Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DON MCKAY Explains Geopoetry

Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

The first challenges to Xian dogma as it had evolved by the 19th century were from geology.  One of those who struggled to keep science and religion in relationship was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a Jesuit priest trained as a paleontologist and geologist.  (Francis I is a trained chemist.)  He tried to develop a concept called the Omega Point which he related NOT to the punishing apocalypse, but the progressive notion that “the increasing complexity of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe.”  Narcissistic, but sincere.

He’s worth reading but he didn’t escape the idea that there was one goal instead of an endlessly on-going process with multiple “Omega Points” nor the idea that human beings are just a stream of changes always leading to something beyond that was different, which may or may not feel “ideal” depending on the consequences to the sensate human.  Still, he WAS considering science and evidence even as he insisted on ideas as old as bones, cultural fossils.

The idea of God is gone.  Jesus, who can be seen as a interlocutor between God and humans, is also gone, along with the father/son nexus of ownership and sacrifice.  Now we think of the female Gaia.


What have we got now?  It’s not quite geology, because the “geo” is so expanded.  Again it is a narcissism.  We’re only one planet in an huge swirling gyre of interacting molecules, but geology is still the best replacement for theology that we have, because it is what we know, what we are part of.  We are, as one author put it, "walking rocks" who evolved out of the substance of the earth itself, following along an extremely long trajectory of evolution that began in clay, as the old legends suggest.  Or you could also legitimately say that we are stardust. We go deeper and deeper into time and cosmos but we don’t lose meaning -- only expand and vary the connections.

When I found Punctum Books with their openness to these ideas and their willingness to share ideas online, I got so excited that I downloaded two books at the same time and my downloads got mixed up with each other, which caused an interesting dialogue while I tried to figure out which pages belonged together.



“Making the Geologic Now”  was edited by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse.  They say, “The idea for this book came from our sense that there is an increasingly widespread turn toward the geologic as source of explanation, motivation and inspiration for cultural and aesthetic responses to conditions of the present moment.”  Some of the essays are in terms of photographs, art and poetry.  


The other book is On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy” by Ben Woodard, who speaks of “Wormed Earths” and “Black Suns.”  This is written by a single author, a philosopher, whose introduction, “Abyss Lessons,”  has two epigraphs.  The first one is from Nicola Masciandaro and begins “The geophilosopher is one who philosophically experiences rather than flees the earth . . .”  This is a MAJOR difference because philosophy has always built cloud castles of thought through introspection.  While claiming that logic keeps it honest, this is often untrue, so it easily becomes theology, which I consider an abyss.

I’m reassured when he quotes Deleuze and Guattari, “Thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth.”  My caveat here is that the city casts the rural into the abyss.  But research shows that the brain thinks in terms of territory -- up and down, in and out, back and forth.  Diagrams.  Maps.  I am ideally situated to explore the land less settled.  I’m here.

But I have spent time going to and fro over the earth, as a child with family and then as a UU minister who served a circuit of four congregations in Montana, a hundred miles between the four, each with its unique geologically based ecology.  I am a boundary person, who lives on the border between the Blackfeet reservation and a little irrigation town just over the river; very near the border with Canada.  I have served congregations in Canada.  Therefore, I welcome the Canadian voices from deeper and higher on the continent.

Don McKay

One of the strong and beloved voices up there is that of Don McKay (1942 and ongoing), a poet who contemplates rather than philosophizing.  His essay juxtaposes the Anthropecene with the Ediacaran eras, which are spans of time justified by geological evidence.  The Ediacaran is named for South Australia where the oldest rocks on the planet (that we know of so far) formed between 575 and 542 million years ago.  McKay says he is writing “geopoetry.”  In fact, he’s looking at “the crucial concept of a dynamic planet” that led to the understanding of plate tectonics that created this place where I live.   Probably where you are as well. (He credits Harry Hess. 1906-1969)  I never met McKay, but knew lots of people who knew him well.  I bought a little cache of books by him to read “later.”  I guess that’s “now.”

