Thursday, March 22, 2018


It was the Nineties in Portland, Oregon.  Powells, the bookstore big enough to challenge Amazon, was remaindering (without saying so) the books by the Native American Renaissance writers.  In case you’ve forgotten who those writers are, here’s a list from “Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Companion.”  This compendium, bios and samples, was edited by Joseph Bruchac (one of the most well-respected NA writers and editors), Janet Witalec (environmental and multicultural subjects), and Sharon Malinowski (Culture including Gay and Lesbian).

At Amazon: Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Companion” Paperback – May 1, 1995
Presents forty contemporary Native American and Canadian authors with examples of their work.  In those days we called it “Nat Lit.”  There were no Canadians, I think.

Here are the forty in alphabetical order:  Sherman Alexie; Paula Gunn Allen; Jeannette Armstrong; Beth Brant; Mary Brave Bird; Barney Bush; Maria Campbell; Elizabeth Cook-Lynn; Vine Deloria, Jr.; Michael Dorris; Louise Erdrich; Hanay Geiogamah; Diane Glancy; Janet Campbell Hale; Joy Harjo; Lance Henson; Tomson Highway; Linda Hogan; Basil H. Johnston; Maurice Denny; Thomas King; Lee Maracle; John Joseph Mathews; D’Arcy McNickle; N. Scott Momaday; Daniel David Moses; Duane Niatum; Simon Ortiz; Louis Owens; Carter Revard; Wendy Rose; Leslie Marmon Silko; Luci Tapahonso; Gerald Vizenor; Anna Lee Walters; James Welch; Roberta Hill Whiteman

So this anthology is not out of print, but some of these authors are.

Sherman Alexie became popular for several reasons that intersected.  First of all, he sold well and therefore was heavily promoted by his publishers, going in person to many commitments.  In mid-’90s I attended a public lecture in a medium-sized venue where Alexie spoke, which is the second factor.  He is a stand-up comedian, a performer, who takes a rather distanced and mocking view of public ideas and interactions about “Indians.”  This is a popular stance among “cool” people.

So I played “Stagedoor Johnnie” and waited for Alexie to come out.  (These were the days of RezNet.  Mark Trahant was on it and Alexie hadn’t left yet.)   Finally the door opened and out came dozens of people clustered around Alexie, taller than the others and taking a humorous attitude.  The eager crowd was planning on the immediate party where they expected booze.  Some were female, some were “Indian.”  

I tried to talk to Alexie, but it was impossible.  He was using a little pot of lip balm and declined to shake hands because of it.  I kept asking questions until his manager, a sharp young woman, said I was keeping him from his party, but I could come, too, if I would stop talking.  I declined, they piled into waiting cars, and that was the end.

Because Powells was a center for these people, I saw in person many of them.  Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, very elegant, arrived a little early at the Hawthorne Powells which specialized in Nat Lit books.  We sat in the little cadre of chairs and chatted for a while.  This is a woman of great strength of character, who wanted very much to just go home to her Crow Creek Dakota rez and live a quiet life.  Here she is, a little older.  This talk is invaluable.

Cook-Lynn is both a novelist and an academic researcher and essayist.  She is eloquent in English but very much tribal.  There are several major chasms between “types” of NatLit writers.  One of them is between the fictionalists and the academics, which is the branch she claims.  The actual physical culture, the history, the “kind” of “Indians”. are best found academically, often in the history department or assigned as “Indian Studies.”  She mentions Momaday but not Alexie.

Erdrich spoke at  Powells very soon after the suicide of Michael Dorris, to whom she was married.  The audience was mostly Indians who sat silently but sympathetically.  Erdrich was “Lady Grief”, very dignified but distant.  Louis Owens, another handsome academic who also wrote dark murder mysteries, was found dead in his car with his discharged pistol near by.  No one knows what actually happened, but that was about the end of the Renaissance.

Vine Deloria Jr. spoke to the Portland Club, a group that meets over lunch, normally hearing elite political talk.  It was the time when many women worked at mid-level for city and state.  They wore little suits, black stockings with black patent leather pumps, and expensive hair.  Deloria had gone to Powells where he bought a big illustrated book about the Spanish Inquisition.  His premise was that all the persons who thought of Indians as primitive, violent and savage, should study their own history.  He showed us torture.  The women looked as though they might lose their lunch.  I was sitting with “street Indians” who were allowed to attend without eating, maybe at Deloria’s request, though the club had a history of allowing non-eaters to attend as observers.  We chuckled.

