4 and 20 blackbirds

by Jay Stevens

When I started 4 and 20 blackbirds — what? — nine years ago, I had a vision for the site. It was simple. I’d create a blog that would give a platform for progressive voices in a media environment that shut out all but the most saccharine of “conventional wisdom” and grating right-wing voices on cable television and talk-show radio. And it was in the context of some crazy times — we were in the middle of an ill-conceived, poorly planned, poorly run and unethical war in Iraq. Republicans ran Congress and beat down all opposition voices with the club of 9/11 and specter of terrorism.

The blog was also started, then, to tout the candidacy of Jon Tester for Senate.

How things have changed.

Jon Tester is a US Senator. We’re no longer in Iraq. We have a Democratic president. And there are still plenty of issues that should energize us, unite us.

One thing that’s changed is that there’s no shortage of voices in 2015. Everyone has access to blogging tools and social media, and can comment on forums like Reddit. Anybody with an opinion can voice it anywhere. If there’s a problem now, it’s that incivility and extremism drowns out good, productive conversation and information. You don’t need to look much further than Gamergate or the trollish response to Reddit’s decision to ban its “Fat People Hate” to understand that.

There’s still a need for a good progressive voice, though. Now, instead of having to cut through the bloc of mainstream media, it needs to rise above the cacophony of angry, irrational voices.

I’ve been away for awhile. I stopped writing for the Montana blogosphere in 2012. Recently, I’ve had my attention somewhat forcibly drawn back to this site. Imagine my surprise when I saw the discussion here — fantastic plots equating Bernie Sanders with Hilary Clinton’s conspiracy to….what? Well, it’s hard to say. Only that the international Jewish conspiracy is involved somehow. And Vladimir Putin is a hero.

Whatever. Maybe some of it is true. Who knows? What I do know is that whatever content that is on the site isn’t very popular. The readership has dropped 75 percent in the past year or so, from its high-water marks in 2011 and 2006. And it’s likely a majority of today’s hits are from a few obsessive readers and commenters who check in and post dozens of times a day. But, honestly, with Lee Enterprises cutting its state political bureau, now is the time for informative writing about state and local politics. Now is the time for reasoned views about the critical issues that affect everyday Montanans and Missoulians.

Which is why I put a lockdown on the site for now. It’s time for a reboot.

I don’t know what will happen to the site. I hope it will continue. I’ve asked jhwygirl to step up again, and I think she’s game. We’ll try to recruit new writers, and we’ll keep some of the old ones. But we’ll redirect the site to opinions and news that people need and like. Maybe there’ll be a redesign. Maybe not!

In any case, I think it’s time to get back to the site’s original vision. Thanks to all who have been a part of this site. I do appreciate it, despite my harsh words. I’ll leave the comments open for discussion. I’m sure not a few of you will simply call me names, but I’m hoping for some positive feedback and ideas for the future.


  1. steve kelly

    “And just like that, President Obama’s fast track of his “great job creation” bill is defeated in a 126-302 procedural vote which stumbled over what is known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance.” – Tyler Durden http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-06-12/house-kills-obamas-tpp-bill-after-pelosi-led-democrat-rebellion?page=1

    You want popularity, but stand for what? Values still matter to some people. Isn’t there enough form-over-substance media already to satisfy the average zombie? Have a nice day.

    • You might want to reread the post, Steve. Jay never mentioned wanting to be popular, but rather to be accepting and open to other voices. Jay points out that popularity doesn’t follow narrow-focus values, as you suggest that “some people” (the only one’s who matter of course) are the only ones who care about such things as “values”. I’m not remotely incorrect in pointing out that that logical fallacy (‘only our kind care’, argumentum ad populum, snob approach) is what has reduced the right wing websites to few and scattered, has the Montana Republicans warring with each other, and threatens to end the career of Rush Limbaugh.

      I certainly don’t wish to speak for Jay, but I do get the impression that he is tired of that kind of fallacious typically right-wing thought-dominance taking hold at a website he meant to be better.

  2. I look forward to seeing some changes here. Miss the writing that it all started with and jhwygirl excellent help in highlighting so many important issues like the campus rapes and aftermath.

  3. Welcome back, Jay. I doubt I’m alone in saying that regardless of how much any have enjoyed reading Lizard’s thoughts, you have been missed.

  4. Wow. Jay, I know you’re not going to accept this coming from me, but you’re an asshole. You just just down a happy place for non-conformism. It’s toxic for you to come in here and tell people they all have to talk the talk again. Man you’re boring.

