Thursday, April 19, 2018

EXISTENTIAL ECONOMY


When the Siksika (Blackfeet on the US side and Blackfoot on the Canada side) were finally reduced on the US Piegan side to about 500 people, maybe half of them children, and cornered to one place in Montana, up against the Rockies, they were fortunate in several ways, though it didn’t seem like it at the time.  Until that time they had been able to pursue an existential* way of survival.

Once the Euro-derived economy broke up the culture and deleted the buffalo, this land had never been an easy place to live, but it was understood in an existential economic way, simply by existing.  The resources that were there — grass, wind, sun, water and the fact that the land was an ecotone that slanted from high on the treeline in the Rockies down and out to the major rivers of the flatland which dug deep coulees from west to east across the prairie— amounted to a strategy.  The jetstream brought in catabatic winds that dropped moisture and created occasional relief from winter because they were warm.  Winter moisture that fell in the mountains was stored by cold and beavers until the growth season, then gradually released.  

In winter the people lived among the cottonwoods along the coulee bottoms.  In summer they moved out through the grass to where the camas grew and the buffalo grazed.  They followed the berries from where they first ripened along the summer rivers to where the last bushes up high ripened last and sometimes freeze-dried before being picked or found by bears.  When the bugs became fierce, they moved to the ridges where wind blew the winged ones on their way.

One of the early archeological signs of modernizing is “settling,” staying in one place so as to build shelter and even dedicated buildings with uses like granaries or churches.  Permanent construction was a sign of value and introduced "ownership."  Tribes who grew crops -- even the pastoralists (early-contact Navajo who kept sheep and late-contact nomads who took horses with them as they moved through their network) -- seemed more “civilized” because they were less existential people, whose resource needs were almost always spread out around them.  If not, there was trade, swapping real existing things.  No IOU's, no layaway, no mortgages.

By the time “venture capitalist” systems— which are a form of literacy in that they are written records of what exists and what might exist in the future or has existed in the past, and can be recorded in order to “own” and hoard -- it was as hard for the Siksika to see how the coding of marks on paper could stand for real things as it was hard for Euro-coding types to understand nomadic wealth and culture.  They did not see a lifestyle as an investment.  Investing with one’s skills, understanding, and practices with a landscape as a "bank" was too far out to understand.

But the new venture capitalists themselves, the Euros, were still struggling to understand the industrial systems which were dependent on that “venture” of rich people’s investment gambling in railroads, factories and ownership.  It was all dependent on the concept of ownership and of “interest” which meant loaning money at a certain optimistic rate, expecting a future return.  These were unknown to the prairie tribes.  It was all code to them, but not one they knew or that even seemed possible.

The venture capital understanding of land was that it could be used to produce, like a factory; that it could be collateral to secure a loan; and that it might contain unknown raw resources worth a lot of money if they had the venture capital necessary to industrially dig it up.  They did not know that land, untouched, was itself a great provider of the resource of water, or that water could be industrialized as a source of power, as a tool for digging, or as a part of land’s ecological machine of renewal.

Nor did they know that changes to the earth’s patterns could be major enough to shift or even turn off the major planetary forces of air and air-borne water.  There was not much thought about the continental glaciers that had plowed the land repeatedly, sometimes leaving fertilizing ground-up mineral contributions from formations they had passed over and sometimes carrying giant boulders for long distances or forming lakes deep enough to persist into a second year.  

The People recognized the volcanic tall hills as refuges, but only as present realities in times of hunting or oppressive heat. They knew that the aromatic evergreen grew there, suitable for smudging, but didn’t know it had persisted because the ice passed lower along the hills.  They were exquisitely aware that chance could intervene, that the unexpected could blast everything, that bad luck could plague a life.  In preparation for the emotional toughness necessary to survive, they played stick game/hand game to hone their alertness.  If they lost and cried about it, no doubt they were mocked or told to try harder next time.  Anyway, the core was the group rather than the individual.

