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Know the West

Heard around the West


Aren't bees busy enough without being harnessed by the military? Apparently not. The Pentagon is training honeybees to ignore flowers and zero in on the faint molecular trails left by explosives. A downside is the high probability that bomb-sniffing bees would not go over well in crowded airports. Bees also don't care to buzz about during cold weather, nighttime or storms. But they do work like all get-out when they're working. They are also fast learners, according to researchers at the University of Montana, who have been training bees, using sugar as a reward. When one bee learns there's a payoff for sniffing out a particular odor, somehow an entire hive learns, and all within a few hours. Since 1998, the Pentagon has spent $25 million on "controlled biological systems," reports The New York Times. That's gov-speak for training animals such as bees to help us fight our wars.

How nice of the Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco, Calif., to provide tents at selected holes during a tournament sponsored by a Los Angeles restaurant. "Lots of tournaments set up tents where drinks and prizes are handed out," says course owner Henry Cox. But "romps with prostitutes" turned out to be the prizes, reports the Los Angeles Times. Six people were arrested in a police raid of the tents, and this seriously concerned regulars at the club. What, they wondered, would they tell their wives? As one golfer put it, "Now what am I supposed to say: 'Hey, honey, I'm going to the prostitution club.' Give me a break!" The day after the scandal broke, however, Hidden Valley employees scrambled to keep up with customers pouring in - to golf. One said he was "just thankful his wife fell asleep before the nightly news came on."

It's always smarter not to drive and shoot. A 22-year-old man in Great Falls, Mont., shot off his right testicle "while stuffing a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his waistband while driving," reports Associated Press. The man told police he was upset because a friend had been cut in a bar fight. The man, whom police declined to name, also injured his penis and put a hole in his right thigh. "The officer said police initially thought of ticketing the man for disorderly conduct but likely won't, under the circumstances."

Three Democratic state legislators from Montana abandoned the Democratic Party recently to become stalwart Republicans. Former Senate floor leader Terry Murphey said he'd come to believe that Democrats "want to leave oil in the ground, the minerals in the ground and the trees to be destroyed by disease and fire," reports the Missoulian. The director of the state Democratic Party, Brad Martin, commented: "I guess the three of them agree with Gov. (Judy) Martz's mismanagement of the budget and Republicans' votes for higher residential utility rates."

Stone columns and forbidding iron gates send a clear signal in the West: Keep out unless you belong. But some of those barriers are fake, reports the Los Angeles Times, because the gates never close. Real blockades come with problems such as the high cost of maintaining a private road and guards turned out not "to be the best guardians of people's possessions," notes Ed Blakely, who co-wrote Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States. Meanwhile, city officials would rather see gated communities throw down their barriers, both real and faux, since they "create a planning nightmare by turning cities into fortified enclaves." Once a community declares itself separate, it tends to keep out shared amenities like bike trails.

Trust Berkeley, Calif., to put its money where its mouth is. The city by the Bay that runs on caffeine will decide this November exactly what kind of coffee customers are permitted to drink. The question for voters: Should the city ban the sale of a cup of java unless it's grown with strict protection for both the environment and workers? The San Francisco Chronicle says the ballot initiative has created quite a buzz, with some residents ticked off by its intrusiveness and others cheering on its champion, lawyer Rick Young, 36, who gathered the 3,000 signatures necessary to get it on the ballot. Young wants Berkeley to ensure that all cups of coffee sold come from organic and "shade-grown" cooperatives.

Nevada has stepped back from the brink, dropping a special license plate that featured the mushroom-shaped cloud of an exploding nuclear bomb. The director of the state's Motor Vehicle Department said the license plate was "insensitive to the times," reports the Nevada Appeal. The plate's designer, Richard Bibbero, slammed the decision as political correctness run amok. But an unintended consequence of the design was the impression by some in Congress that by embracing its nuclear legacy of testing more than 900 bombs at its nuclear test site, Nevada also embraced a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain. So it's back to the drawing board for the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, which sponsored the competition for the short-lived license plate.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, an essay and opinion service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ([email protected]). She appreciates timely tips about piquant Western doings.