Sunday, March 31, 2013


It used to be that one only knew one’s origin was one’s mother.  You might have two or more mothers:  one to give birth and several to give care.  Some of those mothers might be male. The identity of the inseminating father was ambiguous.   Now we know and can prove the identities of the fathers -- the only problem is making them cough up that child support check.  That’s one cynical take on modern society but it certainly is not the only one confusing us.  

With modern medical technology, a person may be conceived in a petri dish, implanted -- not necessarily in the womb of the ovum producer and maybe even in the womb of the grandmother or another surrogate mother (no one has been brought to term inside a chimpanzee that we know of, but it might be possible since cow ova can be carried in rabbit wombs), carried to term and birthed either in the natural progression of things or with a chemical trigger, and delivered either with a lot of muscle effort or with a knife.

But now there’s an additional mother possibility: your mitochondria mother.  To review, we all recognize that the double helix of the chromosomes unzips and separates, one side in the mother (ovum) and one side in the father (sperm).  The father’s side is only that little half-zipper but it has a propeller attached so it will travel.  It’s a biological Zodiac boat.  The mother’s side gets the house: the cell, because it stays and waits.  All the sperms with their code message go buzzing up the Great Canal and one breaks into the house.  He is welcome and zipped-up with the waiting half of the 23 chromosomes.

There is furniture in that House of Ovum, little blobs of what might once have been one-celled animals who got pulled through the wall of the motherhouse.  The most crucial inclusions are the mitochondria, which were probably pulled in long ago when an Ovum went it alone as a bacteria.  The mitos are power paks with their own set of 37 genes on one chromosome: Neversplit batteries.  They do not unzip and rezip.  The Ovum, when its nucleus is re-zipped, quickly transforms into a blastosphere and then an embryo, a fetus, an infant, and a toddler . . . according to its own 23,000 gene pairs.  But it is dependent on the energy of those mitos.  If -- as in giant airliners -- the batteries, the mitos, have probs, the animal will suffer.  One in 6,000 people has something wrong with their mito genes.  They don’t burst into flames, but they have trouble and may abort.  

One can only inherit mito genes from one’s mother.  I’m rather proud of mine.  My mother was an energetic woman, though her mother was a little compromised by her environment.  My mother’s mother’s mother was a vigorous person.  My niece does not have the same mito genes that I have, because our relationship is through her father, my brother.  But she has plenty of vigor and she is tough-minded as well.  She’s working on graduate degrees in animal fertility, teaching as an adjunct, running a business shearing sheep and camelids, and doing AI.  She’s proud of her calves, though none of them have her genes.  She WAS the inseminator.  She fistfucks cows, right out in the public and with fertile consequences.  

She would easily understand this next part of the story.  Nuclear transfer is in principle one of the easiest methods of genetic engineering. In this case, they are talking about taking a donor egg and then transferring the nuclear genetic material from the parents' fertilized egg into that donor egg -- that is, moving the re-zipped chromosomes into a new house with better furniture.  In more medical language, it's taking the cytoplasm from one woman (including all the mitochondria in that cell) and grafting into it a whole diploid genome from a cell with two other parents. Mitos have their own separate chromosome, only one with 37 genes that change only by mutation, never by re-zipping.

There are many other complexifications with chromosome codes in the nucleus, which are more varied than anyone expected.  An excellent overview is at  This new technique doesn’t change any of those things and will not “fix” problems with the nuclear chromosomes, whether those that determine the actual structuring of the embryo or those that control the unfolding plan as the baby gestates.  Only recently have researchers realized that each “pair” of genes on the zipped-up chromosomes do a little negotiating between them to decide which one will be dominant or whether they will compromise in some way.  Also, we now see that there are “epi-genes”, a kind of sleeve around each chromosome that may influence how things turn out.  It’s possible that “living” in a different house from the one where the female half of the zipped-up chromosome was made will seriously affect the nature and development of the embryo.  It’s a sort of micro-case of an unique individual adjusting to a new environment.

This neglects the influence of the interchange with the gestating mother, who is sending chemical messengers like hormones as well as oxygen and nourishing metabolites.  Humans are not perfectly designed and stamped out but are organic art forms with many variations, including that of the beholding party who tries to interpret what they see before them.

This is Easter when the Northern Hemisphere is teeming with recombinant fertility as well as budding mitosis.  Whether you think it’s about a rabbit, a God fertilizing a virgin in order to create a Son -- only to have the beholders kill Him, or whether you feel it’s all about Easter egg rolls and marshmallow peeps, the actual planetary event -- which is the tipping of the earth’s axis -- goes on without any control from us.  In the past we’ve only been able to behold it with our feet on the ground and that’s a good thing, just as poetic as watching from outer space.  Our imaginations run wild.  A cave becomes a birth canal for a rebirth.  Winter becomes the grieving of a mother who has lost her daughter to the dark sex of the God of Death, and then Spring is the rejoicing of that mother when her daughter returns.  They don’t tell us that Proserpine is pregnant, but my guess is that she is and will give birth in the fall, harvest-time.

I just watched Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller, Prometheus, about the origin of the Alien creature.  It is "riddled" with puns and metaphors about death, birth, insemination, gestation, and the nature of the human being.  An android can have sex but not babies.  It has no chromosomes.  This belongs to the preceding “Endarkenment” of Good Friday.  The movie begins with a dark swirling video of broken double helixes and ends with Lizbeth going off on a new adventure with the android’s head (a computer) in her gym bag.  Ken Kesey“The need for mystery is greater than the need for answers.”  We won't run out of mystery.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time:  Indigenous Thoughts Concerning the Universe
Edited by MariJo Moore and Trace A. DeMeyerDedicated to Vine Deloria Jr

