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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Further Down East



One measure of how Maine has changed would be the ratio of pleasure boats to working boats one sees tied up at docks or drifting on moorings. It’s about ten to one on the southern/western shore from Kittery to Portland, and gradually reversing the further down east you go. In Nova Scotia, it was hard to find a pleasure boat at all, so the trend continues the further east one goes. Crossing another item off our bucket list, we took “The Cat” ferry from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia last Thursday. 
Sunset in The Cat's wake last Thursday

Activity by the sea is all business in Nova Scotia, and one lobsterman likened his job to farming. He said his boat is his tractor and his crop is that red/green crustacean. Weather is a factor and he works all winter, November to May. Sometimes his crop is abundant, sometimes not. Sometimes the price is up. Sometimes it’s down, and it’s all out of his control. Right now, times are good because the price is up and there are lots of lobsters out there.
Transom-less lobster boats

Lobster boats in the province are bigger than what one sees in Maine. They’re wider with no transom. The lobsterman explained that in Maine they tend one trap at a time — hoisting it up, pulling out the lobster(s), re-baiting, and dropping it back down under its buoy. He, on the other hand, strings out his traps — twenty on a line, with a buoy and an anchor on each end. He pulls them up and arranges them on the transom-less back deck, harvesting and re-baiting one at a time, then letting them slide off the rear deck one at a time and getting out of the way as he does so.
Mavillette Beach NS

Land in southwestern Nova Scotia where I explored is not fertile. Hardly anybody lives inland and there are very few roads. There are lots of lakes but few rivers of any size. Yarmouth is at the end of Nova Scotia’s lower peninsula, which runs more east/west than north/south. The map shows a jagged coastline on the south/Atlantic side where I found more fishing villages, and straighter on the north/Bay-of-Fundy side where I found more beaches and some farms. Stunted fir and spruce dominated with few hardwoods, and I saw lots of bog. It’s a lot like mid-20th century downeast Maine.
Mavillette Beach and Cape St. Mary

Ethnically, the population has about the same distribution as Maine — mostly Scots-Irish, lots of Acadian-French, some Irish, some English, some Indian. The lobsterman asked me if I felt at home there. “Yes,” I said. “Why do you ask?” He said he felt at home all across Canada from there to Vancouver, but when he traveled to the states, he didn’t. When I asked why, he was reluctant to answer. “Try,” I said. “Find the words. I won’t be offended.”
Cape St. Mary

In Canada, he said, people think “we” first, and then “I,” but in the states they think “I” before “we.” I pondered that for days and learning more about each town’s history as I traveled around I found clues about why he had that impression. Digby, on the Bay of Fundy side, was established by shiploads of Loyalists fleeing rebellious colonies that became the United States. So was Shelburne on the Atlantic side and British flags proliferated there — I saw more Union Jacks than Maple Leafs. Though ethnicities are the same in Maine and Nova Scotia, personalities differ and I wondered if traits like an independent spirit or a herd instinct are inherited along with blue eyes and brown hair.
Mavillette Beach again

As Senator Obama said in 2008, Americans cling to their guns.  We also maintain a healthy suspicion, even hostility, toward government efforts to restrict them, but that’s not so in Canada. Handguns are forbidden everywhere and long guns are strictly controlled. I got a clue about this on a previous trip when a border guard spotted a box of .22 shells I’d left in the glove compartment. He called others over and they carefully searched my entire truck and its contents, going through every bag and suitcase while I stood around wondering what was the big deal.
Building a dory at Pubnico

A reconstructed Acadian Village Museum in Pubnico, which is the oldest Acadian settlement in Canada still inhabited by descendants of its founding families, was very interesting. It was established in 1653 by Philippe Mius D’Entremont and the entire community had been expelled by the British in the 1750s. Their property was given to New Englanders who moved up and took  over. Acadians were allowed back eleven years later but couldn’t recover their property and had to start over from scratch. Colonel Joseph Frye, who later founded Fryeburg, Maine, was ordered to carry out some Acadian deportations, but I’m not sure if he did so in Pubnico. According to his diary, he did not relish the task.
The Cat delivered us safely back to Maine Monday. It’s nice to go away, and nice to come home as well.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sympathy for Refugees Wearing Thin in Maine

