I Am Woman, See Me Jab

Like father, like daughter -- up to a point. Laila Ali, the 21-year-old daughter of Muhammad Ali, is following her father into the boxing ring. But unlike the man who dubbed himself "The Greatest," she doesn't go in for pre-fight verbal fireworks.

"My dad probably didn't either, eight months into his training before his first fight," Ali told us yesterday from Los Angeles, where she's been sticking to a daunting physical regimen for the last eight months. "He didn't have cameras on him and people interviewing him all the time, because he hadn't made a name for himself yet. First you have to get in the ring and show what you can do."

But Ali has become an instant star since announcing her plans to turn pro a few months ago. She'll be in Washington Tuesday, representing her dad at a news conference highlighting Amnesty International's campaign to outlaw the so-called "stun belt" -- a 50,000-volt shocking device increasingly being used by law enforcement to control prisoners. "It's inhuman and it's just not right," she said -- about the stun belt, not boxing.

"I know what it feels like to be hit," Ali told us. "It's not the greatest feeling, but I'm still boxing." While her father isn't thrilled with her career choice, Ali said: "I'm not scared. I don't know why I'm not scared. I'm just not." Nor is Laila, a knockout in the looks department, afraid a powerful jab might mar her beauty. "I don't sit here worrying about my looks all day."

Ali, 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, has been training and sparring five days a week, but there's no date yet for her maiden bout. "I'll do it when I'm ready and confident," she said. "It won't be long." Sounding just a wee bit like someone in her family, she described her boxing skills as "excellent" and vowed to win the women's world middleweight championship: "I'm not worried about me. And you'll see why, believe me."


"You should not buy a gun anywhere, not even at Kmart. I also think you should not buy synthetic underwear at Kmart. You know why? Gives you yeast infection."

-- Embattled talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, trying to repair her bullet-pocked image with a phone call to "Larry King Live" Wednesday night. After attacking the National Rifle Association, she's under fire for being a shill for Kmart, one of the nation's biggest gun sellers.

A Face Called Hope

* The frenzy over Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate bid -- which edged closer to reality yesterday when adviser Harold Ickes revealed plans for an exploratory committee -- has produced at least one collateral celebrity. She's New York State Democratic Party Chairman Judith Hope, a 58-year-old former Arkansan who came to politics from the apparel industry.

"I come from a generation of women that was encouraged to go into teaching or nursing," she says. "I would have been terrible at either, but I did find another one -- I loved to shop. I was an expert shopper, as most girls reared in Arkansas then were. When I wanted to be a buyer in New York, my daddy told me, `I think you're qualified to do that.' "

Hope -- who lives in East Hampton, where the Clintons have a lot of chichi friends -- has been getting ink by the barrelful with her regular interviews quoting conversations with the first lady, on subjects ranging from Senate ambitions to summer and post-White House living arrangements. Lately, according to one person she talked to, Hope's been telling folks that the Clintons are "freaked out" about all the media attention. And Democratic insiders say Ickes has asked Hope, who earns $85,000 a year in her party post, to quit blabbing about her private chats with Hillary -- advice that, happily, she seems to be ignoring.

Why Is This Man Laughing?

* Maybe he was the soul of bonhomie when consorting hilariously last week with diplomats in Moscow, but the deputy secretary of state is implacably uncommunicative when it comes to The Source. We've referred our question to The Washington Post Strobe Talbott Investigative Unit.


* Bill Maher, host of ABC's "Politically Incorrect," appears in a July Playboy pictorial, tonguing chocolate icing off a naked former National Endowment for the Arts grantee, performance artist Karen Finley. A network spokesman says ABC had nothing to do with the photo session.

CAPTION: Laila Ali: Following "The Greatest" into the ring.

CAPTION: Judith Hope, Hillary acolyte.