The chapter he wrote is called “ Ediacaran and Anthropocene: Poetry as a Reader of Deep Time.”  Before I go deeper in the thought there in a day or so (some reading to do), here’s a poem McKay quotes:


BUSHED
By Earle Birney  (written in 1951)

He invented a rainbow but lightning struck it
shattered it into the lake-lap of a mountain
so big his mind slowed when he looked at it

Yet he built a shack on the shore
learned to roast porcupine belly and
wore the quills on his hatband

At first he was out with the dawn
whether it yellowed bright as wood-columbine
or was only a fuzzed moth in a flannel of storm

But he found the mountain was clearly alive
sent messages whizzing down every hot morning
boomed proclamations at noon and spread out
a white guard of goat
before falling asleep on its feet at sundown

When he tried his eyes on the lake    ospreys
would fall like valkyries
choosing the cut-throat
he took then to waiting
till the night smoke rose from the boil of the sunset

But the moon carved unknown totems
out of the lakeshore
owls in the beardusky woods derided him
moosehorned cedars circled his swamps and tossed
their antlers up to the stars
Then he knew    though the mountain slept    the winds
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead
poised

And now he could only 
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart 

                                    [1951]


And here’s a vid about the poem made by an English class:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lxvbBqciuA


There are a ton of discussions and interpretations, but I’ll just note that a flint is a rock, a geopoetic quote, you might say.  Probably in McKay's essay location, pink feldspar, which crystallizes out of magma and is related to the more familiar black obsidian.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

BOXES VERSUS BUNDLES



By now you know that I read a lot of brain stuff.  I still have not learned the names of all the parts, but I’ve learned enough to know that it’s not a matter of BOXES, but rather a matter of BUNDLES: bundling of kinds of parts, supports, renewal, work-arounds, and connections to other bundles.  Here are two long quotes from nimh@public.govdelivery.com  which is doubling-down on brain issues.  The goal is to do for the “connectome” (the networked bundles and their relationships with the other brain bundles) what has been done for the genome with such enormous consequences.

“A team of BRAIN Initiative-supported scientists, led by Arnold Kriegstein of University of California, San Francisco, reported in Cell, Sept. 24, 2015, on what may be the secret to the human cortex’s exponential growth.

“Kriegstein and colleagues found that the human cortex harbors a unique support system for neuron-producing factories during early brain development — in outlying cellular neighborhoods that barely exist in lower animals. The researchers discovered the molecular underpinnings of this unique group of stem cells that churn out thousands of neurons and support cells where their mouse counterparts produce only 10-100. They also discovered that the secret to this prolific output seems to lie in these cells’ ability to carry with them their own self-renewing “niches,” — support systems that enabled them to thrive in far flung circuit suburbs.  The results add to a deeper understanding of the human brain’s parts list and enhance scientists’ ability to perform disease-in-a-dish experiments relevant to uniquely human disorders like autism and schizophrenia, which are difficult to model in rodents.


Bundle project for children

 Another team led by Stephen Smith of University of Oxford, UK, and David Van Essen, Washington University, St. Louis, explains findings linking brain connectivity to measures of personal success Sept. 28, 2015 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Smith’s group mined Human Connectome Project data on 461 individuals to find out whether any patterns of brain connectivity are associated with specific sets of correlated demographics and behavior. In addition to images of their resting state structural and functional brain connections, the Project collected data on 280 such subject measures, including psychological factors such as IQ, language performance, rule-breaking behavior and anger. A set of such measures statistically related to each other emerged as strongly correlated with connectivity between certain brain structures prone to talking with each other during the brain’s default mode, or resting state. This set was mostly composed of positive personal qualities, such as high performance on memory and thinking tasks, life satisfaction, years of education, and income. The set turned out to have a more than three-fold stronger correlation with increased brain connectivity than any of 99 other sets of measures examined. The brain regions associated with the set, which may be related to general intelligence, have been linked to higher-level human thinking – e.g., memory, imagination, sociability, value-guided decision-making and reasoning.

Calculated connectivity of chatter

Smarts, life satisfaction, income and education levels – and other measures of success – were correlated with increased connectivity between certain areas of the brain while at rest. These parts of the brain (yellow, red, brown) talked with each other more while higher-scoring participants weren’t doing anything in particular. Picture shows composite data from functional magnetic resonance imaging scans.

This fits well with the ideas about each specialized sensory organ (ear, eye, tongue, etc) having a support platform of neurons that organizes and edits the raw electro-chemical codes of perception before sending the result to the “master work platform” which is a sort of dashboard that manages all the sensory input into a “bundle” of about seven or eight concepts, which is the limit of about how much information it can process at once.  Then it guides whatever is done, whether turning one’s head, bending over, or running like hell.

It also fits with the ideas about the whole body being a sensory instrument, feeding in unconscious detections as well as deliberate ones.  But it works against one-blob ideas of the brain as organ while justifying those amazing derivations of what messages are going where at any given time, the shifts of which tell us when to go to sleep, who we are, what we should do next, whether we like chocolate.

"Limbic to dashboard, limbic to dashboard -- come in please."

