Some parents in Utah County are pressing their school district to stop spreading “false educational ideas,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune. What might a false educational idea be? The notion that the word “democracy” defines our system of government. To parents who belong to a group called “Utah’s Republic,” which advocates a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, democracy is not what we’ve got here in America; the proper word is “republic.” Perhaps the group would like the Alpine School District to change its mission statement from “Educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy” to “Educating all students to ensure the future of our republicans.”
The South Dakota House of Representatives one-upped Utah, however, by passing a resolution recently that urges public schools to teach “astrology,” reports climateprogress.org. Astrology was cited along with a variety of other events that can “effect (sic) world weather phenomena …” including “climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, and cosmological” processes. The Legislators called for schools to teach a “balanced” view of global climate change, and, by a vote of 36-30, gave credence to the deniers that climate change is happening — “global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact.” The legislators added that the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are really a good thing because CO2 is not a pollutant but “the gas of life.” Comments on the blog ranged from, “Is this a joke?” (it was not) to “Don’t they read the Bible? I thought that the Old Testament advised strictly against astrologers,” and, “I don’t know about climate change, but I think they have indeed proven that evolution does not take place in South Dakota.”
We here at High Country News want your money and will sink pretty low to get it. But we have yet to resort to armed robbery. There was some confusion about this in recent months as the FBI doggedly pursued the High Country Bandits. And though the guy in the security camera photos looks remarkably like our editor-in-chief, the resemblance is purely coincidental. In March, police arrested two Arizona men and charged them with the High Country robberies. A big relief for us. The fact that our editor-in-chief is taking an extended leave of absence following sentencing … er … after he quits, is also purely coincidental.
As spring moves reluctantly into the West, thoughts turn to streams brimming with snowmelt. The Animas River, which winds through Durango, Colo., may be that community’s hottest flashpoint. For years, tension has been building between the river’s inner-tubers – a ragtag fleet of low-budget floaters -- and just about everyone else, especially commercial rafters. It’s the recreation-town equivalent of a civil war.
The commercial rafters go into battle in brightly colored life-jackets, or PFDs, visors or baseball caps, river sandals, nylon shorts, and deep but controlled suntans that emphasize biceps toned by rowing oversized passengers through too-shallow waters. They wear menacing knives strapped to their PFDs at chest level.
Tubers, on the other hand, prefer more minimalist garb – shorts, bare feet, bikinis, or, to the consternation of some and delight of others, absolutely nothing. PFDs are taboo, a six-pack of beer de rigueur. Soggy bologna sandwiches pair well with Schlitz. A blistering sunburn serves as tuber war paint.
For business reasons, rafters tend to be a respectful bunch. Tubers, fueled by cheap booze, are often more boisterous. Other river users complain of tuber nudity, littering, drug use and, on at least one occasion, of a tuber breaking in and using the toilet (“They didn’t flush, the lid was up and my husband (or I) hadn't been around,” one riverside resident told the Durango Herald). Sometimes, tubers get into trouble and have to be rescued.
So the city council is considering new rules this spring, like a curfew, life-jacket requirement and river beer-ban. Commercial rafters will likely rejoice. Just imagine you’re a guide with a boatload of tourists who paid hefty fees to be safely ferried downriver. You are sober. So are they. You point out the clearing where the radioactive tailings pile once stood, and warn your clients to brace themselves as you approach the river’s most dangerous rapid. Then, on the left, three tubers pass by: A drunk guy in jeans, another one with a paunch, his bologna sandwich raised high, and a bikini-clad young woman on a tube she got at the gas station for five bucks. They make it through the dreaded rapid without a problem. And you watch your business go down the drain.
Maybe you’re one of the millions who’ve discovered Facebook in recent years. You relish the deep connection to long-lost friends, and even neighbors, that only the Internet allows. Maybe you enjoy “friending” ex-lovers who wish you were dead, and high-school jocks who ignored you except to punch you out in the locker room. Or maybe you’d rather expand your social network, seeking fellow Christian roughnecks or oilfield wives.
Enter Drillingahead.com, the social network of oil and gas professionals. You can connect with other Directional Drillers and Oklahoma Mud Men or listen to Roughneck Radio, or visit Roughneckcity.com and buy oilfield jewelry. (I covet that pair of tricone drillbit pendants, myself.) You can even play the Virtual Oil Well game, but remember to get an EIS before drilling, or it’s GAME OVER).
Best of all are the videos uploaded by members. Some are downright silly. But others are more compelling, reminiscent of the digital detritus of a macabre postmodernist film workshop. Most are no longer than 30 seconds, and some titles combine the mundane with the morbid: “Matador 07 Accident Video,” “Lifeboat drill results in death,” “Confined Space Welding Explosion,” “Governor Palin State of the State.” And many share a common theme: It’s just another day on the 9 to 5. Until someone dies.
