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

Archives Index, 2017 August 16–31


31 August 2017 — 2154 mdt

Montana’s leaders must call a special legislative session
to raise firefighting money and repeal automatic budget cuts

Montana’s firefighting fund is empty, thanks to (a) more forest fires than anticipated, and (b) an irresponsible raid on the fund to plug budget holes. Now, reports the Missoulian, Montana budget director Dan Villa says money to fight the fires will be transferred from other accounts. Translation: money will be taken from programs to help the people who need them most, but who have the least power to fight for them; from the old, the sick, and the poor.

…read the rest


31 August 2017 — 1742 mdt

A new sheriff for the Flathead & a judicial election in Whitefish

Will Flathead County elect a new sheriff in 2018? My sources report that incumbent sheriff Chuck Curry plans to retire (that could change). As of August’s end, Keith Stahlberg, a Flathead deputy sheriff with the rank of sergeant, and former deputy sheriff Calvin Beringer, had filed C-1-A forms with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices. Stahlberg filed on 24 June, Beringer on 16 August. Filing a C-1-A allows a candidate to start raising campaign money before the 11 January 2018 opening of filing for office.

The domain name stahlbergforsheriff.com was registered on 15 July. beringerforsheriff.com was registered on 10 August. Both were registered by proxy to hide the owner’s name, but there’s no doubt these are the candidates’ future campaign websites.

Beringer appears to be the same Calvin Beringer who is leader with the local chapter of Act for America, a organization that human rights groups consider hard core anti-Muslim.

Whitefish municipal judge candidate Kristi Curtis
says Montana law requires a full-time judge

Update, 2215 MDT. The InterLake reports that Whitefish municipal judge candidate Tom Tornow has withdrawn from the ballot.

One of her opponents, Tom Tornow, believes a part-time judge is all Whitefish needs. On 27 June, I took Tornow to task for that and a few other things. Curtis, who now has a campaign website, also has doubts about a half-time municipal judge. Here’s what she says about the issue:

Section 3-6-106 of the Montana Code Annotated states: “Sessions of court — departments. (1) The municipal court must be in continuous session from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on every day except nonjudicial days.” Typically, nonjudicial days are holidays. [Link added by Flathead Memo.]

I question the data relied upon by the candidate to support his belief this is a part-time position. As the Whitefish City prosecutor for the last two years, I am aware of the increased caseload since 2006, when one of my opponents had his last contact with the court. For example, in the two years I have been the prosecutor the number of DUI cases has doubled. DUIs are typically the most time intensive cases, and the ones most likely to go to trial.

Further, real property taxes are based on property values and mill levies. The hours a judge works has no effect on taxes. While the wage paid to a judge could potentially reduce the budget, which is funded through property taxes, that decrease would not result in any property tax reduction.

I submit the proposal of a part-time position is a ruse to allow the candidate to pursue his ongoing private practice, thereby depriving the citizens of Whitefish of a committed and focused judge. If elected, I would commit 100% to the position, including personal attendance in the courtroom to review search warrant applications for DUI forced blood draws at any time of the day or night, Saturday and Sundays included!

This could be a lively, expensive, and potentially divisive, judicial campaign, and further proof that an election is a terrible way to select a judge.

Flathead Memo will monitor this election, but will not endorse a candidate.



29 August 2017 — 1710 mdt

Visibility dropping rapidly in the smoke choked Flathead

This note is mostly for my out-of-state readers. Those of you in Montana, and especially in the Flathead, can see the air thickening with smoke. The PM2.5 reading at 1600 was 70.3 micrograms per cubic meter — officially deemed unhealthy — and heading up. The PM2.5 concentration is at least five times higher in Seeley Lake and other locations. Here, the acrid 90°F air stings my eyes and has triggered an awful headache. Inside my house, where I’m bunkering down, it’s 75°F, but my eyes still sting and my head still hurts.

August is ending — and with hurricanes, floods, fires, fools goose stepping in Charlottesville, and a President with his foot in his mouth and his brain in neutral, it’s beginning to seem like End Times.


25 August 2017 — 2137 mdt

Did Wrasslin’ Greg smile for his mug shot?


We don’t know — yet. As per his standard policy, Gallatin Attorney Marty Lambert is refusing to release the mug shot of Rep. Greg Gianforte unless a court orders him to do so. But Gianforte probably didn’t smile. I think that’s against the rules. And being forced to be fingerprinted, and to pose for a booking photograph — to be treated like a common criminal — is nothing to smile about.

Not releasing mug shots before a conviction is good policy. After a conviction, treating them as confidential criminal justice information makes no sense. Lambert, a Republican, is covering his southern exposure. And playing both sides, as he asked the court to order Gianforte to submit to being photographed and fingerprinted. The Bozeman Chronicle already has asked the court to order the mug shot released.

Will Gianforte fight the release of his mug shot? That’s possible…

…read the rest


23 August 2017 — 1314 mdt

Flathead Memo commits eighth grade science,
measures intensity of sunlight during the eclipse


While President Trump was staring at the sun with his unprotected orbs, I was watching an image (right) of the eclipse projected through a pinhole — and using my 45-year-old Weston Master 6 light meter, which reads out in candles per square foot, to measure the intensity of the sunlight every few minutes.