Catholic Charities Maine (CCM) came to St. Joseph’s Parish in Bridgton, Maine last Friday night to talk about refugees and it was spirited. Chief Operating Officer Dean LaChance opened the meeting, but I don’t think he expected the skepticism voiced by many of the more than fifty people present. Quite a few raised their hands to ask penetrating questions before LaChance could get his prepared program going. The previous Sunday’s parish bulletin had announced the meeting:

Why are refugees in Maine? What sort of help do you they get? What would you do if you were faced with the same decisions? “In Their Shoes” is a dynamic workshop that will help you understand the path of a refugee and invite you to walk a moment in their shoes. This program will be presented on Friday evening, Sept 16th, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at St. Joseph Church in Bridgton. “In Their Shoes” will engage you with staff from Catholic Charities Maine Refugee Program to learn about the refugee process, the population currently settled in Maine and the challenges faced by the state’s newest arrivals. All are welcome!

Well, the half-dozen CCM staff who came never got an opportunity to launch “In Their Shoes.” LaChance started easily enough with a brainstorming, word association exercise asking the audience what words came to mind when he said “immigrant.” We got a clue about how the evening would go when someone shouted out “welfare,” which LaChance dutifully wrote on a chalkboard. Someone else said, “hijra(h),” and had to spell it for LaChance. If you google hijra(h), most links say it’s an Indian word for a cross-dresser, but Robert Spencer, a researcher on radical Islam, said it’s an Arab/Muslim word meaning “jihad by emigration.”
CCM's Dean LaChance

The word-association exercise continued and a woman in back shouted out “Adnan Fazeli!” That’s the name of an Iranian Muslim refugee who lived on welfare in Portland and Freeport, Maine before being killed while fighting or ISIS near the Syria/Lebanon border. A month prior, I’d written about him and a Somali Muslim who had also lived in nearby Lewiston, Maine and also died fighting for ISIS. LaChance said Fazeli had first come to Philadelphia. I wondered if he was implying that his agency had not been involved. The Portland Press Herald, however, had reported that Fazeli “came to the Portland area through Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services.” Fazeli also worked for CCM as a translator.
A man claiming to be a member of a local school board protested that schools incur enormous costs to provide ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers for refugee children. He soon got rambunctious and interrupted several times as LaChance, always polite, tried to recover control of the meeting. When several in the audience got annoyed with the man, he left. Others offering skeptical comments did so respectfully and LaChance seemed like a nice guy who believed his agency was doing important work. He said CCM’s refugee efforts fulfilled a social justice mission of the Catholic Church, citing Matthew: 25. Then he cued a woman to begin a powerpoint presentation.
In it, young girls speaking Kurdish with English subtitles described arduous day-to-day life in a refugee camp somewhere in the Middle East. LaChance said all refugees Catholic Charities brings to Maine are closely vetted by multiple US Government agencies and screened for health issues. Some in the audience, however, questioned how that could be done in war zones or in failed states. LaChance said refugees reported being raped and seeing family members killed. A woman in the audience suggested they could be lying to get into the US. LaChance shrugged.
CCM's Tarlan Ahmadov

I asked about a document required by the State Department of agencies like CCM called a “Reception and Placement Abstract.” LaChance said CCM files them and I asked if I could have a copy. The R&P Abstract outlines how many refugees would be coming to Maine each year and where they would be placed. First he said I could get one from the state, then said CCM would give me one. I’d heard concerns that Bridgton was a possible destination, so I asked if the R&P Abstract included any places in Maine other than Portland and Lewiston. LaChance looked to Tarlan Ahmadov, CCM program director for refugee services, who said, emphatically, “No.”
Types of female genital mutilation
Another woman in the audience said she had worked in the Portland, Maine school system where Somali refugee girls told her they were being taken to Boston for female genital mutilation. LaChance and Ahmadov acknowledged that and also other mistreatment of females by Muslim men. They said CCM was a mandatory reporter and they often warned male refugees they could be arrested for beating wives or daughters.
Somali refugees in Lewiston convicted of welfare fraud