But maybe this white man's bookkeeping code game of capital and debt didn’t seem enough the same to be protected.  Where was it?  You couldn't see it or hold it.   It wasn’t even as “real” as a treaty on paper instead of marked on the land by some surveyor.  Maybe that’s why the tribes didn’t realize that some treaties were never signed by Congress, the same as Trump failed to sign his nondisclosure agreements.

There is one source of value that continues to exist wherever there are people of any kind: art and story, which are closely related.  In our newest times during which information has become the most crucial capital, these sources remain unindustrialized.  Their origin is human.  With some investment, they can become capital.  But we are running a little short.  

Arts are an information economy but not everyone is equipped to profit from it.  The modern infrastructure is not complete.  (Computer access.  Internet transmission.)  The coding skills (literacy) are still missing in many people.  Some people still think you have to buy the resources.  Others only respond to requests and demands from others — they aren’t self-propelled.

More than anything else, images and stories are in the existential economy.  They exist — if you recognize them.  You must exist your own self before you can find stories and art.  Some have forgotten how it is to do that.  It has nothing to do with money.  But you could invest time.  Most Blackfeet remember how to do that.

(*I'm using "existential" as a way of indicating ways of managing objects and transactions in a "real" way -- the things themselves as objects.  Barter, trading, uses, rather than equivalent monetary value.  It is a difference as significant as using oral language with no writing.  Direct, observable, real. )

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

COMEY, STEPHANOPOULUS AND -- OH, SIGH -- TRUMP.

Stephanopoulos and Comey

Though I haven’t read Comey’s book, I’ve watched the entire interview with Stephanopoulos.  I even learned how to spell George’s Greek last name.  I did not know he was the son of a Greek Orthodox priest or that he had “attended Balliol College at the University of Oxford in England, as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a Masters of Arts in theology in 1984. He states that he spent much of his time trying to root his political leanings in the deeper philosophies that he studied while in college.”  (Wiki)

For comparison I hold two Master’s degrees, one an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago which has as much clout as Oxford, and the other an MDiv from Meadville/Lombard which means very little.  In 1984 I was circuit-riding for the UU’s in Montana, which in toto amounts to a medium-sized congregation.  I did not try to fit my politics into white male Western culture, but rather into Blackfeet culture, without being very sure what that is.

So George and I have overlap but we are not entirely alike.  He’s a pop culture guy with a transient career as an actor and personality, but he still has that solid base in respectability.  We both started out in conservative family settings — his “box” more square, historical and strong than mine — and gradually knocked our boundary walls out as experience contradicted them.  I was more unconventional.  Maybe not.

Now Comey.  His “box” was solid and Irish.  “Comey graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1982, majoring in chemistry and religion. His senior thesis analyzed the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and the conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, emphasizing their common belief in public action.  He received his Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of Chicago Law School in 1985.”  It’s possible that when Comey was attending the law school, I was typing in the transcription pool, learning computers.  I can attest that the culture there was very Republican and ambitious.  I would also claim that Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell are a total mismatch, one that’s reflected in Comey’s life.  That explains a lot.  And Stephanopoulos understood.

The event we are in now will “open up” Comey — the box is Pandora’s.  The moment I tried to find again but didn’t, was a few seconds when Comey was talking and almost accidentally touched on the criminal side of Trump’s life.  He was alert enough to realize that he had broken through a boundary of some kind.  Trump’s face was suddenly dark and hard in a way it had not been before, even in some of his more politically savage moments.  It was a “tell” that reminded Comey of the Mafia.  Not the only one.

Trump’s box has no national or patriotic categories in it.  He talks about such things only by keying off the public reactions, which — since it is volatile and unreasonable — creates his many contradictions and lies.  The public never figures this out.  Trump’s Mafia is hidden behind Trump’s Russia.  Russia is just a form of Mafia.  Putin uses that to control Trump.  

