Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"A Rising Middle?"

                                                                                                                           Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“A Rising Middle?”
                                                                                                                     October 27, 2015

America is large and diverse. So it is risky to draw conclusions based on local samples. Nevertheless, a recent conversation with the chair of one of Old Lyme’s two political parties was of interest. Each of the two main political parties have roughly 30% of registered voters. Both, however, have been losing members, while the ranks of independents (Unaffiliated, as they are known in Connecticut) have been growing. The latter comprises 40% of the electorate. Nationwide, a 2013 Gallup Poll showed Republicans with 25%, Democrats with 31% and independents with 44%.  Twenty-five years ago, those numbers were, respectively, 31%, 36% and 33%. While this is not a tsunami, it is a trend.

There are myriad reasons for this shift, including a decline in the homogeneous nature of our culture to less parental influence and, importantly, a decline in community social groups that once helped bind us. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone, wrote of the decline in civic and community service organizations fifteen years ago. Last year the federal government sponsored a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service that identified falling rates of volunteerism. Another study by USA Today showed similar trends among college graduates. The void created by the loss of volunteers has been filled by government employees. More government workers mean increased government spending. Gerrymandering has meant less competition between parties and more among inter-party factions. The result: more people feel isolated from a expanding sense of extremism in both parties.

As the ranks of the political parties become thinner, they naturally become increasingly polarized. Our political system abets the process. Thirty-six states, including Connecticut where I live and nine of the ten largest states by population, do not allow non-Party registered voters to vote in primaries. The consequence is that moderates are excluded from the process of selecting which candidates will be on the ballot.

Extremism comes in myriad varieties. Among right-wing Republicans, it is often manifested in a belligerent adamancy, at times accompanied with religious zealotry. Those on the far-left, equally adamant, are condescending and patronizing toward those that disagree with their ideas. Each end of the spectrum feeds off the other. Intolerance breeds intolerance. Irresponsible spending, with cavalier attitudes toward tax payers, gave rise to the Tea Party. Recalcitrant Tea Partiers made President Obama (along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi) more imperious and less willing to compromise. From whatever direction extremes emerge and for whatever cause they advocate, they become tyrannies of the minority.

Tyrannies are dangerous. Tyrannies of the majority are largely checked by the Constitution.  But there is no similar governor when the majority is held hostage by small, but no less dangerous, minority factions. Mainstream media is quick to note how a handful of far-right Republican Congressmen threaten to control the agenda in the House. They are less quick, however, to note a similar role played by the EPA, the ACLU, public sector unions and college administrators. Political correctness in schools, colleges and the workplace places the demands of a few above the needs of the many. Keep in mind, Communism in Russia and China, and Nazism and Fascism in Germany and Italy, were initially minority groups – two from the left and two from the right. Nevertheless, they took control of their countries with devastating results.

Recent history is important when considering how we arrived at this place and explains part of the frustration of those on the right. For five decades, ending in 1980, the country drifted, at times imperceptibly but always persistently, to the left. For thirty-two of those years, Democrats controlled the White House. For most of those years they also controlled Congress. President Reagan’s policies slowed but did not reverse that trend. His tax cuts and lighter regulation provided a boost to the economy and his toughness with the Soviet Union and the spreading of democratic capitalism showed the benefits to mankind of the West winning the Cold War The internet has given life to conservative opinions that had been largely held in abeyance by a left-dominated media. Nevertheless, that leftward tilt remains, enhanced in the past seven years by the policies of President Obama. Reversing that decades-old trend may only come about when the financial consequences of today’s entitlement promises are realized.

In just over one year we will go to the polls to elect a new President. But consider where we are. We have a dysfunctional Republican Congress that has trouble deciding on a new House leader and an imperial Democrat President who does not seek advice and consent from a Republican Senate – a man who prefers executive orders to the legislative process. While a few of the Republicans running for President exude an uncompromising adamancy, most have been successful either as governors or senators where compromise became part of their curricula vitae. Democrats have failed to field a reasonable alternative to “she who would be crowned.” While the election is too far away to make reasonable predictions, at this point likely Republican primary voters have selected Donald Trump to be their standard bearer. Mr. Trump, a successful crony capitalist, is a beneficiary of a world that honors celebrity and ignores character. If current trends persist he will be paired against Hillary Clinton, a congenital liar and crony capitalist, who is more interested in serving herself than the public. Is this the best we can do?

