Fourteen Ways of Looking at the F* Word

A few notes at the start:

1) The topics today are fascism and Donald Trump. Feel free to stop reading now if you were expecting something different.

2) I have a rule about not saying unkind things about people in this blog. I make an exception for idiotic public figures spewing venom and scaring people.

3) I wrote this several days ago, but didn’t want to post it on the first Sunday of Advent. Wasn’t sure I would post it at all . . .

paris shoe protest4) Today I started doing some research on the Climate Talks in Paris for school and stumbled across a news report on Trump’s ridiculous stances on climate change. Within two minutes he called the President “dumb, naive, and incompetent”, said climate change was much less of a danger than the “large groups of people” whowant to destroy our cities and kill us all, or North Korea and Iran with their nukes. He cast doubt on whether climate change was real because “they” keep changing the name of it (global warming, extreme weather . . .) and if it is, it’s China’s fault for burning all our coal and nothing can be done because other countries don’t behave. What he wants is clean air and clean beautiful water.

I decided to post this after all.



I’ve been making fun of Trump on and off for a while now, but the truth of the matter is that I stopped laughing quite a while ago. He deeply, deeply disturbs me. His candidacy has changed from a reality show of dubious entertainment value into – as many journalists are now pointing out – something “dark”. Maybe it is my education combined with my life in Austria — living among a people that both gave birth to and were almost destroyed by such thinking, and having to deal with this country’s far-right party over the years (“Intolerable”, “Headscarf”) — that makes me ultra-sensitive to the subject of fascist ideology. I recognize something truly sinister in Trump and am appalled by his apparent current success. I had always thought that the American political system was inherently immune to such hysteria. A nation of immigrants cannot scapegoat immigrants! A nation founded on the principle of religious freedom cannot discriminate and cordon off one particular religion! The people in the richest nation on Earth cannot possibly be convinced that they are the sorry victims of desperate refugees!

And yet, here we are. Allowing a fascist blowhard to steer the national political debate.

I was incredibly happy to see news reports lately using the “F* word” in connection with Trump. At the same time, I wondered at the hesitancy to use the actual word. It is fascism. Call it by its name!

Maybe the problem is that people have different interpretations of the term. The usual thinking goes something like this: calling someone a fascist is the same as comparing him to Hitler. That, in turn, will engender a reaction. It’s too extreme! Unfair! Hysterical! Registering Muslims can’t be equated with exterminating Jews!

The thing is . . . it can. Both hark back to the first and foremost promise of the fascist: the scapegoat, excuse me, I mean the awful people who are responsible for all your fears and troubles will be found and dealt with. Hitler managed to reach a position that allowed him to “make good” on his promises. Trump hasn’t reached that position. Nor will he, in all probability. But he will certainly do a whole lot of damage to the country in his attempt to get there.

Fascism is a not an established set of certain political beliefs or policies. It’s a (potential) mindset (lying dormant) in every human being that can be activated when the conditions and catalysts all line up in a certain way. Any politician aiming to exploit this “potential” need only reach a certain critical mass of people before they become afraid of one another and the movement becomes self-propelling. The Salem Witch Trials on a grand scale.

It was Umberto Eco who helped me understand all of this.

Over 25 years of teaching university students about social issues, I periodically had groups who were interested in politics and chose the topic of fascism for the course. (These periods usually overlapped with times that our “Freedom Party” here enjoyed peak popularity.) That, in turn, forced me to do research and I eventually stumbled across Eco’s “Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt”. It opened my eyes. I figured if Eco could make fascism comprehensible to a white, middle-class, suburban American, he could do the same for my students. I took his wonderful text and simplified it down to a length and language level my students could handle. What ensued were some of the most memorable and meaningful class discussions I ever had the fortune to listen to.

In this blog post, I will only give a ridiculously simplified version of Eco’s words, followed by my own thoughts and the examples that occur to me offhand. To read the original – and I highly recommend it — click here:

So here it is – 14 ways of looking at the F* word:


1. The Cult of Tradition

There is a Truth, with a capital “T” that was spelled out from the beginning and we have strayed from it. That means there is no advancement through learning. No better future state. Our goal is to go back to some (glorious) earlier state – to. . .

