Thursday 10 March 2022

NATO did not 'annex' Poland

It's been a difficult couple of weeks in the online journalism biz as various forces strive to "control the narrative" on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I don't currently have any friends or colleagues in Ukraine, but I certainly have many in Poland, and of course I also know Poles whose families were forced to flee/leave what is now Ukrainian territory during or after the Second World War. This means that I have heard many different opinions by Poles about Ukraine, Ukrainians, and the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Some are shelving painful family histories and political opinions to do what they can to help their fellow man.

I have also heard testimony by Polish-speakers about the current Russia invasion because I volunteered to transcript interviews done by colleagues who went to the Polish-Ukrainian border. This was hard, challenging work, but the kind of rewarding work you sacrifice one of your paid vacation days to do, so you can't be told to do something else. It was also humbling work, for I had to ask for help. 

Yesterday--which I took off as a vacation day---I prioritised a Polish bishop's slow, measured, sensible talk about the Polish Church's response to the war, which (despite his office) was a mistake, for the real story was the harrowing flight of a Polish priest who went careening off to the border with three parishioners in his car. He spoke very, very quickly, and at great length, and was probably still in shock. He thinks if Putin isn't stopped, he will annex Poland and the rest of Europe.

One reason I was so committed to doing those transcripts--a heart-breaking amount of time, and a 5 AM waking with a sore arm, for a few precious minutes of video--was the most recent letter signed by Archbishop Vigano. I do not know if Vigano wrote his letter himself; I doubt it. I doubt any Italian Catholic bishop would talk about Moscow as "the third Rome." People complain about Pope Francis' stance towards Catholics in China; well, religious freedom for Catholics in Russia is not fantabulous, thanks to the cozy relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

Other people have taken other phrases of Vigano's Ukraine letter to gawk at--the phrase about Ukrainians in kippahs was certainly very embarrassing--but what blew the top off my head was the suggestion that Poland and other European countries were "annexed" by NATO, as if they did not love becoming part of NATO. Poland considers itself a thoroughly western country: just try referring to it as "Eastern Europe" to a Pole. 

As for American conservative distaste for Zelensky, Ronald Reagan was also from the entertainment world, and American conservatives all seem to have shrines to him in their hearts. I don't really have an opinion of Zelensky, as I haven't had enough time to amass enough information. It's too bad he said Justin Trudeau was one of his inspirations for getting into politics, for it sounds as if he thought, "Wow, I'm also famous, good-looking, and in theatre! Why not go for it?" And Justin Trudeau is---for I do have an opinion on this one--probably the worst Canadian prime minister in history. 

However, as an irate Pole told me yesterday, now is not the time to be rubbishing Zelensky, not with bombs raining down on Ukraine, and over a million Ukrainian refugees flowing across the borders to Moldavia, Romania, Hungary, and Poland. The irate Pole was literally handing out sandwiches to refugees yesterday and watching them queue up outside soup kitchens. 

A Toronto acquaintance --a devout traditional Catholic in Toronto--has posted "Not My War" on Facebook, and I was shocked until I realised that this is not coldness to Ukrainians as much as it is a rejection of mainstream media and the news cycle that has suddenly dropped COVID. However, it might also be the result of a narrative--not unknown to alt media--that Zelensky is a New World Order/World Economic Forum/You'll-own-nothing-and-be-happy stooge. My response is that it would be unkind of Americans to turn up their nose at the egregious Emmanuel Macron if Canada started bombing the hell out of Saint Pierre-Miquelon. (It's off the coast of Newfoundland, and who knows how many "bio labs" Fauci may have placed on it?)

Anyway, that's enough from me because my arm is really hurting.

Friday 4 March 2022

You Can Change

A bright and beautiful young person asked me the other day, in so many words, if leaders are born or made. 

My response was a hearty vote for the latter choice, as for some years I have been reading about the amazing plasticity of the brain, the strength of habit-building, and the wonder of incremental changes. There are so many great how-to books and videos now, they almost make up for the dumb "Dream, Dare, Do" motto of my childhood. "Dream, Dare, Do" was dumb because it lacked the all-essential HOW. I was too shy as a child to ask "HOW" very often. Perhaps we can change this motto to "Dream, Dare, Demand How, Do."

People don't believe me when I mention how shy I was as a child, so afraid of people, dogs, deep water, and speaking to strangers on the telephone. It's true, though, and it was absolutely crippling. 

Life as a shy child was torture. Selling daffodils and cookies for Girl Guides was torture. Calling up voters for the Liberal Party (long story) was also torture--and one voter I called was an elderly lady who was waiting for the ambulance for her stricken husband. Yikes. 

Playing ice hockey was another horrible torture, for nobody ever actually explained to me the rules. I was offside so many times, I could weep just thinking about it. It would have been great if someone had explained the HOW of not being offside before I picked up a hockey stick. 

Weirdly, I liked the idea of playing hockey even more than I hated playing hockey, and so I stuck to it for a few years. And I was a terrible player because I believed in Talent*, knew I didn't have any, and didn't know that I could become a good player if only I asked HOW and then did as advised. What a waste of my parents' money. Oh dear. 

Of course, I still have some beliefs that need serious examination. After assuring the young person. that most people (or everyone) can learn to be a leader, I went on a tangent about whether or not women can be leaders of men. 

My thinking was that only a few women can be leaders of men (e.g. St. Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Zenobia), especially in traditionalist communities, unless you are related to them in some way. Clearly mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, sweethearts, teachers and even aunts can have a strong influence on traditional men. But Susan from the Parish Council can forget it. 

