Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Community Organizer Commander

Soldiers and veterans interest me because I’ve never been one, and because many are regular readers of this column. When they allow it, I like to pick their brains. They’ve had experiences I’ve never had and never will have. I almost joined up after high school, but didn’t, and I’ve often regretted that. Even if they haven’t been in combat, soldiers have worked and lived closely with others who have, and it changed them in some fundamental way. My sense is that for most the change has been a net positive —especially for Marines and soldiers with elite training such as Special Forces and Seals. I’m curious how they feel about changes taking place in the government of the country they’ve offered their lives to defend. They are, or have been, instruments of that government, yet many I’ve talked to lately express profound dissatisfaction with it even before the VA scandal broke.

Washington has deep misgivings about veterans too. In 2012 the Department of Homeland Security under Janet Napolitano profiled what sort of people are potential terrorists and the list included Iraq veterans. Also mentioned were “extreme right-wing” organizations, people who “believe that one’s personal and/or national ‘way of life’ is under attack,” or people who are “suspicious of centralized federal authority” and “reverent of individual liberty.” People of Janet Napolitano’s ilk consider the Tea Party an “extreme right-wing organization,” consequently this writer and many readers fit the profile. So do virtually all conservative Republicans and Libertarians. 
Surviving veterans, many of whom offered their lives in service to these individual liberties, are indeed suspicious of an increasingly centralized federal authority so disdainful of them as to consider them potential terrorists. The irony here is that 95% of terrorists worldwide are Muslims, and over the last thirteen years thousands of American soldiers have died and more than a hundred thousand others have been wounded while fighting them. Yet, while the Obama Administration forbids profiling Muslim terrorists as terrorists, it has no problem profiling American veterans of the Iraq War as potential terrorists.
Now consider that the VA gives “top notch medical treatment” to Muslim terrorists imprisoned at Gitmo — far better than it provides to our veterans. According to information a Pentagon insider provided to Judicial Watch:

There are approximately 150 terrorists at Gitmo yet the VA has 100 doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel assigned to them, [retired Navy Commander J. D.] Gordon says. ‘Doctors and medical personnel are at their beck and call,’ he confirms, adding that they are readily available for things as minor as a cold, fever, toothache or chest and back pain. The jihadists who murdered thousands of Americans never have to wait, Gordon says, because the Gitmo patient to healthcare provider ratio is 1.5 to 1. ‘No problem, come right on in,’ Gordon writes in his piece. If you risked your life serving your country, however, the ratio is 35 to 1.

As Michelle Malkin points out that America’s illegal aliens get much better health care than our veterans too:

In New York, doctors report that nearly 40 percent of their patients receiving kidney dialysis are illegal aliens. A survey of nephrologists in 44 states revealed that 65 percent of them treat illegal aliens with kidney disease. In Memphis, a VA whistle-blower reported that his hospital was using contaminated kidney-dialysis machines to treat America’s warriors. The same hospital previously had been investigated for chronic overcrowding at its emergency room, leading to six-hour waits or longer… In Arizona, illegal aliens incurred health-care costs totaling an estimated $700 million in 2009. [Meanwhile’] in Phoenix, at least 40 veterans died waiting for VA hospitals and clinics to treat them, while government officials created secret waiting lists to cook the books and deceive the public about deadly treatment delays.

We’re hearing lots of excuses from Washington about the VA scandal. In spite of the fact that Obama made at least seven speeches in the last seven years promising he would not rest until he had fixed the waiting times at VA, and emphasizing how absolutely outraged he was about it, White House advisor Dan Ffeiffer had the gall to say last week that the president only recently heard about the problem on the news.

This is our commander-in-chief, the man in whom our soldiers must have confidence when he sends them into battle. As the House Select Committee on Benghazi unravels what really happened on September 11, 2012, Americans will learn what President Obama was doing as his aids watched Muslim terrorists attack the compound there. What exactly was the commander-in-chief's response when brave American soldiers, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, fought desperately for so many hours and ultimately died as they awaited reinforcements that never came?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Good Life

Today I’m healthy, my belly is full, and I’m warm and dry in a comfortable chair as I write. Life is good. My wife is outside doing what she loves, which is working in her flower gardens. My shoulder is paining a bit after pulling at the starter cord over and over to get my lawn mower going after a long winter. Can’t do my usual morning exercises until it heals, however long that takes. As I get older it takes longer, but I’ll be patient. Getting older is one of the things I cannot change and must therefore accept. Considering that the alternative is to die early makes acceptance easier.
Roseann in her garden

Back when I was teaching, my students and I were comfortable with each other this late in the school year, so one day in April or May I’d begin each of my classes saying, “I have good news and bad news. What do you want hear first?” They always wanted bad news first, so I’d tell them: “All right. Here it is: You’re all going to die.” They’d look at me blankly and then one would say, “We know that, Mr. McLaughlin.” “Good,” I’d respond. “Keep it in mind because it will help you appreciate every day.” Then one would ask what the good news was. “The good news is that, at your age, it probably won’t happen anytime soon. There are no guarantees for any of us, but given that I’m more than forty years older than you are, you probably have a whole lot more days left than I do.”
During most of my days, taking pictures has been one of my great pleasures. Lately I’ve been playing around with editing, printing, and framing some of my favorite shots. It’s another aspect of the art that I’m just beginning to appreciate. Getting the right size frame, the proper matte, and dry-mounting photos before framing is time-consuming but quite satisfying when it all comes together. That’s why I was particularly alarmed two weeks ago when the vision in my left eye got cloudy all of a sudden. After a few hours I couldn’t see at all. Luckily I got an appointment right away at the Maine Eye Center with a good ophthalmologist. Tests showed I had a spontaneous bleed caused from a micro aneurysm between my iris and pupil. By the end of the day the doctor pinpointed the tiny bleed well enough that he could focus a laser to cauterize it. Now, two weeks later, it’s back to normal. Though I’ve always admired flowering trees and soft spring greens in beech groves this time of year, after that experience and the long winter we all endured, they’re more beautiful than ever.
Twenty years ago, I started using drug store glasses to read, and four years ago, I finally got a pair of real prescription glasses. Around the same time, I noticed I was saying “What?” a lot at teacher meetings when nobody else seemed to have trouble hearing what was said. Also, my wife was asking me to turn down the television a lot. Last month I finally got around to checking it out, and an audiologist told me I had moderate to severe hearing loss, especially with high-pitched sounds like the voices of women and children. I reluctantly bought two expensive hearing aids a few days before my daughter Annie and her family moved back into their house after staying with us for several months. It was apparent right away that my new hearing devices eliminated any difficulty I had hearing children’s voices and I began to wonder if they worked too well.
Now that we have the house to ourselves again, I’m hearing the clock tick and the refrigerator go through its cycles. At Sunday mass, I heard a beautiful rendition of “Ave Maria” by choir director Heather Sheehan.
The bleed in my eye was likely caused by the Buerger’s Disease I was diagnosed with thirty years ago, or the blood thinner I take for it, or both. It’s a disease of the small arteries and I’ve had several aneurysms in my legs over the years. My brother died of the disease after multiple amputations. If not for a good surgeon and the wonders of modern medicine, I might not have two good legs. I might have been half blind, and wouldn’t be able to hear the song of cardinals or the laughter of my grandchildren nearly as well.

Life is good indeed, and every day is precious.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fit To Print?

Something is wrong when a family newspaper won’t publish in this space a book passage that public schools assign to fourteen-year-olds. Last week, a father was arrested at a school board meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire for “disorderly conduct” for exceeding the board’s two-minute speaking limit when commenting on the passage in question. Someone videoed the incident and posted it on Youtube with text of the passage superimposed on the screen. Otherwise I couldn’t have known what it was to which the father, William Baer, so strenuously objected. If you want to read it, you’ll have to watch it:
Hence, the dilemma. Most people won’t ever read it and therefore won’t know what the salacious passage describes: rough sex between a teenage boy and girl. As a teacher and columnist, I was frustrated several times by just this kind of conundrum. Because newspaper standards didn’t allow it, I couldn’t show parents and taxpayers what schools were actually doing with both their children and their tax money. In the book I’m writing, however, I’ve been able to describe appalling examples to which I could only refer obliquely in columns. Once, an editor was ready to dump my column after I wrote a critique of “The Vagina Monologues,” showings of which are paid for by taxpayers at hundreds of public colleges. I considered the column quite restrained compared to the play I was describing.
During his turn to speak, Mr. Baer seemed surprised by the two-minute rule, which he claimed was just for that meeting. Eventually, he passed out copies of the licentious passage to school board members and challenged them to read it, but by that time, the chairwoman, Sue Allen, told him his two minutes were up. He sat down, but after a subsequent speaker accused Baer of wanting to dictate what students could or could not read, Baer spoke up again from his seat claiming the man’s comments were absurd. “No one’s talking about censoring the book. No one’s talking about banning the book or burning the book or anything…” he said. Chairwoman Sue Allen talked over him to ask that he be respectful of other speakers, none of whom had the floor at that time. Baer continued talking and a police officer walked into the seating area and asked him to leave. Baer remained seated and the officer took him by the arm, led him out of the room, then handcuffed him before taking him outside to a cruiser.
Never having seen a police officer at numerous school board meetings over the years when I was teaching in nearby western Maine, I assume the board arranged for the officer to be there for that night. The Laconia Daily Sun had reported two days before the meeting that Mr. Baer intended to ask the board members to read the passage in question and quoted him saying: “I'd like to see them read this. To see them squirm.” However, the video shows him asking the superintendent to read a copy of the notice that went home to parents indicating that the book “depicts high school relationships, some of them unhealthy.”
Jodi Picoult

Baer considered that insufficient warning and after reading the passage, I have to agree with him. He would have been better off using his two minutes to read the passage aloud himself, but maybe he was too embarrassed. It’s that graphic.

