Friday, September 30, 2016


We called my preaching gown "the big blue balloon."

The Atlantic” has been carrying an article about hoarding, but my little project sorting file drawers and banker’s boxes of papers the past few days is not about hoarding.  Rather it’s about dealing with procrastination.  I saved these files with the idea that I’d write them up some day.  That day has come.  It’s write or pitch out.  Two giant garbage bags down and plenty more to go.  But also some forgotten treasures.

Today’s boxes were about the UU ministry — 1978 to 82 at seminary and 82 to 88 in ministry on the prairie.  It took courage to read through about thirty evaluations, self-analysis, test results, plans for development and so on.  People didn’t exactly hold back, esp. me.  In fact, that’s one of my failings.  But all of this stuff was ABOUT me, mostly pretty accurate and almost all well-put.  Sometimes irrelevant.  The worst part is that if the evaluation was glowing, the writers wanted to enlist me in their lives on their terms.  I felt that as domination and unjustified ownership.

Much of what’s in this pile was written by very shrewd and generous people.  The question is always whether I can hear it, even now.

Most of this stuff was outdated and useless, but I found enough material to make a nice little self-published book about women in ministry in Montana in the 19th century.  No one would actually pay to print, advertise and distribute it, but all I’ll have to do is set it up as a PDF and then everyone will steal it off the Internet.  I’m not joking.  One resource is a xerox of a book I got from the Lewis and Clark library in Helena.  When I checked the book back in, they lost it.  Probably someone stole it.  It was a rare copy of the biography of the minister’s wife who inspired the Tiffany window in the Helena theatre that was built as the First Unitarian Church in Helena.  I was ordained on the stage of that theatre, on the set of “Death of a Salesman.

When I went to seminary, and part of the reason I wanted to be UU clergy, was that the occupants of that vocation were male, brilliant, powerful, thoughtful and caring people, the way we imagined famous writers probably were.  Many women react to such men by trying to seduce them — regardless of pre-existing commitments such a family.  None of such stellar men were interested in me as a person.  But I thought I had the chops to be like them, which might be even better.

Remarkably, a lot of those men reached out to me as an equal, gave me advice, a little lift, some money, encouragement, connections.  What I was blind to was the slow sinking of the prestige of both ministry and UUism (this was before the sexual kinks were public), the diminishing number of promising candidates who found better jobs, the general weakness of many male aspirants, the mounting costs of running an institution whether it were seminary or denominational bureaucracy.  The men who gave the movement so much glory and glamour had often been reacting to WWII and they were aging out.

At the same time the “priesthood of all believers,” which was supposed to encourage everyone to minister to everyone else, became a leveling movement, wanting to name everything a ministry, “the ministry of the wastepaper-emptiers”.  Also at the same time came the stigmatized people to demand participation as a way forward, introducing the politics of the shredder.  Business as usual since the first monotheists in the Middle East began their march.  There’s been a lot of mischief, most of it invisible and very little of it conscious.

Women came as healers, maintainers, flatterers, princesses and even Cassandra.  Many of them have picked up the hardest tasks and gotten them done.  But the general trend has been away from theology to therapy.  

Here’s something you’re all welcome to steal: it’s a just-for-fun set of images of women in ministry.  

THE MERMAID:  The goer between worlds.  The sacrificer for love.  The wounded healer.  The swimmer in depths.  The singer in the moonlight.  The faithful one in the face of betrayal.  She who may sing and not be heard.  The dreamer of sunlight.  The inaccessible one who is no one’s mother.

THE GOOSEGIRL:  She who protects and feeds the foolish.  She who is simple and idly dreams.  She who is childish and loves the earth.  She who allows time to pass unheeded and unmarked, except by rising and retiring, or eating and drawing water.  She who charms with simplicity and who is secretly a princess.

THE SPARROW:  The tiny and vulnerable one who goes everywhere among the others and is not marked except by God.  She who is constantly hungry and busy and fluttering, keeping away death out of sheer will to live.

THE GIRL ON THE SWING:  Sometimes she is a small child who loves the wind and the movement.  Sometimes she is covered in satin, lace and rosebuds, wearing many petticoats, and laughing at the people around her who are so solemn.

MINERVATHENA:  She who seeks wisdom and justice.  She who is austere and demanding and learned.  She who punishes, but only as deserved.  She who helps the heroes.

