Friday, August 18, 2017

BUYING EDUCATION -- I DON'T BUY IT

The actual "Lighthouse" was built during WWII as a beacon for pontoon airplanes 
landing on Lake Francis.  None do that now.

A former student of mine from as long ago as the Sixties (?) and his wife are taking me out to dinner tonight at the Lighthouse, which is an excellent venue, as good as anything in Portland where my student lives.  You could buy it.  http://eastsloperealty.com/commercial_descriptions/lighthouse.html

This student is retired after decades of working with Native American education within the conventional framework of schools governed by states and counties, including the high school in Browning where we first met.  This does not mean he’s conventional.  He’s spent most of his life in Portland where they raised their son.  He led me astray once by clueing me in to Native American “bulletin boards,” online discussions on the Internet at a time when I could barely operate a computer.  It was one of the most valuable sources of knowledge I've had.

This added a layer to my understanding of Native Americans who taught me, whom I taught, whom I read about, who set coffee in front of me, whom I helped drag dead grizzly bears across the shop floor — okay, enough.  I never married a Native American and the closest Bob Scriver ever came to doing that was a French-Canadian.  My major contribution at the moment is helping Paul Seesequasis (a Willow Cree in Saskatoon where I walked off from the ministry in 1988) figure out where old photos were taken by Magee and McClintock.  They're for a book to be published this fall in Canada. 

Oddly, I’ve developed opinions about professional Native American education specialists who are white.  Many of them strike me as charlatans, a few as nut-cases, and some as saints.  (Name three — this is an old test of generalizations)  Coburn, Ward, Jamruska.  At least one was evil: the one who found a passed-out old drunk in the grass and superglued his fingers together into fists, so that when he woke up — badly needing to piss — he would not be able to work his fly zipper and drench himself.  I know this because he described it with glee in a book he wrote about his experience.  (Bob used to say, "Indians think all white people are crazy and they're right.")

Over fifty years of experience, a lot of it apart from education or academia, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s time to throw out "formal" education as we know it.  In the first place too much of it is really missionizing.  In the second it is based on Prussian ideas about preparing soldiers for obedience unto death.  In the third place it doesn’t address citizenship in a world of many nations, nor technical skill at the needed level (not even for sex), nor the managing of one’s identity, nor justice, nor what to do when things grow abysmally and dangerously wrong.  As an operational manual for life, American education is crap.  (I hardly ever use that word but I never say shit, so it will have to serve.)

The problem at core, in some ways, is that we assume that people as they are born and grow up must be guided, urged, and graded.  The truth is -- and there is much scientific proof for this -- people even at the stage of gestation (pre-birth) are irrepressible learners.  To be alive is to learn.  Only drugs can stop it.  Even punishment teaches something.

My laundromat friend who is ninety still thinks teaching is a noble profession and should be respected.  He probably thinks the same about ministry, though we haven’t discussed it.  He asked me what I thought was the most valuable thing I’d done, what I was proudest of.  I said “writing.”  He didn’t know how to respond.  He reads quite a lot but not the kind of thing I write now — and in conventional ways, not on a “blog.”  I don’t think he’s read my published books:  “Bronze Inside and Out” or “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke.”  

He is not educated to get a “big picture” of professions, the specialized roles for which one must buy extra years of training (grad school) in order to acquire vocabulary and concepts.  But he IS educated about citizenship because he was a military guard at the Nuremberg Trials.  What he knows first-hand is primary, basic and character-building.  None of it is less valuable because he and his wife run a laundromat.  He is a man of great honor and wisdom.  I love visiting about the news with him, though the news dismays him so.


The major things white people seem to have taught themselves is denial and avoidance, like the people downwind of Nazi crematoriums who ignored the smell of burning flesh.  To point out the Confederate flag with a skull in the middle that flies next door is to cause uproar.  Yet this village is obsessed with “lookin’ good” so people will move here.  Some of the most intelligent and progressive local people I know are defending Trump (STILL!) on grounds that he’s no worse than all the other politicians.  Levelling.

When I taught in the Sixties, my “English” textbook had a whole chapter on fallacies and propaganda.  Contemporary texts have no such thing.  High schools no longer provide civics classes.  Students at my seminary raised a ruckus about having to learn French (a foreign language is a traditional requirement for a liberal arts MA, from which the MDiv is derived) so the requirement was dropped. Regardless of what other strategies and values are taught in an institutional context, the overriding imperative is to avoid controversy because it will lose money, and the result is the LOWEST and most COMMON denominator.  One must often go outside academia to find what one needs to learn.  The saving graces are the used book industry and the internet, if you can name your question.

