Saturday, March 31, 2018


Death came in the night, a surprise assassin.  The insulation had been taken down, the warming boxes put away.  I was awake every hour or so, but never saw a bony hand nor the hem of a midnight cloak whipping around the doorway.  This morning there is more snow and the “bull” black tomcat is eating something he pulled out from under the snow.  I was late feeding the outside cats.  The town is very quiet.

No cars passed in the night, though it was Friday.  All cats slept except once the mother cat got up when I did and ate a bit of dry food.  The kittens are ready for real cat food, but haven’t done any more than taste it and make faces.

The strange thing about these in-and-out nights, almost always when the cold is profound and I’m not entirely sure that this old house can cope, is that when one is asleep there is not unconsciousness.  Rather there is a different life, sometimes more coherent than the one that’s supposed to be “real.”  You know how they say that if you’re dying, your whole life will pass in front of your eyes?  That’s what happens, except that many of the vignettes never happened, so it must mean that I’m dying.  

And I am.  And so is everyone else.  

The kittens, who had gone exploring for the first time, have found their way back into the box and are too tired to even nurse while their mother gives them a good washing.  I left two kittens and somehow the mother of this mother (“Tuxie") lost the kittens she (“Bunny”) was carrying, so there are two mothers for the two kittens, barely fitting together in that box.  Why one starter batch survives and the other simply evaporates is a puzzle.

What the biggest black cat is eating is a mystery.  I will not go look.  Some mysteries are best left alone.  There are about five, as nearly as I can tell, going by size and the very few markings.  I never get close enough to know male from female.  The smallest black cat is “Nod” the only surviving kitten of a set of four.  The other three all died of feline distemper.  They didn’t have shots — I can’t even lay a hand on them, mostly see them through the window — but they say the shots are only 30% effective.  As they died, I removed them, except that I had missed one.  Its body was under some boxes this week — its tail was sticking out.  

If the weather would stay warm enough long enough, I would start the massive Spring project of the Augean garage.  When the snowdrift in front of the so-called bunkhouse melts enough, I can start on the seasonal switchout for spring.

But this is the day between Good Friday (turn out the lights to grieve and symbolize the closing of the tomb entrance) and Easter.  (The sun comes up tomorrow morning and out walks Jesus).  It’s gray.  Between.  Though there was a precursor when the usual stampede of three adult cats charges through my computer room, joined by two tiny but rather nimble fuzz-balls intent on keeping up.  They haven’t found any other rooms yet because they stop at the difference in linoleum between this room and the kitchen.  They think it is real.

Their world was dark until the last few days.  Their first days were in a box at the bottom of my clothes closet with the door only ajar.  They didn’t say anything.  They still have not purred.

Their uncle “Douxie” loved the night and charged out into the dark — then sometimes reversed direction and rushed back into the house to escape the big bull tomcats.  He’s no match for them — he only has one testicle and his few encounters have left him with an unhealed wound just ahead of his tail on his back.  The weather was too bad to drive to the vet (thirty miles and busy saving calves), which was lucky for him, since I was seriously considering euthanasia.  Too many cats.  No money and time for vet visits.

I’m dying.  Not like, “sorry, you have six weeks to live” which is what they all say no matter what the real time-line may be.  More like, “summer is coming — then. . . “  (We don’t have Spring here.  We have mud and then digging with major machines.  Street repairs are underway already.  Frost travels, sinking down to where it can burst pipes.)

But muscles weaken.  Luckily my bones are strong.  But my eyes are not.  And clearly I must never let anything get into my ears again, no matter how much they itch.  Most of the people here compensate for weakening bodies by driving ever bigger and shinier cars, though they rarely leave town.  On the way to a bigger town, one rarely meets more than a few others but alertness is required — just in case.

We are kittens.  

I think about ending this blog.  Start a new one, maybe.  Tease apart the various strands of subject matter, of which death is only one, and start ten others.  Finally get down to the dumb job of making posts into booklets, but what then?  That’s when the real trouble starts, because publishing is about publishing and done by publishers participating in the Great Machine of Print in the World.  It’s about money.  In the end there’s no profit or honor, which is how they measure life.  Anything not making money is not alive.  Writing is admired if it makes a lot of money.  Otherwise, who cares?

When an unpublished writer dies, then that’s a second death, but only a death of potential.  And even then if someone gets into Emily Dickinson’s trunk and picks out the little homemade booklets of poetry, it can be resurrected.  There are other poets, other unknown works, some of them better.  Maybe.  But that was specific to that time, place, person.  Who cares?  Mostly the ones who were there.

