Woody Allen's lawsuit against American Apparel figurehead Dov Charney may have settled for a cool $5 million last month, but Charney is far from the only LA-based retailer proselytizing to the masses. Allen's bizarre episode with Charney left us with more questions than answers. Not the least of which is: what does דער הייליכער רבי actually mean?
 
According to my Yiddish-speaking friend Menachem Yankl, the phrase printed on the billboard of Mr. Allen (see left) is actually a reference to the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, erstwhile leader of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement. For those of you who don't live in Brooklyn, Schneerson's likeness is plastered across buildings and hung over baby carriages from Crown Heights to Jerusalem and his millions of followers believe he's the messiah. Charney explains:

"Along the top of the billboard were the words "Der Haileker Rebbe," written in Hebrew letters. This is Yiddish for "the highest level, extra-holy Rabbi," of which there is only one in the worldwide Hasidic Jewish Lubavitcher community."

Huh? Is Charney some kind of closet Hasid? Is American Apparel planning a new line of frumi ankle-length black skirts to go with that Too-Short Metallic Micro-Mini? Maybe the Tel Aviv store has the inside skinny. 
 
At Forever 21, Jesus Hearts You Too:
Chatting with the Changs, the super-private, devoutly Christian, South Korean couple behind discount clothier and mega-mall staple Forever 21 (headquartered in LA's Garment District) is so tricky that not even the New York Times can do it. Fortunately, you don't have to look far to find out exactly how the Changs feel about Christ: Printed on the bottom of every neon-yellow shopping bag is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Gee, thanks. Can I have my $2 tank-top now? Honestly, if they loved the world, they'd use biodegradable bags.
 
In-N-Out Burger—Serving Christ (With That) for 60 years: 
John 3:16 also appears prominently at the popular West Coast hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger, whose diner-style decor and Animal-Style fries have delighted generations of high school students since it first opened east of downtown LA in 1948. The verse is printed along the bottom of your Coke—but the Bible references don't end there. 
 
Milkshakes feature Proverbs 3:5 and Double-Doubles (two patties with two slices of cheese) are swaddled in Nahum 1:7. Perhaps oddest of all, all your hamburgers and cheeseburgers reference Revelation 3:20, which reads: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
 
Hungry for more? Although LA is ahead of the pack, the home of sun, smog, and religious zealotry isn't the only place where faith and fast-food cross paths.  We've also heard tell of Bible versus on Alaska Airlines dinner trays, VeggieTale Happy Meals at Georgia-based Chick-fil-A, and Christian coffee cups at New England donut purveyor Bess Eaton. Know any more retailers with a small-script faith agenda? Tell us about it in the comments. 
 

It all started at happy hour. Most wise decisions do. With a bunch of us gathered around a twelve pack of Red Stripe and bag of stale Tostitos, Kevin Drum's cat blogging became the topic of conversation. Earlier in the day, I'd bragged that we, the latest crop of MoJo interns, could overtake Kevin's traffic, and after consuming a single screwdriver the brilliance hit me for real. What's the only thing better than a cat blog? The only thing better than the Obama dog blog? A frog blog.
 
Within an hour, we found ourselves at the 6th Avenue Aquarium in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond district. When we asked the clerk if there were any frogs available, he nonchalantly pointed to an empty, unmarked tank and said, "Sold out." Despair. We'd come all this way for a frog and didn't want to wait a week for another shipment to arrive. As my colleagues pondered purchasing an amphibian of a less-rhymophile friendly genus, I took one final look at the "empty" frog tank. Inside, I noticed a pair of eyes slightly protruding from below the water's surface. It was no mistake; one frog remained who’d been left for dead. When I explained the situation to the employee, he said, "Grab a net." After first removing some bettas (Siamese fighting fish) from their perch atop the frog tank, we successfully extracted the frisky little fellow from his lonely home and immediately treated him to a feast of three crickets.
 
After spending the night in my apartment and enjoying amenities such as my roommate's singing, man's new best friend found his way into MoJo's offices this morning after a 40 minute bus ride. (You know how guys who walk their dogs get tons of attention from women? It doesn’t apply to guys with frogs.)

So welcome to our inaugural post of Friday frog blogging. We hope that readers will pitch in to choose a name for our new friend. Balloting will close in one week, on Friday at 6am Pacific Time.  Thereafter, look for This Week In Frog.

The Justice Department just announced a major espionage bust, indicting a former State Department intelligence official and his wife on charges of spying for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. After launching a sting on the couple in April, the feds swooped in yesterday afternoon and arrested 72-year-old Walter Kendall Myers (a.k.a. "Agent 202") and his 71-year-old wife, Gwendolyn ( a.k.a. "Agent 123" and "Agent E-634").

Beginning his career with State in 1977 at the department's Foreign Service Institute, Kendall, whose top secret clearance allowed him to view sensitive compartmentalized information (SCI), eventually worked his way to become a senior analyst, focusing on Europe, in the agency's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Here's a clue to the virulence of the obesity epidemic. New research suggests the hunger hormone ghrelin is activated by fats from the foods we eat, not those made in the body.

This natural process was designed to optimize metabolism and promote the storage of body fat. And this was useful when food was hard to come by and we had to work physically hard to get it.

Now it backfires on us in the form of fat.