I prefer the Blowout music videos. There’s carnage galore here, too, but it’s mostly machinery that dies, not people. In the unexpectedly moving “Blowout,” viewers are treated to one rig after another exploding into flames, crashing down into crumpled heaps of steel or spewing earthly fluids and black smoke high into the air. It’s accompanied by the Eagles: “There’s a hole in the world tonight. There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow. There’s a hole in the world tonight. Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.”
Hubris doesn’t begin to define the Livingston, Mont., man who chain-sawed a trail more than a mile long through the Gallatin National Forest. “It became a project,” said Francis Leroy McLain, 60, who also ripped down a fence separating his property from U.S. Forest Service land. “I enjoyed it.” McLain’s illegal trail was more than six feet wide; when a neighbor saw him at work and began to ask questions, McLain explained that the path would allow him to “see more sights and wildlife.” Then he hid his chainsaw and rode off on an all-terrain vehicle, reports the Billings Gazette. McLain faces a possible one-year jail term and a plea agreement that requires him to pay $25,000 in restitution. Meanwhile, he has also begun serving a four-year term for tax evasion in Minnesota.
WYOMING AND UTAH
Sometimes, guns just get in the way. A 24-year-old woman in Riverton, Wyo., was shoveling snow when the loaded revolver she’d stowed in a shoulder holster tumbled out, hit the ground and fired, reports The Associated Press. The bullet went through her ankle and “exited below her knee,” but it could have been far worse, since she’d also loaded some .357 hollow points in the gun. In Kimball Junction, Wyo., a gun interfered with a call of nature. A visitor to the men’s restroom at a Cost Plus World Market solved the problem by removing his loaded handgun, but then forgot he even carried a weapon and left it behind. Still, there was a happy resolution: Although the holstered weapon was “found by children who went into the bathroom,” reports the Park Record, nobody got shot, and local police decided not to file any charges. In Lehi, Utah, however, all was not copacetic for the Municipal Court judge who “jokingly” pulled out a gun and pointed it at a bailiff in the courtroom, reports the Deseret News. On second thought, maybe we should blame the bailiff, Darci Budget, who started it all by “playfully” threatening to throw water from a water bottle at the judge, Garry R. Sampson. The Utah Supreme Court found the badinage inappropriate and reprimanded the judge.
Guns are the hot topic in Seattle lately; just walk into any Starbucks store and start talking about whether the coffee chain should ban guns. Signers of a petition circulated by the Brady Campaign urged Starbucks to do just that; “Open Carry” adherents argue it’s their right to tote weapons wherever they please. Readers posted fast and furious comments to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog about the issue; our favorite suggestion: “Starbucks … should have metal detectors at their entrances and should force potential customers to take off their shoes and stand in front of a scanner that images their bodies …” Second-favorite observation: “Guys carrying semi-automatic guns in a store might be bad for business.”
It’s one thing to vandalize a foreclosed house; it’s definitely another to try to steal the house itself. That’s what Brent Arthur Wilson was allegedly doing in Polson, Mont., removing “for sale” signs in front of homes left there by “real” real estate agents, filing claims on foreclosed houses he didn’t own, and renting and trying to sell others — all while living in a stolen house himself. It took a determined real estate agent, Ed McCurdy, to figure out what was going on. One tip-off was the bizarre way that Wilson filed some of his phony claims with the county clerk. For example, he located one property as “third planet from the sun,” wrote that he paid a “valuable consideration” to the “creator, Yahweh,” who kindly gave him a receipt, and under an illegible signature for a notary, wrote that the notary’s commission expired “upon my final breath.” By the time the police caught on to Wilson, however, he’d left town, writes the Missoulian’s Vince Devlin. A routine traffic violation led to Wilson getting nabbed in California; he was brought back to Montana and charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors — so far. Detective Rick Lenz says Lake County is still investigating the house thief, who may have operated in several states. Lenz explains, “This is new for us, dealing with someone stealing houses.”
A school principal in Phoenix thought he was just blowing off steam by writing a sarcastic letter to parents about their “lazy” and “stupid” children, reports The Associated Press. But the note was accidentally sent home with second graders, and their parents were neither understanding nor amused. The principal faces disciplinary action.
GOOD NEWS DEPARTMENT
While most school districts continue to struggle (and argue) over how to cut millions of dollars out of their budgets, the residents of Grand County, Utah, were just told they could relax and take a deep breath — at least for one year. Thanks to an anonymous donor’s gift of $700,000, the school district can avoid some of the more drastic cuts, reports the Moab Times-Independent, saving the jobs of five elementary school teachers and halting the move to a four-day week. A relieved school superintendent, Margaret Hopkins, called the donation “a miracle.”
And a cheer to Target Corp. for deciding to end the sale of salmon grown in crowded fish farms and dyed bright orange. The chain announced it will sell only wild salmon in its 1,744 stores in 49 states.
