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: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Going Inward

Take down the screens. Bring in the firewood. There’s snow on Mount Washington and it’s time to go inward. People who don’t like this are packing up to go south if they haven’t left already. As Tom Rush put it, they got the urge for goin’. Although it can get tiresome in March, I like being inside during late fall and early winter. I feel different outside too. Wearing flannel-lined pants, a quilted shirt and wool socks, I’m protected against the elements inside my clothing even if a chill wind reddens my cheeks. A whiff of woodsmoke from someone’s chimney turns my thoughts to home and if I smell something cooking as I go back inside it feels even better.

New Englanders are accustomed to changing seasons, having four distinct ones every year. Though we see more transformation, each season unfolds in customary ways with familiar sights, sounds and smells bringing memories of seasons past. Autumn chills make us grateful for warm, dry homes and hot food. It’s no wonder Thanksgiving originated here. If we should forget what’s really important, we’re reminded more often than people in many other regions. Changing seasons put us through familiar cycles and, I think, help us to accept the cycles of life more graciously than we otherwise might.

We go to bed hours after it’s dark in these latitudes and a lot of us wake up before it gets light. There’s something about seeing stars still in the sky as the eastern horizon is just starting to become visible. I feel I have time to get ready for the day, that I’ll be able to deal with it as it unfolds. By the time it’s light enough to see, I’m showered, dressed, and drinking coffee.

Daylight is more precious as it diminishes quickly in November. We savor the dim glow before sunrise, the twilight after dusk and evening’s bright starlight. The Milky Way on a cold, clear autumn night will mesmerize whoever turns his eyes upward. Unlike some city folk who seldom if ever see stars, we who live in the woods of northern New England know that they really do twinkle. Usually I’m out in the yard at such times and I can look back at the house and see into the lighted windows. Use to be it was full of children. Now they’re grown and out in the world somewhere, but under the same stars.

Inside, we contemplate things at fireside. Deeper thoughts and feelings come while watching flames turn to embers. Conversation is subtle, personal. Going out into the cold for another armload of wood and returning to fireside renews contentment. We don’t forget the tumult of the wider world, but it’s way out there beyond the town. There are layers between us and it. We can keep it out there and be safe for a time. Then sleep will come and take us to a new day.

Inside, we read. We write letters because writing is personal. It’s still a conversation but we don’t loose trains of thought because the words are right there. We take time to write because the reader will focus as much as the writer. And if he wants, he can go over the words again or share them with others.

This morning, even Baldface is white. Early wet snows like yesterday’s will soak through my workboots if I don’t treat them with mink oil. An old toothbrush works to apply the stuff and it needs to absorb overnight next to the fire or over a furnace vent. With a good pair of merino wool socks, treated workboots will do for autumn. I have 50-below Sorels for deep winter, but they stayed in the closet last season because deep cold and snow never came. Might need them this year though. Winter’s coming, but I’m ready. Going inward for a while is a good thing.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Defending Maine and America

Mohammed Atta woke up in a motel room on the coast of Maine the morning of September 11th. A few hours later, much of our national security apparatus, both offense and defense, became obsolete. Maine’s old coastal forts are symbols of that. There are quite a few up and down the coast. Three were built within a few hundred feet of each other over a span of 350 years near Popham Beach. None were ever attacked. All three are evidence of the admonition: “If you want peace, prepare for war,” and they represent the highest and best use of any military equipment - that they exist but are not utilized.

Exploring them, my wife and I found ourselves at the site of the first English colony in New England - the Popham colony founded in 1607 in what is now the town of Phippsburg at the mouth of the Kennebec River. There’s nothing there now but a small parking lot and a sign with a drawing of Fort St. George as it was four centuries ago. Its settlers were prepared for a French attack by sea and relied on ramparts and cannon for defense. What defeated them was not the French, however, but Maine’s winter. They abandoned the fort after little more than a year. Across a small cove to the east are the remains of Fort Popham a hundred yards away. It was begun in 1861 but abandoned in 1869. Precisely-cut granite stones lay around still waiting to be lifted into place. Bolts protrude from the floor to receive artillery pieces never needed because the British never entered the war and the South surrendered. Closer to Fort St. George but invisible behind trees are the remains of Fort Baldwin, built before World War I and expanded during World War II. It too is only about a hundred yards away and up a hill to the south. All three forts relied on ramparts and artillery and each is typical for its time.

