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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


You may need to read this linked article or the previous post and maybe the post distinguishing between Evil and Sin to understand this post. “Psychopathology, trauma and delinquency: subtypes of aggression and their relevance for understanding young offenders."  
The article sets up two categories of trouble-makers.

As much of a problem as uncontrolled, violent, RADI people can be (there ARE females) somehow they are not as unnerving as the PIP’s.  I want to provisionally say that RADI people are sinners -- they know there are rules, they know what they are, they become overwhelmed by what can legitimately be called “animal rage”, going out of control.  Either the forces enraging them are far too powerful, or their pre-frontal cortex and other controls are too weak.  Afterwards, they realize what they have done and repent, weep, try to make up for it.  Law enforcement is set up to deal with them and, in fact, might include some marginal RADI examples.

But the really bad PIP’s are evil -- they seem possessed but in sly ways we can’t comprehend.  There are no signals, just a strange vibe if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.  People talk about the Devil because otherwise it’s just too baffling.  A friend who works with psychiatric cases says he can make no progress with them, but he has colleagues -- often quite hard people -- who can.  Maybe tough guys seem dependable.

Here’s my theory about PIP’s.

The brain has six layers in the cortex and many mini-parts that contribute to what these theorists call neuro-architectural connectomes.  Most of what the brain does is NOT conscious.  We only pay attention to what is conscious and assume it is voluntary, though some psychoanalysts and clinical psychologists know that what we see is only the puppet show framed by the proscenium rather than the thinking, scripting, manipulating people with their hands up the puppets’ skirts.  I wrote an earlier blog post about a woman who felt the puppet show in her head was strictly Punch and Judy -- war with herself, jabbering.

Contemporary understanding of consciousness is slowly developing and with it the theory of identity.  So far it is clear that both are composites in the first place, and also constantly being reassembled with slight variations, because a human body is more of a colony of cells than “one cell,” even though that’s the way we understand ourselves and the way the law and society treats us.  Each of us is a dancing process, reacting to what is around us.  Studies say that even our gut microbes affect our moods, which in turn affect our reactions to people and situations.

It’s hard to figure out which processing parts are missing in a PIP, if any, as well as why.  Filters, definitions, recognitions, are all important actions that brains do unconsciously.  One of the most significant elements is the most obvious: memory.  Now that we have videos showing for sure what “really” happened, we discover that memory is highly unreliable.  Until now we’ve thought that testimony from a PIP-type was always lying, scheming, pretending -- and maybe it was, but maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe his memory betrays him.  There may be no such thing as a reliable witness.  And memory is the cornerstone of identity.

Heath Ledger or the Joker?

Maybe what happened to someone else was so vivid that a person takes it into their own identity.  For writers and actors there is explicit worry that they might become the characters they invented.  People who have been in situations so intense that they went “out of their minds” will not remember anything or will remember a fantasy without knowing that’s what it is.  They say there is one little blob in the brain responsible for indicating which is “real” and which is “not.”  If that blob wasn’t working, there is no way for the person to distinguish.  I remember as a child confusing dreams with reality and that’s not unusual.  The reality detector matures late.

Almost as important as functions that interact to create identity, are the ones that support empathy, though a person with weak identity of their own might lose boundaries in a way that allows them to share someone else’s inner life.  ("Fusion" they call it.)  Maybe face-reading parts of the brain might fail, or maybe if someone’s emotional system is deranged -- reaching back through the limbic system to the most primitive reactions -- it can put twisted masks on people’s faces.

Those are Operating System problems.  But also go back to the infant's first learning:  warm v. cold; supported v. dropped; fed v. hungry and so on.  Did they learn an undependable world or one that embraced and cherished them?  The inner world of the baby is built over the first three years.  If it is barely survivable, the person may never be able to trust anything.  But the hardest predicament is for the child who was loved, protected, but nevertheless thrown into a situation of war, destruction, and betrayal -- the removal of everything recognizable.  Job was an adult who suffered the loss of everything -- what if he had been aged three?

Then there are later traumas to the “hardware” of the brain, which includes the whole body.  The gut thinks in its own way.  Include blows to the head, long periods of suffocation, drugs, brutal or demanding people, etc., all of which can change the brain.  Beatings, sexual misuse, torture, and neglect that far exceed ordinary misery push people into new relationships that require codes inimical to the mainstream, force them to find protective membership in groups with anti-social codes.

Our legal systems don't address all this stuff because laws are all specifically Sin-based.  "If you do this, the punishment is thus."  PIP's are working in a context of Evil, black ooze that slips between the teeth of the law.  You can make all the laws you want to -- they just have no relevance.  Only survival counts and one can only survive with the resources one has, whether they are what society likes or not.  

