Category Archives: history

Does Forbes Hate Young People?

Forbes recently ran a couple of pieces online that made my eyes bulge out of my head. “Is Gen Y Underemployed—Or Just Lazy?” was followed by “Dude, Where’s My Student Loan Bailout?” Both pieces paint fairly unflattering portraits of the younger generation.

The first article summarizes some recently released studies, using some quotes that generally seem to make sense. They state that younger workers dislike large corporations and prefer to work in smaller firms with more flexibility, and where their entrepreneurial desires may be given room to flourish. Sounds about right to me! The writer attempts a few jabs at the young throughout, but attempts a surprising knockout in the conclusion:

Though this report says that this is a strong indicator of the underemployment issue in the US today, it seems more like a strong indicator of a generation with an issue of entitlement and extreme laziness – despite the opportunities that await them.

Of course Forbes is probably playing to their demographic (Uncle Moneybags), but there seem to be a lot of other explanations. If the writer had explored the number of US firms outsourcing their labor, taken a look at the scant job listings in local newspapers, or explored market saturation of people with college degrees, maybe an article with more serious exploration of the issue would have materialized. These seem to be pretty obvious factors to the people I regularly talk to.

Nah. It’s that lazy young generation with their long hair and their rock ‘n’ roll music, skipping out on Vietnam. I mean…with their internets. Isn’t that right, Mr. Rockefeller?

(Before his estate sues me, please know that Mr. Rockefeller’s appearance in today’s post is thanks to our friends at the Library of Congress, who provide public domain images to lazy young people such as myself!)

In the second piece, the writer uses current statistics about student loan repayments to paint an equally dark portrait of recent grads. Because the current default rate is 8.8% (and it would be higher if they included those in forbearance), and many grads expressed support for more forgiveness opportunities (if you work in the Peace Corps or teach at a Headstart program for two years, you can get small amounts forgiven on your Stafford loans), this means that recent grads are all a bunch of entitled good-for-nothings. To quote my friend Cat (a recent graduate herself), “I don’t know anyone who is trying to ‘get out of’ their student loans…they pay their loan payments even when they can’t or won’t pay other stuff.”

Personally speaking, I’ve always been eager to pay down the principal of my student loans, so I’ll pay less in interest over the years. This approach allowed me to pay off $25,000 in debt in about six years (instead of the usual ten) after my undergraduate work. At the moment though, I am about a month and a half away from my first graduate loan payment—and I’m living (with extreme frugality) off my savings while taking any temporary work I can. It’s slightly terrifying.

Two other things seem surprising when considering these articles. First, both the writers appear to be early career, meaning they are in fact insulting themselves. Second, why is Forbes running these pieces on the internet, where they invite a deluge of criticism from the very people they are insulting? A quick scan of the comments confirms that the vast majority are from young people defending themselves. Everybody knows that those lazy good-for-nothing youngsters won’t pay newsstand price, and Uncle Moneybags is afraid of people stealing his identity if he is connected on those internets.

What say you, Bookish reader? Are we lazy nogoodniks or does Forbes just hate young people? And do you think they would like me more if I dressed like Alex P. Keaton?


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Think Different: A Review of the Steve Jobs Biography

At one point in my life, I thought if I ever got a tattoo, it would be of the rainbow-hued Apple logo.

Those days are in the distant past.

At the time, Apple was the underdog of the tech world, at a time when Bill Gates and Microsoft were ubiquitous, undisputed kings. Apple stock was just over $13 per share. Few companies bothered to write their software for Macintosh because it required licensing that didn’t pencil out financially.

And then Steve Jobs returned to the company.

Things have changed! In 2011 Apple’s revenue was $108 BILLION dollars. Apple’s stock (AAPL) closed yesterday at $663.87 per share. Crowds regularly line up at Apple’s retail stores to nab the latest iPhone release. Apple is huge—regularly referred to alongside Google and Facebook as the current giants of Silicon Valley. An Apple product announcement has even been parodied on television!

