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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Racism and Wolves


The villagers don’t all come running anymore when the NAACP cries “Racism!” It’s getting so they don’t take that organization any more seriously than they took the boy who cried “Wolf!” There used to be lots of racism when the NAACP formed, but they still claim to see it everywhere, even when it doesn’t exist. The shepherd boy who cried “Wolf!” in Aesop’s fable was bored and wanted to generate excitement with his antics, but that’s not the case with the NAACP. They cry racism lately because they’re afraid government programs they’ve lobbied for may be curtailed due to pressured from groups like the Tea Party.

There was a time “colored people” were oppressed by Jim Crow laws and white racism, but it’s almost half a century since the Civil Rights Bill was passed, the KKK was neutered, and racism turned into the racial preferences known as “Affirmative Action” which the NAACP supports. For nearly two generations, the deck has been stacked in their favor, but too many still play victim because it’s all they know how to do. As long as some “villagers” in the form of politicians and media keep running up, wringing their hands and appeasing them when they cry racism, they’ll continue. Many like me, however, stopped responding long ago. We’re not racists, we never owned slaves or oppressed minorities, and neither did our ancestors that we know of. We realize that all people have suffered throughout history - and there comes a time when we have to stop whining and get on with it.

Americans are getting mighty tired of that growing segment of our citizenry who see themselves as victims and who habitually blame others for their situation. There are many others who carry around guilt for having been born white, or wealthy, and will come running whenever someone claims “I’m a victim!” Victimology has become a lucrative racket for people like the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and organizations like “La Raza” (translated: “The Race”) and AIM - the American Indian Movement. There many other victim groups whose grievances no longer exist, or have diminished to such an extent that they’re hardly recognizable, but they continue to sing the same old song.

As Walter Williams wrote this week: “Yesteryear, it was the Klan or White Citizens Council who showed up at polling places to intimidate black voters. During the 2008 elections, it was the New Black Panthers who showed up at a Philadelphia polling place to intimidate white voters and tell them, ‘You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.’ What's worse is the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to not to prosecute.”

Former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams resigned over this, claiming voter intimidation charges were dropped because of racial bias and corruption on the part of President Obama’s Attorney General - Eric Holder.

Racism isn’t the cause of astronomical crime rates or high unemployment rates for black men. Their self-made subculture is a much bigger factor, but few have the courage to point that out. Who wants to hire someone who drives up blaring obscene, angry rap music with his hat on backwards, his pants sliding off his rear end, and purposely speaking in fractured English? I sure wouldn’t. Black men are not arrested and imprisoned at higher rates because of racism. They’re arrested and imprisoned more because they commit more crimes.

Young black men today are not victims of racism as much as they’re victims of race-hustlers who profit from perpetuating the myth that racism is what’s keeping them down. They’re victims of their own thinking - that if they study hard, do their homework, get straight jobs, save money, and walk the straight-and-narrow, they’re “acting white.” They’re victims of government give-away programs that have subsidized their irresponsible behavior for half a century.

It’s those continually-expanding entitlement programs - which disproportionately high percentages of black people and other minorities have come to depend on - that are threatened by the Tea Party, because they’re bankrupting local, state, and federal government. Rather than examine the efficacy or affordability of those programs, the NAACP cries “Racism!” It worked for most of a century, but it’s wearing very thin now.

Whenever I hear the incessant, deep-base cadence of rap music, I feel a visceral negative reaction. Not only does it glorify illegal drug use, exploitative and degrading attitudes toward women, nasty sexual behavior, and violence against law enforcement and rival gangs - it’s celebrated by the entertainment industry as “authentic.” That industry meets annually to bestow awards on the “artists” who produce it instead of condemning them for the malignant mindsets they spread.

When this subculture is mimicked by the rural white boys I teach, no good results that I’ve ever been able to see. We tolerate them walking around in schools and other public places with their pants down below their asses and this malignancy has infected young males from the sticks to suburbia. My least functional male students wear the outfit and imitate the behavior. They think “acting black” is cool. They revel in music and the anger it drills into them. They disdain learning. They’re rebels without a cause. They’re caught up in a contagion of anger and belligerence, and they think it must be normal because too many of the so-called adults around them seem to accept it as such.They accept it because if they criticize it, they might be accused of racism.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Put Government in Reverse

I’m conservative, not Republican. Millions of Americans out there are, like me, fed up with the Democrat/Republican tandem which has been bankrupting up our country. That’s going to become very apparent when votes are counted in November. People won’t vote for someone because of party affiliation. They’ll vote for candidates who want to rein in government spending and limit government itself only to what our Constitution designed.

