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

27 November 2015

Imagine if there were no Duck Tape for the library

This building, once known as the Flathead County Library, and now known as ImagineIF Libraries, is actually owned by School District 5, which has plenty of money for football but not for building repairs. SD-5’s headquarters are on the top floor. My question to the district and library: imagine if there were no Duck Tape. How then would you repair this light fixture?


…read the rest


26 November 2015

Turkey, Turkey Day, and Turkey in the Straw

Best wishes to all for a pleasant Thanksgiving, which at Flathead Memo is also Turkey Day.

Two Days ago, Turkey shot down a Russian military jet that allegedly trespassed into Turkish airspace above the Haytay Province. Although on most maps the Haytay border between Turkey and Syria is a bright line, Syria disputes Turkish ownership of the area which Turkey, with France’s connivance, appropriated in 1939. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has a good account of the Haytay dispute’s history.

I’ll spare you videos of how to carve a turkey. Instead, here’s the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band’s version of Turkey in the Straw, to which you can dance to work off those extra helpings of potatoes and pumpkin pie. The tune has a dark history, according to singer Tom Roush.



25 November 2015

Thanksgiving Eve video — Bill Shatner on Bubba boiling a turkey

I bake my turkey, but more adventurous souls, seeking the ultimate combination of crispiness and juiciness, Bubba boil their birds in oil. Here William Shatner demonstrates what happens when Bubba’ approach to the big fry is a bit too casual.



24 November 2015

How can anyone of good moral character cheer for this?

All that extra security for the sacred football game between Montana State University and the University of Montana deterred terrorist attacks on the fans on Saturday, but it didn’t save MSC coach Rod Ash and his assistants from having their jobs axed two days later. According to the Missoulian, MSU expected to compete for a national title this year. Instead, it managed to win just two games and finished with a 54–35 loss to UM.

That's unacceptable at pigskin dominated MSU. Punishment was the order of the day:

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Ten Flathead legislators demand that Bullock deny Syrians refuge in MT

This is as shameful as it gets. Fifty-five Montana legislators, all Republicans, have signed a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock demanding that he:

… block or resist any efforts by the Obama administration to relocate Syrian refugees to Montana until the federal government is able to properly conduct background checks and ensure with 100 percent certainty that any refugees settling in Montana does not put the safety and security of Montanans at risk.

Since 100 percent certainly is not possible, this is a weasely worded demand that Gov. Bullock — who does not have the power to tell the federal government what to do; no governor does — never allow Montana to provide refuge to Syrians fleeing a horrific war and seeking safety and a new life in the west.

…read the rest

Will the 2017 legislature feature married bedfellows?


That depends on the voters, but the possibility exists. Republican Sen. Roger Webb, (SD-23, Billings) is running for re-election. He filed his C-1 statement of candidacy on 9 November. His wife, Peggy Sue, is running for House District 52 (Billings), currently represented by Republican Dave Hagstrom, as a Republican. She filed her C-1 on 9 November.

Democrat Christopher Goodridge also is running in HD-52. He filed his C-1 on 13 May.

Ryan Lowell Jenkins of Billings is the campaign treasurer for both Webbs.

If both Webbs are elected, it probably won’t be the first time that bedfellows have served in the same legislative session. But it might be the first time that married bedfellows have.

Roger Webb received unfavorable publicity in 2012 when the Billings Gazette reported he had shot his neighbor’s dogs in 1998. Despite that notoriety, he won his election against Wanda Grinde.



Monday, 23 November 2015

Note to readers

Flathead Memo’s entire staff spent Monday preparing for wild weather and discharging obligations with unextendable deadlines. Reporting and commentary will resume on 24 November.


21 November 2015

Is a neighbor in need a moral failure indeed?

A lot of white working class voters think so, report David Atkins at the Washington Monthly and Alex McGillis at the New York Times. Says McGillis:

In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.

