Sunday, May 20, 2007


“Blogs” as a phenomenon have been around almost long enough for someone to take a look at them as having a “history,” a progression as time goes on. I notice that some of my favorites have faded out and fizzled as the writer runs out of things to say or finds a new job or has some other major life change. A few are people housebound by their health who have maintained an active online life through the Internet, but then either recover or find the challenge of getting through the day crowding out everything else. Some who were blogging have “graduated” to actually writing books. Team blogs have suffered the defection of team members. Politically based blogs must rise and fall according to the hot topics of the day.

When I first started out, I got quite a bit of advice and encouragement from other bloggers. The very first were Montana folks, karbonkountymoos and bitterrootandbergamot. But then the circle began to be international (esp. English), which was strange because I’d intended to be “place-based.” I was blogging about Blackfeet quite a bit, which brought contacts with anthropologists (the Blackfeet don’t much blog about themselves) and philosophy of religion professors such as Chas Clifton. Then someone thought they saw a condor here, which connected me with Steve and Libby Bodio, Matt Mullenix and Reid Farmer -- a whole circle of bird and dog people who also had ties to Montana. Book bloggers tend to be English.

I think it was Steve who introduced me to 2blowhards, which was at that time a “team blog” --“In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.” There were more than two. Fenster, pleading an overwhelming workload, had already signed off. Friedrich only posted occasionally, but his entries are brilliant and absorbing. Francis Morrone, who blogs also on “The Classicist,” turned out to share with me a deep love for American monumental bronzes, the Beau Arts sort. As he wandered off, I followed him. Michael is the heart and motor of the 2blowhards, the most dependable poster, and a media guy who is married to an eroticist. (None of this is secret.) He is also a terrifically generous person who read my book (“Twelve Blackfeet Stories”) and gave it a good review. He loves controversy that stirs up comments.

Then there’s Donald. His demographic indicators (age, place of birth, etc.) are almost exactly the same as mine, but his opinions and interests could not be more different except for his taste for “New Classic” paintings, which are much like what we see in the Western Art world, except that in his case the subject matter is never cowboys or cows. He has sought out and presented people, both dead and alive, who are wonderful to know about and I have a little collection of those websites.

But Donald got married and appears to be in Kirkland, WA, where I was an interim minister for the Northlake UU Congregation in the mid-eighties. The couple are seeking a church home and he blogs as follows:

“The minister of a liberal church I wrote about not long ago [Lutheran] seems obsessive about poverty.

“In a sermon he criticized "hard-core capitalists" (his words) for believing that poverty was inevitable. Apparently he thinks it should (and, presumably, can) be abolished, and world-wide at that.

“This brings us to the matter of how poverty is defined. Hard-core capitalist -- well, make that capitalist tool -- that I am, I take poverty to be a relative condition as opposed to some kind of absolute....

“As for abolishing poverty, as that minister mentioned above desires, the only solution I can think of is the establishment of a "classless" society. That would neatly take care of poverty as a relative condition. All we need to do is sally forth and stir up the peasants and proletariat, then Bingo! the age of human perfection dawns -- right?

“(By the way: can the concept of poverty as an absolute be made operational? My formal training in economics is sketchy, so I'm curious if any readers can supply examples.)”

The general comment consensus was that poverty, beyond the minimum necessary for survival (which varies in place and time) is always relative (more or less than one had before or aspires to or feels one deserves). No one had a formal “expert” definition to offer, though a few mentioned Jesus, a proponent of the second definition in my Websters: “renunciation of the right to individual ownership of property.”

The most amazing comments were the ones viciously attacking poor people. Clearly, in the opinion of this group, anyone who is poor is simply a loser. “Once again: There is no poverty in America. Everyone knows this. Some people have less than others and this is almost always the result of choices, decisions.”

“To be frank, I see poor morons just about everyday. The drunks and drug users; the dopes who buy shiny new things with money they don't have; the grasshoppers who never gave a moment's thought to putting away for the winter; the borderline animals who produce offspring sired by a different primitive every year; and so on....”

“Liberal politicians need the poor more than anyone. Letting educated immigrants into our countries would irk the government workers, as any self sufficient, educated person will not be using, or asking for more government services,
” says “Miss Carnivorous,” whose blog is called “pigmeat” and who links to Alijezeera.