The last eight years should have taught us the consequences of electing an extremist as President. (Mr. Obama’s failures have nothing to do with his inexperience and everything to do with the choices he made.) We have an anemic economy, with middle-class wages stagnant, higher levels of poverty, widening gaps in wealth and income and employment participation at the lowest levels in almost forty years. Racially and culturally, our country has become more divided. A recent Gallup poll shows that 74% of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of our Country. Overseas, our foreign policies are in shambles. Islamic terrorism has worsened, Russia and China are on the rise, filling the void left by a United States gone AWOL Federal debt has more than doubled. The only rein on spending has been an unpopular sequester.

An irony of this election is that one of the reasons people have become so disillusioned with Washington has been the explosive expansion in crony capitalism, yet the leading contenders of both parties are masters at the craft. As a builder and casino operator, Donald Trump has been financing politicians from the time he graduated out of short pants. He has used his wealth to purchase politicians in both parties. Mrs. Clinton left the White House “dead broke.” Fourteen years later, she and her husband have an estimated net worth of $120 million. Their wealth is not due to private enterprise. It comes from highly-paid speeches to politically sensitive companies, banks and foreign governments. For eight years Mrs. Clinton was New York’s junior Senator, a job that paid $145,000, and six years as Secretary of State, which paid $186,600. In 2001, President Clinton began what is the now-named Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. It has raised about $2 billion. Obviously, a lot of that money stayed in Chappaqua.

Have those who Richard Nixon defined as the “silent majority” had enough? I don’t know. The higher probability is that polarization intensifies. Certainly dissatisfaction is rampant. But it is possible we may be drifting toward the center. There is one thing that could be done right away. Enact legislation that would permit the thirty-six states that do not have open primaries to join the fourteen that do. It may not solve all the problems of partisanship that threaten to suffocate our republic, but it would encourage primary candidates to appeal to the center. And no one can be elected President if they are not first nominated.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“When Silence is not Golden”
October 8, 2015

For forty-four seconds Benjamin Netanyahu interrupted his September 29th speech at the United Nations, and stared out at the members. His purpose was to make them feel uncomfortable, to squirm at the silence. His silence was symbolic of that which Jews have endured for centuries. It was the silence of the allies before and after World War II. And it is the silence Israel is now abiding from their partners and friends. Silence is discriminatory when heads turn in avoidance of unpleasant truths, when evasion substitutes for aid.

Israel is a small, but politically and economically successful, nation. It is a secular democracy amid theocratic, despotic neighbors. Mahmoud Al-Zahha, co-founder of Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ coalition partner in the Palestinian Authority, once said “Jews have no future among the nations of the world,” adding: “They are headed to annihilation.” Iran has promised to “eradicate Israel.” The desire of Islamic jihadists is to intimidate the West into subservience and to destroy the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Robert Frost once wrote that good fences make good neighbors. That aphorism may apply in New England, but it does not in the Middle East.

There are an estimated 16.5 million Jews in the world today, roughly the same number as before the Holocaust. A little over six million live in Israel, about one fiftieth the number of Muslims in the Middle East. Around the world, there are a hundred more Muslims than Jews. Israel is the only nation where Jews represent the dominant population. (They make up about 76% of the population. Most of the others are Muslims who live peacefully within her borders.)

In contrast, there are forty-nine countries (and all members of the United Nations) where Muslims are more than fifty percent of the population. With anti-Semitism on the rise in Western Europe, and waning support from the United States, is it a surprise that Israel feels isolated? Is it any wonder that the Iranian nuclear deal, which was negotiated without Israel, is of concern? When the New York Times brushes lightly over the Palestinian murders of Israelis in the West Bank, but elaborates on Israel’s military response, is it any wonder that the Jewish people feel alone?

During the Second World War, approximately 40% of the world’s Jews were killed by Hitler’s Nazis and their partners. About two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe were gassed, shot, beaten to death or stabbed. It was an experience we were told we should never forget. That was the message my father brought to me when he returned home from combat in Italy’s Apennines. Time heals wounds, but it also numbs the vividness of memories that should not be forgotten.

