A PLAN

Since Google is shocked, SHOCKED, by my blogs, I've decided to start dumping them.

These blogs persist:

Prairie Mary
Heart Butte School, Montana
Holding Open the Universe
Robert Macfie Scriver and Art
Valier Infrastructure
Alvina Krause
The Silver Comb
Swan River, Manitoba
The Bone Chalice
Eagles Mere -- the Playhouse

THESE HAVE BEEN REMOVED

L'entretien infini (REMOVED)
Prairiemary's Memoir (REMOVED)
Prairiemary bibliographies (REMOVED)
Twelve Blackfeet Stories (REMOVED)
Merry Scribbler (REMOVED)
Sisikaskinitsimaan (REMOVED)
Willow Sticks (REMOVED)
Linn County Cochrans (REMOVED)
Roseburg Pinkertons (REMOVED)

It will take me a while since I will need to find new homes for some of them since they are used as reference by various scholars and tribal people.

Friday, March 27, 2015

DEMENTIA or DREAMING or DISTRACTED

Not all dreams are this sweet.

Not long ago I went to the post office in my nightgown.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  I was also wearing a man’s 3X fleece shirt, a silk padded jacket, a baseball cap, and some velour trousers because I had started to get properly dressed before I got distracted and then thought of getting the mail.  It was the opposite of going down the street with nothing on.  Normally, I try to comb my hair, wash my face and even remove my lady whiskers as well as lining my eyes.  (I’m allergic to mascara or I’d use that as well.)  I doubt anyone notices.

When I forget some parts of clothing or footware, I’m reminded by the environment: a cold breeze or sharp gravel.  But I’m interested in why I forgot.  The postmaster (a woman) tells me that people come to the post office wearing almost anything -- bedroom slippers are common.  We’re an aging town and like to be comfortable.  But we’re very proper and so far no one has shown up bare.

I’ve begun to occasionally forget to turn off stove burners.  Less seriously, I forget to take my meds.  Or maybe that IS serious and I ought to be keeping a chart, except that I would forget to fill it out anyway.  I’ve stopped buying coffee beans to grind because once in a while I put the whole beans in the paper filter and don’t realize it until I’ve poured hot water on them.  And occasionally I forget to turn ON stove burners and after a half-hour or so wonder why I don’t hear boiling or see steam.  I tried an automatic coffee maker but forgot I had it and went back to my old filter cone.  I hate whistling teakettles, esp. first thing in the morning.  


Most of this is not madness but rather a failure to keep my attention on the task at hand.  If you follow this blog, you will know two things: one is that the “working brain” can only handle maybe a half-dozen big ideas (chunked up into complexes by putting together small issues) and the other is that my brain is a seething mass of ideas at any given moment.  When I go to sleep, they transform into “felt concepts” and when I wake up, the words begin to form, but the constant stream, the mental thalwag, is not interrupted.  

Not long ago I dreamt that I was looking for a l’Oreal lipstick in a red case.  It was an actual lipstick, my preaching lipstick, a kind of red with gold flecks in it that was flattering and glamorous.  I once attended a women’s conference on spirituality at which we were urged to “surrender” three objects of vanity, precious to us and symbolic.  I put up my lipstick and a porcelain doorknob that I had picked out of the ruined remains of an old house on the way home from my undergrad years at Northwestern.  The lipstick disappeared forever and I never found that color again.  But another woman slipped the doorknob back to me as I left.  She said she thought I had not really meant to give it up.  


So I know what some of these symbols are.  Not the conventional Freudian things.  (Lips.) The lipstick stands for my brief and mismanaged ministry career -- too many things I didn’t understand that were about speaking, intimacy, and community.  I was presenting my best ideas, which I hoped would be life-changing or at least meaningful to the congregation, and they were sitting out there wondering what the name of the lipstick color was or whether they could get me to be personal friends apart from all the others.  (At this point men will be going “huh?” Or maybe not.)  It was about gender, not sex.  You don’t wear lipstick during sex.  It’s about presentation, not deep meaning.  So I dreamt that I found the tube, but it was empty.  At the same time there had recently been something in a TV movie about the lid coming off a lipstick so that everything in the purse was smeared red.  So it was about blood money, too.

I have been working with old family photos.  One cousin in California used to wear bright orange lipstick.  Another one, quite a bit older, wore purple lipstick.  All through my youth I wore Revlon “Persian Melon”, which I was startled to see in a makeup display not long ago.


My premise is that I was not demented to wear my nightgown to the post office, but heavily distracted -- thinking about so many things that there was no room left over for daily habits.  Usually habits are pretty hard to displace because they are embedded in muscles and in the environment.  But I live alone and there are so many small habits that I tend to miss some of them.  For instance, I’m supposed to check all containers before using them, esp. dishes and esp. this time of year, the way one gives one’s shoes a sharp rap upside down when getting up in the jungle -- scorpions, you know.  This morning it was a small beetle in my coffee cup, but I didn’t see it -- just felt it bump my lips when I began to drink.  I’m still squeamish enough that I poured the coffee down the drain.  I suppose when I lose squeamishness so much that I just drink the beetle, then I will be demented because part of the point of sanity is to guard against things that are risky, like ingesting bugs.

