Wednesday, May 31, 2017



Just at dawn, which is when I clear off email for the first time in the day, one post was a woman taking a selfie of herself in a car while in the middle of having a stroke.  It was mild, one of a series she said, and seemed mostly to be affecting her face but not her voice.  I couldn’t tell who was driving or even if the car was moving and when I went back just now to find her, I couldn’t, as though I myself had had that stroke.  I was going to look harder, but then I thought maybe it was better not to, partly so I wouldn’t see it again and partly so you wouldn’t have to.  She was brave, but it wasn’t pretty.

Instead I’ll post this video of music called “the beginning of modernism and minimalism.” Somehow it’s relevant, a kind of meditation.  Erik SatieGymnopĂ©die No. 1 

When I gave up living in Browning (there were too many Mrs. Scrivers) and went “home” to Portland, there was a fellow named Dick Klinger who did an interview show in the evening.  This music was his prelude along with idyllic views of summer snow, cottonwood fluff, drifting through serene landscapes in and around Portland.  In spite of my childhood neighborhood turning rough and full of gunshots in the night, the evenings were summer snow and Satie.  They were a kind of Vespers blessing.

In Valier the summer snowfall is just ending.  My driveway is drifting with the stuff which means we’ll soon have more showers to plaster it down and make some of it sprout, because it’s really parachutes for seeds.  The birds are clearing as much as they can and the cats are clearing birds. In particular the “Spotted Dicks”, the two nearly grown tomcats who aren’t allowed in the house anymore: “Momo" with gold spots and “Shorty” whose spots are gray tweed.  They are too feral to touch or catch.  Local men would like to shoot them, but that’s against the law and they are law-abiding men.

The selfie woman whose face was flinching and curling and jerking was calm.  She said she was taking a video so that the docs could see that it was happening and might believe her better than they had in the few days earlier when she was in the hospital.  There was no accompanying story or explanation.  This morning in his insuppressible tweets Trump threw in a “strokey” word that might have been a typo but wasn’t.  He will punish us all  for mocking his imaginary world.  He had thought being President would give him secrecy and cloaking, but instead he’s everted for all to see and guts are never pretty.

Valier is unusually quiet these days.  Neither gunshots nor GymnopĂ©dia.  Just now and then the usual dog barking storms on two sides of my yard, the shrieks and shouts of the pre-schooler next door, and somehow (at the moment) no pounding music from red-neck pickups.  The water hydrant at the top of the street, adapted for use by farm trucks and preferred to the regular purpose-built rural water feed at the edge of town, is no longer available so the tank trucks that are a reality of dry-country farming no longer rumble up and down the streets at first light to prepare for the day’s spraying of fields.  The crop duster, who used to live next to the airport and who originally paid for the hydrant as well as a bulk rate for water, has moved to the country.  Ag water doesn’t have to be potable.

Valier Homesteader Days will be June 23-25.  Usually that’s about the time I cut my grass the second time, but this year for a cluster of reasons I just let it grow until yesterday when even I was embarrassed and cut the front, getting bitten by big ferocious ants who have enjoyed the loose dirt from digging up my sewer.  I left the back to “naturalize”.  I used to joke that it wanted to be a grove instead of a lawn.  That is proving to be true.  (See above.)  The honeysuckle is blooming at the moment and some kind of blue self-sown flower is beginning to bloom next to the house.

Smudge, the small gray cat who came here as a wobbly kitten years ago, has four babies, now bouncing around but so tiny they could be lost in the cottonwood snow.  One blundered into the garage and since its eyes were gummed shut, I could easily pick it up.  Once I’d cleared its eyes with a drugstore cotton ball and some warm water, it stared at me in astonishment.  Scientists do a lot of experiments in brain development by sewing kittens’ eyes shut so that the brain never learns the world properly.  

Last night “House of Cards” began a fifth series and I started to watch but then realized I’d forgotten the earlier years.  Maybe I didn’t follow.  I started the new series but then tried to go back to the earliest I remembered, which the computer program didn’t want to do.  It took a bit of persuasion but I finally got back to when Underwood threw his little playmate (one of those liberals with no proper understanding of danger) under the subway train instead of a bus.  It’s a little too much like the evening news.  Rachel Maddow even has a cameo.

Portland in my childhood was deeply involved in WWII.  It’s a port city, in those days full of immigrants, esp. if you count the rural Blacks whom Kaiser brought up to do the hardest work in the shipyards.  Alberta Street was named for one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, the same as the Province of Alberta just 69 miles north of Valier.  Today Alberta street is full of bodegas and galleries.  They tell me the Blacks have returned to the South.  I haven’t been back since 1999 so I go by reports.

