Tuesday, June 30, 2015


No formal post today.  Too much keyboard time yesterday and one leg is swole up like a snakebit pup.  Today my feet are up high.  Here's some gossip.

Fire north of Browning in hay meadows, that probably means along Willow Creek drainage.  Last I heard there were hundreds of acres involved, but they were almost halfway contained.  Lots of fuel this year.  Could involve Bob Scriver's Flatiron Ranch, which used to belong to Corky Evans and before that Oscar Doane.  Now it's a Nature Conservancy/tribal consortium.  Might not be there.

In Valier, post office sign says bears sighted near Valier.  They follow watercourses, including along Lake Francis and irrigation ditches.  Folks in town advised to keep pets indoors and make sure there are no attractions outside.  They're likely to be young bears with no manners.

I've watched a PBS movie about Williston and the influx of men, hoping for work on the Bakken oil patch.  A minister is trying to help, but. . .


There's a sharp swerve at the end.  And then the credit roll gives you faces and origins -- these men come from the whole planet.  We were anxious to have them here in town, thought we'd make lots of money renting out our back yard.  Then thought about it  again and changed our minds.   The boom is calming now anyway.

Among other books, I'm reading "All Our Stories Are Here."  It's an anthology of literary criticism edited by Brady Harrison.  Professors must publish to get tenure.  Many have figured out they can do that by getting their friends to each write a chapter.  Harrison's friends are mostly on the U of Montana faculty in Missoula.  Not that that is a bad thing, but it means that friendship circles among writers are the key to publishing.  They always have been.  But they badly distort the full spectrum of who's writing about what.

I'm going to put this on the air twenty minutes early and go to bed.  It's just dusk.

Monday, June 29, 2015


I remarked earlier that we need to think about defining groups by their outliers, where things fuzz out into the next group or no group, versus defining a category by its nucleus.  Or what about variegated categories where components mix to make a kind of striped group?  Then what holds them together.  What is their axis mundi?

We’ve broken down the sharp lines between male and female, between the many kinds of desire, between various races -- esp. the ones defined by appearance whether skin color or epicanthal fold.  DNA smashes so many of our cultural and governmental categories.  One of the reasons I watch CSI is that it is an easy way to consider what the show writers have already debated over a coffee-stained table and defined for reflection.  What technical tools have reframed the same questions over and over?

Should we each get a genomic printout attached to our birth certificates?  Or should one be made in the womb so that “faulty” or stigmatized elements can allow an abortion of the fetus before it makes trouble?  Or, since CRISPR allows genes to be replaced rather accurately, should we just do that ?  If we can closely control who we are, what will we do?

What does that imply in terms of demographics -- not who prevails so much as how it will confuse the bean-counters.  Now it appears that everyone is “metis,” mixed.  There’s no such thing as a purebred human -- what a scandal to discover Neanderthal genes -- but, in fact, there’s no such thing as “purebred” anywhere anything, not even in a lab where an impure mix of e-coli strains can abort your doctoral thesis.  Even sitting there isolated in a petri dish, the little bugs mutate.

But history has insisted on sorting everyone by appearance and location.  And using location means drawing boundaries, which means the possibility of gating, controlling who can enter or leave.  Of course, a cell and a body MUST do that -- there MUST be a way to keep out poisons and eject debris.  

Recently the most paradoxical use of face-scanning recognition technology is using it to filter who may attend church services.  Troublemakers?  Heretics?  The disobedient?  Someone with a gun?   In the early days of Christianity there was a phenomenon called "fencing the Communion."  That little rail where you kneel and rest your elbows?  It's meant to prevent you from just walking up and helping yourself.  

Or it could exclude some people from the inner chambers where decisions are made and study becomes more intense.  It took me a while to realize the Board of Trustees of the seminary was mostly for show, to identify people with a lot of money, so as to keep them in mind of the next pledge drive.   The real decisions were made by a sub-group.  In the old days, they were men who retired for whiskey and cigars; naturally, rich widows did not attend.
Who's in, who's out.

Maybe you’ve never participated in a pledge drive in a big church.  The committee -- carefully chosen -- sits down with a set of cards or a list of members and guesses the income of each formal member and then informal Sunday attendees.  (There’s always a banker on the committee.) An estimate is made of the capacity of that person to pledge.  (Kid in college?  House burned down?)  Canvassers are each assigned a certain number of people to visit.  The idea is to remind them what good things generous pledgers had made possible in the previous years and then to hint a bit about “norms.”  One of the men I visited -- wives often weren’t present -- was an important doctor.  He knew I was not making a lot of money.  All I had to do was mention the amount I was pledging to cause him to blush and raise his pledge.  

So a lot of norming -- doing what others are doing -- is based on guessing secrets, which money matters normally are.  DNA suggests belonging to a population whose norm is attendance at a good school and many connections among themselves that will help to attract job offers and provide support after getting the job.  DNA counts more than IQ.

Schisms and eccentricities are bad for business, bad for research, bad for strategies -- IF your goal is to perpetuate an institution.  What kind of institution could be defined by it’s core?  Medicins sans Frontiers seems obvious.  No doubt there are differences among them, but the axis of it all is to heal as many as possible.  They have preserved the original pledge of doctors.

Of course, there are always many forces that are uncontrollable.  Even DNA is constantly being changed by the environment -- providing new opportunities or damages and, more subtly, turning various genes on and off.  Genes don’t necessarily control something like coloring but rather things like the timing of maturation or the interaction of sets of linked genes.  If some CRISPR enthusiast knocks out the gene for something linked to, for instance, metabolism, the person may fail due to its own attempt to succeed.

There are many subtle, internal, unseen dynamics of the code that is each of us.  But ethnic populations of many people also operate as codes, esp. when governments are trying to keep track, politicians are trying to persuade, and advertisements are trying to re-norm us so that we just MUST have some gizmo.

After I read about a lot of this teeny stuff, I love to read the macro research.  Like this quote:

“Until about 9,000 years ago, Europe was home to a genetically distinct population of hunter-gatherers, the researchers found. Then, 9,000 to 7,000 years ago, the genetic profiles of the inhabitants in some parts of Europe abruptly changed, acquiring DNA from Near Eastern populations.

“Archaeologists have long known that farming practices spread into Europe at the time from Turkey. But the new evidence shows that it wasn’t just the ideas that spread — the farmers did, too.

“The hunter-gatherers didn’t disappear, however. They managed to survive in pockets across Europe between the farming communities.

“ ‘ It’s an amazing cultural process,’ said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who led the university’s team. ‘You have groups which are as genetically distinct as Europeans and East Asians. And they’re living side by side for thousands of years.’

“From 7,000 to 5,000 years ago, however, hunter-gatherer DNA began turning up in the genes of European farmers. “There’s a breakdown of these cultural barriers, and they mix,” Dr. Reich said.

“About 4,500 years ago, the final piece of Europe’s genetic puzzle fell into place. A new infusion of DNA arrived — one that is still very common in living Europeans, especially in central and northern Europe.”

Dr. David Reich

So this population, possibly sheep herders on horseback, came in from the high north and their clue DNA is present in North American Indians!  Is this an example of NA’s infiltrating Eurasia through Russia?  

“The Ancient North Eurasian line was not present in either the 8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers or the 7,000-year-old farmer, so researchers believe it represents a migration into Europe sometime after those individuals lived but before recorded history in the region.

“These Ancient North Eurasians must have spread into Europe at a later time, and so encountered early farmer- or hunter-gatherer-type populations and mixed with them,” Lazaridis said. “It’s definitely, chronologically, the last thing that arrived in most of Europe.”

Lazaridis said the period of approximately 4,500 years ago appears likely for the influx, because that is when new types of mitochondrial DNA appear in the genetic record. Reich added that there are hints from other disciplines, including linguistics, that point to migrations during that time span.”

A far more controversial and politically incorrect study suggests:

“A team of scientists at the University of Utah has proposed that the unusual pattern of genetic diseases seen among Jews of central or northern European origin, or Ashkenazim, is the result of natural selection for enhanced intellectual ability.

“The selective force was the restriction of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe to occupations that required more than usual mental agility, the researchers say in a paper that has been accepted by the Journal of Biosocial Science, published by Cambridge University Press in England.

“He and two colleagues at the University of Utah, Gregory Cochran and Jason Hardy, see the pattern of genetic disease among the Ashkenazi Jewish population as reminiscent of blood disorders like sickle cell anemia that occur in populations exposed to malaria, a disease that is only 5,000 years old.

“In both cases, the Utah researchers argue, evolution has had to counter a sudden threat by favoring any mutation that protected against it, whatever the side effects. Ashkenazic diseases like Tay-Sachs, they say, are a side effect of genes that promote intelligence.”

Tweets between @DavidQuammen and @Dr. Neil Bodie:

 "Why has there never been an outbreak of #Ebola in Pygmies? Very low rate of serious malaria? Genetic protection?"

Now consider what HIV and addiction are doing to the DNA of America.  Which is the center?  Maybe it is NOT entitled white men.  Maybe this winnowing will create a concentration of something new.  The name of the game is survival.

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365516010/     First peoples.  So far, so good.  Maybe.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


The brain is not a computer because a computer has no body.  The brain is the result of having a body.  It is the sum outcome of sensory access to the world: a computer has no sensory access to the world beyond a camera and a microphone.  When I google for "brain", I get only one organ from inside the skull, but that's only the dashboard.  Thinking is done with the whole body, interacting with its community of brains (in other people) within a specific ecology.

The brain is the result of thousands of years of sense development and the knowledge of what will support survival through those senses and a zillion little shifts in how that sensory information is sorted, prioritized and translated into actions.  Millennia of people dying are the experimentally derived information of what doesn’t work, all that dying witnessed by descendants adding their deductions and efforts to make survival happen, because people love each other and try to preserve those they love, even saving their dead bodies if they can.  They wrote it down, a brainy thing to do.

Thinking is not all that happens in a body.  The body IS the brain, the body thinks everywhere in itself.  Intestines are derived from embryo brain precursors.  Blood is the fuel of the brain and affects how and what it thinks.  Muscles are sensory, meaning loaded with sensors, sending information to the brain, as well as being activated by the brain.  The brain DOES things (at least orders them done) and then evaluates the results in terms of its own survival, not whether it produced so many widgets or calculations or print-outs.

The computer has no equivalent to the autonomic nervous system, which is much of what guides every mammal with molecules that signal love, rage, persistence, and comfort.  Even if a computer were programmed to have emotions, it doesn’t have the carefully body-regulating as well as emergency-responding systems.

Then let’s go to the second level of “thinking” which is a relationship between two persons. Eventually more persons than that, but at first a bonding, a commitment supported by empathy and inclusion in the sensory/behavioral system of the bonded individuals.  A computer can be moral, have personality, and commit to another computer, but it cannot “bond” in the organic sense that prompts us to say that two people in love constitute one person.  This is a high level of functioning.  

People who can’t bond with others -- and they do exist -- are called “sociopaths.” 
The implication is that they are at least broken and possibly dangerous because they have no awareness of what the other person is feeling and then the derived sharing of their agonies, which is part of human identity and something that a computer cannot do.  In our typical over-rational way, we describe the “Theory of Mind”, meaning that we can figure out what someone else is thinking.  Your dog can do it, up to a point, but is not a calculation -- rather it comes from “mirror cells” and feeling in your own body what the other body feels.  It is a kind of participation.  If it’s strong enough, we call it intimacy and there is a kind of intimacy achievable between a torturer and a victim.  Intimacy is not always pleasant because intensity at extreme high levels becomes a kind of fusion, and may destroy part of a person that tries to preserve individuality.  

But destruction of individuality can be a gradual erosion.  Intimacy that comes of love shared with another person is not the same as simple information, but a kind of “contact high.”  Computers do not have intimacy or contact highs, but they can link humans into a kind of mock person full of what seems like emotion so that real humans with brains can “feel” emotion without any actual contact at all.  They may have print, image, story, information that is shared, but it is thin and ought to feel unreal.  They should realize it's a story that should be checked out.

It turns out that a human being is capable of creating a false reality and acting as though it real.  In fact, this is the major problem from the beginning for the human brain:  how does it know whether the information it’s getting is distorted or whether its unconscious interpretation into categories and systems is mistaken?  It doesn’t.  It doesn’t even know whether the culture in which it participates is leading to survival.  

The trouble with psychoanalysis is that it is a relationship between two persons that mostly happens subconsciously, though the intent of one is rather more deliberately conscious, presumably trained to perceive the second person as that person is actually organizing the self and interacting with the world, and then to supply ideas and information that the second person’s brain has not taken into account.  Regardless of how conscious and rational the interactions are meant to be, what actually happens is UNconscious and, until now, could only be seen in terms of observation of behavior, whether the small reactions expressed in faces and movement or a major shift in interacting with the world.

On a culture-wide scale, the provision of a lot of new information can cause major shifts in many people.  This might be called politics, religion, or ethics, which is a kind of blending of both.  The sudden onslaught of information like that revealed by hackers is shocking.  People demand, "We went to war over THAT?"  The steady strengthening of new scientific thought about how bodies work, what the cosmos “really” is, and the more nearly empathic knowledge of planetary human suffering due to displacement, drought, and corruption is tipping us out of rigid opinions.  Computers don’t have opinions, nor do they empathically value humans or the earth itself or they would be jumping up and down on our desks, screaming in our pockets.

Computers don’t have “denial” of evidence that is factual, but humans do.  Part of having a brain is considering something terribly threatening to be an illusion, or engaging in threatening behavior on behalf of the body they occupy.  I’ve always cherished a tale told by Doug Peacock.  A big grizzly male had locked onto him and was stalking him in the high country of Glacier National Park.  Doug made it a point to know where that bear was at all times and to make sure he had an escape or avoidance route in his head.  On this occasion, near-night, his brain map didn’t match the territory and the bear confronted him on a high and windy ridge where there was no easy retreat.  The bear stopped, sizing up how much of an advantage he had.

Bear brains are not unlike human brains.  The intent of both is survival and one rule is to avoid the big and the unreadable.  Doug reached into his backpack and pulled out two big plastic garbage sacks.  Putting one on each arm, he held his arms high so that the wind inflated them, making him into a giant flapping monster, impressive enough for even a squinty bear to disbelieve his own nose that told him this was the man he’d been stalking.  The bear had a perfectly good brain.  But no experience with trash bags used that way.  He left.

If you can’t make up your own version of the usefulness of this little parable in terms of religion and politics, or even in terms of something like addiction, then you’re denying your own brain or operating on an assumption that is mistaken.  Learn the difference between a bear and a trash bag.  Only Doug’s physical empathy for bear emotion let him know how to intimidate a fellow thinking, feeling mammal.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


There’s a true story about the UUA staff.  The denomination is halfway through its General Assembly and I’m sure they are all atwirl about coinciding with the Supreme Court’s rulings in favor of same-sex marriage and universal health insurance support.  They feel that their yellow t-shirts turned the tide.  For quite some time the denomination has publicly supported the progressive side of these issues.  In fact, back in the Eighties -- and let’s be cynical for a while -- they needed members.  Still do.  Welcoming gays and African Americans and whoever wants in is just smart. 

At a brain-storming meeting at 25 Beacon Street, officials said,  “We need to hire more gays.”  Along the lines of “we need to hire more Blacks.”  The dignified older “bachelor” who ran the bookstore said quietly, “No need.  I AM gay.”  No one had suspected.  They had accepted the right-wing definition of gay: flamboyant, reckless, defiant young men who couldn’t seem to keep their clothes on.

Among my high school teachers at Jefferson High in Portland, OR, one of them the national president of the NEA, were maybe half-a-dozen lesbian couples quietly living together.  They were among the most dedicated and brilliant people.  One of them, Jean Hill, triggered my interest in physiology and CSI -- dissecting cow eyes, bubbling oxygen through blood to make it change color.  No one said anything about her being gay.  The gray-haired, focused, women were “passing” in the sense of a person with African genes passing for white.  They were also contributing mightily.  Mostly born just before WWI, they had managed their lives in female partnership because so many men died in war -- now historians are telling us that many did not die in combat, but in crammed flu wards, maybe in numbers rivaling those of AIDS victims.  But we couldn't imagine these teachers having sex any more than we could imagine them cooking dinner or taking a bath.

When I look at the photos of same sex couples marrying en masse, my eye seeks those who have lived together amicably for twenty-five years, for fifty years.  I think the record is in the sixties.  People look at a photo of old men kissing and try to imagine their sex lives.  They are STUCK on the idea that marriage, that partnership, that love itself, is about SEX.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP0q87leXzM   A demonstration of pig loading.

If you want to load a pig into a place it doesn’t want to go, you put a bucket over its head and back it into the place.  That’s what I read when I was composing the Multnomah County training manual for animal control officers.  I put it in the course.  I never put a bucket over a pig’s head.  Some of them are the size of a baby elephant.  It’s clear that lot of stubborn Republicans have had buckets over their heads and never realized that the country was backing them into the future, since they were unwilling to go there.

Cass Sunstein says that the Supreme Court watches the country to see what they are ready for.  Once a tipping point arrives, they will put that into the law.  Clearly, as someone else remarked, when it comes to children we need as many good teachers and parents as we can find and no one cares -- nor is it relevant -- whether they are good in bed or who with, because that is not the purpose or function of teaching or parenting.

Maybe we have let love become a subcategory of sex instead of the other way around because you can sell sex but you can’t sell love.  On the other hand, we have scientifically proven that “pair-bonding” (which is love that not only includes sex but also is the emotional glue of “faithful” couples) has a genetic component.  One gene makes the difference between a devoted prairie vole and a free-spirit mountain vole.  Who knew?

Voles are not vulnerable to the culture.  If a prairie vole pair-bonds with a same sex partner, no one remarks on it, no one stigmatizes them, no one will refuse to bake their wedding cake.  A percentage of almost all mammals will same-sex pair-bond.

In the case of humans, faithfulness is often an illusion.  That valentine about how geese pair off for life turns out to be false: DNA reveals that maybe ten percent wander.  The same is true of humans, or at least DNA has revealed that about ten percent of babies don’t match the purported father’s DNA.  You get a government-issued birth certificate, marriage license, death certificate.  But as Ernest Hemingway tried to prove, a certificate is just a piece of paper.

In spite of everything, DNA included, people fall in love different ways and styles, probably in some way related to their own specific DNA and history.  It’s a physiological, measurable, molecular phenomenon that can be seen and measured on instruments.  BUT that’s only the first step.  It needs to be translated by the culture into practical arrangements that are supported because they fit, because everyone approves, because the economics are there and the workload is equitable.  If the emotional pair-bonding  (a function that is deep in the brain and autonomic nervous system) is supported by whatever rational pre-frontal cortex assumptions and choice of culture can negotiate and consciously choose, then they can think about a formal, public declaration like marriage.

Marriage is presented as some kind of divine and immutable thing, but it never has been and never will be.  Marriage is a legal contract having to do with economics and procreation.  It is not even the same from state to state, esp. at the back end when the contract is broken and severance arrangements must be made.  It is not the same on Native American reservations as it is off.  Circles of jurisdiction cause overlapping and gapping in the particulars of age, alimony, abuse, and allowances.

By now marriage is so confused that a lot of people just don’t bother.  It costs too much, people play too many games with it, it interferes with jobs and friendships, religions have all kinds of opinions about it.  If one or both of the partners operates outside the law, they will discover that prisons also have very different opinions about it.  In a review of the “Tom of Finland” exhibit by Jason Farago, published in the Guardian, he concludes, Marriage makes you a citizen; desire makes you free.”  There’s enough truth in this epigram to “ring,” but it’s also true that desire can put you in chains and marriage or being denied marriage can make you a rebel, a heretic, and a legal cripple.

I’ve already pointed out that Thomas Jefferson, who dearly loved his wife, promised her he would never remarry.  He had a unique solution: he bought his wife’s slave half-sister, who is said to have looked much like his wife since they shared the same father and grew up together.  Sally continued on to have children who were slaves.  There’s no written record of how she felt about it, but the descendants have long since found and supported each other.  The relationship itself poses the uncomfortable question:  are legal slavery and legal marriage that different?  Can love dwell in either or both or neither?

It’s conventional now for this sort of essay to end with testimony about one’s own experience.  My slavery has been economic, but aren’t all slaveries?  My marriage didn’t kill love, but it was an uncomfortable and finally impossible match.  Our bodies interfered: we simply became so miserable that the only way we could cure depression was with rage.  Marriage and sex are both dangerous, but love is not safe either.  I don’t even consider the first two anymore.  They’re a nuisance and distraction, belonging to society -- not me.  And yet I still love.

Love is physical, its shapes are kaleidoscopic -- both gorgeous and shifting.  Marriage is a chalice.  Love is neither wine nor fire -- maybe it’s wine aflame.

Friday, June 26, 2015


On the way to Cut Bank.

To Cut Bank today early — only 30 miles — to get the rest of my groceries, frozen and dairy plus cheap canned goods. The road is a secondary with tertiaries branching off to ranches and rocker oil pumps. The mountains are mostly bare of snow and stand in vague stony array behind a smoke scrim. The roadsides are full of sweet clover and alfalfa, bushing out over the asphalt, alternating yellow and purple, waving as high as the little pickiup’s doorhandles. The irrigation canals are topped up, hay will soon be ready to cut.

This time I’m thinking about the Supreme Court’s decisions and also about the number of guys around here who are veterans of the “sand wars.” It’s coming down to a comparison of “morality” and “strategy,” son of SunsteinMorality is the sum of the survival wisdom of a specific time and place. Nothing theological about it but rather Levitican or Pauline because it is generally recorded in writing as rules, even commandments. But in the effort to enforce the rules, we freeze into law justifying punishment or those who disobey are stigmatized.

I was reading about veterans who have PTSD, which is pretty much stigmatized in military cultures because backing off from danger won’t work in combat. Therefore, they don’t say a lot about it either. But some suffer a LOT. In a small town like this one the drug that comes easiest to hand is alcohol. In sophisticated circles they call it “self-medicating.” Around here it’s more like “getting drunk enough to sleep.”

Let me be clear: PTSD is a change in the brain, it is not an emotional weakness but a linking, a conditioning, that has wired things together that ought to be processed and separated. This is a chemical, molecular reaction and SHOULD be addressed with meds that can help reverse it. Alcohol will not. It borrows the relief from the future so that like any addiction, the deficit comes due as soon as alcohol intake is stopped. And it erodes every aspect of bodies, not just livers, as well as minds.

Add to that our social acceptance of alcohol, so that the drinker is welcomed to the warm darkness of neon and buddies, a comforting habit often learned in military service. Drunk people are funny and loose — in the beginning. It’s only later that the bad stuff creeps in. For a while Valier had no taverns, but the oil boom has turned a pizza and beer refuge into a place where the parking lot can bloom with fistfights. The strategies of other things to do get bypassed. Drinking begins to take more money and more risk: a DUI, a car crash, maybe even the loss of a job or a life. The high-pay rural industrial jobs — oil, mono-crops with monster machines, wind farms, grain elevators — that are scattered among the ranch lands cannot tolerate anyone with diminished attention and reflexes.

In the few months I taught in Cut Bank, the kids told me about keggers as though they were a naughty entitlement, a reward for winning. Adults pay for the kegs — enablers looking for identification with winners. Most people think about drinking in terms of morality but not with the unforgivingness for hard drugs. They know meth will make you crazy but can’t see the harm of alcohol because it’s always been there, while meth is new. Slowly, gradually, booze leads them into the craziness of bad judgment and links it to sex and the highway. Fucking giveth babies and driving fast taketh away lives.

So morality in the form of an ironclad rule NEVER to drink, to be a teetotaller, a Mormon-all-by-yourself if necessary, might HAVE a strong justification. A few people have the will power to do it, even if their local milieu is constantly luring them. Bob Scriver suddenly quit smoking — no laws posted in public places, no patches, no electronic vapors. He learned smoking in the military where it was a reward, a soothing near-liturgy, a displacement of sex, a little intimate language as well as a casual sharing with strangers, a little respite for thought. I don’t know why he quit. He was a secretive guy. He said he just realized one day that he was being bullied by little white cylinders full of leaves. I do think it helped that I’m a non-smoker.

But if you can’t just throw a lever like that — which is also in part a matter of brain-wiring — then you must go to strategy, maybe a more formal and conscious version of Cass Sunstein’s “nudging”, self-imposed rather than required by laws. A strategy for breaking addiction to alcohol that is related to PTSD is going to be harder than just taking up golf. Not every doc is smart about helping.

The sort of drugs that will help must be “titrated” and there may be a category of them with enough variation that one will work with this person’s molecules and the next one won’t. These are very subtle meds, not suitable for chugging. Indeed, a slight variation of dose or regime can make the difference between working and not working, so there’s a lot of fiddling. That’s part of what I mean about strategy. This is a kind of high-monitoring that doesn’t mean peeing in a cup or blowing a breathalyzer score, but rather the kind of thing that diabetics do with their little machines. It should be accompanied by a lot of encouragement from sympathetic and understanding others. If the morality of those significant others is too fine and lofty to provide that, if they can’t see their own self-interest, then that might mean a Big Change. Like leaving.

Our cultural morality had been so restricting and so rigid, that we’ve reasonably rejected a lot of it. Our youngsters have questioned and discarded a lot of the rules that were meant to reinforce the privilege and superiority of authorities. But too many have gone on to drop even valuable moralities and a few vulnerable and terrified people have been crazed with morality, judging and executing those they disapprove. We do not know what strategy will address this. At least not yet.

Science has opened dialogue on a lot of things we took for granted and thinking about some of their questions is truly transformative. But a sub-category of science — technology and computer-driven statistics — which is heavily laden with profit-strategy — has fallen into the trap of “from IS to OUGHT,” a familiar but sneaky tendency to want to keep things as they are, so as to defend them as somehow moral meaning sacred.. Some of these things are juggernauts that would be very hard to block.

I personally would like to separate sports from schools at every level, but there would be screams of rage. I know because I once preached a playful sermon on why football is sacred to some people and the feedback was furious. The strategy so far is to invent better football helmets. Moral outrage over the sexual entitlement of star athletes or, with younger kids, what goes on in the shower room, seems impossible to change. Statistics say these things are widespread and suggest they are so deeply rooted in our physiology that they can’t be changed, only managed. Like war.

Brave young men, unless they are concussed.

It’s enlightening to compare Obama’s strategy with Scalia’s institutional morality. I think we need to think about “long-morality” and “long strategy.” Scalia’s two-millennium-old-rules no longer fit the world. Obama’s in-the-moment practical strategy may save lives from “pencil death” caused by failure to fund human basics. In the long run this kind of strategy might create a new culture, one we can be proud of. One where, when we go to war, we realize that the real costs and damage will come AFTER peace is achieved, rebuilding lives as well as structures. One that will reach out across the continent through the heat into the little dark air-conditioned drinking emporiums where veterans cluster to heal and perhaps to ponder a new morality.

The boys come here straight from football.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Once he was a young man . . .

On the evening of June 20, 2015, Robert F. “Bob” Morgan died in the arms of his wife, Gen. He was surrounded by four generations of his loving family.

Bob was born Aug. 20, 1929, in Helena, to John P. and Catherine Morgan. He spent his early childhood at Stansfield Lake in the Helena Valley.

In the fall of 1948, Bob married his “bride,” Genevieve Basti. This September would have marked 67 years together.  

Bob is recognized as a noted Montana Western artist and historian. His career included design and display at Fligelman’s Department Store, assistant curator, curator and acting director of the Montana Historical Society. He was also involved in planning and design for various museums in Montana and Arizona.

He was also employed for a number of years by the Montana Army National Guard. His military service included 1946 to 1947 in the U.S. Navy Reserve and 1947 to 1967 in the Montana Army National Guard.

Bob was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed hunting and fishing. He loved the Carroll College Saints and Helena High Bengals. He was a staunch supporter of all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s various activities.

He was a lifelong member of the St. Helena Cathedral Parish, the Elks Club and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He was co-founder of Northwest Rendezvous of Art with Jack Hines, fellow artist, who died the same evening as Bob. He was blessed to “ride into the sunset” with one of his best friends.


Bob Morgan's Montana: My Life and Art,   2008,  by Bob Morgan and Norma Ashby is a “gallery” of Morgan’s work as well as text about his life.  Available on Amazon.


When I was working on my bio of Bob Scriver, I tried to make contact with Bob Morgan, but he was already pretty sick and his wife said no.  I was sorry, but not resentful because Morgan had stored up so much good will that he’d have to live a lot longer to exhaust it. 

Sometimes I thought his good nature and failure to get tied up in the rats’ nests of politics and art hustling was because of being deaf.  Maybe he just kept his hearing aid turned off.  But he was not one to stir things up, unlike the characters a state capital seems to attract.

Of course, in the “early days” -- which for me was the Sixties -- he was already considered a “good guy” and part of a remuda of steady folks who thought art was a thing you did rather than a thing to exploit as a form of stock market investing.  This latter category started coming to the state about that time and laid down a sort of friendship ground before the Cowboy Artists of America was invented.  The fact that CAA was so explosively successful had to do with population density in the SW, Republican expansion, and Southern -- well, you can’t call it triumphalism, can you?  Defensive romanticism?  There was maybe a decade lag between the stand-down Westerns of television series in the Fifties, and the boom in Western art.

Yesterday in GF I saw that Barnes and Noble, which had closed out and removed its Western section, now had restored two cases of Westerns.  Richard S. Wheeler was included. Most of the books were Louis L’Amour.  Sort of parallel, I am reading “All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives in Montana Literature,” edited by Brady Harrison.  His introduction is entitled “Toward a Postpopulist Criticism.”  There are chapters on “place,” “women, gay and lesbian”, “Native Americans” and Missoula, defined as “Hugo-land.”  All the contributors but two are Montana academics.  Oddly, those two, Tamas Dobozy and Matthew L. Jockers are out-of state.  In fact, Dubozy is Canadian.  They wrote about “place.”  Strange.  I have no idea what "post populist criticism" is.

What impressed me was one of the two women’s chapters, written by Nancy Cook.  (The other women’s chapter was written by Bill Bevis. !!!)  Cook’s chapter is entitled “Home on the Range: Montana Romances and Geographies of Hope.”  It turns out that all those romantic Westerns (the kind that may have been written at least in part by Zane Grey’s wife instead of Zane, who preferred to go fishing, have not died out, but simply migrated to ebook romances, one of the few publishing categories that’s expanding.  The redemptive quality of land, ranching as an ideal context for marriage, and other themes that we’ve all loved long before Mary O’Hara wrote “My Friend Flicka” while struggling to keep her marriage and ranch.  She failed.  In these e-romances, the endings are happy. 

For a while, Montana writing -- like Montana art -- was a selling point, which had nothing to do with the objective quality of either one since it’s not subject matter that counts but rather the skill with which it’s addressed.   (One doesn't really need to HAVE a subject.) The problem with that is ordinary folks can usually figure out what a bit of art or writing is “about” but they are not educated by our present public and university systems to see what is good or bad.  Even the ones who did okay in high school are likely to lose the habit of reading once in the throes of exciting television, and if you don’t read enough, the nuances will escape.

Bob Morgan was not avant garde, though he could have been, but he was a literate man who set his horizon and stayed within it until he became a master.  Not that he didn’t appreciate other styles, other visions.  He was the steady dependable core family man, which is not at all what most people think of when they think of an artist.  Yet he didn’t criticize the wild men, the drunks, nor the ones rabid for success.  He just went around them.

It’s easy to understand why he would be close friends with Jack Hines, who is impossible to discuss without mentioning his wife, Jessica Zemsky.  

by Jack Hines

by Jessica Zemsky

http://bigskyjournal.com/Features/Story/a-well-curated-life   They were rather more “sophisticated,” political and involved with community.  I lived a bit of that kind of Montana life life for a while and fully expected to continue it right on as long as I could.  It was a wonderful time, full of friendship and achievement in those days.

I turned out to be peripheral to that world as soon as the wheeler/dealers invaded, and some of the time I was glad to be out of it, but in the end I value the vision we once had and marvel that some people were able to fulfill it.  I think that once the scrambling and division is over -- it takes too much energy to maintain -- that things will settle back down to a level of privacy and elbow room that is provided by the spaces of Montana.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


My little loop of identity starts with the sensory body and ends with the cosmos.  I used to quote Tillich and Eliade even more then I do now.  Xians love to use the cross as a talisman and develop a lot of ideas around it, like Tillich’s idea of the actual “real” world being the horizonal element, and the transcendent upright vertical part being the access to a higher reality.  Eliade and Joe Campbell pointed out the ladder that goes into the Hopi Kiva (down) and, as well, Jacob’s ladder with angels on the rungs (up).  Very geometric.  Very virtual.

Someone said to my friend, “Climb down off your Cross!”  But the human skeleton, when arms are extended, IS a cross.  None of us can climb down off it.  Some skeletons are subject to an internal crucifixion.

One of those philosophical fellows, or maybe me myself, developed a notion about a circle or sphere with oneself at the middle (the axis mundi) and the farthest reaches of what the mind could grasp out there in the star nurseries,  the nearest and the farthest, were where the most sacred was.  In between was a kind of commons, though complexified with human and geographic differences and responses.  

The key to this whole area, what we know in our lives, is ecology.  It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s the survival of those who find a little niche where they fit.  Enough food, enough protection, enough ease for procreation are basic.  But the mind builds castles.

