Thursday, November 08, 2018

Left & Right November 7, 2018

Libertarian Tony Zore, radio personality at WMWV sits in the left chair, though I could hardly call him a leftie. He may not be as conservative as I am but is still right of center and a thoughtful and insightful commentator as you'll see.

The producer asks our opinions about Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker compared and contrasted with Paul Ryan in the job. Tony is more forgiving of both than I am.

We try to envision what Democrats will do with majority power in the House. Contentious, warlike is the likelihood.

I contend we should leave Afghanistan and Tony agrees and we both explain why.

Tony elaborates on the passage of Questions 1 & 2 on the New Hampshire ballot -- both of them amendments to the NH Constitution. Question 1 makes it easier for NH citizens to sue government if they believe a law violates their rights. Question 2 protects against intrusion by government into private papers and would seem to include electronic social media as well. Libertarians like this amendment.

I lament the hyped, up-to-the-minute election coverage by virtually every media outlet. I can wait for morning to hear results. They won't change.

Polls accurately predicted election results this cycle but were way off in 2016. Tony claims RealClearPolitics averages were accurate both cycles.

We analyze other NH and Maine election results, state and local. I describe Maine results and Tony summarizes NH results.

I criticize Maine's experiment with "ranked choice" voting, that it's confusing and causes delays. Tony sings praises of ranked choice because it helps third parties like Libertarians.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Going To The County Jail

After the last remote-control lock on the last steel door opens with a loud, metallic clang, I walk into B-1, the two-tiered, oval-shaped “pod”  at the Cumberland Country Jail in which I’ve been running a weekly Bible study for two-and-a-half years. The eighty-five inmates there are dressed in orange or blue. Some are in their teens. Some look to be in their sixties or seventies, but it’s hard to guess ages of men who live hard lives. Smoking, drinking, fighting, poor nutrition, repeated physical and/or emotional traumas age them prematurely.

All the pods look like this
Some stand in pairs talking. Some are stripped to the waist doing chin-ups on cross bars. Some are seated at steel tables bolted to the concrete floor and playing cards. Some are just standing around looking scary with neck and face tattoos around primal, calculating eyes. One, sometimes two correctional officers (COs in jail parlance) are on duty. He or she sits at a desk in the middle of the oval with electronic controls to all cells and rooms on both tiers. I wait a minute for the CO to recognize me and remotely unlock the door to my classroom on the lower tier.

Inmates are screened upon arrival at the jail before being assigned to various pods depending on whether they’re detoxing, suicidal, aggressive, or determined to be cooperative at some level. Inmates in B-1 have usually been sentenced to less than a year, but some are awaiting trial with potentially long prison sentences if found guilty. After further evaluation on the pod, some are chosen to work, usually in the kitchen where they earn “good time” — which is time off their sentences. Those inmates are called trustees and given blue jumpsuits, but they can “lose the blues” for bad behavior and be transferred to another pod.

Sometimes the CO announces that a Bible study is beginning, sometimes not. Inmates trickle into the classroom — maybe five, maybe fifteen or twenty which is all that can fit in the small room with a table and attached stools bolted to the middle of the floor. They bring in their own brown, plastic chairs and set them up around the edges. I might see two, three, or more familiar faces from previous weeks, or it might be an entirely new group. 

Normally I’ll begin with a prepared lesson, but if it’s a new group I’ll repeat an introductory lesson. I tell them I’m a retired history teacher and not a Bible scholar. Some are familiar with the Bible while others know only that it’s some kind of holy book. I tell them it’s the revealed word of God for Christians divided into two parts. The Old Testament begins with creation and joins the historical record with the life of Abraham around 2000 BC. From there it proceeds to the birth of Jesus Christ 2018 years ago. The New Testament covers the life of Christ and the first generation of his disciples up to 80-100 AD.

Then I describe beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims citing commonalities and differences, and offer a timeline for all three using a whiteboard. I’ll end by defining a Christian as someone who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God who assumed human flesh and lived with us on earth for thirty-three years, was crucified by Romans, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven promising to return someday. I entertain all questions during that lesson.

I’m always prepared with something to begin a class, but it may go anywhere depending on where they inmates want to take it — which I allow as long as it’s centered on something in the Bible or how it’s interpreted (or misinterpreted) here in the 21st century. It goes best when my role is limited to guiding a discussion. I never ask what anyone did but it often emerges. Many have done serious time. Some have been incarcerated for almost their entire adult lives and are awaiting sentencing for still another stretch.

