Tuesday, May 23, 2017

BRAIN BASICS


By now I've read a lot of articles — some pop and some tech and some speculative — about how the brain works.  There are some basic premises.

1  Everything is an accumulation that builds on and emerges from what was already there.  Very few parts are discarded, though they may be modified or even transformed into doing something quite different.  The brain works as a whole, interacting rather than isolating.

2.  The brain is the operating system for the intake and output of the body.  Without a body, there is no brain.  Believing that a brain floating in a jar or a computer intelligence program is the equivalent to a brain is a rookie mistake, in literary terms, substituting a part for the whole.

3.  A brain is basically an organization of single cells that communicate with each other two ways:  through filaments (axons and dendrites) that “wire” cells together and solutions that alter the whole environment, which is fluid (excretions and secretions).  

4.  Over time, some neurons have become specialized one-by-one, so that they have extreme sensitivities necessary for operating.  Examples are knowing which way is “north” (probably a magnetic detection); sensing where walls and precipices are; “feeling with” other humans (empathy); and probably more (some estimate hundreds).

5.  Specialized neurons may form into concentrations, small organs anatomically separable, that intercept and process neuron transactions.  They may become specialized between one end and the other.  We think sensation-records may go in one end of the hippocampus, be sorted by significance and attached to pre-existing records which means they are more permanent, and then be discarded if unimportant.

6.  The brain does as much suppressing and discarding as using and preserving.  It tends to save what resembles previous records.  There is an idea that at night during sleep, the neurons contract so that there are wider spaces among them and the brain fluid washes through the interstices, removing debris (stray molecules or bits?) which is why we can think better in the early morning.

7.  The filaments that hook up systems of impulse code respond to how often they are traveled and get stronger if they are used a lot.  In time, they form “hubs” (there are hubs associated with each major sense intake organ like ears and eyes) and eventually there is so much traffic to keep organized that a “platform” is needed to sort them and decide which ones demand action.  There are some intakes that are so dangerous (the sight of snakes or tigers) that they bypass the platform and go straight to action.

8.  The “cortex” of the brain is a thin sheet, or rather several thin sheets on top of each other that wrap the whole brain.  One of them is imprinted by neural action with a distorted map of the whole body: distorted because there are many neurons devoted to some parts and few that record others.

9.  The brain is constrained by the bone box, the cranium, in which it develops, but in some circumstances and over millennia even that bone can be pushed out to make more room, and this is how humans got foreheads.  Behind that bulge is the pre-frontal cortex, a part of the cortex that contains what makes humans different from all the other animals.  It houses the humanities, including the sciences and other pattern-developing.  This is the part that used to be separated by cutting, inserting a scalpel through the eye-hole of the skull.  It made the person much more manageable because now they were domestic animals, pre-humans.

10.  Much of what we know about the brain comes from such actions.  We send electrical impulses through the brain as a whole; or cut away the skull to test individual locations, even to burn them away; we send magnetic impulses across from one temple to the other; we use MRI and other machines to record the impulses rushing around through the neuron filaments and also the volume of the blood flow; we x-ray;  we take samples of brain fluid by removing it from the spinal column, which is continuous.

11.  A major surgical intervention is separating the two halves of the brain.  In some circumstances, one-half can operate as a whole brain.  In other cases, the two sides — which normally exchange info through the corpus callosum, which is a major bundle of neuron filaments — will specialize.  When specializing the sides will create new hubs for new skills which may seem like one thing, but are often combinations of sub-skills, like the ability to recognize shapes + the ability to associate shapes with spoken sounds +  the ability to organize sounds into words with meaning + the ability to use words in abstract ways to follow patterns of thought.  These are cumulative, so that a person who cannot form words cannot discuss abstract ideas in words.  But they CAN still use the metaphorical sensory images to form abstract ideas.  People who can do this, which is likely to co-exist with word skills, are called “artists.” 

12.  The activities of the sensory neurons and their filaments (called the “connectome”) interact with the molecular messages floating in the blood, the lymph, and engulfing any organs with receptors.  They may cause organs to do something, just as they affect muscles, though the latter are usually controlled by the filament nerves.  Organs responding to the molecules of the blood are often felt as emotions. (Heart beat, stomach contractions)  And moods.

