Friday, January 31, 2014


Every day I post at least 1,000 words about something.  The topics range from trivia to major political issues -- often local.  Rarely does anyone comment on content.  In fact, rarely do I get posted comments at all, which is fine with me except that it’s concerning when people WANT to comment but can’t figure out how to do it or want to contact me and can’t figure out how to do that except by making a comment.  They never think of reading the basic info on the blog.  Or picking up the phone.  

But when people do comment to me via email or conversation, there is a different and more subtle issue.  The two things they say most often is how well-written the posts are and the second is how prolific I am -- how much I post.  While both comments are usually meant as praise (maybe) they are both problematic.  They have that exasperating tendency to look at the finger and subtly critique its manicure instead of seeing what the finger is pointing at, plus that other tiresome response people make when they see the mountains from here:  “Oh!  How beautiful!”  Repetitious, stereotypical and shutting off further reflection.

It's a contest?

If I were trying to sell this blog, trying to drive up viewer numbers, I would be unwise to even talk about my irritation, but since I’m doing this for myself, NOT courting numbers or advertiser dollars (which -- beyond vanity -- is the goal for high numbers) I don’t give a rip.  There are hidden assumptions in these comments.

If I post every day with content that requires reflection and research, I should be doing it for money, right?  People who do this are always on a payroll or maybe selling what they write.  People who do it for themselves are people who post stuff about their trivial lives -- blogs are ephemera and they should be short and, well, SWEET.  Or funny.  A matter of personal relationship.  A greeting card.  Not challenging. No power moves.  Easy to patronize.

The people who remark on how-prolific-I-am are often people who write well, often for a cause, but take a competitive attitude so berate themselves for not writing as much as I do.  They never remember that I’m retired, housework undone, and am 75 after a lifetime of experience and study.  To them, all should be equal and I am somehow making them look bad -- or at least feel bad -- by writing so much.  In the ministry I was rebuked for preaching well:  "You make the rest of us look bad."  (Seriously -- it happened.  Same remark in the Animal Control locker room.) Their masochistic attitude makes approval of my standards a stick to beat themselves up.  They feel comparison is somehow competitive and those who write “more” are therefore “better” and that makes them feel bad because they think they should keep up.  But they feel magnanimous about praising me.  At least they’re THAT virtuous.  And they do not have TIME to read that much stuff.  They are angry.

They feel that writing without pay is unfair competition for those who ARE writing for pay.  It’s giving away milk to those who have no cow.  It establishes that writing has no value.  It violates the basic premise of capitalism: that everything (and everyone) is for sale.  If I were on a salary or if I were wealthy (i.e. had enough assets to not need a salary), then that’s capitalism, but in those circumstances I have no business having my own opinions.  I must be obligated to the sources of my income and therefore I’m likely to be lying and unreliable.  I must have an angle or agenda that will eventually pay off.  (This is true -- but not in terms of money.)

The other praise, about how good the writing may be, is also full of hooks.  The first is surprised expectations:  if an old woman in Nowheresville sitting at a minimal computer setup can publish high quality writing, it is a serious challenge to all the dreck produced by supposedly skilled MFA-holding writers engaged by big name publishers and awarded major prizes.  Often people say to me, “your posts are so well written!” as though they had just found out my cats not only play chess -- but also win.  I mean, everyone can write if they just get around to it some day and use their Aunt Tilly’s true life experiences.  Isn’t that right?

So a part that’s missing here is ten years as an English teacher but that’s only for correctness and clarity.  Mind you, when I started teaching in 1961, we also taught the uses of the human sensorium, the named metaphors, the structure of a paragraph, rhetorical strategy, research skills, and familiarity with the basic canon of admired writers -- not because they are so admired (they go in and out of fashion) but because they are an alphabet that a person can count on others knowing, like the Bible or Greek myths.  That was in high school.  But for the past decades English teacher courses at college have taught French Algerian suspicion, the art of turning assertions upsidedown, and scorn for the establishment.

Not that I don’t appreciate those things, but they aren’t as useful for essay writing as spotting confused antecedents, broken parallels, and mixed metaphors.  Some will object that those things are not as important for the oppressed people and simply excludes people who need to express their thoughts.  But I will say that one’s thoughts need to be defined and refined in order to be communicated, particularly when one is writing from outside the “believers’ circle.”  For this, a seminary education is useful, so long as it is the study of religions rather than the learning of dogma (usually written).  Thinking also benefits from dialogue, doubt, and challenge -- not qualities admired in small towns, maybe because they’re so bad at it, confusing it with resentment, jealousy, and attack.

“Oh, you write so much!   And you write so well!” can be sincere.  Thank you.  More often there are shadows that any Algerian Parisian could spot.  “You are so privileged to have all this time and you’re not even famous, so what’s the use of it?”  “To write this well must be a gift, so no wonder I can’t write that well -- no one gave me my gift!  It’s not MY fault.” And, “if you’re doing so well, I have nothing to give you -- and since I can’t give you anything, you won’t be my friend because relationships must be mutually profitable -- so I’m leaving now.”

