Sunday, November 30, 2014


Evenki shaman, Feder Poligus, and his spirit helpers.

The sexual morality of the clergy depends upon the context.  The shaman has no concern for the standards of contemporary urban dwellers.  The sequestered meditating person may pray for the poor and suffering but never see them.  The priest must live a celibate and sometimes impoverished life in the midst of opulence and abandon, listening to troubles for which he can offer only otherworldly comfort unless he accepts secular counseling techniques.  The protestant evangelical lives in a world of emotion that can overrun its boundaries.

I entered the ministry thinking it would be an intellectual path, simply putting such sexual matters as family and lovers behind me.  I was forty years old, two hundred years out of sync, and the wrong gender.  Two changes had come along: one the sexual revolution of behavior once the pill really worked and the other a "leveling" of clergy, insisting they were no better than anyone else.  I didn't really pay attention to either one. 

Installation of Clarke Wells, 1966, Portland, OR

At the time, 1978, I had just been gob-smacked by PNWD Leadership School, a retreat situation meant to put people in touch with themselves and lower our barriers against others.  It worked all too well -- we were supposed to become lay leaders but I wanted to be a minister, to know everything and everyone but only professionally.  There was doubt about what "professional" meant.  
Okay, there was a little arrogance and pretension in there.  In the Pacific Northwest District of the UUA, most of the pulpits were occupied by physically vital, intellectually superior, well-respected men.  Men.  There were one or two women, mostly entering through their personal relationships with those male ministers.  Other women aspired to that, one way or another.

One satellite minister -- out of fellowship -- sometimes was mentioned and other times not.  He was gay and predatory.  Secretly, there were troubles afflicting others, maybe most of them, addressed by a Good Offices member of their company and also by a buddy system that partnered men in pairs like cops, who then had the obligation of listening and -- in an extreme situation like alcoholism or prowling -- intervened as much as they could.  Often men ran into oppositions with their congregations, who were characteristically defiant and questioning.  This was part of the reason for devising Leadership School, which included large quantities of organizational design.

In those days money was not so important as it is now.  There were no older women in reduced circumstances seeking pulpits, no beginning clergy unable to find placement, not so many of the tiny marginal fellowships out there somewhere.  Big city pulpits in affluent communities, relatively stabilized after the wild Sixties and Seventies, were close to being sinecures.  We didn't realize how good the times were.  

Michael Servetus

Portland First, after what seemed like a century with devoted, idealistic, professorial men like the Eliots and Steiner, boomeranged (as so many congregations do) to Clarke Wells, charismatic and brilliantly verbal but maybe a little too inclusive, who buckled under the pressure of homeless hippies sleeping in the pews when one of their more psychotic members set the church on fire.  After that, solidly conventional church-builder Alan Deale created a civic footprint that would last past his retirement through another boomerang: one of those sweet feminists who counseled so much comfort and ignored the meat-market aspect of such approaches.  By then the Michael Servetus singles group for cruisers had sort of self-snuffed and was only a joke:  Servetus was a crusty old monotheist who was burned at the stake by John Calvin because he wouldn’t mute his obsession.  He never threw his car keys into the middle of a circle to see who would go home with him.

Today nothing will hurt the established Portland First but arrogance or failure to adapt.  Their current senior minister was formerly the president of the UUA.  “The Emerson Avenger” does not spare him, though I have no idea what evidence he had, but the situation lends itself to playing the race card against the sex card.

Ultimately, the pot on the table will determine who wins.  Portland, the city, is booming now.  When it begins to collapse, Sinkford will be old enough to retire.

Not the Vicar of Dibley

Men in my congregations approached me for sex, straightforwardly, so I returned the attitude:  “I charge a helluva lot more to be the temple whore.”  They thought I was stuck up and punitive and went away.  Goodbye.  In other churches things were more flexible.  One woman minister told me she slept with a guy who bought her a car which she really NEEDED.  Another laywoman told me proudly that she’d slept with every UUA president until she aged enough to lose her charm.  It wasn’t that long ago.

Sex, physiologically, is not in the genitals but rather (this is provable on fMRI scans) dwells in the cortex between the neurons for violent control and those for tender nurturing, both of which are components of spirituality but not bureaucratic institutions.  One minister tenderly counseled married women in their own marital beds, assuring them that they needed to have a man show them how to make love “properly.”  Found out and ejected from all recognition or endorsement, he was charming enough to be hired by a clueless little church where I assume he went on being a dog.  (UU’s are congregational polity -- no one can tell a congregation what to do.)

A woman minister discovered her husband was having an affair.  He left her, so she and the woman’s spouse had a little affair, which consoled them both, and then she decided men were too much trouble and has had a happy and faithful female partnership in the decades since.  Not everyone is capable of such freeform adaptation, nor is every congregation capable of following the “order of service” in such cases.

Then there is always the problem of more conservative outsiders, including the law.  The minister who became absorbed in the sexual freedom era of the Venusian Church, which was a sort of restrained orgy involving being stroked with feathers by naked people, was closed down by the secular law.

An honorable church that serves those on the edge.

Clinical Pastoral Education is a program meant to help future ministers handle the challenges of the real world by confronting their own obsessions.  My specific leaders used the teaching vids of the Glide Memorial Church, which has since become a foundation.  The films showed people having real sex in various terms: newlyweds, oldsters (pre-viagra but they’d found vibrators), and idyllic sybarites on a tropical island with unbelievable staying power but without clothes.  The most perverse part of the session was the snickering leaders (all male) enjoying the discomfort of the nuns in the group.  

