Tuesday, January 23, 2018

CHOICES


"Troubles" are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. "Issues" is what the political system does to run elections. ... When Issues don't speak to Troubles, and Troubles don't connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

The supper table conversation when I was growing up (Fifties) and when my father was home, was usually about corporations versus co-ops.  My father grew up on the prairies, both sides of the 49th Parallel, and was dedicated to the idea of democratic self-governing institutions as opposed to corporations, who were furthering their goals by accusing co-ops of being “Communist” which was how we understood Russia in those days.  

My father’s formal job was keeping agricultural coops happy and functioning so they would buy from a larger wholesale co-op, Pacific Supply, which finally succumbed to corporatization.  At that point my father lost his job.  (It was probably inevitable since he suffered from undiagnosed consequences of a concussion, possibly leading to a version of Parkinson’s.)  

Since moving to Valier, I've witnessed the last of the local cooperatives closing down, mostly because no one has the time to go to meetings and research decisions.  Anyway, most people can live with corporations so long as there is enough money circulating.  This is not the Thirties. 

So I recognize another of these either/or discussions, like the one about “issues” versus “troubles.”  The scariest one is the results of a polling offering a choice between “prosperity” and “democracy.”  Would you rather be rich or free?  The majority chose prosperity.  They didn't mind a collar on their neck so long as they had money in their pocket.

Another troublesome discussion is between the individual and the whole.  Should a person make choices that are good for him/her self, or what serves the society?  Clearly in a family or even an early-days loose tribe, there will be pressure to serve the whole group, so that an individual who doesn’t fit might even have to leave.   Today the individual defiantly resists taxes for infrastructure we share and resents educating "other peoples'" children.  

The preferences I see around me are for prosperity, the values of the dominant group, but still a preoccupation with troubles.  There’s not much allowance for those who are atypical and active stigma is attached to poverty.  It’s considered a failure, a vulnerability, and can mark a person for discrimination by predatory people.  The high value on being “rich” is what motivates predators.  

One of the nastiest results is something like debtor’s prison — passing laws that require expense, then punishing those who fail to comply by fining them, and if they don’t have money but do have property, putting liens on their homes. Undercutting any special programs for helping poor or otherwise disadvantaged people is part of this pattern of getting richer by taking from the poor.

As these practices become embedded and accepted, they become invisible.  Efforts to bring them to consciousness or think about alternatives are opposed by those who are profiting.  In a small town or even in a city, going against profiteering subgroups can be very messy, even dangerous.  Even common democratic mechanisms like a town council can lead to shouting and violence.  Worse, many people who handle discomfort and dilemmas by simply avoiding the situation, are destroying even the illusion of democracy.  They "don't have time."  It’s a perfect setup for a dictator, or even a guy who likes to make little side-deals by using a leadership position.

These are “issues”.  The “troubles” have become disfunction in government at every level.  It’s being estimated that the current federal Special Investigator has posted 270 sealed indictments against legislators, aides, vendors, and various go-betweens and “business” dealers.  These people are globally connected, as likely to be in some other country as here in the United States.  We worry about terrorists and off-shore corporate operations, but rarely think much about money laundering.  Arms sales and drug rings are TV plots.

The most interesting factoid I’ve seen so far today is that 90% of immigrants to Mexico — often white professionals looking for a warm climate and low costs — are undocumented, in violation of the Mexican regulations.  What if Mexico, in addition to not funding Trump’s wall, suggested that if DACA is not funded, they would send home all the illegal retirees?  We don’t expect other countries to treat us the way we treat them.  It’s called “exceptionalism.”

My income is right on the poverty line.  Actually, I do a little better because of owning this house without debt.  It is assessed for taxation at about $30,000.  The other day I overheard someone suggesting that the only way this town could return to its former glory was to get rid of all the $30,000 houses, because they attract the evil poor persons, which is code for the Blackfeet who now constitute 30% of the town but generally don’t participate in town governance out of historical caution and the feeling of not really belonging.

My “poverty” is partly a counter-culture impulse, semi-religious.  Not quite “religious” because religion in the US is based on institutions and institutions are no longer my “gig,” whether they are co-ops or corporations.  The UUA pretends to be a cooperative but is constantly becoming more corporate.  The idea of focusing on principles instead of dogma (another interesting dyad) was that the idea of agreeing on universal obvious values (like, the Golden Rule) would be a force for unity, but instead dogma came barking in the name of efficiency and the drive for prosperity, even existence as an institution, translated into doing whatever would bring in new members, even it were transiently political, merely popularity.  Popularity is always connected to prosperity.  Neither is infallibly sustainable.

