The Billings Outpost

Telecommuting seen as key to keeping workers here

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

As members of the burgeoning Montana High Tech Business Alliance prepared to meet last week in Bozeman, they announced that the alliance includes 200 high-tech firms just a year after it was founded.

The announcement came as Greg Gianforte, who founded the alliance and is chairman of its board of directors, was meeting with chambers of commerce and local officials around the state, urging them to get on board in an effort to bring Montana natives back to the state to work.

“The number of high tech and manufacturing firms in Montana is astonishing,” Mr. Gianforte said in a news release. “The speed in which these firms have identified themselves and joined the Alliance is an indication of something great. These businesses represent the fastest growing industry in Montana. To see so many of them come to the table to decide how to improve and grow their industry in the state holds incredible potential to create better Montana jobs so we can stop exporting our kids and grandkids.”

When he met with the Billings Chamber of Commerce last month, Mr. Gianforte said that efforts to bring Montanans back to Montana should not be restricted to high-tech jobs. Telecommuters can now work in a variety of jobs, including event planning and medical records, he said.

While those who attended the Billings meeting generally were enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing back new workers, they also raised some concerns.

The most visible were protesters from the Democratic Party, who held up signs and issued news releases calling on Mr. Gianforte to apologize for remarks he has made about Social Security and retirement.

Mr. Gianforte had said earlier that retirement was not mentioned in the Bible and that Noah built the ark when he was, according to the book of Genesis, 600 years old.

Mr. Gianforte has been touted as a possible candidate for governor, although he has not announced his candidacy. He said after the Billings meeting that he hated to see Democrats make a political issue of his remarks.

Others at the meeting expressed more immediate concerns. Among them:

• The lack of high-speed internet access in some parts of Montana. Mr. Gianforte said that most Montana communities have enough bandwidth to handle telecommuting workers.

• A general lack of high-paying jobs in Montana. Some at the meeting noted that workers who come here for a good job, then lose it, may not be able to find another good job.

• A shortage of networking opportunities in Montana.

• A shortage of computer science majors here.

• The absence of cultural opportunities available in metropolitan areas.

• The low rate of unemployment already in cities like Billings, where the unemployment rate has been below 3 percent in recent years.

• Limited airline service.

• The inability of some workers to be productive outside of an office environment. “Telecommuting is not for everybody,” one attendee said.

• The reality that not all parts of Montana are attractive to potential telecommuters. One Hi-Line resident reportedly said, “We don’t have much here, but there’s a lot of it.”

Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development, said, “We can’t grow our economy if we’re not growing talent here.”

Bob Wilmouth, who ran the physician assistant program at Rocky Mountain College before become president of the college, agreed.

“Everybody needs to understand at age 4 what a college degree can do for them,” he said. But he said that 75 percent of PA students want to stay in Montana but only 25 percent actually do.

Mr. Gianforte said the key is to concentrate on Montana natives who may leave the state after college but who eventually want to return. The internet makes it possible for many of them to keep their big-city jobs while still living in Montana.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:36

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Research grants awarded

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock and Montana Department of Commerce Director Meg O’Leary last week announced the recent award of $698,091 in grants to eight research projects in Missoula, Billings, Bozeman and Belgrade. The funding is being made available through the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology (MBRCT).

“These state-of-the-art projects will significantly and positively impact Montana’s opportunities for economic growth,” said Bullock. “Through investments in innovative research and commercialization, we’re not only supporting cutting-edge projects and jobs today, but we’re also helping to define what Montana’s economy looks like for years to come.”

The MBRCT supports economic development by investing in research projects that have a clear path to commercialization. The MBRCT has funded 216 research projects totaling $41 million since 2001.

The fifth Pillar of Bullock’s Main Street Montana Project outlines steps that Montana can take to encourage innovation in Montana. During the recently ended legislative session, Bullock secured $15 million to support research and development in the Montana University System.