THE WOLF:  She who is untamed but loyal to the pack.  She who nourishes cubs not her own.  She who is alone and howls at the moon and lives in a burrow.  She who tears at meat with dripping jaws but takes some home for the small and weak.  She who knows the way of the world.

THE WANDERER/THE ATONER:  She who wanders the earth like Demeter, weeping for that which is lost and searching for the path back to the garden.  She who out of stubbornness has lost her way.  She who must climb over mountains and walk down valleys and find they lead to yet more mountains and yet more valleys.

THE WEAVER:  She who sees the cloth of life and puts the threads in order.  The workers who sings at work.  The maker of order, the preventer of rips, the clother in linen, the maker of the smooth bed and the white table.

BIG MARY MOONSHINE:  The jokester.  The vulgar one.  The clown with the slapstick.

THE MEDICINE WOMAN:  Th very old woman of virtue who fasts for the community.  She who knows all the earth and skies and is courted by Gods.  She who cannot be destroyed, for she is many, she is many.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Mary Strachan's 2nd grade assignment

If the idea was to throw out stuff, I had started with the wrong box.  I didn’t check the label, but just picked up the closest one.  It was folders of old family and school letters.  I ended up reading everything and keeping too much of it.  I didn’t remember most of it.

Here’s an example of a budding author aged 6, about to turn 7.  No left margin.  I don’t know whether these sentences were dictated or invented, but the printing looks good.  The cat not so much and the self-portrait is deformed and heavily influenced by Raggedy Ann, the doll with the sweet candy heart.  My mother made me one but it was not so fat, floppy or soft as the original.  We didn’t know that at the time since we’d never seen a commercial Raggedy Ann.  It’s hard to make a stuffed figure fat enough because, before the stuffing is in, the “skin” seems too wide.  

Back to the drawing.  I have no idea why one leg is twice the size of the other, but I note that there are the right number of fingers on each hand.  No toes.  I’m clearly happy, if a little googly-eyed.  This before it was discovered how near-sighted I was and also before the 1948 car-crash that gave my father a concussion and changed his personality. Those two markers shaped my development.

My mother originally saved this and then I took it from her dispersal.  I have no memory of this school work and no clue about how or why I drew on a “reading” assignment which is clearly writing.  Through all these early papers (there aren’t a lot — maybe half-a-dozen) the recurring themes are cats, “Indians,” reading, and dancing.  They persist.

Approximately Second Grade

I saved an account a friend wrote about her childhood because it is so acute and relentless.  She is a brilliant person who uses friendship to discover soft spots and drive a stake through them at unexpected and vulnerable times.  I kept trying to figure out why and this document she produced deliberately sketched it out.  Partly it was to prove her existence and power.

I also wanted to know why I attract such people -- or am attracted to them -- and her account explains it.  I’m enough like them that we echo and also I have my mother’s arrogant delusion that I can help people of that sort, esp. if they are the same sex as us.  Or maybe it’s just more socially acceptable to be a soft, accommodating woman with a candy heart who attaches to an intelligent, sharp, punitive man — so long as the man is successful.  If the man is NOT, the sweetest woman can become bitter.

Back to Exhibit A.  I don’t know what “Sec. 5-2” means except that the 2 must indicate Second Grade.  Public school in the United States has always been relentlessly hierarchical.  But did Section 5 mean there were five levels of second grade?  Or was that merely the reading group to which I belonged, since at that stage children are still distributed over their maturation levels?  Is “5” good or bad?  “5” out of 10 or “5” out of 5?  October of 1946 was the first fall after WWII.  Being born in 1939 put me barely ahead of the baby boom and a bit young for my grade, so by 1946 the schools were beginning to bulge with war-triggered fertility.  

Margaret Sanger was campaigning to develop a birth control “pill” and it was a reality by 1951, a compound isolated from yams by a Mexican scientist, but it had yet to be prepared for production, distribution, and acceptance by the greater population.  It was approved and began to be sold in 1960, my junior year in college. 

It might seem accidental that my grade school class has reassembled itself in retirement and meets once a month for lunch, but a demographer might find causes.  I think one of them was this fertility swing from too much to a new control.  By the time I was teaching in Browning, 1961, girls were still getting pregnant without marriage, and it still persists now as an emotional and sociological pattern rather than an accidental or compelled one.