In fact, religion has become such a hot topic, such a bone of identity contention, that people are avoiding it — just staying home.  In fact, even race is back to being controversial in spite of the lines becoming so blurred that people have to be asked what they are and the census questionnaires allow people to check more than one category, the list of which are a mix of genetics and ethnicity and national history anyway.

My conscious goal is simplicity, meaning keeping my attention on basics, but what people consider basic now is a lot of expensive equipment for maintenance and transportation.  Riding mowers, steam-equipped washing machines bought in pairs with dryers, dish-washers, ice-makers, convection ovens, all the entertainment electronics (and exercise equipment for couch potatoes), and massive pickups that cost more than my house and are almost as big.  My rule of thumb — except for the computer — is that if we didn’t have it in 1950, I don’t need it.

But our governance in those days was something we did have, or thought we did.  Maybe we were deceived by ignoring some things.  After all, we loved Ike but he had a mistress.  (It was wartime.)  It was just impossible to imagine Mamie as a nude model.  And Ike's son married a Nixon.

Monday, January 22, 2018

CAN HUMANS BE "DOMESTICATED"?

Experimentally tamed fox created by in-breeding

Abstract

This study identifies and analyzes statistically significant overlaps between selective sweep screens in anatomically modern humans and several domesticated species. The results obtained suggest that (paleo-)genomic data can be exploited to complement the fossil record and support the idea of self-domestication in Homo sapiens, a process that likely intensified as our species populated its niche. Our analysis lends support to attempts to capture the “domestication syndrome” in terms of alterations to certain signaling pathways and cell lineages, such as the neural crest.

The paragraph quoted above is a good example of research jargon that most of us never tried to understand until Google came along and offered the opportunity, the access.  In fact, some of us turned out to be so interested that the scientific journals that made their profit by publishing such material behind “paywalls” were slowly pushed aside by “open access” online journals, unexpurgated by experts.  This is both dangerous and rewarding.

Vocabulary is a problem.  What I get here is that a “sweep screen” is a collection of data accessible on the Internet, which is a common commercial practice to find out who buys which toothpaste or might watch which movies.  In this case the idea is to discover statistical genetic links to a specific cultural development.  We’ve all been curious to know when in hominin cultural history the fossil record supports the advent of fire technology or “art” or funerary practices.  Geneticists would like to think that this meant enabling changes in gene-supported abilities, like FOXP2, not the animal but " a protein that, in humans, is encoded by the FOXP2 gene, also known as CAGH44, SPCH1 or TNRC10, and is required for proper development of speech and language."

It’s a little different to consider a “domestication syndrome”.  The genes necessary for handling language have been identified, mostly by trying to help people who never develop speech, and the difference between a wild species of cow and the domestic version are pretty clear.  But can that notion be slid over onto humans?  I haven’t even run across a study of the genetic difference between a wild dog and a domestic pet.  (They probably exist.)  

Maybe the difference is not in the essential understructure of molecules at all — maybe it’s in the process of enculturation.  Certainly, after years of watching this local cat population, I see the same mother cats produce both wild and domesticated cats.  That is, if "domestic" is defined as human-interacting, domicile-sharing, food-dependent animals.  But there are several points along a continuum between cats totally committed to humans and those completely separated, maybe even unaware of humans.  Both are genetically programmed to have predator behavior, but it may be channeled different ways.

“Satellite” cats come and go around humans, depending on other food sources.  A supply of mice means no need for kibble. Some desert species are so elusively nocturnal that  in order to see them live people can only set up camera traps.  “Stray” cats are not usually “straying” at all, but have ranges and hunting patterns that go in and out of human structures, like alleys.  “Feral” cats are technically cats that were once owned, but now go wild, but many of the cats I know have never been owned at all except by mother cats.

It’s clear that animals have culture — not just chimps who have learned to use sticks or monkeys who have learned to take yams into water to wash them, but behavior and reactions learned from adults while maturing.  And it seems that an animal that has a “home” burrow and range is “domestic” on its own terms.”  Animals are hunter/gatherers and capable of recreating their dwelling as necessary.  

The arc of development to maturity means starting with total dependence on the mother for food, protection, location, and then circling out farther and farther to total independence, esp. in the case of males.  Humans can also develop this way, particularly if the home becomes hostile when a male child matures enough to be a threat.  Then he’s driven off.

But another genetically controlled aspect of domestication is the establishment of households, groups that might or might not be related. These groups, through cooperation that allows some specialization or at least alternation of service to the whole, can support evolution and a wider range of behaviors.  Thus, pack animals like wolves or herds like elk can survive better.

The study we’re looking at here is not just investigating modern humans where behavior could be observed, various and confusing as it is, but also trying to spot this “domestication syndrome” which is entirely thought-defined, a “concept”, a generalization.  What IS domestication in humans as distinguished from, say, a pride of lions?  And is there a genetic connection that can be defined?  Or is it emotional?  Are emotions genetically defined?

