Company town.

Well, peace has been restored in the valley — the autoworkers are back on the job and the spin on the contract is, it’s Watershed City and the D Will Rise Again. Before I make you read another sentence of this paragraph, let me assure you a) this won’t be a 500-word thumbsucker on the fine points of the UAW contract; and b) I’m as astonished as you are that I actually give a crap about this stuff now. But that’s living in a company town; you’re all in the same boat.

I always thought one of Hollywood’s genius moves was making box-office figures the new box score, the sort of thing ordinary folks would talk about at the watercooler on Monday. I once wrote a column expressing amazement that I knew more about green-screen special effects than I did about the commodities market, when the former is just entertainment and the latter is intertwined with the food I put on my table day after day. What is a pork belly? Why is corn detasseled? It was all a mystery to me.

(This column brought in some of the best reader mail I ever got, and the answers are “bacon, basically” and “to ensure genetic parentage in seed corn.” One woman drew careful diagrams of the corn plant, demonstrating the tassel’s relationship to the silk on the developing ears. Another reader painted a vivid picture of the misery of detasseling duty, an important supplement to the farm kid’s summer income, and every dollar is drenched in dew, sweat and chapped hands.)

So it is with car-making in Car City. You don’t care, but you oughta know.

As for the contract, all I’ll say is this: General Motors committed to fund a trust that in turn will fund retiree health care, a financial obligation estimated at $50 billion over 80 years. That won’t all be paid in cash, of course — some will come from stock and some from growth of the seed money. But they will pay at least 70 percent of that to get the ball rolling. This, we’re told, will lop $800 to $1,000 off the cost of building each car and take a giant step closer to returning the General to competitiveness. Just roll those numbers around in your head a minute or two: 70 percent of $50 billion, and that’s for retiree health care. (There are two retirees for every GM worker these days, and maybe a fraction more.) And it won’t bring them to real parity with what Toyota pays in wages and benefits, even in this country, although they’re getting closer. Never mind the companies that build cars overseas, who have an edge why? Because western governments overwhelmingly pay for health care. And they can afford this why? Because they’re not flushing a billion dollars a month down Iraqi toilets. Yes, a gross oversimplification. Still.

That is all.

So. Is “The War” over yet? I have no idea. Alan’s watching it while I work in another room, and the boom of howitzers is still intrusive, but not as much as what I’ve come to think of as the Full Ken Burns — sonorous narration, a snip of exquisite music, an old voice telling a quavery story. I was fully seduced by “The Civil War,” but I weary of his one-trick-pony approach to history. Wake me up when “Vietnam” airs, if he manages to get it on the air before 2050 or so.

Actually, that’s the war story I’d like to see, and I’d like to see it before the voices get any more quavery. How many times can we go over the horror of World War II and give our lasting gratitude to the brave men and women who saved the world from genocidal fascism? It’s not like it’s unplowed ground. Meanwhile we’re fighting Vietnam II, and it might help to look again at Vietnam I. Just a suggestion from someone who’s seen enough Pearl Harbor to last a while.

In other TV news, I’m worried about Flower.

The promos for this week’s “Meerkat Manor” have been as subtle as crushing chest pain: It’s the end of an era when tragedy strikes and the Kalahari loses its favorite rose, reads the promo for Friday. And the coming attractions last week featured shots of a puff adder. I don’t think she’ll survive the season. (Although I look forward to the memorial montage, set to stirring meerkat music.) Damn these Animal Planet puppetmasters, making me care about weasels half a world away!

No bloggage today — busy morning — but there’s this: God, I love these West Virginia birth stories.


Posted at 8:33 am in Current events, Television |

37 responses to “Company town.”

  1. del said on September 27, 2007 at 9:13 am

    In the WV story the baby was named “Carlee,” after her birthplace.

    We’ve got Detroit baby stories too. My wife works in a Detroit hospital and often recalls the expectant mother (a Ms. King) who noticed a No Smoking sign while on a gurney in the maternity ward — named her kid Nosmo.

