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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Faces of Ireland


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.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sexualization


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.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How does that lipstick taste Barack?


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.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Provocative Palins


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.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Left And Right And Wrong


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.

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