The threats Maine and America faced altered relatively little for four centuries, but everything changed when the 21st century began. On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Mohammed Atta woke up at the Comfort Inn in South Portland, a few miles south of the three forts. Hours later, nothing was the same. The danger faced by Maine, the United States, and all of western civilization rendered fortifications of little benefit. Artillery isn’t entirely useless though as Maine’s Army National Guard employs it in Iraq in a forward defense strategy - better to kill terrorists in their homeland before they attack civilians here. Our enemies could still hit the United States but haven’t because they’re busy fighting our soldiers nearer their own countries. The best defense has always been a good offense.

Instead, terrorists are attacking Europe. France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, Holland, Belgium and Spain are under virtual siege. Europeans attracted millions of Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, then encouraged them to preserve their way of life in what they thought would be multicultural bliss. Now, many immigrants and their offspring are more inspired by Islamofascist terrorist groups like Al Qaeda than by the European Union’s Constitution. They apply sharia law in sections of French cities where they live on the dole but resist secular authority. Every night, they burn cars and attack those police officers who still try to preserve order. As a result, many police, firemen and ambulances are unwilling to enter Muslim sections of cities across Europe. Radical Muslims exercise de facto control of large areas. In Malmo - Sweden’s third largest city - Muslims will soon comprise the majority of the population and half are on welfare. This is what multiculturalism has wrought - not tolerance and acceptance, but a clash of civilizations. One French Police union calls it the “European Intifada.”

Meanwhile, birth rates of native Europeans have fallen to way below replacement levels while birthrates of Muslim immigrants are huge. Should those trends continue - and they show no sign of abating - Europe as we’ve known it will cease to exist in little more than a generation. It will become “Eurabia.”

Mohammed Atta woke up in South Portland, Maine September 11th, but he came to the United States from Hamburg, Germany (Muslim population 200,000) after training with Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Shoe bomber Richard Reid, arrested at Logan Airport a little further down the coast, is British. “Twentieth hijacker” Zacarias Moussawi is French. Testimony before the US House Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats states: “[Of] 373 radical Muslim terrorists arrested or killed in Europe and the United States from 1993 through 2004 . . . an astonishing 41 percent were Western nationals, who were either naturalized or second generation Europeans, or were converts to Islam. . . . Future terrorist attacks that will be damaging to American national security are therefore likely to have a European connection.” It’s much easier for terrorists to come here with European passports than with Middle Eastern ones.

Against this kind of threat, border fences, terrorist profiling by airports, Coast Guard vessels, immigration officials and the Homeland Security apparatus would be far more effective security than the old ramparts-and-cannon approach. After securing our borders, we must reimpose the Melting Pot model on immigration policy. Multiculturalism has been a disaster for Europe but it’s not too late yet to scrap it in the United States.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Breaking Routine


My routine had been broken. I broke it. In spite of all I had to do, I persuaded my wife to explore part of the Maine coast with me. In spite of all she had to do, she accompanied me. We did it my way - without a specific plan about where we were going to stay for the two nights we’d be gone from our bed. The general destination was Bath and the peninsula to the south. The weather was great as I drove down every road, walked through every cemetery and read every historic marker. She found eight sand dollars on the beach. Of the two restaurants in which we ate dinner, one was okay and the other was first-rate.

We returned Sunday. Instead of beginning my column while watching the Patriots’ game as would have been my habit in the fall, I caught up on some of the caretaking work, figuring I still had Monday, Columbus Day, to write. When I sat on the porch with my laptop, however, it wasn’t flowing. I hadn’t enough time to process all that I’d seen and done and there was no logical sequence to what was emerging as my fingers manipulated the keyboard. Maybe I wouldn’t submit anything this week.

Sometimes it helped if I got up and did something else because when I sat back down, it would flow. I went into the kitchen and made some spaghetti sauce in the crock pot and returned to my laptop, but it didn’t work. My grandson was on the porch with me playing quietly with some construction toys while his mother worked a 12-hour shift at Bridgton Hospital. He smelled the sauce and asked when dinner would be ready. My wife was puttering around her flower garden below us and the sun was getting ready to set over Kearsarge Mountain to the west. Brilliant golden rays backlit her silver hair as she moved about. The maples below the field were bright yellow and red, and with every little puff of breeze, hundreds of leaves drifted gently down from the three big ash trees around her garden. It was quiet enough that I could hear a little crackle as each leaf as it came down on others already fallen.

Seeing this, my grandson forgot his appetite and said, “Let’s go out and catch them!” His eyes were so bright I couldn’t say “No. I have to write this column,” though it was almost on my tongue. Instead, I said, “Yeah, let’s go!” We ran back through the house and out, trying to reach the leaves before they hit the ground but we were too late. He was disappointed, but I said, “Wait. They’ll start falling again as soon as the air moves.” Soon, trees on the hillside below began to move slightly and another cascade of ash leaves drifted down on us, some in clumps of three or four. We scurried about catching as many as we could. For a few minutes at least, he brought out the six-year-old boy in me which had been cooped up too long.

