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You had us going for a minute there. Not even The Black Table is cynical enough to say something mean about the president's Thanksgiving appearance in Iraq. What's good for the troops is good for the rest of us. However, activity in the region following Bush's departure is back to dangerous business as usual, returning The Black Table's cynicism levels to their normal highs. We feel much better now.

The Federal Government Book Group just read Catch-22. After rejecting an idea for a complete census of Iraq next summer to prepare voting rolls, American leaders complained to the Iraqi Governing Council that national elections could not take place without a national voting roll. For now, Americans want indirect elections via caucus. The Iraqis, rightfully, know how bad that system smells. The Governing Council also claims that Americans nixed the census plan without even discussing it. Not only will the American military be in Iraq forever, we'll be bringing out our circa-2000 election techniques over, as well. That's really helpful.

Duck, Rummy! The Afghan military (there is one?) reported a rocket explosion near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday. The blast coincided with a visit from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, though it was unclear if Rumsfeld was still in Kabul at the time of the attack. Sometimes you have to wonder about Afghanistan. If the then-second most powerful army in the world (Russia) couldn't tame the place in 10 years of trying, where does that leave us? Besides getting shot at by the Taliban, that is.




Chicken soup might not cut it this year. After five Colorado children died from influenza in the past two weeks, Americans are lining up at clinics to ward off the virus with a flu shot. The flu is striking earlier and harder than in previous years (flu season traditionally begins in December or January), and a vaccine might not always help. Every February, health researchers try to predict which flu strain will strike and what to include in next season's national vaccine. The vaccine is distributed by the Food and Drug Administration. This year, the shot is made up of two types of influenza A and one of influenza B. Though the viral crapshoot often is well anticipated by FDA researchers, they're not always there. A strain of influenza A not included in the vaccine is what's causing problems across the country. So if you're older than 50, between 6 and 23 months or have a chronic health condition, get yourself to the doctor. The rest of us want the time off work, please.



Glad America led the way in disregarding the environment. Russia announced Tuesday that it would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. On Wednesday, Russia did an about-face, saying it might sign on. The treaty requires ratification by those countries that produce 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. accounts for 36 percent; Russia coughs up 17 percent a year. The 120 countries that have signed on produce 44 percent of the world's emissions. Two years ago, President Bush also nixed the environmental treaty; without U.S. participation, Russia is a sought-after signatory. Russia said the treaty might go to parliament next year and would ratify it as long as it was in Russian interests to do so. But considering that Russia's industries have enough trouble being productive, let alone without destroying the environment, there's not too much hope.




Is Mickey next? Roy Disney (nephew of Walt) and two others resigned from the Magic Kingdom's board of directors this week, citing vast mismanagement. In a scathing letter to the board, Roy Disney blasted CEO Michael Eisner for seeking profits at the cost of ingenuity. Roy Disney also complained about customers' image of the company; its sheer dominance replaces the magic of Tinkerbell with an inescapable, not-so-entertaining behemoth. The letter criticized Disney's penchant for straight-to-video releases of sequels and reliance on dull formulas. In short, Roy Disney knows what every parent in America knows and wishes their kids knew, too. Despite Roy Disney's dyspeptic dispatch, the rest of the board is rallying round Eisner. So stay tuned for "It's a Small World," with Johnny Depp walking around on his knees at a theater near you.




It's a book! With words! Black Table managing editor William F. Leitch published his first book this week. "Life as a Loser," a collection of his columns by the same name and chock full of new tales of woe, is now available from Arriviste Press and will be available through next week. The book features a foreword by "Election" author Tom Perrotta. Congratulations on this notable achievement. We're so happy you can finally admit you have a problem. Stay clean!

Happy Birthday, little girl. The Black Table is pleased to announce the birth of Fiona Affronti, niece of The Black Table's crabbiest editor, Aileen Gallagher. Born on November 20, Fiona has a good couple of years ahead of her before she's totally jaded. The Black Table envies her. Especially since she sleeps most of the time.



Aileen Gallagher, author of three children's books, (and another one, about muckraking, on the way!) writes Weekly Rundown every Friday.