Monday, September 26, 2016

The Scottish man asking women for piggyback rides (and more News of the Weird)

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Insanity Defined
Police and prosecutors in Dallas, appropriately sensitive at having been the site of the 1963 killing of President Kennedy, have apparently taken out their shame on assassination buff Robert Groden. As the Dallas Observer reported in September, Groden has been ticketed by police dozens of times for operating book sales booths near the "grassy knoll" (site of the alleged "second shooter" of the president) – and yet he prevails in court every single time (82 straight, and counting). (Tip for visitors from the Observer: Never publicly utter "grassy knoll" in Dallas, as it seems particularly to offend the police.)

The Continuing Crisis
Stephen Mader, 25, native of Weirton, West Virginia, and former Weirton police officer, is fighting to get his job back after being fired for not being quick enough on the trigger. When Ronald Williams Jr., in May, made a ham-handed attempt at "suicide by cop," it was Mader who, rather than shooting, tried to talk Williams down (based on his Marine Corps and police academy training), but when Williams pointed his unloaded gun at two of Mader's colleagues, and one of them quickly shot the man to death, police officials fired Mader for having been insufficiently aggressive.
Can't Possibly Be True: Few U.S. forces in Afghanistan speak the native Pashto or Dari, and the war prospects would be dim were it not for courageous Afghan civilians who aid the U.S. as interpreters under promise of protection and future emigration to the U.S. However, the congressional battle over immigration policy has delayed entry for about 10,000 interpreters, who (along with their families) face imminent death if they remain in Afghanistan. Some in Congress also regard Afghans as riskier immigrants (despite the interpreters' demonstrated loyalty).

Suspicions Confirmed
Master baker Stefan Fischer filed a lawsuit recently against Bakery of New York for wrongful firing  because he refused to use "bug-infested" flour to make batches of bread. According to Fischer, when he informed management of the bugs in the facility's 3,000-pound flour silo, he was told simply to make "multigrain" bread, which Fischer took to mean that fewer diners would complain if they heard "crunching" while eating multigrain.

Leading Economic Indicators
News Corporation Australia reported in September the enviable success of a 16-year-old British entrepreneur, Ms. Beau Jessup, who has so far earned about $84,000 with a simple online app to help rich Chinese parents select prosperous-sounding English names for their babies. Users choose among 12 personality traits they hope their baby to have, then receive three suggestions (including a list of famous people with those names). Jessup got the idea when living in China and noticing that some babies of the rich were given lame names, such as "Gandalf" and "Cinderella."
Chinese Management Techniques: (1) About 200 employees at a travel service in Shandong Province were fined the equivalent of $6.50 each recently for failing to comply with orders to "comment" (favorably, one supposes) on the general manager's daily posts to the Twitter-like Internet site Sina Weibo. (2) In June, a motivational trainer working with employees of the Changzhi Zhangze Rural Commercial Bank reportedly told the poor-performing bank personnel (among the 200 at the session) to "prepare to be beaten." He then walked among the workers, whacking some with a stick, shaving the heads of the males and cutting the hair of the females.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

UM enrollment tumbles to 25-year low at main campus

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 3:26 PM

Figures released Friday show fall enrollment at the University of Montana took the steepest drop yet in its six-year descent from record highs, leaving main campus with roughly the same number of students it had in 1991.

Overall student numbers, in terms of the budgeting metric known as "full-time equivalents," declined to 10,223 FTE from 10,959 FTE last fall—a 6.7 percent drop. Total student FTE count is down nearly 24 percent from an all-time high in Fall 2010.

Raw student headcount, which is less reflective of the university's financial picture, dropped 6.1 percent on main campus to 10,329 students and 4.8 percent overall, to 12,419 students.

Most notably, however, UM's incoming freshman class continued to shrink—by over 9 percent on main campus—to the lowest level in recent memory. Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Tom Crady told reporters during a press conference he is particularly concerned by the small freshman class, as it will hinder overall enrollment for several years.

UM budget makers had planned for a flat freshman class, Vice President for Administration and Finance Mike Reid said earlier this month, but other bright spots appear to have kept overall enrollment in line with the budget approved last week by the Montana Board of Regents. Crady notes the enrollment target was adjusted downward sometime last spring, before he arrived on campus.

