Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It’s been more than twenty years since I sold it, but I miss the old house. It’s only a mile down the hill in the village and it must be something like how it feels to have an ex-wife in town. It was drafty-cold in winter, but when I felt chilled I could warm up by backing up to the wood stove. My new house is warm and tight. There are no drafts and the temperature is even, but I still miss the old place.
That old house drove me crazy sometimes, but most of my memories are good. It will always be part of me because for nine years I crawled all over it inside and out, fixing this and painting that, re-building something else. Nothing was square and all the carpentry took longer, but it was strong, built with posts and beams and tree-nails. The foundation was split granite and hadn’t moved for over a century. There was brick-lined, well just inside the building and water flowed through the partial cellar during spring, coming in from the uphill side and draining out the downhill side. In a dry summer, the well would get low, but we always had enough water if we were careful, even with four kids and two adults. I liked that the house was older than me, more than a hundred years older. When the wind blew hard on winter night, I’d feel uneasy, but then I’d realize that the house had weathered many such storms for more than a century before I was born. There was a certain security in that.
I like my new house too, but it took a long time before I’d done enough to it with my own hands to make it really mine. I bought the land, cleared the trees, and chose a plan with my wife, but I hired carpenters to do most of the actual building. It’s twenty years old now and I’m fifty-seven - much older than the house. The wind blows more strongly here on the windward of Christian Hill. There’s nothing between me and Mount Washington to block it, and on Christmas Eve it was howling worse than I ever remember it. The old house was on the leeward side of the same hill, and I was questioning my judgement about deciding to build here. If anything happened, I’d have no one to blame but myself.
Speaking of the blame game, many in my generation of baby boomers have blamed our problems on the WWII generation for a long time, suggesting they could do a much better job of it. Well, that “greatest generation” is nearly all gone now. The old folks don’t stay around like old houses. They die and we bury them and we become the elders. Most of our current world and national problems are created by guess who? Baby boomers, because we’ve been essentially running things for a couple of decades. Though we still do, we can’t legitimately blame our parents anymore, and soon we won’t be able to ask them for advice either. We’ll have to become fonts of wisdom for those generations following us whether we’re able to or not. I hope they’re more gracious to us than we were to our parents.
Like my new house, our new president-elect is younger than I am. The last two have been only slightly older but I don’t think either one was smarter or wiser - quite the contrary. Obama is on the back end of the baby boomer generation and I’m nearer the front. I’m a whole decade older than he is. Pondering this reminds me of how I felt when I talked to a much younger resident surgeon who was about to do an emergency procedure on me. I had to consent because I couldn’t wait for my own doctor. Now Obama is about to perform emergency surgery on our whole country. He has a Democrat-controlled Congress to pass what he wants and I’m going to have to sit back and watch.
When I go food-shopping, I notice more aisles selling “organic” things, whatever that means. I push my cart past them. If shopping carts had bumper stickers, I would see “Obama/Biden” and “Earth is our Mother” and “Live Simply” down those aisles anyway. Let them pay the inflated prices. In the checkout line recently, a cashier looking for the price of some produce I was buying asked me if it was organic. “I hope not,” I said. “At my age, I need all the preservatives I can get.” I never buy organic produce. It costs more, usually looks wrinkled and misshapen, and doesn’t taste any better. The only way produce tastes better is when it’s fresher, and organic doesn’t mean fresh.
All these are indicators to add to my “You know you’re getting older when . . .” list, which will only get longer until I’m dead - nature’s way of telling us to slow down.
Happy New Year.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Several things have been bothering me lately, and what good is it to be a columnist if I can’t spout off about them in this space? I’ve been yelling at the television and that’s a sign I need to vent. I’ll start with cliches.
If I use an annoying cliche, someone please - please berate me publicly for it. And if I should ever repeat it, I pledge here and now to make a $100 donation to your favorite charity, even if it happens to be the OJ Simpson or Hot Rod Blagojevich Defense Fund. I’m that serious. Meanwhile, I’m begging people in the media to stop saying “thrown under the bus.” I’ve had enough of that phrase. I’m ready to highjack a bus and drive it into the NBC Headquarters in New York City if I hear it again.
While we’re at it, I’m already sick of “take a haircut,” aren’t you? I heard it for the first time only about a month ago, but it’s gotten to me already. I know we’re in tough economic times and we all have to cut back. I promise to do my share, but please don’t phrase it that way anymore, okay? Let’s resurrect “tighten our belts” for a while, and when that wears out, I’ll come up with something else. There must be a thesaurus for worn-out phrases out there somewhere. I’m volunteering to buy one and list alternative ways of trying to sound hip.
Thank goodness “think outside the box” has gone out of fashion. Though I’ve been attending just as many meetings as I’ve always had to, I haven’t heard that for months now and I’m very thankful. People in sports use cliches the most, but I can forgive them. They don’t claim to be smart. They’re not expected to be gifted at expressing themselves, only doing things. Though most of them don’t seem too bright, politicians pretend to be intelligent. So when they use cliches, it’s much more annoying because they think they sound so snappy when they just sound dumb, especially if it’s Nancy Pelosi.
Speaking of Rod Blagojevich and haircuts, what is it about sleazy Serbs and their hair? It’s pretty clear that whatever time Blagojevich has when he’s not selling Senate seats, shaking down children’s hospitals, or trying to get editorial writers fired, he’s working on his hair. It’s so important to him that the Chicago Sun Times suspected Blago suffered from “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” He must have stayed up late watching Ted Koppel a lot when he was a kid and made him a role model. Then there’s Radovan Karadzic. Remember him? The guy accused of murdering 7500 Bosnians about twelve years ago just because they weren’t Serbs? It looked to me that, aside from killing people, the thing he cared most about in the world was his hair. In addition to being a mass murderer, he was also a psychiatrist who could have diagnosed himself with Blago’s disorder mentioned above. I don’t know if he has access to hairspray and mirrors while he’s on trial in The Hague for war crimes, but if he hasn’t, that might the punishment that hurts him most. Better put him on suicide watch.
And speaking of liberal politicians from the upper midwest, there’s Comb-over Carl Levin, Democrat Senator from Michigan. I shouldn’t have to spell this out, but look Carl: a lot of guys go bald on top and it’s doesn’t make you a bad person. Invariably, it looks dumb when you grow that side hair long and comb it over your bald dome and then plaster it down somehow. It doesn’t fool anybody and proclaims to the world that “I’m bald and I can’t deal with it!” If it gets too cold up there in Michigan, ask Joe Biden where he got his hair plugs installed or wear a hat.
There now. I feel better already.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Long hours of darkness here in the northern latitudes focus my attention on light. I like to wake before dawn to starlight, then watch emanations from a still-distant sun displace dark slowly and quietly. First I see branches against a faint sky. Later, direct sun illuminates mountains in the west. Lastly, the sun itself rises over the hill behind me. All of it charms me as I begin the day. I end it watching again as the sun drops behind those western mountains. During its low arc across the winter sky, I’m usually somewhere else - at school or checking things around town. Sometimes I’m home to watch, but it seldom gets very high above the bare hardwoods and sparse evergreens. Much of winter’s sun is like that - filtered through branches or reflecting off something. Seen directly, it’s bright enough to hurt your eye, but not warm enough to heat your body unless you feel it through a window.
We’re used to this up north. We move around when we’re outdoors to stay warm. Indoors we hover around our own light and heat sources. Inside or out, I’m acutely aware of light lately and it’s is related to the beauty visible around me. Since I’ve been traveling the same paths for decades, it means something in me is changing what I see. I’m as busy as ever, but my mind is less cluttered. Eyesight weakens with age but I see more, paradoxically, especially when it’s lit by light from sun or moon.
Traveling in Ireland last summer, I was struck by how the ancients built monuments to the sun’s rhythms all over the island. In August, the sun didn’t set until 9:30, but at this time of year they get little more than seven hours of daylight. Just north of Dublin is a fascinating, five-thousand-year-old structure seemingly dedicated to the winter solstice - that day of the year when sunlight is weakest. Called Newgrange, it’s only one of the several so-called “passage tombs” in the vicinity of the Boyne River valley. Cremated human remains were placed inside the huge mound under a corbelled chamber made of enormous stones decorated with spirals, circles and angular etchings, the meaning of which is unknown. We know little about the people who built them except they pre-date the Celts by 2500 years.
