Friday, February 24, 2017


The boy found by Professor Lee Berger's son and his dog.

Chris Anderson’s question, “what are human beings for?” was almost unaddressed in his TED talk that I described in yesterday’s post.  So I spent some time thinking about it and then thought of looking at vids on the subject.  

If the ad I saw (Momondo) comes with this, it will feature our multitude of DNA connections by showing people discovering their own genomes.  But the vid itself is about a sculptor making a replication of a hominin from the deep past, like millions of years ago.

Migration patterns.  Another version of investigating the ancient ties between a person’s DNA and the regions from which they came, in the days when people stayed put and became unique because of the place and the ways of being in it.

Leakey Foundation explains that the ancestors of today’s humans are a great cloud of variations that finally acquire mind and emotion loops that we share — though we’re still quite different from each other.

This is a video for those who are interested and for kids, because it features a major discovery found by a 9-year-old boy: the bones of another boy from millions of years ago.  The dad of the living boy explains.

There are two forces that act deeply on human beings that are not explored in these videos, mostly because you can’t really see them on a vid.  They are molecules and microbes.  (I’ll come back to that.)  Also, in earlier times you couldn’t see the main force that varied all these ancient hominins in the past,  Now we can.  It was climate change.  Today we can see it in action: the droughts, the melting polar caps, the people forced out of their homes.

In the past those who opened their minds to evolution have seen hominins and hominids as a matter of linear progress, going along a time/path through the millennia as though they were one brave “Otzie” (the man found frozen from a mere few thousand years ago).  In fact, humans — like all other species — have been a wave, a herd, a hustling mass of refugees and explorers fanning out over the land masses and even the seas, sending long fingers of sojourners into all the possible places for humans to inhabit, inventing ways to survive as they went until they made homes in the caves along river valleys, along warm coasts where there were fish or frozen coasts where there were marine mammals, deep into forests and high along mountain shoulders, and even on camels in sand deserts.  As they went, the environments changed them.  Some whole groups died.  Others thrived.

Why would it be different now?

Estimated at the moment is that there were maybe 200 different versions of hominins until we settled into the last known final drafts, us and the Neanderthals we have now absorbed.  Africans have no Neanderthal DNA.  Eastern Asians and American Indians have Denisovian DNA and from another group that can’t be identified so far.  Some call it Melanesian and their descendants appear to have sailed to South America earlier than those on foot — maybe.  Remember Kon-Tiki?

Back to the microbes and molecules.  Besides hunting fossils with GPS and radioactive carbon dating, we have been ransacking our own bodies.  Forget the DNA body-plan that guides gestation — once born and adult how do bodies actually work?  What makes it veer off from good health?  How much can we control?

We’re told now that in the process of birth we acquire many one-celled beings.  By the time we die — we are told — we are carrying bacteria and so on that is half the bulk of our bodies made of the cells we generated according to DNA instructions.  In fact, some will say that we — like coral atolls — are actually colonies of one-celled animals that collaborate to provide oxygen, nutrition, and movement for the whole colony that is a human being.

So all individuals with so much family and ethnic pride, all that gilded nationalism and smiling identity — like the people shown getting their DNA analyzed — is probably valid for some purposes, mostly cultural — but totally submerged in the great waves of human and hominin beings over the million-year eons who have gone before, gone alongside, and are now just gone.

Quite aside from triggering climate change in a way we never have before, we are now able to construct molecules, the minute assemblages of atoms that are information-carriers, interactors, even creators of our flesh and the world around us.  We can make insulin.  We can make new molecules that aren’t quite like insulin but do the same thing.  Frankenstein doesn’t have to be a whole new human being — it can be a manmade Frankenfood or Frankenmed or just a plastic polymer chain that no mammalian system has ever encountered before.

The Frankenmolecules sink into the sea, collect at the bottom of abysses where creatures imbibe them, dying and rising to the top where the fish we eat eat them, until they saturate the world so that they get into polar bear mother’s milk and we inhale them — like it or not.

We worry about war and opiates (among the other brain-deranging chemicals we seek out) but fewer of us fear food additives or the out-gassing of new carpets.  Both make some of us sick.  This is not including the viruses that travel among us by various means and demand even more molecular inventions to correct the captured cell-components.  

Overpopulation of the planet has been a concern for a long time.  Some say this is the purpose of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that deal out death in the Bible:  war, famine, plague, and natural catastrophe.  This reframes mass death as a necessary editing, and sometimes claims are made that it gives renewed vigor to those left.  But only a few people are looking at modern subtle toxic edits: shortening life-spans, lowering birth rates, and causing simple “failure to thrive,” formally called “inanition.”  Also what I call “pencil deaths,” those caused by failure of governments to allot resources to anyone they don’t like, i.e. people not like them that they don’t understand, which is why we always want our representation to be at least proportional to the actual population.

Build all the walls you like — they mean nothing.  Become as enraged as you like.  It means nothing.  The problem and the solution are within us.  Where do we go from here?

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Chris Anderson, curator of TED talks

Social media is based on numbers of engaged people which means they must always expand, EXPAND, and the websites panic if the numbers go down.  The Trump win on election day gave them a jolt.  On the one hand, a lot of people are now looking for clues to the source of the unseen surprise.  On the other hand, it was advertising-based and the advertisers were all from one class, one opinion, one comfy set of assumptions, leaning hard on greed and fear.

In the meantime, some of us have been reading long-form explanations and analysis.  So suddenly every push for growth is asking us what we think.  How do we like the socks we just bought and what should we do about the end of the world when the sun burns up the solar system, less that eight billion years from now?

TED talks, which specializes in intensely enthusiastic people they consider interesting, had been leaning towards trivia, but now they’re going “deep.”  “How do we make sense of today's political divisions? In a wide-ranging conversation full of insight, historian Yuval Harari places our current turmoil in a broader context, against the ongoing disruption of our technology, climate, media -- even our notion of what humanity is for. This is the first of a series of TED Dialogues, seeking a thoughtful response to escalating political divisiveness. Make time (just over an hour) for this fascinating discussion between Harari and TED curator Chris Anderson.”

This thinking is surprising to find on TED talks, because they’ve been fooling around with liberal funny business, pep talks for do-gooders.  Partly, I think that’s due to being too busy with growing to see what was going on elsewhere.  Partly it was because Edge grabs all the high end thinking, some of it too high to understand.  Maybe it's partly because Chris Anderson’s real personality and interests have been restrained by business purposes.  I’d just as soon they weren’t.  Anderson was born to English missionaries in Pakistan and has a sturdy respect for the woo-woo, which he seems to see as something practical, not just a song to sing at camp.

To Chris, Yuval Noah Harari is not exotic.  They like sitting down together to search through the landslide of new ideas that is just outside the consciousness of most people.  The two men endorse the universal protection of the multiple and unique.  They call for people to reconnect with their bodies and senses.  They admit that the planet earth is always unfair in tragic dimensions. 

What are humans for? asks Chris.  And Harari is bold enough to say they aren’t for anything.  They just are.  Chris asks Christian questions, like where are humans going, and Harari gives Hindu answers like “nowhere.”  (Human continuous evolution is neglected, esp. the evolving abilities of the human brain.)

I was interested that when they got to the question of consciousness, which seems to torment the minds of male college sophomore trying to find the kernel of their own minds in hopes of reassurance that they are valuable, Harari related it to suffering.  What is a “sentient” being?  A being capable of suffering: not rocks but certainly even primitive animals and — well, we should think about plants.  

Likewise, when it comes to the problem of separating fiction from reality, suffering is the guide.  If it makes you suffer, it’s real. But suffering can create a uniting of people behind mythic understanding, mythic as in the powerful and meaningful stories of religion.  Harari is Jewish, a suffering people.

We are always busy trying to change the world into something that we want, but this interferes with our understanding of reality.  We should want to know what is actual and real, not just what suits us.  Our real task, the one we can actually pursue, is discovering the reality that is inside us as individuals, the truth we carry in our bodies.

But people have lost their connection to their bodies and senses, because they are always trying to overcome them.

In the beginning of this talk it was billed as an exploration of the difference between national governance and interests (often ethnic) and the global.  By the end it seemed rather to be saying that the way to achieve the global -- the planetary level of behavior -- was through the individuals finding peace.  This might not be quite what anyone else would hear, but it seems to me like a fair idea.  I just wish it were a little more cheerful.

One school of thought in the Bible is that the purpose of humans is to enjoy creation as a gift from the Theos.  Personally, I see it as more like the embodiment of whatever theos there is, which is a kind of immanent idea of merging and emerging, one thing transforming into something else while not losing relationship.  It’s close to being nature-based.

This transcript of a clear and graceful “Chris” talk, is a link to why he thinks the way he does.  The talk with Harari is really a way to convey this point of view.  I don’t think Harari minds — he’s in on it.

I ordered Harari’s books and will try to follow out his thoughts.  “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” are the titles, the latter being the newer one.  But I’d really rather follow Chris.  I’ve been zapping TED talks without reading them because they are such little liberal pep-talks from do-gooders.  I see now that this was a deliberate policy change to let ordinary people have their say instead of going off into the stratospheric high-tech theories of Edge and their tantrum-like insistence on atheism.  Chris is more of a Whole Earth kind of guy, which ironically was one of the roots of Edge.  TED leans towards AEON.

It’s that Brit thing.  They were such bullies, so ecocentric in their Empire days, but the colonies taught them even as the outsiders “organized” places they didn’t understand.  It was hard: eight-year-old Chris returning to England was constantly beat up simply for being born in Pakistan though he’s genetically English.  But as he proposes, one can use one’s biological possibilities for empathy and that will help very much to relieve our burden of suffering as sentient beings. 

This seems like more of a religious mission than a popular media goal, but good religion is where you find it, sometimes not in a box.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


"Harriet Vane"  

How does one stay sane when events grow daily more whackadoodle?  I used to depend on Netflix to carry me away into fantasy in something like the way the Audible ads suggest.  (My fav is still the first one I saw: the Millennial athletic woman in shorts and singlet who is suddenly rowing alongside a hairy, greasy, massive slave (?) in a Viking galley.)  But Netflix has degenerated into explosions and cheesy sex for teenagers.

Since I’ve been depending upon YouTube to follow news, I sort of accidentally slipped over into watching their collections of BBC mystery serieses, some of which I hadn’t really seen before.  As an example, last night I watched a “Lord Peter Wimsey” mystery by Dorothy Sayers which is really about his significant other, "Harriet Vane", as she tries to resolve a poison pen stalker in her old Oxford women’s college.  (“Gaudy Nights.”  Gaudy means reunion, not flashy.)  Less whimsical than peculiar, Wimsey backs her up, which plays into the overall theme which was about intellectual women, their moral and psychological quandaries, and their struggle to be themselves in the face of rigid gender roles.

“Sayers did not content herself with writing pure detective stories; she explored the difficulties of First World War veterans in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, discussed the ethics of advertising in Murder Must Advertise, and advocated women's education (then a controversial subject) and role in society in Gaudy Night.  . . . in many ways the whole of Gaudy Night can be read as an attack on Nazi social doctrine. The book has been described as "the first feminist mystery novel.”  Randi Sørsdal  

Lord Peter in this film is played by an actor with a fascist vibe, which goes well with his monocle.  Harriet Vane is clearly a fiction based on Sayers’ own life but Vane has her own Wikipedia entry as though she were flesh and blood.  Sayers has said she invented “Vane” in order to marry off “Wimsey” and get rid of him.  Evidently, it didn’t work.  The “Gaudy” story is based on Sayers’ Oxford education and I must say I’m much attracted to that, even though I’ve discovered there’s no such thing in real life.  It’s as much fiction as Vane. (Pun intended.)  Anyway, nowadays female academics are women of color who espouse post-modernism.  Or post-structuralism.  Post-something.

All the women in this secular cloister of the early 19th century are dressed in shades of brown, with marcelled hair close to their heads, respectable and bespectacled, little brown birds in the dense thickets of academia.  (Harriet’s hair is a defiant bushy bob, as though electrified by her brain.)  These sturdy females worry about moral issues, things like keeping secrets and the proprieties of class.  Oh, yes.  There’s always class, but not always based on family or money or even intellectual achievement.

(Vane was played by Constance Cummings, who has an excellent reputation as a stage and screen actress, with her most admired performance being the mother in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” opposite Olivier.  After a long career she died aged 92.)

As Harriet Vane says of herself, I’m not disciplined enough to be an academic, but the flavor is appealing.  Partly it’s the multi-syllabic and witty dialogue, going along like a brisk tennis match; partly it’s the “frocks” (chiffon print with asymmetrical hems) and the gothic settings that the U of Chicago echoed.  I watched another film with a different actor playing Wimsey and was bored.

I don’t really understand how these films get onto YouTube, but I have a feeling that they will soon be monetized so I’ll watch what I can now.  Poirot is there, both Marples, and I’ve always enjoyed Maigret before he became a wizardly eminence.  Morse is there as a lawyer, although many of his episodes come with a sparkling/dancing/exploding frame that I presume is meant to discourage watching.  I tend to avoid Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, but there are characters here that I’ve never heard of.  I was surprised to see “Wire in the Blood.”  The first I knew of Robson Green’s films were the two first episodes which were based on the novels of SM queen Val McDermid, whose work in the written versions is so lurid and vicious that I find them unreadable.  English mysteries are characteristically bloody and grotesque.

Maigret is another fictional character whose biography is in Wikipedia, invented by Georges Simenon, who is presumably French, or rather a British notion of what a French detective might be like.  Nothing like the more contemporary French version of the French cops in “The Spiral.”  Maigret is happily married and rather laid-back.

The most intriguing find was full-length movies starring Michael Kitchen when he had a full head of dark frizzly hair, which meant he wasn’t “Foyle” yet.  Foyle is a reassuring and wry fellow I’ve always treasured.  But in these films he’s often wicked and shaken.  Last night I watched “The Guilty” which followed two stories, finally weaving them together after killing people all along the way.

