Tuesday, March 31, 2015


The map is not the territory.

The swollen red eye allergy I've been fighting for over a week finally bugged me enough to travel to Great Falls (80 miles) to see my eye doc, Dr. Padilla and his assistant, Thaddeus.  I was very pleased that they would make five minutes to take a look.  But I left too quickly  -- and since a few years ago in a spell of upgrading  -- I took the card  with my travel checklist off the inside of my back door, so I got down there with no wristwatch nor my insurance card.  (It hasn't come yet anyway, so I'm supposed to carry a copy of the acceptance letter, which I forgot to make.  The intake clerk said it was okay to send the insurance papers in the mail. )

To solve the wristwatch problem, I went to Walmart and bought a cheap alarm clock.   I think I've only been there once before, a decade ago, and it felt like something out of a sci-fi movie.  The military of the Asian wars had brought back Asian wives, now rather older, but justifying long aisles of kinds of rice and mysterious canned goods.  But there was NO plain puffed rice, though Google had assured me that Walmart was the last source on the planet.  Breakfast cereal was the usual sugar-soaked stuff. There were no maternal-looking Asian women in those aisles.  The wives of the current airmen (GF is Malmstrom Air Force Base) either had children with them and looked exhausted, or did NOT have children with them and looked . . . too skinny with electrified hair.

Not my Ranger but close.

I got the Ranger's oil changed at my usual instant place, but it had changed hands.  These young guys were highly militarized, which is not surprising since GF is a barracks town. so it was like they were down there in the hole counting cadence.  "Burbledy hoop, ips?"  "Burbledy check."  Mysteriously, when I'm in Great Falls the pickup often stalls or simply won't start while parked in the ordinary lot in the ordinary way.  I can never figure that out.  One mechanic suggested I wasn't pushing the pedals all the way down or the key all the way in.  I'm inclined to think it has something to do with its computer.  Maybe it needs re-programming since I bought it 25 years ago.  Or maybe it's just that I get confused and startled everywhere I go and jam the computing.  But just parked???  There was no flying saucer hovering overhead, but given Malmstrom, I would not be surprised.

Barnes and Noble is my calm-down place and since there's a mock Starbucks at one end of the bookstore, I get quiche and skinny coffee latté.  They say, "Flavor?"  I say, "Coffee flavor."  They look at the row of bottles, catch on and laugh dutifully.  

The best moment was first arriving.   A great big bearded friendly guy waited to open the first door for me, then said, "If you'll go slow, I'll get the next one, too."  Then he said, "I guess I should more properly say, slowly, the way the English do."  I said, "Go slow sounds like a logo." He said something else that rhymed, and I said, "You're pretty fast!"  It would have been nice to get to know him.  In fact, at that point to just put my arms around him and lean.

As usual I got into a wrangle with the little girly eye technician and made her indignant.  I think they are an artifact of the wretched self-esteem movement which assured obedient and pretty little girls that if they were conscientious and filled out their workbooks exactly, that would mean they were above average and could get around to doing brain surgery as soon as they were a little older.  They are convinced that the map (their questionnaire) IS the territory and THEY are in charge of it.  She wanted to know what eye meds I'd tried so far.  I don't know.  I don't even check their expiration dates.  (She didn't ask about THAT.)  I have half-a-dozen kinds bought different times and places and drip one of them in whenever my eye is troublesome, which is rarely.  Some are replacement tears, some are antihistamines, and a few are gel.  She wanted brand names and to know EXACTLY what they were.  I suppose I should have put them in a ziplock and taken them along.

In the past I had insisted vehemently that they record the info about my allergy to the lidocaine or whatever they use to make a glaucoma check possible.  She wanted to know whether they had experimented with all the different kinds of numbing drops to see which ones worked.  I said I thought that was pretty stupid since they make my eyes swell shut and I was in enough trouble already.  "Trying out" meds that do damage doesn't sound sane to me.  I notice that my allergy was in the file -- but as a sticky note, which explains why it keeps disappearing and I have to press my defenses hard.  Whoever wrote the previous notes got several things wrong.  Maybe she didn't believe what I told her -- this one was highly dubious about whether I were telling the truth, the whole truth, and no truth she didn't want to know.  She DID want to know on a scale of one to ten how bad the pain was.  (It's just sore and fluctuates depending on computer hours.)  She wanted to know exactly where my headaches were.  (It was a mistake to mention headaches.  She had a whole new list.)

Dr. Padilla and Thaddeus arrived, checked my eye, confirmed that my "Dr. Google Quack" probably had the diagnosis right and gave me a little bottle of stronger drops.  That's all I wanted.

The pickup didn't stall again so I got home safely.  That's all I know, Moe.  But I did notice that field burning is underway, so maybe my problem is not just house dust from the books and papers I've been working on.

Monday, March 30, 2015


When people go to learn a new language, they think that if they learn some things of things, that’s what you’re supposed to do, and it is, but it’s only the beginning.  There’s the new grammar -- the sentence organization -- the little signals about gender, number, when it happened, and so on.  But considerations that often get missed are the the “song” of the language and the way one holds one’s mouth.  I was once taking French and my little dog loved it, because to her it looked like kissing and baby talk.  I’d coo “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” and she’d be doing somersaults, even though she didn’t know it was a euphemism.

