Monday, July 31, 2017


Sorting old files and tear-outs on a hot summer Sunday afternoon is a pleasant but rather narcotic thing to do.  I just looked through a binder entitled “Offices” and discarded about two-thirds of the contents.  As usual, I had saved very severe no-paper offices as well as cluttered, gadget-filled tabletops with baskets for to-be-filed-sometime-in-this-century.  One is my virtual vision and the other is my actual practice.

I notice that much of what I saved — and what is offered in mags — are beautiful photos of carefully composed tabletop vignettes.  It’s not so much what is displayed, which ranges from weeds to carved jade and ivory, but the careful composition and lighting that makes them striking.  In my rooms, I have no tabletops that aren’t occupied by something in use, from printer to sewing machine, so the idea of vignettes is strictly theoretical.

Since I’m a sucker for the Mediterranean trope, there are many pages of California rooms with roll-back glass wall access to gardens and, because of copies of Marie Clare Maison, wonderful stone verandas with ruined surrounds of old stonework, all furnished with sun umbrellas and plants that I’m sure are aromatic.  Europeans have an advantage in their many ancient stone and timber houses, though I’m not sure they feel advantaged given low ceilings and the difficulty of any pipe or wire runs.  

It’s not just the weather: I’m also fond of those stark dark Scots crofts where one must bring one’s own door and expect to replace the roof.  Hopefully, the massive fireplace will have a chimney that draws.  At one point in history, these places were “owned” by being occupied by the land users — not the paper-justified legal ownership, but the practical fact of living there and “making” a living there.  One simply looked for an unoccupied croft with a nearby field for oats.

Then I ran across a folder of mailings from Bill Houff who was acting as interim minister in Seattle in 1989.  The first dilemma was argument over whether “Peter Rabbit” (as Alan Deale always called Peter Raible) who was the just-previous minister and a bit of a Clinton type, should be allowed to have an office in the basement.  Peter’s brother Chris, author of “Coffee, coffee, coffee,” (starts at minute 7 on the vid linked below) famous UU hymn, also got into trouble for amour and their father was celebrated for his Texas affairs.  “Daddy Bob”, they called him.  A vid of Chris is at  You’ll see that the Raible charm is not being tall and handsome, but rather comes from charm and humour.  (Does that rhyme with “amour?”)  All parties are dead now with the exception of Alan Deale who did not dally but was equally charming and funny.

The next church crisis for Houff was a cracked furnace that filled the place with carbon monoxide and — luckily — the smell of a gas leak.  There was no carbon mono monitor in the furnace room, let alone the rest of the building.  Next was a bill of thousands of dollars to replace the sewer line to one of the bequeathed church-owned houses.  And then there was suddenly a gusher of water from the DRAIN of the kitchen sink which turned out to be a crew looking for a leak in the flat roof overhead by turning a firehose of water onto it.  They had stopped up the sewer with grit from the roof, so the water was rising through the drain.  Bill says,  “For this I went to seminary??

Interesting now is that he was writing in the fall of 1989 during the collapse of Newt Gingrich, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and a host of ringingly similar events to this present moment.  Less interesting is the usual rich people foodie reviews of fine restaurants, and the usual cycle of fine arts events.  In retrospect, I realize that the close-knit and aggressive set of male UU ministers in that time span were being replaced by inexperienced women.  They seem to appeal to Bill for help with miscarriages and marital disfunction.  Also, a lot of lay threatened suicides, all women.  And drug probs, inevitably entwined with debt.

Alan Deale’s female replacement in Portland (still living) did not admit to troubles and indeed her congregations were growing quickly.  But it was a worry that most of the new people in the pews were there for feel-good reasons and were not pledging.  Houff was a guest to urge picking up the obligations.

My tear-outs and Bill’s reports underline how much I was preoccupied with upper middle-class people in those days without really being aware of how ill-suited I was for it.  Visiting wealthy and glamourous friends from my NU theatre department days who very kindly invited me for pre-paid visits in their quite wonderful Brentwood house, built by Leo Durocher  for Lorraine Day, sometimes to function as the family vicar, taught me I didn’t fit.  They had no idea of what I was doing when at home.  Montana was just another script concept.  Performing a wedding only made a casting director muse over whether she could find a part for me.

The first day of fine food and excellent drinks was always a joy.  The second day my stomach began to hurt and I was having trouble sleeping.  The third day none of my OTC remedies worked and I longed to go home.  My physiological and psychological norms are set for high-line Montana.  But also, I had the feeling I was being called to be a witness to their success and luxury.  Instead what I got out of it was that some kind of maintenance man was needed almost every day, in addition to the Mexican kitchen and yard help.  There was as much worry and supervision as enjoyment. 

