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

Archives: 16–30 2015


30 June 2015

Flathead Commissioners will consider Stage I fire restrictions on 2 July;
Whether and to what extent fireworks will be banned still unknown

Updated and expanded. The Flathead Beacon reports that tomorrow Thursday morning, 2 July, at 0915 MDT, the Flathead County Commission will consider banning fireworks for the Fourth. Technically, the issue is whether to adopt Stage I fire restrictions. Public comment begins at 0900.

I’m glad the commissioners are coming to Jesus on the issue, but I wish they weren’t coming to him so lately. This is taking far, far, too long. Worse, if I note I received this evening from Citizens for a Better Flathead is correct, adopting Stage I restrictions might not impose a ban on fireworks.

How much drier must it become before a proper sense of urgency is instilled in the commissioners? How much adverse public opinion must scorch their backsides, how must smoke must they smell, before they get moving?

One's mind boggles at this foot dragging and official irresponsibility.


U.S. Geological Service abandons Flathead water resources office

All the files have been moved to Helena and the office is being cleaned out. The Fork Peck office, and in Wyoming, the Casper office, also are being closed. No word on whether people are losing their jobs, or if their misery will be limited to living in Helena. I think this is a beancounter move, not a wise move. We need more field offices and streamflow gauging stations, not fewer offices and measurements.

Wildfire, fireworks, sun boiled trout, Swan River at trickle flow

Fires and fireworks. Lake County is considering a ban on fireworks, reports the InterLake. In the state of Washington, when a wildfire flashed through four square miles inside Wenatchee, county officials claim they lack the power to ban fireworks. Just like some of their colleagues in Montana, they certainly lack the political will.

Glacier Rim Fire. According to news reports, it started in a gravel pit. In a gravel pit! How in blue blazes does a forest fire start in a gravel pit? A Biblical ignition?

Boiled trout. Over the weekend, the North Fork’s water temperature reached 66°F. Trout like water that warm about as much as they like hot butter in a frying pan. If this hot weather persists, by the end of summer we will, figuratively speaking, be able to go down to the river to net boiled cutthroat.

Catastrophic fires require three things: (1) a long dry spell that leaves forests tinder dry, (2) a source of ignition; lightning, arcing powerlines, fireworks, etc., and (3) high winds. The forests are tinder dry. Now it’s just a matter of a spark and a roaring wind.

Swan River below minimum enforceable flows again. A fair amount of water has came down the Swan earlier this year, but now the snowpack’s melted and no rain is falling. The Swan is running very low. Later today, or more likely, tomorrow, I’ll post graphs of the Swan in previous dry year. Meanwhile, here’s the hydrograph for 2015 plotted against norms and the MEF:



29 June 2015

Hydrographs of historically dry Flathead springs

Yesterday’s official high in the Flathead was 102°F at Glacier Park International Airport (KGPI), but a private weather station near the airport reported 104°F. Forests and fields are bone dry. And local rivers are flowing at near historic lows.

Assessing the degree of drought from the discharge of the Flathead River at Columbia Falls is not a straightforward process. Since Fall, 1951, Hungry Horse Dam has regulated the flow of the South Fork, distorting the hydrograph of the mainstem. Therefore, it’s useful to consider just the unregulated North and Middle forks of the river, which join at Blankenship and are gaged approximately three miles upstream of their confluence. Good records for both gages date back to 1 October 1939. Because the sum of the two forks correlates highly with the mainstem prior to the closing of HHD, it can be used as a proxy for the unregulated mainstem.

…read the rest

Montana Republicans oust Deschamps, but will much change?


Montana’s Republican Party has a new chairman, Rep. Jeff Essmann of Billings. He defeated incumbent chairman Will Deschamps and far right candidate Dan Happle. The party’s vice chair, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, was elected to a second term.

I suspect the main reason for choosing Essmann was to have a new face at the top, someone who could start with a clean slate. The GOP won elections under Deschamps, but it didn’t always win battles in the legislature even with a three to two majority in both houses.

