Monday, December 21, 2015

"Christmas and Christianity"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day

“Christmas and Christianity”

December 21, 2015

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”

                                                                                                         How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1957

                                                                                                         Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel (1904-1991)

Christmas is special – perhaps the most special of all holidays, at least for the world’s children, its Christians and, I would guess, millions more. In its pervasiveness, it has become ecumenical. It is as much a feeling as a season. Could the spontaneous truce that for a few moments interrupted fighting in the trenches on the Western Front in December 1914 have occurred at any time other than Christmas Eve? It is a magical time for children. The power to believe is granted to those whose faith runs deep, but is inherent in all children. To them, Santa Claus is not an abstraction; he is real. Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol, taught us, through the characters of Scrooge and Tiny Tim, the sin of greed and the grace of benevolence. When Theodore Roosevelt, in the interest of conservation, announced that the White House would go without a Christmas tree in 1902, he was denied by his two youngest sons, Archibald and Quentin. 

Growing up in rural New Hampshire, Christmases were special. On its Eve my father would hitch ‘Judy’ to a sledge. We children would climb aboard. With dogs eagerly following, we headed through the gate leading to the ‘next field’ and the rutted road that lay beyond, into the woods. A previously located spruce or a fir would be cut down, placed aboard the sledge and returned to the house. That evening my parents would decorate it, the best part being when real candles, scattered among the branches, were lit – a bucket of water placed prudently nearby. We would then hang-up our stockings. ‘Mitzi,’ our Shetland, would come into the living room and hang-up her “shoe”. Later, we would gather around our mother, as she read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Though we knew the story by heart, we all laughed as we heard for the umpteenth time how Santa’s belly, when he laughed, “shook like a bowlful of jelly.”

Neither of my parents were religious in the traditional sense. My mother had been raised in New Haven as a Congregationalist; my father as a Unitarian in Wellesley, MA. While there was a time, in the 1950s, when my father attended church regularly, that was due to his regard for the minister, David B. Parke. Caroline and I raised our children in the Episcopal faith, the church in which my wife was baptized. When our children were young, we attended services regularly. In fact, at one point I was a member of the vestry and our children were acolytes. But as we have grown older we have become irregular communicants. Nevertheless, I take comfort in a familiarity of the liturgy and hymns. I enjoy the wisdom of our rector, revealed in his sermons. And I love the pageantry of Christmas services.

The magic of Christmas still exists for my youngest grandchildren. And even for the older ones, who are hesitant to deny the existence of Santa Claus…just in case. But there are politically-correct Scrooges and Grinches who minify the significance of Christmas by claiming that words like ‘stars’ and ‘angels,’ and displays like crèches and Christmas trees, and hymns like “Away in a Manger” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” may make non-Christians uncomfortable; so should be avoided. The implication being that Christianity is exclusive, in a world clamoring for inclusivity – a place where multiculturalism is preferred to pluralism. That attitude is wrong and in fact goes against the essence of religious freedom. We are a nation that welcomes people of all faiths – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and scores of others, including atheists or agnostics. Our Constitution (and common decency) require we respect one another’s religions and places of worship, as long as they are peaceful.   

While the commercialization of Christmas is a reality, it remains a religious holiday. There are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world – the most ubiquitous religion on the planet. According to PEW Research, 71% of Americans identify as Christian. There was a time, however, when intolerance was essentially synonymous with Christianity. Consider: The Crusades – the first began in 1095 and the last in 1248; A time when Popes led armies – Pope Julius II (1443-1513), one of the last to lead an army, named himself after Julius Caesar; The Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478 and was finally disbanded in 1834. Think of Pilgrims like William Bradford who escaped religious persecution in the early 17th Century by coming to America; Keep in mind, Puritans in New England who, later in the same century, hung Sarah Good and eighteen other women for witchcraft and ostracized the fictional Hester Prynne for adultery. But that era passed. Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Christian missionaries may have been exuberant in spreading the Gospel, but they did so peacefully. They were more likely to be killed than to kill.

One of the most profound changes in the global religious landscape has been the decline of Christianity in the region of its birth – the Middle East. By 2010, the percent of the population that was Christian had declined by two-thirds from a hundred years earlier. In the past five years, in Iraq and Syria, the number of Christians has declined by 60% to 75%. “Religious cleansing,” a euphemism for genocide, is being practiced on Christians in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and Iraq. In our comfortable homes, keeping warm before blazing yule logs, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, it is hard to imagine (but we should not forget) that Christians are being killed – some crucified – simply for being Christian.

The word ‘Christmas’ stems from the old English Cristes Moesse. It means a celebration of the Eucharist in honor of the Messiah, or Christ – Jesus the Christ. Today we celebrate the holiday as the time of His birth, in a stable in Bethlehem. That city now has a population of 50,000 (50 times larger than 2000 years ago). Bethlehem is located five miles south of Jerusalem in Palestinian-controlled territories, land turned over to the Palestinian Authority in 1995 as part of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. Roughly 53% of the population is Muslim, with the bulk of the rest being Christian.

In most families, Christmas is a cherished tradition. It provides children a sense of place – something to look forward to each year. For adults, it brings back memories of childhood, of the way holidays were once celebrated. But there is nothing wrong with developing new customs or amending old ones. My children were raised differently than was I. It is likely that their children, as they marry and have children, will develop their own habits. Change can be good and is, in fact, necessary. In his essay “The Custom House,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, in the same worn-out soil.” His words speak to the pluralism of America’s society – E Pluribus Unum. It reminds us that immigrants who come to America should adapt to our values and culture. Over time, their influences will affect our culture. But it is they who must adapt. Segregated communities, whether by religion or race, divide; they do not unite.

During this season it is worth reminding ourselves that the word holiday has religious antecedents. The word is derived from the Old English, haligdaeg, meaning ‘holy day.’ In that spirit, I wish you joy, peace, goodwill and good health. Caroline and I will spend Christmas with our family – our three children, their spouses and our ten grandchildren. Whatever your religion or whatever code you live by, may it bring peace and good cheer to you and to all you encounter. The Grinch was right. Christmas does not come from the store. It comes from the heart.

                                                   Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Evil, Islamic Terorism, Guns & the Left"

Sydney M. Williams

                                                                  Thought of the Day

                                             “Evil, Islamic Terrorism, Guns & the Left”

December 14, 2015

The juxtaposition of two headlines on the front page of a recent New York Times suggested ideology supersedes facts. The first: “Arms Stockpile is Found in Home of Two Suspects.” The second: “A Couple Who Lived Quietly, Motives Unknown.” Both headlines, it need hardly be said, dealt with the recent Islamist terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. It has been a failure to connect the dots that characterizes not only the liberal press, but more importantly the Administration. Most egregious was the failure of both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to detect the couple who had been radicalized since at least 2013 – before they met – and who left overt traces of their jihad-extremist sympathies on social media.

