Jay Mathews

Stories by Jay Mathews

  • The Cost Of Quality

    Well, maybe copying the Japanese isn't such a good idea after all. Consider Douglas Aircraft, the troubled subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas Corp. Plagued by poor earnings and richer competitors, the aircraft maker three years ago embraced "Total Quality Management," a Japanese import that had become the American business cult of the 1980s. TQM, as it is known, depends on small teams of workers-all the way down to the factory floor-to clean up poor procedures and work habits. That appealed to Douglas, which dispatched 8,000 employees in Long Beach, Calif., to two-week training seminars. They also spent weeks preparing for TQM on the job. But in less than two years, Douglas's version of quality management was a shambles, largely because the program's advocates hadn't anticipated the massive layoffs that poisoned labor-management relations. At Douglas, TQM appeared to be just one more hothouse Japanese flower never meant to grow on rocky American ground. ...
  • Escalante Still Stands And Delivers

    Jaime Escalante, the nation's most famous math teacher, has learned to tolerate occasional disappointments, but ignoring him is perilous. When the father of a truant algebra student failed to return his calls this year, he rang the man at 5 a.m. " I wanted to catch you before you went off to work," he said sweetly to the sputtering parent. The student returned to class. ...
  • Taking Welfare Private

    The weary women who enter the barren, windowless building on Los Angeles's South Figueroa Street find inside, to their surprise, a little oasis of civility-plants, cookies and coffee, and polite managers who escort them to their appointments. This is a welfare office? Yes, but one with a unique ambition-to prove that the private sector can manage the most intimate and abrasive of government functions: the public dole. ...
  • The Soaking Of America

    Lonnie Johnson knows a lot about fun, and how it can get out of hand. The missile he fashioned at the age of 13 from a television antenna blew up on the launching pad. When he was 14, the Mobile, Ala., police called him in about a rocket-fuel fire in his high-school hallway. ...
  • From Closet To Mainstream

    In June 1947, a secretary at a Hollywood film studio began surreptitiously typing a newsletter for lesbians, Vice Versa, which she distributed in faint carbons to friends. "I venture to predict that there will be a time in the future when gay folk will be accepted as part of regular society," she wrote. "Perhaps even Vice Versa might be the forerunner of better magazines. . . which in some future time might take their rightful place on the newsstands beside other publications." ...
  • Playing Politics With Crime

    Outsiders may be wondering what could have led a California jury to acquit the four officers charged in the Rodney King beating. But California politicians know just how deep the fear of crime runs in their state-and how to run on it. For more than a decade they have played with the crime issue: teased it, massaged it, wielded it against foes. In the 11 years I've covered California politics, only the hatred of taxes has rivaled the fear of crime as a political catalyst. George Deukmejian, a Republican underdog, was narrowly elected governor in 1982 because he opposed an initiative that would have restricted legal handgun purchases. In 1986 voters ousted Chief Justice Rose Bird and two Supreme Court colleagues who overturned death-penalty verdicts. The liberal Democrats who run Los Angeles never disciplined the conservative police chief, Daryl F. Gates, who often offended them but remained above criticism: anything the police wanted, the voters wanted. ...
  • To Yank Or Not To Yank?

    Here is how Mason, Texas (population: 2,041) learned it could turn an abandoned high-school gym into a youth center despite an asbestos-covered boiler: ...
  • Rethinking Homeless Myths

    Westchester County, a high-rent New York City suburb awash in the homeless, saw its emergency-shelter population drop for the first time this year. James Williams, 43, a homeless food-service worker, is beginning to learn why. In a freshly painted red, white and blue trailer, Williams chats with a social worker during a three-day medical, psychological and occupational checkup that Westchester now requires of all people seeking shelter. The homeless caseload has decreased by 10 percent in the last year. Many people who spent their days on street corners are now in job-training programs and more permanent housing. ...