My goal is in part to destroy the romance of fame and its false connection to fortune.  Here’s a funny tool that might help:
It’s an n-gram, self-explanatory.   Try it out.

After you’ve looked to see whether you are famous (I’m not but Bob Scriver is -- briefly) try looking at both “Charlie Russell” and “Charles Marion Russell.”  What the “n-gram” really tracks is the number of times a name is mentioned in a publication.  This assumes 
1) being mentioned is a sign of fame (no distinction between praise or blame) and 
2)  publication means someone paid to print and distribute writing on this subject -- no "unpublished" writing is considered.
3)  You'll have to put in every variation to get a true total.  

Try running “Jesus Christ” and then “Charles Manson” and then “Buddha” and “Mohammed.”  I’ll leave you to figure out what it all means.  You know, like how much money did Jesus or Manson make -- which is not the same as how much money was made from whipping up print ABOUT them.  Buddha inherited money, so he could sit under a Bo tree.  Mohammed was a camel trader.  One shrewd tribal guy, very successful.  He wrote a book.  Buddha did not.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


In this country the economic base is capitalism.  Land IS capital.  The value of ag land depends on crops and crops depend upon water.  The right to the use of water is also an asset that can be recorded and manipulated in the form of bookkeeping and a system of law.

Valier was created by the forebears of the Pondera County Canal and Reservoir Company and is sustained by the PCCRC -- not tourism, camping, pretty yards, or dust-free streets.  Not even lack of chickens.  Nor does history as the open-range ranch originally claimed by the Conrad Brothers have much to do with today’s prospects, though it’s the most romantic story -- save for the little-known history of those dynamic teenaged brothers during the War Between the States.  (See April 28, 2005 on this blog.) 

Ivan Doig's novel about the boom of building Swift Dam.

Natural resources create settlement and value in several ways:  first the actual value of the resource (in this case water);  second, the value of the created structures and the value of the labor necessary to extract the resource and manage it to delivery (which creates a boom); third, the value of the services -- materials, machines -- necessary; and finally the value of goods needed to create and sustain households.  Valier was created in two ways: the boom accompanying the construction of the dams, reservoirs, and canals; and -- what continues today -- the long commerce resulting from homesteading that used the water.  The water is used three ways: for crops, for livestock, and for human habitations.  Small town businesses are derived from these primary values.  This also applies to developing wind and oil.

I went down to the Canal Company to look at maps.  The big main one of “everything” is under glass on the wall.  It reveals the following:

1.  The New Miami Hutterite Colony, which can be seen at night across Lake Frances, if you know which lights to look for, is NOT a shareholder, though it’s the nearest to the lake.  Their main operation is swine.  Their sewage lagoon once broke, flowing into Lake Frances.  (Many jokes.)  Birch Creek Colony and Kingsbury Colony have historical relationships to PCCRC, partly because the colonies bought ranches with pre-existing water rights. Midway Colony, and Pondera Colony are also in the county.
Swift Dam and reservoir

2.  There are three dams:  Swift Dam which is the historical key to the irrigation system, and the two dams at the opposite ends of Lake Frances, one of them by the Lighthouse Restaurant.  Swift was originally earthen but after the flood destroyed it, the dam was rebuilt as concrete.   Leading out of Swift Dam are two major branches, one that goes out northeast along the Two Medicine River and one that goes out southeast much farther south, towards Conrad.  This latter is “Canal B” which is in litigation, challenged by the Curry ranch.

Birch Creek Headworks

3.  Surprisingly, to the east and south of Valier there are few “shareholders,” meaning irrigators.  One big cluster of irrigators is along Birch Creek north of Valier and out towards Cut Bank.  The other big cluster surrounds Conrad.  It might be that higher ground prevents water from flowing that way, or it might be that the land was not part of the Conrad holdings which were the origin of the Pondera Canal Company.  It may be that most of the unirrigated land went into CRP and so remains unirrigated.

4.  The irrigation systems vary a lot once they leave the main canals, mostly responding to the shape and size of the owned plot.  Long skinny plots can’t use pivot sprinklers.  Some are better suited to flood irrigation.  Others use some other kind of system, like a web of ditches.  This makes an interesting map of interlocking squares and circles (pivot sprinklers).  To the east the map extends past I-15 to the next section road.

This bear was headed for the Lighthouse restaurant.

5.  There are 7 “ditch riders” who are responsible for monitoring and maintaining their "reaches".  Originally they rode on horseback, but now go out in pickups and ATV’s.  It probably won’t be long until they are at least partly replaced by drones overflying the ditches, but there will always be times when a person is the only option.  As a joke, a wandering grizzly cub is listed as a ditch rider!  His photo is there with those of the humans.