While Donald Trump’s remarks about temporarily banning Muslims immigrants from entering the country were reprehensible, they were understandable given the willfulness of the Administration as to the enemy we face. A week ago, Mr. Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office. While he mentioned terrorism, he did not use the modifier, Islamist. Mr. Trump’s reaction is a negation of Mr. Obama’s thesis – that his policies are working. When the pendulum swings to the left, it is propelled back an equal distance to the right. It has been the failure of the Obama Administration’s policies regarding immigration and Islamic terrorism that has given rise to the demagoguery of Mr. Trump.

We are in a war against Islamist extremism. It has manifested itself in dozens of incidents over more than three decades, most notably in the U.S. on 9/11, and most recently in San Bernardino. But the war began earlier. To mention just a few incidents: In 1983, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed, killing 63. The explosion on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 killed 270. The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 killed 6 and wounded 1000. The 2000 bombing of the USS Cole killed 6 and wounded 39. The Fort Hood (2009) and Boston Marathon (2013) massacres happened on Mr. Obama’s watch. In all cases, the perpetrators were Islamist militants. We (by which I mean all civilized people, including moderate Muslims) are not only in a war against ISIS and al Qaeda. we are at war with dozens of Islamist terrorist organizations whose goal is to kill infidels – those whose religious views do not conform to the terrorist’s interpretation of the Quran. It is not Mr. Trump who is xenophobic; it is Islamists who hate those of other faiths, especially Israel and the Jewish people. That is where bigotry truly lies.

And this is not an “overseas contingency operation” or a “conflict.” It is war. Wars are brutal and should not be entered into lightly. This war should require an Act of Congress. It should require a ‘no-fly’ zone and increased bombings, but more importantly “boots on the ground.” It will demand a far greater use of intelligence. The object is to win. Admiral Jacky Fisher, the man credited with reforming and modernizing the British navy prior to World War I, once said: “The essence of war is violence, and moderation in war is imbecility.” Political correctness, sensitivity training and trigger warnings have no place in this war. It is the ideology of our enemy we must combat. To defeat them, we must first acknowledge who they are and then take the fight to them, otherwise we risk the gradual but certain loss of our values and freedoms.

Too often moderate Muslims have failed to exorcise the evil of jihadism and have not condemned the radicalism inherent in shariah law. When Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR (Council on Islamic-American Relations) said Donald Trump sounds “more like the leader of a lynch mob than a leader of a nation,” his words would have carried more weight if he had been equally hyperbolic in condemning the atrocities of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. While there are exceptions, the silence regarding jihadism from most moderate Muslims has been deafening.

The Left’s claim that terrorism is a consequence of lax gun laws is a non sequitur. Paris has been hit twice this year, yet France has stricter gun laws than the U.S. Israel gets attacked regularly. California has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S., yet Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik had no trouble getting weapons. One of the sillier responses to the attack in San Bernardino was from Dan Malloy, Governor of Connecticut: “We must be the most violent society at this point, at least with respect to our own citizenry.” Perhaps he would prefer life in Africa, the Middle East, North Korea, China, Haiti, Venezuela, Colombia or Honduras?

As readers of my essays know, I am not a fan of guns. The last time I fired a weapon was fifty-three years ago, in Army basic training. I would be happy if no guns existed. But they do. They are not going away. There are 300 million guns in the U.S. and 100 million gun owners. Bad guys, including terrorists, know how to get them. Will they voluntarily register or turn in their weapons? Of course not. Chicago, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, has among the most murders by shooting. The most successful means of confiscating weapons in New York City was ‘stop and frisk.’ Liberals killed the program because they claimed it targeted African-Americans. Keep in mind, two terrorists were stopped in May of this year when an off-duty policeman shot and killed them in Garland, Texas. They were wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles. Had the armed off-duty cop not been there who knows how many people would have been killed. I favor gun registration, checking names against lists provided by the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies. I see no reason for civilians to own assault weapons. Mental health histories should be shared, as today’s anniversary of the Newtown school shooting reminds us. But I have no illusions that such laws will prevent criminals and terrorists from obtaining weapons. Metadata, profiling and stop and frisk are the best means we have to prevent terrorists and criminals, yet they are an anathema to the Left.

The day after the killings in San Bernardino, the New York Times did something it rarely does. It ran a front page editorial calling for stricter gun control. They did not condemn Islamist terrorists for the massacre in San Bernardino. There was no mention of Jihadism. They did not write of the bigotry endemic to shariah law. They did not mention the Muslim targeting and killing of Christians and Jews in the Middle East. They did not mention that of the top twenty cities in terms of crime in the U.S., sixteen are run by Democrats. Apart from the NRA, the Koch brothers and certain Republicans, the Left has difficulty recognizing the existence of evil. In March 1981, when President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire,’ he was chastised for harsh language. The fact is, there are evil people, and they should be called out.

It is evil we face and it is a war we are in. Islamist jihadism bears a hatred similar to Nazis in Germany, Japanese under Hirohito, and Communists in Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea. They want to wipe Israel off the map. They practice genocide against Christians. These people have no interest in assimilation, cooperation or collegiality. If we fail to recognize this enemy, if we won’t stand up to and defeat them, we will be transformed into Eloi, those fragile, passive creatures that emerged from the imaginative mind of H.G. Welles.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Climate and the Perfunctory Left"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day

“Climate and the Perfunctory Left”

December 7, 2015

The caption under the lead photo in last Monday’s New York Times spoke volumes: “Worldwide rallies on Sunday, demanding a halt to climate change…” As if any person or group of people can halt the climate from changing! Were it so simple!

Despite words that will be uttered and proclamations that will be issued by those attending the UN Climate talks in Paris, they will have little lasting effect. There are myriad reasons: This is the 22nd conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, yet little, if anything, has been accomplished. Thousands of UN employees and tens of thousands of others in government have a vested interest in the perpetuation of these conferences, which incur huge costs. There are, for example, 40,000 people from 190 countries attending this conference. (President Obama had 500 in his retinue.) Bjorn Lomborg (author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist”) recently noted in the Financial Times, that if one ran all the pledges through the UN climate model, one would find that by 2100 temperatures would be cut by just 0.05 degrees centigrade. On a cost/benefit analysis, does this make sense? China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, does not have to comply with standards until 2030. Developing nations see an opportunity for an enormous wealth transfer – in their favor. Despite allegations by those on the Left, man’s exact contribution to climate change is unknown. We do not even know if he is the principal cause. This would not be a treaty in the usual sense. Mr. Obama may unilaterally sign an agreement, but it could be nullified by his successor. He will not seek the advice and consent of the Senate. Apart from the $20 billion R&D fund announced by Bill Gates, the talks are heavy on talk and demands and light on action and innovation.