The recent tragic stabbing happened on the commuter train between the Lloyd Center, an elegant open-air mall when it opened, and Hollywood, an earlier development of a fancy shopping nexus around a movie theatre.  At one point in my animal control career, after I had become the education coordinator, I lived close to the Lloyd Center.  When I got home late from speaking somewhere, I walked my little dog among the luxury shops on the empty mall, which was well-lit but not patrolled.  It seemed safe despite the lack of security cams.

Animals --deer and the cougars that followed them -- interpreted the Banfield freeway, once a streambed and now the rail line for the light-rail train, to be still a waterway, and occasionally followed it to the Lloyd Center.  We learned not to chase these intruders, because the confused and frantic animals would hurl themselves through the plate glass windows, thinking the reflections were reality.  We just followed along until they found their way out.  They tell me that now the mall is gated — not to keep out cougars but feral people.  

Bob and I were in Manhattan once and paid a taxi extra to be taken to Greenwich Village to see what an artist’s colony looked like. It was 1965 and Bob was going to be on “To Tell the Truth.”  Among the crowd was a madman on the sidewalk with a big knife, slashing at the air around him and screaming.  No one paid attention.  They just gave him a lot of space.  Finally a policeman on horseback arrived.  I don’t know the outcome because we left.

In the Seventies, my animal control years, I was interviewed by Dick Klinger on his show introduced by Satie.  He turned out to be a small man who made his guests sit in a very big chair so it was THEY who appeared small.  I found a vid clip of him in his Seattle days but he’s only in the last half.  The first half is news that could be relevant today.  (The small plane that crashed into Eliot Bay killed a classmate of mine and her family.  She was one of the most virtuous Christian  people I've ever known.)

Even for the sanest and most conservative of us, life has its hallucinatory and synchronistic aspects.  Like kittens with our eyes sewn shut, we blunder through what we think are going to be world-changing elections and find ourselves smashing glass, getting slashed.  Virtue is no protection.  Courage will not turn away death.  But we are constantly renewed by the warm seeding snow, the little pecking sparrows and the tomcats who eat them -- but never all of them -- in the clever and ghastly phenomena of the “enigmatically beautiful” world.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Already rich and still smart.

So many people have been reflecting on present political events as being driven by economic inequality and that idea is so compelling, that we haven’t looked any deeper or wider.  I can’t remember who it was who said that there is another inequality and it may, finally, be even more significant.  It is the idea of class that is based on merit which is believed to be a product of intelligence.  The smart people can rise in class, but the stupid people are trapped at the bottom.  Can you argue with that?  And aren’t criminals stupid — therefore, low class?  Or is it smart to be a criminal?

Having just read “The Keepers” and been so impressed by the power of ordinary people, older women with solid middle class lives and strong ideals, I noticed that comparison kept being made with “Making a Murderer.”  But now that I’m halfway through watching “Making a Murderer”, I see the comparison is a contrast.  “The Keepers” is about persistence, affection and loyalty defeating brilliant evil privileged priests.  Throughout, people remark on how smart these corrupt men are.  Indeed, they never were caught, even though they had committed more than one murder among their other atrocities.  

“Making a Murderer” is about convicting stigmatized men, “trailer trash,” if you will, with low IQ’s.  There are two murders that they may or may not have committed.  All four attacks in the two serials were of young, pretty, successful women — the kind of girl who gets straight A’s and is also the May Queen.  (So what did smart do for them?)  The culprits in this second film are low-class and stupid.  The family ran a wrecking yard, a necessary but ugly business that is packed with tragedy, even if only the accidents that wrecked the cars.  They are "technically" stupid — like, their IQ’s scores are supposedly around 70.  When I began teaching in 1961, children whose IQ’s were below 65 were not compelled to go to school, though there were several in my classes.  The way they were treated did not give them good manners.

This article suddenly seems relevant:  It’s premise is simple:  “American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.”  Intelligence is defined by the IQ test: Intelligence Quotient.  This was so important that in the Fifties our teachers had card files with each of our scores, cleverly coded.  Since I acted as my drama teacher’s “secretary,” I had access to the cards and someone (no doubt with a high IQ than mine) cracked the code.  I’ve sort of forgotten, but mine was somewhere in the 130’s or 140’s.  I’ve had friends and students with far higher scores.

