Saturday, April 22, 2017


Zechariah 10:1 Ask rain from the LORD at the time of the spring rain.

Montana early spring rains bring grass, which is wealth and pleasure.  I must remind myself of that every little while.  Unlike a bear, this is the season I prefer to sleep through, preferably with an electrically heated bed so that I’m warm enough to open a window when it’s just above freezing out there.  The wind is a problem, carrying temperature changes up and down, but also sweeping along smells of great complexity and promise.

It’s easy to be poor and old in the early summer, before it gets hot enough to defeat shade, when it’s not impossible to nap in the pickiup or in the back shed I used for a guest bedroom though it turned out to have too many deficits for my suburban friends and relatives to accept it.  Then I slept out there myself and let them have my bed, though the same problem arose.  At least they were closer to the bathroom, which is important when we’re all past retirement age, but they aren’t used to sleeping with cats and they found my shower alarming.  (It was my fault — I explained too much.)

My life is full of little protocols because that’s the way one manages in a old house where doors stick and a lot of papers are stacked on every tabletop.  I keep cat kosher, which means separate dishes and utensils, and I’ve learned to step over their eating plate on the floor where it's next to the cat food storage cupboard in winter.  

In summer I can stack cat food in the garage, but in winter wet cat food is like a rock within fifteen minutes.  This is when the satellite ferals figured out the cat flap, not so much to keep themselves warm (They form a “cat stack” by doing what the vets call “pillowing.”) as to find food that won’t break their teeth.  Kibble is beneath them.  There is another floating wild population that will eat it.  One year when I was feeding outside a family of blackbirds carried off kibble by the bowlful.  Then a dog stole the bowl.

I need a half-heated space where it would stay warm enough for a laundry set.  There’s a place where the former dryer sat in the garage and it was usable in winter if the drum were preheated before putting in the wet clothes.  The washer in the kitchen also died and the space was used for a new refrigerator.  The old one was moldy.  This house was furnished with the illusion of appliances, partly because the idea was to sell it to someone who would rent to poor people who would trash it anyway.  The hot water heater is the only survivor, though it’s moody, varying between lukewarm and scalding according to it’s own schedule.

This time of year I’m moody as well.  (In the old days this was time to renew or cancel teaching contracts.)  But this year is different as the incredible chaos of politics acts like Scylla and Charybdis, smashing together and then flopping apart.  I’m keeping a cast of characters because there are so many people and jobs I never heard of before.  The situation is not helped since both the NYTimes and the Washington Post are imposing pay walls to exploit the worry.  

Suddenly the idea that I and others have played with for years seems realistic— notions about splitting the United States into ecological zones because they’ve already done it spontaneously, organically, and politically.  Apart from deliberate gerrymandering to dilute the impact of minorities, there seems to be something about climate: long Southern afternoons when powerful old men can play pattycake with their pretty assistants; hard, spare states where moms must work and get tempted into cooking the books; cities so major that they have become sheet-cities with no spaces between except abandoned and rotting remnants of bygone industry.  The sweet spots have been off-shored to islands.

In physical terms I’m not suffering from any major chronic disease, but my whole body is a couple of clicks off normal — nothing drastic, but a degree or so off plumb, and bodies need gravity, assume alignment with it.  When my eye doc told me I had dry-eye syndrome, I asked him about how the body, especially the human head, manages fluids, which I thought about in terms of water because dry eye syndrome is a phenomenon of tears.  I suggested that there was a source of water high in the skull that internally poured the fluid down like a shower, bathing the brain, the sense organs (nose, ears, eyes), through all the sinuses, through the pharynx, the mouth and throat, and down the esophagus through the GI tract.  It lubricates, carries information, makes functions — slippery all the way down and out.

He said I had it about right except that the fluid was mucus.  Then he left the clinic — I don’t know why — and joined another eye doc I once attended who had left the clinic earlier.  This happened twenty years ago as well.  Andrew Jordan saved my eyesight after the Saskatchewan eye docs refused me access to care on grounds that I was American.  Politics.  What is the mucus of politics?  Money is too easy an answer.  I think it is more like the fantasy that high status means control.  It’s actually vulnerability.

