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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Buzzards

Out for a drive on our Friday night date last week, the wife and I went down a woods road in Sweden, Maine. Several turkey buzzards flew across the road in front of the pickup. They're huge birds, especially when seen up close, which is rare. We usually see them soaring high up with their fingered feathers splayed out to make them distinguishable from more noble birds like eagles and hawks.

As more flew out of the woods, I pulled over and rolled down the driver's window. The death smell was strong. I wrinkled my nose and looked over at the wife but she hadn't smelled it yet. Then I noticed two ugly buzzards sitting on a limb. I was glad I'd purchased an 18-270mm zoom a few months before. In slow motion, I brought the camera up and focused on them, hoping they wouldn't fly before I could get a shot. You wouldn't think so, but buzzards are quite shy. It's as if they sense human disdain.
I figured those two were the hungriest ones - reluctant to leave the supper table. As I inched the truck toward them they finally bolted, so I got out to see what they'd been dining on. The smell got stronger and I noticed some red cloth a little ways down the banking. That scared me because I considered it might be a human body they'd been eating. Once in a while, murderers from more populated areas to our south would dump a victim up here in the woods thinking it would never be found. Thankfully, the red cloth was just a rag. Further on I was relieved to see the remains of a fat porcupine, which I did not photograph.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

That Old Summer Feeling


Didn’t set my alarm this Tuesday morning, but I was still up at five. Except for one summer project, teaching is all done for me until September. Having worked in the same community for thirty-two years, people I meet every day know my primary profession. “On vacation now?” they say.

“From one thing,” I answer. Most don’t know I’ve always worked other jobs because I couldn’t raise a family on just a teacher salary. Now that my children are grown and gone I could live on it, but I’ve come to like my sidelines too and I don’t want to give them up. I haven’t had a whole summer off since before I started a paper route in grammar school, but I have a more flexible schedule during summer and I do get away more often.

This year I’m heading to Cape Breton Island for a week with my wife. I’ve never been to Nova Scotia and I’m looking forward to it. She’ll walk the beaches while I explore the island. There’s a local Maine history angle there in the sieges of Fortress Louisbourg during the 18th century. Joseph Frye, founder of Fryeburg, fought there with other members of his family and one was killed. British forces later destroyed the stone fortification but it’s been rebuilt by the Canadian government. It’s said to have rivaled Gibraltar in it’s time. I’ve been reading about it for years and I’m anxious to take it in. That should consume a day or two. Another thing that interests me about Cape Breton is the Celtic flavor there. Settlers from the Scottish Highlands came in the early 1800s and Irish from Newfoundland a bit later. That mix and its relative isolation since has incubated interesting blends of music and dance, and I want to take in as much of both as I can. The land itself is wild and beautiful coming down to the sea sharply as it does, and that should inspire lots of photographs.
One of my best hours last summer was spent photographing Arctic Terns flying and diving for their lunch in Georgetown, Maine with my then brand-new Nikon D-60. Looking at those shots brings me right back there.

In August, I’ll visit Cape Cod for a week in Osterville. Haven’t been there for many years and I want to see what’s changed. I’ve never been to Nantucket and I’ll take a ferry there for a day. Been reading much about whaling the last few years and I feel like I know the island already - as it was in the 19th century anyway. I wonder how much of that remains. Haven’t been to Provincetown for forty-two years and I know that’s changed a lot. Do I dare go? Maybe.
In the interim, I’ll be talking to a group of people in Bridgton about my columns. I’m told to expect both friend and foe at a “brown bag lunch” in the Bridgton Municipal Building on Wednesday, July 29th. Should be fun.

Whenever I can fit it in, I want to explore locations where Indians settled in Lovell and North Fryeburg via kayak. It’s an old interest and I’ve been doing more research on it lately. I found my first arrowhead a couple of weeks ago, and with all the rain we’ve had this spring I may find a few more along the banks - now that I know better where to look.

Then there are the hills of western Maine which are endlessly fascinating. There are still some to the north and east I haven’t explored, but I’ve been studying maps of old settlements there within 20-25 miles of Lovell. There’s hostility to ATVs on back roads to the south of Lovell, but not so much to the north. I have leg problems and I need to use a 4-wheeler to get back into abandoned neighborhoods which abound in the hills of northern New England.

Then there’s the honey-do list - rather short this year, thank God. I’ve finally reached a point in life where I don’t think I have to do everything myself anymore. Now I actually hire people for the bigger projects and do only the little ones that take a day or two. I had to force myself to have fun last summer and it was difficult at the beginning. This year it’s coming easier. School is out and I’m remembering how I used to feel as a boy with time to play.

It feels good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Help" Thy Neighbor

If I’m going to help my neighbor, I want it to be my idea. If he’s gotten sick or injured and needs assistance to recover I’d be glad to help out - and I would feel good doing so. I’d know I could count on him to help me if I need it. Friendships develop this way and community is strengthened.

Maybe another of my neighbors has been doing stupid things and I don’t want to help him. Perhaps I think it’s best that he suffer the consequences of his actions. If my government forces me to help out my boneheaded neighbor when I would not otherwise choose to, I’d resent that as most would. That resentment would be contagious and would weaken communities - may even destroy them ultimately.