13.  Because the floating messages and the sensory equipment of the body can with their coding summon up images and memories of emotions, humans react to words, movements, light, skin perceptions, sounds, tastes, and so on.  These can be so strong that it is as though they were actually happening.  People vary greatly in their ability to receive and their ability to produce all this.  Cultures affect which will be valued and trained in their children and this will determine much of what their world is like, because individual understanding of the world “outside” the human is always much more limited and interpreted than what is kept inside.

14.  Molecules that enter the human body through eating or breathing or penetrating the skin can alter these functions in subtle ways, possibly detectable by the individual (getting drunk) or possibly not (developing diabetes).  Part of evolution is that some people will handle this better than others.  We’d better hope that we have outlier people who can survive our plastics and solvents, let alone radiations.


BRAIN FUNCTION IS A WHOLE BODY AND WHOLE CULTURE ENTERPRISE.  IT IS THE PROCESS THAT CONNECTS US TO THE COSMOS.

Monday, May 22, 2017

IGNORANCE IS BLISS: KNOWING AND UNKNOWING

Donald Rumsfeld, 1954  Princeton Yearbook

Last night I watched “The Unknown Known,” a reflection on the life of Don Rumsfeld which is based on his famous quip about knowing things, which became particularly potent when it was revealed after the war on Iraq and Saddam Hussein was based on bad intel — no weapons of massive destruction were found, though they had been predicted.  Anyway, Hussein had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, whose base of operations was in Afghanistan and whose nationality is Saudi.

This interview is just as riveting as a Congressional Hearing, maybe more so because of the illustrative clips and face closeups.  If he hoped to recover his credibility, he failed.  As he realizes at the very end, it was a malicious project.  Once again, his confidence that he knew all about what would happen, is simply wrong.  His reality is not real.

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/donald-rumsfeld-trump-not-untruthful-228519   When asked why he thought George H.W. Bush voted for Hilary Clinton, he says, “Well, he’s up in years.”  The interviewer says, “So are you!”  With characteristic aplomb, Rumsfeld ignores her remark.  He voted for Trump.  One presumes he didn’t know that Trump was such a liar and a poker bluffer who had no good cards nor even the mental ability to concentrate on his hand.  Neither did the American public.

When this film called “The Unknown Known” begins, Rumsfeld is a young, handsome rising star in the Republican realm.  It’s not until the end when we see him walking with soldiers that we realize he’s short.  (5’7”) And the closeups reveal the face he’s earned.  Only one flicker of truth flashed through his bland face: the moment when the interviewer suggested if things had worked out a bit differently, he might have become the President of the United States.  He agrees.

Things are pretty good for a long time.  He’s a pet in the Oval Office and what seemed like a demotion at the time, being Special Envoy to the Middle East, luckily removed him from Nixon’s impeachment scandal.  Sent off to the Pentagon, he was in the building on 9/11, and shaken up but stands in his suit unsmudged.  Still, he was nimble enough to defend Guantanamo through the use of lawyer’s hair-splitting over definitions.  This is his core strategy: definitions and wry little word-play jokes.

But then came Abu Ghraib and there was no way to defend or even define the depravity — as he says, “once the photographs were released.”  His safety net was employment with Big Pharma and international corporations.  His core personality seems to be derived from his many years in Boy Scouts.  He’s a White Buffalo, a big Boy Scout honor, according to Wikipedia, which also claims that he attended two law schools but didn’t graduate.  

We don’t know whether he passed the bar exam in any state, though he tells a story in which he claims he’s a lawyer.  Someone says he won’t vote for Rumsfeld because he’s a lawyer, and R points out that so is his adversary.  He could have pointed to a Repub Congress almost entirely lawyers.  It appears he accepts the idea that the social group defines what is good and true, so he wouldn’t be surprised that Trump’s reaction to bad behavior (unjustified killing) by Russia is okay because we do that, too.  He has always been business-friendly with Russia, and was involved in the sale of nukes to North Korea.