It’s almost impossible to realize that we’ve only been in historical memory for ten thousand years.  Over and over we read the analogies about how a string miles long is the world-time and we’re just a little snippet at the end.  Much as we rummage around in our genomes and polish up the lenses on our biggest telescopes, there seems to be no end.  But time is various and dynamic enough that every few centuries -- lately much more often -- we have to regroup.
Lobster dance.

Alice in Wonderland:  “Clean cups!  Everyone move down!”  “Change lobsters and dance!”  Even in Valier we get whiplash:  a peaceful wheat-based village; oops, no water for irrigation.  A respectable white town: oops, the Indians are moving off the rez and down the street.  On the lip of a giant oil boom just like the Bakken, everyone started planning where to put the man-camp.  Then the worldwide network of oil sales goes into the tank, and you’d best put your money in beer sales.

The trouble with Xianity is that is that their crossword puzzle was composed two thousand years ago.  It just flat doesn’t fit anymore.  When the Pope points that out, the people on the tightrope of denial look down and freak out.  When the little backwater tribal villages of the big continents realize that they’ve been stumbling around in a fun house that has fuzzed out or blown away or collapsed on their heads, they get really really mad and go out with their scimitars to smite somebody -- anybody.

Nations on continents and denominations (within Xianity) were invented to keep order -- not very long ago.  They’re grievously outdated now, unable to find new terms and processes even as the old ones collapse.

In particular we need to draw up a new moral order.  Most of it will have to do with money.  Some are proposing a guaranteed annual income for every household.  Some are proposing a cap on how much money a person can make.  Many urge a change in lifestyle.  We thought a big house was good, we thought every child would want a room of his/her own with his/her own computer and TV set.  That way an adult could slip into the room at night with a little privacy/secrecy and no one would be there to interfere.  The baby, that noisy/stinky creature could be isolated with only a monitor feed down in the rec room where the wide-screen, flat-screen, rainbow-ray (wider, wider!) movies are streaming.  (OMIGOD!  LOOK at that!)

The kids responded.  They put their computers in their pockets, walked out the door, and found a pack to join.  “You like sex and violence?  We’ll show you sex and violence.”  They say, “Everyone is doing . . . “  fill in the blank.  They listen to peers, not parents.  They are “norming”.  Social norming is almost always imaginary.  

Over and over in the thoughtful media  reporters say, “Everyone,” when they mean “everyone like me,” meaning everyone who lives in an expensive apartment in a megacity with a risky job dependent on a rarefied education which mostly amounts to a piece of paper.  They assume everyone has a cell phone, that cell phones can always be reached, that if someone “likes” your post they can be added to a list of hundreds of true friends.

A major domain that needs redrawing is, of course, sex.  The first thing we need to address is the idea that the big and strong have a “right” to fuck the small and weak -- in prison, in families, in the army.  The problem is that this impulse may be embedded in our wiring: violence right next to coitus.  What social channeling or capping can control that?  

Jefferson was in debt most of his life.  He had a number of children by a slave he owned, 
who was his wife's half-sister.  His wife's father owned the mother of this slave.

Smart and dedicated people have been reflecting on all this for a long time, but it seems nothing sticks -- there’s no handle, no point of entry.  The following quotes are from a paper by Cass Sunstein, a formidably intelligent person -- whose whole context is either Hyde Park or Washington, DC.  Close to Obama.  That’s a handicap, a blindness.  Nevertheless, he thinks good things.

Cass NEEDS a guide dog in his office.

“Social states are often more fragile than might be supposed, because they depend on social norms to which—and this is the key point—people may not have much allegiance. What I will call norm entrepreneurs—people interested in changing social norms—can ex- ploit this fact; if successful, they produce what I will call norm bandwagons and norm cascades. . . 
“Norm bandwagons occur when the lowered cost of expressing new norms encourages an ever-increasing number of people to reject previously popular norms, to a “tipping point” where it is adherence to the old norms that produces social disapproval. Norm cascades occur when societies are presented with rapid shifts toward new norms. Something of this kind happened with the attack on apartheid in South Africa, the fall of Communism, the election of Ronald Reagan, the rise of the feminist movement, and the current assault on affirmative action.”
“Collective action—in the form of information campaigns, persuasion, economic incentives, or legal coercion—might be necessary to enable people to change norms that they do not like. . .
“Some norms are obstacles to human autonomy and well-being. It is appropriate for law to alter norms if they diminish autonomy by, for example, discouraging people from becoming educated or exposed to diverse conceptions of the good. It is appropriate for law to alter norms if they diminish well-being by, for example, encouraging people to risk their lives by driving very fast, using firearms, or taking dangerous drugs.
“Thus government might try to inculcate or to remove shame, fear of which can be a powerful deterrent to behavior.”
Did you get that?  Not that shame is a problem, but the fear of shame.