Mothers and aunties in both Heart Butte and Valier, which are linked at the heart by the Pondera Canal Company irrigation system derived from Swift Dam, tell their children — esp. the boys — get an education and get out of here.  Do not become trapped in this circumscribed place because the results will not be good.  It used be that the draft would at least let boys see the world.  Now it is the girls who can qualify to join, because they paid attention in class.  One doesn’t need bayonet drill now — one needs to know coding.

I’m hoping that we’re just at an awkward stage, somehow having gotten enough “Free School” challenge for Betsy DeVos to see the commercial possibilities, and having watched madrasa students rocking and memorizing the Koran in the way we barely remember our students memorizing Great White English-Speaking Men poetry and speeches.  There is so much and so various a body of things crucial to learn that no curriculum is adequate.  


So it seems clear that the thing to do is self-teaching, sort of like cars that drive themselves, except freeform, meta-level use of the brain which is only the dashboard of the body, which must move to learn.  (Autodidacts have always been with us.)  The success in teaching Blackfeet language at Cuts Wood School is due to acting out the words — living the concepts.  We make fun of “monkey-see/monkey-do” because that’s only an evolutionary step.  But the teacher who does is effective.  The joke about “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” is an ironic challenge.  Those who cannot do, cannot teach.  They’ve never been out of town.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

COME DOWN FROM YOUR HIGH HORSE

"The Rough Rider"  Theodore Roosevelt by Phimister Proctor
The story goes that a small child was taken by his babysitter to visit this statue every day and it was very much beloved by the child.  His tender would say, "Do you want to go the park and see Teddy?" It was years and years before the kid realized that Teddy was not the name of the horse.

Below are the URL’s of posts I find enlightening, at least in little rays, when trying to think about the Charlottesville mess.  They are from educated, Manhattan-located, liberal-skewed (well, at least not white supremicist), successful people.  Maddow, of course, has the stigma of being female, highly educated, Jewish, and wealthy.  Etc.  You can’t find much contempt directed at Steve Benen, her male blog writer, but Maddow is a contempt-magnet.  YouTube has posts about “wipe that smirk off her face.”  I reckon I, too, often have a smirk on my face, but not about Maddow.  If you don’t know why, go read something else.  This won’t reassure you.

And I won’t stoop to interpreting Trump’s grimaces.

This is a highly relevant history of the USA and the KKK.

Mainly, they aren't about the confederacy.

www.slate.com/authors.matthew_dessem.html  How Did We Treat Monuments to White Supremacists When They Weren’t Our White Supremacists? 

Here’s where I’m coming from: north central east slope of the Rockies, practically in Canada and historically on the Blackfeet reservation.  In the Sixties I was married to Bob Scriver whose business was bronze statues of men on horses, sometimes monumental ones.  The history and emotional connections of men on horses go back to the high plateau Eurasian “mongol hordes” who swept down on Europe.  (Just like today's Jimgiwee raiders in Africa.)  It continued with the difference in status between cavalry and infantry.  I was a bit surprised that the police did not use horses for crowd control in Charlottesville, but trained horses and riders are expensive.  However, Manhattan and Portland both use them.  As did white overseers controlling black cotton pickers and chain gangs.  Kings (Also QE II) and Napoleons ride horses.

The history and emotions of big bronze statues go back through the periods of alternating war and peace: in war the bronze formed cannons, in peace the cannons were melted down and cast into monuments.  Then came war again and the monuments were once more used for cannon bronze.   It's a little like swords and plowshares.  These days for raids we use computer-controlled predator drones of many metals and rare substances, and when we create monuments we are likely to use lasers to cut names into stones.

Probably the torch-bearers and beat-down warriors (who may have thought they were in a production of “Game of Thrones”) did not know that the cast of characters would soon list them by name, onscreen as we watched.  Face recognition programs were in operation at vid feeds of the scene so people were being named and doxed even as they looked for their next victim.  This works both ways: Trump’s people want the names and url’s of every dissident on the internet.  Plus control of the internet (“regulation”).

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wjjnpz/the-ethics-of-doxing-nazis-on-social-media?utm_source=vicetwitterus

Cultural anthropologists spend a lot of time thinking about the agriculture revolution that seems to have been triggered by the withdrawal of the glaciers ten thousand years ago, and then we all got caught up in industrialization and the anthropocene.  Pastoralization (not pasteurization) has been skipped over: first the influence of herding animals on foot and then the dynamics of herding animals from horseback, which meant moving large numbers of big animals over long distances, which has been memorialized again and again in Westerns.

Not a fake photoshopped cover.

It’s amusing to think about the heroic statue of John Wayne as “Rooster Cogburn” done by Harry Jackson, a friend of Bob’s.  The monumental version was commissioned by a bank and emplaced in front of what became Larry Flynt's Hustler headquarters.  No one tore it down or demonstrated around it, but when Hustler moved away, there was a search for a place to relocate it, which ran into difficulties.  The new culture of California did not appreciate violent movies.  Not even the Autry Museum of the American West.  Art is at the mercy of culture.

