Saturday, July 21, 2018


Much of the foundation of my life was the impulse to write, which came largely from reading.  I did not have a remarkable childhood and Portland in those days was not weird.  By now WEIRD means "Western. educated, industrialized, rich and democratic,"  (That's a small "d" for democratic.)  This acronym controls much of our lives, even the standardization of medicines and the theories of psychology.  More prominently it establishes the idea of social hierarchy and defines who's at the top.  It controls our public institutions, like the major universities and the legislations, and until recently had our understanding of writing gripped by the throat.

About three o'clock PM in Montana there are "cold" phone calls that come in, sometimes begging for money and others making surveys.  Yesterday one of them purported to represent a mysterious entity that offered to "publish" one of my books.  (My books are mostly aggregations of my blog posts, grouped by subject and free for anyone to download.)  This rather stumbling woman who offered "brilliant" agents was transparently fake and I deleted her.  

Two more professional entities who have discovered that writers will pay for "success" are "Academia" and Researchgate".  One posts a PDF of one's work, which is listed, and people make contact through the website to get copies.  It's possible to begin a dialogue with the requestor.  It's also possible to get a nicely designed website and other perqs -- for a monthly fee.  This responds to a perceived need because the traditional curated journals are now clumsy, slow, and sometimes corrupt, aside from being badly done imitations.

Such grassroots attempts to merchandize literary and academic work are pretty useless.  I doubt anyone takes them seriously, though there is evidently some Chinese man who has an insatiable need to learn about Blackfeet through what I write.  But it may evolve into something effective.  In the meantime, consider the WEIRD story of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Thanks to newspapers and magazines, this is a marker for the uninitiated.  The impressiveness comes from the splendour of ceremony, the inaccessibility of the writing (foreign languages, Derridan thought, content of perverse sexuality, craving for power), and now corruption so deep that too many of the people on the committee have resigned for there to be a quorum for renewal by adding new members.

This remarkable set of events is lined out in an article from The Guardian, an English newspaper originally located in Manchester, a place of working class ferment.  For Montana people the local echo is the Montana Festival of the Books and the Humanities programs, which purport to be based on virtue and popularity, but are at heart commercial.

A key paragraph:  "The scandal has elements of a tragedy, in which people who set out to serve literature and culture discovered they were only pandering to writers and the people who hang around with them. The pursuit of excellence in art was entangled with the pursuit of social prestige. The academy behaved as if the meals in its clubhouse were as much an accomplishment as the work that got people elected there.

The academy had thought it stood for the culture of TS Eliot: somewhat masculine and unashamedly elitist, in which power is channelled in the service of tradition. It turns out to be much more like the culture of an ageing rock star: smug, macho, with its cool self-importance armoured by money and fame. The destruction of the academy’s reputation is not just damaging to an old, odd, Swedish institution, but also to the ideals it upheld, and to the dream of a global high culture that the Nobel prize represents."

This understanding of success, both the old glamorous entitlements and the new elevation of transgression which has included not only the writing, but also the writers, and those who peripherally connect themselves to writers in the belief that they are proving themselves wickedly powerful.

At the moment the Nobel Prize for Literature is at a standstill and may just fade out of existence.  The pattern, however, lingers and gets in the way of much deeper and truer notions of what writing and other narratives can be.  Taking as a guide this idea of WEIRD or its opposite, which is the same acceptance of an artificial template (brown, unschooled, post- or pre-industrial, poor, and socialist -- well, at least feminist) turns out to be very popular at the moment, capable of knocking out the President of Harvard and the infrastructure of the UUA.  That is, overturning the hallmarks of the Enlightenment, which is a definitely WEIRD context.  Writing by dark women in marginal countries is now what sells.  

Is this because so many are disenchanted by WEIRD descending into chaotic corruptions?  Or does it just not work anymore?  We're asking this question at the highest levels of democratic self-governance.  We discover that WEIRD makes us vulnerable to the envious and scheming peoples of the high plateau of Eurasia, who began as horseback plunderers and never quite managed to impress Europe, though their descendant writers and composers have produced grand novels and symphonies, so that we recognize their long names, even if we have a hard time spelling them.  Size, complexity and a dour attitude in a suffering world have become indicators of value.  Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky.  A high school teacher in Cut Bank taught Christian pessimism in these books and was respected for it, as "one who knows."

I've been saved by the rez.  Oral culture, daily life quite apart from business, a wild sense of humour (the last thing to be "civilized") and lives too poor to use much technology have taught me to be suspicious.  I left Portland with their motto of "Keeping Portland WEIRD" and I'm not sure they realize the double meaning. 

