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Sunday, January 15, 2017

BLOG ON HIATUS

Too many issues both online and in real life.  Pharmacy and internet are full of bureaucratic rules that contradict each other.  Toothache but my dentist was run out of town months ago because he fought with the management.  

Valier main waterline broke in the same place by the Lutheran church on my street where it always breaks.  For the second time the new watertower drained in the night.  The ground is so frozen it has a propane heat blaster on it but can't be dug yet.  No water until Tuesday.

And now my pickup is broken.  There is no true mechanic in Valier.  I'm hoping the guys at the tire shop can figure it out.

This is what it means to live in a shrinking highline Montana town where most people voted for Trump.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

WHAT IS THIS? SATURDAY?

Java, the country where Obama grew up

Today I’m sort of shell-shocked.  At 4AM I woke up, went to get a glass of water,  but when I turned it on, I discovered very low flow, so I figured my pipes were too cold.  Set up my clamp light to shine under the sink and went back to bed.  So did the cats.  
In a few hours the Valier maintenance man was pounding on the door to tell me that the main water line for the whole town had broken and the new water tower was totally drained.  Isn’t there an alarm system for that?  Didn’t this happen a few months ago?  In fact, the water had flooded everything north and east of me and was gradually freezing, though the air temp is about 35.  At this point there is enough snow to melt it for household water (like flushing the toilet) but it’s warming and will soon be gone.  No restoration of the city water until Tuesday.
Zoomed to the store for bottled water to drink while there was some on the shelves.  Luckily, most people in Valier have connections with families outside the city limits — like on ranches — where they can go to get water from wells.  I don’t have those connections but, worse, I originally replaced the bathtub with a shower, so no place to store large amounts.  I got two large demijohns plus a pack of individual water bottles.
I settled at the computer to see what Trump was up to this time with his outrageous stereotypes and know-nothing threats.
Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst, wrote two books addressing the idea that a person could be a sort of illustrative result of a specific culture, or at least an aspect of it.  “Young Man Luther” and “Gandhi’s Truth” were about two very major people and anyway, it was an interesting gimmick.  
Dr. Justin Frank picked up a version of that idea to write two books of his own:  “Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President” and “Bush on the Couch.”  Now he’s pondering “Trump on the Couch” and already has a pretty good start.  Here’s what he’s figured out so far:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_FsbL1Z9Z4   It sounds to me as though Frank’s got the spine of his theory already worked out and is on target.  If only the voters had recognized what he sees, but he does recognize the voters and doesn’t berate them.
I also thought this essay at Aeon (url below) is pretty perceptive, but a person needs to appreciate Javanese culture to really get it.  As it happens, I went on a Java-jag in high school and did a lot of reading, so I get it.
https://aeon.co/essays/is-obama-the-first-javanese-president-of-the-us
Good stuff to think about instead of having no water, but this is Saturday and if I didn’t get to the trash roll-off, the pickup wouldn’t be empty enough to do a laundry in Conrad on Monday when the roll-off is closed, so I went for gas and headed just out of town.  Alas!  The pickup went crazy and wouldn’t run.  My thrashing around in drifts got me stuck.  
But “Peter,” a Hutterite young man who works for Curry, whose ranch entrance I was blocking, came along in a 2017 Silverado 2500HD Heavy Duty Truck and pulled me out, towed me to the tire shop (closest we have to a mechanic but it wasn’t open anyway) and drove me home.  I could have hugged him, but I think I sprained my arms hoisting myself into a pickup that tall.  He was a handsome, courteous young fellow, very willing and able.  I salute him!  
We left my runty little pickup in front of the tire shop.  In my experience, if you let balky vehicles sit and think about it, they often repent.  I told Peter I would bake him a pie as thanks except that I could never bake as well as a Hutterite, and that’s the truth.  He said that was okay, he might be the one broke down on the road next time.
I think the trouble with the pickup is just that there’s still ice in the undercarriage from driving through the watertower flood, but since it’s sitting broadside to the sun and out of the wind, and the temp is forecasted to be nearly forty tomorrow, warming alone might work.  Now that I’m safe I have to rebuke myself: I didn’t have my winter jacket on nor boots neither.  I do carry them in the vehicle.
In this weather, but even more in the arctic cold we just had, I think of the woman who lost her key to her house and stood outside in the snow, actually freezing to death because she didn’t want to break a window.  She was so invested in appearances and what was admirable, that she couldn’t save her own life.  Of course, it doesn’t take much hypothermia to make a person’s thinking go bad.  Be prepared is a survival motto.
Other predicaments can create the same pressure.  Dr. Frank, the shrink, remarks on what a number of people have noted:  Trump pretty clearly was as surprised to be elected president as everyone else and hasn’t really been able to do much more than fake it.  He’s totally unsuited but can’t admit it.  Dr. Frank feels the inappropriate Twitters are a way of blowing off steam from an inner volcano about to explode from the pressure.  I know the feeling.  (What else is this but steam with a question mark?)  But if I act and talk wildly, it does not send nations careening off into disaster.
That’s the way life goes, lurching from the stupid to the atrocious to the funny to the exalted.  The trouble is that it’s scary and confusing.  One hardly knows how to prepare.  Maybe it can’t be prepared for.  But then along comes Peter and knows just how to tow my pickup.  I’ve discovered that one can wash one’s hands in snow as well as in water.  And I haven’t thought about fleas all day.  Out in the road the ground heater is purring away over the broken pipe.  At least we don’t have to burn tires.  And I did get the water home before the pickup broke down.

IS THIS THE PARTY TO WHOM I AM EMAILING?


It’s an advantage to be a writer who blogs because every troubling or pesky incident offers plenty of stuff to discuss — and cuss.  The internet alone is a rich inexhaustible problem but I try to stick with what I know, which is my internet “provider” which is 3rivers.net which is a rural telephone cooperative that dates back to the days of crank (the kind with a handle) boxes on the wall that were mounted at a convenient height for men.  My aunt always had to stand on tiptoe and shout to transmit.  

My grandfather derived great amusement from using the bell code that signalled who was being called.  The caller used the crank handle Morse Code fashion, mixing longs and shorts.  My gleeful Irish grandfather would add more longs or shorts so the wrong person answered the phone.  Everyone was on party lines then because it was farm land and only one wire reached out along the road.  Soon everyone on that road was mad at my grandfather.  He used to run for office and wonder why no one voted for him.

Things haven’t changed that much since the old days, esp out in the boonies.  There are people here who haven’t adapted to industrialization, still preferring horses to tractors.  Since this is Indian country, there may still be people who prefer dogs to horses.  The telephone system in Valier is not that much ahead of the days when telephone signals were sometimes sent down fence lines in the actual barbed wire.  My computer internet access is landline copper wire, not optical fiber.  I hear various things about the switching system.  So we’ve got two systems to mesh: the old gradually upgrading telephone and the new webbed mix of satellite, microwave hilltop towers, and various kinds of wires, all with their own requirements and assumptions.

But the hardest part to manage is the “wetware” — the part that’s living humans.  Consider the password conundrum that is supposed to provide more security but simply provides more opportunities to game the system.  I was called at the beginning of the workday (which is for me still sleep time since I do my best writing at three or four AM) to ask me for a new password because of problems with security.  

I cannot think of new passwords when I’m still wandering the labyrinths of dreams.  I’d be hard pressed to remember I had a phone call.  Anyway, I’ve already exhausted the supply of names of pets, favorite teachers, preferred foods, etc.  I’m told that there are software programs that can easily discover one’s passwords.  I may have to get one of those programs. When this craze started I designed a form to put into a 3-ring binder.  There are 25 entries per page and I’ve had to change so many so often that I’ve got six pages of passwords.  At least they’re in chronological order so I can tell which is the most recent.

The dark side of being a writer is that I do a lot of online research, which generates a lot of passwords.  Also, I was an ordained minister (still in good standing) and address taboo subjects, which are the ones needing analysis and consciousness-raising.  (Like the Internet.)  But they set off alarms in the minds of rural folks whose worst sin is picking their noses.

This 3rivers office person (very nice person) who called asked for the new password over the phone.  That’s not very secret.  When weeks ago I lost my password for my 3rivers account (forgot to put it in the binder), they refused to give it to me and said I would have to come up with a new one — over the phone.  So if I were an operative of China, I would get my nephew to work in the phone office and every time someone called in to get a new password, I’d write it in a little notebook and have it handy for accessing that account myself or for sending to some official.

Of course, the techies working on email have the capacity to enter and read any account stream at will.  Management stopped letting outsiders into the work space when they realized visitors could see techies running interesting communication through their screens when times were slow.  In fact, to be helpful, a techie often has to come online with you and sort out the glitches.  So I asked what measures are taken to check out these tech people, not just for skills but for honesty in dealing with confidential material.  I mean, I know that most stuff is just boring household chat, but once in a while there must be materials worth blackmail.

Extortion is also a good way to make money, since there are a thousand companies out there capable of creating a “block list” also called “black list” which means they can shut down one’s account.  This is supposed to be because one’s communication is insecure or otherwise faulty.  Most commonly I get shut down because I typed something into the wrong place in the connection software— or didn’t.  Since I’m a MAC user, the techie I get is sometimes stumped because the majority of the systems are Windows.  They take a moral attitude towards this.  

So I have a friend who lives in a narrow forest valley in Idaho.  The only dependable provider for his internet, which is the basis of his business, is the satellite outfit called Hughes or BlueSky.  They have a bad reputation with Barracuda, who blocks them — sometimes.  

Which brings us to two new problems.  These flows of signal are so easy to modify that they can be adjusted to handle traffic density.  This is why I work in the middle of the night:  at that hour all the features of the programs are generally available because traffic is thin.  When it gets thick, features get dropped out.  Capriciously, from my point of view.  When the traffic is overwhelming enough, there begin to be warnings and then even a shut-down.  Users tend to assume that internet service is there and consistent.  Wrong.  In fact, in rural areas the electricity, water, and gas don’t always flow evenly either.

The other issue is sub-contracting, and strangely the security aspects of email are the ones the company sub-contracts.  The nanny filter meant to keep out porn and SPAM is contracted by 3rivers to Barracuda.  When I was having troubles, I went direct to Barracuda, but their contract with 3rivers is entirely separate from individual contacts.  No one had access to both aspects so they couldn’t tell me if there was interference between the two systems.  I set them as “low” as I can since at 78 I’m unlikely to be shocked

The other service contracted out is the hiring of techies which is done in this case by TrueVision Net.  Their focus is on skills, not on honesty or reliability.  Like telephone help-desk answering businesses, the humans might be anyone.  In fact, one little scandal developed (it didn’t involve any of the companies named here) when it was discovered that a telephone business was using prison help.  Some of them had developed a remarkable ability to remember VISA numbers.

Management level jobs are usually a matter of experience and therefore are older people, so that much of the country’s supervision is still done by people who have little or no experience or ease with computers.  But the “kids” on the first line grew up playing vid games and possibly even hacking for fun.  When I called back the office person at 3rivers this morning, she had given me her extension number but the automated phone answering system was not set up to accept it, so I had to be switched over by the human being the machine-algorithm system assigned.  Using an extension number is an OLD device.  For a telephone company to not install it does not inspire confidence.  It makes me wonder whether some of the lines are still barbed wire running along fences.

But my grandfather would love it.  So many break points, so many chances for mischief.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A PERSONAL REACTION TO A DEGENERATE PRESIDENT

BBS  1968

Part of the reason Trump horrifies me is not about Trump.  He summons up my father, who had a concussion in a car crash in 1948 and — possibly because of that — became gradually more deranged until a stroke killed him in 1968.  When I say "deranged", I mean he subtly lost his pre-frontal cortex functions: good judgement, contact with reality.  Trump looks like a caricature of him: both have Scots genes.  My father was never comfortable in his skin, was prone to blowing up, and finally subsided into a kind of Parkinsonian reluctance to move or speak.  His birth family refused to acknowledge this.  He was their beloved brother/uncle who made a lot of jokes and knew a lot of parlor magician’s tricks.  

My mother felt responsible for my father’s state and demise.  Also, she felt responsible for world order and whatever else came her way.  Then my father’s brother, who looked much like him and who had been an airline pilot all his life, carefully monitored for health issues, had a bad stroke which made him violent, irrational and suffering.  He also had one of the most competent and elegant wives, whom he began to shove and berate.  My mother breathed a sigh of relief — she concluded it was hereditary, so she was off the hook.

