Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New location

The Ragged Edge has moved, in hopes I'll start actually using it. Follow future musings here.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conservatism redux

Several months ago—October, to be exact—I wrote a well-received piece on a fledgling citizen group in the Bitterroot Valley called Celebrating Conservatism. The story examined the characters and motives behind the group, and called on politicians from both sides of the aisle to question what exactly was going on. Most admitted that yes, CC appeared to be in line with Patriot movement thinking, that shadowy splinter of controversy nuts and Constitution Party supporters often associated with the militia movement of the 1990s.

Since the article ran, I've chased down follow-up after follow-up and kept close tabs on who CC has hosted as speakers each month. I've also kept up on sister groups like Missoula's Conservative Patriots and Ronan's Calling All Conservatives, as well as a tougher-to-track group up in Kalispell. In recent weeks, two members of CC have separately filed constitutional initiatives for the 2010 ballot—the first to allow citizen-convened grand juries and the second to reintroduce Montana's geographic borders into the state Constitution. Both authors cited county- and state-sovereignty concerns, mainstay sentiments of popular far-right speaker and former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack.

Now the issue has officially gone national. At least, it's gone to the national press. New York Times reporter David Barstow wrote a particularly well-reported and lengthy piece on a group in nearby Sandpoint, Idaho, in today's edition. Lee Banville at the Christian Science Monitor's Patchwork Nation blog also tackled the topic this week, focusing on the group in Ronan. The cross-over of Tea Party folk and far-right Patriot thinkers is growing. What concerns that should generate, I don't know. The Tea Party supporters marched in Hamilton on President's Day, albeit in smaller numbers than their march last year. Dollars to donuts some of those faces are the very same ones I glimpsed in October at a CC meeting in Hamilton. The varied appendages of the far right seem to be merging on many common-ground issues. Hopefully the less savory characteristics of some aren't adopted by the others.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cafes suck

Spent 15 minutes of my lunchbreak today dry-humping a heater in a cafe bathroom after spilling a mocha all over my lap. Still looks like a wet myself. Damn do I hate fancy mugs with tiny handles.

That said, I've decided the world should drink from nothing but sippy cups from now on. This would solve a number of common problems, like wine spills on expensive rugs and gnats magically appearing on the surface of your beer. Of course, it would come with a host of problems as well. Shots would lose their badassedness. You'd likely mix up someone's orange juice with your PBR. Everything would taste like plastic. Plus, we'd all look like a bunch of 5-year-olds.

Interesting that this should happen today. I just completed the two busiest weeks of work since landing a reporting gig at this weekly. Back-to-back features, plus all the extras that come from operating a newspaper with only three news writers. I was looking forward to a little calm, a little monotony. Now all I can think about is the chocolate stain on my thigh that looks vaguely like the Virgin Mary. Or Rumpelstiltskin. Jury's still out on the likeness until it dries fully.

I can't wait to get home and play Super Mario for a few hours. My brain needs an effing break.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Spintering at the grindstone

I'm currently wading through three-plus hours of interviews from the past few days, transcribing the good bits and trying to ignore the points when my recorder decided to be a flaky douche. Two features coming up, the first due on Thursday. Struggling to find a way to keep my sanity intact, one that doesn't involve liver damage or Super Mario on Wii.

On the upside, I dropped in to visit some family friends in Choteau. Got the skinny on a few childhood friends, one of whom just started grad school in St. Paul. She's finding it too difficult to balance her treasured job at an independent pizza place, but she's finding urban planning an amazing avenue of advanced study. And at this point in time, it's a field much in need of new blood.

Realizing that I don't actually have much of interest to say, I'll default to some big Missoula news. I wrote a few weeks back about Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.'s shuttering of the Frenchtown mill. Operations were extended through last Thursday, but the plume is gone and so now are the jobs. The plant is in the midst of "mothballing," as the corporate office says. If that news wasn't bad enough, 55 more jobs will disappear March 10 when Macy's abandons Missoula. It's a bit of news made doubly troubling when one considers the department store's importance in the city's up-and-coming Downtown Master Plan, a bit of business planning that's been in the works for two years. Crandall Arambula, a Portland-based consultant working on the project, called Macy's a "downtown anchor." The idea is that Macy's sucks shoppers from Southgate Mall and Reserve Street, offering a national chain experience and an open door to smaller, locally-owned shopping options. Without it, the city and the consultants are at a loss. See the editorial Jessica and I wrote here.

In a week dominated by closures, Brady's Sportsmen's Surplus also announced it's tagging out. The owner has been a business owner in Missoula for decades, and says he's just looking to retire. No recession issues, apparently. Not like Moose Creek Mercantile, another downtown shop that said Friday that it's folding. Looks like those economists who said we're out of the thick of it spoke too soon, and the recession is finally rearing its ugly head in Missoula beyond the world of real estate and timber.

