In the ten years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, 2335 American military have been killed. Ten Montanans, including two from Missoula, lost their lives fighting this pointless and unwinnable disaster. —numbers from icasualties.org
7300 of the 18 million members of Goodreads have voted for books they started but abandoned. Top of the list was Catch 22, followed closely by titles in the Lord of the Rings series.
Rachel: "Hanna, what did your mum die of?"
Hanna: "Three bullets."
—from the film, Hanna
"Every gun that is made signifies, in the final sense, a theft." —Dwight Eisenhower
"A lot of magic is designed to appeal to people visually, but what I'm trying to affect is their minds, their moods, their perceptions. My goal isn't to hurt them or to bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality." —Apollo Robbins, pickpocket
"Beijing spends more today on domestic security, protecting the state from a daily parade of public grievances and unrest, than it does on foreign defense." —Evan Osnos
"We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species; these cells outnumber those which we consider to be our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds—the same as our brain." —Michael Specter
“There is no part of me that feels I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher. . . . I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.” —J.K. Rowling
"[Obama] has no fixed principles. He's opportunistic —he goes for expedience, like Clinton. Some call him temperamentally conflict-averse. If you want to be harsher, you say he has no principles and he's opportunistc." —Ralph Nader
"Paul Ryan is the English-speaking version of Sarah Palin." —Bill Maher
"I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves—you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories." —Ray Bradbury
"I am stunned that the two greatest desires of people involved in the gay rights movement is gay marriage and gays in the military. Really? To me these are the two most confining institutions on the planet." —Fran Lebowitz
"My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either." —Christopher Hitchens
"There's nothing more English than bad sex." —Rowan Somerville, winner of the eighteenth annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award. One of Rowan's lines: "'Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her."
"Why are all barrel racers cremated when they die? Because the ground is never good enough." —rodeo humor
"I believe the best way to become an aetheist is to read the Bible." —Penn Jillette
"Quit attacking Mitt Romney as a member of a cult. Members of a cult actually believe in something." —Bill Maher
"The civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade . . . happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter." —Malcolm Gladwell
"In terms of making a living as a writer, you better have another source of income." —Nan Talese
"As we've learned from the disastrous implosion of AIG, there is no such thing anymore as a giant company dying alone." —Matt Taibbi, writing about British Petroleum
"Las Vegas is a pilot project to see if man can live on the moon." —Chef Paul Bartolotta
"I was completely aware that I was writing crap. I hope to God people don't read my advice on how to make gin at home because they'll probably poison themselves. Never trust anything you read on eHow." —a former Demand Studios 'content farm' writer
"I try really hard not to think about how old and creepy I am." —David Crosby
"Me and your wife have something really special going on. Please don't mess this up for me." —from the film, Extract
"Let Uncle James translate what Tea Party Republicans really mean when they say they want to 'take our government back.'
Kentucky's Rand Paul opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Nevada's Sharron Angle is itching to dismantle Social Security. And California's Carly Fiorina dismisses climate change concerns as fretting about 'the weather.'" —James Carville
"Ron Galella is the price tag of the First Amendment." —Floyd Abrams, famed media lawyer, discussing the photographer sued for harassment by Jackie Onassis
The disclosure that Facebook has "routinely turned over data-mined information to advertisers should not come as a surprise. Privacy groups have been telling regulators—especially the FTC— that consumer privacy has been at risk." —Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy
The media are entrusted to report and comment on the news. Yet every time a sportswriter or sportscaster casts a vote for an award or honor, that person is thrust into the middle of a story. For sports journalists there's only one solution: Stop voting. —Jay Mariotti, sports columnist
"Journalists attending a long trial together develop a special camaraderie born of a shared good mood; their stories are writing themselves; they have only to pluck the low-hanging fruit of the attorneys' dire narratives." —Janet Malcolm
"More than half of Americans who use social networks are posting online information that makes them vulnerable to crime, in both the cyberworld and the real one." —Consumer Reports
"My life is light, waiting for the death wind, like a feather on the back of my hand." —T.S. Eliot, from A Song for Simeon
"If it's allowed to take hold in the consumer's mind that a book is worth ten bucks, to my mind it's game over for this business."
— David Young, a book publishing CEO, discussing the Amazon Kindle
"We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth." — Ronald Reagan, in a 1974 speech
"Even before the Democrats got to take a single victory lap they were already being warned not to get used to the feeling, and not to get drunk with power. I disagree. All you Democrats: do a shot, and then do another. Get drunk on this feeling of not backing down and doing what you came to Washington to do." — Bill Maher
"Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s. It's hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster." — David Frum, former aide to George Bush, discussing the health care bill
"Maciel was a sexual criminal of epic proportions who gained the trust of John Paul II and created a movement that is as close to a cult as anything we've seen in the church." —Jason Berry, director of Vows of Silence, a documentary about the priest who founded the Legion of Christ in 1941
"I'm concerned about your willingness to settle down and commit to a serious polygamous relationship." —Big Love
"The health care system in the U.S. is controlled by the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance industry, and Wall Street . . . I'd rather see Obama go down with a system that puts patients back in the care of doctors than succeed with some watered-down measure." —Bill Moyers
"Guys who play golf are too fat to play tennis." —Molly Shannon, in the film Serendipity
"What shall we do with all this useless beauty?" —Elvis Costello
"There is something that can be done [to save newspapers], and the federal government ought to do it: allow sports betting on newspaper websites." —Mort Zuckerman, New York Daily News owner
"If instead of sweetened beverages the average American drank water he or she would weigh fifteen pounds less." —Eric Finkelstein, co-author of The Fattening of America
Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
Bozoland. After the New York Times broke the story on July 23 that Montana Senator John Walsh had plagiarized much of a research project report he submitted to the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, we sighed with relief. Now that this loon has no chance in the November election of beating Steve Daines, his extremist Tea Party opponent, we don’t have to fret any longer about voting for him. We think the hapless Democrats should demand that Walsh withdraw from the race, and support instead the former independent candidate, Sam Rankin. Rankin wants to eliminate earmarks, reduce the Congressional and White House budgets, slash military funding, and institute a sort of flat tax with only three individual brackets. Whether the Dems come to their senses or not and dump Walsh, we intend to write in Rankin.
By now, Americans must think Montana is a buffoon theme park. We’ve got a District judge who gave a lenient sentences to a rapist, explaining that his 14-year-old victim shared responsibility for the crime. A Federal judge in Montana was caught emailing a racist joke about Obama. Former Governor Brian Schweitzer talked Happy Hour talk about his strong gaydar and how former House speaker Eric Cantor must be queer. Then there’s that other candidate for Montana Senate, the Libertarian Roger Roots. His internet rant, “100 facts about black people,” has become a classic racist diatribe. Roots was fired from his teaching position at Macon State College in Georgia for failing to reveal to his employer two previous arrests. According to AccessNorthGa.com, he was convicted in 1987 in Florida for violently resisting arrest; and he served twenty months in a federal prison for a 1991 conviction in Wyoming for possession of an unregistered firearm. (7/25/2014)
We told you so. We weren’t surprised when William R. Nooney was slapped recently with a six-year deferred sentence for selling investments in Montana without a license, and ordered to pay back $335,000 to his “clients.”
When he was running as a Goper in 2006 and 2008 for House District 100, which includes Dark Acres, we campaigned against him relentlessly. The principal reason we despised this guy is because he voted for a bill that would strip local governments of the power to regulate where gravel pits, cement factories and asphalt fabrications could be sited. The bill, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, was blatant retaliation against Missoula’s County Commissioners, who voted 3-0 in 2006 against one such massive industrial scheme proposed for a bucolic spot a half-mile from our front door. The dust, noise, stink and constant rumble of dump trucks down our narrow lane would have destroyed our rural backwater and the investment we and our neighbors had made in our homes.
After Nooney won both elections we didn’t blame him for doing what reactionary Republican businessmen do. Our scorn was reserved for the morons in House District 100 who voted for him. Especially those retards who voted for him twice. (7/19/2014)
Not as fat as most, and wealthier than others. A study by “The Upshot,”the New York Times’ number-based investigative report that replaced Nate Silver’s “FiveThirtyEight,” carried a piece on June 26 that used statistics to analyze the best and worst counties in America in materialistic terms.
The most challenging counties in the U.S. to live, as could be expected, were in Appalachia and Dixie. The worst of the worst was Clay County, Kentucky, which ranked at the bottom of 3,135 U.S. counties in several categories. Clay’s median income was a mere $22,296, only 7.4 percent of its people had a college degree, unemployment stood at 11.9 percent, 11.5 percent of its citizens were disabled, its life expectancy was only 72.6 years, and 48 percent of its denizens were considered obese.
The Upshot reported that the best county was Los Alamos in New Mexico, home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. There, the median income was $106,426, 63.2 percent of its people had a college degree, unemployment was only 3.5 percent, a mere 0.3 of its people were disabled, life expectancy was 82.4 years and only 23 percent of its people were considered obese.
So where does Missoula county rank? Well, in the 86th percentile. Its median income isn’t very high, at $44,653, but 39 percent of us have college degrees, unemployment is only 5.9 percent, only 1.1 percent of us are disabled, life expectancy here is 79.1 years, and only 27 percent of us are considered fatties. (6/27/2014)
He said, Shia said. This is how it starts. Obama sends three-hundred military “advisors” to bolster the corrupt regime of Iraq against vicious Sunni militants, the advisors get fired on, and plead for the right to shoot back. Pretty soon, it’s déjà vu all over again, and the U.S. finds itself squandering more lives and fortune on a shithole infested by feudal reactionaries.
The same thing happened in 1962 to a higher class of enemy. On Valentine's Day of that year John Kennedy authorized U.S. military advisors in Vietnam to return fire if fired upon. At a news conference he said, "The training missions we have [in South Vietnam] have been instructed that if they are fired upon, they are of course to fire back, but we have not sent combat troops in [the] generally understood sense of the word." Right. (6/19/2014)
Rogue. Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer probably doesn’t stand much chance of derailing the Hillary Express, but as a potential candidate for the White House in 2016 he’s beginning to attract the attention of the national press. The latest is a sizable profile headlined “The Outsider” that appears in the June 16 issue of Time magazine. Here are photos of Schweitzer posing with a hunting rifle outside his pickup, grinning at the wheel of his 4-wheeler, sharing a brewski with some hard-bitten locals in a bar, and riding Yukon, his horse. His belief in the myth of clean coal, his antipathy to Obamacare and his stand against most forms of gun control place the Gov far outside the orbit of your standard, tedious Democrat. But his typically Montana blend of pinko and Libertarian ideologies, which forges anomalies such as the gun-toting feminist and the pickup-loving tree-hugger, might catch on in a Republic that’s becoming more conservative as its denizens age. Still, why would he want to risk the chance of becoming President? As he says, “If I win, I have the most to lose. It would ruin my life.” (6/9/2014)
Dead Head. It’s become a minor team sport to make fun of Gwenyth Paltrow. From her self-righteous veganism and the names she foisted on her children (Apple and Moses) to her relentless Hollywood success and goop, her cloyingly consumerist website, self-descirbed as an “eminent lifestyle publication, her apparent perfection rubs people the wrong way.
But ever since her severed head appeared in a box during the 1995 film, Se7en, she’s been one of our faves. Our adoration grew when we watched the scene in Contagion during which her scalp was peeled away from her cranium and a doctor performed an autopsy on her ruined brain.
Maybe she agrees to perform as a dead head because it’s her way of being a little less than perfect, or maybe she has some kind of weird compulsion. Consider this statement she made recently at a tech conference in California: “Celebrities, we’ve always gotten stones thrown at us and, you know, for good reason: We’re annoying. . . . Anyone in any field who has their head rise above a poppy in the field, they get their heads chopped off.” (5/28/2014)
Good publicity, and the bad. Every time Outside comes out with its list of Best Towns in America we cringe. That’s because our town, Missoula, showed up on the magazine’s list in 2011, and probably will again. Unlike my home town, Great Falls, which is the armpit, or maybe the taint, of America, Missoula is one of those hip, sporty, young, and gorgeous places magazines like Outside suck up to because flattering the denizens tends to increase newsstand sales. The result, alas, is that people move here, clog the streets and rivers with traffic, and get in our way when we want to buy vodka, play tennis, or order Mexican.