Not much is known about the passage tombs either because they’ve only been studied during the past forty years or so, but I have an idea those ancient ones associated death with absence of light. They put cremated remains in a carved granite bowl in the chamber deep inside the mound. The only access is through a very narrow passageway flanked by huge stones. I had to turn sideways at some points because my shoulders were too wide. It’s pitch-black in the chamber, but at sunrise on the day of the winter solstice, light shines through the narrow, sixty-foot-long passage and into that chamber illuminating the ornate carvings and the human remains for seventeen minutes. It’s as if they believed that first light on the darkest day of the year might spark a resurrection.
The huge stones of the uprights and lintels making up the passageway, of the corbelled chamber, and the 97 kerbstones holding up the mound were hauled from a hundred of miles away. Local stone was available, so why did they go to all that trouble? The far-away stone doesn’t seem especially pretty or have any other obvious advantage. It’s a mystery. It’s estimated that it would have taken over three hundred workers more than twenty years to build it. They display a remarkable knowledge of astronomy, though the site predates both Stonehenge by a thousand years, and the Egyptian pyramids by five hundred years. Other upright stones and mounds are scattered about as they are all over Ireland as well as Britain, Scotland, France and Denmark.
St. Patrick is famous for using the three leaves of the shamrock to explain Christianity’s Holy Trinity. Maybe he knew of the ancient Irish triple spiral motif as well. Sun worship continued up to St. Patrick’s time and he was wise enough to incorporate it into Christianity. That’s why the Celtic cross has the sun’s image circling the point where the vertical and horizontal meet. Apparently St. Patrick emphasized connections between light and Christ. He was born under a star in Bethlehem. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light,” He said. And, He rose from a stone tomb at first light Easter morning. Celtic crosses predominate in Irish cemeteries, including the ones with remains of my ancestors. Perhaps awareness of light is inherited.
Stinking corruption in Chicago has been obvious for years, and President-elect Obama has been nothing but a go-along, get-along guy all during his twenty years there. It’s not a secret. I’m absolutely ripped that our mainstream media didn’t do their jobs and ignored it all during Obama’s two-year campaign - when it was out there for all to see. As an Illinois state senator, Obama was a top advisor to Governor Blagojevich in his first gubernatorial campaign along with Obama’s recently-appointed chief of staff, Congressman Rahm Emmanuel. They’ll claim this extremely corrupt governor is not the Rod Blagojevich they knew, even though he’s been under federal investigation for seven years. Obama said he didn’t know the Reverend Wright had been making those outrageous sermons for twenty years either, even he also said he was there in the pew every Sunday. He didn’t know Blagojevich’s bag man, Tony Rezco, was a crook when they did a shady real estate deal together. He said yesterday that he never spoke to Blagojevich about his Senate replacement, but his campaign manager, David Axelrod said he did. Give me a break.
Now, at a critical point in our nation’s history, our president-elect is tarnished - at the very least - by this scandal. We have him because the media delivered him to us. We’re at war and changing horses in mid-stream. Our economy is on the verge of collapse. We need a strong leader more than ever, but we have to do the vetting that should have been done before the election. I’m squeezing my jaw so hard I’m going to crack a tooth.
In Thomas Carlyle's 1841 book On Heroes And Hero Worship, he wrote: “[British politician Edmund] Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than them all.”
Our Fourth Estate has failed us, big time.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Looks like we’re in for more federal government and that can’t be good. Democrats have convinced most of us that our economic distress results from lack of regulation rather than too much. Whether that’s true or not (and it isn’t) doesn’t matter. That’s how people perceive it and in politics, perception is reality. Political reality won’t change until perception changes and that could take a long time - years, or decades even. That our economic mess is, at bottom, a subprime mortgage crisis - caused by our federal government forcing banks to lend money to people who couldn’t pay it back - doesn’t matter. People believe it was Wall Street business tycoons who caused it all, so government will step in and control them - and continue to lend money to people they shouldn’t.
Big government is the most inefficient way to do anything. That’s why Jefferson said: “That government is best which governs least.” It used to be the mantra of the Republican Party - until the George W. Bush Administration. Under him, government grew faster than it had in any Democrat administration and it’s one of the biggest reasons Republicans got clobbered so badly in the last two elections. Now President Obama wants to be the new FDR and take control of the economy. My professional career has been in public education during a time in which the federal government took control of it, and the results have been dismal.
There weren’t many openings for history teachers in May of 1975 when I finished undergraduate school. A week before school started in September I found a job teaching juvenile delinquents in Lowell, Massachusetts where there were lots of them. Federal special education law had just kicked in though, and delinquents were reclassified as emotionally-disturbed adolescents. Many were no doubt disturbed, but most were junior con men. That ilk I understood, having grown up with many, but federal regulations dictated that we treat them as if they were handicapped. Once the junior cons realized this, they used it to their advantage of course, and lots of the federal taxpayer’s money was spent for little or no gain. A strong case could be made that juvenile delinquency in Massachusetts actually got worse. Federal programs didn’t work because people followed regulations instead of their common sense.
Trained as a history teacher, I wasn’t certified in Special Ed, so I had to take courses - so many that just a few more earned a master’s degree. So I got one, then moved north to take a job running the federally-funded Special Ed and Title I Programs in Maine School Administrative District 72. Our district spent this federal program money to hire ed techs who gave students individual attention. Our superintendent was a WWII US Army vet very familiar with federal regs. When state and federal checkers visited, I’d tell each ed tech whether they were Title I or Special Ed for that day. After showing the checkers around in the morning, our superintendent showed them local trout streams in the afternoon and they went away happy. No federal tax money was wasted.
Regulations and paperwork multiplied however, and I spent most of my time with telephones, filing cabinets and meetings, none of which provided job satisfaction. A new superintendent came in who was picky about paperwork, so when a job teaching history opened up, I took it along with a cut in pay. I’ve liked my job since because I’m left alone in my classroom. Meanwhile, I’ve observed with dismay the increasing union and central government control of public education.
I’m still involved in special education the way every teacher is: I go to lots of meetings and see lots more money spent. Few would begrudge spending for the mentally retarded, physically handicapped, or those with sight, hearing, dyslexia, or other issues. However, some who would have been coded as Educable Mentally Retarded (EMR) thirty years ago, are now classified “low-normal” and dropped from services. Meanwhile, special ed staff spend increasing amounts of time cultivating what some of us call “learned helplessness” in students whose biggest problem is an unwillingness to apply themselves. Schools must abide by federal statutes and ignore their better judgement about which students are served and how. Personnel may be used only with certain students and not others who don’t fit the regs, even though their needs are plainly very great. This waste of resources is worst when power and decision-making is centralized in Washington instead of in local schools. It’s been maddening to watch this trend increase year after year.
Now that Democrats are firmly in control our entire federal government again, and are beholden more to teachers’ unions than any other constituency, we’re going to see more of the same at an accelerated pace. We can look for similar developments in the economy, or in any other area the federal government wants to “regulate.”
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
On Thanksgiving Day Americans give thanks to God. Used to be everybody knew that but the multiculturalists among us have done their damnedest to hide it, so it’s become necessary to state it up front. When I ask my students about who is to be thanked on this national holiday, they look puzzled. “Indians?” they guess. That’s a clue about what we’re becoming in the 21st century. Only after discussing it some will a student say, “Wait a minute. Isn’t it God?” Those of us fortunate enough to have extended family members in their eighties can ask them the question as a kind of experiment. My prediction is that they, too, will look puzzled, but not because they don’t know the answer. They’ll be puzzled that anyone would even ask the question.
Americans face uncertainty this winter, but not the kind we thought we’d be facing. Just a few months ago we were worried about high fuel costs when gas prices and heating oil prices were around $4 per gallon. Those costs are back down to manageable levels, but now the economy itself is uncertain. People are being laid off. Nearly all of us know someone who has either gotten a pink slip or whose business has slowed dangerously. The stock market is doing a slow-motion crash. Corporations and banks are failing left and right and few economic advisors are predicting that bottom will be reached anytime soon. Unlike his soaring rhetoric during the campaign, our newly-elected president is sending out spokesmen to damper down expectations that he’s going to fix everything next year, the year after, or even in four years.
