Wednesday, February 22, 2017


"Harriet Vane"  

How does one stay sane when events grow daily more whackadoodle?  I used to depend on Netflix to carry me away into fantasy in something like the way the Audible ads suggest.  (My fav is still the first one I saw: the Millennial athletic woman in shorts and singlet who is suddenly rowing alongside a hairy, greasy, massive slave (?) in a Viking galley.)  But Netflix has degenerated into explosions and cheesy sex for teenagers.

Since I’ve been depending upon YouTube to follow news, I sort of accidentally slipped over into watching their collections of BBC mystery serieses, some of which I hadn’t really seen before.  As an example, last night I watched a “Lord Peter Wimsey” mystery by Dorothy Sayers which is really about his significant other, "Harriet Vane", as she tries to resolve a poison pen stalker in her old Oxford women’s college.  (“Gaudy Nights.”  Gaudy means reunion, not flashy.)  Less whimsical than peculiar, Wimsey backs her up, which plays into the overall theme which was about intellectual women, their moral and psychological quandaries, and their struggle to be themselves in the face of rigid gender roles.

“Sayers did not content herself with writing pure detective stories; she explored the difficulties of First World War veterans in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, discussed the ethics of advertising in Murder Must Advertise, and advocated women's education (then a controversial subject) and role in society in Gaudy Night.  . . . in many ways the whole of Gaudy Night can be read as an attack on Nazi social doctrine. The book has been described as "the first feminist mystery novel.”  Randi Sørsdal  

Lord Peter in this film is played by an actor with a fascist vibe, which goes well with his monocle.  Harriet Vane is clearly a fiction based on Sayers’ own life but Vane has her own Wikipedia entry as though she were flesh and blood.  Sayers has said she invented “Vane” in order to marry off “Wimsey” and get rid of him.  Evidently, it didn’t work.  The “Gaudy” story is based on Sayers’ Oxford education and I must say I’m much attracted to that, even though I’ve discovered there’s no such thing in real life.  It’s as much fiction as Vane. (Pun intended.)  Anyway, nowadays female academics are women of color who espouse post-modernism.  Or post-structuralism.  Post-something.

All the women in this secular cloister of the early 19th century are dressed in shades of brown, with marcelled hair close to their heads, respectable and bespectacled, little brown birds in the dense thickets of academia.  (Harriet’s hair is a defiant bushy bob, as though electrified by her brain.)  These sturdy females worry about moral issues, things like keeping secrets and the proprieties of class.  Oh, yes.  There’s always class, but not always based on family or money or even intellectual achievement.

(Vane was played by Constance Cummings, who has an excellent reputation as a stage and screen actress, with her most admired performance being the mother in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” opposite Olivier.  After a long career she died aged 92.)

As Harriet Vane says of herself, I’m not disciplined enough to be an academic, but the flavor is appealing.  Partly it’s the multi-syllabic and witty dialogue, going along like a brisk tennis match; partly it’s the “frocks” (chiffon print with asymmetrical hems) and the gothic settings that the U of Chicago echoed.  I watched another film with a different actor playing Wimsey and was bored.

I don’t really understand how these films get onto YouTube, but I have a feeling that they will soon be monetized so I’ll watch what I can now.  Poirot is there, both Marples, and I’ve always enjoyed Maigret before he became a wizardly eminence.  Morse is there as a lawyer, although many of his episodes come with a sparkling/dancing/exploding frame that I presume is meant to discourage watching.  I tend to avoid Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, but there are characters here that I’ve never heard of.  I was surprised to see “Wire in the Blood.”  The first I knew of Robson Green’s films were the two first episodes which were based on the novels of SM queen Val McDermid, whose work in the written versions is so lurid and vicious that I find them unreadable.  English mysteries are characteristically bloody and grotesque.

Maigret is another fictional character whose biography is in Wikipedia, invented by Georges Simenon, who is presumably French, or rather a British notion of what a French detective might be like.  Nothing like the more contemporary French version of the French cops in “The Spiral.”  Maigret is happily married and rather laid-back.

The most intriguing find was full-length movies starring Michael Kitchen when he had a full head of dark frizzly hair, which meant he wasn’t “Foyle” yet.  Foyle is a reassuring and wry fellow I’ve always treasured.  But in these films he’s often wicked and shaken.  Last night I watched “The Guilty” which followed two stories, finally weaving them together after killing people all along the way.

Peter Froggatt was Kitchen's discoverer and agent.  I thought Mick Froggatt might be a relative since he once posted old films like these, but Mick has been terminated for violation of terms, so I guess YouTube is not as much of a free-for-all as reputed, and my theory about windows about to close is probably accurate.