The herding of cattle across the continent — and the range wars between pastoralists on foot like sheepherders (who sometimes used horses) and cowboys, a split culture in which wealthy owners controlled the lost and the losers who did the work -- was ended by the railroad.  Cattle herding was not owned by cowboys, but by wealthy people in league with the government — the same government that had allowed them free use of the national grasslands plus occasional forays onto Native American land. Mounted cavalry were used to march on foot Native Americans to reservations. Horses by that time were a symbol of power and wealth among the tribes, as powerful as guns.

Bob Scriver’s work was based on his consciousness of the monuments  being emplaced after WWI.  Born in 1914, he was a dedicated reader of the newspapers that celebrated each new dedication and absorbed the world view that went with it.  These were Beaux Arts sculptures, based on the fine bronze casting of French artisans after marble monuments went out of fashion.  Phimister Proctor was one of those sculptors and Eddie Big Beaver posed for both Proctor and Scriver.  Malvina Hoffman was another Beaux Arts sculptor beloved to Bob and we met her.  She tempered the triumphalist tone of some Western art aficionadoes, who often were white supremacists.  Of course, for those who believe that the historical American tribes are supreme, the dynamics were very confusing to a white boy on the rez, esp. since Bob's music career idolized black jazz musicians.  Which is why I’ve thought about it so much.

The confusion is aggravated today, now that the practice of pacifying the remnants of the pre-existing and culturally unique people that was done by controlling their food and supplying their liquor, is not enough.  Today NA’s don’t feel conquered and are claiming their lives back.  At the same time the white folks not enrolled in the tribal corporation and therefore not able to receive the government-backed shares, are plenty angry.  But they are not traitors, like the real estate moguls of international megacities who no longer recognize the regulations of nations.

"An Honest Try" by Bob Scriver

Bob’s largest monuments are based on rodeo, a quintessential horse-based demonstration of manliness that is uniquely Western, an arena war in which the opponents really ARE animals.  His statue of a bull rider is in front of the Kansas Board of Trade.  It’s not as well-known as the Wall Street bull, which was revealed as a male power force when a defiant little bronze girl was placed in its path.  Bulls are symbols of economic power and they are white men’s symbols.  I haven’t heard of any statue of a bull being pulled down.  Just those of rival powerful male humans.

In the end all wars and power structures are economic.  In this small town the markers of male success are big shiny cars kept very clean plus neat, recently painted houses with green lawns kept a certain height, and skill at golf in summer/bowling in winter.  Veterans’ clubs are no longer significant.  The really wealthy have wives who keep horses. Some collect Scriver bronzes.

Brutal younger men will say frankly that anyone who doesn’t have a powerful car that can go fast should not be allowed to use the Interstate because they just get in the way.  And they enjoy the defiance of Confederate flags.  Some of the more significantly wealthy got their start with an insurance award for an auto accident that was judged not their fault.  They do not believe they will age and die and therefore have contempt for those who do.  They either don’t care to join the military or couldn’t pass the entrance exams.  In college towns where the dorms are integrated, they rape — even if they have to drug the women . . . or men.  This “script” is reiterated over and over in vivid media narratives.  It is based on folly and frustration.

All this stuff is terrific material for fiction, but much harder to explore as complex history or as a source of prediction for the future.  Although it becomes easier and easier to predict Trump’s future and the fate of his circle of oligarchs.  There will not be monuments.  Maybe a tiki torch.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

HUNTING FOR HONOR




Instead of cutting edge neurology and philosophy theories, I want to look at ideas from hunting and frontier life as laid out in Daniel Justin Herman’s “Hunting and the American Imagination.”  While everyone else seems locked into the confrontation between the North and South/Black and White, I prefer to work from the West, not the Civil War but the Range Wars that came from the culture-mixing thrashing about on top of the Native American civilization, maybe partly spinning off from the Civil War.

These ideas developed from a history of hunting in America, as it was imported from Europe..  The premise is simple:  when Euros first considered a whole new continent ahead of them, they split into two kinds of expectations — parties, if you like.  As the dust jacket on “Hunting and the American Imagination” (2001) puts it, Herman is contrasting “the democratic legend of Daniel Boone” with “the hunting with hounds of European aristocrats.”  “America’s sport hunters ultimately saw themselves as the self-reliant ‘American Natives’ they had displaced and claimed to be heirs of the continent and natural stewards over its land and wildlife.

One part was determined to go to this new place and set up a replica of Europe and Britain but with THEM as the top, the kings and emperors.  Their aim was to own a big swatch of land that they could fence for their own private use and hunting grounds.  (Some say this is the source of the one part of the environmental movement, the interest of the elite in protected land as demonstrated by the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy and Ted Turner.)  

