Friday, December 18, 2009

Democrats Strike Deal on Health Care Reform

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., triumphantly announced on Friday that Democrats had struck a deal with Republicans to provide universal health care coverage to “every single American, at zero additional cost to the taxpayers.”

“The time to act is now,” Reid said. “We must seize the moment and enact meaningful reform that will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and ensure that no child or adult lacks for medical care.”

President Obama has set a deadline of Christmas for enacting health care reform. He made the issue a centerpiece of his campaign and passage of such legislation would be a major coup.

The compromise has all the major provisions that Democrats — particularly the liberal wing — have long sought, including a public option, the chance for people younger than 65 to buy into Medicare, and permission for the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Reid said that he anticipated the inclusion of such items should please liberal groups who have derided the Democrats for abandoning the core principles at stake in order to garner Republican support, as well as enable them to get at least 60 votes to avert a filibuster.

But Reid pointed out that the compromise legislation also has major sweeteners for Republicans, such as zero increase in cost to the taxpayers compared to the current projections over the 10 year budget window, the period in which Congress calculates costs.

Those eager to benefit from this groundbreaking legislation will need patience and longevity, however. The provisions do not take effect until 100 years after passage of the bill, which is expected to come as early as Monday.

“Some people say that congressmen and women just look to getting re-elected, without any thought of how the next generation will bear the consequences of our actions,” Reid. “But this carefully crafted bill belies that stereotype. With this bill, we are ensuring that our childrens' childrens' childrens' children will never want for necessary medicine or suffer from reprehensible emergency room wait times.”

When asked by reporters why they delayed implementation of the legislation for a century, Reid said that they had initially sought a delay of just five years. “[Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,] was holding out for a 10-year extension but Joe Lieberman insisted that it be 100 years,” Reid acknowledged.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Zhu Zhu Rescue Shelter Created

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. – Zhu Zhu pet hamsters are the must-have present of the 2009 holiday season. They squeak, run through mazes and even ride skateboards without making a mess, making them darlings of kids and their parents.

But Harriet Wortherby knows that a year from now will be a different story. She remembers the Tickle Me Elmo carnage of ‘97 — when just months after parents shelled out big bucks to secure the furry creatures, millions of giggling Elmos were shoved into dusty corners as fickle children transferred their loyalties to Beanie Babies.

In order to turn the inevitable mass abandonment of the hamsters into something positive, Wortherby has established a shelter for the Zhu Zhus at her 50 acre country estate near Summerville and plans to have the hamsters transferred to deserving children in Africa. The shelter is empty now, but she anticipates it will be filled next year. She plans to set up at safe havens at veterinarians’ offices in all 50 states for people to bring the unwanted hamsters, “No questions asked.”

The program, which she is calling “Zhu Zhus for Zulus,” will be modeled after organizations like Aid for AIDS and Recycled AIDS Medicine Program (RAMP), which donate unused AIDS drugs to HIV-positive patients in developing countries. Once a medicine has been prescribed it is illegal to redistribute it within the United States, but there is nothing to bar its redistribution in another country.

The cost of transporting the hamsters will be considerable, but Wortherby has secured the financial backing of animal lover and actress Katherine Heigl, who plays “Izzy” on the hit ABC show Grey’s Anatomy. Heigl’s charity organization, the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, recently paid $25,000 to fly 25 Chihuahuas from Los Angeles to the East Coast, where they will be adopted and spared an unhappy fate.

California shelters have reported a glut of abandoned Chihuahuas in recent years, due in large part to the heightened profile the breed has enjoyed because of heiress Paris Hilton, whose pet Chihuahua Tinkerbell is a permanent fixture in her handbag. But while the increase in ownership of the yappy dog has been concentrated in California, the Zhu Zhu phenomenon has infected the entire country, with online auction site eBay reporting markups of 500 percent. That’s why Wortherby said that she chose Africa as the recipient of the hamsters.

Wortherby’s proposal has received some criticism by ecologists, who say that releasing the Zhu Zhus without a preliminary study could be tantamount to bringing an invasive species to the continent.

In addition, an informal survey of a Zulu village in South Africa suggested that Zhu Zhus might not be received as gratefully as Wortherby anticipates. “I’d rather have a goat or reliable electricity,” said Mzambo Nkosi, a sentiment echoed by his neighbors. “Or maybe Oprah could expand her school so that my daughter could attend, too.”

Salty Caramel is also a guest correspondent for The Discust. This article can also be found at

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Indianapolis Woman Covets Google Phone

INDIANAPOLIS -- All Linda Williams wants for Christmas is a Google Phone, but it's unlikely she'll get it. The much buzzed about phones were distributed to select Google employees last week but they are not expected to be sold to the public until 2010. The homemaker and mother of three boys said she began obsessing about the phone after a tech savvy college student, who works part time at the library where Williams volunteers, told her it would "crush the iPhone."

Williams switched her email account from AOL to Gmail earlier this year and has been a Google enthusiast ever since, jetissoning Yahoo! search and spending her free time looking at satellite views of friends' houses on Google Maps. Williams says she aspires to be a "premature user," with the Google Phone, apparently referring to the term for an individual who embraces a new technology before it becomes mainstream, more commonly known as "early adopter."

Her family is a bit mystified by her ardor for Google, which they say is becoming an obsession. Fifteen-year-old son Luke said he found his mom on eBay last month, bidding on a Google Wave invite. Once she got one, which Luke was able to get for free after posting a request on Facebook, Williams was disappointed after realizing that none of her e-mail contacts -- mostly other stay-at-home moms -- had the Wave, which relies on collaboration with others.

Williams ended up creating a wave with herself, embedding a map to her house along with a yes/no poll asking "Who thinks Google Wave is The Bomb?"

After hearing her library cohort talk about the Google Phone, Williams found out more information about the device -- by googling "google phone," of course, which she recounted to her family. "She tells me it's thinner than the iPhone, but right now she uses a pre-paid clunker cell phone that she never even remembers to turn on," said an exasperated Luke Williams. "I'm not really sure why it being 'vastly superior to Verizon's Droid' matters when you just keep it in the glove compartment for emergencies and you don't even know what a Droid is."

Nonetheless, Williams has told her family that the only thing she wants for Christmas is a Google Phone, though she is resigned to waiting until 2010 to get it.

In the meantime, she is busily planning the family's summer vacation to Mountain View, Calif., where Google headquarters is located. Williams said she hopes for a Marissa Mayer sighting, or at least the chance to try the Google vice president's favorite cupcake flavors.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Polanski Trains for Ironman Triathlon

GSTAAD, SWITZERLAND -- Roman Polanski, the Oscar-winning director currently living in his Swiss chalet under house arrest, is undergoing a vigorous training regime in hopes of participating in an Ironman triathlon.

The 78-year-old director has been forced to stay at his house as he awaits extradition to the United States. But Polanski's limited confines have not hindered his intense training schedule, which includes six hours of training per day, including several hours of running on a treadmill, and 1.5 hours each of cycling and swimming. In order to accommodate Polanski's fitness needs, he is reportedly having a lap pool built underground, as his existing pool is better suited for recreation than serious exercise. In order to expedite construction, crews have been working around the clock, according to his neighbors in the pricey Alpine neighborhood, who say that trucks have been seen removing "mounds of dirt" on a nightly basis.

News of Polanski's triathlon training surprised at least one of his friends. "Roman's idea of exercise is going to the wine cellar to grab another bottle of Chateau L'Evangile Pomerol, at least it was when I saw him last year. He's got that French attitude of, 'Everything in moderation.' I can't see him swimming a couple miles, biking 100 miles, and then running a marathon."

Polanski said that his newfound enthusiasm for exercise came about during his recent imprisonment in the Swiss jail when he had time to think about his priorities and decided to focus on fitness. The interview with Polanski, by telephone, was interrupted at various points by the roar of a tractor dirt scoop and the noisier scenes from "Shawshank Redemption," an Oscar-nominated film with Tim Robbins playing an unjustly jailed prisoner that was playing in the background. Polanski said that he hoped to participate in an Ironman triathlon once "his legal misunderstandings" have passed.

The Oscar-winning director pled guilty in 1978 to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, but fled the United States after it appeared likely he would have to serve additional jail time. Polanski – a French citizen – has his primary residence in France, and has been protected from extradition to the United States. He was arrested in September when he came to Switzerland to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival.

Polanski has come to Switzerland numerous times before, but the arrest warrant appeared to have gained additional urgency when the director's legal team requested a dismissal of the charges, saying that the Los Angeles-based prosecutors had never made a legitimate effort to apprehend him in the past three decades. (After the arrest, a spokesman for Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley refuted that charge, saying that they had given as much effort to bringing Polanski to justice as they did to pursuing decades-old drive-by shootings in South Central Los Angeles.)
A number of prominent figures in the arts and political communities quickly protested Polanski's arrest, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollywood directors such as Woody Allen, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese.

Although initially refused bail by Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court due to his flight risk, Polanski was released on $4.5 million bail in late November after the court deemed that would be sufficient deterrent to his fleeing again. In addition to the bail, which he would forfeit if he fled, he transferred his travel and identification documents. Polanski also must wear an electronic bracelet, and his house has been outfitted with an electronic monitoring system. His legal team has been lobbying hard to prevent his extradition to the United States, and legal experts say the wrangling could take months before a decision is made.

Some critics of Polanski's release said that the prospect of losing the bail money – which he had to pay in full – would be no financial hardship given the director's wealthy friends, and is an insufficient deterrent to flight. But Herve Temime, Polanski's lawyer, rejected as "outrageous" a rumor that Hollywood luminaries had been hosting underground "Free Willy" parties to raise $4.5 million and said that the director's family had been forced to regift swag acquired over the years in lieu of buying new Christmas presents as evidence of Polanski's financial duress.

"My client has suffered enough," Temime said, in an interview in his office, as he hastily covered a Google Maps printout showing the walking route from Gstaad to French border town Les Rousses as 135 kilometers as well as weather reports for Southwest Switzerland in April. "I believe Mr. Polanski will be released, but in the meantime he will fully comply with Swiss law."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Drowning Polar Bears Just 'Lazy Swimmers' Says Palin

Sarah Palin tacked sharply to the right Wednesday as she sought to cast doubt about the "junk science" relating to global warming and questioned the claim that polar bears are drowning due to a melting Artic ice shelf.