As an Apple devotee since the early 90s, I naturally wanted to read Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson. At 630 pages, the book is almost as giant as its subject—but I plowed through it in just over a week. A pretty easy read given such a fascinating subject tackled by a great writer!

Once Jobs knew he was not long for this world, he called upon famed biographer Walter Isaacson to get to work. Jobs offered generous access to himself without being nosy about Isaacson’s portrayal. Jobs died on October 5, 2011, and the release date on the book got pushed up to October 24—two and a half weeks after his death.

Isaacson clearly has a sense of humor about his subject. He editorializes in small ways throughout the text, such as imploring younger readers to ask their parents about the Atari game Pong, and when he writes about Jobs’ habit of not showering as a young adult:

Jobs clung to the belief that his fruit-heavy vegetarian diet would prevent not just mucus but also body odor, even if he didn’t use deodorant or shower regularly. It was a flawed theory. (p. 43)

Stories of Jobs’ boorish behavior are everywhere, and Isaacson makes no attempt to cover this up. It is a huge part of Jobs’ character, and Isaacson cites it as one of the main themes of the book. Ex-colleagues tell stories of Jobs parking in the handicapped spaces at Apple, yelling “it’s shit!” in response to carefully prepared designs, and his abhorrence for PowerPoint slides. Even worse, Jobs essentially refused to acknowledge his first child for many years, because it didn’t fit in with his “reality distortion field.”

The character study also includes his sensitive artist side. Jobs attended Reed College (my neighborhood university!), where he was known for his collection of Bob Dylan(!!!) bootleg recordings. His experiences in Oregon gave him an artistic foundation that later came to fruition in his product philosophies and elsewhere. Whether the crying jags at Apple came from Oregon, I don’t know—but the name Apple was partially inspired by a farm he lived on near Eugene. (Yup, that’s a Reedie for you.)

At least for me, the latter half of the book dragged a little as the narrative basically became a series of pissing matches between Steve Jobs and executives at other companies. Unlike the early years, the years since the release of the iMac has more or less played out in the public eye. More interesting was studying Jobs’ character during this period—how the man who was clearly a pill to work with handled having a wife and children. How Jobs cultivated his best working relationships, including those with Tim Cook and Jony Ive. How not even a reality distortion field or money can make pancreatic cancer go away.

In this later period, Isaacson makes an attempt to counter-balance all the Apple cheerleading with some significant criticism. A favorite example was about the iPad:

His main reservation, a substantive one, was “that while it’s a lovely device for consuming content, it doesn’t do much to facilitate its creation…The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people’s masterpieces.” (p. 496)

And Isaacson adeptly describes the Apple cult:

With the launch of the original Macintosh in 1984, Jobs had created a new kind of theater: the product debut as an epochal event, climaxed by a let-there-be-light moment in which the skies part, a light shines down, the angels sing, and a chorus of the chosen faithful sings “Hallelujah.” (p. 354)

Before I finished the book still unsure of how I felt about Steve Jobs, one short paragraph won me over to his side. Jobs spent his school years in Cupertino, California, when the area was still primarily comprised of farmland. As he designed the new Apple headquarters,

One of his lingering memories was of the orchards that had once dominated the area, so he hired a senior arborist from Stanford and decreed that 80% of the property would be landscaped in a natural manner, with six thousand trees. “I asked him to make sure to include a new set of apricot orchards,” Jobs recalled. “You used to see them everywhere, even on the corners, and they’re part of the legacy of this valley.” (p. 536)

Having lived in Clackamas County, and having regularly visited Washington and Clark Counties over the past 30 years, I’ve seen plenty of bucolic farmland and greenspace get bulldozed for strip malls, large apartment complexes, and McMansions (I’m lookin’ at you, Mount Scott!) A development project that could also honor the area’s history and make such an area less of an eyesore, while potentially providing opportunities to feed the hungry, would be a great idea indeed. Let’s hope people up here follow his lead.

