State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Damian

If you happen to feel any attachment to the idea of traditional Christmas you should stay as far away from Frankenmuth, MI as you can manage. And you should probably stop reading now. I have precious few Christmas illusions left and I still feel that the place consumed a piece of my soul.

Christmas is of course important. Very important. For the economy. If not for all the presents that need to be bought and returned in December and January respectively, we would have to close most of the retail outlets. And I like the shops. Not so much shopping but just the idea that there are people willing to engage in this sport. They make for a nice background to otherwise dreary December days. Also, I don’t mind fancy lighting. So if you have any warm feelings associated with Christmas it would be in my best interest, if you found something else to read just about now.

Frankenmuth, MI - a self-proclaimed capital of Michigan’s Little Bavaria - has all the trappings of a dreaded tourist destination. Its claim to fame are all things vaguely German, which apparently includes scary sounding all you can eat chicken dinners. If you manage to survive one of those, you can stop by Cheese Haus proudly announcing that none of the cheeses it sells are actually made in the area. Despite some of them being called Frankenmuth cheese.

All those attractions pale however next to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland - the world’s largest christmas store. I have absolutely no intention to doubt that claim. If there is any larger Christmas store out there, my apologies. And my condolences.

The Bronner’s empire is certainly impressive. Multinational, multilingual, multicultural place full of unspeakably kitschy bling. It’s beyond me why on Earth anyone would feel the need to decorate the tree with little imitations of cellular phones but apparently someone is doing just that. You can buy enough plastic IPhones and glass Androids to cover your Christmas tree. Other home appliances are prominently featured as well. You can hang miniature toasters, washing machines, TVs, stereos. You can hang a glass copy of your car, your bike or your motorcycle. If you are so inclined you can find your dog (they are displayed ordered alphabetically by breed) molded into a figurine and hang it too. Along with your cat, your fish and your hamster. You can also hang your family members, that is ornaments representing them. Or so I hope.

Every sport, profession, hobby, interest has its own display case with its own ornaments. Every concept and an idea from the real life has its analogue in this glassy caricature blown up and prepared to be used as decoration. No sane human can actually sort through it all, but I am sure that if you find an ornament that they don’t have, they will make it for you.

And in case you cannot find anything worth hanging you are encouraged to come up with a witty and uplifting phrase to personalize a selection of blank ornaments. But every possible phrase worth using is probably used somewhere already and hanged in a giant display of blinking glass.

When you load up on ornaments you need to find a tree worth decorating. There is a forest of them - bigger then real ones in some states - in one section of the store. In every possible hight and girth. Also - what I found more surprising - in every possible color. So if you want a pink tree this year, this is your chance. Also yellow. And neon blue. And it doesn’t even have to be a conifer look-alike tree. You can have a palm if that’s your thing.

And trees and ornaments are just the beginning: there is no shortage of angels, jesuses in every shape, age and form and plentiful saint marys. For less religiously inclined there are also civil figurines inhabiting little snowy towns and smilingly enjoying the season. And don’t even get me started on santas. The biggest is kept outside, several stories high and scaring kids away. Next to a life size nativity scene.

Even the restrooms are christmasy: you are not actually expected to pee under the tree, but the mirrors have opulent golden frames and cheerful music penetrates the stalls.

And the store is packed. No sign of recession economic slowdown here. Despite the fact that we still have October people are not just browsing but also buying pretty much everything in sight. This is not a bargain place either. Glass cellphone is cheaper than the real thing but not by much.

I am not trying to be a grinch here. I’m all for the idea of celebrating the winter solstice under whatever pretext your personal views make you celebrate it. And I am not above enjoying music, food, drink and presents. Especially presents. But this place has as much to do with Christmas as all you can eat chicken dinner with Bavarian food. And just like the all you can it food it makes one slightly sick.


United States hold a dubious distinction of establishing the most unfair healthcare system among the nations of the developed world. Unfair as in marked by injustice, partiality, or deception. And unfair as in not equitable in business dealings. It has been hard not to think about the healthcare lately. It was a hot topic in the most recent election despite its overhaul enacted just this year by Democrats. Republicans’ promise to ‘defund’ the bill may have been one of the factors that brought them the House majority.


I have had it with gold bugs. Historical precedent notwithstanding there is nothing special about gold. Any commodity can serve a role of store of value. I get that people are scared of economy declining but that’s no excuse to blow the gold bubble. Haven’t we just learned how that story ends? Once society progresses past barter there is a need for money as a medium of exchange. The reason to use gold as money, the only reason really is lack of quick and cheap long distance communication. If you can instantaneously confirm that a person will be able to settle the bill at some point then you can hand them the goods in exchange for a promise. But if you cannot do that you need to collect something that has inherent value. And is small enough that you can easily handle it. And doesn’t expire. And isn’t easy to forge. And exists in sufficient quantities: not too much, not too little. Enter gold.