There are at least four major issues facing this company and therefore impacting Valier: 

I.  The Blackfeet Compact

In Montana water claims are based on the headwaters and earliest use.  The Blackfeet Reservation is the location of Swift Dam which impounds the main irrigation water for the company.  The tribe has not in the past asserted their right to the water, but now they do.  They have the money for irrigation and the intent to develop as would not have been historically possible.  This will seriously diminish the water available for the Company.   Rep. Rob Cook and Sen. Llew Jones secured 14 million dollars in funding through the Montana legislature to help mitigate impacts of the Blackfeet Compact on PCCRC.   Current tribal conflict and the split tribal council means that this compact may be endangered.  PCCRC's Board and their representatives will be closely watching and working with the delegation as the Compact is introduced and moves through Congress.  So will the Blackfeet.

The Blackfeet attitude is affected by the 1964 breach of Swift Dam.   The original dam at this location was constructed around 1910, with a height of 157 feet.  There was little or no legal process.  The Conrads were not in the habit of asking permission.  This structure gave way on June 10, 1964, after heavy rains caused flooding on Birch Creek. The dam collapsed and sent a 30-foot wall of water down the creek bed. The nearby dam at Lower Two Medicine Lake also failed, and at least 28 people were killed.  I have never heard of lawsuits or insurance claims in spite of these deaths and the immense loss of property.  At the time of the flood (I was here) there were rumors about failure to maintain properly.  Lately there has been interest by student film makers about the tragedy, but not the technicalities.  Fiction writers like Sid Gustafson also address this event.  

The current concrete-arch structure was completed in 1967, with a height of 205 feet, and a length at its crest of 573 feet. The reservoir is also contained by a secondary earthen dike with a height of 53 feet and a length of 457 feet, also completed in 1967. The dams and reservoir are owned and operated by the local Pondera Canal and Reservoir Company.  You can monitor the operational dials and switches on their website.
Swift Reservoir has a maximum storage capacity of 34,000 acre-feet and normal storage of 30,000 acre-feet.  Recreation is restricted to hiking in the area, with a parking area that requires Blackfeet Nation permission.  One would also need a tribal fishing permit.
Gene Curry

II.  Curry legal challenge
This is a combination of challenges that go back to the original allotment, follows through various transactions, and is affected by historical use.  Curry owns land west of Valier in an area known as the Birch Creek Flats. Curry acquired the land beginning in 1988 when he purchased property referred to at the hearing as the Keil property. The Keil property is locally known as the Carroll property as well. In 1989 and 1990, Curry purchased adjacent land known locally as the Ryan property or Crawford property.
In short the Curry “ranch” -- which includes a feedlot at the edge of Valier and the Valier gas station/liquor store/C-store -- is claiming that they are being shorted on water to which they are entitled.  The case is in “water court” and is decided by a “water master.”  This case is an interesting illustration of how the “capital” of land ownership can be leveraged by pushing for a larger share of water and by investing in local business.  Cheryl Curry attends many town council meetings.

III.  Global weather change
The ultimate source of the real value of the Pondera Canal Company is the snowpack on the east side of the Rocky Mountains.  Every year there is less of it.  This is partly because of changing patterns in the high airstreams and partly because warmer weather means more water falls as rain and runs off instead of storing as snowpack.  A few years ago people here flatly denied there was any such thing.  Now they just get quiet.  As much outspoken emotion is expressed about these issues, there is even more contained by denial, unseen but powerful.

IV.  Frakking
If priming or waste water were to contaminate the aquifer from which Valier draws its well water, it would be a disaster.  But if the wastewater were to somehow enter the canal system, it could be a crop killer, possibly making the land unusable.  That’s a stretch, but stranger things have happened.

Emotional factors from history enter into these geological factors.  Plans were repeatedly made and funded for irrigation on the reservation but never came to fruition though canals were dug by Blackfeet, often by hand with a wife working alongside her husband, and sometimes compelled by an agent who would not issue food commodities unless the people worked.  (See the Foley Report.)  This is part of the successful lawsuit against the US for negligent and predatory management of the assets of the Blackfeet people.  Part of the reason for the tribe's poverty is failure to develop their land with effective irrigation.

As it turns out, there is another fascinating but overlooked story about the origins of PCCRC irrigation rights which I’ll address in another post.  It’s about an Indian agent who went native, the ever-resourceful Joe Kipp, and Robare, the wicked little town destroyed by the ’64 flood.  No Conrads were present.  Valier did not yet exist.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The way I look at it, the single most likely approach to better lives in Valier is the Internet.  It is also the single factor most misunderstood and resisted, not just from the inside of the town, but also from the world at large.  It’s too much to ask aging farmers who still prefer radio to television and have no keyboard skills, to learn the ragged landscape of online protocols.  If people here can’t maintain the drug regimen necessary after a diagnosis of diabetes (30% compliance is usual across all populations everywhere -- all diseases), if their only real comfort in life remains alcohol (the mom-and-pop grocery store has an aisle of wine, the gas station houses the state liquor store) which works with television viewing but not so well operating a computer, and if they are only interested in people they know (which in fantasy includes a few celebrities) plus the demonization of politicians, then they aren’t likely to have the skills or interests that are needed.  We’ll have to wait for them to die so the tablet generation can take over.  Harsh!

