Heard around the West

 

Once in a while, Utah makes us wonder. Guns, for instance, enjoy a privileged status that extends everywhere on Beehive State property except prisons, hospitals and courtrooms. That means you can wear a .40-caliber Glock pistol while teaching or taking notes in a college classroom, and nobody has the right to ask you to leave your weapon at home. This freedom to flaunt worries Bernard Machen, president of the University of Utah, so much so that he refuses to drop a ban against concealed weapons on campus. "Classrooms, libraries, dormitories and cafeterias are no place for lethal weapons," Machen told the New York Times. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff disagrees. There's "plenty of evidence to suggest that more guns equals less crime," he insists. But back in 1993, when a Weber State University student got upset at a disciplinary hearing, he pulled out two loaded guns and injured three people before police fired back, killing him. If the University of Utah continues to ban guns, Utah legislators and the attorney general say they'll levy fines or even go to court to force compliance. Meanwhile, gun advocates continue to downplay any danger resulting from lots of people walking around armed. Winton Aposhian, a spokesman for Gun Owners of Utah, says, "There are small people who may be afraid of football players beating them up, but we don't ban football players from the classroom."

While you can pack a pistol in any state office of Utah, don't try flying out of Salt Lake with a pair of tweezers in your bag. A Utah man faces up to one year in jail, reports the Deseret News, after "he refused to relinquish his tweezers at Salt Lake City International Airport Jan. 18." Actually, the man refused to part with three pairs of tweezers plucked from his carry-on bag; nor would he place said tweezers in his luggage so they could travel without him. His big mistake was trying to bull his way through the gantlet of security officials wanting to wave a wand over his body or check his hands for explosives. He was charged with a misdemeanor, for unlawful entry, says a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Tweezers may get plucked and shucked by security guards at Utah's airports, but some objects are flowing through effortlessly. Thanks to diplomatic pouches that brook no interference, five countries are importing beer, wine and liquor for the Olympics, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and Italy plan to fly in the booze under their diplomatic protection, thus evading Utah's extraordinarily high "sin taxes."

Booze, schmooze, there's a bigger problem for Utah: "Police have been bracing for months for an influx of streetwalkers, and now, "we are seeing it," says Beau Babka, the assistant police chief for South Salt Lake. Or as the Salt Lake Tribune put it: "Prostitutes from around the country are packing their pumps for Utah." Vice detectives report that about a dozen pimps came before the Olympics began, to scout out turf, and a sheriff's deputy in Provo recently arrested a 25-year-old woman, his first prostitution bust in 16 years. "Maybe we've come of age, if you will," says Sheriff David Bateman. Escort services based in Utah insist that they always abide by state laws barring sexual hanky-panky for money. "Brooklyn," the manager of the escort service, Divas, says, "We always explain that there is no prostitution in Utah. If they like sex, we say, 'Go to Nevada.' "

Here's the real rub: The Olympics have led to hiked-up rents. A near-homeless couple had been paying $180 a week to live in a room at the Zion's Motel in Salt Lake City, reports the Idaho Statesman, but they were forced out after the motel began charging $735 a week even before the Olympics began. The owner, John Purdue, said he was just being a capitalist: "I don't feel any guilt in our supply-and-demand economy. That's what America is all about."

The Mountain Gazette in Montezuma, Colo., is a phoenix of journalism, arising after a two-decade hiatus in publishing. Like its first incarnation, the magazine has a sharp edge. The masthead tells us, for example, that it's printed on the bark of the Laotian nub-nub tree, which has been "gathered by a cooperative of single mothers who then chew it till it's soft." You can check out what's printed in this oh-so politically correct publication at www.mountaingazette.com.

Tumbleweeds (thank you, Russia) do like to rock and roll across eastern Washington state, and this time, reports Associated Press, the dead bodies of Russian thistle loomed as "big as Buicks." In Kennewick, 225 miles southeast of Seattle, the weeds blocked driveways and buried fences, and they finally had to be burned off. "It looked like the attack of the killer tumbleweeds," said a homeowner. "You should have seen them coming over the hills." Next winter the tumbling tumbleweeds will probably be back. Says a city councilman: "It's kind of an act-of-God thing."

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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