MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13 Like most Americans, Last Days has a complicated relationship with Oprah Winfrey, about whom our opinion has historically hovered between impersonal admiration (of the type one feels toward, say, Ben Franklin) and ineffable suspicion (of the type one feels toward anyone who's gotten filthy rich by allegedly helping others). But thanks to Last Days' New Year's resolution of no more cable (too many hours lost to Law & Order reruns and VH1 nostalgia porn), Oprah has become a near-daily part of our life, via nightly KONG-16 reruns of her syndicated daytime talk show. Today the show that launched the empire kicked off its 19th season with a stunt that will have audiences itching and marketers salivating for years to come. Expanding upon her seasonal theme of "Wildest Dreams Come True," Oprah started the show by giving each of her 276 audience members a new car--the new Pontiac G6, to be precise--with Pontiac footing the $7 million bill. The post-giveaway chaos--audience members wracked with sobs, Oprah jumping around screeching, "Everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car!"--offered support to the worst suspicions about Winfrey's ulterior motives and mental state, but things got back on track in the show's second half, as Oprah did what Oprah does best: Being the nicest rich person in history, giving a homeless teen-ager a makeover, a $10,000 wardrobe, and four years at the college of her choice, then rescuing a family with eight foster children from eviction by purchasing the family's rental home and bankrolling its repair. Yes, the majority of celebrity philanthropists prefer to execute their good deeds behind closed doors, and yes, all of Oprah's generosity eventually serves to benefit Ms. O herself. Still, in this age of publicity stunts run amok, Oprah must be congratulated for at least concocting stunts that involve homeless kids getting lifesaving boosts and foster families gaining permanent housing. (However, all Oprah-derived goodwill will evaporate on Friday, when Winfrey welcomes teen rocker Avril Lavigne, whom she addresses thusly: "You told my producers you're an old soul." To which Avril responds, "Yeah.")

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14 As Southerners braced for the second humongous hurricane attack of the past two weeks, news agencies ran rampant with speculative reports on Hurricane Ivan's potential future damage. The most engrossing came from the Associated Press, who wagered that "the worst-case scenario for New Orleans--a direct strike by a full-strength Hurricane Ivan--could submerge much of this historic city treetop-deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals, and stinging fire ants," the last of which gather into floating balls to be carried by the current. However, on Thursday, an 11th-hour shift will spin Ivan away from New Orleans and into the Florida Panhandle, where Ivan will create at least a dozen tornadoes, causing an estimated $3 billion to $10 billion of damage, and elevating the death toll to 108, including 38 in the U.S.

In far better news: Today the world learned that the recipient of this year's honorary National Book Award for contributions to American letters is Judy Blume. The 66-year-old American writer best known for adolescent novels of unprecedented frankness and psycho-dramatic insight, tackling such forbidden topics as menstruation (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret), adolescent fascism (Blubber), divorce (It's Not the End of the World), scoliosis (Deenie), "nocturnal emissions" (Then Again, Maybe I Won't), and a young Jewish girl's creepy Hitler fixation after World War II (Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself.) But Blume's most infamous work remains the soft-and-wet young adult classic Forever, immortalized by its graphically plainspoken love scenes and effectiveness at dissuading generations of young men from applying cologne to their nuts. "I'm thrilled by this unexpected honor," said Blume in a statement today. "We don't write hoping to win awards." Despite her uppity jacking of the royal "we," Last Days congratulates Blume on her well-deserved distinction and eternal works, which will remain as central to adolescence as Boone's Farm and the Ramones.

-- Speaking of which: RIP Johnny Ramone, who died in his sleep this afternoon in Los Angeles, after a four-year battle with prostate cancer.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16 Glory hallelujah: After a year of agonized waiting, today brought some decisive legal action to the saga of Dr. Charles Momah, the South Seattle gynecologist accused of an array of sexual deviances by dozens of local women, who today pleaded not guilty to seven felony charges of rape, indecent liberties, and insurance fraud. Nearly four-dozen women have filed civil suits accusing the 48-year-old doctor of everything from mid-exam flirtations to rape with an ultrasound wand, with the only fallout being the suspension of Momah's medical license. But if he's convicted of the new felony charges, Momah faces up to 23 years in prison. The next hearing is scheduled for September 30. Stay tuned.

Just in time for Rosh Hashanah: The Guardian shared the sordid story of the rabbi and the rent boy, whose saga was recounted today before London's Southwark crown court. On one side: Andreas Hinz, a 37-year-old German linguist in the second year of a course to become a rabbi. On the other: Thomas McDowell, the 27-year-old tattooed "rent-boy type" with whom Hinz struck up a conversation at the Black Cap gay bar near the Camden tube station. A few days later, neighbors complained of the "terrible smell" and cloud of flies lingering outside Hinz's residence, leading police to the gruesome discovery of Andreas Hinz' sawn-off head and limbs wrapped in plastic bin liners and left for the trash man. Defendant McDowell, who described choking his victim to death after laying him out with a "martial arts" kick, denies murder but has admitted manslaughter on the grounds of "diminished responsibility." Unfortunately for his defense, McDowell was apparently undiminished enough to execute "intensive efforts to bleach away any incriminating evidence," as well as steal Hinz' watch and briefcase. The trial continues.

Speaking of terrible deaths: This week brought an absolutely horrible death toll for Northwest soldiers in Iraq, with 29-year-old Sgt. Jacob H. Demand of Whitman County, 26-year-old Staff Sgt. David J. Weisenburg of Portland, 27-year-old Spc. Benjamin W. Isenberg of Sheridan, OR, and 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Steven A. Rintamaki of Lynnwood all killed by Iraqi opposition during post-handover Iraq's bloodiest week yet. Dear Oprah: Last Days' wildest dream is a Bush-free White House and an American-free Iraq; thank you.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 The week ends with Reason #792 to eat nothing but candy: A pile of fecal matter found today atop produce in a Bellevue Safeway store. KING-5 broke the story on the sickly stink, discovered late this evening at the Evergreen Village Safeway, prompting store officials to quarantine the produce section and toss hundreds of dollars worth of produce. Bellevue police say they're questioning a person of interest in the incident, which store officials believe happened between 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Most interestingly, the person of interest is the same person who reported the fecal pile to the store's manager. Stay tuned.

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