Monday, July 24, 2017


Richard Halliburton and friend

In what I could pretentiously call my birth family’s Heritage LIbrary, which was really a strange assortment of happenstance and middle class pretentiousness, the books that came from my father’s side included a lot of 19th century romantic adventurers that still offer a template for boys who want to be extraordinary and define that as travel in strange and dangerous places where they might be eaten, literally.  The exemplar here is Richard Halliburton.  

Adventure well-described is the idea behind “Outside” magazine and part of what has always made me say that inside this near-80 old woman there has always been a teenaged boy trying to escape.  (But, alas, instead I’ve become a seven-year-old again.)  There was a surge in these books between the World Wars, maybe because there was money and adrenaline and there's another surge now, maybe for the same reasons.  I still have the family copy of “The Royal Road to Romance,” just as I have an arms’-length of Gene Stratton-Porter and Harold Bell Wright, who were more conventional. 

When advised to have an even-tenored life, Richard said “as far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition. When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my way uneven then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making my life as conglomerate and vivid as possible.... And when my time comes to die, I’ll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills—any emotion that any human ever had—and I’ll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed.” 

Halliburton finally died trying to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate Bridge.  A typhoon took him down.  He was very athletic after a childhood bout with heart trouble was finally cured by four months in bed, or possibly by the regime of Kellogg at Battle Creek, or possibly simply by growing out of the affliction.  He was not big (5’7”, 140 pounds) but he was handsome and very athletic, mostly in terms of swimming.  He swam the length of the Panama Canal and was charged toll of 36 cents.

He was quite "modern" in his sexuality, which could be described as bisexual.  Quoting Wikipedia (whoever wrote it):  “French police reports, dated 1935, noted the famed traveler's homosexual activity when in Paris at about the time of his planned crossing by elephant over the Alps: ‘Mr Halliburton is a homosexual well known in some specialized establishments. He is in the habit of soliciting on Saint-Lazare Street.’”

I have no idea what my father would have thought of this aspect of his hero — probably he never had the information.  Like many people of his class and time, he thought the facts were apparent and conventional, and tried to remain blind to extremes.  Life was a matter of written history, carefully published, avoiding censorship, thus selling well but also raising puzzles for some reflective people by mixing the ordinary and captured with implied wicked transgressions.  Crossing the alps (like Hannibal) on an elephant, echoing history, was an adventure that recruited a zoo elephant named “Miss Elyzabethe Dalyrymple.”  The story is in “Seven League Boots,” a book I have not read.

Though Halliburton himself was no homebody, in the Gay way, the community around him provided a home when he needed one, this time an architect’s climax construction of “Hangover House” which did indeed hang over a cliff.  Possibly it was also a pun.  Anyway, Ayn Rand was impressed and put the house in “The Fountainhead” as “Heller House”.  Novelists weave in and out of adventurer’s lives.

The means for adventure and the true use of the tales became clear in the Thirties when the Great Depression stunted so many lives.  The tales gave them access to soaring ideas, literally when Halliburton commissioned an excellent pilot to fly him around the world in a biplane.  (They crossed the oceans on ships.)  Along the way they interacted with intrepid females doing something like the same thing with less success.  On this trip Halliburton made his famous moonlight swim in the Taj Mahal reflection pond.  More modern similar adventures might be Peter Matthiesen and George Schaller looking for The Snow Leopard. or David Quammen exploring Africa’s virome.  More recent explorers tend to be based on biology rather than geology.  

By this time writing has been augmented by film and sometimes skips the books to go straight to vision via electronic screens.  Writing, however, has a little more elbow room which writers have used to explore the forbidden, ransacking shocking human behavior even under our noses.  The current Teen Vogue is in the midst of a furor over an article advising how and whether to have anal sex safely.  (Note that this was not in “Boys’ Life.”)  Such anthropology used to be about people in the South Sea Islands.

The strange mix of conventional with defiant extends to Halliburton’s family.  He wrote over a thousand letters home.  “Nearly a quarter century after Halliburton's disappearance, his father donated $400,000 to build an imposing bell tower. It was dedicated in 1962 as the Richard Halliburton Memorial Tower, and the elder man died the following year at age 95.”  It’s at Rhodes College in Memphis rather than Princeton where Halliburton attended and his papers are divided between the two institutions.

I don’t know whether my two brothers read the books in our home.  Certainly they didn’t ransack the shelves the way I did and they attended a tech high school rather than my more humanities-focused school.  My mother said she had no time to read the newspaper, much less books, and I never talked to my father about his books, though for a while he paid me a penny a card for creating a library-style inventory of them.  I never got very far with it.  I haven’t done the same for my own books, though I compose bibliographies now and then, mostly for Blackfeet subjects.  A rather hip practice is simply taking a photo of the spines of the books on the shelves, which I try to keep organized by subject.