…read the rest


28 June 2015

Sunday video — Heat Wave


27 June 2015

Commissioners, that sand your heads are in is DRY!

Over at the InterLake, Sam Wilson reports that although the fire danger is already very high, the Flathead County Commissioners are not ready to declare a fire risk emergency and ban private displays of fireworks on 4 July:

Commissioners Pam Holmquist and Gary Krueger both said they had were not actively discussing it, emphasizing they would need to hear those requests from fire officials before they consider such an action.

“I would weigh what the fire chief had to say, but I’m patriotic — the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday,” Krueger said. “At some point, if this continues, we will have some kind of fire restrictions, and that may be before the Fourth or after the Fourth and may include fireworks or it may not.”

He noted that even if the county attempted such a ban, enforcement would be difficult if not impossible.

Fellow Commissioner Phil Mitchell said Wednesday that he didn’t think it was dry enough at this point to warrant restrictions.

“On the fireworks thing, I don’t think it’s an issue at this point,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that dry, but that’s just my opinion… If the fire marshals or the people that work in the fire arena, that look at fires, ask us to do it, we would consider it.”

Translation: the commissioners fear flaming “you spoiled my Fourth of July” messages from voters more than they fear flaming fields, forests, and houses. And they seem incapable of imagining a fireworks catastrophe that leads to voters telling them, “You let my house burn down.”

…read the rest


26 June 2015

Obergefell decision settles legal issues only

Today’s decision (PDF) by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges settles same sex marriage as a legal issue. From the syllabus (pages 4–5):

The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. Same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. Baker v. Nelson is overruled. The State laws challenged by the petitioners in these cases are held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.

There will be calls for a constitution amendment overturning the decision, and zealots and demagogues will urge massive resistance of the type conducted by the South after Brown v. Board of Education, but the decision will stand and the initial resistance will fade, very slowly, into grudging acceptance.

…read the rest

It’s too dry for private fireworks this Fourth

I’d like to spend Independence Day with friends. Instead, I’ll be spending it in my backyard, a fire hose in one hand, a Pulaski in the other, ready to extinguish the faintest ember gone astray from a neighbor’s fireworks show.


The view southwest from my backyard in 2007. Other fireworks displays were much closer.

I enjoy fireworks. Immensely. But not when it’s 100°F in the shade and tinder dry, with the wind blowing toward me, and thousands of dollars of pyrotechnics going off just a couple of hundred feet away. In those conditions, I dread fireworks.

…read the rest


25 June 2015

Demanding an apology from Gianforte makes Democrats look weak

Four months ago, Greg Gianforte, the multi-millionaire who’s acting like a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor of Montana, delivered some less than progressive remarks on Social Security, noting that Noah was still working at age 600.

Now Democrats are out to shame Gianforte. Tomorrow, seniors and workers are conducting a protest (noon, the Chamber of Commerce Building, Helena) to kick off a petition drive demanding that Gianforte apologize for announcing he couldn’t find Social Security in the Bible (neither could I).

Do I want Gianforte to apologize for his remarks?


I want Gianforte to unequivocally, loudly, and clearly, support Social Security and expanding Social Security. I don’t give two hoots in a bedpan whether he says, “I’m sorry I couldn’t find Social Security in the Bible.”

Democrats need to stop demanding apologies. It makes them look weak when those from whom they demand contrition refuse to abase themselves. Have Democrats forgotten how pathetic and hapless John Kerry’s 2004 campaign appeared when, three weeks after being Swiftboated, his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, demanded that the Swiftboaters and Bush apologize — and they didn’t?

Part of this little exercise in Miss Manners politics is, of course, an attempt to build a list of supporters of Social Security who will donate to, and work for, Democratic candidates. I suspect that most who sign will already belong to the choir.


SCOTUS upholds ACA & grumpy old Scalia

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the King v. Burwell challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Yale law professor Jack Balkin has an interesting, and I think perceptive, analysis of how today’s decision reaffirms the social contract.

The decision leaves intact the mechanism in SB-405 for using expanded Medicaid money in Montana. Hospital administrators and private health insurance executives in Montana probably are turning cartwheels of joy.

