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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Books Are Best

Maybe I’m an anachronism, but it still feels different reading words from a screen. Maybe it’s the long years of reading them from a book with bound pages made of paper. There’s an intimacy between me and a book that I just don’t feel with a computer or an iPhone. I’ll spend days studying a book, absorbing all it has to offer. Books on my shelves feel like close friends. Humans have loved books for at more than a millennium, and scrolls before that. Screens are new.
Trinity College, Dublin

I just purchased my first Kindle book, but I only did so because it’s out of print. I searched for a hard copy, but I really want to read it and it’s not available in any other form right now. Though I’ve only read a little, I’m sorry I don’t own it in hard copy. I can’t mark it up by underlining powerful passages with my pen or a highlighter. I won’t be able to close it on my finger and think about a poignant line or paragraph. I cannot turn to the book jacket and look at a picture of its author to help me get a feel for the person who weaved all those words together.
Illustration from Book of Kells

Library books I avoid, especially if they’re non-fiction because I can’t mark up a book that doesn’t belong to me. I may check out a novel because they’re a one-off — read and discard. If it’s a particularly good novel from the library, I’ll look for a used copy on Amazon or at a yard sale after reading it just so I can pass it on to someone. Seldom do I make a mark in a novel. If it’s a great line or paragraph, I will underline or highlight — only as a compliment to the novelist I want to next reader to see. I won’t write in the margin because the work belongs to the novelist. It’s not for me to add or subtract from what he or she has created.
Another

My reading pattern has been non-fiction during the day and a novel at night. A lot of my non-fiction is online in the form of news and commentary. I’m a news junkie and I check various news aggregator sites several times a day. I like reading news online also because the stories are interactive: I can comment on what I read. If I get to a story late and there are more than a couple of dozen comments already, I won’t add mine. Sometimes the comments following a piece are more erudite than the piece itself. At night, however, I prefer to be carried away in another plot from somebody else’s world before sleep takes me.
And another

While I can read a book all day for several days, I can't read from a screen very long. After a few hours, I just want to close the laptop and do something else — something physical, usually, or maybe pick up a book. It just feels like a better way to take in information from a biography or an historical novel.
And another

Some of my closest friends disdain novels because they’re fiction. They’re incapable of suspending disbelief and think fiction a waste of time. Occasionally I’ll plead that a good novel can be more real than non-fiction, that we can know what a character is thinking and feeling in a dramatic situation. The novelist is pouring himself or herself out through a character in ways he or she would never do autobiographically, I claim, but I cannot persuade them.
And another

Though I like reading it, I’ve never tried writing fiction. Perhaps I will someday, but I’ve never gotten the urge. Perhaps someday I’ll be inspired, I don’t know. Another thing: I’ve never read fiction online. I know it exists there, but I don’t choose to access it with an electronic device and I’m not sure why.
And another

Most books have a smell and I like that. Computers do not. New books with shiny paper have their own pleasant smell. The paper mills producing that paper have an unpleasant smell, but that same paper bound up in a book exudes an agreeable fragrance. Go figure. Old books have their own smell too — a kind of musty smell not unlike my late grandmother’s apartment. The musty-smelling books’ authors are probably dead by the time I’m reading their words, but their thoughts live on as they join with mine.
They wouldn't let me take pictures when I saw the actual Book of Kells at Trinity College

Reading from a computer screen, I always have the option of clicking on something else. There’s a certain stress associated with that — the temptation to move on to something that might be more interesting produces a kind of tension. Sometimes we have too may choices here in the 21st century. With a book however, that option isn’t there. I go where the author wants to take me. I can relax and look out the window while he or she does the driving to wherever he or she wants to go.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

