Sunday, September 30, 2018


The comic strip called "Francis" which is about the Roman Catholic Pope of that name, on Sept 13 reads thus:  

Leo:  The abuse crisis is serious, isn't it, Father?

Pope:  Indeed it is, Brother Leo.  More suffering.  A blow to the mission.  Loss of credibility.  Resources for good works.  Bankruptcy.

Leo: So some good news.

Pope:  How so?

Leo:  An answer to your prayer for a church that is poor.

If you've been following this iteration of the ideas of Brother Leo, you already know that by being simple and taking speech literally, the "little" Leo gets a better hold on morality than does the overburdened and accommodating Pope who is the institution's leader.

A shorter version of the idea is that morality and institutions, even theoretically moral ones like the churches, are always uncomfortable together and sometimes in outright opposition.  Not just the Supreme Court or athletics (taking a knee) or treatment of people in trouble (lock 'em up) or management of resources -- but also specifically religious institutions.  INSTITUTIONS.  Which is the way most people think of religion -- by the name of the institution, which may be a denomination (nominating is naming) or the remnant of an empire (Roman Catholic) or an organization we once thought of as secular but now demonstrates deep morality, like Medicins Sans Frontieres.  At one time professional organizations (lawyers and professors) were defined as defenders of morality, intense enough to qualify as "religious."  Now it merely means a high-pay job.

These ideas were formed at a time when ethics/morality were fairly uniform in the realm where each institution developed and existed, but now that even national boundaries are breached every which way, those ideas seem too simple to be useful and anyway contradict between cultures all over the world.  But most people do not have the kind of education or other access to ideas that would expose the true basics of morality which are rooted in human survival.  Or maybe they forget.

Likewise we have not been able to lay bare the contradictions between the morality and survival of an individual, over against the morality and survival of the group, particularly when the "group" is all of humanity.  What's the point of sacrifice if it only saves a small group?  Or is the example persuasive for everyone?  How does one define one's group except by willingness to sacrifice for it?

Courts become necessary when the conflict of loyalties brings everything to a standstill, but the effectiveness of courts is based on morality in the broadest and purest sense or their decisions will not be seen as justice and therefore will convince people that winning is a matter of war, which is what we saw in these hearings.  The senators may not have realized that it was not just Kavanaugh who was exposed to scrutiny, but also those angry old men.  Cory Booker, naive and even clownish as he may have seemed to cynics, was closer to the ideal.  These are the same people who have the idea that Francis, the Pope, is powerless because he invokes primitive Christian morality, as explained by Jesus.

The United States, despite the American Bar Association, which strives to be both a professional and moral institution, does not have a unified governmental legal system.  There are basic principles, the Constitution, which we assume are universal and valid, though we occasionally amend them as the culture moves away from British Protestant Christianity of decades ago.  Our strengths and our weaknesses depend upon the state where you live.  

"Indian" reservations have their own set of laws, like states. (Sovereignty.) These are written.  Enforcement is different.  Compliance is different.  Different social levels respond differently, but even the mafia has a system of rules -- maybe not written down.  Then there are the Jesuits.  Who knew they were listening?

We depend upon our highest institution to have near-religious morality. -- so we say,  We call it "truth" even as we question whether there is such a thing.  I mean, is there anything eternal about a horndog hound getting on a high court?  Did the country collapse last time?  500 years from now, who will care?  But institutions, even institutions inside other institutions the way the Supreme Court is enfolded in the United States, is most easily brought down by morality.  Ask Martin Luther.  

What do we do with conventional morality in unprecedented times?  Ask Sydney Carton, I guess,  "It is a far, far better thing I do . . ."  But he was a principled man, even standing in a tumbril waiting for his head to be cut off.  His principle was love.  Everyone stand and applaud.

It's not enough.  Reinhold Niebuhr once quipped, "Instead of being gentle as doves and clever as snakes, we've got it backwards:  clever as doves and gentle as snakes."  (I suspect some snakes are gentle but I don't think doves are ever clever.)  Neither one rages like these old senators did, more in the interest of domination than superiority.  

Langdon Gilkey's idea of the hurricane seems more useful, esp. since Kavanaugh himself used the image.  Gilkey's understanding came out of the Japanese concentration camps of WWII (Shanghai Compound),  The movie called "Empire of the Sun" ought to give you easy access to the situation.  It is highly relevant given that we are putting immigrants into concentration camps.  We seem to be working back through WWII.

