Recent Posts

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

Ice Skating on Mars. Short fiction, by Bill Vaughn.

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.

Brad Tschida displaying a document he believes proves that election fraud in Missoula County is rampant.

Things I Hate

Unions and homos and women and Indians
Pinkos and Baptists and public school minions
Deep State liberals spewing Donald Trump lies
These are a few of the things I despise

From Brad Tschida’s* campaign jingle (sung to My Favorite Things)

*Brad Tschida is a far-right Catholic extremist running for Montana Senate District 49. His “ideas” include the notion that a woman’s uterus is a sanctuary city for fetuses, an organ that has no other purpose. He also believes that the Missoula County Elections Office rigged the 2020 election for the Demorats, although Tschida, a Goper, won his House seat by a wide margin. He also believes that Native Americans have too many representatives in the Montana Legislature.

Here are a few of his other positions:

• Defund public education
• Outlaw all abortion
• Make it illegal for homosexuals and transsexuals to adopt children
• Prohibit Montana courts from enforcing Islamic religious laws [9/29/2022]

See You Next Month

The international tampon shortage has rekindled our interest in an idea we had thirty years ago: menstrual huts. That is, an international franchise of what our marketing calls “getaway suites” that would offer a haven for women who need to “ride the cotton pony” but can’t find one. “Flo’s Luxury Suites” was an idea we tried to insert into every magazine article we ever wrote, regardless of topic. And every single time we submitted this idea some mean editor removed it. [8/13/2022]

Playfair Court
What if you advertised a $425,000 construction job and got no bids?

After years of tennis players complaining to bureaucrats about the deterioration of Missoula’s public courts the city of Missoula finally decided to do something about it. “Notice is hereby given,” the legal ad began, "that electronic bids for the reconstruction of Playfair tennis courts located at 3001 Bancroft Street, Missoula, MT. 59801 will be received until 3:30 p.m., local time, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. The bids will then be publicly opened and read aloud digitally from the City of Missoula, via Teams Meeting.”

Although the Construction Journal estimated that the job was worth $425,000 (although it's probably worth twice that amount) not a single bid was submitted.

So it was decided to give the project to Western Excavating, a road-building company in Missoula with no apparent experience building tennis courts. This is like hiring a dentist to perform brain surgery. If the Mayor and City Council approve this sweetheart deal construction will begin August 18 and will conclude in July of 2023. [8/2/2022]

Because the City has not publicized anything about this deal--Missoula's two governments are notoriously opaque--Dark Acres asked for an explanation and finally received the following email:

“City staff worked with the Garden City Tennis Association, Missoula County Public Schools tennis coaches, and others in the tennis community on the court renovation plan. That design process took several months and was completed in April, which is why the bid came out in May. Staff reached out directly to construction contractors about the bid to try to increase bidders. As with many other industries, contractors indicated they were facing supply chain, inflation, and staffing challenges. No contractors submitted bids.

“Western Excavating notified City staff that its new asphalt plant was nearing operational status. The City and Western engaged in direct negotiations for the project, which is permitted when no bids are received. Western Excavating is a local firm with significant experience in heavy construction, grading and paving. Site survey data will be fed into their GPS system for grading. Western has reviewed the grading, compaction and paving specifications and is confident they have the experience, equipment and team to successfully meet project specifications and standards to deliver a quality finished court product. Western has teamed with Fencecrafters for court fencing and net post installs, and Koch's Tennis Court Service, Montana's only installer of tennis court color coats.

“City project staff assigned to this project have successfully overseen multiple tennis court installations - both asphalt and post tension concrete courts. Staff have tennis court construction and reconstruction experience in Missoula and other jurisdictions around the west. Missoula Parks & Recreation's last successfully completed court project were the pickleball courts at Fort Missoula Regional Park. ”

A note to readers: Because pickleball is a drinking game designed for people who can't run it can be played on any old slab of concrete or asphalt.

If you were to hire a contractor to build a single asphalt-covered tennis court in your backyard you could expect to pay the man between $60,00 to $70,000. Yet the contract the City hopes to sign with Western Excavating in mid-August 2022 allots $1,244,439 for the construction of 12 courts. Doing the arithmetic, 12 x $70,000 = $840,000. Does the city's calculator have a sticky key?

Of course, the city council approved this ludicrous contract on August 8 without seeking any public comment because their favorite thing to do is waste our money, like a bunch of dopers playing Sim City. [updated 8/13/2022]


An Interview With James Welch

IN 2002 I met with James Welch at his and his wife Lois' home in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley to ask him about the cultural and spiritual aspects of his debut novel, Winter in the Blood. Less than a year later Welch would be dead, at the age of 62, from lung cancer.

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 imagination 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.”

JamesWelch

James Welch photo courtesy Discography


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 the Indian suicide rate amongst young people, kids 16, 17 years old. it was the highest in the nation of any group. These kids just couldn’t see anything to look forward to. They saw their parents and aunts and uncles drunk all the time, no jobs, living in poverty. They just can’t see anything worth living for, anything to grab onto. So they decided to commit suicide.  

Vaughn: Do you see signs of life on the reservation now?