Encouragingly, the number of out-of-state freshman, whose premium-priced tuition is crucial to UM's budget, rebounded from 2015's dismal class back to previous levels. Graduate students also increased, as did dual enrollment students at Missoula College.
Enrollment at the University of Montana dropped again this fall, including the smallest freshman class in recent memory. - P­HOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • p­hoto by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Enrollment at the University of Montana dropped again this fall, including the smallest freshman class in recent memory.
Officials took a guarded approach to enrollment figures in recent months, a departure from last spring when, in wake of layoffs, former Provost Perry Brown said he believed an overhaul in UM's recruiting he oversaw would begin producing results this fall. On Thursday, Crady made clear that he doesn't believe those changes went far enough, listing a series of efforts already undertaken and currently planned to double UM's applicant pool over time.

"I don't want to rail the provost, I don't think that's appropriate," Crady says of Brown's prediction. "I don't know what led him to believe it would be a more optimistic situation."

Crady worked in enrollment management at private universities for more than a decade, most recently at Gustavus Adolphus College, before joining UM in July on a $70,000 signing bonus. He says UM continues to lack the recruitment processes in place at more competitive universities but is working quickly to get up to speed. 

"I've probably implemented more recommendations in the last three months than I would do in three years," he says.

The press conference, led by Crady alone, appeared designed to showcase his ongoing work and signaled the degree to which UM is relying on his expertise to reverse its enrollment trend. Crady said he was given carte blanche by President Royce Engstrom to rework university recruitment and admissions practices.

Engstrom did not attend the press conference.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rockies Today, September 21

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 12:58 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit

Exxon pays $12M in Yellowstone River oil spill settlement

The 2011 pipeline break upstream of Billings left oil along an 85-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River, killing fish and wildlife and prompting a months-long cleanup.

A victim of the spill recently reflected on it:

In the end, over 63,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River from what I learned later was a “guillotine cut” in the Exxon Silvertip pipeline that lay in a trench around five feet beneath the Yellowstone River. During heavy flooding, the river bottom was scoured away and the pipe became exposed. All it took was a heavy object being tossed down the river to break the pipe in half. After spending $135 million dollars on the cleanup, Exxon recovered less than 1 percent of the oil spilled.

Find the draft restoration plan here.

John Craighead, pioneering conservationist, dies

“I have listened to the voice of the mountain for most of my life,” said John Craighead upon receiving The Wildlife Society’s Aldo Leopold Memorial Award in 1998. The mountains lost one of their most avid listeners Sunday morning when Craighead died in his sleep at his home in Missoula.

John and Frank Craighead wrote much of the text for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that was passed by Congress in 1968, even as they conducted a 12-year study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone. The study is credited with helping save the bears from extinction.

Belt tightening in Colorado

Credit rating agency Moody’s said in a recent report that Colorado’s “fairly insulated” from the depressed energy sector because severance taxes make up a small part of the state’s total tax revenue. Still, a slew of factors have lawmakers eyeing spending cuts to avert a general fund shortfall next fiscal year.

The price-driven downturn in Colorado’s energy sector has leveled off, meaning lost jobs and stalled investment won’t be more of a drag on an economy whose growth is being led by consumer spending, analysts told the Joint Budget Committee.
That spending, however, has been dampened by high housing costs in the Denver metropolitan area, said Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist. Uncertainty surrounding future U.S. interest rates, export demand and the November elections could curb corporate investment in Colorado, Mullis said.
That, coupled with new obligations such as nearly $100 million in the severance tax rebates, could produce an estimated $63 million shortfall in funding for education, prisons and other obligations, she said.

Wyoming’s hobbled cash cow

“Has the Powder River Basin ever had a real bust? Not really,” said Matt Preston, a research director at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “This year is a total collapse.”

Canadian farmers wary of agribusiness mergers

A flurry of multibillion-dollar mergers has some farm groups in Alberta and Saskatchewan voicing concern about further consolidation among seed companies.

Terry Boehm, who farms southeast of Saskatoon and serves on the executive of the National Farmers Union, … said he believes farmers are losing their independence and autonomy as a result of consolidation in the agribusiness sector.
“You become dependent on a couple of mega-corporations for all your input supplies on one side, and then you have to market to the mega-corporations who control the grain trade and they all have close relationships with the suppliers,” Boehm said. “As a farmer, you basically end up working for the company store.”

Utah releases draft water plan, seeks comment

A draft state water strategy, which calls for the construction of the Lake Powell Pipeline and other controversial measures, has been released to the public. Read the draft and comment here by Oct. 24.

