Sunday, December 31, 2017


Mary Strachan, Browning, MT, 1962  

Today is the last of the bitterly profound cold of this Arctic Vortex.  The records show something equal in the Sixties.  I was here, but I was young then, and madly in love, working as hard as I could, singing.  This time I could only hope I wouldn’t need an ambulance, that the gas would stay on, that the cats in the garage wouldn’t freeze to death.  (They could barely eat their catfood before it froze too hard for teeth.)

The shells of old poorly insulated houses like this one creak and sag.  I can’t plug in two electric heaters at once without blowing a breaker.  The pickup is useless but roads are risky and maybe there’s no mail anyway.  The UPS man, bringing another case of mail order cat food, is normally in a tearing hurry — taps on the back door and hotfoots back to his truck.  This time he knocked hard and lingered, chatted for a few moments.  It wasn’t until later that I realized he was making a welfare check, since I haven’t been to the post office for a week.  They probably asked about me.  Daily he leaves off some packages there, I presume because they are addresses too remote to visit.

Once my brains are emptied by the day’s writing, I watch vids via the computer.  Netflix is all explosions and sex while PBS has sunk into royal sentimentality.  So I’ve gone to YouTube in spite of many of their films being blurry and muffled.  It’s hypocrisy to criticize PBS when the BBC films I seek out are the source of their trademark shows, meant to be high class.  But I like the very early roles of the Brit repertory actors who now show up as grizzled old battlers in fantasies.  Even the women have been allowed to age over the decades.

Yesterday I struck gold with “Cider with Rosie”.  It was the perfect film for a very cold turn of the year because it is a celebration of Laurie Lee’s childhood in country England, specifically Slad, Gloucestershire.  The book came out in 1959 when I was in college, but I have the unreasonable feeling that I read it in grade school when I was his age.  There have been several film reiterations, one in 2015, but I was watching the one made in 1998.  
It preserves the gloriously poetic writing in the author’s own voice by using him as a narrator.  His purpose is to make memorable the last of the agricultural rural life, and he succeeds.  To me, this has far more meaning than the Big House gentry of “Downton Abbey.”

The turn from agriculture to industrial factories is still very recent — Laurie Lee was the same age as as Bob Scriver.  My parents grew up in circumstances less embroidered than the scenes in this film, but not that different.  Their lives were on the cusp of the shift from rural to industrial, propelled by war.  In fact, Browning and Valier still cling to some of the old ways while wishing for the amenities of the industrial revolution which are now beginning to shrink.  Infrastructure is failing.  Railroads are a good example, and even the search for oil and other minerals is changing. 

Of course, here on the high prairie there is an underlying way of life that goes back millennia, the hunter-gatherer tribes we had better remember in case it becomes the only means of survival again.  This time without buffalo.

We are on the verge of an entirely new set of givens that are hopping over everything else, though many people are not educated or connected enough to realize it.  It is putting many people out of work, shifting our economic patterns.  Megacities thrive on high tech, even as naked people in SE Asia or Africa are displaced, carrying only a plastic water jug and a starving baby.

The president is not Eisenhower anymore nor is it even Reagan.  We will spend 2018 throwing the bastards out of office, wasting funds that could rebuild Puerto Rico where the factories make meds and IV dispensing bags for the rest of us.  Many will die and more will not care.  When I talk to people about politics, especially women, they are likely to say, “It’s all so ugly and confusing.  I just won’t have anything to do with it.”  Which is how it came to pass.

My own style, partly made possible by this long interval of retirement (which means I have the time), is to plunge in, following the liberal side, absorbed in The Rachel Maddow Show.  Trying to get my mind around a system so governed by the universal corruption of profit, that a charlatan can become an “asset” of a Russian KGB-originating plutocrat in order to try cancelling progress across our nation.  

I’ve been reading revisionist histories that go back to the first hominins.  I’m halfway through “The Silk Roads” by Frankopan, which is the clearest explanation yet of how we got to where we are by struggling to control the Middle East for the sake of oil to feed machines and for its militarily strategic location.  This book is also frank and vivid on the subject of food as a weapon that deliberately starved to death millions of RUSSIAN/UKRAINIANS — far more than bombs.  The price embittered Russia, though it was set by Stalin.

