We’re packing for a whole week offline, during the Carnaval holidays. This time to Gramado, a city way down in Southern Brazil, famous for chocolate and wine festivals.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist recommending Malcolm Gladwell‘s excellent article Big and Bad – how the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety:

…The truth, underneath all the rationalizations, seemed to be that S.U.V. buyers thought of big, heavy vehicles as safe: they found comfort in being surrounded by so much rubber and steel. To the engineers, of course, that didn’t make any sense, either: if consumers really wanted something that was big and heavy and comforting, they ought to buy minivans, since minivans, with their unit-body construction, do much better in accidents than S.U.V.s.

…In psychology, there is a concept called learned helplessness, which arose from a series of animal experiments in the nineteen-sixties at the University of Pennsylvania. Dogs were restrained by a harness, so that they couldn’t move, and then repeatedly subjected to a series of electrical shocks. Then the same dogs were shocked again, only this time they could easily escape by jumping over a low hurdle. But most of them didn’t; they just huddled in the corner, no longer believing that there was anything they could do to influence their own fate. Learned helplessness is now thought to play a role in such phenomena as depression and the failure of battered women to leave their husbands, but one could easily apply it more widely…The man who gives up his sedate family sedan for an S.U.V. is saying something far more troubling – that he finds the demands of the road to be overwhelming. Is acting out really worse than giving up?

I have driven one of these things once, and it was a scary experience. I’m used to small, responsive cars where you feel every pebble; I felt completely out of touch with the road, and was glad when I got out again. I’ve learned to watch out for cars that present one or more of these symptoms:

  • darkened windows
  • tow hook
  • pickup or SUV
  • extra points for a rollbar on the pickup/SUV
  • extra points for floodlights on the rollbar

since they’ll have a high probability of completely ignoring niceties such as traffic lights, rights of way, speed limits and other cars.