“Make America Great Again”.


2. Rejection of Modernism

The Age of Reason is overrated. Questioning things is a waste of time. What we need are simple answers to complex issues. This is the way things are. Period.

How many times have you heard Trump say “It’s so simple!” Here’s a direct quote from his website (notice the omission of “well regulated”):

“The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.”


3. Action for Action’s Sake

Action is beautiful in itself, and it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Liberal intellectuals with their critical attitudes betray traditional values and can’t be trusted. (Not to mention the fact that they are a bunch of wimps.)

Everything Trump promises to do, he also promises to do “fast”. The Wall between the US and Mexico will be built fast. The Veteran’s Administration will be fixed “ – and fast.” About the “bad illegals” he says:

“Day one. If I win, day one of my presidency, they’re getting out. We’re getting them out. We’re getting them out fast.”


4. Disagreement is Treason

This one is self-explanatory. Notice the way Trump viciously goes after anyone who criticizes him, calling them “stupid” and “awful” and “disgusting” etc. I defy anyone to come up with an example of him saying “I respectfully disagree”.

To defend the way his “fans” beat up a Black Lives Matter protester, Trump pointed out Bernie Sanders’s “disgusting” weakness when confronted by the same group, adding “maybe they should be roughed up a little”.


5. Fear of Difference

Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist movement is an appeal against intruders.

How did Trump kick off his campaign? By bashing the Mexicans and promising to build a wall (and build it fast). Now he wants a “Deportation Force” to get rid of the “illegals” who are already here. All 11 million of them. And now with the refugee crisis, Trump can point to them as proof that we are being “invaded” at this very moment.


6. Appeal to the Frustrated Middle Class

Fascism rises up from individual or social frustration. One of the most typical features of the historical fascism is a middle class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.

Despite years of continual job creation and sinking unemployment rates, the Republicans keep telling us how horrible everything is and that it is getting worse. Apparently a lot of people believe this, which is a phenomenon I have trouble understanding. Trump is no different – he just adds that it is the fault of our “stupid negotiators” and China and the immigrants who are “taking our jobs”. When it comes to the solution, it is always the same: cutting taxes.

Again from his website, his “tax reform” position:

“Too few Americans are working, too many jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many middle class families cannot make ends meet.”


7. Nationalism / Obsession with a Plot

When people feel deprived of a clear social identity, Fascism tells them that their only privilege is to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. The only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies, so at the root of fascist psychology is an obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged and their xenophobia (= fear of foreigners) is encouraged.

In Trump’s world, the Mexicans are “sending us” their criminals and the Chinese are stealing our jobs and the refugees are really an invasion and the Muslims are dancing in the streets as the towers come down . . . It seems everyone is out to get us . . .


8. Humiliation by the Force / Wealth of Enemies

Fascism teaches followers to think of themselves as somehow inferior, poorer, more helpless than their enemies. At the same time, they must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. By the continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.

Trumps harps continually about his strength and the “weakness” of his adversaries. It seems America has been humiliated and he will make it strong again.

“Our weak President, that kisses everybody’s ass, is in more wars than I have ever seen. Now he’s in Libya, he’s in Afghanistan, he’s in Iraq. Nobody respects us.”

“When people are screwing you, you don’t give them state dinners . . . we have weak, pathetic leadership.”

The scariest thing, though, is how he mixes up his own enemies in the campaign with America’s enemies. They are all in one and the same pot, we are all at war with one another . . .


9. Life is Permanent Warfare

In the fascist world view, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. Despite the view of life as permanent warfare, enemies must be defeated. There must be some “final solution”.

“Yes, we’re gonna have a force. A deportation force.”

“I’m putting the people here on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”


10. Contempt for the Weak

Elitism in a fascist regime is militaristic and popular. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. The weak need and deserve a ruler.

Trump doesn’t mince words when proclaiming his own superiority. He is so rich and so smart. He is a winner and everyone else (who is not with him) is a “loser” . . .

“How stupid are the people of Iowa?”


11. Everyone is Educated to Become a Hero

In mythology the hero is exceptional, but in Fascism, heroism is the norm.