The other “party” saw a new continent as a chance to create a new kind of country where everyone was equal.  To them the forests and prairies were for everyone to hunt in freely, so that no one need go hungry.  They were more open to the idea of including the indigenous people in their plans.  But they didn’t quite grasp that indigenous people are very different in different ecologies.  Instead the whites tended to raise the idea of being native into a kind of transcendent virtue.  But sooner than expected, they reached the limits of the land.  And stigma dumped the noble sauvages into the ditch.

Another split in American culture came about because of urbanization: as the nation became a small town bourgeois nation of clerks, men sought other ways to show their manliness.  Herman contrasts “pugilism” with hunting, the former being kind of low class (maybe like today’s cage fighting) and the latter implying privilege and travel for adventures.  So Trump imagines himself pounding down a personified CNN and his sons have the resources to go cut the tail off an elephant, which they assume only the privileged are able to do.  (Personally, I think they should have to eat that elephant.  Our family rule was that you eat what you shoot.  I come from a context of food hunting.) 

So what I see in Charlottesville in these white self-announced entitled Nazis and so on are pugilist adolescents, basically burger-flippers who eat their product, looking for manliness while living with Mom.  They are not warriors, but rather a mob.  It is very strange to watch them when one’s primary consciousness is with Native Americans.  All the cries of “go home” neglect the fact that the indigenous peoples have been wishing they would do exactly that for hundreds of years.  

These seekers of power carry bats and sticks for fighting because they can’t afford guns, thank goodness.  And the army won’t take them.  (The elite military and sophisticated hunting are closely related as markers of gentry, which is why Trump likes generals, though his version of hunting is chasing a little white ball down a hole.)


Herman’s two other books look at range wars along these lines but focused on the Mogollon Rim and then Mormonism in Mexico.  Rim Country Exodus: A Story of Conquest, Renewal, and Race in the Making (2012) was written next.  “Across east-central arizona runs a long, cliff-like escarpment, towering at some points a thousand feet, elsewhere two thousand, over the surrounding countryside. In the middle of the state, just below Flagstaff, the escarpment falls back repeatedly at perpendicular angles where creeks—Clear Creek, Beaver Creek, Fossil Creek, Sycamore Creek, Oak Creek—cut deep canyons in their search for the ocean. At its eastern extremity, that escarpment—known as “the Rim,” or “the Mogollon Rim,” after an eighteenth-century New Mexico governor—buries itself in the morass of the White Mountains, cinder cones that rise to almost 12,000 feet.”


Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West (The Lamar Series in Western History) (2013) is Herman’s second book.  Yale University Press News, in “A Reading List for the Current Racial Climate in America” includes this book.  “The Pleasant Valley War, sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud, or Tonto Basin War, or Tewksbury-Graham Feud, was a range war fought in Pleasant Valley, Arizona in the years 1882-1892.”

In it Herman suggests “Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were war mongers. . . Reagan and Bush were, in many ways, the creations of Zane Grey and the empire of Western novels and movies that followed him." (p. 289).”  I agree, except that I would point out that the tsunami of Western television series BEFORE Reagan was president often featured what I call “stand down” plots.  Matt Dillon and Mr. Favor and the Wagon Train boss stood for finding non-violent solutions first.  Maybe you could call those Eisenhower Westerns.

Herman suggests a basic conflict between what he calls “honor and conscience." He explains "honor tended toward assertion, strength, fierceness, combat. Conscience tended toward restraint, modesty, sympathy." (p. xxii) “  If — as a reviewer commented — honor might in this instance better be described as pride, then we could say Trump wants honor, but Obama has conscience and ended up with the honor without resorting to combat.  (Bill Clinton does not fit into this formulation.  LBJ comes down as a combatant.)  Trump in his cowardice loses everything he wants, evidently because he can’t tell what honor is, except profit.  Honor cannot be inherited — it must be earned again and again.


Herman’s fourth book is fiction:  “Summer of the Guns.”  The Amazon squib says:  “In the desolate cityscape of Depression-era Phoenix, twelve-year old Billie Jean Moran has journeyed west to flee a troubled past with her deaf sister, Sara. But they find themselves in the midst of another catastrophe--this time involving a scandal that implicates even the Arizona governor. When political crooks peg Billie's African-American father as an unsuspecting fall guy, Billie and Sara are forced to go into hiding. In the course of their ordeal, the sisters find unlikely allies in the form of a broken-down ex-insurance salesman, a juvenile delinquent, and a prison nurse. Through bravery and cunning, Billie, Sara, and their friends bring the real criminals to justice and triumph over fear, discrimination, and injustice.”