So what does that mean about my writing?  It's not for money.  It's not for awards.  It's not for public recognition or for festivals and readings.  It's for a few cherished people and for them I do it as well as I can.  If they save it and share it, that's fine.


To begin a new and successful "religion" we must believe three things:

1.  Everything is a dynamic process,
2.  Everything is multiple
3.  Everything is connected

Then we can begin to understand how to survive under these circumstances.  The result will be educated politics and logically, some kind of progress, though it might not please everyone.  At present a large percentage of the human population, both the educated modern and the basic hard-pressed, simply cannot think this way.  They do not have the technical means that provide this way of seeing the world and have no idea what to do with the ideas.  

Since it is all invisible to them, but seems to be a source of superiority and power, they are afraid and coveting at once.  Ironically, autochthonous UNtechnical peoples understand it best.  The real obstacle and dangerous ideas are those of the Enlightenment that set us all free from a dark time once, but are now too dedicated to mechanism and force.  They close their eyes to avoid the vision.

This planet changes constantly, which anyone can see on video:  the dark and light, the movement of clouds, the flashes of electricity, the tides, and even the ebb and flow of giant beds of ice.  Much harder to see are the great currents of air and water that swirl around the globe.  Even harder to see is the dance of the continents resting on place tectonics.

That's the BIG picture, but life on this shifty planet starts with many little bits smaller than pin points.  Yet, when aggregated together, consider that they are extremely powerful.  When they were only "plants", they generated so much oxygen that the atmosphere was close to poisonous, but then the oxygen made "animals" possible and they restored a balance that was good for both forms.  Consider that two main geological features, both bedrocks, were created by tiny animals: they are coal, the remains of swamp plants, and limestone which is the skeletons and shells of tiny sea creatures.
Both plants and animals, living in a synergy in which they "eat" each other, are dependent on certain climate conditions, the great swirls of currents that move temperatures and water through the continents and around the planet.  If change is too abrupt and sudden, that particular adaptation of life is lost.  But because the changes move in patchwork around and around through rather mysterious patterns of interaction, all of life is rarely extinguished.

We are always particularly interested in which changes will help or destroy us, but like old swamp plants compressed into coal or dots of shell calcium accumulated into limestone, we also change our environment even as we adapt.  From the first hominins, the bedrock of humans as we know them walking around today, all adapted.  In this place they learned to cope with excessive rain; there they learned to live on the desert.  And so on.  It strongly appears that there was no Adam or Eve, but many many rough drafts that ended up in an accumulated composite of successes.  There was no one missing link, but rather aeons of knitted evolution.

" . . .the data do not seem to be consistent with the long-held view that human ancestry is derived predominantly from a single African region hosting a panmictic population.  [the word means mating anyone who comes along]   Instead, H. sapiens likely descended from a shifting structured population (i.e., a set of interlinked groups whose connectivity changed through time), each exhibiting different characteristics of anatomical ‘modernity’."

That may be the case with our bodies, but our minds and emotions lag.  In addition, the hardest part of the environment to live with is always each other.  Our cumulative brains can flash back to reptilian world-views.  The limbic forces of our mammal past cannot always be managed by our conscious minds, our proud identities.

Current fossil and genomic information causes scientists to change their minds about assumptions because that is what science does, observes the evidence and tries to understand it.  It's whole process is "rough drafts."

Refugia have been highlighted as key catalysts of evolutionary change and certainly would have generated population structure. Nevertheless, some regions acting as ‘backwaters’ and isolated habitat islands may also have been central in the persistence of relict populations. Research has emphasized broad asynchronous environmental changes in different African regions. The northern and southern tips of the continent are most strongly affected by winter westerly precipitation, variation in which is largely driven by changes in Atlantic Ocean circulation. However, most of Africa experiences monsoonal rainfall associated with the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), the strength and location of which varies according to changes in insolation that are driven primarily by precessional aspects of Milankovitch forcing[This term means the earth gets closer and farther from the sun and also tilts, which changes the weather, the climate, the seasons.]  Consequently, parts of tropical Africa that are currently humid likely experienced numerous episodes of extreme aridity in the past. At the same time that the monsoon migrated northwards, the Sahara contracted, and networks of lakes and rivers expanded across much of north Africa, with matching conditions in parts of southwest Asia. Finer-scale shifts in the monsoon are also evident. For example, in West Africa the extent of savannah and forested areas is strongly affected by small changes in patterns of rainfall.

Humans are altering seasonal climate cycles worldwide,  Nearly four decades of global temperature data collected by satellites reveal the atmospheric fingerprint of climate change.  (quoting Jeff Tollefson)

"An analysis of decades of satellite data has revealed how humans are changing seasonal cycles in the lower atmosphere. The accumulation of greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels has increased air temperatures in summer and caused larger annual temperature swings in the northern hemisphere.

