Sunday Coffee with Jeemes: Juxtaposition – Elon Musk and Josephine Bates

The beauty of life in Nicholasville, Kentucky


                                       jux ta po si tion

                                     jekstepe’ ziSH(e)n



    The fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.                                  


         Perhaps it is the continuing tug of Chinese philosophy—the yin and yang, the beauty of complementary opposites—on my thinking that makes me even consider writing a piece like this. Again, this morning, as I trolled through my algorithmically selected news stories, I encountered yet another piece on Elon Musk (a description of SpaceX’s Starship)[1] even as I was thinking about our (Ima and myself) thoroughly enjoyable recent visit to her brother and sister-in-law’s house near Lexington, Kentucky. It occurred to me that there are no two different people alive on Planet Earth than Elon Musk and Mrs. Josephine Bates.

And in that, there is a beautiful symmetry of sorts.

As you can imagine, Elon Musk is everything Josephine isn’t: filthy rich, cosmopolitan, silver spoon upbringing, media darling, entrepreneur deluxe and, as at home in Shanghai, China as in New York or Los Angeles. Yet, if I had my choice, I would rather spend two hours at the dining room table with Josephine—enjoying her mountain cooking and playing Rook (all the while listening to her bark at Alvin)—than hours with Elon in the most sumptuous settings.

Not that Elon Musk probably cares …

During my history classes at College of the Ozarks, in the final week of class, we would discuss recent science/technological trends and a handful of today’s true changemakers. I always included Elon Musk right at the top of that list. He is a business magnate, entrepreneur, and technologist of the first order.

No one would think about placing Josephine in the same company.

Everything about Elon Musk is special: everything about Josephine is common (like Ima she was brought up in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky).

Elon Reeve Musk FRS[2] was born in late June 1971—now 51 years old—in Pretoria, South Africa and now lives in an elite neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA (one of several global residences). He is a citizen of three countries: South Africa, Canada, and the US, and a committed globalist. He attended Queen’s University and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. According to Forbes Magazine, his net worth today is USD 259.5 billion, making him the wealthiest person in the world.

In contrast, Josephine has no royal title; her and her husband Alvin (Ima’s brother) live in a modest brick home in Nicholasville, Kentucky with enough to cover their gambling outings and loan money to the kids.

Musk has been married twice and divorced (with 10 children), and his latest girlfriend becomes the stuff of pulp magazine headlines. Musk’s father was an electromechanical engineer, pilot, and sailor, (the two in recent days have been involved in a very public spat); and his mother is a beautiful-for-her-age model. Musk has two siblings, taught himself computer programming at the age of 12 and claims to have been bullied as a child. For that reason, he attended private schools. At age 24, Musk received a BS from Penn in physics (also economics) and dropped out of Ph.D. program at Stanford to pursue interests in the Internet, renewable energy, and space.

Josephine, on the other hand, was previously married to an abusive husband; her education has been in the school of hard knocks. As a result, she has the kind of common sense that no college can provide.

Musk seems to have the Midas touch. He is the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer of SpaceX, (founded in 2002, an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport company with goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars—the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft and send a spacecraft to the International Space Station). In recent days, Musk’s SpaceX-linked Starlink communications system has become an on-line option for Iranian street protestors seeking to escape the internet crackdown imposed by Tehran’s mullahs.[3]

By contrast, Josephine is technology-challenged and prefers (like many of the rest of us) the old ways of communicating.

Musk’s wide-flung commercial interests are well known; he is the angel investor, product architect and CEO of Tesla Inc., founder of Boring Company, founder and CEO of Neuralink, co-founder and chairman of SolarCity, co-chairman of OpenAI, founder of Zip2and X-com (merged with Confinity and took name PayPal).

Alvin and Josephine once ran a used car lot.

Musk’s ambition knows no boundaries: he has a vision to change the world and humanity. He hopes to set up a human colony on Mars in the mid-2030s.

On the spiritual side of things, Musk says he does not pray or worship (although he admitted to praying before an important recent Falcon I launch). Once asked if he believed that religion and science could co-exist, he said “probably not.” Moreover, Musk thinks there may be simple life on other planets but probably not “intelligent life.”

I’m not sure Josephine and Alvin go to church either, but they have always been amenable to my prayers for their physical well-being. And Josephine needs prayer: she has had over 50 operations and hobbles around the kitchen to fix the most delicious breakfast you will ever eat (so good that it will “make your tongue slap your brains out” in the words of our good friend Patty Elliott).

But back to Musk. One of the most interesting things about Musk, in my view, is his oft-stated belief that humans may be living in a simulated reality. In June 2016, Musk said that humans probably live in a computer simulation based on the argument that video games —starting with Pong some 40 years ago—have exponentially grown into today’s gaming industry with photorealistic, 3D simulations and millions of people playing simultaneously. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, according to Musk, which will become indistinguishable from reality. Therefore, he concludes, we most likely live in a “computer simulation.”[4]

I sincerely doubt that Josephine would subscribe to this idea, if indeed she has ever thought about it.

Musk also has some interesting ideas about the dangers to humanity of artificial intelligence. Along with recently departed physicist Steven Hawking, Musk has often spoken out about the dangers of artificial intelligence declaring it “the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.” In fact, according to Musk “we are “summoning the demon.”[5]For this reason, in early 2015, Musk donated USD 10 million to the Future of Life Institute, an organization focused on challenges to human beings posed by advanced technologies.

