Off Limits

Deck the halls
Time's Denver bureau had real reason to celebrate at its annual Christmas party Monday night. The big-scoop Columbine issue, with its summary of the Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold videos, was just hitting the stands (a week early, to counter the Rocky Mountain News's three-part series that started Sunday); several local journalists at the bar still looked shell-shocked from the three-hour screening Jeffco had hastily set up that afternoon for news outlets eager to catch up with the magazine. Not in evidence at the party: Jeff Shapiro, the former Globe reporter and current Blockbuster employee who's turned into a major blabber, first in Larry Schiller's book and then in two tabloid-tattling Denver Post op-ed pieces that identified him as a Time freelancer, a credential acquired through a couple of Colorado-based assignments that the magazine must surely regret now. (Shapiro will be appearing again soon -- but not as a reporter -- in Brill's Content, the national media journal that's about to publish its assessment of the JonBenét Ramsey case and coverage.)

Also not in evidence at this or likely any other party this season: alleged political consultant/Isaiah Shoels family spokesman Sam Riddle. Just a year ago, Riddle was riding high on a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. That seven-month deal ran out in July -- and the untimely death of Secretary of State Victoria Buckley effectively put an end to any notion of an extension. In late November, Riddle pleaded not guilty to DUI charges leveled in connection with a much-publicized July 16 incident in Denver. Then on Saturday night, Riddle was busted again, this time in Adams County, when he refused to take a Breathalyzer test. Eat, drink and be wary this holiday season.

Making book
Although the case is getting colder by the day in Boulder, references to JonBenét keep popping up in thrillers, including recent bestsellers by James Patterson and Stephen Cannell, usually as suspects and/or law-enforcement types talk about how they don't want their particular fictitious cases to turn out like the all-too-real Ramsey case. Cold Case, the new book by Steven White, includes several Ramsey bits -- but then, White, a clinical psychologist and author of seven previous Alan Gregory novels, used to live in Boulder and now lives in Denver. Here's an exchange between an East Coast character and Lauren Crowder, Gregory's wife and an assistant Boulder DA:

"Did you do JonBenet? Was that yours? And was it as crapped up as everybody says it was?"

"It wasn't mine," she said, smiling insincerely. "I was totally out of the loop on that one."

"You must hear things, though, right? That DA of yours pointing at the camera and saying he's gonna get his man. I loved it. Loved it. I have a friend who started calling him Wyatt Burp."

Also ringing true is this passage, as Gregory wanders toward the Boulder mall: "The downtown bars had just emptied out and there were a few dozen pedestrians still loitering as though something interesting was about to happen. I parked on Ninth in front of where Treats used to be. The building that housed the bakery was now history. I still missed the wonderful breakfast rolls and muffins at Treats.

"And I missed the trifle at Southern Exposure. And the grits at the original Dot's Diner. And the omelets at the Aristocrat. The Irish stew at Shannon's. Fred's wonderful pie. And the brats on brown bread at Don's Cheese and Sausage. When I finished reminiscing about the Boulder that existed before Subway and Starbucks, and before the Gap and Banana Republic..."

He went on to solve the case. Yes, the setting is Boulder -- but the book's fiction, remember?

What, she worry?
Not so fictitious is the threat of Y2K, and as the date approaches, Paloma O'Riley is getting increasingly anxious. That's hardly surprising: As co-founder of the Cassandra Project, the Denver-based Y2K preparedness group that was one of the first to sound the alarm about the potential for a mass computer meltdown, you'd expect her to be wringing her hands right about now.

O'Riley, however, isn't fretting about global terrorism, unintended nuclear launches or even backing up her computer data onto hard disks. Her Y2K problem will be finding a real job -- or at least one that pays real money. Since starting the Cassandra Project -- which she left in September to work on accountability issues (i.e., who gets sued in 2000 for not being compliant) -- O'Riley hasn't seen a regular paycheck. "We figured the only way to remain credible [at Cassandra] was not to take any money," she says. Instead, she relied on her husband, a mechanical engineer, and took out a second mortgage on their house. "We really took it in the shorts."

With twenty years' experience in information technology, O'Riley first encountered the extent of the Y2K problem while working for English SUV manufacturer the Rover Group in 1996. She and Cathy Moyer then took it upon themselves to raise public awareness by starting the Cassandra Project in June 1997. Although O'Riley has written that Y2K is a "temporary bump in the road -- not the end of the world," she realized that most Americans are wholly unprepared for any such emergency, computer-related or not.

Her goals were to engender a rational response on the subject of personal preparedness for a crisis -- not for people to pull all of their money out of the bank, buy an AR-15 and head for the backwoods. As such, her expertise on the subject has been in demand from people -- including government officials -- all over the world. (She turned down an offer to go to France's Millennium Celebration, choosing instead to spend it dancing the night away in Boulder.) But that hasn't stopped survival-minded opportunists from exploiting people's paranoia. In fact, one Web site snatched the URL (as opposed to the nonprofit's to link to merchants who sell everything from electric generators to hard currency like gold and silver.

And now O'Riley thinks she's been unfairly lumped in with the lunatic fringe -- leaving some potential employers leery of hiring the guru of glitches. "I've never been unemployable in my life," she sighs, noting that finding a job may not be the easy task that she thought it would be. After leaving the project, she pursued Y2K work for local consulting firms but was told that she might make some of their clients "uncomfortable."

"I tried to tell them that I've been to the White House twice," she says, "and they don't invite wackos to the White House."

Tank me to your leader
They do invite space aliens to the White House, however. We've all known for many years that former governor Dick Lamm and former RTD rabble-rouser Jon Caldara were from another universe, but former senator Gary Hart, too?

The supermarket tabloid Weekly World News recently revealed that "Washington Think Tanks Are Riddled With Space Aliens...and they've helped us cure polio, land on the moon -- and even create the Internet!" The article (which is still posted at reported that 18 of the nation's 26 major think tanks -- including the well-known Brookings Institution -- have at least one alien on board, and some have as many as five. "Most people believe that think tanks are made up of geniuses handpicked from universities and the business world, and indeed, many members are," says the paper's source. "But some members are in fact visitors from space who are eager to pass on their vast knowledge of science, technology, sociology and other fields to mankind."

It's not much of a leap, then, to assume that local think tanks like Colorado's own Bighorn Center, Independence Institute (of which Caldara is now president) and Center for the New West have their share of otherworldly beings.

Rutt Bridges, the president and CEO of the Bighorn Center, denies any specific knowledge of an alien presence on his board of directors, which includes not only Lamm and Hart, but economist Tucker Hart Adams, software billionaire Ed McVaney, real estate magnate Stephen Schuck and CSU president Albert Yates. But he won't rule it out, either. "I'm not sure I'd know if we did or not," he says. "To the best of my knowledge, I don't think we have any aliens, but we are equal opportunity employers, and we would certainly accept resumés from them. We have Republicans, Democrats, Independents, so I see no reason why we shouldn't have aliens."

Bridges adds cryptically, "We do have people who are a little unusual." Lamm, for instance? "He's quite capable of thinking outside the box, so I think he would be quite capable of thinking outside the planet as well."

If you have a tip, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail [email protected].

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