If we look at my worksheet again, we see that the categories are dolls, boys, girls, dolls again, toy dogs, and Puff, that well-known cat from the Dick-and-Jane reader series. The cat specifically speaks words.  Dolls say mama but the first assertion on the list is that dolls do not talk, so I suppose what is meant is that kind of empathic communication which is very common among dolls.  The fact that boys do not talk seems a bit scornful.  Same for dogs.  Already the gender assignments.

I note that Puff goes to past tense.  She is always portrayed in the reader as a kitten rather than a cat, and white rather than black, but this paper was probably embellished near Halloween.  No way to know whether the drawings were done after I brought the paper home or maybe because I finished early (I often did) and drawing was something to do to fill the extra minutes.

We’ve got two modes of writing here, one meant to be ephemeral, a child’s efforts, and one that is blogging, unconstrained by space or editing or anything else except what I write to suit myself, following along chance and intention as they interact.  It’s a lot easier than plotting out an emotion-driven novel which probably would draw on the same shaped and shaping past.  The one or two people in my original grade school cohort who have written books have followed the middle class genres of mystery and romance.  No one became famous.  I don’t know whether any of them have been exposed to this kind of French meta-speculation.  In fact, the males this age have begun to die of old age.

Our teachers were often from the WWI population which left many women without husbands; they stepped over to become teachers instead of mothers.  A tough-minded bunch they focussed on white middle-class vaguely British values.  Sometimes they ended up with combat-burdened husbands without any knowledge of PTSD or much compensation for grievous injuries.  At least in WWI a soldier who was badly wounded was likely to die in the field.  But also the death might likely be from disease and the “Spanish Flu” killed many who were not combatants or even in Europe.  My mother, who was a child, nearly died.  Her doctor did.

But then re-illusionment and the Roaring Twenties.  In that time my mother’s young adulthood was driven along by her father’s desire to be important through his children and to be a woman “as good as any man.”  But then there was the equal drive to marry and have family, which to her was dependent on living in a good house.  My father’s proposal was based on the house he offered her.  It was enough at the time, but she had expected more.

In second grade I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t have any idea where I was going.  Maybe that’s why the unequal legs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Martin Marty

Two websites send me regular bulletins about religion.  One is “Sightings” which is sent out from the U of Chicago Div School under the auspices of Martin Marty, a professor of mine who is now retired and who — through decades — has been a favorite “explainer” for the media.  His speciality is the history of American religion.  He does include Native Americans but not with any particular expertise.  YouTube includes him.  He’s easy to underestimate with his bow tie, but he’s one of the most reasonable and compassionate people I’ve ever known.  Not a usual combination, esp in the field of religion.

Diane Winston

The other one is called .”Religion Dispatches” and is from the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Diane Winston is publisher of Religion Dispatches, a daily online magazine on religion, politics and culture, and she is on the executive board of the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture.  She’s more eclectic than Marty, but then, of course, she’s on the West Coast (after an elite East Coast education).  She covers Hollywood, sexuality and AIDS and lectures by her are on YouTube.

Since religion as the public understands it is mostly a matter of institutions with denominations (names), most of what these two sources report is highly political and that’s intensely true of this election.  The “short” version is that Catholics (esp. Hispanics) and Christian people of color are dumping Trump down, down and down.  But white evangelicals are solid high-per-cent Trump fans.  These are older men.  No one is surprised, but there’s a bit of shock about how steep the drop of the others is and how stubborn those white geezers have remained, though it’s not hard to understand why.  What everyone is wondering (probably including them) is how much power they still have.

Both Marty and Winston take advantage of being academic by pulling in young writers and young opinions.  Everyone has known the pews are emptying, but — once more — the numbers are shocking.   For particulars, try:   The world is tipping on an axis that is no longer Christian.  But don’t panic.  This is not the first time.

One could argue that the Christian and specifically Catholic way of controlling people through the use of stigma has backfired because the enforcers have not practiced what they preach.  People who were compliant and conscientious have been revolted by priests’ abuse of children and their rejection of people who are nontypical in their desires and practices.  (Celibacy strikes some people as perverse.)  It is clear that the invention of birth control has been such a deep change in human choices that it has destabilized the concept of “family.”  The need to make money has destroyed the dependable support children must have.  The loss of parental nurturing is as common among middle class Americans as it is among Third World displaced people.  That’s without considering drugs with their increasingly public destruction.