Perhaps because of the shelly hard-ness of the skull, which suggests confinement as much as protection, the brain has been seen as a “black box,” which is also symbolic of mystery.  Eurasian culture likes boxes, builds square rooms, and uses them as protection for precious things.  

But bundles are the way the Americans group things, wrapping them in soft hides or at most putting them into a rawhide quiver or envelope.  This is a sign of being organic -- no metal -- and traveling with animal power.  Lodges are built round except for the cliff dwellers whose boxes are stone and stucco, rounded, and the NW cedar plank houses are inside organized by round fire sites.

As a relating connection, think of liturgy, a word related to ligatures, and suggesting the bundling of objects or tying things together.  CSI shows talk about strangling or bondage, limiting by binding, as being done with ligatures.  A story about sticks is the father who takes up a slender stick and easily breaks it in half.  Then he takes up a handful of the same-sized sticks and tries to break the bundle, but cannot.  It’s a lesson about sticking together, strength in cooperation.  

If a brain is a bundle of elements and processes, then it’s probably possible for the bundle to go on functioning in some fashion with one or another “sticks” missing, though the bundle is weakened.  If too many elements are missing or broken, things will go wrong in different ways, depending on what is missing or not operating.

ligatures at a crime scene

But a brain is not just a connectome of "wiring."  It is also bathed in fluid, a kind of filtered fluid that blocks out the biggest molecules, which are often poisonous.  Nevertheless it has molecules that it makes and sends to the rest of the body and they are integral to thought and mood.  I’m talking about things like serotonin.  I was surprised to learn that some of these in-body products are excluded from the brain, so I need to figure that out.  The reason is always couched in terms of mutations that are an advantage, rather than simple survival, but the simple fact is that any change that is a hindrance can cause death, extinction.  The body is always editing, editing, editing -- not individually but en masse. But then if the larger situation changes, what was edited out might be the very thing that could save people now.

One of the values of seeing the brain as a bundle of elements is that it’s easier to understand that functions come online as they develop in terms of cell capacities and structure.  If they are hurried or denied, which often happens with abuse, then the bundle will not function as it would if it could develop in its own time.  Maybe some components will be slow, but might still arrive eventually if there is enough protection to survive until then. 

Culture is also a bundle and so is an ecology, where things that don’t fit are also simply snuffed, sometimes sending consequences into the human body.  Lack of iodine crippled the development of whole Chinese villages, creating a generation of brain-crippled people.  My own grandmother had a goiter from lack of iodine, often a problem with inland people.  It was treated by moving to Portland, Oregon, and eating sea food.  Now, of course, our household salt is iodized.  If the doctors had known about this, Charlie Russell’s life would have been much extended.  He died of goiter-related heart disease.  But he refused medical treatment, something he learned from watching people in the hands of doctors in those days.

Goiter in the Andes, where the folk remedy is seaweed.

Our morphing culture is revealing new things almost faster than we can absorb them.  But there are many elements to ferret out and learn about, like hatred and prejudice and bullying and abuse and the neglect of the weak and needy.  The sorting of sticks continues.

Monday, September 28, 2015

THE CSI EFFECT

CSI Miami

There’s an acknowledgement of the effects of combining facts, esp. “scientific facts”, with narrative and graphics.  It’s called the CSI effect and means that people are learning a lot of pop science -- we can all say “allele” and “petechia” with confidence.  And if you haven’t learned how to test for trace by swabbing with a Q-tip and then cutting off the cotton tip to immerse it in a little vessel of fluid and put it in a mysterious machine -- you just aren’t paying attention!  People seem to be obsessed, at least for the decades-each run duration of the variations among CSI, though the actual story lines are pretty much congruent.  

My fav is “CSI Miami.”  One of the three “creators”, Anthony Zuiker says he intended it to be “ridiculously gorgeous” and that it is.  But in spite of the name, it is mostly shot in California.  It’s clear that the females are bikini-ready, but I did not realize that the Crayola-colored Leggo buildings were also California.  The locations, ranging from sub-sordid to glass-glamorous, are the same we see in movies, managed by scouts and agents.

Zuiker

Zuiker, the son of a maitre d’ and a blackjack dealer, looks exactly like that.  The two women, Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donohue, are also Hollywood writer types, many of whom make their living creating “idea” scripts that are never produced.  They often act as “show runners.”

Jerry Bruckheimer

Jerry Bruckheimer is the top of the CSI heap, a Repub (a McCain donor), a do-gooder, and a producer of commercials before he went to action (violence) and police films with great success, and then added the CSI serieses, of which there are four.  

