Friday, February 28, 2014

IS DEMOCRACY OVER?

"Downton Abbey"

Since this is the big Oscar weekend, I’ve been sort of sporadically thinking about movies -- not who should win the prizes, but what the movies tell us.  As a nation we take our cues from them far more than we do from sermons on Sunday.  What do I get from watching “Downton Abbey” and “House of Cards” concurrently?  Because that’s what I did these past weeks, actually picking up episodes of “DA” right after watching “HofC”.  

"House of Cards"

Both are coming to me on the Internet, not on disc or through the big TV networks.  Both are about an elite in power that wants to stay in power, but is often revealed as foolish.  Both explore the “character” of the main politicians, their supports, and their opposition.  Both originated in Great Britain at the BBC.  “DA” is a conscious portrait of idealistic people of whom we want to approve.  It’s a defense of the wealthy, suggesting that they take care of “their people” and their land.  “HofC” is a conscious portrait of the degeneration of leaders and the energy of opportunists.   The original was BBC.  Put through an American filter, it is even more sharp-edged.

Now I'm going to recommend an article.  It’s lazy of me to simply link to the Economist description but otherwise this post would  be very long.  For those who want details about the publication's founding and ownership, which I think is important, here you go.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economist   Generally, it has escaped scandal and earned respect for intelligence.   They describe themselves this way:  it aims "to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress."  That suits me.  Therefore, I take it seriously.  I was looking for an article like this one:


At night I turn my computer entirely off -- like, unplug the electricity.  This is partly because the cat walks across it and in spite of the plastic cover on the keyboard, can otherwise turn it on, and partly because I discovered that my computer was having secret conversations in the night if it were set only on “sleep.”  Silicon pillow talk.  But a few mornings ago I was disconcerted to discover that Yahoo had somehow managed to get access to my OS and had changed my preference for starting searches from a blank page to the Yahoo search page.  It took me a while to realize I had to go into preferences to change back.

Edward Snowden

That would be minor, merely irritating, except for this story:
http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2014/02/internet-snooping    There are no compromising pics of me on the Internet except a rear shot my father took when I was three.  I suppose someone might be “turned on” by it, though I was interested to be told that face recognition software, which looks for skin tones, is often confused by people’s butts.

"The Jewel in the Crown"

There was a third movie series I was watching during this time period:  “The Jewel in the Crown,” another BBC production that I got on disc from Netflix.  As you can see, I’ve been thinking a lot about government, both from outside and from inside.  The interest comes directly from worrying about the confused fates of the Blackfeet Tribe and the Town of Valier, each of which has managed to reach deadlock exactly like the US government.  They are polarized, xenophobic, worried about their incomes, much richer than they think, and determined to get control since they interpret domination as the only safety.

This is the honorary Blackfeet elders group -- quite blameless, I think.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided to stay clear and the legal groundwork for that is in place.  “You want sovereignty?  We’ll give you sovereignty!”  There are people in Valier determined to go the other way:  “Let’s unincorporate.  This town is irreparably broken.”  Part of the problem is that the state has been dictating (for our own good) higher and higher (more and more expensive) improvements to our infrastructure all the while that the population is shrinking.  Valier had thought it was an island of jurisdiction.  They refuse the requirements of the state. 
  
The just previous town council of Valier

And, with a bow to Gandhi and Nehru, racism confuses everything.  As a white woman with a long history in Browning, I get hit from both sides: a double allegiance.  As a person with a fancy degree, largely achieved by support from private endowments in a denomination and a major university, I feel obligated to "pay back" by using what I know in a practical and contributing way.  That does NOT mean becoming mayor or pamphleteering on the rez.  Much of what it means is to keep thinking and researching.  I'm not making much progress.

I agree with the Economist authors that democracy is in big trouble.I was raised to believe in co-ops.  As a former Unitarian Universalist I believe in principles.  (I try NEVER to drop the Universalist part of the name because it resists elitism and that insidious old idea that only a few are chosen, a cornerstone of Abramic religions.)  As a student of theatre and the arts and as an emergency responder, I know that the media is capable of evil.

Jonathan Swift invented the race of Yahoos.  

The state of Montana is offering communities an opportunity to do a self-study.  They are expensive.  The last time we had one here, the questionnaire sent around was jiggered to ensure people didn’t make trouble.  No one really wants to know.  What we want to know is what the neighbors are sending around on Yahoo and whether their butts are better or worse looking than theirs when they’re uncovered.  Who is the State of Montana to judge?

Both of these communities in question have high levels of alcoholism, if not in the our present voters, then probably in their parents and back farther.  People have kicked substance abuse more than anyone would have predicted, but there are counter forces, the kind of people who, knowing you are diabetic, pressure you to have more pie.  They find their fat friends reassuringly familiar.  They'd like to have your butt on the bar stool next to them.   Regardless of what alcohol and sugar do to your innards, the real damage to society is not the money for your care as you deteriorate, but the constant insistence on secrecy, punishment, stigmatizing, and generally maintaining the status quo at whatever cost.

