Malheur means misfortune

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was aptly named; since the mid-19th century, the area has been the scene of tragedy, adversity and misfortune—meanings of malheur, the name some trappers applied after disappearance of their cache. I don’t know for sure about the several thousands of years when native Americans roamed, hunted, fished and farmed the area—before they were rounded up and moved away—but I’d bet they had their share of bad times here long before Europeans arrived.

  • The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is part of a complicated history of land in the western U.S. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-SA)

    The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is part of a complicated history of land in the western U.S. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-SA)

Misfortune at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon

For the past week or so, I’ve been commenting and posting information on my Facebook page about the ongoing occupation of the national bird sanctuary near Burns, Oregon, a couple hundred miles from my Boise, Idaho, home.

I thought it might be useful, or at least entertaining, to collect those posts here, along with the many links to other information and background about the militia takeover and some of those involved. I have long been interested in the power of agreement, a phrase I picked up from Paul Crockett, the desert sage who rescued several people from the Manson “family” in the late 1960s.

I am fascinated by the ways some among us are able, occasionally, to awaken from what Gurdjieff likened to the early stages of hypnosis, in which he found the vast majority of humans almost all of the time. We are terribly vulnerable and quite susceptible to having others shape what we consider to be the “real” world.

So, here goes the collection of my thoughts, and others’, about the events unfolding not far from here, in reverse chronological order—moving from recent to earlier events and postings.

Wednesday, Jan. 13

Mix Heather, Sage, and Boyle—what a brew:

 Tuesday, Jan. 12

A picture worth a thousand words:

A man dressed as continental army officer walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Sunday, near Burns, Ore. A small, armed group has been occupying a remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon to protest federal land use policies. You write the cutline. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

More details of the conspiracy leading up to the armed occupation of the Malheur NWR, followed by many eye-opening comments of both supporters & detractors:

Monday, Jan. 11

More backstory on the Hammonds’ and others’ law-breaking and intimidation of federal employees and their families in Harney County, Oregon. While there are a few minor inaccuracies in this story, it paints a pretty clear picture of a problem that has been festering there for decades. The Bundys are not the first troublemakers to target the area. Most of the article was published in the “Village Voice” in the mid-1990s:

wise words:


According to the Oregonian, Idaho state legislators Judy Boyle, Heather Scott and Sage Dixon were among a half-dozen out-of-state lawmakers who met with the Bundy gang on a “fact-finding mission” Saturday.

Beware the righteous man doing the bidding of his God.

Ammon Bundy tells how the Lord directed him: “I did exactly what he Lord asked me to do….I was to call all these people together….to participate in this wonderful thing that the Lord is about to accomplish.”

…and, oh, so, so sincere….

Ammon Bundy: Dear Friends, If we do not stand we will have nothing to pass on.








Sunday, Jan. 10

Bundys’ anti-federal Mormonism has deep roots—Ammon, Capt. Moroni & modern-day, self-styled “Nephites”:

Capt. Moroni:

To folks who might think these kinds of beliefs are harmless, I strongly recommend Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven.”


Jeffrey Lundgren & the Kirtland Temple: Another modern example of Mormon scriptural belief gone awry:

Jeffrey Lundgren – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Friday, Jan. 8

The book of ‘Alma,’ chapters 17 ff, in the ‘Book of Mormon’ may offer clues to Ammon Bundy’s behavior.

Is he living out a convoluted interpretation of the life of his namesake? In Joseph Smith’s story, Ammon goes to the land of Ishmael, where he sees his chance to use the Lord’s power to win the hearts of the Lamanites. Then they would listen to his teachings:

In addition to the church of “latter-day saints” based at Salt Lake City, there are 70-some other Mormon sects. At least one fundamentalist group is based on the Arizona border, at Cedar City, Utah, where Ryan Bundy runs his construction company.