“These grants are an investment in Montana’s technology future and in the industries and companies that develop around this research activity,” said O’Leary. “Since the program’s inception, MBRCT-funded projects have attracted over $345 million in follow-on funding, enhancing the economic impact of the research.” The funded projects and grant awardees for fiscal year 2016 include:

•Antilipidemic and Anti-adipodicity Impact of PTBP in Mildly Hyperlipidemic and Overweight but Otherwise Healthy Volunteers (Jeff Golini, All American Pharmaceutical Inc., Billings); $12,500

• Structural Analysis and In Vivo Characterization of BH3I-1 and BH3I-1 Derivatives (Kurt Toenjes, Montana State University Billings, Billings); $92,039

• Inhibition of Retinoic Acid Metabolism in the Skin for the Treatment of Acne (Fanny Astruc-Diaz, DermaXon LLC, Missoula); $59,537

• Enhancement of Applied Research in Biomedicine (Richard Bridges, University of Montana, Missoula); $25,000

For more information about the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology and the recent awards made by the Board, please contact Dave Desch, Executive Director, at (406) 841-2759 or visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:35

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Transportation was tricky in old town of Bannack

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a six-part series about Bannack.

By RICK and SUSIE GRAETZ - University of Montana - Department of Geography

In early September 1862, freighters from Utah were heading for customers in the Deer Lodge Valley when they heard of this latest gold strike. Realizing they could shorten their trip and sell the goods in Bannack, they made an impromptu detour. This decision no doubt helped many of the miners survive the coming cold months.

When winter arrived, the camp wasn’t exactly what could be labeled a town. Those who came first had no intention of staying. Get the gold and move onto another place was their motto. Few “buildings” had any semblance of permanency. New provisions arrived erratically as wagon trains were often delayed by the weather.

Getting to Bannack from anywhere was an enormous effort. Those brave or desperate enough to chance fate had to contend with long distances over rugged terrain, wild and unpredictable weather such as fierce blizzards and monumental snowstorms, and Native Americans who were unhappy with this invasion by the white men.

By spring 1863, 3,000 people found their way to Bannack. Another 2,000 were living up and down the gulch in four other settlements: Marysville, Bon Accord, New Jerusalem and Dogtown.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2015 10:47

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Bannack discovery launched Montana gold rush

By RICK and SUSIE GRAETZ - University of Montana

Fur trappers following in the Corps of Discovery’s footsteps left no settlements in their wake. But a mere 50 years after Lewis and Clark, prospectors were combing the West for gold. One man was instrumental in adding Montana to the gold-seekers’ travel itinerary, inadvertently setting events in motion that would lead to the settlement of Bannack and, eventually, Montana.

A twist of fate led Granville Stuart to the gold deposits in the country that was to become Montana. In 1857, Granville, his brother James and cousin Reece Anderson were mining in Yreka, Calif., when they decided to return to Iowa to visit family. The trio commenced their eastward trek on July 14, 1857.

When the group arrived at Malad Creek (south of today’s Pocatello, Idaho), Granville became gravely ill and spent nearly two months recovering. Here he overheard rumors of possible placer gold near the Deer Lodge Valley in what was then Dakota Territory (seven years later to become Montana Territory).

On April 4, 1858, they moved to the Deer Lodge Valley and eventually joined up with Thomas Adams. On May 2, 1858, the Stuarts, Anderson and Adams set out for Benetsee. Being unprepared to work the area, they left the country and didn’t return until the warm months of 1860, when they founded a small camp near Gold Creek, calling it American Fork (nothing is left of it today). Granville wrote to his other brother Thomas in Colorado, urging him to join them. Through that bit of correspondence, word got out to the “Pike’s Peakers,” as the Colorado prospectors were called, that this northern territory held gold.

Two years later, while aiming for Idaho, a Colorado party led by John White was prospecting its way through southwest Montana. Coming to Lewis and Clark’s Willard Creek, they headed up its gulch to try their luck. On July 28, 1862, while panning the gravels of what they called Grasshopper Creek – owing to the dense population of “hoppers” on its banks – the prospectors hit upon a bonanza. The place of discovery came to be called White’s Bar and the “Grasshopper Diggings.” Shortly, the sound of “Eureka!” echoed through area mining camps, setting off a genuine gold rush to Montana and bringing a dramatic change throughout the southwest part of Big Sky Country.

The strike was about three miles downstream from where the gold camp eventually sprouted, and early miners named their camp after a local tribe, the Bannock Indians. The spelling was inadvertently changed when the town’s name was submitted to Washington, D.C., for the post office in 1862.

By the fall of 1862, up to 500 people had moved into Grasshopper Creek. It is estimated that by the time winter halted work, $700,000 worth of gold had been collected along the creek.

