'What Does Democracy Look Like?' - by James Miller

A Contemplation on the 2011 and 2017 Occupy Movements, the political theory that led to it, and observations about political theory post-hoc.

 Image Links to Article

Image Links to Article

“‘This is what democracy looks like!’—for some of us protesting Trump in New York on January 21, 2017, this was a familiar chant. We’d heard it before, earlier in the decade, during the Occupy Wall Street movement. That movement had been inspired, in part, by the staggering growth of inequality in the United States and around the world, as a result of the partial dismantling of social insurance policies that, earlier in the twentieth century, had been the chief egalitarian achievement of labor, liberal, and social democratic political parties worldwide. “

“When faced with a decision, the normal response of two people with differing opinions tends to be confrontational. They each defend their opinions with the aim of convincing their opponent, until their opinion has won or, at most, a compromise has been reached. The aim of Collective Thinking, on the other hand, is to construct. That is to say, two people with differing ideas work together to build something new. The onus is therefore not on my idea or yours; rather it is the notion that two ideas together will produce something new, something that neither of us had envisaged beforehand. This focus requires of us that we actively listen. “

Daniel Walters: How Missoula lost Its Independent

Daniel Walters gives a rundown of how fears by Indy staffers at the alt-weekly’s sale to a corporate overlord a year ago were realized, and sooner than anyone expected.

We, The People


Hey Folks! Cutbank’s new Online Team coming at you loud and live(-ish).

Since this is our first Burn Pile post in a while, and a defining moment for us greenhorns, I’d like to take a moment to thank our dear friend Barry Maxwell for his success with the Second Wind Reading and for all his hard work on Cutbank’s Online source. I know it was it was hard work because now I’m doing half of his old job, and some forms of media are just Not. User. Friendly.

AND NOW, an Editorial

When regarding Freedom of the Press, no law may be passed that interferes with the people’s right to assemble, to print the press, or that causes the abridgement of free speech. But here’s the problem with the constitution: it is vague. In this instance, it’s the carefully worded language that “No Law May Be Passed” which leaves wiggle room for all other interested parties. There is nothing to say that a pitched battle cannot be waged over what the “Truth” is, only that our elected officials cannot infringe upon our right to debate and question it. I’m not a legal scholar, and it would take one to navigate the byzantine workings of modern governments. I will say this though: We Need the Press.

Let me back up and bring something into context here, it just came to my attention that the local alternative/Indy Newspaper here in Missoula was just shut down, as in is no longer printing the press. Well it can be hand waved as another arbitrary tide of the Free Market, or I can take this opportunity to state that the Newspaper is a dying industry. I’m a newcomer here to Missoula, so I don’t feel it’s my place to jump right into local Politics, yet if diversity of the press dies—if we, on a national level, lose the option of options, then that does not bode well for the foundational elements of a Democracy.

Plainly put, if our only options were to turn the television and choose between MSNBC, Fox, and CNN (as it is right now), we’re going to trick ourselves into thinking that the world is much smaller than it is. Problem A is that national level news outlets only care about national and international level news, servicing a ratings-based agenda. Problem B? Severe Conflict of interest. Over a year ago, it became a point of water cooler discussion, back where I’m from, about Sinclair Broadcasting Group buying up state and local level television news media. Don’t believe me? Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khbihkeOISc. It’s not quite the Orwellian nightmare of the novel 1984, but I find it alarming, and I hope you do as well. Is that all the problems I see? No, but they are the two-most relevant topics to this flash opinion piece.

What I’m getting at, folks, is that journalists take it upon themselves to go out into the world and question the ethics of the society we are living in. Do they have their own self-interest? Yes, and I would not trust anyone that did not operate in their self-interest. As they protect us from infringement upon our rights, safety, and morality as citizens, so too does a diverse range of reporting protect us from the private interests and agendas of journalists. To perform their functions as moderators and truth seekers, they need our support as consumers of their newspapers, and no, the truth is not something concerned with output we find agreeable to our tastes and philosophies.

