Wednesday, April 25, 2018


--------------------------------------------------------------------- As is my practice and preference, I don’t teach writing the way anyone else does.  (Oh, yeah.  Except I don’t teach writing anymore — but I did once.)  I begin by teaching mechanics the way Miss Carter taught the 8th grade.

First learn the 8 parts of speech.  

Second, realize that adjectives always come just ahead of the nouns that they describe.  They answer questions like “what kind, what color, how many, what size, which one?”  They are defined by USE in regard to an object or a word used like an object (love, patriotism)  Understanding how a word is used is the biggest part of doing grammar.  If  ^*# is used as an adjective, that’s what it is.  In this instance ^*# is now an adjective.  No, it isn't.  Here it's used as a noun.  Second try as an adjective:  "That's a ^*# sweater.

Third, adverbs are trickier.  They can be anyplace in the sentence and will answer questions like “where, when, how fast, in what manner”.  (Lazily the dog turned.  The dog turned lazily.  The dog lazily turned.)  Learn to feel the differences when placement is different: the implications, the realizations.  How you want the reader to realize it.

Fourth: memorize all the linking verbs.  Don’t ask why.  Just do it.  If you go to the meeting of Miss Carter’s Class of 1953 (they have lunch in Portland monthly) and ask them to recite the linking verbs, they can though we're all getting close to fifty.  “be, am, is, are, was, were, been, do, does did, have, has, had, shall, will, may, can, must, might, could, would, should.”

Fifth: memorize all the prepositions.  “In, into, to, around, down, beyond, beside, between . . . “  You could make your own list because there are over 70, over 100, and Google will even give you a “popularity” chart.  When I taught the seventh grade, there was a poster of piggies at a fence all going “over, under, around, down, beside, between, etc.”  The main thing is that prepositions begin a phrase that ends in a noun or pronoun.  A “preposition” that doesn’t start a prepositional phrase is an adverb.  (He went in.  Tells where.)

In public school texts there is barely enough time in a year to learn the above, but the real payoff comes later in more complex phrases.  The key to English sentences is the noun/verb axis.  After that, most people don't learn enough grammar for it to mean anything.

Sometimes after the verb comes another noun that is the object — which the verb acts on — or the indirect object which the verb acts on in behalf of the subject.  All this stuff is abstract but indicated by word order which is usually in a row:  subject, verb, indirect object, object.  If you're talking, you already know this stuff in an unconscious way, but at a higher level you need the abstract ability to think of the category and use it as a handle rather than the word itself.  It's easier to change stuff around.

Etc.  All this stuff is in grammar textbooks.  If it’s English.  These last three words are an incomplete sentence because it begins with a big connector word:  if, and, so, but, etc.  Learn them by heart too while you’re at it.  There are few.

All languages have grammar.  If you are trying to learn the grammar of Blackfeet/foot, study German.  Also, think about what the world was like to those early people — to what did they pay attention?  (preposition, split verb with the subject in the middle, object).  How much did time and place and certain qualities really matter to them? 

When you get a good grip on all this double stuff (what you are saying/the uses of the words), you are in a position to grab a sentence, twirl it, bite it, pound it down flat, and make it sing.  Convert a prepositional phrase into a participle (a participle ends in “ing” or “ed”) or give it a gerund as object instead of a noun.  (They had a song.  They had singing.)  Don’t be afraid of strange — strange is good.  Strangefication.  Your computer won’t like it because keyboard technicians are nerds who learned via ESL.

The principle is to be “understandable,” helped by grammar, but slightly strange to make it new, make the reader think, suggest something that is not quite apparent.

Modern English doesn’t pay much attention to the adverbs, tenses and adverb prepositional phrases (once you’ve chunked the sentence into phrases the chunks act like single words)  because they are about timing and sequence which American English doesn’t value.  In America everything happens at once — NOW.  Or sooner.

I used to look through my favorite books, often with long complex sentences, like Matthiessen who loved to mess with sentences.  I’d find a sentence (no time or space to do it here), write down the sequence of parts and label them, then ask the students to convert one part-kind to another part-kind (like, participle to prepositional phrase maybe) or maybe to write a new sentence with parts of the same kind in the same order.  Once they could do that— which was sort of fun — they could write much more clearly.  And they were much more able to rewrite without worrying.  (Not all sentences that begin with connectors are partial if they have the subject/verb intact.  If they don’t, they just don’t.  It’s not Evil.)

But what’s crucial, what makes a real writer, is even deeper, a structure of ideas or at least events.  The big gears and wheels of the subconscious that power the whole enterprise. It was Richard Stern who taught me this, partly because of his love of irony and partly because he was so thoroughly Jewish Manhattan of a certain period, which meant he saw the world in a Procrustean way (chopping off bits that meant nothing to him and adding bits that made sense to him). His long storied history, so different from my own world-view — almost over-inclusive— that I became aware of it as a “thing.”  The irony part comes from understanding what something is supposed to be and expressing that it is not.  Kids get lost.

When Stern was selling big and hitting the lists, students abounded.  As soon as he was a little out of fashion, he was down to the four women of my class.  Almost cancelled.  He learned to like it.  The irony was that he had thought young snarky male Ph.D. candidates were a compliment to his value and the spine of being a high-class human.  He learned something different.  I wish he had written about it with insight.  I slammed him hard with a “dream” about writers in the context of Soviet cannibalism, each one flayed and hung on a rail-hook for later consumption, reduced to a carcass.  He got it.  It was real and it was ironically about the US, at least part of it.  He did not turn me away.

Now write your own damn way.  Damn is not currently a popular intensifier, but I don’t usually say “fucking” as an intensifying adjective or adverb.  When I use the word, I mean the act, as the word meant originally.

Usually, I don’t say “fucking.”
I usually don’t say “fucking.”
I don’t say “fucking” usually.
I don’t usually say “fucking.”
“Fucking is not a word I usually use.”
“To fuck” is a verb phrase.  
More usually, fuck is used as a verb with an object, as in
    “fuck grammar.”

Fucking is a word best used sparingly.
We never said that word in the 8th grade.  Miss Carter might have slapped us.  Anyway some of us didn't know yet what it meant.  What it meant yet.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Richard Hugo
from the film "Kicking the Loose Gravel Home"

In Montana every fall there is a state-wide in-service education event for teachers.  Each center for these events is in a town with a university.  When I taught English in Heart Butte, the superintendent forbade me to attend the workshop in Missoula.  Totally illegal and indefensible.  But understandable.  He was a former football coach and considered any attempt at literary achievement to be defiant revolution.  I was a known writer.  Sort of. Not to Missoula, but Missoula was considered a hotbed of writing.

Too bad that his attempt to build a football team in Heart Butte came to naught.  (The boys sensibly thought hurting each other was dumb so they much preferred basketball, a game of skill.)  He might not have been pleased by the Jon Krakauer book called “Missoula” which refocuses the town as a hotbed of rape with at least one spiked boot in football and another in hatred and contempt of women. 

Here’s the latest addition to the dossier.  Bear in mind that the U of M was meant to be the humanities capital of the state.  (The “Cow College” is in Bozeman.)  If you’re still trying to decide which coast Montana is on, the excellent but surface-depth linked article may help you get some focus.)

H.G. Merriam, the early humanities scout, was a very nice guy and he was mostly left alone with his literary projects.  It was Richard Hugo who came on like Hemingway, pub-crawling and drunk-driving through the back-country of Montana.  Then Kittredge was supposed to be the next red-blooded male, but he threw in with a woman.  From there, to some people, writing looked like women all the way down.  In other words, dispensable.

When I first came to Montana in 1961, I hoped to take classes in writing in Missoula, which has an ecology like New England where the “real” writers live.  I was already writing, but the only known female writer state-wide was Mary Clearman Blue, who did not make it into this article.  Even in 1990 when I taught in Heart Butte, the Missoula writers made it a point to do outreach to small town Montana.  Judy Blunt was part of that, but also Mary Clearman Blue and Jimmy Welch.  They came in a group to Choteau to celebrate A.B. Guthrie Jr, when he was too old and ill to attend himself, and by this time someone had enlightened my superintendent, because I took half-a-dozen of my best Blackfeet student writers to meet Welch who was very kind to them but still scared them half to death with his success.

The high point of that time was attending a workshop led by Peter Matthiessen and sponsored by Missoula though it was held in the Bitterroot Valley.  It was quite wonderful, but never really counterbalanced the quiet bourgeois predictability of the ladies who taught writing.  Instead my allegiance went to the edgiest, most challenging, darkest, most powerful writing on the continent, mostly indigenous tribal people, gays, and environmental warriors.  Missoula never reached that level of savagery and elemental truth in spite of the Gothics and those who claimed descent from relentless frontiersmen.  Nor have those mostly male people join the fight to prevent the rape of writing.

I can only be as fierce as I want to be because I don’t make money.  I’m not beholden to any football-sucking management types who pretend that destroying brains through collision is perfectly respectable.  I’m retired.  Accusing me of being bitter — which is evidently considered bad — has no impact.  Blogging means I can escape everyone except techies who regularly interfere by mucking up code with complexity and glitches.

Money is the steroid that inflated athletics and undercut thinking.  Money doesn’t like humanities unless it is a certificate that guarantees more income in the future — except that it doesn’t.  Humanities is meant to be truth-focused, no barriers.  To some the only use of writing is porn and propaganda, which are sort of the same thing.

Journalism is not mentioned.  I hope it escaped the ax in spite of being sympathetic to indigenous people and writing about sin subjects.  Reporters seem to be defined as people who expose bad stuff, which is presumably admirable.  Neither are the programs specifically for indigenous people mentioned, but I think they’d better look out.

Rarely do I read what comes out of the Missoula writing program.  When I have, it’s mostly about malaise and thwarted desire.  I know this is typical of the age group, but one wishes for a sense of adventure and tales of survival — those used to be core content.  These days no one is gay, no one is murdered, no one has hallucinations, no one starves — all sharp realities in that town.  I hope I’m wrong and I just didn’t have access to the proper publications.  Judging by this link to Missoula blogs, writers there spend a lot of time cooking. 

But then, I don’t have much respect for MFA programs in general.  The main way to learn to write IMHO is to do it.  Not to ask other people to critique your punctuation and metaphors.  A brain is composed of connections created by experience, not by tic lists of Ten Paths to Success.  The main way to save literary programs is not by finding a cheaper way to buy paper and pencils.  

Sitting around tables bemoaning courses is creating a chicken house.  Most poultry of a species all say the same thing.  Tigers need jungles.  Where’s the outrageous Leslie Fiedler of our time whose ideas tear up the pea patch?  I’ll tell you where: they went  off with Gary J. Cook, too outrageous to be invited to the annual Festival of Books where the ladylike find out which books to buy.  None of them want to hear Vietnam horror stories.

By the time #metoo came around, it was old news in Montana to the wives whose lives bought the ranch for hard-working but emotionally calloused men.  Ask Judy Blunt.  For many of these female writers, books were their equivalent to rodeo bull-riding for guys — a way out of a life of entrapment.  And then it all changed.  Even bull-riding is all smoke, mirrors, and fireworks, a celebration of glamour.  More money steroids, empty, violent, sometimes murderous.  One gets old and tired.

That ignorant old coach/superintendent who feared Missoula is dead.  I’m not.  Yet.  And I write what I want to every day. 

Monday, April 23, 2018


From the first moment there was a being that had a skin separating it from the environment, other beings tried to get in through that skin and internal bits tried to become creatures with their own skin.  Sometimes the intruders and rebels were accommodated and sometimes they were ejected and sometimes they became “diseases.”  Often they lived in or traveled in fluids, like blood, plasma, spit, milk, semen, excretions.

“A bloodborne disease is a disease that can be spread through contamination by blood and other body fluids. Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria. The most common examples are HIV, hepatitis B and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

"Diseases that are not usually transmitted directly by blood contact, but rather by insect or other vector [humans and other animals], are more usefully classified as vector-borne disease, even though the causative agent can be found in blood. Vector-borne diseases include West Nile virus and malaria.

"Since it is difficult to determine what pathogens any given sample of blood contains, and some bloodborne diseases are lethal, standard medical practice regards all blood (and any body fluid) as potentially infectious.” 

When I became the self-defined education coordinator of Multnomah County Animal Control, which had its roots in rabies control, I discovered the fantastic world of what lives in us.  For instance, one female officer’s husband had a rickettsia:  “any of a group of very small bacteria that includes the causative agents of typhus and various other febrile diseases in humans. Like viruses, many of them can only grow inside living cells, and they are frequently transmitted by mites, ticks, or lice.”  At that time (1975) they were barely perceptible, halfway between bacteria and viruses.

Rickettsia live in organs, inside cells, but they travel there through blood.  They are often the parasites of bigger parasites, like lice or fleas.  Viruses are code without cells until they too manage to get into a cell.  Code entities like HIV are not content (!) until they become part of the chromosomes, changing the life-code of the entity.  Yet how can they have intentions when they aren't even alive? 

Prions are only molecules, but they are “contagious”, transmitting their misfolding interference to other molecules so that none can function as they should.  There are also “chaperones” which help molecules fold and unfold properly.  Not on purpose -- just because they do. 

The first Alzheimer’s victims I knew were during my ministry in 1983, too early for it to be known publicly or even to have a popular name.  One was a lesbian who had helped countless people through her social work and the other was a beloved female artist.  The friends of the latter sat by her bed and read her favorite books out loud to her, in hopes that it would do something good.  It did make her smile.

We name and classify things according to what we know exists, but there are so many of these sub-detectable beings that they challenge the concept of “Life.”  And “Being.”  For every genome there’s an epigenome.  For every check there’s a balance.  For every orchestra there’s an instrument that hits a wrong note and spoils the symphony.

We’re told that the number of parasite entities in each of our bodies is equal to or may exceed the number of original cells.  We’re told that the kind of bacteria in our guts participate in what guts do with both good and bad results.  We’re told that people physically close to us gradually share all these little bits, a kind of harmony or empathy.  We live in a soup of teeny-tinies that can gang up on us.

The most ineradicable so far is the HIV chromosome intruder intent on propping open the gate to the castle so that every invader has access.  It is very hard to be objective about this, particularly since it was happenstance that it found vulnerability through a social phenomenon just becoming known, a new freedom and intimacy.  HIV had been hiding in the jungle until it found vectors who moved through the world as though it were fluid.  But surely there are other codes intent on moving into human chromosomes.  "When scientists scan the human genome, they sometimes come across a stretch of DNA that bears the hallmarks of viruses. The easiest type of virus to recognize are retroviruses, a group that includes HIV."  Most of them have no fancy names and are as old as humans, sometimes called "fossil viruses."

Now that we can detect tiny genetic codes, a dipperful of water from the ocean contains floating bits.

“There are 26 different  [standard] viruses that have been shown to present in healthcare workers as a result of occupational exposure.”  We AC people were cautioned not to give blood.  We were vaccinated against rabies, though the only sure prevention is avoidance.

“Blood for blood transfusion is screened for many bloodborne diseases. Additionally, a technique that uses a combination of riboflavin and UV light to inhibit the replication of these pathogens by altering their nucleic acids can be used to treat blood components prior to their transfusion, and can reduce the risk of disease transmission.

“A technology using the synthetic psoralen, amotosalen HCl, and UVA light (320–400 nm) has been implemented in European blood centers for the treatment of platelet and plasma components to prevent transmission of bloodborne diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and protozoa.”

Part of the answer is seeing ourselves as part of the whole.  Many things can penetrate our skins, particularly in the interface penetrable parts like lungs or eyes or guts.  Skin cannot repel radioactivity.  Life is a process and being part of the whole means interacting as well as avoiding things that we have no present defense against, like nerve gases.  Many dangers cannot be seen, particularly the ones inside us.

Penetration is the opportunity of the blood borne disease, a vulnerability, and yet an intimacy.  Our emotions — which are the interactions and reactions of our own insides — copy the strategies of bodily invaders and also the defenses against what is destructive, interfering, death-carrying.  Our deliberate and intellectual understanding and strategies are part of the busy work of our bodies in discovering invaders and pitching them out.  But we can hardly boil ourselves whole in the interest of sterilization.  Fever is as close as we get.

A friend was nearly killed by pitching moldy hay to his horses, because the entities of mold entered his lungs and began destroying him.  The doctor said it was hard to find something that would kill the mold — with genetic directions very close to human — without killing the host.  But mold is everywhere and not always seen.  You may be killed by something in your salad, imperceptible.

OSHA, which focuses on job-related pathogens, and the CDC, which cooperates with OSHA, struggle to get some kind of sense out of how we should protect ourselves.  They intellectually triage disease, trying to allot inadequate resources.  They constantly frame up advice like the “Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.”  They lecture us:  “Wash your hands!”

My mother followed all advice but still died of a white blood cell disease in her blood.  Maybe it was because she started smoking again after she was eighty.  She lived to 89 and was affronted because Reagan lived longer (93).  (She was very competitive.)  On the other hand, she didn’t have Alzheimer’s (he did) and maybe it was because of not hiding emotion.  Being Mr. Nice Guy can kill you as much as a fungus can.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Marias River

The rest of this book I'm accumulating -- this post is chapter three at present  -- is centered on the Marias River, which is the southern boundary of the Blackfeet Reservation.  In fact, it is at least the third boundary since cattlemen began pushing it back north.  The sequence of boundaries begins with Fort Benton on the Missouri River where there was early contact, then goes north when the agency is moved to Choteau, then briefly to Badger Creek Old Agency, and finally to Browning on Willow Creek, a small brook as water courses go.  

To follow this discussion easily, one needs a "Montana Atlas and Gazetteer", a topographic map book available from Delorme, online   Keep it with your Rand McNally road map.  The detail includes oil wells, but they are not the subject of this post. If you are interested, there is an intriguing historical report about oil at

The Marias River begins high in the Rocky Mountains as an array of trickles through the caved-off rock and then on down, consolidating through the tree line.  Finally it becomes a stream with a name.  Actually, it has a lot of names, depending on the namers, and it begins formally as two rivers: Two Medicine arises in the Badger/Two Medicine sacred lands  and Cut Bank Creek comes just off the Hudson Bay Divide in Glacier National Park.  The Hudson Bay Divide is the northern limit of the watershed that determined the boundary between the United States and Canada.

(For a discussion of the names of this river consult "Let the Mountains Sing: Place Names of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park" by Jack Holterman.)  Clarke gave the name, "Marias," in honor of his cousin. 

In its 170 miles the Marias traverses — west to east — the Blackfeet Reservation boundary; an early dam that became a terrible flood; an historical Lewis and Clark location where a couple of Blackfeet were killed; the site of a later mistaken massacre of a band of “peace” Indians; a complex of eroded hoodoos called “Rock City’’; twenty miles of impounded irrigation water called “Lake Elwell”, created by Tiber Dam; and a stretch of peaceful scenery with limestone features.  It ends in the Missouri just before that river is in confluence as the “Three Rivers”.  The three rivers, west to east, were named by Meriwether Lewis in late July 1805 for President Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State James Madison, and Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin.

The Marias is crossed by north/south roads requiring bridges.  The one farthest west is on the “nine mile road”, an unpaved connector between Heart Butte and Dupuyer.  Do not drive it without good tires.  Then there are the bridge on Highway 89 and the larger bridge on I-15.  If one’s vehicle is a rubber boat, traveling from west to east, the river is brisk but never really whitewater rapids.  Spring high water is quite different from August when it might be possible to cross by fording.

On the south side of the Marias is Pondera County where most roads are grids because the land is flat.  I live in Valier on the south terminus of Highway 358 to Cut Bank, but if you ignore the abrupt turn to the west and continue straight north, you will end at the Rock City erosion area.  

The Sullivan Bridge road also includes a bridge over the Marias, a favorite meeting spot for teenagers, and passes the turnoff for Willow Rounds, a ranch named for an ancient campground that is a little obscure now because plants have overgrown the circles of anchor stones that were brought to hold down the edges of lodges.  But the “rounds” themselves, which were the roughly circular meadows where the camps were located, still remain and can be seen from the top of nearby bluffs.  Small streams thread through the terrain.

Molly’s Nipple Road gets its name from a landmark hill with the shape of woman’s anatomy which was assigned by jokers to a good-natured rancher’s wife.  Buffalo Ridge is a marker for oil wells.  Nearby, the Two Medicine River joins the Marias.  There are competing stories about where the name of Two Medicine originated, both of them referring to the major religious ceremony of the Blackfeet which requires the erection of a skeletal round-hall of poles around a center forked trunk, everything at first embellished with boughs of cottonwood.  This framework is left standing.

The center figure of this ceremony must be an entirely virtuous old woman who fasts for days at risk of her life and keeps over the entrance to her small lodge her digging stick, polished by a lifetime of gathering roots and rhizomes.  This is a high prestige role and awarding it to a lesser woman can cause disaster.  One story is there was a competition between two ceremonies and another is that protocol was broken some other way.  The disastrous conclusion is a fatal lightning strike, very believable in Spring when storms go through, dragging virgo shadows of rain.

As a boundary, the Marias River is fickle, shifting with floods and erosions.  The biggest modern tragedy is that Swift Dam had been built on the Marias to supply the irrigation system that is the key to the local economy.  The torrential rains of 1965 caused — directly or indirectly, since some say the problem was a stuck overflow valve that could have relieved pressure if it hadn't rusted shut — the collapse of the earthen dam.  The resulting wall of water killed over thirty people, mostly Blackfeet ranchers who lived along the river.  It has been rebuilt. Two other major dams were overwhelmed, one at the impoundment of the Two Medicine north of East Glacier, and the other near St. Mary’s in a watershed farther north.  Both of these were in Glacier Park.

The irrigation projects on the Blackfeet side never quite seemed to work out, but the canals on the Pondera County side were effective.  Canal riders on horseback used to travel them constantly, but now move along on all-terrain vehicles.  Big plastic sheets of florescent red are used as dams to divert flow in or out of side canals according to entitlement to the water.  Sometimes those sheets escape and one sees them caught in fences or floating in water.  It must be the wind that moves them, but I’ve never seen one in the air.

Also traveling the canals are the grizzly bears, who sleep all winter under the snow in the Rockies and then come down the ecotone along the streams and canals, where berries grow and small animals abound.  They, like the old Medicine Women, are diggers of roots and corms with their long claws.  They are naturally prairie animals and not equipped for trees except aspen copes for sleeping, but they appreciate frozen and drowned carrion along the east slope in spring, which is the water season.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


The All Powerful Father, institutionally endorsed.

“Mother is the source of all good things!” said a minister to me once.  He was a liberal, progressive (up to a point), forgiving, Protestant minister, very much on the Jesus side rather than Jehovah.  The genius of Christianity is that choice, based on one’s experience in the family, which is molded by the culture where the baby was born and raised.

Lakoff says “Father is all-powerful,” is the idea that alarms him about Trump.  “He thinks the President IS the country,” Lakoff says, and Trump absolutely believes it as factual.  He doesn't know it's a metonymy, a "part for the whole" metaphor.  He doesn’t know he’s an obnoxious narcissist sucking our blood — he BELIEVES that what he does is good for the country simply because it’s good for him.  Here’s the best formulation and synthesis of this mindset that I’ve found yet.  It’s on sound because my eyes are failing and sound is the backup.  (You could listen to it in the car or with earbuds.)  That simple sentence is the key, but let me elaborate.

Lakoff sees the Jesus/Jehovah duality as reflected in fathers:  one kind is strict, authoritarian, and identical with the “biggest” power and status quo as they understand it. Trump does not understand that nations are problematic, even though his money strategy is world-wide.  Maybe this is why he’s not making any money — just building up obligations.  He does not understand that illicit greed is more powerful than nations, because he thinks he IS the nation and therefore in control even of mafias.  He doesn’t believe he can be illicit — he’s entitled.  Greed is his normal state. 

God was thought to be omnipotent and therefore He "died", because He wasn’t.  Time is omnipotent.  It will kill Trump.  It has already killed nations.

Lakoff’s alternative desirable premise is that good fathers are nurturing, protective and able to provide, a thought that is losing believers.  Liberals, the political version, are popularly seen as carrying little rubber swords, righteous but not powerful, easily swept aside.

The last time I taught school I was hired to control a class no one could tame because the boys felt full of power.  They hated their town, saw the people as suckers, parasites, losers.  I proposed to these young men that they would soon be the town’s leaders: firemen, policemen, councilmen, soldiers, businessmen, and so on.  They mocked that, sneered at the roles, claimed they could outsmart every male authority figure they knew of.  Except the coach.  The coach WAS the team and when they won a game it was so as to lay it at the feet of the coach.  That was as abstract about life as they could get.  It’s what America teaches today.

But there are other force frames.  Consider Cinematheque, Smash Street boys, and Real Stories Galleries.  These could be considered “lost boys,” but maybe they are more “found boys.”  They were abandoned by the fathers, both the biological fathers and those who were supposed to act like fathers.  But when — after suffering — the boys found these groups, they found another way, the way of the brothers.  They are empathy-based, supporting each other because they understand each other.  This is democratic.

This sound talk by Lakoff speaks of how authorities — who think they ARE the institutions they presumably lead and represent — will try to militarize faithfulness, to exclude everyone else as enemies, competitors, wrongly privileged, disloyal.  This is a product of the binary of opposing teams, based on armies, nation against nation.  

Brotherly love by Tim Harrington at Restrepo.

But brothers can be individuals who act together.  This is what impressed me so much about both “Restrepo” and “Sleeping Soldiers” , both of them from the heart of Tim Harrington, who was not afraid to portray embodiments of the “nurturant parent”, Lakoff’s alternative vision to the authoritarian father.  These are not wimpy guys.  Some of them are almost certainly gay, but these relationships are not about sexual desire — rather they are about empathy, the tenderness that comes from understanding.  And from needing each other.  It’s not about the violence of war, which can be a kind of drugged distortion.

There is an old joke about the guy who had a mind like a rusted bear trap: once it closed, you’d never get it open again.  This is the content of Trump’s trap-like mind, closed in childhood:
1. The nation is the same as the leader (president, king, god).
2.There is no alternative pattern.
3. This is self-evident according to the “facts.”
4. Anyone who understands this is an Enlightened Person, fully conscious and therefore entitled.

In short, it's the same belief system that emerges among snotty (mostly male) sophomores in good colleges who believe in their Enlightenment-style professors and think that this amounts to intelligence — surely the way to wealth and status.  Ph.D. complex.  Pretty High Delusion.  Trump believes in mocking academics.  He admires the military but only the generals.  Academia only if it makes people rich.

He doesn’t see the side that Tim Harrington photographs, the illustration of empathy which is the antidote to war and oppression.  Some researchers propose that our newest and most human evolution is that of empathy, which is rooted in actual brain cells and related to “plasticity,” which is the ability to change, to adapt, to fit the circumstances — surely the real path to survival.

How do we resist Trump?  Lakoff proposes two clusters.  The first one is figuring out what is under the tweets and tirades (the sub-text); then comparing that hidden motive to the high values of truth, fairness, history and morality; and finally pointing out where the tweets fall short.  (Let alone not getting hung up on whatever is most popular, profitable, outrageous and cynical.)

The second cluster is to discover the reality of the people served, not just the little circle of plutocrats.  (Some Valier citizens were startled when a demographic survey asserted that one-third of people living here are tribal.  In Mayberry??!!!)  Then name what the people need --dependable infrastructure, freedom from crime, good schools -- and then set about discovering ways to provide them.

The values of the town— as understood by the residents — are work, respect, order, and cheerfulness.  That’s the same for both “lost boys” and athletes.  That’s what winning looks like.

Friday, April 20, 2018


The beginning of American "merch" was here.

The value of American water lay in its use for transportation and the demarcation of areas, just as in Europe, but on a different scale.  In South America, for instance, the Amazon was overwhelming.  But on the North American continent the problem was the direction it ran.  Hudson’s Bay was key to the northern part, since rivers fed into it, but farther south the fractal “crease” that the Mississippi River followed ran North/South.  The new dominators of North America longed to connect the two oceans they knew — Atlantic and Pacific — just as the Atlantic had connected two continents.

The oceanic connection between “America” and “Europe” was perilous.  It took so long that food was a major problem (salt beef and rancid water) and scurvy killed sailors.  Years went by before the voyages were anything approaching safe or dependable.  But the American rivers were mostly navigable, as the indigenous people knew.  Early maps were based on rivers.

Early merchandize concentrated on fiber because reliable preservation of food had not been invented yet.  (In the case of Africa, people themselves became cargo.)  Northern America and Canada offered a silly source of material for anomalous hats, “top hats”, with stovepipe crowns and narrow brims, made of the underfur of beavers which was shaved off the hides and compressed into felt.  This strange use persisted until silk became available.  

The hats signified prestige, wealth, and respectability, rather like the topknots of exotic birds.  A scientist once experimented with tall headgear in birds, harmlessly gluing on exaggerated feathers to see whether the potency would persist.  It would, until there was so much added to the birds’ heads that they tipped over.  Thus, there seems to be some kind of biological key to the fashion, DNA never stipulated.

The Hudson’s Bay company was happy to exploit this, building forts and trading posts everywhere they could, radiating out from the Bay itself which was the way of shipping the materials to the hat makers far away.  It took a while for indigenous people to register the value, until they realized it meant access to metal and, much later, guns.  Blankets and pots, then alcohol, played into the equations.  Hudson’s Bay mercantile company was essentially Canada and a force south of the boundary for a while since that line was only theoretical for a long time.

Horses, incoming rather than exported, were valuable and persuasive on the prairie.  It took a while to learn how to prevent them dying every hard winter, but they were a means of travel on the high and dry prairie.  Because they fit into the niche of dogs (and were even called “elk dogs”) their use was natural.  They did change the nature of the seasonal web of trails, because horses need grass and more water than dogs.  And they changed the hunting of bison so that it was much less communal, as the "buffalo jumps" had been.

Blackfeet were not happy with the idea of killing and selling beavers.  They didn’t like the mechanics of wading around in cold water and ice, but more than that, to them beavers were people who worked, who made things.  Some say that the Siksika were more interested in selling pemmican (dried buffalo meat pounded up with with berries) than beaver pelts.  (If the sailors had had pemmican, they would have lived, saved by a recipe.)

Bison hides were too big to be shipped by canoe to ports.  It was the advent of industrialization in the form of railroads and steam ships on the biggest rivers that was a deliberate death warrant for the major herds who circulated the prairie, leading the following Blackfeet.  It is said that their pelts didn’t go for hats but rather provided leather for the conveyor belts of merch-obsessed factories, an early version of what became rubber belts.

Once the white people pushed the indigenous darker ones onto reservations, they set about merchandizing the prairie itself.  Paris Gibson was one of the earliest to realize that the Great Falls of the Missouri River were as good as a dam, a source of power for the new electricity as well as for milling and turbines.  He knew a city would grow here and it did, until now it turns away from industry to military.  The ores that needed refining have diminished.

Paris Gibson was a sheep-rancher and so were many of the first incomers.  Blackfeet managed herds of their own sheep along the foothills and across the prairie.  Then the sheep        were replaced by cattle.  There wasn’t enough water for garden crops.  Again, it was industrialization that brought the ability to raise dryland crops with huge machines for plowing, sowing and harvest.  The season wasn’t long enough for corn and much of it was too high for wheat, but barley was a little hardier and became another crop keyed to alcohol (beer).

Among the earliest businesses was what we would call “trucking,” except with teams of horses (or oxen or mules) pulling wagonloads of building materials and household supplies as people arrived to set up housekeeping.  Of course, whisky and dynamite were included next to the plows.  It wasn’t until later that clocks and pianos began to arrive.  Like glass windows.  

Homesteading was the accelerant of the infiltration, but also forces far away:  the Irish potato famine that pushed thousands west across ocean and midwest; the War between the States that many fled; an end to slavery that was the keystone to the economy of the South.  These forces determined what kind of white and black people arrived, their life-risking efforts, their willingness to displace or kill the indigenous.  

Then the rez itself was divvied up and assigned to individual families with the federal government declaring much of it “left-over” and therefore taking it.  In their zeal to make everything conform, they established residential schools back east and tried to co-opt the young Blackfeet into being literate but low-ranking employees.  Only later did they realize that this value, ideas, exceeded all others.  They tried to suppress and disband the Young Man’s Literary Society, but too late.  Education was a value no one could contain, though many would resist.

With education came the realization that irrigation increased the value of land, if one could capitalize on the natural engine of gravity pulling water down the mountains.  Once reconciled to intervention in nature, the Blackfeet supported the digging of irrigation canals.  Then they got distracted by oil.