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, March 31, 2010

Census Nonsense


The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Our government, however, is the biggest discriminator. It’s obsessed with race, but Americans are so used to it we hardly seem to notice anymore. When teachers get in-service training on how to administer standardized tests, I always make it a point to ask officials why we need to know what race students are and what their national origin may be. There’s always a pause, and then an answer like, “Well, umm, so we can tell how one group does compared to other groups.”

“Yes, but why?” I ask again. “What will you do with that information?”

Sometimes they get irritated at this point and I can tell that they’ve never considered the question and were not prepared to answer it, so they say something like: “We report it up the line.”

“If a racial differential were discovered,” I then ask, “would officials up the line program differently to address it?”

“Probably.”

“Wouldn’t that be racial discrimination, which is supposed to have been illegal since 1964?”

It they hadn’t shown irritation before, they display it at this juncture and say something indignant like, “Well, it would only be to help them,” and then quickly go on to something or somebody else hoping I’ll shut up.

Government always thinks it’s beneficent when it discriminates on the basis of race, or sex, or national origin because it sees itself as conferring an advantage on the downtrodden. What they almost never consider is that by advantaging one group, they’re disadvantaging another. Government officials think themselves pure-hearted and morally superior when compared to anyone else who discriminates, so they think it’s okay when they do it.

Girls, for example, have been advantaged so much in education the past few decades that now, according to the book “Why Boys Fail,” by Richard Whitmire: “Among whites, women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 62 percent of master’s degrees. Among blacks, the figures are 66 percent and 72 percent.”

Discrimination is wrong no matter who does it. As Martin Luther King summed it up in his famous 1967 speech: “I have a dream that someday my children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” No righteous person could argue with that, but government continues to discriminate. Consider how often you’ve been asked on a form what your race is, what your sex is, or what your religion or national origin may be. Why does government want this information? There’s a legitimate reason for asking a person’s sex because there are real differences between males and females, but race? With its Affirmative Action policies, government ignores “the content of their character” and imposes racial and sexual quotas in all its operations. That’s discrimination no matter how you slice it.

We’ve all seen the US Census form by now. Page one starts by saying: “The census must count every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010.” As far as I know, that’s all the Constitution requires but it’s grown far beyond that. The census helps maintain the republic which, by definition is: “a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” The census enables to determine representation in a shifting population.

Now, however, the government wants lots of other information, especially whether we’re of “Hispanic origin.” Right after Question 7 asking for Person 1’s age and date of birth, it says: “NOTE: Please answer BOTH Question 8 about Hispanic origin and Question 9 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”

Oh. So, for some other census they are? Why?

Question 8 asks: “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?” There’s a box for “No.” Then there are four boxes including: “Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano”; “Yes, Puerto Rican”; “Yes, Cuban”; and “Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin - Print origin, for example, Argentinian, Colombian, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on.”

There are no categories for other origins like Irish, German, Jewish, Italian. Why is it just Hispanics government wants to know about?

Question 9 asks: “What is person 1’s race? Mark X in one or more boxes.” Next to each box are categories including: “White”; “Black, African Am., or Negro”; “American Indian or Alaska Native”; “Asian Indian”; “Chinese”; “Filipino”; “Japanese”; “Korean”; “Vietnamese”; and “Other Asian.”

This is racial discrimination, pure and simple, and it’s long past time to end government obsession with it. Question 9 ends with a box next to which it says: “Some other race - print race.”

Please, when you fill out the census form, check that box and print HUMAN.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Making Scents


Every home has a smell, some are pleasant, others unpleasant, most are neutral. A relative who liked to flip houses used to bake bread just before the realtor brought a potential buyer on a walk-through. Other people consciously introduce smells with air fresheners or potpourri. Most home smells, however, are an amalgam created by the ordinary activities of living such as cooking, washing, burning wood, and keeping pets. Homes in which people don’t wash or clean very often smell like that.

