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: tomthemick@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Snow Woe

Stories of rooves collapsing under weight of snow give caretakers the shivers. Last week, the rush was on to find people willing to trek on snowshoes into regions where snowplows don’t go, carrying ladder and shovel. I don’t have to do that anymore, but I’ve done my share of it over the years. When heavy storms come fast on the heels of other big storms, demand for shovelers goes through roof, so to speak, and those willing to do it can almost name their price.
One of the properties I manage

As a teacher who had week a off in February, it was often a good way to pick up some quick cash. Driving from Lovell to South Portland last Thursday, I noticed the few other vehicles on the road with me were pickup trucks, either with plows on the front or ladders tied on the top. Those were guys heading somewhere to shovel a roof.
It’s exhausting work, better suited for young men but I still do a small roof of my own, much to my wife’s consternation. “Why don’t you just hire someone?” she says, but it’s an aging guy thing. If I stop doing that, what else will I stop doing? I intend to keep it up as long as I can. I hire people to shovel the properties I manage though. I call myself a property manager instead of a caretaker because I do very little of the physical work anymore.
Another property I manage

I take care to find good people to do it and make sure it gets done properly. That’s my stock in trade now. Guys with shovels in their hands sometimes resent the managers who hired them, thinking managers don’t have to work as hard for their money as they do. Those thoughts passed through my mind more than once when I was starting off, but now I know that managers earn their pay too.
Roof shoveling is an entry-level position. Not a lot of skill is required, mostly just a strong back and a willingness to use it. There is some thinking required though because each roof is different. Most of the remote camps on the back side of the lake are small with shallow-pitched rooves. A small ladder reaches them and they’re not dangerous if you should fall off. The job is done quickly and most of the work is getting there and back. Some, however, are larger with two or even three stories and steep-pitched rooves. For those, it’s best to start at the ridge line and work downward because the danger of falling off is greater near the eave. If you started at the top, then by the time you get to the eave there’s a deep pile to cushion you where you’re likely to hit bottom.
Several times snow gave way under my feet near the eave. Down I went feet first into the pile up to my shoulders. I was grateful to be unhurt, but it took enormous effort to get myself out. It’s a helpless feeling being stuck in deep snow. Last week, for example, I was on snowshoes packing down a path for the delivery man to my oil fill pipe in Lovell, which is on the other end of my house from the driveway.
Snowcraft Snowshoes from Norway, Maine

The first forty feet or so was easy because it was already packed by snow that had slid from the metal roof, but when I got to the gable end and stepped down, one snowshoe slipped off I fell backward into about four feet of loose snow, some of which had gotten up onto the bare skin of my back. When I tried to right myself, I discovered my arms weren’t long enough to find solid ground. I felt around for the lost snowshoe then used it to pack snow around me enough to push off and get vertical again.
From Norway, Maine Historical Society

I bought those snowshoes at a yard sale and thought I’d gotten a good deal. I changed my mind while trying to get the snow out from under my sweater that was melting against my skin. The bindings were poorly designed and the shoes themselves were too small. I think they were meant for following behind someone on bigger snowshoes breaking trail. I have some bigger ones I used for many years but they’re older than me.
From Norway, Maine Historical Society

They were made in Norway, Maine by Snowcraft, Inc. sometime between the 1920s and 1940s back when Norway called itself the “Snowshoe Town of America.” They have curved ash frames and netting of shellacked cat gut. Leather bindings have dried out and are tearing in a couple of spots. I’d been meaning to have them repaired but kept putting it off. For that, I’d have kicked myself in the butt but the snow was too deep to accomplish that maneuver.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is That All There Is?

On its web site, the BBC showed a picture of the “Oldest Human Ancestor.” It didn’t look like any of my relatives or my wife’s either. In a black and white photo taken through a microscope it resembled the central figure Edvard Munch’s painting: “The Scream” with what look like two eyes and a mouth that’s wide open. It’s tiny — only a millimeter, or .039 inches. Scientists claim it was “covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that it moved by contracting its muscles and got around by wriggling.”
Some of my relatives behave that way. Scientists also observed that, “It’s most striking feature is its large mouth, relative to the rest of its body.” That’s another feature sometimes pointed out in members of my family. The kicker, however, was this: “The researchers were unable to find any evidence that the animal had an anus, which suggests that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice.” Almost everyone has relatives like that. Skeptical that such a tiny creature could be our common ancestor, that helped me consider it.
Artist's rendering of Saccorhytus