Trump is noticeably devoid of policy positions – there are only 5 on his website – and his promises on what he is going to do are ludicrously vague:

“We are going to be great on the military stuff.” – “We’re gonna look into a lot of things.”

His plan is not to govern America, but to save it.


12. Machismo

Machismo means both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.

Do I need to even go into this one?


13. Selective Populism

The fascist Leader pretends to be the interpreter or the Voice of the People – identifying what the common will is. This leader is often against “rotten” parliamentary governments, accusing them of no longer representing the Voice of the People.

Trump is clearly impressed by his own poll numbers. He mentions them constantly and then makes the claim that they prove his message is what the people want to hear. He belittles all the Washington insiders and claims to be the only candidate who is there for the people.


14. Fascism Speaks Newspeak

Newspeak was invented by George Orwell in 1984, as the language of his fictional future England. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of a limited vocabulary, and a simple sentence structure, in order to limit the tools for complex and critical reasoning.

Similarly, Trump’s language has no subtlety or nuance – it’s all just simplistic phrases peppered with childish insults. The writing on his website is at a level any grade school child could understand.

I think it is clear that if democracy is going to work, the people have to have enough intelligence and discernment to make wise choices. So what’s with all the dumbness?


There you have it – Umberto’s and my case for using the F* word when talking about Trump. For the sake of the country, I would so love to see him brought down. When it comes to the Republican Party, though, I have zero sympathy for the predicament they are in – their years of obstructionism and incessant ranting about the terrible the state of the country with its useless government have prepared the soil for Trump to grow in. Now one chunk of their voters has run off to join the circus and another to join a cult.

trump cult

Do I think Trump can win? Of course not. With only 50% of Americans voting and about half of them voting Republican, Trump’s current 30% translates into less than 10% of the total voting age population. I am more worried about the damage he is doing day in and day out on his quest. The fear he must instill in all the people he considers “losers” (and there are a lot of them!) The needlessly continued suffering of downtrodden people – whom the normally generous Americans would be happy to help – but Trump has made them suspicious. His penchant for feeding conspiracy theories and the paranoia that accompanies them. And last but not least, that Trump thrives along with the ideas that “Simple is good and simpletons are better.”

He –and everything he stands for – enrages me and I feel compelled to shout.

Umberto Eco reminds us that it is “our duty is to uncover [fascism] and to point our finger at any of its new instances – every day, in every part of the world.” He then ends by quoting Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938 and I will do the same:

“If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.”

Ready for Advent

My Christmas spirit recuperated enough from the Secret Santa Trauma for me to tackle this year’s Advent wreath.





Tomorrow evening the whole family will gather. We will make some fragrant winter tea, eat some cookies, listen to Christmas music and light the first candle. There might be a story read out loud. My younger daughter will play something on the piano and the elder will sing something. This will be repeated on each of the following three Sundays with the only difference being the number of candles lit. It’s one Austrian tradition that I love and have fully assimilated. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it.

Swirling Secret Santa Scandals – (MYoM – Part 19)

secret santaAaahhh, Christmas time. It’s a hoot. Especially when you work with young kids.

Every year we do the Secret Santa thing in our school despite the fact that it spins all the kids into a tizzy. This year the negotiations began in early November when two speakers for the 7th and 8th graders approached a few teachers with their requests to start earlier and change the established rules. They wanted to raise the price limits for presents and allow more frequent giving. They argued that our “once a week and maximum of 1 Euro” rule was too rigid. They quoted the prices of various candy bars and bags of gummi bears. Furthermore, they argued, the 10 Euro limit for the final present was too low and that was why so many kids were faced with the dilemma of either breaking the rule or disappointing their gift recipient.

We agreed to discuss their demands at the next team meeting. The speakers went back to their class happily, rumors of possible changes started spreading like wildfire through the school, and dozens of discussions, all including the word “Unfair!”, could be heard everywhere. We teachers realized with a sigh that we would have to re-discuss the whole system repeatedly – first among ourselves and then with various groupings of kids. Hours of our lives would be spent on a subject that has been clarified 100 times before. Meanwhile the younger kids were having pre-emptive arguments about not keeping the secrets of others (“Unfair!”) and suggesting possible punishments for spying and bean spilling. Others were complaining in advance about potentially drawing the name of a kid they don’t like out of the hat (“Unfair!”), while others worried about drawing the name of their own sibling. Various ideas about trading names were discussed, all of which turned out to be “Unfair!” And then there was the problem of kids who didn’t write any suggestions on the “Wish List” hanging in the hallway (“Unfair!”) because it made it harder to choose the right gifts. There should be a new rule that everyone has to write something on the list.