Farmer paranoia (big predators?) and cop caution (drug dealers) plus the profit (of course) mean that this town is never dark.  Different eras of lamps mean different colors of light — some amber and others more pink, very few a little blue.  Last night the overcast clouds prevailed but sometimes in one of the waking intervals the full moon smudged through the dark in a smeared thumbprint, blurred signature of the sky that cares nothing about what is or is not alive on this planet.  No cat woke to stand in the window beside me.  I didn’t care.  But now I write it down.

Friday, March 30, 2018


Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at NYU-Stern in Manhattan.  This is an elite “business” school.  He wrote a book called “The Righteous Mind” which is supposed to be about social and moral psychology and how they can “can improve companies, universities, and societies.”  That’s enough to turn me off right there.  It evokes a Puritan among the cubicles, striding around improving everyone.

Here’s Haidt on TED talks.   He’s talking about the psych “types” that Cambridge Analytical used (above) to predict how people would vote in the 2016 presidential election.  (Please disregard his lisp.)  The categories invented in 2008 claim that they are “moral” and that you are born with them, because the basic material was from DNA.  But Haidt is really just a fast-pattering guy wearing an expensive silk shirt.  Snarky for laughs.

This same material is used in a slightly more colorful way in this article.  The smugs vs. the trolls: Analysis of American politics and media culture 

All this is grandiosely framed as religion/culture and includes a pitch for punishment.  It is meant to include punishment so as to introduce fear.  Control, repression, authority.  The intriguing thing to remember is that this comes out of advertising.  It’s seventh-grade morality: if you stink, you’re bad.  If you’re atypical, you’re bad.  If you’re not like “me,” you’re bad.  But Haidt throws around a lot of big famous names.  He makes a pitch for “teams” meaning conflict, competition.  People on the right “team” use the right toothpaste.

This same material is discussed in a slightly more colorful way here.  The smugs vs. the trolls: “A great analysis of American politics, media culture, and sophistication”.  The conclusion of the article is that everyone feels pretty much “enough already”.  Most people do NOT have the background to know that it was an invention in the first place, meant to control your supermarket choices, because the basic spine of the American Way of Life is mercantilism.

The upshot of the whole way of looking at things — morality/money — drives yet another split into American society.  Now “dark” is “bad” and that justifies aggression and the withholding of money.  Unless you’re dark, when the bad shifts over onto the whites, who already shoot to kill and own all the houses.

This also feeds the split between the educated and the ignorant because now knowing things is devious and an unfair advantage, while ignorance becomes innocence free of prejudice and propaganda, responding to what is obvious.  You need a computer, and forget that it is tattling on you.

What is far less conscious is between those who live in dense populations and those who live in open spaces.  Sadly, all our laws and much of our mercantile life is controlled by those in the dense populations, because everything is based on numbers, even our precious democracy.  

Increasingly, one cannot be part of what happens in the national sense if one doesn’t subscribe to the dominant sources, carry the relevant devices, and conform to techie rules.  To have an opinion, one must have contact and information — what some people call “vector control.”  It’s what Facebook has.  Data lists, annotated.  

These five supposedly “moral” categories are no such thing.  They are no more valid than any Myers/Briggs dating recommendation.  Morality is highly flexible, often unconscious, attached to culture.  Bathroom habits are an example, or sex.  Eating.  Clothing.  Here’s the Wikipedia discussion:

This is a bait-and-switch deal.  The attempt is to make you believe that this kind of analysis can win an election.  I daresay that if a person were able to analyze carefully, the five traits have much more to do with the usual racism, class-assumptions, prejudice against categories, and Christian assumptions that people can be sorted into good/bad.  They are still assuming that religion is a way of living safely because of having some kind of supernatural protection.  It prescribes what one must do to be saved, meaning live eternally, a human value in some places and times.

The non-negotiable is solid:  survival.  If not enough people make babies and keep them alive to successfully make more babies, there will be no more species.  Of the perhaps 200 versions of hominins, our present version is the only one to survive -- so far.  It is pretty clear, according to scientists, that what promotes survival is sharing, relationship, communication, belonging to a group.  Except sometimes groups are “wrong,” don’t fit anymore.  Then the Joe Campbell heroic individual must go find new ways, new places, how to survive on entirely new terms.  That must be what’s happening now.  