This anthology includes short pieces by  Suzan Shown Harjo, Gabriel Horn, John Trudell, Dean Hutchins, Lois Red Elk, Suzanne Zahrt Murphy, Amy Krout-Horn, Jack D. Forbes, John D. Berry, Sidney Cook Bad Moccasin, III, Trace A. DeMeyer, Clieord E. Trafzer, William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., Bobby González, Duane BigEagle, Carol Wille`e Bachofner, Lela Northcross Wakely, Georges Sioui, Keith Secola, Mary Black Bonnet, Kim Shuck, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Dawn Karima Pe`igrew, Stephanie A. Sellers, Natalie bomas Kindrick, Basil H. Johnston, Barbara-Helen Hill, Alice Azure, Phyllis A. Fast, Doris Seale, Terra Trevor, Denise Low, Vine Deloria Jr., Jim Stevens, ire’ne lara silva, Susan Deer Cloud, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Tony Abeyta, MariJo Moore.
Vine Deloria Jr. held degrees in both law and theology.  His father was an Episcopal priest and missionary on the Sioux reservation and his aunt, Ella Deloria, was an anthropologist.  He was a ground-breaker, a trail-maker, and an iconoclast, a revisionist historian and an institution-builder among Native Americans -- taking on the larger society on their own ground with their own assumptions.  He was five years older than me and died in 2005, leaving a huge body of work, including twenty influential books.  I saw him speak in Portland, OR, and visited with him via email.  (I am white with a long history on the Blackfeet reservation.)
I think Deloria was consciously and deliberately both participating in and creating a great shift in world-wide thought away from the European Enlightenment, which was a system of scientific, evidence-based ideas that have been a great source of technology and a certain kind of progress, but which have also been misused to oppress people who didn’t fit what were sometimes mistaken conclusions.  Deloria’s most famous dissension was rejecting the land-bridge that was supposed to be the access of Native American peoples to the American continents.  This notion has been proven and disproven in many dimensions, which didn’t bother Deloria.  He just wanted people to think -- and then to act in conscientious ways.

The paradigm shift he accepted was called by some the Aquarian or New Age idea that had American roots in the renewed contact with the Asian world that created the Transcendentalist movement in New England.  Through the Sixties and Seventies it has resulted in renewed understanding of women; LGBTQIA issues; a wave of lyrical poetry and romance novels; the spreading practice of Buddhism, Hinduism, and the other Asian world-views; mysticism, especially mystical science-fiction; the legitimacy of the sensual; and the inclusion of all peoples.  Slowly, it created a new awareness that allowed us at last to see the People already here.  It has justified the Pan-American tribal culture grown up around Pow-wows and a hybrid material culture as well as promoting political solidarity among the whole planet’s indigenous people, even the ones who have barely discovered the rest of the world and those, like Wiccans, who are in a wonderful new term, “chrononauts,” cruising time as much as place.

This shift in the way of looking at things has been met by a parallel shift in physics and cosmology which no longer uses only the principles of Newton to explain existence.  If you don’t see the elegant irony of that, you’re not Vine Deloria Jr. and you should hang around with indigenous people.  I agree with William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. from Fort Peck who said the best response to life is laughter and supplied a celebration of that idea in his short piece.

I’m reviewing this anthology from a pdf rather than from a paper book.  Computer technology has been -- in that two-sided way that so many things operate -- a great gift to the indigenous people who immediately saw the value -- but also made it possible for some to invade the great online Pow-Wow, confusing it through flaming paranoia, opinions from the uninformed, and mouseholes where the publishers came and went -- always making money for themselves -- not the writers.  In that busy boundary too many people were sorted on the grounds of genealogy as determined by the White Eyes who keep lists and databases.  It is impossible to determine tribes by genetics but only by treaty-governed descent from listed parents.  The better criteria is whether the writer participates in this deeper understanding of human survival and contributes to the principles that protect it.  For millennia the tribes prospered by pulling in new blood.

The tone of this anthology suggests that we have gotten past the arguing and legal quibbles that undercut the very sources of understanding.  Tribes were given the right to determine their own membership and then, when Ward Churchill was declared an Indian by “his” tribe, their decision was mocked, undercutting NA sovereignty.  People like my close friend Tim Barrus (whose work was praised by Marijo Moore, one of these editors) were attacked as fake when in fact they saw the world in the same heart-shaped way as the indigenous and ought to have been pulled into their world.  Only the suicides of two fine and honored NA writers brought us back to reality, but in a horrid way.  We don’t know how many indigenous people stopped writing out of fear.  We do know that the publishers abandoned Native American literature as too much trouble.  No money in it.  

Now we know better.  The people represented here write out of love.  This anthology is assembled from memories, essays, poetry, and unclassifiable writing to form a knotted shawl for the universe.  Don’t make it into something it is not and does not need to be.  The epigraph declares:   “All the tribes say the universe is just the product of mind ... It fits perfectly with the Quantum. Indians believe the universe is mind, but they explore the spiritual end of it, not the physical end.” Vine Deloria Jr.

The editors say,  “This anthology does not reveal secret ‘how-to’s’concerning the ceremonies of Indigenous peoples, neither does it reveal the ‘power’ of medicine people, nor reveal knowledge meant to be kept in tribal protection.”  Well, actually it comes awfully close to providing a lot of material for wanna-be shamans, but one of the shifts in this massive, universal, essentially autochthonous understanding of life, is that things cannot be confined in boxes, trademarked for commercial profit, or hoarded to benefit only one’s small group.  
A principle of the quantum is that things cannot be nailed to the floor or “owned” but that the more explored, the more given away, the more stars and galaxies named, the more there are.  The problem is not acquiring “enough,” but rather to find space to shape one’s small corner from the plenty of the planet.  These writers have done this work and the editors have performed the service of spooning the ceremonial soup into bowls for you to sup from.  Some of this work has appeared other places and much of it will be quoted again, the pdf escaping into the googley world.  In the European paradigm which depended on things brought home and measured out of ships’ holds for profit, this would be bad.  In the cosmic Vine Deloria Jr. paradigm, things fly on their own and find new mates, creating in their polyamorous way an even Newer World.
We must honor this anthology and these writers.  I included their names so you could seek them out and buy their work.  Some have websites. Some are academics.  Some are dead.  All are verbal fancy dancers.  Fly with them.

Friday, March 29, 2013


In the debate over same sex marriage, many assumptions are made that narrowly focus on the element of “desire” -- that is, sexual intimacy between the two partners -- and whether that intimacy ought to be justified by conventionally endorsed and defended institutions, which is to say both legal marriage certified by the state and sanctified marriage with confirmation by a religious institution which are assumed to be the same.  There is a third recognition of partners which is often called “Common Law Marriage” and which in Montana is now recognized according to the criteria described here:

There is a way of formally confirming Common Law Marriage, which is to sign a Declaration of Marriage without Solemnization and register it with the clerk of the court.  The crucial element in this third option is public acknowledgement of a relationship like that of husband and wife.  It does specify that they cannot be of the same sex nor too closely related.  It also says that the way of managing money or using certain names does not apply and that a Common Law Marriage must be terminated by divorce.

