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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Old Sledding Hill

We don’t see those old steel-runner sleds being used anymore. How old must you be to remember Flexible Flyer and Speedway sleds you could steer as you flew down the hill? Fifty? Sixty? I’m not sure when those wonderful old sleds disappeared from use, but one can still buy them at yard sales, antique stores, or online for $100 to $400. Were you to buy one, it would only be for nostalgic display because there aren’t enough kids on those old sledding hills anymore to create the conditions necessary to use them.
Sledding was very popular in my suburban Boston neighborhood in the fifties and early sixties. I couldn’t wait for school to end — to get off the bus and run home, change into play clothes, and get to the hill with my sled. If I was the first one there after the season’s first snowfall, however, the sled wouldn’t work. Even if I took a running start and jumped on, the runners would sink through loose snow to the hard ground beneath. The sled would stop and I’d keep going off the front of the sled and get a face full of snow. I simply had to wait for the rest of the kids to arrive and they always would, some carrying those aluminum “flying saucers” with leather handles. Others would be pulling toboggans behind them, and both were needed to pack down the snow sufficiently for the steerable, steel-runner sleds like mine to work. When conditions were right, those were what everyone preferred.
Flying Saucer

They were made entirely of wood and steel, except for a clothesline rope to pull it — and no plastic. In those days, to say something was plastic was to denigrate it and it shattered in the cold. We wore what we called “ski pants” with shoulder straps under woolen coats. I don’t know what water-resistant material they were made from, but on cold days they made a high-pitched, scratchy sound with each step as we walked to our beloved sledding hill while pulling our sleds behind us.
Once the snow packed down enough the real fun began. There were jumps, and if conditions were fast there would be wipeouts. Some kids went belly-down and steered with their hands. Girls tended to sit and steer with their feet. The more daring would go down standing up — holding the pull rope as if it were a bridle and seldom made it to the bottom upright. Sometimes we’d form into trains by laying belly-down and hooking the toes of our boots into slots ahead of the steering bar on the sled behind. It was all good.
We would fly down and run back up all afternoon. Some of the little kids, and a fat one here and there, stayed at the bottom longer between runs — sitting on their sleds eating snow and watching. The rest of us were up and down, up and down, constantly. When it got dark, we walked home with red cheeks, with steam rising from our bodies, and smelling of wet wool.
Saturdays were crowded and there could be injuries when someone fell off and got hit by a sled coming up from behind. The front was all steel and could easily put a gash in someone’s head. The injured party would walk home accompanied by a sibling or friend, then to the local doctor’s office for stitches. They’d usually be back at it in a day or two.
The hardwood slats on top came loose sometimes, especially the center one that moved back and forth with steering. Fathers were all working so we would fix it ourselves. It was hard to find the right size screw so we’d force in a slightly larger one with a slotted screwdriver. That created burs straining to get it all the way in. Many pairs of ski pants got ripped on those burs because we didn't know enough to file them down.
Parents outnumber kids at Fort Williams

I don’t see kids sledding today the way we did. Maybe they’re inside playing video games, or maybe there just aren’t enough of them because families are smaller. There were eight in my family and we all went sledding when we got old enough. Every family had at least three or four, but not not anymore. I see kids sledding at Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams, which is not far from our South Portland house, but they’re with parents who usually outnumber them. 
It's pretty there though

There were almost never any parents at our sledding hill. It was all kids all the time, and that felt good somehow. Older kids looked out for the younger ones, going down with a younger brother or sister on their laps and pulling them back up on the sled. We didn’t need parents there and didn’t want them either. The sledding hill was our domain.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Pope and The Donald