Christian life has been based on a group of papers called “testaments” written by important old men for a rural population.  The stories are often ag-based: vineyards, fishing, herding sheep, trekking with camels.  The ones that are most useful now are often about sex or power.  Or apocalypse.  Christian community is too often a matter of circling the wagons into a improvised fort and then controlling who can enter or leave by using stigma and blame.  (Jesus sighs.)

The fancy thinkers call this “containers”, social or categorical.  We’ve got a million little boundaries from clothes fashion to jargon to Ph.D’s.  And a growing impatience with such markers, though people in-the-know are still interested enough to read those complicated Vanity Fair charts of who’s in and who’s out.  A recent article claims that literacy on the planet is at 85% of the human beings.  I doubt that and it didn’t say literacy at what level: Tolstoy or stop signs?  

Frankopan’s “The Silk Road” begins history with the invention of writing itself a few thousand years earlier than the major modern institutions began to organize and write Torah, Bible, Koran, and the major Eastern books.  Thanks to sophisticated computer-based methods we can now find, restore, translate and fit into the world of the time all the found bits when those documents were  being written.  Now we can reach back much earlier.  

Instead of seeing time as beginning with Christianity, we can think about the roots of the preceding Judaism and even unnamed systems before that, and we can see the forces that caused Islam to arise from the Judeo-Christian world and then — as the “known world” became roads far to the east, everything changed.  Maybe more accurately, exploded.  A flood of new ideas.

I love Frankopan’s story about the Caliph who felt pressed to choose one of these big systems to be his official state religion.  A learned man, he summoned three representatives -- one for each of the three systems based on monotheism and descended from Moses -- to make a case.  At the time they were not militarily pitched against each other as they often can be now.  In the end the Caliph chose Judaism and all three accepted the decision.  It is a story that seems like a fantasy, but it is documented.

The Millennium Tower

In San Francisco one of the marker buildings, the Millennium Tower, is sinking and tilting.  The cause is partly failure to build the foundation down to bedrock; partly using heavy concrete instead of lighter steel (which is what made skyscrapers possible in the first place); and partly by a huge transit hub foundation hole built close enough to undermine.  There are Biblical stories about such things — lots of sermon material for those who still indulge in that, and lots of lawsuits for those whose professions are based on argument.  (Engineers weep.  Building plans examiners laugh cynically.  Surely they predicted this!)  If this tower falls, will it kill as many people as the World Trade Towers? 

People are leaving the churches because that’s not where the action is.  Nor is it in the court rooms.  It’s in the streets.  They are not Silk Roads, but the dynamics are the same.  The old Towers are sinking and tilting.  People can thrive only if there is enough wealth to go around.  The great tragedy of our age is that there IS enough wealth, but it keeps being intercepted and siphoned off by legal and illegal means.  Like elections.  Or local wars.  Or drugs.  Or bribes to building permit plans examiners.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


In Valier where we've had neither drought nor excessive heat, we’re getting bits of our lost summer now.  It comes a day at a time so that one realizes that the time to do something that takes advantage of it is NOW.  This summer I’ve been pretty much confined to my house for reasons that I can’t quite discuss since it’s about neighbors and because it’s against the grain of popular beliefs like “safe” small towns that are a good place to raise children, which is a bit of Chamber of Commerce boiler plate that is woefully and dangerously out of date.

Yesterday was good weather and quiet households so I finally got outside to walk around my yard, go up the ladder to see how my roof tarps are doing since strong winds are pulsing through, to try to figure out a plan for emptying my deteriorating out-buildings, which are the workshop/garage and caretaker’s hut from the rebuild of Swift Dam, the one that Sid Gustafson is making famous.  The dam won’t be forgotten now but the buildings are about over.

I found two dead cats, half-grown white-with-gray patches, the most wary batch of the ferals who come and go.  I had left the roll-up door open all summer, partly because I realized that someone was sneaking in there to smoke and I thought making the interior public would discourage that.  I’m not shocked by carcasses, but it worries me that one was clearly shot (exploded head) and the other was probably the one with the smashed foot from being caught in a spring-loaded foot-hold trap, like the ones used to trap beavers.  Such hazards are an ordinary part of the West, but not usually in my own yard.  Now I'll padlock those doors.

