January 2015


Well, it’s almost time for the Super Bowl.

No, I don’t mean the actual Super Bowl. The only time I’ve watched that was when Prince played the halftime show. Prince totally won that game.

I mean *my* Super Bowl–the election season. It sounds like Hillary is about to break the shocking news that she’s running for President any day now, and Romney has already indicated that he is going to serve his reheated Mittsie stew to a conservative base which wasn’t that crazy about it the first time around.

Politics is my hobby and my spectator sport. Yeah, I realize that the question of which party wins the 2016 election will likely not make a huge, earth-shaking difference in my life. The country is too divided for any drastic changes to happen, and both the Democratic and the Republican candidates are too beholden to their wealthy donors, so…. But I won’t lie–I like rooting for a team. I don’t care about muscles and the ability to throw a ball around, so teams of jocks fail to interest me. I’d much rather root for the nerd who does the most eloquent job of explaining economic policy. My games take place on C-Span.

So I’m getting ready. I’m checking out the horses which might be running in the race. I’m doing finger stretches for the hardcore blogging to come in the next couple of years. I’m preparing my finest witty jabs for my online conservative friends. Yep, this is our time, my fellow political junkies.

Oh, and since I’m in the Northwest…go Seahawks. I guess.

I’m a happy sucker for canned foods. I completely agree with the person–I think it was some generic Portland indie rocker–who said that opening a can of food is a little bit like opening a present. Some of my most contented moments in life happen while cracking open a can of herring in tomato sauce or baked beans. My love for canned food is also prompted by the fact that I will do just about anything to avoid cooking. I thank the gods on a regular basis for having been born in a time in which I don’t have to cook, or sew my own clothing, or churn my own butter… People tell me that gratitude is important, and so here’s something I’m grateful for–my laziness.

Another connoisseur who clearly appreciates the modern genius that is canned food–and its many uses–is the principal of W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama, Priscella Holley. She has sent a letter to the parents of her students requesting that the kids bring in cans of food so that they can be used as weapons. The way this will work is that there will be a stash of cans in the classroom, and if an intruder enters the school, the kids can throw the cans at him. The principal expressed the hope that this would distract the intruder or even knock him out.

Predictably, the biggest criticism of this idea has come from the people with a gun fetish, who wish everyone in the school would be armed. To each their own kinks, I suppose. I, for one, think there’s nothing more heartwarming than a photo of a middle school class surrounded by machine-gun-wielding teachers, Third World Somalia-style.

In any case, for the first time in my life I have a reason to visit Alabama–free canned veggies! But am I woman enough to accept the challenge? Would I be brave to enough to stroll into W.F. Burns on a surprise visit, knowing that there will be a herd of middle schoolers waiting to hurl cans at me? Should be easy enough to grab a few of the projectiles and retreat quickly, or so one would think. But middle school kids are frightening creatures. I know, I remember them. They might point their fingers and make fun of me, and send me screaming and crying for the door without being able to complete my mission. Hmmmm.

I wonder if the kids at W.F. Burns like herring?

I was in the back of the car, perched on a pile of bedding and blankets. My parents were sitting in front, glancing about anxiously. We were crossing the border.

We had left Poland a couple days before. Our visa to Holland was good for a vacation visit of a few weeks, but my parents–although I didn’t know it yet at the time–were planning to overstay it. They actively opposed the Communist government in Poland, and this was causing us more and more problems. So off we went, with a little bit of money in our pocket, our black cocker spaniel at my mother’s feet on the passenger side, and our green VW bug packed to the brim with our possessions. Funny thing is, at the time our Volkswagen seemed like a giant car compared to the little Fiats many Poles were driving.

And here we were, crossing from East Germany into the West, and it was scary. Our car was so overloaded that it crawled along, and we feared that it would overheat and die at the border crossing, which would have gotten us in serious trouble. It didn’t help that there were guard towers at the side of the road with armed soldiers inside of them. Our baggage was thoroughly searched, and then–with a huge sigh of relief–we were through.

Europe has come such a long way since then. I still remember how excited we were when Poland became a member nation of the European Union. Now it really felt like we would be a part of Europe, and hopefully wouldn’t go back to being one of Russia’s satellites. It was also a moment of pride for us when Donald Tusk, an ex-Prime Minister of Poland, was chosen to be President of the European Council.