    • Five starring your own comments again, Mark?

      • I did, actually. You don’t see the humor in that, no doubt. I was mimicking you. No one ever five-stars me. I don’t quack.

        Writing is a contact sport. Thinking is rare. People fall into lazy habits, like confirmation bias, and confrontation either brings out strength or weakness of character. jay will get his wish here and this place will quack again and people will thank him for making it safe for Democrats. It will be “professional” again, a groupthink haven where deviation and confrontations results in censorship, that thing you authoritarian types love so much.

        You are the original ban man, the man who loved to punish thought crime, wave a stick, have power over others. You have gotten your fingers burned here, so it is fun to watch you crawl back now, hoping it is safe again. Enjoy.

  5. Shorter Tokarski:

    Oh crap, the parents are home, found me raiding the liquor cabinet and trying to talk the daughter into running away! Goddamned adults, anyway!

  6. Steve W

    JC and Liz, On behalf of all your long and loyal readers and writers (excluding jay, since he seems rather ungrateful thankless, and cold-blooded) I want to thank you for your years of great intelligent informative writing. Your hard work dedication and creativity made this blog a fun place to read and write. And thanks for the poetry, Liz

    jhwygirl Thanks for the great reads – there weren’t enough of them. I hope you, Jc and Liz do another blog where someone can’t show up out of the blue and treat you all like squatters.

    For years you 2 (+ jhwygirl) and your other occasional and infrequent contributors kept the lights on here. You were and always will be 4&20 to me. You kept this place open, you guys made this place great, welcoming, and fun.

    See you at your next blog or around town. We should do coffee again. And Pete, I’ll see you at Pong

    Good luck Jay. I hope you learn to treat other people better.

    Steve Wells – Logging off 4&20 Blackbirds for the last time

    • lizard19

      thank you Steve.

    • Irony: Lamenting that a website owner needs to treat people better, at a website that has come to commonly refer to people as ignorant, brutish, stupid, manipulated sheeple. At the same site in which disagreement has become a personal fault and moral failing.

      Oh yes, some learnin’ needs be done alright …

  7. I’m suspicious. Just where were you Jay, when this headed south in your eyes? Was Tester’s election the only one of importance? What about the other senate and representative contests?

    Why now all the concern?

    I’ll tell you why. “They” came to Jay and said shut it down, it’s an embarrassment, they’re not towing the line or following orders.

  8. petetalbot

    I’m reading this news with a heavy heart but you started this site, it’s your domain and it’s your call. Yes, 4&20 has taken a different path. There’s not much emphasis on local and statewide issues, and it doesn’t have much use for party politics. Many of your early posts were on behalf of Sen. Jon Tester so it must not be pleasant to see him vilified at this site.

    I appreciate your letting me contribute here. Thanks for mentoring me in the early days. I like to think I helped keep this site afloat awhile after you left. Of course, jhwygirl and other contributors you brought on board did great work. It was a good run.

    Sometimes I was less than professional in the comment threads – getting in pissing matches that turned personal and nasty. I know better but can’t help myself. It didn’t improve this site, though.

    I hope lizard and JC continue posting somewhere. We had our disagreements but they’re good guys and good writers.

    My best to you and your family. Please look me up when you visit Missoula.

    • Kind of groveling in tone here Pete, Are you looking for work? I have to say I found you enjoyable when you got angry and got after me. That is informative, and useful information even changed hands in that anger, I hope. Maybe you even read it.

      I learn a lot about people when they get angry. Jay gets censorious, you get personal and start hurling insults, hoping for one that would stick. You should consult Budge on that matter, as he could mentor you in that areas, so long as you think you need mentors. He was the best. I never left an excahnge with that guy without a deep wound. But I learned a lot form him too.

  9. JC

    Jay, if you are going to lockdown the site without any input from the bloggers here, please just delete my authoring account and all of my posts. Immediately.

    • JC

      Jay, if you don’t remove my content — all posts and comments by Monday 9am, I’ll be contacting a lawyer for theft of intellectual property and copyright violations. You do not have my permission to use my content on “your” website past that time. I will view the use of my content past 9am Monday, June 15 as a violation of agreement and proceed accordingly.

