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Editor's Note 

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At dinner recently with friends, talk turned the wedding of TomKat, and before you could say, "Scientology," or "Baby Suri looks decidedly non-Caucasian," or "Didn't Tom look a bit plump in his three-piece?" Lee Anne inquired as to who this TomKat person was. Someone at the table then explained, "Brian and Lee Anne don't have TV." A collective "Oh," went up—the word stretched to three or four syllables, as if our dining companions were elongating its pronunciation while their brains forged new synaptic links, creating a new taxonomic designation, like pescatarian or Medievalist: TV opter-outers.(NB: A devotee of all media, great and small, and possessed of a particular skill for always choosing the slowest checkout line at the supermarket—giving myself ample time between the covers of People and US Weekly—I keep myself apprised of the latest celebrity shenanigans, and I know all the celebrity couple nicknames: TomKat = Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes; Brangelina = Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie; Bennifer = Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez; and—an oldie but a goodie—LizBurt = Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.) The discussion of the TomKat wedding continued afresh, and the teeming mass of ephemeral information surrounding the event—who flew in to Rome on the private jet, who was not invited, the competing theories as to why Katie wore a black dress when she arrived in Italy, etc., ad nasuem—known by seemingly all at the table, by some in almost Talmudic detail, made Lee Anne, and even I—for I had not been to the supermarket that week—feel ignorant indeed. Someone the table, an occasional contributor to this magazine, then suggested that contrary to the oft-heard criticism that TV is a stupefying force in our culture, not watching TV was obviously making Lee Anne and me dumber. (Which I thought was a fair point, given our ignorance of the subject at hand. Luckily, the conversation then careered off toward other topics and we did not engage in a discussion of what are generally believed to be the points of intellectual uplift on TV—the History Channel, PBS, the "news"—and how they are used to justify watching reruns of "Match Game" on the Game Show Channel.) The discussion of how TV was making those of us who choose not to watch it dumber was an elegant inverse of a type of conversation I have been engaging in recently. When people find out that I don't watch TV—I don't sport a "Kill Your Television" bumper sticker or anything, it just seems to come up in conversation—they seem to immediately become self-conscious, as if they were being judged. The logic goes like this: If I have chosen not to watch TV, I must believe there is something wrong with watching TV. And if there is something wrong with watching TV, I must be judging them for this perceived perversion on their part. (Maybe I am, a little. I'm not perfect; in fact, I am a bit judgmental. As Charles Barkley succinctly put it: "I ain't no role model.") Mostly, however, I find TV contrived, its pacing downright schizophrenic, and its narratives—both news and entertainment—broken up by annoying, in-your-face advertising that jars the psyche. I simply prefer my visual entertainments in uninterrupted blocks of 90 to 120 minutes. Inside the disquieting cloud of judgment that now envelops the conversation between myself and the TV viewer, there exists an uneasy peace. Usually, I sense the expectation of a critique, a jeremiad about the evils of TV from me, which is almost always pre-empted by a monologue on the good personal habits of the viewer, and how TV, while odious (and the viewer knows it to be detrimental to their character in some way, a way in which I have in no way suggested or even insinuated, despite a twinge of inner judging), is nevertheless not as unhealthy a leisure activity as it would appear, and that the damage to self and society is not catastrophic. And then they look to Father Mahoney for absolution. Here is my message to those who feel that they wallow in the pale blue half-light of sin: TV enthusiasts of the world, be not guilty, feel not depraved. Prostrate yourself before your little (or not so little wall-mounted flat-screen) boxes joyfully. Endure the slings and arrows of public radio listeners contented in the knowledge that their enjoyments lack the visual dimension. And lastly—and most importantly—let not your cable subscriptions lapse lest your friends without TVs be completely bereft of sanctuary to watch their favorite programs and engage in the guilty pleasure of it all. —Brian K. Mahoney
