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

Archives Index, 2017 January 16–31


31 January 2017

The lower the sun’s altitude, the lower the sunbeam’s intensity

The sun is shining today, which means that the Stillwater Station community solar photovoltaic array is generating some electricity. But it’s not generating as much as it can on a sunny day in June because the winter sun is low in the sky and the sunbeam must travel through more air than in summer.

At meridian transit on the summer solstice, a sunbeam perpendicular to a photovoltaic panel delivers approximately 1,000 watts per square meter to that panel. At meridian transit today, the sunbeam delivers approximately 760 W/M^2. The graph below displays the altitude and azimuth of the sun today at half-hour intervals, and the power of the sunbeam at those intervals.

…read the rest


30 January 2017

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down until late this evening, and possibly until tomorrow, to attend to exigencies before the snowfall that’s forecast makes driving around the Flathead unpleasant and unsafe.


29 January 2017

All crazy on the Trump front


Refugee restrictions. They change by the hour, with the NY Times now reporting that the White House scaled back the ban to exclude green card holders following restraining orders issued by federal judges. But even scaled back, it’s a ham-handed solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

The results thus far: no improvement to national security; U.S.A. held up to ridicule around the world; some refugees sent back to dangerous places. Trump’s decree, of dubious legality, is an exercise in nativist hysteria that harkens back a century.

Strange and frightening changes at the National Security Council. As reported by the Guardian, Trump promoted Steve Bannon, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to the NSC. Putting COS Priebus on the NSC is not a problem, but giving Bannon, who functions as Trump’s Rasputin, an NSC seat is crazy. Worse, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff are no longer regular members of the NCS. That removes the counterweights to Trump’s half-wrapped national security advisor, Michael Flynn, the retired general who shouldn’t be allowed within telescope distance of any unit of government. Trump is doing this to avoid being confronted with inconvenient facts.

When I first read of this in a Facebook post by Chris Burke, I thought it was so nuts it was a hoax. My apologies, Chris. I failed to smell the craziness.

The Republican suicide pact. At the New Republic, Brian Beutler writes that Trump and the Republicans Are on a Suicide Mission together:

[Trump’s] …shown a basic willingness to behave like an apparatchik. He nominates conservative true believers to the cabinet; he’ll sign any executive order his advisers place in front of him. Republicans, in other words, have begun enacting an agenda they know to be just as unpopular as Trump. They are acting exactly as you’d imagine a party to act—indeed, as many of us predicted they’d act—if they believed this was their one and only chance to pull off a major heist. Trump’s unexpected victory has provided them with exactly that.

In their ideal world, Republicans would be imposing this agenda on the country with a popular mandate and a president with broad public support. “Whopping majorities,” as McConnell once yearned for.

They don’t have that luxury, but they’re not letting it stop them. To the contrary, if they believed their lack of consensus and popular support were fatal to their agenda, they would have no reason not to jettison Trump before he did irrevocable damage to their party, the country, and the international order. Instead, they will embrace the current arrangement, in all of its recklessness, at least until their agenda is complete—or in ruins.



28 January 2017

Elsie Arntzen and the fine art of shooting oneself in the foot;
Lying about Gianforte reveals Dems’ Trumpean disdain for truth

Elsie Arntzen is to Denise Juneau as Mitch McConnell was to Barack Obama. Whatever Juneau did as a chief of the Office of Public instruction, Arntzen seems determined to undo. She’s killing, or trying to kill, Graduation Matters, an OPI program that was both successful and funded with private money.

Five days ago, Arntzen’s claimed that test scores were falsified when Juneau’s administration used a non-standard method to translate numerical ACT scores to federal qualitative equivalents. Yesterday, Arntzen announced she’s hired an independent investigator to dig into the matter. The usual sequence is investigate first, accuse second, and don’t get the action started by calling a reporter before all the facts are known. Arntzen needs to calm down and get her ducks in a row before shouting J’accuse!

I favor, incidentally, a national curriculum (Common Core isn’t good enough) and national tests so that students receive equal educations and assessments no matter where they live. Too much local control weakens our nation.