Sounds very modern except for missing the “spiritual” element, obligatory these days.  I hope there are “Indians.”  I’ll ask for a review copy.  I can’t afford any more books this fall.  Anyway, I should probably reread this densely packed earlier book of ideas called “Hunting and the American Imagination.”  I read it two decades ago, but it seems newly useful.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

THE STRUCTURE OF HALLUCINATION


You won’t know me until you know the structure of my hallucinations.  Not the content, but the “structure” or “antistructure” — the latter because sometimes it’s the resistance to accepting certain convictions that defines me.

************

Origin and Etymology of “hallucinate” from Google sources

The Latin ending probably was influenced by vaticinari "to prophecy," also "to rave." Sense of "to have illusions" is from 1650s. Occasionally used in transitive senses, "to cause hallucination.”

Perception of objects with no reality usually arising from disorder of the nervous system or in response to drugs (such as LSD).

Latin hallucinatus, past participle of hallucinari, allucinari to prate, dream, modification of Greek alyein to be distressed, to wander

*************

A big part of my structure is the conviction that everything is like an iceberg: most of it hidden, but that runs into my other conviction that if I could just understand it, then I could make things turn out a lot better, have the information needed to solve mysteries that are hurting people.  But I run into my family culture which shares the bourgeois conviction that propriety means secrecy.  

There’s enough alcoholism, poverty, and failure back through the generations to make anxiety reinforce secrecy.  But at least in me, it means I’m always looking for that moment when my aunt lifts out of a cardboard box of family studio portraits a semi-familiar face that turns out to be a paranoid schizophrenic uncle I never knew about, but who explains why my cousins were so afraid of someone mysterious who might come to the door.  And why my other uncles were so mockingly alert to difference. so invested in eliminating it.

I’m scary/wary Mary, but I’m also counter-phobic.  If something scares me enough or seems a threat to others, I’m “on it” as the police procedurals say.  This has happened enough in my life that I’m addicted to adrenaline and now that molecule hits me hard, but I don’t have the grasp to handle it anymore.  Aging is an interference.  I’m stiff and slow, even in terms of thinking.  Yet I still have the strong command, instilled in me as a child, to save everyone.  My attempts to help often end badly, which makes me end up opposing myself.

A third tension is between how much I project “wholesomeness” most of the time, which reads to some men as obedience, and can be undermined by my interest in wickedness.  I’ve never really been wicked, but close enough to see it vividly.  My “wholesomeness” is sometimes seen by others as childishness and weakness.  To be dangerous and outside the rules is protective, marks a person’s power because often it is unseen.  Not deliberately unseen, but just outside perception.

Partly I’m being jokey about all this, but on the other hand I’m dead serious.

Hallucination is a term chosen to emphasis the provisionalness of what we think the world is about.  You could say “weltenschauunge” which is much more impressive but means “world view” which is about the same thing.  What a competent psychoanalyst tries to do is to get a sense of the structure of your hallucinations, possibly by exploring the childhood when you were forming it.  Then to shift the evidence to an interpretation that allows change.

Gerrans’ book, “The Measure of Madness”, came today in the mail and I’m beginning to read it.  The vocabulary is technical: “doxastic” makes me grateful for Wikipedia in spite of its sins.  I had guessed that this word had something to do with the computer.  Doxing: search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.”  Actually, the whole advertising world, plus the political world, is now deeply engaged with finding and using doxing.

But doxastic is not connected to that by usage and much precedes computers anyway, going back to the roots of logic.
Doxastic logic is a type of logic concerned with reasoning about beliefs. The term doxastic derives from the ancient Greek δόξα, doxa, which means "belief". Typically, a doxastic logic uses it to mean "It is believed that is the case", and the set denotes a set of beliefs.”

Gerrans is seeking a physiological description of obvious psychological problems like hallucinations that don’t fit reality.  Most of them DO, at least well enough to go unchallenged.  His premise is that the brain has a whole system of processing, little gates and actions, which include a two-step process:  generating a host of explanations for whatever evidence you’ve got, and then choosing among them for the best one (salience) that will be “real,” confirmed by success in the reality that most people agree is real.  (So far I see no way to escape this circularity, which is hard on nonconformists and heretics.)

Among my minister friends, one had an all-purpose traveling sermon called “Why is my kite down the sewer?”  One of the purposes of clergy is to provide a guide to salience:  which ideas are positive and moral.  (Are those two different things?  Maybe this is one way of looking at the liberal/conservative spectrum.  For the conservative, the moral answer is singular.)

The answer to the liberal sermonic question is multiple.  Maybe it was bad luck.  Maybe it was poor education.  Maybe it was culture shift.  Maybe it was bad genes or poverty.  Maybe it was due to some malevolent person or force personified that has followed you around and destroyed you at every turn.  The criteria for the salience (usefulness) of these convictions is life itself.