When compared with that iron reality, “Cider with Rosie” is golden escapism to an England where it doesn’t seem to rain and there is food even without income.  Partly this is due to the receptivity and generosity of women, a whole sequence of them from grade school to grave.  Stern reality is not always the best or even the most moral course of action.

This morning the sun is back, sluicing gold through the blue drifts.  Feral cats are plowing trails in the snow.  The world is cyclical -- though the planet wobbles on its axis -- and human lives at least tell stories.  It’s Sunday and I don’t hear plows out on the highway, but the usual number of big pickups is parked at the Baptist church next door.  Day after tomorrow the temp is expected to be in the Thirties, so our struggle will be with wet rather than cold.  This snow, soaking into land with a water table that has been shrinking, will mean good crops and those can mean peace.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


But the dramatic changes in elite spending are driven by a well-to-do, educated elite, or what I call the ‘aspirational class’. This new elite cements its status through prizing knowledge and building cultural capital, not to mention the spending habits that go with it – preferring to spend on services, education and human-capital investments over purely material goods. These new status behaviours are what I call ‘inconspicuous consumption’. None of the consumer choices that the term covers are inherently obvious or ostensibly material but they are, without question, exclusionary.”

Maybe some people are writing in order to change the world.  Others are writing because it fits the movie-generated idea that the most vital “story” possible is to have talent, develop it in some mysterious way (suffering?), and finally be published.  If the two purposes are conflated, then this is the most admirable of lives and might possibly lead to the birth of a new religion.  

It’s always a little blurry how this happens, partly because it doesn’t depend upon the skills and vision of any one individual and partly because when one is inside the kind of social movement that creates this uplifting power, it’s not really possible to see it, much less manage it.  Or finance it.

For instance, “education” is meant to be the key to the world for the “aspirational class  Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s research focuses on the arts and culture and most recently, the American consumer economy.  Election 2016; urban policy and planning; cultural industries (art, fashion, music); Los Angeles and New York City as cultural hubs; economic development of cities; social networks, nightlife, innovation; economic impact of creative industries; the making of celebrity.”  Pretty slick.  Hanging with the hoity-toity while keeping one’s identity as an academic instead of a parasite.  Though there are some people who think academics ARE parasites.

I got a comeuppance this holiday season: coal in my stocking.  My old friend had taken a different, far more conventional road, one that didn’t include college.  She regrets this, I think, seeing a degree as an entitlement or certification of virtue.  This is far from how I see it, but I’ve tried to stay “modern” and part of that is understanding that education is always arbitrary and too often made into a commodity to be sold.  The academies are quite frank, accepting rankings by magazines and calculating what one’s earning power might be if in possession of their degrees.  The corresponding dark side of that is “fake universities” where one receives an empty “education”.  People sue; the government intervenes.  Trump University is no more.

What is education?  Commonly now, people don’t talk about being “educated” but being “schooled.”  Educated seems to be something happening in academia.  Schooled is something that life and other people do to you, setting limits and requiring skills.  My friend is schooled by her family, her church, and her economic limits.  She has learned her lessons and is admired for it.

But I went for the old fashioned kind of stuff, academic classrooms and professors, both of which are being evaded now.  The classrooms have gone online and the professors must write and do research, so their grad students teach the classes as adjuncts.  Still, maybe because of my age, I’ve been able to get just ahead of the curve, barely preceding the upending of everything taken for granted, then surfing on the developments, which is something one can do with books.  Think "Hawaii 5-0" -- first the metaphor of the big wave curling over the person on a surf-board, and then the detective work sorting evidence and doing research, often on a tabletop computer.  I find it exhilarating.

With all my elite awareness, I never even noticed my friend saw me as playing in the sand with my little pail and shovel, building castles that will be destroyed by the tide.  She was more pejorative:  “sanctimonious hermit” she said.  “A child who must be indulged.”  Whups.  She cannot see my aspirations.

It got worse.  She would not read the writing I sent her, me assuming that she would want to read it and would be proud of me.  NOT.  Her standards are rigid, her horizons are close-by, and that’s the end of it.  If I wanted to argue, she offered to fight.  “Bring it on!” she said, and her first attacks were about my failures in the Sixties when she had already made her choice, a grown-up thing to do.  This split between us is just a little crack, auxiliary to the crevasse of separation in the US (maybe the world) today.  