Greg Sarris has his own website: he’s very California, almost Hollywood.  He’s the head of his tribe.  He spoke specifically at a gay bookstore.  Handsome, well-dressed, a polished presenter, he was very much the Esquire man of the hour and his large crowd of men was attentive.  He is not included in this list.

Neither is Adrian C. Louis, a vigorous poet and journalist who wrote the book “Skins” which became a film popular among “Indians.”  He’s tough but authentic, often teaching as well as writing.

James Welch is included as a major and productive writer.  Because he married a college professor, his fame is often guided by that set of academic assumptions.  I play close attention to him because his father was a playmate of Bob Scriver’s in Browning.  Welch is particularly well-regarded in France.  His memorial was conducted in a famous old movie showhouse in Missoula.  

But it was his cousin, Sid Larson, who had more influence on me.  In the Nineties when he was a professor at the U of Oregon, he organized a bonanza NatLit event that pulled in dozens of NatLit writers for discussions, lectures, and a memorable party where Jo Harjo played her sax.  He is the author of “Catch Colt” which is the story of his own youth (and Jim's) on the Gros Ventre rez in Montana.  It was the home of Welch’s mother, not his father, and the time the boys spent together was rural.  Welch’s high school years were spent in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis where his father worked, alternating welding with hospital administration.  This made Jim essentially a city boy, while Larson stayed in Montana a long time until he earned several college degrees, including one in law.

The “Native American Literary Renaissance” was much more serious than the floods of white-written sensational accounts of the prairie clearances written by whites: James Willard Schulz, for instance.  The publishers of the early Nineties never understood what was going on with the newly college-educated tribal members writing about their own lives and concerns.  They tried to market to literary and historical white people — those who read “I Left My Heart at Wounded Knee”, that well-researched but romantic book — or maybe to AIM people, who turned out not to read.

In fact, that was the big mistake:  not understanding the audience and their potential for acquiring such middle class objects as “books.”  They were better at watching movies, but there weren’t many before the explosion of video narrative.  Publishers were worried about the possibility of lawsuits over authenticity and also about public quarrels between indigenous people over who was more blood quantum and therefore entitled to write.  They pulled away from new book contracts.  The internet gave publishers a lot to worry about.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


When a few voices began to suggest that the planet had reached and exceeded the limits of nations, it was thought that some international body, maybe the UN, needed to develop some muscle.  When it was asserted by experts that not only had Russia been able to elect Trump as our president in spite of a popular vote that went the other way, but also that the vote for Britain to leave the European Union had been twiddled by Russia, our mouths flew open.  Both were strategies to sow discord and confusion and both have worked very well.  But also experts suggest that as many as a dozen nations, including such previously unconsidered nations as Nigeria, are actively at least monitoring and possibly controlling cyber traffic around the world.

In the past no one has taken computers very seriously.  I’ve warned and warned friends and neighbors about Facebook, for instance, and their habit of invading privacy at a high level — not what’s your favorite color, but what really scares the hell out of you — but they just brush me off.  They refuse to learn to operate the little cyber beasts, those computers — don’t you know they’re full of porn?  (If you ask them what porn is, they talk of naked people.  If you talk about how what was once unthinkable is now demonstrated on You Tube, they giggle.  And change the subject.)

I have a relative who claims vehemently that all politicians are crooked, that everyone who is at the top of anything is crooked because how else did they get there?  Then she becomes incoherent, shrieking.  Especially if I disagree with her.  But I’m beginning to agree with her.

Cambridge Analytica is a good example of why I never do entirely.  It is also an example of a principle of mine:  “Watch the porn folks.”  Most porn makes me laugh: it’s aimed at young men and assumes a certain stance towards the world, that it’s possible for ideas and images to be erotic even if you’re not handsome and charismatic enough for the mainstream.  In recent years it has seemed there are no limits to the kinds and methods of exaggeration, kink, stereotyping, and general merchandizing.  Besides, if you say “porn” to most women, they get outta there, leaving the field for the guys.  They have been taught it's not nice.  It smells bad.