So we were pleased when we opened the May 26 issue of Time magazine and discovered that the cover piece features a double-truck photo of the University of Montana at night accompanied by this headline: “The college town of Missoula, Mont., saw at least 80 rapes over three years, earning it the name America’s Rape Capital.” (5/19/2014)
Newsies. While the news coverage on CNN is generally ludicrous, and the strident buffoons on Fox News are always good for a laugh, it’s the talking heads on MSNBC that really make our skin crawl. Their shows feature shrill and giddy women who sound like boozy sorority girls at a slumber party. Tamron Hall, an airhead from Texas, has no idea how to ask a question that isn’t preceded by paragraphs of her own lame opinion. Alex Wagner is relentlessly much to do about nothing. Alex Witt’s joy when she reports disasters elicits the kind of alarm you experience when you discover that your seat in Row 47 is flanked on either side by a fatty. For example, her voice went up half an octave May 10 when she gushed about the deadly crash of a hot air balloon in Virginia. But according to The Wrap, which covers media and entertainment from Santa Monica, it's Chris Matthews, whose response to his guests ranges from sneering to bullying, who's the most disliked newsie on television.
Anyway, we’ve become so desperate for an alternative to this wasteland we’ve begun watching the news on Russian Television. (5/10/2014)
Road Rage. Cary Hegreberg is one of those two-faced right-wing extremists who claim to despise the government, but believe the government should give them money. A mouthpiece for the Montana Contractors Association, Hegreberg told a Missoula City Council committee on April 23 that because city crews weren’t competent enough to build streets local government should hire private contractors to do the work.
If you remember, Hegreberg was one of the organizers of the silly “Shovel Brigade,” a reactionary protest in 2000 of the U.S. Forest Service’s decision not to rebuild a washed-out, nearly impassable dirt road leading to a wilderness area in a remote national forest in northern Nevada. The Forest Service said road work would threaten endangered fish; the rabid right said Federal environmental policy that sought to protect roadless areas threatened “jobs.” Some 10,000 shovels, most of which were delivered by caravan from lumber and mining companies in Montana and Idaho, were supposedly supplied to Nevada rednecks so they could rebuild “their” road by hand. (Years later a compromise turned over rebuilding the road to the county, which was required under the agreement to pay for projects to benefit the watershed around the road.)
While Hegreberg championed the alleged property rights of Nevada hayseeds, his testimony at hearings in 2006 about a proposed gravel pit, asphalt plant and cement factory in the rural floodplain where Dark Acres sits dismissed our property rights and those of our neighbors. (4/26/2014)
Welfare Cheat. In his now-famous campaign ad, Matt Rosendale raises a hunting rifle to his shoulder and “shoots down” a drone. “The Federal government is too big and too powerful,” the GOP candidate for Montana’s lone Congressional seat complains in his heavy East Coast accent. “I’m ready to stand tall for freedom and get Washington out of our lives.” But Rosendale, a real estate developer who owns a hobby ranch outside Glendive, isn’t above accepting government welfare. In 2004-2005 he was paid more than $1000 in Federal grain subsidies, according to the United State Department of Agriculture. (4/24/2014)
Dementia. On April 20 the Missoulian published one of those “business” pieces newspapers use to suck up to their advertisers. This one was about a Missoula grocery store owned by a guy named Jim Edwards, who used the opportunity to tout himself as “Mr. Local Flavor.” According to Edwards, he supports communities in Montana by selling items produced close to home, rather than relying on the sort of out-of-state and foreign vendors that supply Albertsons, for example.
The Missoulian, apparently suffering from short-term memory loss, could have balanced its reporting about Edwards’ relationship with his neighbors by referring to one of its own news stories, published Dec. 7, 2006.
Under the headline “Jim Edwards’ proposed gravel pit rejected” was this bit of news: “Missoula County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously turned down a rezoning request for Trout Meadows Ranch, stopping a proposed gravel pit that neighbors organized against and vehemently opposed.
“Commissioners cited concerns for wildlife, water quality, air quality, road conditions, safety, quality of life and case law concerning illegal spot zoning.
“The decision came very quickly after the close of a hearing that lasted two afternoons, took in more than five hours of testimony and created a 6-inch stack of letters, comments, petitions, legal concerns and letters from government and environmental agencies worried about the location and scope of the gravel, asphalt and concrete operation.” (4/20/2014)
Another reason to eat bison instead of beef. We just sent Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy an invoice for $3,459. This is Montana’s portion of the $1.1 million in past-due grazing fees he owes the people of the United States for using our land to feed his cattle. Bundy and his right-wing extremist playmates fancy themselves “sovereign citizens” who don’t owe any allegiance to America. And these thugs claim that the Bureau of Land Management, which enforces the collection of grazing fees, has no jurisdiction over the sweep of desert in southeastern Nevada where Bundy’s beeves roam because his family was ranching here before the BLM was created. Whatever. But consider this fun fact: The Federal government paid Nevada ranchers almost $14 million in livestock subsidies between 1995 and 2012. (13 April 2014)
Making it in America. The latest reason to boycott Chinese goods is a pair of $14 blue mittens sold by the U.S. Olympic Committee to raise money for the American team at the Winter Games. On the outside of the mittens it says “Go USA” and on the inside it says “Made in China.” When I emailed the Committee to say whasup? I got this response: “At this time we are using global manufacturers so that we can retain as much of our donations as possible for its intended purpose, to support U.S. Olympic athletes. We want you to know that we are continually pursuing manufacturers in the USA for our complimentary gifts and your feedback proves how important this is.” But ABC News found a yarn store in New York City whose spokesman said the same mittens could be made in the U.S. for $6.
While the mittens are simply an insult to the American garment industry, there’s a long list of dangerous goods made in China that were recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. These include toothpaste, dog food and drywall. The latest to join the list is a surge protector that overheats and melts. According to the Commission, this piece of shit has injured 13 people and caused at least $1.5 million in damages. (12/30/2013)
Welfare Chiseler. On Dec. 7 State Senator Bruce Tutvedt was all full of himself as he and Montana Governor Steve Bullock toured Helena’s Great Harvest Bread Co., which will save $533 in 2014 because it’s now exempt from the business equipment tax, thanks to a “bi-partisan” bill that Bullock signed. The $11 million in revenue the state will no longer be able to collect from businesses must now be paid by homeowners as an increase in their property taxes.
We think a better solution would be for Tutvedt and the many other welfare chiselers in Montana who accept farm subsidies to turn over that money to their state government. The top nine of these grifters, including Tutvedt, run farm and dairy operations in Flathead County, where there’s apparently a strong culture of dependency on the Federal government. In fact, Tutvedt ranks number two on the list of Montanans who accept these kinds of hand-outs. According to the Environmental Working Group, which based its findings on USDA data, between 1995 and 2012 he received $623,996 for not growing wheat.
Maybe instead he ought to grow that wheat, have it ground into flour and give it away to bakeries, which, in turn, could then afford to pay the levy on business property, and the rest of us would get a break on our property taxes. [12/8/2013]
Tear it down. The Mercantile in downtown Missoula is one of those old buildings that don’t deserve to be “saved.” People are nostalgic about this sprawling eyesore because they remember the good times they had there buying stuff, window shopping, running into friends, taking pictures with their lovers inside the instant photo booth. Construction was carried out in stages between 1882 and 1891 using an inferior local red brick that was so soft it had to be coated with harder veneer (many of these bricks around the old part of town are eroded and crumbling). What we’d like to see in its place is a ten-story structure featuring apartments and condominiums across a range of prices, underground parking, and retail space, including a grocery. That would help preserve the downtown as a functioning living space, and the vibrant center of Missoula life that it’s always been. (10/24/2013)
Condemn it. Missoula is beginning the process of buying the water system that makes the city possible. It’s currently “owned” by the Carlyle Group, a global private equity corporation that has its tentacles in most everything from weapons systems to sludge haulers to Bain Capital. The price tag for this purchase has been estimated at $50 million and as much as $70 million. The central profanity of Missoula’s subservience to Carlyle is the $2 million annual profit the corporation makes here. We think paying this conglomerate for an essential resource held as common property for most of human history is ludicrous. What’s next, private ownership of the air? Missoula ought to just cut to the chase and use eminent domain to seize its own water. (10/24/2013)
Party On. Steve Daines, Montana’s sole Congressman, is a right-wing Tea Party extremist who ran on a platform that emphasized job creation. But the shutdown of the Federal government he and his party engineered have caused 6687 people in communities around Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and the Little Bighorn Battlefield to suddenly lose most of their income because the tourists stopped coming. These are the sort of private sector jobs that Daines claims to covet. In addition, 1227 National Park Service employees and contractors are not drawing a paycheck during the shutdown. “Montanans understand that government does not create jobs,” Daines says on his website. “The path forward to create more jobs begins with less government,” he says again. According to figures supplied by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the shutdown of these parks engineered by extremists in the House of Representatives has cost private-sector Montanans at least $24 million since Oct. 1.
Another reason to vote against Daines in whatever race he finally chooses to run is his support for construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta through northeastern Montana. If you believe Daines, the pipeline will never leak. Tell that fable to Steve Jensen. Jensen runs an 1800-acre wheat ranch near Tioga, North Dakota. A couple weeks ago he smelled oil, he told Fox News. Then 20,000 barrels of crude burst from an underground pipeline running to a rail line from the Bakken oil fields, and gushed across more than seven acres of his land to a depth of six inches. Government officials waited two weeks before they announced the spill. The pipeline is owned by an outfit called Tesora Logistics, a publicly traded company. The Keystone Pipeline is owned by another fine energy corporation, TransCanada. Along portions of the pipeline that already exist in Alberta and the Midwest a thousand barrels of oil have spilled in the last year alone. (10/16/2013)
Survivor. The freak blizzard that roared into western South Dakota on Oct. 3 may have killed as many as 100,000 head of cattle and sheep, whose bodies are now being counted and buried in pits. As the herds and flocks were hammered with twelve hours of rain, followed by two days of wet snowfall and winds in excess of 60 miles an hour, many animals froze to death or suffocated when they crowded into ravines and depressions to escape. Meanwhile, the state’s bison did what they’ve always done in a storm—face into the wind in order to flatten their coats over weatherproofed bodies that evolved to survive exactly this kind of tempest. Among the 1300 head of bison at Custer State Park, for example, not a single one died as a result of the storm. Couple the hardiness of the animal with the fact that the price of bison burger is pushing $10 a pound, demand is at its all-time high, and South Dakota is the largest bison-producing state in the Union, and some ranchers might do well to reconsider the content of their ranches. (10/15/2013)
This convocation of immature bald eagles meets most every midday lately in the cottonwoods at Dark Acres. The meeting follows their happy brunch on the carcasses of whitetail deer that have been killed by what Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists believe is a viral infection called Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). The poor animals begin bleeding internally, then stumble into the Clark Fork because they feel like they’re burning up inside. Once in the shallows of the river, they keel over and die. Carried by a biting gnat, EHD has struck down deer and elk all over the U.S. The virus seems to thrive in hot, dry conditions such as those of drought-stricken Montana this summer.
