Wednesday, January 31, 2018


People will do anything unless someone stops them.

If someone does something outrageous enough, no one will stop them because they won’t believe it’s happening.

—Robert Macfie Scriver

These two adages came from Scriver’s years as town magistrate and justice of the peace — not law school.  His experience was ground-level on an “Indian” reservation.  Pretty basic, which is the point of the justice of the peace system.

I used to deploy these quotes to talk about the Great Falls cannibal, David Bar Jonah, who killed and ate boys of his neighborhood, which no one could even imagine, and could not be tried because the mother of the only proven victim refused to believe he was dead and therefore would not cooperate.  (Bar Jonah was arrested on other charges and died in jail.)  I’m not making this up. 

Sometimes I would use the quotes to consider the holocaust in Germany, which the citizens refused to believe was happening.  Today what are American citizens refusing to believe happened, until the evidence and testimony are overwhelming?  I mean, that has nothing to do with Russia.

Now it is finger-fucking of more than two hundred (265 and still counting) beautiful, disciplined, achieving girls in East Lansing, Michigan, by a certified doctor, Larry Nassar.  This had been made possible because of the rules of secrecy (euphemistically called “confidentiality”), which protect professionals like doctors, lawyers, and clergy so that they can have healing and helpful access to the personal secrets of their clients.  It is NOT meant to protect professionals who violate clients.

Stigma, confusion, and shame enforced secrets of the girls kept them from telling parents and authorities what had happened — damaged them and prevented the revelations that would have given the law access to their protection.  Since 1997 girls were telling each other and adults they trusted — including parents — what had been done to them.  They were shamed, shushed, ignored.  Or some said it was the authorities who gagged them, admonished them to not tell such things.

Credentials, importance, reputation of a male middle-aged doctor were just cages confining silly girls — you know how they are — just entering adolescence and having Freudian fantasies.  No one had explained to them what safeguards they should have had (female nurses in the exam room) or what signalled trouble (no gloves, no lubrication, no prior discussion, both vaginal and anal penetration).  No one considered the fantasies of a male middle-aged geek.

Why weren’t the girls/young women — all of them serious and reliable — given classes in their own physiology, how to identify pains and sprains in an activity that was bound to create them, where to go for help if they were abused, what normal treatment is effective and why?

We need to do some serious rethinking of what privileged secrecy, sexual shame, and “handling the truth” really means.  There’s been a lot of “drift” in standards and now so much bald nakedness is accepted that we can look at the President’s wife naked and shrug it off.  Yesterday’s porn is today’s best seller, which quickly becomes a yawn.  “Appearances are deceiving” and now that anyone’s face can be put on anyone’s body, clothed or not. the phrase “lyin’ eyes” is simply a fact.

If it’s extreme enough, sex can still be suppressed, turned back on accusers, suffused with enough emotion to confuse the issues.  But it’s probably money that is the real subject.  As sex is “liberated” to be open and benign (as though that were possible), the money value goes out of it.  Those seeking to sell must explore to find the frisson that will bring the customer back.  

Luckily, it’s not that hard.  I’m told there is a body [sic] of porn that focuses on pretty girls who are marked with the places animals are cut to make butcher’s cuts of meat.  I once went to interview a professor of animal studies at Bozeman.  In his office, above his desk, was a poster of just such an image.  I don’t know whether the girl was a gymnast.  The prof was only a little bit uncomfortable that I was staring at his poster.  Why didn’t I complain to his department head?  Why didn’t someone else?  Or did they, and found themselves laughed off.

So, in a kind of typology, there are true secrets (something known but not to be told); open secrets that everyone knows but pretends not to; denied secrets which are fairly open until they can be monetized (plus or minus); things that are not thought of as secrets or even shameful until someone from another level of society or a different country is shocked and horrified; things that no one can see even when they are in plain sight; things that truly aren’t there though people claim to see them.  (I have a bit of trouble grasping some of the “harassment” claims.)  

Maybe the most dangerous cases are the ones where certain persons claim to have insight and “vision” into phenomena that no one else can see.  Doctors, scientists, spies, art curators, and religious leaders.  Emperor’s new whatever.

