Heard Around the West

  • Is today pick-up day?



Rick Kirschner, a naturopath who works with corporations to resolve staff conflicts, has been hired to train the trash-talking city council of Ashland, a city better known for hosting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The therapist will have his work cut out for him. At the last meeting of the seven-member group, Councilman David Chapman told Councilman Eric Navickas to "shut your f--- mouth," reports the Mail Tribune. At an earlier meeting, Navickas was on the dishing-out end, calling the mayor a "Nazi." Kirschner, co-author of Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, will be paid $37,000 to curb the elected officials' penchant for cursing and establish civility. "It may seem like a lot of money," said Ashland administrator Marsha Bennett. "But if the council doesn't function, the city doesn't function."


A "virtual fence" along the Arizona border with Mexico is so virtual that it doesn't function. At a cost (so far) of $15 million, Boeing Co. erected nine 98-foot towers across 28 miles close to the border four months ago, but the company reports that a "software glitch" has prevented the system's radar, sensors and cameras from doing their job to halt illegal immigration and drug trafficking. In an explanation that sounded remarkably like the old saw "The operation was a success, but the patient died," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff explained that "individual components worked well, but the system integration was not satisfactory." The high-tech fence is the first stage of an ambitious plan to blanket both the Mexican and Canadian borders with some 1,800 such towers, reports The Associated Press.


The voters spoke in Arizona, but did they think ahead? A successful state proposition declared that students without legal status aren't true-blue Arizonans, even if they've grown up in the state and graduated from local high schools. That means undocumented students must now pay out-of-state tuition, which is $12,000 more than other residents pay. Arizona State University has begun helping some 200 Mexican-Americans with scholarships, but that's a drop in the bucket: The Arizona Republic reports that nearly 5,000 young people this year may be unable to get enough loans to afford a college in the state.


Not to pick on Arizona, but how did a cancer patient in Tucson get forgotten for almost five hours in a CT scanner? Elvira Tellez, 67, woke up after the 25-minute procedure only to find the room dark and nobody around. She screamed for help to no avail, then spent several hours struggling to free herself from the giant machine, reports the Associated Press. Finally, she wiggled out from under a heavy blanket and called her son, who told her to call 911. Perhaps the oddest thing about her experience at Arizona Oncology Associates was the reaction of one of its doctors. Said Steven Ketchel: "People have been left in the office after hours ... My guess is she was lying on the table waiting and waiting, and nobody told her she could go home." What did Tellez make of her experience? In Spanish, she said, "I think and think and think. But I can't understand it." Readers commenting on the story found the doctor's comment amazingly blase predicted a lawsuit from Tellez and her family, and suggested that the clinic add a new protocol to its lock-up routine: "Sweep the office for forgotten patients."


Never mind trophy wives, now there's trophy land. A mere 10 acres in Montana's Paradise Valley can be yours for $2.3 million, invites Nieman Marcus, in its famously over-the-top Christmas catalog. The pricey acreage is listed as a "fantasy gift," reports the Associated Press, along with a dragon topiary bush for $35,000 and a $1.4 million submarine for two.


Neuroscientists at the University of California at Berkeley ask the darndest questions: Could a human be trained to emulate a dog and track a scent along the ground? The scent chosen was chocolate, and the answer was "yes," though dogs remain far more adept at using their sniffers than people. Still, reports New Scientist, Berkeley undergraduates quickly learned fast to wag their noses back and forth, stereo-style, to keep both nostrils transmitting the location of the chocolate-laced trail. Photos of the experiment were perhaps a mite undignified. The students wore blindfolds and earmuffs to block their other senses, and in order to crawl quickly over the grass - rumps skyward - they had to don knee pads and heavy gloves.


As the Silverton Standard & the Miner put it: "County Treasurer Bev Rich is known for going to great lengths to collect unpaid taxes; in this case, 181 centimeters." That's the length of a pair of downhill skis made by Scott Robert Carlson, who owed $505.28 in property taxes. In lieu of cash, he donated a pair of his custom skis, which he says are worth $850. The San Juan County treasurer is now accepting bids on the skis.

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.

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