Since in my own mind many of these posts have been "chapters," I'm splitting some of them out to separate blogs. But also, my audience is divided and quite different, one part from another. Many have dropped out and many have newly arrived. There are recognizable paper "book" versions of some of the posts that fit together.

I find that some people still assume that a blog is a sort of diary. This one is not. It is not for children, either in terms of subject or writing style. It's not written "down." Think academic magazine or column without footnotes.


My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me


Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at

Fiction about Indians at
Essays about Indians at

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Because the Glacier Reporter prints Harry Barnes' reports to the tribe but the newspaper doesn't put them on their website even though half the tribal members live off the rez, I asked Harry if I could repost them here so people far away could have access.  I'm white, but I care.  Anyway, this particular issue is not confined to the rez.  Denying it is what the healing community calls "enabling," not helping.


Trained as an electrician, I had to study a lot of math, algebra, and trigonometry. I thought I just had to show up and not get shocked. I thought I left all of that behind in High School and college. Then getting into business I found new challenges in numbers and my mind was still resistant to all them figures. Everywhere there was numbers. This week I have to share some sobering numbers with you, but I hope you will read it all.

I had the opportunity to testify before the Department of Justice in a government to government consultation last month and the subject was the “Violence Against Women Act”. The original law was modified to address the high incidence of violence on Indian Reservations, especially directed towards women. For the first time it also allowed Tribal Courts to have jurisdiction over non-members who commit acts of violence against tribal members. Of course we have to make our Court system look like their system. 

As I prepared for my testimony I looked for data on our Blackfeet Reservation so I could speak from the local perspective. I was appalled at the numbers! They were not only staggering, they were absolutely scary. One in four Native women can expect to be victims of rape in their life time. Compared to other Montana Reservations, Blackfeet has a violent crime rate four to five times higher. According to the Montana Crime Boards Annual Report 2005 thru 2009 there were 2,214 reported cases of domestic violence, 89 forcible rapes, 36 attempted forcible rapes on the Blackfeet Reservation! 

The University of Montana Childhood Trauma Research Center conducted a survey of 7th graders in Browning Schools and found a significantly large percentage of children who showed symptoms of Child Traumatic Stress with additional components for traumatic grief. In the 2007 study of 193 students, 62.2% scored above criterion in Violence exposure and 54.4% were above criterion for the Child Traumatic Stress scale. In a subsequent 2010 Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), Browning Middle Schoolers scored an average of 14. The National average is 4!  When acts of violence against Blackfeet women occur, they do not happen in a vacuum. A future generation becomes desensitized to violence and comes to accept it as a natural way of life. Our children all are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

That brings me to my next subject, BULLYING. Many have said the Browning School District is not doing enough to stop bullying. Why do they allow this to go on? Why haven’t they stopped this? I have talked to the Superintendent and several staff members on this very topic. I believe the District is working very hard in an attempt to reduce the incidences of bullying. Countless hours of training has been devoted to staff on this nationwide epidemic. I also believe it may be beyond the District’s ability to completely eliminate bullying. The District has received an Aware Grant (see last week's Glacier Reporter) and feel very strongly that this will go a long way in mobilizing the public and providing  some tools to combat this plague. Keep in mind how many of our children have been desensitized to violence. This is not a School district problem in Browning or Heart Butte which faces the same issues. This is a Reservation problem that will require all of us to participate in finding solutions beyond the blame game. I am working with the districts to get Resource Officers in the schools. Just one piece of a broader solution.

My good friend Father Ed Kohler added a scary statistic to his sermons to try to awake me and others to our problems ( He always struggled just to keep me awake). He said 40% of the babies being born at the Blackfeet Community Hospital had drugs in their system. I always thought that was too many. Visiting with Tim Davis from BCH a week ago he said of ten babies born in the last two weeks 7 had drugs in their system! I am not a math wizard but that seems like almost 70%. Drugs and alcohol have become one of our greatest challenges. 

If we look around the world wherever there are pockets of intense poverty (certainly we live in one) there are certain things that follow that poverty – drug and alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, and child abuse. We suffer from all of these. Why do the Police do nothing to stop the dealers? Everyone seems to know who they are, but no one wants to help convict. The Police do have a big role in the drug problem. But again this is a Reservation problem. The Montana State Patrol will be cross deputizing our Blackfeet Law officers who will be able to ticket non-members. That will give us a little more safety. During the 2009 thru 2013 measuring period there were 33 fatal accidents on the Blackfeet Reservation. Of these at least 30 were drug or alcohol related. We need to come to grips with the numbers. 

Each of us as community members, as parents, as grandparents, as uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters and yes as cousins, must take ownership of our collective challenges. Every member of Blackfeet Law Enforcement, School District employee, Tribal Council Member and Tribal employee, and HIS employee must own up to our role in a broad based solution. School District Aware Program aims to educate and bring parents into the loop for solutions. Blackfeet Community Hospital needs help in their “Healthy Women – Healthy Babies” initiative where you can be a part of positive change. And we as leaders must recognize that our role is to empower, engage, and support community members to bring about a better future for our young people. They are the ones we will expect to take care of us. Invest in our future.