Taxpayers can expect to pay up to 72 percent of the Lake Powell Pipeline’s costs, according to University of Utah economists.

Colorado health insurance rates soar

Residents who buy their health insurance through the state exchange will pay 20 percent more on average in 2017. In some parts of rural Colorado, premium increases will top 40 percent.

…Colorado’s increases in 2017 could be worse than those nationally. An analysis done this summer by the Kaiser Family Foundation looked at potential rate increases in 16 major cities, including Denver, and projected that the average increase of plans in the most popular tier of the Obamacare exchanges would be 9 percent in those cities.

Meanwhile, in Montana, the hike in average rates may be even higher than Colorado’s.

In Wyoming, rates are set to climb an average of 7 percent.

Wyoming seeks to regain control of wolves

Two years ago a federal judge rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan because of the state’s “nonbinding promises” to maintain a particular number of wolves. On Friday, state lawyers go before a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to override the 2014 ruling.

For two years before [U.S. District Judge Amy Berman] Jackson’s ruling, Wyoming had managed its own wolf population, declaring them unprotected predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state and classifying them as trophy game animals subject to regulated hunting around the borders of Yellowstone National Park.

Feds spend millions more to save greater sage grouse

At least $211 million is intended to further spur states, landowners and developers to save the imperiled greater sage grouse voluntarily across a sagebrush steppe area spanning 11 western states.

Happiest Hour: Montana Brewers Fall Rendezvous

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 11:30 AM

What it is: Forty-two brewers congregated at Caras Park for a(nother) brewfest.

Why this brewfest is different:
First off, it’s a rendezvous, okay? Second, the rendezvous features only Montana-made beer. No Bud Light on these taps, friend. Third, and perhaps most notably, unlike some other local brewfests, a $25 rendezvous ticket buys you unlimited beer samples. Even Donald Trump’s accountant could do the math on how that works out for you thirsty beavers.

How it can be even more special: Score a VIP pass for $10 extra and get access to the brews an hour early. This helps ensure you’re sipping the best pours before the kegs run dry.

Speaking of which, here’s some of what’s on tap: You’ll find many of the usual suspects with some limited releases that are sure to go fast. For example, Philipsburg has an Incarcerator Doppelbock, Kettlehouse has its Coconut Cold Smoke and Lewis & Clark will unveil a special “Rendezvous Release.”
There’s also the chance to finally taste a few of Montana’s smaller, newer or more remote brewers, such as Darby’s Bandit Brewing, Helena’s Ten Mile Creek, Beehive Basin Brewery in Big Sky, Busted Knuckle in Glasgow and Eureka’s Homestead Ales.

The details: The Montana Brewers Fall Rendezvous is Fri., Sept. 23, from 5 to 9 p.m., at Caras Park. Visit for complete beer listings, as well as information on food trucks and live entertainment.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email

Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Even if you are a wild-eyed adventure-seeker with extremist views
 and melodramatic yearnings, you'll benefit from taking a moderate approach to life in the coming weeks. In fact, you're most likely to attract the help and inspiration you need if you adopt the strategy used by Goldilocks in the fairy tale "Goldilocks and the Three Bears": neither excessive nor underdone, neither extravagant nor restrained, neither bawdy, loud, and in-your-face nor demure, quiet, and passive – but rather just right.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Some of my readers love me but also hate me. They are drawn to my horoscopes in the hope that I will help relieve them of their habitual pain, but then get mad at me when I do just that. In retrospect, they feel lost without the familiar companionship of their habitual pain. It had been a centerpiece of their identity, a source of stability, and when it's gone, they don't know who they are any more. Are you like these people, Taurus? If so, you might want to avoid my horoscopes for a while. I will be engaged in a subtle crusade to dissolve your angst and agitation. And it all starts now with this magic spell: Your wound is a blessing. Discover why.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): In my dream last night, bad guys wearing white hats constrained you in a canvas straitjacket, then further wrapped you up with heavy steel chain secured by three padlocks. They drove you to a weedy field behind an abandoned warehouse and left you there in the pitch dark. But you were indomitable. By dawn, you had miraculously wriggled your way out of your confinement. Then you walked back home, free and undaunted. Here's my interpretation of the dream: You now have special skills as an escape artist. No cage can hold you. No riddle can stump you. No tangle can confuse you. (P.S.: For best results, trust yourself even more than you usually do.)

