Tuesday, June 17, 2014


bush meat

A little story from some worker in Africa trying to hold back the tide of AIDS where the people live in primitive huts and resort to bush meat (whatever protein can be opportunistically killed, from bats to gorillas.  The main kind of HIV in the US is from eating chimps.)  He said their behavior was obviously short-term survival-based.   That is, eat what you can or starve.  Long-term survival, as is supplied by analysis and prevention, is to them a fantasy, as is the whole concept of a “virus.”  They don’t even know about “cells” since no one has a microscope.

At the other end of the scale, well-employed healthy urban people with HIV spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to counteract side effects like fat buildup.  (Also to stay alive -- the core if expensive treatment is still survival-based.)  Families still throw out sons defined as gay so that not only is the boy untested, untreated, desperate for relationship, living on survival-based terms which means selling bodily contact and having little or no access to cleanliness, therefore vulnerable to opportunistic microbes -- just the ordinary stuff we wash off our hands -- but HIV means no immunity to anything.  Maybe immune to hope.

Thinking about HIV as a disease (it's really a complex of diseases and social problems) is all very dramatic and emotional.  Another insidious killer is diabetes with rates that go up all the time, affecting younger and younger people down to children.  The practical treatment means at least changing diet, but our culture has this peculiar flirtation with food.  On the one hand it means love and fitting in and rewards.  "I baked this cake just for you!"  On the other hand people on diets are teased, subverted, tempted, and mocked by the people around them.  “Just this one time have a cookie!  I won’t tell on you.  Live a little.”  In other words, we treat food very much the same as we treat illicit sex.  Or alcohol or tobacco.  

I do my thinking on the boundary between fancy science and small town errands.  (Early morning and I've already made three stops: “Cat stars” at the feed store, kitty litter at the grocery store, winter comforter newly cleaned from the meat store. No bush meat.  Just local cows.  (They’re the drop-off for the cleaners which is in Great Falls.)  

Then I looked at my email:

Environmental crisis is simultaneously and inseparably material and cultural, destructive and revolutionary. Besides complicating and endangering relationships between humans and other beings, it transforms human identities, communities and nations in unpredictable ways. Old distinctions between nature and culture are being eroded; new values, genres and media are emerging that respond to the crisis with mourning, scepticism, dismay, resourcefulness or ironic resignation. Environmental Cultures reflects the belief that cultural criticism can help avert, resolve, mitigate or at least comprehend ecological problems. It will publish ambitious, innovative literary ecocriticism and interdisciplinary, transnational and pedagogical scholarship on both traditional and digital media. The series will encourage reflexive theoretical critique and searching exploration of anti-environmentalist cultural forms as well as sophisticated literary analysis.  We seek book proposals on any topic in this field.

My suspicion is that they won’t accept anything from outside the usual circle of "experts" and that they wouldn’t recognize truly “innovative literary ecocriticism” even if they accidentally sat on it.  The one time I managed to get past the academic theory gatekeepers, on feminist grounds, the women editors were afraid to publish what I wrote.  (It was about boys with HIV.)  No one in Valier reads such books anyway -- not even me.

This morning my first surprise (before errands) was that Squibbie is shedding, which she addresses by gorging, waiting a while, and then vomiting up the food plus the fur she’s swallowed.  So this time, while I was still asleep, she didn’t make it off her window perch in time and upchucked on the keyboard of the computer.  Luckily, after I had worked for an hour at 3AM, I had remembered to replace the plastic cover.  No damage.  Keyboard cover easy to hold under the sink faucet.

Yesterday was Sunday, Father’s Day, so the town was quiet and I thought I’d sneak a nice 3PM nap.  First interruption was a pair of mismatched young missionaries: a big fat guy and a cute little girl with glasses.  This time I didn’t explain all about me but just told them to leave.  They tried praising the peonies to start a conversation but it didn’t work.  I used to try that trick in my animal control days.

The second interruptor was a dapper little old man, clearly a High Line businessman with an exaggerated sense of his own importance.  English tweed driving cap, hand-knit sweater-vest, swagger.  Claimed he knew Bob Scriver.  Wanted me to write a book about some friend of his -- not for money, but because he and his friend were so significant and they think old ladies who write books in small towns are fascinated by the minutia of guys like him.  When that idea didn’t fly -- I get grumpy when I’m napping -- he said he had a photo of Bob conducting a band in Havre or Malta about 1950.  Highly valuable, he thought.  He was the equivalent of the guys living in mud huts and eating bush meat -- the only world he knew was a little circle from his youth.  He doesn’t give a rip about HIV or diabetes.  Maybe Viagra.

How would it ever be possible to enlighten such a tight-assed, clench-minded little man?    In truth he’s not that different from the “scholars” soliciting what they call “books,” though they won’t be bound as codexes or marketed in bookstores.  Just x's and o's in an archive.  "The series will encourage reflexive theoretical critique and searching exploration of anti-environmentalist cultural forms."   Translated, this is the same old politics of resentment: let’s criticize our critics.  The Hermeneutics of Suspicion.  The little man at the door quite possibly owns oil wells, votes down regulations, and scoffs at global climate change.  He has more local power than any salary-dependent scholar sitting at a table with other highfalutin' folks with degrees.  

The paper mono-focus microscope.  Comes printed and requires a bit of assembly.


Looping back to the beginning, which is my practice, the story that gives me hope is the one on TED -- NOT a book, but a vid demo.  (Linked above.)  This guy invented a paper microscope that is nearly indestructible but so cheap that it’s discardable, almost weightless, but revelatory enough that once those bush meat eaters look at the microbes and parasites, they don’t forget.  

During my brief career as a ward clerk for a nursing home, the bully of a sanitation monitor forced us all to undergo a hand-washing exercise.  An invisible dye was squirted on our hands and then, after we washed in what we thought was an adequate way, a special light showed that there was plenty of residue left.  She wanted us to know how inadequate we were.  The real problem wasn’t our motivation: it was that there was not enough time to do everything, supplies weren’t always there, turnover was high, and we were tied to a computer system that no one understood. Social management issues.

The bottom line is not isolating one cause, one wicked perp, but always coming back to systems, esp. those that humans inhabit and reinforce.  Small inventions have major consequences.  IF people have the awareness, tools, time and motivation.  It would help if there were fewer of us or at least if we were better distributed.  Where’s the pocket paper instrument for that?

It’s called a cell phone.  Internet access.  A cure for xenophobia.  So much depends upon things as small as replacing the keyboard cover at 3AM.

Welcome to the world, kid!

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