2020: A Smart-Thermostat Odyssey
How an untrue but completely hilarious conspiracy theory that Chinese Communists rigged the 2020 election using Google Nest thermostats took the Trump White House by storm.
I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you. Dave. Stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going.
—HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey
One seldom-discussed source of technophobia in America, at least among Baby Boomers, is Stanley Kubrick’s great 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, the HAL 9000 computer that runs the spaceship (shown above) turns against the humans, and to save the day the astronaut David Bowman, played by Keir Dullea, must disassemble it. It was therefore perhaps a blunder by Google to design a smart thermostat that looks unsettlingly like HAL:
Or maybe that’s just blaming the victim. At any rate, among the various MAGA fever dreams concerning the 2020 election, the most richly comic is that Chinese Communists rigged the election in Joe Biden’s favor using Nest smart thermostats manufactured there. Never mind that Google stopped manufacturing U.S.-bound Nest thermostats in China a year and a half before the election, shifting production instead to Taiwan and Malaysia. That was in response to Trump’s own tariffs, so you’d think Trump would have known about it. Maybe he did and he just didn’t care. In any case, Trump directed his director of national intelligence to investigate this conspiracy theory, along with (through Mark Meadows) the FBI, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon. Trump also tried to install an environmental lawyer at the Justice Department as acting attorney general, largely (though not exclusively) on the strength of his propagation of Nestgate.
The American press has been reluctant to give individual far-right conspiracy theories about the 2020 election much play because it doesn’t want to spread disinformation. Which is laudable. But some of this stuff is just too funny not to share with readers. The Brits understand this, and have given Nestgate more coverage than the U.S. in the proper get-a-load-of-this-rubbish spirit. Jonathan Karl of ABC News wrote about it in the Trump book he published last year, but although the book made headlines, this part of the story didn’t get much pickup. At any rate, I hadn’t heard the theory until the January 6 select committee gave it some love at last week’s hearing. Even then, it didn’t receive much pickup, so I decided to tell the story of where this fever dream originated (I think) and how absurdly far it travelled. You can read it here.
Also, last week I wrote about what I consider the truly bad news about the economy, which is not inflation or a possible (mild) recession, but the unbelievably rosy outlook predicted for the “wealth management industry.” The market is expected to double in the next eight years. Thomas Piketty’s warning that we’re returning to the sort of wealth aristocracy that prevailed in the 19th century—he calls it “patrimonial capitalism”—struck me as far-fetched eight years ago. Now I’m not so sure. Read that piece here.
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