The planet is a process and so is everything on it.  Humans try to keep everything the same, which is doomed if you think in more than lifetimes.  It doesn’t matter how industrious or conscientious you are it you’re sitting on a volcano.  It doesn’t matter how careful are about global warming if no one else is and the impact affects everyone.

Let’s do specifics:  Russia is a country of barren scarcity, at least the way it is run now.  Pretending for centuries that their shared spirit will save them, while all the time the Oligarchs are moving their assets out to the Western world, means they are doomed.  They cannot survive.  There’s not enough to go around.  No one wants babies. There’s no reason to be virtuous, except habit — easily dissolved by vodka.

The Northern Continent — it’s a mistake to think of it in terms of nations at this point — is also threatened but this time by wealth, unevenly distributed.  Confusion, loneliness (while surrounded by people), resentment, useless assumptions, fear also keep people from working together or even understanding each other.  These are against survival.  Murder of the “different” does not mean the survival of the same.

So is Cambridge Analytical anything more than a fancy name and a corporate con?  Do they NEED to be anymore than that to sell us control by Putin?   Evidently not.  It’s not magic.  It’s not rocket science.  Stick together.  Do good.  Simple.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


The pleasure of a good ole Western like “The Sacketts” is the type-casting in stereotyped roles and the entirely predictable plot.  Then, of course, the land.  The only problem in this version is that Tom Selleck is so big and beautiful — dimples, carefully ironed shirt — that it puts all the rest to shame.  But the best thing about this show is the actor/elder Glenn Ford , a little frail now, is turning in a job of real acting.  (You can tell because he’s sweating.  Jokes.)  Ben Johnson, of course, is himself as usual and what more could you want?  We sure did used to enjoy playing “guns,” but there’s no use pretending we could equal Jack Elam for evil visage.  

Mixing actors like this is a little problematic when they represent quite different times.  The Ward Bond/Montgomery Clift/John Wayne type-casting is a generation quite different from the Sam Eliott/Tom Selleck kind.  I can’t even imagine Selleck and Clint Walker on the screen at the same time.  It would take a mighty big screen.

Another good thing about this show is the sound track.  When the wild mountain brother (Sam Elliott) is prowling around, the “music” goes to being a sound track of clicks and sproings, the whirl of spur rowels and the jingling squeak of horse harness, the little shriek of a sharpening knife.  A’course, the creaky drawl of Slim Pickens is a music of itself.  In this iteration he’s got a “tache” worthy of a president’s lawyer.

We got two stories goin’ here, weavin’ in and out.  Sam Elliott, the wild one, and Ben Johnson, grizzled old tough, are still workin’ on a mine marked “1477” with Spaniard armor, the cavern inhabited by a feral girl.  ‘Course the girl don’t say much.  All the females in this show should contact their agents about the number of lines they get.  The exceptions are Ruth Roman (Rosie) and Mercedes McCambridge (Ma Clampett).  Just standing there they amount to a statement.  In this case it’s about age: McCambridge’s earliest movies were in the Forties.  Roman is ten years younger, but her sexiness is meant to be an anomaly, almost a joke.

This kind of story is always full of the “held moment,” teetering in potential and not quite yet to the moment of expression.  The pause for ambiguity and irony.  They do both sex and death that way — it’s the times.  In early days the lives are parallel enough that cowboy actors could compete in rodeos as extras or even as serious competitors.  Now rodeo competitors are quite different, not making glamour out of raising dirt in a scuffle, but claiming the sex appeal of the professional athlete arriving with fireworks.

It’s the sex that is the constant, but the source and nature of the sex are widely different.  Originally the idea was confrontations and endurances of men in a group managing livestock.  There was no reason for women to be there, so men found the sailors’ remedy.  But the men themselves were the embodiment (pun) of rough and tough, strong to the point of being strong-smelling, sometimes uneducated but usually wily, often runaways or leftovers from the Civil War.  Today’s well-showered and expensively horsed man would not fit in.  Nor would a street delinquent.

These days the “West” is a merchandize category about leather sofas and picturesque boots.  No longer the one-story “ranch house” with porch, but a pretentious stone and iron castle only occupied at some times of the year, they are places to dress-up and drink.

But now I want to take a completely different and personal tack on this subject.  I’d been thinking about stages of life and what aspects of men’s lives are epitomized in books/movies.  I was puzzling over same sex and threesomes, esp. the mixed sets.  Then I came face to face with sexy cowboys.  As men they are about as physical and dependent on each other as it’s possible to get.  Not all of them are woman-haters; many take a humorous, friendly and protective point of view towards females.  (I still don’t get trans-sexual in the binary sense, though I understand fluid sex as simply realistic.)

