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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Too Much Beauty

Sunset  from my backyard last summer

During a difficult period some years ago, an old priest/counselor told me that as I endured pain, my capacity for feeling joy would grow commensurately. It seemed small comfort at the time, but now I believe he was on to something. Grieving the death of my son in June, I’m going through another hard time. A friend who also lost a son to addiction told me his grief comes in waves. I’m seeing now what he meant and I’ve been swept along on such a wave for days as I write. I have to let it carry me and feel the grief, but not let it drown me or smash me on the rocks. When the wave passes I’ll be able again to sense beauty around me, which is always there whether I perceive it or  not.
Leaves falling in the yard last month

He was an Anglican priest and his son was alcoholic too. He understood the anguish I felt watching my own son spiral down. When I asked how to deal with it, he said: “Carry it.”

“Carry it?” I asked. “That’s the best you can do for me?” It was, he said, so I tried carrying it with as much dignity as I could muster and then asked: “What’s next?”

“Embrace it,” he said.

“Really?” I said. “I don’t ever see myself doing that,” and I didn’t for years. While my son was alive I still thought I might do something to steer him from his self-destructive path, but his death ended that. I haven’t been embracing my grief; I’ve been wrestling with it. I grapple onto it and try to throw it aside. Sometimes I get some respite before it comes back. Will I ever come to embrace it? I don’t know. The old priest was right about the joy part though. I’m having my moments between waves.
Grandson Henry in a pout

I’m seeing too much beauty around to record and preserve, though I try very hard. It’s a nice problem to have. I’ve been able to extract increasing measures of joy in attempts to replicate it. Never do I go anywhere without a good camera near at hand. If it’s not slung over my shoulder, it’s in my car or truck parked nearby. If I’m taking pictures, I know I’m healing. In letters, emails, and texts, I try to use words as a medium for capturing and preserving it, and those go to people I love. Occasionally I use this space to express what I’m feeling, but in a somewhat muted form.
Grandchildren on their porch in Sweden, Maine

Whether my method of capture is visual or verbal, it always falls short. The scene itself is always more beautiful than my picture of it; the thought or feeling is always more profound than my description of it. However inadequate my recording efforts, they please me more as time goes by. Pictures I took two, three, or ten years ago seem more adequate because the memory of the experience has faded while the quality of my visual or verbal facsimile remains undiminished.
With my wife and grandson at Colosseum last month

My pictures are my own. I don’t sell them and I’m the only one who sees most of them. Every Christmas, however, I collect four or five hundred “best of the year” images and put them onto miniature flash drives for my children. These they insert into digital picture frames I gave them years ago. When I visit, I see those images displayed in five-second intervals on their walls. It’s possible they only turn the frames on when I’m visiting, but I don’t think so. I suspect they’re used often because the pictures are almost as meaningful to them as they are to me. Every shot is imbued with whatever I was feeling as I saw the beauty in the loved one or the scene. I saw and felt something exquisite each time I snapped the shutter.
From Rome's Palatine Hill last month

Before I had a good digital camera, I always had a good film camera and I shot slides rather than photos. The light capture was better in slides and capturing light is what photography is all about. Today, I much prefer seeing my digital photos on a computer screen or digital picture frame than on a print. Prints are disappointing, but I still enjoy them. I can derive pleasure while learning to dry mount, select a matte, and put them together in the right frame.
Lila, Luke, and Henry on their trampoline last month

Though I seldom read what I’ve written after it’s mailed, sent, or published, I often look at my pictures. As when listening to an old song or smelling an old, familiar scent, seeing my images of special people and beautiful scenes brings it all back. They help me realize I have much for which to be thankful. Thankful to whom? Why the God Who made us, Who sustains us, and Who calls us home when He’s ready of course. Who else?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Aggressive Ignorance


After last Friday, young people in Paris know what aggression is. Young people at the University of Missouri, at Yale, and at the University of Southern Maine, however, do not. Student “leaders” at Mizzou (what people are calling the University of Missouri these days) certainly do not, but think they do. They’re whining because their fifteen minutes of fame was cut short by radical Islamist massacres in Paris. Nobody is listening to their petulant demands for “safe spaces” anymore. Instead, people are wondering if there really is any such thing as “multiculturalism” and can we actually “COEXIST” with a culture like Islam, many of whose followers kill us every chance they get.
Once I thought everyone understood aggression but I was wrong. I grew up in suburban Boston, not a dangerous place, but every boy in the neighborhood knew what aggression was. When someone punched you in the head, that was aggression. If someone called you names, that was just an annoyance. Every boy had been punched at one time or another and learned how to handle it. There were two choices: fight back or turn the other cheek. Everyone knew who the fighters were — punch them and they punch back. We all knew who the meek were too, the ones willing to suffer humiliation whenever a bully felt like dishing it out. Some of us protected them when we could. Others of us were indifferent and let it happen. I assumed it was that way everywhere.
It was a different world in college. There I met guys who had never been in a fight. They’d never been punched, they said, nor had they ever punched anyone. I know because I asked them. They were nice enough guys, but I didn’t understand them, not on a basic male level. They spawned today’s metrosexuals and pajama boys — the wussy students on campuses who worry about “microaggressions" and “safe places.” They have anxiety attacks in the presence of politically-incorrect Halloween costumes or climate-change deniers. They need “trigger warnings” before anyone questions global warming or whether it’s possible for a man to change into a woman, or dares to use the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence lest they go into a swoon.
Compare these students with the heroic young Americans who charged a radical Muslim terrorist with a loaded AK-47 on a French train back in August. Who are you proud of? Which kind of young person do you want more of? Please realize that we’re getting more whiners and fewer heroes because your tax dollars are going to the former and not the latter.
Even more timid than America’s sissified students are their professors and administrators. They meekly submit their resignations at the very suggestion they may not be “doing enough” to protect the hothouse flowers that make up the student body at their campuses. They fawn over Bowdoin College’s Deray McKesson as he lectures at Yale defending looting as a righteous tactic. McKesson lectures at Bowdoin also on “Black Lives Matter,” never mentioning how he’s funded by George Soros and other Democrat fat cats for his anarchist activities. McKesson even gets personal invitations from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Valerie Jarrett.
Now these progressive professors and college administrators are quaking in their Birkenstocks as petulant students demand their resignations. “What have we wrought?” they ask themselves. The same question is in the minds of Democrat presidential candidates who get shouted off their campaign stages by “Black Lives Matter” activists when they dare suggest that all lives matter.
The same question is being asked by European leaders whose citizens are in open rebellion against European Union policy that allows armies of Muslim “refugees” into their countries and then supports them on welfare for generations. So far, anyone who has publicly spoken against the policy is charged with hate crimes. According to brietbart.com, “Dutch police have announced they will be prosecuting democratically-elected house of representatives member Geert Wilders for asking his voters whether they wanted to see fewer Moroccans or not in [Holland].” In France “[Actress Brigitte] Bardot was convicted for ‘decrying the loss of French identity and tradition due to the “multiplication of mosques while our church bells fall silent for want of priests.’” Also charged with hate crimes was Marine Le Pen, a member of European Parliament, for daring to compare Muslims to Nazis.
After last Friday, progressives in Europe and America have to be asking themselves: “What have we wrought?” Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about microaggression now that Islamist aggression can no longer be ignored. Maybe multiculturalism is a pipe dream. Maybe we can’t COEXIST. Maybe Marco Rubio is right when he claims we’re in a “Clash of Civilizations.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Growing Gulf


People ask how I come up with something to write about every week. “Do you ever run out of ideas?” No. The problem is actually the opposite: There are too many things to write about in only one 800-word column.
I start on one topic and it always leads into another, then another. For example, as I was leaving the Lovell Town Hall after casting my vote last week, a leftist Democrat (is there any other kind?) I’d known for years asked me to sign a petition to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020. She went into her pitch about how it was immoral to pay someone a wage too low to support a household. I said I would not sign, claiming that government is driving wages down by allowing tens of millions of illegal aliens into the US. Then government sets out to “fix” the problem by raising the minimum wage, creating still more problems.
She disputed my illegal immigration numbers and I said the US Census has been reporting only 11 million illegals for more than ten years, even though at least a half million more sneak in every year. How can government get an accurate count? Then immigration lawyers tell illegals to claim they’re seeking “asylum” so they can become “refugees” and then not technically illegal. That way they can go right on welfare for their food, clothing, housing, medical care, and cash assistance. Illegals had done that for years in sanctuary cities and states like Maine under Governor John Baldacci’s Administration, when he ordered state employees not to ask about the immigration status of anyone applying for benefits. Republican Governor LePage stopped that, but there are still sanctuary cities in Maine including our biggest city, Portland. Many work under the table, driving down wages, then collect welfare which drives up the tax burden on citizens.
Word gets around among those looking for an easier life, whether they’re home-grown Americans or they’re from other countries in the Americas, Africa, or the Middle East. Maine became a magnet because of lax welfare regulations. The Portland area gets migrants from about everywhere in the world. Even under LePage they can get General Assistance, since the state reimburses Portland for 90% of its General Assistance outlays whether recipients are from Massachusetts or Mogadishu. All their basic needs are provided free of charge. What’s not to like? Others hear this and join them here.
Immigration is the biggest topic on the minds of Americans and Europeans too. Minimum wage is ancillary. About one in four Americans today was born somewhere else — as there are more foreigners coming here than at any other time in our history. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy saying he would deport all illegals, he rocketed to the top of opinion polls where he has remained ever since. Pundits still can’t figure that out. It’s even worse across the pond. European countries are getting 8,000 Muslim “refugees” per day from the Middle East and Africa! Those are numbers not seen since World War II and it’s roiling the political pot everywhere.
What’s causing all this migration? Several things. Yes, there’s civil strife in Syria that people are fleeing, and our mainstream media pretend that’s the only factor driving it. If it were only civil strife they were escaping they would stop in Turkey, or in Greece, or in Bulgaria, or in Macedonia, or in Serbia, or in Croatia but they don’t — because there’s a pull factor too. They want to get to Germany, Denmark, the UK, and Sweden because welfare benefits are much more generous in northern Europe. Mainstream media in Europe and the US avoid that topic because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Three out of four “refugees” are young men in their 20s and 30s, not women and children. They’re well-dressed and they have cell phones. They want to get to northern Europe for an easier life than they would get in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, etc. Many believe there are ISIS terrorists among them too but that’s a whole other topic.
More and more ordinary Germans, Brits, and Danes — and Americans — are wise to this, but their leaders don’t seem to be. That’s causing the political sea change that so puzzles the pundits. Political leaders and media leaders are increasingly isolated from ordinary citizens both here and in Europe. They go to the same universities, live in the same neighborhoods, and go to the same restaurants and cocktail parties where they reinforce each other’s world views. They like their cheap nannies and gardeners and don’t have to compete for their livelihood every day with illegals. Ordinary citizens at lunch counters and in employee break rooms have a different view altogether.
The gulf is widening between the elite and working people and “experts” are baffled. Their templates don’t fit anymore and they don’t know where to begin constructing new ones. We peons out here in the countryside understand very well why wages are depressed and we’re pissed, but the cocktail party elite don’t ask us about it because they see us as racist morons. To this writer, it’s fascinating to watch it all play out.

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Monday, November 02, 2015

You Know You're A Progressive When...


To be a good progressive these days, you must learn to live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance, which dictionary.com defines as: “anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes [or] beliefs.”
You have to believe it’s possible to COEXIST with people who want to kill you, and put COEXIST bumper stickers on your Prius. Though Radical Muslims kill us every chance they get, you have to believe we’re not at war with them — even after they declared war on us. You also have to support treaties with countries whose leaders lead millions in chants of “Death to America!
You have to believe that The Islamic Republic of Iran has nothing to do with Islam, and The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with Islam either. Nor does al Qaida, or Boko Haram, or al Nusra, or al Shabab, or Hamas, or Hezbollah, or…
You have to believe that even though climate has been changing for millions of years, including global freezing and global warming over at least five ice ages before humans existed, that human activity is causing global warming now. You must believe that when Neanderthals and Cro Magnon humans appeared, they brought on the global warming that melted the glaciers of the fourth ice age by burning too much wood in their camp fires -- because it took a lot of wood to cook all those mammoths.
You also have to believe that signing a climate change treaty which would bring skyrocketing energy prices for every American is worth it — even when China and India will continue increasing their carbon emissions for at least the next fifteen years and maybe forever. When some scientists point out there has been no global warming for the last twenty years in spite of ever-increasing carbon emissions, they should be prosecuted as climate change deniers. You have to believe John Kerry and Barack Obama when they claim global warming is a bigger threat than radical Islam.
You have to believe that even though the top 1% of Americans pay more taxes than the bottom 90%, they don’t pay their fair share. You also have to believe that even though half of Americans pay no income taxes at all, we need to give them more free stuff by increasing taxes still more on the top 1%. You put “Bernie” stickers on your Prius next to your COEXIST stickers because you believe his claims that “the top 1%” has so much money it can pay for endless free stuff for everyone and will never run out. 
You have to believe that Hillary triumphed over the House Committee on Benghazi even if they proved she lied to the families of four dead Americans and to the nation. You must believe that pretending to answer questions is more important than telling the truth. You have to believe that even though 54% of American voters don’t think Hillary is honest or trustworthy and you cannot think of anything she accomplished as a senator or secretary of state, you must support her because “It’s time we had a woman president.”
You have to believe Obamanomics has reduced our unemployment rate to only 5.5% even though there are 95 million Americans out of work who have given up looking for a job, and there are only 318 million Americans.
You have to believe that Governor O’Malley was right to apologize to “Black Lives Matter” for daring to claim that all lives matter. You have to believe that cops are racist and constantly looking for young, unarmed black men to shoot. You must believe that anyone who points out that more than 93% of young, black men are killed by other young black men is racist.

You have to believe that anyone who objects to allowing tens of millions of illegal aliens into America and paying for their food, clothing, housing, education, and health care is also racist. However, groups like La Raza (translated “The Race”) and its affiliate MEChA, who claim Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, Nevada and Colorado were stolen by evil white people are not.
You have to believe that abortion is not dismembering an unborn baby in its mother’s womb, but “women’s health care.” You have to be willing to declare that anyone who suggests there may be a moral problem with killing babies and selling them for parts is waging a “war on women.”
You have to believe that homosexuality is natural, but sex roles are artificial. You must declare that homosexuals are born that way, but men and women are not. Counseling for homosexuals who wish to overcome attraction to others of the same sex must be made illegal everywhere, not just in California, Oregon and New Jersey, but taxpayers must pay for surgery and hormone treatments in attempts to turn men into women and women into men.
If you’re able to do all this, congratulations. You can call yourself a good progressive.

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