Yet, it has been innovation, a consequence of entrepreneurship and free-market capitalism, that has reduced poverty, cleansed water, increased food supplies, improved septic systems, enhanced trade and made the world a better, cleaner place. Over the past century and a half, fossil fuels have been the main ingredient allowing that to happen. And it will be innovation – not mandates – that will ultimately wean us from fossil fuels. The most needed invention today are batteries of small size that can store large amounts of energy for extended periods. We could then harness the energy from tides, currents and hurricanes. We should look forward, not backward. We should promote, not inhibit, advancement.

Keep in mind, the biggest driver in reductions to U.S. carbon dioxide emissions has not been solar or wind (or Kyoto or Copenhagen); it has been horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing which have opened up vast fields of natural gas. It was private, not public, investment. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of GDP in the United States is one third lower than it was in 1990.

If those who see man as the principal (if not the sole) cause of climate change were less self-righteous, an intelligent dialogue could be had. But they have become religious zealots on a single-focused mission. The New York Times is a willing co-conspirator. They tell of our coming doom…if we fail to drive a Prius, install solar panels, or populate our fields, bays and sounds with windmills. We are made to feel guilty, when in fact we should take pride in the advances cheap and abundant energy have brought to our lives. A couple of weeks ago the Times ran an article headlined: “600,000 Deaths Laid to Weather.” They were quoting from data prepared by the United Nations, which claims an increase in the frequency and impact of storms, an allegation itself without basis. It was only in the body of the article that the reader realized they were writing of deaths over two decades, or 30,000 a year. They failed to put those deaths in perspective: that each year more than fifty million people die. Last Wednesday, the lead article on the front page of the Times was of the Pacific-based Republic of the Marshall Islands, an equator-based nation of 72,000 people: “Rising Seas Are Claiming a Vulnerable Nation.” The capital city of Majuro is an atoll consisting of 64 small islands. The average elevation is ten feet above sea level. Of course they are at risk from rising seas and storms. The surge from Hurricane Sandy took sea levels fourteen feet above normal, according to the National Weather Service. Wikipedia lists sixteen significant islands and continents that have disappeared over the millennia. Would my purchase of a Tesla help?

When the Left focuses exclusively on man-caused reasons for climate change, they leave us vulnerable to changes from natural forces. They leave unaddressed the possibility of other, existential factors that could be far more dangerous. While they discuss the concept of “geo-engineering,” they ignore the fact that species adapt to changing conditions. Additionally, in their determination to shut down fossil-fueled power generation, they penalize developing countries, while raising the costs for Americans.

The Left employs a simple, syllogistic argument: Greenhouse gasses effect climate; since the Industrial Revolution, man has been emitting greenhouse gasses; therefore, industrialized man is the cause of climate change. But how does that argument explain changes in climate that preceded the industrial age? Scientists recognize the existence of ice ages and preternatural warm periods. We know that tectonic shifts in the earth’s crust and the eruption of volcanoes have affected the earth and its climate. Their arguments ignore theories such as the Milankovitch cycle that holds that inconstancy in temperatures are in part due to the dynamic nature of the planet’s elliptical orbit, the tilt of the axis and its changing direction.

A far better use of time and money for the UN would be to encourage the spread of democracy and free-market capitalism. Keep in mind, it was the industrial revolution that did more to bring the world out of poverty than any other single event. The English historian and economist, T.S. Ashton, wrote in 1948: “The industrial revolution meant the difference between grinding poverty that had characterized human history and the affluence of the modern industrial state.”  Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Conservative Heart, pointed out that the greatest unsung achievement of the last forty-five years has been the reduction in poverty (described as those living on less than a dollar a day), from 27% in 1970 to 5% today. Much of that reduction came in Asia, a consequence of freedom, entrepreneurship and free market capitalism. Compare Eastern Europe today to twenty-five years ago. With wealth comes the desire to live as environmentally clean as possible. Government plays a crucial role in setting guidelines, but it has been competitive businesses practices, such as hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, that have allowed the U.S. to reduce emissions without having been a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, or the Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009.

I used the word perfunctory in the title of this essay, because it describes the careless and superficial (and supercilious) attitude of many of those who support the Left’s position in this critical debate. The caption quoted in the first paragraph is telling, in that it indicates ignorance. It suggests man alone is responsible for changes in the climate, and that if we just do what this elite group of bureaucrats tell us to do “the waters will recede and the planet will heal.” While Mr. Obama and the rest who have led this charge surely know better, the ignorance of their acolytes reflects the manner in which those like Mr. Obama have couched their arguments. It is chilling, for there is nothing riskier to a democracy than an ignorant citizenry.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Month That Was - November 2015

 Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was

November 2015

                                                                                                                                     December 1, 2015

“My sorrow, when she’s here with me

Thinks these dark days of Autumn rain

Are beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered tree;

She walks the sodden pasture lane.”

                                                                                                                        Robert Frost (1874-1963)

                                                                                                                        “My November Guest”

                                                                                                                        A Boy’s Will, 1915

Paris may not have burned, but it came under attack again by ruthless, Godless Islamic radicals. One hundred and thirty – mostly young – people were murdered in six incidents on Friday, the 13th of November. This was only the latest in a series of killings by terrorists invoking Islam as reason and cause. Earlier they had downed a Russian airliner and a few days later 41 Shiite Muslims were killed by two suicide Islamic terrorists in Beirut, Lebanon. Religion is a great comfort for those in need of spiritual uplift. It does far more good than harm.  But religion, throughout the centuries, has also been a cause of wars, something we should not forget. The horror the world is now experiencing will not end until peace-loving Muslims assert leadership. And it will not end as long as the West fails to connect Islam with the terror and the desire for a caliphate that some of its members’ advocate.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacres, Western leaders traveled to Paris to march in solidarity. Millions of people wore signs, “I am Charlie.” In April, 2014, 200 school girls in Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram. Like the “I am Charlie” signs, millions of people, including Michelle Obama, posted the hashtag, “save our girls.” That was the extent of the West’s involvement – feel-good symbols that made the wearer feel sanctimonious, but did nothing for the victims. This time there have been neither marches nor signs

Equally disturbing, though less deadly, have been the obsequious Uriah Heep’s that pass for college administrators and professors in many of our colleges and universities. Protests have risen supporting the concept of “safe places,” places where students can be assured of never hearing words that make them uncomfortable or feeling vulnerable. Yale president Peter Salovey sent an e-mail to his university’s community, which captured today’s campuses fawning, liberal orthodoxy. In the e-mail he apologized for the university, and said the he is committed “to a campus where hatred and discrimination are never tolerated.” In fact, he was yielding to a subtler, but equally insidious form of intolerance – toward those whose ideas do not conform with the liberal perspective that dominates his university. He wants a place where the prejudices of “victims” are never challenged – an institution that prefers the comfort of a student’s psyche to the confrontation of ideas. In doing so, he encourages fragility among his students. Whatever happened to the nursery rhyme my mother used to recite: “sticks and stones will break my bones…” Is Yale preparing its young women and men for the world outside its college gates?