The creature is called Saccorhytus and it lived 540 million years ago in the Cambrian period, probably between two grains of sand on the sea floor in what is now China. It was a dull life. I would have had fun with this story if I were still teaching the “Beginnings” unit with which I used to start the school year every September. Students learned about the two prevailing concepts most Americans believed about our origins: creation and evolution.
We compared and contrasted them. They were similar in the order of events: Creation began with sea life, then other creatures, and lastly, humans -- which is what evolutionists contend. However, day four of creation is when stars and other heavenly bodies were made which is after life appeared, and that’s different from Big Bang/Darwinism. Time periods were vastly different too. Also, creation lent some meaning to it all, but not Big Bang/Darwinism. 
Ex Nihilo sculpture at the National Cathedral Washington DC

Sometimes, students debated formally. The creationist side always contended there was no explanation in the Big Bang theory about how the exploding object got there, whereas the Judeo/Christian/Muslim creation story claimed God created the universe “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing.” Neither did Darwin explain what was at the beginning of the march of evolution. In his recent book Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe describes a conversation had Darwin with students: 

The students had the sort of naive, unbridled, free-floating curiosity most youths unfortunately rein in far too early in life. They wanted to know some small but fundamental details about the moment Evolution got underway and how exactly, physically, it started up — and from what?

That’s what I loved about teaching my eighth graders. They still had that, but back to Wolfe:

Darwin had apparently never thought of it quite that way before. Long pause… and finally, ‘Ohhh,’ he said, ‘probably from four or five cells floating in a warm pool somewhere.’ One student… wanted to know where the cells came from. Who or what put them in the pool? An exasperated Darwin said, in effect, “Well I don’t know. Isn’t it enough that I’ve brought you man and all the animals and plants in the world’
…Darwinism avoided the question of how the world developed ex nihilo. Darwin often thought about it, but it made his head hurt. The world was just… here. 
My students reviewed the Scopes Monkey Trial about banning lessons on evolution last century, and secular objections to  lessons on Intelligent Design more recently. Always, they asked my opinion, but I deferred until the end when I told them mine was a blend of both.
It was all controversial. Almost very time a new principal arrived, which was about every two to five years, he or she would approach me before classes started and ask that I stop teaching my Beginnings unit. Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t like that I taught about evolution, while secularists disdained lessons on creation. Both sides lobbied each new principal to get me to scrap it. I resisted, pointing out that I circled back to this dualistic understanding among Americans of how everything started and the way those beliefs influenced their views on other issues. 
They still do. In these contentious times, creationists tend to cluster in flyover country and Darwinists on the coasts. Creationists are red. Darwinists are blue. Creationists are generally pro-life, Darwinists pro-choice. Creationists anticipate an afterlife. Many Darwinists doubt there’s any such thing and their number grows. We and Saccorhytus live, die, and go back to earth. A refrain from a 1969 song by Peggy Lee went:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is
It might be the ethos of our age.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Kryptonite For Teachers' Unions