I’m going back to this again because of one show, the 5th episode in the 8th season of CSI Miami.  But it really stands out: in fact, enough that I think you can
watch it as a free-standing vid.  Even as a classroom discussion starter or for an enviro activist group.


Brian Davidson

Here’s a review from an online info source:  

Brian Davidson‘s script feels like a progression for the show, and I hope it’s a herald of things to come rather than a departure. There was a real energy to this story, a personal stake for the characters that was more appealing than fancy plot twists or high-energy shootouts. The episode felt really fresh, something that’s not that easy to achieve after seven full seasons.”

The importance from my point of view is that this show managed to get across some things about industrial food production in this country that we all should be thinking about.  A pretty young girl is killed by e coli on a chopped salad in a restaurant.  Her about-to-be fiancĂ© is killed because at the same meal he had corn-on-the-cob that had been genetically altered to make it more digestible for cattle, who quickly get big and fat on corn but develop nasty feces that are a perfect home for e coli.  

The mutant gene was introduced to the corn in the next place over from a gene that when mixed -- which can happen -- makes the corn lethal.  (I’m not sure that this last is real rather than theoretical, but the rest of it certainly is, and has made many people go vegetarian.)


The next bit of science is that frankencorn -- mutant grain -- is in pollen which drifts uncontrollably.  If you are raising corn next to an industrialist farmer using gene-altered grain, some of your own grain will also be mutant, inseminated by the wind.  The altered seed is patented so you will be sued for patent infringement.   This is real and happens here.  If you have neither the stomach nor the cash for a high powered lawyer, your only option will be to sell, though the actual culprit was just the wind.

The CSI team works their way back through this information far enough to turn the tables: the parents of the young man, who are capable of suing, can start a civil wrongful death claim against the industrialists who KNEW that in a small percentage of cases, their mutant corn could kill.  They say, shrugging, “This is like building a bridge or a dam.  It’s always known that some people will die, but it’s considered a legitimate price to pay for the greater good of the construction.”

By the time the episode plot sends out their three “trace” finders, the three include the handsome and aggressive guy who is now filling David Caruso’s slot so Caruso can use more energy on producing; the snarky little “Wolfe” who thinks he’s a shark; and the newest, a big black man with a child’s round face who happens to have a degree in Art History as well as his scientific training.  He’s the one who presents as a kind of naive dummy, good only for heavy-lifting, but turns out to find the crucial clue.  The three guys, arguing and deducing, find the smoking gun just over a berm: a huge feed lot with water run-off supplying e coli to the irrigation system of the truck garden.

feedlot

This is good story-telling, but I can tell you that a feedlot that size is a very noisy and unmistakably reeking place at a great distance.  A little berm wouldn’t be able to conceal it.

CSI Miami” is the most Disneyland of the versions: sentimental, ghastly (The one where the bad guy dissolved in a swimming pool full of intense alkali must have been fun for the special effects guys.), and based on a population where “bad things happen” for a lot of good old American reasons like greed, failure to bond, sex as a form of cash, and total loss of contact with reality.  

“CSI New York” has the same combination of horror and sentimentality but also a cast that’s a little more intelligent and better at the bitter jokes.  The plot lines in all CSI shows are based on today’s headlines and established practices, but just pushed a little bit.  The "CSI Effect" in negative terms leads to juries expecting more evidence, clearer, more cutting edge.  The truth is that the numbers of bodies are so great, the circumstances so ambiguous, the money so scarce and the motivation so slight that what we’ve got in the end is science fiction.



"CSI Effect" in positive terms is that the characters model diligence, dedication, and true caring about their fellow human beings.  Caruso plays his alpha male role as the compassionate protector.  Sinise plays his as the seeker of justice.  He’s a bit of a fool when it comes to love, but then, the Caruso character gets entangled with much more dubious women and stands by the ensuing sons.

Sometimes I think that the screenwriters are the true preachers of our times and far more effective theologians and ethicists than the college professors.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

ANY HUMAN HEART: The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart



Categories used to bundle characteristics of related subjects -- those characteristics having been developed in differing circumstances and over time -- often become fenced off into obligatory interrelated elements of a particular kind of somethingorother.  These structures or tags can then be used by authors for the sake of their own work.  One example might be the “road story.”  Another might be a “journal” imitation that leads the supposed journaling character through interesting times and places.

Last night I marathoned the four hours of  Any Human Heart: The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart, (on disc at Netflix)  derived from a 2002 novel by William Boyd, a British writer. The fictional Mountstuart, a writer whose life is like a game of billiards, bouncing around the green felt table of the 20th century.  Major forces -- at least in terms of the Atlantic world (which generously includes Uruguay and non-English speaking countries in Europe) -- are interpreted as good luck or bad luck, which seems justified since no one inquires into causes or seems to have any control. 