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING Slow News Day Dept: The headline of the lead article below the fold on the front page of the November 18 New York Times read: "No Grunting, They Said, and He Was at the Gym." The grunter in question, Albert Argibay, was a 40-year old corrections officer and bodybuilder. The gym was Planet Fitness in Wappingers Falls, and after explaining to health club manager Carol Palazzolo that "I'm not grunting, I'm heavy breathing," Argibay was soon surrounded by police officers and escorted from the gym. Argibay is considering suing the club, located, according to the Times "in this cozy 5,000-person town 75 miles north of Manhattan" because the notoriety he has earned is "tantamount to defamation." (In the front-page photo Argibay is pictured in his kitchen in front of floral-patterned sink curtains holding a mid-size terrier under each muscled arm. The caption reads: "Albert Argibay, a corrections officer ejected from Planet Fitness for grunting, says he endured ridicule from his colleagues." The reason for Argibay's dismissal from the gym is due to Planet Fitness's "No Lunks" policy, designed to make novice exercisers—Planet Fitness's target clientele—feel comfortable. Planet Fitness defines a lunk as "one who grunts, drops weights, or judges." If a lunkish behavior is spotted by management, an earsplitting siren with flashing blue lights goes off, and the offender is treated to a public scolding. Source: New York Times According to a survey of international travelers by the polling firm RT Strategies for the Discover America Partnership, a business group, rude immigration officials and long delays in processing visas have turned the United States into the world's most unfriendly country for international travelers. The surveys showed that the United States was ranked "the worst" in terms of visas and immigration procedures by twice the percentage of travelers as the next destination regarded as unfriendly—the Middle East and Asia. More than half of the travelers surveyed said US immigration officials were rude and two-thirds said they feared they would be detained on arriving in the United States for a simple mistake in their paper work or for saying the wrong thing to an immigration official. Source: Reuters In late November, the Bush administration named Dr. Eric Keroack to head the Office of Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. The OPA funds birth control, pregnancy tests, breast-cancer screening and other health services for 5 million poor people each year, with an annual budget of $280 million. Keroack previously served as medical director for A Woman's Concern, a chain of Boston-area pregnancy clinics that advise against the use of contraception and advocate abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Keroack has spoken at abstinence conferences across the country and has written that people who have more than one sex partner have a diminished neurological capacity to experience loving relationships. Keroack's appointment does not need to be approved by the Senate, but Democrats can force him to testify once they control Congress. US funds intended to promote democracy in Cuba have been used to buy crab meat, cashmere sweaters, computer games, and chocolates, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office published on November 15. The GAO found little oversight and accountability in the program, which paid out $76 million between 1996 and 2005 to support Cuban dissidents, independent journalists, and academics. To protect recipients from prosecution—Cuban law sends citizens to jail for receiving money from the US government—none of the money from the US Agency for International Development or State Department is paid in cash to people in Cuba. Instead, the funds are distributed to Cuban-American groups in Miami and Washington, DC, and used to buy medicines, books, shortwave radios, and other goods that are smuggled into Cuba. President George W. Bush has proposed increasing spending on Cuba-related programs, including propaganda transmissions by Cuban-exile Radio Marti and TV Marti, by $80 million over the next two years. One grantee "could not justify some purchases made with USAID funds, including a gas chain saw, computer gaming equipment and software (including Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations), a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crab meat, and Godiva chocolates," the report said. Juan Carlos Acosta, executive director of Miami-based anti-Castro group Cuban Democratic Action, said he had sent those items to Cuba, apart from the chain saw. "These people are going hungry. They never get any chocolate there," Acosta said. Source: Miami Herald The Agriculture Department released in its annual "Hunger Report" in mid-November—except the word hunger was nowhere to be found in the document. Instead of using the term hunger to describe those who can least afford to put food on the table, this year's USDA report characterized the 35 million Americans who could not put food on the table at least part of the year as experiencing "low food security." Lead author of the report Mark Nord described hunger as "not a scientifically accurate term." In 1999, Texas Governor George W. Bush said he thought the annual USDA report—which continually found his home state one of the hungriest in the nation—was fabricated, stating, "I'm sure there are some people in my state who are hungry. I don't believe five percent are hungry." Source: Washington Post
  • A note from Brian.


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