Major insight was provided by a precursor of Cambridge Analytica, a book called “A Billlion Wicked Thoughts” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.  (2011) Using accepted scientific methods of studying bodies, creatures and diseases -- which meant lumping huge amounts of data together and then re-sorting them according to a set of criteria -- scientists are able to pinpoint individuals and patterns suggestive of differing reactions, which are then possible to manipulate for study.  What Ogas and Gaddam did was to aggregate all the cyber porn users of every kind and then try sorting them out according to various criteria.  They were helped by porn providers who “woke” them to patterns they had never guessed.  Some of it was weird and much was funny, like my favorite: tentacle porn, which came about because Japan, disliking its reputation for frank depiction of what goes where, ruled out some anatomical feats.  The artists, undaunted, replaced the human parts with arms of octopi and squid, which went over well in a nation close to the sea.  It’s, um, "gripping" stuff.

Cambridge Analytica acquired factoids about 50,000,000 voting humans, threw them together and then separated them out into types that they claim are so deep that they are possibly unconscious, but reliably indicative of how those people will emotionally vote.  They claim that all politics is emotional, which seems pretty valid, though we all fancy we are being reasonable.  They say some vote for safety, some vote for a pretty face, and just about all the uneducated white unemployed hot-tempered Archie Bunkers out there are completely aligned with Trump, though they're nothing like him.  (Not rich, for one thing.)  They may be right.

The scandal is in part that the factoids were acquired from Facebook, which had been accruing all this info in what seemed innocent ways.  Not only were they raiding users but also maybe 60 of each individual's friendship circle.  Financial matters and business game plans were included.  CA claims they have psychological insight into individuals that they can use to manipulate what those people do.  It's an ad principle.  I’ve been aware of this sort of thing for a long time and resist Facebook for businesses, churches, schools, family and friends.  I warn them and get brushed off.  But NOW people are cancelling their membership and selling off their shares in the company.  Too late.  By now CA and offshoot companies have more sources, more strategies, more skill at manipulation.

It has been a puzzle about how Trump knew exactly which line to feed which crowd, no item of which was ever even considered once he was in office.  The suspicion is that he was coached by CA.  This leads a person to wonder what CA is telling the Republicans.  Trump breaks laws, customs, agreements, and relationships with no pattern, many of them rules that are enforceable by Congress, but they stand numb, dumb, and unmoving with their thumbs in their ears.  Are they getting the last of the spoils?  Do they simply not know what to do?  Are they afraid or bribed?  What could CA tell us about their obedience to the NRA?  Why are law-makers so afraid of young people?

From Terrierman's blog:

Why Do Some White Men Stockpile Guns and Ammo?
From Scientific American: "Since the 2008 election of President Obama, the number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. has tripled, while imports have doubled. This doesn’t mean more households have guns than ever before—that percentage has stayed fairly steady for decades. Rather, more guns are being stockpiled by a small number of individuals. Three percent of the population now owns half of the country’s firearms, says a recent, definitive study from the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University."  What's going on?  Basically these folks are terrified,  weak, and insecure individuals beset by racial and economic fear who are undergoing a crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives.

We are data-driven in a cynical way, giving up our human responses to real people.  David Brooks (R) says, with bafflement, that when he talks to Republicans they like the taxes favoring the rich and the abolishment of irksome regulations, but when Brooks tries to talk about the other issues, they simply wave the those issues off as though they didn’t exist.  Yet if the security aspect of the country is telling us that foreign countries, both friends and enemies, can shut down energy grids and explode our industrial installations, it would seem more important than indulging nepotism by some spectacularly stupid but well-connected children.

My relative claims this was always true, that discovering now that big money people engineered the laws that let them buy whole states and countries, simply by writing a check, is just late news of something true forever.  Regardless of whether I agree or not, the real question is “so what are we gonna do about it?”

This is the head of CA explaining how his strategy works.  He is now suspended.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Last week in the evening I developed a crushing headache in the right quadrant of my head, over my ear.  There is no doctor in Valier.  The closest is thirty miles away.  I diagnosed myself via the computer: probably either a stroke (inside the skull) or a bad infection (outside the skull).  It was late, the roads were “emergency only.”  There is an ambulance but it was silly to risk their lives.  Then there was the money.  I did — nothing.

