Saturday, January 26, 2019




Friday, January 25, 2019


The Rule of Law was a major step towards justice: that is, a written and therefore invariant, same-for-everyone-standard.  But the law is layered and the variance is not gone, just more complicated.  The case of Nathan Phillips is a good example, though it has not been taken to formal courts and is basically in the Court of Public Opinion, which is not only not written, but is as capricious as any king.  

Someone, no doubt a journalist, paid to have one of the web-crawler companies make a list of all Nathan's recorded infractions of military law, drug law, and so on.  Each of these contexts carry their own social and local variations.  What is considered normal one place might be a serious offence in another, for instance, carrying a gun, especially certain kinds.  (Just not done in England.)  I paid for myself to be reported by a web-crawler company and found it lacking.  It doesn't include the public statistics of Canada so has nothing about my two years of service as clergy in Saskatoon.  It assumed that my neighbors would be sources for journalists to interview, but I mostly lived in city apartments where we knew nothing about each other.

If Nathan grew up on a reservation, he was literally under a different system of law, different rules.  This version of the Rule of Law was much influenced by the idea that Indians not quite human.  Ways to be overruled by whites were written in.  No matter what the leaders say or do, they are always second guessed by someone back in Washington, D.C.  Anyway, reservations and tribe recognitions were set up over centuries and each situation was unique in its assumptions.

But the biggest problem has been the Lakoff/Johnson metaphorical content of being indigenous, which is internally contradictory.  On the one hand the People are demonized as savages and on the other hand they are considered noble people of the land, better than any European because closer to the primal innocent beginnings of humans.  Original Sin is considered European.  This is partly how religion keeps getting into it.

Ask those Hebrew Israelites who are combining the anti-stigma movement about being African and about being Jewish.  Their book-based accusations twist the religious laws into a new stigma, "not agreeing with our interpretation."  Their epithets were the most inflammatory they could think of.  They were the most aggressive people in the situation but I'm not sure their PR is working.

Religion is always mixed with the law, but that doesn't mean that we can't rise about the paternalistic concept of God as a big judge in the sky, even though the name is everywhere in early democratic thinking as a source and justification.  One cannot put the Republican party in the place of God or claim it has special entitlement because it pushes a 19th century agenda that was once mainstream.  But I confess that the UUA tends to think it overlaps with the Democrats.  We need a new party that doesn't use old assumptions.

Also, I'm not comfortable with the "Rhetoric of Rights" that Sandmann used, which takes off from the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and ends up with some Incel mutant who says he has a right to sex with an appealing woman.  The idea is prevalent that a gestating fetus has a right to life, but a three-year-old living child doesn't have a right to what makes life meaningful, like parents.  Or not being kept in a cold cage.

The country as a whole has not understood that law in its layers is very much infiltrated by the idea of poverty.  Poverty is like being on a reservation, being considered not quite human.  It is believed by some that human people are always successes.  It's the definition.  People who don't live with poverty never realize that it is necessarily entwined with addiction, violence, and lack of education.  This is how they are kept in poverty.  It's also how they survive.

I personally came to the rez to teach and now see that public schools in America are based on the German obsession with order, data, and technology so that students are only grades, test results, and sports teams.  Everything is aimed at a Ph.D. -- or else fixing diesel trucks to move goods.  If poverty corrupts the bottom of the education system, the top is corroded by over-respect for big name schools, now invaded by techno-corporations.  If a Native American manages to get a degree from Harvard (not so hard, as the institution gets points from romantic rich people for doing it) he or she is guaranteed positive attention and possibly a government job.  In a media story about indigenous people, the thoughts of a white person about them will be given priority over their own indigenous experience, though it is the indigenous experience that is the source of any white speculations.  Remember this as you read -- I'm white.

For instance, I didn't know that Nathan was singing the American Indian Movement song.  I know nothing about why it is good to be a combat veteran in Vietnam as opposed to bad being a refrigerator technician in the Army during that period of history.  Why would the Army send our best and brightest to be possibly killed?  That said, I'm glad Mueller survived to help save his own country at home.  Doesn't it mean something that despite infractions, Nathan was taken back into service?

Sandmann is living in a time with no draft, but that might not persist.  At the least, he'll need to register with the government.  The laws for the defense of this country are being reconsidered and he may at least have to serve some time doing civic service.  If he has bone spurs, they can probably find him a sitdown job or he could be a refrigeration technician.  His religion is never mentioned.  He seems to think that so long as he never touches anyone or says anything, but only blocks progress, he's within the law.  But as soon as cops arrive, everyone scatters, including him.

