The Work Ethic
September 24, 2000
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The "Men's Fashions of the Times" supplement to The New York Times magazine today features a wonderful article by a Times film critic about the critic's father, who, at age 62, "had been up and on his feet working for 48 hours, and had walked a mile and a half in the snow a couple of times." The critic's father worked in a commercial laundry and in a dairy. The article says, "The lessons I learned from him are that there are no bad jobs, and that hard work never killed anybody, though it might make you wish you were dead." Those are wonderful lessons, and it is a wonderful article, worth wading through the cologne ads in the fashion supplement to read. It manages in a non-patronizing way to convey the dignity of work while also making a point about economic mobility in America -- "I worked those jobs so you didn't have to," the Times critic quotes his father as saying.
So it's all the more disappointing, just when the Times gives an indication of understanding the American work ethic, to have the same newspaper, on the same day, include in its metro section a large photograph and an article about the plight of one Joseph Capestany. Mr. Capestany, the article tells us, is 44 and has AIDS. He is "a former heroin addict now enrolled in a methadone maintenance program." He is well enough, apparently, to have completed "an eight-week course on AIDS advocacy," to work "several afternoons a week" as a volunteer for "the New York City AIDS Housing Network, an advocacy group." He is well enough to have shown up at a city service center "every single day" from late June to early August, the article reports. So why is the Times writing about Mr. Capestany? He is upset that the city government has not been quick enough in paying his rent. In all seriousness, this is what the Times article is about. The daily visits to the city service center were "to prod caseworkers into speeding up paperwork so that he could rent an apartment in the Bronx." Mr. Capestany "finally got his apartment, though he said the division was currently late in paying this month's rent to his landlord." He complains that the city service center has too few staff members: "you only have a handful of them, and there's too many people to be serviced."
The Times's account of Mr. Capestany's situation is entirely sympathetic to him, right down to the headline: "AIDS Patients Frustrated Over Shoddy Service From City." The ones who should be "frustrated" here are taxpayers like the film critic's father, who traipsed through the snow to work backbreaking jobs and who paid his taxes -- only to see those tax dollars transferred to those like Mr. Capestany, who, even after the end of welfare as we know it, still gets the city to pay his rent and then has the nerve to complain about the service. Instead of volunteering as an AIDS advocate, why doesn't Mr. Capestany get a paying job and write his own rent checks instead of waiting for them to be issued by the government from the hard-earned money of those like the film-critic's father?
Ignoring Nader: The lead editorial in this morning's New York Times compares the positions of Al Gore and George W. Bush on health care. The Times's priority is universal health insurance coverage, and it finds both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush disappointing. "Though it is unconscionable that the richest country in the world refuses to cover the insurance needs of all its residents, neither candidate proposes to do much about the problem anytime soon," the Times writes.
If the Times really cares about universal coverage, it ought to have considered Ralph Nader in its editorial. Nader's position on health insurance sounds right in line with that of the Times. On the Nader campaign web site, the candidate is quoted as calling for "universal health care from the cradle through the nursing home, with a single-payer system like Canada's." But the Times editorial today instead ignores Mr. Nader. In the past, the Times has even gone beyond ignoring Mr. Nader to criticize Mr. Nader's candidacy for potentially siphoning votes away from Mr. Gore.
Lost in Boston: An article in the travel section of today's New York Times is written by someone who purports to be a native of Boston. The article nevertheless manages to refer to "the Isabella Stewart Gardiner." This is a reference to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Gardner spelled her last name without an "i," and the museum is named after her. The Times article got the name wrong.
Lost in Brooklyn: An article in the metro section of this morning's Times uncovers the shocking fact that Orthodox Jews go on dates in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. But anyone who has spent any time at the garden would know that one of the wonderful things about it is that all kinds of New Yorkers go on dates there. On any weekend day you can see African-American couples, Russian immigrant couples, Indian-American couples, white yuppies, Chinese-American couples -- you name it. The article depicts the Orthodox Jews frolicking in the garden as participating in some kind of obscure and unusual mating ritual, when in fact they are just acting like the rest of their Brooklyn neighbors of all religions and cultural backgrounds.
Immigrants: In its third big story in four days relating to the two workers from Mexico who were assaulted by whites in Long Island who lured them with an offer of work, the Times is still not telling readers whether the two assault victims were legal or illegal immigrants, or whether they could work legally in America. The long front-page story in this morning's paper about workers of the sort who were assaulted adds some interesting details -- the workers "relieve themselves or smoke a little pot" in a clump of trees near a 7-Eleven, and on Friday and Saturday nights they patronize prostitutes that arrive in vans from Queens. But the article fails to place the experiences of the workers and their neighbors in the context of the national policy debate about levels of immigration to America.
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