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The Freedom Forum

The day before Elon Musk took the wheel of Twitter, after he carried that effing sink into Twitter HQ (to throw at people, I suppose?), his first viral, lame stunt as owner was the last straw that caused me to close my Twitter account that I’ve held since 2009 because I couldn’t stomach watching Musk destroy the social media platform I’d begrudgingly grown to love. Looking over the news reports of what Musk has wrought in just two short weeks, I feel seen. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Tesla vehicles are fine automobiles, and I support electric mobility and think the Tesla car model designs are sleek and efficient people movers, but I don’t support their failing, idiotic automatic driver lunacy, yet I got no problem with the cars. I wouldn’t buy a Muskmobile, mind you (check out the sweet, new e-BMW i7!) because I just can’t stand their insufferable blowhard of a CEO and ‘know-it-all genius’ owner.

After Musk bought the e-car company with all that PayPal money he made for himself, I saw more and more of these Teslas on the road and started to have a dissonant, uncomfortable nausea that always seems to come up when I take a gander at the types of people who drive these fine cars — not the feeling of unmitigated envy I have for, say, Ferrari owners — but a sort of contemptuous disgust for the wannabe, bearded tech bro / soccer-mom-in-training types you see driving these pretty electric cars everywhere, at least on the (clogged) city streets of my fair hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Most Tesla owners seem to be like Elon’s would be children, mostly Millennials of the video game generation who might just fall asleep at the wheel going 80-miles an hour in autopilot mode, only they can’t seem to find the respawn button when they end up in the emergency room.

All Tesla Model X, S, and 3 vehicles have video game inspired ‘Easter eggs’ cleverly hidden in the car’s computer that include a merry Santa-mode, an unctuous James Bond-mode, Spaceballs-mode (ludicrous speed) and one particularly insipid mode that makes fart noises. I kid you not. Fortunately, the farting Easter egg-mode is easily accessible since owners need only to tap the ‘whoopee cushion’ icon from the Easter egg menu, where Tesla drivers can choose between various fart sounds such as Boring Fart, Short Shorts Ripper, Ludicrous Fart, Falcon Heavy, and Neurastink. Lacking a dribbling, wet fart noise is an obvious fail on Elon’s part, but a driver can select the seat from where the fart sounds will emanate, using the left scroll button on the steering wheel or the turn signal, so there’s that. What genius-y fun! To activate The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Easter egg, hit the ‘About your Tesla’ menu and enter number 42. Collect ‘em all! Trade ‘em with your friends!

After Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter, the South African-native-son-of-a-jewel baron absolutely hated all the mean Tweets he received after his many sexual harassment and baby-daddy problems were roundly ridiculed on Twitter, so he had extra incentive to actually follow through on one of his many dumb boasts (see “I’m taking Tesla private!” and “I’m boring gigantic tunnels!” for reference) and now, after his $44 billion boondoggle is blowing up in his face in real-time, he’s been forced to liquidate $20 billion worth of Tesla stock since April and just this week ponied up another $4 billion of his shares just to be able to keep paying his new Twitter staff’s salary, even after canning half the company’s employees last week. To put this in perspective, Musk, after steering Tesla into a ditch by losing 44% of the brand’s market capitalization in the past year, or $644 billion dollars, this just before his Twitter obsession cost him an additional $14 billion, or the value of the entire market cap of the Japanese car company Nissan with enough left over to buy Harley Davidson — and who knows when the bleeding will finally end?