I’m not exempting myself.  I’m a lousy Internaut.  I use this computer more as a keyboard for writing I could do just as easily on the kind of tablet with lines, requiring no electricity or batteries -- just a pencil.  The riskiest thing I do is write for radically different groups.  Sometimes something breaks through that opens up a new access.  More often, I slide into a routine so I can think about ideas in an efficient way, but about every six months the service providers have an epileptic fit or a big divorce or buy-out that throws everything catty-wampus.

This week it was Tumblr, where most of the work I want to see is provided -- its specialty has been creative, edgy, young vids.  I share access through a link made from Paris years ago.  I like it because I can mix print and photos with spoken word and stay there to watch vids.  It’s just been bought out by Yahoo.  I do not have a good impression of Yahoo and evidently neither do many others.

Yahoo was compelled to put their spokeswoman Marissa Mayer out there promising “not to screw it up.”  Yahoo is famous for shoving as many ads into their website as is possible out of desperation to make money.  Tumblr is seen as younger, sharper, in the demographic that the US worships:  teenagers.  Who else has so much discretionary income?  So in the next breath Yahoo says Tumblr is “mature enough” to be monetized with ads.  (“Mature enough” -- hear that, kids?)

A quote via CNN:  Tumblr has 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 sign-ups every day, with about 900 posts a second. But as much traffic as it generates, not all the content is ideal for advertisers.

“Tumblr does not insist on knowing the real identities for users, and some of the Tumblr content is very adult-oriented, both features that advertisers would find repellant," said Brian Proffitt, an adjunct instructor of management at the University of Notre Dame.

In short, the morality of the ad companies is what controls everyone’s content.  Don’t "dis" anything that makes money.  Have you checked the morality of advertising in the US?  Violent, conventionally sexual (male dominated), celebrating drunkenness, fast driving and wretched excess?  This is clearly the moral norm in Valier and most of the rest of Montana, but I would argue that there is a growing shift among the young to idealism, minimalism and environmentalism.  

The kind of adverts that might work for youngsters is more about Bioneers, Doctors without Borders, and other kinds of activism, as well as the wealth of technical courses and tips about things like photography or even AIDS prevention.   (The group I've traveled with for a long time is kids at risk: street kids, trafficked, infected, dying, suicidal.)   Kids now are better educated than their parents and certainly more finger-fluid on the Net.  They go looking and experimenting far beyond oldster trails.

This is an edited version of what John Saroff said in the Fortune Magazine finance section:  

If I were Yahoo, I would not buy Tumblr for $1.1 billion.   

Here are five big reasons why:

1. Tumblr CEO David Karp is correct in his resistance to the use of traditional display on Tumblr. . . . Tumblr isn't built for display, and I'm not sure if the product can be changed to accommodate display and still maintain its Tumblr-ness.

2. If traditional display is not used on Tumblr, then new forms of native advertising have to grow at incredibly rapid rates. That's hard.  . . .

3. *Tumblr doesn't own many of its page views, the bloggers do. Tumblr is a blogging platform/content management system first, and a destination site second. For Yahoo to place ads on is easy, for it to place them on is hard. To facilitate advertising on Yahoo will need to get my permission, put an ad unit on my page, cut me in on a rev share, and then convince an advertiser that is worth something. . . .

4. Many Tumblrs are unhospitable to advertising.  [Teens want to know the edge, the kinds of thing screenwriters love, the forbidden things. . . what sells scripts.] 

5. It is unclear if Tumblr has a sustainable competitive advantage. . . . Just because Tumblr is wonderful and the preeminent blogging platform today doesn't mean it will be tomorrow. . . . I believe that the space in which Tumblr operates has very low barriers to entry, making Tumblr very susceptible to new entrants.

In plainer English, when Yahoo starts imposing their money-making goals on Tumblr, all the energy will migrate to another website.  That’s how they got to Tumblr.  And every time there is a new invention of media support, it’s a little better in many ways.  Only the truly motivated will survive the winnowing of motivation that will leave the dullest, the laziest, the least creative and therefore least commodifiable material behind.

But it’s a pain in the butt to have to change all the time.  I WILL follow the people I care about.  In order to do it, I had to sign a long pledge so I could get past the opening wall of the website.  There are three main categories, all variations on a lawyer’s idea of a bullet-proof vest.  First is meant to ward off lawsuits about disclosing who the users are -- the big national invasion of privacy argument as well as sales of data-scrapings to advertisers and so on.  

Second is to protect against lawsuits that claim Tumblr took the creative material simply posted on the site and used it as the basis for something commercially viable.  Third is the pledge to be nice, not offend Mrs. Grundy, not to be inappropriate for children, and -- in fact -- to swear you are over thirteen.  (Don't they remember how offensive twelve-year-olds can be?)  This sort of thing is what makes lawyers rich and legislators as well.  (Hard to tell them apart.)  This requirement is full of land mines that can be interpreted to suit those wanting to make a reputation by being holier than everyone else.