We can forecast that the planet is warming more quickly and with more consequences than we ever expected.  Most of the world's earliest and poorest population is in tropical places.  Temperatures in those same places are killing many and will kill more.  Those who can will move north.  Rising waters will press people to move inland.  Strive among them will produce more death and possibly become so devastating that it could destroy the power and instrumentation that have created what ought to warn us.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Last night, just as I put my head on my pillow, which is in front of the window so I'll get air in such warm weather, the whole room exploded in bright pulsing red.  My first thought was a volcano had sprung up in my front yard.  The second was a police raid.  The truth was a flashing ambulance that didn't use its siren and slid on up the curb to the corner.  I have no idea why and may never find out.  Valier is so small that one can actually see most of what happens, but so defensive and close-mouthed in an effort to have private lives that often one doesn't find out the story.

I doubt anyone in town knew that I didn't post yesterday because I had fallen and was immobilized with pain and OTC pills.  They may have known that I fell, though it was inside the garage.  Certainly everyone knew that I was seeing the Family Practice doctor in Conrad.  My knee symptoms didn't develop until I got home, so my doctor doesn't know.  I went thinking I had a kidney infection but it turned out that I didn't even know where my kidneys were -- much higher than I had thought.  The diagnosis was wrenched ischia crest (the top edge of the pelvic bone complex) attachments -- that's a painful result of the fall as well, but we didn't figure that out.  He told me to take Aleve.  It didn't work.  I went through aspirin, .222's (a Canadian failsafe that only worked somewhat), and Advil, which worked at a higher dose than is recommended.  They're all meant to combat inflammation.

I had no prescriptions and didn't call the doc.  I'm a stoic and there's really not a lot to do except wait for time to pass.  I found my elastic knee brace.  "Doctor Google" who is a quack, was some help.  Anyway, I couldn't go to either the post office or the town store until yesterday when I tried and discovered my knee buckles, so that when I tried to get into the pickup, I ended up dangling from the steering wheel and flailing for a second handhold on the door.  If I don't mind eating beans and pasta, I won't starve.

The cats are puzzled by my inactivity.  The two big ones have been going around the block like the Two Cats of the Apocalypse, looking for trouble.  When they turn their faces towards me, I expect grinning skulls.  I was afraid they would hide kittens in the tall grass, but their bellies are not wet from nursing.  The two little ones sleep.  A lot.  When they aren't demolishing what they can reach.  They aren't that little.

My office chair at the keyboard became painful -- bent in the wrong places -- so I dragged in from the garage a disreputable and collapsing old wicker chair that doesn't hurt to sit in.  There are four fans running and I'm about to pull in another one from the garage since I finally found its electric cord.

Mostly I'm sleeping -- sometimes with "little" cats sleeping on me -- which is good since the news is as unexpected and terrifying as a volcano in the front yard.  It's not just Trump, vulgar and repellant as he is.  The policies of his administration are now hurting the livelihood of the big ranchers around here because of his tariffs and monkey-business with the borders.  The state's universities have always been welcoming to international scientists and tech teams, let alone tuition-paying grad students from around the world.  The usual principle of business is that stability and predictability are the necessary infrastructure for successful dealing and development.  But Trump has invested in disruption, unpredictability.  It is a policy that snuffs everything but sin.

In the middle of this I get a message from a former classmate, who was asked to leave Meadville/Lombard.  He scored a Ph.D. at the U of Chicago, which some people think is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and then began to lose churches.  The last time was for a cockamamie theory about what destroyed the World Trade Towers -- not what we all saw, airplanes used as rockets, but preplanted dynamite by the CIA.  He wanted to pick a fight about Trump because his girl friend left him and he doesn't have enough money.  Delete.

Then a blameless young woman in Coos Bay, Oregon, had discovered we were related -- distantly -- and wanted copies of everything I had about that part of the family -- I have two file cabinet drawers.  Years earlier I spent a lot of time copying, annotating and sending material to another branch of the family.  They were not interested, so I am no longer enthusiastic.  But I thought to send her a few old photos via email, since I could sent JPG's without a problem.  But my computer wouldn't scan because the red ink is out.  The photos are black and white and in theory I should be able to scan without colored toner, but like everything Epson that I touch, it won't work.  Everything demands updates and adds features I don't want, like taking a picture every time my old fingers fumble the keys.  Often.

What she didn't know was that the women who connected us were greatly disliked by my part of the family.  They were vengeful, mocking, and greedy.  This romantic young woman only wanted to know whether they were "Indian" which she considers honourable and glamourous.  She feels sure that a genetic spit test will prove which tribe, which it cannot but is marketed by promising it can.