Polar bears have become a symbol for some climate change activists as they seek to garner widespread support for a dramatic curbing of greenhouse emissions. Most notably, in "An Inconvenient Truth," former Vice President Al Gore claimed that the population of polar bears was decreasing due to global warming and showed an animated polar bear swimming and trying to pull itself up onto a piece of ice.

Palin's remarks came as the the international climate change talks in Copenhagen wrapped up the fourth day. "Just as obesity is plaguing America's children in the lower 48 states because some parents irresponsibly allow their children to just sit in front of the television and watch junk television shows like Rachel Maddow, so too has this plague of inactivity affected some polar bears," Palin said. "In Alaska we hunt 'n fish 'n do all sorts of outdoorsy stuff, and stay active. Our polar bears are in shape, too. But the polar bears elsewhere -- the Russian ones, especially -- they're just lazy swimmers."

When told of Palin's comment, Conrad Stephopolous, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder who is attending the climate change conference, choked on his røde pølser, a traditional Danish sausage. "Polar bears can swim 150 miles, and there is zero evidence that their swimming abilities have been in any way reduced. Zero. I'd love to see Ms. Palin try to swim 150 miles," Stephopolous said.

Told of the overwhelming consensus by scientists in Copenhagen that polar bears were drowning due to the melting of ice caps, Palin waved her hand dismissively. "Scientists can say what they want with their data and facts, but I know what I see from my house: Russia. If I can see that far, then a polar bear should be able to swim that far, otherwise it's just a slacker."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diminutive Starbucks Barista's Son Insists He's Tall

SEATTLE -- Alcee James, age six, practically grew up in Starbucks. His mother, Rose James, has been a barrista for the popular coffee chain for a decade, and Starbucks became the de facto child care center when her husband left them two years ago.

Alcee has been adopted by the Starbucks regulars and he will often inform new Starbucks workers what drink they should start preparing as soon as they walk in the door. "For here, Venti Americano," he would chirp, when a grandfatherly figure entered, clad in a plaid cardigan. Or "To go, grande sugar-free, vanilla soy, decaf, no foam, mocha latte," for a harried looking woman talking on her phone while scrolling through e-mails on her blackberry.

But Alcee's mastery of the Starbucks lexicon has caused trouble for him at school, where he just started first grade. Alcee is just 3'1" tall, a good half foot shorter than the average boy in his class and shorter than all but one other girl. But when his teacher, Ms. Wetherington, lined them up by height in order to teach them rudimentary statistics, Alcee balked when she called him "short."

"I'm tall!" Alcee insisted indignantly.

Recounting the incident later, Alcee said, eyes wide, "Mommy always says that 'short' is a bad word."

In Starbucks speak, the smallest published size is "Tall," followed by "Grande" and "Venti." Although "Short" drinks are sold, they must be specifically requested and cost less.

Alcee caused further commotion when he pointed at a girl of average height, Elsa Garcia, and said that she was "grande." (Grande corresponds to a medium Starbucks drink.) Elsa, a slightly chubby girl whose first language is Spanish, took offense at his description, which can mean "tall" or "big" in her mother tongue, and slapped Alcee, who slapped her back.

Alcee's behavior landed him in the principal's office, where he continued to insist that his teacher had called him a bad word. It was not until the principal returned to his office after telling his secretary to call Rose James and caught Alcee gulping down some coffee that the Starbucks association was made.

An embarrassed Rose James has since initiated a reeducation campaign for her son, aided by other Starbucks workers and regulars, and they now use "small," "medium," and "large" to describe their drink sizes. Although some of the customers have been confused by the change, the shop has gained a growing cult following for its unpretentious nomenclature. "Our business among the sixty and older crowd has doubled in the last few weeks," James said. "We're a huge hit with the caffeine-seeking geriatric crowd."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Khloé Kardashian and Lamar Odom Struggle With Seven Day Itch

LOS ANGELES -- Recently wedded reality television star Khloé Kardashian and Lakers basketball player Lamar Odom confessed Wednesday that they had struggled with the "seven day itch" but after intensive counseling had returned to wedded bliss.

Kardashian and Odom married Sept. 27 after a whirlwind month-long courtship that made Tom Cruise's pre-engagement pursuit of Katie Holmes appear protracted.

"The first day was awesome," Kardashian said. "That was our honeymoon and we totally lived it up -- we hung out at Chateau Marmont and watched the sunset and learned deep things about each other, like our favorite colors and middle names."

The couple's speedy nuptials raised a few eyebrows, with one guest overheard saying, "Since I have a year to give the wedding present I'll just wait and they'll probably be divorced before then." But Odom insisted that the marriage was one for the ages, even as his lawyer put triplicate copies of an 11th hour prenup in a fire-, water- and nuclear-attack resistant safe.

Among the trials the now-seasoned couple will have to face include Odom's frequent travels for road games. They already had a trial separation when Kardashian had to spend the better part of a morning at the dentist in order to prepare for her upcoming media appearances to tout her teeth whitening pen, Idol White.

The restlessness Kardashian and Odom felt after their week of marriage typically takes longer to occur -- seven years, as memorably documented in The Seven Year Itch, a popular 1955 movie starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. But Kardashian and Odom said that their intense love for each other has made them experience everything at warp speed.

The trouble started one week after their marriage when they went out to dinner at Cut, Wolfgang Puck's popular Beverly Hills steakhouse. Kardashian, who has posed for PETA and does not eat red meat, said she was astounded and shocked when Odom ordered the 34 ounce porterhouse steak and ate it all. "I told him that he should have ordered the kobe beef. At least those cows got to drink beer and have daily deep tissue massages."

Odom, in turn, was turned off by Kardashian's constant texting with sister Kim, who was sitting at their same table. The situation escalated to a full-scale crisis when the waiter winked at Kardashian and Odom caught her twittering "OMG, at CUT and waiter is SO HOT." He retaliated by giving a fan who asked to take a picture with the famous trio a peck on the cheek.

Odom ended up spending the night at friend Ron Artest's house while Kardashian shared a suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with her sister. But by 2:30 a.m., the distraught and lonely couple called Dr. Phil, who gave them tips on how to reinvigorate their marriage.

With their marriage now into the double digit day mark and going strong, Kardashian and Odom say that they are considering writing an advice book on relationships to help other couples whose marriages have gone stale.

They're also taking time to celebrate other milestones, like Odom's first regular season exhibition game as a married man. "We're going to renew our vows at the All-Star break," Odom said mistily.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Liberal Keeps Support for DeLay in the Closet

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Martin Bell attended Berkeley in the 1960’s, is a proud card-carrying member of SCETV and flies to San Francisco every year to attend the Gay Pride Parade wearing a Speedo, chaps and not much else.

But Bell — who asked that his real name not be used for fear of ostracization by his friends and associates — has a dirty secret: He voted for Tom DeLay during the first week of Dancing with the Stars.

The vote for the former conservative House Majority Leader from Texas came despite DeLay standing on the opposite side of every social and public policy issue that Bell holds dear.

“My head said ‘no’ but my heart said ‘you sexy devil,’” Bell admitted shamefacedly, of watching DeLay’s cha cha cha. “I was smitten from the moment he started playing the air guitar and I lost it when he started lip crooning ‘Wild Thing.’ And that slide on the floor? Magic.”

A professor at a local university and a faculty adviser for the College Democrats, Bell watched the first week’s episode of Dancing with the Stars with some of his young political proteges. They took turns booing and throwing darts at a DeLay headshot whenever he appeared on the television.

Bell said that he also took part in the booing and he recoiled at DeLay’s comment that “I got to get prissy.” But DeLay’s dancing was so captivating that he snuck away during the commercial break to text his vote for DeLay and professional partner Cheryl Burke, despite fingers that trembled so badly he could barely type the numbers. He also spent all night voting for the couple online, then spent an hour figuring out how to delete his browsing history so that the Dancing with the Stars website would not pop up and alert his partner to his ideological infidelity.

Keeping his support for the notoriously divisive Republican a secret is important so as not to disillusion his young charges, Bell said. “It’s a responsibility I take quite seriously. There are all these nascent liberal minds and I don’t want them to think that it’s okay to vote for a man who doesn’t believe in evolution; who tried to pack K street with his Republican cronies; and who worked to impeach Clinton.”

He also worries about disappointing his parents. “My dad was on the Hollywood blacklist and Silent Spring was my mom’s Bible,” Bell said. “I don’t even want to think about how horrified they would be.”

Bell has agonized over how to break his infatuation with DeLay. He told the student group that he was busy in the upcoming week and wouldn’t be able to attend the viewing, but says that he has a sinking feeling that he won’t be able to help himself from watching the show at home. And he’s afraid to talk to his conservative colleagues whose politics align with DeLay for fear of being outed as a hypocrite.

One possibility is to seek counseling from a centrist Democratic friend who expressed mild admiration for DeLay’s lack of inhibition on the dance floor in an offhanded remark. This friend has a wayward tendency towards the center, even pondering a vote for Republican John McCain in the 2000 election after disgust over the South Carolina primary. “My friend flirted with the devil, but he came back,” Bell said. “I’m hopeful that someday I will overcome this perverted obsession too.”

Salty Caramel is also a guest correspondent for The Discust. This article can also be found at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Woman Stays Thirty-Eight by Not Posting Birthday on Facebook

SEATTLE -- Linda Ramsey has spent hundreds of dollars on anti-wrinkle creams and costly sunscreens in order to maintain her fading youth. But she recently hit on a free way to defy aging: she erased her birthday on Facebook.

"September 21st came and went without a single person other than my mom wishing me a happy birthday," Ramsey said triumphantly. "Even my brother forgot."

Ramsey says she hit on the idea last year when she realized that 90 percent of her birthday wishes came via Facebook and when she herself failed to wish a friend happy birthday because she was sick for a few days and neglected to log in to Facebook and see the birthday reminder.

