Queen Elizabeth II turns 90 today, as the longest reign in British history continues. The British monarchy, an expensive anachronism, only functions when it's both entertaining and satisfyingly ridiculous. Everyone gets the joke, and knows it's ultimately on them. Still, without it, the poor Brits would probably feel lost. As I've pointed out to my students many times, they've lost an empire, but haven't found a role. And so the monarchy will have to fill the great public void left by the awful Tories and the irrelevant Labour party. Good luck to Albion!
Imagine you are Hyundai-Kia, and you want to jump into the plug-In hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) game. What's the most cost effective way to do it? Make a plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata? That's doable, but that's one existing model. They could try to re-develop the Elantra platform.
But no. Hyundai did the most logical thing and developed a whole new platform that can accommodate both gasoline and electric powertrains. That platform has just given us four new models for 2017: the Hyundai IONIQ hybrid, the IONIQ plug-in hybrid, the IONIQ EV, and the Kia Niro. I have mentioned that Hyundai has been watching Volkswagen in the last 10 years, and once again, Hyundai has done something I would expect from Wolfsburg, and that is logical platform development and sharing.
Let's take a moment to look under the hood of two of those cars, the IONIQ hybrid and the Kia Niro, as those models will be the hot sellers. Under that contemporary plastic cover is a small, 205-pound, 1.6 liter Hyundai Kappa III gasoline motor, and next to it, a 6-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT). In between the two is a 32 kilowatt (43HP) electric motor. Pretty fancy considering the gearbox is not a CVT. Oh, and there's no separate battery for the starter motor. One car, one lithium-ion battery pack.
Hyundai promises smoother activation of the electric supplement and smoother shifting. And with reportedly unnoticeable regenerative braking, Hyundai swears that the vehicles will not suffer from the rubber band acceleration, coasting and overall jerkiness of the Toyota Prius, their main rival.
I am a firm believer in front wheel drive for young drivers. I also believe in it for warm climates (like, two thirds of the US nowadays). When it is engineered for sporty performance, you get cars like the Volkswagen GTI, Acura Integra, Volvo S40, and more than a few French cars. When it is engineered for economy runs, we get impressive hatchbacks like the 1985 Honda Civic CRX HF and the current Ford Fiesta FSE. But we also get vehicles that are not fun to drive (most people will say Prius, but there are worse).
Hyundai is looking to make high economy cars fun by retaining gearboxes and rear multi-link suspensions.
The non-luxury compact crossover segment in the USA is hotter than ever. For years, the segment has been dominated by the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 (the best selling car in Massachusetts, apparently), and the Ford Escape. While the top three best sellers have been stable, the battle in the remaining ten spots has been no less important, with the monthly winners bringing in much needed profits for their parent corporations. The CX-5 has become the best selling vehicle for Mazda. The Nissan Rogue, a rather soft vehicle in look and feel (soft suspension, soft CVT transmission, really soft steering, soft seats), has been a huge hit for Nissan. The Subaru Forester is now big enough to belong in this segment. The GMC Terrain and Mini Countryman are sleepers. The Fiat 500L is adorable, but too slow, and not long for this world. Jeep has a new vehicle coming to this segment in 2017. The Volkswagen Tiguan is poised to re-enter the segment at a more reasonable price. And then we have the Korean siblings, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.
Looking back to around 2001, these two little SUVs represented the bottom of the American automotive barrel. The Kia Sportage was a badly designed vehicle based on the Mazda Bongo, and was recalled twice for a little problem of having a rear wheel fall off now and then. The exterior panels and interior parts didn't seem to match. The parts didn't seem to belong to the same vehicle. The rear hatches were rickety to say the least. The quality was simply not there. The Tucson fared a little better, with a dated design, but with an old, yet reliable Elantra powertrain. By 2010, the Tucson had gotten a new platform and new engineering from Hyundai's offices in Germany. And now, both the Tucson and Sportage enter new generations for 2016 that bring new levels of quality and design to both brands. These are daily drivers, to be sure. But they deserve a serious look for those who want to avoid the top three sellers and get a lot of car for their money. Well-equipped and with all wheel drive, either can be had for a little over $30,000.
