Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Exploring Local History

Migrating birds have been looking over my property for nesting places. I’m trying to persuade tree swallows to take up residence in the houses I built for them overlooking my lower field, but they’ve declined so far. Phoebes, however come back every year in places I’d rather they didn’t, like under the eaves on my porch roof. Lately they’re over my wife’s new hot tub, and when the babies are big enough, they’ll hang their rear ends off the the side of the nest and let go on the cover. She’s in the hot tub several times a week, but I join her only once in a while now. I bought a four-wheeler this spring and I’m out on it often. She joins me only once in a while.

I also bought old maps of every county in Maine and New Hampshire. Studying old maps of the western Maine region, it’s evident that early settlers in the steeper hill country around here searched out hidden valleys to set up households the way birds do each spring. They’d clear some land, build a house and barn, and raise families. Cutting roads into the more remote regions with only hand tools and animal power must have been daunting, but they did it. I spent half of my Easter vacation exploring some of the remotest and steepest areas around here and I can only marvel at the work ethic they obviously possessed. I can barely access these places in the 21st century, and I can only imagine how hard it was in the 19th or the 18th. It also helps me understand why they abandoned their homesteads after two or three generations and migrated west.

David Crouse, publisher of Cold River Chronicles, informed me a few weeks ago about historical USGS maps scanned and published online by UNH. Some go back as far as the 1890s. I’ll print out a map for each area I plan to explore and take along hard copies of 1858 maps published by Saco Valley Printing in Fryeburg. The maps show who lived in the houses which where only cellar holes are left. Depending on the region I explore, I can have maps from 1858, 1909, 1941 and 1962. I drive my pickup in as far as I can, then unload the four-wheeler to venture in further. When the terrain is too difficult even for that machine, I go on foot the way the early explorers did. Still, some of the old roads are difficult to make out even in the spring when there’s little foliage to camouflage them. My respect for the pioneers who first carved a home from these areas goes up with each exploration.

While I was in the middle of writing this column Crouse emailed me with a link to aerial photographs of western Maine taken within the last five years or so. They’re published by the Maine affiliate of Global Information Systems (GIS). Clicking on these, I could zoom in closely enough to identify the back roads I’d just traveled on last week in Stoneham, Lovell, Waterford and Sweden. They’re detailed enough to make out existing houses and even individual white pine trees if they’re big enough. I found my house and my neighbors’ houses too. I could see where large parcels were cut over more recently than neighboring large parcels. A definite grid pattern emerge when you see the country from high up.

Crouse sent me the GIS link because I’d just emailed him with the news that the Lovell Historical Society’s Bob Williams and I found what we strongly believe is the actual site of Calvin McKeen’s murder in 1860, about which Crouse and Williams are planning a presentation June 27th at the library here in Lovell. Exploring the area in the spring, I could see features like an abandoned roadbed which provided an additional reference point and made the old maps suddenly understandable. Crouse zoomed in on the aerial photo of the area and saw evidence of the old roadbed.

Exploring further into old West Stoneham neighborhoods puts me in the White Mountain National Forest. There are several abandoned communities even further in that I’m salivating to explore, but the WMNF gates are closed in spring - the best time to look around. Having just written a hefty check to the federal government earlier this month it chaps me that, while private landowners don’t fence me out, “public lands” are off-limits until summer when foliage will hide most of the historical evidence I’m looking for. I’ll also have to pay an additional fee to park and hike in, without my four-wheeler, which is banned.

