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The story of the logo that tells the shocking truth about Missoula. A Place. Sort Of.

Shine a light. Like monkeys streaming from God’s butt plagues always spawn outrageous lies.

The Wizard Will See You Now. There is no scientific evidence that ASEA products will do anything except drain your bank account.

School coup crushed. A “parents rights” troika loses big. Good riddance, Gopers.

My Year in Dallas. From my segregated school to gorillas at the zoo to a Woodmen of the World summer camp, it was a year of surprises.

Angry White Men. Brad Tschida is obsessed. Although the Missoula Trumpster trounced his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Montana House of Representatives race by a margin of 57 percent to 43, like a pit bull with a squeak toy he won’t let go of his allegation that the election was rigged.

NorthWestern’s Got to Go. Remove the profit motive from NorthWestern’s operations and you remove obstacles to preventing widespread disease and starvation.

Movie Review: Slowing Time with Kristen Stewart. I needed a way to slow down time. So I determined to watch a Kristen Stewart triple feature.

Easter Music.  The story of the song I just Wanna Kill Russians.

Serve and Volley.  Missoula Parks and Rec has finally let bids for the replacement of Playfair's deteriorating tennis courts.

The Jesuits Owned Slaves. The revered Pieter-Jan De Smet, founder of the missions at St. Mary's and Ignatius, was one of these slave owners.
Lee papers scooped again

As reported by The Daily Beast but not reported by any newspaper in Montana, Planned Parenthood of Montana will no longer provide medication abortions for patients from South Dakota, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and will now require proof of residency for the treatment. [7/1/2022]


Old man ban

Although it seems as if there are enough laws on the books I’d like to add another: This one would ban retired men from owning tractors, chainsaws, or riding lawn mowers. It’s based on my observations of the profound ignorance of the natural world displayed by the geriatric rednecks who infest our exurban backwater outside Missoula.

One of these old men with way too much time on his hands is a guy I call Pudge. He’s married to an angry, unpleasant woman named Skanky. In order to avoid her he mows his lawn three or four times a week. To draw out the chore he mows a small stretch of grass one way, then the other, then he backs up and mows the same patch of tortured lawn again. This goes on for several hours. The mower is deafening. But it drowns out the sound of her voice. Here’s a poem I wrote about him:

Tractor boy
Tractor boy
Playing all day
With his toy.

Another neighbor cut down the forest on his ten acres with a chainsaw. Gone are the hawthorns, Ponderosa pines, willows, junipers and cottonwoods that once covered his piece of the floodplain along the Clark Fork, eliminating the canopy that once sheltered a menagerie of birds and animals. This old man is from North Dakota and apparently has been homesick for the treeless prairies that stretch across that empty, windblown state.

Geriatric Neighbor No. 3 hauled tons of topsoil to his property in order to block a relief channel running through several properties, including ours. This little serpentine gully is dry most of the time but during the river’s periodic flooding it siphons away water that would otherwise end up in our house. The county ordered him to remove this fill on penalty of a substantial fine. But at least he got to play with his tractor again. [7/1/2022]


Short Story: Ice Skating on Mars

The last customers on the showroom floor had been fussing with the Haltbar for twenty minutes. They opened the French doors, stuck their heads inside, and pulled out the food bins. She made coffee with the Keurig and sipped from a plastic cup as he studied the freezer compartment. They pushed the refrigerator this way on its rubber wheels, then the other. Joe took a brochure from the counter. “Hey, folks. Thanks for coming in.” [continued]

A can of Missoulian news, please

The quality of small-market newspapers such as the Missoulian rises and falls on the zeal of its editors and the resources allotted to its reporters. Ever since Gwen Florio and Keila Szpaller fled the paper during the last 18 months the coverage of local news in the paper has deteriorated.

Take for example the edition published on Monday, May 16, 2022. The front page featured four articles: “The Sanctity of Space,” written by the Anchorage Daily News; “Census Undercount Decreases Funding,” written by Kaiser Health News, and interviews with the Dem and Goper candidates for Montana’s new House seat, written by the Lee State Bureau. Missoulian reporters had nothing to do with any of these.

A day earlier the paper published canned reviews of three nonfiction book that were first published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper also prints the same photos day after day, such as the one showing the Dem House hopefuls. Over the past year the paper has been repeatedly embarrassed after being scooped by websites such as the Daily Montanan and the Montana Free Press and even the Kaimin, the University of Montana’s excellent student newspaper.

So what local news should the Missoulian be covering? For one, the city has a large Russian population centered around the Slavic Pentecostal Church west of town. Yet no interviews with these people about the invasion of Ukraine have appeared. Second, the paper has been completely silent about the city’s ludicrous and environmentally harmful poplar plantation. Third, instead of running canned book reviews the Missoulian might consider books by Missoula authors, such as The Last Heir, a history of 20th Century Montana published March 1 by the University of Nebraska Press. [5/18/2022]

Canned news, redux

If less than 10 percent of a daily publication features local news should it call itself a newspaper? For example, take the Sunday Missoulian, published on June 12, 2022 in Missoula (note that adding Montana to the location is unnecessary because there’s only one place named Missoula in the solar system).

