Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Passing It On

In the late 19th century, Kezar Lake became a summer destination for relatively wealthy people from regions to our south. They bought the lakefront property from local farmers, many of whom had kept it in their families for generations. The newer owners also tried to pass ownership down to their offspring but that seldom worked for long. It never really does no matter where in the world a given property is located, or who the owners are, or were.

I have fond memories of the Tewksbury, Massachusetts house in which I grew up, but people entirely unknown to me occupy it now. As adults, my wife and I owned four houses and worked hard on them all. I’ve lived in our current Lovell home longest  — over thirty years, but I still feel an attachment to the ones we’ve sold because I spent many hours and days in, on, and under each of them doing repairs and upgrades over several years of ownership. My children lived and grew in three of them. Often I dream that I’m still living in one or the other — and it seems like I actually do until I wake up. I know those dreams mean something but I’m not sure what.

Wee John McLaughlin's house
Ten years ago I searched for the Donegal, Ireland farmhouse in which my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin was born. After three days of driving around and asking questions all over the Inishowen Peninsula, I found it, but it wasn’t a house anymore; it was a shed housing old, rusted tools. A more comfortable house was constructed next to it sometime in the fifties and another, still better one was built in front of that sometime in the 21st century. Back in 1922, the old farm was sold to a family named McGonigle which still owns it after nearly a century. The ten acres farmed by my great-great-grandfather “Wee John” McLaughlin were still intact and all the surrounding farmland was still owned by people named McLaughlin.

My wife and her grandfather's house
The home in which my wife’s grandfather was born was still standing in a little village called Magouliana high in the Greek Peloponnese. It was unoccupied when we visited there four years ago and owned by an unrelated family. Locals told us it had been a store for a while. My wife still had relatives named Kosiavelos living in the village though. That’s the original spelling of her maiden name before it was changed by a clerk at Ellis Island when her grandfather immigrated around 1900.

I’m responsible for a summer home on Kezar Lake designed by Portland, Maine architect John Calvin Stevens a century ago, and it hasn’t changed much since it was built. The property was purchased twenty years ago by the present owners and they’re only the third since the building went up around 1920. For that matter, I’m only the third caretaker, having taken over from the second about thirty-five years ago. I’ve done repairs in, on, and under that building too and I feel attached to it as if it were my own.

The previous owners for whom I worked had inherited wealth, but one of their offspring conspired to squander most of it, leaving little for the others to maintain the property. An adjacent parcel on Kezar Lake stayed in the same family for a century because the original owner had been a judge and tied it up in a hundred-year trust. When that dissolved, so did the property but I believe descendants still own a few lots carved out of the original holding. A new road accessing lakefront parcels bears the original family name.

Magouliana in the Peloponnese
We’ve all heard stories of families who fight over homes, contents, and money when parents pass on. It’s always unpleasant, way too familiar, and the only winners are attorneys hired to thrash it out. Maybe not even them — because they have to listen to selfish, conniving siblings or to the sad stories of their victims.

Gathering of our family
My wife and I have made arrangements to pass on our homes, but we attached no restrictions. We don’t expect our surviving children to live in either of them hang on to them. They can if they want to but I doubt any will. They have their own lives and their own homes to which they’ve formed attachments just as my wife and I did with ours. Each will probably take certain items of sentimental value but most of our things will likely be liquidated. People unknown to us will end up with them or they’ll simply be thrown away because one person’s treasure can become another person’s trash.

The only parcel of real estate I expect will remain ours is the cemetery plot we purchased. That waits for us to take occupancy when this phase of our lives ends.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting In The Firewood

There was a time I thought I’d be cutting my firewood every year until I was an old man. It was hard work, and by the time I was done sometime in the fall, there were no extra pounds on me. Then would come holidays with all the food and the extra pounds would gradually return until summer rolled around again and I’d be back in the woods. I had a Ford 8N farm tractor that was older than I was and I used it to pull trees out of the family woodlot in West Lovell. Then I cut it to four-foot lengths to haul home to work it up after school each day. My wife and kids all helped get it into the woodshed before snowfall.

It was a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, but it was a whole-family effort and everyone enjoyed sitting near the living-room wood stove through the winter. You might say we bonded over firewood. The work was all mine until the wood was all cut to stove length. The family helped while I was splitting it, pulling the cloven pieces from each side of the chopping block and carrying them to the woodshed. I worked as a school district administrator during the first couple of years, a job from which I derived little satisfaction. The straightforward task of getting firewood from stump to stove was a welcome relief from the nebulous duties of that job.

