Since in my own mind many of these posts have been "chapters," I'm splitting some of them out to separate blogs. But also, my audience is divided and quite different, one part from another. Many have dropped out and many have newly arrived. There are recognizable paper "book" versions of some of the posts that fit together.

I find that some people still assume that a blog is a sort of diary. This one is not. It is not for children, either in terms of subject or writing style. It's not written "down." Think academic magazine or column without footnotes.


My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me


Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at

Fiction about Indians at
Essays about Indians at

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which was originally defined to describe kids who defy any kind of authority, is now being applied to adults who are being defiant.  Of course, that’s pejorative, implying that the disobedient are simply not yet adult, unreconciled to the kinds of compromises every adult must make.  And it also carries the diagnostic stigma that one is “crazy.”  

I have two cats, both female, womb-mates, now aging.  The yellow one is mellow, a cuddler, a sleeper, a treat-eater, rather stupid.  The tortoise shell is a living example of ODD.  When she was little, she ignored her own name unless I threw a slipper at her to get her attention.  I thought she was deaf.  I’m saying that ODD must have some kind of physical basis.  Maybe it is more of a failure to be domesticated than it is immaturity or psychosis.

Here’s a story about the genetic basis of domestication in cats.

I’ll summarize:   Thirteen genes changed as cats became domestic.  They include changes in the genes controlling memory, fear-conditioning, and stimulus-reward (operant conditioning).  Five genes influence development by neural crest cells, which affect skull shape and coat color, but they also have impact on the whole body.  (A round head that fits into a human hand is appealing.  Temperament in cats is often related to coat color.  Also, the fourth-leg on the gender chromosome X carries a color which is why tri-colored cats are always female.)

Some genes were changed by diet, esp. an adaptation that dropped whatever it is that processes fats in hyper-carnivorous diets and maybe added lactose-tolerance to adult cats, parallel to the same adaptation in humans using dairy sources as food.  But also a dulling of sense of smell, in contrast to dogs.  It seems associated with the disinclination to hunt.  Why eat a mouse if you don't have to?

“Even though the smoking gun genome is found in the DNA of cats, scientists are also considering how it may apply to the domestication of a host of other mammals including dogs, cows, pigs and even humans. The reason for comparisons, particularly to humans, and their furry pets is that the structure of cat chromosomes more closely resembles that of homo sapiens — even more so than dog's DNA.” 

Crackers and Squibs

Having raised a series of bobcats, I can attest to both the similarities and the radical difference between wild and domesticated cats, especially after adolescence when the bobcats left if they could, looking for their own place in the world.  In general, the bobcat kits were far more ODD.   They just didn't care about humans that much.  But even the bobcats were not alike.  The littermates “Rufus” and “Gimpy” were as different from each other in temperament as my present Mellow Yellow and ODD Tortie domestics.

Colonel Przewalski's never-domesticated horses.  is one among many recent articles exploring the genetic basis of domesticated horses.  Of course, you’ll remember that ALL American horses are feral, domestics gone wild, so their genome needs to be compared with those of Asian wild horses like Colonel Przewalski’s plus DNA from ancient bones.  This article suggests that feral and domestic horse genomes prove to have many sources as shown in matrilineal lines, but comparisons with early horse genes do turn up the evidence of change in the direction of domestic usefulness.

The race horse veterinarian, Sid Gustafson, points out that horses are pack animals, like wolves, but cats are not.  If an animal has the genes for participation in a society, a group, then they are more easily domesticated because they let the humans become their herd and are reciprocated by inclusion in the human “family.”  A pack trip integrates both horses and people.
Sid Gustafson family trip

Roy Rappaport defines survival as relating to the individual as well as being for the group, and the balance between the two -- individual versus group -- may sacrifice one or other.  Individuals die in wars for the sake of survival by groups.  Sometimes individuals may destroy whole groups, as Hitler attempted.  His justification for extinguishing a “race/religion” was supposedly genetic, but the real problem was that he himself didn’t belong.  He was a killer in search of ingratiation with the German people by inventing a common enemy and then eliminating it.  The old triangulation strategy.

So for an individual trying to solve a relationship that interferes with either the survival of themselves as individuals or the survival of the larger group, it is in a sense a problem of domestication, "who ya gonna throw in with."  Strategy by affiliation.  Mammals (so undoubtedly humans as well) have at least some basis in their genomes for belonging to a specific group which develops in response to a specific environment, but also is shaped by life history.

Then, given the nature of the particular infant, the success of maturation depends on the interface with the parents and larger culture.  Terry Brazelton, the pediatrician, has insights into this.  If baby and culture are a pretty good match and if people are sensible about adjusting strategies, things turn out very well.  But a quiet baby will have trouble with a hyperactive overachieving mother, and a vigorous, seeking baby will struggle with a passive or confining mother.

I propose that an oppositionally defiant child was probably misfitted as an infant -- forced to be on a schedule that wasn't in sync with the baby or ignored when needs were pressing.  (I don't just blame Mom.  She may have been as trapped by culture as the baby.)  The lesson such a baby may have learned is that you have to take care of yourself as you can, maybe by making a big fuss and maybe by hiding.  Sometimes everything was fine until there was a distressing change and since babies can’t really understand the causes, they can only do the freeze, flight, fight things that are hard-wired into mammals as a matter of survival.  But clumsily, since they are babies and without consciousness or memory.

