Off Limits

Now that Johns TV has become a local cult classic, Detroit is trying to proposition some action of its own.

Wayne County prosecutor Michael Duggan has been working with Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and police chief Jerry Oliver to set up a similar show, apparently enticed by reports that Denver's TV program outing johns has cut solicitation by 40 percent. But while Denver was just hoping that Johns TV would discourage prostitution locally, the Motor City is thinking a little bigger. "If you come into Detroit to get a hooker, the whole world will know," says Wayne County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Morton. And the world may know as early as next spring, when Detroit hopes to launch the program on public-access television and the city's Web site.

"Obviously, we are not going to be very happy about this," Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press. "We've long ago lost the tradition of public flogging. It's cruel to embarrass people in the public square."

Moss didn't find our city's claim to fame particularly funny, either. When the Free Press told her that Johns TV had become one of the most popular shows ever on Denver's public-access channels, Moss replied, "The National Enquirer is widely read, also. It doesn't mean it's a good thing to do."

Takin' it on the road: Colorado's black-footed prairie dog may be getting all the attention lately -- what with its bid for endangered-species status and federal wildlife officials suddenly finding an additional 541,000 acres of homeland -- but thus far, its influence has been relegated to our borders. Meanwhile, an interloper with an amazing resemblance to the much-maligned/much-loved rodent (hell, they could almost be Colorado's other set of twins) is the one taking the show on the road. Now flacking for the University of Colorado in its national ad campaign is the lowly...ground squirrel.

That's right: Boulder wannabes in Los Angeles (we found the ad in the L.A. Times), Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis, San Francisco and San Diego are being lured to CU's environmental-sciences program with a ground squirrel. "That photo seemed to be representative" of the program, says Kevin Lee, the school's interim executive director of communications. "It's a good nature shot."

But even he admits that the squirrel looks like a prairie dog. "I thought the same thing the first time I saw it," he says. "But those people in other markets know nothing about the prairie dog in Boulder, so it wasn't for that reason."

Each year, CU chooses several programs to highlight in its print campaign to lure out-of-state students and boost the school's bottom line. This year's picks were environmental sciences, the simultaneous bachelor-master's program, and Atlas, the technology program. But only environmental sciences scored a squirrel. Now let's watch those enrollment figures.

One credit card at a time: Poor Sean Shealy. He was only trying to be a disciple for the great Messiah William Safire, to save the country from a disaster of Orwellian or Cazmotzesque proportions. He scheduled a rally, called the ACLU and alerted the gun shops (he's pro-gun control but, hey, there's nothing like those guys to draw a crowd). And then, from his Littleton home, he shouted down the commandment that would stop government encroachment: "Spend cash instead of credit."

After reading Safire's slightly flawed, if still alarming, column in the New York Times on November 14, Shealy warned everyone he could think of that if President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, it would "create a database of 300 million Americans... that will continuously collect data on who you call, what Web sites you visit, the content of your e-mails, the movies you rent and the books you buy, what organizations you belong to, the medical treatments you have, where you travel and any and everything that you do via credit card." In protest, he asked people to lock up their credit cards for one week, until Bush returned from NATO.

But on November 20, Shealy drew only a few news crews -- and no converts -- to the State Capitol steps, where he'd planned to advocate "using capitalism as democracy."

"I chose credit cards," he says, "number one, because it's the only power we have at this point. The only thing Bush will listen to is business interests. Number two, this will decimate the credit-card and Internet industry."

Technology being what it is, President Bush didn't get the Safire and Shealy message and instead signed the Homeland Security Act on November 24.

Even before the bill became law, though, the Pentagon had been working on a prototype of the database -- known as Total Information Awareness -- in the Information Awareness Office, which is headed by retired admiral John Poindexter. (For those with memories shorter than their credit reports, he was President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, convicted in 1990 for his involvement in Iran/Contra.)

Shealy's now asking people to boycott credit-card use from the day Congress goes back into session until lawmakers deal with the ramifications of the database. He's also thinking of organizing a nationwide ACLU-to-ACLU tour, where he can go forth and preach the gospel. So far, only a few people have agreed to stand with him, Shealy admits, and he knows it would "probably take a couple of million." (VISA headquarters declined to comment, saying only that it supports consumer choice no matter how consumers choose to pay.)

But he's not giving up. Not yet, at least.

"I think the bill is a betrayal of the foundation of the country," Shealy says, "but if nobody else gives a damn, then maybe I won't, either."

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