The major adventure of each of my brothers was the Marines, though neither saw combat since they were just barely young enough to avoid Vietnam, though not the draft.  One brother, the dead one, relished adventure and went out of his way to look for it.  The other one has been very careful with his life, never taking chances and working in a library for years.  He is a reader, but I don’t know what he reads.  We are estranged.  I've had far more adventures than my brothers, who do not write.  This vid is eloquent and conventional.  Maybe it’s old-fashioned.   This vid shows how rich and beautiful women follow adventure by re-tracing male daring-do.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


From the final confrontation in "Leveling"

Last night’s movie was “The Leveling” which I do not recommend for bedtime watching.  The plot is basically hinged on generational division aggravated by inheritance, this time a farm.  Naturally sexism, nepotism, resentment, the nature of freedom, and so on are issues, which are then completely overwhelmed by something from the outside — in this case cattle TB carried by badgers, a unique English problem that causes drastic measures, like killing all cows on a dairy farm.

So my subconscious was working on daughter/father issues all night.  This father is miserable, a widowed, psychologically maimed man who rages and blames.  He is not violent in a physical sense, but we are still wondering about the persistence of this forgiving daughter who tries to save everyone, but especially her father.  My relationship with my own father was violent — he was a “spanker”, that most erotic of physical punishments.  Then he would try to bribe and tease.  Quite Trumpian, actually, which means my ideas about that family are tainted.

So let’s not talk about him.  Instead I want to go back to two men whom I admired and who behaved the way we expect good fathers or maybe professional mentors to act.  One was Victor Sparks, the husband of Melba Sparks, my dramatics teacher in high school who then became a friend; the other was Benton Juneau, the husband of Janet Juneau, both of them “pillars” of the little Browning Methodist church whom I served as an interim for a year in exchange for living in the parsonage.  (In Montana parsonage property taxes are abated so long as the “parson” lives there.  My grub money came from babysitting the junior high study hall.)

Vic ran a company that made “Charcosalt.” which was a trademarked condiment that saturated salt with smoke.  Rubbed on meat, it suggested barbecue.  The product sold very well and was a connection to an elite clientele.  The couple lived at the high end of the middle-class scale with flair and sophistication, but not a fancy social life.  Melba was a star when it came to the Thespian scene on a national scale and she exhausted herself through the school year with producing three major plays and a series of small assemblies, like the elegant designs of gauze, ramps, crepe paper roses, and pink light for the Rose Festival Princesses — nothing like tacky Miss America pageants.  Rather Edwardian, really, which is the origin of the practice.

Vic was her backup and first aid.  When we rehearsed and worked on sets through suppertime, he brought her a jar of liver strips, parboiled and rubbed with Charcosalt.  The couple took a lot of vitamins and tended to be on the alternative medicine side.  But in the end Vic had cancer.  By that time I had been married, gone and then back.  

At one point they asked me to live with them and take care of the hilltop farm they had bought, complete with a donkey, some black sheep, and a couple of dobermans.  I declined.  They had thought it was the perfect solution for someone trying to write, but their idea of writing was conventional genre.  My goal — just developing at that time of the Sixties and Seventies — was something else, much more hallucinatory and daring, drawn up from my depths in a way that has since become almost conventional amongst youngsters.  (So, now what do I do if they occupy that space?)  The Sparks, with their fine dining, also had a taste for expensive alcohol and I quite like quality Scotch.  I could see what might happen.

When Vic had cancer and was in the nursing home near the end, people told me about it and expected something from me, a response that would help him.  (The same was true when Melba developed cancer years later, by that time married for the second time and rather clearly alcoholic.)  I went to Vic’s nursing home, was directed to his room, entered a ward with several men in it, and couldn’t see Vic.  But a very frail old man with a long white beard lifted himself up on an elbow and looked at me.  I didn’t know him, concluded Vic was not there, and — confused — left.  The man with the beard was Vic.

Melba said he would not have wanted to see him like that anyway.  But I had expected myself to say something so true and insightful that he would be impressed with ME.  In the usual narcissistic writer’s way, I had composed a script.  The problem wasn’t really that I didn’t recognize him — it was that my script was incomplete.  I had no idea what to say.  I had no idea what his thoughts were.  I was lost in the space between us.

The last time I saw Benton and didn’t recognize him was at a little cafĂ© in Cut Bank, a marginal operation with a long past.  A lot of rez people ate there and stared at me curiously but I liked the burgers.  About halfway through mine, I looked into the dimness at the back of the place and in a booth was an extremely thin man who looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure it was Benton.  I considered going back to say hello, but then I didn’t know what to say in case it WAS Benton.  I didn’t know about his cancer then.  That knowledge would not have helped.  I don't think he saw me.

While I had been living at the ranch parsonage, there had been a bad winter storm that took out the electric service for the area.  I had no other source of heat except that the garage had been made into a rec room and had an old-fashioned wood stove, but it had no chimney — the stove pipe had never been attached.  Benton came out from town, struggling through the snow which was deep enough to shut down school, and put that stovepipe up, always a wretched task.  He was probably in the early stages of the cancer, as he was clearly in a bit of pain.  He hadn’t been young for a long time.  I was grateful, REALLY grateful.  It was only one kindness among many.

