Let's see. Where were we before the lights went out five months ago?

Oh, yes, we were working up another cheap shot at the Honorable Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). Next thing we knew, there were lots of doctors cutting into various parts of the anatomy. They say all is well.

So now it can be revealed that the hospitalizations were a cover for a clandestine investigation of hospital cafeterias from Charlottesville to Baltimore. Conclusion? Don't go. They serve lethal Jell-O.

Worst of all, now we can't remember what the Biden item was.

All Aboard the Orient Express

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! You've got to move quickly if you want to attend the Treasury Department's Office of Technical Assistance annual conference starting Tuesday and running through the end of the week.

Sure, times are tough. There's not a lot of money in agency budgets for training and travel to help other countries fight criminal and terrorist financing. So OTA has decided to hold the conference -- where else? -- at the Ritz-Carlton in Istanbul.

"The hotel is brand new this year and sits right on the Bosphorus and is gorgeous," OTA's Jane Antonovich said in an e-mail invitation. (Shows to what lengths some people will go to ensure a quality training experience.) Better yet, the hotel is billing at the government per diem rate -- $150 for hotel, $68 for food -- she said, and that "includes breakfast."

"If taking a spouse," Antonovich advised, "you will need to pay the difference in rates (I believe that is about $20 per night.)"

Departure is on Friday, making a brief extension simply de rigueur.

The Istanbul week is not sitting well with other agencies on a special task force to provide assistance to countries in combating terrorist financing. They say they've had no money for months for this critical effort. And the OTA conference, with about 100 officials and contract employees likely to show, will cost a couple hundred thousand bucks, not including contractors' salaries, by one estimate.

"Hogwash," responded one Treasury official. The annual conference, required by law, isn't paid out of anti-terrorist funds, he said. He said it costs the same to hold the sessions over there as it does to bring people to Washington. Earlier conferences have been in Dubrovnik, Slovenia, and at the Madison Hotel here. "We do it off season" in Europe, he said.

So the Marriott Crystal City was booked?

Armitage Takes to Airwaves to Boost Nominee

The heretofore television-averse Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage popped up on the tube last week for a long interview with Jim Angle of Fox News, the conservatives' favorite network. Most curiously at this time of great anxiety over war with Iraq, general Mideast turmoil, those wacky North Koreans and such, a substantial portion of the interview was taken up over a question most viewers would not consider a top concern: the nomination of Maura Harty to be head of State's consular affairs bureau.

Harty had been deputy to former bureau chief Mary Ryan, who was axed when it became known that the agency improperly granted visas to the 9/11 terrorists. Harty also has been involved with the bureau's children's affairs office, which has been much criticized for its handling of cases involving overseas child abductions. Conservatives in town and on the Hill had been yammering that Harty was too much like Ryan and rumbling about opposing her.

Armitage, who's tight with the right, gave a lengthy, point-by-point response, saying President Bush and Secretary Colin L. Powell had "looked closely at [her] qualifications and they pronounced themselves satisfied."

"She's feisty, she's tough, she knows the issues inside and out," he said. What's more, "it was Maura Harty who began the [children's office] in the early '90s, which started with four people and it's now got 17," he said.

Talk about detailed prepping for a question. Some folks got to thinking Armitage was just a bit too prepared.

Turns out, State decided to offer up Armitage to Fox last week on the condition that, in addition to other matters, he would be asked about Harty's nomination. Probably a good move. The Senate confirmed her last week.

Deputy Bush Counsel Moving On

Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, a key player in legal issues related to the war on terrorism, is leaving soon to make serious money in the private world. Flanigan, who has 14 kids to feed, submitted his resignation the day after the elections. He had been head of the office of legal counsel in the Bush I Justice Department and a partner in White & Case before his latest tour of duty.

There's no word on a successor, but one possibility being heard around town, if the administration goes in-house, is associate White House counsel Brett Kavanaugh, a former Supreme Court clerk, partner in Kirkland & Ellis and brain-truster for special counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who headed the investigation into allegations that Clinton deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster was murdered. If Kavanaugh gets the nod, he would sit in Foster's old office.

Off to the FBI

Margaret Camp, communications director for 51/2 years to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), before that press secretary for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and before that here at the Washington Post in Book World, has moved over to the FBI where the title will be senior writer in Director Robert S. Mueller III's office.