Elon Musk, groan, again

Update, March 23, 2020: The promised ventilators remain to be seen, but Elon Musk did indeed deliver 50,000 N95 masks to a University of Washington researcher on March 22.[1] He had originally promised 250,000;[2] it is possible others have been distributed elsewhere.

Update, March 29, 2020: Tesla apparently (Update, April 4, 2020: see next update) ordered ventilators from China and is giving some to Los Angeles and some to New York City. It is apparently preparing to manufacture its own ventilators in Buffalo, New York, which it will also donate.[3]

Update April 4, 2020: Elon Musk donated CPAP machines—used to treat sleep apnea—rather than the type of ventilators hospitals need to treat COVID-19.[4]


I have to say that I just don’t handle Elon Musk well.

First, I want to focus on substance rather than personality. But he surfaces in part through an unsettling and bizarre combination of arrogance—even a weirdly well-intentioned cruelty—persistence and audacity, sometimes, as I have previously noted, not really very logically,[5] but nonetheless inescapably.[6] I can recognize the merits of a case study here, but the thought of actually conducting it repulses me entirely.

This is when I’m really glad I’m not a psychologist. I’d really rather ignore him. But he is this enormously creative, brilliant, and, yes, I think, really, well-intentioned man-child who inserts himself in the middle of events and conversations that grown-ups need to have. I can’t ignore him because he tantalizes with solutions manifest on incredibly short time scales. I need to ignore him because, as with the submarine in the Thai cave rescue,[7] or his insistence on nuking Mars,[8] or even just going to Mars,[9] his solutions can be wildly inappropriate. And sometimes he fails to keep those over-ambitious schedules.[10]

His humor, if one can call it that, can be that of teenaged boy just reaching puberty—Tesla models S, 3, X, and Y—you’re kidding me, right? Only there they are. Oh and there’s that whole cave diver pedophile thing that he pushed way too far for no conceivable reason.[11] On the other hand, I have to credit him for naming his tunnel company the “Boring Company.” Groan though I will.

And he won’t shut up when the grown-ups try to explain how inappropriate his ideas are. Because somehow nonetheless, he has the entitlement of a ludicrously rich man who picks legal battles he can’t really win but never really seems to lose either.[12] He is, in his own light, right, and anyone who denies it is like those who told Christopher Columbus he’d fall off the edge of the world. Even when he’s wrong.[13]

So here we are again with a raging pandemic:

On Monday, as companies all over the Bay Area rushed to send their workers home, complying with an order to shelter in place, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk had a defiant message for his 56,000 workers.

“I will personally be at work, but that’s just me,” he said in an email. “Totally ok if you want to stay home for any reason.” Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory kept humming, even as the county sheriff’s office the next day said publicly that Tesla should stop production.

Thursday, under pressure from local authorities and some in the public, he finally relented, agreeing to temporarily suspend production in Fremont.[14]

Musk starts off with skepticism about the scale and severity of the pandemic,[15] and moves to an implausible promise to supply an incredible number of badly needed ventilators next week and N95 masks the following day,[16] I’m guessing this story disappears into the ether as Musk quietly fails to deliver. But we’ll see.

