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, June 25, 2008

Last Word


“Shit.”

From all accounts it was my father’s last word, and he uttered it as paramedics struggled to lift his large body from his bed onto a stretcher thirty-one years ago last month. He died on the way to the hospital of a massive heart attack. He was fifty-five, and he’d been expecting it. I’m left with the dilemma of how to interpret his last remark.

Was he summing it all up? His had been a difficult life. Was he afraid of death now that it was finally visiting him? He said too often that it was imminent. When I objected, he’d say, “Every Irishman is born with one foot in the grave,” and I think of that whenever I hear someone singing “Danny Boy.” Or, it could have been just a casual remark, as you might say when the alarm goes off for work after going to bed too late the night before and you sit up on the edge of the bed. You’re not really ready, but you’re resigned to go anyway. Guess I’ll never know for sure why he said it.

He visits me in my dreams some nights. The last time, I was going into a cafeteria and I saw him sitting at a table in back by a window. He was looking at me. His face was peaceful and he smiled a bit as if he were glad to see me. That wasn’t typical in life. I don’t remember him smiling much and he seldom seemed peaceful, but it looks like he is now and I’m glad for him.

My mother told me they’d gone out to dinner that last night at the Harvard Club in Boston. On the way home, they drove around Charlestown where he grew up. He pointed out the many places around the Bunker Hill Monument where he had lived. He was the oldest son of an alcoholic father who often drank away his paycheck instead of paying the rent. Often they had to move to a different apartment late at night to avoid the landlord. With five younger brothers and sisters, he shouldered the responsibility that should have been his father’s - and he resented it. For the rest of his life, that accumulated anger was always just below the surface and it permeated the atmosphere of the household in which I grew up.

The last time I’d seen him, he passed me the research project he typed up for me. It was the final piece of my master’s degree program and he was proud that I’d finished it. He was sad too because he knew I was moving to Maine soon. As I was leaving I told him my wife, Roseann, was pregnant with our third child. “Hmm,” he said - not “Congratulations,” or “That’s great.” I’m not sure what he meant by that “Hmm” either. Was he afraid I was following his pattern of siring children in rapid succession? I’m the fourth of eight. I’ll never know because my not-quite-three-year-old daughter, Jessica, was pulling on my finger and telling me “Come on!” She wanted to go home and play with her one-year-old sister, Sarah. My father would have loved his granddaughter Annie though, who was born that December after we had moved to Lovell.

It was a busy winter - new job, new house, new child, new state - but I thought a lot about my father and what made him the way he was. When school was out the following June, we went back to Massachusetts for a visit and I looked up my father’s Uncle Bill - my alcoholic grandfather’s younger brother. We’d never met, but I wanted to pick his brain about my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin Sr., who immigrated here from County Donegal around 1900 and who had been a notorious alcoholic as well. At his request, I met Bill in the parking lot of a windowless American Legion Hall in Medford, Massachusetts. We shook hands and he invited me in for a drink. It being 10:00 am, I suggested a cup of coffee somewhere else instead. He agreed, but then he opened his trunk of his Cadillac and took two snorts from a half-gallon bottle of whiskey first. Later, he took me to visit his brother, James McLaughlin, Jr. and his wife because they’d been in contact with the McLaughlins who stayed in Ireland, and knew where they lived. I wanted to go there - to Isle of Doagh in Donegal - but it would take thirty years before I’d be ready.

When I go in August, perhaps I’ll learn something about the source of the addiction that has plagued the American McLaughlins for more than a century. I’ve learned more than I ever wanted about what comes with it - summed up succinctly by my father’s last utterance.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AIDS And Our Tax Money


Originally, it was called GRID - Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Homosexual men, who were the first to acquire the disease in the United States, didn’t like that name. In 1982, the Centers for Disease Control changed it to AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - and so began the sustained effort by homosexual activists to separate male homosexual practices from the disease in the public mind. This they largely accomplished by orchestrating a fear campaign about a world-wide heterosexual AIDS epidemic. That epidemic, however, never materialized. Last week, the UK’s Independent reported that: “Threat of world AIDS pandemic among heterosexuals is over, report admits.” AIDS continues to spread among men having sex with men.

The fellow making that announcement has the unfortunate name of Dr. Kevin de Cock, head of the WHO’s Department of HIV/AIDS. He said, that except for some peculiar circumstances in sub-Saharan Africa, “It is very unlikely there will be a heterosexual epidemic in other countries.”

The article went on to say that “AIDS organisations, including the WHO, UN Aids and the Global Fund, have come under attack for inflating estimates of the number of people infected, diverting funds from other health needs such as malaria . . .” This seems to be a general pattern when it comes to AIDS. According to a Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) report: “Since the first federal resources were made available to state and local health agencies for AIDS prevention in 1985, federal funding, which now includes money for research, treatment, and housing, has skyrocketed to $13 billion for fiscal 2003. As a result of the work of highly mobilized lobbying forces, more is spent per patient on AIDS than on any other disease, though it does not even currently rank among the top 15 causes of death in the United States.”

