Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Friday, December 22, 2006


In 2006 I took 1404 photos. I have reviewed them all and there was only one good one. Here it is.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Free trade and the Flathead

Employment in the Flathead Valley is making some waves these days. The Missoulian has a take on it. Left in the West has a take on it, even David Sirota has a take on it. I think most of them have it wrong on one detail or another.

Left in the West and David Sirota are trying to spin this as some big free trade issue. Reading the comments on the Sirota blog has my head spinning over how out of touch some people really are. There are arguments about the minimum wage and securing our borders against immigrants and free trade agreements and about THE MAN putting the worker down. What a bunch of hookum.

The one tiny little detail that everyone is missing here is why the Flathead labor market is so weird. The Flathead Valley is a retirement destination. Retirees with no jobs and no need for jobs are arriving in droves. They are brining with them retirement money and a demand for services but they are not bringing with them any young people or working class families to provide the services. Demand for services and service workers is outpacing the supply.

To make it worse, the influx of retirees has wacked out the real estate market. Even though wages are above average high in the Flathead, prices of homes are still out of reach for the working stiff. In other words, even with the above average wages there is no incentive for working class persons to move here because there is no place to live and no way to build up a nest egg.

So now we have a supply and demand problem in the labor market. Employers are fighting a difficult fight to simply keep their businesses staffed. Some of the things they are doing includes raising wages and benefits but that does not solve anything when there are not enough workers to go around. So employers have to hire from outside the area. The novelty here is that some employers are looking outside the country.

There are those who call this a free trade issue and think that employers are trying to screw over the American worker by using foreign labor to keep wages down. They say all this is an international free trade problem and an illegal immigrant problem and a higher minimum wages will solve it and border control will solve it and if corporations simply cared more for their workers that would solve it. What a bunch of hookum. This might be true if there was any significant amount of unemployment. Or it might be true if wages for the Montanan workers here were not well above average, above the minimum, and in many cases well above the recently voted raised minimum.

Hypothetically even if we perfectly sealed the borders and totally denied work visas to foreigners and raised minimum wages to the point just shy of shopkeepers going bankrupt trying to meet their payroll, none of that, at least in the Flathead Valley, would make the problem go away. That is because there are not enough workers to go around. There is not enough affordable housing and non-wage incentive to bring more workers in. And the labor demand is still increasing faster than the supply.

In other words it is not a big international free trade issue, it is not a problem with THE MAN keeping the little guy down. It is simply supply and demand doing its thing. Theoretically if things keep going like they are, incoming retirees will eventually decide that the Flathead is too expensive to live in with not enough services and amenities and stop coming or even move out. I think they call this a supply and demand correction. Unfortunately waiting for it to happen is still painful for all the people on the short end of the supply/demand stick.

Sure, if we were to regulate or change some of the free trade labor laws, or use side agreements or whatever there would be some small affect on local labor conditions. But it will not solve the problem or do much to make the world a better place. If we want to improve the standard of living for the working class everyman in the Flathead Valley, don't go looking to regulate the supply and demand of international labor. Wages are already pretty high here, what needs to change is the non-wage incentives for workers to live here. Perhaps some working class tax breaks, insurance breaks, or here is a radical idea. Lets improve on the supply of affordable housing.

To accomplish this I think we need to lower the demand for the Flathead as a retirement destination. One good way would be if Mother Nature gave us a good long, hard, cold, old school, weeks of bitter cold, bursting pipes, car wont start, nasty winter. That would help drive some retirees out. But then again that would make this a global warming issue instead of a free trade issue. How about we just put up some 'Californian go home' billboards. That worked pretty well at solving the meth problem.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sledding hill snow report

Greetings winter fun enthusiasts, this is Montana Jones with your sledding hill snow report.

Conditions have been deteriorating on sledding hill with temperatures rising up to freezing several times during the past week resulting in sloppy melting conditions. Top of the hill has a base of two inches of packed and icy snow and the bottom of the hill also has a base of two inches packed.

The main 'big run with the bump' has been worn down to bare grass and dirt and is no longer useful for sledding. There is no snow making planned for the run at this time. Ten feet to the south on the 'other big run', the one without the bump, conditions are icy and fast. Get on this one while you can as grass is starting to show through the thin layer of ice and packed snow.