The main rule of sex, if you have the luxury of safety, is like that of driving at night -- don’t drive so fast that you can’t stop within the reach of your headlights.  That will vary with the state of the vehicle, the road and the weather.  The old joke the PNWD ministers used to tell was about how to sneak around safely by driving far enough away not to be recognized.  Travel a hundred miles away to have sex with someone not your spouse, five hundred miles away if the escapade is same sex,  and to a different state if it’s interspecies.  (Sheep jokes go here.)  As the politicians are discovering, in the Internet Age there is NO safe place.  Therefore, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want on YouTube.  

Only the indigenous shaman lives where the real world doesn’t impose restraints.  Remember that ayahuasca will make you puke, which will probably not attract a congregation.  Those are the people who write the checks, baby.


Saturday, November 29, 2014


The new UUA headquarters.  Not a cathedral -- a manufacturing warehouse

The Unitarian Universalist denomination, which I don’t mention in a proselytizing way but rather because that was the context in which I did most of my “religious” thinking (meaning institutional thinking about religion) has two opposing forces within it.  Today I would claim that they correspond to Ray Rappaport’s ideas about survival of the group versus survival of the individual and the tension between the two.  Rappaport was an anthropologist, not a theologian.  He's outside the theological circle.  Maybe I am, too.

In practical institutional terms, the UUA is more open to the larger culture than most other denominations, which often base their identity on standing against change, science, and forces like commodification or the sexual revolution.  But because the purported basis of the UU consensus is the obligation of each individual to find his own set of values (within the principled guidelines) the persons may find themselves in opposition to their own congregation and denomination.  Even in opposition to their own previous selves.  So I’ll try to outline my own position in this post.

The central problem of the monotheistic religions is “theodicy,” meaning that if there is an all-powerful God he/she must be a monster to allow the evil we see in the world.  Solutions to this problem include the idea that humans deserve suffering, or that it’s all an illusion, or that there’s a second “force” named the Devil and we’re merely the ground of struggle.  And so on. Science, which is a worldview with the power of historical religions, deals with the problem by dispersing God.  I go with that.  There is no God, no matter how defined.

But then the problem of Evil becomes more pressing.  If there is no authority figure to force people to be good, won’t people run rampant over each other and destroy each other and the environment?  The answer is yes.  Some of them in the name of God.  But for those who want to find another way, what guidance is there?  I say it is a kind of ultimate ecology in which each small but deeply related part of the Everything is so connected that whatever they do will affect everything else.

Time rushes through you, making you the conduit between your tiny past and future because, no matter how small they are, they are a piece of the whole.  You know those stories about going into the past and accidentally making some change -- maybe stepping on a bug -- that evolves into a different world you didn’t necessarily want?  That’s what’s always happening in the present:  you’re making the future for yourself and all of existence.  This is part of the appeal of the idea that existence is infinite in its variations so that every possible eventuality is playing out at the same “time” -- somewhere unaccountable.

While the individual is moving through time, the culture is also transforming and pressing against the “givens” of the person.  What is bad behavior in one place and time might NOT be bad behavior in another place and time. This is confusing unless we give up thinking of both person and culture as something unchanging and rigid as a Pythagorean triangle.  There is always an interface and it is always transforming.

Evil is part of that transforming.  It is human, both in origin and execution.  Therefore, we can change it.  Evil feels as though it is an outside force, a malevolent oppression that comes out the sky, too powerful to resist.  Sometimes it feels like a seeping, creeping, sneaking dark (hard-to-see) bile that oozes among us, waiting for a weak moment.  These images make it easier to give up, to accept the evil we make, or at least claim it’s not our fault.

Others define evil, or at least sin, as an estrangement, separation from all that is meaningful, a kind of paralysis outside the home or sanctuary.  There is an evil called genocide that sweeps away whole categories of people with hatred and frenzied violence, or sometimes with clinical detachment made possible by technology.  It’s always incomplete or why would the young soldiers who sit in middle American operating the predator drones by satellite control develop PTSD?

More deadly is bureaucratic genocide, done with a pencil by cutting funding for those who starve.  The banal evil of bureaucracy is easy to overlook except for those who need money to do their jobs of opposing suffering whether emergency responders or shelter providers.  To separate empathy from response and reform is to leave suffering pointless, because empathy evolved to cause mercy and justice which saves the group.  Lacking awareness of suffering -- and I mean sensory firsthand knowledge of the sound and smell of great numbers who need help -- or diluting it into news reports and video extravaganzas of “ain’t it awful”  (another of Eric Berne’s games) that lets people stand at elegant cocktail parties or in the caverns of car dealerships, making tongue-sounds instead of looking for meaning.

Hierarchy of angels by Zombiesmile

The early versions of public self-governance were oligarchic: shared kingship for the landed gentry and ecclesiastical authorities.  Then hierarchies developed: many treatises about the hierarchies of heaven: which angels are more important, who’s in charge of what, which saint to pray to for which problem -- the Great Mom, Mary, who somehow evades the Great Dad, is always the ultimate.  It has not been easy nor in some cases possible to separate religious concepts based on infant versions of the world, from arranging things for the greater good even when they are new and unfamiliar.  (An Internet Tzar?  Isn't there one?)  The United States tried hard to build in structure that would increase justice -- or at least reality.