Time for a rebuke, too early for a recall. The possibility of recalling Arntzen was raised at Montana Cowgirl, initiating a snarky, not useful discussion. She’s well on her way to making a fool of herself, but she’s done nothing that merits a recall … yet.

The “Greg Gianforte is a New Jersey billionaire” lie is back. The liars are at Montana Cowgirl, which I’m beginning to suspect is run now by hyper-partisan former Montana Democratic Party staff and people associated with Democratic candidates.

Let’s review the facts. Gianforte was born in California, went to high school in Pennsylvania, earned college degrees and his first millions in New Jersey, and in 1995, moved to Bozeman, where he’s lived ever since and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Gianforte’s actually spent more of his adult life in Montana than has Gov. Steve Bullock.


Assembled from various publicly available sources.

He’s not a billionaire. In late 2015, the MDP called him a billionaire, then demoted him to multi-millionaire in 2016.

By any reasonable measure, he’s a Montanan — a very rich and very conservative Montanan who may be too far to the right, and as a former chief executive, too accustomed to getting his way, to govern well. That’s why I voted for Bullock.

The Jersey Gianforte lie is an attempt to paint Gianforte as an outsider from a state with a reputation for pervasive corruption and brass knuckled politics. The obsession with his wealth appears to be an attempt to associate him with the memory of William A. Clark, the notorious Copper King whose infinitely corrupt conduct helped make the case for the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Clark died in 1925, but in Butte and other hard rock towns, his memory lives as though he died yesterday. Resentment and loathing of the rich, and of the not born in Montana, is a powerful part of an insular political culture that fears the future will repeat the past.

Thus the lie, I suspect, comes easily to many Democrats. But it’s still a lie, an easily proven lie that exposes the liars as having a Trumpean disdain for fact and truth. How any of the liars think that helps Democrats win elections is beyond my ken.

Democrats, tell the truth: Gianforte is a Montanan. He’s also a very conservative Montanan whose values and proposals for policy may not be in the best interest of most Montanans. Knock off the name calling and lying; it’s juvenile and counter-productive. Just knock him over the head with the planks in his platform.



27 January 2017

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down today.


26 January 2017

Election to replace Zinke could coincide with annual school elections

Can — should — the special election and the school board elections be combined? I don’t know whether that’s legally possible, but it’s hard to imagine that Montana law would prevent a single ballot with the Ccngressional election at the top followed by the school trustee and levy elections. That would make voting easier, always a good thing, and would increase turnout for the school elections, also a good thing.

Gianforte announces he’s a candidate for the Republican nomination to replace Zinke. He’s methodically assembled support from the party members who will vote at the nominating convention, and still has a ton of money he can spend on a television and direct mail blitz. That makes him the favorite for the nomination, although there are other candidates. If Gianforte wins the special election, he’ll be well positioned to challenge Tester in 2018 or run for governor in the open election of 2020.

Quist and Curtis are the leading Democratic congressional aspirants. Following Casey Schreiner’s withdrawal, there are four contenders for the Democratic nomination: Rob Quist, Amanda Curtis, Kelly McCarthy, and Bozeman attorney Seth Meyers. Zeno Baucus remains a possibility, but I think he’ll decline to run. Quist, whom I’ve endorsed, is actively seeking the nomination. So is Curtis, who may be the favorite of party insiders.

Can a Democrat win? Yes — but only if Montanans suddenly decide that Trump and the Republican Party are too crazy and dangerous to trust to govern. Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell, are already saying and doing crazy and dangerous things, but my sense is that most Montanans, having been trained from infancy to respect, adore, and defer to, the President are not yet ready to cast a vote that rebukes the Commander in Chief, and in the process is an admission that they made a mistake when they voted for Trump and the GOP last fall.

