Brickbats

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Watching television in the Soviet Union is far more exciting than viewing the mind-numbing stuff they put on American tubes. In fact, Soviet TV viewers play Russian roulette every time they turn on their sets. The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper says the number of fires caused by defective color-TV sets that explode totaled 5,490 in 1985. "People were killed and buildings burned down," the newspaper said. They can't even blame the Japanese. All the sets were made right in Mother Russia.

The philistines at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia want to erect a statue in honor of the medical school's namesake—and to fulfill the city's public art requirement at the same time. But the city deems a basic bronze statue of Jefferson neither "significant" nor "appropriate." Lee Casper, chairman of the city's art committee, says they'd prefer something more creative, like a "little diorama of the young and old Mr. Jefferson doing 20 different things." If it gives in to the university, the committee fears that every Lincoln National Bank will unveil Lincoln statues to fulfill its arts requirement. "They say it's art," fumes Casper, "but you know darn well" it's advertising. Linda Bantel, the university's art consultant, places some of the blame on Jefferson himself. "It was easier to create art under a theocracy," she says. "You just hired Michelangelo and let him do what he wanted."

Dale Lowdermilk, a Montecito, California, air traffic controller, says every Christmas tree sold in America should come equipped with a fire extinguisher. All baseball fans should be required to don a mask and chest protector before entering the ballpark. And airliners should taxi all the way to their destinations to prevent midair crashes. No, he's not entirely serious. Lowdermilk is president of NOT SAFE, the National Organization Taunting Safety and Fairness Everywhere. He founded the group on the premise that everything can seem dangerous to consumer advocates and government bureaucrats but that too much government is the greatest danger. Using sarcasm to chide the regulators, he says, for example, that motherhood should be regulated: If there were fewer births, there would be fewer fatalities.

Tempest in a tennis shoe? A Chinese fitness program known as tai chi is making some Indonesian officials very nervous. Relations between Jakarta and Beijing are rather strained, and the fitness craze has some Indonesian bureaucrats worrying about subversive Chinese influence. To end the controversy, President Suharto has ordered that the Chinese exercises be given Indonesian names. Linguistic gymnastics, anyone?

The temperature in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, was a balmy 45 degrees below zero and a 40-mph wind was knocking people off their feet when down in Juneau, state senator Mitch Abood became concerned about Alaska's image. For the good of the state's tourist industry, Abood suggested that words such as snow and cold not be used anymore. The argument began in the legislature when a resolution asking Congress for federal highway funds referred to Alaska's "harsh environment." Abood suggested harsh be changed to unique. Sure, that'll bring the snowbirds to Prudhoe Bay in February.

Guess who's coming to dinner? It's the welfare-state version of Mary Poppins: a live-in social worker. Dubbed "Homebuilders" by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the new program is designed to provide round-the-clock control of "problem" citizens. Caseworkers will teach families how to handle their daily problems and make sure they get the counseling and other services they need to stay together. That's the carrot. The stick is that families deemed unacceptable to the social workers may have their children taken away. But state intervention appears to disrupt families rather than keep them together: one study in Britain found that among families supervised by the state, the incidence of "rebattering" of children was 60 percent; among families left alone, the rate was only 30 percent. Maybe "homewreckers" is a better name for the program.

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