On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany for Havana, Cuba. Aboard were 937 passengers, almost all Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany. Most were German citizens. Kristallnacht had occurred seven months earlier. The die had been cast. The St Louis reached Havana Harbor on the 27th. Twenty-eight passengers were admitted by the Cuban government. A few days later, after futile haggling, the ship continued on toward Miami. By the 3rd the lights of Miami could be seen. Several passengers cabled President Roosevelt seeking refuge. Mr. Roosevelt never responded. On June 6 the St. Louis sailed back to Europe. Two hundred and fifty-four of the passengers died in the Holocaust. The lucky ones (288) were admitted to Great Britain. The rest had to take their chances on the Continent. Silence persisted. Pope Pius XII did intervene in unsuccessful attempts to block the deportation of Jews to death camps, but to preserve the Church he insisted the Vatican remain neutral…and silent.

Ten years ago Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed the gathering at the Holocaust memorial site at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex: “Remember how millions of Jews were led to their deaths and the world remained silent,” he said. Today’s tensions in Palestine arise from the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem hill where the First and Second Temples of ancient Israel once stood. It is now home to the al-Aqsa Mosque. It is still a place of great meaning for devout Jews, but ecumenicism has no place in Jerusalem. Because of previous terrorist acts, the Israeli government forbids Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. But the mere possibility of such prayer is enough to cause violence on the part of Palestinian Arabs and condemnation from their leaders.

We like to think of ourselves as more civilized than our ancestors. But are we? Free market capitalism and democracy have eradicated much of the extreme poverty that existed in the world fifty years ago. Technology allows us to live longer, more enjoyable lives. But is man more tolerant? In general, those of us fortunate to live in free societies are more willing to be tolerant of others. Unfortunately, most of mankind still lives within authoritarian regimes, without the right to speak, write and assemble freely, without rules of law or the protection of property rights. Most of mankind lives in places where tolerance is a concept, not a practice.

A century ago the sense in Europe was that globalized, economically advanced, culturally strong and civilized societies precluded war. Europe had not had large armies criss-crossing her borders since the Napoleonic era a hundred years earlier. However, the existence of a royalty-led, stratified society provided not only gaps in wealth and income, but in the social arena as well. In many countries, democracy was nascent. Europe looked civilized until the counterpane was pulled back, revealing the poverty and injustice that lay beneath. When social disruptions appeared, the evil that lurked in bad men rose to the surface. The First World War gave rise to Communism in Russia and China, and National Socialism in Germany and Italy. Four men, Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Mussolini symbolized, in the West, man’s inhumanity to man. The 20th Century became Europe’s bloodiest. The lesson: Evil must be confronted in its cradle.

Today, evil is personified in Islamic jihadism. We are all at risk – peaceful Muslims and Western democracies, but it is Israel that stands at the vanguard, like the boy on the bridge “whence all but him had fled.” Last Saturday, Jon Bon Jovi played Tel Aviv. He did so against the wishes of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. He dedicated his new song “We Don’t Run” to the largely Jewish audience: “We don’t run/ I’m standing my ground/ We don’t run/ And we don’t back down.” More than ever, Israel needs her friends, those who prefer comity to hostility, she needs them to speak out.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

"Needed - Common Sense"

                      Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Needed – Common Sense”
October 5, 2015

Common sense is a term whose exact meaning has been debated from Aristotle to Immanuel Kant.  For my purposes, let us define it as the process of using our five senses to perceive, understand and judge events and people. It is doing what most would consider intuitive, obvious and logical. It is a trait important to business, as Lehman learned to their dismay in 2008, and should be in politics. Unfortunately, it has become rare, at least in the political world. The art of politics involves the ability to persuade and the willingness to compromise. Successful politicians need the judgment and ability to work with and convince opponents to alter policies in a more desirable direction. Unilaterally, demanding that the ship of state, set on a course of south-south west, should reverse course and head north-north east may be fodder for a campaign speech, but will more likely founder the ship than approach a preferred destination.