As I noted yesterday, these Republican voting working class whites are much more conservative on social issues than urban Democrats, but that’s only part of the story. Atkins says they also have religious convictions that leave them with little or no compassion for the less fortunate a weakness and a failure to obey God’s will:

Democrats don’t really have a good answer for this problem … if voters are willing to give away tax breaks to Wall Street while intentionally voting for policies that will throw their friends and neighbors into the street and deny them lifesaving medical care, there’s not much you can do.

These mostly suburban and rural communities are infused with a Calvinist ethic that attributes success to moral virtue and failure to moral weakness. The cultural and psychological pull of that doctrine is incredibly powerful and buoyed by hucksters preaching the prosperity gospel that God will make you rich if you are faithful enough and want it badly enough. This toxic stew creates an instinct to push down the person below them rather than up against the person above them, and transcends simple racism and cultural resentment at this point.

A lot of this applies to Montana as well as Kentucky. Montana’s Democrats are found mostly in urban clusters and on Indian reservations. Outside their socially liberal enclaves, they find it exceeding difficult to earn the trust, respect, and agreement, of working class whites who have far more to gain from Democratic than Republican policies.


Gov. Bullock’s grant of clemency to Barry Beach was just and gutsy


Barry Beach is a mostly free man today after spending three decades prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and for which the principal evidence was a confession that may have been coerced. Yesterday, Gov. Steve Bullock granted Beach clemency, commuting his 100-year sentence to time served plus 10 years suspended.

Bullock rightly granted clemency, but he’s not receiving universal approval for his decision. See Don Pogreba’s commentary at Intelligent Discontent. Politically, freeing Beach will be a wash or slight negative. But it was the right thing to do. Bullock deserves plenty of credit for doing it, and for doing it now. He could have waited until after next year’s election.



20 November 2015

White working class voters sabotaged health care in Kentucky

Kentucky has a pretty good (on a relative scale) health care system, but much of it is likely to be repealed, gutted, or sabotaged once Republican Governor-Elect Matt Bevins takes office. He promised to cut Medicaid and get rid of Kentucky’s Kynect health insurance exchange — and was elected by a convincing margin.

Who voted for him? The very people who need and benefit from Medicaid and Kynect!

Here’s a long, mind boggling, passage from the Lexington Herald-Leader:

…read the rest

Lying Democrats, & Catholic hospitals that deny women life saving care

Montana Democrats are gleefully lying about Greg Gianforte again. Montana Democratic Party spokesman Jason Pitts’ email yesterday called Gianforte a “New Jersey billionaire” and “dark money king.” Gianforte earned the “dark money king” appellation, so congratulations to Jason for using it. But an application of sudden blunt force to Jason’s southern exposure, and the southern exposures of his bosses, for the billionaire lie — a lie he and his bosses know is a lie.

I almost missed Jason’s press release, incidentally. It ended up in my junk filter file — and I have my junk filter turned off. That’s sort of a cosmic comment on the New Jersey billionaire horse manure.

Catholic hospitals conspire to deny life saving care to women

I thought we were past this medieval cruelty, but I was wrong. An 88-hospital chain of Catholic hospitals, Trinity Health, just filed a court document saying, reports the American Civil Liberties Union:

…that because of religious exemption laws, its Catholic affiliation allows it to violate the law and refuse to provide pregnant women with emergency medical care.

In response to a lawsuit we filed against Trinity for systematically refusing to treat pregnant women in emergencies, the hospital giant recently submitted a brief that argues (incorrectly) that state and federal law allow Trinity to “refuse to allow abortions to be performed on hospital premises,” in the context of emergency miscarriage treatment when the woman’s life or health is at risk.

That church’s bishops shouldn’t practice medicine. And given their cruel righteousness, they shouldn’t practice religion, either.



19 November 2015

Terrorists strike Paris — and strike fear in the hearts of Bozemanites

On Saturday football teams from Montana State University and the University of Montana will perform their annual ritual of sacred combat. Come earlier than usual, ticket holders: because innocent people were murdered last Friday in Paris, France, which is almost 5,000 great circle miles to the east, there’ll be extra security in Bozeman.

