Sunday, September 23, 2018

WE HAVE QUESTIONS

So much nasty stuff comes out about people in the Republican party, sometimes disclosed by themselves as though these naughty things were proudful entitlements.  This is the first side of the Repubs in which they PERFORMED abortion -- a small fetal murder, if you think that way -- by slipping abortifacients in a smoothie to their mistress.  This is quite a new kink in the story of chemical birth control.

All this stuff is disturbing and it happens all the time.  Did it always or is this some evolutionary step in the unraveling of culture?  To what end?

I just got my October "Atlantic" magazine -- which they assure me came in the mail a week ago, which shows about how much they know about here.  It's a lot farther and more different than they think.  They picked up on the sense that we're in the middle of a degeneration that may be a disassembling of democracy.  The most frank was a review of William T. Vollmann's latest book, "Carbon Ideologues" which became two books "No Immediate Danger" and "No Good Alternative."  The pessimistic idea, says the reviewer (Nathaniel Rich) is not a warning but a suicide note.  We're already killing ourselves.

The most beguiling article is from Helen MacDonald, the one who loves hawks, but this time she is praising "The Brilliant, Playful, Bloodthirsty Raven" who loves to eat corpses and is fond of dogbones soaked in blood.  (No specificity about whose blood.)  There are books, specifically about the ravens that live in the Tower of London, providing an aura of "Game of Thrones" to assure us that the world has been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again.

Much of the rest is a set of essays by people like Justice Breyer and other eminences about why we are in such a mess.  No one suggests remedies, just hand-wringing.

I particularly liked and saved a quote from Woodrow Wilson, unlikely as that might seem.  Less so when you know he wrote it in 1901 and much of my basic moral scaffolding comes from that period via my grandmother's books, mostly by Gene Stratton-Porter.  (I have a nearly complete set of her novels which explains why I manage resources always as though the Depression is just around the corner.)

This is from "Democracy and Efficiency" by Wilson, not Stratton-Porter:

"We have looked upon nothing but our own way of living, and have been formed in isolation.  This has made us -- not provincial, exactly: upon so big and various a continent there could not be a single pattern of thought and manners and purpose to be found cloistered in a secluded province.  But if provincial be not the proper word, it suggests the actual fact.  We have, like provincials, to habitually confined our view to the range of our experiences.  We have acquired a false self-confidence, a false self-sufficiency, because we have heeded no successes or failures but our own."

So I would like to know just how old "Chuck" Grassley was when he was waylaid on his way to the bathroom at a party, dragged into a bedroom with a locking door, and pounced upon by two healthy strong young men who tried to strip his clothes off.  If he can't at least imagine it, how can he judge a fifteen-year-old girl whose parents would be really mad if they knew she were drinking alcohol?  Or was Grassley the pouncer?  This girl was little more than a child even if she were from the same entitled background -- the yearbook photos show her as well as the two 17-year-old young men whose bodies were way more developed than their brains.

But Grassley was not a "prince of the realm" the apt phrase for those Yale-bound guys.  During the 1950s, Grassley farmed and worked in factories in Iowa, first as a sheet metal shearer and then as an assembly line worker. He pursued a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Iowa, but ultimately did not complete the degree.  His college work was humble but respectable.  But he DID join a frat that had a bad rep in some places.  The entire rest of his life has been as a politician.  He knows that when the head turtle says "snap", it's because he's a snapping turtle.  Obey or hurt.  

Actually, Grassley's record is pretty sensible until the recent issues about Russia and the NRA, which are closely linked.  Then, like so many others, he began to seem nuts, responding to something none of us can see.  I don't think it's celestial voices.  I don't think he did something sexual, like aborting someone's baby.  I think he doesn't know how to step down.  I think he's used.

Hordes of reporters are out there searching the archives and interviewing people, seining society for fresh and thrashing stories that might give us some clues about how to think about all this.

While I was reading, someone knocked on the door, which startled me and the cats, since no one but Fed Express ever does it.  The knocker was running for office in Brady, another small town like Valier but on the other side of Conrad, the county seat that ignores us both.  He "wanted to ask me some questions."  Every night about 8PM, which is some people's suppertime, a different foreignly-accented voice wants to ask me questions.  The Twitter feeds from mags and news feeds and organizations all want answers, vignettes, stirring little stories -- in short, content they are unwilling to pay for.


