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Know the West

Packing heat; a ministeroni; wipes frenzy

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


MONTANA: Grandma is packing serious heat.

A grandmother in the small town of Polson, Montana, was not happy about all the cars zipping past her at high speed when she walked down the road with her grandchild. So Patti Baumgartner decided to fake a speed trap: She ransacked the bathroom for her white hair dryer, parked herself in a chair near the road, and pointed her dryer directly at passing drivers, hoping they’d get the message to slow down. Her son, Tim, tweeted a picture of her on duty to the Montana Highway Patrol, showing his slipper-wearing mother sitting on a lawn chair, a coffee cup in one hand and the other waving her hair dryer at drivers. Trooper Noah Pesola thought her approach was creative as well as hilarious. Speeding in Montana is a problem, he told ktvq.com, and he liked Baumgartner’s solution so much he gave her the title of “Honorary Montana Trooper.” Though Baumgartner acknowledged she “couldn’t tell if her white hair dryer really slowed cars down,” she said she has no plans to stop her campaign.

It just keeps getting more uncomfortable for officials of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, which governs 25,000 square miles of Alaska. The assembly made headlines recently after it was forced to allow members of nontraditional religions to offer the opening invocations at its meetings. A Satanist (HCN, 9/16/19) opened one meeting, and then this September, “Pastafarian” Barrett Fletcher took his turn. Wearing an upside-down spaghetti colander on his head as a sign of his faith, Fletcher intoned, “May the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster rouse himself from his stupor and let his noodly appendages ground each assembly member in their seats.” One person in the audience turned his back in protest; another observer giggled. Fletcher told the Washington Post that he was there to defend the First Amendment’s separation of church and state: “I’m very offended by having God associated with my local politics.” Borough officials had fought for years for the right to enforce an official religious — usually meaning Christian — observance before convening, but the Alaska Superior Court ruled the policy unconstitutional. As one borough councilman put it, “We lost a lawsuit and basically (we) have to allow anyone that wants to give a invocation to give it.” After Fletcher, who is 67 and a semi-retired handyman, concluded with a solemn “Ramen,” the councilman carefully noted, “We didn’t invite him.”

Fletcher said he’d become a Flying Spaghetti Monster “ministeroni” four years ago, founding his congregation of 30 pasta-eaters just to oppose the borough’s exclusionary policy. Mike Arthur, an independent filmmaker who is producing a documentary about Pastafarians, said Oregon resident Bobby Henderson founded the sect in 2005 to challenge the teaching of intelligent design in Kansas schools. Since then, Arthur said, hundreds of thousands of people have “signed up” as adherents. There are no religious requirements, though Arthur noted that at pasta-fueled gatherings you might see people wearing “the infamous pasta-strainer as a form of headgear.” Becoming a ministeroni is not arduous; it requires payment of a fee of $25 for an online certificate.

The word “disposable” is an overused word, one of those words that basically makes little sense because nothing ever just vanishes into thin air. That’s the conclusion of Dave Barkey, who sells sophisticated grinders to wastewater treatment facilities that have become clogged by allegedly disposable or flushable “wipes.” The throwaway-wipes industry is booming, Barkey told the gathering of 900 wastewater managers at a recent meeting recently in Keystone, Colorado, “growing at more than 5% a year, with sales expected to climb to more than $20 billion in 2021.” The “wipes frenzy,” reported the Colorado Sun, is happening at the same time as something environmentally good  — low-flush, water-saving toilets — but unfortunately they act together to strain wastewater treatment plants until they’re downright constipated. Barkey’s mechanical solutions include “chopper pumps with screw-type propellers,” grinder pumps with cutters, and screens and augers. His dour sewer talk was enlivened by stories of cities with “whale-sized fatbergs of wipes” blocking the smooth passage of wastewater. As a Denver consultant on treating wastewater advised the group: “People need to stop using (wipes).”

In the Boatman’s Quarterly Review, the featured Grand Canyon River guide is always asked: “What’s the craziest question you’ve ever been asked about the canyon/river?” Examples are plentiful, because so many of us seem to be clueless about the natural world. Guide Erica Fareio, 43, said the memory of her favorite query still makes her laugh: A tourist asked, “Does that rock (that sticks straight up out of the river) go all the way to the bottom?”

“Chemtrails,” as some call those jet contrails that sometimes streak the sky, are not the nefarious plot that conspiracy theorists imagine, yet this debris is evidence of serious pollution, reports Earth Island Journal. The waste comes from burning jet fuel, and it’s made up of condensed water and soot. Surprisingly, these familiar contrails have “a greater climate impact than the greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning jet fuel.” At high altitude, the expelled water freezes and also traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Researchers found that reducing soot from burning jet fuel had the greatest potential to decrease the warming impact of contrails.

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