Heard around the West
The sex-change doctor who created an unusual kind of economic development for the former coal-mining town of Trinidad, Colo., died last month at the age of 82. Stanley Biber began operating on men who wanted to be women in 1969, and over a 34-year span, according to an obituary in the New York Times, transformed "movie stars, judges, mayors — everything." His patients included three brothers who became sisters, and a man who became a woman and later married a gynecologist who, Biber believed, never knew his wife was a transsexual. Biber practiced general medicine for 15 years before pioneering his operation on a local man, a social worker who’d been living as a woman. To perform his first sex-change surgery, Biber said, he had to work from a set of hand-drawn diagrams he obtained from the Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Word spread after that, and soon Trinidad became known as "the sex-change capital of the world." The patients and their families boosted the local economy, although at first, Biber had some work to do convincing locals that treating "gender dysphoria," the feeling of being trapped in a body of the wrong sex, was a legitimate medical activity. It probably helped that Biber, a 5-foot-3-inch-tall MASH unit surgeon during the Korean War, fit right into rural life. He was elected a county commissioner, owned a ranch and participated in cattle drives. It is estimated that over the years he performed 4,000 sex-change operations. His work continues today in Trinidad under the supervision of Dr. Marci Bowers, a woman who, until a few years ago, was a man.
Can too much rain make you witty? Judging by The Oregonian’s contest asking people to create a new state motto to replace the current — and sappy — "Oregon: She Flies With Her Own Wings," the answer is a resounding "yes." Finalists included "Oregon: If You Lived Here, You Could Have Killed Yourself by Now," "Oregon: If She Had Wings She’d Fly South for the Winter," and "Oregon: Where Lewis and Clark Discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder." Drum roll please: The second-place winner for a new state motto was John Baur’s "Oregon: No, You’re Saying It Wrong." First place went to Randy Yearout’s "If the Rain Don’t Kill You, You Can Do It Yourself." Thanks to reader Val Rapp for sharing the news.
Sometimes, a news story blows up: Readers express outrage, and editors struggle to explain what they’d been thinking. That happened recently in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to editor Jim Mullin after his alternative paper, New Times, published a lead story headlined, "Meth Made Easy." It wasn’t just that the paper told how easy it was to find the ingredients for making the addictive drug; it also printed a recipe. As Mullin explained in the next issue of the weekly, "The outcry, the condemnations, the threats that followed have left us humbled and distressed." Hundreds of letters, phone calls and e-mails flooded his office, he said. Some read the story as condoning and even promoting the drug. Others expected more attention paid to the ugly consequences of meth addiction. One reader noted that "the only person she (writer Alice Moss) interviewed was someone who claimed to be a ‘recreational user.’ Let me tell you, he won’t be one for long. This is the illusion of that drug … It turns the nicest people into complete monsters." Another reader mockingly said, "I whipped up a little meth according to your instructions. I’ve gotten smarter, breathtakingly laid, horribly emaciated, dentally challenged, somewhat paranoid, brutally arrested, unfairly convicted, partially rehabilitated, and saved by Jesus. Thank you, Dan-I-Forgot-My-Last-Name." Clearly taken aback, Mullin said he continued to hope that a dialogue would lead to greater understanding. Mullin resigned from his post at the paper Feb. 18.
Three cheers for two companies that have selected southern Nevada to be the site of "the largest solar energy project of its kind in the world." The Associated Press says Las Vegas-based Powered by Renewables Corp. and a Baltimore firm plan this year to build an 18-megawatt photovoltaic plant to sell power to the military. The facility would cost $115 million and be bigger than what is now the world’s largest, a 10-megawatt photovoltaic plant in Germany.
Those hand-held Global Positioning Systems don’t just help hikers or hunters find their way out of the backcountry. In Spokane, a few minutes after a bank was robbed, police stopped the getaway van and went right to a bag stuffed with $37,920 in cash. They were helped by the GPS device "that bank workers had tucked inside," reports AP. The amazed bank robber commented, "You guys are good!"
Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.