In short, it's an impossible world she lives in.  But then, science is proving that we all make up the world as we go along.  Both suffering and fantasy are part of it.  We're finding the pitfalls by toppling into them -- we're getting bruised.  And we're told this immmoral-greed-criminality is only a few decades old but was there all the time until computers made money into digital three-dimensional chess.  We were going on and on about transparent when we should have been looking for the invisible.

In the meantime we frogs are beginning to feel the warming water, the high acid seas, and the unbreathable air.  I wonder whether I should take Tylenol.  My knee is improving.  I hope the same for whoever called the ambulance.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Parallel to watching the US news, I'm receiving Tweets from Western and Northern indigenous people because I'm friends with some of them.  Mostly Adrian Jawort, Sterling Holy White Mountain, and the Tailfeathers guys.  They can write, they take fabulous photos, and they are real.  But as you probably know, running your eyes through Twitter means having to discard a lot of trash, lint, and weird stuff.  Today there was a real estate ad for a big house in Missoula  !!??  Often people beg for money -- with good cause.

The breakdown into tribal warfare -- ya did/ya didn't -- over some nonsense issue that deserves exploration and understanding -- shows up in ways that are almost funny.  One among these peripheral First Nations coteries is obsession over skin color.  I don't mean the whole thing about being called "red" which they are not, unless badly sunburned, but about how dark one is and what it means.  White people have made "dark" a stigma, so indigenous people have countered to make it an indication of "blood quantum" (though skin color is not about blood -- nor is blood quantum about blood) but about inheritance of melatonin (a molecule) and exposure to sun.)  At base it is about markers for social standing.  "Indians" take dark skin to be good, pure identity as an "Indian," and assume that white people hate dark, though in summer white people hurry to the beach in hopes of getting dark.

For young "Indians" the subject quickly turns into a binary: dark is good, white is bad.  Choose sides.  Complex and molecular cell features are brushed aside, not understood anyway, just more of the mumbo-jumbo those snooty scientists are always going on about.  

So I tried to break up the deadlock a bit by introducing poetry.  "Of all the skin colors possible, the sun-warmed fawn with hints of lavender that many indigenous people inherit is one I love the most.  It looks so well with shell white and turquoise blue-green.  Also, copper, gold and silver.  And crimson."

This was quickly labeled unintelligible since it didn't fit the binary dark/light.  But also it was a refusal to confront the real significance of skin color specifically among indigenous people.  Esp. among young women who live off-rez.  They took offence that they expressed in junior high contempt terms.

"Bloodlines, Odyssey of a Native Daughter" by Janet Campbell Hale, a descendant of Dr. John McLoughlin who was a ruling white man with an indigenous wife, Ms Hale tells her story of a girl persecuted by her own mother for being "dark."  Her mother wanted to "pass" as white but if the girl were around, she couldn't hide the truth.  It's a harsh story, but not unique.

People here, with perfect confidence that they are telling the truth, believe it is absolutely true that "Indians" get free money and "get out of jail free" cards simply because they are enrolled.  People who are members of families that include many people of many mixes will also claim that those with a certain "blood quantum" -- a fancied fraction figured out by descent rather than a laboratory blood test for genomes -- have unjustified and arbitrary advantages over those who are a small fraction of whatever the tribe sets as the boundary.  (The US government realized a long time ago that setting this boundary is sort of like walking in front of a firing squad, no matter how stringent or generous the percentage might be.)

From the other side, indigenous people will explain with all seriousness that white people have a major advantage, like stable families, access to money and college degrees.  To them poor whites with alcoholism, unknown families, and inability to read just don't exist.  Even satisfactory white people can be rejected and thrown out because they have an "advantage."  They are unfair.  

When whites write books about "Indians", there is an outcry to try to suppress whites from doing such a thing.  The "Indians" don't think of writing their own books.  If they do, they rewrite the same old "myths and legends" that were defined by white people centuries ago, when they could be writing mysteries, sci-fi, or some new genre they invented.

The truth is unimaginable because it is about the time when European immigrants were faced with the problem of what to "do" with the people they were displacing, since now that they were pushed off a place where they knew what to do and how to survive, they were going to need humanitarian help.  At first there was lots of room, so they were just pushed to the West.  We no longer think that way -- at least most of us.

"European Americans passed "Indian Blood law" or blood quantum law to regulate who would be classified as Native American. The first such law was passed in 1705 in the Colony of Virginia, to define Native Americans and to restrict the civil rights of people who were half or more Native American.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the US government believed tribal members had to be defined, for the purposes of federal benefits or annuities paid under treaties resulting from land cessions.
Many Native American tribes did not use blood quantum law until the government introduced the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Some tribes, such as the Navajo Nation, did not adopt the type of written constitution suggested in that law until the 1950s."  (from Wikipedia, so I don't know who said it.)