There are four possible explanations for this:

  1. There’s a genuine threat. A plot to shoot up the stadium has been exposed. Guards armed with tommyguns will blow the jihadis to kingdom come if they show up.
  2. It’s CYA time again. Better to be safe than sorry. And other cliches; take your choice.
  3. A good excuse for hiring the additional police officers the authorities and university administrators have always wanted for this game.
  4. Irrational fear.

I’m partial to Number 3. Squads of ISIS shooters won’t show up, but battalions of rowdy tailgaters will. And after the game, drunks will drive and start bar fights. It’s possible that Saturday will be quieter in Paris than in Bozeman.



18 November 2015

Personal notes from last night’s windstorm

It was a wee bit breezy across the northwest last night. Family members in the Puget Sound region lost electrical power. They shared photographs of living rooms lit by lanterns next to the fireplace. Closer to home, in the Flathead and western Montana, high winds took out power and trees around the perimeter of the Flathead Valley and down Missoula way.

But where I live, two miles west of Kalispell, the power stayed on and the wind didn’t blow all that hard. Two flowerpots were knocked over, but I don’t know whether a critter or the wind was the culprit. I did park my car next to the street in a place where it was safe from falling trees, a sensible precaution that proved unnecessary but that I don’t regret taking. Instead of turning on the car’s flashers, I placed an amber flashing bicycle light (two AAA batteries) in the rear window. After flashing for 12 hours, it was still bright (and should have been, given how much I paid for it).

Finding skeletons in politicians’ closets is getting easier

As the sad demise of John Walsh unfolded last summer, I wondered whether 30 years ago he would have been exposed as a plagiarist. Probably not, I concluded. Without the internet and software such as Turn It In, exposing his plagiarism would have required a tremendous amount of work. But today, many books, reports, periodicals, and public records, have been digitized, making it much easier to dig up dirt on one’s political opponents.

That may have been what happened to Denise Juneau, who this week admitted that as a wild young college student she was cited twice for drunken driving, spending seven days in jail after her second arrest. She wasn’t proud of those arrests, and somehow managed to conceal them during her 2008 and 2012 campaigns for Montana’s Office of Public Instruction.

Whether Republican opposition researchers were tipped to her arrests, or found them by pounding shoe leather and tapping keys on a computer, doesn’t much matter. A search was conducted and the truth was uncovered. As Mike Brown observes at The Western Word today, it’s remarkable that it took GOP oppo researchers so long to uncover her transgressions.

Candidates of both parties should take notice. Secrets are increasingly difficult to keep in our age of diminishing privacy and ever more powerful search tools. My advice: don’t wait for your unpleasant secrets to be exposed by others. Hold a press conference to introduce your skeletons to the voters. They might not like the smell and click of your exhumed bones, but most will give you credit for fessing-up to your sins. And fessing-up is the first step to redemption and forgiveness.


Gov. Bullock takes responsible position on Syrian refugees in Montana


Gov. Steve Bullock reiterated yesterday that keeping Montanans safe is his top priority, but said he has no plans to refuse to allow the federal government to resettle Syrian refugees in Montana. No such resettlement plans exist, but it’s good he’s not swearing that no refugee from Syria ever will settle under the Big Sky because, as Ian Millhiser notes at Think Progress, neither Bullock nor any other governor has the power to refuse refugees.

In theory, ISIS saboteurs could try to enter the U.S. by posing as refugees. But refugees are subjected to strict scrutiny, which terrorists try to avoid. If ISIS agents do slip into the U.S., they’ll arrive as tourists or businessmen, or just sneak across the border, which isn’t that hard and never will be impossible.

Moreover, if ISIS agents want to conduct terrorist operations against the U.S., they’ll probably do it in Europe or the Middle East. The odds that ISIS terrorists will settle in Montana posing as a refugee family from Syria are so low that it’s equally likely the cow will do a double backflip over the moon.



17 November 2015

Hutson floods national lefty publications with anti-Lenio articles

Yesterday, Montana Cowgirl published an attack on David Lenio, and me, written by Jon Hutson. To make sure I knew about it, Hutson sent me a Tweet. So did a Martha Hutson. And a fellow named Frederick Clarkson, who works at Political Research Associates, an east coast outfit.

