Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Growing up in the 1940-50s"

Sydney M. Williams

Essay from Essex
“Growing up in the 1940-50s”
November 20, 2018

Anyway, the consequence of all this is that kids were left
 pretty much to decide for themselves what games they
 would play – indeed even to invent their own games.”
                                                                              Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)
                                                                              Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived, 2017

My wife and I spent a few days, recently, at the home of four grandchildren, while their parents went to New York for a well-deserved weekend. While they were at a casino charity gala at the Yale Club, sitting in the bleachers at a Dartmouth-Columbia football game and attending Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, with the German tenor Jonas Kaufman, at the Met, we were in our cars. In the roughly forty hours we were at their house, I made fifteen four-mile trips into town. (My wife made a few of her own.) Two of the trips were for my own purposes – buying newspapers – but the rest involved the grandchildren:visits to friends, sporting events, shopping, restaurants, etc. Heading out on the 15thtrip to somewhere, I thought of the gap between their growing up and mineMine were the post-Depression and post-War years. My parents, being artists, worked from home. Both of them had traveled abroad when young, but once settled in Peterborough, NH – apart from the War, visiting parents in East River, CT and Wellesley, MA, attending horseshows and going skiing – they rarely left home. The decades since my childhood have seen vast changes.   

In the late 1940s and early 1950s there were, at least in our house, no electronic gadgets, apart from a radio on which we listened to WBZ broadcasts of Red Sox games and shows like “The Lone Ranger,” Fibber McGee and Molly” and “The Shadow.” There were no electric appliances – no stove, refrigerator, washer-dryer or dishwasher; no blender, TV or toaster. A wood stove served the house until after I was married – and an electric refrigerator only arrived in 1953. Before that, we made weekly trips to the ice-man. (In my earliest memories ice was delivered, but that service was suspended not long after the War.) Ice was stored in a wooden, tin-lined ice chest and had to be replaced every four or five days. Dishes were washed by hand, and my mother, at least initially, used a laundromat. After my father died in 1968, she got a television and an electric stove. In terms of news, and apart from the radio, my parents subscribed to The New York Herald TribuneLife, allowed us to imagine ourselves in foreign and exotic places. We read The Saturday Evening Post for its serialized stories and glanced through The New Yorker and Punch for their cartoons. We read a lot, as there were hundreds of books in the house.

Like many rural families, we had a barn. In our case it housed horses, goats, chickens, a few ducks and, later, a couple of peacocks. The goats were used for milk and butter. The chickens and ducks for eggs. The peacocks for ornamentation. The horses were an expense, until my mother began giving riding lessons in the mid 1950s. We usually had about five horses: “Nona” (a Chestnut that had belonged to my father’s family); “Jill” (a dark-colored horse who, when she died, my father buried in front of the barn); “Judy” (a Chestnut cross between a Thoroughbred and a workhorse and my usual mount. “Judy” also used to haul manure and felled trees, which were cut up and split for the wood stoves and fireplace); “Whinny” (a grey Welsh Pony given to my mother by her former headmistress, Miss Charlotte, on the occasion of the birth of her fifth child); “Star” (sired by an Arabian and foaled by “Whinny,” generally ridden by my brother Frank), and “Mitzi” (the Shetland on whom we all learned to ride). What I loved best was riding through the woods and over the “hill” to our grandparents’ summer home and then galloping “Judy” home along dirt roads. A favorite pleasure was inviting a friend to go riding, putting him or her on “Mitzi,” and then riding past the watering hole, where “Mitzi” would inevitably roll, especially when she sensed the rider was a novice.

Once, at a horse show in Dublin, New Hampshire, I got my foot caught in a stirrup and was dragged about a hundred feet, with no damage except to my ego. But my mother’s work paid off. Her youngest child, George, ultimately became a nationally-ranked dressage rider and today is president of the United States Dressage Federation.

