Heard around the West

  • This peace symbol wreath was banned by a Pagosa Springs, Colo., homeowners' association because some residents thought it either politically divisive, or a pro-Satan image. After worldwide news coverage and criticism, association board members rescinded the ban, apologized and resigned.

    Doug Large


The Washington Post couldn’t resist a colorful headline about the outcome of Montana’s tighter-than-tight race for the U.S. Senate: "A true blue libertarian: Stan Jones, the also-ran who changed the hue of politics." Jones, 67, is certainly known for his ashen-blue face — the unfortunate result of drinking a homemade medicine that contained silver — and there is a good case that his presence on the ballot tipped the election to "blue" Democrat Jon Tester, by pulling votes from Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. Jones raked in just over 10,000 votes, and Tester won by a slim 2,565 margin. If Jones hadn’t been in the race, his votes probably would have gone to Burns, since Jones opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, in contrast to the usual live-and-let-live libertarian agenda. Jones may be a perennial loser in Montana politics, said the Post, but in the last election he "recast the political complexion of the U.S. Senate."


Who said neighborliness is dead? In Mesa, Ariz., at least 15 people offered to help a young man who was having trouble getting his car to go. When the hapless driver then got stuck in reverse, said Phoenix police, even more people pitched in to push the car, and after he still couldn’t figure out how to operate a manual transmission, passerby Margarita Wood gave up offering advice and just climbed in the car to help. Nobody realized that the desperate driver was actually trying to steal the car, reports The Associated Press; in any case, the 14-year-old was too young for a driver’s license. "It is incredible that an entire neighborhood would participate in this comedy of errors," said police Sgt. Dave Norton. The would-be car thief was cited and released to the custody of his grandmother.


Writer Rebecca Solnit received an infuriating offer from the alumni association of the University of California, Berkeley. For only $44,950, she read, she and other alums were invited to tour "Vanishing Cultures: An Epic Journey by Private Jet." Her question: "Can enlistees congratulate themselves on helping cultures vanish; do you get to see the Inuit with the melting tundra and drowning polar bears or touch down on a Pacific atoll about to go underwater forever? … The whole notion of goggling at vanishing cultures is so offensive, as is perhaps the notion that they are vanishing rather than adapting, as most have in the face of the worst we have been able to come up with. To say nothing of what you might do for these cultures, other than enjoy watching them vanish … May the culture of ultra-high-end conspicuous consumption vanish."


The town council of Pahrump, population 1,300, got a bee in its bonnet about illegal immigration, so it passed a law making it a crime for anyone to fly a foreign flag alone or above the U.S. flag. The penalty for doing so is a $50 fine and 30 hours of community service. "All of the illegal alien protesters are waving Mexican flags, and we just got tired of it," town clerk Paul Willis told Reuters. John Trasvina, who heads the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said he thought the law was clearly unconstitutional, but "given that Pahrump is such a small town, I don’t think they are going to be hiring any flag police any time soon."


Two policemen from Isleta Pueblo bought hamburgers from the drive-through window at Burger King in Las Lunas, N.M., but noticed after eating half their meal that marijuana flavored the meat. "It gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘Whopper,’ " attorney Sam Bregman told the AP. Three Burger King employees were indicted for serving up the spiked burgers; the officers are now suing the corporation for damages. And talk about tainted food: a Santa Fe couple recently ate part of a loaf of rustic Italian bread from the high-end Whole Foods market before discovering that an exploded AA battery had been baked in with the bread. The store’s bakery manager had a likely explanation: On the day the bread was baked, a clock fell off the wall and into the bread mixer, reports The New Mexican. The clock has been removed.


Is the Forest Service bipolar? In mid-November, the agency announced that its budget was so tight it had to analyze all its recreational facilities and close perhaps hundreds of its 15,000 campgrounds and developed trailheads, most of which are in the West. The Forest Service explained that firefighting was chewing up some 42 percent of its budget, and the backlog in maintenance was only growing bigger. Yet only a few weeks later, reports USA Today, the very same Forest Service will introduce a pilot program in January called "More Kids in the Woods," part of a federal back-to-nature movement for young people. The kids better head for national forests in campers that include bathrooms.


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.

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