Curiously, Sandmann is at an age when families often throw their sons out for making trouble.  (Very few tribal people do this, but their families are so big that someone will make room.)  Bad publicity for rich and possibly divorced parents is trouble worse than alcoholism or rape, which won't keep them off the Supreme Court.  A wide population of young unwanted boys in this country would normally be taken into the army.  Now some are challenged to find enough to eat, even the ones from rich households.

Nathan is a survivor.  He understands.

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Reluctantly I turned my Netflix subscription back on.  Curiosity will be the death of me yet.  Here's my report.

If you're really fond of films based on explosions, killing, and sand wars, but getting a little bored, here's a variation.  Overwhelming snow, flying in front of a huge blade.  Given the scene out my windows -- snow movies might be redundant.  I wondered whether it was smart to watch snow when it's actually here.  Would it trigger some of my near-obliteration experiences?

But the obsessive stubbornness of the main character -- who drives a snowplow in Norway is also fitting for a place in northern Montana where towards morning -- when the snowplows and 18-wheelers go through town in the dark a little too fast -- they enter my dreams as armoured vehicles enforcing the wishes of an insane president.  "In Order of Disappearance" is not political unless you begin to look below the surface, which is simple:  snow=cocaine=whiteness=driven obedience to code and a goal.  The hero is far more attractive than our "hit'em back harder" president.

I read that there is actually a genre called "red snow"mostly about winter battles according to Google, like Valley Forge and the Russians in WWII.  I suppose that the "Baker Massacre" and many others like it could be filmed as "red snow," since it was a practice to strike indigenous people in predawn winter.  Remember "The Thing" with James Arness as a sci-fi enraged carrot staggering through the blizzard?  It was filmed not far from here in Cut Bank, but it was an open winter so they had to truck in the snow.  I was more scared by "The Track of the Cat" based on the book by Walter Van Tilberg Clark and made into a vehicle for Robert Mitchum.

Spectacular snow plowing is the main feature of this film, a celebration of the industrial revolution against the phenomenon of deep and constant snow in order that people can travel.  The man who punches the road through is presumably an old New York cop, a vengeful and violent man.  The murder of his son drives him through an avenging chain of guilt until he finally comes to the last scene wherein everyone shoots everyone else.  There's not much fuss about the deaths -- more about punching people in the face until there's blood all over.  It's so stylized that even the characters have a laugh about it. Time passes until one really understands how schematic, surreal, and polemic the movie is.  The set decoration is a big clue.  I'm sure the Norwegians get it.  All the female characters leave early.

My view of the film had three layers of dialogue: the people actually speaking on the sound track, the added subtitles for American audiences, and the added subtitles on top of them that I added as a feature.  I don't speak Norwegian.  The two sub-titles varied according to how offensive the choice of equivalent language was.  They weren't really necessary to the plot, but interesting in terms of the cultural context beyond nation.

Counterpoint to the snow plow driver was the son of the main villain.  This earnest pre-adolescent blonde boy is also a cultural avatar, signifying innocence and questions.  The best scene in the film, IMHO, is the old cop stretched out on the bed with the boy he kidnapped because the kid asks for a bedtime story.  The only print available to read is a brochure for snow plows.  This pleases the boy and the two males share their admiration for big machines that fight nature.  And bad guys.

In a time when so many have had their resolve to persevere shaken by the enormity of punishment, this film is an endorsement of the worthiness of keeping on.  But the official police are almost incidental, which raises a lot of new questions.  Who enforces the law?

I was really on Netflix out of curiosity about the last series of "House of Cards."  It wasn't worth the effort.  One movie would have done it instead of the series.  The premises: that no one is ever brought to justice except maybe by karma, that the contracts of previous actors should be paid off by their final scenes before being killed, that most scenes should be arguments, and that being female or getting pregnant can be redemptive.
The plot also mentions global climate change but still thinks the atom bomb is more destructive.

I was intrigued by the set redesign of the Oval Office.  Now the colours are soft pastels and the fierce Western bronzes have been replaced by two French bronzes depicting half-dressed females, one with a bow and arrow and the other with wings.  I never did get the significance of the letter opener or even the will except as plot elements.

If Westerns are coming back, Netflix doesn't know it.  I think I'll sign off again.  The Aussie movies on are still more to my taste.  "Mystery Road" is more beautiful and has a more powerful female authority than "House of Cards."  They also know what autochthonous people look like and act like.  In fact, "Longmire" on Netflix has an Aussie actor for a hero.  I thought there was a new series of "Longmire", but it wasn't posted.

Today Netflix told me via email that I would like a bio of Ted Bundy.  They couldn't be more wrong.  Bundy is over.  But then, the movies are almost over as well. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


In the Sixties there was a big guy in a suit who would come into the shop and say in a loud voice, "Who here called for the FBI?"  In many places when he did this, the assumption was that he himself was an FBI agent.  He told us people would answer intimate questions, open their bookkeeping, and treat him with fearful respect.  Not us.  We were in Browning, the Blackfeet Reservation.  We knew the FBI never came there unless there was positive publicity for a dramatic case.  I'm still a sceptic in some ways, but I'm no conservative.  

We knew that the FBI was originally supposed to pursue the seven major crimes, which were murder, manslaughter, rape, assault with intent to kill, arson, burglary and larceny.  Added later were kidnapping, maiming, a felony under chapter 109A (i.e. sexual abuse), incest, a felony assault under section 113 (e.g. assault with intent to commit murder or assault with a dangerous weapon), an assault against an individual who has not attained the age of 16 years, felony child abuse or neglect, a felony under section 661 of this title (i.e. larceny).

Notice that there are items that make legitimate the removal of indigenous children from their own parents so available for white adoption.  Children are the most valuable product of families, a more vital resource than minerals or timber.  There is nothing addressing the interference with federal funds meant for tribes.  Both schools and rez families are meant to benefit those who suffer from poverty and isolation.  Intercepting that money stunts lives and kills people.  Nothing is said about casinos.  Nothing is said about non-Indians committing any of these crimes against reservation people.  Nothing is said about syndicated criminal webs that are national or even international.

The creation of Homeland Security made me nervous because defensive militarization is always a drain on funds and an opportunity for people wanting power.

"The Department of Homeland Security is a federal agency; the FBI, on the other hand, is one division of another federal agency (the Department of Justice). So, the DHS can be understood to occupy a higher rung on the hierarchy as far as domestic security and intelligence is concerned.

"Logistically, the DHS also appears to hold the superior position; it has a $40.6 billion budget that finances an agency of 229,000 members, according to 2017 numbers. The FBI, on the other hand, has an annual budget of $8.7 billion and only operates about 35,000 employees.

"Furthermore, the head of DHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security (currently Kristjen Nielsen) reports directly to the President of the United States. In contrast, the Director of the FBI reports to both the Attorney General as well as Director of National Intelligence, both of which report to the President. Interestingly, however, the Director of the FBI and the DHS Secretary both serve “at the pleasure of the President.”
Short answer: DHS.

This is only one little piece of the tangle of three dimensional chess of investigation and protection services in the US.  It never occurred to anyone that the salaries of these people would be removed in order to cripple them.  AND their families.  We always thought in terms of guns.  Although, when they turned up in pairs, in suits, with polished city shoes, we tended to mistake them for Mormon missionaries.

There is a religious dimension to all this, both in terms of righteousness and in terms of guiding authority.  It's tempting to think of it as a split between Catholic (paternalism) and Protestant (community mainstream) with the Catholics using authority and Protestants using convention for their guides.  But that just confuses an issue that's already very mixed up.  We can't even agree on what is an offence, much less what it should mean in terms of consequences and who should be in charge of enforcement.

Since I'd watched everything on (!), I buckled and went back to Netflix.  I wanted to watch "House of Cards," but didn't get much out of it.  The plot simply  killed most of the characters from the first series, giving each a little bit of the cascade of confrontations that passed for narrative.  There were quite a few references to current presidential matters, like the desire to turn over the cabinet to entirely female members -- forgetting that simply going by gender is no guarantee of quality.  There are as many totally unqualified cabinet members who are female right now, as there are ancient fossils of the male gender assignment who are simply rich.

I tried thinking about public schools -- I don't have any knowledge of parochial schools -- which is as tangled and internally contradictory a subject as any legislature.  The re-centering of high schools from academics to sports is almost complete.  Sports teach loyalty only to one's team and make coaches so completely dominant that secret things can happen in the showers.  At home the kids are hypnotized by video games, but though they are wired to see everything as strategy and scores, I doubt any of them could make points in a stick game on a rez.