Hyundai has a controlling stake in Kia, and the similarities between the two vehicles is apparent. The Tucson is in its fourth generation, and the Sportage is in its third, but I now see them synchronized with each other. I'm fairly sure they ride on the same Hyundai Elantra platform. The both have rear, independent multi-link suspension (are you listening, Honda?). They both have a 1.6 liter, turbocharged, direct-injected aluminum Hyundai Gamma motor under the hood (for premium AWD trims). That motor is mated to Hyundai's noisy but effective 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). In fact, that motor and DCT is coming to the Elantra as well. Both now offer Android Auto and Apple Car play interfaces for their entertainment head units. Both offer heated leather seats, LED exterior lighting, and a motorized rear hatch. And both offer digitally-set cruise controls and a host of driver safety aids, both standard and optional.
A note about that 7-speed gearbox. Hyundai's new DCT seems inspired by Volkswagen's excellent use of the technology. The reviews are in, the consensus is that Hyundai's DCT is better than any CVT. However, it is slow to shift, and so, it is not much fun. There is a slight hesitation to get moving from a stop, as is the case with most DCTs. And when the driver parks the car, or takes it out of Park, the gearbox sometimes makes a ratcheting or clicking sound. Hyundai even produced a video explaining how this behavior is normal.
So the difference is obviously design. Hyundai is taking a more conservative, luxury car path, as it wants it's cars to compliment its rebooted Genesis brand of luxury sedans and possible coupes. Kia prefers to be different, with it's happy, big mouth grilles and sportier interiors. Indeed the biggest differences are inside, where Hyundai has taken a conservative approach to vent shapes and soft-touch materials, and Kia is going for the younger buyer, with a sportier flat-bottom steering wheel busier (and glossier) center stack.
Both vehicles feature four (four!) thumb toggle controls on the steering wheel. Two on the left side for audio controls, and two on the right for cruise control settings. Because more is more, right?
Automakers have finally figured out where customers want USB ports and 3.5mm audio ports to live - behind the shifter.
And then aside from the steering wheel shape, the question is, how do you want your center stack to look? Do you like he Hyundai's soft touch materials that simulate a more expensive car, or is the Kia's piano black gloss bearable?
These cars are not going to go from 0-60 in under 8 seconds. But they are important. How important? Well, for Kia, the Sportage has taken over as their best selling vehicle worldwide. The longer it remains hot, the better Kia will be able to produce more cool family movers like it, and grow as a respected brand. In 20 years, Kia has gone from a brand you can never trust, to the "Hyundai for people with bad credit," to the more interesting and edgy division of Hyundai.
I am yet to test drive either, but I hope to this year or next. I do think that with both vehicles, the Sport or EX trim is the one to get. Hyundai offers a stripped-down version of the Sport called the Eco. But considering that it only manages to match the Sport's 25 miles per gallon, there is no clear advantage. So if you can afford the heated seats of either the Tucson Sport or Sportage EX, go for it.
GE is coming to The Hub. And Governor Charlie Baker will probably find a way for taxpayers to pay for it.
General Electric's Boston roots are an old story. I drove through the Fenway when this news broke, on the way to the Museum of Fine Arts. Upper Boylston Street continues to transform. There are new condos going up everywhere. The old town is unrecognizable. If GE does move to Boston, the old capital city will have taken another giant step toward Manhattanization.
It's well known that, as a group, comedians are the most intelligent performers in show business. But, they're also, easily, the most difficult, most abusive, and most unpleasant people in their private lives. Comedy only occasionally masks their insecurities, neuroses and inner demons. The list of first rank comedians who were extraordinarily unpleasant people is nearly endless. Bill Murray joins a long a distinguished line.
Not sure if it is really worth $42,000. But the 2015 gasoline V6 Touareg brings the features. It has a lot of suspension travel for a production crossover. Big springs. It is the quietest car I've ever driven. The 8-speed transmission is impressive. And the seats were near Volvo-comfortable.
It has a great blend of luxury and sport. The electric power steering is programmed to feel heavy, like a luxury car. But a direct injected 280HP motor made it feel lighter than it is. It is smaller than its cousin, the Audi Q7.