Book

Video

Here’s the part interesting to English professors and the reason I ordered the discs.  Boyd plays ironically on the theme of literary celebrity, introducing his protagonist to several real writers who are included as characters.  The helpful but anonymous writer of the Wikipedia entry tells us:  “Boyd spent 30 months writing the novel. The journal style, with its gaps, false starts and contradictions, reinforces the theme of the changing self in the novel. Many plot points simply fade away. The novel received mixed reviews from critics on publication, but has sold well.”  . . .

“The story was inspired by the journals written by writer and critic Cyril Connolly in the 1920s.”  “Cyril Vernon Connolly (10 September 1903 – 26 November 1974) was a literary critic and writer. He was the editor of the influential literary magazine Horizon (1940–49) and wrote Enemies of Promise (1938), which combined literary criticism with an autobiographical exploration of why he failed to become the successful author of fiction that he had aspired to be in his youth.”

Connolly’s defense goes to class, and therefore becomes political.  "We have seen that there are two styles which it is convenient to describe as the realist, or vernacular, the style of rebels, journalists, common-sense addicts, and unromantic observers of human destiny – and the Mandarin, the artificial style of men of letters or of those in authority who make letters their spare time occupation."

William Boyd

The great irony, not addressed by Boyd, is that yesterday’s vernacular becomes today’s Mandarin:  Joyce, Hemingway, Kerouac, et al.  Of course, some vernaculars are born of resentful revolution and are so muscular that they persist politically even when they go out of style, accessible only to the Mandarin intellectuals.  I’m talking about the post-structuralists and all the other post-whatevers that overturn hegemony.  For example, the politically correct accusations adopted by the American Indian Movement, which became a “devolution” into a straightforward demand for reparation.  Not that it wasn’t completely justified.  

As the lockstep Mandarins have aged out of today's universities, the newest generation is left reduced to outlines and shadows.  They have a renewed fascination with what Boyd calls “S and M” novels, defined as “Sex and Money.”  The kinkier and more resourceful the money-handling is, and the more warnings of financial implosion there are, the better the book sells.  It is the M that dominates.  S trails along behind.

But Boyd’s version of life is dominated by the S, as Logan Montstuart marks his fortunes according to with whom he sleeps, and though their personalities and attractions are quite various, he can’t keep their names straight.  Clearly, it is not about the other person in the relationship and therefore it is not about anyone but himself.  The exception is the parallel paths taken by his lifelong friends.  One takes the vernacular popular path and is a huge success.  The other takes the rarefied life of a gallery owner and is able to help Montstuart until this faithful friend dies of prostate cancer -- bad luck.

The novel's imagined version.

Montstuart is always on the verge of writing a best-selling book, he thinks, but he falls between chairs.  His first book is too much S and the second is too Mandarin.  Unable to figure it out and preoccupied with the problems at hand, he puts writing off and off and off, until in the end he has only eight piles of remnants from his life, one for each woman. Ironically, these journals become the book he didn’t write.  It is a best-seller and young men read it avidly, in hopes of finding clues to success.  What can that advice be except to keep on keeping on?

Is there a difference between journals, diaries, and today’s blogging?  The medium in which writing is done has always had impact on the content, from quills on parchment through ink on paper, from isolated one-off chapbooks of poetry for one’s own eyes, to mass-produced newspapers and on to subscription-only high-art handmade books, as much about the font, binding, and presentation as about subject.  I'll put off the blogging question, because I think it is multiple choice.


frontispiece
An extremely fine book in concept and execution is “The Lost Journals of Sacajewea”, elegant and political, even in concept.  http://www.peterkochprinters.com/show.php?bookid=75


Debra Magpie Earling

Debra Magpie Earling, the poet, inspired the content, by giving Sacajawea a voice.  Peter Koch, the inspiree, persuaded her to expand her poems and managed and illustrated the publishing.  I haven’t read it because it is too expensive: $4500.  “The spine is beaded with trade beads and small caliber cartridge cases.”  Thus it exists as a reversal of the strange hybrid vernacular/Mandarin “world” that is Lewis and Clark, but also crosses into the world of Material Culture, as a Native American artifact made by Europeans.  From the beginning it was a paradoxical written work pretending to be created by an illiterate person from an oral culture.  But it must have had a reality.


I think there is only one library in Montana that owns a copy but it is too far away for me to drive there over the Rocky Mountains in my failing pickiup.  

"Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian"
by George Devereaux

Perhaps some day I’ll write an imitation “dream diary” equivalent to what I thought I was buying when I acquired a copy of the book called “Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” by George Devereaux, published in 1951.  I bought it late one night at the Powell’s in Hyde Park, under the impression that Devereux was Blackfeet, since it’s a common Metis name around Browning.

“Reality and Dream” turned out to be about PTSD, not that helpful since it was still early after WWII and theory was not far along.  The movie, “Jimmy P.” upgraded the theories a bit.  It could not avoid showing the environment of the rez that created “Jimmy,” and the four Plains tribes that Devereaux conflated into the “Wolf” tribe.  The discussion of these matters is valuable -- worth being republished as a small stand-alone book -- but it is non-Indian, so mostly based on short sojourns with the tribes, usually in summer.

Journals and diaries are “found” writing as opposed to designed, shaped and marketed.  Since uniqueness has always been a value enhancer, it’s fortunate that humans are so various, but the supply never quite matches the value assigners -- some are over-estimated and others are certainly neglected.  This suggests the premise of “Any Human Heart” -- that it’s just a matter of luck, good or bad.  So what DOES guide the discerning of value in the creation of a book?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

THE BIGGEST PICTURE


It’s hard to believe that I moved back here in 1999, which now amounts to sixteen years.  Things have changed considerably.  I did get the book about Bob Scriver written and published, just barely before the whole publishing industry collapsed.  But I have not been able to redeem Bob’s work from the profit stranglers who control Western art.  The best thing about this Charley Russell trope was that it was land-based and authentic.  That was left behind long ago.

The whole concept of “reservations” for a captured indigenous people has changed radically, which means that my thinking about them must also change.  This empowers my thought about the environmental movement that has always been present in one form or another.  What was specific and experienced has now become planetary and even cosmic.  My grandfather's Rodale organic gardening and Bob's practice of keeping “wild” pets as babies have now become concerns about universal chemical pollution and the extinction of species.  So many people are concerned and involved that the flow of information and concepts and the demand for response is almost overwhelming.  


Another self-assigned task has been preserving and using my father’s photos, not because they were artistic or historic, but because they illustrate a little strand of life across time.  In researching the genealogy that they record, I discovered many things, including distortions and tragedies.  My family has not wanted to hear about these, because their idea of the virtue of relatives is fragile.  We are separated now.

The connected steps I’m following are:  cosmology leads to planetary morphology leads to geology leads to ecology leads to the historical formation of cultures leads to human individuation leads to creations.  There is no reference to theology.  Its place is taken by survival of elements at each step.

Parallel to all this has been trying to keep up with what a human being is and does, particularly in terms of neuro- research.  There are five aspects to this:


  1. The specialization and collaboration of one-celled creatures into complex animals.  This is crucial to brain function.
  2. The message system of the whole body -- not just the senses represented by organs like eye and ear, but the hundreds of small awarenesses, roughly sorted into internal vs. external at the skin barrier but including every tissue and extending down to the molecular level.  Action responses are included from molecular secretions to whole-animal skilled exertions like athletic feats.  Some estimate that there are 200 differently specialized brain cells assigned to subtle perceptions like whether one is right-side-up (head on top for humans).
  3. Empathic access to the thoughts and feeling-states of other people through identification, special “mirror” functions of cells in the pre-frontal cortex, experience, and communication systems like speaking, music, art, and words, both oral and written.  Results might include bonding, families, patriotism.
  4. “Group think” which is a phenomenon that forms spontaneously, an aggregate of individual ideas and responses.  Philosophies and governments.  A weltanschaung.
  5. Interaction with the infinite, including planetary conditions, sun storms, and massive evolutions of creatures and phenomena.  A consciousness that there is far far far more than we CAN know.

“Millennials” are so different from me that I not only don’t understand them, but I begin to resent them for their narcissistic domination of so much.  On the other hand, I’m old enough to see how change ripples through everything, most of it useless to oppose.  Peoples who have lived through the Great Depression or the World Wars were stretched to their limits and knew it.  

The generation that has been in control of the US and probably much of the English-speaking world is just about gone.  I relate to them better than to my own generation, partly because of the ten years with a man so much older and partly because of being in Browning, which is just leaving the 19th century.  But my own generation is dying as well.  


A K-12 Portland classmate died last week -- a woman who had a heart attack.  (Actually, I see by her obit that she was only my classmate after 1947 -- moving from California.) This person was intelligent and conventional, charming and dependable, quite mild and gentle.  She had two children but her husband, whom she met on vacation in San Francisco, somehow evaporated, probably about the time she went to PSU for an advanced degree.  Her work was books and then computers.  She was the kind of person I was expected to be, but risked and paid dearly NOT to be.  I don’t know where that difference came from except that at some point it dawned on me that it was better to actually live adventures than to just imagine them.