The paragraph quote where I began, doesn’t address this issue, unless Currad-Halkett is suggesting that with the pitchforks coming, it would be better to be found reading a book than inventorying one’s jewels.  But it’s not a matter of quoting Camus at cocktail parties (even if they’re reduced to being speakeasies or coffee houses).  It’s a matter of a shifting world view, of seeing things quite differently.  One can’t go back.

Doing the work of learning or writing is partly a matter of schooling — practical (practising) matters of keeping order, finding structure, knowing where to look when you need to know something.  And there’s a dimension of spending, much of it traveling to conferences or libraries or buying computers.  Much technical knowledge acquisition is incredibly expensive, partly because it is at the edge of what is perceptible even with equipment.

But real knowledge advancement means the management of thinking “outside the box” as the metaphor goes.  Thus we come to “my” kind of writing, trying to frame ideas in print on paper (pixels) in order to understand it.  Seeking out transgressions for the sake of insight. “Exploratory education” often turns things on their heads as “deconstruction”.  I’m happy with where this is going in my back bedroom office where I’m having a little trouble keeping the temp above sixty because outside it is twenty below and this old house is not well insulated.  Others can see this as failure.  That’s not my problem.  My problem is that when they stop pretending and tell me what they “really” think, my feelings are hurt.  I AM a baby!  Just how aware am I?

But look at the sand.  Do you know that there is a shortage of sand in the world?  Do you know that sand is the resource for glass?  What’s the current state of scientific research on sand?  I’d better google that.  Does the pretty metaphor of “little grains of sand” mean anything these days?

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

The author of the above ditty, Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney (6 April 18231 November 1908), born Julia Fletcher, was an American Universalist educator and poet, whose works began to be published when she was 14, and who later wrote under various pseudonyms."Julia", "Minnie May," "Frank Fisher," "Sadie Sensible," "Minister's Wife", "Rev. Peter Benson's Daughter”  “Her earliest sorrow was the opinion of a maiden aunt, freely expressed to her mother, that "if she let that child go on writing verses, she would never be good for anything else." 

Friday, December 29, 2017

reblog from David Hayward's "Naked Pastor"

David Hayward ( is "post-Christian."  He keeps the categories and the characters, but re-interprets them in ways that are often hilarious, but pointed.  You can sign up for a daily cartoon and message.  I did.

As follows:

start very small
where it’s least accepted
then work your way out
where it’s most expected

begin with your kin
where it hurts the most
then shine to the world

since you’ve paid the cost

"DAKOTA BONES, GRASS, SKY" by Linda Hasselstrom (a review)

1973 was the last year I taught in Browning and it was partly because of an Arctic air vortex breaking out of the Polar Vortex that was even worse in consequences than this current one.  But it hasn’t even made the National Weather Service list.  That winter the Browning teachers who lived in East Glacier had to sleep in their classrooms because the road was closed for a week — it looked like Going-to-the-Sun Pass in the Spring and no regular plows could make a dent in it.  We finally got home on a train equipped with a huge fan-like thing on the front and several linked locomotives.  

In Valier this week the temps have been sub-zero and inches of new snow have been falling daily.  Things have slowed down, but mostly they still crawl along.  We watch the forecasts closely and stockpile what we need.  Cattlemen who can afford it have moved their animals to southern grazing.  Otherwise, one must have the grit and muscle to feed out the hay cut last summer when an air-conditioned cab was the only thing to save lungs from dust and heat.

Many youngsters learn about prairie blizzards by reading “Little House on the Prairie,Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of books about her childhood on the prairies.  Today you can go to Tony Bynum’s YouTube account and watch him clear out his East Glacier driveway last winter.  Tony’s career is as a photographer, and because he’s already in place on the rez, we get many more images of winter.  

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote to save the family farm and was commercially successful enough to finally pull the folks out of extreme hardships.  This is the archetype of women writers, that they write about their hardships so as to spin straw into commercial gold.  In the process their own character and abilities grow and they come into harmony with the land around them that could and did kill unlucky humans.

Linda Hasselstrom is a contemporary version of that pattern.  She’s easily found by googling, there on her South Dakota ranch where she grew up.  Sometimes her writing saved the ranch, sometimes the ranch saved the writing (partly by unrolling grand and challenging subjects), and then the whole complex comes in books to save us, just as LIW lent courage to girls everywhere, even in cities.  
Linda’s website/blog is at  There are many women writers in the West now.  Linda was a ground-breaker and has since established Windbreak House as a retreat for women writers who wish to share and grow their skills.  Some come as individuals and some travel there in friendship clusters.  The formal “title” of the blog is “Notes from a Western Life” but it’s much more than that. 