While the urban middle class has been obsessing about marriage and its ceremonies, people across the country have been “shacking up.”  In the Sixties and Seventies this was defiantly defended and formal marriage was mocked as “just a piece of paper.”  People came and went, babies came and stayed, and the legal system could only follow.  As is the case with the Catholic church, which technically enforced the sin of birth control and the sin of divorce as well as sex outside of marriage, people simply ignored the rules despite stigma and hardship.  If the Catholic church had enforced its own rules, it would have cleared the pews.  When cultural changes are at work, the law that does not have popular consent cannot be enforced.

In the past when trappers came into the high prairie from European countries, they often formed partnerships with indigenous women both out of affection and because such high risk, physically challenging occupations required a home base where they could recover, resupply, and be reassured.  The result was marriages which are described in the genealogy materials as “in the fashion of the country” -- except that they said it in French.  Some of these men, when European women became available, ignored their previous wives, not bothering with divorce.  Some, when they went back to their birth homes, handed off their native wife to another trapper or factor.  Some created and maintained marriages of mixed heritage which persist and prosper to this day.  (See “Many Tender Ties” by Sylvia Van Kirk)

In the early days of the settling of the prairie, the main governmental mechanism was to ignore the ownership of the indigenous people and simply divvie up the land into homesteads which were given away to Euro immigrants in a form of indenture: “proving up” by living on and cultivating the land for a period of time.  (Later the “Dawes Act” imposed this on reservations as well but without “proving up”.)  In part this was made easier because pandemics had eliminated much of the indigenous population in the same way that the “Black Plague” eliminated a comparable proportion of the population of Europe.  No incoming population took over the vacated land in Europe, but religious orders sometimes formed to claim and farm it.

Changing focus to the urban ghettoes of both Europe and America, in the days before infection was understood and before gestating women were given proper health care, including birth control, it often took two, three or even four wives to birth and raise a family of children.  The dynamics of this burden on women was so onerous that they could only be compelled to stay by religious exhortations and the lack of any place to go.  And since the women were already trapped, only conscience and affection could prevent violence, drunkenness, and even morphine addiction among the women.

Changing focus again to the upper classes of Britain, the convention was to send boys at a young age to boarding schools where they were disciplined harshly and taught to suppress emotion because it was a sign of lacking courage.  The idea was to create tough, loyal, dominating young men to run the Empire.  They succeeded in some cases, all too well, leaving the women to find any advantages they could of living in a household of servants which they were required to dominate, and to provide heirs.

WWI gave these systems a gut punch by killing a generation of men, about half in combat and half by disease.  Not many maimed and shocked men ever returned home because saving care was not available, but many women formed partnerships with each other.  Whether physical desire was part of them is irrelevant.  The many orphans were cared for in institutions or farmed out as labor.  “Anne of Green Gables” was a victim of child trafficking.

WWII had similar results.  Korea, not so much, but by the time Vietnam unfolded, the public was seeing the war on television, experiencing violent social upheaval at home, and asking a lot of questions about why we do things the way we do them.  This triggered a very strong backlash and insistence that we must “go back to normal.”  Those who participated in the unanimity over the heroism of WWII were boggled by the revelations of dishonest, criminal, alien, inhuman, innocence-murdering events they had never imagined and certainly had never expected our own country to perpetrate.

Over centuries, the government has tried to support economic arrangements and criminal laws that would encourage stability and prosperity.  This is the point of government.  So laws were created with an eye to giving a bit of an advantage to those who were married, but they contained the ghosts of the past, from miscegenation to incest to immigration to homesteading to fur trapping to boarding schools.  Now we are faced with a combination of rethinking and experimental fiddling around to see what works.

Clearly two human beings in an intimate, co-dependent, supportive relationship can be hard-pressed to sustain their commitment when circumstances change.  The children are the main victims both of the emotional and the economic consequences, whether the two people involved stay together or separate or move into new pairings or can’t seem to settle into any long-term partnership.  The individuals need social support, whether it is through subsidies or counseling or protective housing or medical care.  These needs apply as early as adolescence because the reality is that as soon as young people are sexually active, they produce children.  If they are same-sex couples who pair-bond, they still need and deserve much the same treatment. 

Even earlier than what we consider “conventional” marriage, one of the structures of society has been male partners, sometimes brothers and sometimes just bonded friendships.  Usually the status of intimacy is not  specified, but their loyalty to each other in hunting, battle, and business is an advantage to them both and to their families.  

Close relationships between women are also storied.  Consider Ruth 1:16:  “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for where you go, I will go.”  The point is that Ruth was a Moabite, an outgroup, but at the death of her husband she chose to define her mother-in-law Naomi as her family.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


One of my fav principles is that the hardest part of any project is thinking of it in the first place.  This is never truer than for myself.  In the past I’ve actually made from 3X5 cards a “slap pack” of questions to try to push me out of my habitual comfort zone.  This time (slap forehead) it occurred to me that though I’d started two blogs for my acting professor at NU, Alvina Krause, a noted teacher now receding into the past, I had never looked for any blogs about acting.  So --

The first on the list was    You can tell this list of ten blogs was not composed by a techie because there are no links.  But by cut-and-paste I went to  so now you have a link to a stunning array of vids by Brent Rose, an actor I knew nothing about but will surely watch for now.  He had a gig on “Wallstrip,” a satirical video blog that was bought by CBS which failed to support it enough for it to continue.  The crash of Wall Street might have had something to do with that.

But in the process Rose had learned to do short vids both as a writer and as an actor.  (He can also do “low trapeze” work and he surfs.)  These days he’s on Gizmodo, writing and researching.  I had to look it up.  It’s a handheld game console.  Then I read this “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” story:  Yikes!  I’m watching the Danish crime series “The Eagle” in the evening but this story is MUCH wilder and more dangerous.  Luckily Steve Rose is working for GIZMODO -- notice the missing “N” -- which reviews tech gadgets.  That’s different.  Something like what Pogue does for the NYTimes.  Gizmondo literally crashed; Gizmodo is still in operation.

Before the Gizmodo gig, Rose used his formidable skills to create 50in50, which is an entrepreneurian actor showcase.  His self-assignment is to create a quality video about five minutes long every week.  No need to be an actor to appreciate these.  Here are his rules, which he DOES obey:  

1. I am never allowed to half-ass it.
2. I have to fully commit to my choices.
3. I have to do it every week.

His own success appears to have left him five episodes short of his goal of fifty, but even the “favorites” selection is pretty amazing, FAR more versatile than anything a person could find on commercial TV.  He is joined by other actors, the videos are skillfully edited, and none of them are idle.  

Some examples:  an exploration of the vaulted concrete tunnels under some building, long-abandoned.  (How many of these must there be in the world?)  There are two twists: instead of carrying flashlights, the character lights the way with a highway flare; and the character sees these eerie spaces as an opportunity to survive world catastrophe by starting a sheltered family down here.

A lyrical account of a marital relationship interspersing realistic monologues by the man and woman with the same people on a trapeze, alone or together, dancing their way through the same relationships.

A cheesy con-artist PR man in Hollywood trying to convince a film actor to do something outrageous in order to give his career a boost.  In the end, he provokes the actor so much that the actor attacks him -- “Great!” declares the PR man.  “That will do it!”

Another, much more high-octane, con-artist who plans to end his life is making his last wishes and bequests known while he gets quietly drunk at the dining room table.  He’s addressing his family -- actually two families who don’t know about each other -- and telling them a lot of other outrageous things they didn’t know about.

A mop-top free spirit from Middle America who joins a wild parade -- this MUST be SF, eh? and interacts with the crowd.   He strips, but not all the way.  The other majorly startling parade participant is “PigMan,” riding a unicycle, in a pink leotard that sports fake but realistic genitalia. His support person, a practical guy, shows he can dance also. 

Others:  A totally offensive pitch for effing people -- shallow, predatory, and all-too-recognizable guide for how to get rich.  A paranoid “little red obsessing hood” explains why we should fear the Internet coming alive.   A studly rock star and his devotees -- unmasked by his guitar teacher and doing a take-down on parcours.  Do not watch this if you’ve recently had stitches because the laughing will probably cause them to tear.

This is the sort of thing that takes a sophisticated and serious mind to do -- satire that’s actually about something, usually the newsflow of the urban world.   There are no cowboys that I could see, let alone wheat ranchers.  Let that be a suggestion to you.  If you can keep a combine running, you can learn to make and edit videos.  After all, sitting up there in the machine you’ve got all that time to think while the computer monitors your planting and the stock market.  Of course, you’ll be too tired to make vids during the growing season, but there’s always winter.  

I didn’t find any serious vids, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a serious guy.  Quoting:   “I'm going to try for the very short version here. I was riding my bike in the Park around 7 tonight when I saw four dudes beating the shit out of one guy. So I stopped and basically got in between them, trying to defuse the situation. The main asshole (roughly my size) [Ed: Brent is a pretty big dude, for a tech writer] popped me one, and I basically snapped, threw down my bike and wrestled him to the ground. Unfortunately his three asshole buddies jumped in, punching and kicking me in the head and neck (got my face a little, too). Luckily, I was wearing my bike helmet [Ed: Safety first!] or I might not be writing this from home. All in all, I'm okay. They arrested the four assholes, and I had to go to the police station, and then to the hospital for stitches, etc.  So, I'm basically fine: five stitches above my eye, some skin off my elbow, some gnarly bruises on my forehead, and a seriously sore neck. The doctors said I'm probably going to feel like shit for the next few days, which I'm betting is true. So, I'd like to work from home tomorrow, is what I'm saying.”

What those punks didn’t know is that Brent, like many other actors, has had training in stage combat (unarmed, rapier and broadsword), yoga, Hip-Hop, and ballet.  He has the moves and the muscles.  Beyond that, he’s acted with the NYC Upright Citizens Brigade improv company.  He’s got the mind and the motivation.  He’s a Neo-Elizabethan with a bike helmet.  What a role model!!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


This is not researched but rather off the top of my head.  That’s an advantage since my real purpose is to do the “slap pack” thing by trying to think in a new way.  I’m trying to look at “charity” in its broadest sense by using an approach usually thought of as more about the way the environment develops and interacts.  It's disorderly brainstorming.

Partly what I’m after is justification of those who refuse to be cheerleaders, those who are the pit bulls/gadflies, who constantly insist “NO, that’s not good enough!”   The ones who advocate for the causes no one approves, who are stigmatized in the belief that making people suffer enforces virtue.  (A notion Jesus did not approve of -- nor does the Dalai Lama.)  These holdouts prevent good people with no imagination from assuming things are all right.  They anchor the darkest end of the array of realities, the end people want to deny.

1.  The sources of charity in the donor are awareness of need, increase of credibility, desire for prestige.

2.  Who are the “needy” ?

3.  What is the nature of need?

4.  Who is obligated to respond?  Public or private?

5.  What should be the attitude to the responders?

6.  When is charity a ruse for greed?

7.  What does anyone really need?  (Not just physical things.)

8.  What are the bad consequences of need?  Are there ever good consequences?

9.  What are the bad consequences of charity?

10.  What is the relationship between charity and religion?

11.  What is the relationship between charity and government?

12.  Who should accept charity?

13.  How skillful should charity be?

14.  How much should charity consider itself a force for change?

15.  Why does charity take courage?

16.  Unforeseen consequences?

17.  How does the media control charity?  Idly, for it’s own promotion, in service to the media owners and regulatory forces or funding, cynically because they believe the suffering deserve it, shallowly because they spend all their time “selling” and none absorbing new ways of understanding?  All of the above and more.

18.  How has the Internet changed all this?

19,  How has the shift from desktop computers to handheld smartphones changed everything all over again?  (Hint:  the Third World has smart phones. They are deeply subversive because they can’t even be seen and yet link so many people together -- in a way parallel to the actual technical means of sending messages in packets through a labyrinth of relays.)

20.  If charity is a research project, how does it learn?  Where are the lessons recorded?  TED talks?   EDGE?  DICE?

21.  “Emergence” is a relatively new and trendy concept for scientists.  How does it relate to charities?  One suggestion might be the newly urgent need for “save the earth” movements.  Others might be about economic patterns as we leave the industrial model and enter an entrepreneurial age, leaving some behind.  Another might be new social patterns in which “families” are radically changed.  Another might be in the fortunes and means of the arts and humanities.  What about micro loans?

22.  How much do charities relate to social economic gradients?  It is said that too much of a gap in income between the rich and the poor will promote disruption and loss.  It is also said that the poor are more generous to the slightly poorer than the rich are.

23.  How are charities affected by sudden upwellings of new economic value:  Silicon Valley fortunes, the sudden surge in oil strikes by frakking (so far producing as much distress and suffering as money), the increased value of exotic elements for electronics.

24.  How should charities divide their resources?  Medical?  Third World?  Single issue?  Or does it matter?  Help individuals or whole countries?

25.  When and how should a charity wind down?  At some point charities that have succeeded (the March of Dimes for infantile paralysis) must either find a new mission or simply close down, but they resist ending their own organization and will use possibly unethical means of continuing on -- like endorsing policies that guarantee a continuing need.  For instance, funding research for home diagnosis of HIV, urging everyone to get tested, then not continuing the fight for funding to address the high cost of meds for HIV.  So now everyone can know whether they are infected, but no one can have confidence that they will be helped to stay alive.

Probably the most criticized aspect of charitable organizations is their fund-raising practices.  The three who ask me for money most often are two universities and a denomination.  When I was a minister, I took fund-raising workshops and learned some very specific protocols for the annual pledge drives of congregations, often linked to tax time, when people need write-offs to deduct.  A small group, maybe only three people, sit down to guesstimate the incomes of congregants.  (Invite the bankers.)  Another group, large enough for each member to solicit pledges from three other members -- all of whom have larger incomes than their own -- go to homes to ask for pledges.  But first, questions are asked about the desires of the interviewed persons for the future development of the church.  There are problems with this method, but it is democratic in a sense. 

A more problematic kind of fund-raising depends upon a “tent-pole” person like Mother Teresa or Bill Clinton or Rand Paul.  These persons need to be recognized, charismatic, and high energy.  They may be very rich in their own right, like Bill Gates.  The advantage of the latter is that no one suspects him of raising money for his own use, as was the accusation against Greg Mortensen, and has been the accusation against many humane society personalities.  And even ministers.  

It’s not always for money -- sometimes it’s for votes.  There is a young lawyer in this state, the one who started the lawsuit against Greg Mortenson for exaggerating in his books. (At first the lawsuit didn’t raise the issue of diversion of funds-- all funds have been sorted out now in a court-approved settlement, which labeled the “misleading book” claims “frivolous.”  Mortenson remains part of the charitable organization with court permission.)  The consequences to Relin, the co-writer, in terms of money and reputation, were so severe that he committed suicide.  This is not a reversible consequence.

The lawyer’s previous high-profile case had been against the railroad for parking unused grain cars on the rail line that went along a scenic river, with the argument that it was ruining the view and therefore the value of the “second homes” of wealthy people.  Why do we argue about the view from a fishing cottage when the river itself is endangered by global warming ending the snowpack that feeds it?  Where is this lawyer’s lawsuit against greenhouse gas emissions?  

It would seem obvious that a good charity is one that is invested in a good cause, but the truly needy are not necessarily the most savory of characters.  Living on the street.  Doing sexwork.  Taking drugs.  Stinking.  Some people would rather donate to the symphony.  Whatever the charity, one ought to reflect on motives, goals and likely outcomes.  The catchy little triple phrase is “faith, hope and charity.”  Only charity pays the bills.  (Love means picking up the tab.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


E, do you remember how you used to obsess about writing and how to learn to do it by watching we two go back and forth?  Well, it’s still happening, even though it’s invisible to the naked eye, but not to the naked heart.  At least I’m still wrestling and gnawing and scribbling; my former “colleague” has enough to do at the moment just staying alive.

Here’s my current theorizing.  Brain theory says that sensory information (which is a total body enterprise -- I don’t have to tell you that!) goes in through the nerves to sense-specific sorting centers in the brain where they are organized -- some censored, some stored, some distorted, some forwarded -- and then on to what amounts to a “black box” where everything is integrated, filtered, prioritized.  That is, no one really understands how the brain converts all this information or manages it at all.  The ideas keeps changing.  But it is clearly a matter of various steps and processes in various groups and kinds of brain cells. 

For instance, for a long time it was thought “one cell=one memory,” so your grandmother was filed in a certain cell and if that cell died, it snuffed the memory.  But right now the theory is that your granny’s voice is in one place, her smell is in another, the print of her favorite apron in another, the thing she said standing in the kitchen in another.  The index to the thing is sensory: the smell of frying potatoes brings her back by reassembling all the bits, which means it might not be exactly accurate, but might be surprisingly real-seeming.

Whatever happens in the “black box” assemblage that is the brain is mostly unconscious, though there might be shadows and feelings that arise in dreams.  Some of it, of course, is quite conscious.  Both "felt" parts control what a person decides to do, which is what comes out the other side of that black box.  Including writing.

What the black box does, weaving in and out, up and down, is related to the way it evolved, adding gizmos over the millennia, each one giving enough of an advantage to be conserved by evolutionary forces.  And also a result of experiences -- reaching out in the surf for another boy, drinking champagne at dawn.  

People are talking about the three-part brain.
Individual survival level -- breathing, heart beat, hunger and thirst, temp regulation.
The protoreptilian formation corresponds in anatomy with the brains of lizards and—through what we call an autonomic nervous system in humans—regulates basic life-support functions.”  This level of function can be “felt” but is not usually conscious or describable in words.
Social level -- bonding, nurturing, territoriality
Here are some nearly random thoughts about this level.  The first one is quoted from a guy named Panksepp who did a LOT of brain research.   

"Rats have specialized skin zones that send play signals into the nervous system when they are touched. In other words, mammals appear to have 'play skin,' or 'tickle skin,' with specialized receptors sending information to specific parts of the brain that communicate playful intentions between animals."
In animals that have had their cortex removed, "play solicitations and overall roughhousing, as monitored by direct activity measures, remain intact," writes Panksepp, although pinning behavior is reduced by about half. 
Isn’t this why even damaged boys so love pillow fights in their unders, though they could never say why?  But doesn’t play for pay undermine this because the brain begins to chant “danger, danger” to make it shift back down to the reptilian part that has to decide whether to fight, freeze or flee -- and decide fast.
Consider this:  psychostimulants such as methylphenidate (i.e., Ritalin) and amphetamines—are all very effective in reducing playfulness in animals. Moreover, parents of hyperkinetic children often complain that one of the undesirable side effects of such medications is the reduced playfulness of their children.”  So drugged boys sit and stare.  Art teaches them to play again.
And here’s another brain idea: in the gestational formation of the brain, the development step at about five weeks that creates the autonomic nervous system is simultaneous with the step that creates the face.  Identity.
Cultural level -- rational thinking, constructing
Art and play are both signs that the brain is able to move back “up” to the cortex where patterns and intentions form.  Art and play are both symptoms and modes of response to the world.  They have survival value.

