Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chicken Little Lives

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. As I learn new things, I’m aware of how ignorant I am. After more than thirty years of teaching, I find myself qualifying what I claim to be true with phrases like, “The best analysis indicates . . .” or “We don’t know for sure, but we think . . .” I believe there is an objective reality out there, but the brightest among us perceive it imperfectly at best. As a history teacher, I know how much disagreement exists about past events - even those to which we were eyewitnesses. As my wife often points out, I’m not always aware of what’s happening around me in the present. As for the future, we can know very little beyond what Little Orphan Annie told us: “The sun will come up tomorrow.” Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Thus, I’m acutely aware when Chicken Littles like our former vice president (and almost president) tell me the sky is falling and we must run and tell the king. We’re seldom able to predict the weather accurately beyond three or four days, yet Mr. Gore claims an ability to predict it decades and centuries into the future. That would be okay, except that he wants to institute some drastic changes that would affect what I do every day and people who think like him have taken control of Congress. They think humans can reverse climate change by limiting carbon emissions. What hubris.

As a history-loving boy, I was fascinated by pre-Columbian discoveries of America, especially those close to my region of the continent. I read about Vikings going to and from Greenland and veering off course. A thousand years ago, Greenland was able to sustain a colony of 1500 people agriculturally, something that wouldn’t be possible today. Off-course Vikings described coastlines encountered with great detail and their descriptions were recorded in “Icelandic sagas” subsequent to their wanderings. Historians in Iceland tried to match Viking descriptions with existing coastlines of eastern Canada and New England, looking for places described as, for instance, “a broad, shallow bay bordered by a spit of land on the southwest,” and so forth, but without success.

However, when they considered the coastlines with a rise in sea level, as would have been the case a thousand years ago in what climatologists called at the time a “little climatic optimum” or what today is called the “medieval warming period,” historians discovered that what had been described as a broad, shallow bay would today be a salt marsh. With such modifications they noticed striking similarities between Viking coastal descriptions and what’s visible today. Some of the studies I’ve seen purposely overlook this warming period in charts that show temperatures over millennia. They make dire predictions of flooded cities, droughts and hurricanes with data that describe conditions which seem no more worrisome than those prevalent a thousand years ago.

Clearly, Mr. Gore wants attention. It must be hard to have lost the White House after winning the popular vote and see the guy who beat you in the spotlight endlessly. I seldom think of Al Gore inventing the internet when I go on line every day, but I do think of him after I flush my toilet. Thanks to his support of the National Energy Policy Act, toilets manufactured after 1994 must have a maximum capacity of 1.6 gallons of flushing power. I bought my toilets in 1987, but I’ve replaced the flush valve and ball cock in the one I use most and now it doesn’t flush very well. There’s something still floating around afterward because Gore’s 1.6 gallons don’t get rid of everything. It’s that brown-stained toilet paper or that little piece of turd that remind me of the former vice president. Gore thinks I need government to tell me how much of my own water I’m allowed to use to flush my own toilet.

He warned us we were running out of water and now he’s doing his Chicken Little act about carbon emissions. He’s pumping up Turkey Lurkey environmentalists who claim a lawn mower running for an hour on Saturday pollutes the atmosphere as much as an automobile on a 100 mile drive. So, in 2007 we’ll have emission standards for lawn mowers. What’s next? An inspection sticker for my snowblower? My weed whacker? My chainsaw?

As I get less certain about what the future holds, Gore gets more certain. He knows what’s best for me and for everybody else in the world whether we like it or not.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Interview with Captain Charlie Benbow USMC

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a soldier working for CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida. He found my blog and asked if I’d be willing to interview a soldier with experience in the Middle East and post it. I said, “Of course,” and submitted fifteen questions. The other day, I got the answers posted below. It was my pleasure to exchange words with Marine Captain Charlie Benbow, Firepower Control Team Leader, 2nd Air / Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, II Marine Expeditionary Unit. He’s a veteran of four deployments in and around Afghanistan and Iraq. Right now, he’s stationed in Camp Lejuene, North Carolina.

Hi Captain,
As you probably know, I got your name from Spc. Chris Erickson in Tampa. I’d like to first thank you for your service to our country - which seems to be more than most, based on what Chris told me. My questions are:

What does a Firepower Control Team Leader do? Coordinate airstrikes? Artillery from ships?

Captain Benbow:
“The Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) mission is to plan, coordinate, and conduct terminal control of fires in support of allied and coalition forces. By fires, we mean the entire spectrum of fire support, from close air support to artillery and naval gunfire. The Firepower Control Team (FCT) is where the rubber meets the road in ANGLICO. We walk the ground with those allied forces (in this case, Iraqi Army) and provide access to Coalition fire support, mostly U.S. air support and artillery, for the supported unit. I am also a qualified Joint Terminal Attack Controller, which means that I am qualified to control aircraft engaged in close air support. My primary role on the last deployment was to control aircraft in support of an Iraqi Army battalion near Habbaniyah.”

How long were your tours in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Captain Benbow:
“My first tour in Iraq lasted for six months, but only two of those were actually in Iraq. We spent a month and a half in transit to Kuwait aboard amphibious shipping, then another month in Kuwait during the buildup to the invasion, and finally another month and a half in transit back to the U.S. My tour in Afghanistan lasted for six months. My third deployment was as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), that one lasted for six months as well. I did not actually set foot in Iraq on that deployment; we trained in Kuwait, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Djibouti, but only sent a partial detachment into southeastern Iraq to work underneath a British task force. My last deployment only lasted for four and a half months, all of it spent in Al Anbar province.”

How old are you?

Captain Benbow:

Do you have a family? If so, how have they dealt with your deployments?

Captain Benbow:
“I am not married, yet. My immediate family (parents, brother, and sister) had a difficult time with the first deployment, particularly when my battalion was involved in the Battle of An Nasiriyah. The second deployment was much easier for them, as they initially had an impression that Afghanistan would be safer. Ironically I was wounded less than a month into that deployment, after coming through the invasion of Iraq without a scratch or even a close call. On the last deployment, they were a bit more anxious since I was going into the heart of Al Anbar province to work with the Iraqi Army. Also, for the first time I had a serious girlfriend. She knew early on in our relationship that I was expecting to leave for Iraq just two months after we met, but dealt with it fairly well. She had a couple of rough spots, like one night after visiting with some friends in Richmond, VA. My friend returned from Hadithah, Iraq about the same time that I got back from the MEU deployment, and when I told him that I would be working with the Iraqi Army, he cringed. Although she didn’t tell me until much later, his reaction deeply troubled Stephanie. However, she was very supportive, and my family was very supportive of her throughout.”

How long is a deployment?

Captain Benbow:
“Most of my deployments have been 6 months, but the typical rotation for a Marine unit in Iraq is 7 months. I will be returning to Iraq in the fall for the full 7 months.”

Having volunteered for four tours, you have a long view of America’s response to the terrorists who attacked us. Were you commander-in-chief, how would you handle things now?

Captain Benbow:
“Tough question, and I’m hesitant to go ‘outside of my lane,’ but here goes nothing. Iraq is obviously the center of gravity in the current War on Terrorism (on an aside, a great quote I heard from a professor from Sandhurst: 'Never declare war on an abstract noun.'), so it is where we need to focus our efforts on defeating the Islamic extremists. Al Qaeda and their associated movements apparently see Iraq as a center of gravity as well, as they have devoted extensive resources to fighting our troops there. I would direct the military to focus efforts on supporting the Iraqi Army with training and fire support. More boots on the ground is crucial, but we have reached the point where drastic increases in U.S. troop strength are nearly unsupportable. The most effective means would be continuing to increase the number of Iraqi troops and provide them with the necessary support to establish footholds in and around the major population centers. On a global level, keep the pressure on international terrorist organizations through the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

How is the morale of the Marines you serve with? Do they feel the support of their country?

Captain Benbow:
“The morale is very high, but the Marines are starting to wonder what the changes in Congress and the Secretary of Defense will mean for the war effort. Most of us feel the support of the average American, but are very skeptical of the media and the political leadership. There is almost a sense that the latter two are working against us.”

When so many say, “We oppose the war, but we support the troops,” how does that make you feel?

Captain Benbow:
“I think it’s a superficial gesture, designed to make the so-called supporter feel better about themselves. If you really support us, just let us win this damned thing. Whether you agreed with President Bush’s justifications in 2003 or not, we are committed to this war and we need to win it. Congress has passed several bills that support the troops, yet many of them are calling for withdrawal. Again, if they really supported us they would give us what we need to win the war, and accept nothing less than victory. Instead, many of them want to forsake the sacrifice of our dead comrades and withdraw without finishing what we started.”

Why did you become a marine?

Captain Benbow:
“Originally because I wanted to fly fighter jets. I changed my mind a little over halfway through college and decided that I wanted to lead Marines on the ground. I’ve stuck around because I truly enjoy being around the guys I serve with.

What do you think of the Iraq Study Group report?

Captain Benbow:
“I have not read the report yet, I have only heard discussions on TV and read more discussions in the blogosphere. However, my impression so far is that it is worthless, as they apparently discarded the advice they got from their military advisors. I do think it makes some good recommendations with respect to the military advisor teams in Iraq, but the overall strategy (majority of combat brigades out by 2008) is inherently flawed. It is not a strategy for victory, it is a strategy for capitulation and submission.”

Do your fellow soldiers discuss the report? If so, is there a consensus about it?

Captain Benbow:
“There has been some discussion at work, but most of the opinions reflect what I wrote above. Mostly, we are just watching and waiting to see what the Democratic Congress will do.”

How would you define victory in Iraq?