The most recent post is “O Holy Night on the Prairie” on Dec. 24, 2017, and includes photos.  It’s taken from an earlier book:  “Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land” (1991).  “Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal” is Linda’s most recent book.

Her Dec. 14, 2017, post is a review of Susan Wittig Albert’s “An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days”, published in 2010.  Day books, esp. now that people blog daily, are a classic and welcome genre.  Albert and Hasselstrom add a new dimension:  environmentalism.  That means politics.  It’s also a shift from Western women’s books based on surviving by escaping the oppression and drain of rural life, to books that celebrate “staying in place,” finding a nourishing connection to nature and culture where it is.

In 1993 a book of poetry was published:  “Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom”.  In 2017 the book is reprinted with new poems, funny, tragic, mystical, biological — it’s proof of being, evidence of fertile intercourse with place and ideas.  She’s far more generous than I am, because she believes in community (meaning she will write in partnerships and gather other writers into anthologies) and believes in commercial success (meaning she will do the many chores that comes from merchandizing one’s writing — the lectures, the proofing, the negotiations, and the working on one manuscript for years until the thing matures.  She accepts partnerships with a man, even taking the risk of grief when a beloved dies, and sings along with pop CD’s while endlessly driving over endless prairie roads.

Here’s a poem I don’t deserve, though I did teach English on the rez.  (Geraldine Butterfly just passed away, a beloved grandmother. In my mind she’s still a girl, not quite a teen, giggling merrily in her boarding school gang, a silk bandanna on her head in the classic cold-climate way.)

—for teachers who deserve it

You speak high and holy words;
you rant and rave, and read
poetic examples to us.
You assign us to face ourselves, 
to tear away our masks
in front of everyone,
to face the truth,
the terrors of our lives.

We offer you our throbbing hearts
in open hands.
“Is this right, teacher?” we ask
eyes wide open.

You nibble on each heart;
blood drools down your chin.

“Lacking in flavor,” you say,
licking your lips;
“Could be saltier.
But not bad.
Not too bad.”

Teacher, your heart 
is next on the altar.

I looked for a poem about feeding cows in winter, which I know Linda has done many times.  Today it’s a little different, since square 80# bales are obsolete.  Now one rolls the grass and alfalfa into huge wide wheels, using a winder on a tractor.  Then, to feed, one unrolls the wheels into long carpet runners on the snow and all the cows come running, steaming (as Linda says “at both ends”), jostling, to gobble shoulder to shoulder, then lie down in the remnants to ferment it through their stomach series.  I couldn’t find that poem.

Instead, here’s one about “The Successful Writer.”  Remember that this is only one “method,” one “way”, one genre.  There are others.  You don't have to confine yourself to one, but poetry begins here.

The poet’s words will sear the page like coals
in snow.  What he creates will sound of larks
rippling within the hushed dawn
as the coyote bitch relinquishes the night,
assume the shape of plains that sweep to some
remove and instant gasping rise of earth
in clannish snags around an ice-melt lake;
to frail symmetrical success;
taste of honey rolling in the throat;
prickle as do salt grains on the tongue;
sound a plaint in darkness where each beast
peers out in terror from his bone-strewn den.

Over the years I always bought the books of prairie women writers.  They still abide on my shelves.  They are a kind of community.  Sometimes I depart from them in savage ways.  But it would be hard to frighten off Linda.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


In the beginning there was the idea.

My seminary education was “emplaced” along space and time, as all educations must be and most seminaries try to deny, claiming to be universal and unerring.  Luckily, “history of thought” was a value at the U of C Div School, though not everyone bought into it.  In fact, the dean at the time I was there (1978-82) was a defender of the given faith, which meant that two new and edgy process theory systems were suppressed, or at least scowled at, which only encouraged them.

One was phenomenological thought and the other was the biological truth of metaphor.  They were ways of breaking through the always-powerful standing order.  Even at the beginner’s level where I was, puzzling over books and aborting my ability to respond to what the traditionalists expected, I found a little thread to follow in “narrativity” as presented by Richard Stern, mostly a novelist.

Therefore, just now when I finished all four seasons of “Halt and Catch Fire”, a series on Netflix, I could easily see that the narrative line followed the history of the development of the computer.  Four basic points of view, each represented by a character, interacted to create the machine itself, the command operating systems that made it possible to code; then the directories, the commerce, the search engines, the creation of the internet, personal social media — with hints about what might come next.  They did not address the inevitable government attempts to capture the internet or the international use of coding as combat.

The original four characters were Joe Macmillan, who comes from an IBM family and wants to be separate but equal, therefore is always pulling for monetary success.  He initiates projects involving time-sharing, NFSNET, antivirus software, a web browser and a search engine.  But he only has the big concept, not the ability to code.

Cameron Howe is the zany alternative universe person who can code anything but has a doodlebug approach to life.  She’s a gamer, but doesn’t quite move into the alternative world thing.  She wants the phenomena, not the outcome.  But Joe sees her uses and enjoys them.

Gordon Clark is both an engineer and dreamer.  He is “seminal” and therefore has two daughters, one who becomes a hippy looking for Buddha and one who is a gay coding prodigy.  The great irony of the series is that Gordon is losing his mind due to brain disease, but he has originated the dream that is internet thought.

Donna Clark is Gordon’s wife, who goes on to be a success in worldly terms — without Gordon.  She is a type common in series these days: the steel butterfly whose wardrobe is impressive.  Power Woman — and yet she’s not quite up to it.

The great value of this series is that ordinary people might be hooked by the narrative enough to at least marginally understand the issues of both computer and internet — and the social changes that are beginning to unfold from it, which are something like a religious sea change forming, barely perceptible but irresistible.

David Brooks, with his earnest worried face, has been trying to understand all this but not necessarily taking into account the Internet.  What he is mostly thinking about is the separating of society, maybe everywhere, into a small number of people who went to college, are part of a legacy network that is not quite what the paranoid right thinks is the “deep state,” and are wealthy, some of them so wealthy that their corporate holdings amount to landless states, international corporations that have no allegiance to nations.  Even the United Nations have no power to curb this oligarchy.  It’s a program for a crash.

These world entities live in semi-secrecy, but the internet — which is the global means of communication both financial and strategic — can expose them, not just to the educated computer user, but to everyone if the media remains free.  (This is NOT television, one-size-fits-all.)  Thanks to social media, it’s participatory.  But so far it has not solved the brute problem of our human beingness, which falters, but is continually renewed by generational roll-over.

Those who work on evolution — EVERYTHING evolves in spite of those who desperately try to stay the same — suggest that the next step will be empathy for each other, no matter how different we are from each other.  There are individual brain cells dedicated to this task, areas of the eye and brain where this is done, physically.  They are coded in the genomes.  But we are NOT computers.  (See post on 12-17-17  “Tonguing the Paradigm Shift”)

The idea that we are machinery, like computers, is a holdover from the industrial era.  We are programs and we are Internet.  That’s where the intelligence is.  THAT’s where we “halt and catch fire,” which is a metaphor full of irony.  In part what prevents us from stepping away from the machine is our generations-long attachment to individuals rather than the group.  Owning a computer carries the luxury connotation that books used to have before libraries.  (I can’t say libraries are “collectives” because heads will jump to communism as it was conceived in the struggle for industrial era fossil fuel and fossil conceptions of power.)  It is another breach in our Rule of Law idea that we are collaborating nations with treaty boundaries and constitutions, enforced by war if necessary.

It’s not just internet that imitates the brain by constantly connecting two or more conduits of concepts.  One of the powerful forces is music, which I could metaphorically claim is the lymph in which brain cells function, carrying in the energy, carrying out the trash, and delivering hormonal messages.  A song is not exactly universal, but the underlying mechanism is.  It is both phenomenological (felt meaning) and metaphorical (concept carrying).  Both sensory and mathematical.

These are religion before the institutions get hold of what’s going on.  One of the forces protecting the new ideas is the ability to generate electricity in place without fossil fuel.  Another is the need for collaborating forces to put up satellites to bounce the internet messages.  If war means shooting down the satellites, it will become vital to protect satellites in order to use modern electronic features like GPS or surveillance maps or remotely controlled predator drones.  The loss of satellites would make much of the war “machinery” unusable.  But code combat would just use them.  It's already happening.