Isaacson’s biography certainly had me thinking different about Steve Jobs. While I may not have been such ardent Apple fan had I know him while he was alive, the book painted a picture I could live with after his death. Sure, he was a jerk, but there was more to him than that. As a tortured genius, he was pursuing a greater good—and as hokey as it is to say this in summary, he changed the world.

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Happy 100th Birthday, Gene Kelly!

Today is Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday (born August 23, 1912), and I’ve been waiting for a year to talk about it!

One thing that you just don’t see today is a lot of movie musicals. Sure, Chicago is pretty fabulous and started a pretty minor movie musical revival. But I’d argue that nothing comes close to the MGM musicals of the 1920s-1940s in any way: performers, material, costume design, set design, direction, or historical/artistic significance. And in my opinion, one of the greatest triple (quadruple? quintuple?) threats to come from that era was Gene Kelly.

What’s so great about Gene Kelly?

Um, really? Have you never seen any of the guy’s work? There’s his dancing—from the Broadway Melody sequence from Singin’ in the Rain (that’s right, I didn’t go with the obvious choice there), to his groundbreaking work with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh. There’s his roller skating prowess, which included tap dancing in skates. Clearly he had a sense of humor, given his starring role as Serafin in the “marizpan dream” that is The Pirate. And combining roller skating and his sense of humor, the curious mashup musical Xanadu. (He was 68 at the time—skating, dancing, and singing beside costars decades younger than him. Nothin’ funny about that!)

Then there are the little details that make my heart (closed to many these days) go pitter-pat. How his dancer thighs look in 1940s-era trousers. An expressive face that can go from furrowed brow to intimate smile in two seconds flat. Stories from his costars, from slipping a 19 year old Debbie Reynolds the tongue in the last shot of Singin’ in the Rain, to Cyd Charisse’s claim of his strength: “when he lifts you, he lifts you!” Knowing that he choreographed and performed in what is probably my all-time favorite movie musical number: “Prehistoric Man” from On the Town. Sigh!

Unfortunately I don’t know a lot about the real life Gene Kelly, but I’ve heard several anecdotes that lead me to believe he was by and large a swell guy. The only reason I haven’t already read more about him is that I enjoy his film persona so much and don’t want to find out any ugly secrets, like that his tap shoes were made out of kittens or something. A girl sometimes needs to keep hope alive, especially when it comes to people who make your heart go pitter-pat.

When I do face my fears about reading Gene Kelly biographies, I suspect I’ll be aiming to read Gene Kelly: A Life of Dance and Dreams by Alvin Yudkoff or Gene Kelly: A Biography by Clive Hirschhorn. There don’t seem to be a plethora of biographies on the market, or one that is more well-reputed than others though—so if you have any recommendations, suggest away!

On the web, there is a lot to like about Gene Kelly Fans, a site run by Kelli Marshall, a film professor. Marshall often posts articles about some little-known facets of Kelly’s career, including his hairpiece and how he got the scar on his cheek. In fact, Gene Kelly Fans has been celebrating all year with 100 Reasons to Celebrate Gene Kelly.

Celebrate with me today by leaving a comment and sharing why you love Gene Kelly! Christopher Walken is away from his computer today, but wanted to share this tribute:


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A Readin’ Machine (Or, Squeezed Out)

Earlier this year I set a goal: as a participant in the Goodreads reading challenge, I would aim to read 12 books this year. On April 15th, I met my goal.

Over the last couple of months reading has been my primary downtime activity. I’ve read books in less than 24 hours while waiting for feedback on the latest draft of my project report, waiting for the Portland rain to subside, or just because I was so excited to finally read the thing.

I unloaded much of my library before my temporary move to Canada, but plenty of books remain that need to be read. I’ve read newly acquired books, borrowed books, and library books. I’ve sold a few back to Powell’s since reading them, and plan to continue paring down my library once I’ve read some more titles. This isn’t even including the magazines I’ve piled up, nor the scholarly articles about bikes I found on JStor a couple weeks ago that I want to read just for fun.