It was important to eliminate her birthday while she was still 38 years, Ramsey decided, because trying to pass off her age as 39 years for a prolonged period of time would naturally arouse suspicion.

While her close friends might potentially have her birthday written down somewhere or even know her birthday from memory, Ramsey said it was easy to keep casual friends and acquaintances from knowing her true birthday by always telling them that her birthday was six months off from whatever the current month was. That way, they didn't usually press her on a specific date, and anyway, everyone assumed that she would have it on Facebook.

Ramsey admitted that there was a downside to not aging. "I was a little bummed that I had to eat my birthday cake alone. And last year eight people sent me virtual cakes, but I actually didn't miss those that much."

Ramsey's childhood friend, Samantha Anderson, was surprised and mildly chagrined when told of the missed birthday. "I knew it was around now because it always came about a month after we started school and five weeks before Halloween."

"I don't know how people remembered pre-Facebook. Of course in the olden days people didn't have 600 friends so it was a lot easier," Anderson added defensively.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Joe the Plumber Changes Professions, Goes Hollywood

The man whose name became synonymous with his profession during the 2008 presidential election is trying to change jobs, and with it, his identity.

A former plumber, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher shot to fame during the final presidential debate between then Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., after McCain repeatedly referenced "Joe the Plumber" in discussing how Obama's tax proposal would affect small businesses. Three days prior, Wurzelbacher had been expressed his concern about Obama's tax plan, an exchange that was caught by ABC News.

Wurzelbacher said that becoming known as "Joe the Plumber" was in one sense liberating because no one could ever pronounce his last name and frequently thought it was "wienerschnitzel," an Austrian dish consisting of a boneless cutlet as well as a popular U.S. hot dog chain. But the former blue collar worker-turned-political symbol said that such an identifier was outdated since he has not picked up a pipe wrench or charged anyone $100 to remove a hairball in nearly a year.

However, the man formerly known as "Joe the Plumber" may run into some difficulty in gaining widespread acceptance of his new name: "Joe the Thespian." Wurzelbacher said that he had acted in several productions in high school with the highlight being his portrayal of the character Reverend John Hale in The Crucible.

When asked to comment on Wurzelbacher's acting skills, high school drama teacher Penelope Mackerby said that he had delivered his lines "awkwardly but with great gusto."

Acting skills notwithstanding, Wurzelbacher's conservative affiliation isn't likely to go over well in Hollywood, though his commercial potential may yield leads. His agent, Matthew Roman, admitted that he hadn't had any success in getting an audition for his client until he added a Post-it to the headshot saying "Joe the Thespian -- formerly known as Joe the Plumber."

"The curiosity factor alone is usually enough for an audition," he said. "And we've got some pretty good leads -- ABC wants him for an after school special Obama biopic and NBC has contacted us about having him do a cameo on Saturday Night Live."

When a reporter pointed out that in both roles Wurzelbacher would be playing himself -- or rather his Joe the Plumber self -- Roman said that his client was willing to do so in order to get his foot in the door.

"He's a natural and he has great range. Joe has lots of good ideas about other parts he can play, like Popeye," Roman said. His 'I yam what I yam' is dead on and he's been practicing speed eating spinach."

Wilson Claims He Fought to Get MLK Day Recognized as State Holiday

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Seeking to discredit criticism that he is racially insensitive, Rep. Joe Wilson on Tuesday cited his efforts as a state legislator to get Martin Luther King Jr. Day recognized as an official South Carolina state holiday.

“I revere the man. I think of him as a spiritual brother,” Wilson said. “It seemed only right that his birthday be recognized by the state and I worked with his family to make that happen.”

Wilson has come under attack from former President Jimmy Carter, among others, for yelling “You lie!” during President Obama’s recent speech on health care. Carter said that Wilson’s outburst was “based on racism.”

On May 2, 2000, South Carolina became the last state to make the late civil rights leader’s birthday an official state holiday. Wilson served in the state Senate then, though at the time he had begun his campaign for his current seat representing South Carolina in the U.S. Congress.

Prior to enactment of the 2000 legislation, state employees had the choice of celebrating Martin Luther King Day or one of three Confederate-related holidays. The legislation struck the birthdays of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865. However, in making King’s birthday an official state holiday, it also created another official state holiday on May 10 — Confederate Memorial Day.

Wilson’s claim that he spearheaded the effort to have King’s birthday recognized was treated with disbelief, and even laughter, by friends and critics alike. A friend of Wilson’s from his state legislature days said that it’s possible Wilson had confused his support for the two days. “Sure as hell he supported Confederate Memorial Day. As for MLK Day, I think his view was more, well, let’s just say it was a compromise.”

When asked for comment about Wilson’s claim, Martin Luther King III, son of King, said with incredulity, “Are you talking about the Joe Wilson that voted to keep the Confederate flag flying above the state house? The one who revered segregationist Strom Thurmond and said that Essie Mae Washington-Williams should have never come forth and said that she was his daughter? That yelled “You lie!” at the country’s first African-American president? Or are you talking about the one whose wife [Valerie Plame] is a spy? It doesn’t matter though, because I never met either, though if I ever met the former I might have to rethink the whole non-violence thing.”

Dexter King, another son of the civil rights icon, replied in an E-mail, “As you know, I am currently in litigation with my brother, Martin, and Bernice King over stewardship of my father’s estate. Nonetheless, I am in full agreement that Joe Wilson never did any sort of outreach to us. I reckon the only ‘brothers’ he has are those he got drunk with at his fraternity.”

King concluded, “By the way, I should remind you that if you choose to air or print my father’s ‘I Have a Dream” speech or engage in any other such unauthorized use of his image or writings we WILL sue. It’s copyrighted. Dexter, Bernice and I agree on that too.”

In fact, one of Wilson’s fraternity brothers from his undergraduate days at Washington and Lee said that suggestions that Wilson is racially insensitive were unmerited. “He was the only one in the Sigma Nu fraternity who wanted to hire a black guy to tend the bar,” said Jackson Horace Smithfield. “Of course, we could hire them for cheaper, so it may have been more a sign of his fiscal restraint even back then.”

Wilson’s claim of having worked with the King family to establish the state holiday is the second time in two weeks that he has been rebuffed. Last week, Wilson cited as evidence of a long friendship with Rep. Jim Clyburn, dean of the South Carolina delegation, his 1998 vote for Mignon Clyburn for state Public Service Commission. Clyburn, the Majority Whip, is the highest ranking African-American in the House and he represents an adjoining district. However, as pointed out by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication, Wilson actually voted against Mignon Clyburn’s appointment.

When told of King’s children’s remarks that he had not worked with them to secure the holiday, Wilson said that honestly believed he had and that his memory must have failed him. “I will say that I have always given my congressional staff that day off,” Wilson said, ignoring or oblivious to to the fact that the day is a mandated federal holiday.

Wilson then began absentmindedly humming “Dixie,” the de facto anthem of the Confederacy, until he spotted an aide’s stricken face and changed to “We Shall Overcome.”

This article can also be found at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fox to Debut Divorce Reality TV Show

The network that has managed to construct more fake prime time romances than any other will have a new spin this fall: a reality TV show about divorce.

Twelve squabbling couples will compete to have the most acrimonious divorce, with serial celebrity divorcee guest judges such as Liza Minnelli, who has married and divorced four times, providing commentary. The winners (or losers, depending on one's perspective) will be determined by nationwide vote.

Contestants will be judged on such factors as who has the nastier divorce lawyer, the role of infidelity, physical altercations, whether spouses are able to finagle their way out of prenuptial agreements and custodial agreements. The children of the bickering couple will be interviewed on the latter point to determine the emotional harm that has been caused by the divorce.

A Fox spokesman denied that the show was in any way exploitative of minors, saying that the interviews would be conducted by a trained psychiatrist "so it's actually free therapy."

Other actions that could lead to high vote tallies include dumping the spouse's clothing on the lawn, hacking into their e-mail accounts, authoring biting Facebook updates and getting all the mutual friends to shun the husband or wife.

The Fox spokesman said that part of the inspiration for the show came from Jon & Kate Plus 8, a reality TV show about Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight children. Interest in the show peaked after they announced they would be divorcing.

In addition to Minnelli, Denise Richards is a rumored guest judge. Richards had an intensely public divorce with Charlie Sheen and had an E! reality TV show called "It's Complicated." Elizabeth Taylor and Larry King -- both of who have been married eight times to seven people -- "are our dream judges but they declined to participate," said the spokesman. "Maybe next year."

The couple determined to have the most acrimonious divorce will have their lawyer's fees paid by the network.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Anti-Big Government Protestors Protest Lack of Portable Toilets

WASHINGTON D.C. -- After three hours of marching, chanting anti-tax slogans and singing "God Bless America" Lewis Able Martin II of McClellanville, S.C., was hoarse and thirsty. So Martin chugged a two liter bottle of Coca Cola, which sated his thirst but led to an even more pressing issue: the need for relief.

Unfortunately for Martin, there are scant toilet facilities available on the National Mall. Martin's wife, Glory Lee Martin, had ducked into the Natural History Museum earlier in the day but the line for the popular museum -- as well as the ones closer to the east side of the Capitol, where the protestors had converged -- had grown to over 10 minutes. Martin didn't want to leave the march for that long for fear of missing his home state senator, Jim DeMint, speak.

Ms. Martin hadn't known where to find a toilet until she asked a National Park Service police officer, who politely suggested she try the nearby museum, which offers free admission. Asked why she was attending the protest, she said that she and her husband were protesting "waste, fraud, abuse and the millions of useless government bureaucrats wasting my hard-earned, illegitimately seized money."

When a reporter pointed out that the police officer's salary was paid for by federal government funds, Martin replied begrudgingly, "One good apple in a barrel of rotten ones doesn't make them all good."

Mr. Martin said that if there had been enough portable toilets provided the crisis would have been averted. "They hauled in a million port-a-potties for the inauguration of Parasite-in-Chief Obama," Martin said. "They should at least do the same for us patriots."