President of the World



We Catholics are not supposed to say “Hallelujah!” during Lent, but having just heard some wonderful news I’ll instead exclaim — Hurray for President Obama! According to the web site Real Science, Atlantic seaboard ocean levels have not only stopped rising, they’ve actually fallen! You dear readers out there who pay attention to world events know that this means President Obama has not only fulfilled one of his biggest campaign promises, he has exceeded it! Real Science proclaims that: “Sea level has been falling on the Atlantic seaboard for the past six years.” That’s why he’s dancing the Tango in Argentina. It’s his quiet way of celebrating. I only hope Michelle understands.
We all remember when he was campaigning back in 2008 and he said: “Generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow! This was the moment when our planet began to heal!” But does he toot his own horn now that it’s happening? No way. He started that speech saying: “I face this challenge with profound humility…” See what I mean? Then-Senator Obama was proud of his humility, and he still is as president. You won’t hear him bragging about what a wonderful man he is the way Donald Trump does. Uh-uh. I haven’t heard him say anything about the rise of the ocean not only slowing down — but actually receding! That’s just not who he is. He would never do that, but we know he could if he wanted to. I can’t wait to bounce my grandchildren on my knee and tell them that I was alive at the moment he was elected in November, 2008.
Remember when Muslims killed 129 people in Paris a few months ago? People were saying we need to do something about Radical Muslim terrorism, but not President Obama. No-no. He knew the real problem was climate change and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like the murder of 130 people get in the way of his Climate Change Summit meeting that was scheduled there two weeks after. He does his best not to let Americans be distracted too, but many of them are anyway. Back when he was holding that summit meeting, a poll came out saying that 97% of Americans didn’t even care about climate change, but that didn’t deter Obama. He went ahead because he knows what’s best for us even when we don’t. He’s wicked smart that way and we’re just not. Remember, he went to Harvard. The only reason he won’t release his grades from there is because he’s humble. I’m sure he got straight A’s but he just doesn’t want to brag about it. Conservative right-wingers who claim he only got in there through Affirmative Action because his father was black are just jealous.
He always knew climate change was the biggest problem facing not only Americans, but the whole world. That’s why he doesn’t worry about the $20 trillion debt we’ll have when he leaves office, or about the rise of ISIS in the Middle East or in Europe or in America. He knows ISIS was caused by climate change and has nothing to do with Islam. Right wing whackos claim he doesn’t have the courage to deal with ISIS and suggest that maybe Bruce Jenner would donate his testicles to him. But does President Obama let that bother him? Uh-uh.
Even though one quarter of the entire population of Mexico has moved to the United States, Donald Trump is still promising to build a wall to prevent the rest of them from coming in. President Obama saw all that coming though and subtly urged more to come north all during his presidency. He told the Border Patrol and ICE not to stop them and he’s not sending any back either. By the time Trump is inaugurated, there won’t be any need for a wall because there will be as many Mexicans on this side of the border as there are on the other side and we won’t have any use for a border at all.
With that and all the refugees coming in from the Middle East, we’ll be a truly multicultural country. The only thing left is the dissolution of all national boundaries so a one-world government can rule us all. Obama is still a young man and he’s already angling to become head of the United Nations. I hope he makes it before Lent next year so I can throw the window open and holler Hallelujah! at the top of my lungs.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brussels Has Nothing To Do With Islam

Let’s hope this latest terrorist attack doesn’t distract Belgians and the rest of us from what the real problem is: climate change. President Obama and Secretary Kerry are thoroughly convinced of this as they reminded the whole world right after the Paris attacks a few months ago. President Obama should not cut his Cuban trip short either. He can just hold another press conference there with Raoul Castro using the Che Guevara memorial as a backdrop and remind people that the Brussels attack has nothing to do with Islam. What happened in Brussels is just another incident of workplace violence, or man-caused disaster.
And he shouldn’t go over there to Belgium either. He can send Secretary of State John Kerry again, and, hopefully, Kerry can persuade his friend James Taylor to accompany him and do another rendition of “You’ve Got A Friend.” That should be more than enough. Wait, there he is on television in Havana as I write this. He’s promising the help of the United States to “bring the terrorists to justice.” That should boost Belgian confidence. I mean look, he promised he wouldn’t rest until he brought the Benghazi attackers to justice and it took less than two years to arrest Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the alleged mastermind. At that rate, we should have all of them in custody by, say, 2078 or so.
And President Obama was again careful not to say Islam and terrorism in the same sentence because we know terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. He didn’t mention Islam at all, which is good considering that doing so might threaten the progress of multiculturalism in Europe. There are lots of right-wing whackos in Germany, Denmark, Holland, the UK, and other places who want to stop Muslim refugees from coming into Europe by the millions. Suggesting there might be some connection between the Brussels attack and Islam would only encourage them.
And, more Americans might get worried about Muslim refugees coming into the United States, too, if we connect Islam and terrorism. They might even vote for Donald Trump! People might start to doubt the benefits of diversity and multiculturalism over here too, especially if right-wing whackos in the United States suggest that the Koran exhorts its followers to kill infidels. Those Koranic passages have nothing to do with Islam.
All cultures are equal! Multicultural scholars tell us so over and over and they’re very highly educated, teaching at our best colleges and universities. If Islam insists women are inferior to men and cannot leave their house unless they’re in the company of an adult male relative, that’s fine. If they want to throw homosexuals from tall buildings or drop stone walls on them, that’s their culture and we shouldn’t judge. If Muslim migrants in Europe want to grope hundreds of German women during a New Year’s Eve celebration, it isn’t their fault. They believe it’s okay, so we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. If Swedish women want to go around wearing dresses or tank tops, they should understand that Muslim refugees might not be able to control themselves. We cannot blame Muslim men for raping them. They were raised to think it’s all right, and who are we to say they’re wrong?
At a time like this, we would do well to remember what President Obama’s Army Chief of Staff said after the workplace violence at Fort Hood: “As great a tragedy as this was [shooting of more than 40 soldiers], it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.”

