Stand down, everybody: It was just a lawyer joke.

That's the judgment of Michigan lawyer Aaron Larson, editor of a lawyer-joke Web site, on a controversial aside made 20 years ago by Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.

Roberts, then a White House lawyer, wrote in a 1985 memo that it was legally acceptable for an administration official to be nominated for an award recognizing her shift from homemaker to lawyer. But, he added, "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."

Liberal groups interpreted it as misogynistic. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, called it "Neanderthal." Even conservative Phyllis Schlafly tried to excuse Roberts by saying he "hadn't seen a whole lot of life at that point" and has since "learned a lot."

But the White House, and many disinterested observers, said it sounded as if the targets of Roberts's barb were lawyers, not homemakers. Larson, a Michigan lawyer who runs, said this was a quip straight from the too-many-lawyers category of jokes. "That sounds like the type of dark humor a lawyer might make about the profession," he said. "If I got that from nine of 10 lawyers, I'd assume he was making a joke about the profession."

Granted, Larson said, "it's usually more directly stated than that."

As in:

What's the difference between a dead lawyer and a dead skunk in the road?

There are skid marks in front of the skunk.


How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?

His lips are moving.


What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?

One is a scum-sucking bottom feeder and the other one is a fish.

Sorry, we got carried away. Lawyer jokes have been fashionable since William Shakespeare wrote in "Henry VI": "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." But, it should be noted, this caused the defeat of Shakespeare's nomination to the Supreme Court. (That was a joke.)

Publicist Gathers No Moss

Those Stones are slippery.

On July 24, the Politics column reported that the Rolling Stones' new album might have a song, "Sweet Neo-Con," criticizing the Bush administration's foreign policy. The group's publicist, Fran Curtis of Rogers & Cowan, adamantly denied it. "Don't know where info is coming from -- song is not about nor does it mention Bush or his administration," she said in a e-mail.

Now the Stones have begun their tour, and the song is out. "How come you're so wrong? My sweet neo-con, where's the money gone, in the Pentagon," is one line. Another: "It's liberty for all, democracy's our style, unless you are against us, then it's prison without trial."

"It is certainly very critical of certain policies of the administration," Mick Jagger told the television show "Extra."

Curtis now says that, in issuing her blanket denial, she was merely passing on "what I had been told" by the rock group.

From Mass. to N.Y., New Spot for Weld

William F. Weld, a popular GOP governor of Massachusetts during the 1990s, is not being coy that he'd love to have his old job back -- only this time in a different state.

Weld now lives in New York, where he's seriously weighing a return to elective politics by taking on Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in the governor's race next year. "My juices are really flowing for this race, and I want to return to public service," Weld told the New York Times in an interview published yesterday.

Weld, a fiscal conservative but social liberal, is the kind of Republican who historically has been competitive in the Democratic-leaning Empire State. Still, he's been politically star-crossed in recent years. In Massachusetts, he lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 1996 to incumbent John F. Kerry (D), and his nomination by President Bill Clinton to be ambassador to Mexico in 1997 was blocked by then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

The Source With No Name

As it routinely does, the White House insisted that yesterday's briefing on North Korea be "on background," meaning that the Senior Administration Official was speaking "on the condition of anonymity," as the newspapers usually put it.

To preserve that anonymity, the White House edits the public transcripts of such briefings to take out references to the Senior Administration Official's name. But the scrubbing has its limits. At one point, yesterday's transcript quoted the Senior Administration Official referring to "my previous job, which was in the Department of State Bureau of Human Rights and Labor." Wait, no need to rush to the State Department table of organization. If that wasn't clue enough, the transcript left in this answer when reporters asked why the briefing had to be kept anonymous: Because, the Senior Administration Official explained, "The story isn't what Mike Kozak is saying." Hmm. Surely a coincidence that there was a Michael G. Kozak who served as acting assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Fortunately, the White House took better care to protect the identities of the reporters quizzing the Senior Administration Official. When reporters identified themselves during the briefing, the White House edited their names out of the transcript, as well.

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are touring, but no one's singing "Sweet Neo-Con," a tune that asks, "How come you're so wrong?"