Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

After November 8th

There’s a huge election looming and Americans hate their choices. How did we get here? Most of us think no matter who wins, America loses. The two major candidates get plenty of exposure and we can’t stand either one, so we look at the others. We see Gary “What’s Aleppo?” Johnson and Jill “Everyone’s racist” Stein and get even more depressed. Who gave us these choices? Well, we did. We’re to blame.
America is divided, but not so much between Democrats and Republicans or between liberals and conservatives. Those divisions haven’t gone away, but they’re increasingly overshadowed by another divide: ordinary Americans against the establishment of both parties who have more in common with each other than with those in the ranks.
Each party is divided within itself as well. Would Bernie have won if the DNC establishment hadn’t conspired against him? Millions think so and they’re furious at Hillary, especially after WikiLeaks document dumps prove what Bernie said all along — that the Democrat establishment conspired against him. Republicans have Trump because they’re not happy with their party’s leadership who they see cooperating with Democrats. Rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans all believe the system is rigged against them — and the leadership of both parties is screwing grassroots America.
There’s a lot of common ground between disaffected Democrats and Republicans in the ranks. Union and small business Democrats hate global trade agreements — and so do their counterpart Republicans. All feel betrayed by Democrats Obama and Hillary as well as Republicans McConnell and Ryan as all cooperate more with each other than with them.
So what if Hillary prevails? Will she win over Bernie Democrats? Can she govern when two out of three Americans don’t trust her? And what if Trump wins? Will he keep on tweeting? Will he keep his mouth shut? Will he stick to the script or will he continue tripping over his own tongue? Can he persuade Americans to like him? None of this seems likely.
Will the two-party system continue? It seems hard to avoid a fundamental re-alignment. Will the Republican Party split? After Obamacare, we saw the rise of the Tea Party, but it was quickly subsumed. After November 8th, will it break away? Some see an overlap between the Tea Party and Trump’s constituency. Will the GOP split with Tea Party/Trumpers on one side and #neverTrumpers on the other?
Might the Bernie Wing of the Democrats discover it cannot live within a Clinton-dominated party after November 8th? Wikileaks may yet cripple a President Hillary Clinton, and make her a one-termer. What will the 2020 election lineup look like after this unprecedented 2016 general election? Whoever wins will not be able to wash off all the mud, and there are three weeks during which to sling still more.
And how about the MSM (Mainstream Media)? What will become of them after November 8th?There are two deeply-flawed candidates running, but the MSM (which includes NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, etc.) has gone out of its way to sling far more mud in the direction of Donald Trump while simultaneously trying to protect its favored Hillary Clinton by playing down the WikiLeaks documents and email scandals. Do they think grassroots Americans are blind to that? The MSM don’t even pretend to be objective anymore. WikiLeaks documents prove the MSM is a public relations arm of the Democrat Party. As a recent Tweet by Matt Drudge put it: “Media CAN'T cover WikiLeaks Podesta sh**storm — because so much of it involves them! Will take a generation to recover from this corruption.”
Just before the first debate, the New York Times published Trump’s 1996 tax return from an illegal anonymous source. Was that Obama’s IRS? Just days before the second debate and barely one hour before a damaging Wikileaks dump about Hillary, NBC put out the 2005 Trump/Bush sex tape it had been sitting on for a decade. Coincidence? Will ordinary Americans buy that? Will the MSM retain enough credibility to protect President Hillary for four years? Bernie Sanders railed against Wall Street billionaires all through the primaries and developed an enormous following. Now WikiLeaks has proven that Hillary has been Wall Street’s girl all along. Yeah, Bernie has endorsed Hillary and even campaigns for her, but what about the millions who were “feeling the Bern”? Will their energy be turned into a flame-thrower aimed at President Hillary?
After this election, who expects anything to remain the same?