A positive consequence of the drought is the widespread defoliation, and we hope death, of leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) along the river corridor. This noxious weed from Europe has an incredibly vigorous root system that can reach thirty feet in depth. We’ve been carrying out clinical trials to test the efficacy of human urine as an herbicide. The results so far are mixed, but we’re experimenting with the ingestion of various vodkas to search for an effective treatment. (9/24/2013)
Duh. Before iodine was added to commercial salt the occurrence of goiter in landlocked states such as Montana was forty to fifty times higher than that found in states with coastlines, according to a 1920 report published by the U.S. War Department titled “Defects Found in Drafted Men.” Goiter isn’t the only consequence of an iodine deficiency. Without it the brain doesn’t develop properly. The War Department concluded that Montanans weren’t “normal;” that is, they were stupid. A Sept. 9 New Yorker piece says that when iodine is added to diets in the developing world IQ scores rise by as much as 13 points. (9/19/2013)
Stupid Mottoes. It was once common for news organizations to describe themselves with a motto. Some of these were memorable, such as the Aspen Daily News’ “If you don’t want it printed, don’t let it happen.” Some were silly, such as the Atlanta Journal’s “Covers Dixie like the dew.” And some were, and in this case, still is, just boring: the New York Times’ “All the news that’s fit to print.”But the dumbest motto we’ve come across is that of the Missoula NBC affiliate, KECI: “Getting the facts right,” the station boasts. Might we point out that a fact is a fact, and doesn’t need KECI to improve on it. (9/17/2013)
Getting it right. Paula Deen's recipes are unhealthy, she's cloyingly obnoxious, her cracker accent makes our skin crawl, and she says many stupid things, including her latest, according to the occasionally reliable National Enquirer: admitting to making racist jokes and remarks during a deposition generated by a lawsuit brought by a former employee of Paula Deen Enterprises. Still, that doesn't excuse MSNBC from spelling her name wrong (Dean) in a banner aired June 21. An old reporting shibboleth has it that if you can't spell my name right why should I believe anything you say about me? (6/21/2013)
Mixed review. The screen adaptation of James Welch’s novel, Winter in the Blood, directed and produced by Montana filmmakers Andrew and Alex Smith, debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 14. Here are excerpts from one early review, by Katie Walsh, posted at indiewire.com:
“The film is artfully and skillfully made, with stunningly gorgeous cinematography of Montana’s High Line, and pitch perfect, highly detailed '60s era production design. The score is beautiful, evocative and moody, and the performances (particularly by the Native American actors) feel authentic and lived in. Where the film suffers, though, is in its storytelling. . . . Because [the main character, who was nameless in Welch’s novel] is hapless and wayward, so too is the story, meandering from scene to scene without much of a plot engine driving it forward. As we quickly and often flash back and forth from Virgil’s memories of childhood to his present day, the tonal shifts are often too much for the film to bear. . . . While the story lags and suffers in its attempt to adapt such a complicated internal narrative and personal struggle, the Smith brothers have created a truly beautiful and unique film that deserves to be seen; a creative accomplishment not only of filmmaking but of capturing this world.” (6/18/2013)
To get a good job get a god education. The four-year college degree that offers the worst return on investment is journalism. That’s according to Bankrate, Inc., a consumer services company that posts a personal finance website called bankrate.com. The site claims that if you just finished slogging through college to earn one of these expensive but worthless B.A.s, expect to be paying down your student loans for the next 32 years. That’s because journalism is the lowest-paid profession in the U.S. (6/13/2013)
There’s no place in the Treasure State that’s safe from its own history
By Bill Vaughn
IT'S MY FIRST coherent memory: Holding my mother’s hand, I’m wading with her in the shallow creek that flows behind our house. The stream is cool and lucid as it washes against my legs over white sand that sparkles in the summer sun. Pennyroyal and mint perfume the languid air. Frogs and turtles splash from shore to the haven of the water. When a fish brushes my foot I whoop with delight.
Four years later my mother, Nancy Vaughn, was dead. And so was the creek.
Neither kind of calamity is rare in Montana. The Treasure State’s suicide rate, high for decades, is now the highest in the nation. And miners were assaulting our streams decades before Montana became a state.
One May, Sand Coulee Creek began running ribbons the color of rust. This witch’s brew of toxins was spewed by played-out coal mines upstream that had filled with ground water, which leached acids from the disturbed earth that made their way into the drainage, residential wells, and finally the Missouri River. My old man and his neighbors shrugged. They continued irrigating their lawns and gardens from the creek, staining everything an unwholesome shade of terra cotta. And they began using the ruined creek as a dump.
Montanans have always been compromised by mining. Our house was heated by coal. Taxes paid by the copper smelter and its workers in town helped make the public schools I went to as a child superior to the ones I would later attend in Dallas and Grand Forks. The coal mined along the Sand Coulee was used to power the locomotives of the Great Northern Railroad, which paid me in college to work as a porter in its sleeping cars. In fact, the only reason I’m alive in the world is because my great-grandfather abandoned Ireland to try his luck in the gold fields of Montana. It’s not a mystery why the state’s motto is oro y plata.
After I left the plains for the mountains I figured to be rid of poisoned water forever. In 1990 we bought a house and eleven acres on the right bank of the Clark Fork downstream from Missoula and moved in with our dogs and horses. Oh, we’d heard about some problem with arsenic in a few small wells fifteen miles upstream, but discounted this as a minor local issue. After all, our luminous stretch of river seemed pristine, a cleanser of its flood plain, not a contaminant. After we went swimming in it we emerged smelling better than we did when we jumped in. Plus, it was full of fish, which fed a raucous community of birds that made our nights sound like PetSmart.
But the arsenic in those wells revealed a massive threat. Backed up behind the rickety old Milltown Dam nearby was a 180-acre bed of mining wastes in places twenty feet deep. How this caustic pile of shit got there and what would be done about it is the topic of Brad Tyer’s Opportunity, Montana, a deft and theatrical account of the bizarre mess copper mining has left behind in Montana, and the efforts to remove the antiquated Milltown Dam and clean up the largest Superfund site in the western U.S.
An astute storyteller, Tyer builds his narrative around the actors instead of the numbers. The leads in the first act are played by the so-called Copper Kings. After William A. Clark showed up in Butte in 1872 he began growing his fortune not by mining, but by providing things miners needed—cigarettes, eggs for their Tom and Jerry cocktails, cash for their gold dust. He parlayed his profits into a grocery and a bank at a time when the gold was playing out. As prospectors abandoned their claims, Clark snapped them up, acquiring four mines in the process that were still producing some wealth. An aloof little jerk who had, as Tyer writes, “a psychotic glare in his eyes,” Clark positioned himself perfectly for the next big boom in Butte. [read more]
Photo above: Arsenic Worker, Washoe Smelter, Anaconda, ca. 1942. Photograph by R. I. Nesmith. Courtesy Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives.
More Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
Market Solutions. People who survive a world-class tornado invariably say two things: “It sounded like a freight train” and “We’re gonna stay right here and rebuild.” When it comes to Moore, Oklahoma, mortgage lenders and home insurance officers are probably looking very hard this week at that second statement. The question is not whether another massive twister will hit the suburb again, it’s when. The first recorded tornado touched down on Moore in 1893, and over the next 120 years either a minor or major tornado has hit the community on average every 2½ years. (5/22/2013)
Muffles. A columnist writing in the May 16 issue of the Wall Street Journal charges that new Federal guidelines arising from a string of sexual assaults at the University of Montana are an assault on the First Amendment. According to Greg Lukianoff, author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, in a joint letter sent to UM from the Federal Departments of Education and Justice, “only a stunningly broad definition of sexual harassment—‘unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’—will now satisfy federal statutory requirements. This explicitly includes ‘verbal conduct,’ otherwise known as speech.”
The letter goes on to say that campuses have "an obligation to respond to student-on-student harassment" even when it doesn’t occur on campus. In some cases, the letter says, universities may take "disciplinary action against the harasser" even "prior to the completion of the Title IX and Title IV investigation/resolution."
In other words, Lukianoff says, “students can be punished before they are found guilty of harassment.” (5/17/2013)
According to George Will, writing in the Washington Post, "the letter encourages adoption of speech codes—actually, censorship regimes—to punish students who: Make 'sexual or dirty jokes'; that are 'unwelcome.' Or disseminate 'sexual rumors' (even if true) that are 'unwelcome.' Or make 'unwelcome' sexual invitations. Or engage in the 'unwelcome' circulation or showing of 'e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.' Or display or distribute 'sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials' that are 'unwelcome.' (5/26/2013)
Suits. After a year-long federal investigation of the University of Montana concluded that women on campus had been “unfairly belittled, disbelieved or blamed” when reporting incidents of sexual assault or harassment, we wondered what the legal consequences might be for our provincial, third-rate alma mater. So we asked our attorney. He concluded that any question about the culpability of UM in handling these reports has been answered by the Department of Justice. “I'd bet you'll see plaintiffs' lawyers arriving in town by the busload, slobbering on street corners and courthouse steps.” (5/15/2013)
A Penny for your Thoughts. When we passed the newsstand and saw Gwyneth Paltrow gracing the cover of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People issue, we recalled her in our fave scene. You know, the one in Contagion, where she plays a businesswoman struck down by a virus, her head sawed open by doctors who want to see if there's anything inside. (4/29/2013)
Nickeled and dimed. Montanans have always prided themselves on the fact that they pay no sales tax on stuff they buy in the state. Sales taxes are widely regarded in the land of oro y plata as a regressive instrument that unfairly burdens working class people, who spend a much higher percentage of their income on food, utilities and shelter than the wealthy.
But a bill in the U.S. Senate that cleared its first hurdle on April 22 would require online retailers to collect sales taxes, even in Montana and three other states that don’t have them. Proponents argue that poor states such as Montana need the revenue (actually, Montana’s government is operating at a $4.25 million surplus). Opponents predict a bookkeeping nightmare. In Montana companies such as eBay and Netflix would have to build a collection system out of thin air. And the rate of taxation would obviously not be determined by the people who stand to get nailed. (4/23/2013)
On April 25 the Senate voted 63-30 to end debate on this so-called Market Fairness Act, which will face a final vote May 6 decided by a simple majority instead of the 60-vote super majority required for other bills. Obama will sign the bill if it passes the House, where support is weaker than in the Senate.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who’s fighting the bill, called it coercive.
“It requires a number of states to collect the taxes of other states thousands of miles away against their will.”
Montana Senators Baucus and Tester voted nay. (4/26/2013
Hot and hotter. Since the first Earth Day in 1970 Montana has warmed almost 160 percent more than that of the rest of the earth. According to Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization staffed by climatologists and other scientists, Montana ranks 23rd among the states in terms of average daily temperatures, behind Arizona at No. 1. If you doubt it just visit Glacier Park and check out all that bare ground where the ice used to be.
The reason for this human-caused warming is obvious: the hot, putrid air streaming from the Montana Legislature, controlled the past couple sessions by reactionary, Jesus-humping Gopers such as House District 100’s Champ Edmunds. Edmunds, who told Project Vote Smart that he opposes any government regulation aimed at reducing the effects of climate change, is pals with Joe Read, who sponsored an infamous bill in the 2011 session stating that “global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.” (4/23/2013)
Sixteen tons. If you’re a newspaper reporter you have the worst job in America. According to CareerCast.com, a career website owned by Adicio Inc., which develops online classified advertising software, of 200 careers, newspaper reporting ranked 200. Why? Long hours, low pay, high stress, and poor working conditions. In this year’s list reporters pushed lumberjacks out of the last spot. The good news is that all those college students at places such as the University of Montana’s journalism school have little chance these days of getting hired by a newspaper, further argument that j schools don’t belong on campus. (4/23/2013)
Background checks. The purpose of the bill seemed reasonable enough, and simply would have plugged a hole in the existing law of the land by including gun shows and the Internet as places where you have to pass a background check to buy a gun. But on April 17 the U.S. Senate voted it down, 54-46, 6 votes short of the anti-democratic supermajority required by Senate rules. Montana Senator Max Baucus voted nay, joining all the other National Rifle Association whores in the upper chamber. His vote underscored the tyranny of Montanans, who number less than a million and therefore wield 15 times the political clout of Californians, for example. Montana junior Senator Jon Tester voted yea.
While we grew up shooting guns and think of them as just another tool, we don’t see a grand conspiracy in this bill to confiscate our weapons. We prefer that psychopaths and miscreants are unarmed, and, in fact, think prospective gun owners should pass a written and fitness test to prove that they’re capable of handling guns without blowing off the heads of their kids or their neighbors. (4/17/2013)
Day of the Locust
By Paul Driscoll Among the iconic images of an earlier American West are skies filled with flying locust that descend upon the crops of pioneer farm families who, in spite of their best efforts, are ruined by the plague. Grasshoppers seemingly on steroids eat anything in sight—the horse blankets thrown over the family garden, shovel handles, clothes left out on the line. The noise of it all is sickening. Then the horde lifts off and moves downwind to wreak havoc upon the next colony of immigrants.