In fact, if life gets too soft, a PIP may need to take the adrenaline level up a bit, teasing the dragon.  In “The Borgias” there’s a quick bit when Micheletto is conferring with diForza’s hired assassin and co-plotter.  He asks his counterpart explicitly, “If you left this job, wouldn’t you miss it -- the excitement?”  Yes.  I think of Geoff Mains’ level of combat veteran SM.  In fact, emotion this intense attracts other people, sometimes entirely unsuited for it, destroyed by it.  We love it in movies, rock bands and books -- not in real life.

Moving from one culture to another is a problem for a PIP, in fact can contribute to the creation of an insecure PIP who cannot reliably “feel” what’s going on.  He begins to hear insults where none were intended and take comments negatively when they were actually neutral.  The two variables that count most for a survival-based person are safety and worthy risk.  (They are at the core of most of us.)  They are not easily provided, since they are mutually exclusive even in calm conventional lives, though their lack might not be noticed so much.  But for a delinquent kid with enough moxie to reflect and experiment in the proper setting (almost surely not a prison) “redemption” is not impossible.  

The experimenters themselves say:  “PIP aggression may be adaptive on Wall Street and in other extremely competitive settings.  It is only when RADI and PIP occur in a clustered form, are out of context, are unusually severe and disproportionate to their trigger or do not cease once the other has signaled defeat that they alert a clinician’s attention.”  I hear them saying that this stuff is defined in retrospect according to the results and whether society likes them, which can change capriciously.

Planned, Instrumental, Proactive are good qualities in war and surgery.  Maybe art. Caravaggio?  John Huston?  The implication is that controlling the context may save genius from madness and criminality.  I watched a video last night that described a new discovery:  the cells that surround a tumor are as important to understand and treat as the rogue growth itself.  No kidding.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Sean Harris as Micheletto in "The Borgias"

I have before me a downloaded article called “Psychopathology, trauma and delinquency: subtypes of aggression and their relevance for understanding young offenders.”   There are eight co-authors to this paper.  It’s long and complicated, so I’m going to reduce it to a kind of clinical case report of “Micheletto,” a fictional character from “The Borgias.

The essence of the paper is that the single-figure percentage of adolescents who get into trouble through aggression (violence), esp. those labeled delinquent by law enforcement, are under-studied.  Not surprising since they are resistant, elusive, and scary.  But that means they are treated as a uniform category when they clearly are not.  As a “first cut” (eek!) of sorting, the authors distinguished between two “kinds” of aggression.  One is “RADI.”  (Reactive, Affective, Defensive and Impulsive or “hot.”)

Sean Harris in "Deliver Us from Evil"

This kind is triggered by anticipation of negative situations and can include as reactions “fear, disgust, contempt, sadness, rage, frustration.”  Afterwards, when calm again, the person can be sorry though confused about what the trigger might have been.  Since emotional systems work in reciprocity -- arousal on one side met by restraint on the other side -- the problem might arise from either the strength of the stormy passion or from a weakness or even failure of self-control, recognizing options, or understanding the destruction they are wreaking. 

Sean Harris in "Prometheus"?

The second kind is “PIP.” (Planned, Instrumental and Predatory -- or if you feel that’s too pejorative -- Proactive)  That is, it’s with a goal in mind that benefits the person and it could be described as “cold.”  As I write, there is a murder case being considered in Missoula.  The outcome depends on whether the killer shot a student rummaging in his garage out of fear and self-protection (hot) or whether he had set a trap and deliberately shot the student (cold).  The word “callous” is used in this study in the way most people would use “sociopathic.”  We weight it as worse than an outburst.

"Serena" -- a "good guy" role

The claim is that the two kinds of aggression are controlled by different brain “neuro-architectural networks,” that is, connected features of the brain that create a “chord” or pattern of function.  The first one RADI (hot) appears to be a hard-wired threat response from the very early evolution of animals.  (It’s found in all mammals.)  The connections present at the moment of the outburst go from the medial nucleus of the amygdala to the medial hypothalamas to the dorsal half of the periaquaeductal gray.  Restraints against over-reacting are in the anterior cingulate, the ventrolateral and orbital-prefrontal cortex.  These activities are said to be confirmed by fMRI images, though I don't know how they got an enraged person into that tube.  Or was it the tube that triggered the response?

A first intimation of threat triggers freezing -- we see it in animals (deer in the headlights) who stand, lift noses, stare, re-orient their ears.  At a higher level, flight takes hold and there goes the deer with its white tail waving.  But if trapped, the deer goes up onto its back legs to fight, and strikes with its front hooves, which are quite sharp enough to disembowel a human.  This is not Micheletto.  It could easily be a Demon Father, fueled by alcohol -- let’s call him “Maximo,” and claim he has red hair, since Micheletto does.  Stag rampant, red eyes and maybe the kind of red nose a drunk gets.  This is the domestic abuser who repents the next morning, a familiar type.

