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

Archives Index, 2017 September 1–15


15 September 2017 — 2114 mdt

What happens if the cops can’t catch the creep threatening our schools?

Classes cannot be canceled forever. Or, as a practical matter, not for much longer. Children must be educated. Community activities must resume. Our daily round must be restored, even if it is at higher risk of disruption than before.

Will schools reopen with beefed-up security?

Will a false alarm be declared? Sheriff Curry, reports the Missoulian, now says ““Based upon our estimation, without revealing any details of the investigation, we certainly feel that there is a credible threat, or at least a potentially credible threat.”

A potentially credible threat? That’s an artful phrase. To me, it’s a predicate for a face saving statement to the effect of “Folks, we can finally relax. A diligent investigation revealed this was a clever hoax. We’re sorry for the disruption, but to play it safe we had to take it seriously. That’s our job.”

Meanwhile, the nature of the alleged threat is still being withheld from the public. I’ve been advised that this is standard procedure, which it undoubtedly is, and that being deprived of the facts is nothing to be concerned about, which is nonsense. When a county shuts down its schools, a city (Whitefish) bolts the door to city hall, businesses cancel sales (the Sportsman Ski Haus), public events are canceled (the oil and water don’t mix program sponsored by Trout Unlimited, et al), the public needs to know why.

Most threats are hoaxes. The damage done is from the reaction to the threat, not from the threat’s being carried out. If someone decides to blow up a school, he’s going to plant the bomb, light the fuse, and perhaps make a last minute warning call from an untraceable burner phone. He’s not, with one exception, going to reduce the probability of success by issuing a threat.

The exception is an attempt to extort money, to force the release of a prisoner, or to force a change in public policy. Because Sheriff Curry and school officials are being so tight-lipped, we cannot rule out the possibility that someone is trying to extort money by threatening to blow up a school, shoot a student, or do another bad thing. Our schools, of course, by being shut down, are being held hostage right now.

If this is attempted extortion, our law enforcers could be stalling for time while they attempt to capture the extortionist. They could also be stalling for time while they raise the ransom (which might have to be paid in Bitcoin).

But doing all that while keeping the public ignorant stands democracy on its head.

Public officials must hold themselves accountable to the public. That requires releasing information the public needs to evaluate the decisions and conduct of those officials. If information can be kept secret while a school system is shut down, the doors to city hall are locked, and commerce is curtailed, because of fears of something that’s unknown but is alleged to exist, we’re living in a police state, not in a democracy.



14 September 2017 — 1103 mdt

What does withholding the nature of the
threat that closed Flathead schools accomplish?

All schools in the Flathead, public and private, and Flathead Valley Community College, are closed today because someone sent the schools email and text messages threatening to do something bad. According to the Flathead Beacon, “persons of interest” are being interviewed by the county sheriff and the FBI.

Because the investigation is in progress, the public and parents are being kept ignorant of the nature of the threat. That’s the official justification for keeping secret what the texter/emailer threatened to do.

Yet, the person who made the threats knows what he threatened to do. So do school authorities and law enforcement agents. How would the investigation be harmed by releasing what was threatened to be done?

Unofficially, of course, keeping parents and the public ignorant of the nature of the threat deprives them of the information they need to assess the judgment of school officials and law enforcers. “Trust us,” demand the agents of ignorance, “we know what we’re doing and we have everyone’s best interests at heart.”

Most people will trust the authorities, and trust them blindly. The specter of children being harmed always causes parents and decent citizens to demand erring on the side of safety — to demand a risk free environment, which is an impossibility — and school administrators, skilled in covering their backsides, are happy to oblige.

But keeping the public ignorant, an objective not found in education’s mission statement, invites speculation, may leave people more fearful than the facts warrant, and generates resentment toward, and mistrust of, authority.



13 September 2017 — 1736 mdt

The Flathead’s Birch Grove private air quality monitoring station

Approximately four kilometers southwest of Glacier International Airport, a citizen scientist has installed two meteorological stations that display realtime results for temperature, humidity, and wind (Birch Grove 1, published at the Weather Underground), and suspended particulates (Birch Grove 2, published at Purple Air).


There are numerous private wind, temperature, and humidity, stations in the Flathead, many connected to the U.S. Weather Service’s Mesonet. But private particulate monitoring stations are rare. Indeed, Birch Grove 2 may be unique to the Flathead.

Birch Grove 2 employs low cost (<$500) equipment manufactured by Purple Air. Thus far, 564 Purple Air particulate monitors have been installed around the world, but mostly in the United States. There are two in Montana: Kalispell and Helena.

The low cost of Purple Air’s equipment could initiate a paradigm shift in air quality monitoring. If the equipment proves durable, and the measurements accurate and reliable, a grid of air quality monitors of the Purple Air genre could be installed in the Flathead Valley for a few thousand dollars. Being able to check the PM 2.5 realtime reports for the grid nodes closest to home would liberate the Flathead’s population from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s single station for their PM 2.5 data.