Luckily, Comey knows about the amica nostra, the loyal insiders who turn against the boss only at pain of death.  “I sat there thinking, Holy crap, they are trying to make each of us an 'amica nostra' — friend of ours. To draw us in,” writes Comey, who helped prosecute Gambino members in 2002. “I suddenly had the feeling that, in the blink of an eye , the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family.”  Trump knows no other way to do it.  And it is HIS family, his childhood family.

It’s a pretty basic way to understand society.  Tribes operate that way.  I’ve had more than one high school principal who does the same, and — lamentably — so does the UUA run that way, mostly.  Times change and then Gambino goes out.  I watch “Person of Interest”, the television series, because it is based so much on this assumption about how things work.  Almost always — in my experience — the real top power-player is NOT the technically named title-holder.  On the series he’s a “machine” and invisible, but capable of infinite strategies.  Most high school leaders are not so simple, but you'd better keep an eye on the sports program and whoever controls the money.

Everyone forgets that this is the pattern for publishers — they can control what the author says.  Probably the p-tape and the bit about the physical characteristics of Trump were insisted upon by the publisher, who knew readers would go looking for them right away.  (This is the reason I don’t care about publishing — it means accepting rewrites you didn’t intend and are usually unworthy.)  But admittedly there is pull in the idea that there are much worse things than pee in this tale.  The hints are about pedophilia, a current obsession.  Say “rape” and a female child is pictured, not the real range of victims.  Being a college student will increase the likelihood of rape.  One out of ten rape victims are male. 

“A retrospective analysis of 740 reported sexual assaults revealed 21 cases involving a victim between the ages of 60 and 90 years of age. The elderly victim was more often white and the assailant more often black than when younger victims are involved. Also, the data suggest that the rape of elderly women may involve a relatively few rapists, and that their assaults are of a serial nature. This study concludes that these rapists are motivated by anger, possibly racially related, and a need to express power, rather than by sexual desire.”  Are we talking parenticide?  Those two Trump immigrants who never seemed to confirm their boy in a way that satisfied him?

Stephanopoulos is the right person to do this interview, but there will be other good ones.  (Colbert was lively.)  It’s just that having wrestled with Clinton so much, George is inoculated in some way.  Maybe his hip is a little dislocated (Jacob).  He’s persistent, a little playful, proper but tolerant, experienced in a double way since he plays himself in movies, and — like all people who seek insight — resigned to the impossibility of ever really knowing.  He shares that with Comey.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT PEE?


Valier is known as a pretty little town with nice people.  Recently the new postal worker who instigated a recycling bin had to move it inside the counter office because someone peed in it.  This is strange because most folks around here — at least the younger ones — are pretty loose about peeing outdoors.

Tonight I watched a detective show in which a wine competition was, uh, contaminated because someone peed in the previously prize-winning merlot.  The judges called it “rancid.”

I once preached about pee.  I’d been at a conference out in the country and drank too much coffee before I drove to the next venue.  There was no place to hide and drenching was immanent, so I took as much cover as I could and was as quick as I could be on what I hoped was a deserted landscape.  Almost immediately the local Church of England officiant, his wife and his mother-in-law, appeared, gawked and drove on in shock.  After the sermon an earnest young man came to tell me how grateful he was that I’d talking about something human, something real.

Once I had a bad cold and was working for a woman from down South.  She assured me that her grandmother always cured a cold by gargling with her own urine.  I didn’t do that, but tried to find out whether it might work, but got no evidence.  People are not objective about bodily fluids.  Their main reaction is to close the subject.

Now that we have pee in a context, let’s talk about mattresses.  Fluids often flood them.  Kids with nightmares.  People who have breakfast in bed and spill the coffee.  Lovers who get carried away and spill the champagne.  Drunks who don’t wake up enough to get where they ought to go.  Any housekeeper with sense covers the mattress with something waterproof, esp. in hotels where there might be anything, including vomit. feces, and blood -- menstrual or murderous.

Bodily excretions are all symbolic, to different intensities and degrees, depending on one’s experience, what one learned from observation.  For some, every mess is a kind of violence, for others every stain is about sex, and for a few excretions are simply what they are: possibly unpleasant but part of existence.  Medical people, parents and lovers might be that way.  (There’s no accounting for kinks.)

