back to the Black Table


The world's most dangerous flea market. The looting of Iraq continues, but this time, journalists are doing the looting. U.S. Customs officials said Wednesday that they had seized 15 paintings, some guns and other "souvenirs" at airports in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Boston. Customs didn't name names, but journalists being how they are, Benjamin James Johnson is out of a job. The former Fox engineer, 27, arrived home with 12 paintings he swiped from Uday Hussein's palace. Johnson, already screwed, ratted out the Boston Herald reporter James Crittendon, who had a painting and some "ornamental kitchen items." Just buy the T-shirt, man. But it's not only the reporters. Perhaps after watching Three Kings too many times, five soldiers are under investigation after $900,000 in American currency went missing from a cache worth $600 million hidden in a Baghdad palace. Most of the money has been recovered. In response to the journalists being busted, the nation's media collectively dropped its teriyaki chicken from the government-supplied buffet in Qatar and gasped in shock.

There's a new sheriff in town. Retired Army general Jay Garner arrived in Baghdad this week to begin reconstruction of the post-war Iraq. Garner is competing for attention with Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, who recently proclaimed himself "mayor" of Iraq. The U.S. military isn't so into that idea and issued a statement Thursday saying: "The coalition alone retains absolute authority within Iraq." Zubaidi claimed he had the blessing of the U.S. to take control of the city, though the Army vehemently denies that notion. Zubaidi has been passing out guns and issuing uniforms, when he wasn't meeting with local tribal leaders and clergymen. Competing with Zubaidi is Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi has State Department support, plus an entourage of about 700 fighters. Dazzled by the sheer numbers, former Bad Boy Entertainment entourage dudes are now looking for new opportunities in Iraq.




Didn't you get the Trent Lott memo? Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum is being lambasted after equating homosexual sex with incest and polygamy to an Associated Press reporter. To be fair, Santorum was making the point in the context of a privacy case that's presently before the Supreme Court. Santorum said that if the court ruled in favor of privacy protecting the right to have consensual homosexual sex in the home, then by extension anything done in the bedroom, such as incest or polygamy, is equally protected. It's still a load of crap, but the Black Table is all about context. And since Santorum just can't shut up, he also said that the recent sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church did not involve child abuse but "priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men … We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship." Santorum, who played a large part in getting Trent Lott to stay in the Senate instead of leaving his seat to a Democratic appointee (we're supposed to be impressed by this?), is getting blasted by gay people, Democrats, and now a polygamist in Utah. Isn't it wonderful when everyone agrees?

Outwit, outlast, outspend. The Bush White House revealed its re-election strategy this week in an effort to shock (and awe! and awe!) the Democrats into feeble submission. The budget is as high as $200 million just for the primary, which Bush will win without even having to do anything. The campaign won't officially begin until he accepts the nomination on Sept. 2, a late start, but one tantalizing close to the third anniversary of Sept. 11. The campaign, Bush's advisors say, will revolve around national security and his leadership in the war on terror. (Really, why start talking about the economy now?) The Bush team expressed concerns about the perception that the president was exploiting Sept. 11 for his own purposes, but if they're concerned about the Democrats actually saying anything, there's no need to worry. They never say anything.




SARS is the new Black (Death). The World Health Organization issued a travel advisory Tuesday warning people to avoid Toronto for fear of the SARS virus. Toronto officials are furious and concerned about the warning's effect on tourism. Canada dispatched diplomat Sergio Marchi to Geneva to urge the WHO to rescind the warning. The WHO said it would review the warning in three weeks. Canada has reported 16 deaths attributed to SARS with another 324 suspected cases. The WHO issues similar travel advisories for Beijing, Hong Kong and China's Guangdong and Shanxi provinces. China, whose record-keeping prowess is debatable, accounts for more than half of the world's 4,600 SARS infections and 110 of 262 killed by the virus.

She started out okay. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of South African icon Nelson Mandela, was convicted Thursday on several counts of fraud and theft by a South African court. Madikizela-Mandela, once dubbed "the Mother of the Nation" for her fight against apartheid and her husband's 27-year-long imprisonment, was also convicted in 1991 of kidnapping and accessory to the death of a 14-year-old activist. Yet she still has a seat in parliament (isn't democracy great, folks?). The recent conviction stems from Madikizela-Mandela signing her name to letters used to obtain loans for fake employees of the Women's League of the African National Congress. Her lawyers argued that she knew nothing about the plan. Madikizela-Mandela's next legal action is against the parliament, which is trying mightily to censure her for breaking rules. For the record, Madikizela-Mandela once described her marriage to Mandela as a "sham" and said the birth of their two daughters was "quite coincidental." Funny, that's what our mom said about us.




So that's where all the money went. The board of directors of American Airlines met Thursday to determine whether to file for bankruptcy and if its CEO should be canned. Everything seemed fine last week, when all three airline unions agreed to deep cuts to keep the company solvent. But then CEO Donald J. Carty blew that all to hell. After forcing unions to cut thousands of jobs and their own pay by 25%, Carty forgot to mention he'd keep his pension and get a raise, like most of upper management. Now everyone's totally pissed off and having this huge showdown in a big room in Texas over it, deciding the fate of the company. Nice job, Don. You had the unions over the goddamned barrel and you fucked yourself.

Take five. President Bush announced Wednesday his interest in nominating Alan Greenspan to head the Federal Reserve for a fifth term. On Thusday, Greenspan said he would accept the nomination. Greenspan, who is older than Jesus' grandparents, has been Fed Hed for more than 15 years, over which time he has guided the American economy through the last three-years of falling stocks, two Bushes and a boom.




Live longer with tea. A recent study indicates that drinking tea could be good for the immune system. A research group at Harvard's Brigham and Womens Hospital had stronger immune responses after drinking 20 ounces of tea a day than did a control group that drank coffee. The amino acid L-theanine, found in black, green, oohlong, and pekoe teas, stimulated T-cells, the body's first line of defense. So, to borrow from Harburg and Lane, "let's toast the day, the day we drink that drinkie up, but with the little pinkie up." You could live a while longer. Or at least avoid the sniffles.

Who's the oldest now? Mary Christian, 113, died last Sunday of what the doctors called pneumonia but what was actually incredibly old age. Christian, born in 1889, lived in San Pablo, Calif. In her long lifetime, she worked at a candy factory, as a telephone operator and in the dry goods store that eventually became Macy's as an elevator operator. She was married in 1907 and divorced in 1922. She outlasted both her two sons and all her grandchildren, though somehow still has some nieces and nephews kicking around. All this while enjoying KFC and Twinkies. Rest in peace, Ms. Christian. You deserve it.


Aileen Gallagher, author of three children's books, writes Weekly Rundown every Friday.