Like the four characters in “Halt and Catch Fire,” we need new social code, i.e. Rule of Law.  Somehow all our regulation failed at the point of democratic election and is now making difficulties with the correction of that failure.  Ironically, the forces of regression are systematically erasing many regulatory safeguards.  For those who have empathy, early evolvers, it is agony.

One way to send hidden cyber-messages is embedding them in images, where they remain unseen unless you know how to take the picture back to code and examine that x by o.  If you look at these two letters and see hugs and kisses, you’re onto it.  We’re learning so much by watching CSI programs.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


In the Fifties, we were all supposed to become well-adjusted (conforming), an effort which sent youngsters flying off in pursuit of all the forbidden practices.  There were lists of defenses: rationalizing, regressing, etc.  I got the idea that one should eliminate them all.  This was wrong: they are meant for self-protection and even self-preservation.  Eliminating them just makes a person more vulnerable.  But one needs to learn how to manage them.

Nevertheless, Seth Abramson has made a similar list of ways to attempt to save yourself if you are a guilty criminal.  Be warned that he doesn’t like Trump, but then our President thrusts himself onto every list.

Seth Abramson is an American poet, editor, attorney, freelance journalist, and professor.  He likes to go "meta." This list is actually very useful for people in the justice system, people who depict the world of criminals in novels and movies, people trying to figure out some of the dubious people in their lives, and today's politicians.  Abramson put his list on Twitter as a service to us all, and asked us to pass it on.  So here you go:


#1 DEFLECT BLAME. Criminals seek others who may have conducted themselves poorly in order to unload or distribute blame rightly assigned to them. Trump does this with ex-aides like Manafort, Flynn, and Papadopoulos, who he presents as little known by him and/or having gone rogue.

#2 ALLEGE A CONSPIRACY. Criminals will claim a conspiracy as the cause of their problems. The most common conspiracy alleged is between witnesses or members of law enforcement. Trump repeatedly alleges that government officials and law enforcement officers conspired against him.

#3 COMPLAIN ABOUT LAW ENFORCEMENT. Criminals want to talk about the investigation itself, rather than what and who the investigation is investigating. Trump obsessively complains about aspects of the investigation against him that don't actually change the underlying evidence.

#4 TAMPER WITH WITNESSES. Criminals will often seek contact with known witnesses either to convince them not to testify, to change their story, to remain loyal to the defendant, or to intimidate them. Trump did this with Flynn, Yates, Comey, McCabe, Sessions, his son, and others.

#5 DISTRACT ATTENTION FROM THEIR ACTIONS. Criminals eagerly discuss subjects beyond their pending case when doing so distracts from their criminal liability. Trump's war on "fake news" and unhinged tweetstorms distract attention from an investigation threatening to take him down.

#6 REFUSE TO ANSWER VALID QUESTIONS. Criminals refuse to discuss, sometimes even with a lawyer, inculpatory facts, whether things they said, decisions they made, or actions they took. Trump has successfully evaded answering even the most basic questions on what he knew and when.

#7 EXHIBIT FALSE CONFIDENCE. Criminals often assure allies and defenders that there's nothing to be found against them and they'll shortly be exonerated, even when nothing in the facts supports this view. Trump's wild claims that he'll soon be exonerated fall into this category.

#8 USE "EVEN IF" ARGUMENTS. Criminals often float self-aggrandizing hypotheticals in the form of bet-hedging: "Even if I did X, it wouldn't be illegal, or I would've been justified..." Trump does this most flagrantly when discussing whether he told Flynn to negotiate with Russia.

#9 PLAY DUMB. Criminals will claim to have no knowledge of things they obviously would have known about. Trump claims to have known absolutely nothing any of his aides (even his own sons) were doing with the Russians, a claim that strains credulity well past the breaking point.

#10 EXHIBIT UNUSUAL AGITATION. Criminals exhibit anger in response to warranted criminal accusations; in my own experience, innocent people react to false accusations with signs of confusion, fear, and depression. Trump has responded to Mueller with rage and false self-assurance.

#11 LEVELING NEW ACCUSATIONS OF IDENTICAL CONDUCT. Criminals accused of, say, assault will often level new claims (even unrelated ones) that someone else is guilty of assault. Trump regularly accuses people of the lying, cover-ups, and treasonous conduct he stands accused of now.

