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Time for the New York Times!

Posted by Admin

Wrapped in five layers and dripping snot against a stiff sea breeze, I cut through Penn Station late Saturday night on my way back to my hotel in Midtown. I headed straight for a short stack of fresh Sunday New York Times. The print edition of the NYT is a rare orchid in Montana–it’s a 160 mile ride to Missoula on a Tuesday to pick up a mangled, three-day-stale SundayTimes.

Here at the Hudson Newsstand, people had already touched the top copy in the stack, limp with fresh-frozen ink. I slid out a thick folded copy halfway down and traded it for a five spot. There’s a special joy spreading out the Sunday Times on my hotel bed on a frigid Saturday night. I swallow hard at the fourth estate’s subdivided real estate at the bottom of the front page: a blue banner ad for Citibank.

The Times’ headlines are often brittle. “Information Law Empowers Indians”, “The Thorny Path to a National Black Museum”. These word-walls often fall in the very first paragraph with a gripping personal story. If my heart doesn’t follow my head, I rarely “see page 8”. Pages two and three serve up appetizers: synopses in the center framed by the best wares from Gucci, Barney’s and always in the upper right corner, Tiffany & Co. The Times’ dark meat resides deep in this first section–articles about Iran’s nuclear program, Ireland, Tunisia and spies across from full page ads that fight wrinkles, urge international travel and extoll Audi’s aluminum frame.

To remind us that our opportunity to make a difference has been shortened by another week, the front section ends with the obituaries of the sort-of-notable, and a tiny Lost and Found column whose single odd listing is ‘Jewish Home Lifecare’. If you’ve found a member of the Lost Tribe, please contact them. By the time I’ve slogged through the front streamate section, I deserve ‘Sunday Style’. This week I’m disappointed. I don’t watch‘Modern Family’ and I’m not a fan of boxing–either gender. Even the Gucci bag in the banner ad looks like a scary hybrid of something my grandmother carried: for many dollars, a handbag dipped in dowdy.

Inside are shoes I could never wear, art I cannot afford, an ad for engraved stationery (how do they stay in business?) accompanied by a vaguely depressing ‘Modern Love’ story about a woman who is resigned to looking at the bright side of living with her ex. My big consolation of this week’s ‘Sunday Style’ is the full size, full color picture of the Ralph Lauren saddlebag, which I could cut out and carry into the subway, pasted over my plastic laptop case. From a distance, it might look convincing.

I have never read more than two sentences of a ‘Vows’ story. OK, I admit I look to see if someone in a wedding is from Montana, because at least, by population, I have a one in a million chance of having met them. Charity parties? Never had enough means to be invited to one. Not far inside the New York Times, I find…the front page of The New York Post. Big black bold type, babe-breasts a red banner, Silvio Berlusconi. Below the fold? Obama and Chinese president Hu. In the ‘Week in Review’, State budgets, a story on immolation, and two whole pages under the headline of ‘Super Jobs’ followed by the words ‘Careers in Education’. I need to ask friends in education if, once they get them, these positions are really super jobs.

If the need is to impress, go directly to ‘Sunday Opinion’. Do not pause at original Livejasmin news: it’s much more important to know the buzz than to be genuinely informed about the stinger. If you don’t have time to read the opinions, at an awkward pause in your next dinner party, repeat the handy one sentence synopsis. It will do nicely. Try, “The feds crack down, but Lucky Luciano will have the last laugh”. If this does not work, try “Tunisian democracy has a chance, but it won’t likely spread”. I am afraid to read my former favorite section of the Sunday Times: ‘Real Estate’. I spent the last year, six trips and god-knows-how-much-money to fulfill my dream of owning a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. This dream is about to come true, and I dread seeing an even nicer place for less money.

If someone pasted hundred dollar bills inside the auto section, I’d never see them. And it’s not that I don’t like (some) sports, it’s just that I don’t like reading about them. The ‘Travel Section’? New York City is my default destination. Within the City there are enclaves and eateries from just about every culture on earth, only in January it’s probably colder.

The ‘Metropolitan’ section could be retitled “Mishmash”. Stories about Yoga, abortion and changing city blocks share a single page. Inside the content is lively, which is perfect counterpoint for a half-page ad for a club called “BJ’s”. Good god, don’t you easterners know what a BJ is? A BJ club probably has comfortable seats and plush carpet. I am a sucker for charts and graphs and maps with colored bubbles. There’s a spiffy one in the ‘Metropolitan’ today. It’s reassuring that people still want to convert numbers into pictures so I don’t have to.

By the time I hit ‘Sunday Business’, I’m beat. Besides, I rationalize. I didn’t buy the Wall Street Journal. I scan the headlines and marvel at the tiny yet legible type in the classified job listings. The last stop before bed on my late Saturday night is ‘Arts & Leisure’. Since I’m booked up until I leave on Tuesday, I resent seeing all the stuff I’m going to miss. I also resent the article on the Top Ten Composers since McCartney/Lennon didn’t make the cut.

By now it’s already late enough on Sunday morning that I’m no longer ahead of the curve. Early risers are beginning what I just finished, so there. Oh, and I’m saving the Magazine and Book Review for Monday morning’s bagel and schmear.

Genuine Falls

Posted by Admin

A Recent Image of Downtown Bigfork...

Featured in Signature Montana magazine’s Autumn 2010 Issue, this nostalgic essay awaits your comments and reflections about growing up or growing old in Great Falls… I remember the bait shop and general store in Bigfork back in the summer of 1966, a squeaky wire turntable of postcards and a barrel of sweaty iced soft drinks outside the front door. Bigfork smelled like lodgepole pine, oil soap, coffee, and the faint odor of fish guts. A few years ago, I took my family back to Bigfork. It smelled like money.

The city center of Bigfork today reminds me less of my childhood in Montana than it does Maui, with cowboys and pine trees in the place of hula girls and palms. Both of Montana’s Valley Girls–Gallatin and Flathead–look quite a bit different now than they did when I was growing up. They feel different, too. Great Falls, on the other hand, feels pretty much the same. For this, praise God, I am grateful. The cowboys who shop at Hoglund’s are the real thing, the hardware store is brimming with Hutterites, and I clean real manure off my plush carpet after I make a nice sale.

Northcentral Montana didn’t experience the boom of Montana’s Valley Girls, but the bust hasn’t been as loud, either. A friend who came back from Hawaii was waiting on Tenth Avenue South beside a backfiring pickup truck and a revving Harley. “These are my people,” she sighed.

My dad was a firefighter in the 1960’s, when Great Falls was growing at a brisk pace. Because he didn’t want to get lost on the way to a burning building, he’d pack us into our ‘58 Aqua Chevy wagon, and we’d snake our way around looking for Sunrise Terrace or Crescent Drive: Dad, intent at the wheel with a quorum of screaming kids; my dutiful mother; and often, my grandmother, who, like a colicky baby, calmed considerably when we deposited her rather large mass onto a car seat.

Bless Paris Gibson for laying out greater Great Falls: if you can find Central Avenue and you can count to fifty, it’s pretty hard to get lost. What our street names lack in character, they make up for in sanity. It’s the outskirts that are a little tricky. My father the fireman died back in 1968. Sometimes I wonder, would Dad get lost if I dropped him somewhere in Great Falls today? Of course not. ...and a recent picture of Downtown Great Falls

Central Avenue is pretty much the same, except for the weird corner bump-outs. The Civic Center, Tracy’s, not much is new. Witsoe’s Toy Store was gone by the time Daddy died, and many hand-carved landmark storefronts were already covered with modern aqua-hued facades. Dad would notice the empty lot where the B&B stood. He’d whistle and rub a hand over his thinning hair at the burned-out, blocked-off entrance to The Rocky Mountain Building. He’d wonder what happened to Dundas Office Supply before he realized it had been replaced with Times Square.

My beatnik uncle used to own Gary’s Drive In, a burger joint that, in 1962, was just about as far out as you could get on Tenth Avenue South. Gary had trampolines, then go-carts. It all added to the ambiance…and sometimes the indigestion. Dad would drive right by the place now. I think it’s a used car lot. Out toward Malmstrom, things look pretty much the same. Eddie’s is still searing steaks, the bowling alley is looking a little rough, and there’s a mélange of small businesses on the way to the Main Gate. Dad would miss the drive-in screen at the Motor Vu, which decayed in slow-mo over the course of a decade or two.