There are a great many consonants and some vowels that have no alphabet symbol for them.  Over the centuries English has dropped out many of the sounds produced in the back of the mouth that might be called “guttural” but Blackfeet kept them.  Do not tell Blackfeet their language is guttural, because they are likely to think you are saying they talk gutter language.  The Scots still use glottal stops, which you can pick up on some BBC shows if the characters are old-fashioned or just local.

All indigenous tribes are now making an effort to sustain or even recover their original languages, because they have realized that they represent a different world view, one that might encode philosophies and knowledge that are vital.  They note that they were forced to speak English, as were all the immigrants coming from Europe.  All were punished.  In those days education was harsh.

The Yoruba speak a language described as tonal Niger-Congo, which depends upon hearing and pronouncing words one of four ways:  rising tone, falling tone, going up and back down or going down and back up.  If you pronounce a word but get the tone wrong, you may sound to them as though you said something ridiculous, like telling a waiter you want his mother well-roasted with a special sauce.  Chinese is also tonal.

A man whistling information across to the next ridge.

In the Canary Islands and some other places where it is necessary to communicate over very rough land where one might have call from one peak to another, a language has developed that might have emerged from the Yoruba tonal speaking.  It is whistling!  Yodeling is something like this, but the Canary people are quite serious about teaching it as a language and say it is words.  They do not say they learned it from Canary birds, but one could be forgiven for thinking that.  These two videos show people actually using the language.

There are various ways to produce the whistling.  “Pucker whistling” is what Lauren Bacall described facetiously in her come-hither way.  Kids learn this and I find myself whistling with tunes on the radio sometimes.  You see in these videos that the Islanders generally put a finger or at least a knuckle in their mouths.  One lady has curled her tongue to whistle.

I hadn’t known about whistling languages, but I heard about the “click” consonants.  Consonants are always produced by stopping the air flow momentarily in various ways.  Musicians can easily produce some of these sounds but we don’t have letters in our alphabet for them.  Someone has to make the noise for you, which is great now that computers will “speak.”  Kids are good at figuring out how to make sounds, including armpit farts.  There's the hard-to-spell sound for a gun firing, something like "kschoor ".  We "click" to make a horse start going.   

Here’s a list of how to “click”. but limited to the mouth air flow.  Symbols for the sounds are suggested.

Xhosa people are "click" users

Clicks are speech sounds that occur as consonants in many languages of southern Africa, and in three languages of East Africa. Examples of these sounds familiar to English speakers are the tsk! tsk! (American spelling) or tut-tut (British spelling) used to express disapproval or pity, the tchick! used to spur on a horse, and the clip-clop! sound children make with their tongue to imitate a horse trotting.

Technically, clicks are obstruents articulated with two closures (points of contact) in the mouth, one forward and one at the back. The enclosed pocket of air is rarefied by a sucking action of the tongue (in technical terminology, clicks have a lingual ingressive airstream mechanism). The forward closure is then released, producing what may be the loudest consonants in the language.

The easiest clicks for English speakers are the dental clicks written with a single pipe, ǀ. They are all sharp (high-pitched) squeaky sounds made by sucking on the front teeth. A simple dental click is used in English to express pity or to shame someone, and sometimes to call an animal.

Next most familiar to English speakers are the lateral clicks written with a double pipe, ǁ. They are also squeaky sounds, though less sharp than ǀ, made by sucking on the molars on either side (or both sides) of the mouth. A simple lateral click is made in English to get a horse moving, and is conventionally written tchick!

Tchick, tchick, tchick !!

Then there are the labial clicks, written with a bull's eye, ʘ. These are lip-smacking sounds, but without the pursing of the lips found in a kiss.

The above clicks sound like affricates, in that they involve a lot of friction. The other two families are more abrupt sounds that do not have this friction.

With the alveolar clicks, written with an exclamation mark, ǃ, the tip of the tongue is pulled down abruptly and forcefully from the roof of the mouth, sometimes using a lot of jaw motion, and making a hollow pop! like a cork being pulled from an empty bottle. These sounds can be quite loud.

Finally, the palatal clicks, ǂ, are made with a flat tongue, and are sharper popping sounds than the ǃ clicks, like sharply snapped fingers.

Darrell Kipp at Cuts Wood School with one of his best students.

On YouTube there are many vids about the Blackfeet language.  Many will be one-word definitions but the longer examples are better at capturing the “music” of the words.  Older people and people from Canada will be more traditional.   The word "Blackfeet" is a problem already because Siksika, which is what the people called themselves, had no indicators for plural or singular so on the US side people are accustomed to the plural but on the Canada side they use the singular.  If you’re googling, try both.  Of course, in English no one makes the plural in the usual way, no one speaks of having “foots.”

Here’s a good example of a Blackfeet language lesson. 

(Maybe I should confess that I have a BS in speech education.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Very old Nigerian sculpture -- this area had early bronze casting
1100 - 1700 CE

Sometimes writing about something by seeming to write about something else is a wise thing to do.  Often the people who are assigned to snoop and interpret and monitor groups other than themselves are unable to figure out culture codes that everyone in that monitored group understands very well.  This is where “magic realism” comes from, a practice in South American novels when dictators were paranoid and their stooges were childish.  As usual.

Boko Haram is entirely opaque to me, except that they seem like junior high kids -- not entirely reasonable and obsessed with the great sin/privilege of sex.  Why is it that the human force of sex so obsesses people instead of another even more basic force which is hunger?  Why does sex symbolize violence so that violence becomes a substitute for sex?  Why aren’t we using the same dynamics on who can afford to eat, who is starving, and who is bulging with over-consumption?  Why are we not stigmatizing the eating of bats, since they carry deadly disease -- isn’t ebola worse than HIV?  At least it’s quicker.

Where I am, on the edge of the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, much of what keeps stirring the political pot is the same just below-the-surface residual of 19th century imperialist hunger for raw materials, disguised as “development” -- and the enabling Christianity.  But if I were to begin exposing today's lingering racism, which is often expressed in things like sexism or prosperity markers or surface morality (propriety as opposed to justice), I would become a target.  Therefore, I thought, I will read about another continent and put the same reflection into their dilemmas, since they are roughly the same as here: that is, managing the forces of residual tribes, aggressive resource removal, strong families in competition, and so on.

Goodluck Jonathon

Boko Haram is just now counting the votes in an election.  Goodluck Jonathon is not a fantasy name but a real person and on the side Westerners seem to be encouraging.  (That might lose him some votes at home.) He has been in power since 2010 when the previous ruler left the country for his own reasons and Jonathon took advantage of being left in charge.

Here’s his education:  "Jonathan was born in what is now Bayelsa State to a family of canoe makers. Jonathan holds a B.Sc. degree in Zoology in which he attained Second Class Honours. He holds an M.Sc. degree in Hydrobiology and Fisheries biology, and a PhD degree in Zoology from the University of Port Harcourt, which he did not finish according to Olusegun Obasanjo.  Before he entered politics in 1998, he worked as an education inspector, lecturer, and environmental-protection officer."
Bayelsa State

Bayelsa State is a coastal sub-division where there is much oil wealth, little transportation, and many poor people.  Arrangements that are supposed to help the great majority of poverty-stricken somehow do not.  Education is mostly a ticket out to the developed world.  Jonathan is a handsome man who dresses in a seeming cassock and a brimmed hat, sort of halfway between a fedora and a bowler.  He “speaks” wardrobe.  If you are in a major American city, you may notice black men dressing this formal way, which suggests prosperity mixed with propriety.  Rather Chinese somehow.  Is that chain a watch fob?

Looking at an area in terms of their natural resources is one way.  Looking at them in terms of language is another: in Nigeria there were originally many tribes and therefore many languages, which often were the main source of identity.  (In first-contact days, anyone who spoke Blackfeet could be pulled into the group, seen as friend.) This was an opportunity for a second unifying language, in this case English, which seems to be developing into a worldwide trade, business, and technological language.  But then the competing Euro-languages (French, Spanish) also create alliances and animosities, keys to identity that can quickly reinforce a sense of enemy competitors, like the deadly Hutu/Tutsi genocide.

Euros in the empire-building years imposed boundaries that responded to their interests.  They did not fit the natural boundaries of tribes, which were, in any case, fluid and fluctuating.  Euros like battle-lines, as though roommates irritated with each other defining “your side of the room” against their own side, even though they’re (or BECAUSE) in the same room.

A major tribe of Nigeria is Yoruba.  We know two Yoruba faces because they are famous singers.  Seal and Sade, male and female.


Seal was born Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel on 19 February 1963 in Paddington, London, England to a Nigerian mother, Adebisi Ogundeji and a Brazilian father, Francis Samuel. Seal's first and middle names are in the Yoruba language. Olusegun means "God is victorious", Olumide means "my Lord has arrived", and Adeola means either "rich crown" or "a crown of wealth". He received a two-year diploma, or associate degree, in architecture and worked in various jobs in the London area.  Although there have long been rumours as to the cause of the scars on his face, they are the result of a type of lupus called discoid lupus erythematosus – a condition that specifically affects the skin above the neck.


Sade was born in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.  Her middle name, Folasade, means "honour confers your crown".  Her parents, Adebisi Adu, a Nigerian lecturer in economics of Yoruba background, and Anne Hayes, an English district nurse, met in London, married in 1955 and moved to Nigeria. Her parents separated, however, and Anne Hayes returned to England, taking four-year-old Sade and older brother Banji with her to live with their grandparents just outside Colchester, Essex. . . After completing school at 18 she moved to London and studied at Saint Martin's School of Art.

These two singers seem to be part of a neo-creole group -- that is, people who are a mixture of cultures, often welcomed and expressed in the arts.  The contemporary Brit-African mix is quite different from the same cultures mixed in the time of slavery in the American South.  The “gentlemen blacks,” these genteel actors, are suddenly very popular among American whites.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/28/9-black-british-actors-you-need-to-know-_n_4875041.html?   Idris Alba has been suggested for a black version of James Bond.  

Both Sade and Seal are gentle, rather androgenous singers, though Seal’s gnawed face makes him look a little dangerous.  He’s not as fierce as, say, Miles Davis.  I wonder whether Davis has Yoruba genes.

Miles Davis

Getting back to the subject of Yoruba in Africa and their current election, try this link for a recent photo story.  So far there have been no serious problems, but things change daily.

Nigeria is split, as so many countries are, between the highly prosperous part (southwest) and the poor part (northeast).   The Yoruba are in the SW.  These N/S splits are so strong, even in the US, even on the reservation, and even in the Biblical histories, that one wonders whether the difference in wealth is the only cause of the dynamics of war.  Few are aware of the north/south split on the Blackfeet rez and so far I’ve found no one that can really explain it, even among those taunted and excluded for being from the south. Maybe it’s a split between those who identified with whites and those who clung to the old “blanket” ways, but in fact the old timers were in Heart Butte (south) and Starr School (middle).

(All this will be continued later.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015


For centuries now, Euro-thinkers -- some say influenced by Arabic thinkers who developed mathematics -- have struggled to be “rational,” to stick to facts and logic.  This was the marker for being “better,” “smarter,” superior to more primitive people.  In fact, we are thrilled to admire the evolved skills of ethics and restraint that are managed by the pre-frontal cortex.  It’s “cool,” apart, a “male value,” objective and therefore unselfish, represented by professions like theology, medicine, law, that require learning a canon of technical and historic materials.  

When people like this are asked about “religion” they will talk about ethics, institutions, demographics (or anything else graphable) and theological systems or (in case they have no theory of theos) philosophy. (They can’t “see” anything but organized religions -- it is the organized part they respect.)  They want to know how the hierarchy is organized and they want to know how to be at the top.  A Major Thinker.

I’ve been following ideas.aeon.co, a participatory “Beta” website meant to be an idea “hatchery.”  One can post questions, one can answer the questions or comment on other people’s answers or submit alternative answers, and one can make short statements to a “forum.”  It deliberately turns to readers for content.  Since I greatly admire the online parent magazine called “Aeon,” I was full of enthusiasm and jumped right in.  Somehow I expected the content to be as eclectic as the magazine, but slowly I realized that the stories about artisans or small sub-cultures or nature, were mostly represented by videos.  (The magazine is half essays and half videos.)

The categories offered on ideas.aeon.co are “Philosophy, Science, Psychology, Health, Society, Technology, and Culture.”  There are no categories for religion or nature but I have the impression -- not tested by a realistic accounting -- that the majority of questions hinge on religion v. science but, more than that, there is an obsession with the traditional religious questions addressed by institutional dogmas.  It’s not that people are arguing with some particular named and organized religion, but that they simply cannot get outside the idea that religion is a box and does not exist outside that box.  They can’t escape the terms of known institutions.  No free range religion.  To them, it’s a contradiction in terms.

It’s quite transparent in naming the actual writers and their main professional tags -- they all have these tags -- so it’s easy to see that they are almost all academic, male, culturally European (a few from India), and evidently rather liberal and politically correct in their sympathies.  Also, many of the posts are by the staff.  Clearly this site is a consolidation rather than an exploration.  I do not know quite where to look for exploration.  I begin to think it is not represented on the Internet, where most people must have at least a minimum skill level, though smart phones are letting a lot of less monied folks get access.  Education is more likely to be an exercise in conformity than in exploration. 

“Religion” is an array of phenomena, formed as  survival guides out of the substance of human experience, meaning distilled from interaction with specific ecosystems, but also layered in terms of human neurology, desires, physical well-being, and participation in society. Christian denominations formed from ethnic and economic enclaves and try to maintain that identity, resisting different races, but transporting ideas from one part of the planet to another.  The Bible itself is a jumble of assumptions, some of which plainly don’t fit or are damaging.  (Mixed fibers, indeed!)

A dance about slavery.

Something as historically specific as Native American or African tribes, carefully adapted for survival in their places of origin, are half-missionized and half-reactionary, with much subversive resistance to the modern state of idea-soup.  Strangely, in America the once-distinct tribes have become Pan-Native-American which insist that NA’s have a distinct culture separated from whites, but uniform across the continent.  (Sioux bonnets, dream catchers, sweat lodges, grass dances, potlatches, or whatever else is dramatic and appealing.  They rarely pick up on the near universal starvation monsters who eat humans and often live underwater.)  Something similar happens in the way we think of African-American religions: they are either elegant Baptist ladies with hats or voodoo witches.  Either way, they are Other.

Aeon itself says:  “Since September 2012, Aeon has been publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. It asks the biggest questions and finds the freshest, most original answers, provided by world-leading authorities on science, philosophy and society.”   But this is in their own opinion.  They are actually choosing what THEY like best. 

Bioneers are more appealing to me.  They are more experience-based, more world-wide, more open to surprises, much more open to indigenous or minority thinkers.  There are three ways that environment-focused organizations usually lose me -- one is that they can get all wrapped up in laws and rules and consequently politics.  Or they can slip over into nature mysticism and go all woo-woo.  The third is the capacity to become elitist when they start creating reserves for only certain wealthy people.  Ted Turner might be an example, or Boone and Crockett as a local example.  Bioneers is, it must be admitted, just a little woo-woo.  Or maybe Kumbaya.

Evolution-institute.org looks interesting, since in the end all organizations have to choose some kind of specific ground and form.  I keep notes on the development of this small town and its infrastructure, so this is useful.  Almost all these above named groups tend towards a lack of humor.  Some fan the flames of “change-dread” that make it unbearable to think about the losses already.  It might feel like some of these ideas are powering change, but the plain fact is that it’s sometimes paralyzing.

Paul Hawken

https://vimeo.com/88694063  Can you bear to watch Paul Hawken’s talk?
https://vimeo.com/88694064  “Justice is the public face of love.”
https://vimeo.com/88693287  Testimony is religious -- well, spiritual.    But then, AAAAACK -- they want money.  (The church joke goes, “Let’s do something religious -- pass the collection plate!”)

If the internet collapses due to a sun flare that finally fries all the satellites and connecting fibers -- which happens now on a small scale -- or maybe due to governmental or corporation domination of the rules about what can be posted to whom, these Internet-dependent organizations might end.  Bioneers is reality and terrain-related enough to survive.  Aeon won’t.  It is what they call "horizontal" thinking, which is good sometimes but not always.


I sometimes think that in my lifetime I will see the collapse of academia -- maybe already am.  Certainly every academic connection I have -- including public elementary and high schools as well as grad schools -- is frayed at the edges.  They are dependent on convictions about what is worthy and useful, just as religious organizations are.   (Degrees mean you’ll make more money; being "high church" means making more money.)  But the cannibals are nearby.  I can smell them.  I don’t think Aeon can.  As for Bioneers, they’ve gone vegetarian.  I wonder what the Evolution Institute has to say about anarchy.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Not all dreams are this sweet.

Not long ago I went to the post office in my nightgown.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  I was also wearing a man’s 3X fleece shirt, a silk padded jacket, a baseball cap, and some velour trousers because I had started to get properly dressed before I got distracted and then thought of getting the mail.  It was the opposite of going down the street with nothing on.  Normally, I try to comb my hair, wash my face and even remove my lady whiskers as well as lining my eyes.  (I’m allergic to mascara or I’d use that as well.)  I doubt anyone notices.

When I forget some parts of clothing or footware, I’m reminded by the environment: a cold breeze or sharp gravel.  But I’m interested in why I forgot.  The postmaster (a woman) tells me that people come to the post office wearing almost anything -- bedroom slippers are common.  We’re an aging town and like to be comfortable.  But we’re very proper and so far no one has shown up bare.

I’ve begun to occasionally forget to turn off stove burners.  Less seriously, I forget to take my meds.  Or maybe that IS serious and I ought to be keeping a chart, except that I would forget to fill it out anyway.  I’ve stopped buying coffee beans to grind because once in a while I put the whole beans in the paper filter and don’t realize it until I’ve poured hot water on them.  And occasionally I forget to turn ON stove burners and after a half-hour or so wonder why I don’t hear boiling or see steam.  I tried an automatic coffee maker but forgot I had it and went back to my old filter cone.  I hate whistling teakettles, esp. first thing in the morning.  

Most of this is not madness but rather a failure to keep my attention on the task at hand.  If you follow this blog, you will know two things: one is that the “working brain” can only handle maybe a half-dozen big ideas (chunked up into complexes by putting together small issues) and the other is that my brain is a seething mass of ideas at any given moment.  When I go to sleep, they transform into “felt concepts” and when I wake up, the words begin to form, but the constant stream, the mental thalwag, is not interrupted.  

Not long ago I dreamt that I was looking for a l’Oreal lipstick in a red case.  It was an actual lipstick, my preaching lipstick, a kind of red with gold flecks in it that was flattering and glamorous.  I once attended a women’s conference on spirituality at which we were urged to “surrender” three objects of vanity, precious to us and symbolic.  I put up my lipstick and a porcelain doorknob that I had picked out of the ruined remains of an old house on the way home from my undergrad years at Northwestern.  The lipstick disappeared forever and I never found that color again.  But another woman slipped the doorknob back to me as I left.  She said she thought I had not really meant to give it up.  

So I know what some of these symbols are.  Not the conventional Freudian things.  (Lips.) The lipstick stands for my brief and mismanaged ministry career -- too many things I didn’t understand that were about speaking, intimacy, and community.  I was presenting my best ideas, which I hoped would be life-changing or at least meaningful to the congregation, and they were sitting out there wondering what the name of the lipstick color was or whether they could get me to be personal friends apart from all the others.  (At this point men will be going “huh?” Or maybe not.)  It was about gender, not sex.  You don’t wear lipstick during sex.  It’s about presentation, not deep meaning.  So I dreamt that I found the tube, but it was empty.  At the same time there had recently been something in a TV movie about the lid coming off a lipstick so that everything in the purse was smeared red.  So it was about blood money, too.

I have been working with old family photos.  One cousin in California used to wear bright orange lipstick.  Another one, quite a bit older, wore purple lipstick.  All through my youth I wore Revlon “Persian Melon”, which I was startled to see in a makeup display not long ago.

My premise is that I was not demented to wear my nightgown to the post office, but heavily distracted -- thinking about so many things that there was no room left over for daily habits.  Usually habits are pretty hard to displace because they are embedded in muscles and in the environment.  But I live alone and there are so many small habits that I tend to miss some of them.  For instance, I’m supposed to check all containers before using them, esp. dishes and esp. this time of year, the way one gives one’s shoes a sharp rap upside down when getting up in the jungle -- scorpions, you know.  This morning it was a small beetle in my coffee cup, but I didn’t see it -- just felt it bump my lips when I began to drink.  I’m still squeamish enough that I poured the coffee down the drain.  I suppose when I lose squeamishness so much that I just drink the beetle, then I will be demented because part of the point of sanity is to guard against things that are risky, like ingesting bugs.

Most of what we do is not conscious and our conscious thoughts are just cover-ups for what we are really thinking and believing way back in the dark.  My mother-in-law was convinced that when people were drunk they said what they really meant.  She was right in that the pre-frontal cortex behind the forehead is the most recently evolving part of the brain, the most “rational” part and it is in large part a matter of restraint -- recognizing that it would be more judicious and tactful not to tell or do what might make a lot of trouble.  And it’s true that alcohol can allow expressions that are rude, actions that are stupid.  But she never had any insight into her own hidden ideas, sometimes malicious and destructive.  Or childish.  She NEVER got drunk.  Good thing.

The beetle in my coffee was much smaller.

My own mother knew there was more going on in her mind than she had conscious access to but she knew something was going on while she slept.  The old “dream book” by her bed was almost worn out beyond usefulness by the time she gave it up.  It was full of 19th century symbols: rivers, trees, trips, horses.  Mostly the advice was about “luck.”  Love was about luck.

If I remember a particularly vivid dream, I sometimes write it out into a short squib and file it in the computer.  There’s no particular message.  They’re usually like a YouTube video full of images and movement.  Once in a while, years later, I’ll run across a half-page, read it, and realize (make real) what it meant.  By then I’ve acted on it or maybe not.

I wonder why I write so little fiction, which is what women are supposed to be obsessed with, and I think it is because I’m more interested in how things work, where dreams come from and how the brain chooses the symbols as image instead of word.  If I can only consider less than ten “chunks” of idea at a time, where are the ones that got bumped off because there was no room to think about them?  Were they more meaningful than what I kept?  Can I call them back?
A culturally shared dream image

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Do NOT loan your boat to either of these men!

“Bloodline” is one of those long strings of story, thirteen fifty-minute episodes in this case, that Netflix is using as “fishing line.”  It has already been noted that this series (which hints that if it “sells” there might be a second year) was written by men, directed by men -- I’m not so sure it was edited by men.  They note that the Mcguffin is a girl who died, but it is because of the inadequacy and defiance of a boy trying to be a man.  The “sub-McGuffin” is a little seahorse necklace.  Of course, a seahorse is notable because it is the male that shepherds the children.

The series pivots on the Alpha male father who is played by Sam Shepard.  Sam is the Hollywood icon for troubled but powerful males who get locked into generational combat because of what might be that “warrior gene” people talk about -- a tendency to go to violence under pressure.  He should never have gotten his teeth fixed -- maybe he was in pain, but their snaggles and mismatches were potent indicators of childhood poverty and violence.  At least his hair still stands on end.  In this series he dies early as a necessary plot turn, but his presence lingers on, which is why they cast Sam.  

Sam Shepard with nice teeth.

His obverse is Sissy Spacek and it seems clear that the actors are old friends, comfortable with each other.  By now Sissy has aged enough that her slightly weird aspect can either lean to ladylike delicacy or back the other way to near-stroke-victim twisted mouth.  Still, the moment after the father is found dead and the mother is alone on the beach with him, stricken, is a powerful one.

So the four children have assigned roles.  These screenwriters read all kinds of psych stuff, which is circularly drawn from movie scripts, so we are not surprised that one is solid, a helper; one is slippery and volatile, the plot driver; one is a perpetual child; and the girl is a helper lawyer with VERY short skirts.  Wind it up, set it ticking, and the actual plot is predictable, so it is plot twists and character empathy that draw us along.  Of course, it’s great that the scenery is wonderfully tropical with those long pink dawns and impossibly tall cumulus clouds rising off the flat horizon.  I hope the cormorants got union scale.

The male reviewers feel that nothing happens until halfway through when the explosions, drugs, guns and fistfights mostly start.  There are burned and dismembered bodies early on, but they’re just a footnote.  Female.  Illegal immigrants, anyway, and significant only because their menfolks grieve.

Good Bro (cop), Bad Bro (hustler)

The central conviction, natural for screenwriters, is that families all lie to protect themselves.  Just as an individual has a “self story” that explains and justifies him or her self, a family has a larger story that idealizes what has happened and casts the family members in their roles.  For Americans the story is likely to be about “building something from nothing.”  A biggie here on the Montana prairie family stories of a century or so completely overshadow the millennia of nomadic indigenous culture.  There is NO hint of the original occupants of the Florida Keys.

So mostly the story is about picking apart the lies around the death of the sister and effect those lies have had on the siblings.  The most blameless person is supposed to be the mother (as usual) but she turns out to be the worst liar.  (We are not really surprised.)  Winding in and out are elements of law enforcement, but they are pretty sketchy and dubious.  This is not “Mr. Watson,” as Matthiessen explored.  Nature doesn't count.  Even though the oldest son is a deputy sheriff and the DEA, the FBI, and other patriarchal figures sort of drift through, there are no inquests, no arrests, no coroner’s reports.  Everyone drinks like a fish, but no one is alcoholic except one peripheral loser-mom trailer trash character.  Just another red herring, though her daughter seems to suss what’s going on.

The F-word gets big play as an indicator of pressure.  Otherwise, much of the dialogue is “What’s going on?” and just “What?”   These people have a big problem figuring things out or assimilating information when it’s given to them.  But then that’s a real life family problem a good share of the time.

Mama, liar and control freak.

Family secrets that are conscious and planned are not so toxic as the unacknowledged ones that are often due to unconscious omissions, suppression not so much as not wanting to think about it and therefore never talking about whatever it is.  Lost babies, crazy aunts, failures and addictions of one sort or another.  They’re like big boulders in the flow of life, making patterns and eddies that are never really resolved or understood.  Then they sink boats.  (The ones in this movie are set on fire.)  Speaking from experience, if you point out these forces, the reaction is likely to be attack and ostracism.  No one wants to talk about it except your shrink.

The great irony of real life is that as impersonal information has been accumulating through analysis of the flood of information and records that computers and the internet make accessible, we have turned out to have much more to hide than anyone dared to guess.  The statistics say that sexual abuse of children, rape both male and female, insanity, failure to maintain necessary medical regimes, forms of addiction -- all those things people have been hiding -- amount to one-in-six, thirty per cent, twenty per cent -- never quite hitting the halfway mark and never becoming majority numbers but just about defining the amount of dysfunction and damage a population can sustain without collapsing.  Even if one only accepts that two per cent of the population are sociopaths, that means that in this village of three or four hundred there are probably half-a-dozen of them.

Communities have their stories, too, and they enforce them through organizations and appearance.  Pretty houses, nice lawns, a few parks with amenities, and everyone can insist that the town is perfectly normal, safe, and admirable.  It’s too bad to have learned to recognize pathology and very ill-advised to bring it up in public.  The flying finger of fate will soon be pointed at the end of your nose.  (“Yer mamma wore combat boots!”)

Prosperity rules.  If wearing combat boots will make you rich, let’s head down to Army/Navy.  Forget church, make sure you force the teacher to give your kids good grades, and eat what you like.  Forget all that nagging.  The markers become more important than the actuality.  The green pieces of paper that only stand for value, become the value.

I’ve wandered off from my original plan for writing about “Bloodline.”  Why -- in a world so full of grief and betrayal -- are we able to coolly identify the problems in a television series, easily able to see where the characters go wrong, but when it comes to our own lives we can only ask “What’s going on?  or just WHAAAT??”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Fantasy places -- but they have been built in the Philippines

You don’t know what you think you know.  In fact, you may not feel what you think you feel.  Contemporary research is challenging your very identity.  You may not be who you think you are or even what you are.  After all, consider the dark brain, which psychoanalysts think they know all about and build amazing fantasy castles giving everything names and roles.  Except they have no relationship to the parts and function of the brain and can only be partly reconciled.  

Consider the “chimera,” named for the mythical beast that is a composite animal: part lion, part eagle, part goat, but in fact an artifact of gestation in which twins begin but then one is absorbed by the other but not completely integrated, so that the subsumed twin develops into part of the body and the consuming twin develops all the rest.  When docs later go to establish inheritance, they are presented with two people crammed into one system.  The resulting person depends on which became what.
Baby Chimera: lion, goat, snake

In fact, human genetics are the accumulations of many creatures over many years, snips and snails and puppy dog tails.  A friend of mine had a lung infection that was very difficult to cure because the cells of the lungs are very much like the cells of the infecting fungus.  A knife-edge separated cure from kill.  In the end it turned out that the fungus came from feeding hay to his horses -- the fungus was in stored hay and was impossible to eliminate so his choice was his lungs or his horse.

Over the years in various ways I’ve come to prefer thinking about systems to thinking about unified mono-objects and to prefer thinking of them dynamically and in relationships.  This results in looking at common things in a sometimes uncomfortably disconcerting way.  Joe LeDoux is a scientist who sort of does this same thing.  He looks at “fear.”  Which we think of as an “emotion,” a “feeling”, a “cause” and so on.  He redefines it.  Now he calls it “defensive behavior,” something that is done, maybe reflexively and without any consciousness, that will tend to save your life.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  But creatures who had faulty “defensive behaviors” -- like fungi who landed where they couldn't grow -- got pruned out early.  The opportunists -- hey, nice warm damp lung tissue! --  did great.  Human beings still have those mechanisms and behaviors.


By now they are complex and entwined to the point where we can hardly get insight into ordinary situations.  The content and the means of untangling them are beyond most people.  It’s not a matter of smarts or even degrees. I follow two groups who are supposed to be learned.  One is people who are professional psychoanalysts and artists, highly certified and totally out of touch with reality.  They have spent days arguing over whether Carhenge (the old cars half-buried in the desert with their ends sticking up, emplaced in the same pattern as the big monoliths at Stonehenge) is really phallic symbols or not and whether people in Nebraska are smart enough to know that.

The other one is a “Beta” exchange as an adjunct to Aeon.com, an excellent online magazine that is half print essays and half video essays.  I’ve always like the essays much better than the essays.  In this other Q and A mode, both the questions and the answers are blind clichés from Ph.D. academics, all sitting around with their fingertips together and failing to open the horse’s mouth to count it’s teeth.  Very few women.  Some “brown” people from India, very thoughtful.  No one seems to have read any of the lively revisionist history, much less the momentous brain research that is completely changing our understanding of human beings.
Typewriter?  Must be an old story.

I just posted about Gazzaniga, so now I’m quoting from his collaborator.  (He was supposed to be a student but with G. they were all collaborators, esp. including the people who were being studied.  This is about Joe LaDoux, a Louisiana musician as well as a scientist.  “Gazzaniga developed his theory of consciousness as an interpreter of experience, a means by which we develop a self-story that we use to understand those motivations and actions that arise from non-conscious processes in our brain.”  (My emphasis.His main recent insight is that “fear” and “anxiety” as we consciously understand them are entirely separate brain systems from the kind of reflex emergency reaction that people have automatically when in immediate danger, without consciousness.

Talking about “working memory in consciousness” or the importance of attention being paid to achieve focus, may not sound all that different from psychoanalysis, but they can be demonstrated with experiments and instruments.  Joe says he agrees with “the general view that emphasizes the role of working memory as a gateway into consciousness, and I remain neutral about what happens next. My goal is not to solve the consciousness problem, but to understand how consciousness–whatever it may be–makes feelings possible. In my view, once information about the presence of a threat is directed to working memory the stage is set for a conscious feeling–an emotion such as fear–to occur. Working memory is not the same thing as consciousness, but in my opinion most of the conscious experiences we have depend on working memory.   (I began turning some of this print to red as a form of high-lighting.  Technically it is called “rubrics,” ruby red, to indicate importance, so I think I’ll just keep it.  But it’s strictly my idea of what’s important.) 


What he’s trying to isolate in order to put it to the side is the conviction that fear is an emotion and that emotions are the same as feelings and that they can be argued down.  (“You have nothing to fear, except fear itself.”)  This is distinct from the deep cellular and molecular involuntary reaction meant to get a creature out of danger QUICKLY.  If you’re thinking about PTSD, you’re probably on the right track, except this reaction is the hard-wired first-cause of PTSD.  Joe calls them “survival circuits.”  They seem to be managed in the amygdala, a small organ in the top of the brain, or more accurately than can be traced so far, in parts of the amygdala.  (Joe has a music group called “The Amygdaloids.”

Three important concepts he mentions are:

“Reconsolidation:    It's possible to destabilize memories.  You can “open” them, add new information, then stabilize them again.

“Exposure Theory or Extinction:”  Getting used to snakes or heights, etc. by getting used to them.  (But stress will make it come back.)  Now we know how to dampen the bounce-back.

“Optigenetics:” Studying molecules that are tagged with lights.  Studying de-polarization of cells instead of shocks to rat feet.  Demonstrating learning plasticity -- old cells can learn new tricks under the right circumstances.

A "turned on" mouse.

Danger puts the nervous system of a creature into a “motive state” which means they learn deeply, unconsciously and almost ineradicably from what happens to them at that point.  But it might not have anything to do with emotions, so that a child raped by a parent might continue to love that parent.  The deeply hard-wired reaction is separate from the emotional feelings, which are in addition to the escape from terror.

My hypothesis . . .  is that the motive state is the collective response of the brain to survival circuit activation. Defensive responses thus contribute to defensive motive states rather than the other way around. The second question is whether the motive state itself contributes to conscious feelings by entering working memory, or whether working memory instead only has access to the individual neural components that constitute the motive state. The answer is not known at this point.

Survival hut

A defining characteristic of science is that every answer raises more questions.  But when it comes to Joe’s work (which is shared) there is no question that art and science can join.  Why isn't this joining welcomed and shared by psychiatrists and philosophers?