#12 OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE. Criminals will try to slow the investigation against them, including by refusing to speak or delaying speaking to investigators. Trump not only won't speak to investigators, he's tried to fire, get reassigned, or force into retirement those investigators.

#13 AVOID GIVING EVIDENCE UNDER OATH. Criminals are smart enough to know that they must never be placed under oath on the subject of their crimes. Trump, despite saying in the Rose Garden that he'd speak to Mueller under oath, has thus far refused to make good on that assurance.

#14 DENY SIMILAR PAST CONDUCT. Even though criminal defense attorneys have access to clients' criminal records, criminals often attempt to downplay or deny their criminal pasts. Trump has denied provable and known frauds, perjuries, and clandestine foreign contacts from his past.

#15 TELL UNNECESSARY, GRANDIOSE LIES. Criminals lie out of fear; they tell grandiose lies out of a false belief they can orchestrate their exoneration. Trump's lies about how he conducted himself at the Ritz Moscow in 2013 (grandiose and quickly disproven) are an example of this.

#16 DRAW OTHERS INTO THEIR COVER-UP. Criminals are so focused on their own survival that they needlessly draw innocents into their schemes for self-salvation. Trump uses others (including attorneys, spokespeople, aides, and family members) to spread lies about his Russian ties.

#17 TRUST ONLY FAMILY. Criminals, especially those who've participated in a conspiracy, necessarily operate within a small circle of trust. Trump has surrounded his business dealings with family members and attorneys to make it unlikely or impossible that anyone will rat him out.

#18 PLAY WITH LANGUAGE. Criminals know statutes are well-defined, so they get cute with language to seek out wiggle room in their criminal liability. Trump uses word games, misquotations, false definitions, and linguistic misdirection to undercut precise legal terms and concepts.

#19 SEEK DODGY ALLIES AND PARALLEL INVESTIGATIONS. Criminals recruit dodgy witnesses or pursue suspect lines of inquiry to evade probes whose just administration they know will catch them. Trump uses House allies, Fox News, and dodgy pals to build a wall of allies around himself.

#20 UNDERSCORE SUPPORTERS' AFFECTION. Criminals hope that, if they don't have the facts on their side, they can at least get others to say they're a good person. Trump pumps up supporters' adulation, praise, and encouragement at every turn to transform popularity into innocence.

(BONUS) DENY KNOWN ASSOCIATIONS. Criminals deny knowing people they believe they can credibly deny knowing, if knowing them would be inculpatory. Trump has done this with Papadopoulos, Sater, Page and many others who he definitely knows but who he fears Mueller has linked to him.


An early Banksy, a classic

“Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s okay. You’re here to live your life, not to make everyone understand.”

This quote is from “Banksy,” and probably came as a tweet from that anonymous source.  It’s a little bit ironic since Banksy is dedicated to making people open their minds through the use of urban graffiti.  Probably many people don’t even know what “he” does with stencils, but once a person sees those images, they stick.  This post is not about Banksy, though I’m in sympathy with “them” (they might be a collective).  It’s about the quote, because I’m spending Christmas trying to get my oldest best friend to understand what I understand.  It doesn't work.  So far.

This oldest friend’s feedback is coming today about what I write.  She doesn’t read the prairiemary blog, but only what I forward from my 4,366 daily 1,000 word posts.  (Aaauuuggghhh!)  I forward to her some posts I think she’ll like (mostly early ones) but over Christmas I sent the most recent two:  one about Old Jim Whitecalf and the one that “seemed” to be about jellyfish.  Or magazines.

She didn't like the one about Old Jim, found it confused and therefore confusing.  Suggested I study James Michener for hints and tips.  (Michener was one of my mother's fav authors.  I have never read a Michener book and have no plans to do so.)

My old friend is an audience I don’t usually have, very much like the local Valier folks and not computer-hooked-up.  Our early life was shared, but she made the classic woman’s choice between family and vocation by choosing family.  A devout Catholic, that’s where her family of origin is dedicated, and she has done very well at raising eight children, a blended family.  (Her first husband died of cancer, probably triggered by working on the railroad which exposed him to carcinogenic substances.)  