The greatest insect pest the world has ever known is extinct. Or is it?
Prairie journals of the day, most famously Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek from The Little House on the Prairie series, documented the phenomenon. Modern cultural efforts such as the Terry Malick film, Days of Heaven, also offer disturbing portrayals of these plagues of locust on the North American prairies.
If it all seems just a little far-fetched, it’s probably not. A flight of locust in 1874 is believed to be the largest mass of living insect matter ever witnessed by modern man. Tracked by the then-new technology of telegraph, the main storm of that plague was measured at 110 miles wide and 1,800 long, stretching from the Canadian plains to the Texas border, moving easterly toward the Mississippi River. Periodic outbreaks of locust on the Great Plains were a major obstacle to agrarian settlement of the prairie frontier in the mid to late nineteenth century and frontier farmers risked starvation behind an infestation.
Among the iconic images of an earlier American West are skies filled with flying locust that descend upon the crops of pioneer farm families who, in spite of their best efforts, are ruined by the plague. Grasshoppers seemingly on steroids eat anything in sight—the horse blankets thrown over the family garden, shovel handles, clothes left out on the line. The noise of it all is sickening. Then the horde lifts off and moves downwind to wreak havoc upon the next colony of immigrants.
A color rendering from the nineteenth century based on a drawing by Charles Valentine Riley
The living, breathing tonnage of these insects in the 1874 outbreak has been compared to that of the American bison of the same era, and possibly was just as influential on the ecology of this vast region. These insects sustained animal and human life—yes, some aboriginal tribes ate locusts—while churning huge quantities of organic matter into the carbon cycle.
The Rocky Mountain locust remains today only as a cultural relic. Within 30 years of the 1874 flight the species had disappeared entirely from the North American landscape. Vanished. The last documented living specimens of Melanoplus spretus, the Rocky Mountain locust, were observed and collected near Brandon, Manitoba in 1902.
This insect is very likely extinct, perhaps never again to consume a single kernel of wheat from the North American breadbasket. Yet, as I write this, Egyptian farmers are burning tires to dissuade locusts blown in from the Sudan. Israel is similarly affected. [www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2288908/Locust-swarm-hits-Israel-millions-insects-cross-border-Egypt.html] The cradle of agriculture and civilization along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is still [read more]
Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
Brackets. You wouldn’t have heard anything about it if you take your news strictly from Missoula’s local media, which have worked themselves into a frenzy hyping the March 21 basketball game between Montana and Syracuse, but according to CBS Sports and the Syracuse Post-Standard the NCAA is investigating the Syracuse athletic program for major and minor infractions. These include an alleged sexual assault in 2007 by three basketball players, and the academic eligibility of another, Fab Melo, who now plays for the Boston Celtics. The NCAA is neither confirming nor denying the investigation. (3/21/2013)
St. Peter Don’t You Call Me. On a spring evening in 2011 our nephew was enjoying dinner at the Silver Star Steak Company in Helena, Montana with his 84-year-old grandmother. They’d ordered sirloins and margueritas. Suddenly, the old woman slumped to the floor. My nephew, who was studying to be an emergency medical technician, determined that she was alive, and called 911. An ambulance was dispatched to the restaurant, and the granny rushed to St. Peter’s hospital, less than two miles across town.
Although the woman soon regained consciousness and showed no symptoms of a stroke, aneurism, heart attack or blood sugar problem, the hospital kept her two days for observation and tests, including a CAT scan of her head, ultrasonic imaging of her heart, and lab work on her blood. Doctors found nothing wrong with her. In fact, her vital signs—blood pressure, pulse, respiration—were consistent for someone in good health thirty or forty years younger. (The family has speculated, based on her long history of sleep walking and fainting spells, that she has narcolepsy or cataplexy, malfunctions in that part of the brain that governs the cycle of awake and asleep.)
Total charges for the ambulance came to more than $1500. The tab for her stay in the intensive care unit was almost $6500. Her AARP health insurance paid for some of these charges. St. Peter’s billed Medicare for the balance, and was paid in full.
However, after a closer examination of the medical records, Medicare demanded most of its money back, arguing that the tests St. Peter’s performed were unreasonable and unnecessary. “We have determined that [the patient] did not know and could not have been expected to know that these services were excluded from coverage,” the agency concluded in a letter to the hospital. “However, we find that based on Medicare inpatient guidelines you knew, or could have been expected to know, that these services were excluded. We also find that you did not notify the beneficiary in writing, before the services were furnished, that Medicare likely would not pay for the services. Because of this, you are held liable for the non-covered charges.”
We offer this story as a cautionary tale, and an illustration of one reason why health care in America is so expensive.
In our experience, if you’re a patient it pays to scrutinize everything a hospital does; plus, get everything in writing before any services are provided, and then, whether your health insurance picks up the tab or not, put the bill under a microscope. If you can’t decipher the bill but think it’s fishy there are auditors who specialize in finding unwarranted and illegal charges levied by hospitals. (3/5/2013)
Hee-Haw. Flush from his November victor over Denny Rehberg, in which vast sums of secret money flooded both camps, Montana Senator Jon “Three Fingers” Tester told Bill Maher on the Jan. 28 episode of Real Time that he and his family continue to raise crops in Montana, even though they didn’t need the money, because he’s an advocate for independent family farmers. He defended farm subsidies, and addressed the issue of genetically modified food by saying that “We need to know what we’re putting in our mouths.” Judging by Tester’s girth (it looked like the camera added 100 pounds), what's going in his mouth appears to be a steady diet of Hutterite butter, Tasticakes and doughnut-fed pork. (1/29/2013)
Going Away. 2012 was a year of sad departures at Dark Acres. On Good Friday our 14-year-old Border collie, Clara, suddenly died of a stroke. Clara’s favorite horse, our 31-year-old bay mare named Timer, died the same morning of a heart attack. In November our 11-year old Corgi, Lyndon Baines Johnson, suffered a bulging disk that paralyzed his hind legs. When the paralysis spread to his front legs we asked the vet to put him to sleep.
The post-mortem arrangements for our dogs were aching and teary. We buried Clara in a gray Cubs hoodie with one of her tennis balls. Lyndon was buried nearby, in the same place under an apple tree where he took up position every summer afternoon to survey his very large domain and hope that apples dropped. We wrapped him a blanket he liked to sleep on, and put him to rest with his feed dish and his favorite toy, a leather glove. These dogs were buried near Clara’s best friend, our 14-year-old red heeler, Radish, who withered away and finally died on Valentine’s Day in 2002. We hung Lyndon’s and Clara’s collars on the kitchen wall next to portraits of them a neighbor had commissioned as an Xmas present to us.
Timer’s funeral was jarring and mechanical. First, we called a guy with a backhoe who lives nearby. While he made his way to Dark Acres we picked a place for the grave near Timer’s daughter, Greenwich, who died in 2005 of complications from colic surgery. This man had buried a lot of large animals, and knew what he was doing. First he dug a horse-sized hole ten feet deep. Then he wrapped a chain around Timer’s front feet, dragged her across the pasture, dumped her in her grave, and covered her up, filling the air with diesel smoke. To bury a horse, there’s simply no other way. At least our other horses were far away in their afternoon pasture, and didn’t have to see these grisly sights.
This wrenching loss of our pets compelled us to revisit our own arrangements. After Radish died, and then Greenwich, I had decided that although burial was the best way to deal with their bodies, it wasn’t the right thing for me. The idea of entering the cold, lightless earth gave me the willies. I had considered sky burial, the method used by some indigenous people in which the corpse is left out on the open ground to be consumed by scavengers. Although I was disgusted by nearby ranchers who littered their acreage with dead cow parts, a practice the health department forbids, I thought it would be amusing if one of their dogs dragged my head into their kitchen.
But in the end I opted for cremation. These days, the Final Roast is the preferred end game for a growing number of Americans. But in my will I outlined a different take on the practice. What I wanted for myself was burning, yes, but instead of a big body oven, I wanted to put on a show. What I wanted was a funeral pyre. In my will I described the procedure. Here it is:
Magic Wand. When Chef Robert Irvine of the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible was invited to sort out problems at the Rising Sun Bistro in downtown Kalispell, Montana, on the Dec. 26 episode he found the owners—a mom-daughter and some other woman—fighting like tomcats.
The daughter accused the mom/other woman of stealing money from the restaurant, and the mom/other woman accused the daughter of treating the wait staff like shit. Then there was the food. The Bistro prides itself on being an advocate of the “Slow Food” movement (as opposed to fast food), and claimed that its menu was inspired by French cuisine. But, in fact, most of the items on the menu travelled the same path from kitchen to table as the “crepes.” These were tasteless, soggy messes camouflaged with piles of greens, the sort of jumbled fare you’d never find in a Parisian bistro, where the food is robust, earthy, slow-cooked, and moderately priced.
Irvine and his staff managed to break up the fight long enough to get the combatants to call a truce, while they re-invented the menu and turned their attention to remodeling the joint. The result of the first two campaigns were successful, at least temporarily.
In our opinion the remodel was a disaster. Simple bare brick walls were slathered with white paint, and then distressed, and the other walls were transformed into the livid shades of television cartoons. Then the designer installed shiny red plastic chairs and functionless wrought-iron goo-gaws all over the place. The resulting rooms looked like what would happen if a doll house and a whore house mated. (12/27/2012)
Oxymoron. A blogger named Dan Reimold, the apparent guiding light behind a blog called College Media Matters, has posted one of those ubiquitous lists, this one a collection of what he considers the 50 best journalism schools in the U.S.
Unlike a list, say, of the 50 best movies of 2011, Reimold’s list is useless. That’s because journalism schools are useless. Since they are, in my opinion, a squandering of tuition, promoting them is like promoting predatory companies that offer Pay Day Loans. As Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi said, “I don’t think people should go to journalism school. I think it’s a waste of time. I don’t know what they actually teach there, ‘cause you can learn the whole business in three days.”
Full disclosure: In exchange for teaching publication design for three semesters back in the 1990s at a wage much lower than a fast food worker’s, I finally got my interrupted college degree from the journalism school at the University of Montana, which made it on Reimold's list, and is now housed in one of the ugliest buildings on campus. I went to j-school to avoid the draft, although I got drafted anyway. I learned how to put together publications on my own, designing a New York Times best-seller when I was in my 20s.
My mother-in-law graduated from the same school in the 1940s, choosing journalism because, as she said, “it was the easiest thing to take.”
To learn more you might be interested in a New Republic piece by Michael Lewis, “J-school Ate My Brain.”(12/6/2012)
Wach on the Clark Fork. Because of the ongoing Federal investigation into the epidemic of rapes in Missoula over the last few years involving University of Montana students, Main Hall is paying close attention to legal events unfolding around Penn State and Jerry Sandusky. On November 1 Pennsylvania's Attorney General announced that criminal charges had been filed against Penn State's former President, Graham Spanier. The charges include perjury, obstruction of justice, and endangering children.
Meanwhile, Sandusky was moved on Halloween to a cell in a maximum security prison designed for death row inmates because a lot of cons take pleasure killing pedophiles. (11/1/2012)
Thirteen. The most prominent event in my thirteenth year was getting the First Class badge as a Boy Scout. The reason I was able to advance to even this intermediate level in Scouting was two-fold: First, I was never molested, although when I wore my uniform to school people jeered and threatened to beat the shit out of me. Second, because my old man was also my Scoutmaster for a brief period I was able to complete the requirements for some of the merit badges you needed without doing much work; stamp collecting was one, and music (I played the piano). An exception was the Painting merit badge, for which he made me paint our house a shocking shade of turquoise, using cheap paint he’d stolen from Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, where he was stationed as a welding inspector tasked with ensuring that the nuclear-tipped missiles planted under the wheat wouldn’t fry us instead.