As I post, it is the anniversary of the last "massacre" of Blackfeet.  There was no Homeland Security or FBI then, just cavalry leftovers from the Civil War.  

"When word of the Baker Massacre (now known as the Marias Massacre) reached the east, many Americans were outraged. One angry congressman denounced Baker, saying “civilization shudders at horrors like this.” Baker’s superiors, however, supported his actions, as did the people of Montana, with one journalist calling Baker’s critics “namby-pamby, sniffling old maid sentimentalists.” Neither Baker nor his men faced a court martial or any other disciplinary actions. However, the public outrage over the massacre did derail the growing movement to transfer control of Indian affairs from the Department of Interior to the War Department–President Ulysses S. Grant decreed that henceforth all Indian agents would be civilians rather than soldiers."

This is the kind of atrocity that is the background of Nathan Phillips and that fuels his drive for peace.  

The Internet and vids have changed everything but not by teaching kids to game.  Every hand holds a camera.  Every small event is public and analyzed.  Every kid is soon named.  Every person is judged by appearance.  A divided country will seize any moment for politics.  There is no more "personal."  Authorities can promote dissension by "standing back."  The Rule of Law can be pretty confused.  So now what?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


You might be interested to know that the Red Hat Catholic boys who came to Washington DC to demonstrate against abortion have now been shown on a vid confronting a small group of girls and chanting, "It's not rape if you enjoy it."  Many of the boys are prepubertal.

This was earlier than taunting Nathan Phillips.

Monday, January 21, 2019


This encounter between Nathan Phillips and Nick Sandmann on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr Day is so symmetrical and so recorded that it will be analyzed for many years.  Everyone will see it from a slightly different angle, partly because of expectations and partly because of the ranging camera finders in the hands of multiple people.

This is what I saw:  a smart aleck ignorant kid and an old Lakota/Omaha man who is singing with a hand drum heartbeat.  Beside him was a second tribal man who didn't fit the stereotype so well, but was also drumming and singing.  Other indigenous people had been drifting around but weren't close.  Instead crowded kids of various ages, almost all white boys, with an assortment of expressions on their face.  The littler ones tended to be caught up the excited grinning and bouncing, poking the closest other boys to share and get reassurance.  Some of the older boys looked troubled, maybe divided about whether to stay or leave.  A small blonde girl was mock-dancing in the second tier of kids.  (We only saw a glimpse.) A younger boy with African American features was pushed up towards the front.  My guess is he was adopted by rich whites and just beginning to figure out what that meant.

My guess is that Sandmann interpreted Nathan as a poor, defeated figure from the past who was safe for him to use to do his little standoff playing Kevin Costner.    He badly misread Nathan who is an experienced, eloquent man -- Sandman just made him famous.  The Lakota have been protesting and walking against pipelines, those iron snakes, for years now.  They've been jailed, gassed, damaged by various "non-lethal" means like water cannons and rubber bullets, which only made them more determined.  They are very sophisticated.  And more united than ever.  I expect Sandmann would not have confronted Russell Means, who was much bigger and fiercer.

from TWITTER:  Emily L. Hauser, A Chicago writer specializing in the Middle East
"A big part of toxic masculinity is teaching boys to bond over the shared humiliation of people they perceive to be vulnerable."

The most useful observation came from a body language expert looking at vids, offering interpretation by each second of the vid.  He noted the tongues sticking out, the eyes shifting focus, etc and concluded that Sandmann was conflicted about what he was doing.  I wish I could find that info online again.

As new vids get posted, the four hairy and haranguing black men assume more importance -- they were armed with long sticks as well as their "visual aids."  Their accusations were violent.  At one point as the boys began to chant their game "rahrah", one boy began to strip but didn't go all the way.  There was no sign of law enforcement or chaperones.

This was the twitter comment that rocked me, and I know it is valid:
Linda LaPointe, A Canadian legislator
"FWIW, had #NathanPhilips NOT maintained his dignity and grace in the face of white supremacy and violence, he would be in jail now, or dead. Even yelling back would have earned him a police interaction. This is what ws [white supremacy] looks like- white kids can do this (and they do it often)."

Another twitter factoid from Rob Major
"I found out that the Covington Arch-Diocese, as of 2009, had paid $80 Million to 235 victims of 35 of their pedophile priests.  I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools. Priests are the leaders, they set the tone. Kids know when their role models are frauds. We sure did."

The boys themselves, as interviewed, begin to show contempt for Sandmann.  One noted that he had paid an online academic service to write his essays for him. It would be interesting to see his school files.

The school itself is built like a fortress.  I don't like the looks of that principal.  The administrators I've had who were the worst came out of the athletic programs. This guy was supposed to have traveled with the boys, but I don't see any sign of him.  Must've had his own agenda.  

The boy's mother works for a big financial institution; his father seems to be invisible or nonexistent.  Nick did a good job of punishing "mom" with this stunt -- she'll be lucky to keep her job.  Knowing the dynamics of single-mom families, there is a lot of potential for a boy to both yearn for a father and hate him. They are vulnerable to the attractions of a non-typical father figure like Nathan.  If I wrote about it, that's where I'd go with the plot.
Many movies and books will come out of this. 

Much of what I read is looking for analytical theories with real grip and usefulness.  One person I don't read -- because I watch the vids on YouTube -- is Sam Vaknin, who has developed greatly since his early curmudgeonly baiting and defiance.  Now I'm working my way through the YouTube series,  THE SAM VAKNIN INTERVIEWS in which his foil is Richard Grannon, Spartan Life Coach.  It's all a bit "cute" and not always useful, but occasionally really insightful. Especially considering how often I cross trails with male narcissists who fit Vaknin's pattern.  Most of them never achieve the humour and forgiveness of the present Vaknin.

He has a new theory now.  Remarking on how difficult it is for a therapist to "help" a narcissist as opposed to a trauma victim or a borderline personality, it dawns on him that narcissism develops as a self-defense against abuse, which includes actually being damaged, or being put down and insulted, or even being oppressed by people trying to control everything.  This, he claims, causes the person to stop developing on the one hand and remain a child, while splitting off a protective identity of importance and defence in a kind of binary split-person dissociation.  The therapist must activate the child and treat that aspect until it can feel safe and begin to develop.

The other line of thought I'm following is that of Lakoff and Johnson, which is the intelligence of "feeling" and symbolism.  The payoff here is in thinking about Nathan Phillips, who is aware of what an "Indian" stands for in the American mind.  I'm not quite sure that he grasps what looking poor conveys to a moneyed and entitled American -- both a threat and a permission to attack, because of the conviction that wealth equals virtue but poverty means failure.  This not-quite-hidden assumption is what leads to violence, historically and today in a public square.  Whoever did a "cleanup" of his image, has made Americans able to approve of him.  Now he's safer.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


The little old church was so small and shabby that it usually escaped notice from the outside.  It was raining and a leaky roof was gradually turning one wall to a deeper color as it grew wet.  Probably the building had been a small chapel attached to a larger building, maybe a university or a major downtown church, but times had changed and now it was not-quite-derelict.  It had a dome, some of the chandeliers (rather strangely designed) had survived with functional if mismatched bulbs, but some previous installation of the Stations of the Cross was now only twelve nails evenly spaced between the side windows.  Only the round Rose Window at the front was stained glass, though it was missing a few panes or parts of panes.

When the door at the back burst open, gusting wet cool air came in accompanying a tall figure, a hatless man in a Navy pea-coat.  The woman, no longer young and no longer robust, sat at one side of the remaining pews -- about half were missing.  She wore a black academic robe, as though dressed for preaching but without a neckband collar or tabs.  She sat sideways with her feet drawn up under the old silk robe that had rotted under the arms. Her knees under under her chin.  She seemed to feel at home.

The man stood for a moment.  It was dark outside and he was waiting to be able to see again.  It was a while before he realized the woman was there. He noted that she had a child's haircut, a bowl cut, but her hair was gray.  His own hair was also gray and long, confined in a queue. His jaw was the usual stubble.  When he walked down the aisle his boots rang on the stone floor.

"Hello," the woman said mildly.  She was not afraid or angry or even welcoming.  "Can I help you?"  Standard politeness for "what do you want?

The man's hat turned out to be in his hand and now he beat it against his leg to knock water out of it.  "Don't want anything.  Just getting out of the rain."  He looked at the front of the room, which was still an elevated platform, noting that there was no furniture. no altar, no symbol on the wall except for that Rose window way up high.