So this very nice mild man from Brady just retired from farming recently and was approached by others to replace a controversial politician.  I was hostile.  We visited until it developed that he had just spent weeks wrestling with Medicare over his need for a new insulin pump because he has diabetes.  Then we warmed up.  I just spent an afternoon trying to break the circle between website and phone message in order to get my driver's license renewed.  One referred me back around to the other.  Then I went through the same tail-chase trying to get registered on "My Acoount" for Medicare.  Both of these are legally required.  They make me feel desperate.  He agreed.  What good did it do to answer questions?  Even if he gets elected?  The party will tell him what to do.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I GIVE UP FOR THE DAY

No post today.

I've written six beginnings and deleted them all.  They just sound like a district attorney's bill of accusations.  Nothing helpful.  The more the shared background of both Kavanaugh and Ford are reported the more fake entitled they sound.

Friday, September 21, 2018

IT'S ABOUT PRIVILEGE

“It takes one rapist to commit a rape, but it takes a village to create an environment where it happens over and over.”  This quote is from the "tweet" of Rebecca Wind, who has credentials in international relations, religion, marketing, and social work.  It goes to one of the dynamics that give us headaches: the difference between the individual and the group, which means that sometimes what helps or hurts the individuals COMES FROM the group consensus so that sometimes the individual is deeply right but martyred and other times the individual is totally wrong and must be controlled.

The next problem-producer is that these dynamics change, sometimes subtly and sometimes radically over the years.  The pressure for change might be political, or religious conversion, or a transformation in the religion, polis, or general circumstances.  Our ideas and standards about sex, for example, have been changed chemically with major consequences if you think about the reality of accessible and fairly undetectable contraception.  I watch old BBC murder mysteries in which many of the motives for murder come from illicit pregnancy (unwanted or from the wrong conjunction).  If those women had only been on the pill!

We are told that male fertility is sinking in the US, but not why.  This might be one way that pregnancy is on our minds and doesn't support contraception.  But also now we can "tell" what man was the father and require him to pay up for the child's needs.  This supports contraception as well as condoms to prevent DNA evidence.  And condoms protect from  disease so that's another vote for contraception.  (In the time I was a child, condoms were illegal, which meant one got them by mail order.  Illegality didn't stop sales.)

On the women's side the sentimentalization of motherhood opposes the risk of maternal death from pregnancy and birth  The yearning for making a family stands against the desire to have a career.  One can escape from both sides of these dynamics, but it might not be easy.

A Chinese film about injustice portrays the determination of a married woman to seek redress after the landlord of the peasant couple in a ruckus over rent kicks her husband in the genitals hard enough to have possibly made him sterile.  This would affect her value as a wife since it would mean no children, no protection in old age, and no help with crops all along.  She demands compensation, going up and up the bureaucracy to the top.  To her, reproduction is profit and success, not the result of a desire for sex.

In our culture sex stands for wealth in quite a different way: who can fuck whom is a marker of importance and status.  People are judged by their spouses, their lovers, the access to admired people.  Love and intimacy are private, not connected to sex.  In fact, I'm told by cops and sexworkers that esp. for men, sex is connected to violence, beating someone up is as satisfying as "cuming".  Sex is considered to motivate violence, to deflect attention from the real erotic sensation of entitlement to violence.  Certainly this is portrayed over and over in those BBC murder mysteries -- more violent in the American versions of those stories.

Sex is used for marketing -- in fact, sex promotes things that have nothing to do with sex, just by associating the items with flirting people.  But sex is rarely seen as anything but overwhelming drive to fuck to climax, and it is assumed to be everywhere, esp. in high culture, like working for an important firm in a big city where people do a lot of drinking.  Ironically, drinking is only relevant as a feature of seduction, breaking down resistance, but also prevents both intimacy and performance.  Drinking encourages violence.

Ironically again, the best article I've seen so far that addresses how our society betrays individuals in controversial cases is in VICE magazine.  https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/j54pa3/lifetime-supreme-court-appointments-are-a-total-disaster?utm_source=vicetwitterus

VICE is an interesting magazine, interesting because it is unpredictable.  Starting in Montreal, a tolerant and artistic city, it has veered around the English-speaking world, currently based in NYC.  It confronts sex frontally but gives it much less power than other sources who suppress sex.  Thus, their ability to get the big picture over time and around the planet.  Their ideas about how to reform the Supreme Court are reasonable and clearly related to the change in our culture through the centuries since the idea was framed.

