business news in context, analysis with attitude

I heard a story on the radio the other day that I couldn’t quite believe.

It seems that the County Legislature in Rockland County, NY – which, as it happens, is where I had my first newspaper job back in 1979 – has passed legislation that would make it illegal to smoke a cigarette while driving a car with children in it.

Okay, take a moment a read that sentence again. Because I couldn’t quite believe it, either.

Now, let’s be clear about this. You will find no person who is as anti-smoking, and anti-tobacco company, as I am. They all ought to burn in a particularly hot corner of hell, choking on their own product. And I think parents who expose their kids to this stuff can be accused, at the very least, of being negligent. (I say this as someone who grew up in a household with a mother who was a two-pack-a-day smoker for most of her adult life. My dad never smoked, in fact hated it, and I’m proud to say that neither I nor any of my six sisters and brothers ever smoked. My mom’s only excuse would be that she started in the late forties and didn’t know any better. She finally quit, after numerous attempts, around the time she turned 60. She died at age 67 of lung cancer.)

That said, this legislation is nuts. At what point does the government stop sticking its nose into people’s personal business and decisions?

The chief health official in Rockland was quoted in the story as saying that case law has shown that a person’s car is not his or her own domain, that a person’s car is a public place and therefore this legislation is both appropriate and constitutional.

On what planet?

I’d defer to the lawyers on the question of constitutionality. Some say that it unlikely that this law ever will be enforced, simply because it may be unenforceable. What happens, say, on the New York State Thruway, which runs through Rockland? One can easily imagine checkpoints at the border, with policemen stationed to arrest people who venture into the county with kids in the backseat and a cigarette between their nicotine-stained fingers.

This is craziness. There has to be a point at which people actually are allowed to make decisions for themselves, to act on the information that is available to them. I think it is fair to say that pretty much everybody knows that smoking kills and that secondhand smoke is almost as bad. Anybody who thinks otherwise is, to put it kindly, a moron.

But until the day that smoking is made illegal in this country, I think you have to allow people to do it in places that are specifically theirs. Like their homes and their cars. And if their actions hurt their children, well, I’m not sure that arresting and ticketing them is the best solution.

We may have to settle for knowing that the circle of hell reserved for tobacco executives is going to be a little more crowded.

Here’s something else I don’t understand.

I keep reading that people in the US automobile industry are worried that improved mileage standards will hurt the car companies and cost jobs.

I don’t get it. What jobs? And why?

If the US automobile industry banded together on a major project to create a car that would, say, get a minimum of 50 miles per gallon, and did so with the same kind of dedication and declaration that President Kennedy brought to sending a man to the moon, wouldn’t this create jobs? If there were some sort of incentive – like a multi-million dollar prize – wouldn’t this get all the country’s great minds working on a solution that would both address the environmental problem and help address the issue of energy dependence on foreign and sometimes unfriendly governments?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m naïve. But this seems more a matter of will than anything else.

I have a great, great book for you to read.

“Opening Day: The Story Of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” by Jonathan Eig.

This strikes me as a meticulously researched and entertainingly written account of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, and of Robinson’s trials and tribulations becoming the first black man to play major league baseball. The characterizations - of Robinson, Branch Rickey, Pee Wee Reese and the rest – are compelling, and the story is remarkable. Sometimes heartening, sometimes sad, and with an ending that is troubling because it is not entirely happy.

I’ve long thought that Jackie Robinson was one of the most important people of the 20th century, and Eig’s wonderful book did nothing to dissuade me. And now, when I wear my battered old Brooklyn Dodgers cap, I do so with a little more knowledge and insight into what that cap symbolizes.

Because of my travel schedule, I will have to watch the season finales of both “24” and “Heroes” via iTunes next week.

And I will watch “Heroes” first, because this season it has been far more entertaining than “24.”

“24” isn’t a lost cause, but it does require a fresh approach. It even offers a lesson to retailers – go back to the same well too often, and eventually it is going to run dry.

Also on the TV beat…

Last night’s “CSI” season finale was genuinely creepy.

And next Tuesday night, I’m looking forward to Tom Selleck’s latest adaptation of a Robert B. Parker novel, “Jesse Stone: Sea Change,” the fourth movie in which he plays the alcoholic police chief of a small and troubled New England village. The first three were top notch, and I expect no less from this one. (Of course, I’m going to be depending on the DVR for this one, too, because of my schedule. Ah, well…)

Here’s an idea somebody ought to work on: live radio that works like TiVo, with the ability to go backward at will to listen to something you want to hear again, or just missed.

Wine of the week: the 2004 Woodthorpe Cabernet/Merlot blend from the TeMata Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

One word: Yummmmm…..

That’s it for this week…
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