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: tomthemick@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Purging Christianity

Why is our observance of Halloween growing? Everywhere I look I’m seeing ghosts and other symbols of death on people’s lawns, on television, in stores, and in most other places I look in mid to late October. Lots of kids walk the streets trick-or-treating, but hardly anyone goes around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols anymore. Halloween is focused on death while Christmas is about birth. All over the country, Americans display images of gravestones, of ever-more-gruesome human cadavers, and other symbols of death. Driving by our local elementary school I saw images of ghosts, but public schools would never depict the Holy Ghost for fear that the American Civil Liberties Union would file expensive lawsuits against them.
Ironically, Halloween is an adaptation of the phrase “All Hallows Eve” celebrated on the last day of October preceding “All Saints Day” which the Catholic Church celebrates the next day, November 1st. And what is a saint? It’s a human soul enjoying everlasting life in the presence of God. Halloween is about permanently-dead human bodies, the more gruesome, the better. Or, it’s about zombies, the temporarily undead. Our obsession with them goes well beyond Halloween. All year we see more and more movies and television programs about zombies. It’s the same with skeletons and skulls. We see them on sneakers, T-shirts, hoodies, school notebooks, key rings, and many other venues.  Clearly our fashion-conscious schoolchildren are choosing them. What’s up with that? Are we getting what we’re encouraging?
It occurs to me now that Halloween preceding All Saints Day is rather like Mardi Gras being  celebrated the night before the Catholic Church begins its observance of Lent. Mardi Gras celebrates excess while Lent is about self-deprivation, but which one does media play up? Not Lent. Fasting is boring. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, on which day we recognize Catholics by the smudge of ash on their foreheads to remind them that they were created from dust, and to dust they shall return. Until the last day, that is, when Catholics believe they will be raised up - not as zombies - but to everlasting life.
During pagan times, before the Catholic Church became dominant in Europe, my Celtic ancestors practiced “Samhain,” pronounced “sow-in,” in late fall. Bonfires were lit to ward off roaming spirits, thought to be especially prevalent in the time before fall and winter. Days grew much shorter than they do even here in New England and that reminded people of their own inevitable deaths, which most wanted to stave off for as long as possible. In the 8th Century, Pope Gregory adapted a feast honoring saints and martyrs to follow Samhain and lend to it the concept of an afterlife with the Christian God. “All Saints’ Day” on November 1st is still a Catholic holy day on which Catholics are obligated to attend mass, but attendance has grown very thin while Catholic influence on world events continues to wane here in the early 21st century.

From atheism.about.com
Pagan influence is re-asserting itself as government outlaws historical Christian associations with traditional holidays, while tacitly approving pagan associations like ghosts and zombies at Halloween and winter solstice activities rather than mentions of Christ at Christmas time. It’s not Christmas vacation anymore in our schools. It’s “winter holiday.”

When I was still teaching US History and Thanksgiving approached, I’d ask my students: “To whom were Pilgrims giving thanks on the first Thanksgiving?”

“Indians,” they all said.

When I asked where they got that idea, they said they learned it from their teachers in the lower grades. Pilgrims gave thanks to God on the first Thanksgiving, of course, but our government - and our government schools - endeavor to disassociate God from any public activity whenever possible. Hence, schools are encouraged to teach our children that Pilgrims were thanking Indians on the first Thanksgiving. It isn’t true, but it is politically correct - and that’s vastly more important than truth for our government here in the 21st century.

Conservative Christianity, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, is about as politically incorrect as it gets.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Extremists

Who are the extremists? That’s the only question I’m left with after watching last week’s capitulation of establishment Republican “leaders” to Democrats who want to spend another trillion dollars we don’t have. Yeah, those quotes mean I don’t actually consider McConnell, Cornyn, Boehner or Cantor to be leaders. They’re surrender monkeys.
On Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) web site

