Tilting at Windmills

By Peters, Charles | The Washington Monthly, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Tilting at Windmills


Peters, Charles, The Washington Monthly


Cyanide in the Fridge * The 36-Hour Stretch * Naomi and Jocelyn Tips for Terrorists * Conservative Divorce * Medical Mistakes

ONE PROBLEM IN FIGURING OUT what happened on the Egypt Air crash is that both the flight data recorder and the voice recorder stopped working when the airplane's power failed. Why? Because they didn't have any back-up batteries. The pingers on black-boxes do have batteries, but they're activated only after the crash. Why doesn't the FAA require batteries for the flight data and voice recorders? They couldn't cost very much. This reminds me of the years it took the FAA to make up its mind to require another inexpensive safety precaution--smoke detectors in toilets.

WHICH WILL COST THE TAXPAYER less--student loans made by the government or student loans made by private banks? The answer is the government. It will actually make a profit of $4 for every $100 a student borrows, according to a recent study reported by The Washington Post's Kenneth J. Cooper, while private bank loans will cost the taxpayer $18 in subsidies for every $100 borrowed. Why not eliminate the subsidies to the banks?

RICHARD CARLSON, THE former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, recently wrote an article about a job he held when he was in his 20s. He was a leg man for Louella Parsons, the legendary Hollywood columnist. He tells a story about a time when Parsons was accused, after her car full of birthday presents from studio bosses had been stolen, of calling all the gift-givers and demanding that they replace the presents. "Do you know why the story is false?" she indignantly asked her staff. "Because anyone who knows me knows that the studios deliver my presents. It is ridiculous to say that I picked them up myself. I would never do that"

Self-criticism on the banks of the Potomac is as rare as in Beverly Hills. I am reminded of the time the then chief justice, Warren Burger, was accused of having a government car pick up his daughter's laundry. His righteous reply: "It was my laundry."

THE FACT THAT AL GORE WAS paying Naomi Wolf $15,000 a month embarrasses me. The fact that she advocates masturbation as a way of dealing with adolescent desire does not embarrass me. And I can't see why it does anyone else, especially conservatives who are always telling teenagers that they must behave themselves. The Republicans jumped all over Jocelyn Elders for urging masturbation. Remember how they drove her from office? What she and Naomi Wolf say on this subject makes perfect sense to me and it should appeal to conservatives as a realistic way to deal with the combination of raging hormones and immature judgment that is characteristic of adolescence.

Conservatives are similarly hypocritical in their opposition to gay marriage. A grave problem in the male homosexual community is promiscuous sex with all its lack of commitment and danger of disease. The best solution to the problem is to encourage lasting relationships. Marriage is the way society encourages such relationships.

MEDICAL INTERNS CAN NOW form a union to protect themselves from being overworked, thanks to a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. This is good news to all of us who have worried about the harm that exhausted interns can do to the patients in their care. Past reform laws--New York's consisted of limiting the number of hours an intern or resident worked to 80 a week--clearly did not solve a problem that unions may be the only effective way to remedy.

I'm infamous for being one of the slave-drivers of journalism. A lot of hard work is involved in mastering a craft whether it's journalism or medicine. But I long ago learned that sleeplessness doesn't help the learning process. So I hope the unions will protect the interns and residents from insane practices such as "the 36-hour stretches without a nap" described by Dr. Abigail Zuger in a recent article in The New York Times. …

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