Brady Westwater on Wed, 25 Nov 1998 01:32:18 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Mike Davis Hoax Expose 2/2

-----------beginning of part 2 ------------

As for Davis's claim that Northridge quake was more disastrous than the
next four disasters, that claim came from a chart which listed the costs of
only ONE SINGLE government program which was only a small fraction of each
disaster's costs. It has nothing to do with the total costs of each
disaster as he falsely represents it to do.

And as for the statement that more Americans were affected by the
Northridge quake than any previous disaster.... when it comes to floods
which shut down the much of the Midwest, hurricanes which cut across the
South, snow storms which shut down the whole Midwest and much of the East
Coast.....when compared with the number of people affected by those
disasters, Northridge is barely a footnote.

Now all of those correct facts can be gathered with a few phone calls in an
hour or two to the appropriate agencies. Interestingly, though, not one of
Mr. Davis's sources for his 'damage' claims actually comes from a direct
source. Instead he picks and chooses from newspaper articles over a several
year period. For if he had actually checked the original sources and had
gotten the truth, he wouldn't have a book to sell.

As for the final paragraph of the book, among it's several falsehoods, is
the whopper that the fires from the Rodney King riot would - when seen from
space - be comparable to the huge fires that consumed the Indonesian
forests in 1997. In reality, the LA fires were a mere pinpoint on the globe
compared to not only the Indonesian fires, but many other fires in recent
times including, but far from limited to those in Florida, Mexico and

For 'proof', Davis mentions an 85 square kilometer image which enclosed the
LA fire area at it's height being picked up by satellites; the fire areas
in Indonesia 1997 were spread over a 1000 by 3000 mile area with 3,000,000
square miles of shifting smoke filled with fire hot spots (the entire city
of LA in comparison is only 450 square miles); but that was only the
central core area of the beast; the smoke area spread though out all of
Southeast Asia, tens of millions of square miles, the size of dozens of
states of California. The LA riots fires could have been dropped dozens of
times into the Indonesian fires without even being noticed from outer
space; the two events were in not in any way comparable.

So Mike Davis both begins and ends his fairy tale with the tallest of tall
tales. At least, if nothing else, he does have one virtue as a writer; he
is consistent; consistently incapable of finding the truth.

These falsehoods do help to show how he is seemingly utterly unable of
being truthful even in his opening and closing paragraphs (which you would
think he would realize would come under greater scrutiny than other parts
of the text).

It's hard to decide upon which chapter in the book is the silliest, but
'Maneaters of the Sierra Madre' has to be one of the top contenders. His
whole premise here is that LA is uniquely threatened by the wild animals on
every side. He starts off with beachcombers finding snakes on the beach
after heavy rains. Well, if you read the accounts about storms in Texas,
Louisiana, Florida etc. this year, in each of those states snakes are
washed down to the beach after storms. Any place in the world where there
are snakes, rivers and rain - the exact same thing happens.

But the really silly season begins with his claims that LA's population is
in a panic due to the threat of man eating coyotes and mountain lions. The
only problem is that in over 200 years of history there have been ZERO
people killed much less eaten by either a coyote or a mountain lion in the
entire city of Los Angeles. Even when one takes in the entire Southern half
of the state - in over 200 years - there is exactly ONE death from each
animal in 200 years. This warrants a chapter called 'Maneaters of the
Sierra Madre'?

When one considers that over a 100 people EVERY YEAR are killed by having
their cars hit deer - with numerous fatalities every single year in places
like New York and Chicago, that alligators have killed far more people in
Florida in a single year than all coyote, and mountain lion attacks in the
entire state in 200 years..... it's obvious that Davis has gone over the
edge from Fantasy Land into Paranoia Land. The entire chapter makes
absolutely no sense as - even using Davis's own figures - LA probably has
far fewer wildlife related deaths than most cities.

To give just one example of how bizarre his rantings can get, he even
breathlessly states that the LA will be the very first major city in the
Northern Hemisphere to experience the attack of the killer bees.

Well, and remember here that Davis is by education in part a geographer,
Mexico City and most major cities in Mexico have had killer bees for years
and the last time I checked, Mexico City - which is far larger than Los
Angeles - was in the Northern Hemisphere - as is every other major city in
Mexico and Central America.

As are Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans, St. Louis, San
Diego and many other major cities which either already have or are about to
get the killer bees. As is so often, what Davis says is the exact opposite,
180 degrees of the truth. LA may actually be one of the last major Northern
Hemisphere cities in their range to experience killer bees, not the first.