This pledge is hypocritical because Yahoo knows very well that any self-respecting dude will sign because such pledges mean sod-all in court.  It’s the kind of thing that installs a nursemaid censor on information sites so that a person looking for info on breast feeding or prostate cancer is blocked.  The things that kids want to know, that no adult will tell them, range from VD symptoms (sorry -- I’m old-fashioned -- STD symptoms) to what to do about suicidal impulses.  Suppressing information is the most ineffective way possible to protect those who want to know.

I resent having to learn new things all the time, because it changes my patterns.  But then, a fish needs water, and water changes all the time.  I am a fish.  On the Internet I can swim anywhere, like the original boat-hoppers who populated the world.  The next iteration of a Tumblr-style website might not be in the USA.  It might not even be in English.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


British robin

American robin

Humans cannot help interpreting what they don’t know in terms of what they do know, which is why the English on the North American continent named everything improperly:  “robins,” “elk,” and “Indians” -- all of which are no such thing.  (Robins are a kind of thrush, elk are closer to what in Europe is a stag, and Indians have nothing to do with India.)  

One of the most common of this misappropriations is to think of some entity as though it were a person.  (Personification.)  So the newspaper letters to the editor a few days ago insisted that “if I have to shovel my sidewalk, the city should have to shovel its street.”  This leads to the inaccurate and “moral” obligation on a whole system and its policy of deploying big machinery with all the consequences of cost and inconvenient side-effects, like snow berms against the street-side of cars, making it the same thing as one guy going out with a shovel and making a path for fifty feet on his own lot.  The letter writer projects his own physical exertion and resentment of requirements onto a snow plow.

Personified black bear

The effective recent mayor of Valier said that she had noticed how many people who were angry would say that “The Town” had done something bad to them in past years, therefore they would not comply with anything The Town wants and, in fact, would do their best to defeat the interests of The Town in order to punish them.  This is what I call “high school thinking,” though it is also characteristic of Afghanistan tribal chieftains and certain American politicians.  It is highly emotional, blind to processes and large forces like climate change, and based entirely on the interests of the person or his affinity cohort.  "High School Thinking" does not look for options, does not value cooperation or coalition, and cannot take in information that is not already known.  (Notice that I just “personified” high school thinking.  This is a courtesy to spare the humans who do it.)

The great break-through of science that has given us the quality of life we have today DOES look for processes that were previously unknown, it DOES change procedures to accommodate new knowledge, and it constantly asks for options, research on unseen forces, and a vision of a better life.  But even science tends to personify, speaking of diseases which are simple molecular mechanics as “wanting,” “seeking,” having goals and desires as though they were malevolent and even immoral.  They are only chemistry.

Scientists cannot decide whether a virus is alive or dead since it has only part of what a creature needs, only a bit of code, no cellular need to eat or excrete -- simply an an ability to replicate that unintentionally, as a side effect, makes human beings vulnerable to the bacteria and parasites that ARE focused on consumption of human cells.  Yet a virus is spoken of as “wanting,” having “desires” that motivates its "hooking up" with cells. (THERE’s a high school phrase!) 

Someone sent me a list of English teacher irritations, one of which coincided with mine, the parroted definition of a noun as a “person, place or thing.”  A noun is a word.  It CANNOT be greeted, entered or sat upon.  It is a NAME.  Any word can be a NAME.  Anything can be assigned a name, even “nothing.”  But naming is the first step toward personification.  Which is a form of anthropomorphism -- seeing everything as though it were a human being.  

So the grizzly biologists made a rule for themselves never to name individual bears, because bears are NOT human beings and don’t act like human beings all the time, just sometimes.  They referred to individual bears as numbers.  Soon the numbers became names and irresistibly were thought of as people with human motivations and understanding.  When a mother bear was mistakenly shot, we attached, bonded, became concerned and craved information about the mother bear and we worried about her cubs.  Thus, when a big male bear killed and ate one of the cubs, it was a shock.

Fishermen think of fish in a personal way, as though they had a personal relationship with the fish on their hook, as though the line were an emotional “heartstring” of connection, but an adversarial one that make the bonding and attachment into a kind of ownership.  Some feel this kind of "hooking up" is a sort of artistic achievement, to be praised on the basis of the size of the fish and its wish to live, which it indubitably has, and the struggle it puts up, which is strictly a matter of reflex rather than thought-out strategy.  A fish responds to its environment.  The most successful fishermen know that.

The best fishermen do not study the fish -- they study the water.  Where are the pools, where the ripples, which is deep and which is gravel-bottomed.  Where are the boulders, where are the sun-warmed spots, where do the insects hatch, where do the grasshoppers fall in.  Beyond water, they study time, climate, season, all the cycles of the creatures, all interacting processes.  Success is a matter of participation in that complexity, that evolved dance, and it includes eating the fish.  Eating fish was one of the first mammal successes and took humans around the planet on their small boats.  Halibut is one of my favorite meals.