They talk much, the Donald and the pope, and the more they say, the more worried I get. Though I’m a conservative in my politics and in my Catholicism, I don’t relate to either. Watching our culture dominated by the left for decades, I expected the Republican Party and the Catholic Church would stand against the onslaught. With these two guys in charge, I’m losing hope. When they clash as they did last week over immigration, I’m not rooting for either. The Donald professes to be a conservative Republican, but I doubt that. The pope succeeded two men I greatly admired: John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but Francis doesn’t come up to them — not even close.
Pope Francis wants open borders. He exhorts European parishes to take in Muslim, so-called refugees from Syria and other places in the Middle East in spite of growing popular opposition to them everywhere. He said mass last week within yards of the US/Mexico border in Texas. When asked about the Donald’s promise to build a wall there, the pope said: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Trump, of course, hit back. “The pope is being told that Donald Trump is not a nice person, okay?” said the Donald. “Donald Trump is a very nice person. I’m a very… I am a very nice person, and I’m a very good Christian…” Maybe he is, I don’t know, but my gut tells me he became Christian while campaigning in Iowa. I’m glad he brought attention to the illegal immigration crisis, but I’m hoping he’s not the Republican nominee.
The pope talks like a communist, criticizing capitalism wherever he goes. Meeting with Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales last year (who wore an image of communist hero Che Guevara on his jacket), he called unbridled capitalism “the dung of the devil.” From Morales, he accepted a sculpture that was a morph between the hammer and sickle and the crucifix. That disturbed me.
 As columnist Dennis Prager put it: “In terms of evil committed, what is the difference between the hammer and sickle and the swastika? Would the pope receive, let alone keep, a Fascist, racist, or Nazi sculpture with a crucified Christ on it? Of course not. Yet the hammer and sickle represents more human suffering than all of them combined. The number of people enslaved and murdered under the hammer and sickle dwarfs the number of people enslaved and murdered by any other doctrine in history.”
Prager is right, of course, as anyone who has studied history knows. John Paul II and Benedict XVI learned that first-hand, but it’s becoming painfully clear that Francis hasn’t. Neither has likely Socialist/Democrat presidential nominee Bernie Sanders who spent six months on a Stalinist kibbutz in Israel during the sixties. In 1988, he chose to take his honeymoon in the Soviet Union just before it disintegrated. He followed that with a trip to Cuba in 1989 where he tried to meet with Fidel Castro, who snubbed him. Bernie met with the mayor of Havana instead.
Until very recently, the Donald talked like a liberal Democrat, favoring abortion, Obamacare, eminent domain for private projects, and donating money to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other liberals. Now he claims he’s pro-life and he will repeal Obamacare but he offers no explanations for how or why he got from there to here. He’ll solve every problem by getting the “most amazing people” to do this and “the smartest people” to do that. He’ll “negotiate tremendous deals” and everything will be wonderful.
I’m with him on immigration and it’s not unrealistic to deport all those here illegally and build a wall to prevent them coming back. I support his suggested moratorium on Muslim immigration too unless they can be thoroughly vetted — which isn’t likely considering how the San Bernardino killer from Pakistan was “investigated.” If that’s the best the State Department and FBI can do, then we better just stop for now.
First impressions can be lasting impressions. My BS alarm went off as soon as a got a look at the Donald’s hair and it never quieted. He seems like a loose cannon and as much a narcissist as President Obama. I can’t help but think of him as Mussolini with an orange pompadour.
It’s looking more and more likely that November will bring a choice between Bernie or Hillary and the Donald. God help us.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

What Have We Become?


Women working at his Houston abortion clinic saw Doctor Douglas Karpen kill babies by “twisting their heads off their necks with his own bare hands.” Sometimes he stabbed a surgical instrument into their heads or snipped their spinal cords just as Dr. Kermit Gosnell of Philadelphia did, and this happened every morning according to one of the witnesses. “Sometimes he couldn't get the fetus out... he would yank pieces – piece by piece – when they were oversize,” [Karpen’s ex-assistant Deborah] Edge explained. And I'm talking about the whole floor dirty. I'm talking about me drenched in blood.” The women took pictures surreptitiously with their cell phones.
These are Doctor Karpen's assistants quoted above

Philadelphia’s Dr. Kermit Gosnell is serving three life terms in Pennsylvania for his crimes, but what happened to Houston’s Dr. Karpen? Nothing. A grand jury shepherded by Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson refused to indict him. What about the testimony of four eyewitnesses? What about the photos they took with their cell phones? We don’t know if any of that was shown to the grand jury by Ms. Anderson because according to a statement from Anderson's office: “Texas law forbids this office from disclosing the proceedings of the grand jury, including the names of the witnesses who testified, the documents they subpoenaed, and any speculation into why the grand jury chose [not to indict Dr.] Karpen.”
So, we don’t know what Ms. Anderson showed the grand jury or didn’t show them. We don’t know what she said or didn’t say to the people on that jury either. Thirty years ago New York Judge Sol Wachtler observed that district attorneys have so much control over grand juries that they could convince them to indict a ham sandwich. Evidently, they can also persuade grand juries there’s no such thing as a ham sandwich. Did Dr. Karpen get away with murder? It sure looks like it. As Dr. Kermit Gosnell sits in his Pennsylvania prison cell, does he wish he had moved his clinic to Houston?
Doctor Kermit Gosnell enters prison in Pennsylvania

All that occurred in 2013. Fast forward to January, 2016 and District Attorney Devon Anderson was investigating Planned Parenthood for selling baby parts from its abortion clinics. You’ve all seen or heard about the infamous videos that came out last year, right? Well, “Surprise-surprise!” as Gomer Pyle would say. Ms. Anderson’s grand jury not only absolved Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, it actually indicted the two people who exposed their horrors! They were charged with misdemeanors for “buying” baby parts and a felony for making a fake ID!
Not tough with abortionists though

This is truly a bizarre story. DA Anderson claims to be a pro-life Republican who just applies the law regardless of her personal beliefs. Well, she is a Republican, but is she pro-life? One of the fellow prosecutors she hired is a board member of Planned Parenthood. She got at least $25,000 from Attorney Chip Lewis for her re-election campaign in late 2014 and guess who Chip Lewis represents? None other than butcher abortionist Dr. Karpen! And who are Chip Lewis’s other clients? They include the wealthy accused serial killer Robert Durst, who appears to keep him on retainer to handle his Houston legal troubles while he faces murder charges across the country. Lewis also donated at least $12,000 to Anderson’s late husband, which went to her after his death.
Chip Lewis, Robert Durst, Devon Anderson