  10. I agree with you, Jay. I used to enjoy 4 & 20 until it got so mean, derogatory and spiteful. Good luck in the future. Steve

  11. lizard19

    wow, I’m absolutely disgusted by this move. I became the main contributor here by default. because everyone else stopped writing and left and I kept it going. and this is how I’m treated? why, Jay, because we’ve had a few spats on Twitter?

    I have said multiple times I would prefer more contributors. I wanted Pete and jhwygirl to write more, but Pete jumped ship and jhwygirl has her own reasons. no one else stepped up.

    I will echo JC, my content is my intellectual property. JC, we need to get together and have a chat.

    • I write this as someone who has consistently read and enjoyed the content at this site, especially from you, Lizard. Do keep that in mind.

      When I was given administrative duties over Left in the West, I had no claim of ownership. There were many, including writers at this site, who demanded that I take that website in a direction that the owner of it had refused. Matt and I were clear. My job was to maintain the website, and by default become it’s primary contributer, not morph it into something it was never meant to be. When I refused to turn that website into what 4&20 has become, and displayed obvious derision for those who actually thought that a moral imperative, I became (as Jay and Matt both have faced) the target for wild assumptions (I was on the payroll), ludicrous accusations that I was threatening people with doxing, and strangely the second attempt to get me fired from my meat-space job. That isn’t even mentioning (until now) the online and email harassment. Bringing up the rather immoral and at least unethical actions of these morally righteous warriors for justice simply brought accusations that I was “playing the victim”. I remain here and elsewhere, ‘The guy who killed Left in the West’.

      Nope, What killed LitW was the owner pulling the plug. I was never that guy. ‘Nobody was reading it anymore’ is certainly a valid complaint, among those who a) didn’t actually see the stats, and b) easily fall into Steve Kelly’s fallacy above of argumentum ad populum. When it ‘died’ it was being read. Just not by the ‘right sort’, apparently. It should be noted that I was also commanded to delete user accounts, which at that site would also delete user content. I refused and suffered no legal blowback. I’m popping some corn, right now, in anticipation of watching where that little threat goes … Even Tokarski at his place admits that is hollow threat yet strangely he lacks the moral courage to note that here. I don’t have to wonder why.

      Lizard, I understand your sense of shock, betrayal, hurt and fear. None better. I’m glad you have reached out to talk to Jay, and hope that the two of you can work things out without threat of false authority. Still, I can’t help but think that there is a bit of Karma at play here. Taking someone else’s creation and turning it into something they find monstrous does not encumber them to accept or admire that effort. I have little faith that it will actually happen, but it would be pleasing if your sense of geopolitics could coexist without the harsh judgments against those who disagree, like the site owner.

      • lizard

        obviously Jay can do what he wants with this space. up until now what he has done was abandon it. what it has become is primarily a platform for me to share my perspective on world events. I would like to write more about local stuff, but the actions of people who don’t like my opinions have made that much more difficult. retribution in meat-space happens, as you well know, Rob. I can only speculate who may be encouraging Jay to lock the only two people left contributing from further contributions.

        personally I think paying attention to world events is more important now than ever. when Jay says “We’re no longer in Iraq”? I want to scream YES WE FUCKING ARE. because that’s the truth. the ignorance behind that one comment is staggering.

        when we struggle at the local level to help people. when we tax poor people to kinda sorta expand Medicaid (which is waiting in limbo for the federal ok). when we wonder why our jails are full of mentally ill people, these issues impacting our neighbors are rarely connected to American militarism and our nation’s insane plan to maintain global dominance. but they are connected, and criticism me for writing about world events from my little perch in Missoula, MT is absurd.

        I don’t really care what happens to the 1,000+ posts I’ve written over 5 years. maybe Jay should actually read some of them. he might learn something about what his Democrats are doing on the global stage.

        anyway, it’s been a good run. I’ve enjoyed being able to write for this blog. I appreciate the offer from jhwygirl to be a contributor, an offer I’m sure she regretted a few times. it’s too bad it has to end like this, but it’s beyond my control now.

        good luck future 4&20 contributors.

        • I don’t remember Jay writing that anything has been ‘written in stone’, and ‘the owl of Minerva only sets wing at dusk’ (Hegel). Something has happened, yes, but the outcome isn’t determined, unless you want it to be.

      • I merely skimmed that long remark looking for my name, thinking you would be your usual passive aggressive self. You did not disappoint, but painfully I had to then read more of the content to find out exactly what you are complaining about. Why the HELL are you using this forum and this situation to self-justify?