Most of what we do is not conscious and our conscious thoughts are just cover-ups for what we are really thinking and believing way back in the dark.  My mother-in-law was convinced that when people were drunk they said what they really meant.  She was right in that the pre-frontal cortex behind the forehead is the most recently evolving part of the brain, the most “rational” part and it is in large part a matter of restraint -- recognizing that it would be more judicious and tactful not to tell or do what might make a lot of trouble.  And it’s true that alcohol can allow expressions that are rude, actions that are stupid.  But she never had any insight into her own hidden ideas, sometimes malicious and destructive.  Or childish.  She NEVER got drunk.  Good thing.

The beetle in my coffee was much smaller.

My own mother knew there was more going on in her mind than she had conscious access to but she knew something was going on while she slept.  The old “dream book” by her bed was almost worn out beyond usefulness by the time she gave it up.  It was full of 19th century symbols: rivers, trees, trips, horses.  Mostly the advice was about “luck.”  Love was about luck.

If I remember a particularly vivid dream, I sometimes write it out into a short squib and file it in the computer.  There’s no particular message.  They’re usually like a YouTube video full of images and movement.  Once in a while, years later, I’ll run across a half-page, read it, and realize (make real) what it meant.  By then I’ve acted on it or maybe not.


I wonder why I write so little fiction, which is what women are supposed to be obsessed with, and I think it is because I’m more interested in how things work, where dreams come from and how the brain chooses the symbols as image instead of word.  If I can only consider less than ten “chunks” of idea at a time, where are the ones that got bumped off because there was no room to think about them?  Were they more meaningful than what I kept?  Can I call them back?
A culturally shared dream image




Thursday, March 26, 2015

BLOODLINE -- THE NETFLIX SERIES

Do NOT loan your boat to either of these men!

“Bloodline” is one of those long strings of story, thirteen fifty-minute episodes in this case, that Netflix is using as “fishing line.”  It has already been noted that this series (which hints that if it “sells” there might be a second year) was written by men, directed by men -- I’m not so sure it was edited by men.  They note that the Mcguffin is a girl who died, but it is because of the inadequacy and defiance of a boy trying to be a man.  The “sub-McGuffin” is a little seahorse necklace.  Of course, a seahorse is notable because it is the male that shepherds the children.

The series pivots on the Alpha male father who is played by Sam Shepard.  Sam is the Hollywood icon for troubled but powerful males who get locked into generational combat because of what might be that “warrior gene” people talk about -- a tendency to go to violence under pressure.  He should never have gotten his teeth fixed -- maybe he was in pain, but their snaggles and mismatches were potent indicators of childhood poverty and violence.  At least his hair still stands on end.  In this series he dies early as a necessary plot turn, but his presence lingers on, which is why they cast Sam.  

Sam Shepard with nice teeth.

His obverse is Sissy Spacek and it seems clear that the actors are old friends, comfortable with each other.  By now Sissy has aged enough that her slightly weird aspect can either lean to ladylike delicacy or back the other way to near-stroke-victim twisted mouth.  Still, the moment after the father is found dead and the mother is alone on the beach with him, stricken, is a powerful one.

So the four children have assigned roles.  These screenwriters read all kinds of psych stuff, which is circularly drawn from movie scripts, so we are not surprised that one is solid, a helper; one is slippery and volatile, the plot driver; one is a perpetual child; and the girl is a helper lawyer with VERY short skirts.  Wind it up, set it ticking, and the actual plot is predictable, so it is plot twists and character empathy that draw us along.  Of course, it’s great that the scenery is wonderfully tropical with those long pink dawns and impossibly tall cumulus clouds rising off the flat horizon.  I hope the cormorants got union scale.

The male reviewers feel that nothing happens until halfway through when the explosions, drugs, guns and fistfights mostly start.  There are burned and dismembered bodies early on, but they’re just a footnote.  Female.  Illegal immigrants, anyway, and significant only because their menfolks grieve.

Good Bro (cop), Bad Bro (hustler)

The central conviction, natural for screenwriters, is that families all lie to protect themselves.  Just as an individual has a “self story” that explains and justifies him or her self, a family has a larger story that idealizes what has happened and casts the family members in their roles.  For Americans the story is likely to be about “building something from nothing.”  A biggie here on the Montana prairie family stories of a century or so completely overshadow the millennia of nomadic indigenous culture.  There is NO hint of the original occupants of the Florida Keys.

So mostly the story is about picking apart the lies around the death of the sister and effect those lies have had on the siblings.  The most blameless person is supposed to be the mother (as usual) but she turns out to be the worst liar.  (We are not really surprised.)  Winding in and out are elements of law enforcement, but they are pretty sketchy and dubious.  This is not “Mr. Watson,” as Matthiessen explored.  Nature doesn't count.  Even though the oldest son is a deputy sheriff and the DEA, the FBI, and other patriarchal figures sort of drift through, there are no inquests, no arrests, no coroner’s reports.  Everyone drinks like a fish, but no one is alcoholic except one peripheral loser-mom trailer trash character.  Just another red herring, though her daughter seems to suss what’s going on.

The F-word gets big play as an indicator of pressure.  Otherwise, much of the dialogue is “What’s going on?” and just “What?”   These people have a big problem figuring things out or assimilating information when it’s given to them.  But then that’s a real life family problem a good share of the time.