We never sat down and talked, though they talked to their close friends in front of me, about things I knew nothing about.  They had business every day and evening, though they were generous about sending me off to plays and ballet with free tickets and a chauffeur.  I felt like a puppet.  I would say something and one of them would turn and repeat it to the other.  “Mary said . . .” as though I needed captions.  

After repeated home invasions, they have moved up to the mountains.  They haven’t invited me for decades.  I have nice memories and no regrets.  I hope there are no fires near them.  I look forward to their Christmas newsletters, untouched by human hands.

Parallel, I saved almost none of the massive timber, stone and plate glass modern homes in the Bozeman luxury mag, “Western Art and Architecture.”  They at least will still look good when they inevitably burn, avalanche, and collapse into ruins like Italy.  The owners only come for a few weeks out of the year, so some lone guardian lives there in peace the rest of the year.  Has anyone written a novel about that?  

At one point Peter Rabbit had a garage refitted as a library to hold his collection of novels about ministers.  I wonder where they went.  This is his link to his Berry Street lecture on the subject.  More recently the Berry Street lecture was on the indecency of ministers preying on women.  I won’t link.  The text seems to morph.  Sometimes it's hard to break through to reality.

Emerson entered the lists to charge bitterly, "The clergy are as alike as peas.  I cannot tell them apart…it is the old story again: once we had wooden chalices and golden priests, now we have golden chalices and wooden priests.”

(In justice, I should mention that Peter was active in the sanctuary movement that still persists, still necessary.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Before I try to understand the use of mental health categories as curses, allegations of worthlessness and evil, which Scaramouche brought up in regard to the president’s staff, I need to deal with a phrase often used to praise the President, that he is “crazy like a fox.”  That is, like the famous mob boss, Vincent Gigante called “Chin”, who went onto the streets in his pajamas to project insanity as a cover.  A person who is “crazy like a fox” pretends to do things that are unaccountable, startling and against convention because they are using them as cover in a deliberate and therefore sane way.  

The most drastic is presidents who start wars in order to cover their own bad behavior.  War is an ultimate distraction.  Forbidding soldiers who have unconventional sexual identities (though being gay or trans is fairly conventional these days, at least in media terms) or giving police advice to “rough up” those they arrest (social tinder as we approach the most flammable time of the year) might be evidence of personal hangups or pandering to a class of people who consider political correctness to be a form of unjustified restraint, an insanity of educated people.

Trump has been considered “crazy like a fox” as a clever strategy that obviously works because he is rich.  Wealth is considered both evidence and a virtue.  Until now the media has never described how often he has gone into bankruptcy, lost deals, and diminished his inherited fortune.  How he has managed to evade justice in the courts has been attributed to buying the best lawyers.  But now we understand that like a delinquent son, he has had a sugar daddy: Russia.  The sugar was compromising in terms of sex, but much more than that, the mafia-type glue of extortion, money-laundering, blackmail, and other proscribed but common practices — all leading up to treason, a wickedness he sees all around him, but only as personal betrayal of himself.

Categories of sane behavior are not so interesting to people as is insanity.  Since craziness was medicalized a couple of centuries ago -- a part of our surrender of much of philosophy to science or pseudoscience -- we’ve all become adept at distinguishing the categories (boxes) created by theory systems built on behavior and introspection rather than bodily function, an irony.  The brain is in a bone box where it is accessible only under methods we’ve just recently developed, like fMRI or molecular analysis of the glymphatic fluids.  We’re just now figuring out which little blob of tissue does what and how.

A further difficulty when dealing with psych stuff is a form of craziness: projection.  We see everyone else through the lens of our own prejudices and predilections.  The bitter women who accuse their lovers of treating them badly out of narcissism (self-centered neglect and abuse in the lover’s own interests) can be queried in terms of whether they didn’t enter the relationship for their own benefit (money, protection, affection).  

By now this whole generation in America has been accused of narcissism to the extent that sub-categories of the classification have had to be invented to keeping it from being such a junk category that it’s no longer useful.  “Malignant,” “grandiose,” psychopathic” are favs of Sam Vaknin who has created a career by calmly claiming to be a diagnosed narcissist.  By now, wannabes have been suggesting that there is such a thing as “healthy” narcissism, merely self-protection and possibly with happy consequences.  

