CSS Is Fun!
Something finally clicked, and I think I now understand the CSS positioning! I restructured the entire layout to make real sense. As an added bonus, I even solved my comment block (with the asterisks) problem.
The side bar is placed using absolute positioning, as are the columns of *'s. There are no tables here at all now. For accessibility, the menu and *'s actually exist in the source code after the content, so you don't have to wade through the navigation links with a text browser, pda, wap browser, or text-to-speech converter. (Of course, everyone needs to be able to access my very important blog in all those ways several times a day.)