Things I Wonder About

There are things that really puzzle me. For example, some insurers advertise bargain life insurance rates provided you don't have a life-shortening lifestyle. Being a non-smoker is one of them. That's actuarially sound policy because smokers risk a shorter life expectancy; but insurance companies don't advertise lower rates to non-homosexuals. After all homosexuals, as a group, because of AIDS, have a shorter life expectancy than either smokers or heterosexuals. You say, "That would be discrimination against homosexuals!" But my question is why is it acceptable for insurance companies to discriminate against smokers but not homosexuals?

Then there are those TV fund-raising commercials featuring emaciated, forlorn looking children in other lands. The speaker says we can help this little child have nutritious meals, get a good education and better housing if we'd donate $21 a month. Then later on in the commercial the formerly forlorn-looking child is happy and playful. I say great! How come we can't do the same thing domestically? Twenty-one dollars a month is a darn sight cheaper than what we're paying for all our welfare programs.

Let's look at some statistics before my next puzzlement. The Census Bureau reports that the 1997 median income for 25 to 34 year olds was $26,000; for those in the 55 to 64 age bracket the median income was $31,000. Net worth (assets minus liabilities) was a paltry $6,000 for the under 35 years-old householder and a whopping $91,000 for the 55 to 64 years-old householder. Older people having higher income and greater wealth makes sense simply because they've gained skills and had time to accumulate wealth. What I don't understand is why the senior citizen goodies - discounts, rebates and handouts for people at the top of the income and wealth heap.

There are instructions that puzzle me, engendering considerable disrespect for my fellow Americans' intellect, such as warning labels on all manner of products that read: "Do Not Take Internally." Most often the product isn't something one reasonably takes internally like butter, a can of Coke or a candy bar. The warnings are on products like paint, bleach and other cleaning fluids. I'm wondering how many grown Americans actually took a swig of something like Minwax, bleach and paint thinners. There's a warning label appearing on automobile sun screens that people buy to put on their windshield to keep their cars cool reading: "Do Not Drive With Screen In Place." Here's my take. A person dumb enough to drink Minwax, bleach and paint thinners or drive with a sun screen in place is probably also too dumb to read. In that case, warning labels are a waste. Speaking of warning labels, there's a debate going on whether mother's milk is good or bad for infants, a preposterous debate considering the world's population. If the medical authorities conclude that mother's milk is hazardous, I'm wondering where they're going to put that warning label.

Finally, there's a seeming conspiracy against parents. You buy your kid all kinds of pets. In our case, it was birds for our daughter. Typically, the bird's in the house for a week, a month, several months, and out of the clear blue sky the bird drops dead. What bird survives? If you said the bird that you bought just before the kid went off to college, that's not allowed in the dorm, that you now have to care for, go to the head of the class. In our case, that bird lived through four years of college and lives on as I write this column but fortunately, finally, not with us.

Walter E. Williams


December 9, 1998