Gerrans posits that the brain as a physiological neurological organ — in terms of how it handles information — both proposes explanations and chooses among them, but these operations happen in different parts of the brain and if the “salience” function is damaged, hallucinatory explanations of the world may seem very real, regardless of results.  If a self-serving and reassuring hallucination is confirmed by a group, then the power of the idea is much exaggerated.  If the power is great enough, it can energize emotional potency justifying extreme action.  We just saw this in Charlottesville.  We see it more and more.  We elected it.

The UU clergy showed up in their yellow t-shirts and prayer scarves, talking about love, but they are just pushed out of the way by young men inflamed by their kites being down the sewer.  All that prattle about love means nothing to them.  They want power and the UU’s have none to offer.  Neither, evidently does any political body which has been denoted by our US Constitution as the formal source of power obligated to identify what is salient and to enforce that priority.  Not even the police were willing to use their power until it was too late to keep hallucination from becoming lethal nightmare.

Monday, August 14, 2017

WHAT'S AT RISK


This is a thought experiment meant to break up some assumptions.  It is bouncing off a Vanity Fair article in the most recent issue called “The 5th Risk” by Michael Lewis, which caught my attention because much of the article discusses the Hanford Reach radioactive contamination alongside the Columbia River, upstream from Portland, OR.  It was a calculated risk to be making bomb material there, but at that point the area was underpopulated, anxious for money, and looked at with a certain amount of denial of what might go wrong.  

The premise of the article is that putting Rick Perry, an adversary of regulation, in charge of the DOE — means that it’s no longer properly staffed, has a confused future, and is generally ignored though the danger is as high as from some adolescent threats from North Korea answered by senile threats from the USA.  Maybe higher risk, certainly sneakier.

Here are the five major risks that the Department of Energy is supposed to avert:
1.  A nuclear accident — not an attack, but a misadventure like the armed bombs that have broken away from airplanes and fallen to the ground.  So far none have exploded.  Dozens have come close.
2.  North Korea in its rage and threats
3.  Iran, obsessively
4.  Failure of the electrical grid
5.  Failure to deal with radioactive mess

Lewis decided to visit Hanford and set out from Portland along the Columbia River.

“An hour or so into the drive, the forests vanish and are replaced by desolate scrubland.  It’s a startling sight: a great river flowing through a desert.  Every so often I pass a dam so massive it’s as if full-scale replicas of the Department of Energy’s building had been dropped into the river.  The Columbia is postcard lovely, but it also an illustration of the MacWilliam’s fourth risk.  The river and its tributaries generate more than 40 percent of the hydroelectric power for the United States; were the dams to fail, the effects would be catastrophic.”

When Bonneville was first dedicated, my family visited its interior and saw the turbines whirling.  For me, they are a gigantic metaphor of power, but on a human scale.  I’ve been reading and writing about the historical consequences of the last major glaciation which scraped down along the east slope of the Rockies and eliminated all life except for a few refugia like the Sweetgrass Hills and their “sisters” along the border.   Only recently have scientists begun to think about who was here before the ice came rolling.  For those people “winter is coming” was very real.  It happened in Europe as well, but I’m thinking about North America right now.  It was the melting of that glacier that gouged out the Columbia River and its gorge.  Indigenous people saw it happen and spoke of it in myth.

This time it may very well be that the source of human catastrophe will be the Ring of Fire (named for volcanic action) that comes in the form of nuclear war or another bigger Fukushima mishap.  What would happen if the Pacific Northwest were devastated by radioactivity, either explosive or just permeative?  We think in terms of loss of life, but the infrastructure loss, including the dynamos of the dams, would mean a 40% loss of electrical supply for the entire nation. (See above.)  It would also mean the loss of Microsoft but would spare Apple.

Creeping radioactivity would not be like the slow scraping loss due to glaciers — more like the loss due to disease, like the smallpox that wiped out so many indigenous people.  Like smallpox, some people would survive, and the animals (after the initial violence) would adapt.  We know this because of the rebound of animals around the Hanford Reach and in Russia around Chernobyl.  (A few old babushkas also go on living there in their little houses with gardens.)

I suppose, if it weren’t for the difficulties of widespread delivery of enough sarin, poison would be a better choice from the point of view of enemies, because it would leave all the structures.  But their value is not passive.  Without the people who actually operate the dams, power lines, communication systems, and so on, the equipment and connections would be useless.  They are bionic.

In fact, this is what Perry’s DOE ignorance is losing: the expert knowledge of the bio part of energy: the thought, the practices, the checks and balances of government.  They are precisely what is seen by Trumpists as so much inconvenience and blocks to profit.