In fact, the Presidential Inaugural Committee paid for the 5,000 portable toilets set up for Obama's inauguration.

Martin -- before he stumbled off with a pained look and awkward gait -- said that he would be writing a letter of protest to DeMint, as well as his representative, Henry E. Brown Jr., also a Republican.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Consultant Helps Celebrities' Kids Adjust to Real World

HOLLYWOOD -- An elite tutoring service has sprung up and the founder's e-mail is being discretely passed from celebrity assistant to assistant.

The service, run by a former nanny to an A-list celebrity, is one that is seemingly very simple: it helps kids who come from wealthy, famous families learn about the real world and how to live in it. The founder of the service, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that she started it after her former celebrity boss commented on how difficult it was to raise children who had famous parents and let them have a "normal" childhood.

The then-nanny offered to have the children stay at her house for a couple of weeks as a kind of "real world boot camp" and teach them about how the other 99.99 percent of the population lives. The visit was such a success that her services have been in high demand ever since, with wealthy parents putting down $10,000 deposits to reserve weeklong slots for their children.

Among the first things that she does is to teach the children how to act normally in public. "Sunglasses are neither necessary nor a good disguise when it's overcast and 50 degrees," she tells them.

In fact, one child was so used to wearing sunglasses outside that he marveled at how coloful everything was without them. "It's more dazzling than mommy's jewelry collection," he said.

The other advice she imparts is to not run, cover their face or scowl when they saw someone with a camera, especially if they are not with their famously recognizable parent. "It's even possible that they want you to take their picture for them," she says.

She also teaches them to pose for pictures naturally, with their arms straight and at their sides. Many of the young girls, for instance, have taken up their moms' habit of putting their hand on their hip -- "to hide arm flab" -- or turning away from the camera and looking backwards over their shoulder.

For interacting with their peers, she gives advice such as not assuming that others will automatically know that "Uncle Steven" or "Uncle Jack" refer to Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson. Other no-nos include referring to "the Cape," "Martha's," "the City," or even Scientology.

Part of the boot camp includes a trip to a soup kitchen -- since many of her charges didn't know that they operated on days besides Thanksgiving or Christmas. They also practice going to the airport and taking a commercial flight in economy class, which entails waiting in the long security line.

Among the other concepts that have surprised her charges are the concept of hand-me-downs and dogs so big that they do not fit in a handbag.

The program has been so successful that the founder is currently seeking other middle class families with whom she can place celebrity children. One of the parents of her celebrity charges, a well known reality television producer, suggested that she make a reality TV show out of it, but she declined, saying that such cameras would detract from the mission of her program.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gov. Sanford Sends Biscuits to Rep. Wilson

Embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford sent a care package of bone-shaped biscuits to fellow South Carolina GOPer and Congressman Joe Wilson Wednesday night. "Welcome to the dog house. I'm so happy for the company! Love, Mark," said the note, according to an employee at Three Dog Bakery in Charleston who assembled the care package.

Sanford received his latest show of no confidence earlier in the day when 61 of 72 state House Republicans signed a letter calling on him to resign. Ever since it was revealed that his "hiking the Appalachian trail" was actually rendezvousing with an Argentine mistress his poll numbers have plummeted, and subsequent squirm-inducing interviews have not helped his case.

But all was forgotten Wednesday night as Wilson, with two words -- "You lie!" -- directed at President Obama during a live speech before Congress managed to take, at least for now, the mantle of most embarrassing Palmetto State politician.

Sanford had been watching the speech with a couple of interns. According to a friend of one of the attendees, Sanford chortled as soon as Wilson uttered the provocative words. He grew positively giddy when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview of Wilson's comment that there was "[n]o place for it in that setting or any other."

"Now the media bastards and those traitorous state legislators can focus their ire on someone else," Sanford apparently said. "I feel sorry for him, though. He's being unfairly maligned just like me."

Sanford has been living alone in the governor's mansion since his wife, Jenny Sanford, moved with her four sons to their home in Charleston. Although he invited his dwindling staff to watch the speech with him, all declined. "Those poor interns didn't know how to say no," said a staff member who continues to work for Sanford because of the ailing economy but who is actively seeking employment elsewhere.

Sanford's friends have also deserted him, with former political allies treating him like radioactive waste and personal friends shunning him and supporting his wife. "I think the guy just wants someone to share a pizza with," said the aide, when told of the care package. "He's hoping Joe can be that guy."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Levi Johnston Accused of Co-opting Storyline from Desperate Housewives

Levi Johnston, almost son-in-law of almost Vice President Sarah Palin, may have embellished part of his Vanity Fair interview, which is due out in news stands later this week.

In the interview, Johnston claimed that Palin had wanted to adopt his son, Tripp, in order to keep Bristol Palin's pregnancy a secret.

"Sarah told me she had a great idea: we would keep it a secret — nobody would know that Bristol was pregnant. She told me that once Bristol had the baby she and Todd would adopt him. That way, she said, Bristol and I didn’t have to worry about anything," Johnston said, in an excerpt posted on "I think Sarah wanted to make Bristol look good, and she didn’t want people to know that her 17-year-old daughter was going to have a kid."

In fact, said a mutual friend of Bristol and Levi who asked to remain anonymous, Johnston made up the adoption story after getting the idea from watching Desperate Housewives. In season four of the wildly popular series, Bree Van de Kamp, played by Marcia Cross, fakes a pregnancy in order to pass off her daughter's out-of-wedlock child as her own. Van de Kamp's character is a conservative, NRA card holding Republican, like former Gov. Palin.

When confronted with the anonymous allegations, Johnston angrily denied them. He also added, "Not that it matters, but Marcia Cross is a hot babe, and I would never equate her with Sarah."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Man Upgrades Cell Phone Plan, Incessantly Calls Friends

SHIRLINGTON, VA -- After years of mockery from his friends and family, Jerry Huston, 31, recently upgraded his cell phone plan so he gets free calls within the Verizon network.

His friends who once ridiculed him for speaking tersely and hanging up abruptly so that their phone conversations would not exceed the minute mark are now paying the price for their mocking. Huston, who previously had the 300 minute plan, decided after getting a promotion to upgrade to the 450 minutes per month plan for an additional $5.

In addition to the extra 150 daytime minutes per month, Huston can talk for an unlimited amount of time with other Verizon customers. The result, say his friends, is a whole new Jerry.

"We used to just e-mail during the day since his boss sits nearby so he didn't want to do lots of personal calls from his land line," said Huston's girlfriend, Maisy Hollows. "Now during his coffee break he'll check in to see how I'm doing and then again at lunch. Then around 4 or so he'll call to discuss we're having for dinner. Frankly, I wish he'd consolidate it a bit."

One of Huston's friends who asked not to be named said that he was weirded out by the almost daily calls. "It used to be that I'd call and either Jerry wouldn't answer then call back a minute later from another number -- a land line, I guess -- or he'd sound very strained, like he couldn't wait to get away. Now he's a totally new person on the phone and won't stop chatting."

The friend said he was contemplating telling Huston that Verizon's reception in his new office building was bad so he had switched to Sprint or AT&T in the hopes that Huston would reduce his constant calls.

Huston is also contemplating buying a texting plan that will let him have up to 250 messages a month for $5. At the moment, he pays $.20 for each text that he receives or sends. His close friends know not to text him unless it is absolutely necessary, but Huston said that the newfound freedom he feels from his unlimited Verizon-to-Verizon plan is making him reconsider his opposition to texting.

"Last year my friend texted me 'Merry Christmas' and I was pissed off because I knew it was costing me and he could have just said that over e-mail," Huston said, via an in-network cell phone interview Monday afternoon. "But on further reflection it was a nice sentiment and it would be nice to wish everyone a Happy New Year."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

U.S. Collection of Tchotchkes Enough to Clutter World's Homes

A new study by a consumerism expert found that the U.S. populace has enough tchotchkes stowed in their houses, garages, apartments, condos, Public Storage Units, vacation homes and trailers to clutter up the houses, shanties, igloos, wigwams, longhouses, and gutters of the world's 6.7 billion inhabitants.

"It's a question of distribution," said Jamie Hao, consumerism expert. "Just as there is enough agricultural output in the world to feed everyone, yet millions still go hungry, so there are enough ships in glass bottles, stuffed animals, Russian dolls and decorative spoons to give at least each person in the world five tchochkes of their very own if Americans would just share. And that's a conservative estimate."

One reason for the high per capita tchotchke level in the United States is Americans' penchant for giving awards. Billions of plaques, crystal paperweights, medallions and door stoppers are bestowed annually to "employees of the month" and for graduations, retirements and other events.

Summer camps are another tchotchke-producing treasure trove. Hao said that her children returned from camp laden with lanyards, dream catchers, and wooden whistles they'd whittled that didn't actually make any sound.

"Americans are also very sentimental," Hao said. Even though they may stow away the paper mâché mask that their kid made in third grade and not look at it more than once a decade, that doesn't mean that it doesn't give them some sense of satisfaction when they do look at it."

Hao estimated that at least half the tchotchkes are ones that people hang onto out of family sentiment or guilt -- like the gold frosted pine cones in a glass bowl that Perry Ramstad inherited from his grandmother that were from the trees in her backyard. Ramstad admits that the pine cones themselves are unremarkable and in poor shape, with many scales missing and an amateurish paint job. Nonetheless, even though he says he's spent at least $100 shipping them around the country for various moves, he can't bear to rid himself of them "since no one else would appreciate them the way I do."

In fact, Ramstad's statement perhaps speaks to a large truth. Just because they United States could provide tchotchkes for the entire world doesn't mean that the rest of the world actually wants them.

A qualitative poll of Palestinian refugees, Cambodian farmers and Sudanese emigres found that tchotchkes ranked last on a list of priorities that they would like the United States to provide after peace, prevention of genocide, a homeland, running water, electricity, sufficient food and iPhones.

Friday, August 28, 2009

DHS, TSA Report New Terrorist Threat: Athlete's Foot

The Homeland Security Department and Transportation Security Agency on Friday held a joint press conference to announce that they have discovered a terrorist plot to start a pandemic of athelete's foot through airport hubs, in particular at the security lines.

