Off Limits

The offal truth: Legal pleadings usually pile it on, but things get really deep in the ACLU's February 10 filing on behalf of Broadway Brewing against David C. Reitz, director of the Liquor Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue. In October 1995, Reitz's department banned the brewery's proposed label for Road Dog Ale, which featured an illustration by Ralph Steadman and the words "Good Beer...No shit." The text violated state law, Reitz argued, because it was "obscene or profane in nature." Wrong, responds the ACLU: Not only does the beer label represent constitutionally protected speech (as well as a fine beverage), it's not obscene in the first place.

As proof, the brief presents the learned opinions of Robin Lakoff, professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley whose resume is longer than her ten-page affidavit. She reveals: "The Random House Dictionary (2nd Edition, 1993) distinguishes between meanings of 'shit' that it labels as 'vulgar' and other less offensive meanings that it labels merely as 'slang.' It is the literal meaning of 'shit' as excrement that is labeled as vulgar. Definitions labeled as 'slang' include 'pretense, lies, exaggeration, or nonsense' and 'something inferior or worthless.' This dictionary also labels as slang the use of 'shit' as a verb meaning 'to exaggerate or lie to.' It also includes the expression 'no shit,' labeling it as slang rather than vulgar, and states that the idiom is 'used to express amazement, incredulity, or derision.'"

And there's more, so very much more. For example: "Shit has an ancient lineage, tracing back to a Proto Indo-European root skei, 'to cut, split.' So 'shit' is thought of as a substance cut off or separated from its producer. Related words in English include science, conscious, and nice, all from a Latin source, scire, 'to know,' i.e., 'to distinguish, separate [from other things].' Other relatives are: shyster; schism; scissors and ski. The word shit itself has existed in English at least since the year 1000."

Finally: "Drinking beer is associated with relaxed and informal occasions where people are having fun and telling jokes, where the participants are adults, and where some relaxation of strait-laced standards may be expected (linguistic and otherwise)."

No skei, Sherlock.

The reviews are in! Michael V. Pugh, warden at the federal maximum-security prison in Florence, gives a thumbs-down to all the attention his high-profile inmates have been receiving. Last week, Bernard Kleinman, attorney for World Trade Center blaster Ramzi Yousef, told MSNBC that while Unabomber Ted Kaczynski keeps to himself during the prisoners' daily hour of exercise, his client has been chatting it up with convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Their favorite conversation? Not fertilizer formulas, but those vintage movies that air in the brig on the Turner Movie Classics channel.

Whether his fuse was lit by the three bombers rubbing elbows or the attorney rubbing up against TV talkers, Pugh quickly fired off a memo to his reluctant guests: "Inmates housed at the ADX will not be allowed to use 'group recreation' as a means to communicate with other inmates while being escorted to the recreation yards. Any attempts to communicate with other inmates while being escorted to and from recreation [this includes hand and arm signals] will result in your recreation being canceled and an incident report will be written."

Which means no more chatting about TMC's January "Stars Behind Bars" festival, complete with showings of Escape From Alcatraz.

Meanwhile, back at the Big House: Governor Bill Owens has wasted no time showing Colorado's biggest wigs that they have a friend in the Governor's Mansion--or Executive Residence, as he prefers it be called. First he invited companies such as US West, Coors and Kaiser-Hill to move to the head of the buffet line at the Inaugural Ball, collecting tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for the privilege. But Owens has offered bigger rewards than shortcuts to the canapes. Denver nursing-home owners Ralph and Trish Nagel are major contributers to the national Republican Party, having given $340,000 in 1996 alone; that same year, they rushed a $20,000 contribution to Owens just before a new state law limiting campaign contributions took effect. Once he was elected, Owens was quick to kiss the hands that fed him. First he appointed Trish Nagel to his health-care transition team, where she helped choose a new health-department head who will regulate--you guessed it--nursing homes. Then last week he appointed Ralph Nagel to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, where he'll help oversee Colorado's university system. Hell, he's already given us a useful civics lesson: Connections count.

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