In the team meeting, we didn’t seriously consider the proposals and complaints; we simply came up with a strategy for getting the kids to come to the same conclusions and guidelines as always. This began with Mark asking them to work out how much money the parents with two, three, or four kids in the school would have to spend all tolled. Ann talked with them about the Christmas spirit and asked them if introducing punishments for wayward Secret Santas was really a good idea. Another team member I haven’t mentioned yet – I’ll call him David – was tasked with suggesting a few compromises, including allowing gift giving in the final week rather than starting a week earlier. My job was to bring up the difference between telling your own secret and someone else’s secret (“Unfair!”) We managed to get everyone on the same page – or so we thought – and prepared for the drawing.

With 28 kids and four teachers all assembled and sitting in a circle, I stood up with the bag of names and was just about to let the first kid pull out a slip of paper. That’s when little Moritz announced that he had one more thing to say. Apparently he was still upset about the betrayal of a classmate last year. He had passed his gift to his chosen messenger who then delivered it to the recipient. There was a witness and, unfortunately, that witness had blabbed. (“Unfair!”) Moritz vowed to get revenge this year. It took a while to talk him down.

Eventually the 32 slips of paper found their way into someone’s hands. Some of them elicited audible exclamations of delight or disappointment, but luckily no exclamations of “Unfair!” We all went back to work and the promises “not to tell anyone” began. Entries were made on the wish list . . .

But not by everyone.

The name I drew, for instance, has a big empty space next to it. I bought some jelly beans to sneak into this kid’s desk next Monday, but they cost more than 1 Euro, so I opened the package, ate a bunch of them myself and put the rest in a little box. I have no idea if he even likes jelly beans, but if not, it’s his own fault. What I should really do is give him some broccoli. That will get him to write something on the damn list. And then I have to find someone to be my go-between and make him/her promise not to tell anyone, or else. That means choosing not the most trustworthy kid, but the one I can threaten (or bribe?) most effectively. Difficult, seeing as how we don’t give grades in our school. I think I’ll have to choose someone in my drama group. I can hint heavily that if my secret gets out, she might just find herself with fewer lines to say in the Christmas pageant sketch . . .

Someone Please Conduct This Poll

Anyone who follows American elections and is NOT shaking their heads right now or cringing a lot should probably be put on some kind of database, or maybe deported.

My political junkiness began at the ripe old age of 10 when my Fifth Grade teacher announced that we would be debating the Nixon-McGovern race in class. It turned out I was one of only two students who was for McGovern. The other one, let’s call him Ricky, was a new kid. He did some strange stuff like, not concealing his deep love for our wonderful teacher, Miss Dess. He fawned over her all the time. And one day, when the abacus she was showing us broke, spilling the beads all over the classroom floor, Ricky literally dove headfirst from his seat onto the floor to pick up as many as he could for her. At that point, I wasn’t yet sure what the word “cool” meant, but I DID know Ricky wasn’t it. (A small aside: Seven years later, he would become our Senior Class President.)

So, Ricky and I had to work in a team and prepare for the debate. It quickly became clear to me that his only argument was “My parents are voting for him.”

mcgovern buttonI got worried and told my mom about the assignment when I got home. She took me straight to the McGovern Campaign Headquarters and we got loads of swag and pamphlets for me to pore over. I liked the sound of his promise to end the war in Vietnam and there was also something about a guaranteed income that I didn’t really understand. I memorized some numbers – the millions of dollars spent every day (or was it hour?) on the war, the number of dead Americans . . . I came to school ready to do battle. I asked Ricky what he had found out in the meantime. He said, “About what?”

Miss Dess started the debate by choosing one speaker for each side. She chose Ricky. He got creamed.

I think that moment was even more disappointing to me than the election night itself. I somehow felt that if Ricky had brought up the war and the costs and the dying soldiers in our debate, Nixon wouldn’t have won 49 out of 50 states (only to resign in disgrace two years later – Thank you, Watergate.)