Micheletto corresponds to the second category, PIP, which is complex and gradually develops through childhood.  It is at least partly created by Maximo, never knowing when an attack might come.  A simple neuro-architectural explanation is not possible because the response is learned: unemotional, calculated, deceptive, gaming.  The whole brain is involved and even the possibility of several aspects of consciousness, split identities or attitudes that war with each other or protect each other.  

Some animals, especially primates, are capable of scheming, but they have never been documented with bipolar or schizogenic behavor.  The character Micheletto is constrained only by loyalty, which puts him morally superior to the assassins who will change sides for a price.  In the series, Micheletto’s depravity is indicated by his being a “sodomite” which also justifies and forces his secrecy, just as incest makes Lucretia sneaky and desperate.  Which is worse: loving the same sex or loving a sib?  But the conceit of our times -- that love can redeem anyone -- keeps them sympathetic to a mainstream audience, though their love looks more like lust.  They both seem needy.

"Mission Impossible 5"

The authors of this study of delinquents say they are trying to understand how to help both aggressive types, RADI and PIP.  They can suggest specific pharmaceutical strategies to damp down passion or even the fear and rage in a Maximo.  AA might be a good start towards self-understanding.  (There don’t seem to be drugs that will strengthen the restraints.)  But they are still at a loss about how to help Michelletto.  He’s a bull-fighter who has taken on the minotaur and survived.  Maybe he even killed the minotaur.  Maybe he had learned from his mother how to duck, dodge, placate, seem to repent and engage.  He’s likely to interpret all the people around him in those terms.  How does one break through?  Love/lust makes him weep, but he still murders his lovers.  Violence and intimacy are mixed.

"Tears of Blood"

It’s not that Micheletto is hopelessly evil.  It’s just that he plays all the odds and suspects all motives.  He IS capable of loving in a way, but circumstances force him to kill what he loves and he finds in that a strange and terrible intimacy, to hold someone close as they die.  He cries out for help, asking God to say something, but -- he tells his patron -- God’s answer was “nothing.”  Silence.  Not even advice from the Devil.

Micheletto is in a double-bind.  He knows that any sign of weakness will attract Maximo types trying to make him suffer without any of the constraints or recognition of father to son, minimal as they may be.  They just want to eat his pain.  He’s done it himself.  But he also knows that puffing up, pretending to be powerful when he really isn’t, allowing anyone to see the constant anxiety that flares up into terror if he lets it -- all that takes enormous energy.  He is invested in constraint, dares not investigate his own inner life.  But if he finds he can seduce others, put them to work in his own interest, then he becomes very good at deception.

Among the boys in groups I’ve known, mostly in the classroom, on and off the Blackfeet rez, there have been both of these “types.”  Complex Michelettos were only reachable occasionally, usually by art.  Writing.  Performance arts, like music or theatre.  This can lead to redemption to some extent, but too many find it’s not enough to damp down aggression enough to be in control.  Too many, when caught in a truly terrible situation can be catapulted into suicide as the only flight available.  

Sean Harris specializes in these roles.  His part as a mass shooter in “Southcliffe” is an example.  Deep empathy, a psychoanalyst would claim, can help a PIP, but mostly society just denies anything is wrong.  They’re too scary.  They don’t confront like, say, an oppositional defiant kid.  It's always a big surprise when they begin to shoot people.

These two “types” of aggression are so different that I’m not sure there’s enough similarity to justify bracketing them together, except that we don’t like their behavior.  RADI is the result of brain hard-wiring but PIP appears to come from deeply constructed assumptions about the nature of the world that developed because of experience.  To what extent are we making assumptions about people who appear to have no conscience, no empathy as though it were the fault of the individual instead of the society?

What interests me and is open to further investigation is the social tolerance of macho Maximo, his bad temper and drinking, his abuse of wife and children, that produces the next generation which is “callous.”  There is some anecdotal understanding, but maybe it overlooks the degree to which Micheletto needs a primary powerful figure in order to operate: a cardinal, a king.  He is the shadow of the throne, so why not remove both, as we rightly did in the case of Watergate?  (Nixon as RADI, Gordon Liddy as PIP.)

One argument would be that the two types are part of a larger ecology of society that supports both RADI and PIP.  The evidence would be the multitude of popular storylines about the intemperate hero (dad) and the enabling partner (mom or sidekick).  The connecting tissue is economic, and I include the research sociologists, always looking for funding of their own underlying investigative architecture that justifies "serving society", trying to find ways to control youngsters -- but without disturbing the legal structures already in place and by expanding the usefulness of pharma-solutions to control and suppress.   Both are major money-making bureaucratic enterprises.