In that edition the paper’s reporters produced only four articles. Most of the column inches are filled with wire service news most people have already seen on television or read online, plus canned book reviews from sources such as the Chicago Tribune and Variety and small, murky black-and-white photos. Yet despite its reliance on wire service filler the Missoulian failed to publish a story about a crime scene in a town just down the road: Couer d’Alene. On June 11 thirty one members of a white supremacist hate group called the Patriot Front were arrested there before they could disrupt a gay pride gathering. As reported by most every national publication and network in the U.S., the fascists were charged with conspiracy to riot.

The Missoulian from the second Sunday in June 1922 was more than 25 percent local news. The population in 1922 was 12,000; the population in 2022 is 80,000. But a Martian would assume based on reading both editions that much more was happening in that little town than is happening now in this growing city. [6/12/2022]

Like a corporate drone padding his expense account the Missoulian pads its pages not just with wire service filler but also by inflating its text with air, in another case of the kind of inflation in which a customer pays the same price but gets less product. For example:

Bad Type
Blacked out is the new orange

KPAX announced recently that it would no longer publish mug shots on its platforms unless the accused is a prominent public figure, the alleged crime is deemed to be horrendous, or the perp poses a continuing threat to the community.


We get it: A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but on the internet a mugshot can last for years, condemning both the guilty and the innocent every time it’s viewed.

The reason why the Missoula County Detention Facility makes these arrests public—as well as the photographs of those arrested—is the opposite of what the English did to suspected IRA soldiers during The Troubles; that is, arresting them without trial or evidence and jailing them without informing anyone of their whereabouts.

Still, we enjoy profiling Missoula’s detainees based on nothing but their looks. We know it’s morally questionable, but we don’t care. Because it’s fun. Let’s start with the men. Our categories are Werewolf, Vampire, James Dean, Kanye West, Cousin It, Butthead, Warlock, Zombie, Jesus, Thug, and Hoot (someone with chin hair but no mustache). Then there are the women: Zombie, Vampire, Karen, Heather, Witch, Brittney Spears, and Morticia. Pictured above: a Butthead. [5/24/2022>

Money laundering

I like money. No, I don’t mean coins, crypto, lines of credit or debit cards. I mean actual folding money. I like the feel of the paper and I like the way a hefty wad of currency looks when it’s neatly stacked up. I like dollars and I also like Euros. One time I brought home a stack of Malaysian 1 Ringgit notes after a trip to Borneo. Although a pretty shade of blue, I decided that compared to dollars and Euros they were just too small, measuring only 120 x 65 millimeters, compared to a Washington, for example, which is 154 x 65.

What I don’t like about folding money is the way it smells. This ranges from the ghastly perfumes and colognes that have turned rancid to the acrid odor of cocaine. So when I get some new bills from my wife—who gets them from barrel racers paying their entry fees--I always stuff them in a cloth bag and wash them thoroughly with unscented hand soap and white vinegar. Then I put them in our dryer. While they’re still slightly damp I iron each one on both sides to make the bills lie flat. Then I add them to my collection. I have no intention of actually spending this money. Since the only people who use currency these days are gamblers I don’t have to.

I know this sounds like I have a hoarding problem. But I think it has more to do with an obsessive-compulsive problem. It began when I was a kid. First, there was Monopoly money, then that wonderful fake children’s currency that looked vaguely like real dollars, and then what is called “Hollywood” money you can now buy on Amazon, which looks and feels authentic until you read the words “Motion Picture Use Only.”

When I was twelve I began printing my own currency with a typewriter on cotton paper. This was money issued by Lower Slobbovia, a piece of unoccupied floodplain in the redneck backwater where I grew up, a name I stole from Al Capp’s L’il Abner comic strip. I called this money The Credit and issued it in 1, 5 and 10-Credit denominations. Instead of being backed by the gold standard, like the dollar was before Nixon severed the connection—it was backed by the rock standard—the bright, shiny stones my grandfather polished to a high gloss and gave to me.

In 1934 the chairman of the Montana Railroad and Public Service Commission was accused of molesting young boys. Read an excerpt from The Last Heir.

The City of Missoula grows trees that pollute.

On any hot day in the Garden City the 90,000 “hybrid” poplars planted in 2014 near the frenetic intersection of Reserve Street with Mullan Road emit several tons of chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

These include isoprene, methanol and terpene, substances that combine with atmospheric elements to create an aerosol cloud the plants use to reflect sunlight, thus cooling themselves. It’s thought that this form of air conditioning evolved when the earth was considerably warmer than it is now. The best example of the phenomenon is the blue haze that shrouds the spruce and fir forests of the Great Smoky Mountains.

