Monday, March 27, 2017


Title shot: a film essay

Grant Slater ( and I share an alma mater, Northwestern University.  More accurately he shares Ivan Doig’s alma mater, since he is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism, as was Doig.  I was in what was then called the “School of Speech,” now called “Communication Studies” and quite different than it was.

Slater calls himself a “moving image maker” and that’s exactly right.  Behind his photography is always a story that is moving, not because it is video, but because it is so deeply emotional, down in the gut where we used to try to reach as actors.  So this blog post will “quote” a lot by giving you links.  It will be what we used to try to define as a “vook,” meaning a book that moved across media to include image, interview, music, and thought.  Some are meant to be marketing persuasion, which is somewhat stigmatized, so I’ll start there.  Here’s a nice piece for VISA.  You see how appealing it is?  

Here’s the second Slater vid I saw — I only found him this morning — and this one is marketing FEAR.  It’s about Trump, but more than that.  The title is SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS.  The epigram is “Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy […] the greatest and most savage slavery out of the extreme of freedom.” From Plato’s The Republic.”  

I’m reluctant to post the link because I’m AFRAID some people are going to love this and repeat it a lot.  They will not see it as an advertisement meant to make it easier to drive us into obedience to tyrants, but rather as an advertisement for BECOMING a tyrant, even if only in drinking establishments among “friends.”  Or at home with women and children one can tyrannize.  Maybe it’s safer to provide this link now that Trump has proven what a lying fantasist he is.  But this is almost Leni Resinthenthal, famous as Hitler’s cinematographer who made Olympic Competitors into soaring supermen.

My other fear is that good people will be so afraid of these images that they will try to suppress them so they don’t have to think about them.  We’ve got to have the guts to really look.

Now here’s the link to Slater’s antidote, which is how I came to his work today because picked it up for the day’s set of essays.  I skip a lot of the print essays, but I always watch the short vids.  They never disappoint.  This one is relevant to prairie life, far to the north, where Bob and I once went moose hunting and where my father’s family pioneered for a while.

It’s about global warming, the thawing of the permafrost, in this case in Siberia, but the same phenomenon is happening here in Canadian territory.  The scientist who wants to bring back the woolly mammoth is a visionary.  We are more likely to send out elephants in sweaters, but at Harvard they’re working on reverse engineering elephant genes.  Since there are mammoth carcasses that were flash-frozen with browsed buttercups still in their mouths, the genes of mammoths are at hand.  But this man and his son are not waiting — they’re putting the original beasts: wild horses, musk oxen, caribou, back on the land.  Since these beasts are being crowded out of their habitat in North America, it’s only a transportation problem.  So far no grizzlies, but if we’re sending them to zoos, this might be an excellent alternative.

At a long ago conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment ( in Banff, there was a woman called “Barney” whose proper name has escaped my aging brain.  The premise of her talk was that sustainable prairie requires a balance between something like an elephant to knock down trees and something bovine to graze back brush.  The men in the permafrost project are imitating the elephant by smashing trees back mechanically, which is why they want mammoths back.  

They say that when the cities have been bombed to radioactive rubble by the Tyrants, since the glamour and power of humans have been conveniently gathered into targets, what will be left will be grass.  They say that the land around the Hanford Reactor in Washington State is radioactive but that the small animals — the squirrels and foxes — have adapted much better than they did to human doings.  Same in Russia and Japan where radioactivity accidents cleared out the people.

Now I’m going to shut up with the print chatter so there is time left for you to explore Slater’s work.  This long sequence he calls “longtelegram.

You can also find his work at

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Oliver Sacks in early years

Oliver Sacks is one of my most beloved writers and certainly not mine alone.  Many love his books and did even before Robin Williams impersonated him in order to tell an early part of his story.  As more unfolded, we gaped at the photo of him on his motorcycle, looking very leather, and then again gasped at his exploits as a lifelong power swimmer.  Thus I was pleased to discover this lyrical, loving account of his most recent years before death.  He had not had a partner before Hayes and he needed one, as much to explain the world to him as to embrace him, which Hayes must have done both delicately and firmly.

Then I read a story about Bannon in VICE.  My Safari has suddenly gone prudish and refuses to open VICE (among other venues it disapproves of — their checks must have bounced), but I went to Foxfire.  It was worth it as John Saward’s corruscating analysis of Mr. Dark is both entertaining and valid.  Somehow one ends up sort of sympathetic with this resentful, vengeful man, but watch out when googling for Saward because there’s another author by that name who is pastoral, a married man with three daughters who got a special dispensation to become a Catholic priest, which is not granted to anyone like Bannon — nor probably not like the Saward who was published in VICE either.

The next item that popped up on my feed was from Truthfinder, a data base scraper that promises to tell you the real facts about your friends and neighbors and to find long-lost people in your life.  So I entered myself.  It consists entirely of legal records of offenses: arrests, defaults, demographic facts, divorce and marriage.  As you ask about your subject, the website records your own “facts” but provides no way to make corrections.  I’ll say right off the top that I have never used the pseudonym “Skrivner” and Scriver is my married name anyway.  

Yesterday I went to Cut Bank to do the laundry (write that down) and Carl Old Person was there to wash his car.  “Miss Strachan!” he exclaimed, surprised to see me.  He pronounced my maiden name properly.  He was in the Browning High School English classes I taught in the early Sixties, and I haven’t seen him since, but evidently I haven’t changed that much.  You would not find this information on Truthfinder, though the moment would tell you a lot more about me.  

I didn’t pay money to see what my crimes were.  There are two very old ones that might show up, but only one would be in Montana.  Both were speeding: five miles or so over the limit, both on gorgeous Sunday mornings with no traffic on my way to preach.  (Truthfinder doesn’t know that.)  There are no records in Truthfinder about my career as a sheriff’s deputy with the specialty of animal cases ranging from scraping up squashed pets to cautioning a motorcycle gang to stop chaining dobermans to their parked bikes.  I never did get a case of someone using a dog as a deadly weapon, but such cases exist.  I did get rabies shots.  None of this is in Truthfinder.

Nor am I anxious to be found by people I offended in those days in uniform.  I had guns pointed at me twice, but no actual shots.  Also one of the dark sides of the ministry is that people tend to project all sorts of things onto you, esp. if you’re female.  They range from the “Whore of Babylon” to “Mom”.  My years in the ministry do not show up on Truthfinder, nor do my academic degrees.  The most incendiary days of my life, shared with Bob Scriver as Blackfeet ceremonialists, brought me a recent raving comment on my blog, which I deleted unposted.  It was anonymous and evidently a reaction to a paper posted on Researchgate, an open academic online journal.  It did not use Blackfeet terms.

If you really want “truth”, I urge you to buy “Bronze Inside and Out,’ which is my biography/memoir of Bob Scriver.  One local reader was surprised that it had so much about me in it.  They don’t think women or authors really exist, I guess.  I should put them in touch with the local person who said, “I don’t know what you taught these kids, Mary, but they won’t forget you.”  Carl didn’t.

But the most obvious source of info about me is my blog:  “”  I could never hope to have anyone write about me with the love Bill Hayes shows for Oliver Sacks, but anyway few people are as extraordinary as Sacks.  On the other hand, I have known — still know — people nearly that remarkable and love them intensely.  They don’t show up on Truthfinder, partly because some are indigenous and the website doesn’t compile reservation records — nor reserve records for that matter.  (Reserves are Canadian reservations and some of these people are Canadian.)  Some of my beloveds don’t commit traffic offences or anything else a web-crawler would pick up.

Ten years of daily thousand-word posts like these will tell you more about me that you probably would ever want to know, but you’re on your own when it comes figuring out the Truth in them.  Some of them are plainly labeled fiction, because I post short stories.  (Never poetry — I stash that unpublished.)  But I may have misremembered, may have plumb forgotten some of the story, might have written something that another witness would flatly contradict.  There’s a lot of controversy right now about what’s actually True anyway.

Recently I watched a remarkable film called “Match,” which is a story that reflects the consequences of getting DNA matches to discover relationships.  The idea is that Patrick Stewart (in QUITE a different role from StarTrek) is an old ballet teacher (very convincing, though he doesn’t dance) who is visited by a man and his wife because they think he is the father of the man from an encounter in youth that prevented the deceased mother of the man from having a career in dance.  The story goes along through reversals that change everything.  

In the process the real truthful moment is a short tour de force pas de deux between the old man and the wife, in which Stewart explains that knitting (which he does) and cunnilingus are similar.  (Don’t try to google this on Safari.)  It’s not the subject, but the open understanding between two dissimilar people that is quite wonderful.  A “Truth,” one might say, in an ultimate sense.

In these times, so much a fulfillment of Bannon’s vision of the world, one feels truth fleeing away from us.  But then while doing some mundane task, someone walks in the door and hands you a true moment from the past without so much as demanding a credit card.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


Wide Trump with Tall Comey

In the Sixties one of the people who often dropped in at Scriver Studio to gossip and take a little break from selling or inspecting or advising — whatever — there was a big man with a booming voice who loved to break up the monotony of his sales route by coming into a business where he wasn’t known and demanding,  “Who here called for the FBI?”  People immediately assumed he WAS the FBI and hurried around to help him.  He said he could even demand to see their financial books and they would comply, intimidated and probably guilty of something.

By the time Wounded Knee II rolled around in 1973, I was leaving the rez.  By then the image of the FBI was something like Mormon missionary teams, “suits” with shined shoes and stony faces.  They were scary and not on the side of the People.  Even Bob, who disliked authority figures of all kinds, had a tendency to turn to them for information and help in this paranoid time, and they loved to fan the flames, literally.  When some years later the shop was on fire in the night, they assured him it was AIM (the American Indian Movement) who were the arsonists.  It turned out that the cause was fumes from the underground gas tank belonging to an abandoned service station on the block, accumulated through broken sewer pipes into the dark room of the studio and ignited by the water heater.  But the fumes of paranoia were worse.  Bob never recovered.

It’s realistic to say that today’s FBI director, James Comey, is head and shoulders above others.  He is resolute and careful enough to begin to erase the image of J.Edgar Hoover in a red ruffled party dress, calling himself “Mary.”  He is righteous about the persecution of MLK, Jr.  and young enough to be my son.  (He was born in 1960, when I was at NU, earning a BS.).  In 1982, he was just about to enroll at the U of Chicago Law School where I was transcribing professor’s materials, using very early computer “stations” with a big industrial hard drive some mysterious place.  Few professors could operate their own work stations, and we were told to ignore the sounds of “Asteroids” coming from offices, because it was the way they learned to use computer programs.  The internet was not known.

I didn’t know Comey, but I knew some of his professors.  Scalia was still there and sometimes I delivered his mail, but I never transcribed his writing.  Sometimes big handsome men would appear from some outfit like the Rand Corporation and demand help.  Everyone was very conscious of their own importance.  I never met anyone there who knew anything about “Indians.” nor who ever said anything about Wounded Knee II.  In fact, I never met an anthropologist on the U of C campus, not even Victor Turner.

What I’m getting at is that the suits we’re watching on the news are so important that they only deal with other suits.  That means they are ignoring the big picture, the back country, the exceptions and exemptions, the sorrow and the suffering.  These people are from a writing culture, guided by documents.  The exception in the example of the crisis of the moment is that Trump is an oral culture guy, a face-to-face guy.  He plays to the audience.  

The composite accumulations of video moments have impressed me greatly, particularly the one of Trump’s handshakes with people of all kinds.  He pushes them back, he yanks them forward, he squeezes, he evades, he ignores, he pats.  So far the only exception is Trudeau who took Trump firmly by his handshake arm.

It’s enough to make a person want to back off to give a dignified bow or maybe hold up a hand like a movie “Indian” or like Keith Olbermann, Trump’s pursuer on Twitter.  Trump wouldn’t know an “Indian” if he sat on an arrow and he would be easy to scalp: a good yank ought to do it.  But it wouldn’t be much of a decoration on a warshirt.  His own suits flap in the breeze, partly because he’s gaining weight and partly because he feels the heat in that bulky body.

I’m mocking, I’m undignified, I’m using my own life path to claim something, and I’m just sort of heartsick about the whole mess.  It’s all blackened pots and kettles, but no stainless steel.  Unless Comey comes through.  He might.  If he manages this with as much grace and grit as he has shown so far, that will be a beginning in changing a culture of the FBI that’s based on bravado and old movies, the urban pursuit of immigrant gangsters.

Maybe he’ll be able to begin turning things around on reservations where the FBI has jurisdiction over what used to be the “ten major crimes” with murder at the top of the list.  Praiseworthy attempts have been made to bring the duties up to date from what originated as U.S. Cavalry attempts to keep order among a “foreign” conquered people.  Today the reservations struggle to maintain both casinos and colleges and to resist drugs, which often originate in Mexico with “Indios” who can “pass” on a rez.

Arguably much worse, somehow the mostly male suits of the FBI seem blind to the murders of indigenous women and children by outsiders, particularly when the tribal people are off the reservation and possibly trafficked.  The white culture, especially on the super-conservative mad-dog red-neck end, has the idea that “squaws” and “bucks” are fair game, something like “slopes” and “ragheads.”  These lowlifes are such a slimeball faction of the country that one can hardly bear to think about them.  The FBI’s response seems to have been pulling away.  The main office that used to be in Butte is now in Denver.

The legit media is mostly just unaware and baffled.  Sensational media actively feeds on this stuff.  Respectable middle-class tribal people don’t know what to do, but their children watch the vids, play the games, get the ideas into their systems.  This is subversive.

It’s WORSE in Russia, but not different in kind and dynamics.  It has risen like an oil spill tide until it has come up the Potomac, up the shores of Manhattan, into all our lives.  Even tall Comey will be overwhelmed unless the citizens of all kinds get behind him.  Without the bluster and fakery of Trump the salesman.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Holy Family Mission Churchyard

Clifford Repair has made my pickiup safe again, replacing all hoses and installing new spark plugs.  There are still things that need to be done, but this is the “big bite.”  Throwing caution to the winds, I set out for Browning to donate a box of books to the Blackfeet Community College library.

Wind was right.  When Great Falls says “breezy,” that means just outside Browning there is a big roadside sign that flashes “extreme danger for high profile vehicles.”  I had already noted the high “storm shelf” of clouds rearing up behind the Rockies, which always means wind and precip.  It’s Pacific air off the ocean, traveling on the jet stream, climbing over the mountains, then dropping on us.

The prairie up that way is still pied with snow patches.  We’re beginning to get little tints of green down here on the “flats.”  Otherwise, the prairie is not pretty — dun and done with winter.  Aren’t we all.

What I hadn’t considered was the date:  this is spring break.  The BCC campus was locked up tight — not a soul anywhere, no vehicles except the ones that belong to the school, not even a dog wandering around.  The Town Pump, on the other hand, was crammed.  It was just before lunch and customers were shouldering past employees to get lunch food put out and bought.  I went on down to Faughts where there were three older clerks and one three-year-old female speed demon using the empty aisles for a race track.  She was winning.

What I wanted was ribbon, but they only carry beads.  Well, along with a lot of interesting stuff: CD’s, books, Pendleton blankets, and so forth.  They directed me on up the highway to a fabric shop which also quilts with a machine.  I found what I wanted and visited for a few minutes.  She belonged to the Spotted Eagle family, but I didn’t know her branch.  She knew who I was, but we hadn’t met before.

It’s hard to convey my roiling sorrowing feeling when I pass the little studio house I helped to build with Bob Scriver.  The big plateglass window is busted now in spite of the roll-down steel cover that used to be lowered over it.  A big window like that is broken as soon as it’s installed — you just try to get as much interval as you can before it’s smashed.  This time, decades.  Barely longer than Bob’s active sculpture career.  

At the Cuts Wood School, the kids were on the playground, running and yelling and throwing a ball.  Next door is the house where T.E. Scriver brought his bride from Quebec, still in use.  Across the street is the rental where Bob lived when I met him and two doors over is where his fourth wife was living then with a different husband.  The Browning Mercantile is long gone, building and all.  On every street are buildings re-purposed, buildings newly created, and empty lots where the ghosts of buildings persist for those of us who are old enough to remember.

On the way I passed two highway death memorials.  One has been there for a long time: it’s made of welded-together horseshoes and this time, along with the usual plastic flowers, there were freshly tied ribbons — no, blood red wide streamers of some kind, writhing violently in the high wind..  The other one was wooden with flowers and some other decoration I couldn’t decipher as I drove.  The state has stopped putting up the metal white crosses because they interfere with roadside maintenance.  

The prairie, esp. in these transition times, is a long complex of intersecting curves, hard to decipher if one has no history here and has no sense of the ten thousand year ago melt of the great North American glaciers.  It is a dissociation, a floating monotony, a nagual.  Stegner used to say there was no need to fall on your knees with awe at this open, vast, scraped world because you were already small enough.  Of course, you might get blown over.

But if you are around for a while, you begin to write a history on this space.  Then it is wiped away, flooded, worn off, built over.  I met a little band of horses, half-a dozen assorted four-leggeds.  Sid Gustafson would say they know three things:  travel along, graze, and stick together.  In this instance, add stay out of the wind.  In the process, they were crossing the road, a risk, an asphalt interrupting overlay of the prairie created by time.

I’ve been reading about the epigenome, the over-writing of the genome by events that “methylate” or mute the influence of individual genes with consequences that can persist for several generations.  Body development and regulation is subtly changed in detectable ways.  Much of the research has been in terms of the Jewish holocaust victims, but is now beginning to extend to indigenous populations.  Persecution has sent Jews scattering over the planet and since they were — in their concentrated form — highly educated, intensely connected, still in touch with their original oldest-son-of-Abraham destiny — they never stop asking.

Often they ally with survivors of the American holocaust triggered by European invaders carrying disease and relentless greed.  Thus, we are just beginning to figure out that the third generations (maybe more) of trauma caused by confinement, starvation, and stigma, create specific tiny physical changes that can either make them victims or can be made into innovations.  But Jewish people are almost always urban.  American indigenous people can be urban, but I don’t know about that.  I know about the ones who stayed on the prairie.  (That is, those who were prairie people in the first place — not the corn growers or fish catchers.)  Something is beginning here.

A cross with red banners dancing in the wind is a Methodist symbol.  It’s a reference to the Pentecost when witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw "tongues, as of fire" in Acts 2:3.  “The Cross and Flame was birthed following the formation of the United Methodist Church by the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968.”  Christians are always dancing around crossed sticks and thinking about burning at the stake.  They want to mark deaths.  I consider it another European intrusion into an indigenous world that was about creatures and skies.  But what do tongues mean?  More than words, I think.

So — Kenner’s Question:  “What does it mean?”  Just drive on — against the wind.  Careful.  It’s grizzly country now.


The real Donald Trump is much fatter.

Can’t sleep after the onslaught of today’s news revelations.  I’m not thinking “House of Cards” so much as “Game of Thrones” so let me put on my George RR Martin hat and spread this out on paper to get it out of my head.

What could possibly cause Nunes, who seemed sane a few days ago, to take intel directly to Trump, knowing that everyone would know he did and, indeed, then announcing it formally?  A threat of assassination.  A contract on Trump’s life.  Could be domestic or foreign.  The fence jumper a few days ago made it to the front door.  What if it were going to be a military-type attack:  a missile, a predator drone, or the like?

If it were foreign — who knows what could justify elimination by Russia?  They just demonstrated another method (defenestration) and they don’t need much of an excuse.  Surely Trump has been hoarding a few little secrets of his own, but then, he’s becoming less and less useful — too nutty, out of control.  We know what provoking N. Korea could do.  Wouldn’t the death of the president or even an attempted murder be enough to precipitate us into war?  Wouldn’t it, in fact, be a declaration of war on the USA?

If this were something that were real, Trump would probably be held in the deep secure bunker to protect him until he could be safely flown out of the country.  He could have already videotaped a resignation from the presidency in exchange for help in escaping.  If he is killed after he has resigned, it will not be an assassination of the president anymore.  The vid could be held, not shown until he’s gone.  He may be in the air right now, clutching his toothbrush and toupee paste.  Remember that it’s suspected that a missile brought down an airliner just off the East Coast a few years ago.

Or let’s look at another wild possibility.  When Trump is thwarted, he goes into a cork-popping rage.  It’s pretty clear tonight that his insurance plan is not likely to succeed.  What if he’s had a major brain event?  What if he’s truly demented in a mental hospital ICU right now?  What if the real reason Ivanka has an office in the White House is so she’ll be there as his legal guardian when the strait-jacket folks come.  They say she can calm him when no one else can.  Let’s hope she doesn’t have scruples about endorsing a Do Not Resuscitate order.

Some movie thriller writers might have made this intercepted intel about Ivanka, a threat against her, but I don’t think Russians, Chinese or Koreans think she or any woman is important.

Normally, when a bill looks as though it is doomed, the deadline is moved out ahead so that either persuasion might succeed or the whole issue can be allowed to die quietly.  But the insurance bill is scheduled to be voted on at 7PM tomorrow, regardless of prospects.   It will keep the Republicans occupied and present.  There’s talk about the Dems just leaving en masse.  But we might be surprised by the vote, the way we were surprised by the election.  After the vote tomorrow would be an excellent time to play a resignation tape, assuming it existed.  The news explosion would cover the embarrassment over insurance, whichever way it goes.

If Trump were flying out to some secret island, a news landslide might keep the reporters from scouring the flight schedules to find the island — at least for a while.  On the other hand, he might be dead already.  Ivanka may be asked to help plan a funeral.  Maybe Melania won't be that interested.

This is all preposterous and over dramatic.  Or is it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


David Milch

I suppose I think of a “body of work” because of Bob Scriver and his thousand sculptures, grouped into subjects like Blackfeet, rodeo, Montana animals.  The Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, with its full-mounts of every Montana game animal, was also intended to be a body of work but it was dispersed almost as soon as Bob died.  Whether the bronzes stay together in a “body” is up to the Montana Historical Society and, admittedly or not, they evaluate it in terms of its commercial value.

There was another body of work, which was Bob’s rather short teaching career and his music.  Teaching and music are time arts.  At the moment they are happening, they are palpable, but as soon as the process stops, they are gone.  Where is the body now?  Sheet music?  Maybe recordings but the means of the time were not very adequate.

I had thought my “body of work” would be a set of books, beginning with the biography of Bob which had been a goal since we met, though he had thought it would be more of a celebration of his achievements and I had always understood it to be an explanation of how and what he achieved.

I now understand “books” as the production of objects for sale that was devised for the wealthy and then became symbols of culture and wealth for the middle class.  When publishing developed, it exploited this last by seeking publishable material, that is, material that would appeal to people with the means to buy books.  In conversation with Blackfeet teachers of a speculative kind, it has become plain to us that the reason “Indian” books don’t sell is a) the People don’t have enough discretionary income to buy books and b) the material in most of the books is not appropriate to their interests, unless it’s sensational, common denominator stuff that’s not “Indian.”

The tribal community colleges are changing that because traditional academics are book-based.  Publishers know this and capitalize on it, so that class books have inflated prices.  In farflung places like the Montana Highline, there are not many opportunities to resell books and teachers tend to move on often, so that the same books aren’t used.

From the writer’s point of view I have finally realized that the writer is not in control of their books unless they publish them by themselves.  Editors feel they own the right to change everything.  But the publisher claims to control quality, so that to many readers the fact of being published at all means a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a reality check that this book isn’t just a little home project.  

If you look at you will find a “body of work” that I wrote, edited and sent to be printed “on demand,” when the book is ordered.  This cuts out the cost of storage, salesmen, and bookstores, but also cuts out promotion, unless I pay for that myself.  The machinery of reviewing books is pretty much limited to the books of major New York publishers.  So I have a body of work, but no one knows about it except that Lulu puts them on Amazon, because if they begin to sell, Lulu will profit from printing them.  I don’t.

Slightly north of here is a writer of romance novels, whose body of work is targeted at tablet users who read eBooks.  Kari Lynn Dell, is a partly Blackfeet writer and ranch wife.  She also writes a humor column that appears in newspapers, another way to accumulate a body of work.  (She’s excellent in terms of the genre, a prize-winner.)  

John Tatsey’s newspaper columns were accumulated into a book (“Black Moccasin”) by an admiring and wealthy reader and also read into the Congressional Record.  Print of all kinds goes everywhere, but people are not aware of it.  They simply think about “books” as objects.  Even highly educated people can bristle if you ask them about books they have not read, because certain books have been promoted as “markers” of whether the potential reader is keeping up.

For the past ten years I have not directly created books, but rather “blogs,” daily thousand word essays, some of which follow threads that are sometimes like Bob’s (Blackfeet, animals), sometimes Bob himself, and the rest of the time almost anything.  Now that whole movies, past and present, can be bought on a disc and treated like a book — put on a shelf, watched on demand, made into a marker of education, self-published on the Internet — the idea of “book” has become very broad, much less prestigious, not limited to those who have the means to buy something expensive.

But the idea of a “body of work” has not been developed fully.  I’ve been watching as much of “NYPD Blue” as Netflix will loan on disc.  Much has been written about this series — as though it were a seminal book — because it functions much the same way.  David Milch and Steven Bochco developed the idea and a whole team fulfilled it, because — unlike a book — this art form is communal, as though the guy who prints the pages and embosses the cover of the book with gold leaf were consulted about the contents.  In this case, the cameramen were part of the art, using a particular style to support the content.  The opening “music” was deliberately part of the story, using percussion to suggest the New York subway that pounds its way under the canyons of the streets in the same way that the Elevated screams overhead in Chicago, and the sirens of cop cars wail through city nights.  This was artful and effective.  Whose “body of work” is it?

The root of the narrative is twofold:  part of it is the life-mind of David Milch, which comes through particularly in the character called “Sipowitz.”  But another part is brought to the work by Bill Clark, a veteran police officer who knew many small story arcs that could be woven into an emotional trajectory when David Milch began to write.  Steven Bochco had the urban aesthetic vision that coordinated everything.  Today his role is called “showrunner.”  

Milch proposes that in NYC for a time most cops were Irish or Italian or some mix.  He says that their family "codes" demanded duty, protection, and secrecy from those outside.  The scene was very much patterned by the European Catholic church in small towns, and cops were like priests.  Both were plagued with alcoholism because of the pressure, but the pressure couldn't be relieved because no one can save everyone.  If you save this one, two more need to be saved.

Even now, when a silly program like “Bones” can discuss dildos and vibrators without flinching, argue the ethics of polyamory and the means of murder, show flesh more shocking than nudity, and otherwise address historically taboo subjects, “NYPD Blue” still has impact and meaning.  It is a powerful expression of what might arguably be called the legacy of war:  traumatized fathers who turn violent and addicted, taking it out on sons and wives.  Bochco barely survived the son’s role and it is the intensity of it that feeds the series.

TV series are oral culture, not written, though the platform is always written narrative script.  In particular, cop stories and other underground subjects are “talked through”, people swapping vignettes and arguing theories.  In the first place, not all these people are likely to be literate/readers, but in the second place events are immediate and often private, whispered, or shared in a protected setting like an AA meeting or with a therapist.  Or told in a seedy bar.

But then who owns the “body of work”?  Possibly it doesn’t need to be such a thing, which is a way of evaluating from the outside, because it is experienced from the inside, in the moment, and that’s the reward.  The essence of Bob Scriver’s “body of work” is in the stories Corky Evans and I still swap about the creation of it.  In a way they are internalized books, a BODY of work in the most literal sense.


Watching the morning blab shows this morning while sipping my first cup of coffee and waiting for the rest of my brain to wake up, a panel member commenting on the Russia/Trump conspiracy hearings (a Republican) said with great fury that he resented Comey failing to answer so many questions.  This commenter felt that the American public (whatever that is) should demand answers to everything right away.  Of course, he was just sending out a Trump-style “squirrel” to distract everyone by hitting their parent buttons.  (“You come in here right now, young man, and tell me everything.)  Comey and his peers knew exactly what was going on and the reason for it.  Their JOBS are the handling of secrets.  But the American public cannot handle the truth.  They're like kids who want to know everything about sex but are grossed out and shocked if they find out, esp. if it's about their parents. 

In the first place they can’t recognize truth or Trump could not have been elected.  In fact, the FBI and NSA knew before the election that there had been Russian hacking, but kept the information secret — I presume in order to follow more leads deeper without sending the culprits scattering like squirrels.  In fact, investigators are still slipping along like shadows, but had gotten higher permission to at least let people know that the catastrophic consequences of such intimate breaches are not being ignored.  

The revelations come so close together that people like Rachel Maddow are getting the first news of them on their “earwigs” on the air while they are interviewing the people who presumably have the secrets.  But then they have to wait for the commercial break to ask their bigshot about it, in order to keep the secrecy.  Of course, everyone in the studio (cameramen, assistants) would hear.

And this is part of the problem.  Senators and Representatives can only operate if they have staffs.  As Comey said, “We find that information often comes from unsuspected sources.”  Those “little people” who are the mice in the walls.  (I’m really into biology.)  They often become rats, maybe out of a sense of justice, maybe to enlarge their own importance in the world, maybe out of revenge.  

Our stubborn gender assignments have a lot to do with it, since women — like Blacks — are not quite considered human and men will often say things in front of them as though they couldn’t hear.  And women — like Blacks and gays — are often part of a world quite separate from the context of powerful males who like to transact business while peeing or golfing.  Women — like Blacks and gays — are often drawn into relationships that are abusive, using and abandoning people as though they were pets.

Context has so much to do with information.  Changing cultural bias can flip bad to good, good to bad.  Materialism, commerce, property, is the unifying force of all political secrets because they are about the “Polis” (people grouped) and the “Demos” (people of the state) whose economic situations set the terms of their survival.  Our prevailing ethos is “Winner take all.”  (I blame sports.)  But the counter force to that is the protection of the vulnerable because otherwise they will fume and plot until they start a revolution.  No energy goes into finding new options or reaching compromise.

This morning’s grilling is that of Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.  It pits one system against another:  the legal context versus the historic British/Christian social virtue context.  Or if you want to look at it a different way, the US Constitution in the terms of its original composition versus the Constitution as it is applied today.  The keystone dilemma for some people is that Jefferson, who helped write the document, kept a slave wife and made children with her — but the slave wife was the half-sister of his deceased wife (same white father) and very much like her.  He was prevented by law from marrying a black woman.  Biology created children.

The opposite kind of dilemma is about those trying to use a 1776 document to guide responses to things that simply didn’t exist then, like modern weapons or wire-tapping via hacking or mitochondria transplants in ova.  Of course, if one goes to the basic primary level, it becomes useful to recognize that slavery always exists, but it has different names.  It becomes secret in plain sight, semantically cloaked.  Reveal it and the consequences are emotional: trafficking, sexual use of children. 

In the testimony of the Russia/Trump hearings, it was often remarked that the goals of legislators and the goals of legal investigators are quite different.  (Trust and respect came up.)  The Republican inquirers were trying to show they were virtuous, using the weak defenses of children:  “Those guys were doing it first” and “I knew Joey was a rat — we should get him!”  They were living in the moment, seeing squirrels.  The FBI and NCI men, as well as the two convenors, were looking at long-term, deep-structure, quite technical factors.  One might describe them as more mature, once they see the elephant in the room.

These federal governing inquiries and dilemmas remind us that there are different “silos” or “streams” or “disciplines” in modern life.  What is done in the name of government is quite different from what is done in the name of some corporation interested only in profit.  The skills of making a deal are not those of passing legislation.  Simply being aware that there are different rules in the kitchen than in the auto repair shop than in the parlor is a basic life skill that public schools don’t teach. Beyond basic public school context, academia is obsessed with keeping disciplines separate, but then someone always invents “physics for poets” or what I think they mean by “metrics” — facts and figures without words, transmitted in images.  Interdisciplinary, but that only has meaning if the discipline boundaries are recognized.

For half a century I’ve been watching and reflecting on the political “surf” on the Blackfeet reservation.  (I’m not alone and I have no special privilege.)  Three systems of governing are colliding.  The first is one we thought time would erase, but it persists in a kind of social pentimento.  It is a system that developed among “clans” or bands of about a hundred people with a genetic core, usually a powerful man and his wife/wives.  Everyone knows everyone, it’s very hard to keep a secret, there are no written laws and the basic law is survival.  Harmony balanced with disruption provide survival.  

The second one is the system of the United States with all its documents and precedents.  By now there are Blackfeet lawyers and even white lawyers located near enough to have ground-level understanding of how US law intersects with the original indigenous system.  This is complicated because treaty law is basically international law and gives the Blackfeet sovereignty over their lands.  But they have been "supervised" by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, beginning as the supervision of war survivors.  It was like my birth family where my father would say, “We’ll take a family vote and then I’ll decide.”  I think those who resent the Supreme Court are seeing this system in their governing.  They often do think that a big male figure should decide.

The third one is the mercantile system, which is now markedly international and addresses all cultural differences through their economics, reducing them all to profit/loss statements.  Some see this as a source of peace and order.  As it happens, some reservations have natural resources beyond anyone’s expectations.  But they don’t have the structure and practices to manage them, which means the buttinsky BIA wrestles with the international corporations and the indigenous mice get no cheese.  Unless a Big Woman steps in and applies virtue to the law.  (Thank you, Eloise.)

What I’m saying is that the Trump/Russia hearings are an excellent case study for a lot of human situations that need to be addressed.  It has become obvious that Trump is operating in his primitive oral culture of real estate deals.  It is a challenge for us to loosen our hold on what we think will lead to profit and try to understand the dynamics of being human mammals on a mineral planet.  What we see right away is the corruption introduced by oligarchies, semi-closed groups, which often seem as cold, dry, and inflexible as if they were mineral, stone-hearted, growth-dead.  

Russia, which is a vast windy territory not unlike Montana, once had an indigenous people.  They are still there.  After all the bombs are dropped, they will still be there.  So will some of us.  Wall Street will no longer exist and neither will Chinese loans.  If some of us glow in the dark, we'll adapt.  Or not.  But listening to this hearing the threat to bomb everything back to the Stone Age begins to seem feasible, almost attractive.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


For some years now, after finally getting a grip on rational, oppositional logic in grad school, understanding the use of “warrants” (evidence) to construct systems for the use of institutions, and finding that that realm always favors the status quo and the people in power, I’ve turned to the organic, the biological, and the metaphorical which may be contradictory to the standing order — esp. those that punish and exclude various groups within the whole, whether those are human or planetary, whether stigmatizing certain populations or demonizing certain species or sacrificing some landscapes.