My other big event that year was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Looking back on it 50 years later, it doesn’t take much effort for me to summon the terror, and the delight. Terror, because I had seen these enormous birds up close with my own eyes; and delight, because I had a chip on my shoulder and liked the idea that a thermonuclear exchange would level the playing field at school. Plus, I couldn’t get enough of those lurid movies about radiation-spawned mutants.
Of course, we didn’t learn until much later that it was the United States and the Cold War-mongering Kennedy brothers that caused the Crisis. In 1961 the U.S. secretly planted Jupitor IRBMs in Italy and Turkey (three years earlier the Eisenhour Administration deployed Thor IRBMs into the soil of the United Kingdom.) A hundred missiles in all, aimed at Moscow and the Soviet Union. While it appeared that the Soviets blinked during the quarantine of Cuba, and then publicly withdrew its arsenal from the island, in truth, however, a peace was brokered because the U.S. agreed under the table to remove all its missiles from Europe and Turkey. (10/24/2012)
You Just Got Schweitzered. After California GOP Congressman Darrell Issa accused the Obama administration of responsibility for the slaying of U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Libya last month, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer fired back that Issa swallowed the Bush Administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction and voted for the war in Iraq, which killed 4486 Americans. The barbed exchange about bad intelligence compiled by the State Department came during the Oct. 12 episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. The other panelist was Ben Affleck, who was there to hype his new flick, Argo. Maher opened the show with a mean and funny exchange with slutty right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, who was there to hype her new book, Mugged, which claims the only racists left in America are liberals.
Unlike Schweitzer’s previous appearances on Maher’s hour—when he wore his hokey bolo tie and shucked and awed—the Gov more than held his own against this pack of jackels. He bitch-slapped Issa with the revelation that he knew better the situation on the ground in the Arab world because he lived there (according to the Denver Post, Schweizter spent several years working on irrigation projects in Libya and Saudi Arabia and speaks Arabic). Schweitzer even managed to get in some bragging about Montana’s years of budget surpluses, and praised banks in the Treasure State for preventing much of the foreclosure disasters of other states by demanding more rigorous financial statements. (10/13/2012)
Amphibious By Paul Driscol
They looked like tadpoles, but grew into something that wasn't a frog.
Early this spring I made several forays into the mountains looking for breeding pools used by the long-toed salamander, without success.
In June, though, I joined a weekend work crew to help a friend work on a cabin on Dalton Mountain near Lincoln. Four little boys had tagged along with their dad and found a nearby spring pool to play in while the adults worked. By mid-afternoon the muddy little urchins excitedly reported that they had “trapped 60 tadpoles.”
In the cupped hands of the boys, these looked like frog or toad tadpoles to me. But when I dropped one into a glass of clean water I could see external gills blossom. These are salamander larvae I said out loud to no one in particular, since the boys immediately resumed the taxing job of torturing God’s little creatures, and most adults have little interest in pollywogs. Before leaving, I had the boys collect a half dozen of the tadpoles, which I tossed into a cooler with a little water and plant detritus from around the spring.
At home I filled an old aquarium with a few inches of clean water and added the tadpoles. I noticed early on that a couple had already grown front legs – beside the external gills, another difference from frog and toad larvae that grow out the rear legs first.
My journal notes the metamorphosis into salamanders was pretty much complete by the end of July. These tiny little creatures had transformed into beautiful deep greenish-black salamanders with a brilliant yellow mottled stripe running from nose to tip of tail. They could climb the moist walls of the glass aquarium quite well and I found one escapee at the foot of the stairs one morning on my way to work.
A diet of angle worms cut down to size (disgusting!) and later mealie worms has brought them up in good order. Hardly longer than a fingernail at metamorphosis, the largest is now about four inches. They appear to be pretty inept hunters and I’m not really sure what their preferred natural food source is. They seem to look upward for food, though, and motion attracts their attention. They snap at prey directly, not having the long sticky tongue of their cousins the frogs and toads.
Now in late September they are getting lethargic and I’m looking to prep them for winter dormancy. The wild salamanders have long since gone to ground and it’s time these ones did, too. A few nights ago I brought them over to my friend’s house—the father of the four boys—to show what the tadpoles had become. Pretty big hit with the kids and they can hardly wait to see them again next spring.
Paul Driscoll is a public information officer with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in Helena.
Even More Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
Boycott Walmart. Now that Walmart employees have gone on strike for the first time in the 50-year history of the predatory discount chain, walking off the job in Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Washington D.C., Sacramento and San Francisco, there’s even more reason why you shouldn’t shop at any of Montana’s 15 stores. The “associates,” as Walmart calls its floor employees, are protesting company attempts to “silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job,” according to a press release. Staunchly anti-union, Walmart suppresses labor organizing efforts by spying on workers, and closing stores or departments where workers are talking union. People who argue that Walmart helps the working class by keeping its prices low haven’t shopped at Target lately. (10/9/2012)
A Good Start. One of America’s top 20 national universities announced on Sept. 14 that it intends to eliminate its journalism program. Emory University in Atlanta said the move was part of a “multi-year plan designed to enhance areas of distinction, transform areas of excellence into areas of eminence, and allocate resources to invest in important new and emerging growth areas.” The real reason, of course, is that journalism isn’t an academic discipline and has no place in an institution devoted to scholarship. (9/20/2012)
Thoughtlets. The headline should have been: "Cops shoot 9 innocent bystanders outside Empire State Building." At any rate, when guns are outlawed only the government will own guns.
And in other random thoughts, how far to the right will Jon Tester move in his attempt to outflank Dennis Rehberg? I don't really care. My vote will go to the socialist in Montana's Senate race, which is apparently, um, me. I need the money.
And since Obama won't win Montana my vote for POTUS will be Stewart Alexander of the Socialist Party USA. Or maybe Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian candidate for prez. (8/25/2012)
Torched. For our entertainment during Sunday dinner on July 29 we watched a fire burn at the former Smurfitt-Stone paper mill on Mullan Road. Belching toxic brown smoke, the blaze started in a building next to the cooling tower, which is purported to be the tallest structure in Missoula County. Of course, we drove down to get a better look, but it was cops all over and we weren’t allowed to stop. Still, we managed to get a couple of drive-by photos anyway. By midnight, the Frenchtown Fire Department had contained the blaze, and put it out. Whatever the cause, for the former employees of the mill, which was closed by its parent corporation in 2010, citing flagging demand for container products, the fire was insult added to injury. (7/30/2012)
It's a gorgeous community, but it has a problem that is loathe
to speak its name. By Bill Vaughn
THE MOMENT TIGER WOODS lost by a stroke to Chad Campbell in the third round of the 2006 Accenture World Match Championship, the fans began to flee. That’s because Woods was the last surviving big name in the tournament. Vijay Singh was gone. John Daly was gone. Phil Mickelson was gone. Two days later, when four low-seeded and unknown golfers vied for the title, the galleries had turned into ghost towns. It seemed there was more security than there were fans.
No one was more disappointed than the rats.
All during this warm February week at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California, the rats had foregathered at night to feast on bits of food dropped or discarded by the crowds, and overlooked by the grounds crew. Good times, although not as festive as in years past. Attendance at the Accenture had steadily declined since the tournament was born here in 1991, for reasons having to do with the sudden-death nature of match play and the fact that bigger, more popular tournaments are staged down the coast at Torrey Pines.
I became aware of the rats of Carlsbad while playing tennis at La Costa during the golf tournament. Of course, I couldn’t afford a membership to this posh spa, but my partner could. She’s a neighbor of my friends, Victor and Marcia Lieberman, who had appointed me to watch over their kids, Izzy and Satchel, while the parents went on a business trip to Europe. While I was returning to the baseline to serve, a rat scampered across the court in front of me, glanced back in contempt, and vanished into a drain. [read more]
More Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
What goes around comes around. After Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for telling a Congressional committee that institutions affiliated with religious organizations should provide health insurance to their students and employees that covers contraception, outrage at his stupid remarks forced many of Limbaugh’s advertisers to cancel their sponsorship of his radio show.
A Missoula couple whose daughter attends Georgetown, which is the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the U.S., is circulating a petition demanding that KGVO radio remove Limbaugh’s program from the local airwaves. It’s unlikely the Missoula station will comply. Nor should it. First, the issue goes to freedom of speech. If liberal pressure groups force the media to stifle reactionary creeps like Limbaugh it would encourage the far right to demand that liberals such as Bill Maher be thrown off the air. Plus, we want to know where jerks like Limbaugh are at all times, and to what extremes their “ideas” have been taken. (4/20/2012)
There’s Something About Mary. Many employees working for one of the daily newspapers in Montana owned by Lee Enterprises were disgusted when Lee CEO Mary Junck was handed a $500,000 bonus on March 21 for the way she restructured the chain’s massive debt, which included laying off employees such as the Butte (Montana) Standard's sports editor. This debt resulted largely from Lee’s $1.46 billion purchase of Pulitzer Publishing and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Comes now from jimromenesko.com Lee’s Second Quarter Earning Report, which shows that:
• the newspaper chain lost $26.6 million, compared with a $1.5 million in the 2011 quarter
• revenue fell 3.6% to $172.3 million, from $178.7 million a year ago.
• advertising revenue declined 5.3%
• employee compensation decreased 5.2%
• average number of full-time equivalent employees was down 7.5% (4/18/2012)
The shroud. On March 29 University of Montana President President Royce Engstrom shocked the state when he fired the school’s football coach and its athletic director. While Engstrom might believe this will end criticism of his administration for its sloppy and suspicious handling of numerous sexual assault allegations involving UM football players and civilian students, as well, his refusal to explain the reason for these abrupt terminations perpetuates the shroud of secrecy that has poisoned the University’s relationship with the community. UM is, after all, a public institution funded by taxpayers who have a right to know what their dollars are buying.
My personal experience with this provincial opacity came a couple years ago when I requested the transcripts of a fraternity brother of mine who went to school at UM in the early 1970s and killed himself when a police investigation implicated him in a brutal murder. UM’s legal counsel, David Aronofsky, refused to release these records to me, citing a ludicrous Montana statute that says only the student in question can release this simple list of classes taken and grades awarded.
The guy is dead, I told Aronofsky. Plus, federal statutes protecting student confidentiality do not apply to deceased students. Double plus, a District Court judge awarded me access to the police files of the case. Triple plus, you can’t libel the dead.
Aronofsky warned me that UM would fight any legal remedy I sought. “The University of Montana will strongly oppose you in court,” he wrote, “and if for some reason a district court decides the case in favor of your position, we shall appeal any such decision to the Montana Supreme Court.”
Jeez, chillax, sir. For the purposes of my article about him I don’t need the guy’s grades bad enough to hire an attorney to strike down this ludicrous law and humiliate you in court, fun as that would be. (3/31/2012)
Jock Gate. Some very fine institutions of higher learning, such as Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Cal Tech, don’t field varsity football teams. This has led some people to wonder, in light of the University of Montana’s handling of of sexual assault allegations involving football players, if we wouldn’t be better off without a gridiron program.
Well, Montana is not Cal Tech. Consistently rated at the lower end of faculty salaries and academic ranking, without Washington-Grizzly Stadium UM wouldn’t have much to offer anyone. Plus, how would we fill our lonely Saturday afternoons every fall? (3/31/2012)
Speaking of corruption in college athletics, on April 4 Howard University in Washington, D.C., suspended its entire athletic program after it was revealed that vouchers given to student athletes for textbooks were being spent on stuff besides books. The mostly black school with an enrollment of 10,000 fields seven men's and ten women's teams. The school's football team, the Bisons, compete in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Football Conference, a Football Championship Subdivision, same level as the University of Montana. (4/4/2012)
We feel safer already. Since the Obama campaign has written off Montana as a lost cause the administration probably doesn’t spend a lot of time following our local news. If it had it might not have appointed University of Montana President Royce Engstrom to a council that advises the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. A string of sexual assaults on the Missoula campus have revealed that UM has a problem not only with the security of its female students, but with the way these crimes are handled by Engstrom, Main Hall, and campus police (see below). (3/5/2012)
A darker shade of brown. A panicked University of Montana President Royce Engstrom called an impromptu "forum" Feb. 28 in order to spin his administration’s inept and suspect handling of sexual assaults reportedly committed against two UM coeds on Feb. 10 (see below). Engstrom defended the “timeliness” of the University’s response, neglecting to remind his audience that the real police department in downtown Missoula wasn’t informed about one of these alleged crimes until it was too late to question the suspect, even though the victim reported it to campus police on the day she said it occurred.