The antonym to common sense is irrationality and ineptitude – acting unilaterally, without empathy or regard to consequences. When we abandon common sense, we let in ignorance, we become divisive, we tend to extremes; the result is gridlock. Politically, it is where we are today. We ignore common goals – goals with which both parties could agree, but that are approached from different directions.  For example, we all agree as to the importance of the security and safety of the American people, the elimination of poverty, the need for more rapid economic growth and a stronger middle class. Persuasion and compromise are the means of achieving common goals. However, when common sense is AWOL, differences become immutable.

Consider two different responses to the tragic shootings last week of nine students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Playing to his base, President Obama took the tragedy as an opportunity to rail against the NRA and Republicans. He was speaking to his choir. There was no mention of mental health. He had no interest in a fair-minded judgment, or solution. His reaction was purely political, intended to divide, not unite. Jeb Bush sounded callous and insensitive when he said, “Stuff happens.” But Bush was more honest – not all tragedies can be prevented. Nevertheless, his words were seen as heartless; thus reflective of his character.

We should, though, have a debate over mass killings and gun violence in general, but it should be rational. It should include gun laws, including a discussion as to why strict gun laws have had a minimal effect in places like Chicago and the fact that Umpqua was a gun-free zone. Questions should be addressed: How do you register guns that are now in the hands of criminals? Why does any civilian need an automatic weapon? What are the objections to a nation-wide registration system? The discussion must also deal with less politically correct issues, like mental health and the sharing of records. For example, why was Chris Harper-Mercer discharged from the Army after one month of service? We do not want to violate the Second Amendment,  impose ‘Big Brother’ or reinstate the Salem Witch trials, but we should discuss how best to use surveillance and how to share intelligence, including medical and criminal, from myriad sources.

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) showed a lack of sense when he implied that the select committee investigating Benghazi was politically motivated; its real role is to uncover the facts that led to that tragedy. Mr. McCarthy helped Ms. Clinton, hurt his credibility and damaged the investigation. Peggy Noonan questioned his intelligence. I question his common sense. Speaking of which, the sacking of John Boehner showed little sense on the part of far-right Republicans.

Internationally, we have shown no common sense for years. Citing Vietnam and Iraq, both sides of the aisle argue that the United States cannot and should not “nation-build.” Yet it was in the re-building of Germany, Japan and South Korea where our international policies proved most successful. Think of the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt a war-torn Europe, especially in places like Greece and Turkey where Soviet Communism was held at bay. That required not just money, but the commitment of troops. Seventy years later we still have 125,000 troops in Germany, Japan and South Korea, or ten times the numbers we have in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In contrast, it has been in those countries that we abandoned prematurely that have proved most disastrous for those we were trying to help – Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, we have no troops in Vietnam. Supporting the peace, which means keeping troops on the ground in countries where they had been deployed militarily, is less costly than fighting wars and then vacating responsibilities. After we left South East Asia in 1975, the Cambodian Communist Pol Pot murdered between two and three million of his own people over the next four years – proportionately, one of the worst examples of genocide in the history of mankind. The vacuum left by our hasty retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan is being filled sectarianism and killings. More than fifty times as many Iraqis, Syrians and Afghanis have been killed in the three and a half years since we pulled out as Americans died in the eleven years our troops were on the ground. On the other hand, Europe, Japan and South Korea, where we remained, have seen their people prosper and freedom blossom.

We have seen this abandonment of common sense in financial markets. One would have thought that the lessons of 2008 would be fresh in everyone’s mind, but in persisting in layering on myriad derivative products, many with little real economic value, technologically proficient individuals, using leverage, persist in turning our capital markets – a foundation of free market capitalism – into a casino. They do it because of the prospect for outsized returns for themselves, but with supersized risks for the rest of us.

There will always be disagreements among people. For example, when does life begins, how do we handle the immigration crisis, or what should we do about the estimated 300 million guns in the United States. But it is extremists (the Tea Party on the right and the Obama-Warren faction on the left) that have allowed the wrecking ball to do its damage. The Clint Eastwood line comes to mind: “If you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.”  Ideology and political correctness are the natural enemies of common sense. Campuses that liberally issue trigger warnings create ignorance in the name of well-being, as do student and administrative leaders who disinvite conservative speakers because they find their opinions offensive. Slogans based on lies, like “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” divide, not unite.

