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Musical interim leaders. The White House finally threw Colin Powell a bone and has turned Iraq over to civilian, not military, control. Remember a few weeks ago when Bush put a retired soldier in charge of Iraq? Well, now the president has tapped L. Paul Brenner III, a retired diplomat and counter-terrorism expert, to be his "special envoy in Iraq." Unlike Jay Garner, the current envoy who reports to General Tommy Franks, Brenner's boss will be Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The appointment is a victory for Secretary of State Powell, who has been pushing to lessen the military presence in Iraq in preparation for a transition to civilian Iraqi control. Brenner also has the diplomatic touch that Garner is not known for. Last week, Garner gave reporters covering Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq a hard time for criticizing the U.S.'s role in the post-war period. Garner chided the reporters, saying, "We ought to look in a mirror and get proud, and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say, 'Damn, we're Americans.'" Such talk doesn't go over well these days, so better luck to Brenner.

Why spread the wealth? The Army Corps of Engineers revealed this week (amid much Democratic criticism) that the contract for to repair Iraq's oilfields went exclusively to Halliburton Co. without a bidding process. The contract, originally believed to be for cleaning up oil spills and putting out well fires, also gives Halliburton control over "operation of facilities" and "distribution of product." That means drilling and selling. Why yes, now that you mention it, Vice President Dick Cheney did run Halliburton before he gave up the job (but not the money) to run the country from a secure, undisclosed location.




He's not going anywhere. Cheney won't return to Halliburton anytime soon, however (why bother when he can still drum up business from the White House?). Cheney announced Tuesday that he will be Bush's running mate in 2004. Cheney told The Dallas Morning News that his health was not a concern, despite four heart attacks. The vice president has a doctor on hand 24 hours a day (the doc must play tons of solitaire while waiting for Cheney to keel over), but noted that the president does, as well (except while choking on pretzels, apparently).

Do we really have to vote for one of these dopes? For the first time, the nine "candidates" for the 2004 Democratic nomination for president "debated," last Saturday, in South Carolina, moderated by "journalist" George Stephanopoulos. The country released a collective yawn. The highlights? Uh, there were no highlights. Gov. Howard Dean bickered with Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards bickered with both of them, and Sen. Joe Lieberman reminded people that he once ran for Vice President, really. People keep bringing up that Bill Clinton beat the first George Bush in a similar situation four years ago, but there certainly isn't a Bill Clinton in this bunch. So if you're eager for the country to be out from under Bush leadership, you'll have to wait until 2008. No, wait … that's when Jeb Bush is going to run. Great.



The world hears a WHO. Tired of SARS yet? Well, we've got more news, and it ain't good. The World Health Organization (WHO. He's the guy on first base. What? Second base.) says the disease is more deadly than they'd estimated. It's killing about 15 percent of those who contract it - not as high as Mets first baseman Mo Vaughn, who kills 100 percent of those who contract him, but still pretty bad - a number that's almost four times higher than they'd thought. Moral of the story? DON'T GET SARS. We really shouldn't have to spell it out for you people.

Moo. Moo. Moo. MOO! Considering they don't have apartheid to clog up their social calendars, the folks in South Africa apparently have some time on their hands. So, hey, why not clone a cow? South African doctors and scientists announced Wednesday they had cloned a calf named Futi. It's the first animal Africa has cloned, other than brutal fascist dictators, that is.




How not to keep your job. Mike Price, formerly the head coach of Washington State, was hired by college football institution Alabama in December. Before he even coached a game, he has been fired. Why? Well, a Sports Illustrated report revealed that Price not only charged more than $1,000 at a strip club on his credit card, but he also took two women back to his hotel room for "aggressive" sex. How aggressive? Read this excerpt:

"At about midnight Price headed back to the hotel. He eventually met up with two women, both of whom he had earlier propositioned for sex, according to one of the women, who agreed to speak to SI about the hotel-room liaison on the condition that her name not be used. The woman, who declined comment when asked if she was paid for the evening, said that the threesome engaged "in some pretty aggressive sex." She said that at one point she and her female companion decided to add a little levity to the activity: "We started screaming 'Roll Tide!' and he was yelling back, 'It's rolling, baby, it's rolling.'"

Man. The Black Table has a strange urge to get into coaching.



Aileen Gallagher, author of three children's books, is in Ireland, if you can believe that. Will Leitch is helping fill in until she returns.