Consider the subject of nutrition, which is vital enough to everyone’s well-being, and now is trampled earth where dozens of theories about the proper way of eating war it out.  Animal fat is deadly.  Plants are trying to kill us all.  Take these pills that I alone can sell you.

The most dangerous cases are the one that feed institutions: hospitals, universities, athletic programs, humane societies.  (What IS humane?)  Because then all the machinery comes down on the person, whether they are huge football players suffering concussions or flexible little girls being finger-fucked.  Why are these gymnasts always girls?  Where are the male gymnasts who are just beginning adolescence?  Aren’t fantasies about their bodies so easily marketed?  Or is it because that impulse is so easily made real in the showers?  They don’t need the fantasy of medical treatment.

Ground level observation by people in a community with a shared standard of behavior, “levelers” and anti-intellectuals, have their uses IF they act on what they see.  Too often they pretend they see nothing because it will cost them, if only in terms of trouble.  Yet that cost is real.  Ask those gymnast girls how outrageous something must be to trigger action.  There is more than one way to “eat” a child, or at least their happiness.  Sometimes it is their own parents who do it secretly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


This post is so familiar that it sounds dumb, but it's worth looking at one more time.

Old obsessions about whether one is “good enough” at whatever one is doing has roots going back to earning grades in school and before that to the basic human learning project: walking, talking, getting what one needs.  Given what we know scientifically now about how much first ideas get imprinted as “reality” and are nearly impossible to overcome, it’s not surprising that our expectations of ourselves are unrealistic, even destructive.  It takes a lot of "not good enough" to learn to stand without clinging to the furniture.  So it's hard for an adult personto bring up to consciousness what is realistic, possible, and desirable, maybe for the purpose of choosing new goals but maybe even for the discarding of old standards and recognition of what was achieved without thinking about goals.

An obvious variable is the size of the pool your froginess lives in.  Being a noted Montana Writer is one thing, choosing something much bigger or much smaller means considerable change to adapt to the national scene or global issues and may leave one's previous fans behind. To abandon writing “for” one’s own socio-economic or educational group by reaching out to a different audience will radically change one’s standards and subjects.  It will mean a different sort of intermediary (editor or agent) and maybe a change of instrument — maybe from bound books to smartphone, from paper to electronic.

It’s not just a matter of marketing, but also the kind of alliances and feedbacks, the sources of encouragement and positive criticism as well as cautions, and the ways “backstage” one can supply those things to others.  Marketing does need to consider who the consumers are and how big and flush that pool might be.  Right now the pool of women with an appetite for escapist novels is huge, but they don’t have a lot of money, time or storage.  Therefore, ebooks shine.  If you don’t write that sort of thing or market that way, “failure” of skills is hardly the problem.

Some venues are not pools but rushing rivers.  Political, scientific, and other fields, even those requiring complex researched knowledge, move along quickly.  Today’s major insight is tomorrow’s old discarded stuff.  The time investment necessary is a limitation, which means money both for living until the payoff and for going to places, talking to people, searching archives.  Budget constraints are not the same as lack of skills.

Returning to the first premise about worthiness, are those standards what was chosen or is it residual, maybe set out by people in the past who are no longer relevant.  Maybe they’re dead people, like ancient Greeks.  Maybe they’re family people who imposed their values or demanded success that will make THEM look good.  To find these things one might need a therapist or at least a legal pad and enough time to draw webs, maps, names and relationships.  This is especially true if the early, semi-buried forces conflict:  one says the most important factor is correctness, standards, and the other says what counts is innovation, the startling.

The force can be strong when it’s from people you love, even if they’re dead.  Maybe more so then.  You’ll need that Gestalt two chair strategy of sitting in one, imagining the other person opposite and talking to them — then switching chairs and speaking for that other person.  What did they want for themselves?  Where did they get their ideas?  What has changed in the world since they gave you advice? Was there still some small voice saying, "You're good enough!"

