Monday, February 17, 2020


My eyes are still bad, so instead of writing, I'll make this a true "log" of websites I visited this morning.  First, I realize we're getting close to cowboy artist Charlie Russell's birthday, which is memorialized by an auction in Great Falls.  I remember it's beginning and now I'm witnessing its diminishment.  There is one Scriver bronze dating to 1983, called "When Cuttin' Was Rough".  A mounted cowboy roping a steer.  #92 of 102 in edition.

There are two memorials to previous major figures that are included in the catalogue.  I was not aware of these deaths since I'm no longer part of the world, but they are two types that are interesting, and they are about my age, active in the Sixties.

First is Peter Hassrick, the gentleman and scholar face of the art category.  There's a lot more to say.  He was part of the circle of curators and writers who found things to say about the artists and their importance.  This is the side that keys with Republicans, esp. those who made their money through resources and then founded museums.  He followed McCracken, little autocrat and powerhouse at the Cody Museums, for twenty years with a far more elevated style of management and authorship.

Second is Jay Contway, born in Malta and beginning his adulthood by teaching in small communities all along the  High-Line.  What's remarkable is that he is never identified as Native American, though his photo shows he's an "Indian" and for some years he sponsored an alternative auction parallel to the big Russell auction that was specifically for "Indians."  Canada liked him.

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Until now these two biographical sketches didn't really fit together.  One is a man I first knew as a teenaged student and the other I first knew as an adult cop ten years older than me.  They really had nothing in common directly, except for a shared pattern.  They weren't related.  Now both of them are long dead.  The pattern is that they were respectable if uninvested kids, then became dangerously violent esp. to the people they loved, and after something hidden happened, became ceremonialists, very serious and taken very seriously by outsiders.  Even some rez people.

Some people here will know who I'm talking about and that's okay.  I just want to protect them a bit from outsiders.  Besides, they may be a novel some day.  They were men who lived in the strange borderlands between enrolled rez people of achievement, often pretty well assimilated and certainly accepted, and other people who had a dangerous edge.  Besides the reality of the rez, they represented the Nitzitahpi old ways to a certain kind of white person who was very curious and worshipful of those ways.

My fav story of the younger one involved an NPR producer who came to find out all about the magic secrets.  X took her on his usual tour, which took all day and for which he rarely charged enough money, and she chattered away, asking a zillion questions, drunk on this reality of being with an Indian on a rez.  Finally X couldn't stand it any longer and turned from behind the wheel of the Jimmy.  "Would you please just shut up for ten minutes so I can think what I'm doing?"

She did, abashed.  Her companion hid his smile.  He never got to say anything.

Both men withdrew from enrolled partners and chose white women who were impressed by their later status as "medicine men," if you want to call them that.  In some ways they are more like the Greek boatman who takes the dead to the underworld.  Charon with his boat, using a pole to cross the River Styx.  Not at all a Blackfeet idea.  Anyway they didn't ferry others.  They just went there.  To death.  At first in alcoholic blackouts, then in realizing what they done to others.  I guess.  I wasn't close enough to either one to hear any stories of repentance. 

I interpret them to entering a boundary country between two cultures, partly created by them, partly the reality of both white people -- even in urban areas -- and partly the reality of the east slope Rockies rez.  It is imaginary and yet it is inhabited and even celebrated.  This vid is an example of that liminal place where two cultures overlap, overlay.  This never existed before.  It is ceremonial but not historic and has nothing to do with "first contact," that shock.  But how vivid this is, how much we are drawn in, how much the original people are celebrated.  What outsider visitors can't see is how much this is about families, how much it knits together a pan-Indian view that has political consequences.  

This is the source of kitsch: dream-catchers, "Indian tacos," but also the source of a new going-forward identity.  About  as real as a rodeo is in comparison to ranching, pow-wows of this kind still present a recognizable "face" to people who have no other contact with what they think are "Indians".  There are no khaki-clad anthros to push French deconstruction theory. (Still, Presentation is so important!)  More New Orleans Mardi Gras than authentic historicism, pow-wow has an authority all its own as a Performance.

Neither of these men I'm thinking about was a pow-wow dancer, but they occupied a similar sort of mystique in a slightly more sophisticated context.  People in the this ceremonial world are deeply serious.  A few are whites, maybe Vietnam vets, who have come to the rez for nothing less than salvation.  They put up Sun Lodge frames, conventional tipis, and hundred-willow sweat lodges and sit together dark and hot, singing and telling stories and testifying.  The effect on these two men was to find a way out of abusive violence and the self-contempt of their earlier years.

The younger female English teacher lover had been badly beaten and she left for home.  The older woman stayed but was a second wife and not exactly welcome.  I don't know whether she stayed after her husband died.

The younger one of these ceremonialists mixed it with speaking for the history and was on several videos.  When I heard him speak, I recognized the indignation and sorrow about the past but it wasn't quite the same set of facts that I had known from books and conversation.  The older one was outside my circle, though I knew his children, who were quite unlike him.  The two men were meant to be outside the circles I knew and they were in fact.  I didn't attend the lectures or ceremonies.  My knowledge of such things was of couples who were in their eighties during the Sixties, nearly the last of the buffalo people.

This liminal borderland, partly fact and partly raw emotion, was known to me, partly in print and partly in conversation, for unique reasons.  It was presented to me, not participated in as had been the earlier ceremony.  I had no role but observer.  But the two men were neither readers nor writers and I don't know any writers who tried to portray them or their secret worlds.  Their worlds are more than a little bit dangerous.  They went in and out of criminal circles, without ever identifying them that way.  Maybe during ceremonies those men (all men) were not criminals for a short time, free from conscience and blame, reaching for something beyond forgiveness, a world unknown.

Some of the people who visit the liminal quasi-autochthonous borderlands are missing the reality of it.  They accept the German meticulous reproduction of artifacts and words they think will take them to a different place of reproduction, a different kind of authenticity.  But it is these two men with violent pasts who found their way to dignity and lived there until the end.  I think about them.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


The news is so overwhelming and so damning that I can't get my head straight.  Anyway, my eyes are bad.  I'm gonna sew today.  Watch cats. The bigger kittens are motorized now but squeal like Metis carts as they go.  The cycle is "exploration, moms get fed, time for dairy, lots of guzzling, sleeping hard, up to poop, back to exploring."  If I've had it with the squeaking, feeding the moms cures the problem and starts a new cycle.

Moms know to sleep when the babies sleep.

Stalking the wild spotted slipper.  
This kitten is "Mr. Adventure".

Friday, February 14, 2020


On her program (2/13) Rachel Maddow talked to Timothy Snyder specifically about how to support people who do the right thing and so take damage from authorities who wanted them to do something else.  I'm one of those. I turned in a boy whom I suspected was being sexually molested and caused the school to pay out a lot of money for his counselling.  (No one went to the law.)  At a nursing home I found a wheel-chair bound woman weeping in the hallways and asked what happened.  The big male intern had gotten angry with her in her room, yelling and throwing things around.  I turned him in and he was fired.  Everyone was angry because they said the woman was just whiny and making it up and they needed that big strong guy.  

I lasted two months at a small town school because there were two "demographics" -- girls who intended to run the place, encouraged by the female principal, and boys who "acted out" all the time.  It turned out that the boys were mad as hell, exploited by coach and town who wanted a winning football team.  I wasn't fired.  I quit.  No other potential teacher would take that job.  I didn't fight, I didn't talk about it, I protected myself by disappearing.  That was probably wrong.  Both sets of kids suffered but didn't really know what was going on.  Neither could the town figure it out.

This sort of thing is very mixed, but it is present wherever there are humans.  I'm not bragging that I was better than others, but sometimes I was -- marginally.  The cowboy art business is full of swindles and pretences.  The cowboy mythic grandeur and heroism in literature translates into all sorts of deceptions.  Shortly after my bio of Bob Scriver was accepted for publication, the editors got into a pickle and left for a different startup publishing entity.  They wanted me to break my contract and go with them to the new outfit.  I didn't.  Since this was a little shady, they wanted me to swear I would keep the matter secret.  I didn't.  No one cared or even knew.  The book was quietly kept off the shelves.  "Bronze, Inside and Out."

There are a lot more instances of society not caring, not approving, ignoring lawful obligations because they cost money or aren't convenient.  So Maddow, terrier that she is, interviewed Timothy Snyder, the Yale prof who wrote a little book called "On Tyranny", and asked him what can be done to help whistleblowers and others who stand up for justice, the Rule of Law, and honor.  One of his answers surprised me.  He said, "We must romanticize the people who do the right thing."  We have made heroes out of mafia and criminals.  ("Godfather", "Breaking Bad")  That's pretty obvious.

Models of doing what is right are created by "Presentation," a philosophical concept sort of word. but also a practical advertising strategy.  What does it LOOK like?   Presentation was never mentioned in the brilliant ethics class taught by Don Browning at U of ChicagoHe's deceased.  His books survive.  He talked about making ethical decisions according to principle, to secular laws, to church rules, and in imitation of heroes.  I suppose that's what we're talking about here: strong examples of people to imitate.  So liberals are impressed by the tall, grave, articulate Schiff, and conservatives are impressed by wealth demonstrated in naive ways -- bigger, gold-plated -- even if owned by clowns.

We've had decades of deconstruction and debunking and mostly coping by mockery and denial.  But also advertising, a construct that is presented on the basis of attraction rather than reality.  Two forces have been our unacknowledged moral guides:  what everyone else within proximity is doing and what "our" people have always done.  Certainly schools and churches are run that way and their reward is diminishing members and shrinking budgets. New ones have not formed.

Maddow says her dilemma in the middle of these stand-and-be-fired cases is that she would like to interview on air the people who in the past have quietly quit and left out of conscience, but she knows that anyone who gets out of step will be punished for it.  They will be mocked, hounded, and possibly even prosecuted.  So how do we even know they exist?  Impressive numbers of people, some of them very valuable, have left government in the last couple of years.  Probably they had enough prestige to survive.  Maybe not.

I went back to Maddow Blog to see if I were getting things right and saw that Snyder was talking about a system of "friends/enemies" which is IMHO biological.  Birds and bugs will attack and try to eliminate the unusual.  So will humans.  It is smart for the white crow to lay low.  

But Snyder didn't quite say that.  He says it is important to "glamourize" the system of Rule of Law, and we do that, though in our times I haven't heard the stories about the origin when the King was forced to accept the Rule of Law instead of using armies to change borders and demand taxes.  The bloody consequences of ruling by power and supposed virtue have now been confined to the oil countries, but there are people who want it to come back here.  Ghettoes, displacement and incarceration have taught huge populations that system.  The interface with polite society that is civil policing has become more like "owned" military.

People who live or have lived on reservations, esp. the big ones like Blackfeet or Navajo, know about the chaos when at least two systems of keeping order clash and the public safety net is insufficient.  What happens is a lack of business, which requires consistency and dependability, and a lack of safety, even to the point of murders.  Everything is personal reputation, power families, and being able to read and respond to crisis.  Money is never really tracked and large chunks disappear.  No one local is willing to fight for the Rule of Law because the lack of system is an advantage for the strongest people.

