Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

Pulp Fiction?

The New Republic magazine says it is conducting an investigation into questions about a series of disturbing articles it published supposedly written by a U.S. soldier in Baghdad. The liberal publication is responding to objections first raised by The Weekly Standard — which alerted bloggers who have come up with many skeptical observations.

The articles are written under the pseudonym "Scott Thomas" and detail offensive behavior such as one soldier's use of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to crash through concrete barriers and kill dogs, another soldier's wearing of part of a human skull as a crown and a group of soldiers ridiculing a disfigured woman over a facial injury sustained in an IED attack. Many of these allegations have been challenged as unlikely or impossible by bloggers identifying themselves as troops in Iraq.

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol tells The Washington Post that it appears the articles are frauds and that not one individual has confirmed any part of them. The New Republic says it has corroborated details in the articles with members of the soldier's unit, but continues to look into the matter.

Talking Points

Democratic presidential candidates are in Charleston, South Carolina Monday night for their first official debate — although there have already been three unofficial debates and numerous forums sponsored by outside groups. There will be five other sanctioned debates after Monday night — along with unofficial ones in Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

One Democratic strategist tells The Washington Post that candidates are afraid to say no, for fear of offending important supporters. But aides fear the exhaustive debate schedule is taking away from more traditional campaigning and fundraising.

South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn says, "I think there may be some danger of campaign fatigue, but I don't think anybody will get all that upset about the debates. I think they get upset about being in campaign mode for such a long period of time."

Things are a little more relaxed on the Republican side, where the last debate was in early June and the next one is in early August.

Unwelcome Mat

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is shaking things up again. Chavez says he will now deport foreigners who publicly criticize him or his government while in the country. Chavez has ordered officials to closely monitor statements made by international figures visiting Venezuela.

He is also proposing to change the constitution to allow him unlimited terms in office — while imposing term *limits* on other elected officials. He says he wants to slash the salaries of the country's top government workers. And Chavez says his buddy Fidel Castro has warned him to beware of U.S.-backed assassination attempts.

'Fat' Chance

A Buddhist businessman who is opening a Chinese restaurant in Durham, England has been told he cannot name it "Fat Buddha" — for fear of offending Buddhists.

The Daily Mail reports the city council's head of cultural services demanded that Eddie Fung change the name because it is "provocative." But Fung says that's nonsense: "No Buddhist is going to be offended by this," he says. "The fat Buddha is a symbol of health and happiness. It is political correctness gone mad."

And a spokesman for the Buddhist society agrees, saying: "Buddhists regard the fat Buddha as lucky. To suggest this is offensive is to misunderstand the faith."

—FOX News Channel's Martin Hill contributed to this report.