The internal borders of Europe are now a different place. There is free movement between countries. The younger generation of Poland can live in Spain or Scotland if they so choose (and if they can find a job there). My uncle now lives and works in London. I would not want to go back to the severe restrictions of the past.

Yet the tragic events in Paris this week have sparked a conversation about precisely that. Some countries are discussing the possibility of changing the rules of the Schengen Treaty–which established freedom of movement in the European Union–and bringing back border checkpoints. I’ve also heard American journalists express surprise over the lack of border searches between, say, France and Belgium. I’m not sure those reporters understand how the concept of the EU is supposed to work. Europe is trying to be a united community–although this process has come with many problems–so what they are suggesting would be a bit like having checkpoints between American states. Sure, it might make things safer if we were searched when entering California from Oregon, but I suspect it would also change the way the people in different states view each other.

So will the terrorist attacks in France lead to a tightening of controls in Europe, much like the 9/11 attacks did in America? I would be sad to see this happen, especially if the European continent regressed to being a more divided place. Let’s hope we can find less drastic solutions to the terrorism question.

The world has fallen in love with Pope Francis, and I can’t say that I can blame it. He’s kind of a cool Pope. He doesn’t want the Church to focus too much on condemning abortion and gay marriage. He wants to talk about the poor and the oppressed. He believes in climate change. He sounds downright progressive.

But once in a while I hear something from him that reminds me why I have a problem with–not him, so much, but the Church that he represents. Such as when he says, in support of large families:

“Every family is a cell of society…but large families are richer and more vital cells.”

Are they? This is why I–and a lot of other people living in our times–feel such a disconnect with the traditional Catholic Church. When it comes to human lives, the Church still values quantity over quality. Does more automatically equal richer and more vital? What about a family which has fewer kids but puts more time and care into raising them? A family which gives them more–and I don’t mean strictly in the material sense, but also in the emotional and intellectual sense? I suspect the Pope sees large families as a bulwark against modern materialism and selfishness. And yet I’ve known childless people who lead very unselfish lives. On the other hand, I remember the abusive town drunk from my childhood days, with his miserable wife and his seven kids, most of them illiterate. That was a rich and vital cell of society? Give me a break.

For so many of us, the rules of “procreate!” and “more!” no longer satisfy. For the same reasons, we are less interested in following the rules of traditional marriage and more interested in the meaning of our relationship with our partner. The content matters more than the framework.

But hey, Francis is still quite the charming guy. And I love the way he confuses and irritates the laissez-faire capitalist Christian conservatives here in America. I will always give him brownie points for that.

For the past week or two, Facebook has been pressuring me to post my year in review photo slideshow, under the headline of “It’s been a great year!” Because it’s always a fantastic year on Facebook! Yay! I took a peek at my slideshow, and it looked like a year in the life of a fake person I don’t know. Which is my own fault, since when I’m on Facebook I’m a strict follower of the “polite small talk only” rule, and I don’t exactly show my true self there.

This is what the year in review would look like for a real human being, instead of one created by the Facebook-bots:

January: Working lots of hours of overtime. This is going to be a continuing theme for the rest of the year. My profile picture for the year in review should be a pic of the cubicle wall I’ll spend most of my time staring at.

February: Relationship falls apart. Insert adorable video of screaming couple.

March: Don Lemon spends the entire month playing with a model airplane.

April: Great vacation at the coast. Rented a room right above a brewery. Insert hangover pictures.

May: Fuck! Did I really just turn a year older? More hangover pictures.

June: The weather outside is finally getting nice! Another picture of the beautiful view of my cubicle wall.

July: Burned my fingers on fireworks, and the cops came looking for the illegal explosives. This was actually a great month!

August: Hot and bored. Nothing interesting ever happens in August.

September: This is the month when I always volunteer for the local arts festival, in a futile attempt to feel like I’m more than just an office cubicle monkey.

October: Another Halloween, still no idea for a costume. Insert selfie in bulky, unflattering sweater.

November: Election night. WTF, America?

December: It’s holiday time! Insert picture of people in a mall killing each other.

So yeah, it’s been a year. And it appears another one has started. Don’t know yet if it will be “great!”, but for now, I’m wishing all of us a 2015 marked by the absence of pain.