If campus police and the administration had informed the Missoula Police Department about this incident immediately the real cops would have picked up the alleged perp for questioning. However, the alleged perp, a Saudi Arabian national, fled back to his desert home after UM tipped him off to the charges against him. Not to get all conspiratorial and whatnot, but we wonder, how much money have Saudi donors given to UM in the past? (2/28/2012)
Big city crimes, small town cops. There are a dozen cops serving in the University of Montana police department, but among these patrol officers there are no females. This is not to say that University police are indifferent to crimes on campus against women. However, recent events have revealed that the department, and the school administration it serves, are useless when it comes to the security of female students.
On February 10 a UM male student attacked two coeds, according to the school’s administration, raping one and sexually assaulting the other. The young woman who was allegedly assaulted reported the crime the same day to university police, who informed Main Hall. A full week later UM issued a campus-wide email informing the university community about the attacks. Meanwhile, instead of hauling in the suspect for questioning, UM’s cops did nothing. They didn’t even bother contacting the Missoula Police Department. And the administration tipped off the alleged perp to the police report. His response was not surprising. According to Missoula police, who contacted Main Hall after the email was sent, he jumped on a plane and flew home to Saudi Arabia.
Serious crimes demand the services of serious cops. That doesn’t appear to be what students are getting from their campus police. Victims of campus crimes would be better off reporting them to the real police, the ones downtown. (2/25/2012)
Drill, baby, drill. A team of Russian scientists claims it has reached the surface of Lake Vostok, a body of water submerged under two miles of glacial ice in the Antarctic. The Russians have been drilling here for more than 20 years in the hope that they will discover new forms of life in the freshwater lake, which hasn't seen the sun in millions of years. It's speculated that conditions in the lake, which contains many times the level of oxygen found in normal lakes, are similar to those on Jupiter's ice moon, Europa, and Saturn's Enceladus. The Washington Post quoted John Priscu, a Montana State University professor of ecology and an authority on the natural history of the Antarctic, who said: "If they were successful, their efforts will transform the way we do science in Antarctica and provide us with an entirely new view of what exists under the vast Antarctic ice sheet." (2/7/2012)
On Strike. The entertainment industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are sending more lobby-troops into D.C. after a number of lawmakers expressed new reservations about a pair of measures pending in both houses of Congress that would stifle free expression on the internet. The sudden dwindling of enthusiasm among some Senators and Congressmen is the result of a 24-hour blackout Jan. 18 by Wikipedia, craigslist, Google, and numerous other less-trafficked sites. At Dark Acres we were pleased to join the strike.
A note to Montana Senators John Tester and Max Baucus and Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg: Do what you do best, which is shipping pork back to the Treasure State, and keep your hands off the Web. (1/19/2012)
Newspaper News. The High Country News, which publishes books, a terrific newsmagazine and a website, has been the best source of writing about environmental and political issues affecting the Rockies and the Northern Plains for years. Now the publishers are asking for help. “Redirect some of your tax dollars away from our squabbling government and put it into the hands of hardworking journalists,” the News pleads, by making donations to the High Country News Research Fund.
So instead of wasting your donation to one of those phony charities that will eat up your money paying “administrative costs,” why not get a tax deduction and something good to read at the same time? You’ll be helping fund journalists such as Brad Tyer, who’s writing a book about the removal of Missoula County’s odious Milltown dam (and whose left-handed forehand on the tennis court we have so far found impossible to overcome). (12/28/2011)
More Newspaper News. Disgruntled staffers the New York Times are pissed at management because of almost everything, not the least of which are issues of pension, contract, pay, layoff, buyouts, you name it. Over the last week more than 270 current and former employees have signed a letter expressing their “profound dismay” with company decisions (of course, these pussies haven’t gone out on strike. But still).
Here at Dark Acres we have minor first-hand experience with the disarray at the Times. Today, they emailed us and asked us to renew our subscription to the Sunday paper (we cancalled this ten years ago because our neighbors were stealing the bulky monster from our mailbox, located far from the house on a country lane). Then, an hour later the Times emailed us back: “You may have received an e-mail today from The New York Times with the subject line Important information regarding your subscription. This e-mail was sent by us in error. Please disregard the message. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused." (12/28/2011)
Extortion. Even before the .xxx domains went on sale from vendors such as namecheap, colleges scrambled to buy them up in a special offering in order to block their use as porn sites that might sully the good name of the institution.
Take kansas.xxx, for example, or kunurses.xxx. Indiana University spokesman Mark Land said the school spent $2,200 to buy hoosiers.xxx and 10 other such domains. Other Indiana schools took the same step, including Purdue University and Ball State University.
But apparently not the University of Montana. If you want to put smut online you can still buy montanagirls.xxx, grizzlygirls.xxx, universityofmontana.xxx, and blowmontana.xxx, to name a few. (12/12/2011)
Flame-out. For years after we moved to Dark Acres the silence in our sleepy backwater was broken only by the occasional duck hunter or those guys who fly around in helicopters taking pictures they sell to landowners who like to see their places from the air.
But one lazy summer day a couple of years ago the shit hit the fan. The sudden bedlam blaring from the Clark Fork River sounded like someone had opened a massive go-cart track. But when we ran down our path to investigate, we discovered that the racket was coming from two jerks on jet-skis, churning the water, terrifying the wildlife, ruining the day for our rural neighborhood and for the gangs of people floating the river on inner tubes.
As that summer wore on the noise grew louder. And last summer it got even worse. I began to visualize a scenario involving a 200-yard length of steel cable that had been washed onto Radish Island by one of the floods; a scenario involving one end of the cable bolted to a cottonwood on the island, and the other end disappearing into a juniper thicket on shore where, concealed in the brush, is me.
But thanks to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department extreme responses won’t be necessary. That’s because the state, bowing to overwhelming public disgust with jet skis, has ordered them banned from our stretch of gurgly, sparkly river. (12/5/2011)
Spinners. Reporting a business story about a newspaper, in which the reporter limits her sources to publishers and other suits, is like letting Herman Cain cover women’s issues. For example, on Dec. 2, the Missoula, Montana Missoulian reported that its parent corporation, Lee Enterprises, would be entering a “voluntary, prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy process.”
According to Mary Junck, Lee's chief executive, “the process will simply provide a favorable legal framework for implementing the pre-negotiated refinancing on an expedited basis while business continues as usual with no impact on employees, vendors and customers." According to Missoulian publisher Jim McGowan, Lee’s scheme is “a positive outcome for the paper, and will allow us to move forward, business as usual, to deliver top-quality news and advertising products for many years to come."
This anemic, half-baked squib sez nothing about why Lee is headed to bankruptcy court. In fact, the corporation is wallowing in debt. Some of this $875 million burden was caused by Lee’s decision in 2005 to pay $138 million for the Pulitzer chain of newspapers, whose flagship is the venerable and venerated St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (Today’s equivalent in stupidity would be buying stock in Netflix.)
But wait, Lee gets dumber. Under the scheme the corporation will not relieve itself of any debt, and it must pay a higher interest rate to all of its lenders. That is, 9.2 percent, on the new financing, as opposed to the 5.1 percent rate it’s paying now, in exchange for moving the maturity of its ill-advised loans from April of next year to 2015 and beyond. This is like me getting a high-interest credit card to pay off a low-interest card. How will this absurd business plan affect the quality of reporting at the Missoulian?
Financial analysts said the higher interest rate, producing higher debt payments, will put even more pressure on Lee if its money stream continues to fall after it exits bankruptcy. That's because Lee's lenders get to eat at the trough before the slop is shared with anyone else. That means less money to pay reporters and their expense accounts. One sort of happy result, however—the Missoulian's business coverage can't get any worse. (12/4/2011)
Hicks Nix Sticks Pix
But the Civic Center is still the best place in Montana to see a film,
for all kinds of reasons. By Bill Vaughn
AS THE HOUSE LIGHTS FADED the anticipation grew. But midway through the film the mood in the audience began to shift from uneasiness and discomfort to embarrassment. Oh, it wasn’t the acting. The stars, Ryan Gosling and David Morse, turned in searing, nuanced performances. Nor was it the direction or the production values. And it certainly wasn’t the sets. After all, these Montana farmers and ranchers were foregathered here in 2002 at the old Civic Center in downtown Great Falls, whose elegant theatre hadn’t shown a film in years, to watch the world premier of The Slaughter Rule because this coming-of-age story had been shot in their own back yards, and they’d heard it was an homage to the true grit it takes to wrest a living from these parched and windy prairies.
The story begins when Roy, an alienated teen played by Gosling, gets cut from his high school football team soon after the father he hasn’t seen in years dies. This isn’t regular eleven-man football, but the smash-mouth, six-man variety played with brutal abandon by the little Class C schools across rural Montana. Enter Gideon, a loner who ekes out a meager living hawking newspapers and singing in redneck dives, who’s recruiting players for his independent football squad. Roy joins the Renegades, and he and Gideon strike up a nervous friendship. When Gid's eager interest in Roy begins to lend credence to the rumors that Gid is a homosexual, Roy starts to wonder why he was asked to join the team.
While the proverbial seven percent of backwater Montana is as Dorothy as any big city leather bar, this is still not the sort of love that can speak its name, at least not on a small-town football field nor to a crowd of Republican Christians. It wasn’t so much the homosexual undercurrents of the film that bothered the audience—as long as the queers keep to themselves in San Francisco and New York, it’s pretty much live and let live. But like Brokeback Mountain, The Slaughter Rule suggests that what is perceived as an urban disease may have crept into God’s Country, as well, and will spread if it’s talked about because it’s a choice, after all, the reasoning goes, not a command.
At the reception afterwards I joined a group of cattlemen I knew. Finally, one cowboy looked at his brother-in-law. “What in the bejeezus was that?” he said. Everyone laughed in relief.
Standing there, I felt like a kid again. Oh, not because of the film, which I liked, and admired in part because it made mainstream people uncomfortable, and therefore catered to my juvenile need to see the squares squirm (although how hip can a middle-aged white guy with a college degree, a wife of thirty years and an IRA claim to be?). In fact, I was glowing with pleasure simply because I was back in the Civic Center again, site of many of the joys of my motherless childhood, half a century after my last visit. [read more]
More Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
Slip-Slidin Away. The big day has finally arrived. Well, yes, the Griz-Cat game, but also the first day the ice on the Mabel has been thick enough to support our weight. So at halftime we threw on our skates and skate guards and walked crab-like down the hill to our beloved swamp, named after my grandmother, who was a public-health nurse. The surface wasn't perfect because some animals had crossed it and left behind their presence by melting the shape of their claws and hooves in the ice. But it was good enough. After banging around the puck and then sprinting a dozen quarter-mile laps, we headed back to the house, ready to take on another winter. (11/19/2011)
Subdivide This. The Missoula County Planning Board did the right thing when it decided Nov. 15 to advise the County Commissioners to rule against a proposed 23-lot, 116-acre subdivision north of Lolo. Voting 6-0, the Board said developer Ken Allen’s ludicrous scheme would cover prime farm land and wildlife habitat with houses—the last thing Missoula County needs right now. Allen, you probably remember, asked the Commissioners to approve his 2007 scheme to dig a gravel pit and fabricate asphalt on the very same property. After the troika bowed to public pressure and said nunh-unh, Allen sued all the way to the Montana Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 2009. Boo-hoo.
[On Dec. 7 the Commissioners slapped down the Planning Board and voted 3-0 to approve this badly planned subdivision. Note to self: Commissioner Jean Curtiss is up for re-election next November. 12/8/2011)
Too bad the current Planning Board wasn’t around a couple years ago when the estate of departed veterinarian Earl Pruyn was awarded subdivision permit for 15 houses to be built on a 75-acre parcel in Dark Acres that has always been a grain field or a grazing pasture. Moreover, the land sits squarely in the flood plain of the Clark Fork River. In fact, it sits on a relief channel the river used during flooding in 1997, and will surely use again, giving the cliche “A River Runs Through It” new meaning.