CANCER (June 21-July 22): The next four weeks will be a favorable time to come all the way home. Here are nine prompts for how to accomplish that: 1. Nourish your roots. 2. Strengthen your foundations. 3. Meditate about where you truly belong. 4. Upgrade the way you attend to your self-care. 5. Honor your living traditions. 6. Make a pilgrimage to the land where your ancestors lived. 7. Deepen your intimacy with the earth. 8. Be ingenious about expressing your tenderness. 9. Reinvigorate your commitment to the influences that nurture and support you.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): What tools will work best for the tasks you'll be invited to perform in the coming weeks? A sledgehammer or tweezers? Pruning shears or a sewing machine? A monkey wrench or a screwdriver? Here's my guess: Always have your entire toolbox on hand. You may need to change tools in mid-task – or even use several tools for the same task. I can envision at least one situation that would benefit from you alternating between a sledgehammer and tweezers.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): I'm confident that I will never again need to moonlight as a janitor or dishwasher in order to pay my bills. My gig as a horoscope columnist provides me with enough money to eat well, so it's no longer necessary to shoplift bread or scavenge for dented cans of beets in grocery store dumpsters. What accounts for my growing financial luck? I mean besides the fact that I have been steadily improving my skills as an oracle and writer? I suspect it may in part have to do with my determination to cultivate generosity. As I've become better at expressing compassion and bestowing blessings, money has flowed to me in greater abundance. Would this strategy work for you? The coming weeks and months will be a good time to experiment.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Here's my translation of a passage from the ancient Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic text about the teachings of Jesus: "If you do not awaken and develop the potential talents that lie within you, they will damage you. If you do awaken and develop the potential talents that lie within you, they will heal you." Whether you actually awaken and develop those talents or not depends on two things: your ability to identify them clearly and your determination to bring them to life with the graceful force of your willpower. I call this to your attention, Libra, because the coming months will be a highly favorable time to expedite the ripening of your talents. And it all starts NOW.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mike Fellows dies while campaigning for U.S. House

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 7:04 PM

Mike Fellows’ absence from breakfast on Monday was noticed by members of Missoula’s American Legion Post 27, according to Commander John Angwin, even if it wasn’t particularly surprising. Fellows, a first vice commander, wasn’t known for missing events, but the 59-year-old had been ailing lately, admitted to Providence St. Patrick Hospital twice in recent months as his kidneys failed. And yet at 5:30 that same Monday evening, Fellows hobbled with the help of a walker into the Seeley Lake community hall, 45 miles away, to talk about his latest race for U.S. House as the Libertarian candidate. He was the only House candidate to attend the town forum.

Fellows’ remarks to the audience of around 30 people were his last. After giving his closing statement, he began driving home, alone, in his old Lexus sedan that had a few campaign stickers affixed to the rear bumper. Around 9 p.m., according to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Fellows crossed the center line near Potomac, colliding head-on with an oncoming car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fellows was the face of the Montana Libertarian Party for 20 years, running in every statewide election while serving as its chairman. “The Montana Libertarian Party was Mike’s life,” says Andrew Forcier, state director for the Gary Johnson campaign. He typically polled in the single digits, but did garner over 40 percent of the vote—a national Libertarian party record—in the 2014 race for clerk of the Supreme Court when Republicans didn’t field a candidate. Political observers credit Fellows’ efforts for ensuring the Libertarian Party has kept a foothold in the state.

Still, campaigning on the political fringe could be a lonely endeavor, and Fellows’ idiosyncrasies seemed to match his outsider status. He mumbled from the podium in a voice Seeley Lake Community Council Chair Klaus von Stutterheim says was difficult to understand. Longtime state politics reporter Chuck Johnson recalls that Fellows refused to disclose personal details, including his exact age, because he considered the information private.
Fellows was killed during a head-on collision on Highway 200 near Potomac while driving his Lexus sedan. - PHOTO COURTESY MONTANA LIBERTARIAN PARTY FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Photo Courtesy Montana Libertarian Party Facebook page
  • Fellows was killed during a head-on collision on Highway 200 near Potomac while driving his Lexus sedan.

Even his colleagues at Missoula Community Access Television, where he worked as a producer for 24 years and served as treasurer, found Fellows inscrutable. “I really enjoyed Mike’s personality, his sense of humor,” says General Manager Joel Baird, who worked with Fellows since he started a pair of local programs in the ’90s. “In the conventional sense of, ‘Who is his family? What friends does he hang out with? Does he have any romantic interests ever?,’ nobody here could tell you.”

