Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Can We Ever Believe Anything In The Mainstream Media?

Remember the recent story on how Americans are far, far more sick than the English?

Well - guess what? It's all false! First a recap of the original story:

If You've Got a Pulse, You're Sick


FOR a nation that spends more than any other on health, the United States certainly doesn't seem very healthy.

Many cancers are on the rise — prostate, breast, skin, thyroid. We're fatter than ever. As for diabetes, the number of people who say they have it has doubled in the last 10 years. Now a report says that the English — those smoking, candy-eating, fish-and-chips lovers — are actually healthier than Americans. And they spend half as much on health care.

The American-English comparison, published this month in The Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed data from people's own reports of their health and also used some objective measures: a blood test for diabetes, using hemoglobin A1c, and blood tests for proteins associated with heart disease risk, fibrinogen and C-reactive.

Their blunt conclusion?

"Americans are much sicker than the English," wrote the investigators, led by Dr. Michael Marmot of University College Medical School in London.

Then the New York Times' re-examination of these 'facts':

It's hard to make cross-cultural comparisons — the populations may not be representative. But it can be even worse when the question involves health. Sometimes, the data that are needed just can't be found because what one country measures, another guesses.

Take obesity, for example. Dr. Jeffrey M. Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, once wondered how much thinner Europeans actually were. So he looked for nationally representative data that included actual measures of weight, not just what some groups of people said they weighed. The United States has such data, but not Europe, with the exception of England.

"You can't get those data," Dr. Friedman said. "They don't exist."

There is, however, one statistic that scientists say is fairly solid: life expectancy at birth. And in comparing the figures for the United States and Britain, it turns out they are almost identical: 77.6 years in Britain; 77.1 in the United States.

Then the truth about heart disease:

As for heart disease, 50 percent more Americans than Britons say they have it, and more say they have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But when Dr. Marmot and his colleagues looked at actual measurements of blood pressure in British and American populations ages 40 to 70, there was no difference. And Americans had lower cholesterol than the British.

And cancer...

Here, men over 50 routinely get a blood test for prostate cancer, the P.S.A. test, when they have medical exams. It is so accepted that some doctors do not even tell the men they are doing the test. Here, free skin-screening clinics pop up every year and doctors advise people to have their skin examined regularly for cancer. Here, women get mammograms starting at age 40, and they get them every year thereafter. Here, even thyroid cancer screening is on the rise.

And while screening picks up cancers that would become deadly if left unnoticed, in many cases it also picks up tiny cancers that might have gone nowhere — people would have died with them, not of them. Autopsies have repeatedly found that people often have such cancers, but had they been found through screening and treated, people would have thought they'd been "cured."

That phenomenon, overdiagnosis, is a recognized consequence of increased screening, medical researchers say. A telltale sign is a cancer whose incidence rises but whose death rate does not budge.

The most recent example was with thyroid cancer. This month, in a paper in JAMA, Dr. Welch reported that the incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States had increased by 250 percent over the last two decades.

But the death rate from it remained the same.

Screening is much less common in Britain, Dr. Heath says. For example, she said, "we don't do P.S.A. screening for nonsymptomatic men, and we don't do skin screening."

So it turns out that the whole premise behind this report was... bogus. But now the readers of the New York Times know this. But what about the readers of the LA Times? Has our Times followed up on this new story?

Stay tuned...

Can We Ever Again Believe Anything In The LA Times?

First the link to the fraudulent story in the LA Times....


Then the links to the stories about the non-story....




To summarize the latest outrage, the most e-mailed story for many days in the LA Times states that at even $34 an hour, one landscaper is supposedly unable to find any Americans who will shovel dirt for her.

A Job Americans Won't Do, Even at $34 an Hour

Some landscape firms rebut claims that higher pay, not immigration reform, is needed.

By David Streitfeld Times Staff Writer May 18, 2006

Cyndi Smallwood is looking for a few strong men for her landscaping company. Guys with no fear of a hot sun, who can shovel dirt all day long. She'll pay as much as $34 an hour. She can't find them. Maybe potential employees don't know about her tiny Riverside firm. Maybe the problem is Southern California's solid economy and low unemployment rate. Or maybe manual labor is something that many Americans couldn't dream of doing.

"I'm baffled why more people do not apply," Smallwood says. President Bush is not. In his speech to the nation Monday night, he referred to "jobs Americans are not doing," echoing a point he has been making for years. To fill these spurned jobs and keep the economy humming, Bush says, the U.S. needs a guest worker program. Otherwise, the logic goes, fruit will rot in the fields, offices will overflow with trash and lawns and parks will revert to desert. Countering that view, opponents of a guest worker program say that Americans would find the jobs more enticing if there wasn't foreign competition to swell the labor pool and push wages down.