Montana is one of the few states where a citizen cannot receive Public Broadcasting except through cable or on the Blackfeet reservation where it is rebroadcast through the air.  Discovering that it was available online was wonderful.  President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act into law on November 7, 1967.   He said,  "It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.' We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit. That is the purpose of this act.”


So who pays for me to watch “Downton Abbey” on my computer?  Not the government.  VERY fancy high-end ads from a haute couture designer and a cruise ship company.  There you go.  Why have a democracy when a plutocracy is so much more fun?  If 1% of people are very very rich, which 4 people out of the Valier population of 400 have a LOT of money?  I could name a few.  Of the 8,000 Blackfeet living on the rez (8,000 live somewhere else) who are the 800 who have a LOT of money?  Many nominations.  But so what?  Are you going to burn them out?  Run them off?   India did that to get rid of the colonizers, so they could have a compassionate effective democracy.  How are they doing today?  Or should I start watching “Game of Thrones?”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

THE WINDS OF CHANGE


Very often we can see the jetstream from here.  Because it's eastbound it boosts an airliner’s speed and fuel use, so we often sight or hear jet planes or notice their vapor trails.  The jet stream in that way is like a current of water full of fish who like where it takes them.  More usually it’s the cloud patterns that reveal what’s happening way up there, like the constant formation of bulging cloud storm shelves building up against the west side of the Rockies where moisture-laden clouds are waiting until they dry out enough to cross over.  And then when they come, we see the familiar “Chinook arch” where high wind is pushing eastside clouds in the middle.


At the Oregon coast, which my family used to prowl in the post WWII years, the Japanese current brought whatever was floating on their coast over to our coast.  We looked for the blue-green glass fishing floats that washed up.  No one does that now: the floats are just plastic.  But we had to be careful then because the Japanese -- in an enemy mode -- sent over fire bombs both by the ocean current and by the air current that followed it.  Now we’re told that Chinese industrial pollutions are raining on us from those air currents.   We muse over the studies of cargos of sneakers and rubber duckies from capsized ships that show where the currents go. 

So the air is moving, the water is moving, and we are also more aware now that the earth is moving, because the melting of polar ice shifts massive weight off of land masses as big as Greenland, which then rise since they themselves are floating on the tectonic plates which are very slowly slipping around on the molten interior of the planet.  It all comes from the spinning and from the solar impact of heat.  It’s three-dimensional chess with living pawns.  They call it “dynamical meteorology” and you can google-up moving maps of air movements because of our satellite systems watching from above them.  Weathermen are just local “dynamical meteorologists.”  They play three-dimensional chess, but without any control, only the hope of detecting patterns -- which is the essence of chess.

I didn’t know until I started researching this morning that the other planets also have jet streams, but that makes sense since they spin, the sun energy hits them, and they have fluid jackets.  The currents on Jupiter are what make those stripes.  Wind currents and water currents are just another element of existence that is always moving but humans can both capitalize on that and resent that.  It’s great to have a strong wind at my back when I’m coming home from the post office, but only the bait of incoming used books keeps me going there when facing the same wind.

The ice skating cleric

Part of my childhood lore was about the “Little Ice Age” that caused the Willamette River to freeze over thickly enough for my great-grandfather to cross it with a wagon and horses.  Formally, the Little Ice Age itself pulsed, driving history as people tried to cope.  There’s a term for that, too: “eco-refugees,” people displaced by local climate change.  Until now, it was a European preoccupation, but today we look at the whole planet and realize our extremely low temps in North America are mirrored by extremely high ones (meaning uncontrollable fires) in Australia where it is summer.

For this reason, any of several dates ranging over 400 years may indicate the beginning of the Little Ice Age:
  • 1250 for when Atlantic pack ice began to grow
  • 1275 to 1300 based on radiocarbon dating of plants killed by glaciation
  • 1300 for when warm summers stopped being dependable in Northern Europe
  • 1315 for the rains and Great Famine of 1315–1317
  • 1550 for theorized beginning of worldwide glacial expansion
  • 1650 for the first climatic minimum.   The Little Ice Age ended in the latter half of the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth century.
Little Ice Age Fruit of the Loom

Some of the human adaptations show up in small material culture inventions.
Antonio Stradivari, the famous violin maker, produced his instruments during the Little Ice Age. The colder climate is proposed to have caused the wood used in his violins to be denser than in warmer periods, contributing to the tone of Stradivari's instruments.  According to the science historian James Burke the period inspired such innovations in everyday life as the widespread use of buttons and button holes, knitting of custom-made undergarments to better cover and insulate the human body, and installation of fireplace hoods to make more efficient use of fires for indoor heating, as well as the development of the enclosed stove, in early versions often covered with ceramic tiles.

My favorite innovations in the present cold winter are manufactured fleece, down-like microfiber, and electrically heated beds.  Piped heating gas is also a winner.  But those all depend upon infrastructures of manufacture and delivery, which depend upon human cooperation.  When one looks at history, the result of severe climate change of any kind means loss of food, which means famine, which means extreme population loss (up to 60% in some times and places), which means political consequences ranging from riots to despots.  Volcanoes get into it by blocking the sun or raining toxic dust on everything the wind visits.  And then there is water.  Ocean currents control fisheries and shipping, but also have a strong impact on weather, for instance the El Nino phenomenon. 


