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'The Simpsons' as oracle

Not only are "The Simpsons" hysterically funny, they're also prophetic.

Last year at this time, an episode aired featuring Homer's alter ego, the crime-fighting Pie Man. The story focused on an effort to blackmail Homer into delivering a pie in the face of his daughter Lisa's hero, the Dalai Lama.

In the end, Homer does the right thing and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, leaves town unscathed, announcing as he leaves, "On to my next engagement, Buffalo, New York."

Last week, the University at Buffalo confirmed what Off Main and Simpson fanatics already knew: The Dalai Lama pays a rare visit here in September 2006.

Standing in line can pay off

Imagine combing The Buffalo News for a job and finding this: "Wanted: Secretive types eager to earn $95 an hour standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles."

Sounds almost too good to be true but, yes, a law firm for Erie County has hired some private eyes to investigate claims that the County Clerk's staff is hopelessly overworked because of budget cuts.

The county's undercover operation became public this week when the county's lawyers revealed their espionage effort as part of court testimony. It seems the county's moles spent about 10 hours in the DMV office. The operation is part of the county's defense against a lawsuit filed by Clerk David J. Swarts.

Rivalries checked at the door

As always, the backdrop to this year's National Conference for Community and Justice Citation Banquet was the never-ending fight against bigotry and racism.

Several people were honored, and one of the highlights was the annual exchange between the outgoing and incoming leaders of the group's Walk as One fund-raiser, scheduled for June 26 this year.

As it unfolded, people started to notice that the annual ritual had produced a rare scene. The three people standing at the podium spend most of their lives as hard-charging corporate rivals.

Mary Lee Campbell-Wisely, regional president of Univera Healthcare and the walk's outgoing chairwoman, cheerfully handed off the baton to Barry Winnick, chairman of Independent Health. Winnick was filling in for Dr. Michael Cropp of Independent Health.

And watching it all was Alphonso O'Neil-White, chairman of the local NCCJ and president of BlueCross BlueShield of WNY. At one point, O'Neil-White looked at his two competitors and joked about their unlikely alliance in the struggle against hatred. "This," he said, "is a true NCCJ moment."

A personal explanation

Call off the all points bulletin on Erie County Legislator Charles M. Swanick.

The Republican from Kenmore called a news conference Friday afternoon because he said he wanted to explain why he was absent from two County Legislature and several committee meetings this month.

"I had some personal family business that I had to deal with, and I dealt with it," Swanick said. Pressed, he refused to elaborate. "It's personal family business and that's the way I'm going to leave it," he said.

Glad that's cleared up.

By Phil Fairbanks

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