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:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Too Much Beauty

Sunset  from my backyard last summer

During a difficult period some years ago, an old priest/counselor told me that as I endured pain, my capacity for feeling joy would grow commensurately. It seemed small comfort at the time, but now I believe he was on to something. Grieving the death of my son in June, I’m going through another hard time. A friend who also lost a son to addiction told me his grief comes in waves. I’m seeing now what he meant and I’ve been swept along on such a wave for days as I write. I have to let it carry me and feel the grief, but not let it drown me or smash me on the rocks. When the wave passes I’ll be able again to sense beauty around me, which is always there whether I perceive it or  not.
Leaves falling in the yard last month

He was an Anglican priest and his son was alcoholic too. He understood the anguish I felt watching my own son spiral down. When I asked how to deal with it, he said: “Carry it.”

“Carry it?” I asked. “That’s the best you can do for me?” It was, he said, so I tried carrying it with as much dignity as I could muster and then asked: “What’s next?”

“Embrace it,” he said.

“Really?” I said. “I don’t ever see myself doing that,” and I didn’t for years. While my son was alive I still thought I might do something to steer him from his self-destructive path, but his death ended that. I haven’t been embracing my grief; I’ve been wrestling with it. I grapple onto it and try to throw it aside. Sometimes I get some respite before it comes back. Will I ever come to embrace it? I don’t know. The old priest was right about the joy part though. I’m having my moments between waves.
Grandson Henry in a pout

I’m seeing too much beauty around to record and preserve, though I try very hard. It’s a nice problem to have. I’ve been able to extract increasing measures of joy in attempts to replicate it. Never do I go anywhere without a good camera near at hand. If it’s not slung over my shoulder, it’s in my car or truck parked nearby. If I’m taking pictures, I know I’m healing. In letters, emails, and texts, I try to use words as a medium for capturing and preserving it, and those go to people I love. Occasionally I use this space to express what I’m feeling, but in a somewhat muted form.
Grandchildren on their porch in Sweden, Maine

Whether my method of capture is visual or verbal, it always falls short. The scene itself is always more beautiful than my picture of it; the thought or feeling is always more profound than my description of it. However inadequate my recording efforts, they please me more as time goes by. Pictures I took two, three, or ten years ago seem more adequate because the memory of the experience has faded while the quality of my visual or verbal facsimile remains undiminished.
With my wife and grandson at Colosseum last month

My pictures are my own. I don’t sell them and I’m the only one who sees most of them. Every Christmas, however, I collect four or five hundred “best of the year” images and put them onto miniature flash drives for my children. These they insert into digital picture frames I gave them years ago. When I visit, I see those images displayed in five-second intervals on their walls. It’s possible they only turn the frames on when I’m visiting, but I don’t think so. I suspect they’re used often because the pictures are almost as meaningful to them as they are to me. Every shot is imbued with whatever I was feeling as I saw the beauty in the loved one or the scene. I saw and felt something exquisite each time I snapped the shutter.
From Rome's Palatine Hill last month

Before I had a good digital camera, I always had a good film camera and I shot slides rather than photos. The light capture was better in slides and capturing light is what photography is all about. Today, I much prefer seeing my digital photos on a computer screen or digital picture frame than on a print. Prints are disappointing, but I still enjoy them. I can derive pleasure while learning to dry mount, select a matte, and put them together in the right frame.
Lila, Luke, and Henry on their trampoline last month

Though I seldom read what I’ve written after it’s mailed, sent, or published, I often look at my pictures. As when listening to an old song or smelling an old, familiar scent, seeing my images of special people and beautiful scenes brings it all back. They help me realize I have much for which to be thankful. Thankful to whom? Why the God Who made us, Who sustains us, and Who calls us home when He’s ready of course. Who else?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Aggressive Ignorance