All these mysteries play out like a card game with the elements all being very familiar, but the interaction of them is fed by our identification with a primary character, played by an excellent actor.  (Later this was a pool of talent for the various kings in "Game of Thrones.") The predictability plays against familiar settings, particularly the beloved coast of Britain, the towers of Oxford, and the drawing rooms of nobs.  But then, more like a crossword puzzle than poker, the clues show up, fed out to us a bit at a time until the last entries fall into place with satisfaction, usually happy.

Because many of these British plots are driven by psychological hangups, they can become dated.  The newer ones move over to a political context and then become more morally focused and also more likely to explore crimes against vulnerable groups than the murder of individuals.  The more traditional ones have a comedy dimension which I don’t appreciate, esp. when it becomes slapstick, but at least they don’t all hinge on treacle romance, which is a category of its own in America.

In times as surreal as these we're hoping to survive, one must find what reassurance one can.  Brit murder mysteries are not too inaccessible, but they do offer some wit and glimpses of upper classes that are properly sophisticated.  A flute of champagne.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


What follows is a link to the trailer for a movie called  “The Wolf,” featuring Christian Slater.  It explains in dramatic  terms our risk from Big Data.  That is, we’re not talking about a predatory animal here, we’re talking about the most dangerous nonhuman unrobot in our future: statistics.  Algorithm numbers mean predictability means controllability.  Credit cards are one means among others.  Some suggest Trump won the election using Big Data to target and empower his constituency with seemingly personal messages.

This is not an Netflix Original film.  It is an extended advertisement for secure HP printers.  (Watch it on YouTube.)  You don’t even have to be personally online to be hacked.  This secret monitoring is more slick and effective than demanding the passwords of your cell phone, computer, or iPad when you board a plane or cross a border — even if your device happens to actually belong to NASA as just happened.

It is legally forbidden to demand the check-out records of a library because it reveals the mind of the checker-outer.  This dates back to when the bad boys who intended damage would check out books about bombs.  Or even before that when the biggest danger in the world was seen not as Islamists but as Marxists.  Who would read “Mein Kampf” except bad people? 

Suppose the community were urban or academic, sophisticated about computers and legitimately studying dangerous topics.  One simply goes online and seemingly (to oneself) is “secretly” downloading the directions for maybe an atomic bomb.  Except that a person obsessed that way is unlikely to realize that the computer’s connection is revealing to authorities who you are, where you are, your history, your Dark Web contact for acquiring illicit uranium, and so on.  Things you don’t even realize CAN be known — like your fondness for Twinkies, which you really ought to buy in bulk, but rather pick up at Safeway where the cash register reports the small purchase.

Groceries bought at major chains are recorded on the internet at the same time that your check is validated by “asking” your bank if you have enough money and deducting that amount at the same time.  Now that credit cards have built-in chips, they can record and communicate far more information.   I can think of no more effective way — not even raiding corporate information like whether you are insured or what’s on your rap sheet anywhere in the nation — to control citizens en masse than by controlling — not even their credit card actions — but their food supply.  (And their meds.) When even the mom-and-pop stores and gas service stations use “smart” cash registers, computers could sort through for all categories.  Even now hunting and fishing license applications can find delinquent dads who are behind on child support.

Overpopulation is one way to beat this system, in the same way that a certain kind of bamboo in China produces so much seed simultaneously that no number of rodents or insects can consume them, and then stops making seeds for long enough that the predators die of starvation.  I mean, if every conversation that criticizes the government is recorded, who is going to filter the actual words?  An algorithm.  According to the assumptions of the person who designs the algorithm formula.

Groups of people have figured this out and systematically stockpile enough food supplies to last a very long time.  Some of them are worrying about floods or drought. While law enforcement chased marijuana growers, the food hoarders were converting the advice for surviving atomic war into recommended caches of food  — and water, though that’s tough in a climate cold enough to freeze liquids.  It also stockpiles paranoia, both against authority figures and against neighbors who might want to share or simply raid.  These are not dynamics that support democracy.

When I switched from mostly Netflix to watching old movies on YouTube, I became aware of how much of the incoming Big Data to my screen is as controlled as what is reported back to them.  Unless I knew the specific name of a film, YouTube guessed what I might want to watch and only showed me that option.  Sometimes they made a faulty guess or I entered something somewhere else (credit card or Amazon or simply a Google search) that triggered a film or essay I had not known about.  Usually irrelevant and uninteresting, but once in a while rather alarming.

Not so much “alarming” in terms of a threat, but rather opening up a category I hadn’t known existed.  Often they were tagged according to categories of criminality.  Most people don’t realize that criminality is not about black and white, though the best laws draw boundaries that can be defined and proven in court.  They don’t think about the consequences of criminalizing something likeb littering, much less giving officers power to arrest and confine for the crime of “walking while black” or “driving while Native American.”  

