Feature

The week at a glance ... United States

United States

Mountain View, Calif.
Self-driving car: Google is developing a self-driving auto, the Internet search giant said last week. The company’s fleet of self-driving Toyota Priuses have logged a collective 140,000 miles, 1,000 of those with no human intervention, driving the Pacific Coast Highway, Hollywood Boulevard—and even San Francisco’s Lombard Street, reputed to be the most crooked road in the world. Engineers point out that robot cars, unlike humans, don’t drive sleepy, distracted, or drunk. Though years away from mass production, self-driving cars could transform society, Google says, reducing traffic and saving lives. “Can we text twice as much while driving, without the guilt?” said the car’s inventor, Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and a Google engineer. “Yes, we can, if only cars will drive themselves.”

Riverside, Calif.
‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ halted: A federal judge this week ordered the Pentagon to stop enforcing its prohibition on openly gay men and women serving in the armed forces. Judge Virginia Phillips’ ruling requires the military to “suspend and discontinue” investigations or proceedings based on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law passed by Congress in 1993. The judge said the policy violates the due process and free-speech rights of soldiers. Alexander Nicholson, the named plaintiff in the case, called the decision “a historic and courageous step in the right direction.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins blasted it as symptomatic of “activist judges and arrogant politicians.” In February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked Congress to repeal the law. The U.S. Department of Justice, which generally defends laws passed by Congress, has 60 days to appeal the ruling.

Durham, N.C.
‘Hookup’ college thesis: Duke University was scandalized last week after a mock “thesis” detailing the sexual conquests of a recent graduate went viral on the Internet. Karen Owen’s May 2010 PowerPoint presentation detailed her education at Duke in “horizontal academics,” ranking 13 male student athletes according to their physical attractiveness, athletic ability, and sexual performance. Duke was also the site of scandal in 2006, when men’s lacrosse players were falsely accused of raping a stripper. Owen had forwarded her 42-page thesis—including photos and graphs—to friends; within a week it was circulating online, the latest example of personal privacy undone by digital media. “I regret it with all my heart,” Owen told the website Jezebel.com. “I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that.”

Washington, D.C.
Controversial schools chief resigns: Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee resigned this week, ending her lightning-rod tenure in one of the nation’s most troubled school systems. Rhee, 40, a favorite of the school-reform movement, fired more than 200 teachers and put more than 700 others on probation during her three-year tenure. She presided over rising student test scores, but ran into fierce political resistance from teachers unions and also alienated parents when she moved to close failing schools. Rhee had been strongly backed by Mayor Adrian Fenty, who lost his re-election bid in September, signaling Rhee’s likely departure. “The best way to keep these reforms going is for the reformer to step aside,” Rhee said.

Bronx, New York
Hate crimes torture: Members of a Bronx street gang lured three men to an abandoned house last week and beat and tortured them because they believed they were gay. Nine members of the Latin King Goonies were charged with hate crimes after allegedly attacking a 30-year-old Ecuadoran immigrant known as “la Reina”—Spanish for “the Queen”—and two 17-year-olds whom they suspected of having had sex with him. The gang beat the men and assaulted them for hours with a toilet plunger handle and lit cigarettes, police said. The victims, who knew the gang members and believed they were friends, were treated at a hospital and released. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called the assault the worst hate crime she had heard of. “It makes you sick,” she said.

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