Smallwood is ambivalent on immigration reform, saying demands for immediate citizenship by those who entered the country illegally are offensive. But without a guest worker program, she says, her company probably will not survive. "To get workers, you have to steal them from other companies," the 54-year-old entrepreneur says. Even that has been unproductive recently. She'd ideally like to add eight employees by the end of the year to her current staff of 12.

Now as for what is wrong about this story - well - just about everything. It turns out that Ms. Smallwood is not some random landscaper who is 'ambivalent' about immigration; she is instead a dedicated activist working to change immigration laws, something the Times chooses to hide from its readers.

And buried, deep, deep into the story is the fact that the her being forced to pay as high of $34 a hour has nothing to do with market forces. It is instead mandated by the outdated labor laws of California that make it twice as expensive to hire workers to build and maintain our infrastructure. Also buried in the story is the inconvenient fact that unskilled workers - meaning those would be shoveling dirt - only get $14 an hour - and no mention is made of her having any trouble filling the $14 an hour jobs

As for the claim that other landscapers say that higher pay will not get them more workers - one of them starts his workers at $8.50 an hour and the only other person interviewed has trouble getting an experienced supervisor - and not a laborer - at $15 to $25 a hour - which is far different than not being able to find anyone to shovel dirt - as the first line of the story says - for $34 a hour.

But the big lie of the 'story' is that the supposedly 'ambivalent about immigration' landscaper is actually someone who has been spearheading a national effort to change immigration laws.

This is not a story that needs a correction. This is a serious breach of trust that requires a front page apology from the LA Times to its readers.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Can't Anyone Ever Get The Facts Of LA's History... Correct?

To begin with, a multiple article series on the rich of LA and their charities in last week’s Los Angeles Business Journal is superb, but only when it covers the rich... of today.

Alas, in covering the history of Los Angeles, no one in the media ever seems to get their facts straight. See below:

Los Angeles was founded in 1850 but its modern philanthropic history really began at the turn of the century with the establishment of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1901 by Henry Huntington, who ultimately strung together a 1,100-mile light-rail system that connected Los Angeles with outlying cities.

The system made Huntington one of the richest men in Southern California and he used his wealth to build a fantastic mansion, private library and museum in San Marino that was opened to the public in 1928.

Now the first mistake is, of course, stating that Los Angeles was founded in 1850... when it was actually founded in... 1781; a mere 69 years off the real date. The date of 1850 is when Los Angeles was incorporated as an American city.

Another part of what the article says about Henry Huntington is dead right, however. Even though Huntington did purchase the urban (as opposed to interurban PE) Los Angeles Railway in 1898, it was his 1901 establishment of the PE Railway (and his loss of getting the presidency of the Southern Pacific Railroad) that cemented the transfer of his business interests to Los Angeles. The PE interurban, though, was not what made him one of the wealthiest people in Southern California; the truth is the reverse.

A more accurate account would be:

Due to inheritances received by Henry E. Huntington (and his later, second, wife Arabella Huntington, who was Collis Huntington’s widow) of Southern Pacific stock and other holdings from his uncle, Collis P. Huntington in 1900, Henry Huntington arrived in Southern California already one of the region’s richest men and it was those inherited riches that enabled him to start the PE Railroad.

So, more accurately, Huntington’s pre-existing riches created the PE and not the other way around. However, due to the cash flow problems of the increasingly unprofitable PE interurban, Huntington sold his all his holdings in it only eight years later in 1910.

What money Huntington made in Southern California was largely from his real estate holdings (which, granted, greatly benefited from his development of the PE Railroad, even though it usually lost money itself) and from agriculture, the generation of electric power and the development of gas fields as well as from the urban Los Angles Railroad.

Additionally, I question whether Huntington really started LA’s modern philanthropic history.

Beginning in the 1850’s, there was a constant founding of various hospitals and universities such as the originally Methodist USC founded in 1880 by Protestants, Catholics and Jews, and the efforts of the French and the German and Jewish communities in charities of their own which continued into the 20th Century.

And even if one was to look at modern charity as starting in the early 1900’s - Huntington was not the sole pioneer of that era.

To take just two slightly earlier examples, there is the now virtually forgotten Dr. Norman Bridge who donated millions of turn of the century dollars into institutions as varied as the Southwest Museum and the then Throop University which was the precursor to today’s Cal Tech - and there is also the more well known William Andrews Clark, Jr.

Not only did Clark also found a major library - which he unwisely donated to UCLA - who later committed the unforgivable act of cultural vandalism by destroying his historic house for a... parking lot in the 1970’s - but Clark also founded the LA Philharmonic and single-handedly supported it from 1919 until his death in 1934.