Me and Roseann 1978
Firewood kept me grounded. It was intensely physical and the work-reward continuum was crystal clear. It was me with my tools in the woods, then me with family at home. A full woodshed spelled contentment and satisfaction through the long, Maine winter. In those days we had sheep, pigs, and chickens which needed watering every night and I’d have to chop ice out of their buckets before refilling them for the pigs and other animals behind the barn. I remember walking past the brimming woodshed at night and seeing smoke rise straight up from the chimney into a star-filled night sky on frigid evenings when there was no wind. Through the window, I could see my children reading or watching television around the stove. Life was good.

Roseann, with our daughters Sarah& Jessica 1978
Keeping the family warm was my job but so was bringing home a paycheck. As an administrator, I went to endless meetings, talked on the phone a lot, and did a lot of paperwork that few paid any attention to. I remember driving home each afternoon wondering what I had accomplished. I remember walking by classrooms to see teachers working with kids and thinking that’s what really matters, and not whatever it was I was supposed to be doing each day. When a job teaching history opened up I went for it and never looked back.

Mike with his tractor
Teaching US History had meaning and so did cutting firewood, but we lived in a drafty old house requiring endless upkeep. After a friend and I purchased a 30-acre lot on a nearby hillside and divided it between us, I dreamed of a tight, thoroughly insulated new home. Soon I was clearing a site for it and a year later we were living there. Soon after, I began cutting trees to open a view to western mountains and sunsets. Each year I cut seven or eight cords — enough to heat through the winter. After seven years of that, we had a panorama and I was making enough as a property manager to buy firewood from others instead of going into the woods and cutting it myself.
Mike twitching one out
To compensate for the loss of that physical activity, I had to increase my exercise regimen and I’ve continued it to the present day. I still cut wood once in a while because trees blow down often. I work them up to provide wood for the fireplace but I use the oil furnace for heat now. I miss my old firewood routine, but I’m learning to leave the harder, physical work to younger men.

Mike keeps adding to the pile
As I write this, I’m watching from my office window as my son-in-law, Mike pulls logs out of the woods beyond where I first cleared thirty years ago. His has a Kubota with a skidding winch in back. All I had to do this time was mark trees in the woods down the hill that had grown considerably taller over the last thirty years and threatened to block the horizon again.

There’s quite a pile of tree-length firewood out there and he’s not finished yet. I’m not sure how much but it’s more than the seven or eight cords I used to bring up each summer. I’m planning to hire someone to cut and split it, but I’ll probably get out and pound away a bit myself, just for old time’s sake.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Is There Another Civil War Brewing?

William Marvel, whom I call Bill, is at work on his 18th book on the American Civil War. He sees parallels between 1860 and now, and he details some of them. He speculates about the likelihood of military hostilities breaking out and, while he doesn't rule them out completely, thinks it unlikely because of geography.

I ask about similarities with the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent Russian Civil War and he acknowledges them too.

We compare and contrast Legislation and Supreme Court decisions then and now like The Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision with Roe Vs Wade. I ask him if slavery compares as an issue with abortion when it comes to stirring up the citizenry.

That leads to an extended discussion of American divisions in evidence during the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The producer asks us if we think media complicate political divisions today and we both opine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Political Tensions in America: 1860 and 2018

Growing political divisions in our country worry me. I used to help students understand what lead Americans to kill each other by the thousands between 1861 and 1865, and now I see tensions building again. Could America be heading for another civil war? I sure hope not, but I can’t ignore what I’m seeing around me.

A left-wing sniper last year fired over 200 rounds at a group of Republican congressmen at a baseball practice just outside Washington DC and nearly killed one, crippling him for life. This year a congresswoman told her constituents to harass Trump cabinet members saying: “They won’t be able to go to a restaurant, they won’t be able to stop at a gas station, they’re not going to be able to shop at a department store. The people are going to turn on them. They’re going to protest. They’re absolutely going to harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the president, ‘No, I can’t hang with you.’”

Radical, left-wing “Antifa” groups attack whomever they perceive as “fascist” with increasing frequency and define the term to include most Republicans and conservatives. Bloody street brawls are getting commonplace. Other radical left groups advocate assassinations on twitter and other social media. Radical, right-wing activists have shot abortion doctors. The New York Times reports: “At least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States since 1993.” A woman was run over and killed by a “Unite The Right” activist in Charlottesville last year.

With all this in mind, I invited local Civil War historian William Marvel of Conway, NH to appear on my “Left and Right” show and get his opinion. He’s at work on his 18th book about that awful conflict and I opened by asking him if he sees parallels between the political divisions in 2018 and 1860.

“Well, in many ways I do,” he said. “There is certainly the same sort of polarization, fragmentation among the major parties, hostility for opposing viewpoints.” He related a discussion with a friend at the local dump after the 2016 election “about whether we are more divided now than we have been since the Civil War. My conclusion was that we are as divided now. Whether it will lead to the same thing, I doubt.”

“Oh good,” I said.

“But that’s only because divisions are among communities, not between communities. The geographic cohesiveness of the slave issue allowed for a regional contest… but certainly, the seeds of societal and governmental dissolution are there [now], through simple fragmentation and hostility toward government, depending on who’s in charge.”