Musk seems to think he’s some sort of a visionary genius who brings miracles to the masses for their happy consumption (with heavy monthly payments, natch), making him the world’s richest asshole, but his success with Tesla is old news, in fact electric motors are older than automobiles themselves, and the first cars that actually worked were powered by electricity because internal combustion engines back then were in their infancy and were an inefficient, noisy and dirty power plant. Steam-power never had a chance (the Stanley Steamer was a steaming load of crap) and the granddaddy of the automobile, Henry Ford, drove home the narrative that steam power was too dangerous and electric cars were just not practical because batteries sucked (back then). He was right, of course, but he was also right in trying to build his first ‘horseless carriages’ using electric power, but soon found out that the battery technology available at the turn of the Century would need another 100+ years of improvement before they’d be ready to provide the reliable power necessary to move a car around this big country, and he knew of which he spoke, after all, before he made cars Ford was the chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. Students of the history of science may understand the mystery of why the e-car didn’t initially win the race to power our cars vs. the gas burners, because electricity certainly looked like it would be the winner to power all the engines of the future, and it was Nikola Tesla who won the opening battle of the ‘war’ against Thomas Edison to power our homes with his alternating currents; Tesla had moved to the US to work at Edison Machine Works after being recruited from Edison Continental in Paris, but it turned out that the two just didn’t sit well together and they eventually became bitter rivals, with Edison famously supporting direct current as opposed to Tesla’s alternating, in the war of words that would become known as the “War of the Currents,” dramatized in the 2017 film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison titled, The Current War: Director’s Cut.”

The first AC ‘brushless’ poly-phase induction motors were apparently invented by Tesla, but they were actually invented by the great scientist Michael Faraday and improved upon by the unheralded inventor and educator Galileo Ferraris in Italy, and then Tesla came upon his successful induction motor model, with both versions of the poly-phase induction motor having been demonstrated by Ferraris in 1885 and then by Tesla two years later in 1887. George Westinghouse was developing AC power plants at the time and he famously licensed Tesla’s patents in 1888, but also covered his ass and purchased a US patent option on Ferraris’ (original) poly-phase induction motor concept. The US Supreme Court did side with Tesla after Ferraris sued him in US courts, so it’s a fact that Tesla improved Ferraris’ invention after Tesla left Edison to work for Westinghouse, where Tesla’s innovative poly-phase electric motor (more than one phase), powered by alternating current, proved the more efficient of the two ‘induction’ electric motors introduced at the end of the 19th Century, and Edison was reduced to electrocuting animals to scare the shit out of the public into thinking AC power was too dangerous for everyday use versus his ‘safe’ direct power (DC) invention, although he didn’t invent direct power and animals (and people, eventually) could just as easily be electrocuted with DC power as with AC. This ‘war,’ has never truly ended, in fact and Thomas Edison might just win the argument when all is said and done. From the US Department of Energy website:

Today our electricity is still predominantly powered by alternating current, but computers, LEDs, solar cells and electric vehicles all run on DC power. And methods are now available for converting direct current to higher and lower voltages. Since direct current is more stable, companies are finding ways of using high voltage direct current (HVDC) to transport electricity long distances with less electricity loss.

As Elon Musk forays into media, the life and times of America’s greatest automaker Henry Ford should cause Musk to hit the brakes on his Twitter obsession because Ford’s decision to go public in his newspapers about his anti-Semitism cost him dearly and that nutty decision tarnished his good name to this day, being one of Adolph Hitler’s heroes, Ford was an undoubtedly an iconoclast who just couldn’t help but end up on the wrong side of history, yet it’s also true that Ford supported the women’s suffrage movement and he campaigned for it in the pages of his newspapers. And he also hired more Black workers than all the other car manufacturers combined and Ford was the first company to promote Black foremen, placed in charge of white workers in his factories. So Ford had his prejudices, but they all appeared to be reserved only for the Jews. Later in life, Henry Ford became a shell of his former self, this American genius, who should have simply been known as the man who invented the assembly line and the true father of the automobile, suffered a third and nearly fatal stroke after he watched a film of uncut footage shot at the Majdanek Concentration Camp in May of 1945 and according to witnesses, it happened as Ford watched the film in the Ford Auditorium where he saw for himself the full, horrifying extent of the Holocaust, finally revealed to him and all. He never regained his strength or his faculties after this last heart attack and was soon forced out as the CEO of Ford by his own family after he nearly bankrupted the company, saddled with his soiled reputation as an anti-Semitic strike-breaker.

Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia and he finished high school early, in three years instead of four, after which he studied electrical engineering at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, where he first learned about alternating currents, but he had to leave the institution in his third year because he was unfocused and he never received a degree. Now, Nikola Tesla was undoubtedly a genius, but as with many genius-types, was also a borderline nutcase who’s best friend was a pigeon. Seriously. Tesla never got married, but he did admit to falling in love with a pigeon that visited him regularly outside his window at the hotel where he he lived. He is quoted saying, “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.” Tesla would sell his brilliant AC invention to Westinghouse for $216,000 ($5.9 million in today’s dollars) for the royalty-free component of his poly-phase induction motor that could’ve been worth over a billion dollars if he was sane, however he went on to piss his entire fortune away, then he lied about the effectiveness of practically every other ‘invention’ he claimed since his first and most well known, from the white elephant Wardenclyffe wireless electric tower he built on the New York coastline to the unworkable ‘death ray’ he tried to foist on the US military shortly before he passed from this mortal coil. The Tesla Coil he was also famous for had no practical use except to impress and con wealthy potential investors like J.P. Morgan out of their money. It’s true that while Guglielmo Marconi is popularly credited with inventing the radio, Tesla’s work was also instrumental in its development, yet by the time the Supreme Court overturned Marconi’s patent in the US in 1943, crediting Tesla with being the first to patent radio technology, Tesla was dead and buried. He may also be credited with inventing the fluorescent bulb and neon light, as well as the automobile spark plug, but he never put these inventions to practical use and died penniless.

Tesla lived his entire adult life in New York City in a series of luxury hotels until the bills finally became due, but he would then just move on to another hotel without ever settling his old accounts. His fame allowed him to get away with this flagrant theft for years until his reputation for stiffing his creditors finally caught up with him and in old age, was found to be a destitute loner, barely scraping out a living, but Westinghouse Corporation, seeing the obvious bad PR surrounding Tesla’s pathetic existence, chose to pay all his bills to prevent him from being ridiculed in the tabloids as a has-been lunatic who nearly starved himself to death, a stark-raving fool living on the gilded streets of New York in the ‘20s. Tesla, a noted germophobe with an obsessive compulsive disorder, did things in threes like the fictional genius Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory TV series, and during Tesla’s whole life he would only stay in a hotel room that was divisible by the number three. He suffered more than one nervous breakdown and almost certainly had dementia before he died, but when Tesla still had his wits about him, way back before the turn of the Century, he had befriended Mark Twain, the man who coined the term the ‘Gilded Age,’ because apparently Tesla read Twain’s book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the first time he went off his rocker and supposedly reading the book saved his life. Or so the story goes, Twain bought his bs story apparently because the legendary writer wanted to invest in the burgeoning electricity business, and Twain was interested in making some money on Tesla’s invention after Tesla (correctly) warned him off DC power, however Twain lost big money anyway. It’s interesting to note that the American writing legend of our generation (and Tesla car owner) Stephen King recently Tweeted that Elon Musk reminded him of Twain’s Tom Sawyer story:

A tainted legacy tails both Ford and Tesla long after their lives were over and a good reputation, which runs forever, will always elude them. When Tesla still had a stellar reputation as a brilliant inventor and newly-minted American hero, he was asked to provide an attraction for the Westinghouse exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. After it was decided that Tesla’s alternating current that was used by Westinghouse would power the fair, as opposed to Edison’s more costly and bulky direct current offering of the General Electric Company, Tesla, playing off the fact that it was subtitled the ‘Columbian Exposition’ at the Fair in recognition of Christopher Columbus’ 400-year anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of America (talk about tainted reputations), Tesla then came upon an idea that was hatched by the famous story attributed to Columbus (which turned out to be a myth) about his ‘Columbus’ Egg’ story, in which Columbus challenged guests at a dinner party who were questioning his obvious genius to place an egg upright on a table as Columbus would then successfully demonstrate. When all the naysayers couldn’t pull it off, Columbus simply broke the egg a little on the bottom, flattening it enough to make the egg stand up. This story inspired Tesla to use an AC electric current to spin a metal egg so fast that it spun upright, thus demonstrating the power of his invention coupled with the apocryphal story of the famous, fake egg. The Tesla Egg of Columbus was unveiled as a popular fair attraction exactly 130 years ago this May and my question is, how shall we celebrate this auspicious occasion?

Carl Holt

November 12, 2022

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