So much wonder showed on his face in the horizontal autumn sun that I went back inside for my camera. The laptop was still on the chair, but I went back out to record images instead of words. As he scampered and rolled around the leaf-covered grass, I clicked over a hundred. He was so caught up that no self-consciousness entered his countenance as I attempted to preserve the moments. Then I used the laptop to take in pictures instead of putting out words. The sun had set below Kearsarge. The horizon and clouds above were backlit and darkness creeped in as I examined each image on the screen. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch and I burned a CD for his mother.

Routines are good when it comes to eating and sleeping, but breaking patterns can be good for us too and I have the pictures to prove it, each worth a thousand proverbial words.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wimpy Infidels

I’m a proud infidel and I won’t apologize. There are bumper stickers on my car and on my truck declaring that. Therefore, there are people who want to kill me and my response is - bring it on. As a public service to my readers I’m informing you that if you’re not a Muslim either, there are people out there who want to kill you too and they’re willing to die in the effort. It won’t help that you may be a sensitive, nuanced, caring pacifist whose bumper stickers say “War is not the Answer” or “Kerry/Edwards ’04” or that you’ve completed advanced sensitivity training courses, or that you’re a staunch promoter of multiculturalism and call Islamofascists “militants” instead of “terrorists.” They’ll kill you anyway. If you’re jewish, you’re at the top of their hit list. They were taught in elementary school that Jews are the descendants of pigs and dogs.

The only thing that will get you off the hit list is a conversion to Islam. That means you have to abandon beliefs that homosexuality is normal, that sex outside of marriage is okay and that men and women are equal. You also have to give up constitutional rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, habeus corpus, bail, trial by jury, and so on. If you should ever decide you don’t want to be a Muslim anymore, you would be an apostate. The penalty for apostates is death.

You still think war is not the answer though and you want to negotiate with them, right? Good luck. We tried that for more than twenty years before September 11th. You could ask Jimmy Carter about negotiating with radical Muslims. He tried for 444 days back in 1979/80. The mad mullahs of Iran humiliated Carter and he lost his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan. Then, just to rub salt in his wounds, the mullahs released the American hostages on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Were the mullahs afraid of what Reagan might do when he became president? Maybe, but they needn’t have been. After declaring during his campaign that he would never do it, he was soon negotiating also, trying to secure the release of other American hostages taken by Iran’s shadow army, Hezbollah. Then Hezbollah killed 400 US Marines with a truck bomb at Beirut airport and Reagan meekly withdrew US forces from Lebanon. Reagan talked tough, but he put his tail between his legs when things got difficult.

Few Americans noticed that at the time, but radical Muslims around the world sure did and they made plans to hit us harder. Reagan, Bush the Elder and Clinton suffered further hits but none of them made a decisive move against our enemies. Bush the Younger didn’t either until after September 11th.

Islamofascists hate western civilization. They’re willing to kill and die to destroy it. But how about us westerners? Are we willing to die defending it? Do we believe enough in our way of life to kill them before they kill us? It doesn’t look like it. Too many Americans hate western civilization too. Our colleges and universities have been scrapping western civ courses for decades. “Who wants to learn about all those dead white guys?” they ask. Military recruiters and ROTC programs are banned from our elite colleges. Professors like Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado believe our enemies have been right to kill us. Hundreds of professors from all over the country sign petitions in support of Churchill. Osama Bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman Zawahiri, says President Bush is a liar and a failure on videotape, but you hear the same thing from radical professors on almost any campus in America. You can read it on liberal Democrat web sites and hear it from Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi too. Depending on the day, Zawahiri sounds just like Michael Moore or Ted Kennedy. Does that mean I’m questioning their patriotism? Darn right. Their courage too.

The world view of so many European and American liberals is that people from North Africa and the Middle East have been oppressed by western countries, that Bush and Cheney are terrorists and Muslims are victims, that all cultures are equal, that war is not the answer and give peace a chance. What’s slowly becoming apparent to them lately is that their dearly-held beliefs aren’t useful when trying to understand Islamofascist hatred of western civilization. They simply don’t apply anymore, if they ever did. When liberal elites in Europe and America say, “I hate western civilization too,” it doesn’t endear them to our enemies. Concepts like cultural relativism and moral equivalence have no currency in this struggle. Islamofascists have special disdain for those who don’t believe in anything strongly enough to die for it.

To Islamofascists, liberals are just wimpy infidels who will be easier to kill than the proud ones.

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