At first glance, Bannack must have seemed an unlikely place to look for an ore body. The pebbles and boulders along the creek are limestone, a specimen that rarely contains gold. And since there is no gold upstream from Bannack and very little downstream, the source of the bedrock gold must be within the cliffs above the area.

Geologists surmise that during a period of widespread volcanic activity in southwestern Montana, the limestone canyon walls on each side of Grasshopper Creek and a few hundred feet above its level were intruded by large masses of molten magma. The rock formed by the hardened magma was the most common igneous intrusion – granite.

When molten granite magma comes in contact with limestone, it reacts to create a wide variety of minerals. As the magma hardens, it forms an outside layer over the granite intrusion, separating it from the limestone. This mineral-filled contact zone may be anywhere from a few feet to a few hundred feet thick.

Prospectors have long known that contact zones around granite intrusions, especially those in limestone, are likely to contain deposits of gold. The early miners at Bannack must have learned that lesson well. Before the summer of 1862 ended, they had found the gold in the contact zone and staked claims around its margins on both sides of Grasshopper Creek.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 July 2015 14:10

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Reenactment still on for Medicine Tail Coulee

Reenactors plunge into the river on their way to combat in the Real Bird Reenactment. Photo courtesy of the Custer Battlefield Museum

GARRYOWEN – The 21st annual Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment, hosted by the Real Bird Family at Medicine Tail Coulee, will go on as scheduled.

On Thursday, June 25, at 4 p.m., in memory of the Native Americans and members of the United States 7th Calvary who fell in combat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a wreath will be laid at the Peace Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Garryowen. Following the commemoration, a three-volley rifle salute will be given, and the American flag will be lowered to half-staff by the U.S. Cavalry School’s staff and students.

Visitors are encouraged to arrive early to see the contingent of mounted riders in full uniform as they arrive at the town of Garryowen for this solemn ceremony honoring the combatants on each side of the historic Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:06

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Read more: Reenactment still on for Medicine Tail Coulee

Cavalry School offers broad training

The U.S. Cavalry School, based at Fort Harrison offers horsemanship and tactics training on the staff ride at Custer’s Last Stand and at its “Custer’s Last Ride” Adventure Course.

Members train to fight in the Little Bighorn Battle Reenactment, receive gun familiarization training for horses, make cavalry encampments and get instruction in cavalry history.

Training focuses on the Civil War and Indian War period of the Frontier Cavalry trooper. Participants can experience the U.S. Cavalry School on the banks of the Little Bighorn River at Garryowen, Methow Valley of Washington State, Helena or at your location.

The school has equestrian trainers, subject matter instructors, and support personnel. The professional staff includes retired military officers and NCOs, some with active Army Cavalry service; Frontier Army and Native American scholars; experienced movie re-enactors, and Northwest outfitters.

Families and first-time riders are welcome. Experienced horsemen and re-enactors also are trained.

The “Custer’s Last Ride” Adventure/Little Bighorn Cavalry Adventure is June 20-28. The ride retraces Custer’s trail, camping on the banks of the Little Bighorn, and takes part in the reenactment.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:00

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Gauntlets donated

Custer’s leather gauntlets are at the Custer Battlefield Museum.

The Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen is the location of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s red, white and blue beaded, elk hide gauntlets, which were reportedly removed from Custer’s body following the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

“These amazing gauntlets have been privately held by Native Americans and passed down through the years and survived the last 139 years,” said Christopher Kortlander, Founding Director.

According to oral and written history, the gauntlets were beaded for Custer by the Sioux with a design, which helped identify Custer, who was a friend to some Native Americans. Following Custer’s death on Last Stand Hill, the gloves were reportedly taken from his body by a Sioux woman, believed to be the wife of a Sioux chief, and later returned to the Sisseton Sioux who originally beaded the gauntlets.

Tom Greenwood, an early Native American activist and advocate, who helped to create the Indian Services League of Chicago in the early 1950’s, received the gauntlets from his father in 1938 (Greenwood’s grandfather was a Chief of the Sisseton Sioux tribe.) Greenwood strictly adhered to the instructions of the Sisseton Sioux that the gloves never be allowed to be touched or possessed by any agency or representative of the federal government. In the late 1940’s, Greenwood passed the gauntlets to a Native American friend and colleague Richard Becker, who then passed them on to Richard Jorgensen in 1982.