I’m about to try to break my video habit.  The discs on-hand right now are the last seasons of “Homeland” so I can finish the story line, but I watch in the evening when I’m sagging after a day’s activity and I don’t like what it does to my dreamlife.  I identified with Claire Danes as soon as she showed up in “Little Women” (1994).  Since then we have drifted apart, partly because without Brody she doesn’t fit the intriguing crazy-to-crazy paradigm and I find the Mandy Patinkin character unconvincing, rather like Professor Baehr in “Little Women”.  Eastern Eurasia “New Cold War” is becoming hackneyed.  Or maybe it’s a little too timely.

Since I live alone, rather isolated, my dreams are much more clear than they would be if I were around others.  There is a set of places, almost like theatre sets for plays.  One is a city with a center of skyscrapers that I associate with the Portland Lloyd Center (which has no skyscrapers) and an edge of backstreets suggestive of Helena, MT.  There’s one street on a slope, lined with little shops and movie houses.  Somehow it’s connected to the old ballet film, “The Red Shoes.”  

One is the NE neighborhood where I grew up in Portland, though it sometimes seems like Missoula or Oregon City.  (It’s the green lawns and picket fences, pre-suburbia.)  Another is a 19th century farm or ranch house with a porch across the front.  In contrast there are university buildings, never classrooms but the hallways and stairs.  I know they come from movies, mixed with scenes from various places I’ve lived.  If I wrote fiction, they would show up, even control the plot.

I never dream about ministry, but often dream about Scriver Studio in Browning.  Kenner’s Question applies:  “What does it mean?”  The cold rain might be an explanation: penetrating reality.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Thursday, January 15, 2015


A Thomas Magee photo: the town square in Browning, MT
This is the Broadwater Merc, which may be the building Bob disassembled to get the lumber for the 
Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, now the Blackfeet Heritage Center.

My intention was to post only Magee photos here, but I find that most of what's online is unattributed, even the ones who managed to get the names of the people who posed.

At least I managed to find photos with dogs in them:

This looks like McClintock to me.

But this is the same location with more people and seems more like a Magee.

This is a favorite of mine.  Magee's photos tend to be these relaxed friendly scenes.
Is this the same place as the two photos above it?

The Magee Photograph Collection
The information below is from the University of Lethbridge website.  Big thanks to Nicholas Vrooman who guided me to it.


The Magee Photograph Collection contains a selection of nearly 1,000 digitized photographic negatives depicting life on the Blackfeet Nation [Browning, Montana] and in Glacier National Park [U.S.] during the early twentieth century. All materials in the collection were originally produced by photographers Thomas B. Magee, 1862-1930 and Henry L. Magee, 1896-1966 of Browning, Montana. The collection was purchased by the University of Alberta in May, 2007 from Donald L. Magee. This collection was also highlighted in OCLC's CONTENT

I think this is McClintock's.  The old woman in the middle is the most sacred person of all: 
a virtuous mother of many whose symbol is the digging stick that brings food.  
The man with thongs in his chest undergoing an ordeal is only her son. 

 Collection of Collections feature in October, 2008.

Thomas Benjamin Magee (1862-1930)
Thomas Benjamin Magee was born May 30, 1862 in East Douglas, Worcester County, Massachusetts. After being orphaned, he was educated in the public schools of Pawtucket, RI. He left school at the age of twelve to seek employment and, in 1883, travelled west to Montana to work in the Miles City coal mines. By 1884, he had moved to Great Falls, MT where he established the city’s first brickyard.

From 1888 to 1896, Thomas worked at the general store of Joseph Hirshberg and Company in Robare, MT and was also in charge of Joseph Kipp’s trader’s store on the Blackfeet Indian agency. He subsequently purchased the drug business of C.M. Lanning and Co. and established himself as a local businessman and postmaster. It was at about this time that Thomas and his brother George took an interest in chronicling local events and photographing the area’s inhabitants and landscapes.

In 1890, Thomas married Julia Grant who was the daughter of James Grant, an early pioneer and one of the first white men to bring cattle to Montana. In the early 1900s, Thomas, Julia and their five sons (Thomas, George, Walter, Henry and Dewey) moved to a ranch in the area now known as Glacier National Park [U.S.]. This would prove to be an ideal location for him to pursue his interest in photography. Park landscapes and the local Blackfeet tribal members became the major focus of his work.

