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

26 May 2016

Second-guessing superintendents is a school trustee’s job

Preface. Although I disagree with the decision of School District 5’s board of trustees to ban 20 seniors from participating in the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2016, I do not question the sincerity of any of the trustees. Although I believe the majority made a bad decision, I have no doubt that all were trying to do the right thing.

Commentary. I do, however, fundamentally disagree with the approach to service on the board that trustee Don Murray articulated:

While trustee Don Murray said he personally might have distinguished between levels of involvement for each student and dispensed consequences accordingly, he saw his role as a trustee to ensure administrators completed a thorough investigation and support an appropriate recommendation, which he did.

“My role, in my view, as a school board trustee is to ensure the administration has gone about the investigation appropriately that they have investigated the matter throughly and the recommendation they make is within the sideboards of what is fair and just and legal,” Murray said. “It may not be the one I would make. I might make a different one. I might single out certain students for harsher punishment and lenient with others, but it’s not my role to substitute my judgment for that of the administration. [InterLake]

Wrong.

There are times when trustees must be willing to substitute their judgment for that of their school district’s administrators. An administrator’s decision making process must be defensible, but that alone is not sufficient. The decision itself must be the right decision. If not, the trustees have the power and duty to reverse that decision, substituting their judgment for that of the administrators. To argue otherwise betrays a profoundly anti-democratic approach to serving as an elected official.

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25 May 2016

School District 5 board opts 8–3 for stick, not carrot

Vindictive educators received the support of an 8–3 majority of the School District 5 board of trustees Tuesday evening. Twenty students accused of breaking into and vandalizing Flathead High School will not be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2016.

The board’s decision does not surprise me. The seniors involved, and most, perhaps all, of their parents, won’t be around next year, but the administrators and faculty will be. Not supporting the administrators would be asking for political trouble next year, a factor that could have entered into the decision-making of some trustees.

The graduation ban is authorized, but not mandated, by MCA 20-5-201(3):

In addition to the sanctions prescribed in this section, the trustees of a high school district may deny a high school pupil the honor of participating in the graduation exercise or exclude a high school pupil from participating in school activities. The trustees may not take action under this subsection until the incident or infraction causing the consideration has been investigated and the trustees have determined that the high school pupil was involved in the incident or infraction.

Unless the trustees have a change of heart and muster the courage to undercut the vengeful administrators, an event with rather a low probability of occurring, this mean-spirited decision likely will stand. I think a court would defer to the board’s discretion.

Therefore, you 20 young fools, you’re screwed. You embarrassed and enraged educators and administrators who still have arbitrary power over you. Their final lesson for you? Challenge authority at your peril. Punishment, not mercy, is the order of the day. Your school will not give you a second chance. Instead, it’s marking you and your family with a scarlet letter for the rest of your lives, sending you into the adult world not with a pat on your back but with a kick in your ass.

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Net Metering’s benefits outweigh costs

That’s the conclusion of Mark Puro and Devashree Saha in their Brookings Brief today on net metering. Electric utilities, which believe everyone should be connected to, and connected only to, a big central generating plan, have spent the last few years trying, with some success, to portray both net metering and rooftop photovoltaics as socialistic schemes for destabilizing the grid and reducing the profits of investor owned utilities.

One potent allegation is that net metering will increase the cost of electricity for consumers of grid electricity who don’t net meter. An interim committee of Montana’s legislature has spent the last several months looking at that issue, considering input from investor owned utilities such as Northwestern Energy, which tends to view net metering as an economic evil based on a pink tinged political philosophy.

Dispassionate economic analysis does not, report Puro and saha, provide comfort for the Keep It the Way It Was cabal of private utilities:

Fortunately, such cost-benefit analyses have become an important feature of state rate-setting processes and offer important guidance to states like Nevada. So what does the accumulating national literature on costs and benefits of net metering say? Increasingly it concludes — whether conducted by PUCs, national labs, or academics — that the economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers. Far from a net cost, net metering is in most cases a net benefit—for the utility and for non-solar rate-payers.

Of course, there are legitimate cost-recovery issues associated with net metering, and they vary from market to market. Moreover, getting to a good rate design, which is essential for both utility revenues and the growth of distributed generation, is undeniably complicated. If rates go too far in the direction of “volumetric energy charges” — charging customers based on energy use — utilities could have trouble recovering costs when distributed energy sources reach higher levels of penetration. On the other hand, if rates lean more towards fixed charges — not dependent on usage — it may reduce incentives for customers to consider solar and other distributed generation technologies.

