Some state legislators like to rail against government intruding into people's lives -- unless, of course, those same legislators want to do the intruding themselves. Idaho Republican State Sen. John Goedde recently introduced a bill requiring all high school students to read "and comprehend" Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a doorstop of a novel about fed-up industrialists opting out of society. Then, after plowing through some 600 pages of leaden prose, the students would have to pass a state-approved test about the book, reports Time magazine. Scores of people commented on the bill, which Sen. Goedde admitted was largely a symbolic gesture, but one observation struck us as particularly apt: "There are two novels that can change a bookish 14-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves Orcs."
Which city is more polluted -- Beijing or Salt Lake City? High Country News explored that question recently as both places endured month-long inversions. Beijing wins the contest, but after Salt Lake City became ultra-smoggy this winter, more than 60 doctors asked the state to declare a public health emergency. Signing on to a letter drafted by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the doctors charged that the air trapped in valley bowls was so bad that breathing it was like forcing everyone to smoke cigarettes, an assertion that state regulators denied. The doctors asked Utah to make mass transit free, order industrial polluters such as Kennecott to cut emissions in half, and require all drivers to reduce their highway speeds to 55 mph, among other measures. Still, the air used to be filthier, notes The Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah's air quality has actually been improving in the 40 years since Congress passed the Clean air Act. Older Utahns can tell stories about the soot that their windshield wipers would push away during inversions of that era."