What that really means is that I’ve always read a lot of books.  IQ measures how much you read.  It’s a pencil and paper exploration of your reading "brain connectome".  NOT your general intelligence.  It has nothing much to do with one’s “emotional intelligence” or “numerance.”  It was originally devised to winnow out potential soldiers who couldn’t understand what they read, even if they were supposedly literate.

What I know about myself and my measure, whether IQ or “creativity” (also big in those days) or conscientiousness, reliability and that sort of stuff, I’ve almost always been good enough to get into the high group (grouping was also popular) but always at the bottom.  That is, everyone else there was smarter than I was.  Or more creative, or prettier, or better-dressed, or richer, or had read even more books, maybe of higher quality.  This has had a curious influence on the way I’ve managed my life, a strange trade-off between security and recklessness.  Sometimes the idea that I was in this group was encouraging.  Other times it was a heavy obligation.

But sometimes, usually due to outside forces rather than a change on my part, I’ve ended up on the next stratum down — where I was at the top, the smart one.   It’s all comparison-based.  There is no objective measure.  This was often a disadvantage since it could attract accusations of being “too good.”  The safest place to be is the invisible middle, which is easy if you’re female and not pretty enough to attract abuse.

On the other hand, one might be doing “intellectual” things in a place that doesn’t value college educations, mostly because people see them as a sort of mysterious magic charm, a piece of paper that gives access to a different world.  And it is.

From the Atlantic article: “Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.”  I know very nice families who make it a habit to mock the stupid politicians on the news.  Small town gossip is often based on stupidity.  Myself, I’m quick to use metaphors for stupid:  “not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” “elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top,” and so on.  “Dumbhead!” I accuse the cats (and also myself).

After all, in a place where a certain lack of achievement means never being able to move away, move on by going to college, the stuck ones feel that we smart alecks think they're dumb, though they are often making much more by being plumbers and running wrecking yards than by becoming college graduates, they still feel that we smart alecks consider them dumb.  And we do!  

How can any adult have been deceived enough by Donald Trump to vote for him?  And now STILL defend him?  It’s because he tells them THEY are the smart ones, the great ones, and they don’t deserve the low social status that’s been forced on them.  To accuse them of stupidity only backs them into militant ignorance.  The idea is that “I might seem dumb to you, but I have a secret plan that will turn all this stuff into a triumph.”  “I’m telling you that I’m a very smart man — everyone says so — because I am rich.”

Like Trump, I’m getting ideas from television vids.  Check out “Get Me Roger Stone” to understand how the lowest common denominator dominates majority-based democracy.  The film is explicitly about how Roger Stone created Trump.  I wondered who was the puppeteer.  All means are justified by the ends.  HIS ends.  If you say, Russia is a killer, Trump’s answer is that so are we.  We’re all cheaters so all behavior is justified.  It’s smart to color outside the lines.  Manafort pops up.  Winning and greed are all that count.  

The back side of this is something Stone probably doesn’t see, yet.  There is a person named “Trump” who is young, dynamic, energetic, etc.  (See picture at the top.)  He’s a plausible politician.  NOTHING like the present Alzheimer’s patient, aged and incoherent.  The contrast is more damning than name calling.  The trouble with smart is that age can take it away.  Of course, Jimmy Carter is still smart as well as virtuous and George W. Bush is getting smarter.

Check out  Listen long enough to hear about the aging grandiose narcissist.

Monday, May 29, 2017


In 1971 after Bob Scriver divorced me, he was sued by a customer.  Bob’s business practice was to send an ordered and finished bronze to the customer for the remaining balance-due COD.  It could take a couple of years for us to cast and send a sculpture.  This customer, an art dealer, had arranged a long chain of transactions — resale of the bronze to HIS customer who was paying with an equal value of something not cash, like maybe land, which was a deal contingent on something else, and so on.  

In short, the dealer didn’t have enough cash or credit to redeem his order.  So Bob pulled back the bronze and sold it to the next customer in line.  The dealer was enraged.  The court finally agreed with Bob, but I was needed to testify because I had taken the original order.  It was a “hot” trial but nothing dangerous.  All very reasonable from our point of view.

I had been working in Portland.  I was standing on a corner in Great Falls, wearing my mother’s best coat so I’d look prosperous, and carrying a small backpack while waiting for the pedestrian light to change.  A man’s voice began berating me from behind.  I turned.  He was a stranger, a respectable-looking middle-aged man in a suit, pouring out accusations of how people like me were invading, ruining the state, displacing the deserving, running down institutions and destroying the culture.  I didn’t say anything — just walked off, more puzzled than insulted.  He didn’t follow.  Was the backpack the trigger?

