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Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2002 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Tony Snow

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Consumer Reports

Musings | Investigators have discovered that dogs can laugh, which can't be too big of a surprise.

Pet lovers know that animals sometimes understand us better than we do, and the annals of human sin and desire provide plenty of stories to drive the point home. For example: A mynah bird in the Chinese city of Chongqing has just plucked his master's feathers. The bird has a habit of chattering madly whenever the family phone rings. Its choice of comments "I love you" "Be Patient" and "Divorce" recently aroused the curiosity of the mistress of the house. She put two and two together and concluded the pet learned the terms when her husband was talking with his lover.

The wife sued for divorce, hoping to use the talkative mynah as a star witness. Even though her attorney said the court would be unlikely to accept the testimony, the bird's word stands -- and her spouse probably wishes now that he had gotten a smiling dog instead.

I've just learned a term that's current in job-training circles. The term: soft skills. In constrast to hard skills -- such as the ability to think or perform a job -- soft skills are what most of us call manners. Employers around the country are reporting a shortage of these much-sought skills. A lot of young people evidently don't know how to work without being jerks.

So now they need seminars in saying please and thank you, holding open doors, and settling disputes with conversation rather than knuckles, knives and firearms. How could this be, you ask? Well, look around. Lawsuits abound. If you want to get ahead in politics, trash someone. The notions of self-sacrifice and cooperation seem down right quaint.

That's because we worship punks, these days, not saints. So maybe the job trainers are on to something. Just think: If we had more soft skills and fewer creeps, oh what a wonderful world it would be.

Here's some self-serving news from the frontiers of medical research: Investigators at the London School of Economics say television is good for you.

Dr. Darron Hodgetts says, "television can be used as a ritualistic meeting place to share thoughts and feelings."

In other words, it's a big town square, where people can learn important stuff, like the latest fads and where to acquire them -- and where members of vast and sometimes lonely societies can find a sense of self.

Don't take my word, take that of Hodgetts, who again says quoting, "television can be health reinforcing." He says this is particularly true for guys, who get important bonding secrets -- like how to say, "Whasssuppp?"

Oh, sure, people who lounge endlessly before the tube can become fat loads, which is why Hodgetts cautions people not to do dumb things -- like become couch potatoes, or watch so long that your brain shuts off.

So there you have it. Watch -- but in moderation.

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