The Bundys’ seditious actions have been decried by the SLC church. To which Mormon Lord is Ammon Bundy listening? illustration

Jon Krakauer, author of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” chimes in on the Bundys:

Thursday, Jan. 7

Laughter is the best medicine for the humorless jailbirds-to-be holed up at an Oregon bird sanctuary.

I like Robert Ehlert’s concluding comment of his editorial in today’s Idaho Statesman:

“The occupiers should take a clue from the tundra swans who visit in late fall and early winter at the refuge. They gather in the various ponds and their voices carry long distances. Though some stay, others know when it is time to move on.”


Wednesday, Jan. 6

Bill Kittredge, who grew up and ranched in southeastern Oregon’s Warner Valley, offers some deep insight into the myth of the West that is fueling much of the anti-government furor we’re seeing:

“…that old attitude from my childhood, the notion that my people live in a separate kingdom where they own it all, secure from the world, is still powerful and troublesome.”


The Ranch Dividians and their Republican supporters/apologists appear to be reading a constitution and listening to a god that don’t exist, except in a closed-off corner of their narrow minds:

Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Jan. 4, 2016. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

Excellent op-ed by someone who knows Harney County, Oregon, well:

Marty Peterson—Idaho Statesman photo

The Ranch Dividians may meet their match:

Tuesday, Jan. 5

While Idaho militia leaders appear wisely not to be supporting the Ranch Dividians at the Malheur [Misfortune/Bad Luck] Refuge, Idaho politicians may agree with the ends if not the means of the occupation:

Check out this excellent Washington Post column, which was published in the Idaho Statesman today:

Roy Heberger

January 4 at 9:12pm ·

I’ve read most of what coming my way via cyber space about the occupation of the Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Oregon. The main stream media obviously does not “get” goings on in the west, and seems to be unaware of certain aspects of American History.

For example, there is no such thing as a grazing right. Such a “right” simply does not exist. Ranchers may be authorized to graze livestock on public lands via a permit that comes with requirements and restrictions. Such a permit is a privilege to hold, not a right. It never was a right.

Another example is the effort underway to move federal lands — your lands and my lands — “back” to the states. The “back” part is myth. The states never had ownership of those lands, and most human inhabitants of western states do not support transfer of federal lands to the states.

The thing is the occupation of the refuge facilities has little — nothing, actually — to do with the ranching family that got crosswise with federal laws and has a history of same. The Hammonds are NOT what this illegal occupation of federally managed property is all about. I would hope the national media would start to dig a bit deeper to understand the thugs — the pawns — and dig still deeper to determine who the string pullers are.

To to understand more about the ranching family, who has distanced itself from the occupants of the refuge facility, here is a link from the U.S. Attorney of Oregon that I saw as a result of an e-mail message from a friend and past colleague, Carter Niemeyer:

Dean Gunderson: Calling the actions of these yee-hadists (forging a little cow-liphate in central Oregon) – “Occupy Malhuer” is a little offensive.
There’s very little connection between their actions and what the Occupy Movement did. Occupy was inherently non-violent, offering only passive resistance.
Monday, Jan. 4

Friend and former “Idaho Reports” host and colleague Marc Johnson opines on the Occupy Malheur foolishness in Oregon:

Saturday, Jan. 2 — 8:30 p.m. My first post regarding the Malheur occupation:

Is this the well regulated militia for which the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed?

A government official said they apparently brought support trailers with them.

Herding Cats


Today, our cats are scheduled for their annual visit with Dr. Garrett, at the Idaho Humane Society veterinary clinic. This has necessitated keeping all three of them in the house for about six hours to be sure we make the 1 p.m. appointment.

Archie [aka Archimedes] and Tesla would normally stick around the house all day, in the yard, on the deck or inside, but Edison usually shows up only at mealtimes, sometimes hanging out for a couple hours, then disappears who-knows-where? till the next meal, which he has been known to skip upon occasion..