However, a certain class of businessmen resents very much any kind of regulation or inspection that cramps their style.  Working for the Bureau of Buildings in Portland made it vividly clear that even though the codes and requirements builders had to obey were meant for safety and sound construction practices, they were highly resented and evaded as much as possible because they cost money.  That was practical and realistic.  The manipulation of them or, even more potently, the control of fees, taxes, export duties, and so on could be used as weapons to route profit into certain pockets.

Cops say they need a law against acts like littering or spitting or even suspicion of mental disability to use in gray areas meant for the greater good.  Anyway, if people are offended by chickens or potholes, they shouldn’t have to put up with them.  Chickens carry flu, don’t they?  Potholes destroy automobiles, don’t they? 

Bob used to say two things that he learned from being a ground-level judge.  One was that if you do things that are bizaare and unexpected enough, no one will suspect you.  Thus Jonah Bar Jones could kill and eat the neighborhood boys without notice.  The other thing was that you can do anything until someone pushes back.  Even if a practice is illegal and there is a law on the books, if no one complains there is no investigation likely, much less formal accusation.

Using the “Cloud” for information storage is no more safe than individual home systems unless they are off the internet and STAY off the internet.  Paper is still more secure, but not if it is produced on a spying printer, as this little advertising film shows.  Best round up your pencils and pens.

Because twice I’ve worked jobs that were meant to address bad behavior (animal control and building permits) and because I’ve often lived in communities that were on the edge of subsistence, I see things that nice standard “safe” people never imagine.  It was a ministry handicap if the task was to preserve the illusion of safety.

One of my seminary classmates used to say, “You have the mind of a troll, Mary.”  He also was fond of remarking,  “This would be a nice place if you could get rid of all the people.”  He left the ministry under a cloud because of endorsing conspiracy theories about 9/11, the ones that proposed CIA involvement.  Luckily, it was about time for him to retire anyway.  He wrote about American fascism.

Monday, February 20, 2017


We are reminded that Trump is “white” (though the evidence is that he is a victim of fake tanning and some suggest it is to hide jaundice), heterosexual (though evidently not mainstream since most men don’t go around grabbing women between their legs), wealthy (though many experts insist he has only converted his inherited fortune into a legal tangle that is impenetrable in terms of profit and never reported publicly), and Christian.  There is no evidence that he is Christian.  Except that he is an enemy of Islam in a medieval sense.

He does not attend church, speak of God, pray in public, pledge to the support of a church, or show values and practices praised by Jesus.  Trump’s father’s middle name was “Christ” (not “Christian”), but it doesn’t seem to have any more significance than the fact that one of Obama’s names was Hussein.  The Billy Graham dynasty has avoided Trump.

Trump’s true god is Mammon, and it appears that it is also the true god of America.  This is not a subsistence culture, except for those who can’t help it.  In a subsistence or hardship culture Christianity is meant to be a counterweight to despair , a brake and limit on those who pursue Mammon at the expense of others.  When the going gets good, the Christians get corrupt, selfish, and sequestered in enclaves.  Their sacred cow is the Golden Calf.

Remnant Christianity in America supports “simple living,” small houses, “slow food,” and closet cleaning.  But the last of the Shakers is gone.  People who value these life-ways are likely to turn to Buddhism if they can figure out what it is.

America is very clever at converting the simple into the profitable.  For instance, plain food — uncontaminated as it would be naturally — is now labeled “organic” at a steep markup.  “Writing” is such a swamp of promises that a whole class of writing teachers, marketers, ghosts, and mock-publications that only print online for no pay, that writers have been converted from a class of wealth makers for the bourgeois into a class of parasites and panderers.  Saddest of all is the descent of universities from places of learning to corporate dependents and athletic gladiators.  What is a co-ed dorm but another way to grab people between their legs?

Accusations of wickedness (not convictions as our laws require) allow those in power to incarcerate without evidence or conviction, seize assets, and delay trials in the way we used to reserve for our enemies when at war.  We herd together poor people and “detain” them in camps, even when they are children.  Adult poor people must sleep in the streets as they always have done in subsistence countries.  If the “Christians” try to feed these people, they are arrested for making a mess and too much noise.  

It has always been true that those in power can claim that up is down and black is white and in is out, but it has never been so blatantly unprovable now that video records exist and the means of broadcasting are literally in everyone’s pockets.  (That’s hyperbole — not everyone has a smart phone with which to monitor cops and presidents.)  But plainly obvious evidence doesn't seem to matter.  If you have a clever and powerful lawyer, as all the zombies called corporations do, then the contradictions can be suppressed — at least removed from Google, Facebook, et al.

But now that Big Data is cleverly used as a marketing tool, there’s no use in trying to hide in the crowd.  The claim is that the number crunchers only deal in anonymous totals, but the truth is that identities can be discovered by reverse engineering.  Also, by face recognition, though Google image presents every old woman with big glasses and frizzy hair as “Mary Scriver.”  She buys books instead of shoes, very suspicious behavior.  She is not on Facebook or Medium, cancelled both, though Medium failed to take down one post because it was about sex and religion, and thus pulls readers.