At about age three or four, children try to help and comfort others, esp. their parents.  They try to be parents themselves and in cases where the parents are more like children than the children, they sometimes really do help.  I’ve never forgotten the woman who had passed out and whose toddler had brought her a blanket and a glass of water, then settled down beside her to keep vigil.  I’m sure it is a tableau that repeats.  Someone must have done that for the child.  But many people will try to parent their parents through their whole lives.  Of course, teenagers think their parents are incompetent anyway.  And humans try to parent their domestic animals.  Parenting per se is a spectrum of behavior, not one thing.

Being stubborn in defense of vulnerability is a moral sort of defiance.

There has been a lot of cultural fuss about the death of the Big Papa in the Sky, God.  In a good seminary or divinity school, equal attention is paid to the nature of human beings.  This is religious anthropology and it soon becomes obvious that human and “god” are reciprocal concepts.  It also becomes obvious that “god” concepts get captured into the service of hierarchical authorities who claim privilege in their relationship with this constructed idea.  One who is ODD is defined as an heretic and may even risk being burned at the stake.  

The commodified, internationally controlling corporations of our present society have made a religion of patriotism, product loyalty, and strategic ignorance as the price of survival.  Posing as parental, they grind up individuals.  Like tanks they threaten to crush the defiant for the good of the whole.  The man who stands in front of the tank is acting out moral ODD.  Most analysts of obstinacy neglect the moral dimension.

What practical things could a defiant person do to survive as an individual, perhaps in service to the survival of the group?  Here are some early ideas, pretty general.

1.  Find or create a niche where the individual is protected.  (Monasteries?)
2.  Assume a disguise.  (Guy Fawkes masks)
3.  Make yourself exceedingly valuable with a major skill.
4.  Go to an edge and live in solitude. (Me)
5.  Find a powerful protector.
6.  Make an enduring record that will survive. (Arts)
7,  Make common cause with many others.
8,  Protect the even more vulnerable -- maybe not human, maybe the planet.
9.  Good health.
10.  Know stuff, including skills.
11.  Focus.  
12.  Analyze yourself bravely but not mercilessly.

This is a confused post because I am still confused.  Why is ODD -- Oppositional Defiance considered "aggressive"?  If it is resistance to authority figures, why isn't it the authority figures who are the aggressors?  It seems the word "disorder" is a tip-off to authoritarian motivation, esp. cops, but it triggers something like "obsessive control syndrome" which justifies the use of suppressing violence even to the point of death.  THAT's aggressive.

Friday, December 19, 2014


In the last years of the Seventies I was a constant reader of “Outside” magazine which I often bought at Rich’s Cigar Store in Portland.  I liked to buy magazines at cigar stores because the customers were usually men (I like men) and I like the smell of tobacco, which is often kept in Blackfeet ceremonial bundles to kill bugs.  I hate gender assignment and I hate cultural assumptions without first-hand experience, so it’s a two-in-one incentive.

I never found a cigar store in Hyde Park where I was during ’78-’82, and anyway I was busy learning a different community of thought and adventure.  By that time some of my fav writers (Quammen and Cahill) were writing books.  So were Krakauer, Junger and Proulx, but they didn’t appeal so much.  Three of these guys (Quammen, Cahill, and Krakauer) live in Montana and though I’ve never participated in their wild worlds (I don’t climb mountains or run rivers), I knew people who knew them, so they were real. In the Eighties when I sometimes breakfasted in Bozeman and went to writers’ events in Missoula, I  read “Outside” again.

But then the magazine began to commodify and I wandered off.  It went Santa Fe, picking up too much similarity to the slick Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel.   “Lifestyles,” meant to sell stuff. Pretty soon the hunger for sensation was prompting political witchhunts at the expense of other writers, esp. the adventurers.  This one never climbed that mountain, the other one wasn’t really with that tribe.  I despise righteous scandal-mongering and the courts weren’t impressed either.

But I still remember the earlier happiness of reading Quammen’s explanations of why geese shit so much and why the gorgeous red hook-jawed salmon struggle all the way up to the headwaters of mountain streams and then die on the gravel beds where they’ve just had out-of-body sex.  I remember the glee of Cahill’s riffs undercutting grandiosity.  I did not think about them being almost my age -- well, younger enough to be baby boomers and by now maybe a little too old to be daredevils.  “National Geographic” is not like “Outside.”  It’s not even like “National Geographic” once was.

These days I’m still reading magazines, though I gave up on ladies’ magazines long ago   (maybe when they began using teen-aged models) and don’t quite have a rarified or political enough attitude to read Atlantic or Harpers, which my high school teacher assured us were “quality.”  A friend sent me a subscription to Vanity Fair (I have friends in show biz since my basic degree was in theatre) and when it ran out, I resubbed if only to follow William Langewiesche.  If I hadn’t been an anti-snob, I could have been reading him in the Atlantic.  His books, in used paperback form, are available for a penny each.  He’s a little younger (b. ’55) but still a baby boomer, barely.