Human populations -- both in numbers and kinds -- interact constantly with the pulsations and fluctuations and swings of weather temps and turbulence.  We all know about the greenhouse effect now.  Some obsess about loss of forest, esp. the broad expanses like the northern boreal trees or the tropical jungles.  Scientists have become more and more ingenious at finding evidence and drawing conclusions about what has happened in the past.  But we still aren’t keeping up with the permutations of human beings, who should probably change more than they do.

It’s suggested that the Black Death that reduced the population of Europe by one-third was a partial cause for climate cooling because the big timber forests grew back a long time (later supplying hulls and masts for sea-going ships).  The removal of so much water from the ocean because of the respiration of trees and thickening ice, made the oceans more salty, which affected the thermohaline circulation of the oceanic conveyor belt currents, the jet streams of the sea that those ships rode across the Atlantic.  In short, bacteria on marmot fleas carried by black rats along the Silk Road to Europe were the ultimate cause of the Native Americans being pushed aside by Europeans.  Everything is connected.

The point of families, tribes, nations, and the other generational sequences of human beings is in part the preservation of knowledge that the previous peoples have accumulated.  But it can also be an engine of change when the younger generation rebels.  Families try to preserve themselves in spite of the tragedies and boom times and dispersals by instilling pride and telling stories and trying hard to form behavior.  But the future always escapes through the young, infusing the genome/culturome with promise and experiments so that it adapts to new conditions, invents strategy previously unknown. 

This is a flight of bats, a key part of ecology that is threatened by the heat wave and conflagrations in Australia.

These are baby flying foxes, the biggest kind of bats, who have been overcome by heat and fallen out of the trees where they sleep and nurse.  People have gathered them up, wrapped them in dust cloths to control them, and will now feed them with eye droppers.

The inventions of the computer and the internet are the kind of particulate -- folks say “granular” now -- accumulation of knowledge that changes the culture which in turn changes the land, air, and water across the planet.  Sometimes the effects are only local and sometimes things suddenly tip and everything changes.  Human populations have been growing and moving, perturbing everything, inventing new molecules.  A new “religion” is growing, the remnants of the old ones still urging migration (we’re looking for planets instead of heaven, building rockets instead of arks) -- which used to work -- while the edges of the new ones plead for reform using modern knowledge.  In the meantime, individuals must do what they can.





Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THE REZ IN WINTER


The rez in winter is both glorious and terrifying -- and boring as hell, as in hell frozen over.  No place to go worth getting stuck in the snow or going into the ditch.   Exhibit A comes from Tony Bynum’s photo array of his hometown, East Glacier, where I lived for a couple of years (1971-73) in a big wrecked house.  Corky’s dad rescued me from hypothermia by daring a blizzard to install a wall furnace.  My van disappeared into a snow bank.  In April I paid a backhoe to dig it out.  Tony is a professional photographer of scenery and wildlife, used to trekking around in snowshoes in the high country.


The town looks about the same as it used to except that signs are a little fancier, buildings are more painted up.  I don’t know where all those short-haired dogs come from.  Usually they’re more like huskies.  Must be indoor dogs.  The railroad bisects town and they say that in the old days by spring all the wives had either swapped partners or run off with salesmen.  East Glacier is at the east end of Marias Pass which is the only practical place to cross the Rockies at this latitude.  Even in winter there is a thin stream of travelers which is how the Little Diner survives, beyond the hardy locals.



“Where God Likes to Be”  is a summer film.  http://www.wheregodlikestobe.com/about-the-film/     They say:  “Where God Likes To Be" portrays what it means to be Native American today – taking a personal, cinematic and lyrical journey into the heart of the Blackfeet Indian reservation. The film follows three young protagonists, Andi Running Wolf, Edward Tailfeathers and Douglas Fitzgerald over the course of one summer. "Where God Likes To Be" breaks down stereotypes and transforms conventional views of the reservation showing it as the spectacular home of a great and openhearted group of people who do their best to survive in and identify with a country that has tried to strip them of their identity.”  (Actually, I thought that WAS the stereotype.)

The Blackfeet men who went to be in the Shirley Temple movie in 1939.

Here they are again with Shirley, wearing their ceremonial parade suits

The usual outsider’s assumption is that Andi, Edward and Douglas have somehow suffered from attempts to strip them of their identity.  I taught their grandparents fifty years ago and these kids aren’t that different.  But the people who were 80 in 1961 were entirely different.  Those folks were “Indians” when Shirley Temple came to make a movie in 1939, the year I was born.  They still looked like this and dressed like the top photo in 1961.  I knew some of them.  We got along fine in public, working in the shop, and so on.  I walked the streets -- even at night -- with no worry.  I wasn't invited over for dinner.  We shared a lot of coffee and "long johns" (maple bars) at Greco's bakery.

