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, July 30, 2008

Evil Speculators


Democrats blame “evil” speculators for the high price of oil. Speculators figure that, with liberal Democrats in firm control of Congress and a left-wing Democrat leading in the polls for president, the ban on drilling for oil on our coasts and in the Arctic will continue indefinitely - and oil prices will keep going up.

I’ve been speculating on the price of oil too. Does that make me a bad person? I sent a check to B&L Oil of Fryeburg to assure that I would pay no more than $4.85 per gallon for heating oil through next winter. I left my foot in the door a bit though. If the price should go down, I’ll pay market price. (Maybe Democrats will be forced to lift the ban? Heck, you never know) I could have paid up front for all 750 gallons - the amount I burned last year - at $4.60 per gallon. I have the money, but I chose what I chose because I still have the liberty to do so.

Some people are avoiding oil and laying in a lot of firewood. I have a couple of cords left out in the yard, but I’d prefer to burn oil. Some people are converting to wood pellets. Others are buying coal. Some will burn used motor oil, or even old vegetable oil from restaurant fryolaters. We’re all speculating. We’re exercising the liberty to make our own choices and live with the results. If we choose right, we’ll be happy. If we choose wrong, too bad for us. That’s how liberty works. As Benjamin Franklin put it: "The U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself."

Lots of people have been speculating in real estate over the past ten or fifteen years. Some made a lot of money at it, causing many others to jump in. They took out mortgages for more than they could afford to pay back. They took risks, and that’s what speculation is. They figured they would make interest-only payments while the value of their new real estate climbed. Then they would flip it - sell at profit. It worked for a while and many got rich. Were they bad people? Some think so because their speculation helped drive home prices up. People who already owned real estate, however, thought that was wonderful. People who were renting and wanted to buy a home didn’t think it was so great. Oh well.

Somewhere along the way, liberal Democrats noticed that banks avoided granting mortgages to people in certain neighborhoods. They called it “Redlining” and accused loan officers of racism. Banks pointed out that it was bad business lending to individuals who were unable to make their payments. If minorities happened to comprise a higher percentage of such people, or if certain neighborhoods had lots of them, that was not evidence of racism. Mortgage decisions were based on numbers, not colors. As economist Thomas Sowell pointed out in a recent column: “In our own personal lives, common sense leads us to avoid some neighborhoods. If you want to call that "redlining," so be it. But places where it is dangerous to go are often also places where it is dangerous to send your money.” Liberal Democrats in Congress, however, passed legislation forcing banks to make risky loans to certain people, and in certain places, where they never would have otherwise.

Eventually, real estate prices stopped rising. Many who speculated couldn’t make their payments and defaulted. Then prices fell and more defaulted. Then prices fell still further. Banks who lent money to a lot of risky speculators went belly up. No one knows when it will all bottom out because, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out a long time ago, there are no guarantees. Liberal Democrats in Congress, however, don’t believe that. They passed a $300 billion bill to bail out nearly half a million speculators. They want Americans who made the right choices to bail out those who chose wrong. We who are making our payments now have to help speculators make theirs too.

I don’t like that. I don’t like it one bit. I don’t want to take away from speculators the liberty to fall on their faces. They should have the freedom to fail because, as British farmer Thomas Tusser said half a millennium ago: “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

The question now is, are we fools too? Does the Democrat-controlled Congress take us for fools? It appears that way. What’s even worse? Our “Republican” president - the guy who put the “Dub” in Dubya - is going to sign the bill.

And here’s another question. Why are people who speculate on oil prices “evil” to be punished by excess-profits taxes, but those who speculate on real estate prices are “innocent victims” to be protected by taxpayer-funded bailouts?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Life Is Good


“Can you scrunch together more?” the photographer would say when he can’t back up any further. The people posing rub shoulders, and sometimes feel uncomfortable if they have to put their arms around others they don’t really like, or hardly know, to fit in the camera’s frame.

“Come on, now. Smile!” I almost never feel like smiling when I’m ordered to. Someone has to say something genuinely funny or I can only fake it. If the photographer has to take more than one shot and fumbles with the camera in between, my cheek muscles cramp up. I don’t like posing for pictures and I suspect most people are that way. I do like taking pictures and always have, but I don’t like getting people to pose any more than I like posing myself. I much prefer shooting people when they’re not aware of it, when they’re not self conscious about how they look to others, when they’re being themselves. I do take posed group shots, however, because people ask me to and it’s usually my wife who is doing the asking. She knows I almost always have a camera with me and, though it’s more work for me than fun, I seldom refuse.

With my economic stimulus check I bought a new camera: a Nikon D-60 SLR and it came stock with an 18mm to 55mm zoom lens. Now all that’s required for those tight group shots is a twist of the wrist and everybody is in the picture. I’d never used a camera with a wide angle capability before and I love it. Trees are a favorite subject - old individual trees with distinctive shapes. Many are in tight locations and it’s not always possible to move backward to include the entire tree from ground to crown. Again, the wide angle capability is terrific; just a flick of the wrist and the tree can be framed perfectly.

Another great feature of the D-60 is that the shutter clicks as soon as I press the release button, just like my old analog camera. For three years I used an earlier digital camera with a two-or-three-second shutter delay and it drove me mad. If I were shooting a moving object, I’d have to anticipate where it would be seconds after I pressed the shutter release. If a human subject wore a particular expression, it usually changed two seconds hence when the camera finally recorded it.

My wife and I rented a cottage on the Maine coast last week so I had lots of time to play around. I watched terns dive into the Little River at Reid State Park and come up with sardines in their beaks. I got several nice shots of their aerobatic diving that would have been impossible to obtain with my old camera. Then a huge osprey appeared and hovered high over the waves further out. He hung in the air long enough for me to change lenses and I was able to get several images of him (her?). The auto-focus feature was problematic at times with only blue sky as background. It was difficult to keep the bird in the center of the frame and the lens wanted to go to infinity when my aim was off. The osprey’s eyesight was apparently off a bit too because, as much as I wanted him to, he never dove for his dinner while I was shooting and eventually flew back inland. Oh well. Can’t have everything.

A quote I read recently keeps reverberating in my head: “We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.” I’m happy to say that I’ve been seeing many interesting and beautiful things lately and I’m taking the time record them. Life is good. The old man who sold me the camera said there are two kinds of photographers: “those who bring their camera to photograph a particular thing, and those who always have it with them because they see something beautiful every day.”

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Graffiti and Anarchy


Some people consider it an art form, but I’m not one of them. To me it’s a canary-in-the-coal-mine thing, an indication of an unraveling civilization. It was appropriate that one of the symbols was an upper-case A with a circle around it - a symbol of anarchy. Last week, someone spray-painted graffiti representing whatever crude impulses entered his head around the Lovell Dump, or what is probably referred to as the Lovell Solid Waste Recycling Center now. If there ever were a proper venue for graffiti I suppose it would be a dump, but it was offensive even there.

Why do I say “his” head you may ask? Because the perpetrator was likely an adolescent male who knows very little but thinks he knows much. That two giant phalluses were among the symbols is also a clue. It’s possible he’s former student since I’ve taught nearly every fourteen-year-old who came through eighth grade around here for more than a generation. It’s also possible that he’s already been charged by the time this goes to print, but I’m out of town and out of touch, where there’s neither cellphone nor internet service and that’s nice. There’s no graffiti around here either. If he was caught and he’s under eighteen, his name won’t be published. People in town will know who he was though. They always do, and you can find out if you listen to the talk at one of the local lunch counters.

Graffiti “artists” who render crude phalluses probably wear their pants low on their rear ends - because they desperately want to belong to other groups of boys like themselves who don’t pull their pants up. Graffiti is part of their lifestyle. When they get old enough to drive, they’ll have sub-woofers installed in their cars to vibrate everything within a wide radius, blaring their angry “music” which they impose on us along with their graffiti. Sound and symbol go together, and those of us who pull our pants up consider both obnoxious.

Adolescent males who run in packs are anarchist by nature. The only limits they recognize are the impulses of the alpha male and change hour to hour. Anarchy is as old as the human race, but during the past two centuries, anarchists have adopted a loose philosophy. They believe there should be no government and they behave as if there weren’t any. They don’t respect private property, and that squares nicely with communists over on the extreme left of the political spectrum. Anarchists and communists have historically worked together to bring down governments. Once they’re successful in that, however, they part company. To fill the power vacuum, communists create huge government bureaucracies to control everything everybody does, and that’s the opposite of what anarchists profess.

Several anarchist groups like “Unconventional Action” and “Recreate 68” are planning to disrupt the Democrat Convention in Denver next month. According to the Denver Post: “A draft law proposed by the Denver Police Department would ban the possession by protesters of materials such as weighted pipes and chains and items that can make urine and feces bombs.” Hmm. Urine and feces bombs, huh? The excremental equivalent of rap “music” and graffiti, I guess. Would these be aimed at police or at Obama delegates?