I have followed every election since, rejoicing over Carter, Clinton, and Obama while blaming Ricky for Reagan and the Bushes. I have never shaken the feeling that if people would take just a little time to inform themselves better, elections would turn out very differently.

And then there is this election cycle.

Is it me? Or has it been one the most embarrassing displays of dumbness and outrageous “pandering to the base” ever inflicted on the voters? Badges for Muslims? (There goes freedom of religion.) Candidates choosing their own debate moderators and questions? (There goes freedom of the press and the 1st Amendment.) A Deportation Force? (There goes domestic tranquility and the 4th Amendment .) Keeping Guantanamo open? (There go the 5th, 6th, and 7th.) Water boarding? (There goes the 8th.) And what about the 2nd Amendment? Well, we’ll keep that one, except for that annoying “well regulated” part.

I don’t believe Americans are generally dumb and I know that it is still early in the election and people are busy. I think pigs will fly before either Trump or Carson gets elected. So . . . but . . . where are all these poll numbers coming from?

Today there were two particularly strange ones out of New Hampshire. One had Trump way out in front as usual – at 32% – a full 19 points higher than the guy in second place. The second poll added Mitt Romney into the mix and suddenly a very different picture emerged:


I suddenly wondered if the people taking this poll were even aware that Romney is not running. Is this all just name recognition at this point? How much do these people know at all about the current candidates and their positions?

I am starting to believe that any poll which does not first test the respondents’ general knowledge level isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. The first questions should ask people to simply identify the candidates’ among a set of 30 or so names. When asked who they support, follow-up questions asking “Why” or “Why not?” should be included. After stating who they support, the follow-up question “Really? All the way into the voting booth?” should be included. A control question in this section should be “Have you ever voted differently than you had said you would to a pollster?”

A second section of the poll should ask the respondents which policies they support – but without naming the actual candidates who espouse them. For instance, on the topic of terrorism:


Tick the box next to the policy you prefer:

o “Our international coalition of 26 countries fighting ISIL should be maintained and expanded. We should create a no-fly zone and improve human intelligence capabilities . . .”


o “We’re going to look into a lot of things. We’re gonna be so great in the military stuff.”


If some pollster did all this, we could get poll results that reflected both the candidates and the electorate. Picture it: a news show announcing the latest poll results with statements like this:

“32% of the respondents favored Trump, but three-fourths of them also believed that Bernie Sanders sells fried chicken.”

“8% of the respondents favored Bush, with most stating their reason as being “He did such a good job last time.”

“The majority of Cruz supporters (9%) listed the movie ‘Top Gun’ as one of the factors affecting their decision.”

“Interestingly, George Pataki was the favorite among 2% of the respondents, whereby only 1% could identify him as one of the candidates.”

“When asked to explain their lack of support for Lindsey Graham, the majority of respondents answered “I don’t think America is ready for a female president.”

“The most frequent complaint among Chris Christie detractors was “I am not sure if he is a Christian.”

Dropping the Ball

It’s Ball Season here in Austria – a fact that is mostly irrelevant to my life with one major exception. Once a year I am obligated to de-mothball the evening gown and brace myself for five hours of being jostled around while petty small talk is yelled at me over the bustle and din. I have to smile and nod my head and say “yes, yes” to 100 comments I didn’t hear well enough to understand. One by one, I have to shake hands and bussi bussi with every teacher+partner in the school and then try to come up with something cleverer to say than “Hi. How are you?” I have to share in my husband’s jitters as he addresses a crowd of 2000 people. I have to waltz in front of cameras and chat with small town mayors. It is the Graduation Ball of my husband’s school and, as the wife of the Principal, there is no getting out of it unless I can manage to work up a fever that can be verified with a thermometer.

Way back in the days when my husband was deciding whether to take the position or not, he made the classic side-by-side lists of arguments – for and against. On the contra side, I added “unsuitable wife”. I meant it seriously. Last night at the ball, I proved my point – as I do every year.