Now we know so much more about law and so much that complicates the subject of the genome, like outrage and indignation from African-origin people whose skin color was used as the brand of slavery, that the whole concept needs to be junked.  The idea in the beginning was that indigenous people would naturally want to be educated and white, so after they got to the great-grand stage, they'd just drop the subject.  That was before the tribe became a corporation and "blood quantum" was a sign of enrollment, shares in the company, and thus entitled to a share of any profits  At first there were no profits, but now there are, and everyone wants "in."

So now the problem is way beyond skin color, whether scientific, poetic or statistical.   What is the new criterion for being enrolled, a corporate share-holder?  Can it be inherited?  Can it be seen by a casual observer? -- Or if not, how else can it be documented?  Should it be living on the rez?  (About half of enrolled Blackfeet on the American side live OFF the reservation -- not counting the members of the Nation who live in Canada.)  If what is at stake is not money but culture, which culture?  (Remember that frybread, glass beads, and jingles (snoose can lids) are all white intrusions.)

If the People themselves don't figure this out, it may be imposed by bureaucrats or simply be frayed away by time.  Even what seems so innocent as the PanIndian movement is a threat to those who want sovereignty without quite defining what that means.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Pinned into a chair by a fall that screwed up my left knee and made my eyes water with pain, I began to explore alternatives to Netflix which -- like everything else -- has turned to sensationalist repetition.  Hulu turned out to be the same thing except smaller, cheaper, older.  Britbox somehow pulled me into a weird trap where it might only have been the cheese bait.  I never did get to HBO et al, because I found  It's what I thought Britbox was -- BBC content, meaning the whole Commonwealth --like Aussies.

I'd already seen many of these films and series.  I seek out "procedurals", meaning cop shows but not the kind with shooting and explosions.  Most of the victims are quietly knifed or poisoned and, anyway, not all the cases are murder.  In fact, many of them are simply atypical and bizaare, a challenge to the written law.  The great difficulty of keeping justice aligned with law and order is the real subject of the show.  "Crownies" is 22 episodes long and connected to another series that is much shorter.

There are two levels here.  One is the law of Australia which is derived from English Common Law and not that different from US law, though the differences are often troubling.  The other is the "law" of social decisions among young educated professionals who are very attractive but hardly experienced.  "Crownies" is the nickname for these people when they work for Crown prosecutors, which are guided by "old hands," in this case an alcoholic horse-race addict who is nonetheless capable of seeing to the  human kernel of many matters (a cliché); a capable but limited man nearing retirement; and a steely movie star-type-woman, more Swedish than Aussie, who is gay and pregnant with twins.  These things, played off against each other, offer many serious questions and silly dilemmas.

The young characters are, to my taste, much more attractive and far smarter than any on US shows.  The repartée is a big part of the pleasure.  The writers make the most beautiful young woman into the most brilliant as well, and give her a gangster for a father, which seems a great advantage since he is very rich and also, when a convict gets fresh with her, an effective threat.  Her boyfriend, stupid but hunky, works for her father but the implications are mostly left to your imagination.  Several of the men are moochers, who get others to do their work, except one man ends up doing everyone else's work.  All is sex, drunkenness, and fixated on being brilliant by remembering every case ever tried and using clever strategy.  A very Christian fussbudget keeps these people under control.  Sort of.

The New Society created by the invention of antibiotics and the Pill is the norm here.  And there's much play of the idea of "gay" but no recognition of AIDS, which may have been earlier or possibly have been deliberately left out.  The same goes for the cyber revolution and the new society it has created, though computers are there and "smart phones" are the hinges of every plot.  It's as though the writers haven't quite digested two new and very deep changes in the world of wealth and connectivity.  Neither have they come to grips with China or the Arab countries and controversies.  It's pleasant to have a rest from those for nearly an hour.

But I rarely miss Rachel Maddow in the evening.  I'm not even entirely pursuing the facts as much as the perspective given by history.  She doesn't deal with the New Society of sex or cyber possibility either, but I suspect people on her staff do.  After all, both are germaine to our current terrifying crisis.  Trump is dependent for his self-image on the idea that he is an irresistible sexual stallion who can do anything he wants, and probably enchained himself by violating sexual propriety in a commercial way. 

Pride in the former and guilt from the latter are both outmoded now, but not to the American public.  The beer-swilling boys down at the bar still believe it is a sign of superiority to grab women by the pussy and they both are terrified that their mama might find out they've done.  In contrast, Putin, whether or not it is true, derives much of his power from an assumed asceticism, though it may only mean he has total control over what gets out.  (He just loses track of his shirt and assumes riding a bear is attractive.)