Sometimes Muslims come in. They’re welcome to listen, ask questions, point out similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam, but not to proselytize. They’re free to hold a Koran study at some other time if they wish.

Over two-and-a-half years, I’ve listened as the toughest men reveal a soft side. When they do, others are more likely to as well. Some complete their sentences are released, then re-arrested. A few have shown up for the third time — usually addicts who relapse. Nearly all who come into the classroom are addicts of one kind or other. Some will say they needed another sentence to get clean and reoriented before trying again on the outside.

At 4:30, the CO appears outside the classroom door pointing at his watch. We all stand, shake hands, and stack up chairs before I head back to the lobby through a labyrinth of corridors separated by a succession of steel doors, each of which is remotely unlocked by another CO who is watching me through CCTV cameras.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Left & Right October 24, 2018

We start by defining and discussion nationalism. I liken it to patriotism and opposite to globalism. Gino says it's associated with KKK and Nazi sympathies. I bring up the caravan and accuse Democrats of peddling open borders under the guise of abolishing ICE. I claim Democrats and some Republicans want to maintain the law requiring border guards to allow those seeking refugee status into the country where they disappear and never show up for a hearing. Gino doesn't think the caravan is supported by Democrats. He thinks Trump and Pence started it. I ask Gino how many illegals from elsewhere in the world should be allowed in. He doesn't answer. He speaks of a labor shortage that would favor allowing illegals in. I claim doing so depresses wages for working-class Americans. We analyze House and Senate races around the country, pretty much according to the way RealClearPolitics does. I claim there are no moderate Democrats in the Senate, that they all vote the party line. Gino claims many go against Chuck Schumer​ but cannot name any. I name several Republican senators who have voted against Trump and McConnell.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Passing It On

In the late 19th century, Kezar Lake became a summer destination for relatively wealthy people from regions to our south. They bought the lakefront property from local farmers, many of whom had kept it in their families for generations. The newer owners also tried to pass ownership down to their offspring but that seldom worked for long. It never really does no matter where in the world a given property is located, or who the owners are, or were.

I have fond memories of the Tewksbury, Massachusetts house in which I grew up, but people entirely unknown to me occupy it now. As adults, my wife and I owned four houses and worked hard on them all. I’ve lived in our current Lovell home longest  — over thirty years, but I still feel an attachment to the ones we’ve sold because I spent many hours and days in, on, and under each of them doing repairs and upgrades over several years of ownership. My children lived and grew in three of them. Often I dream that I’m still living in one or the other — and it seems like I actually do until I wake up. I know those dreams mean something but I’m not sure what.

Wee John McLaughlin's house
Ten years ago I searched for the Donegal, Ireland farmhouse in which my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin was born. After three days of driving around and asking questions all over the Inishowen Peninsula, I found it, but it wasn’t a house anymore; it was a shed housing old, rusted tools. A more comfortable house was constructed next to it sometime in the fifties and another, still better one was built in front of that sometime in the 21st century. Back in 1922, the old farm was sold to a family named McGonigle which still owns it after nearly a century. The ten acres farmed by my great-great-grandfather “Wee John” McLaughlin were still intact and all the surrounding farmland was still owned by people named McLaughlin.

My wife and her grandfather's house
The home in which my wife’s grandfather was born was still standing in a little village called Magouliana high in the Greek Peloponnese. It was unoccupied when we visited there four years ago and owned by an unrelated family. Locals told us it had been a store for a while. My wife still had relatives named Kosiavelos living in the village though. That’s the original spelling of her maiden name before it was changed by a clerk at Ellis Island when her grandfather immigrated around 1900.

I’m responsible for a summer home on Kezar Lake designed by Portland, Maine architect John Calvin Stevens a century ago, and it hasn’t changed much since it was built. The property was purchased twenty years ago by the present owners and they’re only the third since the building went up around 1920. For that matter, I’m only the third caretaker, having taken over from the second about thirty-five years ago. I’ve done repairs in, on, and under that building too and I feel attached to it as if it were my own.

The previous owners for whom I worked had inherited wealth, but one of their offspring conspired to squander most of it, leaving little for the others to maintain the property. An adjacent parcel on Kezar Lake stayed in the same family for a century because the original owner had been a judge and tied it up in a hundred-year trust. When that dissolved, so did the property but I believe descendants still own a few lots carved out of the original holding. A new road accessing lakefront parcels bears the original family name.