I thought the theme chosen for the ball – “Per Aspera Ad Astra” or “the rocky road to the stars” – was particularly fitting this year. My rocky road started with me addressing all the local dignitaries with the informal “du” instead of the respectfully distant “Sie”. I confused their names and positions despite the drilling I went through beforehand. I said “It’s nice to meet you” to people I had met five times already. And when a local politician told a sexist joke – (“What is the difference between women and mineral water? Mineral water comes in a ‘still’ variety.”) – my response was “You just lost my vote.”

But it was not a total train wreck. My hair looked pretty nice. And I got through it this year without tearing my dress or spilling my Coke on anyone. I only yawned twice. And at some point in the evening, I realized that I now have only 10 more of these evenings to get through. Then I can pass the title of “Frau Direktor” on to the next lucky recipient and retire into happy uninterrupted obscurity.

Guess What I Did Today

Every so often I get in a little funk that lasts for a week or two. I feel a general sense of malaise and some mild discontent about the way I am living my life. I’ve discovered that these phases all run the same course and invariably resolve themselves in the same way.

First, in an attempt to make myself feel better, I start contemplating all the things I want to change. I make little mental (sometimes written) lists with #1 inevitably being about quitting smoking for good (as opposed to this on again off again thing I have been doing for years).

I also vow to get more physical exercise – like riding my bike more or maybe doing a half hour ballet routine every day.

I consider what limit to set for the number of hours spent alone with my laptop (which is sort of hard seeing as how my laptop has taken over the roles once played by my TV, radio, DVD player, stereo and telephone, my teaching material files, typewriter and office, my airmail stationary, calendar, address and telephone books, my photo albums, my memory . . . and probably more). With me blogging now, too, the situation has gotten even worse – my laptop has become my own personal publishing house.

Anyway, back to the lists. They usually include some New Year’s Resolution-like points:

eating more vegetables,
getting better about watering plants,
doing the ironing more often,
finally learning to cook,
practicing piano more,
being better about calling friends,
wearing brighter colors,
being kinder to animals, children, and old people . . .

At some point the plan is complete and ready to be implemented. I decide to start my new lifestyle “tomorrow”. Then I do something that makes the entire list-making exercise irrelevant.

I get my hair cut.

It almost always does the trick.


I was 10 minutes late picking my elder daughter up from the train station today. I actually left home with plenty of time to spare and so decided to stop off at the . . . let’s say “news stand” on the way. Unfortunately, when I got there, a man was ahead of me who proceeded to buy $1500 worth of lottery tickets. Fifteen hundred. One thousand and five hundred. Dollars.

It took him a while.

I’m not sure exactly how the math works, but with one ticket, the chances of winning are something like 1 in 14 million. Somehow, I don’t think having 1000 tickets strikes 3 zeros off the end of those odds. But I could be wrong.

Somehow, I don’t think that, on the off chance this guy actually wins, his life will suddenly become gloriously happy. But I could be wrong.

Somehow, I don’t think that the week-long fantasy he was purchasing will make up for the disappointment he will feel come Sunday evening when the winning numbers are announced. But I could be wrong.

I sensed that he felt a bit self-conscious about what he was doing – especially with two other customers waiting in line behind him. He might as well have been whispering to a pharmacist that he needed some Viagra. Or Methadone. Or Nicotine Gum.

A good friend of mine has played the same numbers in the lottery every week for years. He says he can’t stop now because, what if . . . .? He’s sure that the minute he stops, sure enough, the very next week those numbers might come and . . . what then? So he buys his regular lottery ticket with a sigh. He says, “There! Now I have paid my Idiot Taxes.”

You see, like in many (or most? all?) places, the lottery is government run. And it turns out to be a terrific source of income for the State. Put that number together with all the tax income from tobacco products and alcohol and one can be forgiven for suspecting that the addictions of the population help to keep the government solvent. What a creepy idea.

I have had my own battle with addiction in life (smoking), but thankfully, gambling has never had any real appeal for me. Maybe it’s because I just don’t fantasize about striking it rich or winning the lottery. Or because, whatever problems I might have, money is not going to solve them.

Or maybe it’s because I have already won the lottery. Twice.

My first win was pretty pissed off about having to wait for 10 minutes at the train station.