We swam and rode horses in the summer, skated and skied in the winter. We played politically incorrect games, like “cowboys and Indians,” where the youngest were forced to play the Indians, because they always ended up dead. We traipsed through the woods, pretending to be frontiersmen, carrying toy cap-guns. (My father did not like guns, so there were never any in the house.) My father did build a jungle-gym. It was made from six-to-ten-inch diameter trees he had cut down. It stood about fifteen feet high. It had swings, bars and cross-beams on which we learned to balance. My sister Mary used it as the center piece for a Children’s Circus, which she organized in the late 1940s and that ran for a dozen years. The proceeds from the Circus – initially about $30.00 – went to what is now the Crotchet Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

As well, we played more hum-drum games, like marbles, which required a combination of dexterity and guile, with, perhaps, more emphasis on the latter. We carried them around in little leather pouches. The goal was to win your opponents’. We wrestled, sometimes for fun, other times more seriously. We played catch, and stuck crab apples on the end of a stick to see how far we could catapult them. Once I broke a dining room window. My mother made me tell my father what I had done. The trip to the studio, where he was working, was a hundred feet from the house. It took hours, or so it seemed. He commended me for my honesty, not knowing credit belonged to my mother. As we got older, and on some weekends, we went to the movies; though I have no memory of my parents ever having gone. An afternoon feature, as I recall, cost $0.35.

Another difference were cars. My son and his wife, with two children of driving age, own three cars. (An embarrassing admission is that my wife and I, with five drivers in the family, once had six cars.) Until my sister Mary and I bought a car together in 1957 – a 1947 four-door Ford coupe, for which we paid $95.00 – my family had only one car, despite nine children and living four miles from the village. The first of their cars was a 1938 Chevrolet station wagon. (I have a picture of it on the wall behind my desk, a suitcase tied to its bumper, my sister Mary and me in front holding dolls, and a goat sticking her head out the rear window.) The next was a 1941 Ford, bought second-hand after the War. That was followed by a 1953 Ford wagon and, four years later, a 1957 Ford wagon. When my mother hitched the car to the horse trailer to take a few children to a show, my father was out of luck if he needed to go to town. And when my father took a bunch of us skiing my mother had to stay home.

One consequence was that we took the bus to and from school. After-school activities would not have fit into our parents’ lifestyles. “Helicoptering” and “hovering” parents were years in the future. We entertained ourselves. Our nearest neighbor was a mile away. I was the second oldest, so knew best my older sister Mary and younger brother Frank. Next came three girls, followed by three boys. Essentially, we were trisected, though Mary substituted for my mother when the latter was in the barn or away. I was generally less helpful. Chopping wood, pitching hay and cleaning stalls were chores to be endured, not enjoyed. (I recall once the unpleasant and difficult task of burying a goat who had died when the ground was still frozen.) Most of all, though, we had time to play. Frank and I let our imaginations roam. We played in the woods and fields. While guns were not permitted, my father reluctantly allowed cap-pistols and small hunting knives, the throwing of which was an art we practiced but never mastered. The cap-pistols, however, were good for scaring chickens, goats and horses, much to our delight and to their dismay. We sometimes camped outside, and there were even times when we made it all through the night. 

Permitting children to travel alone seems quaint in an age when parents have been arrested for letting children walk home from the park or from school. We were warned about speaking to strangers, but “stranger danger” was an alien phrase. I was one of the more outgoing of my siblings, and perhaps that is why my mother and father let me fly alone when I was thirteen – my first rime on a plane. I was to meet my maternal grandmother in the Adirondacks. She was staying with her sister and husband at their camp on Upper Saranac Lake. To get there from Peterborough I flew from Keene, New Hampshire to New York’s LaGuardia, change planes, and then to Lake Placid – both legs on DC-3s. I got there without incident, but with memories that come with the excitement and freedom of being on one’s own. Wings began to sprout.

There is no right way of bringing up children, and my fondness for the past does not mean it was better than today. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from history, and there are things we can do better today. We should be unafraid of letting children experience failure. We should not confuse sentimentality with compassion. We must recognize differences in children and encourage them in their strengths, while doing our best to correct their weaknesses. Children should be taught the Golden Rule, of doing unto others as they would have people do unto them. They should learn civics and the Ten Commandments. Society should encourage the traditional bonds of marriage and acknowledge the benefit of two-parent households, even as we know it is not always possible. We put undue pressure on children today, as their activities are programmed for little or no down-time. Screens take time away from reading; though video games are better than television, as the latter is passive where the brain is concerned. Luck plays a role. Accidents happen, for which there are no warnings. And there are bad people who do bad things. As well, children are different: some mature faster than others; some are better athletes, others more musical or stronger scholastically. Some have disabilities, as did one of my brothers who was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. 