Mama, liar and control freak.

Family secrets that are conscious and planned are not so toxic as the unacknowledged ones that are often due to unconscious omissions, suppression not so much as not wanting to think about it and therefore never talking about whatever it is.  Lost babies, crazy aunts, failures and addictions of one sort or another.  They’re like big boulders in the flow of life, making patterns and eddies that are never really resolved or understood.  Then they sink boats.  (The ones in this movie are set on fire.)  Speaking from experience, if you point out these forces, the reaction is likely to be attack and ostracism.  No one wants to talk about it except your shrink.

The great irony of real life is that as impersonal information has been accumulating through analysis of the flood of information and records that computers and the internet make accessible, we have turned out to have much more to hide than anyone dared to guess.  The statistics say that sexual abuse of children, rape both male and female, insanity, failure to maintain necessary medical regimes, forms of addiction -- all those things people have been hiding -- amount to one-in-six, thirty per cent, twenty per cent -- never quite hitting the halfway mark and never becoming majority numbers but just about defining the amount of dysfunction and damage a population can sustain without collapsing.  Even if one only accepts that two per cent of the population are sociopaths, that means that in this village of three or four hundred there are probably half-a-dozen of them.


Communities have their stories, too, and they enforce them through organizations and appearance.  Pretty houses, nice lawns, a few parks with amenities, and everyone can insist that the town is perfectly normal, safe, and admirable.  It’s too bad to have learned to recognize pathology and very ill-advised to bring it up in public.  The flying finger of fate will soon be pointed at the end of your nose.  (“Yer mamma wore combat boots!”)

Prosperity rules.  If wearing combat boots will make you rich, let’s head down to Army/Navy.  Forget church, make sure you force the teacher to give your kids good grades, and eat what you like.  Forget all that nagging.  The markers become more important than the actuality.  The green pieces of paper that only stand for value, become the value.


I’ve wandered off from my original plan for writing about “Bloodline.”  Why -- in a world so full of grief and betrayal -- are we able to coolly identify the problems in a television series, easily able to see where the characters go wrong, but when it comes to our own lives we can only ask “What’s going on?  or just WHAAAT??”




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SURVIVAL COMES BEFORE FEAR

Fantasy places -- but they have been built in the Philippines

You don’t know what you think you know.  In fact, you may not feel what you think you feel.  Contemporary research is challenging your very identity.  You may not be who you think you are or even what you are.  After all, consider the dark brain, which psychoanalysts think they know all about and build amazing fantasy castles giving everything names and roles.  Except they have no relationship to the parts and function of the brain and can only be partly reconciled.  

Consider the “chimera,” named for the mythical beast that is a composite animal: part lion, part eagle, part goat, but in fact an artifact of gestation in which twins begin but then one is absorbed by the other but not completely integrated, so that the subsumed twin develops into part of the body and the consuming twin develops all the rest.  When docs later go to establish inheritance, they are presented with two people crammed into one system.  The resulting person depends on which became what.
Baby Chimera: lion, goat, snake

In fact, human genetics are the accumulations of many creatures over many years, snips and snails and puppy dog tails.  A friend of mine had a lung infection that was very difficult to cure because the cells of the lungs are very much like the cells of the infecting fungus.  A knife-edge separated cure from kill.  In the end it turned out that the fungus came from feeding hay to his horses -- the fungus was in stored hay and was impossible to eliminate so his choice was his lungs or his horse.

Over the years in various ways I’ve come to prefer thinking about systems to thinking about unified mono-objects and to prefer thinking of them dynamically and in relationships.  This results in looking at common things in a sometimes uncomfortably disconcerting way.  Joe LeDoux is a scientist who sort of does this same thing.  He looks at “fear.”  Which we think of as an “emotion,” a “feeling”, a “cause” and so on.  He redefines it.  Now he calls it “defensive behavior,” something that is done, maybe reflexively and without any consciousness, that will tend to save your life.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  But creatures who had faulty “defensive behaviors” -- like fungi who landed where they couldn't grow -- got pruned out early.  The opportunists -- hey, nice warm damp lung tissue! --  did great.  Human beings still have those mechanisms and behaviors.

Carhenge

By now they are complex and entwined to the point where we can hardly get insight into ordinary situations.  The content and the means of untangling them are beyond most people.  It’s not a matter of smarts or even degrees. I follow two groups who are supposed to be learned.  One is people who are professional psychoanalysts and artists, highly certified and totally out of touch with reality.  They have spent days arguing over whether Carhenge (the old cars half-buried in the desert with their ends sticking up, emplaced in the same pattern as the big monoliths at Stonehenge) is really phallic symbols or not and whether people in Nebraska are smart enough to know that.

The other one is a “Beta” exchange as an adjunct to Aeon.com, an excellent online magazine that is half print essays and half video essays.  I’ve always like the essays much better than the essays.  In this other Q and A mode, both the questions and the answers are blind clichés from Ph.D. academics, all sitting around with their fingertips together and failing to open the horse’s mouth to count it’s teeth.  Very few women.  Some “brown” people from India, very thoughtful.  No one seems to have read any of the lively revisionist history, much less the momentous brain research that is completely changing our understanding of human beings.
Typewriter?  Must be an old story.