“People do whatever they want to do until someone stops them.” 
“If you do something outrageous enough, people just won’t believe it’s happening.”  
-- Bob Scriver

“Crime can never be eliminated.  But it’s a continuum and anything that helps to push events towards the end that is good for everyone, that’s what you do.  It can be something small and simple.”  -- Mike Burgwin

I keep these bits of wisdom in mind when I try to think about things like child abuse.  No need to start at the end that has ghastly child torture and death.  Start at the end with bullying, mocking, mobbing.  Start by talking to kids, laughing at their jokes but not their ideas.  And by talking I mean “conversation,” so that means going both ways.  I have had a hard time learning not to be sarcastic.  It is a way of controlling.  I didn't think it was violence, but it was.

Child abuse is a WORLDWIDE problem, not just a reservation problem.  Mostly it is propelled by economics, first by making it too expensive to prevent the birth of unwanted children, and then by preventing their proper care after they are born.  There are many parts of the world now where children are simply sold because they are the only asset the starving family has.  Incredible income disparity means that there are people who can afford to buy a child (NOT adopt) as though it were a toy and use it however they choose because they can buy the silence of anyone who might interfere.  These rich people were often abused and neglected as children themselves and are deformed as human beings, but again they can buy off anyone who criticizes them or tries to control them.  They are so incredibly rich that they can buy an island as a hideout or bribe an entire country. 

Increased awareness of global problems has psyched out many of us to the point of being afraid to take on local child abuse.  Our main defense is just not to know what’s happening, to ignore the signs, to not know the signs, to build a little fort of not-seeing.  We don’t want to realize how many people -- frustrated, bored, feeling helpless, drunk, high -- will take it out on kids.  We want to think that pedophiles are monsters who kill toddlers and therefore we don’t see the adolescents ensnared by drugs/money/dependence/self-hatred.  Encouraging boys to imitate cage-fighting in alleys while men bet on them is child abuse.  Providing kegs of beer for high school parties is child abuse.  Expecting some useless half-grown guy to be a babysitter is child neglect.  Pretending to babysit a child while getting drunk is criminal behavior.

Nor are we good at knowing what to do about, watching out for each other, and devising solutions.  We go to extremes: KILL and CONFINE and use the punishments on the victims, blaming them. 
Piegan moms at the train depot in the Thirties.

What are the small and simple things anyone can do?  Intervene when you see someone teasing a small child.  (You could at least glare at them!)  Talk to teenagers wherever they are.  Empower women.  Find work.  If there are no paid jobs, devise unpaid jobs: every now and then someone is inspired to clear trash or cut wood for stoves.  Why should we expect missionaries from Iowa to do our maintenance?  Form small friendship groups, maybe for sharing stories or drumming.  Sit in on public trials and council meetings and attend school events, including parent/teacher conferences, even if you think you might be criticized.  Learn something, maybe with the help of an elder.  Instead of passively watching television, learn how to actively use a computer -- with the help of a kid.  Keep a journal about your nabe: dates, times, car licenses.

There is no antibiotic that can heal the damage done by neglect and abuse in the earliest years of life, but there are strategies that can help explain and support resilience, the ability to withstand hardships.  Those workshops move around the state but are often taught by Blackfeet people.  Whenever they are near enough, go -- take notes, tell your neighbors, think about the old ways.  

Siksika in 1909

It’s tough to reinstate the traditional ways of people who lived in bands, always moving but always together in related groups of known people.  Now people live scattered among their ranch allotments or maybe in housing developments of unrelated people.  How else could it be that a woman was murdered and stored in her own crawl space without anyone noticing?  But there are also roving predators full of drugs and violence that authority figures can’t seem to address.  In the old days the Crazy Dogs would go to their lodge, dismantle it, destroy the contents, and evict such people from the group.  We don’t do that in the US today.  Anyway, many don’t really live anywhere, don’t own anything but a drug stash.

Authorities get tied up two ways: one is lack of money in a place so large that just keeping a cop car running and fueled costs plenty.  The other is the cat’s cradle of jurisdiction law that provides too many loopholes.  Both of these are hard to address by an ordinary person trying to get along in life, but they are not impossible.  Many people both on and off the rez have ideas about consolidation of authority.  The hard part is maintaining sovereignty in a world where drug gangs from South America can easily hide on the rez, adjacent to a border with another country, in a place that has had hideouts since the days of the whiskey runners taking advantage of the Medicine Line.  Too many people confuse reform with control.
Available on Amazon for as little as one cent, plus shipping

The lives of children trump jurisdiction.  Sovereignty is as much about protection as about domination, about inclusion as much as exclusion.

I’m being presumptuous to say “we” but I’ve been around here more than fifty years now.  Didn’t I dance the Owl Circle Dance of Inclusion at the end of Indians Days so long ago that there was a bonfire in the middle of the arena?

Friday, November 21, 2014


In a small town on the sparsely populated plains where pressure to succeed is high but the shift in culture triggered by technology is incomplete, signs of tension show up in schools.  Some are easily scandalized, others figure anything goes.  No one REALLY knows what should be taught because no one knows what tomorrow will require.