People who read my blog are generally not aware that I can see their location and the moment they are reading by consulting monitors on my computer.  The problem is that there are at least three sources of statistics I can read without having to pay (paying means accuracy and detail) and none of them agree.  On any given day (which is an interval that can be challenged on a turning planet) the number of “hits” range from 80 to several thousand.  I’ve never made an attempt to reconcile them in terms of whether they at least go up and down in tandem.  

They say that if numbers are consistently high, one can turn them into profit, but I haven’t tried.  Once I signed up for ads, but after my careful efforts at accuracy and integrity, the ads would be for crackpot stuff that directly contradicted what I wrote.  Since I often write about “religion,” I suddenly discovered how much fake “religion” is actively pushed at people.

The marketing of wealth is rather subtle but always based on the European competitive notion of cultures against each other.  Until the wave of books explaining historical climaxes and their subsequent collapses, I had not understood — for instance — about the long bloody confrontation between England and Holland when great sailing ships were plying the seas to bring home "wealth", like blue and white porcelain, silk or tulip bulbs — none of them necessary for a full and comfortable life.  

More blatant was the capture of other people, who DID provide ease and comfort for their owners — not just wealth.  They even provided descendants as in the case of Thomas Jefferson.  If we don’t criticize him for that particular aspect of wealth, are we justified in frowning at Trump et al for paying subsistence wages for menial work?  How else would we define “menial”?  What is sufficient compensation for scrubbing public toilets?  At least we’ve given up — for the most part — pay toilets, because they are an incentive for shoppers who have to drive long distances to big box shopping centers, which causes them to fortify themselves with all sorts of beverages to occupy the cup-holders built into the better cars, though the holders have nothing to do with making the car operate better.

The capture of cars is a heavy penalty for those dependent on them in a place like Montana.  My principle is that if the vehicle is sufficiently old and moldy, it becomes invisible.  This is a heresy when the most dedicated American ceremony is washing the car.

My greatest wealth is my education.  Even if I were slammed into solitary confinement, even if I had barely enough money to eat, even if all my books were seized (Why would they be?  They’re not worth anything anymore.),  I would still know what I know.  And it would make me happy.

Those who have been asked to decide whether Trump is insane or simply a bad man, (formal associations of psychiatrists) say that insanity is defined ultimately by how happy the person is.  Otherwise, why would they employ a shrink.  This is a monetary definition.  

If you’re happy, you’re not crazy, the shrinks say.  So there.  I’m as sane as Trump — just not as greedy.  I’m white (do freckles count?), “het“ (does celibacy count?), and poor.  The issue of Christian is open since I eschew institutions and am rather indiscriminate about practice.  I mean, I don’t pray, but I smudge.  (Incense is Catholic.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Earl Old Person on his 86th birthday

Every year about this time I and others get inquiries like the one I’m quoting below.  They are 19th century fantasies about being sort of secular missionaries.  I’m blanking out whatever information might embarrass the sender by naming her, though I think she would be close to impossible to embarrass:

Greetings Mrs. Scriver, 

I am a high school English teacher in [big California city] and have recently been given a grant to travel and research about the Black Feet Nation in America. My original interest in doing this project was to learn more about my deceased relative, [I’m calling him Ebenezer.], who worked for several years with a tribe in Canada while living in Kalispell, Montana. I believe he was attempting to film the tribe and had been working with a chief by the name of Earl Old Person for several years. 

While researching online, I came across a blog you posted in 2005 where you briefly mentioned [Eb] and his work, as well as Chief Earl Old Person. I wondered if you had any additional details or information that may be helpful in retracing his steps and finding this footage he may have captured. I am hoping to create a blog about his work and see if there was ever anything done with the footage he was trying to get of the tribe. I will be sharing my research and explorations with my school in an effort to bring more awareness to Native American issues and culture. 

Thank you so much for your assistance and time. 

Actually, “Ebenezer” arrived as a VISTA worker, a program that was a domestic version of the Peace Corps.  It was the Sixties.  He saw the potential of exploiting knowledge of the Blackfeet (NEVER “Black Feet.”) and was so intent on bringing his camera into ceremonials such as Bundle Openings that the elders asked Bob Scriver, City Magistrate and JP, to have him arrested and kept in jail until the ceremony was over.  This is not rumor— I was sitting in the pickup with Bob when he had to shout at Eb to make him give up his idea.  Eb did NOT understand the idea of forbidding cameras and refused to accept the authority of the ceremonialists to set their own rules.