Possibly because my first and definitive sexual encounter and marriage was with a man twice my age, I have a tendency to appreciate the role of sidekick, a backup person not so potent but capable of seeing what the alpha/older/richer/more important side has come to take for granted.  (It’s where my writing really began.)  The model is not “Gunsmoke,” but “Rawhide” in the days when Clint Eastwood was a problem kid and Mr. Favor (Eric Fleming) was the one with the power to protect and solve.  I’ve always wondered how Fleming would have fared if he had survived.  I liked him best.  (He fell out of a canoe on a shoot in the Amazon and the piranas ate him.)  This May/December arrangement is not unusual for gays, esp. in the art world where one is the creator and the other is the entrepreneur.  

I’d like to see a movie with an aging star cowboy and a young sprout of a hustling entrepreneur.  Usually it’s the other way around, but so much depends upon the larger culture, what it values and permits.  Sex that is “sexy” is, of course, usually full of tension and even confrontation.  This aspect is built-in for an age difference.  It could be a pretty good rodeo movie, though the older man would have be dependent on skill, like roping, rather than endurance, like bull-riding.  Or maybe he could be a stock provider.

It’s the physical being of a competent working man that I appreciate, just in the ordinary course of a day.  Sunburn, a little damage from ropes and big animals, sweat and hair (of course), and the networks of muscle and vasculature — the long curves of back and the short curves of ligaments attached behind the ear and extending down the neck to under a tight pearl-snapped shirt and a creased silk scarf.  Maybe there’s something that illuminates “threesomes,” meaning 2-to-1 genders but maybe a man and a horse and then another person who shares the horse.

Anyway, it’s at this point that I appreciate a certain category of gay men, not least because they love each other.  How could I criticize that?  Cue the music.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


"Mr. Toad" from "Wind in the Willows"

At about the tenth year, families that haven’t really “gelled” successfully begin to take a second breath, maybe a new job and maybe a new place.  Classically (that means just after WWII) industrialization introduced many better-paid but more arduous work for agricultural people and pulled them into cities.  Their children got dragged along with them, faced with the necessity of making all new friends.  Luckily, for boys at least, this is the age when “classically” — meaning always and everywhere — boys get pulled into groups of same-age/same-sex kids.  

In “Wind in the Willows” this phenomenon is both celebrated and legitimated by making the boys into true animals, though anthromorphized.  Written in the early years of the nineteen hundreds, a time when England was barely leaving the old ways, the author, Kenneth Grahame, had taken early retirement to write this book which replaced any normal relationship to his damaged son.  One writer says the book, “alternately slow moving and fast-paced, . . . is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality and camaraderie.”

Grahame’s father was alcoholic and reasonably gave his four children over to their grandmother who raised them, one imagines, on benign neglect.  Grahame himself married late to a barely fertile woman, a 36-year-old hypochondriac, with the result of one handicapped, half-blind, uncontrollable child.  Rather than nurturing and guiding Alastair, he sent his son off to school with only tales of Toad, Mole, Ratty and Badger to comfort him.  It wasn’t enough.  Finally, after wild behavior, including attacks on other boys, Alistair committed suicide by lying down in front of a train.

The father, who had taken early retirement, went on unchanged, puttering, and living a vicarious life through his inventions.  One writer suggests that only one emotion is allowed: nostalgia.  No doubt yearning for life as a carefree boy.  Being English, the theme of escape is important. “Mole desires to escape from the boredom of maintaining his home and his everyday existence; Badger’s escape is from society.  Although he does not succumb, Rat is strongly intrigued the stories of the Wild World told by Sea Rat, and Toad desires to elude every trace of responsibility to the rest of the world.”  Critics want to assign Toad to the grandfather, the father or the son, but it seems clear that he is about all three.  Along with a good deal of class consciousness and contempt.

Another critic identifies three “life paths,”  each associated with a different place.  The River is a centered life rooted in the permanent things; the Open Road which is “an aimless life with no sense of permanence or stability”, and the Wild Wood, “a lonely life filled with cold, impersonal beings.”  They are not cheerful alternatives, as presented, but each of the three could be quite satisfactory if conditions were good.

If one were to pretend these characters were human boys, their ages would seem to be between 9 and 12, the years of fitting one’s self into a cohort.  The three alternatives don’t sound so bad, in fact a necessary preparation for the community network.  In many places they would actually begin working along side men.  But now appears a new version, one that can potentially lead to “Lord of the Flies.”