What should a person say, in particular a female who has received the kind of protection and care from an older man that the culture used to expect from all fathers or from honorable “superiors” of privilege?  What to say to them when they are completing their lives — especially when that lethal completion is slow, bearing down in a way that demands great courage.  

Do you count out your gratitudes, which might be major but a little embarrassing and demand some kind of emotional acknowledgement that men of a certain era don’t know how to provide?  Or should you give them privacy and assume they know how you feel about them?  I don’t know.  It’s a pressing issue.  No movie can really address something like this.  After all, this is not King Lear.

Friday, July 21, 2017


This Montana summer day is sweet and cool in a rare way.  The smoke has diminished to tarnished light that gives it an unreal quality like that of a stage play, tinted and shafting through flickering trees only beginning to shed one or two yellow leaves.  The animals are sleeping in pairs/trios with their arms around each other, partly embracing and partly bracing against each other’s furry bodies, a little too warm but still so soft.  I myself keep wandering back to the bed where the fan is off but natural breezes are moving briskly across the bed through the window alongside so that I need to keep my bare feet tucked under the comforter.

Last night I took an Advil to sleep because my shoulder ached from wielding the weed whacker, but also because my head buzzes with all the information coming from Washington DC, normally dormant and dispersed this time of year.  Not only is there a disclosure a minute as people resign or are fired or indicted, but the number and kind are a challenge to my map of the USA government.  And the names are often Russian, hard to remember.  A hero takes a cancer bullet to the head.  A figure of ridicule who can’t rub two words together without confusing them suddenly stands up/takes a stand and leaves.  On the local level the sheriff of Glacier County has quit and the sheriff of Pondera County is facing a recall petition for incompetence.

Tall grass is now hay on the ground, but the volunteer trees remain.

When I lie down, the kind of reverie ordinary in dreaming during sleep becomes a flood of irrelevancies and ironies and self-incriminating paradoxes.  In Portland my K-12 cohort is gathering for a cook-out and one of my classmates says he’s happy to see I’m “enjoying” Montana, as though it were a performance on an IMax screen.  I’ve been reflecting about the impact on a child’s mind (mine) of WWII when we were in kindergarten and I asked this guy — whose mother was a close friend of my mother — what memories he has.  He deflects by talking about an athlete who joined up voluntarily and thereby destroyed the possibility of having a champion record for hitting baseballs while people watched.

Then the cats come with their bad smells — where DO they go? — and I deflect off to my failure to maintain this property to community standards or even to standard function.  Why are there no licensed plumbers who know what to do about old houses?  But if I didn’t have this house, I’d be paying rent that rises to half and more of my social security income.  Houses all over town are sporting “for sale” signs.  The sheriff says he can’t get good people to live here.  The school superintendent says there are no houses good enough for teachers with families.  Newcomers immediately set about changing everything to the ways they're used to.

I see scattered beautiful middle-American ranch houses, complete with lawns, and some specially architect-designed places because of Swank Construction being here.  Mixed in are the old Thirties houses like mine, square plans divided into four rooms with an added-on bathroom when piped water came.  The two kinds of houses shelter two populations seemingly irreconcilable — just like the rest of America.

Zuckerman, the Facebook guy, just now came to the rez because he went to Governor Bullock and then Senator Tester to find out the secret of Montana’s conviction that they have real communities.  Executive Chief Harry Barnes did not put on a headdress or beat a drum.  Instead he personally drove Zuckerman and his entourage around the recent rez developments — which tourists never see because they are built on the open ground around the town where they are accessed on spoke roads.  I wonder if someone made the alley-sitters by Icks go somewhere unseen and take their dogs with them.  (If the dogs weren’t prevented, they would have gone along anywhere.  That’s what they do.)  The drunks and dogs ARE a community.

They took Z and company over Going to the Sun so they could all gape and exclaim “how beautiful”.  But when the Secretary of the Interior was chosen, he was a Montanan explicitly opposed to preserving national monuments and parks.  One way to build community is to threaten to take away something that is part of their deepest devotions.  The first step towards that is to monetize — charge admission, allow concessions, open to resource exploitation.  When a respected enviro came, he was prevented from meeting Zinke.  

Did they introduce Zuckerman to the victims of cyber-bullying on the rez?  The sexters?  Did they explain why internet service is thin to none?  Did they admit that people rallying into secret groups to oppose government is scary ?  Did they explain how celebrities routinely exploit rez folks?  (Who love it.)  Did they give him a slice of huckleberry pie?  (I hope so.)

Adversity builds community; peace and harmony disperses people.  In winter we're a community -- in summer we have company. Can that be right?  People come together when they help each other and share consensus about what help means and how to provide it.  This area was dominated for a while by missionaries who “helped” people to be Euro-Xians, and made the old indigenous ceremonies into felonies.  Citizens -- who are barely making enough money for three-bathroom houses with as many computers as televisions and who go through their days supported by music-with-a-beat and coffee-with-a-kick -- do not want to come to town council meetings.  Or run for office.  They don’t sit down together to look for solutions, but simply rail against leaders by using slogans.  Leaders are not parents who can come up to school and make things right.