The big surprise was the off-road mode, as Andrew Collins over at Jalopnik described after he played with the diesel version. It has automatic downhill decent control, which downshifts and brakes automatically to guide you down dirt trails. It was a master of dirt roads. I think we did nearly 100 miles on "primitive roads" into canyons, washes, and forests near the Mexican border.
In 796 miles driven, I averaged a mediocre 23.9MPG on a mix of 87 and 89 octane. A 20 gallon fuel tank meant that I could have comfortably gone 500 miles in between gas pumps. $2.00 gasoline was also a nice plus in the American southwest.
An outstanding car. It competes against Range Rover, in terms of suspension. But it is overpriced as simply a paved roads family mover.
I loved how quiet and smooth it was. The third generation should arrive in the summer of 2016.
So many spy programs, so little time. Let's recap the NSA spy program news for 2015, thanks to The Intercept.
Ryan Gallagher: How the NSA hacks mobile phone networks worldwide in Auroragold.
Glenn Greenwald: Comparing Chelsea Manning to Hillary Clinton.
The NSA released some documents about how the FBI oversaw some elements of their spying programs. The information was quietly released just before Christmas, 2014.
Morgan Marquis-Boire, Glenn Greenwald and Micah Lee: How the NSA's XKEYSCORE program works. This is the big piece to read, folks.
Glenn Greenwald: Journalists continue to be against transparency. Amazingly so.
Which brings us to the whistelblowers themselves. We're reaching the point in the Obama administration in which some whistleblowers who were convicted are now being released from Federal prison. More on that in 2016, I'm sure.
[I tried writing this post on October 5, and I failed to delay it being published before it was ready. And while Newcastle's situation has improved somewhat as of October 18, I am leaving this up. Unprofessional, sure. But this isn't a professional blog.]
I regret not posting any opinions about what was the most exciting transfer window for Newcastle United since the summer of 2012. But now I can offer a more accurate prediction of where Newcastle will end up next June: one league down, in the SkyBet Championship. Newcastle are doomed this season.
Before I give my take on the 2014-15 campaign and the objectives for 2015-16, you should read Phil's post over at I Wish I Was A Geordie. When he published his piece, I realized that he summed up over half the points I wanted to make here, and he did a better job than I would anyway. My opinion here is still that of a Yank supporter trying to criticize and analyze the club objectively, except I will try not to repeat Phil. So here goes.
In the 2013-14 season, Newcastle were saved by a leased striker, Loic Remy. He scored 14 goals while on loan. Without him, they wouldn't have the goals required to earn their 49 points and finish in a remarkable (and undeserved) 10th place. They were also helped, at times, by the likes of Davide Santon, Yojan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy, and Moussa Sissoko. It was also a season brought serious trust and reliability issues for their captain, Fabricio Coloccini, and an astonishing season for the other central defender, Mike Williamson. With both Taylors injured at various times, Williamson was the unlikeliest of heroes in the backfield. The club had an over-performing defender, a prolific striker, and some inconsistent, but overall good players on the wings. That earned safety and the chance for the club to make significant improvements in-between campaigns.
However, the club instead chose to blow that chance, in favor of enhancing its profit margin. There was no summer shopping spree. Instead of setting the stage to give Alan Pardew a clear chance to fix his tactical mistakes, the club undermined Pardew through the unnecessary hiring of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football. This would be the first of two similar blown chances in a short period of time (the second would come just 6 months later when manager Alan Pardew resigned). In the summer of 2014, the club needed to buy one or two central midfielders. They needed to at least consider getting a defensive midfielder to replace the injury-prone Chiek Tiote. They needed a first-team quality striker. Of those three requirements (and surely there were more), they only completed the last one - the signing of Siem De Jong. That would have helped if he wasn't injured so often. So the team relied on it's other striker signed in the summer of 2014, Ayoze Perez.
The summer of 2013 was similar. Thee were signings. But it wasn't like Pardew's first summer, when Cabaye, Obertan, Santon, and Marveaux were signed. A summer without strong signings can lead to a thin, demoralized squad when the injuries and losses pile up. Then the relegation battle begins.