Mr. Jorgensen held the gauntlets in safekeeping for the next three decades, until he donated them to the nonprofit Custer Battlefield Museum.

 He felt the gauntlets’ proper place was among the museum’s outstanding collection, where they will be on display for public viewing. Mr. Jorgensen remarked, “Now that I’ve reached 74 years old, ideally, it’s time to pass them on.”

The gauntlets, reportedly one of a few known items of General Custer’s personal effects taken from the historic Battlefield, feature a large beaded red, white, and blue star on the cuff of each glove, signifying Custer’s previous military rank.  The gauntlets show moderate wear and a dark stain on the left glove that is purported to be Custer’s blood. They are featured on permanent display at the Custer Battlefield Museum or can be seen online at

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:56

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Early map depicts battle

Courtesy of Chris Kortlander private collection This map appeared in the New York Semi-Weekly Tribune on July 14, 1876.

The New York SemiWeekly Tribune  ran the story of the Little Bighorn battle on Friday, July 14, 1876. Entitled “Custer’s Last Battle,” the lengthy narrative was accompanied by a map, or “Scene of the Little Big Horn Massacre,” and, at only three weeks after the battle, is widely accepted as the first battlefield map image to be published.

For the purpose of clarifying the interpretation of the map, a portion of the article, subtitled “The Death of Custer,” follows:

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:41

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Little Bighorn Days start in Hardin

HARDIN – Little Bighorn Days gets under way June 24 in Hardin and continues through Sunday, June 28.

Although the Custer’s Last Stand reenactment has been canceled this year, a full slate of events is scheduled, ranging from a historical book fair to a street dance.

The celebration ends with a nondenominational church service at 11 a.m. Sunday.

The schedule for the first two days is in this week’s Insider Calendar. The remainder of the schedule is below.



8 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Historical Museum, East of Hardin (small fee)

9 a.m. - 4 p.m.


$10 per person, Center Cinema  318 N. Center Ave.

Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Assn.

9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


Bob Smith Ford  416 N. Center Ave.

Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Assn.

9 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Sponsor: JailHouse Gallery

10 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Library 410 N. Custer Ave.

Sponsor: Big Horn Undercover Gals (free)

11 a.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Sponsor: Hardin Kiwanis

6 p.m.


Big Horn County Fairgrounds

Indian Relay Races




7 a.m.


5 K Run/Walk- $20 to participate/Mojes  829 West 3rd St.

8 a.m. - 5 p.m.


$55.00 per person, Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historic Museum Assn.

For more info call Ted Heath 319-329-1315

8 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Historical Museum, East of Hardin (small fee)

9 a.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Sponsor: JailHouse Gallery

9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


Bob Smith Ford   416 N. Center Ave.

Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Assn.

10 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Library  419 N. Custer Ave.

Sponsor: Big Horn Undercover Gals (free)

11 a.m.


West 3rd Street and Center Ave.

For info Debbie Wacker  665-1867

Noon to 3 p.m.


10th St. West & Cody Ave. ( Wilson Park) Fa.m.ily & food

Sponsor: Hardin Volunteer Fire Department

6 p.m. - 8 p.m.


Downtown Hardin 300 block Center Ave.

Suit case races, egg & balloon toss, etc. (free)


Big Horn county Fairgrounds

Indian Relay Races


9 p.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Band: Exit 53



8 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Historical Museum, East of Hardin (small fee)

11 a.m.


To be held at the Historical Depot 10 East Railway

11 a.m.



Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:31

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Native Days features powwow, rodeo

CROW AGENCY – Crow Native Days, which runs June 26-28, celebrates Crow culture and history with a range of events, including a rodeo, powwow and traditional games and competitions.

Rodeo slack is at 8 a.m. Thursday, June 25. Performances are at 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Crow Native Days Powwow runs Friday through Sunday with grand entry at 7 p.m. each day at the Powwow Grounds in Crow Agency. Four age categories compete in such dance styles as Crow style, traditional, fancy, jingle, fancy shawl and grass. Masters of ceremonies are Kasey Nicholson and Burton Pretty on Top.

Traditional activities include the Ultimate Warrior and Lady Warrior challenges, a test of strength, speed and agility. A parade and veterans program also are planned.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:30

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Crazy Horse remembered

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. – After visiting the Little Bighorn, June 26 is your opportunity to see Crazy Horse Mountain Carving light up in a display of pyrotechnics.