If we want growth and prosperity at home, and respect and peace overseas, we need people and institutions with at least a smattering of common sense.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"The Month That Was - September 2015"

      Sydney M. Williams
                                                                                                                  October 1, 2015
The Month That Was
September 2015

“lo! A ripe sheaf of many golden days
Gleaned by the year in autumn’s harvest ways,
With here and there, blood-tinted as an ember,
Some crimson poppy of a late delight
Atoning in its splendor for the flight
Of summer blooms and joys
This is September.”
                                                                                                                Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

As any month ends, I am always amazed as to how much news gets packed into a mere thirty or thirty-one days. September was no exception. Flash floods in Utah killed nineteen and fires in California destroyed 1000 homes. The refugee crisis in Europe worsened.and Russia sent troops and equipment to Syria. The Pope came to the Americas, first to Cuba and then to the United States. John Boehner announced his intent to resign his seat in Congress and as Speaker of the House. The month saw both Rick Perry and Scott Walker drop out of the Republican race for President, and the e-mail hole Hillary Clinton has dug became deeper.

September serves as an anniversary month. The 11th marked fourteen years since the Islamic terrorist attack on the United States. In our politically correct world, fear of triggering unhappy feelings in others, including our avowed enemies, drives out common sense. It is forgotten that more people were killed that day than sailors at Pearl Harbor or American soldiers on D-Day. The war against Islamic terrorism persists, as we know from ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian-fueled Quds Force, to name only a few. Yet Mr. Obama refuses to put the modifier “Islamic” before the noun “terrorism.” Perhaps for that reason, the world has become more dangerous since he became President. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, fatalities resulting from armed conflict increased by a factor of four since 2010, with the vast majority of the deaths being caused by Islamic groups.

Seventy-five years ago the Blitz in London began. On the night of September 7, 1940, the Blitz began in earnest. By dawn, 600 Londoners were dead and twice as many wounded. In the first 30 days, nearly 6000 civilians were killed. The Blitz only ended in May 1941 when German planes were redeployed for the invasion of Russia. Londoners, instead of being cowed into submission as Hitler expected, proved dauntless and steadfast.  This past month saw Queen Elizabeth overtake Victoria, as Britain’s longest reigning monarch. During the War Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service where she trained as a mechanic and drove a truck. The Second World War officially ended on when Japan officially surrendered aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

Overseas, it was the refugee crisis that consumed most of the headlines. The photograph of the drowned three-year old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, lying face down in the surf on a Turkish beach near Bodrum will remain in our memories for a long time. The majority of the refugees come from Syria, a country where more than 40% of the population has been displaced. But they also come from other Middle East countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. They come from North African and sub-Sub-Saharan African countries where ruthless dictators, most of whom are Muslim, regularly slaughter those who are not in accord with their religious and political views.

Political extremism, which has characterized the United States for the past several years, has spread to Europe. It could be seen in England where Socialist (and anti-Semitist) Jeremy Corbyn won election as leader of Britain’s Labor party.  It gained ground in Greece with the re-election of Alexis Tsipras in Greece and could be seen in the growing strength of Marine Le Pen in France. Chinese President Xi Jinping was granted a state dinner at the White House. He remains undeterred in his ambitions, as China seeks hegemony in the Pacific. Vladimir Putin grabbed the baton from Barack Obama in the Middle East, as our waffling on Syria and ISIS provided the opportunity he needed. Russia now has troops and equipment, including surface-to-air missiles, on the ground in Syria, where Mr. Putin backs the dictator Bashar al-Assad who Mr. Obama had once promised to remove. Mr. Obama spoke surrealistically at the UN. It was as though he had not been in charge for the past six and a half years. Sounding like his predecessor, he spoke of supporting democracy and human rights. He spoke of Libya where he said we should have done more to fill the vacuum left by Muammar Gadaffi’s death, but did not explain that it was he who was in charge at the time. He sounded like he still had red lines in his portfolio, but all those listening know he does not. Regarding Russia and the Ukraine, he said “we cannot stand by,” yet that is exactly what he has done. As to Cuba, he said: “We have failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people,” but did not explain why it is “we” who need to improve the lives of Cubans, nor did he mention the need for democracy or the failure of the Castros’ regarding human rights.