What do you suppose are the chances that those “highly mobilized lobbying forces” were homosexual activists who early-on got themselves appointed to key decision-making positions governing taxpayer expenditures for AIDS? I’m willing to cover any bets here.

The CAGW report went on to say: “Research expenditures at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) demonstrate the uneven use of federal resources. In 1996, NIH spent an average of $1,160 for every heart disease death, $4,700 for every cancer death, and a whopping $43,000 for every AIDS death.”

AIDS is unique in that it became a political disease. Public health measures such as contact tracing - used effectively for decades to fight syphilis and gonorrhea - were abandoned with AIDS. With contact tracing, nurses would contact the sexual partners of people reporting to clinics for treatment of STDs to inform them of their exposure, encourage them to seek treatment, and avoid spreading the disease to others. Homosexual activists fought contact tracing because it would lead to the closure of San Francisco and New York City “bathhouses” in which promiscuous anal sex proliferated. That, of course, remains the most dangerous vector for spread of AIDS.

Ever hear about that development? Probably not. To take the focus off their own behavior, homosexual AIDS activists staged demonstrations around the country in which they blamed President Reagan for spreading the disease. That’s what the media reported on. And those bathhouses? They didn’t close. Instead, they got federal government subsidies. According to the CAGW: “In 1998, CDC approved a $338,000 grant to Hollywood Spa in Los Angeles, a gay bathhouse. The upscale spa is complete with strobe lights and club music. Patrons check each other out while wrapped in tiny gym towels. Is AIDS likely to spread in such an environment? As a 1997 Los Angeles Times article noted, ‘Local AIDS prevention workers do not pretend that all the sex is safe in bathhouses.’”

That’s the tamest of many nauseating examples of taxpayer money squandered on outrageous “AIDS prevention” activities in the CAGW study. If I wrote about the others, the family newspapers in which this column runs could not publish them. They’re that bad.

Under the original pretext of AIDS prevention, homosexual activists have gotten access to public schools as well, where for years now homosexuality is presented as a positive alternative lifestyle. Not mentioned in their seminars is data from the Family Research Institute indicating that, since the outbreak of AIDS, the average life expectancy for a homosexual man is only thirty-eight, and only about 2% live past age sixty-five. Yet, taxpayer-funded seminars continue for middle school and high school boys such as : “Queer, Questioning, Quiet: Developing Gender Identity & Male Sexual Orientation.” It was promoted by a Portland organization called “Boys to Men” for its 2008 conference at the University of Southern Maine. The conference cancelled that particular seminar when a representative from Maine’s Christian Civic League signed up to attend. Were they afraid taxpayers would discover what our middle school boys are being taught with their money?

Nah. You’d have to be homophobic to think that.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Color and Sex


Men are four to ten times more likely to be colorblind than women. Color is important to women. Men don’t generally care about it much unless they’re gay.

When my daughter bought a house last summer, all the women who checked it out said the house was “cute.” Without exception, however, they were appalled with the blue-painted woodwork in the living room and the pink walls in the bathroom. “I can’t live in here until I paint that over,” said my daughter, while the other women nodded gravely. Several volunteered to help put on a new color because it would have been too much to expect any women to exist in the presence of that blue. “Why would anybody do that?” they asked each other, referring to the previous owner’s color selection.

None of the men noticed the paint. None. They looked at the roof, siding, plumbing, wiring, septic system, and boiler. “Nice,” they said. The women didn’t like the yellow paint on the outside either, but the men were unaffected. “What’s wrong with it?” they asked. “It won’t need to be painted again for four or five years.”

“That yellow is icky,” said the women. The men shrugged.

Another woman told me how she saw a beautiful blue in the sky above the ocean one day and tried to capture it with her camera. When she got home and examined it, she was so disappointed, she cried. “You actually cried?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm,” I said.

Colors are related to creativity,” said my wife. “They affect your mood and women are more attuned to their mood than men are. Color affects mood for everyone, but women are more aware of it.”

That reminded me of something a poet said several years ago contrasting women and men about how they deal with their feelings. Women, he said, have a huge vocabulary to describe how they’re feeling and they tend to discuss it endlessly with each other. Men, however, do not, and if they should be feeling something strongly, they won’t necessarily know what’s going on inside them. It’s as if they turn their eyes backward and look down into their chests, he said. They see a maelstrom of feelings swirling there, but can’t label any of them.

Women have a huge vocabulary for colors too - several dozen at least - whereas most men I know have only six or seven basic words describing color corresponding to the spectrum. Men could talk on and on about the advantages and disadvantages of forced hot air heating systems compared to forced hot water or radiant heat systems. How they feel about them would never come up.

