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, February 29, 2012

Marshmallow Eaters

Causes of success or of failure are the same for nations as they are for people: self discipline or lack thereof.

They’re the same for students too, which I was for eighteen years. Then, for thirty-six years I was a teacher, during which time I read hundreds, perhaps thousands of academic studies. I’ve learned that two things are necessary for student success: hard work and intelligence - in that order. In the vast majority of cases, much work and less intelligence overcomes much intelligence and less work.

Intelligent students find school a breeze in the early grades. They seldom have to work in order to learn. As the work gets harder in later grades, their innate intelligence becomes insufficient by itself. Unless they learn to work, they begin to fail. I’ve seen it over and over.

Of the myriad educational studies that have passed before my eyes, by far the best was begun in 1968 and is still going on. Some call it the “Stanford Marshmallow Study,” summarized in a New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer. Psychologist Walter Mischel experimented with hundreds of four-year-olds by telling them he would give them one marshmallow immediately or, if they could wait, he would give them two marshmallows fifteen minutes later. Most who were able to discipline themselves enough to wait not only did well in school; they went on to lead successful lives as adults. Most who couldn’t wait didn’t do either.

We all know people with the self-discipline to postpone gratification. They work hard and save first, and then enjoy themselves. We also know those who lack that self-discipline. They indulge themselves at every opportunity and seldom, if ever, work hard unless it’s forced upon them. Those people inevitably become dependent on the first group. When the undisciplined get so numerous that they threaten to outnumber the disciplined, everything starts to unravel. That’s true for families as well as towns, cities, states, and nations.
Many of you reading this will have gotten emails containing an updated version of Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” fable. Aesop’s original described the ant working all summer preparing for winter while the grasshopper played. When winter came, the ant was cozy and warm while the grasshopper died of hunger and exposure. The modern version, however, has the grasshopper blaming his predicament on the ant, who is portrayed as heartless. The ant’s taxes are raised. He’s sued, fined, evicted, and lost in the snow. The grasshopper moves into the ant’s home. He doesn’t do maintenance and it deteriorates. The grasshopper is killed in a drug deal. The ant’s house is taken over by a gang of spiders which terrorizes the neighborhood.
Lack of self-discipline manifests in many areas. Undisciplined students may receive only one marshmallow in the above-mentioned study, but they eat as many as they want when they get home. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are epidemic in America’s children, not to mention adults. Childhood promiscuity is rampant, and resultant STDs as well. Adults? I don’t have to say, do I? More people are spending money they don’t have. Credit card debt continues to rise. More Americans spend their home equity and add strain to the nation’s mortgage crisis which continues to threaten our whole economy. It should come as no surprise that more and more Americans vote for congressmen, senators and presidents who ran up a $16 trillion national debt.A couple of months ago, Maine Governor Paul LePage announced that welfare recipients now outnumber taxpayers in this state. Too many grasshoppers. Not enough ants. How long can this go on? Not much longer, obviously.

Can fat people go on diets and tighten their belts? Can the promiscuous control themselves? Can borrowers become frugal? Will Americans elect leaders in November who will cut bloated government? Will we all-of-a-sudden summon the discipline to reverse the course we’re on? Will Americans accept it when their entitlements are cut back? Or, will they throw tantrums like undisciplined children and riot in the streets? That’s what the Greeks are doing. Will Americans be any different?

Time will tell.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Leftist Legerdemain

The Obama/Catholic “contraception” brouhaha has many dimensions not visible at first glance. It’s more than Obama forcing the Catholic Church to pay for birth control, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. It’s the nihilistic, 21st century left forcing the oldest institution on earth - the Catholic Church - to approve what they’ve fought against for two millennia. It’s a political subterfuge as well.

The Church believes the primary purpose of sex is procreation. The left believes sex is for recreation - not in the sense of “creating something new,” but in the sense of “a diversion affording relaxation and enjoyment.” The left divorced sex and procreation.

Should pregnancy result, the left sees it as a disease to be “cured” by abortion.
The Catholic Church believes sexuality should be exclusive to marriage and that married couples do nothing artificial to prevent conception. The Church approves only Natural Family Planning, which requires acute familiarity with a woman’s menstrual cycle to pinpoint periods of fertility. It counsels abstinence when she’s fertile if pregnancy is to be avoided, or coitus when pregnancy is desired.The left ridicules Natural Family Planning as “rhythm.” It pushes artificial contraception before and/or during every episode of sexual intercourse, and abortion after. It sees pregnancy is a negative side-effect of sex. The left calls abstinence repressive. It pushes sexual experimentation with a variety of techniques and a variety of partners - the more, the better. All this, they insist, is liberating.

The Church teaches that the left’s sexual agenda is dehumanizing.