For years I had a paper route and on Friday afternoons, I’d knock on kitchen doors to get paid for the week. I’d be invited to stand on the floor mat just inside and I’d get a whiff of over forty homes in just a few hours. Many of my customers cooked the same thing every Friday - usually fried haddock or cod - and I’d notice if they changed routine to macaroni and cheese. There were lots of Catholics who didn’t eat meat on Fridays in those days. In summer when windows were open, I could smell homes nearly every day and I began to appreciate how a dog perceives his world with his nose in the air.
We like whatever smells we’ve been conditioned to associate with something good. As a life-long New Englander, I enjoy seasonal change and my favorite season tends to be whichever one is just arriving. Each has its own smells and it’s usually on a warm day in late February when I detect the first scent of spring. Something thaws upwind and a breeze wafts it to my nose. Though I don’t see it, I visualize a south-facing slope under a white pine with fragrant brown needles warming in the sun. A fond memory is tapped and I savor its associated feelings, but then have to remind myself that it’s a tease and more cold is inevitable before a melt can be sustained. A month later thawing days outnumber freezing ones and spring scents dominate. This March has been unusually warm and last Sunday’s gentle showers after seventy-degree sunshine Saturday re-created that sweet smell of soft rain on warm, dry macadam that usually comes only in summer.When I stopped smoking twenty-five years ago, my olfactory detection system seemed to intensify. It didn’t really of course; it just returned to normal. More memories and feelings from childhood were triggered by scents that had always been around me but were masked by tobacco smoke. The only thing that can approach the strength of smell when evoking old moods might be hearing an old song on the radio.

Fifty years ago my parents got an idea to paint the concrete walls and floor of our basement and set up the Christmas tree down there. There were eight of us kids and there would be more room to spread out all the toys and gifts on Christmas morning. Ever since, the smell of certain oil-based paints sends me right back there.
Often my childhood friends and I would build “forts” that were nothing but a hole in the ground with boards placed across and leaves spread over them for camouflage. We’d spend hours digging in the earth with our fathers’ spades. Now, whenever a backhoe or excavator digs a fresh hole, the smell of fresh dirt triggers a memory of the secure feeling I had sitting in the “fort” like a chipmunk in his den.

When catalytic converters were mandated on new cars, I recall the peculiar odor they produced compared to the exhaust from older cars I was accustomed to smelling. Now they’re ubiquitous and I don’t notice anymore. Then someone will start up an old vehicle and that old smell summons those old memories.

It’s almost a decade since I cut my firewood from the stump which I had done for two decades prior, but I only have to fire up my chainsaw, drop a tree and my nose takes me right back there. A freshly-used landing on a woodlot down the street does the same thing when I walk past it. It’s the still-fresh sawdust and the stumps still oozing sap.My favorite smell these days is the sweet scent of my granddaughter. It’s difficult to describe except to say that it’s the same smell all babies who are loved and cared for have. Together with the feel of her soft hair, her laugh and her smiling face, her smell is a reminder, a reaffirmation, a renewal.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Growing Up


“Kids grow up fast today,” people often say, but not always in ways that benefit society or the kids themselves. They’re usually referring to sexual awareness beginning much earlier than it used to. Girls menstruate earlier than they did in previous generations and we’re not sure why. Increased use of artificial hormones in animals and consumer products is suspect, but there are no certain conclusions and there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding early onset of puberty in boys. Aside from the physical, however, the kind of maturation that would make us productive members of society seems to be slowing down.

Far more American kids go to college today than did in previous generations. Taxpaying adults who underwrite much of their education at both public and private universities have a right to expect that there would be a commensurate increase in the collective wisdom of the generation they’re subsidizing. There are no quantitative methods of measuring wisdom that I know of, but anecdotal observations of today’s college students indicate the opposite is occurring, and unless they’re studying hard science or engineering, what they’re learning academically is often less valuable than what they might otherwise learn in the working world.

Yet public schools constantly tell students they won’t be successful unless they go to college and I’ve been thinking that’s not such a good idea. Many accepted as freshmen are deemed unqualified to take college writing or college math unless they first take remedial courses for full tuition, but for no credit. How then, I ask, did they ever pass high school English or high school math? Other high school seniors who insist they’re going to attend college don’t seem to know why. Either they’re not sure what they want to major in or they change several times during their college career and take an average of six years to finish a four-year course of study - often piling up huge debt the whole time. When they finally graduate, they’re almost as likely to move back in with their parents as go out and get a job. What can they do with a degree in Art History, Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, or Queer Studies anyway?

They could go on a quest to “find themselves” as so many young people claim to have been doing since the screwball sixties, while the rest of society enables an ever-extending adolescence. Democrats pushing health care “reform,” recently attached President Obama’s plan to forgive their student loans which for many are well into the tens of thousands. They also want government and insurance companies to continue medical coverage for “children” up to age 25 or 26. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the other day: "Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance." As Mary Katherine Ham writes in The Weekly Standard last week, “If [liberals] insist on creating a generation unable to care for itself up to and past the ripe old age of 26 by incentivizing ‘children’—and I use to term loosely— to stay on parent's health insurance policies until they're turning the corner from Clearasil to Botox, there will be fewer educated, able-bodied people who ever learn to take care of themselves.”

