Heard around the West


It's good to be queen - the food is better - but then you get stale and lay fewer eggs, and pretty soon you're out of a job. Buying new queens is what honeybee breeders face every year, reports Capital Press, and "requeening" has usually been no big deal. Queens can easily be shipped from post office to post office, living quite comfortably in a box with worker-bee attendants for up to a couple of weeks (although longer than three days isn't good). Now, the U.S. Postal Service has farmed some of its work out to FedEx. In 28 years, FedEx has never shipped live animals and won't start in 2002. So what to do? Bee breeders fear the jostling in a UPS delivery truck, since it might turn queens testy, and they don't want to face making every air arrangement themselves. The dilemma makes lot of farmers nervous, says queen-breeder Russell Heitkam in Chico, Calif. He estimates that each year bees pollinate crops worth about $14.5 billion. Heitkam and other bee farmers have begun lobbying Congress for help, and they are also trying to persuade FedEx that shipping boxes for queen bees have proved super-safe.

Misspellings are fun, especially when it's smarties who flub. "Red Whine" is how the French identified the contents of a bottle of full-bodied Chateau Laval, 1999, reports the Los Angeles Times. The alumni publication, California Monthly, spotted a peculiar parking sign for human-genome researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The sign says a spot is reserved for something J.R.R. Tolkien would have appreciated, the "Gnome Project," with special permit - perhaps one just for little people - required at all times.

When you work in a place so hush-hush that people refer to it as "nowhere," it's hard to get publicity. That place, also known simply as "out of town," is mysterious Area 51, 90 miles north of Las Vegas. So the first anybody knew that security guards there were going out on strike was when the manager of a bookstore, Aliens on Earth, got an anonymous tip over the phone: "The camo dudes are on strike." Camo refers to the camouflage worn by security guards as they patrol the Groom Lake base, where the Air Force says it tests high-tech planes. The guards' beef: not enough pay and too much overtime since Sept. 11, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

If you want a fair shake from an employer who might send you packing after a decade making widgets, go to Mexico. Regulations "penalize employers who slash payrolls," reports the Wall Street Journal, not surprisingly spinning the story from the company point of view. Mexican law makes sure that a laid-off worker gets three months' salary for every year of employment. So when a steel-valve plant owned by an American company, Emerson Electric, closed in Torreon last summer, 250 employees were well compensated. The workers had worked for an average of six years and received a collective severance package of just under $1 million.

The staid New York Times stumbled on a revelation recently involving Las Vegas showgirls: The statuesque gals have finally discarded their 25-pound feather headdresses and 35-pound angel wings, and they no longer strut around stage atop dangerously high shoes. Now, they're totally nude - except for spike heels. Why are the days of heavy adornment gone? The Times tells us with a straight face that parading nude is less strain on the body, or as Slate magazine puts it: "Mega-babe dancers should be naked because it's better for their health." Slate says it's fun to do a search for this story in the Times' archive; you just plug in "feather boas," "nude" and "Las Vegas."

Naturalist David Quamman kayaked through Grand Canyon recently, and thanks to a scientist friend, he told Adventure magazine, he could gaze up at rock layers a half-billion years old and recite the changing geologic formations as easy as pie. The friend had given him a mnemonic: Kissing Takes Concentration; However, Sex Requires More Breath and Tongue. That's code for Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino, Hermit shale, Supai group, Redwall limestone, Muav limestone, Bright Angel shale, and finally, Tapeats sandstone, working from the top down to the Colorado River.

It may not be safe to be a "plane spotter" since Sept. 11. British engineer Michael Wright was hanging around Las Vegas airport and indulging his hobby - checking out a plane's tail numbers with binoculars and writing that number down in a notebook - when security guards surrounded him. They didn't arrest him, but made him move on, because he was making travelers nervous. Mostly, it's British men who are addicted to the sport, and yes, it is eccentric to ogle a jetliner, several hobbyists admitted to the Wall Street Journal. But Dave Pickles, a retired engineer who's now a full-time spotter, explained that "while the whole idea is kind of compulsive, smacking a little white ball around on the grass in special shoes certainly is no more silly."

To experience Mars on the cheap, go to southern Utah. That's what the Mars Society has decided to do, reports the Grand Junction Sentinel. The Colorado-based society says it has crews lined up to spend four weeks at a time interacting with robots in a 27-foot-diameter simulation of the Red Planet, near Capitol Reef National Park.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Send quirky Western doings to her at [email protected]

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