I remembered sound bites preceding documentaries on the Civil War describing that conflict as father against son and brother against brother. Well, today’s divisions have affected my family,” I said. “We no longer discuss politics at family gatherings. It’s verboten now because it’s become so emotional it threatens relationships.”

Marvel said he’s had similar experiences. Though his immediate family has almost all passed on, “I’ve had… virtually altercations with friends with whom I used to be in political concert.” He said he used to be liberal and twice voted for Obama, but now people perceive him as conservative. He doesn’t see that he’s changed much though. “To me, it’s society. In moving much farther to the left, society has made me look more conservative.”

I then asked him to consider the Bolshevik Revolution/Russian civil war a century ago that didn’t have clear geographical delineations but was ideological with a left and right divide.

“Well, we have certainly a lot of mob violence now,” he said, “almost entirely on the left…” Referring to Congresswoman Maxine Waters incitement he said, “An economic uprising among urban masses is possible, but whether that would lead to bloodshed I don’t know because, well, New York certainly has strict gun laws and I don’t know if a revolution could succeed on six-round magazines.”

He then speculated on the possibility of armed conflict that might spark a civil war. “That might come from outside. Oftentimes, when individual nations are divided between themselves, neighbors or rivals will take advantage of that. That often creates an international conflict that foments an internal rebellion. But the emotional impetus for that certainly is there.”

Mention of emotion led to a discussion of the Justice Kavanaugh hearings in the Senate as a window on America’s ever-deepening political divide. “Although I don’t know… how I would feel about [Kavanaugh] as a Supreme Court Justice, it’s more important now that he be confirmed to discredit and disavow the process that’s been used to try to destroy him. That’s more important, I think, than whatever his rise to the Supreme Court might yield.”

I’ll post a link to the hour-long discussion with Bill Marvel here in the next day or two after it’s uploaded to Youtube.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Two Heroes

Two heroic men are in hiding today because they stood up for what they believe is right. Both are ordained priests of the Roman Catholic Church — one a lowly parish priest and the other an archbishop and Vatican diplomat. I admire them because they did what others are afraid to do while knowing it would bring a world of hurt down upon them. It might even cost them their lives.

Maybe the archbishop’s display of courage inspired the priest, I don’t know, but Archbishop Vigano, former papal nuncio [Vatican ambassador] to the United States, published an eleven-page testimony last July which shook the Catholic Church to its roots. It named names, specified dates, and referred to documents held in the Vatican by the pope’s closest advisors and by Vigano’s successor in Washington, DC. Vigano claims his church, my church, is under the influence of a “homosexual network,” many of whose members are sexual predators or their enablers. Vigano accuses Pope Francis of covering for them and calls on him to resign. 

The Vigano testimony was released to media worldwide while Pope Francis was in Ireland. Reporters swarmed him on the plane back to Rome but he refused to say anything — an unusual reaction from a pope who had never been shy about commenting on controversial issues. Three months later he’s still silent on the matter and has refused requests from other church officials to authorize an investigation.

Vigano further states, “The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” but there’s no evidence of that happening yet in the Vatican. Here in the United States, however, at least one priest is trying. An article in the Chicago Sun-Times September 18th states: “A North Side priest… burned a gay-friendly flag outside his Avondale church last week — against the wishes of the cardinal he claims is trying to minimize the clergy sex-abuse crisis.” It was a rainbow flag with a superimposed cross which had hung in the sanctuary.

That priest, Father Paul Kalchik has gone into hiding after being removed as pastor of Resurrection Church by Cardinal Archbishop Blaise Cupich who threatened to send the Chicago Police in to arrest him. Cupich was appointed Archbishop of Chicago by Pope Francis after being recommended by the now-disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Archbishop Vigano cited both Cupich and McCarrick as bishops who covered up for predator priests.

Cupich and McCarrick
Father Kalchik had succeeded three former pastors of the gay-friendly Resurrection Catholic Church, one of whom had been found dead in his rectory while hooked up to a “sex machine,” according to conservative Catholic lifesitenews.com. Kalchik had twice been sexually molested himself, the second time by a priest. Cardinal Cupich ordered Kalchik to submit to a psychological evaluation at the notorious St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland, but Kalchik refuses to go.

St Luke Institute
He has good reason to refuse. Several priests have likened the St. Luke’s Institute to a Soviet reprogramming facility, for conservative priests. It was once headed by former Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire Chancellor Edward Arsenault who according to catholicculture.org: “resigned from his post as head of the St. Luke Institute in Maryland in 2013 after he was charged with financial as well as sexual improprieties.” Arsenault’s former boss in Manchester Diocese was Bishop John McCormack — called a “Pedophile Pimp” by the majority leader of the NH House of Representatives. The founder of St. Luke’s Institute, Father Michael Peterson, died of AIDS. In 2009, St. Luke’s Institute granted its highest award to guess who: Cardinal McCarrick, or “Uncle Ted” as he wished to be called by the many seminarians he sexually abused.