Two generations ago, far fewer Americans went to college and I’m not sure that was a bad thing. There was some crazy behavior on campus but nothing compared to what it’s like today. Even though wealthy parents bailed their “kids” out of various scrapes, there were behavioral standards at most colleges beyond which nobody was allowed to go regardless of how influential a family they came from. The late Senator Ted Kennedy was twice expelled from Harvard when he was caught cheating.

After World War II, thousands of veterans went to college on the GI Bill, but they tended to be focused and businesslike in their study habits - even compared to the more-diligent students common back then. A friend who was an undergraduate in the late ’40s described what it was like when returning GIs started attending his classes. They were impatient with small talk, he said, and they expected to be learning every minute. Professors stepped up their pace and everyone treated the new older students with great deference. Contrast that with today’s returning GIs who are flagged as possible domestic terrorists by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Colleges that won’t allow ROTC or military recruiters to set foot on campus aren’t prone to respect returning veterans either.

If parents choose to support their offspring beyond eighteen that’s their business, but government shouldn’t require everyone to contribute - especially those of us who know they’d grow up much faster if they had to take care of themselves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Change is Coming


People are worried. More worried than I ever remember. If they’re not out of work, they know others who are. Highly skilled tradesmen are taking on whatever comes their way - jobs they never thought they’d do - because the phone isn’t ringing like it used to. They don’t see an end to it and they don’t expect it to get better. They expect it to get worse - a lot worse. That’s what worries them. And these are reliable people, those who have always taken care of business, of themselves, and of others, have always paid their taxes, have done everything above board.

Others who have hidden income in the underground economy, who have relied on government for unemployment checks, for free health care, and many other government programs, are still doing that, but their phones aren’t ringing at all. They’re calling others in search of work but not finding much. They’ve hired on occasionally with the reliable ones, but those occasions are fewer and farther between. Lately they’ve had more time to stand around with their hands in their pockets listening to anxious talk from those who pay attention to the wider world and understand it a bit. They don’t like what they’re hearing and now they’re worried too.
Then there are those who have never taken care of themselves, who have depended totally on government. They’re still going along as they always have, but they’re noticing the world is slowing down. Businesses are closing. Others aren’t open as much and shelves are empty. They don’t know it yet, but their lives are about to get harder.

Anybody who pays attention has seen it coming for a long time. Political leaders though, acted like it would all go on forever and most voters believed them. A growing number depend on government for everything and don’t know any other way, but with illegal immigration and refugee resettlement, we’re supporting tens of millions of foreigners as well. Some think we can support the whole world. Citizens want to seal the border, but government refuses. Republicans refuse because business constituents like the cheap labor and Democrats refuse because illegals will vote for them after amnesty. Ordinary citizens steam as their government sends so many checks to so many people it can’t cover them anymore. Rather than cut back, it has borrowed from foreigners who don’t want to lend any more. So the Federal Reserve is printing money.

The gravy train is derailing. Some of us know it. Other sense it. Most remain oblivious. Cities and towns can’t pay bills and can’t get help from states that are bankrupt. States can’t get help from a federal government in debt $14 trillion. There’s no backstop anymore. We’ve reached the end. Yet the president and Congress are still pushing health care “reform” for $2 trillion and trashing Senator Jim Bunning for asking where we’re going to get $10 billion to extend unemployment benefits. Because he pointed out that things simply cannot go on like this anymore, Bunning was trashed by Republicans as well.

The dollar is collapsing. The Euro is collapsing. It’s all going to collapse - and very soon - unless we cut everything and cut it deeply. It’s an election year and we should be hearing candidates tell us to cut government back hard now or disintegrate into anarchy, but we’re not. In bankrupt California last week, spoiled college students took to the streets over a raise in fees that will make it difficult for them to buy kegs of imported beer. Imagine what will happen when we raise retirement age, stop cost of living raises, cut entitlements 10% a year, seal the border, impose stiff fines on employers of illegal immigrants, and lay off government workers. It’s either going to happen methodically or everything will just fall apart at once, but it will happen.