So let’s premise a boy, a street boy.  He is starving, which makes him hyperactive in an attempt to find food.  But the way he finds abuses his body, drives his brain into urgent confusion, so he wants drugs that will shut this down.  Except that those drugs remove his ability to play, to make art -- meaning unable to form a plan or make social contact.  This could happen to an upscale boy just as well as any other.

It’s the third level that must take over now, the culture outside the boy, around the boy, the web in which the boy is a strand.  If that culture values “the least of these” and will both tolerate the fight/flight/freeze behavior that the boy has learned in order to survive and will put into his hands the means of play -- skateboards and iPads and spray paint -- then that boy can join the culture and enrich it. 

The breaking point is when a boy is frozen, a boy with the “zone of play” -- the shoulders, neck and throat -- too abused to respond to love, with a badly developed autonomic nervous system and therefore an ambiguous face, signals he is only a commodity and will be further abused until he is dead, carnal debris from a commodified society.

So?  It’s a novel plot.  It’s a poetry kernel.  It’s images for a vid or a painting.  It’s therapy, a message in a bottle, a new language, poetry that rhymes in occult ways, music from a different dimension, the stories society always thought would come from another planet so built huge parabolic ears to listen for.  They cost a great deal of money, but we are pointing them in the wrong direction.  We should be aiming them down the canyon streets of the cities.  Maybe then we could find out where the points of intervention are.

What are the sensations that a street boy knows: the smells, the sounds, the temperature, the rubbing of his clothing on him, the sandiness of eyes that haven’t slept, the itchy oiliness of unwashed hair.  The hunger, the bruises, the infected injection sites, the sore throat, the constant coughing, the aching joints.  That’s the first of the three parts.   Then the middle: the pressure on consciousness from too much fear, cold and wet, too many threats from too many directions, the shadows of unprocessed memories.  And third the plans and actions: so many prevented, so many unimagined, so many people in the way.  It’s hard to reach out.

SO:  three approaches:  new sensations, new ways of thinking, and new possibilities.  Can that be so hard?  The hard part is thinking of it for the first time.  Just tell the stories.  That’s the key.

The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions by P.D. MacLean is the original book on the “three part brain,” but it costs hundreds of dollars.  They say that Carl Sagan’s book “The Dragons of Eden” is a good explanation and used copies of it sell for a penny.  You will have to pay shipping.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Pressure and criticism is building against video games, saying they are violent, sexual and unsocial.  I take this to be a deflection of what ought to be aimed at the reality of things like “extreme fighting,” a big deal in Great Falls where many people don’t only admire it, but will pay major bucks to watch two people (not necessarily male) pound each other.  That’s not what I want to talk about here.  Instead I’m reacting to a video by Glen Schofield, a creator of hugely successful video games, explaining in TED style how he and his team create the games.  Much of it is about the art work of strange environments, like space, war, or foreign places.  So this talk is the “meta” level of human experience and the principles that inform arts of all kinds.

At the same time I just finished the May, 2013, issue of “Analog: Science Fiction and Fact.”  The juxtaposition triggered the thought that what used to be sci fi, is now often translated into vid games, a mix of reality and virtual construction, and that before there was sci fi there were “religious” stories.  We reach for what is beyond human.

Part of this is the work of understanding survival in the obvious three step process:  1) intake of sensations, 2) filtering and structuring, and 3) producing decisions about what to do.  But there is always more beyond what we know, that bushwhacks us or lifts us up with sudden grace.  Three words are markers for me:  the uncanny (that is, what is unaccountable but not necessarily threatening and possibly explained eventually); the horrible (a danger that can’t be processed); and the sublime (felt access to deep meaning of a transcendent sort).  These stories carry the abiding interest of anthropological inquiry into exotic groups like soldiers of fortune, astronauts, bedouin, gypsies, sex workers, CEO’s or -- okay, extreme fighters.  

Anthros talk about the “emic” versus the “etic” , but since those words unfortunately summon up in my own mind emus if not emetics, I prefer the theological idea of a circle inside of which the person is a believer, belongs to the culture, sees the world through those eyes, versus outside the circle where the practices, resources, and goals of those inside are understood as information, structures, and so on -- but objectively only one possibly arbitrary way of being.  Stories can be told from inside the circle, outside the circle or even a mixture of both.  Video games, mostly from inside the circle, intend to give us a compelling visual and auditory experience of being there, even if the “there” is impossible, and presses us into a mind set that presumably can let us “survive” there.  I suspect that strategy is as important as violence.  (I’m not a gamer.)

A dimension not often acknowledged outside the world of video gamers, but touched on by Scholefield is that of aesthetics: the poetic ability to summon up metaphors and images that are visionary beyond anything we normally experience.  Words and images have a special ability to sweep us into mental and emotional states.  They take us into the “feeling” concepts that are under our consciousness. 

We normally think of altered consciousness in terms of drugs.  Some remark on contemporary alcoholism among American Indians as the result of never having developed the use of toxins to affect their thoughts and release emotions.  But in fact American Indians commonly used environmental pressure on physical homeostasis (cold, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, wounds) to distort their mental processing -- sometimes on purpose and sometimes as a necessity.  Whether the result is desperation, rage, exaltation (maybe a combination), or a great peacefulness in the aftermath, is open to investigation.  The dynamics of emotion in extreme circumstances, especially those of bonding or shock, may be more consciously investigated in video games and movies than in the processing of real-world war acts.  If they were, we might understand PTSD better.  Could a video game help heal PTSD?

Schofield speaks of ransacking every source of ideas he can find, including comics and documentaries.  He mentions “The Devil Came on Horseback” and how the author of that book, Brian Steidle, a “peace keeper” in the Sudan, noted that dust storms can shut down the most powerful modern army machines, an idea he used as a “timer” -- a deadline pressing the action.   He does not include the most extreme horror: little girls from a school who were shackled in a huddle and set on fire -- alive.  Ashes and bones are all that remain -- plus whatever imagination shows us.  I don’t recommend the video but it’s on YouTube.  It IS extreme.

Schofield does show the orderly ossuwaries of skulls in the catacombs under Paris and tells us he used the image as a break in action.  And he mentions the French preoccupation with what is called the “New French Extremity” school of cinema.  These include “torture porn” and other atrocities that can be visited on the human body.  He does not mention the school of “enviro porn” showing the destruction of the “flesh” of the planet.  I’m not sure he’s aware of it.

