Wednesday, January 20, 2016


World War II, its causes and consequences, has controlled my life in many ways.  Born in 1939, my norm is war, the way the world “really” is.  Educated in the Forties and Fifties, I was taught a certain way of interpreting events and a specific ideal of how the world ought to be.  It was admirable in many ways, unusual in its attention to rural food production — one of America’s goals was to feed the world.  But often naive about how things can be twisted, so it took us a while to understand that food is political, a weapon.  It took us a while to realize that democracy is often just a disguise for a clever oligarchy and that even the Greeks we so idealized kept slaves.  What one does with this sudden cynical dose of reality is a reflection of character, for which one must take responsibility.

With that in mind, I’ve been appreciating the thoughts in quotes featured in daily mailings from “Delancy Place,” ( a subscription service.  They are selections from the reading of Richard Vague, who is fond of history.  Today was about the development of Paris.

“For our selections — in addition to the types of things just mentioned, I look for the unexpected and contrarian. And I love passages that quantify things — and marvel that most historians (and politicians) so often neglect numbers. It is fascinating that Prohibition led to the opening of thousands upon thousands of new speakeasies, that the Afghanistan War cost over $100 billion a year while the entire Afghanistan economy itself was only $15 billion, and that American states defaulted on their debt en masse in the mid-1800s.”

“My favorite quote on this comes from Mary Pickford – who became fabulously famous and wealthy in the earliest days of Hollywood – who said "You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  That’s reassuringly practical and American sounding.

Vague is not interested in apologetics, but he is interested in the understory of causes and the complex narratives that are hidden and twisted by the media.  I begin to realize more and more that reporters are merely the visible cat’s paws of venture capital who are hidden by the curtain of their intermediaries: editors and publishers who control what hits print.  Thus I appreciate that Vague clearly states what he quotes and why.  

His graphics are an old-fashioned typewriter and in another place the beautifully bound spines of old books.  I want to go even deeper, though not by ignoring Vague’s often piercingly enlightening quotes.  I’m thinking about how what we do changes us as human beings, the kind of speculation that Jared Diamond enjoys.  I mean, my handwriting is wretched so I don’t use it much — instead I keyboard.  This means that I produce print with both hands, not just one writing hand.  Does that mean that the parts of my brain that do this thinking are developed on both sides of the chasm between the two brain halves?  What does that mean in terms of the notion that one half of the brain “does” metaphor and image while the other takes the steps of making spoken words into written sentences via logic?  Many people are thinking about this sort of thing.

What does it mean that those who refuse to use computers (many management and small town business owners) are slipping over the time horizon, and are being replaced by youngsters who truly grasp the meta-languages of format, storage and transmission?  It appears to mean, in part, that fuddyduddys will never escape from young hackers.  And those hackers will have different ideas about individual vs. society.  They can keep the world quietly in their pocket while their elders are still trying to get control of the local.  Short of stripping and incarcerating people, which we have been doing until now it’s a serious drain on the budget.  But it's an irresistible brutality if your life depends on what you fancy is respect.

Some writers have been very good at explaining the major forces that made Euros so dominant for half a millennium.  A big part of it has been the advantage of literacy, from the Magna Carta that flagged a reference point for Euro monarchs to the American Indian treaties that writhed with change as whites — over time — moved across the continent, first inventing the idea of tribes, then imposing the notion of nations, moving from the idea of treaties to something like letters of agreement and then the notion that indigenous people were a kind of resource to be managed.  By the time the indigenous began to claim autonomy and even sovereignty, many of the ideas lay as tangled debris in legal limbo.  Not the least of the problem was the mixture of oral and written culture, and another mixture of rural and metropolitan assumptions.  People in Washington D.C. do not “get” Indians or even ranchers.

I’m going to keyboard into this blog the response of the tribal chair to the Town of Browning and Glacier Electric as an example, Exhibit A, if you like.  (The local newspaper does not print these online.  The newspaper considers itself "white.")

Tony Glen photo

At the heart of economics is always commerce but the terms of commerce have become so mixed and unstable that “doing business” has been paralyzed.  Lawyers are not motivated to clarify and resolve these problems.  It’s something like the Bureau of Indian Affairs being told to put itself out of business by transferring power to the Indians themselves.  Who in their right mind would end their own employment?

Our demographics, full of new categories and old assumptions that refuse to die, no longer fit our boundaries.  The idea of the Town of Browning as a kind of embassy of the state within the boundaries of a foreign nation, the idea of the Co-operative as a business owned by the people as a benefit to the people, the notion that federal government would be interested in household violence, the idea that safety and welfare of children is in conflict with racial genetics (incorrectly identified with stigmatized poverty) — all this stuff needs to be rethought and re-organized.

It is simply inhuman to shut off power and water in winter.  Not only do people die, but houses explode their pipes and destroy their integrity, removing tribal assets that were dearly won.  Nor can anyone, not even the federal government, find the authority to declare something like military emergency.  The people themselves must take hold.  

The people of Greece

It’s highly ironic that in Greece, where this idea of citizenry was first proposed is in roughly the same confused financial shape as the Blackfeet and Glacier County (which tries to pretend it’s not involved).   
The reaction in Greece is young, rude, chaos-making, and very hard on the old and vulnerable.  It is not WRITTEN.   These “reporters” are not controlled by editors and investors.  Anyone who can afford a smart phone or a $100 video camera can make a comment on reality by putting it in an image.  Anyone can put that on the Internet by using school or library computers.

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