Trump and DeVos

The most contentious confirmation of Trump’s cabinet nominees was for the relatively innocuous Secretary of Education. Why? National Review columnist Kevin Williamson suggests it’s because the Democrat Party power is the lowest since the Civil War; because teachers’ unions are its biggest source of funds; and because nominee Betsy DeVos supports voucher programs to reform American education. Democrats are famously “pro-choice” when it comes to mothers aborting their children, but definitely anti-choice when it comes to where their children go to school. Unless those mothers happen to be rich, their children must go to the local public school no matter how bad it may be. They have no choice, and teachers’ unions want to keep it that way.
If DeVos is successful, she will stimulate widespread school-choice programs at the state and/or national levels which are kryptonite for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Union monopoly would be as broken as Humpty Dumpty. The Democrat Party would see both its funding and its stranglehold on academia decline precipitously.
When Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) challenged Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader, he said: “[Democrats are] at the point now where we are not even a national party… We have some support on the coast, but we lost the support of Middle America.” Democrats are also losing the support of many middle and lower-middle class urban blacks who vigorously support school choice programs, and constitute a vitally important Democrat voting block. The party is so anemic after eight years of Obama, it could very well pass away. That’s why DeVos is such a threat.
“There’s nothing new in education,” said Ellen May, dean of the graduate school of education I attended in the seventies and that contrasted strongly with what I was constantly hearing as a young teacher elsewhere. In seminars, in-service training sessions, and in the classes I had to attend in both undergrad and graduate school, all I heard were people saying how excited they were to be starting a new program for teaching this or that.
Throughout my thirty-six year career, “new” things would come and go so often it was impossible to keep count. You’d hear from “excited” teachers at the beginning, but you’d never from the disappointed ones when the “new” programs’ rosy prognostications didn’t materialize. Instead, teachers would get “so excited” about the next “new” thing, but the only new things I saw during my nearly four decades in education were words — jargon, newspeak, nomenclature. Academics were constantly changing terminology. Teachers weren’t teachers anymore. They were “educators.” There were no more classrooms, just “learning environments.” There were no more tests, only “assessments,” and so on. But did anything really change? Only the bureaucracy: it grew and grew.
Schools had always been local. Teachers were accountable to the children they taught, to their parents, and to local school boards. Then, state governments intervened concerning things like how long the school day and school year should be, what subjects must be taught at what levels, etc. Then the federal government got involved, and has been increasing its control ever since President Carter established the US Department of Education. And who controls that? Teachers’ unions do, especially the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. They also control most state government education departments as well as state colleges and universities where teachers must attend indoctrination sessions, I mean classes, in the “new” educational methods in order to receive state certification — a symbiotic relationship if there ever was one. Very few of the classes I was forced to sit through as a graduate and undergraduate actually helped me to teach. I had to unlearn most of it to be a good teacher.
Democrat critics say DeVos has no educational experience. She has worked for decades, however, so more children could have the educational opportunities she had coming from a wealthy family. She knows good schools from bad ones, and good teachers from bad ones. But, then, we all do. We’ve all had good teachers and bad and most of us have gone to good and bad schools as well. “Educators” insist they alone can make those distinctions but voters are wising up and trusting their own instincts.
Collins and Murkowski

Not a single Democrat senator is expected to support DeVos. Two Republicans have declared against her as well: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine’s own Susan Collins. Both get thousands from teachers’ unions. The Senate voted 50 to 50 this week, with Vice President Pence  breaking the tie. Betsy DeVos is now Secretary DeVos, and real educational reform can commence but the controversy isn’t over. Teachers’ unions and Democrats will escalate their attacks as she gets going. They have to. They know that if they don’t stop DeVos, they’ll die.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Supporters Unfazed By Big League Ego

Trump has a huge ego. But let’s think back and try to come up with a name of someone who has ever run for president during our lifetimes who didn’t. I can’t think of any. Is Trump’s the biggest of them all? Perhaps. Most have been artful at camouflaging theirs, and the biggest difference between President Trump and the rest is that he has never tried to hide it. After Trump was elected, for example, his predecessor declared that if he were allowed to run a third time, he would have won. Uh-oh. Huge ego showing.
Who else but someone who thinks a lot of him/herself would be willing to put their life on hold for two years of rallies, speeches, interviews, plane trips, and strategy meetings? Most candidates declare they’re only running because others urged them, but our BS alarm should go off every time we hear that.
Not Trump. He came down a golden escalator at Trump Tower. At the bottom he said, about himself: “Now, our country needs— our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’” Talk about uncamouflaged ego. Then he explained what he would do, why he would do it, and how. 
Mainstream media pummeled him from the start. They continued to pummel him throughout the primaries, predicting he would never win the nomination even after he was winning one primary after another. When he did get the nomination, they said he would never win the general election against Hillary Clinton. But he did, of course. 
Before taking office, he started pressuring companies who were planning to move factories overseas — in exactly the way he said he would in his announcement back in June, 2015. Here’s what he said then: “I would call up the head of Ford, who I know. If I was president, I'd say, ‘Congratulations. I understand that you're building a nice $2.5 billion car factory in Mexico and that you're going to take your cars and sell them to the United States zero tax, just flow them across the border.’ …So I would say, ‘Congratulations. That's the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we're going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction,’ and that's it.”