The birds are still free to fly in there. The early settlers were able to cut roads and build houses in there without government assistance or regulation, but I, a member of the “public,” am not.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Illegal By Definition

There was an automobile accident in front of my father-in-law’s house in Lowell, Massachusetts last summer. When police responded, they discovered the driver and occupants of one vehicle were illegal aliens from Brazil. They had no driver’s licenses, no registration and, needless to say, no insurance. One cop said sarcastically to the other, “What a surprise.” In other words, it was no surprise at all because such accidents happen frequently there. The driver of the other car, who was not at fault in the accident, would have to pay for the damage to her vehicle herself or deal with her own insurance company and see her rates increased because she won’t be able to collect anything from the illegal aliens. They were ticketed and released, but the police doubted they would ever show up in court. Federal immigration authorities were not even contacted because they routinely tell local police to just release illegal aliens found in violation of traffic laws. If you or I were driving with no license, registration, or insurance, we would have to suffer the consequences.

Incidents like these are more and more commonplace and US citizens are understandably irate about the federal government’s refusal to enforce our immigration laws. Illegal aliens can show up in most states and get Section 8 housing, food stamps, and medical care. If they have children, they are educated for about $10,000 per kid per year, all paid for by taxpayers like the woman whose car was smashed up in Lowell that day. You want to guess how she feels about granting amnesty to 11 million illegals here in the United States?

When illegals apply for welfare benefits here in Maine, state employees may not ask them about their immigration status or they will be violating an executive order from Governor Baldacci. That means anyone, from anywhere in the world can come to Maine and get free housing, free food and free medical care, not to mention free education for their children. Maine’s taxpayers have to support them whether we like it or not, even if they violated our laws by sneaking in here. If they’re here, they own us. While only 20% of citizens collect welfare, more than 30% of immigrants, legal and illegal, collect it. What’s wrong with this picture?

Most illegals come from Mexico, whose government encourages them to sneak into our country. However, Mexico’s government has a much different policy for Guatemalans or Salvadorans who sneak into Mexico from the south. They don’t complain to the Mexican government. They get no benefits. Instead, they’re arrested and deported. Two weeks ago, a half-million illegals demonstrated in the streets of Los Angeles waving Mexican flags or upside-down US flags and demanded citizenship. A week later, another half-million demonstrated in Dallas, but this time “immigrant rights” groups like like the communist-dominated A.N.S.W.E.R (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), and National Council of La Raza (the race), distributed American flags and told them to hide their Mexican flags because they didn’t look good on TV.

According to a Zogby poll quoted in a recent Claremont Institute essay by Victor Hanson, 58% of Mexicans believe that “the territory of the United States’ southwest rightfully belongs to Mexico.” The also believe “they should have the right to cross the border freely and without US permission.” Hanson quotes former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, saying “the Mexican nation extends beyond the territory enclosed by its borders . . . [and Mexican migrants are] an important - a very important - part of this.” Hanson quotes Mexico’s national newspaper Excelsior which writes: “The American Southwest seems to be slowly returning to the jurisdiction of Mexico without firing a single shot.” Indeed, the Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico have each declared a state of emergency because of the illegal alien problem down there. Hanson quotes Mario Obledo, former California Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, saying, “California is going to be an Hispanic state. Anybody who doesn’t like it should leave.”

How did it get this bad? For decades Democrats and Republicans have avoided dealing the problem except to define it out of existence by issuing periodic amnesties. A stroke of the pen and no more illegal alien problem. That’s what President Bush says his “guest worker” program is not an amnesty, but most Americans know better. Such policies don’t eliminate the problem; they only make it worse by encouraging more Mexicans to sneak in and wait for the next amnesty. Mexico isn’t going to make any changes in its corrupt government as long as it can ship its discontents north to the United States. Why should it?

Meanwhile, local police in our states, cities and towns can continue to take illegals into custody for various offenses, call federal immigration authorities, and are instructed to just release them. Illegals don’t have to obey the laws the rest of us have to obey. In the rare case they’re actually deported, they sneak right back in. When the federal government refuses to deal with illegals, how can we expect legal immigrants to continue obeying the rules? How can we expect anyone to? If we can’t control our borders, how long can we call ourselves a country?