Athlete's foot is caused by a parasitic fungus and is usually spread in moist environments where people walk barefoot such as showers and locker rooms.

Since shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to bring down a commercial flight on Dec. 22, 2001 by lighting explosives hidden in his shoes, it has been standard policy at U.S. airports to require passengers to remove their shoes and place them on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed.

During summer months especially, TSA estimated that between one third and a half of travelers wore flip flops, Crocs, or another type of shoe wear that obviated the need for socks.

The terrorist plot included having people with athlete's foot walk barefoot through security lines while discreetly sprinkling the floor with liquid to create a more moist, fungal environment.

In order to avert the spread of athlete's foot, which is typically not life threatening but causes extreme itchiness, TSA announced that it will forbid people from passing through security if they are not wearing socks. They also will be sprinkling baby and talcum powder in the security line in the event that people attempt to walk through with bare feet.

Enterprising merchants have sprung up to take advantage of a potentially lucrative commercial opportunity. Hudson News stores in the New York airports were stocked with overpriced socks an hour after the press conference -- $10 for simple white tube socks, $15 for athletic socks and $20 for 100 percent cotton ones.

Not everyone appreciates the new security rule. "If someone is stupid enough to walk through the line barefoot they deserve to get athlete's foot," groused Greg McIntyre," of Cleveland, Ohio. "Now it's just gonna take twice as long since more people are going to be wearing shoes with laces."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Post Office to Not Deliver Junk Mail for a Fee

Plagued by slumping revenue, the U.S. Postal Service will soon be testing out a new service: not delivering junk mail.

The financially troubled agency has struggled to maintain its market share against competitors such as Fed Ex and UPS. But it's the increasing use of e-mail that has taken the biggest chunk of revenue over the last decade.

The marketing of the new service even echoes the vocabulary used for e-mail. "Tired of junk mail? Have enough credit cards? Tired of being addressed as "John Smith or resident of 215 Maple Drive?" For just $15 per month the Post Office will filter your mail and send it to the trash without it even getting to your mailbox."

The Post Office has also contemplated other cost cutting measures such as eliminating Saturday delivery, but the reaction was mostly negative.

Of course, there is the risk that companies that send junk mail may choose to not do so if their mail never reaches the intended recipient. But the Post Office is hoping that the money from the subscribers will more than offset any decrease in junk mail revenue. Although they will not be releasing figures on how many people sign up for the program, a consultant hired by agency said that they were hoping it could raise $200 million annually.

As with e-mail, the postal service will retain the junk mail for a limited period of time -- probably around two months -- and customers can request that it be delivered or pick it up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bernanke Gets Second Fed Term By Making Clutch Shot

WASHINGTON D.C. -- An invitation to shoot hoops with President Obama may be more coveted than an invite to a State Dinner, but it turns out it can also have a consequential career impact as well.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was reappointed to a second term Tuesday, with news of the move leaking Monday. Economists have been bullish on Bernanke, who has helmed the agency during the most challenging economic period since the Great Depression.

But some advisers have urged Obama to move the agency in a more liberal direction by appointing a Democrat. Other names floated included former Fed vice chairmen Alan Blinder, Bernanke's colleague at Princeton, and Roger Ferguson, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen and former Treasury Secretary and current White House aide Lawrence Summers.

Obama was genuinely torn, said an aide. So he made the executive decision to host a three-on-three basketball game: Obama, Blinder and Ferguson against Bernanke, Yellen and Summers. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel refereed.

The president did not tell them that their performance on the court would factor into the selection, but they were trying their hardest to impress anyway, said the aide.

"Blinder likes basketball to begin with, so he had a natural advantage," the aide reported.

Still, Yellen impressed with her speedy dribbling and deft ball handling. Summers -- perhaps sensitive to the criticism he received after remarks suggesting that innate differences between men and women might explain why not as many women succeed in science and math while president of Harvard University -- was particularly collegial, passing to teammates Yellen and and Bernanke as often as he tried making a shot himself.

Ferguson, however, suffered from an inconsistent jump shot and blundered badly on an attempted skyhook.

Ultimately, it was a clutch shot that sealed the deal for Bernanke, said the aide. Obama's team was leading, 49-47, with 10 seconds to go. Up till that point Bernanke had been solidly unremarkable -- neither impressing nor making any egregious errors. But then, in a stunning game changer, Bernanke hit a three point shot from over 45 feet away. Although that meant Obama's team lost, the president was still clearly impressed, said the aide.

The pivotal game took place Sunday evening at the exclusive and pricey estate that the Obamas are renting for the week. Although Obama did not explicitly tell the Bernanke or the other candidates afterward that the nearly mid-court shot was the decisive factor in his selection, his comment to Emanuel that "Ben is a miracle worker and that's just what we need for the economy" was interpreted to mean as such.

Still, there is some hope for the rejected candidates. Bernanke's term will last four years, which means that if Obama is still president he could renominate him or choose another candidate. At least one of the candidates is wasting no time in his preparations. After the Bernanke announcement, Blinder was heard asking a graduate student he is advising to contact Princeton's basketball coach to see if he could practice with the team. Presumably, the shape of the economy in four years also will be a consideration.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Elite Preschool Takes Fundraising Cue from Selective Colleges

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Statewide unemployment may be inching close to 10 percent but you'd never be able to tell by visiting the exclusive 92nd Street Y preschool, which has co-opted some fundraising strategies more commonly associated with elite universities.

With a higher per capita endowment than Harvard University, the $24,300 annual tuition might be expected to cover the cost of five hours of instruction a day.

But the tuition combined with the endowment money is only enough to cover regular operating costs. When it came to paying for the new 400 square feet sandbox with silky white sand imported from the Bahamas, the preschool sought a sponsor. Seven parents offered to foot the $1.5 million cost, which included the additional floor space. But ultimately one parent offered to create a separate $200,000 fund to pay for the weekly service of cleaning and sifting through the sand in order to minimize germs. Now children as young as 2 years old can play in the Jack Grubman Sandbox.

The school also has created special positions -- commonly referred to as endowed professorships or chairs at universities -- in order to pay for such extras as organic snacks prepared by Alice Waters and music appreciation with Yo-Yo Ma.

The four and five year olds are able to choose between exercise electives of yoga, pilates and mini-golf; children as young as three can take a building blocks class with Frank Gehry or enjoy storytelling with J.K. Rowling. Suze Orman -- whose speaking fee is typically around $60,000 -- recently stopped by to guest lecture for a class entitled "how to grow your piggybank."

The artistically inclined can enjoy finger painting with Banksy, while aspiring thespians have enjoyed workshops with actress Dakota Fanning.

Some parents have attempted to attend the classes under the guise of their children having separation anxiety, but administrators typically discourage such involvement.

For parents without millions of dollars to donate for a sandbox or jungle gym, they can still get their name on a plaque. A $30,000 donation will let a parent sponsor the Tiffany lamps used to light one classroom; and Persian rugs range from $10,000 for a welcome mat to to $80,000 for a large one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

CIA Satellite Redirected to Spy on Buenos Aires by Janitor

In a sign that the nation's spy agency is perhaps outsourcing too much of its work, agency officials on Friday briefed top congressional intelligence members on a recent incident involving a janitor who redirected a satellite focused on drug lords in Colombia to spy on his philandering wife in Buenos Aires.

An international incident was narrowly averted after a fellow janitor alerted a CIA official that the cuckolded janitor was planning to redirect a drone -- an unmanned aircraft -- to bomb the apartment building in which the liaisons took place.

The New York Times recently reported on the agency's dependence on an outside contracting firm, Xe -- formerly known as Blackwater -- to kill al-Qaeda leaders. But not reported was the fact that Xe has also been supplying support staff -- including cleaning people and cafeteria workers -- to the CIA.

According to a staffer for the House Intelligence Committee, CIA chief Leon Panetta informed the top ranking Democras and Republicans of the Intelligence panels of the averted catastrophe on Friday morning and staff provided more details in the afternoon.

The janitor, who worked the graveyard shift, apparently learned how to reroute satellites by eavesdropping when he worked at the Blackwater office. By rerouting the satellite to Argentina he was able to confirm that his wife was not repeatedly staying overnight at a sick friend's apartment but rather visiting her lover.

The whistleblower found out about the jilted janitor's plans when he asked to trade floors. The whistleblower grew suspicious and confronted the other janitor because the former's floor has more bathrooms and is generally considered the least desirable area to clean.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hospitals Forbid Talk of Possibility of Death

Health care reform may be on a respirator, but the practical effects of the debate are being felt in hospitals across the country, in particular by the very ill.

In an attempt to refute claims that medical centers are encouraging the withholding of care through so-called death panels, some hospitals have started to forbid doctors and nurses from even mentioning the possibility of death, even among the terminally ill.

Some GOP leaders have attacked Obama's health care plan by claiming that it would create "death panels" that would rule on whether the infirm, elderly or disabled would qualify for care. In fact, the proposal would merely provide funding for optional consultations with doctors about "end of life" care, such as hospice.

Nonetheless, some hospitals are sensitive to the claims raised by those railing against "death panels" and are concerned about possible litigation. The guidelines that have been disseminated at one Boston hospital forbid doctors from telling patients that they have a terminal illness; they also include a long list of words and phrases that they aren't allowed to say to their patients, such as "towards the light", "angels", "last rites", and "get your affairs in order."

Such avoidance of reality is a disservice to patients and their families, says one doctor who works at a hospital where talk of death is verboten. "We're not allowed to tell them about DNRs (do not resuscitate) orders -- which means that we're spending thousands of extra dollars for extraordinary measures that some of the patients probably don't want."

In order to get around the new guidelines, the doctor said, he had taken to speaking in tortured metaphors and euphemisms to patients who begged him for a prognosis. For example, for patients with serious heart disease, he speaks elliptically about artichokes and says if the center (heart) is rotten then that affects the health of the rest of the artichoke -- which will soon be doomed -- even if the leaves appear healthy.

