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Jewish World Review Feb. 8, 2002 / 26 Shevat, 5762

Tony Snow

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Consumer Reports

Musings -- THE Federal Trade Commission is thinking about setting up a national registry for people who don't want to receive any more inquiries from telemarketers. You just phone up Uncle Sam and lo and behold! The pestilential calls would cease.

The agency also wants to prevent marketers from swapping phone lists, disguising their identities and calling at inconvenient hours -- all good ideas. I don't know anybody who, in the midst of an evening meal or in the fleeting moments of nighttime family time, says: "I really wish someone would interrupt us now and ask us to purchase things we don't need, answer questions on boring topics, or invest in stocks worth less than Enron."

I know I'd love to be on a "Don't bug me" list right now. And if the peace and quiet weren't tempting enough, consider this: The rule would all but destroy the polling business forcing politicians and marketers to win approval the old fashioned way, with good work, rather than slick words.

Even though U-S troops are heading into Afghanistan to take on remaining Taliban and al Qaeda factions, there's a lot of impatience around the country about the next steps in the war.

Should our forces crush terrorist cells through swift and terrible action? Should citizens step up surveillance of shady characters?

I suppose both make sense. But we also need to remember that the real enemy is a tactic --- terrorism. As the recent bombing in Israel proves again, terrorists want to hurl their victims into confusion and blind fear.

The president proposed pretty sound countermeasures the other day when he suggested that, along with our other duties, we might want to spend a little more taking care of our families and neighbors -- reminding each other that we're not only in this together -- but that we're lucky to live in a society that celebrates goodness and selflessness -- and figures the path to heaven is paved with righteousness, kindness and love -- rather than bombs strapped to chests.

You may have noticed the highly technical debate in Washington about whether to classify Taliban and al Qaeda detainees as illegal combatants or prisoners of war. Believe it or not, the distinction could be a matter of life or death -- not for them, but for you and me.

The Geneva Convention describes prisoners of war as uniformed and identifiable fighters in a combat situation. Such people, the theory goes, are serving their countries, and while incarcerated are obliged to disclose nothing more than name, rank, serial number and date of birth. Those sorts of restrictions could shut down an important part of our ongoing war on terror -- the interrogation of bin Laden associates now at Guantanamo Bay.

Some have spilled the beans on efforts to murder Americans at home and abroad -- and, with any luck, our interlocutors will continue to wheedle such information from them. That's why the debate over status matters -- and why it's also a relief to know that international law is on our side.

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.

Thank you for reading this column.

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