A few of the books I’ve read have inspired some wistful nostalgia. Ever since getting back to Portland it seems my brain has soured a fair amount on my hometown. (I’ve a half-written blog post about this, but it’s a weighty topic, likely to be unpopular with most of the transplants I know, so I’ve been keeping it to myself—for now.) Reading three books in a row that reminded me of Portland Past then, was enough to push me into a full-on nostalgia bender.

The first book was Dark Horse’s recent release The Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. Sure, this is a story primarily set in Seattle, but as a Pacific Northwesterner growing up in the 80s, Green River Killer news (also Diane Downs news) was pretty pervasive. When I was a kid, my mother’s favorite books were true crime novels, and I sometimes I picked up her books and browsed the photo plates in the center. Let me tell you something: you cannot un-see some of the photos in those books.

Next was Beverly Cleary’s memoir A Girl from Yamhill. Portland’s own literary hometown heroine, Beverly Cleary was born in the Willamette Valley south of the city but spent much of her childhood in NE Portland, the setting of her Ramona books (and current site of the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden). I picked up the memoir at Goodwill for a couple of bucks. So much time had passed since its original release I wasn’t expecting to find it as utterly engrossing as I did. In the book, I discovered that Ramona is essentially based on Cleary herself as a child, and the book includes some very specific incidents that I remember were written into Ramona the Pest.

The book also illuminates moments when Cleary was encouraged by teachers in specific ways that set her on course for her adult career. In one masterfully written passage, she talks about her mother often encouraging her to “try.” When she takes this message to heart and enters an essay contest at a local grocery store. She wins—because no other children entered the contest:

“This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying.” (p. 132)

Given the amount of care I spend on blog posts (and nearly everything else I write), often I wonder why I continue. This is the reason: I am trying. And even if nobody sees my online opining, I’m continuing to develop my writing for future professional writing opportunities.

Where does the nostalgia come in? In the beginning of the book, Cleary writes about Oregon weather masterfully, as if she too has patiently sat through as many Oregon winters as I have, waiting for the spring:

“I stood at the window watching the weather, the ever-changing Oregon clouds that sometimes hung so low they hid the Coast Range, rain that slanted endlessly on the bleak brown fields, stubble stiff with frost, and, sometimes, a world made clean and white by snow.” (p. 30)

Later in the book she paints a vivid picture of Depression-era Portland, peppering the text with references from the past. In fact, at two points she draws attention to phrases Portlanders say, and that’s where the real nostalgia set in. She remarked on Portlanders observing “the mountain is out today.” Of course, “the mountain” is Mt. Hood, being “out” refers to being able to see it on a non-overcast day, and that is a phrase I’ve neither heard, nor used myself, for years. It set my brain on a path of thinking about the ways in which Portland has changed over the past decade as the city has become more notable nationally and internationally.

Perhaps the area of Portland that has changed most in the past decade is NE Portland, and the next book I read just happened to take place there in the 1980s. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is the current Everybody Reads book at Multnomah County Library, and I wouldn’t have read it had there not been a free copy at the circulation desk of my local branch when I visited. At certain points this book described a place and time in the past that I personally experienced. When the 1988 death of Mulugeta Seraw was referenced as a current event, this book ignited some synapses that hadn’t been fired in years. (If you’re not familiar, read A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer.)

Since reading these three titles in a row (pure coincidence!) I’ve moved on to other fare. For a few days though, I was thinking about the Portland Past, both the one I have directly experienced and the one that belongs to my dead relatives’ memory. While I am glad I’ve gotten to know many of the transplants who have arrived in the last ten years, a small part of me feels like I’m being edged out by an invasive species. As the narrator in Said the Whale’s song “False Creek Change” laments about her hometown of Vancouver, BC, “there’s no room for me here anymore, anymore, there’s no room for me here anymore.”

If you’re interested in following my reading habits, this is my page on Goodreads.


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On The Death of the Monkees’ Davy Jones

Davy Jones died today.

This is probably not the proper way to begin, but as a longtime Monkees fan I need to say Davy has never been my favorite Monkee. As a Monkee he seemed perfectly happy playing the cookie cutter heartthrob and didn’t offer much else. Much complexity. Women still swooned over him (rubes!), but this woman has never liked what the crowd falls for so easily.