Peter Froggatt was Kitchen's discoverer and agent.  I thought Mick Froggatt might be a relative since he once posted old films like these, but Mick has been terminated for violation of terms, so I guess YouTube is not as much of a free-for-all as reputed, and my theory about windows about to close is probably accurate.

All these mysteries play out like a card game with the elements all being very familiar, but the interaction of them is fed by our identification with a primary character, played by an excellent actor.  (Later this was a pool of talent for the various kings in "Game of Thrones.") The predictability plays against familiar settings, particularly the beloved coast of Britain, the towers of Oxford, and the drawing rooms of nobs.  But then, more like a crossword puzzle than poker, the clues show up, fed out to us a bit at a time until the last entries fall into place with satisfaction, usually happy.

Because many of these British plots are driven by psychological hangups, they can become dated.  The newer ones move over to a political context and then become more morally focused and also more likely to explore crimes against vulnerable groups than the murder of individuals.  The more traditional ones have a comedy dimension which I don’t appreciate, esp. when it becomes slapstick, but at least they don’t all hinge on treacle romance, which is a category of its own in America.

In times as surreal as these we're hoping to survive, one must find what reassurance one can.  Brit murder mysteries are not too inaccessible, but they do offer some wit and glimpses of upper classes that are properly sophisticated.  A flute of champagne.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


What follows is a link to the trailer for a movie called  “The Wolf,” featuring Christian Slater.  It explains in dramatic  terms our risk from Big Data.  That is, we’re not talking about a predatory animal here, we’re talking about the most dangerous nonhuman unrobot in our future: statistics.  Algorithm numbers mean predictability means controllability.  Credit cards are one means among others.  Some suggest Trump won the election using Big Data to target and empower his constituency with seemingly personal messages.

This is not an Netflix Original film.  It is an extended advertisement for secure HP printers.  (Watch it on YouTube.)  You don’t even have to be personally online to be hacked.  This secret monitoring is more slick and effective than demanding the passwords of your cell phone, computer, or iPad when you board a plane or cross a border — even if your device happens to actually belong to NASA as just happened.

It is legally forbidden to demand the check-out records of a library because it reveals the mind of the checker-outer.  This dates back to when the bad boys who intended damage would check out books about bombs.  Or even before that when the biggest danger in the world was seen not as Islamists but as Marxists.  Who would read “Mein Kampf” except bad people? 

Suppose the community were urban or academic, sophisticated about computers and legitimately studying dangerous topics.  One simply goes online and seemingly (to oneself) is “secretly” downloading the directions for maybe an atomic bomb.  Except that a person obsessed that way is unlikely to realize that the computer’s connection is revealing to authorities who you are, where you are, your history, your Dark Web contact for acquiring illicit uranium, and so on.  Things you don’t even realize CAN be known — like your fondness for Twinkies, which you really ought to buy in bulk, but rather pick up at Safeway where the cash register reports the small purchase.

Groceries bought at major chains are recorded on the internet at the same time that your check is validated by “asking” your bank if you have enough money and deducting that amount at the same time.  Now that credit cards have built-in chips, they can record and communicate far more information.   I can think of no more effective way — not even raiding corporate information like whether you are insured or what’s on your rap sheet anywhere in the nation — to control citizens en masse than by controlling — not even their credit card actions — but their food supply.  (And their meds.) When even the mom-and-pop stores and gas service stations use “smart” cash registers, computers could sort through for all categories.  Even now hunting and fishing license applications can find delinquent dads who are behind on child support.

Overpopulation is one way to beat this system, in the same way that a certain kind of bamboo in China produces so much seed simultaneously that no number of rodents or insects can consume them, and then stops making seeds for long enough that the predators die of starvation.  I mean, if every conversation that criticizes the government is recorded, who is going to filter the actual words?  An algorithm.  According to the assumptions of the person who designs the algorithm formula.

Groups of people have figured this out and systematically stockpile enough food supplies to last a very long time.  Some of them are worrying about floods or drought. While law enforcement chased marijuana growers, the food hoarders were converting the advice for surviving atomic war into recommended caches of food  — and water, though that’s tough in a climate cold enough to freeze liquids.  It also stockpiles paranoia, both against authority figures and against neighbors who might want to share or simply raid.  These are not dynamics that support democracy.

When I switched from mostly Netflix to watching old movies on YouTube, I became aware of how much of the incoming Big Data to my screen is as controlled as what is reported back to them.  Unless I knew the specific name of a film, YouTube guessed what I might want to watch and only showed me that option.  Sometimes they made a faulty guess or I entered something somewhere else (credit card or Amazon or simply a Google search) that triggered a film or essay I had not known about.  Usually irrelevant and uninteresting, but once in a while rather alarming.