The newly-emerging Tea Party is not an organized political party as Democrats and Republicans are, and may never become so. But that’s all right. We didn’t have political parties at all until the early 1800s and we did just fine. The original Tea Party in colonial Massachusetts wasn’t organized either, but they knew what they didn’t want - high taxes and big government controlling their lives from far away. They knew what they did want too - to be left alone to take care of themselves. Political parties didn’t emerge until long after the Revolution, and I can’t see they’ve helped much. Citizens who consider themselves members of the Tea Party back candidates based on how they see the role of government, not party affiliation or how much pork the candidate will bring home to the district. In early America, people took care of each other because they chose to, not because government forced them to. Here in New England, citizens went to town meetings and elected local leaders called “selectmen.” We still have them, but their power and authority are diluted by county, state, and national governments which are growing at an ever-accelerating rate and bankrupting our country with entitlements. The federal government now decides which people deserve assistance and which people will be forced to pay for it. Selectmen still exist in New England, but they can only do what state government lets them do.

The official title for them is: “Selectman, Assessor, and Overseer of the Poor.” They’re municipal executives, tax assessors and welfare officials rolled together. They take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States which is supposed to strictly what state and federal governments can and cannot do. It doesn’t anymore, of course, and that’s our biggest problem. They operate in small-town America where everybody knows each other. They know who needs help, who works hard, who is a slacker, who drinks too much, and so forth. They know who is truly needy, who is a parasite, who is dependable, and who isn’t. They don’t want to be forced to give money to anyone who comes to town thinking everyone else there owes them a living. Neither do they want to be forced to pay for anyone who comes into their state or sneaks into their country from Mexico or anywhere else and expects to be supported.Hat tip: Anissa Cuthbert

Selectmen cannot do anything unless authorized to do so directly by citizens who would be paying for it. The road commissioner couldn’t build a road or fix one unless voters approved the expenditure. People can watch the progress as they drive by and if anyone were seen leaning on a shovel too long, selectmen would hear about it at the Post Office or in the store. That’s accountability.

Here in New England, towns built, maintained, and ran elementary schools and didn’t need state or federal government to regulate them. Secondary and post-secondary schools were private and autonomous, and they were much more effective and efficient compared to today’s pubic high schools and colleges.

Government is a necessary evil and almost always wasteful. Local government keeps inefficiency to a minimum with close accountability between citizens and their elected officials. People are expected to take care of themselves. When misfortune or poor decisions make that difficult, they can rely on family or church to help out until they get back on their feet. Beyond the local overseers of the poor and county homes for the elderly and infirm with no family, nothing else in the realm of taking care of people should be the responsibility of government. That was not the intent of the Constitution.Where Lovell holds town meetings

Beginning with the New Deal, the Great Society, and now the the Obama Administration, the federal government has pretended it can provide everything for everybody womb to tomb. It cannot, of course, and anyone with a basic knowledge of math knows it. Nonetheless, states and the federal government are going bankrupt trying. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone have unfunded liabilities exceeding $100 trillion. Any one of these should have been seen as a last straw. The camel’s back is already broken, yet Congress and the President heaped Obamacare onto the prostrate animal. Unless it’s all cut back systematically and drastically, the whole system is going to collapse - and soon.

People who have been collecting unemployment checks for 79 weeks, for example, are about to be cut off. Is the federal government obligated to write more checks? How many of those people would have accepted lower-paying jobs if their benefits were cut off after 26 weeks or 52 weeks? Is collecting unemployment a disincentive to work? It certainly has been for some of my relatives and acquaintances over the years.

If government really wants to create jobs and improve people’s lives, they have to get the hell out of the way, stop trying to “fix” things, and let people do it on their own. When I hear candidates make speeches like this, I’m going to vote for them whether they’re Democrat (not likely), Republican (maybe), or Independent (we’ll see).ADDENDUM: I Just went down to the Lovell Town Office to take pictures for this post. There, Lovell’s Road Commissioner, Larry Fox, told me an OSHA official drove up while he was working in my neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. Said he was inspecting progress on rebuilding my road - Christian Hill Road - because it was designated a federal stimulus project - that $300,000 had been earmarked for it and given to the state for disbursement. “Did they ever consult you about that?” I asked him.

