To say that former Sen. Alan Simpson, 79, of Wyoming doesn’t mince words is putting it tepidly. On MSNBC’s Hardball TV show recently, he blasted presidential hopefuls from his own Republican Party because of their positions on social issues: “Who the hell is for abortion?” he asked. “I don’t know anybody running around with a sign that says, ‘Have an abortion, they’re wonderful.’ They’re hideous. But they’re a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don’t think men legislators should even vote on the issue.” Simpson didn’t stop there, attacking potential presidential candidates from his party who oppose gay rights and declaring that he won’t stick with Republican “homophobes” who hypocritically indulge in affairs while giving speeches about moral values. You can find a small cache of Simpson’s quotes through the years on the Web; here’s a pithy example: “An educated man is thoroughly inoculated against humbug, thinks for himself and tries to give his thoughts in speech or on paper, some style.” And here’s a more recent quote from during the time Simpson was working on reforming the federal budget: “The country is gonna go to the bow-wows unless we deal with entitlements, Social Security and Medicare.”
Another straight shooter when it comes to controversial issues is Montana State Rep. Alan Hale, a Republican who hails from the tiny town of Basin. Hale unabashedly backs drinking while driving and opposes efforts by some of his fellow legislators to put teeth in the state’s notoriously permissive DUI laws. Passing sterner driving-under-the-influence laws became big news this year after several “high-profile drunken driving deaths,” reports the Missoulian, but Hale, citing the needs of far-flung taverns that bring locals together, calls reform a mistake: “These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good at all. They are destroying them.” Unfortunately, reform took a hit earlier this year when it was revealed that one of the leaders, Republican State Sen. Jim Shockley, was arrested in January for drinking while driving. As if to illustrate how lightly the law now treats drinking drivers, Shockley’s fine for getting caught with an open beer was a paltry $51.
When the real estate market went bananas in the middle of the last decade, Teton County, Idaho, couldn't approve new subdivisions fast enough. In fact, the Idaho valley, which is located just over the pass from pricey Jackson, Wyo., was named one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States. But when the housing market plummeted in 2008, the boom's extravagance became painfully apparent, reports NewWest.net: The number of vacant lots in Teton County -- 7,791 -- was almost equal to the county's population of 8,800. In a recent talk at a Denver land-use conference, Anna Trentadue, an attorney in Teton County for Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, recalled that the rush to develop land was so reckless that "thousands of lots were platted in the far nether regions of the valley with no real long-term vision for how the county would be able to provide basic services to these areas." Trentadue was initially surprised when the audience began to laugh during her presentation; then she realized that "they were just incredulous."
NEVADA and CHINA
In Nevada, of course, developers didn't just plat far-flung suburban subdivisions and Las Vegas condos; they actually built them during the real estate bubble, and did so at a rapid clip. Last year, the number of empty homes in Nevada rose to 167,564, according to U.S. Census data. That's the equivalent of one out of every seven houses, which helps explain why, this past January, Nevada enjoyed the dubious distinction of having the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. On the up side, if you can call it that, bargains galore can be found throughout the Silver State because prices of many houses and apartments have dropped by more than half. "Save over $460,000" on a new house on the Strip is now a typical headline on the Top Ten Las Vegas Home Deals website. But the West's housing boom and bust can't compare to the spectacular scale of nonstop overbuilding in China. To keep its economy humming, China has built and continues to build entire cities, though few of its citizens can afford to live in the high-rise apartments or shop in the sprawling new malls, reports the television show Dateline Australia. The startling 99 percent vacancy rate for one mega-city built for 22 million people in the Pearl Delta is typical; what's even more appalling is the country's total number of empty apartments -- 64 million.
