Wednesday, April 20, 2005
The Ecology of Blarney: Acclaimed L.A. BS-artist Mike Davis has returned (and his old nemesis Brady Westwater is right back on his case). It is bizarre that all four layers of L.A. Times editors would approve publishing Davis after the paper's own exhaustive 1999 investigation of Davis' book Ecology of Fear, by reporter Ted Rohrlich, found it riddled with bogus assertions. True, Rohrlich deployed some exculpatory spin in his lede, declaring that "Most of [Davis'] stretchers appear to be the result of haste, wishful thinking and a taste for entertaining hyperbole rather than malice." (Well, all right then!) But Rohrlich's details were damning. Here's a sample:
[Davis'] serious argument focuses on the high cost of providing firefighting services to Malibu whenever winds blow a chaparral firestorm down predictable canyon corridors toward the sea. He contrasts this with what he says are cutbacks in the number of inner-city fire inspections. Then he takes readers on a partial flight of fantasy involving a real Malibu Times article that chronicled adventures during 1993's firestorm.
"The Malibu Times," he wrote, "celebrated the case of two intrepid housewives from the Big Rock area who loaded their jewels and dogs into kayaks and took to the sea, where they were eventually rescued by blond hulks from Baywatch Redondo. Only the fine print revealed that, in saving their pets, they had left their Latina maids behind. (The abandoned maids made a narrow escape down the beach to Topanga.)"
An examination of the Malibu Times article shows that Davis made up the parts about the jewels, the hair color, the kayakers' occupations, the evidence of their callous classism and the ethnicity of their maids. The article, which had no accompanying photographs, also had no fine print. It listed as its principal source one of the women Davis called a housewife who was quoted as saying that she had been "at work in town" when she returned home through a roadblock and then, with a neighbor, elected to paddle out to sea. She told the paper that her maid and the neighbor's maid "were afraid to go out on the water and walked down to Topanga, where a stranger picked them up and drove them" to the home of a relative of one of their employers.
Davis is mischievously unrepentant. "I stand my ground on my interpretation of this article. . . . It really sounds to me that they deserted their maids." He insists that it was reasonable of him to conclude that the maids would have been Latinas; that because the article mentioned that the women took unspecified treasures with them, it was reasonable to assume they had taken jewels and that it was reasonable to assume that their rescuers would have been blond. "I read between the lines," he said. [Emph. added]
Would You Buy a Three-Beer SUV from This Company? The WSJ's Lee Hawkins Jr. visits Zachow's tavern in Janesville, Wis. [$ ]:
On an early afternoon in mid-March, GM workers who build big Chevrolet Suburban sport-utility vehicles sat elbow-to-elbow on bar stools, smoking cigarettes and drinking Milwaukee-brewed Miller beers and shots of scotch. Zachow's sells deep-fried pork rinds and 24 beers for $24. A sign in the corner reads: "Finish your beer. There are sober kids in India."
Scenes like this worry the GM brass as they grope with spiraling health-care costs.
Spiraling health care costs? This isn't afterhours--it's the middle of the working dayfor some of these GM people. How about worrying about the quality of the assembly work they do when they get back to the plant? The bar owner's defense:
Mr. Zachow said workers don't get drunk when they hit his bar during breaks. "They only have less than a half-hour for their breaks. If they can get two or three beers down, that's about it," Mr. Zachow said. [Emph. added]
Two or three beers in half an hour? That does not seem conducive to precision assembly. "You can't control what people do on their lunch hour," GM spokesman Jerry Dubrowski tells the WSJ. But do Toyota, Honda, and Nissan let the workers at their American assembly plants pound half a six-pack during breaks? Of course, their plants are almost all non-union. Is breaktime boozing a UAW-protected practice? Smoking, recently curtailed at the plant, was certainly a union issue:
"It's a local issue and it's a matter of local bargaining," says spokesman Stefan Weinmann at GM headquarters in Detroit. "It's not something that we can influence centrally."
"You're talking about people who have worked at a factory for 30 years or more," says Michael Kelley, a factory worker and former union official who works at a GM manual transmission plant in Muncie, Ind. "They don't want to be told that they can't do what they've been doing all along."
Fair enough. Admirably independent, even. The problem is that consumers don't want to be told which cars to buy either! The Suburban has an "average" (read: OK, not terrific) reliability rating in Consumers Reports. But at some point, when the Japanese transplants move into the large SUV segment (employing workers as American as those in Janesville) people may stop buying the vehicles Zachow's patrons build. ... Update: Today, the Journal published a UAW letter defending the Janesville plant. ... Backfill: I was alerted to the rapid consumption of beers in the WSJ's Janesville story by someone, but couldn't remember who. Turns out it was Tom Bevan in this RCP item. 8:31 P.M. link
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