Still another cheer to 11 stalwart scientists at Brigham Young University who wouldn’t back down after calling global climate change a “serious problem,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Along with the Utah Farm Bureau, state Rep. Mike Noel — who calls global warming “a conspiracy to control world population” — asked BYU to apologize for the position taken by its earth scientists. A BYU spokesman refused, saying that the scientists were always clear about representing themselves and not the university. Forging ahead, the Utah House adopted a “sternly worded resolution” expressing deep skepticism about climate science.
The San Juan Record in Monticello, Utah, celebrated William Morley Black, a “father of thousands,” as part of its series on the “giants” of San Juan County. When Black died in 1915, he’d had six wives and 41 children, and he left 214 living grandchildren and 206 living great-grandchildren. “In the intervening 95 years, his posterity has grown to many thousands and would populate a small city,” said reporter Buckley Jensen, who went on to list all the names of descendants associated with the prolific Black: “Anderson, Black, Blake, Bradford, Brown, Burtenshaw, Carroll, Davis, Foy, Grover, Guymon, Hawkins, Helquist, Hunt, Hurst, Johnson, Jones, Kartchner, Keele, Laws, Lyman, Meyer, Mikesell, Nelson, Nielson, Palmer, Patterson, Perkins, Peterson, Pincock, Porter, Redd, Rowley, Shumway, Sipe, Slade, Smith, Stevens, Washburn, Wright and Young.” Black’s achievement for “largest posterity” seems remarkable since he spent only a little over two years in southern Utah before he moved to Mexico to avoid persecution for polygamy.
While you’re admiring Old Faithful, scoping for wolves or stopping for a bear jam at Yellowstone National Park, you might want to watch your back. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees warns that the tourists around you might be packing an assault rifle. On Feb. 22, a new law allowing park visitors to possess firearms in national parks “consistent with the laws of the state in which the area is located,” went into effect, ending the previous practice that allowed guns in parks only if they were stowed out of reach and unloaded. Now, “anyone hiking in the backcountry (of Yellowstone National Park) can openly carry guns, increasing the risk to other hikers and park wildlife,” says Doug Morris, a member of the group of more than 740 former Park Service staffers. Campgrounds pose a particular risk, the group warns, because it’s there that disagreements — “often fueled by alcohol” — break out around a campfire.
If you don’t laugh or gasp with amazement at least once while reading the boatman’s quarterly review, the off-and-on-again magazine published by the nonprofit Grand Canyon River Guides in Flagstaff, Ariz., you’re way too serious. A recent profile of teacher and guide Steve Lonie, 61, included these tidbits: Asked about the craziest question he’d ever been asked, Lonie picked, “How much does the canyon weigh?” As for the most memorable moment in his long career, Lonie recalled a conversation he’d had with a blind woman during a disabilities trip down the Colorado River. While he told the woman about the schist rock layer and what it looked like, “She ran her hands across the rock while saying, ‘I can see the colors!’ I said, ‘Cool!’ She said, ‘No, it’s not. Sit me down. That’s my aura. I’m also an epileptic.’ ”
Have you ever wondered how to combine “humor, art and latex?” The Blue Mountain Clinic invited people to do just that for its recent “Off the Rack” fashion show in Missoula, Mont. The women’s clinic donated condoms in a suite of colors to participants; designers had to come up with idiosyncratic outfits. Judging from photos of the event, condom-made bathing suits and dresses seem very bouncy.
Don't like your dog chasing wildlife, but think a shock collar is cruel? A trip to Australia just might teach him a lesson. A Jack Russell terrier, owned by a Colorado couple on work assignment Down Under, tangled with a giant lizard. The lizard was fine; the dog was a bloody mess. But all was OK because, unlike 50 million American humans, the dog had health insurance, and Veterinary Pet Insurance footed the bill. We suspect that Jack will be less enthusiastic about chasing wild animals in the future.
We’re not sure if Utah can help Arizona with its biblical interpretation skills, but it’s got a great idea for those empty mega-homes. The Beehive State is faring better than Arizona financially, but it’s still feeling enough pain to have some vacant McMansions. Rather than leaving them all to the rats, however, at least one landowner is adapting to the times. In 2005, a Salt Lake City contractor combined two lots to build a 16,000-square-foot monstrosity. Things went bad before it was finished, and the hulking beast remained empty. Now, the new owner is chopping it up and making it into three separate condominiums. “For every problem there is a solution,” new owner Ken Milo told the Salt Lake Tribune.
That’s what the non-profit Housing Resources must have thought when it had the opportunity to buy up 30 lots at discount rates in the western Colorado subdivision known as Wine Valley Estates. The once hot property, destined to be an upscale development with a smattering of 2,000-square-foot homes near the vineyards, had fallen on hard times, with only two homes built so far. The non-profit plans on putting affordable housing on the rest of the subdivision. It’s caused a bit of a ruckus: One of two current homeowners in the subdivision, Kevin Wold, isn’t happy. “If they come in here and build here, we’re finished,” he told the Grand Junction Sentinel.