"Most of them look at me like I'm crazy since they're worried about the looming possibility of a fatal heart attack and I'm talking produce," said the doctor. "But what can you do?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chelsea Clinton to Get Married In Space

All attention has turned to Martha's Vineyard in anticipation of President Obama's vacation next week and the rumored upcoming nuptials of Chelsea Clinton. But the former first daughter will actually be taking out-of-this world measures to ensure a private wedding: she will be getting married in space, according to a high ranking NASA astronaut who asked not to be named because he did not want to compromise his future flight chances.

Clinton has been dating Goldman Sachs banker Marc Mezvinsky, the daughter of Edward Mezvinsky and Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky, both former members of Congress. Although neither have confirmed that they are even engaged that has not quelled rumors that they will soon be tying the knot.

It had been rumored that the wedding would take place at the estate of family friends Vernon Jordan or Ted Dansen and Mary Steenburgen. But the astronaut said that Chelsea and Marc will be blasting off on August 25. NASA lists the purpose of the flight as "carry[ing] experiment and storage racks to the International Space Station."

A NASA contractor with no knowledge of the nuptials said that the cost of such a flight could easily run to half a billion dollars.

As such, the flight will not solely be used for the wedding; although the Clintons are reportedly paying $10 million each for Chelsea and Marc's fare.

"It's a lot to pay but they said it was worth it to be able to ensure Chelsea's privacy," said the astronaut. Bill and Hillary Clinton have always taken great care to shield their only daughter from the spotlight. Chelsea was just 12 years old when she moved into the White House.

"She's had to put up with a lot being their daughter. She deserves this perk. Nobody else can say they honeymooned in space," the astronaut said.

The flight is scheduled to return Sept. 6.

Spokespeople for Clinton's parents have denied that any wedding is taking place, "at Martha's Vineyard or on the moon." As usual, Clinton's representative declined to comment.

Due to the logistical impossibility of a secretary of State and a former president traveling to Florida without raising suspicion, no family members will be present at the wedding. One of the astronauts will serve as officiant and the remaining crew will be witnesses. All members of the flight have signed nondisclosure agreements under penalty of permanent exile to space.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Usain Bolt Drops Out of 200, Cites Lack of Practice for Victory Dance

BERLIN -- Jamaican sprinting sensation Usain Bolt announced Monday that he was dropping out of the 200 meter race because he had not spent enough time practicing his pre- and post-victory dance.

Bolt sealed his reputation as the fastest man in the world Sunday with a new world record of 9.58 seconds in the 100 meter dash, breaking the previous record of 9.69 seconds he set during the Beijing Olympics last year. He was widely regarded as the favorite for the 200.

But even though Bolt's astonishing running prowess has won him numerous medals, it is his pre-race preening and post-race celebrations that have earned him mega-celebrity attention. Bolt's "lighting bolt" pose has become his signature, and he makes it at every race. Onlookers marveled at his chest thumping at Beijing before he even crossed the finish line in the 100 meter finals.

On Sunday, Bolt continued to run after crossing the finish line, lifting his arms as though soaring through the air. He and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, who placed third, later did an Irish step dance for the cameras. Bolt reportedly took private lessons from Michael Flatley to prepare the Irish jig.

Powell, who has been consistently overshadowed by his faster and more extroverted teammate, also tried to up his showmanship Sunday by taping his number six lane number over his mouth prior to the race.

Bolt's non-participation in the 200 is sure to disappoint, but he said that he took his role as an showboating superstar seriously. Although Bolt does not describe his antics before the race a friend close to him said that he had been practicing his moonwalk as an ode to Michael Jackson, but that a foot injury sustained from a car accident earlier this year prevented him from perfecting it. That injury has also hampered his training for the 200 but the friend said that was not the issue.

"He could win the 200, no problem," said the friend. "But he's not just going to go out there and make a fool of himself by walking backwards awkwardly. The world record will always be there for him to beat, but he only gets one chance to debut his moonwalk."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yuppie Boycotts Whole Foods, Forced to Save Money By Buying Conventional Produce

SANTA MONICA, CA -- Health conscious, liberal, well-to-do food shoppers are showing their displeasure by going conventional.

Jerry Hackleberry, an environmental lawyer, was infuriated by an Op-ed penned by the CEO of Whole Foods on the topic of health care reform that criticized President Obama's plan. So he is showing his displeasure with his black card from American Express.

Typically a thrice-weekly Whole Foods shopper, Hackleberry has vowed to boycott the high-end grocery store known for carrying costly and organic foods until Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey is fired or recants. After skipping his usual Thursday grocery run, Hackleberry was forced to shop at Ralph's on Friday.

Hackleberry said he was shocked to encounter grapes for $.99 per pound and dismayed that organic grapes -- for which he typically pays $3.99 per pound at Whole Foods -- were not available. "The pesticides will be ruinous, but that's just a sacrifice I have to make," he said. "I'm going to try to compensate with extra yoga, acupuncture and meditation."

Also in Hackleberry's reuseable cloth bag were $.99 per pound peaches and Alta Dena milk, since they were out of his favored organic Horizon brand. Ralph's selection of organic eggs is not as extensive as Whole Foods but he was at least able to get vegetarian, free range brown eggs. But Hackleberry couldn't bring himself to buy non-organic meat. "$2.99 per pound for ground beef?" he noted skeptically, as he loaded his groceries into his Prius. "Something's very wrong with that. I never pay less than $6.99, even on sale."

In addition to engaging in a strident monologue with a Whole Foods checker earlier this week in which he lambasted the bewildered high school senior for Mackey's stance on health care, Hackleberry has also written letters to the editor of the Santa Monica Daily Press and Santa Monica Mirror.

He also intends to donate the approximately $150 in weekly savings from not shopping at Whole Foods to Democracy for America, a progressive group supporting health care reform.

Friday, August 14, 2009

'Squeaky' Fromme Invited to Town Hall

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, failed assassin of President Gerald Ford, was released Thursday from prison after 34 years behind bars.

Upon her release, Fromme initially said that she was going to Disneyland. But in the time it would theoretically take for a lawyer to call her lawyer and offer an undisclosed settlement to never say that again or to visit the park, Fromme recanted.

A native Californian, Fromme was arrested on Sept. 5, 1975, at Capitol Park in Sacramento. She pointed a .45 Colt semi-automatic pistol at Ford. Although the pistol's magazine was loaded with four rounds the firing chamber itself was empty.

Concerns that she would be shunned by the everyone turned out to be unwarranted, however. Fromme said that a number of Second Amendment defenders have reached out to her and invited her to join them in attending town hall health care meetings.

Fromme, who has not been following the news, said that she was a little overwhelmed by the outpouring of invitations but that she would consider attending. Her lawyer quickly added that her presence -- as a former would-be assassin and follower of Charles Manson -- was in no way meant to be construed as coercive or intimidating to the politicians holding the events or the other people attending the town halls.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FDA Cites Eyelash Lengthener as Progress in Drug Approval Process

Stung by criticism that drugs are not making it to the marketplace fast enough, the Food and Drug Administration on Monday cited the speedy approval of Latisse, a drug that leads to fuller, longer eyelashes.

The drug was originally sold as a glaucoma drug. But one of the side effects is that it leads to additional eyelash growth. In a release, the FDA noted its "swift action" in making available an "essential drug for the millions of women who suffer from overly short or thin eyelashes."

Allergan, the maker of Latisse as well as Botox, the wrinkle-reducing drug favored by celebrities and others seeking to remove evidence of aging past adolescence, echoed the FDA's sentiments. "No longer will that delicate area beneath the eye be unshaded from the sun," said Allergen president of research and development Sam Winters in a statement.

Although Botox lacks an official celebrity endorser, Brooke Shields has signed on to endorse Latisse.

Some skeptics have questioned the need for a drug whose primary purpose is cosmetic, undereye shade coverage notwithstanding. They cite drugs to fight cancer and AIDS as being more pressing medical priorities that the FDA should direct its resources towards. But Allergan has insisted that its drug fills an important societal need.

"It's a shame that Tammy Faye Bakker was never able to benefit from Latisse," Winters said, referring to the Christian singer, television personality and ex-wife of disgraced televangalist Jim Bakker known for her false eyelashes and heavy mascara. "But at least now millions of every day women like Brooke Shields can now benefit from this groundbreaking drug."

Aung San Suu Kyi Cited In Contempt of Court for Sneezing

RANGOON, MYANMAR -- Pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional year of house arrest Tuesday for sneezing during her sentencing.

Suu Kyi had received three years of hard labor for an unusual incident in which an American, John Yettaw, swam across a lake to her villa. She allowed Yettaw to spend a couple days at her house after he claimed exhaustion. The military junta found her guilty of violating her house arrest, even though she did not at any point actually leave her house.

Perhaps anticipating the vociferous criticism such a sentence would evoke, the leader of the military junta reduced Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence to 18 months and changed it to house arrest. But during the reading of the reduced sentence, Suu Kyi sneezed, causing the judge to declare her in contempt of the court.

Suu Kyi's lawyers tried to claim that she had gotten a cold after living in less-than-ideal conditions in prison for the past three months, but they were ruled out of order.

She has been been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. Her crimes include winning a 1990 election for prime minister.

The Burmese government issued a statement in defense of the additional year of house arrest. "Contrary to claims that this is a 'koala court' Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi received a full and fair trial," the release said, apparently confusing the koala with Australia's other well-known marsupial animal, the kangaroo. "Such an obvious display of contempt could have qualified her for five year's of hard labor so the court displayed extraordinary generosity by only giving her one year in the luxury of her house."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Popular New Diet Relies on Different Color Each Day

A new diet sweeping through Hollywood circles relies on eating only one or two colors of food each day depending on the day of the week. Such celebrities as Jennifer Anniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have reportedly maintained their trim figures by adhering to what is being called the "Color Wheel" diet.

Red foods are reserved for Monday, followed by orange on Tuesday, yellow on Wednesday, green on Thursday, blue or purple on Friday, brown or black on Saturday and white on Sunday.

