Hey France! Here's Spud in Your Eye!

Some might say "cheap publicity stunt" or even "silly waste of congressional salaries" about the antics of House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).

Some might use those unpleasant phrases -- but never us!

We are, frankly, very grateful that they called a news conference yesterday to announce the deletion of the word "French" and the substitution of the word "Freedom" alongside fries and toast on the menus of House restaurants.

"This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," Ney told a throng of journalists assembled in the Longworth Building cafeteria to receive his important news as U.S. soldiers girded for possible war against Iraq.

Jones -- between a dozen other interviews -- told The Post's Anne Schroeder: "This isn't a political or publicity stunt. We feel sincere as to what we've done. This isn't going to change the debate or course of the world. It's a gesture just to say to the French, 'Up yours!' "

French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte had no official response to yesterday's event -- which caused the embassy switchboard to light up with calls from reporters seeking comment. But embassy press officer Jeannie Freud, saying she spoke for herself and not her government, told us: "Either these two have a great sense of humor or no sense of humor at all."

She added: "First of all, French fries are not French at all -- they are from Belgium. . . . It is too bad that someone would take a beautiful word like 'freedom' and put it on something as trivial as a potato. Freedom is too important for fries."

Freud -- a great-grandniece of the father of modern psychiatry -- seemed to want us to understand that sometimes a french fry is just a french fry.

Ney -- whose paternal ancestors came here, via Ireland, from Alsace-Lorraine -- insisted he has nothing against the French people, just their government. "I have about one-third French blood," he told us. "Well, maybe 20 percent."

Before Ney could adjust the percentage downward, we asked him if he intends to explore the possibility of expunging from the menu such items as Russian dressing, chicken chow mein and sauerkraut -- from countries whose governments also have criticized U.S. policy in Iraq. "We can look at the whole food chain," Ney answered, "but I think the French and their statements have rubbed a lot of us the wrong way."

Postal Service to CIA: Stop It or Else!

* We apparently caused an inter-bureaucracy tiff with yesterday's report that for the past three years, the Central Intelligence Agency has been stuffing unstamped postcards into residential mailboxes in the neighborhoods surrounding the agency's Langley headquarters.

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow sounded a tad grumpy when we told him that dozens of alert readers had pointed out that the CIA's mail drop was a violation of federal law. "I'll look into it and get back to you -- after the war," Harlow told us. When we persisted, he groused: "No, no, no, no. I've got all kinds of important issues to deal with -- al Qaeda and Iraq. We'll get to the postal regulations when we can."

But the Postal Service viewed the matter with a teensy bit more urgency. It turns out that the CIA is in breach of United States Code, Title 18, Section 1725: "Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter ... on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service ... shall for each such offense be fined under this title."

Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan told us that yesterday "our inspection service got in touch with the CIA and advised them that we would hate for their certainly well-intentioned lapse to happen again. We don't think they did this 'knowingly and willfully.' But if it happens again, then it will be 'knowing and willful.' "

Nadine Strossen's Thong Song

* Not since Monica Lewinsky flashed her thong at Bill Clinton -- and described the act to Barbara Walters as "a small, subtle, flirtatious gesture" -- has anyone used such an undergarment as an instrument of communication in the nation's capital. That is, not until Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Yesterday at the National Press Club, Strossen held up her thong -- emblazoned with the logo of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Total Information Awareness program -- to lampoon what she considers the government's sinister intrusion into personal privacy as part of retired Adm. John Poindexter's allegedly misguided attempt to snuff out terrorism. The night before, Strossen had displayed the thong (a Valentine's Day gag gift from ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero) during a debate with Pat Buchanan. Buchanan offered to model it. In jest. We hope.

"I love to use humor, especially sexual humor, to make very serious points," Strossen explained. Well, it has certainly made us think about the issues.


* New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines and his bride, Krystyna Anna Stachowiak, celebrated their nuptials Sunday at a private gathering at Manhattan's Bryant Park Hotel with the likes of New York Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw on hand to kiss their wedding rings.

Also on hand were party-crashers from the New York Observer, who'd slipped past the greeters and snapped enough photos and conducted enough interviews to splash the Raines-Stachowiak wedding all over today's front page.

"We didn't crash the wedding, we honored it with reverential awe," said Observer Editor Peter Kaplan, in a tone that rather suggested wry irreverence. "After all, Howell and Krystyna are our Ben Affleck and J. Lo."