This idea of “self-domestication” based on genetics seems to be driven in part by the results of an inbreeding program with foxes.  As in animal husbandry, the most friendly and human tolerant cubs were bred to each other while the skittish or hostile ones were discarded.  Over time the foxes not only became “tame” but also showed changes in their physical development.  Domesticated species display a range of anatomical and behavioral phenotypes that set them apart from their wild counterparts: depigmentation; floppy, reduced ears; shorter muzzles; curly tails; smaller teeth; smaller cranial capacities (and concomitant brain size reduction); paedomorphosis; neotenous (juvenile) behavior; reduction of sexual dimorphism (feminization); docility; and more frequent estrous cycles.”

The idea is that the difference between Neanderthals and modern humans is comparable, that we became modern by becoming “tame,” domestic.  The claim is that there are 41 identified genes involved in this change for modern humans.  We don’t have much complete DNA info for Neanderthals — the scientists even thoughtfully include Denisovans -- but none of the other hominin versions.  Clearly, these scientists are trying to find the line between the more “civiized” and achieving people and those who are relatively unevolved.  The old Aryan search revives: who among us is naturally worthier than the others?  Who are Elves and who are Orcs?  Class hierarchy just won’t go away.

As well, the recent lamented “Middle Class” with their Brit gentry markers of upscale success (elaborate and well-defended homes, fancy foods, expensive clothes, powerful vehicles, exotic travel, and PBS shows about royalty) wants to think that their privileged status (compared to refugees) is due to innate merit and conscientious effort.  Therefore, if they are “domesticated” (which is a high Victorian value) as opposed to “wild” (which is basically uncontrolled by the domesticated) then it’s only because they earned it.  

In a time when any domiciles can be suddenly swept away by fire, flood, economics, and stock market failures, this reassuring idea has a lot of appeal.  The truth of it is more elusive.  I doubt domesticity is genetic at all.  Possibly it lies with the “wild” ability to recreate a home, as necessity demands for survival.



Sunday, January 21, 2018

WORLD CRASH


“Smash Street Boys” was a name Rachel suggested and the boys accepted.  T. now qualified for a demographic group organized in 2013 as “Let’s Kick Ass,” long-term survivors, a “Grassroots Movement of HIV Long-Term Survivors” guided by Tez Anderson Born in 1950, T. had never expected to live this long.  Sometimes he wished he hadn’t.

Books, film and alternative groups had been predicting “end times” for years when they finally began to happen.  The meds (Atripla) had improved to the point of being far more tolerable and rendered HIV not even contagious, but the price -- aside from thousands of dollars -- was constant monitoring in an underfunded public health clinic not reliably stocked and a hundred miles away through mountain forest, sometimes impassable in winter.  The place was attended by armed guards and visited by ICE looking for people to deport.

New “competing” viruses (ebola, bird flu) crowded HIV out of the spotlight with the mistaken public belief that the problem had been solved.  It was a great little money-maker for the pharma businesses.  American over-incarceration made prisons hot beds (yes, pun) for untreated HIV that was carried to the general population.  Stereotypes about who caught the virus meant that people never guarded against it.

But now two forces, predicted but inexorable, began to meet.  One was climate change fueling drought, flood and intolerable heat as well as arctic intrusions pushing sub-zero temps south.  The other was overpopulation which intensified political clashes over territory and economics.  What this meant locally was hostility towards anyone different or vulnerable or the wrong color.  Funding began to withdraw.  Safehouses and sanctuary churches became vital.  

At one point the lease on a the boys' dwelling was lost due to the landlord upgrading, and for a while at Barrus’ house they slept in their bags, shoulder to shoulder on the floor.  Then someone sympathetic gave them emergency use of an attic in a commercial building.  They had to enter through a trapdoor and there was no bathroom, only a toilet standing in solitary splendour in the middle of the space.  Boys of a certain age, wary of their own development, become very modest and require privacy.  It was a test of their mutual respect to use the toilet so publicly.  They built a screen around it as quickly as they could.

The boys in T’s absence discovered a group of homeless men taking shelter under a bridge and made a pile of peanut butter sandwiches for them.  In their generosity they hadn’t thought about the carefully budgeted food supply and had inadvertently wiped out the month’s supply of peanut butter.  One of the factors in staying well with HIV is a healthy diet, near-vegetarian but with lots of fish.  They got by because of their fishing in a nearby lake and a garden, which T. had learned to maintain in his Michigan childhood.

Photo journalism for social action now became portraits of disintegrating old trailer houses, hostile gaunt dogs and their matching owners.  