Michael Lewis mentions, but does not develop, the thought that the stakeholders who are really paying attention are the indigenous people.  Because they live there and have ever since the last glaciation which created the Columbia River when it melted.  Glaciers and floods are reciprocal.  In essence, the melting of the glaciers on Greenland and Antartica will flood the PNW.  Hard to get heads around.

Winter came from the north because that’s what it always does.  Radioactivity will move in from the West because that’s where the wind comes from, over the ocean, pushing along flotsam to the beaches and bringing in Chinooks and rain to the prairie.  Our soil here is inconvenient gumbo because of the rain of fine dust from the emergent PNW volcanoes of the Ring of Fire long ago.  Those who ignore deep history can’t learn geology.

What would the consequences of the depopulation of the West of the US be like?  What would Manhattan, Washington DC, and Los Angeles do about it?  Would they turn in on their pot-bound, rust-frozen, lead-poisoned selves and just build a wall?  I’d bet on it.  And the West would go back to being what it once was, a varied ecology that supports life in its splendid wovenness.  Except no humans.  Maybe some indigenous people who have adapted to salmon that glow in the dark.

The Hanford Reach

At this point in my composing, along came the news of Charlotte, NC.  I know those jejune hate-filled pseudo-Nazis.  I’ve been flunking them and putting them on detention for a long time.  I didn’t see women and children with them.  What’s different is that now the Montana representative punches out reporters.  The sheriff of my county is in court because a) his wife is divorcing him, b) he is alleged to have kicked his son while the boy was curled on the ground, c) he’s being recalled by petition for claimed incompetence.  Our former Representative Zinke is busy undermining the National Parks.  And the President is a buffoon who could probably not find either Guam or Montana on a map and doesn’t need to because he is owned and operated by Vladimir Putin who would like Russia back, even if it is getting drowned around the edges.  A land with no people begins to sound attractive.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

I PUT DOWN "THE ORENDA"

James Boyden

At last I found my copy of “The Orenda” and I’ve read a few more chapters, plus skipping around in the rest of the text.  I don’t know what the fuss is about, unless it’s about sales — name recognition acquired through controversy.  Which I consider even less of an indicator of worthiness than blood quantum, or whatever.   It’s an okay book, I guess, though there are some strange little glitches that irritate me, like using “oki” to mean something mysterious when in Blackfeet “oki” means hello.  It’s a little strange to worship “Hey there!

But this is basically science fiction, based on historical evidence from the Euro side.  The science being sociology:  research of accounts, observation of artifacts including photographs, and so on.  I mean, the goal is to make the taken for granted seem strange again and then be explained or at least entered.  It’s culture clash among tribes, Euros, missionaries, and so on.  The angle chosen to be interesting and new is that of a young female captive, which is smart considering that most readers these days are young females who feel captured by their lives.  Nothing really wrong with the book.  Mostly skillfully done.  No one living was there as a witness.

The good thing about the book is that it raises awareness of the Indian wars of the northeast, where their entangled complexities are hard to follow.  But the truth is that I’m not very interested, even though I’m aware that they were part of the American Revolution, which Boyden doesn’t address directly because he’s Canadian — well, when he’s not in New Orleans to escape the winter.

So I’ve put “The Orenda” down again and picked up another big fat book I’ve been meaning to read:  “The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War” by William T. Vollmann.  Part of his “Seven Dreams” series, the series is ecology-based:  “A Book of North American Landscapes” beginning far to the north and explored by going there.  This volume of the book series is about territory that I know, that I live in.    

“The Orenda” has 433 pages.  The Dying Grass” has 1356 pages, mostly because it is formatted as poetry, as lists, as dialogue — lots of space.  Draw your own conclusions.  One might be that Vollmann is three times the worthiness of Boyden.  In financial terms, which are the ONLY terms that count to publishers.


As I go slowly through “The Dying Grass”, I’ll make reports, since my reactions are bound to exceed one post.  But I feel as though the fuss about how indigenous Boyden is and the derived politics is pretty off-the-point.

WHO WAS I JUST NOW?



Philip Gerrans

New research about what a human being is and how each of us can take care of our selves is scary.  The new motto is “I think, therefore I am not the person I was a minute ago.”  A person is a process being carried around by a collection of one-cell animals that help each other and keep the whole animal inside the boundaries set by survival:  enough air, water, food, movement, sex, dreaming — but not so much that it begins to be destructive.  Yet most humans feel that they want everything to stay the same, including themselves.  They fight change.

Some of this thought is coming through the study of psychedelics, which are finding a new role as meds for depression and even psychosis.  It seems to connect to genetic vulnerabilities, particularly a serotonin receptor in the brain (5-HT2A receptor).  LSD evidently has the capacity to dissolve old rigid and destructive “connectomes”, obsessions that can’t be escaped by reason.  This is what Geoff Mains was trying to convey in “Urban Aboriginals,” an early exploration of intense transformative SM, which was attributed partly to the power of ritual, of tribe, and of risk.  Mains introduced the idea of serotonin.