Thomas and his wife Julia became good friends with Walter McClintock, author of The Old North Trail (1910). Mr. McClintock would often come to visit and stay with the Magee family. During these visits, Julia shared her extensive knowledge of native plants which included their names in the Blackfeet language, their uses and related botanical information. McClintock recorded all of this information and referenced it in his book. Julia was acknowledged using her Blackfeet name, “Menaki” – Berry Woman.

These are "Bullshoe" girls who grew up to be educators.
Henry Lincoln Magee (1896-1966)
Henry Lincoln Magee was the son of Thomas B. Magee and Julia Grant Magee. He was born on March 6, 1896 and schooled at the Holy Family Catholic Mission on the Blackfeet Reservation and the Fort Shaw Military School.

As a young man, Henry lived with his family in a house on his mother Julia’s land allotment, which was near the current Two Medicine Bridge, east of East Glacier, MT on Highway 2. It was this family home that was later destroyed by a fire that also claimed many of his father Thomas’ photographic prints and glass plate negatives.

One of Henry’s careers involved working for the Blackfeet Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the opening of the Museum of the Plains Indian in 1941, Henry took an interest in photography while working there under the direction of noted Blackfeet historian John W. Ewers. He used his camera to photograph people, events and artifacts while working with the U.S. Government’s photo collection.

Henry and his wife Agnes Douglas Magee had one son – Donald (Donnie) Lee Magee.  After Henry’s death, his son Donald inherited the Magee Photograph Collection which Henry had held in his possession throughout his entire adult life.

I doubt that women did their work wearing finery like these splendid beaded capes.

Donald Lee Magee (b.1938)
Donald Lee Magee is the son of Henry L. Magee and Agnes Douglas Magee. He was born on May 13, 1938 and completed his early schooling at the Blackfeet Boarding School, a U.S. Government school, and Starr School. After attending high school in Cut Bank, MT and Browning, MT, Donald enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After being discharged from the Marines, Donald married Delores Higgins. Shortly thereafter, the couple were moved to San Francisco, CA as part of the U.S. Government’s Indian Relocation Program. Donald, Delores and their three children (Dawn, Darren and Dustin) moved back to Montana after three years when Donald’s father Henry fell ill. Donald soon found himself employed at the Museum of the Plains Indian, where he would work for thirteen years. While there, he pursued crafts such as sculpting, painting, doll-making, and the refurbishment of maintenance of the museum’s dioramas.

Donald became concerned about the preservation and survival of the Magee Photograph Collection upon his retirement from his various Blackfeet Tribal Government appointments. He felt strongly that the collection’s educational, historical and cultural value should be shared and made more accessible to others. He also considered the collection to be of particular significance to the people of Blackfeet Nation and to the sister nations of the Kanai (formerly Blood), Northern Peigan and Siksika that together make up the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Night-Rider, Blanket-Robe, and Black-Weasel-Blackfoot-1898
In May, 2007, the University of Lethbridge Library accepted the Magee Photograph Collection from Donald after it was purchased by the University of Alberta. The collection was subsequently digitized, described, and made available via the Internet by the University of Lethbridge Library. The physical collection now resides at the Bruce Peel Special Collection at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

I believe this is Mountain Chief.  
I know this is a Blackfeet-style straight-up bonnet.
I suspect the photo is by McClintock.


This is a list of posts I've made on this blog about photos of Blackfeet.  I'm talking to Paul about the book he's writing about photographers of northern tribes: Blackfeet, Cree, Inuit, et al.  I may find more posts as I keep looking.  These are not Curtiss photos, posed people dressed from his trunks, so much as household snaps as recent as the Fifties.  About the people rather than some literary vision.




"HIPPIES, INDIANS AND THE FIGHT FOR RED POWER" by Sherry Smith  8-31-13   (She accuses McClintock of not doing enough.)



No one can ever really explain another person, not even a psychoanalyst.  It’s all interpretation — even their genome.  Maybe the answer is several explanations in several media by several people, all given equal weight and cross-referenced.  The real problem not just that a human being is multiple in terms of layers and aspects, but also each of the layers is a living process, constantly changing and interacting.  The person in this hour and place with these people is not the same as they will be by teatime with the Queen and neither will the Queen be the same.