Then came the Appalachian forest fires, roaring down on their favorite lake and destroying a horse ranch they had enjoyed.  Horses they loved were burned alive.  Bears and deer came out of the trees, thirsting and disoriented.  T. had the vehicles ready to evacuate, but where to go?  They decided to camp, and that worked except that the smoke was intolerable for boys with lung problems.  Sometimes the wind shifted in the night and smoke invaded their camp spot so they had to get up at 3AM and find another hilltop that was clear.  

These were mostly city boys but they were beginning to understand how to survive in wildlands, even to prefer it.  The lessons and practices of the fishing camps among the Cree Chippewa that T’s father had forced onto him now came back and proved useful.  Sometimes when money was  short a boy would grimly disappear for a while and return with cash.  T. pretended he didn’t know what had happened.  It was a resource that worked whereever there were people. 

The Internet presence continued, less print and more image.  Vimeo and Tumblr were good for that balance.  The career of Ev Williams and other entrepreneurs led through Blogger where I had posted “long form” for more than a decade, through Twitter, to the most recent platform, called Medium.  This latter has had several transformations from amateur to paid professionals, but was organized into something like publishing “domains”, each representing a style or genre determined by an editor/writer.

For a while T. found a writing home in “‘CROSSIN(G)ENRES:  Poetry and creative non fiction including memoir, personal essay, academic, experimental work, and intersectional social justice writing from a personal lens. Add in some flash fiction and more than a few crazy dog stories.”  The editor was Alto, a flight medic turned MFA nonfiction grad.  Much of the writing was testimony to struggles, especially about sexual matters, but T’s most popular pieces were about poetry.  The community was a young unshockable adventurous bunch and soon he had 4.92 K readers.  But there are aways a few ideological attackers.  People were becoming disillusioned with some of the promises of Medium.

Parallel, the Smash Street Boys and T. were withdrawing from contact with me.  I was blocked in some platforms and there were no more emails.  Rachel became more involved in charities in India.  I returned to local matters but always monitored whatever public posts to which I had access.

Part of the reason for the separation was personal between T. and I.  My researching obsession often focused on his emotional issues, like the two forces that warred within him about danger — one urging attack and the other insisting on escape, or at least paralysis and evasion.  The most effective way he could break the internal opposition was with anger.  This was PTSD.  Also, Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  But — as he often insists — such labels are stupid and not helpful.  Anyway, what made it fascinating was that the sea change in neurology explains so much in a totally different way than the old Freud stuff.

The strongest point of deadlock was writing T's bio.  He wanted to explain it all, especially to himself, but every attempt to begin caused monsters to rear up and threaten him with destruction.  His parents and their generation had passed on now, but the social hyenas never die.  Those outsiders did not want any justification, only the satisfaction of vengeful rending.

Constant reading all his life had built a strong brain with many connections, but violence scrambled them a bit, made vortexes and abysses.  This created a natural poetic voice of rich imagery and vocabulary.  Though not an instrumentalist, he had an affinity for the mathematical structure of music, more voice than grammar.  The boys often shared this.  They welcomed the hallucinatory as a relief.

I discovered T. was a tenth generation descendant of the Mitsawokett tribe of Delaware, dating back to the 17th century.  His family had not valued that, so not mentioned it.  Like many, they had concentrated on white Euro origins and traced only through male names, seriously distorting the genealogical streams of the family.

But T. felt I invaded, manipulated, managed — which brought back all the females of his life who had tried to capture him.  “You are not my mother or my therapist,” he raged.  And yet in an unguarded moment he mused, “How many remarkable women have I known in my life?”  There were quite a few and not just enablers — real contributors of skill and funding.  He was not really a woman-hater or maybe it would be more accurate to say that woman-hating and loving can coexist like S/M and for some of the same reasons.  Power.  Survival.

For boys in the group who had come from broken families where they had been abused by fathers, the real villain they accused was mothers who didn’t object, didn’t protect, abandoning their children for the sake of their own safety.  Much abuse came from stepfathers who brought drugs, crime, and boy rape into the house.

This is as much as I know and could write out, but it is far from the end of the story.  This diaspora of boys who become men will seed the world with ideas away from the conformity mainstream.  They can protect themselves if only by becoming invisible, but they are neither innocent nor ineffective.  They are — it is corny to say — one embodiment of hope.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

CROSSING TO SHADOWS

Charon, the boatman who ferries the dead to Hades

This will not be the only version of this story, which is not just about one person and may be told by the boys themselves in a far more authentic and closeup way.  This is only one “take” that might supply structure for others.  T. has told parts over and over on blogs and in vids.  I sometimes joke that the truest versions would be told by the dogs.  I make no claims about "truth", reality or illusion.  Recent science is telling us that both history and identity are re-assembled in the brain over and over.