This is a far darker story, published in 1954, a very dark time after WWII when it was beginning to be clear that there’s no such thing as a “war to end wars.”

“The point of departure for Lord of the Flies is a nineteenth century boys’ novel titled The Coral Island (1858), by R. M. Ballantyne. In Ballantyne’s story, a group of shipwrecked British schoolboys (two of whom share their names with Golding’s main characters) manage to create on their deserted island a fair replica of British civilization. Golding’s view of human nature is less sanguine. His is a view that accepts the doctrine of original sin but without the accompanying doctrine of redemption. People in a state of nature quickly revert to evil, but even in a so-called civilized state, people simply mask their evil beneath a veneer of order. After all, while the boys on the island are sinking into a state of anarchy and blood lust, their civilized parents and teachers are waging nuclear war in the skies overhead.”

Instead of casting innocent animals in a country atmosphere, this novel takes the original parable into “boys for men,” that is, lost boys who have no real education, no culture, no doctrine of salvation.  There is no way to be “saved.”  The realistic life of the time was deeply challenged and some would argue that it never was anything but a pig scramble.  At this moment (2018), the idea is pretty persuasive.

The boys in this second book are avid for sex and violence, though they are inchoate forces just beginning to form.  The story is deliberately not inclusive of females, as was true of English upper class schools at the time, but neither does it include elements of idealism that would have been taught.  The purpose is to discredit the German/ French notions about romantic children who are only corrupted by civilization: this story turns it inside out.  The abiding corruption of Manichaeism, originally from Iran, still forces everything into dualities that even now feed war in the Middle East.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any popular stories with this much appeal that are NOT either/or.  So long as our tales are based on human conflict, there’s not much choice.  Perhaps the real alternative is individual rather than group.  Something like Joe Campbell’s hero’s journey has room for good, bad, neither, and open questions.  This structure is based on exploration, growing knowledge.

Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer stories are about a “pair,” neither single nor group.  We are very interested in the real-world stories of animals.  But our tales of their survival is now a little frightening.  Not just the slack-jawed idiot sons of presidents waving newly severed elephant tails, but also the pipelines, the drainage, the excavating, the constant overrunning and overreplication that has contaminated the very air — today these are what make a boy wonder about survival.  Mr. Toad seems to be us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


When did it become pejoratively elitist to be “smart” as in the sense of educated?  I started out to write this post earlier but got diverted into side issues.  First, it is necessary to point out how much our public conversation and even some private relationships are dominated by fantasies about high-culture universities, people having paperwork about certifications, and how mention of the military has shifted from “grunt” G.I.’s to generals assumed able to run the world.  The actual content of the work is mysterious.  Rocket science.  Brain surgery.

It’s partly the fault of the media, who are notably well-educated or wise NOT, but who in their zeal to prove the importance of the people they describe or interview find it convenient to use those acronym tags without quite knowing what they mean.  They don’t the difference between an MA and a MS, they don’t know which acronyms have specialized meanings for church people, and they don’t know that whatever the alphabet tagged onto a name has little meaning unless the interpreter knows which institution, which school of thought, which outstanding teacher, was actualizing what is only a loose consensus of what the achievement means.

So a fancy name like Cambridge Analytica can get respect for what is basically a double-talking bean counter.  A traditional title like The Reverend Ms. Golden Jones is NOT putting on airs, but the usual honorific for a religious leaders BUT in terms of their own institutional realm.  No differently than the privileged small-town kid whose daddy is on the school board, college degrees are inflated by such phenomena as Gentleman’s B, which can mean that the kid is stupid but his daddy bought the school a new building.  They can be “legacies,” meaning that their ancestor attended here and if we don’t admit this junior version, it casts aspersions on what we did for his dad and grandpap because what counts is family.  (An old European idea about class.)

Local kids who think a lot -- or even learn how to play chess -- are called “nerds” and “four-eyes” and put down as being clumsy in ordinary social life.  Eggheads who try to do rocket science and all that.  They are ghettoized the same as artists, because the mainstream is team sports and those who aspire to being sex symbols AKA cheerleaders.

The payback comes when it is time to hire.  At one time all the kids who acted up or just couldn’t “get it,” simply left.  Even if they were required to stay until they were sixteen, they didn’t.  But graduation from high school meant something, basic as it was.  Then there was concern for late bloomers or kids whose fault was none of their own, so the GED was invented.  But there was still considerable angst over the kid who turned up in his/her twenties unable to read, write or figure except in some barely-getting-by way.  It was supposed to be an "evener" but became a liability in some circumstances.