The left - and the Obama Administration is its epitome - uses government to legitimize, propagate and finance its agenda. Obama’s latest gambit is a calculated move to disparage the Catholic view of sex and life. Consider that health insurance doesn’t cover plastic surgery because it’s an elective procedure. But so is contraception. So is abortion. Why should they be covered?

“Oh, but insurance covers Viagra for men,” say leftists, “so it should cover birth control pills for women too.” They’re correct to point out that Viagra doesn’t contribute to mens’ health. It’s elective, and men should buy it themselves. Ditto for women and birth control. Viagra costs about $5 per pill. Generic birth control pills cost about $20 per month. Both are cheap and both are optional. Neither belongs in the realm of health insurance.

That conservatives would object to paying for everyone’s contraception is incomprehensible to the liberal/left as exemplified by MSNBC’S Andrea Mitchell in her recent interview with Foster Friess, a Rick Santorum backer:

"This contraceptive thing,” said Friess. My gosh, it's so inexpensive. Back in my day, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.”

Mitchell was speechless. "Excuse me,” she said. “I'm just trying to catch my breath from that.”

The left insists that contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs be required by government because the mandate confers approval, just as homosexual “marriage” confers societal approval of homosexual acts which the Catholic Church teaches are sinful. That’s what this is all about. The left wants government to be arbiter of right and wrong. It wants government to supplant religion when adjudicating morality. They insist that to oppose mandatory contraception coverage is to be “against women’s health.”

Pregnancy as disease.

Columnist Ann Coulter takes it further:

Just as liberals have turned the Constitution into a vehicle for achieving all the left-wing policies they could never get Americans to vote for, now they are going to use "insurance" for the same purpose. Their new method doesn't even require them to get votes from five justices on the Supreme Court. The secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, will do it all on her own.

Anything close to the beating heart of feminism is about to become a mandatory part of insurance coverage: fertility treatments, chemical sensitivities, a year's leave of absence for fathers after the birth of a child, attention deficit disorder, massages, aromatherapy, watching MSNBC, sex change operations, gender reassignment surgery, gender re-reassignment surgery.

What Coulter didn’t say above is that public funding of abortion is next. Few doubt that, should Obama be reelected, mandatory public funding of abortion on demand will be added by fiat from Kathleen Sebelius.

In a column titled “The Libertine Police State,” George Weigel put it this way:

By effectively sundering sexual expression from procreation, modern contraceptives have done something their less-effective predecessors were unable to do for millennia: They have created a contraceptive culture that identifies fertility with disease and willful infertility with “health.” Those who celebrate that culture are not interested in compromise: They are interested in having everyone pay for what they want, and in levying serious penalties on those who won’t truckle to their will.

The Obama campaign realizes that pushing abortion is a losing issue. They have the pro-abortion vote locked up already, so now they’re changing the debate to contraception, which most Americans approve. The campaign has millions of Americans wondering if Republicans would outlaw contraception instead of thinking about how Democrats are bankrupting our country.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hope, Change, And Reality

What happens when the lead dog, the lead bull, or the lead stallion weakens? Fighting - until a new one emerges. That could happen quickly or it could take a while. If the United States is perceived by the rest of the world to be in decline, we can expect fighting to increase worldwide.

Perception is reality in politics, especially in a democracy because people vote based on their perceptions of candidates or issues. Americans perceived Barack Obama as a brilliant, articulate leader who would bring Americans together to solve common problems here and in the rest of the world. That resulted in his election. Perception is indeed reality in politics, and its also true that war is an extension of politics by other means. When the rest of the world perceives President Obama as weak, America is going to be challenged. It’s already starting. Expect it to escalate this year.

