Inside Voice

Toyota Pruis: Greenwashing a Guilty Conscience with a Crap Car

So let’s get this out of the way right away: I have no f-sharp love for the Toyota Pruis.

I hate the car and I hate what it stands for.

The car? Here’s a credible Toyota Pruis review:

Nothing about the insides feels familiar in the traditional sense, unless you are a prior Prius person. The new interior is swathed in low rent plastics which emit nauseating vapors, leather seats (if so equipped) that made me long for Naugahyde and gauges which were not only situated well out of sightlines, but rendered in a primitive digital manner which were indecipherable even up close. Of course I could always tell how slowly I was driving from the desperate looks on the faces of the drivers eager to get past me.

The 2010 Prius’ ergonomics were designed for only two kinds of creatures: those who like to sit five inches back from the front windshield and orangutans. Everyone else will find that the steering wheel, adjustable now for tilt and reach, is still too far away for a proper seat position. There is a nice new electric lumbar support in the seats, which are otherwise unsupportive and ill-shaped.

The driving experience was engineered by faeries. There is an Unbelievable Lightness of Steering, flagrant disregard for handling and a general sense that you are not in a car at all but some anti-gravity device which yaws and rolls without regard for normal physics. I would rather visit my dentist than drive the Prius again—at least he gives me laughing gas.

And what the car stands for? 3 reasons:

  1. Because its environmental credibility is a lie.

    It maintains the myth that if people make the right purchase decisions we can buy our way out of our pollution problems. This is perfect horseshit. A new Prius is incredibly costly to the environment.

    Want to help out the planet? Keep your existing car and keep it in great working condition. Or buy a used one. That sunk cost is gone so use it to its max.

    Because the Prius will be old one day too, and then what?

  2. Because in North America it obscures the bigger problem: that our living arrangements are the main reason we’re polluters.

    If you want to create less pollution, live in a place that doesn’t require you to create pollution for all your travel. Screw the suburbs.

    I have little sympathy for commuters looking to assuage the guilt of their housing decisions with a new toy.

  3. Because of the way it’s sold to consumers as a decision they make to love people. Who could be against that?

    I am. Imagine a Venn diagram with 3 circles: narcissism, guilt and disposable income. The ad above (the making of the big Prius ad) hits straight at the heart of the overlap of those 3.

    And since I think the product benefits are a lie it makes the selling of those product benefits, dressed up with a children’s song and costumes, more reprehensible.

And that’s all after I had a day to consider my reaction to the new Prius.


Anyone Can Do It But Few Do It Well

Gartner's Hype Cycle shows the pattern of adoption of new technologies.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle graph.

Grandiose claims have accompanied the spread of the Internet like wetness accompanies water.

Variously, the Internet was going to democratize production and distribution. Was going to disintermediate incumbents. Was going to revolutionize this or that business and business process.

Sometimes these claims came true. More often, they partially came true. Most often, they partially came to fruition and scared the hell out of people. And always, they remain evolving works in progress.

So when I read an article full of triumphalism like Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest about the failure rate of blogs, I know I’m reading a writer who’s missing the story.

  1. Because the failure rate of any new human activity is incredibly high. Diets, anyone?
  2. Because the pronouncements sound so tone deaf to history. They aspire to authority but it’s a trick. They don’t know. They’re guessing too.
  3. Because the best way to get perspective on the way media cover stories is to read old stories. An edition of the NYTimes from a year ago provides way more insight into the way the news gets covered than today’s fresh copy.

As an example, a year ago you could have read that Consumers were facing shrinking lines of credit from banks.

Washington Mutual, one of the nation’s biggest issuers of second mortgages, said in May that it had reduced or suspended about $6 billion of available credit under existing home equity lines. Countrywide, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have made similar moves.

You could also learn that tomatoes contaminated with e-coli bacteria were sickening people in 16 states. But nothing will change and more shit (literally) will get shipped in food.

A mediated worldview emphasizes the far over the near, the exceptional over the mundane and the sensational over the practical.

As a result, people fear dying from terrorist attacks instead of car crashes. We watch reality TV while our natural world degrades.

So while technology has made many things more accessible to us, human nature remains stubbornly resistant to lasting changes. And the changes that get incorporated into our lives seem like they’ve been there for a long time.

The truth remains that anyone can start a blog but few persist. The truth also remains that many people now read and keep blogs and don’t have as much use for the NYTimes.

And this will change too.


Nick Popovich: Super Repo Man

All that cheap credit led too many rich folk to overextend themselves.

Now the credit is being crunched. Payments get missed. Banks need to repossess the big-ticket items: jets, helicopters, boats. That’s when they call Nick Popovich.

For the past three decades, Popovich has been one of a secret tribe of big game hunters who specialize in stealing jets from the jungle hideouts of corrupt landowners in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and swiping go-fast boats from Wall Street titans in Miami and East Hampton. Super repos have been known to hire swat teams, hijack supertankers and fly off with eastern bloc military helicopters. For a cut of the overall value, they’ll repossess anything.

Slate: The Lear Jet Repo Man.


2 Observations While Watching the 2008-09 NHL Stanley Cup Finals

Watching the NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburg Penguins, two things struck me.

Observation One: Huge Linesmen

The linesmen are the biggest, strongest men on the ice. No one pays them any attention. They might as well be invisible. But they’re the biggest guys out there. Compare them to the players. And the linesmen aren’t wearing pads.

Ever since Mike Cvik came into the league they trend has been towards bigger linesmen and more athletic referees.

Observation Two: Length of Pass Predicts Game Outcome

The length of passes a team makes are an accurate precusor to the outcome of the game. Detroit makes many short, crisp passes. Pittsburg makes fewer, longer passes. Detroit leads the series 2-0.

I have no data for this theory but I’ll noodle about to see if I can find some.

This I do know: short passes have a very high percentage for completion. And the puck always moves faster than the players. So a team using many short passes keeps the puck in possession moves up the ice as a unit.

Greater speed means more opportunities for speed differential with the opposition — the main way one-on-one moves are made. It also means many of the players on a team are moving at roughly the same speed, so they move together through zones and can keep passing.

So why doesn’t everyone use short passes?

It’s hard. It means the players have to skate more. It means all the players have to be able to skate well and need to be working in synch.

But when it happens it’s a thing of beauty. Watch the Red Wings and you’ll see it in action.