At home, the Pope’s trip to the U.S. was a welcome distraction from deteriorating conditions overseas and from the goofiness of Donald Trump and the persistent lies of Hillary Clinton. The Pope, while he leads 1.2 billion Catholics world wide, has no political power, other than the power of his pulpit. There is no doubt that he is a good and kindly man. But, in my opinion, he is most effective when he sticks to religious and moral issues, less so when he enters the realm of politics. The nuclear deal with Iran was finalized without, but without Senate approval, as is usual with treaties. Republicans held their second debate, with Carly Fiorina apparently doing the best; though Marco Rubio and Chris Christie performed well. Trump was still Trump and, while his numbers have fallen, he still leads in most polls. By the end of the month the field had been winnowed by two – Rick Perry and Scott Walker. With “Tea Party” Republicans restless, John Boehner announced he would resign as Speaker and also from the seat he has held since 1990. In an interview on CBS, Boehner tellingly said, “It takes more courage to do what you can do, than to try to do what you can’t.” Kevin McCarthy, currently House Majority Leader, is expected to take over as Speaker.

Nervousness in markets persists. September was the most volatile month in equity markets since November 2011, at least as measured by the Dow Jones Industrials being up or down more than 1.5% on a daily basis. The VIX is also at levels last seen at the end of 2011. The yield on the Bloomberg-FINRA High Yield Bond Index is also at levels last seen in December 2011. LIBOR, while still low by historical standards is back to 2012 levels. This softening trend in markets has been underway for a while. The spread between investment grade corporates and high yield corporates has been widening for over a year, and the S&P 500 is roughly where it was fifteen months ago. Even without talking heads on CNBC and Bloomberg, markets adjust. For perspective, since the end of 2007, a couple of months after the S&P 500 reached an interim high, the annual compounded return to that index has been a modest 2.4 percent. Can spreads widen further and stocks go lower? Of course, but we are not at peak speculative levels.

Italy’s Flavia Pennetta won the women’s U.S. Open beating fellow countrywoman Roberta Vinci. The prior day Ms. Vinci had defeated Serena Williams who had been looking for her fourth grand slam title for the calendar year. It was not to be. On the men’s side Novak Djokovic defeated the crowd favorite Roger Federer to take the men’s title. Football season began with Tom Brady, relieved by a federal judge of his four-game suspension, quarterbacking the New England Patriots to a 28-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In other news, NASA scientists, operating Opportunity Mars Rover, have confirmed that surface water was once present on Mars. That suggests the possibility that life once existed on the Red Planet. American soldiers in Afghanistan were punished for blowing the whistle on the enslavement of young boys by Afghan Muslim military officials. Their behavior was deemed “abhorrent,” but in this politically correct age where everything is relative, it was seen as a local law-enforcement matter. The “dancing boys” of Afghanistan are still dancing and being sexually mistreated. Regarding Hillary’s e-mail travails, husband Bill came to her defense. Trying to sound Churchillian, he said he had “never seen so much expended on so little.” Homo Naledi, a new species of our ancestors that buried their dead, was discovered in a cave in South Africa. A Super moon slid across the night sky last weekend and into a full eclipse. The next time such an event happens will be 2033, when some of my grandchildren may well be mothers and fathers.

Yogi Berra died at age 90 on September 22. Like thousands of people I had my own Yogi Berra story. Several years ago, at a New Orleans hotel, I saw him sitting in the lobby. I walked over and introduced myself. We chatted briefly, then he asked me where was I from. I said New York. He then asked, “When are you going back?” I answered, but took his question as a dismissal. His passing is sad, as he was one of the few players left that I remember from my youth, when I listened to the Yankees on the radio in our house in New Hampshire in the early 1950s. Moses Malone, the N.B.A. center who was known as “Chairman of the Boards” for his skills in rebounds, died at age 60. Einar Ingman, who I had never heard of, died at age 85. But I should have. At age twenty-one, he won the Medal of Honor in Korea. He took out two Chinese-manned machine gun nests while badly wounded. A grenade ripped off part of one ear; he was shot in the face, which blinded him in one eye and cost him most of his teeth. Pouring blood, he continued his assault, using his bayonet to kill the last of the gunners. Mr. Ingman was proof of the indomitable courage of Americans when asked to sacrifice for their country.

October is upon us. As we enter the autumn of this year, it seems just to have begun, yet so much has happened.