Ruth’s Night Blast, celebrates the birthday of the late Ruth Ziolkowski (1926 - 2014), wife of the late Crazy Horse sculptor. The day also commemorates the Battle of the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876).

The Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, was a decisive victory for the Lakota. Crazy Horse was a main strategist in the defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his troops. 

Visitors to Crazy Horse Memorial on June 26, will be able to enjoy many other activities throughout the complex. Native American dance performances will be at 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Hands-on activities will be held for children in the Native American Educational and Cultural Center and from 6-9 p.m. there will be a flute performance. Stop in the Laughing Water Restaurant after the blast for birthday cake. 

Admission will be waived after 5 p.m.; a donation of three cans of food will be appreciated.

The blast will be after the Laser Light performance at approximately 10 p.m.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:18

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Good old hockey, that graceful, violent game

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

It’s that time again: the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and in June, no less, thanks to artificial ice. The Stanley Cup, Le Coupe Stanley, was created in 1892 by Lord Stanley of Preston, then governor general of Canada. His entire family loved hockey, with his sons and daughters all playing. The Montreal Hockey Club won the first award in 1893.

The Cup, also called The Holy Grail, is the oldest sports trophy in North America. It weighs 34 1/2 pounds and is 35 ¼ inches tall. It was originally a silver punch bowl, but is considered so sacred to hockey that it has been replaced with a coin silver replica resting atop silver layers engraved with the names of the winning team for each year. After 122 years, some layers have been retired.

The trophy is so beloved and significant that only members of the National Hockey League Hall of Fame are allowed to transport it to the finals. Winning teams may have it in their possession for 24 hours.

It took the Canadians to invent ice hockey. Few places in the world have the long winter to produce the natural ice required. The stick came from field hockey, but the ball bounced out of the rink when hit.

About 1875, an inventive person sliced the ball in half and placed it flat side down. The puck is still black rubber, 1-by-3 inches, and can travel up to 105 miles per hour.

Getting hit with one is no joke. Up until the advent of helmets and masks, players routinely suffered multiple broken noses and lacked front teeth. After being hit in the face, Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens created his own mask. Modern masks turn the goalie into a science-fiction figure.

I love hockey. It’s graceful and violent at the same time. I developed my affection as a student at Michigan Tech, that great hockey school on the Keweenaw Peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior. We played a lot of Ivy League schools who traveled two days from the East Coast to play us in the old, rickety Dee Stadium. Cold air seeped through the cracks in the wooden sides. Those teams from wealthy schools must have felt like they were slumming, but they kept coming back.

It was then I saw my first Zamboni, that amazing machine that replaced men with brooms and shovels. It was fascinating to watch. I can see why Snoopy took up the Zamboni. What a great word, Zamboni - right up there with garbanzo.

I further burnished my hockey obsession by marrying a Canadian fellow student, Greg Pyke. His Uncle Stephen worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Co. and got us tickets right on the blue line (center rink) to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was grand. The gift of hockey is the second best thing Pyke gave me, after our two daughters, who, of course, have dual citizenship.

I also had the good fortune to watch my young cousins-in-law, Tommy and Kenny, play Pee Wee hockey. They had all the equipment, from helmet to hockey skates, just in miniature. They would skate out on the ice and the referee would skate each player to his appropriate place for the face-off, then drop the puck. After a minute or two, the whistle would blow, and he’d skate around, helping up those boys who had fallen, and then drop the puck again.

I tried once to explain hockey to my second spouse. “Watch this, they’re setting up the play,” I said. He’s an intelligent person, but he didn’t get it.

I also tried to explain it to a girlfriend without any luck. Hockey must be an acquired taste, like candied ginger or sushi. Just when I think I’m over hockey, I tune into a game, and I’m glued to the action.

But ultimately, I follow hockey for the same reasons everyone else does. I get an adrenaline rush from the speed, the machismo and the violence of the game. What’s the difference between a game penalty for fighting and two minutes out for roughing? The ref decides. Sometimes, if the gloves haven’t come off, they just separate the opponents and there’s a pause while both teams change lines.

There are 12 different minor infractions, but anything a player can get away with happens. If your man’s taken a slash or a jab, you boo and curse the refs for not seeing it. If it’s your man, you smirk.