The Wikipedia entry engages in sly accusations, as is usual for them, since the authors are never identified.  Rumsfeld emphasizes that he was Dick Cheney’s patron, as though that would reflect well on him.  “Eight retired generals and admirals called for Rumsfeld to resign in early 2006 in what was called the "Generals Revolt", accusing him of "abysmal" military planning and lack of strategic competence.”  “After his retirement from government, Rumsfeld criticized former fellow Cabinet member Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in his memoir, asserting that she was basically unfit for office. In 2011 she responded, saying that Rumsfeld "doesn't know what he's talking about. The reader may imagine what can be correct about the conflicted matter.”  Politics is a stone-throwing culture.

Turning now to the film-maker.  Errol Mark Morris (born February 5, 1948) is an American film director primarily of documentaries examining and investigating, among other things, authorities and eccentrics. He is perhaps best known and most revered for his 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line, commonly cited among the best and most influential documentaries ever made. In 2003, his documentary film The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. “  (Still Wikipedia.)

“Morris was able to talk his way into Princeton University, where he began studying the history of science, a topic in which he had "absolutely no background." His concentration was in the history of physics, and he was bored and unsuccessful in the prerequisite physics classes he had to take. This, together with his antagonistic relationship with his advisor Thomas Kuhn ('You won't even look through my telescope.' And his response was 'Errol, it's not a telescope, it's a kaleidoscope.’) ensured that his stay at Princeton would be short.”  Thomas Kuhn is a hero of mine, often hard to understand but a trail-breaker.

There are other enlightenments:  in his youth Morris was a big fan of the Oz series as well as horror films.  His first big hit film was “Gates of Heaven” about the pet cemetery business.  Other big hits included “The Thin Blue Line” about killers and “The Fog of War” about Robert McNamara.  If Rumsfeld knew about Morris’ history, he was not just unknowing but stupid to agree to this film.  But he doesn’t know that he can look so bad, squinting and grinning into the camera. 


He doesn’t realize that perhaps his biggest blunder, something he thought he knew but didn’t, was that Trump was not competent, not on his side, not a Republican, and not sustainable as president.  Which raises the question of what unknowns lurk behind the known public persona of Rumsfeld.

Why do they always try to look like cowboys?
This is the cover of the CD version, read by himself.

THE INDIANA DUNES -- WHAT DO THEY MEAN?

by Frank Dudley

The Indiana Dunes came to my consciousness when I was hired for one seminary summer to be the research assistant of J. Ronald Engel.  Mainly the job was going back and forth to Regenstein Library to check out books about the dunes, read them, submit a detailed report to Engel, and then return the books.  They were wonderful and the work was a joy.  Engel was writing “Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes.” (1983) The dunes are his personal axis mundi.  He and his wife are now retired to Beverly Shores.

In my time he complained constantly of writer’s block, finding that he had too much material and, as the Kirkus reviewer noted, finally the book was more of an aggregate than a coherence.  He knew he was engaged in a “struggle to bring together within a comprehensive intellectual framework a commitment to social justice and ecological integrity.”  http://www.humansandnature.org/j-ronald-engel  In 1978 it was early in the development of some of his ideas, like ecology (which isn’t very democratic among the actual natural niches, in fact, much action is based on dominance) and process theology which tried to force quantum mechanics into Christian categories, which works a lot better with Buddhism.  

Process theology was popular among theologians who didn’t really want to leave the comfortable Christian context.  But once past the idea of life being processes instead of objects (which Whorf explained better in grammatical terms) process theology became merely diagrams that mysteriously eliminated the Christ.  In the end I thought it was a dead end.  At that point I moved to Eliade’s idea of felt meaning, but Engel was always a “good boy.”  Eliade was not.  My shift was not welcome or even understood, particularly by myself.

The ideas of ecology hold up much better, esp. since Cowles, one of the pioneers of the concept, developed them largely on these dunes.  He emphasized the aspect of “succession”, how the success of one set of plants supports a new and different set of growths. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/news/henry-chandler-cowles/

If Engel had applied this idea of vegetable succession to the context of, say, maybe social communities such as the Unitarians, the results would have been pretty interesting.  But religious communities like to pretend they are eternal, unchanging because they are the peak.  They don’t want to think about what will come next.  (I have to say that in the 39 years since I was there, I hear there have been major changes in Hyde Park and the U of Chicago.  I won’t try to describe them since I haven’t been back.)

The Dunes were the recreation grounds for the U of C nuclear scientists working on the Atomic Bomb, which contributes to dune “sacredness.”  Or at least their connection to dreaded mystery.  A sleeper ferry with bunks and staterooms left Hyde Park on Friday nights and returned late Sunday.  It’s remembered with warm nostalgia.

As well, the Dunes were gathering points for many artists, something like the same thing as “Bohemian colonies” on the dunes of the California coast.  Most of the painting was what we would call today “plein aire,” that is, landscapes painted on the location. 
by Frank Dudley

At the turn of the Century the Dunes were a pilgrimage goal for people staging performances and celebrations, almost alarming in their Bacchanalian style, but meant to help save the dunes from development.  Photos of the audience show their Edwardian 3-piece suits, the women in big hats, trailing skirts, and parasols  Some of it was kind of dumb in its false anthropology, hypnotized by Hiawatha, and sentimentalizing of the genocide of the American indigenous people.  

The landscape of Tim Barrus’ “Genocide” — about HIV sufferers as the new stigmatized people marked for death by governments — is much influenced by his experience of the Indiana dunes as a young man.  Final sanctuary is depicted as finding a small group of indigenous people who give two brothers shelter.

 A stretch of Sand Hills between Calgary and Saskatoon is the Blackfeet metaphor for where people go in death, probably a kind of group memory of crossing those dunes when migrating from the north.

The American military imposed their own version of death: missile sites.
“In June 1954, the Army Corps of Engineers purchased a vacant site, east of Ogden Dunes. By the end of the year, a contract was awarded to construct a $1,000,000 guided missile base. Two tracts of land, totaling 40-acre (160,000 m2) tract was developed for a component of the 9th AAA Guided Missile Battalion. As the most easterly facility in the 15-unit Chicago-Milwaukee Defense system, it was designed for the protection of the Gary industrial district from attack from enemy bombers. The facility included three underground storage structures for missiles located on the eastern site. . . .The facility was shut down in April 1974 and transferred to the National Park Service. It was rehabilitated in 1977 as the administrative offices of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Resource industrialization of the early 20th century — intensified by WWI — did not neglect the Dunes.  “In 1916, the region was booming with industry in the form of steel mills and power plants. Hoosier Slide, for example, 200 feet (61 m) in height, was the largest sand dune on Indiana's lakeshore. During the first twenty years of the battle to Save the Dunes, the Ball Brothers of Muncie, Indiana, manufacturers of glass fruit jars, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo carried Hoosier Slide away in railroad boxcars.”

Steel mills demanded berths for ocean-going ships to carry the product out through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean so docks were dredged out of the Dunes shores and added to the Northwestern University campus.  The "scenery shed" which in my time as a student there was on the beach, is now far inland.

Carl Sandburg said, "The Indiana Dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and Yosemite is to California.”  He lived there. But after WWII he moved his goats and family to North Carolina.  

Edwin Way Teale wrote “Dune Boy, the Early Years of a Naturalist,” becoming an odd parallel to Gene Stratton-Porter’s “Girl of the Limberlost” which is set in an alternative ecology — one of swamp and timber — not very far away in Indiana.  Stratton-Porter was a bird photographer of great accomplishment, but wrote as a novelist.  Teale became a noted naturalist, esp. because of his four book sequence traveling the continent with the seasons.  If you own the right edition of “Dune Boy”, it might be worth hundreds of dollars.

Sacred meaning and felt importance accumulate around unique places the same way that a pearl creates itself in layers around a central anomaly.  In the end “Sacred Sands” is vitally useful as an early directory to those layers.  There are hundreds of them, many noted in "Sacred Sands."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

MAKING LISTS FOR SELF-IMPROVEMENT

. . .a palace lady sitting in quiet contemplation, presumably following the admonitions in the accompanying lines: "Therefore I say: Be cautious and circumspect in all you do, and from this good fortune will arise. Calmly and respectfully think about your actions, and honor and fame will await you."