Now let’s talk about sex workers.  They know that the vulnerable easily confuse everything between the legs, the “junk.”  Sex=violence=dirty.  It’s pretty much a given that a man of a certain age, class, and upbringing is going to buy-in to specific taboos.  Harsh potty training.  Aspiration to respectability.  The qualities a hired nursemaid values.  Cleanliness.  Sans affection or even care.

These are times in which the markers for respectability, esp. sexwork, have been changed, moved way out wider.  Now we are aware that sexworkers at a certain level are good psychologists.  And know a lot of tricks.  Little bladders of this-and-that to hide in clothing and use when necessary as imitations of the real thing: semen, urine.  They might know about that legendary citadel of defiance called “Mineshaft,” a bar/club/event invested in turning all those baby hygiene things upside down.  Much of it was about seeing what is normally hidden.  The health department closed them down.

Let’s imagine Russia.  First the two ladies of the night who were sent in by power-mongers look at this seventy-year-old American from a hidden peephole.  He’s clearly a little scared, his orangish face beaded with sweat.  He would need a little”framing.” Give him the idea that he was in charge, that he was truly damaging someone he hated.  peepee=insult=damage.’’  That will activate the right spot on his brain, inflame it with emotion.

“This guy is into power,” said W1.  “We need to let him continue thinking that he’s in control.”  Of course, it was the sexworkers who “owned” the scene.
__________

Tempest Storm, no Spring chicken.
It's not the nudity, it's the elegance.

(Maybe I should take a moment to explain how I knew about Tempest Storm, a predecessor of Stormy Daniels.  In the '70’s when I was doing PR for Multnomah County Animal Control which serves Portland, OR, a couple of PPD officers came to do a consultation with us.  Tempest Storm was in town and had an act with two Great Dane dogs.  The cops had been startled to realize that there was no law against “bestiality.”  They wanted to know if they could use the cruelty law, if it fit the definition.  We were stumped, and could only suggest that it depended on the expression of the dogs’ faces.  

Since then, we wrote a new law and spent time trying to include everything possible (which is impossible).  As far as I know, none of we AC people attended the show.  I never did figure out what the act actually was.  “Actual” is not relevant.  The strategy is to activate the consumer’s mind to the point that they are doing all the work.

In case you’re still curious here are some facts. (Wikipedia)  Tempest Storm (born Annie Blanche Banks, February 29, 1928), and dubbed the Queen of Exotic Dancers is a burlesque star and motion picture actress. Along with Lili St. Cyr, Sally Rand, and Blaze Starr, she was one of the best-known burlesque performers of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Her career as an exotic dancer spanned more than 60 years and she was still performing in the early 21st century.

Tempest Storm was born in Eastman, Georgia.   She left school in seventh grade and in 2016 recalled she had been sexually abused around that time.  At 14, she worked as a waitress in Columbus, Georgia, where she quickly married a U.S. Marine in order to emancipate herself from her parents, and had the marriage annulled after 24 hours.  At 15, she married a Columbus shoe salesman, whose sister worked with her at a hosiery mill. 

Three weeks after being hired as a chorus dancer at $40 a week, Storm accepted a promotion to $60 as a stripper.  A week afterward, she recalled in 1968, Hunt said a stage name was needed:  “I asked her if she had any suggestions. She said, what about Tempest Storm? I asked her if she had any other suggestions. Well, she said, what about Sunny Day? Well, I said, I guess it might as well be Tempest Storm.

________________

Sex is one of the categories of human imagination that can only be pursued by the law, never caught.  The minds of individuals paint unique pictures and some can’t quite get enough focus to move on to the next thing.  I notice that out of all of Comey’s long and meticulous accounts — very much like algebra equations of principle and theory except in terms of morality — what sticks with the reporters is the unconfirmed porn event, even though it’s not confirmed.  Pee is the baby term used.  Or “Golden Showers” as though everyone who is anyone knows the slang.  