I resent that magazines and the writers they support must pitch to the money sources, but I do understand that writers are created by their interaction with their readers IF the editors would get out of the way.  It is the editors who go for the money and change the reporting of facts in order to chase profit.  But they are invisible to most readers.  They have probably done the most damage among Native American writers, imposing their jejune notions on the real indigenous writers to feed white-man fantasies and pity.  Even Langewiesche has been criticized for being a little too cozy with his subjects.   There is never any indictment of the editors who control a writer’s income stream.

My interest in adventure/natural science writing goes back to childhood when I listened for the mailman so I could beat everyone else to my favorite mags, indeed including “National Geographic.”  My father, growing up on the South Dakota and Manitoba prairies, had a stash of books like Richard Halliburton’s “Royal Road to Romance,” which I absorbed.  In fact, still own.  

My practice since undergrad years has been to read the books read by men I admired. (Never women for some reason -- could it be possible that they didn’t read?  Or is it that they mostly read genre fiction?)  I tried to follow Alan Deale, my Unitarian minister, through the books of Ellul and Hans Kung without much success since they were pretty heavyduty theology, but I really enjoyed his enthusiasm for the oeuvre of Ernie Gann, all about airplanes which may have prepared me for Langwiesche.  (Remember that movie, “The High and the Mighty”?  It was Gann’s book first.  I went around whistling the theme for months.)

(the Dmitri Tiomkin theme)

If a writer escapes editors and publishing, is their writing more honest, more worthy?  No one will ever know since there’s no other access.  Until NOW when one can put it on the internet one way or another.  The only trouble is that there’s no money in that.  I’m subsidized by Social Security.  The other problem is what they call "discovery," which means how does one find the really good writing -- not just the pop stuff.

Part of the answer (not the money part) is to go to the internet and to work cross-media, since the internet will support sound and image, but even the ebook providers are gradually realizing that they are “publishing” and that they can control what is posted as well as what is accessed for research.   He who owns the infrastructure owns what travels there. They use the same commodification principles as paper books in bindings, which means rewarding sensation and sequestering what is stigmatized (like porn or bomb recipes) so they can -- erm -- jack up the prices.  NOT so they can suppress it.  You can have anything you want if you pay for it -- that’s a principle of life.  Once you find it.

I’m not a Proulx who can breeze in, ferment a lot of observation and newspaper research into stories, and breeze on to the next region.  To go beneath the surface in windswept exposed places like this one where I live is to risk oneself in two ways.  One is the obvious: things are secret for good reasons and revealing them is not always good policy. 

The second comes to me roundabout through the Algerian and French philosophers I could not grasp in the seminary years -- and neither could very many other people.  It is more than one’s psychology, the sort of thing one would discover with a good psychoanalyst.  It is a kind of mind-prairie-cosmos full of hallucinations.  The familiar horizons, the hissing grass, the moving horse between your legs are phenomena of the mind in a way that adventures in strange places can never be, because you THINK you know the familiar and nearly go mad if you find out that you’ve had it all wrong.  Of course, sometimes you think your mind is open to adventure as well, but too often the new is only seen in terms of what was already known.  The constellations of the mind are as arbitrary as the constellations of the sky, but once learned they are hard NOT to see.


They say that Tim Cahill actually drowned in his recent accident and I am deeply grateful he came back to life.  He said there were no beckoning figures, no bright lights -- all that.  But before he drowned he was dragged through a cataract underwater and he said it was very beautiful, all circles and ovals.  I thought of handwriting, another endangered art.  Maybe he will tell us more.  A true adventure.  He vas dere, Chollie.  Da bear et 'im.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


by elspatula

This post is sort of a response to a late night exchange on Twitter between two respected and intelligent people who differed about the proper way to think about a wolf.  I’m not really going to make a list of 100 items.  I’m sure you’re relieved.  I am going to hit some high points of how I look at wolves.  Not all of them are the wonderful media images that show up everywhere now that we don’t see wolves as evil -- well, unless you’re trying to raise sheep.

In about 1967 Bob and I went moose hunting near the Swan Hills above Whitecourt.  “Hunting” is accurate, since we never saw a moose -- just tracks.  It was taiga with seismic lines cut through it.  We were told that the moose were supposed to be hunted out in preparation for a huge dam project.  Now I’m wondering whether the real goal was development of the tar sands.

On the way back on the remote highway, a wolf ran across the highway in front of us, teased by a raven that dive-bombed it repeatedly.  It was a dance.  

Al Oeming feeds his bear.

That got us thinking about Al Oeming’s game farm near Edmonton so we went there.   (I didn’t realize he had died this past spring. ) We were curious to see Colonel Przewalski’s horse, the earliest wild horse, never domesticated.  Oeming kept his animals on huge pastures.  The muskoxen looked at us suspiciously from a margin of mist along the far wooded edge of their field.  The rhino came galloping, full speed.  Its “fence” was a stone wall about three feet high -- we fell back -- can rhinos jump?  Then we realized we were driving the same kind of pickup as the feeding keepers.

by LupinGoddess

But this is about wolves.  They were a pack.  Some would argue that with pack animals it is the entire group that is the “creature.”  These guys were relaxed, interested, clearly related to each other.  We looked for something to feed them, but all we had was a sack of apples too big to go through the wire mesh, so we lobbed them high enough to arc over the eight feet height.  What developed was a kind of basketball game -- a leaping melee.  Their jaws were so strong that when they bit down they shattered the fruit but they soon adjusted so they could use them for balls, tossing and catching.  That’s my key image: joyful social animals.

Then there was Charlie, the wolf a government trapper poisoned far north and brought down to Calgary where friends kept the carcass until we could drive up to fetch it.  It was the wife of the couple who gave him his name.  We put him in the back of the pickup under a tarp and heaped our endless supply of plaster rubble over the top to look like ordinary trash.  This saved a lot of time and explanation at the border.

by whiteokami

At the shop, we buried our fingers in Charlie’s fur, examined the pads of his feet, ran our hands over his soft ears, and made measurements.  Bob’s portrait of him is called “Lunging Lobo” and was sold as half of a pair, the other one being a female crouched into moose horns.  Finally he was mounted and put on a high shelf in the Museum of Montana Wildlife.  

Today’s youngsters consider such uses horrifying and shocking.  We were not being scientists but something like old-fashioned naturalists.  Some will say art justifies such investigation -- the goal of the Museum was to be a resource for wildlife artists. Carl Rungius, one of the big “R’s” of Western art (with Russell and Remington), used to shoot a moose, string it up under a tree for a model and paint until it rotted.  Then shoot another one.
by Donald SVD

In the Eighties Chuck Jonkel, patriarch of bear/wolf studies, used to sponsor an annual conference for the hardy field researchers.  Maybe his son Jamie continues with them.  I attended a couple but they were hard to find out about because if they weren’t kept secret, they were invaded by activists who disrupted the exchange of knowledge.  Usually the clash was science versus romance.  Passion on both sides.  

Since then the same dynamics have spread out into huge international networks of people formally studying animals, mostly young folks because it takes muscle and endurance to be out there in the snow.  In those days they didn’t use helicopters as much as they seem to now.  I was indelibly impressed by a woman named Diane (I think) who had studied wolves so much she was half-wolf herself, evocative of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, except that she didn’t kill the animals.

The old tradition of gentleman naturalists with a sense of privilege and a kind of cool have been forever displaced by two contemporary forces:  one is extreme adventure and maybe Matthiessen had something to do with that after the success of “The Snow Leopard,” though if a person thinks that they probably didn’t read the book.  It was not Outside magazine stuff.

by beastofoblivion

The other is the Disney influence which started way back in the Fifties with the success of films like “Beaver Valley” and soon supported such corruptions as wildlife farms where little vignettes could be staged, funny incidents about baby animals who would never have contact in the wild.  I don’t know what to think about Bart the Bear.  

Now teams go everywhere on the planet so that the lowliest deep sea squid has no privacy and even the fish get cameras glued to their backs.  My fav photog animals are the English “moogies” (cats) prowling their own nabes.  is a copycat production with National Geographic, which is deep into the animal shadowing thing, having run out of exotic people.  The last remnants shoot your low-flying airplane full of arrows.

“Species romance” is one of these various animal complexes, defending the purity of the genome even though canids mix every which way.  When I was an animal control officer we were forever getting embroiled in arguments about whether a troublesome canine were enough wolf to be wildlife (illegal without a special permit) or enough dog to be a pet.  Some learned the hard way that even a 90% dog can come up wolf under the right/wrong circumstances.  

by Beastofoblivion

But a big problem these days is simply that people aren’t around animals a whole lot. Even a country town like Valier won’t allow chickens (but pigs are okay if they’re a 4-H project) and some of the newly arrived city people who see a loose horse are afraid it will attack their children.  Kids who grow up with no animal contact see them as something between a machine and a human victim of enchantment. 

It’s a dilemma in part because the more we know about animals, esp. the big charismatic mammals, the more scientists study and authors write about them, the more people want to meddle with them, exploit them, convert them to commodities, even try to become them.  But their idea of animals is unreal.  

I was talking to the friend who sold his foothills ranch to Bob Scriver.  He described being out in the yard and having an eerie feeling of being watched.  It was a timber wolf, just standing and looking.  No collar, no name, no pack, no predation, just there.  They stood staring at each other a while and then my friend went into the house.  It was sort of like Calvin and Hobbs where Calvin can only stand to be outside under the stars gazing at the cosmos about so long.  
by Kiraxlee

But don’t romanticize Bob.  After I was gone he kept a “pet” wolf in a cage for years.  It was not a big cage.  Even Bob had shrunk.  I like it better when there's room to dance.  Even for the stars.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


You may need to read this linked article or the previous post and maybe the post distinguishing between Evil and Sin to understand this post. “Psychopathology, trauma and delinquency: subtypes of aggression and their relevance for understanding young offenders."  
The article sets up two categories of trouble-makers.

As much of a problem as uncontrolled, violent, RADI people can be (there ARE females) somehow they are not as unnerving as the PIP’s.  I want to provisionally say that RADI people are sinners -- they know there are rules, they know what they are, they become overwhelmed by what can legitimately be called “animal rage”, going out of control.  Either the forces enraging them are far too powerful, or their pre-frontal cortex and other controls are too weak.  Afterwards, they realize what they have done and repent, weep, try to make up for it.  Law enforcement is set up to deal with them and, in fact, might include some marginal RADI examples.

But the really bad PIP’s are evil -- they seem possessed but in sly ways we can’t comprehend.  There are no signals, just a strange vibe if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.  People talk about the Devil because otherwise it’s just too baffling.  A friend who works with psychiatric cases says he can make no progress with them, but he has colleagues -- often quite hard people -- who can.  Maybe tough guys seem dependable.

Here’s my theory about PIP’s.

The brain has six layers in the cortex and many mini-parts that contribute to what these theorists call neuro-architectural connectomes.  Most of what the brain does is NOT conscious.  We only pay attention to what is conscious and assume it is voluntary, though some psychoanalysts and clinical psychologists know that what we see is only the puppet show framed by the proscenium rather than the thinking, scripting, manipulating people with their hands up the puppets’ skirts.  I wrote an earlier blog post about a woman who felt the puppet show in her head was strictly Punch and Judy -- war with herself, jabbering.

Contemporary understanding of consciousness is slowly developing and with it the theory of identity.  So far it is clear that both are composites in the first place, and also constantly being reassembled with slight variations, because a human body is more of a colony of cells than “one cell,” even though that’s the way we understand ourselves and the way the law and society treats us.  Each of us is a dancing process, reacting to what is around us.  Studies say that even our gut microbes affect our moods, which in turn affect our reactions to people and situations.

It’s hard to figure out which processing parts are missing in a PIP, if any, as well as why.  Filters, definitions, recognitions, are all important actions that brains do unconsciously.  One of the most significant elements is the most obvious: memory.  Now that we have videos showing for sure what “really” happened, we discover that memory is highly unreliable.  Until now we’ve thought that testimony from a PIP-type was always lying, scheming, pretending -- and maybe it was, but maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe his memory betrays him.  There may be no such thing as a reliable witness.  And memory is the cornerstone of identity.

Heath Ledger or the Joker?

Maybe what happened to someone else was so vivid that a person takes it into their own identity.  For writers and actors there is explicit worry that they might become the characters they invented.  People who have been in situations so intense that they went “out of their minds” will not remember anything or will remember a fantasy without knowing that’s what it is.  They say there is one little blob in the brain responsible for indicating which is “real” and which is “not.”  If that blob wasn’t working, there is no way for the person to distinguish.  I remember as a child confusing dreams with reality and that’s not unusual.  The reality detector matures late.

Almost as important as functions that interact to create identity, are the ones that support empathy, though a person with weak identity of their own might lose boundaries in a way that allows them to share someone else’s inner life.  ("Fusion" they call it.)  Maybe face-reading parts of the brain might fail, or maybe if someone’s emotional system is deranged -- reaching back through the limbic system to the most primitive reactions -- it can put twisted masks on people’s faces.

Those are Operating System problems.  But also go back to the infant's first learning:  warm v. cold; supported v. dropped; fed v. hungry and so on.  Did they learn an undependable world or one that embraced and cherished them?  The inner world of the baby is built over the first three years.  If it is barely survivable, the person may never be able to trust anything.  But the hardest predicament is for the child who was loved, protected, but nevertheless thrown into a situation of war, destruction, and betrayal -- the removal of everything recognizable.  Job was an adult who suffered the loss of everything -- what if he had been aged three?

Then there are later traumas to the “hardware” of the brain, which includes the whole body.  The gut thinks in its own way.  Include blows to the head, long periods of suffocation, drugs, brutal or demanding people, etc., all of which can change the brain.  Beatings, sexual misuse, torture, and neglect that far exceed ordinary misery push people into new relationships that require codes inimical to the mainstream, force them to find protective membership in groups with anti-social codes.

Our legal systems don't address all this stuff because laws are all specifically Sin-based.  "If you do this, the punishment is thus."  PIP's are working in a context of Evil, black ooze that slips between the teeth of the law.  You can make all the laws you want to -- they just have no relevance.  Only survival counts and one can only survive with the resources one has, whether they are what society likes or not.  

In fact, if life gets too soft, a PIP may need to take the adrenaline level up a bit, teasing the dragon.  In “The Borgias” there’s a quick bit when Micheletto is conferring with diForza’s hired assassin and co-plotter.  He asks his counterpart explicitly, “If you left this job, wouldn’t you miss it -- the excitement?”  Yes.  I think of Geoff Mains’ level of combat veteran SM.  In fact, emotion this intense attracts other people, sometimes entirely unsuited for it, destroyed by it.  We love it in movies, rock bands and books -- not in real life.

Moving from one culture to another is a problem for a PIP, in fact can contribute to the creation of an insecure PIP who cannot reliably “feel” what’s going on.  He begins to hear insults where none were intended and take comments negatively when they were actually neutral.  The two variables that count most for a survival-based person are safety and worthy risk.  (They are at the core of most of us.)  They are not easily provided, since they are mutually exclusive even in calm conventional lives, though their lack might not be noticed so much.  But for a delinquent kid with enough moxie to reflect and experiment in the proper setting (almost surely not a prison) “redemption” is not impossible.  

The experimenters themselves say:  “PIP aggression may be adaptive on Wall Street and in other extremely competitive settings.  It is only when RADI and PIP occur in a clustered form, are out of context, are unusually severe and disproportionate to their trigger or do not cease once the other has signaled defeat that they alert a clinician’s attention.”  I hear them saying that this stuff is defined in retrospect according to the results and whether society likes them, which can change capriciously.