"It's easy to remember and it means my clients don't need to deny themselves anything for longer than six days," said celebrity nutritionist Alexis Chamoff. "It's tastier than macrobiotic or vegan and lets you have more carbs than the Zone or South Beach."

Part of reason that the diet keeps the pounds off, Chamoff added, is that most people can eat only so much orange, carrot and pumpkin in one day before they decide to just stop eating. In addition, the color of the food must be natural and not involve excessive food dyes, thus eliminating most junk foods. The most popular day is Saturday, when steaks, peanut butter and chocolate are permitted as part of brown/black day. One of the more challenging days is Friday, when eggplant, grapes and plums constitute the bulk of blue and purple food consumed.

Celebrity restaurants are catering to their clients by having specials that coincide with the color wheel. Wolfgang Puck's Cut steakhouse, located in Beverly Hills, has always been popular for its Kobe beef. But it is also getting raves for its newly added menu items, like lemon served five ways (sorbet, curd, jam, souffle and candied) and three course pre-fixe "snowscape" of jicama and white asparagus salad, halibut with mashed potatoes and coconut trifle.

Chamoff, who claims credit for the diet, says that a book will be forthcoming with a preface written by Madonna. Kirstie Alley, who previously served as a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig, has expressed interest in taking on a similar role for the Color Wheel.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Annie Leibovitz Turned Down $5 Million North Korea Photo Shoot

Famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, whose recent financial troubles have been publicly documented in the media, turned down a lucrative offer to shoot President Bill Clinton's successful visit to North Korea to obtain amnesty for American reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Although the White House and Clinton's office made clear that the former president was going strictly as a private citizen for humanitarian reasons, Clinton's visit was considered a big coup by North Korean President Kim Jong-Il.

A photo of a staid looking Clnton seated next to Kim surrounded by members of his delegation was quickly distributed around the world. That picture is a far cry from the artistic shots that the North Koreans had proposed to Leibovitz, the acclaimed Vanity Fair photographer responsible for some of the most iconic shots of recent decades.

Perhaps her most famous was a 1981 cover for Rolling Stones magazine of Yoko Ono being kissed by a naked John Lennon. The picture was shot mere hours before his death. She also made waves a decade later with a pregnant, naked Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover, and most recently last year with a shot of teenage sensation Miley Cyrus, who appeared to be naked save for a bedsheet.

The $5 million in cash purportedly offered would have come at precarious financial time for Liebovitz, who is being sued by Art Capital Group. The company lent her $24 million last year and Leibovitz had pledged her properties as well as negatives and rights to her photographs as collateral.

Among the scenes proposed were Kim and Clinton surveying, from the palace balcony, thousands of North Korean soldiers marching in quickstep below. Another was Kim and Clinton -- both golf aficionados -- on the golf course, with Clinton serving as Kim's golf caddy. They had also suggested a shot of Clinton and Kim enjoying Korean barbecue, surrounded by a dizzying display of panchan (little dishes filled with kimchee and other eye-wateringly spicy foodstuffs).

The North Koreans are first class when it comes to propaganda, said a State Department official, but that's with their own people. In their mind, the "Leibovitz treatment" would have upped Kim's glamour quotient with the rest of the world, where they don't have the advantage of controlling all the newspapers and television stations.

When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wanted to introduce Suri Cruise to the world they gave Leibovitz exclusive access, letting her shoot at his Telluride, Colorado home. That came after months of less-than-kind tabloid rumors about Suri, which the photos of the black haired baby mostly dispelled. Clinton's visit to North Korea could similarly have served as Kim's coming out party.

Still, even though Leibovitz has shot foreign leaders -- including Queen Elizabeth II -- she was not interested in shooting Kim, even for $5 million, citing a policy against photographing meglomaniacs.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

'Birthers' Say Hawaii is a Foreign Country

As polls show a majority of Americans do not believe the claims that President Obama was born in Kenya, Indonesia or Mars and therefore is not an American citizen, the so-called birthers are now conceding that he was born in Hawaii but refuting that Hawaii itself is part of the United States.

"They speak a foreign language there, and it doesn't even make sense," said birther leader Orly Taitz. "Aloha -- it means 'goodbye' and 'hello' or even 'I love you' depending on the tone. That's just like Chinese."

"Just go over there and you can see that most of the people there are Asian," Taitz added.

Though physically apart from the continental United States, Hawaii was admitted into the union on August 21, 1959, nearly two years before Obama's birth on August 4, 1961.

Among the reasons given as proof that Hawaii is not part of the United States was that it was clearly a developing country as evidenced by natives who shimmied up coconut trees and the lack of clothing necessitating grass skirts.

When one journalist tried to point out that the Polynesian Cultural Center was not indicative of how all the residents of Hawaii lived, he was accused of being part of the "liberal elitist conspiracy."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Unexpected Flight Upgrade Highlight of Woman's Vacation

A woman returning to Los Angeles after a seven day Caribbean cruise with her husband and two children admitted Tuesday that the unexpected upgrade to first class on her flight from Atlanta was actually the highlight of her trip.

"It was amazing," said Kris Anderson, age 54. "I loved boarding first then watching all the suckers in coach file past. I could see in their eyes they were wondering what made us so special or rich that we were willing to pay three times as much for our seats. I tried to play it all nonchalant, like I was just tired of traveling and ready to be home."

Anderson actually paid nothing for her upgrade, which was the result of Delta overbooking the flight. They gave away her seat in coach -- 29B, a middle seat -- but because there was an empty seat in first class they offered it to her.

Her two children, both teenagers, sat with Anderson's husband, Michael Anderson, in row 33.

The flight capped the end to their vacation to the Bahamas via cruise ship. They had paid only $699 per person after seeing a last minute deal on Travelocity. Anderson said that her family was disappointed by the small size of the cabins and grossed out by a cockroach they saw scuttle out of the cherry jello at the buffet. And she also got tired of her daughters' bickering.

Anderson reveled in her first class status by going to the bathroom reserved for first class passengers multiple times. Although they had eaten lunch prior to arriving at the airport so they would not have to pay for overpriced food, Anderson still ate the free meal.

"They served our drinks in an actual glass, not some flimsy plastic cup," she exulted. "And the pasta had portabello mushrooms in it, not just canned ones."

Anderson also took advantage of the free headphones -- which would have cost $2 if she sat in coach -- and the extra large fleece blankets -- which were not offered in coach because of concerns over flu, according to an on board announcement. "I asked a flight attendent why we got blankets if they were so concerned about passing around swine flu and he kind of smirked and said that was just a way for headquarters to cut costs."

The highlight of the trip came when they offered dessert -- ice cream with a coating of dark chocolate. "It was as good as the tartufo I once had at the Olive Garden," Anderson said.

Friday, July 31, 2009

'Bills for Bikes' Program to Follow 'Cash for Clunkers'

The White House will announce a new "Bills for Bikes" program Friday following the unexpectedly overwhelming popularity of the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

The latter program provided up to $4,500 credit for car buyers who traded in high emission, low mileage vehicles and purchased more fuel efficient ones. One billion dollars had been provided for the program, which was expected to last until Nov. 1 or after 250,000 cars had been sold, whichever came first. The program began July 24.

Car dealerships and jalopy owners are holding out hope that additional funds for the program will be forthcoming.

But in the meantime, the White House hopes to entice motorcycle riders with a similar program. Motorcycle and scooter riders who bring in their two-wheelers will get $200 in cash if they buy a new bicycle or a Segway. Although Congress has not appropriated any money for the program yet, the White House is expected to reallocate money from the large Defense Department budget and justify it with a roundabout claim of national defense and reducing oil consumption.

Bikes have zero emissions and Segways have no emissions when operated though they do require an electrical recharge. But they still are three times more efficient than the highest mileage scooters, according to the company that produces them.

A White House aide speaking on the condition of anonymity because the program had not yet been announced said that it had bipartisan support. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Jack Kingston, R-Ga., avid bike riders, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., a Segway enthusiast, will join President Obama in announcing the program Friday.

They had originally planned to have the lawmakers circle around the White House garden before the press conference but changed plans after worries that the bike-riding lawmakers would crash into camera equipment or that the Segway in action would look too dorky.

The program is expected to cost a scant $50 million, or the equivalent of 25,000 bikes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Distilled Spirits Council Lobbies for Own High Profile Happy Hour

After seeing the boost to beer brought on by President Obama's meeting with a renowned scholar and a Cambridge, Mass., police sergeant over various American beers, the Distilled Spirits Council has begun a furious, behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to get the commander-in-chief to publicly partake of hard liquor.

Obama met on Thursday with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley. The president drank Bud Light, an unsurprising choice given that it is the best selling American beer. Gates, apparently also watching his calories, went with Sam Adams Light, a Massachusetts-based brew, while Crowley indulged in a more exotic Blue Moon, a Belgian-style beer produced by Coors. Vice President Joe Biden, a last-minute addition, was forced to partake the non-alcoholic Buckler as a public service nod intended to avert criticism that the event was a pro-alcohol public relations coup.

A White House source said that Obama's favorite brew is actually Schofferhofer Hefeweizen, a German wheat beer. But that particular libation was ruled out because "the name was unpronounceable and because of the pretentious way you're supposed to swirl the bottle when you pour it into a glass. It would have been a bigger public relations disaster than him waxing on about arugula."

In addition to drinking, Obama also sought to deflate the biggest race-based controversy of his presidency. But the biggest winners were the beer companies, particularly Bud Light producer Anheuser-Busch, which was acquired by the Belgian-Brazillian beer company InBev last year. His consumption of that one beer is the equivalent of five Super Bowl commercials, said one euphoric Anheuser-Busch marketing executive.

Mindful of that free publicity, the Distilled Spirits Council has been intensely lobbying for Obama to partake of a mixed drink, such as a martini, in a similarly high-profile setting.

One possibility is for Obama to have a martini with England's prime minister, Gordon Brown, according to a source at the council. An even better public relatious coup would be if he could drink a "Vesper" martini with James Bond actor Daniel Craig. That drink includes gin, vodka and vermouth. Even though James Bond has a decidedly British origin, the United States's close relations with England would make such an indulgence forgiveable.