In addition to these categories, mental health malfunctions may be classified as “personality disorders,” a failure to form a good identity; or something more deep-seated, until one comes to the level of psychosis, which is extreme, obvious, and must be treated with drastic means like chemical restraint or a strait-jacket.  These days it is most often the cop on the street who must meet it with a club, a taser, or pepper spray — or, to save time, a bullet.

Ingestion-based psychosis entered upon to get insight or pleasure can destroy the capacity to function.  So we suspect The Mooch of cursing because he is “high” which means without restraint.

Let’s look at his choice of insanities:  “fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”  I’m not counting “cock-blocked” or auto-cock-sucking.  “Paranoid schizophrenic” is believing that people are after you when they are not; believing that the whole world is hostile and destructive (which is not exactly fantasy) to an intense degree that hampers behavior and leads to a bodily state of constant panic.  Schizophrenic means an identity and function that are scattered, incoherent, out of touch with reality.  These accusations are an elaborate way of saying someone is lying.

Science is now telling us that there is NO reality except what we create as a construct in our own minds.  Mental health people have not assimilated this yet, but observation of the world confirms that people have quite different ideas about what is real and sometimes they are irreconcilable.  The crux of the problem is that a “culture” develops an idea of what is real (normal) and will create niches for people whose reality is productive (artists, scientists) but cannot tolerate for its own self-preservation any individual or sub-group faction (mafia, religion, Posse Comitatus) that is destructive.  If the sub-group gets big enough, “reality” can be renegotiated.  (Blacks, Native Americans and women can be citizens.  Sex need not be confined to marriage.)

A human being is a complex system of cells that cooperate to perform certain functions.  If one little function, like circulating oxygen or neural messaging, gets interrupted, the results can destroy function and sanity.  It can be very subtle.  A concussion to the pre-frontal cortex can seem like simple orneriness.  Our industrial chemical molecules kill bees and sterilize men without us even realizing it until the consequences are painful.  Mental health consensus is something like that.  Our social valuing of greed, domination, violence — indeed, their celebration by the media as dramatic Old Testament behaviors — have pushed and tempted individuals into an insane level of acts toxic enough to force the culture as a whole to deal with it for the sake of its own preservation.

But this is a culture that IS paranoid schizophrenic, suspecting that anyone who is not “like us” is a danger; or destroying children, the disabled, and the elderly while claiming we love and protect them; insisting that we are honorable and good-looking, when we are not.  Luckily, due to human variousness and written memory, there are still people capable of negotiating the return of the rule of law IF they have the courage and focus.  And IF another paranoid schizophrenic country doesn’t start a nuclear war, provoked by insane presidents.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


AD For French Connection Clothing

Let’s see.  What can I say about the Washington DC mess when I can’t even think about it clearly — at least while I look for the exit sign.

When kids in my classroom began to smart off by using the “f” word, which they used so frequently that they were hardly aware that they were still using it without any particular reason.  I would say in a quiet, calm voice, “Do not say fuck in this classroom.”  

Of course, they were quick to jump all over me for saying fuck in that sentence, because kids love to catch adults doing what the kids are forbidden to do by those same adults.  And I would say,  “I just want it to be clear which word I mean.”  Then we could talk about cursing, the history of cursing (since I’m from the era of Bergen Evans, who made quite a study of the subject back through history.) 

If you’re really into this stuff, here’s a link that includes the famous list of forbidden words that provoked comedian George Carlin

In case you’ve forgotten the forbidden words, they are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and titsI was in college (’57-’61) before I heard anyone say “cocksucker” and I had to think to figure out what it meant.  There are two obscene acts on this list of single words.   Shit, piss and tits can slide past without remark these days.  Attentive seventh-graders no doubt learned some new words as soon as Scaramouche began to talk, but maybe not.

In 1989 a student leaned over the study hall table and said to me, “I ‘spose you’d like me to lick your clit.”  When I was his age, I didn't know there was such a thing as a clit.  I think he was partly reacting to my customary response when a student said, “Fuck you!”  I would say, “No, thank you.”  He was also fond of the gesture of flickering his tongue between his V’d fingers.  The globalization of obscene gestures is underway.

The kids liked insulting each other, sometimes in “slam books” which is a coded notebook, mostly kept by girls, full of nastiness that claims to be innocent because it is presumably anonymous.  Nowadays that’s done on Facebook or Twitter, et al and people take the slams so seriously that they commit suicide.

I found a great essay about a Middle Eastern camel drivers’ culture where they raised insults to an art form, maligning curses in the form of narratives, something like “your mother wears combat boots" but more directly sexual instead of gender role prescriptions.  In New Guinea where tribes live on the crests of ridges between deep valleys hard to cross, they avoid warfare by shouting insults across the rifts.  Since the epithets are in their native languages, I can’t quote them, and anyway I have no idea what their taboos are and those are the usual source of insults.  

So I brought this essay about insults to school and presented it to the kids.  They thought the very idea of explicitly insulting someone was against propriety and common sense.  They claimed they would never do such a thing.  Because to them, part of a successful insult or curse was that it was unexpected, so verboten that it indicated high passion, and was judged by the reaction of the cursed person.  (And they went right on insulting each other without admitting it.)

A major use of offensive language and acts is to thin the line between those in control and those being controlled, which is what the kids were after.  When Scaramouche uses vivid sexual insults, he is trying to say,  “I’m as good as you are, you superior patronizing snob freak.”  In other words, “Your shit don’t smell like cold cream.”  (Or maybe S. was high.)  There’s no thought content, just emotional passion which shows that the accuser is weak, vulnerable, and has already lost.

There’s another dimension, which is that of the media fascination with the Sicilian mafia as reincarnated in America and even Canada.  So the films have offered scripts we’ve all learned.  We KNOW what it means when someone says, “I’ll be surprised if so-and-so doesn’t find a horse head in his bed tomorrow morning.”  Someone from another country or era who doesn’t know that the horse in question was a beloved race horse will miss some of the tragedy.  

Many people, esp. guys, can quote dialogue from these movies, and consider who among the cast of characters fits whom, even which one they choose to emulate.  Scaramouche, Bannnon, and even Kushner with his little boy voice can easily be fitted into the imaginary world created by writers sitting in Hollywood reacting to all the previous movies on the subject.

No one can threaten to kill Trump’s horse or dog, because he doesn’t have pets.  He has children.  This is a very bad thought, but I suspect Trump occasionally thinks it.  When they attack others, people use the threats and obscenities that offend themselves the most.  I expect at the moment Trump is trying not to think of perp walks and being stuffed into a squad car.  (Lakoff?)  He has enough hair that he doesn't need to worry about a protective hand on his head.

These politicians are so obsessed with control, domination, reputation and so on that they become transparent, with arrows pointing to their weaknesses, their insecurity, their worst fears.  There’s no use insulting McCain by saying he’s no hero — he doesn’t have to prove that.  It just is.  And threatening Murkowski by hinting at cutting off Alaska’s money might have been an effective threat in Montana when Zinke was our senator, but it is too obvious when he’s a big shot and Murkowski is female.  He’s using blunt force — which is often ineffective. And it implies that he has been and still is vulnerable to bribes.

Celebrities use obscenities all the time to show that they are above the ordinary riff-raff.  Of course, after those cartoon Simpson children have all developed potty-mouths, it’s less effective.  I sometimes ponder what word could replace fuck.  It will need to start with a sibilant consonant and end with a plosive one.  

Sibilant, in phonetics, a fricative consonant sound, in which the tip, or blade, of the tongue is brought near the roof of the mouth and air is pushed past the tongue to make a hissing sound. In English s, z, sh, and zh (the sound of the s in “pleasure”) are sibilants.”  “Fricative” itself sounds a little dirty, implying friction which implies sex.   

The basic plosives in English are t, k, and p (voiceless) and d, g, and b (voiced)”.  Maddow says “freaking” which obeys this sibilant/plosive form.  One could invent a lot of nonsense “words” but the response is liable to be bafflement.  “Suck” works.  Maybe “scoop” could develop into a dirty word.  No,  plosives on both ends.   

How about “truck”?  “Thank?”  You know the stories about receiving lines where there is so much ambient noise that a bored and rebellious person can respond to insincere compliments withfuck you very much” and never be detected.

Cuss words are a problem for video and sound engineeers.  “If you've ever recorded the human voice with a microphone, you've heard them - those nasty blasts from the mouth that quickly ruin an otherwise perfect recording. We call them plosives and sibilance, and they're the bane of recording engineers around the world.”

Brexit” is not sibilant enough at the beginning.  Political cursing might begin to replace sexual cursing just as sexual cursing replaced religious cursing.  Hardly anyone exclaims “God’s blood!” anymore.  But here comes psychological cursing, more technical than just plain "you're crazy."  You gotta have a diagnosis.

I overheard a conversation between an Obama fan, who praised Obama's sophistication and poise, and a Trump fan, who felt that the latter was far more real and "one of us."  But the advantage to restraint is that if a person like Obama said, "Fuck you!" we'd be blown away.  When the current batch of thugs curses, we laugh.  It has to be labeled "strong language" and "vulgar" or we wouldn't notice.

But vulgar stuff sells, as described in this article about FCUK clothes and Holy Crap cereal.

Friday, July 28, 2017


Netflix bums me out with the onstaught of mindless dreck for uneducated youngsters — repetitious and loud. I doubt that anyone really watches them except to run the TV in the background while getting drunk and pretending they aren’t alone.  They would mock me for complaining that there’s nothing in them to think about.  My survival strategy is to go direct to browse, then international, then Scandinavian, Irish or Australian.  Last night up popped the first Brazilian film.

“Laerte-se” might have been a film I would hesitate to review on my blog only a few weeks ago, since I live in a conservative small town in Montana, where they punch out reporters.  But now, considering the news coming out of the White House, it doesn’t just seem normal to observe the underculture, but also necessary.  The subject, Laerte-se, is a man, a cartoonist and painter, who decided to present himself as a woman in an act of self-identity, a concept people make fun of because they’ve never known they had such a choice. 

What makes this man so interesting is not just that he is trans, which is a category we know (but Trump evidently did not) that includes thousands of soldiers.  Historically, disguised women served in the Civil War.  We are accustomed to the idea of surgical genital conversions — though there is currently a lawsuit over an intersex baby that authorities surgically assigned, evidently without persuading the parents.  

But this is not what Laerte-se is about: she is highly philosophical, an introspective explorer of feelings, with a care for decorum and modesty.  Luckily, she lives in Brazil, a mixed and tolerant nation, among artists and writers.  Though she has resisted interviews, this film is a record of her thought as gently interrogated by a sympathetic female journalist.

L. is Brazilian, where the language is Portuguese, so if you know a little Spanish it will sound almost familiar, but for Americans one is dependent on sub-titles and had better be able to read fast, esp to catch the strip cartoons, frame by frame.  This film takes on trans- everything but — as described in my previous post, starting from the inside of personhood and pushing outward, exploring, generating alternatives, both including and editing.  In the ongoing perpetual skirmishes between “group” and “individual”, this film is a celebration of the intensely individual.  What is rejected is society pushing and requiring whatever has gone before.

The alternative unique category choices include the male/female thing, of course, because gender role is such a means of control.  L. hasn’t done the the genital surgery, though L. says her scrotum can be inconvenient and would not be missed.  But the penis seems friendly and useful.  The surgical question is all about boobs, because “when the bra comes off at the end of the day, the boobs go with it, and that’s sad.”  Eventually, by the end of the film, she has breast implants in time for her daughter’s wedding. 

L’s original decision to assume this gender change was triggered by the death of her son.  It just seemed obvious that if a person has always had a longing and curiosity, at age sixty it was do or deny.  L’s never icky or salacious.  She was a well-respected and established cartoonist.  When L. is filmed at public events, the embraces and kisses are very much there.

It’s unclear whether hormones were involved, but even as a man L. was not handsome.  The long crinkly face is interesting with makeup, but L is clearly in Diana Vreeland Vogue Editor territory without such a bladed nose as hers.  Clothes are a constant absorption.  In an episode about a flamboyant PRIDE-type parade featuring incredible outfits, L is proud of a short gold sequin dress she describes as “slutty,” but in fact she’s rather Puritanical about most things.  An American teenager would not be shocked by the glittering dress.

One of the stereotypes/realities that comes up is that of aging, which seems to give L. permission to be exotic.  She has pedicures, waxes and painted nails.  Not me. In my own case I go the other way: I find that I want to almost wear a uniform: jeans, blue chambray workshirt, same every day. Unconventional for a straight cis-woman approaching eighty.

Besides the cartoons, deftly catching character and contradiction, L draws nude studies on brown paper with a brush and dilute ink, then goes back with China White to pick up highlights.  The reality of curving muscle groups, hand gestures, joints and joinings go up lifesized with a magical quality of inevitability.  She also poses for nude photographs while slathered with white paint or black paint.  They are quite beautiful.  Mysterious.

from "A Man Called Horse"

But suddenly in the midst of all this rather conventional studio art, we are watching the most bizarre scene of “A Man Called Horse.” (1970)  It is an imaginary version of initiation-by- torture recorded in a painting by Catlin in the very early days of encounter with whites.  It’s not very authentic.  In fact, one guy is wearing Johnny Depp’s Tonto raven hat.  But the point is about a community and paying the price to belong.  The tension for L seems to be wanting to love men, but not wanting to love them as being a man himself and wanting to be loved herself as a woman.  Not so much establishing some political right, the idea is exploring unknown inner territory.  (His gender-assigned bathroom jokes are great.  I hope I can find some to post here.)

The nearly last scene of the film is the wedding and though L. had thought it would be wonderful to wear a strapless dress, it turned out to be the bride who wore the white strapless dress — with tattoos and an electrified blinking bouquet.  L. and the bride’s mother were joyful and united.  L’s father had a bit more difficulty adjusting but that’s his business.

There is a grandson, a character full of curiosity whom L. advises us is now bipedal so a little hard to keep up with.  Clearly boy.  He loves his bright playdough patties and playing the piano with L, though the Spiderman theme didn’t appeal.  Batman hit the spot.

The last scene, as is proper, is the most beautiful, approaching trans - cendence.  L.’s brush creates a body on brown paper taped to the studio wall.  The artist has spoken earlier about the human dilemma of being made of flesh.  It is a process that never ceases changing, causing both suffering and delight, and might or might not fit into cultural ideas.  We watch the fluid line following the brush.  She keeps referring to her life model with glances over her shoulder.

Then the camera goes to the open window where the model is on his/her back, smoking a cigarette in the bright sunlight.  We get close to a hairy thigh.  L. has said that the moment she felt the change from male to female was that of removing all body hair.  The model stands up and comes forward.  Both artist and model, both of them gender-inclusive, fully “ornamented” top and bottom -- and graceful.  

They stand in the sunlight, alabaster flesh, unblushingly rosy and nearly translucent.  The beautiful model is adorned with long feather earrings.  We remember that Brazil is the country with tribes still never contacted by the world at large, still innocent of Euro-forms.  But this model is blonde and this artist is gray. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Some vignettes:

My seminary cohort, the mighty class of 1982 which numbered six (except that not everyone graduated in ’82) was contemplating (with the guidance of Professor John Godbey) Einstein’s statement that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”  Everyone seemed agreed that God, if He existed, would not gamble with our fates.  But I had a thought.  It was that if a person playing dice threw the same dice the same way his/her muscles worked each time, then if enough of the throws were recorded and overlaid, there would be a pattern that was the same.  

This was my major theological insight.  (This is irony, in case you need to be told.)  Godbey was delighted — he’s a Christian.  He believed in control and paternalism.  (It didn’t work for his family.)  He was also a historian, but the New History or Deep History had not been conceived yet.  My classmates curled their lips.


Bob Scriver’s second wife’s father was a French-Canadian who ran a pool hall with a barbershop connected.  He was a jovial fellow and loved to demand from Bob,  “Robaire!  What’s in the empty box?”  Bob soon learned to say he didn’t know.  

“Nothing!” DeVicq would roar.  “The box, she is empty !!”  If it was intended to be a pun, it was a little smutty.  But it seemed to be a statement about redundancy.


Then there’s that cat in the box, the illustration of relativity, which is either dead or alive but unknowable until seeing it, which somehow determines which one it is.  But somewhere on the other side of a galaxy far away is another cat which is converted by your seeing this one.

So here’s the deal:  the pattern of the universe is always latent in the chaos until it is perceived.  And when it is no longer in a consciousness somewhere, it disappears.  Astonishment emerges from the quotidian, then shifts like a kaleidoscope, then explodes into whatever stars you can name..    Some scientists say we hallucinate our reality.  So?

I’m not a big fan of TED, but Anil Seth’s clear and demonstrated explanation is truly amazing (a-maze), particularly his created “hallucination” vid in which all “predictions” are presented as images of dogs.  It’s included in this TED talk.

Interoception” is the feedback that maintains homeostasis.  It is the force that keeps us alive.  We predict ourselves into existence.  “When the end of consciousness comes, there is nothing to be afraid of.  Nothing at all.”

This is not a concept of identity that’s based on a box, a social role, the pressure of outside forces against one’s skin, behavior and persona, but rather a way to think about the artesian center of the body/brain pushing out, making space for itself in the world, whatever “a world” is.  It is the force that keeps us alive by monitoring the homeostasis of the body and fighting to keep it balanced.  It's immanental.

No one really knows what “reality” is, so that’s why Anil Seth calls it a controlled hallucination, created from our own premises.  One must reconcile that vision by matching it against what has gone before in one’s own experience.  But also by insisting on its unique reality in a world of other people who see something different.  In the end, everything is code.  The operation of the body is code, sensation is code, the planet and the cosmos and all the mysterious forces that hold it together and make it twirl are all code.

Today there was an article about what evolution suppressed in terms of neanderthal versions of reality, which were evidently much more about the solid objects of daily life and less about social interaction.  We spend so much time projecting the future and not enough reflecting on where we came from, which is what is subconscious, still functioning potently in our dreams and waking impulses.  It’s the deep well-spring that fills our aquifers with ideas, whether the larger society agrees or not.  The scientists called it “residual echo.”

Western society has clung almost desperately to the idea of rationality, codes that are universal, technological, useful, and controlled by rational people with degrees.  This is considered the peak of thought and virtue, though it is linked to hierarchies and binary oppositional justice that now begin to do harm.  It is one of the amusing developments of the last decades that physics, that solid science of forces, has become the source of knowledge about the swirling variousness of the tiny bits that make up our furniture and our bodies so we can sit in chairs.  And that much of our knowledge about sub-atomic quantum mechanics has come from our determination to “own” means of destruction beyond anything known to humans before.

It is a hollow assumption that one person can control another, that humans can make themselves the control center of the planet.  It is a loss of homeostasis, which is belonging to oneself in the deepest way.  Rational code-shaping creates swords, which are penetrations, the most personal of which are rape.  The opposite is “empathy” which is not sympathy (Oh, I’m so sorry or glad!) nor “theory of mind” (I know what you’re going to do next.), but rather the ability to feel what another person feels by being open to them.  This is what some people think is the new growing edge of evolution.  It is not explored through science so much as humanities: not hard code, but suggestiveness and metaphors that arouse free association, subconscious to subconscious.  Maybe full of grief or yearning or even joy.  Impatience, fury.  The neanderthal force of the subconscious, thought embodied in flesh.

It takes time, like an old-fashioned photo developing at the bottom of the acidic pan and then needing to be dried on a turning drum.  Years, decades, centuries later (there haven’t been photos that long but evidence in the molecular magnetic orientation of stones still abides) someone will break the code and the world will fall open.  Again.

What’s in the empty box?  Nothing.  All order is really chance.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

WALTER MCCLINTOCK travels "The Old North Trail"

"Brave Dogs Smoking Before an Eagle Tipi"
McClintock's title.

“The Blackfoot Papers” Volume One

Strangely enough, there is no entry for Walter McClintock on Wikipedia.  There’s your chance to write one.

McC.’s first buddy was William Jackson, mixed blood, who was guiding a government inventory expedition to Glacier Park, since the US had just acquired it.  McC's specialty was presumably botany.  He was in the era of “salvation anthropology” when it was believed that the “Indians” were disappearing and that their vanishing lives should be preserved.  But their youngsters were interested in becoming modern and their old ways were oral, so it was up to whites to save everything on paper.  

Then McC became close to Mad Wolf, who named him “White Weasel Moccasin” and sponsored him to the tribe, adopting him as his son.  This was formal enough to be registered by letters at the Blackfeet Agency.  What McClintock may not have realized was that those old chiefs knew the strategy of finding and flattering a white man to be their instrument in the white world.  “McClintock’s adopted father, Mad Wolf, was a close friend and ceremonial partner to White Calf, who adopted Grinnell.”  Chewing Black Bone adopted Keith Seele, an Egyptologist of note.  Adopted sons were supposed to take care of their fathers.  This was not always done.  Whites accepted the honor but not the responsibility.

McC was the same era as Schultz and Grinnell, but never mentioned them.  They probably formed their own rather guarded relationships.  But McClintock didn’t become “part of the tribe” as AHW claims Schultz and Grinnell did.  (As AHW and John Hellson did — they don’t mention each other, though they are sort of modern echoes of those earlier men.)

p 165  Louis (Plenty Treaty) Bear Child  said that he sometimes worked for McClintock as a guide and interpreter.  He said the people generally respected him, that he was a quiet and decent fellow.  But he was also seen as somewhat aloof.  He often liked to be alone to write.  No one was quite sure what to make of him.  Louis’ personal complaint was that McClintock ‘was too cheap.’”  That’s a pretty universal complaint about all white men.

AHW is a little disappointed that McC sometimes changes names and dates to suit his story.  Maybe the guy just didn’t take good enough notes, or maybe he was improving his narrative, Schultz-style.  AHW is an academic historian by training.

“Scholars periodically describe McClintock as one who ‘lived for years among the Blackfeet,’ which is not quite correct.  He came to the tribe for the first time in 1886, met Mad Wolf, was adopted and never saw Mad Wolf again after that.”   In 1903 he came back for a few weeks for the “Sun Dance Encampment” — dunno if that’s the same as today’s Indian Days.  According to AHW, he came back in 1906, but not later.  I'm not sure I trust that idea.  