It made a difference that our teachers at Vernon and Jefferson -- and then later in university -- were mostly born at the turn of the 19th century, just before WWI, about the age of Bob Scriver.  It was a time about to turn violent and by WWII to murder children as well as destroying cities.  Our teachers were educated just at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties when all was optimism and determination, but the war had decimated men of an age to marry them: anyway they were few and scarred.  The Edwardian women threw their hearts into secondary education.  They were not allowed to teach in universities, so they taught what is now considered graduate level to adolescents who barely grasped it.  Here we were, pondering Kitto and Edith Hamilton.

That generation witnessed the desperate war against Nazism, an evil and oily snake impossible to kill.  The Millennials so enjoy waving the ghosts and skulls around to upset their elders.  They give it Goth Glam, quite unconscious of how easy it is to commit genocide.  In fact, they have a hard time thinking of adults as human.



Now both the brokenness of war, often internal to what was thought of as a group joined by faith, and the continuousness and interwovenness of human-caused destruction (sometimes identified as Evil), are becoming clear but not effectively opposed.  We keep trying to "solve" it.   We begin to think that the roots are paleobiological tendrils reaching back so far they are invertebrate.

I have no way of knowing how many years I have left, but a felt obligation to do something with them.  I no longer have the illusion that I can influence others -- that was snuffed by ministry.  The drive to write remains strong for its own sake.  I do have a passionate sense of what I love to write about.  I want the basics, the foundational concepts that are transforming right now.  

Why else would I live along the Rockies where the planetary plate tectonics have thrust up ramparts of stone and some day in that rain shadow grass and forbes might return to replace the human-distorted monoculture of grain because climate change from rising temps have prevented industrial irrigation.  We are told that we’re about due for another immense upthrust, a massive earthquake.  We are told that the two sub-continental plates press together so hard that the earth vibrates with stress, a kind of unheard resonance, all the way down the Old North Trail to the tip of South America.  It is a mystical idea that some claim to feel physically.


My understanding is not of the Christian petulant insistence on their individual survival in Heaven, but rather a kind of Taoist acceptance of my participation in these interacting forces.  I have no idea which action or thought or insight on my part will affect the future, but it is inescapable that my small actions, even washing the dishes, have impact.  (I may be creating a new life form in my neglected dishpan.)  Or maybe a word-scrap of my old-fashioned lyric realism will trigger something transformative in someone not born yet, just as reading has done for me.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ME AND JOHN BOEHNER

Boehner

John Boehner and I share a problem: we don’t fit our own demographic anymore.  The Pope told him to get out, or maybe it was more like setting him free in a way that served certain political interests.  They say that the Repubs who are intractable have tried to get rid of him for a long time.  No wonder he pulls a cry face.  I wish him well.  I think the Pope simply realized how miserable he was.   

As a result of the resignation, they say it’s more possible that the government won't shut down again and this time not even pay out Social Security.  (I noted that my bank seems to be bracing for that possibility.)  For me and a lot of other people around here, that would be a catastrophe, but for those who are already prosperous and thinking like the retro-Texans they really are, it will be considered a deserved punishment for people who refuse to admit what deadbeats they are: sick, homebound, useless old people.  What good are they?  They’re not OUR families.  Get rid of all outliers: they’re inefficient. 

Along with other “cost saving measures” as the CEO’s say, I personally have ended my posts at Medium.com, a platform for writers that is based in San Francisco.  Actually, I was just reposting what I’d already written for this blog (prairiemary.blogspot.com) but once in a while I’d do something a little more “edgy” and put it on Medium.

American Asian edgy: the Fifties return

The first truth from my point of view is that since it’s a “young” startup, it still had strange features that didn’t quite work.  The more serious problem was cultural: the focus was on the technicalities of the code.  Code was what they wrote, not narrative print.  The majority of them are coming from other cultures so that their dominant shared mode in this country is the tech world that accepts all code languages and, inevitably, code values.  They are the values of the factory:  reliable, uncomplaining, productive, cheerful, round-the-clock.  

I asked to be removed in early evening last night.  In spite of getting a message saying that I should not try to interact with them except 9 to 5, M to F, Pacific time, a techie responded at 1:30AM, evidently working from home on his own schedule.  He did not say he WOULD remove me, but only that he COULD.  I think he was afraid to make a decision until he consulted with his masters.  His only caveat was that I would lose all the writing I’d posted.  Right.  That’s why I print out anything I value, which is not necessarily very much.