Captain Benbow:
“When the Iraqis have a stable, functioning government and military that can operate without a large U.S. presence to back them up. They do not currently have that.”

Is this war like any others America has waged? If so, which ones?

Captain Benbow:
“There are similarities with many of the wars in our history, but none so closely that they can be used as a model for strategy or tactics in Iraq. The parallel with Vietnam that most concerns me is the erosion of our national will to continue this war. We are continuing to validate the strategy of engaging us with protracted, low-intensity conflict.”

What do you think about talk of renewing the draft?

Captain Benbow:
“Complete and utter nonsense. Why force us to accept people who do not want to do this job? The drivel about lower economic classes being overrepresented is just that, when you take a look at actual combat forces the socioeconomic breakdown is very similar to civilian society. There are quite a few children of the middle and upper classes that join the military looking for adventure, and when they do they typically sign up for combat arms.”

What can ordinary citizens like me do to help guys like you?

Captain Benbow:
“Convince your elected representatives that you will not accept anything less than victory in Iraq, and do not allow the politicians to redefine victory into some sort of easy exit strategy. Care packages are great too, but what I really want for Christmas is for Americans to wake up and realized that we are committed to this war and can not afford to quit now.”

Clearly, we’re fortunate to have such brave, intelligent young men in our armed forces. People like Charlie Benbow give the lie to Senator Kerry’s remarks about those who don’t do well in school being “stuck in Iraq,” or Congressmen Rangel’s about poor Americans in the military because it’s their only choice. These men make me proud to be an American.

Time To Be Trampled?

They struck us September 11th because they sensed we were weak. Maybe they were right. “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse,” said their leader, “they will like the strong horse.” He wasn’t referring to the United States as the strong horse. He was referring to Radical Islamists like himself who dared attack us because we were a “paper tiger,” a country with a powerful military, but without strong enough belief in itself to sustain a fight. Maybe they were right. Perhaps they know us better than we know ourselves.

They watched as “progressives” among us rooted religion out of our culture while the rest of us stood around and allowed it. Radical Islam’s aim was to impose their religion on every person in the world or kill them. They listened as our university professors blamed the evils of the world on Western Civilization and that was one thing Radical Islamists agreed with. They watched and listened as our intellectual and media elites bewailed selected victim groups among us and they learned that if they portrayed themselves as victims, they would get sympathetic coverage in our media.

It’s enlightening to look at ourselves as our enemies see us. They’ve observed us as we blame capitalist, white-guy leaders of Western Civilization - not only for the miseries of victim groups in the US and the Third World - but also for destroying the planet itself with pollution, extinction and global warming.

As our liberal leaders in universities and the courts do all this - purge religion from the public square, lament the miseries of victim groups, and condemn the depredations of capitalist warmongers - they overlook glaring contradictions in their own rhetoric. What about the old idea that we were created by God to have dominion over the earth? No, they say. Only fundamentalist simpletons believe that. We evolved just as any other species in nature did, and we’re no more special than they are. But if it’s true that we’re just another ordinary part of nature, why do we blame ourselves for killing trees or wiping out passenger pigeons? Wouldn’t that be nature acting through us? Beavers are part of nature when they flood an area and kill off trees, right? Aren’t we being our natural selves when we cut down mahogany trees in the rain forest? If a threatened species can’t make it, shouldn’t it disappear to make way for more adaptive species? That’s what Darwin taught us, isn’t it?

The guy we nearly elected president six years ago travels our country preaching “The End Is Near” in the form of an impending global-warming catastrophe. Some of us listen and ask ourselves: Who caused the global warming that melted glaciers of the last ice age ten thousand years ago? Was it those evil cave men making their campfires too big? And what about the first three ice ages when evil white guys hadn’t evolved yet? Who caused the global warming back then?

Though 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct, whichever ones disappear while we’re around must be our fault. If we look deeply enough, we’re sure we’ll discover that Dick Cheney and Halliburton were somehow involved but have covered it up.

It’s pretty obvious we have forgotten who we are and what we’re about. We don’t know where we came from and we don’t know where we’re going. Meanwhile millions or Radical Jihadists around the world are willing to die to kill us. They’ve declared war and attacked us in the most dramatic fashion - and we don’t seem to realize what’s going on. They gather by the thousands chanting “Death To America!” and “Death To Israel!” They’ve infiltrated Europe, Canada and the United States. They’re blowing themselves up to kill us and plotting to do it on a bigger scale with nuclear weapons.

How do we respond? Do we concentrate on defeating them and saving our civilization? No. We look in the mirror and wring our hands. “Why do they hate us?” we ask. “It must be something we’ve done!” Instead of figuring out how to defeat them, we’re worried we might discriminate against them.

They call us the Great Satan. Their goal is to convert us to Islam or kill us. Meanwhile, what’s our goal? It looks like we’re trying to figure out a way to surrender without it looking like surrender. It looks like our enemies know us well. We can’t sustain a fight. We wimped out in Iran in 1980. We pulled out of Lebanon in ’83 and Somalia in ’93. Now we’re getting ready to pull out of Iraq. The country that defeated fascism and communism in the last century hasn’t got what it takes any more.

As Martin Luther King said, “If a man has nothing he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Maybe it’s time to lay down and let the strong horse trample us.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Last Month

Things freeze deeply in December. The earth hardens. This last month of the year has a sharp smell - not unpleasant, just not soft like organic smells that travel on a medium of warm, moist air in seasons just passed. Warm-blooded creatures know profoundly that we’re vulnerable to northern elements in winter and must take precautions to survive. When we venture out, that knowledge makes us keener. If we’re incautious we freeze, perhaps to death. When we brave the cold in New England, it gives us a certain state of mind. We’re vigilant when we’re outside. When we’re dressed right, with the proper socks, boots, gloves, and jacket, we’re confident, secure. It’s the security we feel indoors when the stove is burning and we know the woodshed is full.

There’s little light this month when the shortest day of the whole year comes three weeks in, but what light there is reaches us through bare hardwoods and reflects off smooth-barked trees like beeches, birches and some maples. When snow comes, the angle of the sun is so low, the white surface reflects bright beams right into our eyes whenever we look south. But even the glare feels good. There may be little duration to December sun but we’re very aware of it at more than a conscious level. We know why the ancients marked winter solstice, building elaborate stone monuments to pinpoint and mark it. It’s a northern thing.

December is quiet, but the slightest sound can carry a good distance. Cold things move sluggishly. Some animals go down underground and curl up on themselves in hibernation and dream the dreams of their species in that dormant state. Others burrow around under the snow looking for seeds, and still others prowl above the snow listening for that burrowing sound to pounce on and eat whatever is stirring. Coyotes below Christian Hill seem to howl more in December. Was it the full moon recently passed? Have they done it every year but I was too sleepy to awaken? When I hear their high-pitched yipping, I picture a pack of them chasing deer wounded during the just-ended hunting season. Or, perhaps it’s just the coyotes’ nature to howl at night - announcing to all that they exist, that they’re making their way in the world just as the rest of us struggle to, each in our own realm.

Though it hasn’t yet, the thermometer can really plummet this month. The coldest temperature I ever witnessed occurred early during week one of my first December in Maine. My third daughter was born December 2nd and I returned alone from the hospital while my other children stayed with in-laws. Before my eyes opened the next morning, I smelled cold. The stove had nearly gone out, but there were a few tiny embers left to get it going again. I refilled it, got it cranking, and tried to turn on the faucet in the old dogleg tub for a bath, but nothing happened. I got dressed and went out to warm up the car but it wouldn’t turn over. The thermometer read almost forty below zero. I’ve never seen it that cold since but it was good basic training for this newcomer to Maine’s winter.

The lakes and ponds ice over this month. Lazy loons will linger while open water remains, but they have to vacate in December. When the entire surface freeze over and it gets really cold, loon cries are replaced by the echoing booms of thickening ice. I have childhood memories of skating around ice fishermen as a red would flag go up and, hand-over-hand, a fisherman would pull up a struggling pickerel or eel that had its own life way down beneath the cold, thick ice I was standing on. How different those cold-blooded creatures were from us mammals on the surface in our thick clothing and boots. If we assumed their temperature, we’d be dead, as each of our bodies would be sooner or later, cold and lying horizontal beneath the hard ground when our struggles were over. Another part of us, however, would transcend it all and abide somewhere else.

That’s why Christians chose to celebrate the birth of Christ at the end of this cold, dark month, I think. That birth gave hope to us creatures His Father created in His image and likeness - the hope that we could indeed win our great struggle in the end. In that Spirit, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Who Are Those Guys?

News that six Sunnis were doused with kerosene and burned alive sickened me before I learned from conservative bloggers that it probably didn’t happen. There’s no evidence and only one questionable source. The Associated Press stands by its story, but given what’s becoming commonplace in mainstream wire services, I would bet a week’s pay it’s false.

The AP claims its source is “Captain Jamil Hussein” of the Baghdad Police and they’ve published several stories since last April based his information alone, each an alleged incident of Shiite violence against Sunnis. Trouble is, nobody but the AP seems to know who this guy is. The Baghdad Police don’t. The US government doesn’t. The Iraqi government doesn’t. Does the Associated Press itself know? Conservative bloggers have challenged the AP to produce him, but so far nobody’s been able to actually see “Captain Jamil Hussein.” The mainstream media - big-city broadsheets, network news and big weekly newsmagazines - are ignoring the story or suggesting that it’s “agenda-driven” by the “right-wing blogosphere.” What could bloggers possibly know? They don’t attend cocktail parties with Katy or Matt so why should anyone take them seriously? CENTCOM has officially asked the AP for a retraction.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about two Lebanese ambulances allegedly rocketed by Israeli warplanes. That probably didn’t happen either. The story was initially released by the Lebanese Red Cross, then spread by the Associated Press. After more than four months, the AP still hasn’t admitted its mistake, if it was a mistake. I’m beginning to have doubts about that. I suspect the AP knows its stringers come from the other side.