Navajo was the only “girl” in the group except for people contracted to clean or teach dance or musical instruments.  Her birthdays were celebrated as though she were a child, with cake, party hats, and champagne — she didn’t drink any but was silly anyway.  She was aging, getting testy so that boys who didn’t do what they were supposed to might get nipped.  After all, she had herding dog instincts.

One of the prosperous fathers asked for a progress report on his son and, since the son’s work was excellent, T. and a small delegation that included the son, Eavan, and Navajo loaded up some paintings and set out on a road trip, planning to visit a recommended fishing spot coming back.  The father was happily impressed and the son was proud of himself.  But on the way Navajo became ill and it wasn’t just being carsick.

T. used every skill he had learned from the veterinarian he had worked for, but decided that Navajo could only survive by returning to his North Carolina veterinary caregiver near what had become a family home.  Somehow they did manage to get her home and though they resorted to extreme measures, she was clearly still failing.  

The younger boys had been left in the care of Kilian who pleaded for help, saying that while he tried to reassure them he had used up an entire month’s worth of popcorn and told every story he knew.  The usual anxieties were overwhelmed by worry for Navajo.  In North Carolina T. stopped at a popular bar, called out one of his network of friends, a musician who may have been an “old boy” from earlier groups, and sent him to be reinforcement in Umbria.  The new man soon had the boys growing tomatoes and learning to make spaghetti sauce.  He played his guitar, teaching new songs.

One of the slightly older boys had a credit card his father had given him in case of emergencies.  He decided that the situation WAS an emergency and bought a plane ticket, showing up uninvited and unannounced.  His first act was to see in the back of the Jeep the shovel T. had bought and throw it out.  But it was no use.  Navajo had endured as much as she could.  She laid her head in Tim’s lap and ended.

People bond very deeply with their pets, but Navajo had been more than that.  She had become a icon, an avatar, a reassurance and a continuity.  Would T. collapse himself?  But no.  With a new “rescue” blue heeler puppy named Isabella, he and Tina set out for the American Southwest to take Navajo’s ashes back to her birthplace.  “Isabella” had all the protective instincts, soon learning to wear the helper gear and mastering the classes necessary.  Still, she didn’t quite fill the space, so a Jack Russell (naturally called “Jack”) was added.  Isabella considered herself the Alpha, but it was Jack that kept everyone laughing.

The doctors were telling T. that his shoulders were collapsing and he needed artificial joints.  The bone shattered into little needles.  If one traveled through his flesh — as splinters do — and reached his heart, he would die.  He could have had the operation done more cheaply in a foreign country but his insurance was in the States.  Anyway, he could not survive without Tina and she had to commute to her job.  

It was an ordeal.  The anesthesiologist was not up-to-date on HIV and T. had seizures while unconscious.  When he got home he tried to evade opioids so he wouldn’t have to kick them all over again, but ended up writhing on the floor, screaming.  The doctor finally intervened when he saw that the prescriptions weren’t filled.

Tristan — I think that was the one, though everyone in the group had “working” names or just assumed nicknames so it was confusing for outsiders — stayed in North Carolina with T. because he needed close supervision as his “executive function” began to diminish.  Not long before, he had been with an expedition of the boys on new trail bikes and, as was his daring nature, had pitched down too steep an incline, a small cliff really, and ended in a crash.  The support bar across the top of the bike smashed into his crotch and one testes had to be removed.  Since this was France, he was given a prosthetic replacement to appear normal.  

Tristan was extraordinarily beautiful but more than that, he had a wild flair and daring something like T. himself.  The most powerful version of T.'s essential drive to save a dying boy, he made an attentive nurse so long as the patient was in charge.  A characteristic of boys who have been sexualized from very early days is that they use physical contact without embarrassment, as a gift, a way of relating, yet not carrying social obligations.  T. needed the help but had to keep the boy under control.  Back in Paris Tristan had become so insistent on intimacy that T. finally rented a separate loft where he could sleep undisturbed.  Even then the boy begged to come over to dance with him, and that happened, though Kilian thought it was irresponsible, especially when the boy had to be sent home via taxi to keep him from walking into dangerous nights.

One of the riskiest and most notorious of the SF Leather men sex acts had been fisting, now — thanks to media descriptions including directions on YouTube — was no longer unknown -- but the precautions and preparations were not necessarily included.  A twisted man conned Tristan into letting himself be clumsily fisted which split his intestines.  Surgery was barely enough to save him and the virus meds stopped working.  Brain damage the boy had sustained by earlier brutalizations now became active AIDS dementia.