So an account of a person in terms of temperament, or in terms of goals, or in terms of family or culture or bibliography — books either read or written — will depend on whether the description comes from youth or old age.  And so on.  This means that the framing of the narrative structure and the eloquence of the writer explicating it will become almost as significant as the subject person, which may not please them.  Even writing about someone by editing their diary or correspondence will have the same waltz-step complication.

If this hypothetical biography is being written with a lot of research, that’s one thing, a complexity of what is true, what is slanted, what are facts inaccessible.  If the bio is being constructed through interviews, that’s a whole different set of hazards and privileges, esp. if the person has been accused of unreliability, which is an obsession in our times.  If the point is to persuade readers of the true identity of someone, that may be impossible because they enjoy their scepticism so much.

If one is writing a book— meaning a stable paper-and-glue object that can be sold to many by replication and actually owned— that’s one thing and must be written one way.  If one is simply filling a notebook over time, the basic structure has to be chronological because it must be written chronologically as things happen.  But if one has entries in a 3-ring binder, the sequence can be grouped on many different terms, creating many different tracks of mind presenting many different styles.  This goes far beyond Doris Lessing’s color-coded notebooks, which would be an idea interesting to attempt on a set of blogs, though it might yield a runaway like the early keyboarders who discovered possible colors, fonts, photos, drawings, music and jumbled them all together.  I mean, who has a mind that can manage all that?

Not me.  In fact, I’m trying to edit a ten year span of posts from a friend and find myself either becoming so absorbed in the entry that I forget to think about how to fit it into the sequence -- or always having a teasing half-memory about something else that ought to be next to it.  It would be easier if I had a physical face-to-face with the writer, but maybe not.  I try to organize by place or by some philosophical concept.  English-speaking writer’s convention is that it is the turning points, the crises, the temporary triumphs, and the near-deaths that should dictate the shape.  But sometimes the triumphs ARE death, and the deaths ARE the turning points even though they really ought to be the end.

Of course, if the subject is living and interferes, that’s confounding.  Worse, his/her family and friends may have ideas, mostly protective, meaning “stand back.”  There are predatory writers out there in the world, searching for half-truths and able to hack what I put in my main computer, so I have to maintain a second one they can’t access, since it never goes online.  But the truth is that I’m working mostly with paper anyway.  Old-fashioned scissors and tape.  Little stacks with clips.  

I never meant to do this — I just kept pages and pages because I love the writing so much.  I have no idea how those pages relate to an actual human being who is remarkably mercurial.  I have no way to know if anyone else will see these materials the way I do, but what does it matter?  Kingdoms will not fall.  Rivers will not reverse.  Nations will not go to war. 

Is this what they call a “labor of love”?  A labor of love means emotion without money.  Love is supposed to be compensatory enough, but in this case the love is pretty slippery and sometimes agonizing, so what is it compensating for?  And yet this is the way most people see the ideal of fiction and poetry: intense exotic love and the agony of prevented attachment, all expressed in a certain way.  The youngsters like it pretty; the experienced know better.

Shocking sells, but what is shocking these days?  Yesterday’s horrifying practices of the flesh show up in high school writing.  The f-word is used so much it has lost its kick.  It’s just a tick.  The old question of Life v. Zombie or Human v. Machine or v. Animal have been done and done and done.  The war between the generations — efforts to escape, to dominate, to own, even to understand — has created a sort of false solidarity among millennials or among geezers, which the relentless marketeers try to sell as genres.

One of the rewards is that reading print is the way the brain learns to write and working with these vignettes and declarations does enrich my connectome.  Since I have both sides of some of the conversations, I can see that my own writing changes.  For a long time it was becoming richer and more daring.  But now I seem to be having little brain neuron clenches that set limits.  Maybe this material should be offered to someone younger and closer to the relevant demographic, but I’m not sure I can make myself give it up.  Yet there is sentiment in others that it should never have been written.  Blocking it would be honorable.  

Originally the computer was pitched as a way to eliminate paper, but in my hands a keyboard generates paper: it’s so easy to print pages and pages.  Not so easy to get it under control.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Tatanka Means
You can probably write about him.

My life now is writing, but I have a major problem.  It’s not “writer’s block.”  That’s just a marketing platform selling to wannabes.  