A University of Maryland study discussed how something called the OPN1LW gene for perceiving color resides in the X chromosome. “Because females can have two different versions of this gene, but men can have only one, females may be able to perceive a broader spectrum of colors in the red/orange range. Men and women may be literally seeing the world differently,” said one of the researchers.

It’s not just what they see that makes women different from us. How we process that data is important too. On any given day, men tend to use their heads more than their hearts, so color and mood would not be as significant for them as it would be for women who tend to use their hearts more than their heads. Head and heart are each necessary for an integrated human existence but balancing the two would seem best. Some men and women do this individually, but most of us have to do it in union.

While reading recently, a quote about mood and attitude jumped out at me: “We see the world not as it is. We see it as we are.” Since we’re all different, our existence would be awfully narrow if we didn’t listen to and ponder how people around us see things. I’ve lived long enough and been married long enough to know that men and women do indeed perceive the world differently and only some of that has to do with color. Most of the rest is still a mystery and likely to remain such - for me at least.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Can't Drill It Into Them


No blood for oil? Okay. How about food? Is anyone willing to fight for that? A gallon of milk is going up about as fast as a gallon of gasoline. Rice is going up too and so is corn. Why? Simple. It’s Economics 101: Supply is down and demand is up for both oil and for food, and now we’re using grain for biofuel instead of food and our federal tax dollars are subsidizing it. China and India are developing quickly, eating more, and buying more fuel. Supplies haven’t been going up to keep pace. The result? Higher prices. This isn’t rocket science.

Why haven’t supplies been going up? Congress won’t allow more drilling. They want to protect wildlife in Alaska (mosquitoes mostly) and along our coastlines. Animal lovers and their Democrat patrons are still traumatized by memories of sea birds coated with oil after the Exxon Valdez spill and nothing could be worse for them than a repeat of that. So, no drilling in ANWR. Local governments won’t allow construction of more refineries to produce gasoline and heating oil. Ted Kennedy won’t allow any windmills near Nantucket and nuclear power plants are not even discussed.

So we buy foreign oil. As the price of that goes up, more of our money goes to real or potential enemies like Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. We get weaker and they get stronger. But hey, we’re preserving mosquito habitat in Alaska and shark habitat in the Gulf, right? Soaring fuel prices get Americans to think about walking, riding bicycles and taking the train more, right? Carbon emissions are going down and Al Gore likes that, right?

After the Arab Oil Embargo thirty-five years ago, fuel prices soared. That was the kind of warning some forty-year-old guys get when they have a mild heart attack. The smart ones realize they better stop smoking, start exercising, and change their eating habits. The dumb ones ignore the warning and die of a big one by fifty. Our federal government ignored our early oil warning in the seventies and we’re still not ready to handle rising prices thirty-five years hence.

And it’s not just Democrats. Republicans have been in control of the White House and Congress a few times since then and they’ve done next to nothing about national energy policy either. It’s been nearly seven years since September 11th and still nothing from our alleged leaders in Washington. Doesn’t look like it’s going to change in the foreseeable future either. Obama doesn’t support drilling ANWR and even John McCain said he wouldn’t allow it either. It’s maddening.

Monday night, Maine’s First District congressional candidates debated at the Magic Lantern Theater in Bridgton. The primary isn’t until next week but Democrats and Republicans were on the same stage answering questions - pretty unusual. Judging from audience reaction, rising fuel prices were foremost in people’s minds. When asked about what they would do about them, the Democrat candidates offered the same old pap about alternative energy sources and conservation. They went on about wind, geothermal, hydro, solar and tidal energy, government-mandated miles-per-gallon limits, excess-profits taxes on oil companies - the same stuff we’ve been hearing for decades.

Republican candidate Dean Scontras pointed out that our our tax dollars are wasted on federal subsidies for biofuels. “It takes two gallons of gasoline to produce one gallon of ethanol,” he said. “There’s 86 billion barrels of oil off our coast and Congress says we can’t go out there [and drill]. All these alternative energy sources are great, but oil is going to be $200 a barrel by the end of the year. Those alternative sources aren’t going to reduce the cost to heat your home anytime soon. I’m for lifting the restrictions on drilling off our coasts, in North and South Dakota, in Alaska - increasing supplies so our prices go down. That’s how the market works. We haven’t built a refinery in this country in twenty-five years because of all the regulation required to construct one. Twenty-five years! That’s outrageous.” He added that the Chinese, the Cubans and the Canadians are drilling off our coasts, but we can’t. That answer brought - by far - the biggest applause of the night.

As I left the theater, I didn’t see anybody getting on a bicycle. On the way home, I didn’t see any windmills or solar panels either. I did see numbers outside gas stations advertising gas prices approaching $4 per gallon though. I saw lots of those.

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