But saying that sounds too much like railing against the citizens.  Why rail against anyone?  And I do NOT want to spend hours hunched over in Starbucks trying to figure out what the smartest people think.  I’m not sure they DO think.  Not with the evidence I have.  The real way Trump got into office is that there was no one else who was convincingly worthy.  When we finally get rid of him, one way or another, who will be the replacement?  Why aren’t we examining the process of nomination as carefully as we are the actual voting processes?

The most frightening and cynical realization is that the FBI and CIA have known about this criminal laundering and hacking coming out of Russia for YEARS.  They knew Trump was drawn into it by the debts he incurred through his own mismanagement.  The evidence was carelessly there all along.  But they didn’t tell anyone before the election for two reasons: they didn’t want to blow their progress on building a major significant case; and they didn’t believe Trump, the sleazy clown, could be elected.  Even the underworld didn’t think Trump was electable.  Even HE didn’t think he was electable.  And now I suspect he wishes he hadn’t been.  

Honeysuckles have lovely berries.

The day is warming up.  My wandering is becoming angry.  This is not productive.  I made muffins with so many berries and nuts in them that I call them Pemmican Muffins.  Time to eat a few and swig cold tea I brew in old peanut butter jars the size of tumblers but with the advantage of screw-on caps to keep cats and gnats out.  I have a heap of sewing to do.


Paul helps our Mom canning berries   1948

Though my mother aspired to be a city girl, she was still a country girl at heart.  Anyway after WWII everyone was used to raising food in Victory Gardens and otherwise enjoying the fertile bounty of Oregon.  In those days school ended soon enough for kids to do the berry harvest.  Part of being a preteen was having strawberries squashed down the back of your neck and eating so many that you had a red smear like the Joker across your mouth.  The fields where my brothers and I picked (WITH my mother) had a field foreman from the Japanese family that owned the Columbia River acreage and she was not easy-going.  We did get to keep our profits from the pennies per hallock that we picked.  There was no need to involve Mexicans.

Two vivid sense-memories.  One was stopping at the Frosty Root Beer drive-in on the way home.  They kept their glass mugs in the freezer so the root beer was actually frozen into sludge at the thick bottom of the mug.  Surely ambrosia tastes like that.  

The other one was that after a day of stoop labor and sunburn, my mother slathered us with Absorbine Jr. which hurt in a very good way, stinging and then finally soothing so we could nap away what was left of the afternoon.  One had to quit at a certain point in the day or the berries became mush.

One of my great life-humiliations came when we switched from picking strawberries to raspberries (which was okay because less stooping) to green beans.  I hated beans, particularly since they were encrusted with black aphids that year and they squashed all over your hands, but the problem was that I couldn’t see them.  (See earlier comments about seeing what you expect.)  My brain was searching for little red dots, not big green dashes.  The field boss made me re-pick my row and my mother took it as a reflection on her (another of my issues, her failure to observe boundaries), so she was angry enough to threaten not stopping for root beer which made my brothers desperate.

By now the rich fields along the rivers have been built up as housing for families, who sometimes lose their houses to foreclosure.  They eat mac and cheese from a box.

Paul recommends smelt  1946?

A harvest of a quite different kind was smelt, small fish who came up the Sandy River to spawn.  They were schools and swarms, soon visited by humans until the banks were covered with people operating long-pole dipnets and filling buckets.  In those days freezers were commercial lockers, so the fish were more of a seasonal food.  My mother cleaned them with scissors, cutting off heads, snipping head to tail up the stomach.  For a few days we had three or four fish on our plates every meal.  They were too rich to eat many more than that at once. I recall the satisfaction of lifting out their spines after they were fried soft.  The backbones looked like zippers. 

Between Portland and the coast was a huge area of many square miles called the Tillamook Burn.  By the Forties most of the snags had fallen and been replaced by huckleberry bushes, miles and miles of them.  We didn’t camp the way the Canadian Cree Chippewa did to harvest their low-bush berries, but we drove up for the day and filled lard buckets and coffee cans hung on strings around our necks.  Through the winter canned huckleberries were celebratory food and huckleberry syrup was the crowning touch for sourdough pancakes.  In Browning it was chokecherry syrup, which took a lot of sugar to compensate for the bitterness so as to get the tang of them.

On my earliest trek to pick berries, I was barely walking, so I was left on a blanket and told not to leave it.  "BUT," the grownups said, "If you see a bear, don’t move."  When they returned, I was still as a statue on my blanket, with my eyes fixed on a bear-sized black snag.  On a later expedition, Paul — the brother in these photos — clambered up on one of the huge stumps left by the Doug Fir forest giants.  He was proud of growing into his climbing ability and teetering up there pretty high for a little guy.

“Don’t fall,” advised the grownups.  But he did and broke his collar bone.