It’s more like the dilemma I had as a “dog catcher” — which is that there are two things one can do wrong:  catch a dog and not catch a dog.  It’s a more complicated problem than you might guess, hinging on social convictions about animals, the nature of individual dogs, one’s capacity to “catch,” and a failure to find options, like “catching” that isn’t “catching”.  In the writerly version of this the problem is writing a biography and not writing a biography.  The subject participates in the problem -- maybe involuntarily -- but didn’t quite cause it. Authorization is a separate issue. 

It’s similar enough to the problem of writing about Indians  (retro term) that I can use them as an example, a displaced version of the same double-bind.  Telling what I know would make trouble, even put me in danger.  NOT telling will also cause suffering . . .  to them.  If you have witnessed, how can you not testify?

1.  To write about individuals is to expose them to harm, maybe from law enforcement, but mostly from each other.  They are not harms that can always be seen by outsiders who can’t tell revenge from drug abuse from long-standing tribal rivalries from sexual jealousy.  But they can be deadly or economically erosive or just damage persons’ sense of themselves.  There are stalkers out there and they are highly cybersavvy.  Some are murderers.

2.  To write about persons is to remove their main safety (or so they believe) which is being unknown.  (Writers sometimes think it is being KNOWN that is safety.)  A rural white person here said, “if you ever write about me or my family, I’ll kill you.”  I think she meant it.  Maybe she was thinking of writers who are muck-rakers.  As far as I know, she was quite ordinary and non-criminal.  To write about the most dangerous rez people is to risk death for myself.  They will not necessarily be people considered criminal.  Like that woman, I try not to call attention to myself.

3.  The media across America today at every level is like, um, Japanese tentacle porn.  That is, it goes for the little crevices of the sensational, the destructive, the unexpectedly ubiquitous, and the unstructured but very smart — because that’s where the money is.  And today, with a president who reads and believes in the National Enquirer, he’s at least straightforward about it, not indulging in pretences of gentility.  He’s not entirely wrong about fake news, just which is which.

4.  Academic and think tank authorities are not in touch with reality.  They are arguing over our heads and far too Platonic to be relevant.  Many cannot get their own minds around the variousness of rez people or the existence of indigenous people in the diaspora or whether writing about Indians should be considered idealized anthropological essays or just flotsam and jetsam.

5.  I love these indigenous people.  It is not requited.  Their version of love doesn’t really allow white people.  Individuals might love me, but their peers will quickly suppress any sign of it.  For an Indian, to love a white person is to hand them a knife and expose your throat.  This is a secret, perhaps unconscious.

6.  The other white people who love Indians don’t much like me either because they don’t like competition and they hope to stay unique.  Mystery is marketable.  Knowing secrets makes you special.

7.  The paleobiological terms of belonging are taking on the identity of the group, which makes the belonging real.  So the little kids stolen and adopted became like their captors, which was the whole idea, especially if the demographics of the “tribe” were shrinking.  Ideas about tribes having hard edges that exclude those who are genetically different are simply wrong.  DNA testing as precondition to certifying tribal belonging is a derangement that would set people howling, because the edge is a blur of genes and SHOULD be that way.  

It’s the culture that counts and the culture has to come out of the environmental requirements for survival, so residence in the region is what really counts.  Strangely, in a modern world where so many people’s environments everywhere are a couch, a television, and the inside of a relatively new vehicle, “tribe” in an indigenous sense is lost.  Everyone shares this culture, but it is constructed, a product of the anthropocene.

8.  There are cultures and sub-groups that form spontaneously and some of them are not socially acceptable — in fact, it is the main cultures' unacknowledged appetites and practices that create them.  In the case of something like suppressed indigenous ceremonies, the repression becomes part of the identity of the event.  If it is not secret, it is no longer itself.

I can feel this myself.  The freedom to write what I like on this blog is part of the blog.  My evasion of editors is part of the point of not turning a profit because their idea of what “sells” is not mine and selling is not the point.  If I don't market, I'm invisible, so I accept that.  On a blog the kind of free-floating stigmas that invade so many comments is easily deleted before it is read by anyone.  I’m not beholden.  Of course, if I got wicked, Blogger would probably boot me out, but wickedness is not my goal and if it were, I’d hide it.