Why doesn’t the AP just produce “Captain Jamil Hussein” and let him be vetted? That would clear it all up, wouldn’t it? Maybe it’s afraid of scrutiny since one of its cameramen - a man named Bilal Hussein - was arrested by the US military inside an Al Qaeda bomb factory a few months ago. Old Bilal was producing remarkable photos he couldn’t possibly get without very close access to Al Qaeda terrorists. He took close-ups of “insurgents” firing rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, presumably at American soldiers, and also took staged shots of terrorists standing over the just-executed body of kidnapped Italian hostage Salvatore Santoro. When old Bilal was finally arrested in that IED factory, he had bomb residue on his hands. The AP is indignantly trying to get him released, even using Democrat Congresswoman Louise Slaughter to carry AP water on the floor of the US House.

When I say I have my doubts that all these shoddy AP stories are mistakes, am I implying that the Associated Press intentionally publishes enemy propaganda? That would be a serious charge. Al Qaeda’s former head guy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (he’s in Paradise with his virgins now thanks to the US Air Force), said his number-one goal was to foment civil war between Sunnis and the Shiite majority as the best way to destabilize Iraq and force Americans out. Considering we’re at war, do AP stories and photos “provide aid and comfort to the enemy”? That would be treason, wouldn’t it?

Over the weekend of November 25-27, NBC’s Matt Lauer decided to start calling the Iraq theater of our war against Islamofascism a “civil war” and cited the “six Sunnis burned alive” story as a tipping point in his decision. Soon, other media followed his lead. On Monday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan did too. Is the “burned-alive Sunnis” story true? Very doubtful. Is it influential? Most assuredly. Is that a problem? You bet it is.

As columnist and author Michael Novak wrote in “National Review Online” two weeks ago: “Today, the purpose of war is sharply political, not military; psychological, not physical. The main purpose of war is to dominate the way the enemy imagines and thinks about the war. Warfare is not, these days, won on a grand field of battle. Nor is it won by the force that wins series after series of military victories. Nor is triumph assured by killing far higher numbers of the enemy. The physical side of warfare no longer holds precedence. The primary battlefield today lies in the minds of opposing publics.”

Our military has made mistakes. So has our Commander-in-Chief. So has every military and every commander in every war ever fought in the history of the world. The biggest problem we face is that our mainstream media, which is more powerful that it’s ever been, focuses on nothing but the mistakes as if they want us to lose. When not doing that, they’re illegally publishing classified information that hurts us and helps our enemies. Thanks to our media, America is losing on the most important front - the propaganda war. Our enemy couldn’t possible beat us on the battlefield, but they’re beating us in our own media with the willing assistance of the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, NBC News, etc. If Novak is right that “The primary battlefield today lies in the minds of opposing publics,” and I believe he is, we have to ask ourselves: Is our mainstream media trying to persuade our public mind that we’re losing? I strongly suspect they are, and that’s the great tragedy.

Americans must demand the Associated Press produce “Captain Jamil Hussein” and let the vetting begin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Trees and Children

For a few hours over the long Thanksgiving weekend I visited the neighborhood where I grew up in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Strangers live in the house I was raised in and I watched from down the street as a new Volvo pulled up. Very slowly, a gray-haired man got out of the passenger side. Every movement seemed painful and his wife came around to assist until he was steady on his feet. Then she went into the back seat and loaded up with pies, evidently their contributions to dinner with their children and, presumably, grandchildren. Well, I thought: same traditions - different family.

The house didn’t look like I remembered it and neither did the rest of the neighborhood. Of thirty houses on the street, only two had familiar names on the mailboxes out front. The field where I played baseball every summer day was covered with houses and trees even taller. The sand pit at the end of my street was forested over, as was the football field. Where I used to throw the long bomb as a young quarterback, there were trees twenty feet high or more. A lot of time had passed since my boyhood.

There were no children on the street at all. I repeat: no children. When the McLaughlin family moved in fifty years ago with six (and two more still to come), the street was crawling with kids. On a Thanksgiving Day forty years ago, a car would have to wait as boys interrupted their tag football game, and reluctantly but respectfully moved to both sides of the road to let it pass. There would be waves all around because every driver knew every kid by his first name. There would have been smaller kids on bicycles just off the pavement. Some would have had training wheels bolted to each side of the back wheel and each of those younger ones would be closely watched by an older sibling hovering close by. I saw no dogs either. Evidently, leash laws were being enforced, though they never were when I lived there. Dogs used to roam freely and each knew by scent, sight and sound who lived in the neighborhood and who didn’t.

Aside from the old couple going into what had been the McLaughlin house at 25 Euclid Road, I saw not a living soul. Little was left of the neighborhood I remembered. Little was left of the American culture of the 1950s and early 60s either. The addresses were the same, but the way of life was fundamentally different.

What used to be the Oblate Novitiate up the street is now the Oblate Infirmary and Patient Residence. There were no young men there studying for the priesthood anymore, just old priests waiting to die and be buried in the old cemetery behind. I drove around the grounds and peeked in the windows at white-haired old men, many in wheelchairs, eating Thanksgiving dinner in the cafeteria. One of my earliest memories was of the older Novitiate - a multistory brick building - burning to the ground one evening. The next year, the Oblates rebuilt a low, sprawling replacement building on the site because, in the late fifties, enough young men still wanted to be priests. Now, though there are plenty on other continents who want to be priests, few in North America (or Europe) do anymore.

I drove back to Lovell on Friday and it was a beautiful day. I got out the four-wheeler and explored near Shave Hill where I used to hunt nearly thirty years ago. It had been logged over a couple of times, and a half dozen homes had been built in the vicinity. I was looking for a gravel pit that was still active back then, but I had a hard time finding it. It had grown over with birch and poplar fifteen feet high and thick enough that I didn’t see it until I was right on top of it. Again I was reminded how much time had passed, even when I hadn’t been paying attention.

I recalled a day about twenty-five years ago driving through the middle of Lovell with an old man. He pointed to a pine grove across from the golf course and told me he used to gather hay there when he was a boy. I was a young man then and I was amazed at how much things could change in one man’s lifetime. Since then, that pine grove has been logged hard, twice. Now, young trees are growing up again.

Forests rejuvenate in well-understood, predictable ways. You don’t have to tell a tree how to be a tree. Humans, however, are more complicated and not nearly as predictable. It troubles me that new humans were absent in my old neighborhood where they used to be everywhere. New trees are growing where they should, but humans are not.

It’s not a good sign. Something’s wrong.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Guide For Killing Christians

Veterans of various Middle East conflicts have advised us not to go to Israel this spring, but I’m holding out. After all, there have been conflicts there throughout recorded history. “A group of Americans traveling on a bus in the West Bank would be a tempting target,” said a Navy Seal officer in San Diego last month where two of my sisters went to attend my nephew Mike’s graduation. Our itinerary would take us to Bethlehem, Masada, the Dead Sea, and Qumran - to the caves where the ancient Essenes hid the Dead Sea Scrolls - and all these are in the West Bank. There would be several days in Jerusalem and several days in northern Israel as well.

My sisters and my wife took the tour in May, 2000 and they want to go back with us, their husbands. We were supposed to go in October, but Hezbollah was rocketing Tiberius and Caesaria in the north. Now, Hamas has announced they will be targeting Americans for death because of our support of Israel.

On October 31st, Al Qaeda released an updated version of “A Guide for the Undecided on the Legitimacy of Killing Christians.” It promises that more attacks against America are coming soon and offers both an historical and theological rationale for killing Christians everywhere, especially Americans. Not good.

Weeks earlier, Al Qaeda released a manual titled “How to Fight Alone.” describes it as “a how-to guide for Muslims to conduct their own ‘Jihad of One’ against the ‘Crusader-Zionists’ . . .[with] instructions on how lone Muslims can take the battle to the infidels.” Hmm. The infidels. That would be us on a bus. Crusaders without weapons.

Recommended methods for lone jihadists include “stabbing, feeding overdoses of cocaine or heroin, injecting air via needles, assassination with guns, burning down homes, putting poisonous snakes in cars, tampering with car brakes, planting explosives in vehicles, running over people, and luring people and then killing them.”

That’s not all. “The book also highly recommends poisoning targets and includes various methods of preparing and obtaining lethal toxins, including botulism. The book also gives instructions on making improvised explosives.”

It’s been over six years since the female members of my family made their pilgrimage. The September 11th attacks occurred sixteen months later and Palestinians all over Gaza and the West Bank danced in the streets when they heard the news. Why? Obviously they were happy Americans were massacred by Arab Muslims like them. The Palestinian Authority threatened western journalists who recorded the celebrations, saying they couldn’t guarantee their safety if the images were broadcast.

Here in the United States, most Americans believe a few radicals hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only Muslims we have to worry about. Any others who hate us are justified by American foreign policy, they insist. Newspaper editors who profess to champion free speech worry interminably about offending Muslims if they publish children’s cartoons of Muhammad, though they have no qualms publishing photos of a crucifix in urine or the Virgin Mary in elephant dung. Though there have been few if any attacks on Muslims in the United States, they fret about the invented syndrome “Islamophobia,” as if any American fear of Islam is irrational.