The “truth” is about taking a skeptical look around us and asking earnest questions: is what is happening in our best interests as individuals? As a society? Hell, what even is our best interest? That answer comes from having thoughtful discussion, and to do that we need to be an educated and informed population. Do I have a plan to save a fading yet critical industry? No not entirely. But I hope these words get you started thinking about your own local news industry.

We’d love to hear back from the community. If you know of some local writers or journalists who worked with The Indy, send them our way.

 Click the Caption for the Original Article on the Missoulian.

Click the Caption for the Original Article on the Missoulian.

A summertime side trip to the Bitterroot with Peter Papathanasiou

"This is rugged cowboy territory, terrain for game-hunting and songwriting. It reminds me of home in many ways, of the vast, panoramic outback of Australia, which has big skies of its own."

Photo by Peter Papathanasiou

Caught by the Bitterroot River

by Peter Papathanasiou

And so, I find myself caught by the Bitterroot River in southwestern Montana. My mentor, Irv Weissman, is a world-renowned scientist who owns a ranch there, and every summer takes his entire research group for a retreat. It’s a chance to unwind, to eat barbecue and drink beer around a campfire, and also to fish in the pristine waterway that cuts through the Bitterroot Valley.

Photo by Peter Papathanasiou

Irv is the son of a hardware store owner and grandson of a fur trader. His grandfather emigrated from Russia a hundred years ago to avoid being drafted by the czar during the First World War. Arriving as an immigrant at Ellis Island, he made his way west across America, eventually settling in Big Sky Country with family. Born in Great Falls, Irv’s great love is biology. It’s been his career and helped him see the world. He’s published over eight hundred scientific papers, given testimony before the US Congress on the merits of stem cell research, and even spoken with presidents on the topic. But even then, Irv still seems to prefer to talk about fishing, and especially in his beloved Bitterroot River.

After a short early morning flight from San Francisco to Seattle, and an even shorter flight to Missoula, our group is bundled aboard a long yellow school bus and taken to the ranch. On the way, I see enormous mountain ranges and pickup trucks, and stores in Hamilton selling guns and guitars. This is rugged cowboy territory, terrain for game-hunting and songwriting. It reminds me of home in many ways, of the vast, panoramic outback of Australia, which has big skies of its own. Alighting from the bus, I hear wild rushing water splashing over rocks, and feel instantly at ease. Our host is already down by the water, clad in his trusty stocking-foot waders, indulging his love of fly fishing. I’m anxious to go down and see the indomitable river that Irv has spoken of so fondly but am instead given instructions to unpack, change into outdoor gear, and return to the bus. Is this a retreat or boot camp?

We’re soon trucked to the nearby Bitterroot Range, which forms part of the imposing Rocky Mountains. It’s a tiring two-hour hike to the peak, past fallen pine trees and isolated lookout towers, but the views from the top are sweeping and spectacular. Craggy peaks, snow-capped even in the middle of summery August. There’s very little snow in Australia, and it’s gone by spring. Squinting into the distance, I think I can see Idaho. Raptors circle majestically overhead, grand, exotic birds with broad wings that I’m only familiar with as national symbols, bald eagles and hawks and falcons. It’s an unexpectedly awe-inspiring sight. For a brief moment, America makes a little more sense to me.

Photo by Peter Papathanasiou

Knees aching, we descend the mountain, badly sunburnt and slightly dehydrated. A few of my more weary colleagues fall asleep on the bus on the drive back to the ranch. They retreat groggily to their beds on arrival, in need of an afternoon nap before the evening’s festivities begin. The rest change into swimmers and wetsuits and grab truck tire inner tubes for a float down the river. But I don’t. I grab a water bottle and notepad and go sit by the water’s edge to watch a master at work.

