Off Limits

Yeah, yeah, so Republican incumbent Wayne Allard and Democratic challenger Tom Strickland -- the major candidates in "the closest Senate race in the nation," according to Tim Russert and a recent MSNBC poll -- faced off on Meet the Press Sunday morning, looking alternately sincerely lunkheaded (Allard) and sleazily lawyerish (Strickland).

Colorado's real contender for stardom had shone much brighter three days before, when Survivor: Thailand debuted on September 19. Ghandia Johnson, a Denver legal secretary and mother, looked like the odds-on favorite to be the first booted off the island -- but she survived by nature of her winning personality, big smile and the fact that pastor John Raymond was such a prick that Johnson's teammates dumped him instead.

Johnson had lost the Chuay Gahn tribe's bid for immunity when she took about two commercial breaks to put together a Thai puzzle. But what else would you expect when her official CBS Web site claims she graduated from the nonexistent City College in Denver?

We PETA the fool: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have always seemed a rather humorless bunch, throwing paint on fur-bearing socialites and whining whenever someone uses a blowtorch to prod a circus animal. But that was before the group resurrected the "Got Beer?!" campaign it had pulled two years ago, when Mothers Against Drunk Driving, among other politically correct organizations, attacked the usually über-PC PETA for its tastelessness.

This time, however, PETA comes bearing statistics from the 2001 Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School's Guide to Healthy Eating, which suggest that moderate alcohol consumption "protects against heart disease and ischemic strokes" and could even protect against diabetes and gallstones. So armed, last week the group placed "Got Beer?!" ads in four college papers -- all located at schools recently identified by the Princeton Review as being among the nation's top ten party places. Naturally, the University of Colorado made the cut.

Rather than the foamy moustache featured on the "Got Milk?" ads, "Got Beer?!" pictures the top of a beer bottle, with the words "Better than milk. Find out more at" That's the PETA Web page that describes the horrors of milk production in gruesome detail, noting that Jesus was breast-fed -- so human milk should be good enough for any baby.

Next up: Got Beer?! coasters and beer cozies.

Lockdown: It's not just for prisons anymore. In this post-Columbine, post-September 11, post-fun era, high school students are subject to the same red-alert safety measures as maximum-security inmates. Such was the case the morning of Thursday, September 19, inside Denver's North High School. The discovery of a "suspicious object" in a stairwell caused about 150 students to be evacuated to the school's library and the rest to be sequestered in their second-period classrooms for nearly half an hour, without explanation.

The lockdown interrupted a discussion on journalism inside teacher Renee Solis's newspaper class just as it was getting good. One obviously brilliant junior had just inquired of a visiting editor and writer from a certain local alternative weekly paper: "Could you tell me what style restrictions you have? Because I've noticed the Denver Post reads like it was written at a sixth-grade level, and the articles in Westword are a lot more advanced."

Before the young man's penetrating observation could be rewarded with the illuminating response it so richly deserved, a uniformed security guard appeared in the classroom's doorway and motioned Solis to join him in the hallway. Less than a minute later, a nervous-looking Solis re-entered the classroom and instructed her students -- and her visitors -- to gather their belongings and follow the security guard to the library.

"Don't worry about it. We did this like thirty times last year," said one sophomore as she marched through the long, echoing halls. "There was this homeless kid, and he called in like one bomb threat every week. We didn't know who was doing it until they busted him. We all knew he was an alcoholic, though. He used to come to school drunk every day, with a big two-liter Sprite bottle filled with vodka."

It was later revealed that only those classes closest to the suspicious object were directed to the library. Solis's class was the second to arrive, followed by four or five others. Teachers were tense, but students were festive, cracking Columbine jokes -- after Columbine, they were put in a library for safety? -- and discussing their party plans for the weekend.

Five minutes later, the teachers frantically shushed the chattering masses in time to catch the repeat of an announcement over the loudspeaker: "Attention, teachers and staff. Hold your classes. Do not release anyone until further notice."

One of the newspaper students asked Solis what was up. "Sweetheart, I would tell you," she said. "I swear I don't know. They just said, 'Go to the library.'"

Displaying excellent instincts, the school newspaper's photographer took three cameras out of her bag and began snapping photos. Then she whipped out a cell phone and called a friend at East High. "Is your school on lockdown, too? No? Listen, get on CNN's Web site and tell me if you see anything."

Another cub reporter called the North High main office and posed as a concerned parent to the receptionist who answered: "Yeah, my daughter just called me from the library at the school and said she's locked in there and doesn't know why. Do you know what's going on?"

There was a pause. The student hung up. "They transferred me to voice mail."

Meanwhile, calls to a certain local alternative newsweekly's office had set in motion queries to Denver Public Schools headquarters, the mayor's office and the Denver Police Department.

Twenty-five minutes after the first announcement, a second was broadcast, instructing students to head to their fourth-period class. A DPD spokesperson later told Westword that the suspicious object was a water bottle wrapped with black electrician's tape.

Like any good journalist denied information, the students were highly indignant at the official silence. "I don't know why they never tell us what's going on," said one. "That was like a total violation of my civilian liberties."


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