We are a democracy based on capitalism and merchandizing.  At the time of founding, it was thought -- because of enlightenment and rationality -- that trade was the best source of peaceful relationships between nations and a valid measure of human value.  A strong, smart, profit-producing dark-skinned human being -- owned like a woman -- could make a plantation successful, an idea which turned out to be irrational, a devilish disregard for human beings, even if the law defined them as property.  Even so, the females were considered producers of more property and natural genetic families were of no importance for poor people, something like the children held in cages today.  It's remarkable how these rationalizations have clung to us after centuries of what we thought had been reformed.  They are ideas connected to agriculture, going back to feudalism, but still sneak into the thinking of single individuals living in cities with more desire for success than for families.

At one time and place a woman who denied intercourse was denying babies, which is still an obsession of old and ultra-right-wing men in our culture.  Then the issue was the ownership of the baby, which were also property.  (Abortion!!)  If she were sterile, she was useless, valueless.  Sex was not a matter of pleasure, but of productivity.  Raping a woman reduced her value to other men because her babies demonstrated the virility of the unpermitted man.  It was like breaking into a man's house and smashing his furniture.  A matter of power, violence, not pleasure or even productivity.  Among teens in low income places, boys with access to girls who "get her pregnant", will say, "I gave her a baby.  Therefore, she owes me."  He will show up for meals and demand money.  Babies mean money from the safety net of the government.  (This is not an argument against safety nets, but another time . . . )

If one takes all these observations together and turns them to the consideration of Kavanaugh, the consideration should not be about the emotion of sex and a young man's inability to control himself, but rather about his need to prove he is virile, productive, and stronger than anyone who denies him.  It is also a valuing of violence rather than seduction and the need for help from a fellow privileged human-being who also failed to value the life and respect of a person who happened to be female.  They knew it was wrong, even to peers, or why guard the door?


When you put it that way, this man's deepest convictions -- which he has continued to demonstrate and which have somehow earned him the convenient help of older and more important men -- disqualify him from judging any other human beings.  It's not just a matter of rape.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

No post today

No Post.  Bad Eyes.  In spite of tinted lenses, etc.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

NOW THAT THE TABOOS HAVE RECEDED

Struggling with aging and diabetes, I put all my meds in a box and made an appointment with an experienced doc.  I was shocked and amused to discover that many of my problems came down to constipation, a lifelong struggle.  It has always been kind of a painful and taboo subject.  

When I was in primary school and complained about the pain and slowness of big hard stools, my mother snapped, "Wait till you grow up and have to have babies!  That will hurt a lot more!"  But I'm not her and I didn't have to have babies, so I didn't.  

Not that she didn't try to help.  The "pediatrician" who was just the local doc who worked out of his house a few blocks away, recommended a nasty stuff call "petroauger"-- I think it was goop from seaweed, the gel they grow stuff in with Petri dishes.  He told her to scrape the flesh of an apple with a spoon and give us that, so we stood in a row like little birds with open mouths while she dutifully extracted pectin from apples and shoveled it in.

But this time the doc treated it more seriously -- he sent me for an Xray that cost more than a hundred dollars.

But it was worth it, because clearly there was the knot of half-digested food sitting in the tubing blocking everything -- but no tumor.  (I think everything is cancer.)  Of course, part of the culprit is the Ghost of Menses Past (I'm 79) which always tenses everything up at the onset and relaxes my whole body and outlook a few days later when the hormones shift.  This was new to the Doc, this ghost thing, but he didn't make fun of it.

I was already drinking my 8 glasses of water a day, though the "againsters" said I didn't have to.  (They say coffee, chocolate, butter and daily aspirin are okay, too, which calls their motives into question.)  And once I even took fiber pills for a while, but now the Doc was definite.  DO IT.  It works.  But the fancy stuff with a name is more expensive than generic.  And bran cereal helps as well.  Also the nagging "fruits and vegetables" which is not so easy if you're not by a supermarket.

Then a friend, rather liberated from the whole taboo about excrement, told about having to figure out how to provide her doc with a sample of feces to check for blood and so on.  She was resourceful and managed it, but I went to my favourite helper, "YouTube", and discovered that other people are given kits that are very helpful.