        I don’t think you know what moral courage is. It is going against the crowd, enduring ridicule, and standing by your beliefs. Just thought you’d like a working def.

        Physical courage is common, moral courage rare, so says Sam Clemens. To stand by a blogger who is writing disagreeable prose on a website you once, long ago, ran, would take moral courage. Cutting him off at the knees, and without warning, is an act of cowardice

        • Hmmm, like I stood against the attacks against a website I was charged with maintaining against the ‘right-thinking’ hoard? No that’s nothing like your definition, is it, idiot? Moral courage is rare. I see you have none, just as I pointed out.

          • Somewhere else you ask Stevens to eliminate the starring system even as you go about using it, five-starring yourself in the process. You think I don’t see through you, you coward?

            Politics does not bring out the worst in people. It brings out the worst people.

  12. Turner

    I see people of various political stripe are still posting here. In what sense is the site locked down?

  13. Reading all the post I hear a lot of anger and frustration. Honestly when I first started reading 4 &20 I enjoyed the variety of voices, male and female. Lots of discussion on topics and in the beginning without to much personal attacking and such. But it has changed and Lizard you are essentially the only one writing. Sometimes I like your stuff, sometimes not so much. Mostly I think its just one perspective which isn’t the reason I started reading this blog.

    Lizard if you and JC start writing somewhere else, let folks know. Plenty of folks will give it a read I’m sure.

    But let go of the attachment and attitude. If you want to write, write, establish your own blog, do your own thing, in your own space where you’re the one in control of your writing.

    Often blogs seem to be more personal attacks against one another, rather than sharing of discussions and respect. Well in mind, that attacking personally thing won’t bring followers except of folks that like that hate thing. And that’s not me.

    Sometimes you need to have someone whose been a bit on the outside to come in and say hey time to start over. Regroup, revision your future. That’s almost always a good thing in the long run no matter how difficult it is to see it at the time. Hope you all walk away feeling good about the work you’ve done here and move forward projecting your voices in other formats and blogs. It’s important to keep sharing.


    • lizard19

      it was unfortunate that pretty much everyone quit writing but me, because I’m a downer most the time tracking the worsening global situation that most people would prefer to ignore.

      thanks for reading.

  14. Eric

    There’s no point in being upset guys – pulling the plug on a blog, in a dead blogosphere is no big deal.

    I check in here once in a while, simply because it’s about all that’s left from the old days.

    Back in 2006, a blog might get 100+ real comments on a post. It’s been a long time since those days.

    What Jay knows, and didn’t say, is that there is a reason the blogs dried up, particularly the lib blogs, and that reason is that they failed to attract and keep an audience. It’s the same reason the NPR is perpetually struggling, and can’t find stations willing to air their program.

    So let it go guys – and take a bow, because IMO this blog is a lot more interesting in it’s current format than the way Jay started it out.

  15. Nameless Range

    The only four and 20 blackbirds I’ve ever known has been primarily written by lizard and JC.

    I often disagreed with them but I enjoyed their blog as they ran it. I found value in their ideas regardless of my personal alignment, or lack thereof, with them. I feel like I’ve been introduced to some new ideas that have changed the way I think about certain issues in the world, and for that I am grateful to both of them for the work they put into this blog. Thank you lizard and JC for the work you have put into it.

    I see this as a win-win. Jay can carry this blog on as he sees fit, and perhaps it will too provide value. Liz and JC can continue blogging if they wish and more ideas can intermingle. We are talking about a domain name and some hurt feelings, which in the bigger picture are small and insignificant compared to the ability to express ideas that will see thousands of eyes with the ease of a few clicks of a button.

    Best of luck Jay. Thank you lizard and JC. Let go and move on. Maybe to something better.

  16. I had not realized this blog was owned by a small dictator.

  17. troutsky

    Congratulations should go to Big Swede. Through sheer persistence, he accomplished his mission of eliminating left-wing thought from yet another outlet. Well done sir.

    • Swede offers necessary contrast to allow excahnge of viewpoints and to force people to examine their own. The idea that a right winger should not post on a leftish blog is an anathema to thinking people. It should be encouraged.

  18. Jay Stevens

    Hey all, there are a lot of hurt feelings here. I can understand why. I am not saying any of the recent authors won’t be posting here again.

    I would like to have the site focus again on local and state issues, contain a multitude of voices, and — above all — free from the obvious toxicity I’ve seen here going back through posts. I do not think this site should be a vehicle for personal attacks, nor should it be exclusionary.