This brief is a good resource for political candidates, mainstream media reporters, and bloggers.

My personal view on net metering, incidentally, has been souring. If I install a photovoltaic array on my property, I’m not going to connect it to the grid. I’m going to add a battery bank and propane fueled generator for backup and winter, and get off the grid.

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24 May 2016

Flathead High vandals must be punished — but not by the school district!

May is the month for outbreaks of anal retentive stupidity by stressed high school educators and administrators. For example, a few days ago in little Amite City, Louisiana, the high school’s valedictorian was stripped of his cap and gown as he entered the graduation chamber, and forced to watch the ceremony from the cheap seats. His offense? Sporting a modest goatee that violated the school’s dress code. His family, of course, also was humiliated and thus unjustly punished along with him.

Could a similar unjust exclusion from a graduation ceremony occur at Flathead High School? Yes — and unless School District 5’s trustees make wise decisions at their meeting this evening, 21 graduating students could be exiled to the cheap seats, there to sit in shame with their humiliated parents and family members. Their offense? Being suspected of vandalizing FHS on 10 May.

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Thus far, none of the 21 suspects has been arrested. Kalispell’s police are concluding their investigation. Then prosecutors must decide whether to bring criminal charges against the young men, all 18 or older. Those who face criminal charges will have the right to an attorney, the right to a public trial, and the right to present a defense.

As students at Flathead High School, however, they have few rights and now face angry administrators who, reports the Daily InterLake’s Megan Strickland, are already issuing suspensions from school and bans from graduation:

…read the rest

 

23 May 2016

Don’t let the rain come down

What a Monday morning. Grab your umbrella and galoshes, pop a Prozac, and stay away from rivers on the rise. Last night, the National Weather Service issued a flood advisory for “poor drainage areas” in Flathead County.

After a cold and wet weekend, my reaction is: Don’t let the rain come down! Which is what the Serendipity Singers sang in 1964, the year of the biggest flood (PDF 21MB) in the Flathead’s history. Thanks to anal retentive intellectual management policies, the Serendipity Singers’ performance can be watched only on YouTube. But this video by the Hal Leonard Choral is pretty good.

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21 May 2016

Two of the year’s most important solar energy months begin today

In the desert southwest, 21 May through 21 July is the most important two-month period for solar energy, for that’s when the sun is highest in the sky and solar collectors capture the most solar energy. But in cloudy northwest Montana, there are more sunshine days in July and August than in May and June.

Here’s how it looks graphically for the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s community solar array a couple of miles southwest of Glacier International Airport. The altitude of the sun above the southern horizon at meridian transit varies with the latitude, but the shape of the curve is valid for the entire northern hemisphere.

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Bernie burns big bucks, is almost out of cash

Primary campaigns often end when candidates finally accept the message voters are sending — but they always end when the money, the mother’s milk of politics, runs out.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign is almost broke. He’s been spending $1.3 million a day and is down to five or six million in cash, according to overnight reports. Hillary Clinton has five times as much. Now Sanders is laying off hundreds of campaign workers, and probably loosing fusillades of emails frantically begging for bucks. Without a rapid and large infusion of cash, his campaign will be in the red before the California primary is held.

…read the rest

Why I don’t belong to Linkedin

Linkedin has a dismal security record. And now, reports the Huffington Post, once again Linkedin’s users are being urged to reset their passwords.

Every now and then, I receive an invitation from someone I know to link with them on Linkedin. I’m flattered, but I’m not foolish. Linkedin is not secure. That’s why I’m not a member and never will be a member.

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20 May 2016

Lawton Chiles refutes Judge Lovell’s campaign finance decision

Three days ago, Federal District Court Judge Charles Lovell struck down Montana’s campaign finance limits, ruling (PDF 10MB) that “…the limits are neither narrowly focused on an anti-corruption interest, nor do they allow candidates in Montana to amass sufficient resources to wage effective political campaigns.”

Among the contribution limits struck down by Lovell was the $650 per person and political action committee limit for governor. Candidates themselves can contribute unlimited amounts of their own money, so if they’re rich enough they can self-fund, thus overcoming the terrible burden of not being able to accept whopping big donations from people and PACs.

