Q: I sure like Al Gore's new look. In all the latest photos, he's wearing a beard. What's the inside story? A: This bold move was suggested by the Democratic National Committee, which hopes voters won't recognize the former vice president, thus giving him a fresh start for 2004. They also believe he'll have broader appeal in the western states (which went overwhelmingly Republican this last time around) by appearing to have just come back from a month-long fishing trip. Insiders also say Mr. Gore is hedging his bet: If the electorate once again denies him the White House, he will star in a made-for-TV movie, The Return of Grizzly Adams.

Q: What's with substances in sports these days? First, the NFL bans players from endorsing even over-the-counter supplements, then thoroughbred racing vows to standardize drug-testing horses, and now - is this possible? - they're even cracking down on chess players.

A: Amphetamines aren't just for speed skaters anymore. Chess experts say that five or six hours into a grueling match, anything that keeps players from nodding off constitutes an unfair advantage. So, along with steroids and beta-blockers, officials will be checking for too much caffeine, which might lead an irritable grand master to scream, "Touch my rook one more time, Vasily, and your filthy hand is coming off at the wrist."

Q: What's this controversy Dan Rather unleashed when he said that if television viewers really wanted to understand the whole stem-cell thing, they'd better go out and buy a newspaper?

A: After so many years in broadcasting, Dan is now considered a "distinguished journalist" - meaning he is now allowed to tell the truth. Unfortunately, his colleagues were miffed when the veteran anchor suggested TV news couldn't dig deeply enough to unravel a complicated issue. So in response, the newly revamped CNN Headline News will explain stem-cell research - along with photosynthesis, the Big Bang theory, and Newton's third law of motion - in the lower 16th of the screen, between the baseball scores and the weather map.

Q: We've always enjoyed the Miss America pageant. It's good, clean, family entertainment, especially when the girls come out half-naked in those hot-looking swimsuits. Now I heard they're changing the format. What happened?

A: Sadly, the venerable Miss America pageant - whose traditional blend of values and cheesecake no longer generates the kind of ratings it used to - has lost its way. Competing in the current television landscape with people eating rats and drunken co-eds flashing the camera on spring break, the pageant now seems old-fashioned. Organizers hope a new format will do the trick. This year contestants will be quizzed on American history, the swimsuit feature will be re-titled "Lifestyle & Fitness," and Miss America's handlers will try a Survivor format: Contestants will have the opportunity to make snotty comments about each other's cellulite, and each girl will take turns bursting into tears as the emcee puts out her torch.

Q: Speaking of contests, is there really some sort of competition to recover whatever was missing on that famous 18-and-a-half-minute gap in the Nixon tapes?

A: Right on. After 25 frustrating years of listening to presidential tape hiss, the folks at the National Archives have thrown up their headphones and invited ad-hoc audio experts to bring back whatever Rose Mary Woods "accidentally" erased so long ago. (Watergate buffs are also enjoying reprints of that famous photo in which Ms. Woods demonstrated the error, striking a pose eerily reminiscent of John Travolta disco-dancing in Saturday Night Fever.) Once the gap is restored, the National Archives hopes to sell a boxed CD set, which is expected to bail out the Social Security system. Problem: There are already some apparent hoaxes underway. One audio expert submitted a script that sounds suspiciously like the Checkers speech, and another insists that the tape, when played backward, actually says, "I buried Paul."

Q: In Iran this week, 14 men were publicly flogged for drinking alcohol. Could this work in the United States?

A: Absolutely. In fact, CBS has slated an English-language version as a mid-season replacement for that new sitcom starring Emeril Lagasse.

Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio (AM 720) Chicago. Listen via Internet and e-mail at (http://www.wgnradio.com).

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