Media from all over the United States and Europe reported on Baer’s arrest but none that I read printed the salacious passage. I can’t help but wonder if he’d still have been arrested for reading it aloud without exceeding the two-minute limit. Perhaps not, but most if not all present would have been uncomfortable listening to it.
Baer listens after sitting down

No one can make a judgement about the whole incident without first reading the passage, but it can’t be printed or recited in polite company. Baer had asked the Laconia Daily Sun to print it but, according to the Sun's article: “Editor Ed Engler declined, saying he thought some of the description[s] rendered were not suitable for publication in 99 percent of daily newspapers in America, ‘Maybe 100 percent.’”

Baer claimed the Manchester Union Leader also refused to print it, and asked: ‘It's not fit to print, but it's okay for my daughter to read it and discuss it? My goal is to have everyone in the United States read what's on page 313 of that book ["Nineteen Minutes" by Jodie Picoult],” he declared, ‘except my daughter.’”

Baer's 14-year-old daughter addresses board

Teaching fourteen-year-olds for most of my career, I saw many girls reading books by Jodi Picoult. Book critics claim the rough sex act described in “Nineteen Minutes” is not gratuitous but integral to the story line about a fictitious school shooting. I’m not a novelist and I haven’t read the book, but I doubt the scene was necessary.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Say What?

Don’t tell someone to “Man Up” at Duke University. It’s “offensive language” according to an official campaign on campus called “You Don’t Say.” There are black and white posters all around picturing three wimpy-looking young men cautioning against certain words or phrases. The first proclaims: “I don’t say ‘Man Up’ because the strongest people I know have cried in front of me, regardless of their age, gender or sex.” Masculinity isn’t politically correct on today’s campuses and it’s scary for 21st century progressives.

Another claims “I don’t say ‘Tranny’ because it’s insulting to transgender and genderqueer communities.” Wasn’t “queer” deemed offensive way back in the 20th century? Did the word get a progressive pardon I didn’t hear about? And I thought a “tranny” was a transmission in a truck or a car. Boy, am I out of touch. Hope it’s still okay to say “boy.”
Duke University shouldn’t be telling anyone what to say or not say, but it is anyway. The university lost all credibility when it hung its own lacrosse team out to dry based on the false charges of an unstable woman working as a stripper. They were obviously bogus, but because the accuser was a black female and the accused were “privileged” upper-middle-class white males, eighty-eight of Duke’s faculty signed a petition that presumed them guilty “regardless of the results of the police investigation,” as part of their introductory paragraph read.
No matter that the accuser was proven to have lied and is now in prison for murder. No matter that the district attorney was removed and disbarred for his conduct in the case. No matter that the university settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in a lawsuit by the falsely-accused players. None of the eight-eight progressive faculty members have apologized for what they did to those “privileged” white guys.
What difference does it make!

Other things we shouldn’t be saying include words like “bitch” and the slang word sometimes used to describe a cat or part of the female anatomy. Heck, my mother told me not to say those things fifty years ago. I’m okay with discouraging them on campus, but other words my mother hated are fine for progressives, especially that four-letter f-word. That’s ubiquitous as an adjective, noun, verb, or any other way you wish to say it. On other campuses are campaigns to eliminate the word “bossy” when describing any female. It’s just as bad as “bitch” in progressive nomenclature. My mother was okay with us saying “bossy” when describing my sister because she definitely was. You can’t say “illegal immigrant” either, even when describing someone who immigrated illegally. Many media outlets have banned it too, including the Associated Press.
Progressives believe that if they can control what words we use, they can control how we think. The “Gay and Lesbian Advocates And Defenders” or GLAAD, issued the 8th edition of its “Media Reference Guide” in 2010. They list as “Problematic” such phrases as “sex-change” or “pre-operative” or “post-operative.” They recommend “transition,” cautioning to “avoid over-emphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people.” Got that? And never say “bathroom bill” either because “it’s a term used by far-right extremists to oppose non-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. The term is geared to incite fear and panic at the thought of encountering transgender people in public restrooms. Use non-discrimination law/ordinance instead.”
So ladies: If you see a huge man who claims he’s a woman come into the ladies’ room, don’t even think about whether he’s had his you-know-what cut off or not. It’s offensive even to let that enter your mind.
GLAAD even calls the word “homosexual” offensive. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press evidently agree because they’ve banned the word in their style manuals. To say “homosexual relationship” is “extremely offensive” because such a phrase is “frequently used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate gay people.” Neither can you say “gay agenda” because there isn’t any gay agenda - in spite of the what their Media Reference Guide obviously embodies. It’s offensive to say so, just like it’s offensive to describe an illegal immigrant as an illegal immigrant. Got it?
“Disordered” is defamatory too says GLAAD. So when the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is both “intrinsically disordered” and “objectively disordered,” it’s on a collision course with GLAAD. The organization praises the Washington Post’s guidelines which caution against mentioning homosexuals in anything but a positive light, as in: “Describing a slaying, for instance, should suffice without referring to it as a homosexual slaying.” All these guidelines are voluntary, of course. If anyone might think about violating them, they should first think about what GLAAD did to Phil Robertson and Brendan Eich. If you don’t watch what you say, they’d be more than GLAAD to do it to you too.