Democrats don’t really want this special election. Their immediate priority is re-electing Tester in 2018. After that, they’ll be trying to scrounge up viable candidates for governor, auditor, attorney general, secretary of state, and superintendent of public instruction. A Montana Democrat in the U.S. House would not tip that chamber to the Democrats. From the state party’s perspective, running a campaign for the U.S. House just drains the party’s resources and weakens its ability to prevail in other elections. Therefore, the party’s priority for the special election is avoiding a candidate and campaign that makes things tougher for Tester and for 2020.


25 January 2017

Counting crowds, and Bullock v. Knudsen on words and coal

The Seattle Times explains how to estimate crowd size using grade school arithmetic. Yesterday, ruffled some feathers when, referring to Nate Silver’s work, I said I was discounting the organizers’ estimate of the turnout for the women’s march in Helena by 40 percent. Was I accusing the organizers of lying? No. I was observing that the organizers of rallies and marches often let their enthusiasm get the better of their judgment, leading them to claim crowd sizes not supported by independent analysis. That Trump loses credibility by lying about size should caution his critics' not to inflate their own numbers about size.

That independent analysis could come from the news media. It could also come from universities and colleges; in Montana, from the University of Montana and Montana State University. I suggest that the political science, journalism, and GIS, departments collaborate, teaching students the science and art of counting crowds, and send teams of students to count the crowds at events such as parades and rallies.

I’m sure the regents and the administrators of the universities would welcome the opportunity to endorse, with foot-stompin’ excitement, the educational and public policy benefits of providing solid estimates of crowd size, especially of controversial political events. There’s more to university math than Second Down and 20.

Gov. Bullock’s State of the State speech was longer and simpler than Speaker Knudsen’s response to it. Bullock’s speech as more dignified, too. Here are the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease scores and other metrics:


Bullock’s tone matched the solemnity of the occasion. He was gracious, calling on everyone to be governed by their better angels, not by their grudges. Knudsen’s speech was truculent. In his second paragraph, he denigrated the governor, setting a low tone that rendered his response a partisan screed bereft of the statesmanship the occasion required. Is Knudsen really that personally at odds with Bullock, or does the Speaker of the House just need a better speech writer?

Speaker Knudsen and old King Coal

Knudsen announced he’ll introduce legislation to keep the carbon burning at Colstrip Units 1 and 2:

Tonight, I am thrilled to announce that I will be personally introducing and carrying a bill that will help keep Colstrip Units 1 and 2 open. We will be releasing more information on this legislation in the upcoming days, but I can tell you that I could not be prouder as an eastern Montanan to carry this important legislation.

How Knudsen plans to subordinate a federal court to the Montana Legislature may be a highly entertaining attempt to nullify the federal government, perhaps not as noisy as blasting cannonballs at Fort Sumter, but worth watching all the same.

Maybe he just wants Montana’s taxpayers to subsidize a couple of old coal burners whose time has passed.

Or perhaps he believes President Trump will wave a magic wand that increases the price of natural gas while rescuing coal fired generating plants from federal regulations that protect Americans, including Montanans downwind of Colstrip, from coal smoke and carbon dioxide.

Although voters in coal county may rejoice at Knudsen’s announcement, reality is going to rain on their celebration. Units 1 and 2, old and losing money, are shutting down under a federal district court’s consent decree announced on 12 July 2016. The next day, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reported:

Not until this past winter did officials at Puget Sound Energy, which are partners in Colstrip with Talen, concede that Talen was “hemorrhaging” money at Colstrip and might be looking to get out.

The cat was fully out of the bag this past May, when Talen CEO Paul Farr acknowledged that the company would “lose millions in terms of operating Colstrip” just this year. Farr noted that the market price of power had fallen below the profit margins of the coal-fired plant, largely because of low natural gas prices.

More recently, the company acknowledged that continued operations of Units 1 and 2 simply was not economically viable for independent power producers like Talan and that there wasn’t anything to suggest conditions would change. The company wanted out. Now the exit door has been thrown open.

There’s really only one way to make Colstrip Units 1 and 2 economical again: increase the price of natural gas to levels no one can afford. Save Colstrip Units 1 and 2 by reregulating the energy marketplace to discriminate against natural gas. Shut down drilling for oil and gas. No new pipelines. Levy a heavy carbon tax and an even heavier energy content tax on methane.