Versions of that attack, focusing on just Lenio, now are appearing at:

That’s probably a short list. The standard headline is “White Banker’s Son Threatens To Shoot School Kids And Jews, Gets Get Outta Jail Free Card” or a variation thereof.

Hutson would have been a prosecution witness had the case gone to trial. Now he’s excoriating Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan for negotiating a possible plea bargain with Lenio.

Has Hutson gone rogue? You decide. Will Lenio get a fair shake? I hope so, but Hutson’s campaign isn’t making that easier. It’s a shame that some in Montana, who really should know better, endorse what he’s doing.


College student Denise Juneau was busted twice for drunken driving


Mike Dennison at KRTV has the details. But the immediate push that shoved this history into today’s sunlight probably came from an anonymous commenter at Intelligent Discontent who writes under the pseudonym of Pogo Possum:


After posting my reply to Pogo, I sent the following email, under Flathead Memo’s electronic letterhead, to Juneau’s campaign (link in original):

Date: 13 November 2015
To: press@denisejuneau.com
Subject: Request for Comment

At intelligentdiscontent.com, commenter Pogo Possum suggests that there may be police reports on Ms. Juneau’s driving record.

Has Ms. Juneau ever been arrested and/or convicted of driving offenses? If so, when, where, for what, and what was the outcome?

Thanks for your help,
James Conner

Juneau’s campaign did not respond to my inquiry. But somehow, Dennison got the story.

Juneau earned her first DUI at age 19, her second (which sent her to the slammer for seven days) at age 22. Since then she’s stayed sober behind the wheel, earned a master’s degree and a law degree, and twice won elections for statewide office.

Would this have come out without Pogo’s push? I suspect so. Candidates who run for federal office are subjected to intense opposition research. Ask George W. Bush, John Walsh, or Bill Yellowtail.

Yellowtail himself was a candidate for Congress in 1996, losing to Republican Rep. Rick Hill by a 52 to 43 percent margin. At the time of his candidacy, revelations about his past surfaced including a felony burglary in college, a failure to pay child support for five years and spouse abuse. Helena IR, 29 April 2000.

Will having been a drunk driver hurt Juneau? I doubt it. Although once a sinner, she’s long been saved.

But this may take some joy out of the campaign for Democrats hoping to tar and feather Ryan Zinke for, say, having too much fun on shore leave as a young naval officer.

One question does remain. Will I ever get a response to my inquiry to Juneau’s press aide?



16 November 2015

Montana Wilderness Association errs on Oschenski and FS money

The Montana Wilderness Association, on whose governing council I served in the 1980s, has been accepting money from the U.S. Forest Service. I do not consider this a nefarious decision to conspire with the agency to hurt the environment, but I do consider it bad judgment and a conflict of interest.

Others agree. Missoulian columnist George Ochenski criticized MWA for taking the money.

Now MWA’s communications director, Ted Brewer,, is calling on the Missoulian to replace Ochenski with someone more to the liking of Brewer and MWA.

Montana is full of hungry, talented writers who haven’t traded their common sense for conspiracy and who are more than happy to do the work that comes with being a provocative yet credible writer. Perhaps it’s time for the Missoulian to consider replacing Ochenski with one of them.

I’ve got a better idea. MWA should replace Brewer with someone who can control his temper, make a rational argument, and not call for economic retaliation against writers who don’t kiss MWA’s hiking stick.

A show trial for Lenio, no Democrat for AG, another REC solar garden

Friday’s terrorist attacks in France probably strengthened the hands of the people who want David Lenio put on trial, and put back in jail while his trial is conducted. The images of the carnage in Paris will make it easier for people, including potential jurors, to envision what could happen were their worst fears about Lenio realized.