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

To Die For

“What does it all mean?” theists ask. Pure scientists believe the question irrelevant. Theism professes one God created the universe, intervenes in it, and sustains a personal relationship with humanity. Science doesn’t look for meaning. Meaning is irrelevant. Unless one embraces religion, nihilism is the default position. Meaningful or meaningless? Western culture is in conflict, and in the early 21st century, nihilism prevails. As I contended in last week’s column, many see the west as post-Christian and maybe they’re right.
Whenever a new principal came along, I’d get a visit. He/she would ask me about my “Beginnings” unit in which I outlined different explanations about the origin of the universe and  of humanity, comparing and contrasting the fading creation narrative and the prevailing big bang/evolution account. It was controversial, they said, and they asked me to drop it. I pointed to the Scopes Monkey Trial covered in the text, and that teaching about evolution was as controversial during the early years of the 20th century as teaching about creation had become in the later years. As the K-12 curriculum in our district existed then, only in a high school elective were some taught the Big Bang Theory. Only in Sunday school were some taught the creation story. Near the end of my career I had some students had never heard of Adam and Eve, for example.
The way Americans understood their origins affected how they perceived other issues, I argued. One principal told me he got flak from both sides: Progressives claimed I taught creation. Jehovah Witnesses complained I taught evolution. I didn’t teach either. I taught about both, and encouraged students to take a position. Some years we conducted formal debates. Students asked me throughout what my position was but I’d demur until the end. Then I’d tell them mine is the Catholic position under which the creation and Big Bang/evolution accounts are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.
Each principal relented and I went on with my Beginnings unit — until September 11, 2001. As part of a current events lesson, I was writing the word “jihad” on the board, explaining to students why Palestinian Muslim suicide bombers were blowing themselves up to kill Jews in Israel when Principal Joe Soraghan knocked on my door. It was about 9:15 am and he motioned for me to step into the hallway. Two planes had hit the World Trade Center, he told me, and that changed everything. Jihad had come to America.
Each September for the next eight years, I’d start with a unit on why we were at war — why radical Muslims wanted to kill American Jews, Christians and atheists. Instead of comparing and contrasting creation and evolution, we instead compared and contrasted Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — in that order, because that’s the order in which each was established — approximately 2500 BC, 1 AD, and 600 AD, respectively. All three share the same creation story. Abraham is a patriarch in all three as well. Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but neither Jews nor Muslims do — and so on. We were at war because Muhammed instructed Muslims to convert the world to Islam — by the sword if necessary. That they did until early in the 20th century, and many were resuming in the 21st — and that’s why we were at war. It was the end of one controversial unit and the beginning of another.
Jews established the State of Israel after the Holocaust — which has ultimate meaning for them, and they’re willing to die for it. Radical Muslims deny the Holocaust and vow to wipe Israel, which they call “The Little Satan,” off the map — then destroy America, which they call “The Great Satan.” Those goals are meaningful enough that they’re willing to kill and die for them.
When Martin Luther Day came around in January, I’d quote what he said in a 1963 speech

“I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” 
Then I’d ask each of my four classes if there were anything they would die for. Only about ten to twenty percent could think of anything. When I asked those few, they said they were willing to die for their families. One said he would die for his cat. Most couldn’t think of anything at all. Are they representative of the rest of America? How many of us have discovered something meaningful enough to die for in this age of existential nihilism? 
Existential nihilism (Wikipedia): “the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence.”

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Purging Christ

I think it was in the 1980s sometime that I first encountered the designation “BCE.” The period I was studying was 3000 years ago and it was designated 1000 BCE. Clearly the new acronym was related to the familiar “BC” meaning “Before Christ,” but I wondered about when and why it had changed. Most people are now familiar with “Before Common Era” but it was brand new to most of us back then. I suspected it was part of an increasing purge of Christianity from the public square.
See it?[C. E. 1901]

Also substituted was the designation “CE” (Common Era) for “AD” which my students always guessed meant “After Death” of Jesus Christ, but it’s actually an acronym for the Latin “Anno Domini” meaning “Year of our Lord.” Academics denied anti-Christian bias had anything to do with the new dating nomenclature. They cited its use in the century-old Anarchist journal Lucifer The Light Bearer. They didn’t really think that would pacify Christians, did they? Jewish scholars used it too, they pointed out.
The textbook I used for the last decade of my teaching career used them and I suspect nearly all do now. Astute students would ask how the acronyms originated and I’d explain that there was a time when western culture held the most important event in all of history to be the life of Jesus Christ, so historians measured all of time by what happened before Christ and what happened after Him. 
But that’s changing, or perhaps it would be more accurate to use past tense and say “that changed.” Is the change complete? Do we live in a post-Christian America? Is that particular battle in the wider culture war over now? Maybe we’re in a mopping-up operation as they say in military parlance. When the mopping up is finished, perhaps we’ll go back to using “AD” in the way my students understood it: “After Death of Christ.”
We Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, part of a triune deity and therefore God Himself. Philosopher Frederich Neitzche first declared “God is Dead” not in 1891’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” but in his 1882 collection: The Gay Science. That was back when “gay” still meant “happy.” In it, Neitzche wrote:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
There’s so much in there: “Who will wipe his blood off usevokes Hamlet. “What water is there to clean ourselves?” evokes Pontius Pilate and is ritualized in every Catholic mass said thousands of times every day for thousands of years. His question, “Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” evokes President Obama’s declaration: "I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when...the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Is Obama pretending godlike powers? How about environmentalists who believe themselves capable of halting the extinction of any more species even after 99% of all species that ever existed have become so?
Simultaneous with the purging Christ from our calendar were related efforts to separate Christ from Christmas. They’ve continued to the point where few public schools call the cancellation of classes at the end of our calendar year “Christmas Vacation” anymore. Now it’s “winter break” or some such thing. Those who would purge the life of Christ from history would also purge Christ from everything. They’re careful to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” but the English word “holiday” derives from “holy day.” When that fact achieves critical mass in Progressive consciousness, will there be a movement to stop saying Happy Holidays and substitute “Happy Winter Solstice”? Might that be one of the “festivals of atonement” Neitzche predicted we would have to reinvent to assuage our conscience for killing God?
Getting back to measuring time, how long until we throw out the seven-day week? That comes from Jewish Scripture and the first book of the Christian bible after all. Then on to place names? Will Progressives force the city of Corpus Christi to change its name? It’s Latin for “Body of Christ” you know. How about San Francisco (St. Francis) and Los Angeles (City of Angels)?
Then what? Ban crosses from public cemeteries? How far will they go?