Our country was founded on the idea that we’re endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights including: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We need government to safeguard our right to life by hiring sheriffs, creating courts and prisons for those who might take our lives - and to raise a military that would protect against foreign invaders.

We also need a constitution that protects us from that government because it’s the biggest threat to our liberty. The founding fathers recognized this and structured our constitution to limit government power. We don’t have the right to happiness - only the right to pursue it. Whether we catch any or not is strictly up to us.

That’s how we started out in these United States. However, Americans in the mid to late twentieth century started believing they had a right to free food, housing, health care, a college education, a pension, and they didn’t even believe they should have to pursue it. It should be given to them whether they work for it or not and - there are enough of them to influence elections at all levels - federal, state and local. Now both the White House and Congress are under the firm control of the “redistributionists.”

How did we get here? How did we go from the land of opportunity to the land of entitlement? The government we made to safeguard our God-given rights has grown so big it’s bestowing “rights” not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution. It’s granting those “rights” to some groups of Americans and forcing others to pay for them. Americans who pay their own mortgages now have to help pay for those who don’t.

Charles Kesler, editor of the Claremont Review of Books, suggests we got here through what he calls the “grand liberal project” begun during the Progressive Era, continuing during the New Deal, the Great Society, and culminating in the Obama Administration, whatever it may come to be called. Hopenchange? Maybe.”

President Wilson believed ours is a “living Constitution” which could be changed when “progressives” deemed it necessary without the cumbersome and time-consuming amendment process outlined in Article V. President Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court with judges who would rubber-stamp his stretching of the Constitution to provide his new “Economic Bill of Rights.

With President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, government grew even bigger. President Obama is growing it so big it’ll soon outweigh the private sector. With national health care a possibility this summer, government spending will be at about 49% of our Gross Domestic Product - well within the realm of socialism by anyone’s measure. As columnist Mark Steyn wrote on Monday, “Once big government’s in place, it’s very hard to go back.”

We all know a neighbor or a brother-in-law who’s been using his equity as an ATM machine and is now in danger of foreclosure. None of us are going to be happy about picking up part of his mortgage payment under Obama’s mortgage bailout program. As Patrick.net puts it, it’s a “plan to reward debtors at the expense of savers.” President Obama can make as many speeches as he wants about “unscrupulous” lenders who “forced” our irresponsible relatives and neighbors to borrow money, but we know better. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Democrats are struggling to prop up housing prices that have to drop. They’re patching the housing bubble with trillions of our grandchildren’s dollars. Before long that bubble and the Democrat bubble will burst simultaneously and the rest of us will have to pick up the pieces if we can.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Debate About Personhood

We’ve never suffered a shortage of fanatics who believe they know what’s best for the rest of us, who would impose their will whether we like it or not. One was John Brown - anti-slavery fanatic who in 1856 hacked five pro-slavery men to death with broadswords in Kansas. I was struck by the coincidence that anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder shot abortionist George Tiller to death last week in Kansas too. The murders were 100 miles and 150 years apart.


John Brown was hanged for raiding an arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia three years later. To many anti-slavery activists, Brown was a hero. Henry David Thoreau praised him. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared him to Jesus Christ.

Abraham Lincoln, as we might expect, took a longer view of Brown’s hanging, saying: “We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence. It can avail him nothing that he think himself right.”

That would sum up my view if Roeder should be executed.

I haven’t heard anti-abortion activists call Scott Roeder a hero though. Instead, they’ve roundly condemned what he did. Nonetheless, pro-abortion activists blame them for firing up Roeder. They blamed anti-abortion activists for Paul Hill too, a minister who killed an abortionist in Florida fifteen years ago and got the death penalty for doing so. Fanatic to the end, Hill went to his death confident he had done the right thing.

In The Atlantic last week, Megan McArdle wrote:

Listening to the debates about abortion, it seems to me that really broad swathes of the pro-choice movement seem to genuinely not understand that this is a debate about personhood, which is why you get moronic statements like ‘If you think abortions are wrong, don't have one!’ If you think a fetus is a person, it is not useful to be told that you, personally, are not required to commit murder, as long as you leave the neighbors alone while they do it.

Would it have done any good to tell John Brown “If you think slavery is wrong, don’t buy one!”? Slavery was legal in 1856 Kansas, just as abortion is now, but John Brown thought that irrelevant. Slavery and abortion are both about personhood as McArdle claims. If Africans were not persons, but organisms somewhere down the evolutionary scale between humans and animals - as so many slave-holders believed, then it was all right to enslave them. But if they were persons, as John Brown believed, then slavery was evil. So it naturally followed that he would, as he put it, “consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” Murder, in Brown’s mind, was justified on his mission.