In addition, when I began to work on sorting and discarding the contents of what I used to call my “bunkhouse,” I found a glassine packet with a syringe and a little tablet — just one.  I presume it would have to be crushed and dissolved for use, but there were no signs of equipment for that.  The past week I’d been leaving the building unpadlocked because I was carrying summer clothes (never worn this year) in for storage and winter clothes back to the house.  

I’ve been writing like fury all summer but not getting to the ends of things, maybe because it was the Big End of advancing age that was pressing me to finish up my projects, come to a conclusion, identify the stuff that was not going to be finished in my lifetime, and double-down on the things with potential.  Not for publishing but from a “body of work” perspective.  

I’m getting a little bugged by editors and other writers lying in wait for something they can grab, adapt, and monetize with no understanding of my uncured perspective.  I don't copyright because it is useless. was quite a revelation, an inflated Facebook that ought to have been called “Maskbook.”  But “Medium”, if it was a true cross-section of what the writing world is like, turned out to be mediocre, same-old.  They seemed surprised by this.  I guess they, like writers, had a conviction that there were a lot of suppressed geniuses out there, but didn’t know what they would look like and didn't know what to do with them.  No guts.  I was surprised when a writing “coach” sort of person admonished me for having a severe-looking selfie on my “about.”  “One must be cheerful to attract readers,” this person scolded.

On the other hand, Paul Seesequasis’ Twitter project of posting historical photos of the northern prairie and arctic peoples (including Blackfeet) was a revelation.  I hope I didn’t invade him by tweeting comments.  These were not horseback warriors, but traders and fishermen using the webs of water (ice in winter) and drawing on white culture without being dominated.  Since knowing Euros early is based on the trading for valuable furs, mostly beaver and mink to be marketed in urban Euro places, the relationships were calm.  The profits seemed to go to accordians and fiddles rather than guns.  Photos of young people seemed cheerful in those early times, not like the suicidal despair so common today.  

Reading back over my own blogs, I saw exasperation and even depression creep in recently.  I don’t “do” depression — deny it and alchemize it into fury.  (It would be better to do dishes and housework.)  I don’t “do” doctoring either, which was my Edwardian mother-in-law’s favorite compensation.  In the worst parts of winter she always managed to develop some condition that required hospitalization.  The dark side of that was the state of the roads and her expectation of daily visits.  

At present rural health care is a mess.  Centralizing docs in a corporate profit hub means driving long distances, not good for a loner with eye probs.  The docs themselves are not content.  In some corners, deranged old men have strangleholds they hope will preserve their prestige but only marks them as insurance liabilities.  

Medicine has devolved into lists of numbers — one looks down the list for the best match to the symptoms and blood analysis, then looks across to the recommended pills for a mythical average person, and writes the indicated prescription, which the insurance company then approves through the pharmacist umbilically attached to the computer.  This justifies hiring a lot of obedient young women “just as good as a doc”, described euphemistically as Nurse Practitioners or “Physician Assistants.”  

But off I went to the doc I know best at present, a woman who is brisk and practical.  I even (as you know) asked for a pelvic exam and she was both efficient and relatively painless.  I said,  “That wasn’t so bad.”  Her reply was, “Oh, no.  I do them all the time.”  

Her nurse was the same one who assisted ten years ago for the most painful pelvic I’d ever had, as well as a diagnosis of diabetes that made it sound like end-stage HIV.  But that was a different doctor and a different story.  I couldn’t resist lecturing this nurse about why calling me “young lady” was patronizing.  I did resist blasting her for advising me to think of some young male sex symbol while the speculum went in.  Pelvics are NOT sex and the confusion does mischief.

A little over a week into a doctor-tweaked med regime, my internal summer has returned.  I’ll be making a lot of trips to the dump before the snow flies.  Unless Trump wins the coming election, I’ll be "good to go" through winter.  I’ll bunch and mail out to the various fellowships my archives of UU circuit-riding.  I’m wavering over my Bob Scriver materials, wondering if I’m really through with them.  Can a white woman justifiably comment on current Blackfeet doin’s?  Is it needed?  How to do justice to the Montana literary scene when it doesn’t seem to do more than repeat old news about Montana and is so focused on the circle that’s developed in the last fifty years — just about the same length of time I’ve been aware of it — sealing off the history before 1960 and concentrating on popularity, insisting on white people. 