A day or so ago a comic strip played off the myth of Charon ferrying the dead across the River Styx that divides this world from the underworld of the dead.  At the back of the boat is a fisherman who asks,  “Any good trout in this river?”  The joke is obsession with one’s own racking up of acquisition in a situation of death when that’s all over.  A parallel metaphorical genre of jokes is about the idea of heaven being entered through a gate, because heaven is like a walled city.  There is no gate to hell -- one crosses in a boat, there is a toll to be paid instead of a book where deeds have been entered.  Writing down, accounting, is a skill historically coincident with the advent of walled cities.  An agricultural invention, not for growing but for storing grain.

So this is not personification, but rather the projecting of a known place (walls, gates, bookkeeping, rivers, dark/light) onto an unknowable mystery in terms of what we like (good is a safe defended place where only the good can enter.  But hell is a dark and endless wilderness that requires a toll and has no fish.)  These are the realms of the poet, the storyteller.  

The poet Theodore Roethke was good at understanding this in vegetable terms, which some say is the source of Jesus as God of Resurrection, who makes the crossing from the world of the hunter (a sacrifice) to the world of the gardener (a diligence).  This celebrates the poet -- not as a fish, but as a participant in the process of water, so tightly linked with seasons, so basic to life, so flowing through all of us.

Cuttings (later)

This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,
Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,
In my veins, in my bones I feel it --
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.
When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.

A town is not a fish.  A town is a moving, living, changing stream in which we the fish live.  If it dries up, there are no more fish.  If the fish get snotty and storm around, it makes no difference to the stream.

This link is a fascinating time-line showing the streaming of a county in West Virginia as it shrinks.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Prevalence of HIV-AIDS

For the purposes of this post, I am framing the reflection as an interaction between code and pattern.  CODE is defined as a sequence of characteristics like numbers, letters, or molecules.  Like math, writing/reading, and the genetic sequencing of pairs of four basic molecules along a double helix.  PATTERN is how that code plays out in the world, all the various influences of the situation and how the CODE can change it.  Code happens over time, even brief time, but pattern is like a chess game, like still photography, like a ball game scoreboard. Snap/score.  Snap/score.  There might be several codes that interact as "plays."  Codes don’t win or lose.  They just are.  Patterns win or lose.

Most diseases we know (measles, mumps, malaria, pneumonia) are tiny organisms, which are self-contained patterns that invade the big pattern that is our bodies.  When I was in grade school we were shown a movie about vaccines, because people were afraid to get shots.  They had to be forced onto the population by making them a requirement for attending school and then requiring every child to go to school.  That strategy has worn thin, so whooping cough and even polio are back.  But the little cartoon movie used the code of war: red blood cells were little American soldiers and disease entities were black spiders in Nazi helmets.  The vaccines were little green turtles who urged the warrior white cells into battle.  Something like that. 

HIV is not quite an organism.  It is a code in a space capsule, a predator drone that delivers code.  It gets into the blood, injects its code into one kind of defensive white blood cell (the real life electron microscopes videos show it sprouting a little phallic pseudopod and basically raping the CD4 cell) and shoving its code into the genetic code of the cell.  Then it makes the CD4 cell seem to be the enemy so that the CD8 cell bombs it -- essentially killing cells by friendly fire.  In the meantime, the code is manufacturing lots more code-delivering bomblets out of the CD4 cell.  Antibiotics are of no use against HIV because it is code, not quite “alive.”

The code does not just ruin the defensive system of the body, which constantly works to restrain (not destroy) all the little co-organisms we acquire in our life, beginning before we are born and soon outnumbering the original citizen-cells of our body with immigrants sometimes very helpful and sometimes inclined to get out of hand.  HIV code, esp. when it progresses to AIDS, takes down all the defensive walls and infrastructures of the body so opportunistic invaders can get in to raid.

HIV-AIDS is not a population of organisms that attack the body, but a code-breaking key that throws open the gates to everything else.  What “else” depends on the pattern in which the body is living.  If it is a community of people who prey on each other, an environment of not-enough whether food, shelter or water, an atmosphere of despair and the withholding of hope, then people who are vulnerable will suffer and die -- one way or another.  Shunning, stigmatizing, isolating, labeling are strategies that carpet-bomb the vulnerable.

Anti-biotics are machine guns.  (Why do I keep using war imagery?  Why don’t we have more images for peace patterns?)  They are simple, developed by tiny earth organisms (mold) for their own protection which we borrow.  For HIV-AIDS vulnerability, what we need is code-breaking strategies.  It is a game of chess requiring intelligence and the ability to see patterns.  