I came away from Friday’s meeting thinking that if little Bridgton, Maine is any indication, there’s more grassroots opposition to Muslim immigration out there than people think -- and it’s likely to manifest on the ballot November 8th.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, September 12, 2016

Life In The Basket Of Deplorables


How many times have I been called a racist? Dozens at least, perhaps hundreds. How about homophobic? Yup, about as many. Islamophobic? Check. Misogynist? Check. Xenophobic? Got it. Let’s see, what’s left? How about bigot? Yeah, that too — all of which puts me right in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables.” I also qualify as one of President Obama’s “bitter clingers” and as a member of that other group Hillary doesn’t like: the so-called “alt-right.” I didn’t know what alt-right was when she said it a few weeks ago but I looked it up and yes, I qualify.
The first time I remember being called racist in print was twenty years ago after I wrote a column supporting the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), otherwise known as Proposition 209. It was a referendum question, which read:

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The “racist” accusations — and there were three as I recall — were in letters to both papers carrying the column, and they bothered me. I knew there was no basis, but they made me feel bad because racism is an ugly thing and I didn’t want any association with it. I’d been putting my opinions out there for three or four years by that time and I had gotten plenty of flak, but not that kind. Heck, I was writing against racial discrimination. How could that be racist?
Leftist poster from the anti-209 campaign in 1996

Proposition 209 would have made so-called Affirmative Action programs illegal because they give preference to blacks and hispanics over Asians and whites in college admissions, when hiring for teachers, police, firemen, and so forth. That’s racial discrimination, of course, but it’s the kind approved by the left — and leftists attack anyone who points that out. Since they cannot argue using facts, all they have is name-calling. They’ve flung the racist charge so often for so long, it has become a reflex. Columnist Mark Steyn calls it “Democrat Tourette’s Syndrome.” When I realized that, the “racist” charge didn’t phase me anymore. It’s continued use became an indication that I was scoring points against the left.

Though I’ve been a Christian all my life, I’ve always had difficulty with the turn-the-other-cheek thing. My natural tendency when somebody strikes me on either cheek is to strike back at both their cheeks harder and more often — and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. Such was my inclination when letter-writers insulted me with false charges of “racism.” I didn’t strike back though, neither physically nor in writing. I remembered the advice an editor at the Lewiston Sun-Journal gave me years ago: “Don’t respond,” he said. “Most readers will have read both your piece and the letter. Trust them to make up their own minds about who is right or wrong.”
It was good advice and someone should have given it to Maine Governor Paul LePage. He was enraged after a leftist legislator suggested he was racist. Lepage called him and left an obscenity-laced voicemail which the legislator sent to the media. That was dumb — very dumb. It’s one thing to feel like striking back but quite another do actually do it. LePage gave his enemies a club with which they will beat him as long as he’s in office.
Accuser and accused

I voted for LePage twice and I don’t regret it given the choices I had. I intend to vote for Trump too, even though I would have preferred any of the other Republicans who opposed him in the primaries. Against Hillary though? I have to vote for him and I will, but I wouldn’t call myself a “Trump supporter.”
So, even though I don’t support Trump, I still belong in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables.” Here are my bona fides:
I see abortion — the dismembering of babies in their mothers’ wombs — as barbaric, so I’m against “women’s health” and therefore women too according to Democrats who consider pregnancy a disease. So, I’m hopelessly “misogynist.”
I oppose importing tens of thousands of unvetted immigrants from Muslim-terrorist-dominated countries, therefore I’m both “Islamophobic” (unreasonable fear of Islam) and “xenophobic” (unreasonable fear of foreigners).