"The White House has made clear that pina coladas, margaritas and mai tais are out. No umbrella drinks or anything that's too girly or has a funny sounding name like screwdriver," said the Distilled Spirits Council source. "A gin and tonic is a possibility."

Hard liquor isn't the only alcoholic beverage seeking favorable publicity. The Wine Institute, a California-based wine advocacy group, is trying to persuade Obama to imbibe some locally grown wines when he meets with lawmakers to discuss the health care reform package. They are leaning heavily on two key Democratic Golden State lawmakers -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, whose committee oversees the health bill -- to persuade the president to partake.

In addition to being a boost to the domestic economy, the wine advocates are stressing that drinking red wine in moderate quantities can help prevent heart disease, and thus is an appropriate drink over which to discuss health care.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Al Franken Tries to Form Senate Detectives Fan Caucus

Fresh off his highly publicized grilling of Sonia Sotomayor regarding fictional defense attorney Perry Mason, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has announced that he will be forming a Senate Detectives Fan Club Caucus.

Franken said the intent of the caucus was to raise awareness of television's and literature's great detectives and provide a forum for discussion over which were the greatest. He wants to hold monthly trivia nights, murdery mystery dinner parties and set up games of "Clue" on long nights when lawmakers must stay past dinner.

During Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearings, Franken noted that growing up they both watched the show with their families. Technically, Mason was a defense attorney, but every week with only one exception he would prove that his client was innocent as well as identify the guilty culprit. Although Sotomayor was deftly able to handle questions from GOP senators about her "wise Latina" comment, she failed to name the one instance in which Mason didn't win.

Caucuses are typically formed to raise awareness of issues as well as to advocate for legislation. Franken said that he wanted to garner support for a "Supercool Fictional Detectives Day" but Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said he would filibuster any such attempt. "Tom said it was a frivolous waste of Congress's time, but we pass resolutions congratulating Pee Wee league teams. We even have a National Lighthouse Day on August 7," said Franken huffily.

Technically, there is only one officially recognized caucus in Franken's chamber, the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Franken's caucus would join the couple dozen other unofficial caucuses.

Because Franken is the most junior senator, his clout is minimal and it will be hard for him to distinguish himself legislatively, said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at Brookings Institute.

"He's one of hundreds of voices on the health care debate and he's at the very bottom of the totem pole," Mann said. "I can't say that a caucus to boost awareness of detectives who aren't even real will be consequential for the country but it's certainly a way he might be able to draw attention to himself.

Franken said he'd been polling other senators about who their favorite detectives are. A couple of female senators are attracted to other female detectives; Sen. Stabenow, D-Mich. cites Jessica Fletcher of the television series Murder, She Wrote, while Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Agatha Christie's Miss Marple was her favorite.

Children can sometimes play a factor. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., the mother of tween twin boys, said that the tales of Encylopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys were favored books series during their childhood.

Columbo, whose namesake character was played most recently by Peter Falk, was a popular choice, cited by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

But it was a Brit, Sherlock Holmes, who garnered the most support, with ten votes, according to Franken's informal poll.

Yet no one would cop to liking Dame Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot as their favorite, "probably because of his ridiculous mustache and overall fussiness," said Franken.

Some newer detectives made the cut as well. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrat said that he liked Robert Langdon of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both of which were adapted into movies with Tom Hanks playing the lead role.

And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that Dr. Cal Lightman of the new Fox series "Lie to Me" was his favorite. Lightman is based on the real life Paul Eckman, a pioneer in the study of emotions and facial expressions. A snide GOP aide said that if Kerry had half Eckman's ability to read emotion he might not have lost the 2004 presidential campaign so badly.

Franken is not the only freshman senator who wants to form a caucus that might have limited appeal. Sens. Roland Burris, D-Ill., and Ted Kaufman, D-Del., have apparently discussed forming a Senate Placeholders Caucus for lawmakers who -- either by choice or for other reasons -- will be ending their term soon. Burris and Kaufman, who replaced Barack Obama and Joe Biden by appointment after they assumed the presidency and vice presidency, have announced that they will not be running in the 2010 election to take over their seats.

Burris and Kaufman reportedly extended an invitation to Republican Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, who announced that he would not be running for re-election due to insufficient funds. Bunning's fellow GOP Kentucky senator, Mitch McConnell, also the most powerful Republican of the Senate, had offered less than lackluster support for Bunning's reelection campaign.

An aide to Burris said that the invitation was not well received and that Bunning turned red, growled at them, and threw a stack of papers at him. "He is a baseball Hall of Famer so he can really throw," said the aide. "Kaufman got a vicious paper cut."

MTV Movie Awards to Give Prize for Best Weight Gain

Hollywood starlets who pack on the pounds for art will have the opportunity to compete for a golden popcorn trophy at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards: Best Weight Gain.

The network already includes unconventional categories that have never been contemplated by the more staid Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Hollywood Foreign Press, which hand out the coveted Oscars and Golden Globes. MTV bestowed 2009 trophys for "Best Kiss" to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson for Twilight and "Best WTF Moment" to Amy Poehler in Baby Mama for peeing into the sink.

The rationale for best weight gain, which will include male and female categories, is to honor thespians brave enough to purposely and authentically mar their images for their work. Fat suits will be an automatic disqualifier unless they are deemed to add less than five percent bulk to their bodies. That means that Gwyneth Paltrow's turn in Shallow Hal as a 300 pound obese woman would not qualify, nor would Julia Roberts's flashback to her chubby days in America's Sweethearts.

Examples of possible past winners include Renee Zellwegger for her turns in Bridget Jones's Diary and the sequel, as well as Sylvester Stallone for Cop Land. Zellwegger twice gained around 30 pounds to play the title character and is considering doing so again for a third Jones movie. The famously fit Stallone gained 40 pounds to play a paunchy local sheriff in a role that brought him significant acclaim.

Actors who added inches in this year's movies include Denzel Washington in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Meryl Streep, who portrays Julia Child in Julie & Julia.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor Avoids Controversy In First Day of Hearings

Despite protesters' best efforts to derail the first day of Sonia Sotomayor's hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, her path to become a Supreme Court Justice appeared clear.

The first interruption was by Norma McCorvey, better known as "Jane Roe" in the Supreme Court abortion case, Roe v. Wade. Since the landmark 1973 case, McCorvey has switched her views on abortion and become staunchly anti-abortion. As new Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota began his opening statement Monday, McCorvey started yelling, "You're wrong Sotomayor!"

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., tried to gavel the room to silence. But as the Capitol police officers moved to arrest McCorvey and another anti-abortion protester, nine people sitting in seats reserved for the public and clad in black sweat suits unzipped their jackets, pulled out guitars, violins, trumpets, a vihuela, a flute and a guitarron and started playing Cielito Lindo, a popular mariachi song.

It was not immediately clear the intent of the group and whether the musical interlude was intended as a sign of support or opposition for Sotomayor. But another member of the public, apparently unrelated to the group, yelled mockingly, "Is that the kind of music you listen to, oh, wise Latina?"

The mariachi band was soon escorted out, as was the unidentified male referencing Sotomayor's controversial remark that "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Some conservatives have used that remark to label her a "reverse racist" and charge that she engages in identity politics.

As senators switched from opening statements to questions -- with Democrats asking laudatory rhetorical questions and Republicans skeptical rhetorical ones -- new members in the public seating section suddenly stood up and started chanting, "You can't mend it so end it!" Clad in pink, they were easily recognizable as members of anti-war group Code Pink.

Sotomayor has not ruled on any cases involving the Iraq War, but Code Pink has been disheartened by Obama's slower-than-hoped for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the increased military presence in Afghanistan.

The nation-wide audience for the Sotomayor hearing proved irresistible to the group, as it did to two men in the last half of the hearing, who stood up on chairs and started kissing and groping each other. Although Sotomayor's back was to the PDA-inclined couple, a visibly distracted Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican of the Judiciary Committee, interrupted her testimony and demanded that the two men cease their inappropriate behavior.

One staffer for Leahy was heard to sigh to an aide to Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., "Great, someone trying to make a point about gay marriage."

But the motivation turned out to be primarily commercial. After being physically pulled out of his liplock, Sacha Baron Cohen yelled effeminately, "Everybody, come see my fabulous new movie Bruno!"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pilot Detours to Iowa After Passenger's Disparaging Comment

A United Airlines cross country flight from San Francisco to Boston had an unscheduled stop in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday after a pilot decided to make an emergency landing after hearing a passenger's disparaging remark about "flyover country."

According to the co-pilot, the pilot heard a man in business class say to his traveling companion something to the effect of, "Thank God we were able to change to this direct flight. There's a reason it's called flyover country."

"I had gone to the bathroom when he overheard the remark but when I came back he was totally steaming," said the co-pilot. "He was muttering something about how he was sick and tired of coastal elitists looking down at salt of the earth folks. I didn't really pay attention to him, though -- I just nodded, because he was always getting agitated whenever he perceived someone dissing the Midwest or South."

The pilot, whose name has not been released, is a native Iowan and recent divorcee, according to sources.

According to shaken passengers, the plane began its descent an hour and a half before expected, with little comment from the cockpit other than a request to "fasten your seat belts and bring your seats to an upright position."

"The flight attendant didn't even have time to come by and collect my cup and pretzel bag, so I just stuffed it in the seat in front of me," said May Davis, 64. "When we landed the pilot said, 'Welcome to Des Moines, Iowa, where it's a beautiful 83 degrees.' We were all scratching our head and even the flight attendants looked really confused."

According to the co-pilot, the pilot started fiddling with the controls shortly before reaching Iowa and said that they might need to make an emergency landing, even though "from as far as I could tell everything was working fine. But when I tried to tell him that I didn't see anything wrong, he flipped out and questioned my credentials. I wasn't really sure what to do but I didn't want to start a physical altercation with him so I figured so long as we landed safely, everything would be okay."

The pilot has been suspended without pay pending further review of the alleged mechanical problems and is undergoing psychological testing. The plane's so-called "black box," which records all communications in the cockpit, has backed up the co-pilot's side of the story.