So then we went the bureaucratic route: don’t fight, legislate.  But it gets so far out of whack that the people stop voting -- deserting the core of democracy -- and start running in the streets, screaming and setting fires.  At first the written rules worked pretty well, but then they were taken over by schemers who made sure all rules went their way.  The USA representatives and senators have gone to law school to make sure they know how to do this -- and to make inconvenient rules impossible to enforce by not funding monitors.  So now where are we?

Only as trustworthy as the humans

As I write, I hear bombers from Malmstrom practicing in the sky.  I won’t go out to look for them -- it’s eleven degrees below zero and they fly too high to see.  Are they evil?  Who is suffering?  What is justice?  Safety?  If they are only potential, are they still evil?  I read they want to have more prairie sky territory in order to practice for war.  What are they not telling us?

My philosophy (no theos, so it can’t be theology) is bleak and tough, which fits my high-prairie, thinly populated ecology where constant vigilance and planning is necessary.  Whatever does not adapt either by evolution or by human provision, is doomed.  We commodify everything: the soil, the wind, the depths of stony fuel reservoirs -- war.  Somehow it is all owned by people far away, which is what capitalism means -- absentee landlords who only want profit.  Even within our small community, some try to corner all the wealth and control.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Dubon, 341st Security Forces Group tactical response force sniper, poses for a photo holding a M-24 Sniper Weapon System at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

It’s well established that the relationship between institutional religion and economics is so enmeshed they nearly merge.  American denominations are commonly described by the economic/educational levels of their constituents.  The UUA is generally ranked as near the top by these measures.  "We" are open to the general culture, which brings us trouble over issues of suffering like war or sexual predation or poverty.  The first reaction is talk, then writing out guidelines, then moving to a new topic and never really implementing the old one.  This gives the satisfaction of feeling that something got done without it ever really costing anything.  But, as I say, “open to the culture” and that’s the pattern of the whole.  It's not just us.

There is a growing but not-quite-visible number of people who speak of “spirituality” and make their modest homes and neighborhoods into gardens.  The larger culture (esp. movies) looks at them in terms of dystopia, desperate but resourceful survivors of the catastrophic destruction of the Old Order.  But why wait?  Let Evil starve in the board rooms, sitting at their long polished tables before their portfolios of paper.

Friday, November 28, 2014


The Winter 2014 issue of the UU World emerged from the pile of paper and books next to my reading chair and -- holy cow! -- in it was an article about “sex offenders” by Kimberley French, who writes about these matters and other problems of tolerating those outside our moral guidelines.  I thought, “amazing!”  She was quite self-disclosive, telling about a friend who finally told her he was a listed sex-offender.  She had had no idea.  He was a nice guy.  She felt bad for him.  She just didn’t know what to do about it.  There are principles, but then there are practicalities.

Naturally enough, she looked to her congregation -- accepting, healing, guiding -- to know what to do about sex offenders.  Statistically she knew there had to be several there, unknown, unidentified.  Statistically she also knew that there must be about one-fifth of the females and a fewer number of the males who had been sexually abused, all sitting quietly in those pews.  Someone said all pedophiles should be thrown out of the congregation -- but unless they had a criminal record, how would you know who they were?  (The minister muttered, "Maybe we should just throw out all sinners.")  (What if it's the minister?)

In short, this nice woman knew a lot about the subject of "pedophiles" from reading respectable sources.  She knew all about the problem from A to B.  (You know that review of an actress who was said to run the gamut of emotions from A to B?)  Actually it was more like from M or N to O because only the middle of the spectrum was anything she knew existed.   The two ends were invisible.  On the "high" end, I’ll bet you five dollars I could listen to her talk for half an hour and spot a dozen sex-and-gender-related assumptions she was making.  For one thing, I think she severely underestimates how much the culture is guided by these assumptions.  (Like the “pinkifying” of the UU ministry which has turned clergy into counselors, made them comfy moms, wide-waisted assurers of big hugs.  Jesus loves you, oh, yes, She does. ) 

On the low end French seems not to understand that sexual abuse of children is often murderous violence -- I mean death -- nor how many children live out on the streets, barely alive, doing sexwork in order to eat, taking drugs in order to do sexwork.  Nowhere near the number of shelters needed exist and many of them are dangerous for kids.   Boys in particular are turned out of “nice” households with educated parents.  I mean kids whose main criminal tendency is defiance.  UU’s ought to be able to grasp that.

There IS discussion of clergy misconduct in French's article.  The Emerson Avenger, a blogger who has been holding up the issue for decades, is vindicated in terms of admitting it happens.  

All this is so much beyond buying a t-shirt.  So much a deformation of “love.”  It isn’t really even about sex, or about how moral, educated church people should react to it, even if they "stand on the side of love.”  It is about a world disorder that denies that human beings are even living creatures, that they matter at all, that they are anything but puppets or livestock.  What I'm saying is that when we consider sexual abuse, we think it's about sex, but it's really about being inhuman in an unforgiving world.  Sexual predation is a symptom.

This week I saw a bizarre movie that I wish I had not.  It’s called “The Act of Killing.”  Here’s the Netflix squib: “A 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this film follows two former death squad leaders as they reenact atrocities they committed during a bloody era in Indonesia when more than a million people were slaughtered.”  As another critic more eloquently put it, the film starts out as a self-justification and glorification project by a little cluster of men who are as amoral as humans can get -- psychotically self-involved -- whose ambitious re-enactment starts with dreams of fame and fortune (as filtered through gangster B-movies from Hollywood and Bollywood-style dance routines) into a surrealism that leaves even the Big Star vomiting.  (Although, I suspect he was acting as much then as he was earlier.  He had only realized that his audience might want dramatic repentance.) 