After last Friday, young people in Paris know what aggression is. Young people at the University of Missouri, at Yale, and at the University of Southern Maine, however, do not. Student “leaders” at Mizzou (what people are calling the University of Missouri these days) certainly do not, but think they do. They’re whining because their fifteen minutes of fame was cut short by radical Islamist massacres in Paris. Nobody is listening to their petulant demands for “safe spaces” anymore. Instead, people are wondering if there really is any such thing as “multiculturalism” and can we actually “COEXIST” with a culture like Islam, many of whose followers kill us every chance they get.
Once I thought everyone understood aggression but I was wrong. I grew up in suburban Boston, not a dangerous place, but every boy in the neighborhood knew what aggression was. When someone punched you in the head, that was aggression. If someone called you names, that was just an annoyance. Every boy had been punched at one time or another and learned how to handle it. There were two choices: fight back or turn the other cheek. Everyone knew who the fighters were — punch them and they punch back. We all knew who the meek were too, the ones willing to suffer humiliation whenever a bully felt like dishing it out. Some of us protected them when we could. Others of us were indifferent and let it happen. I assumed it was that way everywhere.
It was a different world in college. There I met guys who had never been in a fight. They’d never been punched, they said, nor had they ever punched anyone. I know because I asked them. They were nice enough guys, but I didn’t understand them, not on a basic male level. They spawned today’s metrosexuals and pajama boys — the wussy students on campuses who worry about “microaggressions" and “safe places.” They have anxiety attacks in the presence of politically-incorrect Halloween costumes or climate-change deniers. They need “trigger warnings” before anyone questions global warming or whether it’s possible for a man to change into a woman, or dares to use the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence lest they go into a swoon.
Compare these students with the heroic young Americans who charged a radical Muslim terrorist with a loaded AK-47 on a French train back in August. Who are you proud of? Which kind of young person do you want more of? Please realize that we’re getting more whiners and fewer heroes because your tax dollars are going to the former and not the latter.
Even more timid than America’s sissified students are their professors and administrators. They meekly submit their resignations at the very suggestion they may not be “doing enough” to protect the hothouse flowers that make up the student body at their campuses. They fawn over Bowdoin College’s Deray McKesson as he lectures at Yale defending looting as a righteous tactic. McKesson lectures at Bowdoin also on “Black Lives Matter,” never mentioning how he’s funded by George Soros and other Democrat fat cats for his anarchist activities. McKesson even gets personal invitations from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Valerie Jarrett.
Now these progressive professors and college administrators are quaking in their Birkenstocks as petulant students demand their resignations. “What have we wrought?” they ask themselves. The same question is in the minds of Democrat presidential candidates who get shouted off their campaign stages by “Black Lives Matter” activists when they dare suggest that all lives matter.
The same question is being asked by European leaders whose citizens are in open rebellion against European Union policy that allows armies of Muslim “refugees” into their countries and then supports them on welfare for generations. So far, anyone who has publicly spoken against the policy is charged with hate crimes. According to, “Dutch police have announced they will be prosecuting democratically-elected house of representatives member Geert Wilders for asking his voters whether they wanted to see fewer Moroccans or not in [Holland].” In France “[Actress Brigitte] Bardot was convicted for ‘decrying the loss of French identity and tradition due to the “multiplication of mosques while our church bells fall silent for want of priests.’” Also charged with hate crimes was Marine Le Pen, a member of European Parliament, for daring to compare Muslims to Nazis.
After last Friday, progressives in Europe and America have to be asking themselves: “What have we wrought?” Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about microaggression now that Islamist aggression can no longer be ignored. Maybe multiculturalism is a pipe dream. Maybe we can’t COEXIST. Maybe Marco Rubio is right when he claims we’re in a “Clash of Civilizations.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Growing Gulf