So when the Stone prosecutors withdrew from the case or even quit, the consequences were bigger than their personal lives.  For one thing some people quietly looked at the past several years and saw that Trump through Barr had been meddling all along.  Darkness may protect the honorable but it also protects people who don't like the Rule of Law.  How do we glamourize it?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

WHY AM I POOR? (Continued)

Over the years I've occasionally asked in print "why am I poor"?  The answers are clear: changing jobs, not compromising, going to school for long periods of time, and being codependent on strong men who offered both protection and a top limit.  I mean, if you got better than them at whatever, you were gone.  And I always took jobs that were too idealistic to pay good money, like clergy and teaching.

But there are two other things: I'm really bad at self-care, esp if it has a cosmetic dimension, and I never form a support group, mostly because they argue with my purposes.  What a narcissist.  What a defiant oppositional example.  What a funny story!  Because not playing it safe means lots of narrow escapes, but also lots of adventures.

I did learn that one must save oneself.  There is no going home where it was safe.  Twice I was near to living on the sidewalk and asked my mother to let me stay with her until I got another job.  The first time she said fine.  But soon I realized that it was because she thought that I had given up my wild ideas about artists and rezzes, and would now settle down to being her mainstay and puppet, her little sister.  This was part of her "implicit" frame of life, how it all worked.  Not mine.

Strangely, part of her "frame" was from her impetuous father, who wanted to be a bigshot but always evaded responsibility -- my example is that he was prominent in his church but always picked a fight and left when it was time to pledge.  My mother got the "being important" part but NEVER stepped away from responsibility.  Her life was consumed by her family, including me.  So when I needed to come back for shelter the second time, she refused.

But it turned out that I had a support system after all.  A former teacher invited me to live with her.  A clergy colleague said I could use his church for a safety net.  In Browning an educated member suggested a year serving that congregation.  There were some who helped me because they hated Bob Scriver and wanted to offend him.  But he wasn't offended.  He wrote a letter of support that got me my animal control job, because I had to prove I'd taken care of animals.

There were bigger forces.  In Browning I was not poor, I was white.  White people are presumed to have money and powerful relatives.  It's part of the stereotype that becomes partly a stigma and partly an advantage.  I kept a low profile most of the time.  Sometimes the word was "that woman should be controlled."  I never suffered violence, unlike the women of color.  I did a little drinking alone but was never hooked.  Not genetic, just stingy.  I'd rather buy a book.  Because I didn't dress well and drive a nice car, most people thought I wasn't worth any attention.  Advanced degrees and ordination mean nothing to them.  But we had history together.

National economics meant little to me, which was a mistake.  But over and over I ran into the same kind of forces that we are wrestling with now at the national level.  It got me fired for reporting abuse, defying bullies, and so on, but never quite brought down the institution.  A very bad moment was when Mayor Goldschmidt was screwing his babysitter, but he survived -- mostly.  A quick job in Washington, DC. and a remarriage for him.  My animal control boss was finally fired because he caught a shelter attendant selling drugs and for nepotism: officers objected to having to get up in the night for animal emergencies so he got his grown son to do it.  He had a support system and got a new job cleaning up a troubled AC program in another city.

And so it goes, a labyrinth worthy of fat novels and demographically defined indignations.  My real problem was that I never gave wealth any priority.  My real best decision was never to let anyone become dependent on me.  There were times when my brother or others needed someone to spend money and intervene, but I couldn't.  No cousin responded or even sympathized.  That's not quite right.  One brother was taken in for a while.  We were -- are -- a dispersed family, divided by education, territory and lifestyle.

So I sat down with legal pads and wrote lists.  What do I really NEED?  In the most direct sense, a table and chair, a cup and a spoon, and a mattress.  When I moved, I put everything in storage until I was established again.  It felt good that way, for a while.  In my new apartment I'd arrange my chair/table/cup/spoon plus a microwave and computer, and it would be enough.  Then I'd go get my storage contents, mostly books.  This is not being poor.

But it's being mysterious and unknown.  I've been here twenty years now.  People say to me, "I never SEE you!"  I seem dangerous, impossible to control, a person from outside, unknown.  They don't read my blog because "I have no time for those intellectual things."  The internet datascrapers think because I'm an old woman, I must want recipes and cozy novels.  I don't keep any guns, but if I did, they'd never assume that I did.

The most disconcerting is when people from the Sixties who still think of me as being a compliant assistant to a famous man, engulfed in the fantasy of the wild West of hunters and "Indian fighters", find out I'm here but they don't "grok" that I've changed.  "You're so negative!" they say.  "Why aren't you rich?"  But most of those people are dead now.  A week ago another one of my high-tracked 7th grade students in my earliest 1961 English classes showed up in the newspaper obits.  He DID do well, he was loved, he had family, he was not poor.

At the other end I get newsletters from the retired clergy, the ones who were hired by big well-paying churches and who often had funds from previous marriage/divorce/widowhood.  They knit and do crafts and do good and have meetings and go on trips and have conferences.  They are not poor.  They are very nice and have good lives.  They don't matter.


Decades ago when I was still a stalwart Unitarian Universalist clergyperson, I was invited to preach at the Tri-Cities congregation near Hanford, Washington, the nuclear reaction research station.  I took along an early version of my "cosmic" thinking based on the metaphor of the snake constantly swallowing itself and always renewed by rebirth via eggs and skin-shedding.  I was fiercely challenged as having a very weak understanding of science.  

"Where did you get this material?" accused one older man.  "You can't talk about life in the Pre-Cambrian era because there WAS no life."  But as time went on, it turns out that there WAS life then.  "Hanford reactivity will never reach populated areas", they said, but the evidence begins that the storage leaks into the Columbia River and some day Portland may glow in the dark.  Scientific knowledge was once defined by the idea that it never changed, that it was rock-bottom truth.  But all knowledge is process, not eternal material fact.

An older female member of this congregation knew this and liked the metaphor.  She was a maker of art books and suggested that we collaborate on a limited edition of books shaped like a serpent, made from special papers, one of which looked just like a shed snakeskin!  It was a great idea, but her daughter had a baby and that was more fun.  I kept the paper samples, just in case.  They're beautiful.

All the while that we are now confronting a scary barrage of books about our compromised reptilian government, there is another accumulation of disconcerting books about the nature of existence and the cosmos.  I cannot keep up with them or even afford them.  But the political books are time-limited and -- though the ones about the nature of the universe are also doomed by time -- their shelf-life is a lot longer.  So I tweet about the first and blog about the second.

At the end of this post I'll list some books that I haven't read but that are discussed in a link from, which is why they tend to be English.  The general outlook is a continuation of "transcendentalism" though some thinkers still stick to the priority of humans and other kinds of life.  The concepts will filter out to everyone through PBS, National Geographic, and other replacements for mainstream religion.  

The stable, thoughtful middle-class followers of ancient Mediterranean religious ideas, filtered and rationalized by conventional science, just don't sit in pews much anymore.  They stay home and hit the computer keyboard -- not even television.  This understanding is a "leaping tiger, morphing dragon" kind of subject.  It moves so quickly that one needs to follow in essays more sophisticated than Ted Talks or even Aeon, though that second is in print that will download, which for a person like me helps, as long as the cats don't run off the the highlighter.  (Something in the ink, or warm from my hand?)

I'm told there are actual congregations gathered around these ideas of awe and wonder, but I can never find names and addresses.  The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is probably big and inclusive enough to include those people, no matter where they came from, if only to hear Paul Winter.

When I was at U of Chicago Div School ('78-'82), the dean had just left, considered too critical of the idea of supernatural beings, he was stigmatized as a "phenomenologist."  What I was asked to read was almost all Christian apologetics, but when figured out how to I look for comparative study of religions, what I was seeking was there.   It was simply a matter of point of view.  Rev. Ken Patton, UU, had a mural of the Great Nebula in Andromeda on the back wall of his sanctuary.  The Buddhists were compatible with the quantum mechanics thinkers.

At one point I spent a lot of time trying to understand what to say that was Sacred to a little cluster of young men who had been invaded, abandoned, smashed and torn apart by Christian assumptions about patriarchs and stigma.  What kind of truth can be told to people held together by hatred and scepticism?  Or terror and loneliness?  These new ideas were what I went to and tried to make understandable.  Maybe it worked with some.  The effort changed me.

Too much so-called religion is what the English call "wet."  "British English informal: someone who is wet does not have a strong character, or is not willing to do something that you think they should do – a term used to show disapproval."  The pious pew-sitters don't walk the talk.  The feral young men I met had nothing but contempt and pity for them and their pretence of respectability.  Or sentimentality, talking of love and meaning lust, or maybe just convenience.  Or money.

"Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe" Brian Greene, Penguin (2020)

"The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos" Brian Greene  Knopf/Allen Lane: 2011. 

"Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine" Alan Lightman Pantheon (2018)

2015 "Kabbalah: A Neurocognitive Approach to Mystical Experiences" by neurologist Shahar Arzy and scholar of Jewish thought Moshe Idel.  Mystical experiences are also eerily similar to those reported by people having ecstatic epileptic seizures, including feelings of time dilation and ‘oneness’, the neural underpinnings of which are under study (M. Gschwind and F. Picard Front. Behav. Neurosci. 10, 21; 2016).

"The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know about the All-There-Is" by Roberto Trotta.  Basic Books: 2014. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


As the "keeper" of the family photo albums, I've done my best to organize and interpret them.  I was startled to see that in mid-life photos of my paternal grandmother (1871 - 1953) she had a major goiter, the neck growth that results from a thyroid not getting enough iodine, a common problem on the prairie until salt began to be iodized.  It affects the heart and is what helped to kill Charlie Russell, the artist.  My grandmother was in trouble until a pioneering woman taught her to use iodine pills and the family decided to move to Portland where there is much environmental iodine, but after that she was always considered fragile.  I never knew why.

Before thinking about goiter, I had been tracing other family smashups that might have a genetic element.  And just as I was congratulating myself for being on the high prairie where it is relatively alkaline, compensating for a Scots-Irish genome developed in the acid peaty islands of those wet countries, I was forced to think of the epigenomic consequences of thyroid malfunction.  They would be on my father's side, but most likely to affect the younger female next child and her descendants.  My grandmother in her last years suffered from depression.  Her daughter in her last years was demented and her granddaughter is in early-stage Alzheimers.  The great-granddaughter shows no signs of damage so far.  It's all speculation, of course.  I don't run a lab and am not a biochemist.  But it is strong evidence of genes as processes affected by generations and environment rather than the conventional idea of beads on a string, one for eye color, one for height, and so on.

This article linked below is an example of the complexity of something as simple as the need for iodine in the diet. I'm highly interested in a new "discipline" called "biological structure" which is not about individual substances but how they interact.  The constraints of discipline "boxes" were first breached by the necessity of trans-disciplines and now prompt the creation of new disciplines to organize studies and put people in touch with each other.  This linked article is an example.  The subject is the moving tinkertoy construction of the proteins that constitute and operate us, as dictated by the compromise between the genome and the environment pushing back on it.  They are highly interactive, to the point of being a tumult.

This is the "story": the thyroid gland in the neck is composed of little pouches called follicles that hold "the coiloid" where thryoglobulin accumulates until it is processed by the "endoplasmic reticulum" doubling each molecule.  Then the molecules enter the bloodstream and join iodide (I-).  

"Iodide (I–) in the bloodstream around the follicles is actively taken up by the follicular cells through a cell-membrane protein, the Na+/ I– symporter4, and then transported into the colloid. Here, I– is oxidized to iodine by the thyroperoxidase (TPO) enzyme, using hydrogen peroxide produced by dual oxidase proteins, and then covalently incorporated into tyrosine residues in thyroglobulin in the colloid. This produces biosynthetic intermediates known as 3-monoiodotyrosine (MIT) and 3,5-diiodotyrosine (DIT) bound to thyroglobulin. MIT then reacts with DIT to form triiodothyronine, or two DITs react to produce thyroxine, still bound to thyroglobulin."  There's more, but I'll spare you.  You can go to the link.

What does this have to do with the Holy?  The idea of an experience of the Holy being tied to some genetic capacity that can be isolated and prescribed in a pill has a very dark side.  Even the familiar notion of a "bad trip" with "transcendence", as though a drug drop has gone wrong, is not as bad nor as complicated as what can get out of hand when people think they are creating some superpower by ingesting a "shazam" pill.  It's a bit like becoming convinced that you can fly and jumping off the roof to prove it.

Consider what it would mean if the Holy were linked to a molecule or process in the human body.  If it were an identified material, it would be a drug, like Ecstacy, MDMA.  Takes twenty minutes until you want to hug everyone, drops barriers to intimacy for six hours or so, and then it ends.  "Pay up" in addled hormone levels during recovery, much less the inadvisable things done while under the influence like getting pregnant.  But there ARE pills and practices that will make you think you're touching the Sacred.  A nice source of income comes from frustrated suburbanites over to clever jungle shamans who can tell which vine to cut and boil.  It's plain that to some degree material biochemistry can make a person receptive to what is far beyond the ordinary..

The phenomenon does not fit very well with the Christian/Cartesian set of ideas, so it has to be seen as supernatural.  It is marked by expansion of consciousness, not by naming it.  However, it does fit with the New Anthropology defining humans as manifestations of the interwoven DNA of all living things and the loss of individual borders in order to merge with the universe.  Maybe the change in the paradigm is the only real change.

The rational scientific understanding of religious experience might be defined as identity from rational and conscious self-reflection. "I am a Christian." Or whatever. This fits with formal historical theologies as espoused by institutions.  Yet loss of consciousness of the self might be in "flow" as in the phenomenon of being so totally absorbed in something that it becomes the only thing present in the mind at that moment.  Or sleep to the degree that it's undreaming and invites no spirits.  Or something called "dissociation" when the world is so terrifying and indecipherable that the mind simply leaves, maybe into what feels like a silvery parallel universe and maybe into syncope, or fainting.  Some of these states can be detected by technology.

None of these quite answer to a description of the transcendent consciousness of reported holy experience.  Consequences do not seem to be physical but more like moral and meaningful.  An "evil" version of this might be the opposite, a cancellation of identity, relationship, or consequences, being lost.  It would be interesting to read the literature about "possession."  I'll pass.  But I keep all the evidence, even as I keep family photo albums.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


Over the past few decades people have been thinking about what would have happened by now if history had taken a different turn.  Part of the motivation has been realizing that one demographic group has dominated and defined historical accounts -- the story of prosperous white male Euros -- and so prompted an interest in exploring new groups:  children, women, indigenous, black, Chinese, the poor, the deaf . . .  what demographic can you think of?

Another source has been a sense of justice, that some people have had it rough without any good reason.  Is it happenstance or is it a plot on the part of the privileged?  Then there is the question of how to go forward which makes it necessary to consider how we decided goals in the past -- or did it just happen?  We thought we had won WWII and thereby saved civilization, but that's far enough in the past to consider whether it's true.  Some still can't tolerate the idea of genocide, unless it's one's most resented group that is designated for elimination.  Would we feel better about it if eliminating unwanted people weren't so bloody?  Poison, deliberate famine, machete frenzies, concentration camps, stigma that blocks safety nets.  We do all these things but try not to look.

Black people have finally convinced us that they were unjustly converted into capital for profit-focused people who didn't consider them human.  Now we suck off their culture and arrange compensations while continuing economic oppression.  But the group -- or rather groups -- that have lost the most is the indigenous who were here when the Euros overran everything.  Only recently have they found a voice and the beginning of pan-indigenous solidarity.

"People's histories" so far have only occasionally indulged in the "what-if's", like what if our enemies had won the big wars.  They're good possibility generating exercises.  An enrolled tribal person of considerable accomplishment asked if there were any "future histories" of a North America that developed in different ways.  Mostly they were thinking of politics, but my preoccupation has always been with geography/geology and genetics/culture.

Two massive continents -- America and Eurasia -- are divided by two huge oceans -- Pacific and Atlantic -- at least the way the continents are configured now.  Humans have developed on each continent, later in part responding to the breaching of those ocean barriers.  Suppose it was not the Euros from the west edge, Atlantic edge, of their continent (which from this point of view ought to be called Asiarope), but rather the Asians who crossed the Pacific Ocean and migrated to America. 