The planetary connectome of cultures includes brain architecture that evolved millennia ago and was basic to survival -- interacting with the consequences of what today’s culture teaches our children, but not enough to prevent war.  Somewhere in the welter and scramble is a real-life Micheletto, a suffering soul.

Monday, December 15, 2014


In theory at least, Joachim was the resident responsible adult.  It was hard to tell with his long hair, beard and earrings unless you watched for a while and realized how often some boy was settled by him, talking feverishly while J listened.  He seemed to doze a lot, but they understood that he was really listening.  The boys were there because they were desperate and so were the authorities who were supposed to be managing them.  Even in prison they made too much trouble.  They were contagious but the HIV meds that would control that were expensive.  Of course, there were also boys in the mix at J's who were not known to any authorities at all and probably never would be, until their bodies turned up in some inconvenient place.  They just quietly appeared at J's and were not thrown out.

No one was entirely sure what J’s qualifications were, but evidently he had been a nurse of some kind because he handled the boys’ meds very strictly, with charts.  Since they didn’t just have HIV but also -- because HIV destroys antibodies and they hadn’t exactly been living well -- everything from chiggers to malaria, including variations on STD’s.  So far no rabies.  And luckily, they were so vain about their hair that head lice had no chance.  If it weren’t for needing meds to stay alive, the boys might not be there.  

The strong centrifugal pull of the streets meant they sometimes took "French Leave" for a few weeks.  They were a strange mix of black ghetto, university town, and Indian reservation with an increasing number of hispanics.  None of them could survive 24 hours in any semi-wilderness, but given streets and decaying industrial buildings, they had the instincts of rats and would never come in to formal shelters.  They knew that authorities would use any bait to capture them and then question them relentlessly, make a lot of rules, feed them poorly, try operant conditioning, and pretend they didn’t know the thuggier guards were raping them.  The latter justified what they did by saying they were only collecting freebies, the same thing these feral cats were used to selling.

A surprising number of the boys had learned to play guitars, they all had skateboards, and some had bikes -- different ones on different days.  The house was full of yelling, running, acrobatics, storm swirls of quarrel, and long mellow hours of talk and song.  In the past there had been a room of desktop computers, but now they all had smart phones or tablets and even as they shouted at each other while slumping on second-hand sofas, their fingers were also simultaneously texting and cruising through images or music.

Most of the time J sat quietly with his dog.  Often he worked on a clipboard holding his endless paperwork, figuring, budgeting, writing appeals.  He fixed one big meal in the middle of the day for whichever kids showed up (usually most of them) and got his exercise by running the washer and drier constantly -- getting up to fill and empty, fold and sort, but never going around to invade rooms looking for dirty clothes.  The clean clothes were just stacked on top of the machines, jeans on one pile and shirts on another.  Unders rolled up.

One of the boys had a weird hangup that was very helpful, though it was a sort of self-imposed penance: he cleaned the bathrooms.  Everyone was grateful because their GI tracts were often in uproar -- reversing, out-of-control -- so there was a lot of puking and squirting.  Someone pointed out to Mr. Clean that he could make money scrubbing -- not much, but some.  He said it wouldn’t be the same.  His cleaning was like a service to the community, an act of belonging.  Not for pay, not even to help pay his way in the house.  When someone was kicking heroin, J himself went into the shower with them to hold them up and scrub them.  Time was the only thing that worked, plus the crates of electrolyte-replacing drinks.  

Most of the boys were gay, because that’s how they got kicked out of their families onto the street, and then had to do sexwork to survive and then drugs to survive the sexwork, but a few had been so badly abused that they had either shut down or were in some sex category that had no name, self-invented.  Now and then a couple of the guys would fall madly in love and live in a bubble of intimacy.  If that bubble turned iridescent, it meant they were sharing drugs and J would take them for a long walk-and-talk to explain that pharma drugs, plus street drugs, plus the endogenous molecules kicked up by adolescence, could mean permanent organ damage or merely blunt the efficacy of the anti-retrovirals.  They either dropped the drugs or -- once in a long while -- simply left together.  Sometimes only one came back.  

The boys thought Joachim must be Italian or French or something because of his name, but mail came that addressed him as “Joe” or “Joseph” or just "J."  The Native American boys were sure he was an Indian because they wanted him to be like them, so to them it was natural that his real name was secret or at least not public.  No one ever snooped into his desk though they all studied the photos of past boys that were stuck to the wall above the desktop.  They just weren’t readers, for the most part, and those who were had feelings about people who meddled.  Joachim slept with his dog on his narrow bed and no boy tried to slip under the covers with him.