9.  The problem is injustice to those I love because they are not understood — I don't want to apologize for them, but for them to be seen for who they are, and not persecuted for what they are not.  But explaining them is exposing them.

10.  The secrecy is enforced as much by the person as by the situation.  If a person has been almost mortally punished for something they didn’t even see coming, they understand consequences for mistakes as being unbearable and will not “bear” responsibility.  Telling their story may be inviting the consequences they have evaded with ambiguity.  Knowing that, they will clam up to protect the biographer, maybe without letting the writer know what those terrible punishments might be.  But the writer might be willing to take that punishment, even flirt with death, like combat photographers. 

I found a startling example.  In terms of what I have written above, this analysis of Melania Trump’s selfies fits the dilemma in terms of safety and choice.   

What punishment for this will Kate Imbach bear?  Will Melania show up with a black eye?  

What would happen to Melania if someone did a deep biography of her?  What happens to a captive who captures her own story unknowingly, innocently taking snapshots?  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017



Faced with the task of reporting the news while suggesting what it might mean, Rachel Maddow was flummoxed yesterday and so was everyone else.  She called on Michael Beschloss, historian of presidents, to see if he could suggest some precedents.  He could not.   

People go to the Cuban Missile Crisis which was a close call that I remember vividly.  But in that case we had an admired president and Russia had a shrewd leader who was not KGB.  And no one said the aircraft carriers were where they weren’t.  And no one thought the president’s daughter would make clothing line deals at the dinner table with the Premier of China, though her father's fav situation room was the dinner table at Mar-a-Lago.  So, to put it mildly, what in the Sam Hill is going on?

Sam Hill was one of a family that built railroads, part of the huge paradigm shift of the industrial revolution.  It also shifted attention from the sometimes lovely pastoral world of the New Testament back to the pre-ag world of the Old Testament tyrants.  Government subsidized railroads underlie today's vast wheat crops of the prairie, but they also wiped out the bison and destroyed the world of the indigenous people.  There were a lot of evil deals.

I’ll try to be more plain, since the above sidebar is a personal preoccupation.  My UU seminary, the one that used to include the U of Chicago Div School but abandoned that because it was too hard — thereby eliminating the tradition of the “learned ministry” and discarding its main virtue — sold its building to the U of Chicago.  Now it is occupied by the Neubauer Institute, which considers cutting edge issues.  Very hard thinkers.  You can’t make a razor out of cheese.

Here’s the squib for the afternoon conference happening day after tomorrow, April 21, 2017:

Imperial Interstices: Religious Elites

In the first millennium CE, regions in the interstices of the Mediterranean, the Near East, and East and South Asia gave rise to merchants, political elites, and religious specialists who stimulated social change across Eurasia. The Neubauer Collegium project Imperial Interstices aims to shift our historical perspective away from the Roman, Chinese, Iranian/Islamic, and Indian civilizational centers toward the places in between, such as the Central Eurasian steppes, Indian Ocean ports, and the passes of the Caucasus and Hindu Kush, as centers of economic, political, and religious innovation. This workshop, the third in a series of three, will focus on religious actors and institutions between empires in the first millennium. 

This is the level of understanding one needs to interpret what’s happening in the news.  It’s on the level of moving the Emperor-as-God to God is Dead.  We're in the midst of the Thomas Kuhn principle that when the economics and knowledge of a people change so much that none of their assumptions work anymore, an enormous sea change — uncontrolled and unwanted — will sweep the planet.  That’s what’s happening.  The phrase, “sea change” comes from “The Tempest,” a play for a sea-going country, England, in fact -- which is right now searching for its own new paradigm.  In America we were trying to elect Prospero and got Caliban instead.  Illusion and ugliness.

We have now begun to abandon the ideas of the Eurasian mercantile interstices.  Few are still trying to “sell” God, though in terrifying times it’s always much easier.  To create a new paradigm that works, we need to settle on new “norms.”  But one of the uses of religion is creating and guiding the norms of culture, and our understanding of religion is still stuck in bookkeeping.  Institutions.  Hoarding behind walls.  Who’s the top.