And that’s the way it is, as Walter Cronkite used to say. It’s not likely to change much either, unless US voters send a clear message to congressmen and senators this November: Stop illegal immigration, once and for all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Heterosexual White Guy

I don’t feel guilty being a heterosexual white guy, but evidently there are many people who think I should. Three years ago, a friend working in the mental health field showed me an essay entitled: “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” distributed to everyone, every year, at the agency where she worked. Written by Peggy MacIntosh, Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, it was full of the usual leftist, victim-group buzzwords, like: empowered, outraged, systemic, consciousness, heterosexism, etc. MacIntosh said that while spending years bringing materials from Women’s Studies into the regular curriculum at Wellesley, she “often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged . . .”

My reaction is: thank God that back in 1988 there were still some men expressing that unwillingness among the Birkenstock-wearing, tofu-eating, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, sensitive he/shes MacIntosh be likely to encounter around the Wellesley College campus. But that was nearly two decades ago and I fear there are fewer men left who are willing to to tell MacIntosh she’s crazy in those trendy, blue-state, Boston suburbs. Twenty years of mandatory sensitivity training in universities and work places have done a lot of damage to men down there. Testosterone is ebbing dangerously in the region that gave us Michael Dukakis back in 1988, and then John Kerry in 2004. At least those two had an excuse, catering to their coo-coo constituency in Massachusetts. But what about Al Gore in 2000? He wasn’t sure how to be a man either and he came from Tennessee. Then again, he did go to Harvard for four years. That time in Cambridge must have damaged him so much that, during his presidential campaign, he had to hire feminist Naomi Wolfe at $30,000 a month to tell him what a man should be like. And it didn’t work, did it Al. All that money wasted.

Speaking of Naomi Wolfe, I saw her on Book TV last week giving Harvey Mansfield a hard time about his recent book “Manliness.” I was gratified that Mansfield wrote such a book in spite of having taught at Harvard, where he was the only faculty member to vote against establishing a Women’s Studies Department there. I watched the whole interview waiting for him to bring up Wolfe’s work with Gore, but he never did. It’s good to know there’s at least one person left to represent the male sex down there in Cambridge now that Larry Summers has been run out of town.

But back to MacIntosh’s essay. I asked my friend if there were any objections at her agency when it was passed out. She said there weren’t and that disappointed me. “No one spoke up?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “And nobody laughed either the way you did.” That surprised me and made me wonder what kind of men she worked with.

A couple of years passed and I had nearly forgotten the essay when a student-teacher in my classroom said, “Tom, check this out,” as he handed me another copy of MacIntosh’s diatribe. There it was with its list of twenty-six white “privileges,” such as #12: “I can swear or dress in second hand clothes or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.” Not answering letters? Is this the kind of thing they’re outraged about at the Wellesley College Women’s Studies Department? How much does it cost to send a kid to that school? Isn’t that where Hillary Clinton went?

After we read sections like that aloud and chuckled about them, I asked the intern if anyone spoke up about the essay to the instructor. “No,” he said. “We have to pass the course if we want to become teachers.”

Trying to hide my disappointment, I asked, “Well, do you mind if I write about it?”

“Not until I graduate, okay?” he said. “I really need this course. We get these kinds of things a lot and I have to keep my mouth shut or I won’t make it through. After I get my certificate, I won’t care. Write about it then.”

“Okay,” I said. “What will you do if you should get a testosterone surge before June? How will you handle it?”

“I’ll get a muzzle,” he said. “I’m in enough trouble now.”

That’s how it is on campus nowadays for a heterosexual white guy who is unwilling to grant that he’s overprivileged. If he spoke up, he’d be a racist, misogynist, heterosexist oppressor.

Number 22 on MacIntosh’s list of white privileges said: “I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.”

Excuse me? Affirmative action puts women, blacks, hispanics, Eskimos, and just about everyone else ahead of heterosexual white guys in hiring, awarding contracts and admission to colleges and universities, awarding scholarships, etc. HWGs are last on the list and we’re supposed to be overprivileged?