The other contributor to the New Society, the realm of the Internet and the possibilities of cyber coding, is probably more dangerous.  In fact, more dangerous than nuclear threats.  An atomic bomb can seriously mess up the planet, but it is easy to shut down the cyber grid across the continent, thus grounding all airplanes and preventing all distance communication, to say nothing of the controls of municipal water systems and the ability of service stations to pump gas.  People will die but infrastructure will endure.

This morning Maddow tells us that Trump's administration fired Cory Louie, chief information security officer for the White House’s Executive Office of the President, whose job was to protect Donald Trump and other top White House people from getting hacked.  Not only that, Trump eliminated his office.  This is the act of a man who can't use a computer nor even an improved SmartPhone because he can't understand them.  Not in theory, but which button to push.  He's easy in terms of planting bugs because he doesn't understand them either.  Trump Tower is not just a communications tower (that's why it's so tall, so it can send messages to Moscow) but also probably riddled with hearing devices that record.  He's not smart enough to understand that such transmissions are perceptible and noticed by all the transmission towers and satellites along the way.  In short, he is vulnerable -- possibly mortally.  The Secret Service that accompanies him with the Atomic Trigger ("the football") probably should also have a cyber-expert along, one that can detect threats.

Watching BBC shows instead of American commercial mush (I thought PBS was public until they sold Big Bird) is not being a traitor.  But selling out the US in violation of oath and patriotism, not for the greater good of anything but one's theoretical bank account (which some studies show are in the red) is treason.  

In another context, he would be shot.  I don't mean vaccinated or photographed.  Aside from the frivolity of "Crownies", one of the finest serious all-time movies is "Breaker Morant," about a war criminal who faced a firing squad.  It's from a society before the one in which Trump grew up at post-war military school.  But the concept of conscience may be at the core of a Newer New Society that Trump triggers, one that accepts sex, understands computers, and has contempt for traitors.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


The first time I ever heard of "VICE", the online magazine, was when they did a story about Browning, Montana, the capital of the Blackfeet Nation.  That was a while ago.  It was an honest story, though they like the underside of life a little too much and kinda neglected the women.

Now today I've intersected with them in two ways.  One was a short video.  Online magazines are beginning to present short videos that same way that print magazine present articles.  This was a little vignette of people moving through their lives, but instead of edited bits that jumped from one scene to the other, the people were all there on a stage-space and the camera simply moved among the people.  It was beautifully done.  See for yourself:

"Wa'ad" is a composite of what was written in letters from detention centers.  It is short and simple.  This URL will take you to both the film and a discussion and interview about it.  

VICE is not limited to Self-Obsessed America, but covers stories about the globe.  Today this week's disastrous and obscene conference between Trump and Putin,  sent Trump out looking as though he'd been beaten with a stick.  (We used to call dogs like that "fear-biters" and they were dangerous.)  Putin came out smiling, a show of SM almost unbearable to watch.  

VICE has saved me again by reminding me through Twitter of Obama speaking in honor of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.  #Mandelalecture  It's not that I agree with everything Obama said.  For one thing he never seems aware of the indigenous peoples around the world.  For another he values institutions and nations far more than I do -- he's more of a politician and I'm more of an anthropologist.  But Obama's graceful, mature, humorous presence was a welcome restorative.  He calls us back to the values of his youth and my young adulthood.  We forget.

"Wa'ad" is also a reminder of grace under pressure -- not the flamboyant heroism of the movies, but the daily work that is before us.  These people are not from Harvard and Yale and so on.  They are the people that the Ivy League students envy and go to visit, pretending that they are bringing technology but ending up with friendship and laughter, freely given, they never forget for the rest of their lives.  Obama didn't forget all that -- he was born into it and calls us to join.

Twitter has fallen on hard times and one has to wade through a lot of debris to get to the good stuff.  One "genre" it repeats is that of the single drunk old white man, near-homeless, who expresses his deficiencies by finding someone to berate and shout at -- sometimes even strike.  Women get into this mode as well, looking for vulnerable victims and finding little kids -- the only people weaker than themselves.  It's a form of street theatre but clearly these people have also acted this out at home, made themselves hated by their own families.

I used to say that the strategy of being the "last man standing" is far too common and always overlooks the problem that when the last man stands there all by himself, who's going to admire him, obey him, love him?  In contrast is the Biblical, "What you do to the least of us is also done to me."  Do you see the small arms of the children reunited with their parents go around the necks of their beloveds, their source of life?

