If ever I need something really stupid from the media, I have two sources that I can consistently count on to come through: the Arab News and the Boston Globe. And today, the Globe came through not once, but twice.
First up, we have Derrick Jackson. Mr. Jackson today takes Toyota to task for committing a grave, cardinal, maybe even a mortal sin: offering its customers what they want.
You see, Toyota, the makers of the blessed Prius, also offers a full-sized SUV, the Sequoia. And the Sequoia is nearly as big as the tree it is named after. It gets horrid gas mileage — about 14 MPG city and highway.
As Jackson points out, the vast majority of Sequoia customers don’t need all the mileage-killing features the Sequoia offers. They don’t need the all-wheel drive, the big engine, and the high ground clearance that all drive the weight up and the mileage down. They could just as easily — and far more cheaply — get by with a well-designed station wagon or minivan.
But that goes against a rather inconvenient fact: most people don’t want wagons or minivans. They want SUVs. Some of those people like Toyota’s hard-earned reputation for quality and good design, and want Toyota to make them their SUV.
I’ve been under the impression that the primary duty of a business — the key to its survival, in fact — is is offering people what they want. There’s a term for businesses that actively choose to ignore that and instead offer people what the business thinks they need. It’s called “failed.”
Then we have the overly-scholarly H. D. S. Greenway has a piece about the history of the Middle East. It’s a remarkably thoughtful and insightful “what-if” kind of fantasy, discussing just how the Great Powers of Europe (most notably England and France) carved up the Middle East after World War I, and speculates what might have happened if the United States had taken the lead, as many had hoped. It’s a fascinating read, and not just for those people who like alternate history.
And then he goes and ruins it with a sudden outbreak of Bush Derangement Syndrome in the last paragraph. The guy whips up a glorious dessert, a pastry bursting with deliciousness, and tops off the whipped cream not with a cherry, but a dog turd.
There’s an old rule in writing for journalism called “the inverted pyramid:” it says to put the most important parts of a story first, and further details in subsequent paragraphs in decreasing significance. This way an editor who needs to make the story fit in a specific part of the newspaper can just trim off paragraphs from the bottom without fear of losing critical details.
In this case, losing the final paragraph of Greenway’s piece would have been a kindness — both to him and his readers.