Plus he also helped support the Hollywood Bowl during it’s early years and he was one of the two people to donate the money to purchase the site for the Pilgrimage Playhouse – which is now the John Anson Ford Theater, to name just a few of his many local philanthropic efforts.

Arguably, the breath of his cultural contributions to Los Angeles - which publicly begin before Huntington made his donation - is far more typical of modern philanthropy than Huntington’s which might make Clark more of a pioneer to the modern age than Huntington. At the very least though, he and many others, did what Huntington at the same time or even earlier.

My larger point, though, is that this is a city that does not at all know its history. Whether it’s the date LA was founded – or the history of its pioneers, no one ever seems to get the stories… straight.

And that is just one reason why Los Angeles - the only city of any size in this country without a museum dedicated to a history of itself - needs to rectify that lack... now.

So, if anyone might be interested in helping get such an institution started - contact me at bradywestwater@gmail.com

Sunday, May 14, 2006

LA Times Misplaces Hollywood Sign!


First, the good news, though. The above linked story is an excellent history of the famed Union 76 orange ball - and it's current demise at the hands of the forces of evil. Read it. It's good.

However - and as is all too often with the LA Times - there always seems to have to be a however appended... there is this clinker in the middle of the piece:

In 1923, for instance, an L.A. Packard dealership is believed to have become the first U.S. business to use a neon sign. That same year, a sign reading "HOLLYWOODLAND" - later shortened - was erected to advertise a new development in the hills above downtown.

Hills above Downtown?

Uh - the only thing below the hills of the Hollywood sign is... drumroll please... Hollywood!

Well, OK, you get a bit further south and you hit.. Hancock Park and then... Koreatown. But downtown? Never. In fact the only hills that are above downtown are those of Elysian Park.

Now I understand that writer Scott Gold is still a newcomer to our fair city - so how about some of his colleagues chipping in and buying him a Thomas Guide.

It's the least you can do.

Monday, May 08, 2006

LA Times Circulation Continues To Free Fall!

But both the New York Times AND the Chicago Tribune gain readers:


FAS-FAX Numbers Show More Circ Declines
For the six-month period ending March 2006 compared to the same period a year ago, circulation at newspapers -- particularly those in major cities -- has continued to drop. - May 08, 2006 8:10 AM ET

Daily circulation at the Los Angeles Times dropped about 5.4% to 851,832. Sunday proved better for the paper, down 1.8%.

Now since the LA TImes circulation area continues to gain in population, one would think there would be a point at which the circulation would start to rise and not drop - or that at least the rate of fall would decrease.

But no.

Once again, not only did LA Times lose readers but it lost more of them and at a faster rate than any of the other ten largest papers in the country.

The problem is that despite marked improvements in parts of the paper - train wrecks like the new WEST Magazine are still all too common.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

LA Conservancy's Ken Bernstein To Head Historic Resources For LA Planning Department!

One of new city planning Gail Goldberg's first acts is to create a long needed position - and to then fill it with the right person! From LAOBSERVED:


Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy, moves to the city planning department as its first director of historic resources. (Press release)

This is great news for the city, but it also leaves two major pairs of shoes to fill at the Conservancy; Trudi Sandmeier's promotion to county wide educational director already Broadway Program slot open - and now the Conservancy also needs to find a new director of historic preservation issues.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

LA Times Writer Scott Gold Slurs East LA, Flunks Geo 101, Endorses A Political Candidate - And Advocates The Return Of The Monarchy!


In a rather unusual article, recently arrived in LA reporter Scott Gold goes for some rather unfortunate and inaccurate cliches when describing LA neighborhoods. To show the dangers of style replacing and subverting substance, I will deconstruct the first part of the article:

Family Ties May Falter in Fierce Race

The granddaughter of Cesar Chavez faces tough competition for the 45th Assembly District seat.

By Scott Gold Times Staff Writer April 29, 2006

To the east, in Lincoln Heights and City Terrace, the neighbors have been known to glare if your dog isn't vicious enough to scare off the graffiti taggers, and there are so few parks that joggers run through the cemeteries.

To begin with - there are no cemeteries in either Lincoln Heights or City Terrace, much less cemeteries that joggers use. There is not even a single major cemetery anywhere in the eastside of the 45th District. The jogging cemeteries Gold is describing undoubtedly are from an article in the morgue at the LA Times describing the cemeteries in Boyle Heights and points east.

As for his statement that ' neighbors have been known to glare at your if you dog is not vicious enough' - I'll believe that when I meet his source.

To the west, past downtown Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium, pricey lofts are pushing out immigrants, but you can still find Soujouk sausage in Little Armenia and Kare-Kare stew in Historic Filipinotown.

