Sunday, February 26, 2017


Raczka's book about Winold Reiss

The formal obituary of Paul Raczka is appended, but there are some other remarks to make beforehand.  One is that he wrote two published books that were well-received and are still available with high-value.  One is “Winter Count: A History of the Blackfoot People” and the other is about the artist Winold Reiss (above), whose portraits of the same tribe were made famous by the Great Northern Railroad.

Paul was one of a half-dozen contemporary men who married women from the Blackfoot tribe and lived half-in/half-out of tribal life, while making a living in the ambiguous area between art about Native Americans and actual NA material culture, sometimes new and sometimes old.  This particular group, mostly based in Canada, included Adolf Hungry Wolf and John Hellson, who collected not just objects but also ceremonies, songs, and stories.  They learned the language and created unique archives within themselves that the actual enrolled tribal people didn’t have, but the men didn’t hoard the these traditional materials.  They taught them to others, particularly young tribesmen.  If they hadn’t done it, the materials would likely have been lost.  

Paul became the object of legal scrutiny over eagle feathers.  A man named Deming owned a 48 feather golden eagle headdress that had belonged to Geronimo and had been given to the Deming family, who simply kept it for decades.  Deming was a lawyer who realized late in life that the artifact must be valuable and tried to sell it --  until an FBI SWAT team invaded his hotel room in Philadelphia, brandishing assault weapons.  His first thought was that they were criminals who had come to steal Geronimo’s headdress and, in a way they had.  Their idea of what they were doing was enforcing the Migratory Bird and Eagle Protection Act  (There are a number of versions if you Google.)

It’s hard to understand why the FBI overreacts this way when they could just as well make an office appointment.  Partly they become inflamed about Indians because of Wounded Knee II.  Partly they identify with both the Indian warriors and the cavalry of the 19th century who tried to kill all Indians, which leads to very confused thinking.  Partly they buy into the symbolism of the feathers themselves while actually valorizing their value by making them illegal.  (Blackfeet on the US side gift an eagle feather to their youngsters who serve in the armed forces.  But if the young person is not formally enrolled, they might be subject to arrest.)  Deming was a lawyer so what was at stake was not just a fine or even jail time, but his practice of the law.  He negotiated a settlement that was low profile.

The actual case that endorsed the federal law was Andrus v. Allard, 1979.  Allard is an auction house based in Saint Ignatius, Montana, that funnels Native American materials.  Part of Bob Scriver’s estate was sent to Allard for dispersal.  (  The parallel law to the eagle feather act but about artifacts is called NAGPRA, meant to stop grave-robbing.  These are the US federal laws that caused Bob Scriver to sell his Blackfeet collection to the Royal Alberta Provincial Museum in Edmonton to escape US law, though he made a photographic record of it for a book before it was sent.  

This book records the Scriver artifact collection.

Paradoxically, when Raczka was prosecuted for having a headdress, a case that was finally dismissed on a technicality, he moved to Choteau, Montana, to escape the politics of Alberta.  I didn’t know him very well since Bob and I had divorced before Raczka moved. 

Now almost all these collectors/entrepreneurs who lived in shadow are gone. They were young in the Sixties and Seventies when the US and Canada were trying to reshape the world through enacting regulations and treaties, and instead created a no-man’s-land of contentious race relations mixed into history, criminality, secrecy, creativity and spirituality.  The mediating force, as always, was money.  But also identity pride that demanded control, either of private property or of public permission.

This might be the time to publish a little directory with some careful essays — certainly another post — about those times and those men who came through, dropping by Scriver Studio as though it were a stage stop.  Some were as patrician as Paul Dyck, whose collection was partly acquired by the European Van Dycks, his artist ancestors; and some were as low brow as John Flaherty, who died in jail in Great Falls.  Raczka was among the more honorable.

Paul M. Raczka Pii-takit-si-pimi (Spotted Eagle)

Paul M. Raczka, Pii takit si pimi (Spotted Eagle), also known as Api si pis to (White Owl), 74, passed away suddenly on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 in Choteau at the Medical Center, with his wife, Albertine Crow Shoe, at his side.

