PN readers haven't hesitated to sound off

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We know how you feel about booth bimbos, competition from China, Greenpeace and Plastic Man comics.

In our 15 years, Plastics News has published more than 700 letters to the editor and perspective columns on our weekly editorial pages. And while I'm proud of the stories that our reporters and correspondents uncover every week, I have to admit that sometimes the letters you submit are the highlight of our issues.

Every once in a while something that we write stirs up a hornet's nest. But just as often, it's reader response that really starts the debate.

Here's a good example: On April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King. In our May 11 issue, we sought to ``plasticize'' the story by looking at how companies in and around Los Angeles were dealing with the riots that followed the verdicts.

We ran a prominent, Page 1 photo of two managers at Injection Molders Supply Co. protecting their Los Angeles warehouse. They were wearing pistols, and the accompanying story quoted one as saying he had no qualms about toting a gun to protect the building from potential arsonists.

A few weeks later, we received a letter from a reader who was ``shocked and appalled'' that we gave front-page coverage to the ``gun-toters of IMS Co. who set themselves up as arbiters of the lives of others.'' The letter asked, what would the pair have done had they been confronted by an angry mob: ``Proceed to commit murder? In the name of property rights?''

That letter ran May 22, and the floodgates burst open.

In our July 6 issue, we ran four letters, all defending the IMS workers and their right to defend the warehouse. Two more ran July 20, and two more July 27. A typical passage critical of the rioting: ``Those who choose to live outside of the law must be willing to accept the risk of someone else choosing to take a stand and defend themselves and what they have worked for.''

PN letter writers were solidly on the side of personal responsibility, private property and the right to bear arms.

We could have run letters on the topic every week that summer, but we finally cut it off with a Mailbag in the Aug. 10 issue. In that case, the author criticized the ``unceasingly peevish, regressed and now nauseating responses'' to that first letter. In other words: enough already!

The next topic that caused our mail pouch to overflow was quite a bit lighter in tone: In December 1993, our witty correspondent Clare Goldsberry (now with Injection Molding Magazine) wrote a perspective column with the eye-catching headline: ``Sex doesn't sell with women execs.''

Yes, it's the infamous ``booth bimbo'' column.

Clare had just returned from the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, and she was complaining about companies that used nearly naked women to draw customers to their booths:

``Wherever there was a crowd of men standing around gawking, in the center of that crowd was a big-bosomed, scantily clad booth bimbo,'' Clare wrote. ``Booth bimbos are easy to come by in a city like Las Vegas. It's a city that is permeated with sexuality and has hundreds of beautiful showgirls performing nightly before large crowds.''

Hard to believe, but none of our complaints came from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

``It's a slap in the face to all women who work hard to develop careers in industries once dominated by men to be confronted by a half-naked woman at a booth where they sincerely want to get information and check out new products,'' the column continued.

Care to take a guess whether our readers were in favor of, or opposed to, booth bimbos?

You may be surprised by the answer. Most were solidly on Clare's side.

``I appreciate that a trade magazine has voiced the opinion of so many regarding the use of scantily clad females at trade shows,'' one reader - a woman - wrote. ``Perhaps a gentleman would only understand the embarrassment of such situations if he were faced with a male person in a G-string with a group of gawking women.''

Thanks, but I can do without the visual.

A man wrote: ``Booth bimbos, as Ms. Goldsberry calls them, are even more insulting to us men than to women, the implication being that we all carry our brains in our pants.''

I'm glad that letter didn't start a debate!

The few writers who complained about the column seemed to have their tongues firmly in their cheeks in a number of humorous responses.

One chided: ``Did it ever occur to you that the booth bimbos are just as proud of their work as you are proud of being a member of the plastics industry - whatever that is? Did it occur to you that you were harassing these women?''

Another asked, ``What are those bimbos' goals? To support themselves - to increase their employers' sales. Same as yours! ... Did the bimbos criticize you, because you have chosen other alternatives? So, why do you? America thrives on ingenious ideas.''

I doubt that the creator of the booth-bimbo concept is going to end up in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, but perhaps I'm wrong.

Many of our letters are of a more serious nature.

On Feb. 3 last year, for example, we reported on several injection molders that were investing in new plants in China. Our letter writers mostly honed in on the comments of Brian Jones, president of Nypro Inc., who predicted that a quarter of his company's 2003 sales would come from China. He added that in three to five years, wages would begin to rise in China and predicated a shift by Nypro to another low-cost region, like India. ``We could always shift and start up in a different place,'' he said. ``The key is to stay ahead in the global marketplace.''

Right away, the letters started coming.

``My message to Mr. Jones is this: I hope the folks that provide this cheap labor can afford to buy your products over the long term.''

Another predicted: ``Here's hoping there are a whole lot of Americans who love hamburgers, because that's where we're headed, flipping burgers for each other.''

This issue illustrated some significant changes in letter-to-the-editor writing.

First, thanks to e-mail, these letters started coming as soon as our story reached our readers. We rarely get letters that are mailed the old-fashioned way.

Second, thanks to the personal computer, today's letters are often very long. When readers get fired up about an issue, it's not unusual for them to write the equivalent of three to five typewritten pages - which is a lot more space than we can devote to most topics.

In this case, the letters came so fast and were so critical of Nypro - in some cases they bordered on personal attacks - that we felt a need to clarify the issue. In a March 10 Viewpoint, we wrote: ``Jones ... doesn't need Plastics News to defend him or his employee-owned company's actions. But some of the figures he cited in his recent letter bear repeating: Since 1996, Nypro has started four new molding facilities in the United States (while closing one), and has bought a Chicago design show, a U.S. mold maker and partial interest in two other U.S. molding firms. The firm has increased its U.S. sales 88 percent and added 1,626 employees to its U.S. payroll, giving it more than 4,200 nationwide.

``Others should do such a job eroding U.S. manufacturing!''

This was a very rare case for Plastics News, which typically gives you, our readers, the last word on any topic. Some of you have learned to take advantage of that rule. We have a few repeat letter-writers, including George Makrauer, Marshall Ronin, Walter Bobruk and Allan Griff. Sometimes they even get in debates amongst themselves.

Being in the writing business, we appreciate letters from our readers that are well-written. When we get a good one, we often pass them around and talk about them in the office.

We also like letters that are short, like most of our stories, since it's more likely that our subscribers will read your letter if it doesn't take a lot of time. After all, they're all as busy as you are.

Don Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News.

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