One of the great mysteries of the Toyota debacle is why Toyota ignored the complaints for so long. Or at least it's a mystery to reporters on cable news, abetted by consumer advocates who were all too happy to imply that Toyota didn't care how many people it killed as long as they made a profit.
Maybe so, but I doubt it; you don't usually make a profit by killing your customers. It's too risky, in this age of nosy regulators and angry consumer activists.
Their behavior becomes a bit more explicable when you consider this argument from Ted Frank:
The Los Angeles Times recently did a story detailing all of the NHTSA reports of Toyota "sudden acceleration" fatalities, and, though the Times did not mention it, the ages of the drivers involved were striking.
In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89--and I'm leaving out the son whose age wasn't identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.
These "electronic defects" apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them. (If computers are going to discriminate against anyone, they should be picking on the young, who are more likely to take up arms against the rise of the machines and future Terminators).
In the original Sudden Acceleration Incident craze that afflicted America in the late eighties, the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration eventually ruled that the problem was "pedal misapplication", aka stepping on the gas when you meant to step on the brake. These incidents were highly correlated with three things: being elderly, being short, and parking (or leaving a parking space). The elderly are more prone to the sort of neuronal misfiring described in yesterday's New York Times. Shorter people have to hunt more for the pedals. And starting up from a complete stop is the most likely time to press the wrong pedal.
I was interested in Frank's argument, so I took a look at the LA Times article, which is really admirably thorough. Here are the results, categorized into a nifty, though not necessarily particularly useful, spreadsheet. I went one further than Frank, tracking down the ages of all but a couple of the named drivers. If y'all wondered why I wasn't blogging today, well, there's your answer. I've excluded three cases where the information was just too sparse to have any idea what happened, but otherwise, that's the complete list.
Several things are striking. First, the age distribution really is extremely skewed. The overwhelming majority are over 55.
Here's what else you notice: a slight majority of the incidents involved someone either parking, pulling out of a parking space, in stop and go traffic, at a light or stop sign . . . in other words, probably starting up from a complete stop.
In many of the other cases, we don't really know what happened, because there were no witnesses of exactly when the car started to run away.
In fact, it's a little hard to be sure that some of the cases were sudden acceleration incidents, because the witnesses to what happened in the car were all killed; the family is trying to reconstruct what happened from their knowledge of the deceased. Obviously, most people are going to err on the side of believing that the car was at fault, rather than a beloved relative.
Further complicating matters, most of the cases involve either a lawsuit against Toyota, a complainant facing possible criminal charges, or both.
In some of the cases, the police or doctors have an alternate theory of what happened: one of the SAIs was bipolar, which puts you at extraordinarily high risk of suicide, and no one knows what actually happened in the car. At least two others involve young men who were driving at very high speed, which is something that young men tend to do with or without a sticky accelerator. Several more of the drivers seem to have had a medical situation, like a stroke, to which doctors and/or police attribute the acceleration.
The oddest "striking" fact is that a disproportionate number seem to be immigrants--something like a third, by my count, which is about double the number of immigrants in the general population. I have no idea what to make of that; are they more likely to file complaints with the NHTSA? Maybe they're shorter, on average, or learned to drive later in life? Or perhaps it's just a statistical fluke.
At any rate, when you look at these incidents all together, it's pretty clear why Toyota didn't investigate this "overwhelming evidence" of a problem: they look a lot like typical cases of driver error. I don't know that all of them are. But I do know that however advanced Toyota's electronics are, they're not yet clever enough to be able to pick on senior citizens.
Unfortunately, that won't help Toyota much. It will still face a wave of lawsuits, and all the negative publicity means that it may be hard for the company to get a fair trial. Even if it does, the verdict in the court of public opinion will still hurt their sales for some time to come.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
“Trump’s wall is already under construction,” Wole Soyinka says. “Walls are built in the mind.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, once fled to the United States from Nigeria. Now the fickle winds of politics are pushing him in the opposite direction.
Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.
In its fourth season the BBC show turned its main character into a superhero, and lost everything that made it special in the process.
This story contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock.
