Monday, February 25, 2008


Given the surprising comment I got on my review of “Effigy,” which had seemed to be about a unique confluence of subjects -- the Mountain Meadow massacres and taxidermy -- but is evidently not that unique, according to Kathleen Matheson Weber, I’ve been thinking about story “concepts.” Certainly they run in clusters in Hollywood where people talk plot lines when they “do lunch.” Maybe there’s something in the news or a general mood of something like apocalypse that stirs up story ideas so there's a little flurry of competing movies. Personally, I don’t mind the same concept being used by different writers since each is bound to develop it in a unique and interesting way -- assuming they are GOOD writers! A concept does not a story make.

I always have too many “concepts.” Today I read Terrierman’s post and could immediately see what a good plot line was embedded in this off-beat “sport” wherein people use a terrier to chase a pesky animal down a hole and then dig them back up -- both terrier and quarry. The best stories have three corners, like the “games alcoholics play” which always involve a miscreant, a savior, and a persecutor, the point of the game being that the three participants change roles but never the underlying three-hand structure because that ends the game.

So: a small terrier-like woman chases some varmint into the “underground” (an exhibitionist, a drug peddler, a thief?) and a man tries to save her, but his wife objects. Or his buddy, who doesn’t approve of rescuing troublesome women when there are so many others around who are less trouble.

Or what if the varmint is a child, a miserable little wart left over from a previous marriage and the genetic parent wants to get rid of him, but the step parent takes the role of the terrier, going “down the hole” to try to understand and to save the child.

Or maybe the varmint is a feral illegal immigrant, adult or child or male or female, and he/she has a terrible disease -- maybe AIDS or TB or both -- and the authorities want to stuff he/she down some institutional hole so it is the “hero” who tries to prevent this, maybe with the help of a real Jack Russell terrier who leads cops and social workers down the wrong labyrinths of flop house hallways and sordid back alleys.

My own method when starting a story is to try to determine these patterns beforehand. Other people start with the characters and then try to imagine what happens to them in certain environments. I’m afraid I tend to have a “moral” in mind -- a point about an injustice or a prescription for what ought to happen. But often the moral is that life is ambiguous and it’s hard to know what’s actually right or wrong. And surprises often happen on the way to the supposed goal. That’s always a lot of fun in a plot.

Richard Stern used to go research some exotic field of endeavor, because so many people really enjoy learning all about -- well, maybe taxidermy, though “Effigy” won’t teach you much about anything contemporary since the methods are so old-fashioned. New-fangled wouldn’t have worked: “arsenic” is a metaphor for strychnine in the story, but the modern borax-based methods wouldn’t work since borax is not poisonous except to insects. (Works on all ants but the ones in my house.) But I suppose one could design a story in which a woman kills the cockroaches in her dump of an apartment, thus becoming like a wolf-hunter using strychnine. It’s better to work from one’s own expertise, like Melville telling about whaling, but it’s also a lot of fun and stirs up ideas to study stamp-collecting or the making of silicon chips.

A new setting might also be a good idea, but I find that editors and readers have stubborn ideas about some places -- like Indian reservations or animal control locker rooms -- and simply will NOT accept reality. A little tricky to persuade them. Strangely, there is a kind of person (quite a few individuals, judging from sales) who love to read about near-unsurvivable settings and incidents: massacres, bombings, mass murder. Are they trying to understand how to survive them -- getting braced the future? Or it is a kind of voyeurism? What attracts the writer and how could anyone possibly KNOW what it’s like unless they were there. Thus the fufaraw over memoir.

Readers and so on -- should I say “consumers”? -- also differ in their appetite for analysis. Some just want the plain facts, baldly put, and let be. Others enjoy the process of speculating on a verbal exchange or a glimpsed juxtaposition over and over, trying to turn up different sides, possible alternatives, relationships to other events, possible causes. I’m reading “Monsieur” by Laurence Durrell (remember that I alternate the two Durrell’s for my throne room meditations) in which he presents a constant stream of possibilities: his main character who is a writer is developing a book about a writer named THIS and his character is like THAT; no, actually, the writer in the writer’s story is not at all that way. He’s called THAT and is like THIS. Then there will be a paragraph or two of exquisitely written description about nothing much: sitting in a cafe drinking, usually. And then maybe a quick observation about human nature or perception per se. A person can have limited tolerance for this and since it doesn’t matter a whole lot to keep track of a narrative through-line, it’s good for episodic reading. On the other hand, what Durrell is really working on is gnostic (supernatural and deceptive) philosophy for those who have enough background to find their way. A much less desultory reading would be necessary to do this.

Since I’m wandering around, I’ll confide to you that I had a hard time keeping all the biographical sketches in “Bronze I&O” from being just a jumble. Ironically -- and I think happily -- I’m discovering that the readers are “hypercarding” (linking) their way through the book, reading episodes in their own invented order because of their own relationship to Bob Scriver or myself or Browning or cowboy art. No two people seem to be reading the same book, which is always the case anyway.

Given that, I wonder what a book I wrote would be like if I used the premise of a man with multiple wives, one of whom does taxidermy, and involves Indians and wolves. Maybe I’d throw in a fox and a fox terrier. How many times in my life have I been saved by the idea that dangerous as the actual living moment might be, it was great research for a book?

Sunday, February 24, 2008


If the research is valid, testosterone levels in Browning should be elevated today: they won the District boys’ basketball tournament yesterday. Success makes T go up, failure makes it go down, even in the onlookers, BOTH genders. It’s only a molecule, but it sure seems wired to the human (esp. male) identity and psyche.

Yellowstone Public Radio used to play the opera on Saturday, which I’ve been used to listening to since I was a high school kid in Portland eons ago, but now they’ve begun playing “This American Life” at lunchtime. I hear it by accident. Yesterday the show was on testosterone. You can play it at home or order a CD at this url:

220: Testosterone

Stories of people getting more testosterone and coming to regret it. And of people losing it and coming to appreciate life without it. The pros and cons of the hormone of desire.


This American Life producer Alex Blumberg explains that he wanted to do this show because of his conflicted relationship with his own testosterone. He tells host Ira Glass that the reasons go back to a girl in his eighth-grade homeroom and the 1970s seminal feminist novel The Women's Room. We also hear from a man who stopped producing testosterone due to a medical treatment and found that his entire personality was altered. (9 minutes)

Act One. Life at Zero.

The interview with a man who lost his testosterone continues. He explains that life without testosterone is life without desire—desire for everything: food, conversation, even TV. And he says life without desire is unexpectedly pleasant. The man first wrote about his experiences, anonymously, in GQ Magazine. (7 minutes)

Act Two. Infinite Gent.

An interview with Griffin Hansbury, who started life as a woman, but began taking massive testosterone injections seven years ago, and now lives as a man. He explains how testosterone changed his views on nature vs. nurture for good. (17 minutes)

Song: "To Sir With Love," Lulu

Act Three. Contest-osterone.

The men and women on staff at This American Life decide to get their testosterone levels tested, to see who has the most and least, and to see if personality traits actually do match up with hormone levels. It turns out to be an exercise that in retrospect, we might not recommend to other close-knit groups of friends or co-workers. (12 minutes)

Song: "What Kind of Man Are You?," Ray Charles

Act Four. Learning to Shut Up.

Novelist Miriam Toews, author of The X Letters (which appeared in an earlier episode of the show), tells the story of a recent road trip she took with her fifteen-year-old son. (11 minutes)

Song: "That's Alright, Mama," Elvis Presley

These programs are always narcissistic, wry, inconclusive, halting, earnest, and ultimately hard to resist. I personally am always fascinated by issues of identity: how much is “us” and how much is our bodies doing their own thing, or the context in which we exist? How much can we change without losing our identity? And, of course, the puzzle of bisexuality -- whether coexistent or sequential -- goes all the way back to Teiresias. I’m told I’m high testosterone, but they don’t say that. They say “high androgen,” which I suppose they think sounds better since there are a lot of jokes about testosterone and it’s a kind of symbol for a sort of brutal, loathsome, overpowering man, a victim of testosterone poisoning.

My attention is drawn to testosterone because of hereditary male pattern baldness accompanied by a fuzzy chin. I’ve only actually taken hormones once, while I was teaching in Heart Butte between 1989 and 1991. The gynie gave me a rather large-dose sequence to definitively end a dawdling menopause. First I took estrogen, which made me feel like an old broody hen, a purring sleepy cat. Then I took progesterone which made me into a screaming monster. I never renewed the prescription or went back to the doctor. Forget psycho-active. Think psycho.

The people on this radio show either lost all T out of their system for medical reasons or had major doses in order to flip their gender. They were caught by surprise when their personalities also changed, evem when they were so stereotypically altered -- or close to that. But it was coming up against the cultural assumptions about T that made more trouble. Not only does T make a person competitive, but people are competitive ABOUT who has more T!

And there were puzzlers: the most high-T person on the staff for this show was a woman called Julie. Everyone agreed that she was likely to be the “winner” because she was so focused, driven, aggressive, passionate. And she did score highest among the women -- but she was seven months pregnant at the time! So what did THAT mean? She’s even good at fertility? Doesn’t that mean she ought to be more high estrogen? They didn’t measure E, so we don’t know. She wondered what it was doing to the baby and there are studies about that. The GUY who had the most T, twice as much as any of the other guys, was a total surprise. He was gay, Jewish and -- good grief! -- CANADIAN!! Aren’t they supposed to be laid-back pacifists? How is it that a high T guy is gay? Aren’t gays all girly-men?

The woman who took so much T in order to become a man said the biggest surprise to her was the enormous waves of erotic hits she got off even machinery. She said the xerox machine turned her on with its warm rhythmic throbbing. She started to stare at women’s bottoms and fronts in the way she’d always considered despicable when men did it. Well, it was an adolescence, wasn’t it?