Except for Sid Gustafson's Swift Dam, of course.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Even change changes and even evolution evolves.  The actual world and our understanding of it is a dance: the world shifts and we take a step.  The choice is elimination of us and “our kind.”

The human brain has evolved in Rube Goldberg fashion, patches and fixes of all sorts, each new move based on the pre-existing moves, but we experience ourselves as single identities (well, most of us do) in a society of others.  The 19th century in the Western world was very preoccupied with sorting: labels and boxes, mostly according to appearances.  So the big breakthrough of evolution at that point was the individual vs. the group.

Suppose there is a rabbit with more peripheral vision because of bulgier eyes and suppose there is a rabbit who can run faster and farther than any others.  The idea is that he will survive better and therefore his children will survive and eventually through the generations, his descendants will be the majority of the rabbit population.  But suppose the other rabbits think bulgy eyes are really ugly and suppose that far-seeing rabbit runs so far that there are no other rabbits around.  No descendants. No evolution. 

But that’s only one kind of evolution.  It pits the individual against the group and encourages sorting into those who fit better versus those who are oddballs.  Not much attention is given to the ecological or economic or molecular pressures of the world.  (We forget that we are ejecting manmade molecules everywhere there is air or water.  Many of them are variations on estrogen.) 

Now the opposition is between the phenotype (the embodied animal), and the genotype (the molecular game plan for that species and individual.)  We can now detect a swarm of influences in the world and in the body: the epigenome which the environment can turn on or off; the internal ecology of microbes passed among people by contact; the isotopal metalome which affects the atoms that make up molecules; prions that affect the proper “folding” of molecules which prevents their normal action.  And climate change which we ourselves created.  All of these mean that evolution — indeed, survival of human beings in all their versions — is a whole different phenomenon.

The upshot of this is people working across scientific disciplines:  geology, biology, climatology, virology, physics, and coming to a whole different understanding. which has not been realized in our self-organizing.  We seem to have a choice between doing the same old things or wildly throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks.  If you want to assign the two strategies to the two POTUS candidates, be assured that I do.  

If you want to think of Jonathan Edwards and his sermon about how we are all spiders dangling by our silken threads over the open woodstove, I do.  I just don’t connect it to human notions of virtue or some big Hand doing the dangling.  We don’t literally dangle over hot coals, but we are much closer to oblivion that we think.  The younger people seem to address oblivion with obliviousness.  Some have learned to think of humans as insectoid infestations of a pretty planet.  Self-hatred is not a way to evolve.

In the past people’s evolution might be “contained” (technical term referring to the boundary between one aspect and another) by a mountain range or an ocean, turning geology into tribes suited for their particular valley or forest.  Now that we can and do break open the containers with roads, airports, and cyberspace, our responses as individuals are not always keeping up with the suddenness or shearing of the new information.  We have exceeded our ability to evolve socially, particularly in terms of our institutions.  But we can do that a lot faster than evolving biologically.

Some of this evolution is forced by the economy based on the geology — mining, for instance — now being exhausted.  No more coal.  Or coal at an environmental price the rest of the world — which we now realize is connected — just doesn’t want to pay.  We outsiders are willing to snuff their mining-based culture.  They cannot change their genome or phenome quickly enough to adapt, and their whole culture is based on staying there and doing the same thing.

How did it happen that a cherished community, the arts and freedoms of San Francisco, was destroyed by the Internet industry?  What were the little transactions of economy and value-shift that dispersed the previous community?  Some would say the very values of being free spelled out their doom.  Some would say it was age: freedom is a young person’s game but they aged and then they needed security.  Maybe it was the state of the buildings themselves, that they were only hospitable to arts crowds at certain stage of deterioration and then the necessity of repair and rebuilding made a demand that only the techies could meet.  Maybe it was an echo of the earthquake and fire that forced the rebuilding of SF on certain terms and in certain ways.

Process has become a point of focus.  When the genome was decoded, everyone thought that there’d be a gene for eye color, a gene for height, and so on, because Mendel’s experiments on peas were in those terms.  But much of the genomes is about “turning on,” “turning off,” the timing of the turning, and then a lot of “if--then.”  An instance relevant to our current obsession with gender is that in the gestation of a new being in the womb, 

The mother’s mRNA and proteins control the first three weeks.  Then there’s a switch over to the embryo’s DNA.  I’m guessing that could easily be a point where the embryo is lost due to faulty DNA in the embryo or just a bungled hand-off.  Some people think the attrition is as high as one-fifth of conceptions.