Elsewhere overseas there was both good and bad news. Jihadi John, the Islamic British swordsman, died in a U.S. Drone strike in Syria. The leaders of China and Taiwan met in Singapore, the first such meeting since the Chinese Communists took over mainland China in 1949. As well, China ended its one-child policy, but too late to prevent what will become an aging and shrinking Chinese population. Argentina discarded what Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal calls Kirchnerismo in favor of the center-right, Mauricio Macri. Mr. Macri has promised to lift all capital controls and have his country join the democratic forces in the region. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), Aung San Suu Kyi led her party, National League for Democracy, (NLD) to a landslide win, defeating the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP). Apparently the constitution prevents Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming president, but the win will give her a greater say in whatever government is formed.

A century’s-old enmity between two former empires was aroused when a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24. While the Russians claimed the plane had been in Turkish airspace for only seventeen seconds, the Turks said they had warned the Russian fighter five times over ten minutes. Turkey’s parliamentary elections gave more control to President Erdogan who has become increasingly autocratic. Erdogan is a man who once said “there is no Islamic terror,” while claiming Zionism is a crime against humanity.  Despite falling energy prices, a weak Euro and further quantitative easing by the ECB, Europe’s economy slowed in the third quarter to 0.3%. (Growth was 0.5% in the first quarter and 0.4% in the second.) As the month ended, the mischief makers who pass themselves off as protectors of our climate met in Paris.

Domestically, apart from the servile response to the childish tantrums of our university students, most of the media’s attention was given to what passes as our democratic process for selecting the next President. Bobby Jindal dropped out during the month. Hillary Clinton appears to be cruising toward the Democrat nomination, despite the baggage she carries. On the 28th of the month Reuters reported that Trump’s poll numbers dropped 12%, but that he still leads. A recent PEW poll showed that only 19% of Americans trust government “always, or most of the time,” which helps explain the rise of non-politicians, like Trump, Carson and Fiorina. Republicans held two debates during the month, the first hosted by CNBC. In that debate, the biggest loser, according to Jeff Jacoby writing in the Boston Herald, was the media, particularly CNBC for their “snarky” questions. Democrats held their second, with no surprises.

The Affordable Care Act looks less affordable, with rates rising on average 7.5% on government exchanges. Healthy young Americans are choosing to pay a fine rather than signing up, depriving insurance companies of premiums to help support the sick and the elderly. After all, if the young and healthy need medical care they can sign up at the last minute without penalty. Speaking of Obama Care, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of The Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. In other news, Eric Schneiderman, the populist New York Attorney General and one-man hit-squad, claimed Exxon Mobil lied to investors and the public about the risks to climate change. The allegation appears to be a political stunt, as Exxon’s climate research has been done in public view for decades. They employ 16,000 scientists and engineers studying the effects of carbon fuels on the environment. The company, which recently pulled out of the Clinton Global Initiative, was, unsurprisingly, pilloried by Mrs. Clinton. In off-year elections, Republicans picked up a governorship in Kentucky, while Democrats added one in Louisiana. Adding to dyspeptic race relations, thirteen months ago a white Chicago policeman shot and killed a black teenager sixteen times. The cop was charged with first degree murder and demonstrators took to the streets. One would have thought the “Black Lives Matter” crowd would have been pleased with the indictment and angry at the delay in the release of the video. Was last fall’s reelection bid of Mayor Rahm Emanuel a factor in the delay?

The boards of Pfizer and Allergan agreed to merge in what would be a $160 billion corporate inversion. That raised the ire of those on the left who claim that companies should pay their “fair share” of taxes. The words “fair share” are used to incite the faithful. Never mind that the money saved in reduced taxes could be put to use hiring more people or to make investments. The fact that companies revert to inversions is testament of the need to reform the tax code: high nominal corporate rates, in a competitive global market place, drive businesses to protect their franchises. Equally silly and unproductive, Eric Schneiderman concluded that fantasy sports constitute illegal gambling. One would think that in a time of rampant corruption throughout state government that the New York Attorney General would find better ways of occupying his time and spending taxpayers’ money. Despite an anemic economy and record low labor-force-participation rates, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise the Fed Funds and Discount rates in December. If it does, it will be the first time since June 2006 that rates will have been raised. Since December 2008, the Fed Funds rate has been 0-0.25 basis points and the Discount rate at 0.75 basis points. On the day after Thanksgiving, a lone gunman invaded a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. By the time he surrendered five hours later three people including a policeman were dead and four wounded. Given reports, the man was nuts, indicating the issue is the mental health of the shooter, not the gun carried.

Weighing 1,111 carats, the largest diamond in 100 years was discovered in Botswana. A study by Nobel prize winner Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case showed a rise in mortality rates for white, middle-aged, American men. The FDA approved a genetically modified salmon – known as an AquAdvantage salmon! And my daughter-in-law had her fourth novel published, Along the Infinite Sea, a compelling historical novel set in 1935-38 Germany and 1966 Florida.

Death took Helmut Schmidt who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1982. He died at age 96. Henry Kissinger once described him as a man who saw politics as “pragmatic action for moral objectives.” Ahmed Chalabi, a former exiled Iraqi and longtime U.S. ally, died at age 71. His influence waned when “weapons of mass destruction” were not uncovered by U.S. forces. Fred Thompson, Republican Senator from Tennessee, former Presidential candidate and actor, died at age 73. On a personal level, I lost two good friends: Beth Curry and Bob Dall. Both died too early and will be missed.

It was a hundred years ago – November 25, 1915 – that Albert Einstein set down the equation for his general theory of relativity. In doing so, he transformed our understanding of space and time. At the time, he was at the Max Planck Institute for gravitational Physics in Berlin. Eighteen years later, following the naming of Adolph Hitler as Germany’s chancellor, he left for the United States. Interestingly (at least to me), he spent the summer of 1935 in Old Lyme. Seventy-seven years ago, Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) made it clear as to the Nazi’s intentions regarding Jews. On November 14, 1940 the Luftwaffe bombed Coventry in England’s West Midlands – a city then of about 200,000. When the raid was over, more than 500 citizens were dead, with perhaps a thousand wounded. Keeping on this German theme, it was seventy years ago, November 19, 1945 that the trials in Nuremburg began. When it was over, 12 of the 24 indicted were sentenced to death; three were acquitted.

Thousands of college and university students from around the country have had an epiphany. They have discovered – as though a revelation – that some of the benefactors of their institutions were once slave owners, or racists. The only reason such divinations could come as a surprise is because of a lack of knowledge of U.S. history. Would Harvard have been better served had Isaac Royall, a slave owner who died in 1781, not left funds to establish the college’s first professorship of Law? Would Yale have been better off without the gifts of John Calhoun? Would Princeton (and the U.S.) have been better served without Woodrow Wilson as teacher and president? Of the first dozen U.S. Presidents, only John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams never owned slaves. Should we abolish all monuments associated with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk and Taylor? Or should we admit that, while slavery was evil it did exist through much of the world at that time? Should we not, instead, focus our energies on helping to remove slavery where it exists today – ironically, in many Muslim nations?