So in this short piece (I aim for 1,000 words) I will address the issue of attachment/separation because the realm now labeled narcissism versus co-dependence (attachment to a narcissist in a way that helps them).  The idea of ecology — how things fit together in a protective and inclusive way that allows “space” for evolution — is highly relevant as a criterion.  That is, things fit together and the better that works, the “higher” and more valuable any new element of the process is.  "Fittingness" is the key.

The issue of N/C (if I can use an acronym) is about “love” but we get into a lot of trouble because the term has been captured, deformed, monetized, and otherwise rendered problematic.  So I’m going to talk about “attachment” in the most basic biological terms, when the blastosphere stage of a conception of a mammal has begun unfolding into a new individual.  Some of that blastophere becomes the placenta through which attachment to the internal lining of the uterus happens.  If it doesn’t happen, the beginning is lost.  It dissolves.  If it works, the mother both accepts the attachment and begins providing the supply of materials necessary for the embryo to keep developing.

Sometimes the attachment is insecure, leaky, or in a bad place, like blocking the birth exit from the uterus through the cervix.  I consider these problems part of a parent’s job, a beginning that continues right on through birth, the formative primary years, the identity-developing time before puberty, and then the sexual development.  It is a principle of evolution that every mutation builds on what went before, whether subtracting, diverting the function, using something previous to create something new, or simply duplicating.  It all hinges on whether the change supports survival.  A happy infancy means a successfully individuating child means a person who can handle sex and pair-bond if they want to start a new family.

Whether survival is helped or hindered also depends on the environment, especially the mother’s body, the adult caretakers after birth, the siblings and age cohort, and whatever institutions are there.  It also includes the quality of air and water, the molecules floating everywhere, viral and bacterial creatures in the gut or living in the skin, and animals, both household and wild.

In the past these were “organic” (maybe mineral) but now we have the ability to create molecules, genes, and even simple chromosomes.  We can go to a work bench in a lab and MAKE the constituents that go into living creatures.  For example, many insecticides and other formulations have been based on attacks through the female-hormone-based molecules in bugs without any realization that these would affect humans as individuals or as populations.  

They do.  Investigators say that the human penis (in the aggregate) is shorter than it used to be, and male sterility (two-headed sperms or sperms who swim in tight little circles) is increasing.  A recent discussion about our evolutionary predecessors, the Neanderthals, suggests that the mystery of why they died out or were absorbed into “us,” is due to the Y chromosome, that “little” chromosome that is missing a leg that is on the X.  But it’s not that the Neanderthal Y chromosome was lacking something — they evidently had on their Y chromosome a few mutated genes that caused male conceptions to be destroyed by the mother, who interpreted them as an intruder.  (They were, of course.)  The attachment broke.

The only cross-breeding between “us” and Neanderthals that were passed on were through the female.  This kind of phenomenon is not unusual.  My next door neighbor endured a tragedy because she was carrying a boy with a kind of cerebral palsy (Duchenne) that affects only males.  The boy was not lost as an embryo or as a young child, but lived to be a near-adult who was much loved by his family and friends and who was capable of love.  

We do not attach to people because they are perfect or because there is some “cold” or “dry” reason, but economics has a lot to do with settling for incomplete or painful connections.  We come to love each other when we “know” each other, which is — of course — a euphemism for sex used in English translations of the various languages of the Bible.  Dependency is a kind of connection that is vulnerable to circumstances and to emotional “shapes.”  That is, if a way of attaching was learned in very early years, it’s like a kind of structure or genome that persists — the irritable child, the impatient family, adults who enforced with abuse, are all phenomena that affect everything afterwards.  There can be something like "aborting" in which an unfinished child is ejected.

If something is faulty in early days, sometimes it can be corrected.  My cousin was born with no thumb, so the surgeons transplanted her big toe to become a thumb and it worked fine.  But there are many invisible faults in the ability to attach emotionally that don’t come along until adolescence when formation of pair-bonds become pressing as a developmental stage.  It’s painful in that the next generation may be conceived without a real family.  Biology doesn't always consider psychology.  If there are institutions who can do “surgery” whether law or missionary or therapist or collateral family, are they justified?  What if they’re no good at it and, in fact, use and abuse those dependent on them?  Who decides that it’s even happening?

We can analyze the genomes of viruses to the extent that we can distinguish among “families” of them and thereby trace them back the way we trace Neanderthals.  If we can do that, what would prevent us from meddling in their genomes?  Skill and motivation.  If we can do that, isn’t it possible to create new viruses or at least to modify existing viruses to make them more virulent or targeting specific populations?  One is not born with morality.  The Chinese are already altering human conceptions.

Interwoven with all our powers to create and destroy are our natures as human beings with all our experiences of attachment or abandonment.  We abandon some people, attack others, protect those we care about.  Most people make deep intimate attachments outside their birth families as beginning “conception” of a new family.  Our experience is shaped by these relationships and experience interacts with capacities to understand to help or hinder.