However, Davy had a considerable talent for musical theater. Pre-Monkees, he was Tony-nominated for his role as the Artful Dodger in the original stage production of Oliver! (The cast performed on the Ed Sullivan Show the same night the Beatles debuted in the US.) Some of Davy’s most memorable Monkee moments come from showcasing this talent in later years before the group broke up—from the “Daddy’s Song” sequence (with Toni Basil!) from the Monkees’ movie Head, to the “Goldilocks Sometime” song in the misguided television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.

Aside from his more musical theater-oriented pieces, he also recorded a single in the 70s which is my all-time favorite Davy Jones song. (Well okay, “Hard to Believe” is an uncharacteristically beautiful piece that I also enjoy.) “Rubberene” tells the story of a man’s relationship with his blow-up doll. If you have a Blip login (I don’t), you might be able to listen to it here. Finally—the one-dimensional heartthrob got a sense of humor! Sadly though, the record is an extreme rarity as it was never commercially released, and by the time the Monkees reunited for their 25th anniversary in 1986, Davy was back to playing his same role.

After that big Monkees resurgence in the late 1980s, Davy Jones also became an author. His first book was a memoir called They Made a Monkee Out of Me (above), and the second book he is credited with is an early Photoshop fantasia (or nightmare) called Mutant Monkees Meet the Masters of the Multi-Media Manipulation Machine (you know it’s from the early days of digital media, as “multimedia” is still hyphenated)When I was in eighth grade, I chose They Made a Monkee Out of Me for a book report presentation. My mom even sewed a Monkees shirt for me, which I wore on the day of my presentation. Being passionate about talking about the Monkees and even dressing the part, of course I got an A. 😉

After reading about Mike Nesmith’s cataract surgery, recently I had been pondering the state of Monkee mortality. As Davy Jones heads to his locker, I am sad to see my wonderings are starting to be realized. It will also be interesting to see what legal battles ensue between Davy’s very young new wife Jessica Pacheco, and the four grown children from his previous two marriages. (Watch them on a train-wrecky reboot of “The Newlywed Game.”)

Davy will be missed, for sure—but I truly dread the day I hear about Mike Nesmith or Peter Tork joining him.

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“Beyond the Gate” Now at Multnomah County Library!

Quite by accident, this morning I discovered that I am listed on WorldCat, a worldwide database of library holdings that are often used to secure interlibrary loans. Now, in order to be listed on WorldCat, you need to be held in a library…

And that’s how I discovered that Multnomah County Library has eight copies of my zine, Beyond the Gate: An Ethnic History of Portland’s Chinatown and Nihonmachi. And as of this morning, four of the seven circulating copies were marked as either checked out or recently returned. Whoa!

That’s right, I’m held in one of the highest circulating libraries in the United States. No autographs, please!

The larger mystery is how the library got eight copies—it sure wasn’t through me. Right before I left for Canada last August I dropped off a single copy at Central for their zine librarians to peruse, thinking if they were interested they’d contact me about obtaining more copies. I never heard a peep.

This could explain why my zine keeps selling so well at Reading Frenzy. The listing dropped off the Powell’s database several months ago, and I assumed this was because it hadn’t sold—but perhaps they all sold at once, to one person! I’ve sent an email to inquire what I can. Perhaps the librarians navigated to this blog, saw where they could pick one up without hassle, and took a walk on their lunch break.

It’s a real mystery, and I plan on solving it. It might require some legwork that can’t be done until I’m back in Portland, but that’s only a couple of weeks away. (Sure, I could email the zine librarian—but where’s the fun in that?)

Another take-away from this discovery: I’d better get cracking on producing my second title!

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Bicycling Buffalo Soldiers

Since I am both Bookish and Bikish, every so often something will pop up that requires deliberation about which blog is more appropriate. Blogging about bike books: more bookish, or more bikish? Should I be cross-posting? Do I need a policy, or can my policy for the moment be dictated by my whimsy? Thoughts? At least for now I think I’ll post here, since Bookish gets more traffic (hello, spambots!) and Bikish is still finding its audience.