The man who lost all testosterone was more surprising. He described a kind of detachment, a meditative state where he was happy to just sit and stare, a kind of lack of passion or judgment in which everything seemed to him indiscriminately “beautiful.” Since much of his personality was built on desire for goals, on liveliness, humor and choices, he wasn’t himself. He said his voice even changed.

Maybe it’s a little surprising that an alteration in T levels is not prescribed by doctors more. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to know whether T should be reduced, to cool a man down a bit, or increased to get him out of that recliner in front of the TV. And what woman would be willing to go to the doctor for T shots unless she were into gender change? Still, it would be nice to know what one’s levels really ARE, at least most of the time, since the level goes up and down.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


When I was in high school and an aspiring balletomane (more suitable to my physique than being an aspiring ballerina) I went to the public library downtown and discovered that most of the best stuff was in French. So I sat there under the MacNeil bronze of a faun, and puzzled through the sentences, remembering how I’d learned to read English. But, alas, I couldn’t SPEAK French as I had spoken English, so the magic never happened. There are two blogs that I read in something like the same way, though I do manage to pick up nuggets now and then. Both are written by extraordinarily intelligent and intense younger men and then heavily annotated by their community. One is “Gene Expresssion” at, about genetics, and the other is “Unqualified Reservations” at about politics.

I spent nearly an hour last night wrestling with Mencius Moldbug’s ideas on “Unqualified Reservations,” trying to make my limited ability to reason and my even more limited background in history come to life as understanding. Here’s the main thing I got, a realization that made me laugh out loud. The first thing you need to grasp is that “Specifically: demotism is inseparable from the Whig theory of history, in which history is the story of political forms evolving, Great Chain of Being style, toward our present perfection.” I got that: onward and upward ever, progress is our true religion, we’re the best. (Hold up forefinger to signal “number one.”) Evolution wins: since we survived, we must be the fittest.

Then he begins his deconstruction: “Briefly, hominids exhibit what might be called a default pattern of government. In the default pattern, the basic unit of government is the tribe, which controls a well-defined territory and defends it from other tribes. The tribe has a chief, generally male, whose decisions are final. He maintains power by using it to reward his friends, relations, henchmen, lackeys, etc.” Tell me about it! I’ve spent a LOT of time on the reservation, not that it’s any different from Valier except that our current “chief” is female and her decisions are rarely final.

Hominids are very flexible and intelligent animals. They can exist in a wide variety of cultural configurations, with all kinds of weird power dynamics. The default pattern (which we see even in chimpanzees) is not inevitable.” This is very good news. (And he resists dragging bonobos into it -- everyone loves bonobos. Well, not Puritans.)

But it gives us a concise definition of government. A government is either (a) the default pattern, or (b) whatever organization militarily suppresses the default pattern.” This is very clear in Iraq, Serbia, etc. The rez’s military (the police) is very weak unless a white person is threatened. Valier’s military is informal and omnipresent, since so many kinds of officers live here: deputies, border security, prison guards. But the real reason it’s peaceful enough for officers to want to live here is that it’s small and the most senior generation maintains conservative standards of behavior internalized waaaaay back in Europe and maintained by traditional church congregations. Unfortunately, those sources didn’t emphasize the importance of protecting infrastructure like water and sewer. And they’re aging right out of the picture.

Now you need one of Mencius’ helpful invented terms: Washorg-4. “Since sovorgs [soveriegn organizations] are territorial by definition, we can name them by location. Thus, for example, there is a very important sovorg on the Potomac. We can call it Washorg. Furthermore, while heeding Dean Tucker's wise warning against inquiring too closely into "original title," we can distinguish four discrete revisions of Washorg, separated by breaches of legal continuity - in 1789 (Confederation to Constitution), 1861 (state to national sovereignty), and 1933 (limited to unlimited government). So our present lovely confection is Washorg-4.” He identifies both place and time, which suggests a through-line to the future, thank God or Whomever.

This is where I laughed out loud: “The truth is that no one is in control. In Washorg-4 and its global friends and relations, we are looking at a gigantic, spontaneously evolving, uncontrolled system. The decision-making process we call "democracy" is best seen as part of this system, as are the "voters" whose opinions guide Washorg-4's decisions. Since Washorg-4 is a massarchy, since it guides public opinion as well as being guided by it, it can only be seen as a dynamic feedback loop.” Take that, presidential candidates! Not even Karl Rove is in control! Not even the media!

If our feedback loop is converging on any attractor, our only way to predict it is to study the dynamics of the loop itself. The assertion that any stage in this loop - mass opinion, the official information organs, or Washorg-4 proper - has any tendency to converge on sanity and good sense is unsubstantiated at best. It could even be described as laughable. The system could be fluctuating randomly and unpredictably, or it could be headed for some stable point that almost everyone in 2008 would consider horrifying and unbearable.”

“This is why I am so keen on finding a way to terminate Washorg-4. It is extremely dangerous and completely out of control. What else do you need to know?” Well, of course, what we need to know is how to design Washorg-5, including whether it should be based on the Potomac anymore at all. What comes AFTER democracy to keep us from endlessly and cyclonically (destructively) circling while people need service and guidance?

Mencius despairs of what can break into the cycle. I have a suggestion, having just watched “The Hanging Gale” which describes the circle as it existed during the time of the potato famine. The movie suggests that emigration is the solution and so they hoped. But all they did was export the whirlwind to the Native Americans. Still, there is a transformative force illustrated here, which is the environment, not just global warming but also global contagion. We need a suprahuman intervention and that is exactly what the planet is doing. (Note: I do not claim that planets are divine, though there are spots on this one that feel that way.)

Government is entangled with economics (not QUITE the same thing) and economics are environmental. If Ireland had not been an acid and peaty saucer -- due to its geology and climate -- that had to be drained to grow aught but potatoes and oats, then the people would not have been so vulnerable to poverty and domination from outside, both by King and by Pope. It was the adoption of drainage that made flax a viable crop and gave rise to the linen industry. It was the freedom from “place” that made cyberindustry possible both in Ireland and India. Education is the equivalent of draining acid soil and of making cyberwork possible. Education lets Mencius think through the problems of government, but Washorg-4 has seriously neglected and bungled education, in my opinion.

What will change everything is that now we live in a global “place” with environmental issues that affect us all and will profoundly change government, perhaps creating one big dystopia or a million small organizations or something in between, maybe elaboration of the complicated overlapping bodies we have now: rezorg-3 or Valorg-2, alongside water-district-1 and fish-and-game-8. The environment always has the last word.

But I’m still giggling over the mental picture of Washorg-4 back there frantically throwing levers and pushing buttons, wondering why nothing works, never pausing to really analyze the feedback loops created by an overrich upper class, an underculture of poor people, a black market of drugs and immigration, an undereducated work force, and a media both commodified and sold to the highest bidder. A simple reboot will not do the job.

Friday, February 22, 2008

EFFIGY by Alissa York

Effigy” is by Canadian author Alissa York. The novel is about a well-known atrocity in the American Southwest, the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It won’t get Mitt Romney any votes, nor are you likely to be told the story by a faithful Mormon. Briefly, the incident involves Indians and Mormons disguised as Indians attacking an emigrant wagon trail, murdering all but the small children, and looting the belongings. But this is not a history story (that’s been done): rather it is a reflection, a flight of fancy, and an occasion for poetic language describing intense scenes. The central character is a little girl who is rescued (though the rescue is not a particularly benign one in such a harsh world) and who grows up to be a taxidermist, thus producing the “effigies” of the title.

York’s reference bibliography is almost entirely American, though she started from an account of a B.C. Mormon community. She repeatedly draws on an old-fashioned guide to taxidermy methods. (These methods are no longer used and she occasionally skips a few steps, like tanning.) The only admirable full-grown male is not the Pater Familias who takes her as his fourth wife so she can “resurrect” his kills, but rather the Alpha wolf of a small family Dorrie is supposed to mount. He has survived but the female and cubs have become a blood sacrifice among many others.

The second epigram -- about effigies -- is from Sylvia Plath: “How I would like to believe in tenderness--/ the face of the effigy, gentled by candles,/Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.” “Bending” becomes “Bendy,” a contortionist and horse whisperer whose arrival sets the domestic plot in motion long after the massacre and who finally gives Dorrie her tenderness.

It is said that there are two kinds of literature these days: those that rely on plot and those that are an occasion for extraordinary language. This is clearly the latter. If you go to York’s website,, you’ll find examples. She works in an imagistic way, free-associating, relying on fine-grained senses to bring the bizaare alive. I have never before read a description of how to “mount” a silkworm. (The second wife of this man raises silk worms.) Sometimes she misses: a wolf’s nose is not “mushy” but leathery, just like a dog’s nose.

The 37-year-old author, who was born in Athabasca, Alberta, has lived all over Canada. From her home in Toronto, where she moved from Winnipeg two years ago, York says her goal is to provoke strong emotional reactions in her readers. "I want people to really feel a lot. It's not my goal to just make people think. I want them to think, but I want them, more than anything, to feel." (from a review in the Calgary Herald)

Critics compare her prose to Cormac McCarthy’s: there she is, writing about historic atrocities south of the border, weaving her suffering, barely surviving characters through events, using language that is old-fashioned, poetic, dripping with blood. The story is woven in sections as it follows different characters. There are four wives: the matriarch who was devoted to Brigham Young; the English girl who knows one thing, to raise silk; the stage discard who is proficient at erotics, right down to using an effective abortifacient so she’s never out of action; and the massacre survivor taxidermist who relates the massacre with a dreaming crow’s eye view. A Paiute Indian lends his skills to the Patriarch, Erastus Hammer, who is so near-sighted that the Indian, “Tracker,” must do his shooting for him, maintaining the fiction that Hammer is a crack shot. Hammer’s son, Lal, is stupid, unlike his conniving father.

The inevitable rebellion comes about when Lal begins to sleep with the former actress while yearning for the silk-maker. At the same time Tracker forms an alliance with the wolf. “Bendy” gentles the taxidermy wife, whose adopted mother provides the actual history in letters written as she dies. A person could get symbolic meanings out of all this, but as York herself says, no two people ever see it the same way. The story is dense, doubling back, moving slowly, recovering personal histories, sketching vignettes. But it rewards meditation, not just about religiously empowered imitations of Jehovah, but also about the relationships among women and the lives of animals. It is the CONTEXT of the powerful men that we don’t usually get in Westerns.

The formal “myth” of the West is that it was as empty a space as the moon, that heroic men came and built homes where they sheltered families, the beginning of patriotism and culture. In York’s version the anti-heroes come to a pre-existing land where they take what they want from the indigenous, the weak, the female, and the unwary newcomers. Hammer’s horse business is based on the animals he acquired at the massacre, and his business goes downhill because he does not take proper care of the animals. His first wife runs the dairy and the children; the second wife produces the silk and the pregnancies; the third wife entertains him in her fanciful and sterile way; the fourth wife is a resurrection artist who only produces simulacra of animals he needs Tracker to shoot. He is a contemptible and phony creature.

Not that York makes a big fuss about pointing it out. She assumes we can see for ourselves. Her task is to present evidence as vividly and in as much researched detail as she can. Her gift is the language that makes this possible as well as endurable. It’s interesting to speculate on what Wallace Stegner would think of this book -- I suspect he would dislike the writing but admire the writer, though she doesn’t seem so ladylike. I wonder what Stegner thought of Zane Grey -- whom I speculate would love both York's writing and York. Of course, each man loved the West.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Today I received a box of copies of “Bronze Inside and Out” which I can sign and sell to those who want personalized signed copies. I need forty bucks up front plus five more if I must mail the book. (I know some people are close enough to swing by the house.)

BUT the box was sent by a new competitor to UPS, called DHL. They have no delivery system in Montana -- they just take it all to Billings and mail it. It arrived with the box broken open, no bill of lading to tell me how many copies should be inside, no insurance, no addressee, and no post office box number. The post office is not supposed to deliver packages with no post office box number in towns where people get the mail at the post office rather than through home delivery, but the postmaster is on my side. He figured it out though it was marked “return to sender.” Just the same, he tells me that this practice of using the post office to deliver packages is one of the reasons the post office is losing money.

All this makes me think about the days at Scriver Studio when we were shipping and worrying about packing some very strange objects: like a moose head. Bob’s theory was that if the crate looked fragile, most people would be careful, but that if it looked armored and fortified, the handlers would feel free to throw and drop it, stand on it, and spill water on it. So we built strong but open-sided crates with heavy-gauge plastic sheeting around the actual head. I drove them down to Great Falls, steering right around behind the airport to the loading dock and then spending a LOT of time filling out papers. At the studio we had our own 4-copy recording system to create a bill of lading that showed contents, value, insurance info, times and dates, cost of shipping, and other details that I don’t remember anymore. We never had problems.

The sculpture was trickier, esp. in the days of shipping Hydrocal™ castings which were as fragile as china. Once I ran across a letter from Jeanette, Bob’s second wife, after she was living in LA, giving him detailed advice about how to pack them. Basically, they were immobilized in puffed rice. Popcorn was too oily. We’d clean out the supply of puffed rice in every small town nearby. Sometimes the castings were suspended in a web of string, but the string tended to stretch, allowing the figure to bump on the sides of the crate. And we packed in Zonolite, inhaling asbestos all unawares, and it was dusty stuff. On our end we had a constant supply of compressed air, piped through the building from a compressor out in the foundry that held the air in what Jeanette claimed was “her” propane tank (because she bought it to replace the old oil tank), so that it always smelled of the oniony additive that indicates a propane leak. We never would have detected a real propane leak. But what about the guy faced with all that carcinogenic dust on the other end?

The bronzes were a different problem: they are so heavy and some pieces have so many sharp points that they could destroy packing from the inside. Thin parts, like “blankets” or “flags” could bend. We bought a lot of cheap foam rubber and wrapped them in that with bungee cords. Or later we evolved a system that David Cree Medicine had to teach the Montana Historical Society crew when it came up to truck Bob’s estate to Helena. It was a custom plywood box equipped with rope handles, rather like a coffin, just big enough for the casting. Then the bronze was immobilized from side-to-side movement by adding small wooden “bumpers” screwed to the bottom. The biggest danger to an art bronze is scraping and scratching the patina, so sometimes the bumpers had bits of old inner tube between the bumpers and the bronze. The box had to be kept right-side-up, which is part of the reason for the handles so that lifters wouldn’t try to roll the box.

I’m always interested when I get books from the private booksellers who work through Alibris or Abebooks. Some just use boughten padded envelopes, which have evolved from messy shredded paper to bubble wrap, and almost everyone wraps the books themselves in plain white paper before putting them into the mailer. When I’m doing it, I sometimes repeat the mailing address on that plain white paper so that if the envelope is torn open, the address will still be there. Most people put a business card or a fancy little bookmark in between the pages of the book so it could be at least returned to the sender. Some insure, some do not. Few track unless the book is very valuable. Some have invented their own way of packing with recycled corrugated cardboard and newspaper wrappings, which tend to be inky.

There’s a certain kind of woman who loves to send “care packages.” I am not that sort and rather dread receiving them since they have more to do with the fantasies of the sender than the receiver -- some of whom don’t really know me. So foods I can’t eat, objects I never use, books I would never read, and so on arrive and I must invent tactful ways of responding as well as finding some new receiver victim.

But what I ponder more than anything else when it comes to shipping is what will happen as time goes on and this petroleum-fueled delivery system becomes more and more expensive. Even now I often pay twice as much in shipping as for a book, esp. when I order from Britain. Probably the book problem will be solved by the Espresso machine, which is sort of like “Beam me up, Scottie.” That is, the directions for printing the book are sent via the Internet and the book prints for you while you enjoy your cappucinno. (Everyone seems to assume these machines will be in coffee shops.) But that's if you insist on a paper book instead of an ebook, which means no autograph.

Even then how will anyone get books signed by the author, except by going to the author’s book-signing? Driving to my house takes gas, too! And what if the author can no longer afford the gas to drive to a book-signing? Can I get away with sending a gum-back bookplate that I sign, the way Whisky Prajer does? (His are custom-designed: very nice.) A good entrepreneur might speculate that the value of signed books can only go up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Other people may depend upon conversation or formal reviews to decide on books or movies, but I tend to follow little trails in a way now made possible by, Amazon and/or Google. This is what I mean: I’d been stalling about watching “Foyle’s War” though it’s listed over and over in the catalogues selling videos from the BBC. Finally, thinking of Michael Kitchen, I ordered the series from Netflix. It’s a quiet, understated sort of series, so in spite of having an aunt from my mother’s side and an uncle from my father’s side actually in WWII in England, I was slow getting engaged in it. After all, it’s not “Cracker,” which is where I started with these BBC serieses.

But the stories and Kitchen caught up with me and then gripped me tight. But I’d run out of episodes. Both Netflix and IMDB let a person search by actor, so I did that, besides going back to rewatch my favorite old MK videos: “Out of Africa,” “The Buccaneers,” and “Reckless.” Great fun and quite a different MK in each one! I can’t remember what else, but by now I’m up to “The Hanging Gale.” Commentors on my blog suggested others.

Along the way I came to “Falling,” billed as MK being a bad man. So I watched and was very much struck by the actress who played the protagonist who “fell.” Since this was based on a book, I checked out Amazon (and the UK bookstores -- very good luck there!) and discovered that the “writer” in the story was a real person, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and that she had indeed “fallen,” not as a “fallen woman” but as a woman who was vulnerable because of being hurt in a fall besides repeatedly “falling” for faulty men. Instead of ordering “Falling,” I ordered her memoir, “Slipstream.”

Elizabeth Jane Howard was at first married to Peter Scott, the son of one of my heroes, the man who died in pursuit of the South Pole. The movie about the explorer Scott was repeatedly shown to my brothers’ boy scout groups, which I was obliged to attend. When I taught at Heart Butte, my bitterest enemy was the principal who had been in the navy and had landed at the South Pole where he raided one of Scott’s supply cairns for souvenirs. He offered to give me a little box of matches from that cairn and could NOT understand why it only increased my bitterness and contempt for him.

As it turned out, Peter Scott was also emotionally blunt and the marriage ended. So did a series of other relationships though EJH’s marriage to Kingsley Amis lasted almost two decades, a marriage which he began totally besotted with her and ended curdled by contempt for her. It didn’t have anything to do with her -- it was just his usual pattern. (It’s a familiar pattern of mine, too. Not about lovers but about authority figures. I always begin full of hope and end seeing rotten betrayal.) Martin Amis, stepson, remained her friend, which tells you something about both Martin and EJH.

When I finished with “Slipstream,” I passed it on to Sue when I was in Calgary last week. She was reading another book from that “set” in that “era” and had to put the first one down briefly to keep from confusing the two stories. I went on to the BBC series called “The Cazalets,” based on the fictionalized books of EJH and her family that she called by that name. “Slipstream” gives the source material that EJH reshaped into “The Cazalets,” which makes it quite interesting for a writer.

EJH was a very beautiful woman with what seemed like advantages of birth and education, though they didn’t seem somehow effective. Maybe it was a lack of early nurturing that undermined her confidence. (I’d vote for that answer.) Maybe it was just the bad luck of being born into turbulent times on the brink of war. In “The Cazalets” she is scattered out into a number of characters in several generations. She is the young girl who wishes to act (and did), as well as the young girl who wishes to write (and did), and the beautiful woman who tolerates an unfaithful man while both are married to someone else. Bits of her own history crop up in everyone’s stories.

This is the same time period but not the same social class as “Foyle’s War” and the most obvious difference is double: Foyle is an absolute model of rock-ribbed rectitude and honor. “The Cazalets” appear to be morally hopeless, except for Jacqueline Tong’s character: evidently the parlor maid, Daisy, from “Upstairs/Downstairs” who has now taken on Mrs. Bridges’ role as cook and is the same sort of generous and devoted soul. The Cazalets are full of deceit, seize the moment, and think of no one but themselves -- no rules seem to apply to most of them. (As one reviewer wrote, “Hudson would NOT approve!”) But they are rarely happy.

The other difference is the material culture, since Foyle is living in a small coastal town and the Cazalets live on an ancient estate and in London. Of course, in reality the stories are filmed on a mixture of sets and real houses and they are probably both using the same historic cars and trains. The set dressing is sometimes similar. Somewhere there must be a vast warehouse of ancient chintz “puffs” and coverlets, wonderfully extravagant wallpaper in near-shocking colors, and furniture varying from Chippendale to the kind of solid stuffed monoliths that are “good value.” Since the actors are nearly always doing one of three things -- smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking tea -- there must be shelves and shelves of the proper accoutrements. (Actually, they have a lot of sex, too, but they only need each other for that.) They do keep the tea sets and ashtrays sorted within each film but I can sometimes recognize the bone china cups and wonderful silver from one movie to another. By now I recognize almost ALL the small bronzes used in set dressing. The same Greek youth with the same rearing horse and so on.

Tonight I watched the last episodes of “The Hanging Gale” which is rigorously and politically moral with MK this time caught between two forces, the Irish tenants suffering from the potato famine and the Lord who employs him to enforce his rules. It’s easy to see how this is the root of “Foyle’s War,” both in terms of acting and in the impelling force of the plot, although “The Hanging Gale” is meant to be the story of the four Phelan brothers and their fates. Michael Kitchen simply has an unsurpassed ability to express love, understanding and iron will at the same time. But then he can turn around and be a rotten sociopath as in “Falling.” The Phelan brothers would have made short work of him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


When I moved back to Valier, I had visions of a fabulous garden. They have not become real for a number of reasons, not least of them money. The problems with gardens here include: temp extremes (zone 3 plants are pretty dependable, Zone 4 will be killed in a hard winter, and Zone 5 need special protection); high winds; enough altitude for high ultra-violet light; clay soil; and both alkali water and alkali soil. The best seed catalogues (this year they’re coming online rather than hard copy, which is an improvement in terms of keeping the piles of things under control around here) will list the acid/alkali affinities of the plants in question, but all too many of them do not. There are alluring plants like winterberry and azalea that simply cannot be grown here because they demand acid soil. Most evergreens are always on the edge of being stressed because of not enough acid. The books caution not to use poplar leaves for compost because they are so alkaline. REAL gardeners use little kits to be sure about acid/alkali balance because it can vary all over the yard. I haven’t done that, but I notice that the best local gardeners use tons of peat moss.

I became aware that humans have to think about this stuff, when I did my hospital chaplaincy. There was a little girl brought in unconscious because she had spent a hot summer day swilling lemonade, to the point that her electrolytes (which depend upon acid/alkali balance) were out of whack enough to render her comatose and possibly permanently brain dead. Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia (okay, I’m lazy -- but I can usually understand Wikipedia and it’s handy): pH of the blood: The pH is usually maintained within a narrow range by a number of buffer systems in the body. A normal pH value may still be due to a well-compensated imbalance or a mixed acid base disorder and an abnormal value is definitely due to a poorly compensated acid base problem or due to both metabolic and respiratory derangements causing an imbalance in the same direction.

Some people are more acid than others. Ireland is an acid place where much of the soil is peat and maybe those of us with Irish genes tend to be a little acid in more than our outlook on the world. My brother Paul was acid enough that his skin chemicals destroyed metal watch bands. He could patine copper by simply rubbing it. But an accumulation of lactic acid, suspected of being at the root of fatigue and other metabolic problems, can raise havoc in a body by blocking “perfusion” or the flow of fluids. I myself am a little too acid and feel better over here on the alkali prairie.

Now consider this:

Anion gap: Body fluids including blood may contain a variable number of ions, but the total number of anions (negative ions) and cations (positive ions) are roughly the same. The ions that are usually measured in blood are cations like sodium and potassium and anions including chloride and bicarbonate. There are unmeasured ions in both groups (cations and anions), which also contribute to the ionic constitution of blood. The measured cations are usually greater than the measured anions by about 8-16mmol/L. This is because the unmeasured anions constitute a significant proportion of the total number of anions in blood. Proteins make this up predominantly, but also included are sulphates, phosphates, lactate and ketones. Causes of a decreased anion gap include hypoalbuminaemia and severe haemodilution. Rarer causes include increase in minor cation concentrations like calcium and magnesium. Causes of a raised anion gap include dehydration and any cause of raised unmeasurable anions, like lactate, ketones and renal acids, along with treatment with drugs given as organic acids such as penicillin, salicylates and poisoning with methanol, ethanol and paraldehyde. Rarely it may be due to decreased minor cation concentrations such as calcium or magnesium.”

It’s from Wikipedia, but I can barely grasp it. The point is that “ions” are electrons and it is largely the management of ions among atoms and molecules that makes our bodies work properly. They are what digest food by assembling and reassembling molecules, they are what makes glue stick, they are what cause colors to fade, they are how genes work, they are how thinking works -- all on this electromagneticochemical level that was unsuspected until recently. A few extra ions here and there, a few missing where they ought to be, and the human body (like the bodies of other critters) will try to compensate, then begin to express distress, and finally simply stop functioning. Death.

I looked up those cow acids: acetic or ethanoic acid is just vinegar. “Acetic acid is one of the simplest carboxylic acids (the second-simplest, next to formic acid). It is an important chemical reagent and industrial chemical that is used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate mainly used in soft drink bottles; cellulose acetate, mainly for photographic film; and polyvinyl acetate for wood glue, as well as synthetic fibres and fabrics. In households diluted acetic acid is often used in descaling agents.”

The use of acetic acid in alchemy extends into antiquity. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek philosopher Theophrastos described how vinegar acted on metals to produce pigments useful in art, including white lead (lead carbonate) and verdigris, a green mixture of copper salts including copper(II) acetate. Ancient Romans boiled soured wine in lead pots to produce a highly sweet syrup called sapa. Sapa was rich in lead acetate, a sweet substance also called sugar of lead or sugar of Saturn, which contributed to lead poisoning among the Roman aristocracy.

In the 8th century, the Muslim alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan (Geber) was the first to concentrate acetic acid from vinegar through distillation. In the Renaissance, glacial acetic acid was prepared through the dry distillation of metal acetates. The 16th century German alchemist Andreas Libavius described such a procedure, and he compared the glacial acetic acid produced by this means to vinegar. The presence of water in vinegar has such a profound effect on acetic acid's properties that for centuries chemists believed that glacial acetic acid and the acid found in vinegar were two different substances. The French chemist Pierre Adet proved them to be identical.

In 1847 the German chemist Hermann Kolbe synthesized acetic acid from inorganic materials for the first time.

Propionic acid (systematically named propanoic acid) is a naturally-occurring carboxylic acid Propionic acid was first described in 1844 by Johann Gottlieb, who found it among the degradation products of sugar. Over the next few years, other chemists produced propionic acid in various other ways, none of them realizing they were producing the same substance. In 1847, the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Dumas established that all the acids were the same compound, which he called propionic acid, from the Greek words protos = "first" and pion = "fat," ... Bacteria of the genus Propionibacterium produce propionic acid as the end product of their anaerobic metabolism. This class of bacteria is commonly found in the stomachs of ruminants and the sweat glands of humans, and their activity is partially responsible for the odor of both Swiss cheese and sweat. Propionic acid inhibits the growth of mold and some bacteria. As a result, most propionic acid produced is used as a preservative for both animal feed and food for human consumption, and can be used as a preservative for Ballistics Gel. For animal feed, it is used either directly or as its ammonium salt. In human foods, especially bread and other baked goods, it is used as its sodium or calcium salt. Similar usage occurs in some of the older anti-fungal foot powders.

NOTE THIS ONE: A recent publication by MacFabe and colleagues found that intraventricular infusions of propionic acid produced reversible behavior that was very similar to that seen in autism. Behaviors included: hyperactivity, dystonia, turning, retropulsion. In addition, the treated rats demonstrated caudate spiking and the progressive development of limbic kindled seizures. The paper concludes that this is an excellent animal model of autism and warrants further study (MacFabe, 2007).

The human skin is host to a species of bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes, which is named after its ability to produce propionic acid. This bacteria lives mainly in the sebaceous glands of the skin and is one of the principle causes of acne.

Butyric acid, (from Greek ???????? = butter) IUPAC name -Butanoic acid, or normal butyric acid, is a carboxylic acid with structural formula CH3CH2CH2-COOH. It is found in rancid butter, parmesan cheese, and vomit, and has an unpleasant odor and acrid taste, with a sweetish aftertaste (similar to ether).

Butyric acid is used in the preparation of various butanoate esters. Low-molecular-weight esters of butyric acid, such as methyl butanoate, have mostly pleasant aromas or tastes. As a consequence, they find use as food and perfume additives.

Dunno about you, but the ions are flyin' around in my head.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Investigators of healthy food have pointed to the bovine feedlot as a prime suspect for nastiness, saying that cattle are so unsuited to the digestion of corn or other grains that the ground in feedlots is covered with cow vomit. Yuck. But WHY do they throw up? An article in my local ag rag is revealing. It was written by J. Wagner and T.L. Stanton, Animal Sciences professors at Colorado State University and is framed as advice to ranchers “finishing” by switching them to grain.

There are four points to the discussion:

1. If cows go from eating roughage (hay) to eating grain too quickly, they will suffer from acid indigestion (produced by rumen bacteria trying to digest the grain) so severe that the cow may stop gaining weight or die.

2. So the cows should be switched from hay to grain in steps, maybe as many as eighteen (!) so as to be gradual enough for the cow’s natural “buffering ability” to keep up.

The writers feel that successfully switching to grain is possible if it is done carefully. (I will refrain from cynicism at this point.)

4. The best way to tell whether the switch is gradual enough is by inspecting the cow’s dung. This is better than lab tests on fecal starch or pH, which is the acid/alkalai ratio. (It’s possible to be too scientific.)

If this is too much information for you, don’t keep reading.

Grain is used to “finish” cattle because it is usually more economical, depending on variables like cattle prices, cattle breeding, the price spread between good and choice (grain-fed) quality carcass grain and the price of grain. It’s possible that making grain into ethanol will take the price of grain high enough that feedlot grain feeding will be too expensive and we’ll all be treated to arguments about “healthier” hay-fed cattle. But the feedlot people will groan at the necessity of jacking the hay around to the cows. On the other hand, with modern hay managing equipment, it’s hardly like having to buck bales over a fence. There is some evidence that grain feeding is the source of the kind of e-coli that kills humans and that sticking to hay can clear e-coli out of the cow’s system.

When a cow has acid indigestion or the bovine equivalent of heliobacter pylori, it’s in more trouble than a human because it has more stomachs. Evolved to digest fiber of all kinds (organic) it is basically a series of fermentation tanks. (There used to be a guy downwind of Browning whose cows included a lot of wind-transported paper and cardboard in their diets. Of course, today’s plastic sacks would kill them.)

The key to this digestion system is pH, which should be neutral, or “7” on an arbitrary scientific scale. Below 7 substances are labeled acid and above 7 the substances are “base” or alkali, like TUMS. When the bacteria are happily living at 7, they make the stomach contents into volatile fatty acids of three kinds: acetic, propoionic and butyric. These are the sources of the cow’s energy and they are only mildly acid, taking the environment to 6.5 or 6.8. Other stuff in there, when the cow eats roughage, is fiber, lignin, cellulose, and hard-to-digest carbohydrates. I suppose you could call this “cud,” since the cow brings it up and rechews it.

But grain is starch and sugar, which go quickly to glucose (Tell me about it! I can see it on my meter!) and then to lactic acid. If the grain goes to lactic acid in amounts the bugs can handle, no problem. But a little too much makes the bugs sicken and die. Then the acid score goes to 4 or 4.5 and digestion stops. (Tell me about it! I take a Pepcid AC every night! And it used to be much worse before I eliminated all sugar, white flour, and corn syrup from my diet.)

But wait, there’s more. Cattle drool and their saliva is alkaline (8.4 - 8.7). When they chew their cud, the saliva acts like TUMS. It’s the chewing and saliva that liquefies the roughage so it flows smoothly through the system. (More than 70% of the liquid in a cow’s stomachs is from saliva. Like, 20 to 30 GALLONS of saliva!) But they don’t slobber much over grain, so it doesn’t get either buffered or liquified. Silage and green chop are wet but work like grain, besides being already acid.

That’s not all. Grain-type foods spoil easily and can’t be left in the feed bunks more than 12 hours without going moldy and stale, so the cows won’t eat it. “For every 1 percent reduction in intake, expect reduced gains of 1.5 to 2.0 percent.” Cows are SUPPOSED to gain weight -- at cross-purposes with human desire to LOSE weight. The Marine cafeteria idea (take all you want but eat all you take) works out to feeding cattle twice a day, but no more than they will clean up -- but feed them again within a half hour after the bunks are empty. But if a storm is coming, they will increase consumption by as much as 20% which means that they ought to be throttled back with hay rather than grain.

Every morning someone must calculate the food value of the feed as well as its moisture content (which can vary as much as 200%), check that the bunks are emptied and what the intake was, look at the weather, and make up a feed ticket for the day. Every evening the whole process must be repeated and any errors (over- or under-feeding) should be corrected. A 500-1,000 cow or steer should have a minimum of 8 inches of bunk space, but a foot is better. (I’d give ‘em more space that that, were I there! Like farther than the length of their legs.) If there’s not enough room so that they have to crowd in, they eat more food but less often, which hinders weight gain. And if they have a tummy ache, they will eat less. They might even throw up.

That’s ugly enough, but what you really want to pay attention to is the cow manure. You’re looking for “stools that are a little loose -- somewhere between one that is stacked or formed and loose -- with a little big of grain passing through. A bubbling loose stool or one with white caps indicates acidosis.”

This doesn’t address antibiotics, growth hormones, and other molecular fiddling with cows. But it seems to me that it clearly makes the point that if you eat cows, you should not eat as they do. And maybe eating feedlot cows is a lousy idea. If you do, eat a lot of spinach and All-Bran to make up for what the cow didn’t get.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Word reached me this week about two deaths from early parts of my life, which means both men are close to me in age. Rick Lucke was among the first students I taught in Browning, Montana, on the Blackfeet Reservation. I don’t think he was Blackfeet though an outsider couldn’t have told. He was a tall, lean, humorous cowboy-type like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, or Sam Eliot.

The very first funeral I ever attended in Browning was for Rick’s father, Herman, who had been logging and was killed by an unpredictably falling tree. The funeral was in the Browning Methodist Church, where I served for a year after leaving the Unitarians in 1988, and I attended back then in 1962 or so because Bob was a friend of Herman’s. The minister in those years was Jim Bell, a Texan who was also of the long, lean, humorous mold, and what he said has affected me throughout my lifetime. He said, “Herman Lucke never came around this church or any other in his lifetime, but he spent his life in God’s church out in the mountains and forests. He was close to God up there every day and therefore, a place was made for him in Heaven, which we hope is a lot like the places Herman roamed.”

Earl Benson was from the class ahead of me, though he was my age. At Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, we had a near-professional drama department and music program. Earl, an extra-large man, vertically, horizontally, intellectually -- and big-hearted besides, excelled in all the programs we produced: skits, plays, assemblies, concerts. He’d be the magician in “Maker of Dreams” or the caterpillar in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Earl claimed the right to be different. The quotes below are from columns and blogs off Google. I never saw him perform at this level. In high school he was like a big kindergarten kid, bouncy and jovial with hair like Woody Woodpecker. His obit photo shows an old man both long hair and full beard now gray. He has the same slightly bemused eyebrows, tilted up in the middle.

"Portland music icon, Earl Benson died November 26, 2007. He was 68 years old. Earl graduated from Jefferson High School in 1956, where he was a tenor in the school choir and acted in various plays both at Jefferson and in Portland Parks productions. It was during his high school years that he began his extensive collection of recordings covering a wide range of musical genres. He pursued a music degree at Lewis and Clark College and graduated in 1963. Earl, house musician at Cafe Espresso, was a pivotal presence on the coffeehouse/folk scene in the 60s, as a solo act, singing and playing autoharp, or in duet with Molly Malarkey on bass, and later with rock band, Sterling Stem and the Bumcounts. It was at the 9th Street Exit coffeehouse that Earl, Steve Bradley and Bill Wyatt formed the core that became the Sleezy Pieces, one of Portland's legendary bands of the 70s.

"Earl was a prolific songwriter and the band performed many of his originals as well as some brilliant medleys and old standards that were early influences. He could croon Red Foley's hit "Midnight" and turn around and belt out Dylan's "Come Crawl Out Your Window", totally comfortable in either genre. His eclectic repertoire and harmony singing added much to the band's sound, where all 5 players shared the lead vocal work. Sleezy Pieces had a great following and the many fans will remember Earl: stage left, shades on, cigarette in hand, dancing to the music."

“Longtime Portland music critic SP Clarke writes: “[Benson’s] delivery was something to behold—a bearded boyscout in Bermuda shorts and a wrinkled sportscoat singing in a rich falsetto, while quoting St. Paul, fronting one of the best bands the city has ever seen. In the annals of Portland weirdness, Earl Benson stood apart. Way apart. ”

Here’s Rick’s obit:

Feb. 16, 2008 Great Fall Tribune
Rick Lucke, 1947-2008

Richard Allen “Rick” Lucke, 60, of East Glacier, an Army veteran and co-owner and operator of Lucke Construction Co., died of pulmonary fibrosis Wednesday at his home.

A celebration of his life is 2 PM Monday at the East Glacier Community Hall with a potluck feed to follow. Cremation has taken place under the direction of Hi Line Funeral Home in Cut Bank.

Survivors include his mother, Shirley Melton of Kalispell; his children, John Lucke of East Glacier, Bobbi (Myron) Lucke of Browning, and Monty Montana Lucke of East Glacier; a step-daughter, Sarah Augare of Browning; brothers LeRoy Lucke of Kalispell and Don Lucke of Bigfork; a sister, Georgia Eckerson of Kalispell; and his grandchildren, Rylee, Ryana, Cody and Jeremiah.

He was preceded in death by his father, Herman Lucke; his stepfather, Bud Melton; a step-son, Cole Augare; and infant grandson, Chace Ryan; and a nephew, Eric.

Rick was born March 6, 1947, in Glasgow to Herman and Shirley (Oliver) Lucke. he worked in his family’s outfitter business providing packtrips into the backcountry. Rick served with the U.S. Amry from 1964 to 1966 and later became co-owner and operator of Lucke Construction Co.

An avid outdoorsman and horseman, he enjoyed fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling. Rick was a member of the Warrior Society Veteran organization in Browning.

My life has brought me into contact with a broad spectrum of people who have challenged my idea of what success might be, or even good health. I don’t know whether Rick and Earl would even have liked each other, but I liked both of them. When I was in Portland, it didn’t occur to me to go looking for Earl Benson -- I didn’t even know he was still there. I don’t know what he was doing in his later years or how it was he died young. Rick, I know about. His was a working man’s death, brought on by exposure to dust and other particles, maybe intensified by smoking. It’s an alluring fantasy to imagine a long chat with both these guys. Maybe that’s the seed of a story.

Friday, February 15, 2008


It's all very interesting.

Amazon is offering "Bronze Inside and Out: A Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver" for a cheaper price than they are buying the book for. Evidently they are using it as a "loss leader" to get your name and address into their database.

But there were too many buyers! They had not realized that there are a few hundred people who want to buy this book! They were losing money!

So they said they'd run out of copies because they were "unavailable" and they didn't know when any would ever be available again. They made the book sound like some sort of mirage.

So I posted an "author's review" of Amazon on the Amazon website.

Shortly, one (ONE, UNO) copy reappeared on the database. No message to me. The nonsense about "not being available" went away.

My publisher doesn't tell me what she had to do with this. I told her. Then she took the afternoon off.

Normally U of Calgary Press authors get a 40% discount on any U of Calgary Press books, including the ones they write. BUT because I want to sell my own books at readings and book-signings around the state and the national distributor, Michigan State University, doesn't want to mess around with me because they don't quite believe that Montana really exists anyway, the U of Calgary Press will ship me books direct BUT my discount will be diminished to 30%. No royalty, of course. (My royalty is 5% of the U of Calgary Press NET profit. That is, for every $1,000 they make, I make $50.)

You know that song, "Mothers, Don't Let Your Sons Be Cowboys"? Well, it's good advice for the mothers of potential authors as well. You won't be the ant -- you'll be the aphid.


Miss Potter” was listed in Netflix as being so popular that there would be a “very long wait.” So I waited and now it’s come and I’ve seen it. I’m disappointed, partly because my expectations were so out-of-sync with everyone else’s. Walt Disney meets Jane Austen: lots of dressups, not much introspection, bland acting, predictable events, and no attention whatsoever to Potter’s uncle and his attempts to get her very real scientific insights into the science circles for which she was qualified. Rather, her “feminism” was portrayed as a desire to have her own way and to not have to take care of her aging parents in their spoiled little lives. (They had family fortunes that meant they didn’t have to do anything for a living.) Emphasis was given to her own personal fortune from writing the Peter Rabbit books. No reflection was expressed on why they sold so well. Her life, according to this movie, consists of two romances: one ended when the young man died and the other a practical arrangement entered into at age 47.

It’s a beautiful movie, of course, because it’s filmed in the English Lake Country, though that place is really rather sombre and had to be tarted up with garden flowers unnatural enough to probably have been silk. And then there was a recreation of Farmer MacGregor’s garden. The only dark elements were the duenna who accompanied her everywhere as a young woman, an animated fish that grew bigger and bigger until it threatened to swallow a frog, and a raven shadow that flew through her animated drawing. These were supposed to indicate her state of mind, as though it weren’t enough that she was locked in her room, frantically drawing and not changing her clothes.

Zellweger, whom I saw in “White Oleander” but don’t remember maybe because it was another sentimental movie, is said to be “cherubic.” She played Potter with her mouth pursed up, making bird-like quick movements and squinting. She was best when she was drawing. Evidently they gave her drawing lessons and she quite enjoyed them. I always love to watch movie depictions of drawing and painting, but I’m divided about the animations. They were ever-so-slightly corny. Just a touch too twee.

One of the problems with the work of Beatrix Potter is that it has been so commodified with figurines, toys, games, stuffed animals, and the like -- some better and some worse -- that we’re weary. In fact, one might suspect that this movie was designed to give a shot in the arm to the marketing empire. Evidently Potter herself participated in this, was not above making enough money to be a potent conservationist, buying land to save it from development. This IS in the movie, though not really explored -- like everything else.

Infantilization is the opposite of feminism. It’s a long fight to keep women from being seen as children, to keep animals from being seen as children’s toys, to see “little” books as not being therefore trivial if cute -- fit mostly for children’s birthday party gifts. The serious messages of Felix Saalten’s “Bambi” or Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” are lost in the Disneyfied versions. I suspect that the reason so many men are sexual predators of little children, esp. girls, is this belief that children are toys, harmless, with no will of their own. In short, SAFE, unlike the terrifying women unleashed by feminism: women who can refuse pregnancy and earn their own living. I suspect this wide-spread and deeply rooted conviction in our culture is a reaction to the shadow predator fishes and birds of our times, now so immense and alien that they are submarines and satellites -- both with malicious goals, terrorist intent. Being childish is meant to be a flight to safety, a denial of danger.

When I was a Unitarian minister, I constantly came up against this drive towards candified life, all sweet and bright. One Christmas I gave a series of meditations on “light” and spoke about the impressive sight of nuclear missile being loaded into it’s silo within sight of a Montana highway about 3AM -- a slender white missile bathed in white spotlight. The next day a delegation arrived to say I had destroyed their Christmas which was meant to be like “The Nutcracker Suite,” all innocent and prosperous. (No Freudian stuff please.) In short, Victorian -- though entirely neglecting some of the truly vicious and oppressive aspects of the Victorian world, the British Empire. So much of our sentimentality is, like white weddings, a valuing of ostentation that began in the Victorian era.

When I was in the “Wings of the Dove” bookstore in Lethbridge on Monday, I was impressed by how pastel everything was. Many little figurines of sentimental subjects like mothers with babies. Silk flowers everywhere. Bits of inspiring advice lettered onto the walls. Books about how to stay happy and find one’s inner child. Christian romances about how girls found perfect husbands by being virtuous (a quick perusal suggested virtue was largely a matter of obedience and self-sacrifice). Meanwhile, two doors up, messy animals and an equally messy tumble of interesting books engaged me far more.

Emily Watson is entirely wasted in this movie as the sympathetic sister of Potter’s doomed publisher boyfriend. Some reviewers have suggested that Watson, in spite of her Valentine face, would have made a more complex Potter. Zellweger was, after all, a “reach” since she is a Texan. Certainly Watson would have been a more complex figure and possibly she took this secondary role after being considered as the heroine and dismissed because of some of the high-tension and risky work she’s done in the past. But I’d like to see her cast in a new version, one NOT directed by the director of “Babe.” One that neither infantilizes nor commodifies her original work on plants, fungus, and algae.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Having “broken bread” with the University of Calgary Press staff this week, I’m looking at some of the complexities of the new changes in publishing with their eyes. Last night I watched “Miss Potter,” the very embodiment of the still-standing mythology of what the relationship between author and publisher is (rather like the phenomenon of falling in love with one’s obstetrician) and what life-changing effects being a published author creates (Beatrix Potter bought thousands of acres of English Lake Country farm land with her fortune and gave it to the people of England!) so that even her MOTHER was finally impressed. These days that’s as much a fairy tale as a talking rabbit.

There are categories and distinctions (implying possibilities) that are lost to public consciousness. First of all, we must separate PRINT from PUBLISH, which have been carelessly used as synonyms in the past. Now there are TWO kinds of print: electronic and, as they say, “hard copy.” (Never mind that an electronic screen, being glass, is hard and paper is generally on the soft side.) If one writes a blog like this one, the print is PRINTED but only published in the sense that anyone can get access and read it. No one does all the accessory things necessary for a book.

Most people have little notion of what those accessory things are, so I’ll list them:

1. Soliciting excellent material. (Janice Dickson was contracted to do this for the "Legacies Series" that included "Bronze Inside and Out.")

2. Developing a collection of such material so that the publishing “house” has a mission, a personality, or purpose. The missions of a comic book publisher, a regional academic press, a young adult publisher, a reference publisher, a novel publisher, a history “press”, and so on are quite different. The big Manhattan publishers serve an audience that is quite invisible to most Montana readers. Likewise, few in Manhattan grasp that there is a world apart from them.

3. Both publisher and author are aided by “agents,” who are essentially match-makers and now, increasingly, filter writing in the way that publishers’ editors used to do, imposing their tastes and beliefs on both sides. Many of them ARE former editors who have lost their jobs with the shrinking number and scale of publishing houses. Some might be disappointed writers themselves. So very many people are writing now that this interstitial layer of free-lancers or businesses that just act as agents seems necessary, but so far they tend to be a mono-culture.

4. Once accepted, whether through an agent or some other way, the publishing house will make suggestions about structure, actively edit, compile the index, preface, foreword, bibliography, footnotes and so on that accompany a book that is not fiction. Also, the manuscript will be proofed -- not on paper now but in the computer which will go to the actual printing press. There are enough people who make their living “indexing” books for them to have an association and written standards of performance. A layout must be designed, placing photos or graphics and creating the style, chapter headings, divisions among chapters, and so on.

5. When the actual writing -- now normally a computer document -- is sent to the printer, it must be checked and checked again for errors. Because it is a computer document, rather than metal plates as used to be the case, the number of copies made can be ANY number. With metal plates, the setup was so arduous and expensive that the only way to get the costs down was to make a lot of copies. Then they required storage (as did the plates) so a publisher needed to own or rent warehouses until all the books were sold. In the United States these copies are considered financial assets and are taxed as property.

6. Getting the copies out to the bookstores (who order them but basically have them on consignment until they are sold) is a matter of creating catalogues and publicity stories as well as working with regional salesmen who actually drive around with the books to show them to the bookstores. (In Montana few are willing to take on such a task.) Once people have bought the book, and if they like it, then word of mouth begins to build and this is the true key to book success. Interviews, newspaper follow-up, and possibly new possibilities in other media (movies, television appearances) begin to accrue. A chief means of publicity used to be magazine ads and ads in the big book review sections that major newspapers publish. Now both magazines and newspapers have been badly injured by the switch of public attention to iPods and blogs and also the high cost of paper and ink. They are entirely closing down many book review sections.

7. When supplies of the book get down to a small number, the publisher must normally decide whether to make another printing, what size it ought to be, and so on. If the copies are selling quite slowly, they might be sent to a remainder house where they are sold for a low price. Some of the big used bookstores also accept remainders.