If anyone does undertake such a project, the funder should require that the realtime data be available to the public in real time, and not hoarded by academic researchers seeking the glory of being the first to publish.



12 September 2017 — 1811 mdt

Grant Kier announces for Congress on the day
Hillary Clinton’s I was Robbed! book is released

Is this a coincidence? Perhaps not. Kier, reports the Missoulian’s Holly K. Michels, this evening will formally announce his entry into the Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives. His leap into the ring follows John Heenan’s, and they may be joined by State Rep. Tom Woods, Bozeman, and former State Senator Lynda Moss, Billings.

Heenan supports single-payer health care. Kier apparently does not, Michels reported:

While he supports a broad look at ways to fix the affordability of health insurance and access to health care, and is glad people like former U.S. senator and ambassador to China Max Baucus has called for a switch to a single-payer system, he wants to see faster fixes to the Affordable Care Act before greater policy shifts are discussed.

“What’s critical is recognizing the Affordable Care Act was a big step forward but it doesn’t work perfectly and needs fixes,” Kier said. “We need to make a quick change, to pull people together from both sides of the aisle to look at how we can fix these things and make those changes right away, and then if we want to debate bigger changes that’s fine.”

Hillary Clinton, of course, not only opposed single-payer health care, but during her campaign against Bernie Sanders actively attempted to discredit the idea of single-payer health care, a policy — and political — choice that kept her in good standing with the health insurance industry and the manufacturers of prescription drugs. Heenan supports single-payer, and thus is courting Democrats aligned with Bernie Sanders. Kier, therefore, may be brushing single-payer aside to appease the Clinton wing of the party, which still cuddles up to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Kier may have a campaign website — an anonymous person registered kierforcongress.com — but as of 1700 today it showed only a looping video of a kitten playing on a kitchen table.

Hillary — settling scores by throwing her book at everyone

Hillary Clinton ran for President for one reason, and one reason only: to be the first woman elected as President of the United States. She tried cloaking her gender based candidacy in dozens of position papers, but her fundamental message, not always concealed, was “Vote for me because I’m a woman; because it’s my turn; because I’m a woman.” She ran a strategically and tactically incompetent campaign, proudly crowing she would put a lot of coal miners out of work, and disparaging white working class voters she needed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, as racist and homophobic deplorables.

But will she accept responsibility for her defeat? Oh, no; hell no. She’s convinced she would have won if Bernie hadn’t bashed her during the primary; if the Russians hadn’t tampered with her campaign and the DNC; if FBI director Jim Comey had kept his mouth shut; if sexist men, and in her worldview all men are sexist, hadn’t voted against her because she was a woman. Her loss was everyone’s damn fault except her own. She wuz robbed!

In my view, she never should have been nominated. She was too old, running for the wrong reasons, and temperamentally unsuited to the job she sought. Yet, if Tim Kaine had been at the top of the ticket, and she had settled for second, I think she probably now would be vice president.

If you want to read What Happened to try to understand Hillary and how she feels, by all means do so. But if you want to know what really happened, read Shattered, by Allen and Parnes.

To borrow a verse from Jimmy Buffet:

It’s Hillary’s claim,
That Jim Comey’s to blame.
But we know: ‘twas her own damn fault.



11 September 2017

Another Flathead Valley football smoke bowl is averted

Two years ago, in a fit of football über studenten sicherheit, football crazed Glacier High School played a football game in the smoke at Concussion Flats (aka Legends Field) in Kalispell despite an air quality designation of Very Unhealthy at the kickoff.

There was no Smoke Bowl in Kalispell last week. Glacier was in Bozeman, where the air was suitable for heavy breathing. And it’s possible school officials came to their senses sufficiently to subordinate athletic entertainment to protecting the health of student athletes and high school football fans. I hope so, but in my experience, high school coaches and administrators are slow learners these matters.

Whether there were no games by accident, or by design, it’s good the football flats were unoccupied last Friday — the air in the Flathead was twice as bad as it was two years ago (2015 graphs).


Highway 93 at 1633 MDT on 5 September.

…read the rest


8 September 2017 — 1437 mdt

Admiral Nimitz’s wisdom on preparing for heavy weather

When a hurricane, a forest fire, or high water, approaches, do smart people wait until the roof rattles, they choke on smoke, or water laps at their door, before they reef the sails, batten down the hatches, wrap their house for fire, cancel athletic events, evacuate, or head for high ground?


By then it is too late. They must act while they still can.

