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The Front:

What just happened? Oh, wait. Nothing. In a rare press conference Thursday, President George W. Bush told the Washington press corps and America that "inspection teams do not need more time or more personnel" and that his administration is in "the final stages of diplomacy." In short, if you haven't guessed already, we're going to war.

Though the D.C. press corps did not have the guts to ask whatever the hell happened to Osama bin Laden, someone did wonder if Bush was at all affected by the peace movement. "I appreciate societies in which people express themselves," Bush said ambiguously, adding, "I've seen all kind of protests since I've been the president." Mr. Bush seemed irritable throughout most of the press conference, but conceded that if Saddam Hussein went into exile, "that would be fine with me." The Black Table hears great things about Elba this time of year.


He had it better with the Taliban. The FBI announced Thursday that it was investigating an alleged assault against American Taliban John Walker Lindh. An anonymous tipster alerted the San Bernardino County Sun that Lindh was attacked by a member of a white supremacy group. A prison official said Lindh got away with only a bruised forehead. Another source told the paper that the prison's Muslim community had been protecting Lindh, but stopped when they decided he was not a "radical dissident." Apparently, abandoning your cushy, upper-middle class existence in Northern California to join a bunch of crazies in the desert for a war that has nothing to do with you isn't hardcore enough. What are those Muslims in for?

Cutting class for something educational doesn't count. Thousands of high school and college students across the country walked out of classes Wednesday to protest a potential war in Iraq. About 1,000 students turned up in Chicago, 1,500 at Penn State University, and thousands more in New York and Los Angeles. The protests were inspired by worldwide demonstrations on Feb. 15. The Bush administration hasn't commented on protests because the Bush administration doesn't comment on much. But if it did, The Black Table imagines Bush saying something like: "Cutting class for activities other than streaking and binge drinking does not represent American values. Besides, you'll have a total change of heart when you turn 40 and find your 'faith.'"

Baseball? Justice? Same rules. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld California's controversial "three strikes" law, which requires sentences of at least 25 years on a third felony conviction. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the majority opinions for the two cases that tested the law. The court held that the three-strikes law does not violate the Constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" because "the [Supreme] Court has not established a clear or consistent path for courts to follow in determining whether a particular sentence for a term of years can violate the Eighth Amendment," the opinion said. The constitution also does not prevent a state from legislating "that protecting the public safety requires incapacitating criminals who have already been convicted of at least one serious or violent crime," O'Connor wrote. The appellate hopes of about 7,100 prisoners who were sentenced on their third strike were quashed with the ruling.


They're at it again. The explosive back-and-forth between Israel and Palestine flared Wednesday when 15 Israelis were killed in a bus bombing in the seaside city of Haifa. Thursday brought death to 11 Palestinians after the Israeli military raided a refugee camp in Gaza. Israeli troops denied firing on civilians and blamed the deaths on a man in a crowd who detonated a bomb. But witnesses said the soldiers opened fire on bystanders who were watching the raid. Hopes for peace in the region went up with the bus.

How many Muslim separatists groups can there be? Investigators in the Philippines believe that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (you guessed it; another separatist group) was behind an airport bombing on Tuesday that killed 21 people, including the bomber. (The Black Table takes this opportunity to alert you that this group's acronym is M.I.L.F. Recognize that most separatists haven't seen American Pie yet.) M.I.L.F. -- which calls itself the Liberation Front, but why should we follow their rules? -- has been seeking a separate Muslim state in the Philippines for 25 years.


Blame it on Napster. French media conglomerate Vivendi Universal posted a $25.6 billion loss Thursday. The figure broke the record for the biggest-ever corporate loss by a French company, which French Telecom set just last Wednesday by posting a $22.6 billion loss. It seems the only way Vivendi can right itself is to sell off $7.7 billion in assets in 2003, or perhaps release some movies or music that don't completely blow. Investors expected Vivendi to announce what it was going to put on the block, but Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou declined to comment on any potential deals. Wall Street suspects that the Universal Music Group, Universal Pictures or the Sci-Fi Channel could go.


Is that your final cough? A British army major, his wife, and a college lecturer are on trial for supposedly trying to cheat on the British version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" The prosecution told the court of an elaborate scheme involving vibrating pagers. One of four pagers was supposed to vibrate with the correct answer. This was a little complicated, so the pair enlisted the lecturer, who was supposed to nonchalantly cough at the right answer. There is no evidence that Major Charles Ingram actually used the coughing method at the Sept. 10, 2001, taping, but producers got suspicious and withdrew the prize shortly after recording. Coughs? Are you kidding?

But what happened to the rest of her? Richmond, Va., police have recovered a $10,000 wig belonging to Cher that was stolen after a Feb. 26 concert. A city police employee overheard a man bragging about stealing the wig. When police found him, the man said he gave the wig to a female outside the show, who eventually turned it into police. The man, who should be publicly flogged for bragging about such an embarrassing crime, could be charged with robbery and may net 20 years in prison. The wig is being held "as evidence." Neighbors are reporting increased disco ball glints and the lusty strains of "Believe" emanating from Richmond Police headquarters.



By day, Aileen Gallagher is a private investigator. By night, she sleeps.