We seem to be in a time when we search for extremes, boundaries, edges -- maybe because so many of them have been pushed back.  Maybe the most obvious example is our space probes, now outside the solar system.  In the opposite direction, there is a strange unease in finding the Higgs Boson -- on the one hand wanting it to truly be the end of all searching but on the other the nagging itch that there might be more, even rather hoping there is.  We also seek edges in our social arrangements.

Here is the creative advice of Schofield as he lists them on his video:

Keep an open mind.  Dismiss ego.  Consider all possibilities.

Assess priorities.  Establish an order.  List them.

Research while staying aware for the “golden nugget”.  Go deeper.  Then go wide, to related fields.  The obscure, the forbidden.  Have experiences.  Travel.  Don’t neglect details.  Take a zillion photos or sound tapes.  Notice the small human gestures and framings.  Shapes of spaces.

Use other people’s experiences, consultants, historians, scientists, leaders, the news, teaching tapes, field records.   Quote other films, esp. well-known ones.  Know “The Public Psyche.”

Pin-up boards, like the ones on cop shows and on the walls over the work counters of clothes designers.  Create reference booklets of photos and art images.  (For writers, save quotes, but be sure to include sources.) 

These warnings:

Inspiration may not take a direct path, but may turn out to be a labyrinth of multiple sources.

Sometimes the most crucial element comes by accident while researching something else.

The whole thing is likely to be messy -- you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how you will get there, and what you will end up with.

In the end there will be a “rule set” derived from free association and then “what if” questions.  These are the “paradigms,” the grammar of the story.  They might be trivial and conventional, or they might be transcendent and surprising. 

The following little schema is mine, derived from neurological research:

The black box :  What goes in (sensory)
What happens inside the mind (paradigms, expectations, deep beliefs, imagining)
What gets done about it and whether it leads to survival.

THEN, how to communicate all this material that may seem unpredictable, unprocessable, undoable, uncommunicable.  This is the ground of science fiction as well as video games.  What I miss in the latter is the “soft sciences” of psych and philosophy.  Maybe some of the energy of video games can be reverse-engineered into new sci-fi.  Or maybe fantasy is where the psych and philosophy have gone -- are those in video games, too?  A three minute search finds “The Longest Journey” on YouTube.  Female art student protagonist.  Multiple languages.  Many bits plus long records of other people’s games.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


In case you think that God is dead and the new Pope is not infallible after all, so therefore anything goes because morality is a matter of some “parent” force imposing rules, here are three alternative concepts for building a personal -- or even cultural --  morality.

1.  You are a butterfly.
2.  Even a monkey has a sense of equity.
3.  What goes around, comes around.  The world echoes.

The butterfly effect is that every event, no matter how small, is so interconnected with everything else that its every flutter changes everything else.  Even the smallest gesture sends out waves of impact.  You pause on the sidewalk to pick up a discarded gum wrapper and toss it into the trash.  A couple of other people see you do that, register that it’s a good thing to do, and from then on begin to do the same.  The sidewalk is clearer.  People stop throwing trash down and put it into the baskets.  This is evidently a good place, worth respecting.  Because of that, a shop owner invests in a new coat of paint for the front door.  More customers stop.  Etc.

But the small gesture might not cause good changes or changes that could be defined as either good or bad.  This principle only means that what you do matters, and therefore you matter, and that means it’s worth reflection and effort for you to be careful.   This is an element of self-esteem and a source of dignity, which will cause you to reflect on whether an act might be undignified, beneath you.  Even traditional morality doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good outcome.  Good people who do generous things sometimes end up hurt by them.  At some level, being a moral person doesn’t guarantee the outcome, no matter how carefully considered the intention.  

Accepting this is part of being a mature person.  Knowing that you are a butterfly with impact means knowing there is no way to opt out, no way to achieve complete control, and no way to make sure that you yourself can be exempted.  Even refusing to flap will have consequences. This is a source of humility and humility will make you a better butterfly -- if not more effective, at least a more beautiful person, which is how morality and aesthetics intertwine.

Because the butterfly principle is about zillions of small moves, it doesn’t matter so much whether any one flutter is “good” or “bad” -- assuming it’s possible to find out until after -- maybe LONG after -- the move is made.  The effort should be to create moves with happy consequences more often than any others.  So this is one of those cases which (always happy to quote St. Francis these days) “faithfulness in a lot of little things is a big thing.”  

The second principle is more of a blunt instrument: a inner sense of equity, a wish to help those to whom one feels belonging.  These are deep enough to be detected in mammals like monkeys and dogs (who get upset if the other animal present gets better food rewards than they do for the same behavior) and rats (who will share food and also free another rat if it’s trapped).  Here’s an article on the subject.  

Most of us assume that being human means a more refined sense of justice, a higher order of conscience, but on many occasions it seems that the “culture,” the ability of humans to create behavior memes, is a matter of suppressing one’s natural sense of justice and relationship.  If you’ve been sad, you may remember when a dog, not necessarily your own, came to put its head on your lap and express sympathy -- while all the time humans, even family members, went on their preoccupied way or left you alone “for your own good” because you “only want attention.”  

Therefore the moral person will remain in touch with the most basic elements of empathy, feeling “with” others whether responding to distress or joy.  Maybe you’ve witnessed a small child wanting to help someone, maybe a bum, and the child’s parent forcing the little one to come away.  All mammals can witness and “feel with,” but only human beings are capable of then testifying about it in the interest of justice.  Even if they feel limited in their ability to intervene or provide what is needed, they can still witness and testify.  This is the underlying morality of Wikileaks and comparable whistleblowing.  Part of this is the human ability to predict a penalty for testifying and accept that penalty, even if remaining silent will mean no pain for them -- only unjust penalties for others.  

But along with that goes the human ability to rationalize that getting involved will do no good, that someone else can take responsibility, that the “system is broken” and can’t be fixed.  What that boils down to is separating oneself from one’s group, disowning them in the same way that a family might throw out a family member who embarrasses them.  The penalty, according to the butterfly effect, may be displaced into the future when the disowned person or family may have the potential to save the very persons who rejected them.