This year, I’m thankful for basic things like life, health, family, food, clothing, shelter, and heat. After several years of idleness, I’ve dusted off my chainsaws, dropped trees, and worked them up with my splitting maul - and it felt good. I’d almost forgotten how satisfying it can be to work on the woodpile when it’s getting cold. It’s simple and meaningful work in a complicated world. When I moved my young family to Maine thirty-one years ago, that became my routine because I had no choice. Oil was too expensive. The kids pitched in and it was all good. On the woodpile, there’s no disconnect between the work you do and the reason you do it. It’s hard work, there’s no better feeling than looking at a full woodshed when snow starts to fly. For a man whose job is to take care of his family, it’s a labor of love.
Back to basics is good. So is self-reliance. There was a time when Americans depended on themselves for just about everything and wouldn’t think of calling on government unless there were an emergency. There were no such things as entitlements. We were strong then because the only thing we felt entitled to was the opportunity to work. We always believed in helping each other, but that help was direct. It was bringing your tools over to your neighbor’s and working with him. It wasn’t in the form of government shaking you down for taxes to be spent on people you believe should be doing more for themselves. There’s no satisfaction in that.
Thanksgiving Day is uniquely American. It started with ordinary people celebrating the fruits of their own labor, working side by side for their common welfare - their life, their liberty, and pursuit of their happiness, all of which they knew were theirs by right. They also knew where those rights came from - from their Creator, not from their government. A century and a half later, their descendants put it down in writing and sent it to the king. On that day back in 1621 however, they gave thanks to God.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Can we finally get rid of “Affirmative Action” now that we have a black president? Barack Obama was freely elected by the votes of more than 63 million Americans with all shades of skin. We know this because our government and our media are obsessed with race. Endlessly, they classify us all even though biologists insist there’s no such thing as “races.” We humans belong to only one race - the human race. Any others are socially-constructed categories based on skin color or other variances within the human species. In other words, they exist only because we insist they do. How many times have you been asked to classify yourself as “White-non Hispanic” or “Black” or “Native American” or “Pacific Islander” or any one of a growing list of “races”?
The Constitution requires our federal government to count us all every ten years for the purpose of apportioning congressional districts according to population. Slave-holding states insisted that slaves be counted so they could have more congressional power. Anti-slavery states didn’t want to count them at all since they were not citizens. A compromise resulted in which only three-fifths of the slave population would count toward seats in Congress. After post-Civil-War Amendments 13, 14, and 15, there was no need to categorize American citizens this way, but it persisted and even expanded nonetheless. Such is the nature of government bureaucracies.
When I was visited by a census taker eight years ago, he sat at my kitchen table and filled out a form as he questioned me. When he got to the part about “race” I watched him as he was about to check off “white.” I said, “Wait a minute,” and insisted that he put me down as human. He said he had to check off one of the categories and there were none for “human.” I said leave it blank then. He said he could see that I was white and he marked it. I let it go, but I won’t in 2010 when census-takers come around again. I’ll refuse to cooperate when my government discriminates on the basis of race. It’s racism, pure and simple, and we have to get off this ludicrous merri-go-round.
For a century after slavery was outlawed, black people (and others) were discriminated against. To remedy that, the Civil Rights Bill was signed into law by President Johnson in 1964. It became illegal to “limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Yet that is exactly what Affirmative Action does. It classifies people according to the above-mentioned categories and grants them preferential treatment at the expense of others. “Affirmative Action” is a euphemism for racial preferences - the very antithesis of what the Civil Rights Bill intended. It was wrong in principle when white people got racial preferences, and it’s wrong when any other group does also.
When people like Ward Connerly of the American Civil Rights Institute moved to eliminate racial categories from the US Census altogether, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) insisted they remain. How else could they use the power of government to “advance colored people” if they were not identified by that government and given preferences in hiring, college admissions, and business contracts? A sort of compromise was worked out in which citizens were allowed to check off more than one of 126 possible classifications of race and ethnicity, but this only made things worse.
Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute has been effective, however, in its efforts at outlawing Affirmative Action in several states including California, Washington, Michigan, and Nebraska through the referendum process. Enacted in 1996, “The California Civil Rights Initiative,” for example, reads as follows:
“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.”
For this, Connerly has been attacked as “racist” by fellow black activists. How an initiative that bars discrimination on the basis of race can be called racist is beyond me, but such is the hopelessly skewed thinking of race-baiting activists like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, as well as most members of the NAACP and the Democrat Party.
While there’s still a question of whether Barack Obama got into Columbia and Harvard through Affirmative Action, he won the highest office in the land without it. If that’s not proof that it’s time to eliminate Affirmative Action once and for all, please tell me - what is it going to take?
Sunday, November 09, 2008
It was a bad week. Couldn’t start my column on Sunday like I usually do because the hard drive on my laptop crashed while I was away for the weekend. Monday morning I got it outlined on my back-up machine before leaving for school, but after school I had to drive a hundred miles (round trip) to drop my main machine off with the nearest Apple-certified technician. Tuesday after school I picked it up and hurried home to vote before the polls closed. Election results were depressing for conservatives like me. Wednesday morning I was pulled over for speeding on the way to school. Been driving that road the same way for thirty-one years, but oh well. I was going 55 in a 45.
Most of my students are Obama supporters. I’m not and they know it. I knew they would be giving me plenty of “I told you so’s” that day and I wasn’t looking forward to it. In the first class, students asked if I’d heard that Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country and not a continent.
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Where did you hear that?
“On television this morning,” said one student and another concurred right away. “She’s pretty dumb,” he said.
“What news show were you watching?” I asked. Neither could tell me, but I learned later that the information came from sources in the McCain campaign and was widely reported in the Mainstream Media. For two months, students had been repeating reports about how ignorant and inexperienced Sarah Palin was. I asked each class that day how many of them had seen reports like that. About two-thirds raised their hands. Several told me Palin spent too much on clothes, thought she could see Russia from her house in Alaska, shot animals from a plane, had a pregnant teenaged daughter, or avoided answering interview questions.
“Hmm,” I said. “Let me ask you a few questions. Did you hear that Obama claimed a few months ago that he’d campaigned in 57 states and still had one more to go?” In five classes with approximately 125 students, only one girl had heard it on the radio.
“Okay, how about this one: When Katie Couric interviewed Joe Biden about comparing our financial crisis to the Great Depression, he claimed President Roosevelt went on television to explain the 1929 stock market crash to the American people. How many of you heard about that?”
Not one had. Several students said television hadn’t been invented then. I told them it had, but televisions weren’t being sold because nothing was being broadcast until the late forties. We’d been studying the Great Depression and several knew that Roosevelt didn’t become president until 1933 - nearly four years after the stock market crash.
Then I told them that during the vice presidential debate, Biden claimed that “Article One of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States” (find it at the 4:00 mark) when actually, the executive branch is defined in Article Two. Not a single student heard about that blunder either.
Many times during September and October I’d had students turn to Article II in their textbook’s copy of the Constitution so they could read about qualifications, duties, and powers of the president and vice president. They’d also read several parts of Article I which outlines the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. “Biden has been a US senator for 36 years,” I said. “Don’t you think he should know this stuff?”
Many nodded gravely.
“So what’s the point I’m making?” I asked each class and waited for them to think it over. “I can show you Obama and Biden saying dumb things on ‘You Tube,’ but only one girl heard any of it. On the other hand, most of you heard plenty to make Palin appear foolish. What’s up with that?”
Students suggested that television stations don’t like to show bad things about Democrats. “That seems like a valid conclusion,” I said. “Our broadcast media had plenty of material on both sides, but only used it against one. Why would they do that?”
“Because they’re biased?” several asked.
“I think so,” I said. “Their reporting has certainly had an influence on you. Do you think it’s had a similar influence on Americans who vote?”
There were nods all around.
“Fox News seems to have a conservative bias, but all the rest have a liberal bias. The worst part, however, is that none of them admit it. They pretend to be objective.”
“You’re taking this too hard, Mr. McLaughlin,” said one boy as class was ending.