During “discussion” of the scheme at a meeting of the Commissioners, representatives from the Office of Planning and Grants were embarrassed when aerial photographs of the land were presented by a neighbor (me) that clearly show flood water rushing through what the developer decided to call “Blue Heron Estates” (these jerks like to name their odious subdevelopments after the wildlife they displace.) The water breached the county road, and washed a portion of it into the river. Gee, a fine place to raise your family. But in the high water months of May and June just be sure you don’t let the kiddies stray too far from the playpen. (11/18/2011)
And the winner is . . . Our pal, Deirdre McNamer, who teaches fiction at the University of Montana, will be presenting the fiction prize at the National Book Awards dinner in New York City on Nov. 16. For the first time, the awards gala will be podcast live from New York on www.nationalbook.org at 6 p.m. Mountain Time. McNamer was tapped for this honor because of her four acclaimed novels and because she headed the panel that selected the list of what she and her fellow judges decided were the best five works of fiction published in the U.S. in 2011. John Lithgow will host the event. (11/15/2011)
Pack a lunch. We love Restaurant Impossible, the reality show that airs on The Food Network, because week after week it confirms our belief that the worst places in America to eat are the restaurants. People who’ve driven their businesses into the ground with bad food, bad service, bad money management, bad decor, or all four are saved by Robert Irvine, former sailor in the Royal Navy who was a White House cook and the executive chef for Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal Resort and Caesar’s in Atlantic City. Chef Robert charges into these odious dives, furiously changing menus, re-educating staffs, imposing budgets, launching marketing schemes and remodeling, all in 48 hours on a $10,000 shoestring.
Irvine’s most recent challenge was McShane’s Restaurant and Pub in Syracuse, New York. This dump had been on the verge of bankruptcy not just because there was only one item on the menu that was edible, the place was actually a health hazard reeking of mildew, rot, garbage and pools of yellow slime infected with bacteria. We wondered why the Onondaga County health department hadn’t shut it down, so we wrote them. When and if we hear back we’ll pass along their response. (11/11/2011)
Pretender. Montana Senator Max Baucus was named to the Debt Reduction Committee because he’s a spayed cat who’s not likely to ruffle the feathers of the many industries that enabled him to earn the distinction as the Senator who has taken more campaign money from vested interests than any of his colleagues except former Majority Leader Bill Frist. So we had to laugh when we got an email from Max advocating the swift conclusion of the war in Afghanistan as a cost-cutting measure.
This is the same land war in Asia Baucus voted to fund in 2008. While we believe U.S. involvement should cease immediately, we assume Max knows that the Pentagon isn’t really planning to pull its forces out of the Muslim World even if it leaves Afghanistan. According to the Oct. 30 New York Times, the U.S. military is seeking an increased ground and air presence in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and more warships patrolling the Persian Gulf to shore up our crumbling
Gov, can you spare a dime? According to the U.S. Census, three of the top ten poorest cities in America are in Texas—Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville. And yet Texas Governor Rick Perry continues to flaunt his alleged economic "plans" to bring America out of the recession. To us, this is further evidence that the due diligence in the the selection process for candidates in the beleaguered Republican Party has taken as its model the signing of contestants on the old Gong Show—fun people, but clowns at heart. (10/24/2011)
Class Actions. Occupy Wall Street is an evolving movement whose focus, we think, should be a general strike of union and non-union workers maintained until Congress:
1. Nationalizes all banks that do business across state lines
2. Nationalizes all utilities doing business across state lines and puts local community councils in charge of administering their operation
3. Prevents the wealthy from parking their money offshore, and
4. Rewrites the tax code and the tariff system to bring manufacturing and service jobs back to the U.S. from overseas, China and India especially
While we wait for these developments we’re gleefully spending the money we’ve received so far as part of the classes filing suits against a couple of big banks. We got a settlement check from the odious Bank of America because the mortgage company BOA bought, Countrywide, allowed its security to erode to the point that an employee hacked into accounts and sold information valuable to identity thieves. And we’re awaiting another check from Chase after they caved on charges of false advertising in the matter of credit card offers, and agreed to pay recipients of these offers some go-away money. While these are slaps-on-the-wrist, we think they signal a larger consumer war looming against the banking industry. High time. (10/23/2011)
Job Shortage By Bill Vaughn
Are there any Republicans not running for Governor of Montana?
THE FLURRY of Gopers announcing their campaigns for Governor of Montana reminds us of those mini-cars that pull into the center ring of a circus and disgorge more Bozos than can realistically fit in the car. Still, a couple of these clowns have a good shot at moving into the mansion. For example, Rick Hill is a former Congressman from Montana who served during an era when not every member of his party was a total lunatic-fringe, Jesus-humping asshole.
The last four Bozos out of the car, however, have no chance of winning. The most recent of these, Jim Lynch, is a carpetbagger from Washington State who was fired in August by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer after The Gov learned that the agency Lynch headed, the Department of Transportation, had hired Lynch's daughter. However, nepotism wasn't the real reason Lynch was canned. In July, a District Court judge ruled that Lynch's ludicrously flawed assessment of Exxon Mobile’s plan to move an entire refinery piece by piece through Montana to Canada over winding, two-lane blacktops—instead of the interstate, which was designed to accommodate the Defense Department by facilitating the transportation of massive loads—violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act.
Maybe it was Lynch’s love of asphalt that compelled him to greenlight the oil giant's scheme. In the early oughts Lynch worked as a “policy adviser” for Old Castle Materials, a leading U.S. purveyor of asphalt. While fellow pavers such as the Montana Contractors Association will do doubt pour money into Lynch’s campaign, he’s not going to get a lot of support from the largest metropolitan area in Montana, Missoula-Ravalli Counties. It was the Missoula County Commissioners, in fact, who led the fight against Exxon Mobile and the corruption at Transportation. (10/15/2011)
Robert T. Fanning, Jr., is a carpetbagger from Illinois who moved to Montana because he enjoys shooting animals. Fanning is the retired sole shareholder, director and head honcho of M.H. Detrick Company, which until it filed for bankruptcy in 1998 was a leading supplier of linings and tiles used to insulate industrial furnaces, ovens and boiler pipes. Fanning’s company went belly-up after it was sued by thousands of people exposed to the high levels of asbestos in the company’s products. Asbestos, as people in Libby, Montana know all too well, has been proven to cause mesothelioma, a rare and virulent form of cancer.
While Fanning’s launch Oct. 3 vented the usual right-wing gas about the evils of the Federal government and the need for Montana to create jobs by exploiting its natural resources, his real agenda has something to do with gutting the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks because “Marxist Progressives” hell-bent on reviving the wolf population are controlling its policies. The reason Fanning doesn’t like wolves is because they sometimes kill and eat the elk he likes to kill and eat.
Whatever, Fanning does have some admirers. Certain Tea Baggers like him because he attended a lecture about the alleged socialist agendaf the United Nations, and because he subscribes to the Old Testament nonsense that God wants man to have “dominion” over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the creeping things that creep on the earth, etcetera.
Like a used car salesman who runs for mayor in order to advertise his junkers, Fanning’s campaign for the governor’s mansion seems to be less about winning and more about peddling reactionary dogmas that are extreme even by Montana standards. Or maybe he figures the campaign will help him unload the white elephant of a hobby ranchhe owns near Pray, Montana (these 21 horsey acres can be yours for only $750,000!). (10/4/2011)
Drew Turiano is a carpetbagger from New York who was communications director for the failed U.S. Senate campaign of Michael Lange, former Montana House Majority Leader who embarrassed the Treasure State with a potty-mouthed tirade against Governor Brian Schweitzer that went viral on YouTube.
Here’s what Turiano says about his “politics”: “I’m anti-illegal-immigration. I’m 100 percent pro-life. I believe the state should have the right to nullify federal laws. We should be able to nullify those federal laws that have banned school prayer and the Ten Commandments and the Bible in our schools. I think we should bring those things back into our schools.”
We think that instead of wasting their class time with Hey-zoos we ought to teach our kids how to read. Maybe if Turiano had spent a little more time with books he wouldn’t have written George Buchanan Enters the Wormhole, a self-published sci-fi “novel” you can read on your Kindle for 99 cents. Filled with “plasma shields” and robots and dinosaurs, oh my, and written with a clumsy and deadening Leave It To Beaver ernestness, this is the sort of drivel I stopped reading when I discovered Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein when I was ten years old. (10/7/2011)
Some old men like to write their memoirs, or traipse around in their RVs. Helena native Neil Livingstone III decided to write his memoirs, traipse around in his RV and run for governor of Montana. Although a radical right-wing Republican, Livingstone is hardly one of those Hooterville wingnuts that infests the Tea Party and the GOP in Montana; he’s extremely well-educated, the author of nine books, and semi-famous from his numerous appearances on the tube discussing terrorism, on which he’s considered by some to be an authority.
However, one of the many problems facing him in the campaign for the governor’s mansion is the fact that he hasn’t lived in Montana for three decades and doesn’t know squat about our land of oro y plata. He spent much of that time in the Beltway, working with Oliver North, selling security advice to war profiteers exploiting the U.S.-sponsored chaos of Iraq, and getting sued for allegedly stealing clients from a consulting firm he worked for in order to start his own. “Think of us as a private CIA and Defense Department available to address your most intractable problems and difficult challenges,” is the shadowy language he used to pitch his new enterprise, Executive Action, which was purposely named for the CIA’s fun phrase meaning assassination.
One of Livingstone’s “ideas” for Montana is to eliminate the tax on business equipment. This is hardly new; it comes up every two years at the Legislature. And every two years the measure is defeated. Although you’d think that this tax would finally have been killed during the 61st session concluded last spring, dominated as it was by Gopers whose mantra was Job! Jobs! Gobsa Jobs!, House Bill 325 went out with a whimper, tabled in committee and allowed to die.
Jim Standaert, a legislative fiscal analyst, was quoted by reporter Charles Johnson to the effect that removing the business equipment tax would shift property tax burdens to other types of property. Property tax bills for homeowners would rise by 4.1 percent, small businesses would have to pay 9.7 percent more, utilities pay 7.8 percent more and agricultural and timber businesses 9.1 percent more.
Livingstone should have done his due diligence on the matter of tax burdens in Montana, but obviously didn’t, apparently figuring people here are too stupid to understand their own financial matters and would cream their jeans for a guy who promises to lift the weight of government from their shoulders.
IN 2002 I met with James Welch at his home in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley to ask him about the cultural and spiritual aspects of his debut novel, Winter in the Blood. What I was looking for was material for an essay I would publish in Outside magazine about places on the landscape the tribes of the Northern Plains consider sacred. Less than a year later Welch would be dead, at the age of 62, from lung cancer. His funny and depressing novel is being produced as a movie by those other filmmaker brothers, Alex and Andrew Smith, and is slated for release in 2012.
Vaughn: Jim, why didn’t you give the narrator a name?
Welch: I didn’t know how to write a novel, first of all. I was writing the story, and getting involved in the story, and I had this guy and he had a past and he was meeting people and so on. It didn’t occur to me until I was probably about
30 pages into it that he didn’t have a name. And then I thought, well, maybe like with the old Indians he’d have to earn his name. He’d have to do something. I guess I decided to keep him nameless when he pulls the cow out of the slough. Even though it’s a pretty failed attempt at least he does something positive. But by then I figured it was way too late in the book to give him a name. It would have been very obtrusive to suddenly start calling him, say, Jack.
Vaughn: In your own mind did you ever give him a name?
Welch: No. I never did.
Vaughn: Did you intend this passage to describe the psyche of your nameless narrator, or Indian people in general. “ . . . the distance I felt came not from country or people; it came from within me. I was as distant from myself as a hawk from the moon.”