This time of year, when things began to ripen, my mother became Queen of the Classified Ads.  In those days the community called Albina, that has now become a neighborhood of Portland, still had its country identity here and there.  When an apple or cherry or pear tree was ready to pick, an ad for U-Pick was put in the paper.  I don’t remember peaches but apricots sometimes.  My mom loaded up her wooden boxes and we all went out to see.  There would be a conference with the house-wife over cost and methods.  Most of the U-Picks were around the edge of settled land, semi-country.

My mother went up the ladders.  We piled fruit into the boxes, petted the dog, and tried to make friends with the wary cats.  Sometimes there was a horse or a curious set of cows.  Country women love to feed people, so we often got cookies.  

My mother grew up in a prune orchard.  She was efficient and careful and we were soon home for canning, the giant kettle boiling to sterilize the jars, maybe fruit juice dripping from cheese cloth bags to collect for jelly.  The pressure cooker rattled its weight on the top valve that regulated the steam.  She wasn’t big on pickles, which was a mercy since pickle cucumbers are murder to pick — spiny.  Sometimes I still crave fresh Gravenstein applesauce made with a food mill instead of a blender, sprinkled with nutmeg.

At least two old women I can remember lived only blocks away but raised chickens and sold eggs.  Probably they sold chickens for meat as well, but I don’t remember us bringing chickens home.  I think farm-raised women of a certain age have had their fill of plucking and gutting.  But the family in the house behind us did kill a chicken one day, which we three kids observed with interest.  It is true enough that after its head was chopped off, it ran around spewing blood for a while.  It is a vivid metaphor once you've seen it.

Montana is different.  About the only thing I harvested was alfalfa to dry to make tea.  Every sarvisberry was eaten on the spot.  People in Valier are not fond of fruit trees, though some have apple trees, because of the mess and because of attracting bears.  They hang discarded CD's to discourage birds, which makes a summer tree as festive as a Christmas tree.  Sometimes their grandparents left legacy apple trees in the yard.  In Great Falls trucks bring in loads of fruit to sell in quantity for preserving.  We do raise a lot of zucchini, but who doesn’t?

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Concept by actors who were not at the dinner.

Hiding in plain sight is much easier when people are emotional and desperate for some kind of rational interpretation of what’s happening.  Research psychologists have been emphasizing that we see what we expect to see, our brains actually interpreting reality to support the preconceptions we’ve developed, put our “faith” in.  This has led me to interpret the Trump/Putin “second meeting” in a different way than most people, simply because my framework of interpretation is different.

If you take George Lakoff’s thumbnail summary of the difference between a happy and confident country and a shaken, resentful one as the difference between the belief of the first that it has a patient, understanding dad and the conviction of the second that it has — indeed, MUST have — a controlling power-conscious dad, then the nefarious “pull-aside” tete-a-tete between Trump and Putin during the recent long leader banquet becomes intelligible in a different way than assuming that they were planning the design of the Death Star.

I see Trump’s extravagant and impatient maneuvers, so tone-deaf and heedless of consequences, as an effort to please a father-figure that’s only in his mind and childhood memories.  Putin’s power over Trump is that he fills that Controlling but Disapproving role.  And Putin knows it.  Trump— whose inner dimensions are never plumbed by himself — does not.  So I suspect the conversation went something like this:

T:  Oh, it’s so good to be with you at last and see your beaming eyes.  I so hope you’re pleased with what I’ve delivered to you already.  Together we can control the world.  

P:  You are a good puppet.

T:  Only you can understand what I’ve done in getting American under control so they are obedient and lined up.  But they don’t appreciate it and the Dems keep making me into some kind of demon, but you know about that because your opponents do that to you.

P:  Yes.  I understand.  Too bad you can’t just get rid of them the way I do.

T:  They say I am vulgar when obviously I have more gilt furniture and pink marble than they do.  And more hair.  They say my wife doesn’t like me but she’s better looking than any of their wives and she does what I tell her to do.  My tweets are so clever, “glad”, but they are mocked.  They criticize my children but they’re only trying to help their father.

P:  The critics are far too French.

T:  They just don’t appreciate me.  I’m much too smart to waste my time on all the trivia of the stuff they bring me to sign, but you have to admit I’m better at signing my name with a fibertip than any previous president.

P:  I appreciate you, my son.  Did you happen to notice what they said about reversing sanctions?

What I’m saying is that there were no American translators and the meeting was not reported or interpreted because it was a private confession-session in which Trump could at last stop making faces and be real in his own little boy way.  He did NOT want it revealed that Putin doesn’t really love and admire him, because Putin is his ideal and — he believes — his only equal.  It’s not nefarious, only embarrassing.

We’re told that the Americans “ were flummoxed, they were confused and they were startled.”  The paradigm of diplomacy was gone, but think how much worse it is to discover that the Great Oz is revealed to be an act.  If we can elect a clown like this to manage our country, what does it mean about US?  Duped by a dope.  We are scarecrows and tin men — cowardly lions who have not listened to what Toto knew at once.  And Dorothy — well, we still want to know about those 33,000 emails.