Magouliana in the Peloponnese
We’ve all heard stories of families who fight over homes, contents, and money when parents pass on. It’s always unpleasant, way too familiar, and the only winners are attorneys hired to thrash it out. Maybe not even them — because they have to listen to selfish, conniving siblings or to the sad stories of their victims.

Gathering of our family
My wife and I have made arrangements to pass on our homes, but we attached no restrictions. We don’t expect our surviving children to live in either of them hang on to them. They can if they want to but I doubt any will. They have their own lives and their own homes to which they’ve formed attachments just as my wife and I did with ours. Each will probably take certain items of sentimental value but most of our things will likely be liquidated. People unknown to us will end up with them or they’ll simply be thrown away because one person’s treasure can become another person’s trash.

The only parcel of real estate I expect will remain ours is the cemetery plot we purchased. That waits for us to take occupancy when this phase of our lives ends.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting In The Firewood

There was a time I thought I’d be cutting my firewood every year until I was an old man. It was hard work, and by the time I was done sometime in the fall, there were no extra pounds on me. Then would come holidays with all the food and the extra pounds would gradually return until summer rolled around again and I’d be back in the woods. I had a Ford 8N farm tractor that was older than I was and I used it to pull trees out of the family woodlot in West Lovell. Then I cut it to four-foot lengths to haul home to work it up after school each day. My wife and kids all helped get it into the woodshed before snowfall.

It was a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, but it was a whole-family effort and everyone enjoyed sitting near the living-room wood stove through the winter. You might say we bonded over firewood. The work was all mine until the wood was all cut to stove length. The family helped while I was splitting it, pulling the cloven pieces from each side of the chopping block and carrying them to the woodshed. I worked as a school district administrator during the first couple of years, a job from which I derived little satisfaction. The straightforward task of getting firewood from stump to stove was a welcome relief from the nebulous duties of that job.

Me and Roseann 1978
Firewood kept me grounded. It was intensely physical and the work-reward continuum was crystal clear. It was me with my tools in the woods, then me with family at home. A full woodshed spelled contentment and satisfaction through the long, Maine winter. In those days we had sheep, pigs, and chickens which needed watering every night and I’d have to chop ice out of their buckets before refilling them for the pigs and other animals behind the barn. I remember walking past the brimming woodshed at night and seeing smoke rise straight up from the chimney into a star-filled night sky on frigid evenings when there was no wind. Through the window, I could see my children reading or watching television around the stove. Life was good.

Roseann, with our daughters Sarah& Jessica 1978
Keeping the family warm was my job but so was bringing home a paycheck. As an administrator, I went to endless meetings, talked on the phone a lot, and did a lot of paperwork that few paid any attention to. I remember driving home each afternoon wondering what I had accomplished. I remember walking by classrooms to see teachers working with kids and thinking that’s what really matters, and not whatever it was I was supposed to be doing each day. When a job teaching history opened up I went for it and never looked back.

Mike with his tractor
Teaching US History had meaning and so did cutting firewood, but we lived in a drafty old house requiring endless upkeep. After a friend and I purchased a 30-acre lot on a nearby hillside and divided it between us, I dreamed of a tight, thoroughly insulated new home. Soon I was clearing a site for it and a year later we were living there. Soon after, I began cutting trees to open a view to western mountains and sunsets. Each year I cut seven or eight cords — enough to heat through the winter. After seven years of that, we had a panorama and I was making enough as a property manager to buy firewood from others instead of going into the woods and cutting it myself.
Mike twitching one out
To compensate for the loss of that physical activity, I had to increase my exercise regimen and I’ve continued it to the present day. I still cut wood once in a while because trees blow down often. I work them up to provide wood for the fireplace but I use the oil furnace for heat now. I miss my old firewood routine, but I’m learning to leave the harder, physical work to younger men.

Mike keeps adding to the pile
As I write this, I’m watching from my office window as my son-in-law, Mike pulls logs out of the woods beyond where I first cleared thirty years ago. His has a Kubota with a skidding winch in back. All I had to do this time was mark trees in the woods down the hill that had grown considerably taller over the last thirty years and threatened to block the horizon again.

There’s quite a pile of tree-length firewood out there and he’s not finished yet. I’m not sure how much but it’s more than the seven or eight cords I used to bring up each summer. I’m planning to hire someone to cut and split it, but I’ll probably get out and pound away a bit myself, just for old time’s sake.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Is There Another Civil War Brewing?