Here are a couple of Youtube vids of advice.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFQo0E3N1F8
This one is short and practical.  You could figure out how to do it with no kit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhyMFw9eSzc
This one is funny and far more extensive, but rest assured that no feces were produced during this show -- just replicas with substitute substances.  It makes the point that proper digestion is largely a matter of water and fiber -- enough of both.

https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/bj3dqd/what-your-poop-looks-like-can-reveal-a-lot-about-your-health  Since one's guts are a veritable chemical factory, excrement can tell a lot about liver and bile and even the swarm of microbiotics that live in the intestines and can be either good or bad.  There are even protocols for poop transplants for those who took too many antibiotics and killed off their local populations.

l'm putting the Bristol Stool Chart on here whole, but you could probably find it online as well as the others.  The condition at the top of the list is called in more poetic places "lion balls."  Since we once at Animal Control had to impound a half-grown lion and I was the only one willing to risk my life by cleaning out her cage, she did indeed make "lion balls" out of her food.  Her name was Jamalya, and she belonged to the son of the King of the Gypsies, who lived only a few blocks from me.  I suppose you think I'm making this up.  I'm not, but I don't think the Doc believed me about either the lion or the Ghost of Menses in old age.  Docs don't get out much.



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Now that the taboos have receded enough to speak plainly about bodies and how they work, it is a great relief to know what's happening and what ought to be done about it.

When I did my hospital chaplaincy in preparation for becoming clergy, I thought I would have a lot of conversations about God, but no -- the patients wanted to talk about peristalsis -- this is, when will I begin to poop normally again?  Abdominal surgery will interrupt the rhythm, partly because of the action of the anesthetic.  I wish I'd known then (1980) what I know now, but I did my best.

The first time I was sent to a patient's room I'd just sat through a speech about getting people to face their mortality and the possibility that they might die, because cutting people open is a drastic thing to do.  I was prompted to bring the deity into the conversation but not to insist since they might be atheists or something.  

So I went to the room where the family of an older lady were standing around while she lay in bed, partly prepped with twilight drugs.  "Would you like a prayer?"  Everyone thought so.  I talked about infinite blue sky and unknown destinies and mentioned the seriousness of surgery.  Everyone's eyes got wider.  Finally I asked what procedure would be happening.  Haemorrhoids due to constipation.  The daughter said, "My, we didn't realize how serious this is!"

But in contrast a later patient about the same age was in for varicose veins.  They raised her legs for convenience and dislodged a clot.  She died then and there.  Life is serious.  Poop is serious.  Bodies are serious.

But that doesn't mean you can't make jokes about it in an era where emoticons include little piles of poop that don't fit into the Bristol Stool Chart.






Tuesday, September 18, 2018

OUT WITH THE OLD, BUT WHERE'S THE NEW?

As an aging woman in a morphing world, my issue is having too much.  Too many books, too many clothes.  Some of them I've had so long that the fabric is rotting which makes me sad because I liked them so much and they aren't made anymore.  For instance, people don't sleep in long white nightgowns anymore -- they wear sweats.  But too many longtime friends have passed on, and surely that's more serious.

It's clear that we're at the point in history where all our theories of organization have run out and it's time to invent more ways of being.  Since there was a big surge of reinvention and reorganization after WWII, their time of usefulness is all running out at the same time.  In fact, everything that was a big new boom wave in the past must inevitably begin to collapse at about the same time, which means that the media are always noting the deaths of movie stars, esp. the ones who were popular all in a cluster, like Westerns.

Never before our archives of images formed could we see -- not read about but see -- famous and related people throughout their whole lives from birth to death.  It's a lot to ponder, esp. if the people portrayed are not part of the group in which we've been embedded our whole lives.  But the more contemporary portraits of people we aren't likely to know -- like the families of indigenous people after they were so colorful at first contact and before they become indistinguishable on the street and in the stores from everyone else -- are not picked up by media.  If it weren't for the insight of Paul Seesequasis, we wouldn't know Cree girls with bobby socks and perms, print dresses and cardigans, dancing swing with boys who have ducktails.

Sometimes in my own family I run across a little cache of photos from early days, but not very often since I gathered them all up when my mother died.  It's just that they're too much to sort and there's too little time.  Also, I discover that others are not so fascinated as myself.  In terms of place, people have a certain fantasy about how history went, and are not pleased to have that challenged.  To them Valier was once a ranch, like the ones in John Wayne movies.  They know ranches.  They don't want to know the ranch was owned by a Confederate raider who came here as a teenager because the Civil War ended.  Nor can they picture a pre-Euro world on the prairie.

Nothing has changed our understanding of living beings more than genetics.  It's not just Euros coming to America and calling things here by Euro names:  elk here were stags there, robins there are really thrushes here, and -- of course -- these Indians are not the ones from India.  About the time that we figure out that DNA tells a different story about what animals are, along comes David Quammen and teaches us that all living beings are expressions of the same code and can pass that code around among themselves over both time and space.

I'm reading a book called "The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA" by Jeff Wheelwright.  It's about the mutant gene BRCA1.185delAG.  All the BRCA genes are potentially cancer-causing and this one is: it causes breast cancer.  In the course of tracking down who and why and what should be done about it, Wheelwright gets to know a family that includes the "Indian Princess" who is partly indigenous.  Tragically, she is carrying this gene, inherited from Sephardic Jewish ancestors she never knew she had.  She copes by becoming a Jehovah's Witness.

This story is in the SW and Colorado so the history includes the Spaniards overrunning the indigenous people, then the latter rising up and throwing them off, followed by a new invasion favouring Jesuit bureaucracy, and then this specific family becoming Jehovah's Witness.  The people involved create their lives and identities from different layers of the past, so some mothers still light candles on Friday evening, but have lost the memory of Jewish peddlers and other immigrants who brought the custom to them.  The practice is not anchored in religion but in the felt significance of custom, also inherited from Sephardic Jews.

Culture can overwhelm inheritance and I feel it sharply now.  Because I've lived in multiple places, known different kinds of people, done contrasting kinds of work, read and read and read things none of my relatives have read, I don't see the world the way they do.  I look at what was supposed to be our genteel and blameless lives and see tragedy: the grandmother who nearly died of goiter because of living in Dakota and Manitoba where there is too little iodine and probably because of a genetic need for iodine because of her previous generations (Finney in Ireland and Scotland -- all Finneys claiming to be Scots because Irish were stigmatized) having been adjusted to maybe too MUCH iodine on a sea-drenched island.  Her thyroid problems may have translated through the epigenome to problems among the grandkids, even emotional ones not thought to have roots in physiology. 

Her middle name is "Swan" which is often a Metis name, so maybe I have a little indigenous blood after all.  But genetics are much too complex to make guesses like that.  On the other hand, her very best friend, a woman who came to Oregon from Dakota where they lived near each other, looks very indigenous.  Her name was Coleman, which could easily be an "Americanized" version of a tribal name.  But one must weigh that idea against the unreal American yearning to be indigenous, a person of the land who is nobilized in stories.

My family does NOT want to hear about it.  Their way of handling such things is denial, not-hearing, ignoring, shutting out, and devoting themselves to "Outlander", a series full of avant garde things like S and M or polyamory and a lot of dubious politics.  They say they just skip that part. They love romantic novels and history makes them legitimate. 

The other half of my heritage is also Brit, but the kind that figured out that prosperity is the same thing as respectability, so if you make your living from titty bars, it's okay as long as your home is well-decorated with kitsch.  Not that different from Trump believing that if he has enough gold-plated furniture, he will be admired.  He's right.  But only admired by the ignorant.  it's an old outmoded Euro concept, like so much of our lives.


But then . . . one of the things I have too much of is criticism of relatives and politicians.  Over time, it has rotted.

Monday, September 17, 2018

WHAT IS AN "INDIAN"?

Misnamed, misunderstood, misappropriated -- from the first moment a Euro person stepped onto these two linked  continents, the "Americas" named for a Euro, and got them all wrong, there have been attempts to understand but only misinterpreted everything.  All attempts to claim one thing or another have ended in atrocity, impassioned opposition, and subversion.  Never resolved, but tolerated because the indigenous people were stymied: couldn't speak English, didn't understand the idea of Rule of Law, had no boundaries or flags or declarations.  But now they do.  (Are they still "Indians"?  I say yes, but transformed.)

Two recent scientific studies add to the mess with things we didn't know, could never have known before.  One is from genetics and the other is from geology.  They mesh.

Let's look at them one at a time.  I've noted the two website posts that I'm considering.  The first is about a jump in the genome that made a certain kind of persons (including the American indigenous) better able to nourish their children.  It assumes that this genome is basically Asian.  

In the past indigenous people have passionately resisted the idea that their genome is Asian-based, but that was during a time when we were at war with Japan and Korea.  Now "Asian" means "California" and is more acceptable; in fact, considered so superior that their numbers are limited at Ivy League universities to keep them from dominating.  But the new loop in the story is about hominins, pre-Homo Sapiens (like Neanderthals and other pre-humans) and the evidence that the Naledi genome accumulated in the Asian countries.  Much to explore!

https://theconversation.com/mothers-milk-holds-the-key-to-unlocking-an-evolutionary-mystery-from-the-last-ice-age-95572?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitterbutton

The other web-posted idea is about the continents that we now know are always moving, and our ability to figure out and prove where they were and likely what humans were doing in relation to the change in land.  We've known that the Pacific Ocean is forcing itself up between China/Siberia and Alaska/Canada, but that there is still a kind of strand between the two continents, like pulling apart something gooey as warm cheese.  

In the imagination, we thought of a "land bridge" for people and animals and artists created a long line of evolving specimens marching across, mixing it up with Darwinian ideas about evolution.  The single-file on a horizon is an old figure in Europe.  It shows up in Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal" for example and is often headed by Death with his scythe.

Now that we understand that "sea level" goes up and down, depending on things like ice burden at the poles, the height of the water on coasts also moves, much to the distress to people living on waterfronts and islands.  At the same time we have learned that what we call evolution is not a tree, but a bush.  There are many versions of living beings and they interweave with each other, like the recently discovered skeleton with both Neanderthal and Naledi genes in the bones, meaning that they were not separate species if you accept the definition of species meaning that they are not fertile with each other.

https://www.thoughtco.com/beringian-standstill-hypothesis-first-americans-172859

Now the proven nature of the Beringia area, called the Standstill, and the culture of the people there is that the land was a kind of low country, not so far above the sea, submerged by a rise in the water.  This is recorded without clues to culture, because we haven't searched underwater for signs of villages or tools, but we have scouted along the Western coast of America and we do find them even submerged.

There's a lot of justifiable pride in feeling that a category of people have been in one place so long that they have always been there, and truth in the idea of them forming a distinct group with shared physical characteristics as well as a culture based on the place -- the buffalo, or the corn, or the salmon.  

The Euro idea of God making little creatures and posing them around the landscape is a made-up story.  The principle that all hominins, including us, arise from the land is closer to the actual, but not complete.  Still, wolves, coyotes, and collies can interbreed fertilely, but are normally separated by their cultures.  They don't do things or occupy places that support the mix.  If humans interfere with that, they get coydogs and mules and ligers for no particular reason -- deadends.  So what are we all?

Humans are not like that.  All existing hominins are fertile together, BUT that is a premise based on the whole category.  Cultural groupings still persist to the extent that they are supported by economics, but no one lives off buffalo now. There is no culture based on baloney sandwiches alone.  In a transition period the culture on the rez was reliant on commodity cheese and second-hand Euro clothes.  No longer.  So what is the cultural content of indigenous people?  The first attempt was pan-Indian marketing, mostly through the movies.  It served its purpose which was at least in part political.  

Probably culture cannot be designed, in particular from the outside.  It slowly arises and will be in tension in this case between a unity of ALL indigenous people and the particularity of the place where they formed "tribes."  Deeper than that are the assumptions that these people have had about all life and even landscape.

Instead of the direct experience the elder people had when I first came to the rez (the old people had been born in the 1880's -- both indigenous and Euros) these are the things that we've just learned recently: airports, computer tablets, sugar, passivity.  A jumble to be sorted.  Below are ideas to think about when figuring it out.

Human identity is a combination of genetics and culture.

Culture arises out of environment and the resulting economics.

The body, genomics, arises out of human relationship.

Conflict is relationship -- the opposite of attachment is indifference, which prevents human happiness.


There is no such thing as race -- there is only variation which can sometimes be grouped by EITHER genome or culture, or both.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"BEAUTIFUL BODIES": Review of a book by Didi Hoffman

Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966), the woman and sculptor, has been an important figure and guide in my life for all my years as an adult.  It might be surprising to those who like their categories neat and unchallenged that she was the same and more for Bob Scriver -- in fact, the subject of our first conversation and eventually she was a person we visited with flowers in our arms as she lay on her divan in Sniffin Court, close to her end.  

When I went back to her Hall of Man at the Field Museum in 1978 I was affronted and confused that the Hall, created with so much effort, hardship and idealism, had been broken up and dispersed through the museum, on grounds that it was racist, that everyone everywhere is the same.  Showing differences was belittling.  At the time, as I recall, the museum founded and funded by Marshall Field had his name removed because it was prideful and arrogant for anyone to be above others.  Now it is restored.

Admittedly, Field and Hoffman and most of the people in their lives were exceptional, wealthy, accomplished, famous and loved -- but old-fashioned.  This small attractive book about Hoffman was written by Didi Hoffman, Malvina's niece by marriage.  It approaches hagiography (a book about a saint) but that's okay.  This is the kind of woman and the sort of work that persists, no matter the changing cultures of the times.  If this is a "Masterpiece Theatre" kind of book, it balances some of the attacks.  But I still wish for something a little deeper, something that could explore why a neophyte theatre student (me), her near-retirement professor of acting (Alvina Krause, who used the portraits to train actors), and a mature musician and cowboy sculptor (my husband) could find her and her bronzes so meaningful.  The work is nothing shocking --- she was quite realistic.  But it's deeply appealing.

This book presents -- without much investigation --- two shaping situations in Hoffman's life, one at the beginning and one at the end.  The first was her privileged beginning among socially dominant and culturally nearly-worshipped people because of their love of the arts.  In this first part it was Rodin and Pavlova.  

When I was a child, an exhibit of Rodin bronzes came to Portland, Oregon, and I was impressed that my mother wore a midnight blue velvet evening dress, which was highly unusual, but I couldn't go because the sculptures were nude.  There was more to it than that, but I couldn't be told that either.  Rodin was famously, prodigiously sexual and seduced as many women as interested him.  Like Picasso.  Like Scriver, to tell the truth.

This was power and glamour that was not virtue-based but about passion and eros, the wildly Dionysian side of Art, which excused all ordinary rules, but was justified by extraordinarily hard work and exceptional achievement.  Because ladies are not supposed to know much about this sort of thing, Malvina's sex life was never really explored, but always hinted at.  Didi Hoffman follows that tradition.  Exploring possible affairs and the shading of hero worship into physical seduction remains for someone else to report, but they'll have a hard time finding much evidence.  These people were discrete.

The #meToo crowd may be revealed as simply thinking that even big powerful men are not good enough for them.  The contradictory valence of sex is that it is a sign of power, entitlement and high value, but as well an indicator of low status and vulnerability to abuse.  Everything depends on context, even the binary assignments of the people involved.  If Malvina had an affair with Pavlova, it is surely an intensification of their work together to portray a unique and artistic body in motion.

The second complex is indeed around the Hall of Man portraits of so many peoples of the world, but they are not political -- simply realistic portraits of people as they were before globalism blurred the special adaptions to place and occupation.  The 19th century was a time of astonishment at cultural difference as people began to realize just how various the world was, with bodies developed by adapting to environments and occupations.  That humans could be so different was a shock to some and a fascination to others.  

The paradoxical same/different tension has worked out very differently from one time to another.  When hierarchies and individualism have dominated, people want status and use differences to justify shoving others out of the way.  When the emphasis has been on survival our energy has pointed away from competition to larger issues, the benefits of cooperation, thinking about our commonality.  Popular movements come out of these basic rhythms, taking major parts of the population to extremes like racism and some feminisms.  Groups proclaim themselves concretely as they can with processions and destructions, graffiti and symbols.

Hoffman was not an elitist.  Every sculptor knows dependence on the skill and dedication of the people in the atelier, those who constantly clear up the debris, clean the clay, store the molds, and then turn to the creation of some new large shape.  But she was sometimes dependent on her aristocratic friends for money and influence.  This is another paradox of artists, that they must constantly cope with personal poverty while often consorting with very rich people who like to demonstrate their superior assets by helping worthy artists.  Hopefully, the dynamic is more of a collaboration than an oppression.  Consult "Masterpiece Theatre" plots.

A cluster of high status female sculptors has been identified, exhibited, and discussed by the Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc. in New York in 1984.  The essay is by May Brswley Hill and the title of the catalogue is "The Woman Sculptor: Malvina Hoffman and Her Contemporaries."  The same sculpture of an Asian archery dancer is on the cover, but the contents are quite differently engaging.  Brearley School alumni were featured, so the school opened up their photographic archives.  We confront a roomful of women: some nude models, some smock-wearing artists, and some nude but in clay.  Hoffman's own books are still the best access to her work.  Necessarily it is about human flesh, sometimes dressed, sometimes in chain mail, sometimes dead, a riveting focus for human beings of all kinds.


Didi Hoffman has had a long career in merchandizing and this shows in the book, but it would be silly not to mention all the honours and awards Hoffman was given.   https://www.didihoffman.com is a short video about the book.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

LITTLE CONNECTIONS IN A GREAT BIG STORY

In all the Manafort furor, there are a few strands that seem neglected.  Two are followed along by "Lincoln's Bible", a twitter account that uses threads to be almost like a blog.  Now I've gotten curious enough to trace back to Jay MacKenzie on Medium, which was a location for writing that I once subscribed to, but left behind when its more dubious bait-and-switch elements took over.  That is, at first it proposed to support new writers, but in the end depended on established people.  Nevermind.