Maybe your ideas about the entitlements provided by love have changed.  This is where my line of thought began.  Devoted enabler that I was, putting off my own goals in order to support the work of a “genius” husband, just how good did he have to be to justify my effort and self-denial?  An old woman said to me (when I was still young), "Scriver was good, but not THAT good!  He was no Charlie Russell."  I suspect that the Charlie Russell who was so good was a figment of her imagination created by advertising.

Then in the ministry I repeated the pattern:  just how totally did I have to devote myself to a denomination to be a truly worthy minister?  In both cases, the terms of reward, the value systems, changed out from under me.  Plainly, there was not love coming my way, so why should I — to be crude — put out?  At this point some people have extra-curricular affairs, which is a cheap fix attached to a lot of expensive destruction.

Effort of clues, truth and analysis — imagine the TV series detectives creating the wall of clues scribbled on post-its — has a payoff in the end:  skills and knowledge that are part of oneself, not located in the situation at all.  Their loss, my knowledge gain.  

Maybe the problem is not the fact of the dynamics, but in the ideas of virtue and how to measure it.  What counts?  Sales?  Inspiration? Praise from Charlie Rose?  (Charlie Who?  He's over.)  Satisfaction of creation according to one’s own standards?  But what if part of one’s character structure is always that dissatisfaction with one’s own work?  As if loss of that dissatisfaction is somehow a loss of motivation, a caving-in to limitations. 

Sometimes the “chair” opposite me is a pew full of parishioners from the past.  Once I said in a sermon about accepting limitations -- that I would have loved to be a ballet dancer or an opera singer, but that wasn’t physically possible.  The congregation all laughed merrily and I was surprised that I teared up a little.  It WAS ridiculous.  But suppose I’d analyzed it, suppose I looked for the reason I wanted to be those things.  

Ballet and opera are extraordinary performance skills, not unlike preaching, but differently physically based and requiring many hours of training, practise and discipline.  They are often historically justified — one responds to what is traditional, to some degree even in defiance, like “Drake Lake,” the all-male version of the white ballet template.  Agnes de Mille did something a little different.  Stocky and strong, not at all sylph-like, she choreographed ballets for cowgirls.  But most people think preaching is a "gift," a talent that is God-given, so it won't matter how good you are -- it won't belong to you.

I’ve gone to blogging, which for a manuscript preacher is hardly any jump at all.  Sequential, personally informed, responding to a regular schedule, reaching for depth — the weak link is not knowing who is in the “pews.”  The great joy is the surprise of discovering that persons of true comprehension are out there.

When I started writing small stories about Blackfeet, I gave some to my mother, showing off.  Her verdict was “I didn’t expect to think much of them but I ended up quite affected.”  All I heard was that she didn’t expect much. I put those stories on, separate from the “serious” writing on  Why the separation?  Am I thinking about a separation between fiction and serious discourse?  But I often put the fiction on prairiemary first, then shift it to wordpress which is considered a more sophisticated provider.  Actually, I don’t like it because it has too many bells and whistles, which steals energy from the actual content.  

But maybe it’s also because a certain contingent of people, some enrolled and some not, will attack fiction politically.  They don’t read wordpress blogs, so it’s safe storage.  Good enough.

But what if you want to be amazingly brilliant, world-changing insightful, satisfying every past helper?  What can go wrong with the attempt?  I'm asking.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Bombing of the Murtah Building which had day care on the first floor.

The law of unintended consequences is Exhibit A for the premise that no one knows everything.  Something will ALWAYS happen that the perp didn’t expect, couldn’t see, hadn’t a clue about, didn’t know there was anything out there to know.

I just watched the Netflix streaming “Oklahoma City”.  I wonder how it will affect people beyond just making money.  Will right wingers feel vindication and shed a tear for a gangly bullied kid called “Noodles” whom the army taught to kill?  Or will people who love babies want to kill MacVeigh all over again?  Or will some kid out there now, being bullied with a nickname based on his appearance, vow to follow up on the directions for making a bomb?

My selfish tiny reaction is a memory of the next week after the explosion when I was working on the first floor of the Portlandia Building and a Ryder U-Haul truck parked just outside the plate-glass windows ten feet from my desk for a couple of hours.  I talked to my boss, who said I was fantasizing.  I guess I was.