Ghrelin—the hunger hormone—is believed to accumulate during periods of fasting and is found in the body in high concentrations just before meals. It's activated by a fatty acid added by an enzyme called GOAT. Originally it was assumed that the fatty acids attached to ghrelin by GOAT were produced by the body during fasting.

But the new data published in Nature Medicine suggest the fatty acids needed for ghrelin activation come directly from ingested dietary fats.

Exposed to fatty foods, mice with more GOAT gain more fat. Mice without GOAT gain less fat since their brain never receives the signal to store the fat.

Why am I worried that this will lead to a pharmaceutical fix that will allow us to continue overeating without getting fat?
 

It's been a busy week and we all need a break.  So how about a nice, soothing garden to help everyone relax?  Here at Drum Central, the flowers are blooming, the upside-down tomato plant is thriving, our new redbud tree is growing, the sun is shining, and birds are chirping in the birdbath outside the kitchen window.

And, of course, Inkblot is admiring it all — as well he should since he's spent so many backbreaking hours supervising the gardeners.  It's exhausting!  And with that, I'm off to the car dealer to pick up my newly repaired and hopefully non-coolant-leaking wheels.  Have a nice weekend, everyone.

House Democrats, led by Barney Frank, are finally standing up against the Obama administration's support for the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — an Orwellian amendment that would retroactively bypass FOIA and allow the administration to unilaterally block the release of photos of detainee treatment with no justification except their own say so.  Good.  Nick Baumann has more.

Via email, reader Dan R. reacts to my post this morning on George Bush and his failed democracy agenda:

The problem with Bush's so-called "democracy promotion" wasn't just that it was half-hearted or hypocritical, but that it was such a simplistic approach to democracy: Elections are all that counts. It showed little appreciation for the elements of civil society that are a fundamental requirement of a successful democracy, and that make U.S.-style democracy possible in the U.S. but might not make it possible in a lot of other countries.

Now, I don't think Obama wants to go out and say that some countries aren't educated enough or have the civil traditions and institutions required for American-style democracy. So he's treading a fine line. But the reality is that the things he talked about — rule of law, government transparency, lack of corruption, equal administration of justice, freedom of the press, minority rights — are more realistic goals for many countries and appropriate way-stations on the way to what we would consider a full-fledged democracy.

I think Obama is exactly right in focusing on the values that underly democracy rather than the external forms....By striking a middle ground between "idealists" who would make democracy and human rights the sole focus of foreign policy and "realists" who would ignore American values in favor of American interests, this kind of thinking represents a very sophisticated step forward in our foreign policy.

"Sotomayor's finances look a lot like the average person's"—that's the headline on a McClatchy story about President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, a woman who owns (as the story notes) a $1 million Greenwich Village condo and is entitled to (as the story doesn't note) $2.5 million in guaranteed pension benefits. While Sonia Sotomayor has some credit card debt, and she's poorer than most of her potential colleagues on the court, she's far richer than the average American.

The national media frequently refers to people like Sotomayor—people whose wealth means they lead vastly different lives than the actual average American—as "average" or "middle-class." Often you get absurdities like the McClatchy story or Charlie Gibson suggesting that college professors making $200,000 in St. Anselm, New Hampshire are "middle-class." (The median household income in the US is under $50,000.) This happens because of class bias, which may play a bigger role than partisanship in determining what the media covers.

I just spoke to Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit government watchdog. She says she's glad Barney Frank and other* liberal Democrats in the House are standing up to President Obama by opposing Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham's bill that would exempt photos of detainee abuse from Freedom of Information Act requirements:

You can't make piecemeal exemptions to the FOIA. It's a slippery slope. You start with this and pretty soon there's a new law every time someone doesn't want to release something. In an era when we say we value government transparency and openness, there's no place for this bill.

Let's hope the House leadership can't get Frank and the others to cave.

*Update/Correction: Frank switched his vote, but the Lieberman-Graham bill will not pass with the war supplemental.

Some say Americans are too fat because we eat too many Big Macs and ice cream sundaes. But according to a policy statement released this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), modern city planners join McDonald's and Dairy Queen in shouldering the blame for childhood obesity.

The statement, published in the June edition of Pediatrics Magazine, found that urban sprawl contributes to childhood obesity by forming neighborhoods that are impossible for children to navigate independently. As a result, many children grow dependent on their parent’s chauffeuring rather than their bicycles or legs to get to school or the park. In coming-of-age television show terms, the ideal neighborhood to combat childhood obesity is closer to the densely urban, San Francisco model from "Full House" than the suburban, sprawling wasteland of "The Wonder Years." Of course, sprawl is not the only cause of childhood obesity. As Mother Jones has reported, the blame has been spread among unhealthy food, heredity, and non-diet sodas, just to name a few villians.

The AAP report also notes that abandoning sprawl could decrease our insatiatable appetite for fatty foods. In addition to parks and recreation centers, current densification efforts have included community gardens that produce fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables. So promoting condensed neighborhoods with amenities nearby could kill two birds with one public policy-laden stone: decrease the negative environmental effects of suburban sprawl—including vehicular air pollution—and start children on a de-facto exercise regime. If elected officials support legislation to allocate public funds to urban densification efforts, and provide parents with incentives to move their families to cities, we could see a drop in the childhood obesity rate without having to give up too many twinkies.