The week opens with a flourish of good news and hopeful signs, brought to Last Days' attention through the miracle of cable television. As readers may recall, Last Days recently made an ostentatious proclamation about our rejection of cable for its poisonous time-sucking capabilities. But after a lovely summer of novels and KONG, we're heading into those cruel months of endless song and dusk at 4:30, for which the best-known cure is as many channels as possible. Like all drugs, cable must be used with caution, but by following a few rules and guidelines--no episode of any reality show can be watched more than once; pot can only be used for enhancement, not fuel--we've concluded that responsible citizens can enjoy the pleasures of cable without experiencing brain rot. Which brings us to the aforementioned good news and hopeful signs, the foremost of which came tonight on MTV, with the airing of a news special exploring the presidential candidates' views of the drug war. In a slam dunk of pop-culture propaganda, MTV's commercials for the special posited President Bush railing about winning the war on drugs against Senator Kerry calmly holding forth on the thousands of nonviolent offenders who clog American prisons for the negligible offense of personal marijuana consumption. The message to the TRL crowd was unequivocal: Bush forbids you to smoke pot, Kerry thinks it's no big deal--now who do you want to be president? Here's hoping MTV's partisan ploy scares the whippersnappers into action on November 2. Other signs of progress emanating from the tube: The Comcast commercial featuring an explanation-free multiracial family (with a pair of brown-skinned adolescents sweetly ribbing their honky dad) and the T-Mobile ad featuring a bunch of couples screaming at each other, one of whom is a pair o' guys.


From good news on TV we turn to bad news in print, with today's soul-sickening Seattle Post-Intelligencer story about Diane Laurier, the 50-year-old Everett nurse who last Friday pleaded guilty to abusing and torturing a severely brain-damaged 5-year-old girl. According to the P-I, the meat of the case against Nurse Laurier comes from surveillance tapes shot at the Mountlake Terrace home of Barbara Porter (grandmother of 5-year-old Chelsea Porter) where Laurier worked three shifts a week. Snohomish County prosecutors say cameras captured Laurier hitting and pulling the hair of her brain-damaged charge, as well as rubbing dirty diapers in the young girl's face. By pleading guilty to three counts of second-degree child abuse with three aggravating factors (deliberate cruelty, violation of trust, and the victim's special vulnerability), Everett's worst nurse faces up to 8 1/2 years in prison--far less than the 30 years she could've faced if convicted at trial, but enough to give her a good, strong taste of helpless victimization.


The week continues with a long-delayed missive from Hot Tipper Katrina: "I was on the northbound number 16 bus one weekday morning, and an elderly gray-haired man was riding with his grayish miniature poodle on his lap. They were French kissing. This was not just a guy who was letting his dog lick his lips--the guy had his mouth fully open, with the dog's tongue darting in and out. The guy's head was moving around too--NOT in an effort to remove the dog's tongue, but to facilitate tongue penetration. I wasn't going to bring this up since it happened a couple of months ago, but the image keeps haunting me. Maybe you can put out an alert to see if it's still happening." Dear Katrina: Thank you for sharing. Everyone else: Please let us know if you see Grandpa Pooch Smoocher in action.


Today brought some decisive action in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, as the highest-ranking U.S. soldier charged in the fiasco received the harshest sentence yet. Court-martialed today in Baghdad, Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick, pleaded guilty to eight counts of conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault, and committing an indecent act, for which the 38-year-old Army reservist was given a dishonorable discharge and sentenced to eight years in prison.


Speaking of newsworthy convictions: After 10 years of murderous mystery, dramatic extradition, and "hugs gone wrong," today Atif Rafay and Glen Sebastian Burns were sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison without parole for the baseball-bat murders of Tariq, Sultana, and Basma Rafay, Atif Rafay's parents and autistic sister, found bludgeoned to death in their suburban Bellevue home in July 1994. Today's sentencing brings a close to the crime saga that's provided the Great Northwest with more drama and intrigue than a barrel of drunk newscasters, from Rafay and Burns' contentious extradition from Canada (where authorities refused to return the suspects until the death penalty was taken off the table) to the aforementioned "hug gone bad," wherein jail guards reported seeing Sebastian Burns having sex with his lawyer in a jail interview room. (Lawyer Teresa Olson dismissed the alleged sex as a wayward embrace, but still lost her job as a public defender, with a disciplinary hearing examiner recommending she be suspended from practicing law for two years.) Sentencing 29-year-old Sebastian Burns on three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, King County Superior Court Judge Charles W. Mertel derided his "chilling lack of remorse." "Mr. Burns, you are not immoral," said Judge Mertel. "You are amoral. You are an arrogant convicted killer."


Another day, another horrifically deadly explosion in Iraq: Hours after the U.S. military arrested an aide to Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah, a suicide bomber blew up a car at a police station outside the gates of Marine Camp Al Asad in western Iraq, killing at least 16 policemen and wounding 40 others, none of whom were American soldiers.


The week ends with some necessary ugliness, as today Last Days forced ourselves to listen to the gut-churning pleas for mercy by Margaret Hassan, the 59-year-old British/Irish/Iraqi aid worker kidnapped Tuesday in western Baghdad. Listening to Ms. Hassan's desperate cries was suitably horrific, yet taught us nothing new, reiterating only the hideous fact that fundamentalist psychopaths will never be defeated in their own country by outsiders. To cheer ourselves up, we watched the footage of Cuban President Fidel Castro tripping on a step and tumbling to the floor over and over and over. The fact remains that human beings are capable of nothing funnier than falling down, which goes triple if the faller is an internationally despised, human-rights-flouting dictator. As for 78-year-old Castro's broken arm and knee--it's a small price to pay for comedic glory.

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