Anwar Congo, well-dressed killer

These guys are the Laurel and Hardy of inhuman behavior and there’s little sex in it directly.  The sexual abuse comes from their worldview of entitlement.  There’s no pleasure, no sophistication, not even real power.  They are death squads with no black balaclavas over their heads, happy to be seen as the monsters they are because they don’t know monsters from a palm tree.   As long as they're famous, "the most", number one.  They predict that everyone will be blown away by how daring they are -- and they're right.  This movie is prize-winning, highly praised.  "A masterpiece!"  Intellectuals love to exploit the miserable, all their  academic, cynical rage and powerlessness coming out in mockery, excusing them from getting really involved.  It’s the equivalent of the old-fashioned freak show where deformed is paraded.

A scene in another more conventional movie showed a man solicited by a hustling kid.  The man was a law enforcer and pursued the kid to beat him up and bring him in.  A critic writing about the scene remarked that its power and meaning came from the inclusion of an older man standing nearby, leaning on a furled umbrella, calm and unmoving, witnessing.  An alert viewer of the movie could see through this unblinking man how stupid and excessive the behavior was.  

The only redeeming quality of this extravaganza of crocodilian immorality is that at the edges of some scenes there were quiet gray men who looked away, some with wet faces.  Otherwise, this film could make a racist of me.  You know, of course, that Indonesia is noted for sex tourism and child trafficking.  (Do you follow Nick Kristoff? )  This horrific stuff REALLY HAPPENED and America was involved.

Jack again:  “You can’t handle the truth.”  The truth is that child molesters are us.  The victims of child molesters are us.  Pogo:  “We have found the enemy and they are us.”  There is nothing protecting you from atrocities except chance.  The ground gapes beneath our feet.  Homeland Security cannot (will not) protect you.  On other people’s children we use predator drones.  On our own people we are more subtle.  Mostly we push people of color into poverty -- that will kill them soon enough. 

When smug UU’s throw up their hands over pedo-priests, I like to joke that UU clergy don’t bother with children.  The men look for rich women and the women cruise for power.  Children don’t normally have either.  Sex can’t compete with money and power.  When I entered the ministry, the curtain was swept back.  In fact, I’ve spoken before about how I attended a workshop that explained that the roots of domestic abuse are in the desire to control -- and recognized the signs in my own congregation.  And myself.  

A complaint about both Unitarian and Universalist strands of our historical theology is that we deny evil.  I think this is true.  Some of us have seen it, even opposed and bested it, but many people think that when they’ve found their church of choice, they’ve found safety.   Why else would they join? 

A grotesque Laurel and Hardy of horror

That's when the ridiculously thin edge of Evil finds its way in, wearing a hot pink cowboy hat.  It's on YouTube if you have the stomach for it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


In places where there is a mix of animals, whether domestic or wild, sometimes there are odd couples.  Racehorse thoroughbreds, inbred for speed instead of emotional stability, are noted for pairing up cross-species.  A chicken or cat may become attached, dwelling in the horse stall or even on the horse’s back.  Children have been known to nap on the quietly shifting back of their favorite horse as it grazes.  Trainers have deliberately introduced goat-buddies to sooth a high-strung racer, whose genes cry out for company.  As Sid Gustafson never tires of telling us, a horse -- to be happy -- needs grazing, other horses, and movement.  Penning them into stalls, allowing only structured movement like periodic running on a track, stationary eating, and no interaction with other horses is a highly unnatural state imposed by humans.

If we’ll do all that to control the horse races for gambling, what might we do to control sex?  Likewise, we want that to be in boxes (stalls), in competitions, in stereotypical rituals just as much as horse-racing.  How else will we commodify it, the haves selling to the have-nots?  And we pretend that love is always about sex in spite of the evidence in front of us.

If you google cross-species bonding images, the kind of thing where a predator (usually a young animal) pairs with an animal normally its prey, you’ll find many photos of dogs with cats or cats with rats or African big cats with some sort of antelope.  The strangest is a baby hippo attached to a huge Galapagos land turtle in a zoo nursery.  These odd couples are often, but not always, produced by limited access to other living creatures, so that the instinctual hormonal need for attachment does the best it can with what is available.  We’ve all been fascinated that birds just hatched will assume that any handy Horton is their mother.

Media “culture” rarely depicts sex that includes the nurturing instinct, cuddling down together protectively.  They prefer the aggressive near-adversarial striving that other animals perform only for minutes when a female is “in heat.”  These instincts are specifically sexual and make males dangerous, like elephants in musth which lasts months and fills them to overflowing with testosterone until it runs out their eyes and stains their cheeks.  Male elk, bulls, stags, also come into season which provokes sometimes lethal fights and drives the control of a harem of females.  Human males like to fancy they are as powerful.  Certainly some are that dangerous.  Like huge wallowing bull elephant seals, they crush everything smaller, even the females they are trying to inseminate.

For a human society to persist in orderly fashion, many restraints and categories are invented, some of them involving the sequestration of the weak and small, some imposing armed law-enforcers and locking the uncontrolled into prisons.  But also we turn away, blanking out the knowledge that the weak are being ground under for the ego-support of the powerful.  In Great Britain there is currently a movement opposed to this willful blindness, activists and journalists naming big shots who have even thrill-killed their prey: children.  In the US, confused as usual, we’re still trying to figure out the Cosby conundrum.  We’ve finally realized that our athletic coaches have access to funny business in the showers.