"They took everything with them," she said.  "Altar, candles, the works."  

He saw that she was holding a book.  "What are you reading?" he asked, to be polite though it was a little nosy.  Still, people who were reading usually told the name of their book.  Anyway this was confusing and he needed clues.

She paused, considering the answer to be private and too intimate to tell, but recognized his confusion.  "Prayers for those who are grieving."

He backed off.  "Are you the clergy here?"

"Sort of."

"Are you preparing for services for someone who died?'

Without looking at the book, she said, "Who are you but a drop in the ocean, a grain of sand, a mote wavering in a sunbeam?"

"What kind of church is this?"

"Is it possible to have a church without a congregation?  Is it possible to have a sacred place without singing?"

He laughed.  "You sound like a poet."

"You know poets?"

"I AM a poet!"  They both laughed, she stood up to shake his hand and he saw she had bare feet.  "Why are you barefoot?"

"I like feeling the stone."

They both sat on the edge of the platform, plain wood now that the carpet had been ripped off.

She pulled the old torn silk around her.  "The secular and the sacred have almost merged now.  It was just a convenient idea anyway."  

"May I smoke?"

"Filthy habit.  Go ahead.  I don't believe in taboos."
He fished in his pockets for cigarette makings and shook out a bit of tobacco, explaining, "It's my own mix.  That's why I roll 'em."  He lit it with a wooden kitchen match.  "Only carry a few of these at a time.  They light too easily now and I don't want a conflagration in my pocket."

"Will you tell me a poem?" she asked.  The smoke curled up in the dome.  The end ember glowed.

"We thought the cosmos had no edge.
We were right and now you know.

We thought we were the only ones.
We were wrong and now you know.

We thought time began with the first word.
We stopped asking and now you know.

We stopped thinking.
Because now we know.

"Is that your poem?" she asked.  "Do you consider yourself bitter?"



"Both."  The cigarette didn't smell entirely like tobacco.

"You should write a poem about a conflagration in your pocket."

"You should write one about your feet on stone."

They laughed.  She rubbed her feet together.  "They do get a little chilly."

A sudden commotion up high. In through a hole in the Rose Window flew a bird.  It was not a dove or even a pigeon.  Bigger than those, it was a barn owl who was accustomed to living here on a ledge high under the dome. Its wings were wide and white. It's beak was not for pecking -- it was a hook for rending.


This is a story written after reading Lakoff and Johnson all evening.  The principle is that one needs a context (the old chapel) to keep in place the many symbols that are everywhere.  These two people have an internal context, that of being poets, but from different natures.  What they share is their emphasis on responding to the sensory (rain, stone floor, lack of furniture, disrepair) which is not conventional, but gives them something shared until something happens or something comes from outside.  It's not that skillfully written (esp. the "poem") but -- come on!  It only was an hour's work, but a writer could open it up into quite a suggestive story about the two people interacting.  The roof could cave in, the building could catch fire.  I thought about adding a fire station just across the street, so that the yowl of the siren overwhelmed everything else.  Rose Windows have quite a suggestive history.

Or you could make this a story inside a story by revealing that this story is being discussed in a classroom or a literary sort of bar near a university, so the symbolism of owls and Stations of the Cross could be brought up. Or one could discuss the relationship between poets and priests.  This is an opening.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Some people have "wolf teeth", almost fangs.  My UU minister had them and hated them.  But when he became rich enough to have them made "normal", he lost his seeming edge and bite that had made him more than just a nice guy who went along.  David Brooks has baby teeth where his fangs ought to be, and it makes him seem a lot nicer and more innocent than he really is.

No, I'm wrong.  Watching vids, I see that his fangs are in place as normal, but the incisors next to his two front teeth (Bucky Beaver) are unusually small, giving him the look of a child with new adult teeth.  It's a point of hinged time, taking a new direction.  Apt.  Brooks is leading the culture into a new point of view that's actually very old.

Watch him in the last half of this vid clip.  (Ignore the first minute which is a silly disorganized and incoherent hostess.)
What Brooks is really saying is that he's discovered the humanities: art, story, empathy and all that.  He had been a head-tripper at U of C when a young man, as I became as an old woman.  His joke about the school is the one where it's "a Baptist school where atheist professors teach Jewish students about St. Thomas Aquinas".  This is a Div School joke.  Today's university is more likely to be a legacy student in the Business School studying discredited economics, while pretending to be socially sophisticated.