Maybe we should all chip in and buy little Mikey an atlas.

But that chapter only reinforces the total bankruptcy of Davis's thesis in
his book. When it comes to ecological disasters, LA actually has had far
fewer deaths and less costly damages than most of the rest of the county (a
handful of Mid-Western heat waves alone dwarf every LA disaster put
together - and that's not counting when the New Madrid Fault reduces every
city from Chicago to New Orleans to rubble due to their faulty building

Finally, there's his other thesis that what deaths and damages there are in
LA are due solely to willful ignoring of the environment.

Unfortunately for any one who wants to try and dispute Davis's assertion,
he barely even attempts to prove his claim (not that any of the reviewers
have noticed this); we are supposed to take it as a given since it has come
from the master's lips.

The reason, of course, he can't prove it is that his whole thesis is simply

Earthquakes are going to strike almost anywhere in the country in the long
run and in the greater LA area in the short run. Anywhere you build in
California there is a threat of quakes and after every quake, the building
codes are strengthened to prevent future loss of life and property.

As for the idea that the city has created fire and wildlife danger by
reckless building into the wilderness... well, everywhere outside of the
original pueblo was wilderness. Anywhere the city expanded, it bordered
wilderness where there would be interaction with fire and wildlife.

The Hollywood Hills used to have numerous fires, but once the area
developed, the frequency of fires stopped (not that fires can ever be
totally stopped, of course). The same pattern of numerous fires, then
almost no fires happened in the Santa Monica Mountains in West LA. The fire
areas just keep moving out as the city has expanded.

Even in areas such as Malibu where most of the land will remain wild, with
the replacement of old wood shake roofed houses with fire resistant
structures, better fire truck access, brush clearance and the installation
of up to date water lines, the fire damages will greatly decrease over the

The big fire of 1993 happened because the old water lines were inadequate
and the area had not burned since the 1930's leaving fifty years of brush
adjacent to the oldest area of pre-fire code houses left in Malibu. That
kind of fire can never happen again as the homes now meet present fire
codes and the water lines have been upgraded.

The next fire a few years after that - even though it covered almost as
large an area in acreage within Malibu proper - did not destroy a single
house within the Malibu City limits - and only burned one home in the
Malibu Post Office area, and that was one of the oldest homes in the area.

Moving on to another chapter (and another page) of ECOLOGY, Davis claims
that there has been a massive media conspiracy which has prevented people
from learning that Los Angeles is the tornado capitol of the Western United
States. He claims the LA Times has essentially banned the use of the word
tornado in articles about LA, but in randomly checking twelve articles from
his footnotes, eleven of them used the word tornado. For our further fact
checking, let's look at page 157.

He starts off by claiming that 60 major structures have been 'wrecked' by
twisters in Southern California (I might add that there are at least four -
if not five - different geographic definitions of LA, Southern California
etc. he uses in this chapter which make it almost impossible to make
accurate comparisons). Among the wrecked buildings he claims are a movie
studio, two airports, a municipal wharf etc.

He later describes how one tornado destroyed the New York false front
street at Universal studios; that 1% of Universal studios - a false fronted
stage set being damaged - is what he called the 'wrecked' motion picture
studio only pages before. The other 'wrecked' major buildings are - for the
most part - similar exaggerations. He then claims that 1440 homes and small
businesses have been either been destroyed or seriously damaged; broken
windows and some roof damage actually account for most of that number. (One
I know for certain first hand as it was my former next door neighbors'
house cited).

He then, after earlier citing ground breaking research articles by Warren
Blier & Karen Batten and by Hales, takes their data and starts spinning
facts faster than any tornado LA has ever seen.

He starts by claiming that tornadoes occur nearly ten times more frequently
in the South Coast Area (Roughly, Mexican border to Ventura and east to San
Bernardino and Riverside Counties) than in the rest of California, But the
study he cites also says what while there were 99 tornadoes in the South
Coast area, in the state of California there were a total of a total of 242
tornadoes for the same period (a figure he neglects to mention, of course).

By his statement and using the studies he cites, there should have been
over a 1,000 tornadoes in the South Coast.