In whirlwind times when morality is confused, it is the secular institutions of the state and military that seize control and force everything into compounds behind barbed wire.  But morality can come out of even compounds and it was the bearded and individual Trappists who were the bravest -- they were smuggling eggs and their captors demanded that the culprits step forward for punishment.  EVERYONE stepped forward. It was those who guarded their small spaces for their families and no one else who sold out.  They thought in terms of commodities, not morality.

Psychology and the therapeutic nature of today's religion have given us many tools for understanding what was going on in the recent hearing, both the nun-like obedience of Professor Ford and the Frat Boy raging of Kavanaugh.  But it is seeking the highest morality we can think of -- is it truth? -- that will save our democracy.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


Recently, class structure, particularly in the US but also world-wide, has been the subject of much debate and theorizing.  In most of these discussions, the middle class has been Goldilocks: equitable, comfortable, to be supported as the source of stability.  What creates it, who's in it, what is its relationship to some kind of ultimate virtue or even high research, are all subject to argument, but they're not too hot, not too cold.

My understanding is unsophisticated but relies on the continuity of culture in a large sense.  That is, I think that the middle class is the product of combining British landed-gentry with the agricultural base of life on this continent in my parents' generation.  In Europe the middle class comes out of the formation of cities and merchandizing, both small shops and vast networks like the Hudson's Bay Company.  Prioritizing of mineral resources was paramount.  As general wealth increased, it was easier for the middle class to develop, but also for equitable distribution to suffer and for wealth to become characterized by certain kinds of people.  (White, male, European, educated, well-connected.)

So we end up with what "Victorians" considered important characteristics:  owning one's own home, maintaining a lawn rather than a garden, keeping up with machines like cars, pianos, typewriters, and then all the electrical conveniences: dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators, and attachment to all the cooperative amenities like piped water, wired electricity, paved roads, radio, television and computer internet.  Worldwide, most people live without these things, but we continue to consider all this normal, basic, essential.  Also, attending a Christian church every morning.

That's all coming apart now that many prosperous people are Muslim, Buddhist, or simply non-believers or non-affiliated.  They may not look or dress like Brits.  Beyond that, people are "particulating" -- carrying their internet/telephone in their pockets, ignoring standard networks, getting education in new ways, keeping in touch with voluntary affiliations since they have few generational connections in the US.

Many are worried that we are becoming fascists, distorting our parents' belief that if we went to good schools and got good jobs, we would be safely prosperous, part of a meritocracy who earned what we got and therefore were entitled.  But now a new group is saying that we've retreated back to feudalism, where small prospering bosses, "kulaks", are making their money on the backs of the poor laboring people.  This is related to the coming apart of biological families because of sex without pregnancy, the unavailability of cheap housing, and education based on insupportable debt.  Tax bases of jurisdictions are shrinking just as old infrastructure breaks down and new demands are made.

It's more complicated than that, but the crucial task is to assimilate the new understanding of the world that comes from high technology science -- the ideas that are being called "deep time" or "long time" and are derived from DNA in all living matter and isotopes in all non-living matter, plus incredibly powerful lenses and detecting strategies.  It is disconcerting that the animals we learned to name in kindergarten turn out to be something else, that the land masses we call continents don't just float around on the backs of fractals but also get submerged now and then by an ocean that fluctuates according to the planetary ice mass which depends upon global warming.

We learn about sudden catastrophic change in everything: eruptions, tsunamis, magnetic storms, sun flares, all the other massive and horrific changes that give little or no warning and for which are really no cures or managements.  Suddenly returns the blind dependence of the Biblical people on anthropomorphizing whatever happens so it's all the work of someone we can blame or bribe or thank.  

And then they tell us that everything is related, that a tiny change in the cellular code of humans means a plague that wipes out half of us.  Don't you think that diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure in such big proportions are due to some kind of code change, whether we call it disease or toxicity?

Two concepts that created the middle class were the devising of "money" as a way of bookkeeping wealth, and the class obligations of a biological family which always struggled to make children the path to increase, one way or another, rooted in property ownership.  We are questioning both ideas now.  The people who are in most distress are those who didn't know that was possible.

A symptom of not grasping reality is the storage industry, which rents supposedly secure but accessible spaces for the middle class to store "stuff" while moving, expecting times to get better, refusing to give up the small luxuries like boats or RV's even though their living location won't accommodate them.  The people of the future are more like the people of the deep past, taking very little more with them through life than what they can carry.  They are replacing their ethnic roots with affinity for particular music. 

Victorians, who were Enlightenment people, depended upon binaries and categories to keep the world sorted out.  Today they are not just pressed to convert so many fields -- like sexuality -- into spectrums and continuums, but also to recognize whole new ways of understanding them.  What difference does sex make in gender roles?  When does life begin?  When does it end?  Depends on the criteria you use, doesn't it?  Sometimes what day it is. 