I was doing a lot of vomiting, which I hadn’t since I was a kid.  When everything was empty, I went on dry vomiting.  I also had major vertigo, which meant labyrinthitis — an inflammation of the labyrinth of the ear, which is what manages balance.  I was too dizzy to stand up and walk without hanging onto furniture.  I mostly slept and drank a lot of water.  Since I was stress-intolerant incontinent, I was soon wet.  I was so contracted that I ached.

The next day all was calm physically except for being dizzy.  I began to eat a little.  On Saturday it occurred to me that aspirin was a good idea and I began to take the recommended dosage.  This was a major improvement.  By Sunday evening I was almost back to normal.  Since I had no visible signs of stroke — no distortion of face or disabling of limbs, no interruption of thought — I concluded it was an infection.  This was not confirmed by measurements.  I had a fever but couldn’t find the thermometer.

I had been warned again and again about cleaning out my ears with a foreign object for fear of infection.  In the end, thinking carefully, I think that was the origin of trouble.  Now I take that advice very seriously.  It appears that I scraped through the incident— fortunately.

On Monday when I called the once a week clinic in Valier for follow-up, the receptionist, Rhonda, wanted to know why I wanted an appointment.  Why is a receptionist entitled to know about one’s medical life?  I know that in part it’s to estimate how much time you need, but somehow it has become a door-keeping issue for someone who only answers the phone and keeps the schedule.  I told her I’d self-diagnosed either a stroke or a serious infection the previous week and wanted follow up.  She made the appointment without asking anything more.  

Pretty soon she called back to say that if I’d had a stroke or a serious infection they would not treat it in the clinic and I should go to Shelby, where the mother hospital is.  She said this was the nurse’s opinion.  She did not put the nurse on the phone — nor the doctor.  She had not asked for my symptoms and would not have known their significance anyway.  She was just going by rote — I should go to Shelby, not to the clinic.  She assumed I was having a stroke or serious infection, as I claimed, but didn't ask why and could not distinguish between the two.  She didn’t ask whether I were safe, if I had help, if she could call someone for me, or why the clinic and why now.

I was appalled and outraged that this kid just out of high school should tell me what to do with my life, NOT to come to the clinic.  If I HAD been having a stroke (or even a serious infection) I could have died.  For reals.

Let’s review.  There were two more inches of snow last night.  The Montana highway people were picturing continuing snowfall and showing yellow roads, which means snow and ice.  Clear roads are green.  I can barely drive my old pickup the two blocks to the clinic, IF I can barge out of the driveway.  (The young women in the clinic have partners and new powerful cars.)

Rhonda accepted my self-diagnosis as real and immediate.  In fact, the action was last week and I’m pretty much recovered, but she didn’t grasp that.  She just wanted me to go to Shelby.  She said the nurse suggested this.  Neither one of them had seen me, had heard me give an account of my symptoms, and Rhonda has no medical training.  Neither one of them has any notion that I’m an old single woman without family or a driver and neither takes into account the fact that my driveway has been plowed in, possibly more than I could break through.  

The doctor was not involved, nor did the doctor call back later to see what the real situation was.  I have never known a doctor who wouldn’t do that.  So much for all the hospital’s declarations of caring and support.  The doctor does live just outside Valier.

Rhonda had made me an appointment before she directed me not to use the clinic.  I was so insulted by her attitude — fantasy and prejudice-based —that I called back and cancelled it.  She was undisturbed by this, even though she had just believed that I had a condition too serious for the clinic to handle.  “Have a nice day,” she advised blandly.

So this situation has three levels.  The first is the most obvious which is as described above:  a real life situation enough out of the ordinary to make these people into knee-jerk dispensers of "care" only to people they know and understand.  If there is any variation from obedience and predictability, they are quick to escape.

The second is the question of health care in widespread rural areas and why it is so often off the mark.  What happened to the old ideas of service to human beings and listening to what a patient might tell you?  Instead it all revolves around the predetermined and righteous opinions of weakly qualified people.  There is a demand to be present. This is what religion used to be like, especially in backwater small towns where people weren’t used to the idea of heterogeneity.