Services were held Thursday, Feb. 16. Visitation was at the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau. A burial is planned for a later date. Arrangements are in the care of O’Connor Funeral Home.

Paul was born on Dec. 29, 1942, to Eugene and Irene Raczka in Buffalo, N.Y. 

Paul was a known historian, a Blackfoot Piikani knowledge leader and ceremonialist. 

In 1963 Paul enlisted into the United States Army, joining the Special Forces 101st Airborne Unit and serving through 1966. He then went on to the University of New Mexico, where he started the “The Singing Wire” Ripples through Life on the KUMN radio station.

In 1972, he left New Mexico and moved to Alberta, Canada, with his previous wife Elaine and two young daughters, Jennifer and Denise.

He was adopted by Laura Crow Shoe Buffalo and Ed and Ruth Little Bear. Paul was one of the people instrumental in reviving the All Brave Dog Society, as well as the Blackfoot ceremonies on the Piikani Nation. In 1977, he was transferred into the All Brave Dog Society, where he was transferred the Bear Dog Bundle. Over the years Paul, held many bundles and obtained numerous transferred rites and he was a current Beaver Bundle owner. Paul was a Piikani at heart; his true passion was Niitsitapiipatapiisiin Blackfoot Ways of life from ceremony, song and spirituality.

Paul was committed to helping the younger generation in teaching them sacred cultural protocols. His heart has been with the Piikani Peoples, Elders, clans, sacred societies and his holy children. He was a keeper of sacred songs from past ceremonialists and received many cultural transfers over the decades. He was humble and would not boast about his achievements. He followed the ways of his traditional elders and teachers whose stories he shared kindly. 

Paul was closely connected to many clans throughout “Indian Country”, which he established life-long relationships. He adopted many children and grandchildren, establishing a large spiritual family of who attended Paul and Albertine’s Beaver Bundle ceremonies. 

Paul traveled to art shows throughout the western United States and Canada buying, selling and appraising art work. His friend David Levine said it best, “Paul was an example of how one can become what one embraces. He became what he willed himself to be.”

Paul is survived by his daughters Jennifer (Eric), and Denise (Jackie); his wife Albertine; sons Josh and JT; grandchildren Keon, Brittany, Karson and Kylee; brothers Ken (Mary) and Tom; and numerous nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents Eugene and Irene Raczka.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


The most crucial element of any ecology inhabited by human beings is the OTHER human beings.  So the future of the hominins will depend on their ability to get along with each other, support and improve each other, survive each other.  They say wars are fought well not for the sake of the cause but for the person next to you.

The first impulse of most people looking for how to “be” is to try to imagine a perfect person.  Experience has taught me that what we need is an assortment of people, all kinds of people, some of them secret and even subversive.  The more kinds of people that exist, the more it is likely for hominins to persist, because it is more likely that someone will have the mutation needed to meet the threat.  Like the ability to digest milk.  Probably not war skills.

In the past half-century there has been a great jostling horde of people trying to figure out what we should do, not just in the great choices of political leaders or economic strategy, but also in terms of local, personal life.  Two guides much discussed in the past were the idea of “other-directed” people versus “inner-directed” people.

The Lonely Crowd is a 1950 sociological analysis by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney. It is considered, along with White Collar: The American Middle Classes, written by Riesman's friend and colleague, C. Wright Mills, a landmark study of American character.”  

“Riesman et al. identify and analyze three main cultural types: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed. They trace the evolution of society from a tradition-directed culture, one that moved in a direction defined by preceding generations. Tradition-directed social types obeyed rules established a long time in the past and rarely succeeded in modern society, with its dynamic changes.  This earliest social type was succeeded by people who were inner-directed. They discovered the potential within themselves to live and act not according to established norms but based on what they discovered using their own inner gyroscope. Inner-directed people live as adults what they learned in childhood, and tend to be confident, sometimes rigid.”

There’s a fourth cultural type which came to prominence when everyone acquired television, which is “fantasy-directed.”  The middle-class in particular began trying to guide themselves according to what they saw on television while sitting in their own homes, which made it even more vivid.  When I was teaching on the Blackfeet rez in the Sixties, people were just beginning to see these images, these behaviors, and they were convinced that this was the American norm, which was nothing like the way they were living.

By now we sit staring at Caitlin Jenner and Bill Cosby (not to mention Trump) and feel pretty much the same way except that they have inexplicably become something we never expected and cannot approve.  Beyond that, in some places one can look out the window to see the neighbors killing, butchering and roasting a goat in their backyard.  Most people aren’t used to that.  Aaaauuuugh.  

It’s tough to figure out what is fantasy and what is reality.  Our visual stories on TV now mix flashbacks with plot progression in the fancied “now”.  The sound overlaps the images.  The plots themselves are fantastical, mixing the stuff we see on the news (which is unbelievable enough already) with sci-fi and paranoid conventions about politics that after a while seem real.  No wonder when it comes to politics, people vote but it seems to have no connection to the results.

Identity is anchored in daily life.  We try to appear pretty much like everyone else around us.  Mostly it’s pretty clear what the neighbors are doing, but not always.  The more difficult task is to be inner-directed, because what we learned as kids isn’t always much help.  

Previous generations had little moralizing stories to tell.  In the nursery story everyone was mad at Simple Simon, because he was always doing what worked last year instead of using his head to make his actions fit a new situation, but think of what a problem it was for poor Simon, doing his best but getting criticized for it.  Like holding doors for people who aren’t grateful because it implies they can’t do it for themselves.

The very rich, who may or may not be well-educated or experienced, have the privilege of being inner-directed and causing everyone around them to also be directed by their superior innards.  This might sound like a great idea, but it soon turns out to be a trap unless, like Buddha, one goes in disguise to find out what the world is really like.

In reality it’s pretty brutal.  But also full of joy.  Simon (and maybe Buddha) have a cousin named Jack who is “resilient” to use one of the buzz words of our day.  “Jack” stories are about a little guy, maybe a child, who is oppressed and damaged by a big guy, maybe even someone in his own family, but he saves himself by using his wits to look at the situation in a way that reveals more options than the “giant” knows about.  (McGyver is a Jack.)

Sometimes one can Jack the situation by moving the point of view, or by thinking about a foreign country where things are different, or by enlisting the help of other Jacks.  He is inner directed, but confident enough to interact with and learn from others without getting captured by them.  On the other hand, he’s not afraid to grow and change.

The Plains Indian cousin of Jack is Napi, who is distinguished by his tendency to make a fool of himself.  Jack fools others; Napi gets fooled.  But that never stops him for long. because he learns from his mistakes.

Jill Power tends to be grouped, and sometimes more symbolic than actual, like pink pussy hats.  But also sometimes Jill’s follow Buffy the Vampire Slayer without the resourceful screen writers, which means they end up shouting ineffectively.  For kid heroes, one generally has to go to cartoons, but I can imagine an absorbing series based on a remarkable boy, maybe dark in both senses, but never mean or vengeful.

Back to Jack.  Imagine this immigrant is like a Jack Russell terrier with a personality many of us have come to know: persistent, enthusiastic, energetic, and funny.  The problem the Jack dog has is that the others are humans who want to tell him, even FORCE him to do what they want.  So maybe where he has always lived, it was normal to kill, cut up and roast a goat in the backyard, but now that he has moved, everyone gets upset and points out laws against cruelty to animals, which he can’t understand because it’s not about cruelty — it’s about food.  Is this new country against food?  All sorts of semantical problems about when a living being enters a whole array of laws about how food must be handled for the sake of good health — when plainly the idea should just be to invite everyone over and eat it right away.  But the neighbors are convinced that’s barbaric.  He should buy a refrigerator and make that goat meat last all week.

This example is meant to show how inner and outer directed can smash into each other, creating bafflement and anger.  But taxation, health care, walls, and gimme-caps with mottoes on them are burned over territory.  There is no unified “other”, not even the fantasy scenarios of television which have made us think we understand other people like gays or trans or innocents with dread diseases.  

Now we all crowd onto one of the media platforms where algorithms hook us up, like with like.  What does it mean to be “algorithm directed”?  What class does that relate to?  The credit card class, I guess.  Advertising has grabbed us.

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.