Most historians point to periods of relative peace over the past two millennia starting with “Pax Romana,” or the “Peace of Rome,” which lasted about two centuries from the time of Augustus in 27 BC to the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD. Why? Because most of the world knew Roman legions were so strong that to challenge them was futile. There were uprisings, sure. Jewish Zealots rebelled in Israel, but they were put down so thoroughly and decisively their uprising became the exception that proved the rule. Others watched and heeded as Rome killed more than a million Jews and scattered the rest across the empire in the Great Diaspora. Then came “Pax Brittanica,” which lasted about half as long - 1815-1914. The world knew it was futile to challenge British rule as enforced by its navy. Then came the “Pax Americana” which began in 1945. How long will it last? As long as the world perceives it’s futile to challenge the United States. My guess, sadly, is that it won’t last much longer.The 52% of Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 believed he would charm the world as he had charmed them, as he (at first) charmed Europeans. So, when Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, President Obama said in January, 2009 that he would talk to them without preconditions. It looks like he really believed he could simply charm the mullahs into giving up their ambitions. This is a country that declared war on the United States back in 1979, that calls America “The Great Satan,” that brings together millions of its people year after year to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in the streets of Tehran. Again and again, the Iranian president promises to “wipe Israel off the map.” They’ve amassed proxy armies in Gaza and Lebanon that shoot rockets at Israel regularly. What was Obama thinking? What hubris.The mullahs now threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of the world’s oil passes. Just the threat caused prices to jump 2%. An actual attempt could be catastrophic to an already-precarious world economy. Using fast “suicide bomb boats” with warheads would invite swift and deadly response from the US Fifth Fleet. Imagine what shooting and/or bombing in the Persian Gulf would do to oil futures? We’re already looking at $5-a-gallon gas in just a few months, and that’s only if things stay calm.Then there’s the inevitable Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expects it within the next four months. Remember - modern Israel was founded to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust. Iran denies there ever was one but promises another.Israel knows talk is cheap. They know appeasement didn’t work with Hitler when Chamberlain tried it and it won’t work with Iran’s mullahs either. Israel cannot and will not stake its survival on lyrical speeches by Obama. One thing it shares with Iran is the perception that Obama is a weak commander-in-chief - all talk and no action - and that makes war a virtual certainty. Just imagine what all this will do to the world’s economy when oil prices skyrocket and even the availability of oil becomes spotty. Rationing anyone? With all this looming, what did Obama do? Caving to the environmental whackos in his party, he shut down construction of the Keystone pipeline. What is he thinking?Barack Obama portrayed himself as the harbinger of “Hope and Change” when he said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person . . . We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” The 66 million Americans who voted for him had probably that many perceptions of what the changes he effected would look like. I suspect that by the end of this summer, reality will not resemble any of those perceptions. Neither will it be what any had hoped for when they cast their ballots in 2008.However, another “Change” will be manifesting in voter perception come November - when Obama becomes “The one we’ve been waiting to get rid of.”

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Human Being

“How do you like retirement?” is a question I hear often. I don’t teach anymore, but I’m still working two part-time jobs. Writing this is one of them. The other demands less of me in winter, and I usually answer that I like retirement very well. Mostly, I like that I don’t feel rushed. I'm more of a human being than a human doing. I keep the same hours - up at 4:30 and early to bed - but the pace is slower and that’s the best part. I often have time to chat when I bump into friends, something I could rarely do before.
A good friend advised that I not jump into something else right away, to take a year and just be. See what happened. That felt right, so I said no to several offers right away. Didn’t think I’d take the whole year, but I’m two-thirds into it already and I’m noticing subtle, but important changes.

First I moved my laptop and power cord upstairs to my office where the printer, fax, filing cabinets and phones are. When I want to open it, I go up there. The laptop used to be next to my recliner in the living room. For years, that was where I’d do my writing, bill-paying, and news-gathering. I could pick it up during commercials for quick check of email or news, but it began to bother me when my wife and grandson would say, “You’re always on the computer.” That wasn’t literally true but it’s how they perceived me, so I began to observe myself. I noticed that when I picked up my computer and opened it on my lap, I was taken away. My body was in the room, but other parts were somewhere else.
Then I began to alter how I began my day. After showering, putting coffee on, exercising, praying, and getting dressed, I’d go into my office and open the laptop. During winter, I exercise and pray in the dark. I’d see stars through my windows. If the moon was up, I could see the horizon - the white peak of Mount Washington with stars twinkling above it. Few if any other people in my area of the world would be awake, and if they were, they kept to themselves too. I liked watching alone as the world outside filled up with light. But when I went to my office after that and opened the computer, it shined artificial light into my face. My dilated pupils would contract and all I’d see was my screen. Perception changed from physical/spiritual awareness to intellectual. Contemplative mood diminished as I was taken away again to other places and times.My mind would be pulled in several directions in short intervals. There were emails to trash, to read, and to answer - some business-related, some social, some informative. Others contained links to stories and commentaries. It was all stimulating and parts of me loved it. Other parts, however, felt robbed. The part that pondered the quiet, cold sky, the vague outlines of the hardwoods outside my window, stars twinkling between the fingers of their upper branches - the part still contemplating my Creator, that listened for response to prayer, the part that felt residual warmth and strength after exercise, and the sensation of caffeine from my first cup of coffee. Those parts felt deprived, just as my wife and grandson did when my laptop was so often open as I sat in their presence. So, I’m moving away from those things - not entirely, but substantially. I’m starting my day reading hard copy. Lately that’s a novel called “The Father’s Tale” by Michael O’Brien.It’s the novel I’d fall asleep to before going into dream state. Of some dreams I’d remember large parts, but of others only a few scattered images and feelings. With some dreams come understandings of symbols and archetypes, but with others only incoherent jumbles which may never be sorted out. A novel is not unlike that. Images and feelings are generated in our mind’s eye by the novelist’s word sequences as we allow disbelief to suspend. Reading it the next morning offers me a more gentle segue into the new day. O’Brien’s spirituality - his sense of meanings and mysteries - are woven into his characters, and the main character is a father. He wanders through life as all of us do, trying to glean meaning from the people, events and circumstances he experiences each day.All this has been helping me assume a more balanced state for my attempts to comprehend the wider world I’ll glimpse when I finally do open the computer. I turn down the intensity of the light from the screen so I can still glance outside from to time and watch as the Maker of all illuminates the world.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Backlash Against Thought Police