The third part is why I am so angry.  In my head I am calling Rhonda, the nurse and the doctor some very nasty names.  All through the ordeal I had thought I only had to hang on until local help arrived.  Now I hope I never see them again and I’m resolved to go somewhere else for health care.  This clinic is, it appears to me, a second-rate outfit.  I have high standards for medical people.  I’ve worked for this clinic's “mother hospital”  (Marias Medical Center in Shelby, ward clerk in the nursing home portion) and watched them go through a sequence of scandals.  Earlier I'd worked as a chaplain in an outstanding regional hospital (Rockford, Illinois) and saw how much they really cared and went the extra mile.

If no one ever cares, if no one ever nails them for brushing off patients, they’ll never reform.  It OUGHT to be a crucial element of the community instead of sticking us with second-rate performance.  Hospitals are no longer religious — they used to be run by nuns.  But it’s only very recently that they’ve become unprofessional.  Multiple kinds of degrees (MD, OD, Nurse Practitioner, Ph.D, Physician Assistant), many unproven modes, people only pretending to be doctors, and managers who are complicit — because it’s more profit.

As a side bar, several people read in my previous post that I was sick and called up to investigate.  We're all old.  None would listen to my symptoms.  They heard or or two items and declared, "Oh, yes.  Sinus."  Or, "Of course.  Miniere's."   They were not reassuring.  But they did not like my lay diagnosis of digging wax out of my ears.  I still stagger a bit.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Not really.  I’m only starting the twentieth year since I bought this house in 1999.  The town itself has changed quite a bit.  Many sterling and solid people have died or moved away.  We’ve lost maybe ten businesses, including the much beloved Lighthouse restaurant that drew customers from miles away.  We’ve gone from a laissez faire mayor who rubber-stamped most projects, to a much more self-conscious and strict town council that is increasingly regulated by the state, not always appropriately since the officials tend to come from cities.  And we’ve realized that the wealth of the area is around the town, but not in the town, while local amenities remain in town: school, fire, church, library, senior citizen meals, water.

When I first came, the bank (Wells Fargo) accepted payment for gas and water, exchanged Canadian money freely with American (we’re close to the border), exchanged change for bills, cashed checks, and other friendly favors.  Now they refuse to break down a hundred dollar bill even for a transaction with the city.  They might as well be a machine.

This last week I got a first-hand look at the dark side when I became violently ill.  Either a stroke or a major infection clobbered the top right quadrant of my head.  There is no doctor in town.  I could have called the ambulance but it was late and the roads were impassable because of snow and sleet.  The best cure was time and that’s what I chose.  That was Wednesday.  This is Sunday.  No one in town knows I’m sick.  Tomorrow will be the local clinic of the hospital in Shelby and I will attend.  I’m slowly improving anyway.

The local hospitals are each in a county seat and each is stretched to make ends meet.  The result is that each has hired a person to oversee everything, forcing doctors to work to dictated protocol and so on.  The criteria is not the welfare of the patient.  Once the hooks are in a person, there will be expense after expense, incompletely covered by insurance.  My high blood med jumped from $8 to $37 dollars a few months ago.

Valier has been a family-centered town for a long time, but it isn’t now except for a few.  30% of the population identifies as tribal.  One family owns the only gas station, the store, a ranch and other businesses.  Many outsiders have moved here because of the past reputation and are shocked when they are not included in a “family.”  They are not necessarily small town people and want big city amenities.  They sometimes try to force their fantasy on others.  I heard one say, “We should just get rid of all $30,000 houses.”  (That includes my house.)  Some have talked of a walled city — walling all the big ranchers out?

Our law and order is via sheriff rather than police.  This means the headquarters are in Conrad, thirty miles away, and Valier pays a lot of money for little service.  Those who like edges and darkness are aware of this.  We just got rid of an ineffective sheriff much like Trump: overweight, overbearing, vulgar, abusive of his own children, divorced by his wife, obsessed by sex, inclined to fire any officer people liked better, openly “tolerant” of low-level crime.  Now our temporary sheriff is Billy Gobert, a tribal member from a prominent Browning family.  He has been in law enforcement for many years.