VOCs are natural emissions generated by many plants and are also produced by the evaporation of petroleum products. When they react in sunshine with airborne pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, which is produced by gas and diesel engines, they accelerate the accumulation of ozone, the major ingredient of smog and a major trigger of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD. Different species of trees emit various levels of VOCs. The highest floral discharges come from eucalyptus, the genus Populus, which includes poplars and cottonwoods, and oak. Hawthorns emit no VOCs at all.

For more about the science check out the research done by Dr. Todd Rosenstiel, Portland State University Center for Climate and Aerosol Research.

The poplars on Missoula’s 160-acre plantation are fed more than 1.5 million gallons of sewage effluent per day from the nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant. Officials claim that the nitrogen and phosphorous in this effluent that would have been poured into the Clark Fork is processed by the poplars instead. The trees apparently like their diet, having grown to more than 20 feet tall. (Hybrid poplars are basically giant, messy weeds—the surface-spreading, tentacle-like roots of the forty-foot specimen we cut down at Dark Acres one spring throw up a small forest of suckers that we must mow once a week until we can find the time to excavate the roots.

City officials once planned plan to harvest their poplars in 2026 and sell the wood for use as ceiling molding and painted furniture (as firewood, it produces more ash than heat). Enthusiastic yet flawed documents claimed the project would cost $1.375 million but would recoup its expenses when the lumber is sold. But like the legal costs of Missoula’s takeover of its water system—originally penciled in at $400,000 but escalating to at least $9 million—bureaucrats exaggerated or falsified the fiscal benefits of these trees.

In fact, whatever perceived market for poplar sawlogs might have existed in 2014, there is now no demand. The city is considering grinding the trees into compost. A more profitable use of these otherwise commercially useless plants might be shaved bedding material for livestock.

Removing the stumps and restoring the land, which is leased from a family, will be considerably more difficult than the city has estimated.

Officials also claim that the plantation will “sequester” at least 8,000 tons of the carbon in the carbon dioxide that trees inhale, but no studies of this promise have been initiated.

Also, the Missoula County Health Department does not monitor the amount of ozone being produced by the reaction of the plantation’s VOCs with the huge volume of nitrogen dioxide emitted by vehicles idling at and finally crossing the busiest intersection in Montana. This smelly, noisy neighborhood—which is experiencing a population boom encouraged by the City of Missoula—includes an asphalt plant and a Walmart.

In 2020 the City Council allocated $166,000 to buy Hybrid Energy Group Montana, which has operated Missoula’s plantation from the beginning. And it decided to replace the company’s arborist with a city arborist employed by the loathsome Parks and Recreation Department, which has been allowing municipal property to deteriorate (check out the tennis courts at Playfair Park, for example.) [originally posted in 2015, updated 4/21/2022]

Our House is a Very Nice House

In the late 1970s I was living in a one-bedroom Craftsman-style house in the French Quarter. Oh, not that French Quarter, but the one in Missoula so named by me because the house was on Levasseur Street. I was working for a New York publisher editing and designing a book called the Complete Fisherman’s Catalog. Manufacturers had sent the author hundreds of samples of their tackle, most of which he didn’t want to keep because he was a fly-fishing purist. That Christmas I put up a tree and adorned it with scores of lures, spinners, and plastic worms. Instead of a star on top I attached a huge fake rat apparently used to attract bass.

After the book was published I got a job as an associate editor for Outside Magazine. Girlfriends came and girlfriends went but one of them became my wife. After she moved into the French Quarter we spent many hours in the extra-long built-in bathtub playing gin rummy and drinking chilled Stolichnaya.

I had inherited a dog from one of these former girlfriends, a black Labrador named Slick. Because I was raised in a rural redneck backwater I knew nothing about how to keep a dog in a city. I did nothing to train him, neuter him or fence him in. As a consequence he roamed around at will, returning to houses where he had been fed a treat or had stolen one, especially a house where there had been a chocolate chip cookie. He also enjoyed dumpster diving and dragging our clothes around the streets. My wife would blush and avert her eyes as she retrieved her underwear from downtown sidewalks on her way to her Higgins Avenue office.

I sublet the basement apartment to a guy whose hobby was designing nuclear weapons. He assured me that these were non-functioning devices that mostly existed on paper, although he had built a small-scale plastic version of one, the Hydrogen Superbomb “Bravo,” and had copyrighted the plans. His intention was to share with the public his belief that the U.S. nuclear arsenal and presumably the Russian one were so poorly designed a cataclysmic accident could happen at any moment, a fact these governments were concealing. The FBI “interviewed” him. One month after paying the rent in advance, he disappeared.

We have moved several times since our golden years in the French Quarter, finally to a redneck backwater much like the one where I grew up. Although the Levasseur house is still there it has been dwarfed on the right by a four-story apartment building. On April 25 a building company announced that it will tear down two old houses on the right to make way for six four-story condos. This on a street that has been reduced in length to one short block. Our old house, with its leafy maples and backyard garden, will look like a pygmy among giants. But also heroic, a tiny Sampson battling two Goliaths. The analogy is fitting. In a culture bullied by reality shows, celebrity memoirs, and country western music our old house is now owned by Montana’s first Poet Laureate.