Bluff The Listener

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Our panelists tell us three stories of someone trying to help, but not helping much.


From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kassel. We're playing this week with Adam Felber, Amy Dickinson and Mo Rocca. And here again is your host, at the Meyeroff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Carl.


SAGAL: Thank you all. Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on the air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

MICK ALEXANDER: Hi, I'm Mick Alexander from Newton, Massachusetts.

SAGAL: Hey, how are things in Newton?

ALEXANDER: Actually pretty nice for a change.

SAGAL: What do you do there?

ALEXANDER: I'm a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

SAGAL: Have you discovered anything interesting about how the brain works that you can share with us right now?

ALEXANDER: Well, I've discovered that right-handed brains and left-handed brains are quite a bit different from each other.


ALEXANDER: Yeah, right handers' brains are pretty boring. They're all pretty much the same. You know one right hander, you pretty know them all.

MO ROCCA: Oh my gosh.

ALEXANDER: Yeah, but left handers are quite variable. They're much more interesting as a group.


SAGAL: Well, Mick, you're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. What's the topic, Carl?

KASELL: That's not helping.

SAGAL: There are people who want to help, and there are people who are really bad at helping. This week, we heard about a sincere attempt to make things better that only made things worse. Our panelists are going to tell you three stories of well-intentioned but ineffective do-gooders. Only one of them was in the news this week. Choose that true story, you will win Carl's voice on your voicemail. Ready to go?


SAGAL: Let us hear from Mr. Mo Rocca.

ROCCA: Rockville, Maryland has tried everything to deal with young speed demons tearing down Tuckerman Lane. "Speed bumps didn't work. Stop light cameras issuing tickets didn't make a difference," said city manager Steven Oaks. "We realized the only thing that might stop these kids from speeding is the sight of a little old lady shuffling across the street."


ROCCA: And so, the city turned to Harlequin Dinner Theater and hired six elderly actresses to cross the street at regular intervals. Myrna Davis, last fall's Mother Superior from "Sound of Music," pushes a granny cart with groceries to make herself especially vulnerable. Evelyn Franzen and Luli Markham, hot off a sold out run of "Arsenic and Old Lace," work in tandem.


ROCCA: Evelyn helping Luli, who pretends to be blind. Drivers have indeed noticed and reacted with their horns.


ROCCA: Rockville now has a noise pollution problem equal to a third world megalopolis.


ROCCA: "I took this gig pretending to be a little old lady," said Luli Markham, "now I'm suffering total hearing loss."



SAGAL: Fake little old ladies trying to slow down the traffic in Rockville, Maryland. Your next story of unhelpful help comes from Amy Dickinson.

AMY DICKINSON: Last November, when all of England was going barking mad over the royal engagement, the Royal Humane Society decided to capitalize on the craze for all things royal by creating an ad campaign showing the queen with her herd of Corgies and the slogan, "Corgies, they're royally cool."

The shelter was hoping to promote all dog adoptions, but it turns out the people only wanted Corgies. And so the shelter disguised 200 puppies.


DICKINSON: Pugs, mastiffs and border collies, ad Corgies. Dying their fur blonde, and in one case installing prosthetic ears under the head of a very angry Chihuahua.


DICKINSON: The problem is that all puppies grow, and these puppies grew up not to be Corgies. When one horrified owner realized his little royal puppy was actually 180-pound New Finland, he dropped off the dog at the gates of Buckingham Palace, along with its adoption papers. Other disgruntled dog owners followed suit, and the pack of unruly dogs grew. Dudley Ladu, palace spokesman said, "The queen is not amused."



SAGAL: An attempt to get dogs adopted does not work out when they're all disguised as Corgies. Your last story of assistance you could do without comes from Adam Felber.


Here's a multiple choice. If you're a state-funded unemployment agency trying to connect with the jobless community, do you A: offer counseling seminars, B: host a jobs fair, or C: spend $14,000 on red superhero capes for the jobless as part of your flagship capability program?


FELBER: Well, if your name is Workforce Central Florida, the answer is obvious; grab those capes and encourage the jobless to fight a cartoon character named Dr. Evil Unemployment. As it turns out, the idea of dashing into a phone booth to change clothes wasn't such a hot concept with a group of people who are in danger of genuinely having to do so.


FELBER: And this week, the program was denounced by the state director as, quote, "Insensitive and wasteful." Workforce Central Florida director Gary J. Earl defends the program saying that his agency has also recently placed 59,000 people in jobs. Presumably in the burgeoning fields of newspaper reporting, newspaper photography and teaching at schools for gifted mutants.



SAGAL: All right, here then are your choices. From Mo Rocca, fake little old ladies hired to slow down the traffic in Rockville, Maryland. It did not work. From Amy Dickinson, dogs disguised as Corgies to get them adopted quicker in Britain. That did not work. Or from Adam Felber, superhero costumes and capes distributed to the unemployed to make them feel better about their unemployment. That did not work. Which of these was the real attempt to help that got nowhere, in the news?

ALEXANDER: There's no fourth one, huh?

SAGAL: No, sadly.


ALEXANDER: Well, Mo, we have little old ladies, blind people and nuns, we've got everything. Amy, I can't imagine a mastiff disguised as a Corgie. So even though Adam's is completely preposterous, I'm going to go with Adam.

SAGAL: All right, you're going to pick Adam's story of the employment agency.



SAGAL: In central Florida. Well, we actually spoke to somebody representing the people who made this very well meaning attempt to help.

KIMBERLY CORNETT: The cape was an opportunity for people to become essentially a superhero.


CORNETT: And defeat Dr. Evil Unemployment.

SAGAL: That was Kimberly Cornett-Sullivan. She is a spokesperson for Workforce Central Florida, talking about their superhero cape program. By the way, they have ended that program.


FELBER: Or have they?

SAGAL: Da-da-da-da.


SAGAL: But congratulations, Mick, you got it right. Well done. You earned a point for Adam. You've won our prize.

FELBER: Thank you, Mick.

SAGAL: Carl Kasell will record the greeting on your home answering machine. Well done, sir. Thank you for playing with us today.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.


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