This summer I’ve been living in Missoula, MT, interning the the publications department at Adventure Cycling Association. My internship is now officially over, but I’m wrapping up a couple of projects—including a short film that will be featured as the last blog post of my series “Backstories,” about bike history.

Adventure Cycling is certainly a cool piece of Missoula’s bike culture, but in my opinion, not the coolest. Earlier this summer Atticus and I spent a day at Fort Missoula and learned that Missoula was home to the 25th Infantry, a group of African American soldiers. In the late 1890s, the unit was tasked with experimenting with the newfangled safety bicycle to assess it for military use.

The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula has embraced the unique story they can claim that no other Army fort is able to. One section of the exhibits is dedicated to the bicycling soldiers, and include an interactive that puts visitors on a bike with 75 pounds of gear. In the store, the museum sells T-shirts and magnets with “Fred E. Fox,” a bicycling soldier. For those who are curious beyond the artifacts and interactives that the museum exhibits have to offer, the museum sells a booklet (really, more of a zine) explaining the experiments in more detail.

It’s a quick read, but satisfied this cyclist’s thirst to know more. Contextual information was included about how the 25th Infantry was formed, and how Missoula was a hospitable place for the group compared to other towns. While the unit did different types of experiments with the bikes (formation work, long-distance travel, and front line message delivery), the booklet focused mostly on their long-distance travel, even though it seemed like the least successful experiment.

The soldiers embarked upon three trips: a short trip from Fort Missoula to Seeley Lake; a longer trip from Fort Missoula to Fort Yellowstone; and an epic journey from Fort Missoula to Missouri. The challenges increased the longer the distance traveled, and the booklet outlines problems stemming primarily from the lack of good roads in the United States. Unfortunately though, before the good roads movement made any headway, the soldiers’ next trip was cancelled due to the unit being sent to fight in the Spanish-American war. (Why were they deployed first? The theory was African American soldiers were not as susceptible to the tropical diseases in the Philippines as caucasian soldiers would be. Not true!)

Eventually the unit was transferred out of Fort Missoula and into a more racially-charged community in Texas. What led to the unit being disbanded was a sad shot of historic reality in what was otherwise an inspirational and intriguing story. No spoilers, though—you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Can’t make it to Fort Missoula but you’d like to read more? Here’s “The Bicycling Buffalo Soldiers,” an article that appeared in Adventure Cyclist earlier this year. Don’t forget—you can also get the booklet via interlibrary loan through your local library!

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Midwestern Bible: Preachin’ the Chicago Manual of Style

Senseless bickering is one of my least favorite things to be around. And in the MPub program, if there was one way to guarantee a testy exchange, it was to insert an Oxford comma into a group project document. Even if you were the designated copy editor, other group members would alter the source document to reflect your changes, and varying personal styles within the group would soon come to a head. A heated five minute discussion could be born out of whether the word is free mason, free-mason, or freemason. (Bonus point if you noticed the Oxford comma in that list!)

It’s not like that in the real world though, right? RIGHT?

Sadly, I’ve encountered institutions saying that they generally adhere to a widely-accepted style (usually Chicago Manual of Style or AP Stylebook), when practice may indicate otherwise. Unless they have a written style sheet of their own, or at minimum can explain what their rules are to you, it becomes very difficult to edit copy for consistent style. Then there are the places where different departments use different standards and don’t talk to each other about it…!

Perhaps the bickering wasn’t so bad. At least that meant that people were informed and truly cared.

As you may be able to tell by the photo, my preferred house style is Chicago. Since 2003 I’ve spent a good deal of time working with the book and familiarizing myself with the details of their approach. One example: researching various approaches to how minority groups are named (African Americans? African-Americans? Afro-Americans? Blacks?) for the curator of a high-profile, potentially controversial museum. Chicago’s goal is academic clarity—a goal I can get behind—whereas AP style was born of a desire to save space and use less newsprint.