Not so much “alarming” in terms of a threat, but rather opening up a category I hadn’t known existed.  Often they were tagged according to categories of criminality.  Most people don’t realize that criminality is not about black and white, though the best laws draw boundaries that can be defined and proven in court.  They don’t think about the consequences of criminalizing something likeb littering, much less giving officers power to arrest and confine for the crime of “walking while black” or “driving while Native American.”  

However, a certain class of businessmen resents very much any kind of regulation or inspection that cramps their style.  Working for the Bureau of Buildings in Portland made it vividly clear that even though the codes and requirements builders had to obey were meant for safety and sound construction practices, they were highly resented and evaded as much as possible because they cost money.  That was practical and realistic.  The manipulation of them or, even more potently, the control of fees, taxes, export duties, and so on could be used as weapons to route profit into certain pockets.

Cops say they need a law against acts like littering or spitting or even suspicion of mental disability to use in gray areas meant for the greater good.  Anyway, if people are offended by chickens or potholes, they shouldn’t have to put up with them.  Chickens carry flu, don’t they?  Potholes destroy automobiles, don’t they? 

Bob used to say two things that he learned from being a ground-level judge.  One was that if you do things that are bizaare and unexpected enough, no one will suspect you.  Thus Jonah Bar Jones could kill and eat the neighborhood boys without notice.  The other thing was that you can do anything until someone pushes back.  Even if a practice is illegal and there is a law on the books, if no one complains there is no investigation likely, much less formal accusation.

Using the “Cloud” for information storage is no more safe than individual home systems unless they are off the internet and STAY off the internet.  Paper is still more secure, but not if it is produced on a spying printer, as this little advertising film shows.  Best round up your pencils and pens.

Because twice I’ve worked jobs that were meant to address bad behavior (animal control and building permits) and because I’ve often lived in communities that were on the edge of subsistence, I see things that nice standard “safe” people never imagine.  It was a ministry handicap if the task was to preserve the illusion of safety.

One of my seminary classmates used to say, “You have the mind of a troll, Mary.”  He also was fond of remarking,  “This would be a nice place if you could get rid of all the people.”  He left the ministry under a cloud because of endorsing conspiracy theories about 9/11, the ones that proposed CIA involvement.  Luckily, it was about time for him to retire anyway.  He wrote about American fascism.

Monday, February 20, 2017


We are reminded that Trump is “white” (though the evidence is that he is a victim of fake tanning and some suggest it is to hide jaundice), heterosexual (though evidently not mainstream since most men don’t go around grabbing women between their legs), wealthy (though many experts insist he has only converted his inherited fortune into a legal tangle that is impenetrable in terms of profit and never reported publicly), and Christian.  There is no evidence that he is Christian.  Except that he is an enemy of Islam in a medieval sense.

He does not attend church, speak of God, pray in public, pledge to the support of a church, or show values and practices praised by Jesus.  Trump’s father’s middle name was “Christ” (not “Christian”), but it doesn’t seem to have any more significance than the fact that one of Obama’s names was Hussein.  The Billy Graham dynasty has avoided Trump.

Trump’s true god is Mammon, and it appears that it is also the true god of America.  This is not a subsistence culture, except for those who can’t help it.  In a subsistence or hardship culture Christianity is meant to be a counterweight to despair , a brake and limit on those who pursue Mammon at the expense of others.  When the going gets good, the Christians get corrupt, selfish, and sequestered in enclaves.  Their sacred cow is the Golden Calf.

Remnant Christianity in America supports “simple living,” small houses, “slow food,” and closet cleaning.  But the last of the Shakers is gone.  People who value these life-ways are likely to turn to Buddhism if they can figure out what it is.

America is very clever at converting the simple into the profitable.  For instance, plain food — uncontaminated as it would be naturally — is now labeled “organic” at a steep markup.  “Writing” is such a swamp of promises that a whole class of writing teachers, marketers, ghosts, and mock-publications that only print online for no pay, that writers have been converted from a class of wealth makers for the bourgeois into a class of parasites and panderers.  Saddest of all is the descent of universities from places of learning to corporate dependents and athletic gladiators.  What is a co-ed dorm but another way to grab people between their legs?

Accusations of wickedness (not convictions as our laws require) allow those in power to incarcerate without evidence or conviction, seize assets, and delay trials in the way we used to reserve for our enemies when at war.  We herd together poor people and “detain” them in camps, even when they are children.  Adult poor people must sleep in the streets as they always have done in subsistence countries.  If the “Christians” try to feed these people, they are arrested for making a mess and too much noise.  

It has always been true that those in power can claim that up is down and black is white and in is out, but it has never been so blatantly unprovable now that video records exist and the means of broadcasting are literally in everyone’s pockets.  (That’s hyperbole — not everyone has a smart phone with which to monitor cops and presidents.)  But plainly obvious evidence doesn't seem to matter.  If you have a clever and powerful lawyer, as all the zombies called corporations do, then the contradictions can be suppressed — at least removed from Google, Facebook, et al.

But now that Big Data is cleverly used as a marketing tool, there’s no use in trying to hide in the crowd.  The claim is that the number crunchers only deal in anonymous totals, but the truth is that identities can be discovered by reverse engineering.  Also, by face recognition, though Google image presents every old woman with big glasses and frizzy hair as “Mary Scriver.”  She buys books instead of shoes, very suspicious behavior.  She is not on Facebook or Medium, cancelled both, though Medium failed to take down one post because it was about sex and religion, and thus pulls readers.

People who read my blog are generally not aware that I can see their location and the moment they are reading by consulting monitors on my computer.  The problem is that there are at least three sources of statistics I can read without having to pay (paying means accuracy and detail) and none of them agree.  On any given day (which is an interval that can be challenged on a turning planet) the number of “hits” range from 80 to several thousand.  I’ve never made an attempt to reconcile them in terms of whether they at least go up and down in tandem.  

They say that if numbers are consistently high, one can turn them into profit, but I haven’t tried.  Once I signed up for ads, but after my careful efforts at accuracy and integrity, the ads would be for crackpot stuff that directly contradicted what I wrote.  Since I often write about “religion,” I suddenly discovered how much fake “religion” is actively pushed at people.

The marketing of wealth is rather subtle but always based on the European competitive notion of cultures against each other.  Until the wave of books explaining historical climaxes and their subsequent collapses, I had not understood — for instance — about the long bloody confrontation between England and Holland when great sailing ships were plying the seas to bring home "wealth", like blue and white porcelain, silk or tulip bulbs — none of them necessary for a full and comfortable life.  

More blatant was the capture of other people, who DID provide ease and comfort for their owners — not just wealth.  They even provided descendants as in the case of Thomas Jefferson.  If we don’t criticize him for that particular aspect of wealth, are we justified in frowning at Trump et al for paying subsistence wages for menial work?  How else would we define “menial”?  What is sufficient compensation for scrubbing public toilets?  At least we’ve given up — for the most part — pay toilets, because they are an incentive for shoppers who have to drive long distances to big box shopping centers, which causes them to fortify themselves with all sorts of beverages to occupy the cup-holders built into the better cars, though the holders have nothing to do with making the car operate better.

The capture of cars is a heavy penalty for those dependent on them in a place like Montana.  My principle is that if the vehicle is sufficiently old and moldy, it becomes invisible.  This is a heresy when the most dedicated American ceremony is washing the car.

My greatest wealth is my education.  Even if I were slammed into solitary confinement, even if I had barely enough money to eat, even if all my books were seized (Why would they be?  They’re not worth anything anymore.),  I would still know what I know.  And it would make me happy.

Those who have been asked to decide whether Trump is insane or simply a bad man, (formal associations of psychiatrists) say that insanity is defined ultimately by how happy the person is.  Otherwise, why would they employ a shrink.  This is a monetary definition.  

If you’re happy, you’re not crazy, the shrinks say.  So there.  I’m as sane as Trump — just not as greedy.  I’m white (do freckles count?), “het“ (does celibacy count?), and poor.  The issue of Christian is open since I eschew institutions and am rather indiscriminate about practice.  I mean, I don’t pray, but I smudge.  (Incense is Catholic.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Earl Old Person on his 86th birthday

Every year about this time I and others get inquiries like the one I’m quoting below.  They are 19th century fantasies about being sort of secular missionaries.  I’m blanking out whatever information might embarrass the sender by naming her, though I think she would be close to impossible to embarrass:

Greetings Mrs. Scriver, 

I am a high school English teacher in [big California city] and have recently been given a grant to travel and research about the Black Feet Nation in America. My original interest in doing this project was to learn more about my deceased relative, [I’m calling him Ebenezer.], who worked for several years with a tribe in Canada while living in Kalispell, Montana. I believe he was attempting to film the tribe and had been working with a chief by the name of Earl Old Person for several years. 

While researching online, I came across a blog you posted in 2005 where you briefly mentioned [Eb] and his work, as well as Chief Earl Old Person. I wondered if you had any additional details or information that may be helpful in retracing his steps and finding this footage he may have captured. I am hoping to create a blog about his work and see if there was ever anything done with the footage he was trying to get of the tribe. I will be sharing my research and explorations with my school in an effort to bring more awareness to Native American issues and culture. 

Thank you so much for your assistance and time. 