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  2. Dorothy said on September 27, 2007 at 10:08 am

    So the dad dyes his hair but not his moustache? What’s up with that? Mama looks awfully young and thin for having her 9th baby!! Must be them West Virginia genes…

    Del I’ve heard that Nosmo story in several different variations for years. It’s probably an Urban Legend, but then again, people are strange!

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  3. brian stouder said on September 27, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Loved the WV story! And the mom is a delivery nurse…who apparently goes along with every (and we do mean every) half-baked notion that strikes her house-husband.

    And while at that story, this ‘company town’ link presented itself

    an excerpt –

    Toyota Motor Co. will recall 55,000 floor mats due to complaints of unintended acceleration caused by the mats sticking underneath the accelerator pedal, federal safety officials and the automaker said Wednesday.

    and this struck me (so to speak)

    One driver told the agency the vehicle had hit speeds of 100 m.p.h. over a 6-mile stretch of freeway due to the problem. A Michigan woman said the problem caused her to lose control of her Lexus, triggering a rollover crash on I-75 that totaled her car. Because some ES 350s are sold with stop/start buttons rather than traditional ignitions, some drivers said they were unable to shut off the engine by pressing the button as the car accelerated

    six miles? placebo pushbutton that does nothing?

    As Toyota says – “Oh, what a feeling” that must have been!

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  4. LA mary said on September 27, 2007 at 10:19 am

    How could the husband not take a wife who already had a lot of kids, as well as being an L and D nurse, when she said the time had arrived? He should have the next kid.

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  5. MichaelG said on September 27, 2007 at 10:50 am

    I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Meerkat here and there and enjoyed them.

    Anybody told those WV people what causes that stuff?

    It’s amazing how helpless many people become if things in their car are the slightest bit out of the ordinary. The people who crashed are the same ones who step on the gas insead of the brake or put it in reverse instead of drive. Couldn’t figure out how to control the vehicle in six miles. Whew.

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  6. del said on September 27, 2007 at 11:11 am

    Dorothy, my wife works at Children’s Hospital in Detroit so I naturally assumed her story was true (like so many others, confound it!) I’m sure she believes it anyway. My dad, on the other hand, is less reluctant to recount questionable stories. But he has a “tell” to his iffy stories (as I realized while he was spinning a yarn in a bar a couple of years back). Whenever he begins by saying “I’ll never forget . . . ” my truth antennae pop up. Come to think of it, one of his old favorites was remembering Barbara Streisand singing at the Caucus Club restaurant in Detroit in the early 1960’s before becoming famous. I didn’t give it much thought til I a few years ago when a local newspapter columnist wished for a nickel for every shmoe who claimed to have seen Streisand’s Caucus Club performance. Sometimes it takes a neutral third party to affirm one’s intuition; like when my college logic coursebook held out as a fallacy one of my dad’s old favorites — that only Democratic presidents start wars.

    Yes, we’re witnesses to probably the worst presidency in U.S. history. And our kids’ futures are being sacrificed. Bad news.

    But on a cheery note? that WV bride looks awfully young. She’ll need some energy.

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  7. brian stouder said on September 27, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Yes, we’re witnesses to probably the worst presidency in U.S. history

    Well, I’d certainly grant you that Bush ain’t in the top half of the class – nor even the top 3/5s….but “worst”?

    Even limiting the reach-back to the 20th century (and therefore losing my candidate for ‘worst all-time’ – Andrew Johnson), in my opinion Harry Truman is exponentially worse than Bush, on any criteria one might care to name

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  8. beb said on September 27, 2007 at 11:55 am

    My wife and sister and both addicted to the show. I couldn’t follow it after that male pup get bite by a snake. Suddenly reality was too depressing.

    I wonder if Nosmo is a real name or an urban legend. I also wonder about girl babies named Tequila or Fema’le? But then I’d an old fashioned guy who has trouble remember names any more complicated than Tom, Dick, or Harry.

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  9. LA mary said on September 27, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Nosmo is a very old urban legend, so’s Female’. On the other hand, there was someone in Chicago who had the last name of Field, who named their baby Wrigley the other day. I resisted naming my children Gene and Wade.