I consider it unnatural for two women or two men to “marry,” Therefore I’m “homophobic.”
I cling to both my guns and my religion, so I’m a “bitter clinger.”

I believe western civilization superior to other civilizations before or since, and prefer the melting pot model to multiculturalism. Evidently that makes me “alt-right."
I’m a heterosexual white guy who doesn’t believe there’s any such thing as “white privilege.”
All this qualifies me for inclusion in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” and I move for summary judgement.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Quest For Fire

One can scarcely drive a mile in Maine without seeing little bundles of firewood wrapped in cellophane or tied by twine for sale beside the road— $3 each or two for $5. Sitting by a crackling fire is something tourists visiting the north country like to do. Kids will find sticks and roast marshmallows. If it’s dark, people may tell ghost stories. Lovers hold hands. Children snuggle with parents and older siblings. People tend to talk and listen better around a fire. They’re more intimate in that setting than almost any other and don’t tend to take out their cell phones either.
Campers might cook over a wood fire either by roasting something on a spit or frying after it burns down to coals. Cooking and eating lend another dimension of intimacy to the fireside experience. Few, if any, of us grew up cooking over an open fire except at cook-outs or when camping, but many of our ancestors prepared meals with a wood-fired cook stove little more than a century ago. Before cook stoves they used a fireplace equipped with a swinging iron arm upon which to hang a cooking pot. Next to that was a brick oven. few of us alive today in America grew up that way but many of us still prefer smoked foods like meat, fish, nuts, or even beer made with hops that were smoked. Where does that come from? Some primitive collective unconscious perhaps? If we go far enough back in our family tree, all our ancestors cooked over an open fire.
Soon it will be cool enough that we will light a fire in the fireplace, and we’ll do that the first few cold days before turning on the central heat. I’ve already begun wearing long pants some days and taking a fleece with me in the car when I go out, just in case. September is like that and I’ll put my shorts away for good sometime in October.
Not long ago that I spent Sundays in October and November laying in the firewood I had cut during summer. For more than twenty years, I worked it up from stump to stove to ash pile. I didn’t think much about how much energy that took, but now it makes me tired just to remember. Looking out over my back field, I recall cutting seven or eight cords each year and twitching it up with an old tractor as I opened a view to the western mountains. Now I can feed my fireplace with just the trees and limbs that blow down each year. I don’t miss all the work wood heat entailed I’ll always enjoy a fire.
I grew up in suburban Boston with oil, forced-hot-water heat. It came on automatically and kept the house at an even temperature. I don’t remember hearing the boiler kick on and the only thing I noticed was a kind of crackling sound the copper pipes and baseboards would make as hot water moved through them. My father paid the oil bill and I never had to think about it. I can’t even remember how my first apartment was heated because it was included in the rent and I didn’t have to think about that either. Then my wife and I moved into an older apartment heated by a natural-gas-fired stove. The farther we were from that stove the colder we felt. We paid for the fuel too and that’s when it really intruded into my consciousness.
When we moved our young family to Maine in the seventies we had to pinch pennies. Fuel prices were way up back then so we heated with wood. Keeping enough on hand was my responsibility and I had to be conscious of it year-round. It’s only been eighteen years or so since we became prosperous enough to rely on the oil furnace to stay warm and the kids are grown up with families of their own now. Two of them heat with wood, and I notice that all three have a fire pit in the back yard.
We humans have a primitive fascination with fire. When we want to set a mood, we don’t turn on a light; we light a candle. We know fire is a powerful thing that can keep us from freezing to death in these northern climes, but we also know it can kill us. As New England endures another prolonged drought, older citizens remember fires that wiped out whole towns here in Maine. 
Brownfield, Maine Fire, 1947. (Photo Jo Radner)

We’ve all been warmed and we’ve all been burned, and we learn not to play with fire. Used respectfully though, it enriches us.

Labels: , , ,