I’ve just watched two video series.  One was the twelve-part University of North Carolina AIDS course.  It’s on YouTube, easy to find. Each class is about an hour long, just a straightforward lecture with graphics.  The other streams on Netflix, a Brit series called “Kidnap and Ransom” starring Trevor Eve as a hostage negotiator for an insurance company that pays for corporate executives kidnapped in a mix of crime and politics.  They are both about pattern, with Trevor Eve explicitly playing the game metaphor in chess competition against wise old locals.  If there is pattern, then there is strategy.  HIV-AIDS is kidnapping within the human body.  Defeating it is not a matter of a magic pill, but rather a strategy based on the kind of knowledge about how it works, which is what you can learn from following the UNC course.  But it might be helpful to ask what patterns Trevor Eve might see.

An HIV “capsule” holds two single strands of RNA, which is the template for DNA, and little else except for the delivery and defense system of the capsule.  Those are pretty intricate and they morph all the time.  The main protective coat is composed of the molecules classified as “fats” which is why dissolving them with soap or alcohol takes down THEIR cyclone fence.  Simple when the virus is outside the body.  Inside, the capsule attaches to cells with two little “grippers” or keys that look for two locks on normal cells.  Like a missile silo launch, they need both keys to be inserted and turned at once.  

One out of a hundred caucasians has only one of these locks, a loss that is a plus.  (This mutation is a get-out-of-jail free card.  Compare that one out of 99 people in the US is incarcerated and that is a reservoir source of transmission of HIV.  The percentage of new prison inmates who have HIV is single-figure -- the figure rises to 14% by release.)  

The lucky people with the single-lock mutation cannot develop HIV-AIDS.  The Berlin patient, who was cured by a bone marrow transplant that replaced his immune system with that of a man with this lucky mutation, now has that immunity.  He was NOT given a med that eliminated HIV from his own immune system.  His own immune system was removed and replaced.  It did cure his cancer as well, so the cancer must have had a key for a lock somewhere on the cells, a key that keep the immune cells from doing their usual work of search and destroy for overzealously replicating cells.

Much of our thinking about disease (and war, crime, kidnappers, terrorists) means isolating invading entities and destroying them.  We need to shift from that idea to thinking about changing the patterns that produce vulnerability and thinking, even harder, to answer the demand for constant vigilance to search for anomalies in order to understand and deal with them.  Some mutations, like cancer, will be destructive.  Some, like the mutation that eliminated one of the HIV portals, will be improvements.

Nature, when it finds a good thing, replicates it.  Big patterns often develop as echoes of  little patterns, so that the little predator drone that is an HIV capsule capable of pushing its injector into an immunity cell is an eerie/funny version of sex between human beings -- both being an intimate exchange of code in order to create a new pattern.  Our bodies actively want exchanges because bodies operate on process, going forward through time, and that’s what makes them vulnerable to kidnapping.  But systems that try to freeze process just don’t work.   They’re not evil so much as just irrelevant and sometimes destructive.  One cannot solve the problems of sex by not having sex.  Pretty soon there won’t be any problems because there will be no people.  Rather one approaches sex carefully: observing, asking.

The weak and the vulnerable, those who have HIV-AIDS literally thrust upon them, still have strategy.  Learning the code of society, the patterns that develop and how to find the portals, how to develop the keys that will unlock them (art, for instance) can still work with a little help and guidance. 

If you want to watch the class that is the basis of this post, the link is:

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Valier in the middle, Green line is the Rez, GF 80 miles south, Canada 60 miles north

I was trying to find some way to get people to think about the service area around Valier, the families and businesses who are really the source of the town, the justification of it, who the people are who buy their groceries, do banking, mail letters, and so on.  Finally it dawned on me that I could go to the postal ZIP code, the telephone prefix, the school bus routes, and the irrigation canals for maps.  I’m in the early stages of acquiring these, but already it’s revealing.  Here are two I’m looking at so far:

The zip code has a lot of data.  This is what hits my eye right away.  59486 has 1328 people in about 548 square miles.  The median age is 42.2 (state median is 39.7) and there are 114 households with kids.  The estimated median dwelling value in 2011 was $92,500, compared with $184,100 for Montana.  

About 15% of people did not graduate from high school.  About 25% have at least a bachelor’s degree.  (I expect most of them are teachers or nurses, so likely mostly women.)   There are 32 students from this ZIP who are attending private undergrad colleges.  No separate figures for the town of Valier or for those attending Montana universities.  I suspect that most of the college students are from ranches, which is where the wealth of the community resides.  You could probably run into their moms in the quite elegant gift section at DeVoes.

5.6% have graduate or professional degrees.  They’re probably engineers or architects and the lone veterinarian.  There are no facilities except the clinic where Shelby doctors visit weekly, no resident ministers, and maybe one lawyer.  (There used to be one in Pendroy.)  UNLESS one includes the southern reservation where Heart Butte has a resident doctor.   She lived in Valier for a while.  I think the ministers there are mostly “inspired” which means no college is necessary.  The priest would be college-educated.