What are some of the Houston legal troubles transgender millionaire and accused serial killer Robert Durst has? Well, according to Houston oil and gas executive Don Hooper, Durst was arrested for urinating on some candy a his local CVS store. Chip Lewis handled it and “Devon Anderson’s office reduced the charge to a fine-only class C charge.” Why didn't Anderson hold him and notify officials in two other states who wanted to prosecute him for murder? God knows.
Drag queen gave makeup tips to Durst

The more I looked into this story, the worse it got. I felt soiled and stunned by what I was learning. When Robert Durst was on trial for the murder of Morris Black in 2003, he admitted to dismembering Black’s body and dumping it in Galveston Bay. He claimed Black pulled a gun on him and while he and Black struggled, it went off into Black’s face, but authorities never found Black’s head, so “Prosecutors were unable to present sufficient forensic evidence to dispute Durst's account of the struggle.” Durst was acquitted!
No wonder Republicans are in wholesale rebellion. The failure of “leadership” in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood was the final straw for millions of conservatives. We have a president who vows to shut down the entire federal government if Congress doesn’t give them $550 million. We have a Congress too timid to confront him, and we have a “pro-life” Republican in Houston who not only protects notorious baby killer Doctor Douglas Karpen, she prosecutes those who expose the butchers at Planned Parenthood.
What evidence did Anderson's grand jury see?
We refuse even to look at the evil in our midst and we prosecute those who would force us to look. What have we become? 
Discussion of this begins at 22:00
My local TV show "Left and Right"

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Genuinely Misguided

Interviewing Bernie Sanders as part of a team last month, I felt like I knew him. Back in the early seventies I worked with a cell of four community-organizing followers of Saul Alinsky. Some could be labeled “red diaper babies” — children of Russian-Jewish communists who emigrated to the United States. They wanted to incite revolution in Lowell, Massachusetts where I lived at the time. Bernie isn’t as radical as they were, but he’s close. His ideas, and they way he expresses them, brought them all back.
They wanted a communist revolution, but I didn’t. I was seduced by some leftist ideology, but it was a youthful flirtation. For them it was serious business. They started a community newspaper called “The Communicator” and recruited me to work on it when the City of Lowell wanted to extend a six-lane highway through the neighborhood where I was living. Together we organized the community against the highway and I became an opponent of Paul Tsongas, who was on the Lowell City Council at the time.
We fought City Hall and we won, but after that John Kerry opened his campaign headquarters a half mile from my house when he ran for Congress from Lowell’s Fifth District. His brother recruited me and I accepted. My Alinskyite friends tried to dissuade me because Kerry was a “liberal.” He would work within the system to change things, not bring down the system as Alinsky advocated.
Kerry, Tsongas, Dukakis

Kerry lost that election and went law school school. I went back to school to become a history teacher. Then I moved north to raise my children in a cleaner, more rural environment and here I am. Bernie moved north to Vermont from Brooklyn, New York a bit earlier. I’ve changed, but he hasn’t. I’m a conservative now but he’s still a left-wing socialist.
At the interview, Bernie said our community-organizer president campaigned for him, which makes sense given they’re on the same page politically. Bernie, however, is open about being a socialist while President Obama tries to stay in the closet. With Bernie, what you see is what you get, but not with the president. Obama knew he’d never get elected if he was as open about his intentions as Bernie is. Hillary knows that too. She did her senior thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky.
Bernie would have government take over the entire medical profession with single-payer health care. That was always Obama’s intent, but he pretended it wasn’t. Bernie would take over the entire energy industry as well. That’s Obama’s intention too, but again, he pretends it isn’t. He’s using the EPA to ram through cap-and-trade policies that Congress would not approve. He’d take over the entire fossil fuel sector and he’s begun by shutting down the coal industry.
Bernie is up front about what he believes and what he wants to do. I don’t agree with any of it but I respect his integrity. He’s not devious like the president and that’s part of his charm. My old red-diaper-baby associates in Lowell were open about what they were up to as well and they were even more radical than Bernie is. He doesn’t want to bring the United States down. He wants to turn us into another Sweden.
As I’ve written before in this space, I believe our community organizer president is as radical as my old Alinskyite associates. Obama wants to bring down the system, but he’s sneaky about it. As fellow conservative columnist Mark Steyn suggests: [O]ne way to look at the current ‘leader of the free world’ is this: If he were working for the other side, what exactly would he be doing differently?”
Bernie has spent most of his life in government, and that’s troublesome. The UK’s Guardian, however, says he worked as a carpenter once. That means he worked with his hands with other tradesmen on a job site. That would make him the first president in quite a while who has ever done that. Who was the last? Truman maybe? Coolidge? Lincoln? I don’t think Obama would know which end of a hammer to hold and which end to bang with. Bernie worked on a kibbutz in Israel and would have gotten his hands dirty there too. I like that.
Podcast of my question to Bernie

One thing surprised me during the interview though. I watched him closely while others questioned him and he seldom made eye contact. He’d look at them once, briefly, when they asked their questions, then look at something else or look into space as he answered. I believe it was more out of shyness than disingenuousness. As I said, there was nothing devious about him. He may be misguided, but he’s genuine.

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