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We're Nutty Over This Little Guy


Celebrity Rodent Bureau: A squirrel that has appeared in TV ads for Honey Nut Clusters cereal began his first media tour this week. According to his publicist, the bushy-tailed creature flew to New York, where he is staying in a hotel suite and being driven around town in a chauffeured van.

The publicist also issued an official biography for the 3-year-old furball, who stands 10 inches high and is said to have a degree from Nutgers University. The gray squirrel's bio says he enjoys the musical stylings of Alvin and the Chipmunks and his favorite book is Shirley MacLaine's "Out on a Limb."

Loser of the Week: This award is extremely overdue, but sometimes Off-Kilter gets so busy investigating Elvis sightings and bad rock lyrics that we miss a few things, like President Clinton and Jesse Jackson being replaced by robot doubles during their April trip to Africa.

How else to explain the fact that both men failed to mention, let alone condemn, the existence of a modern-day slavery system that has ensnared thousands of Africans from the Sudan?

Seriously, the horrors of slavery didn't end with the Civil War, although you wouldn't know it from Clinton's trip. At one point, the entourage even visited Goree Island, the spot from which millions of manacled Africans were once shipped to the U.S. as slaves. Jackson wept after praying at the site and Clinton told a group of visiting American children, "When you get home, tell everybody else what you saw."

Yet neither said a word about Sudan, where blacks are routinely sold into captivity to Arabs. Journalist Nat Hentoff theorizes that Jackson feared offending Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has been honored in Sudan's Muslim-run capital.

But we think Jackson--who had no qualms about demanding armed international intervention in Haiti for humanitarian reasons--must have been replaced by a robot twin. (This would also explain Clinton's recent statement that a White House pact with Nike and Reebok that allows overseas workers as young as 14 to put in 60-hour weeks for less than $1 a day is "a historic step toward reducing sweatshop labor.")

Fortunately, others are taking action. Hentoff wrote about a group of Denver fifth-graders who heard about Sudan in February and started selling lemonade and old toys to raise money to buy freedom for the slaves. The young abolitionists collected $9,000 for the American Anti-Slavery Group, a Boston organization that buys back slaves from their captors for $100 each.

One footnote: NBC News gets our Junior Loser of the Week prize. Although the network deserves credit for being one of the few media outlets to cover the Sudan story, it ended a June 20 report thusly: "As civil war continues to rage in Sudan, Christian Solidarity International estimates that tens of thousands of people remain in slavery, most of them women and children." Without missing a beat, the announcer then chirped, "When NBC Nightly News continues in a moment, the giant fish tank that's putting Long Beach back on the map!"

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: Following NBC's example, we now segue to: "Woman With Four Kidneys Must Drink 20 Glasses of Water a Day!" (Weekly World News)

Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is Unpaid Informants: Village Voice, Calgary Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Terry Mattingly. Off-Kilter is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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