The Gianforte blow-up brought back the memory, because it appears to be the same mind-ferment that led to violence with no warning, though the ranting man on the street didn’t touch me.  I was struck by the synchronicity of this with the insane man in Portland who was berating two Muslim women and who murdered two men who intervened — trying but failing to kill a third.  In his mug shot the killer looks monstrous.  Gianforte does not — to most of us.

I need much more info.  I googled “dealing with dangerous people” and was startled that one of the first entries was how to deal with out-of-control people in churches!  Not just shooters, but people who leap up yelling or even shoving people or throwing the hymnals.  The suggestions in the whole list seemed practical, but inadequate.  Googling got me a slew of “push ads” for weapons and concealed carry permits.  For persons on a campus or in church.  Not saloons and prisons.

Jeremy Joseph Christian (what a name!) has a distorted visage because he was shot in the face by Portland Police while robbing a convenience store.  This implies brain damage.  He has a long history of violent acts and talks all kinds of far-right extremism in social media though he has no coherent position.  He had enough followers for twenty of them to quickly “unfollow” after the publicity about murder came up.  (Knowing that means the social media reported it.)  Other charm school tips are described at this link:

It’s too soon for accounts specific enough to get a sense of how unpredictable this man’s violence was.  The older intervenor was a veteran and a City of Portland employee, which suggests that he knew how to handle himself but was conscious of an obligation not to offend people.  The younger victim had just graduated from Reed, one of those atypical gentle brilliant souls who think everyone should be loved.  The third man was Micah Fletcher, 21, a poet.  He once won a 2013 poetry competition with a poem against anti-Muslim prejudice, the newspaper said..

Immediately after the incident a video shows Jeremy Joseph Christian walking down the sidewalk ahead of the cops, shouting, “So shoot me!”  Neither running away nor attacking, a man in the jug of his own self, roiling with emotion.

For ten years in the liberal ministry I was with people who preached “love” and mostly practiced tolerance.  With exceptions.  One small fellowship, mostly tech people, was belligerent to the point of getting in my face and threatening me for trying to tell them what to do.  This same group had intense power struggles among themselves.  No body slams that I know of.  Googling brings up many examples of opposition to violence as a defining characteristic of liberals.  They do shout their “rationality.”

One begins to wonder why so much formal opposition to violence is necessary.  Some of it comes from Vietnam War politics and some goes back much earlier to when religious dissension was suppressed militarily and Unitarian churches had crooked walled alleys as approaches to the entrance, so a man with a sword could block invaders while the congregation escaped out the back.  

It also comes from the Enlightenment conviction (an origin of the Left Wing) that humans are rational and that the highest form of culture is the humanist tradition of math and science that has convinced us all that they are the source of technical industrial knowledge that has made modern society possible.  We have come to believe that this kind of thought should be the goal and control of everything, as expressed in laws and logical decisions.  Emotion is considered a sign of being animalistic, so feelings must be disciplined, even denied.

For the last few years I’ve tried to restore the importance of feelings, emotion, and George Lakoff metaphorical thought content.  I still think ignoring them is not controlling them and that they can burst up through logic like an Alien “child” exploding through the chest of a space traveler.  I’ve been thinking about the pre-literate oral culture and how Neanderthal brain-and-viscera wiring still exist under our fancy pre-frontal cortex mechanisms.

We explore that sub-conscious powerful driving force in thriller movies, athletic competitions, and experiments on male undergrad psych students.  But when we’re on a public train with an example of unconstrained volcanic emotion, our impulse is to be rational in dealing with him.  I expect these three men tried to reason with Jeremy Joseph Christian.  “Hey, man, these women are harmless.  Tone it down!  Get control!”  Even “be reasonable”!  

It’s an interesting paradox that a Reedie and a poet,  both far-out masters of emotion, would join a former military man in stepping up like gentlemen.  They’d have done better to smack him with a 2X4.  If they could have managed it, a body-slam would have been a good response.  Of course, they would have been in trouble with the police.

The media is noting that Jeremy Joseph Christian had no coherent political platform.  As though carrying a knife and stabbing people to death would be excused by such a platform, because  it would make violence reasonable, the way we pretend a war agenda authorizes killing.  Or that the police officer who shot Jeremy Joseph Christian in the face was behaving according to rules.  (He was.)  

I had not seen Trump’s campaign rants until they began to turn up on the Media lately.  He is a living embodiment of these issues.  No one has shot him in the head.  That’s what they did to JFK.  We don’t really know whether that was because of emotion or reason.  Or one disguised as the other.   

