Saturday, December 02, 2006

Seasonal Silliness

Seeing the editorial pages of the Washington Times and Washington Post in agreement is a rare thing. Even rarer is to see an editorial on the same day, in the same location on the page, in each newspaper making the same point.

The issue in question was the decision by bureaucrats in Fairfax County, Virginia, to require that individuals and churches who feed the homeless must have health-department-approved, commercial-quality kitchens, or else be subject to civil penalties. The reasoning, apparently, was that it is better for people to go hungry than to risk food poisoning (as if the alternative, dumpster diving, is e coli-free).

Here's how the Washington Times put it in its December 1 editorial (titled "C'mon, Fairfax County"):

What's really happening here is the bureaucratization of charity. County officials have spotted inconsistent application of a law -- and they can't stand it. They see that churches and grandmas are allowed to donate below the regulatory radar, whereas others are not. So, per small minds and hobgoblins and all that, the Gradgrinds in Fairfax want the same rules to apply to everyone.

That's logically consistent, but unfriendly to spontaneous charity and common sense. The goal of homeless shelters continues to be a simple one: Feeding people who need to be fed. Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Meanwhile, at the OP (that's what Timesers and old Washington Star scribes call the Washington Post, "the Other Paper"), news has reached the editorial writers that Fairfax has already reconsidered. The editorial ("Food Folly," also on December 1) said:
WHEN FAIRFAX officials tried to put the kibosh on donations of home-cooked food to homeless shelters, they didn't figure they would get egg on their faces. Thankfully, though, common sense prevailed, and a worthwhile program to help the homeless will be allowed to continue....

The policy was overturned when Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Board of Supervisors, recognized its absurdity. No doubt he did not relish that Fairfax had become a national laughingstock....

We have no doubt that the zealous officials in this case were well-intentioned. But it is worrisome that they didn't realize that the very thing they said they were protecting -- the public health -- was undermined by their actions....
Halfway across the country, in Chicago, city officials reached a supremely silly decision: Prohibiting the marketing of the new movie called "The Nativity Story" from the annual Christkindlmarket (that's "Christ child market" in German). The purported reason? Promoting a film with a religious theme is "too commercial" for a public space filled with vendors hawking trinkets, gifts, food, and Christmas decorations.

Here's what the Chicago Tribune editorial page had to say, calling the action "a clumsy attempt at political correctness":
The city refused to allow film clips from "The Nativity Story," a movie that depicts the biblical story of Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus. The filmmaker also was dropped as an event sponsor. Officials say the movie is too commercial.

Too commercial? In a downtown market where capitalism is in full throttle? That's like saying the Nativity display itself (and there is one, by the way, in the plaza) is too religious.

Veronica Resa, spokeswoman for the office of special events, told the Tribune earlier this week: "This particular incident is about a movie studio aggressively marketing a movie and trying to sell tickets to that movie."

Jim Law, the city's executive director of special events, initially called this a sensitivity issue for festival-goers. He said that showing scenes from the movie would be "insensitive to the many people of different faiths." That's people of different faiths who knowingly and willingly attend a traditional Christmas festival that includes carolers and a "holiday" tree, as well as an Islamic crescent and a Jewish menorah.
There are still 22 shopping days 'til Christmas. Stay tuned for more seasonal silliness. It's bound to happen.

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