Actually, “Ebenezer” arrived as a VISTA worker, a program that was a domestic version of the Peace Corps.  It was the Sixties.  He saw the potential of exploiting knowledge of the Blackfeet (NEVER “Black Feet.”) and was so intent on bringing his camera into ceremonials such as Bundle Openings that the elders asked Bob Scriver, City Magistrate and JP, to have him arrested and kept in jail until the ceremony was over.  This is not rumor— I was sitting in the pickup with Bob when he had to shout at Eb to make him give up his idea.  Eb did NOT understand the idea of forbidding cameras and refused to accept the authority of the ceremonialists to set their own rules.

Eb was one of half-a-dozen opportunists hanging around in the Sixties.  Eb wasn’t as bad as the invasive writer who turned out to be a pedophile and a madman (incarcerated in a mental hospital at one point) who nevertheless won prizes for his book about the Blackfeet.  But Eb was nowhere near as honorable, well-read or respectful as Adolf Hungry Wolf, whose marvelous four-volume book -- research and photos accumulated over decades -- is sold by the Browning School District.  Adolf is a Canadian but the Blackfoot Confederacy includes both Canada and US. 

By now there are many authorities and websites about this tribe, written by people who are actually enrolled members.  This ignorant woman has evidently not made contact with them, preferring an ornery old white woman.  Why should I help her when I’m a writer myself with no interest in her projects?  Her assumptions about me demonstrate she knows nothing about me, did no research to find out. 

Eb was a loser.  He moved across the Rockies to Kalispell, the Outlaw town, because he wasn’t wanted in Browning (which is not in Canada).  He was an object of contempt and derision.

This woman’s school is a private posh enterprise in the wealthy part of town where their knowledge of Indians could easily be expanded if they went out to the chainlink fence where the undocumented Mexicans wait in hopes of day labor jobs.  Some of them speak neither English nor Spanish — they are the real thing, only speaking their tribal language from up in the mountain villages.  

I tried to brush off this woman, but she persisted.

I am happy to hear any stories you have to share. My attempt is to do honest research. I was very young when he passed and only remember him fondly, but as a true scholar my efforts are to learn openly about the Blackfeet Nation and any of Jim's work with the group, be it good or bad. Were your experiences with him negative, I would still be interested to learn about them, if you are willing to share. 

And I do actually live in [big city], though I have been teaching in [posh suburb] for a little over a year. Prior to that, I worked as a community college teacher and in various other teaching positions around the world; I am also a writer. My hope is to help bring these stories to students who come from often privileged backgrounds and will likely be in positions of power later in life. As an educator for nearly 20 years, I feel it is my duty to instill morality and compassion into my students' lives, and sadly, Native American issues are often overlooked in our society. 

If you are willing to open a dialogue, please let me know. 

I responded that I was not willing.  Next this scholar wants me to send her Chief Old Person’s phone number.

I took the gloves off:  “You are as lazy and self-centered as Ebenezer.  I won’t do your work for you.”

But she wouldn’t shut up:

“My goal in this project is to effectively help young people learn how to move forward in a peaceful and compassionate manner. Part of this involves opening discussions that are often difficult and painful but which hopefully lead to healing, as well as to learning appropriate ways to help ensure the rights of all people, especially when one is in a "privileged position" to do so. Part of why I contacted you is because your blog implied you too were committed to this endeavor and to critiquing a very flawed social/political system. 

Obviously, you are very hurt by the interactions you had with Eb. I am sorry you had a negative experience. I am not sure, however, why you have chosen to write such rude and hateful comments towards me, a person you have virtually no information about nor knowledge. It is because of humanity's inability to let go of anger and hate that lead to so many of the problems facing our world today, including the ones you claim in your blog posts to be so passionate and concerned for. 

Anyway, I will no longer contact you or ask for assistance with this project. Thank you again for your time. And I am sorry for bothering you or stirring up unpleasant memories. That certainly was not my intent. 

The people who would understand the idiocy of this woman and her fantasies about Eb are mostly dead.  It all happened a half-century ago.  The Blackfeet are much different now.  Earl Old Person is alive, but shadows are gathering.  It wouldn’t be worth blogging about except that she’s a type, a person who stars in her own melodrama, rummaging in the family trunks for some kind of significance.  It’s not easy to teach in a posh school where everyone makes far more money.  But many people here would consider themselves her equal, not her chance to patronize people living in tipis.

I confess:  I’m rude and hateful and know nothing about this woman — I don’t know why she’s surprised by me.  I’m full of anger and hate, with good reason.  At least I got a blog post out of the pest.  Be warned.  I could use names.  I could contact the school to complain.

She’s still not as bad as the French journalist who asked me a lot of questions via email, translated my reply into French, and published it in France as an article she wrote herself.  