The group had moved to a British coastal fishing village, learning about boats and sails.  T. rented rooms in a nearby inn.  He would be Charon for this boy.  Daily they sailed on a small boat, two men and two dogs, exploring along the coast.  Then T. had another seizure and it wasn’t safe to take the boy along as he could no longer swim.  One of the healthier boys came to visit his close friend, but Tristan could neither recognize nor speak to him.

Now T. fished in the surf while Tristan watched on the beach, wrapped in a blanket.  At sunset they sat together, nursing mugs of Scotch and watching the sun go down.  Until his inevitable death the boy never stopped recognizing the touch and smell of T. and still wanted to be held.  When he finally crossed over the River Lethe, T. held him all night until he cooled.

Friday, January 19, 2018

COURAGE AND JUSTICE

"The Burghers of Calais" by Rodin

Cinematheque in Paris grew from its base in the art studio loft.  At the core were two Irish boys, one from the Protestant north and one from the Catholic south.  They had bonded to each other, which was not unusual in the group, but their strong commitment was exceptional.  They described it as a “marriage.”  Between the two of them, they shared a position T. always created, somewhere between assistant and vice-president.  This time, aside from doing a lot of the daily work, like filtering the floods of hate mail that still arrived, they managed T. himself and the schedule of travel and performance.  Though they argued with him, they also protected him.

There were three levels of activity: pop-up plays performed in the city on flights of stairs or along the Seine or in galleries; sub-group photography trips to Auschwitz or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or other locations of injustice.  The Bastille, the location of the guillotine beheading of 40,000 in the French Revolution, and Rodin’s bronze statue of “The Burghers of Calais” were all at hand.  The boys took the poses of the Burghers and sent a photo of themselves.

The third level was paid gigs to make vids of rock groups or nonconforming artists.  Sometimes T. went to speak or confer with activist groups, especially about HIV-AIDS, taking along a boy to carry the luggage (limited to one bag for each person) and walk the dog.  Navajo, as a helper dog who steadied T. on his new hips, flew in the cabin under T’s seat.  The only problem was that between anxiety and cabin pressure change, the dog emitted stink bombs.

T. got a phone call from his daughter who was teaching school in Bolivia.  His small granddaughter was ill and neither the young couple nor the doctors were getting hold of it.  Though a deadly riot was surging in the streets, he was on the next flight to La Paz.  Three boys were suicidal at the time and had to be with T.  Telling them to get their cameras as they were now going to be photojournalists, he just took them along.  In short order he had worked through to a diagnosis of the little girl, treatment was effective, and he found a local indigenous woman to be the child's nursemaid in future, reasoning that she knew better how to manage children in that place better than American young adults could.

From their hotel the boys had an excellent overview of the rioting streets.  After watching for a day or so, one of them produced a Harry Potter book.  He had not mastered reading, but asked T. to read it out loud, saying he had brought the book in case he got bored with the riots.

The original Cinematheque group now accepted boys assigned from the courts or social workers who didn’t know how to handle profoundly at-risk youngsters, even close to death.  France is an enlightened country in many ways.  The age of adulthood is younger in Europe and some legal cases could be resolved by a few years of growing up, until reaching emancipation.  Those sent to the group did not run away as they did in confinement-based institutions.

Another category was the sons of extremely wealthy people, boys who had no mothers so were raised by servants until they became unmanageably defiant.  Those fathers were prepared to subsidize the group as a whole.  In fact, a group of “trust fund babies” had collaborated to create a philanthropic body and they also contributed.  Groups like this who have money are invested in secrecy or they would be besieged by needy people and con men.  Of course, it would not help a respectable businessman to have publicity about his son, especially if it lent itself to sensational exaggerations.  It might even invite kidnapping.  Therefore, an aspect of Cinematheque had to be absolute discretion, which I am breaking by writing this.  (Of course, I know little and could prove nothing.  I had reports as things happened.)

The group had evolved into two categories:  older boys and young boys.  The older ones were protective, almost parental, and the younger boys, who had been starved of attention, settled down to receive medical care they needed to survive HIV-AIDS, though it meant boring and invasive clinic attendance and a miserable med regime.  Some had enough neuropathy in their feet to need wheelchairs, but others were simply emotionally unstable.

And then there were the junkies.  Johnny Firefly had pushed himself into the group but he couldn't give up his drugs and he was supplying one of the others.  When he was found out, the boys -- who did their own disciplining -- were harsh, as youngsters can be.  He was asked to leave.  T. considered asking the group to change its mind, but then thought they had to draw the line.  Later the Firefly blew his head off.  Years later T. was still haunted by this.  

A couple of the boys attended mass at Notre Dame.  One of the younger priests had been friendly, but then one day he said that they were scaring some of the older ladies and asked them to worship elsewhere.  I suggested that the young men should go to those old women, kiss their arthritic hands and ask the grannies to pray for them as they would for any boys.  Didn't happen.