Which brings us to the third moral principle:  what goes around comes around.  If enough people act selfishly and with punishment of others, soon or later they will find themselves living in a whole society based on greed and penalties -- which we are.  But that means that it could be turned around if enough people revised their assumptions about kinds of success and the consequences of compassion.  This is what many stories are meant to do.  I suspect that the loaves and fishes story was not originally meant to illustrate a miracle by a powerful person, but rather the power of sharing.  Many revisionist versions have been written to bring it into line with the “stone soup” principle in which the pot is generously augmented with what people have, even though the first person only had a stone to put in.  (Reverse versions of the story have also been written in which the result was only wet gravel.)

The principle of fractals is that small patterns repeat themselves, eventually in very similar large patterns.  Again, as in the first two principles, to live is to make the world.  Every small gesture adds up and meshes into a personal way of life that touches and inspires others in the surroundings.  If you’re really aware of this, do you have to recite the Golden Rule to yourself?  Do you have to study a law book?  Does an enforcer have to punish you?

The system whereby books and laws impose a grid of standards over the reality of moral relationships is always a little out-of-sync because of the subtlety and complexity of the three moral principles above, which are far more related to justice than law.  This means that laws must constantly be rewritten, constitutions must be constantly updated, no judge is ever inerrant whether that entity is the Pope or Scalia.  Laws only create social order.  Justice creates human beings, sometimes human beings who stand against the social order.  This is a key source of stories, including those in religious books.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


The root of all evil is sequestration of knowledge.  The most dangerous form of sequestration is that of stigma which proposes that not knowing about evil will make it go away.  The second most dangerous ignorance is believing evil cannot be converted into good.

Philip Zimbardo  is a Berkeley psych prof -- therefore he goes where people are afraid to go because he lives right there anyway. (jokes) If you watch this TED talk by him, you’ll see that he looks quite a bit like Lucifer himself.  He is most famous for two studies: one is an experiment to see how punishing people can be (terrifying!) and the other is a study of Abu Ghraib.  I won’t bother to warn you about how shocking the images are because I suspect you’ve already seen them -- even sought them out -- because many of us (99% of the people who read this blog) want to understand this.

After Zimbardo had thought about this a while, he flipped it over:  what is it that allows people to be heroic?   If you’ve been following my posts, esp the recent ones, I think you’ll be able to see that I’ve been working towards this subject.  His key idea is that good/evil are human and that they are effectively controlled by group dynamics.  This is what lured me into the ministry -- the idea that organizational design, powered by a sense of the Holy, could produce heroic people.  What put me out the other side was the discovery that because my denomination was so open to the general culture it was vulnerable to the same cultural craving for prosperity and safety.  Ministers who get too far out of the norm are eliminated.  My privilege now is to use my independence from ALL group definitions of how I should act.  Not that there is a lot of divergence in my nonconformity.  Most people would see me as a fairly conventional old lady because I don’t reject groups per se -- just their mindless control of individuals.  I have a past, I have a mind, I have heroes, and I use all of them.

The stories that haunt me, that come back in the middle of the night and keep me awake, are the incidents when I was unable to intervene or even one or two cases when my mother in her girlhood couldn’t intervene, which I know about only because in her last living days she was still trying to resolve them.  I hadn’t known about them until then.  If I write a long essay, I’ll try to analyze them, but what they all come down to being aware of someone’s need in a context where others disapproved, and it has driven nonconformity -- much less in my mother than in me.  I mean, I’ve been far more defiant than she was -- but she was a leader who responded to challenge.

Maybe I should describe again one of her stories.  An adult female relative had brought a friend to visit on my mother’s birth family’s farm.  It was supposed to have been a profitable prune orchard, but wasn’t, so my grandmother depended in part on income from chickens who roamed the hillside yard, making it slick with droppings.  The lady visitor slipped and fell, breaking her hip.  She was Christian Science and refused all medical help or to even be taken to a hospital in Roseburg.  My mother was working in town and was considered a reliable, sensible young woman.  She listened to the torment of this woman and went to the pharmacist for advice.  He gave her a “powder”  folded up in paper, which is how tablets were dispensed then.  She took it home and offered it to the woman, who refused it, so my mother mixed it into orange juice and offered it again so she would drink it.  When the woman realized what had happened, she threw a huge fit, accusing my mother of all kinds of terrible things.  When my grandfather, who did construction and was gone most of the week, got home a day or so later, he threw his own fit, insisting that the woman be taken to town regardless of how, why, or where.  “I will not have some female moaning in the guest room and oppressing my family!” he declared.  There are enough ambiguities in this tale to keep a discussion going for quite a while.

Zimbardo came to my attention through a website called  “  His most recent project is about boys:  “The Demise of Guys,” about why some boys are so much more passive, timid, and unskilled these days.  The TED talk is at  All the things that Zimbardo talks about have been witnessed by myself in classrooms, on the street, in the animal control locker room, at ministerial meetings, in bureaucratic offices and in my own family -- in short, everywhere.  

But most of the boys I’ve known recently have been the opposite: they have chosen a sub-group and use it to support an active and potent identity against the larger society.  This does not mean the sub-group is virtuous -- it may only protect its members. Neither does it mean that boys who don’t go out for football are any less manly.  It may be that they are simply waiting and watching in hopes of getting the information they need in order to act effectively.

Let’s hope they get it quickly.  The news is full of stories of young people witnessing rape but not intervening -- even mocking it -- and of military rapes in which the victims are the penalized ones rather than the power-drunk rapists who have the power to deflect their own punishment.  There are more than a few things to learn about effective interventions, chief among them being strategy.  This is what makes the series called “The Protectors” so interesting: strategy is their means of choice.  But you need to know a lot of options, make a lot of contacts, rally social support, be a close observer.

Even on the Blackfeet Reservation there are micro-societies or layers of society.  A couple of outsider guys hanging around a bar at closing time in order to beat up drunken losers (other than themselves) were counter-attacked by a tribally enrolled county commissioner and his wife, who were beaten themselves but followed up on their injuries in court.   It was more of a brawl than a take-down, but in the months-long rez-wide rhubarb over it, a lot of consciousness was raised.  The interveners DID win in court. These incidents have the power to protect individuals -- not so much by helping the individual (as my ministerial colleague and I did for the ill old lady in the hotel sundries shop) -- but by challenging the tolerance and resignation people develop to bad behavior.  These thugs had been beating up people in front of others for a long time. No one had wanted to stop it or even report it, so they pretended not to see anything.

Be a hero.  See it, name it, risk it, follow up.  Strategically.