I just posted about Gazzaniga, so now I’m quoting from his collaborator.  (He was supposed to be a student but with G. they were all collaborators, esp. including the people who were being studied.  This is about Joe LaDoux, a Louisiana musician as well as a scientist.  “Gazzaniga developed his theory of consciousness as an interpreter of experience, a means by which we develop a self-story that we use to understand those motivations and actions that arise from non-conscious processes in our brain.”  (My emphasis.His main recent insight is that “fear” and “anxiety” as we consciously understand them are entirely separate brain systems from the kind of reflex emergency reaction that people have automatically when in immediate danger, without consciousness.

Talking about “working memory in consciousness” or the importance of attention being paid to achieve focus, may not sound all that different from psychoanalysis, but they can be demonstrated with experiments and instruments.  Joe says he agrees with “the general view that emphasizes the role of working memory as a gateway into consciousness, and I remain neutral about what happens next. My goal is not to solve the consciousness problem, but to understand how consciousness–whatever it may be–makes feelings possible. In my view, once information about the presence of a threat is directed to working memory the stage is set for a conscious feeling–an emotion such as fear–to occur. Working memory is not the same thing as consciousness, but in my opinion most of the conscious experiences we have depend on working memory.   (I began turning some of this print to red as a form of high-lighting.  Technically it is called “rubrics,” ruby red, to indicate importance, so I think I’ll just keep it.  But it’s strictly my idea of what’s important.) 

Yow!

What he’s trying to isolate in order to put it to the side is the conviction that fear is an emotion and that emotions are the same as feelings and that they can be argued down.  (“You have nothing to fear, except fear itself.”)  This is distinct from the deep cellular and molecular involuntary reaction meant to get a creature out of danger QUICKLY.  If you’re thinking about PTSD, you’re probably on the right track, except this reaction is the hard-wired first-cause of PTSD.  Joe calls them “survival circuits.”  They seem to be managed in the amygdala, a small organ in the top of the brain, or more accurately than can be traced so far, in parts of the amygdala.  (Joe has a music group called “The Amygdaloids.”


Three important concepts he mentions are:

“Reconsolidation:    It's possible to destabilize memories.  You can “open” them, add new information, then stabilize them again.

“Exposure Theory or Extinction:”  Getting used to snakes or heights, etc. by getting used to them.  (But stress will make it come back.)  Now we know how to dampen the bounce-back.

“Optigenetics:” Studying molecules that are tagged with lights.  Studying de-polarization of cells instead of shocks to rat feet.  Demonstrating learning plasticity -- old cells can learn new tricks under the right circumstances.

A "turned on" mouse.

Danger puts the nervous system of a creature into a “motive state” which means they learn deeply, unconsciously and almost ineradicably from what happens to them at that point.  But it might not have anything to do with emotions, so that a child raped by a parent might continue to love that parent.  The deeply hard-wired reaction is separate from the emotional feelings, which are in addition to the escape from terror.

My hypothesis . . .  is that the motive state is the collective response of the brain to survival circuit activation. Defensive responses thus contribute to defensive motive states rather than the other way around. The second question is whether the motive state itself contributes to conscious feelings by entering working memory, or whether working memory instead only has access to the individual neural components that constitute the motive state. The answer is not known at this point.

Survival hut

A defining characteristic of science is that every answer raises more questions.  But when it comes to Joe’s work (which is shared) there is no question that art and science can join.  Why isn't this joining welcomed and shared by psychiatrists and philosophers?



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MEDS COMPLIANCE ISSUES



MedPage is a daily (at least) subscription for doctors in an effort to keep them up to speed.  I subscribe.  Today’s blurbs included one on the management of diabetes.  http://www.medpagetoday.com/Endocrinology/Diabetes/50614

As with many other things, study of the condition becomes more specific, more detailed, more related to real world issues, which means the advice to docs is also changing.  High blood sugar is related to a zillion things.  This article mentions, for instance, the statistical fact that Asian people tend to have more visceral fat than other “races” and that it is visceral fat that is worrisome in terms of over-all health.  This is relevant here on the rez because Native Americans have an Asian basic foundational genome.  They don’t like to think about that.  (There are political issues, like the land-bridge theory of origin and WWII.)

Another new idea is that a program that effectively addresses whatever shows up as high blood sugar (not necessarily in direct relationship to insulin) should take into account the desires, abilities, and circumstances of the person -- not just their instrument readings.  This is highly relevant to all the chronic diseases now handled by frequent blood monitoring.  Researchers are universally finding that compliance is fulfilled in only 30% of cases.

I’ve been non-compliant this winter for a number of reasons.  What follows is the inevitable list, which is an accumulation of small forces that could easily, but gradually, kill me if I don’t take notice and then the right action.

1.  I’m over the first shock of being the only person in my family -- that I know of -- who has Diabetes II.  It doesn't appear to be inherited.


2.  I’m over the guilt of realizing I may have triggered diabetes II while trying to survive my nineties clerical job with coffee and brownies.  Could have been worse: alcohol.  Could have been better: exercise.  I was doc-hopping in those days (nineties).  NONE checked for diabetes.

3.  I’m over the brutal female doc here in Montana who went directly to threatening me with blindness and amputation and who is now out of medicine.  In fact, she was so outrageous that she provoked me into action.