No. I don’t feel guilty being a HWG. And I don’t feel guilty about not feeling guilty either.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

French Economics

My lesson plan for the day included showing part of a video on the Vietnam War to each of my five 20th century US History classes. I had to rewind the tape as each new group filed in. I watched the VCR’s on-screen display of footage while Fox News was on in the background. Watching over my shoulder, my students were fascinated by live coverage of French students throwing bricks and stones at riot police in downtown Paris. Fox’s correspondent was in the middle of the melee as demonstrators threw balloons filled with paint as police used Plexiglas shields to protect themselves and many were covered in yellow. Occasionally police would grab a hold of an unruly young man and subdue him as he writhed against their grip. Other police would surround the officers holding him down and it appeared they were stomping on him. We couldn’t be sure since the camera’s view was obscured. My students were quite interested so I let them watch a bit longer after finding the right place on the videotape.

“Are the police kicking him?” a student would ask in each class.

“I’m not sure,” I’d say. “What do you think?”

“It looks like they are,” some suggested. Others would nod, their brows wrinkled with concern. On the TV, the Fox correspondent said similar demonstrations taking place in over two hundred locations around France. Other unions were calling for strikes. Airports, trains, busses and subways were shut down in a transit workers strike. Students and labor unions were demonstrating because a new government policy would allow private companies who hired young people under twenty-six years old to fire them or lay them off during their first two years of employment. Previous government policy dictated that, once people were hired, their jobs would be almost guaranteed for life. Students and union members wanted to keep it that way.

After a few minutes, I pressed the “mute” button, turned to the class and asked: “Do you understand what the fuss is about?” Most continued to look at the now-silent television as a phalanx of helmeted police with shields moved forward against the mob, then retreated, over and over. Nobody answered my question though. “Muslim youths were rioting across France last fall,” I said. “but this is different. These are ethnic French kids, not immigrants.”

“Are they burning cars?” asked a student.

“Some are,” I said, “but not as much as the Muslim rioters did.”

We had been studying communism, socialism and capitalism in the context of the Cold War - hence the Vietnam film in the original lesson plan. Students knew that socialist countries closely regulated business compared to capitalist countries which favored a laissez-faire policy. “This is a good example of government regulation of business. France was moving toward socialism but is now trying to relax some of that regulation and demonstrators are resisting. French workers get thirteen weeks vacation per year. Government forces companies to give the new worker five weeks paid vacation after he’s worked only one year and it goes up from there. Companies are reluctant to take on new employees if forced to keep them for life. Businesses resist expanding and as a result, France’s unemployment rate is about 23 percent among young people.”

Then I explained how the unemployed get generous welfare benefits from government. That gets very expensive, so French workers must pay up to 68% of their salaries in taxes. “For every three dollars they get paid, two go to the government,” I said.

Policies the French government proposed for beginning workers are quite similar to policies for public school teachers here in the United States. I explained the provisions of my teaching contract for each class. Teachers get about 14 weeks vacation per year. In most American school districts, teachers may be let go after the first year and after the second year without explanation. However, if a teacher is hired for a third year, it becomes extremely difficult to ever get rid of him. Should a district want to fire him and the teachers’ union helps him fight it with legal help, the district can expect to spend an average of $200,000 in legal fees before it’s over.

If student enrollment goes down, American teachers can be laid off. But, if business slows down for French companies, they keep paying their workers because it’s usually cheaper than the legal costs of laying them off. Workers can request government help for legal fees to fight the layoff. Companies pay the legal fees themselves. Workers are almost guaranteed jobs for life, but companies are reluctant to expand if they have to assume all the risks. As a result, France’s economy stagnates and unemployment goes up. Government tries to ease regulation; unions and students riot.

Some students seemed to get it, but others were puzzled. Economics can be like that. It is the “dismal science” after all. Everyone, however, was interested in watching the riots. “What will happen next, Mr. McLaughlin?” one asked.

“Good question; I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.”