The Pacific Ocean contains a huge current that goes down one coast and up the other.  During WWII the Japanese sent fire bombs to burn down the massive forests of the wet NW.  They made the trip but sputtered out.  When I was a kid, bombs were still washing up on the coast and sentries in watchtowers tried to see them before they landed.  In those days we were still finding among the shells and seaweed the blue-green blown-glass spheres used to float the edges of fishing nets in Japan.  

A South American camp that had been submerged by rising sea level 60,000 years ago held pretty convincing proof that humans were present before the glaciers melted, that making everything about glaciers was a constriction.  It was noted that storms in places like Polynesia created big mats of fallen trees, vines, and other debris that floated to America on that current, carrying along creatures hardy enough to survive.  This led to the adventure of Kon-Tiki, when a man crossed the ocean on a raft.  In addition, the culture of the archipelagos of "Asiarope" was a boat culture of considerable sophistication and analysis of artifacts suggest that things of value, like jade, traveled through barter all along the coasts, up one and down the other.

Genetic study suggests that the foundation matrix for American indigenous people is the same as the "Asiaropes".  Black straight hair, shaded skin, and some responses at the physiological level, like a different metabolism path for alcohol.  Pushing back against this is the drive to achieve equity and sometimes identity on Euro terms, esp. when missions tried to force conformity to Europe.  Also, during and immediately after WWII, indigenous veterans of great patriotism did not like to be compared to the "enemy," even knowing they could sometimes pass as Asian.

Those problems are lessened now, so I thought I would try imagining history as it might have crossed the Pacific instead of the Atlantic.  We can start with the plagues the Euros carried with them: smallpox most notoriously.  In this fantasy version Euros die as they arrive because of some disease for which they had no antibodies. 

Next, the industrial revolution never happens because energy sources go straight to sun and wind.  The continent is never organized as "states" but as "ecosystems" called: fish-eaters, corn-growers, swampers, bison eaters, and so on.  In their own language, of course.  An alliance is formed with the Asians so that Pacific boat traffic develops. 

The Mississippi/Missouri complex is never dammed and periodic floods are seen as renewing the land with fertility, so welcomed. No cattle are ever brought to the high prairie, so feed crops do not need to be grown or fed over winter except for horses.  Horses came from the East -- Siberian, able to withstand sub-zero cold, unlike the Euro thoroughbreds from desert country.

There is no slavery and therefore few Africans so skin color is never an issue.  The slavery-powered sugar cane addiction that made sugar a great profit until it triggered diabetes, esp. for indigenous people, never happened.  Spain never "owns" the SW. People living there learn hydrology to bring water down from the mountains so no longer sacrifice enemies and children to bribe the gods to bring rain. With the released energy, language develops onto paper and, well, brushes rather than pens.

The Rockies become home to displaced Tibetans. Maoris specialize in higher education -- universities -- basing it on Eastern martial arts that emphasis peace and strategy rather than domination. Hierarchy is discouraged. Binaries must obey ying/yang.

For plot, introduce a bewildered African who can't quite figure it all out, but the story tells how he/she succeeds.  Or introduce a crazy orange opportunist who tries to establish a cult that makes him king.  Fun to do as a committee.  Feel free to use, adapt, or argue against this stuff.  Part of the reason I spent time on it was that it was fun, but also one motive was that if anyone talks about "Indians" who is not one, they are assumed to either be one or be trespassing.  It's a stereotype and I resist.  I like looking at things everted, turned inside out.  In this story, indigenous people are never called "Indians" and neither is the continent called "America."

Monday, February 10, 2020


Researching for published thought about the experience of the Holy, what its physical cause or result might be, and whether such an experience can be "called" or prepared for, can quickly spread out into so many side issues that the original goal is lost.  Yet they seem relevant, valuable clues.  Next to my reading chair, a tottering stack of possibly useful articles is waiting to be read.  So far, this one linked below has been the most valuable.  First, it includes clinical confirmations of biological molecular action and, second, it identifies those molecules.  Third,  it accepts new emotional knowledge and thinking.  Fourth, it accepts knowledge that is in the unconscious.

In addition to the stages of human development that I've time-lined in other posts, the paper introduces the period of "childhood amnesia" between ages 2 and 5 which varies from one situation to another but appears to be the time when the "implicit memory" is developed in the subconscious.  I've been talking about this without the binary these writers introduce: the implicit memory which the pattern of the world, held in the unconscious; and the explicit memory which is one's conscious and accessible account of something that happened.  One can affect the other, often linked by sensory memory as in the famous "madeleine" trope.  Both are flexible, changeable, altered by experience though its more difficult for implicit memory.  Writers, actors and therapists know about this and use the concepts without naming them.

Quoted here is a frank, simple declaration that a "thought" state is controlled by a molecule, no longer a preposterous idea.  I saw the two realms of physiology and brain function linked.  "Most recently, both long-term memory storage and its underlying synaptic plasticity have been found to be mediated by a prion-like transregulational regulator, the CPEB3 (cytoplasmic polyadenylation element-bindiing protein )."  The earlier work that found the link is in the references of the article.  

We're used to thinking about "protein" as a diet ingredient, so it will take a bit of adjustment to remember that protein is a class of molecules that are created according to the directions of DNA.  The difference between implicit and explicit memory seems to be related to the production of proteins.  Implicit memory is flexible to some degree but requires the body to create new molecules in order to record new memory.  Thus it is harder to change and takes time.  The example given is learning a musical instrument, moving the struggle to remember small things by transferring them into habit.  Extrinsic memory may reorganize the molecular records, but will not involve the creation of new molecules.  These ideas are so new and counter to accepted folk understanding that we can hardly absorb them.  Nor does anyone really know how the memories are sorted and assigned.

A convincing example of behavior controlled by molecules is that of the "romantic" life of prairie voles, meadow voles, and mountain voles, which are separated by small DNA variations that have been conserved because of suiting their environments.  Experiments with voles using dopamine blockers and other chemical interference has markedly changed their ways of pair bonding and parenting, which are essential human characteristics that have been considered "emotional" -- meaning not connected to biological factors, all psychology.

What we're talking about is how the tinkertoy structures of molecules can stick cells together in patterns, how they can get through portals in the cell walls to interact with each other, how they support "play" as the main way to acquire skills.  The essay spends time making suggestions about trauma and PTSD, but I won't go into that.  The possible conflict between intrinsic and extrinsic memory is also mentioned, but this essay is a review of interrelated ideas that will be explored and expanded very much in time.

The ideas are so fascinating that it's easy to forget that the point for this blog is whether an experience of the Holy -- that is, intense and meaningful moments -- can transform lives and whether certain lives make such moments more likely.  Obviously, at least one's explicit memory will either preserve or deny the moment, according to the culture's attitude.  But maybe it also changes one's implicit memory, what this paper calls "IdN" (which is uncomfortably close to Indian and a bit confusing), which means the unconscious belief of how life is structured.  Surely we have reports of lives changed by miraculous appearances or intense experiences like near-death.  

That this should be caused by the manufacture of molecules is deflating and yet takes us closer to realizing how interwoven everything in existence can be.  One of our most powerful thoughts in a world exploded by deep space and eternal time is that we are atomically composed of stardust scattered at the explosion of the first universe.  The image of a God stooping to form us of mud into little dolls can be put aside as metaphor.  The idea of virtue translating to a better existence elsewhere is a little harder to change.  Jesus managed to make it stick for a few people for a couple of millennia.  But we aren't detecting an elsewhere.

If the molecules of transcendent experience are ever found, they might be from the family of catecholans, the stress and danger molecules, or from the dopamines, the safety and bliss molecules.  Or both at once, and maybe that's what makes the person feel so exalted, so connected to everything, so open to contradiction.  There are many felt emotions of either or even both at once that are mentioned in the stories of the religious.

Religion that is organized into institutions often suffocates the Holy by prescribing, suppressing, and redefining.  To look at exalted experience as a biologically supported moment is to escape all the authority figures who want to control people.  One can only hope that people burned at the stake are flooded with extreme molecules that transcend the neuron messages of pain. Lives changed by "lightning seeking ground" may change others around them and even whole cultures if they are able to convey them.

Sunday, February 09, 2020


“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”  - Buddha

Among a scramble of attempts to figure out how we think, much of the focus is on consciousness, even though we know it arises from the other 99% of our protein code.  We want it all to be special, unique, self-confirming, but the truth is that even one percent of a bazillion little interactions that run a mammal body, that's still a whole heckuva lot of things to go wrong.

Stanley McCormick, son of the famous Cyrus McCormick

Stanley McCormick (1874-1947), started out to be a handsome, intelligent leader at an Ivy League college, but at about the age a brain is meant to be mature, it went wacky, sort of like having a frontal lobotomy.  It might have been a stroke, a parasite, or genetics.  He had inherited an immense fortune from his father who had designed the plans for the McCormick Reaper, a machine he developed from precursors and marketed cleverly. 
The Stanley McCormicks, newly wed.

Stanley's wife from before his affliction was also beautiful, intelligent and well-educated in the field of biology.  She specialized in studying hormones and was partly motivated by the belief that that was what was the matter with Stanley.  Whether or not that was true, and since his caretakers (he required constant care) only knew one hormone -- testosterone/sex -- their position was that he was now a sex maniac and would attack all women.  They were convincing enough to get the wife excluded from his presence, but not quite enough to get the money away from her.  She used some of it for the development of the birth control pill.  The link between eugenics and insanity is alive here, as well as the quarrelling over the quality of families that preoccupied my mother's generation.

Stanley had a sister with the same kind of disorder, though I couldn't find a photo.  She was also kept sequestered in luxury, but in a different place.  She never married.  The mother of these children and others had been an adopted orphan, so possibly she was carrying something that had destroyed her parents.  Cyrus McCormick himself married late, so maybe his sperm were defective from old age.  Possibly drinking was involved and this was fetal alcohol syndrome.  Or opium addiction.  Or just the prejudices of poorly informed but attention-seeking medical people.  The novel about the situation, "Riven Rock", is too sensational to be helpful.

Our understanding of brains is much farther along.  So far I've not found an illustration in real people in modern times.  We know that the brain works by "connectomes" which computers can model in color.  These are circuits, connected loops assigned to different subjects.  Here's the jargon:  "neural circuitry underlying emotional processing across a range of tasks and across psychiatric disorders  through a transdiagnosis quantitative meta-analysis of publishing data."

Some of the circuits were named.  I found these on Wikipedia where the author is unnamed.:

The salience network is a collection of regions of the brain that select which stimuli are deserving of our attention. The network has key nodes in the insular cortex and is critical for detecting behaviorally relevant stimuli and for coordinating the brain's neural resources in response to these stimuli.
(The insular cortex (also insula and insular lobe) is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within the lateral sulcus (the fissure separating the temporal lobe from the parietal and frontal lobes) within each hemisphere of the mammalian brain.)

The ventral/striatal orbitofrontal "nonreward" network
Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder that is associated with impaired functioning of the fronto-striatal network, in particular during reward processing. .

The lateral orbitofrontal circuit. The ventral region of prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in aspects of cognition, and the inferior lateral parts are involved in emotions. The orbitofrontal or prefrontal lateral cortex (PFLC) has extensive interconnections with the limbic system—the hypothalamus, amygdala, insula, and ACC.

Circuits may also be connected to specific organs and their functions, but though there are a lot of circuits (enormous numbers), they seem to be more specialized in terms of processing than in thought content. The article below lists specifics.  These kinds of physiological. anatomical, electrochemical studies justify the separation of "psychiatry" from "psychology,"  though the experiments of the latter asking for perception and behavior by subjects, often frame concepts for medical investigation.

No one ever found out for sure what Stanley thought, what he was conscious of.  He did seem to attack women but no one is sure why except in terms of being a sex maniac, which was a uni-concept itself.  Surely there must be more than one kind of "sex maniac."  And maybe that's not what his problem was.

Recently, facing the accusation that everything is based on the genome of the white European male with bad results for other categories, a genomic study was made of schizophrenia in Africa.  The thought is that the group of disorders in the category are in fact multiples interacting rather than one-on-one.  Also, the focus is on synapses, the tiny gaps between neurons, rather than in the neurons themselves.  The study of Africans did not find that schizophrenia and its associated mutations were much different from those in Euro populations, except that there was more variety and that the genome was much older.

Like Trump's mother, Stanley, and myself, the immediate locus of the gene carriers were Scots/Irish who seem to be particularly vulnerable to schizo mutations, though no one would dare say so in a loud voice.  But as Trump's deterioration becomes more obvious, we are bound to eventually wonder about those acid-soaked British islands and what they can do to the synapses of circuits.  Anyway, it all sounds so much more "scientific" than saying his brain is twisted and therefore so is he.  I figure that staying high and dry on the Montana prairie has saved me.

Saturday, February 08, 2020


My intention today was to consider "identity" but I'm pretty confused, so I'll just make a list of the forces that used to give us a sense of ourselves but don't anymore.
  • Nation.  Our existing countries are transcended by international corporations who enable preying on each other with the collaboration of governments reduced to tools of the company.  As the former empire broke up, government became prey to forces from the indigenous people but also to the local strongmen and new invaders.
  • Family.  The genetic basis for families has become theoretical.  The ag-based family in which the children are participants is rare. We reject the past as old-fashioned.  Too many people, the cost of raising children, and the necessity of women working away from the home press against having more than a couple of children.  Living alone is a more possible option.  "Attachment" which some call "love" is overwhelmed by status so that families will eject members who are trouble or low-status.  Drugs are meant to compensate for lack of attachment, but in fact prevent attachment.
  • Sex.  The assumed universality of the male/female binary has been debunked so that there are a plurality of genders, not all of them equipped for fertility or with temperaments for child raising.  At the same time the mixture of cultures around the world has redefined proper gender behavior and roles, so there is no one way to act even if one's physical biology is accepted.  It is recognized that once one's sexuality is determined, it can change over time.
  • Religion.  People either claim they are "not" religious or say they are a mix of two, or have an identification that doesn't include regular participation, or have discarded a childhood belief system.
  • God.  The general social consensus is split:  Someone will claim to be the only representative.  Many say God is dead, not because of revolution but because He just dissolved.There are arguments over God's nature.
  • Wealth.  No longer defined by the ability to do good in the world by enabling institutions or helping the social net.  Not even signed by fine living and high arts.  No support for libraries, ballet companies, or opera or intellectual pursuits.  The idea now is bookkeeping and the actual "money" is siphoned off to be hidden somewhere.  Sources are so bad that the "money"has to be "laundered." "Fine living" is replaced by vulgar ostentation.
  • Art.  Once admired for beauty and representation, art now is hard to understand and must be accessed through "curators" and auctioneers to understand the value.  Art is assumed to be a practical way to capture money in a time when legal tender is volatile.
  • Race.  An imposed concept on top of the tendency of people to develop a sameness of appearance and genetics if they stay in one place together for a long time, this has become a pry-bar between blurry categories that are not separated dependably.
  • Education.  The idea of tolerance for differences has corrupted into ignoring significant distinctions and cancelling the concepts that define democracy and citizenship, the obligations of those with advantages.  Anthropology's interest in alternative ways of organizing communities and commerce has collapsed into "anything goes".  The hierarchical protection of the learned is breached by gender and oppression.  Things that are "hard" or require special skills are rejected as unfair.  Far too much status and control is given to expensive institutions.
  • Science.  We are now aware of how small we are, how vulnerable to disease or famine.  Technology tells us we're computers and hypnotizes us with the Internet.  Too many people don't have the knowledge to participate and are intimidated.
  • Great leaders.  Once we looked for exceptional people who could tell us what to do.  Now the process is confused by charlatans.
  • Crime.  Besides the usual outlaws and berzerkers out there killing people, stealing, and so on, there are international criminal organizations with more reach and potency than the legitimate normals.  We don't seem able to cope with them.
To sum up, we are in a time of confusion between old ways and new ways that haven't quite "gelled."  This is not the first time it's happened.  Wars push us into this.  Major changes in the nature and amount of resources can do it.  Pandemics are effective.  So is major depression.  We've staggered our way out of it before and will again, though predications are probably too early.

This is not 1,000 words yet, but I'm going to stop anyway.  Maybe I'll come back later or start a new list with ideas for surviving this chaos between things to believe in and identify with for the sake of well-being.