Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Save the Auto Industry

All we hear on the news is the auto company bailout, which is now costing the taxpayer $17.4 billion. The media blame everything on blue collar workers but it seems to me the real problem is bad engineering and bad management, so I talked to my friend Henry about it. Henry’s last name is Furd and not Ford, but he is an automobile industry expert nonetheless and he thinks I am wrong.

“It’s been all over the news,” he said. “Auto company management is terrible but bad management is never the problem. The problem is that auto workers make too much money.” He folded his arms with an air of satisfaction.

That made no sense to me and I said so. “The problem is bad engineering. Who’s going to buy a car that is badly engineered?”

“A lot of people do.”

“Yes, they do, don’t they?” I said. He was right. I drive a Honda, but a lot of people buy American.

“If the union workers work for less, people will buy even more badly engineered cars and that will save the auto industry,” Henry said.

“No matter how bad they are?” I asked.

“No matter how bad they are,” said Henry.

“So the auto companies don’t have to build a decent car-“

“They just have to get factory workers to work cheap,” he said.

I did not quite follow the logic, but there is a lot of logic out there nowadays that I don’t quite follow. “So how cheap should they work?” I asked.

He took a deep breath, sat up straight and said: “They should work for free.”

Free? You mean they don’t even get their generous defined benefit pension plans that nobody gets except them?”

“That’s right. And they shouldn’t get their generous health care plans that nobody else gets but them, either. They have to work free. Gratis. Zippety-do-da. It’s the only way. They should not even get a pat on the head at the end of a long, boring, and soul destroying day.”

I was boggled by the thought. “And if they do that people will buy more cars no matter how bad they are?” I asked.

“That’s right. What is good for General Motors is good for the world. What could be better for General Motors than free labor?”

I had to admit, I couldn’t think of a thing.

“The auto workers simply have to work for free,” he said. “They can think of it as volunteer work.”

“Tightening lug nuts all day is volunteer work?”

“Nobody is forcing them to be there, are they?”

“No,” I replied.

“Then they are there voluntarily.”

I had to admit it was true. “So anyone who works voluntarily is a volunteer,” I said.

“That’s right. And volunteers don’t get paid.”

“That’s certainly true. If they get paid, they’re not volunteers.” I did not know what they were, but volunteers they are not. I could not argue with the logic.

“A volunteer assembling badly engineered cars all day every day for a badly managed company and doing it for free. It’s the solution to the whole crisis,” he said.

I was persuaded. “Well, I’ll be,” I said.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Scientists In Illinois Announce an Amazing Discovery

Scientists said today they think they may have found an honest man in, of all places, Chicago. “We’re studying the situation,” said one of the scientists on the team. “We’re still smarting from that Piltdown Man scam, so we don’t want to jump to any conclusions. But we think we may have found a real specimen.”

An honest man in Chicago. How breathtaking. The find is all the more astonishing in that it occurred in the metropolis of a state so corrupt even politicians in Nigeria look down on them. A state in which governor Blagojevich took over from a disgraced and jailed predecessor, only to find that the FBI was building a case to put him in jail as well. A state in which the state motto is: “We’re so crooked we have to screw our pants on in the morning.” They don’t call the area around Chicago “Crook” County for nothing. Local officials say the rumors cannot be true. If they ever found an honest man anywhere in Illinois they would either shoot him or extradite him to Texas.

Speaking of Blagojevich, the FBI said his behavior would “make Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave.” But I don’t think so. Lincoln, also from Illinois, was the most corrupt president ever. If the charges against him are proved, Blagojevich could probably be better compared to Abramoff than Abraham.

So is there really an honest man in Chicago? Scientists think there may be, but they refused to release his name, so we can’t be sure. “Honest men are vulnerable to fraud,” one of the scientists said. “We’re afraid he would be hassled by stock brokers and people trying to sell bridges if we said who he is.” The prof has a point. If he was contacted by a stockbroker who was trying to sell bridges on the side, he would not have a chance. Come on, you know he wouldn’t. He’d be toast.

More likely he would be asked to contribute to some Crook County scumbag’s political campaign. Or worse, urged to support the auto company bailout. Nothing could be worse than that. At least no one would try to steal his identity. Nobody would want to impersonate him. Being thought an honest man in Crook County would just be too embarrassing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's NOT Looking a Lot Like Christmas

It got rave reviews, but not the kind of raving its owners hoped for.

The Lapland New Forest Christmas attraction opened in Britain November 28, promising a “magical Christmas experience.” The site looked good on the internet, but the BBC web site has a photograph of a dreary looking place with old discarded tires lying on the ground.

"Hardly anything that was advertised was there,” complained one customer. “I knew it was bad when even the catering staff were moaning."

They had a lot to moan about. The attraction was based in a muddy field at the border of Dorset and Hampshire which has been used in the past for flea markets. The British call them “car boot sales” because people sell their crap out of the trunks of their cars.

To some visitors the magical Christmas experience might as well have been a car boot sale. A “glorified” car boot sale in the words of many of them, but hardly worth the admission cost.

Unfortunately there was no ice skating because the generator was broken and there was therefore no ice, despite the cold weather. The “Tunnel of Light” promised on the web site was a few Christmas trees sprayed with artificial snow, and the “nativity scene” was a badly painted billboard. According to one report, customers were pointing at it with their fingers and laughing at it. The “log cabins” visitors were promised turned out to be empty metal tool sheds someone painted green.

There were two reindeer who were kept out of sight of most visitors. They looked so unhappy someone called the RSPCA. As for the dogs, according to one visitor: “When huskies aren't running about they are kept chained up and 'go berserk' with pent up energy. They also turn the snow a fairly revolting yellow and brown.”

Oh, my. I think he means the dogs pooped all over the phony snow. So much for the animal attractions.

Santa’s Grotto was there, but Santa turned out to be a typical nicotine addict. When no one could find him after waiting in line four hours, some kid spied him behind Santa’s Grotto with a cigarette dangling on one lip. Customers could not take his picture without paying an additional £10 in addition to the £25 per person they paid to get in. To make matters worse, an irate customer tried to punch Santa out, and there were concerns the management might be punched out by irate contractors who said they had not been paid. Other customers punched out three of Santa's little elves and pushed one of them into a pram. A security guard, hired to keep order, resigned after someone punched him out.

He told the BBC the decision point for him occurred when a family removed a dying woman from a hospice to celebrate what will likely be her last Christmas. When they arrived at what some customers were saying was more like Crap-Land than Lapland, it was too much for him. He decided he was "ashamed to work there".

He should have stuck around a couple more days. When the county trading standards officers got 2,000 complaints about the place and disgruntled customers went on TV in droves to complain, business dried up. Soon Lapland turned into Flap-Land. All the animals were trucked out, employees were turned away and a sign that said “Closed” was hung at the entrance. According to one account a woman stood at the entrance shooing away visitors with the words “Santa is f**cking dead.” It is not clear whether she was an employee or not.

Despite that, one of the directors of the company told the press: “Many of our visitors did have a great day with us.”

Oh, really. One poster on the internet had a different view of it. Said she:

“‘Slapland’. ‘Crapland’. ‘Winter blunderland’. Oh, dear.”

The company offered refunds to disgruntled customers and directed them to their web site. But they had to move fast. The web site was swiftly shut down.

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