“Perhaps,” I said. "Been a hard week."
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The times we’re living in are fertile ground for what I do, which is teaching US History since 1901. We’re in the end stage of a presidential election that has riveted most people’s attention, no matter what their political orientation. We’re engaged in a war with people who wish to impose their religion on the entire world and are willing to die in the process. Then, in the midst of all this, we’re faced with a financial crisis almost nobody understands, but is being called the worst since the Great Depression. About 125 different students started filing in and out of my classroom in early September and I’ve been trying to help them understand it all.
Few of us learn history chronologically. Rather, it’s a little here, a little there, and gradually we develop a working hypothesis to understand the dynamics, the cause-and-effect, of those events with which we become familiar. Then something comes along that doesn’t fit and we have to adjust that hypothesis to accommodate it. I’m charged with teaching 20th century US History, weaving in economics, geography, civics, and current events. I can’t teach everything that happened since January 1, 1901 when the 20th century began, so I have to leave out some things and emphasize other things. The choices I make, no matter what they are, will please some and annoy others. This year, I’ve largely abandoned chronology and taken things as they come. I’ve been comparing this presidential election with the 1932 election, for instance. There are many parallels and many differences - and both are helpful.
One parallel is panic. Fear that stock prices would collapse in 1929 and the panic-selling which resulted helped cause the collapse. So began the Great Depression. Then, as Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, fear that banks would collapse caused people to withdraw their deposits - and that caused banks to fail. When teaching these events, I’ve found it helpful to call up from students what they already know. I ask them to tell me the “Chicken Little” story most of them have been told about the stupid chicken who gets hit on the head by a falling acorn and goes running to tell the king that the sky is falling. Panic spreads as he’s joined by Henny Penny, Turkey Lurkey and the rest. Their birdbrained fear is soon exploited by Foxy Loxy and they come to sad end in his lair. The lesson, of course, is that their fear brought about their demise. Then I tell students that they already know part of Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, but they don’t know they know it. When I tell them that, they give me funny looks. Then I say, “There’s nothing to fear but . . .” and gesture for them to finish the sentence, which they do, saying: “fear itself.” Thus they put into context what they already know. Another piece of the incomplete puzzle that represents their understanding of their world goes into place. Their working hypothesis becomes a little clearer.
One difference between the elections of 1932 and 2008 is that things are not nearly as bad today as they were then. The unemployment rate in 1932 was approaching 25% - one out of four people were out of work. Today it’s only around 6%. Also, there were no supports in place for those laid off - no unemployment insurance, no housing or heating assistance, no welfare other than what a municipality or private charity offered. Also, people here in northern New England tended to live on small, subsistence farms, so they were able to provide their own basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, heat, etc. When I’ve sent former students out into the community at the end of each year to interview the elderly, they ask how the Great Depression affected our now-senior citizens. The most common answer goes something like this: “Well, we weren’t poor. We just didn’t have any money.”
That’s not true now. Most of us don’t live on subsistence farms anymore. If there should be another Great Depression as some fear, we’ll have to find other ways to cope.
People sense turbulence ahead and have elected a new president who promises “Change we can believe in.” He’s pretty vague, however, about what that change will be or how he’ll bring it about. His vice president-elect warns us that the new guy will be tested by hostile foreign elements very soon after taking office. He, too, was vague in his remarks, but he indicated that the American people might not be happy about the way the new president responds to this test. Roosevelt had eight years in office before he was tested by hostile foreign elements. It’ll come much sooner for President Obama if we can believe his VP. We know he can give a good speech, but will that be enough to pass the test? We’ll see, I guess.
There’s a Chinese proverb which says: “I’d rather be a dog in peaceful times than live as a man in turbulent times.”
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Disdainful, but dependent. That’s how I would describe the teenagers who seemed cool to many in junior high and high school. Parents, most teachers, and other authority figures were objects of their disdain because they were hopelessly uncool - not as aware of how the world was changing as they themselves were. Most of those teenagers grow up, however, because their parents tolerate their rebellion only up to a point and then cut them loose to fend for themselves. Thus they learn what Margaret Thatcher said: “The facts of life are conservative.”
Others don’t. They never seem to learn the facts of life, probably because they continue to blame something outside themselves for their personal failures. Other people are to blame, or the system is to blame for all the world’s problems as well as their own. They were ostentatious non-conformists who portrayed themselves as “counterculture.” They wanted to bring down the establishment culture, but didn’t have anything plausible to replace it with. Those young people had a vague idea of what they were against, but little idea of what they were for - and they still don’t as “adults.”
A few “cool” teachers indulged the fashionably-alienated teenagers in the old days because they didn’t fit in either. Now, however, they comprise whole faculties. As they do in any time or place in history, these “rebels” believed they knew the ways of the world while their “establishment” parents and teachers did not. But they were dependent for their physical sustenance on the very system they disdained. They needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and someone to pay their tuition at the colleges and universities they eventually went to, rebelled against, and ultimately took over. That’s how I understand people like Bill Ayers, his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, and the other pampered radicals from the sixties and seventies who steer the Democrat Party today.
The free-enterprise system they rebelled against is what produced in abundance the material necessities they consumed but didn’t appreciate. Capitalism, and the democratic republic in which it operates and thrives, have long been objects of their disdain. Now, with the impending election of Barack Obama and the bolstering of Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s majorities in the Congress, those cool, disdainful, and still dependent people are about to secure their lock on the establishment. They’re not young anymore, but they haven’t grown up enough yet either to understand what they’re doing. As they expand New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs to an unsustainable level, the system they hate will no longer will be able to provide material necessities. The national debt is over $10 trillion and the dollar is no longer the world’s currency of choice. The hand that feeds them has been bitten and gnawed upon so long and so much it’s getting weak. The goose that laid the golden egg is going into molt. Those overgrown teenagers are about to discover that there’s a limit.
As they go about their Robin Hood redistribution policies over the next two to four years - as they “spread the wealth around” like Obama told Joe the plumber - it’s not going to be “good for everyone.” How much do Democrats think they can crank up taxes on “the rich” who are already paying most of the taxes? And how is Obama going to cut taxes on 95% of Americans when over 30% of them aren’t paying any taxes at all? What will he do with them? Just give them our money? They can call it whatever they want, but the rest of us “Joe the Plumbers” out here know what it really is. It’s Marxism: “From each, according to his ability. To each, according to his need,” with Obama, Pelosi and Reid deciding who is able and who is needy. That’s “Change” all right, but not “Change You Can Believe In.” I sure don’t believe in it.
Those of us who work our butts off aren’t going to keep doing it if government is going to take the fruit of our labor and “spread it around” to those who sit on theirs. That’s the hard reality. A radical leftist Obama Administration with a radical leftist Congress to back it up promise everything. As columnist Mark Steyn puts it: “The spirit of the age is: Ask not what your country can do for you, demand it.” He’s a Canadian who came to the United States and admires us as a last outpost against encroaching European-style socialism. Now he laments what he sees coming if Democrats sweep the election next week: "[For] a vigilant republic of limited government and self-reliant citizens, [an Obama Administration] would be a Declaration of Dependence.”
Sunday, October 26, 2008
If you haven't seen it already, you simply have to check it this interview of Joe Biden on WFTV Channel 9! (in Florida somewhere, I think)
Better late than never with some tough questions for Democrats.
" 'From each according to his abilities. To each according to his needs,'" quoted newswoman Barbara West from Karl Marx. "How is Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?" she asked Biden.
"Are you joking? Is this a joke?" Biden asks.
"No," she says.
It's about time someone put it to these guys! I love Barbara West. Is it too little - too late? We'll see.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A local feminist Democrat accused Governor Sarah Palin of using her handicapped infant son as “a prop on late night television.” It caused a fuss and she resigned last week from Representative Carol Shea-Porter’s (D-NH) campaign as a result. It’s not clear whether she was asked to resign or she did it on her own initiative. No matter. The remark crystallizes why Palin drives feminists crazy.
Radical feminists say they’re “pro-choice.” It looks to them like Sarah Palin made a choice when she got pregnant in her forties after being inaugurated the first woman governor of Alaska, but we can’t be sure of that. To make a choice, she would have had to consider an abortion and we don’t know if it ever entered her mind. Only she knows that. Maybe she discussed it with her husband before anybody else knew she was pregnant and made a choice then. We just don’t know.