In those days there weren’t so many neighborhood junior colleges or specialized technical schools but they worked.  Then they began to load up on humanities subjects and then the costs began to go up.  In 1961 when I came to Montana, any kid who graduated from high school could go to state college, no cost except keeping yourself fed.  The really outstanding leaders in the Blackfeet world — Darrell Kipp and Eloise Cobell for instance — come from this time.

In addition there were colleges who prided themselves in a social action way on admitting Third World people.  Harvard was among them and Dartmouth which was supposed to be for Indians anyway.  A few, like Goddard, were a bit puzzling.  The "Left" in those days emphasized the right to find your own way — but what way was that?

Pretty soon every BA and BS was about equivalent and took on the role of the high school diploma.  Then the MA and MS became something similar.  In fact, my U of Chicago Div School degree meant only that the school certified I could handle advanced thought and that I could read French.  It was meant to be almost internal but was included in what purported to justify a D.Min as superior to the normal degree which was an MDiv.  As it turned out, very few managed to complete the necessary thesis, which wasn’t surprising since the three or four member faculty just didn’t know enough — could NOT know enough.  Today the school gives an MDiv again, which is very much like social work degree, since the ministry is seen as a kind of social work.

Now that kindergarten kids pretend to “graduate” by wearing imitation scholar’s robes from medieval times, it is impossible to attend the major formal processions of big-time universities without looking on the earnest robe-wearing professors as kindergarden kids.  The basic BS population (pun intended) only attends their graduation if their parents make them.

It is much clearer now that any degree is more likely to be permission to be hired than entry to actual jobs.  Plenty of schools of all kinds prepare students to enter a field without ever examining whether there are enough jobs for them.  This is as true for elite math and science as it is for vocational basics.  A Ph.D. means nothing now unless it can be demonstrated that one has successfully and meaningfully done graduate work via publications.

At the same time there is so much ferment in the nature of what is done, the assumptions under which it is done, and the redrawing of discipline boundaries, so that what is significant today may be irrelevant tomorrow.  It may turn out that it’s the little sprout of a nebbish in the corner who becomes the cornerstone of a whole new understanding.  And the bitter payoff is that no one really cares very much because this much focus and definition is a product of population density.  Outside a megacity and a multi-versity, people are busy surviving.

The cost has gone sky-high.  One university’s tuition is enough to once have paid for four years of classes.  The upshot of that is that institutions grant waivers and subsidies that tie the individual to that institution and forces them to defend its value.  Also, the grad is sent out into the world carrying a massive debt that they may have to pay the rest of their life.  That’ll keep ‘em in line.

It is these practical and monetary uses of degree granting institutions that keeps institutions alive and defending their reputations.  The paper, suitable for framing, is taken to be equivalent to the actual achievement of earning it.  Students are used to this since the pile of certificates and diplomas in their sock drawers can be useful.  

To summarize, true knowledge and scholarship have been denigrated by trivializing and automating what once was a mark of achievement and by inflating the money, promising great rewards in the unknown future for those who will “buy” education now.  It IS stupid to spend years of young life increasing major debt for jobs that might not exist a few years from now.  The paper proof will be the payment book.

Monday, March 26, 2018


This story is for Nancy or Pansy or whatever her name was.  She wanted ghost stories, which this one really isn’t.  My grandmother told me this story but it was told to her by her grandmother.  The whole thing was about the only genetic group I know that has “tow heads.”  That is, children who are almost albino blonde at first and gradually become brunette when they are older.  “Tow” is what they make rope from: very pale, not quite white.

The story happened in Michigan, back in the days it was considered the Old Northwest, almost entirely forest and peopled by the tribes of the Three Council Fires before the Boy Scouts got hold of the phrase.  “The Council of Three Fires (in Anishinaabe: Niswi-mishkodewin) are also known as the People of the Three Fires; the Three Fires Confederacy; or the United Nations of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Indians. The council is a long-standing Anishinaabe alliance of the Ojibwe (or Chippewa), Ottawa (or Odawa), and Potawatomi North American Native tribes.”