Have at it, Speaker Knudsen. Jigger the marketplace to free coal and kill gas. That would work, and have the added benefit of reducing the need for new infrastructure projects in northeastern Montana.



24 January 2017

Zinke delay, women’s marches, HB-268, and pipelines

Zinke’s confirmation as Secretary of the Interior delayed due to a postponed committee meeting. Yesterday, without explanation, which may be routine, the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee announced that today’s business session was postponed indefinitely. In this context, indefinitely means a new date for the meeting has not been set. Zinke’s nomination, and that of Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, for Secretary of Energy, were on the agenda. It’s best not to read too much into the postponement, which most likely is nothing more than the consequence of a scheduling issue.

Women are not a monolithic gender based voting bloc, and the organizers’ crowd size estimates for Sunday’s marches need to be discounted by 40 percent. At Vox, Tara Golshan reports on The women who helped Donald Trump win. At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver looks at crowd size estimates in The Long March Ahead for Democrats. Applying his 40 percent discount to the march in Helena, whose organizers pegged at 10,000, yields a turnout of 6,000. These are clip, save, and study, articles.

Assaulting health care workers and first responders already is against the law. That has not stopped the Montana Nurses Association for supporting HB-268, “An Act Solely Creating the Felony Offense of Assault on a Health Care Worker or Emergency Responder.” Rep. James O’Hara (R-Fort Benton) is carrying the bill, which was heard yesterday in the judiciary committee. Proponents argue that the bill will deter assaults.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard from ER nurses with decades of experience in handling combative patients. They scoff at the notion that making what already is against the law more against the law will deter stressed-out people from throwing a punch in the ER. I agree. HB-268 is no more needed than a bill against assaulting referees was needed when one was introduced some years back by a legislator from Missoula. Flathead Memo’s recommendation: vote against HB-268.

President Trump issues executive order resurrecting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. This should not come as a surprise. Although exhumed, the Keystone XL proposal is a long way from getting a green light for construction in the United States. But construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is almost finished. Trump’s order could result in fairly swift approval of the proposed deep tunnel crossing of the Missouri River near Cannonball, ND. There’ll be a blizzard of lawsuits, but I don’t think the opponents of the pipeline have a strong legal case. Look for a settlement that adds safeguards to the pipeline and perhaps establishes a prepaid cleanup and mitigation fund for spills.

When the Dakota Access is green lighted to cross the Missouri, look for a heavy security presence that probably includes national guard units, and a determination by state and federal officials to prosecute the “direct action” opponents of the pipeline — the rock throwers, vandals, arsonists — for felonies that require mandatory imprisonment.



23 January 2017

Constitutional amendment could allow
lower legal age to drink, smoke, or toke


Rep. Dave Fern (D-Whitefish) has released a draft bill, LC1139, to amend Montana’s constitution to allow the legislature or a citizen’s initiative to set the minimum age for using tobacco and marijuana as well as alcohol. As written, the amendment allows the minimum age for drinking, smoking, and toking, to be set below the official adult age of 18:

Section 1. Article II, section 14, of The Constitution of the State of Montana is amended to read:

Section 14. Adult rights. A person 18 years of age or older is an adult for all purposes, except that the legislature or the people by initiative may establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and recreational marijuana.

I think the intent of Section 14 is to allow the legislature to set the drinking age higher than age 18 — but nothing in Section 14 forbids the legislature or a citizen’s initiative from lowering the drinking age to, for example, 16, perhaps for 3.2 percent beer and watered down table wines.

Here’s how to fix it:

Section 14. Adult rights. A person 18 years of age or older is an adult for all purposes, except that the legislature or the people by initiative may establish the a legal age greater than 18 years of age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and recreational marijuana.

