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Love, we were once assured, means never having to say you're sorry. But the person who pointed this out (Ali MacGraw, "Love Story," 1970) clearly didn't spend a lot of time in Hollywood, where the "S-word" grew this year to become the preferred form of currency for the screw-ups in our midst.

Yes, 2006 will go down as the Year of the Apology. We had Mel Gibson apologizing for trashing the Jewish faith while inebriated; Michael Richards apologizing for spouting the N-word like a man who had overnight contracted severe Tourette's Syndrome; News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch apologizing for nearly saddling the public with a fresh serving of O.J.; and Andy Dick apologizing for ... well, mostly just for being Andy Dick.

Even outside of our fair entertainment capital, the year found 'em catching Mea Culpa Fever, from Rep. Mark Foley to the Rev. Ted Haggard to author James Frey to (gasp) even the Pope. If you didn't have a healthy dollop of public remorse for transgressions great, small and medium-sized, you just weren't trying very hard. Entertainers, politicians, religious leaders, media figures -- it seemed like everyone was doing a little dance called the Penitence Twist.

Of course, this trend is far less about the need to share genuine remorse than it is to save one's sorry fanny. To paraphrase that "Love Story" line -- which has never made any sense to me -- career rescue means always having to say you're sorry ... even if you don't really mean it.

With this admission/contrition fad continuing to take hold as the face-saving marketing tool of choice, the time seems right to lend an assist to the crisis management maestros of the world. I fear that they're in danger of falling with their clients into the dangerous habit of repeating the same apologetic platitudes and coming across as insincere. And insincerity simply won't wash in this town. (Insert snicker here.)

Here, then, just in time for the New Year, I present the Ultra-Heartfelt Emergency Regret Statement-O-Meter featuring responses designed to cover a plethora of sins and situations.

1. "I want to take this opportunity to apologize to: A) the American people, B) my family, C) my Jewish brothers and sisters, D) my African-American homies, E) the male hustler who sold me crack."

2. "I'd like everyone to know that: A) wasn't really me, B) it was the booze talking, C) I was simply channeling my late bigoted, anti-Semitic, homophobic Uncle Irv, D) I love them Jew people, I really do, E) Ich bin ein black guy."

3. "The sad truth is that: A) I have inner rage, B) I have outer idiocy, C) God's still working on me, D) no one knows what it's like to be the bad man, E) I've fallen so far, even Oprah's couch won't have me."

4. "As I stand here before you today, I believe that: A) I've learned humility, B) 'No' usually means 'No,' C) we're all equal in God's eyes, except for those of you who aren't, D) I won't rest until YouTube is out of business, E) the Jews are responsible for only the wars involving guns."

5. "So what I'm asking for is: A) your forgiveness, B) the best defense money can buy, C) access to a PlayStation 3 console, D) for all of you to wipe this from your collective memories like in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' E) a hug."

6. "In the meantime, I vow that I will: A) enter a rehab program, B) stop being such a jackass, C) refrain from ever again publicly trashing the people whom I've long trashed in private, D) get more rest and start every morning with a bowl of Total, E) perfect my 'sincere look.'"
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