"In filmmaker Bassam Tariq's new short film, Wa'ad (The Promise), little is what it seems. Its centerpiece, a conversation between a father and son, isn't actually taking place. When the son speaks of his siblings "doing well" after their mother's death, they aren't really. And when he says he'll continue to write, right before the film's heartbreaking denouement, it's TBD.

"Deft in its execution, the four-minute short seeks to evoke the feeling of what isn't said—"what you can write when you have a limited amount of space," according to the filmmaker. Shot in two days last summer in Beirut, it's a stark look at life for one detained refugee and a tragic ode to family that demands multiple viewings."

Obama's speech is longer than an hour and there's nothing in it you haven't heard him say before.  Wa'ad is less than five minutes but it is not "small-hearted" to use Obama's memorable phrase.  Doesn't seem like watching it is too much to ask.

Monday, July 16, 2018


What really happened in Finland?  Of course, my version is all fantasy and never happened.  It is frankly fake news  It's just my way of dealing with the appalling photos of Trump kissing Putin's rump.  The body language is VERY eloquent.  Even Trump's habitual leaning forward on the edge of his chair and putting his fingertips together in the "pussy" sign between his knees, collapsed a bit as he looked wildly and belligerently around.  But Putin's attitude was triumphant: relaxed, open, and straightforward.  He won.  He thinks.

So what happened in the earlier two-person secret meeting?  This is what I imagine.

T. was begging for asylum in Russia and trying to set the terms for where he would stay, the strategy for getting him out of the US, and what the cover story would be.  He wants a golf course, of course, and wants his name on it.  But he can't figure out how to escape the US except by ordering his pilot to fly somewhere -- where?

P. doesn't want T. now that he's become so ridiculous.  He offers an old golf course in Siberia where they have no golf carts and in winter one must play in snow, which means a colored golf ball and a dog trained to dig up the ball if the snow is deep.  T. refuses because he dislikes dogs.  Dogs are loyal, which is an attribute he despises.

P. says T. must make sure that Melania comes along because otherwise it would seem like T. was merely escaping, not preferring Russia and its accommodations.  T. despairs.  It cost him millions to get her onto the plane to Finland.  If she figures out he is running for it, she will not get on the plane for any amount of money.  Anyway, his pilot is military and may obey his Air Force commanders in the US and anyway while the plane is in flight, a pilot is the captain of the ship and outranks even the president.  And then there's the fuel to manage.

But then P. changes tactics because he realizes that it would be simpler to shoot Air Force One out of the sky.  It would be easy to get a US rocket to do the job and then blame it on some country no one likes because the US munitions mongers will sell to anyone.  It's a little worrisome that the US, which holds so much of P's laundered money, might nationalize some entity with the money in it.  They seem to find things better than was anticipated.

T. is jet-lagged but took pills to compensate instead of getting drunk like anyone else in his position.  He is determined not to get drunk because that would mean not thinking and making crazy decisions, maybe not even able to comb and glue his hair properly.  The fact that he does the same thing while sober does not register.  He does not realize the pills were a hypnotic, something like date-rape drugs.

P. says if T. doesn't do what he's told, P. will drop an atomic bomb on an American city.  T. considers for a moment, then asks which city?  He can spare something small and liberal -- maybe Carmel, California?

While this is going on, the riders on Air Force One during this trip are having a conference.  They are remembering 9/11 and that third airliner, how the passengers realized what was at stake and even knowing that their own deaths would be inevitable, decided to crash the plane.  Destroying the White House, old and poorly maintained as it is, was too symbolic to be tolerated.  They put their lives on the line.  There were no cameras that recorded the crash.  Their act certainly prevented a treason so deep that America would be wounded for decades.  We could spare a couple of capitalist skyscrapers much more easily.

The humble stewards, the arrogant journalists, the flight attendants, the cleaners and the stenographers agreed that taking down the plane might be worth it, depending on how T. handles the meeting.  Certainly there were no Democrat legislators on the plane and if there were Republicans, they didn't want it known.

The only thing worse than T.'s speech alongside P. was walking in front of the Queen.  The speech was only words and no one believed them anyway.  The Queen, however, is sacred and must not be obscured or preceded.  She gave T. hand-signals as though he were a Corgi, and he obeyed since he was confronting military, which he loves dearly.  The Queen was not amused.

I'm going to end this right here because I can't even imagine what will happen next.  Watch the news.  Air Force One is crossing the Atlantic at the moment I write.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Chuck Palahniuk became famous for two reasons:  the first is his book about "Fight Club" which became a movie, which certified him as a writer even though a film is not much like a book; the second is his success at workshops promising to be way outside the norm, dangerous and surprising.  This is a classic way for a writer to find an income based on all the wannabes out there, an evidently endless supply, and also the link between movies and books, which is the assumption that the road to success in any media is violence, insults, macho self-destruction.