People ask how I come up with something to write about every week. “Do you ever run out of ideas?” No. The problem is actually the opposite: There are too many things to write about in only one 800-word column.
I start on one topic and it always leads into another, then another. For example, as I was leaving the Lovell Town Hall after casting my vote last week, a leftist Democrat (is there any other kind?) I’d known for years asked me to sign a petition to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020. She went into her pitch about how it was immoral to pay someone a wage too low to support a household. I said I would not sign, claiming that government is driving wages down by allowing tens of millions of illegal aliens into the US. Then government sets out to “fix” the problem by raising the minimum wage, creating still more problems.
She disputed my illegal immigration numbers and I said the US Census has been reporting only 11 million illegals for more than ten years, even though at least a half million more sneak in every year. How can government get an accurate count? Then immigration lawyers tell illegals to claim they’re seeking “asylum” so they can become “refugees” and then not technically illegal. That way they can go right on welfare for their food, clothing, housing, medical care, and cash assistance. Illegals had done that for years in sanctuary cities and states like Maine under Governor John Baldacci’s Administration, when he ordered state employees not to ask about the immigration status of anyone applying for benefits. Republican Governor LePage stopped that, but there are still sanctuary cities in Maine including our biggest city, Portland. Many work under the table, driving down wages, then collect welfare which drives up the tax burden on citizens.
Word gets around among those looking for an easier life, whether they’re home-grown Americans or they’re from other countries in the Americas, Africa, or the Middle East. Maine became a magnet because of lax welfare regulations. The Portland area gets migrants from about everywhere in the world. Even under LePage they can get General Assistance, since the state reimburses Portland for 90% of its General Assistance outlays whether recipients are from Massachusetts or Mogadishu. All their basic needs are provided free of charge. What’s not to like? Others hear this and join them here.
Immigration is the biggest topic on the minds of Americans and Europeans too. Minimum wage is ancillary. About one in four Americans today was born somewhere else — as there are more foreigners coming here than at any other time in our history. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy saying he would deport all illegals, he rocketed to the top of opinion polls where he has remained ever since. Pundits still can’t figure that out. It’s even worse across the pond. European countries are getting 8,000 Muslim “refugees” per day from the Middle East and Africa! Those are numbers not seen since World War II and it’s roiling the political pot everywhere.
What’s causing all this migration? Several things. Yes, there’s civil strife in Syria that people are fleeing, and our mainstream media pretend that’s the only factor driving it. If it were only civil strife they were escaping they would stop in Turkey, or in Greece, or in Bulgaria, or in Macedonia, or in Serbia, or in Croatia but they don’t — because there’s a pull factor too. They want to get to Germany, Denmark, the UK, and Sweden because welfare benefits are much more generous in northern Europe. Mainstream media in Europe and the US avoid that topic because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Three out of four “refugees” are young men in their 20s and 30s, not women and children. They’re well-dressed and they have cell phones. They want to get to northern Europe for an easier life than they would get in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, etc. Many believe there are ISIS terrorists among them too but that’s a whole other topic.
More and more ordinary Germans, Brits, and Danes — and Americans — are wise to this, but their leaders don’t seem to be. That’s causing the political sea change that so puzzles the pundits. Political leaders and media leaders are increasingly isolated from ordinary citizens both here and in Europe. They go to the same universities, live in the same neighborhoods, and go to the same restaurants and cocktail parties where they reinforce each other’s world views. They like their cheap nannies and gardeners and don’t have to compete for their livelihood every day with illegals. Ordinary citizens at lunch counters and in employee break rooms have a different view altogether.
The gulf is widening between the elite and working people and “experts” are baffled. Their templates don’t fit anymore and they don’t know where to begin constructing new ones. We peons out here in the countryside understand very well why wages are depressed and we’re pissed, but the cocktail party elite don’t ask us about it because they see us as racist morons. To this writer, it’s fascinating to watch it all play out.

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Monday, November 02, 2015

You Know You're A Progressive When...

To be a good progressive these days, you must learn to live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance, which defines as: “anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes [or] beliefs.”
You have to believe it’s possible to COEXIST with people who want to kill you, and put COEXIST bumper stickers on your Prius. Though Radical Muslims kill us every chance they get, you have to believe we’re not at war with them — even after they declared war on us. You also have to support treaties with countries whose leaders lead millions in chants of “Death to America!
You have to believe that The Islamic Republic of Iran has nothing to do with Islam, and The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with Islam either. Nor does al Qaida, or Boko Haram, or al Nusra, or al Shabab, or Hamas, or Hezbollah, or…
You have to believe that even though climate has been changing for millions of years, including global freezing and global warming over at least five ice ages before humans existed, that human activity is causing global warming now. You must believe that when Neanderthals and Cro Magnon humans appeared, they brought on the global warming that melted the glaciers of the fourth ice age by burning too much wood in their camp fires -- because it took a lot of wood to cook all those mammoths.
You also have to believe that signing a climate change treaty which would bring skyrocketing energy prices for every American is worth it — even when China and India will continue increasing their carbon emissions for at least the next fifteen years and maybe forever. When some scientists point out there has been no global warming for the last twenty years in spite of ever-increasing carbon emissions, they should be prosecuted as climate change deniers. You have to believe John Kerry and Barack Obama when they claim global warming is a bigger threat than radical Islam.
You have to believe that even though the top 1% of Americans pay more taxes than the bottom 90%, they don’t pay their fair share. You also have to believe that even though half of Americans pay no income taxes at all, we need to give them more free stuff by increasing taxes still more on the top 1%. You put “Bernie” stickers on your Prius next to your COEXIST stickers because you believe his claims that “the top 1%” has so much money it can pay for endless free stuff for everyone and will never run out. 
You have to believe that Hillary triumphed over the House Committee on Benghazi even if they proved she lied to the families of four dead Americans and to the nation. You must believe that pretending to answer questions is more important than telling the truth. You have to believe that even though 54% of American voters don’t think Hillary is honest or trustworthy and you cannot think of anything she accomplished as a senator or secretary of state, you must support her because “It’s time we had a woman president.”
You have to believe Obamanomics has reduced our unemployment rate to only 5.5% even though there are 95 million Americans out of work who have given up looking for a job, and there are only 318 million Americans.
You have to believe that Governor O’Malley was right to apologize to “Black Lives Matter” for daring to claim that all lives matter. You have to believe that cops are racist and constantly looking for young, unarmed black men to shoot. You must believe that anyone who points out that more than 93% of young, black men are killed by other young black men is racist.