I think Trump has had a stroke or possibly a brain tumor.  We are interpreting him as being morally deficient — scheming, bullying, cheating and so on.  I think his brain is busted.  He's a nut case, to use his level of discourse.  And on some level I feel responsible for not explaining this to the world so they’ll grab him and confine him before he sets off nuclear winter.

Fat chance.

But at least the situation provides me with an illustration of a split in my identity that puts me at odds with my family, my community and with the culture at large.  Let me explain it this way.  Everyone knows about the “fight or flight or freeze” mechanism in brains, the little part evidently in the amygdala that identifies danger.  That isn’t an easy task because looks can deceive.  If one defines oneself as prey, strangeness means get the hell outta there.  If one defines one’s self as a predator, strangeness may mean a new food source, so it’s smart to investigate.  Paralysis only works if one is well-camouflaged.

Trump is a bunny rabbit who thinks he’s a tiger.  Putin and Tillerson are tigers, who assure Trump he’s got the same stripes that they have.  Consult Aesop.  But it’s clear that bunnies inherit money, so don’t need brains.  Tigers are smart and Tillerson is already putting distance between himself and Trump, if one can be said to differ from anyone so incoherent.  At least some senators are also tigers.  Celebrity is a good disguise, until one runs for office.

Here’s an interesting angle.  Trump does not want to sell or otherwise divest his holdings because many of them are simply licenses to use his name, which carries the aura of being smart and glamorous — though most of the glamour is cheap nouveau riche gilt (like the faded imitation European grandeur of Russia) and tall blonde women who’ve had plastic surgery.  In a blind trust, would the Trump name have to come off?  Is the idea of the sons taking over simply a strategy for preserving the Trump name?  If the hotel is renamed “Smith Hotel” or “Nonentity Hotel”, the profit will be lost.  "Trump" is always going to be provocation for giggles.

Trump’s behavior and exposure in this insane bid for the presidency (much aided by Republican sneaking around in the night) has so sullied his own name that owners of hotels, golf courses, et al, are probably even now trying to think of new names.  (I would not suggest Tiger Woods.)  They could at least open negotiations for cheaper licensing fees.  (Also, I would recommend they’d better increase their supply of rubber sheets because, well, “monkey see, monkey do” even if the vids aren’t available yet.)

How about “Carrie Fisher Hotel”?  Here’s an example of someone who can keep a secret for a very long time — just not forever.  (Ask Harrison Ford.)  She fought grandiose self-deception (chemically augmented) all her life — and won.  The value of her memorabilia has already tripled.

Of course, she has the same advantage that I have: the extra leg on the sex chromosome, an X instead of a Y.  I’m hoping that will save me from strokes.  I’m hoping my mother’s genes and epigenes are strong.  At least something impels me to get to the bottom of things, to expand my consciousness to the limits, never to turn away from a challenge. 

Animal control is the most obvious example.  I saw things I never suspected were common in neighborhoods and that I have no wish to see again.  Physical danger, suffering, and vulnerability were everywhere and it was my job to at least report or, better, intervene.  Some of the other officers (all men in the beginning) would find ways to just “not know.”  A few would take action in drastic ways.  (One Vietnam vet simply euthanized any dog he had to catch for the second time.)  But my boss said out loud and in front of everyone that I had “balls.”

The upshot was that when there was a challenge, something horrifying or unresolvable, he sent me.  Usually it was banal and not shocking to a country person, like a dog run over in a way that pressed all its organs out its mouth, preserving their order.  The man who called it in for three days running (no one seemed able to find it) said it was horrifying his wife, not him.  Why he didn’t go out and put it in a garbage bag is a mystery.  So horror can paralyze people.

I went from that to ministry, thinking that it would let me gaze into the abyss perceptively.  Instead, it was the culture’s belief and the ministerial practice to avert their eyes.  They felt the role of Christianity was to “Look at the stars and ignore the gutter.”  Congregations would not tolerate anything but reassurance.  

Ten years of people struggling to control me was enough. They call it “standing on the side of love” but I haven’t been able to keep from laughing at the word “love” since seeing Stephen Colbert’s take down of Trump twittering hatred and signing off with an exaggerated “luuuuuuv!”  The people who think up these easy slogans are naive and limited.  Like the people who block obscene car licenses, they mostly pick up the standard cussing.  (I don't think the UUA will choose yellow t-shirts for their slogan next time.)

The question is always how bad can it get?  Transgressive peeing strikes me as a toddler’s act, hardly sophisticated, not even a Shade of Grey.  Our culture is capable of much worse:  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/11/microsoft-employees-child-abuse-lawsuit-ptsd?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+morning+briefing+2016&utm_term=208166&subid=10790770&CMP=ema_a-morning-briefing_b-morning-briefing_c-US_d-1

After reading this article, I came to the conclusion that our “entertainment” productions feature far more graphic and more intense images than those being censored from Facebook et al.  They have become the norm.  And yet the population keeps demanding something more extreme, something that will make them feel.  “Watersports” aren’t very extreme.  Nothing like the indecent tortures inflicted on “James Bond”.  Nothing like photos of dead children we see daily. 

But if we can’t be bothered to drum up some concern about conflicts of interest, nepotism, sedition — maybe a little pipi play will get through to some people, because sometimes jokes can penetrate the denial wall.

PONDERING PEE

I'm such a germophobe. SO terrifically icky.

It barely reached zero degrees fahrenheit today  (1-10-17).  Forecast for tonight is twenty below.  I skipped my trip to the post office two days in a row.

All eight cats have come into the house including that massive hooligan, Finnegan.  Duckie, the smallest of the ferals and the crossover who led the way through the cat flap to colonize the furniture, has come into heat.  All the others are also hitting puberty and doing their best to answer the call, but having a little trouble with the mechanics of “hooking up.”  They get the biting the neck part.  And everyone is making all sorts of sexy sounds, finally including terrible shrieks.  Fastidious little Tuxie is keeping her distance — it’s not a white-tie sort of event.  Momo and Douxie  are the other boys.  I’m not sure about Shorty, as he’s too wary to let me even look at him across the room.

Granny Mamacat has been sleeping on the sofa all day and was yesterday as well.  Maybe she’s ready to give birth.  Maybe she’s sick.  If I go into the same room, she goes out the cat flap.  I try not to go into that room so she’ll stay quiet.  She has a big lump on one side that might not be kittens.

What could be worse?  Well, this immigration of ferals has introduced a new set of fleas.  Adam had’em and so do I.  Bunny seems to have bald spots, which I’m hoping are the result of over-vigorous scratching of itches, so I used the last of the flea med on her.  All the bedding and my nightie will spend the evening in the garage, because the one usefulness of such low temps is that they will kill fleas.  Of course, I’ll have to bring it all back in at bedtime and it will be cold.

I have three kinds of flea killer besides the cold.  One is based on pyrethrum, made from chrysanthemums; one is a complex version of the same thing; and one is basically what we used to call laundry soda, which is close to baking soda.  Two are sprays and one is powder.  The sprays are hard to get onto the cat because I use water spray and compressed air to drive them off places they shouldn’t be.  I knew I was in trouble when the directions on one spray said, “Lather the cat well and rinse.”  There are only four of these cats I can even touch.  

What could be worse?  Politics?

I don’t know whether to count the tales of Trump in Moscow paying people to pee on each other while he watched as a “worse” or a “better.”  As weirdo, “daring,” supposedly sexual behavior goes, it’s a relief that it evidently didn’t involve a child.  (And it was probably warm.)  But as revenge on the Obamas it’s totally ineffective.  As blackmail, if it’s true, it’s useless now.  The “pussy” is outta the bag.  (These are low jokes but sort of fit the situation.)  This morning it’s labeled untrue.  But believable, given Trump.


Of course, there is a best-selling child’s book called “I Could Pee on This” which was purportedly written by a kitten.  We could all send copies to the White House in case Trump hasn’t chosen a pillow book yet.  (It can be vetted later.)

Credibility will be the issue with this story, but Trump’s attitude and behavior all along makes it easy to believe he did this little ditty and probably worse.  And probably has always indulged in what he thinks is his entitlement.  Vulgarity has always been considered an indicator of immorality.  Likewise with greed.

Mixed social attitudes about taboos that result from changing ideas about what is important and what is natural have created a lot of opportunities to cause outrage among enemies.  Those whose morality is strict — esp. when it comes to anything previously hidden and forbidden like excretion or sex — sets them up for scandal.  In the past the naughty things have been the privilege of those who have enough money and power to hide them, a secret entitlement for wealth, church, and government.  As Abu Graib made shockingly clear, it’s easy to impose mental torture on men who are afraid of nudity, menstrual blood, or dogs.  But as various African outlaws have demonstrated, it is possible to violate taboos so deep and biologically based that they threaten sanity.  It is impossible to understand eating one’s own flesh, killing one’s own loved ones, choosing which hand to be amputated, murdering babies.

Peeing and breaking wind are often considered funny.  Remember ancient Prince Phillip stinking up the Royal balcony?  And all those metaphors about impossibly elegant people still not shitting cold cream?  Excretions, even if only gaseous, prove we are animals.  But some still insist that humans are NOT really animals, rising towards being angels.  Which shows they are not using the minds that make them human.

Some people would say that my loss of control over cats and fleas is immoral.  It’s certainly unpleasant.  To some it would mean poverty, and they would be right, but poverty is only a precursor to possible immorality, not immoral in itself, except when it is imposed unnecessarily by profiteers and then THEY are the ones who are immoral.  The mistake the greedy always make is that no matter how elegant and bullet proof their automobile may be, it still must be operated on shared public streets and it still must obey the universally agreed upon traffic laws.  When the poor see such vehicles go by, the response may not be envy but hatred.

Cats are flea-vectors and fleas can be disease vectors, so that’s why they should be eliminated aside from the fact that they itch and raise a bump.  For a kid with HIV, a flea bite can be more serious.  Any break in the skin is always a possible point of entry for infection.  Accepting feral cats into this house means risking fevers passed from mice in this grain town.  If I were a little more wealthy, I would get the cats I can catch to the vet for sterilization or euthanasia.  We don’t have the population density for humane societies.

I’m not willing to accept shooting feral cats.  In the Philippines they have been shooting drug dealers on sight, which expanded to shooting drug users and is likely to expand to whoever looks like a drug user.  They say in Brazil “they” have been shooting street urchins.  Killing cats is a small entering wedge for violence.  Because cats, like rabbits, survive as a group rather than individuals unless they are pets, their weapon is fertility.


But that’s a whole other topic, humans and fertility.  Maybe we should encourage peeing on each other, since it won’t lead to more children.  They say urine is not particularly infectious.  Just icky.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

CAN'T STOP DREAMING!


The Blackfeet people (probably most of the prairie tribes pre-encounter) had a culture based on dreams, that is, internal experiences that were vivid guides to life.  They valued these, even went out of their way to experience them.  They were the key to ceremonies and an assurance that life was far more than the daily routine of the camp, the hunt, and the family.  

There is a tribe — not in the Americas, but I forget where — that values dreams in a slightly different way.  Their practice is to tell each other their dreams every morning.  They greet children with the question, “Did you dream anything last night?”  As I remember, they were just interested, not trying to find symbols or predictions.  

My mother, however, had a dream book she kept by her bedside and consulted if her night had been vivid.  It made no sense to me.  Gypsy stuff.  “You will meet a handsome stranger.”  “You will travel across water.”  I write out my dreams and reflect on what they might mean.  Once in a long while, if under extreme pressure, a dream that’s neon in its intensity will “happen.”  I take them seriously.

But I had never run across quite this version of the subject until this morning on one of my site feeds:  https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/when-does-obsessive-daydreaming-become-a-mental-illness?utm_source=broadlytwitterus

I think Cinematheque might recognize this, even draw on it for their videos.  

There’s a website:  http://wildminds.ning.com   It might be diagnosed as autism or dissociation, which are part of the shattering consequences of abuse in childhood or extreme trauma even in adults.  The brain goes on a runaway, and in this article that is not unpleasant, even invited and valued.  The trouble is that it interferes with what is traditionally called “real life.”

Using those structures and images, those story-paths and visions, can be very helpful for an artist or writer and, in fact, they may reach out to what is formally called entheogens, drugs which are hoped to break through into another “world.”  Maybe religious, certainly mystical.

With the recent invention of fMRI and other technical scrutinizing and recording devices, we have added new ways of looking at experiences such as these.  Let’s make a list:

1.  Scientific laboratory evidence of brain activity by tracing electrochemical signals, by recording blood flow, by infecting neurons in ways that make them light up when active (only done with animals so far), by radioactive tracing, and so on.  In this way we have direct observation of where things are happening but not WHAT, except that we know some places in the brain specialize in pleasure or pain or mapping or memory, which may cause hormonal molecules to be created and disseminated.

2.  Direct observation of someone may be video-recorded.  Possibly a researcher might interfere with someone’s brain by using magnets, or playing sounds, or introducing chemicals.  In rather desperate attempts to jolt a malfunctioning brain into “normal”, we might use electroconvulsive therapy, or insulin shock.  Animals may have parts of the brain surgically removed or, even in humans, the two hemispheres separated.  (We don’t do lobotomies anymore, do we?)

3.  Reports by people of their internal life while under hypnosis or taking “truth serum.”  Somehow this seems more compelling than people in a daily ordinary state reporting their moods or fantasies, though lying down and free-associating can work to some degree.  That’s psychoanalysis and usually responds to some proposed “system” devised by some authority.  

It is subjective and personal, but interpreted by someone who knows the system, which is also subjective but not originating in the dreaming person.  It is a common “folk” practice to assume that a fish means this and a teakettle means that, universally, everywhere, even though the person might not even know what a teakettle is, and indeed, teakettles vary.  Smart analysts ask the patient what a teakettle means to that individual.  

4.  Religious interpreters are a special and culturally validated sort of psychoanalyst using a system likely to be ecologically based, the family being a personal ecology.  Christianity and Shinto use the family as reference.  Ag cultures dream of lambs and seeds.

5.  Philosophers, especially males in their twenties in an academic setting, spend a lot of time introspecting, ransacking their inner thought constructs in a way usually more like math than evocative art forms.  Sometimes these internally generated systems become more real than the real world, but mostly — in a setting where people argue constantly according to objective rules and principles — philosophy remains engaged with real life and possibly even useful.

Brains are the dashboards of the bodily symphony of perceptions, most of them entirely unconscious like the heart beat or peristalsis, but capable of prompting waking mood and even calling up dreams.  As I age, I’m aware of much going on that is just under consciousness, like the word I’m trying to think of or the information about where I left the pickup keys.  Beyond that, when I read something packed with revelations, the physical feeling (it IS physical to me) of understanding, of seeing the meaning of it, never quite breaks up through the ice-sheet separating conscious from unconscious.  Some thoughts will keep trying to get through and may arrive in thought as a dream or simply when my brain’s guard is down and I’m only washing the dishes.

There is no scientific method for philosophy.  One asks “artistic” questions: is it a beautiful idea, is it parsimonious, is it precedented, is it confirmed by others (often a sub-group of the larger culture).  There are boundaries enforced by opinions from peers and by the “foundations” of the traditional educational canon.  It can be a great shock to Westerners when they discover Asian assumptions.  The Islamists have still not recovered from forbidden Western ideas.

But there IS a scientific method for the “objective” study of the brain’s mechanisms — gating, intensifying, editing, transforming, interpreting — in terms of results.  For these people in the article who are seized by dreaming, there may be some tiny neuron nexus that isn’t turning down the volume or ending7hyju persistence of dreams.  Or it may not be in the solid flesh of brain tissues but rather in the molecular loops of hormones and enzymes.  One can hardly keep from thinking of the stereotypical opium den in China where people lie on couches with their pipes, dreaming and dreaming.  Someone must have written down what they “saw.”  Coleridge?

Children seem to have trouble separating the reality that is shared with everyone else from their own private world.  As a pre-schooler I was convinced that a little red airplane landed in the street in front of our house.  I was so insistent that my mother took me outside and showed me that there were so many high wires between poles that no plane could get through.  Kenner’s question would be “what did it mean?”  But no one asked me that at the time.  I ask it now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"SNOW": The Documentary Film




I know, I know.  I should learn how to shrink links down so they would at least fit on twitter.  But I hate having to conform to the technical demands that I spend more and more time figuring out what they want me to do, instead of being able to just use the keyboard to produce print.  I do not WANT to be cheerful, to make my posts beautiful, to be (above all) marketable.