During the pregnancy, she found out her baby had Down Syndrome. She’s bound to have known families with such children and thought about how difficult it would be to raise her child. Maybe she considered abortion then. Maybe not. Maybe someone else asked her if she thought about abortion. Maybe not. It could be her friends and family believed she would never consider it because she had borne four children already and knew what was inside her was her child. Maybe they knew she believed abortion was murder so they never brought it up. Maybe she and her husband had a private conversation in which they weighed the prospect of living with a Down Syndrome child against the prospect of living with the guilt they would feel for killing it. Maybe they made a choice then. Or, maybe it never came up because each knew what the other would say.
Whatever went on in Sarah Palin’s mind during her pregnancy, she clearly carried a handicapped baby to term and delivered it when she could have had an abortion. She rejected that most prized “constitutional right” feminists believe they “won” for women everywhere in America and has a highly successful political career without it. When Palin’s family is on stage with the older girl holding her handicapped, infant brother, it drives the local feminist mentioned above and all the rest in the “sisterhood” of feminism nuts. She calls the infant boy, whose name is Trig, a “prop” because, although he’s the smallest, he stands out most in her eyes.
Perhaps it would be petty of me to speculate about another thing that annoys feminists about Palin: In addition to all the above, and after bearing five children, she’s attractive. Back in 1987 when Rush Limbaugh wrote that “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society,” I believe he was kidding - mostly. As with all humor though, what makes it funny is that there’s a grain of truth in it. Feminists have long railed against societal standards of female beauty and they’ve made some good points along the way, but many of us have sensed that, as Shakespeare put it, they “protesteth too much.” Do many feminists resent attractive women and the advantage it gives them? I think so. Is there a disproportionately large number of angry, man-hating, homely women in the “sisterhood”? I think it’s pretty obvious that there is. I believe it’s safe to say that jealousy is also a factor in their hatred of Governor Palin.
The feminists favored candidate, Barack Obama, has the most pro-abortion record in the US Senate - indeed the most pro-abortion record of any candidate for president in history - by far. Speaking on sex education and his two daughters during the campaign last April, he said: “I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby.” To Obama, babies are “punishment.” While in the Illinois State Senate, he voted against the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act.” He would rather leave babies born alive after unsuccessful abortions to die on a shelf in another room, alone and unattended, because to recognize them as human beings would threaten the legality of abortion itself. Explaining his vote, Obama said, “I mean, it - it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.” If it’s not a child, Barack, then what the hell is it?
Ignore that crying baby in the other room. We must protect abortion. No wonder feminists love Obama and hate Palin. To them, her baby is a prop, a symbol that she rejects their culture of death.
Monday, October 13, 2008
“If the election were held today who would you vote for: Obama or McCain?” I asked them.
By a margin of greater than four-to-one, my students favored Obama. They indicated their choice enthusiastically - shooting their hands straight up without hesitation. McCain supporters, however, kept their elbows on the desk and shyly showed their palms while pulling their head down into their shoulders and glancing around to see who was watching. When I asked the Obama supporters why they chose him, most told me it was time for America to have a black president. Others said McCain was too old, or that Obama was cool.
That was last spring when my current students were finishing seventh grade and were in my classroom on “Step-up Day” to meet their future teachers. I asked why they thought it was time America had a black president and they said it would be proof that Americans are not racists. In September I asked them again with the same result. It’s very clear that they chose their favorite candidate on the basis of race and style over substance. Not one of the Obama supporters mentioned any of his positions on the issues as a basis for their choice. When I pointed this out, most just shrugged. A few then said they liked Obama because he would bring American soldiers home from Iraq. That was all they knew about what he planned to do if elected.
These, of course, were fourteen-year-olds and we don’t expect them to discharge their civic responsibilities maturely. Until I teach them, they’re not likely to understand many of the challenges facing our country. Very few understood differences between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, or left-wing and right-wing political philosophies. After learning a few of those things, some of their choices have changed. Most still support Obama over McCain, but only by a two-to-one margin or less.
My circle of friends is mostly conservative, with a few liberals. The political philosophies of people in my wider circle of aquaintances is unknown to me for the most part, but most seem to be Obama supporters if I were to extrapolate based on overheard snippets of conversation or seeing their bumper stickers. When meeting new people, I avoid bringing up politics, but it comes up often in this election year. When it does, I usually listen rather than talk. If I’m drawn in, I prefer to ask questions rather than state my positions. What I’m learning dismays me.
Perhaps it was always thus, but I’m noticing that many adult voters are not very different from my fourteen-year-old students in that race and style are much bigger factors in their considerations of whom to vote for than substance. They’re excited about the prospect of a President Obama because he’s black, or says he is. That his mother was white and his father was mixed Arab and black (they’re both dead) is immaterial. Obama has chosen to think of himself as black and presents himself thus. That choice is a major subject of his two auto-biographies and it’s working well for him so far if opinion polls are any indication. Spoken or unspoken, it looks like the biggest single dynamic in the presidential campaign. Many voters who think of themselves as white are troubled by the notion that, if they were to vote against Obama, others may think them racist for doing so.
This notion is strongly encouraged. According to a Washington Post article last Sunday by Anne Kornblut: “In Youngstown, Ohio, last month, two Democratic state legislators accused swing voters who were not backing Obama of being racist. ‘Race - that's the only reason people in the Valley won't vote for him,’ state Rep. Thomas Letson said.”
Is that so, Representative Letson?
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Fatimah Ali wrote: “If McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war, fueled by a deflated and depressed country, soaring crime, homelessness - and hopelessness!”
A “race war,” Ms. Ali?
According to the New York Times, Georgia Democrat Congressman John Lewis accused McCain and Palin of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” for their criticism of Obama’s close association of terrorist Bill Ayers. Lewis said it could lead to racial violence like the 1963 Alabama church bombings that killed four girls. Apparently, that Obama is black should insulate him from criticism of any type in Lewis’s view. “Senator McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire,” he said, “and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all.”
Really, Congressman Lewis?
According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama stoked it himself in a speech last summer, saying: “What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know: ‘He’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name.’ You know, ‘He doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.’ ” He made similar remarks in three different speeches.
Who is “they,” Senator Obama? Anybody who criticizes you?
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
They’re not even embarrassed about how obviously they’re in the tank for Obama. Rather, they seem to feel righteous about it. Our media elite are so smug and insular in their world view, they don’t realize or care about how out of touch they’ve become with ordinary Americans - how we live or how we think. Paradoxically, our media elite see themselves as champions of the oppressed, of “minorities,” and other “victims” of “American oppression.” They’re embarrassed when ordinary Americans express our patriotism or our faith in God, considering it childlike and unsophisticated. Their friends are far too sophisticated to look at the world that way.
They know Obama goes to church and professes love of country, but they figure he does those things because he has to in order to get elected. And they want to see him elected because he’s one of them. He pronounces words as they do and he went to Ivy League school as they did. And like them, he sees the world from a hard left perspective. If we wonder why they don’t go after Obama’s William Ayers connection, that’s why. It doesn’t alarm them. Ayers fits with mainstream Democrat politics in Chicago. And why not expose racism in the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Because they’re not alarmed by him either. He fits in with their world view too - way better than Justice Clarence Thomas does. Wright and Obama profess a belief in God, but it looks as if Thomas actually has one and lives his life accordingly. To our elitist media, that qualifies him as an intellectual lightweight and not qualified to serve on the US Supreme Court.
Seldom, if ever, do they question Barack Obama’s qualifications to be president, though his is the thinnest of resumes. Most of his career was as a “community organizer.” What the heck is that? And he served in the state senate? Big deal. He avoided nearly every controversial vote that came up when he was there, voting “present” instead of yes or no. US Senate? If ever there was a club for political prima donnas, it would be the US Senate and Obama did only two years there before running for president full-time.