Ending the industrial paradigm is a complex of idea shifts, many of them coming from science.  The website feed of ideas called offers subscriptions to daily quotes from books that discuss these issues.  The most recent post was a review of our changing view of time, from local solar indicators like "noon", to town clocks regulating the hours of prayer (the Christian version of the Muezzin in his tower), to chronometers for use at sea, to pocket watches, to atomic clocks coordinating multiple-split seconds everywhere.  (The Pursuit of Power by Richard J. Evans.)  

The quote before that was from Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese,  which traced the fate of England as it went from a wooded isle to a quilt of fields because sheep’s wool was so valuable a trade commodity, and then to exploiting the deep ground itself, the coal on which the island stands, which meant suffocating smog and miserable miners’ lives, justified by class, contaminating work pushed off onto those who did it in order to eat and then were blamed for being dirty.

The only universal continuity is the fact of constant change as new patterns emerge writhing from the old -- painfully birthed.  If our old religions of Eurasian trade and resource use have become exhausted, where do we go next?  (There’s always a next.)  Science is often claimed to be a religion, and it is.  But it is also a source of poetry and pattern that can give us “stars to steer by,” not least because it also changes and every change traces and triggers paradigm shift.  (Stars wheel through the sky and occasionally fall or explode.  Or are born.  And some claim to “see” black holes.  But we need to give up thinking it's all about us.)

I subscribe to , British Empire dignified daily wordsmithing, which always includes video essays.  I’ve happily spent a decade following Cinematheque, a group of boys who have done that in a rock ’n roll high-indignation style.  Between the two (and others) my thinking is now less in words and more in images of sea creatures, geology, and the remnants of cultures of the past.  The ineffable and the inexpressible.  “The Mysterium Tremendum”

But we need far more than gaping at the landscape and kissing the sea anemone.  When our leaders use power in cruel self-serving ways, when destruction and contamination are worldwide, when the economics fail small prairie towns and megacities spread all the way down our coasts, and the people of everywhere else come to live next door, we need guidelines about how to react in an ordinary daily way.  

Is it more polite to look into the Other’s eyes, or better never to meet another's gaze?  What subjects are safe to talk about?  How can our children get along together in school?  What foods should the store stock?  How do we restore ourselves after episodes of near-nuclear war?  What use is a democracy when the majority of people don’t vote?  And why do they elect fools, believing — as one young woman said — “I thought that no one like that COULD be president.”  Japan has had better luck with their God-Emperor, in spite of huge losses, including two cities atomically obliterated.

My grandfather Pinkerton, in old age, made a bad second marriage.  My unsympathetic aunt said,  “You made your bed.  Now lie in it.”  My grandfather, never at a loss. retorted. “No law says I can’t stand up and shake out the sheets now and then.”

Hurry up, please.  It’s time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Doug Muder

“The Weekly Sift” is a little bit like my own blog, in that each post is a short essay trying to make sense of something — in this "Sift" blog most often political subjects.  He describes it as “the political blog for people who don’t have time for political blogs”.  “The Weekly Sift is written by Doug Muder, a 50-something ex-mathematician who lives in Nashua, NH.”  He has another blog that considers religious issues.  He’s a contributing editor and columnist for UU World.  I try not to hold that against him — with mixed success.  At least he’s on the humanist side.

He once worked for “The Mitre Corporation, an American not-for-profit organization based in Bedford, Massachusetts, and McLean, Virginia. It manages Federally Funded Research and Development Centers supporting several U.S. government agencies.”  (Wikipedia)  His wife still works there.  I expect there are a lot of nervous people around MITRE at present. but it doesn’t seem to show up in Muder’s writing. 

Muder’s first post for 4/17 (he sometimes does more than one) is at  It contains as Exhibit A the vid clip of Sean Spicer “being racist” with a black female reporter named April Ryan.  Muder’s premise is that conservatives simply don’t have any words or concepts for what liberals call “implicit racism”, that is, the unconscious but probably paleobiologically developed assumption about what a person “is,” based on contact, interaction and observation.  He suggests that Spicer was not consciously thinking, “I’d better put this mammy in her place,” but rather shading over into a dangerously slanted attitude because of what he — below thinking — feels is her true nature as a round, dark, mother-aged person.  The same as the impulse that causes small town business owners to watch me closely because I'm old and dress shabbily and therefore might shoplift.

