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THE PUSHMI-PULLYU

    Once a pushmi-pullyu was invited to appear on public television.
    With a head at each end, the pushmi-pullyu was understandably attractive to interviewers on highly regarded news and public affairs programs. And the prospect of getting two heads in place of one was bound to appeal both to producers mindful of budgetary constraints and to local fund-raisers looking for that special plus at pledge time.
    The pushmi-pullyu could have opted to become a regular on one of the cable networks, making a name for itself in the customary snort-and-snicker fests that fill so much of the broadcast schedule there, but it considered such behavior to be distinctly infra dig. Certainly not the equivalent of holding forth in front of a computer-generated graphic repeating the name of a prestigious university over and over. The degree of gravitas automatically conveyed by such staging was precisely what it should be.  That fact and the public television format of equally divided assertions on every controversial issue delivered in low-key, lecture-like tones agreed far better with the pushmi-pullyu’s estimation of its own intellectual worth.
    For years it had been cultivating precisely this art of self-canceling thought in the halls of academe and at influential think tanks. Whatever the topic under consideration, the pushmi-pullyu had become adept at supporting opposite sides with the same degree of conviction and at demonstrating the mental deftness to change positions without ever appearing, or at least ever admitting, to have done so. As a result, it had experienced no difficulty in earning rapid promotion, early tenure, release from all teaching, and other marks of academic recognition. 
    The pushmi-pullyu’s curriculum vitae was easily quadruple the length of any of its colleagues’ and listed publication after publication with titles containing a colon in the middle to balance a cleverly cryptic opening with a follow-up phrase intended to make some sense of it. On occasion, the pushmi-pullyu replaced the colon with the word “or,” and it may have been this “or” that especially appealed to those in public television charged with enlisting evenly divided authorities for nightly, zero-sum discussions.
    The pushmi-pullyu never disappointed its hosts in this regard. On any issue, it could always be relied upon to respond immediately to a penetrating question on the order of “What do you think about our previous guest’s statement?” with an appropriate counter-opinion and then, without missing a breath, to switch to the other head and counter its own counter-opinion before opposing guests could even open their mouths. 
    In addition, because it was always pushing and pulling against itself, the pushmi-pullyu had the welcome characteristic of never forcing the audience to go very far in any direction in order to follow it, which allowed virtually the same set of opinions to be recycled again and again, night after night.
    All went well in this mutually agreeable marriage between celebrity academia and broadcast journalism until a child touring the studio one day as part of a school field trip saw the pushmi-pullyu waiting to go on set and asked, “Excuse me, but since you’ve got heads at both ends, where does the ‘you know what’ come out?”