But I worry that “safe places” and “trigger warnings” do more harm than good. As much as we would like to, we cannot protect all children against all harm. They have to learn to walk alone, to be independent and to take responsibility. Government provides invaluable services – a free society could not operate without it – but the concept of pre-packaged parenting – is alien to reality. Seventy-five years ago, because of the War, families were disrupted. Single-parent Moms struggled to perform both roles. But they knew it was unnatural and, hopefully, temporary – that the separation was due to the War, not choice. The general sense was that government should govern, teachers should teach and parents should parent.

To return to the rubric at the start of this essay, Justice Scalia grew up about the same time as did I, though our lives were very different. He grew up in the city; I in the country. His father, a professor of Romance languages at Brooklyn College, was an immigrant from Sicily and his mother, an elementary school teacher, was the daughter of immigrants from Italy. My parents were artists and my family had been here for generations. He was an only child. I was one of nine. He was brilliant and an over-achiever. I was average and an under-achiever. He reached the peak of his profession. I struggled up the rungs of the Wall Street ladder. Nevertheless, we had in common the need to be inventive during our free time as children. His quote, at the top of this essay is from a speech he gave in 1997 at the University Club of Washington, D.C. It applies to us both. It was imaginations that gave currency to our childhoods.

Returning to my grandchildren’s driveway for the 15thtime that weekend, my daydreams evaporated as my mind turned to the job at hand. Don’t get me wrong, though, my children and grandchildren are smart, attractive and entertaining. I love them, and I love being with them.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Purpose of Government and the Downside of Dependency"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Purpose of Government and the Downside of Dependency”
November 14, 2018

The purpose of government is to enable the people to live in safety and happiness.
 Government exists for the interests of the people, not the governors.”
                                                                                    Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
                                                                                    Letter to Pierre Samuel DuPont de Nemours, 1813

Last weeks’ election was a manifestation of the fortune that is ours to live in this country. Forty-seven percent of the electorate (110 million people) cast ballots. That would compare with 36.7% in 2014 and 41% in 2010. While results were not as I would have liked, especially here in Connecticut where voters are in denial as to the fiscal situation, they were a reminder of the first two parts of Lincoln’s famous sentence uttered at Gettysburg, “…a government of the people, by the people…” Now, it is incumbent on those elected to ensure it is “…for the people…”

It is important to remember that, while our government was forged from a cauldron of revolution, the Founders understood the need for order – for government – for without it a liberal, civil society cannot function. Its antithesis is either anarchy or tyranny. And the Founders, despite combatting the British, knew that what they sought was based on a philosophy derived from, among others, such British figures of the enlightenment as John Locke, David Hume and Thomas Hobbes and precedents drawn from English common law. As well, the Founders would have been familiar with Adam Smith through his Theory of Moral Sentiments, and a few may have read The Wealth of Nations, published in March 1776. While desirous of a country where people might pray as they choose, they recognized that the principles embedded in their Christian-Judeo heritage were fundamental to the morality and virtue they espoused and that they expected of those elected to serve.

Ronald Reagan once deadpanned that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Humorless and patronizing Leftists, who always portrayed Mr. Reagan as a dunce, repeated his words, but without the whimsey. Mr. Reagan’s point was that people cannot live freely when government becomes too big, that people lose their sense of self-reliance as dependency on “Big Brother” grows – and that autocracies can emerge from the left, from those who operate from gift-giving platforms. President Obama’s “Life of Julia” was an Orwellian (and frightening) indication of the direction he wanted to take the country. 