Eb was one of half-a-dozen opportunists hanging around in the Sixties.  Eb wasn’t as bad as the invasive writer who turned out to be a pedophile and a madman (incarcerated in a mental hospital at one point) who nevertheless won prizes for his book about the Blackfeet.  But Eb was nowhere near as honorable, well-read or respectful as Adolf Hungry Wolf, whose marvelous four-volume book -- research and photos accumulated over decades -- is sold by the Browning School District.  Adolf is a Canadian but the Blackfoot Confederacy includes both Canada and US. 

By now there are many authorities and websites about this tribe, written by people who are actually enrolled members.  This ignorant woman has evidently not made contact with them, preferring an ornery old white woman.  Why should I help her when I’m a writer myself with no interest in her projects?  Her assumptions about me demonstrate she knows nothing about me, did no research to find out. 

Eb was a loser.  He moved across the Rockies to Kalispell, the Outlaw town, because he wasn’t wanted in Browning (which is not in Canada).  He was an object of contempt and derision.

This woman’s school is a private posh enterprise in the wealthy part of town where their knowledge of Indians could easily be expanded if they went out to the chainlink fence where the undocumented Mexicans wait in hopes of day labor jobs.  Some of them speak neither English nor Spanish — they are the real thing, only speaking their tribal language from up in the mountain villages.  

I tried to brush off this woman, but she persisted.

I am happy to hear any stories you have to share. My attempt is to do honest research. I was very young when he passed and only remember him fondly, but as a true scholar my efforts are to learn openly about the Blackfeet Nation and any of Jim's work with the group, be it good or bad. Were your experiences with him negative, I would still be interested to learn about them, if you are willing to share. 

And I do actually live in [big city], though I have been teaching in [posh suburb] for a little over a year. Prior to that, I worked as a community college teacher and in various other teaching positions around the world; I am also a writer. My hope is to help bring these stories to students who come from often privileged backgrounds and will likely be in positions of power later in life. As an educator for nearly 20 years, I feel it is my duty to instill morality and compassion into my students' lives, and sadly, Native American issues are often overlooked in our society. 

If you are willing to open a dialogue, please let me know. 

I responded that I was not willing.  Next this scholar wants me to send her Chief Old Person’s phone number.

I took the gloves off:  “You are as lazy and self-centered as Ebenezer.  I won’t do your work for you.”

But she wouldn’t shut up:

“My goal in this project is to effectively help young people learn how to move forward in a peaceful and compassionate manner. Part of this involves opening discussions that are often difficult and painful but which hopefully lead to healing, as well as to learning appropriate ways to help ensure the rights of all people, especially when one is in a "privileged position" to do so. Part of why I contacted you is because your blog implied you too were committed to this endeavor and to critiquing a very flawed social/political system. 

Obviously, you are very hurt by the interactions you had with Eb. I am sorry you had a negative experience. I am not sure, however, why you have chosen to write such rude and hateful comments towards me, a person you have virtually no information about nor knowledge. It is because of humanity's inability to let go of anger and hate that lead to so many of the problems facing our world today, including the ones you claim in your blog posts to be so passionate and concerned for. 

Anyway, I will no longer contact you or ask for assistance with this project. Thank you again for your time. And I am sorry for bothering you or stirring up unpleasant memories. That certainly was not my intent. 

The people who would understand the idiocy of this woman and her fantasies about Eb are mostly dead.  It all happened a half-century ago.  The Blackfeet are much different now.  Earl Old Person is alive, but shadows are gathering.  It wouldn’t be worth blogging about except that she’s a type, a person who stars in her own melodrama, rummaging in the family trunks for some kind of significance.  It’s not easy to teach in a posh school where everyone makes far more money.  But many people here would consider themselves her equal, not her chance to patronize people living in tipis.

I confess:  I’m rude and hateful and know nothing about this woman — I don’t know why she’s surprised by me.  I’m full of anger and hate, with good reason.  At least I got a blog post out of the pest.  Be warned.  I could use names.  I could contact the school to complain.

She’s still not as bad as the French journalist who asked me a lot of questions via email, translated my reply into French, and published it in France as an article she wrote herself.  

Please know that I will help any real indigenous people, esp. those on the high North American prairie.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


After watching Trump’s performance at his “extended” news conference, it is clear that he is a self-resolving problem.  What I mean is that he plainly has — in addition to an intractable character structure — something organic, probably Alzheimers.  Maybe a tumor or stroke.  The point is that these health problems are progressive and lead to death.  Until now he has not had good health care.  That deficit can’t really be made up now by any highly qualified doctors and no one seems to be making any effort anyhow.  

He is not organized enough to be a threat.  But he is good cover for people who ARE a threat and who can pretend that he is the source of things they are actually doing.  It would be worthwhile to find out who his puppeteers are so that we know what to expect when Trump dies.  We do NOT know when he will die or become de-mented enough to be as good as dead, sitting and staring, but he is not going to be a two-term president.