Obama wants to be our chief executive, but his only executive experience was as Chairman of the Annenberg Challenge - a position Bill Ayers secured for him. Obama cited his Annenberg tenure in an unsuccessful congressional campaign, but has hidden it since and no wonder - it was a $50 million boondoggle which purported to raise standards for Chicago schools, which showed no measurable change when the money was all spent. Most of the money was authorized by Obama and spent by Ayers and his radical friends to push Chicago’s educational establishment further to the left than it already was. I remember getting $25,000 of Annenberg Challenge Grant money here in Fryeburg around the same time. A few other teachers and I trained students in the use of digital imaging technology and local history. I’m proud of what we did with just a tiny fraction of what Obama spent. The Chicago Democratic establishment, however, is trying to block reporters from investigating records of where Obama’s and Ayers’ $50 million went.
Then there’s Obama’s purchase of his Chicago mansion with convicted felon Tony Rezco - possibly using money from Iraqi/British billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, implicated in the infamous Iraqi “Oil For Food” debacle, the biggest financial scandal in world history until the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Obama is tangled up in that one too through his close associations with infamous Fannie Mae executives James Johnson and Franklin Raines (who, as CEO, took $90 million in bonuses). Johnson headed Obama’s vice presidential search committee and Raines advised his campaign on housing issues.
Since McCain selected Sarah Palin for his VP running mate, however, investigative reporters have swarmed over Alaska looking for dirt. Palin’s got at least as much experience as Obama, but all we hear about is her lack of it. She epitomizes ordinary Americans and the elite media’s contempt for her is sickeningly obvious. When she galvanized the GOP’s conservative base, they declared relentless, all-out war on her. They dug into her private life and even hung out her seventeen-year-old daughter to dry. They seemed to have Palin on the ropes until the debate with Biden last week. They were expecting Biden to knock her out, but instead, she took control and spoke directly to the American people, even looking into the camera and winking.
I’ve been watching presidential politics a long time from both sides of the spectrum and I’ve never seen the media go as softly on a candidate as they have on Obama. Nor have I ever seen them attack anyone as vociferously as they have gone after Palin. The elite media’s power is waning, but possibly still powerful enough to deliver a radical leftist into the oval office in January.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
I’m responsible to teach economics and current events to eighth graders - woven into a 20th century US History course - and this sub-prime mortgage crisis is the biggest story of the year. It’s complicated, charged with politics during election season, and nobody seems to understand the big picture. I plowed ahead anyway and started by asking my students how many of them had money in the bank. Nearly all did. “Do you know what banks do with the money you put in there?” I asked. Most realized that banks lend that money so people can buy houses, cars, businesses, and so forth. We discussed how banks make money by charging people more interest on loans than they pay to depositors like them.
Then I told them of the three houses my wife and I purchased or built, how much of a down payment we put on each, how much we borrowed for them - how we fixed up the first two, sold them, and used profits to pay for much of building our present house. I told them about our employment history, our credit rating, and the factors that made our mortgage contracts examples of “prime mortgages” because we never borrowed more than we could afford to pay back and never missed a payment. Then I explained that the economic crisis was caused by “sub-prime mortgages” - banks (encouraged by government) lend money to people who can’t or won’t pay it back, either because they borrowed too much, because they were unreliable, because they fell on hard times, or because they didn’t put any of their own money down and can walk away from their payment without losing anything.
Then I wrote on the board and explained that what sound like names for people are actually crude attempts to phonetically pronounce the acronyms for FNMA - the Federal National Mortgage Association, and FHLMC - the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, respectively. I explained that local banks negotiate mortgage contracts such as mine but have limited money to lend, so Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy those contracts. Mine was for $95,000 at 6% for fifteen years with monthly payments of $801.66 and my house was worth way more than that. My contract can be sold - and has been twice, to Bank America and again to Wells Fargo Bank. My contract is worth more than $95,000 because of the interest I pay. By selling it, my local bank made a profit and got more money to lend so others around here can buy and build houses. That keeps carpenters, plumbers, electricians, excavators, dry-wall contractors, and others busy, giving us a healthy economy.
Most students understood this much. Then it got more complicated.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by government, I explained. Together, they control $6 trillion in mortgages - half of all American mortgages. When they buy a mortgage, they guarantee it - like a parent cosigning a loan for a teenager to buy a car. If the teenager doesn’t make payments, the parent must. When Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac wanted to sell sub-prime mortgages, few wanted to buy because they were such a bad risk by nature. So, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bundled sub-prime mortgages with prime mortgages. Those packages became “Mortgage-backed Securities” which could be sold and re-sold because buyers believed that if they failed, government would fix everything - be the parent making payments for delinquent teenagers, so to speak. Wall Street jumped on and rode the ensuing boom. So long as house prices continued rising, sub-prime mortgagees could flip their properties and even profit, but as soon as prices leveled off and then fell as they inevitably do, foreclosures skyrocketed and it all caved in. Businesses most heavily invested caved with it, including the allegedly private Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Neither the Republican Congress nor the Democrat Congress saw it coming and they should have. Neither Clinton nor Bush saw it either. Some individuals did, but they didn’t blow the whistle loudly enough. Anyway, nobody listened.
Who is responsible for sub-prime mortgages at the root of all this? There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it started with the Carter Administration’s “Community Reinvestment Act” in the seventies. Standards to screen bad borrowers were relaxed. Buyers flooded the market and prices went up in the 1980s housing boom. Then President Clinton ordered standards lowered still further in 1995 so more “minorities” and other low-income people could own homes. Welfare payments qualified as “income.” Even illegal immigrants got mortgages with no money down. Uncle Sam became Jolly John. All this triggered a second housing boom now gone bust. Trouble is, this bust is so big,“experts” predict it may bring us all down with it unless the federal government solves the mess it created. Are they Chicken Littles and Henny Pennys warning us the sky is falling? Government wants us to buy back those dubious securities for up to $700 billion and sort out good from bad, claiming taxpayers will get their money back and more. Others doubt it.
Nearly every student learned something about the problem, but none understood it all. Neither do senators, congressmen, or voters. Neither do I. Not fully. Still, many think government must do something. If we do, hopefully we won’t make things worse.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Though I’d never been there before, many faces I saw in Ireland were familiar. I was told that would happen and it did. All my ancestors come from that island, but they left more than a hundred years ago. Still, the country felt very familiar.
On our first day there, my wife and I checked out Dublin on the “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus, and it was just that. About fifteen double-decker busses made a continuous loop, each with a driver/tourguide, each stopping at about twenty-five different locations around the city. If a place seemed interesting, we’d hop off and investigate. Another bus would come along every ten minutes or so, and we could hop back on anytime and resume the tour. With a telephoto lens on my new Nikon, I could zoom in on faces without making my subjects nervous, because most were unaware of what I was doing. There was no shutter delay with the new camera and I could shoot hundreds of pictures on one memory card. I sat in the front on the bus’s upper level and when
an interesting face appeared, I’d shoot it.
To my eye, there are about 20-30 stereotypical varieties of Celtic countenance for men, and the same for women. Growing up in Greater Boston, I saw the same faces on the streets, at wakes and weddings, in school, in the bleachers at Fenway Park - almost everywhere I went. We Americans of Irish extraction continued our clannish ways for generations in the United States, tending to marry others like ourselves and preserving our characteristic countenances for another century. Hair can be red, black, blonde, or brown. Eyes can be blue, green, or brown. Skin can be clear or freckled. There are certain configurations of ears, eyes, noses and mouths. There are characteristic expressions on all those faces, however, which convey a personality and a mood. It was as if I knew some of what each was thinking and feeling. I wondered if we were all programmed to react to our environment with characteristic thoughts and emotions because of our shared DNA. Did we have a common wave length with which to communicate what was on our minds or in our hearts? That Ireland is an island country and, as such, was isolated and insular for millennia, perhaps contributed to this commonality of awareness in its human population.
We were there on a cool, drizzly Thursday in August and most of my subjects were going to work or going home, alone with their thoughts as they walked down sidewalks, waited at street corners, or lingered in doorways. I was able to focus in on most without their knowledge, but some seemed to sense my scrutiny and looked into my lens at the split second my shutter snapped. Those images were particularly interesting. They were people alone in the crowd until they saw my camera aimed at them. It was more than catching me staring. I was taking their image away with me without their permission. They could do little about it since they were on a sidewalk I was atop a moving bus. I felt a little guilty each time, but not enough to stop.