Photo by Peter Papathanasiou

Clad in khakis, long-sleeved blue shirt, baseball cap and fishing vest, I find Irv up to his thighs in river water. Over his shoulder, ring-necked ducks float gently across the surface, occasionally plunging their heads under for a fossick and feed. The afternoon sun reflects off the river, making it shine like glass, slick and solid, but silky and wild. I kick off my sandals and feel the day’s residual warmth in the smooth white river stones beneath my toes. The sensation is not dissimilar to a relaxing foot massage, and instantly makes me smile.

Irv sees me, waves; I wave back. I decide to keep my distance, to observe the proud Montanan in his element. He flicks his wrist expertly, back and then forward, casting his line out before lowering it down so that the grasshopper fly lands precisely as desired. I’m reminded for a moment of my late father and his own love of fishing. I was only a young boy at the time, being dragged reluctantly on excursions to lakes and rivers, to sit and watch Dad do nothing for hours on end. At the time, I wanted to run and jump and ride my bike, and didn’t understand the invisible tug-of-war at play, and the understated appeal of man versus nature. My current day colleagues don’t seem to grasp it either; having successfully obtained paddles and pale ales, they soon disappear down the river on their inner tubes, their sprightly voices growing fainter as the current carries them away.

I see Irv smile at their boundless youthful energy before returning to his more peaceful pastime. Now approaching eighty, he no doubt sees life is a marathon, not a sprint, and knows that moments are best savoured when the pace is slow, unrushed. My dad, who lived to eighty-six, did too. And besides, all that noise and activity was scaring the fish.

Photo by Peter Papathanasiou

The US government classifies the Bitterroot River is a Blue Ribbon trout fishery, with a healthy population of native rainbow and brown trout. Cutthroat trout are plentiful too, so much so that they gave Irv’s homestead its name: the Cutthroat Ranch. Many glorious cutthroat trout have found their way onto his line over the years, and I try to picture them gliding like eels beneath the waterline, tempted by the brightly coloured lure drifting tastily above their heads. But none take the bait on this particular day, which leaves Irv bereft of both a catch and a story that he would otherwise have retold around the campfire. The seasoned angler strokes his irongrey beard, eyes the angle of the setting sun, checks his watch, and reluctantly calls it a day. With darkness approaching, pairs of glowing eyes will soon start appearing beside the river, most likely deer, moose and elk, to lap at the cool, clear water. Irv doesn’t want to be around in case those eyes should happen to belong to a hungry grizzly bear otherwise in search of its own haul of robust Montanan trout. And nor do I.

Pocketing a few smaller river stones as souvenirs, I make my way back to the ranch, following a respectful distance behind Irv who walks slowly with fly rod slung over his shoulder. I suspect he knows there’s always tomorrow – another opportunity to chance his luck in the mighty Bitterroot River that flows through his very backyard.



Pete and his Stanford University research mentor Professor Irving L. Weissman published five research papers together between 2007 and 2015.

Peter Papathanasiou was born in a small village in northern Greece and adopted as a baby to an Australian family. His writing has been published by The New York Times, New York Post, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, The Canberra Times, The Herald Sun, SBS, The Huffington Post, Neos Kosmos, Frankie, The Pigeonhole, Caught by the River, Structo, 3:AM Magazine, Elsewhere Journal, Litro, Meanjin, Overland, Going Down Swinging, Verity La and Tincture Journal, and reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement. He holds an MA in creative writing from City, University of London, and has lived in New York, California, London, Greece and Australia.

The Bitterroot along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, near Lolo, Montana. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

BURN PILE: Mayday! Mayday! May! Day!

Art by Banksy, maybe.

“Everything in life is self-explanatory. Throw away the instructions and rebuild this Ikea world in your own image. Otherwise, deal with it like a bad haircut: grow out of it.