Nothing is more middle class than PBS.  I get fed up with the ladylike Judy with her spread fingers and dismay at trouble.  I even get fed up with the two gentlemen she so treasurers, Brooks and Shields.  Discussing a throwback like Kavanaugh, they wobble and stutter and frown.  (Kavenaugh dates to the years when beer was an entitlement for sailors and working men, though they might have called it "grog", necessary for tolerating inescapable and cynical work.)  Somehow the News Hour manages to make a national crisis into a merely puzzling and dismaying event.

Brooks, with his books about class, is better equipped.  Even now he travels around the country.  He tried to turn the discussion away from R/D party loyalty, so loosely and inaccurately framed as left versus conservative, over to a re-organizing idea about people who are "in" the fight and those who recoil, feel that it's a filthy mess and they just want out,  a very middle-class idea that arises from entitlement to their lives, impossible as that has become.  (Cleanliness is next to godliness, esp. on Sunday morning.)

Friday, September 28, 2018


No one ever tried to two-boy rape me at a beer-drinking party because I'm allergic to frat boys and am careful to stay away from them.  But I do know that the alcohol in beer is just as effective as the alcohol in Grey Goose vodka, Thunderbird, Twisted Tea or grain alcohol from a pharmacy.  You just have to drink more of it.  Kavanaugh confuses beer with KoolAide.

I kept wondering how often after these episodes of "pulling a train" or "boofing" the necessity of abortion came up.  I guess not with boofing.  But even if the booze goes in backwards, the DNA markers remain.  (Movie stars boof with coffee, they say, and other age-defeating substances.)  But these boys didn't really know what they were doing -- they were paying off those women with violence because women spoil everything.  They think they're so smart.  Bring them down a few notches.

In this hearing more unprosecuted felonies went whizzing by in Kavanaugh's testimony (including underage drinking) than on an Indian reservation.  The FBI is not usually involved there either.  Rape or attempted rape have no statute of limitations in Maryland where they were.   Since the hearing was run like a criminal trial, by now everyone has practiced testifying, knows what's at stake, and is ready to initiate proceedings.  All they need is a Democratic judge and Kavanaugh will find that hizzy fits are not a good defense.

But this was about "normal" American sins:  drinking and oversexualization of status and power.  Rites of passage, if you will.  It got the younger women all revved up and enraged, but I'm older and tougher than them.  For this kind of stuff we rural folks just go break out the windows on a guy's pickup.  This was so much like a well-written TV show that international happenings were ignored and we forgot about the major crimes for a while.

The hearing was all window-dressing for the REAL crime, which -- it is suggested --  is Mafia controlled, including Trump.  Even Putin, though that's going a little too far.  No one controls Putin do they?  Any more than anyone controls Avenati?  I mean, these relentless guys with heads like soccer balls have (ahem) LOTS of balls.

Aren't these people speaking under oath?  It's my understanding that though it's not a criminal trial, lying to senators at a formal hearing is illegal in some way.  Of course, Kavanaugh has done it before and nothing happened.

Hardly anyone goes before the Supreme Court for rape or drunkenness, much less being a smart-ass frat boy for life.  So a final hearing would be more interested in the money.  Where did those major money payments come from?  How did the gambling debts work?  (Now that's more like traditional Mafia territory.)  Shady stuff abounds, they say, and still more would show up at an FBI investigation, which explains the question of why no one wants to have one except for the people who want Kavanaugh to go down so they don't have to explain how he has managed to get this far.  Patronage trails are always interesting.

In spite of extravagant rhetorical flourishes, Dr. Ford's life is said to have been laid bare, but that was hardly true.  Other exciting and embarrassing things must have happened besides flying.  Probably academic so no one present would understand.  As Stephen Colbert said, "They were all in her hippopotamus."  Evidently she has kept her head down and done her work, which was very nice since she got lots of island vacations and didn't have to go to Australia, though it was an Australian company she worked for while living in California, part of the global economy.

Very seriously, when both the American Bar Association and the Jesuits have changed their minds about approval and point the finger at someone as unqualified, it's time to pay attention and cut through all the drama -- the tongue in the cheek and the trembling watery face.  (The least he could do is bring a hanky.  I notice he did that for the second part and laid it in front of him just in case..)  Now the dean of the Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, has opposed Kavanaugh -- the same Yale Kavanaugh uses as evidence of his quality.

Dr. Ford had the advantage of two tough lawyers on either side of her, while Kavanaugh sat alone.  Nevertheless, when Kavanaugh was clearly off the rails, out of control, and demanding whether the soft-spoken female senator say whether she drank beer, one of his handlers slipped him a sheet of yellow legal paper with something short and big written on it which he quickly covered with a tablet.  Right then the Repubs called a recess and ushered him to a place he could take a chill pill.  Of course, I have no way of knowing whether he did that.

Here is an alternative explanation of why Mitchell stopped questioning K.  "WSJ: Mitchell advised Republicans that to continue questioning Kavanaugh "was required by her oath in Arizona to inform Kavanaugh of his rights after he lied to her about July 1, 1982 entry on his calender. Maryland statutes was last question she asked, then break was called."  Evidently she could continue to question Dr. Ford without informing her of her rights because she told no lies.

I was impressed that Kavanaugh's mother sort of suggested Trump's mother in her elderly elegance.  She and the father were also handled carefully by large men.  These hearings are not freeform.

They say that George Bush, Kavanaugh's former employer who knows how much Kavanaugh knows, is working the phones hard to keep the FBI out of all this and to get K. on the Supreme Court.  Even out of office this long, Bush is still vulnerable, no longer above the law even by Kavanaugh's reckoning.  And here you thought K was Trump's boy!  But can't Justices on the Supreme Court still be compelled to testify?  it's not over 'till it's over.  The only sure way to keep someone from being called is death.

In the years that I was an animal control officer (insert your frat boy jokes here) which was really a specialized deputy sheriff for Multnomah County (PDX), I spent a lot of time in court to back up tickets written against everything from minor offences to attempted murder with vicious dogs as weapons.  A dozen of us officers and maybe half-a-dozen judges were involved with widely various results.  One judge, without flinching, would order barking dogs destroyed while another judge exempted a dog that ripped a baby's scalp off on grounds that all dogs are like that.

I saw the expressions on the faces of enraged killer dogs and human beings who wished they could tear throats out.  I saw those expressions again on the TV coverage of this hearing.  Luckily, the most vehement were old codgers who might forget to put their teeth in.  Our law system, especially at the top, is meant to be "Enljghtened" -- that is, rational, evidence-based, and universal.  A very long time will pass before we return to that ideal.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


So I spent Wednesday sitting in the basement hallway of the Pondera County courthouse, waiting to get my driver's license renewed and obsessing over what unexpected requirement might pop up.  Would there were a test of laws?  Would someone demand a copy of a paper proving my old old pickup had passed a safety test? Would I have to produce a proof of current insurance when it had been cancelled until 2AM when my SSA check hit the bank and I paid online what was due with my bank debit card which doesn't give a person a receipt? (Actually, it did, but it went into the "junk" category and I only fished it out when I got home.)  I was pretty sure I didn't have to have an appointment for a license and that I had to pay in advance upstairs.  

There was a little red dispenser where a person had to get a number, and then there was a paper to complete, using a clipboard that was floating around the area.  (No tables.)  The other people waiting were very helpful and explained what to do.  There were two older ladies, one from Great Falls which had become overwhelmed so that the bureaucrats there sent her an hour north to Conrad and another who was local.  Others included a vaguely Irish older man in a camo vest, a couple of boys who were probably older than they seemed to me, and a very large Blackfeet man.

I thought I might know this last guy, so when he had to call his wife on his cell phone to find out the physical address of their house for the questionnaire, I asked if they lived out in the country.  No street names.  "On the two track to the so-and-so ranch, just two rez dumpsters past the main cow herd."  He laughed and agreed.  We chatted but then his number was called.

The LOL from Great Falls was reading a big fat book.  I asked whether it was a novel, but she explained that it was history about the Revolutionary War.  Then I got really brave and remarked that the fourth Kavanaugh accuser had showed up in the media today.  The rest of the conversation was fascinating.  

Everyone seemed to think they might be held responsible somehow.  They were indignant in a kind of push-the-button way -- rape, porn, pedo -- It was like a checklist of trigger words.  They were quick to explain how innocent they were personally.  The guy in camo turned out to have been a cop most of his life in small towns and vast counties, usually a matter of picking up pieces.  He assured us that he had attended murder investigation classes taught by the FBI and he therefore knew that this rape case wouldn't lead to a conviction that would hold up -- no evidence, you see.  He knew about the chain of evidence.  I commented that there was no trial -- that we were looking for someone of good character who would be fair on the highest court of the land.  We were all quiet for a few minutes.

