The week begins with a fierce resurgence of violence in the long-dormant Cola Wars, as fizz titans Coca-Cola and PepsiCo clashed on the battlefields of the Food Marketing Institute tradeshow in Chicago. Facing insurgent trends toward the low-carb and low-calorie, both Coke and Pepsi are deploying new brands--Coke's C2 and Pepsi's Edge--that ostensibly taste like the companies' flagship drinks while containing half the sugar, carbs, and calories. The secret? High-fructose corn syrup supplemented with the zero-carbs-and-calories sweetener Splenda. The result: "Mid-calorie" sodas such as Pepsi Edge, a 12-ounce can of which has only 70 calories and 20 grams each of sugar and carbohydrates, compared with regular Pepsi's 41 grams each of sugar and carbohydrates, and 150 calories. The makers of Pepsi Edge estimate a potential buyers' pool of more than 60 million consumers who are concerned about calories but don't like the taste of existing diet cola. Last Days would like to think that both of these drinks will fail. However, anyone stupid enough to deny the miracle of art and science that is Diet Coke might be stupid enough to drink Pepsi Edge.

-- Also: Mental-retentive readers will recall last month's item about the pair of criminal confessions inspired by Mel Gibson's Aramaic flog-fest The Passion of the Christ. Today one of those confessors--specifically 21-year-old Dan Leach, who followed his March viewing of Gibson's film by confessing to the murder of his 19-year-old girlfriend, whose death had previously been ruled a suicide--was arraigned at the Fort Bend County courthouse near Houston, where the former confessor stunned onlookers by pleading innocent. "If I entered a plea of guilty," said Dan Leach's attorney to the Associated Press, "I waive several valuable rights that I'm not prepared to do so for my client at this time," thus proving that repentance--like youth and Mel Gibson's sanity--is ephemeral.


Hot on the heels of Virginia's ban on all contracts between individuals of the same sex, and Michigan's bill allowing doctors to refuse all but emergency treatment to gays and lesbians, comes another backlash bill, this one from Oklahoma, where today Governor Brad Henry signed into law a bill forbidding the recognition of out-of-state adoptions by same-sex couples. Today's ruling and its predecessors are, of course, reprehensible. But after the future-is-now whirlwind that seized the nation in the wake of Supreme Court-sanctioned sodomy, queer eyes for straight guys, and real live straight people standing up for real-life gay marriage, it's almost a relief to hear the other shoe drop.

-- Meanwhile, a study published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that American adults smoke a whole lot of pot. Conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, today's study tracked the most significant increases in marijuana dependence to two groups: minorities and old folks, with habitual pot use surging by 150 percent among Hispanic men, 220 percent among black men and women, and 355 percent among all adults ages 45 to 64. Dr. Wilson Compton, the study's leader, blamed the rise in marijuana dependence on the increased potency of pot over the past decade as well as the baby-boomer trend of "bring[ing] their bad habits with them into old age."


Speaking of bad habits: Today brings a tale of a local man who could do with some serious behavior modification, sighted by Hot Tipper Russ. "I was waiting at a Capitol Hill bus stop. We'd all lined up to get on the bus when I saw this bald guy bend down to 'tie his shoe.' The next thing I knew, he'd put his nose right up in the butt crack of the guy standing in front of him. At first I thought he was playing a joke on a friend, but the shock on the guy-in-front's face destroyed all my hope of rationalizing this freak's behavior," writes Russ, whose life would again intersect with Mr. Butt Sniff. "A couple of weeks later, I saw him again at the magazine store in Broadway Market. As soon as I realized it was him, I saw him 'bend down to read a magazine' and do THE SAME FUCKING THING to some other unsuspecting guy!" This time, Russ alerted mall security, but has since found himself unable to shake the specter of the butt-sniffing freak from his mind. "I don't care what weird shit turns you on," writes Russ, "as long as you only share it with people who are willing to let you SNIFF THEIR BUTTS! If you have a friend who likes that, do it, even in public--hire a prostitute and sniff butt all night, for all I care. But what this guy's doing to people without their consent is really freaky and just plain wrong." Last Days concurs, and hereby offers a reward of 20 American dollars to anyone who captures this freak sniffing strange butt on film or video. Mail to "Evidence," care of Last Days at The Stranger, 1535 11th Ave, third floor, Seattle, WA 98122. We were about to stipulate "no forgeries," i.e., no fake, staged shots of some fake freak sniffing someone's butt. But then we realized we'd be happy to see those, too. Mail to "Fake Evidence," care of Last Days at The Stranger, 1535 11th Ave, third floor, Seattle, WA 98122.


Speaking of local oddballs who might be mentally diseased: A number of Hot Tippers have written to report recent sightings of the fat, naked bearded guy wandering around Westlake Center, the public nudist and former Stranger columnist whose fleshy strolls have beguiled downtown shoppers and outsider-art lovers for years. Dear Hot Tippers: Thank you for your good noticing and timely reportage. But we are no longer covering the career of the obviously deeply troubled Mr. Nude Westlake, at least until he takes up a subsidiary skill (juggling, mooing) or gets a regular slot on Q13's morning show.


Nothing happened today (unless you count the removal of four top security officials from their posts at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport following a federal investigation of Sea-Tac security's "broad management problems").


Nothing happened today (unless you count Dick Cheney's hilarious outbursts regarding pinata-of-the-moment Donald Rumsfeld, whom the vice president praised as "the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had" before ordering Rumsfeld's detractors to "get off his case").


Nothing happened today (unless you count the New York Post's just-in-time-for-Mother's-Day horror story on Samuel Irving, the 43-year-old double amputee arrested at a Brooklyn nursing home after he was allegedly found beating and sexually assaulting a fellow patient, a 78-year-old, bedridden grandmother).

Dear everyone: Over the past few years, I've hosted a bunch of annotated screenings of Showgirls, the peerless cinematic failure directed by Paul Verhoeven and produced by MGM. A couple months ago, MGM tracked me down--not to sue, but to have me contribute a commentary track to a special-edition Showgirls DVD to be released at the end of July. Before this DVD renders my live commentary obsolete, I'm hosting one last Showgirls blowout at the Showbox on Wed May 26. Doors at 8 pm, 21+. Advance tickets at TicketsWest: 800-325-7328.

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