After losing three destroyers in the typhoon of 18 December 1944, a storm sometimes called Halsey’s Typhoon, and the storm in which Captain Queeg was removed in Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific fleet, issued a letter made famous by its timeless wisdom on when to prepare for adverse weather. Nimitz’s final paragraph should be the forward to every disaster preparation plan, and read by every official faced with the dilemma of needing to act to prevent harm, but not wanting to act too soon lest the expected crisis, such as playing a high school football game in dense smoke, not materialize

In conclusion, both seniors and juniors alike must realize that in bad weather, as in most other situations, safety and fatal hazard are not separated by any sharp boundary line, but shade gradually from one into the other. There is no little red light which is going to flash on and inform commanding officers or higher commanders that from then on there is extreme danger from the weather, and that measures for ships’ safety must now take precedence over further efforts to keep up with the formation or to execute the assigned task. This time will always be a matter of personal judgment. Naturally no commander is going to cut thin the margin between staying afloat and foundering, but he may nevertheless unwittingly pass the danger point even though no ship is yet in extremis. Ships that keep on going as long as the severity of wind and sea has not yet come close to capsizing them or breaking them in two, may nevertheless become helpless to avoid these catastrophes later if things get worse. By then they may be unable to steer any heading but in the trough of the sea, or may have their steering control, lighting , communications, and main propulsion disabled, or may be helpless to secure things on deck or to jettison topside weights. The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy. [Emphasis added by Flathead Memo.]

If Saturday is a smokeless, sunny, clean air, day, consider Nimitz’s wisdom before castigating decision makers as frightened old fools because they canceled marathons, dragon boat races, and track meets, in the expectation that the Flathead’s air would be fouled with very unhealthy smoke.



8 September 2017 — 0724 mdt

Did a Montana newspaper commit the
largest numerical error in journalism history?

USGS description of 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens
Over the course of the day, prevailing winds blew 520 million tons of ash eastward across the United States and caused complete darkness in Spokane, Washington, 400 km (250 mi) from the volcano. Major ash falls occurred as far away as central Montana, and ash fell visibly as far eastward as the Great Plains of the Central United States, more than 1,500 km (930 mi) away. The ash cloud spread across the U.S. in three days and circled the Earth in 15 days.

In all likelihood, yes — and the honor belongs to the now defunct Kalispell Weekly News. Here’s what happened.

Fine volcanic ash reached the Flathead less than a day after Mount St. Helens erupted on 18 May 1980. Very fine, but gritty, it filled the Flathead Valley with a powdery tan cloud, limiting visibility, and giving the air a heavy feeling when breathed (that didn’t stop some fools from jogging).

Rough measurements produced startling, four-figure, values for suspended particulates, which are reported as micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m^3). In Kalispell, the peak particulate concentration was 7,355 µg/m^3.

But the KWN’s reporter, a competent journalist working under great stress and unfamiliar with air quality issues, reported the value as 7,355 megagrams per cubic inch (I’m working from memory, as I think I discarded the clipping). That translates to 449 million kilograms per cubic meter, 80,000 times the density of the planet Earth, and half the density of a white dwarf star (but just one-millionth the density of a neutron star).

I reckon the error as 12 orders of magnitude, but urge readers to make their own calculations and to let me know if I missed the mark, and so, by how much.



7 September 2017 — 2141 mdt

Note to readers

I expect to begin posting again tomorrow. The effects of a virus I’ve been fighting were compounded by this week’s awful air quality, and I just haven’t had the energy to concentrate on writing. Thanks for reading Flathead Memo. James Conner.


1 September 2017 — 1401 mdt

Tornow missed 14 August withdrawal deadline

Yesterday, Tom Tornow announced he’s withdrawing as a candidate for municipal judge in Whitefish. He’s shut down his campaign’s website and suspended campaigning — but his name will be on the 7 November ballot because he missed the 14 August deadline for having his name struck from the ballot. He’ll receive some votes, and in a close election between Kristi Curtis and William Hileman, Jr., those votes could determine the election’s outcome.

There’s undoubtedly a backstory to his belated decision to stop campaigning that was not addressed in his withdrawal announcement. Perhaps that will be revealed in the coming weeks. In the meantime, he deserves the thanks of his community for standing for election and for his efforts to make Whitefish a better place to live.


Sperry Chalet probably won’t be rebuilt

The old chalet burned down yesterday, its tinder dry wood ignited by the Sprague Fire. No one was injured. Many were saddened by the demise of the chalet, which has a large and relatively well-heeled constituency, and which is a relic of the European “all this luxury in wilderness” style of backcountry visitation that dominated the early days of Glacier and many large national parks. Quite likely, there will be a campaign to rebuild the chalet.

In the anti-wilderness Trump administration, anything is possible, but the likelihood the chalet will be rebuilt is low. Rebuilding would be extremely expensive. More important, the location isn’t suitable for a chalet. Were the site now unoccupied, even a backcountry campground there might not pass environmental muster, and a new chalet never would be approved. The National Park Service should knock down the stones that didn’t burn, remove the trash, restore the site to its pre-chalet condition, and ban horses from the trail. That will require money, and probably entail some unpleasant skirmishes with the historic preservation zealots, but it’s the best solution for the park and future generations.