Heard Around the West (June 4, 2017) | AspenTimes.com
Brian Calvert
Writers on the Range

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Heard Around the West (June 4, 2017)

WYOMING

Thumbs up to the Front Street Tavern in Laramie, for its response to homophobic remarks by Republican Sen. Mike Enzi. Enzi, whose state is not yet famous for tolerance, publicly apologized after telling a group of high-schoolers: "I know a guy that wears a tutu and goes to the bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it a little bit." The Front Street Tavern responded by promoting a free well shot or Sparkle Pony (made with liqueurs of vanilla-raspberry and chocolate) for any guy wearing a tutu, part of a broader response, #LiveAndLetTutu. Thumbs down, however, to a more tone-deaf promotion: As scientists and other supporters of basic facts and empirical truth assembled for Earth Day, the Wind River Casino offered free bingo, cash prizes and the chance to drive away with "a hot new vehicle." That's right: Our winners celebrated the fragility of the Earth with the full-throttled thrill of a new ATV. #LiveAndLetVroomVroom.

CALIFORNIA

A Pleistocene archaeological site where stone hammers and anvils were found alongside the remains of a mastodon may point toward human habitation of North America much earlier than previously thought. The Cerutti Mastodon site, in San Diego County, was excavated in 1992 and 1993, but some researchers believe the evidence indicates a possible human presence in SoCal around 130,000 years ago, according to a study just published in Nature. No one has been willing to speculate on whether killing and prepping an entire mastodon with rocks is any harder than a typical I-5 commute.

NEW MEXICO

A $4,000 brass tabernacle stolen from the San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque was returned, in answer to the prayers of pastor and parishioner alike. Donations gathered for its replacement will now be used to purchase security cameras — no doubt to the dismay of hymn-mumblers, pew snoozers and collection-plate cheapskates. Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has come out in favor of a proposed 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax after one of its priests, Rev. Adam Lee Ortega y Ortiz, urged his Facebook followers to vote "no" on it. The archdiocese called the tax "a good attempt to address the dire conditions in which our children are living." No word on the Holy Father's position, although a pro-sugar ad man once reportedly quipped: "If God had wanted Coca-Cola to have saccharin in it, He would have made it that way in the first place."

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IDAHO

A Democratic candidate for Idaho governor was booked and charged with a misdemeanor after he turned himself in for the theft of a cellphone. Troy Minton, 39, whose gubernatorial filing listed his address as a local homeless shelter, was once a plaintiff in a suit that overturned a Boise anti-panhandling law. Minton says his street-life experiences make him sympathetic to struggling Idahoans, the Spokesman-Review reports. With a year to go before the election, let's hope this minor legal infraction doesn't sink him. After all, plenty of politicians have been elected with far more dubious records.

ARIZONA

Researchers at the University of Arizona hope a brain parasite might cure disease. Toxoplasma gondii infects the brains of 10 to 25 percent of Americans and could help us understand Alzheimer's and other brain diseases. "Toxo" can be lethal for people with compromised immune systems, but mice infected with it showed resistance to the kind of central nervous inflammation found in stroke or Alzheimer's patients. That's all well and good, but here's a twist: Toxo's primary hosts are cats, and it is believed the parasite can change brain chemistry in mice, to lure them to cat urine, Arizona Sonora News reports. And it's probably not just mice. What else can explain people's affinity for cats?

Oregon

It's been a weird, wet winter for much of the West, especially for long-sogged Oregonians. Astoria broke a 96-year-old record for consecutive precipitation days, 167, twice as much as Portland got. "The locals are used to it — kind of," Sharleen Zuern, a volunteer with the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, told OregonLive. "But it's been an extreme year, and people are pretty sick of it." On the dry eastern side of the state, wheat farmers don't give two spits about the rain. Tumbleweeds are their big problem. Farmers in Morrow County want to eradicate Russian thistle from 100,000 acres, but they'll need the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and a cool $7 million — for a "game changer," the Associated Press reports. Good luck prying that money loose. President Donald Trump's budget calls for a 21 percent decrease in USDA funding. However, according to Politico's numbers, Trump could make three less trips to Mar-a-Lago, pass $7 million to the farmers, and still have $2 million of taxpayer money to spare. Just planting a seed, Mr. President.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News; tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared by Betsy Marston, editor of Writers on the Range, betsym@hcn.org.