The writers themselves are grouped by organizing into “domains” and by the practices of the techies, who supply the “tags” that “will let more people find you.”  Aside from dumb automated tags (every time I write about Indians they tag it “vacation” or “travel”) there are all sorts of other gizmos: the usual hearts, thumbs, and comments, but also provision for long responses (except that I can never figure out where they going to be put -- in my writing path or the other person’s writing) and for high-lighting the parts they like or differ from.  (One of mine really hit the spot with one reader -- he high-lighted the whole darn thing!  But no comments.  Was it objection or endorsement?)  


There’s a little two-step at the point of completion:  do you want it to be seen by only your friends (which is a dangerous idea in a world where everybody always sees everything eventually -- something politicians are slow to realize) or by the general public?  The second step is what rights you reserve, which indulges the fantasy that you can do such a thing, since everyone pirates everything.  But it does offer Creative Commons as a choice, which I think is a good idea, if ineffective.

After that, if your post is re-blogged or admired by someone, a little reminder goes out to the email of that someone’s “friends” who are really commenters and up-thumbers.  The idea that is encouraged is like-grouped-with-like,  a school of fish, “groupers.”  That is, mer-persons resembling shepherd dogs who want to gather and sort everything.  (“Let’s get this party organized!”)  

“We” want to be predictable.  No surprises.  We do not want to be rebuked; we are faultless.  And we are entitled, because we are techies and computers are no mystery to us -- therefore we understand the universe.  At least a gaming type universe with algorithms, Sim City.  We don’t do rural -- too messy.  Only peasants there.  It’s all very Seventh Grade, when adolescence begins, maybe because entering puberty is quite like entering a strange country with an uncertain culture.  Or coming from one, namely Suburbia.



The content is a different story.  Now anything goes -- “we’re not kids anymore” (But they still sounds like kids to me) so we can talk about our suicide attempts, our failures at gauging sexual hookups, and a lot of menacing mood pieces about emo weather.  What a great time for those people right now!  Everyone on pills, standing in the rain, staring at the window of the Beloved One.

There seems to be a fantasy that this platform is like an MFA class, basically Seinfeld.  That people will help each other develop by correcting their grammar and composition structure.  A few take this seriously, the same ones who write long letters of advice for their younger siblings.  "You must double-space," said one.  "Post a more cheerful photo," advised another.  One man in England who was organizing a “domain” invited me to join.  He admitted that I would probably be the one providing help, not the receiver.  I declined.  I’ve done that for years.  No more. 

The writers pursue the topics popular in magazines, but I do not see the loose and energetic prose of the zines.  Mixing it up with Manhattan Slid-Yiddish words, Black ghetto inventions of metaphor, Brit rhyming slang, captured sub-Spanish dialect, words truncated to type with thumbs, and -- hey, don’t the Chinese do slang?  No no no.  Proper English.



I joined Medium and Aeon (briefly) at about the same time and it was soon obvious how different they are.  Medium was for ambitious writers who valued conformity and didn’t quite have a grasp on the humanities.  Aeon was for snobs who could produce vids, but specifically for the ones who wanted to preserve what they took to be basic premises:  that there is a God, so it only remains to define Him; that such a thing as genius exists and ought to be given privilege; that deep science (once it’s translated into a charming video) is a proper subject for educated people.  (I agree with that last one.)

Earlier in my life -- I’m surprised to realize as long ago as twenty years (1995??!!) --  my denomination changed out from under me -- though it’s explicitly based on the inclusion of everyone.  Partly it was undone by political correctness, which assumes that if you use the right words no one will notice that you secretly despise some category of humans, and partly it was the assumption of entitlement on the part of the younger people: that there was no need for them to take a turn at the boring stuff (setting up chairs) and they were overqualified for things like making the budget sensible.  Luckily Blacks are taking up the slack.  They know where the power is.

But the more universal and penetrating problem has been that traditional assumptions about the nature of the real world have dispersed.   Nothing is solid now.  A human being is a flowing, transforming set of processes.  A planet has a mind of its own and can simply wipe us out.  If electricity (power) stopped existing tomorrow, all our fancy extensions of communication, travel and commerce would be dead.  We couldn't buy a cup of coffee or pump a gallon of gas.


And maybe most importantly, human beings “in the aggregate” have a kind of group mind that responds like a whole school of fish or flock of birds that can turn inside out, swerve sharply, or simply drop out of the sky.  Gone.  No reason we can think of.  What we do now might have some impact, but we’ve already had a big part in making this world intractable.