Then one day a little red car pulled up in front of the house and out bounced a woman.  J went out to meet her and they threw their arms around each other.  “Probably his sister,” suggested one boy.  Then J told them he was going to stay with her in a nearby hotel overnight but leave the dog at the house.  The boy who had hoped she was his sister slept in J’s bed that night “so the dog won’t be lonesome.”  Even the toughest boys dreamt that J left them and then the house was shut down.  They shuddered in their sleep.  It didn’t help that J called the next day, said he would be gone a second night and left some instructions.

When he got back, the boys themselves called a “pizza consultation,” which was just a house meeting with pizza so everyone would come, but anyway no one wanted to miss it this time.  J didn’t say anything. He sat in his chair waiting with the dog on his lap, though it was kind of a big dog for that.  When they had slowed down with the eating, they shouted at him.  He was betraying them.  He owed them.  Some wept.  All the ghosts of their punishing pasts were in the room, taking up all the air and confusing them.  

Finally they had nothing more to say and J began to talk.  “Do you remember how suspicious you were when you first came and what it was that reassured you?  It was that you knew I’d been where you were and even worse off than you.  I’d been diagnosed poz after a car crash that broke all my bones, I was in the hospital totally penniless, and since I’d been traveling from one coast to the other and was only midway, no one I knew lived nearby. Anyway most of my friends had died in the AIDS plague.  I didn’t really care whether I recovered.  The docs had to study up in order to give me the right treatment and even then they weren’t confident.  I thought it was the end.

“This woman saved me.  She was the book lady in the hospital, pushing around a cart.  We fell in love over the books, her recommending and me reading.  I read a LOT of books there and in some ways they healed me more than the meds, because I was head-sick in the first place.”

“We thought you were gay!” the boys accused.

J looked sad.  “Of all people in the world, are you guys going to put a label on me?”

“What’s her name?”

“I won’t tell you.  I’m protecting who she is the same as I protect who you are.”  

One boy whispered to the other, “We should have gotten the car license plate.”  

His friend answered, “I wonder by what names they registered and what hotel they used.”  Then the two looked ashamed of themselves.  What were they -- characters on TV?

One of the university town boys actually raised his hand.  “If you love each other, why don’t you get married?”

J rubbed the dog’s ears.  “She’s already married.  She has a family, children, a job of her own, a whole life and a husband she also loves.”

“That’s impossible if she loves YOU!”

“No.  There are many kinds of love.  Sometimes they double up.”

“Then she should choose!”

“Do you want a woman in this house?  You guys who consider it so important to be gay?”

No one answered but every face showed shock at the very thought.  They wouldn’t even be able to walk around naked anymore.  

After a long silence J said,  “It’s just that now and then she and I need to be together.  Accept it as part of who I am.”

It took them days, but they did.  They imagined that J and his lady spent the time in the hotel reading to each other.  They were not far wrong.  Eventually they began to wonder about books.  Then it occurred to them that there were books on their handheld devices.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Sam Strachan, my grandfather, is the middle of the back

This time of year both Dear Abby and  Miss Manners are besieged with inquiries about how to handle whom to invite to holiday festivities.  It’s much harder these days because of blurred lines about romantic relationships, families that are “blended” by serieses of marriage, adoption, fosters, floaters, and so on.  Much of the advice is not just about who has to be invited, but how to manage conveying the decision.  How can they arrange the places at the table to fit the picture of the family they desire for Christmas?  Gerrymandering.  Re-arranging the boundaries.

Elbridge Gerry, 5th Vice-President of the USA

The word gerrymander was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette on 26 March 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts Congressional election districts under the then-governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.  

Gerrymander is a conflation of the governor's last name and the word salamander. Elected to the Second Continental Congress, Gerry signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was one of three men who attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787 but refused to sign the United States Constitution because it did not then include a Bill of Rights.

So what we have here is a word conflating a national patriarch, a cranky father of our country, with a salamander, vulnerable as a newborn with little cartoon hands -- only four fingers like Mickey Mouse.  Two ends of the family continuum.  And yet the mythic metaphor is that a salamander can be thrown into fire and emerge unscathed, like a phoenix.  In Britain the broiling element above and behind the burner surface is called a “salamander.”  I’ll just leave it there, though I’m really putting myself into a bit of a family fire by telling you the following.

When my brother, who had had frontal forebrain cortex damage in a fall a decade earlier, began to deteriorate, he was staying with cousins who had a major ranch.  For a while he “earned his keep” by gardening and making things.  He did NOT want to live with me.  I thought he was okay, safe, seen now and then by the VA, and taking long walks with the coon hounds.  Suddenly the cousins wanted him out of there and pressed me to take him.  But then he went off walking down the road to town and disappeared.  