William Marvel, whom I call Bill, is at work on his 18th book on the American Civil War. He sees parallels between 1860 and now, and he details some of them. He speculates about the likelihood of military hostilities breaking out and, while he doesn't rule them out completely, thinks it unlikely because of geography.

I ask about similarities with the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent Russian Civil War and he acknowledges them too.

We compare and contrast Legislation and Supreme Court decisions then and now like The Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision with Roe Vs Wade. I ask him if slavery compares as an issue with abortion when it comes to stirring up the citizenry.

That leads to an extended discussion of American divisions in evidence during the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The producer asks us if we think media complicate political divisions today and we both opine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Political Tensions in America: 1860 and 2018

Growing political divisions in our country worry me. I used to help students understand what lead Americans to kill each other by the thousands between 1861 and 1865, and now I see tensions building again. Could America be heading for another civil war? I sure hope not, but I can’t ignore what I’m seeing around me.

A left-wing sniper last year fired over 200 rounds at a group of Republican congressmen at a baseball practice just outside Washington DC and nearly killed one, crippling him for life. This year a congresswoman told her constituents to harass Trump cabinet members saying: “They won’t be able to go to a restaurant, they won’t be able to stop at a gas station, they’re not going to be able to shop at a department store. The people are going to turn on them. They’re going to protest. They’re absolutely going to harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the president, ‘No, I can’t hang with you.’”

Radical, left-wing “Antifa” groups attack whomever they perceive as “fascist” with increasing frequency and define the term to include most Republicans and conservatives. Bloody street brawls are getting commonplace. Other radical left groups advocate assassinations on twitter and other social media. Radical, right-wing activists have shot abortion doctors. The New York Times reports: “At least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States since 1993.” A woman was run over and killed by a “Unite The Right” activist in Charlottesville last year.

With all this in mind, I invited local Civil War historian William Marvel of Conway, NH to appear on my “Left and Right” show and get his opinion. He’s at work on his 18th book about that awful conflict and I opened by asking him if he sees parallels between the political divisions in 2018 and 1860.

“Well, in many ways I do,” he said. “There is certainly the same sort of polarization, fragmentation among the major parties, hostility for opposing viewpoints.” He related a discussion with a friend at the local dump after the 2016 election “about whether we are more divided now than we have been since the Civil War. My conclusion was that we are as divided now. Whether it will lead to the same thing, I doubt.”

“Oh good,” I said.

“But that’s only because divisions are among communities, not between communities. The geographic cohesiveness of the slave issue allowed for a regional contest… but certainly, the seeds of societal and governmental dissolution are there [now], through simple fragmentation and hostility toward government, depending on who’s in charge.”

I remembered sound bites preceding documentaries on the Civil War describing that conflict as father against son and brother against brother. Well, today’s divisions have affected my family,” I said. “We no longer discuss politics at family gatherings. It’s verboten now because it’s become so emotional it threatens relationships.”

Marvel said he’s had similar experiences. Though his immediate family has almost all passed on, “I’ve had… virtually altercations with friends with whom I used to be in political concert.” He said he used to be liberal and twice voted for Obama, but now people perceive him as conservative. He doesn’t see that he’s changed much though. “To me, it’s society. In moving much farther to the left, society has made me look more conservative.”

I then asked him to consider the Bolshevik Revolution/Russian civil war a century ago that didn’t have clear geographical delineations but was ideological with a left and right divide.

“Well, we have certainly a lot of mob violence now,” he said, “almost entirely on the left…” Referring to Congresswoman Maxine Waters incitement he said, “An economic uprising among urban masses is possible, but whether that would lead to bloodshed I don’t know because, well, New York certainly has strict gun laws and I don’t know if a revolution could succeed on six-round magazines.”

He then speculated on the possibility of armed conflict that might spark a civil war. “That might come from outside. Oftentimes, when individual nations are divided between themselves, neighbors or rivals will take advantage of that. That often creates an international conflict that foments an internal rebellion. But the emotional impetus for that certainly is there.”

Mention of emotion led to a discussion of the Justice Kavanaugh hearings in the Senate as a window on America’s ever-deepening political divide. “Although I don’t know… how I would feel about [Kavanaugh] as a Supreme Court Justice, it’s more important now that he be confirmed to discredit and disavow the process that’s been used to try to destroy him. That’s more important, I think, than whatever his rise to the Supreme Court might yield.”

I’ll post a link to the hour-long discussion with Bill Marvel here in the next day or two after it’s uploaded to Youtube.