Planned, Instrumental, Proactive are good qualities in war and surgery.  Maybe art. Caravaggio?  John Huston?  The implication is that controlling the context may save genius from madness and criminality.  I watched a video last night that described a new discovery:  the cells that surround a tumor are as important to understand and treat as the rogue growth itself.  No kidding.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Sean Harris as Micheletto in "The Borgias"

I have before me a downloaded article called “Psychopathology, trauma and delinquency: subtypes of aggression and their relevance for understanding young offenders.”   There are eight co-authors to this paper.  It’s long and complicated, so I’m going to reduce it to a kind of clinical case report of “Micheletto,” a fictional character from “The Borgias.

The essence of the paper is that the single-figure percentage of adolescents who get into trouble through aggression (violence), esp. those labeled delinquent by law enforcement, are under-studied.  Not surprising since they are resistant, elusive, and scary.  But that means they are treated as a uniform category when they clearly are not.  As a “first cut” (eek!) of sorting, the authors distinguished between two “kinds” of aggression.  One is “RADI.”  (Reactive, Affective, Defensive and Impulsive or “hot.”)

Sean Harris in "Deliver Us from Evil"

This kind is triggered by anticipation of negative situations and can include as reactions “fear, disgust, contempt, sadness, rage, frustration.”  Afterwards, when calm again, the person can be sorry though confused about what the trigger might have been.  Since emotional systems work in reciprocity -- arousal on one side met by restraint on the other side -- the problem might arise from either the strength of the stormy passion or from a weakness or even failure of self-control, recognizing options, or understanding the destruction they are wreaking. 

Sean Harris in "Prometheus"?

The second kind is “PIP.” (Planned, Instrumental and Predatory -- or if you feel that’s too pejorative -- Proactive)  That is, it’s with a goal in mind that benefits the person and it could be described as “cold.”  As I write, there is a murder case being considered in Missoula.  The outcome depends on whether the killer shot a student rummaging in his garage out of fear and self-protection (hot) or whether he had set a trap and deliberately shot the student (cold).  The word “callous” is used in this study in the way most people would use “sociopathic.”  We weight it as worse than an outburst.

"Serena" -- a "good guy" role

The claim is that the two kinds of aggression are controlled by different brain “neuro-architectural networks,” that is, connected features of the brain that create a “chord” or pattern of function.  The first one RADI (hot) appears to be a hard-wired threat response from the very early evolution of animals.  (It’s found in all mammals.)  The connections present at the moment of the outburst go from the medial nucleus of the amygdala to the medial hypothalamas to the dorsal half of the periaquaeductal gray.  Restraints against over-reacting are in the anterior cingulate, the ventrolateral and orbital-prefrontal cortex.  These activities are said to be confirmed by fMRI images, though I don't know how they got an enraged person into that tube.  Or was it the tube that triggered the response?

A first intimation of threat triggers freezing -- we see it in animals (deer in the headlights) who stand, lift noses, stare, re-orient their ears.  At a higher level, flight takes hold and there goes the deer with its white tail waving.  But if trapped, the deer goes up onto its back legs to fight, and strikes with its front hooves, which are quite sharp enough to disembowel a human.  This is not Micheletto.  It could easily be a Demon Father, fueled by alcohol -- let’s call him “Maximo,” and claim he has red hair, since Micheletto does.  Stag rampant, red eyes and maybe the kind of red nose a drunk gets.  This is the domestic abuser who repents the next morning, a familiar type.

Micheletto corresponds to the second category, PIP, which is complex and gradually develops through childhood.  It is at least partly created by Maximo, never knowing when an attack might come.  A simple neuro-architectural explanation is not possible because the response is learned: unemotional, calculated, deceptive, gaming.  The whole brain is involved and even the possibility of several aspects of consciousness, split identities or attitudes that war with each other or protect each other.  

Some animals, especially primates, are capable of scheming, but they have never been documented with bipolar or schizogenic behavor.  The character Micheletto is constrained only by loyalty, which puts him morally superior to the assassins who will change sides for a price.  In the series, Micheletto’s depravity is indicated by his being a “sodomite” which also justifies and forces his secrecy, just as incest makes Lucretia sneaky and desperate.  Which is worse: loving the same sex or loving a sib?  But the conceit of our times -- that love can redeem anyone -- keeps them sympathetic to a mainstream audience, though their love looks more like lust.  They both seem needy.

"Mission Impossible 5"

The authors of this study of delinquents say they are trying to understand how to help both aggressive types, RADI and PIP.  They can suggest specific pharmaceutical strategies to damp down passion or even the fear and rage in a Maximo.  AA might be a good start towards self-understanding.  (There don’t seem to be drugs that will strengthen the restraints.)  But they are still at a loss about how to help Michelletto.  He’s a bull-fighter who has taken on the minotaur and survived.  Maybe he even killed the minotaur.  Maybe he had learned from his mother how to duck, dodge, placate, seem to repent and engage.  He’s likely to interpret all the people around him in those terms.  How does one break through?  Love/lust makes him weep, but he still murders his lovers.  Violence and intimacy are mixed.

"Tears of Blood"

It’s not that Micheletto is hopelessly evil.  It’s just that he plays all the odds and suspects all motives.  He IS capable of loving in a way, but circumstances force him to kill what he loves and he finds in that a strange and terrible intimacy, to hold someone close as they die.  He cries out for help, asking God to say something, but -- he tells his patron -- God’s answer was “nothing.”  Silence.  Not even advice from the Devil.

Micheletto is in a double-bind.  He knows that any sign of weakness will attract Maximo types trying to make him suffer without any of the constraints or recognition of father to son, minimal as they may be.  They just want to eat his pain.  He’s done it himself.  But he also knows that puffing up, pretending to be powerful when he really isn’t, allowing anyone to see the constant anxiety that flares up into terror if he lets it -- all that takes enormous energy.  He is invested in constraint, dares not investigate his own inner life.  But if he finds he can seduce others, put them to work in his own interest, then he becomes very good at deception.

Among the boys in groups I’ve known, mostly in the classroom, on and off the Blackfeet rez, there have been both of these “types.”  Complex Michelettos were only reachable occasionally, usually by art.  Writing.  Performance arts, like music or theatre.  This can lead to redemption to some extent, but too many find it’s not enough to damp down aggression enough to be in control.  Too many, when caught in a truly terrible situation can be catapulted into suicide as the only flight available.  

Sean Harris specializes in these roles.  His part as a mass shooter in “Southcliffe” is an example.  Deep empathy, a psychoanalyst would claim, can help a PIP, but mostly society just denies anything is wrong.  They’re too scary.  They don’t confront like, say, an oppositional defiant kid.  It's always a big surprise when they begin to shoot people.

These two “types” of aggression are so different that I’m not sure there’s enough similarity to justify bracketing them together, except that we don’t like their behavior.  RADI is the result of brain hard-wiring but PIP appears to come from deeply constructed assumptions about the nature of the world that developed because of experience.  To what extent are we making assumptions about people who appear to have no conscience, no empathy as though it were the fault of the individual instead of the society?

What interests me and is open to further investigation is the social tolerance of macho Maximo, his bad temper and drinking, his abuse of wife and children, that produces the next generation which is “callous.”  There is some anecdotal understanding, but maybe it overlooks the degree to which Micheletto needs a primary powerful figure in order to operate: a cardinal, a king.  He is the shadow of the throne, so why not remove both, as we rightly did in the case of Watergate?  (Nixon as RADI, Gordon Liddy as PIP.)

One argument would be that the two types are part of a larger ecology of society that supports both RADI and PIP.  The evidence would be the multitude of popular storylines about the intemperate hero (dad) and the enabling partner (mom or sidekick).  The connecting tissue is economic, and I include the research sociologists, always looking for funding of their own underlying investigative architecture that justifies "serving society", trying to find ways to control youngsters -- but without disturbing the legal structures already in place and by expanding the usefulness of pharma-solutions to control and suppress.   Both are major money-making bureaucratic enterprises.

The planetary connectome of cultures includes brain architecture that evolved millennia ago and was basic to survival -- interacting with the consequences of what today’s culture teaches our children, but not enough to prevent war.  Somewhere in the welter and scramble is a real-life Micheletto, a suffering soul.

Monday, December 15, 2014


In theory at least, Joachim was the resident responsible adult.  It was hard to tell with his long hair, beard and earrings unless you watched for a while and realized how often some boy was settled by him, talking feverishly while J listened.  He seemed to doze a lot, but they understood that he was really listening.  The boys were there because they were desperate and so were the authorities who were supposed to be managing them.  Even in prison they made too much trouble.  They were contagious but the HIV meds that would control that were expensive.  Of course, there were also boys in the mix at J's who were not known to any authorities at all and probably never would be, until their bodies turned up in some inconvenient place.  They just quietly appeared at J's and were not thrown out.

No one was entirely sure what J’s qualifications were, but evidently he had been a nurse of some kind because he handled the boys’ meds very strictly, with charts.  Since they didn’t just have HIV but also -- because HIV destroys antibodies and they hadn’t exactly been living well -- everything from chiggers to malaria, including variations on STD’s.  So far no rabies.  And luckily, they were so vain about their hair that head lice had no chance.  If it weren’t for needing meds to stay alive, the boys might not be there.  

The strong centrifugal pull of the streets meant they sometimes took "French Leave" for a few weeks.  They were a strange mix of black ghetto, university town, and Indian reservation with an increasing number of hispanics.  None of them could survive 24 hours in any semi-wilderness, but given streets and decaying industrial buildings, they had the instincts of rats and would never come in to formal shelters.  They knew that authorities would use any bait to capture them and then question them relentlessly, make a lot of rules, feed them poorly, try operant conditioning, and pretend they didn’t know the thuggier guards were raping them.  The latter justified what they did by saying they were only collecting freebies, the same thing these feral cats were used to selling.

A surprising number of the boys had learned to play guitars, they all had skateboards, and some had bikes -- different ones on different days.  The house was full of yelling, running, acrobatics, storm swirls of quarrel, and long mellow hours of talk and song.  In the past there had been a room of desktop computers, but now they all had smart phones or tablets and even as they shouted at each other while slumping on second-hand sofas, their fingers were also simultaneously texting and cruising through images or music.

