have to say about him. Their reviews of Trump are glowing. Bibi Netanyahu thinks he’s great, too. That’s a tough combo to make work.

At home, unemployment is at 4.1%, and black unemployment and Hispanic unemployment are the same as white unemployment, within the margin of error of the numbers. First time that’s ever happened. Ever. The S&P 500 is up 23% since the election, while the Dow is up almost 32%. And people’s paychecks went up as the tax cuts kicked in. The full effect of the repatriation of American companies’ profits held abroad is still to be felt, but will be accelerating into the election.

It’s still five months away, and things can and do change in politics on a dime, but the big pieces are in place and hardening. And the screechers are doubling down on a wacky-left agenda the country doesn’t want, even while their core constituencies are being eaten away by the economic success of Trump’s policies.

So the moderate Democrats are keeping their heads down. To speak up for moderation now would expose them to the vitriol of the left.

But when the Democratic Party blows up in November, they’ll be there to pick up the pieces.

Or so they hope.


Weird Thoughts About Imperfection, Human Nature, And Robotics

(a retrospective repost from Facebook, April 22, 2017)

So as everyone knows by now, I bought a new truck. We need a comfortable highway vehicle that rides nice, I need A/C because either the heart attack or the meds make me sensitive to heat where I wasn’t before, and the Scion xB is ten years old and has 90,000 miles on it. The 1978 Cheyenne 4×4 rides like a truck (duh), doesn’t have A/C, and has so much wind noise at speed on the highway that it’s like driving a shop vac — from the inside.

Basically, we have two town cars, and needed a highway car.

Now, what the 1978 Cheyenne has in spades is personality. It can be cranky in the mornings. A carbureted engine has issues until it comes up to temperature. It gets 10 miles per gallon in town. It has no ABS, or power windows, or power door locks. Even moderate acceleration is accompanied by all sorts of sound effects, and slamming on the brakes will squeal the tires. And it will do weird things, like when you pull the door shut and the handle comes off in your hand. But people would walk away from their Lexuses and Hondas and Cadillacs, and come up to me at the gas station to say what a nice truck it was, and how their grandpa had one, or their dad, and they learned how to drive in one out on the farm. They would ask me if they could look inside. “Now that brings back some memories.”

The new truck, which I picked up yesterday, is a marvel of competence. You turn the engine on, and it’s on. That’s it. It has ABS, and traction control, and stability control. It has sensors front and rear and all four corners to help you park. It has power everything. It runs the headlights — DRS, low beams, high beams, whatever. It runs the four-wheel-drive — if you start spinning the rears, it locks up the fronts for you. The suspension adjusts to the load, so when empty it rides more like a car than a truck and it corners very well. It has 12-way power seats, which are both heated and ventilated for your comfort. It accelerates stupid fast, and brakes stupid fast as well, and does both with no theatrics, almost with no sound. It is much safer, more comfortable, more reliable.

What it doesn’t have is personality. It is not the sort of thing that elicits affection. Much like the Japanese motorcycles that became ubiquitous in the 1980s, and which Harley riders demeaned as being sewing machines with wheels. “I’d rather push my Harley than ride a rice burner” read the bumper sticker, and Harley riders often did just that, while the Japanese bikes were basically unstoppable. Unlovable, but unstoppable.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a comfortable, reliable, and safe vehicle that does everything well. We need one, and we’ll enjoy having the freedom and the trust in it that those things bring. It’s just, somehow, not lovable.

Does that tell us something about ourselves? Is it the imperfections we find endearing in things? In each other?

And what then of robotics? If we manage to build avatars of ourselves, will we build them perfect and reliable? Human simulacra that never lose their temper or raise their voice, that never worry or fret, that always pick up their things, make their bed (or charger), and turn the lights off when they leave a room. That never have a bad hair day. And if we do, will they ever be anything more to us than appliances? Can they be? Will the androids we build be our friends, or will they be annoying as hell?

If we want to build artificial persons that are to serve not just as appliances, but be more our friends and companions, maybe we should build in some imperfections. Just a few. To make them human.

And I find myself sitting here wondering, in the middle of the night, if those imperfections would be configurable, and what the user interface for that would look like.