Welch: I don’t know if I meant it for the whole Indian culture. There were then and still are traditional Indians. But there are also a lot of Indian people who are kind of lost. This was written thirty years ago at a time when younger Indians were starting to think about their heritage. There was a whole reservation period before this when we were encouraged to forget our culture. I think a lot of young people just floundered. They turned to booze, and just wandered around trying to find something.
Vaughn: “Again, I felt that helplessness of being in a world of stalking white men. But those Indians down at Gable’s were no bargain either. I was a stranger to both and both had beaten me.” Do you think this also describes the reservation Indian of 30 years ago?
Welch: There were a lot of young people who had a hard time identifying with anybody. They felt alone. I remember reading a statistic in a newspaper about
Notes from the Squalor Zone By Bill Vaughn
Stop the Rain. It was only a matter of time before people finally got fed up enough with financiers and their bought-and-paid-for politician whores, fed up enough to take to the streets. It's not just that America's financial institutions colluded with Washington party dolls like Montana Senator Max Baucus in bringing about the Great “Recession.” Now they're trying to extract even more profit from the the working class and what's left of Middle America. An event/protest/demonstration/flash is scheduled in Missoula Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. at the Farmers Market in solidarity with the burgeoning crowds occupying Wall Street. To learn more go to the Missoula website of these righteous malcontents. And if you feel like venting at a banker there's no one more qualified to hear your complaints than House District 100 Representative "Champ" Edmunds, an odious Bible-humping mortgage banker for Wells Fargo in Missoula. Because Edmunds claims he specializes in mortgages for veterans we're eager to see the results of a whistleblower lawsuit brought Oct. 4 against Wells Fargo and other banks alleging that they charged veterans illegal fees in the refinancing of their mortgages. Anyway, here's the guy's email: firstname.lastname@example.org. (10/6/2011)
Click and Switch. Not. Cellular One has been sending out humongous postcards offering potential cell phone customers six months of free service if they switch from AT&T or some other equally dreadful company. The truth is, the six free months will be parcelled out over the course of 30 months, one free month for every six months of service, after you sign a binding 30-month contract. Not much of a deal, especially when you have to wait a couple of hours in one of their stores, and then spend even more time transferring the apps, phone numbers, address books and whatnots from your current phone to the Android phone the company will give you, claiming this little piece of junk is a $250 value. (The postcards claim you can make the switch through Cellular One's website, but we couldn't find any way to do this.) And extra especially because you're stuck with Cellular One like a hapless bride in an arranged marriage. (9/23/2011)
Dead Nazi. LeRoy Schweitzer, 73, the former leader of the Montana Freemen, died September 20 in his cell at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, according to the Huffington Post. An autopsy is scheduled to determine the cause of death.
Schweitzer, a self-styled “Christian Patriot,” was serving a 22-year sentence for conspiracy to commit bank robbery, wire fraud, failure to file tax returns and fugitive possession of a firearm in connection with his efforts to overthrow the Federal government, or at least the low-tech shoebox government of Montana.
As leader of the ludicrous Montana Freemen, a far-right collection of Caucasian wing-nuts, Schweitzer became infamous in the late 1970s for white supremacist hate propoganda. Acccording to the Anti Defamation League “the Freemen created phony money using complicated schemes involving the filing of liens worth millions of dollars against various Montana property owners or the U.S. or Montana governments. Until they were found invalid, bank computers might list these liens as assets. This in turn created a window during which banks might transfer money against these assets. So Freemen would deposit fake money orders in other banks, to be drawn upon the bank listing the lien.”
The Washington Post estimates that Freemen, under the guidance of Schweitzer, were responsible for the distribution of at least $20 million in bogus money orders from the 1970s through to 1996. Schweitzer’s pokey time began in 1996 after a standoff with the FBI on the Freemen compound called “Justus Township” near Jordon in impossibly isolated Garfield County.
Schweitzer’s passage saves taxpayers money, although the Federal government he hated will use the savings to squander on one war or another. (9/20/2011)
Broke. According the U.S. Census, Montana is the sixth poorest state in the union in terms of median income. While 13.4 percent of our citizens live in poverty (24th highest), 16.3 percent of us can’t afford health insurance (16th highest) 7.7 percent are unemployed (18th lowest, due to the fact that many Montanans are self-employed farmers and ranchers), workers in the land of oro y plata make just over $42,000 a year.
That sucks big time, especially when compared to New Hampshire, whose median income leads the nation at more than $66,000 and whose unemployment rate is only 5.2 percent. And it double-sucks because the cost of living in Montana is no bargain when the high price of food is factored into the high cost of housing and utilities. Of the 10 poorest states in the U.S. Montana is the only one that’s not in Dixie, y’all. The western states of Colorado and Utah rank are among the richest 10 states in America.
These figures put a spotlight on the reactionary morons who voted Republicans such as House District 100’s “Champ” Edmunds into dominant control of both houses of the Montana legislature last November because they promised to “help” the state’s economy. As it turned out, Goper-sponsored legislation did nothing more than strip social programs, resulting, for example, in the fact that 20 percent of Montana’s children now live in poverty. (9/16/2011)
Upward Mobility. While millions of Americans can’t find work some of us get to pick and choose our jobs. Take Jonathan Weber, for example. A talented journalist, Weber was the editor of the influential but low-circulation magazine Industry Standard, a three-year flash-in-the pan that was called the Bible of the internet economy; it sold more ad pages in 2000 than any other magazine in America. A book was written about the publication, Starving to Death on $200 Million: The Short, Absurd Life of The Industry Standard. Weber went on to found New West, a Missoula-based online magazine whose earnestness borders on tedium. Weber left New West a couple of years ago to edit the non-profit online journal The Bay Citizen, in San Francisco. Less than a year later Weber, according to a corporate press release, has accepted the position of West Coast bureau chief for the international wire service, Reuters.
I like Jonathon and wish him the best. When he edited New West he actually paid me $400 for an essay about the video game, Sim City 4, which I wrote as a parody of Missoula mayor John Engen. (9/12/2011)
More fun with scams. Anyone using email has received a request from certain Nigerian gentlemen to help them deposit significant overseas funds in a U.S. bank, that is, your bank. But, of course, the gentlemen will need your account information. And most of have been surprised to receive a message from a distant relative about the theft of their luggage and passport, stranding the hapless traveler in some foreign port until family members can wire money.
Comes now a new scam, one targeted to horse people. The following note is obviously the bait; we’re waiting to hear what the switch might be:
"Hello. Good day and how are you doing, i am Samuel Montel, i would like to make an inquiry about your services, i would like to know if you can train my Horse, i just bought (Quarter Horse Mare) and i would like it to be trained for me for at least 2 month. the horse as never gone through any form of training since birth. so just bought this Horse for my personal use. i have the form of training i would love the Horse to go through.and also i would like to know the charges for 1 month for the training
Advise which of these you do
Western Discipline Training
English Discipline Training.
I want you to know that i would be making your full payment,and the payment will be via cashiers check.so i would want you to know that i will the horse is currently with my Brother.i will be going Offshore soon,so i want everything taken care of before i leave.email me with your total cost for one month for any of the training you offer.and as soon as that is done i will have a shipping company deliver the horse at your location to start training as soon as possible
Expecting to read from you
Samuel Montel" (9/8/2011)
Lucky Charms. Because the denizens of Dark Acres are only a couple generations removed from Ireland (County Waterford and County Clare), we grow oats. Oh, not for food—although our small harvest provides the horses with a few meals—but for luck. While we consider Christianity a fever dream filled with grotesque delusions, we believe the unseen forces that compelled our pagan ancestors are still at large in the Gaelic world, tied up in certain plants and animals that have always lived among the Irish. That’s why we like to adorn the hawthorns growing on the banks of our swamps with dollar bills and colored ribbons. The largest Black Hawthorn in Montana grows a stone’s throw from our back door. Named Maeva, after the Irish warrior queen, she’s decorated with so many baubles she looks like a Christmas tree in the house of a witch. (8/31/2011)
East Coast People Are Wussers. Really. Get over it. Stay inside. Watch the championship game of the Little League World Series. Have a drink. Or two. Make love. Sleep late. Life is short. Grow up. Enjoy. My town, Missoula, has been burning for days and no one on your side of the Republic knows squat about it. And even if you did, you wouldn't care because it’s not about you. (8/26/2011)
What Goes Around. During the middle of a work day we happened to switch from the Food Network to Comedy Central and came upon that 1986 classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off just as Ferris, Sloan and Cameron glance out from their cab to see Ferris’ father in the cab next door. Bueller the Senior is reading the Chicago Sun-Times, which, as we remember, carries a piece below the fold headlined “Community Rallies Around Sick Boy.” The boy, of course, is Ferris, who’s not sick at all, but has decided to take a Day Off. What we’d forgotten—or, more probably, never registered, was the headline above the fold: “Riots Flare in Britain.” (8/16/2011)
Foxes and Henhouses. Harry Reid’s appointment of senior Montana Senator Max Baucus to the Gang of Twelve “Supercongress” debt-reduction committee comes as no surprise. Baucus is serving his last term, hasn’t distinguished himself as a lawmaker in any way, and has close ties to the engines of capital; that is, since 2005 Baucus has taken 5.2 million dollars in campaign contribuitions from the finance, insurance and real estate industries.
Attempted Smish. During the dog days of summer some Montana banks are experiencing an embarrassing siege of thieves using the good names of these financial institutions to attempt the extraction of information about the accounts of people who have debit cards.
The scam is called “smishing.” Similar to phishing, smishing uses cell phone text messages to deliver the “bait” to get you to divulge your personal information. The “hook” (the method used to actually “capture" your information) in the text message may be a web site URL, however it has become more common to see a phone number that connects to an automated voice response system.
We got one of these text messages on August 2 that informed us our “card” had been “deactivated” and to “activate” it we would have to call a number at First Montana Bank. We don’t have an account at First Montana Bank, much less credit or debit cards, and alerted them to the scam. This was the bank’s reply: “Good Morning Mr. Vaughn, we apologize for the inconvenience. This is a type of scam called ‘smishing,’ a takeoff of SMS text messaging and phishing, whereby thieves attempt to gain debit card information. Thank you for alerting us.”
Molasses. Montana is ranked 4th worst in the nation in terms of the speed its internet providers supply customers with the Web. This is according to Pando Networds, an outfit that specializes in cloud-based media delivery.
Pando said the fastest state was Rhode Island, at an average of 894 KBps,which was almost three times faster than the slowest state, Idaho, which had a dismal rate of 318KBps. Montana's average download speed was an abysmal 352 KBps, and its average connection completion rate was only 82 percent. This poor service is one of the reasons high-tech companies aren’t flocking to Montana.
At Dark Acres, our relationship with our internet service provider has been rocky at best. Located in Missoula, the company’s wireless internet service has been down at least six times in the last two years, most recently on July 28, and its speed varies wildly from slow to slower on any given day. One of these outages lasted for 72 hours, causing us to send them an invoice for lost revenue, which the company reluctantly paid. If you email us we’ll tell you who they are.
Rainy Days and Mondays. On August 1 readers in western Montana clicking to the online version of the Missoulian newspaper were jolted by the announcement that the website had thrown up a paywall. What this means is that if you want to read more than 20 news stories a month you have to pay $2 monthly if you already subscribe to the inky version, and $5 per month if you don’t.
It was like your fuck buddy suddenly announcing that you can no longer get any till you say “I love you.”
The other Lee Enterprise dailies in Montana made their announcements about their “metered” content plan on Sunday, at least giving readers a fitful night to make up their minds about whether to pay for something that has always been free.
Lee’s move follows the lead of the New York Times, which threw up its paywall in April to a chorus of boos from readers and media pundits who said the Gray Lady would never reach its goal of signing up 300,000 digital subscribers by the end of 2011. As of last week, however, the Times claims it had already signed up 224,000 online subscribers who pay $15 a month to read the rag on their smartphones, or $35 a month to get all the news that’s fit to print on any and all devices, including online.
Of course, there are several end runs available to get around these sorts of flimsy paywalls. If you want to do a little light browsing you can easily find them on the Web.
We tested the paywall at the Missoulian by clicking on a hundred news stories, and at no time did any digital cop say “Nunh-unh.”