Welch: It’s certainly a lot better than it was. More and more Indian people are turning toward the traditions and accepting their Indianness. I’m thinking now about Darrell Kipp. He went to school at the University of Montana and then Harvard. He was a real educated guy. Now he runs one of the two Blackfeet language immersion schools up on the reservation with kids as young as kindergarten. When they walk through that gate into that schoolyard they stop speaking English. The idea is that you learn Blackfeet when you’re very young and then the traditions come along with the language.

Vaughn: Are there older Blackfeet who speak the native tongue and English as dual languages?

Welch: A few. But they’re very old, in their seventies at the youngest. My Dad speaks Blackfeet but he’s 86. None of us kids can speak it. That’s the way it is in almost all families. Kipp figured rightly that if something wasn’t done the language would die out entirely in a generation.

Vaughn:  Do you see signs of a resurgence of interest in traditional cultural and spiritual practices among the Blackfeet?

Welch: Even back when I was a kid the Catholic boarding schools didn’t allow us to speak Blackfeet or perform traditional religious ceremonies. There was a down period for a long time after the Blackfeet were put on the reservations. But now things are really looking up. I’ve been visiting other reservations and, for example, all the tribes of the Northern Plains are practicing their own versions of the Sun Dance. That’s one of the things that was forbidden. They really are trying to revive a traditional way of life. But of course Darrell Kipp and a lot of other people feel that if you don’t have the language how can you do the ceremonies? If you can only speak the language that’s one thing. But the language has to have cultural meaning, too.

Vaughn:  How do you convince a kid that speaking Blackfeet is cool?

Welch: What Darrell really has to compete with now is television and sports because the kids are really outward-looking these days and have access to the whole world. That’s an added obstacle to people who are trying to teach them traditions. On the other hand it is becoming cool for kids to belong to a drumming group or to dance at pow-wows. So at least in a social sense—in social gatherings—it’s cool again to be an Indian. But the real point of Darrell’s work is to get kids to think like traditional Indians 365 days a year. It shouldn’t be a chore to assign spiritual values to the world. That is, you look at the mountains, you look at the trees and the rocks and the rivers and they all have traditional spiritual meanings. Teaching this is really the hard part. While it’s a good thing to tie prayer rags on trees around Chief Mountain or to leave offerings at the Medicine Wheel I don’t know of any young person who has gone off on his own vision quest.

Vaughn:  When the old woman dies and the priest never shows up to say a few words over her were you commenting on the relationship between Indians and the Church?

Welch:  Part of the strategy of Christianity, especially the Catholics,  is to make people feel that they’re bad people, sinners. Like those churches that went into the South Seas and made people feel ashamed about being naked. On the northern plains the Church made Indians feel ashamed about being a “primitive culture, a “pagan” culture. So a lot of Indians embraced Catholicism as a way of going to heaven—this new heaven they were hearing about. It certainly had to be better than the reservations.

Vaughn: Were there people when you were growing up that embraced Christianity as well as the traditional religion?

Welch: On the Blackfeet and the Ft. Belnap reservations it was an either-or thing. It wasn’t like on the Flathead reservation where they sing songs and pray in the Salish language inside the Mission. That was the smartest thing the Jesuits in the Flathead did—allowing the Indians to pray to a Catholic god in their own language. Normally the Catholics just tried to beat the culture out of Indians. But nowadays I think a lot of churches think they can get more Indian converts by encouraging them to embrace traditional practices as well.

Vaughn: What sorts of practices?

Welch: For example, sweating. When I was on the parole board and going to the prison at Deer Lodge everybody had their own Christian service they could go to on Sunday. But the authorities wouldn’t let the Indians build a sweat lodge. This was a big issue in prisons all over the West. Finally, the authorities gave in and let Indians at Deer Lodge practice their religion in their own way. It was a breakthrough, of course. But it was also a way to appease Indians so they wouldn’t make so much trouble.

Vaughn: When you were on the parole board did you give special consideration to inmates who had embraced religion, any religion, including native faiths.

Welch: We were always skeptical of anyone who claimed to be “born again.” On the other hand, the white people on the board could never understand why Indian inmates wanted a sweat lodge. What does it means, they asked, wondering if the sweat lodge was just an excuse to make trouble.

Vaughn:  When the narrator connects with Yellow Calf did you mean to imply that unless these reservation kids look to older people for guidance they’re going to be lost?

Welch: I thought that if they could get back into traditional life or at least meet someone who had experienced a traditional life it might get them more involved in their culture. That they might be able to at least psychically feel like they were really part of Indian culture instead of these wandering souls. So, yeah, when he goes back and meets up with Yellow Calf he does find something in spite of his circling around the old man.  In the end, at the moment of his epiphany, when the horse farts, there is a real connection made.

Vaughn:  In an earlier meeting between the two, Yellow Calf reveals what deer talk about when deer talk about themselves. The deer, he says, are unhappy about the days gone by. They can tell by the moon that the world is cockeyed. “Of course,” he tells the narrator, “men are the last to know.” What is it that men don’t know?

Welch: What to do next. Animals always know what that is.

Vaughn: The federal government stole Blackfeet land and tried to ruin Blackfeet culture. Why do so many Blackfeet join the military?

Welch: The Blackfeet are warriors. And this is still our land.

PlantationDays

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]

316Levasseur
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.



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.