Lady Marie Evelyn Moreton Byng, Vicountess Vimy, wife of the Canadian governor general in the 1920s, created the Lady Byng Trophy. It is given to the player who has exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with excellent play. The trophy gets little attention.

This year’s Stanley Cup finals feature an old NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Chicago Blackhawks are named for the Sauk and Fox Illinois leader, Black Hawk, who represented his tribe in the same way Chief Plenty Coups did, not anything like the derogatory term used by that football team in D.C.

As of now, it doesn’t look good for the Blackhawks. Will the Lightning, a young team with half their members under 25 years old, beat the more experienced Chicago team?

ESPN predicts the Blackhawks will win this year, most likely winning in six games, while giving the Tampa Bay Lightning less than a one-in-three chance of pulling the upset and taking their second championship. Game five takes place in Tampa on Saturday, June 13, at 6 p.m. on NBC.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:32

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Efficiency aside, garbage never really goes away


Today was garbage day. A kind of holiday, really. Last night, I put the trash can out by the curb (OK, my husband put out the trash) and this morning, miraculously, a city employee in a large truck came, used a magic gizmo to pick up the can, dumped it out into the truck’s large bin, and replaced the can on the ground. An hour or two later, I wheeled the can back into the yard by the garage. How slick is that?

Oh, and did I mention that the city provided the can? Service and a fancy plastic receptacle to boot. All for about $9 per month.

Throughout my life, garbage day has been a constant. Well, it happened twice a week in Florida, and, in Maine, the service was directly by private contractor. Growing up in Salt Lake City, I knew that gulls flocked to our neighborhood every Monday for a reason. But, despite regional differences, the overall pattern has remained unchanged for five decades: I use things, I put the residue of those things in the trash, and someone comes along and takes all the icky stuff away. For a mostly nominal fee.

Over the years, of course, I have learned to consume less, to recycle more, and to compost. Yet, the waste products, however minimal, would pile up if I were not visited by those blessed beings, the sanitation workers.

Not to go all sentimental and stuff, but sanitation workers are the cream of the crop. Even in Florida, where many people distrusted government employees, sanitation crews were revered and supported. Did I mention that they were mostly African-American crews, and the town where I lived was majority white and bigoted? Didn’t matter.

The thing is, we have to have garbage service if we want to live in a clean and healthy city. Whatever problems have occurred at the Billings landfill, the vast majority of sanitation workers are faithfully performing a vital service, one that, miraculously, Americans can actually agree is necessary. No political divide there. Democrats and Republicans make garbage, and Democrats and Republicans want their garbage to go away.

So maybe Republican garbage is red and Democratic garbage blue. Or would it be the other way around?

Same thing, of course, holds true for sewage. Flush the toilet, and, as the jingle used to say, there go your troubles down the drain.

But wait. Hold on. Not so fast.

Landfills fill up. Home mainlines break once or twice (tree roots, orange bird — don’t ask). Even whole sewage systems fail, at least according to a recent story in The Guardian about a giant glob of turkey grease and baby wipes that plugged up a London line and took three weeks to clean.

What I often wonder about as I sweep dog hair and crumbs from the floor of my kitchen and then dump the sweepings in the kitchen garbage can and then dump the contents of that can into the outdoor trash can and then haul that to the curb (OK, my husband hauls it to the curb) and then watch as the sanitation worker disposes of my garbage is what happens to the things ultimately?

I don’t think, really, that the plastic I use, the discarded cleaning supplies, the old toothpaste tubes ever really go away. I mean, sanitation workers are good, but not even they can shoot all this waste beyond earth’s orbit. If they could, it would still float around out in space for a long time, until it encountered a black hole, maybe.

So I am forced to see that, despite the miracle of garbage day, the earth is a closed system and everything I do and use and discard has an impact for good or ill. And that’s a thought that might keep me up at night.

Billions of us on the planet, all more or less producing, using, wasting, trashing.

And it’s not just nice organic detritus. According to PlasticOceans, manmade polymers break up into smaller and smaller particles that are then consumed by marine organisms. I hate to think that the halibut I ate last week was contaminated by tiny plastic pieces of detergent bottles, razor blade handles, and picnic forks. But that might very well be the case.

As John Lennon would have it, “instant karma” (or old plastics, PCBs, asbestos, lead, toxins of all kinds) is, in fact, “going to get you.”