A year and a half later, he did exactly that — before he was even inaugurated.
Throughout the campaign, he said he would build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it. During his first week as president, he started that ball rolling. The media hammered him. Throughout the campaign, he said he would limit “refugees” from terrorist-exporting countries. During his first week, he did. The media hammered him. Throughout the campaign, he said he would withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. During his first week, he did. There isn’t space to list all of what he’s doing — so much, the media is having trouble keeping up with their criticism of him. Meanwhile, Trump’s favorability rating — the lowest of any new president — is climbing according to realclearpolitics.com. Trump and mainstream media dislike each other, but one side is winning and the other is losing. Media favorability polls are much lower than Trump’s.
Leftist bias in mainstream media isn’t new. What’s new is they no longer attempt to disguise it. Sometimes it manifests as fake news, but more often it is evinced by what stories they choose to report and which ones they ignore — which stories they play up on the front page and which ones they report in one paragraph on page 43. Perhaps the best example of the past few years is the Kermit Gosnell story. You’d be forgiven if you’re thinking, “Kermit Who?” because mainstream media gave Gosnell a good leaving alone.
That notorious abortionist is serving a life sentence as the most prolific serial killer in American history, but mainstream media said they didn’t cover him because his was just a local crime story in Philadelphia. Abortion is sacred to the left, and the leftist media won’t publish anything that puts it in a bad light. If you don’t believe it, watch they trumpet Democrat reaction to Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court. You’ll hear a lot about “women’s rights” their newest euphemism for abortion.
Trump’s ego is enormous, yes, rivaled only by those of other presidents and of leading figures in mainstream media. They don’t know it yet, but their power is diminishing — rapidly. They still think they can bring Trump down, but middle American voters who elected him will remain unfazed — they’ll support him as long as he keeps doing what he said he would do.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

The Chasm Widens

Bridge to Portland from South Portland

Not many people in the Portland, Maine area see the world as I do. It’s been five years since my wife and I bought a second home across the bridge in South Portland and I’ve kept a low profile. I do meet, however, with a group of writers every couple of months who know I’m a conservative columnist out in the hinterland. At last Wednesday’s gathering, everyone expressed dismay at the upcoming Trump inauguration and after listening for a while, I told them I voted for him. Instantly, the new person in the group who was sitting right next to me, said: “You’re an a**hole!” Everyone tightened up as I turned to look at my accuser, but no response was necessary. It was clear who the a**hole was.
Portland Marchers with signs
Congress Street, the main thoroughfare in Portland, was blocked off Saturday when my wife and I were trying to get to the YMCA where our nine-year-old grandson, Alex, was competing in a swim meet. The local Women’s March was breaking up and as I searched side streets for a way through, women and girls were carrying their signs back to their cars. The Portland Press Herald said ten thousand turned out. That’s a lot for Maine, but I was in the heart of America’s northeast bastion of progressivism where Trump is the devil incarnate. Hardly any of the 30 million women who voted for Trump live in the Portland area.
2016 electoral map by county

America is indeed divided. Mainstream media are in a frenzy about it, but our country has been divided for a long time. Barack Obama lamented it in his first big speech to the Democrat national convention back in 2004: “There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America… no black America and white America… The pundits… like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats.” He said it again in 2008, and again in 2012, promising to heal the divides, but did he?
2008 electoral map by county

There was indeed a red America and blue America and the divide was getting wider. Many voted for him hoping he would transcend it, but it the divide had become a chasm by the time he left the White House last Friday. Rasmussen reported last summer that: “60% Say Race Relations Have Gotten Worse Since Obama’s Election.”
The right wasn’t thrilled when Obama, then the most liberal member of the US Senate, was inaugurated in 2009 but pretty much accepted it. After trillion-dollar deficits, ramming through Obamacare, a disastrous foreign policy, an anemic economy, lies about Benghazi, the Tea Party rose up, then was blocked by Obama’s IRS.
Mainstream media praised Obama throughout but rural Americans elected a Republican House and Senate to block his policies. Republican congressional leaders sat on their hands and watched instead. Rural Americans did a slow burn when Obama condescending called them “Bitter clingers” and Hillary Clinton called them a “Basket of Deplorables.”
By 2016, they were looking for someone who would go to Washington and really shake up the elites in both parties. They were ready for a bona fide butt-kicker when Donald Trump showed up. That he’d been married three times and talked about grabbing women didn’t faze them. When mainstream media attacked him and he gave it right back, they loved it. Maine’s rural Second Congressional District where I live went for Trump in 2016 while the coastal First District went overwhelmingly for Clinton. The divide in all of America between the coastal elites and the rural heartland is stark and we can expect it to get broader and deeper for the foreseeable future.
Maine's congressional districts