Please know that I will help any real indigenous people, esp. those on the high North American prairie.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


After watching Trump’s performance at his “extended” news conference, it is clear that he is a self-resolving problem.  What I mean is that he plainly has — in addition to an intractable character structure — something organic, probably Alzheimers.  Maybe a tumor or stroke.  The point is that these health problems are progressive and lead to death.  Until now he has not had good health care.  That deficit can’t really be made up now by any highly qualified doctors and no one seems to be making any effort anyhow.  

He is not organized enough to be a threat.  But he is good cover for people who ARE a threat and who can pretend that he is the source of things they are actually doing.  It would be worthwhile to find out who his puppeteers are so that we know what to expect when Trump dies.  We do NOT know when he will die or become de-mented enough to be as good as dead, sitting and staring, but he is not going to be a two-term president.

To stop obsessing about this man and give up the pleasures of reviling him, which are fun but really too easy to be proud of, is to have the energy and focus to address two other categories of problems.  One is the organizational design challenge, for one instance to do something about the electoral college that leads us into the swamp.  

I see that Earl Blumenauer, whom I know and respect from Portland, is moving in the direction of improving the 25th Amendment to include “instability” as well as suggesting an alternative to the President's cabinet as the body responsible for the trap door.  Both the cabinet and the Supreme Court are currently incomplete.  Blumenauer suggests a sort of “Presidents Emeritus” panel.  I’d be happier with a panel of former president’s wives, but Hilary is a deal-breaker for a lot of people.

In terms of organizational design, we have just about exhausted the institutions and systems that emerged from WWII.  There was no internet then.  That alone has changed the practice of politics as much as it has changed the other cultural elements, like music or publishing.  Old ways are simply gone.

The other work that badly needs to be done is a hard look at the principles of democracy which once seemed obvious.  Science and suffering have challenged the vision developed by the British Empire about commerce and families, the necessity of trade and the English upper class conscience as  God-given.  Now we see a penetrable membrane of living beings, interwoven, stretching around the planet and defining each other.  This conception makes no sense at all to most people today, but it is true in the most rigorous sense, demonstrated by instruments and confirmed by calculations.  We need people like the Bioneers to explore government options that are not based on adversaries.

The planet is a molten-hearted round rock with a triple cortex of earth, air and water, each moving in circuits and supplying nutrients.  Tectonic plates carry continents that guide the currents of air and ocean.  We create boundaries of governance that are sometimes guided by continental features like mountains and sometimes by the natural (but moving) edges of waterways.  

Then we try to drive straight-line borders across them, straight line delivery systems through them.  Here are two illustrations created from piecing together many Google maps.  The straight, surveyed, 49th parallel along Canada is not at all like the Rio Grande River along Mexico with it’s loops and splits.  How is it possible to build a wall without crossing and re-crossing the river?  The southern boundary of the Blackfeet rez is Birch Creek, a smaller stream, which still occasionally changes its stream bed, causing ownership problems.



On the west side, Montana is a place of mountains where cities cluster in valleys.  On the east side it is a vast flat land interrupted by badlands but few cities.  The people and needs of the two kinds of land create two quite different and conflicting political outlooks.  The same is true of Oregon and Washington.  Would it make sense to separate the two kinds of land into two separate ecological states?  Or do the differences act as checks and balances on each other?  

Why do the coasts of the USA not interact in positive ways with the great prairies in the middle instead of scoffing at them as “flyover country”?  Should the megacities accept a different kind of governance and taxation?  Valier itself has a “doughnut hole” problem: the services are inside the town limits, but the wealth and children are on the ranches outside the town.

Now that through internet connection lands can relate to each other without being contiguous, suppose there were one kind of unified governance for the grasslands of the planet no matter which continent they stretched across, and another kind of governance for the sheets of population along the coasts?  I would argue that this is already in existence to some degree (sister cities) and ought to be a starting point that could address shared crises like global warming or plastic debris contamination of the seas.  But what would be the role of a "nation"?

Enough fantasy.  Let’s be practical.  Term limits seem obviously needed to break up the careers of professional politicians who spend their time raising money.  Rethinking criminalization and a return to our original founding premises, like innocent until proven guilty (no incarceration on mere suspicion) and no civil seizure of wealth outside the law.  We need to address pandemics without creating stigma.  Instead of preventing abortion, we should prevent conception by unsuitable persons.  We need close scrutiny of “religious” institutions, but tolerance for “religious” concepts and greater understanding for what that really means.

Education must be lifelong because information and conceptions are now changing daily.  Energy sources should be as local as possible — ideally household by household — to eliminate the tangles of pipes and wires across the land.  Wind and solar energy need the kind of subsidy as fossil fuel.

It’s not just that Trump will be lucky to live long enough to finish his elected term, but that his entire generation will soon be gone.