“Never heard a word from them,” he said, “but after talking to him that day, I called the State of Maine guy in Scarborough who is in charge of roads for this area. He said the money had already been spent.”

“Hmm,” I said.

So, someone in Washington decided that my road ought to be rebuilt without consulting Lovell’s Road Commissioner and designated $300,000 to do it. Then an OSHA guy came out here to see how it was coming along, and $300,000 in federal funds disappeared into Maine’s budget.

I swear I’m not making this up.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Missing My Camera

Eagle Island from the house

“I forgot my camera!” I exclaimed at the Shaw’s parking lot in Ellsworth, Maine.

“Are you sure?” my wife asked, while I bent over the steering wheel with hands over my face in grief. I could hardly believe it but I knew it was true. We were rushing around to leave for a week’s vacation at a rented house on the ocean in Addison, Maine.View from the bedroom of rental house

I had carefully loaded my wife’s car for the four-hour trip and we were almost there before I realized that I’d left my camera in my truck back in Lovell. I don’t go anywhere without it and I’d taken it with me for a trip to the dump. Don’t laugh. I’ve taken great pictures at the dump. You just never know when you’re going to see something. I got home and put the empty barrels back in the garage, but forgot to take the camera bag out and transfer it to my wife’s car. The thought of a whole week’s leisure with countless opportunities to creatively capture beauty being squandered was breaking my heart.Old House around Jonesboro

I called my daughter, Jessica, and explained my dilemma. “So you want me to ship it to you overnight,” she said, anticipating my request.

“Oh, would you please?” I begged.

“Of course,” she said, “but it’s Saturday afternoon and the Post Office is closed. I could use UPS or Fed-Ex. Let me check online how to do this and I’ll call you back. I assume you want insurance.”

“Yes. There’s about $1500 worth of equipment in that bag.”

She called back to tell me she would have to ship it out Fed-Ex on Monday morning and I’d get it Tuesday, so I’d be without it half my vacation. I thought, “Okay. I’ll read books and cook gourmet meals to distract me from the urge to take pictures and try not to think about it until Tuesday.”

After food shopping, we went by a WALMART and I bought a little Nikon Coolpix S3000 to use in the interim. I’d still miss my DSLR and 18-270 mm lens, but the Coolpix is a neat little camera capable of 12 megapixel images, and it’s small and thin enough to fit easily in my pocket. If a whale came up on the shore in front of the house, I could capture it. I’m justifying the expenditure thinking that I’ll keep the Coolpix in my pocket at all times while my camera bag is in my house or in my vehicle. I can’t frame a shot as well or zoom in as before, but it’ll have to do.

The house was fogged in when we arrived and it still is. It’s raining as I write and I’m glad of it being camera-crippled. I’m going to read books and take my mind off the pictures I can’t take. I’ve just finished “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.” It’s the third book in a series by Stieg Larsson and he’s dead, so there won’t be any more novels about Salander, the intriguing main character. Guess she’s dead now too.

I have another great book to last me into Tuesday. It’s Richard Grant’s “God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre.” In Tombstone, Arizona three weeks ago, I met a guy who recommended it and I’m glad he did. I’d told him what I was doing down there in border country and it reminded him of Grant’s escapades. I’m not nearly as fearless or crazy as Grant, however. I was warned numerous times to stay away, but I went into the border areas of Nogales and Douglas, Arizona to explore and ask questions. I could sense the danger, but nobody robbed me or tried to kill me. Grant, however, went across the border and into the belly of the beast, alone and unarmed. He explored where the violence and lawlessness that’s transforming the southwestern United States originates and published his account two years ago. If a book can distract me from the dramatic beauty of Maine’s coast, it’s this one.

Monday the sun came out and we could see how beautiful it is facing west over Pleasant Bay from our rental house.
Tuesday we hired Maine Guide Rob Scribner to take us out into Machias Bay via sea kayak and see some petroglyphs - ancient carvings on bedrock visible between the tides.I used the little Nikon Coolpix. It’s just as well I didn’t have my DSLR for the trip. If it got wet in the kayak, I’d have been really sick. The little camera worked okay.After that we explored Jasper Beach in Machiasport. It’s not a sand beach. It’s terraced with stones piled up by wave action and there are beautiful pieces of jasper from an outcropping in the ledge nearby. Retreating waves tumble them down the terraces against each other with a unique clicking sound. It’s picked over regularly, but there are still some beautiful pieces of polished jasper to be found if you look hard enough. A woman there told us there was only one other beach like it in the world - in Ireland. By sheer coincidence, we were there two years ago. It’s on the Isle of Doagh, Donegal from where my Great Grandfather, James McLaughlin, disembarked back in 1900.