My NASA designed, homebuilt, pinhole projection viewer, made from a cereal box, duct tape, and aluminum foil (Teflon coated, a slick touch), is at right. A sheet of white paper is glued to the bottom inside. A ten-cent apparatus that provided a ten-dollar view.

I measured the illumination from the sun, incident light in photographic lingo, rather than the light reflected from a gray card. The reading is the same, but measuring incident light, a standard technique in cinematography, is easier and gives more consistent results.


…read the rest


23 August 2017 — 0812 mdt

More bombast from the Bully in Chief

It’s already Wednesday, and Donald Trump still hasn’t behaved in a way that should make Americans proud of their President.

Monday. During the eclipse, an aide shouted, “Don’t look!” He immediately, reflexively, smirked and squinted at the sun with his naked eyeballs, setting a horrible example for the nation. His diehard supporters loved it, of course, as they hate experts, and his impudent squint flipped one to the professional class — teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists — his loyalists despise.

…read the rest


21 August 2017 — 0001 mdt

How Flathead Memo’s chief blogger will view the eclipse

I’m viewing it indirectly. In my judgement, there’s really no safe way to view the eclipse outsize the zone of totality, and certainly not in the Flathead, where ten percent of the sun will not be blocked. That’s enough sunlight to burn your retinas in just a few seconds.

Be wary of eclipse glasses. Even those with light blocking filters that meet NASA recommended specifications may have random, and minute, difficult or impossible to detect, defects that pass retina wrecking levels of light. I’m watching a projected image of the eclipse, using a viewer similar to the one described in this short video:

The eclipse begins at 1016, reaches its maximum at 1131, and ends at 1251. More at the Flathead Beacon.

Photography. You can record the change in the intensity of sunlight by photographing a scene. Put the sun at your back. Mount your camera on a tripod. Frame a scene without much sky. Just before the eclipse begins, switch your camera to manual and select the shutter speed and f-stop for a normal exposure. That’s your exposure for the rest of the eclipse; don’t change it. Photograph the scene at regular intervals — five or ten minutes. As the eclipse progresses, the recorded image will darken. Tomorrow, I’ll explain how to convert those images to a light curve.



19 August 2017 — 0220 mdt

High flying at the Flathead County (NW MT) Fair

I visited the fair Thursday, walking from my home 1.5 miles to the west and arriving at 1710. That’s a good time of day for photography, with the hard shadows and haze reddened sunlight (although twilight is best for shooting the brightly lit carnival), but a bad time for moving quickly as the crowds are building and long queues formed at the gut bomb booths for overpriced soda pop and greaseburgers.


This is a crop of the next image.

…see the rest


16 August 2017 — 1025 mdt

Donald Trump doesn’t know how to be President — and never will

All who hoped Donald Trump would become even a minimally competent President had their hopes dashed yesterday when he falsely equated the murderous neo-Nazi violence at Charlottesville with the infuriating, but not lethal, misbehavior of a few dozen Antifa miscreants. In these situations, when the nation’s psyche is bruised, when evil is unmistakable and must be condemned, a President must provide moral clarity and calming leadership. Trump provided neither. Instead, he delivered a red-faced rant that revealed he understood neither the events he was addressing, nor his obligations as our nation’s leader. His conduct was as frightening as it was embarrassing.

As Ed Kilgore observed today at New York:

It is also difficult after this performance to harvest any misapprehension that Trump is just playing the fool to manipulate public opinion. There is no sense in which there is a popular majority for the causes he now seems to be defending, and it’s not like the neo-Confederate right is going to find itself another national political champion.

No, it is increasingly clear that with Donald J. Trump, what you see is what you get, and what we got in this presser gone mad was Archie Bunker on paranoia-inducing steroids. By contrast, his remarks on Monday condemning the white riot in Charlottesville looked forced, like a statement made as part of a plea bargain. The minute he had a chance, as stunned aides stood by, he set us straight.

It is going to be a very long three-and-a-half years, and if Trump runs for reelection after incidents like this one, his slogan might as well be “Make America Hate Again.”

The United States will survive the assembly of neo-Nazis, members of the Klan, and other white supremacists. This was not the first time American Nazis and the KKK joined hands:

A meeting of the minds— of sorts— was held on August 18, 1940 when honored guests bedecked in white robes arrived at Camp Nordland. Two groups with mutual interests, the German-American Bund and the Ku Klux Klan, were having a get-together. One estimate suggested thirty-five hundred people were in attendance. Another put the rate much lower, with perhaps only one thousand present, and just one hundred of them Klan members.

Bernstein, Arnie. Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund (p. 273). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition. Link added by Flathead Memo.

No one should have illusions Trump will change for the better. That’s not his temperament. Indeed, as he ages in office, his faculties may erode, his judgment may decline further, and his behavior may become more erratic and dangerous.

In a parliamentary government, Trump’s conduct yesterday probably would have resulted in a vote of no confidence and his ouster as the prime minister. Not having that immediate remedy for removing a leader who become unfit to serve is a defect of our presidential system with fixed terms of office.