Locally we’ve been here before.  Valier’s Sixty-Second Mayor a few years ago couldn’t even recite the Pledge of Allegiance and resigned in a snit after weeks of rearranging the furniture so he could move into the Boy Scout room.  I’m told he wintered in Mazatlan.

Actual screen shot from the vid of Clinton and Bush

I was discouraged and disgusted like many others until I stumbled upon this YouTube record of a double interview.  was billed as “Bill Clinton and George W. Bush BRILLIANTLY Destroys and Makes Fun Of Trump in An Long Interview.”  That’s not what it was.  I mean, it DID do that, but not by attacking.  They never even said “Trump”.  The two “guys” were funny, humble, smart and lively.  Jon Snow moderates a whole “Viral Network” which is a news and comment channel on YouTube.  It’s also the title of a book about viral epidemics, so it’s a metaphor in a living and penetrating way, quite self-aware.  It’s hard to find out much about the YouTube version because it seems evasive but — beyond that — some of the websites on Google are loaded to punish those who are curious.  They claim to infect inquirers with computer-destroying viruses.  (Penetrating!)

Each of the former Presidents of the USA have developed centers of some sort: libraries, repositories, and programs for the benefit of the country that extend their own personal know-how and ideas.  Now they are cooperating to present programs.

“The Presidential Leadership Scholars program is a partnership among the Presidential Centers of George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson and is designed for mid-career leaders from diverse backgrounds who share a commitment to helping solve society’s greatest challenges. Participants connect with some of the best minds in the study of leadership and benefit from the assets of the Presidential Centers and the insights of former Presidents and the people who served with them.”

One of the great side benefits of my ground-level job history is that it has taught me that no matter what the media in Manhattan or Washington DC thinks is happening in terms of dire and dramatic terms, the real background is always quietly and effectively going on.  Clerks at counters, pastors at coffee, a multitude of nonprofits and NGO’s, networks of conferences about flood plains or grizzly bears or mystery infections, lab workers at benches wielding pipettes and petri dishes.  They pass around news, share ideas, reach out to each other.  Rarely do they have names until they die and are obits, searchable nationally.  They are us.

One rarely gets to see the “real” side of presidents, not that they were so different from what one would expect.  Though I will say that George W. Bush improves with age.  Both have wry and dry senses of humor and are not afraid to make fun of themselves.  Bush is only 44 days older than Clinton and they get the same jokes.  Clinton is the same flatterer he always was.  Bush is the same underwhelmer as he always was.  Clinton has developed a tremor and in his dieted-down form is even more the teenager who gets revved up.  Bush still plays the guy who wants to get this over with so he can get back to cutting brush or riding his trail bike or (surprise!) painting.  Both guys have daughters who love them and try to keep them on the straight and narrow (more success with Bush, but he has two daughters) and each guy has only been married once.  MARRIED, that is.  Fathers of daughters are discouraged from being dictators.

There was no bitterness, only what seemed like genuine friendship and trust.  I hope Obama will join them.  They are the real depth of democracy, and a sinewy webwork it is.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017



The reconfiguration of nations will soon be as radically changed as the original platting out of the North American states into the familiar borders we know.  Remember they began only a few hundred years ago as barely persisting little colonies on the East Coast.  Then in a gradual tide came “territories” which gradually hardened into states by excluding reservations into little internal nations, or so they were called in those days.  

The implications of that hardening and drawing of lines for the indigenous peoples meant that the notion of them as tribes with boundaries being nations was withdrawn and the idea of treaties were redefined into “agreements.”  Then most recently the “agreements” with “tribes” became incorporation documents, except that the corporations were all supervised and funded federally.  Not by the states, who resented the incursion.  Thus was the march of colonies who gradually erase the indigenous by manipulating words and their legal implications.

I want to continue thinking about the remapping of the continent in terms of implications for indigenous people, who are now diluted by the idea of blood quantum (which is a perversion of provenance by inheritance, nothing to do with actual blood) and scattered into a diaspora, some of whom have broken their connection with place and some of whom hang onto their tribal enrollment because so many advantages are defined by it, including their pride.

By now the “nation” which is an agreed upon coalition of “states” — the United States of America — is morphing into something new: megacenters.  This is global.  Instead of boundaries — to be marked by surveys, wars, patrolled edges —the seed pattern is a “center” around which develops a web of connectivity.   It is magnetic, defined by attraction and careless of boundaries.  Economics are the politics, and there will be changes in who has advantages.  We’re going back to pre-European and Chinese patterns where boundaries and barriers are not the limits.  

Passports will be replaced by plastic cyberchip cards indicating connection, maybe by degrees of status or categories of skill.  Function will count more than inheritance.  “Money” in the physical manifestation -- green bills -- will be replaced by credit cards and imports/exports will be handled by delivery channels.  These things are already happening.  When bitcoin and other internet strategies of money handling are perfected, when objects are created by “3D printers,” there will be less need for people to move around, as things will come to them: ordered on ebay and delivered by UPS.  This is happening now.  We will be as microchipped under the skin as our pets and order-keepers will carry bar-code readers.

What will count in the future is GPS, satellite surveillance of the planet itself, and the sources and protection of power, which will be increasingly “produced” by wind, sun, magnetism, surf, but with mechanisms that need maintenance.  We are neglecting the maintenance aspects of all our systems, including homes.  I cannot find a competent plumber.  I cannot keep up with three-foot tall grass in the yard.
coastal erosion in the north

So I’m taking an indigenous point of view on all this.  Which means that the next force for change will be climate change, particularly in the north and the coastal areas.  The Inuit are already having to move villages inland to keep from being drowned.  I don’t know how the tundra people are coping, but wooden frame buildings are twisted into debris and roads built on permafrost are impassable. 

Another major impact will be on the caribou, their numbers and patterns of migration, their calving grounds and sources of food.  On the other hand, waterways will open up, including the Arctic Sea, and maybe it will help the salmon and species like the narwhal — though it’s not helping polar bears.  The fear is that though it’s interesting for frozen mammoths be thawed out of the ground, the tiny insects and viruses also entombed may be released, as well as methane and carbon monoxide.

The real onslaught of insects and diseases are more likely to come from the South.  In the past these have prevented development and eventually shaped nations.  When something like plague or Spanish Flu is released to sweep continents, the harrowing goes deep and when the area is repopulated, it can be quite different.

Homeostasis is the basis of responsive complexity as in human habitation.  We are good at adapting but not inexhaustible.  We have been in a long period that has stayed the same though tested by economic bulges caused by war, by industrial invention, by cyber-development, by new energy sources, and even by drugs for disease and recreation.  Homeostasis is never permanent.  Rarely does it last as long as a human lifetime.  Human adaptability and simple available space to expand can restore homeostasis, but human character flaws can destroy it.

Against this background, tribes and the nation see arcs of creativity and then disaster rise and fall.  Sometimes the disasters open new venues.  I’ve been impressed by the history of Heart Butte, a long-time summer-settling camp that became a little mission outpost for old-timers, then was nearly swept away by flood, which was the impetus for paved roads across the gumbo soil that had nearly guaranteed isolation.  The addition of housing projects made a place for lightly supervised population density but also a clinic, school and church growth, and commerce in recreational drugs.  Now it is stranded in overlapping jurisdictions between county and rez, which persists because of the irrigation project that begins with Swift Dam on the rez and is the basis of wheat crops off the rez.

Browning has similarly evolved.  At first it was simply the headquarters of the BIA and a settlement of traders, both groups largely white.  The incorporated town, white, thought of itself as an outpost of the state and observed state laws.  When the BIA began "Indian preference," it was about the same time the WWII veteran tradesmen were ready to retire.  Many simply sold out their inventory and left.  The town police were taken over by the BIA and then the tribe.  The identity of the town began to erode and then dissolve -- by now bankrupt and nonfunctioning. 

While we think about these “concrete” issues, the theoretical federal government is struggling with the three-part checks and balances that the tribe recently rejected, fearing change.  The same kind of fear has shattered our three-pronged federal constitution.  Because we elected to the executive office — the section that is supposed to manage the daily administration of a huge and complex coalition of states — a man who refuses to govern as is his defined job, not much is  getting done.  Yet we are in a time of planetary change.

Because our binary political system — based on the Greek idea of logical thesis/antithesis/synthesis — is so internally and emotionally divided on both sides, neither can reach a consensus.  No strong third option has developed yet.  In the past it has been the idea of progress, “progressivism”, that has been a source of renewal, but no one has the confidence to propose a new future with any clarity.

In the meantime not only our voting system but also our courts, the third prong of homeostasis maintenance, has been gerrymandered.  Not just our voting districts and boundaries, but the very nature of the human beings in their roles has been labeled, forced into loyalties, and compromised.  The cultural ideals of fairness, justice, and statesmanship have been blown away by the Trumpian notion that this country is as bad as any other and therefore excused from being better.

So the morphing forces are coming from economics, government, transformative technology, and the exhaustion of ideals.  What are the sources of restoration of homeostasis?  If they are last-ditch efforts they are likely to be authoritarian.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Hearing so many hints about “this is an iceberg,” “you’ll be stunned when it all comes out”, “no one has suspected”, and “we’ve been working on this for literally years”,  even "I'm not at liberty to disclose," I began to look at the Senate hearings and the prospects for impeachment, if not arrests, through the lens of what I know from dealing with all institutions and governments.  What I kept seeing was the Devil’s laughing face, and I don’t think it was just because of seminary, which always pushed hard to get rid of personalization, whether for good or for bad.  Or for keeping us from imposing it as a mask on our professors.  (Not that it would always be a mask.)