“At eight weeks most of the features of the adult are visible, when it is referred to as a fetus. During the first few weeks, it is neither male nor female. However, a small group of cells, called the "indifferent gonads" begin to form, that are capable of becoming ovaries or testicles. At the same time, other internal features of both sexes develop, the Mullerian (female) ducts and the Wolffian (male) ducts.

“The gonad contains supporting cells and others that will, in time, produce hormones, the so-called gonadotrophins, androgens or estrogens, depending on the direction of development.

“The gamete producing cells, which will in the future, produce the ova or sperm, originate in another part of the embryo and migrate to it.”

So here’s another point when things change and there might be a mismatch.

“For a male embryo, at around the sixth week, the SRY gene, on the Y chromosome promotes a protein called the H-Y antigen. The effect of this is to bind to the DNA molecule itself, in a number of specific places, causing it to bend, in turn affecting the action of a number of genes.

“About nineteen different genes are probably involved, on either the X chromosome or the autosomes.

“. . . A hormone called Mullerian Inhibiting Factor, as its name implies inhibits the further development of the female sexual features, which degenerate.”

The Y chromosome acts as a fork in the road.  If the fork is a little confused, “bends” the DNA a little more or a little less or the wrong place, the results might be an atypical person.  This is the time of penis-size determination and probably where the object of desire is suggested.  The individual’s suite of skills and capacities may begin to particularize at least in potential.  

Then the question becomes how will the culture react?  What will the environment do to these potentials?  ALL of this is EVOLUTION.  One boy is big, heavy and aggressive — is there a war or football?  One boy is gay, musical, and quiet — is there an arts scene?

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Accused but not convicted.

My self-assigned miserable task of reading Jon Krakauer’s “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” was indeed miserable.  To read the tiny details and strategies of these people supposedly trying to reach conclusions that ought to have dignity and objectivity is to despair of civilization.  So-called.  The events (which are just one point on a long continuum of history and circumstances) reveals the enormous disconnect between what we have respected by giving entities power and, sadly, what back alley dog-fights they have become.  Involved are universities, police, courts, romantic courting, family, and the great BoogaBooga of winning at football at the cost of destroying the brains of students.

Lynne Cheney’s “take” on this situation of a university running an internal court of discipline that interfered with and contradicted the local law enforcement body was that a university had no business dealing with matters of rape, drunkenness, violence, and out-of-control athletes (whom the university recruited).  Leave all that stuff to the cops.

My own recommendation, which I’ve been making for years, particularly at the high school level, is that competitive athletics have no place in an institution of learning.  Besides carving a huge hole in the budget meant for education, the students quickly learn some pretty rotten ethics — most crucially that the basic rule to please your “owners:” coaches, administrators, townsmen (some of which are female), and the media.  “Health” classes should be teaching people sex education, body care, management of emotion, public disease and sanitation, the dynamics of economics, etc.  

Of course, no one takes that seriously and I would be reviled if I pushed it.  But I have seen how it twists and erodes high school kids.  I have not seen any of them made better people or better scholars.

There are a number of issues Krakauer doesn’t address.  Missoula is one of the state’s leaders in female health care and political issues.  Call them feminists if you like, progressive women running clinics and outreach are part of Missoula’s claim to be a humanities town.  The ground of many political dissensions are about who “owns” the woman’s body.  If it is herself, then she will have to forgo the protection and support of a committed man.  This is partly romantic and partly practical.  And a woman not connected to a man is considered “not taken”.  Public.  Up for grabs.  An “open” cow.  (I’m overstating it — many decent men are not like this.)

The accounts of the actual rapes (not enough of them to be statistically valid) are suggestive.  If you look at the men’s behavior and their explanations of what happened, the main impression I get is that they have very little self-awareness or sophistication.  These are not wily metrosexuals plotting seductions, but rather blunt force encounters of big men who don’t quite realize that women are people.  (Except their mom, of course.)  Most of them seem to see the WOMEN as the wily metrosexuals bent on seduction. 

But at the time of the incidents that are being prosecuted here, the women strike me as mice paralyzed by confrontation with a cat.  There are vids.  I’ve seen it on my parlour carpet, both animals waiting.  The scientific analysis is about being flooded with certain merciful molecules, self-drugged.  There’s a whole body of literature.