If this amendment is put on the 2018 general election ballot, and I think it should be put on the ballot, provided it’s amended as I recommend, it should be accompanied by a constitutional amendment mandating that the minimum age for serving in the legislature shall be no lower than the highest 18+ minimum age for drinking, smoking, or toking. If 18-year-olds are not sufficiently mature to ingest whiskey, cigar smoke, or let’s have a good time cannabis fumes, they’re not sufficiently mature to pass judgment on legislation.



22 January 2017

Sunday roundup, continued

The gall and the grouse of the Montana House’s Usher. At the Last Best News, Ed Kemmick has the lowdown on this lowdown attempt to banish bicyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchairs and their occupants, from most two-lane roads in Montana. Usher (R-Billings), who owns a motorcycle dealership, claims he’s just trying to make everyone safer. But the first draft of his bill, LC2196, which is being rewritten, strikes me as an attempt to clear the roads of slow moving objects that annoy Montana’s leadfoots who think they have a divine right to zoom down the turnpike at warp speed.

“Property damage is not violence,” he said. “Violence against other people is violence.” Those are the words of Henry Hughes, 61, of Marblemount, WA. Hughes, like other left wing scofflaws, apparently believes that burning down a church is not a violent act as long as the parson and parishioners escape unhurt and the church mice aren’t too badly singed.

Hughes was in Washington, D.C., yesterday, blocking law abiding citizens from an entrance to the inauguration. According to the Washington Post, Hughes was not arrested for his misbehavior. But more than 230 were, many of them rock throwers and fire setters; some were rightly charged with felonies. Their lawlessness was not spontaneous, reports the Post. It was carefully planned. Premeditated. Conceivably, the miscreants from out-of-state could be charged with conspiring to cross state lines to commit felonies.

There’s no defending these left wing thugs, some of whom may be trying to incite political repression in the crackpot belief that the more freedom is crushed, the greater the likelihood the liberating revolution will succeed.

Robbins defends free speech. As I noted yesterday, Richard Spencer, the man who’s wildly in love with white skin, was busted in the eye by a black clad thug, who then hightailed it down the street to escape accountability. That’s not civil disobedience. It’s assault and battery of the jackboot genre, and a threat to everyone’s right to free speech. I’m glad that at Montana Cowgirl, Justin Robbins explained why punching Spencer satisfies some souls but threatens everyone’s First Amendment rights.

Montana never will pass a primary seatbelt law while Republicans control the legislature. And it’s not just Republicans who oppose the law. In past legislature, Democrats representing reservation districts have voted against primary seatbelt bills. At Logicosity, Edward R. Burrow describes the especially cruel and irresponsible way this year's primary seatbelt law, carried by Sen. Richard Barrett (D-Missoula), was shot down by libertarian zealots.


Sunday roundup

The claim that 10,000 marched in Helena yesterday must be independently verified. Never trust the crowd size estimates of an event’s organizers. They have a vested interest in the biggest number possible. Even when trying to provide an honest estimate, they may highball the number by making unreasonable assumptions, or by employing dubious metrics and evidence.

As explained by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic, the size of large crowds can be measured from overhead imagery. Depending on the imaging technology employed, and on-the-ground variables, the width of the error bars for the estimates vary, but the science and art of counting is well established.

Satellite images of the march in Helena may be available. There may be imagery from drones. Law enforcement may have photographed the march from a small aircraft. Perhaps Helena’s news media, which are not going broke, pooled resources to charter a small aircraft from which high resolution images of the crowd were made.

When I cover an event in the Flathead, I hold my camera overhead to shoot a series of overlapping frames that I convert to a panorama for counting. For small events, say just a few hundred, this works well. For very small events, I also count the people I can see. I also ask the organizers for their count, but if the organizers’ count significantly varies from my count, I use my count.

What does “Values unite us, issues divide us,” mean? More and more Democrats — most recently Amanda Curtis and Brian Schweitzer — are using this conclusory phrase, but they define neither values nor issues, and they provide no argument supporting their conclusion. Instead, the phrase is delivered as a universal truth that requires no explanation. To me, however, it’s just psycobabble.

A challenge. I will accept from a Democrat using the phrase an essay of approximately 500–1,000 words explaining what “Values unite us, issues divide us,” means and publish it on Flathead Memo.