Otherwise, the only alternative is grubbing for a lot of little checks.

Sometimes, however, that works. Democrat Lawton Chiles — the liberal He-Coon of Florida — won three elections to the U.S. Senate, and two for the governorship of Florida, never accepting a contribution larger than $100. In today’s dollars — he won his last election in 1994, beating Jeb Bush — that’s $150.

Unlike Chiles, Bernie Sanders is accepting contributions over $100. But like Chiles, he’s proving that an effective campaign can be waged by accepting many small contributions. Reports Politico:

Clinton’s tech team remains awed by Sanders’ ability to tap online a vein of spirited small-dollar donors who, through the latest Federal Election Commission filings in April, had given him about $83 million more than the amount she raised from people giving $200 or less.

It’s not limitations on the size of contributions that prevents the waging of an effective political campaign. Candidates who can’t raise enough money to run an effective campaign will find the reason for their political poverty in their mirror, not in the statutes or stars.

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19 May 2016

Note to readers

I’m getting a late start today, partly because I’ve been following the story of the EgyptAir crash. The reports that just before going down the aircraft made a hard turn left, then a full circle right, are consistent with a struggle in the cockpit. Reportedly, there were three security agents on board, for all the good they evidently did. We’ll learn more, but what we’ve learned so far suggests only a suicidal fool would ever fly EgyptAir.

 

18 May 2016

Cascade Locks, OR, voters approve anti-bottled water initiative

Nestlé won’t be bottling spring water in Cascade Locks, OR, any time soon. A ballot measure that effectively bans large bottling operations there was approved by 68 percent of the voters yesterday. The Oregonian has the story.

Nestlé had planned to bottle 100 million gallons (≈ 300 acre feet) a year from Oxbow Springs to sell under its Arrowhead brand.

The fight over the project was intense. According to the Oregonian:

Critics oppose Nestle on environmental and ideological grounds. Some argue against the waste inherent in selling water in plastic bottles, while others say Nestlé’s plan amounts to privatizing a public resource for corporate profits.

Some target Nestlé specifically as a bad actor that exploits small, economically depressed communities while failing to deliver on promises of financial salvation. Members of the Warm Springs tribe, who consider Oxbow Springs a sacred site, say state leaders could be violating their tribal treaty rights by agreeing to let Nestlé take the spring’s water.

The outcome of the election may be challenged in court by local residents who favor the economic activity the bottling plant would bring to the community.

Cascade Locks is known for its access to the Pacific Crest Trail and other hiking trails in the Cascades. I spent more than a little time there when I lived in Oregon. It’s one of Oregon’s historic communities, but economically it seems to be struggling. In addition to the proposed water bottling plant, a casino — always an engine of civic and moral decay — has been proposed for the city by the Warm Springs tribe.

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Be wary of jumping to conclusions about Bernie and Nevada

Something ugly happened at the Democratic state convention in Nevada on Saturday. According to various news report, supporters of Bernie Sanders, upset by rules decisions, became angry and sent death threats to the convention’s chairman, a Clinton supporter. Wild and wooly only begins to describe it.

Making death threats is beyond the pale, of course. If those accusations can be proven, the persons making the threats should be prosecuted.

But Sanders’ supporters may have had legitimate grievances. Here’s how long time Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston described the chair’s handing of a voice vote on the convention rules:

Bilbray led the charge soon after the convention began to try to institute rule changes – a scene like many others repeated at countless conventions here and everywhere. But Lange, knowing that there were more Clinton delegates, disregarded the louder Sanders contingent on a voice vote, and cut it off, which began the march toward chaos.

That’s pretty high-handed. And, stupid.

Now the chaos is being exploited by Clinton’s sycophants and arm-twisters to put pressure on Sanders to drop to his knees, kiss Clinton’s feet, and not only announce the end of his campaign, but apologize for having conducted it. But they don’t want him to beg forgiveness. They want him to endorse Clinton, then never be heard from again.

I prefer that the Clinton campaign’s Bernie bashers are never heard from again. The same goes for the subset of Sanders’ supporters in Nevada who behaved badly.

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17 May 2016

FHS Class of 2016 won’t be remembered as hooligans

Flathead High School’s senior class of 2016 is not responsible for the criminal behavior of the 21 hooligans who broke into and damaged FHS on 10 May. The vandalism was not a class project. Rather, it was a criminal conspiracy to break into and damage a public building that was carried out independently by people it appears are also FHS students.