The man said he was opening up a gun shop because of his law enforcement background.  (I didn't say that I would think it more reasonable to get guns out of people's hands.)  One of the old ladies told about what a good shot she had been and described shooting three raccoons who had invaded her place.  The other old lady wanted us to know she was descended from one of the suffering soldiers at Valley Forge with General Washington.  Everyone admired these intrepid old ladies.

I wondered what the Blackfeet man would have said.  I don't think the others would have said much when he was still here.  The young men were silent anyway.  In a while the talk dwindled.  In the end I think no one really knew what to say except that they were against bad things: rape, porn, pedo, and being unarmed and therefore vulnerable.

These folks only watched Fox or CNN so hadn't seen the clip of Trump's theatrical claims at the UN being met with laughter from the German delegation.  "Those Germans had better treat us respect!  We saved their country for them in the War."  Clearly she meant WWII.  I remarked that was 70 years ago.  The prospective gunshop owner said he had been stationed in Germany and actually saw the Wall that separated the half we "saved" from the half that Russia saved.  He was very pleased that the wall came down, but said he thought it was a drain on us to have so many soldiers there to protect them.  I suggested maybe the soldiers were there to guarantee their loyalty to us.  I didn't mention Trump's wall.

In the end everyone passed all requirements and left with their driver's licenses, which were curiously attached to identification, voter registration and organ donation.

The different effect on me of this search for a human being wise and respectable enough to be a Supreme Count Judge was marked.  I'll repeat what I said in a "tweet" earlier:  I thought I'd gotten cynical after finding out how many of my fellow clergy were screwing around.  I thought I'd gotten skeptical after my principal dropped dead of a heart attack just before going to court to defend himself for harassing the cute TA.  (He insisted she go for "rides" with him during the lunch break.)  I thought I'd recovered from the PDX mayor I worked for schtupping his babysitter. (She was 13.  After the incident he worked for the Feds at cabinet level until the public remembered who he was.)  So on and so on.  But I haven't.  I still get heartsick over this stuff.  Gutshot. Tired.  

There are many more examples.  My parishioners were part of the hook-up culture and hurt by it so they came to me for reassurance.  I don't get it.  There's no need.  They didn't really like each other.  It appeared to be a sort of sign of privilege and an upside-down virtue, being able to attract someone enough for one night.  Wouldn't it make more sense to pay for someone who was good at sex?  

Wouldn't it be better to look for someone other than a person from Georgetown elite society where there must have been many abortions due to "trains" at parties while drunk?  Aren't they more likely candidates for liver transplants than for being on the Supreme Court?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


"Pieta" by Bob Scriver, still in plastilene here

This sculpture is formally called a "Pieta," belonging to a tradition of portrayals of Jesus newly taken down from the cross and Mary, his mother, grieving over his body.  It is one of a set of sculptures created around the death of Bob Scriver's daughter as a way of handling his grief.  The work is at the Montana Historical Society with the rest of his estate. 

The first sculpture in this cluster was a bust of Margaret in her last time before death.  She was told the name of it was "Prairie Daughter," but the real name was "To See Eternity".  The first version was shocking to others, because it was easier to see the emaciation and suffering in clay, so that he had to add revision.

The second was a corpus for a crucifix in the moments before Jesus' death, when he said, "Eloi Eloi lama Sabachthani" ("Father, Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?")  It was a commission from a customer who was wrestling with a terminal disease.  She gave permission to share the crucifix with others.

The third and fourth were portrait busts of Maurice Chaillot, who posed as Jesus.  One was as Jesus on the cross and the other was Maurice himself, who was a professor and artist in Canada.

There is also a portrait bust of Helene Devicq herself, but it is not part of this little set.  Helene and Maurice were the siblings of Jeannette Caoette, Bob's second wife.  She is wearing a wide-brimmed summer hat.

Helene was very beautiful in a petite Elizabeth Taylor way, and quite conscious of it.  She married Stan DeVicq, a well-known hockey star, and many years later a wealthy man whose name I don't know.  She was used to being a star and once mused sadly,  "I just don't have any clout anymore!"  Bob Scriver loved her always and tried to paint her portrait, without success.  The sculpture went better.

First came Bob's desire to be closer to his daughter, who was born to his first wife, Alice, and who after divorce had custody of the girl.  Even over distance she was closely bonded to her father.  Next was the surprise request for the crucifix.  Then the busts of Maurice in preparation for the crucifix and then the developing idea of a Pieta.  Bob had not seen Helene since the divorce from her sister.  After his divorce from me, he brought her back to Browning a few times and stayed close to her emotionally.  There is video he shot of her posing by his prized black Cadillac.  

There was no possibility that a woman like Helene would ever agree to a life in a little rez town with a husband who lived for work, far away from cultural events and the wearing of gowns.  When "Bronze Inside and Out" was written, several covers were proposed by the University of Calgary Press artist.  One showed Bob at work in his conventional mess of a workshop and Helene objected vehemently to the photo on grounds that it was demeaning.

Later, when the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton was marking a show of Scriver bronzes loaned by the Montana Historical Society, they organized a memorial dinner.  I was invited to attend but couldn't.  Anyway, I'd been divorced for a long time.  But I suggested that they invite Helene, who lived there in Edmonton and was key to his career.  They knew she was, well, "old" but I don't think they expected a movie star in fur on the arm of a young man.  The entrance had been decorated with larger-than life photo of Scriver and when Helene confronted it, she could not help bursting into tears.

For a woman meticulous in her self-maintenance, it is ironic that her death came from a neglected wound on her foot which became infected, then progressed to gangrene.  She had worn high heels all her life until the backs of her ankles would not permit her feet to be flat.  The idea of life-saving amputation was simply inconceivable.

An incident I sometimes pondered was when Scriver still had a tourist shop in a log cabin he built in St. Marys, the rez tourist town just south of the Canadian border.  Helene and Jeannette, who had been assigned to clerk, found the traffic slow, so they had laid out fabric and patterns on the countertop and with their clever deft hands they were beginning a sewing project.  In came Scriver, as horrified as though they had driven away the customers, and expressed his displeasure.  One can take this several ways.  The girls were allied in defying him behind his back (they hadn't expected him), they rather enjoyed being so important and making him react so violently, or it was a little drama in the war between the sexes.  The two of them together did not resist the wrath.

Jeannette had no children but Helene did, so in Jeannette's last days it was Helene's son who took hold of the situation and stood by Jeannette through her last nursing home days.  Ever since Morinville, the little French-Canadian Catholic church town half-an-hour north of Edmonton, this family had been tightly united around the father's barbershop/pool hall.  When Maurice was born late -- what is sometimes called a "menopause baby"-- his sisters were auxiliary mothers, and all energy went into educating this fine boy.  He did succeed in being an outstanding international person in the arts, but he never turned away from his fiery sisters even when they were nonsensical.

Scriver was close to this family for a while during WWII when he was stationed with the American Army Band in Edmonton.  They took him in hand as much as he consorted with them.  They had a lot of big ideas and told a lot of French-Canadian jokes.  His mother would have been horrified, which pleased him.  (She had grown up very English in a small Quebec town, and saw the French as a servant class, like "Indians."  Indeed, Indians in her times occasionally pretended to be French.)

It takes a village to make a famous sculptor and Helene DeVicq was part of that, in ways she didn't even know existed.  But walking into a major public event as though on a red carpet runner was one of the more memorable ways.  I hope there were photos.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Mostly notes and a true "blog" -- log of online stuff.

This is what Wikipedia says about the term "Elite."

In political and sociological theory, the elite (French √©lite, from Latin eligere) are a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society. Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, the "elite" are "those people or organizations that are considered the best or most powerful compared to others of a similar type." 

The power elite is a term used by American sociologist C. Wright Mills to describe a relatively small, loosely connected group of individuals who dominate American policy making. This group includes bureaucratic, corporate, intellectual, military, media, and government elites who control the principal institutions in the United States and whose opinions and actions influence the decisions of the policymakers.

The basis for membership of a power elite is institutional power, namely an influential position within a prominent private or public organization. A study of the French corporate elite has shown that social class continues to hold sway in determining who joins this elite group, with those from the upper-middle class tending to dominate.

Another study (published in 2002) of power elites in the United States under President George W. Bush (in office 2001-2009) identified 7,314 institutional positions of power encompassing 5,778 individuals.

PATRICK WYMAN SAYS on his Twitter account the following (made into paragraphs.)

Part of the reason that things in the US feel so turbulent right now is that we're in the midst of a good, old-fashioned, full-blown elite crisis.

This is most obvious in politics but also within the economy and society more generally. American elites largely define themselves as a meritocracy; a meritocratic elite is supposed to be fundamentally competent, so when they do incompetent things, it's hard to square.

The last two decades are full of examples of elite failure: never-ending wars in the Middle East and beyond, a global financial crisis, drastically rising inequality, growing political instability, an entire downwardly mobile generation.

So when your meritocratic elite has proven itself to be not really meritocratic, as anybody who's spent time in elite institutions can tell you, and the outcomes are increasingly poor, things are going to get a bit dicey.