I did what I could by telephone, which was next to nothing.  I could not understand.  Years later they finally confided that he had become paranoid, barricading himself in the basement.  I had sent a "request for a welfare check" to the sheriff, and talked to the deputy on the phone, but he was a family friend who didn't want to embarrass anyone. 

My mother’s sisters married brothers.  When that generation was young adults, we all visited back and forth.  Then we became distant.  Once a cousin told me she had been afraid all her life.  Another said that she had been taught NEVER to open the door to someone she couldn't really name -- this in a crime-free place with not even blinds on the windows.  I didn't make connections. 

One day I was looking through a box of old photos with my aunt and came to a face that looked like my uncles but was no one I knew.  He was another uncle, a sibling, who had been institutionalized on and off throughout his life.  I have no idea what the diagnosis was.  Maybe schizophrenic or what we would call bipolar now.  He shows up on genealogy websites (1899-1987) but is never mentioned by the family, who were afraid of him.  No wonder they freaked when my brother showed signs of dementia and no wonder they didn’t tell me the real facts of his behavior, which would have meant quite a different course of action on my part.  I’m not afraid of dementia.
Victims of the Philippine War

Now the other side of the family, my father’s side.  His mother was WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) so we were a dedicated teetotaling family.  My grandmother’s brother had died of alcoholism, probably triggered as a soldier fighting in the Philippines 1899-1902, another of those atrocities of empire and resistance.  The brother lived long enough for a short marriage that produced a son but then was lost to the family.  I knew this story and have continued to be an abstainer except for champagne at weddings and VERY expensive Scotch which is rarely around.

Cut to the present.  Cousins from that side came to visit and brought as a hostess gift a couple of bottles of wine.  We astonished each other.  They live in a prosperous mono-culture that assumes everyone, especially relatives, would be just like them, but they didn’t know their own family history.  They never knew about the great-uncle and had not continued the teetotalling nor even been aware of it.

The kicker is that the son of this family began to drink in grade school and by adulthood was nearly destroyed by alcohol, drugs, and bipolar swings.  Even then the family did not eliminate alcohol from their lives, not that in their prosperous suburb it would have been possible to shut out alcohol or drugs.  The family kept these developments secret as long as they could and they still live guarded lives.  

This is their code of arms, truly

Another branch is proud of the family name “Strachan,” particularly since it is associated with a “tumulus” or manmade hill that once held a stone fortification one could consider a sort of castle.  They think of themselves as Highlanders and the women dearly love “Outlander,” the series romance that’s about to start on television.  I grew up with the Strachan crest on the wall.  “Non timeo, Sed Caveo” with an alert stag.  ("Not timid, but cautious.") 
That's a thistle in the stag's mouth -- he's not Rudolph.

One day there was an ad for a calypso band in town, led by a man named Strachan.  My father was a little confused by a Scot playing calypso, but he went down to introduce himself to someone he felt sure was related.  The man was black.  He was descended from slaves named Strachan because they were owned by a Strachan.  My mother, a Pinkerton, thought it was very funny.  She’d put up with a lot of jokes about being related to the Pinkerton detectives, which she was in a distant, roundabout way.  We were not surprised by her ability to figure things out.
Every family wants to think it is the best of all families or, if it obviously is not “best” and maybe more obviously doesn’t even constitute a properly definable family, the tendency is to just leave out the parts of the story they don’t like.  Gerrymander.  Bob Scriver’s mother’s maiden name was MacFie and she was ever so proud of that.  Her nice neighbors, over for a bridge party, happened to pick up a little book that showed the tartans of the Scots clans and looked through to find MacFie.  It interested them greatly that a black crayon had been used to eliminate one sentence, so when one of the ladies was visiting at the Prince of Wales Hotel on the Canadian side of Waterton/Glacier Park and spotted that same little book in the gift shop, she bought it.  The sentence that had been censored was:  “Macfies were noted as sheep thieves.”  By the next day every white person in Browning was enjoying that sentence.  

"Rupert" and "Angus" from Outlander.  Note sheep carcass.

Counterphobe that I am (one who is aware of potential danger, but goes towards it -- “Non timeo, sed caveo”), I don’t fear drunks, crazies, sheep thieves (no sheep anyway), nor the descendants of slaves.  I do fear family sometimes.  It is a wonderful thing when people who are genetically connected or who were raised together can find friendship and shared values.  But I’ve been watching “The Borgias” and I know that it can all go terribly wrong, esp. when some people are ignored and pushed out of consciousness and others are made into heroes out of all proportion.  Watch those boundaries.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


I have said and I believe that all evil is human.  It is created by humans, destroys humans, and nearly defines humans since I don’t know of another animal that is evil.  Some are destructive and some are killers, but not premeditated with evil motives.  Suffering is produced by human consciousness even when it is felt as though in the flesh, even when it is through empathy with others, including animals.  Evil is often attributed to the flesh, the bestial, in all its neediness and unreasonableness.  We demonize the yearning for food, water, love, control and status.  In the process of struggling over these things, we produce children -- sometimes so deformed and venomous that we might better call them spawn.  Is spawn evil?  But we are the ones who make them so. 