We are casual about urine these days because so many people are so constantly tested for drug use.  There’s a secret market in “clean” urine and scientists work at creating “faux pee.”  Supplying the right containers and analysis is a small industry.  Chemical analysis can make or break an athlete.

In the ’70’s a man called up Animal Control, complaining that the next door neighbor’s dog came over on the caller’s porch and he . . . he. . . he . . .  The caller, like all the news anchors, could hardly bring himself to say it enough for us to understand the problem,  Finally he blurted, “The dog tinkles on my porch!”  We took him more seriously after he explained further that the dog was a St. Bernard with a major capacity bladder.  Tinkled?


If two women “tinkled” in front of Trump, it means nothing except that there may be worse out there.  What are you imagining?  What’s your porn?

Monday, April 16, 2018

"THE HERO": a review

Sam Elliott

Watching “The Hero” while Comey is being interviewed about his new book is an exercise in the surreal and the ironic.  Sam Elliott is very much the laconic, lanky, strong man facing death, which is the adversary no one can overcome.  He’s not a top level cowboy actor, but you can bet that if there is a Western written by Louis L’Amour and starring Elliott, it’s going to be iconic — if it’s a little bit captured by its time.

In terms of place, Elliott was born in Sacramento but finished growing up along the Columbia River near Portland, part of the wet West with lots of trees.  I grew up on the Portland side and am five years older.  I don’t have a mustache because I’m female and I don’t have a drawl unless it’s on purpose, like his.  Elliott tries to set up a connection with Texas but I don’t — because why would I?

Elliot sounds a bit like Robert Mitchum, who was a much heftier actor in terms of weight and gravitas. (ahem).  But he claims he doesn’t use pot, while Mitchum served time for it.  When the results of the weed and mushrooms are shown, they are not depicted negatively.  More like access to that oceanic feeling of belonging to the universe.  But you have to buy it.

Marc Basch and Brett Haley appear to be a team, with Haley taking the honors as director.  They are not naive Western writers — there are no horses in this film — but they appear to be experts in contemplating the ironies of life in Hollywood where — even more than usual — reality is elusive and much of life is imaginary, remembered, guessed at, and sad.

LA is the location of the Gene Autry Museum of the American West.  https://theautry.org/exhibitions/masters-american-west#lg=highlights&slide=1  If you go there, you’ll see that they try to make an association with French impressionists.  It’s the plein aire thing. a claim to be “Culture.”  Ol’ Singin’ Gene, whom I always despised because I was a Roy Rogers fan, is sort of washed away, but his money paid for the basic museum.  It’s a great little money-maker, just like Autry himself. The art has nothing to do with the movie, but the audience attending is the key to both.  It’s about the fondness of imaginary history shared by unlikely people who feel elevated by their fondness.

Elliott’s deft depiction of being the beloved icon among people who have no self-awareness, no real understanding of a period that only lasted a century, and his ability to feel trivial amusement as significant.  But on the other hand, and not depicted in this film, Western art can be impressive — just like Western film.  But the hero is correct in lifting up the sweet little dumpling of a fan as the important one and awarding her a generic plaque.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM3NeAOyv94  is a good example of dialogue that works well between males.  https://lauraprepon.com/red-carpet-sundance/  is a good clip about why the experience on-set came through in the film itself.  Mostly the story is in someone’s house, not one of those pretentious piles of stone and glass that the aficionados need for confirmation of value.  The decorations are not avant garde paintings but simply film posters. 

Two vital aspects of this “Western” definition are religious expression and wry/dry humor.  Living on the wide expanses where survival is often a matter of attitude, these are vital to the genre.

The best religions are seamlessly expressions of the land and sea, those rhythmic expressions of power that far exceed human aspirations, even living in Malibu where the dangers of fire and tsunamis are what keep people humble.  This film, which has clever dialogue and a short arc of action which plays out mostly on an humble deck with a good view, presents iconic images of sea and desert with the classic feet of a hanged man indicating death.  No formal institutional trappings or personalities are present — except Sam — but the interleaved memento mori are valid.  If you watched this film with no sound, you could still “get it.”  The simplicity and obviousness are part of the charm.

