Just how big is a standard-size pickle supposed to be? We may never know. In a rare fit of common sense, the Food and Drug Administration has declined to get involved in a proposal that would have dictated the shape of cucumbers used for pickles. Pickle Packers International, a trade association, protested that pickles have been made in America since colonial times, and no one has yet seen a need to establish standards for them. Clausen's Pickle Company reminded the FDA that the size of pickles has nothing to do with their safety. On the other hand, a standard pickle size was proposed by a United Nations agency (naturally) that is seeking to standardize foods sold internationally. Heaven forbid that some Bolivian should take a bite into a pickle that's smaller than one eaten by a Pakistani.
When it comes to partying, nobody does it better than the Italian Communist Party. Karl Marx was nowhere to be found at the party's Festa de l'Unita in September. Maurizio Tomassoni, an activist in San Marino's Communist Party, was selling T-shirts bearing the flag of the Old Confederacy at the 18-day festival. "We'll sell just about anything," he said cheerfully. "There are so many young people who like this flag. It reminds them of Elvis Presley." Meanwhile, a Soviet Intourist stand was desolate while visitors crowded around a stereo shop next door. A cartoon in La Repubblica depicted a doleful Karl Marx declaring, "This year, I'm not going to the Festa de l'Unita. I don't know anybody there anymore."
Who says tax forms aren't good for anything? Internal Revenue Service supervisor Joseph Scanzillo faces a possible 20-year prison term and a $20,000 fine for stealing tons of tax forms and selling them to recycling firms. The Massachusetts taxman pleaded guilty to selling 600 to 800 pounds of IRS material a day to recyclers. The companies allegedly paid three to five cents a pound for the paper, which was pulped and made into brown bags or wrapping paper. Many have said that the only thing a 1040 is good for is to wrap fish. And we have Joseph Scanzillo to thank for that.
Maybe there's hope for Ralph Nader after all. He's showing signs of the same attitude he so loftily criticizes in large companies. Tim Shorrock, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine on the role of corporations in international affairs, was fired after sending out a press release that hadn't been cleared first with then-owner Ralph Nader. Shorrock and two other editors approached Nader and asked to bargain with him collectively about the firing and other work-related grievances. In a maneuver that would do Marc Rich proud, Nader informed the sacked editor that he had transferred ownership of the magazine to Essential Information, a foundation that finances investigative journalism, and that Shorrock's grace period—he had been told he could stay on the payroll until he found a new job—had been eliminated. Way to go, Ralph. Cornelius Vanderbilt would be proud.
The grand prize in the "Poormee" contest for the most blatantly self-serving argument for protectionism goes to the shoe industry. It wants import quotas because growing reliance on imported footwear is "jeopardizing our national security." An industry press release warns that the "military might go barefoot in case of war." It actually claims, "In the event of war, it is unlikely that we could provide sufficient footwear for the military and civilian population. The United States will not have time to train new workers. Nor will we be able to wait for ships to deliver shoes from Taiwan, Korea, Brazil and Eastern Europe." Scary, huh? There's more. The shoe shortage could cripple battle plans in Europe where NATO is deemphasizing tanks and armored divisions. "This strategy will fail if the foot soldier is without shoes," the industry warns. Whew! We don't want that to happen to GI Joe, do we?
To say that New York's subways are filthy is like saying that Calcutta has a few too many people. But Calcutta will be a ghost town before Fun City subways get any cleaner, thanks to an arbitration ruling against the Transit Authority. The ruling will allow the 600 subway car cleaners a 15-minute period before starting work to decide, by seniority, who shall sweep and who shall mop. The evil managers of the subway system thought they could just have supervisors tell workers what to do—put down the broom and take up the mop, or wash the window, or whatever. But that would violate seniority and the union wouldn't stand for it. "When it gets down to this ridiculous level in contract interpretation, it becomes plain that the unions are not very interested in having us manage the place," says Bruce McIver, director of labor relations for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Brickbats".