As humongous fires continued to ravage Southern California--killing 13, displacing and impoverishing thousands--a fresh burst of anti-American violence erupted in Iraq. In the country's bloodiest day of terrorism since the fall of Saddam Hussein, today five large explosions rocked Baghdad, killing at least 42 people and injuring hundreds more. Targeted in the synchronized bombings--which occurred during morning rush hour on the first day of Ramadan--were four police stations and the headquarters of the Red Cross, all of which are considered "collaborators" in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. (Tomorrow the bloody scene will be repeated in miniature in the western Iraq city of Fallujah, where a suicide bomber will blow up his Toyota in front of a boys' school, killing himself and at least five others.)


As the eastern U.S. burned with shame over reports of the New Jersey foster parents accused of starving four of their adopted children, the Northwest squirmed over a sicko of its own. Today in King County Superior Court, 38-year-old Kent resident Joseph Lehman Jr. pleaded guilty to first-degree child rape, confessing to police that he engaged in about 10 minutes of sexual contact with his two-month-old daughter last December. With today's plea, Lehman hopes to avoid the usual fate of first-degree child rapists by swapping the traditional sentence (seven to 10 years in prison) for an "alternative sentence" of six months in jail, three years of psychiatric treatment, and a lifetime of corrections supervision--an arrangement that has nothing to do with the fact that Joseph Lehman's father is head of the Washington State Department of Corrections. "[Alternative sentencing] is available to any defendant under these circumstances, where it's a first conviction," insisted the prosecutor's spokesperson, Dan Donohoe, to the Associated Press. (Still, it's hard to purge the scent of nepotism wafting around the repentant baby-raper du jour: In 1989, after being convicted of orchestrating the robbery of $35,000 from a bank security vehicle in Tacoma, Joseph Lehman Jr. was sentenced to one day in jail.)


Meanwhile in Santa Ana, California: Today a federal grand jury indicted a podiatrist on charges of health-care fraud, accusing 41-year-old foot doctor Robert Kasamatsu of billing Medicare for podiatry procedures performed on patients that either had no feet or were dead. Reuters reports that Kasamatsu swiped information from about 100 Medicare beneficiaries to create bogus claims totaling more than $600,000 between 1996 and 2000. Among Dr. Kasamatsu's more hilarious flubs: submitting bills for "two-foot" services on about 40 Medicare recipients who'd had one or both feet amputated, as well as 30 people who'd died. If convicted, Kasamatsu faces up to 20 years in federal prison.


Speaking of weird science: Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration--in an official document obtained and reported by Reuters--announced that milk and meat products from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats are safe for consumers to eat. "Edible products from normal, healthy clones or their progeny do not appear to pose increased food consumption risk," reads the 12-page executive summary of the FDA report, a copy of which was provided to Reuters by "an industry source." Today's freaky findings bring the FDA one step closer to deciding the future of commercialized clone meat. If the FDA does approve the consumption of clones, consumers will most likely feast upon meat and milk from the offspring of cloned animals, rather than from clones themselves, as clones are prohibitively expensive--an average calf sells for less than $1,000, while a cloned calf can sell for as much as $82,000. (Fifty bucks says clone steak becomes the new delicacy of the conspicuously rich.) The FDA is scheduled to issue a final policy decision on clone meat by 2005.

--Meanwhile back in California: A 31-year-old Riverside woman was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her three-month-old son, who died after overdosing on methamphetamine. Prosecutors say mother Amy Prien supplied the drug to her infant son, Jacob, in two possible ways: through breast milk, or through tainted baby-bottle liners that Prien used to package her crystal. Last month, the methy mom was found guilty of second-degree murder, with prosecutors telling the Associated Press that they "aggressively prosecuted Prien as a deterrent to other drug users."

--And finally: Assaulted kids fight back. Today in Philadelphia, a flasher was chased down and beaten by a horde of Catholic schoolgirls. The righteous turnabout occurred as students were dismissed for the day from South Philly's St. Maria Goretti School, only to be assaulted by the sight of 25-year-old Rudy Susanto--described by authorities as "a known sexual predator" who'd exposed himself a half-dozen times at the same locale--wiggling his sickly wang. According to Reuters, an angry crowd of 20 girls in school uniforms chased Susanto down the block, where he was tackled by some helpful neighbors, then pummeled by the horde of young Catholics. "The girls came and started kicking him and punching him," said neighbor Robert Lemons to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I wasn't going to stop them." Susanto was treated for injuries at a local hospital, and will face 14 criminal counts including harassment, disorderly conduct, open lewdness, and corrupting the morals of a minor.


Today was Halloween, the annual U.S. holiday celebrating darkness, evil, and death. These themes were amply illustrated at the Southwest Airlines check-in counter in Reno, Nevada, where Last Days found ourselves for reasons too stupid to mention (hint: Showgirls), and where we were confronted by a cornucopia of death-related paraphernalia--ghosts, tombstones, bloody claws clutching signs urging ticket-holders to "enter at your own risk!"--strewn about by the fatally kooky Southwest Airlines decoration representatives. The gates-of-Hell theme was continued at the Southwest boarding gates, which boasted more tombstones and dangling ghosts, as well as an honest-to-God headless dummy occupying a seat in the waiting area. ("You thought you were having a rough day!" read the sign pinned to the stuffed dummy's shirtfront.) In our post-9/11 world, where citizens skulk about in a perpetual state of orangey-yellow alert, what kind of airline adorns its entrance ramps with drippy-blood signs reading "Abandon all hope ye who enter here"? Answer: the kind of airline that hires pilots who refer to passengers as "y'all."


Nothing happened today (unless you count the arrival of some desperately needed fog and drizzle to flame- ravaged Southern California).


The week ends with more horror in Iraq, where today a giant helicopter carrying dozens of U.S. soldiers heading for home leave was shot down by missiles fired by Iraqi insurgents hiding in a date palm grove. In the deadliest strike against U.S. forces since they invaded Iraq in March, 15 soldiers were killed and 21 wounded, while President Bush hid out at his Texas ranch, far from dangerous date palm groves. George "bring 'em on" Bush issued this statement through a White House spokesperson: "Our will and resolve are unshakable."

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