It’s sunny, sixty degrees, and the collared doves in the blue spruces are sobbing less, I presume because at least some of them are sitting on eggs instead of courting.  The Baptist cyber-carillon next door (there’s no bell, just an electronic imitation) has just now begun its day of bonging.  I’m ready to start my second cup of coffee and go back to sorting my stacks of papers, discarding 90% of it.

Much of it is relentless self-examination, beginning as soon as I was able to think “reflexively.”  I guess that’s what it was when people around me began to say, “Well, you’re a big girl now and therefore . . .”  Fill in the behavior they wanted.  At first it was the behavior itself I questioned, but now I am addressing the whole idea of “reflexivity,” because I see it used in reviews all the time, but am very fuzzy about what it means.

Here’s the dictionary definition of reflexive  (per Google)

1a :  directed or turned back on itself; also :  overtly and usually ironically reflecting conventions of genre or form a reflexive novel
b :  marked by or capable of reflection :  reflective
2:  of, relating to, characterized by, or being a relation that exists between an entity and itself the relation “is equal to” is reflexive but the relation “is the father of” is not
3:  of, relating to, or constituting an action (as in “he perjured himself”) directed back on the agent or the grammatical subject
4:  characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior

Reflexivity refers to circular relationships between cause and effect. A reflexive relationship is bidirectional with both the cause and the effect affecting one another in a relationship in which neither can be assigned as causes or effects.

Reflexivity is the idea that a person's thoughts and ideas tend to be inherently biased. In other words, the values and thoughts of a person will be represented in their work.

What I get out of all this is that the word ought to be “reflectivity” rather than reflexivity which suggests physical knee-jerk reflexes.  Language is always getting itself muddied up like this, confusing words that are similar.  The technical word is “malapropism”, I suppose, but in this case the dictionary accepts the confusion.

Self-reflection in an attempt to break up habitual and unthinking behavior is a good old ancient practice, an attempt to be better.  The hook is in what one thinks “better” is.  My idea was “aretaic.”  That is:  “Virtue ethics (or aretaic ethics /ˌærəˈteɪɪk/, from Greek ἀρετή (arete)) are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems.”  

I wanted to be a good girl without conforming to the people around me.  A friend once said to me,  “You think you’re better than the rest of us, don’t you?”  Well, I try to be.  But I don’t think my definition of “better” was much like hers.

Here’s one of my lists, entitled “Basic Elements to Effective Living” which sounds suspiciously like a title of an article in a women’s magazine:

1.  Openness to raw facts.
Sensitivity of detecting equipment
Lack of prejudice
2.  Realistic organization of facts
assigning priorities
discarding irrelevancies
openness to modification — flexibility
seeing relationships
3.  Ability to abstract, synthesize, infer and imply
set goals
plan methods
4.  Motivation to act
5.  Openness to consequences of actions
6.  Ability to communicate personal realities through symbolization
interpreting oneself
interpreting others
7.  Ability to identify and eliminate prejudices caused by desires and fears
8.  Ability to initiate a wide variety of actions
9.  Judgement as to which action is most appropriate
10.Ability to admit defeat
11. Ability to make alternate plans of action.
12. Ability to avoid destruction of self and others.


St. Augustine trying to defeat death by being Christian.

Rigorous written self-reflection in the West, as opposed to the Eastern scroll at the heading, is exemplified by Augustine in the third and fourth centuries trying to understand what to discard as he tries to convert to Christianity.  It was a tumultuous time, not unlike our own, but then most people in all times think they are struggling with “tumult.”  Ben Franklin is another good example, calling his reflections an “almanac.”

My own list above was written in red ink on a yellow legal pad.  With it was a far more intimate and self-critical essay.  Sample:  “I reach out my hand to others in a perfect imitation of the help I wish to receive — and then when those others seize my hand for their support, I’m filled with panick [sic] and jerk my hand away.  What am I afraid of?”

From the internal evidence of this piece I see that I was writing in the early Seventies, just after returning to teaching after being divorced.  Like many others in the school world of the times and place (Browning), I was much influenced by a high school counselor named Bill Haw, no longer living.  He was coming straight from Detroit where he was educated in Carl Rogers’ school of thought. 

Rather than reflective introspection, which can turn pretty rancid, Rogers’ theory was empathy based.  That is, Rogers had moved from the head-trip sort of thinking like Augustine and Franklin, to wholistic shared-feeling as a basis for understanding.  It could be seen as one way to shift from the mathematical rule-based approach over to a felt meaning based on metaphor and sensory vocabulary.  “What do you feel?  What does it mean to you?”  In terms of theology, I would put Eliade into this category.  It was a culture-wide shift.  The precipice some didn't avoid was the realization that they felt nothing, that nothing had meaning to them.

The problem often is that this sort of thing leads to attachment to other people and the whole syndrome of narcissist/enabler, which thrives in high prairie Indian Country.  I moved on, back to Portland, thinking I could re-educate in night classes at Portland State University.  I would be a clinical psychologist, now that I was a “good girl.”  Alas, at PSU psych meant social work and social work meant statistics and I can’t do math.  

Redirecting to ministry was a workaround.  It meant even more reflective lists and new notions of what “good” means.  It is too context dependent to do alone with lists in the middle of the night.  Nor was any of the theological faculty helpful.  The novelist Richard Stern at least understood the issue. His novels are highly "reflexive". 


Saturday, May 20, 2017

BALONEY DETECTION IS NOT THE SAME AS CORRECTNESS.


My friend, whom I consider competent, thoughtful, and insightful, will not accept that I won’t accept her explanation of why she voted for and still defends Trump.  She says it’s because all the others do all the same bad stuff.  To me, this is a child’s reasoning, but I don’t tell her that.

At the same time my main contempt for Trump is that he is such a clown, a grimacing despot fit only for Saturday Night Live skits, a man who can’t construct an intelligible sentence and who actively rejects any new information and loves Russia more than the US; that he is worse than anyone else I can think of.  I find I can hardly bear to watch his over-dramatic puppet speeches.

Is my reaction any better than my friend's?  In the Fifties when I was in high school, we spent a LOT of time on the identification of propaganda, esp. that from Russia, partly because so many highly trained thinkers had fallen in love with the possibilities of communism.  Their disillusionment, which could be compared to disappointment at one’s previous approval of Trump or even at the possibilities of the Republican party, converted to skepticism.  In some cases, despair.

Macho smart-alec writers (even me) speak of bullshit detection.  This little poster is more polite, converting bullshit to baloney, and therefore appropriate for a classroom.


You might have to go to the link to read this.


In parallel, the recent controversy at ALECC, the Canadian version of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) has split into two streams.  One is from the poets, a cry for freedom to include all alternatives in language whether experimental, pidgin, different alphabets, invented (Vulcan), or pictographs.  The other one is from scientists and the practice of peer review of papers to hopefully eliminate bullshit.  Experimentation (submitting invented and rather outrageous papers and reviews) shows that the whole idea of “peer review” is often bullshit.  There’s a journal for that.


In an era when we have spent a generation encouraging tolerance and supporting differences, have we lost our ability to distinguish between nonsense and reality?  Or has the argument that there IS no reality come to be our one last truth?  How do we achieve reconciliation in a time when major “religio/political” systems directly clash, though their origins are the very same?  (Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim are all the children of Abraham.)

Or is the answer that we DO know what is right, what works, what protects the world as a whole, but we choose to ignore all that because it works against our own state of privilege?  In the great sea change away from privileging white male rich people, to people of color, gender fluidity and modest means, creating merely a kind of meritocracy that can lead to the same kind of old oligarchy?  Or is the biological fact of every generation being unlike its parents, yet the kind of person produced by the parents in an effort to make them the same, simply inescapable?  

The principle of evolution is not just based on fitness for the eco-system in which the creature abides, but also based on wobble in the system, so that if there is change the creatures differ enough for some to be easily eliminated, and others even in challenging circumstances to be survivors.

What follows is that a change in the eco-niche will eliminate some who have previously been survivors, no matter how much they twist and turn.  Only by concerted effort on the part of many humans can some things -- like global weather change and the ensuing impact on disease, agriculture, energy, housing, and even language -- be survived.