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Further Down East

One measure of how Maine has changed would be the ratio of pleasure boats to working boats one sees tied up at docks or drifting on moorings. It’s about ten to one on the southern/western shore from Kittery to Portland, and gradually reversing the further down east you go. In Nova Scotia, it was hard to find a pleasure boat at all, so the trend continues the further east one goes. Crossing another item off our bucket list, we took “The Cat” ferry from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia last Thursday. 
Sunset in The Cat's wake last Thursday

Activity by the sea is all business in Nova Scotia, and one lobsterman likened his job to farming. He said his boat is his tractor and his crop is that red/green crustacean. Weather is a factor and he works all winter, November to May. Sometimes his crop is abundant, sometimes not. Sometimes the price is up. Sometimes it’s down, and it’s all out of his control. Right now, times are good because the price is up and there are lots of lobsters out there.
Transom-less lobster boats

Lobster boats in the province are bigger than what one sees in Maine. They’re wider with no transom. The lobsterman explained that in Maine they tend one trap at a time — hoisting it up, pulling out the lobster(s), re-baiting, and dropping it back down under its buoy. He, on the other hand, strings out his traps — twenty on a line, with a buoy and an anchor on each end. He pulls them up and arranges them on the transom-less back deck, harvesting and re-baiting one at a time, then letting them slide off the rear deck one at a time and getting out of the way as he does so.
Mavillette Beach NS

Land in southwestern Nova Scotia where I explored is not fertile. Hardly anybody lives inland and there are very few roads. There are lots of lakes but few rivers of any size. Yarmouth is at the end of Nova Scotia’s lower peninsula, which runs more east/west than north/south. The map shows a jagged coastline on the south/Atlantic side where I found more fishing villages, and straighter on the north/Bay-of-Fundy side where I found more beaches and some farms. Stunted fir and spruce dominated with few hardwoods, and I saw lots of bog. It’s a lot like mid-20th century downeast Maine.
Mavillette Beach and Cape St. Mary

Ethnically, the population has about the same distribution as Maine — mostly Scots-Irish, lots of Acadian-French, some Irish, some English, some Indian. The lobsterman asked me if I felt at home there. “Yes,” I said. “Why do you ask?” He said he felt at home all across Canada from there to Vancouver, but when he traveled to the states, he didn’t. When I asked why, he was reluctant to answer. “Try,” I said. “Find the words. I won’t be offended.”
Cape St. Mary

In Canada, he said, people think “we” first, and then “I,” but in the states they think “I” before “we.” I pondered that for days and learning more about each town’s history as I traveled around I found clues about why he had that impression. Digby, on the Bay of Fundy side, was established by shiploads of Loyalists fleeing rebellious colonies that became the United States. So was Shelburne on the Atlantic side and British flags proliferated there — I saw more Union Jacks than Maple Leafs. Though ethnicities are the same in Maine and Nova Scotia, personalities differ and I wondered if traits like an independent spirit or a herd instinct are inherited along with blue eyes and brown hair.
Mavillette Beach again

As Senator Obama said in 2008, Americans cling to their guns.  We also maintain a healthy suspicion, even hostility, toward government efforts to restrict them, but that’s not so in Canada. Handguns are forbidden everywhere and long guns are strictly controlled. I got a clue about this on a previous trip when a border guard spotted a box of .22 shells I’d left in the glove compartment. He called others over and they carefully searched my entire truck and its contents, going through every bag and suitcase while I stood around wondering what was the big deal.
Building a dory at Pubnico

A reconstructed Acadian Village Museum in Pubnico, which is the oldest Acadian settlement in Canada still inhabited by descendants of its founding families, was very interesting. It was established in 1653 by Philippe Mius D’Entremont and the entire community had been expelled by the British in the 1750s. Their property was given to New Englanders who moved up and took  over. Acadians were allowed back eleven years later but couldn’t recover their property and had to start over from scratch. Colonel Joseph Frye, who later founded Fryeburg, Maine, was ordered to carry out some Acadian deportations, but I’m not sure if he did so in Pubnico. According to his diary, he did not relish the task.
The Cat delivered us safely back to Maine Monday. It’s nice to go away, and nice to come home as well.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Sympathy for Refugees Wearing Thin in Maine

Catholic Charities Maine (CCM) came to St. Joseph’s Parish in Bridgton, Maine last Friday night to talk about refugees and it was spirited. Chief Operating Officer Dean LaChance opened the meeting, but I don’t think he expected the skepticism voiced by many of the more than fifty people present. Quite a few raised their hands to ask penetrating questions before LaChance could get his prepared program going. The previous Sunday’s parish bulletin had announced the meeting:

Why are refugees in Maine? What sort of help do you they get? What would you do if you were faced with the same decisions? “In Their Shoes” is a dynamic workshop that will help you understand the path of a refugee and invite you to walk a moment in their shoes. This program will be presented on Friday evening, Sept 16th, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at St. Joseph Church in Bridgton. “In Their Shoes” will engage you with staff from Catholic Charities Maine Refugee Program to learn about the refugee process, the population currently settled in Maine and the challenges faced by the state’s newest arrivals. All are welcome!

Well, the half-dozen CCM staff who came never got an opportunity to launch “In Their Shoes.” LaChance started easily enough with a brainstorming, word association exercise asking the audience what words came to mind when he said “immigrant.” We got a clue about how the evening would go when someone shouted out “welfare,” which LaChance dutifully wrote on a chalkboard. Someone else said, “hijra(h),” and had to spell it for LaChance. If you google hijra(h), most links say it’s an Indian word for a cross-dresser, but Robert Spencer, a researcher on radical Islam, said it’s an Arab/Muslim word meaning “jihad by emigration.”
CCM's Dean LaChance

The word-association exercise continued and a woman in back shouted out “Adnan Fazeli!” That’s the name of an Iranian Muslim refugee who lived on welfare in Portland and Freeport, Maine before being killed while fighting or ISIS near the Syria/Lebanon border. A month prior, I’d written about him and a Somali Muslim who had also lived in nearby Lewiston, Maine and also died fighting for ISIS. LaChance said Fazeli had first come to Philadelphia. I wondered if he was implying that his agency had not been involved. The Portland Press Herald, however, had reported that Fazeli “came to the Portland area through Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services.” Fazeli also worked for CCM as a translator.
A man claiming to be a member of a local school board protested that schools incur enormous costs to provide ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers for refugee children. He soon got rambunctious and interrupted several times as LaChance, always polite, tried to recover control of the meeting. When several in the audience got annoyed with the man, he left. Others offering skeptical comments did so respectfully and LaChance seemed like a nice guy who believed his agency was doing important work. He said CCM’s refugee efforts fulfilled a social justice mission of the Catholic Church, citing Matthew: 25. Then he cued a woman to begin a powerpoint presentation.
In it, young girls speaking Kurdish with English subtitles described arduous day-to-day life in a refugee camp somewhere in the Middle East. LaChance said all refugees Catholic Charities brings to Maine are closely vetted by multiple US Government agencies and screened for health issues. Some in the audience, however, questioned how that could be done in war zones or in failed states. LaChance said refugees reported being raped and seeing family members killed. A woman in the audience suggested they could be lying to get into the US. LaChance shrugged.
CCM's Tarlan Ahmadov