In the end he changed, which he explains in this vid:

It was an experience of a group so emotionally open and inclusive that he thought, "Why have I been living the way I have when I could be living the way these people are?"  He describes it as recognition that all people have "desiring hearts" that long for fusion with others through intimacy, at the same time they have souls that yearn for good.  This leads to "radical mutuality."  

in turn this leads to the idea that "people on the marginal edges of society find a better way to live and other people copy them."  As a journalist and a perpetual student, he offers some sensational examples which he has acquired through an organization called "THE WEAVE: SOCIAL FABRIC PROJECT.

I was wondering how Brooks found all these groups with their founding stories and detailed "structure" of how to operate.  I run across such groups every now and then, but in my experience with them -- which is all more than twenty years in the past -- they are generally time-limited and powered by one charismatic individual.  "The Weave" was his guide.  But because Brooks doesn't have time to invite people over for dinner, much less go to their houses, I wonder about his judgement. How does he know this stuff will work?

Brooks, like both Shields and Judy Woodruff on PBS, is irritatingly middle class.  He doesn't allow for people like me who never have formal dinners -- just walk around with a bowl of something so as not to interfere with writing.  I subscribe to the historic Blackfeet practice of keeping something on the "fire" (in the fridge) and dipping into it when needed.  Canned goods and sandwiches make it easy.  But Brooks is talking about Aspen, for goodness sake.  They are not only middle-class, but high end, the class that loves to travel to fine places and sit together exclaiming over "defiance of evil," defined as isolation and suicide, or maybe the culture's distrust of institutions and neighbors.

"Tribal" thinking based on hatred refers to stigma, the diminishment of people not as "good" (rich) as us.  I think his idea that "people on the marginal edges of society find a better way to live and other people copy them." is a valid premise for a bad reason: the real margins are constantly dying -- not from suicide or drug use, but from poverty and being shut out of the safety nets.  (The ones Trump and the Repubs are quickly eliminating.) They're just gone, those most marginal of marginals.

Two groups I've followed closely for the last twenty years,  but the one that originally kicked off my interest in the U of C and highest learning is ironically the one that let me down.  The UU's are NOT on the margin.  They thought they were pioneers of thought, but they turn out to be the ragged edge of Enlightenment as it now makes room for the return of the Whole Human in relationship, alongside strict scientific logic and proof.  It's not evil, but its focus is too tight.

In 1975 the PNWD of the UUA offered a Leadership School that wove together theology, organizational design, history, and personal devotion.  It broke me open the way that Brooks was broken open by people who hug.  This is apart from my first real participation in the middle class.  (Undergrad years at NU were in the higher middle class, but I was in theatre, which is different -- as close to classless as we could get. On purpose.)  

U of C Div School would have been a mistake except for Richard Stern, who was an elite Manhattan product and not at all a hugger, but somehow interested in the "others" and their stories.  The mistake became clear when I was actually serving congregations, all of whom were middle class.  Hear the distaste?  They were stuck.  Leadership School was soon merchandized into a tool for growth and an effort to make the institution of the UUA stop shrinking while keeping "Others" out so nothing would change.  No Mexicans. No one from Alabama.  Some nice token blacks.  Hear my exasperated contempt for this?  I try not to admit it.  They expect only to dish it out and will not respond well.

The two groups I have really watched for decades cannot be joined by me.  I have no provenance for an indigenous heritage, though I am deeply committed to the land on or off the rez.  The other one is a gathering of boys who have AIDS.  I don't qualify for them either.  But I'm far more aware of who they are than they think.  Not as a label, but as unique individuals.  Both groups are in process, dynamic, moving, exploring.  That's what makes them so fascinating.

Brooks talks about the technology of intimacy -- he means something roughly like organizational design.  Not lovers but family.  He speaks in a voice that sometimes shakes.  He says, "we'll walk this thing together."  In another place he realizes that a conversation can be "four jungles into the weeds."  But it's still attempting to defy evil. walking together while we talk.

Friday, January 18, 2019


I'm on Twitter and risk my eyes there too often because if I wade through a lot of nonsense, there are valuable insights.  The ones I like the best are the ones with which I agree.  For instance, James Gleick -- a respected science writer -- says:  "Trump is inadvertently sharing more about his dark fantasies than anyone wanted to know."