4.  Part of it is that my first little glucose monitor was my buddy.  We learned together.  Then it was discontinued by the maker so I couldn’t get the necessary test strips.  My newer slick little machine, green and shiny as a beetle, always gave me high readings.  The strips were much more expensive.  I don’t like the way it sounds.  It has a lot of features I don’t understand and didn’t necessarily want.  In short, it is too techie for an old lady.  And those strips cost a dollar each.

Valier Clinic

5.  The little local clinic, a satellite of a county hospital of the sort that is wrestling with thinning populations and physician shortages (even more, plagued by accusations of bad ethics and negligent practices), began to send on the weekly clinic days “Physician Assistants” rather than traditional MD’s.  The PA’s are women, basically nurses, and differently normed.  They are more inclined to bully, too respectful of pharma-supplied checklists, and vulnerable to emotional dynamics.  We don’t like each other.  I don’t trust them.  Well, there was one I could believe.  She's gone.

6.  Most people are not very aware of the RAGING controversies over foods in general. They are easily hooked on dubious “diets.”  So my arrogance in reading med materials threw me into confusion over whom to trust.  As the people who seemed most persuasive presented evidence for the uniqueness of individuals and how their bodies handle food -- not all of them MD’s -- the contradictions, the assumptions of the different countries and cultures, and the constant commodifications -- made it all seem arbitrary anyway.  Confusing.  Possibly all of them wrong so far.  Today do this -- tomorrow do that.  Often contradictions.

7.  I live a solitary life.  A stringent diabetic diet -- NO sugar and as little additives as possible.  I don’t know anyone else in town who stays on this diet -- they seem to rely on meds, using insulin to compensate for sugar.   On the other hand, I don’t really know people here, so how do I know?  I don't "hang out."  The cafés and Senior Citizen meals are standard “American” meals that don’t meet my rules.  This is a great excuse for avoiding a lot of complaining, pig-headedness, and time-wasting.  (I SAID I was arrogant!)


8.  I don’t eat three meals a day.  I never sit at a table to eat.  (My tabletops are full of papers and books.)  I put the ingredients in a bowl (protein, carb, no sugars, no fruits but berries) and walk around eating unless reading or watching TV.  (Dangerous for a keyboard.)  I never have company, which is good because when I cook my way and put it on the plate in front of them, they are stricken.  (Microwaved veggies, steamed chicken breast.)

9.  Eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits is discouraged not by not liking them but by the inedibility of the store-supply.  Plastic tomatoes, dubious bagged lettuce, shriveled and bruised stuff from apples to parsnips in spite of genetic altering to make them stony (and tasteless).  There are not many choices in small stores that can’t afford to lose stock quickly, so depend upon frozen or canned food.  Carbs like crackers or chips are indestructible so there are always lots of them.  One whole aisle in the mom-and-pop store here is wine.

10.  As I age I become more fatalistic.  As I write with more sophistication and research, I become more resentful of anything else that takes time.  I write closer to my own key issues, which is a little like undergoing psychoanalysis and stirs up emotion from deeper, darker places which are sometimes connected to food.  How wonderful it was to go with the Scriver Studio crew up to Angie’s for "long johns"!  And it suddenly registers with me that when I was a child we were not eating that well.  Money must have been short and food was not my father’s priority since he wasn’t home.  My mother did the best she could and we didn't starve, but we sometimes had "Pioneer Night" which meant milk toast in front of the fireplace with a checkered tablecloth on the card table.


11.  I begin to realize that I’ve always been a person of considerable lassitude.  Unless there is a person or goal that pushes me, I’d rather surrender to inertia.  Esp. if it was my mother who pushed me because she thought I was fat and lazy.  Esp. if it was my father who took us on forced marches along forest paths in the belief that we were “hiking” which was a good thing.

12.  If you eat, even from only one bowl, there will be dishes to wash.  If you cook, bowls will be joined by pots and pans.  With the cats I solved this problem by feeding them off paper plates.  I like things I can eat from a can, but that means you don’t heat it in the microwave.  As counter-forces, I really like my dishes -- they're pretty -- and nonstick linings in pans are The Best.  But if I didn’t constantly use will-power, I’d be living on microwave popcorn which is bad food: carbs, plus oils, plus sugar, plus strange additives.  But you can eat it out of the bag.  


13.  The result of this experiment was at first subtle and then, over weeks, began to mean upset stomach, headache, fuzzy thought and even a little depression which for me turns to short-temper.  Also, clumsiness -- things dropped, packages that are hard to open, difficulty in getting lids back on jars, misplaced basics, and even gaps in consciousness.  Sleeplessness.  I thought it was aging, until recently I went back on my proper routine and recovered previous competence.

14.  The “experts” in all the fields including medical study will talk about “choices” and “lifepaths” and so on, but the truth for most of us is that we must live out what we meet by using what we have and for some people that means living through the night, much less the day.  Maybe living even when you don’t really much want to live.

This little fellow has far more meds to take daily than I do.
And they are nastier.

It might surprise you to know -- and will surprise THEM even more -- to know that my role models and inspiration are at-risk boys with HIV (among other problems).  They are very brave.