At the time a few of the boys were willing to risk speaking out for political goals of freedom and justice.  But just by word-of-mouth some outsiders began to realize the location of the loft.  A few of the boys had sexwork reputations like rock stars, recognizable.  Two categories of people were especially dangerous:  those who resented the change in the boys and those who just looked for an excuse to attack the vulnerable, not expecting resistance.  One day an evident pedophile was ogling one of the youngers as the kid innocently sketched in the park.  A big aggressive member of Cinematheque spotted the ogler and beat him up, which the police did not appreciate.

It was time for a relocation and this time T. found a vacant old monastery in Italy not far from where "My House in Umbria" was filmed.  It was so far up in the mountains that the beds had to be carried up by mules.  The old women always knitting something black just kept their backs turned but didn't object.  The old men were interested in teaching the boys what they knew about making things, maintaining life in a village, stories of the past.  Youngsters had been missed.  It was safe enough for individuals to go into the fields to sketch horses.  One of the big boys discovered a pocket of malleable clay.  T. fished the streams with great satisfaction.

Sustiva had just come on the market.  New drugs always meant balancing risk against effectiveness, since necessarily the meds affected subtle deep body processes.  Sustiva had the dismaying side effect of terrifying nightmares.  When the supply of the new drug came, which preceded the arrival of the beds, the boys spread out their sleeping bags in a communal room.  T. asked them to sleep in pairs so that if a boy woke screaming, there was someone to hold and reassure him.  One small and anxious boy was left over from the pairs, so the Irish couple took him in between them.  T. sat up for a long time with his laptop, watching and writing.

Normally, boys who have been traumatized have nightmares anyway.  T. never let them sleep with him — it was the dog Navajo who curled against him at night — but if the boy were going through a bad patch, maybe ill, Navajo could sleep with them.  Even in the relative safety of Paris, some boys would bring their sleeping bags to sleep on the floor beside T’s bed, the way toddlers sometimes do with their parents.

A plan developed for some of the older boys to go the Amsterdam where marijuana is legal to grow.  In resisting opioids, cannabis is key.  The climate there is cold and wet, so in mornings T. had to sit in a hot tub for a while in order to move.  It was impossible weather for boys with weak lungs from pneumonia bouts, so Qi Jin, the half-caste Chinese boy, could not come.  He was bitterly disappointed because he really should be with the younger boys but was so intelligent and ambitious that he yearned to with the older group.  

Later, after the death of his closest buddy, Qi Jin composed a video of the scattering of the friend’s ashes on a favorite beach, throwing the cremains high into a cloud of greedy seagulls.  The vid ended with T.’s big hands clapping — applause, celebration, heartrhythm anguish.  Not long after that Qi Jin himself died.  The boys and T. were with him.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

PAUL SEESEQUASIS EXHIBIT OF PHOTOS




Nelson, BC ~ Feb 22. More details to come.

BLACKFEET/BLACKFOOT PHOTOS ARE INCLUDED. MCCLINTOCK, BOTH MAGEES, AND OTHERS. Some are very familiar because of being in books or simply reproduced a lot. Others have hardly been seen before.

This project includes discovering the names of the people photographed, so if you have access, even online, and recognize individuals, let Paul know. He's been on Twitter all along.



SOCIAL MEDIA AS SKATEBOARD: You Can Fall Hard


Facebook impacted the group in two ways.  First of all, T. was using Facebook as the platform for storing videos.  It was convenient and things were moving fast, so no care was taken for backups.  Then suddenly on November 13, 2010, Facebook dropped the account.  No reason was given.  Months of work were erased.  Uproar from supporters ensued but there was only silence.  In a few years someone suggested it was because we were using the word “vlog” (conflating video with log or blog) but there was some commercial enterprise that wanted to copyright the term and paid to have Facebook recognize that.

The other incident was more social.  An international group of poets had formed on Facebook.  As happens, a split developed between those New Age/Mommie cultures who wanted poetry to be nothing but upliftingly beautiful versus a poéte maudit school of thought that wanted powerful language to express darkness and despair in a hostile society.  I don’t know how it resolved because by that time I had left Facebook forever.  But some of those poets continued to stay in touch.

Among them was Rachel Chappelle, a social anthropologist, who began to fund an independent provider based in India.  She was an invaluable definer and enabler of the work.  Called “Real Stories Gallery Foundation”, the website was blunt and forceful, but endorsed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, Nobel Peace Prize Winner,1984)  T. is listed as the Creative Director of the website.  It is a website suitable for boys at risk seeking expression and for those who work with such boys.  Others will be shocked.  

