Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An Idea. A Philosophy


Tuesday, June 2nd is the last day of my encore US History class. At this writing, I have only two more classes left to tie up all that I’ve taught them through the year. To that end, I’ve decided to quote two foreigners who looked at the United States from the outside and described what is great about our country.
The first is Bono, head of the rock band U2, who said: “It’s not a left/right issue. It’s a right/wrong issue, and America has constantly been on the side of what’s right.”
I was quite surprised to hear him say that because he was speaking at Georgetown University - an ostensibly Catholic institution that has become a liberal bastion.  It’s full of professors who probably cringed when they heard it because they’d spent their careers magnifying America’s flaws to the point where all the right things we’ve done are overshadowed.
Slick Willy at Georgtown

“America is an idea,” the Irishman Bono continued. “That’s how we see you around the world: As one of the greatest ideas in human history… The idea is that you and me are created equal… If we have dignity, if we have justice, then leave it to us. We’ll do the rest… This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper.”
He’s talking, of course, about our Declaration of Independence, which laid out our founding principles. Then our Founding Fathers wrote a constitution to make sure “we have dignity” and “we have justice” as Bono put it. That constitution put restrictions on government to see that it didn’t get too big or too powerful and take away that dignity and justice.
“Then leave it to us,” he said. “We’ll do the rest.” In this, he was absolutely right. Government should stay out of our way because the best government is that which governs least,” as John O’Sullivan put it back in the 19th century.
But it isn’t lately. Ours is becoming the government that governs most,  intruding into nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s regulating everything from baby furniture to soda pop to the carbon dioxide we exhale, and there’s no end in sight.
Then there’s this quote from the other foreigner: “Europe was created by history,” said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “America was created by philosophy.” Not only did America jettison the European idea of the Divine Right of Kings, we designed a replacement system that restricted government as much as possible while still preserving order.
Thatcher also said: “There are significant differences between the American and European version of capitalism. The American traditionally emphasizes the need for limited government, light regulations, low taxes and maximum labor-market flexibility. Its success has been shown above all in the ability to create new jobs, in which it is consistently more successful than Europe.”
That agrees with Bono’s remarks at Georgetown. He had gone on to praise capitalism as the best way to stem poverty. Speaking about Africa, he said: “Entrepreneurial Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than [foreign] aid.” The progressives in audience must have gasped because then he said: “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow!” He put his hand to his head and declared: “Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it.”
Bono appeared to be speaking from his heart and not from notes. What slipped out had become his truth: The best government is the one that, to the greatest extent possible, gives everyone and everything a good leaving alone. If we’re free to, we usually do what’s right.
Small government is the original design for America. It was the American way and it could be again if we dust off the Constitution and actually apply it. That’s what I want to leave my students with.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Better Get Your Mind Right


Most of us remember scenes in western movies in which a gun hand forces a sodbuster to dance by shooting at the ground near the reluctant dancer’s feet. That’s what comes to mind when I see American citizens who don’t believe there’s any such thing as same-sex “marriage,” but are forced to dance to whatever tune homosexual activists wish to play.

Don’t want to rent out your B&B for a lesbian wedding in Vermont because you’re Roman Catholic and believe homosexual acts are sinful? Too bad. You’re going to dance, sucker, like it or not. You may not be shot at, but you’ll be forced to pay $30,000 to settle a lawsuit by the ACLU and the State of Vermont.

Dance, sucker! Dance!
NOTACLU

Don’t want to make floral arrangements to celebrate two men “marrying” each other? Seventy-year-old Christian grandmother Barronelle Stutzman was sued by the State of Washington. "The message of these rulings is unmistakable: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don't help celebrate same-sex marriage," said Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued before the court in December. It’s not like the men couldn’t find a gay florist to arrange their flowers. They’re about as ubiquitous as gay hairdressers or interior decorators. They singled out the old grandmother to exercise power.

Dance, sucker! Dance!

Don’t want to photograph a lesbian “wedding”? You’re a bigot and you’re going to be sued the way Elane Photography in New Mexico was. The owners, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, lost their appeal and had to pay too.  Well, by now you’re perhaps realizing that I could go on and on citing cases of Americans who refused to help celebrate something that violated their religion, their conscience, as well as natural law and historical precedent going back for millennia. If they refuse to dance they lose their businesses and a lot of money.
No more husband and wife

I can’t help wondering if some of the many finding themselves in the crosshairs of the LGBTQ Community ever voted for “gay rights” referenda in their individual states. Do they regret those votes now that they’re finding themselves targets of those laws? They seemed so benign when they were first proposed, but the fangs hidden from voters during the “equal rights” campaigns are now being bared.
Remember those 20th century Psychology and Sociology classes in which instructors insisted there were no differences between the sexes other than the obvious physical ones? Maybe you tried to be open-minded to that feminist claptrap while you were a student. Well, the “T” in LGBTQ means “Transgendered,” and that means a man who thinks he’s a woman can force you to accept him in the locker room at your health club. You have to call him “her” too or be dismissed from the club.
"I can be a nice guy, or..."

Does all this sound like it’s getting to be too much? You didn’t think it would ever get this bad? Well, that’s just tough. You better get your mind right, because like the Strother Martin character in “Cool Hand Luke,” the LGBTQ Community speaks as one voice saying: “I can be a good guy, or I can be one real mean sum-bitch. It’s up to you. It’s all up to you.” You don’t like it? You spend a night in the box.
"Spend a night in the box."

Here in the 21st century though, “the box” is called “Sensitivity Training.” Governor Moonbeam Jerry Brown recently signed a law requiring all California health care providers to undergo LGBT Sensitivity Training because, as brietbart.com wrote: “Jason Galisatus, a gay-rights activist for the Peninsula region of San Francisco claims that gay senior citizens are being drawn back into the closet when dealing with insensitive hospital staff.” Better to brainwash tens of thousands of doctors and nurses at taxpayer expense than have one homosexual feel uncomfortable telling an “insensitive” doctor about his behavior in a gay bathhouse.
You think what is in a mother’s womb is an unborn baby? Well, you better get your mind right. It’s just a clump of cells. You better not think it’s a human life or when Hillary Clinton becomes president, she’ll force you to spend a night in the box. Speaking last month at the “Women in the World Summit” she said: “Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care…” 
Those last three words are Hillary’s euphemism for abortion because she obviously considers pregnancy a disease. Speaking of people like me who believe dismembering a baby in its mother’s womb is morally wrong, she continued: “…And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
Got that? You better change your deep-seated religious beliefs if she doesn’t like them, because President Hillary could be a real mean sum-bitch.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

A Pain In My Butt


Spring comes when I stop wearing flannel-lined pants and long-sleeved undershirts. This year it was the middle of April, the latest I ever remember. Summer comes when I start wearing shorts and T-shirts. That’s usually around mid-May. 

My shorts are the “cargo” type that look like British explorers used to wear with pith helmets while exploring the Sahara Desert. I like putting my wallet in one of those low-down pockets with the buttoned flap instead of in the back pocket outside my right butt cheek, and there’s a good reason for this: It hurt when I sat on it no matter what side it was on — quite literally a pain in my butt. Those cargo shorts made life more comfortable.
When traveling in high-crime areas, which could be anywhere outside of Lovell, I used to switch my wallet to my front-left pocket to confuse pickpockets. That worked fine for decades, but now I carry an iPhone in that pocket and there isn’t enough room for the wallet anymore. The right-front pocket is for my pocket knife, change, and car keys when I’m somewhere outside of Lovell and can’t leave them in the ignition. In fall, when I switched back to jeans or Dickies chinos, my wallet had to go in the back again.
There's actually a name for this: Piriformis Syndrome. Who knew?
To mitigate the pain in my butt, I tried reducing the size of my wallet by discarding “discount” cards for Rite Aid, Home Depot, Shaw’s, and all the rest. Then I took out photos, and carried just my driver’s license, concealed weapon permits for Maine and New Hampshire, two credit cards, and cash. That reduced the butt pain, but didn’t entirely eliminate it. Then I started putting business cards in my wallet. First I carried only five, but I’d forget to replace them after giving them out.
Bye-bye!
Another complication was that I have two versions. There’s the politically correct card which says: “Opinionist” and lists my blog and contact information. Then there’s the politically incorrect card which says: “Heterosexual White Guy Journalists Association,” listing me as founder and president and containing the same contact information. Carrying several of each version made for a fat wallet again and the pain in my butt worsened commensurately.
That was when I bought some cargo pants to wear after it cooled again in fall. Like the cargo shorts, they have nice low-down pockets with buttoned flaps on each side — one on the left for my fat wallet, and one on the right for a small spiral notebook, a pen and a mechanical pencil. That pocket has a little gap in the button-down flap for the pencil to stick up through.
But then it started to get really cold again in mid-November. That’s when I needed my Carhartt flannel-lined jeans, and my Dickies flannel-lined khakis that functioned for dress up here in rural Maine. I really liked those pants, except that the fat wallet was back on my right butt cheek giving me that pain again whenever I sat down for more than ten minutes. What to do?
Well, I was food-shopping with my wife at a Super Walmart in Windham and I was done with my list. Waiting for her to finish, guess what I saw? Their men’s department is right next to the food department, and hanging right there were some Wrangler 34X30, fleece-lined cargo pants — exactly my size! I bought three pairs. There was only one color but I didn’t care, and I wore them all last winter — every single day, I think. No more pain in the butt! What’s not to like?
I hate these

Well, just one thing. It’s another kind of pocket problem. The regular, old-fashioned pocket on the right-hand side of the cargo pants that I put my pocket knife and change into? It’s got sections — for whatever purpose I cannot fathom. When I put my hand down there to scoop out some change, there’s a flap between the two sections and I can’t get all the change out with one scoop. Some gets caught in the other section. I have to dump the first handful of change on the counter, then reach in again to scoop out the quarters or dimes in the other section. Then I’ve got to count coins right there on the counter, slide them over to the clerk, then pick up the rest one coin at a time, along with any lint that came out with them, then put them all back in the sectioned pocket again. There’s usually a line behind me at the checkout by the time I’m done, and I get self-conscious about how long I take to do all this with them watching me.
So now I’m resolved: when these pants wear out and I’m buying new ones somewhere, I’m going to check every pocket and avoid the ones with sections if I can.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Je Suis Pam Geller

We won a battle against Radical Islam Sunday night, thanks to prompt action by Garland, Texas police, but I’m afraid we’re losing the war. Pam Geller has been fighting it for years here in the United States and elsewhere. President Obama, our commander-in-chief, acts as though he doesn’t even know who we’re fighting.
Dead jihadis in Plano

I had another piece ready for my Monday morning deadline at one of the newspapers carrying this column, but then I saw the first reports about what happened at Pam Geller’s Free Speech Conference Sunday night. Two Islamic gunmen showed up armed with AK-47s ready to kill as many people as they could. However, some very tough-looking Garland, Texas policemen shot them dead before they could. They were only able to shoot an unarmed school security guard in the ankle before they were killed. Now they’re both knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door looking for their 72 virgins.
Robert Spencer, me, Pam Geller

I first met Pam at the 2007 National Review “Conservative Summit” in Washington DC. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave a speech there about Radical Islam and I went up to the microphone to ask him a question. I asked why our government was working against teachers like me who were trying to inform our students about who America was fighting. I told him I was having a hard time because the Bush Administration was removing references to Islam from official literature about who our enemy was. Gingrich answered telling me to continue what I was doing and the government would eventually catch up. As soon as I sat down, Pam Geller came over to interview me for her web site “Atlas Shrugs.”
Wilders with armed guards at Geller reception

Every year at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Washington, I’d visit with her and Robert Spencer, her constant companion. In 2009, she invited Geert Wilders, a Member of Parliament in Holland, founder and leader of Holland’s “Party For Freedom,” the third-largest party in the Dutch Parliament with twenty-four seats. Radical Islam put a fatwa on Wilders when he produced “Fitna,” a film showing Quran verses alongside images of Islamic terrorist attacks. Ever since, Wilders has armed guards with him 24-7. CPAC 2009 lacked the courage to sponsor Wilders, so Pam had to rent space in the Omni Shoreham hotel for his reception. I attended with friends. Wilders also spoke in Garland Sunday night.
Wilders and me at Pam's reception. He's tall.

Pam organized her Garland, Texas conference back in January, right after other Islamic gunmen attacked the Paris, France offices of Charlie Hebdo, a left-wing magazine that published cartoons of Muhammed, who Muslims consider their prophet. Radical Muslims shot twenty-two people, killing eleven. Pam selected the Curtis Culwell Center in Plano because Muslims from Dallas held the “Stand With The Prophet Conference” to combat “Islamophobia” there just days after the mass murder in Paris.
The winning entry at Pam's conference

According to the Washington Free Beacon last January: “[S]cheduled to attend the [Stand With The Prophet Conference] is controversial New York-based Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings trial. Wahhaj has called the FBI and CIA the ‘real terrorists’ and expressed a desire for all Americans to become Muslim, according to the New York Post.”
Another. You won't see these in Mainstream Media

One of the dead terrorists, Elton Simpson, is reported to be a Muslim convert. As of this writing, the other one was his roommate, but hasn’t been identified. We can expect the Mainstream Media to blame Pam for inciting violence by sponsoring her $10,000 contest to draw a cartoon of Muhammed, one of the free speech themes of her conference officially called: “American Freedom Defense Initiative.” The building she used is owned by the Plano school department and she had to pay $10,000 to the Garland Police for extra officers. Good thing she did. She said on Fox News Monday morning she paid $50,000 all together for security. “Intentionally incendiary and provocative” are the words CNN’s Alisyn Camerota used in her interview with Pam early Monday. There will be more of that by the time you’re reading this in the newspaper Thursday. Much more.
The president hasn’t spoken about it yet, but we can expect he’ll blame Pam too. The UK Daily Mail blacked out the cartoons displayed at the conference. So did NBC’s Today Show, which I watched this morning. They’re cowards, all of them. If you’re reading this on my web site, you’re seeing the cartoons. I published the Muhammed cartoons from Charlie Hebdo the day eleven of its staff were murdered too. If all media published them, Radical Muslims would have failed in their efforts to intimidate us all. But that would require courage, something conspicuously lacking in our elite media.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Choice To Do What?

Thirty years ago, my students did a lot of formal debates in class. After brainstorming current events topics, they usually chose abortion. First, we defined terms. I asked each class if someone could define abortion. Fourteen-year-olds have fully developed brains, but lack nuance. I’d call on a student whose hand was up and he/she would say something like: “Abortion is when a woman is pregnant and she kills the baby inside her.”
That plainly worded definition is typical of 14-year-olds. They’re refreshingly direct. Every year, in every class, the first student I called on would define abortion in almost exactly the same way.
“Does everyone agree with that definition?” I’d ask.

There would be nods all around, and I’d write it on the blackboard. Then I’d explain that people who supported abortion called themselves “Pro-choice” and people who were against it called themselves “Pro-life.” Pointing to the definition, I’d circle the words “kill” and “baby,” then tell them that a seasoned “pro-choice” person would never utter those words in a debate. A pro-life person, however, would nearly always use them. “A definition like that,” I’d say, pointing the board again, “indicates a pro-life bias. I can tell what somebody thinks about abortion by the words they use to define it.” At this point I’d look toward the student who gave it. “Is that your opinion? Are you pro-life?” Usually he or she was, but not always.
Then I’d ask how a pro-choice person would define abortion. Students would ponder what I said and offer suggestions like: “It’s when a woman finds out she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be, so she goes to a doctor and he takes it out.”
“Not bad,” I’d say. “A pro-choice person would never say ‘baby’ or ‘kill.’ Instead, he or she would use words like ‘fetus’ for ‘baby,’ and ‘remove,’ or ‘terminate’ for ‘kill.’” Then I’d ask if anyone else could craft a pro-choice definition. Eventually I’d get one that sounded just like something out of NARAL literature, such as: “When a woman terminates her pregnancy,” which I’d also write on the board.
Often a student would ask my opinion on abortion at this point, and I’d say, “I’ll tell you after the debate is over.”
Then students chose which side they wanted to argue. If there were too many on one side or the other, I’d try to even them up by challenging some to argue the opposite of what they believed. Some of the sharpest students would usually offer to do so.
After that, I let them sit in their groups to prepare. My instructions were that they start recording their side’s strongest arguments on one list, then record their opponents’ strongest arguments on another.

“Why do you want us to list our opponents’ arguments?” they’d ask.
“So you can prepare counter-arguments to use during the debate when they bring up those points,” I’d answer. “It’s what opposing lawyers would do in a courtroom. You need to research all sides of any issue. As someone said once: ‘You don’t fully understand your own side unless you understand your opponent’s.’”
Then I’d write the names of organizations championing one side and the other, and instruct students to write to them, telling them they’re debating abortion in class, and could they please send materials. For the pro-choice side, I’d give contact information for Planned Parenthood, NARAL America - then called The National Abortion Rights Action League, and NOW - National Organization for Women, etc. For the pro-life side I’d give contacts for the National Right to Life Association and a local, Maine group called the PLEA - Pro-Life Education Association, which always responded right away.
Of course this was during years before students could download information from the internet. They’d have to write away for it and I’d allow time for that, usually a couple of weeks. The PLEA information always came first, maybe because they were in Maine - and they’d always send pictures of just what resulted from abortions at various stages. When those pictures arrived, they’d be shown around before my classes began. Students would come up to me in the hallway with solemn looks and ask me if I’d ever seen pictures of aborted babies.
“Yes,” I’d say. “Shocking, aren’t they?”