From the forthcoming collection, Postmodern Memes for the Unworthy, by Eugenia Berry

BBC may day screenshot.png

“A celebration marking the first day of summer, the day's traditions are rooted in pagan festivals. What is celebrated today is believed to be a consolidation of three earlier festivals: Beltane fires - to celebrate the return of summer and fertility of the land; Walpurgisnacht - the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga; and Floralia, which was held in ancient Rome in honour of the goddess Flora.”

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Michelle Wolf: “I’m not trying to get anything accomplished.” Well, she did.

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Fears of far-right violence as US gears up for May Day protests : 

Far-right groups in Los Angeles and Seattle have announced plans to rally against May Day events.

“May Day, or International Workers Day, is commemorated annually on May 1 to celebrate the struggles of labourers and the working class.”
From Aljazeera

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The “My God. It’s full of stars” section:

my god its full of stars.jpg


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Hell, MI

“I ask can I do anything differently, anything better, and he says, You were never my problem. The half-compliments will be the ones that kill me.”

Fiction from Liana Jahan Imam in Waccamaw: a journal of contemporary literature

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The Disappointed Housewife

The Disappointed Housewife is a literary journal for writers, and readers, who are seeking something different. We like the idiosyncratic, the iconoclastic, the offbeat, the hard-to-categorize.”


All the Office Ladies ~ fiction by Cathy Ulrich

“If I were an office lady in Japan, I’d be the last person to leave the office. I’d pretend the copier was jammed, or there were some last-minute copies to make. The other office ladies wouldn’t want me to walk out with them, three inches taller and American.”


Layers ~ fiction by Pat Foran

Thank you so much. Everybody’s got something going on if you peel back the layers.”

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How to Respond After Your Dentist Pulls the Wrong Tooth from Your Mouth

Nonfiction at Cosmonauts Avenue from the awesome Liz Howard.

“When you finally meet with the dentist, you are nervous as hell. You’re resolute in the fact that he pulled the wrong tooth, but you know your trembly, uptalking, anxious little self well enough to know it’s not going to be that simple.”

Œ=~~                     Œ=~~                   Œ=~~

The Jellyfish Review

“I asked for yellow balloons for my twelfth birthday, instead of my favourite colour blue because it no longer was.”

I Asked for Yellow Balloons by Alva Holland

Œ=~~                     Œ=~~                   Œ=~~

My Poem About Last Sounds

Prageeta Sharma in the Boston Review

“…you gave me all the departing desires,
as a way of teaching me to cope and to stay a poet when I don’t feel like being a poet.”

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Good Guess
by Kristine Langley Mahler

an erasure essay from Ch. 16 of The seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining, 1963

“She would strip her fear fresh and neat, thank the mother, mind her modesty, and he would envelope her as he said he would. Later. You are not the right girl.”

Read this and more at Cahoodaloodaling, a collaborative publication

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by Allie Marini

“Husband told her he liked redheads. but later, he told her that he knew it was just paint & it looked fake. he liked to dress her in outfits that didn’t quite fit right so he turned her upside down and bashed her head on the floor to get her pants to zip up.”

(Visit Allie Marini’s site. )

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Things I Keep, Things I Discard

By Jennifer Harvey, at Spelk ~ Short, sharp flash fiction


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"The Internet is not a thing, a place, a single technology, or a mode of governance. It is an agreement. "

John Gage, Director of Science, Sun Microsystems, Inc.




* * *

Our Imaginations Need to Dwell
Where the Wild Things Are

How Children's Literature Leads Us to The Uncanny

By Liam Heneghan



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Andrew Sean Greer:
All the Novels I Almost Wrote

The New Pulitzer Prize-Winner on the (Many) Times He Tried For a Guggenheim

by Andrew Sean Greer

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How to Write When You Don’t Wanna Write
(As Told By Other Writers)

This article was completely crowdsourced.
(But … by Justin Cox, at The Writing Cooperative)

“I call this strange feeling The Funk™️.”