In last week’s column, I tried to poke fun at the “Pussyhat” preparations and the LGBTQIA+ meme of the Women’s March, but there’s little sense of humor among progressives. Their cause is sacred to them, a kind of surrogate religion. To laugh at them is heresy. Fifty of the organizations sponsoring the march nationwide are funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros and “Reproductive Rights,” a euphemism for abortion, was the strongest single theme. Pro-life women were banned.
Nearly all marchers vilified Donald Trump directly or indirectly as someone who objectifies and mistreats women. It’s interesting to note that there were no marches against President Clinton after he was formally charged with sexual harassment and paid $800,000 to his accuser, but Clinton was pro-abortion. That absolved him from the wrath of feminists no matter what he did to women.
Last week I was reminded again that progressives believe in tolerance, even of people like me who don’t agree with them, as long as we don’t speak up about it.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

A Lot To Learn

The lead story in Maine’s Portland Press Herald on Saturday told us that so many women are making knit hats for the Women’s March on Washington, the entire region was running out of pink yarn. The local chapter of the nationwide Pussyhat Project says it’s a dig at Donald Trump’s infamous remarks ten years ago. Remember? Because he was famous, women would let him grab them by their you-know-what. NBC had it on video and used it against him during the campaign. Women want to “reclaim the term” according to organizers. Three thousand Maine women have signed up to march with their hats which have two little ear-like things sticking out on top to resemble cat ears.
Portland Press Herald photograph

It’s not just about pussyhats. Former Maine State Senator and liberal Democrat Cynthia Dill says it’s about gender and race too and explains the march this way:

“The prism through which marchers will march is one of ‘intersectionality,’ a term coined by a law professor that now serves as currency in social justice circles seeking to recognize multifaceted levels of identity and power.”
I’ll admit, I don’t understand that. Probably my ignorance has something to do with being a white guy who hasn’t renounced his privilege — yet. Maybe it’s time I did. As a young man in the seventies and eighties, I was a left-wing Democrat, but then I moved right. Is it time to consider that maybe I went too far? Is it time for to modulate? Move toward the center?
American's deep divisions are on display as preparations for Trump’s inauguration continue. A hundred thousand women are expected to march on January 21st and I can’t understand when they tell me why. Still, I considered going down there Saturday and putting on a pussyhat with the rest of them. I’ve never liked wearing hats but my hair is getting thin and it's cold… Nah — I’ve got too much going on here in Maine.
How would I actually go about denouncing my while male privilege? Bring it up in casual conversation? “Ahh, the Patriots should go all the way to the Super Bowl, don’t you think? Oh! By the way, I’ve denounced my white male privilege.” Would that work? How many times would I have to say it? To how many people?
Huh?

And how about my toxic masculinity? How do I get rid of that? No, wait… one at a time. But I suspect both have been getting in the way of my understanding what the Women’s March is about, so I read the articles again. The Women’s March is about “intersectionality” including intersecting with LGBTQIA+ people, who are an integral part of the march. Notice how that acronym keeps getting longer? I understood the “LGBT” part — that’s been around a while, but what about the “QIA+”? I had to look that up. The Q could mean either “Queer” or “Questioning,” but isn't “Queer” was a pejorative? I had to look that up too. According to the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates And Defenders) Media Reference Guide:

Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT community. When Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it typically means queer and, less often, questioning.

Okay, but then there’s the “I,” the “A,” and the plus sign. Thanks to the GLAAD guide, I learned “I” means “Intersex,” the “A” could mean either “Ally” or “Asexual.” The plus sign stands for, well, just in case there’s some new group of unusual sexual people claiming they’re not accepted fully enough, and weren’t assigned their own letter yet. We can, of course, expect the acronym to grow longer as things progress. That’s what Progressivism is all about, right?
I didn't have to learn any of this stuff when I was a lefty forty years ago. You only had to resent rich people, believe in socialism, and hate capitalism to be accepted back then. It’s much more complicated now and people are so sensitive...
And this is just a partial list

Now that I understand what LGBTQIA+ means, I can start learning the new pronouns I’ll have to use when addressing each of the groups. The list is long, including the first person, second person, third person singular and plural, the possessive forms, and so forth. Then I still have to practice pronouncing them. Can you see why I can’t be ready to attend the Women’s March by Saturday? I’d offend whoever I talked to because I don’t know how to address them.
People tell me the bald spot on the back of my head is getting bigger. I can’t see it but I feel the effect on cold, windy days, so I really need one of those pussyhats. Maybe I can meet the busses when they return to Portland. Maybe they have some left over…

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