Food for thought as we say goodbye to November. Thanksgiving is behind us. Christmas and Hanukkah are before us…and then a new year. Tempus Fugit. Will someone please ask it to slow down.   

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Jihadists and Newton's Third Law of Motion"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day

“Jihadists and Newton’s Third Law of Motion”

November 23, 2015

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Islamic extremism, as it kills “infidels” and destroys Western culture, needs to be countered by a concerted and concentrated effort to remove what is a scourge on the civilized world. Despite Mr. Obama’s protestations, destroying ISIS will mean troops on the ground. Unfortunately, we cannot rid this evil from 30,000 feet, with a Drone operated by a soldier in Nevada. But first it necessitates the West abandon the notion that the terrorism we have experienced over the past two and more decades is somehow divorced from its Islamic roots. The terrorists are not Christians; they are not Jews. They are radicalized Muslims. Most Muslims are peaceful, but those that have embarked on terror use Islamism as justification. Peaceful Muslims must rise up against those who have perverted their religion.

Nor are politics immune from Newton’s Law. Mr. Obama’s unbending ideology refuses to acknowledge the risks we face. This is a man genetically opposed to compromise. He is adamant, prideful and, consequently, invidious. His “political correctness” – in this case, a fear of offending Muslims – has meant not calling the enemy by name. We should not abandon the principle of accepting refugees, but we should vet them, especially against the use of Trojan horses to sneak Jihadists into the country. A pendulum that swings to the left will arc back an equal distance to the right – and the further it swings in one direction the greater will be the distance of its return.

In the seventh year of the Presidency, Mr. Obama must take responsibility for his actions.  Keep in mind, it was from the bowels of a radicalized Islam that came the terrorists that ignited 9/11, that enslaved and murdered young girls in Nigeria, that incite knife-wielding Palestinian youth, that wreaked havoc in Lebanon, that blew up a Russian passenger jet, that killed 130 people in Paris, and who took and slew dozens of hostages in Mali. In makes little difference to the victims whether their killers were ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, Haqqani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds, or any of a dozen or more Islamic terrorist organizations.  In 2014, Islamic terrorists killed 17,958 Muslims, Jews and Christians, a 61% increase over the year before. Yet, Mr. Obama has never acknowledged the role Islam has played. Additionally, he removed our troops prematurely from Iraq and has threatened to do the same in Afghanistan. He overthrew Omar Gadhafi in Libya, a despotic leader, but one who had renounced his weapons of mass destruction; and he never planned for the hellish aftermath he had created. In Syria, he rejected a redline he had drawn. With Iran, he ignored the Senate and unilaterally negotiated a nuclear agreement with a country committed to the annihilation of Israel and the destruction of the West. The day after the Paris massacres, Mr. Obama released another five Islamic terrorists from Guantanamo and he spoke of “universal values.” He said Paris was a “setback” to a strategy that was “working!” Earlier, he declared al Qaeda decimated and called ISIS “jayvee.” Ten days ago he said ISIS had been “contained.” Is it any surprise that his political opponents have responded in an equal and opposite way?

In fairness, Mr. Obama has not been alone in this naïve desire to apply the golden rule. Many on the left have reacted the same way. What was John Kerry thinking when he suggested that the motives of those who carried out the attacks in Paris were similar to those who killed the twelve people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January – that there was some rationale for what they had done? Why is Edward Snowden seen as a hero, when his disclosures have helped what Boris Johnson has said are “some of the nastiest people on the planet?” Philistines do not respond to Moses teaching: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Such sentiments carry no weight with radical Islamists whose system of justice is an “eye for an eye.”

Mr. Obama is right when he says that we should not abrogate our values, but he is wrong when he fails to communicate that those values, when threatened, need defending. And he fails to heed Freud’s assertion that there is but a thin veneer between the civilized and primitive within us. Could we have defeated Hitler or Tojo, without compromising our values? Would turning the other cheek have worked against Chinese Communists in Korea? Did the Golden Rule mean anything to Mao or Stalin? Do you believe that Jihadist savages who shout Allahu Akbar as they murder innocents care about Queensbury rules of warfare?

No civilized people want war. While some of the most poignant poetry ever written has been about war, there is nothing beautiful about it. The land is destroyed and its fields and streams are filled with torn and twisted bodies. Wounded soldiers cry out in agony. Parents lose the child they had raised. The young grow up fatherless. Loved ones are left alone. But neither can we hide from war when it is thrust upon us. The West cannot be the Eloi to radical Islam’s Morlocks. If we give in, we will disappear – we will die just as surely as a November wind sweeps away autumn leaves – and so will the spirit of America. Our cemeteries are filled with men and women who sacrificed their lives that the idea of America would live on. When threatened, American values need defending. Multiculturalism is only worthwhile when it advances civilization. When its consequence is to drag it backwards toward darkness and fear, it should be shunned.

Mr. Obama came to the Presidency with great expectations. He was a youthful, black American. He had spent some of his formative years in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By dint of intelligence, aspiration and diligence he received degrees from two of America’s most prestigious universities. More than any previous President, he was a man of the world. He wished to be seen as a friend to Muslims, as demonstrated in his Cairo speech in June 2009. Based on faith and hope, the Norwegian Nobel Committee selected him for their 2009 Peace Prize. Yet he was also a disciple of radicalized individuals, like Frank Marshall Davis and Charles Ogletree, who questioned America’s values and its cultural traditions. We cannot forget that for twenty years he attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, presided over by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright who once proclaimed “God, damn America!” Like all of us, Mr. Obama was molded by his environment, as well as his genes.

The Jihadists will ultimately be defeated. But the longer it takes to firm our resolve, the less principled will be our response, as Newton’s Third Law of Motion tells us. That Law could mean Marine Le Pen becomes President of France, or Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister of Great Britain. Or it might mean Donald Trump will be our next President. The world needs a leader, an optimist and visionary, one that understands the enemy we face and has the moral courage to confront him. It needs a leader unabashed of our Western democratic, capitalist culture – a culture, while not perfect, but one that has lifted millions out of poverty and given freedom to millions more. That culture is now at risk. At this point, the enemy is from without. But the longer we hesitate and act capriciously, the greater the risk that the enemy will be from within.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Fibbing & Lying - Carson & Hillary"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day

“Fibbing & Lying – Carson & Hillary”

November 16, 2015

Ben Carson is the Left’s nightmare. He is smart, articulate, accomplished, humble and respectful. Growing up in a broken home and in deep poverty in inner-city Detroit, he broke the constraints of race and environment to become a world-renowned surgeon. He is religious. Politically, he is conservative. But the reason the Left detests him is because he is African-American. In their condescension toward Dr. Carson, the Left shows their racist side. The man does not adhere to the narrative the Left sells – that an African-American can only be successful with the aid and sponsorship of the state.