This happened more than sixty years ago.  The land that was cleared first was along the rivers, which served as roads, and which — by overflowing — brought fresh fertility to fields every year.  The men who cleared that land, then plowed and harvested it, were from Europe, several generations back.  In this generation this boy was a tow-head, singular because there were no others like him on those closeby farms.  People were either adults, Three Fires people, or Mexicans come up from the south for the growing season because they were willing to plow, plant and harvest.  The adult Euros were unmoved by a tow head, because they remembered that they were blonde as children.  But to the Three Fires people who slipped among the trees and along the rivers through the tangles where deer still slept, a white-headed boy was remarkable.

The mother of this boy cherished him, fed him and rocked him, until a girl baby arrived.  To the boy, something about the girl was missing.  It was the part that most amused the Mexican hired men, away from their families and a little frustrated.  They meant no harm but found a baby-man a kind of toy, a delight.  The girl baby was not allowed to go out there, because something bad might happen to her.  But no one thought anything would hurt a boy-baby.  Even if they fell in the river, they would be able to swim.  After all, that was simply how the dark people washed, by dipping in the shallow parts of the river, leaving clothes on the shore.

The grown men of the farms simply didn’t think about any of this.  They thought about crops and any thoughts about fertility were about plants.  But the boy thought about everything and esp. he thought about his identity, though he didn’t use a fancy word.  When he was in the house, he thought of himself as a girl like his sister, but a girl with a little extra something.  When he was out in the barn with the men, he thought of himself as a miniature man, as they did, and tried to do whatever they did, which meant — of course — that he was sometimes cut or bruised, but he learned to simply endure that, ignore it until it went away.  That’s what the men did.

There was a third sort of being who went most places with him, except not in the house.  That was “dog.”  There was only one and that was his name: “Dog.”  Except the barn men called him “Perro.”  The dark men liked him better than the farmers did (also liked the dog better than the farmers) and sometimes shared food with him.  

He was a protective dog and affectionate with those who were good to him.  The boy often threw his arm over the dog’s back as they walked, or even — in warm times — curled next to Dog to sleep.  His parents never knew.  They vaguely realized that the boy disappeared all day, but didn’t think about where he went.  He was too small to be useful, which is what boys are for.

They didn’t know that he leaned on the Mexicans at the end of the day when they chorded a guitar and softly sang in some foreign language that wasn’t even Spanish.  They didn’t see him lie along the denim backs of the men with his bright head on their shoulders.  They didn’t see him perch on their strong thighs and splay his little fat fingers along their taut pant legs.  When they shoved him into bed at night, they didn’t know he later slipped back out to be with the men.  They didn’t know the play was often sexy.

The boy knew that much — that the men were sexy.  He just didn’t know what to call it.  He enjoyed it.  They never hurt him.  Not until he was an old man and a counselor suggested that all his male lovers had been dark, even black, because of that introduction, did he really think about it.  It was only when he was old enough to realize that people carved everything up into categories that he realized that even white people must get sexy or how could he be accounted for?

But was it only men, only the dark, only the ones who knew how to sing, worthy of becoming lovers?  And what did that mean about himself?  He was relieved when his hair grew darker.  He sang to himself and was pleased to discover that his sister never sang.  But “male” and “female”, “girl” and “boy” didn’t mean a lot to him except that sometimes he would like to put on a dress, if only to make his parents go crazy.  But they beat him for it, so he didn’t.

One day he went exploring and took Dog with him.  There were deer in the forest and the beds they had made were still warm because it was midday when they usually slept.  Hollows of crushed grass, fragrant and hospitable, beckoned.  Dog and Boy were still young enough to be naive.  They curled down to dream and the last thing Boy thought was “I think that I’ll just be dog and that will solve everything.”  It was an Anishanabe thing to think.  Sunlight filtered through the leaves and set his head on fire.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


All the money runs into one corner.  We all know that.  It’s not about the “Deep State”, it’s about corporate lawyers who chase loopholes.  All the power runs into one corner.  We all know that.  Same reason.  All the laws serve the one percent who have all the money and power.

Wealth comes from ownership and from power, which often derives from our cherished written law and order, but interpreted by the few (lawyers) to serve the even fewer.  The reason wealth is so powerful — it used to defined by the ownership of land — is that it is the only source of food.  (Well, fish, of course.)  The far more effective way to kill people is not by guns and bombs, but by famine.  But the ownership of land is now a tangle of law.  Ownership used to be defined by use.

My grandparent generation lived directly off the land, mostly by raising potatoes.  They were educated Scots whose main contact with industrialization was the railroad.  (Once the banks stole the loaded potatoes and my grandfather drove like a maniac to head them off.)  It was my father’s generation who accepted industrialization which meant not just machines but also chemicals and an oil-based economy.  My parents’ understanding of the world came out of world-depression and world-war.  Find a niche and stay there.