What's next -- offering a free derringer with every mammogram or a free Uzi with the purchase of a La-Z-Boy? You just might see it happen, because guns sell. The managers of a Radio Shack in Hamilton, Mont., found that out after they placed a giant sign above their Super Store: "Protect yourself with Dish Network. Sign up now, get free gun." The managers had hoped that the sign would lure new customers from the Bitterroot Valley, but they were surprised when hundreds of passersby stopped their cars to take pictures of the sign or dropped in to see if the offer was legitimate. Buyers got to choose between a "Hi Point 380 pistol or a 20-gauge shotgun," reports the Billings Gazette, though all had to undergo background checks at the nearby Frontier Guns & Ammo. "We're not just giving guns to felons," assured Radio Shack store manager Fabian Levy. Almost all of the new customers told Levy and storeowner Steve Strand how much they liked the gun promotion, but Strand said he was surprised to find that many women -- including some in their 60s and 70s -- showed up only because they wanted a free gun.
In the Good News Department, the Rodale Institute concludes that organic farming trumps chemical-intensive agriculture, turning the conventional wisdom on its head. The Rodale scientists in Pennsylvania found that after 27 years of side-by-side comparisons, organic farming produces the same corn yields with less water pollution and healthier soil, reports Grist.org. And in Wyoming, an engineer for a proposed $4 billion-$6 billion, 1,000-turbine wind farm south of Rawlins found that the average wind speed in the area for January was a high and consistent 42 mph. If the wind farm is built as planned on a ranch owned by the Anschutz Corp., it would produce enough power for 600,000 homes, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. Meanwhile, in the Western Bad News Sweepstakes, the state of Arizona is surely a contender. The former CEO and current board chairman of Intel, Craig Barrett, criticized Arizona's coming deep cuts in education and told the state's lawmakers recently that if Intel had it to do over again, the company would not locate there: "I hate to say it, but I think Arizona would not be in the top 10 locales to make that investment," he told the Arizona Republic. So far, Intel has spent $14 billion in the state, with another $5 billion to come for a planned new computer chip fabrication plant in Chandler.
"Plants can't run and hide" in the world, so over time, some have evolved the ability to alter their structure when they perceive a threat. That's the mechanism now being exploited by Colorado State University biologist Jane Medford, as she and some 30 undergraduate and graduate students genetically engineer plants to signal the presence of pollutants or explosives like TNT by turning from green to white. Medford says the altered "detector plants" should be able eventually to act as guardians at airports and other public places. And thanks to a $7.9 million grant from the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Medford's team can speed along its research. Speed, not surprisingly, is important: In the presence of a chemical threat, the first-generation plants are still taking hours to drain their leaves of color.
The Earth Island Journal recently profiled a cohort of 10,000 baby boomers who, incredibly, remain on the federal dole even though they haven't done a lick of work during the last six decades. Writer Gar Smith reports that this privileged group does nothing "but sit around, radiating the serenity that goes with being part of a select and pampered minority." What's perhaps most galling about the members of this group, who are all employed by the Department of Defense, is their cushy living arrangements: They receive about $650 million each, live in a gated community in New Mexico and have 20,000 government specialists assigned just to serve their needs. Just who are the members of this seldom-talked-about elite? "Oh, forgive me. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Mark-61. I'm a nuclear weapon."
The black bears that call Yosemite National Park home are legendary for their smarts. They've honed efficient methods of ripping the doors off minivans, and they can skillfully yank open refrigerators. That's why campers at the park must remove all food and other bear attractants and put them in "bear-proof" lockers that are so failsafe they routinely frustrate some campers. But last summer, after years of trial and error, an old male bear finally figured out how to open the lockers. A reliable source describes how, as the bear noisily cracked open an allegedly bear-proof locker one night, a woman jumped out of her tent and started hollering at the animal to back off. When the unwelcome visitor failed to move or even flinch, the woman then picked up her shoes and fired one of them at the bear, beaning it. What happened next is hard to believe but true: "The bear rushed up to the woman and grabbed the other shoe out of her hand, then returned to his meal. Hearing the commotion, a neighboring camper arrived with a canister of bear spray, but he only managed to expose everybody to the choking fumes." The bear, of course, had already left the scene after chowing down on all the food stored in the locker.