A recent article in Aeon, one of the most intelligent online magazines, says in its “pay-shot paragraph”:

"That the self is a model, not a thing, doesn’t mean it’s completely fluid and arbitrary. Quite the opposite: it is constructed from birth over many decades. Particularly at lower levels, the cognitive processes that the self-model binds together – perception, interoception, basic regulatory mechanisms – are not especially flexible. That’s why chaotic developmental environments are so damaging. Not only are they stressful in obvious ways, but in its formative years the mind has no stable patterns of experience on which to model a self.

The article is called “Model Hallucinations” and was written by Philip Gerrans and Chris Letheby, Australian college professors.  Gerrans’ book is entitled “The Measure of Madness: Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Delusional Thought” (2014).  It’s significant that they are Australians.  You might recall that in the movie “The Right Stuff,” when the story goes where no man has gone before, it was in the context of the Australian aboriginals.  I’m binge-watching “Rush,” an Aussie series version of NYPD Blue , et al, and the character who is the Alpha (Josh), nearly uncontrollable in his power and arousability, has a violence-control therapist who is a female aborigine.  The screenwriters may be aware of this research, which will help move Josh through plot.

Isabelle Payette, a Quebecois commenter, says in response to the Aeon article:

“ . . .Psychedelics are the only substances I know that can be used as a catalyst for changing faulty perceptions - those that would qualify as psychotic or delusional. Or even schizo and parano types. Psychotherapy and medications rarely help much. If anything, meds prevents any type of healing or reset.

“I think that when a child is repeatedly exposed to emotional or physical abuse, he/she develops a dysfunctional (i.e. destructive) way to navigate in the world. Like as if he/she had been “told” by the universe: you are no good, you need to self-destruct. Hence addictions to mask this “imprint” on the soul - or the psyche.” . . .

“Ego dissolution seems a necessary step. No contest. This feeling of powerlessness can be addressed once and for all. The change in perception is needed so that the alignment with the universe he/she was meant to have from the get go.”

A decade of following Real Stories Gallery and the Cinematheque video blogs has taught me the truth of this.  The authors of the Aeon essay pull in historical and religious concepts that rhyme with the idea of the fluid “dancing” self, but the article also contains some very new concepts.

Cognitive binding “refers to the integration of representational parts into representational wholes by the brain.”  It’s that thing about seeing rabbit at a distance on a lawn, then thinking it’s a piece of paper blown by the wind, and finally — when close — knowing that it is a patch of sunlight coming through a nearby tree.

Predictive processing means you are more likely to see what you have already seen.  If you’ve never seen a bunny outside a cage, you’re not likely to project the idea of a rabbit onto a spot of light.  Also, it marks what is important.  When I started as an animal control officer — desperately over-motivated to perform well because I was the first female — I had to listen for my radio identity: “719.”  If today anyone says “719” whether it is the time or a number of something, my attention snaps to the speaker.

These phenomena of the processing connectomes in the brain lead to controlled hallucination, which is the version of the world that has been coded to us by our senses drawing on whatever it is out there, outside our skins.

“ . . . the self is a sort of meta-filter for the signals you get from the functioning of your whole organism. Our encounters with the world – actual, imagined or recalled – make us feel hot, cold, happy, sad, anxious or calm, and every gradation and combination of experience in between. Any time that the mind encounters such a flow of feelings and perceptions, it irresistibly attributes them to some underlying entity that accounts for what’s going on.”

If this sounds like religion, it is.  We tend to cluster into tribes according to how well we share our worldviews, which might be formed by various forces from environment to family to happenstance to intense relationship.  The less we share, the weaker any institution will be.  But there are different levels inside each person.

“ . . . a hierarchy of models, in which each level deals with different aspects of organismic functioning. The lower levels track and maintain the integrity of bodily boundaries, and regulate homeostasis and sensory-motor encounters with the world. These feelings are then integrated with higher-level cognition that creates the sense of ‘mineness’ for episodes of thought, involving processes such as memory, inference and imagination. Finally, at the highest levels we can use the narrative ‘I’ to express the fact that experience is integrated and bound together across this hierarchy and through time.”  The power of narrative, poetry, and image is in its involvement of levels and intense binding into meaning for identity.

There are two other interesting phrases: the salience network and the default mode.

The salience network allows us to feel the significance of bodily states triggered by worldly encounters.” 

The default mode network underlies episodes of autobiographical thought such as memory, imagination, planning and decision-making.”


I’ll have to think about these ideas.  I’ve always wanted to try LSD but, as I say, everyone thinks I’m too wholesome and sane to do it.  Maybe I should leave it at that.