But the price we pay for losing innocence and redrawing legal categories between unequals is a terrible ambiguity and we see ghosts everywhere, even when it’s a matter of violence without sex.  Outing gays -- who were quickly accepted as a new marketing opportunity except among those who still think all intimacy is about coitus -- has challenged culturally-defined gender-assigned roles strongly enough make us rethink a lot of things. 

prairie voles

We are having to consider the “morality of the flesh,” which means that ONE GENE in a prairie vole makes the difference between whether it pairs with one other vole for life or lives with splendor in the grass, going vole-to-vole-to-vole.  Clearly a fraction of all mammals will engage in coitus (maybe only attempted) male-on-male.  Cows, dogs.  Evolution seems to tolerate the loss of potential progeny because of the gain in armamentarium, esp. among the animals who are prey.  Two kinds of “horniness,” with a certain reciprocity between them so the warrior allows the lover to succeed and the babies to survive.

Then there is the morality of economics, which means that if there are far more women than men, then it makes sense to support many wives, esp. in a time and place where pregnancy was dangerous so that spreading out the coitus among a number of women meant that there will be at least aunt/mothers to tend the infants of women who died in childbirth.  And since infants often died, it made sense to produce a lot of them.

A Mormon family.

In modern times supporting a family has become such a burden that it is no wonder two women, declaring themselves lesbian, will form a household with children.  And no one is particularly surprised that men decline to be “captured” and choose to be the wandering bee rather than the fruitful flower.  But also we realize that many men have pair-bonded, with or without sex, quietly living together for decades, maybe with one partner as the primary who is the “front” and the other supplying the extra care so the primary can shine.   

Maybe most disconcerting is the realization that gender is variable, that there are people who are “inter-gender,” even physically, and that with modern surgery and molecules, it is possible to go from male to female or the opposite.  How people know where they want to belong and why is still a mystery.

Cupid and Psyche

“Love” has always been considered a category exploder, more unaccountable than cross-gender shifts or cross-species bonding.  Forbidden, impossible, rare and sometimes toxic or fatal, our imaginations are seized by the crystalline intensity of “pure” yearning for a culturely inappropriate relationship, even that between a grown man and a child.  

The attachment that forms between a teacher and his or her student has always been conditionally accepted so long as the teacher is male, even if the student is also male.  Richard Stern made his popular reputation on one book:  “Other Men’s Daughters,” which was based on his real-life attachment fulfilled in marriage that lasted until his death.  I could name other professors who simply took advantage of their position without marriage.  A female high school teacher will not have enough power to turn away the law and is likely to sit in jail, even pregnant.  Her lover may be too young to marry legally.

By Herbert Draper

We might call this the “Tristan and Isolde” effect, when the tie is seen as a toxic enchantment that can’t be resisted and is not exactly enjoyed.  “Romeo and Juliet.”  My radio is playing “Maria” from “West Side Story.”  We prefer to see these relationships as defying unreasonable social restrictions, crossing boundary taboos like a ruffian taken in by a nun, a white man saved by an Indian maiden, a black man marrying a white woman.  If it happens often enough, the social boundaries are rearranged or become so blurred that no who is sure which person belongs to which category.

But what about the adult man who loves a boy who loves him back?  Regardless of the historical examples of knight and squire, master and apprentice, “The Persian Boy,” we resist.  Maybe because history is also full of gruesome abuses, like boys castrated to preserve their voices or to be eunuchs to guard harems.  Circumcision is controversial.  Some cultures insist on drastic, mutilating, female clitoral excision.  At the same time women voluntarily have breast implants or labia removal in order to be more sexually attractive.  The battlefield remains the body.  Is that love?

Surely we can do better if we put our hearts and minds to it.  After all, Jesus was the result of a cross-species sexual act and, as a hybrid, he had a lot of things to tell us about love, the nurturing, protective kind.

Tiger and Wolf

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


In the fall wind storms, a branch thrashed a hole in my shingles.  I called the few repair persons -- all were busy, not interested anyway.  Finally, a reference to someone to someone to someone, I called Steve Culver, a person I didn’t know.  It was Sunday afternoon.  “I can come in an hour!” he said, and he did.  In minutes he’d cut off the offending branch. Using old shingles I’d gathered, he didn’t just patch the roof, but mended it.

We chatted happily.  It turned out that he was a member of the Southern Baptist congregation next door, the very one that had chain-sawed that same tree on the other side!  Not only that, he’s the youth minister who’s been getting the kids, even the teens, engaged in shouting, vigorous games.  I never minded that and they never put a ball through any of my windows.

Steve refused payment.  He said it was his ministry to mend my shelter.  I said he did more than that -- he had repaired the relationship between me and this next door neighbor church, a resentment on my part that has been a crimp in my attitude.  I'm grateful.

So there’s a Thanksgiving story for you.


The other story is smaller.  I went to put out the Smudge’s supper and just then up walked “Patches”, her mother!  I haven’t seen her for many months.  Neither had Smudge, who rushed to nuzzle her mother, then had to leap back because (typically) cranky old Patches smacked her.  Both cats are fat.  Both went into the back building.  I’m going to have to watch for kittens.  But both soon came out and left together.  Smudge was back for supper.  

