Gregory Rodriguez did his usual superb job this last Sunday - in fact I was meaning to comment on his last two weeks columns, too - until he got to his paragraph on Mike Davis. Below is his column until he made the fatal flaw:
Gregory Rodriguez: What's left of L.A.'s left?
L.A.'s once-reliable intellectual left has faltered even as its political cohorts consolidate local power.
November 19, 2006
IT WAS A LITTLE like Pravda running an expose on Lenin's sex life, or the Wall Street Journal editorializing on the fetishes of conservative economist Friedrich Hayek. Three weeks ago, the L.A. Weekly, once the most reliably left-wing publication in the city, published a cover story all but alleging that the late union chief Miguel Contreras died in a brothel in South L.A.
But the story itself wasn't as shocking as the fact that it was published at all in Los Angeles, let alone in the Weekly. Its publication was a sign not only that things have changed at the alternative paper but that this city's intellectual climate has shifted.
For most of the last generation, L.A.'s public intellectual life has been dominated by editors, thinkers and writers who ran the ideological gamut from A to B — from committed liberal to strident leftist. But in the last few years, as the Labor Left has consolidated its control over City Hall, it has simultaneously lost its firm grip on the small class of writers and thinkers who narrate L.A.'s civic life for the broader public.
Remember the early 1990s, after the city had self-destructed and a Republican mayor presided? Back then, Marxist apocalypticist Mike Davis ruled the intellectual roost and attained cult-like status. It's not that everyone agreed with Davis' dark millenarian vision, but few challenged him publicly in part because his zealous followers bullied dissenters. Anyone to the right of Friedrich Engels was labeled a fascist and risked personal attacks. The despair in the wake of the riots had made left-wing noir all the rage, and, as historian Kevin Starr once quipped, for a brief moment in L.A., pessimism passed for deep thought.
The mid-1990s brought a resurgence of a more traditional — and constructive — brand of intellectual leftism. Mostly through the voice of its former executive editor and chief political columnist, Harold Meyerson, the L.A. Weekly became the house organ for an emerging Latino-labor-left political coalition. The paper simultaneously narrated and championed a series of political milestones — the election of Antonio Villaraigosa and Gil Cedillo to the state Assembly in 1994 and 1998, respectively, and the elevation of Contreras to head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor in 1996.
And it wasn't alone. Although not as strident, The Times' editorial page was also sympathetic to the rise of labor — and was generally perceived as socially and fiscally liberal.
If the Davis crew endorsed cultish devotion to one individual, the rest of the intellectual left steamrolled dissent through its momentum and an aura of inevitability. The few naysaying opposition voices, such as Jill Stewart, then a columnist at the now defunct New Times L.A., and economics writer Joel Kotkin were written off as contemptuous right-wing renegades. And indeed, they were angry, indignant and downright screechy voices that tried to poke holes in the common wisdom. Yet only in L.A. could these disgruntled Democrats be considered right-wingers.
Then, depending on how you see it, in 1999 Davis was either run out of town by an overzealous fact-checker who questioned his credibility (especially in his book "City of Quartz") or he just naturally morphed into his rightful place as a global writer with a consequently waning influence in L.A.
Well, other than leaving out the name of the overzealous fact-checker - which was, moi - and the fact that I wasn't being overzealous - it was just that after seeing 1,000 lies and errors lying out in the open, ripe for the picking in Mike Davis' books - who couldn't resist looking for the less obvious ones - there is one major factual error Gregory makes.
While City of Quartz certainly has its share of fiction - starting with the opening scene that is logistically impossible to have happened - Ecology of Fear is the book I stated had far more errors and blatant lies (and not City of Quartz) - proven by the amazing numbers of footnotes that say the exact opposite of the 'facts' they supposedly footnoted.
And the main reason for that - in my opinion - is the long rumored claim that Davis' graduate students actually wrote much of City of Quartz for him might be true.
Now I first heard that story just before City of Quartz came out while I was doing research on other matters at the stacks in UCLA. The rumor was even - briefly - made public until the book became a hit and everyone suddenly shut up about it.
Then when I hit the stacks again at UCLA back in 1998, I ran into a number of his former colleagues – including some fellow Marxists - who even gave me the names of those who supposedly wrote some of the chapters. One chapter was ... supposedly... written by one person who when the book came out, was stunned when he saw that it was almost verbatim to what he had written, except for changes like where Davis added machine guns to LAPD helicopters.
But this is all second hand information and I can not prove any of it – nor am I all that interested in that aspect of Davis. The important thing is that he is more a writer of fiction than fact so how he got that way I find less important. However, how he would completely… make up… an entire interview in the LA WEEKLY with Lewis McAdams – as he did – I find absolutely… fascinating. How could he not realize he would be caught?
Still – there is one piece of information that makes me wonders how much other people might write his books. The dramatic changes in tone and style among books is a little suspicious, but very possible and it’s nowhere near a smoking gun. But there is possibly one reverberating revolver in Ecology of Fear.
In his chapter on Bunker Hill he gets an absolutely… staggering… number of simple historic facts wrong – and he then supports those facts with a footnote to an essay in an obscure collection of essays titled, OUT OF SITE, which I just happened have to have owned at the time. I then pulled it off the shelf and discovered that the writer he was quoting as his source was… Mike Davis.
Even stranger though, the facts – if not always the conclusions – in OUT OF SITE – were essentially – correct! So in an essay – written in a rather different voice than Ecology Of Fear, despite having Mike Davis’ name on them – the basic facts are right.
And yet in Ecology Of Fear – quoting an essay he wrote – the facts are… wrong.
Boggles the mind – doesn’t it?
So either he has a terrible memory – or someone other than Mike Davis must have written that essay.