Few adolescent boys understand anarchist history, but they’re attracted to symbols like the A with a circle around it because it’s associated with other angry young males who become sub-cultural heroes. Our media magnifies them as they make “music” and destroy things and treat young women like whores. Big media like Time Warner feed this subculture and profit mightily in the process.

The majority culture either accepts this adolescent anarchy, or even celebrates it because it’s associated with protected minorities. It is therefore an element of Multiculturalism - which purports that all cultures are equal. No culture, or subculture for that matter, is any better or any worse than any other. Cultural relativity has become a sacred principle and it’s not politically correct to question it. It’s even a hate crime in Canada where provincial Human Rights Commissions can bring charges against you and impose huge fines if you should publicly criticize a culture to the point where its adherents’ feelings get hurt. They don’t have a First Amendment up there.

Our society seems to have swallowed all this even when it means many of our adolescent boys behave like characters from “Lord of the Flies” and many of our adolescent girls look like prostitutes. Many grumble about it privately, but few speak out publicly lest they be called intolerant or even racist.

Such were my thoughts while I was photographing the graffiti before the dump attendant painted over it last week. That’s what we have to do with graffiti - kill it before it spreads, disinfect before it reproduces. Some claim this prevents “the broken-window effect” - if a broken window isn’t fixed right away, others around it will soon be broken too. Let’s hope we caught it in time.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Baby Bust


Hey liberals: I have good news and bad news.

Good news first: Remember how worried you were about increasing human population taking over animal habitat? Westerners using too much energy? Eating too much meat? Cutting down too many trees? Sending too much carbon into the atmosphere? Oppressing “people of color”? Well, the Western Civilization you hate is in decline. Europeans aren’t reproducing much and it looks like they’re just going to fade away in a few more generations. Immigrants “of color,” especially Muslims, are having lots of babies. They’re out-breeding Europeans (people “of pallor,” I suppose) as much as four-to-one. Won’t be long before Muslims “of color” are the majority, which is why some already refer to Europe as “Eurabia.”

The bad news? Europeans work few hours, take lots of vacations, then retire early with full benefits - just what liberal Americans think they should do too. Trouble is, that lifestyle requires working young people vastly outnumbering geezer retirees - and they’re just not there anymore. Not in Europe. Not in Canada. Not in blue-state America either (red staters are still breeding). A European cradle-to-grave socialist welfare system cannot sustain itself without lots of babies every year. It doesn’t work when there are more geezers than young people. So, the socialist utopia envisioned by American liberals and temporarily actualized by Europeans will disappear.

One great book covers this: “America Alone” ©2006 by New Hampshire’s Mark Steyn. He documents, in his tragic-comic style, how Western Civilization is committing suicide by refusing to reproduce. Meanwhile, Europeans bring in millions of Muslim immigrants from former colonies in Turkey, Pakistan, and Arab countries - most of whom refuse to assimilate and who breed like rabbits. They also collect welfare at higher rates than native-born French, Spanish, Italians, British or Germans. And, they would rather impose Sharia Law than support European geezers.

The New York Times finally got around to reporting the story in their June 29th Sunday magazine supplement with a cover piece called “Childless Europe.” Although author Russell Shorto quotes twice from “America Alone,” it’s as if he never read it. He acknowledges part of the problem, but doesn’t agree with Steyn about what caused it or how to deal with it. While Steyn blames multicultural, diversity-celebrating socialist welfare states for the continent’s baby bust, Shorto suggests they’re the solution, vainly in my opinion. He insinuates that because of it’s more generous child-care and maternity/paternity-leave programs, northern Europe’s birth rates are declining more slowly than southern Europe’s birth rates. North and south are both dying, but at different speeds. Steyn makes the case that Europeans don’t have children because of laziness, narcissism, and selfishness. Shorto claims it’s because they cost too much.

Steyn uses gallows humor to skewer sacred icons of liberalism - abortion and homosexuality - as obvious causes of Europe’s baby bust along with the social welfare state. Shorto ignores them completely - never mentioning either in his long article although there are 33 abortions for every 100 live births in western Europe and 105 abortions for every 100 live births in eastern Europe. Dead babies outnumber live babies there. How could Shorto overlook those statistical 800-pound gorillas in a cover story called “Childless Europe”? How could he disregard homosexual “marriage” as a factor in population decline? That’s hard, unless you work for the New York Times where they publish “All the news that’s fit to print.” Guess it’s not fitting to suggest that either abortion or homosexuality may be detrimental to society.

