The Gate        JON CARROLL -- Saving String And Showing It Off
Tuesday, January 9, 1996
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

I DO HOPE I am not the last person on my block to give you this news; apparently this statement was issued when I was away. But it is a really fine statement, and you can always stand to read it again.

Background: Calvin Klein ran a series of ads that some people said were dangerously close to child pornography. Basically, the ads were photographs of half-naked adolescents in jeans looking sultry, and how close the image came to being offensive depends on your willingness to be offended, your definition of offense and whether there was some kinda damn perfume emanating from the magazine the first time you saw the ad.

Anyway, CK finally decided to pull the ads and to run a newspaper ad explaining why it did so. Rather than saying, ``Look, we didn't mean to be offensive, we were just trying to move some pants,'' it decided to adopt a full-on psychobabble strategy. Here's a sample:

``The message of the CK Calvin Klein jeans current advertising campaign is that young people today, the most media-savvy generation yet, have a real strength of character and independence. They have very strongly defined lines of what they will do and they will not do -- and have a great ability to know who they are and who they want to be.''

Well, that's certainly the message I got. I saw that fine young lad staring at me and I said to myself, ``Yes, he'll be a great neurosurgeon some day, and he'll feel good about himself, and if a drug company offers him a free trip to the Bahamas in exchange for prescribing more of its product, he'll tell them no, no, no, I have strength of character and independence for God's sake look at my pants.''

IN OTHER NEWS: As usual, there are some small inconsistencies and apparent errors in the Xmas quiz, and as always I am happy to deal with these issues and, whenever possible, to blame others.

First, in the answer to the time-line question, I wrote: ``Chaucer publishes `Canterbury Tales,' 1477'' and several readers -- Lisa Hirsch was the first -- wrote in to say that, technically speaking, Chaucer died in 1400 and therefore the possibility that he'd be doing any meaningful publishing work when he was just a skeleton was, to say the least, remote.

So very right. It is true that the ``Tales'' as we currently know them were first gathered up into one volume and printed in 1477, but that was clearly the work of others. Since the error did not change the time line, it technically wasn't an error at all, except for the part about a dead man being engaged in commerce.

Second, with regard to progress of the 20th parallel north through Africa, many people suggested that I was wrong not to include Libya as one of the nations touched by that imaginary line.

The sliver of Libya involved is in fact disputed territory, part of that whole intermittent quarrel with Chad that has riveted the imagination of practically no one, and I chose to take the Chadian position on the matter. Jeremy, of course, has since refused to speak to me.

I apologize for that joke.

In any event, the 20th parallel does cross Libya on most maps, and therefore my answer was technically incorrect only in the sense that it was wrong. Thank you.

NOT ONLY THAT: Many people were taken with my descriptions of Antarctica and wondered how one might take a similar trip, since you can't exactly hitchhike there. (That's one great advantage of Antarctica I failed to mention -- no French hippies taking up the best seats in the local cafes.)

My provider was Mountain Travel/Sobek, whose phone number is (510) 527-8100, but you should take my recommendation with a grain of salt because I know the owner and even like him most of the time. There are of course other suppliers as well. My only advice is not to take a large cruise ship (the passenger complement of the Livonia was 38, which seemed just perfect); fewer people mean more landings and longer visits ashore, which is part of the point.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle   Page E8