Monday, March 23, 2015

TWO-BRAIN THEORY IS ONLY THE BEGINNING

Mike Gazzaniga

There are a number of ways to study the human brain.  A list might include autopsies, animal studies (both surgical and behavioral), the big technical machines that can send information-detecting waves through bone, biopsies of removed tissues, medicines, stimulus/response studies, interviews, and so on.  Michael Gazzaniga has specialized in studies of people who have had their corpus callosum severed, usually in attempts to eliminate or lessen the electrochemical storms we call epilepsy.  The brain is in two halves, like the meat of a walnut, with a big connector bundle of axons between the two.  Cutting it does’t kill the patient but it changes the brain’s thinking strategies.

(“So this guy is a brain surgeon?  They’re really smart.”)  Nonononono.  He’s a Ph.D.  Totally different.  He never did any cutting himself, only worked with the patients afterwards to see how their thinking changed.  It turns out that the brain, like the body, is bilateral, but more than that, each half specializes, one side noticing and managing different sorts of things than the other.  (“Oh, I heard about that.  One side is male and one side is female!”) Nononononono.  (“Well, one can read and talk and the other side can’t.”)  Closer, but still not there.  (“Then the heck with you.  It’s too hard to understand.”)


Now you’re really almost there. But the main thing that Gazzaniga uncovered was not just that the two halves of the brain each specialize in their own way of interpreting sensory information and producing responses, but that finally it turns out that there are thousands of small functions performed by the brain by interacting, timing, sequencing, filtering -- some of them so old that a flatworm does it (movement, digestion) and some of them so recent that only certain people can do it after they have reached a certain level of development.  (Empathy.) 

I’ve learned that I can understand complex technical material better if I read the stories of the people who have developed it.  This is a basic human learning strategy.  Gazzaniga’s story is as much an exploration of the way society learns as the content of the studies.  Since he is a great big hearty guy who believes in family, good food, a certain amount of chemical lubrication in the form of refined alcohol, gracious houses, and elegant resorts where people let down their guard -- all without losing the focus of inquiry and without shutting out challengers.  He knows how to network and where to find money.  VERY useful and oddly inspiring information.

"Tales from Both Sides of the Brain"
by Michael Gazzaniga

The story begins with the realization that when people had surgically split brains, and if they had a card or divider edgewise in front of their noses so that their eyes were seeing separate things, one side (the eye cross-connected -- as eyes are -- to the side of the brain where words are located, one of the functions that’s NOT bilateral naturally) will see and recognize printed words and the other side will recognize objects, whether a geometric shape or an animal or thing.  One side will not KNOW what the other one is seeing.  Through the book, which is chronological and therefore means the insights develop over time, the story becomes ever more complex.

An artist's interpretation of the two sides of the brain.

The names of the split brain people are initials to semi-protect their identities, but with Gazzaniga running things they were soon celebrating birthday parties together and establishing life-long relationships.  His wives and children were as involved and productive as every other category of people.  In such an environment people work with joy and inspiration.

Mostly what they were doing was devising little puzzles that would get the brain to reveal what it can do or even how.  They were like magician’s tricks, where attention is diverted or something unsuspected is going on.  The brains were always inventing workarounds or figuring out ways to pass cues from one side of the brain to the other.  It LEARNED -- one experimenter taught gorilla “sign talk” to the unspeaking side of the brain. 

Two entirely separate "persons"

Forever looking for new angles, Gazzinaga considered the scary and hardly known phenomena of conjoined twins who had two whole heads, not just a split brain!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiDCu83iJ1g  The Hansel twins have two separate heads but each controls half of the rest of the body except that they share viscera so cannot be separated without killing them or at least one of them.  Whatever happens at the visceral level, like mood or an upset stomach, is shared by both.  Everyone wonders about sex, but I wonder more about love.  Is it in the brain or in the guts?  My guess would be both.

Normally such people don’t live long, much less to adulthood, but these women have each earned a bachelor’s degree and a driver’s license.  They have learned how to coordinate their movements and sort of how to “read each other’s minds” in the way that Gazzinaga describes as like “old married people finishing each other’s sentences.”  Split-brain people get to be a little like that so that after years pass, the differences between the two sides are reduced.


Two artists' interpretations of the two halves of the brain.

The book carefully describes the experiments, what prompted them, and what they revealed, sometimes something unexpected that no one had ever wondered about but that opened a whole new realm of brain questions.  Often the answers are not at all dyadic -- not This or That -- but rather Both/And.  Philosophers are forever trying to reduce matters to only two alternatives, but the strategy of the mind is clearly not merely two-sided at all, even with a drastic division.  The recurrent metaphor is symphonic music, multiple but based on a group of cooperating individuals operating dynamically over time.  

When the experiment was about cognitive dissonance, he came up with the idea of the “interpreter”.  If one eye/brain saw one thing and the other eye/brain saw something else -- like a nude woman (eeks!), the person would explain their reaction -- which might be laughter -- by making up a little story.  The descriptions are in the book.

Sarah Ioannides, symphony conductor

By now this idea of a part of the brain that could reconcile two incongruous things, the “interpreter”, has become the theory of an “operating platform” where all the information gathered and processed by the rest of the brain would be winnowed and reconciled.  The notion of a big central nexus was soon joined by the theory that each of the senses (which are far more than five, which is only the number of obvious sense organs -- nose, ears, eyes) has its own filtering editor.  