We've always loved those before-and-after photos of couples about to celebrate a half-century of wedded bliss. In pictures from 50 years ago, the bride usually looks like a teenager with a bad haircut, while the groom strikes a serious air and looks almost gaunt. Fifty years later, each has usually completely filled out, and chances are good that both wear eyeglasses. Yet because they've come through so much of life together, they tend to look equally buoyant as they invite friends and family to join their celebration. What's never admitted, of course, is that there might have been a bumpy decade or two along the way, which is why we liked how one couple in Dixie, Utah, spoofed their own 50-year hoo-hah in The Spectrum: "FIFTY YEARS OF ENDURANCE," was the headline. And because "Lael Hilton of Delta has endured living with Mert Lovell of Oak City for 50 long years, condolences and expressions of heartfelt sympathy would be appreciated."
It's a Tea Party world in Montana's Legislature these days, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, sometimes can't believe his ears as newly elected representatives talk blithely of creating armed citizen militias and "nullifying" a slew of federal laws, reports The Associated Press. Schweitzer calls many of the proposals from the new Republican majority "kooky," noting that they include "a plan to make it legal to hunt big game with a spear." But because some of these laws are bound to land on his desk, Schweitzer has ordered a new cattle-branding iron that reads "VETO." Says the governor, "Ain't nobody in the history of Montana has had so many danged ornery critters that needed branding."
It was understandable that District Court Judge Marvin D. Bagley was getting fed up: William Beck never showed up in court to answer charges of passing bad checks, reports the Southern Utah News. Beck always had good excuses: First, his lawyer explained, his mother died. Then, at the second attempt at a trial, the lawyer said that Beck's grandmother had just died. This led the judge to comment dryly: "If this continues, he's going to run out of family."
Nikki Cooley is a Colorado River guide for Arizona Raft Adventures who also "happens to be Navajo," reports the boatman's quarterly review. So it must have struck her as particularly odd when a tourist on one of her Grand Canyon trips casually asked, "Are Indians extinct?" No word on her reply.
Who knew that, along with a pricey fence to wall off our border with Mexico, we also needed to consider building a moat? A moat might have blocked Mexican drug smugglers from trying out their latest audacious scheme -- a catapult that hurled packages of marijuana over the U.S. fence and into Arizona. National Guard troops operating remote cameras spotted several of the catapult launches, but by the time Mexican Army troops got to the scene, the smugglers had fled. No doubt they were sorry to leave behind their 9-foot, homemade catapult on a flatbed pulled by a SUV, plus 35 pounds of pot, reports The Associated Press.
You'd think elected officials would have learned by now to zip their lips and not make veiled threats against other public officials. But Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg apparently did not get the message. Instead, in a speech to a joint session of the state Legislature, he proposed putting "judicial activists on the endangered species list," clearly a reference to Federal District Court Judge Don Molloy, who last summer made a controversial decision involving wolves, an endangered species. Even worse, "Rehberg's threat drew an eager laugh," said The New York Times in an editorial condemning Rehberg's "dangerous threats." Three of Judge Molloy's children spoke out against Rehberg's inflammatory words. In light of the murderous events in Tucson, they said in a letter to Helena's Independent Record, they wondered how Rehberg could speak so thoughtlessly. "It is not acceptable or appropriate to make veiled or outright threats of harm to anyone," they reminded him. "We are fourth-generation Montanans, and our parents raised us to respect other people, even people with whom we might not agree."
After Wyoming Wildlife published a big story called "Golden" about the hunting prowess of golden eagles, reader Jim Frailey, of Harrisburg, Ill., told the magazine about a stunning eagle attack he'd witnessed purely by chance back in the early 1980s. He was taking a break from driving a delivery route when he noticed a buck with a bad leg lagging behind a small herd of antelope running near the road, somewhere between Medicine Bow and Hanna. He was watching through binoculars when "in the blink of an eye, the buck and a brown figure hit the ground and rolled." The buck flailed wildly with its hooves, knocking the brown thing off, and Frailey realized it was a golden eagle. The bird flew off a few yards, but kept watch as the buck got up, staggered about 100 yards and finally collapsed. At that point, the eagle flew back to his prey "and started enjoying his meal." Frailey speculates that when the eagle attacked, its talons must have pierced a lung. He's a little sad that he never got a photo of the kill, but that's because he was completely enthralled watching it: "I'm sure my mouth was open the entire time the life struggle was going on."
Bozeman-area rancher Rick Woienski thinks he knows what families want when they go out to eat, and it isn't "foodie" food that's low in fat, prettily pureed or modestly portioned. "People don't go to a restaurant to eat healthy," he told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. "They go to be decadent, to splurge, to have a good time. That's our market and we don't apologize for that." Since 2008, Woienski has been raising the exotic cattle he calls Montana Wagyu, a blend of Black Angus and Japanese Kobe cattle that's prized for its marbled fat. His business has been growing fast: When he appeared on the QVC television network, he sold 16,000 Wagyu beef burgers -- some 5,000 pounds -- in less than four minutes. And thanks to a $49,999 grant from the U.S. Agriculture Department, Woienski will try to expand his business through a new website, montanasbestkobebeef.com, while continuing to appear on QVC and at chefs' conventions. Woienski, a former Marine who grew up in Newark, N.J., says he fell in love with ranching back in the late 1970s, when he worked as a ranch hand to make money during his undergraduate years at Montana State University. These days, he's a one-man show on his 40-acre ranch outside of Belgrade, leasing additional land from his neighbors and working with other family-owned businesses to cut down on operating costs. What particularly appealed to USDA about Woisenski was his role in creating jobs; two people have been hired at a Butte processing plant just to work with Wagyu beef.
Some poachers don't understand the meaning of the word, or maybe they just can't accept that they can be caught in the act. Rex Rammell, a Republican who recently ran for governor of Idaho, was stopped by a state Fish and Game agent last November just as he was hauling out an elk he'd shot. When the agent asked for Rammell's license, Rammell produced an expired tag for a completely different part of the state. And when the agent moved to confiscate the elk, Rammell replied, "You better get your gun out, because you're going to have to shoot me if you want this elk," reports the Idaho Statesman. Rammell's defense was novel: He said the state couldn't take his elk until he's proven guilty. Rammell, who received 42,000 votes in the election, has become known for incendiary language, calling state Fish and Game agents "Nazis," urging residents to shoot any and all wolves, and "joking" about buying "Obama tags" during hunting season. Another Idaho poaching story involves a father-son duo, George M. Kelley, 75, and son George "Bill" Kelley, 53, who own a domestic elk farm. That didn't stop them from poaching an elk on public land, reports the Twin Falls Times-News. An eyewitness notified Idaho Fish and Game officers that the Kelleys had placed a tag from one of the family's domestic elk on a wild animal they'd shot. "Poaching is a huge problem within this whole state," conservation officer Chad Wipperman said. "Thank goodness for honest citizens."
It's really a sad story, but at least it didn't end with a drugged bunch of bears careering around Yellowstone National Park. Tracy Province, a convicted killer who escaped from an Arizona prison, planned to commit suicide by bear at Yellowstone, by first drugging himself on heroin and then assuming bears would stumble on his body and eat him. Luckily, "a voice told him not to go through with the plan," reports the Arizona Republic. Province's plan probably wouldn't have worked: Park spokesman Al Nash said that although bears eat just about anything, the chances of bear-human encounters are slim. As for Province, life on the outside seemed terrifying to him: He discovered that he'd forgotten how to drive a car, and even worse, "everyone drives too fast now," as he said after he was recaptured.