However, I think now that I have been too cynical about this--or not cynical enough--and I think that women can indeed learn to be leaders of men. It's just a question of "which men" and of "HOW." 

What made Thatcher, Thatcher? (This is not a popular question in Scotland.) What made Joan, Joan? Well, Joan was called La Pucelle, which means The Maid, which indicates why she had great religious power over deeply Catholic Frenchmen. And Thatcher, who carried a handbag and was called The Iron Lady, was ... Well, the word "Mummy" comes to mind--although not for the Scots. 

What a dangerous conversation. 

At any rate, Thatcher (I know, not a role model in Scotland) changed some aspects of herself, like the pitch of her voice, in order to be more convincing as a leader of men. However, I am not going down that rabbit hole, as Cardinal Cupich would say.  The point I am trying to make is that, if her achievements, personality and circumstances bring a woman to a place where she is called upon to become a leader of men, she can learn to be one. She will be a self-made leader, not a born leader, no matter what people tell her afterwards. It's a question of HOW. 

I do not know how, but there must be books about it. 

By the way, I managed to pass a swimming test in deep water by hypnotising myself with the help of a children's book called Jake O'Shawnasey by Stephen Cosgrove. Jake O'Shawnasey was a fictional Irish seagull who was too scared to fly, just as I was too scared to swim in deep water. And (spoiler alert) after being told by a wise old owl to believe in himself,  Jake obeyed and found himself flying. So, mimicking Jake, I filled my head with whatever mantra he used (and I have since forgotten what it was) and I passed my swimming test. My mother was pleased. My swimming teacher was surprised. 

I managed to stop being scared of dogs by pretending I wasn't scared of dogs. And I managed to stop being scared of speaking to strangers on the phone in my twenties, probably because I had jobs in which I occasionally had to telephone strangers.

Now my great challenge is becoming trilingual, which is difficult for many reasons, including the fact that I am still shy around strangers and almost everyone I know is completely fluent in English. However, today there are many books that explain the HOW of fluency, and so little by little I am achieving this dream. 

And that reminds me of the metamorphosis scenes in films like Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, She's All That. If you have any big goal--like getting a black belt in karate before age 50, like someone I know--the idea that you can be completely transformed in an afternoon of shopping and beauty treatments is utterly ridiculous. It's also playing into the idea that your life can be improved through consumerism. No, change come from within, and it takes time. It can take a LOT of time.  

Last point: humility. Humility is not self-abnegation. Humility is knowing the truth about yourself. Our Lady is a model of humility; she said "All generations will call me blessed" because she knew the truth about herself, in relation to God and in relation to us. The wonderful thing about our squishy  mouldable brains is that while we know the truth about ourselves, we can change ourselves to become what we want to (or are called to) be.  

*Talent is what differentiates the very best from the merely enthusiastic and hard-working. I acknowledge that there are "naturally gifted" people, but I now know that love and work will get you 90% to where you want to be, and that is pretty good. 

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Home Economics: February Report

I knew my February Report was going to be somewhat different when I found myself in Hobby Craft contemplating the cost of acrylic jewels. They were made in China--what was I doing? But I was in the grip of a creative mania, and I was determined to make two crowns for a Platinum Jubilee party. 

The invitation suggested "patriotic costuming," and I was in no mood for a Spice Girl Union Jack sparkly dress, so I decided Benedict Ambrose and I would go as the Lion and the Unicorn from the Royal Arms. When I looked up masks on Amazon, I discovered that party masks have come a long way.  Reproductions of the crowns on the Royal Arms have not, however, and that is why I spent £15.75 on metallic cardboard, glue, acrylic jewels, fake pearls, red tissue paper, and cotton balls. (By the way, cotton balls are a lousy substitute for ermine, and eventually I will throw good money after bad and get some fake fur trim.)

Incidentally, when B.A. and I turned up, half-blinded by our masks, disguised as the Royal Arms but otherwise in overly-correct evening wear, we discovered that none of the other guests had gone to such lengths and even the host was sporting just a Union flag cravat. But we certainly made an Entrance, and I very much enjoyed my Saturday of crown-making. 

But normally I just reveal our food expenses, so here we go:

February 2022: Groceries: £307.15; RBCT (Restaurants, Bars, Cafes, Takeaway) £166.80. Total: £473.95.

That's not too bad: just £23.95 over my tentative budget. And to examine the recent past, we naturally saved more than in January, my birthday dinner month:

January 2022: Groceries: £313.05; RBCT:  £267.00. Total: £580.05. 

We also did better than December:

December 2021: Groceries: £319.10; RBCT: £214.80. Total: £533.90

But we did not do better than February 2021, which was partly in Lent, and looked like this:

February 2021: Groceries: £299.70; RBCT: £45.15. Total: £344.85

It looks as though our usual food purchases have not been affected by inflation. Meanwhile, so as to enjoy the memory of our 13 bouts of RBCT, here is the tally: 

My coffee & croissant at favourite cafe; B.A.'s coffee & cake with pals; Sunday lunch in Stockbridge; cappuccini & bun/croissant after dermatologist's appointment; cocktails after seeing Belfast; Sunday pints with a pal up from England; Chinese takeaway for Valentine's Day; my coffee & croissant in favourite cafe; Sunday lunch and doughnuts in Stockbridge; takeaway cannoli and croissant; B.A.'s pints with pal in pub; Sunday lunch in Stockbridge; B.A.'s coffee with old university pal.

The NHS being in the state it is, I went to a private dermatologist to see about an irritated mole, and B.A. came with me in case we had another sudden cancer drama. I am happy to report both that the mole was merely irritated, not cancerous, and that the appointment was only £50.