Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Second Coming

There are thousands of poets out there, maybe millions, but very few make any sense to me. It’s possible I’m not sensitive enough, or I’m not bright enough to understand what they’re trying to say. It’s also possible they’re trying too hard, or they’re too artsy and flamboyant. Robert Frost makes sense, but then he wrote of life in rural northern New England where I live. I understand him. Shel Silverstein makes sense. So does Emily Dickenson.

Among Irish poets, the only one I get is William Butler Yeats, and I happened to be in Sligo last month where he wanted his remains buried after he died back in the thirties. He was born in Dublin, raised there, and in England on and off, but his heart was in Sligo where he spent summers. His early poems were esoteric and seemed overly stylish, but his later stuff was much more resonant to my ear, especially The Second Coming. I knew of it from encountering so many of its lines quoted by other writers of both fiction and non-fiction — before I ever knew the words belonged to Yeats.

Sligo last month
I don’t know where or when I heard it initially, but the line that struck me first was:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Who are the best these days? Who are the worst? Well, the best, I think, would be those who take a long view of the human condition. They know something of history — what has worked and what has failed over the centuries, over millennia even. They don’t know all of history; nobody does, but they perceive an outline of how we humans have behaved in times of plenty and in times of want. They understand what governmental systems have been applied and what resulted. Others who see only what’s in front of them — who know only what has occurred during the last few years of their own lifetime. They are the ones full of passionate intensity today, a century after Yeats studied their counterparts.

Sligo last month
Do the best lack conviction? Maybe, or perhaps they have tried long to reason with the passionately and intensely ignorant with little result. Maybe they’ve given up trying to persuade and are saving their energy for when, as Yeats puts it:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Yeats was born to English privilege. His ancestors were part of Ireland’s protestant ascendancy. He was classically educated but his loyalties were divided between his British colonial ancestors and the Celtic Irish among whom he lived, and to whom he related most. Ultimately, he sided with them against Ireland’s British overlords. He was an active participant in Irish Literary revival but stayed on the sidelines during the 1916 Easter Rebellion and ensuing struggle. He sympathized with the cause, but not with the violence used to gain independence.

Mostly agnostic, Yeats disdained Roman Catholicism but related to ancient Irish mysticism. While most Irish of his time were comfortable with a blend of the two, Yeats was not. He related much more to pre-Christian Gaelic culture and that influenced his poetry. The Great War had just ended when he published The Second Coming in 1919, exactly 100 years ago. The 1916 Rebellion was followed by the Irish Civil War waged until 1922 with the Russian Revolution in the middle of all that as well. Things were indeed falling apart in Yeats’ world.

The great love of Yeats’ life, the actress Maude Gonne, was caught up in both Catholicism and violent rebellion against the British. Yeats proposed to her four times and was rejected four times. She instead married Irish Revolutionary John McBride who was executed by the British after she divorced him, but Yeats carried a torch forever after. He had love affairs and a marriage that produced children, but his personal life was as confused as his theology.

The Second Coming is apocalyptic but vague. He evokes Christian imagery but blends it with ominous images of The Sphinx. Rather than a triumphant return of Jesus Christ, Yeats sees something menacing:

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with Lion body and the head of a man…

…And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Both Christians and secularists today point to signs of an approaching apocalypse, but Yeats had much more reason to suspect it: World War I, violent rebellions in Ireland and Russia, the Spanish Flu killing tens of millions — all that was happening as he wrote The Second Coming. 2019 seems placid compared to 1919.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Left & Right April 24, 2019

Democrat Gino Funicella of Jackson, NH sits in the left chair this week. We begin with a question from the producer asking if we think the handling of the Mueller Report by Atty. General William Barr has been impartial. I say "Yes."

Gino went off with nearly all the Democrat talking points since release of the report, that the "no evidence of cooperation by the Trump campaign with Russian interference in the 2016 election" doesn't mean what it says. He insists there was evidence but not enough to prove cooperation, but he cannot come up with any such evidence.

I get exasperated when he interrupts me repeatedly as I'm making my points citing solid evidence that there was evidence of cooperation with Russia by Democrats, and calling it "supposition." He points out all the Mueller indictments that had nothing to do with conspiring with the Russians by the Trump campaign and cites them as purported evidence that there was cooperation.

My response is to point out both ongoing and upcoming investigations into Obama Administration officials who abused power to spy on the Trump campaign and then attempt to frame him for conspiring with the Russians. Gino continues to drag red herrings into the debate to sidetrack me.

The producer asks if the next census should include a question about whether people present in America are citizens or not. Democrats don't want the question. Republicans do. I make the point that Democrats want it because all people counted will then be assumed to have citizenship and states with millions of illegal aliens, like California, will then be given more representation in Congress. They'll also get more federal assistance of various kinds. Gino doesn't want to make the citizen/non-citizen distinction.

I bring up the headline used by the New York Times to report on the Muslim slaughter of Catholics in Sri Lanka: "Religious minorities across Asia suffer amid a surge of sectarian politics." Clearly, this is worded to protect Muslims from blame and divert sympathy away from their Catholic victims. Gino disagrees.

I bring up the Notre Dame fire and how French authorities declared in only one hour that it was "not arson." They still cannot point to what did cause it but hurried to declare that it wasn't arson, in spite of the 800 Muslim attacks against Christian churches in France in 2018 alone, and one previous attempt to burn Notre Dame by three Muslim women.

Gino suggests I'm paranoid and too quick to blame Muslims for violence, and that 30% of Republicans are racist and "hate brown people."

We briefly discuss abortion developments and I claim the issue is again looming large for the 2020 election with every Democrat candidate supporting abortion. Gino disagrees.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Post-Mueller Developments

The Mueller investigation is over. His long-awaited report is out and everyone has had a chance to read it. Despite Mueller saying there was no evidence of collusion or cooperation between the Trump Campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, most on the left still insist there was. Still more insist that President Trump tried to cover up a “crime” that Mueller says never occurred. The only visible change is that fewer Democrats are calling for Trump’s impeachment. Among presidential candidates, only Senator Elizabeth Warren is.

There’s been a similar reaction in Mainstream Media which had pushed the Trump/Russia collusion narrative hard for more than two years. They seem genuinely disappointed that Mueller found nothing. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, for example, said on Meet the Press last Sunday: “It [the Mueller Report] described a campaign eager to accept the help of a hostile foreign power: Russia.” Really Chuck? The report itself stated, and I quote: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russia Government in its election interference activities.”

Ever since it was called the “Soviet Union,” Russia has tried to interfere with US elections going back nearly a hundred years. The United States interfered with internal politics in the Soviet Union for just as long. Both countries interfered with elections in southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean throughout the Cold War, yet Democrats and media act as if recent Russian interference were something new. In 2016 the Obama State Department spent $350,000  in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu but Mainstream Media ignored it.

Conservative media outlets claim Mueller should not have accepted appointment as special counsel because there was never evidence of a crime involving the Trump campaign. President Trump and Attorney General Barr now want to investigate how the Mueller investigation started, alleging nefarious activities by the Clinton Campaign, the Clinton Foundation, as well as the Obama FBI, CIA, NSA, and DOJ during and after the 2016 campaign. Evidence for this exists going back three years and includes lying under oath to Congress and FBI officials but got no mention in Mueller Report.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been investigating how James Comey’s FBI conducted the Hillary Clinton email scandal, how it investigated the Clinton Foundation, how it filed the FBI/DOJ’s FISA application on Carter Page, and the possible interference by the Obama Administration in the 2016 election, as well as other subjects. US Attorney John Huber of Utah was appointed special prosecutor for the case and he met with Attorney General William Barr shortly after the latter was confirmed. Horowitz and Huber have played their cards very close to the vest and have been waiting for the Mueller Investigation to conclude before interviewing key witnesses who were also involved with Mueller’s probe.
Courtesy of Conservative Tree House

The Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by North Carolina Senator Richard Burr has also been investigating the 2016 election in a relatively quiet way compared to its House counterpart. So, right now there are two ongoing investigations — DOJ IG Horowitz (with US Attorney Huber) and US Senate — as well as a possible new one by Attorney General Barr as indicated by his recent congressional testimony. The relatively small conservative media has been reporting for two years on evidence of criminal behavior by former CIA Director James Brennan, former FBI Director Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and several other former Obama Administration officials. Mainstream Media has largely ignored it.

Possible crimes involve lying under oath, misusing the FISA Court, and leaking to the press — but also abuse of power that includes spying on Trump and his associates and unmasking subjects of surveillance during and after the 2016 campaign. Trump’s base is crying for more such investigations while Democrats are indignant. The whole Russia/Trump brouhaha cannot be understood strictly as a Democrat vs Republican issue, nor strictly a right vs left issue either. The divide is more Trump supporters vs Trump haters across the political spectrum and from both parties.

The haters are blinded by emotion. I debate some of them regularly and see their counterparts in politics and media. They know journalistic standards have been dropped in pursuit of Trump but choose to overlook it believing ends — getting rid of him — justify means. Trump supporters recognize his faults but see opposition tactics as far more harmful for our democracy so they rally behind him.

We’ll get a feel over the next few months for how the body politic reacts to these post-Mueller developments. Are people sick of political investigations and just want them all to go away? How will primary voters react to ongoing impeachment preparations by Democrats? As the presidential campaign heats up, will candidates debate these issues?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Another Ireland Trip

Me, wife Roseann, Paul's girlfriend Terri, and Paul at old McLaughlin homestead
Daylight was just breaking as I drove out of Shannon Airport in our rental car after a red-eye flight from the USA. Although there were two feet of snow around my house when I left Maine, I smelled freshly-mown grass in Shannon. Birds were chirping and trees were flowering and I inhaled the distinctive fragrance of burning peat from a nearby chimney. My wife and I had a couple of days to kill before heading north to meet my brother and his girlfriend in Carndonagh, Donegal on the Inishowen Peninsula to show them the farm where our great-grandfather, James “Wee John” McLaughlin was born in 1878.

View to the Atlantic over Ballyliffin from hill in rear of property
We drove to the old monastery at Clonmacnoise near Athlone in County Offaly on the River Shannon. It had been established by St. Ciaran in 544 AD as a center of teaching and learning. Along with St. Patrick and others, Irish monks brought civilization to what had been a collection of savage tribes in Ireland. As if that weren’t enough, they then preserved European civilization after Germanic barbarians overran the western Roman Empire by harboring other monks who brought precious manuscripts with them containing much of the accumulated knowledge of Rome. Monks from Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, and other Irish abbeys made multiple copies and redistributed them in western Europe after the barbarians had settled down.

After revisiting our ancestral McLaughlin homestead in Inishowen, my wife and I headed south to explore the Beara Peninsula which straddles Counties Cork and Kerry where the Sullivans and Harringtons, also on my father’s side, originated. We stayed at a B&B in Kenmare which is central to Beara, Dingle, and Macroom, Cork near where other ancestors, the Mahoneys, lived.

Lagg Church Inishowen
The Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast has the most stunning landscape in Ireland. I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve seen quite a bit of the country and I have to agree with several others who consider Dingle the prettiest. My wife and I visited there ten years ago but it was snowing sideways and visibility was poor. Last week the sun was in and out and we spent most of a day driving all over it. All of Ireland is charming but Dingle with its steep mountains down to the sea is quite dramatic.

Returning to our B&B in Kenmare, the Garmin GPS unit directed us through the Gap of Dunloe, across The Black Valley, and on through Moll’s Gap. I would not have chosen that route if I knew what was involved. It’s a one-lane road for almost the entire eleven kilometers snaking up high and down low through switchbacks and around glacial boulders that have toppled into the two gaps and between which the car barely fit. I shifted into low gear and crawled around each sharp turn in case another vehicle was coming the other way. If there were, he or I would have to back up to a wider spot and drive past each other without breaking off our mirrors. My wife was almost in a panic several times, while I strove to resist the contagion of her anxiety as I steered.
For her it was like riding on the scariest of roller coasters as we traveled through several such gaps and passes all over the mountainous regions of Ireland. She would marvel at the stupendous views, often saying: “Look at that!” but I simply couldn’t. I had to concentrate on the road ahead lest we drive off a cliff into oblivion. There are very few trees in Ireland which allows for wonderful panoramas, but it also reveals hair-raising views of how far down our car would fall off a steep mountainside before ever hitting bottom.

Not a country renowned for culinary skills, it used to be said that an Irish seven-course meal was a six pack and a boiled potato. Trying to keep down expenses, we sometimes purchased our dinner at the deli counter of a local supermarket and went back to our room at the B&B to eat, but when we ate at a restaurant or a pub on this trip we were quite pleased.
Wherever we went there was talk of Brexit both in the North and in the Free Republic of Ireland. All are disappointed that negotiations are extended for another year. They want it over with but neither side wants a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic which may result. Ireland ships a lot of food to the UK and Irish people are unsure of how trade conditions would change. Some in the North think reunification of Ireland north and south might happen. If Scotland breaks with the UK, Northern Ireland may as well. We toured Derry’s Walls and got a first-hand account of the troubles there, now quiet after the Good Friday Agreement negotiated by former Maine Senator George Mitchell has held for twenty years now.

Inch Strand Dingle
Many McLaughlins were caught up in that conflict over the centuries.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Demographic Difficulties

Many elderly citizens in my small western Maine town of Lovell were summer people from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island who always planned to live here full time after retirement. I expect that’s true in other towns in a state where “Vacationland” is stamped on our license plates. I’m semi-retired myself and part of my income, aside from my teacher’s pension and Social Security, is from managing vacation properties here. It dovetailed nicely with teaching and I kept doing it after retiring in 2011. The small contractors I use for plumbing, excavation, carpentry, etc. tell me often how hard it is to find help — especially competent help.

Maine is the oldest state in the country, demographically speaking. According to a recent Boston Globe article: “Maine is one of only two states, along with West Virginia, where deaths now outnumber births,” and “many young people move away in search of opportunity,” further exacerbating the problem. Counties in northern Maine see declining populations while York and Cumberland counties in southern Maine are increasing by three and six percent respectively. Median age is 44 statewide. There are more people over 65 than under 18. The over 65 demographic is predicted to rise 37% by 2016 while all other age groups decline, according to the Globe.

Maine people are having fewer children and New England, according to a New York Times article, is “the least fertile region in the U.S." Without immigration, which is at record levels, regional population would very likely be declining. People I meet in the Portland area who are in their twenties and thirties are more likely to have dogs with them than children and I’ve written about that several times over the past fifteen years. Nationwide, according to lifescience.com, “there were about 60 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 [in 2017], which is 3 percent lower than the rate in 2016, and the lowest recorded rate since the government started tracking birth rates in 1909.”

Why don’t 21st-century Americans want to have children? When I looked into the problem for previous articles, opinions varied. Some young people said openly that it was selfishness — that children are expensive and require a lot of work for a long time. Some women said they wanted to avoid stretch marks and saggy breasts. Some had parents who divorced and didn’t want any of their children to go through that painful experience. Some said the earth’s environment couldn’t handle too many more people and they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint.

Catholic pundits suggest it’s a lack of hope. Young celebrities like the 29-year-old Congresswoman Alexandria Occasio Cortez (D-NY) declared recently that the world will end in twelve years if we don’t take drastic steps like passing a “Green New Deal.” That certainly lends credence to the no-hope theory for her demographic. The Catholic Church taught (I don’t know if it still does) that despair is a sin, and that suicide — the ultimate despair — is too. AOC recommends that her cohort forego having children and eating meat as well because of the methane cows expel from their rear-ends. She wants us all to be childless vegetarians.

The Catholic Church’s influence with young people has seriously declined in America and in the entire western world. The liberal Pope Francis has made several public statements against abortion, but I don’t believe he’s said anything about artificial contraception. That too was declared sinful by his predecessor, Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical: Humanae Vitae. Never have I heard a sermon on that teaching in any Catholic Church I’ve attended, it being politely ignored since its issue fifty years ago. Pope Francis has spoken out about climate change, about which he’s a fellow traveler with the Democrat Party, but nothing about the “carbon footprint” of more children — not yet at least.

The unemployment rate is so low now that we’re essentially at full employment all across America. There are more jobs than people who want them. Although you may not believe it if you look out the window here in western Maine, summer is right around the corner. Building contractors, landscapers, restaurants, resorts, and many other businesses will be desperate for workers and we’re simply not producing them. Savvy business people are recruiting in eastern Europe and elsewhere for seasonal employees. Fewer high school or college kids want to work the way they did decades ago.

What are we to do? Some European countries offer financial incentives for women to produce more children. Maybe we can do that here too but it won’t be enough. Our culture has changed from one that encouraged couples to have children to one that discourages them. For that trend to reverse will take a very long time.