After spilling blood, sweat, and tears familiarizing myself, I’ve become pretty passionate about the Chicago Manual of Style. Thus, my pet name: “Midwestern Bible.”

So what do you think happened when I recently saw an early edition of Chicago, titled A Manual of Style with Specimens of Type, at a Missoula thrift store?

I gasped. I snatched. I read the tag. A green tag—that means it’s 50% off today! Meaning this baby’s only…$1.50!

Now, I already have far too many books. On this day, I justified the purchase by telling myself I knew plenty of other people who would be wild about getting this as a gift if I decided to part ways with it. And yet here I am, taking photos of this early edition of Chicago to make it look like it has a halo. Here’s a photo of the stylized bookplate in the front. And here’s one of the many pages of type specimens. And the original purchase information. And a page of University of Chicago Press seals! It’s a gorgeous book—being the grandfather of my well-loved reference book makes it even sweeter.

Something tells me I won’t be getting rid of this one for a while.


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A Visit to Mountain Press

Everyone probably assumes that Missoula, Montana, is not a major center of the publishing trade. And mostly, everybody is right. But despite Missoula only being the second largest city in Montana, a state that doesn’t even have a million people living in it, the town’s not too bad off. In addition to Adventure Cyclist magazine (circulation 40,000), the magazine of the Adventure Cycling Association, there’s the publishing arm of the “conservation” group Boone and Crockett Club*, as well as book publishers Mountain Press.

Last Friday I got to meet up with Mountain Press. They specialize in natural history titles, from their Roadside Geology series to a couple of children’s books I find amusing, called Nature’s Yucky! (“Did you know that…turkey vultures poop on their own feet?”) Their content overlaps a lot with the subjects I was working with when doing museum projects for institutions like the National Park Service and Oregon State Parks.

Mountain Press is one of many small publishers finding they need to get into the ebook game. And they thought that I, a fresh young MPub in Missoula, might be the catalyst to get that project moving. (Meanwhile, I was afraid they were thinking I was the great white hope, and was much relieved to find that wasn’t necessarily the case.) Interspersed between a friendly lunch at The Good Food Store and a tour of the building, we talked about what I might be able to do for them when I’m not running to get Greg Siple another muffin because I accidentally stole his.

I started by offering up a “better practices” guide for ebook production written by five of my lovely classmates last semester, under the group name the ePublicans. It’s available online in wiki form, a downloadable ebook, or my personal favorite, the PDF.

Where will this lead? I’m not sure exactly. In the meantime though, they were gracious enough to give me some of their black and white back stock: Roadside Geology of Montana, and Roadside History of Oregon and Montana. And it was nice to be around people who not only highly respected the MPub program, but had a personal relationship with a couple of my professors. And if that wasn’t enough, I was introduced to my favorite cat in Montana—the extremely affectionate Jack Black the Cat.

*=”We want to save them…so we can kill them!”

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Anaconda and Butte, Montana: Putting the FUN Back in Superfund

Did you know that the EPA has a Superfund Coloring Book? It’s true! If you have a Java-enabled web browser you can color a polluted town, the EPA cleanup worker that saves the day, the waste removal truck, or the newly clean town. If your browser is not Java-enabled, you’ll just have to print them out to color, the old fashioned way.

This was one of the more unusual books I discovered when looking up titles that would be relevant to last Saturday’s adventure.

Depending on how you look at it, I either visited three Superfund sites that day, or one enormous one—in fact, the largest in the US. Because they’re all connected by Anaconda Copper Company, a company that only exists today as yet another environmental liability for BP. But in the days of yore, Anaconda Copper was a booming operation responsible for the economic livelihood of several Montana towns along the Clark Fork River, including Butte and Anaconda.

Related to all this mining activity, some important moments in labor union history took place. The Granite Mountain Fire, which killed 168 miners in Butte, sparked an important strike, and the Anaconda Road Massacre happened a few years later. If you’re interested in finding out more about the labor movement in the area, watch Butte, America, a documentary that aired on PBS in 2009. Another documentary, An Injury to One, explores the death of Butte IWW organizer Frank Little. Interesting book selections include Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana’s Smelter City and Anaconda, Montana: Copper Smelting Boomtown on the Western Frontier.