“Can we use these in the debate?”

“I’ll have to think about that,” I’d respond.
The pictures would be seen by some staff as well. Women, usually teacher aides (now called “ed techs”) who worked in my classroom, would approach me with serious looks just as my students had. “Have you seen the abortion pictures floating around?”

“Some, yes.”
“Are you going to allow them in the debate?”

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“Well, it’s hard to argue in favor of abortion after seeing them, and that’s not fair to the pro-choice side.”
Now, thirty years later, that is still the crux of the matter. Who can argue the pro-choice side after looking at exactly what the choice is?

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Culture Change

Mary Bauer Smith
There were no kindergartens in the suburban town of Tewksbury, Massachusetts where I grew up. We went right into first grade when we were six. We rode a bus that picked up kids each morning and dropped them off in the afternoon. Usually there was a mother looking out the window as her child skipped from the bus to the house. I still remember those children and where they lived. One, Mary Bauer Smith, asked to be my “friend” on Facebook recently.
St. William's School

So, I “messaged” her: “Are you the Mary Bauer who lived on Whipple Road and went to St. William’s School?” Our parish opened St. William’s School when we were in second grade and our parents sent us both there.
“Yes,” she wrote back. “I wanted to tell you something. When we were at St. William's one Lent, one of the teachers asked what each of us were doing for Lent. You said that after school your family had crackers and peanut butter for a snack and that you were giving it up for Lent. You were so sweet and probably a little embarrassed to admit that. It moved me very much. Today, as I assembled my Ritz cracker/peanut butter snack I thought again of your Lenten fast, as I have many times over the years.”
“Hmm,” I thought, and remembered eating that snack after school, but not “giving it up,” so to speak, although she clearly did. We exchanged messages for half an hour, and attached to one of hers was a group shot of our third grade class. “I’m in white, long-sleeved shirt,” she wrote. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the cub scout uniform in the back,” I replied. I could remember the faces of all thirty-eight kids in that picture and the names of thirty-three. I was eight years old again — transported right back to that time and place of fifty-six years ago. I recalled the drawing of an ice skater taped to the wall and envying the talent of Gerard Connelly the boy with a bow tie and big ears standing second from the right. Then I felt a connection to the students I’m teaching now.
My homeschool students

Every Tuesday morning for the past twenty-five weeks I’ve been teaching a group of ten home-schooled, high-school-aged boys and girls. Eight are Catholic and two Baptist. Working with them transports me back also because they remind me of the students in the picture. I taught about thirty-five hundred public school kids over thirty-six years but the home school kids I’m teaching now are different. Or, perhaps I should say the thirty-five hundred others I taught are the different ones. They’re different because our culture is different from what it was fifty years ago, and they’re immersed in it while my home-schooled kids are not. I can’t say they’re unaffected, but they’re relatively untarnished by what our culture has become. They still have something we all used to have but is almost lost now — not entirely yet, but if present trends continue it will be.
What is that something? Hard to describe. A sense of inner good perhaps? Confidence that we’re good because God created us that way? It’s also a confidence that there is a general “Good,” which we can all share if we acknowledge it. There was little doubt in our minds back then that Good was a real force, and it would ultimately prevail. Our country was good, and it fought evil. Nearly all our fathers were WWII veterans who watched “World At War” and “Victory At Sea,” on Saturdays — those half-hour, black-and-white episodes depicting real battles between good and evil. Even the old atheist and Chicago lefty Studs Terkel knew that when he wrote: “The Good War.”
“Oh my god!” was the most ubiquitous exclamation for students in public school during my career. But “god” didn’t mean “Supreme Being” to them. They didn’t use the word as the kids in the picture did, as my homeschoolers do, as I do. Our God wasn’t in their thoughts when they invoked His name — not consciously. When my homeschoolers say, “God,” it’s with reverence, and confidence that He exists. Teachers in public school are afraid to say the word today. Students are allowed unless they really mean God the Creator. Invoking Him is actively discouraged unless it’s in the Pledge of Allegiance, and that’s periodically challenged.
Christmas is gone. History texts don’t measure time using BC as in “Before Christ.” That’s out too. Now it’s BCE for “Before Common Era,” but no one can explain what “Common Era” means. Dictionary.com says it means “Christian Era” but you’re not supposed to say that. Christianity is actively discouraged. They never say AD for the Latin “Anno Domini” anymore either because it means “Year of our Lord.” Can’t have that. It’s CE for “Common Era” which nobody understands.
Got it? And so it goes.

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