As Carson’s poll numbers have grown, so have the attempts to belittle his character.  Supercilious soundbites by TV commentators on CNN and CNBC, and off-the-cuff statements from his competitors, especially the voluble Donald Trump who uses pugnacity when knowledge is called for, have attempted to marginalize this exceptional man. The media has denigrated his character and questioned his judgment. A patronizing Richard Cohen compared his candidacy to that of Pat Paulsen, the comedian who ran for President in 1968. On Sunday, November 7th The New York Times ran an article by Michael Barbaro titled “Candidates Stick to Script, if Not the Truth.”  The article devoted five times as much space to Republicans as to Democrats. And, of the space devoted to Democrats, only 15% was devoted to Hillary Clinton, with most of the rest spent on her errant husband. Presumably this is why Mr. Cohen found the article “useful.” It did no damage to his team.

What prompted this essay has been the shrill silliness of the charges lodged against Ben Carson, and the display of schadenfreude that accompany the Left’s accusations. For those who watch, listen to and read only the liberal media, Dr. Carson is a man who is a tad slow about history, was angry as a youth and has lied about his past. It is claimed he believed the pyramids were built to store grain, that he tried to knife another youngster and that he had been offered a “scholarship” to West Point, an academy free to those chosen to attend. What is not noted is that when he commented about the pyramids a smile crossed his face. Was he angry as a pre or early teen? That doesn’t seem improbable given the circumstances of his youth. And it is ignored that when a senior at Detroit’s Southwestern High School, Ben Carson was the cadet colonel of the school’s junior ROTC program and a straight A student. It is also known that he never applied to West Point, but had he there is every reason to believe that a young black man who received a full scholarship to Yale would likely have been accepted at the USMA.

All politicians lie, as do we all. Sir Malcolm Bruce, former deputy leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, once said: “If every MP who lied had to leave politics the Commons would now be empty.” What is true in England is so in the U.S. It is said that politicians lie because the public doesn’t want to hear the truth. Certainly, there is some validity to that allegation. But, there are fibs and there are lies. We have all lied at one time or another. Most of the time it is to avoid the unpleasantness that truth can reveal, not to inflict pain, manipulate or defraud. I can understand Bill Clinton lying about his sexual adventures in the White House. ‘White’ lies may be wrong, but they do little harm. They are trivial. However, not to be outdone by Ben Carson’s story of West Point, on Veteran’s Day Hillary Clinton repeated her story about being rejected by the Marine Corps in 1975. Does that seem likely? Hillary was infamous as an anti-War demonstrator and she was married in October of that year. The Washington Post gave the story two Pinocchio’s! Hillary’s fib about being under sniper fire when she landed at Tuzla in Bosnia in 1996 was obviously told to make her appear more dashing in the 2008 primaries. By itself, the comment was silly and was easily shown as a fabrication. But, in apologizing for her misstatement she showed her distain and her arrogance: “So, I made a mistake. It shows I am human.”

We can understand why all politicians feel it necessary to embellish their biographies, and most stories fall under the category of fibs, not lies. In contrast, outright lies are meant to deceive. Mrs. Clinton has told many tall tales, many harmless, but taken together they show a flawed character: Chelsea was not jogging around the World Trade Center on 9/11, as Hillary once told first responders. She was born six years before Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person to climb Everest; so she would not have been named for him, as she once said. She and Bill were not “dead broke” when they left the White House after trashing it in January 2001. While all of these fabrications speak to the individual, none would qualify as calumny. But her lies about Benghazi and her e-mails are another matter.

She deliberately lied, in a televised speech at Andrews Airbase, when she told the families of those killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that the cause of death was a YouTube video offensive to Islam. It was slanderous and, in my opinion, makes her unqualified to serve anywhere in government, let alone as President. (Her lies and deceptions, and those of the Administration of which she was a part, about the proliferation of theocratic Islamism came sharply into focus last week with the attacks in Paris that left 129 dead.) Mrs. Clinton’s e-mails show that immediately after the Benghazi attack she privately told Egypt’s Prime Minister and her daughter that the attack was premeditated and carried out by Islamic terrorists; yet in public she blamed the attack on a video. We have never been told why she lied, or why U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice was told to go on the Sunday talk shows to perpetuate that story. The Administration allowed that lie to persist for the next couple of weeks. It makes no difference whether the reason to lie originated at the White House or within her own mind, it was wrong and speaks volumes about the type of person she is. What we do know is that President Obama was in a tight re-election race and that part of his narrative was that Osama bin Laden was dead, Iraq was liberated, that the war in Afghanistan was winding down and that al Qaeda had been decimated. Connecting the dots is not rocket science.

Running for public office inevitably includes exaggerations, distortions, innuendos and misstatements. As partisans, we hear what we want to hear. As voters, we are skeptical of promises and listen to life stories with a grain of salt. We read candidates’ autobiographies with an understanding they are a white-washed, fictionalized version of their real story. Unfortunately, too much of the media have become advocates, rather than disinterested observers, analysts and reporters. And, keep in mind, polarization breeds polarization. The more you, unequivocally, defend your favorite, the more I defend mine. But, as citizens with a stake in this nation, we must slice through the murk that enshrouds each candidate and try to understand what principals drive them.

Dr. Carson may not be the best candidate. (My preference, at this point, is Marco Rubio.) Does his (Carson’s) experience qualify him for the job of President? Does he have the right policy prescriptions to address the needs of the country? Will he keep us safe? Is his network of experts sufficient to effectively manage the executive branch of government? I don’t know. But his character and integrity are not an issue. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton may be qualified for the Presidency if one bases the decision solely on experience. But her judgment, noted in her willingness to go along with Mr. Obama’s appeasement strategy toward theocratic Islamism, her character, reflected in the lies she has repeatedly told, and the contempt in which she holds those whose opinions differ from hers suggest she is not deserving of the office.

I, for one, would always rather bet on judgment and character than experience.

Monday, November 9, 2015


Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day


November 9, 2015

“When our student societies decide they want to put on events, they ask ‘do you think there is any particular risk, or do you think that there is any reason to think that any student would feel threatened or unsafe at inviting a particular speaker’?” Those Orwellian words were spoken by the president of Students Union at Leeds University in England to David Aaronovitch of the London Times. They could, however, have been spoken by campus leaders, administrators or professors at any U.S. university or college.

We should all subscribe to the concept of diversity. Typically, we think of it in terms of race, religion, place of national origin, sexual preference, socio-economic backgrounds and/or the physically and mentally challenged. We ignore, however, diversity of opinion. The word implies tolerance for those different from ourselves. There is no question that diversity strengthens us as individuals and as a nation. Arthur Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, “Scholarly studies have piled up showing that race and gender diversity in the workplace can increase creative thinking and improve performance.”