Justice Scalia dissented, reaching new lows for snark and sarcasm. He’s colorful, but more and more he’s a grumpy old man who’s losing his mojo. He should retire.


Ryan Zinke’s whitest donors


Ryan Zinke’s 2014 campaign accepted contributions from two white supremacists, Earl Holt, whose writings may have inspired Dylann Roof, the man arrested for murdering nine churchgoers in Charleston, SC, and Richard B. Spencer, who lives in Whitefish, MT, but commits most of his mischief elsewhere. Each made a $500 donation to Zinke’s campaign.

Upon learning his campaign had accepted these men’s money, Zinke announced he was donating the money to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, a charity established to help the families of the people shot in Charleston.

Zinke was not the only recipient of Holt’s largesse. In all, Holt donated approximately $65,000 to Republican candidates around the country, among them Sen. Ted Cruz, who said he’s returning the money to Holt. Cruz should follow Zinke’s lead and donate Holt’s whitebacks to charity.

Zinke did the right thing when he donated the money to charity. But did he do the wrong thing when he accepted it? And should he have easily flagged the check from fellow Whitefish resident Spencer?

Many Democrats and human rights activists that I know believe Zinke should have rejected Spencer’s donation, and they find it hard, even impossible, to believe that Zinke’s didn’t know that the whitest man in Whitefish made a contribution to his campaign.

Unless Spencer personally handed his check to Zinke, I don’t agree.

Zinke reported 6,494 itemized individual contributions totaling $2,419,546, and unitemized contributions totaling $1,682,851. Most of that money came in by check or credit card, and was handled by the campaign’s financial team. That team was on the alert for missing information, excessive contributions (sometimes contributors forget they’ve already donated and send donations that exceed campaign contribution limits), and so forth. Their job was getting the money in the bank while complying with campaign finance law. Holt’s and Spencer’s donations were legal.

A great many campaigns receive contributions from embarrassing individuals. Zinke received money from men who are too proud of being white. His Democratic opponent in 2016 might receive money from an advocate for legalized pederasty.

These situations cannot be avoided, so what matters is how they’re handled. My advice, neither keep the money nor give it back. Donate it to a charity that works to counter the evil the unsavory donors support. Donate it right away. And never say “we can’t return it because we spent it.”



24 June 2015

Remove these traitors from National Statuary Hall

There is no statue of Benedict Arnold in National Statuary Hall in our nation's Capitol. But there are statues of at least four other traitors:

These men were rebels and traitors, not heroes. They were fortunate not to have been hanged. They fought to preserve slavery. Their statues belong in no public place. We must not forget them and what they did, but they should not be honored, not now, not ever. Get their statues out of our nation’ Capitol forthwith.


Lies, damned lies, and Southern lies about the Civil War

Tony Horowitz, author of Blue Latitudes and Confederates in the Attic, has a sobering essay, How The South Lost The War But Won The Narrative, at Talking Points Memo. He urges paying careful attention as the fate of the Confederate battle flag is debated:

But listen carefully in coming days as legislators and others debate the flag’s fate. You’ll hear over and over again that the flag represents “heritage, not hate,” and that if the banner must now be furled, it’s because Roof, the Klan, and other extremists have hijacked and tarnished its meaning. What you’re unlikely to hear, at least from whites, is an honest and historically accurate reappraisal of the Cause for which Southerners fought.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

…a deeper problem remains, and not just among those who cherish the Confederacy. Nationwide, Americans still cling to a deeply sanitized and Southern-fried understanding of the Civil War. More often than not, when I talk to people about the conflict, I hear that it was about abstract principles like “state sovereignty” and “the Southern way of life.” Surveys confirm this. In 2011, at the start of the war’s sesquicentennial, the Pew Research Center asked more than 1500 Americans their view as to “the main cause of the Civil War.” Only 38 percent said the main cause was slavery, compared to 48 percent who answered states’ rights.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I’m not very optimistic that the debate over South Carolina’s flag will bring a deeper reckoning. Furling the statehouse flag may bring temporary relief to South Carolinians, but what we truly need to bury is the gauzy fiction that the antebellum South was in any way benign, or that slavery and white supremacy weren’t the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Only then, perhaps, will we be able to say that the murdered in Charleston didn’t die in vain, and that the Lost Cause, at last, is well and truly lost.