A major focus has been infrastructure.  First we were told we needed a second holding tank on stilts.  (Though we are next to Lake Francis, it is privately owned water and only Conrad has access.)  Then we needed another well and had a hard time locating a site.  The new well is more mineral than the old ones.  Then our water supervisor of many years was hired away to a better job, taking his expertise and experience with him.  The other city employee had asked for a safety “cage” to put in trenches as protection for the digger, but was denied.  The upshot was that he was trapped by a cave-in and his back was seriously wrenched.  The “cage” is in use now but the worker has to go for pain treatment in Great Falls once a week.  We’ve hired an eager young man, but he’s also had health problems

Then we began to fail the safety bacterial tests we send in once a week to a lab in Helena.  Evidently the “bugs” in our settling ponds were getting chilled and inactive, so we installed expensive covers and pumps to keep those bugs happy.  Then we discovered that our lagoons had accumulated sludge at the bottom, beyond what is allowable.  The problem was two-fold: how to get it out and what to do with it.  We found someone who would accept the muck on his land as fertilizer, so now the choice is between drying out and scraping each pond or trying to pump out the stuff as liquid.

The state required us to install water meters at each household.  It was predicted that people would stop watering their lawns.  I certainly did stop and there was some die-off in my yard.  I failed to keep up with the restrictions on “grass” height and got into trouble as did others.  A lady friend offered to come over and “mow my grass.”  She did not understand that the north side is now overwhelmed with caraghanas (shrubs) from the neighbors.  The back half is overrun with rogue alfalfa, which is too tough and flat for a mower, and the entire yard is closely spotted with volunteer poplars whose roots stick up above the ground.  This is not the kind of yard most prosperous people here have.  Theirs are a matter of uniform green, flat and uninterrupted.  Most people have riding mowers.  Most people get rid of their trees.

Sickness has made me think about my sewer which needs an upgrade.  The city replaced a part of it but the part nearer the house is made of an ancient material called “orangeburg”.  Every “plumber” I’ve called has been a novice who knows only two things: all plumbing is clogged and all clogging is the fault of trees.  The last plumber said that my problem was that the house was sinking and therefore the angles of evacuation were too shallow, even reverse.  Jacking up the house is estimated at $8,000.  At present, the sanitary stack (a pipe that goes from near the sewer outlet up to a foot or so above the roof) seems inoperable (?) so the system vents through the shower.  That’s not nice, but I also come to realize that the sanitary stack also draws in air so as to let the liquids drain on out.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and no one has the expertise to understand why.

After this long here, many decades-old ties to local people (not necessarily white), and steady attendance at town council meetings, I’m still seen as an outsider — someone who can’t be trusted and probably has hidden wealth.  If they were to get access to my house, there are a few plunderers who would be “on it,” looking for valuables, evidence of something that could be held against me, searching for a weakness that would let them control me.

Therefore, in these hostile times, I keep my guard up.  I only call for the ambulance if I’m on the point of death.  Of course, at that time I might not be conscious.

Do I regret moving here?  Not one bit.  It’s a good place to hide from the Trumpers.  But it’s no free ride.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I'm not going to post anything on blogger for a week.  Something strange is happening. I have ghosts.  Back after St. Patrick's Day.


Agustin Fuentes  (on the right)

When in seminary I realized that I’d moved from Plato (one eternal ideal pattern for a faulty reality) to Heraclitus (all is process and shifting) I didn’t really understand that these two were streams of thought.  The faculty was not about to tell me, since they were invested in Plato.  But the world was on my side and there has been a steady growth in Heraclitian scholarship.

I have a list of as many thinkers as the names on Rachel Maddow’s roll call of wised-up White House people leaving for the provinces.  Mine are in-coming thinkers.  The most recent on my list is Agustin Fuentes, best approached on YouTube.  Here’s a one-minute intro.

Another on my list is John Hawks, a fossil chaser who knows hominids.  These guys are box-busters who cross disciplines, but they are not just trendy.  Here’s a conversation between the two of them:

Here are some concepts I picked up from the talk.  One is plasticity, which has been applied to the idea that brain connectomes can physically adapt to new thoughts (learning) throughout their human lives — even that new brain cells can form, which is so new that it's still challenged, so there will soon be new research.  