Nicholas Husak is a little elusive about the town he grew up in where he was warned of the dangers of the rez.  He appears to be a Flathead citizen in Kalispell, but his whole attitude is very Missoula: arty, arch, willing to drag God into it by the scruff of His neck.  (If God loves it so much on the rez, why doesn’t he stop alcoholism and do something about the weather?)  The photography itself is gorgeous.  The dialogue on the trailer is underlaid with what AA calls “the pity pot.”  (Oh, woe.  An old theme.)   
In the movie clip, these three youngsters are way out in front but don’t seem to know it.  They COULD stay and make a living, but television and computers have taught them it just isn’t done.  Not if they want to live like the mainstream and they DO.  They think sit coms are normal.  They have no mental image of the reality of the United States -- the poverty, the immigrants, the claustrophobia and wage slavery.  

Five years later at the premiere of the movie, they are no longer so full of dread and pessimism.  Now they know they can cope with the off-rez world at least as far as they’ve gone.  The truth is that there are parts of all three of these rez communities that look a helluva lot better than what was filmed.  (Yes, counting Heart Butte.)
Darnell and Smokey Doore with Camee, granddaughter.

In the clip of the Film Festival at the Wilma Theatre in Missoula the lineup shows far to the left both Smokey and Darnell Rides at the Door, people who have spent their lifetimes “learnin’” kids what they know about the Old People.  Smokey has been on the Browning School Board for years and Darnell produced a regular television series that interviewed old timers and discussed issues.  I apologize for not being able to bring up the name of the older woman between them.
Doug could not have gotten his AA in teaching language before the Blackfeet Tribal College was founded and accredited or before the Piegan Institute showed the way.  To these young ‘uns those institutions have always been there.  Doug is the one who dresses in “citizen’s clothes” (braids, vest, scarf), the one who has stayed on the rez and the one who brings up the REAL issue, which is how to make a smooth transition into modern management by the Tribal Council, now that Eloise Cobell has fought the US government and won; now that frakking has opened a new and perilous horizon on oil profits. The issue is survival, not folkways.
I’m always divided when these idealistic cinematographer couples (often half-German, usually the female half, but not always) come around making movies.  (They used to write books.)  They present seeing aerial photography of the Rockies as though it were a great gift instead of a tourist staple.  Tourism has been a good source of income, esp. with the casino. Tony Bynum's photos of the oil well rigs against a backdrop of the mountain horizon probably do the tribe more good.
Theda New Breast

Narcisse Blood

But where are the issues that Narcisse Blood and Theda New Breast of Issksinipp present, speaking in their Blackfeet language.  Maybe I’m being unfair.  I haven’t seen the movie, after all, and it’s an hour long.  Of course they’re going to put the sexy familiar stuff up front -- the feathers, the "wild" horses, the flying geese.  At least we’ve come a long ways from “War Party,” that exercise in jejeune cynicism.

Winter in the Blood

“Winter in the Blood” is released now -- another Missoula product.    A new review at http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2022997114_winterinthebloodxml.html
"Jimmy P."

And “Jimmy P” has a trailer out.  Del Toro doesn't quite have the accent down, but it’s a valiant attempt.  I’ve had the book for a long time.  The psychotherapy in it is pretty primitive but the problem of PTSD still persists since so many Blackfeet willingly enlist in the nation’s wars.

All these beautiful images from Tony Bynum to Arnaud Desplechin are pretty easy to come up with around here.  I’ve got dozens and dozens of three-ring binders full of them, all taken with point-and-shoot cameras.  I admit that I also have icky photos of animal bones and beaver carcasses, but that’s what was also there, so I snapped ‘em.  For years I packed around a horse skull to hang on my wall.  It all mixes together in a place like this, the Montana Gothic and the sentimental hooey and the open-hearted Real People.  The enduring energy is in the reconciliation, the crossing of self-interest with transcendent insight.

When you talk to rez people here, it has not been my experience that they look down, away from you, unless they think they’re in trouble.  Some of them watch your face very carefully, and read every flicker of emotion to see what you’re really thinking.  Then they tell you what they think you want to hear, see what effect that has, and proceed accordingly.  What you will see in any movie is what the film-makers wanted to see, because they were there.  Those were the faces watched by the Blackfeet in front of the camera.  If you came here you might see something entirely different.






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

ALL THE ORPHANS . . .


My birth family is braided together between Canada and the US and, inevitably, before that mostly through England, Scotland and Ireland.  Though there is a group of sisters a few generations back whose surname was Welsh, they were not from Wales.  Just now a thread has appeared that leads back into the history of one aunt.  I won’t use names, but I’m going to be high-handed about quoting some of the more impersonal observations.  The following info is a mix of Wikipedia and family email.

“East London in the late 1800’s was one of the most deprived places in England.

“The districts of Bethnal Green, Stepney, Shoreditch and Hoxton made up most of East London, commonly known as “the East End.”  Each of the above districts were very much alike and consisted of slum dwellings.  A family or families could crowd fifteen or more people into one dwelling space.  It was Charles Dickens material.  Even worse when in 1888 Jack the Ripper terrorized the East End with five murders.  (Sensationalized by fog, darkness and victims who were ladies of the night, he seems like an underachiever when compared to some American killers, esp. those who murdered children.)