Christopher Nolan is a truly brilliant British creative talent, which makes it all the more ironic that his work seems to have (at least temporarily) unmoored two of that nation’s greatest fictional heroes. In dampening the palette and tone of superhero movies so spectacularly with his trilogy of Batman movies, Nolan created a domino effect that stretched all the way across the ocean, transforming James Bond from a louche, debonair intelligence agent into a tortured, self-medicating hitman, compelled by the death of his parents to hunt down a series of increasingly psychopathic villains. And, as “The Final Problem” revealed on Sunday, Nolan’s influence has similarly transformed Sherlock. A wry detective drama with a twist has turned into a superhero origin story, complete with agonizing childhood trauma, terrifying antagonists with improbable powers, and a final showdown in an ancestral home burned to the ground.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
How the FSB's loyalty to Russia's president made it the country's most powerful intelligence agency
It’s tempting to look to the playbooks and historical traditions of the late Soviet Union to explain the audacity of today’s Russian intelligence activity, from its meddling in U.S. elections, to apparently killing Kremlin opponents abroad. But these activities are not just products of old ways or new geopolitics. They also stem from a shift in the activities of Russia’s political police force, the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB). Originally established to protect the Kremlin’s rule at home, it has increasingly moved into Russia’s foreign operations.A new cohort of secret policemen, ignorant of the traditions of spycraft and secure in Putin’s protection, has fundamentally altered the nature of Russian intelligence.
Why some people are withdrawing from mainstream society into “intentional communities”—and what the rest of the country can learn from them
VIRGINIA— For the last eight years, Nicolas and Rachel Sarah have been slowly weaning themselves off fossil fuels. They don’t own a refrigerator or a car; their year-old baby and four-year-old toddler play by candlelight rather than electricity at night. They identify as Christian anarchists, and have given an official name to their search for an alternative to consumption-heavy American life: the Downstream Project, with the motto to “do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
As it turns out, exiting the system is a challenging, time-consuming, and surprisingly technical process. Here in the Shenandoahs and central Virginia, a handful of tiny communities are experimenting with what it means to reject the norms of contemporary life and exist in a radically different way. They seem to share Americans’ pervasive sense of political alienation, which arguably reached an apotheosis with the election of Donald Trump: a sense of division from their peers, a distrust of government. The challenges of modern politics—dealing with issues like climate change, poverty, mass migration, and war on a global scale—are so vast and abstract that it’s difficult not to find them overwhelming. But instead of continuing in passive despair, as many Americans seem to do, the people in these communities decided to overhaul their lives.
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.
Donald Trump advocated on the campaign trail for a $20 billion federal school-voucher program. But during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Education Department, said school choice should be a state decision. She framed school choice as a right for students and families. And she said during the hearing that she was committed to strengthening public education for all students.
While the Michigan billionaire has backed charter schools and vouchers, which let families use public money to pay for private schools, DeVos would not, she said, try to force states to embrace school choice. But a number of organizations, largely Democratic, that had raised questions about DeVos’s commitment to expanding charters and vouchers and about her family’s financial holdings and religious causes were unlikely to find much more of the hearing reassuring.
A list of the new pardons and commutations from the White House includes Chelsea Manning.
In the waning hours of his presidency, Barack Obama used his clemency power to commute the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army analyst who was convicted of espionage in July 2013 by a military court after she turned over a massive cache of defense and diplomatic records, then the largest single leak in U.S. history, to the organization WikiLeaks. Among the materials released by Manning was a video recording showing Iraqi civilians being killed in a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007.
According to a White House press release, along with abridging Manning’s 35-year sentence to end in May of this year, President Obama granted 208 other commutations and 64 pardons Tuesday, thus closing a second-term scramble to reduce the federal prison population and establishing him as the most clement president in recent history. Obama has issued the most combined commutations and pardons of any president since Harry Truman, and more than Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes combined.
The president-elect has yet to name a secretary of agriculture, a delay that has caused controversy and illustrated the difficulties governing will pose.
Three days before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated as America’s new president, just one Cabinet agency lacks a nominee to lead it: the Department of Agriculture.
The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America. In the process, it has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests.
Already, the delay in picking an agriculture secretary has caused alarm. “The lack of quick and decisive action on picking a new Secretary of Agriculture by the Trump administration has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president,” columnist Gary Truitt wrote recently in Hoosier Ag Today. “While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee.”