Some of us, however, are coming to believe that the only irrational fear Americans have about Islam is the fear of taking a hard look at what it is becoming. We keep repeating that Islam is a religion of peace in spite of mounting evidence that it isn’t anymore, if it ever was. We go to great lengths to deny what is staring us in the face - that Islamic terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and all the rest are very popular with Muslims all around the world. That diplomatic approaches to the Palestinian problem, the Iraqi problem, the Syrian problem and the Iranian problem amount to little but appeasement and will only postpone an inevitable showdown. We’re deathly afraid that we may well have to use our overwhelming military power to destroy our enemies. That’s what we really fear, so we continue trying to appease them. Winston Churchill summed it up a half-century ago. “The appeaser,” he said, “feeds the crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.”

It should be pretty clear by now that a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank and Gaza is not going to appease Muslims. They want Israel gone. That’s what conservative Israelis have claimed all along but we didn’t believe it. Now we do. After 9-11 and a three years in Iraq, we know our enemies and Israel’s are the same. They will not run out of suicide bombers and they will soon have nukes if they don’t already. It’s not a matter of whether they’ll use them against Israel and against us, but when. All it will take is one to wipe out Israel and nobody knows that better than Israel.

Israelis understand crocodiles better than Americans or Europeans do. Their long history has taught them. They’re not going to feed it much longer and they’ve had nuclear weapons for decades in preparation for exactly the threat now looming. Have I painted the picture clearly enough?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Images and Power

Picture day in middle school can be disruptive with students missing class to pose in the gym, but when the pictures come back it can get crazy. It’s best to distribute them at the end of the day. When I bring them out around dismissal time, students crowd around. Each package has a cellophane window displaying an 8X12 of a student’s face and some will grab at the package as soon as they see themselves. Then they rush to the periphery like a seagull with a morsel being chased by other students who want to get a look. Shy kids bite their lips as they wait on the fringe and then hide their package under their shirts as soon as they get it.

If I should ever take out a camera in front of any class, some students will stretch themselves toward the lens and ham it up while others will hide their faces. Human behavior changes when a camera is present. Some people get self-conscious, put on a stressed out face, and seldom produce a good picture. Tell them to smile and you get a grimace. A good photographer, though, can get the images he wants. He shoots what he likes and ignores what he doesn’t. In the edit room, the process is perfected.

Pictures are powerful. The image-makers can make people look good or make them look bad. I got an email recently called “Why Most Men Are Republicans” with attractive photos of Republican women like Peggy Noonan, Laura Ingraham, Bo Derek and Janine Turner and a few others. Below them is a set of very unflattering shots of Barbara Streisand, Helen Thomas, Susan Estrich, Janet Reno and several other Democrat women. It’s a very effective example of what selective shooting and editing portrays - not reality, but spin.

Weekly newsmagazines like Time and Newsweek are using fewer candid photos and more staged ones. It’s obvious that subjects are posed to portray a mood as they stare at the lens. Editors have a point of view on a given story, using photos that reflect it most effectively and the results display little evidence of objectivity. The Associated Press and Reuters use stringers in the Middle East who are anything but unbiased in what they shoot, how they shoot, or how they edit.

The most ubiquitous shots are of angry Muslims burning American flags and it’s obvious they’re playing to the camera. First they burn it, then they stomp on it while others shake their fists. A critical viewer can almost hear a director shout “Lights-Camera-Action!” before each scene. So what’s the point? Muslims hate the United States. We get it. But why indulge them? Why does our media play along and give power to it week after week, year after year?

And what about that CNN tape of an American soldier getting shot by an enemy sniper team with a rifle and a video camera? CNN’s Baghdad correspondent was in contact with terrorists who slipped him the tape. We heard the snipers talking and then saw the American soldier slump in his vehicle. Why would CNN show this? Whose side are they on? This is the prostitute news network that censored itself to remain in Baghdad after the first Gulf War. After one of their cameramen was tortured, they only released what Saddam would approve - all the while pretending their reporting was objective. Now this. It’s outrageous. “CNN - The Most Trusted Name in News.” Yeah, right.

Our terrorist enemies couldn’t manipulate our media unless it was willing. There’s a symbiosis between terrorists and media whores. When Israel, America’s greatest ally in the region, was attacked by Hezbollah and Hamas last summer, nearly every mainstream media outlet in the western world broadcast an outrageous story that Israeli warplanes deliberately fired missiles at two Lebanese ambulances performing rescue operations. Though it was almost certainly a propaganda stunt staged by Hezbollah, our media played it up big. The fraud was exposed by alert bloggers including Zombie (, but too late to affect the outcome of the war. Israel was forced to pull out before destroying Hezbollah. Iran and Syria have since rearmed them and fighting will break out again soon. My scheduled trip to Israel had to be postponed and will likely have to be postponed again.

We know “The pen is mightier than the sword,” but a camera can be mightier than an army. It has great power and power corrupts. Our mainstream media is drunk with it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gasping Gonads

Sometimes I fear Americans don’t have what it takes anymore, especially men in blue states like Massachusetts. But it didn’t use to be like that. They’ve gotten soft after years of feeling guilty about having so much in a world where so many have so little. Such thinking presumes the amount of wealth on earth is fixed, and because you have a lot, someone else is going without. Americans who think this way don’t believe that we built what we have by hard work and we deserve it, or that other parts of the world would do better to emulate us rather than resent us because they could do it too.

We used to think American culture was special. As children, we cheered watching Superman fight for “truth, justice, and the American Way.” We knew he wasn’t real, but we believed the American Way was pretty terrific, that it worked better than what other countries had, and that our strength, our inventiveness and our prosperity were the results. We invented the airplane, the light bulb, the television, and countless other things the whole world enjoys. Heck, we put a man on the moon.

In the 20th century, America became the greatest power on earth, but we didn’t create an empire. After trying to stay out of World War I, we tipped the balance against Germans and Turks. Though allies like England and France divided the spoils and added to their empires, we didn’t.

When Europe got into a mess again and Japan was taking over Asia, who bailed out the world? We did. Again, we tried for years to stay out of it, but we were attacked. So, we pulverized our enemies, then demanded nothing less than unconditional surrender. That was the American Way back then. When the war ended, we had our military deployed everywhere and nearly every other country was crippled. Our infrastructure was intact and we had sole possession of nuclear weaponry, yet we still didn’t create an empire. What did we do instead? We established and reestablished democracies in countries which had been our enemies and helped them rebuild. There’s no precedent for such unselfishness by such a powerful nation in all of recorded history.

In spite of this, many in the generation born after World War II condemn our country’s legacy. They run our universities now and instead of celebrating our proud history, they teach instead that our leaders have been selfish white men who’ve done little but oppress women, minorities, homosexuals and third-world countries everywhere. They insist that all cultures are equal, men and women are the same, there’s no such thing as absolute truth, right and wrong are relative, and the American Way is hated around the world. ROTC programs and military recruiters are banned from campuses. There are more colleges per square mile in the Boston area than anyplace on earth, so these attitudes are quite prevalent in Massachusetts.

Perhaps worst of all, they’ve permeated primary and secondary schools with their views. They try to raise our boys to believe that there’s no difference between them and little girls. If two boys fight, both are punished, even if one is a bully and the other is defending himself. They teach that fighting is always bad, even after you’re attacked. Parents of boys who don’t want to behave like the girls are encouraged to feed their sons prescription drugs. If the boys still manage to grow into men who still resist such “progressive” thinking, they’re forced to undergo “sensitivity training,” especially in such blue-state strongholds as Massachusetts, New York and San Francisco.

Now we’ve discovered that men in Massachusetts are losing testosterone. According to a recent study of 1700 Boston-area men in the January, 2007 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism and reported by Reuters, testosterone levels have dropped about one percent a year since the 1980s. “It’s likely that some sort of environmental exposure is responsible for the testosterone decline,” said Dr. Thomas Travison of the New England Research Institutes.

Environmental exposure indeed. What kind of environment have the “progressives” created down there in Massachusetts? What should we expect from a place where they don’t want to keep score at soccer games, where dodge ball and tag are banned from elementary schools, and homosexual “marriage” is invented? Looks like I got out just in time. Boys will be boys if they’re allowed to be. Raise them an environment that tries to turn them into girls and this is what you get. I’m guessing the “Boston-area men” were from Cambridge.

The article went on: “‘[Testosterone in] The entire population is shifting somewhat downward we think,’ Travison told Reuters Health. ‘We’re counting on other studies to confirm this.’” I have some suggestions, Dr. Travison. Do a red-state study in the middle of the United States away from the coasts. There you’ll find testosterone at rates you’d expect in men who haven’t been sissified. Then do another study in the San Francisco area. I suspect you’ll discover that testosterone there has declined to barely measurable levels. Lastly, compare your results with the new electoral map after Tuesday’s election and see if any correllations emerge.

If our new blue-state Congress forces a pullout from Iraq and the terrorists gain strength, will we still have what it takes to defeat our enemies? Time was we did. Now, I’m not sure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stormy Signs

An “Olympia Snowe for Senate” sign bounced off my hood as I waited at an intersection in Portland, Maine. Blustery winds blew leaves and campaign signs all around the city. I ran over one declaring “Baldacci for Governor” as the wind skittered it across the road and under my tires. A “Curley for Congress” sign twisted on one of its two wire legs after a gust tore the other from the earth. Weather and politics were in tumult.

A huge maple uprooted and crashed through the roof of a house next to my daughter’s on Wellington Street. I was there for the christening of Alexander John Kimble, my second grandson. The Kimbles and the McLaughlins gathered to witness the oldest Christian rite for this newest member of both our families. I remembered learning in catechism class a half century ago that Baptism cleansed us from original sin - that stain left on us after Adam and Eve disobeyed God. It seemed fitting that our purpose was to acknowledge our place and Alex’s in the spiritual world - that realm older than electoral politics and even nature itself, both of which were in turmoil that day.

