Off Limits

The smell of success

The accomplishments of two Boulder-based researchers were all over the news earlier this month after the men, University of Colorado physics professor Carl Wieman and Eric Cornell, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Less heralded was the award another Coloradan recently received for his important scientific work: Buck Weimer of Pueblo was honored with the Ig Nobel Prize for inventing Under-Ease, airtight underwear with a replaceable charcoal filter that, according to Weimer, "protects against bad human gas (malodorous flatus)."

Weimer traveled to Harvard University to receive the award from Annals of Improbable Research, a humorous science magazine. The Ig Nobels are presented annually for achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced," according to the magazine's Web site. "Ten prizes are given to people who have done remarkably goofy things -- some of them admirable, some perhaps otherwise." To makes matters sillier, the awards are presented by actual Nobel laureates.

Other winners this year included Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari of India's National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, whose paper, "A Preliminary Survey of Rhinotillexomania in an Adolescent Sample," reporting that nose picking is common among adolescents, was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, and Joel Slemrod, of the University of Michigan Business School, and Wojciech Kopczuk for an economic study that found that people manage to postpone their own deaths in order to qualify for lower inheritance-tax rates.

No one had more of a gas at the ceremony than Weimer, however. His wife, Arlene, has chronic Crohn's Disease; Under-Ease, his great farts-and-sciences accomplishment, was invented to help others who suffered from similar windy problems. "My wife and I both went out, and we had a wonderful time. It was great fun from beginning to end," Weimer says. And international attention given to the event resulted in sales of the underpants to people in Japan, Canada, England and Ireland.

Next up: A Friday appearance on the Howard Stern show, where the subject is sure to be handled delicately.


Speaking of ignoble awards: As if you hadn't noticed from the haphazard fencing, dead weeds and billowing plastic that make Currigan Hall look more frightening than any Halloween haunted house, demolition is under way at the old exhibition space. A Denver landmark since it opened in 1969, Currigan is being razed to make room for a gigantic $285 million expansion of the Colorado Convention Center, which voters approved in 1999.

Mayor Wellington Webb wasn't in town to see the beginning of the end for this distinctive building -- one of several architectural wonders that will eventually be, or already have been, destroyed by the domino effect of an ever-expanding convention center. No, he was in Providence, Rhode Island, at a meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which graced hizzoner with the 2001 John H. Chafee Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy.

In announcing the award, NTHP president Richard Moe noted that "Denver now boasts some of the nation's most progressive preservation policies." He didn't point out that certain other Webb policies -- those of a political and financial nature -- are pushing the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center. Nor did he mention that the NTHP had tried to save Currigan Hall back in 1999 by providing technical and financial aid in "an effort to explore alternatives to preserve this internationally significant structure."

That's because the people at the trust "felt like the city worked with us to try to save Currigan" by trying to find someone to move it, says Barbara Pahl, NTHP's regional director. "So instead, it has been recorded and photographed, which is not our preferred route of preservation, but we weren't able to find a new home for it.

"As American cities go, Denver has a pretty good track record for preservation," she adds. "We thought that was noteworthy."

But NTHP can be forgiven for forgetting past preservation failures. At the same time Webb was receiving the trust's award, his own office issued a statement criticizing Children's Hospital for moving to Aurora -- after having asked the city a decade earlier for permission to tear down the architecturally significant, Burnham Hoyt-built Boettcher School in order to expand its facilities in the city. Webb's release didn't mention that he was mayor when the city granted that request. The 1940 school had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Maybe Children's 27 acres near downtown can now be used as an alternative site for the alleged high-rise hotel, which, if it's ever built, will be used to house all the conventioneers who are expected at the expanded convention center. So far, though, there's no privately financed hotel deal in place, and since a new hotel was part of what voters approved in 1999 when they signed off on the convention-center ballot proposal, the city -- and thus the taxpayers -- may end up having to pay for it ("Suite Dreams," October 11).

Perhaps the city could defray some of the cost by taking a page from Mile High Stadium's playbook. The stadium has already sold its seats as souvenirs (complete with chewed gum stuck to the undersides, as one buyer recently discovered when he picked up his mementos) and now plans to sell chunks of turf to raise money for the New York City police and firefighters' relief fund. So why shouldn't the city sell rusty pieces of the old Currigan to weeping preservationists and other nostalgic Denver denizens?

Better yet, they could market the steel to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who fled Washington, D.C., last week, Cipro in hand. That bunch could use a little extra mettle.


Swept under the rug:"Tell them to put carpet in my cell," came the plaintive cry of one Denver City Jail resident last week, hoping to find a sympathetic ear among the voyeurs on a city-sponsored spin through the hoosegow. That tour was one of a series that Denver officials will be leading over the next ten days, in hopes that voters who take a good look around Denver's undeniably overcrowded jail facilities will sign on the dotted line for 1A. (The city jail -- where anyone arrested in Denver is processed -- can run as high as 150 percent over-capacity, the county jail on Smith Road at 55 percent over.) Now on Denver ballots, the measure would authorize $325 million in general-obligation bonds to build a new Denver Justice Center/Jail -- carpeting not included.

But 1A's proponents know that any notion of coddling inmates isn't going to sway voters. So literature now appearing in mailboxes around town pushes not how comfortable the new jail's residents would be, but how uncomfortable Denverites would be if a new jail wasn't built and between 75 and 125 inmates were released early as a result...every day. (Otherwise, the city would run the risk of violating federal laws regarding overcrowding and suffer the consequences of lawsuits that changed this state's corrections industry back in the late '70s.) But at least the inmates celebrating their early release are no Willie Horton types; this is Colorado, not Massachusetts, and the cartoony, happy crew looks more ready to party in some LoDo sports bar than commit another misdemeanor. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive.)

"That was my idea," says Ken Smith of CRL Associates, which is running the pro-1A campaign. "We began discussions with a graphics artist prior to events on September 11 and went to press right about that time. It was designed to take on a very serious issue, but in a lighter way." A way that might grab the attention of even casual voters, since this election marks Denver's first use of all-mail balloting, and no one knows what might motivate a Denver resident to fill out a ballot and drop it in the mailbox. "The challenge for us is to make sure we have a strong presence in the mail and on TV," Smith adds.

Those TV ads started this past weekend; they, too, emphasize the dangers of early release, but with a more serious tone. Coupled with the fliers and the tours -- which focus not just on how overcrowded the current jails are, but the industrial nature of the proposed site -- the campaign is out to blanket the town.

Not carpet it.


Laugh of the week:Congresspeople weren't the only ones who looked a little foolish in recent days, jumping out of their seats at the mere sight of a little non-dairy creamer. In Sunday's Denver Post, Broncos tough guy Bill Romanowski announced that he won't be opening any post-September 11 fan mail (does he still get fan mail?) in light of the anthrax threat. Gee, we never knew that Romo didn't want to get packages filled with powdery white substances.

Second-best laugh of the week: Two days earlier, the Post reported that comedian David Brennerwas having trouble coming up with suitably humorous topics. After all, the paper quoted him as saying, these days even that perennial favorite of punsters, George W. Bush, was a "scared cow."

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