Tatyana, one of those “educated immigrants,” is famous for her vitriol on almost any subject. She says about my decision to retire early on the absolute minimum SSI, “I can't believe an educated person will be so shameless as to flaunt her being a leach into our faces, as if it's something to be proud of - or even worse, as if it's OUR fault.” Much of her blog (“Where The Grass is Greener”) is in Russian.

A dozen years ago when I got my Internet start by signing on to Native American listservs, the tone they took was very much like this: angry, blaming, and terrified. I think there is a lot of bottled up emotion in the whole country these days. Those who put their bets on Bush and the Vulcans are pretty distraught, esp. since their fall came through incompetence, cheating, sexual blunders, and all the other stuff that they purported to be against. Mostly these commenters are against LOSING.

Those who have been concentrating on just getting rid of those losing politicians are now faced with the problem of what comes next? (Where to go to church?) CAN we eliminate poverty? Can we even stop the war? Can we find a competent president? This all shows up in the blogs and other media: trouble and opportunity, two sides of the same coin. Anxiety levels go straight up.

I’ve turned out not to be so place-based as I’d thought I’d be, though poverty in this village and on the reservation are sharp and real issues. What I try to do every day is to write a thousand word essay. I do not run out of subjects. Sometimes a particular essay is a chapter in a book, which I can publish on

The bottom line reaction I have to Donald’s post is wondering what would have happened if he and his bride had visited the Kirkland UU congregation on a morning about this time of year when we had a “frog festival.” It was a small, creative, artistic, educated, funny bunch of people so I took a risk in simply asking people to bring their favorite “frog” thing to the service. Frog teeshirts, frog poems, stuffed frogs, frog art, and one boy brought a jar of real frogs he caught in his neighborhood pond. We sang “Froggie Went a’Courting” and so on. I had a little homily about amphibians in evolution and they gave me a frog windsock, since I was soon to move on.

Everyone who was there remembers it fondly, though my frog windsock finally rotted so much I had to give it up. But when I read that one-third of the world’s amphibians will be gone by the end of the decade and I grieve and worry about what that means, I’m a little bit comforted by the wit, inventiveness and good humor of that Northlake UU Congregation in Kirkland.

See, the thing about poor people is that -- like frogs -- they live so perilously that they die all the time. Call it evolution. But what kills them is often subtle and unpredictable. Likewise, that’s what might save them. And us.

(I had this blog so carefully marked up with links, but somehow they went wrong. Therefore, check the links to the side instead.)


DarkoV said...

You are too kind and a bigger, no make that a more humoungous soul than I am or ever could be. I read Donald's post and the snaking commentary afterwards and was switching from being appalled to simply disgusted.

Your commentary regarding Ms. Tatyana is quite generous. Where she's able to collect the amount of vitriol she dispenses in her commentary on 2 Blowhards is amazing. I didn't think there were mines with veins of venom running so deeply. Why is she so angry and why does she feel it's o.k. to take it out on the commenters? Where is the sense of blogging diplomacy?

Again, Mary, thanks you for a post of wholeness, of thought-out honesty, and of a point excellently made.

Mary said...

Darkov, I take Tat to be using a strategy common among little kids so desperate for attention that they will behave badly enough to get spanked, but I'm told this is also a culturally endorsed stance to take in Russia, esp. by women who feel betrayed and stranded, unfairly tested and defiantly surviving but forbidden to go home. In fact, I know a Blackfeet woman here whose rhetoric is very similar for similar reasons. Displaced, ignored, powerless, aging.

In response one cannot go to that level -- not for moral reasons but because it doesn't work. A powerful, confident person is not hurt by accusations from a suffering person and argument only drives them into more intensity and outrage. So one quietly withdraws. Forgiveness, as Jesus knew, trumps Hell.

Prairie Mary

DarkoV said...

I know of quite a few lawyers whose outlook on Life and its inhabitants could use a good dose of you. Ever thought of giving lectures in assorted Law Schools?

Mary said...

Thanks, but I can only maintain a benevolent attitude for ten minutes, which is long enough for an email but not for a lecture.

Prairie Mary