  1. [1]Sydney Brownstone and Brendan Kiley, “50,000 N95 masks delivered to UW researcher’s home thanks to Elon Musk, Tesla,” Seattle Times, March 22, 2020, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/truckload-of-50000-n95-masks-headed-to-uw-researchers-home-thanks-to-elon-musk-tesla/
  2. [2]Zachary Shahan, “Elon Musk: Should Have 1000 Ventilators Next Week, + 250,000 N95 Masks For Hospitals Tomorrow,” CleanTechnica, March 21, 2020, https://cleantechnica.com/2020/03/21/elon-musk-should-have-1000-ventilators-next-week-250k-n95-masks-for-hospitals-tomorrow-cleantechnica-exclusive/
  3. [3]Steve Hanley, “Tesla Cuts Jobs In Nevada, Sends Ventilators To New York,” Clean Technica, March 29, 2020, https://cleantechnica.com/2020/03/29/tesla-cuts-jobs-in-nevada-sends-ventilators-to-new-york/
  4. [4]Kathryn Krawczyk, “’Ventilators’ donated by Elon Musk can’t be used on coronavirus patients, health officials say,” Week, April 2, 2020, https://theweek.com/speedreads/906406/ventilators-donated-by-elon-musk-cant-used-coronavirus-patients-health-officials-say
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The consciousness of Elon Musk,” Not Housebroken, August 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/30/the-consciousness-of-elon-musk/
  6. [6]John C. Coffee, Jr., “How the SEC can be the babysitter Elon Musk needs,” CNN, April 23, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/23/perspectives/tesla-elon-musk-sec/index.html; Nathan Crooks, “Elon Musk Says You Can Change the World Working 80 Hours a Week,” Bloomberg, November 26, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-26/elon-musk-says-you-can-change-the-world-working-80-hours-a-week; Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk Cleared by Jury in Defamation Case Over ‘Pedo’ Tweet,” Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-cleared-by-jury-in-defamation-case-over-pedo-tweet-11575678498; Tom Hoggins, “Tesla is ‘structurally unprofitable’, analysts say,” Telegraph, June 3, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2019/06/03/tesla-structurally-unprofitable-analysts-say/; Geoffrey James, “Elon Musk Is Wrong. You Can Definitely Change the World on 40 Hours a Week,” Inc., November 29, 2018, https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/elon-musk-is-wrong-you-can-definitely-change-world-on-40-hours-a-week.html; Russ Mitchell, “If Elon Musk is your boss, get your resume ready,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-08-15/elon-musk-tesla-executive-turnover; Eric Ting, “BART picks a fight with Elon Musk on Twitter over tunnels,” SFGate, May 25, 2019, https://www.sfgate.com/local/article/BART-Elon-Musk-Twitter-tunnel-Bay-Boring-Company-13896393.php; Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, “Another NASA moonshot? Nope. You can’t BS your way to space,” ZDNet, July 19, 2019, https://www.zdnet.com/article/another-nasa-moonshote-you-cant-bs-your-way-to-space/; Alistair Walsh, “Elon Musk won’t stop calling diver a pedophile,” Deutschewelle, September 9, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/elon-musk-wont-stop-calling-diver-a-pedophile/a-45372611; Li Zhou, “Elon Musk and the Thai cave rescue: a tale of good intentions and bad tweets,” Vox, July 18, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/7/18/17576302/elon-musk-thai-cave-rescue-submarine
  7. [7]Li Zhou, “Elon Musk and the Thai cave rescue: a tale of good intentions and bad tweets,” Vox, July 18, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/7/18/17576302/elon-musk-thai-cave-rescue-submarine
  8. [8]Tristan Greene, “Here’s the stupid reason Elon Musk wants to nuke Mars,” Next Web, August 16, 2019, https://thenextweb.com/distract/2019/08/16/heres-the-stupid-reason-elon-musk-wants-to-nuke-mars/
  9. [9]Samantha Rolfe, “Elon Musk’s Starship may be more moral catastrophe than bold step in space exploration,” Science X, October 2, 2019, https://phys.org/news/2019-10-elon-musk-starship-moral-catastrophe.html
  10. [10]Rafi Letzter, “Why NASA’s Annoyed About Elon Musk’s Giant Rocket,” Live Science, October 5, 2019, https://www.livescience.com/starship-crew-dragon-spacex-nasa-bridenstine.html
  11. [11]Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk Cleared by Jury in Defamation Case Over ‘Pedo’ Tweet,” Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-cleared-by-jury-in-defamation-case-over-pedo-tweet-11575678498; Alistair Walsh, “Elon Musk won’t stop calling diver a pedophile,” Deutschewelle, September 9, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/elon-musk-wont-stop-calling-diver-a-pedophile/a-45372611
  12. [12]John C. Coffee, Jr., “How the SEC can be the babysitter Elon Musk needs,” CNN, April 23, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/23/perspectives/tesla-elon-musk-sec/index.html; Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk Cleared by Jury in Defamation Case Over ‘Pedo’ Tweet,” Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-cleared-by-jury-in-defamation-case-over-pedo-tweet-11575678498
  13. [13]Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk’s Defiance in the Time of Coronavirus,” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musks-defiance-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-11584733458
  14. [14]Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk’s Defiance in the Time of Coronavirus,” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musks-defiance-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-11584733458
  15. [15]Tim Higgins, “Elon Musk’s Defiance in the Time of Coronavirus,” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musks-defiance-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-11584733458
  16. [16]Jack Morse, “Ventilator manufacturers aren’t impressed by Elon Musk’s offer,” Mashable, March 21, 2020, https://mashable.com/article/experts-doubt-tesla-elon-musk-manufacture-ventilators/; Zachary Shahan, “Elon Musk: Should Have 1000 Ventilators Next Week, + 250,000 N95 Masks For Hospitals Tomorrow,” CleanTechnica, March 21, 2020, https://cleantechnica.com/2020/03/21/elon-musk-should-have-1000-ventilators-next-week-250k-n95-masks-for-hospitals-tomorrow-cleantechnica-exclusive/

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