Little kids in schools are one thing: most people agree they should learn “propriety” enough not to disrupt the group, that they should acquire basic skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, and nowadays keyboarding and basic tech management is essential.  But by the time schools are dealing with adolescents, they are in the position of the horse rider who can succeed only by persuading the horse to cooperate.  The use of force will produce “a rodeo event.”  Once a horse realizes it is much bigger than any human and has twice as many feet -- which are like steel-edged hammers --  simple “riding” is over.  No more domination by bluffing.  An out-of-control class of adolescents is not less dangerous.

Many institutions at the grassroots level are in four layers:  the “clients” (students, patients, etc.), the public who finances the function (education, health, police), the administrator who interfaces between the receivers and the immediate providers -- hopefully in a way that supports and guides both -- and, fourth, that bunch of immediate providers (teachers, nurses, coaches, cops) who may be literally “hands-on.”

Let’s stick to talking about public schools.  There is always a “generational” break between each layer in terms of goals, methods and over-all assumptions about what’s happening.  This is now complicated by the binary splits between conservative and liberal (not the best terms, but useful in a vague way to indicate the emptiness of the middle).  Because people get into management roles through seniority and advanced education, they tend to be quite different from the immediate providers, who are often much younger with different assumptions, but both might be radically different from the bottom layer, the students.  

Valier sit-in with Brent Nice, the superintendent

This week there was a brief arc of concern about a high school counselor, a female, local, stable, noncontroversial woman whose job was seen as “preparation for life,” more than addressing extreme problems.  Someone accused her of some kind of misbehavior.  Valier is a small town and there is only one counselor, so though the names of accusers, any kids involved, and the woman herself were all kept confidential, everyone always knows everything anyway.  She was suspended with pay pending investigation: the signals were 1) we take this seriously, 2) we are making a safety gap, 3) we aren’t going to penalize anyone by docking a pay check. In a day or so, the counselor was reinstated, but inquiry continues.

The kids themselves knew all about everything in that “string theory” way of every possible variation of reality and reacted in defense of the accused by staging a sit-in.  Somehow that hit the front page of the regional newspaper, the Great Falls Tribune.  The hammer feet of the media.  The kids were cheerful, focused, and polite -- the “Valier way.”  

I was surprised at my own rather strong reaction because I haven’t taught for a long time.  In fact, not since a similar incident in another nearby town where I simply resigned when it was clear I had a target on my back.  I no longer tolerate being mobbed.  The first time I was involved in one of these student protests was in the Seventies in Browning.  In that case it was the high school counselor, Bill Haw, who addressed the student body and persuaded them to end their strike.  When I working for the City of Portland later in the Seventies, there was a strike and at that time I was part of the administration, who asked me to photograph the strikers.  Even before face recognition programs, this was retaliatory aggression, something like asking a rowdy kid for his name.  

Again in the Nineties I was involved in a strike against the City of Portland, but this time I was marching as a striker.  No one took my photo.  To be in a march with a lot of big tough hefty streets and waterworks men was a kick!  They roared, they stomped, they demanded attention.  Of course, they were demonstrating for money, not some principle.

When I asked people around Valier for the backstory this time, I was reminded again that I’m in the “out-group” here, not part of the “good old boys” who take a special interest in the schools because it is the base of the town athletics and therefore their state reputation, the main source of identity and one of the few things that will get people out of their cocoons in the evening so that they feel part of a group.  But treating this incident with dignity and seriousness instead of covering it up or belittling it seemed like good strategy to me.

The relationship between Valier and Heart Butte, the nearby town on the reservation which is now the bigger of the two but which has no services, is fascinating in terms of school dynamics.  There are Heart Butte students who commute to attend in Valier.  Also, the relationship between the service area that extends out for miles around Valier and the core services -- of which the school is maybe the most vital -- is also interesting.  But few even think about these interacting and overlapping populations.  I was intrigued to see Tristin Bullshoe, a Valier senior, quoted in the GF Tribune article.  Those of us with rez experience know better than to tangle with any family of the “Bullshoe girls” who have been teachers and administrators for decades.  Female tribal power is not based on drinking together at conferences nor exchanging political favors, which among men is a Montana custom on and off rezzes.  

Much of my ministerial training was focused on organizational design and social patterns.  In some way it causes me to see ghosts and in other ways it reveals things that management level people are neglecting and that lie under the surface in public life until they erupt in some “perfect storm.”  (The media has just been recalling how Jane Byrne became mayor of Chicago because of a snow storm like the one just now in New York.)  Last night I watched “Let It Burn,” the story of MOVE in Philadelphia where the Mayor and Fire Chief saw a race-based social justice movement as a pack of criminals and ended up burning the homes of hundreds of innocent people who had nothing to do with it, as well as members of the group. 
A century of weather change

Over the last decades both churches and schools have sponsored one workshop after another about negotiation, “getting to yes,” including all “stake-holders,” and so on.  From one point of view it seems as though they’ve had no impact at all.  But from another, one could argue that without this little core of idealists things would be a lot worse.  The problem is that they involve some layers of the four-layered interactions and not others.  They are part of the culture shift of the younger adults towards more negotiation and less destruction.  And, as always, it is the level of immediate providers that often takes any damage.

The "fossils" are mostly in the public, demanding control, profit, and whatever it was we used to do, without facing the fact that the world has changed radically.  Better sit down with a teenager and see what they think.  A big part of their education is not coming from the formal schools or even from adults.  Not all of it is things the public wants them to know or realizes that they DO know.  They need to be included.  Reality is a tough teacher but we can’t get along without it.  

