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, March 28, 2007

The Fixer

When something breaks, people expect me to fix it. I’m a father, a husband, a grandfather. I also take care of vacation properties to supplement my teacher salary. To fulfill these roles, I need a workbench with a vise and tools within reach. So, when I built my garage, I put a work area in one corner. If I pull a vehicle in and open the hood, my workbench is right there with lights, a power source and tools. Much of this had been in my basement and there is still a bench down there, but I don’t use it much. It’s hard to lug stuff up and down the stairs and there isn’t as much room to work on large objects as there is in the garage.

There’s one problem though. My garage workbench is right next to the door leading into the house, so when someone comes home with armloads of things, the natural tendency is to set one or more of the loads down on my bench before opening the door. Sometimes they’ll come back and put it where it belongs and sometimes they won’t. Stuff accumulates, covering every square foot of space in a matter of weeks - sometimes only days. So, when I need to work on something, I must first clean off all that stuff before I can set down whatever I’m supposed to fix and examine it.

That’s frustrating. It’s seldom possible to call everyone who put the stuff there and ask them to take it away, so I have to deal with it myself. By the time I’m done, my mood has sometimes soured and I don’t feel like fixing whatever broke.

Some items are things people don’t really want very much, but can’t make the decision to throw away either. So when I ask them to put the things away, they don’t actually have a place. The items haven’t been adopted into the household. They’re kind of a temporary foster things and decisions on their final status have been postponed or forgotten. It falls to me to have to force a resolution. Usually I say something like: “Well put them somewhere, or I’m going to put them in the trash. They don’t belong on my workbench.” In response, I hear a sigh and an “Oh all right,” and some foot stomping while they do it. Those are not the kinds of interactions that engender good will. Though I’d originally set out to do something helpful and nice - to fix something for somebody - it can get unpleasant.

A friend has been remodeling a kitchen and he gave me some old oak wall cabinets. I hung them in the garage and organized a lot of my tools and other stuff and I feel good now. I cleaned off my entire workbench and it looks great. I know where my tools are and there’s a cleared work area on top where I can actually set something down, turn it over and around, disassemble it, and work on it. I don’t know how long it will stay that way, but for the time being, my workbench can be what it was meant to be. I feel powerful - ready to fix whatever should break next. I’m even looking forward to it.

It had been so long since I’d thoroughly cleaned it off, things appeared which I couldn’t identify. They were metal, plastic or polymer and more like pieces of things, but I’ve forgotten what things. I don’t know if they were important things or unimportant things. My wife might have put them there or I might have, but neither of us can remember. Those weighty decisions now fall to me: throw them away only to find out later that they were dreadfully important doodads? I can’t form a committee to decide because I’m all alone, so I put them in an large coffee can labeled UPIPs, or “Unidentified, but Possibly Important Pieces.” I have to save them for five years before I can dispose of them.

Then I realize there are UPIPs on top of my dresser, in the kitchen catchall drawer, on the dashboard of my pickup truck, on the desk in my office at home and on my desk at school. Should I consolidate them all in this one container or leave them where they are? Decisions, decisions. It’s too much to consider all in one weekend. I’ll leave them there for now and figure it out later.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

When high school student Joseph Frederick unfurled his 14-foot banner declaring: “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” at a school-sanctioned event in Juneau, Alaska, was he exercising his First Amendment right to free speech? Principal Deborah Morse suspended him. With the help of the ACLU (of course), he sued her in federal district court and lost, but they appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and won. Now the US Supreme Court will make the final decision.

For those who may not know, “bong hits” are inhalations of marijuana smoke from a large pipe called a “bong.” The principal suspended him because of the pro-drug message on his banner, not the insult to Christians. Frederick, now twenty-three years old, claimed in an interview with the Associated Press published last Sunday:

What the banner said was, ‘Look here, I have the right to free speech, and I’m asserting it.’ I wasn’t trying to say anything religious, anything about drugs.

Uh-huh. Did you take any bong hits before your AP interview, Mr. Frederick?

The First Amendment record of the Ninth Circuit (called “The Ninth Circus” by some) is sketchy. Just two weeks ago, it ruled against two Oakland employees in another free speech case. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported it:

The city of Oakland did not violate two employees’ freedom of speech when it removed a flyer they posted promoting the ‘natural family’ after other workers had founded a Gay and Lesbian Employees Association, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The flyer was taken down by supervisors after complaints by lesbian employees. It read:

Good News Employee Association is a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family values. If you would like to be a part of preserving integrity in the Workplace call Regina Rederford @xxx-xxxx or Robin Christy @xxx-xxxx

The two women thought they should have the same free speech rights as gays and lesbians, but US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker dismissed their lawsuit in 2005 and the Ninth Circuit upheld his ruling. Evidently the “Good News Employee’s Association” isn’t protected by the First Amendment because the “Gay and Lesbian Employee’s Association” has special rights under the city’s “anti-discrimination and harassment” statute. When homosexual activists in Maine passed a similar statute last year, they insisted they wanted only equal rights, not special rights. Uh-huh. Tell that to Robin Christy and Regina Rutherford.