They’re just feral cats, but I’ve been weaving stories around them as though they were some kind of romantic wild animals.  Actually, they are that as well.  So you might remember that “Smudge” is the grownup runt of Patches’ last year's litter.  When Patches -- who has lived up and down this street for years but is totally wild -- first brought her growing kittens to my back building, the Smudge was the littlest and walked so closely behind her mother that everytime Patches stopped suddenly, Smudge crashed into her.   She was so small and gray, that it was hard to see her in the grass.  I’ve never touched her, but we are attached, though -- cynically -- I have to admit it’s through cat food cans.

Food is a potent link and a subject that is taking up more and more of both the world's environmental worry about soil exhaustion, frankenfoods, distribution failure, lack of nutrition, empty calories, on and on and on, but then among the affluent a contrasted preoccupation with food in a buying and cooking frenzy, esp. around this time of year. That splits between the pressure to serve tradition and the drive to innovate, to startle everyone with brilliant ideas.  A recipe for pumpkin pie crust in the GF Tribune this morning called for bacon crumbles and bourbon.  I thought it was a bit of a reach.

By far the most incredible cooking story has been linked with “books”, a narcissistic and scientific $500 cookbook that comes in five volumes, is made of the finest, thickest paper available, and has spun off into all sorts of videos, sub-versions, and knock-offs.  It’s a genre by now:  “Modernist Cuisine” by Nathan Myhrvold, who can only afford to do this because he was in on the ground floor at Microsoft.  I guess he couldn't think of a disease to cure.

Partly this is so amazing because of the presentation, which is also scientifically enabled.  That is, his recipes are only possible because of equipment that will freeze, gel, and otherwise change the form of familiar foods and also because of things like kettles and whole ovens sawed in half to show the food as it cooks and transforms.  

Myhrvold and his five volume book.

This means a secondary book called “The Photography of Modernist Cuisine” also by Nathan Myhrvold, which is merely $100, no camera included.  There are many super-closeups.  Amazon will be pleased to suggest other books that are related.  

Myhrvold's formal education includes degrees in mathematics, geophysics, and space physics from UCLA, and Ph.D.s in mathematical economics and theoretical physics from Princeton University. In his postdoctoral work at Cambridge University, Myhrvold worked on quantum theories of gravity with the renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking.”  From the Amazon squib.
An exploded hamburger

The basic books have been out for a year and have proven to sell like, um, hotcakes.  
When I googled to see what Myhrvold did with a pancake, I was diverted by a Portland, OR pancake house.  It features tables with built-in griddles and tubes of batter to be cooked by the customers inches from their plates.  (I reckon that'll teach the kids not to be put their elbows on the table.)  This interests me, probably more than you, because I remember well the gala day our family went to the Original Pancake House, which was also in Portland.  We stood in line for an hour.  That was in the Fifties.

In Chicago, whenever I was peering into the intellectual abyss, I got back to sanity by going to the Original Pancake House franchise there in Hyde Park and indulging in comfort food.  You wouldn’t have been able to get it at “Slappy Cakes.”  It was baked apple from an oven.  No alcohol was served, as is provided at Slappy Cakes which promotes the drunken brunch.  I suppose one could argue that a Sunday brunch entheogen is a standard cure for hangovers, like Bloody Marys.

Myhrvold seems not to have a family, only a kitchen crew, and his cuisine training is as impressive as his scientific credentials, with a lot of emphasis on “presentation.”  My idea of “plating” is to throw on a sprig of parsley -- maybe -- but these dishes are like art works that one would hesitate to destroy by eating.

Not sure what this actually is . . .

Valier loves any event that involves food, though not very elegant stuff -- more like roast beef or chili, hearty foods for working men -- or that’s the theory.  The women love their fancy sweets.  Both genders have medical problems related to food -- some add alcohol -- and their reaction to visiting the Mediterranean would probably involve searching for the nearest MacDonald’s.  

I dread having to offend people who press one to attend massive festival feasts related to church ceremonies or fund-raising, but I plead the diabetes angle and that seems to save me.  Indeed, most of my success at fending off bad health comes from eating in a very limited way.  (My lab tests came back within normal parameters.) 

So I’m grateful for Steve, who didn’t even mention food, and for Smudge, who is sitting under the window in the snow this very moment waiting for her cat food, and for my solitude, though none of the books stacked up next to me cost $500 and none are about food.  I will resist the impulse to bake an apple pancake for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Most representations of child abuse (and to some extent domestic violence) tend to be portrayed in terms of drug-fueled degenerates or else debauchery among privileged high status power players.  There’s little discussion about ordinary respectable-seeming hard-working middle-class people and what makes them either use physical punishment inappropriately or sexually abuse children, their own or those of others, without ever admitting to themselves or others that they are doing something wrong.  

(I want to make a side-remark that a large part of the criminal under-class has all the earmarks of the respectable middle class: hierarchies, careful management, enforcement of standards, prosperity -- they’re just antisocial standards that support criminal activity by a kind of in-group.  Not all of it is as dramatic as a TV show, and in fact, flying beneath the radar is one of their values.  The crimes may be entirely on paper, but -- in terms of the larger culture -- as destructive as shooting people.  Within the smaller self-contained group, this is simply what "our" people do.  No guilt.)

Much of what supports and even encourages child abuse is old-fashioned ideas about discipline.  I remember complaining to the parent of an unmanageable boy.  The father sighed and said,  “All right, I’ll beat him again, but I don’t think it will do any good.”  It didn’t.  And I had never suggested such a thing.  But clearly the father thought he was obligated to do his part and had no argument against it.  This was a white family, nothing remarkable about them.