Rock City, created by millennia of erosion.
It's at the ultimate end of the street on which I live where it meets the boundary with the rez.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Maybe it’s a practical and pleasant thing to do just before Thanksgiving to list some movie recommendations.  I watch every night after supper for a few hours.  All of them are either Netflix streaming or discs plus PBS streaming, which is low quality as far as streaming goes but high quality in terms of the programs.  I finally had to start a list because I’ve watched so many that I’d be five minutes into a program before I realized that I’d already seen it.  

I like a series because the computer at Netflix keeps tracks of where I was and just starts me up again.  I watch them right out to the end of the episodes.  After an interval, very often new episodes will be added, so I return. Mostly they are murder mysteries:  “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries” or “The Black List” (I still haven’t watched all of the “Alias” episodes, which this is frankly and purposely very much like, but the series that run a really long time begin to be thin of plot and repetitious of dialogue.)  I don’t like “Miss Marple” or “Rosemary and Thyme” or “Blue Murder”  all that much.  It’s not so much that the protagonist is female and sturdy rather than glamorous, but more that the scripts are usually dumb.  

Laurence Fox

I dearly love “Morse” and “Lewis” and “Endeavor”, which are similar, one unfolding out of the next.  Sometimes I think “Lewis” is the best of the bunch because of Laurence Fox, who has the same quality as Cumberbach when he’s in the right role: a kind of concerned and gentle awareness of a punishing world.  Fox doesn’t do magic tricks and I think it diminishes Cumberbach when the Sherlock character gets too much into prestidigitation.

“George Gently” is okay but dated because his helper is so mod, such a social comment on ignorance.  “The Bletchley Girls” is also dated, but in a good way.  I’ve watched many of the WWII Brit shows and like them very much.  “Winds of War” gave me mixed feelings.  Mitchum was just being Mitchum, which is his best trick (and quite a conscious and deliberate one), but Ali McGraw. Jan-Michael Vincent and even Polly Bergen to some degree, were doing the same thing and they are NOT attractive people as far as I’m concerned.  I don't mean the characters they played.  I mean THEM.  “Enemy at the Door” was quite the opposite.  “Spiral” is a French series, FAR more cynical and existentialist, more about the shadows that wars cast afterwards in terms of suffering, crime and police overkill -- literally.

I look for movies from Australia or the Scandinavian countries, which often collaborate together, sometimes with Ireland.  “Wallander” is quite exceptional. These scripts are beautifully crafted, and I love his house right on the stony beach with a small yard and a long view.  Jussi is the nicest dog around, though he doesn’t act as much as the golden retriever in the similar but quite American "Jesse Stone" series that features Tom Selleck.  I suppose a dog acting is an editing illusion, mostly.  Maybe not.

Devos was also in "Violette" about a supposedly ugly writer.

There were some tender but melancholy “women’s films” that I mostly watched because of the cast.  “Just a Sigh” is about a woman at a bad point in her life who runs into a stranger with an unaccountable pull on her.  She follows that pull, they make love, then they separate.  It’s that simple, but somehow it unties a knot in her and is a bit of a rueful gift to him.  Not a lot of talk and philosophy.  Beautifully filmed.

Just off Malibu

“All the Light in the Sky” is almost a California version of the Wallander kernel: aging, living on the beach, wondering.  But Wallander knows what he's about.  This fortyish woman is living in an apartment on the beach in Malibu where she starts every day with a stand-up surfboard, wearing a wet suit.  One paddles instead of surfing.  Her acting career is probably over.  Everything is full of symbols and speculation as she intersects in the bonobo way with several men, one attached to her niece who comes to visit.  None of them have much impact.  It’s all gliding on the surface: beautiful, not particularly challenging, no future, flat horizon of sea. “Stay” (the 2013 one) is a little similar.  None of these films reach the impact of “28 Hotel Rooms.

I watch “House MD” when I get tired of the near maudlin.  He’s acid, cynical and absurd enough to clear anyone’s palate.  There’s character-driven comedy and pretty accurate psych speculation, but the medical part is totally baloney and the patients end up with brain surgery for the common cold.  It surprises some that I despise British comedy with these sorts of premises -- indeed most Brit comedy altogether -- which makes some people angry.  I don’t get the reaction to my preference or my reaction to the genre, but I think it is because of the class assumptions almost always embedded in those series.  Dr. House is cynical, but he’s liberal, including everyone and on the side of justice.  Brit’s terrible infection is contempt for anyone “lower” and derision for anyone who stumbles.  Some people really like that.  A lot of people around here ARE like that.

Emily Watson.  Who cares abut the guy?

The political series are okay and I chug along with them, but get restless unless the production is very high quality with excellent actors.  “The Capital,” “The Contender,”  and most recently the PBS/NBC “Warricker.”  “House of Cards” is a winner.  In that, I agreed with the general public but I couldn’t stand “Breaking Bad” or “Orange is the New Black”.  “The Politician’s Husband” I watched because of Emily Watson.

When it comes to the general run of gun-and-run, I run, but the algorithm never gets that.  They keep suggesting more.  The list of Favorite Videos in Great Falls is a “never watch” list.  Same with Hunger Games derivatives and vampire movies, even if they have Indians playing major parts.  I never watch any sports movies. I tried to watch “Peaky Blinders”, but didn’t like it.  Not sure why.  I love Cilian Murphy and Sam Neill.  Maybe I’ll try it again.

But I love the Baltimore cop shows starting with “Homicide” and going on through "The Wire" and so on, the same as I love all the NYC Bochco tales and all the versions of “Law and Order.”  Partly it’s because they’re repertory with the same actors developing and partly because the writers are usually people with a little world experience and not just California suburban kids with connections and a blue screen.

I wander off to the counterwhatzits now and then:  “Venus in Furs”, “Five Dances” and “Test” and love them dearly.  There are never enough Westerns that stream and aren’t a thousand years old.  I’m not big on musicals, but loved “Rent.”  Strangely, Netflix has a formal category called “strong female leads” but nothing called “brilliant but flawed Alpha men.”  I guess that’s supposed to be the norm, but most of them just have muscles and good stuntmen.  I’m thinking about “Gore Vidal”, “Harry Dean Stanton”, and one that really engages me: Shepard and Dark, about the quiet friendship between two men, a good example of a vid I bought so I could watch it many times.  Therefore it never factors into Netflix’ streaming algorithm.  

Dark and Shepard

Maybe that’s the real point of this post, that no formula can ever catch personal preferences.  Partly I’m not aligned with a community, partly I’ve bought the vids I really love, partly I’ve already watched so many of these shows long ago: every BBC mystery series of any prominence.  There are some actors I will NOT watch.  The National Geographic films about animals are gorgeous but hokey and skewed liberal.  I did like the one about parrots, but it was painful.  

Netflix’ “Virunga” has a lot more grip to it and the images persist in memory, not because they are stunningly gorgeous (which they are) but because they sum up a concept that is sort of pre-verbal but powerfully meaningful.  “Sounds of Sand” is also anguished but vital.  “The Age of Uprising” is another grimly powerful film, but not documentary.  All of these stories tell something crucial about being a man, about strength and suffering but not just a shootout or a car chase.

Sounds of Sand

On the one hand, making this kind of list is banal and useless, but on the other hand it is to me a a tracing of a personal course in writing -- not necessarily screen writing.  I learn, I learn, I learn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Cory Doctorow

Dave Lull, a librarian administrator who is an alert scout and tips the rest of us, whether or not they have a hat, sends me an article by Edward Kosner that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and that is a review of Cory Doctorow’s “Information Doesn't Want To Be Free: Laws For The Internet Age ,” a slender book from McSweeney’s.

This link below also proved to be interesting, though my comment wasn't posted.

Edward Kosner

Following is from Wikipedia,therefore unattributed and not copyrighted: Edward Kosner (born July 26. 1937) is an American journalist and author who served as the top editor of Newsweek, New York, and Esquire magazines and the New York Daily News during a forty-five-year career. He is the author of a memoir, “It’s News to Me,” published in 2006, and is a frequent book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal. He lives in New York and on Amelia Island on the Atlantic coast of northern Florida.”   Kay Graham fired him as the editor of Newsweek.  I have no idea why, except that he’s aligned with the 2%.  He’s an example of what Tom Sheehan imagines to be a person sitting at a big desk deciding who gets in and who’s out.  Those who have actually edited know that in a sense they have reality by the throat (censorship of a kind), but reality fights back through advertisers, paper prices, and readership numbers.  As an editor he probably makes a lot more money than most authors.

The single best and surest way to make money on the Internet is to compile lists of people that connects them to their interests and histories.  These lists are valuable, esp. when the numbers are large and interrelated.  So when I responded to a promotional dialogue with Cory Doctorow, I was handing over a particle of gold dust to Kinja.  Since this was promotional, I also acted out the position that the Internet is an instrument of promotion, not publication.  I suppose Doctorow might be expecting that his book will be pirated.  I’ll wait until it’s a used book that drops below 99 cents on Amazon.  By that time the conversation will have moved on.  Maybe not very far on this subject, which seems stuck.

Caxton demonstrating his printing press

When copyright was invented in England to defend against the newly invented printing press (it didn’t, esp. after offset printing was invented), it was a matter of national law and then international treaty.  (If there was no treaty with another country, material could be legally copied there.  Doctorow calls this “geofencing.”)  In the Eighties, when I was going back and forth between the US and Canada, I had to check that I wasn’t carrying any books because they would be impounded at the border, at least if entering Canada where they were hypervigilant about the Great American Elephant rolling over and squashing them.  Now I buy books on Amazon.CA as freely as the US version of the website and with no particular tariff -- just the exchange rate.  I buy books from Ireland, which never had much use for English anything.

One of the uses of Internet-compiled lists of people is surveillance by law enforcers.  Dirty books are the least of it. Libraries in the US are constrained by law not to release the names of borrowers and their interests even if they are borrowing books about bombs or torture.  The Internet “feels” secret and out of the local social context, but it is quicksand revealing where and who you are, what you look at online, who you talk to, what you buy.  And we notice that it indicts governments and law enforcers as well as law-breakers.

Elizabeth R. Scheffler Appointed Director, 
Office of Public Records and Repositories

But the real dirty secret is that laws are only enforced if they are funded and they are only funded if the general public will support it or if the party in question has deep pockets or a bully pulpit.  So Doctorow, Kosner, McSweeney, and Kinja all either feel they have the resources to insist that copyright be enforced or feel that there is enough profit even if pirated.

Another vicious little aspect to copyright is that unless you can prove that you created something and the date when you did, someone else with deep pockets can claim your work, copyright it, and sell it legally.  In lieu of viable copyright law, I publish my work on the Internet, mostly on blogs but also with “print on demand” websites like  In that way I can prove the identity and date of creation.  Bob Scriver spent many hours and dollars to get his sculpture recorded with the National Copyright Office.  Since he created more than a thousand large and small sculptures, it amounted to a good bit of money.

"No More Buffalo" by Bob Scriver
His earliest copied and most commonly pirated sculpture.

But it made no difference.  The copying went on and not only was it too expensive to stop (and anyway we usually didn’t find out it had happened until quite a bit later and there was no “recall” as there is with automobiles) but also it undercut the value of the legitimate and legal castings by casting doubt on their origin.  A “good” copy is hard to distinguish from the “real” thing.  Usually patina is a giveaway or maybe carelessly set-up molds.  Not many people can tell and so the entire market for bronzes has been undercut.  Many, if not most, of the people who think they own “Remington bronzes” only own bad knockoffs.  But, hey, haute couture has the same problem.
Represented as a Remington, it's not even the right sculptor!

Fraser, the true sculptor of "End of the Trail"

This law, meant to address print, was made useless when the easy reproduction of almost every art form (including sex, if you don’t insist on real flesh) coincided with devices allowing music to be portable as much as reproduced easily.  When movies and books followed, those art forms became part of our lives, creating desire and all its fetishes.  Our lives became so easily virtual that some people are quite content to avoid reality.

One of the realities they evade is that the worship and privileging of “creativity” per se is a fetish, a conditioned response.  Say you’re a writer or an artist or a musician and there will be an immediate gasp of admiration and the assumption that you can make money out of thin air, even if you aren’t at the moment. Those who seek to enforce copyright law are using that idea of the sanctity of creativity to cover the REAL desire, which is for money.   What if we passed laws saying that all productive and valued creative people would automatically be granted enough money to live on?  Who would decide who they were?  (Their friends.  But that’s already the way it is.  Publishing is a circle jerk.)

For some unenlightened populations, there is no consciousness of the actual creation of something like writing or music.  It just seems THERE like a tree.  The law allows for certain uses:  quotes while reviewing or referring to research, copying while learning to paint or write, and pastiche which is an art form in itself.  “The Wind Done Gone” has been ruled legitimate as satirical comment on “Gone with the Wind.”  Curly Bear Wagner went a bit far when he tried to copyright Chief Mountain and charge a fee to everyone who took a photo.  Of course, the ensuing controversy was a good example of promotion.

Chief Mountain

Doctorow is right that in order to make money it is necessary to create desire for your work.  If no one gives a rip, copyright will have no impact at all.  But if people are obsessed with it, no amount of law-making will keep people from pirating it.  For both Bob and I, the obsession is not even with our  personal creative work, but rather with the fetish of Plains Indians, that 19th century “feather fetish” that is a pain in the ass for real Indians.  As satire, Curly Bear copyrighting Chief Mountain really works. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


What do we know about how our brain operates in the social world?


Spindle-shaped brain cells, called von Economo neurons—named for the man who first described them—are found only in human beings, great apes and a handful of other notably gregarious creatures -- like elephants.  Von Economo neurons are thin and elongated, with just one dendrite at each end. They are four times bigger than most other brain cells, and even in species that have the cells, they are rare.
(This stuff is from an article in the Smithsonian about a man called John Allman.  The author of the original article is Ingfai Chen and I lifted some whole sentences.)

From von Economo's work, Allman learned that the unusual cells seemed to reside only in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and one other niche of the human brain, the frontal insula (FI). Brain-scanning studies have established that the ACC and FI are particularly active when people experience emotion. Both areas also seem to be important for "self-monitoring," such as noticing bodily sensations of pain and hunger or recognizing that one has made a mistake. 
By contrast, the frontal insula may play a more specific role in generating social emotions such as empathy, trust, guilt, embarrassment, love—even a sense of humor. According to experiments that measure the workings of various brain regions, the area becomes active when a mother hears a crying baby, for instance, or when someone scrutinizes a face to determine the other person's intentions. The FI is where the brain monitors and reacts to "gut feelings" from bodily sensations or interactions within a social network, Allman says. It's the link between self-monitoring and awareness of others that makes it possible for us to understand the feelings of other people. "The basic proposition that I'm advancing," he says, "is the notion that self-awareness and social awareness are part of the same functioning, and the von Economo cells are part of that."

(When I was a little kid, I had a jigsaw puzzle of the States.  I keep wishing I had one for the named parts of the brain, a snap-together brain.)  Here you go!


William Seeley is another researcher.  He concentrates on pre-frontal or frontal temporal dementia which affect the ACC and FI.  (This is what changed my father, brother and cousin via trauma.)  Patients suffer a breakdown in their character, losing social graces and empathy, turning insensitive, erratic and irresponsible. Marriages and careers implode. Many patients seem to lack physical self-awareness: when diagnosed with other illnesses, they deny having any problems. Brain imaging studies of patients with the dementia have uncovered damage to frontal areas of the brain.


