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There's an old joke about chutzpah: A boy found guilty of murdering his parents faces sentencing. The judge asks if he wishes to speak in his own defence before sentence is passed. "I do, your honor," the boy replies. "I would ask the court to weigh generously the fact that I am now an orphan."

Just so, disgraced US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) head Michael Brown has decided to share the secrets of his incompetence with paying customers of his new outfit, Michael D. Brown, LLC. That's right, the fellow who, on assignment in a devastated New Orleans, whinged bitchily about needing more time for a proper hot meal, and who gushed about his new suit ("I am a fashion god!") while the city drowned in the filthy waters of Lake Ponchartrain, is about to instruct the masses on what he calls "disaster preparedness."

"Hurricane Katrina showed how bad disasters can be, and there's an incredible need for individuals and businesses to understand how important preparedness is," Brown is quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

This must have been an epiphany for Brown, whose only qualification for becoming FEMA's director was having been the college roommate of a former FEMA director. In spite of an equally out-of-touch President's famous endorsement, "An' Brownie, yer doin' a heck of a job," the evidence on the ground made it clear that he was doing anything but.

The hook for his new venture is helping others to avoid the blunders that he and his boob of a boss in the White house made when disaster struck in Louisiana. And where practical instruction fails, he will teach us at least to avoid looking like uncaring oafs, by doing as he says, not as he does. Thus his disgrace will become instructive, and, with luck, redemptive.

Like others before him who have turned, or are turning, public disgrace into a lucrative career - we mention Anna Nicole Smith, Monica Lewinski, Judith Miller, Paris Hilton, Victoria Gotti, Tammy Faye Bakker, and Martha Stewart in passing - Brown is betting that the insatiable American appetite for re-invented sinners will open the way to a big payout. But the American cult of the redeemed is a girl's club, as the failure to hold the limelight of Jimmy Swaggart, Pete Rose, Robert Blake, Jayson Blair, Kato Kaelin, John Bobbit, Jim Bakker, Bernard Kerik, and Kevin Mitnick clearly illustrates.

Put simply, Li'l Kim will emerge from prison a force to be reckoned with. Congressman James Trafficant will not.

Still, Brownie is optimistic. "I'm doing a lot of good work with some great clients," he enthused. "My wife, children, and grandchild still love me. My parents are still proud of me."

That brings me back. During one semester in college, I found myself failing French. Yet, sure enough, my friends, family, and loyal setter still loved me. The difference, however, is that it never occurred to me to open a cottage industry selling French language instruction to fellow students. I just didn't have the chutzpah.

And thinking back on it, I suspect that if I had, I would have kept only the setter's affection. ®

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