Prison punishment, 1912

High School punishment, 1950's  (a reenactment at the time)

Contemporary sharia law

Calvinist religion put much emphasis on punishment, ultimately God putting individuals into eternal burning hell.  In those days power was raw and torture was considered effective.  Diluted versions of those assumptions hang on in our own ordinary government and -- secretly -- in full intensity.  The ancient grisly practices persist in all their intensity in individuals and the Middle East.  I will point out that in Africa the present tin god authorities were taught by the overseers of Empire, right down to amputation of hands and feet.  (Look up Leopold II of Belgium).   In unsophisticated parts of the world, some people confuse intense religious devotion with a kind of merging with God, which means trouble for the “children of God.”  People still say "Spare the rod and spoil the child" and really mean it.

"Board of Education"

In my own family my humanist father was a spanker -- I’ve explained that this was related to pre-frontal cortex trauma that let anger get out of control -- but my mother used a switch on my bare legs hard enough to make stripes.  My cousins on both sides deny any such thing and I never witnessed any of them “getting a licking,” but I don’t think my parents ever punished us in front of family or neighbors.  My parent generation was moving “up” from the farms, as were the majority of people as the cities of today formed.  They were used to managing animals by using a switch or whip.  Children can seem pretty much like little animals.  I can’t remember anyone in the decades after WWII getting upset about corporal punishment.  Schools all had wooden paddles.

In rural and small town settings, a “front” of respectability is key to success to the point that one of the most destructive byproducts of any sort of deviation from the accepted code (alcohol, gambling, promiscuity) is the enforcement of secrecy, esp. on the children.  Given serious problems, family members will be separated from outsiders.  Even in country days, even with the reluctance of small community institutions (school, cops, government, church) to get involved, kids could let information escape that would punish the adults.   My country cousins were not allowed to tell how much acreage or how many cows they had.   Business is a poker game.

The counter-advantage of those places was that relatives could be a buffer who intervened for children in a quiet way, an advantage lost in the anonymity and mobility of the city.  No one would even necessarily know how many family members there were, so a missing kid might go unnoticed.  The more force is used to keep secrets, the more secrets there are to be kept.  The more hard work is needed for survival, let alone upward mobility, the more stress there is.

In places where men do hard life-threatening work, alcohol is often the buffer that makes their life bearable.  Strangely, littering with the empty cans is more frowned on than when, how much, and where they were emptied.  Drinking can be seen as an entitlement of management, a tool for deal-making by administrators and legislators, a bonding mechanism among CEO’s.  Alcohol is entwined with athletics as a source of identity and being “number one.”  Both beer drinkers and wine drinkers indulge in beverage snobbery.  Every movie shows big shots sipping whiskey from cut crystal glasses or lovers holding champagne flutes.  Putting an age threshold on drinking has made it a potent symbol of adulthood.

Now to add the element of sex.  It is generally agreed that much sexual abuse is not about the act of coitus, but in the imposing of authority, the assumption of privilege, a defense against the perp’s own weakness, frustration. and self-hatred.  Sex is the core because it is violation of intimacy, the most protected of our inner selves, replacing it with ownership, stealing our souls from us.  Of course, the perp gets nothing.  Not even an illusion.  Which is why he returns.  Alcohol is a way to undermine resistance if you don't have access to date-rape drugs.

Sex has been a highly tabooed aspect of life, controlled by the notion of marriage which muddles entitlement with ownership while pretending it's about love.  Few taboos still remain unexploited by the media.  Men with an uncertain sense of their own life will be drawn to transgression, even within their own family.  In fact, the incest taboo may add an extra kick rather than a restraint, the smugly risky feeling that they can get away with it.  A little child who can’t yet talk won’t tell.  What damage can it do?  No marks on the body.  Deep marks on the formation of the child from inside.  And economic motivation for everyone to look the other way because it is dad who pays the bills.

Violence even to the point of death and sexual misuse are biologically deep in humans (those apes), and no culture yet has succeeded in controlling the forces entirely, though we try in many different ways.  Probably the real maximum of protection is equal economic safety, which is not possible on a planet swept by drought, hail, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, catastrophic fire, and so on.  We have not solved the problem of territory- or identity-based wars. 

So what are we to do?  If we are trying to develop a “better” civilization, then clearly secrecy and neglect are not the answer.  They only perpetuate what we’re trying to get rid of.  As we grow more able to understand and address the individual human brain, more possibilities for healing and protecting develop in our groups.  Institutions are changing in response to what science tells us about the cosmos, the planet, the other life here including microbes.  Less force, more strategy, better patterns for the creation and care of children.

The persistence of species is based on the conservation of behaviors and ideas that help humans survive as both individuals and groups.  We can make pretty good guesses about what will be “conserved” but we may be wrong.  It may be that those who are willing to get drunk, rape children, set cities aflame, kill, cheat and steal, will be the ones who survive.   That’s sometimes the way it’s been so far.  Roll the dice.  Before we run out of air and the oceans become vinegar. Otherwise, why survive?

Monday, November 24, 2014


“Domestic Violence” is a hard movie to watch.  Thank goodness for video discs one can watch quietly in a safe place with breaks now and then, though the film itself builds-in intervals of peaceful images, quiet empty spaces.  It’s three hours and 15 minutes long, beginning and ending with police interventions into verbal and physical violence.  There are no deaths and very little of graphic wounds.  There is no exploration of the underculture world of drugs, prostitution, and trafficking.  No churches or ministers were included, nor any psychologists, who are there but sequestered by confidentiality.  It is not a sensational Hollywood movie.  DVD from Netflix.