He then states that Blier and Batten claim that the South Coast - using a
particularly inventive set of statistics - has more tornadoes than
Oklahoma. In their article, they quickly modify that by stating that those
statistics are really kind of a parlor trick in that not only are the
'tornadoes' in LA a far cry from Oklahoma twisters, but, even more
importantly the numbers they come from two very different data banks. In
other words, the Oklahoma count comes from one source while their LA
figures were put together from many sources to arrive at a far high total
than the standard study showed for the LA area. That major point is
needless to say, omitted from the book. Too inconvenient.

Davis then makes the claim that Metropolitan LA is hit by tornadoes at a
far higher rather rate than any other urban area - with nearly twice as
many tornadoes as Oklahoma City. To achieve that 'fact' Davis first takes
the low figure for Oklahoma - and Blier and Batten show that in Iowa the
double checking of those numbers found 300% more tornadoes than the
official report - and then, rather than using the LA numbers from that
source, he cites totally non-comparable disproportionately high LA or South
Coast figures, though it is hard to tell exactly where those figures
actually come from.

Even on this single page, there are even more false statements, but with so
many hundreds to choose from..... let's keep moving.

In another chapter, he claims that the Westlake area of LA has the highest
urban burn rate of any city in the country. I might add that this
neighborhood while described as a tenement district in this book during the
1950's, in OUT OF SITE, it is described as a fashionable district in the
1960's 'threatened' by the demolition of slum housing on Bunker Hill.

While not in any way minimizing the seriousness of the city's neglect in
enforcing fire codes in older buildings, the area's burn rate pales when
compared with New York, Detroit, Chicago or most other cities. Both the
Bronx and many areas of Detroit have had more apartment buildings destroyed
by fire in one week - if not one night - than have happened in his
self-described 'burned over district' in an entire year.

Backing his claim that the Westlake area is the urban fire capital of the
entire country is a footnote which says that this 'statistic' was given him
(presumably verbally) by an unnamed staff member of a local politician.
This politician, I might add, whom Davis portrayed as battling the
exploiters in his district was - at that very time - buying cocaine from
drug dealers operating right around the corner from school yards.

Well, as long as it's from a reliable source.

Since this story was so easy to disprove, I almost didn't pull up the exact
fire records, but I was really shocked when I finally did. Out of 15
council districts in the city in 1993 - the year when Davis called this
area the urban fire capital of the entire country, the 1st council district
had the fewest structure fires of ANY of the 15 council districts.

Let's see... Davis said the area had the highest fire rate in the entire
country and yet the facts show it has the lowest fire rate in the entire
city of LA. What's wrong with this picture?

Another of the major themes of recent LA history Davis tries to tackle in
QUARTZ was - to paraphrase Davis - the political and cultural clashes
between the downtown, largely WASP power structure and the growing, largely
Jewish Westside elite in the 1950's and 60's, resulting in the location of
the LA County Museum of Art in the Jewish Hancock Park area.

The facts in that last sentence, courtesy of Mike Davis, demonstrate just
how mystified Davis is when he tries to parse this - or any other subject
regarding the inner workings of Los Angeles.

To know Hancock Park and it's denizens it to know the story of the Los
Angeles downtown establishment in the twentieth century. Many of them were
born there, raised there, lived there, went to it's schools and died there.

It is not uncommon for three or four generations of the same family to
still reside in Hancock Park or its sister neighborhoods of Windsor Square
and Fremont Park Place.

For Mike Davis to confuse the neighborhood of Hancock Park with the Fairfax
District - LA's traditional Jewish community - is inconceivable to anyone
with a first hand knowledge of the city.

To make certain this was not a one time lapse, I checked the index to see
the other references to Hancock Park only to find there were no references
to the power center of the city he is writing about.

Again, to use a New York analogy, this is as if not only not knowing the
difference between the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side, but not
even knowing of the existence of the Upper East Side.

But it gets even better as Davis finally shifts into third gear..

His scenario of the Jewish Westside Howard Ahmanson versus the Gentile
downtown Chandlers et al makes for good street theater, except there is (as
usual) one minor problem; Howard Ahmanson lived virtually his entire
business life within the waspy confines of Hancock Park - silver spoon by
silver spoon with the rest of the downtown establishment of which he was
one of it's leaders. His savings and loan - Homes Savings - was long
headquartered in downtown Los Angeles and even when it later moved - it was
to the Mid-Wilshire District which is the further most East you can be in
LA without being downtown.

Virtually all his major charities were downtown oriented as were most of
his business activities.