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Don't Blame Trump

I’m with Trump on this one. He’s not my choice for the Republican nominee, but I don’t like what I’m seeing from either the left and the right as both blame him for what happened in Chicago last Friday night.
Cop wounded by "non-violent" Chicago leftists

Assorted young leftists outside the hall where Trump was so speak carried “Bernie” signs and used foul language as they argued with Trump supporters going into the rally. Leftist women angrily shouted “F*** you and your White Male Privilege!” Others wore black and white neck scarves called “keffiyehs” just like the ones Yasser Arafat always wore, and, I assume, to proclaim their solidarity with Palestinian terrorists like him. Still others carried “Black Lives Matter!” signs and all were yelling “Racist!” and “Fascist!” The irony of calling Trump fascist while acting like fascists themselves was evidently lost on them. Remember, the Black Lives Matter movement was created with a $30 million donation from radical left billionaire George Soros in Ferguson, Missouri to further the lie that Michael Brown supposedly put up his hands and said, “Don’t shoot!” to the cop he had just brutalized. They were, of course, dutifully putting up their hands and yelling “Don’t shoot!” at Chicago cops.
Thanks a lot George

Other leftists organizing to disrupt the Trump rally included A.N.S.W.E.R Chicago (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a front for the Communist Party that is too far left even for David Corn of Nation Magazine. Also there was La Raza (The Race), a far-left group that believes our southwestern states rightfully belong to Mexico. Though it calls itself “The Race,” it calls America a racist country. Then there was the far-left Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which advocates for open borders and mass immigration of so-called “refugees” who can go right on welfare upon arrival. Also participating was the Soros-funded Occupy! movement with their Guy Fawkes masks.
As if that were not enough, also present was moveon.org — another Soros-funded group affiliated with Media Matters — the leftist organization which dictates to the mainstream media what stories they should play up and what stories they should ignore. Cameras were rolling while aging domestic terrorist Bill Ayers gave an interview, he being a retired professor of education at the University of Illinois Chicago where the Trump rally was to be held. Ayers tweeted “We shut Trump down! Beautiful gathering of anti racist youth.” Hmm. “Anti Racist”? That’s rich. The rally was cancelled by the Trump campaign after leftists packed the hall inside and threaten to shut it down.
Bill Ayers being interviewed outside Trump rally last weekend

The next night, in Dayton, Ohio, a leftist named Thomas Dimassimo ran over barriers to lunge at Trump from behind while he was on an outdoor podium. Dimassimo grabbed Trump’s leg, before Secret Service guys arrested him. After he was released, Dimassimo said in a CNN puff piece that he wanted to grab Trump’s microphone and take over his podium as that network joined the chorus blaming Trump. CNN neglected to mention how Dimassimo publicly supports black racist terrorist Eric Sheppard who was arrested recently in Tampa after threatening to kill white people.
Dimassimo's friend Eric Sheppard in the middle

The mainstream media uniformly blamed Trump, claiming he condones violence. Although I’ve been a Ted Cruz supporter for the entire campaign, I don’t like that he joined in. I watched the Sunday morning political shows, all of which interviewed Trump and his rivals — and all of them dumped on Trump. I make it a point to watch both “Meet The Press” and “Fox News Sunday” each week so I can get an idea of how the left and right, respectively, are spinning the news. Last Sunday I could see they both used the same playbook. I think Trump held his own under the pressure.
National Council of "The Race" disrupted Trump Rally

Trump supporters don’t disrupt Sanders rallies, but it’s evidently okay for Sanders supporters to disrupt Trump’s. Some people shout questions to Hillary at her rallies about things she has done as First Lady and Secretary of State. They’re escorted from the hall, but there are no mass demonstrations to silence her. That’s what the left does, especially on college campuses. They shout down anyone with a different opinion than the leftist tripe they hear from their professors, and are often encouraged to do so by faculty and administration.
Dimassimo tweets after assaulting Trump