In recent days, Musk has become a lightening rod for controversy for two reasons: first, because of the pre-trial maneuvering for the upcoming mid-October hearing stemming from Musk’s failure to follow through on his agreement to buy Twitter Inc., for some $44 billion.[6] Second, the growing anticipation of Musk’s announcement of the “Optimus” bipedal robot to be rolled out—or walked out—at the upcoming Tesla AI Day on September 30.[7]

Of course, anything Musk does or says is instantly newsworthy. Josephine has come close to making national headlines only once, as she explained to Ima and me while she was sitting in the chair in her living room (with an oversized television wedged into one corner). Among the family pictures missing in her living room was one of one of her daughters, who was, as Josephine insisted “unfit to be a mother.” One day she received a phone call from her daughter’s neighbor. Her daughter had left her infant son in a house and locked the doors behind her—hours earlier.

“I’ll be right there,” Josephine said.

When she arrived, the baby was screaming but all the windows and doors were locked.

Josephine picked up a brick, threw it through the window and rescued the baby.

When the police arrived, they were ready to arrest Josephine for breaking and entering. Josephine, holding her grandbaby in her arms, told the officer what he could do with himself in language that would make a sailor blush. Josephine only got off the hook when the neighbor who originally called her came forward with the truth.

Her daughter didn’t ask about the infant for several months. Eventually Josephine went through the police to track down her daughter in Cincinnati and then obtained a written statement from her daughter giving Josephine legal right to the baby boy (and to provide medical treatment). In truth, neither the father nor her daughter wanted the child.

A couple years later, however, the daughter reconsidered (based on the prospect of welfare payments) and sued Josephine to get custody of the child.

In court, the judge asked Josephine to verify her claim that the child belonged to her. She produced the papers signed by her daughter and the father. Just at the point the judge was set to award Josephine custody, her lawyer rose to speak.

“My client has reconsidered, your honor,” he said, “and will be glad to share custody—”

“I agreed to no such thing,” Josephine shouted in a cursing tirade, and then, charging like a lioness determined to defend her young, tackled her lawyer, throwing him on the desk, her two hands strangling him by the neck. It took the bailiff and several others to pull Josephine, hissing, kicking and screaming, off the half-choked lawyer.

The judge shouted at Alvin, who was standing nearby and passively watching the chaos unfold, “sir, can you do something with your wife?”

“You pissed her off,” Alvin said nonchalantly, “you deal with it.”

Needless to say, the rest of the proceeding did not go well for Josephine. Before leaving the courtroom, she told the judge and everyone else in attendance exactly what they could do with such a kangaroo court, peppering her angry outburst with a flurry of curses.

An awkward silence descended over the proceeding. “It was quite a sight to behold,” Alvin said proudly, “no one said a damn word.” Then they left.

Of course, now, anytime she nears the court, it triggers an automatic police alert.

I rolled in laughter as Josephine related her version of the story (as only she could)—replete with every vivid detail and recalling every curse word.

Alvin would chip in every now and then.

I only wish I could have seen it for myself!

Ima asked Josephine if she ever saw the lawyer again. “Oh yes,” she said, “several years later, he came up to me and apologized, saying he regretted what happened in the courtroom that day.” I told him,” Josephine said, “that the only thing I regret is that they pulled me off you before I could wring your *!#**ing neck.”

Ah yes, that’s Josephine Bates.

I love Josephine and Alvin with all my heart. Ima and I always look forward to spending time with them. They treat us like gold every time we stop by. There is no pretense with either one of them; what you see is exactly what you get!

They were there for both mom and dad’s funeral.

Eat your heart out Elon Musk!

[1] Kaitlyn McInnis, “What is the SpaceX Starship,” Fast Company, Aug 25, 2022. The Starship—standing 400-feet tall at its Starbase in South Texas is a two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle—is an affordable, fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond. Musk has hinted that the Starship’s first orbital launch may be as early as November.

[2] FRS stands for Fellow of the Royal Society in London, England and is awarded to individuals who make significant contributions to the improvement of natural knowledge.

[3] See, among many others, Kate Duffy, “Elon Musk’s Starlink now active in Iran amid internet outages: report,” Business Insider, Sep 26, 2022. Musk has delivered more than 15,000 Starlink terminals to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. The Starlink constellation now consists of 3400 satellites, with the 62nd launch last Saturday aboard a Falcon 9 booster. See, Eric Ralph, “SpaceX breaks pad turnaround record with two Falcon 9 launches in six days,” TeslaRati, Sep 25, 2022.

[4] See, among many others, Corey S. Powell, “Elon Musk says we may live in a simulation. Here’s how we might tell if he’s right.” NBC News, Oct 3, 2018. There are, by the way, several proponents of this idea, or the so-called “simulation hypothesis.”

[5] Matt McFarland, “Elon Musk: ‘With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,’” The Washington Post, Oct 24, 2014. Musk was speaking at a M.I.T. symposium (and a standing ovation).

[6] Erin Mulvaney and Alexa Corse, “Twitter, Elon Musk Spar Over Legal Preparations as Trial Date Looms,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep 26, 2022.

[7] James Morris, “Optimus is Coming: Are You Ready For Tesla’s Robot Humanoid Invasion?” Forbes, Sep 24, 2022. The robot was originally called Tesla Bot but was playfully renamed Optimus after the Transformers Autobot character.

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