No, killer bees didn't overtake the city this past weekend. That nonstop drone was the sound of the Denver Grand Prix -- that, and the ka-ching of certain downtown cash registers.
Still, the 32 trees along Auraria Parkway that obscured the view from the high-priced seats -- until they were chopped down Saturday, that is -- weren't the only things that got stung over the past few days. At a Grand Prix lunch for the media last Thursday, CART president and CEO Christopher Pook lit into the Rocky Mountain News with such vigor that jaws dropped across the room. Calling the News "junior high school journalism," Pook urged everyone present -- including several representatives from the paper itself -- not to buy the tabloid.
That evening, Pook was among the luminaries who gathered for a gala Grand Prix charity event benefiting the Gold Crown Foundation's youth sports activities (judging from the crowd, the money will be used to buy breast implants for poor children). Deputy mayor Stephanie Foote, director of the Denver Department of Public Works, had to read the mayoral proclamation naming it Grand Prix Day, because Mayor Wellington Webb was out of town, according to race (and party) chair John Frew. Actually, Hizzoner was at another party a few miles away -- but well within Denver city limits. "I don't know why they said that," says mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson.
And how had city officials, who'd been prettying up Denver for the past month in anticipation of the big meeting-planners' convention in mid-August as well as the Grand Prix, failed to notice that sixteen of those trees along Auraria were allegedly dead? "They don't go out and take their pulse every day," Hudson responds.
Free screech: Fall on campus is a magical time. New books, fresh faces, the big homecoming game -- but never mind all that. Next week, the folks at Colorado College are anticipating busloads of protesters, something the staid Colorado Springs liberal arts school hasn't seen since the anti-war movement of the 1960s.
CC has been roundly blasted in the Denver press over its decision to invite Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian activist and former spokeswoman for Yassir Arafat, to give a keynote address on Thursday, September 12, to kick off the annual William Jovanovich Symposium, a three-day offering of panels and lectures open to the public. A brochure on this year's event, titled "September 11: One Year Later," states that the organizers' modest goal is to "address the major political, philosophical and social issues facing us in the post-9/11 world."
But Ashrawi's involvement has become an issue itself. Colorado Senate Minority Leader John Andrews has called having Ashrawi at an event commemorating the 9/11 attacks "grotesque." Rocky Mountain News pundit Vince Carroll has denounced the "appalling tastelessness" and "jarring insensitivity" of CC's decision to provide "center stage to a woman who has spent years justifying the activities of one of the leading terrorists of the modern era." And Rabbi Bruce Dollin of the Hebrew Educational Alliance has urged his congregation to protest the event, arguing that it unjustly links the Israel-Palestine dispute to last year's terrorist attacks.
Recalling similar pressure being put on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science when it held a series of educational events on the Middle East six months ago, Metro State professor Rob Prince has offered his own "Letter of Welcome to Dr. Hanan Ashrawi from a Denver Jew." (Prince, who's also a member of Colorado Jews for a Just Peace, was at Denver police headquarters Tuesday to learn if the DPD had an intelligence file on him: Negative, he was told.) "It is with a certain sense of sadness that I watch this campaign unfold, so mired in emotionalism. There is something profoundly undemocratic -- and un-Jewish -- about it all," Prince writes. "The issue, which has implications for world peace (or world war), is too important to be muzzled."
The controversy has become an acid test for CC's new president, former Ohio governor Richard Celeste, who has defended the symposium and Ashrawi. His insistence on the college's right to provide a forum for diverse viewpoints has earned him high marks among current faculty and students, but it's also generated some nasty e-mails from outraged, pro-Israel alums. One protest from a member of the Class of '79 declares, "Having Ms. Ashrawi speak on 9/11 is the moral equivalent of asking Joseph Goebbles to speak on Holocaust Memorial Day." (Note to Class of '79: Review cost of college education, then look up correct spelling of name of famous Nazi propagandist.)
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The raucous spat has been intensely frustrating for Lief Carter, a CC political-science professor who is one of the symposium's primary organizers. "The big surprise is how deliberately misinformed these protests seem to be," Carter sighs. Contrary to the critics' rhetoric, he explains, the event is not a commemoration of 9/11 and will focus on current global challenges rather than the Middle East.
As for Ashrawi, Carter points out that she resigned from Arafat's government in protest of its policies four years ago. Considered a moderate by the volatile standards of Palestinian politics, she is one of two keynote speakers; the other is Gideon Doron, president of the Israeli Association of Political Science (and a former campaign strategist for Yitzhak Rabin).
"We were pleased to get Ashrawi because she's a political leader in a part of the world where there are few women in leadership positions," Carter says. "She's visited the White House and met with Colin Powell. I'm sure people will ask her tough questions."
While Carter suggests the symposium ought to be allowed to run its course before people condemn it, protesters are welcome. "As long as they're not disruptive, we'll do our best to accommodate them," he says. "After all, it's a free country."