Aside from the one-liners from under the mustache, the ironic humor comes mostly from the wisecracks of the comedienne who somehow loves this old man even as she mocks his balls.  Maybe one of the key ironies is that of the lovemaking, which is tender and convincing.  We are so insistent that sex is evidence of youth and health.  Another anomaly is this woman’s eyebrows, which are like insect antennae.  I guess she does “twig” to reality, of a sort.

The spine of the actor Elliott’s life — as he states it — is work.  To him this is what defines being a man, because it was what his father and his father’s man friends saw as the key.  Even their fun was work, because it was outdoor things like hunting and fishing, the active use of intelligence and muscle to achieve some goal, something to show for it.  He didn’t choose his movie roles for their possible impact on his career but merely because they were projects worth doing.  (As his friend remarks, if the people you’ll have to work with are assholes, the work had better be double good.)  He didn’t care whether the story spooled out on stage, television, film or whatever.  Was it a good story with excellent writing?

But evidently his father didn’t consider acting to be work.  A generational schism was never healed.  In fact, this aching welt persists through American society and feeds the mythology of the West, where many of the real cowboys were looking for replacement fathers to escape cruelty and exploitation.  This may be the origin of something missing from today’s films: a gentleman’s code of politeness and protection.  The gunslinger with the gruesome face says at the end of the scene, “Thanks, Sam.” — and since we didn’t expect it, we laugh.  If an actor gets lost in fantasy, believing it to be real, then that’s not work — it’s just psychosis.  Madness.


For a long time I was part of the fantasy of the Western and even some of the reality of “cowboys and Indians”.  In order to sell sculptures of these subjects, we participated in the ceremonial auctions and parties where people dress up and spend money.  But the real essence of truth and this film are that the best moments are simply lying in the blissful grass and smiling, even as knowing that someday we’ll all be under it.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

DEMOCRACY -- WTF


Definition of democracy. 1 a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority. b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”  (Merriam-Webster)

There are enough problems with this system to keep people wrestling with the idea of something better.  Part of the problem is that many of the defining properties in the definition are unconscious,  For instance, the idea of a “supreme power” lodged in many minds is still the old idea of a God, a sort of Sky King who controls and judges everything.  Our modern scientific understanding of what-happens-and-why is much more controlled by the idea of a zillion little forces, some of them unseen, that converge in many ways, sometimes with disconcerting results.

One of the forces that has been active in the past and still sputters along in the deep recesses of the minds of old white men is the notion that whatever  they think is right really “is.”  Humans have often been saved by the turnover between generations, when the sons have had enough of the sins of the fathers and simply turned the page.  This isn’t happening quickly enough and people in power are clinging to their privilege when they are eighty, statistically likely to be nuts and to fall asleep in meetings.  This is not to mention the complication of women being active.

Of course it is obvious that “free elections” are not possible when hostile cyberhackers can reach into our machinery.  Anyway, how is it possible to take a vote — or even a census — when people are not invested by being citizens in some provable way besides the way they appear.  And how is it that corporations think they are people except when it comes to morality. 

Among the many sins of the media is the tendency to make everything into a food-fight, a binary of extreme positions (including invented facts) that never lead to the reconciling integration as in the original schema for courts and other decisions.  (Thesis and antithesis are supposed to end in synthesis.)  This strategy leads to amazing deadends and excludes most alternatives, insights, and realistic strategies.  The lowest part of the brain comes alive, which gives institutions and businesses the idea that they are real, not a velveteen rabbit but an enraged toy.  Certainly it puts their profits on steroids.  (Of course, a little reversal like a falling stock market and they all panic.)  The strategy ends with “winner takes all” or “last man standing” which are ideas both based on the devastation of war, “winning” the rubble, not the race.