As I see it, the purpose of our federal government is:  
1)     To establish laws, so that a free people can live harmoniously in civil society under the rule of law, not men.
2)     To protect all citizens against any diminution of natural rights, rooted in the Constitution and that bear fruit in the Bill of Rights.
3)     To ensure that laws are obeyed, and to safe-guard the people against harm from home or abroad, (but not, as President Reagan once warned, to protect people against their own follies).
4)     To ensure that a balance is maintained between government’s three branches – executive, legislative and judiciary.
5)     To recognize that all citizens have equal rights – that the value of a vote is not determined by race, gender, religion, or the social and/or economic standing of the individual.
6)     To establish treaties with foreign nations.
7)     To enable interstate and international commerce through the building and maintaining of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and sea ports, and to ensure that the skies and the seas remain free for the trade and transportation of goods and services.
8)     To maintain a postal service and sound currency.
9)     To promote the general welfare of the public.
a) To help provide for the elderly, the infirm and those unable to provide for themselves. 
b) To conserve and protect national forests and parks, for the enjoyment of all people.
c) To help re-build communities when they have been devastated by natural disasters.
d) To regulate foods and medicines and other consumable products that may be harmful.
e) To ensure that youth is provided a basic education, including knowledge of history and civics, but leaving details to states and local governments

Some will disagree with that list as too exclusive or too exhaustive. Regardless, it is important to understand governments’ limits and to know that an overly-pervasive government will suffocate the people it desires to help. In Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “That government is best which governs least.” There are things that government cannot and should not do. It cannot make all outcomes equal. It should not attempt equality in terms of incomes or wealth. It cannot change the aspiration, physical well-being or intelligence of individuals. It should not prevent personal failure. And, we must remember, apropos of Thoreau’s comment, that the more responsibilities we give government, the less we reserve for ourselves.   

When things go badly, we seek help. That once meant families, friends, the church or the community. Now, increasingly, it means we rely on government. Consider: Franklin Roosevelt’s “…freedom from want” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society;” George H.W. Bush’s “1000 points of light” and his son’s “compassionate conservativism;” Barack Obama’s “Pajama Boy” and Hillary Clinton’s “it takes a village to raise a child.” When government acts as savior, it becomes addictive to those it offers assistance. A subsequent lack of personal responsibility ensues. Helicopter parents hover over children. Universities issue trigger warnings. Students seek out, and are granted, safe places. Adults quiver before “hateful” language. “Dependency” is one of those words of which Humpty-Dumpty scornfully spoke. It is a word which means “…just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Your dependency may not be mine; but we are all dependent, in varying degrees, on family, friends, jobs and, increasingly, government. However, we must be careful, lest we become, like H.G. Wells’ Eloi, victims of government’s Morlocks.

What we don’t know: Can a liberal society, such as our Republic, survive in a multi-cultural world where laws and traditions are borrowed from other cultures, many of which are anti-liberal? Democracy has been successful in Commonwealth countries, like Canada, Australia, India and South Africa. Why? Outside of western Europe, Japan and South Korea, it has not done well. Why not? Of the nineteen countries in Central and South America, the Democracy Index[1]only lists nine, and they are seen as “imperfect.” Of the fifty-four countries in Africa, only nine meet the standard of the Democracy Index. Israel is the only fully free country in the Middle East. Why? Democracy has succeeded in the two Axis powers of World War II, and in South Korea. All three were recipients of American money and influence, including U.S. Army troops still stationed in their countries. But it has not taken root in Vietnam, which we abruptly left in 1975. Is there a lesson in that? Democracy has not succeeded in Russia, despite a revolution a hundred years ago and the collapse of Soviet empire seventeen years ago, nor does it exist in China. It has not succeeded in Islamic countries – the Middle East, the Caucasians, nor in Central, South and Eastern Asia, with the exceptions noted above. Why not? While democracy exists in the Baltic states, it has been slow to develop in former Warsaw Pact countries. Why? Most people in the world do not live freely; but wherever they do, they must be vigilant. It is fragile and easy to lose.

Before we change our customs and laws to accommodate those who would have us do so, we should think carefully. We should seek opinions and debate issues. Benjamin Franklin, when asked what was being created in Independence Hall, allegedly replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.” His warning is being tested today. Education is key. If youth fail to learn and understand the role played by so many, in the founding of our Country – ancient Athenians and Romans, philosophers of the Enlightenment from across Europe, the role of English common law and the ethos of a Christian-Judeo culture – our Republic will notstand. If youth are not instructed in civics and the way our country works, our Republic will notstand. “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, then, is education,” so spoke Franklin Roosevelt in 1938.  