Early this morning, I put “DON’T LET CATS OUT” post-it notes on each of our door to the outside as a reminder to those of us for whom the annual feline outing may not be upper-most in our thoughts. It’s been a seasonably cool morning in the 60°s F, so it didn’t take long for all three cats to realize that their freedom to roam was being severely restricted. So was mine.

After the first hour or so, the caterwauling became intense. Not only were they crying to get outside, they were getting grumpy with each other. Cats are not particularly sociable animals. Eddie and Tesla have been together since birth. Archimedes, while of the same litter, was separated from them for several years before returning to the fold where, after a few years he has become tolerated (most of the time) by the others.

In the past few hours, there’s been little indication of comradery. There was an attempt by Tesla and Edison to break through the screen in my office window; Edison almost attacked the hands that feed him as I closed the window to thwart the attack. Meanwhile, Archie was dislodging the window-fan in the basement and escaping through the resultant opening.

So, I’ve resorted to caging all three of them a full two hours before their scheduled appointment. Now the fighting and caterwauling have lessened and are directed at the cages


Recently, a Buddhist brother posted this poem:

A Purification
by Wendell Berry

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

The poem brought to mind a contest I came across during a trip through the Midwest a few years back.

BigRock plow-match

The Big Rock, Illinois, plowing match has been going on since the 1890s. The annual event invites an impressive collection of classic, working tractors and their owner-operators.

I love how scoring the plowing embodies principles of much broader application.

FarmallMassey-Harrisplow endMcCormick-Deeringplow straight


Each month the Carnegie Museum of the Arts Hillman Photography Initiative invites response to an interesting, sometime provocative image.

The image for March, 2015 is Sara Cwynar’s Girl from Contact Sheet 2 (Darkroom Manuals), 2013, accompanied by this question, “How has photography’s shift affected you? This month’s photo, Girl from Contact Sheet 2 (Darkroom Manuals), shows an uncertain history of manipulation or data loss. Look closely. Its digital blur suggests what happens when photography straddles two worlds. How has the dramatic shift from print to digital impacted you? What does this image say about the gains and losses of this transition? Respond to this picture and our questions with text, photos, videos, or audio files, and we’ll feature your response on our website.”

Girl from Contact Sheet 2 (Darkroom Manuals)

Sara Cwynar’s “Girl from Contact Sheet 2 (Darkroom Manuals),” 2013. Courtesy the artist and Foxy Production, NY

My immediate, almost visceral, non-verbal response was to post a copy of The Wave of the Future, a 1983 poster that struck me at the time as a brilliant depiction of the digital revolution about to sweep society.

The poster pictures Katsushika Hokusai’s 19th-century Great Wave off Kanagawa, its surf breaking into pixels that, in turn, transform into a digital map of an even larger wave. The image reads like a historical scroll; it was prescient.

Judy Kirpich, a creator of The Wave of the Future tells the story of how it came to be. Ironically, the startlingly perceptive vision of the future of digital imaging was actually produced entirely by hand. Digital image-mapping was prohibitively expensive in 1981; there was no Photoshop or Illustrator. A team of designers and illustrators spent days creating six separate overlays, hand-coloring each little square on acetates spread over the original lithograph and inking in each line of the digital wave.

The poster was published right around the time I acquired my first personal computer, a Kaypro “luggable” that had a nine-inch, green monochrome screen whose display relied entirely on keyboard (ASCII) characters. While a clever programmer could do some amazing things with such a palette, it would be almost a decade before I would have a computer with a truly graphical interface. However, I had gotten hints of the graphic potential of digital imaging a few years earlier.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Bell Labs was doing research into human perception, computer vision and graphics that underlies today’s high-definition computer and video graphics. In 1973, Leon Harmon, a leading researcher of mental/neural processing of what we see, published “The Recognition of Faces,” the cover story in the November issue of Scientific American.SA-Nov73cvr

In his research, Harmon overlaid a 16 x 16 grid of squares on the portrait of  Lincoln etched on the US five-dollar bill, the uniform color of each square averaging the color of all the points within it.$5Lincoln-oval-maskedAbe-Harmon

The result is an image that up-close resembles a black and white Piet Mondrian print, but from across the room looks like a blurry image of Honest Abe. It went as “viral” as an image could in those analog days.

