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

6 October 2015

What photons, fertilizer, dihydrogen oxide, and luck can produce


5 October 2015

Notes on an American ship that foundered in a hurricane

Note to readers in Montana. If you’re wondering why this topic, Flathead Memo is followed by people on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and members of my family have gone to sea.

Had not the college killings in Oregon and the deadly attack on a hospital in Afghanistan dominated the news for the first days of October, the extraordinary disappearance of the U.S. flagged cargo ship, El Faro, now presumed sunk, would have pushed everything off the front page.

Large American built, crewed, and flagged merchant vessels seldom go missing. El Faro’s disappearance already has produced online mention of two famous disasters more than 30 years ago: the sinking of the Marine Electric in 1983, and the disappearance of the Poet in 1980. Both were old ships in disrepair. Now commenters on maritime websites such as gCaptain are wondering whether El Faro was an old rust bucket that should have been in a breaking yard instead of on the high seas.

As the search for survivors continues, two questions that will dominate the inquiry already are being asked: (a) how seaworthy was El Faro, and (b) why did it sail into the eye of a Category III hurricane?

…read the rest


3–4 October 2015

Were these deaths preventable?

Bloody headlines have dominated the first days of October.

Nine died at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR, murdered by a deranged student who committed suicide after being wounded by local police detectives. He’d been kicked out of the Army for being off kilter, had a history of mental issues, yet was able to acquire 14 firearms; and able to acquire them legally, says the local sheriff, who himself has some loose screws. Were these deaths, or at least some of them, preventable? Probably, if firearms were much more difficult to obtain. Will this mass murder cause our nation to come to its senses on firearms? No.

Nineteen nurses, doctors, and patients died when U.S. aircraft bombed and/or shot up a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters reportedly were using the hospital for cover, so someone called in an airstrike, which probably was conducted by an AC-130 gunship. An investigation has started. The person responsible for approving the air strike could be in very hot water. Bombing a hospital is a war crime. Were these deaths preventable? Yes. Will this be the last time our nation makes so deadly a mistake in Afghanistan? We hope so, but we know that as long as we’re there, it’s likely to happen again. Bring our men and women home. Let the locals cut each other’s throats.


FVCC student chefs warn that raw milk is dangerous

When I began reading the menu (PDF) for the Nurture Me restaurant run by culinary students at Flathead Valley Community College (Flathead Beacon story), my first thought was, “these offerings are so pretentious — Trout en Papillote — that success is assured.”

Then, at the bottom, I found words I’ve never before found on a menu:


Bravo! This is both wisdom and rare honesty, not to mention a great defense for burning food. I’m almost tempted to buy a lunch there so I can lobby the culinary institute’s students to implore their state legislators not to legalize the sale of raw milk in Montana.

Almost, but not quite. I have a narrow pallet. When I read a menu, I want to see roast beef, well done, with mashed potatoes and gravy, and steamed green beans, not a mad chef’s latest experiment in combining kale and snail and fermented turnip garnished with Wisconsin stinkcheese, all served cold with an attitude that would earn the applause of the haughtiest head waiter in Berlin. So I won’t be dining at Nurture Me, which has an exotic menu if not the snob waiters. But if you like trendy fare, consider giving the FVCC eatery a try.


Saturday morning video — Cheesburger in Paradise

A barefoot and balding Jimmy Buffet singing his ode to junk food.


2 October 2015

Montana Public Service Commission becomes dam meddlesome

Yesterday, Montana’s all Republican Public Service Commission petitioned (document, PDF) the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a rehearing on the transfer of the license for the Salish-Kootenai (Kerr) Dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Kim Briggeman at the Missoulian has the story.

The PSC did not announce it was considering this rehearing request, let alone hold its own hearing on the wisdom of filing such a request:

The PSC’s filing came “out of the blue,” Brian Lipscomb, president and chief executive officer of Energy Keepers, said Thursday evening.

“We’re a little perplexed by it,” Lipscomb said. “Of course we’ll study it and look at it and the issues the Public Service Commission is raising.”

Ambushing the CSKT like that is dirtier than a crackback block administered after the play is dead. And this play has been dead for 30 years:

…read the rest


1 October 2015

A shooting in Oregon

Updated, 3 October 2015. First reports are often wrong. That’s the first thing to keep in mind about the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. As of 2014 MDT, the New York Times reports ten persons are dead and seven are wounded. That can change.

The second thing to keep in mind is that it will take days, perhaps weeks, to learn why the now dead shooter, 20-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, conducted his rampage. As additional information is reported, there will be a temptation to fill in the blanks through argument and assumption — that’s the natural consequence of our species’ desire to provide closure and understanding — but it’s best to resolve ambiguities and uncertainty by waiting for more facts.