Jamie Bartlett, whose scruffiness somehow makes him more convincing, outlines a strong case for what the internet allows the self-entitled people to do — if they can manage code.  That means sub-groups like pariahs, outcasts and elitists who have no concern for democracies except to get them out of the way, because they are conformist.  Not just trying to make everyone alike, but trying to make everyone like them.  

But the way “in” is merchandise, the source of all the middle-class features (paying bills, meeting deadlines, keeping the shelves stocked, small scale innovation, dependable shipping).  https://www.ted.com/talks jamie_bartlett_how_the_mysterious_dark_net_is_going_mainstream   This is Jamie on a TED talk, which is a middle-class source to reassure you.

Alas for democracy, these systems are ways of evading taxation.  How do you tax “pay pals”?  Two deep desires meet in the internet:  a desire for privacy, esp when it comes to enforcers; and a demand to control one’s own morality, whether it is avoiding caffeine or admitting murder.  (We have new residents who believe it is justified to kill their defiant children.  Many of our own neighbors feel confident about torturing their children.)

A deep split exists — more than one between countries — between American urban and rural populations.  Many of the differences are based on wealth or use of technology.  They enable a contrast in invisibility where accumulating data is possible without the observed party knowing.  Trackers, scraping data, stoplight cameras.  It’s very hard for ordinary people to remember that the internet does NOT belong to them.  It is a constantly observable record, a fact ignored by teenagers and shifty politicians, who are invested in card tricks.  These differences are forces for “tribalism” where people belong to groups smaller than the whole, the whole defined as a nation.  (I’m unsure about allegiance to something larger than nations, larger than humans, larger than living beings, because once in the realm of “spirituality” and abstracts, there are no dependable constraints except in a few pounds of gel-like brain tissue.)

Republican and Democrat are tribes.  They can vanish almost overnight simply because they offend the consensus of what is “right and good”.  The sponsors disappear.  The venture capital is missing.  The pews are empty.  What is admired right now is wealth — it hasn’t always been that way.  The internet is dependent on electricity.  What if the power grids go down?  What if the satellites fall out of the sky?

Our goal is a kind of consensus that supports the good of the whole, things like honor and worthiness.  At last, in the pursuit of a fire exit to push Trump down, we have some upon a few characters who at least LOOK worthy: Comey and Mueller.  And we realize at last that there are people in the government that do their jobs no matter what the political winds might blow in off the streets.

But we also realize that we haven’t got enough or the right kind of safeguards to prevent criminal people from gaming the system.  Most daunting of all is the idea that Trump only had some vague idea about a president being a king so as to evade justice, and that it was Putin who saw the possibilities from the treacherous vantage point of his own throne.  Some people think Zuckerberg is more dangerous to democracy than Putin.

My father— who looked rather like Trump because of the same genes but thought very differently because of being raised on a potato farm in the Canadian northern prairie— used to say to us, “Well, let’s take a vote and then I’ll decide.”  We used to point out that this was not democracy, to no avail.

As time passed, he lost his position.  And his job.  And all effectiveness.  He became a shadow, buying books he never read, taking photos no one saw, hiding porn, nodding off in a huge overstuffed chair with the heat turned on high.  Luckily, my mother took over and she respected the bond of matrimony enough to tolerate him.  And luckily he didn’t get violent.

The Statue of Liberty cannot take over for any president.  She is symbolic, from France where they systematically guillotined all their aristocrats.  She is art, which is hard to control.  She does not stand for “free elections.”  She stands for free immigration.  Ask the indigenous people how that worked out.

For now we need to jigger the system: reform the electoral college and gerrymandering; make all elections for one term only (end campaigning for re-election); allow no one over 65 to run for office; impose a tech class for new officials so that representatives understand the basics. 

There are some massively pressing deeper issues:  what is marriage?  Who owns kids?  What is ownership of land or resources?  What is religion as an institution and what are its obligations?  


And we need to understand that there are changes coming that are massive, sudden but subtle, unexpected but there all along, so deep that we can hardly guess at them.  The extinguishment of “male” as a gender phenomenon.  California falling into the ocean.  The great currents of sea and air changing their patterns so that nations are different.  (Some of us already “got” global warming.)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

WHAT'S HAPPENED TO US?