Therefore, there is no reason for members of the FHS Class of 2016 to try to make amends for the crimes of the Gang of 21. That some members of that class believe they have such a duty speaks well of their fundamental decency, but also suggests they are having difficulty analyzing the situation objectively.

The reputation of the Class of 2016 rests not on the behavior of the 21 crooks — I’m not going to call them pranksters, and no one else should, either — who damaged the school, but on the conduct of 2016’s cohort throughout its journey from pre-school and kindergarten to their graduation this spring. Overall, that conduct has been meritorious, and the event of 10 May notwithstanding, it is that long record that defines the class and for which these students will be remembered.

So, the 20 May public relations event really isn’t necessary. But it’s proof that most of the Class of 2016 have the right instincts. If I develop a craving for a hot dog that evening, I might just drop by, say hello, and offer my congratulations.

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Ahem, Flathead High: mthsgraduation.com is not a valid URL

You can thank the 21 punks who broke into and vandalized Flathead High School last week for bringing this to my attention.

FHS, reports the Flathead Beacon, sent its 2016 graduating class a printed two-page Graduation 2016 Informational Bulletin admonishing students not be be naughty little pranksters, and reminding them that wearing a cap and gown is mandatory:

DRESS EXPECTATIONS

All graduating seniors participating in the ceremony must wear the FHS cap and gown. Cap and gown are available for purchase through Jostens at mthsgraduation.com or contact Jim Netz at (406) 452-6390. No tape, glitter, leis, bouquets, or any other adornments are allowed on the caps or gowns. Graduates must wear appropriate dress under their gowns, including shoes.

According to the metadata in the PDF version of the Informational Bulletin, the document was prepared on 26 April 2016 by Rhonda Reilly using Microsoft Publisher 2013.

Now, give that cap and gown URL — mthsgraduation.com — a try. Yep. There’s a problem.

According to internic.com, the registration for mthsgraduation.com expired on 15 March 2016, almost six weeks before Ms. Reilly slapped together the graduation bulletin and her superiors approved it for distribution. They might have proofread it, but it’s hard to believe they tested the URL (which is not embedded in the PDF version of the bulletin as a hyperlink).

Was this a prank by Ms. Reilly? Of course not. It was an oversight, compounded by a lack of thorough review of the document by her overseers. But I’m amazed that it occurred. With the possible exception of football, nothing is more sacred to high school administrators than the almighty graduation ceremony. One would think they would present only valid information for procuring the holy robe of graduation.

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16 May 2016

Light Reading is light on Libby hydro facts

It’s not always easy to make sense of the stories published in Light Reading, the two-page newsletter than the Flathead Electric cooperative inflicts on its members. Consider, for example, this report from LR’s May, 2016, issue:

…Flathead Electric Cooperative has signed a two-phase power purchase agreement with the City of Libby for the advance purchase of electricity generated from the city’s hydro-electric generator, located near the water treatment facility in Lincoln County.

Flathead Electric paid the city $122,125 in advance for 2.03 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy to be generated and delivered to the power grid during the first phase, which has an anticipated duration of 13 years.

During Phase 2, Flathead Electric will accept generated energy in exchange for energy delivered to metered accounts already associated with the Libby Water Systems Department.

That’s approximately six cents per kilowatt hour. But did FEC buy a 13-year output that totals two million kilowatt hours? Or is the output two million kWhrs/year? If the former, the hydro plant’s output is around 18 kilowatts. If the latter, the output is approximately 230 kilowatts.

Light Reading does not answer those questions. But a 1993 engineering report (PDF, 19MB) by Morrison-Maierle on Libby’s water system master plan update might:

…read the rest

 

15 May 2016

Why Republicans are falling into line behind Trump

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Across the nation, reports Politico, state and local Republican parties, with varying degrees of grumbling, are deciding that resistance is futile as well as disloyal, and are getting behind Donald Trump as their presidential nominee.

Anyone who is surprised by this might consider the behavior of Catholics (no, my name notwithstanding, I’m not Catholic) upon learning that their priests bugger choir boys and that some of their popes are reactionary tyrants. Their souls may be shaken, their hearts may be saddened, but they neither abandon their faith nor leave their church. Instead, they pray for reform, demand changes, but keep going to mass. Men of the church have failed, but their church and their love for it endure.

Thus it is with Republicans (and Democrats). A political party is as much a secular religion as it is an organization for seizing control of the government. Membership in a political party is a statement of agreement with a political philosophy; agreement with a set of principles and prescriptions for governing our worldly conduct with each other. Just as devout Catholics distinguish pedophile priests from their church’s greater glory, loyal Republicans distinguish a nominating mistake from the great truths they believe their political party represents. They will stand by a nominee they consider an embarrassment and menace because party loyalty is a Republican virtue, because they believe the party is larger than the nominee, and because they want to rescue their down-ballot candidates.

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14 May 2016

I survived a Syrian immigrant’s commencement speech

rizk

Salmon Rizk was the commencement speaker at my high school graduation in the spring of 1965. The best selling author of Syrian Yankee, he spoke at many small town graduations, providing a sanctimonious but rather entertaining alternative to local politicians armed with clean jokes cribbed from the Reader’s Digest. He had something better than jokes: an interesting story and the blessing of DeWitt Wallace, Mr. Reader’s Digest himself, and, I suspect, co-author of Rizk’s book.

No one in the hot, steamy, gymnasium that night was more American than Rizk. Born in the middle east, possibly in that part of Syria which now is Lebanon, to an American Christian mother who died while he was a boy, he made his way to America after World War I, his journey financed by relatives in Iowa. Once here, he learned English. Not many years thereafter, he began his public speaking career.

In his forward to Syrian Yankee, Wallace wrote:

…read the rest

 

13 May 2016

Recent stories of note from the bottled water wars

There’s news of interest out of Creston, MT, and Cascade Locks, OR, on proposals to bottle and sell local water.

In Creston, report Sam Wilson of the InterLake and Tristan Scott of the Flathead Beacon, Montana’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says there are enough valid objections to the 710 acre feet per year water right for the Montana Artesian Water Company that the issue will go to a formal hearing.

Given the DNRC’s sloppy analysis of the application for the water right, that news is not surprising. But it is welcome news for the objectors.

In Cascade Locks, reports the Seattle Times, a complicated proposal to bottle local water has become so controversial that it’s being put to a vote on Oregon’s primary election ballot next week.

I’ve come to regard both disputes as largely not in my backyard affairs. That’s especially the case in Creston, where all sorts of allegedly transcendent issues are being claimed, but I think the fundamental objection is that a water bottling factory is not compatible with the character of the local community.

There are some differences. According to Nestle spokesman Dave Palais:

…only 1.38 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of Nestle bottled water, compared to an average of 5 gallons of water for 1 gallon of beer.

In Creston, as I reported last month, MAWC uses a lower figure, approximately 1.2 gallons per bottled gallon. Perhaps MAWC has a more efficient process, or perhaps it’s just more optimistic in its assumptions.

Then there’s the hypocrisy of beer brewers who use four gallons of water to make one gallon of suds, a popular product that causes great social harm, but rail against bottled water:

Thunder Island Brewery sits right along the Columbia, near where the Bridge of the Gods — part of the Pacific Crest Trail — links Oregon to Washington. Head brewer Brian Perkey said the brewery uses municipal water and pays for it.

But for Perkey, the main issue is not water.

“I see no place on this green Earth for water in a plastic bottle,” he said. “Why would I want to support people putting water into a plastic bottle for profit?”

Does he fear that clean water will sell better than hopped up water in cans and bottles?

Bottled water has the fewest manufacturing impacts of any beverage in a small container, and does great social good without doing any social harm. There can be good reasons for disallowing a particular water bottling plant in a particular place, but the argument that the product is intrinsically evil is not one of them. I'd much rather live next to a water bottling plant than next to a pig farm, a chicken coop, or a feedlot.

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Does mass break-in at FHS indicate a gang problem?

That’s a fair question. This wasn’t a case of an individual or two getting out of line. According to Kalispell’s police, the criminals numbered 21. To me, that suggests a strong possibility of gang activity and a potential huge public safety threat to our community.

The break-in was neither a school prank nor an academic transgression such as plagiarism. A mob broke into and vandalized a public building. That building was a school, but it could have been a museum, a hospital, a road department machine shop, a national guard armory, or an old folks home. It was straight out criminal behavior and must be treated as such, handled not by educators but by our criminal justice system.

…read the rest