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"PYNK," "I Like That," "Make Me Feel" & "Django Jane" available now: https://janellemonae.lnk.to/dirtycomputer Janelle Monáe with Special Guest St. Beauty "Dirty Computer" Tour Dates - Just Announced!

BURN PILE: "In the Shadow of a Mountain." From National Walkout Day to March for Our Lives, students are demanding a saner, safer world.

In the Shadow of a Mountain

by Bryn Agnew
Editor-In-Chief, CutBank

On March 14th, 2018, students from the University of Montana participated in the National Walkout Day to protest gun violence in schools.

The signs read WE CAN END GUN VIOLENCE, EDUCATED PEOPLE DO NOT NEED TO CARRY GUNS, MOMS DEMAND ACTION, and MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS. Someone starts a chant: “Enough is enough,” yet no one joins in. As far as protests go, the Walkout at the University of Montana is pretty tame. The signs, a single megaphone, a moment of silence. Letter writing materials are distributed. People register to vote. Sitting on a bench, just behind the crowd of my fellow students, a man sits down next to me and talks about the difference between fishing for trout in the Kootenai and fishing for bass at Lake Fork, TX. Looking at the crowd of students, he says, “I don’t do this gun stuff.”

Washington DC, National Walkout Day
Photo by Lorie Shaull

There is no way to know what he means. The verb is weak, the statement vague. But I wonder why he tells me this, on the bench away from the crowd. I can’t help but think that he doesn’t consider me a part of the crowd, and I wonder if I’m even a part of them.

In the weeks since the Parkland shooting, I walk the UM campus haunted. To my office in the LA building, to the UC for lunch, to class in the afternoon, I wonder where the shots will come from. At the Walkout, sitting on the bench, I cannot will myself to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow students for fear of being an easier target. I am a traitor to them.

After, I text my friend saying, I think it is tragically American that I could not will myself to stand in the crowd for fear of being shot. I think of the statistics we are constantly being reminded of: you are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning while being chewed in half by a great white shark than to be shot in school. We are reminded that we are irrational. That this will never happen to us. I shame myself for my own fear.

Pennsylvania Ave March For Our Lives
Photo by Shawn Thew-EPA

Yet, this fear is all many of us have known. On April 25th, 1999 I was eight, sitting in church with my parents. The pastor walked to the pulpit and said the most searing words I’ve ever heard: “This week was hell.” Five days earlier, the Columbine shooting happened. Fifteen dead, twenty-four wounded. I learned what the word “hell” actually meant.

There are students at UM who were born after Columbine, who have lived through the constant fear of being shot at school, who grew up participating in active shooter drills the same way I grew up participating in fire or tornado drills, the way our parents hid under their desks hoping the ply-board and cheap metal would save them from the mushroom cloud. Please, listen to them.

Mt. Sentinel looms over UM, and by the bronze statue of a bear, they—we—gather. Because it is tragically American to be shot in school. We don’t want to be good Americans. We want to be the Americans the “good” ones hate. Apathy is a privilege. Yet, sacrifices to the gods of gunpowder should never afford apathy. Approximately 7,000 children have been killed by gunshot wounds since Sandy Hook in 2012.

We gather under the mountain because the fear is not irrational. Our institutions of knowledge, growth, and creativity are plagued by the fear. A shadow over the campus. This is how we live, fearing what could happen to our school, to us.

I am proud of my fellow students and our educators all over the nation, looking out of the shadow, saying however we can, “Enough. Not one more.”

"March for Our Lives: hundreds of thousands demand end to gun violence." 
The Guardian, U.S. edition.

Leni Steinhart on A.M. Joy:

“We were just in New York just last week, doing a panel there, and a couple of students were coming up to us and saying you’re inspiring to us, we’re looking up to you, we’re going to fight with you, and I just tell them, first of all thank you, but we’re just students who want to create change, and we hope that they march along with us today.”

What are your thoughts?
Let's keep this conversation out front. 

Talk to us. We're listening.
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