Left wing thugs in Seattle threw bricks at police who were protecting everyone’s First Amendment rights. A man with the dubious adornment of a tattoo of a swastika with a red slash through it, a tattoo described as an anti-hate tattoo, was critically shot by another man who thought the tattooed guy was a racist. These violence loving, free speech opposing, leftist fools, are helping Trump make the case for a police state crackdown on political dissent. If the wounded man survives, he’d be smart to have that idiotic tattoo removed.



20 January 2017

Left wing violence reinforces Trump’s call for Law-‘n-Order

Left wing thugs — anarchists in ninja black and masks; Black Lives Matter men in black and chains; hooligans who practice politics with fists and clubs — terrorized parts of Washington, D.C., today, blocking access to the inauguration, pelting police with rocks, smashing windows, setting fires, and even tearing from a 10-year-old boy’s hands a sign they disliked. According to the Washington Post, more than 200 have been arrested so far.

Perhaps some Democrats have condemned this behavior, but if they have, their voices were so muted I did not hear them. Instead, I heard silence that I interpret as tacit support for the thugs.

We are descending into the abyss of an authoritarian right wing state in which the opposition is led not by advocates of liberal democracy but by violence prone leftists and anarchists. The age of Trump begins with the dystopia described by Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

America has entered a dark age, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Update. While giving an interview, white supremacist/nationalist Richard Spencer was slugged in the face by a thug in a black hoodie. The assailant ran up to Spencer, threw a hard punch, then ran like hell down the street, probably escaping arrest and punishment. In one sense, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, but it was thuggery, assault and battery, and an attack on free speech. In the background, a man held a racist sign reading “White Lives Matter Too Much.”


Trump’s speech was constructed simply


President Donald J. Trump’s inaugural address was brief, just 1,455 words, and was written at an eighth grade level according to Flesh’s implementation of the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease formulas. Most recent inaugural speeches have received similar reading ease scores.

Applying the Flesch-Kincaid formula to Trump’s speech is a bit tricky given how the speech was punctuated. If colons and semicolons are treated as the end of a sentence, Trump’s grade level score is 7.9. But it’s 8.9 if colons and semicolons are not treated as ends of sentences.

His use of dashes to set off phrases complicates the analysis. Visually, the phrases set off by dashes function as sentences, but Flesh treats these phrases as parenthetical expressions that are part of a sentence. The result: a slightly inflated grade level score. Adjusting his grade level score to 7–8 probably makes sense.




19 January 2017

Changes at the Montana Cowgirl blog

The Montana Cowgirl Blog is keeping its name, but Cowgirl is gone, replaced by Montana Cowboy. My best wishes to Cowgirl in her post blogging career, and a hearty welcome and best wishes to Cowboy. Please give him a fair chance to settle into his job and to establish his own approach to blogging. And send him your tips, just as you would have sent them to Cowgirl.


Women’s marches in Helena and Washington, D.C., on Saturday

Tomorrow, Donald Trump gets sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. The next day, hundreds of thousands of left-leaning women will assemble in Washington, D.C., and in most state capitals, to swear solidarity and allegiance to a selection of progressive goals.

Montana’s women’s march commences at noon in Helena, but the marchers begin massing at 1130 MST. Details.

At the Capitol, 21 speakers, by my count, will pray, sing, and speechify, for the marchers.

According to the march’s organizers, men are welcome. But nothing about event, which is a blatant exercise in identity politics, suggests to me that I would feel welcome.

The Washington, D.C., march is also an identity politics event to which men are nominally invited (but I suspect a great many feminists hope men will stay home). According to the New York Times, the “check your privilege” race baiting of some of the organizers is so offensive that many women are staying home.

Saturday’s crowds in marchville will be much smaller than the crowds for Trump’s inauguration. How that will persuade the new President to take the women’s issues seriously escapes me.