Two major human assumptions -- that we are identities who are permanent, unified, and consistent; and that what we believe we are perceiving is actually “real,” the “truth” -- have been blown out of the water.  They simply are not “true” in the sense of inalterable facts, which is a great irony that is messing up our justice system, our relationships, our management of our lives, and just about everything else but the arts, which has welcomed these falling walls with excitement and vivid creations.   

An inflatable conductor borrowed from a tire store.

Split brain research has been followed by beguiling researchers like Joe LeDoux (concentration on fear and anxiety) and Antonio Damasio (the puzzle of consciousness).  Almost always the things we thought were "one" turn out to be complex interactions, some of them adapted from pre-existing abilities and sometimes by newly mutated abilities.  Stayed tuned!  There's bound to be a lot more!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

IT WAS BETTER IN THE OLD DAYS! NOT!!

Jeri Show, myself, Candi Henkel    Early Sixties

On the first day of school in Browning, MT, about 1962, Gail Hoyt showed up in my high school English class.  Looking me over with my bright red hair and zany schtick, she sighed,  “Oh, I WOULD get a recycled Lucille Ball for an English teacher!”  From then on, she seemed to feel a special connection to me.  It was partly because she spent her early years on one side of the duplex house where Bob Scriver and his second wife, Jeanette, lived.  Gail was barely a toddler, but Jeanette taught her French and was a close friend of her mother.  

In fact, Gail followed in the footsteps I was making at that time by becoming a teacher of English, music and art.  She’s about ready for retirement now.  Yesterday she and her mother took me out for “tea” (they have English roots) at the Panther and we had a high old time talking about the past and telling funny stories about people who have long ago “gone on ahead” over the horizon that is Death.

Gail in her rodeo days

A theme came up that provoked me because I’m hearing it repeatedly.  It is “Oh, Browning was so much better in the Sixties.  We were safe and peaceful.” So I’m going to deconstruct that idea a bit.  It’s not “wrong” in experienced terms, but it IS much distorted by the fact that women and children were protected then.  Over the half-century we were talking about the terms of the rez have changed.  In some instances it is the women and children who have become the protectors.

When I threw in with Bob Scriver, he was just starting a taxidermy and trinket business made possible by the opening of the Al-Can highway, which brought a steady stream of tourists and hunters past the front door on Highway 89.  As an extra income, he was the Justice of the Peace and the City Magistrate.  The role of City Magistrate is gone now, because in those days Browning was governed as an “island of jurisdiction” on the reservation, like a kind of embassy.  It was understood to be a bit of the state of Montana, a reservation inside a federal reservation.  That was foreclosed in the Sixties.

Myself -- early Sixties

After WWII many damaged men had returned and the world economy was in chaos.  The babies boomed.  (There was no "pill," abortion was illegal.)  Petty crime -- mostly theft and drunkenness -- was high, beyond the resources of the tribal police, so the Browning businesses formed their own police with its own magistrate.  Since I left teaching to be with Bob, I acted as the informal bailiff when the chief of the city police brought up the dirty dozen drunks of the day to be sentenced.  “Stand in a line, keep your hands in your pockets and don’t talk.”   They were more obedient than high school students. If the charge were more serious -- maybe even murder -- Bob was also the Justice of the Peace where the sequence of justice began.  I came to know the folks we now see as “street people,” but in those days they weren’t on the street except for a few who had a kind of walking compulsion, around and around the blocks.  There were plenty of little shacks and cabins where people holed up.  But then the government built housing projects and pulled down the shanties.  

I suspect that in terms of percentage -- rather than raw numbers -- there were about as many then as there are now hanging out in front of Ick’s where everyone can see their quarreling.   (In my time this was Joe Lewis' cafe.  It was Joe who commissioned Al Racine to paint on the wall Napi eating a short stack.) There are just a lot more people on the rez now.  And those drunks were often ranch-raised by grandparents, so they had acquired rough skills.  When sober, they might be good workers.  Today's drunks might not have been raised by anyone.

Ick's Place

In those early days Browning was the Bakken of its time.  The oil boom fueled Browning business so that there was a jewelry store (the part above painted black), two drug stores, two building materials yards, several gas stations, and so on.  All owned and run by white people.  The Government Square, where people were either BIA employees or IHS nurses and docs, were all white people until finally -- after the oil money left -- Indian Preference was a law passed at the federal level.  (Not necessarily Blackfeet.)

By that time the aging white men who had started town businesses wanted to leave, but they wouldn’t sell to Indians -- they had no capital and no credit anyway -- and their children went elsewhere as soon as they could, often to college.  The whole Highline was being “run to failure” -- meaning inventories sold out and then the door was locked, the property sacrificed to taxes -- but at the same time the malls (which would eventually transition to Big Box stores) started sucking all the business down to Great Falls.
Almost overnight the white people were replaced by enrolled people with much less experience, facing far different times.  It was a pretty steep learning curve.  Those with strong families -- as has been true since the ancient times when “families” were at the core of bands -- could support each other through the difficulties.  One way they did that was to siphon off the political federal money and the cynical industrial money from the resource developers -- those resources including access to Marias Pass, oil, and space for grain, beef, and Air Force training.  And the water, of course.  Family comes first is a survival rule.