To the north end of sledding hill on the shorter 'kiddy run' there is still a good layer of slick ice and snow. This part of the hill is smaller but the sledding is still fine. We have had reports from near the base of kiddy run of some dirty snow conditions. Miss Penny Rothchild has claims the cause of this condition is "dog doo". Young miss Rothchild has gone on to blame Joey Birchman saying "That stupid dog of his just runs all over the hill and digs and gets in everyone's way and Joey doesn't do anything about it and doesn't clean up after it or nothin'."

On the southern end of sledding hill several youngsters are reported to be doing their sledding down the 'climb up spot' and other less than ideal fringe locations. Mr Johnny Richman explains "It's because that one little girl tries to climb back up the sledding run, sometimes she just stands at the bottom and cries like a baby until her dad comes down to pull the sled back up. So we gotta go down the climb up spot. It's a little bumpy but it's still fun."

There have also been reports of yellow snow near the telephone pole at the top of the climb up spot. Joey Birchman denies that his dog has anything to do with it. For once Penny Rothchild agrees with him. She thinks that Joey himself is to blame.

Penny also wanted to add for the record "Someone should make those teenagers pick up their litter too. They can't ever put their pop cans in the trash and they are too old to be playing on sledding hill anyway."

That is your sledding hill snow report for the week. We are expecting some warmer temperatures, rain and possible light snow for the upcoming week, hopefully this will solve the yellow snow problem.

Happy sledding.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

What I learned voting in the Montana Weblog Awards

You know the drill, go see Wulfgar, carefully consider the ballot and then vote. Reading all those blogs will probably take a while so you better get started.

The cool part of the MWA for me is the linky goodness. Exposing me to some blogs I don't usually read or sometimes have not even heard of before. Better people than I have said it best: Montana is a small town with really long streets. The MWA is a good way for us Montanans to meet our neighbors.

In the politics section I learned that my perception of Republicans as radical talking points mouthpieces that put party before country is not entierly accurate. Craig at MTPolitics has long been a voice of reason. My other pleasant surprise was Electric City Weblog. Not just shouting talking points and republican right or wrong rhetoric, the posts I read there, more than any other right leaning blog, were actually reasoned and thought out. Well done.

I also learned that my perception of Democrats as whiners and complainers is, well, okay that perception got reinforced on this last trip through the blogosphere. I don't know what to do about it though. My observation of politics over the past couple decades is that this nation desperately needs division of powers. When one party, either party, has too much power things start going to hell in a handbasket. So Dems, as much as I hate your whining I will tolerate you because we need you. You will know when you have gone too far when you see me rooting for the Republicans again.

In the independent aisle I discovered this great post from Moorcat at Pragmatic revolt. One of my single most important issues in the political sphere today and I see precious few people talking about it much less doing anything about it. Thanks for the writeup Moorcat.

Now if there is any one thing that you independent and Libertarian bloggers could do to make your voice better heard I would suggest grow a personality already. It is okay to express your passions in life. Follow Budge's lead and let some of that shine through okay.

Enough of politics. Politics tends to make me angry and I don't enjoy being angry. Forgive me if I don't stop by these blogs all that often.

On the creative and social front my most glaring observation is that no one really knows what the definition of popular culture is. But that is okay, I couldn't define it either. On the one hand it could be representative of all things pop. Pop star musicians, hot teevee shows, latest greatest movies, what the hip people are doing. On the other hand it is fairly popular with me and many people I know to downplay pop and find our own pieces of culture to emphasize. This appears to be the case with Montanans in general so the popular culture blogs tend to be all over the map.

Same could be said of the Montana lifestyle. Talk about a difficult thing to nail down. There is a common idea that the rancher/cowboy/hardworking/independent thing is defining of the Montana lifestyle. Sorta like how Sarpy Sam and Karbon Kounty Moos live. And that is okay because it comes from a powerful western mythos. Many people, myself included, like to soak up some of that myth with the Montana air we breath, even though we will never come closer to cattle than the steak we have for dinner. The crazy truth of it is that the Montana lifestyle is equally embodied by the outdoorsmanship of Out there with Tom or the urban living of Patia Stevens or even myself. I would like to think that I live a Montana lifestyle.

As far as most creative, best writing, best photography, most humorous goes. These things are subjective and I was incredibly impressed will all the nominees. My suggestion is go read all the nominated blogs because they are all good.

I think you should take the time to go read all the best post nominees too. All this reading takes time, I know because I did it myself, but these are our neighbors here. Go visit.

Because I think the best thing about the MWA is the linking and finding new blogs I want to shout out my own personal addendum. Some unofficial categories and the blogs that deserve some linking.