These things go in degrees, confused as our thinking about them may be.  In our Manichean-rooted world (filtered through Judaism, Christianity and Islam) which is all about enclosures (the fort, the palace wall), dichotomies (you’re either in or out), and control (hierarchies).  There are many definitions and boundaries -- always the goal and the effort is to keep things the same, inalterable, predictable.  But this planet is only temporarily and partially stained by this thinking.  We can find new paradigms.

I would like to distinguish between evil and sin.  Evil is human.  Sin, more than that, is institutional, a set of rules devised by humans in an attempt to control the Evil “FORCE” within people.  Sins are meant for lists and degrees of sinniness.   (The opposite of sunniness.) The worst list starts with everyone who, simply by existing, is sinful (Original Sin due to existing), so we all start “one down” which means that the authorities have the advantage.  (Not God.  There is no conceivable God.  The concept is a great emptiness and any attempt to define shrinks God to within limits so that he/she is NOT God, the Ultimate, the All Including, anymore.)  

The biggest sin, of course, is defying the authorities.  In a stroke of theatre, the Ten Commandments are engraved by lightning on tablets of granite and carried down off a mountain by Charlton Heston.  You’re supposed to do what they say, in spite of sly re-interpretations.  The next category “down” (all these defined by authorities who are authorized by institutions secular, religious or some mix) is capital crimes which justify a death sentence, then felonies, then misdemeanors, then “failure to obtain a permit” and regulations.  Where there are no institutions (failed states) and therefore no laws, there is no sin -- just force and chaos.  When laws become unjust, entangled, unenforceable, corrupted, the institution is attacked, which is the sin that ends sin.  But not evil, a force that remains so long as humans remain.

The breakthrough by the major religious thinkers (Jesus, not Calvin) was to leave rules and go to principles, like the Golden Rule.  That which one would want to be done to oneself, should be done to the others.  Universals.  The greatest good to the greatest number.  No monkey business about deservingness or whose turn it is.  (Experiments show that monkeys DO get upset about such issues.)

The breakthrough we’re trying to make now, in the 21st century, is to the principle of fittingness.  As Shaw pointed out, the Golden Rule is not much help when dealing with a liver fluke.  But if we understand the place and interrelationships of liver flukes, we will understand more about life principles.  It is an ecological matter.  No need to spare the mosquito on our arm, as Schweitzer was reported to do, but we should only destroy enough of them to protect the children from malaria and be careful to understand what depends upon eating mosquitoes and what bats will eat if there aren’t any mosquitoes.  And not to use DDT, effective as it is, because of the side effects.  We don’t want to kill eagles.  As for the bed nets, they wear out and then where’s the money for replacement after Gates has bought so many?  Supplies need a money stream, not a donation.

So sin is fairly easy to deal with.  Just get the rule book, and, if you can, cross out all the rules that don’t answer to principles that serve the highest (oops, hierarchy alert!), broadest goals.  Throw out the petty offenses.  Try to be aware of what hurts others and oneself.  Over time.  Going into the future, make new rules that serve the well-being of self and whole.  Cultivate empathy.

Evil is the big problem, because it’s not an entity, it’s not supernatural, and it’s not definable.  It’s an ooze of temptation, suffering, greed, inequity -- well, it’s not exactly inequity because inequity (or probably more accurately unaddressed need) is what exudes evil.  It is the precursor pus of the infected wound.  We love its glamorous sheen.  We WANT scabrous inequity, so long as we have the high side of the seesaw.  It is the evil characters who fascinate us.

Evil is not sex, which is bright blood carrying the oxygen of life.  Not that blood can’t be infected or poisoned by hate microbes.  Evil is a process, a force, and so is sex, but they can be opposed to each other as much as mingled.  It’s not that sperm or ova are good or bad -- they are beginnings, potential, could go either way.  It’s the process that counts.  But it’s not a struggle between good and evil that creates a new child.  It is space in which to unfold them and diligent attention to mending their mosquito bed nets in a world where we can’t even trust highly trained loyal soldiers with our underground atomic missiles.

What’s to be done with Lucifer’s children?  Ironically, and in spite of Evil being a human force and Sin being institutionally defined, there is no human or institutional answer that has anything to do with Evil or Sin.  Institutions would put them in prison and lock the cell doors.  Evil would force conversion to the appearance of Obedience and Harmlessness.  Society could address the inequities and torturing stigmas, try to eliminate them by making laws and declaring rights.  Probably never will succeed.  These are only extensions and conversions of the same problem.