Anyway, consider this link to Aeon, an online “magazine” (I guess) for thoughtful people.  There is a lot of info in this link description, including the idea that they want you to subscribe and therefore are putting out enticing stories.  One of the best things they do is to mine the wonderful endless supply of short videos, nothing at all like Hollywood nor Netflix, but coming from original visions made possible by new technology.


This one is on the automatic email feed that I get and it is not at all a vid innovation.  Rather it is a classic, beautifully orchestrated, gorgeously imaged, Oscar-nominated “short” from the past.  The Aeon presentation is just THERE, the film to see, but I would love to understand how and why it was made.

To me, it is an essay about industrialism, the technology of pipes, wires, and rails (also canals) that provide infrastructure for our lives.  What is a railroad but a way of “piping” people from one place to another?  It works beautifully in a small country like England, showing up in BBC plots, moving across a patterned connectome of places.  In Montana the picture is much different as it is in all huge intemperate countries like Russia, China, and Australia — as it is in Alaska and the arid prairie.  Those places have had to wait for airplanes — even helicopters.  (Check out the thrilling Aussie rancher series now streaming on Netflix.  “Keeping Up with the Joneses”)

The genre concept I’m feeling around for is how industrial infrastructure (including oil pipelines) conflicts with nature and how, since humans are organic products of nature, we are affected.  So these railroads overcoming deep snow illustrate how we have gone from backbreaking shovel work in order to open a track to sitting comfortably in the dining car while the landscape seems to zoom past us.  

But now, though we still are dependent on industrial-style infrastructure that we have let decay, the newer transition is the one from industrial to technological.  Now the “man” sits in his own home sending paperless documents and Skyping conference calls.  We forget that the internet is still dependent on industrial infrastructure power networks (plus satellite and tower additions, solar and wind energy sources).  We forget that if we don’t have a power source for the computer, it’s a doorstop.  And batteries are a form of pollution and mysterious fires.  And we are using up rare minerals.

And it’s pretty clear that we’re losing social skills.  But many studies suggest that the best evolutionary mutations for survival are the ones that lead toward cooperation and understanding each other directly with other people “present and accounted for”.  We need to learn how to speak eye contact and body language, just as dogs and horses do.  Beyond that, to see how other humans see the world and think about what they are doing.  It’s not an easy or natural skill.  

But that’s all rather obsessive and too alarming to sustain very long.

Going back to this railroad-against-snow subject, in my desire to know more about the film I went to YouTube and discovered that there is a whole genre of snow films.  The snow sports, of course, all that speeding and jumping, but also quiet spans of snowfall without commentary or even a sound track except for a bit of wind and whispering snowflakes.

I did find info about the origins of this short docu.  “Snow is a short documentary film made by Geoffrey Jones for British Transport Films in 1962-1963. The 8-minute-long film shows the efforts of British Railways staff in coping with the 1963 United Kingdom cold wave. An example of "pure cinema", it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1965.

"The film had its origins in primary research for a documentary about the British Railways Board. Jones' test research coincided with one of the coldest winters on record, and Jones approached BTF producer Edgar Anstey with the idea to contrast the comfort of the passengers with the efforts of the railway workmen in keeping trains going in the frozen conditions.” 

I also found a listing of a snow film that seems to draw art into the conversation, but I can’t see it because of some cyber glitch, characteristic of cyber technology. http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/short-film-showcase/one-mans-walk-in-the-snow-creates-a-giant-masterpiece?source=relatedvideo  You can see by the url that it is a National Geographic vid.  But “Flash Studio” wants to own it.  Here’s their description.

Simon Beck is a snow artist who creates huge designs in the snow by simply walking in a pair of snowshoes. He believes that inspiration goes before motivation, and nature's perfect patterns inspire him to create something new every time out. This short documentary follows Beck's preparations for a piece he did in Stryn, Norway, on a day of good snow. Watch and join him as he catches a first glimpse of a masterpiece that, after many steps and calculations, would most likely be covered in two days.”

So now we see the most pervasive and subtle influence of the shift to the “virtual”, the digital, the evanescent.  The industrial paradigm was about stuff, visible, graspable, dominate-able things that could be owned, stored, sources of bankable cash.  No more.  Now it’s all like those photos of starling flocks swirling through the sky.  It’s about ideas, patterns in the head.  Sometimes access is blocked.


Snow.