But we’re here to talk about large-scale environmental disaster as it relates to that history. And lucky us! The Anaconda Copper Company gave us enough to last us a very long time.

Site #1: The Anaconda Stack (Anaconda, Montana)

Anaconda is about six miles away from I-90, but the 585-foot stack, completed in 1918, acts as a beacon to visitors. The town was founded by Marcus Daly when he started Anaconda Copper—which for a short time was the fourth largest company in the world. The stack has not been operational since 1980, but not every little town can boast having the tallest freestanding piece of masonry in the world, so the stack remains.

Since the last time I visited, I had read about both the creation of Anaconda Stack State Park, as well as the opening of Jack Nicholas’ golf course “The Old Works,” on the site of—well, the old works—just on the other side of town. Much to my chagrin, “Anaconda Stack State Park” mostly consists of a viewing platform at the north end of town with some interpretive signage. Adding insult to injury, it’s not even an adequate viewing site: power lines and passing trains obscure a visitor’s view of the stack, and you can’t see the enormous slag piles (at left in the above photo) or the tailings ponds (a former wetlands area) from the platform. Lucky for me, my own gumshoeing got me some better views, and Brad Tyer’s account of his behind-the-scenes tour filled in the holes.

It’s as if the state of Montana doesn’t want people to see the catastrophic damage that mining can do…!

Site #2: The Berkeley Pit/Silver Bow Creek (Butte, Montana)

How many Superfund sites do people pay $2 each to see? Only one that I know of—the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.

Shaft mining is pretty dangerous, so this pit mine was opened in 1955 to reduce the number of miner deaths Anaconda Copper had been experiencing in the previous decades. When the pit mine stopped operating in the early 80s, water started accumulating at the bottom. It is now a one mile long by a half-mile wide poisonous lake! The waters contain high levels of zinc, copper, cadmium, and more, giving the lake a sheen that can only be described by the Crayola color “Burnt Sienna.”

Then sometime in the mid-90s migrating snow geese were passing through Butte. Shortly after they showed up, 342 of their carcasses were recovered from around the site. They drank the water. When I visited in 1996, speakers were placed around the pit to play strange sounds at 45 second intervals to scare away any curious birds. This past time, the noises were gone—meaning the noise method was likely not working. (Be sure to visit PitWatch online!)

The Clark Fork River starts in Butte as Silver Bow Creek, and the Creek is also part of the Berkeley Pit Superfund Complex. “Why should I care?” you ask, “I’m all the way over here in Portland!” The Clark Fork River winds through much of western Montana, provides drinking water for Missoula, and is eventually emptied into the Lake Pend Oreille. The lake then flows into the Pend Oreille River, which in turn empties into the mighty Columbia River. In other words, this area of Montana is ecologically connected to Portland, where this blog post finds many of you.

Not concerned yet?

Site #3: Milltown Reservoir/Clark Fork River (Bonner, Montana)

A curious thing exists on the banks of the Clark Fork River just upstream from Missoula. A large area of the banks have been completely cleared of trees and brush. When my dad and I noticed it during our ill-fated trip to Garnet a few weeks ago, we assumed a resort or fancy subdivision was being planned.

Upon further research, I discovered that the Milltown Dam site on the Clark Fork River is yet another Superfund site related to Butte and Anaconda, and it sits just a few miles upriver from Missoula. In 1908 a huge flood carried millions of tons of mine waste down the river until it found a resting place behind the Milltown Dam. Little did anybody know this was an issue until the early 90s when groundwater in Milltown (a—um, mill town) was found to have arsenic in it! Today, Milltown is all but a ghost town, with many abandoned worker houses boarded up along the side of Highway 200. Creepier yet are the enormous buildings and storage yards of the old mill that lie empty.

No wonder I find Missoula’s tap water rather unpalatable, eh?


Filed under history