Sunday, May 28, 2017


The entrance staircase

A few days ago the wind was blowing with hurricane force, even more than the usual windstorms.  The new foliage was whipping around in bright sun so that indoors their dark shadows swirled around the rooms like bats trying to find their way out.  To reassure myself, I invented a story.  It’s sort of a Sunday story.

Travis is a sock puppet.  I’ve invented him for my own purposes.  His name really ought to begin with a J, like the cloud of characters who finally coalesced into John the Baptist and then Jesus the Christ.  That is, he represents a force or cause more than a person.  But persons can be the embodiment of a force or cause.  I intend this one to be subversively progressive.  Sometimes you have to improve life without giving them notice.  For one thing, they are likely to oppose and destroy anything that looks like change.

Once Travis aspired to be a priest, either Roman Catholic or Anglican, he didn’t care very much.  He avoided theory and air castles in favor of the Cathedral.  But the Cathedral wouldn’t let him in.  It was partly a matter of family prestige, but also money and education.  Of course, those can be bought with family prestige.  

So he shunned all three things: family prestige, money and education.  His family, however, still clung to those, so he was in trouble with them.  Since the Cathedral excluded him, he took up residence outside on the grand marble staircase of the mighty soaring structure.  This was the part that was accessible by definition, by a process (climbing) associated with redemption but leaving the responsibility in the feet of the stair-mounter.  Travis’ strategy was to draw young people higher out of curiosity and sensuality.

These qualities he provided via a small repertory theatre group, a traditional mode since the cathedral was related in history to the Greek dramas presented in front of doorways, while the audience sat on wide stairs in the bowl of a small valley.  The troupe was small enough to have fitted into the medieval mystery play wagons that carried their message on the road between towns, but it was also small in another way.  All the actors were children.

This was strategic in a number of ways.  It meant the children had food and shelter of a sort, provided by the audience, and beyond that each other, which was the real necessity.  Children are a burden that require energy and expenditures, so the authorities were pleased to be rid of them or at least to keep them on the stairs.  Mostly they were between six and twelve, remarkably capable of learning lines, even the ones they didn’t understand, and they were tough, resilient, and natural gymnasts.  Other than that, they were of all-sorts, sizes, colors and natures.  They were the yarns and threads from which Travis wove the fabric of his plays.

You couldn’t really understand Travis from studying his plays, partly because of the practical reason that he never wrote them down, so it would have meant assembling the troupe — both the present and past ones — and getting them to recite their lines, but as they grew older, they forgot.  Nevertheless, just talking to the children was revealing since Travis tended to include those whose lives were most like his.

Not that any two had reacted to the mystery and tragedy of their rather predictable way with any similarity to each other’s strategies.  Some fought hard, some became poets, and some turned to accommodating adult sexual tendencies.  From this, one could deduce that Travis was a fighter, a poet, and a whore.  All three roles require staying low, in shadows, cloaked.  These qualities do not lend themselves to the explication of a life, but mystery was on his side.  At least it provokes curiosity.

Some like to pursue “absolute truth” and will spend a lifetime hunting through the brush after diversionary spoor, always announcing they were just about to find out everything and this would make them very wise and valuable.  But most of the time they just rushed in circles, flushing out a lot of small animals and big birds.

Perhaps it is a better strategy to accept ambiguity, alternative scenarios, and transformations.  In fact, this was the main secret of the little mimes on the staircase of the cathedral.  They were more like homilies, metaphorical rather than sermonic.  The children, esp. the boys but not always, wanted to have more sword fights and monsters.  It was useless to try to satisfy them because there would never be enough.

Regardless of gender or experience, the little actors paired off, each in their own way of bonding.  Sometimes they liked to perform obscenities, bad language and the pretence (they SAID it was pretence) of forbidden acts, usually sexual but sometimes excremental.  Some could fart at will and other enjoyed exposure of parts normally concealed.  The language was wicked.  If it were funny and unexpected, it went down better than when it turned vicious and destructive.  But the source was always idealistic, the unreasonable belief that there WAS a better life, a better way, better people.  Or at least the possibility.  But as I say, each had their own way of bonding.  Some were more subtle and attractive, like holding hands.  Some swatted hands away.

A human being is an emergent creature, arriving out of the guts of another creature (“Call the Midwife!”) and then, if it survives a couple of years, pushing along against the oppositions and opportunities of where ever it came to life among whatever people and whatever hills and valleys, beaches and fields.  Things go by accommodations and happy happenstances, a mosaic of broken parts and wholeness.

