It may be hard to believe sometimes — I know I find it very difficult for about 49 hours a week, 49 weeks a year — but most people do not actually set out to do things in a half-assed manner. At least, I don't think they do.

David E. Davis, Jr., last seen as the Editor Emeritus of Automobile magazine, worked on the ill-fated Chevrolet Vega project alongside the late GM stalwart Frank Winchell, and after the car was sent to the junkyard of history, Winchell told Davis basically the same thing. "That was the best bunch of guys I ever worked with," he said, "some of the brightest people I knew, and that still turned out to be the worst car we ever built. Not once do I remember any one of those individuals coming into the room yelling, 'Hey, you guys! I got it! Here's what we're gonna do! We're gonna build a really shitty little car!'"

It may not have been the Vega team's intention, but just the same, they came out with a world-class (Third World, anyway) crapmobile. Blame was widely distributed. John Z. De Lorean, who had an opinion on everything at GM, described the Vega project as "a corporate car, not a divisional car"; the Winchell/Davis team was working under GM corporate management, not under Chevrolet Division, and in De Lorean's opinion, Chevy (of which De Lorean, coincidentally, was the general manager) could have done a better job of engineering a small car. This may or may not be true, but I'm willing to bet that there was at least someone among the bow-tie boys who didn't think slapping a cast-iron head on an aluminum block was such a great idea.

The Law of Unintended Consequences doesn't just afflict motor vehicles, either; politics, and particularly American politics, is utterly dominated by it. The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill might actually put a dent in the enormous number of campaign ads financed by groups you can't stand, but it's just as likely to put a similar-sized dent in the number of ads financed by groups you can stand. The old FCC multiple-ownership standard — a maximum of seven TV stations (five VHF) and fourteen radio stations (seven AM, seven FM) was clearly ludicrous, but what was sold to us as a deregulation package has resulted in the highly-undesirable situation where one firm (Clear Channel) owns more than half the rock-radio outlets in the country, where a mere four firms divide up almost all of the two dozen or so radio stations in central Oklahoma, where rural stations are abandoning their small markets to chase big-city dollars. And so many idiotic notions have been floated with the stated intent of "protecting our children" that the inclusion of the phrase in any piece of legislation whatsoever makes it instantly suspect; certainly damned few of them over the years have actually benefited the kids.

There is, of course, no way to keep mankind from seemingly-random tinkering and such, but it would be wise to remember Robert Burns' advice regarding the plans of mice and men. If nothing else, promising less joy might make the inevitable grief and pain a bit less disappointing, though personally, I wouldn't count on it.

The Vent

9 September 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill