Sunday, September 24, 2017

"GONE BABY GONE" Commentary


My premise is that our culture doesn’t derive either ethics or morality from religion, but rather from screen-writers.  “Gone Baby Gone” is an excellent illustration.  It’s adapted from a book, so I really should say authors instead of screen-writers.  The point is that we learn how to act by watching stories.

Ethics and morals relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different: ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual's own principles regarding right and wrong.”

The trouble is that morality is always situational and ethics vary from one culture to another.  In a place with a rule of law and trained enforcers (cops) who are allowed violence, justice is always being compromised and even the goal is elusive.  In a slum ghetto life is a mix of danger and sentimentality.  Even the protection of children is conflicted.  Once it was children’s labor that destroyed a child’s well-being and now it is drugs that render parents toxic.  But a lost or endangered child is still emotional enough to cause a media circus, esp. a small blonde girl.

The protagonist, Casey Affleck, is presented as an effective intervenor because he knows all the people and his girl friend is a pure soul, so we follow him through the muck, corruption, and double-crosses.  The rule of law is footnoted by the girl friend’s sincere emotional reactions, in contrast to the shallow performances of people full of guilt and rage.  She dives in.

I don’t know about the book, but the film is schematic, outrageous, unreasonable, sensational, preposterous and possible.  The actors, besides Affleck, are idealistic people who gravitate to this sort of tale.  Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and even Michael K. Williams, though minus Omar’s cornrows.  If you removed the “f word” from the dialogue, the movie would be half the length, but if you can get over the language, this sort of approach will tell you more than a course in “wisdom” from a fine university, even if the campus IS in the middle of a bad part of town.  

Now that we’ve all seen the photo of the suburban parents passed out in the front of their nice car while their kids patiently wait in the back, we’re over the fantasy that poverty causes addiction.  People who can’t wait to get high don’t make supportive parents: love is irrelevant, owning one’s kids, because you made them, becomes obscene.  There is talk of requiring a license to be a parent, rather than for a marriage.  Yet there is a contingent that wants to force children to be born, no matter the circumstances.  That may have made sense in an Old Testament tribe with extended families.

More than anything else, this plot is ambiguous in order to point out the irresolvability of life itself.  The author, Dennis Lehane, has worked on “The Wire”, which was acclaimed for many of the same reasons that this film attracts praise and admiration.  In spite of being packed with words so stigmatized that one can be hauled into court for using them, the “street slang” is praised.  Meanwhile, respectable people are fired for using the same words, even from high prestige positions.  Do we imagine that bad words are somehow real?  Why is saying “fuck” unforgivable but “duck” merely a bird?

Do we imagine that somehow hard, dirty, dangerous, sex-obsessed lives are more real than those of we couch potatoes?  That they have a license to curse?  And why do we only know four-letter words that rhyme with truck and stunt.

Is it different to address the morality of many people one-by-one in this video series way, although in much greater cumulative numbers than could be gathered in a theatre or a church?  More powerful or less?

Morality is often discussed in terms of “choices” rather than rules, which are the mode of ethics.  We speak of someone in bad trouble, even having done terrible things, as making “bad choices,” like the wrong sized shirt or flavor of ice cream.  Doesn’t that diminish the seriousness of choosing to abuse or “choosing” arson?  And what about "combat choices" -- instant reflex or death?

We often address limits on our choices, like those imposed by a cultural code, by changing the boundaries, sometimes by physically moving to a new place.  But choosing a place that seems more generous and possible than the previous place often means that one must give up cultural “choices” imposed by the previous place, like killing daughters who make the wrong “choice.”  The choice of wearing a veil in a place that forbids them in schools can remove the possibility of an education.  

Our obvious pluralism is curiously excused in moral terms if  “everyone else does it.”  The individual opposition to conformity that was characteristic of the Sixties and Seventies is now dismissed.  If one criticizes a bad politician, the response is “all the others are just as bad.”  So it is hopeless to try to oppose evil, because everyone is evil.  So what does choice mean? 

Once there was considered to be heroism in sticking to an ethical rule, as the protagonist does in this film — insisting that a child should be with her parent regardless of anything else.  Yet the official cops take the law into their own hands, so how can they be trusted?  The girl friend goes farther, operating on the basis of emotion/compassion, arguing that it is a higher command, a sort of New Testament contrast to her Commandment-based boyfriend.  

Films are censored through commerce: funding would not be provided to people who don’t “sell” movies.  Luckily, these specific people have enough money to also have control.  I happen to approve of their outlook, but there are other actors who are pretty seamy and sly.  The main way we have of controlling the morality of major corporations is through boycotts, non-attendance.  And yet such actions are sometimes capricious (Oprah’s suspicion of beef).  Good reviews can only go so far in attracting high quality viewers who will value the message, but the reviews ARE good in terms of choice.  This film was recommended.

“A superior, haunting thriller of abduction, deception and ethical dilemma with a sobering ending - a moral quandary that demands strong debate outside the cinema.”  Full review   Angie Errigo

“Ben Affleck's tumultuous tale of abduction, treachery and murder explores humanity's best and worst intentions—and questions the line that separates them. Full review”  Paul Asay

While the covers are being stripped off of the currrent political beds, revealing far worse things than cut-off horse’s heads or even drowned children (like millions of desperately ill children denied insurance coverage), we’ve got to do something besides screaming in the streets.  Thoughtful films do help.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/sep/23/secrets-of-the-tv-writers-rooms-tv-narcos-silicon-valley-transparent?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=245033&subid=10790770&CMP=GT_US_collection

Saturday, September 23, 2017

BECOMING BRILLIANT IS HARDER THAN IT LOOKS

The Reverend Dr. Davidson Loehr (retired)

When I was in high school in the Fifties there was a lot of emphasis on “exceptionalism.”  Not the nation, but we students as individuals.  Lots of testing, lots of special programs, lots of praise and consciousness of obligations of the intellectually endowed to serve the nation . . . or whatever.  In a class of 500 I scored in the top 1%, which I thought was pretty special until I got to college and realized that everyone there was in the same top bracket.  At least I got a full-tuition scholarship out of it, but — alas — it didn’t lead to being in the top 1% of American incomes.  (One percent of 323.1 million people is still 3 million people.  Surely there are many fewer billionaires than that, altho now we discover that Trump has been bluffing all these years.)

The directive to be brilliant was internalized by me, though I suppressed it for a while by marrying a man considered and commanded to be brilliant.  The trouble with brilliance is that one is not really in control of it — the social context is crucial (small pond means even a small frog can shine, but even small ponds dry up) and even then happenstance can keep one out.  I went to seminary (which amounted to the backdoor of U of Chicago Div School, surely a key to brilliance) expecting everyone to be brilliant, but most turned out to be fairly pedestrian.  The Div School faculty included world class scholars and some of the students were stunningly intelligent, but being smart and educated is not all there is to brilliance.

One of my classmates has been more gripped by this “brilliance” thing than I have.  (I know when I’m licked.)  Davidson Loehr comes to mind now partly because of the Vietnam consciousness.  Among his several career-attempts (mostly successful -- for a while) was being a war correspondent’s guide and combat photographer during that war.  As a Marine he had graduated from officer’s school which was finally to him a certification that was at least very special.  Beyond that, he had once been targeted by a sniper in a tree but a convoy guard had shot the sniper before he could pull the trigger.  David kept the unfired bullet in his desk because when he was given the bullet out of the sniper’s gun, he was told it had his name on it.  This sort of thing goes over very well in seminary.

Among other skills, like photography, he played the piano and sang in a rich voice.  When I gave up being brilliant and decided to settle for narcissistic, I once persuaded him to sing both versions of the Ave Maria  (Schubert and Bach/Gounod) as part of my vespers — we each had responsibility for an occasional Friday night vespers.  I can’t remember what the sermon was.  No one nailed me for self-celebration, which I needed badly in my state of mediocrity.  If one can’t be brilliant, why not be scandalous?

David wanted to be the minister of the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, MI, whose pastor, David Rankin, he considered the cock of the walk.  When Brent Smith got there instead, he was upset, but then Brent left in two years and he smiled.  W. Fred Wooden is there now, along with others, and my eyebrows are up.  This is a very large free-standing church, ambiguously liberal Christian and flirting with the UUA, a denomination once considered brilliant.  Loehr settled for Kalamazoo. 1986 - 1995

This is their official account of his ministry.  “Davidson Loehr attracted large congregations. He began to include children regularly in a portion of the Sunday morning service. A scholar and gifted writer and speaker, Davidson played an active role in debating community issues. People's Church Presents appeared weekly on Cable Access TV. In 1991-92 the church began holding two Sunday morning services. Adult education classes were popular, as were discussions, open to the public, of televised presentations on religious topics. Congregational dissension resulted in the resignation of Dr. Loehr in 1995 and the departure of several members who formed the UU Community Church.”  

Then he went on to the Austin, Texas, UU Church where the Austin Chronicle reported in 2000: “The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin has undergone changes in recent months. During December, its senior minister, Davidson Loehr, was dismissed from the church. For many the dismissal process was unfair, upsetting, and wrong. While many others felt the dismissal was fair. Many remain distressed over the dismissal. Others are happy.”  Brilliant but iconoclastic clergy in iconoclastic institutions are liable to be explosive.  In this case, the precipitating cataclysm was the destruction of the World Trade Towers.  Loehr sided with those who believed the CIA had something to do with it and that explosives had been planted.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEhQBAVX9hQ
Here he is.  He’s on Facebook.  I'm not.  We haven't been in contact for decades.

In seminary Loehr made the Meadville faculty so angry that they threw him out.  He was brilliant enough to march over to the U of Chicago Divinity School and continue to a traditional Ph. D.  He was narcissistic enough to demand that I quit Meadville in solidarity with him.  But I was too mediocre to hack Div School and knew it.  HE knew it.  He just wanted company in his disgrace.  But he wasn’t all that disgraced anyway.  Langdon Gilkey and others were his champions.  He was an excellent carpenter and had made many friends that way.

So I’ll have to wait for brilliance to be thrust upon me.  All I wanted was to go back to Montana, and I did that.  He’s had one book published.    America, Fascism, and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher  (Sep 15, 2005)  by Davidson LoehrPaperback  $2.97(42 used and new offers)


David’s old hero, John Wolf has just died in his Nineties.  Many considered him brilliant.  He had one church in his whole career and people are rumored to have given him sports cars in gratitude.  He’s in the Tulsa Hall of Fame, but not the Texas Hall of Fame.  Fame is always comparative.  He ran Meadville from behind the scenes, which is why David considered that seminary and was admitted.  But Wolf never split his church.  David always split his church — his inner uproar always prevailed.  But he nevertheless survived, so maybe Marine Officer’s School was worth something after all.

So what is brilliance?  What good is it?  Who defines it, certifies it, prepares someone for it?  Who even cares?  I no longer expect to find out.  Now I think in terms of “fittingness,” which is not about the three Middle Eastern Abramic religions so determined to dominate by being “best.”  Fittingness is a kind of Taoist thought.  Ecological.

Friday, September 22, 2017

I MISSED VIETNAM THE FIRST TIME


Along with many others, I’m sure, I’m watching the Vietnam War history on PBS, the one made by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  I’m putting off reading the discussion until after I’ve seen the whole series.  I notice that there is suddenly a LOT of Vietnam comment and history which is interesting — it must mean something besides just cashing in on the publicity that always praises Burns and Novick.  Maybe it is our current political struggle with a renewed Cold War, now internet enabled.

I often say I missed the Sixties because instead I lived the 19th century over again in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation where we were still digesting what had happened a century earlier.  Starvation, confinement, massacre, the Other as enemy, economic corruption, land theft.  It wasn’t that much different, but it was distant in time (not very) rather than place, and the Native Americans had not won.  (Yet.)  It was confusing and there were not many theories or permissions for analysis, because oil corporations were still picking up where the railroad industrialization had left off.  We still had a manufacturing park with a sawmill and a pencil factory.

In the Sixties kids either learned or left.  Just the first beginnings of new ways of looking at it were appearing.  The Catholics had started a parochial school, the Methodists had begun a version of Head Start, and by the Seventies Bill Haw had organized a “free school.”  By then Vietnam had triggered a major culture sea change.  JFK began the building of housing projects that continues today.  LBJ’s opposition to race stigma has faltered but not died.  

In the Sixties we had no television from the American side — we watched Lethbridge broadcasts so a lot of what we saw was hockey or Diefenbacher, and most of it was pretty snowy.  (No cable, no satellite, no video.)  When we saw race riots, they were not censored and they were incredibly vicious  But there was so much family and town turmoil to deal with that by the time we landed on the moon in 1969, only a few adults watched or believed it.  Our grandkids sat in the backyard and sang camp songs to keep their sanity amid warring adults, a dying mother, and an asymmetrical marriage.

Because Bob Scriver grew up there (he was the same age as George Kicking Woman) in a tiny minority of whites, and wanted to be an “Indian,” like his best friend who was the father of James Welch Jr., his grasp of prejudice was weak.  Because he was the City Magistrate, a Justice of the Peace, and the backup coroner, his distinction was pretty much drawn among the law abiding citizens, the dangerous criminals, the harmless drunks (we hired them when they were sober) and the corrupt whites.  His worst hatreds were aimed at the “big fat cigar-smoking officials in the back room who control everything” and the hypocrites who threw him out of the Masons for being divorced.

If that sounds like material for episodes of “Gunsmoke,” that was pretty much the world we lived in.  The 19th century West was our subject matter and the 19th century Roman Block bronze casting technique, a high-prestige version of lost wax casting, was our method.  The style was that of 19th century Paris, which was imported to the US for monumental statues.  As a child, Bob had absorbed the realistic but dramatic approach by studying the newspapers after WWI, often featuring big bronzes as the ultimate honor.  He and the tribal council at the time began a series meant to create a kind of parade route of Blackfeet heroic bronzes:  “No More Buffalo,” “Transition,” “Return of the Blackfeet Raiders,” were small versions of what was intended.  It never happened.

But the whole country had an abiding hunger for something grand and honorable.  When Phimister Proctor was commissioned to make portraits of American Indians on horseback (at least one was posed for by Eddie Big Beaver from Browning), it was said that the American Indian represented the true American.  In our usual contradictory way, we make saints of those we simultaneously shun and destroy.  
by Phimister Proctor

But then we go back to destruction, pulling down the monuments (anyway, they were cheap, poorly made, oversold) and debunking heroes.  There are no Native American people in this Vietnam series as far as I’ve watched.  Not even code-talkers.  Some of the veterans’ stories about that combat said it was a mistake to be NA because it was assumed they were out of Leatherstocking tales and had unnatural powers to track and sense danger, so they were made to walk at the head of the column, even though they were the ghetto-raised kids of people who had migrated to LA to build war materials in WWII.  It took a lot of movies to overcome the Fifties television series stereotypes.  Probably still hasn’t happened entirely.

When I was teaching in Heart Butte in 1990 and videos were just available, I showed every movie I could find about NA’s.  One of them was “Soldier Blue” which was meant to be an indignant comment on Vietnam — it was produced by Jane Fonda— and some of it was shot-for-shot from the evening news.  The kids just thought it was disgusting.  They had never seen the news.  They clung to the 19th century versions in the movies they knew, even though the “Indians” were often the losers. 

In the Sixties Ramon Gonyea was the first indigenous curator of the Museum of the Plains Indian.  For an art show he painted an NA version of a screaming person in Picasso’s “Guernica.”  No one recognized it, much less shared the sentiment.  He went on to a career as an artist and curator of American indigenous culture at The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art  https://www.eiteljorg.org, one of the many monumental museums that mark the conflation of cowboys and Indians, partly as a justification of Vietnam and partly as an attempt to dignify the enormous fortunes made from natural resources.  The CMRussell museum in Great Falls is a secondary version.


Business was good for Bob Scriver and the Cowboy Artists of America, but no one admitted directly that this mix of exploitation/indigenous peoples/frontier/empire wealth  was what was powering the sentiment.  And still is.  Check out the “lifestyle” magazines of baroque art leather/silver/turquoise/
sex material culture of the wealthy in the American SW.  They’re on every grocery store magazine rack.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

GETTING OLD IS REVERSED GROWING UP


Mary Scriver feeding chickens

Plainly, getting old is like going back down the steps of growing up.  In those days I was constantly discovering new skills, new abilities, new thoughts, new awareness of a widening circle.  Now it’s all the opposite.  I can’t walk as far, as stumble-free, as quickly as I used to.  I can’t open jar lids or even sealed cellophane wrappings, and pulling up the tab on the cat food cans only breaks my fingernails.  People talk too quickly and softly about things I care nothing about.  I’m more incoherent in my thinking, have to think longer to remember the word I want.

Yet strangely — except not that strange since I spend a good half-day at the keyboard knocking out these posts for my blog and in the process watching specialized vids  — I know far more about what goes on in the world than the people around me even know exists even though their TV screens are four times as big as my computer monitor.  It puts me more out-of-sync in the eternal tension between the individual and the group than I ever expected to be.  In fact, after twenty years in Valier, I’m more different from everyone else here than I was in the beginning, partly because they are so out-of-touch with the larger world that I see on my computer screen.  There’s a lot of danger in these boundaries, because there is a lot of fear in them.

On both sides.  I become afraid of locals — even the locality.  With reason.  Small problems, like the fact that the soil under our houses is gumbo, caleche, unstable fine clay formed by the PNW volcano eruptions in the primal times of the continent.  This has meant that doors only occasionally fit their doorways when the humidity and temperature matches the conditions when they were installed.  The rest of the time they stick, maybe don’t fit at all.

But now it appears that my house has sunk as a whole house, so that the web of plumbing under it is pressing against the floor joists and is deformed to the point of preventing proper drainage.  This may cost a couple of thousand dollars, but the alternative is sinks and toilet (only one) that don’t work.  At present it all vents through the shower drain instead of out the standing vent pipe that I had considered the problem.  I can only pay for the necessary work by borrowing, but if I had to borrow locally, I would not be able to.  Luckily, I knew that, so my credit arrangements are back in Portland, except that I had not predicted the Equifax hacking scandal.

Venting the drain system inside the house means that I’m occasionally breathing a miasma of methane, human ick, and — much more than that — possible toxic fumes from illicit meth labs.  I’m on the main trunk of the city sewer line, so there’s no way to figure out who’s putting it down the drain.  I don’t know what it does to our sewage lagoon digestive microorganisms.  The town does notice who suddenly has an unexplained excess of money.  Prosperity is something that is closely monitored here but the impulse to flaunt wealth is strong.  It’s easier for out-of-town ranchers to show off, though it would be a mistake to think the neighbors don’t notice shiny new machines of great cost.

At the same time that people become more intent on money-as-security, more willing to risk punishment, our town is becoming weaker, less able to self-govern.  The county, which is presumably the backup, is also part of this weakening, thinning, dynamic.  The state is controlled by continental corporations, mostly resource developers.  (It would be cynical to say “exploiters.”)  The whole country was treated to an example of our political leadership when Gianforte assaulted a reporter.  What they didn’t know, thank goodness, was how many locals saw Gianforte as justified.  The only thing worse than being an outsider is inquiring into matters that might be embarrassing.  Like health care.

And aging.  “Montana’s older population is one of the largest in the country. By 2025 Montana is presumed to rank between third and fifth in the nation in the percent of older adults 65+, which will account for at least 25 percent of the Montana population.”  http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/livable-communities/plan/planning/montana-state-plan-on-aging-2011-2015-aarp.pdf  If you’re not from Montana, you might not notice that the counties with low percentages of oldsters are the ones with NA reservations.  The Native American population is still young and increasingly better educated than adjoining communities.  My sympathies are with them.  30% of Valier is now Native American.

The aging white population is not just a new minority, but --significantly -- born a set of baby boomers.  We have been used to the ethos of the WWII veterans: their belief in working together, their care for future generations, their wide world-view from being in other cultures.  Now the John McCains are slipping away.  It is their children, full of their own entitlement, who are running things.

I’m not quite a baby boomer — some people think I pay too much attention to time-lines, but being born just before WWII puts me in a small category of people who came to consciousness during a period that emphasized heroism and asceticism.  Since my paternal side was homesteaders in Dakota with NO consciousness of the indigenous people they pushed out (they didn’t know any of them) and since they had only one short period of prosperity, it makes me nervous to have much.  

Publishers Clearing House tells me yet again that I might win $1,000 a day and my main reaction is worry — not about being passed over, but about winning.  Of course, to me $1,000 a day sounds like an immense amount of money.  But I’m aware that taxes will take at least half, which means $15,000 a month, not enough to buy a really good car.  It would be good for my plumbing, however, and that would be a positive development.

If I used my new found wealth to buy an incinerating toilet, which converts poop to ash, I would still need sink drains.  If I used it to reinforce this house enough to install a metal roof, a water-accumulating system, and solar panels, the town would sneer.  It wouldn't look like prosperity to them.  I’d still have the same neighbors, both good and bad, and the same pot-holed streets.  It would not affect the feral cat population.  Maybe I could fund some kind of program.

If I used the money to upgrade my back workshed, that would be a good thing, if I had the strength to work there.  I could also upgrade my so-called bunkhouse to make it mosquito-proof, install real beds, and decorate it "cute".  But that would attract visitors and cut back on my writing time.  


My real wealth is time to write.  If I become unable to write, then I would be impoverished and ready to die.

2nd grade writing -- illustrated

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

THE HIPPOPOTAMUS: The film, not the animal.

Stephen Fry

Just when I despair of ever seeing anything worthwhile on Netflix, I stumble onto something that makes me happy.  This time is was a film called “The Hippopotamus” which was not National Geographic, but rather British fol-de-rol.  It’s actually a Peter O’Toole film, or maybe a Bill Nye vehicle, which would not be remarkable except that the crucial centerpole is played by that sober and fatherly supervisor of “Endeavor,” DI Fred Thursday, who is played by Roger Allam.  He does look something like Stephen Fry, who writes autobiographically about his gay, bipolar self.  

This time Allam is the outrageous and self-destructive crazy uncle.  It hadn’t really occurred to me he could play anyone but Thursday, but he’s even in Game of Thrones as Illyrio Mopatis, though so shadowy he’s unrecognizable, but he’s done enough voice-overs that I ought to have recognized that.  In the English tradition, he’s really more of a stage actor and thus quite versatile.

This plot is flimsy but crammed with Englishisms centering on the big manor house and its grounds, sheltering ingrown families whose members all hate each other even though they may have once been married to each other.  Maybe because of that.  Most boxes in the oeuvre are checked: the ancient butler, the out-of-it-patriarch, the animals in trouble, insane driving, mysterious ailments, too-gorgeous mothers and their unmarriageable daughters, etc.  A part probably bigger than it deserves to be is the huge loud gay man braying at the elegant dinner table.  Stephen Fry can get away with writing it because of who he “is.”

In fact, in a wildly entertaining opening scene he nails a pretentious staging of well-endowed, nearly nude, young men spouting nonsense.  Without his personal history he couldn’t do that either.  (Wikipedia serves the facts well-enough, so I won’t repeat here.)  The whole film is really an occasion to rehearse Fry’s ideas about religion when it is assumed to be magic, art when it takes on empty social values that the consumers don’t really fathom, and the touching but rather desperate attempts of sons to become something exceptional and full of genius.

For some of us, that’s well-trodden territory, but what makes it worthwhile is the wittiness of the dialogue and the sincere compassion that is under it.  Sure, it’s all hallucinations, constructs in the mind that can’t be resolved, totally controlled by social assumptions.  In the end, if one faces these eternal dilemmas squarely (even when drunk) then the stuck-ness that ordinarily haunts all creative people will be broken through by love and laughter to get things moving again.  The result, of course, is bound to risk being ridiculous.  The first poem that comes out of this blocked writer is entitled “The Hippopotamus”— and there you go.  It’s the first of a cataract.

In the US we tend to take these issues so seriously that they become murderous, esp. when the issues are intra-family.  The English gentry’s estates are only matched by giant ranches and none of them is much older than the Civil War.  Miraculous cures and some religious issues are delegated to the indigenous population, shamans and so on.  Well, that’s not the reality, but much of the plot fodder.

Writing in the US is money-making like everything else and we see it as a matter of workshops, MFA degrees if you can afford them, or the transformative holocausts of poverty — often delegated to a female survivor like Daenerys Targarean who can literally walk out of a bonfire.  (“Literally,” of course, in movie terms.)  In the US we punish hoaxes severely; in the United Kingdom, everyone laughs and goes on.

The basic issue of the hippopotamus is an equation of sex — very literally — with the creativity of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the most religious of poets.  It’s impossible to argue with the seriousness and skill of such a poet.  It’s not even very easy to make fun of him, much less imitate him.  But surely the fountain of inspiration is always hormonal and poetry must be bodily because it is based on sensuality.

A subset of this issue is that of healing: the argument here is against healing, which is a kind of denial of suffering, but also means ignoring what is learned from affliction, being forced to find one’s inner resources, which is not always respected by those around the sufferer, who react in ways that help themselves, either by aggrandizing the pain or by denying it.

Bipolarism is a self-management problem that is romanticized and even valued by our Brit-based culture.  Life is considered exhilarating if one goes from valley to peak and then is cast down again — as long as the progress keeps moving towards some grand climax of literary prowess — like “King Lear” or “Moby Dick.”  That’s why people climb Mount Everest, to fulfill that pattern.  Asian cultures where calm and temperance are admired are alien to us and some have suggested that our antipathy to Obama is due to his Indonesian elegant self-control rather than his skin color.  

We much prefer the violence and intemperance of the Red Neck American South.  The shocking excess and confrontation of the central character in this film are, I suppose, the British equivalent of a tractor pull.  But the wickedness is symbolized by old-fashioned alcohol rather than opiates, which have captured our mainstream, forcing the poets to return to hallucinogens in hopes of miraculous visions.  The Irish, of course, have not given up whiskey and enjoy their visions anyway.  Something about acid.

But Fry’s comments, acid as they may be, and more useful for flaying than healing, are still capable of clearing the artistic way that has become rotten and paralyzed.  A hippo is famous for submerging in rank old waterways, rising up to spray its fecal by-products by spinning its tail, a source of fertility.  However, hippos — clumsy and ugly as they may seem on land — are quite capable of killing a person.  Climbing too high without proper skills can also kill a person.  


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NAILS IN THE COFFIN

Olbermann

For months I’ve been watching the series of vids produced through GQ and entitled “The Resistance with Keith Olbermann Video Series”.  I was following on Twitter.  In case the vids have disappeared from that source,  you can still watch from the website:

https://video.gq.com/watch/the-closer-with-keith-olbermann-trump-russia-and-the-facebook-factor?c=series   That link will also give you a transcript.  I just want to quote the end:

“We will wake up one of those mornings
and Trump will be retweeting another anti-semite
or trying to provoke a deranged foreign leader
or whining about somebody on television
and it will all seem nightmarishly normal
and then during the day there will be
a bunch of meetings at the White House
that we'll hear about, featuring lawyers
and prosecutors suddenly appearing in car load lots
and that night around 6:00 we will suddenly hear
that Trump is going to resign the following morning.
And people will be surprised.
Well, some of them will be.”

The morning may be soon.  Olbermann, once a colleague and mentor of Rachel Maddow, is a dynamic bulldog of a man, the sort that once could command wide political or even ecclesiastical power with vigorous truth-telling.  He describes Mueller’s progress as dripdripdrip, but it might be more morbidly described as rapraprap as the nails go into the coffin of Donald Trump’s so-called career.  

The rumours now flying around are far worse than pee-pee tapes.  I gather that those who monitor them are grateful that they are sound rather than vid since they are repulsive even to imagine.  What that means is that once they are out — they ALWAYS come out — Trump et al will be so vilified that all the people who defend him now will want to dispense with a fair trial and just rip him to pieces.  They will no longer care whether allegations are true.

But the important work, once Oren Hatch (as some suggest since those ahead of him are all accused) is our new president, is to settle down to the task of figuring out how to make sure this never happens again.  We thought our checks and balances would work, but we hadn’t counted on a madman, even after watching hours of film about such people, often praised as genius because they are rich.

How could this have happened with conscientious people on the job?  Obama, Clinton, even Bush, were not stupid and were certainly aware of what Russia wanted to do.  There are several reasons, but the most salient one is the use of the Internet in very clever, hip, and youthful ways that get into minds.  It’s the Cyber Cold War.  Trump had no idea — he didn’t expect to be elected.  It was Jared Kushner who figured it out.  (The two sons are too self-absorbed and uneducated to do it.)  Candidly, he explained how he identified the social media geniuses, asked them to teach him quickly, and acted on what he learned.  The two DT clones were too busy shooting elephants to focus on something that required brains.  They’ve spilled more than they’ve hidden.

But even Kushner didn’t guard his flank.  As Hillary and a certain other irrepressible person put it, Kushner didn’t know what he didn’t know — he wasn’t aware that there was anything outside his own small world.  There was a cosmos of societies out there that he didn’t know existed.  To some degree, that’s true of all of us.  By definition, no one can know the unknown, but one can admit that it’s there and that it can creep up and throttle you before you figure it out. 

This point of view contributes to the idea of the “Deep State” which is a version of the persisting conviction that there is a hidden cabal somewhere that is controlling us all without any accountability or even consciousness.  Some people voted for Trump believing that he could and would break up that “deep state.”  No doubt Bannon was promoting this idea since his idea of a philosophy is a temper-tantrum.

This video from Moyers & Company is persuasive.  Not necessarily proven, though there is evidence when you look for it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYS647HTgks&t=1323s  Trump, or whoever is coaching him, would like to pin this on Clinton, to make us think Clinton IS the Deep State.  Trump is too much of a tin man to be part of any Deep State — he has no sense of government, much less control of it.  Mike Lofgren on Moyers describes it as a structural evolution, the one that Eisenhower warned us against.  Lofgren doesn’t talk about how it has evolved in ALL big rich nations, until now they are linked.  

But also this evolution works in small rural towns and the counties that enfold them, then the states, and then the businesses and interests that stretch across the continent.  This is not invisible even up to the state level.  The old guys at the coffee shop can name the families who control everything, either because the power people own the businesses or because they are in office of some kind.  

None of this can be pointed to as a concrete entity, not even the buildings they inhabit.  It’s all paperwork — or rather cyberwork.  The Achilles’ heel of the local big shots is that they are blind to the conceptual level of the Internet.  They may be very adept at the accounting apps.  Moneymoneymoney.

Where women and kids join the system is that they are so free about posting all kinds of information without understanding that they are NOT invisible and that they are being identified and controlled, along with their families.  Celebrating birthdays means that the information gives authorities access to your police dossier.  That provides the new website that is publishing all your traffic offences for the entertainment of your neighbors.  And that provides the illusion that you know everything about people, which is always dangerous — another source of that unknown unknown.


So nail-by-nail our government machinery is trying to box up one man who has been access to the connections between politics and corporations that drain money into the pockets of people who hide their assets in legal pockets of secret accounting on idyllic islands.  One can possibly be forgiven for the fantasy that there is some kind of divine, or at least poetic, retribution in these hurricanes.  But would they affect the accounting “cloud”?

Monday, September 18, 2017

'GATHERING FROM THE GRASSLAND" A SECOND LOOK


In the Eighties, when I was riding circuit among the UU’s in Montana, Linda Hasselstrom was keeping a journal of her fight to save the family ranch, which became “Windbreak House.”  (1987) It was part of a cluster of books by rural women authors that included Mary Clearman Blew, Teresa Jordan, Judy Blunt, Sharon Butala, and others born just before or during WWII when the shortage of men made room for wives, daughters and sisters to be “cowboys.”  I thought of myself as one of them, though I was not a rancher, but I found other paths.  I no longer feel I am a Montana writer, but probably still a prairie writer.

Not long ago, as part of clearing out my bookshelves, I sent Linda two boxes of books about women writing, both advice and critiques.  I’ve never been much of a feminist and didn’t really use them.  As it turned out, I was more of a humanist, then more of a “living things” writer, and finally have become an “everythingist” which can be a “nothingist” except that I’ve gone to a head-trip approach that Linda doesn’t — probably some of her readers and client writers are grateful.

Since I’d jogged her memory, her publishers have sent me her most recent books to review:  “Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal” from High Plains Press, and “Dakota Bones, Grass, Sky” from Spoon River Poetry Press.  This is the way publishing is now: local books sponsored by small presses and dependent on far too few reviewers.  I am not ordinarily a reviewer, but this is not just a service to a friend, but also to the local readers who prowl the library.

Linda had to leave the home ranch now and then to make a living or because of family dynamics, a familiar force, both for change and for tenacity.  Generational sequences of marriages, divorces, deaths, and the occasional stretch of time so sweet that it’s a talisman through all the rest — these are the maps of our lives.  Questions arise in the search for solutions.  And then solutions are found.  And decisions: both of us decided not to have children and don’t regret it.  

Ways we are alike are that Linda’s mother tried desperately to make a ruffled pink lady out of her with no better luck than mine.  Ways we are different is that Linda’s stepfather was her role model, her mentor, and — in the end — her betrayer when he lost his mind.  My father was never a hero, losing his mind gradually due to an auto accident concussion in 1948.  It was my first, only, and last husband whose relationship to me was like Linda’s dad’s.  The family struggle across generations is made stark against the background of an unforgiving land.  It’s never really solved.

Linda is far more of a “granola” than I am, putting off writing tasks by cooking, cleaning, gardening, walking her Westies, all of which improves her environment.  I’m the other way around — the writing rises up in me and pushes everything else out while dust settles and dishes stack.  I should be calling the plumber instead of writing this.  Something very bad is going on and I don’t want to know.

Reward for both of us comes from living interwoven with the life of the land, both plants and animals, both wild and domestic.  Work can be hard, but also fulfilling.  Linda has been masterfully resourceful in finding ways to survive so that at an age when most people are retired, she runs “Windbreak House” as a writer’s retreat that comes with consulting informed by a lifetime of interaction as a writer, a speaker, a publisher, a poet, an organizer, a buckskinner — all ways of survival.  She participates in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and other functions on a part of the prairie a bit to the south and east of Montana, a bit north of Wyoming, not quite the Middle West.  She’s on good terms of with indigenous people but doesn’t make a fetish of it.

I kept thinking that I’d read some of this before and maybe even reviewed it — I did:  
4/3/17 on prairiemary.blogspot.com.  But that’s okay.  Much of what Linda is doing here is revisiting old letters, journals, photos.  Her grandmother, mother and stepfather kept journals in the way that ag people do, keeping track of weather and crop cycles and in the process recording their human lives.  One visits such records again and again, always finding them a little more revealing, a little more relevant.  In the end she conveys them to historical societies, except for a couple of boxes of correspondence which she consigns to the dump, much to the exasperation of another snooper in the past.

Here’s a vid of Linda in her “habitat”.

Much of what attracts others and leavens the heavy thoughts is lyrical passages according to the seasons.  Though her homestead backs up to open nature where coyotes and pronghorns trot past the cattle, the front of the house overlooks a highway and housing developments of urban people.  The closest she comes to political indignation is outrage over those uncouth squatters.  Luckily, her rancher neighbor who runs cattle on her land and her life-partner who has a workshop across the yard, look out for her and agree with her philosophy.  They are a little younger.

Not that Linda is any kind of a wimp.  One of her essays that had quite a long life was about why she carried a gun, horrifying the softie liberals.  The one I still reread now and then is about her teaching the homestead feral cats about the mice out in the hay yard.  The first time she loaded them into the front-end loader they boomeranged all over the cab, so she could hardly drive.  As soon as she pulled down a bale and mice ran out, they got the idea.  After that, they would follow the packed trail of the loader out to the haystack without urging.

www.windbreakhouse.com/ is the website that will give access to all the rest.