But Travis didn’t like that.  He wanted drama, grand gestures, and loyalty — a better story than what people created just by living as the opportunity struck.  There was too much waste and cruelty.  Maybe he wanted something like a new religion.  

A religion is an emergent phenomenon, below awareness for a while, knitting together economics and aesthetics, trust and dance, until people wondered why they hadn’t realized it before and began to actually act on it.  Before that happens, we are terrified.  We fall in heaps on the cathedral steps and wail when the bells ring.  Then someday the great cathedral doors swing open so we can go in.  And we do.

But not Travis.  He pulls up his hood and walks off with his staff in his hand.    Alone.  He wears thick warm socks and has another pair on a string around his neck.  Maybe we could change his name to Jarvis.

Today the wind is gone and cumulus sheep graze across a blue sky from horizon to horizon.  This story sounds a bit silly and I don’t really know what it means.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"THE KEEPERS": Review and Reflection"

Gemma, Sister Kathy, and Jane Doe

Nearly a hundred movies have been made in Baltimore.  There’s a list in Wikipedia but it’s incomplete.  It doesn’t include The Keepers”.  The films and TV series listed on Wikipedia include “House of Cards”, “Sleepless in Seattle, and “Tuck Everlasting.  Many titles are just trash.  

Only a few are not studio films, but actually about Baltimore.  I started watching films that were consciously and deliberately made in Baltimore about the city with “Homicide,” the TV series and then “The Wire.”  They were often profound meditations on society and culture.

I want to lift up “The Keepers,” which is of equal high value though it didn’t have the stars and budgets.  It’s easy to pass over or put down because it is so unique.  There are other “revelation” stories about bad guys in cold cases being tracked down and caught.  This story is about the true monsters among us — yes, hiding as priests — and how grandmothers tracked down this particularly sly satan.  The point is not the perverted destroyer, but the linked chain of grandmothers, often school girl victims, their families and how they survived.

The film starts quietly with a journalist looking for papers and then becomes quiet conversations, mostly with mature family women in their homes.  Doesn’t sound like much.  In England they call policemen “plods” and this is really how much detective work is done, plodding through the evidence.  Maybe to keep themselves going by emphasizing the exciting stuff, police are as covert as the culprits and the victims are entirely excluded from any kind of power or oversight, esp. if they are female and older.  Religiously privileged men and cops have guarded respect for each other that sometimes amounts to collusion.

Nevertheless, in the days when the events happened — which was as banal as a middle-aged man using his bureaucratic and clerical power as well as his friendship with cops, since he was the police chaplain for several jurisdictions — families were strong and nuns were still revered.  They never admitted what was going on, much less intervened.

Much of what I learned about the world was in Browning, Mt, in the Sixties.  Bob Scriver was the City Magistrate and the Justice of the Peace.  Also in play were the officers of the Tribal court system, the highway patrol, the border patrol, and the FBI.  When Bob was asked to become a Justice of the Peace, there was already one in town, Wilbur Renshaw, the husband of Blanche Renshaw, who was the principal of the primary school.  Wilbur, who wrote very bad Westerns, fancied law officers and hung out with the white ones over coffee and donuts.  “White” meant highway patrol and border patrol.  Every decision he made was controlled by his white cop buddies.  But in the tribal context everything was controlled by family, favors, reputation, power — if the jailor was your cousin, he let you out.  This was an old oral culture pattern that worked for small nomadic groups, but was a very bad fit for a “modern” bureaucracy. Bob was seen as a person on the border between white and tribe, therefore more just. 

In some ways Baltimore had the same confusions.  Church bureaucracy is meant to be dominant, based on millennia of complications descended from the Roman Empire, abstract, never under the control of local communities.  Families, at the other end of the spectrum, were large (because of the Catholic prohibition on birth control) and their wealth was each other, because they were second and third generation immigrants whose success was based on mutual support.  Cops were in the middle.

This is a real story.  A teaching nun was found dead and violated in the woods, twenty years earlier.  The murder was never solved.  Two women who had been her students partnered up and began to accumulate evidence.  A third classmate was rumored to have seen the nun’s body before it was found by authorities.  She was found by the two and because they were the same sorts — competent, educated, quite sane, computer literate, easy with people — the third woman’s abuse was accepted as true.  In fact, her story of how she overcame near-psychosis becomes a key thread of the film.

Bob Scriver used to say two things that came from his experience as a judge.  One was that people will do anything they can, regardless of limits, until someone pushes back against them.  Presumably, that’s the work of the law.  The other was that if you do things that are totally outrageous, far beyond what people think, you probably can get away with it.  (Think John Wayne Gacy or David Bar Jonah.