Thomas John Bernardo

Thomas John Barnardo (July 1845 – September 1905) was a philanthropist and founder and director of homes for poor children, born in Dublin.  He opened the first school/home in the East End of London to care for and educate children of the area left orphaned and destitute by the recent cholera outbreak. A little street child called Jim Jarvis attended one of his classes after hearing of it from another child and asked for help. The little boy eventually led him to a hiding place of hundreds of boys on a rooftop in Whitechapel as their only alternative was to go to a workhouse.

From the foundation of the first home in 1870 to the date of Barnardo’s death, nearly 100,000 children had been rescued, trained and given a better life. “

“Barnardo’s father had married twice and had seventeen children.  The Barnardo origins are uncertain; the family ‘traced its origin to Venice followed by conversion to the Lutheran Church in the sixteenth century,’ but others have claimed German Jewish roots for them.”  Thomas Barnardo’s daughter, Syrie, married Somerset Maugham, a famous best-selling author but unfortunately for the marriage both gay and cold.  

Syrie Maugham

Somerset Maugham

She herself became famous among the upper classes as an interior decorator who painted everything white and moved among relationships freely.  Even promiscuously.  She and Maugham had one daughter and became bitter about each other.  Thomas and his wife had seven children, four of whom survived.   One speculates that a benefactor of many children might be guilty of neglecting his own, though that death rate is not abnormal for the time.

Syrie Maugham's work in the 20's and 30's.

The first of the "Dr Barnardo’s Homes" was opened in 1870 at  18 Stepney Causeway, London.  In 1871, an 11-year old boy called John Somers (nicknamed "Carrots") was not taken in because the shelter was full. He was found dead two days later from malnutrition and exposure. Thomas decided not to limit the number of children he helped. From that time on the home bore the sign "No Destitute Boy Ever Refused Admission". The ever-open door at 10 Stepney Causeway opened in 1874 for homeless children. Number 10 stayed open until 1939 when Stepney was evacuated. It never re-opened after the war.

From then on the workload of his humanitarian venture steadily increased until, at the time of his death in 1905, he had established district homes, besides mission branches, throughout the United Kingdom.  From the foundation of the homes in 1867 to the date of Barnardo's death, nearly 60,000 children had been rescued, trained and placed out in life.  At the time of his death, his charity was caring for over 8,500 children in 96 homes.


9,000 children were sent to Canada to the Hazelbrae Home in Peterborough, Ontario between 1884 and 1923.  A book about them is “The Golden Bridge: Young Immigrants to Canada, 1833-1939”By Marjorie Kohli.  Another source of information is at  http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/the-hazelbrae-memorial.html

It will be no comfort to anyone (particularly to Native Americans) to realize that every plague or war or wave of addiction leaves orphans to wander, starve, and grow up every-which-way or that efforts to save them by gathering them up to feed, shelter and teach in groups can be worse.  These efforts are often driven by notions of religious virtue or benevolent upper class privilege.  Who could object?  But is this trafficking?  When they are sent to be a sort of servant doing hard work?


Weren’t there probably other abuses?  In a time of frontier settlements and colonization, when the world was still rural and even factories used plain labor that could be done by a child, was it better or worse?  All I can say is that the relative of mine who was the daughter of one of those kids was both lovable and gifted -- she was quite a fine poet.  Yes, like, "published."  Christian Science Monitor, Arizona Highways.  But even her descendants are secretive, which they call private, discrete.  There is somehow that fear of blaming the victim, that somehow they were at fault for being orphans.


There was controversy early on with Barnardo's work. Specifically, he was accused of kidnapping children without parents' permission and of falsifying photographs of children to make the distinction between the period before they were rescued by Barnardo's and afterwards seem more dramatic. He openly confessed to the former of these charges, describing it as 'philanthropic abduction' and basing his defence on the idea that the ends justified the means. In all, he was taken to court on 88 occasions, largely on the charge of kidnapping. However, being a charismatic speaker and popular figure, he rode through these scandals unscathed. Other charges brought against him included presenting staged images of children for Barnardo's 'before and after' cards and neglecting basic hygiene for the children under his care.

It is strange that attacks ALWAYS appear in opposition to every philanthropic effort.  Even established markers of virtue like ordination or a professional degree are not accepted as defenses.  Self-appointed or government authorized inspectors insist on raising standards higher than any some birth-families could meet.  They want to know everything and pry into the privacy of individuals in ways that endanger them -- since street children in need of help often have predators and enemies.  The goal never seems to be to offer solutions or better funding, but only to make an effort to close down, to deny and to erase.  Out come the stigma brushes to tar everyone involved.  And yet if someone suggests ways of limiting the births of more children -- unwanted, neglected, damaged in gestation, abandoned at birth -- the same spoilers purport to be outraged defenders of life, honor, and success.