This morning the Washington Post printed online a cluster of posts that cause me to despair.  They were not about how stupid and criminal the President is, nor were they about the mysterious paralysis of Republicans who fail to deal as they were voted into office to do.  They were about the American public.

The idea of a democracy is dependent on the idea that voters will be sane and act in their own interests.  But they’re not.  They don’t.

I blame day-care or at least the socialization of children (often through institutions) by their cohort rather than any adults.  They are confirmed in child behavior because the adults are busy elsewhere and don’t have time or patience to answer questions.  The last time I got trapped into teaching (about 2004) the fondest memories of the kids were about child care — not the leaders and protectors but the other kids.  They told me frankly, grownups don’t know anything.  They’re incompetent.  Earlier, the kids in Heart Butte said they dreaded growing up when they would, as adults, by default, each become a drunk who is unfaithful.  Some very nice ladies in larger towns are technically like that.

After I came back to Valier in 1999, I slowly realized that the people around me were different and becoming “differenter.”  Flatter, more predictable, less aware of major issues, not very funny.  No irony.  I thought it was me.  You know, arrogant.  Grumpy old female.

But ever since seminary, which was VERY different from an animal control locker room, women have been bent on competition.  As officers, we “first women” stuck up for each other, gave a little boost when we could.  These university women wanted to draw blood, but undetected.  The guys in both places were about the same: oblivious.

When I run into “nice” people now, they all have little scripts they press me into.  The realistic ones see an eccentric with too many cats.  The “mystical” (self-defined and unrealistic) talk “spirituality.”  They mean pretty stuff. Angels.  They haven’t read the bloody suffering tales of saints.

London production of "Angels in America"
A bit more realistic about angels.

The hardest bunch of these scenario-makers are the stubborn ones who stick with Trump.  You can remind them of all the evidence over and over and they look at you, notice that your lips are moving, and don’t hear a thing you say.  Traitor, criminal, rapist — they don’t get it.  They just go on in the same rote way they ever did.  What happened to the country people I used to know?  Blackfeet, Cree, Metiz, whatever.  They never panicked — they never fled.  When something really bad happened, they reacted.  And they knew a mafia don when they saw one.

But these new shallow sorts don’t really believe how serious things can get.  To them it’s all on a screen somewhere, not real.  You know — like walking on the moon.  They hear about immigrants and trafficked kids, but they never met any.  They think.  I suspect they WILL run, but only when it’s too late.

If an old woman in a small town where she only has one option — to write — can see this so clearly, why can’t they?  There are a lot of former military floating around but they only think about their past — not their future.  They operate on stereotypes from TV the same as everyone else.  People refer to me as “that little lady.”  I’m neither little nor a lady.  I don’t even dress nice.

The last time I felt this way was when I was in high school when Hungary tried to become independent.  That was when I memorized this poem, though now I had to go look it up. 

THANKSGIVING (1956)

by e.e. cummings

a monstering horror swallows
this unworld me by you
as the god of our fathers' fathers bows
to a which that walks like a who

but the voice-with-a-smile of democracy
announces night & day
"all poor little peoples that want to be free
just trust in the u s a"

suddenly uprose hungary
and she gave a terrible cry
"no slave's unlife shall murder me
for i will freely die"

she cried so high thermopylae
heard her and marathon
and all prehuman history
and finally The UN

"be quiet little hungary
and do as you are bid
a good kind bear is angary
we fear for the quo pro quid"

uncle sam shrugs his pretty
pink shoulders you know how
and he twitches a liberal titty
and lisps "i'm busy right now"

so rah-rah-rah democracy
let's all be as thankful as hell
and bury the statue of liberty
(because it begins to smell)

I don’t know what cummings would make of the many cartoons that show the Statue of Liberty in distress, but I think he would appreciate them.


I owe this post another few hundred words, but I think I’ll just stop.