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 28, 2012

Politics of Resentment

Have you ever owned slaves? I haven’t. After years researching my ancestry in America and in Ireland going back to the mid-nineteenth century, I found no evidence that McLaughlins, Haggertys, Sullivans, McDonnells, Fitzgeralds, or any other branch of my family were slaveholders. Rather, many were near-slaves of British landlords. I feel no guilt about what happened to black slaves in America up to 1865, nor should I.

Neither do I feel any responsibility for discrimination against blacks in America during the 20th century. Catholics (which all my ancestors were) suffered from discrimination under British rule in Ireland until 1922. It continued until the 1980s or so where the McLaughlin branch comes from in Ulster, but I don’t resent British people or Unionist protestants in Northern Ireland today, nor should I. It would only hurt me if I did. That’s history - water under the bridge and over the dam. Virtually every race or ethnic group has suffered at one time or another. American blacks don’t have a monopoly on that. Some of my relatives here in America have suffered from discrimination against white males in the form of “Affirmative Action,” though it hasn’t been an obstacle for me that I’m aware of. I've written about all this in more depth here in a column titled "Heterosexual White Guy."
Growing up in greater Boston during the late 20th century I was infused with resentment of the British. Rather than look in the mirror, my extended family routinely blamed them for whatever difficulties or lack of progress we perceived in ourselves. That resentment was quite readily transferred to Yankee Protestants even after Massachusetts government was virtually taken over by us Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrats at almost every level and John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected president. Then it was transferred to “the rich” where it remains ubiquitous in today’s Democrat Party. It wasn’t rational, but that’s how it was among the people with whom I grew up and I was infected.Overcoming that was a long process and I’m finally rid of it, but I haven’t forgotten how it was to think and feel that way. It helps me understand the Democrat Party’s appeal as well as the Obama campaign’s reelection strategy. Both still beat the same drum while America circles the drain under their leadership. It’s all so clear to me lately as, down in Florida, I watch the “Reverends” Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson parrot the same tired victim language along with their fellow race pimps Louis Farrakhan and the New Black Panthers. Blame and resentment are their stock-in-trade. “All our problems stem from white racism and exploitation by ‘the rich,’ not from our own behavior or our own choices.” It’s their mantra.America is stuck because too many black Americans wallow in victimhood while millions of other Americans feel guilty being white. Together, they comprise Obama’s base. His campaign rode that base to victory in 2008 and is revving up to ride it again in 2012. Both the “Occupy” movement and the orchestrated outrage over the Trayvon Martin death may both be understood in that context.The Obama campaign nearly went off the rails in 2008 when the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago released a DVD of sermons by Barack Obama’s spiritual mentor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. First picked up by ABC News, it then went viral. “The world is controlled by rich, white people” bellowed Wright from his pulpit as other blacks in his congregation stood and ritually chanted agreement. That was just one of a series of outrageous things this reactionary, race-mongering hypocrite spewed from his Chicago church. Though Obama earlier claimed he’d attended Wright’s church for twenty years, he subsequently claimed never to have heard any of that vile filth and was shocked when he learned about it.Yeah, right.

If ABC and the rest of the Mainstream Media hadn’t helped Obama smooth over and then close the lid on this Pandora’s box of campaign-killing material - and if Senator John McCain hadn’t ordered his operatives not to use it against his opponent - much more would have come out and there wouldn’t be a President Obama.

When he was thirty, Obama led a demonstration at Harvard in support of Marxist Professor Derrick Bell, who wrote at the time: “The whole [classical] liberal worldview of private rights and public sovereignty mediated by the rule of law needed to be exploded." Bell believed the US Constitution was racist and was reportedly invited to speak at Wright’s church. Obama was a true believer in all that too, but he’s been able to smooth-talk it over and mitigate political damage. His lapdog US media has given him a free pass up to now and is cooperating fully in Florida as the “Reverends” Jackson and Sharpton whip up another racial frenzy before all the facts are in. Remember Sharpton and Tawana Brawley? Remember the Duke Lacrosse team? Remember Obama said the Cambridge Police “acted stupidly” when another of his black Harvard professors had a snit? When he said last week that, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” he was clearly implying that Martin was killed because he was black. Remember, this is the Barack Obama who said: “White folks’ greed runs a world in need.” The president is in full campaign mode, stirring up resentment one hand and pretending to transcend it on the other.

Or am I, like Obama’s grandmother, just thinking like a “typical white person”?

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Electronic Distraction

“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone,” said Blaise Pascal more than three hundred fifty years ago. It seemed a dubious claim on first impression. All men’s miseries? I knew Pascal was an accomplished mathematician and would likely have been as precise about language as he was about numbers. This, however, was more of a philosophical statement than a mathematical proof. I suspected he was referring to people’s ability to ponder things eternal but I wasn’t sure.

Pascal was especially proficient in probability, which some claim he invented, and best known for “Pascal’s Wager” quoted here: “Belief [in God] is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”

What’s implied is that should one wager that God doesn’t exist as understood in Christian faith, then live a debauched life, then die to discover there really is a god he would lose everything and spend eternity in hell. I knew Pascal was a man of faith. My reading of him indicated that faith was derived not from mathematical proofs, but from grace. Respected as a man of science, peers would likely have challenged him to justify that faith in mathematical language, and he came up with was his famous wager.

The wager was easy enough to understand even for this mathematically-retarded writer. Though not all will agree, anyone can comprehend what he meant whether atheist, agnostic, or believer - but what was this about human misery caused by not being able to sit in a quiet room alone? Did he mean individual human misery, or that collective misery experienced by nations or cultures? More meaning came to me over time. Won’t say I fully get it yet, but observing my fellow Americans over the past couple of decades, I’m getting clues.

The first clues came watching young people with portable electronic devices. Playing beep-beep games on little boxes, they were completely absorbed, ignoring their surroundings. Others were plugged into devices pouring sounds into their ears, some innocuous, but others angry and degrading. Their attention was focused exclusively on those sounds, excluding all other sensory input - and their own thoughts. It bothered me.

Then came cell phones. Anybody my age remembers when there was no such thing, but after a dozen years or so, my wife, myself, and my elderly mother were the only people I knew who didn’t have one. I gave in finally, but only because there were hardly any public telephones around anymore, so if I was away from home and needed to call it was the only option. The first time I saw someone using one was a sidewalk in Boston. A woman walked along talking to someone who wasn’t there and it bothered me. I was annoyed and couldn’t figure out why.
When strangers are walking on a city sidewalk, we’re together in the same place doing the same thing. We’re each in our own thoughts but aware of one another. We learn not to make eye contact but we’re aware. When some are engaged in animated conversation with others far away, however, they’re not fully present. Then I’d think: so what? They’re strangers. Why should what they do annoy me? As long as they’re not bumping into me, why should I care? If the person being spoken to on the other end of the line were physically present on the sidewalk it wouldn’t bother me, so what difference should it make if he or she is somewhere else?It’s not rational, I know, but I was kind of insulted. I resented that a person whom I’d never met and would not likely ever see again, was choosing to converse with someone else instead of walking along silently with me.

While there are likely some benefits to follow from increased communication between people, I also sensed a fundamental shift in human behavior both individual and collective that didn’t bode well. Then I would ponder Pascal’s observation about sitting alone.

Now we have smart phones which combine beep-beep games with cell phone technology, as well as countless other capabilities and they’re ubiquitous. Traveling through airports or on elevators, or subways, people everywhere concentrate on their smart phones. If they were reading a book, it wouldn’t bother me, I guess because that’s a kind of contemplative exercise. Talking on a cell phone isn’t and I don’t like sitting there listening to one end of a conversation when I’m reading my book, or just sitting and thinking. I’m reminded of people who cannot abide silence and talk endlessly about the inconsequential. To sit alone in a quiet room requires that one be comfortable in his own skin, at peace with his Maker, content with his purpose in life.

I cannot accurately gauge whether American ability to be quietly alone is strengthening, weakening, or is static. I sense, however, that it’s declining. We don’t like our own thoughts. We need to be constantly plugged in to information, mindless beep-beep games, or conversation. Only the last was available in Blaise Pascal’s time, and he recognized a weakness even then. I wonder what he would he say of he looked around here in the 21st century.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Liberal Control Freaks

I can draw a line through “Caribbean” on my bucket list now. A week on Grand Cayman was a nice break from winter which was raging when I left on March 2nd. March came in like a lion but has become profoundly lamb-like less than halfway through the month. Looking down on my back field from my office chair, I see brown grass on the north side, while snow still buries the southern half. In Maine, it usually looks and feels like winter during the first week of official spring on March 21st, but this year it feels like spring while it’s still officially winter.If this is climate change, I like it. Paleo-Americans liked it too, I’m sure, as they watched the Pleistocene glaciers recede north from here 13,000 years ago. Unlike us today, however, they suffered no illusions that they caused all that melting by burning wood in their cooking fires as they roasted their mammoth meat. They just enjoyed the warmth. Taking a cue from them I moved down to my back porch where it’s 65 degrees on March 12th. Nice.

Liberal Democrats, however, think this is bad. They worry about melting ice caps drowning cute polar bear cubs and flooding coral islands. That’s okay with me if they want to stress themselves over it, but it’s not okay when they want to tax me into oblivion thinking they can thereby prevent it by making fossil fuels like gasoline too expensive to buy. They can buy windmills and solar panels, Priuses and Chevy Volts if it makes them feel better too, but I object when they want me to pay them for doing so.

People don’t want to buy Chevy Volts, so the Obama Administration wants to further subsidize them with another $10,000 per car with my money. I don’t want to pay them more so they can feel “green,” and “progressive” and morally superior to the rest of us. They can put up windmills and solar panels and ride bicycles with funny helmets and spandex, but I don’t want to pay them to do so. I like electricity and hot showers, but I like those things on cloudy days and when the wind is calm too, so I’d rather buy my electricity and hot water in the usual, reliable - and cheaper - ways.

Liberal Democrats are control freaks. They think they know what species should live and which should be wiped out - and they would use the power of the federal government to implement their schemes. The environmental whacko (EW) wing of their party (actually it’s more than just a wing, but a good part of the legs and torso too) put northwest loggers out of work as they “protected” their beloved spotted owl. There were more trees to hug up there, but that wasn’t enough for them or their cute little owl.

Don’t get me wrong; I like owls. As I write this on the back porch, a nearby barred owl is hooting to another further down the hill. I like to hear their “hoo, hoo - hoo-HOO” early in the morning. As ornithologists write, their hoot kind of sounds like: “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all.” I saw a barred owl once on the edge of my field and wrote about it here. Their hooting has charmed me ever since, but now the Obama Administration wants to shoot barred owls to protect the sacred spotted owls which they prefer. Barred owls are bigger and they’re crowding out the smaller spotted owl. The environmental whackos justify killing one owl to protect another by claiming the barred owl is “not native” to northwest forests. It migrated there. Control freaks to the end, they believe they know better which species should live where even though history shows animals, birds and plants are constantly migrating. Evidence indicates that horses covered North America until hunted to extinction by paleo-Americans, but were re-introduced by the Spanish five hundred years ago. Would they want to go around and shoot horses too?Liberal Democrats are entitled to whatever crazy ideas they wish to discuss in their green seminars. What I don’t like is when they appoint people like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to positions in which they spend my tax money trying to implement their screwball schemes.

Most of us here in New England like climate change. We can’t do anything about it anyway, no matter what Al Gore and the rest of his environmental whacko friends believe, so just relax and enjoy it.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Last Days on Grand Cayman

The pier at Rum Point, Grand Cayman Island. We waited for a boat to Stingray City, which is out in North Bay where stingrays gather to be fed and petted, and for us to snorkel.Looking to the left.All of us on Captain Jimmy's boat.Captain Jimmy.Nate with stingray. Alex didn't want to go in the water at first, but we persuaded him.When he went in he wouldn't let his legs down into the water. Fear took over again.He was sorry he agreed and begged us to bring him back to the boat. Notice the legs still up in back.Captain Jimmy soothed him a bit, but he was still dubious.Closeup of stingray on Captain Jimmy. Notice its eyes.Next day we walked to Starfish Point. Alex wanted to build a cabana on the beach with these.Alex wasn't afraid of starfish.We found two to check out. Then it was back to Old Man Bay where we're staying to relax by the pool until the last sunset. Flying back to Maine tomorrow after stops in Miami and Dulles. Long day, then back to winter. I see that it's in the forties and fifties for the week though. Not bad for mid-March.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

First Time in the Tropics

No column this week. I'm on vacation.We arrived earlier than Sarah, Nate, and Alex. They got stuck in Philadelphia after missing their connection. Snow in Portland, Maine delayed their departure. Roseann and I got there about midnight after a long drive following three flights. Woke up to a calm sea. This is our first view from the condo we rented. Nice. Cuba is just over the horizon to the north of Grand Cayman. Glad I don't see it.It was a long day of traveling: about fourteen hours. Relaxing before going to mass and then picking up our companions.It was a nice day and Roseann, now Grammy, did what she always did: collect shells and rocks. Our daughters call her Rocky.She even collected them in the cemetery. They bury their dead next to the sea here on Grand Cayman.I think that's kind of nice. Visiting departed loved ones next to the eternal sea. Next to the power of Nature's God. Wikipedia describes the population here - over 50,000 - as "overwhelmingly Christian" with lots of Catholics. At Sunday mass, the congregation was reverent and enthusiastic, a nice combination. "Celebrating" mass at St. Ignatius Church in Georgetown wasn't just an expression. It was one of my favorite masses ever. Then it was over to the airport to pick up the rest of the family. Sarah relaxed after her long journey.
Nate helped Alex put on flippers so he could snorkel in the little lagoon. Starting off easy.
It's easier to walk backwards in these things, but Alex insisted on doing it his way. He made it.
Evening of the first day.Next day came the trade winds out of the Northeast. No more calm seas on the north side where we were.Who cared of there was a storm out there? Grammy was still going to be looking for cool rocks.
Some over here too.Alex was taken back a bit by the power of the waves. Things had changed. Snorkeling would be difficult here.The surf was roaring. Alex was taking it in.What are we going to do now?Head for the other side of the island, that's what.
I'm going to walk the way I want to. It works.
What do you know? Rocks and shells over this side too.
Later there were chairs to walk on while looking at the Caribbean Sea.
And there were coconuts to be found. Ripe ones. Alex wanted to drink some coconut milk.
A nice man opened it up for him and gave him a straw. He was in heaven.
Then he opened it up for Alex to eat some of the meat. Lots of cruise ship passengers showed up to watch.Hooray! Alex loves everything about coconuts.

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