The work by the boys reflects their lives.  Part of it is a program called "Show Me Your Life," which sends small video cameras to boys everywhere in the world.  The results are edited into vids on the site.  One boy in Africa filmed from a hiding place on a roof, documenting violent attacks on women.  His assigned peer-mentor worried and with good reason.  The daring boy met death by machete.  Cinematheque was shaken.

In our Western culture much that is painful, disruptive, and hard to address is simply made “off-limits.”  That is, censored and voluntarily sheered away from by “nice people,” who just don't want to know about it.  The result is that such matters are demonized and exaggerated, which is very convenient for abusers and pimps, since there is always a contingent that wants to know danger, wants to experiment, and is willing to pay for access.

A third internet phenomenon was the powerfully popular Wikipedia, developed on the idea that people who cared about a subject would monitor and improve information about that subject, resulting in something more accurate than if an individual person edited.  This theory failed to allow for controversial personalities and vendettas.  T., like others, found that information was being controlled to portray him in the worst possible light, leaving out everything positive and even using his pseudonym as the index rather than his real name, perpetuating the hoax rather than resolving it.

Several of us challenged this in the way Wikipedia is supposed to be corrected, but found our comments were removed again.  I went a little deeper and discovered that Wikipedia DID have editors, but they were cloaked.  This editor had a pseudonym of his own:  “VizJim.”  I finally figured out that he was James Mackey, a Cyprus writer who was a fan of Gerald Vizenor, a noted Native American writer and professor.  

By chance I knew VizJim from “Reznet” an early “bulletin board” that at the time was obsessed by the issue of blood quantum and tribal enrollment as entitlement for writing about Native Americans.  (Truth disclosure: I got access to the bulletin board by passively pretending to be Blackfeet by saying I was from Browning, which I was.)  VizJim, when I looked through the rather skimpy number of Wikipedia entries about Native American writers, appeared to be esp. interested in denigrating gay NA writers.  I remembered that he had tried to start an internet “talking circle” of his own and had remarked somewhere that if this NA subject didn’t make him a reputation, he would switch to sci-fi.  He was earning a PhD in post-modern thought by correspondence with a college of Oxford University.  He had been harassing T. for years.  When I challenged him, he admitted it.

But he was not the worst of the stalkers.  A porn writer whose story had been rejected by T. in his editing years was a vindictive computer adept.  He could locate individual boys' personal accounts and would torment them with their pasts.  Sometimes he threatened to mutilate them sexually.  When I began to fight back, he sent me a warning that was accompanied by a distorted selfie with eyes that flashed red.  Finally the FBI was invited to visit him and he cooled down.  He was a pathetic man living in poverty.

Cinematheque thought I was silly to bother with such people.  After years of protests, Wikipedia did a bit of reforming.  The entitled young men (and a few women) who are behind the curtain running Wikipedia, simply didn’t know enough about indigenous people to be able to identify the unqualified guides who petitioned to manage certain categories.  People never remember that not everything in print in every source is not necessarily reliable, not even big-deal newspapers.  Wikipedia turns up as boilerplate everywhere without authorship or sourcing; it is "pop" info.

Going back to the Facebook poet group, which included Europeans, several were educated about the new post-modern theorists who fought all limits and faced all evils, deconstructing them, revealing their colonial subtexts.  Some of these people became friends of T..  Aad de Gids, a psychiatric nurse, philosopher and poet; Paul Toth, a poet and novelist; Dom Gabrielli, poet and olive oil entrepreneur.  Carolyn Srygley-Moore Is an American poet.  These people were sophisticated, adult and cosmopolitan.  Americans tend to think of boys-at-risk as juvenile delinquents who can be saved by a good scrubbing and some scolding.  These poet/philosophers knew how deeply suffering can change children beyond any redemption by conformity.  

Among post-modern thinkers, T. had read Foucault while I barely knew that Derrida and others existed.  Understanding these rebellious, sexually fluid, and enormously influential people became a self-assignment of mine, but I mostly watched their YouTube lectures rather than investing in a library.  I have limits.  At one point I wrote a long essay using the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to interpret Cinematheque for a journal called “Rhizomes”, guest edited by two post-grad women.  They considered it but finally decided it didn’t fit their journal.  I was bitter and T. laughed. 

On the one hand, these post-colonial adventurous thinkers were way over the heads of boys, but when it come to the Paris group, not so much.  In terms of background for social movements, courage for going forward, the cutting-edge thinkers were vital.  Their invisibility to standard vanilla culture was an advantage, a protection.  The reach of the Internet meant that Cinematheque was not just operating in one neighborhood, even if it was as impressive as Paris.  There was no limit on innovation and that became more true as the Internet developed.  But it was dangerous, as we have all discovered.