Riverview has spread beyond Skyline Drive, which was decent dryland farm country back then. In the station wagon we’d head toward Hill 57, where the rolling arroyo on this side of despair was being filled in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s with ranch homes, built by the likes of Kessner, Gauer, and Daniels, with the help of guys like my dad, who swung a hammer to feed his five kids on his days off from the fire station. If you dropped Dad at the Fairgrounds, he’d walk right up to his old firehouse and recount the story of the air show crash back in ‘46. He’d take one look at the big Four Seasons Arena, and let out a “Well, Doggie!” just like Jeb on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Dad could easily orient himself at the Industrial Park. Even without the stack, it’s hard to miss the Missouri. The only place he might get turned around is Marketplace, or behind City Motors. “Where the hell are we?” I can hear him ask, because next to Judge Bill Coder, my dad had about the foulest mouth in town. Over the years, I’ve imagined my deceased dad just about everywhere in town. I haven’t the heart to drop him in Bigfork.I’m afraid he’d get lost.

Nostalgia for the Slightly Nasty–A VISIT TO BIG SCARE COUNTRY.

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By harvest time back in ‘06, Conrad Burns and Jon Tester had thrown so much fertilizer over the airwaves our entire State smelled like a cattle auction. I recorded this essay for Marc Rosenwasser at CBS Evening News‘ for their ‘Free Speech’ segment. The day it was due to air Bill Bradley died, and much of the newscast was dedicated to Bradley’s incredible career. My two minute rant, taped at CBS affiliate KRTV, never aired. It’s been four years and dirty politics has gone viral. The stuff from four years ago looks tame next to the New York governor’s race, and “jokes” on Faux News about killing President Obama. Nasty, I am afraid, is the new normal.

Big Scare Country (written in 2006)

After the election Montana needs to change our state motto from ‘Big Sky Country’ to‘Big Scare Country’. Out here in what’s left of the Wild West, in a place where cattle still outnumber people, folks on all sides have set out to throw armloads of steaming cow dung at our political rivals. If you throw enough cow dung at your opponent some of it is bound to stick. I’m not sure where it’s sticking, but it sure is starting to smell bad in Montana.

We have one of the hottest U.S. Senate races in the country reaching a fever pitch in these last few days of the campaign. The Republicans have played Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Dick Cheney, and Majority Leader Bill Frist. If they up the ante by bringing President Bush to Billings, it might fill an inside straight. I don’t know if the National Republican Committee knows Montana voters too well, though…when Big City politicians pay too much attention, it feels less like cheerleading and more like predators circling to protect what’s rightfully theirs.

Our incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns, seeking his fourth term in office, is in a hard fought battle. His opponent, Jon Tester, an organic farmer wearing a “full body Republican suit” has been wielding a good size shovel himself, and with a little help from the dirt digging department in the Democrat Central Committee, he’s come up with some nasty ads to compensate for the Democrat’s shortage of national political leaders that Montanans actually like.

Both Burns and Tester have nasty broadcast advertising. And at some point in their thirty second spots, Burns or Tester sidle on screen and proclaim, “I’m Jon Tester and I approve this message”. I don’t know if Burns mom or Tester’s mother are still alive, but if that was my boy I’d come on screen and pull my son by the ear, make him knock on the other mother’s front door and apologize. “Say you’re sorry, Conrad.” Only in America could a candidate for national office say something on television that would get him kicked out of Junior High.

Then it dawned on me…my own mother’s perennial admonition, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Sure, there is a forum for criticizing your opponent, but a dirty thirty-second sound byte just stirs that which smells bad. I propose these candidates be mandated to stop polluting our airwaves and our political process, by legislation if necessary. I propose a ban on mentioning your opponent in television advertising. Candidates could talk about themselves or their party, what they have done, their proposals, or their vision of the future.

A ban on mentioning your opponent in 30-second TV spots might force our candidates to talk about solutions instead of kvetching. As a nation, we may not agree about Global Warming, but we can all do something to reduce the hot air of TV ad campaigns. Mrs. Burns? Mrs. Tester? Are you listening?

The Tea Party IS America:Great Falls Tribune Feature Editorial

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The tea party isn’t bad for America. It’s not good for America. It IS America. Our societal institutions are in a state of near collapse. We’re spending thousands of dollars a year per student on a poorly rated public school sys¬tem; we have deadly bacterial infections in hospitals; the Chi¬nese own our national debt. We are increasingly obese and we have nuclear missiles in our own backyard aimed at Russia, for goodness’ sake.

It was so much easier when all we had to fight was the Commie Menace. Being our own worst enemy means we hunker down on both sides of the fence, scratching our heads and our behinds about how to get out of our own line of fire. The tea party appeals to the human need for simplistic, patriotic rhetoric instead of proposing difficult, responsible solutions. Some tea party mem¬bers don’t see the inconsistency of opposing flag burning and cheering on the burning of someone else’s holy book.

It’s easier to wave flags, eat fried food and let someone else face the real issues. When that doesn’t work, we’ll vote someone else in to replace the idiots we voted in last time. The bad news is that our economy may never recover. Never. We may have lived through the apex of Western Civilization.

The recovery, when it takes shape, will tilt the world on a new economic axis: likely China, India, and Brazil. I want less BANG in Afghanistan and Iraq for my buck, and I’m willing to take a little shrapnel in the guise of painful reform. The tea party seems angry that after two years in office, the Whiz Kid hasn’t solved all of our problems, and he’s been unable to drag Congress, kicking and screaming, along with the mandate that got him elect¬ed. The tea party solution is to throw the Smart Kid out and give the Clampetts a chance. They have all that oil money, and that five string banjo kicks ass.

People like Sarah Palin appear to be fueled by frustra¬tion, incited by simplistic dia-tribe, and are the reason that high school English teachers grind their teeth. Is the tea party our future? What happened to the Romans of the Ancient Empire when their infrastructure decayed? Did the natives of the North¬ern Plains thrive after the com¬ing of the white man?What happens to us after the Industrial Revolution?The appeal of the tea party is a logi¬cal, predictable result of socie¬tal decay.

The Slow Leak: Fatty Food & Fossil Fuel

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By the time we are forty, most of us have a slow leak: we carry around our own mini-Deepwater Horizon disasters. Whether it’s fatty food or fossil fuel, we’d rather listen to stop-gap solutions sold by profiteering infomercials. It’s easier, and it keeps our hands busy. While we’re trying to combat annoying symptoms, we needn’t bother to find a cure. The planet, like our bodies, is a closed loop. Instead of leaving a foul-smelling trail, our bodies just bloat up. With planetary or personal systems, we count on redundant purification to keep us from keeling over. So far, so good.

Sure, we might get diabetes or high blood pressure or just become morbidly obese, but there are pills, diet plans and even surgeries for that. We might have a planetary disaster or two, but that’s no reason to change our lifestyle, is it? Plenty of fish in the ocean…uh, just not in the Gulf of Mexico for a generation or two. Americans push enough fat, sugar, alcohol and chemicals down our collective gullet that it’s a wonder we function at all. We often shun exercise and relegate deep thinking to places called ‘tanks’. We look at the world’s larger problems and ask why someone doesn’t “do something”. Excuse me; pass those chips, will you? I don’t want to get up.

Bodies are amazing things, and often, we manage to plod along with minor aches and pains, despite a barrage of self abuse. My fear? Catastrophic system failure on a personal and planetary level. Yesterday I went to the Independence Day Parade in downtown Great Falls, Montana. The good news: patriotism appears to be in good supply. The bad news: I doubt we could waddle away from our enemies, let alone dig a foxhole for cover. For a moment I flashed forward six months: Santa’s Ho-Ho-Ho belly was strapped on everyone of every age and stature. Great Falls had parades when I was a kid: people were not this big.

Remember Bonanza on TV? There was Hoss, played by Dan Blocker. Hoss was a big fella, and back in 1964 I’d blink twice looking at him beside fellow actors Michael Landon and Parnell Roberts. Flipping through the channels recently, I caught a re-run, and I wondered why everyone else looked puny. Hoss ain’t a big fella anymore. He’s an American. All those generations fighting and dying for our freedom, and once we perceive that the threat is over, we sit down and we don’t want to get up. Slowly, quietly, the threat becomes insidious. It becomes ourselves.