The left-wing Thought Police have gained strength in recent years and they’ve been flexing their muscles wherever they can. Christian ministers in Canada and in the UK who speak publicly against homosexuality on Biblical grounds are charged with hate speech. Students, teachers, and many others have muzzled themselves in fear of retribution by politically-correct superiors, but there are signs their reign of terror may have peaked.

The Roman Catholic Church has been in their sights because of its teachings that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and that abortion is murder. Direct confrontations with the Catholic Church have been mostly avoided until recently.

In Ontario, provincial authorities are requiring that Catholic schools establish “Gay-Straight Alliances” or “GSAs,” ostensibly to prevent bullying. In Canada and in the US, this has been a Trojan Horse for pushing the homosexual agenda in schools from kindergarten through high school. Catholic authorities in Ontario refused, arguing that promoting homosexual acts violates church teaching. They’ll establish clubs to prevent bullying, but will refuse to teach anything implying that homosexual acts are acceptable. The ball is in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s court now. Catholics there are wising up, finally, and drawing a line in the sand. Expect a battle.

In the Diocese of Maine, Bishop Malone instructed all its priests to read a letter from the pulpit challenging President Obama’s mandate that the Catholics in the US provide contraception services as part of health insurance coverage to employees of Catholic hospitals, schools, and other social service agencies. This coverage must be provided without co-pay and must include tubal ligations, vasectomies, and so-called “morning after pills.” The Catholic Church teaches that the primary purpose of sex is procreation and that artificial birth control is wrong. It also teaches that human life begins at conception and so-called “morning-after pills” work by destroying embryonic human life. Here too, Catholics are wising up and drawing a line in the sand. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is claiming a violation of its rights under the First Amendment’s “free exercise [of religion]” clause. Expect a battle here too.President Obama is gambling. He’s trying to get his secular/socialist camel’s nose into the Catholic tent. He knows a majority of Catholics disagree with the church’s teaching on contraception and many don’t agree on abortion either. Quite a few liberal Democrat members of the US House and Senate are nominal Catholics who have been openly pro-abortion for decades, yet still receive the sacraments publicly in their parishes. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) ruled in 2006 that individual bishops could refuse them the Eucharist but most declined to exercise that authority. Some did however, including bishops in dioceses serving former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as well as now-former congressmen David Obey (D-MO) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI). Ironically, Sebelius is serving in Obama’s cabinet as Health and Human Services Secretary and was named by my priest last Sunday morning as the author of the Obamacare ruling against which Maine’s Bishop Malone strenuously objected.

Conservative Catholics are encouraged by the USCCB’s public challenge to President Obama. We’ve been waiting a long time. Early in the Obama presidency, the White House asked Georgetown University to cover up the symbol “IHS,” which stands for “Jesus,” that would have been visible behind Obama as he spoke. Unbelievably, Georgetown - a Jesuit university - complied. Talk about cowardice. No wonder Obama believes he can bully Catholics.

On another front: The fields of psychology and social work have been virtually taken over by the left-wing, homosexual Thought Police. Recently however, graduate schools of social work around the country are being sued after requiring students to accept homosexuality as normal regardless of their religious objections. One woman in Augusta, Georgia was told to attend “gay pride” parades or be denied a degree. She was ultimately expelled from the program and a federal appeals court sided with the university on December 11, 2011. An identical lawsuit by a Michigan woman expelled from her counseling program because of her religious views on homosexuality was upheld by a different federal appeals court just the other day. Given these opposite rulings in two different federal appeals courts, it would appear that the US Supreme Court will have to resolve this ultimately.

Obama’s open challenge to the Catholic hierarchy as represented by the USCCB on this Obamacare ruling may be a major misstep. Six of the nine justices on the US Supreme Court are Catholics, and at least four of those take their religion seriously. They’ll be ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare in just a few months.

As the culture war escalates on all these fronts, fence-sitting Catholics as well as other Christians in the US and Canada will be forced to get off on one side or the other. It’s past time they did, but better late than never.

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