Vitriol flowed thickly. The president, other Democrats and their media allies scared Republican surrender monkeys much the way Putin, Assad and the Iranian mullahs scared them. President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats called Republicans arsonists, domestic abusers, hostage-takers, the Ku Klux Klan, even terrorists - because how else should we interpret White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer’s remarks about negotiating with Republicans: “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” he said. I mean, heck, the White House doesn’t even call Major Nidal Hasan a terrorist and he shot 42 Americans, killing thirteen. They don’t call the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists even when they kill Christians and burn down their churches.
Democrats are afraid to call our enemies terrorists but they’re not afraid to call Republicans terrorists. Why? Because they know most Republicans these days are even more cowardly than Democrats are. In a game of chicken with Republicans, the outcome isn’t in doubt. There’s no price to pay for gloating after they fold either. Spike the ball? Go ahead. No worries. After all, Democrats know who the real terrorists are and would never think of taunting them. That’s why they expunge all references to “jihad.” That’s why they never utter the “terrorism” word in the same sentence with “Islam” or “Muslim,” but have no trouble using it with “Republican” or “Tea Party.” They don’t worry because they know establishment Republicans will wimp out. They know what the pecking order is, and so do their mainstream media allies. Everyone knows Republicans are at the bottom, hiding in the corner of the chicken coop, afraid of being pecked completely clean of feathers while Reid and Obama strut around like cocks of the walk, and throw our money all around.
Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne, ever a sycophant for Democrats, said Sunday on Meet The Press: “The era of the Tea Party is over.” Three years ago, just before Tea Party Republicans took over the US House, he wrote: “The Tea Party is nothing new. It represents a relatively small minority of Americans on the right end of politics, and it will not determine the outcome of the 2010 elections.” I suspect a much bigger surprise for both Democrats and establishment Republican wimps on election day in November, 2014. According to a Rasmussen poll last week, 78% of Americans want to throw out the entire Congress and start over.

Because the Tea Party Caucus in the US House of Representatives represents ordinary people much more closely than the Senate does. Yes, there’s Texas Senator Ted Cruz. There’s Utah Senator Mike Lee. There’s Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and a few others, but most Senate Republicans lack political courage. Those three weren’t elected by people who want them to bring federal money projects home to their states like Mitch McConnell did with his $2 billion Kentucky dam project that was attached to the “compromise” bill to reopen government. No. They were elected by people who believe America will cease to exist if we don’t drastically change course very soon. They were elected by people who fear national bankruptcy, who believe the federal government has vastly exceeded its constitutional authority and must be scaled back drastically.
The Tea Party Caucus in the House were elected by the same kind of people - voters who’ve been hearing Congress and the President say for years that we need to do something about our multi-trillion-dollar debt, but who continue to make it worse year after year. Are these Americans worried about a sequester? No. A government shutdown? No. Default? No. Why not? Because they know those things are inconsequential compared to what will happen if we continue borrowing and printing money - the collapse of America as we know it.
Are they extremists because they want their senators and their congressmen to stop talking about it and actually stop it? Ted Cruz is doing what Texans want him to do. He’s not backing down. He’s not playing nice with Democrats or establishment Republicans because Texans who elected him told him not to. Imagine that! When he went back to Texas last Saturday he got an eight-minute standing ovation, after which he said: “After two months in Washington, it's great to be back in America.”
So back to my original question: “Who are the extremists?” Are they Democrats and establishment Republicans who keep our federal government’s foot on the gas as America drives off the cliff?

Why are we told the ones yelling “Stop!” are extremists?

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On The Wind

Scent affects my consciousness more lately than it ever did, perhaps because my other senses are getting less acute to the point where I need tri-focals and I say “What?” a lot. Smells affect my mood and I’m allowing them to. They resurrect old feelings, vaguely pleasant ones mostly, and when there’s been time to indulge them, I do. They’re taking me places, like daydreams do, places in my memory when I’m a boy and the world is new. They remind me that each day is new at every stage in our lives. Anything can happen.
Sometimes images come with the scents in which I’m walking or riding along on a bicycle or in a car with the window open. Or, I’m standing, tilting my head up to smell something in the breeze as I’ve seen animals do. I’m a child who has just stepped out and closed the door behind me and I’m smelling what’s in the wind, looking for a clue about what the day may bring.
My wife offered good advice when I decided to retire from my primary profession - teaching. “Don’t take on anything new for a year,” she suggested. “Try to relax and see what happens. Then decide what you want to do.” There were two other jobs I continued with: one is writing this column each week. The other is managing property. Schedules for both are flexible. Each day unfolds as I design it, or allow it. Not everything is subject to my control, of course, but many days a lot of things are. If I want to smell what’s on the wind, I usually take the time. Often I’m alone in beautiful settings, especially this time of year. Autumn in New England has its own fragrances and they take me back to many dozens of previous falls I’ve walked through and smelled. Thoughts and feelings come and go as I stroll through crispy leaves under skeletal ashes and maples. Life is good.
One never knows what the day will present, however. We may encounter something or hear bits of news that augur profound changes ahead. Some days are spent absorbing the news and adapting to it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not, but always interesting. I simply cannot remember the last day I was bored.
Claire, Lila, Henry, Luke
Every Tuesday but one since last July I’ve spent with grandchildren - helping daughter Ann deal with new twin boys, Luke and Henry. Mostly, I’m with their sisters: Claire, who is four now, and Lila, who will be three on New Year’s Eve. Ann takes care of the twins, now almost eight months old and growing fast. Tuesdays, I’m a grandfather all day.
Claire
Claire is deep. She watches me arrive each week, but doesn’t interact until she’s ready. She observes. Sometimes, later on, she’ll tell me her thoughts. Her little sister, Lila, lights up immediately - always spontaneous, always in the moment. One afternoon Lila walked over to me, put her arms up and said, “I want to give you a hug and a kiss.” Those are always welcome, of course, but her timing was a little out of the ordinary. Picking her up, I asked her why she got that urge.
Lila
“Because you don’t have a Mommy,” she said.