Updated. Lastly, we should remember that although Oregon is one of seven states that allow carrying concealed weapons on campus, police summoned to the college after the shooting started killed wounded the gunman, who fled, then shot himself and died in an ambulance. Concealed carry didn’t save a single life.


More on Taylor Rose, no big box Flathead jail

Taylor Rose. Montana Cowgirl has more information on Rose, who’s preparing to seek the Republican nomination for House District 3. A Libertarian usually files in that district, sometimes drawing enough votes that the Democratic candidate wins by a plurality. That’s what happened in 2014. Given Rose’s support for Ron Paul, a friend astutely observed that the possibility there could be a Rep. Rose might deter a Libertarian from filing.

Flathead County jail. If there’s a new jail, it won’t be in the old Walmart big box on Highway 2 East. The county tried to buy the building, but was rescued from that folly by a higher bider. Jails should be purpose built, not remodeled department stores.



30 September 2015

Founder of Montanans for Ron Paul files C-1 for House District 3


His name? Taylor Christian Wildebour Rose. His party? Republican. His ambition? To replace Democrat Rep. Zac Perry as Columbia Falls’ representative (HD-3, map) in the Montana legislature. His platform? As yet, unknown, but it may include white planks. His C-1 was received by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices on 21 September 2015.

Wildebour, in case you’re wondering, is an established surname, probably with roots in Dutch, German, or Afrikaans. Wilde roughly translates as “wild.” Bour may be Romanian for aurochs, the now extinct wild ox from which domestic cattle derive. Wildebour: an interesting name.

And, Taylor Rose, an interesting man.

He graduated in 2011 from Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University in Lynchberg, VA, with a “B.A. in International Relations with a minor in Strategic Intelligence at the Helms School of Government.” He’s bilingual in English and German.

According to his résumé, he’s “…affluent with modern campaign technology such as i360,” and has an “Affluent knowledge of international, national and local politics.” I probably should have inserted [sic] after “affluent,” but perhaps he became a rich man through his association with campaign technology, and perhaps his vast knowledge of politics is that of a rich man.

Rose has been organizing for the Montana Republican Party in Great Falls and Kalispell. Of more interest, perhaps, is his association with the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research, and his former association with World Net Daily, a right leaning internet news outlet that does not enjoy universal respectability.

…read the rest

Service academies prepare future officers for bar fights

Do we want punch-drunk officers leading our military forces in battle? That seems like a stupid question — of course we don’t — but the answer, reports the New York Times, is: Yes! Boxing is a required course at our Army, Navy, and Air Force academies.

According to academy officials, it’s justified despite causing more concussions than football because it’s the best, perhaps the only, way to instill courage in battle in our future officers. Unless those officers are products of R.O.T.C. programs:

…read the rest


29 September 2015

An iPhone and selfie stick will neither impress nor intimidate

Years ago, a political operative in Minneapolis whom I knew used to inflate the importance of a political event by sending to it a camera crew with a huge video or movie camera and powerful lights. Neither videotape nor film was needed. If the event merited the expense of that much equipment and manpower, it must be important.

I was reminded of that showmanship by today’s story at Petapixel on a Swiss television station’s switch from a big crew and equipment to a lone reporter with a iPhone and selfie stick. iPhones lack telephoto reach, but they have excellent image quality; better image quality than the video and 16mm movie cameras of yore. But the presence one person with an iPhone never will hype the importance of an event the way Pete’s camera crew did.

An iPhone, incidentally, is ideal for covering a lot of events. It’s inconspicuous, has high image quality, and can send photographs to the internet in near real time. There are even applications for instantly sending to the internet videos the police might attempt to confiscate.

Do I use an iPhone? No. I prefer a small but high quality camera with better optical reach (a Nikon P310, usually) that doesn’t look like a professional camera and thus attracts much less attention than my big DSLR and telephoto lenses. Sometimes a big camera has its place, but more often than not iPhones and small cameras are the best choice for photographing events at which one can move around freely.



28 September 2015

Flu shot refuseniks are fools and public health menaces

I’m on a blogging lite schedule for a couple of days while I tend to exigent matters, one being obtaining a flu shot. If you have Medicare Part B, you’re covered — your shot costs you nothing — but if you’re condemned to private health insurance, as Jon Cohen reports in Slate, you might not be covered.

There are several flu vaccines, including a high dose variant for old people. The Center for Disease Control has a good table of the different approved vaccines, and there’s even a special website, www.flu.gov, for the malady.

Everyone not allergic to the vaccine should get an influenza vaccination. That’s especially so for health care workers. Refuseniks are both fools and menaces to public health.