The only antidote to evil is good and good is as much a human construct as evil is.  That is, an impulse toward generosity and inclusion has to be there first, and then the ways of easing and justifying the suffering of children will appear.  The brain support for empathy -- whether it’s mirror cells or some other little knot of reacting cells -- is not there in everyone but for every person who looks at a child and feels what they feel, the moment of enfolding, warming and lifting up is at hand.  No institution, no rules, no greed can oppose that.  It’s totally subversive, sometimes secret, and even dogs can do it -- without drugs, without sex -- but with eyes.  We must learn to penetrate the darkness, to know without turning away, to double our gaze.


Friday, December 12, 2014


This bust is a portrait of Margaret, daughter of Bob Scriver, a sculptor.  She was born in June, 1938, and died in 1968.  The portrait was made in her hospital room in Anacortes, WA, as she grew close to death from cancer.  The early years of her first marriage were in Valier and her four children were born here. 

There's much to be said, but I want to address the immediacy of contact when a person looks at this sculpture.  In some ways it is more intense than meeting the actual person was.  What Scriver told Margaret was that he was portraying her as a woman on the prairie with the wind in her hair.  Privately he admitted he was talking about the cold wind of death, a metaphor.  He did not tell her he had named the piece "To See Eternity."  For a long time he didn't make a mold, though it was a simple job, because of the sense memory embedded in the plastilene by his fingers.  Oil-based clay feels almost like human skin, but is vulnerable to distortion from any impact or even too much heat.  Still, being able to put his hands on the plastilene was like feeling her alive.

"Who Gives All Gifts" is Tim Holmes' memorial to his parents, the Reverend Bob Holmes and his wife, Polly.  This statue is an eight-foot (heroic-sized) bronze at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Helena, MT.  Rev. Bob, a retired Methodist minister, served St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Helena for many years and was the author of the popular radio and TV series of one-minute "Lifelifters." He was a chaplain of the Helena Police Department for 22 years and Harley-riding chaplain of Rocky Mountain College from 1965-1981.  Polly was equally distinguished and dedicated.  She died weeks after her husband in 2005.

Here is the sculptor, Tim Holmes:  Erotic crisis: Tim Holmes at TEDxWhitefish   He will be presenting this talk again as a keynote at the Earl Lectures in Berkeley next month.  It convinces us of the joyful eros of the human body.  The short film included is entitled "Fear to Wonder," an apt phrase for Christmas or Solstice, either one -- both.  

The dynamic work seems to move as you look at it and, in fact, he has moved to working with dance on video, integrating poetry by writing it directly on the dancers.  I'll come back to Tim for another post because there is so much to say about this family.

Recently I discovered a tumblr website:  It's "porn" in the sense that it's intensely appealing and selected for human beings.  But also, of course, you know that some consider any body that isn't clothed to be porn.

Some of this sculpture is classical, some mythical, some (since the blog owner is young) Goth, some obscured, all human figures.

Veiled Vestal Virgin by Raffaelle Monti. 1846-1847, Marble.

Untitled by Kara Skrakowski. 2011, Oil-based clay.

Terra secco study of old man. Unaired clay has a quality that is lost in firing. 
It does not preserve the look of freshly modeled clay, but it’s better.

 Bacchanale Russe, Malvina Cornell Hoffman, 1912.

Located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(Malvina Hoffman was Bob Scriver's heroine.)


Cameron Stalheim

Divininer (Reverse Side) 

That's enough images for one post.  Do a bit of exploring for yourself.  These sculptures do not really need titles and attribution -- they speak for themselves, either in their earnest attempt at accurate depiction of an entity moving through a stop-time second, or in their distortion of what is actual in order to entice us in more deeply.  For the truest intimacy is insight.  You could call it spiritual if you wanted to.  Be careful about saying "religious,"i.e. institutional.

It's unclear whether this is a broken maquette or a preparation,
but it is Bernini's "Saint Therese".  When I sent a preview to Tim Holmes, 
he said he was actually allowed to hold this when he was at the Hermitage. has near the top of the sequence a beguiling and "moving" (in both senses) presentation of Bernini's Saint Therese at the height of her orgasmic experience of union with God.  I don't know how to move the video over here and I'm not sure Blogspot would support it, but the comment is relevant so here it is:

"No one before Bernini had managed to make marble so carnal. In his nimble hands it would flatter and stream, quiver and sweat. His figures weep and shout, their torses twist and run, and arch themselves in spasms of intense sensation. He could, like an alchemist, change one material into another - marble into trees, leaves, hair, and, of course, flesh."
     -   Simon Schama’s Power of Art. Bernini
This link should take you there.

When Margaret died, this Pieta was Scriver's response.
He was not religious but he was spiritual.