One of the most remarkable developments in contemporary life is electronic devices and code “language” that can be carried on the person of a child who can learn to use the gizmo as easily as learning street slang and that will put him or her in touch with the entire planet.  We have yet to understand how all this will turn out, but it's bound to be a game changer.  One authority says that “only” ten per cent of grade schools are teaching the kids to code.  The ability to code on a tablet -- which kids teach each other -- is something like having an adult in one’s pocket.  (How do they get the gizmos?  Don’t ask.)  They teach each other, they form networks, they learn how to evade authority.  And they grow up.  Then what?  We’re finding out.  There are still hundreds of boys, but now they don't go to the rooftops -- now they live under bridges and in sewers.  Yet they are part of the human family.  So far.




Monday, February 24, 2014

FAR HORIZONS

There are people who follow this blog in hopes of news about Tim Barrus.  I follow Tim’s writing and no more than that, though we have a lot in common -- far more than people who think other people are algorithms would ever suspect -- a deep friendship.  It’s almost ten years since the big Nasdijj scandal and the culture has changed.  

G.G. Kipp

It’s longer than that since Bob Scriver was attacked for selling the Scriver artifact collection to the Royal Alberta Provincial Museum.  By now the collection is pretty much dispersed, some of it back to tribal ceremonialists, except for the book Bob published that contained photo documentation of everything.  Issues come and go.  Time marches on.  The young anthros and tribal people ask me who Nasdijj is.  Some even ask who Bob Scriver is. 

So now maybe we can talk about Tim Barrus’ writing without having to label it this or that, especially porn. (Are you kidding -- when the mainstream media is discussing the sensations of anal intercourse for straight women?)  Maybe there’s more to think about than who owns pain and tragedy.  The stories keep unfolding and unfolding.


If you’re a regular reader, you know that recently on this blog I’ve written literary reviews of the three “Nasdijj” books. Now I’ve gathered them into a chapbook you can buy on www.lulu.com/prairiemary, but if you’re short of cash just print them out from this blog.   Forget about copyright, since it means nothing anyway.   I included two blog posts, the one about “The Gaze” and the one that reviews Mendel’s book, “The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse.”  What you haven't gotten on this blog until now is the introduction and a quick check of what Tim has done since these three books that I reviewed in the chapbook.  So I post them here: Prologue and Epilogue.

I’ve talked very little about this ongoing conversation between Tim and I, but it seems timely now that it has suddenly come to some people’s attention that there is widespread child sexual abuse and trafficking.   Both of us have thrown our print weight against this.  Tim engages the boys themselves.  He works with Rachel Chapple.  Look for Real Stories Galleries but not if you're easily shocked.  They are expressing what they know and some of what they know is horrific.
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Prologue

In 1998 Tim and Tina Barrus and Tim’s daughter were living in Florida when Hurricane Georges hit.  Their home was destroyed.  During the cleanup, Tim contracted pneumonia so severe that his life was barely saved with major doses of prednisone that triggered Avascular Necrosis, bone death.  There is no cure.  It requires joint replacement.

Still hospitalized, Tim received news of acceptance for publication of a piece he had written about the Navajo country where they had recently been working.  For years he had been sending out a mix of fiction and nonfiction as well as doing local journeyman writing, using many pseudonyms.  This particular story drew so much response that a publisher asked to expand it into a whole book, to be called “The Blood Runs Like a River Through my Dreams,” (2000) which had been the title of the short story.

Tim gathered up some pre-existing work, wrote some new stories, and this anthology of twenty stories was published by Houghton Mifflin.  He wrote two more books for Ballantine.  At first there was great praise.  In 2006 he came under attack for using the pseudonym of “Nasdijj,” which was interpreted as a cynical attempt to impersonate a Native American.  Less revelation than reviling, the criticism shifted attention from the writing to the writer, especially after it became known that he had written pornographic novels, edited pornographic gay magazines, published S/M and Leatherlit books, and photographed the exploding and joyous gay liberation in San Francisco alongside Mapplethorpe and others just before the AIDS plague hit.  Then the family took refuge in the SW.  

Since young adulthood Barrus had worked in special education settings, emergency rooms, drug triage, and children’s art.  He met his wife while working with autistic children.  None of this will be considered here.  This chapbook is meant to return attention to the actual writing in the three Nasdijj books.

Houghton Mifflin, which had its own problems at the time, dropped Tim.  He was contracted by Ballantine for two more books, “The Boy and his Dog Are Sleeping”(2003) and “Geronimo’s Bones.” (2004).  

In this chapbook two supplemental essays are provided: one on “Gaze” theory and the other a review of a book entitled  The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse, by Matthew Parynik Mendel.
Epilogue

In 2006 Barrus moved to a Paris loft.  He discovered a nucleus of young male videographers doing online sexwork.  Powered by a major bequest from an American artist who died of AIDS, the group grew to be Cinematheque.  In 2009 the collapse of Tim’s shoulders forced a return to the Carolinas for more surgery.  