Afterthought: Dog hair is compostable.

Cara Chamberlain is a Billings writer.


Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:26

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WTO aims to put more mystery into your meat



A recent move by the World Trade Organization threatens to put more mystery in your meat, while undermining our national sovereignty.

On May 18 the WTO ruled that American meat labels violate Canadian and Mexican free trade rights. The labels were created in accordance with the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws, and show where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The labels are directed at American consumers, and were implemented through the American political process. But they put Mexican and Canadian livestock producers at an unfair disadvantage, the WTO ruled. So they must go.

The House Agriculture Committee acted quickly in response to the decision. The very next day, a bill to repeal COOL laws for beef, pork and chicken was proposed. A day later the committee passed it, 38-6.

National Farmers Union president Robert Johnson was on Capitol Hill following the WTO’s decision, meeting with legislators and urging them to keep COOL, as it were. Johnson’s team visited 150 offices, he told me by phone. Their message was simple: “... do nothing for these next several months while this process plays out.”

The House Agriculture Committee is jumping the gun, he said, but the Senate, “... will not be in any hurry to do anything.”

“Normally in the WTO, before any action is authorized, is the time when countries are encouraged to negotiate. And that is precisely what should happen.”

In a joint statement, Canadian and Mexican representatives praised the ruling, and called COOL “... damaging to North America’s supply chain and harmful to producers and processors in all three countries.”

The Canadian government has been tossing around the $1 billion figure for the damages its meat industry has suffered under COOL. The U.S.-based National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) claims the implementation costs of COOL to U.S. producers to be “... in excess of $1 billion for beef alone.”

Johnson chuckled when I brought up these numbers. “It’s laughable,” he said. “Nobody really believes that.”

Such costs, it is argued, come from keeping foreign-born animals separate from their U.S.-born counterparts, which industry claims is a record keeping nightmare.

“The livestock industry is already segregated and hyper organized,” Johnson said. When you buy a steer, “... you get a printout for every animal, carcass by carcass,” showing its weight, level of marbling, and other characteristics. To implement COOL-style record keeping, Johnson suggested, involves little more than tweaking the computerized record-keeping systems already in place.

Auburn professor Robert Taylor recently published a study comparing the pre- and post-COOL marketplaces. He told me in an email that WTO based its decision on data that is not only weak, but secret.

“The WTO relied on analyses of proprietary Canadian cattle data analyzed by consultants to the Canadian Cattlemens Assoc and the Canadian independent economists can access the Canadian data.”

Roberts said his study made use of the meatpackers’ mandatory price reporting data, which told a different story, in which COOL has negligible impact on the Mexican and Canadian meat industries.

This argument will get a fair hearing WTO’s process is allowed to continue, Johnson says. He expects the Canadians and Mexicans will seek retaliation based upon this ruling in the form of a tariff, at which point the United States will request arbitration. Canada and Mexico will be authorized to prove economic damages before they can retaliate. And this is where their job becomes a lot harder, as the damages will have to be proven in public.

But if COOL, in reality, isn’t so bad for North American ranchers, I asked Johnson, then why are so many companies against it?

It’s the international meat packers, he said, representatives of which sit on the boards of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and its Canadian and Mexican counterparts, and who send well-armed lobbyists to Capitol Hill.

Johnson says the global meat conglomerates don’t like COOL because it eliminates a practice among meat packers that, while it lasted, was as convenient as it was profitable.

They were passing off foreign meat as American-grown, and with the USDA’s unwitting assistance.

“Meat imports are required to be inspected by USDA,” Johnson explained. “Consumers see a USDA-beef stamp, and they think it’s American made.” Many Americans want to eat American-grown meat, which is why there is so much popular support for COOL among consumers, and among many non-NCBA affiliated producers as well.

“Consumers want to know what’s in their food, and producers would like to tell them,” Johnson says. But the multinationals “do not want to label country of origin, so they can go back to pretending that any product was U.S. product.”

Assuming the meatpackers fail to force a sovereign nation to change its laws, the fact that a global trade agreement could do so casts an unflattering shadow on the already unpopular Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

“This does make it more difficult for Congress to pass fast track,” Johnson offered. “One of the arguments that’s being made is that there is nothing in the TPP that would require us to change our laws. Now we have a bunch of people in the House that are stampeding to change a law. It undercuts an argument made by fast track supporters that we’ll be able to keep our own laws.”