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  10. brian stouder said on September 27, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    or Waylon, or Duncan, or Misty, or Sylvia (could get mis-spelled)….

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  11. LA mary said on September 27, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    I can’t believe I forgot to share this morning’s brush with fame. I gave directions to, and briefly chatted with Michael Reagan, adopted son of Ronald. Zzzzzzzzzz.

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  12. Beth said on September 27, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    I have a friend who has friends who teach within the Indianapolis Public School system. Every year they share a laugh over the wacky names of some of their students A couple of years ago one of them had a girl in her class named ABCDE (and yes, it is spelled with all caps). It is pronounced “Ab-sid-dee.”

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  13. brian stouder said on September 27, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Mary – isn’t Michael the rightward radio lip-flapper? As opposed to Ron, who is the leftward ballet flitter?

    Anyway – directions, eh? (was he wanting to pour piss out of a boot, by any chance)

    Beth – I cannot give you examples, because I can’t spell them, but Pam and I were chuckling over some of the names of the classmates of our young folks (note – the funny names were spread without regard to race). When Pam nameed our young folks*, her chief criterion was ‘Can I imagine a boss named _______’

    *moms name the kids; you do the work, you get the goodies

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  14. LA mary said on September 27, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    He couldn’t find the lobby, but then he did park in the wrong lot, so he came in the wrong door, and there’s construction going on so it was a little complicated getting to the lobby. Big shocker, he drives a giant red SUV. If he left it where he parked it, he’ll get towed or ticketed. It’s the MD’s lot. Shame no one mentioned that to him.

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  15. alex said on September 27, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    I sort of wince at middle-class people bestowing flavor-of-the-month names on their children as much as I do when the low-rent crowd simply pull names out of their asses. Don’t people want to honor their families anymore?

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  16. LA mary said on September 27, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Makes me cringe too, but it’s been going on for a long time. My class was full of Debbies, my older son’s class is full of Max and Jackson kids, some Brittanies or Britneys.
    The Filipinos I interview often have great old fashioned names like Dorothy or Ruth or Helen or Mildred.
    I had an application last week from someone named Cinderella Panganaban. I had to go back to look at her online application for some reason and forgot her last name, so I searched under “Cinderella.” I got two hits. Ms Panganaban, and someone named Cinderella Svenstrom. I looked her her profile and saw that she lived in Homer, Alaska, identified herself as Latina. I mentioned this to my older son, who figured this was a fake identity assigned by the witness protection program, and they chose the names, location and ethnicity by pulling things out of hat. Younger son suggested they played Mad Libs to invent her identity.

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  17. nancy said on September 27, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    I’ve often noted that the only Nancys I meet anymore are all Asian. They really love the traditional American names — Susan, Wendy, etc.

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  18. john c said on September 27, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Harry Truman the worst?! I’d like to know why. I’d consider him among the best. And time will only tell if Bush is the worst. But he certainly has a shot at it.

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  19. LA mary said on September 27, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    I gave my boys traditional names, and luckily there were ancestors on both sides who had those names so the elders were happy.

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  20. MarkH said on September 27, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    john c, my sentiments exactly.

    Brian, since I read your post, I’ve been trying to get my arms around the very notion of Truman as “worst”.

    “…Harry Truman is exponentially worse than Bush, on any criteria one might care to name.” ??? Alright, name a few, let’s discuss…

    BTW, you aren’t hanging your entire notion of this on his authorizing the A-bombs on Japan, are you?

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  21. susank said on September 27, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    LA Mary, your sons sound like great guys to have around! And MarkH, you know you have just “unleashed the beast” with that challenge, don’t you? BRIAN = HISTORY.

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  22. MarkH said on September 27, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    We’ll see….

    How’s this for “HISTORY”:

    –Truman Doctrine, containing soviet expansionism, including the Berlin Airlift, initiation of NATO
    –the birth of the UN while he was President
    –Marshall Plan, rebuilding Europe
    –fighting to further Roosevelt’s New deal programs with a few new ones of his own in the face of a vicious republican congress.
    –the first meaningful efforts at civil rights reform, including de-segregating the military.

