SXSW: March 9 2019

Today was the second day of South by Southwest. I was happy with my mix of Interactive sessions today: comedy, journalism, space travel, and self-driving vehicles. In the evening, I visited some pop-up venues: Casa Mexico (colorful), Philly Pour House (loud) and The Copernicus Project: Presented by Land O’Lakes (no butter in sight). I also toured the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, created by The Daily Show team.

Self-Driving Cars: The Future is When?

NBC correspondent Jo Ling Kent spoke to author Malcolm Gladwell and Chris Urmson, CEO of Aurora Innovation. Gladwell said that he actually enjoys driving and didn’t really like being a passenger in a self-driving car. Urmson noted that much traffic in cities is people driving around looking for parking. Gladwell observed that self-owned, self-driving cars would create an even worse traffic problem. Urmson thought the right way for this technology to come to market is through mobility/transit services. He added that the technology promise is to build vehicles that are safer. Gladwell noted that there will be less fatalities, but a different type of crash. He was concerned about security issues with self-driving vehicles and was not convinced by Urmson’s reassurances. He does not want to see another “Uber problem” in cities, where congestion has become worse because people have moved from using mass transit back onto the streets. 

Apollo 50: Celebrating the Past 

I never miss an opportunity to see an astronaut, so I made sure to attend this panel discussion with astronaut Al Worden, NASA flight director Gerry Griffin, Johnson Space Center deputy manager Lara Kearney, and JPL employee Bobak Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi asked the others to talk about one unusual aspect of their work. Wooden said that space flight is a surprisingly clean environment and has some boring, mundane aspects. Griffin thought that Apollo 8 was the breakthrough mission, using both command and service modules (although no lunar module). He recalled how quiet it got in Mission Control during their first maneuver away from earth towards the moon. He was also flight director when Apollo 12 was hit by lightning. Kearney talked about the International Space Station, which has been operating for 20 years now.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

As expected, The Daily Show session was extremely popular with Interactive attendees. The session, which started about 15 minutes late, began with a montage of recent Daily Show clips. (Moderator Jake Tapper explained this late start was because Trevor Noah had just flown in from South Africa.) The panel included correspondents Ronny Chieng, Michael Kosta, Desi Lydic, Dulcé Sloan, Roy Wood Jr. and Jaboukie Young-White. All correspondents agreed that they like to do field pieces which aren’t about politics. For 2020, Trevor Noah said that the show will focus on the Democrats: “The news shouldn’t be about how you eat a corn dog, but how will you treat Americans who eat too many corn dogs.”

Kathy Griffin

Moderator Kara Swisher started by asking Kathy Griffin about her infamous photo with Trump’s head. Griffin said that she didn’t think much of it during the photo shoot and had asked her lawyers before posting. She said that Trump had once hired her for a celebrity roast. As a result of the ensuing uproar, Griffin was the subject of two federal investigations. She emphasized that she felt protected by the FBI from death threats. Griffin said that she had no regrets, although to me, that seemed inconsistent with what she had said about her experience.

Jeff Zucker and Joe Pompeo

Jeff Zucker, President of CNN, was interviewed by Joe Pompeo from Vanity Fair. After several hours of comedians, this was certainly a drier discussion. This was also one of the few sessions where there were obvious security personnel in the room. Not surprisingly, Zucker felt that Fox News has done quite a bit of damage to public discourse in this country. Neither Trump nor Pence have done an interview with CNN, but other administration members have been on the network. When asked about Kathy Griffin, Zucker replied that what she did was inappropriate and confirmed that she will not be coming back to host CNN’s New Year’s Eve show. He noted that CNN’s goal is to be pro-truth, not anti-Trump. He did not believe that CNN was the reason that Trump was elected, however, Zucker felt that CNN should not have aired so many of Trump’s rallies live and unedited.

In the evening, I visited The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library on the second floor of the Driskill Hotel. Created by The Daily Show, this traveling exhibit with a focus on Trump’s tweets is actually set up like a presidential library. It includes a replica of the Oval Office, timelines for his tweets (2009-present), Greatest Battles, and a Deleted But Not Forgotten [tweets] memorial. The “library” is open to the public through Monday.

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