The week kicked off with a fresh burst of activity for the second hottest trend of the new millennium (trumped only by the overwhelmingly popular diabolical child abuse): the post-9/11 erosion of civil liberties, an ongoing threat of speculative proportions scheduled for a big leap forward in the coming year, as the U.S. government introduces a vast computerized system to probe the backgrounds of all passengers boarding flights in the United States. According to today's Washington Post, the new screening system will feed each traveler's personal information--including full name, date of birth, home address, telephone number, and travel itinerary--into a LexisNexis-type database that will tap public records and commercial computer banks and assign a number and a color to rank the traveler's perceived threat to the aircraft. Once a passenger is identified, a computer-assisted passenger-screening program (CAPPS 2) will compare each traveler against wanted criminals and suspected terrorists in other databases, with the two-pronged process resulting in a numerical and color score for each passenger. Travelers rated "green" receive a standard trip through security, travelers rated "yellow" face additional scrutiny at checkpoint, and travelers rated "red" are prohibited from boarding. Meanwhile, another new government program aims to offer select travelers the option of relatively fast-n-easy travel in exchange for additional personal information. According to the Post, the "registered traveler" program has been a favorite of the airline industry since 9/11, but was rejected by the Transportation Security Administration's first administrator, Gordon England, who feared that canny sleeper-cell terrorists might foil the system, establishing themselves as trusted residents over a period of years only to exploit their status to pull another 9/11. Now under the leadership of the more-agreeable David Stone, the TSA will begin testing the "trusted traveler" program at select airports within the year, despite the protests of privacy and consumer advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has denounced both the computerized-color-code and registered-traveler programs, claiming they obliterate personal privacy, create different classes of airline travelers, and encourage a false sense of security against terrorists who will undoubtedly figure out a way to subvert the system. Instigating orders for the new programs are due within the next few months.


Today we leap from the new millennium's second hottest trend to its first hottest trend, with an Associated Press report of diabolical child abuse so twisted it nearly caused us to die. The alleged abuser is a 33-year-old mother in Highland, Indianapolis, accused of repeatedly injecting human waste into her 21-month-old daughter to "get attention." According to the AP, the mom in question was arrested after being caught on videotape tampering with her baby's IV tube at the Riley Hospital for Children, where the troubled mom reportedly brought her daughter 11 times in the past 11 months. When the baby girl continued to develop new infections after receiving treatment, hospital officials investigated, tracing the infection to the baby's IV tube, with lab reports determining the source of the infection to be fecal matter. This week, Indianapolis police arrested the baby's 33-year-old mother on 10 felony counts--including aggravated battery and child neglect--indicating that Indianapolis authorities suspect the 33-year-old mother may have repeatedly given her daughter the brown needle. (For the record, the 33-year-old mother does have a name, which was printed repeatedly in the AP report. But, as the alleged goal of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is the bestowing of concentrated attention upon the instigator, today's alleged poo-shooter shall remain nameless.) If convicted, the 33-year-old mother faces between 6 and 20 years in prison for each of the 10 counts.


In a delightful bit of text-based serendipity, today brought the simultaneous publications of a new report by Washington State's Department of Social and Health Services (which revealed that both rates of chronic drinking and deaths from liver disease and cirrhosis are at their highest levels in a decade) and the new "drinking issue" of The Stranger, written by, for, and about Washington's ever-burgeoning corps of chronic alcoholics.

-- Speaking of drunks, today brought the death of one of American theater's most memorable boozehounds: 84-year-old Uta Hagen, the German-born actress whose portrayal of the heart-crushing drunk Martha in 1962's original Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? earned her a permanent place in the theatrical pantheon. In addition to her volcanic Martha, Hagen will also be remembered for co-founding New York's performing arts training school HB Studio, for writing the classic book Respect for Acting, and for giving a bravura performance as a kinky Nazi frau in the 1978 comedy The Boys from Brazil.


Today brought a horribly sad CNN report on the disappearance of Spalding Gray, American stage monologist extraordinaire and the closest thing the performance-art world has to an Elvis Presley, missing since last Sunday and feared dead from a plunge off the Staten Island ferry (a suicide option the troubled Gray was stopped from exercising last September). Regarding Gray's "troubles": No one familiar with the work of Spalding Gray can claim complete surprise at the prospect of this famously malcontent, sensitive obsessive one day ending his own life--his mom did it, he obsessed about it, and the CNN report makes reference to a "family history of depression." But tragically, Gray may have been motivated by forces he never knew to prepare for: After sustaining severe injuries in a 2001 car accident, Gray's depressive tendencies kicked into overdrive, pushing the 62-year-old to three abortive suicide attempts (all involving bodies of water) before his current disappearance. As of now, Spalding Gray remains "missing," with the police investigation into his whereabouts "ongoing." Still, it doesn't look good, and CNN reports that Gray's family is "preparing for the worst." As someone who stands on a stage and talks, Last Days has long considered Spalding Gray in the context of a Liz Phair quote regarding the pioneering godmother of sexually frank, self-empowered women musicians: "Madonna is the speedboat, and everybody else is the Go-Go's, water-skiing along behind her." In his own field, Spalding Gray was a similar type of speedboat pioneer: In addition to creating some legitimately popular art, Gray made the image of one person sitting around talking recognizable as viable entertainment, and a whole bunch of folks--from punchline-free postmodern comics to the countless regional theaters whose financial asses were saved by successful one-person shows--owe Spalding Gray a wealth of gratitude. Here's hoping he's around to accept it, but we're not holding our breath. Stay tuned.


Nothing happened today, unless you count the freak-show arraignment of Michael Jackson, during which the beleaguered entertainer (armed with his own camera crew) vamped for fans, earned a fierce reprimand from the judge for being 20 minutes late, and--oh yeah--pleaded innocent to charges of child molestation.


Nothing happened today, unless you count the 18 hours of continuous Michael Jackson coverage on CNN, Fox News, VH1, BET, and Celebrity Justice that rendered Last Days incapable of moving for the majority of the day.


Nothing happened today.

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