You have to believe that anyone who objects to allowing tens of millions of illegal aliens into America and paying for their food, clothing, housing, education, and health care is also racist. However, groups like La Raza (translated “The Race”) and its affiliate MEChA, who claim Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, Nevada and Colorado were stolen by evil white people are not.
You have to believe that abortion is not dismembering an unborn baby in its mother’s womb, but “women’s health care.” You have to be willing to declare that anyone who suggests there may be a moral problem with killing babies and selling them for parts is waging a “war on women.”
You have to believe that homosexuality is natural, but sex roles are artificial. You must declare that homosexuals are born that way, but men and women are not. Counseling for homosexuals who wish to overcome attraction to others of the same sex must be made illegal everywhere, not just in California, Oregon and New Jersey, but taxpayers must pay for surgery and hormone treatments in attempts to turn men into women and women into men.
If you’re able to do all this, congratulations. You can call yourself a good progressive.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Favorite Mug

I didn’t want to bother St. Anthony to help me look for my coffee mug. For two days it was lost and I thought I looked everywhere, but then I found it so obviously I hadn’t. It’s a “Big Apple” mug — red plastic with a black cover and it fits well in my hand. It also fits in the cup holders of both my truck and car and it’s an important part of my life. My hand knows right where to go for a sip without my brain having to instruct it.

“Big Apple” has nothing to do with New York City lest readers from places outside Maine get that impression. It’s the name given to a chain of convenience stores in Maine and New Hampshire begun by the CN Brown Heating Oil Company way back in the twentieth century. Carleton N. Brown, for whom the company is named, lived on Christian Hill Road where I live now and I knew his daughter, Susie. Her daughter and my three were playmates, but that association has little to do with my attachment to that coffee mug. Like I said, it fits in my hand nicely. It’s comfortable. There’s a place on the rim of its black cover that melted in the dishwasher drying cycle sometime in the 90s and my thumb goes there automatically when I drink from it. I don’t have that dishwasher anymore — brought it to the Lovell dump years ago — but I still have the mug.
Everyone knows LL Bean is a Maine-based store. Smaller, but also unique to Maine are Reny's Department Stores and Big Apple Stores. I have an even older Big Apple mug that I keep at our South Portland house. It’s also red and black, but has a more uniform shape — made in the days before vehicles came with cup holders. It’s shorter, without that narrow part moulded into the bottom to fit cup holders. It fit on the dashboard of three different pickup trucks I drove back then, but not in the cup holders of my present vehicles. I use it only for afternoon tea which I tend to drink in the house or out on the deck. I also have a newer-vintage Big Apple mug down there for morning coffee and for traveling. I used to have about ten of them, but now I'm down to three.
All of them fit under the new Keurig machines we have in both houses too. I like my coffee dark while my wife likes hers medium, and since I was always up first to make the coffee when we had one of those old coffeemakers, I brewed it dark. “You can put more cream in yours,” I’d suggest to her, but she went out and bought those Keurigs. Each cup tends to be more expensive, but we get it the way we like it: Green Mountain Dark Magic for me and Dunkin Donuts for her. They’re extravagant, I know, but coffee is important. I have three mugfuls in the morning. Then it’s one cup of tea in the afternoon, a glass of red wine with dinner and another for dessert. 
When getting my twice-a-year teeth cleaning, Amy, my hygienist asks me if I drink coffee, tea or red wine, which stain teeth. “Yes,” I respond, “All three, and I have no intention of stopping any, ever.”
But back to St. Anthony. My wife nearly always suggests a prayer to him when I lose something because he’s the patron saint of lost things, she says. I’m not a true believer in that stuff but I have to admit, two valuable items I thought were gone forever turned up after she prayed to him. One was my first pair of prescription glasses.
We were on our boat in Kezar Lake and we pulled up onto a remote beach for a swim. I took off my glasses with their red lanyard and put them on the bow before diving in, but didn’t put them back on when we left. Later, when I noticed they were missing, I remembered where I’d left them and figured they were at the bottom in upper bay, which is the deepest part — over 160 feet. I imagined they bounced off the bow as we raced back to the marina over choppy water. For the next two weeks I wore old drugstore glasses and made another appointment with the optometrist. Each time I complained about them, my wife offered up another prayer. Then I was out for a boat ride with a client/friend and asked him to go over close to that beach. There they were with their red lanyard on the sandy bottom in about three feet of water.
While loading a pile of brush into my truck last summer, I swatted a bug near my ear and knocked one of my tiny hearing aids into the brush pile I was standing in. I had paid $5600 for both a year before, so I carefully examined every limb I loaded, but couldn’t find it. My wife again suggested St. Anthony, but again I was skeptical. She went with me to unload at the dump, and together we examined each limb carefully as we offloaded — and suddenly there on the tailgate was my $2800 hearing aid.