In America he formed a partnership with Rachel Chapple, Ph.D.  The two activists run a complex of organizations based on Real Stories Gallery, a website for boys at risk, both writing about them and writing and art by them.  Cinematheque, Smash Street Boys, and Show Me Your Life are a mix of actual locations, internet webs, and other NGO’s around the world.  An art gallery, “Tristan’s Moon,” was in Tribeca before Hurricane Sandy forced its removal to a private estate in upstate New York.
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John Swales, Men helping men in London

Each of us must choose our lives but it would help if people had more consciousness of the lives of other people and gave them shelter for their choices.  To be aware of intense suffering and injustice is to be pulled towards doing something about it and that can swallow a person up in small daily efforts.  Yet we all admired Mother Theresa though she did so little for so many, patting the dying miserable on their cots and blessing them while resisting everything that might have lifted her from her own hidden misery of depression and doubt.  We all demand that politicians do more and then, if they do, blame them for anything that goes wrong and demand that they do still more.  We hear the screaming children whose drunk parents beat them and don’t do anything about it because we don’t want to make any trouble.

Is there such a thing as enlightened selfishness?

When I was little, I understood that adults had secrets and set out to discover them.  When I was older, I understood that professionals had privileged knowledge so, starting with the petit profession of teaching, I began to look for it.  Different cultures see the world in different ways, so I came to the Blackfeet reservation to learn.  Emergency responders go where no one else goes, and I found those places as an animal control officer.  The churches claimed transcendent understanding, but I found no one has to go to a church to discover that.  I never explored drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, wealth -- maybe because of lack of opportunity.  Maybe because of what I’d already found out.


I have a particular sympathy for boys at risk, both the little “raccoons” who barely manage to survive and the adolescent "panthers", so beautiful and dangerous.  I read what they write and admire their art and videos, but I don’t want them sprawled on my furniture or torturing my cats.  Not that they would necessarily do that, but some of them sometimes are inhabited by demons and that's why we're wary.  Being demonized does not make them vomit pea soup or twirl their heads on their shoulders.  They just lose empathy.  So we have to stand in front of them and lean in.  Even when they die.  Even when they are dead.


But then, lack of empathy is the problem of the whole society.  We still cope with people in crisis by shunning, confining, drugging, and shamelessly using them.  So I’ve assigned myself to sit here and write every day, pounding on the resistant shell of the “I-don’t-want-to-know-anything-depressing” people.  I’m not alone.  

Strangely, I do not suffer from Mother Theresa’s depression and doubt.  Why?   The sun on the snow, the antics of the feral kittens, the calves now arriving in the birthing fields.  I know these things, too.  Every morning I stand in my kitchen window and the sun comes up in front of me.  Even if it's too overcast to see it,  I lean in to the sunrise.  So does Tim.  We're not alone.  We're part of everything -- we all are.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

MY PORTLANDIA


There is a teeny email group of us in about the same demographic who seem to also be connected to Portland.  This morning two of us let me know that “Portlandia” is back on the air.  At the same time I heard that a street kid on the East Coast is so beguiled by the show that she’s trying to figure out how to get across the country.

This is from a story on CBS:  "It's more a mind-set than a place," muses Brownstein by phone from Portland. "It's an exemplary city in how befuddled it can sometimes be by its own attempts at progressiveness and kindness. Here, your biggest battle is whether something is local versus organic. Or whether your coffee shop provides you with whole milk or half-and-half.
"We try to explore how absurd these kinds of choices can be, and try to ascertain the meaning underneath these silly struggles. Portland is a great microcosm of all this."
“Portrayed as well-meaning, forward-thinking but self-deluded, a place typically intent on doing the "right" thing even when it makes no sense, Portland lays bare great comic possibilities. But the show's writers aren't looking for easy gags.”
My teeny group is retired.  We remember a LOT of Portlands.  We remember when the Galleria was Olds and Kings and the escalator there was made of wood and clacked.  We remember when the waterfront was piers and warehouses instead of a yuppie jogging trail.  I’m going to record here a few of my memories.  
1952:  My mother kept trying to make a swan out of what was essentially a goose.  (Mother goose/daughter goose)  One effort was ballet lessons.  Mr. Oumansky on NW 23rd would advise me:  “Send a Western Onion to your feet to listen to the music!”  They would not accept delivery.  When directions for a tutu to wear in a recital were sent home, my mother sewed on the gauzy part upside-down.  It did not stick out as tutus should.
1953:  Second try:  Ballroom dancing lessons.  I never quite got it, but I was very good at hiding in the bathroom.
Reed College, main building

1957:  I discovered the library at Reed College and by this time had mastered the bus system.  I sort of hoped that I would run into one of the famously nude students or at least one draped in a sheet to be Greek, but it never happened.  However, I did see the famous bathroom graffiti.  (“God is dead”, Nietzshe. “Nietzshe is dead”, God.)
1961: I left Portland on the train with the trunk my father had taken to college in Winnipeg many years earlier.  I was going to Northwestern University in Chicago.  When I told people, they wrinkled their foreheads and said,  “I never thought of you as the business type.”  They thought I meant Northwestern Business School.  They said,  “But Chicago is not the northwest.  PORTLAND is the northwest!
Lee Brown, Mayor of Houston