To be clear, this is a biparitsan elite failure - that's not a matter of dumbly "both-sides"-ing things - and it extends beyond high politics, deep down into core institutions.

. . .

In cases of elite failure, there are a few different paths that aren't mutually exclusive. One is to simply continue the process of implosion and clear the way for a whole new elite. Another is to broaden the elite to bring in new blood. The last is to harden elite distinctions.

In late medieval Venice, for example, the existing political/economic elite just legally defined themselves as a hereditary body and pulled the ladder up after them. That's just one of many examples of a theoretically open elite closing itself off.

That's the most worrisome scenario in the US right now, and it's what lies at the heart of the current turbulence: Are elites subject to the same laws and rules as everybody else? Are we all, in fact, equal before the law or are some by definition better?

That's the fundamental question that the US is going to have to answer. It's entirely possible that a broad elite group - roughly 10 percent of the population - could mostly steer politics and the economy. They already kind of do.

There's absolutely no reason, historically speaking, why you can't end up with a de facto or de jure elite, either broadly or narrowly defined, with either unwritten privileges or their status enshrined in law. That's a worrisome scenario.

This is a really deep, structural issue, tied into everything from national politics to corporate structure to social networks. Elites are important; if they weren't, they wouldn't be elites. Framing this in terms of elite crisis at least helps us understand what's happening.


The same thing happens to these social elites as happens to hereditary elites like European crowns.  (See "Game of Thrones.")  At best they are inappropriate to govern cultures that have moved on but then somehow those elites might manage to catch up, like the heirs of Prince Charles.  At worst they die of hemophilia or lose wars.  In the middle are varying degrees of contempt and weakening from the country at large.  Trump thought he was a worthy descendant of his father whom he imagined was elite, not just another crook.  His children prove how deficient the children of the elite can be.  In fact, maybe they slowly realize that Trump himself is just a once-amusing trinket to both the "elite" and the mafia -- even Putin. Trump is close to the end of his usefulness.

When sociology economists try to sort out the "classes" in the USA, they might pull the top 100 people out of consideration because they are only a distraction.  By the time their incomes are so high -- and usually their age is so great -- that they are obsolete, invisible and replaced as human individuals by inhuman corporations. Don't confuse them with the top ten percent, who are merely rich. 

So the "elite" is the next category down who make a LOT of money, but control much more.  See above.  But the "high middle class", denoted by making incomes in the mere hundreds of thousands, are the real powers who are supposedly leading the rest of us, not hoarding money.

Under them is what used to be the middle class who make enough to afford two cars, a nice big house, a vacation place, and a location on a coast.  They are insured, have good retirement plans, might have a boat, and like to travel.  THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO KEEP THE ELITE IN PLACE.  This is because they feel that all they have could be swept away by missteps on the part of the elite, and they are right.  Media encourages this because these people can read and have electronic devices which they actually use to follow the news and scaring them is really good for business.  They send their kids to state universities or second-tier schools.  Only a few of them get into the loading chutes for power except on the state level, where they will stay beholden to the national parties.

Under them is a growing under-middle class that aspires to climb the ladder and admires the elite, at least the glimpses they have.  These folks go to community college, at least to begin, and they mean business.  No skipping class or terrorizing women for them -- their moms raised them to be princes and royalty doesn't do that stuff.  it will drag you into the underclass, the losers.  The renters who get evicted.

Threaded through all this are invisible counter-classes that we can't see but who know each other.  Networks of the tabooed, the illegal, the transient, the newcomers, and the washouts that are interstitial.  The elite loves them and consorts with them for the sake of thrills -- but are occasionally disappeared by them.

This is all invented, confirmed "scientifically" here and there, but otherwise these are premises drawn from media which was once guided by wise papas -- but who are now doddering gran'pas.  We just can't bear to give them up, because where are the replacements?  Who is wise now?  What are these admirable "merits" that used to denote the meritocracy?  Who can even spell?

Monday, September 24, 2018


Because of Trump's border policy, we will be hearing a lot more about "attachment theory" and what removing a child from its mother or caregiver will do to that child.  Indeed, attachment theory has a lot to do with why Trump turned out to be such a deformed human being.  So it's good to review the basics.

First a simple definition.
"Attachment theory in psychology originates with the seminal work of John Bowlby (1958). ... The behavioral theory of attachment stated that the child becomes attached to the mother because she fed the infant.   Bowlby defined attachment as a 'lasting psychological connectedness between human beings."  Harlow's research established that it is not the food that creates the attachment, but rather the holding, gazing, cleaning, and other interactions that form mammalian empathy and warmth, the way a cat enfolds her kittens.  