Wait a minute.  Language?   Sure, because to understand something new, one often needs neologisms, which means “new words” for new concepts.  Think of all the words we use now that were invented or adapted in order to talk about computer phenomena.  IMHO.

And think of all the politicians who don’t understand computer terms because they refuse to learn anything new.  They sit there flourishing their fibertips ready to sign proclamations, while their young and often female assistants have to explain what the proclamation says, much less what it will do to the shared landscape of the nation.

But the young have a different problem, which is also caused by the internet — the folding back on itself of communication into the pre-literacy realm of human experience, when humans looked each other in the face and made deductions based on perceived sincerity.  The trouble with that is two-fold: the main one being the ease of persuading people when they are vulnerable.  Remember that poster of the hugely pregnant girl with the caption:  “Trust me, he said.”  Now that girl (or boy) may be seduced but also trafficked.

The disintegration of family, and the rigid social proprieties that confined their ancestors, has also removed safeguards and continuities.  The kind of person who can survive in such a context will not have the kind of skills and opinions as their grandparents.  But one could argue that the children of the hegemony, those who were carefully taught and groomed to be leaders, are no more suited for the future.  Think of Jared Kushner.

We’re all suddenly struggling with ethics, even the anthropologists who partly threw us into the soup by convincing us that different cultures have different taboos — some honor polyamorousness or stealing.  Therefore, persons in our culture who adopt the practices of other cultures are merely different, not evil.  

http://ethics.americananthro.org  is not a journal, but a blog.  Therefore, it is relatively free to speak directly, though some use it for destructive and deceptive ends, so some have an administrator charged with oversight.  Consider this post by Berhanu Gurach:  “We are deeply depressed in the speach of Trump that stoping refugees to enter into USA.  Especially who living difficult life in the refugee camaps & eagerly waiting to be resettled.”
Berhanu Gurach is Ethiopian.

The ethical standards (seven of them, some practical — "keep records" —and other ideal — "do no harm"— are posted in the margin of the blog.  Obviously the standards of high school English that I spent years pounding into students do not apply in this context.  But when among people who value “correctness” as a criterion for respect, it would be wise to be correct, even if one must pay an adept to help.  In a culture where everyone is dressed “properly”, it would be a mistake to show up nude.  But surely there must be a tribe somewhere that wouldn’t trust anyone who showed up fully clothed.  What are they concealing?


I’m haunted by the statue of a nude Trump.  Would I be impressed, if it were a nude Obama?  Surely there would be criminal action over a nude Hilary Clinton.  But nudity of statues is conventional in our art history.  Anyway, in this case it is the strategy of iconoclasm vital to free speech.  I'm no more repelled than I am by his flapping open suit jackets and flying hair.

Friday, May 19, 2017

IS IT PARANOIA WHEN THE LAW KNOCKS ON THE DOOR?

Valier, MT, Baptist Church

These days I hate to wake up.  Sometimes.  But on other nights I struggle to wake up.  Which is worse, thick dark dreams that pull up primal emotions from childhood or finding out what revelations are deconstructing the world as we know it?  Yesterday I was dreaming — not about my mother’s death but about her reaction to HER mother’s death, which was long, slow and painful in my primary school years.  No one explained.  She wept alone in the dark.  They said that her marrying an atheist gave her mother cancer. 

Yesterday two of my ordinarily dignified and enlightening internet listservs went to war within themselves.  An editor in a Snob-Brit setting rejected a Third World reviewer and mocked his spelling.  On a different listserv another crowd rose up in outrage over the issue of whether one “race” (an out-moded concept blasted apart by what we know from DNA) can write about people from another race.  (No one questions whether white publishers can publish writing about people from another race because white is pretty much the only race most publishers are.)

NO one in my little town even knows any of this happened.  Granted, both listservs are in Canada, but that makes it worse.

On my block one neighbor with a long rap sheet flies a Confederate flag with a skull in the middle.  I dread contact with him so much that I’ve totally neglected my yard.  He’s come stumbling over for help for an overdose once.  I don’t want that to be repeated.  His teen step-daughter has been removed.  At least that’s the theory.