Within a year, Salvador Dali incorporated not only Harmon’s photo-mosaic technique but the Lincoln image itself into a painting of his wife—Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at a distance of 20 meters is transformed into the portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko).


Lincoln in Dalivision


Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea, which at a distance of 20 meters is transformed into the portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko)

The painting was displayed at the Guggenheim in New York during the US Bicentennial in 1976. That same year, Dali published a slightly different version of the image as a lithograph edition of 1240: Lincoln in Dalivision. Within three years, both Harmon’s and Dali’s images had gone around the world.

These analog images illustrate a photo-mosaic presentation of visual information that would become fundamental to digital graphics—from arrangement of photon sensors and interpretation of their signals in our cameras to the pixels of color on HD TVs, computer screens and patterns of ink spots printed on photo paper.





To be continued…

Isaac Newton an Alchemist?!

Sir Isaac Newton at 46

Sir Isaac Newton at 46 in Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait.

Sir Isaac Newton, the fellow who invented calculus, quantified the force of gravity and showed how it makes the solar system work, was heavy into alchemy—or “chymistry,” as it was being rebranded in his day. The practice of alchemy was outlawed over concern that gold production in the wrong hands would devalue the royal holdings.

While camping on the north fork of the Big Wood River recently, I read Ancient Echoes by Joanne Pence, a local author my wife knows. The novel’s Idaho setting in wilderness not far from our camp caught my attention. The story centers on the search for an ancient alchemical text, and in passing mentions Newton’s study of alchemy. How the ancient text comes to be lost in Idaho’s Salmon River country is no more far-fetched, I guess, than angels burying in an upstate New York hillside gold plates bearing the secrets of eternal family life.

Pence’s story line compelled me through all 324 pages although 250 probably would have sufficed. It could make a great adventure film of the Harrison Ford ilk, with lots of special effects and Dan Brown-type mystical/sci-fi twists.

I have to thank Ms. Pence for introducing me to a side of Sir Isaac I had not considered. I wrote my honors thesis at Yale analyzing Newton’s Principia Mathematica & Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as epic works of theodicy, justifying the ways of God. The Principia is where Newton mathematically proves his theories of gravity, the motions of bodies and how the solar system works. I was aware of Newton’s as well as Milton’s prodigious biblical & theological knowledge. Newton wrote and studied more about Biblical scripture and Christian belief than about gravity, mathematics and his System of the World, much of the former, like his alchemical writing,  unpublished during his lifetime.

So, I went searching for information about Newton the Alchemist. The Internet did not disappoint. Apparently Sir Isaac researched and wrote about chymistry as deeply and voraciously as his religious studies:

Putrifaction, Congelation & Hunting the Green Lyon

Looking at some of Newton’s alchemical notes is fascinating, really yanks me back to what it was like to be out there on the edge of 17th-century knowledge, as both Milton and Newton were. The King’s College Library, Cambridge, has a lot of Newton’s chymistry papers that economist John Maynard Keynes had collected, hundreds of which were auctioned in 1936. Indiana Univ. has a Chymistry of Newton project, even a Unicode font based on Newton’s alchemical symbols.

Photo showing some symbols from the Newton Font

The Newton Font,








The Alchemist, Brueghel

Brueghel the Elder, Pieter, The Alchemist, c. 1558 [detail]

I have a new image of young Isaac at his workbench mixing what would later be known as chemicals, to see what would happen with the various combinations—as I recall experimenting with my own AC Gilbert chemistry set, mixing chemicals in my attic room, careful not to set the house on fire. It wasn’t too long after that when I discovered Newton’s formulation of the law of gravity and how you can use mathematics to understand the way the universe works.

I never quite figured out how to make gold—or the secret of eternal family life—but, then, neither did Sir Isaac.