What MacVeigh got out of the bombing, even after getting the death sentence, was that it meant he was more powerful than anyone, the government or anyone else.  He simply shut out the knowledge of the dead babies.  Or how it would make people hate his cause even more.

For too long I’ve been following the nation’s current CSI project of getting a grip on the President.  There are currently 270 sealed indictments— probably more of them to come.  People are speculating how many of them contain evidence that is keeping Republican legislators from enforcing the laws that protect the government from collusion, corruption, profiteering, and treason.

One consequence has been my growing awareness of valuing the “meta” level of thought.  Not “higher” or “lower” but the embedded assumptions that trigger unexpected consequences.  Like the “pill” removing the restraint that was the fear of unwanted pregnancy.  And then the later development of DNA that could identify both unintended fathers and intended rapists.  

Awareness of the growing detail and grip of DNA analysis has not really increased enough for people to realize that it can NOT tell a person which “tribe” they belong to because all the tribes are flexible and inclusive with no sharp edges, but they CAN tell whose child you are.  Or aren’t.  Recently there was a case of three beautiful female triplets who took the same DNA test and got conflicting — or at least contrasting— results from what was presumed to be identical DNA. I suspect that if every white supremacist who wanted to join these far right groups had to take a DNA test, he would discover he had a variously colored past.  In fact, those who make the loudest noises about their purity possibly doth protest too much.  I mean, did Hitler look Aryan to you?

The unintended consequence of Trump’s presidency has been exactly the kind of close scrutiny that he cannot withstand.  His limited grasp of what it is to be a president — which is different from a tyrant — did not include the revealing of his criminal schemes, quite apart from the mistaken instructions from Uncle Putin.  He did not know that there would be an attendant at his bedroom door, that his bedding would be stripped by a maid, that he could no longer throw his dirty clothes on the floor because someone’s job was to properly handle them.  Ears everywhere, eyes sideways, comb-over analyzed, no escape.  Melania much harder to bully and impossible to strike.  Every MacDonald’s cheeseburger recorded somewhere.  (Even THEY might be poisoned.)

Then there’s the case of the Repubs protecting their oligarchiness, their entitlement, which they believe is the source of their money which is their proof of entitlement.  A little circular as arguments go, but whatever works.  What is unexpected is that this triggers just the right time to reconsider the whole question of what money really is.  The invention of cybermoney, the breaching of national monetary systems, the laundering of money by trying to convert it to some permanent value like real estate— all this has made us wonder whether in our efforts to escape from George III’s taxation injustice, we’ve overlooked something.  

Like, for instance, money is only bookkeeping.  Even clever Manafort was in that handwritten black ledger, unsafely locked up.  (Probably no Native Americans will draw horseback warriors in it anytime soon.  I’ve been intrigued by Blackfeet ledger art because some of it is recent enough for me to recognize the people’s names because I knew them.)

“This paper provides a theory of money, whose value depends on the functioning of the intermediary sector, and a unified framework for analyzing the interaction between price and financial stability.”  I don’t understand this stuff yet, but the claim is that it means a government CANNOT run of out of money and that cutting Social Security and Medicare has nothing at all to do with taxation amounts, but only will the willingness of the budgeteers to allocate the amounts.  It’s simply a value statement and not a cap or limitation.  

This was not the realization that the Repubs wanted us to have.  In fact, they themselves can’t figure this out.  (There is no intelligence or dementia test required to be a legislator — not even charisma, which is lucky for some of these funny-looking people.)  It’s a money allocation value statement when someone is elected.

Trump hasn’t grasped that he is not the captain of the Spaceship Enterprise who orders “Make it so.”  But neither have the elected leaders realized that neither can THEY order the citizens to obey.  This planet may be a spaceship, but we are not just crew, since we are in a democracy.  if we were crew we could be ordered to stop releasing methane, to stop shooting elephants, to stop having children we don’t want.