Coincidence? Who knows? Thank you St. Anthony.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rich and Poor

Our federal government classified me as poor when I moved to Maine in August, 1977. My family of four was “under the poverty line” according to their way of measuring things. I had just taken a job as Director of Special Education for Maine School Administrative District #72 in Fryeburg at an annual salary of $9200. With four individuals to feed, clothe, and house, our federal government said I was poor and eligible for lots of programs which we didn’t use. That our daughter, Annie, was still in utero portended deeper “poverty” when she was to be born in December. Then our son, Ryan, came along five years later when my salary was still about the same. As a family of six, we must have gone from poor to very poor in the eyes of government.
Rather than take assistance from taxpayers, I chose to take on additional work. For most of my teaching career, I carried two or three part-time jobs as a caretaker, a writer, and a ski instructor — working all four simultaneously during several of those years. After all the kids were in school, my wife took on various part time jobs as well. She waitressed, cleaned houses, and drove a school bus before going back to school herself to become a therapist. She’s been doing that for almost twenty years, the last five or so part time. Each of us now works the equivalent of a half time job — roughly twenty hours a week. Now our federal government considers me rich because our combined household income is in the top quintile according the census statistics. I don’t worry about bills because my wife and I made it a priority to pay them off some time ago.
Ours is a common story. The “poor” don’t remain poor unless they stay on government programs. If they work, they often become “rich.”
Angus Deaton

Why tell you all this? Because it was announced last week that Princeton University’s Angus Deaton was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics, in part because of his work measuring poverty. I didn’t expect to agree with Deaton on much considering the Nobel committee awarded a previous economics prize to Paul Krugman, but I looked him up anyway and found his observations quite reasonable. The first thing I came to was a 2003 essay he wrote called “Measuring Poverty.” In it, Deaton writes:
“Everyone has some idea what poverty is, and most people have little difficulty answering the question, ‘Do you consider yourself poor?’ although some people need a moment or two to think about it. Nor do people find it hard to answer the same question about their neighbors or other people that they know. Yet these simple ideas turn out to be hard to extend to countries, and harder still to the world as a whole.”
International agencies like the United Nations and the World Bank work mainly to mitigate poverty rather than spur economic development. Doing so, they allow local people to self-identify according to Deaton and that’s a problem, he says: 
“…It is not possible to push this local poverty identification too far. If the sums to be distributed are large enough, they become worth misappropriating, and there is an incentive for people to identify their friends and relatives (or themselves) as poor. Similarly, some NGOs have discovered that, if they use the poverty identification to enroll people into employment or training schemes, then after a few visits everyone is reported to be poor.”
I would point out here that in local school districts there is a similar phenomenon — applications for free and reduced lunches sent to each family each September are not vetted. I’ve asked people in at least three Maine districts and none vet the applications. They don’t check to see if families fudge their income/assets because the district qualifies for lots of additional federal and state aid based on percentage “qualifying” for free or reduced lunch.
When I was teaching economics, we found it necessary to define poverty. Students and I agreed that one is poor if he lacks sufficient funds to purchase food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to sustain life. We also agreed that someone is rich if he has enough for those basic needs — and some left over. He’s a little rich if he has a little left, and very rich if he has a lot left.
There’s another definition on which my wife and I agree: We’re rich, not just because we have everything we need and some left over, but also because we have everything we want — everything that money can buy, at least. Some may say our wants are modest and maybe they are, but they’re ours. They were established during lean times when our family was young and they haven’t changed much. We learned to live on less and haven’t forgotten how. We learned to be happy with what we have, and that became the habit of a lifetime.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Roman Musings