Based on the responses the researchers observed, Ainsworth described three major styles of attachment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, and avoidant-insecure attachment. Later, researchers Main and Solomon (1986) added a fourth attachment style called disorganized-insecure attachment based on their own research.

A number of studies since that time have supported Ainsworth's attachment styles and have indicated that attachment styles also have an impact on behaviors later in life.

  1. Re-attachment stage: From birth to three months, infants do not show any particular attachment to a specific caregiver. The infant's signals, such as crying and fussing, naturally attract the attention of the caregiver and the baby's positive responses encourage the caregiver to remain close.
  2. Indiscriminate attachment: From around six weeks of age to seven months, infants begin to show preferences for primary and secondary caregivers. During this phase, infants begin to develop a feeling of trust that the caregiver will respond to their needs. While they will still accept care from other people, they become better at distinguishing between familiar and unfamiliar people as they approach seven months of age. They also respond more positively to the primary caregiver.
  3. Discriminate attachment: At this point, from about seven to eleven months of age, infants show a strong attachment and preference for one specific individual. They will protest when separated from the primary attachment figure (separation anxiety), and begin to display anxiety around strangers (stranger anxiety).

From my own experience, which is novelistic rather than scientific, I would add two more kinds of attachment.  The first is antagonistic attachment, which is the idea that people can attach to other people by opposing them, or even hating them, so long as there is contact, which is primary.  

A human being that never attaches to anyone, a person who is indifferent even in infancy, will die.  This is called "mirasmus"  "Following the Korean War, Major (Dr.) William E. Mayer, found that half of these soldiers died simply because they had given up. They had completely surrendered, both mentally and physically."  It is a cause of death in orphanages where no one has time for cuddling and rocking babies.  Even toddlers who need attachment can scream, smash things, refuse obedience -- which will force contact with other humans.  This desperate attempt to force attachment, this vital need for attachment, can be see even in primates.

The other kind of attachment is more problematic in a sense.  It is a resource for humans, not primates.  It is what I call internal attachment, based on memory or fiction.  Imagined relationship is better than none at all.  Being well-attached to another human and then losing that point of relationship with the world can be painful and terrifying.  Losing not just a parent but any loved one is traumatic.  Maybe religion uses this replacement-of-reality idea, allowing a person to believe they are enfolded in the wings of an angel even as poverty forces them to be rough sleepers.  But it can be so seductive that it prevents the formation of new attachments.

Thinking and research would be needed to separate attachment to someone not present from other tricks of the human mind that are meant to preserve a kind of sanity: the confidence to keep on living. Dissociation, when the brain takes the person to a whole different world for a little while -- just to have a little safety and rest -- is related.  

Antagonistic attachment helps to explain S/M relationships where argument (Hello, Virginia!) or even physical pain has become the neural content of the relationship -- one wanting pain or willing to endure it in order to keep the proximity of the other.  And the other, relishing the permission to hurt and possibly feeling via empathy what the victim feels, is more alive in that moment.

The idea of antagonistic attachment is demonstrated all around me.  I see married people yelling at each other but devastated when permanently separated.  Often a second marriage is to the same adversarial type as was just left behind.  I've seen a little boy on his mother's lap, feeling that she was distracted from him, grab her face and force her to look at him.  The kind of shared engagement that comes from what people are making or watching together never forms.  Even the sharing among a sports team is overwhelmed by the adversarial attachment to winning over the other team.

Attachment, positive attachment that opens the way to love and empathetic sharing, that creates families with true relationships, is one of the great goods that makes human life bearable.  Attachment is what gives us "home," pets, art and all the other humanities.  Sometimes it is mistaken or painful, but more often it ennobles and expands us.  It's part -- maybe the biggest part -- of what we call "love."

The Enlightenment, science, and rationality declared attachment, emotion, resistance to new ideas off-limits when exploring the world.  They wanted to be objective.  For a while it was a new way of seeing clearly.  But after a while, objectively, it became a good idea to kill and burn "defective" people.  Attachment would have provided scientific evidence that is quite different.  It was those in power who had failed to develop attachment to anything but their own lives.  The great irony of our enlightened age with all its measured opinions turns out to be that attachment is physiologically valid, a step forward in evolution.  

People who have no attachment cannot go to the next step beyond apes, because even apes have attachments to relatives and place that help them survive.  It is a foundational capacity for maturity and the formation of cultural alliances.  It may be that our political confusion and anguish, our separations and wars, are simply a refusal to attach to other human beings in any way but domination.  How else can politicians justify taking wailing babies from their caregivers?