They did notice, however, as Fellows’ health deteriorated. Baird says Fellows appeared “incredibly frail” in recent weeks, having only begun dialysis after months of resistance.

“Part of his Libertarian principle seemed to be that he didn’t want medical help, he didn’t want to release to medical authorities the information,” Baird says.

Fellows was first admitted to St. Pat’s this spring after another MCAT producer convinced Fellows to go to the emergency room, then again in August just before a pair of scheduled debates. Fellows explained his absence to the Billings Gazette by saying he didn’t think it was safe to drive long distances in his current health.

Less than three weeks later, Fellows was back on the trail.

“He continued to campaign because he was that committed to it,” Forcier says. “He acknowledged at different points in time that he was putting his health behind his candidacy.”

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Rockies Today, September 19

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 12:09 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit

Colorado finds success in restoration projects

Razorback sucker fish thrived in the Colorado River before falling victim to dams, development and nonnative predators that ate them nearly to extinction. But a 25-year, $360 million government-run rescue has the razorbacks making a comeback.

Meanwhile, a three-decade, $62 million Superfund cleanup has Clear Creek, in the historic mining town of Idaho Springs, living up to its name.

For pipeline protesters, the fight’s nothing new

But might the outcome be different?

Indigenous people have a long history opposing energy development and infrastructure projects they say threaten their environment. Those fights, including the one today, raise questions about sovereignty. About tribes’ rights to have a say in managing their land.
“Just about every tribe has horror stories about the government allowing companies and corporations at will to destroy these sacred sites.,” said Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
From environmental problems in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez oil spill to coal mining on ancestral land, these stories are shared widely at the camps here in North Dakota.

Market shifts make CPP fight a matter of principle

Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah are among the 27 states challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, even though those Western states are among the 21 plaintiffs on track to meet the plan’s 2030 emissions targets.

“We don’t have anything against clean air,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told Reuters. “That really doesn’t factor into my decision to say the federal government has gone beyond its legal authority.”

Eight-second attention spans and two-billion-year-old landscapes

“Young people,” Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, told me, “are more separated from the natural world than perhaps any generation before them.”

Canada to impose carbon price

The central government will soon levy a minimum national carbon price on any province that lacks adequate plans to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s mandatory that everyone will have to have a price on carbon. If provinces don’t do that, the federal government will provide a backstop,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Sunday.

Canada’s provinces will be able to choose either to tax greenhouse-gas emissions, as British Columbia and Alberta have already done and the Trudeau government favors, or adopt the cap-and-trade approach Ontario and Quebec have put in place. The federal mandate would likely involve some form of higher taxes on fuels. McKenna says that the price will have to be high enough to encourage energy conservation or switch to cleaner renewable sources, and that it will have to rise over time.

More grizzlies wander into Montana’s open plains

On Friday morning a man was outside doing chores at his home near Dutton, 35 miles northwest of Great Falls, when he thought he saw four-wheelers in a field. They were grizzlies — a sow grizzly and three cubs.

As winter approaches, grizzly bears are searching up and down the Rocky Mountain Front for food to fatten up before hibernation, said Mike Madel, a grizzly bear management specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
That’s brought them into open areas in farm and ranch country such as the grain field where Pilgeram spotted the four bears Friday.
“I think there will be an increase in observations of bears crossing these open farmland and ranch land areas looking for grain,” Madel said.

Abandoned mines complicate Snowbird expansion

As Snowbird ski resort in Utah moves to expand, some worry that dozens of disturbed mine sites will send toxic sediments down the canyon and pollute water.

For the past 60 years, heavy metals from mines in Mary Ellen Gulch and Mineral Basin have settled in the sediments behind Tibble Fork Dam, several miles downstream, without doing much harm to the environment. That changed on Aug. 20, when the North Utah County Water Conservancy District drew down the reservoir — releasing up to 8,700 cubic yards of sediments into the American Fork River, wiping out all fish for a two-mile stretch and contaminating the river bed.

Canadian energy firms can’t find buyers

The unwanted companies in the oilpatch.

There’s a “gulf” between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to accept, Hansen said, especially for assets offering marginal returns at today’s low oil and gas prices.

Montana watershed project lands federal funds

The Whitefish Lake Watershed Project “is the culmination of years of work by land managers and environmental groups who recognized the development pressure that could bear down on the prized landscape surrounding Whitefish Lake, which is…laced with creeks and tributaries that provide critical habitat to grizzly bear, lynx, bull trout, cutthroat trout, elk, wolves, and white-tail deer in the state.”

It marks one of the most complex land swaps in state history, according to public land managers, and protects a block of land that sees among the heaviest concentrations of multiple-use in Montana — it is a working forest, a recreational haven, and the source of the lion’s share of Whitefish’s municipal water supply.

Coal companies seek ‘new equilibrium’

“Reorganization, bankruptcy and also just market turmoil, it’s kind of like you’re going through a storm. It’s a tough transition to a new equilibrium,” explained Rob Godby, director of the Energy Economics and Policies Center at the University of Wyoming. “But, most observers believe that the new market equilibrium — the reality of lower prices — is something that most (coal) companies are going to be able to deal with.”

Road crews upset Iceland's elves (and more News of the Weird)

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 9:00 AM

What Goes Around, Comes Around
One of the Islamic State's first reforms in captured territory has been to require adult women to
 dress devoutly – including the face-covering burka robe, which, in Western democracies famously presents security dilemmas because it hinders identification. Now, after two years of Islamic State occupation in Mosul, Iraq, the security problem has come full circle on ISIS itself. Dispatches from the town reported in September that ISIS has likely banned the burka because it hinders identification of anti-ISIS insurgents who (female and male) wear burkas to sneak up on Islamic State officers.

Recurring Themes
Barbara Murphy, 64, of Roy, Utah, is the most recent "dead" person battling the federal government to prove she is still alive (but seemingly getting nowhere). She said Social Security Administration bureaucrats, citing protocols, have been tight-lipped about her problem and remedies even though her bank account was frozen; Social Security was dunning her for two years worth of Medicare premiums (since her 2014 "death"); and warning letters had been sent to banks and credit agencies. Nonetheless, Murphy told the Deseret News in August that, all in all, she feels pretty good despite being dead.
Political connections in some Latin American countries have allowed convicted drug dealers and crime bosses to serve their sentences comfortably, and the most recent instance to make the news, from Agence France-Presse, was the presidential-suite-type "cell" occupied by Brazilian drug lord Jarvis Chimenes Pavao in Paraguay. When police (apparently not "politically connected") raided the cell in July, they found a well-appointed apartment with semi-luxurious furniture settings (including a conference table for Pavao to conduct "business"), embellished wallpaper designs with built-in bookcases, a huge TV among the latest electronics – and even a handsome shoe rack holding Pavao's footwear selection. Pavao also rented out part of the suite to other inmates for the equivalent of $5,000 plus $600 weekly rent.

Sounds Familiar
Chris Atkins in Denver is among the most recent judicially ruled "fathers" to owe child support even though DNA tests have proven that another man's semen produced the child. Atkins is in the middle of a contentious divorce/child custody battle in which his estranged wife wants both custody and support payments, and since Atkins did not contest his fatherhood until the child reached age 11, he has lost legal standing. (2) A high school girl and her parents told the Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat in July that they were on the verge of filing a lawsuit demanding that the school district order the Leon High School cheerleader squad to select her (even though she had fallen twice during tryouts).

Least Competent Criminals
Boyd Wiley, 47, was arrested in August when he walked into the Putnam County (Florida) Sheriff's Office and, apparently in all seriousness, demanded that deputies return the 91 marijuana plants they had unearthed from a vacant lot in the town of Interlachen several days earlier. (Until that moment, deputies did not know whose plants they were.) Wiley was told that growing marijuana is illegal in Florida and was arrested.
Not a Techie: The most recent perp to realize that cops use Facebook is Mack Yearwood, 42, who ignored a relative's advice and uploaded his Citrus County, Florida, wanted poster for his Facebook profile picture, thus energizing deputies who, until then, had no leads on his whereabouts. He was caught a day later and faces a battery complaint and several open arrest warrants.

Continue reading »

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rockies Today, September 16

Posted By on Fri, Sep 16, 2016 at 1:23 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit

Montana fastest-growing state in household income

While the New York Times reported earlier this week that the Census Bureau’s good economic news comes as a surprise to some rural areas, including Wyoming communities hard-hit by coal industry layoffs, the Census Bureau reported Thursday that in 2015 Montana was the fastest-growing state in median household income.

Using the 2015 American Community Survey, Census Bureau analysts estimated Montana’s median household income had grown 6.8 percent to $49,509, more than $3,000 over the 2014 median.

The new amount is still below the $55,775 national average. And the analysts also noted that their statistics are subject to sampling error. The 6.8 percent growth in Montana could be plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Meanwhile, in Colorado…

Coloradans earned more money last year and the poverty rate declined, but since 2007, the median monthly rent in Colorado has jumped 41 percent.

And in Utah…

Utah continues to gain economic strength, with incomes rising and poverty decreasing, though more than a quarter of the state’s young adults, ages 18 to 34, live with their parents.

Senate passes new coal ash regulations

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan measure that authorizes states to develop permitting programs for dealing with coal ash. Environmental advocates said in a letter that the bill is too ambiguous. In Montana, an estimated 200 million gallons of contaminated water has been seeping each year for 30 years from ash ponds at the Colstrip coal plant, rendering the groundwater undrinkable.


…environmental groups worry the provision will undermine EPA’s new coal ash disposal standards and limit citizens’ ability to bring enforcement action. The legislation requires states’ ash disposal plans to be “at least as protective” as EPA’s federal rule, language that green groups fear is too vague and could allow states to set easier disposal standards. In addition, another section of the coal ash provision would allow states to include technical standards for individual permits or conditions for approval that are different from EPA’s rule as long as they are “as protective.”
More broadly, critics of the WRDA provision fear states and industry representatives could interpret the bill to take away citizens’ right to sue over ash disposal.

Wyoming stream quality decision changes little

After public outcry over the 2014 decision by the Wyoming DEQ to downgrade the status of 75 percent of the state’s streams, allowing for the presence of more bacteria like e. coli, the agency has revised its decision—barely.

The original controversial 2014 stream quality decision downgraded the status of about 76 percent of the surface water in the state. The new version now only downgrades 72 percent. [Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Dan] Heilig says that’s not a big enough change since the downgrade allows five times as much e. coli in the state’s streams and assumes they aren’t deep enough for recreational swimming. He says the revised decision still doesn’t truly consider the public comments.

Utah senators seek exemption from Antiquities Act

U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced legislation Thursday to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act, extending a loophole that now covers Wyoming, as part of an effort to keep President Obama from creating national monuments, as the law allows. Critics dismissed the move as a desperate attempt to halt protection of Utah’s Bears Ears region.

Glacier workshop draws visitors from 70 countries

Representatives of nearly 30 international projects across 70 countries and indigenous territories are taking part in a three-day workshop hosted by Glacier National Park.

Private immigration detention persists

While recent decisions by federal agencies represent a turning point in the government’s relationship with private detention, they leave intact much of the private immigration detention apparatus, which has come under increasing scrutiny for poor conditions and opaque operations.

Although much of the scrutiny is centered on the private companies that operate detention facilities, local governments often profit from detaining immigrants too, by agreeing to house detainees on behalf of the federal government. For cash-strapped rural towns and counties, these deals, known as Intergovernmental Service Agreements, are especially appealing.

Alberta OKs projects under oilsands emissions cap

The provincial government’s approvals are the first projects to get green-lighted since it established a 100 megatonne greenhouse gas cap on oilsands emissions.

U.S. Senate backs Blackfeet Water Compact

The Blackfeet Water Compact was first passed by the Montana Legislature in 2009, but it has languished in Congress until now.

Negotiations between the Blackfeet Tribe, local communities and state and federal governments began more than 30 years ago to establish water rights in and around the reservation. The compact will also help rehabilitate the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project; give the tribe the ability to use, lease or exchange water on tribal land; and protect the rights of non-Indian water users and members of the Fort Belknap Indian Community.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rockies Today, September 14

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2016 at 4:18 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit 

On the challenges facing national parks

National parks face myriad challenges, ranging from climate change, funding woes and even a lack of diversity in park visitation. In this episode of West Obsessed, the writers and editors of High Country News discuss those challenges and possible solutions. (Don’t miss the magazine’s recent edition focused on the troubles facing the National Park Service as we mark the agency’s centennial.)

Cleaning up ‘a blemish on a proud landscape’

Columbia Falls Mayor Don Barnhart is unfazed by the EPA’s decision last week to list Northwest Montana’s Columbia Falls Aluminum Company property as a federal Superfund site, even as some balk at the designation, calling the federal environmental cleanup program ineffective, improvident and stigmatizing. “We are going to clean it up and move on, and that’s all that matters,” Barnhart says.

…while the listing is designed to ensure a thorough cleanup, it is something of a scarlet letter for the once-thrumming aluminum plant along the Flathead River near Glacier National Park, a critical piece of Columbia Falls’ industrial backbone and blue-collar identity, which for years stood out as the region’s largest employer.
But the deserted manufacturing site is also a blemish on a proud landscape and the source of unresolved environmental and public health concerns, leading the federal government to trigger its foremost hazardous waste cleanup program.

Utah reminds us that water’s for fighting

A draft plan for managing Utah’s water shortages may draw controversy not only for its recommendations, but also because it’s unclear whether officials will release it to the public.

[The draft document] urges state leaders to emphasize water conservation for homes, businesses and industry, and to maintain sufficient water supplies for natural systems, such as the Great Salt Lake. But it also calls for the construction of regional water projects, including the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project, and recommends that the state develop a financing plan to pay for future water development.

Americans stingy when it comes to climate change

While 71 percent of Americans want the federal government to do something about global warming, only 57 percent are willing to pay an additional $1 a month in higher electric bills, according to a new poll. As that fee goes up, support for action plummets.

That a majority is willing to pay more is a new phenomenon, said Tom Dietz, professor of sociology and environmental science and policy at Michigan State University.
“While the amounts may seem small, the willingness to take action, even if there are some out-of-pocket costs, is encouraging,” Dietz said.

Need medical pot? In Alberta, there’s an app for that.

Alberta-based pot producer Aurora Cannabis has launched a mobile app to make it easier for patients with a prescription to purchase federally-regulated medicinal marijuana.

Cam Battley, of Aurora Cannabis, said the idea was to give customers the same service as giant online retailers such as Amazon.
“As far as we know, it is the first legal app for Android and Apple for federally-approved legal medical cannabis,” Battley said.
“The fact is that people live on their phones and tablets. They use them to shop for everything from consumer products and health products to medicine. It is an acknowledgment of the reality of how people operate today.”

Turning climate science into music

Social scientist Nik Sawe liberated the raw numbers from a study about how a temperate forest is impacted by climate change and transformed them into music, using a discipline-bending process called data sonification.

Part science, part art, data sonification transmutes metrics into soundscapes using a combination of a composer’s aesthetic sensibilities and special modeling software.
The goal? To reveal nuances of scientific phenomena not easily seen. In the case of Oakes’ sonified study, which eerily resembles phrases from piano sonatas by the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, the music conveys the meaning — and pathos — of her findings in about three minutes.

More on Sawe’s data sonification from Michelle Nijhuis:

Conflict over the fate of wild horses resurfaces

At its current level, the wild horse population is 40,000 more than what the BLM calls an “appropriate management level.” The management agency is tasked with finding the best way to keep the population in check but is caught in the difficulties of navigating between the challenges of administering birth control to large, intelligent, and powerful animals and litigation from animal rights advocacy groups.

Shell reaches carbon-capture milestone in oilsands

Shell Canada says the first carbon-capture project in Alberta’s oilsands has successfully stored one million metric tons of carbon dioxide deep underground after a year of operation.

The Quest project is designed to capture about a third of the emissions from Shell’s Scotford Upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., turn that into a near-liquid, and then pump it over two kilometres underground into porous rock formations.

Feds say American pika’s plight not so bad

Federal officials have rejected greater protections for the American pika, which researchers warn is disappearing from areas in the West as climate change alters its mountain habitat.

…the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in documents released Tuesday that pika adapt to warmer temperatures by seeking refuge beneath rock fields in the summer. As a result, surface temperatures may not be the best predictor of population declines, the agency said.
The agency also said the most severe effects of climate change are felt at elevations below 8,200 feet (2,499 meters), which is near the lower limit of the pika’s range in the West. That suggests pika habitat “has not experienced the more substantial changes” of reduced snowpack due to climate change, the wildlife service said.

Toward “the last wild”

A new study by researchers in Canada and Australia finds “alarming losses…of global wilderness areas over the last two decades.”

“There has been a broad assumption that [wilderness areas] are fairly stable because they are so isolated, but our study is really showing that [all] wilderness is susceptible to development pressure and as wilderness declines a large amount of very unique values disappear.”

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