He is reacting to Daniel Dale, a Toronto journalist, who remarks:  "Experts on human trafficking say Trump’s tales about women being bound, gagged and stuffed in airless vans to be brought in from Mexico do not resemble any reality…"

We're already aware that this big lump of a boy-man gets his information from the most sensational and opportunistic medias.  He posts to Twitter all the time, but I have no fantasies about him reading the comments or responses.  He imagines he is devastatingly powerful and doesn't want interference with that notion.  It's rather clear that Putin has replaced Fred in Trump's mind.  At first Trump didn't know he was owned, even though he's mafia born and bred.  He was a fish not recognizing water.  The moment of truth was probably Helsinki if I'm accurately reading the body language in the photo of the two men emerging from a private frank talk.  Putin grins like the cat that ate the canary, Trump looks like one mauled and chewed little bird.  His shoulders slump, his head hangs.

I've hinted that when Putin is through with Trump, he'll simply rub him out, the way he has so many others, but the truth is that Trump is so obviously a blind child who doesn't realize that Manhattan is neither the Vatican nor Moscow, that his limitations are known to everyone by now:  there will be no need.  He is a weak reed who cannot even deliver on a set-up that should have sent all the marbles into his corner.

So now I wonder whether Putin, like May, is going to be confronted with his limitations and whether disrupting the world order (destroying NATO, for instance) might not throw him into the bonfire of his own vanities.  Once it was all based on the atomic bomb, but now that is a trivial lever in a world where the whole planet is turning against human beings with no button to push, no red emergency phone, no bombers in the air -- just human refusal to see and understand that we're using up all the water, that the ocean is awash with plastic, that the tiny trajectories of our lives are swept away by aeons of cosmic inevitability.  I've never seen any indication that Putin can operate a computer or understand how the internet works.

But Gleick and Dale, almost acting as therapists, have pointed to Trump's own inescapable internal horror films.  The only reason Trump hasn't run screaming mad in the night is that he has a fantasy that he can be a super-hero who socks the threat in the throat -- when in fact he only has a check book and the stupidity of all the people who fail to see it's only a book of IOU's.  I suspect Putin has seen the real horror of life and accepts it as a norm.  No fantasies as protection against the possibilities of a terrible fate.

The only thing more ridiculous than Trump throwing rolls of paper towels at flood victims (so far) was mocking state dinners with a table of fast food flanked by elaborate candleabras.  Reworking his grinning "host" image with the monster from Pan's Labyrinth was very apt, the staring eyes literally in thehands of a child-imagined monster.

This quote is from M.M. Owen in Aeon.  "On the right, there is the attempt to preserve the old tribal markers of people and place, despite them being, at the deepest level, basically imaginary. On the left, identity is framed as at once gravely determined, tying you to entire human histories of either victimhood or guilt – and also so self-determined and infinitely flexible as to be almost meaningless. Whatever your affiliation, we are consumed with thinking about our identity, and everyone is confused."  He's talking about Erikson, who was a fatherless German psychoanalyst who believed that people like Luther or Gandhi were exemplifiers of their time and place. 

So is Trump an exemplification of our times?  (Is Putin the same except in a different place?)  Insurgencies and new dictators abound.  It's possible to make a pretty good case that life is following art is following life is following nightmare is following living horror.  A story that imagined putting children "on ice" in cages would have been considered preposterous until we all saw it on television.  Such stories have made the reports seem preposterous, even as we're looking at them.  The ability of a computer/TV screen to be hoaxed by CGI-altering images has convinced us even more that there is no reality -- not really.  

All of this atrocity and preposterousness can only be dealt with as circus.  Except the circus doesn't normally include real and lethal events (Two children dead so far while incarcerated in the US.  Many more deaths on the way north.  At least one adult forced to return home has been murdered.)

Various challengers say to Trump, "We're killing children!" and his answer is "So does everyone else."  It's a child's morality.  The trouble is it's true. Reformers hope that putting photos of the most desperately starved children on the news will motivate us to do something about it.  It only throws the real story into the Halloween category.  "A warning, some people may find these photos hard to watch" means in reality "call the kids that want to test their thrill-meter once more."  Writers, esp for television shows, are challenged to think up the most ghastly stuff.  How can we not-quite-kill James Bond one more sexual and deviant time?

At least it relieves the boredom.  For a while.  The shine has been off sex for quite a while.  It takes a lot of energy and stagecraft or it's not "real".  Violence is the backup.