As one of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, I take no joy in recounting the sorry state of corruption in my church. As someone who was twice summoned to court to answer completely false charges of “harassment” by homosexual activists, I understand something about what Father Kalchik and Archbishop Vigano are up against. The charges against me were dismissed. I didn’t fear for my life. I didn’t have to go into hiding. It cost me $4000 in attorney’s fees and two entire days in a courtroom listening to people lie about me under oath. Several of my columns were entered as evidence of “homophobia.” but then it was over and I “won.”

Not really though. Even though they lost, homosexual activists put me through the ringer and that was the whole point. Now they’re putting the screws to Kalchik and Vigano, but the powerful homosexual network in the Catholic Church has been outed and its days are numbered. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas ordered that Vigano’s testimony be distributed in parishes across his diocese. Several other US and European cardinals and bishops have also voiced support. The “Lavender Mafia” won’t be able to smooth this over the way they did in 2002 after the Boston Globe Spotlight report.

Father Kalchik
This time, we have priests and bishops with a spine.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Divided America On Display

Many things divide America today but the biggest is not race, not religion, not sex, nor sexual preference. They’re all in the mix but increasingly subsumed into that primary division — political orientation. There are intelligent people on both left and right and they all watched last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Kavanaugh. However, one side concluded that Kavanaugh is a drunken, sexual predator while the other believes he’s a victim of a savage, Democrat hit machine.

How can intelligent people see the same thing and interpret it so differently? Something the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote in one of his books keeps coming back to me. In The Road Less Traveled, Peck said we all construct maps to understand what’s happening in the world and navigate through life. They can be effective guides until the world changes. We may be driving along guided by a GPS unit with outdated software and find ourselves going the wrong way on a one-way street.

As evidence piles up indicating that our map is no longer accurate we have two choices: We can ignore the evidence by rationalizing it away, or we can do the work necessary to construct a new map — a new way of understanding the world. According to Scott Peck, most do the former because “the process of making revisions… is painful, often excruciatingly painful… Often this act of ignoring is much more than passive… We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous… We may actually crusade against it… and try to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, [we] may try to destroy the new reality.”

Politically, Americans tend to align with one party or the other. We trudge along for a while until we realize that neither offers a worldview we trust anymore. We can at that point declare ourselves independent, but we still tend to vote for one party or the other consistently. Almost by default, we find ourselves on the left or on the right. Is Bernie Sanders really independent? Is Angus King?

In my classroom, we discussed current events, often very controversial ones. My best students argued passionately for one side or the other and I came to realize that their views usually reflected those of their parents, which is natural enough. Maybe their parents had, in turn, adopted their parents’ views, or perhaps they labored to construct their own. They were either loyal to their ancestors or they did a lot of work to draw their own political map. Each method brings with it a strong emotional attachment to a particular worldview which becomes the prism through which we view almost everything.

Emotion can cloud the thinking of intelligent people and it flooded the hearing last Thursday. Both sides were drowning in it and rational thought took a back seat. Is one side or the other manipulating the world to make it conform to its view of reality? Are both? The word “abortion” didn’t come up that day but it’s a principal dynamic in Kavanaugh’s nomination process, and both sides are heavily invested. The left sees abortion as liberating women to pursue their careers, their very lives, from the burden of bearing and raising children. The right understands abortion as dismembering innocent human babies in the womb.

Sex is another dynamic closely related to abortion. The left views pregnancy as an accident on the sexual liberation highway. When birth control fails, get to the body shop for an abortion. It’s a “women’s health” issue they claim, which implies that pregnancy is a disease. They claim that men, especially white men like the Republicans on the committee, would force women to have children, like a scene out of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Protesters appeared at the hearing dressed in Handmaid costumes. Then the left brought in Christine Blasey Ford to accuse Kavanaugh of trying to force her to have sex.

Conservative writer Denise McAllister tweeted the following while the watched the hearing:

“At the root of #abortion hysteria is women’s unhinged desire for irresponsible sex. Sex is their god. Abortion is their sacrament. It’s abhorrent as women have flung themselves from the heights of being the world’s civilizing force to the muck and mire of dehumanizing depravity.”

She’s now in hiding after claiming she received multiple threats to rape and strangle her followed her tweet. Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh got similar threats. Although considered a sexual predator by half of America, Kavanaugh claimed in a television interview last week that as a faithful Catholic, he was a virgin until years after going to college — a rather remarkable claim for a man in 21st century America.

The Kavanaugh hearings not only exemplified America’s divide; they deepened it. As emotion continues to boil over the gap between left and right is becoming a gulf.