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.