A Bad Case of Mono An anniversary passed unnoticed in Seattle last week: It was the 50th of the launching of the first full-scale Alweg monorail in Cologne, Germany, on July 23, 1957. The Alweg was developed by Swedish industrialist Axel Wenner-Gren, the Nazi-sympathizer and pal of Hermann Goering who also wanted to build a monorail in the British Columbian wilderness. We citizens of Springfield – er, Seattle – can still enjoy our own original Alewg, which was built for the Seattle World's Fair of 1962 and runs (most of the time) between Westlake Center in the shopping district and Seattle Center at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. Alweg technology lives on in Hitachi monorails, including one currently being built by the Japanese to serve that bizarre, palm-shaped manmade luxury island in Dubai. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas monorail meltdown continues. I reported on the Vegas train and its troubles after a visit there in May to qualify my road trip across the West as tax-deductible. But I did not leave my interest in monorail boondoggles in Vegas. Here's the latest: The Vegas monorail's bonds are now officially rated as junk. Ridership is down despite slashing fares. Each year gets worse. Why? Because people prefer the gridlock and excitement of the Vegas Strip to a back-alley monorail ride. Ignominiously, analysts say this high-tech wonder is being out-competed by old-tech buses, taxis, and electric scooters driven by drunks. Could it be that monorail is the new New Coke? The consequence: a bond downgrade based on a negative rating that concludes default "appears probable." In terms of transportation miracles, nothing compares with the ability of Las Vegans to move on to the next bright shiny object. With the monorail on the brink of being officially "no fun," all eyes are now turning to a mag-lev train from Vegas to Disneyland! Yes, a straight shot from one fantasyland to another. Park Disasters On that same rode trip, I wrote about how our national park system is a monument to cataclysms and disasters, the bigger the better. A version of the story later appeared in The Denver Post, where readers concluded I was an anti-science creationist illiterate, something Crosscut readers already know. It appears I may not receive a tax deduction from my trip after all, unless Mitt Romney is elected president. But while my creationism is in dispute, the appeal of disasters is not. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a non-creationist pro-science Democrat, is proposing that Mount St. Helens be turned into a national park so that people in Smokey the Bear hats can teach us about the beauty of ecological devastation. Bear vs. biker In continuing coverage about free-range bears and bear attacks, I dutifully reported that tourist-eatin' season continues in the Northwest with this rare new twist: A black bear in British Columbia killed a mountain biker. There is no truth to the rumor that Crosscut contributor Greg Palmer has been running a bear-training school in the province. Even More Reasons to Move to North Dakota Regular readers know I think immigrant-starved North Dakota is the next Seattle – a place with much the same appeal. Add to the roster of attractions a Pride festival. No, it's not a gay thing, it's an organization that shows off the entrepreneurial spunk of North Dakotans who have been unleashed by the free market to make local products. You can taste the pride at the state fair, says The Minot Daily News: Food and beverage products included German kuchen by Mary's Bake Shoppe, Norwegian specialties by Thor's Favorites, and locally produced wines by Dakota Hills Winery. Mable's Taste of Home offers jellies, jams, dipping sauces and pickles, and Sonja's Old-Fashioned Delicacies makes just that: candies, cookies and desserts. ... And not just humans were represented in the food category. Hank's Pet Food offered a variety of locally-made dog and cat food. Yes, you heard right. They make their own wine (can't wait to try the jostaberry!), lefse, and cat food in North Dakota. You might also like to know they make hemp candy up there too. Let the Chef-in-the-Hat make a meal out of those ingredients! And speaking of hemp, North Dakotans are asking the feds to allow them to grow industrial hemp. The New York Times has taken notice of the pro-hemp politics of the state. The article, however, also notes something that should be very appealing to potential newcomers. In addition to being hemp-friendly, North Dakota has a foolproof anti-voter fraud system. None of that ACORN bullshit up there, no sir. In answer to a suggestion that pot growers might hide their potent plants in non-smokable industrial hemp crops, a farmer points out the difficulty of being sneaky in his part of the country: Such fears, Mr. Monson insisted, are silly in North Dakota, which is the third least-populous state, with fewer than 640,000 people. This is the only state where voter registration is not required. (Everyone would know, the logic goes, if someone who did not belong tried to vote.) "You can't go down to get the mail around here without someone knowing," Mr. Monson said. See? If the Department of Homeland Security would adopt the village snoop system, Al Qaeda would be stymied, if not won over by Mable's jellies, jams, and pickles. More Identity Crisis Lastly, I recently covered the Northwest's great multiple personality disorder involving cities like Seattle, Portland, Bellevue, and Redmond. It began with the unlikely claim that Burien is the new Brooklyn. The problem is on the neighborhood level too. A couple of years ago, a Seattle real estate agent told me that "White Center is the new Ballard." Previously, she said, Shoreline had been the new Ballard. So where is the new Ballard now? Claims are made that Columbia City and Burien are the new Ballard. (Burien appears to be running through the "b"s at a fast clip: Brooklyn, Ballard. What's next, Borneo?) But Ballard is changing rapidly. As it flashes through its new identities, it has been said to be the new Belltown, the new Fremont, and the new Capitol Hill. Then there's this claim: Ballard is the "center of the universe." No one named "Knute" is going to dispute that.