White veterans who married enrolled Blackfeet women began to ranch on the woman’s allotment, a practice reaching back to the first British Empire trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and produced a new kind of Metis.  Today’s leaders come from that mix when the best of the whites mixed with the best of the tribal people.  The worst-and-the-worst also mixed but maybe didn’t legalize and certainly didn’t accumulate wealth.  Still, some of them had such strong survivor genes and drive that in the end they did well.  Others simply died young, erased.  I’m telling you this because I could name names and so could Gail.

Al Swearingen

While my friends noted the dress shops, the hotels, and the cafes, I reminded them of the bars they had conveniently forgotten, all gone now.  The Napi was probably the worst -- I don’t even know who owned it, but slumming adventurers and ignorant tough guys simply disappeared there.  Sometimes bodies were found, but no one investigated much.  Now “Napi” refers to the school and the building has been razed.  Same for Minyards where Johnnie Minyard lounged in the front door, rolling a toothpick in his teeth and undressing with his eyes any woman who passed by.  He sold booze to kids out the back door, even the sons of the white rez agent.  A gambling table was always running.  It was Deadwood.  He was “Al Swearengen.”   The best bar was the "Businessman's Club, where you had to be buzzed in.  It wasn't about race -- it was about class.

Don’t even ask about trafficking.  No one bothered to prosecute so they never turned up in Bob’s informal court, which was often held in the parking lot with the pickup hood for a trial bench.  Women arrived at all hours of the day or night to bail out the menfolks who had been arrested for beating them half to death, so recently that the men were still drunk and the women were still bleeding.  Sometimes there was no paper but a torn-off piece of brown paper sack and no pencil but a .22 bullet -- always one rolling around somewhere.  Bob balanced the numbered tickets monthly, innovations he had created when handed the first equipment: a shoebox of loose tickets and cash, but he ended up tearing his hair out while sorting the notes.  No one wrote checks; there was no such thing as credit cards.

I don't know who these kids were.  They'd be in their fifties now.

A child who was abused was avenged by his or her family -- if it weren’t the family that imposed the abuse --  and if anyone even found out about it among the kids who were near-feral, sleeping where they could, eating mostly at school.  Kind people took them in, but they were too wild to stay.

I will admit that when the biggest drug was alcohol, things were different from today’s drug culture, but I want to point out that the drug trail, the modern equivalent of the “Whoop Up” whisky traders, leads to Missoula, which is also the source of disruptive, rebellious politics, never quite resolved into progress.  Much of the rhetoric in front of Ick’s echoes post-colonial Algerian deconstructionists.

The reference is to rape drugs.  Krakauer will reveal all soon.

It wasn’t that things were better then but that the nice people of the town simply never knew what was really going on except for a few of the menfolks.  This was great for those who throve on blackmail, extortion, loan-sharking and other aspects of the brisk trade in secrets.  I’m not saying none of that happens now, but in those days I was positioned to know about it while being protected by my association with Bob.  It wasn’t a privilege, but more of a burden.  And it was racist.   This should be a "book" but it shouldn’t be by a white person.  All I can do is point at the strange entries in the journals before all the record ledgers are painted over by colorful revisionists.

"Budweiser killed more Indians than Custer" 
by Duane Wilcox, Oglalla Sioux


Saturday, March 21, 2015

FIRST SUNDAY IN OFFICIAL SPRING

It's another gray spring day on the high prairie with bursts of cyclone-level wind, and I spent my day comfortably tucked up reading Michael Gazzaniga's memoir "Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience" -- once again regretting that Yellowstone Public Radio has displaced the traditional Saturday opera to Sunday night.  

Then company turned up on their way home to Browning after  visiting the Russell Auction art displays now scattered all over Great Falls.  They had wanted to see Jackie Bread Larson's beadwork, which is pretty remarkable.  She's noted for creating portraits with beads.

The beadwork of Jackie Bread Larson.

We spent at least an hour gossiping about the old days and telling funny stories, going back before I even arrived in Browning in 1961.  But the conversation had its dark side since so many people have "gone on ahead."  

In fact, sorting old papers has already stirred up both laughter and tears whilst sitting on the floor at home with cats getting in the way.  It was nice to be with humans who could share.

But it meant not writing anything.  Anyway, I'm getting a little peeved with ideas.aeon.com where everyone posts their opinions which remain unchanged by anyone else's opinions.  The founders had hoped for some major breakthrough -- insights.  NOT.

So here's my thumb in the eye of pretentious people and that includes myself.  NO POST today.  I'll be back Sunday night, 10 PM Mtn Whatsis Time.

PS:  This split-brain stuff as presented by the popular press has NOTHING to do with the actual research, which reveals that "two sides" are only the beginning of the complexity.

Gazzaniga

Mike's a believer in excellent colleagues, fine food, and family.  A little cramped by a stingy administrator who refused to authorize more than $25 per person for working dinners in New York City, by doing a bit of reframing (adding a few imaginary people), he managed to pick up  the bill in the style to which international scientists respond.  The administrator signed off on everything and didn't figure it out until a year or so later when he tried to use the meal allowance and was ruled overoptimistic.  By that time, Mike had gone on.

Keep calm and keep moving.