The sequence goes from police at a family home, to the work of “The Spring,” which is a shelter in Tampa, FL, for women, children and a few men -- very focused and experienced.  If you bring them up on your computer , the first thing you see is a reminder that a computer entry can be traced and a red button for “quick escape.”  This is not to evade law enforcement, but to keep the contact secret from abusers.

Then we go to the telephone where trained listeners provide information to people needing help.  (The number is on the website.)  This film is very much about words, the exploration of people’s inner worlds as they can express them.  The kids draw pictures.  The women’s group emphasizes that they have been harangued, insulted, put down, limited, confined, all their lives -- many times as children by their mothers, and then their partner and even their own children.  

But the group leader lets them talk until their assumptions begin to be clear, so as to be challenged.  The women are from every level of society.  One, reflexively smiling, was married to a college professor who had put her down, mocked her in front of others.  As he aged and  then retired, he switched to physical abuse.  She had accepted the verbal accusations as deserved, but at least was smart enough to recognize physical violence.  

Many of the helping women don’t look much different from the clients, but they have a radically different worldview from the abused women.  They use the jargon of helpers in our society: choices, helpers, contracts.  Finally realizing that their “reality” is not real -- which is hard for the receivers of abuse -- often leads to laughter!  So many of these people are smart, tough, hard-working, and protective even of men who go haywire.  A few are haywire women, and after evaluation they are shunted to a different kind of care.  Some are sassy provocateurs and some are as violent as the men.

Always -- between the women’s child-like insistence on their suffering (which is real) and the men’s insistence on their right to control and dominate (which is aligned with the culture) is the protective interface of the counseling wisdom (leave before violence starts, take charge of yourself, make good choices by thinking things through to the end) and the structured reality of the law thought it doesn’t always address the situation.  We watch a lawyer work with women who can’t accept any solution that doesn’t give them their way (which is mostly impossible, like a magical transformation of their husband's basic character) and we watch the cops work with men (often drunk) who also want THEIR way (also impossible).  We hear about women, naked and bloodied, running down the street and screaming for help, without anyone so much as calling the police.

Sam Elliott

The very last case is a man who seems a sort of Sam Elliott -- complete with mustache, accent and righteous posture -- who wants his live-in girl friend removed RIGHT NOW.  She’s pretty but older.  He says he “loves her to death” which is an unfortunate turn of phrase, and he acts out what seems a reasonable position, a man of means who can no longer tolerate a clinging hysterical woman.  Then we go to her, this pretty woman with a bladder infection, a disabled adult child, a grandchild to care for, no income, no relatives in town, and most of all, no sleep.  With the cops, they play a game of “why don’t you -- yes but” as described by Eric Berne.  The most obvious solution would be for the woman to go to a motel for the night -- if she had money.  The man won’t pay. The man refuses to go to his friends, the woman insists her relatives are all out-of-town because it is a three-day weekend, etc.  The cops don't quite have enough justification to remove one involuntarily.  All these people play this three-cornered game (victim/offender/savior) which keeps the police present, so that the contenders can try to pull them into their own “reality” like little kids each trying to pull their parents to their side of accusations.  They talk about “facts”, but little of what they say is factual.

Often, just as cops begin to leave, people tell the real truth.  In this case, this man had been so enraged a few days earlier -- though both claimed they’d had good times -- that he shot a rifle at her car when she tried to leave.  She called the cops, he was arrested and jailed, and presumably the case is pending which is why he needs her to be in the wrong.  But she did stay on in the house, his house.  Laws for cohabitation are confused, which is a good reason not to do it.  Little kids were involved but not present in these “cop bookend” scenes.

A culture is a constructed world that exists only in heads and with as much pressure from those who have consensus -- the current hegemony -- are willing to fund in the way of social services, cops, lawyers, safe houses, classes and so on.  The voters escape many costs by blaming some categories of people, thus shunting them into incarceration where they generate profit and jobs in a way most people don’t want to think about very much.  Eventually incarceration reaches its limits and backfires. The lawyer points out that a prison is a place where one learns how to break the law without getting caught.  Of course, those “teachers” all failed or they wouldn't be there.  But that’s a different movie.

What this way of looking at the movie allows me to say is that recognizing the cultural components of the problem is crucially relevant to rez violence, in ways more vivid than off rez.  In the beginning the Siksika world was whole, clear and working with built-in checks and balances until white immigration overwhelmed it with their European hegemony.  The idealized memory is still alive.  So are the marks of missionaries.  Cultures come from the ecological interaction of place (which has stayed the same though now it is threatened by industrial exploitation) and time (which radically changed with the removal of the buffalo). The numbers of people have exploded and changed, still emotionally attached to the here that was “here” before the 19th century.

Sovereignty, if the People are to become whole and sheltered, will mean talking as much as these women, exploring the new reality.  It will not emerge from different people insisting on THEIR reality but from trying to find ways to fit all of the assumptions together WITHOUT force or blame.  Essentially, it means creating a new world of space and time.  What a daunting task!  But there is a pressing need and it is demonstrated by the level of violence.  It will take historians, activists, medical people, churches, change agents, and ordinary folks.  Most of all, it will take pooling resources and listening to each other.