The Lost Cause, arguments that the Civil war was about “Northern aggression,” and asseverations that the leaders of the Confederacy were not racists, are powerful myths that extend far beyond the South. In the recent past, two politically active residents of the Flathead, former State Representative Derek Skees (R-Whitefish), and Pastor Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party’s Presidential candidate in 2008, expressed views on the Civil War that were at variance with history:

To my knowledge, neither man has recanted nor repented those views.

Fortunately, the truth about the Civil War is being taught in some colleges in the South. Here’s a lecture from Houston, Texas:



23 June 2015

Southern pride BBQs in the Flathead on the Fourth of July?

There may be such an event reports one of my readers, who at the Echo Lake Cafe on Sunday saw a poster, festooned with images of the Confederate flag, advertising the shindig. Unfortunately, he didn’t photograph the poster, so I’m still trying to verify that there is such an event. If you have information, especially a photograph of the poster, please send it to TIPs at Flathead Memo. Your reply will be confidential, but please identify yourself.

There’s nothing illegal about having a themed celebration on Independence Day, not even if the theme is pride in the South, there are more stars and bars than mosquitos, and the guests whisper “segregation forever.” But even if the chicken and grits taste great, Southern pride probably is not the best theme to choose given the recent unpleasantness in South Carolina. Stow the rebel flag, fly Old Glory, sing the Star Spangled Banner, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.



22 June 2015

Dan Happel’s narrow vision for Montana’s Republican Party

Update. I recommend Ed Berry’s take on Happel, published today.

A big political tent always shelters factions that are not completely at ease with each other, that do not march in lockstep on every issue. Montana’s Republicans won 59–41 and 29–21 majorities in Montana’s House and Senate 2014, but lost important votes in the 2015 legislative session when a minority of their colleagues formed winning coalitions with Democratic legislators.

More than a few Republicans, Dan Happel among them, want to replace those coalition susceptible legislators with men and women more resistant to compromise. Happel, who seeks the party’s chairmanship, wrote in yesterday’s Daily InterLake, that:

…read the rest


21 June 2015

Welcome to Flathead Memo Sunday Style

Summer starts today. So does a six days a week blogging schedule for Flathead Memo. We’ll be posting Monday through Saturday, but on Sundays we’ll be off somewhere, taking a road trip, hiking in the mountains, or perhaps just cruising down the river, sipping a relaxed but adventurous chilled chardonnay from the vineyard of a respectable supermarket. Cheers.



20 June 2015

Solstice facts, Flathead lake, Gov. Haley joins Roof’s suicide pact

Change of seasons. Today is the last day of spring, but the day of the earliest sunrise. Tomorrow has the most daylight of the year, and the latest sunset. Using software from the U.S. Naval Observatory, I produced a sunrise, sunset, transit, and civil twilight table for the mid-Flathead Valley. You can download the table as an Excel spreadsheet. Or, you can calculate the values online at the USNO’s website.

One solar fact that surprises some: outside the tropics, the sun is never directly overhead. At its highest point during the day, at meridian transit, the sun is directly over the meridian on which one stands, an event also known as high noon and solar noon. The spreadsheet assumes a latitude of 48.3° north, putting the sun’s altitude at transit at 65° above the southern horizon, a zenith distance of 25 degrees.

The sun sets tonight at 2141 MDT at an azimuth of 308 degrees. Civil twilight ends at 2223. The actual time of sunset for your location depends on how high the horizon is above a level plain.