But being institutions, the universities and their div schools or law schools or economics schools, have their dark side, their cover-ups, their evil.  Among the little circle of PNWD UU ministers of the Seventies, it was generally agreed that one of the biggest evils is ignoring and denying that there is such a thing.  Those men are gone now, replaced by consoling and optimistic women.  The larger denomination/institution half-consciously did that.  When their own evil side was challenged (by those women daring to be evil and confrontive), the old white bureaucrats ran.  But now I’m getting hooked by my own prejudice, which is wicked.

Why do we love crime so much?  

1.  It’s sexy.  That’s how that personification gets into it.  People understand sex as personal, hopefully a happy relationship and among monotheists one-at-a-time, but even gang bangs are personal.  We’re edging into sex bots, but they still look like people.

2.  Crime is seen as powerful, uncontrollable, creeping in everywhere.  This is not unrealistic because crime is the seeking of control, power, the ability to beat the odds, predict the future, stay safe.  But these motives are kept alive by the constant teasing thrill that things might get out of hand.  It would be so interesting -- we might learn some tricks.

3.  The roots are at birth when the helpless infant must control the adults to get what keeps a baby alive — shelter, food, cleaning, reassurance through bonding (love).  These needs and the ways we learn to handle them — including defiance, doing without, theft, and the positive ways, including charm, timing, asking, guilt (oops) consciousness of obligation, gratitude and generosity — become a personal blueprint for identity with various strategies and emphasis according to opportunity to learn.  Some people become “game-focused,” in love with their conscious expansion of means of satisfaction.  Of course, only in the movies does it work so well to hold a gun on someone.

4.  Crime, evil, sin, are all relative.  A very wicked but liberating (maybe wicked BECAUSE it was liberating) phenomenon of the 19th century and the ability of educated people to travel was awareness of how relative all sin, evil and crime are, with the laws and customs of different places staking out  different lines of violation and stigma.  We often talk about the schism between laws and justice, how often they become a tragic mismatch, usually justified by stigmas from efforts to control through labeling and stereotyping.  

And yet we go on creating laws against this and that, completely or partially out of unjustified conviction.  When we do that, we are evil, committing sins even as we create them.  Or we move the markers again and suddenly what was formerly a major offence is now taken for granted.  Usually because of profit.  Marijuana and abortion are currently legal in some places, still demonized in others.

5.  Ironically, making laws generous, forgiving the wicked by softening enforcement and punishment, letting destructive behavior be excused — all those nice liberal tendencies also can lead to evil or allow evil to expand.

6.  Somehow, “white collar” crimes about money and contracts about the essential gambling we call business, get a pass from most thinkers, though laws about resources, crossing borders, risks from products, deception, usury, land use and ownership, employment practices, probably kill or maim or punish many more people than overtly criminal semi-war by terrorists, tin pot jungle kings, or armies of oppression.  The devil in a tuxedo is more dangerous than a devil in a blue dress.

7.  What devil?  What sin?  The most creepy evil is the denied evil because it works by penetration.  It can’t be seen by looking over your shoulder because it is INSIDE you.  Most people are terrified of looking within because — who knows? — you might see the laughing face of the Devil.  Meaning that you might accept the idea that you are very bad, which you were told as a child, and must be punished — even by yourself.  

8.  A mafia don who is in psychoanalysis— what a concept!  Almost as interesting as analyzing a madman.  Which is to sympathize, a kind of participation in the crimes but without ever having to suffer consequences.  On the other hand, consider the anguish of a person trying to help someone they care about when that someone can’t be helped.  Once they are really attuned to that wicked person, they must seek and address their own wickedness or be compromised.

9.  From the point of view of evil, the analysis or even plain knowledge of facts is itself an evil — destructive of stigma, control, games, and illusions.  Society will label this evil and try to punish it.  But in prosecuting the wicked, the prosecutor must shape to their ways.

This is from  “It will take an agency independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expose Donald Trump’s true relationship with Moscow and the role Russia may have played in getting him elected.”  That agency can only be journalism, partly because of its multiplicity and independence.   The above is the quote that gave rise to this blog post.

10.  Institutions created in order to investigate, curb and punish criminal institutions are very likely to absorb evil by interpenetration in the interest of spying and bribing.  See above.  Did J. Edgar Hoover know he was evil?  Using evil means?  Gaming the Mafia by gaming the United States of America?  Even after justice is measured and imposed, the evil of the enforcer can linger.

11.  “Religion” as represented by institutions has so deeply compromised -- consciously and unconsciously -- with the sinful, the stigmatizers, the controllers — that there is so much gaming penetrated into all of them that Pope Francis, the most hierarchical of leaders with the most compassionate goals, failed to detect destruction of children (a root of the necessity of virtue to protect them) among his own close associates.  

12.  “Government” as represented to be democratic in the USA has been undermined to the point of ineffectiveness by human nature.  Democracy can only work with an informed, active demos.  Otherwise, it is as evil as any other system.

So what shall we watch tonight?  “Orange Is the New Black”, “Criminal Minds”, “American Crimes”,  one of the CSI’s, “Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer” — or do you aim higher “House of Cards”, something BBC Mystery?  Or should we just watch the news?   7-18-17 for a fascinating quote from Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth.