It Takes a Pillage

It's so nice to see the government getting cozy with the media -- embed together, as it were.

"The side benefit, it seems to me, is there's now a new generation of journalists who have had a chance to see firsthand what kind of people volunteer to put their lives at risk," newly touchy-feely Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cooed last week. "And that's a good thing."

To see firsthand what kind of people volunteer to grope female cadets at the Air Force Academy, of course, you don't have to go much further than a LoDo bar at closing time. Or the nearest drunken frat party.

Since female fighters proved so critical to all of the positive press the war effort received -- even now, femme-fatigues POW Jessica Lynch is fielding TV and movie offers, and her Iraqi rescuer has been nominated for permanent residency by none other than Colorado senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell -- the Bush administration quickly realized that it needed to wipe out that little blot on its equal-opportunity record in Colorado Springs. Not that the administration was quick to spot the blot: It took a national uproar over 56 -- and counting -- reported sexual-assault cases at the Air Force Academy to open eyes in Washington, D.C.

Two months after Westword first detailed three of those cases (Julie Jargon's "The War Within," January 30), the leaders of the academy -- including Brigadier General "Taco" Gilbert, who'd compared one female cadet's behavior to walking "down a dark alley with hundred-dollar bills hanging out of my pockets" -- were reassigned. And last week, an Air Force "implementation team" arrived in Colorado Springs, ready to introduce the 49-point Agenda for Change, which was designed to transform the academy's culture even as it keeps cadets in fighting form.

Next week, Rumsfeld will reveal the seven civilians he's appointing to an independent commission investigating the AFA scandal, a probe authorized by a recent bill designed to cover the cost of the war in Iraq.

But while the academy's leadership has been replaced, one key cultural symbol has not. Where once the words BRING ME MEN greeted anyone, male or female, entering the Air Force Academy, there's now a blank slate. A big blank slate. The words had been taken from "The Coming American," a poem written in 1894 by Sam Walter Foss, a journalist (!) who discovered his talent for light verse when his small-town newspaper asked him to write a humor column. Etched on a huge granite wall, they survived numerous unfunny controversies, including the first arrival of female cadets at the academy in 1976. But they couldn't weather this storm.

Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains;
Men to chart a starry empire,
Men to make celestial claims.
Bring me men to match my prairies,
Men to match my inland seas;
Men to sail beyond my oceans,
Reaching for the galaxies.
These are men to build a nation,
Join the mountains to the sky;
Men of faith and inspiration,
Bring me men, bring me men, bring me men!

Bring me men to match my forests,
Bring me men to match my shore;
Men to guard the mighty ramparts,
Men to stand at freedom's door.
Bring me men to match my mountains,
Men to match their majesty,
Men to climb beyond their summits,
Searching for their destiny.
These are men to build a nation,
Join the mountains to the sky,
Men of faith, and inspiration,
Bring me men, bring me men, bring me men!

Today, Foss's "Coming American" is a disappearing breed, and good riddance. So it's time for the Air Force to add one last point to its Agenda for Change -- making for a tidy fifty -- and fill that wall with something more than memories of MEN. Even now, poetically inclined staffers at the Pentagon could be poring over books of literature, poetry and Joan Baez lyrics, looking for the right words to capture the new, improved, non-rape-and-pillage Air Force Academy.

Here are two options -- give Laura Bush the deciding vote -- that reflect the new realities of a new millennium. Each boasts the added benefit of strong state connections -- a sop to the Colorado Legislature that was ready to commission a fifth inquiry into the academy scandal, which would have had investigators stepping all over each other.

The first contender, which captures the difficulty of getting to the truth, is the last stanza of East High School grad Judy Collins's "Both Sides Now":

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all.

The second, which gives the women their turn, is the end of "Fly Away," a song by John Denver, Colorado's most famous adopted son:

In this whole world there's nobody as lonely as she
There's nowhere to go and there's nowhere that she'd rather be
All of her days have gone soft and cloudy, all of her dreams have gone dry
All of her nights have gone sad and shady, she's getting ready to fly.
Fly away, fly away, fly away, fly away.

Admittedly, both have drawbacks. You can't march to "Both Sides Now," and Denver died in a plane crash -- hardly an inspiration to future fliers.

So here's a third option, one that draws from two traditions (the words come from another Foss poem, and they line up with the academy's earlier, see-no-evil attitude). It also reflects the Pentagon's very deep wish that this sex scandal, like the media, would just go away:

I say the very things that make the greatest Stir
An' the most interestin' things, are things that didn't occur.

Pocket Change

In 1996, 62-year-old Sylvia Stayton was led off to jail in handcuffs.

Don't expect to see the same thing happen (media-genic as it might be) to John Hickenlooper, even though in "Change," one of his TV commercials, he commits the very act that got Stayton busted: feeding expired parking meters. She was plugging them in Cincinnati, in violation of an obscure ordinance peculiar to that town, but if there's such a statute in Denver, it's so obscure that no one in the city or at Hickenlooper campaign headquarters can find it -- and they've looked.

When it was introduced in 1958, the Cincinnati ordinance was designed to keep office workers from hogging storefront spaces all day. Denver has a similar rule limiting parkers to two hours in downtown spaces -- but it's the car that overstays its welcome (whether a meter's been plugged or not) that gets the ticket, not any good Samaritan (or wannabe mayor) who drops in an extra quarter. "He'd only be guilty of wasting money," Patty Weiss, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, says of Hickenlooper.

And with the city in its current monetary mess, that could be the biggest crime of all.

Speaking of which, Hickenlooper got some face time on ABC's World News Tonight this past Monday, when Peter Jennings and company took their depressed-city series to Denver. But talk about depressed! In "Mile High Money Problems," Hickenlooper was identified only as a bar owner, not the soon-to-be mayoral frontrunner. The brief segment, which also featured city finance director Margaret Browne ("The 7 Percent Solution," April 17) and two more sad LoDo businesses, showed one disaster after another, from layoffs to last summer's fires (complete with graphic footage) to last month's blizzard (more graphic footage). The Mile High City had fallen fast from the dizzying '90s, when Denver built a $4 billion (depending on who's counting) airport and three new sports stadiums (still more graphic footage, this time of Invesco Field at Mile High).

That view of Invesco Field was all over the media back in July 2001, when the Denver Post's Woody Paige noted the new stadium's resemblance to a diaphragm (inaccurately, really, since it looks much more like a bedpan), and then-Invesco Funds Group head Mark Williamson pitched a fit ("Flush With Success," August 9, 2001). Williamson's disappearance from the Denver scene prompted much less outcry; he's since moved on to a sister company in Houston, and Ray Cunningham is now president/CEO of Invesco Funds Group.

As for Invesco Field, the Post last year dropped its quixotic campaign to call it the new Mile High Stadium -- and Hickenlooper, who got his first taste of public campaigning when he led the effort to keep the Mile High name, has embraced the official title, too. "Mayor Hickenlooper will always refer to it as Invesco Field at Mile High," his campaign reports. Optimistically.


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