Most of the time J sat quietly with his dog.  Often he worked on a clipboard holding his endless paperwork, figuring, budgeting, writing appeals.  He fixed one big meal in the middle of the day for whichever kids showed up (usually most of them) and got his exercise by running the washer and drier constantly -- getting up to fill and empty, fold and sort, but never going around to invade rooms looking for dirty clothes.  The clean clothes were just stacked on top of the machines, jeans on one pile and shirts on another.  Unders rolled up.

One of the boys had a weird hangup that was very helpful, though it was a sort of self-imposed penance: he cleaned the bathrooms.  Everyone was grateful because their GI tracts were often in uproar -- reversing, out-of-control -- so there was a lot of puking and squirting.  Someone pointed out to Mr. Clean that he could make money scrubbing -- not much, but some.  He said it wouldn’t be the same.  His cleaning was like a service to the community, an act of belonging.  Not for pay, not even to help pay his way in the house.  When someone was kicking heroin, J himself went into the shower with them to hold them up and scrub them.  Time was the only thing that worked, plus the crates of electrolyte-replacing drinks.  

Most of the boys were gay, because that’s how they got kicked out of their families onto the street, and then had to do sexwork to survive and then drugs to survive the sexwork, but a few had been so badly abused that they had either shut down or were in some sex category that had no name, self-invented.  Now and then a couple of the guys would fall madly in love and live in a bubble of intimacy.  If that bubble turned iridescent, it meant they were sharing drugs and J would take them for a long walk-and-talk to explain that pharma drugs, plus street drugs, plus the endogenous molecules kicked up by adolescence, could mean permanent organ damage or merely blunt the efficacy of the anti-retrovirals.  They either dropped the drugs or -- once in a long while -- simply left together.  Sometimes only one came back.  

The boys thought Joachim must be Italian or French or something because of his name, but mail came that addressed him as “Joe” or “Joseph” or just "J."  The Native American boys were sure he was an Indian because they wanted him to be like them, so to them it was natural that his real name was secret or at least not public.  No one ever snooped into his desk though they all studied the photos of past boys that were stuck to the wall above the desktop.  They just weren’t readers, for the most part, and those who were had feelings about people who meddled.  Joachim slept with his dog on his narrow bed and no boy tried to slip under the covers with him.

Then one day a little red car pulled up in front of the house and out bounced a woman.  J went out to meet her and they threw their arms around each other.  “Probably his sister,” suggested one boy.  Then J told them he was going to stay with her in a nearby hotel overnight but leave the dog at the house.  The boy who had hoped she was his sister slept in J’s bed that night “so the dog won’t be lonesome.”  Even the toughest boys dreamt that J left them and then the house was shut down.  They shuddered in their sleep.  It didn’t help that J called the next day, said he would be gone a second night and left some instructions.

When he got back, the boys themselves called a “pizza consultation,” which was just a house meeting with pizza so everyone would come, but anyway no one wanted to miss it this time.  J didn’t say anything. He sat in his chair waiting with the dog on his lap, though it was kind of a big dog for that.  When they had slowed down with the eating, they shouted at him.  He was betraying them.  He owed them.  Some wept.  All the ghosts of their punishing pasts were in the room, taking up all the air and confusing them.  

Finally they had nothing more to say and J began to talk.  “Do you remember how suspicious you were when you first came and what it was that reassured you?  It was that you knew I’d been where you were and even worse off than you.  I’d been diagnosed poz after a car crash that broke all my bones, I was in the hospital totally penniless, and since I’d been traveling from one coast to the other and was only midway, no one I knew lived nearby. Anyway most of my friends had died in the AIDS plague.  I didn’t really care whether I recovered.  The docs had to study up in order to give me the right treatment and even then they weren’t confident.  I thought it was the end.

“This woman saved me.  She was the book lady in the hospital, pushing around a cart.  We fell in love over the books, her recommending and me reading.  I read a LOT of books there and in some ways they healed me more than the meds, because I was head-sick in the first place.”

“We thought you were gay!” the boys accused.

J looked sad.  “Of all people in the world, are you guys going to put a label on me?”

“What’s her name?”

“I won’t tell you.  I’m protecting who she is the same as I protect who you are.”  

One boy whispered to the other, “We should have gotten the car license plate.”  

His friend answered, “I wonder by what names they registered and what hotel they used.”  Then the two looked ashamed of themselves.  What were they -- characters on TV?

One of the university town boys actually raised his hand.  “If you love each other, why don’t you get married?”

J rubbed the dog’s ears.  “She’s already married.  She has a family, children, a job of her own, a whole life and a husband she also loves.”

“That’s impossible if she loves YOU!”

“No.  There are many kinds of love.  Sometimes they double up.”

“Then she should choose!”

“Do you want a woman in this house?  You guys who consider it so important to be gay?”

No one answered but every face showed shock at the very thought.  They wouldn’t even be able to walk around naked anymore.  

After a long silence J said,  “It’s just that now and then she and I need to be together.  Accept it as part of who I am.”

It took them days, but they did.  They imagined that J and his lady spent the time in the hotel reading to each other.  They were not far wrong.  Eventually they began to wonder about books.  Then it occurred to them that there were books on their handheld devices.