In humans, studies have shown a high percentage of head injuries in prison populations and disorderly people (like expelled students) at large.  The most vivid and most often repeated case was the man working with explosives that drove a tamping rod through the front of his brain.  He survived -- he just wasn’t Mr. Nice Guy anymore.

Trauma or lesion evidence is subtractive.  Most developments that help survival and therefore are “conserved” are additive -- bigger, more, new.  Sometimes they involve a new use of an old capacity, like alphabets coming out of super-simplified outlines of animals which is a hunting skill, an old nubbin of flesh finding a new use.


People live in groups: families, tribes, communities.  Social psychology is what studies the relationships and orderings among those people.  The scientists invent ingenious experiments.

1.  If you put people in a room who collude to say something contrary to reality or not to act in the face of a threat (smoke coming in through a vent), the individual who doesn’t know about this will do what everyone else does, even though his personal evidence is against it.

2.  If you get a group to watch Ronald Reagan giving a speech that in real life caused a lot of laughing, they will have a high opinion of RR.  If you get a similar group to watch the same vid without the laugh-track, they think he’s a little scary.  This is why a laugh-track is added to things that are supposed to make you laugh -- so you’ll react with what you think is a group.


An infant without a family is a dead infant.  A child without a family or with a hostile or dysfunctional family is a suffering child.  An adult without a family, a community, an affiliation,  is a crippled person.  An adult with a family, a community and so on, but whose affiliation with like-minded people is prevented by social pressure and stigma is so bereft of social support that they are in danger of suicide.

Bullying is when one person afflicts another because of aggression meeting vulnerability.  Mobbing is when a whole social group turns on an individual and tries to destroy them.  As a child, I was mobbed for being a crybaby, for being near-sighted (no sports skill), and for being “too smart for my own good.”  Mobbing can be physical (pursuit while throwing rocks) or social.  (Native American literature “flaming” in the Nineties when anyone not “full-blood” was accused of stealing -- often with the piling-on collaboration of white liberals.  Two well-known suicides.)

Narcissism is when one person is centered only on his or her self and relates to others by using them for their own ends.  There is also group narcissism where a gang insists it is better and therefore justified in whatever they do to the out-group.


Affinity groups -- people with a common cause -- become organized (consciously or not) into institutions, mostly related to place (like governmental bodies), economic relationships (ownership, territory), and value systems (religions, schools).  They can control lives by controlling access, knowledge, skill-building, and defense of ownership.  Institutions can operate like individuals: narcissistic, mobbing, hoarding, stigmatizing.  The more crowded the population is, the more hierarchical, rigid and punishing the institutions become.  At an extreme -- which we may have reached by declaring corporations to be zombie people -- an institution and its associated practices can destroy the conditions that make life possible.  Religions are institutions.  


Some feel that the attachment of two people, most often parents of children, is the basic leggo block of all social life.  Certainly, what happens in the first years after birth will determine the individual’s understanding of how to relate to other human beings.  But there is no reason to confuse attachment with sex.  Gore Vidal famously said that the best way to preserve a lifelong bond is to keep sex out of it -- enjoy lots of sex, just not at home and not necessarily hetero.  It worked for him.

Again, other social animals teach us.  Elephants and chimpanzees are like us in needing each other and caring for each other. If economics, politics, or chance destroy dependable parental pair-bonding, the child produced may be cold, uncertain, bullying, and narcissistically affiliated -- always craving power and superiority.  (They might trust a dog.)


Some of my most valued companions are dead and have been for a long time.  They wrote books, they made movies, I knew them when I was a child, or in some other way they got into my head and heart.  They teach me how to demonize myself to seem big and dangerous.  They teach me how to be absurd and leave 'em laughin'.  They teach me how to be invisible, how to be valuable, how to to be taken for granted or not.  I could not go out without them.  They are my brain biota.

Monday, November 17, 2014


If God is dead, are ministers and priests out of a job?  I mean, no CEO, no corporation -- right?  In our times religious leaders are struck by lightning over and over.  

1.  The Middle Eastern Big Three triangle -- Judaism, Christian, Islam -- is both broken (having been claimed by warring identities) and exceeded (even religion is globalized now).  The rigid and seemingly permanent categories have shattered on one end (we are surprised to see how many sub-groups there are “inside” each of the three) and unified on the other (science-based worldview with the Cosmos as the mediating icon).

2.  In the Western world, gender-assigned identities have also discovered that female ministers will evoke images that prompt behaviors.  If you think they are nuns, that’s one thing.  If you think they are moms, that’s another.  If you think they are bitches, the devil will wear a blue dress.  Mostly Protestants think of female clergy as low-pay workhorses, like nurses and teachers.  Nice ladies, of course.  In the meantime, some women themselves think they are Joan of Arc, sleeping in the straw with warriors.  A few confuse female clergy with temple whores, a very old pattern.