I suspect that Spicer is not around black people very much and that the black women he knows “act white,” are thin, pale, accent-less, and — what the heck do I call black faces with features like the whites we consider “beautiful,” meaning not fat or wide or hooked or slanted?  What’s the implicit term?  Our minds work like Central Casting and many of the faces we know who are not our inner circle are likely to be types from movies.  

They are “stereo” types. defines “stereo- as a combining form borrowed from Greek, where it meant “solid”, used with reference to hardness, solidity, three-dimensionality in the formation of compound words: stereochemistry; stereogram; stereoscope.

Muder suggests that “implicit racism” is not the same as outright hatred that fuels murder (which certainly exists) but rather there is a spectrum of hatreds that could be considered from simple unwarranted assumptions  (“white men can’t jump”) to KKK lynchings.  Liberals want to push it to the diluted side so they can talk about it.  Extreme Militant ignorants on the subject of racism want to go to justification of murder or at least deportation.  This “temperature” idea smacks of Home Security danger levels being color-coded or  Smoky Bear signage levels of fire danger.

Where I am, the racist problem is not black/white but rather red/white.  It’s more complicated in part because historical virtue is on the indigenous side -- to liberals -- and in part because there are few television series except maybe Longmire or a Hillerman mystery that portray real people.  We are in direct competition for resources like water.  There is always an invisible legal boundary between red and white about governance, entitlement, and missionary assumptions plus raw land ownership.

“Hot” here is direct bar fights (with Latinos complicating issues; there are almost no blacks or Asians.)  Whites seem to insist that drugs are characteristic of dark people.  The code is “gangs.”  If one starts to talk about local drugs, the terms immediately go to “rez gangs.”  (This is a psych phenom known as “deflecting” or displacing.)  The assumption is that there are no gangs off the rez, therefore no drugs.

People here from all sides interact with “Other” people daily with every degree of racism, from vague distrust to dueling knives.  The context, personality, and other factors that distribute their convictions are not media images but reality, rooted in the way they are treated by the “Other.”

Educated and freedom-defending people here will say denigrating things about whites if they are Indian or Indians if they're white.  When I’m stupid or troublesome enough to object, I get the defensive reaction, “But that’s the way they really ARE !!”  Often it can’t be argued down because it is based on experience.  And quite truly, there are a lot of Native American people who show up drunk and quarrelsome, or push some ersatz Earth Spirituality, or attack whites for their “implicit racism” by reinforcing the stereotype the whites already had, for the pure pleasure of the “militant ignorance,” and excuse to tangle, because what do they have to lose?

And there are a lot of white people who come with their big bellies and expensive clothes, sneering, into issues that they try to resolve with domination and their control of money, ownership, government roles.  What do they have to lose?

Currently, the UUA is plagued with some minority people who have gotten the idea that they are not just equal but should morally  claim entitlement to offices that — like Trump — they really can’t manage.  (The older Blackfeet would say they had gotten the “Big Head.”  Inflated.)  One of those women on the rez, who had assumed she would know how to do her rather complex job because she had earned certificates and been on committees, confided to me in an unguarded moment,  “This job is just too hard.  I can’t figure it out.”  She hadn’t known that, didn’t even know whom to ask for help and did not want to face the contempt that would come from racism.  Glacier County finances are a shambles because of this kind of thing happening, and the problem is framed in terms of race.  But it’s really a failure of the education system, which can wave tribal people on by because they are “only Indians.”

This is far beyond needing terms for implicit prejudice, esp when racism itself is so stigmatized among liberals, so much seen as evil and deliberate.  What has to happen is exposure to each other that creates a new image.  In fact, some books and movies do that.  Sidney Poitier made tolerance real, but then — of course — Cosby undid it all.  Because underneath racism is always SEX of the most powerful and brute kind — also implicit.  Jimmy Carter explained but we just made fun of him.

In the end we come to the same place that I almost always end up when I try to interact with white liberals (even though I am one), which is that they are so often naive and inexperienced.  Maybe that’s the only kind of people who can stay tolerant and upbeat because they are protected and oblivious.  I’m no longer tolerant and upbeat.  A few years teaching seventh grade taught me reality.  No one has more cutting implicit stereotypes nor more willingness to throw them in one’s face than seventh graders who think they are of a different race.  They’re hot.  In a lot of different ways.