Too heavy? Too depressing? Well, Bret and I beat the last level of Super Mario this afternoon. I'd planned to hit the slopes on those new Rossignol 80ti Classics I got for Christmas, but spending all day yesterday on the job wiped me out. I'll be in Red Lodge soon anyway (next weekend), and I'll use that as the kick-off for my "ski at least one day a month" plan for 2010. Shouldn't be too hard. If you want to know the secret, track down a copy of the winter edition of Montana Headwall. I suggest you read the piece by Alex Sakariassen. I hear tell it's pretty good.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The unbeatable bits of Missoula

Last night started like any other, I guess: A house party on the upscale western fringes of town, with Kyle and a host of folks I really didn't know. The event was part holiday office fest, part going away shindig for Kyle's old high school buddy Zack, now a Seattle-ite and one of the chiller Missoula natives I've met in recent years. Lots of Deschutes beer, a tilted pool table and several rounds of fiercely competitive foosball. Regardless of the presence of a few stunningly attractive local grad students, Zack pressed Kyle to hit the town for his last night of the holiday. So I drove the three of us to Charlie B's around midnight, under the assumption that we'd burn out relatively fast.

At some point after 1 a.m., Zack broke from our conversation on the varied and more successful ways to meet women to ask where we were headed next. Bit of an odd time to throw the idea of barhopping on the table. Last call does come early in these parts, usually a good twenty minute before the bars actually close at 2 a.m. But who am I to argue with the prospect of a drink, especially when a new friend insists on picking up the tab.

We found ourselves at the Top Hat just in time for last call. I took slow pulls off a bottle of MGD while watching an extremely talented line of musicians rollick through the sounds of old Appalachia. Curiously enough, the fiddler, Hillary, so happened to be an old college acquaintance of mine and a high school familiar for both Zack and Kyle. The performance wound to a quick close. But before I could get the words "Pillow, here I come" out of my mouth, Zack came back from the bar with an interesting pitch. His friend Ben knew the house in the lower Rattlesnake to which the band's entourage was heading for a post-show bash. More importantly, the three of us were invited.

Less than an hour later, I'm funk-dancing to Fat Freddy's Drop in a two-car garage packed with woodworking equipment. The mandolin player, who I'll just call Freaky Frets, moondanced through piles of sawdust, sidestepping belt sanders and automatic drills in a drug-and-Scapegoat-induced trance. My body conveniently forgot its previous state of exhaustion in the interests of grooving sprinkler-style. By the time I settled into a spot in the living room, I highly doubted the night could get much better.

That's when the guitars came out. Not just two acoustic guitars, but two acoustic guitars and a lap steel. The mandolin appeared in new hands, as did a banjo, flute and stand-up bass. Before anyone could shout out a request, the band was in tune and off on round two. Every song dripped with whiskey and woe, mournful fiddle and lighting-fast flute. In no time, a grizzled ginger with a thick beard and a fedora had scrounged a washboard from the garage. One of the house tenants picked up a snare drum. When the scene wrapped up around 4:30, I was begging for more.

We dropped some drunk dude off on the far end of the Higgins bridge, gave our new pal Roan a ride home, and popped "Superbad" into the DVD player the minute we got in the door. I could hardly stand and, hoping not to doom Sunday too soon, hit the sheets.

And that's how this town works, I guess. The job gets you down sometimes, socialization can be a drag, and you never know when shit will hit the fan. But there's always a bluegrass jam session somewhere, as long as you're looking in the right places.

Just too fucking bad I forgot my camera.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Smurfit-Stone, continued

As mentioned in my previous post, the article on the Smurfit-Stone closure appeared in this week's Independent.

Have to say, there's a difference between hearing about the closure and seeing it up close at the one place where venting happens naturally. Working this story proved a great reminder why I got into my profession: people.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Missoula happenings

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. announced Monday morning that it's permanently shuttering the Frenchtown mill. For those of you unfamiliar with Missoula, the linerboard plant sits just west of town and employs hundreds of folks at the comfortable wage of $25.44 an hour. The plant has suffered a half-dozen temporary shutdowns over the past 15 years, but this latest development is troubling. As of Dec. 31, 417 people are out of a job.

Roy Houseman, acting president of the United Steelworkers Local 885, told me yesterday that—factoring for salaries alone—the closure will suck about $18 million annually from Missoula's economy. The trickle down has been covered extensively since news broke, and I jumped on the story myself as soon as we heard.

The 4 p.m. shift change at the mill Monday was, to put simply, depressing. Those coming out of the gate either declined to comment or said they'd basically spent the day in a daze. Connie Thompson, who met with a few of us press folk before the whistle blew, has worked at the plant for 27 years. "We tried to call everyone in our department during their day off to tell them, and most had already heard," she said. One example she offered up: a Smurfit-Stone employee got the news from a few bystanders at a gas station.

As for the moments following the announcement at work? "Everybody kinda sat looking at each other during a job meeting we had this morning," Howard Cotten told me across a concrete barrier. "Emotions ran high for a few second...then guys started talking about what to do next."

Some chose to put a bit of humor to the situation today.

I spent several hours in Frenchtown last night working on my story. Let's just say these guys are justified in their venting. Ten days till Christmas.