Oh, there's also one other minor point. Howard Ahmanson - Mike Davis'
anointed leader of the Westside Jewish community - was not only not a
Westsider, he also wasn't Jewish. Despite Mike Davis's reference to him as
being "despised... for his Jewishness", he was a white bread Methodist from

To mention just a few of the clues anyone actually residing in rather than
visiting LA would have picked up, Ahmanson's son at the time of the writing
of the book was already supporting the Christian right wing of the
Republican Party, each year the Ahmanson Foundation makes a Christmas gift
to the people of LA, he was a member of the Ur-Wasp Wilshire Country Club
and a quick look through the Ahmanson gifts hanging in the County museum
will find numerous representations of Christianity.

Returning to ECOLOGY, and now checking out page 376, Davis starts by
talking about the millions of square feet of vacant 1950's office space
left vacant in the Wilshire starting in the 1970's. OK, the only problem is
that almost all the modernist space on mid-Wilshire (with a very few
exceptions such as the Tishman buildings) was built in the 1960's and the
1970's. Not a huge error, but still any one who has any kind of
relationship with the physical structure of the city shouldn't be making
mistakes like that.

Warming up, Davis next repeats the urban myth - which he may have even
originated - that Bullock's Wilshire had $10,000,000 in damage from the
Rodney King rioters and that the store then promptly closed for good.

Well, there was zero, repeat zero structural damage to the store during the
riots, much less ten million dollars worth. A lot of windows and glass
display cases were broken and a lot of merchandise was stolen, but the
store was open again within the week. It did finally close a year later,
but only after the parent store Macy's went into bankruptcy and the store
was closed along with many other stores from coast to coast, none of which
had been in the riots.

He then stated that Hancock Park houses had dropped in value by $200,000 in
less than a year and that the Wilshire Corridor became a unique category in
urban history, the modern high rise ghost town.

None of this was true. Housing prices had dropped due to the recession
before the riots and the Wilshire Corridor is well over 70% occupied,
hardly a ghost town. And as for being a unique urban ghost town, it pales
in comparison with the see through skyscrapers of Houston, Dallas and New
York at the end of the last two recessions.

He also distorts the truth by listing the buildings on Mid-Wilshire which
have closed due to the loss of their institutions, but then neglecting to
mention their new uses. Bullock's Wilshire is now a law school, another
building is low income housing, the historic Los Altos apartment has been
restored, the Brown Derby is still a restaurant and that Wilshire is
turning into a shopping district again.

Since Davis apparently doesn't know either the past or the present of Los
Angeles, how about his record as a prognosticator of the future? After all,
he did 'predict' the Rodney King Riots. Well, it is hard to image anyone
'predicting' bizarre events which led up to the riots, the possibility of
such an event was certainly anticipated in his first book.

As for almost every other prognostication he's made before or since, he's
batting a perfect zero.

His major theme in CITY QUARTZ (which was actually less a book than a
series of somewhat related essays converging upon one theme - paranoia)
again, was that the public spaces of Los Angeles are being shut down and
replaced by gate guarded, privately controlled complexes which will shortly
replace public street life in Los Angeles.

He could not have been more wrong. Since his book came out pedestrian
street life in public spaces has grown more than any period in LA's
history. Virtually every part of the city is developing walking streets
while some of the hotter newer places like Old Town Pasadena and 3rd Street
Santa Monica even becoming internationally known.

They have been joined by the comeback of streets like Hollywood Boulevard
and Westwood Boulevard not to mention the streets like the Sunset Strip,
Melrose, Hillhurst, Larchmont, Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood,
and too many others to mention. Then there are public places like the
Venice Board Walk, the many piers and beaches and the beach front bike
trails. No other city in the country has the wide variety of public spaces
that LA has developed.

One of Davis's wackier predictions was that the building of City Walk
shopping/dining/entertainment mall in Universal City would destroy the
ability of the real Hollywood to recover; even the building of City Walk in
Florida is claimed to have depressed property values on Hollywood
Boulevard! How having priceless free publicity for Hollywood Boulevard in -
3000 miles away - Orlando Florida reduced the values of retail property and
theaters on Hollywood Boulevard is mercifully not explained.

Instead of Davis's predicted fate, right now Hollywood has more diverse
development projects ready to go than any other part of the city. From one
end to the other, new buildings, stores and theaters are breaking ground.
Historic landmarks are being restored, old houses renovated, new housing is
being built, new restaurants opening and new hotels are planned. Evidently,
this was beginning to worry Davis so he stuck a late footnote into the book
about how one of the many new projects in Hollywood was going to be like
Rodeo Drive... which I guess disqualifies it from being considered as part
of the Hollywood comeback.

