A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

Archives: 2015 July 1–15


15 July 2015

Black Pete visiting convolvulus tricolor

Convolvulus tricolor is also known as a dwarf morning glory. Shortly after I made this photograph today, a gust of wind evicted Pete from the pantry.


America’s grand sweep of the solar system


Looking for a reason to feel proud about the United States? Look no farther than, and as far as, Pluto, which was still the ninth planet when the spacecraft that made this image was launched. The British newspaper, The Guardian, in its story on the New Horizons spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto, paid our nation this tribute:

The successful mission means humans – specifically, the US – have now reached all nine planets of our solar system.

We did it with imagination, intellect, engineering expertise, the highest level of manufacturing on Earth, and expert management. Luck had nothing to do with it. We did it because we were, and are, good — and not just good, but the best.

If we can solve the problem of visiting a planet three billion miles from Earth, we can solve the problems of keeping Earth a pleasant place to live.



14 July 2015

Proposed School District 5 discrimination policy change

The School District 5 board of trustees meets this evening at 1800 in the library of the Kalispell Middle School. Use the upper parking lot. Comment will be taken on proposed changes (below) to the district’s discrimination policy.

The full packet (PDF, 26 MB) for the board meeting can be downloaded at this link, kindly provided by SD-5 board chairman Joe Brenneman. It’s a long download that places the PDF in your browser’s window. Right click and choose Save As to save the PDF to your disk. The proposed change to the discrimination policy (policy number 3210) is on page 347 of the packet, with deletions struck through and additions highlighted in yellow.

Proposed changes. The phrase “sexual orientation” is clear enough, at least to me. The phrases “gender identity” and “gender expression” need precise definitions, which I did not find in the packet. People using these phrases probably know, or believe they know, exactly what they mean, but to me they’re pretty close to psychobabble.

There may be a large turnout. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have notified their members of the meeting, and so have a number of other organizations. The board should be prepared to move the meeting to the gymnasium.

Please exercise rhetorical restraint. The great danger is that the proposed changes to the policy will become a proxy for further cultural combat between those who believe homosexuality is a mortal sin, who believe the Supreme Being is on their side, and those who do not. Students who need all the understanding and compassion that society can muster — the students the policy changes are designed to protect — are in danger of being caught in the crossfire and becoming collateral damage. Before saying anything, commenters should consider whether remaining silent and committing their thoughts to paper, in gentle language, is the wiser choice.

If you cannot attend the meeting, you can email your comments to the board’s chairman, Joe Brenneman, and/or the district’s superintendent, Mark Flatau.

Proposed changes to 3210 discrimination policy

Flathead Memo note. Proposed deletions are struck through. Proposed additions are highlighted in yellow.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

School District #5 and Flathead High School District Kalispell Public Schools

STUDENTS (policy 3210)

Equal Education, Nondiscrimination and Sex Equity

The District will make equal educational opportunities available for all students without regard to race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, ethnicity, language barrier, religious belief, physical or mental handicap or disability, economic or social condition, or actual or potential marital or parental status, gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression.

No student, on the basis of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression, will be denied equal access to programs, activities, services, or benefits or be limited in the exercise of any right, privilege, or advantage, or denied equal access to educational and extracurricular programs and activities.

Inquiries regarding discrimination or intimidation should be directed to the District Title IX Coordinator. Any individual may file a complaint alleging violation of this policy by following the Uniform Complaint Procedure (Policy 1700).

The District, in compliance with federal regulations, will notify annually all students, parents, staff, and community members of this policy and the designated coordinator to receive inquiries. This annual notification will include the name and location of the coordinator and will be included in all handbooks.

The District will not tolerate hostile or abusive treatment, derogatory remarks, or acts of violence against students, staff, or volunteers with disabilities. The District will consider such behavior as constituting discrimination on the basis of disability, in violation of state and federal law.

Legal Reference: Art. X, Sec. 7, Montana Constitution — Nondiscrimination in education

§ 49-2-307, MCA Discrimination in education
24.9.1001, et seq., ARM Sex discrimination in education

Policy History:

Adopted on: 01/04/2000
Revised on: 05/13/2003; 11/14/2006



13 July 2015

Greasing the Grexit for Greece

The European Union has offered Greece a deal it probably doesn’t want Greece to accept, writes Kevin Drum in Europe’s Message to Greece: Don’t Let the Door Hit You On Your Way Out.

The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Guardian have the details on the EU’s terms, which are harsh and punitive. Pensions must be cut, taxes must be raised, public assets must be sold off, and Greece must grovel again before the EU’s high priests of monetary morality will deign to even consider writing down Greece’s crushing debt.

Who loses most in this tragedy? Greece’s pensioners and poor.