To stop obsessing about this man and give up the pleasures of reviling him, which are fun but really too easy to be proud of, is to have the energy and focus to address two other categories of problems.  One is the organizational design challenge, for one instance to do something about the electoral college that leads us into the swamp.  

I see that Earl Blumenauer, whom I know and respect from Portland, is moving in the direction of improving the 25th Amendment to include “instability” as well as suggesting an alternative to the President's cabinet as the body responsible for the trap door.  Both the cabinet and the Supreme Court are currently incomplete.  Blumenauer suggests a sort of “Presidents Emeritus” panel.  I’d be happier with a panel of former president’s wives, but Hilary is a deal-breaker for a lot of people.

In terms of organizational design, we have just about exhausted the institutions and systems that emerged from WWII.  There was no internet then.  That alone has changed the practice of politics as much as it has changed the other cultural elements, like music or publishing.  Old ways are simply gone.

The other work that badly needs to be done is a hard look at the principles of democracy which once seemed obvious.  Science and suffering have challenged the vision developed by the British Empire about commerce and families, the necessity of trade and the English upper class conscience as  God-given.  Now we see a penetrable membrane of living beings, interwoven, stretching around the planet and defining each other.  This conception makes no sense at all to most people today, but it is true in the most rigorous sense, demonstrated by instruments and confirmed by calculations.  We need people like the Bioneers to explore government options that are not based on adversaries.

The planet is a molten-hearted round rock with a triple cortex of earth, air and water, each moving in circuits and supplying nutrients.  Tectonic plates carry continents that guide the currents of air and ocean.  We create boundaries of governance that are sometimes guided by continental features like mountains and sometimes by the natural (but moving) edges of waterways.  

Then we try to drive straight-line borders across them, straight line delivery systems through them.  Here are two illustrations created from piecing together many Google maps.  The straight, surveyed, 49th parallel along Canada is not at all like the Rio Grande River along Mexico with it’s loops and splits.  How is it possible to build a wall without crossing and re-crossing the river?  The southern boundary of the Blackfeet rez is Birch Creek, a smaller stream, which still occasionally changes its stream bed, causing ownership problems.



On the west side, Montana is a place of mountains where cities cluster in valleys.  On the east side it is a vast flat land interrupted by badlands but few cities.  The people and needs of the two kinds of land create two quite different and conflicting political outlooks.  The same is true of Oregon and Washington.  Would it make sense to separate the two kinds of land into two separate ecological states?  Or do the differences act as checks and balances on each other?  

Why do the coasts of the USA not interact in positive ways with the great prairies in the middle instead of scoffing at them as “flyover country”?  Should the megacities accept a different kind of governance and taxation?  Valier itself has a “doughnut hole” problem: the services are inside the town limits, but the wealth and children are on the ranches outside the town.

Now that through internet connection lands can relate to each other without being contiguous, suppose there were one kind of unified governance for the grasslands of the planet no matter which continent they stretched across, and another kind of governance for the sheets of population along the coasts?  I would argue that this is already in existence to some degree (sister cities) and ought to be a starting point that could address shared crises like global warming or plastic debris contamination of the seas.  But what would be the role of a "nation"?

Enough fantasy.  Let’s be practical.  Term limits seem obviously needed to break up the careers of professional politicians who spend their time raising money.  Rethinking criminalization and a return to our original founding premises, like innocent until proven guilty (no incarceration on mere suspicion) and no civil seizure of wealth outside the law.  We need to address pandemics without creating stigma.  Instead of preventing abortion, we should prevent conception by unsuitable persons.  We need close scrutiny of “religious” institutions, but tolerance for “religious” concepts and greater understanding for what that really means.

Education must be lifelong because information and conceptions are now changing daily.  Energy sources should be as local as possible — ideally household by household — to eliminate the tangles of pipes and wires across the land.  Wind and solar energy need the kind of subsidy as fossil fuel.

It’s not just that Trump will be lucky to live long enough to finish his elected term, but that his entire generation will soon be gone.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Michael Moore says he can’t sleep tonight and neither can I.  

The question is no longer whether Trump has some kind of mental problem.  The most conclusive evidence in this world of video is an old interview with Oprah.

Compare that with his press conference yesterday (2-16-17) and the answer is perfectly clear.  His wheels aren’t all on the ground.  Now there are no complete sentences, the ideas are simply old obsessions, and the emotional level is certainly pretty much raving and ranting.  So now I’m through with asking that question.  He’s simply not sane.

There is another series of questions.  When an ordinary person slips into this twilight, his family normally gets him to medical care because even if the problem is Alzheimer’s, for which there is no cure, it might rather be a brain tumor, a stroke, hardening of the arteries of the brain, and so on.  Such behavior triggers medical evaluation FOR THE SAKE OF THE PATIENT.  No one seems to be thinking about care for this man in those terms.  So a good question is “why this neglect”?  

