President Bush's battles with the English language are sometimes like a gift that keeps on giving, if not an antidote, then perhaps a palliative to these rather grim times.

He was in superb form yesterday, offering what may have been his best Bushism ever in a speech at a White House signing ceremony for a $417 billion defense bill.

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," he said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

This stunning announcement of administration resolve lifted nary an eyebrow among the assembled Pentagon military and civilian chieftains and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.). Bush then got back on message, saying, "We must never stop thinking about how best to defend our country."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush's misstatement "just shows even the most straightforward and plain-spoken people misspeak."

"But the American people know this president speaks with clarity and conviction, and the terrorists know by his actions he means it," McClellan said.

Whatever "it" is. Could this force Michael Moore to redo the ending to that movie?

Scales of Justice Weigh Naughty Words

Speaking of the beleaguered English language, the Justice Department is reported to be monitoring employee e-mail traffic for naughty words, according to an employees union.

AFSCME Local 2830 President Stu Smith said he learned last week that an automated device known as the "MailMarshal" blocks messages when it spots "unacceptable language, or inappropriate material." Two employees got messages from the "net nanny," Smith said, telling them: "Please clean-up or re-phrase the message and send it again."

This electronic program also apparently gives a numerical weighting or score to each of the various bad words it discovers, he said, so that the worse the word, the higher the score.

Smith, whose union represents folks in the Office of Justice Programs, said he has asked officials what this was all about. "Is it for disciplinary purposes?" he asked. "We don't know." But it seems clear this is "not for security," he said.

Well, lots of Internet providers have smut filters so parents can protect kids from dirty words. And the Justice Department is known to be sensitive to matters of taste and morality. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft spent $8,000 for a giant curtain so visitors would be protected from the sight of a statue of a woman with one bare breast.

Smith says he has also asked for a list of the "bad" words but has not received an answer. Maybe they've tried to send him the list, but for some reason it just keeps getting kicked back?

Powell in the Swallows' Nest

Talk about exporting American values . . . Secretary of State Colin L. Powell likes to visit with students while he's on his many trips abroad. So he scheduled a stop at the Economic High School in Sarajevo for a chat.

Before Powell showed up in the classroom, Lynn Cummings, a U.S. Embassy official, briefed the kids, noting that Powell does not approve of gum chewing, finding it, among other things, not "ladylike." (About half the kids were guys.)

So swallow the gum, she admonished.

Good thing they weren't chewing coca leaves or tobacco.

Nine Months and Counting

Keeping up with . . . The Pentagon inspector general's office must be working day and night, 24/7, to wrap up what must be an incredibly complex investigation of Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Loop Fans may recall the investigation began more than nine months ago after Boykin, in uniform no less, was caught on videotape talking about the war on terrorism as a "spiritual battle" and made disparaging comments about Islam. Muslims naturally were furious.

In April, we were told the report would be ready in a couple of weeks. Then in June, it was going to appear pretty soon. So now it's August and still no sign of any conclusion.

Could it be his comments were a secret psy-ops effort gone awry? A truly innovative approach to winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world?

Changing Channels

Let it not be said that our nation's armed forces are not New Age. No fewer than 14 senior officers trooped up to the Hill last Friday to respond to concerns about the troubled new C-130J transport. One of the Air Force's handouts -- "Program Is on the Correct Path" -- admitted that before fiscal 2002, there was a "disjointed program."

But then a "Blue Ribbon" group from the armed forces, the "Acquisition Community" and manufacturer Lockheed Martin was formed and got together and had a "Group Hug."

After that, everyone doubtless felt a whole lot better. Too bad the plane apparently still doesn't meet its military requirements.