Conservatives like Ben Shapiro and David Horowitz are routinely shouted down from their podiums by “tolerant” leftists. They preach diversity, but only that of sexual orientation or skin color. Diversity of opinion is verboten. Even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was disinvited from giving the commencement address at Rutgers because she isn’t politically-correct  enough to pass muster with the Rutgers faculty.
Leftists inside Trump Rally

As I said, I hope Donald Trump does not become the Republican nominee, but it’s just plain wrong to blame him for what leftist thugs did to him in Chicago last week. They’re much more dangerous than he is.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Getting Our Bearings in Space and Time

Yarmouth, Maine’s Delorme Company closed up shop just last month, but I miss it already. When their mapping software first came out back in the nineties, it helped my students get their bearings in the wider world. A hundred fourteen-year-olds walked in and out of my Fryeburg, Maine classroom every year and my job was to make sure they were grounded in space and time by June. There were US Geological Survey maps of the towns in our school district, maps of Maine, of North America, and of the world all over the walls. Many couldn’t point to where they lived on any of them when we started. With Delorme software, however, we could pull up a map of their individual neighborhood on a computer screen showing streets and water bodies like lakes, ponds, swamps, and streams. We could zoom in or out to any magnification they chose. Each printed out a map on an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper, then used colored pencils to draw in their house and whatever else was important to them.
All their maps had north on top. They could figure out which side of the road their house was on after determining east and west according to where they remembered seeing the sun rise and set. A boy drew a trail through woods behind his house where he rode his four-wheeler and an old pine with his tree fort. A girl drew in her mother’s flower garden then her best friend’s house around the corner. To expand their world view, each student could then zoom out to a wider perspective that brought in more roads and features — onto which they would draw a post office, a store, a school, or whatever else was significant in their lives.
At this point they could superimpose their neighborhood maps onto USGS maps of their towns and see more details of fields, swamps, mountains, as well as other neighborhoods and villages they’d visited. They could trace the route their bus took to and from school. From there, they could find their region on a state map, a national map and a world map, all of which were oriented with north on the top. My classroom maps would be less confusing once they knew their place on them. The globe was the truest representation of the planet on which we live but it was small. I was glad to read that the huge globe called “Eartha” in the Delorme building would be preserved by the new company and remain open to the public.
Delorme's Eartha

Digital imaging technology became affordable at the time and I used it to fix my students in time. They scanned pictures of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents — as far back as they could go, then positioned them on top of a horizontal timeline. Below would go images of important national and international events during their lives like World War II, the Great Depression, World War I, etc. These historical milestones became more immediate and personal when they realized their grandparents were affected and involved. Lives of people they knew and loved were changed, sometimes determining where students themselves were to be born.
My aim was to help them all see how, where, and when they fit into the world — how their place fit into a patchwork of other places, how their families fit with other families in an ever-widening circle of awareness. For some, it worked exactly as intended. For most, it expanded their zone of familiarity somewhat. There were a few each year, however, who seemed determined to limit their circle of awareness and resisted my efforts to widen it.
When discussing current events in class, I’d always pick up my pointer to indicate where on the Maine map, the US map, or the world map the events were taking place. Maps help us organize knowledge, providing a visual framework upon which to arrange new facts and ideas. Their generational timeline provided a temporal framework.
We’re all familiar with GPS technology in our vehicles, but that shows us a limited grid of lines representing roads as we move along them. It’s useful, but it doesn’t provide a wider view of where we are in the larger scheme of things. Something is lost. It’s like wearing a digital watch that tells us the precise time down to the second, but lacks the perspective of older watches showing a 12-hour clock face.
Later in the year I’d assign a project to interview an elderly person, preferably a family member. I’d give them twenty questions and they’d make up at least ten of their own. Often they’d realize how wars can significantly affect even people who don’t fight in them. Many elderly women they questioned spent years in South Portland, Maine shipyards building Liberty Ships for the war effort. Others described dealing with shortages of meat, sugar, and gasoline, or blackout drills to make it harder for enemy bombers to see their targets at night.
South Portland Maine shipyards are all gone now

The New England Shipbuilding Company of South Portland, Maine is gone now, and DeLorme Map Company of Yarmouth, Maine has closed up shop. As William Faulkner said once, however: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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