Steyn and Shorto both reference Paul Erlich’s “The Population Bomb.” Steyn ridicules Erlich’s predictions of demographic disaster and the western world’s Chicken Little reaction to it. Shorto interviewed Erlich and quoted him saying: “It’s insane to consider low birth rate as a crisis. Basically every person I know in my section of the National Academy of Sciences thinks it’s wonderful that rich countries are starting to shrink their populations to sustainable levels. We have to do that because we’re wrecking our life-support systems.”

It’s wonderful, huh Mr. Erlich? Just what is a “sustainable level”? Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population” made a similar “running out of resources” case back around the turn of 19th century when there were fewer than a billion people worldwide. Charles Dickens’ “Ebeneezer Scrooge” reflects Malthusian thinking when he talks about “decreasing the surplus population.” Malthus was off the mark in his population disaster predictions since there are more than six billion humans on the planet now. In 1968, Erlich wrote: “the battle to feed all of humanity is over ... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

Uh-huh. Now, about Al Gore’s writings . . . Nah. Never mind.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Worst That Could Happen


Thirty years ago, I remember feeling complimented when asked if I were an anti-nuclear activist. If I ever was, I’m not anymore. The world has changed and I have too. In my idealistic world-view, I thought it might be feasible to rid the world of nuclear weapons - too naive to realize that once the toothpaste is out of the tube, we’re never going to get it back in. People like me were against all things nuclear - weapons and power plants producing uranium and plutonium that could be made into weapons.

In 1979, Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant nearly melted down. In January of 1986, I was in my first term as a selectman when the federal government notified us that my town and others in southwestern Maine were being considered as a repository for high-level nuclear waste. Maine was moving rapidly leftward because of an in-migration of people like me and we were in high dudgeon as we berated bureaucrats from the US Department of Energy at hearings around the state. They tolerated us calmly and then abandoned their plans after the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear plant melted down in late April.

Shortly thereafter, Presidents Reagan and Bush negotiated the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Soviet Union and after four decades of building them, we actually began dismantling nuclear weapons.

Trouble is, the Soviet Union disintegrated. It was as inept monitoring its nuclear weapons as it was monitoring its nuclear power plants. Its huge military was not getting paid. Its nukes, its plutonium, its enriched uranium, and its nuclear physicists were hanging around - lots of weapons and weapons experts looking for cash. Radical Muslims just to the south were flush with cash and looking for nuclear weapons. It doesn’t take an expert in international politics to understand deals were likely made. We must operate under the assumption that our enemies have nukes and are anxious to use them against us.

In January, 2007, I was in the audience in Washington DC when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said: “At some point down the road, we run a serious risk of losing two or three [American] cities to nuclear weapons [in terrorist attacks], and it’s a lot better to act now before we lose a city.”

And it’s not just conservative Republicans warning us. On the other side of the aisle, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden said: “the most dangerous threat America faces is the possibility that one of the world's most extreme groups -- like al Qaeda -- gets its hands on a nuclear bomb."

Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government claims: “a successful terrorist nuclear attack devastating one of the great cities of the world is inevitable.”

Scotland’s Sunday Herald quoted Ian Dickinson, who leads the police response to chemical, biological and nuclear threats there: "These materials are undoubtedly out there, and undoubtedly will end up in terrorists' hands, and undoubtedly will be used by terrorists some time soon," he claims.

Although he didn’t use the word “nuclear,” Senator Joseph Lieberman said on CBS’s Face the Nation: “"Our enemies will test the new president early. Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration. 9/11 happened in the first year of the Bush administration."

What Lieberman didn’t mention is that al Quaida returns to a target if they’re unsuccessful destroying it the first time - as they did with the World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001. United Flight 93 was believed to be headed for either the White House or the US Capitol Building before it was taken over by passengers and crashed in Pennsylvania. Does al Qaeda plan to go back to the Capitol and finish the job?

SITE Intelligence Group revealed a horrific, computer-generated image of what the US Capitol would look like after a terrorist nuke attack. SITE found the image on two password-protected al-Qaeda-affiliated web sites. Evidently, our enemies found the image somewhere and use it to salivate while making their plans. With our porous borders and port facilities, we’re vulnerable.

Every American needs to look long at our enemies' vision for us. Perhaps it will help us understand that we need to get a whole lot tougher if we’re going to prevent it from becoming reality. Five Supreme Court justices should have gazed at it before voting to grant rights of habeas corpus to Guantanamo terrorists who would live only to bring down the Great Satan - that’s us, in case you didn’t know. To accomplish that, nothing would be more effective than nuking Washington, DC.

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