It’s justified in Scott Roeder’s mind too because he believes unborn babies are persons just as slaves were. George Tiller killed 60,000 of them, making millions in the process. Many were partial-birth abortions, in which Tiller would pull out a baby by its legs, leaving it’s head inside the mother. Then he would make a hole in the base of the baby’s skull, insert a vacuum tube, and suck out its brains. As long as the head was still inside, it was a fetus with no right to life - not a person, legally. If its head were a few inches south, the baby would be a person in the eyes of the law and Tiller would be a murderer, a particularly gruesome murderer at that.

Instead, Tiller is a hero - a martyr to the “women’s rights” movement. Feminists held vigils for him in Portland and Boston and dozens of other cities across the US and Canada. President Obama, our most pro-abortion president ever, took time out of his Sunday to say he was “shocked and outraged” by the killing. The next day, a radical Muslim shot two American soldiers in Arkansas, killing one. There wasn’t a word from the White House about that for three days, after which the president said he was “saddened.”

As an Illinois state senator, Obama 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 persons 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.”

Asked later when human life begins, Obama said he didn’t know, that it was "above my pay grade." If life doesn’t begin at birth, Mr. President, when does it begin? This is the guy who said that if his daughters get pregnant, “I don’t want them punished with a baby.” Not exactly a fanatic view, but pretty far out there nonetheless.

Ironically, President Obama and President Lincoln both came from Illinois, but that’s where the comparison ends.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Taking the Pulse


The first I ever heard of “Electro-Magnetic Pulse” or EMP was twenty years ago when the Pentagon wanted to build a series of low-frequency AM radio towers - one of them a few miles from my house in the cornfields of North Fryeburg, Maine. In case our enemies exploded a nuclear device high in our atmosphere and fried all electronic communications, the towers would survive and allow our forces to orchestrate a counterattack. The Pentagon called the system “GWEN,” or Ground Wave Emergency Network.

At the time, I was still transitioning from liberal to conservative and reflexively questioned the wisdom of expenditures on anything related to nuclear warfare. I knew nothing about AM radio waves except that they faded out while driving under a bridge. Twenty years hence, that’s still about the extent of my knowledge, except that I now listen regularly to conservative talk radio on that band. No tower went up in North Fryeburg, but the GWEN system was built in the rest of the country.

In an informative article about the EMP threat, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy quoted a congressionally-mandated report that a small nuke, detonated high above the USA, would have a “high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which American society depends. Their effects on dependent systems and infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the nation.”

Catastrophic. They didn’t overstate it. Right now, I’m near the end of a novel by William R. Forstchen called “One Second After,” and it’s scaring me. Forstchen specializes in military history and the history of technology, and he paints a bleak picture of a post-EMP America.

There would be no electronic communication. Information would travel by word of mouth, just like in the 18th century. There would be no electricity. Cars, trucks, trains would just stop. Only antique vehicles would run - those built before electronic ignition systems. Planes would fall out of the sky. There would be no refrigeration, no freezers. After a week or so, food not canned or dried would spoil. Animals dependent on grain trucked in would starve too. America’s abundant food supply could not be distributed without trucks or trains. People would have to make due with what they had stored up. Hog farms without grain shipments would have a lot of dead hogs or the surrounding area would have a lot of wild ones.

Pacemakers would stop. Diabetics would run out of insulin. People on anti-depressants or anti-psychotics would run out of meds. Hospitals and nursing homes couldn’t function. Within a couple of months, there would be huge die-offs. Refugees would roam and compete for dwindling food supplies. State and federal government could not function. Prisons would have to either execute their inmates or release them. All government would be local, and would likely rule by martial law if there were any law at all.

With a forward by former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, “One Second After” makes the plausible case that, after an EMP, America would be sent back to the Middle Ages. How vulnerable is the United States to EMP? The present nuclear nations would be unlikely to attack this way because we would hit right back and they’re as vulnerable as we are. So where would a threat likely come from?

Let’s see. There are at least two whack-jobs running countries today, and they both hate the United States. Both are developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deliver them. The first is Kim Jong Il of North Korea. According to a Salon.com article from 2003:

Kim Jong Il likes Daffy Duck and fast cars, and before he became North Korea's dictator he wanted to be a film producer. He was born on the peak of a sacred mountain, he says, and his birth was attended by thunder and lightning. . . . While his famine-starved people eat tree bark to ease their hunger, he dines on steak and cognac in the company of the "Pleasure Squad" -- a variety pack of imported blondes and Asian beauties.

A 2000 Time article echoes those claims. Last week Kim successfully tested a nuke bigger than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, and he’s been regularly test-firing missiles capable of delivering it.

The second whack-job is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. At two speeches to the UN General Assembly, he invoked the “Mahdi” whom Allah has been keeping alive in an Iranian well for over a 1000 years. Radical Shiites believe Ahmadinejad can bring the Mahdi out of the well by causing chaos on earth, and that’s what he’s planning to do. While we have Fourth of July parades here, in Iran they chant “Death to America” and flog themselves bloody with chains.

Meanwhile, President Obama spends trillions on social welfare and “infrastructure,” much of it electronic. Then he cut funding for anti-missile defense systems which could prevent just such an EMP attack by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. Soon, each will have the capability of wiping out all that new infrastructure, and more, in one second - if they don’t have it already.

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