Everything seemed to be looking good to go, as they say, on the nomination of Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, to be ambassador to China.

Except for one teensy problem. Apparently nobody asked the Chinese if they'd accept Prueher, who oversaw sending warships to the Straits of Taiwan during the 1996 Taiwanese election campaign.

Diplomatic protocol is that ambassadors, before being nominated, must be accepted by the recipient country, a blessing known by the French "agrement." But the National Security Council, which was handling the search for an ambassador, apparently didn't run this by the Chicoms before the White House made its official announcement.

Now the nomination, which administration folks hoped would go to the Senate any day, is awaiting not only final vetting, which should be completed soon, but also the much more problematic Chinese approval. And when will Beijing sign off?

Some countries take longer than others, one official opined.

Yeah, especially when you bomb their embassies.

Name a Mouthpiece for Milosevic Contest

It came as no surprise last week that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague for his role in atrocities and mass deportations in Kosovo. Most everyone thinks he's guilty.

But even so, everyone is entitled to a lawyer, and the odds are Slobo doesn't have one with the right kind of experience to defend him at the eventual megatrial and media circus.

You can help. Enter the First Annual Loop Who Should Be Slobo's Lawyer and Why Contest. Simply pick the best possible lawyer he could hire and (briefly) explain why. Top 10 winners get those snappy new blue and white In the Loop T-shirts.

Send entries to: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or via e-mail to loop@washpost.com. Please include day and evening telephone numbers. Contest deadline is June 11.

Revealed: Secrets of the [Deleted] Laptops

Speaking of contests, we have now discovered what was on those CIA laptops that were inadvertently sold at auction. This contest generated entries from around the world. Some were creative. Some, as would be expected given the subject matter, were pretty weird.

And the winners are:

* "Transaction records from connections to www.hotsexychat.com [and] a guide to denying Freedom of Information Act requests."--Douglas Merrill, a political scientist at the Center for Applied Policy Research at the University of Munich.

* "J. Edgar Hoover's secret to baby-soft skin."--Holly Hacker, legislative aide for Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.).

* "The amount of campaign contributions the North Koreans will give the Democratic Party for Al Gore's presidential nomination run."--Michael Gormley, a home-schooled 11th-grader from Spring, Tex.

* "Internal White House memo to Ollie North from Ronald Reagan authorizing arms-for-hostage swap."--Nicholas Thimmesch II, former press secretary to Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and now doing public relations in the private sector.

* "Aldrich Ames's copious vodka recipes."--Eric Behrns, legislative assistant to Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.).

* "Directions for hacking into the Lawrence Livermore database."--Chris Clendenen, a service representative for a mechanical engineering firm in Siloam Springs, Ark.

* "The name and address of a young mistress of the second highest-ranking officer of Japan's Public Prosecutor's Office, who recently resigned in disgrace as a result of the story a leftist newspaper got out of her. The newspaper must have bought one of those CIA-vintage laptops."--Itaru Aramaki, a senior adviser at Sumitomo Electric Information Systems Co. Ltd. in Osaka, Japan.

* "The files containing the location of the vault where Al Gore's personality is hidden."--Kevin McTernan, a hospital administrator in New Brunswick, N.J.

* "Just who gave Admiral Poindexter the cue to cop that plea anyway?" and "The name of the Chinese general [who] has the very best expense account."--Joe Foley, who runs a government affairs firm in Potomac.

* "The computers contained no secrets. The story was a plant, a way to convey a secret message to U.S. deep-cover operatives via the media. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get back to my gardening. The blue fox has stolen the wilting marigolds."--David Genser, an international finance analyst at the General Accounting Office.

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all for playing.

Advance of the Homonyms

Washington lawyer Michele Ballantyne leaves Collier, Shannon, Rill & Scott to be special counsel to White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta, replacing Sara Latham, who moves to be White House deputy director of scheduling.

Washington lawyer Roger Ballentine, formerly at Patton Boggs, has moved from the legislative affairs shop to become the White House climate change coordinator.