How will it be for Alex as he grows up in his world, I wondered, and how will his be different from the world I’ve known? Will he be challenged as a Catholic American? Will he have to defend his heritage against Islamic onslaught? Will his generation fight to preserve it?

Entering the church later, I saw dead leaves which had blown into the narthex and were strewn around the floor. My son-in-law, Nate, had chosen his brother, Michael Kimble, as Alex’s Godfather and I recalled the Baptism scene in Coppola’s film “The Godfather.” Michael Corleone was asked “Do you renounce Satan? And all his works?” Coppola cut away after each question to scenes of Corleone’s rivals being violently slain. I remembered the brittle clouds of leaves blowing and swirling through the streets outside, and thought of the way directors used such scenes to portend evil forces prowling about. Are there sinister forces lurking in our world? President Bush claims an “Axis of Evil” threatens us and he’s ridiculed by “progressive” Democrats like those who dominate politics in Portland, Maine and in the rest of the red states. They consider such talk unenlightened at best and the president himself a simpleton. They see this election as a referendum on Bush’s vision of what threatens us.

If Republicans retain Congress next week, President Bush may take it as a vote of confidence and be more aggressive against the jihadists ordered to “kill Americans - anywhere, anyhow.” If Democrats win control, they could cut off funding for the war as they did in Vietnam thirty years ago. The Democratic left believes President Bush’s aggressive policies have not reduced terrorism but produced more. They would pull out and “Give Peace a Chance,” because, as their bumper stickers say, “War is Not The Answer.” They don’t realize that war is only the extension of politics when diplomacy fails. You either win or you lose - and we cannot afford to lose. It may not seem like a holy war for blue state “progressives” who snicker at such talk, but there can be no doubt that our enemies see it that way. They’re on a mission from God, to quote from another movie - the “Blues Brothers” - but their mission isn’t the least bit funny.

I’ve been surprised recently by how many otherwise intelligent people speculate that the World Trade Center towers were not brought down by Muslim terrorists, but by controlled demolition charges planted in the buildings by US government officials. They’re ready to believe the Bush Administration knew in advance about the attacks and allowed them as a reason to go to war. I thought only the lunatic fringe could conceive of such things, but I’ve been wrong. Such notions are more widespread than I would ever have believed possible. It’s sad to realize how divided we are in the face of our enemies. I fear sometimes the “United States” is becoming a misnomer and it may take a nuclear attack next time to make us realize the danger we face.

The storms of war will likely intensify whatever the outcome next week. If we pull out of Iraq, Islamofascists will see it as yet another victory over the infidels, the “Great Satan.” That’s how they see us by the way, in case you haven’t heard.

It’s fitting that my grandson’s Baptism prepares him for the next world as well as this one. I fear the political signs I saw flying around on that stormy Sunday could well be an omen of upheaval, political and religious. The world Alex Kimble was christened into will be not likely be peaceful.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Going Inward

Take down the screens. Bring in the firewood. There’s snow on Mount Washington and it’s time to go inward. People who don’t like this are packing up to go south if they haven’t left already. As Tom Rush put it, they got the urge for goin’. Although it can get tiresome in March, I like being inside during late fall and early winter. I feel different outside too. Wearing flannel-lined pants, a quilted shirt and wool socks, I’m protected against the elements inside my clothing even if a chill wind reddens my cheeks. A whiff of woodsmoke from someone’s chimney turns my thoughts to home and if I smell something cooking as I go back inside it feels even better.

New Englanders are accustomed to changing seasons, having four distinct ones every year. Though we see more transformation, each season unfolds in customary ways with familiar sights, sounds and smells bringing memories of seasons past. Autumn chills make us grateful for warm, dry homes and hot food. It’s no wonder Thanksgiving originated here. If we should forget what’s really important, we’re reminded more often than people in many other regions. Changing seasons put us through familiar cycles and, I think, help us to accept the cycles of life more graciously than we otherwise might.

We go to bed hours after it’s dark in these latitudes and a lot of us wake up before it gets light. There’s something about seeing stars still in the sky as the eastern horizon is just starting to become visible. I feel I have time to get ready for the day, that I’ll be able to deal with it as it unfolds. By the time it’s light enough to see, I’m showered, dressed, and drinking coffee.

Daylight is more precious as it diminishes quickly in November. We savor the dim glow before sunrise, the twilight after dusk and evening’s bright starlight. The Milky Way on a cold, clear autumn night will mesmerize whoever turns his eyes upward. Unlike some city folk who seldom if ever see stars, we who live in the woods of northern New England know that they really do twinkle. Usually I’m out in the yard at such times and I can look back at the house and see into the lighted windows. Use to be it was full of children. Now they’re grown and out in the world somewhere, but under the same stars.

Inside, we contemplate things at fireside. Deeper thoughts and feelings come while watching flames turn to embers. Conversation is subtle, personal. Going out into the cold for another armload of wood and returning to fireside renews contentment. We don’t forget the tumult of the wider world, but it’s way out there beyond the town. There are layers between us and it. We can keep it out there and be safe for a time. Then sleep will come and take us to a new day.

Inside, we read. We write letters because writing is personal. It’s still a conversation but we don’t loose trains of thought because the words are right there. We take time to write because the reader will focus as much as the writer. And if he wants, he can go over the words again or share them with others.

This morning, even Baldface is white. Early wet snows like yesterday’s will soak through my workboots if I don’t treat them with mink oil. An old toothbrush works to apply the stuff and it needs to absorb overnight next to the fire or over a furnace vent. With a good pair of merino wool socks, treated workboots will do for autumn. I have 50-below Sorels for deep winter, but they stayed in the closet last season because deep cold and snow never came. Might need them this year though. Winter’s coming, but I’m ready. Going inward for a while is a good thing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Defending Maine and America

Mohammed Atta woke up in a motel room on the coast of Maine the morning of September 11th. A few hours later, much of our national security apparatus, both offense and defense, became obsolete. Maine’s old coastal forts are symbols of that. There are quite a few up and down the coast. Three were built within a few hundred feet of each other over a span of 350 years near Popham Beach. None were ever attacked. All three are evidence of the admonition: “If you want peace, prepare for war,” and they represent the highest and best use of any military equipment - that they exist but are not utilized.

Exploring them, my wife and I found ourselves at the site of the first English colony in New England - the Popham colony founded in 1607 in what is now the town of Phippsburg at the mouth of the Kennebec River. There’s nothing there now but a small parking lot and a sign with a drawing of Fort St. George as it was four centuries ago. Its settlers were prepared for a French attack by sea and relied on ramparts and cannon for defense. What defeated them was not the French, however, but Maine’s winter. They abandoned the fort after little more than a year. Across a small cove to the east are the remains of Fort Popham a hundred yards away. It was begun in 1861 but abandoned in 1869. Precisely-cut granite stones lay around still waiting to be lifted into place. Bolts protrude from the floor to receive artillery pieces never needed because the British never entered the war and the South surrendered. Closer to Fort St. George but invisible behind trees are the remains of Fort Baldwin, built before World War I and expanded during World War II. It too is only about a hundred yards away and up a hill to the south. All three forts relied on ramparts and artillery and each is typical for its time.

The threats Maine and America faced altered relatively little for four centuries, but everything changed when the 21st century began. On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Mohammed Atta woke up at the Comfort Inn in South Portland, a few miles south of the three forts. Hours later, nothing was the same. The danger faced by Maine, the United States, and all of western civilization rendered fortifications of little benefit. Artillery isn’t entirely useless though as Maine’s Army National Guard employs it in Iraq in a forward defense strategy - better to kill terrorists in their homeland before they attack civilians here. Our enemies could still hit the United States but haven’t because they’re busy fighting our soldiers nearer their own countries. The best defense has always been a good offense.

Instead, terrorists are attacking Europe. France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, Holland, Belgium and Spain are under virtual siege. Europeans attracted millions of Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, then encouraged them to preserve their way of life in what they thought would be multicultural bliss. Now, many immigrants and their offspring are more inspired by Islamofascist terrorist groups like Al Qaeda than by the European Union’s Constitution. They apply sharia law in sections of French cities where they live on the dole but resist secular authority. Every night, they burn cars and attack those police officers who still try to preserve order. As a result, many police, firemen and ambulances are unwilling to enter Muslim sections of cities across Europe. Radical Muslims exercise de facto control of large areas. In Malmo - Sweden’s third largest city - Muslims will soon comprise the majority of the population and half are on welfare. This is what multiculturalism has wrought - not tolerance and acceptance, but a clash of civilizations. One French Police union calls it the “European Intifada.”

Meanwhile, birth rates of native Europeans have fallen to way below replacement levels while birthrates of Muslim immigrants are huge. Should those trends continue - and they show no sign of abating - Europe as we’ve known it will cease to exist in little more than a generation. It will become “Eurabia.”

Mohammed Atta woke up in South Portland, Maine September 11th, but he came to the United States from Hamburg, Germany (Muslim population 200,000) after training with Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Shoe bomber Richard Reid, arrested at Logan Airport a little further down the coast, is British. “Twentieth hijacker” Zacarias Moussawi is French. Testimony before the US House Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats states: “[Of] 373 radical Muslim terrorists arrested or killed in Europe and the United States from 1993 through 2004 . . . an astonishing 41 percent were Western nationals, who were either naturalized or second generation Europeans, or were converts to Islam. . . . Future terrorist attacks that will be damaging to American national security are therefore likely to have a European connection.” It’s much easier for terrorists to come here with European passports than with Middle Eastern ones.