On the other side is a Southern Baptist Church with 17 members.  There is an empty lot between us and the cottonwood tree that I try to protect is on the property line.  There is almost always a church member who wants to claim that tree and cut its branches back.  They don’t have any interest in the smaller and worse tree at the back of the property line, but they occasionally mow down their own lilac hedge along the alley.  They have removed all trees except those on the parking strip and have planted no new trees on their property.  They generally don’t water their grass, though they cut that, too, usually on a riding mower.  The other side of their lot is a gravel parking lot the length of the building.  

This time the predator was not the minister but rather the formidable wife of the retired prison chaplain who used to work in Shelby in a CCC private prison.  Her plan included putting a bench under the tree.  She didn’t realize that I hang stinky fly-catchers in that tree or that the tree drips sap.

When I would not let her either cut back the tree nor furnish its shade, and when I criticized letting a quite young child run the mower (during MY chaplaincy, which was in a hospital, I once tried to comfort a child whose feet had been shredded by a riding mower), she lost her temper, mounted the mower and cut grass in a frenzy.  I didn’t know a mower could move that fast.  I have no idea what the arrangements for insurance are over there.

Returning indoors to wrestle with my own temper, I soon heard a knock on the door.  It was Sheriff Deputy Gobert.  I assumed that church woman had summoned the law, but that wasn’t the problem.  Since I can’t work outside, my plan is to put up a table in the driveway on the church side under that tree so I can sort and pack books I’m discarding.  That driveway is my “patio” under the tree.

In the process I discovered a copy of a stack of xeroxed papers.  I had returned the originals several years ago, but the owner claimed she never got them.  So I took the copies over to her house where her husband accepted them.  Now Officer Gobert had been sent to claim the originals or, what she seemed to think existed: the “book.”  I had copied the papers to use as reference for a book, but never wrote it.  I’m throwing out as many projected book ideas as actual books.  Books are obsolete.

Officer Gobert is a reasonable man and we had a pleasant half-hour looking through my collection of books about Blackfeet.  He owns copies of some of them and was impressed by Adolf Hungry Wolf’s four volume masterwork.  In the end it appears that this woman, who is supersensitive about a book her father wrote that is now blamed for mocking Indians, wanted the deputy to remove my copy of that book.  She buys every copy she can find, in the belief that this will make everyone stop maligning it and her father.

So this was basically the same war being fought on those Canadian listservs except that it was right on my doorstep, in the same unreasonable and demanding context as the church member next door — so convinced that I had something that belonged to them, an unfair advantage that meant I was damaging them and that should be addressed by authorities.  (Officer Gobert is quite impressive in his sheriff’s uniform.  He’s BIG.  And ARMED.)

When I watch Rachel Maddow talk about the lengthening and broadening investigations of our government, I realize that even though I was educated in the days when high school students really DID study civics and history, there are many, many things I never knew, that had been instituted since the Fifties, that had been created by precedents of other cases, or that have been percolating along beneath most people’s radar for decades now.  

Most people seem to think there is one investigation and that it is only about Trump, but as time goes on we are told (Well, Rachel is told — because she asks experts all the time and then tells us) that investigation began last July; that it reaches down through Paul Ryan (not just Michael Ryan); that it is both civil and criminal; and through multiple agencies including local, state, and national sources.  Some of it is possible because of treaties with small island nations who used to shelter financial records.  Much of this involves chess-like strategy and the spirit is that of video gaming.  SPAT!  GOTCHA!!

Game of House and Thrones of Cards.  People are abandoning ship.

My escape is to furiously write all morning and by “morning” I include a couple of hours around 3AM when the internet is not so jammed.  Of course, it is still being meddled with, by providers, techies, hackers — all small-time since I have nothing worth spying on.  But they could invent something.  There could be a knock on the door by the law, or maybe this time the FBI/CIA/ICE or whatever, with a battering ram and a warrant, possibly for some other address that they’ve gotten wrong.


I should be intimidated, but in fact it’s so out-of-my-control that I’m merely fatalistic.