This has been ground that the Left has tilled and sown with government programs like Affirmative Action and the Welfare State. They have reaped the harvest in elections, as they appeal to those who rely on government programs – a growing body of people. The United States had long been a “melting pot,” but for decades limited to those who made it into the pot. It was not until after World War II that the armed services were racially integrated. It took Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement to bring some semblance of racial equality to schools and the workplace. The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, six decades after the Constitution was signed, and seven decades before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Another forty-four years would pass before the Civil Rights Act was enacted, which barred discrimination in employment on the basis of race or sex. But equality, while not perfect, is far more prevalent today than it was in the 1950s.

When I was growing up there were no handicapped parking spots. There were no special schools for children with Autism and other similar conditions. Segregation was prevalent throughout the South. In high school, boys took shop and girls, home economics. Anti-Semitism was rife, including in higher reaches of government. Homosexuality was considered a sin. Class distinctions were more obvious. Even in small towns, the rich lived separately from the rest of us. Nonetheless, the reaction to Senator Joseph McCarthy showed that the American people would not stand for bullying. Speech and beliefs were rights.

Great strides have been made in the past half century. America is a fairer and more diverse place. But in our rush to find diversity in all areas of our external differences, colleges and universities have become homogenous in terms of ideas, especially ideologies of a political nature. It is McCarthyism in reverse. That sense is common within government bureaucracies. It risks infecting our work places. It finds expression in multiculturalism, which has substituted for national or regional cultures based on traditions and history, and which encouraged myriad opinions. When conservatives like Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali were denied the right to speak at campuses it reflected bigotry and intolerance, as much as when African-Americans were denied equal school or job opportunities. No one denies the leftward tilt of our colleges and universities. Michael Bloomberg, speaking at Harvard’s commencement in 2014, noted that 96% of campaign contributions from faculty at Ivy League institutions went to Mr. Obama. Such bias is antithetical to the concept of openness.

It is ironic that it has been the Left, those who consider themselves to be the messengers of tolerance – those who now welcome transsexuals and transgenders, those who would let men dressed as women use women’s bathrooms in Houston – that have become intolerant when it comes to political speech. They have erected “trigger warnings” to protect constituents from hearing or seeing something not part of their narrative.

Words matter and labels can create opacity where clarity belongs. The word “liberal” implies the willingness to hear and read all sides – to be fair and impartial. Yet today it is “liberals” that have become illiberal in the matter of free expression. “Conservative” means a valuing of tradition and an understanding of history, but in today’s “liberal” world it connotes one clinging to the past – guns and God, an unwillingness to see both sides of a debate. I disagree. I am a conservative. I value history, honor traditions and rank the individual above the state. I believe in a government of laws, not men. I believe in a moral sense that transcends cultural, religious and racial barriers. I welcome diversity, especially of thought, including those who disagree with my opinions in these essays. I read the New York Times, a paper I find blasphemously liberal. I do so because it allows me to understand how others think. How can our youth make choices when they have heard only one side? How can our young learn to reason and debate when they are told that contrary opinions may make them feel threatened or unsafe?

If an Islamic radical is invited to speak of the benefits of a caliphate should we not hear from Ayaan Ali Hirsi who suffered mutilation from Islamic fundamentalists? Can we make clear-headed decisions about abortion without hearing from the right-to-life folks? Is the Left fearful that the Right’s recommendation for ending poverty – of using self-determination and free-market capitalism – may prove more compelling than simply relying on the state? The state needs to be the enabler, not the ‘doer,’ the teacher of fishing, not solely the provider of fish.

In the September issue of The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt wrote of this coddling of the American mind – of avoiding what are termed microaggressions. Examples: telling an Asian student that she (or he) is “supposed to be good at math;” or saying to an overseas student: “America is a land of opportunity;” or to another: “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” This fear of offending, according to the authors, is “vindictive protectiveness;” for it shields alleged victims from the real world.

The concept of fomenting sameness in terms of thought generation reminds one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s memorable admonition: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” The lemming-like attitudes of those universities who deny challenge bring to mind Frank Baum’s Oz. The Wizard’s wisdom was accepted, and his pronouncements considered just and absolute; until, at the end of the story, Dorothy and her friends exposed him as a fraud.  Our elite universities have done a good job in most aspects of diversification, but not in the realm that is most important – the freedom to hear, discuss and debate all ideas. The student leader at Leeds felt comfortable in his reasoning for not allowing contrary voices to be heard. He claimed his view was “consensus,” which is the same argument put forth by Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Mao Tse Tung, men who denied their people the right to think, speak and write freely. It is not the institutions, or even those of us who are older, that are the losers; it is today’s students, our youth who are denied the opportunity to test their ideas against someone who believes differently. It is our children and grandchildren who risk becoming victims of ignorance.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Monnth , 2015That Was - October

Sydney M. Williams
The Month That Was

October 2015


                                                                                                                                  November 2, 2015

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

                                                                                                                        Lucy Maud Montgomery

                                                                                                                        “Anne of Green Gables” 1908

Columbus Day and Halloween are in the past; Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving are in our future. October is the subject at hand. While the month is renowned for financial debacles, it was human tragedies that took center stage this past month. October began with nine students shot at a community college in Oregon. Two other campuses, one in Texas and the other in Arizona, were the venues for two students being shot and killed. A car plowed into a homecoming parade in Stillwater, Oklahoma, killing four and injuring forty-seven. Nineteen people were killed when a doctors-without-borders hospital in Afghanistan was mistakenly hit by U.S. forces. Two suicide bombers at a peace rally in the Turkish capital of Ankara killed at least a hundred. The month ended with a Russian passenger airliner, an Airbus 221, crashing in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard.

Mother nature, not wanting to be out-done, did her own damage. Hurricane Joaquin, an Atlantic storm that missed mainland USA, sank the U.S. based cargo ship El Faro, drowning all 33 aboard, including 28 Americans. At least 17 people died in South Carolina, as drenching rains temporarily wiped out 75 miles of I-95. A mudslide in Guatemala killed at least 240, with dozens missing. Hurricane Patricia, the largest storm to ever hit the Western Hemisphere with winds of over 200 miles per hour, slammed into Southwestern Mexico with sustained winds of over 165 miles per hour. Luck and prior evacuation plans limited deaths and damage. Remnants caused intense flooding in Houston and Galveston a day or so later, with rainfalls of over an inch per hour. At least 340 people were known dead from a 7.5 earthquake that hit remote sections of Afghanistan and Pakistan. No matter hand-wringing claims of those on the Left, man has limited ability to prevent natural disasters. Nature heeds her own drummer.

At home, politics grabbed the headlines. Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton’s performance at the first Democrat debate was enhanced when, unexpectedly, she was given a boost by Bernie Sanders who blurted out that the American people were tired of hearing about e-mails. Of course it is not e-mails per se that are the question, it is the fact that they prove she lied about the cause of the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. She publically blamed the riots on a anti-Islamic video, while privately acknowledging that the cause was a “planned Al Qaeda-like terrorist attack.” But at the time, President Obama was in a close race for re-election and the attack refuted his campaign claim that “Al Qaeda is on the run.” (Incidentally, no terrorist has been apprehended, while the maker of the video still languishes in prison.) Ms. Clinton came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal she, as Secretary of State, helped negotiate. However, it is inconvenient to the narrative she is now spinning. Regardless, mainstream media has little interest in disclosing anything that could derail the coronation of their favorite. It is advocacy, not news, that has become their raison d’etre. Also helping Ms. Clinton – at least over the near term – was Vice President Joe Biden’s decision not to run. When Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee departed the Democrat race, nary a ripple could be seen in the polls.