Some faces had a lot of miles on them - broken noses with whiskey blossoms flanked by wary eyes. There was a hardness to them that contrasted with other faces on the same sidewalk - those that looked like poets or academics. Many had cigarettes dangling from their lips as they walked along. There were more smokers in Dublin, but not many fat people compared to, say, Portland or Boston. They were in better shape than Americans and seemed less hostile. More made eye contact on the sidewalk and smiled than would do so here. They seemed more comfortable with each other on busses and trains too, more likely to look at one another and exchange words than just stare straight ahead.
When touring Ireland’s countryside later in the trip, I experienced the warmth, friendliness and and hospitality for which the Irish are well-known, especially toward others in the clan. While getting to know some of its people, I was learning more about myself. Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrat is the heritage I was born into, like it or not. It shaped me in many ways. There have been times when I liked that and other times when I didn’t. As with any other legacy in the human family, there are desirable traits and dysfunctional ones among the Irish. It’s the hand I was dealt at birth. How I play it is up to me.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
When parents tell me their oldest child is going to be in middle school, I sense they have mixed feelings. They’re proud but worried. They’re worried about their children’s loss of innocence. No parent can put that off forever, of course, but they shouldn’t have to worry about it when their kids are only eleven. When it’s parents against the culture, I hate to admit it but the culture is likely to win. Parents know this at some level and fear it.
Students are more sexual these days than I ever remember. I shouldn’t be surprised given the escalating sexualization of the entire culture in which we all live. Our children grow up permeated by sex on the television they watch, in the music they listen to, in the literature they read, and in the advertising they’re continually bombarded with from all angles every single day. So of course I’m going to see it more in class, and it can be awkward at times.
On the first day of school I passed out textbooks, just as I’ve done for decades. I have to record what number book each student gets, so I call their names one at time and they tell me what it is. In four out of five classes, at least one student said he or she had textbook number 69. Each time, there were knowing looks and snorts by other students, mostly boys but not exclusively. There should only be one book numbered 69 in the whole batch of course, but at least three students last year had changed the number in the book they were assigned. I had to decide in an instant if I was going to confront the sniggling behavior or let it pass. The first time, I ignored it. I recorded the 69 in my computer and called the next student’s name. When it happened again in the second class, I realized that at least one of the books had been altered and I had to ask myself how would I deal with it. To do so in the moment would call more attention to it. Considering that there may still be many students who didn’t know what sexual connotations the number 69 has, I hesitated. My attention to the matter would cause them to ask questions and find out. Maybe I’m naive to assume they’re unworldly, but I hope not. I wanted to believe most of them - maybe only some at this point - are still innocent enough at thirteen or fourteen to not understand why the boys were snickering. So, I ignored it the second time, but I was disturbed. This was the first day of school. I’ve been teaching a long time and it didn’t use to be this way. I ignored it in the third and fourth classes too and tried to put it out of my mind by filing it in the mental folder I call “another depressing sign of the times.”
Last fall, nearby Portland’s school board gave King Middle School permission to prescribe birth control to students as young as eleven. Last spring, the Centers For Disease Control reported that 1 in 4 teenage girls in America ages 14-19 has a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). I remember how sad I was reading that. I remember mentioning it to a group of teachers the same day and getting no response. It made me feel like a dinosaur. I’m not the oldest teacher in the district, but I’ve been here the longest. Sometimes I feel like yelling to students and teachers that it didn’t use to be this way, but what good would it do? It’s the way things are now and I guess it has to continue trending like this until a critical mass in the wider culture out there says, “Enough!”
I hope I’m still around when it happens.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Obama is showing how shallow he really is. His image built by our media became larger than life sometime early this year and he started believing it was real. Nobody could have lived up to it and now he's stumbling. I've been waiting for this. It was inevitable, but I was afraid it might not happen until after November when it would be too late. Now, however, it looks like his "Lipstick on a pig" remark may prove to be the pinprick that popped the hyper-inflated Obama balloon in the eyes of America.
It was inevitable. Nobody could have fleshed out the image media created for him and Obama is realizing that himself. I can see it in his eyes today. It's over. Obama can speak well when he's scripted, but when he has to think on his feet, he's not very good. That's becoming painfully obvious to starry-eyed Democrats who thought they'd found the reincarnated JFK.
JFK could not have lived up to the media hype of his image either, but he was killed dramatically before it popped - so the myth continued to build. He was just as flawed as any of us, maybe more so , but one doesn't speak ill of the dead and the myth grew.
When RFK picked up JFK's mantle, he too died dramatically and the myth grew larger still. After him there was only Teddy - who seems to have been the least able of the Kennedy brothers to even try living up to the now hopelessly hyper-inflated Camelot legend. I have little affection for the "Liberal Lion" of Massachusetts, but nobody could possibly have filled out that role.
Now here's Obama trying to do it. He wants to be JFK and MLK all rolled into one. He chose Caroline Kennedy help him pick a VP running mate and look how that turned out. Biden vs. Palin October 2nd? I'd have to offer long odds to find somebody willing to bet on Biden. Then Ted passed the mantle to Obama in that big convention ceremony. Ted failed to embody the myth and so will Obama.
All this is good for us conservatives of course. Obama beat Hillary for the nomination and now he's self-destructing. Looks now like President McCain and Vice President Palin next January, but there's a month and a half before the vote and that's still an eternity in politics. Anything can happen.
Exciting, no? It doesn't get any better than this for us political junkies.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Sarah Palin provokes. Just her presence on the national stage has the political world in a tizzy. She doesn’t even have to say anything. Being who she is creates a firestorm. And who is she? She’s someone who got into politics for reasons we say we want people to get into politics - an ordinary citizen believed she could do things better. She challenged the status quo in Alaska and won. She made it to the top as governor - the youngest ever and the first female. She challenges oil companies, the Democrat establishment, and the Republican establishment - and actually changes things. This would seem to be enough for the National Organization for Women and the Mainstream Media to make her a Goddess. But that’s not happening. Instead, they hate her guts and they’re doing everything they can to destroy her. Why? What’s up with that?
It’s because of the rest of who she is. It’s because she’s a conservative who believes in God. Those two facts trump everything else and make her unacceptable to NOW, to Katie Couric, to Sally Quinn, to Oprah, and all the rest of the Mainstream Media. Palin’s very existence threatens their whole world view and they can’t stand it. She had five kids and quite obviously doesn’t give a whit about all those extra carbon footprints. That would have been enough for the liberal media to call her crazy, but then there’s this: She found herself pregnant for the fifth time with a Down’s Syndrome child. She was in her forties, had just been inaugurated governor, and it was very inconvenient - but she didn’t have an abortion! What is wrong with this woman? It’s one thing to say you’re personally opposed to abortion, but to actually live out your life according to your beliefs even when it’s hard? Who does that anymore?
Palin didn’t have an abortion because she believes her son is a gift from God. She couldn’t kill him before he was born any more than she could kill him after he was born. It was out of the question and her husband supported her. All politicians say they believe in God, but to actually put your trust in Him when things aren’t going the way you’d like? When you’re worried and afraid? Nobody really does that anymore, do they? What is wrong with this woman?
When McCain asked her to be his running mate, her unmarried seventeen-year-old daughter was pregnant and she told him about it. It wasn’t a secret in Alaska, but nobody brought it up nationally until rumors circulated on left-wing weblogs that Palin’s fifth child was actually borne by her seventeen-year-old daughter and Palin was covering up by claiming it was hers. Many in the mainstream media reported on the rumors and disingenuously amplified them behind a pretense of objectivity. To counter the smears, the McCain Campaign announced nationally that Palin’s daughter was pregnant. Nearly all of us know people who have had abortions in similar situations, but the younger Palin isn’t going to abort her child either. She’s planning to deliver it and marry the baby’s father instead. Doesn’t she realize that left-wing feminists have worked their oversized butts off for over four decades just so that women like her can get rid of their unwanted children? Now here are two women bearing inconvenient babies in the same Palin family. What is wrong with these people?