She’s seen it good and she’s seen it bad, but there hasn’t been a lot of time to sit around philosophizing nor has she been out of her social comfort zone very much.  In lit about women, this split about family vs. vocation is common.  (Think of "The Turning Point" with Anne Bancroft and Shirley McClaine.  Remember the fights?)

My life has seemed to me like being pushed over a series of cliffs.  That exhilarating movement of flight followed by a hard landing.  Most of the time it took a few years to figure out what had happened.  In addition, my first college experience was in theatre, based on empathy, culture and language.  NOT the usual curriculum or method.  

My second college experience (seminary) was highly analytical, historical and — finally — George Lakoff’s kind of metaphor, a doctrine just barely forming in the early Eighties.  This has made me unintelligible to a lot of people: very different from the way most people think, even now.

For instance, I suspect that a lot of people assume my Christmas Day’s post is about jellyfish.  Or maybe magazines.

So my friend had a top-of-the-line parochial (St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, OR) high school education with emphasis on categories and rules, a specific history mostly about Europe, and moral responsibility as outlined by institutions.  A nun in the family means she knows about the pushback from those lively renegades.  But her sense of literature is stuck in her high school years.  She hasn’t had time to read nor did she have any reason to do it.  

Besides living on the rez and interacting with the “Indians” as equals, more than most white people do — teaching, sharing work in the foundry, sitting around talking, becoming interwoven with the shared land, and quarrelling hard in various political ways — it’s profoundly difficult to convince people that I know something outsiders don’t.  It makes them feel put-down, ignorant (meaning dumb), and morally to blame.  In the past some online enrolled and politically sophisticated indigenous women spent weeks online beating and beating and beating it into me that I can NOT be them, can NOT “really” understand, am essentially different and had better get that into my head.  Just accept that I do NOT know and then maybe I can hear what they’re saying.

At least my friend didn’t — like my cousin — suggest that I write clever little books about kittens for children.  But she likes the "travelogue"  — Indians are always part of a travelogue, right?  One visits and then goes home to tell colorful little (little) life experiences.  To her anything intensely emotional is personal confession, so when I sent her a story about a woman who miscarried, she asked if I had lost a baby.  (“The Inconsolable Woman”, February 2, 2016 )  These assumptions are cultural.   I'm grandiose and pretentious.  No one around her would question her reactions. 

Except her sons.  They have the questions.  I spent a bit of time with one of them at their dining table, both he and I excited about ideas.  I think he's the one who lives in Japan now with a Japanese wife.

Writing about Indians is only one thing.  It’s not a secret that for a decade I’ve also written about boys marginalized by society and stigmatized in deadly ways.  When I first made contact, they asked me why I wasn’t afraid of them.  (They were in Paris, and they were young men, rather than boys.)  The question surprised me.  Why?  Because of them being gay or doing sexwork or being skateboarders??  But they were aware that ideas are scary, even over long-distance email.

It’s the same problem as writing about “Indians.”  The only pattern that conventional people can hear is the old Christian redemption story, complete with misunderstandings about sex, abuse, families, drugs and how economies work.  And yet, things once unthinkable are now explained in slick magazine articles.  Anal coition, once the bleeding edge, is now a plot point on “Downton Abbey” and a common practise of high school kids avoiding pregnancy.  But yet the same social traps persist for young males by picturing them as either heart-breaking martyrs or little twisted non-humans who must be locked up.  Never unique people with dreams and goals.  Like Indians.

The same problem crops up with explaining religious categories.   For most people “religion” is institutional.  Or moral.  Spiritual is a nice state of mystical stuff.  But talk about it being "neurologically emergent from experience" and everything goes blank.  We love our fantasies.

I finally had a suggestion for my friend — to lighten us up a bit, since we were hurting each other’s feelings.  (Her response to my writing is in terms of a Catholic high school English teacher in the Fifties.  I've finally begun to understand the French post-mod philosophers.)  I think we have come upon the same break as in the critics' opinions about the newest “Star Wars” tale, which I gather draws on that deconstructionist strategy of revealing an “understory” that turns it all on its head.  (I won’t be able to see it until it gets to Netflix.)  

It’s a strategy of renewal but moms don’t like it much.  They just got to where they feel as though they knew all these aliens.  And not necessarily approvingly.  Because — WAIT — you mean Carrie Fisher was actually having an affair with Harrison Ford?  The age difference . . .