Best Montana blogger new in the past year:
Took her a little while to find her voice and when she did is was about politics. I will forgive her for that because she did some very thoughtful research and writing. I admit, I looked up her ballot initiative analysis when trying to figure out how to cast my vote this year. I'm looking forward to hearing what she has to say in a non election year.

Most unsung Montana blogger:
Just go read her. She has a girly/mommy blog, a Montana lifestyle blog and can crack me up all under one roof.

Single best overall Montana blogger that I go out of my way to read every single day:
Thoughts from the Middle of Nowhere
Sarpy Sam has a lot going for him. His quotations from famous persons alone are a good reason to visit every day but there is more to it than that. Sarpy writes with a simple eloquence and conviction that make him easy to read and very persuasive. He has managed to get me impassioned about the issue of animal id's and I have not been near a cow in over ten years. Add to that his excellent photography and, well, I go out of my way to read his blog every single day. It's that good.

And of course a special shout of thanks goes to Wulfgar for doing the work making these awards possible.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Spilt beer

A story told thrice.

Oh shit, that was not good.
Uh, oh. Looks like the bottom fell out.
Oh jeez, I'm sorry.
Don't worry about it, we will clean it up.
I sure know how to pick out the checkout lines don't I? Will you be closing this lane?
Yeah, just for a little bit until we can clean this up.
I'm sorry about that.
It's not your fault. It's usually wine bottles that fall. People put them on the end of the conveyer and it moves and there they go.
Looks like you had a spill here.
It's Kokanee.
No wonder I was drawn to it.
One of my favorite beers.
Here you go. Here is another case for you.
Thanks for taking the trouble.
It's no trouble.
I think I should buy you a beer for it.

My mind was obviously elsewhere as I lifted the case of beer from the cart to the conveyer. If I had been paying attention I may have noticed the shift in weight and the unusual jangle of glass on glass. It was the sudsy pop of the bottle hitting the floor that pulled me from my woolgathering. The case was on the conveyer where I had intended it to be, but there were loose beer bottles scattered in my shopping cart and at my feet a puddle of beer crowned ungraciously with broken glass. My shoulders slumped, my spirit dropped and I muttered "Oh shit, not good" to myself.

"Looks like the bottom fell out." The fellow ahead of me in line offered. The clerks and workers were quick to respond. Far flung glass was quickly corralled, a 'Caution, wet floor' placard was produced.

"I sure know how to pick the checkout lines, don't I?" Chimed in the lady in queue behind me. I gave her my best 'sorry about that' shrug and look of penance. She smiled and eyed the next lane over. "Will you be closing this lane?" She asked.

"Yes, for just a little bit until we can clean this."

The lady pushed her cart toward the next checkout lane. My heart sank a little more. One more person inconvenienced by my carelessness.

"Sorry about that." I offered to the clerk as my goods made it to the front of the queue.

"Don't worry about it." She replied. She appeared pretty indifferent to the whole thing. "It's usually the wine bottles that fall." She confided in me. "People put them on the end there and the belt moves and they just go over." It was nice to know that she was experienced with people breaking things in her checkout lane, but I still felt low over it. Making others do extra work. At home I would have laughed off the spilt beer, gently curse myself and fetch a mop. Here in public I didn't even know where the broom closet was. I had to let the workers do the damage control for me. Left me feeling helpless.

A supervisor making the rounds passed by and observed the mess and ensuing cleanup work. "Looks like you had a spill here." She said to the clerk.

"It's Kokanee." The clerk replied with a smile.

"No wonder I was drawn to it." The supervisor smiled back.

"That's one of my favorite beers." The clerk bantered to me. I did not feel much like chatting. I would have passed on the beer entirely just to make the awkward scene I had created go away. But someone was already running to get a replacement case and the workers were smiling and joking like it happens every day and I just paid the bill and stood there uncomfortably.

"Here you go, I got another case for you." Said a man as he gently lowered the box into my shopping cart.

"Thanks for taking the trouble." I said.

"No trouble." The man replied with a smile.

"Still, I think I should buy you a beer for it."

The man laughed as he went to help with the mopping.

If I hadn't been checking out the boobs on the cashier I might have noticed the bottom of the case of beer give way as I hoisted it out of my shopping cart. I did that to myself I suppose. I always choose my checkout lane by how cute the clerk is. The end result was an explosion of beer. "Oh shit. Not good." I mutter. Could have been worse. Only one of them hit the floor.