The next is winnowing which is the idea that circumstances and the nature of the human individuals both change all the time, which means that inevitably they will lose the fittingness that allows them to survive.  OR they will figure out a new way to "be."  The ape that is arboreal in a time when drought kills all the trees will either learn to live on grasslands or disappear.  (I had not known that besides the 200 or so hominids there were many many kinds of apes, both of which assortments mostly disappeared.  There was no one missing link, but rather a stream of life that dried up or changed its flow.)  

Fuentes named the great ape categories we know: chimp, bonobo, gorilla, orangatan, gibbon — and notes that they are all a little weird, remnant populations in ancient places like jungle.  (I have never seen a list of fossil “pongids” which are what the category of us is technically called, or even a list of where pongids had a long and fortunate existence.)

But there are kinds of monkeys, closely related but not pongids, that are not threatened by the presence of humans, but in fact become part of the larger ecology to the point of challenging humans.  Fuentes studied macaques, a large monkey that thrives in Thailand.  The difference is that they are social and live in interrelated groups.

The key to survival for humans is not just fittingness to the circumstances, but also the ability to change their environment by creating a niche, which is done socially.  Much of it is sex/family based, but possibly defining family in a very broad way so that the animals, plants and even geology are part of that ecosystem.  For a rancher, protecting the cattle, the hay crop, the water dynamics, and even a certain level of predation (which includes diseases across species lines) can be part of the mix.

I discovered Fuentes because of a tweet pointing to this video:  is a video lecture at the University of Edinburgh sponsored as part of a series called the Gifford Lectures.  This is how a diasporic rogue scholar (me) continues to participate in what used to be confined within the boundaries of a university.  It is an another example of a shift from a boundary to a central node.

In this lecture Fuentes leads us through history of the long kind — over hundreds of millennia rather than only back as far as written material records -- and also in terms of the evolution of individuals as they go through life from conception to death.  His assumption is not Platonic -- that we should all be pressed into some template -- but Heraclitian in our ability to invent, adapt, realize, wonder.  I use these two thinkers for markers for the people who believe that learning is always approached through past precedents defined by admired figures.

Culture” and how individuals fit into them is one of my personal thought precursors from theatre courses and the same is true of Fuentes, though he didn’t linger over theatre very long.  The work of inhabiting another person, quite different from oneself, leads one naturally to plasticity and awareness of the environment that make social groups form.

Belief systems, as in religious and patriotic groups, emerge from the semiotic systems that record what behavior is.  These things are organic, not planned rationally.  This is a main difference between the Euro-origin industrial systems and those that are autochthonous.  The first is name-based, what a name defines/confines, and the second is based on the verb, what is done, “the way it rolls.”

If you are focussed on the former, your challenge will be to keep things the same, to build walls, to store resources, to eliminate challenges.  If you are focused on the latter, the energy will go into recognize new things, seeing how they can be understand and used, what they can give us as new access to in the world around us.

You’ll need language to keep track of this and to share it with others.  It is the skill bringing the group along through persuasion and instruction.  Crucial are the theatre-related skills, from imitating a cave bear by a bonfire, to the moral issues of Greek drama, to our present adventure of video narrative and image.

A human is a community of cells within a skin.  An interfacing interaction with social community then gives us the ability to construct a human “niche”.  This niche then forms the physical brain of people in it, plugging together the connectome.  Culture becomes anatomy.

I need to connect this to a specific story.  Last night I watched David Hare’s four-part series called “Collateral” (Netflix) which is a consideration of the collateral ecology around human trafficking — how different kinds of people are affected.  One character is an Anglican vicar, formerly a role symbolic of parish order and social conformity.  But this one has adapted: she is female, lesbian, rebellious, focused on the welfare of individuals.  Her lover is Asian, not quite fitting into the same niche.  This vicar is very appealing.

Another character is a female soldier who has identified with her father, also a soldier, and who has attracted a senior officer to dominate her sexually, partly because of the vulnerability represented by PTSD.  And hierarchy.  That is, he rapes her because he can and his identity is based on what he can do.  She is destroyed.

The third female breaking stereotypes is a cop who must move among the assorted characters and figure out what happened.  She represents what Fuentes identifies as imagination.  Not only can she imagine her way into these assorted and displaced peoples, but she understands the underculture well enough to find processes to move the situation in ways that might or might not conform to the written rule of law, which is meant to control and force conformity.