Choose Your Battles

Over the years, I have become slightly frightened of little old ladies – especially in store settings. When they are behind me in the checkout line, I find a way to stand that protects my Achilles’ tendons from being bashed by their shopping carts. If I find myself choosing produce near one of them, it invariably ends with me stepping aside and saying “Please. After you.” And, you know how they say you should never get between a hippopotamus and its water source? I think the same applies to little old ladies and their favorite clerk in the pharmacy.

Today I drove to the little village grocer and parked my car in the middle spot (out of seven total) in front of the store – so there were three empty spots on either side of me. When I was done shopping, they were still empty. Just as I was ready to back out of my spot, a car pulled up and stopped behind me – like this:


The little old lady in the car was looking around her and seemed sort of confused. I gave my horn a tiny friendly little toot so that she would notice me. Which she did. Then she got out of her car and started walking toward the store entrance. She looked at me as she trudged past. Our eyes met. I saw the grumpy and disdainful look on her face. In an already scary subset of our species, she struck me as a particularly nasty specimen.  I realized I would have to get out and ask her to move her car. I tried to formulate the sentence in my head, to anticipate her response. She was just about to enter the store . . .

In the end, this is how I got out of the parking space:


Miss Congeniality

I avoided the news all day. I didn’t want to see all those images which would sear themselves into my brain and haunt me for weeks and weeks to come. Every few hours, I would just ask my husband, “Anything new?” and he filled me in. At one point, though, I was forced to deal with the events in Paris more intensively, because my younger daughter asked me to tell her what happened and why. I did my best to explain without engendering any prejudices in her against Muslims or immigrants or refugees or or or . . . I was truthful about there being many lost and desperate people in the world who are susceptible to brainwashing in extreme – even radical – ideologies, but then comforted her by saying there were extremely few who would then actually go out and commit senseless violence against innocent bystanders. All the while, I kept it a secret from her how sick I feel the world is becoming. I didn’t mention how I sometimes wondered if we aren’t heading toward World War III. I didn’t admit to her that I feel we are living through the worst times I’ve experienced so far in my lifetime.

And then, for no apparent reason, I started thinking about beauty pageants. About empty headed contestants in evening gowns, breathlessly declaring that their greatest wish is for “world peace”. What a joke, we all said. How many times have I or others made fun of such a scene?

The thing is, if you were to ask me at this minute what I want most in the world, I would answer “peace”.

This photograph made available on Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, shows a piece of artwork created by Jean Jullien. Social media was awash Saturday with images of public buildings lit up in the French colors of red, white as people globally expressed their solidarity with the French facing the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris. One of the most shared images was of a piece symbol by Jean Jullien, a French graphic designer living in London. Jullien said he came to the image using simple association of Paris with peace. (Jean Jullien via AP)
This photograph made available on Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, shows a piece of artwork created by Jean Jullien. Social media was awash Saturday with images of public buildings lit up in the French colors of red, white as people globally expressed their solidarity with the French facing the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris. One of the most shared images was of a piece symbol by Jean Jullien, a French graphic designer living in London. Jullien said he came to the image using simple association of Paris with peace. (Jean Jullien via AP)

Deportation Farce

Strange. The last Republican debate took place in my hometown, but, somehow, not on my planet.

There seemed to be only one or two candidates on that stage who understood just how dimwitted an idea this “deportation force” was.

I’ve been trying to do the math in my head ever since:

11 million undocumented people will probably all have some family members and friends among the citizenry. I’ve heard half of them have been in the country for more than 10 years. If each one of them knew only 9 people, then 110 million people would be directly affected by this massive humane roundup, or more than one third of the country’s total population.

On the other side, how big would this humane deportation force have to be? To get the job done within one year – there would have to be over 30,000 deportations per day. Picture the 10’s of thousands of (I suppose armed) soldiers fanning out all over the country, knocking on doors and humanely escorting meekly compliant people to . . . wherever. Then I suppose there would have to be fleets of buses, ships and planes ready – along with their crews – to humanely deliver these people back to a hundred different native countries. That all adds up to at least two or three deporters for every deportee, so this force would have to be 100,000 strong. Where will we find so many humanitarians?

Donald Trump says it would be simple – all just a matter of good management practices.

Sounds more to me like a recipe for civil war.