Just as animals sense an earthquake, unease is spreading. The new president’s honeymoon ended when people began to realize that his plan to spend us out of recession has only hastened a collapse into depression. States now talk openly of nullification, of resurrecting the 10th Amendment, even of secession.

Change is coming. Not the kind for which people thought they were voting in ’08, but big change nonetheless. Hold on tight.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Defining The Enemy


How are we going to win this war unless we can identify our enemies? Some of us have been referring to them as Islamofascists or Radical Muslims and both labels fit, but imperfectly. As I learn more about them I become more confused, and it’s not supposed to be that way. The situation should become clearer after gaining more knowledge. In two columns - last year and again last month - I described a conversation I had with a former advisor to our Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told me that our top military and political leaders were being advised by agents of the very people we’re fighting against. He came out of the closet at CPAC in Washington a couple of weeks ago and I was in the audience.Stephen Coughlin at CPAC 2010

His name is Stephen Coughlin, and he gave an overview of the thesis he delivered to the Joint Chiefs that got him fired. To sum up, he laid out a convincing case that radical Muslims, or “Islamists,” are following the dictates of the Quran more closely than our moderate Muslim allies do. Al Qaeda means “the foundation, the base,” for a reason. He said the older, more peaceful verses in the Quran were abrogated by the later, more aggressive verses our enemies follow. Our moderate Muslim allies are akin to what some in the Catholic Church call “cafeteria Catholics.” That is, Catholics who pick what aspects of the religion they like and reject the rest. Many Catholics support abortion and homosexual “marriage,” though the Church explicitly rejects both. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry, for example, are prominent pro-choice Catholics, but Catholic leaders are starting to get tough. Recently, a Rhode Island bishop refused the Eucharist to Congressman Patrick Kennedy because of his public endorsement of abortion. According to Coughlin, Muslims who follow the Quran and Islamic Law (Sharia) closely are the ones with whom we’re at war. Our moderate allies are, if you will, “cafeteria Muslims,” and more of them have been killed by the radicals than have Christians and Jews.

This is very troubling, because it negates what Presidents Bush and Obama claim: that “Islam is a religion of peace.” While most Muslims are peaceful, thank God, the fundamentalists are gaining. They’re perceived as “the strong horse” by an increasing percentage of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, especially the expatriates and their offspring living in the UK, France, Holland, Sweden and other European countries. They’re in the United States too, as we learned last November when native-born jihadist Major Nidal Hassan killed thirteen “infidel” soldiers at Fort Hood and wounded dozens of others.

Holland, the most liberal country in Europe, is wrestling very publicly with exactly this issue: Who or what is our enemy? Is it a religion? A set of teachings? A book? Writing in The Wall Street Journal, novelist Leon De Winter says:
What started as a trial against Geert Wilders for alleged Islamophobia has nearly turned into its opposite: a historical case about the message of the Quran. The Amsterdam court trying the controversial Dutch politician is now preoccupied with the question of whether this book, sacred to more than a billion believers, can be compared to one of the most vile publications in the history of Western civilization—Hitler's "Mein Kampf."
Geert Wilders and me at CPAC 2009

Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament and leader of the Freedom Party, insists that the Quran is political as well as religious because it encourages it’s followers to subjugate or kill Jews, Christians and anyone else who doesn’t believe in Islam. The Dutch government charged Wilders with “hate speech” for pointing this out. However, as De Winters says: “On trial is not so much Geert Wilders, but the Holy Book of Islam.” Holland’s hate crime laws, then, are in direct conflict with freedom of speech, and with truth itself because Wilders quoted both books quite accurately. The country’s ruling multiculturalists will lose if they convict Wilders, and they will lose if they exonerate him. They’re wishing now that they never brought him to trial at all because whatever they do, they cannot refute Wilders’ claim that Holland is being forced by multiculturalists to tolerate the intolerable.

Wilders’ positions resonate in European cities with sizable Muslim populations in which homosexuals, women and Jews are afraid to walk in Muslim neighborhoods for fear of being beaten or raped. By trying to silence Wilders, the hollow rhetoric of the tolerant, multicultural, diversity-celebrating, ruling elite of the European Union is being exposed. No matter which way the Wilders trial is decided, the world will be forced to acknowledge that fundamentalist Islam, or “Islamism” is incompatible with the democratic ideals of western civilization.

This is exactly what European and American leaders are afraid to admit. As Stephen Coughlin put it: “You cannot defeat an enemy you are not allowed to define.”