    The dragging unpopularity of the Korean War did him in, certainly, but he was the only President to get sanction for such war action from the UN.

    He had his faults, certainly, but the above items clearly keep him out of “worst” status, and easily in the top half of presidents.

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  23. DonE said on September 27, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Which president created massive federal debt? Which president started two wars that (charitably) haven’t achieved their goals? Which president has the most signing statements? Which president views the Geneva Convention as quaint? I consider that president the worst ever. But perhaps there are other criteria that are more important than these.

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  24. brian stouder said on September 27, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    Consider the main complaints against President Bush: he was handed an extraordinary crisis and a historic opportunity – real unity across the nation and (it is not too much to say) the world – and he squandered it with an unpopular, protracted war. He is a relentlessly partisan politician, and he is accused of using fear as a political instrument, even to the extent of trampling on the rule of law, and basic civil rights.

    I read and enjoyed David McCullough’s very friendly biography of Harry Truman back during the 2000 election, and I was struck that Dewey tried to run as a ‘uniter and not a divider’ (in almost exactly those words!), which drew bitter contempt from Truman at the time. Although McCullough admires HST very much, I was put off by just how starkly partisan and divisive (the unelected) President Truman’s campaign was… until it hit me that I would have been on Truman’s side, back in those days. The Democratic party had ALL of the ideas and the initiatives, and they had lead the United States out of the depression and onto victory in the second world war.

    And Truman DID win in 1948 – and the shattered world looked to him, and indeed his Marshall Plan for Europe was brilliant. And then the North Koreans invaded the south, and sacked Seoul, and HST responded forecefully, and the GI’s held the Pusan Perimeter and Big Mac took the initiative and then….what? President Truman had what plan? Was the plan to simply unleash Big Mac and then await the flower-strewn victory parades?

    How did the Truman administration braintrust – seasoned hands all (ie – ‘the grownups’) fail to ‘connect the dots’ that crossing the 38th parallel and running all the way up to the Yalu would directly threaten China? How did they miss the repeated, ominous signals sent by the People’s Republic of China (and the Soviets, for that matter)? And finally, what earthly good came from Truman’s blundering into a ground war versus the Red Chinese Army on the Asian mainland, there to fight in a bloody stalemate for the next several years (only to end where they could have stopped three years – and 40,000 American lives – earlier)?

    It may not come in our lifetimes, but Harry Truman’s historical reputation is certainly open to a massive downward revision.

    (edit: as for civil rights in the Truman era – see the Rosenbergs [Ethel if not Julius])

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  25. del said on September 27, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    Well I figured that Brian must be a historian because going against Truman is going against popular wisdom nowadays. But Brian you have exposed me as a fraud. Don’t know nuthin’ bout no history (only history class I ever took was the history of the Vietnam war — learned about the Gulf of Tonkin, the Pentagon Papers, etc., enough to make me doubt the WMD silliness). Just figured Bush hasn’t done anything right in my estimation.

    Alex, my parents honored the family by giving me the first name of my grandfather. It’s a very unusual name whose prior history is unknown to me. Through the magic of The Google, however, I learned that it may come from a character in Flaubert novel called A Sentimental Education. I was surprised to see my name in print when I read it this summer. The character with my name was described as “Proud as a peacock, and stupid as a goose.” So, I’ve got that much goin’ for me . . .

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  26. BOSSY said on September 27, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Bossy is addicted to The War, too. Although: tedious, that. Not quite as textural as past Burns’ series. This battle, that battle…

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  27. Whitcomb said on September 27, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    Re “The War,” I agree that it’s not quite the caliber of the Civil War film but it does grow on you…..last night was largely about D-Day and the carnage on Omaha Beach. I never tire of seeing the old films of the Americans and Brits rolling into a jubilant Paris. Ernie Pyle is supposed to have said on that day, if you can’t get laid in Paris tonight you aren’t trying. Too bad that line wasn’t in “The War,” but I suppose it would have thrown the PBS censors into a tizzy.