These cases were a bit previous to the growing understanding of what brain damage results from football and a few other sports.  Experts agree that helmets are not adequate protection.  I was struck by how many times witnesses said,  “He is not the person I knew him to be.”  They seemed to feel the rapists were like an elephant in musth, seized by a short period of berzerkness that can’t be helped.  None of the defense counsels seemed willing to put their client through an MRI, but only to hire psychologists who have no medical training.  Essentially therapists.  What inquiry into steroids or testosterone?

Out of all the possible approaches to these rapes, Krakauer has chosen legal and political analysis.  I guess that’s his usual modus operandi.  It is also closely related to a debate technique, which is to tear a big issue down into a million tiny parts and then discredit the bits one at a time.  

To keep order, he uses personalities.  Instead of an index, the book has a cast of characters dignified by the Latinate “Dramatis Personae”.  The implication is that this whole thing is play-acting by people wearing masks.  That seems rather accurate.  But one must remember that the roots of the law reaches back to Greek drama presenting the impossibility of resolving some moral conflicts, and reactions of the public as a chorus.  It is a definition of tragedy.

It is simply not possible to reach justice among humans, whether one defines it as retribution, deterrence, balancing the scales, sparing the innocent, preserving civilization, or whatever other good goals one might envision.  Some innocent people are going to suffer; some guilty people are going to strut free.  IMHO none of them will be improved by prison, at least not in contract private prisons, anymore than lunatic asylums and orphanages ever worked.  If we followed one “Chinese” theory of justice, based on having a lot of surplus people, we could simply shoot them in public and sell their parts, as though computers-equal-persons works both ways.  (If computers are people, are people computers?)  Do computers rape?  Is there any rational resolution to emotional issues?

Gradients between any two people include physical size and power, social status, attractiveness, community ties, race, health, income, and so on.  The gender role assignments mean that the assumption is that all men, compared to all women, are a little taller, stronger, make more money, and are protective of their own family but are irrefutably and intensely horny.  They aren’t.  This is movie fantasy.  Only recently has anyone defined “sex addiction”, a conviction that one must have coitus as often as possible.  (This is bad for fertility, as there isn’t time to generate more sperm of high quality.)  A whole movie series is called “nymphomania” which some define as women who want sex more than the provided men can deliver. We resort to humor. 

Opening the discussion to same-sex encounters rather changes the terms.  I saw no discussion of what I’ve seen depicted in movies many times:  group shower horseplay in which acts approaching anal coitus are considered fun, a way of letting off steam, innocent.  Snapping towels on butts, grabbing scrotums, “thumbing,” titty-pinching.  I’ve heard first-hand accounts of much worse hazing among military cohorts.  Male rape is real.

Had these boys, who had so little respect for female bodies, been treated this way?  And I wonder, since the victim’s childhood abuse was discussed, whether anyone inquired into the abuse of these young men as children, the distortion imposed by their handling of rage and resentment.

Movies have shown blows to male genitalia as funny.  I turned in a boy who was kicking other boys in the crotch — hard — but nothing happened to him until much later he was discovered to have a handgun in his backpack.  We have become insensitive to so many warning signs that we all profess to be surprised when someone systematically shoots people.  What’s a little rape compared to that? 

I thought that the jury member who intelligently remarked on the generation gap between themselves and the students was very relevant.  In a university town, the lines between town and gown, and the lines between professors and students, can be sharp, and contribute to misunderstanding at a very deep level, one might say mental structuring of brain tissue.  

Millennials hide from their parents, any authority figures, or even helpers.  Only their peers impress them.  They feel, as have previous generations, that people over a certain age just can’t get it, and they’re right, but also no previous generation has had a way of secretly communicating in plain sight.  Nothing that’s not texted is real.  Nor possibly never have so many friendships in the past been cross-gender with blurry boundaries that to some justify sexual interaction as a favor.

NCIS-type script-writers wrestle with these issues all the time.  Very often the dilemmas are resolved by "Tom Selleck" going outside the guidelines to pressure people or pull strings — all the while claiming that he never does that.  Tom Selleck himself, of course, is so irreproachable that he can be the figurehead for the NRA.  I’m getting very interested in script-writers as moral guides for the United States, though never in public as themselves.  There’s no use in consulting lawyers.