The following quote is from an article in Oregon Live.  The success of any "book" that is paper pages within a protective cover is based on the froth about it produced on pop media: newspapers, interviews, speaking on panels.  Like this:

“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.” And the second rule? Come on, everybody, say it with us: “You do not talk about fight club.” Palahniuk’s novel of ennui-driven violence is a cultural touchstone for Generation X, and Palahniuk himself has sort-of become a leading voice for the disaffected Everyman. “Writing in an ironic deadpan and including something to offend everyone,” Publishers Weekly wrote in its 1996 review of “Fight Club,” “Palahniuk is a risky writer who takes chances galore ... [and his] utterly original creation will make even the most jaded reader sit up and take notice.”

In the end it wasn't THAT original, but his influence persists.  In fact, this particular article is surprising because it shows other "Oregon" writers who have persisted, even though we've half-forgotten some of them and most of them are not pure Oregonian.  Joaquin Miller, for instance, the poet of the Sierras, an early model of poetry and edge, long before Burroughs et al.

It's ironic that the "Montana writers" who often overlap with "Oregon writers" are much "nicer" and direct their violence at the entirely Other, while the Oregon writers are fierce and after their own.  In fact, I've never liked Jean Auel, though I like her subject, because one day at the bookstore in John's Landing shopping center, she ran a handtruck of her books over my foot.  She didn't target me -- she was just in a hurry.  Heedless, reckless, limitless, that's what Oregon writers are after.  No apologies.  But their horizons are obscured by trees, except on the coast.

But it wasn't Palaniuk who founded "Dangerous writing."  It was Tom Spanbauer who come up with the idea and has done teaching workshops about it ever since.  Ironically, he says the first thing for a teacher is to create a safe place for the writers.  Palaniuk, who made a lot of money with his work, now claims that he was cleaned out by thieves, some of them purporting to be safe money managing friends.  Now THAT'S dangerous!

There was a writer I knew who wrote a book I didn't know.  (I'll buy it when I have money.)   Walt Curtis was born on the 4th of July when I was two years old.  He really was in Portland, and he was thoroughly Sixties in the Burroughs way.  His was the Portland I never knew about when I was there, but I recognize the places: the Lone Fir Cemetary, Sheridan's fruit stand.  I did know about William Stafford and his son, Kim, who teaches writing at Lewis and Clark College, very high-brow.  I didn't know that William Stafford was onstage with Allen Ginsberg.  It was the time of political protest and a demand for change.

Here's a taste of Walt:  ”Hell hath no fury like the dream spurned / I saw a waterfall of death and purity / Which will cleanse life of its dirt / We will bathe there naked and free in the morning light of a new dawn.” I am a poetic ecologist. I am concerned with climate catastrophe and saving planet Earth. I am dubious that there is a future."  He was talking about Oneonta Gorge, where my family hiked.

Curtis' "key" was a book called "Mala Noche: and Other 'Illegal' Adventures" written about immigrants, which would be even more dangerous today.  It was a chapbook in 1977 and later became a film by Gus van Sant "It is a vividly homoerotic account of Curtis's passionate and mostly unrequited love for several Mexican street youths who come to Oregon seeking jobs and money.  The powerful imagery is reminiscent of Jean Genet and of other Beat Generation writers.  There is great sadness in the lives of these lost young men but also great beauty and dignity."  Howard E. Miller in the Library Journal.

Strangely, this has become a genre of tales with special appeal for young people rather alienated from their peers and looking for a key to meaning.  It includes a deep love of wild nature.

Here is the hour-long "Salmon Poet" by Walt Curtis.  It's a little dorky, but meant to be fun anyway.  If you get as much of a kick as Curtis and others got making it, you win.  The vid is made in the fall which his why there are so many salmon come up to spawn in the streams, a little ragged towards the end of their lives.  In wilder places there are bears to recycle them, carry their digested remains up into the forests to feed the trees.  Curtis says he's not trying to be a white Indian or shaman, but that doesn't mean he leaves the salmon tribes out.

I'm so pleased that Curtis is focused on the immanent, the fleshly, the organic existence of senses.  Mystical woo-woo is evanescent, mental foo-foo for Ph.D. candidates who don't want to have to read all those books.  I remember vividly sitting in that old bomber plane when I was a child.  I can close my eyes and see that instrument panel.  It had a nose then.  War is not just about Vietnam or the sand countries.

I'm glad I left.  I'm glad Walt Curtis is still there.  We're both old now, but, oh, where we've been!