On the way back to the rental house I got a cell phone message from the Fedex carrier that something went wrong with the overnight shipment. My DSLR wouldn’t arrive until Wednesday (today) and would require an adult signature. Guess I’ll have to leave a note on the door for the Fedex guy because it’s raining again and we’re heading into Bar Harbor to check out the Abbe Museum. Our internet connection is via satellite dish and doesn’t work in the rain. I have to file this column - and to do that I’ll need to suck in a signal from somewhere on the road between here and Bar Harbor.

Hopefully the Fedex guy will find this place while we’re gone.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Peace Through Strength

It’s beautiful where I live and peaceful too, most of the time. I like to sit on my back porch, smell the woods, hear the birds and animals, feel the wind, and watch the sun light everything from different angles as it moves across the sky each day and sets over the mountains. But then I’ll hear coyotes yipping and howling as they chase down some other animal to eat. I’ll see an owl and listen to the other birds cry in distress at its presence. I’m reminded that it’s a struggle to survive out there and if you’re not careful, you might be eaten up. Keeping strong, wary, and ready to fight enhances survival. Most predators are smart, preying on the weak and avoiding the strong. Strong is good.

Late one night I was woken by screams outside my bedroom window and it took several seconds to realize they weren’t human. Animals were struggling violently, but I didn’t know what kind and I still don’t. I got up and peered through the screen into the darkness, but I couldn’t see anything except movement. They were screams fear, panic, and pain as the fight moved into the woods on the other side of the road. After a minute or so, it ended and I went back to bed wondering what had happened. The next morning, I saw smears of blood on the road and leading into the woods where ferns were trampled. There were no tracks I could discern, and no remains. Either the victim got away, or it was killed and eaten somewhere deeper into the woods.

Months later, a couple of young thugs tried to invade the house across the street about fifty yards from where the animals had been fighting. One said later under interrogation that they intended to kill the elderly couple living there and take their vehicle for a joy ride. They had knocked on the door, demanded keys at gunpoint, cut the telephone wires, and then fled after the man slammed the door on them and they heard him yell: “Get the gun!” to his wife. They were arrested later for attempted home invasion and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to prison.

Most people are harmless and many are kind, but we mustn’t forget there are predators everywhere - always have been - and the human variety is the most dangerous. Thank God these two young men happened to be stupid predators or my elderly neighbors would have died. Ever since, I’ve kept a loaded pistol within reach and encouraged my wife to learn to shoot with it. I’ve always had rifles and a shotgun around, but they’re bulky and not well suited to handle something like a home invasion. People have to be ready to defend themselves because police can’t be everywhere.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” as Thomas Jefferson said, and that applies to us as individuals as well as nations. Our freedom and our very existence depend on readiness to fight whenever necessary. What troubles me lately is that most Americans seem to have forgotten this, if they ever knew it. Our country has changed. We’ve elected a President and a Congress who believe it’s possible to discuss our way out of any potential conflict. They believe criminal predators among us are victims of poverty, poor childhoods, severe toilet training, or whatever, and that police and the courts should be the only ones to deal with them and citizens should be disarmed. They apply similar skewed logic to international relations, believing the United States has oppressed other countries and that’s why they hate us and attack us. They think that if we just make nice, conflict can be avoided.

They place more confidence in United Nations resolutions than the United States military, and the human predators out there in the wide world know this very well. They don’t understand that we must be strong and ready to fight at all times, and if we are, it’s less likely that we’ll have to do so. However, our president goes around the world apologizing for our past use of force and promising to set limits on how we’ll use it in the future. Our military wants to pass out medals for not shooting the enemy instead of killing them. We still have by far the strongest military the world has ever known but we seem to lack the will to use it, and our enemies sense that. Violent conflict therefore becomes more likely, rather than less.

Should these trends continue, we’ll have to again learn the hard way that weakness, real or perceived, is a bigger threat to peace and freedom than strength.

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