Even W Magazine has portrayed the new Hollywood Hills are being the 'hip'
place for young people in the Industry to live. From glitzy shopping to
multiplying small theaters to art galleries to sidewalk dining to funky
loft conversions, Hollywood is on the verge of becoming one of the most
coolest and most diverse places in town again.

Probably Davis's biggest miss is his contention that crime was about to
totally overwhelm the city turning it into one giant armed camp.
BLADERUNNER was his immediate prediction for the city; instead the future
is looking a lot more like Andy Hardy Goes to the Big City. Crime has
declined in record numbers, gun sales are plummeting to record lows (while
he predicted the exact opposite), the streets are safer than they have been
in decades, murders and violent gang activity are both drastically down and
almost all types of crime is still dropping.

So how does Davis deal with these inconvenient facts (and there are few
things Davis finds more inconvenient than facts) in his new book?

He ignores them.

Now that's Chutzpah.

In 484 heavily footnoted pages - with the subject of fear in the title of
the book yet - he can't find even room for one little sentence to mention
that the crime rate in the City of LA has plummeted downward since the
writing of the City of Quartz.

The single biggest change in the city since his previous book and he simply
refuses to even acknowledge it's existence for one simple reason; to
acknowledge it would disprove everything he has to say.

It is now time to answer the riddle at the top of the piece... what two
things does Mike Davis NOT have in common with the most notorious literary
hoaxers of our time. First of all, while each of those individuals lost
their jobs after their untruths were revealed (well, with one exception, so
far), Mr. Davis has gotten away unscathed - and he will continue to do so.
Not only that, but he has walked off with a McArthur Genius Grant, has had
two best seller books, become a Getty Fellow, been nominationed and won for
literary awards, has world wide lecturing commitments and various teaching
gigs at universities throughout the country.

The second thing he does not have in common with the others on the list is
that they have had short or long illustrious careers which were compromised
or cut short by the discovery that at one time or another they comprised
their principles and falsified some information. Mr. Davis's entire career
in contrast has been based upon a self-created myth of his being a native
son of Los Angeles (and something more than a part time visitor for much of
his life) and by two books of passably written prose (coating some highly
unlikely Marxist dialectics) about a fictional City Of Quartz of his own
invention supported only by myths, untruths and inaccuracies masquerading
as scholarship.

And that is his true genius.

While the other writers before him made the mistake of serving only one
master who could dismiss them or made the mistake of writing about subjects
other people actually know something about, by creating a fictional city
whose existence has met so many people's emotional needs, Davis has managed
to get himself and his creation validated by major publishers, colleges he
has taught or lectured at, mainstream and specialized journals, virtually
every major newspaper in the country and a number of major foundations. And
they have all proclaimed him the golden boy of LA, the native son who is
the ultimate authority on the city. And they now all have too much invested
in him to allow that image to be destroyed.

If he walked naked down Wilshire Boulevard (assuming he could find it),
they would still gasp in awe at his robes.

Mike Davis has become the literary equivalent of the big Japanese bank too
huge to be allowed to fail. He can't be allowed to falter for fear of what
else he might bring down; to expose his sins of scholarship would be to
expose their sins.

There is a time when a lie can become too big to ever be corrected and Mike
Davis's lie about the City of Quartz has become one of those truths. There
are now too many people with too many reasons to allow the 'real' truth to
ever come out.

As for Mike Davis as the WIZARD OF OZ, it is appropriate that another small
town immigrant to LA, Frank Baum (whom Davis alludes to in his writing),
created Davis's literary equivalent almost a hundred years ago. For like
the impotent Wizard hiding behind the curtain in the mythic Emerald City,
our fair haired boy has constructed an equally illusory City of Quartz out
of nothing more than smoke, mirrors and footnotes.

And it is in that way, that Mike Davis on his own terms - in his own way -
has finally become a native Angelino. The poor kid from the sticks who
comes to the big city and reinvents himself... Mike Davis LA Native

He is now finally truly a citizen of Los Angeles. For like so many others
before him, by rejecting his past he has reinvented himself. Out of nothing
he has created the latest, but not last myth in the City of the Angels.

Brady Westwater
23661 PCH Malibu
CA 90265
310-456-1747 x 351
310-456-8857 11/02/98


Les faits sont faits. 

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