    The elegy of this movie is “American Anthem,” a slight tune that achieves poignancy, even grandeur, in Norah Jones’ rendition.

    All in all, ”The War” is pretty good.

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  28. ashley said on September 28, 2007 at 1:07 am

    BTW, I have a new favorite phrase: “meta motherfuckers“.

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  29. Jolene said on September 28, 2007 at 2:05 am

    It’s much more than a billion dollars a month, Nanc. Bush has requested $190B for 2008, $3.65B dollars/week.

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  30. MarkH said on September 28, 2007 at 3:37 am

    Brian you now seem to belie your argument of Truman as ‘worst’, especially in you second and third graphs. As you will see in the attached wikipedia poll compilation entry, no one, historian, or otherwise would place Truman in the lower echelons as you do. And, after this much time since Truman’s term and all the subsequent examination, any likelihood of a “massive downward revision” is about gone.

    The Rosenbergs. More an example of the Red Scare issues of the time than civil rights. Although Truman refused clemency, so did Eisenhower in the first six months of his presidency, and the Supreme Court refused nine time to hear the case. Can’t lay all of that at Truman’s feet. Their guilt or innocence will be argued for a long time, as information continues to come out about the case. When you read about their children and what they have written since, it was certainly harrowing and sad for them, though.

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  31. Gene Gaines said on September 28, 2007 at 6:50 am

    Nancy, Stumbled across your blog. Thought you might like to know about our group, see We developed a fascination with meerkats through watching the Meerkat Manor TV series, have come to love the little beasties, now use that love to help meerkats in zoos that are suffering due to poor conditions. MEERKATS RULE!

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  32. alex said on September 28, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Brian, Truman’s no more deserving of condemnation regarding civil rights than any of his contemporaries. With one exception: Hubert Humphrey, who came on the scene in 1948 and had the unthinkable audacity to demand that we start living up to the promises of equality and freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.

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  33. brian stouder said on September 28, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Truman’s no more deserving of condemnation regarding civil rights than any of his contemporaries


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  34. peter said on September 28, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I hope I’m not late to the Truman bashing thread, but I don’t think he gets a very fair assessment from anyone.

    I don’t think you can really criticze him on his stance towards the USSR and Communists in government. He’s been blasted from both sides for being too easy on the Russians, and for overreacting to the so-called threat to Communists in the government.

    He didn’t have access to the increased surveillance available today (a lot of good that does you, huh W?), and evidence does point that the Soviets were trying to inflitrate the US Government.

    A lot of people lay blame on him for the A-bomb, but once again, that is a very defenable decision. As history shows, several critics at the time were mad that he didn’t drop more of them.

    I think a very valid criticism of Truman was the pervasive corruption and cronyism in government (although is it any worse than today? I don’t see how…). However, I do think that the amount and type would be similar if one of Truman’s contemporaries was at the helm; I think Harry’s drawback was that to him, that’s just business.

    I don’t think he’s one of the greats, but I think he’s above average, and certainly better than anything we’ve seen recently.

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  35. MarkH said on September 28, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Don’t know what happened to my link since last night, but let’s try again:

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  36. brian stouder said on September 28, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Peter – agreed, completely.

    Mark – regarding whether or not HST is susceptible to a downward historical revision, it is worth noting that he left office at W levels, and was the beneficiary of an impressive historical UPgrade 30-odd years ago.

    Maybe the truth is, as time passes we tend to either airbrush or deface the memories of our presidents. I think HST’s legacy is still in play, but maybe not. Think of President Grant – who in my opinion is one of the most under-rated of all our presidents. (Brooks Simpson has written several very interesting biographies of him) despite having served in very turbulent times, and who ran on the slogan “Let us have peace” – upon which he delivered unless you were an American Indian – (which should also heavily besmirch Andrew Jackson and his “removal” policies…but we digress!) – and in the case of American Indians, Grant put in place many programs (educational programs and the like) that turned out to be ahead of their time

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