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Before I get to this week's topic, I need to correct several errors that crept into some of my recent columns, probably because of El Nino.

First of all, many people, responding to a column I wrote on the SAT tests, angrily objected to my statement that Princeton, N.J., is the home of Harvard University. Whoops! Princeton is of course the home of Yale University. Harvard University, according to the directory of the American Society of Colleges and Universities, is "a type of weevil."

Second, I received a letter from a woman who chastised me for stating, in a column about the Napa Valley, that "pinot noir" is French for "a type of wine." This is totally incorrect: "pinot noir" is actually French for "not a type of wine." I would like to thank this woman for correcting me, but I am not going to, because she signed her letter a bientot, which is French for "There is a pomegranate in your undershorts."

Finally, a pre-med student at the University of Iowa wrote to the school newspaper, the Daily Iowan, to object to a column in which I stated that the Hippocratic Oath was written by Aristotle. Wrong! The Hippocratic Oath was obviously written by the person for whom it was named, Seymour Oath.

In her letter to the Daily Iowan, the premed student also makes this statement, which I am not making up: "A doctor must go to school for nearly one-third or more of his or her life before becoming a qualified physician. Many lose their families and more in this effort."

My feeling about that is: If you're losing your families and more, maybe you should spend more time practicing on cadavers.

But the point is that I am very sorry about these pesky errors that keep creeping into my column, and I am grateful to the many readers who, week after week, write angry letters correcting me. This is in no way whatsoever related to the topic of this week's column; namely: Is the public stupid?

When I say "the public," I of course do not mean you. I'm talking about other people, the vast mass of people out there who have somehow managed to feed themselves and obtain driver's licenses, yet whose IQs are in the gumbo range. There are a lot of these people, and I do not say this merely because of the apparently huge demand for TV psychics ("Call and pay us money to try to guess stuff about you that YOU ALREADY KNOW!").

No, I say this because of the people who are always in front of me in lines. Whenever I get in a line, I find myself directly behind people who apparently have just been beamed here from the Planet Clueless. If it's a line to purchase something, and everybody else is using cash or credit cards, and we're zipping along, the Clueless People will ALWAYS bring things to a grinding halt by producing some kind of weird, inappropriate piece of paper -- perhaps a coupon that comes from a completely different store and expired in 1977; perhaps a letter from Ed McMahon advising the Clueless People that they have probably won $23 million; perhaps several photocopied pages from the Treaty of Ghent. Whatever it is, it will be something that requires the cashier to consult with all the other cashiers, and then the manager, and then employees from surrounding stores, and so on in a ripple effect until the entire U.S. economy grinds to a halt and stock markets start crashing all over the world.

It's even worse when the Clueless People get to an airline counter. If you think that achieving lasting peace in the Middle East is a difficult and time-consuming process, you have never seen the Clueless People try to grasp such complex concepts as "Gate 6." And they take forever to rent a car. I don't know what they're doing, up there at the rental car counter; I think some of them are trying to remortgage their homes. All I know is, those of us waiting behind them are gradually forming a new type of human society, the People Doomed to Wait in Line Forever Behind the Clueless People. We intermarry, have children, grow old and eventually bury our dead under piles of luggage while in front of us the Clueless People, frowning with intense concentration, try once again to comprehend the difference between "compact" and "midsize."

I'm not the only person who has noticed this problem. I've received many letters from people who deal regularly with the public and have concluded that it has Purina brand Puppy Chow for brains. A typical example comes from Kathy Enloe, who works for a record store and who sent me a list of things that she claims customers have actually said to her, including:

"It's an instrumental, but I don't know who sings it."

"I don't know what it is, but I think it's country, and I think it has 'love' in the title."

"Got any records by Gladys Knight and the Pimps?"

In closing, let me repeat that I am not saying that YOU are stupid. You, personally, are highly intelligent. How do I know this? Because I'm psychic! I also know that your name . . . wait a minute . . . it's coming to me . . . your name contains at least one vowel. Am I right? I knew it! Pretty impressive, huh? Send me some money.

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