I do not know whether Lenio is guilty of the crime of which he is accused. That’s for our criminal justice system to decide. But I’m increasingly convinced that some people on the national level want to use Lenio as the poster boy for a campaign against firearms. For that, they need him found guilty of a felony. And I suspect they want a jury to find him guilty at the end of a show trial during which tons of evidence of his alleged evil ways — evidence that can and will be described on the poster — are entered into the record.

I wonder whether Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan is becoming exasperated with this campaign to pressure his office into hanging Lenio high. And if he is exasperated, to what extent he’s exasperated.

Update. Jon Hutson is still trying the case in the press. See his screed at Montana Cowgirl today.

Montana Democrats need to find a candidate for MT Attorney General

There are strong Democratic candidates for Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, and the Office of Public Instruction, but not for AG. That’s because the trial lawyers and the party’s leaders think Republican AG Tim Fox is unbeatable. No one’s unbeatable, but Fox will be hard for a Democrat to beat — if Fox is on the ballot for the general election.

That’s not a given. Fox angered many Republicans with his support of the CSKT water compact. He’ll face a serious primary challenge. One potential challenger is Bozeman’s Rep. Matt Monforton, who is not running for re-election to the legislature.

If Fox loses the primary, and Democrats do not have a serious, well funded candidate for AG, they could blow an opportunity to pick up an important statewide office.

Another rural electric cooperative plants a solar garden

This time, as reported by the Missoulian’s Kim Briggeman, the gardener is the Missoula Electric Cooperative, which is building a 176-panel photovoltaic array with a DC nameplate capacity of 50 kilowatts. The AC output is not specified, but probably will be 15–20 percent lower. MEC says the array’s installer estimates the mean annual output of each 285-watt (DC) panel will be 339 kilowatt hours.

MEC members will purchase the 25-year output of a panel, but not the panel itself, for $700. The net cost of a 285-watt panel at Flathead Electric’s Stillwater solar garden is $630 after panel purchasers collect the 30 percent federal tax credit on the $900 panels. FEC estimates its panels will have a mean annual production of 359 kilowatt hours.

FEC’s panels are in a south facing array tilted 30 degrees from the horizontal. That’s an optimization for spring, summer, and fall. I could not find a tilt value for MEC’s array, but the photograph of it in the Missoulian suggests a tilt equal to the site’s latitude (46–47° N). That’s the standard for annual optimization, but not a good choice for sites with cloudy winters.

MEC’s FAQ (PDF) on its solar garden makes this odd statement:

Energy production will vary from month to month and year to year based on weather.

That’s correct, but it’s not the full story. Production is also a function of the amount of sunlight hitting the panels, and that varies considerably on a seasonal basis. I find myself wondering whether MEC’s solar gardeners understand this.

RECs need to disclose more information about their solar gardens.

Simply saying the installer estimates an annual output of N kilowatt hours is not enough. At a minimum, the RECs should disclose the numbers for the parameters identified in Section 3.10 of the Solar Business Code of the Solar Energy Industries Association. I’d also like to see column charts with error bars for mean monthly production, and for mean hour-by-hour production for the 15th of each month. Supplying these data is not an onerous task.



15 November 2015

Twenty bombs is not a massive attack unless they’re nukes

Ten French warplanes dropped 20 bombs on ISIS targets in Syria today in retaliation for the terrorist attacks in Paris. This was fully justified and no surprise. But unless the bombs were nukes, a 20-bomb mission is not a “massive” attack. France needs to moderate its rhetoric and drop 20,000 more bombs on ISIS.

ISIS: it can be contained, but not defeated

But a Presidential candidate who says something so sensible will be defeated.

Remember John Kerry’s comment in 2004 that successfully dealing with terrorism required reducing it to the level of a nuisance? He was right, but that wasn’t what Americans wanted to hear. They wanted an end to terrorism, for it to be wiped out once and for all. They wanted (and still want) to be perfectly safe — so when Kerry told them that wasn’t possible, but that they could be reasonably safe, they turned George W. Bush, the man who promised perfect safety.