There are a number of answers.  One is the political consequences of admitting that a head of state is bonkers.  What if this steady stream of foreign heads of state visiting is not to have a conference with a nutcase, but to see for themselves the state of the man’s mind and also to have a few secret conferences with the people who really are running the country in his name, as has quietly happened in the past with other unsane presidents?  There is no way to communicate over distance that can’t be compromised.  There must be personal conferring in a “safe” room that isn’t bugged.  We assume there is a room like that in the White House.

Trump’s “nuclear” family is problematic.  Their fates are so tied to their father and husband that they must be careful not to trigger retribution in terms of inheritance and keeping the money empire running.  There must be various impulses to ransack the cupboards before the world realizes that any will written now will be challenged when Trump becomes mute and bedridden, any divorce the same, and any existing documents and entitlements must be protected — assuming they are wanted.  

Instead of family, Trump has a circle of protectors and guides like none he has ever had before.  People have told me that a luxury hotel is better than a hospital for observation and care.  The White House residence is basically a luxury hotel.  People are always just outside the door, room service is at hand, medical response can be there in minutes.  However, they are not controlled by Trump.  His physical body belongs to the American people now.  He is a living symbol and extension of the nation.  

Those caretakers watching him are not political and they have to know the reality, though they are undoubtedly discreet about letting outsiders know.  The prevention of public knowledge is probably being accomplished mostly by people aware of the consequences of a president known to be barking mad.  It’s all being recorded somewhere and will be public someday, probably after Trump is dead.

Legal triggers like the 25th Amendment or the reassignment of control to the Vice President are mostly based on the idea of unconsciousness, but consciousness is not an on/off switch.  In cases of dementia the craziness can vary over 24 hours or even ebb and flow over days.  Myself at 78 might stumble over names or, more likely, numbers, though there are days when I’m as much a shining blade of insight as ever.  But laws ARE on/off and must be, in order to be useful.  Impeachment is a matter of criminality, motives, but not everyone is willing to label Trump a traitor.

All these things interfere with sleep when reflecting on Trump, but other things are most troublesome.  One is the rage of the world at change and loss, inevitable as it may be and as innocent as Trump might be.  I mean, he didn’t cause globalization or world contamination or overpopulation or North Korea or mass migrations.  Nor can he control them.  He waves his tiny sword but he has no horse that can carry him into battle.  Both the haters (and I’m a little surprised that he actually feels and names that hate, though it doesn’t seem to affect his thinking except to puzzle him) and the supporters know very well that he has no real control.  But, hey, if God is dead, whom else can we rail at?  Bannon?  The Alt-Right is a creature of talk radio — nothing more.

Trump (and Bannon) represent the Third Party of Greed, though some call them fascists and they themselves endorse that, though they think of themselves as simply entitled by merit.  It’s the American Mind Worm, which calls the acquisition of wealth “progress,” and “freedom,” and “get-out-of-my-way.”  Other cultures have other names for it.  Some say wealth is safety but this is a lie.  Ask Kim Il Sung’s boys.  Senators and representatives far past their sell-by dates and all the in-laws and CEO’s who benefit from the status quo would be happy to stuff Trump’s dead body and prop him up behind that empty desk in the Oval Office, so long as they can go on as they have been.

But there’s more.  Trump fooled us all.  We thought his dementia and mania were just bluffs, mere strategies that would be dropped as soon as he won the election.  Few people played enough of a “long game” to realize how powerful gerrymandering and Big Data algorithms could be.  Those who did pay attention have been fussing for a few years — we felt it here on the rez when the voting district was redrawn to cross the Rocky Mountains so that the Democratic skew of tribes could be diluted.  

But the power of Big Data as accumulated by Facebook et al wasn’t even in our consciousness, even after we read the book about porn preferences in which nothing was as we assumed. (“A Billion Wicked Thoughts”)  We didn’t know — but the Russians did — how powerful a rumor could be.  It was a Russian who figured out how to make a dog salivate to a bell.

Now that we realize that elections are only marketing opportunities, we are most angry of all at ourselves, that we can be fooled so easily.  Slowly, sheepishly, we look at all the little Trumps and Trumpettes who dominate our local lives because it’s too much work to fight them and because, as so many claim,  “the system is broken” and the only thing to do is walk away.  Where to?