Against this kind of threat, border fences, terrorist profiling by airports, Coast Guard vessels, immigration officials and the Homeland Security apparatus would be far more effective security than the old ramparts-and-cannon approach. After securing our borders, we must reimpose the Melting Pot model on immigration policy. Multiculturalism has been a disaster for Europe but it’s not too late yet to scrap it in the United States.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Breaking Routine

My routine had been broken. I broke it. In spite of all I had to do, I persuaded my wife to explore part of the Maine coast with me. In spite of all she had to do, she accompanied me. We did it my way - without a specific plan about where we were going to stay for the two nights we’d be gone from our bed. The general destination was Bath and the peninsula to the south. The weather was great as I drove down every road, walked through every cemetery and read every historic marker. She found eight sand dollars on the beach. Of the two restaurants in which we ate dinner, one was okay and the other was first-rate.

We returned Sunday. Instead of beginning my column while watching the Patriots’ game as would have been my habit in the fall, I caught up on some of the caretaking work, figuring I still had Monday, Columbus Day, to write. When I sat on the porch with my laptop, however, it wasn’t flowing. I hadn’t enough time to process all that I’d seen and done and there was no logical sequence to what was emerging as my fingers manipulated the keyboard. Maybe I wouldn’t submit anything this week.

Sometimes it helped if I got up and did something else because when I sat back down, it would flow. I went into the kitchen and made some spaghetti sauce in the crock pot and returned to my laptop, but it didn’t work. My grandson was on the porch with me playing quietly with some construction toys while his mother worked a 12-hour shift at Bridgton Hospital. He smelled the sauce and asked when dinner would be ready. My wife was puttering around her flower garden below us and the sun was getting ready to set over Kearsarge Mountain to the west. Brilliant golden rays backlit her silver hair as she moved about. The maples below the field were bright yellow and red, and with every little puff of breeze, hundreds of leaves drifted gently down from the three big ash trees around her garden. It was quiet enough that I could hear a little crackle as each leaf as it came down on others already fallen.

Seeing this, my grandson forgot his appetite and said, “Let’s go out and catch them!” His eyes were so bright I couldn’t say “No. I have to write this column,” though it was almost on my tongue. Instead, I said, “Yeah, let’s go!” We ran back through the house and out, trying to reach the leaves before they hit the ground but we were too late. He was disappointed, but I said, “Wait. They’ll start falling again as soon as the air moves.” Soon, trees on the hillside below began to move slightly and another cascade of ash leaves drifted down on us, some in clumps of three or four. We scurried about catching as many as we could. For a few minutes at least, he brought out the six-year-old boy in me which had been cooped up too long.

So much wonder showed on his face in the horizontal autumn sun that I went back inside for my camera. The laptop was still on the chair, but I went back out to record images instead of words. As he scampered and rolled around the leaf-covered grass, I clicked over a hundred. He was so caught up that no self-consciousness entered his countenance as I attempted to preserve the moments. Then I used the laptop to take in pictures instead of putting out words. The sun had set below Kearsarge. The horizon and clouds above were backlit and darkness creeped in as I examined each image on the screen. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch and I burned a CD for his mother.

Routines are good when it comes to eating and sleeping, but breaking patterns can be good for us too and I have the pictures to prove it, each worth a thousand proverbial words.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wimpy Infidels

I’m a proud infidel and I won’t apologize. There are bumper stickers on my car and on my truck declaring that. Therefore, there are people who want to kill me and my response is - bring it on. As a public service to my readers I’m informing you that if you’re not a Muslim either, there are people out there who want to kill you too and they’re willing to die in the effort. It won’t help that you may be a sensitive, nuanced, caring pacifist whose bumper stickers say “War is not the Answer” or “Kerry/Edwards ’04” or that you’ve completed advanced sensitivity training courses, or that you’re a staunch promoter of multiculturalism and call Islamofascists “militants” instead of “terrorists.” They’ll kill you anyway. If you’re jewish, you’re at the top of their hit list. They were taught in elementary school that Jews are the descendants of pigs and dogs.

The only thing that will get you off the hit list is a conversion to Islam. That means you have to abandon beliefs that homosexuality is normal, that sex outside of marriage is okay and that men and women are equal. You also have to give up constitutional rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, habeus corpus, bail, trial by jury, and so on. If you should ever decide you don’t want to be a Muslim anymore, you would be an apostate. The penalty for apostates is death.

You still think war is not the answer though and you want to negotiate with them, right? Good luck. We tried that for more than twenty years before September 11th. You could ask Jimmy Carter about negotiating with radical Muslims. He tried for 444 days back in 1979/80. The mad mullahs of Iran humiliated Carter and he lost his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan. Then, just to rub salt in his wounds, the mullahs released the American hostages on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Were the mullahs afraid of what Reagan might do when he became president? Maybe, but they needn’t have been. After declaring during his campaign that he would never do it, he was soon negotiating also, trying to secure the release of other American hostages taken by Iran’s shadow army, Hezbollah. Then Hezbollah killed 400 US Marines with a truck bomb at Beirut airport and Reagan meekly withdrew US forces from Lebanon. Reagan talked tough, but he put his tail between his legs when things got difficult.

Few Americans noticed that at the time, but radical Muslims around the world sure did and they made plans to hit us harder. Reagan, Bush the Elder and Clinton suffered further hits but none of them made a decisive move against our enemies. Bush the Younger didn’t either until after September 11th.

Islamofascists hate western civilization. They’re willing to kill and die to destroy it. But how about us westerners? Are we willing to die defending it? Do we believe enough in our way of life to kill them before they kill us? It doesn’t look like it. Too many Americans hate western civilization too. Our colleges and universities have been scrapping western civ courses for decades. “Who wants to learn about all those dead white guys?” they ask. Military recruiters and ROTC programs are banned from our elite colleges. Professors like Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado believe our enemies have been right to kill us. Hundreds of professors from all over the country sign petitions in support of Churchill. Osama Bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman Zawahiri, says President Bush is a liar and a failure on videotape, but you hear the same thing from radical professors on almost any campus in America. You can read it on liberal Democrat web sites and hear it from Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi too. Depending on the day, Zawahiri sounds just like Michael Moore or Ted Kennedy. Does that mean I’m questioning their patriotism? Darn right. Their courage too.

The world view of so many European and American liberals is that people from North Africa and the Middle East have been oppressed by western countries, that Bush and Cheney are terrorists and Muslims are victims, that all cultures are equal, that war is not the answer and give peace a chance. What’s slowly becoming apparent to them lately is that their dearly-held beliefs aren’t useful when trying to understand Islamofascist hatred of western civilization. They simply don’t apply anymore, if they ever did. When liberal elites in Europe and America say, “I hate western civilization too,” it doesn’t endear them to our enemies. Concepts like cultural relativism and moral equivalence have no currency in this struggle. Islamofascists have special disdain for those who don’t believe in anything strongly enough to die for it.

To Islamofascists, liberals are just wimpy infidels who will be easier to kill than the proud ones.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

El Diablo?

“Chavez Says President Bush Is ‘The Devil’” read the headline of a newspaper I held up to the class. Going over to a wall map of the world I said, “Hugo Chavez is president of Venezuela, right here. We buy 12% our oil from Venezuela and that country gets rich from our purchases. Chavez was making a speech at the United Nations building in New York City yesterday.”

Looking at students’ faces as I was speaking, I could see that only about half were interested. “As Chavez was speaking at the podium, he sniffed the air and said he smelled sulfur. Why would he say that?” I asked.

No hands. Only blank looks. That’s how it is early in the school year. Few of them have any idea of what is going on in the world beyond school. That would take several weeks to change.

“Sulfur is the stuff on a match tip that flares when you strike it,” I said. “Why would Chavez sniff the air during his speech and say he smelled sulfur?” Still no hands, but a few wrinkled their foreheads as they thought about it. “If Bush is the devil as Chavez claims, where would he live?”

“In hell?” asked a girl nervously.

“Exactly,” I said. “In hell where it’s hot? Matches? Sulfur?”

“Oh, I get it,” she said. Others looked at each other and smiled.

“Chavez called Bush the devil yesterday. Today, he’s giving a press conference in Harlem, a section of New York City.” I turned on the classroom television to see Chavez in a bright read shirt sitting in a church and playing awkwardly with a young girl. He was wearing a bright red shirt.” That’s him, right there,” I said. Soon a black man walked over to him and they hugged. “That’s the actor, Danny Glover,” I said.

“He was in ‘Lethal Weapon,’ right?”

“That’s right.”

“Chavez is also good buddies with Fidel Castro,” I said, “the communist dictator of Cuba.” I walked back over to the wall map and pointed out Cuba. “Chavez says he isn’t a communist, but a socialist,” I explained, “but others claim he is a communist. He’s wearing a red shirt and red is a symbol of communism, but that could just be a coincidence.”

During the first week of school, I passed out a left-right political spectrum chart indicating communists and socialists on the extreme left, Nazis on the extreme right, with Democrats and Republicans on either side of center. Students had to study the chart to determine which political party they agreed with most and which they disagreed with most. Several declared on a test that they disagreed most with the communist party and none agreed with it. That usually changes later in the year when we study communism in more depth. Then, some students think it’s a good thing.

“So, Chavez called President Bush ‘the devil’ or ‘el diablo’ yesterday and he got a lot of applause from representatives of many small nations. What do you think?”

No hands.

“Do you agree with him? Do any of you think President Bush is the devil?” I asked.

Surprisingly, about six students raised their hands. “Why?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t agree with anything he does,” said a girl.

“Okay, you disagree with him. But does that mean he’s the devil?”

“Well, I don’t really think he’s the devil,” she said. “But I’m angry that he started the war in Iraq.”

