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The Ties That Bind Us, North to South

July 01, 1993|BOB SIPCHEN

Ayear ago, 27 California counties voted in an advisory election to secede from the rest of the state.

The July National Geographic explores the northern third of the state (never mind that some natives think the North-South boundary should be as low as the Tehachapis) to see what got into these redwood country rebels.

David Yeadon's article is strongest when discussing the effects of a stagnant economy or the state's intricately linked environmental issues.

As one fisherman's wife tells him at Fort Bragg's Salmon Troller's Hall, those coveted fish spawn hundreds of miles up the Sacramento River, where farmers' irrigation practices determine their fate, or in coastal rivers where spawning grounds are affected by lumber cutting in the surrounding watersheds.

So, Yeadon reports, some out-of-work fishermen go to the loggers and farmers and talk to them, explaining how their vanishing ways of life are linked.

For the most part, though, the narrative and photos lean to the quaint, cute and idyllic. One representative town offers "shaggy friendliness" and a cool cafe where artists, poets, farmers and old-time hippies who call themselves "outlaws" groove on "a bacchanal of boogie and bonhomie."

Yeadon doesn't mention that one big cash crop in the region is pot or that many of these free souls support their aura of rugged individualism with big hits of food stamps and other aid, paid for by taxpayers in less bucolic parts of the state.

The narrow, fold-out, double-sided map of California and coastal California, would make a fine companion to tourists' road maps.

This is the season, after all, and while the south sucks the north's life-blood water supply with vampire-like abandon, the north waits with a vulture's impatience for their nature-hungry, down-state neighbors to arrive.

Speaking of travel, plenty of other 'zines offer tips this time of year:

* U.S. News & World Report's "1993 Great Vacation Drives" is a perfect-bound compendium of travelogues, including a California coast cruise from Sausalito to San Luis Obispo.

* The July Phoenix magazine offers its 1993 Getaway Guide. The state next door, it seems, is almost as diverse as this one.

* With stories by Russell Chatham, Tim Cahill, Jim Harrison and others, Esquire Sportsman's "Summer Fishing Action" is by far the best written of the bunch.

* And Family Fun's "Summer Weekend Special" covers the travel-with-kids beat with flair. The features on Best New Zoo and Aquarium Exhibits and Best New Amusement Park Rides (the color diagrams of two new roller coasters are pretty awesome) is almost enough to convert the childless.

Required Reading

* Next to syringes in soda cans, the Lakewood Spur Posse may be the most over-hyped story in recent memory. Still, Jennifer Allen's ugly portrait of these brat boys and the city that bred 'em in the new Rolling Stone is exceptionally insightful and worth reading.

Allen's apparent acceptance of the sexist equation that assumes male equals victimizer, woman equals victim weakens the narrative. And the story would have been better if she'd acknowledged that a culture that produces such thumpingly dumb males as these Lakewood/Southern California/U.S.A.-bred boys is likely to produce equally ignorant and repellent young women.

But half the crass picture is better than none.

* Diversity is a fact of life. Corporate America is apparently befuddled by this reality. So what's a modern boss man to do?

Call a consultant, of course. According to the New Republic's July 5 cover story "The Diversity Industry," teaching companies to cope with different cultures is a booming new multimillion-dollar business. For fees from $2,000 to $10,000 a day, alleged experts will run managers and other employees through a sort of anti-bigotry boot camp, Heather MacDonald writes. Then there are the "culture audits"--at $30,000 to $100,000 a shot--in which consulting firms determine what obstacles are impeding the progress of "non-traditional employees."

MacDonald, in short, thinks this new consulting boom is a costly scam that only exacerbates the problems minorities face in the workplace.

This piece blunders in failing to accept that the corporate status quo has some apologizing and adapting to do. Given the sorry state of many companies, it's hard to imagine how an effort to accept and learn from new, non-WASP employees could hurt.

But the essay is convincing in its argument that these imperious consulting firms are scantily clad at best. For example, MacDonald points out that while wisely scorning negative stereotypes, diversity gurus often warmly endorse generalizations they deem positive, as in one trainer's comment that blacks "react quickly to changing situations . . . as evidence(d) (by) the so-called black style of 'hot dogging' in playing basketball or running a football."

Diversity consultants concede "they are unable to document the advantages of diversity training . . . " MacDonald says.

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