A few days ago, I phoned a friend from the Old Country to see how things were going.
Mafoofnik is a very astute businessman, having made more than a few fortunes off other people’s misfortunes. He’s in the labeling business, you see, and some decades ago, when consumer and health advocates began agitating for warnings about the dangers of smoking, he was right there with a pitch.
Originally, his labels were small. They were placed on the sides of cigarette packs, where few smokers bothered to look. And the relatively benign message – “The surgeon-general has determined that cigarette smoking can be hazardous to your health” – was in tiny print.
But it was a start.
In time, the labels grew in size, and also in the intensity of their message. Where once you could look at a pack of Marlboros and imagine yourself on horseback in a sheepskin jacket and Stetson, today it’s all skulls and crossbones. No more namby-pamby warnings in outof- the-way places from learned old men in white smocks.
There’s large lettering that pretty much says you’re going to suffer and die if you so much as think about smoking one of these things. What’s more, the labels are now so big that there’s barely enough room to show the brand name.
The profit markup from the bigger labels and extra ink soon propelled his company into the Fortune 500. Of course, there was help from other advocacy groups, as well as from juries hearing class-action cases. So his labels began appearing on liquor bottles (“Caution: The consumption of alcoholic beverages by pregnant women can lead to birth defects”), toys (“Note: This product includes small parts that could pose a choking hazard for young children”), modeling glue (“Beware: Teenagers should use this product under adult supervision”) and even curling irons (“Warning: For external use only”).
IN THESE days of lightning litigation and class-action suits, I figured Mafoofnik’s company would be up there at the very top of the 500, right alongside Wal-Mart, General Electric and CVS. Not so, though.
“It’s been tough,” he grumbled on the other end of the line. I found that hard to believe.
“Just about everything today,” I said, “requires a label.
There are gas heaters (‘Warning: Call only a certified technician for installation’), airbags (‘Caution: An airbag that deploys can prove dangerous for young children seated in front’), side mirrors (‘Objects in mirror are closer than they appear’) and restaurant workers (‘Employees must wash their hands after using the bathroom’). You’ve got it made!” “Not exactly,” he replied, the disappointment seeping into his voice.
“Seems every Monday and Thursday, some expert is contradicting what another said the previous week,” he groused. “You know how researchers have been telling us to go easy on red meat to avoid heart attacks? So another comes out and says it’s okay to eat red meat as long as we drink red wine.”
I didn’t quite get the problem.
“Isn’t that good for labeling?” I asked. “You get a new order every week. Your machinery must be working overtime!” Turns out Mafoofnik’s machines have been gathering cobwebs.
“No one’s ordering labels anymore,” he said, his misery becoming even more clear.
“They’re afraid. They know the minute they order a few hundred truckloads of my stuff, those labels will be useless because some upstart is gonna declare the exact opposite. He’ll go on TV and tell this to Dr. Oz and Ellen DeGeneres and anyone else with an audience of millions just waiting to be manipulated. Those labels will be going on and coming off so quickly you won’t be able to buy anything at the supermarket whose wrapper doesn’t stick to your fingers.”
His angst was now palpable, even alarming. I almost suggested that he sit down and pour himself a glass of red wine. But then I remembered the promo for Dr. Oz’s next show. It was to feature a panel of oncologists who believed that leaving grape skins in the mix during fermentation, which is what gives most red wines their color, causes cancer. What’s more, this would explain the lower incidence of heart attacks among those who drink red wine while eating red meat – they die of cancer before they can have a coronary.
But then I thought about some recent developments in the European Union. Not the declaration about the dangers posed by processed meats – that finding will be disproved soon enough by researchers who say that eating such foods not only blocks most known carcinogens, it promotes the sex drive. No, I was thinking about the matter of imports from Israeli-occupied territory.
“Have you read what the EU wants to do about labeling goods grown or manufactured in Jewish settlements?” I asked.
He had not.
“It seems,” I said, “that the federalists in Europe are issuing new guidelines that will allow member nations to label these goods as a way of helping politically correct consumers decide whether or not to purchase them.”
There was silence on the other end, but it was short-lived.
“Yeah, sure,” Mafoofnik said. “Then something will happen that makes them rescind the guidelines, like when your government decides to pull out of the territories. I can see it now – the machines start whirring and Netanyahu backs down, so the EU calls with an urgent cancellation, leaving me with tons of labels, bupkis in my accounts and creditors banging at my door.”
I told him I didn’t think that would happen.
“Bibi doesn’t back down under such threats,” I explained. “In fact, he doubles down. I can assure you that your factories will be humming around the clock, and for a long time.”
His breathing seemed to stabilize.
“Not only that,” I went on. “At least one Israeli pol has discovered that a great way to gain media exposure is to announce a labeling program of his own for goods grown or produced in the EU. Consumers here can then choose whether or not to buy them. It’ll give those snotty continentals a taste of their own medicine.”
THE BUSINESSMAN was quickly coming back into Mafoofnik’s voice.
“You got any phone numbers?” he inquired.
I did, for the EU representative to Israel and, for the time being, MK Michael Oren. I also gave him the phone number for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who recently said she wanted to mandate special labels for the name tags of lobbyists from left-wing groups receiving funding from foreign governments.
For good measure, I threw in the numbers for the Chief Rabbinate (“Warning: This eating establishment may not be sufficiently kosher”), the electric company (“Please note: Waiting times for assistance may be longer on rainy days”) and the postal service (“Be aware: We cannot guarantee that the letter you are sending will actually arrive”).
“Good God!” he exclaimed. “There’ll be business for years!” For decades, even, I added.
It was good to hear the old Mafoofnik.