“Is that what the rest of you think?” I asked.

They nodded.

“So you don’t actually think he’s the devil either?”

They shook their heads.

The following week, Hugo Chavez went back to Venezuela where he was quoted in a local newspaper claiming that the papers he used on the podium at the United Nations were contaminated because President Bush had used the same podium the day before. Chavez was treating his papers with holy water. He also claimed that President Bush had given orders to have him killed. I printed the article and showed it to students. “It appears that Chavez wasn’t just trying to make a point when he claimed Bush is the devil, but actually believes it,” I said.

“He sounds pretty loopy to me,” said a boy. “How does someone like that become president of a country?”

“At first, he used the military to take over the previous government there,” I explained. “Then he was elected by the people of Venezuela several times.”

“Jeez,” said the boy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gonads Gone?

There are over a billion Muslims in the world, about one out of five people. Not all are jihadists who want to destroy Israel and the United States, but how many? One percent? Ten percent? Half? Nobody really knows but it’s a very important question. Even if it’s one percent, that’s ten million. When news of September 11th spread around Muslim countries, there was a lot of celebrating in the streets. Were most Muslims glad we were attacked or was there only a small minority celebrating in the streets that day? Is there a “silent majority”? Hard to say.

Some analysts claim our enemies belong to a fast-growing group within Islam variously labelled Islamofascists, Jihadists, Islamists, and so on. President Bush’s strategy is to establish Muslim democracies to give a presumed silent majority voting power. But in Palestine, Muslim voters elected a terrorist group called Hamas to run the Palestine Authority. What will happen in Lebanon’s next election? Will Hezbollah win control? Both groups call for the destruction of Israel and the United States.

Bernard Lewis, America’s foremost historian of the Muslim world, says jihadist, radical Islam was first espoused by an Arab named Wahhab in the 18th century. Wahhab was allied to the House of Saud which eventually conquered Arabia. When oil was discovered there in the early 20th century, the Saudis gained power and so did Wahhabism by association. Our petrodollars fund its propagation. Last April, Lewis said Wahhabism is to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. If he’s right and I hope he is, jihadist Islam will be bothersome for a time, but fade away to the wacky fringe as the Klan has but I’m not confident it will.

The KKK got fairly strong in the south after the Civil War and spread north a few decades later. Mainstream Christian leaders, however, publicly condemned it. Ordinary Christians were horrified by KKK terror tactics and said so openly. Yet I’m hearing very little condemnation of Jihadist terror from Muslim clerics or Muslims in general. Instead, we see them burning American flags, Israeli flags and Danish flags. They jump around, yell, shake their fists, burn President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI in effigy, behead captives and blow themselves up to kill infidels all over the world. In European cities, Muslim minorities demonstrate with signs exclaiming: “Behead Those Who Insult Islam” and “Kill Those Who Insult Islam.” Now they want to kill the pope.

I’ve learned a lot from Bernard Lewis but I have to ask myself: was he downplaying Jihadist strength? He made the KKK comparison in April, but by August he was warning that mad Muslim mullahs who control Iran might try to trigger an Apocalypse on the 22nd of the month. They didn’t, thank God, but Lewis got me nervous and I listened to the news more closely that day than usual.

Lewis’s 1990 essay in the Atlantic Monthly called “The Roots of Muslim Rage” first opened America’s eyes about what motivates jihadists who have since become a threat to civilization itself. Jihadists blame the decline of a once-great Arab/Muslim civilization on western oppression. To regain power, they would impose a purified, 8th-century brand of Islam on themselves and everyone else. They would return to the beginnings if Islam and that’s what al Qaeda means: “The Source.” Then they would rise up again to smash the west and Christianity as they did fourteen hundred years ago.

How many Muslims are (take your pick) Jihadists? Islamofascists? Wahhabis? Radical Islamists? We don’t know, but it doesn’t take a majority in any given country or region to turn things completely around. Nazis were a minority in 1920s Germany but they took over in the 1930s. The Bolsheviks were a minority in 1917 Russia, but they controlled the Soviet Union a few years later.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans understood the threat and were ready to do whatever it took to destroy our enemies. Roosevelt demanded nothing short of unconditional surrender and we smashed the fascists in less than four years. Then we fought a cold war for more than forty years to defeat Communism. Do we still have what it takes to defeat the Jihadists? I’m not so sure. We have the strength, certainly, but lack the will. We’re afraid to offend them, much less destroy them. Two generations ago, we summoned the will and the courage to fight. Now it seems our national gonads are gone.

For decades, Muslim terrorists called for the destruction of America and we ignored them. Even after we suffered a worse attack than Pearl Harbor, we still don’t have the will to destroy our enemies. Many insist Islam is a religion of peace and our only enemy is Osama Bin Laden. However, Islam means “submission.” Will we submit? Iran will soon have nuclear weapons and its president threatens to wipe Israel off the map while his proxy army, Hezbollah, chants “Death to America.” Meanwhile, Americans are more worried about global warming than jihadists with nukes. Have we lost our minds along with our gonads?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Editors Decide

On the first day of school I outlined what students would be learning, how they would be graded, and explained that current events were an important part of the curriculum. We would be covering stories in three newspapers each day.

“Editors decide what the biggest story is and put it in the headline above the fold,” I said, holding up the Sun Journal headline about three bodies discovered in Newry, Maine. “Why do you suppose this is the headline?” I asked.

No responses. That was not unusual for the first day and there were only a few minutes left. “Reading on, I see that all three bodies were women and they were murdered. Newry is a small town just north of Bethel and very similar to your town. A triple murder is big news, don’t you think?”

Some students nodded, but the others just stared at me shyly. It was time to move on to their next class and I dismissed them saying, “We’ll see what’s in the headlines tomorrow.”

The story got a lot more attention the next day and I picked up five daily newspapers at Jockey Cap Store before school. I held up the Sun Journal again and there were bold, big-font headlines about a quadruple homicide above a large, color photograph of the man arrested. He was doing the perp walk from the Oxford County Jail to the Oxford County Courthouse. A deputy held him by the arm. I explained that he had confessed to the murders and that three victims were dismembered. After giving them a little time to react to that disturbing detail, I told them that I didn’t want to discuss the murders, but analyze different ways media covered them. “Why do you think the editor chose this picture?” I asked the class. “There would have been dozens of others to choose from.”

Again, no answers.

I held up the Portland Press Herald, which also displayed above-the-fold headlines and a large, color photo. “Why did the editors of this paper choose a different photo?” I asked.

They looked at it for a few seconds before a couple of hands went up. “Because he’s smiling,” said a boy.

“Why is he smiling?” a girl asked.

“Good question,” I said.

“Is he crazy?” asked another student.

“Of course he’s crazy,” said another. “He’d have to be to do what he did.”

“That’s creepy,” said the girl.

“Do you think that’s why the editors choose this picture?” I asked. “Did they want to creep out readers?”

“I guess so,” she said.

“Definitely,” said a boy.

“These two papers were side-by-side on the rack over at Jockey Cap Store,” I said. “Which one would people be more likely to buy?”

“The one that shows him smiling,” said the boy.


“Because it’s scary,” he said.

“Do people like to get scared?” I asked.

Several nodded. “Some do,” said a boy.

“Do editors think about that when they’re choosing what photos to run?”

“Probably,” said a girl.

I held up the Boston Globe. “This paper, which has ten times the circulation of the other two, ran the story on the front page but below the fold. Why did they decide it was less important than the two Maine papers?”

“Because Boston is far away?”

“Maybe,” I said. “But people down there are familiar with Newry and Bethel because they come up here on vacations. Most of the skiers at Sunday River are from Massachusetts, aren’t they? The Globe’s editors know this, so they put the story on the front page but below the fold.”

Next, I held up The Boston Herald. The entire front page was taken up with a different photo of the confessed killer. “Why did the Herald’s editors choose this picture?” I asked.

“Because the killer is looking right at the camera in that one,” said a boy.

“So when you look at the guy, he seems to be looking right back at you,” I added. Students stared the photo more closely. “Do you think I’m reading too much into this?” I asked. “Or do you think editors really consider this stuff when they’re deciding what to put on the front page?” I held up three papers for them to see side-by-side. Nobody responded.

“Since you’re not answering, I’ll just tell you that editors think a lot about what stories and photos go on the front page, and which ones don’t. People in media are making decisions all the time about how you see what you see. They also decide what you don’t see. Remember that.”

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

White Guilt

There it was again on the second day of pre-school teacher workshops. The principal passed out results of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) testing were segregated according to how “African Americans” and “Pacific Islanders” performed. My school didn’t request that data be broken down this way. It’s our federal government which is obsessed with race.

Some may object to my use of the word “segregate” in this case, but it fits. Once again, our federal government is discriminating on the basis of race - something it’s supposed to outlaw. Usually there are many more racial categories like Hispanic, Asian, Eskimo, Native American, and so on. If as a country we really believe there are no other differences between people with different skin tones, why do we keep this up? What if test results showed some races doing better or worse than others? Would government then require special programs for students of one race and not another? Is this what we should be doing? Is it racist?

Some would be appalled that I would even ask the question. “Of course it isn’t racist,” they think. “We’re only trying to help.” They support affirmative action programs and the like, to give minorities a “leg up” over members of the majority race - whites, in the case of the United States. They’re blind to the condescension inherent in such programs. They think they’re atoning for the sins of history for which they feel guilty, though they were born after slavery and discrimination were outlawed and virtually eliminated.