Ah, Roma. That’s what natives call it. Others say it’s the Eternal City and we spent the whole week there. I got a good feel for the place, but I’ll need a lot more time to process my impressions.
Riley and Roseann at St. Peter's Square

Our Tuesday Colisseum tour was much better than the Vatican tour I mentioned last week. It was outside, not as crowded, and with better electronics between the guide’s microphone and my earphones. The Vatican had been, stuffy, crowded, and boring. It was too visual with all the paintings and marble inlay on floors, walls, and ceilings — and tapestries. Who likes them? There were lots of painted maps and those would have interested me if I had time to examine them, but we were moved along as if on an assembly line. The paintings showed people in togas or mostly nude, with lots of muscles, penises, beards and breasts. The guide told us Michelangelo was homosexual, as if she were giving us some inside information. I was glad when the tour was over.

 At left is God's butt by Michelangelo

Did I really care if Michelangelo resented the pope who hired him and so painted the Creator mooning us? No. Did I care that he resented a bishop so much that he painted him in hell with a snake consuming his family jewels for eternity?
Not really. I think everyone concerned had too much money and too much time. Yeah, Michaelangelo was a talented sculptor, painter, and architect, but likely high-maintenance as well.

The Colisseum made more sense. Those three Flavian emperors who built it spent lots of money to entertain the masses, and completed that impressive structure in only seven years. Remarkable. With an elaborate system of elevators and trap doors beneath the building’s floor, our guide said they pushed up gladiators to fight each other and wild animals to tear criminals apart in front of 50,000 spectators who all got in for nothing — but no Christians being eaten by lions, she insisted. This guide was a Sicilian archaeologist who spoke excellent English with very little accent. I understood everything. My 15-year-old grandson, Riley, was as fascinated by all this as he was bored by the paintings and sculptures at the Vatican.
Floor partially rebuilt to show what it was like

My Catholic education from second grade through high school emphasized Christian martyrs who died in the Colosseum, so I was surprised when she didn’t mention them. I asked why, and she said there was no evidence Christians were killed there and I didn’t challenge her. Later when I looked it up, I discovered different accounts — typical for history. Some said they were Christians martyred there and some said they were not. I guess the guide and others trusted only some accounts and distrusted others. That’s their right, of course, but to say there was no evidence? Certainly there are Catholic Church accounts, but our guide must have doubts about those. Whenever she mentioned the church or “the popes” as she described them, it was in a negative context. That was true for all three guides we hired during our one-week stay.
Entrance to old Church of St. Sebastian Palatine Hill

Then there was the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill next door to the Colosseum. Nearly everything was in ruin, but our guide had images of what parts of it looked like in their prime — very impressive. We cannot know everything about how it looked because records are incomplete and images are scarce as well.
Interesting face in old Jewish Ghetto

For the last three days we hired a tour guide named Christian. With him, we walked around the city seeing the Spanish Steps, Jewish Ghetto, the Pantheon, as well as countless piazzas and fountains full of naked and half-dressed muscular guys, lots of women with breasts exposed, and boys next to fish squirting water. I liked walking up and down narrow streets with centuries-old buildings interspersed with millennia-old ruins. Throughout nearly the entire city was decades-old graffiti, never a good sign. Maybe what’s left of the empire will decline as well. Though it annoys my wife when I focus on graffiti wherever I see it, its presence or absence is, respectively, a sign of decline or of progress. It’s a barometer — a canary in the coal mine, so to speak.
Shrine to Mary above graffiti on old passageway

We returned Sunday after traveling for twenty hours, and I was very glad to get back to Maine, to my own bed, my own shower, my old routine. It’s marvelous that we can fly sitting in a chair seven miles high and cross continents and oceans in a day, but it’s still tiring. I don’t want to get back on one for a long while if I can help it. The older I get, the more I appreciate home. I’ll write more about the trip, but two columns in a row about Rome are enough for the time being. Don’t want to bore my readers.

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