12 July 2015

Music for Europe’s economic chaos

Europe’s leaders are meeting today to decide what to do about Greece. Those leaders are not unified. France and Italy want to help Greece. Germany and Finland want Greece to jump in the Aegean and drown, but only after paying back an unpayable debt created by a combination of Grecian profligacy and reckless German lending. This, as the New York Times reports, is a clash of cultures, with practical economics and politics being subordinated to national character, especially in authoritarian Germany, where anal retentive, heel clicking, Prussian pigheadedness is just as strong as ever.

For the people of Greece:

And for Angela Merkel and her loan sharkish finance minister:



11 July 2015

Recommended reading, Helena’s Confederate fountain

At Intelligent Discontent, Don Pogreba published an excellent essay by Keegan Boyar, a Ph.d candidate in history. Boyar attended the Helena City Commission’s meeting on the fountain:

…I was deeply shocked by the number of comments that denied the role of slavery in the Civil War and the impact of continued racism afterward, and I am worried that such a faulty understanding of our nation’s past will be reflected in the fountain’s new plaque.

It is clear to all reputable historians that the Civil War was fundamentally about slavery, and the South’s fears that remaining a part of the Union would destroy the slave system at the heart of the South’s economy and society. This understanding of the Civil War is not based on political correctness gone mad, but rather on an objective reading of historical sources. The comments made by several community members at the council meeting to the effect that the Civil War was about states’ rights are seriously misleading, as the states’ right in question was that of slavery. Leaders of the Confederacy made it clear via speeches from the era what the conflict was about.

There’s more, so be sure to read Boyar’s entire essay, which mentions a letter to the Helena Independent Record by Helena’s Ed Noonan. Helena’s decision to place the fountain in Hill Park, reports Noonan, was made shortly after a weeks long showing of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film based on Thomas Dixon’s novel, The Clansman, and as notorious an example of cinematic propaganda as Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. Noonan concludes:

…read the rest


10 July 2015

More Montanans who insist the Civil War wasn’t about slavery

Helena’s debate over the Confederate fountain in that city’s Hill Park has generated an impressive amount of indignation from Montanans who were taught the southern version of Civil War history — who were taught the war was not about slavery, or that slavery was not the primary cause.

Today, Montana Cowgirl has a letter sent to Helena city commissioners Haladay and Haque-Hausrath by a local justice of the peace, Michael Swingley, who describes himself as a former trooper and native Helenan. He said:

…read the rest

Smoked sun west of Kalispell

Just before sundown yesterday, smoke from distant wildfires dimmed the sun, turning it orange. Walking west of Kalispell, this scene developed as I approached these towers on which are strung 230 kilovolt powerlines. It felt like early September, not early July.




9 July 2015

Achtung! Greece, Deutschland demands that you PAY UP!

There’s no better language for issuing commands than German. It’s structured to give orders. And Germany is culturally disposed to follow those orders. So it’s no surprise that Germany’s prime minister, Angela Merkel, is demanding that Greece pay in full an unpayable debt that greedy and reckless lenders in Germany helped create. Pigheaded piety suffuses the German character, and is a major reason why that nation waged two criminal and losing wars in the last century.

Merkel’s fortunate that Melina Mercouri is not still alive. However much Merkel hates working with Greece’s current prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, a man who refuses to click his heels and salute Merkel, she would have hated even more working with Mercouri, who never took guff from authoritarians.

…read the rest

Confederate fountain follow-up

Helena’s city commission decided last night to add educational signage to the fountain at Hill Park that honors Confederate soldiers, reports the Helena Independent Record. The commission asked the Lewis & Clark County Heritage Tourism Council to recommend the text for the sign(s).

Don’t expect that council to draft language criticizing the fountain or its donor, the United Daughters of the Confederacy:

While [City Commissioner] Haladay asked the Heritage Tourism Council to keep an open mind as it creates language to accompany the fountain, the council’s chairman, Dick Alberts, disputed Haladay’s implication that the fountain was part of a larger propaganda campaign in the early 20th century to encourage public nostalgia for the Confederacy.

The fountain was presented to the city as a thank-you gift, Alberts said, adding that these were people who left the South in search of a new life.

“That was their historic intent,” he said in his comments to the commission.

Alberts’ comments get to the heart of the dispute. Is the fountain just a great big granite thank you note to Helena for being a wonderfully friendly city to the ladies of the UDC — or is it part of a larger UDC scheme to perfume the reputation of the army that fought to preserve slavery? If it’s the former, residents of Helena can swell with pride — but if it’s the latter, they may shrink with shame.

Civil War historian James Loewen, in Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, strongly argues that Helena’s Confederate fountain was part of the UDC’s national campaign to suppress the memory of the awful institution for which Confederate soldiers fought by honoring the individual valor of those soldiers. An excerpt of Loewen’s book can be found at Montana Cowgirl.