This began with "Lincoln's Bible", the twitter source, which suggested two things of special note to me.  One was the description of Trump and Manafort as second-generation mafia families whose grandfathers were embedded in crimes of stigma (alcohol, sex, gambling, money laundering, etc.) which were absorbed by the Russian Mafia when they became powerful on the American continent after the native mafia was crushed by US government forces like the FBI.  

Lincoln's Bible asserts that Trump and Manafort are desperate to protect their fathers.  Manafort's family powers come from New Britain, Connecticut, and earlier wars happened when I was nearby in Hartford doing my clergy internship.  I knew very little about it but I have a "feel for the territory."  It echoes.

The other factor is also more felt than known by me, but begins to describe the invasion of the New England mafia in the area where I live now, the high prairie in the boundary country along both sides of the 49th parallel.  "Lincoln's Bible" thinks that the Mounties drove the mafia out of Alberta, but I wonder.  It was a hot area for bootlegging (consult Wallace Stegner's semi-autobiographical novels).  Part of the reason for the creation of Glacier National Park was, they say, for the sake of the railroad, but also there were many local moonshine stills that are still remembered by people slightly older than me.  Consumption and status in the Big Hotels also supported traffic between the two countries, one where booze was legal and the other where booze was not.  One route is across a small lake between the countries.

I do not think that Mark Zuckerburg loved skiing so much that he bought a house near Whitefish.  I do not think the "Outlaw Inn" was carelessly named.  It's known that Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake was a dry-out place for assassins.  I do not think it is a surprise that politicians from the Flathead have dodgy relationships with resource development and aren't from Montana at all.

Likewise, I've heard many stories about the KKK in Alberta, about the whoring strings that stretch along the border so that the women can move from one node to another as soon as they are recognizable.  Crime and prejudice and stigma are familiar with each other, even dependent on each other.  Soon they get into politics as demonstrated by Premier Diefenbaker who has an "underground" biography.  The best place to hide is always in plain sight.

The principle of the fractal is that small repetitions, like the illicit small town operations of those who crave profit, eventually create a large pattern that is very much the same, so that now governments shake down other governments with extortion and bribes.  The cover stories of founding and idealism work for a long time.  But evidently the antibody fractals of a democracy can also become linked and strong.

The first generation criminal activities of "Trump" and "Manafort" did a lot better than their contemporary descendants.  Trump has clearly NOT been the rich, powerful, and competent man he pretended to be.  Putin owns him in one sense, as we see in the photo of the two men emerging from a conference with Putin grinning and Trump looking about ready to vomit.  In another, now that Trump's sources of supply are cut off or too wary to act, he can't do anything but Tweet lies.  The US government now formally owns an apartment in Trump Tower and Trump himself never really owned the Trump International Hotel made from the Old Post Office.  He broke laws to pretend he owned it.

Likewise Manafort the Minor has depended on rich men, oligarchs, without understanding the relationship between government and mafias.  Does anyone?  Their strength is in mystery.  But in an age of technology keeping secrets is far more difficult and expensive, since it depends on defeating devices, transmissions , and records that far exceed expectations or any previous bookkeeping.  In fact, once block chain systems are really developed, money-laundering will be impossible because the money systems will wither.  Mega-banking will no longer be able to rely on the covert.

Worse than that, we may finally figure out how to organize the world without depending on competing nation states and may at last get over the fantasy that a business can be a person.

Another element is slowly emerging but not really apparent in the Trump/Manafort entwinement.  That is the bureaucratic corporation of religion, particularly the world religion with its roots (same as the mafia) in Italy.  Feeding on hidden money and forbidden sexual practices, the "old men" of the central enclaves are beginning to be overmatched by the Third World, which actually demand what Jesus proposed.  The present Pope is part of this.

But also there is a shift in shared meaning that is new grass coming up through the old entanglements of WWII compromises and workarounds.  The biggest problem will be clearing away the debris of former industry and monuments, which has already begun.  I'm working on it in my own life.  Partly it is dismay over what I once thought was worthy -- education, denomination, government, the practice of art, and partly it is an awakening to new concepts and coalitions across the planet.


One of Manafort's daughters has already gone to court to change her name.  Trump's children are too limited to see their future, unless their relentlessly competent mothers take hold of them the way the they took hold of "The Donald" and tried to support his fantasy of success.  They were porn stars of reality, pretending to consort with this old man with a ponytail flipped over his head because he -- unlike Putin -- is afraid of being bald.  Prison: the revenge of the hair follicles.  Will they let him wear one of those knit prison caps, a watch cap with no bill and no writing?