That’s what led to this exchange (transcript) at last night’s Democratic debate in Iowa:

…read the rest


14–15 November 2015

Sunrise, sunset, and civil twilight at the Stillwater solar garden

Flathead Electric’s Stillwater solar garden will be used as a benchmark for other photovoltaic arrays in the Flathead. So far, FEC has focused on the economics of the project, but has not yet provided a lot of information on the solar science involved. Rather than wait for something that might never happen, Flathead Memo will present an occasional, and rudimentary, post on the sunshine part of the project.

Today, FM provides a spreadsheet of five daily values for the sun for 2016: (1) beginning of morning civil twilight, (2) time and azimuth of sunrise, (3) time and altitude of meridian transit (solar noon, also called high noon), (4) time and azimuth of sunset, and (5) end of evening civil twilight. At meridian transit, the sun’s azimuth is 180°, but as displayed in the analemma below, the time of day by the clock varies. The spreadsheet provides data for both standard and daylight saving time.

…read the rest

Could David Lenio get a fair trial in Flathead County?

Lenio’s attorney, public defender Brent Getty, raised that question in Vince Devlin’s latest report in the Missoulian. Lenio’s detractors made incendiary accusations yesterday in a report by Bill Morlin, who writes for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog, that Lenio violated the terms of his bail. Writes Devlin:

…read the rest


13 November 2015

An updated comment on the terrorist attacks in Paris

Update, 14 November, 0720 MST. We now know that ISIS conducted the attack, apparently in retaliation for French air attacks on ISIS in Syria. Earlier this fall, ISIS took out a Russian airliner with a bomb, again apparently as retaliation for Russia’s air strikes in Syria. I think there’s a fairly high probability that ISIS will try to murder American civilians, either in the U.S. or, more likely, abroad. None of this should be unexpected. None of this should change our daily behavior or attitude (see Fallows, below).

Updated. The Guardian is live blogging the situation. It just published the statement of France’s President, François Hollande, which contains these paragraphs:

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Is Ivanpah the worst solar electric project in the world?

Possibly not, but it’s among the top contenders. And, reports the Riverside, CA, Press-Enterprise, Ivanpah — which is supposed to produce clean energy — burns enough natural gas that it’s a greenhouse gas emitter that’s required to join California’s cap and trade program to reduce carbon emissions.

Some background. Located in the California desert near the border with Nevada, Ivanpah is a dual fuel steam electric generating facility, with sunlight serving as the primary fuel. Mirrors focus sunlight on a boiler atop a 460-foot tower; there are three towers, each with its own field of mirrors. The boilers drive steam turbines that spin the generators. It looks like something Jules Verne or Rube Goldberg might have designed.

…read the rest

Flathead Electric’s solar panels are not selling like hotcakes

Photovoltaic panels at Flathead Electric’s Stillwater solar garden are selling slowly. According to Ross Holter, FEC’s solar garden chief who spoke at FVCC last night, only 130 or so of the array’s 356 panels have been purchased by members of the rural electric cooperative. The 285-watt-DC panels cost $900 each, and can be paid for in a lump sum or in 12 payments, each $75 and added to the purchaser’s electric bill.

I don’t think FEC expected such slow sales. Initially, panels were limited to one per member. That restriction’s been removed. And the interest free $75 per month payment plan has been added.

…read the rest


12 November 2015

An informal comparison of 60-watt equivalent CFL & LED bulbs

Left, CFL. Right, LED.

There’s a seminar on solar energy at Flathead Valley Community College this evening, so its a good day to look at my informal comparison of two energy efficient replacements for the 60-watt incandescent light bulb. The replacements, pictured at left, are a spiral compact fluorescent lamp and a light emitting diode lamp, both with Edison bases. I bought the CFL at Costco for approximately two dollars several years ago, and the LED at Walmart for $2.44 over the weekend.

The bulbs are close to the same size, but the LED bulb is 50 percent heavier. They’re suitable for most, but not all, legacy fixtures. I installed them in a metal shaded gooseneck utility light rated for a 60-watt bulb. I made electrical measurements with a Kill-a-Watt meter, but would have used an oscilloscope had I had one.

Here are the numbers:


…read the rest