My brothers never found a niche except that one accepted a guiding relationship: marriage.  I leapt to the niche of a man twice my age who lived in the 19th century on a reservation, and I stayed as long as I could, which was based on willingly giving up myself — justified by his growing fame and power.  He did get wealthy — by those standards.

After a pause I went for what I really wanted:  to understand the big issues of my own generation, leaving family and propriety behind.  Propriety did not mean avoiding wickedness — it meant leaving the struggle for success, dominance, and ownership.  At this point — about 1980 — the general population of men, esp. working men, was finding themselves marginalized because the industrial world was coming apart, partly a matter of globalization and partly because of high technology.  In another ten years, computers were key and few men understood them, let alone their technology, let alone their version of wealth, which wasn’t about either land or dollars, but all a matter of spread sheets.

In 1999 I stepped away from the melee and moved to an intangible world of ideas.  There I found a whole new realm of thought that reaches into the future, that which has been created by the kind of understanding that comes from cyber-technology, the ability to inhabit times and sizes far beyond anything known before.  God died, quickly followed by human beings.  While some still resisted the knowledge that there more than 200 hominins before we got to human beings, there will probably be more than 200 post-human beings if we can keep from destroying the livability of the planet.  (The planet will go on, far longer.)

“You can’t talk butterfly language with caterpillar people.”  This quote might seem patronizing because we think of butterflies as privileged, more beautiful, able to fly, but it captures the difference and yet continuity that goes from agriculture to industrial to technological to cyber to . . . well, something else that I find more beautiful and able to fly.  There comes a time in the lives of some — unrelated to education but maybe to evolution — when some people think in a different way, different enough that those who try to stay the same cannot understand it, feel excluded.  ARE excluded.

If I talk about this to people who are still on the previous spectrum, they get mad.  Nothing magical about it — just a way of understanding.  And, on their part an anger born of frustration since to them whatever concrete known thing is there, that’s it.  Trying explain metaphor is doomed, even though — as Lakoff says — all language is metaphor.  Anything other than the metaphors they know is not real and to them the metaphors they know are simply reality.

I understand them to be frustrated and confined.  At the little newspaper where I worked for a while, the women — just visiting — idly wondered who wrote the song “Amazing Grace.”  Someone must have died so that the song was renewed as a guard again sorrow.  I had watched a documentary about the song, so I told them: it was a sea captain who regretted selling slaves which was a deep sin and the song he wrote was a hope.  There’s lots more.  They deeply resented that I knew this more they did.  Their value to them depended is being "those who know."

I have dents in the hood of my pickup from stupidly parking under a chestnut tree and not realizing the heavy nuts would fall on my truck.  Valier people say, rather smugly, "Oh, hail damage."  Then I explain and they get mad, because they don't even know what a chestnut is like, much less a chestnut tree.

Others, later, are still back where I was as a child, trying to understand that a chair was really just a bunch of molecules vibrating, though I could safely sit in it.  That is, I didn’t understand levels and terms of knowing.  But as an adult, I’ve become more adept.  For instance, I understand that what is illegal is not the same as what is wrong.  The terms of forbidden knowledge are entirely revised and will probably be revised even more when we manage to somehow reconcile all our little local laws into basic principles of life and continuity.  What was once porn, a glimpse of ankle, is now simply a fact of anatomy, though every fact is a complex of relativity — innocent here and deadly there.  What is a #MeToo moment to one is a little joke between friends to another.  What is an entitlement to one is a deadly assault to another.

That’s only part of it.  The human brain is not able to grasp concepts and abstracts before the age of 26 which is far beyond the legal age of understanding and certainly beyond reproductive age.  Should a child have a child?  It just happens.  

And the next part is that if one can succeed in being open and rational, what remains is the ability to change “modes” of thought between the bald facts of existence into the metaphors of art, the governing rules of thumb that we need to keep order, and the abiding ability to emphasize with others — even if they’re not completely human and not escaping into some kind of Dr. Doolittle magic.  How do we choose our method, as they would put it at the U of Chicago Div School?  But not become formless and desperate.

Most interesting is what’s still coming.  The internet has triggered new versions, some limited to special groups, some impenetrable (for a while), the dark net, code that is not binary.  Code that we “are.”  But a whole new technology based on vibrations, NOT code.  Wave signatures.  Rhythm.  Vibes.  Music.