And children are the most unintended consequence of all, not just the intention of having them, but also the intentions of how they should be.  China is just now realizing the unintended consequence of aborting all those little girls — which is now a lot of restless single men.  But what in the US is going to be the consequence of throwing teenaged boys out of broken families?  Especially when they find each other and decide to make a different world — not with bombs, but with visions.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Since I moved back to the high prairie to think, read and write, my understanding of the world has completely transformed.  Both hopeful and daunting, the main changes can be listed (temporarily, because to me a “list” is something that is written down so it can be changed).  They include the following ideas, which you may find difficult. :

1.  Everything is a process.  We are now told that even our memories, our identities, our daily experiences, are interactions and only permanent because that is the way we think of them.  My efforts to stay the same “me”, resisting all efforts to control and change me, are futile.  This is not at all the same thing as surrender to what acts on me or changes within me.  It is more like conversion away from still photos to video, or from painting to music.  It accepts the dimension of time and finds persistence and stability in themes and rhythms.  

2.  Because it is all a process, new things constantly emerge both outside and inside us, both good and bad, both perceived and denied.  The advantage to recognizing process is being alert and able to adjust, though humans have a biological/mammalian drive to keep everything the same.  The fact that we CAN adjust to newly emerged things like climate change or the invention of the Internet, means that we persist, which is one way we define success.

3.  Too often our definition of success is personal and not social.  Consider HIV-AIDS, an emergent factor on both levels.  Here are three TED talks that review the topic in case you’ve never heard of it.

4.  Membranes — divisions, dividing points, boundaries — develop as ways of controlling process.  Some are permeable (screens on windows), some are very stubborn (the blood barrier to the brain), some are negotiable (the legal boundaries of property), and some are very tiny.  There are two membranes I think about quite a bit:  one is the skin, which separates the organism from the environment; the other is the cell wall, which acts like a one-celled organism within the environment of the body.  Since we can’t see cells, most of us are unaware of the system of gates and docks in the wall of a cell that keep out some molecules while admitting oxygen and nutrients.

5.  Consciousness.  What we are aware that we are perceiving, what we could perceive if we adjusted our filtering mechanisms (gates and ports of our awareness membrane, which is a source of identity), and what happens to keep us alive through nearly automatic constant adjustments that work in loops or pendulums, varying between too much and too little in a process called “homeostasis”— mostly it all goes along by itself.  Most of our consciousness is devoted to the conversation with what is around us, outside.

6.  Emergent disruption of homeostatic balance by new influences recur, maybe in the molecular nuclear codes that were the source of our creation when the two sides of the chromosomes were zipped together at conception.  A virus is a membrane-crossing, emergent — or rather intrusive — code that gets into the body, then into the cell, in order to “eat” it by making the cell into itself.  The most major driver of life-process in the universe is our consuming each of other.

7.  Raising understanding of what would in earlier times have been a mysterious failing of the body’s processes, we consciously set out to restore homeostasis, either by adding compensation (insulin) or by disrupting the code (anti-retrovirals).  Maybe by acts and manipulations.

8.  Society is like a body.  It has its membranes and cycles.  By now the humans of the planet are involved in a kind of global homeostasis of families and societies.  We speak of the internet as “viral”, crossing membranes between countries, cultures, generations, and economic status.  Coinciding with this surge of interpenetrating information and narrative are experimental attempts to restore homeostasis either by suppressing anything new or by adding compensations.

9.  One compensation is narrative and another is music.  Economics involves transaction, crossing the culture membranes that come out of the development of different places and times that respond to unique ecological conditions.

10.  Education can both create and destroy social membranes.  Ideas are like nuclear code, directing the life of the individual cell.  But that may mean that cells must be separated by membranes to protect them from each other.

That’s enough stuff to reflect on.  What prompts this list is social separations that have surprised me, rather painfully.  My oldest playmate — pushed a bit by my reactions — revealed that she had no mental picture of my life beyond the point of my marriage.  She considered the “breakdown” of the divorce a failure on my part.  In fact, she thinks my whole life since has been failure to cope, selfishness, and self-indulgence, marked by failure to risk participation.