White guilt is a major force - not just here in the United States, but worldwide. In the 1860s and the 1960s it was a force for good. Slavery was abolished in the 1860s after the Civil War, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s finished the job a hundred years later. White guilt is still with us, but now it’s making us all sick - not just white people, but nonwhite people whom white saviors purport to help. Guilt-ridden whites cannot perceive the racial insult inherent in their firm belief that minorities could never make it on a level playing field without the boost of racial quotas.

Last week we were bombarded with reports like “Katrina - One Year After.” The should-have-been-former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin appeared on top-rated radio and television shows like “60 Minutes” and “Meet The Press” and continued to suggest that our federal government discriminated against the “chocolate” people of New Orleans (as Nagin calls them), by delaying emergency aid. If New Orleans had been majority white, Nagin keeps claiming, the federal response would have been quicker and fewer black people would have died. His claims are ridiculous of course, but the media continued to give them the most extensive coverage. White guilt. And Nagin continues to dodge questions about why he failed to evacuate his city after getting plenty of advance warning, even when shown pictures of the rows of drowned school busses he was supposed to use. If the voters of New Orleans reelected him after all that, they deserve him. That he’s still mayor is a strong argument that a lot of people in New Orleans are beyond help.

What else but white guilt is responsible for the decades-long obsession with bussing white and black students past their neighborhood schools and across town long after everyone concerned realized there is nothing to be gained by doing so? Though it has certainly increased racial tension, has achieving “racial balance” had any benefit at all? Evidence simply isn’t there.

“White Guilt” happens to be the title of a recent book by Shelby Steele. After many essays and articles on the subject, Steele makes a strong case that his fellow blacks become dysfunctional when they continually blame severe social and economic problems on white racism and not on their own behaviors. Trying to blame your problems on someone else is a common human tendency, but white guilt has enabled it to grow to the point where it’s the biggest obstacle to progress in the black community.

Steele’s book was not a surprise, coming sixteen years after “Content of Our Character,” in which he first questioned racial set-aside programs allegedly benefiting blacks. More surprising is the most recent book by Juan Williams entitled: “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It.” Williams echoes many of Steele’s themes. Remember, Williams co-authored “Eyes on the Prize” with Julian Bond and works for NPR.

Though he wasn’t the first prominent black man to question things, I guess it was Bill Cosby who really blew the lid off. Two years ago, he made a speech to Operation PUSH in Jesse Jackson’s back yard, saying: “It is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us, and it keeps a person frozen in their seat. It keeps you frozen in your hole that you are sitting in to point up and say, ‘That’s the reason why I am here.’ We need to stop this.”

We can all do our part to “stop this.” The next time you’re asked to put a checkmark in a box next to a racial category, draw your own box, print “HUMAN” next to it and put your checkmark there. If enough of us do that, maybe government will finally get the message.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Feeling Small

Used to be the lawn didn’t grow much in August, but this year is different. There’s so much water in the ground that it still needs mowing every week. The field below it has to be mowed once a year and that requires an industrial-strength mower called a bush hog. Last week, I rented one that you sometimes see advertised on TV. It’s a walk-behind unit, not the kind that is attached to the back of a farm tractor. It’s self-propelled, sort of, but it doesn’t have a steering wheel. Turning the thing around at the end of a pass again and again requires more strength and endurance than is left in my 55-year-old body. It’s a two-acre field on the side of Christian Hill and it’s too steep to go side to side, so I had to walk up and down a hundred times behind the machine and hold on to it as it climbed over and chopped up various plants which had grown as tall as I am. Even with numerous breaks to catch my breath, it took a month off the end of my life to finish.

It’s the field’s second incarnation. A farmer named McDaniels created it a century and a half ago. He cleared it and rolled stones down the hill into a wall. Some were too big, so he drilled and split them into smaller, irregularly-shaped pieces that he maneuvered into place on the wall. He must have run out of energy too because he left two big rocks only partially split. Then he planted apple trees. I don’t know how long he worked the apple orchard but eventually he or someone else abandoned it to the forest. By the time I purchased the property it was all woods again. Among the oaks, ashes maples, and birches a few skeletons of long-dead apple trees remained between the stone walls. It took me about a decade to clear it again, cutting trees and burning brush. Many times I sat on one of the walls McDaniels made and wiped sweat from my face as I looked over my work. I imagined that he must have sat there and done the same generations ago. Eventually I hired someone to stump it with an excavator and replant it into a field.

As it would have for McDaniels, the field provides me a marvelous view to the west and I never tire of watching sunsets over Kearsarge in the spring and Baldface in the summer. On clear days, I can see smoke from the cog railway on Mount Washington. Having trekked up and down those mountains I know how massive they are, but when I’m over there and looking back east toward my property on Christian Hill, I can barely make out the hill, much less my field or my house. It helps me realize that my years of hard work are nearly invisible in the grand scheme of things. The hills and mountains are hundreds of millions of years old and my time on them is not much more than the brief, dim glow from a firefly’s butt. Humility is a good thing and I have much to be humble about. If I should forget, someone or something will usually remind me. It might be my wife. It might be a letter to the editor.

All that remained of McDaniels’ work were a few stone walls hidden by woods. I cleared the trees just as he did and constructed a few smaller walls with the help of a friend. Hopefully, they’ll last as long as his. McDaniels also carved his initials on a granite boundary marker nearby. On the other side of Christian Hill, there may someday be a stone with my name engraved in the Number Four Cemetery and somebody else will probably mow around it, for a while anyway.

Though I can see a long way toward large mountains in New Hampshire, I remind myself that what appears a panorama to me is but a tiny sliver of earth’s surface and earth is a tiny speck in the universe. When George Bailey had similarly insignificant feelings about his place and time here in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an angel visited to convince him otherwise. I haven’t seen any angels lately and I’m mostly glad I have so little influence on events around me. If it were otherwise, I’d have to take more responsibility for what happens on this planet.

Matthew’s gospel says God knows when a sparrow falls. I’m also aware that He created the hawk and house cat which can hasten the sparrow’s demise. The passage goes on to say that God counts the hairs on my head. It’s also true that He’s making His job easier lately by expanding my bald spot.

Then there’s my philosopher friend, Kevin, who tells me: “Always remember Tom, that you’re unique - just like everyone else.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Confused and Divided

This is a confusing war. Few of us are sure who or what we’re fighting. Are we at war with terror? Terror is a thing - an extreme fear - and that’s what our leaders say we’re fighting. I suppose we humans are always fighting fear of one kind or another, but an organized war against a thing? Our Constitution says Congress has sole power to declare war and the president sole power to carry it out as commander-in-chief. Did Congress declare war on a thing?

Maybe some Americans believe we’re fighting a thing but I doubt it. If they think about it, they must consider who is using terror against us. We’re divided according to how we answer three essential questions: Who are the terrorists? Why are they attacking us? How should we respond?

First, who is attacking us? Some say it’s al Qaida because they’re the only ones who attacked us on September 11th. Others say it’s not just them but other Arab Muslim terrorist organizations as well such as Hezbollah, who have killed hundreds of Americans and were most recently at war with Israel. Still others say it’s not just Arab Muslim terrorists, but all Muslim terrorists including Iranians (who are not Arab but Persian), Indonesians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and several other kinds of Muslims as well. The only commonality is that they’re all Muslims, which means that they’re all followers of Islam. These Americans believe we’re fighting a newly-resurgent form of Radical Islam followed by many Muslims from all ethnic groups. Not all Muslims are terrorists, they say, but all terrorists are Muslims.

Secondly, why are they attacking us? Some Americans think it’s because we deserve it. Former University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill commented on September 11th, saying: “Why did it take Arabs to do what we here should have done a long time ago?” He called September 11th victims “little Eichmans,” as if were they who want to kill Jews and not the Muslims who attacked us - who compare Jews to dogs and pigs. Other professors said similarly outrageous things and were defended by still other professors who claimed they were not traitors, but only exercising academic freedom.

Other Americans think we didn’t deserve September 11th, but think we oppress Muslims, steal their oil, support Israel, and all this angers them enough to attack us. They think America is controlled by big corporations who steal natural resources from third-world nations everywhere and the world hates us for it.

Other Americans were shocked by the 9-11 attack and have been trying since to figure out why Muslims hate us, but they aren’t sure yet.

Still others think Radical Muslims hate us and want to kill us because we’re not Muslims, because we don’t want to convert to Islam, and because we’re their biggest obstacle to taking over the world and making it Muslim. After the conquest, they think, ruling caliphs would impose Islamic law called Sharia, make men grow beards, make women wear burkhas, then kill fornicators and homosexuals. They think we’re evil, the Great Satan.

Finally, how should we respond? Those who think we deserved to be attacked suggest that we cooperate in our own demise. They’d like to see America as we know it collapse. Others who think we didn’t deserve such a harsh attack believe a measured response is warranted, and we should have limited our counterattack to Afghanistan. They see the Iraq war as going too far and making Muslims even more angry at us. They think we should put it all behind us now, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and move on.

Others of us think we’re not going far enough - that our limited war and measured responses give our enemies the impression that we’re not willing to do whatever it takes to win - that this strategy encourages our enemies who will hold out against us for now, then step up their attacks as our resolve weakens. These Americans think we should go all out - destroy Radical Islam by hunting down and killing terrorists while taking out the governments of any countries that supports terrorists, such as Syria and Iraq. They believe in the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes even though Bush himself seems to have abandoned it. Many have relatives on the front lines and display yellow ribbons on their vehicles.

Fewer than half of eligible Americans will actually vote in ten weeks. Meanwhile, senators and congressmen travel around their districts appealing to as many groups as possible. As Senator Lieberman discovered, this war, however we understand it, is issue number one. Most of us will still be confused about it after the election - unless we’re attacked again. That would focus our minds.