City Commissioners Haladay and Haque-Hausrath might want to consider inviting Loewen to Helena to lecture on the Confederate fountain and how monuments are used to whitewash history.



8 July 2015

Pushback to correcting Helena’s historical record begins

The debate over Helena’s monument honoring Confederate soldiers now has two threads: (1) the monument’s historical accuracy and purpose, and (2) whether renaming, modifying, or removing the monument would dishonor the Helena citizens who approved the monument and then kept it in place for 99 years.

…read the rest


7 July 2015

Is Helena confused about the meaning of democratic government?

There’s official evidence that it is. According to this website:

The City of Helena operates under a Mayor-Council form of government. This form of government most closely resembles the private sector with the Mayor serving as the Chief Executive Officer and the Council as the Board of Directors.

That’s wrong. A weak mayor-council with a strong city manager is closer to the corporate board and CEO model.

But even that comparison misses the point.

Government represents all of the people and is organized to work for the common good. A corporation is a subset of those people (and possibly also a subset of foreign nationals) that’s organized to enrich just that subset.

Indeed, one of government’s duties is regulating corporations.

Helena generally is considered a progressive city, as well as a stronghold of Democratic voters. It may be those things, but it’s also a city that confuses democratic government with a corporate board of directors, and has a public park with a monument to soldiers who fought to preserve the institution of enslaving humans.



6 July 2015

Fireworks update, Laslovich’s incredible excitement

Fireworks scofflaws. As expected, some people either didn’t get the word or ignored it. The county logged 2013 213 fireworks complaints, reports the Flathead Beacon. There probably were several complaints for each incident.

It was quiet in my neighborhood. But it wasn’t in The Western Word’s Mike Brown’s neighborhood in Great Falls, where figuratively and apparently literally he was dodging great balls of fire propelled by Force 8 winds.

I’m still trying to determine whether Polson’s chamber of commerce canceled its fireworks display. It should have been canceled given the red flag warning issued on the Fourth.

Update, 7 July. My sources in Polson report that fireworks display did go forward as scheduled, the red flag warning, high heat, and low relative humidity, notwithstanding. Not a responsible decision, in my judgment.

Jesse Laslovich: big bucks, big excitement. He’s running for the Democratic nomination for Montana State Auditor (insurance commissioner), and he’s raking in the campaign contributions. Today his campaign issued a news release reporting he had raised over $100,000 during the second quarter of 2015. That, says the campaign, is the most for that quarter by any auditor candidate “…since current campaign financial contributions limits were established in the 1990s.” More than 700 contributed.

He’s also meeting people:

“I am incredibly excited about meeting folks to get their input about how we can make the State Auditor’s office even stronger,” Laslovich continued. “As State Auditor, my job will always be to look out for Montanans.”

I’m glad he’s jazzed-up about meeting people, but I can do without “incredibly excited” in a press release. That biz jargon sounds slightly indecent.

And I would like to know how many contributions, and how much money, came from people associated with the insurance — and especially the health insurance — industry. I want an auditor who’s such a consumer oriented official that the insurance crowd refuses to donate to his campaign.


That white man in Whitefish who makes Whitefishers see red

Whitefish is in the national news again, and not in a way that most residents of the Flathead’s most liberal community will like. White supremacist Richard Spencer was mentioned over the weekend in stories in the National Journal and the New York Times on white supremacy and the internet. From the Times:

…Most of the best-known organizations also claim to have disavowed the violence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Richard B. Spencer, the 37-year-old president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute in Whitefish, Mont., embodies this new generation.

He holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and studied for a doctorate in history at Duke University. Now he runs an organization that produces papers on issues like racial differences in intelligence and the crime rate among Hispanic immigrants.

Spencer sings to the choir, although he’s seldom heard in Whitefish where there are people who would like to run him out of town. He commits his mischief online and at conferences on white pride that he organizes for people who yearn for an America whiter than titanium dioxide. I won’t say he’s harmless — just the way he raises a liberal’s blood pressure makes me fear for the health of some of my friends — but while he’s making money I don’t think he’s making a lot of converts. Most likely, he’s just finding those who were already too proud of being white.



5 July 2015

Scenes from Kalispell’s Independence Day parade

Fireworks were banned, but not balloon burners, so those who braved predicted high temperatures and winds to watch Kalispell’s Independence Day parade were rewarded with 40-foot-high flames that must have made fire marshals wince. I certainly felt the heat.

And I certainly heard what might be the loudest truck in the world. It had no place in a parade celebrating freedom. Neither did concrete-mixer trucks, candy throwers who threw at me, and squirts with giant squirt guns who hosed the crowds and photographers. Missing, of course, were high school marching bands playing patriotic music; a continued embarrassment, this absence.

