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Life gets interesting around states east of Mississippi

Guest author

After the “battle in Seattle” over world trade simmered down, marketing opportunties began to boil: The streets seemed paved with gold, or at least souvenirs. Budding entrepreneurs scoured downtown and came up with rubber bullets, broken police billies and the occasional tear-gas canister; then they put the booty up for auction on the Internet. One street-savvy capitalist called his collection a “tear-gas fun pack,” reports Wired Digital Inc. It didn’t take more than a week, however, for eBay auctioneers to reconsider the riot-gear sites, citing uncertainty about who owned the weapons protesters or police. Meanwhile, another eBay auctioneer keeps trying to sell a rock for $1 that was “allegedly thrown at the Seattle cops.”

It wasn’t violent and it didn’t receive much press, but a fake front page wrapped onto the Seattle Post-Intelligencer created a few waves. The spoof played up the dangers of a too-powerful World Trade Organization: “Economists fear global epidemic of under-pollution” and “Boeing to move overseas.” A letter to the editor in the “Seattle Post-Intelligence” complained that “having a conscience is a technical barrier to trade.” The Associated Press says the made-over daily popped up in coin boxes on ferries and in some Seattle stores.

Zealots don’t always do their homework. In Puyallup, Wash., vandals broke into a greenhouse at a Washington State University research center and dumped close to 200 plants onto the floor. The attack will cost plant pathologist Peter Bristow perhaps a year of research. In an e-mail after the sabotage, the vandals justified their action by saying the university was conducting genetic research on trees, thereby threatening native forests. Not even close, say university officials: The plants whose root balls were stomped on were raspberries, not young trees, and the only tree research at the facility involves the technology of hybridization. Hybrid poplars, currently grown on an estimated 50,000 acres in Washington, have become a good source of fiber for paper and the basis of a new economy, say university officials. “If someone cannot tell the difference between a raspberry plant and a poplar tree, they’re not doing too well environmentally,” says Dean Glawe, director of the Puyallup Research and Extension Center. And since “there is no research being done at Washington State University-Puyallup on transgenetic material of any kind,” he adds, “they’re going zero for two so far.”

Talk about bad dreams. Elizabeth Nicholaides had fallen asleep in her apartment in Santa Fe, N.M., close to 11 p.m., when she was awakened suddenly by a screeching noise, a crash, and then “cold air and shards of flying debris hitting her face and body,” reports the New Mexican. Parked next to her in bed was a red BMW. “If it had come any closer, I’d be dead,” says the 27-year-old Nicholaides. Nicholaides, smelling gas, grabbed a curtain to cover herself, found her cat and ran outside. “I thought the place was going to blow up,” she recalls. The recently remodeled building survived the intrusion, though Nicholaides’ apartment sustained a gaping 12-foot by 5-foot hole.

The driver, 19-year-old Nathan Metheny, was ticketed for reckless driving and allowed to leave the scene, which angered some bystanders who thought he should have been arrested. As for Nicholaides, she says she’s grateful the car landed next to her and not on top of her. She’s also thankful that she fell asleep still wearing her glasses; they protected her eyes as pieces of the walls of her bedroom flew through the air. (Betsy Marston is editor of High Country News, http://www.hcn.org, which has covered the American West the past 30 years. She may be reached at HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428, or betsym@hcn.org.)