3.  Our understanding of community has shifted from the “silo” of people who know each other as like-minded and face-to-face, to the “laminated” horizontal communities of affinity on the Internet.  We can’t take for granted the foundation of our formation and still turn to marketing which pursues popularity.  If “religion” is going to be a matter of “product,” then money will always be the index.  Commentators will always be aware of the mean income level of the congregation.  The smaller the congregation, the less money.  The larger the congregation the more they will separate from the denomination or dominate it.

4.  The secret work of the seminary, which they never admit, is job-chasing for their graduates.  They are lousy at it.  The market changes, the supply of students changes, the pressures keeping down the uproar change, and the world context changes.  

Because I was a UU minister for a decade (the Eighties) and sometimes write about it, I get occasional emails from people asking about ministry, usually young men.  A few years ago it was an English teacher who wanted to know about seminary, but his questions showed that he thought it would be something like the army: he would be guided, assigned, made safe, so long as he was obedient.  And yet he was a UU, the most free-form of denominations. 

This young man, educated and probably a little seasoned, since he’d been teaching for a few years, sounded like an excellent prospect to everyone he had talked to until he found me.   When he read my rather negative remarks, he was smart enough to call me up.  After we visited a bit, I wasn’t hearing a “call,” as the pressing need to be a minister is described.  It was March.  I asked whether his teaching contract had been renewed.  Not.  I see.  Ministry as default.

The seminaries love older retreads who will cash in their houses, their savings, and the time they have left in order to do something idealistic and “meaningful.”  Which leads us to a more recent contact from a man who faced the dark side of idealism.  I had described a built-in ordeal faced by the students who had now done the bulk of classwork and practicuums (internship, Clinical Pastoral Education) and had been around long enough to settle into the assumption that they were ready to write a thesis and get a job.  

The seminary in question had three professors (M/L), though students also had access to a major university divinity school.  The number of students was small, but their interests were both scattered and specialized, far exceeding the expertise on the payroll of the seminary.  Anyway, the three were all middle-aged white men with limited world experience.  They didn’t like challenge and aborted all troublesome prospects.  

This second contact had been deeply scarred by the experience and had not realized it was structural rather than personal.  He thought he was the only one.  He thought there was only one route to the ministry, though there were a dozen other seminaries in the cluster and a myriad of denominations, to say nothing of world religions.   He thought ministry was a combination of honor and certification that would defeat all the criticism from those he had offended over the years.  Me, too.  But seminary is a gauntlet.  And ought to be.

Despite the amount of jargon in this Australian article, it bravely addresses the problem of educating “theology” people who then must serve congregations who have little or no interest in formal theology.  They want help with soul-searching, with facing down evil, with power-wrestling for political justice, and how to get their own personal fishhooks out of their livers.  In my experience lay people are not in the least interested in the curricula prospective ministers learn at seminary.  They want comfort, reassurance, and the feeling that they are right as right can be.

The point the article makes is that “formation” for the kind of person we want ministers to be usually happens informally around the coffee table in the seminary or maybe down the street with a beer.   It’s a face-to-face feedback sort of thing to do and the more intense and personal the conversation is, the better it works.   So in a “low-residence” seminary which they vehemently defend as NOT a correspondence school what's going to supply that?

The wise men approach GTS

Recently General Theological School, an Episcopalian seminary located in Chelsea, NYC,  a neighborhood that is artsy and avant garde, including gender role experiments, hit a hurricane when the new president, a former hotshot lawyer brought in from Florida where he had been considered the dynamic (and conservative) newly theologized leader and growth factor for a major church.  The board called him in to save the sinking seminary, which he did by selling property.  (Its origins very early in the history of New York meant that it was extremely well-endowed.)  

Then he turned to the faculty.  In the belief that the failing economics of student-based income was due to overly liberal professors, he began a program of change that was supposed to return to the past.  He did small and simple things like changing the early prayer that traditionally started the day to a mid-morning event that would accommodate late night society but not intense study.  He did not understand a liturgically conservative but theologically liberal faculty.  He would not listen to them.  So they went on strike, so he fired them en masse, so all the denominational and Christian diaspora Big Shots were divided between being aghast and amused, so finally the faculty was reinstated.  What happens next will happen in March when the teaching contracts are signed.  That will not be the end.

Starr King Student Body

That’s at the traditional structured conservative end of the seminary scale.  In Berkeley the problem that developed over the hiring of a new President was quite different.  The committee chose a black woman with fine credentials.  At least two students wanted their familiar beloved interim to be permanent.  These students were battle-scarred social activists with a conviction that conscience rules.  THEIR conscience demanded their values, so they broke the confidentiality of the search process in order to get support, equivalent to a strike.  The seminary reacted with the equivalent of firing: they refused to award diplomas to the troublemakers.

When seminaries this different end up in the same predicaments, it’s coming from the larger society, the same forces that paralyze the US legislative bodies on every level, even the little old town council of Valier.  Partly a matter of income inequality, partly a matter of fear as Big Three religionists become a minority, partly a matter of the mind-blowing ability to land rockets on comets, and partly fallout from the wild and leveling Sixties and Seventies, it’s a time of experiment and hope.  

Change cannot be prevented.  Want to be a minister?  Start a church!  Heck, start a denomination.  Found a religion.  What’s your message?  Want a nice comfy job where everyone will admire you and your wonderful sermons?  It didn’t work for Jesus, who was a rabbi.