ONE OF MY FAVORITE columnists is Calvin Trillin. Recently, he talked about his success in developing a simple pat response in social conversation to anyone bringing up the dreaded subject of the economy. It's actually an erudite expression: "The question is what's going to happen when the deficit-reduction component begins to bite."

If anyone wants to discuss retailing, he says, "The big question about retail is where it fits in vis-a-vis the service sector - particularly after you adjust for inflation."The interesting thing is that no one ever challenges him or says, "What in the world are you talking about?"

So I decided you could use pat phrases like this on other current events familiar in conversation - and memorize them.

You could even steal some formal pronouncements made by in-the-know people - or slightly alter them to make them sound more like your own personality.

On NAFTA, you could resurrect Ross Perot's choice statement: "NAFTA will send hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs to Mexico with a giant sucking sound."

If you want to attack politicians in general, here is a good one: "Attacks on the governing class are increasing. The politicians are just lucky that incarceration wasn't on any ballot anywhere." (Kevin Phillips)

If you think Sen. Packwood needs to be put in his place: "None of us is pure or without flaws. But when those flaws damage the institution of the U.S. Senate, it is time to have the grace to go." (Sen. Robert Byrd, W.Va.)

If you would like to make a pronouncement about health care, use Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent statement: "The health-care industry has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy. It likes being able to exclude people from coverage, because the more they can exclude, the more money they can make."

On the problems of North Korea's power trip: "It's getting harder to deny that maybe what North Korea wants at the end of this is THE BOMB."

On gun control, there is the time-honored phrase used throughout all of American history: "It's not guns that kill people - it's PEOPLE that kill people." Or, if you feel strongly the other way: "Gun owners are hunters who drink beer, don't vote and lie to their wives about where they were all weekend." (Gov. Mario Cuomo, N.Y.)

On Ed Rollins, the Republican political strategist whose political strategy went wild in the New Jersey gubernatorial election: "It's perfectly legal to suppress the vote of any group of people by providing something like a half-million dollars in walking-around money."

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(That's what I wanted during the holidays - some "walking-around money.")

Or if you really feel like stirring up a conversation, just use any or all of the recent statements of the new political star on the Russian horizon, none other than the charismatic Vladimir Zhirinovksy: "We should immediately crush Baltic independence and annul Russia's 1867 sale of Alaska to the United States. We should expand Russia's borders. We may have to shoot 100,000 people, but the other 300 million will live peacefully. While we're at it, let's put more people with blond hair and blue eyes on TV as news anchors. Finally, Israel should seriously consider adopting Russian as their official language.

"And by the way, these inflammatory claims that I am racist or fascist are all just incredible examples of propaganda!"

THAT should get the party going! (Or am I thinking of the Nazi party?)

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