How did such a big club get here for the third season in a row? And why do I think they cannot save themselves from relegation in this third drop to the bottom? Well simply put, they should have been relegated last season, and a new manager, a new system, and new signings are all too late to save Newcastle. Steve McClaren will try to keep his club calm, but the 10 wins needed to secure safety are not coming. Goals are not coming. And this team seems doomed to concede the first goal in nearly every match.
And even when this team does score the first goal (improbable first goals to boot), they still fail to win.
This post was written on October 5th, and at the time, Newcastle's next 6 games looked winnable, on paper. Well, so were 3 of their first 8 legaue games this season. For this reason, I am calling it: Newcastle are going to be relegated. Relegation would be devistating. It would set the club back 5 years, financially. It would mean at least another 10 years without Europe tournaments. I know how bad it would be. But a part of me knows that Newcastle would deserve it. Relegation would make the owner hold on to the team longer, but it would force players out who need to go (Tioté, Sissoko, Coloccini).
Only in retrospect, after 3 years, do we know how the club got here, even though it has been happening before our eyes since the winter of 2013. Who or what is to blame? It isn't the owner. It was never the mangers after Sir Bobby Robson. It was and is the failed transfer policy. That shouldn't be a surprise, because we heard that three-word phrase as early as the summer of 2013. Couple that with a failed summer transfer strategy, and you have a disaster. I will try to explain.
This past Summer, Newcastle signed 5 players at the cost of £52.6 Million before salaries. Of those, 3 are proving themselves to be capable of playing and succeeding in the Premier League. The rest are development players with Premier League salaries and needing at least a year to get up to Premier League fitness and strength. And still, the team needs new central defenders and a true defensive midfielder.
Manager Steve McLaren has acknowledged this. He has been upfront that he doesn't see a roster full of players he needs until February 2017. But we fans are convinced that he isn't choosing the new players. We don't think any Newcastle manager since Allerdyce has been involved in player scouting and recruitment. That work is done by chief scout, Graham Carr.
What has Newcastle done under Carr? It has "bought for value." The team has brought in promising mainland European talent, who have ended up in a few, fairly predicable scenarios. Some have proven to be capable of succeeding in the Premier League, which eventually attracts a profitable bid from a bigger club. Some players become unhappy, and see their time at Newcastle as an audition to play for a more famous club. That would be okay if they were engaged and played hard in every appearance (that's you, Moussa Sissoko). Then there are the flops. The Ben Arfas. The Marveauxs. The Cabellas. The Thauvins?
When a team brings in flops, and the best guys are sold, you are left with a second-tier team in a top-tier league. If the new arrivals don't start producing - if service to the strikers doesn't improve - and if Wjindulum and Mitrovic don't increase their goal rate, this team is going down.
As this Guardian opinion piece by Susan Campbell illustrates, Americans already operate under austerity. "One hand tied behind our back," is our baseline. Some of the hardships and sacrifices Greece is being forced to accept have been commonplace in the US for over 40 years.
And what's so frustrating is that millions of Americans believe the "if you work hard enough" fairyland talk. It certainly doesn't help that we are generally such an ill-informed public. Even when some are enlightened enough to more or less understand, the resentment factor kicks in from the "we are paying for them" crowd. The fact that WE could easily become THEM doesn't register.
This is a story as old as the real estate game. In New York, especially, money doesn't just talk, it fairly screams. The working and middle classes in this country have been, to coin a phrase, reamed, steamed and cleaned for decades. Maybe, just maybe, there are tiny, hopeful signs that they're getting good and sick of it.
It all sounds very familiar to Americans, who have had two Red Scares, and now a 15 year long "Terrorism Spasm". In each instance, 1917-1920, 1949-1954, and since 2001, our defenders of the republic have demanded an unraveling of Constitutional safeguards in order to protect us, and preserve "freedom". And they say irony is dead.
The latest urban fitness report is out for the US. Do you detect a slight red state/blue state dichotomy? I must say, the only real surprise is Indianapolis as the LEAST fit metropolitan area in the country! Apparently, walking is considered an un-American, Commie plot.
We almost never post about events here, as this is a small blog with infrequent posts. But right now in London, The Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest artillery regiment in the country, is staging an event in East London. They have soldiers doing drills, a parachute drop, a chinook helicopter, and at least one howitzer.