Avalanches and “safety,” and Sweet Betsy DeVos

Ben Parson was careful, but he still started the avalanche that killed him. At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott has an excellent summary of the report of the accident investigation (and a link to the report). It’s hard to find fault with Parson and his companions. Fit and experienced, they followed best practices. According to the investigators, Parson and his companions “…were all equipped with avalanche transceivers, avalanche shovels, and probes and they read the avalanche advisory that morning.”

Some might consider it a freak accident. Parson was testing the snow at the top of the slope, carving a turn, then setting his skies for a hard stop. When this snow stability test performs as intended, the skis act as a splitting wedge, breaking the slab off below the skis. But when Parson completed his second stop, the stopping force was transferred to a slab of snow extending above as well as beneath him, pulling the slab loose at a fracture zone above his skis. According to the investigators:

At approximately 2:00 p.m. Skier 1 traversed across the relatively broad ridge and into … the western most of the two avalanche paths. He performed two ski pole tests in this area (to determine general snowpack structure), then made one left hand turn followed by an immediate right turn. Between these turns Skier 1 down weighted his skis once or twice in an attempt to test the snow stability. This is a test utilized by experienced individuals to test small test slopes with low or no consequence should an avalanche occur. Shortly after completing his right hand turn he triggered the avalanche, possibly while down weighting. The avalanche broke uphill of Skier 1 and immediately knocked him off his feet (Figure 10).

In hindsight, he misjudged where the snow might detach from the mountain, but his choice of a testing spot may have been rational given what he knew at the time.

A note on avalanche “safety” equipment. After moving to the west as a young man, I attended classes on avalanche safety; among my instructors, the near legendary Cal Tassanari. That was before radio transceivers were available. Instead, we tied avalanche cord to our waist, trailing it behind us as we skied, and carried probes and shovels. The more I learned about avalanches, a fascinating subject, the more cautious I became in the backcountry.

Neither transceivers nor cord nor probes nor shovels make a backcountry skier safer. Nothing makes an avalanche safe or safer. These items do save lives, but they’re rescue devices, to be used after safety has disappeared. Often, they’re simply tools for finding and recovering dead skiers. Carrying them does not reduce the probability of an avalanche. Neither would a portable snow penetrating sonar or radar that could assess snow structure, although that technology might be helpful. As always, the best way to survive an avalanche is not to get caught in one. And the best way not to get caught in one is to stay off avalanche slopes.

Ballad of Sweet Betsy DeVos

President-Elect Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos, a billionaire from Michigan who's a darling of the Christian right and no friend of public education. She made such a fool of herself in her confirmation hearing that only music can do her ignorance and cluelessness justice. Therefore, to the tune of Sweet Betsy from Pike:

Have you heard tell of sweet Betsy DeVos,
When asked a tough question she’s at a big loss,
She doesn't know jack, but she knows Don’s her boss,
And she knows Common Core is what she must toss.

Woo hoo dear sweet Betsy,
Her mind’s cluttered not,
Woo hoo dear sweet Betsy,
So full of dry rot.

She touts charter schools, home schooling, and such,
Of law that is federal she doesn't know much,
She’s Michigan's back to the basics schoolmarm,
She’ll learn kids the way they done learned on the farm.

Woo hoo dear sweet Betsy,
Her mind’s cluttered not,
Woo hoo dear sweet Betsy,
So full of dry rot.

Betsy wants schools that are safe and secure,
For staff she wants Glocks kept loaded and near,
Big pistols she’s packin’, not pencils of lead,
She’ll shoot schoolyard grizzlies until they are dead.

Woo hoo dear sweet Betsy,
Her mind’s cluttered not,
Woo hoo dear sweet Betsy,
So full of dry rot.



18 January 2017

Most Montana motorists probably can afford a 10¢/gallon gas tax increase

The Montana Infrastructure Coalition, which is dominated by groups with a vested interest in big public works projects — roads, bridges, buildings — recommends increasing Montana’s tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by ten cents a gallon.