1973:  After many Montana adventures I came back to Portland and was hired as the first female dog catcher in Multnomah County.  Technically, I was a deputy under Sheriff Lee P. Brown, a tall African American man just three years older than myself who went on to Atlanta just in time to face the serial Atlanta child murderer or murderers. (It was never completely resolved.)  Brown eventually became the mayor of Houston.  When I knocked on doors, I got a mixed reception.  On night shift a woman demanded to know whether my mother knew I was out this late.  (I was thirty.)  When a barking dog complainant turned out to be my high school counselor, she demanded,  “I thought I got you a scholarship to a good school!”
My beat was SE Portland from the freeway to Powell, from the river to 82nd.  If the man who had Powell to the Clackamas county line was ill, things got more interesting. From the hippies of Hawthorne to the goat that haunted the Reed campus, from the transvestites over by the river to the hillbillies of Errol Heights.
Mike Oswald, the present excellent director of Multnomah County Animal Control
I trained him as an officer when he first came.

In parts of SE things were pretty much the way the Portlandia troupe portrays them: soooo idealistic.  The lesbian cafe had a prob with their big dogs (every woman had a big dog for safety and friendship) so I had to persuade them to build a hitching rail.  The lovely big park called Laurelhurst that had once been a farm was a refuge for gay guys in the rhododendrons and the park foreman asked me to drive my truck through now and then, but not to be too aggressive about it.  He later “came out” as a teddybear gay, married another like himself, and wrote a charming book.
I went to an edgy movie house that showed experimental film in what had been the backstage area.  The seating was big second-hand squashy couches and armchairs.  I came late, walked into the dark, felt a strong hand take my wrist, and was pulled down to sit alongside a very nice black guy who had perceptive things to say about the film.  I never saw him again, but then I never really saw him in the dark either.
A guy who belonged to my “people’s consciousness raising group” was an artist who created by pouring thinned veils of lacquer down canvasses held on a tilt -- sort of like Helen Frankenthaler.  He asked me to write him some publicity and since he had been born in the New York City Bellevue Mental Hospital to a woman named Mary, I made it sound as though he were like Jesus and believed in the redemptive power of play.  He got mad.
First Unitarian Church of Portland, front side

I went looking for a church and found a square brick building that simply said “First Unitarian Church of Portland.”  I thought, “rational, utilitarian, plain.” That turned out to be the back of the building.  The front was Georgian, rather elegant.  The north side was an old house that provided social services for street kids.  They fought the social workers but loved the house, climbing up onto the roof to sleep, treating it like a mother hen.
1978:  I went back to Chicago, to attend seminary at the University of Chicago.
1991:  More adventures later and after more years in Montana, I returned.  This time there was Starbucks and I went to one of the higher-end ones on a Sunday morning.  My goal was to read the Sunday Times.  Every page. In solitary grandeur.  A woman came to sit by me -- her goal was to make friends.  “Can I borrow part of your newspaper?”  Big smile.  Same demographic as me.  I didn’t want to make friends with my demographic.  Scowling, I gathered up my paper and flounced off.  Since then, I’ve repented.
Charles Moose, with Maryland journalists

The Chief of Police was black, Charles Moose.  He was earnest, emotional, and had a white wife, a former cop herself.  He was born the year I graduated from grade school and he finally left to go to Montgomery County, Maryland, just in time to be faced with the Beltway Snipers. 
This time I had a job with the City of Portland as a clerical assistant in the Bureau of Buildings, taking complaints and maintaining databases.  The person next to me was a young Maori man who listened to didgeridoo music on his Walkman and parked the headphones on my head if he had to leave his station.  I loved it.
Once I went on ridealong with an inspector in NE Portland where I grew up and which had since turned black when urban renewal took down the worst oldest housing along the rivers and in the north.  The most memorable call was an apartment house where the plumbing had gone wacky and was siphoning wash water from down in the basement upstairs to the sink taps.  The occupant was a young black woman who was so fat she was absolutely round, lying nude on a rollaway bed in the middle of the front room.  When we came in, she pulled a sheet halfway up herself.  The only other furniture was a scatter of crib mattresses on the floor and the only other occupants were babies too young to walk but good at crawling -- some with droopy diapers, some without.  Cockroaches scurried everywhere.  It stunk.

I always thought the dark side of liberal Sim-City improvements was most vividly illustrated in the little pocket parks they had worked hard to create around that part of town.  Carefully landscaped until money for maintenance ran out, they were designed to provide secluded peaceful spots for meditation and respite.  They turned out to be the perfect locations for rape.  I'm told there are no black people in Portland now.  Huh?
The Portlandia building itself was so wretched to work in and so in violation of basic standards of air exchange and electrical best practices that the building inspectors raised hell.  The solution was to move them to another building.  “Portlandia” is actually about a demographic, not a place, and they get closer to the truth than they think.  But they walk on by without ever seeing it.  On the other hand, I haven't been back since 1999.  Maybe it's changed.