And this weekend is something even more special. If you are in London between May 15 and 17, you can go see the surviving little ships of the Battle of Dunkirk.
Leave it to the British to convert one of the most thorough defeats ever suffered by the United Kingdom into a glorious "victory". As some readers know, the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium in 1940 was as badly mauled by the Germans as the French had been. When the soldiers got back to England, they had left all their tanks and heavy guns behind, and only the Channel, the RAF, and Royal Navy stood between Hitler and the U.K. Still, the many ordinary citizens who sailed these little ships saved many lives, and displayed undaunted courage. It would be fascinating to see them in the Thames. My annual trip to London has already happened. But you are there, go see them.
The differences between the Democratic party and the GOP continue to dwindle. The Democrats are sponsored by Wall Street, have abandoned the idea of taxing the rich, and have even abandoned questioning the size of the military-security complex. Meanwhile, Republicans are embracing marijuana legalization and marriage equality. The biggest differences left are really Social Security, science, and medicine (the GOP is against all three). Otherwise, that's pretty much it, folks. We can summarize this nation like this: declare war on the world, give every break and perk to the rich people, spy on everyone, and ignore the man-made environmental catastrophe. The longer we keep these two parties in power, the further this nation is ruined. Considering it has been this way for nearly 20 years, it is probably too late to save the USA.
The United States has an ongoing human rights crisis. It has been going on for decades, especially since the 1970s. Almost no one talks about it. Almost no one even questions it. It is the nation's largest jail. It is Rikers Island.
I wish Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would draw more attention to Rikers. To it's credit, Amnesty has published reports about Rikers before. In 2000, they called out Rikers for the abuse of female prisoners at the hands of male guards. And in this latest round of reports about Rikers, Amnesty has shed light on the torture of teenagers and the high rate of solitary confinement of teen prisoners.
The most recent revelations about Rikers are shocking even for those familiar with how bad it has been over the last 40 years. There have been inmate deaths. Then there were the families who were not told that their relatives had been allowed to die on the city's watch. And then there was the incredible case of Kalief Browder, a high school student who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack, and was held at Rikers in a cycle of torture, court appearances, and trial delays for three years.
The mayor has called for a task force. But either he is not serious, or is unable to change RIkers. Very few politicians care, and neither do many New Yorkers. They should. This is a true human rights catastrophe. Rikers is the not only the largest jail in the US, but in terms of human rights abuses, it is easily the worst. The abuse there is done in the names of New York's citizens, and fully funded by the citizens and tourists of this city. And when there is accountability - when prisoners are able to get legal representation and fight for their rights - the city pays in punitive damages, over and over.
The major roadblocks to reform are Albany (as always) and the Department of Corrections, which is a city agency, and touts itself as "New York's Boldest." Their tough guy union leader Norman Seabrook, has been unapologetic, has tried to block investigations of the facility, and has even demanded that his guards and officers receive a new contract with pay raises if they are to cooperate with implementing any reforms.
UPDATE, June 8, 2015: Kalief Browder, the boy who was held for 3 years without charges, committed suicide on June 6, 2015.
None of this is news to Americans who live in our largest cities. Chris Rock is probably correct about most middle Americans being oblivious to class inequality. There, the reality of inequality is right in your face, unambiguously and apologetically slapping you, just in case you might miss it. In the small towns and suburbs, where most Americans live, the arrogance and entitlement of our plutocrats -and yes, our kleptocrats too- is more abstract, out of sight, and almost never encountered in person. The great and mighty fly in their private jets, to their palaces in the sky, or their private islands. Out of sight, and out of mind, they float above the rest of us, supremely confident and protected.
Like most essays Tim Wu has written, this one is pretty awesome.
As airline customers, we must suffer at baseline. And besides, suffering not only builds character, it reinforces an important social lesson. The natural order of things requires that we all understand that decent treatment is a privilege, to be purchased with money. If you lack money, you don't deserve the good treatment that only money can buy. If you have money, no matter how you acquired it, you are entitled to the best of everything. Furthermore, everyone must be conscious of the differences having money brings. So, if you're part of the great, unwashed masses, and you're miserable in airports, bus stations, subway stops and other places of public accommodation, the system is working, and the correct lesson is being taught.