Scaredy-cats and dogs

 

IDAHO

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."

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New Mexico: Probably also gluten-free. Courtesy Rebecca Quintana.

UTAH

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."

CALIFORNIA

An Anatolian shepherd dog from Turkey may not have won Best in Show at New York's recent Westminster Dog Show, but in San Diego, at the Zoo Safari Park, that particular breed and some mutts recruited from animal shelters are appreciated because they're willing to lie down peaceably with cheetahs, serving as companion animals to those solitary and increasingly rare big cats. Cheetahs may be able to go "from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds," reports The Associated Press, but they are "also the world's biggest scaredy-cats, so much so that they don't breed easily and are in danger of going extinct." In the wild, "in Africa, cheetahs were treated as vermin for years, like people in the United States treat coyotes," said Jack Grisham, coordinator for cheetah survival in North America. So there may come a day when cheetahs succumb to pressures from development and poachers. At least in zoos, thanks to dogs that "serve as playmates and provide the cats with guidance," they have a chance at perpetuating their species. The cross-species partnership has been paying off in San Diego: 135 cats have been born in captivity.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected]