Saturday, June 30, 2012


“I knew we’d find this guy with a cut throat sooner or later.  Sometimes I wished I could do it myself.”  The young cop enjoyed having his elbow out the window of the squad car on the way to the crime scene.
You got the warrant to enter the house?”   The older guy didn’t want any mess-ups on this one, even though the real criminal was the victim.

“Sure do.”  A long pause.  “I’m kind a worried about what we might find.”
“It would be good if we could close out our missing boy cases.”
No one was around when they reached the house -- nice enough but not something that attracted attention.  They had the victim’s keys.  The radio was on, tuned to NPR.  It was a story about an ancient flute.  The reader intones,  “The flutes are the earliest record of technological and artistic innovations characteristic of the Aurignacian period.   The Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe.  Neanderthals as well as modern humans may have lived in this area around the same time.”
The younger cop really liked NPR.  He was one of those college degree cops, but he was hip, even played in a garage band.  “I heard this story this morning.”  He began pulling out drawers, turning over sofa cushions, pulling out books and fanning their pages while his partner turned back the rugs on the hardwood floors.  “You know, a flute works the same as a rifle barrel.  You want a spiral of air instead of a spiraling bullet, and you control the air flow with your mouth at the end or side of the end.”
“That so,” said the older cop, going into the kitchen to look in the freezers and the bins of flour and boxes of corn flakes.  He made a mess.  It was a necessary mess, even if mostly what he found was nothing.
The young cop went up the stairs, puffing a little.  His instrument was a flute in high school, but now he went for guitar or even keyboard.  “You know, music is the closest they can come to describing the universe.  The harmonic chords, that’s what string theory is really about.”  The bedrooms looked normal.  Everything was neat and dusted.  No blood.  The victim’s body had not been found here.  No effort to hide it, as though the perp or perps wanted it known that he was gone.
No stash of erotica, not even a stack of “Hustlers.”  No dirty DVD’s in the bedroom media center.  The older cop joined him and the younger one turned to look at him with a puzzled face.  “Do you think he had a secret place?  Some subterranean cellar, some rented space, some ceremonial clearing in the woods?”
“No idea.”  Losing patience, he pulled out drawers and dumped the contents onto the floor.  Found nothing unusual.
In the bathroom the young cop’s voice echoed.  “This guy’s stuff is so normal it’s scary.  Are we sure this is his house?”
“Keys fit.”
“What’s the case against him?  Any material clues?”
“Direct testimony of a dozen surviving victims, marks of torture confirmed by docs, plus a half-dozen bodies of less vigorous victims who never survived.  Some of the bodies with missing legs.”
“The young ones, the ones whose long bones were still growing.”
The men were silent,  Then they began to look high for trapdoor access to the attic, the tops of curtain valences, the backs of pictures.  The young cop was never silent long.  “They say that ancient flute they found was made from the wing bone of a vulture.  I’m betting it was a condor.
“There are no condors in Europe.  That flute came from a cave in Europe.”  The young cop was surprised that the old cop knew this.  He always soaked up more than he let on, which is why he liked partnering him.  It would be even better if he played an instrument -- maybe a clarinet -- and . . .  maybe not.
“How do they know it was a vulture?  Why couldn’t it have been an eagle?”
The old cop shook his head, grinning.  “You’re such a romantic.   Think you could play that ancient flute?”
“Oh, sure.  Serenade the girls.  Picture me sitting in the entrance to the cave, toodling away in the moonlight while a little campfire flickers back inside.  It’s just a cylinder, you know.  The principles are the same no matter whether the source is bamboo or the inside of a paper towel roll or whatever.”
“What’s this?"  On a high shelf in a closet, the older cop lifted down a long narrow case.  
“Looks like a musical instrument case.  Speaking of flutes.”  The younger man opened the case.  “Flute it is!  But unusual.  Made of ivory or something.”  It was fitted into a blood-red velvet niche, as such cases usually cushion their contents.  He lifted it to his mouth and blew, almost kissing it.  The notes were high but clear.  He thought of a boy choir, which led to another thought.  He looked more closely and blanched.  “We may have found what we’re looking for.”
“We were looking for musical instruments?”
“We were looking for bones.  This flute is not made from a vulture’s bone.”

Back at the station an expert was called in who confirmed the suspicions.  This bone came from the leg of a boy still growing, maybe seven years old.  He wasn’t absolutely sure of the gender until they did more tests.
“Where are the OTHER missing leg bones?” the cops asked each other.  They began to compile a list of people who could make flutes as sophisticated as this one, but it was a long list and there was not a lot of money for overtime.  The main suspect was dead.
When they started out for a new day’s shift, the young cop drove, and as their shorthand rule went, he chose the station, NPR.  A boy choir came on.  The older partner turned it off before he even saw the tears rolling down his buddy’s face.  Gently he said,  “You didn’t play that boy’s leg -- you kissed it.  Respectfully.”
“Probably the killer kissed it, too.  Before it was a flute.”

Friday, June 29, 2012


This is a quote from the earliest message to Tim Barrus that I archived.
"Another Blackfeet kid was murdered yesterday -- throat cut.  Probably
another kid.  Lots of romantic violence-loving talk among the kids:
vengeance, respect, city-ghetto stuff.  This dead boy was 17 and had
just graduated from an alternative high school.  He was a singer and
about to audition for American Idol.  This stuff is so painful that
those who care are happy to escape into raging offensive insults.

"So -- a movie about Caravaggio maybe?"

That was July 14, 2007.  Much has changed since then.  Tim’s original Cinematheque group in particular.  Some are dead.  Some are adults now and launched on successful lives with partners they’ve kept all this time, though they always protested that they couldn’t make relationships last.  Tim’s impending death turned out to be only more shamanic visits to the brink, followed by hard-won recovery.  His and my relationship has morphed some -- it was a hard blow when he said he didn’t want to write anymore because I so loved writing with him.  I was suspended for a while. It’s lonesome to write without him, but at least we’re still friends.  And I still know what I know.
Society has changed in unexpected ways.   More than fifty percent of the citizens of the USA are NOT white.  Native Americans have sued the US government and won millions in reparation for trust crookedness.  More than fifty percent of the citizens in a recent poll said they would vote for an atheist for President.  No one expected the smash hit best seller of the year to be written by a mommy about sado-masochistic practices. No one expected the health care bill to pass. No one is confident that we’re actually recovered from the worldwide economic collapse, which has meant the reduction and cancellation of so many social programs.  Starvation still stalks the continents.
The smallest, weakest, most damaged, most atypical people are the first to go.  HIV-AIDS pandemic has gone on and on and on in spite of the drugs that keep people alive, if miserable.  The terror and paranoia of it is crusted over a bit, but not when Tim’s around.  There is a new self-diagnosis kit about to go on the market, much like a pregnancy test, and that might change some patterns.  A person could demand safe sex predicated on an HIV test right then and there.  Although much of the concern over safe sex, like the concern about pregnancy, is due to Fucker’s Remorse the next day.  Especially if combined with a hangover.  Where’s the backup solution for HIV equivalent to prevention of implantation of the ovum?  They say there is one.  The Repubs will probably want to make it illegal.
GLBTQ has had a strong enough lobby and has raised enough consciousness that many, especially the young, are beginning to see sexuality as far beyond a binary male/female economic proposition.  Rather it appears to be a negotiable sort of relationship between two or more people.  Those who lived through the great unloosening of the Seventies are asking, where were we when we pulled back from this?  What scared us?  Oh, yeah.  HIV-AIDS, of course.  Are we still scared?  Probably ought to be.  But there is another Satanic phenomenon:  the existence of so many “extra” kids on the planet that are unwanted, unmissed, unguarded -- trafficked, tortured and mutilated.  As a society, we seem divided between those who don’t believe it and those who make movies about it, exploiting all the horrible possibilities in graphic detail.
Some of the damage to the real-life kids who are pressed into sexual slavery is clear: infections, trauma, bodily malfunctions.  Some of it cannot be seen because it is in the brain and nervous system.  Guts are part of that system and the gut is directly involved in anal sex with little boys.  Aside from tearing the fragile intestinal wall and confusing the molecular signals sent through serotonin and similar molecular feedback loops, the gut biota that we are just learning about can be devastated.  Very little research on that.  Anal things come from behind, they are “dirty;” they are considered private, out of control; they won’t move traffic or they shoot out liquid misery.  You’re not supposed to talk about that stuff, though doctors are now experimenting with “fecal transplants” in case something like antibiotics (“against life”) have wiped out your friendly internal zoo.
The brain has been part of it all the time, though we don’t just think about right-brain/left-brain anymore and not just the divided cerebrum.  The brain is stacked on the spine, racked along with little auxiliary parts, wrapped in membranes, and pushed by evolution from bottom to top and then towards the front which is why we have foreheads --because of the latest stuff that bulges behind them.  But the later parts develop out of the earlier parts and remain in lively communication.  Once you read the work of Antonio Damasio, everything is different.
As well as a new appreciation of the additive complexity of brain parts, including the conversion of some of them to new uses, we’ve learned that brains are living, morphing, renewing, editing, rewriting parts of the body.  We know that thinking is not some mysterious aura, but -- not quite like a computer -- a series of sorting centers, memory banks, and creation stations that can either get things wrong, or find some inspired way to do a workaround -- and fast.
What this equipment can do in the brain of a tender child still trying to figure out a world that assaults and cripples him, is pretty much unknown.  How to guide his brain back to function that will keep that boy’s identity and allow him to live in a better world is even more unknown.  We’ll never find out without making the effort.
Most people, seeing a boy with big eyes, a tender mouth and a colt’s forelock falling in his face, will assume that providing clean clothes, a safe bed, good food and a skateboard will return him to being like all the other boys.  NOT.  Something has to reach into that brain to change it and it probably will not be psychotherapy for a lot of reasons.  (One, cost; two, it’s not fun; three; it’s low prestige.  Psychotherapy is a high prestige occupation.)  
What’s left?  Art.  Art can change the brain and redeem the heart.  Art can create a language and make a map.  Art won’t make a Normal, but art can make a place for the Un-Normal.  So why are we so willing to eliminate it from the schools?  Oh, well, these boys aren’t in school anyway.  They’re in the streets.  Making art.  Hard to stop them.  Is that spray can empty?  Have you ever tried livestock markers?  Look at this great stuff I found in a dumpster.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


People complain that I don't write a proper blog.  They don't want to read "long form" stuff on esoteric subjects that they never think about anyway.  They firmly believe that a blog is supposed to be a sort of journal, a friendly letter, full of trivia that they can skip through quickly.  So this blog is for them.  It's basically a blog about buying things because that's what's important.  Isn't that right?  I mean, I don't even have television but at least I know that much.

This is my old office chair which I like very much and for a long time it was the most comfortable chair for sitting at the computer,  Also, the cats like it for sharpening their claws.  One of my very few visitors pointed out that this meant they were shredding the wicker, but then I pointed out that a wicker chair like this costs about fifty bucks and a cat scratching post costs maybe sixty, so I'm saving money.  They thought that was good reasoning, so I didn't have any motive to change out this chair until it started giving me sciatica lately.  Besides, I have plans to reweave the chair with copper wire.  You can see that I started working on that along the front edges of the arms but maybe I ought to get serious.   

So when I was in Great Falls at the Office Supply store, which I hate to go into because I'm such a fool for office supplies, and spotted a proper "task chair" for fifty dollars (marked down from a hundred), I saw right away that it was the equivalent of a new wicker chair, so I bought it.  The only problem is that it has to be assembled.  So far it's just a big pile of pieces with instructions referring to "the large wrench" and "the small wrench," by which they mean little bits of bent metal that are not friendly for the stiff and fumbly fingers of old ladies.  Nevertheless, it will be splendid in the end.  (Ahem.  MY personal end.)  The clerk asked me what color I wanted.  She suggested "brown."  Any other colors?   "Also, brown and brown."  I chose brown.  But there was a wonderful red chair, very modern looking, and I really liked it.  But the description said,  "Not suitable for sitting more than two hours."  So I passed it up.  This one advised "Not suitable for weights over 225#."  But I cleared that hurdle easily:  this morning I was only barely over 200#.  But the clerk had more questions.  Would I like a maintenance protection plan for $15?  It would cover the chair for three years.   Um, what is likely to go wrong enough to need professional maintenance?  Well, if the cushions burst or the wheels came off.  I decided to chance it.

Just down the street from me is an old Baptist church that I used to yearn for.  I figured I'd make the main meeting room into a big art gallery, build a stone fireplace, knock a hole in the wall that faces the mountains -- it just happens to be where the altar was.  But over the past fifty years it has seriously deteriorated and has been used for storage by a local entrepreneur.  He had a dispersal sale, which I missed, but I stopped by the next day and got this tub for $35.  It's about four or five feet long but DEEP.  Around here people buy these tubs for planting petunias in, but that's NOT what I intend.  I want to soak in it.  Paul tells me that if I have the legs (I do) I could build a fire under it and so long as I were willing to sit on a wooden rack, it would be a good hot tub.  But I told HIM that this was not going to be a hot tub, though if it gets really hot this summer, I intend to fill it with water from the hose (our water comes directly off the ice melt of the Rockies) and sit in it.  His immediate assumption was that I would do what he does -- not wear clothes -- and he warned me that I might attract weirdo perverts.  The guy who sold me the tub, on learning that I write blogs, warned me that doing THAT would attract weirdo perverts from all over the country.  The assumption of both men was that the weirdo perverts would be male and that they would be irresistibly attracted by a woman over seventy who no longer has to wear a bra because it's possible to just tuck one's appendages into her belt.  Besides, some weirdo perverts are pretty intelligent and we might have good conversations.  Anyway, I've been blogging a long time and still haven't attracted the attention of any weirdo perverts except one, who says he will sue me if I mention his name.  He lives in Texas.  Wouldn't you know?

I have four of these old shallow tubs and usually grow tomatoes in them, but now that we have metered water in town, and I'm still tight for money, I might not do that this year.  The real reason for the tubs is that my back yard is at the end of a T-bone alley and sometimes people come carooming down the alley in reckless fashion.  Since people around here often drive into buildings, even the post office in spite of concrete blockers, I worry that someone will suddenly come crashing into my kitchen unless there is something to stop them.  

One of the nicknames for this part of the world -- not just Montana but also the whole high prairie -- is "Next Year Country."  Next year this yard will look different.  If the Publishers' Clearing House ever comes through on their repeated promises, next year will come this year.

But I did have a little elbow room this paycheck which I spent partly making a loop up around the High Line where two county towns are on the far north tracks of the railroad.  There's a lot of building going on.  Cut Bank finally has their bridge over the tracks so no one has to wait ten minutes for a train to pass.  The number of windmills, high-tension transmission lines, pump jacks and circle irrigators is incredible.  Butte is no longer the industrial center of Montana.  

Our new mascot bird is Chopped Eagle.

In spite of all this, we still do not have steady-state internet access or radio broadcast.  When I got home from Great Falls last night, my internet was off for the second time this week.  Today my NPR feed has failed.  (I'm listening via streaming.)   I will not store my pencil and paper where I can't find them.  

In the meantime, in spite of ants and peeling paint and other shabbiness, one needs a few flourishes, so I did put my usual pot of nicotiana (tobacco) on the doorstep.  It's lucky.  And it smells good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"FAR NORTH": A Review

“Far North” -- sometimes called “True North” and easily confused with other films -- is a shamanic film.  The original story was written by Sara Maitland.  Do visit her website   She’s Scots, living alone on the moor the way I live on the prairie.  Well, not quite.  I’m in town though it’s just a village.  And that’s one way this story could be interpreted:  the danger of being isolated, so off-the-grid that practical dangers (like an accident) are almost less important than the psychological dangers.  Fear becomes a form of pride.
You’d probably better not read this review until you’ve watched the film.  (It's on Hulu.)  But if you have watched it and are trying to think about it, here are some suggestions.
A second way the story could be interpreted is in terms of the mythic matrix of the far north, the circumpolar world which is the true location of the original shamans.  The woman played by Michelle Yeoh (marvelously) is marked by a shaman at her birth and cast out.  One could argue that by the end of the story, she IS a shaman, capable of playing a “bed trick” (a deception in which a spurned lover manages to take the place of the truly chosen one, a recurring mythic theme.  See Wendy Doniger’s noted book:  The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade. It won the Rose Mary Crawshay prize from the British Academy for the best book about English literature written by a woman, 2002.)
A third way to approach this film is through another film:  “The Fast Runner,” an authentic indigenous tale cast, written, directed, and shot all by indigenous people.  It is also mythic, already nearly impossible to believe by people who live ordinary contemporary urban lives, but then -- in a setting mysterious and deadly -- even more powerful.  That film is also about sex, but male rivals rather than female.  Anyone ought to know that female rivalry is more dangerous.  
The joke, the trick, in “Far North” is that the intruder -- that potent kiltsman Sean Bean -- is named Loki, the archetypal Norse trickster figure.  Since tricksters and shamans are related (but not identical) the story could be interpreted as a rivalry over the girl rather than the man.  If he were so clever, he ought to have found a way to “marry” both women in the common mother/daughter fantasy (one so understanding and indulgent, the other so sexually succulent).  
But did you notice the cross hanging in the doorway towards the end?  Maitland was a minister’s wife for a long time and continues to be a devout Roman Catholic.  We look for bedrock.  One eternal marriage.  My mother always taught me that hair meant sex!  Ah, yes.  It can split the rock.  And combs -- combs seduce.  They show up in fairy tales all the time.
There is a forecasting, foreboding, rhyme between the beginning and the end.  The dog is as skillful an actor as the humans.  And the blood suggested everywhere is carefully handled so we don’t get grossed out.  In fact, that is the smallest reindeer carcass with the fewest guts that I would have expected.  Merely an indicator like many other things.  It would be a mistake to get hung up on the likelihood of this and that.  The beautiful hooded sheepskin jackets for instance or where that little motorboat came from and went to.  I always have to restrain myself from worrying about whether the lamps will run out of oil -- cinematographers love little flames.
Another thread is the intrusion of “civilization.”  The soldiers with prisoners, the escapee with his crank radio, the killers of the only small social group Saiva has ever related to and the source of her baby -- all come from outside the indigenous world.  When she does her final deed, the sound is the radio bringing a harsh announcer.  Earlier, when first demonstrated, the radio plays the best of the outsider world: music.  One could say it is the call of the “outside world” that precipitates the tragedy.  Loki looks at the carving Saiva has made -- with that knife she is forever sharpening -- and says,  “This is beautiful.  It could be traded for something truly useful.”  He casts it aside.
Or another way to look at this film is as an interpretation of the human mind and the beauty of a dissociation as profound as the arctic sea, so that all emotion and motive is revealed in organic material culture: stone, skin, steel, and antler.  Then it is possible that in killing the daughter who was not her own flesh and blood, and impersonating her, Saiva has been impregnated with a new beginning, a true child, just as the world plunges into the darkness of winter. 
I’ve been writing about shamanism for the past week or so, reviewing various books.  Mostly I’m writing about it to get it off the table so I can talk about liturgy and human feeling.  When it comes to shamans people go in one of two naive directions.  Either they see “shamanism” as a great supernatural and healing power that they can access with a few tricks or a few drugs.  They do not take the danger very seriously, finding it thrilling rather than agonizing.   
The other way is that they suppose “shamanism” is just a kind of religious conceit, sort of like Catholic retreat, and everyone is entitled to their little assumptions about proper ritual and values.  Nothing is of REAL importance except prosperity and security.  I’m pleased to have found Ronald Grimes’ book “Ritual Criticism” in which he gently bumps what he calls “parashamanism,” which is an oxymoron like suburban wilderness -- I mean, like, camping in the backyard where it’s safe.  NOT going so far north that you can be both saved and destroyed by a beautiful woman with a well-honed skinning knife.
Circumpolar shamanism, which is -- technically speaking, as Alice Beck Kehoe will instruct you -- really the only proper kind, is something quite specific, unaccountable and desperately final as this film depicts.  A true shaman is a suffering and often twisted outcast who should be resorted to only when in extreme need.  They are not your friendly neighborhood medicine man, but more like the scary brujo in “The Missing.”  The potency of their interventions is entwined with very dark powers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"THE READER": Fiction

As a baby she didn’t talk early.  But she watched as soon as her eyes would focus.  No passing of judgment, just a serene observation of everything.  If anyone had thought about it, they might have guessed that it was because she was delivered by c-section, meaning that there was no stress, no squeezing, no forcing of the world in on her to make her leave for another place.  Just a pulling back of the flesh-blanket around her to reveal bright lights and a lot of faces.
When she got to the time for sex, she was pretty much the same.  That is, she had little awareness of her own body, which her lovers smoothed and clutched and licked with enthusiasm.  It was, after all, a very nice body.  But she was fascinated by the body of her lover.  She settled easily into an exclusive relationship because there was so much to learn about this specific body.  
Just looking, she soon learned his silhouette and began to absorb the way he moved, the small habitual gestures he made, the way his head turned on his neck and the way his wrists controlled his hands, turning them over and moving them from side to side.  Each finger on each hand had its own role, thumb and index finger as pincers, of course,  But there were ways his middle finger got involved while the next one over did not, and he had a habit of tasting things by touching them with his littlest finger -- what he called his “pinky” -- and then touching that finger to his mouth, as though it were the court taster for a prince and could discern what might be dangerous to eat.  If what he touched were very hot, then he only risked a blister on his pinky.
That was the right hand.  The left hand was quite different.  He was right handed, so his right hand reached out, caught things in mid-air, pushed things down, pulled doors shut.  The left hand held on and smoothed.  It was his right hand that tried to give her pleasure but his left hand that succeeded. 
Not that she got much pleasure except through her incessant curiosity which was soon far more than observation through the eyes.  Smell was very strong and she liked it best when he was unwashed, uncologned, unconscious of what he smelled like, because then she could smell his emotions.  Far more subtle than smelling fear (adrenaline is a blunt instrument) but the small shadings of intention and appreciation as he moved his hands and mouth over her, the bulk of his body resting upon her, the part inside of her which always made him smell of pride.  “Tell me I’m hard and big and strong!” he would beg.  And she did.  But by that time he was usually lost in ecstasy and didn’t hear anyway.
Afterwards he would ask, “Did you come?‘  “Sure,” she said, generously.  He smelled of puzzlement but not much because he went to sleep.
She liked that, especially if he would stay on top of her, arms and legs out to the sides, so that they were belly-to-belly with enough pressure for her to feel his insides.  She loved running her hands over him, feeling the hairs and letting her palms change shape as they slid over his muscles and cupped his joints or up into the backs of the joints like behind his knees or front of elbows or the opened hinges of his hips.  His heart would beat evenly, his lungs inflate evenly, and his intestines rumble evenly.  He was a calm man.  He was even more calm and comforted after sex, and she liked that.  It felt as though she mattered, though she knew she didn’t.
What she really wanted was to get into the machinery of his dreams.  She was pretty sure it was “machinery” since that’s what he most liked: small motors, tools both powered and not, and the fuels of them with their stinging reeks and snaking cords.  What happened in there?  Were gears and sprockets and power-transfer belts and chains just running in loops or did they go somewhere?  Was there a deeper purpose behind all the elementary physics of lever, screw, hoist, and expansion?  It was cheating to just ask him.  The pleasure was in figuring it out.
Was she to him just another exercise in internal combustion?  Or did he know something about her that she ought to realize?  How did she smell to him?  What did he think she thought?   There was no clue.
She sometimes had a theory that men don’t see women but rather their context: the rooms they arrange, the food they prepare, the beds they make.  Her bed was comfortable with bright sheets and blankets.  Her bathroom was not crowded with bottles and pots, but neither were candles balanced on every sill and ledge.  It was just a sensible, easy-to-clean bathroom.  She was a plain cook, but loved fine china and silver.  She provided cloth napkins.  She wasn’t entirely sure he noticed all this and she was probably right.
What he noticed was she was warm and tight and stroked him the way he liked and said the praise-words he asked for.  But when he woke up on top of her, he always had the feeling something had happened that he couldn’t quite figure out.  Not that it was a bad thing.  He wasn’t curious enough to ask her about it.  He thought he was doing fine -- in fact, GREAT!
She knew the clinical name for him was “grandiose narcissism” but she did not know what the name for herself was.  Self-contained?  Cold?  Adapted?  It’s not that she wasn’t capable of ecstasy, just that the only way she could have gotten it from him would have been through mental and emotional sharing and it just wasn’t there to be shared.
Then one day in a book store she picked up an emerald-colored old book, it fell open, and on the page and the ones following was everything she ever yearned for.

Monday, June 25, 2012

MANEUVER WARFARE: The Key to "Generation Kill"

Among both the characters and the commentators involved in “Generation Kill” -- and I realize there was a lot of blurring between the two categories -- “Maneuver Warfare” kept coming up as a subject and as the overall paradigm of what was happening.  It’s not new and it appears to be beloved to people like Rumsfeld whose ideas about warfare come through reading rather than field experience.
The idea has sub-concepts that have names and are associated with individuals.  But the style here has the disadvantage, as the series shows, of confusing both sides of the adversarial situation, when it is only supposed to confuse the enemy.  Maybe the main decision makers had good reasons for switching things around all the time, but they didn’t always convince the guys on the ground who just felt yanked this way and that with no sense.
Another weakness was the dependence on good intelligence, both actual raw information and an understanding of how the adversary grasped its own position and what decisions that might cause them to make.  The Americans had no real insight into Iraqis -- couldn't even supply interpreters for the language.  It was not the case that the Iraqis were clever adversaries, but that they had no plan, no grasp, no effective response -- which may be the hardest thing of all to interpret and play off it.  How do you confuse an enemy who is already totally confused?
Maybe a key observation was the comment that the Iraqi soldiers never aimed at a specific point -- they just let fly with a lot of bullets because, they said, whether they hit something was not in their control.  It was up to Allah to decide whether it hit the enemy.  The Marines, by contrast, were careful about aiming, had fine electronic sights and night vision scopes, and shot in short bursts that saved ammo.  The scene of the two Marine snipers, lying linked physically by the arm and leg of the observer  over the shooter to sync breathing, splitting the tasks of aim versus compensation for wind, distance, and so on, is a defiance of Allah-control or lack of.
But the biggest problem that the movie showed was arguably that the seeming arbitrariness of always changing and moving on and doubling back and pushing through confused the Marines’ side, besides building resentment.  There was no time for compassion.  There was no time for sleep either, which might have allowed a little psychic processing.  Even a Marine who had been captured had to be left, and that was a VERY serious blow to morale.  So this Maneuver Strategy demands obedience, focus, and callousness.  (Maybe ruthlessness is a better word.)  It eats respect, pride, and morale.  Especially when there isn’t enough to eat physically.  
(I'm stealing the technical stuff below off Wikipedia, so don't know whom to recredit.)  War theorist Martin VanCreveld identifies six main elements of maneuver warfare:

Tempo: Tempo as illustrated by  John Boyd's OODA loop, which is simply the stimulus/response theory slightly expanded.  First, Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses;, then Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one's current mental perspective,  Third, Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one's current mental perspective, and finally  Action: the physical playing-out of decisions.
The movie would seem to be pretty much a depiction of the last, the action, but it succeeds best when it helps us see, interpret and decide along with the characters.   The real meat of the series is being taught in the officer briefings, which many will just blur through. 
“Of course, while this [OODA] is taking place, the situation may be changing. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a planned action in order to meet the changes.

Schwerpunkt (focal point): The center of effort, or striking the enemy at the right place at the right time. According to vanCreveld, ideally, a spot that is both vital and weakly defended.
So this would be the “spearpoint” that the men kept talking about, but they thought it was about them being sharp and forceful, when actually it was the target that had  “a center of gravity or point of maximum effort, where a decisive action could be achieved. . . By local success at the Schwerpunkt, a small force achieved a breakthrough and gained advantages by fighting in the enemy's rear.”  The guys on the ground in scattered positions could not know where that focal point was.  Probably the top command found it tricky to locate, maybe requiring a little fooling around to see what reaction they got.  How do you say “g-spot of battle” in German?

Surprise: based on deception.
This is a hunter’s tactic.  Wearing camo, hunkering down, scanning to find points of interception, seeming to pass by. 

Combined arms
This means sending out different kinds of force, like humvees and helicopters and getting them to help each other.  The weak spot was the same as at 9/11 -- the com systems didn’t talk between the kinds of units and they were dependent on batteries that weren’t delivered dependably.  The constant danger is inadvertent friendly fire.

“Flexibility: A  military must be well rounded, self contained and redundant.”

Decentralized command: Rapid changing situations may out pace communications. Lower levels must understand overall intent.  
See above.

There was a plot point at which a lesser officer was able to stymie a higher one by quoting this dictum:  that the local officer who was eyeballing the situation had to be the ultimate decision-maker.  So there is always a tension between the Big Guy who has the plan in his head and the Little Guy whose neck is on the line.  If they don’t understand each other, trust each other, or even like each other, there’s trouble.
So if I’ve got this right, Maneuver Warfare is the next thing to guerrilla warfare, which is to use small, flexible, independent units of soldiers to come in unexpectedly, do as much damage as possible but then get out before there’s retaliation and strike again at the least expected point.  It’s the collie dart-and-slash versus pit bull clamp-on-hang-on.  (War of Attrition.)
War becomes an ends versus means problem.  Maybe that's it's essence.  The Iraq war had two problems when it came to ends:  the original public justification for initiating the attack was either mistaken or a plain lie.  There were NO weapons of mass destruction.  So then the motive of simply wanting to capture the source of oil certainly looked like the only motive, and that was not an aims justification that could balance the means of slaughter and destruction on the scale that was considered necessary.  America took damage in many ways that were not material, including spiritual damage to the men and broken credibility among its own citizens.
Maneuver Warfare, plus overwhelming technical advantages and highly trained Marines, saved American lives (no soldiers were lost among the men we watched) but killed many, many innocent women, children, old people, etc. etc. in gruesome ways.  Not that it is any better to kill men.  The guilt and gut reaction of the men to what they saw took them by surprise.  One conventional chaplain was nowhere near effective enough.    
There probably is no Schwerpunkt for post-violence anymore than there is a g-spot for rape.  We had better watch for what comes from behind us now

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Okay, now I know all I need to know about Grimes.  I just finished his autobiography, “Marrying & Burying: Rites of Passage in a Man’s Life” by Ronald L. Grimes, Canadian college professor and ritologist (expert on ritual), who occasionally dipped down into Colorado.  He was born in Clovis, New Mexico, but he was not a Clovis man.  He’s a baby boomer.  A parashaman.  A family man and a really nice guy.   He’s a friend of Sam Gill, who himself has a website where he has stockpiled his work ( ).  These men are handsome, prosperous, admired, “successful,” and having a wonderful time.  Ward Churchill, once in the same department, not so much.  (http://wardchurchill.netVine Deloria, Jr.,  also there, has transcended religion by “going ahead” to what was surely a reward.  But that was just Colorado, a very atypical place, inland California.  Grimes is truly a Canada man.  Make that Ontario, Canada.  That puts him under the American radar for the most part.
Grimes has no heavy political agenda. As a little kid he started out a Christian Cowboy  (conservative Methodist) and has remained in part Roy Rogers, an honorable collaborator with his Dale Evans.  It’s impossible not to like him and to laugh with him.  This book is from 1995, so it’s a kind of mid-life toting up rather than a final trajectory, quite simply about his education and conversion from instead of to the ministry, reaching a sort of compromise by teaching religion.  His first marriage was a tragedy, producing a child who could not live to adolescence and a former wife who remarried, remaining distant.  But he learned from all that.  The second family works.
In this book there is not very much exploration of larger issues or overviews of the twentieth century or anthropological fine-tuning.  Rather he takes us to the attic chapel of the family home, the place where the sacred objects and altars are, ready for use in something I’d call “play therapy” except that that’s belittling and doesn’t suggest the kind of dignity involved.  Go to “Ronald L. Grimes” with Google.  Then -- instead of calling up any of the references -- go over to the short list on the left and hit “videos.”  That’s where the more recent examples are, along with a lot of intelligent discussion among gifted people.
Once all the debris from his birth family is sorted (Why do they call it “luggage” when it’s often more like rubble?) things settle down into a very pleasant life.  But old porcupine quills work themselves up to the surface and he sometimes ends up raging.  This is a man who meets Paul Schilpp’s definition of art:  “Art is the expression of a relationship between a man and the universe.”  If you’ve forgotten, Schilpp was my Philosophy of Religion professor in 1960 or so, and I argued against both the narrow gender designation and the idea of an “expression” which is essentially participation in some kind of creation regardless of whether anyone is watching.  (The way God worked, come to think of it, which sort of suggests narcissistic grandiosity, doesn’t it?)   I argued for “communication”, which is a performance meant to be received and interpreted.  Like, um, prayer?  Witness?  But Grimes goes to expression for its own sake, as a way of resolving rage (he says “anger”) and achieving sanity.
To give him credit, he doesn’t interfere in other people’s rituals so much as he investigates them, observes them carefully, suggests interpretations.  He values them, which is a contribution in itself, and he’s good about not forcing templates down on them.  Often he suggests several alternative ways of looking at what happened.  Not a loner, he pulls his friends into his own acts, giving them scripts and things to do and wear.  He sets up mounds and hangs ritual objects, often child’s objects or found bones.  
Somewhere he has found a source of faceless muslin rag dolls he can write on, cut open to stuff with seeds or beads or messages, or even to burn “alive.”  I kept wondering how anatomically accurate they were, remembering one doll -- meant to teach youngsters about birth -- that had an elastic cervix and a zipper for c-sections.  A tiny baby doll fits into the womb.  When as a child he was first told by a rude boy (who described a woman’s you-know-what as a “slobbering cow’s mouth” -- which seems rather English somehow) how babies were made, he went to his mother, insisting indignantly that his parents would never produce him by fucking.  Not only did she tell him the truth, she used two dolls to demonstrate the missionary position.  It took two hours, not to explain the facts but to deal with the emotional fall-out.
All this sounds goofier than it is in context.  Ron is quick to see the funny side of things, but he never mocks and he respects boundaries.  Grimes’ scholarly books in their clarity are the most helpful that I’ve found and the closest that any of these theories could be to my thinking, without having taken into account brain theory and accepting the notion that “religion” is really the institutional and political enshrinement of human feeling, the perception of the Sacred.  This book is domestic, quite a bit like Lynda Sexson, whom he quotes briefly.  He remains Christian/American Buddhist.
So what was it I wanted to find out?  I was curious to know how far he would go, how dangerous he was willing to get.  Not very far, not very dangerous.  Why spoil everything?  Esp. the consultancies to churches that are feeling a little bland, a little repetitious, even -- well -- BORED.  He doesn’t ask why.  He just gives them a kind of liturgical tune-up, some workshop exercises, a little summer camp juice.
Where’s the screaming?  The despair and indignation?  It’s there in the early part of the book.  If you look at the vid on Ward Churchill’s website, you’ll see it and you’ll see that the room is packed with intelligent, passionate young people.  (Don’t pay any attention to Russell Means except to notice his very elegant clothes and his entertaining malapropisms.  The man has become an LA anomaly.)  Grimes says that when all the AIM confrontations began, Sam Gill left the field.  Grimes went back to Canada.  Churchill stayed to fight.  Still at it right now.  I gave away my Ward Churchill books.  But I like his attitude.  He’s tenacious.  I think he means it.  Grimes means it, too, but, well. . .why make trouble?

Saturday, June 23, 2012


It’s a little hard to explain why an old lady who reads too much would get so interested in exceptional men like those portrayed in “Generation Kill.”  True enough, both my brothers were Marines in the period just before Vietnam.  (They never saw combat and benefited from the GI Bill.)  But probably the real crux of the matter is that I was taught (or learned without being taught) that the point of a woman was to devote herself to a man and, therefore, the idea was to find someone worthy.  If one was a high-performance female (ahem) which was not necessarily defined by appearance but more by character and intelligence, then it became a problem to find someone really worth a lifetime of devotion.
Then I discovered that I only had the chops for about ten years of it.  And I also had big questions about how to define worthiness.  This is what Rudy Reyes also wrestles with, only first-hand.  Is HE worthy?
There’s another factor involved.  At some point in all my reading and writing, even though I was on an Indian reservation where life was tough and often desperate -- or maybe because of it -- it occurred to me that the pursuits I’d had earlier (mostly academic or maybe writing, which was not defined really) were all fantasy, imagined.  For a while in Portland I worked on a clinical psychology degree at night (no one challenged the narcissistic grandiosity of this aim) while working the streets as an animal control officer in the daytime.  Gradually it dawned on me that reality and “living it” had a lot more “juice” than just inventing the story.
In short, being Rudy Reyes “for reals” should be more exciting than any movie about him.  But then, like Rudy, I discovered that no matter how strong and skillful one’s “chops” are, life can exceed it all.  Only Conan the Barbarian can get away with never coming “down,” never aging, never having post-traumatic stress, never getting into debt -- which is, of course, Conan’s charm.  Jason Momoa, who acts Conan in movies, is another splendid physical specimen.  These men look like every male idea of power, competence, status, and grace under pressure.  But they are movie actors.  It’s fantasy.  
Conan, Rudy and Jason are terrific and admirable because their environment, at least the imaginary one and maybe the real one, fits them.  But we haven’t understood that in war the “movie” is for reals.  Rudy said that he was entirely fine with his role in the military until he was replicating it in the movie and saw through the eyes of the actors (those liberal, sissy, left wing guys) what he had felt vaguely all along.  Then he realized what was really happening and the back story that the writers were working from.  It was as though the camera pulled back for a wide shot.  The tragedy of Conan is not that he as a character wasn’t wonderful, but that his writer/creator didn’t have a good enough script.  He was not able to lift himself up to see that taking care of his mother was also a heroism.  He worked in closeups.
Back to “Generation Kill,” here’s the real “Iceman,” a soldier named Colbert.  (The actor’s next role was as a vampire!  The real Colbert is still a soldier.)  He’s clearly Swedish, an old Viking genetic template, but he can adapt to civilization by giving a nice buttoned-down, extra-starch talk about adrenaline, to which he's addicted.   He tells you that he gets his jolt by speeding and that he gets caught.  He advises against it.   
Reyes, who lives on both sides, was breaking people up in bar fights, but gradually his empathy for the victims kicked in and, besides, if you can break a guy’s arm as though it were a chicken bone, there’s not really much adrenaline in it.  I suspect that Reyes in his boyish gentleness is quite a bit Native American, from south of the Border but not the kind who cuts your heart out with an obsidian knife.  Not that he couldn’t.  But he is not icy -- he is New Age California Warm.
So part of the fascination of this series is the right-brain/left-brain dynamic played out in two exceptional men.  They respect each other very much.  I loved the moment when the frustrated Iceman was under his humvee, displacing his frustration by pounding on some nasty and stubborn part, when Rudy came along and asked,  “Hey, you need a buddy?”  Not waiting for an answer, he slides in alongside on his back.  Just peaceful.  This is a man who is not afraid of bodies.  He hardly wears clothes.  His tattooes are black and emphatic.  The Iceman’s are strange, pastel, unintelligible across his lower back, almost like partly healed wounds.
What we do shapes us and our shape chooses what we do.  One little problem with war is that after the wars are over, the frontiers are closed, order is restored, where do these guys go?  Reyes runs an exercise biz -- I think he’ll be fine.  The new Jack Lalane.  Coleman is smart enough that he can probably find something -- maybe an engineer on an arctic oil rig.  In the 19th century he would have been an explorer or the captain of a sailing ship.
There’s an old WWII joke about how German soldiers were so obedient that they were suicidal -- they would do really stupid things because it was an order.  American soldiers were so argumentative that they’d still we quarreling with each other after the attack began.  But English soldiers were just right.  Guess who told that joke!  This series is saturated with the rawest kind of insults about class, race, education, sex, etc. etc.  Most of the time no one even reacts.  Yet the truth about incompetence can NOT be assimilated by the two specimens who fall short.  One has plainly come unhinged; the other is just not up to the task.  There’s no course they can take, no therapy that would help -- their shortfall is part of their being.  The jokes at that point become bitter.  The consequences followed those men after the series.  Many accusations of lying and framing and all that.  But that wasn’t really the point.
There were some new concepts here.  One of the most powerful was the idea of “asymmetrical warfare.”  Soldiers like characters out of "Star Wars" against people small because they didn't get enough to eat, dark because of adapting to desert, tough because those who weren't died already.  Asymmetry is all around us now that we’ve learned to see it.  The 1% vs the 99%.  The internal third world.  The Group of Seven or Twenty or Three.  Today's snipers are quants who kill by budgeting.  The surveys, the thumbs up and down, the cookies, the url lists, the algorithms.  The value of this filmed portrayal of war is that it’s all made specific, colorful, and even understandable.  Sort of.  I’ll come back to it.  I need more than a thousand words.

Friday, June 22, 2012


1.  First you have to realize that it really needs changing.  We’ve got that one.

2.  There’s not much hope of changing genes.  That’s been tried and it did not go well.  Of course, this time the concentrations would be in test tubes.

3.  The real question is how do you change “memes,” the cultural equivalent of genes.

4.  First you have to think of them and define them.  We’ve got that one.

5.  How do you know what to change them TO?  The things we know about genes is that it doesn’t work like “one gene/one characteristic,” like one for alcoholism and one for blue eyes and like that.  It’s the interactions among them, when they turn on and off, what the state of the container body is at the time, nutrition, trauma, and lots of other stuff.  We’ve been messing with the genes of our food and now everyone’s allergic and diabetic, etc.  Might be Roundup Ready wheat, but maybe not. 

6.  Who gets to decide about memes?  Maybe Miss Manners wants one kind of meme and Larry Flynt wants another.  (You better check that out -- they might be a lot more in agreement than anyone suspects.)

7.  Everything is a process.  If people were as liable to morph in their descriptions as fast as the political parties do, we’d hardly recognize each other from one day to the next.  In fact, sometimes we don’t.

8.  Aging (ahem, of course I mean “maturation”)  changes people from one day to the next, sometimes gradually and sometimes all at once.

9.  Changing circumstances mean the person reacts to them and becomes different.  Consider boot camp.  Consider refugees.

10.  People are reluctant to change their assumptions about categories and values in a range from easy to near-sanity-shattering.  Is it more likely that little changes will gradually work or that some catastrophic event will force change?

11.  Change happens all the time anyway but might be entirely unrecognized, maybe because small things drift until some critical mass is achieved, maybe because of denial, maybe because something is damming up the accumulation of change and then the dam breaks.

12.  If deliberate changes are made, they may precipitate new and even more powerful changes that were never intended.  One of my fav examples is the handling of Native Americans -- just for one thing, sending all the kids off to government high schools away from home just at the age when they are courting has created a whole new “tribe” of full-bloods, well-educated and rather sophisticated because of traveling, but with very mixed ideas about how to do things.

13.  The whole impetus of new generations being born every day is that you can’t step into the same river twice and that new people create a new world as they come.  Consider that all those “majority rules” old white guys are now the minority.

14.  There is always a little core of things that don’t change.  Identifying them is a problem.  Often they are so assumed that they escape perception.  In fact, I can’t think of any examples right now.

15.  Add money.  I just got the newspaper off the front stoop.  The headline is the millions of dollars to be dispersed by the Blackfeet Tribe to its members.  Frakking leases had already been tipping the scales -- no one knows in what direction for sure -- in the long run.  I am cynical enough to think the payment was held up until the oil companies had coerced as many frakking leases as they could by exploiting the general money shortage.

16.  Feedback loops.  There are two Blackfeet compensation payouts for the mismanagement of tribal assets by the US Government acting as trustee:  one is for the individual trusts and the other is for the tribal trust for pooled assets.  The sooner one will be a good experiment for the later one, close enough in time for the consequences of a bad idea to not be forgotten.

17.  Relax taboos.  Taboos withhold knowledge.  When a taboo is lifted and we all see, for instance, what human bodies really look like in all their assortment, the juju goes out of it.  (But isn’t it a little strange that middle-aged women with grown children are just now finding out the stuff in “Fifty Shades of Gray”?  Should s/m be taboo since so many mommies are interested?  Just to protect them from embarrassing their grown children?)

18.  Go too far.  Social permissiveness is convenient and even kind of fun, until people begin to be damaged by lack of standards.  Has the “princess” movement (little girls dressing up in evening gowns and tiaras, not for an event but every day) gone too far?  Has “living together” gone too far?  Has Facebook gone too far?  Has climbing Mt. Everest gone too far?

19.  Tell a good story.  It’s the secret of the majority of major religions.  If you haven’t got time for a story, an image will do.  Although the impact can’t always be predicted.  I and others thought the sight of the planet Earth from outer space would change hearts, but for some people it only meant that this planet was too small and they should start staking out which parts of space they owned. 

20.  Invent a new technology.  The new satellite telescope can “see” spans of wavelengths that we’ve not seen before, like “dark matter” and "black holes."  The night sky (or even the day sky since sunlight is not necessarily an interference if you’re looking for a different kind of “light”) will not be the same.

21.  Notice a loss.  Where did the bees go?  The frogs?  The bats?  Who would have thought that we’d miss them?  What does it mean?  Suddenly we’re scared and more willing to accept the expense of findiing out.

22.  Demonstrate.  (Not recommended in a country that shoots its citizens.)
The operative when envisioning the future is “be keerful whut yah wish fer cuz yer liable to get it.”  All the people who were jealous of Mexicans and insisted that they be driven out are finding that our financial collapse is doing the job, but also it’s pulling in far more Asians that usual, thus making cultural hegemony even stronger:  “Cultural hegemony proposes that a culturally diverse society can be dominated (ruled) by one social class, whose dominance is achieved by manipulating the societal culture (beliefs, explanation, perceptions, values, mores) so that its ruling-class worldview Weltanschuauungis imposed as the societal norm  Some people have noticed that Asians can perform our social norm better than many whites can.