I would add another rule of thumb.  People who look upscale, who seem to be high society and are well-dressed, donors to charity, smiling and cheerful, are just as likely to be criminals and traitors as anyone else.  But prosperity is considered an indicator in “prosperity Christian” terms because the idea is that God rewards “His” people.  Poor people are thought to fail because they are weak and possibly bad.  This is our dominant national belief at the moment.

So it’s an enormous comfort to watch this seven-episode series in which people are good in an old-fashioned way, privileging intimacy and trust over sex, searching for truth, no matter how nasty.  Aghast at what the perverts think is sex — the manipulation of bodies of children who dare not resist — the victims were going to unmask the perps, but were too innocent to protect themselves.  It soon becomes clear that the nun who was murdered, and another young woman who was also murdered about the same time, in the same way, and undoubtedly by the same people, were killed because they intended to expose this wickedness.  There is no satisfying confrontation and conviction, because the offenders had just aged and died, protected by the church which always wants to preserve the illusion of virtue.

The second murdered girl’s family did a bit of parallel sleuthing.  Calling a family meeting, they used a directory of alumni to send out a thousand postcards asking if anyone had information.  They were shocked by the number of responding women who had also been victimized.  Forty have names.  (Not in the film.)  Most of them thought it was their fault and never went to authorities.  “Don’t tell or I’ll kill your family.”  “You’re an evil dirty girl and you seduced me.”  “God hates you.”

The two original partners stuck together, accumulating the kind of ordinary information that the government lists, that data websites will sell you, the kind of thing that debt collectors use, the sorts of minutia that cops don’t have the time or money to pursue — much less the determination.  The women do not wear shoes with four-inch heels, do not wear makeup, do not wear silk clothes straight from the cleaners.  Nor do they display the kind of erotic need to pursue evil that is often a feature of cop shows with female protagonists, a sort of eversion of the flawed detective tradition.  

They suffer with their knowing, need to reassure each other, look back over their lives and wonder what could have happened if they had not had to deal with this pervasive shadow.  How can we not see ourselves?  Our collapsing culture?  But also, how to go about rebuilding.

Friday, May 26, 2017


The Gianfortes

This Gianforte incident in which he put the moves on a reporter tempts me to do a lot of reflecting and investigating.  Is this the first time a reporter, particularly a youngish, liberal, bespectacled, unbulked young man has been thrown to the ground?  NOT.

“Last year, perhaps most infamously, a TIME photographer got choke-slammed by the Secret Service at a Donald Trump campaign event. A few weeks ago, a reporter in West Virginia was arrested inside the State Capitol for trying to ask Health Secretary Tom Price about the healthcare bill he supports. And Democrats in the US Senate just last week raised questions about why a reporter was "manhandled" for asking about a recent FCC vote on net neutrality, a.k.a. a free and open internet.”

What the heck is a “body slam” anyway?  It turns out to be a formal “move” used in exhibition wrestling.  It works for a big guy to take down a little guy.  The term and strategy are well enough known to be a movie title.

(Wikipedia quotes follow):

“A chokeslam is a type of body slam in professional wrestling, in which a wrestler grasps an opponent's neck, lifts them up, and slams them to the mat.” 

“Two-handed chokeslam
This move sees a wrestler first grasp an opponent's neck with both hands, then lifting them up and choking them before then throwing the opponent back down to the mat usually after choking out his opponent.“

What’s a “Body Slam” ?  Oklahoma Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who is a former mixed martial arts fighter was interviewed by Tom LoBianco.  He said it’s a range of phenomena from being pushed down to being picked up and thrown down.  He didn’t want to get specific because he didn’t see what happened and because he’s a Republican (he didn’t SAY that) but one witness just outside the door to the room saw the reporter’s feet fly up in the air which suggests more than just a push.

In fact, there were three elements to this assault: choking, throwing down, and “pummelling” — that is, striking with fists.  There’s no discussion of what made Gianforte stop, nor is there any evident trigger, since being questioned by reporters is too common to be surprising.  Gianforte was evidently "spring-loaded" and just snapped after only a question or two.

So that raises a string of questions.  What would make a politician snap when he was almost sure to win the election?  Why do it at that point in time, an event meant to thank volunteers and reward them with a barbecue?  Why do it in front of a reporter and camera crew who were obviously trained observers?  Why just leave quickly instead of making sure the victim was okay?  If the point was to grab the reporter’s recorder, why didn’t he do it while the man was prone on the floor, stunned?  What just happened earlier in the day?  How much was it linked to the fortunes of Trump?  A pending subpoena?  

