Friday, March 12, 2010


This is a short Post, but I just can’t help mentioning this.

You may recall this week’s runaway Toyota Prius in San Diego County.

It now appears that the driver in that case may have been surfing the Toyota wave in order to make a claim.

I have mentioned this sort of thing before. Conceptually, the trouble with a ‘panic’ (although the sustained stampede of the SO matter raises the SO panic – in my terminology – to a ‘mania’) is that folks are all too jittery and are ready to believe anything, and to err on the side of caution. If you live or work in a larger city perhaps you recall, in the weeks after the post- 9-11 anthrax letters started appearing in the mail, the endless wail of sirens on long gaggles of Special Response emergency units being called to office building after office building because somebody suspected that there was ‘white powder’ in or on an envelope (the other, dethroned ‘white powder’, far more popular at the time, was not as a rule delivered to eager customers through the mail – and the last thing you’d want to do if it was indeed delivered that way was to dial 911).

Ryder rental trucks are now white, possibly since the company’s signature yellow trucks gave rise to connections with the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

I also gave the examples raised up by ‘recovered memory’ – using the Shanley case in several Posts as a clear example.

Certainly there are those desperate or shrewd enough to take advantage of the Toyota panic to surf the wave and see what might be turned up to their advantage.

But you won’t see the same sort of ‘mania’ develop as you did in the SO matter. No influences beyond the individual surfers (with all respect to the board-in-water kind) and their schemes are involved here.

Hence none of the laws and usual investigatory and skeptical investigation habits have been suspended, nor are the media hell-bent on surfing the wave themselves.

You may even recall the Audi panic of about 30 years ago. American cars were starting to look a little too big and shoddy compared to the taut, more fuel-efficient European racing-sedans popular on the autobahns ‘over there’. So Audi made a play for the American market, bringing its autos over here and putting them up for sale as the new standard of luxury car for those Americans who had ‘arrived’ and wanted to drive the right kind of prestige car.

As I recall one auto commenter mentioning, the trouble was that the high-performance sedans sort of required ‘high performance’ drivers, at least to the point where a person who drove one could handle the car. The brake and accelerator pedals were smallish and close together, saving space in the driver-area of the cabin and presuming that the operators were folks with the presence of mind to acclimate themselves to the design of the pedals.

The commenter used the image of Long Island dentists' wives (with all respect to dentists, wives, and the great almost-state of Long Island) who were a tad too hefty in the hoof to hit the one pedal instead of the other – or else they hit both pedals simultaneously, creating some odd behaviors in the auto.

Thus there were cases of ‘sudden acceleration’ not unlike what you see in a number of elderly-driver incidents nowadays. It took Audi a long time to live it down and its ‘American’ pedals had to be redesigned.

So as I say you probably won’t be seeing much of that in the Toyota panic. There does seem to be a problem with the cars, and yet beyond the alarums for the next few weeks – and God forbid there are any more genuine incidents – you won’t be seeing this become a 20-year ‘mania’.

But if enough politically- connected interests take an interest, and if the pols were to sense a cheap but vivid distraction, then you would see a ‘mania’ constructed, step by step, as you have seen in the SO mania since 1990 or so.

That’s how it is with this sort of thing. As the SO community well knows.

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