One consolation the women might take is that the Ninth Circuit is the most-overruled appeals court in the country. That’s easy to understand when they rule that “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” is protected speech, but “Natural Family” is “hate speech”. I wonder what their ruling would have been if Frederick’s banner read “Bong Hits 4 Muhammad”?

In another student free speech case last April, the Ninth Circuit ruled a student’s rights were not violated when his school gave him an in-school suspension for refusing to take off a T-shirt proclaiming “Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned” and “Homosexuality is Shameful.” He wore it on a day when gay and lesbian students wore T-shirts supporting homosexuality during a school-sanctioned “Day of Silence.” The student asked for a preliminary injunction that would allow him to wear his T-shirt. The Supreme Court heard his case too but dodged a decision, claiming on March 5th that the case was moot since the student had graduated.

In still another student free speech case, the Associated Press reported this month that:

When a few classmates razzed Rebekah Rice about her Mormon upbringing with questions such as, "Do you have 10 moms?" she shot back: "That’s so gay."
Those three words landed the high school freshman in the principal’s office . . . [where she] got a warning and a notation in her file . . . [H]er parents sued, claiming officials at Santa Rosa’s Maria Carillo High violated their daughter’s First Amendment rights when they disciplined her for uttering a phrase that "enjoys widespread currency in youth culture." . . . Testifying last week about the 2002 incident, Rice, now 18, said that when she uttered those words, she was not referring to anyone’s sexual orientation. She said the phrase meant "that’s so stupid, that’s so silly, that’s so dumb."

Her parents contend the school didn’t protect Rebecca from harassment because of her religion, but instead disciplined her for using a word in a way they didn’t like when she defended herself. She could use “gay” to mean “happy” or “homosexual,” but not “stupid, silly, or dumb.” The word is protected, but not Rebecca. Should the “Ninth Circus” ever get this one - and they may since it’s a California case - want to guess how they’ll rule?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Cult of Gaia

They practice their rituals fervently and insist that everyone believe as they do. They see themselves as morally superior to the rest of us and they pressure government to enact laws that would punish unbelievers. They preach that unless we all do exactly as they say, billions will die and the world will come to an end. In some sects, animals are more sacred than humans. They worship a god they call Gaia (pronounced gi-yuh) and they won’t rest until they impose their beliefs on everyone.

Recycling is their most sacred rite. Bicycling and composting are also paths to holiness. They evangelize the world claiming that if everyone recycles and makes compost piles, Gaia will be pleased. Anyone who mentions studies showing that recycling uses more energy than it saves commits blasphemy. Such sacrilege so outrages the Cult of Gaia, members binge on organic vegetables and Ben & Jerry’s Rainforest Crunch until their inner turmoil diminishes. Lately, their fire-and-brimstone preaching about the “End Times” of global warming is gaining disciples across the globe. According to my local paper, The Conway Daily Sun Saturday, two-thirds of New Hampshire towns have articles on their warrants for spring town meeting demanding that state and national governments do something about global warming.

Even the conservative DRUDGE REPORT carried the blaring headline: “REPORT WARNS OF COMING CHAOS” last Sunday. Clicking on it took me to an Associated Press report declaring:

The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won’t have enough water . . . At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the Earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels . . .
Also forecast were malaria epidemics and killer hurricanes. Right above that story were Google-sponsored links claiming:

Truth of Global Warming - How to Avoid The Extinction of Man - A Survival Wake Up Call! savethehumansnow.org

The Coming World War - Find out what Nostradamus says about the years 2007 - 2012. NostradamusOnline.com.

Droughts and floods aren’t bad enough? We have to endure malaria epidemics, killer hurricanes and a world war at the same time? This is serious. Gaia must be really pissed.

A headline in Saturday’s London Times declared:

Europe goes nuclear in battle to save the planet.” Europeans have converted to the Gaia Mother Earth Cult too and they’re among its most fervent disciples. According to another weekend story from UPI, Czech President Vaclav Klaus declared that “Environmentalism is a religion" that seeks to reorganize the world order as well as social behavior and value systems worldwide.

Klaus’s observation fits with what I’m seeing where I live in New England and around the United States. Oregon’s governor threatened to fire the state climatologist for the blasphemy of doubting human behavior is the cause of global warming. Delaware’s climatologist faces Inquisition for a similar offense. Virginia’s former climatologist published a book about “expensive [global warming] policies that are likely to have little or no detectable effect on the planet's temperature.” Notice he’s now the former state climatologist.

The Sunday Telegraph
reported that other blasphemous climatologists are threatened with death:

Scientists who questioned mankind's impact on climate change have received death threats and claim to have been shunned by the scientific community. They say the debate on global warming has been "hijacked" by a powerful alliance of politicians, scientists and environmentalists who have stifled all questioning about the true environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions. Timothy Ball, a former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Canada, has received five deaths threats by email since raising concerns about the degree to which man was affecting climate change . . . [Ball]claimed the theory of man-made global warming had become a "religion" forcing alternative explanations to be ignored.

Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on doors telling people to prepare for the “End Times.” They believe in their religion as much as Gaians do, but they don’t impose their views on us. They treat people who don’t believe as they do with respect. Periodically, they go up on a mountaintop somewhere when they think the world will end, and when it doesn’t they go back down and check over their theological calculations. They don’t insist on restrictive government measures that would shut down our economy as the Cult of Gaia does.

The historical record indicates wild climate swings here in what is now New England, and nearly everywhere else on earth as well. On Vermont mountain tops you can find fossil shells from tropical seas alongside bedrock scrapes from glaciers more than a mile thick. There’s coal from tropical rain forests in Antarctica. The whole planet saw extreme climate swings countless times before humans ever existed. None of that matters to the Cult of Gaia though. They still insist that strictly-enforced practice of their religious rites will stabilize our climate in its present state forever.

Perhaps they also believe we increase sunlight by setting our clocks ahead.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Right Choice

More than six years after their oh-so-close election fight, Bush and Gore are still in the news. Gore got an Academy Award and was the darling of Hollywood. Bush got his usual hammering. You know the drill: He’s a moron, warmonger, liar. As dozens scramble to replace him, our president’s foibles are out there. I don’t see him as a moron, a liar, or a warmonger, but many of his policies are way off. Twice I voted for him, however, and would again given the same choices.

Mr. President? Here’s where you’ve messed up so far:

You’re wrong on government spending first and foremost. There’s very little government can do for people that they wouldn’t be better off doing for themselves.

You’re wrong on the prescription drug benefit. We simply cannot afford it.

You’re wrong on aid to agribusiness and small farmers. Let farmers sink or swim on their own like everyone else.

You’re wrong on aid to education. The federal government should not be in the education business except for perhaps one function: Design a test to measure what every student should know and be able to do in each grade, K-12. Don’t require that every student take it; just put it out there so everyone knows about it. If states or local districts really want to see how their students measure up, they’ll use it. If they don’t, they won’t. Government can’t make schools improve. Only the communities in which those schools exist can do that.

You’re wrong on illegal immigration. What part of the word “illegal” don’t you understand? Look at the map. Borders define our country. If we don’t control them, we won’t be a country. Legal immigrants are fine and they’re the only ones who should be here. Deport the rest. All of them.

You’re wrong on the war: You’re not aggressive enough. Reread your speeches from the fall of 2001. The “Bush Doctrine” was right on the money. “If you support terrorism, we’re coming after you,” you said. Iran and Syria are supporting terrorism and you’re not going after them.

Other than those things, I’m with you, and I know you’re not as dumb as you look sometimes. Meanwhile, you can take some consolation knowing your opponents in 2000 and 2004 are making asses of themselves. Next to them, you still look good. Kerry dropped out the 2008 race because people got to know him and they don’t like him. Even though he called you dumb, your GPA at Yale was higher than his. He still thinks he’s a genius though and that irritates people. Those remarks about our soldiers being “stuck in Iraq” because they didn’t do well in school? Dumb. Very dumb.

Then we have Al “Save the World” Gore. He’s telling us all to ride bikes and cut down on electricity while just one of his mansions uses more than twenty times what an average American home does, and he has three of them. Meanwhile, your ranch in Crawford is an ecological wonder compared to Gore’s Nashville home. According to a 2001 article in the Chicago Tribune:

[Bush’s] 4,000-square-foot house is a model of environmental rectitude. Geothermal heat pumps located in a central closet circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground where the temperature is a constant 67 degrees; the water heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer. Systems such as the one in this ‘eco-friendly’ dwelling use about 25% of the electricity that traditional heating and cooling systems utilize. A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof runs; wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers goes into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the four-bedroom home. Plants and flowers native to the high prairie area blend the structure into the surrounding ecosystem.


In a free society, hypocrites like Gore get smoked out eventually.

When Bush won the 2000 election, I was at a directors’ meeting of an education-reform group called “The Southern Maine Partnership” at a fancy restaurant in Portland. I was the only person there who voted for him. The others were depressed as they speculated, ominously, that Bush would advocate vouchers in public education - checks to parents for about half the amount it would cost to educate students for a year in public school. Parents could use vouchers for private school tuition.

“I think vouchers are a good idea,” I said. There was silence as everyone looked at me incredulously. “Gore sent his kids to private schools but he’s against vouchers that would enable others to do the same thing. Meanwhile, Bush sent his kids to public schools but he supports vouchers that would allow many more parents to make the same choice Gore did. Bush is pro-choice on education and so am I.” My term on the board ran out shortly after that and I wasn’t invited back.

My votes in 2000 and 2004 don’t keep me up nights. President Gore? President Kerry? Now those are scary thoughts.

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