Heart Butte, population 698 in 2000

The 2012 cost of living index in 59486 is 85.2, which is less than the US average cost of living, set at 100%.  There are almost no Hispanics or Blacks.  The Median age is 42.2 which is older than the Montana median age which is 39.7.  (Remember that “median” is the number halfway between the bottom and the top.  If there were two people, one aged 100 and the other aged one, the median would be 50.)

The median adjusted gross income is $21,663 here but $37,845 in the rest of Montana.  The median salary is $25,616 here and $31,190 in the rest of the state.  Taxable interest (median $2,056) was recorded by about a third of people and taxable dividends (median $6,150) were reported by half of people.  Profit from businesses here was median $1,133 but for the state was median $8,849.  22% of people were below the poverty level in 2011 in 59486 compared with 14.8% in the whole state.  In that same year 3.4% of the population of this ZIP code were below 50% of the poverty level while in the whole state 9% -- more than twice as many -- were that poor.  There is no jail in this zip code, nor any nursing home.

I don’t know what it does to these figures to include Hutterite colonies or Indians whose land is in trust.  Land in trust is not taxed, but land that is patented and owned is, except not by the state on the reservation.  There are actually lots in Valier that are in trust with the US Government.  I’m told that Pondera County owns half the lots in Valier, but I don’t know how much of that is due to taxes not paid.  They do have an MDOT yard in town and, I think, a gravel pit.


Women outnumber men, as is common.  Ten women had given birth in the counted year -- none of them were married.  25 households received SNAP food stamps.  495 did not.  No gay or lesbian households were detected.  Disclosing that status would seem risky here, though I know there are some younger people who self-identify as gay, and -- as every place on this planet -- there are MSM.  (Men who occasionally have sex with men but insist they are not gay.)  Probably not a good idea to get too curious.

Howes Lakes

Lakes and reservoirs listed are Stetler Lakes, Howes Lakes, Heron Lake, Fish Lake, Hidden Lake, Deep Lake, Abbot Lake and Round Lake.  I do not know why Lake Frances is not listed.  Creeks in the ZIP include Birch, Blacktail, Scoffin, Sheep, Dupuyer, Fish, Phillips.  When I have time, I’ll look up each of these bodies of water on my Montana Topo Map, which gives much more info than the highway maps people generally use.  

Dupuyer Creek, which became English Creek in the Ivan Doig books

An unusual feature is the number of Hutterite colonies:  Kingsbury, Birch Creek, and New Miami.  Each has its own infrastructure with self-contained water and sewer.  It appears Valier is not alone in struggling to meet state standards for wells and lagoons.  They are heavy users of the Valier library because the Conrad library made them uncomfortable and because of the lively atmosphere and cooperation provided by the Valier librarian, esp for kids.  The library must have a copy of every Christian colony romance in existence!  Of course, when Hutterites come to town, they spend money.

Kingsbury Colony

In fact, one of the first things I see is that the Valier service area reaches more to the north than to the south where it abuts Conrad's services.  Heart Butte and the south rez people drive here for gas, cafĂ©, bread and milk, and church.  Professional people, including Native American teachers who are serving Heart Butte, often live in Valier.  When I taught there, I drove to Valier every Sunday that the roads were passable in order to buy the Sunday paper and maybe have lunch.  There is an invisible line across the reservation that only long-time residents are aware of but that has a lot of social reality.  Evidently it has to do with the history of the location of the Indian Agency when allocations were made and relates to who was considered “progressive” and who was “old-timey”.  The line is not on any map but since Blacktail Creek, where the Pepion allotment runs along Highway 89, is in 59486, that is a sign of being in our service area.  Eloise Cobell, whose maiden name was Pepion, lived there before her death, on the original allotment to Politte Pepion.   Her husband, Turk Cobell, still lives there.

There are 53 people who are foreign born, but most of them are Canadians.  I don’t think they are perceived as “foreign.”  Since the bulk of the original residents of Valier were transplanted en masse (with the help of their priest and the Conrads) from their original location in Belgium and since many of them farmed and ranched as far as “Belgian hill” which is roughly where Highway 44 meets I-15 and the ridge that is the location of most of the transmitters of television and other microwave services, then that’s part of our service area.  The old Belgian church is out that way and its graveyard has many familiar names in it.

If there is a theme to all this, it is that appearances are deceiving.  Someone remarked to me that it must be nice to live in Valier because it is so “pretty.”  They had never driven up and down the streets -- only a few times out to the lake campground.  When I began to talk about infrastructure, they changed the subject.  Valier people are very worried about how they "look" to others.  Several of my blog followers have gotten hooked on promotion and expansion as the answer and could not be talked out of it.  This is also the mindset of many locals whose mental picture is a small middle-class town that should maintain a white picket fence except higher -- in short, we’re back to Mayberry RFD, except that each demographic would increase its own people and priorities while conveniently blanking the others.  I think this is close to a universal short-sightedness among all humans.  Not all growth comes from being bigger.  Sometimes it’s a matter of complexifying, growing more sophisticated.