Nicola Walker

Fuentes then moves to transcendence which is beyond the scope of this blog post.  I would love it if David Hare continued with his challenged female Anglican vicar into the realm of the transcendent.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


The US is an assembled country.

Until I ran across a reference in a "tweet", I hadn't thought about a new civil war in America, though I had considered whether it might be wise to divide into "eco-territories," esp. to keep the coasts from dominating the mid-continent.   

I googled and this is a list of the first "page" I got from them.  (You know, of course, that if you google or I google on a different day or from a different computer, I'll get a different list -- which is why I'm posting this.  There's a good deal of sameness in these articles, which I'll consider after you've had a chance to read them as I did.)

The first thing I notice is that these writers are all leaving out much of America in their focus on political division.  That is, nowhere is there a mention of Native American reservations, which are nations within nations with varying motivation to rebel or diverge.  Thinking about rezzes and tribes means going to the heart of the issue of sovereignty, a discussion which is relatively subdued in the States but is on fire in Western and Northern Canada, kindled by energy pipelines that cross borders.  The consequences for the people who live close by these resource projects are major, whether they are dramatic oil-spills or the gradual erosion of health by toxins and decimation of animals by interrupting their migrations and birthing grounds.

To bigshot fat cats who live in major cities when they aren’t on their tropical estates, no one lives in those wide seemingly empty spaces and, if they object, they have no power anyway.  This is no longer true in a time of video and internet.  The power of “seeing,”  empowerment by witnessing and testifying, have made Inuit grandmothers more potent than guns.

The other aspect of the internet is that it has disrupted the assumption that governance is a matter of territory and that no governance can be achieved without drawing boundaries.  In fact, the autochthonous peoples of the planet have been making common cause, even across oceans.  One of the articles above talks about WWIII starting from the secession or capture of Hawaii, which has been quite active with continental language recovery programs among tribes.  A network with no single capitol is a new kind of nation.

If governance is defined by boundaries, edges, in another sense it is defined by distribution of resources, esp. food.  This is why infrastructure is so crucial but I don’t see it mentioned in these essays.  If states were motivated to harden their borders, then what happens to the grain shipments to the planet?  How do we get fruits and vegetables in Montana where the growing season is 8-10 weeks?

Interpenetrating loyalties have been disruptions in the past, but their diasporas — if challenged hard — can rise up in unity if the issue is vital enough.  One of the most potent (!) is sexual.  As a nation we seem to shrug off powerful men who force and attract sex as a demonstration of their entitlement, until suddenly we don’t.  Just where the tipping point is seems to be coming closer.  We tolerated JFK, we sort of tolerated Bill Clinton, we elected Trump, but . . . now #MeToo draws the line lap-tight. 

Worse is being denied sex education, contraception, abortion, and all the family safety nets necessary now that legal marriage has come uncoupled from fertility and sex.  In fact, it could be argued that the deadly stigmatization of unwed mothers has dissipated, their children are as entitled as any others, and that sex has been totally redefined as decriminalized, no longer hidden, not confined to a male/female pair or any pair at all.  The system of entitlement as proof of power, the fantasy of droit du seigneur that some corporate heads, teaching masters, and celebrated artists seem to assume, is passé.

Actual armed force, such as police, military bodies, citizen militias, and underground organized criminals are fancied by malcontents as a spectacle of rebellion full of explosions and car chases.  In a world where a small drone can carry a bomb specifically to your house, or an innocent stroller can pass by, giving you a quick little injection with the tip of their umbrella that leaves you sprawled on a park bench — deadly action is quite different.  Far more specific, risk-free, and undetectable.

All accurate targeting needs is a GPS, which is signalled by one’s ever present cell-phone.  But the other thing they need is the satellite infrastructure that is orbiting the planet and that is another reason for reliable governance.  Because gathering up money and re-deploying it on behalf of everyone is another key reason for government.  We need more attention to the criminality of hoarding money.  As we challenge boundaries drawn by nations, we should challenge money devised by nations.  There must be better systems than IOU’s and gambling on futures.

What some of these essay say is that the whole big picture has changed since the most recent civil wars.  Then why civil wars persist in the Middle East or SE Asia?  And what is Russia muttering about?