    I don’t know what the plan is right now. Stay tuned.

    • First suggestion: get rid of the consequence free popularity contest that is “starring” comments. If’n you look back, you’ll see that when jhwygirl first implemented the program, I warned her that it would become an exclusionary and foolish tool with no consequence save driving disagreement into the shadows. I also, quite upfront with no deception, demonstrated how that useless tool could be gamed. Tokarski rightly claimed that when there is no disagreement, or persons who are deemed by ‘the right sort’ to be disagreeable, then there are few to no stars given. It is a ridiculous function meant to shame people into silence, arrogant, and exclusionary. It serves no purpose beyond playground politics. Please get rid of it.

    • Perfect timing! Friday execution, Sunday press conference. What a phony!

      The recent authors were cut off at the knees without warning. You did that. Why are you now pretending they are welcome when you disowned them in public? Do you want them to grovel?

      “Toxicity” is a word you used back in 200…? When you banned me at LITW. It’s vague enough to imply some sort of social ailment and yet also to hide a political motive: You do not like anyone questioning your motives and your actions, which are machinistic. That is when things get “toxic.” Frankly, I think you’re a hack, and dishonest. You and Kailey seem to get along. In poker, that’s a tell. Honor among thieves?

      I’ve always been left to wonder whether you (and Matt back then) are smart and calculating, or political tools. When the gig was up in 2010, you both at once folded tents and headed out. Now, with an election fever, our second national pastime after football, mounting, you’re back, you’ve booted two progressives, you’re about to ban me again, and also to bring in the D’s to start talking the D talk.

      I gotta tell you, by the way, when you D’s talk your vapid D talk, it gets really, really toxic!

      You’re a phony, a shill. You’re likely being paid. Because one thing I’ve gathered with the way you have treated me is that you are not stupid. You know I see through you, and for that reason know I have to be excluded from any forum you are on. I am dangerous for that fact alone, that you are that easy to read.

      You are a dishonest man, a political manipulator, low-rent for sure, but useful down in the trenches to clean up messes. The one you just cleaned up – free exchange of ideas on a blog here on 4&20, my only question, which Montana hack called you, and what was your price? I gotta guess it ain’t terribly high.

      Think I am gonna puke.

      • Wow…you have a lot of hate inside you and no matter how you write messages filled with personal attacks and basic whining folks won’t want to read you. Never have followed your writing and this is why. Get over yourself. Please…it would bring you so much peace.

        • I made it a point to attack him, as he is worthy. Focus on that. I called up all of my attack skills, and let him have it. He is, in my view, a low-level political operative carrying out mundane clean-up operations for the higher ups in the party. He is a dishonest man.

    • if you really do appreciate our efforts in keeping this blog going once you abandoned it, then include a link to my new blog in the blogroll.

  19. Jay, sorry for the delay in reading this post. I was told last night about the reboot… because like most people, I stopped reading 4&20 long ago.

    In the beginning this was a useful forum for progressive voices.

    In the last few years, it has been toxic and angry and ugly.

    As I wrote in a comment minutes ago to J-girl, in politics if you hate EVERYONE in the room, there is nobody left. At 4&20, the room was empty except a bunch of guys holding rocks.

    I welcome the change and reboot. Brave and overdue.

    And for what it is worth, I would block Mark Tokarski. I don’t know the guy and he is welcome to cast that venom in a forum that he hosts– or do it in the Missoulian comment section– but I don’t need that kind of rhetoric when I read from thoughtful contributors to 4&20.

    Good luck and let me know how I can support your work here. Best, Ellie

  20. Duganz


    It was your site, and your sandbox first. Decorum dictates telling the current roster that you were locking them out, but when has the Montana blogging scene been about decorum.

    I stopped blogging sometime ago when I went back to journalism, and only briefly popped up around here to day that Pat Williams said stupid things. And I’ve stayed away since because I guess that it didn’t leave me fulfilled, and my current gigs didn’t fit being caustic on the intertubes.

    I hope the changes go well, and I hope people keep talking.

    Even Mark, who is a jerk.



    PS, welcome back J-Girl!

  21. not to be all nit-picky, but those “about” pages describing myself and JC should probably be removed.

  22. David

    I’m just wondering why the Missoula Progressives support giving corporate welfare to businesses like South Gate Mall. All this extra tax money taken out of the economy could be used for higher wages or business expansion instead of lining the pockets of South Gate Mall.

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