I finished writing this post at 2AM.  My last thought before finally drifting off to sleep was that someone among Trump’s handlers wanted the world to see what he has become.  Otherwise he would have been coaxed tactfully away from the microphone and back to private rooms.  I think those letting him rave on were the many dedicated bureaucrats who actually run the executive branch and who are opposed to chaos.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Painting by Sarah St. George
"Spring Willows"

We call it “the February Thaw” , a time about now when the weather turns gentle for a few days.  This year this week it’s a near-Spring with temps reaching for sixty.  Jack Woods used to try to time his calf crop to arrive in this little gap, but he complained that he never managed to hit it quite right.  Wiser heads suggested that if he just stuck with the same timing, his chances of birthing in the right time would be more likely.  He just wasn’t that kind of guy and if he had good luck, he could strike it big.

To understand the reality of this break in the cold, one must learn a new word.  (At least it was new to me.)  “Sinesoidal” means that the forces of the weather are always oscillating as they go about their cycles and gyres.  A sine wave or sinusoid is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation. It is named after the function sine, of which it is the graph.  Besides the “February Thaw” (or sometimes the January Thaw) there is one in the fall we call “Indian Summer.”  No one can explain the atypical days in either season.  

It means that the long glacially-formed prairie here is streaked with white in places with a north side of any rise less likely to get direct sun.  In summer those places will be thicker with vegetation because the moisture lingered a little longer.  Driving a pickup across the land will make the driver conscious of this, and prompt him or her to stay on the sunny side.

Right now the rancher’s pickup will be dragging a hay-bale unwinder, managing to undo what was done last fall in rolling up the huge round cylinders of grass or alfalfa.  A long carpet of dry green stretches out where cows come to eagerly meet it.  A few gravid cows will stand braced, a little apart, waiting for the moment of labor to be upon them.  Already there are more than a half-dozen small figures as compact as they were in the womb, curled on whatever hay isn’t eaten right away.

I watch one field when I go east along #44.  It’s sloped, so it never turns to mud.  This field was sterilized by the profound cold of a hard winter.  When all the calves have come, the cattle will be moved to another field and this one, now fertilized with manure, will be harrowed and irrigated to grow alfalfa, which will be wound up again in fall as the cycle comes back around.  Thus ranching is a tango with the great ballroom swirls of the northern planet.

Just before the Civil War, the American importation from Iran of alfalfa plants, a kind of pea, saved many a ranch because it produces so much forage and goes so deep for moisture.  It must be re-sown every half-dozen years or so.  The dried leaves make a pleasant tea.

A long time reader remarked that she had expected the weather in Montana would be deep persistent snow and cold, like Laura Ingalls Wilder tales.  But that’s the weather away from the mountains with their warming catabatic winds.  The reader summed up my weather as “variable.”  Lots of jokes about that:  “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will be different.”  

The main thing about snow here is that it’s like a live thing, moving and piling up against doors and windows on the lee side of a building.  One must have at least one door that opens inwards, but even then problems arise.  Corky got up to feed cattle out at the Doane ranch (the Flatiron place that through the estate of Bob Scriver and with the insight of Eloise Cobell, became an ecology study location. he pulled open the door, he found himself facing a perfect mold of the outside of the door, right up to the top.  Luckily he had a shovel indoors, but the problem was what to do with the snow.  There was no place to throw it outside.  In the end he filled the bathtub.

No migrating birds have showed up here yet, though there is news to the south that they’re moving.  Instead, our heralds are swelling buds on the poplars outside my window and bright yellow branches on the willows I can see up the alley.  The melting snow is awakening roots, which means that our underground piping infrastructure is breaking from being pushed around and invaded.  The water line on the corner and even the gas line next door.  The house is subtly changing shape as our gumbo soil swells according to where the water is dumped by gutters.  One never knows how hard to pull on the doorknob, because the door fits differently every time.  “Frost” will rise through asphalt, breaking the highways.

On Groundhog’s Day and Valentine’s Day — approximately during the spring thaw — Mother Nature, like Jack Woods, has programmed the burrowing rodents of the prairie to start their romance engines so there will be babies in a month or so, about the time the real Spring begins.  They’ll need to retreat to the burrow as March and April will always be full of storms, sometimes sweeping through in hours instead of days.

Valier is an irrigation town, one with a bitter story of dam failure in its past, and though many people let that slip out of their awareness, the state of the snowpack in the Rockies is of crucial interest.  It is as surely a resource as a coal mine, except that if all goes well, the treasure replaces itself every winter.    117% of the average today.  (2-16-17)  It’s looking like a good year for grain crop harvest.

But not a good year for grain crop marketing.  Too much of a good thing around the world: too much grain. (It's not a plenitude problem, it's a distribution problem.)  Some farmers will go to pulse crops (peas, like alfalfa).  The secret to nature is not biggest, mostest, but rather fittingest.  Bees that are there when the alfalfa blooms, baby ground squirrels that are there when the hawks have nestlings and the foxes have babies in their own burrows, calves that arrive in fields that have been blanketed in snow and where the rancher has raised enough hay to unwind in swaths even if the spring blizzards scour the land.