Her romanticization of marriage (she’s Catholic) began with her opinion that the actual wedding was “beautiful.”  She didn’t know that my bridesmaid, the groom’s daughter, had just found out she was dying of cancer.  She didn’t know that the church prevented our musician, a bagpiper, from entering the sanctuary because a bagpipe is “heathen” music.  She didn’t know that my contempt for my father was barely tolerated for the sake of my mother.  She didn’t know that the groom, twice my age, married me because “i would be good for his career” and that conventional love had nothing to do with it.  (Nor lust neither.)  Admitting these things -- even if known -- would have been brushed aside by her, never getting through her “membrane.”  It’s not her fault.  It’s a membrane that has saved her.

There’s another example.  My cousin, trying to mend what he felt (realistically) was a divide between us, offered two “sympathies” for my life, things he thought he shared with me.  One as the conviction that mountains are beautiful and the other was an interest in the Unitarian denomination.  (He is an engineer — null-religion.)  To bridge this gap, he sent me a check, which I rejected.  He does not know how much I feel that making scenery into some kind of Hallmark totem causes a denial of the complexity and gravity of geology and it’s impact on human life, nor is he aware of my “loss of habitat” by the change of a once-relevant religious home, and my turning away from the idea of institutional congregations altogether.  If I tried to explain it, his eyes would glaze over.  (By now yours probably are as well.)

Education has separated me from others, and anyway that’s what the post-modern philosophies have meant to do, rip holes in the status quo.  Foucault, Derrida, and all those guys are basically punking authority.  Which needed it.  It’s incomplete work, as signed by the persistence of stigma, the freedom of street law to “not be so nice” anymore, and our willingness to let money buy our standards of governance — not just elect an empty president but also to motivate an entire political party to simply keep their hands in their pockets, fondling their dark money as though they were their genitals.  This is why they try to displace all the arguments over to sex, which they think is their entitlement.

HIV-AIDS is not about sex.  It’s about money.

Friday, January 26, 2018


Phyllis and George Johanson 

Where Portland’s streets go up into the West Hills, one of them follows an arroyo along what was once a stream bed between two great bulwarks of stone and forest, now connected by a bridge locally called “Suicide Bridge.”  Today it is fenced so it’s not possible to jump off.  A little branch street goes from that perilous street that crosses the bridge and on it lived Phyllis Johanson and her family, Quakers, artists, and others not afraid to intervene when things go bad.  

Phyllis told about her neighbor who was going out but saw that someone at the bridge was looking as though he were going to jump.  The woman stopped her car and went over to the young man.  She got his story from him (not worth repeating since it was like so many others) but then had an inspiration.  

“What would it take to keep you from jumping?” she asked.  “Would this be enough?”  She held out the five dollar bill she’d had in her pocket.  It was enough.  The young man took the five dollars and ran down the street, probably to get a drink or a drug, but at least deterred for the moment.  After that, several people on that street began to carry five dollar bills, just in case.

One morning Phyllis and George were not up yet when the landline phone (this was decades ago) rang on Phyllis’ side of the bed.  It was a pervert who whispered,  “Are you in bed?  This is what I’d like to do to you!”  He began to describe things.  

Still groggy, she handed the receiver over to George who was also half-asleep.  “It’s for you, George.”  He listened for a few minutes and exclaimed,  “Can a person really DO that?”  The pervert hung up.

Painting by George Johanson

Phyllis never wrote a book, though books have been written about George since he was a revered artist and teacher in Portland, part of a strong art circle that formed around the Portland Art Museum, now Pacific Northwest College of Art.  George and Phyllis were Quakers who actually lived out their principles.  To know them was to be drawn into a world something like that of, well, let’s say Ursula LeGuin (who lived farther north in the West Hills). meaning steadily confronting the world, whether it was by rowing on the Willamette so early that they were moving through fog or by political activism as either liberals or progressives, however one frames the categories.  Always, the goal was peace and appreciative co-existence.

In the Seventies when I was at Animal Control as education coordinator, I worked with Phyllis much of the time.  We were part of a small but ground-breaking circle of activists concentrating on animal welfare, trying to redefine what it even was.  Phyllis was the gentlest and most resourceful of us, with Doug Fakkema next, and Mike Burgwin was the most aggressive and forceful.  I was somewhere in the middle.  

Phyllis’ specialty was cats, “rescue cats” which means pets of someone who had died or whom circumstances compelled to give up their pet because of aging or allergies.  The cats stayed with Phyllis so they didn’t become feral while a new home was found.  Every morning, going up a little wooded trail, she set out for a brisk walk with all the cats padding along behind her in single file, their tails straight up, which is a sign of pleasure and anticipation.  I witnessed because I used to get on the end of the line and follow along. 

Phyllis went to conferences across the country, though she didn’t make a big fuss or give speeches.  Once she packed for some city back east, got to the hotel, opened her suitcase, and discovered that some cat had peed all over her clothes.  She laughed and found the hotel laundry room, wondering whether this feline comment were a criticism or a way of participating.

If you had a meal at the Johanson house, it was prepared according to “Diet for a Small Planet,” by Frances Moore LappĂ©.  The vegetarian recipes were meant to improve the health of the planet, not just humans.  And you wouldn’t get a cup of coffee — rather it would be Pero, which I began to quite like.

Aaron, the son of George and Phyllis, is a photographer.  This link will take you to his portraits of the people in that special world of the family and community.  This was not the abstract Manhattan wild world of psychedelic stunts and counterculture gestures.  Nor was it the art world I had previously known in Browning, MT, of cowboys and Indians, carefully realistic records of an historical world.  

A lot of the animal welfare people in Portland at the time were pretty wacky and self-serving.  Graziella Boucher, for instance, was a little old lady who dressed like Thirties Hollywood and kept a husky that she claimed was a wolf.  The choleric force behind a radio program called “Animal Aid” just loved to fight and spread all sorts of outrageous rumors.  A frustrated middle-aged woman had an obsession with Burgwin.  Phyllis never got angry with them, mocked them, or got pulled into their issues.  She just went patiently and steadily ahead, doing what she thought was right.

I don’t believe people like this make a decision to follow Quaker principles, but rather are born with this temperament and find the community that will support it.  I mean, I never knew Phyllis to attend “Meeting”, though she had many UU friends and would visit the West Hills congregation now and then.  It wasn’t a matter of being converted to something, it was just the Johanson natural and rewarding way of life, and I was grateful to have a little marginal relationship with them.

When life happened to them, as it does to everyone, they looked at it with curiosity and clear-eyes.  If they saw suffering, they got to work for change.  If they saw beauty or jokes, they celebrated and shared.  I don’t see why death should affect any of that.  Phyllis is just as alive to me as she always was.  I try to be more like her.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Recently the grocery store in my county seat underwent a reorganization and refurbishing that left me disconcerted.  I couldn’t tell where things were, some things were simply missing, and whole aisles of stuff that weren’t groceries and were not even appealing to me — like seasonal decorations — had popped up.  I asked what had happened and was told that a professional reorganizer had been contracted to “upgrade” the store to guarantee more profit.  Sort of like a person getting an “makeover” by changing clothes and makeup.  I’m willing to bet that the upgrader didn’t come from Montana, but at least he or she got rid of the Kentucky Fried Chicken knockoff that used to be in one corner and that pervaded the store with the smell of old deep frying grease.

Something parallel but less “sensory” is happening to medical centers who contract with outsiders to reform their practices for efficiency.  The outside "experts" are often able to enforce their opinions through standards for federal grants and insurance companies.  One of the favorite reforms of these Procrustean overseers is moving everything to electronics.  The Valier clinic, which is a subset of Marias Medical Center, has just announced with fanfare that they have converted to an electronic practice.

I am skeptical.  My first thought is what about the high proportion of the people around here who don’t have computers either because they can’t afford them or because they don’t know how to use them and don’t care to learn.  Arthritic fingers and tired eyes do not encourage people to get online, as I know since I have to fight both.  In other words, the thinkers who went for this idea seem to confine their service to younger, more educated people — which is a good idea for insurers who like to insure people who won’t need any payouts — or they want a clientele of computer-adepts but don’t realize that such folks are likely to be 12-year-olds on smartphones.  

Also, they may not have thought about internet infrastructure along the High Line, which is too frazzled or unbuilt to support brisk business, much less medical emergencies.  Even electricity is undependable here.