This is why many of the same groups that oppose COOL are also in support of TPP. They want the meat to flow like free capital, anonymously, across borders and around the world, to wherever it can return the most on some investor’s dollar. If you’re a consumer looking to weigh the myriad of health, environmental, animal and human rights impacts of meat eating, or if you just don’t want to eat meat from China, your agenda is at odds with the priorities behind free-trade agreements like the TPP. If what’s happening via COOL is any indication, the TPP won’t be a victory for transparency in labeling.

How the World Trade Organization finally resolves the dispute over COOL will say a lot about how much power Big Meat really has. If Johnson is right, and we keep COOL, it will be a victory for knowing where your food comes from, at the expense of Big Meat. It promises to be an engaging process.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:05

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Pre-YouTube history

By HENRIETTE LOWISCH - University of Montana

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the fact that not everything is on YouTube.

Rummaging through the shelves of the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library to find materials for a book I’m writing, I recently came across a stack of five DVDs. The makeshift case covers, titled “Montana,” lacked visual appeal, except for a pink warning sticker that indicated, “This DVD-R may not play on all machines.” Intrigued, I hauled them home and inserted the first disc into my laptop. Bam! The series of half-hour lectures hooked me just like Season 1 of “Homeland.”

What unfolded before me was one man’s account of the history of Montana, which he perceived as a story of colonial exploitation. On the recording, shots of a professor and his audience – students with teased hairdos and oversized glasses, holding notepads instead of smart phones – alternated with 1981 footage of smoke rising from sooty chimneys; farmers riding combines across dusty fields; people waiting at remote train stations. More captivating than the images, however, was the voice of the speaker: Montana’s celebrated historian, K. Ross Toole.

“There are, I think, undeniably new winds sweeping across America,” the voice said at the beginning of each episode. Its slow and rhythmic cadence reminded me of a John F. Kennedy speech I had to listen to on tape a zillion times for a research project in 1991. Like JFK, Toole enunciated each syllable, as if wanting to signify how carefully he had chosen the spoken words. The winds of change are gusty, he said. “And they will alter what happens in Montana, and whether for better or worse does depend on Montanans, and how they, or you, read those winds.”

A Missoula native, K. Ross Toole was a museum director and rancher before he became a history professor at UM. He died a few months after his final lecture in 1981. Some among you might remember taking one of his classes. Perhaps as a high school student, you answered quiz questions on his book “Montana: An Uncommon Land.”

Toole’s vision, including his early environmentalism, his skeptical view of unfettered growth and his contempt for political apathy, may be last-century news to you. As a recent transplant, on the other hand – I only moved to Montana from Berlin, Germany, in 2009 – I was happy to lend him a fresh ear. What was it about this stern-faced man in suit and tie that made him, by some accounts, the most popular professor ever to teach at UM? Perhaps what made him controversial also made him so successful. He wasn’t just a historian. He was an opinionated one.

From his lectern, Toole marshaled old newspaper editorials, statistical reports and biting humor to drive home his point: Montana’s wide open spaces, once its greatest curse because they caused huge distances to the markets, had become its greatest blessing, as the U.S. began to run out of quality lands.

“It would be a terrible irony if we were to turn a curse into a blessing, only to turn it back into a curse.” Short-term booms apt to depreciate land values downstream should be outlawed, even if that meant slower growth, he argued: “We appreciate together, or not at all.”

More than 30 years after his final lecture series, Toole’s prediction of the increasing value of pristine lands has proven true. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent restoring ecosystems damaged by mining. Yet it seems many of his students never got around to punishing elected officials who make decisions for their own rather than future generations. The state’s newspapers are no longer in the hands of the Anaconda Co. Instead, dark money rules campaigns.

Would students still hang on Toole’s words in an era of multimedia presentations and ubiquitous personal devices? I bet they would, even though they might not sit still in his lecture hall. With his elegant rhetoric and his ability to focus his argument, Toole would be the quintessential TED speaker. He might even become the star of one of those Massive Open Online Courses.

As it stands, however, his final lectures aren’t even on YouTube. Until that changes, visit your public library if you run out of “Homeland” episodes to watch.

Henriette Lowisch is graduate program director at the University of Montana School of Journalism.


Last Updated on Thursday, 28 May 2015 22:34

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