Plotting the sun’s path across the sky as a function of time, altitude, and azimuth can be done safely with simple tools. Making a sundial is an excellent summer family project for high school and some middle school students.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Flathead Lake is falling. So are the rivers flowing into it. Last week, Flathead Lake filled to slightly over 2893, the legal limit, and thus may have been in technical violation of the license. Then the level of the lake began a slow decline. I’ll have more on this early next week, but for now know that the inflow to the lake is very low, barely enough to keep the lake at a constant elevation as long as Kerr Dam meets its discharge requirements under Article 56 of the dam. If you have a centerboard boat, you’re probably okay, but if you have a fixed keel, and a deep one, you may be scraping bottom in a few weeks.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

SC Gov. Nikki Haley assists Dylann Roof’s suicide scheme. She’s demanding the death penalty, hardly a surprise given the crime and the fact that no governor ever lost an election by favoring killing people convicted of heinous crimes. That wins votes. But it won’t advance our understanding of men like Roof. Keeping him alive provides a rare opportunity to study what makes him tick. Hanging him from the nearest live oak tree does not. Keeping him alive also honors the principle that we should not kill our own when they are other ways to ensure our safety.

Haley also needs to find a way to remove the Confederate flag from the confederate memorial at her state’s capitol. It commemorates South Carolina’s firing on Fort Sumpter, thus starting a long and bloody civil war to preserve slavery that the south lost. The Confederate flag’s not a symbol of southern pride or military gallantry. It’s the fighting banner of the moral degenerates who spilled barrels of blood to perpetuate slavery and promote racism. It has no place in civilized society. The Civil War is still over, Gov. Haley, and the south lost. The sight of the Confederate flag should make you sweat with shame, not swell with pride. Take down that flag. Now. Never fly it again. Lock it in the attic with the hoods, sheets, lynching ropes, and cross burning paraphernalia.



19 June 2015

We are least safe when everyone is packin’ heat

The emerging profile of Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old who reportedly has confessed to murdering black worshippers in a Charleston, SC, church, is depressing and not surprising: poorly educated, not very bright, and consumed with hatred, including self-hatred. He reportedly wanted to ignite a race war, then die in a blaze of notoriety, which if true suggests he was suicidal.

Whether more stringent controls on firearms would have denied him the handgun he used is not a question with an easy answer. Nor is whether not having a firearm he still would have found a way to kill. Neither question is that relevant to the debate over firearms policy. Statistically, mass murders by lone gunmen with strange personalities are rare events that seem more common than they are because they’re so horrific. They may generate the political push needed to pass firearms legislation, but they’re not the events on which firearms policy should be largely based.

What we can do without, but are not being spared, are assertions that the churchgoers Roof allegedly killed might have lived had they been carrying sidearms and thus able to shoot back. Most making this argument sincerely believe that if armed, they might be able to protect themselves by returning fire. Carrying a handgun makes them feel safer, so they conclude that everyone is safer if everyone is carrying.

That’s a conclusion both specious and dangerous.

We are safest not when everyone is packing a sidearm, but when no one is packing. A truly civilized society in one in which an unarmed husband and wife can walk their stroller and baby through their neighborhood without fear of being harmed. That’s the actual state of affairs in most places in the United States. We would do well to recognize that, and not heed calls for pistols on everyone’s hip.


Daines recommends famous Montana gal for the new sawbuck

Farewell Alexander Hamilton, hello Jeanette Rankin? That’s what will happen to our ten-dollar Federal Reserve Note if Sen. Steve Daines’ recommendation is accepted by Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew.

Here’s what the Rankinized sawbuck might look like:


And here’s what the sawbuck looked like when the central portrait was of the bison:


Perhaps we should downsize the old buffalo bill, put Jeanette in the left quadrant, put Alexander in the right, add modern security features, keep the X behind the numeral 10, and re-issue that grand and glorious banknote.

Meanwhile, a tip of the hat to Sen. Daines. Recommending Rankin was a savvy move.



18 June 2015

Zachary Klundt’s “The Devil made me do it” defense

Zachary Klundt, who pleaded guilty to vandalizing Susan Cahill’s All Families Healthcare office, was sentenced today to 20 years in prison, with 15 years suspended, and ordered to pay $600,000 $669,000 in restitution (for more on restitution, see Carla Augustad’s latest post.