Fortunately, there were many fine moments during the parade. Here are some of them:


The balloon company is 2FlyUs.com, with operations in Kalispell and Phoenix, AZ.

…see the rest


4 July 2015

Music for a windy Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day, everyone. The fire winds are stirring, and so is this fine 2009 performance of Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Closer to the Fire.

Flags are out, and so is a Red Flag Warning:

Timing: Winds will begin to increase around sunrise, becoming gusty by early afternoon. A dramatic wind shift from westerly to easterly will occur by the late afternoon and evening hours.

Today’s Daily InterLake, in a story posted online last night, reports the Polson Chamber of Commerce still plans to go forward with its fireworks show, believing it can shoot the stuff safely over the lake. That’s just not possible, not with the wind blowing harder and onshore in the gloaming. That display will be canceled, and should have been canceled earlier this week.



3 July 2015

Northwestern Energy gets variance to lower Flathead lake

The relevant documents are posted at www.flatheadlakers.org. The lake will drop to 2892 on the USGS gage at Polson, and the outflow from Kerr Dam will be reduced from the Article 56 minimum outflows mandated in the license for the dam. The Federal Energy Regulatory commission approved Northwestern’s request for a variance from the license.

In 2001, another very dry year, the dam’s operator (not Northwestern) unilaterally reduced Kerr’s outflow below the Article 56 minimums. It was a case of not asking permission, then begging forgiveness — but forgiveness was denied, the Article 56 minimums were restored, the lake fell below 2892, and an uproar ensued. I’ll post graphs of this history later today or over the weekend.

As projected, the 2015 departure from Article 56 won’t be as severe as in 2001, and the lake will not drop as low as it did then. That's good, because high water temperatures are already placing thermal stresses on fish.


2 July 2015

Fireworks banned in the Flathead, but the decision was late

Flathead County’s commissioners banned all fireworks displays, public and private, this morning (resolution PDF; fire restrictions chart PDF). A short time later, Whitefish announced the public display at City Beach was canceled.

The county set up a telephone hotline for non-emergency fireworks complaints (406) 260-4161). But if fireworks start a fire or injure someone, call 911. The county should also set up a web page with a form for lodging complaints, but so far that hasn’t happened.

These are the right decisions. The National Weather Service issued a Fire Weather Watch at 1239 MDT today, forecasting high winds and very low relative humidity for Saturday, 4 July.

But making these decisions took far too long. Last week it was obvious that prolonged stretches of record heat combined with a record, or near record, dry June, had driven the moisture from forest, field, and lawn, resulting in a fire hazard usually not encountered until mid-August.

…read the rest

Helena’s memorial to Confederate soldiers

There’s a memorial (a granite fountain) to soldiers of the Confederacy in a public park in Helena — and two city commissioners want it renamed (they propose a naming contest) to honor something else. Montana Cowgirl has the story.

The memorial was given to the city in 1916 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Several members had relocated to Helena from the south. A defender of the memorial, Richard Alberts, argued in a letter to the editor of the Helena Independent Record (link to letter at MT Cowgirl):

This fountain is there as a “Thank You” to the City of Helena for providing the survivors of a very bitter war, which probably destroyed most of their well being and possessions, a place where they could build a future. It just happened that the people saying “Thank You” were the Daughters of the Confederacy. The fountain is not a flag which represents the losing side in the conflict; and, unfortunately, there are those who don’t want their uncompromising reasons for the war to be forgotten. The fountain is an appreciation of a chance to build a future, and to provide “a spirit of union with no feeling between the old North and South;” this is what the Daughters of the Confederacy did not want to be forgotten. There is a big difference in reason between the flag which flew over the South Carolina Capitol and the fountain in Hill Park.

Believe that and you will believe anything. Those Daughters of the Confederacy were not thanking Helena for providing an opportunity to build a future — they were thanking their ancestors for waging war to preserve slavery.

Military service is not intrinsically virtuous. No one should take pride in a forebearer’s service in the Confederate army. No matter how well great uncle Buford fought, he fought in an outlaw army in a dishonorable cause. Like the treasonous generals who led him, Buford was a traitor. Had Buford remained a loyal American, Union soldiers would not have bled and died in that tragic and terrible war. Buford has blood on his hands, and a fountain in a park cannot wash them clean.

Tear down that Confederate memorial. Recycle the granite in the spirit of beating swords into plowshares.



1 July 2015

Whitefish today banned private displays of fireworks

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott has the story. The Whitefish City Council deserves kudus for acting with celerity.

That leaves Flathead County, whose commissioners will take up Stage 1 fire restrictions — and perhaps a fireworks ban — tomorrow. If they don’t postpone the matter again. I find myself wondering whether they’re slow-walking the process in hope of wet weather. If so, they should know the forecast is for more hot and dry days.