As a former animal control officer, I know that the most dangerous dogs are “fear-biters” — animals that try to defend themselves disproportionally early and hard because they see everything as a threat.  Gianforte evidently sees reporters as a threat.  He fears them.  But where did he learn a formal wrestling move and why did he use it?  (We could ask Jesse Ventura.  But why are we electing professional wrestlers to what is supposed to be a dignified and deliberate status?)  Why not just shove the reporter back out the door, the way Trump shoved his fellow statesman out of the way, shaking his “plumage” afterwards like any rooster?

There’s an interesting omission in some repeated on air playings of the tape the reporter had.  Gianforte’s repeated bellowing of “Get the hell out of here!” is left in.  The reporter’s half-prayers exclaiming “Jesus!” and “Jesus Christ!” are edited out in some versions.  Luckily the Fox camera crew and reporter confirm everything on the tape, though they were “gob-smacked” with astonishment themselves.  But why leave in "hell" and remove "Jesus"?

CNN says we know two things for sure:

1. Gianforte will appear in court sometime between now and June 7 to find out whether he will be convicted on a misdemeanor assault charge.
2. Republicans, even if they wanted to, couldn't refuse to seat him. This was litigated in the late 1960s in a case involving Rep. Adam Clayton Powell.

So now we’re once more faced with getting what we asked for.  I can’t believe Rob Quist is heart-broken.  At least he’ll put the publicity to good use and maybe he even made a little money.  At this point he looks better as a candidate than he ever did before the election.

Tidbits about Gianforte, mostly from Wikipedia:

Gianforte and his wife founded RightNow Technologies, a customer relationship management software company.  He obtained a B.E. in electrical engineering and an M.S. degree in computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1983.

“Gianforte co-founded Brightwork Development Inc., a software company, in 1986; he and his partners sold the company to McAfee Associates for $10 million in 1994.  He then moved to Bozeman, Montana.

"Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies in 1997. The company went public in 2004 and was sold to Oracle Corporation for $1.5 billion in 2011. Before the sale, RightNow Technologies employed about 500 people at its headquarters in Bozeman, Montana, and over 1000 people in total.

"Gianforte is a board member of FICOand chair of the board at Petra Academy, a Bozeman, Montana, Christian school."

On January 20, 2016, Gianforte announced his candidacy for the Republican Party's nomination for governor of Montana in the 2016 election.  He had a political practices complaint filed alleging he started campaigning before registering.   The complaint was dismissed.

In a campaign speech that year, Gianforte stated that he had been involved in discussions with Facebook about bringing a new call center to Montana, but that Facebook had declined because of that state's business equipment tax.  A Facebook spokesman disputed Gianforte's claims, saying that no discussions with Gianforte took place and that the tax was not the reason the company decided not to locate a call center in Montana. Gianforte stood by his statement saying that he had spoken with a Facebook executive the previous fall.

Publicly subsidized call centers in Great Falls left as soon as their advantage expired.

The following story, which first surfaced in April, was picked up by Quist.

Greg Gianforte, who is the GOP standard bearer in the upcoming special election in Montana, owns just under $250,000 in shares in two index funds that are invested in the Russian economy to match its overall performance.
Russia 'targeted Trump adviser in bid to infiltrate campaign'

“According to a financial disclosure filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives, the Montana tech mogul owns almost $150,000 worth of shares in VanEck Vectors Russia ETF and $92,400 in the IShares MSCF Russia ETF fund. Both are indexed to the Russian equities market and have significant holdings in companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft that came under US sanctions in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Crimea.”  

Gianforte has pledged to put all his assets in a blind trust if elected.  It remains to be seen whether he’ll actually do this, as he is closely associated with Trump who has creative interpretations of ethics practices. To put this in perspective, the Independent Record reports:

“The Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration includes Russian investments in a Developing Markets Fund managed by Oppenheimer Funds. Among the listed companies targeted by the 2014 international sanctions are Sperbank of Russia and Magnit PJSC, which has a supermarket chain. Magnit PJSC is also part of the Dodge & Cox International Stock Fund, another funding source for state employee retirement funds.

“The Montana University System Retirement Program includes the TIAA-CREF Emerging Markets Equity Fund, which lists Sberbank Russia among it's top 10 holdings.”

Whoooeeeeee!  These folks want to go back to the Cold War, but this time they are on the side of Russia!  And it remains to be seen whether Gianforte will be an asset for the Republicans.