A ten cents a gallon increase works out to a four percent increase in the price of fuel that costs $2.50 per gallon, and probably is within the means of most owners of automobiles and light trucks who drive up to 2,500 miles a month:


For operators of buses and big trucks, the vehicles putting the most weight on roads, and that use a lot more fuel per mile than Aunt Jenny’s compact sedan, the four percent increase will have a significant impact on operating expenses that they might not be able to pass on to their customers.

I‘m willing to consider a small increase in Montana’s fuel tax. I’m less inclined to support legalizing a four percent local option sales tax for cities such as Billings and Kalispell.



17 January 2017

Whitefish officials outsmart Daily Stormer on parade permit

American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell used to apply for parade permits (PDF excerpt from Defending My Enemy, by Aryeh Neier) he hoped would be denied so that he could generate publicity by filing lawsuits claiming his constitutional rights were being violated. Another American Nazi leader, Frank Collin, reprised the tactic in 1977 by applying for a parade permit to march in Skokie, IL, which had a large Jewish population and many Holocaust survivors.

Ever since the Daily Stormer announced it would march 200 armed skinheads through Whitefish, I’ve believed that the Stormer’s leader, Andrew Anglin, was using Rockwell’s playbook, hoping his parade permit would be denied on constitutionally dubious grounds, thereby exposing Whitefish as a community of hypocrites, establishing himself as a defender of the First Amendment, and gaining valuable publicity in the process. That explains why his application for a parade permit was incomplete.

But Whitefish’s government and civic leaders didn’t take the bait. Instead, they outsmarted Herr Anglin. As City Manager Chuck Stearns’ letter to Anglin explains, the permit was in the process of being approved when Anglin decided to postpone the march. And it can still be approved it Anglin changes his mind.

There will be special conditions:

…read the rest

Expand KKK mask laws to cover all thugs

Yesterday, a few car loads of hard core left wingers from Missoula, Spokane, and other redoubts of the “direct action” people who have become notorious for vandalism and street brawls, showed up in Whitefish wearing black clothing and masks. There were there to protest the skinhead march that never happened. Yesterday’s protestors stayed within the law. But that’s becoming an exception for the “direct action” crowd, which prefers fighting and vandalism to reasoned political discourse.

At the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, black clad thugs wearing masks vandalized the business district. Last year, on 26 June in Sacramento, CA, members of anti-fascist (Antifa) groups, and BAMN (“no free speech for fascists”), some wearing black and concealing their faces like bank robbers, led a counter-protest against skinheads that turned into a riot, with 10 people receiving stab wounds. Here’s how The Nation described the Sacramento riot:

…read the rest


16 January 2017

Montana health care rallies: modest turnouts but enthusiasm aplenty

Montanans held rallies against repealing the Affordable Care Act in Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, yesterday. I can’t find a turnout estimate for Bozeman’s rally, which featured Rep. Amanda Curtis, but the Helena Independent Record reports 200 assembled at the capitol. In Missoula, where Democratic congressional hopeful Rob Quist appeared, the turnout was 70 according to the Missoula Current, and 70–80 according to Intelligent Discontent blogger Pete Talbot, who was there. Talbot reports enthusiasm was high.

Those are modest turnouts, large enough to attract some attention, but not large enough to impress or intimidate Montana’s representatives in Congress. If Montana’s save the ACA forces cannot muster larger, much larger, crowds — crowds approaching torchlight and pitchfork mobs — they should switch from rallies to other means of exerting political pressure.

Republicans in Congress may be so hardened by ideology that they’re no longer listening to the voters or common sense on health care issues. Believing that any government involvement in health care is intrinsicly evil, they’re asking what Ayn Rand would do instead of asking what their constituents need.

But it’s possible that some Congressional Republicans are still listening, even if just barely, to hospitals. That’s where I would direct at least some political pressure, as sometimes the interests of the people and hospitals coincide (pressure from Montana’s hospitals was responsible for pushing Montana’s humiliate and harass the poor expansion of Medicaid through the 2015 legislature).

These rallies would not have been necessary if Democrats had not thrown away the Presidency by nominating a weak and loathed candidate, Hillary Clinton, who waged a feckless, mistake-riddled, identity politics campaign.