There are a number of factors that are pushing out immigrants - but it is not pricey lofts. Almost all of the lofts in the area are conversions of vacant office buildings or built on vacant land or are replacing small older buildings. And there are only a small handful of those projects - far fewer than the large numbers of affordable housing units being built in that area, many of which house immigrants.

The two main factors in driving lower income people out are the School District's building binge and the rising prices due to the shortage of new housing units making once affordable housing... unaffordable. Ironically, it is the lack of enough new pricey units that has driven up the prices in older neighborhoods.

The handful of new lofts have had almost no impact in the changing demographics of the area - but it sounds good and sure beats having to do any actual research.

Home to 400,000 people, diverse even by the standards of Los Angeles, the 45th Assembly District has come to exemplify the city. Winning an election here requires a delicate dance across the city's east-west divide, one that appeals to the hipsters of Hollywood, the opulence atop Mt. Washington and the debilitating poverty of East L.A.

Ignoring the improbability that the 45th AD exemplifies LA, virtually everything else that follows demonstrates a scary lack of knowledge of the local turf.

First, the city's east-west divide is not between Mt. Washington or East LA or Hollywood, as anyone who knows LA... knows. The entire district is decidedly eastside in culture - both Anglo and Latino. So while there are very real differences among the neighborhoods he mentions - they are not the differences of the east-west divide of the LA.

Second, there is Gold's use the word 'opulence' to describe the top of Mt. Washington. This means one of two things. Either he has never set foot on the top of Mt. Washington - or he is unfamiliar with the meaning of the word.

My guess?

Both are true!

Worse yet, is his dismissal of East LA as a place of 'debilitating poverty'. First many of the neighborhoods on the east side of the district are stable, middle class communities. And even the poorest parts of the district are filled with life and activity and hope - light years removed from the kind of poverty one finds in some older cities.

But the real problems with the story is that this 'news story', and it is not labeled as 'analysis' or 'commentary', is such a puff piece it could have been written by Chavez's own campaign consultant.

Her opponents are described as being "anointed", "handpicked" and "gilded" by the establishment while she is "unusually attuned to the 45th District". But the ultimate bias is when Gold links his story to her website - and none of the other candidate's websites. And then there is the question of her true qualifications for the job, in Gold's opinion.

She would seem uniquely prepared, if not by virtue of her politics - she has fought for workers rights, gay rights and to ban foie gras - then for her pedigree. Christine Chavez, as her campaign literature makes abundantly clear, is the granddaughter of labor and civil rights leader Cesar E. Chavez.

Yes, Gold baldly states that she would seem to be uniquely prepared to hold the 45th AD simply because she is the granddaughter of Cesar E. Chavez! As hard as it is to imagine anyone writing that - how many editors at the LA Times approved this call for the reinstatement of hereditary titles?

Lastly - there is the 800 pound Gorilla that is sitting in the room, but which the reporter seems unable to find. The LA Times recently ran a major series - which added to other exposes of the past few years - claiming that the United Farm Worker's Union even when Caesar Chavez was still alive, began to drift from its original principles and that in recent years it has become corrupt and ineffective. The article also said one of the main purposes of the union now seemed to be employing members of the Chavez family while the farm workers' conditions had improved little.

Somehow, one would think.... that in an article about a relative of Chavez - who is employed by the UFA and who is running for office - that this subject would be at least mentioned in the paper that exposed the scandal.

But.... no.

Not a word.

Has Anyone At The LA Times Ever Actually WALKED In Downtown Los Angeles?


The... bizarre... line is in the second graph:

Immigration Dissent Sweeps L.A. and the Nation

By Michael Muskal, Times Staff Writer

4:06 PM PDT, May 1, 2006

More than 300,000 undocumented workers and their supporters demonstrated today in Los Angeles and flexed their political and economic muscles in support of an overhaul of national immigration policy.The demonstration was smaller than the weekend rally that attracted half of a million people to City Hall in March. But tens of thousands more demonstrated in the city's neighboring areas and a protest now underway along Wilshire Boulevard was drawing thousands more....

... Those congregating in front of City Hall had marched blocks through downtown, where seldom is anyone seen walking.

Excuse me???

The march to City Hall started at Olympic and Broadway and marched the length of Broadway until it reached City Hall. So this writer is saying they marched down the heart of Broadway, where - he claims - no one is ever walking.

Now to say that people are seldom seeen walking in any part of downtown is clearly not true - but to state that seldom is anyone seen walking along Broadway - one of the most pedestrian packed streets in the entire city - is something so mind-staggeringly wrong ... it could only be found written in the Los Angeles Times.