I paused to assess the damage and the guy in front of me in line observed "Looks like the bottom fell out." Gee, you think so? I'm thinking that the bottle climbed out of the box and jumped.

A couple workers converged on the mess and started to triage the broken glass. Sad, but that beer was a goner. Gave its life unconsumed. "Jeez, I'm sorry." I said. There is only one good way to off a beer and that was not it.

"Don't worry about it. We got it." said the clerk. Interrupting my reverie for the fallen soldier.

The lady behind me in line watched the scene a little amused. "I sure know how to pick the right line don't I?" she said. It is the fate of us all. Try as we might to pick an expedient path through life sooner or later we get stuck behind some guy breaking things. I think it was mostly bad luck. Her method for picking a line couldn't be any worse than mine. She didn't stick around, she tried the next lane over.

"I'm sorry about that" I apologized to the clerk.

"Don't worry about it." She replied. She obviously was not phased by it. It was not her beer and apparently it was not her job to go crawling around on the floor doing cleanup either. As she watched over the others doing the dirty work she confided in me. "It's usually the wine bottles that fall. People put them on the end there and the belt moves and over they go." She made the conveyer jerk to illustrate her point and we smiled together over her power to make people feel foolish and put cleaner drones to work.

Watching others clean a mess is apparently a popular pastime in the checkout aisle as a supervisor wandered past commenting "Looks like you had a spill here."

"It's Kokanee" the clerk replied with a hint of glee. As though it were a score in a contest to see who could create the widest variety of messes.

"No wonder I was drawn to it." Fawned the supervisor. We all smiled and nodded knowingly. For some of us the scent of fresh beer can be an aphrodisiac, a pheromone drawing us from miles away.

"It's one of my favorite beers." The clerk said. I had to agree. An affordable import. I never knew of it until I moved here. It is a beer that has managed to find the perfect balance between cheap and tasty.

I paid my tab and lounged against the counter a little. My habit of choosing cashiers by cuteness was paying off. While waiting on another worker to fetch a replacement case I got to admire the clerk some more and revel in the thought that this particular cutie shares my taste in beer. Careful there Jones. It is thinking like this that distracted you into spilling beer in the first place.

A guy finally arrived hefting a box. "Here you go." He said, setting it into my cart. "Here is another case for you."

"Thanks for taking the trouble." I said.

"No trouble." He replied. He was smiling like someone who just weaseled out of mop duty.

"Well, I think I should buy you a beer for it."

He laughed. Hopefully this crew was smart enough to put three or four extra bottles on the breakage inventory so they could each enjoy a cold one thanks to my mishap.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

In the bar

There is a strange tightness in my chest when the most attractive girl in the bar chooses to sit next to me. I smile my hello but keep most of my attention on my cheeseburger and the football game on teevee. I was torn about even leaving the comfort of home this cold evening. The deciding factor was not so much that I had no dinner in the fridge, but that I wanted some entertainment. And so I sat quietly at the bar and ate my burger and watched the football game and listened to the people around me tell their stories. Most stories people tell at the bar are not interesting. Drunks being self important makes poor insight to life. It's all about who wronged us and who did something stupid and how drunk we got that one time.

The girl is joined by her friend, the day shift bartender just off duty, and I can hear snippets of conversation. How he was so sweet and how she couldn't understand him and a longing for something greater in life. It would be the most interesting conversation in the bar except that I can't hear it very well over the din of the teevee and the boisterous patrons.

A girl joins the crowd on my other side. Sitting on the stool next to me and leaning into her group of friends her low rise jeans shows me the crack of her ass and a tattoo that says "respect" in flowery script. If she is trying to teach herself respect she put the tattoo where she cant see it herself, and if she wants respect from others I don't think she will get it by flashing her ass and her message at the same time.

At the end of the bar a young man is trying to be clever by throwing ice and insults at everyone nearby. When the attractive girls physically turn away from him in an effort to ignore him his retort is to raise his volume and shout out how he is complimenting them with his insults. It's not long before the girls pick up their drinks and move to the other side of the room.

The idea of leaving home and finding the company of others this evening was appealing not so long ago. And here I am alone in a boisterous crowd. I can't think of a single thing to say to anyone near me. No conversation starters, no ice breakers, no jokes. Not for the clever guy or the respectful girl or the attractive ladies. Even though there is beer and cheeseburgers and football on teevee, many good things, I have nothing in common with the people at the bar.

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