Speaking of getting up, can you pull another Bud out of the cooler for me? Thanks. Turns out that running from our enemies was good for us. It kept us on our toes, literally. If I didn’t get on the honor roll, if I didn’t get the President’s Physical Fitness Award, the Commie Menace might win. Realizing that we are our own oily enemy–fatty food and fossil fuel–doesn’t motivate us: all this news coverage just causes stress eating, which leads to indigestion, which makes us ask for the prescription medication we saw on TV. Line the medicine cabinet with enough of this stuff and it will cure you of your ultimate problem: Life.

I’m worried about more than our bodies. Are there any double-blind field studies being done on how obesity affects brain function? Catching people’s eyes in downtown Great Falls yesterday, I wondered if this layer of fatty glaze interferes with deductive reasoning skills, making facts and ideas too slippery to grasp and retain. Obviously our oil addiction has interfered with our intellect: real, painful solutions would be in place if we were thinking straight. Maybe I won’t have that deep fried Snickers Bar after all, but mmmm, it looks mighty good.

I’m a Great Falls native, a product of local public schools, and a lifelong resident. I ain’t no anemic eastern liberal…still, I found myself looking at the Chinese-made flags waving from distended lawn chairs and wondered how long our redundant filtration systems can persevere before our webbing gives way and our collective asses wind up in the gutter. If we boil ourselves in our own oil…could I have fries with that?

Replacing Andy Rooney with Andy Warhol/The Last Few Minutes of 60 Minutes

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After watching Andy Rooney fumble through a two minute coda tonight on 60 Minutes, I couldn’t resist re-posting this suggestion to CBS News: That ticking black stopwatch is more significant for Bill Geist and Nancy Giles, two commentators often seen on CBS Sunday Morning. They are probably backstage tapping their fingers, biding their time to become the heir apparent for Andy Rooney. I wouldn’t put it beyond them to send Rooney thoughtful gift baskets with fat-laden treats and cigars.

I hope they are disappointed: Andy Rooney’s successor might not be waiting in a CBS studio. He might be in the bathroom mirror in Pittsburgh or yelling at the kids in Spokane. CBS has tried citizen commentators before. It’s time to give the last few of those 60 Minutes to the senior citizens who bookend their Sundays with Charles Osgood and Mr. Rooney.

Wedged between short segments in war and politics, for a couple of years The CBS Evening News Free Speech Segment attempted to become the venue for ordinary Americans to speak out. The concept was abandoned without fanfare in 2006. Free Speech wasn’t a bad idea: it was just the wrong venue.With overwhelming hard news, the twenty-odd minute Nightly News is not the forum for cogent feedback. Free Speech deserves a new life, a transplant where it’s more likely to thrive. Tick, tick, tick.

Did you hear Andy Rooney complain this evening (4/25/10) about the lack of primary care physicians? Hardly a news flash. It brought back sad memories of Harry Caray during his last drooling seasons with the Cubs. The producers probably have more respect for Rooney’s body of work than for his recent commentaries. Rooney might be a great guy, but he has the stage presence of a not-so-delightful cross between A.A. Milne’s “Eeyore” and a weary Studs Terkel. Go ahead and retire with dignity, Mr. Rooney. Get a winch for that desk and update your memoirs from a posh perch on the Upper East Side.

Once the office is cleaned out, let’s replace Andy Rooney with Andy Warhol. This is the digital age: condense Warhol’s ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ down to three or four. Open up You Tube, hire a new producer, go through submissions. Pick one to air, and maybe four “runners-up” to link to CBS News’ website. Reviving Free Speech within the context of television’s premier newsmagazine accomplishes many goals:

*It gives viewers a level playing field to have a say in a respected venue.

*It may broaden the base—is Uncle Charley from Butte, Montana finally going to get the chance to tell off the Feds? The segment will widen viewership for web and broadcast. The demographic right now is fairly easy to deduce, given the geriatric content of advertising placement and all those white heads in the studio.

*It would saves money. Talent is everywhere. Post basic requirements and links on the CBS News website, where hits and submissions are bound to explode.

*It offers commentators more freedom than the old 90-second Free Speech segment, and gives a voice to stories that are best told in ‘first person’.

Of course, I volunteer to be your first citizen commentator. It may be hard to be as much at ease as Andy is behind his famous burlwood desk, but even Andy might admit it’s not hard to be better looking.