The Wampus Cats, a Chinese Jackson Hole and a sheriff on the loose

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

  • WYOMING Check your brakes.

    Gary Coles

How much has Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s controversial quasi-legal crusade against Latinos cost Maricopa County since he was first elected in 1993? An estimated $142 million, says blogger Jeffrey T. Burgess, and it could get worse for the Phoenix-area county. Over the years, Arpaio became famous for racially profiling motorists and housing inmates in surplus military tents. But in 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio’s office was being “overzealous” when it came to enforcing immigration laws — violating the rights of Latinos by targeting them for traffic stops and detention. The judge ordered the sheriff to permanently discontinue all discriminatory practices. But after learning that Arpaio had “willfully” ignored his order — and also withheld evidence — Judge Snow began contempt proceedings against him late last year. Odds are, says Burgess, that Arpaio will face criminal, not civil, charges, once the judge’s ruling is issued. That could mean more fines for the county to cough up, and also the possibility that the sheriff himself might occupy a bunk in his own tent city jail.

When it comes to bold and surprising names for athletic teams, Montanan Dale Ackels challenges- anybody to compete with the Northern Rockies. Try cheering for the Belfry Bats or stomping your feet for the Chinook Sugar-beeters, both teams in Montana. He’s also partial to the Wampus Cats in Clark Fork, Idaho. For those not in the know, he says that a Wampus Cat resembles a cross between a “Tasmanian Devil and Jack Russell Terrier.” Ackels also relishes the lovely team names at Montana State University: Northern Lights for guys, Skylights for gals.

It’s a long way from the Rocky Mountains, but Jackson Hole, China, is a thriving community where more than 1,000 families enjoy American-style openness and warmth on the outskirts of smoggy Beijing. Residents may not know their neighbors by full name or occupation, but they enjoy their nicknames, including “Vanilla,” “Little Lion” and “Hooligan.” Streets boast classically Western names like Aspen, Moose and Route 66, and a town square features bronze statues of cowboys, a clapboard church and “a giant Victrola that sprays water,” reports The New York Times. The mostly wealthy inhabitants are drawn by an American ideal of wilderness and freedom, said Qin You, “and also a big house.” His own home has six bedrooms, a year-round Christmas tree and a koi pond. Jackson Hole’s novel sense of community is enhanced by more than 100 free clubs known as “dream-gathering tribes,” whose interests range from baseball to knitting and the Boy Scouts. And everyone sleeps well at night: A sense of security comes from guards “dressed as park rangers,” who patrol the town and salute every passing car. But trouble is brewing in this paradisiacal pastiche of Americana: In March, the Chinese minister of civil affairs demanded that Western and “bizarre” property names be expunged, because they damage “national sovereignty and dignity,” reports The Economist. Then in April, the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, weighed in, warning that any property with a foreign name undermines the traditions of Chinese culture. However, it’s unclear how much the government can crack down on the phenomenon: Housing developers all over China have found that buyers are drawn by a foreign aura — thus buildings dubbed “Oriental Yosemite,” “Thames Town,” “Harvard Apartments,” “Imperial Hall Boston,” “Oriental Babylon” and “Florence Town.” What happens next is anybody’s guess, unless the government can somehow force the owners of buildings to “put socialist core values first.” 

Oh, no, say it’s not so! Old Faithful, brought to you by Viagra? Have no fear, says Jeff Reinbold, the National Park Service associate director for partnerships and civil engagement. It’s true that a policy going into effect at the end of 2016 will allow corporate logos to appear in parks, but Reinbold says it merely gives “new opportunities and new tools” to donors who want quicker deals, reports the Washington Post. Naming rights, for example, could be sold for educational, interpretive, research, recreation and youth programs and endowments, including naming bricks on the way to a visitor center. “And a donor will now be allowed to design and build a park building and even operate it long term.” Another change, says Reinbold, is that park superintendents will be encouraged to use their expertise and “get more engaged” in the fundraising process. Under the new policy, superintendents may “accept” gifts from park sponsors of $100,000 or even up to $5 million with certain conditions, though they cannot solicit money directly; that is prohibited for federal -employees. The whole idea is outrageous, according to park watchdogs like Jeff Ruch, head of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: “Every developed area in a park could become a venue for product placement.” He charged Park Service Director Jon Jarvis with embracing the kind of commercialism that has no place in our national parks.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.


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