Chaos among Republicans persisted, especially early in the month when House Speaker John Boehner announced his intent to resign. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader who was expected to move up to Speaker, idiotically (and wrongly) suggested the Benghazi hearings were politically motivated. While there is no doubt that Republicans are interested in embarrassing Ms. Clinton, there is also no question that the facts have never been fully exposed. Denial, stonewalling, followed by claims that accusations are old news is standard operating procedure for the Clintons. It has worked in the past. We shall see if it works this time.  By the time the month ended, Paul Ryan had become Speaker. He is respected and knowledgeable about fiscal matters, as anyone who read his 2010 Contract with America knows. He was approved by a majority, including a majority of the Conservative Caucus.

In the race for the nomination, latest national polls showed Dr. Ben Carson, a neuro-surgeon of enormous talent, nosing out Donald Trump, best known for his celebrity and his attacks on those who threaten his standings. Neither man appears to have much knowledge about world affairs or the policies necessary to jump-start the economy. In the third Republican debate, questions asked by an obviously biased CNBC news team created a theater of the absurd. Contestants were asked, for example: Should fantasy football be regulated?  What is your greatest weakness? Nevertheless, Marco Rubio did well, as did Chris Christie and Ted Cruz. That Christie did well could be seen in the lead editorial of The New York Times the next day: Christie “go home.”  CNN did their best to prop up what appears to be a flailing Trump by declaring him the winner. Trump, as Kimberly Strassel noted in The Wall Street Journal, “can talk (and talk and talk), just not on one subject for more than 37 seconds.” Citing a “bad faith” performance by CNBC, the RNC (Republican National Committee) canceled their partnership with NBC for a February 26 debate at the University of Houston.

Elsewhere overseas, China dropped its one-child law, allowing married couples to have two children. According to China’s 2010 census, the national fertility rate is 1.16, while 2.1 is the replacement rate. Justin Trudeau, son of the late Pierre Trudeau, became Canada’s Prime Minister-designate when he defeated incumbent Stephen Harper. Angela Merkel, who has been Europe’s strongest and longest serving leader, saw her poll numbers drop precipitously, a consequence of the refuge crisis. President Obama reversed an earlier decision when he sent a small number of Special Forces into Syria. Russia continued to provide military assistance to Assad and the United States invited Iran to talks regarding ISIS in Vienna. The United States did send a destroyer, the USS Lassen, to within twelve miles of the Subi Reef in the Spratly islands where China looks to be constructing an artificial island in the South China Sea for the possible deployment of naval forces. China’s construction of these islands is disputed by Vietnam and the Philippines. Safe passage through the South China Sea is critical to the global economy. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 20% of world seaborne trade ($5.3 trillion) passes through those waters, as do 50% of global oil tankers. For seven decades, the United States has guaranteed freedom of the seas. Would (or will) China be as benevolent?

The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged, not a surprise, but likely only prolonging the inevitable. Normalization will, at some point, return to credit markets. While zero interest rates have aided financial assets, they have masked the true costs of government borrowing and have done little to help the real economy. In the quarter just ended, corporate earnings decline – the first time that has happened since 2009. Preliminary numbers show that GDP limped along at 1.5 percent. But volatility was absent from equity markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s moving up or down more than 1.5% on only two days. Demonstrating that markets can be humbling and predictions often wrong, the DJIA put in its best monthly performance in four years, rising 8.3 percent.

Two hundred and ten years ago, on October 21,1805 at the battle of Trafalgar, Lord Nelson was killed aboard his flagship, the HMS Victory. Despite his death, the British defeated a combined French and Spanish armada, thereby giving Britain control of the seas for the next hundred and thirty years. Following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo ten years later, the consequence was a century of peace for Europe. With the gradual spread of political freedom and rapid economic growth, the Continent enjoyed a golden century. One hundred and thirty-four years ago P.G. Wodehouse was born on October 15, 1881. Incredibly, a hundred and thirteen years after his first novel The Pothunters was published Wodehouse is still read and adored. Seventy years ago this month, with the defeat of the Axis, the largest display of naval power ever assembled was celebrated in New York’s harbor with Navy Day. The U.S. was master of the seas.

 October is also a reminder of less pleasant times. Over Monday and Tuesday, October 28 and 29, 1929 the Dow Jones lost 24% of its value. Speculators, fueled by low margin requirements, had driven stocks to risky valuations. The market’s sharp decline, compounded by some foolish policy decisions like Smoot-Hawley, increased taxes and attempts to balance the budget, precipitated further market declines and birthed a Depression that only ended when the U.S. began to arm for World War II. Fifty-eight years later, on October 19, 1987, the market fell 508 points, or a little more than 22 percent. The market had been on a tear since the summer of 1982. In the past year, stocks had risen over 40 percent. High valuations were compounded by a Wall Street-devised product called portfolio insurance, which gave false promise to portfolio managers. Unfortunately, like so many ideas that work in the laboratory or in text books, this one did not in the marketplace. While government helped stem the panic, it was the natural forces of free market capitalism that allowed confidence to be restored and economic growth to persist. It would be another thirteen years before the market suffered a major bear market.

October saw two baseball teams go to the World Series that had not been there in three decades. The Kansas City Royals won the American League pennant and the New York Mets the National League. As the month ended, Kansas City was up three games to one[1].

Playboy decided to stop publishing photographs of nude women. Does this signal a shift toward modesty? I suspect not. The internet has meant that provocative pictures have become pervasive. Cultural attitudes have meant that young men are less likely to sneak looks at titillating photographs when the real thing, or its proximation, can be easily found. Reflecting the electronic distribution of media, Playboy’s circulation has declined, according to The New York Times, from 5.6 million in 1975 to 800,000 today. With pornography ubiquitous, will feminists who once found the magazine offensive wish for her return?

The world is ever-changing. Like a snake that sheds its skin, the complexion of the earth changes and so do its constituents. Politicians will come and go. Markets will fluctuate, but should move inexorably higher, as long as policies don’t impede economic growth. Nature provides change, and so does the natural continuum of life. In our part of the Northeast, the month begins with trees looking as they had all summer. By month’s end, most of the deciduous trees are bare. Each month approximately eleven million babies are born and about five million people die. October, in that regard, I am sure, was no different than other months, nor will be November. No matter disasters encountered, it is the miracle of life that remains.

[1] On Sunday, November 1 Kansas City beat the New York Mets 7-2 to win the series in five games.