The sentencing followed three days of testimony during which Kalispell’s police revealed Klundt had sent his mother a text message asking where Cahill’s clinic was located. Her answer, if any, has not, to my knowledge, been reported.

Klundt blamed his crimes on depression, and on the alcohol and drugs to which he turned after his wife divorced him. He claimed he was looking for drugs when he broke into Cahill’s office. Cahill believes his motivation was political, and that the vandalism was an attempt to prevent her from performing abortions.

I agree with Cahill, although trying to steal drugs and vandalizing an abortion clinic for political reasons are not mutually exclusive actions.

Klundt’s defense amounted to “The Devil made me do it;” that he was just a crazy mixed-up guy, drunk and stoned, not a cold-blooded anti-abortion zealot with a penchant for violence.

That’s the only defense he had, so I’m not surprised he presented it. But booze and drugs should be aggravating factors, not grounds for reducing a criminal’s responsibility for his actions.

His parents and family, and his and their circles of friends, will visit him in prison. They should also visit their souls, asking themselves whether they bear any moral responsibility for his behavior.


MT GOP purity purge, base charge shock, MT Meth vandalism

Ideological cleansing in the Montana GOP. Montana Cowgirl has a transcript of a Republican meeting in Bozeman in which well known legislators expressed, in pithy language, unhappiness with some of their colleagues for their sometimes voting with Democrats in the 2015 legislative session. Reading it, I was reminded of this passage from Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention:

Anyone who joins us in all sincerity, we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we don’t expect to enter our ranks in any case. And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

They want a more tightly disciplined party. But if they take this crusade to excommunicate the heretics much further, they’ll end up an authoritarian cult.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Does everyone hate the electric company? After posting my analysis of how Flathead Electric’s high base charge distorts the true cost per kilowatt hour, I received a note from a Republican legislator:

I’ve included a sample of what a base charge does to very low usage - we were away for the month [February]. This is Missoula Electric and their base charge has since increased to $26.



His true cost per kWhr was 17.9 cents. It would have been 16.4 cents had his utility been Flathead Electric.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Vandalism by do-gooders. At Intelligent Discontent, Don Pogreba looks at the Montana Meth Project’s latest artwork and doesn’t like what he sees. Neither do I. And I especially don’t like this:

Despite this precipitous decline in revenue and significance, the Meth Project still saw fit to reward its executive director with a salary of $130,770, more than 53% of the program’s revenue.



17 June 2017

FEC’s monthly base charge distorts the true cost per kilowatt hour

One sure sign of spring for the last several years has been an increase in the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s rates. This year’s increase is 2.6 percent, but since 2010, FEC’s residential rates have increased 20–25 percent depending on how many kilowatt hours per month one buys. As FEC is a nonprofit, this is a pass-through of wholesale costs, done in several small increases instead of one whopping increase.

The charts and paragraphs below will display the customer’s true cost per kilowatt hour — your monthly payment divided by how many kWhrs you used — for FEC, the state’s largest electric cooperative, and Northwestern Energy, the state’s largest investor owned utility that serves the territory once served by Montana Power. FEC and Northwestern have different rate structures; at low monthly kWhr totals, Northwestern electricity is less expensive.

First, because FEC does not (but should) present a rate history on its website, here are the rates for residential single phase service since 2009:

…read the rest

Red sky this morning


16 June 2015

A good question — and bad first answer

After posting How dry it is a few days ago, in which I compared the combined flows of the Flathead River’s north and middle forks for 2015 and 2001 to the 1940–2014 median for the combined flows, my old friend, and cartographer extraordinaire, Ed Madej, asked a very good question:

Very interesting… Why did you go back to the 1940s to show the median line? NWS and Weather Underground are using the last 30 years, which WU refers to as the globally warmed years as “average” weather.

My initial answer was that I believed the NWS’s forecasting models were limited to 30 years of data, but I decided to compare the N+M 1940–2014 median with the 1985–2014 median — and produced this graph:


Fascinating — and wrong!

…read the rest