As if all this weren’t bad enough, Sarah Palin eats meat. Worse still, she personally shoots some of the animals she eats and seems to enjoy doing so. Not only does she kill and eat caribou, she wants to drill for oil in their habitat! And her husband actually does it! in the Alaskan wilderness! While working with his hands! Talk about disrespect for nature. He races loud, smelly snowmobiles across wilderness areas too and doesn’t seem to care whether animals or cross-country skiers may get upset about it. True feminists don’t marry men like that. What kind of woman is this?
Looks to me like Palin and her husband are the kind of people Barack Obama warned us about: “Typical white people who cling bitterly to their guns and religion.” If Sarah Palin is allowed to continue her rise to political power, millions of other women may start using her as a role model. Decades of carefully-crafted, radical-feminist propaganda will go down the drain. Clearly, this woman cannot be allowed to win.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Saul Alinsky, guru for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, is familiar to me. I worked with his followers thirty-five years ago.
People who haven’t known me long are surprised that my politics were pretty far left when I was a young man working on a radical newspaper called “The Communicator” in Lowell, Massachusetts with some “Red Diaper Babies.” The term refers to children raised by parents who were members of CPUSA (Communist Party - United States of America). The ones I worked with were Jewish and devout followers of Saul Alinsky - hero to the two top Democrat candidates for president in 2008. His book: “Rules for Radicals,” was put in my hands by my Lowell friends who, just like Obama, called themselves “Community Organizers.” I skimmed through it, but it didn’t grab me. Alinsky and my friends wanted to kindle a revolution, but I just wanted to change a few things. One of the group was Alan Solomont, who later went on to become Treasurer of the Democrat National Committee during the Clinton Administration and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom. Alinsky followers like Solomont, Obama and Hillary Clinton took over the Democrat Party and pushed it far to the left.
Though I’ve always been conservative on social issues like abortion, I didn’t become fully conservative until the ’90s. Having worked both sides of the political spectrum gives me a broader view than most.
Regarding this election year, neither presidential candidate excites me and I expected to be bored by the record-long presidential campaign at this point, but I’m not - anything but. American voters have a clear choice between left and right and the debates will be fascinating from that perspective. Alinsky disciple Barack Obama has the most left-wing voting record in the US Senate. Joe Biden ranks third behind Ted Kennedy. Those three are more liberal than even Bernie Sanders - the Socialist Senator from Vermont. While John McCain’s right-wing credentials are somewhat lacking, it looks like he’s chosen a bedrock conservative in vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin. The little bit I’ve learned about her so far tells me she is the genuine article. She’s pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, wants to secure our borders, cut government, lower taxes, drill for oil, and - she’s articulate. Like most of Middle America, she and her husband have worked with their hands and still do. They didn’t go to Ivy League universities and are unimpressed by those who did. Americans who know how to shingle a roof, shoot a gun, dress out an animal, and change the oil identify with Sarah Palin. They’re the people who really make America work and this scares hell out of liberal elitists who run the Democrat Party and purport to represent average Americans. I can’t wait to watch her debate Joe Biden.
If I could be so bold as to sum up the political dichotomy of left and right, I would say right-wing conservatives believe what Thomas Paine said: “Government, in its best state, is but a necessary evil” - necessary only to maintain order while individual citizens live out their lives privately - with the liberty to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them. Whatever happiness they achieve is up to them alone. As Jefferson put it: “That government is best that governs least.”
Left-wing liberals believe the opposite: “That government is best that governs most.” Government is the source of happiness by being arbiter of who gets what and does what. Individual citizens depend on government for their welfare, cradle to grave. Unhappy citizens are victims. Their unhappiness is someone else’s fault. They blame “the rich,” for hoarding things so there’s not enough to go around. The size of the economic pie is static, they believe, and doesn’t expand. Rather than produce their own wealth, they use government to redistribute it.
Such victimhood dogma drove Alinsky strategy. His advice for “Community Organizers” like Barack Obama was: "Rub raw the sores of discontent.” No wonder Obama befriended race-baiting Jeremiah Wright. Rubbing raw the sores of discontent is Reverend Wright’s stock in trade, just as it is with those other two black “leaders,” the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton.
Alinsky was an atheist, but he understood the power of religion and used it perversely. Though he dropped it in subsequent editions to avoid alienating liberal church leaders, he dedicated his first edition of “Rules For Radicals” thusly:
"Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins -- or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom -- Lucifer."
Hillary didn’t mention this in her senior thesis on Alinsky at Wellesley College either, but it’s worth pondering.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Israel is a canary in America’s coal mine. Miners kept a caged canary in the mineshaft as they worked and watched it carefully. Should odorless poison gas creep into the air, the canary would be affected first. It it collapsed, miners had to do something or they wouldn’t survive either. Both America and Israel are threatened by the poison of Radical Islam. We face the same enemy.
Israel’s creation in 1948, or rather its re-creation after going out of existence for nearly two millennia, was improbable - indeed it was unprecedented in all of history. America’s creation was improbable too - a tiny strip of land between the Appalachians and the Atlantic in 1776 - fighting the British in the north and across the sea, Indians in the west and south. Both are outposts of democracy in a world hostile to it. Israel is on the front line. It’s our canary and we must watch it closely. Both will elect a new government soon and our victory or defeat against Radical Islam will be strongly influenced. Choices are similar too. Will we pick aggressive leaders or conciliatory ones? Will we show Radical Islam our fists or the tails between our legs?
Will Israel pick someone to carry on outgoing Prime Minister Olmert’s policy of appeasement? He wanted to give the Golan Heights to Syria and the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. Considering how giving over the Gaza Strip worked out, Israel might as well commit suicide now and get it over with. Land for peace is a failed policy, as Neville Chamberlain discovered when dealing with Hitler. Europe’s Jews were almost wiped out for Chamberlain’s folly. Those who survived the Holocaust formed modern Israel. Israelis fought four wars in twenty-five years against larger, Arab-Muslim neighbors dedicated to its destruction.
After four humiliating defeats, those enemies changed tactics. They don’t invade with conventional planes, tanks and troops. Now they use teenaged suicide bombers and rockets launched from civilian population centers by Iranian proxies Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and by Hamas in Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran builds nuclear weapons and promises to wipe Israel off the map. In spite of fifty years in an almost constant state of war, many Israelis still believe Radical Islam can be appeased and Chamberlain-like policies will bring peace.
Winston Churchill defined appeasement as: “Feeding the crocodile, hoping he’ll eat you last.” Hitler gobbled up mainland Europe and took near-fatal bites out of England before America stepped in. If Israeli appeasers elect another Olmert, Israel is doomed.
Modern Israel was founded by Jews who were determined to have their own military to defend themselves against the Hitlers who would make them extinct. Today’s Hitler takes the form of Radical Islam which denies the Holocaust while preparing nuclear genocide. In the face of this grave threat, many Israelis seem to have forgotten their birthright - they’re losing their identity, and if they don’t regain it, they’re doomed.
To wake up fellow Israelis, Natan Sharansky’s latest book is titled: “Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy.” Newsmax’s Christopher Ruddy interviewed Sharansky and reports:
The thesis of [Sharansky’s] book is that democratic society, if it has any hope for long-term survival, must offer an identity for its citizens. Looking out at the world, he says “our enemies look so dangerous because they have a strong will.” This means they have beliefs they are ready to die for. “The free world, if it does not have values for which people are ready to die, will be powerless, its people decadent. It will be doomed to failure.” Identity, he says, gives people these values. It is not the enemy, as many [multiculturalists] in the West believe. “Europe is suffering the most from a loss of identity. Faith and patriotism have weakened as it embraces a super-identity — all in an effort to avoid war.”
What’s the best way to avoid war? The “Bush Doctrine” - adopted after September 11th - authorized preemptive strikes against countries planning to attack us, but America, and Bush himself, have backed away. Voters will choose soon between Democrat Barack Obama - an appeasing worshiper of Multiculturalism, and Republican John McCain - someone who understands our enemy and is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat it. Israelis must decide soon if they will attack Iran before Iran “wipes it off the map” and vote accordingly. Do Israelis have the will? Do we? Iran is betting against it.
Martin Luther King said: “If a man has nothing he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.” If such people comprise the majority in Israel or the United States, neither country is fit to live and won’t for much longer. The Israeli canary is teetering on its perch.