I asked about a document required by the State Department of agencies like CCM called a “Reception and Placement Abstract.” LaChance said CCM files them and I asked if I could have a copy. The R&P Abstract outlines how many refugees would be coming to Maine each year and where they would be placed. First he said I could get one from the state, then said CCM would give me one. I’d heard concerns that Bridgton was a possible destination, so I asked if the R&P Abstract included any places in Maine other than Portland and Lewiston. LaChance looked to Tarlan Ahmadov, CCM program director for refugee services, who said, emphatically, “No.”
Types of female genital mutilation
Another woman in the audience said she had worked in the Portland, Maine school system where Somali refugee girls told her they were being taken to Boston for female genital mutilation. LaChance and Ahmadov acknowledged that and also other mistreatment of females by Muslim men. They said CCM was a mandatory reporter and they often warned male refugees they could be arrested for beating wives or daughters.
Somali refugees in Lewiston convicted of welfare fraud

I came away from Friday’s meeting thinking that if little Bridgton, Maine is any indication, there’s more grassroots opposition to Muslim immigration out there than people think -- and it’s likely to manifest on the ballot November 8th.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Life In The Basket Of Deplorables

How many times have I been called a racist? Dozens at least, perhaps hundreds. How about homophobic? Yup, about as many. Islamophobic? Check. Misogynist? Check. Xenophobic? Got it. Let’s see, what’s left? How about bigot? Yeah, that too — all of which puts me right in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables.” I also qualify as one of President Obama’s “bitter clingers” and as a member of that other group Hillary doesn’t like: the so-called “alt-right.” I didn’t know what alt-right was when she said it a few weeks ago but I looked it up and yes, I qualify.
The first time I remember being called racist in print was twenty years ago after I wrote a column supporting the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), otherwise known as Proposition 209. It was a referendum question, which read:

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The “racist” accusations — and there were three as I recall — were in letters to both papers carrying the column, and they bothered me. I knew there was no basis, but they made me feel bad because racism is an ugly thing and I didn’t want any association with it. I’d been putting my opinions out there for three or four years by that time and I had gotten plenty of flak, but not that kind. Heck, I was writing against racial discrimination. How could that be racist?
Leftist poster from the anti-209 campaign in 1996

Proposition 209 would have made so-called Affirmative Action programs illegal because they give preference to blacks and hispanics over Asians and whites in college admissions, when hiring for teachers, police, firemen, and so forth. That’s racial discrimination, of course, but it’s the kind approved by the left — and leftists attack anyone who points that out. Since they cannot argue using facts, all they have is name-calling. They’ve flung the racist charge so often for so long, it has become a reflex. Columnist Mark Steyn calls it “Democrat Tourette’s Syndrome.” When I realized that, the “racist” charge didn’t phase me anymore. It’s continued use became an indication that I was scoring points against the left.

Though I’ve been a Christian all my life, I’ve always had difficulty with the turn-the-other-cheek thing. My natural tendency when somebody strikes me on either cheek is to strike back at both their cheeks harder and more often — and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. Such was my inclination when letter-writers insulted me with false charges of “racism.” I didn’t strike back though, neither physically nor in writing. I remembered the advice an editor at the Lewiston Sun-Journal gave me years ago: “Don’t respond,” he said. “Most readers will have read both your piece and the letter. Trust them to make up their own minds about who is right or wrong.”
It was good advice and someone should have given it to Maine Governor Paul LePage. He was enraged after a leftist legislator suggested he was racist. Lepage called him and left an obscenity-laced voicemail which the legislator sent to the media. That was dumb — very dumb. It’s one thing to feel like striking back but quite another do actually do it. LePage gave his enemies a club with which they will beat him as long as he’s in office.
Accuser and accused

I voted for LePage twice and I don’t regret it given the choices I had. I intend to vote for Trump too, even though I would have preferred any of the other Republicans who opposed him in the primaries. Against Hillary though? I have to vote for him and I will, but I wouldn’t call myself a “Trump supporter.”
So, even though I don’t support Trump, I still belong in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables.” Here are my bona fides:
I see abortion — the dismembering of babies in their mothers’ wombs — as barbaric, so I’m against “women’s health” and therefore women too according to Democrats who consider pregnancy a disease. So, I’m hopelessly “misogynist.”
I oppose importing tens of thousands of unvetted immigrants from Muslim-terrorist-dominated countries, therefore I’m both “Islamophobic” (unreasonable fear of Islam) and “xenophobic” (unreasonable fear of foreigners).

I consider it unnatural for two women or two men to “marry,” Therefore I’m “homophobic.”
I cling to both my guns and my religion, so I’m a “bitter clinger.”

I believe western civilization superior to other civilizations before or since, and prefer the melting pot model to multiculturalism. Evidently that makes me “alt-right."
I’m a heterosexual white guy who doesn’t believe there’s any such thing as “white privilege.”
All this qualifies me for inclusion in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” and I move for summary judgement.

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