I savored the hug and kiss, put her down and said, “Thanks, but I do have a Mommy, you know.”
  

“No you don’t,” said Lila.

Ma
“Yes, I do, and her name is Ma,” I said and then paused. “You know Ma, right? She comes over and helps your Mommy sometimes.” My mother is a spritely, eighty-nine-year-old who drives over and still gets down on the floor to play with her great-grandchildren.

“Ma’s not your mommy,” said Lila.

“She is my mommy,” I said, “and she gives me hugs and kisses. But I like to get them from you too.”
Claire

Claire was observing and listening to all this in her typical, quiet way, and it seemed a good time to teach about family relationships. “Ma is my mother and I’m her son,” I began.

Lila still looked skeptical.

“I’m your Mommy’s father,” I continued, going over to Ann and hugging her.

 “Grampy is my Dada,” Ann said.

“Ann is my daughter,” I said with my arm around her. “You are my granddaughter.”
Lila and Claire

“I’m not your granddaughter,” said Lila.

“Okay,” I said. “What are you then?”

She paused for a second, looked at me and and said: “I’m your Barnabas.”

“My Barnabas?” I said, wondering where in the world that came from. “I never had a Barnabas before. Hmm.” A few months before she told me she had a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus in her little pink backpack - real ones.
Ta-Da!

“Okay. Enough lessons for today,” I said. We went outside to roll over logs and look for salamanders in the woods.

Those scents, too, took me back to my own childhood.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Time To Pare Back Government

Been spending a lot of time up on a ladder lately, scraping and painting. State and federal regulations dictate that only the homeowner may scrape, repair and paint over any house built before 1978 unless he’s willing to fork over lots of money to a government-licensed contractor. That contractor would have to take needlessly-extensive, government-required measures which drive up costs enormously because our South Portland house was built in 1920 and could, therefore, have lead paint on it. It’s covered with aluminum siding except for window frames and soffits, but it has a hip roof and a two-foot overhang all around that I don’t think had been painted for thirty years. There was a lot of scraping to do.
When I told my wife that I’d be doing it she pressured me to hire someone. “You’re too old to be going up that high,” she said. “You should get my brother to do it.” When I pointed out that her brother is three years older than me she said, “Yeah, but he does it all the time.” Still, he’s a painting contractor without the special license the feds require and he’d be liable to a huge fine if he were caught working on our house. So, I did it myself.

It’s mindless work, and I spent several days high up there to think about how much I resented our huge, intrusive government. Then I used my iPod to listen to talk radio, specifically Rush Limbaugh and Howie Carr on the local WGAN AM. On Sundays they broadcast audio from NBC’s “Meet The Press” followed by ABC’s “This Week,” both of which parroted Democrat spin on why the federal government was shutting down. I’d listened to Limbaugh and Carr excoriate Democrats and praise Senator Ted Cruz as he railed against our huge federal bureaucracy. The more I listened, the angrier I got. Trouble is, the streaming signal cut out every ten minutes or so. I couldn’t reset it without reaching into my pocket and manipulating the iPod and my hands were full. One held the scraper or paintbrush and the other held tight to the ladder twenty-five feet up.
So, I switched to downloaded audiobooks which didn’t cut out. I listened to a biography of Saint Paul, then “Intellectuals and Society” by Thomas Sowell, and finally David Stewart’s “Summer of 1787,” this last about the men who gathered in Philadelphia and created our government. Stewart relied on James Madison’s accounts of how state delegates took special pains to limit federal government power. Here it was 226 years later and federal power was out of control. That’s why I was up on the ladder.
The more I listened, the more pissed I got. Delegates agreed that all money bills had to begin in the House, which most closely represented the people - more than the Senate. They called it “The People’s House” and intended that it check and balance the power of both the Senate and the President. If those entities wanted something to pass the House, they had to negotiate. Under Harry Reid and Barack Obama, however, they were refusing. The Mainstream Media - especially David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos - were either ignorant of how the Constitution came to be, or they were willfully misrepresenting the shutdown by repeating Democrat talking points.
Mount Chocorua in the White Mountain National Forest

I finally finished the job and last Saturday my wife wanted to explore a smokey quartz mine on New Hampshire’s Moat Mountain. Driving over there, it occurred to me that it was in the White Mountain National Forest and the National Park Service had been shutting down access to parks. They had barricaded the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC - an open-access facility that previously anyone could walk into 24-7. They closed highway pull-offs from which people could view Mount Rushmore. They even tried to close off access to the ocean in Florida. All this to follow an Obama Administration directive that they make the shutdown as painful as possible for ordinary citizens. And closing the National Mall to citizens and then opening it up to illegal aliens to demonstrate? That's going to piss off a lot of Americans. So I’m thinking: what if we get over there and they tell me the National Forest is closed? Well, I decided, then there’s going to be some civil disobedience perpetrated by your’s truly.
But it wasn’t necessary. Going up an access road, I noticed a ranger’s SUV behind me so I stopped in the middle of the road, walked back, and asked him if the mine was nearby. The uniformed young man behind the wheel smiled and said, “You’re headed in the right direction.” Then he told me to take a left at the next fork which would take me to the trailhead. A nice kid.
After hearing about those WWII vets that went through government barricades in Washington, DC last week, I was ready to do something similar. Something is brewing out there. Can you feel it?

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Time To Arm Teachers

School has been back in session for a month and there hasn’t been a mass shooting - yet.

Will there be one this year? Most likely. Where? When? By whom? We can’t answer the first two, but we can place a fairly safe bet on the third. If the past is any guide, it will most likely be a mentally and emotionally-disturbed, teenaged, white boy. He’ll enter the school’s formerly gun-free zone with at least one gun, and possibly several. He’ll know that he’ll be the only armed person in the school for at least several minutes until police arrive - plenty of time to kill many, many children as well as any adults who try to stop him because they’ll all be defenseless.
When did our schools become gun-free zones? After the “Gun Free School Zones Act” passed in 1990. It was modeled after the “Drug Free Zones” established around schools - and both were intended to increase penalties against students who brought drugs or guns into schools, and against gang members who might shoot at each other. It wasn't designed to prevent teachers or other responsible adults from carrying concealed firearms. That, however, was an unintended side-effect of the act, and it’s leaving our schools vulnerable to the mentally-unhinged and/or evil individuals who like to kill.
Can anything be done to prevent school killings? If some adults in a school were armed and trained to confront intruders with guns, killings could be dramatically reduced. Take the Newtown murders for example. If the people in the office had been armed, twenty children would likely have been saved. The principal, a psychologist, and a teacher rushed out to meet the shooter, Adam Lanza, when they heard him shoot the door open. Defenseless, all three were shot. The rest of the people in the school school could only cower and hope police would come before he could get to them. What would Lanza have done if someone were shooting back at him? He wouldn’t have been free to shoot so many children if here were busy defending himself, would he?
It’s bad enough that our schools became gun-free zones, but it’s absurd that now our military bases are as well. Remember when we used to call the military the “Armed Services”? Well, now they’re the unarmed services thanks to President Clinton. One of the first things he did after being inaugurated in 1993 was to disarm our military personnel while they’re on base. That’s why Radical Muslim Major Nidal Hasan was able to shoot forty-two soldiers at Fort Hood before being shot himself by a civilian police officer who came onto the base. The wife of one of the wounded was asked after the shooting how she felt about her husband’s pending deployment to Afghanistan. “At least he’s safe there and he can fire back, right?” she responded.

Aaron Alexis was able to kill twelve people at the Navy Yard in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago. There were Marines stationed on base with guns who could have stopped him, but they had no bullets thanks to President Clinton.

Evil jihadists like Major Hasan as well as the mentally ill like Adam Lanza and Aaron Alexis seek out soft targets to play out their malicious schemes. That’s why a group of jihadists targeted a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya a couple of weeks ago. However, two armed men - an army ranger from Ireland and a British soldier - were able to rescue two hundred terrified shoppers by shooting back at the jihadists. Otherwise, the death toll there would have been much higher.
Major Nidal Hasan

As the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre put it: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Haven't we learned by now that "Gun Free Zone" signs don't work?
Shortly before I retired, our school went into lockdown because of a gun threat. I followed protocol and cowered in my classroom until the all-clear and I wrote about how helpless I felt without a gun. It would make so much sense to train volunteer teachers at each school in how to deal with an armed intruder. Give them an extra stipend for their extra duty as if they were coaching a sport. I would gladly have taken the training. It would be cheaper than paying a policeman at each school. Children at daycare centers in our federal buildings have armed guards to protect them ever since the Oklahoma Federal Building was attacked. Those guards are trained for only a few weeks. Why not give public school personnel the same training? Are children in our public schools any less valuable than children in federal daycare centers?

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