It’s not as though I haven’t any experience with this specific medical center.  A few years ago I was substitute ward clerk in the Care Center, the nursing component, at a time when the usual ward clerk was so exhausted that she was beginning to have medical problems herself.  I was used to databases, but not the level of detail and sub-categories of meds, protocols, and so on.  Evidently neither were the people who created the programs. Not even the techie really understood it.  This was crucial stuff: not just the databases of recording that hand-written files traditionally include, but entries used to print out instructions for the nurses as they went from room-to-room.  Thank goodness that they were humans with real contact and judgement, because a one-stroke error in an amount of dosage, for instance, was potentially fatal, and the screens of input data were so complex and crowded that errors were easy to make.

The data was also used by someone somewhere to make bubble paks of the meds for each patient.  This was meant to prevent dosage errors and (maybe) theft, but could not respond to changes  in the patient that meant needed changes in the bubble contents.  Of course, in an ideal world a doctor would have to authorize the changes, then the ward clerk would put them in the database, then the next bubble pak set would upgrade.  This comes from the assumption that categories and authority are necessary controls, and ignores the reality that patients and their care-givers are both processes, as are hospital wards and their info-support.  They can change pretty darn fast and in surprising, unexpected, ways.

So I asked to be left out of the automatic enrollment in “Patient Portal”.  In any case, this computer is not secure, but it is easier to hack internet transmissions.  Because my blog discusses edgy and even illegal subjects, because much of my thought is morally transgressive, I attract people who want to hack.  People think that if they “know everything” about sex and drugs, they will be able to guard their safety.  Or there is a sizeable contingent around here that thinks if they don’t know about something, it must not exist.

I was put back into the “Patient Portal” system because I went to the Valier clinic for an A1C reading and a discussion about adjusting meds.  I expected a finger-stick test and a review of alternatives.  What I got was a blood draw for the lab (which will be expensive) and only one suggestion: moving to the new drugs administered by injection.  Free samples available which means advertising for something not yet standardized nor in use for long.

So I went to trusty "Doctor Google" which I trust mostly because of the sources of info from large studies.  These are the two that were enlightening.  “Should A1C Targets Be Individualized for All People with Diabetes?”  and  “Achieving glycemic control in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes: a critical comparison of current options.”  

Both of them had pages and pages of bibiliography.

I had noticed that recommended blood sugar readings were  usually between 5 and 7, with 8 being cause for alarm.  And I knew that I got a score of 8 on my last AiC, which is a figure summarizing the previous months, which this time had included Halloween.  I tried to keep temptation out of the house by giving out breakfast bars instead of candy, but even so, I ate too many breakfast bars and they were too much like candy bars.  I've tried to do better.

I had not known that there was active argument between the people who prescribe meds according to data-generated bell-curves based on testing of middle-aged white people, and the people who want to customize meds and recommendations based on individual responses.  Probably the most extreme example of the latter is Peter Attia   ( a doctor who uses himself for a guinea pig and discovered that a diet that will keep him in the low blood glucose range is not what will work for someone else.  Partly this argument is coming out of political demand for better data about minorities and women.

In the paper about prescribing for the elderly, I learned a new word:  sarcopenia, which means large muscle (skeletal) wasting.  When I lost weight at my original diagnosis, it all came out of those muscles so that my arm skin sags empty and crepey.  My arms and legs are thin, but my big tummy remains.  I see this in other old people all the time, but no medical person or even any online discussion of aging has even said directly, “You have sarcopenia.”  Another thing to research.  Very much like and related to “dry eye syndrome.”  It was a couple of years before someone said, “Your eye problems are ocular rosacea which is a version of dry eye syndrome.”

The main worry in this discussion of elderly prescribing is the danger of LOW blood sugar, esp. at night.  The consensus seems to be (I might not be getting this right) is that it’s better to be a little high than to risk the drastic consequences of low blood sugar.  Good studies haven't been done yet.

My A1C is supposed to be mailed to me.  It was taken Monday.  This is Thursday.  Nothing has arrived.  I guess I'd better buy one of those home monitors to go along with my daily glucose readings, which only tell the number at the time of the finger stick.