Childish questions


THE news is seething with unanswered questions. Why, for instance, is the government willing to raise taxes on tobacco but not on alcohol to finance a national health program? Surely booze matches smoke as a health menace, doesn't it? Is it because the anti-smoke lobby has muscle while the temperance lobby has none? Or because pols of both parties fear the booze lobby's power to anger millions of beer-sodden televiewers?

Speaking of the health program, why are lawyers (namely, both Clintons and most of the Congress) now in charge of inventing it? Doesn't everybody know that lawyers can't stop themselves from making everything so complicated that nobody can figure it out without hiring a lawyer? Wasn't the present income-tax law designed by lawyers? Why do we have to suffer an April 15th experience every time we get sick?

Speaking of design, won't they have to redesign the human hand for the wonderful new information age when digital electronics delivers the promised palm-size computers? Won't the keyboard of a palm-size computer be so small that operating it will require fingers like toothpicks?

Speaking of the wonderful new information age when, they now tell us, we'll be able to "talk back" to our television sets, what makes them think we have anything to say to our television sets? The purpose of television is to spare people with nothing on their minds the necessity of making conversation, isn't it? Who wants to live in a world where millions of people with nothing on their minds sit around struggling to think of something interesting enough to say to their television sets?

Speaking of information ages, isn't it too late for a wonderful new one? Haven't the television industry's bottom-line inspectors already announced that information is what's killing ratings on network news? What the audience now craves is infotainment, isn't it? If the digital-electronics folks want to succeed, shouldn't they drop that "information" nonsense and bring us the wonderful new infotainment age?

Speaking of info, if not of tainment, are New Yorkers aware that their city is within striking distance of an arresting statistical distinction? Or is it perhaps not arresting for a city to have innocent bystanders shot at the rate of one per day over an entire year? "So far this year," the New York Times reported on Sept. 20, "at least 255 shooting victims in New York City have been categorized by the police as innocent bystanders." Since Sept. 19, the day the story was written, was the 262nd day of 1993, doesn't this indicate that the city was only seven shot innocent bystanders shy of the one-a-day pace? With an increase normally to be expected as the shooting picks up during the Christmas season, doesn't 365 shot innocent

bystanders seem eminently possible before midnight Dec. 31?

Thinking of sex, human nature, and hard times, why will so many good and kind people applaud the news that Lisa Marie Abato is striving to put even more people out of work in wretchedly depressed California? Yes, this is the same Lisa Marie Abato whom connoisseurs of pornographic cinema remember as "Holly Ryder," so after such a successful career, why is she collecting signatures to put an anti-pornography initiative on the California ballot? Is she ashamed of her life's work? Or can it be that like so many cured sinners -- smokers, drunks, agnostics who see the light with the waning of youth -- she cannot resist a compulsion to play the public pest?

Speaking of play, if a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, would not a football team by any other name have just as many players anticipating, undergoing or recovering from surgery? Why then does the team doing business under the name "Washington Redskins" resist appeals to give up this name and cease offending certain American Indians? When one of the offended, like Ben Nighthorse Campbell, happens to be a U.S. senator, hence capable of creating anguish even for a football team, doesn't a little name surgery make good sense? Wouldn't it make good sense for sports teams of all kinds, since there are now so many that keeping track of them is nearly impossible? Why not do away with all those silly old names and, as the government does for us humans, give them numbers? Wouldn't the Washington 1272-135-703's sustain just as many torn ligaments as the Washington Redskins?

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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