8. If the bookstore sells on the Internet, this is a great way for anyone anywhere to pick up books (often wonderful and precious specialty books) at a low cost. In fact, one can buy from foreign countries and expect quick delivery because of the huge infrastructure of delivery systems and money management credit systems. Books hardly die anymore -- they just enter this realm of “free trade” that -- so far -- no one has been able to sort out very well. A giant Gorilla like Amazon is no less confused than the rest of us, esp. since it is separated into different Internet realms: (Canada) as well as a division for Australia, Great Britain, and so on.

All of these elements above, like pop-it beads, can be separated into contracted separate businesses. Some do nothing but layout or proofing, some package for delivery, some pretend they are whatever company is involved -- like a faux Starbucks in Barnes & Noble. This is made practical because of the huge volume involved. But it can run aground, as when Amazon declared this week that my book was no longer available! It just hadn’t gotten through the layers of distributors in a second wave after the first wave was all sold.

Alongside the mass work are little free-lance operators selling their own libraries at home, mailing out a few books at a time from their garage or basement. Then someone like Alibris or Abebooks contracts with them to maintain a database of what is where, how much, who’s selling, whether you ought to trust them (based on customer feedback) and so on. Also, there are home publishers who only put out a very few new books yearly. Some of these folks are pretty naive and unschooled, and others are VERY sophisticated indeed. We still need more discriminating advisors who can tell one from the other and the public needs more ways of getting access to this advice. A major help is online eNewsletters. Buckingham, a used bookstore, sends me lists and lists of what they have via email. Their lists include "ephemera," meaning old posters or theatre programs and exhibit brochures: any thing "printed."

How is a small, quiet university press like the one at the University of Calgary meant to compete in a world like this? Focus. Specializing. High quality. Networking. Internet savvy. Flexible staff. Administration resourceful enough to contract out when necessary.

And an eye for the opening: their territory is continuous with Montana but Montana has no university press. Michigan State University is the U of Calgary Press stateside distributor, but they have no presence (mailing list, representative or depot) or interest in Montana. (Those interested should make a proposal NOW!) The University of Nebraska Press, which used to dominate the regional history market, has largely withdrawn from that area, declaring they are now a “world press.” The University of Oklahoma Press has also devolved. The entity that seems to be picking up the regional market is the University of New Mexico, which ignores the northern Plains. The Western art movement that so dominates the SW US is only beginning to unfold up north. “Bronze Inside and Out” is only one of several art books that the U of Calgary Press offers and they could easily expand in that direction. So far the University of Washington has dominated the art book scene, but they are more interested in the Asian-influenced work. The door is standing open, though it takes courage to walk through into an unknown country.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


An author’s life is not all sitting at the computer keys, tapping out masterpieces. I’d been invited to speak at the Glenbow Museum yesterday but the weather has been fierce and I was wary of actually guaranteeing that I’d go. I sent the Ed Mitch DVD of Bob talking about his work as a backup. Early Monday morning Sue McConnell, scout and wife for Clyde who upgraded all the photos in the book, sent an email saying the forecast up there was good. I looked out the window, saw a clearing sky, and sent Bob Pearson -- who organizes the Glenbow “Terrific Tuesdays” -- a message “missile launch is go.” The postmaster promised that if I never came back (might get storm-stayed, might elope, might be killed on the road) she’d adopt the cats.

At the border (Sweetgrass) the bored Canadian officer didn’t even want to see my birth certificate, which is really quite splendid since it’s the full-page original with gold seal and my teeny footprints. In fact, I joked that it was the same age as me but it looked a lot better. (Sue suggested that maybe if I wore a gold seal...)

Lethbridge is a major city, bigger than any in Montana, and I stopped at my favorite bookstore: ABC Books which has tumbles and stacks and towers of books everywhere and also a little white grandmother bunny named “Blossom,” two quite social cockatiels, and some unidentified reptiles. The owner told me about his favorite customer, now deceased, a polymath who bought Chinese philosophy among other things. I had a bracing cup of coffee at the Wings of the Dove Christian Bookstore two doors down and used their powder room which had elegantly painted inspirational sentences on the wall and a big bouquet of silk magnolias.

Then I set out for Fort Macleod, thinking it was a truck route and would probably be cleared. I had not bet on hundred mile an hour winds blowing snow over the road at a temperature that mixed water and ice. Ten miles would be dry as summer, then another half mile of tractionless adrenaline-shooting life-risk -- while the 18-wheelers zoomed through the slush, throwing it all up on my windshield. If I’d hit the ditch then, at least I’d never have seen it coming.

When I got to Fort Macleod, I talked to the police chief who said that if I could make it to Claresholm, I would be safe the rest of the way. He was right. I also found out my gas card wouldn’t work in Canada. Evidently Esso and Exxon are not getting along. (Chavez is mad at Exxon, too.) In Calgary the roads had been graveled so traction was good but visibility was intermittent because mud was being thrown up everywhere. I also gained some windshield dings. I hadn’t gotten a good mesh between my gas station road map and my Google-generated map to McConnell’s house, but I managed to blunder across the two rivers, past the Stampede grounds, past the Unitarian church, past the University of Calgary, and to the right house only five minutes late.

McConnells and I became friends through the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment listserv on the Internet. When they come down this way, they stop for tea and scones. We have many life experiences in common, are about the same age, and share interests. They’ve lived on the West Coast and in Saskatoon. Sue cooked the perfect meal for diabetics: roast, three veggies, lots of nuts. Clyde was pleased because it was a colorful meal! (They’re both originally art majors.) Orange carrots, green peas, etc. Sue noticed there was no red, so fetched a tomato!


Celeste, who is visiting, is a sandy-colored muscular little cat with huge ears and eyes who surely must be carrying some of the originally evolved desert genes. Boots, a satiny black cat with a splendid plume of a tail and a neat little white bib is in permanent residence and came to watch Celeste chase her cat toy. Celeste spent part of the night sleeping with me, but she’s a very busy cat.

Next morning Sue came up with a fancy brand of oatmeal full of flax, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and other nutritious things. She came with me as guide through Calgary traffic and reassurance in the parking labyrinth which always gives me flashes of old sinister movies. The museum staff was ready, provided coffee and a welcome, and we stopped to give a rub to the bust of Colonel Harvie which Bob had made. It was the Colonel’s oil fortune that paid for the museum.

The presentation went beautifully. Friends and colleagues were in the audience, everyone laughed at my jokes and we projected the Ed Mitch DVD of Bob talking about his work onto a huge wall where it was VERY impressive. The University of Calgary Press arrived en masse -- they simply locked the office door and all came! I’d never met any of them, so when they were standing in a circle introducing themselves to the host, I just got on the end of the line. Great to have faces for all the names!

At lunch we were all feeling like family and the event had become so much like a book launch that we all went to lunch in a posh hotel where we were seated at a high table in the bar and ordered very fancy things like “summer squash ravioli” and “southwest corn soup.” No alcohol, lots of coffee. I don’t know who picked up the tab -- it wasn’t me. The Glenbow host was there, as well as Sue and my fellow writer Ray Djuff.

Sue piloted me back down to the street -- after a brief blunder when we all suddenly found ourselves in the restaurant kitchen -- and headed me south. This time I had used Sue’s laptop (Oh, sigh! What a terrific little instrument: a Mac of the white and ice persuasion!) to get the highway report and stayed to the east far enough to dodge all the problems. Summer-dry roads, no trucks, zippety doodah. At Sweetgrass the American officer examined my birth certificate VERY carefully and agreed that I had cute little feet. On to Shelby where I stopped at Pamida to buy drain opener, hoping that I wouldn’t need it. The toilet was stopped up when I left, but I thought it might be merely frozen and open itself while I was gone.

It did not. I had 358 new messages, almost entirely SPAM. The cats rushed to greet -- not me, but the pickiup! I know they were hoping to hurt my feelings for leaving them overnight! Among the messages were anguished cries from a dozen friends who had just gotten emails from Amazon saying that my book was not available! I tried Barnes & Noble who said the same thing. Has the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel found a way to stifle me? Or is it the kafuffle over international book prices now that loonies are at par? Or is it the fact that Amazon was selling the book at an excellent price and suddenly realized that they were selling a LOT of copies and losing profit? (Hundreds of books were pre-ordered.)

Dunno. Used my camping potty and went to bed. Woke up when the carbon monoxide monitor shrieked at 5AM. No carbon mono. It shrieked because the electricity had died. Outside there is an ice storm raging. Back to sleep. At 5:30AM, the monitor shrieked again because the electricity came back on. Started coffee and ten minutes later another shriek as it all died again. I think I’d better bring in my camp stove. Another ten minutes and the electricity was back, and the newspaper came. We don’t have boys delivering papers: we have a tough woman in a hoodie. Just in time for two cups of coffee and a lot of boring news. Now back to bed. Then I’ll work on the toilet some more.

One of this morning’s message was that my cousin’s husband, our much loved “Ham” (short for Hamilton), might have a curable kind of lymphoma instead of a racing version of lung cancer. While the electricity was off, I stood at the kitchen picture window for a while. With all the town lights blacked out, the sky was full of stars.

Monday, February 11, 2008


A French video group has posted a response to "Bronze Inside and Out: A Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver" on YouTube.

"Bronze: L'interieur et Hors" is registered under the ARTBRONZE account at YouTube as a FANVID.

It is QUITE remarkable!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


One of Langdon Gilkey’s very best books -- perhaps the least theological -- is “Shantung Compound.” Gilkey, who was one of my professors at the University of Chicago Divinity School and a whole lot besides, was a child in a mission family in China when that country was invaded by Japan. The family was interned in a compound in Shantung where the other Westerners rounded up were the best and the worst: several kinds of Christian missionaries and a slew of dock and black-market toughs and sex workers.

The book, while a memoir, is also a reflection on the moral capacities of this mixed bag when put under severe pressure to survive. It turned out that the only person who could be trusted to guard the precious food supply was a hardened criminal sailor who knew that if the food were lost, the whole community was lost -- so he slept at the door, preventing theft by the hungry or by the greedy who would sell it. The Trappists, who suffered the most from the loss of their vows of silence, were big, bearded, robed bears of men who were indistinguishable from each other to the Japanese and therefore got away with small acts for the benefit of the whole.

The most troublesome people were the Protestant missionaries who had families to think of and who constantly agitated for more food, more space, more fuel, for their children and wives. The compound had its own internal Westerner’s government, but at least on one occasion the leaders had to go to the Japanese head of the guards and ask him to have soldiers come to settle quarrels at gunpoint.

That’s background. The Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana was originally federal land because it was a fort. When the Indian Wars ended, Rocky Boy’s people had been left with no land of their own and were making trouble on the Blackfeet Reservation where they had been unceremoniously shoved in. So the old fort was converted to the use of Rocky Boy’s people, to be their own reservation with their own sovereign tribal government as well as Federal BIA oversight. Tribes are proud of their sovereignty, which sometimes means economic advantage since they can choose not to accept some state laws. But there is a dark side.

When sovereign tribes turn against members of their own tribes, there is no recourse except the tribal council and tribal courts who may have decided to penalize their members for their own selfish reasons. So Jeanne Hobbs, a Chippewa-Cree elder, has been accused of “slander” and the possible penalty includes the sale of all her property (home, possessions, horses, vehicles), a declaration that she is dead, and banishment from the reservation. Oh, plus a $5,000 fine. Hobbs is accused of writing anonymous letters with copies of canceled checks proving misappropriation of funds. She says she didn’t write the letters.

State supreme courts have no jurisdiction over reservations unless specifically given it in a contract with the tribe. Federal courts and the BIA are very reluctant to get involved. I suspect they feel rather like the Japanese did when trying to pin down the Trappists who defied them.

Reservations were created out of the realization that indigenous peoples with their own culture could not be fairly judged by a dominant invading culture, particularly one that had been trying to eliminate them from existence. But as Indians have assimilated to white ways, they have absorbed the bad with the good. What would once be settled by people going off to cool down or join another band, is now confined to the social pressure cooker that is a reservation with too few resources for the people expected to live there. Leaders have taken on the strategies of the white men they have observed in the school systems, the hospitals, and the businesses of the high dry prairie. As one nursing home administrator put it, “If anybody gives you trouble, fire the sunnavabitch. Plenty of other people need jobs.”

My sympathy with Jeanne Hobbs is born of experience, not with a sovereign tribe but with bullying administrators who keep control through threats and punishment -- following by firing if they can swing it. What will prevent that, and possibly lead to the leaving of the administrator, is a strong local coalition of family members. Thus, I know that probably if Jeanne Hobbs has a strong family that wants her protected, it will be the criticized leadership that may find themselves “declared dead” and ordered to leave.

Thus such strategy leads in circles, feeding back bitterness on itself and often fomenting violence in a place that can ill afford it. There’s not a lot of difference -- except for the naked naivete of tribal leaders doing such a thing as compared with the sly behind-the-scenes pit traps invented by Washington D.C. lawyers -- from the sort of thing the Bush administration has been doing: marking internal critics (ie. enemies) for destruction. I’ve taken to quoting over and over whoever it was who said that Russia’s fatal flaw is their belief that “the last man standing” is the way to define superiority. Sure, if you don’t mind standing there all by yourself in a howling flat lonesome snowscape, having destroyed everything else.

In 1961 when I first came to teach in Browning, I had a speech and drama class and was quick to launch what I had just learned from Dean Barnlund at Northwestern University. Discussion techniques like “bird-caging,” repeating opinions back to the expressor of them, summarizing what had been said so far, pointing out agreement, making an opening for the quiet or shy, were -- we hoped -- the salvation of democracy. But you couldn’t learn these techniques without issues that the discussers cared about. The kids wanted (BADLY) to discuss being beaten up by the cops. So we did. But the chief of Tribal Police immediately showed up at my classroom door with his citation book out, another version of “beating up,” though he had no jurisdiction over white people.

The superintendent, Phil Ward, had a long talk with this man -- pointing out that the defense for slander and libel is simply proof that the allegation is true. But he also ordered me to drop the topic. Later, one of the students witnessed a beating in the jail -- her bedroom overlooked the jail window. By that time I was with Bob Scriver (city magistrate and justice of the peace) and he stepped in. I don’t know what he did, but the cop in question stopped. At least for a while. That’s how things work on a reservation -- or did then.

In the past there have been efforts to organize a National Tribal Supreme Court that could adjudicate sovereignty gone haywire. It hasn’t worked, probably at least in part because threats like those against Hobbs are so useful to some people. What they don’t see is that eventually the erosion of sovereignty will end tribal courts, tribal justice, and possibly reservations. Then they can stand with pride on a flat, howling, lonesome snowscape -- all alone.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Now that I have a genetic niece as well as a by-marriage niece, I’ve been thinking about generations again. I was reading in Virginia Heffernan’s media blog in the New York Times, “The Medium,” about the little $100 computer (now double the price) which is meant for Third World kids with an operating system all its own and some features and capacities unlike other computers: it networks to other nearby machines and does noises and flashes, etc. for games and art. She speculated on how this will affect the kids of that generation and what it will mean in terms of their ability to relate to their parent generation.

Barrus, her faithful commentator, who is a grandfather, pointed out that by the time this set of kids using the little green and white laptops have figured them out, grown up, and are changing the world “for reals,” their own children will be born and using some new kind of phenomenal networking that we can’t even imagine now. Because this is the way it always is. Simple Simon could tell you so. (Remember him? The guy who always did what he ought to have done last time, instead of what he should do this time?)

The kids on the Blackfeet rez now are quite different than their parents or grandparents and not just because of computers. When I describe what it was like in the Sixties, a time universally considered disastrous when we were in it, today’s teens sigh and express envy! When the Blackfoot exhibit at the Glenbow in Calgary (where I’ll be day after tomorrow if the temp and snow cooperate -- we’re at four below with six inches of new snow at the moment) was designed by the tribe itself, they did not choose to replicate tipis (one was put up anyway) -- what they wanted were the little one-room shacks with wood stoves that they remembered fondly from their earliest childhood -- the very housing that was deplored in Congress when Kennedy wanted funding for “proper” houses. (This generation born since 1980 or so has grown up in split level houses with multiple bedrooms.)

What I’m sneaking up on is the idea that part of the MONAC problem was that they were already behind the times, aside from being burdened by the idea of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” always dear to Popes since the days of Cellini being commissioned to devise fabulous gold and jewel objects to be given to that pontiff. They were convinced that owning rare things, valuable things, exotic things, meant homage, recognition that they were the best and the highest. There was no concern about the origins of these objects, whether they were surrendered or made willingly, or -- indeed -- what their uses were, least of all their religious uses.

Then there’s the idea that “we’re the best” which is why “we” deserve to be in the missionary position on top and are entitled to tell these heathens what they are doing wrong and how they can get to heaven, which is -- of course -- just where all good heathens want to go. I notice that short or alcoholic or slightly nuts people love a heathen culture where they can reassure themselves by looking in the mirror and saying, “At least I’m white.”

These two convictions blind religious persons to corruption in those around them and even more so to the worldview of said heathens, which matters not at all to wheeler-dealers. MONAC began to collect artifacts just as the Indian empowerment movement began, which flipped the respect for priests (because they brought food, medicine and lots of used clothing alongside a certain amount of religious juju) onto its head (because they used painful force, denied the people’s culture, and individuals victimized little children for twisted purposes). Tribes were moving into the ambivalent period when they wanted things in their own hands -- but with fail-safe protection from the powerful, mostly in the form of money. Like teenagers. Often they screwed up, but these were the people (in the Sixties) who were born when their dads got home from WWII and told them how they had been considered worthy and powerful during the war, but dumped out broken and drunk afterwards.

Revenge and determination was on the minds of the men in particular. The women, who had gotten perms, learned to type, and moved to the city as President Eisenhower wanted them to, watched their white bosses and took notes for their own uses. These were “boomer” Indians (in their Sixties now), and they have mixed a fair amount of failure and success into their doin’s for the last fifty years or so. Little was wasted. Many would not be perceived as “Indians” if they didn’t self-identify and more are doing that now. When they come home to the rez, they look around and say, “What the...?”

So today’s Blackfeet, the ones taking the reins, are the children of the Boomers, born in the Sixties and Seventies, veterans of Head Start who now willingly send their children to charter schools, religious or not. They are the ones who can see that the Repatriation Act, well-meant as it was, had some very strange consequences. All those donated artifacts went right on out the loading dock to the thriving black market that is always created when something is suppressed. The objects that were ceremoniously but quietly returned to tribes went into the hands of individual prosperous Indians, mostly good Catholics.

The art is easier to follow because of all the auction websites and catalogues as it goes up and down in a profit rollercoaster. Schoenberg writes very little about the artists. Mostly he describes in tedious detail the efforts of “the Indians” to get control of MONAC because it was originally named a “center” but a movement to create service-based “centers” in those cities where Ike’s policy had created Indian ghettoes meant that the MONAC “center” was misnamed, causing Indians to not understand that this was meant to be an elite, priest-controlled “cabinet of curiosities.” The photosin the book are almost all of board members or other important white men who helped create the museum. A few Indian women are scattered here and there, but VERY few Indian men. The only artists pictured are the ones Van Kirke Nelson kept in his pocket, the alcoholic ones easy to control.

That era of Indians and artists is over. These days both categories are both genders and all are sharp cookies with a lot of data and experience. But the wheeler-dealers go on, like used book sellers profiting from the computers driving books out of public libraries. I’m VERY curious about what will happen next. And I’d LOVE to have one of those little green and white computers! Anyway, what would those people smarter than Simple Simon do right now? Elect Barack Obama? Could be. I keep hearing Blackfeet say, "I like that Obama guy -- he looks like ME."