In those early days of the century, people tried to wear their traditional clothes and put up lodges with traditional interiors.  To encourage that in the Sixties, there were competitions for “most authentic”, in the style of State Fairs.  This complicates photo evidence by mixing periods.

AHW quotes McC’s notes of 1903:

("Many rough pages, badly scribbled, with minimal details of names and dates."  McC's opinion.McC describes arriving, searching out James White Calf and riding with Wissler to the Sun Dance camp.  Then there are notes about observing things like making a parfleche, gossip about people (“The son of Many White Horses was sent to school at Fort Shaw around 1900, married his white teacher there and moved with her to a city, though the relationship didn’t last long.  At this time, in 1903, the son was living somewhere back east.  He was the first known Pikunni to marry a white woman, and among the first to go live far from the tribe.”) and many descriptions of how poor they were.

There’s an amusing argument about which star was “Scar Face,” whom missionaries are always trying to push into the template of JesusBlack Snake Woman said it was Morning Star.  Last Gun said it was North StarMiddle Calf said it was a small star near Morning Star.  Shorty called bogus, saying none of them really knew.  Only the old-timers knew.

Before leaving, he went by the place in Browning occupied by Joseph Sharp and his wife.  
Sharp gave him a painting of a “Cheyenne Indian Head.”  One could accuse these people of feeding off of the last heritage of an impoverished people, and Louis was correct in saying they didn’t pay what anything was worth — no one had much idea how valuable the photos and painting could become.  Some of these men really did try to “become” part of the community and others didn’t.  Anyway, at that point no indigenous person was prepared to preserve the past in English words on paper.


Mad Wolf DID write to McC.  McC evidently sent him photos.  Mad Wolf says dramatically, “When I get your letters I hold them to my breast and shut my eyes and then I can see my son who writes them.”   He speaks of matters of health and also how the people are getting along with each other and their Great Father.  He says “The old way of killing is now under and the white man’s way is on top, and there is no way they can get killed only by killing themselves.”  (Talk about SM!)  At least one letter is written by a proxy: Thomas Magee.  Mad Wolf says it is okay to share his letters with Grinnell.  He sends McC a BAT !! and wants it arranged “with wings folded like a bird on a nest”.  Evidently he intends for it to be preserved for ceremonial use, something like a “study skin” which is not quite mounted on a false body as in taxidermy, but still preserved enough to prevent rot..

There is a section of Clark Wissler letters to McC.  He wants to use photos for his own talks, and praises “The Old North Trail” which he considers “artistic” rather than scientific, but effective in getting the material into the hands of ordinary readers.  His praise is always slightly patronizing.

p 271  Wissler says, “Finally, the thing that you do well and at which you show evidence of genius, is to portray the concrete settings of this culture.  It is a bit of actual Indian life that one looks in upon.  It is this that serious minded folk with most appreciate.

“I sometimes wonder if some day you will not go back and give us in this delightful way a view of twenty-five years afterward.  What now would be the attitude of the best men?  What incidents in their lives would stand out?  And thus without seeming to do it, give one a picture of the wreck due to the smashing of a civilization.”

McC mentions camping on “upper Cut Bank” which I would guess is near Starr School.  Maybe where the Starr School road joins highway 89, which is close to where Old Jim White Calf’s allotment was.  Arthur Nevin was visiting, another claiming to write “Indian” music.  (It’s nice, but not Blackfeet.) 

At one point he attends a Catholic mass, evidently at Holy Family, though he says “Santa Maria” which doesn’t match any church.  But also he says “Two Medicine” which is the location of the mission at Holy Family.  He says:  “Father a tough looking specimen.  Strange service.”

Another incident that actually involves a photo:  “A hot ride over prairies . . . down the Cut Bank cool.  Riding up to lodge, saw a few feet away and on river bank a young Indian woman gathering strawberries.  Picturesque.  Long hair in braids over shoulders . . . Picketed horse on hill, then asked for picture.  Refused.  Told her she ought to have it for her lover to show him how fine she looks.  That seemed to decide the question so she came, kneeling in the grass as directed.  That was Strikes in Night. . . . Sad story of big family, deserted by worthless father who turned them out of house . . .  They live along in a small lodge a short distance up the river.  They return upriver, crossing, mother and eldest girl with children on their backs. Took photos.”

Wild strawberries do grow around here (at least there are a lot of them near Dupuyer) but usually what people pick along the streams are chokecherries (after a frost) and sarvisberries.  AHW claims that McClintock spent time learning a lot of botanical information from a tribal woman, claiming to plan a separate book which he never wrote.  The info was added at the end of “The Old North Trail.”