The motto of the United States, e Pluribus Unum, does not mean immigrants should abandon their religions, traditions, cultures and language. What it does mean is that we are bound by the principles set forth in the Constitution, a document carefully debated over four months. We are nationalists, for we are Americans. The Constitution and the attached Bill of Rights are the foundation on which our Republic is built – a representative Congress that enacts laws that are carried out by the Executive and adjudicated by Courts. Understanding government, and its limits, is critical to the survival of our democratic Republic.Speaking before the New York Press club in September 1912, Woodrow Wilson said, “Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

The threat to democracy comes from those who have abandoned the precepts of our Founders. It does not come from Mr. Trump, who crudely and wrongly singles out the press for “unfair” coverage – you will note that the media have never abandoned their criticism! The threat stems from progressives who, in the guise of doing good for self-identified groups, do harm through increasing personal dependency. It is not a rejection of globalism or multiculturalism or a rise in nationalism that risks democracy, it is the belief that government should provide cradle-to-grave protection. It can be seen in the socialistic beliefs of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Andrew Gillum and the newly elected New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others. It is the offer of “free” healthcare (estimated to cost $32 trillion over ten years) and “free” college tuition. It is out-of-control entitlement spending, which now accounts for about 65% of the federal budget. It is the threat embedded in President Obama’s Life of Julia” that should concern lovers of liberty. Government is essential, else chaos, anarchy and tyranny reign, but too much government will take away the freedoms for which so many have fought and died. It is balance that is sought.


[1]I accept the Democracy Index with a grain of salt. It is compiled by the UK-based Economic Intelligence Unit. Objecting to Mr. Trump, the Index ranks the U.S. as a “flawed” democracy. It ranks the U.S. behind Uruguay! Norway, Iceland and Sweden rank one, two and three. But, a question: If you were not Norwegian, Icelandic or Swedish, would you rather live in one of those countries or in the United States? A million legal immigrants choose every year to come to the United States.

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Burrowing into Books - The Thirty-One Kings"

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings

                                                                                                                               November 12, 2018

“The Thirty-One Kings”
Robert J. Harris

As the sun slanted toward the west, the cries of plovers and curlews echoed off the hills
and the breeze carried a tang of burning peat from the hearth of a far-off cottage.”
                                                                                                            Robert Harris 
                                                                                                            The Thirty-one Kings

Richard Hannay was the creation of John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir as he became knownBuchan was born in Scotland in 1875. He was a product of a time when chivalry was a powerful force, when war was viewed heroically, before the slaughter at the Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele and Meuse Argonne. Buchan was a novelist, historian and politician who was serving as Governor General of Canada at the time of his death in 1940. Hannay, his character, is a Scotsman who bears the traits of a Victorian gentleman. During the Great War, Mr. Buchan wrote three novels in which Richard Hannay appeared:The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), Greenmantle(1916), and Mr. Standfast(1918). Two more Hannay novels were published after the War:The Three Hostages(1924) and The Island of Sheep(1936). In a posthumously published novel, Sick Heart River (1941),Buchan predicted that Hannay and his friends would be going back into action, as clouds of war descended over Europe. Mr. Harris has provided that opportunity. Readers of a certain age will recall those novels, along with the Alfred Hitchcock 1935 movie, The Thirty-Nine Stepsstarring Robert Donat. The book has never been out of print.     

Robert Harris was asked by Polygon, which currently publishes Buchan’s books, to create a new series. The Thirty-one Kingsis the first. Like Buchan, Harris is a Scotsman, a graduate of St. Andrews, a classicist, historian, popular author and designer of the fantasy board and digital game “Talisman.” The rubric at the top of the page indicates how closely he mimics John Buchan.

The story begins in the Scottish Lowlands, where Hannay is on a walking trip with his wife Mary. It has been twenty-two years since the Great War ended. But, once again, the forces of evil are on the march. Hannay, now a retired general but itching to return to action, turns to his wife, “I ask you, do I look like man who’s so far gone that he’s ready to take up golf?” Within moments, he is summoned to London in a scene right out of Buchan – a cryptic message from a dying pilot. The time is late spring 1940; most of the British army has escaped from Dunkirk back to England. The Germans are marching on Paris. A prisoner held there, a man with vital information, must be re-captured by the British before the Nazis enter the city. That is Hannay’s mission. 

Harris takes us from the Scottish Lowlands to London and thence to Paris. Along the way, familiar faces return – John Blenkiron, Archie Roylance, Sandy Arbuthnot, the Marquis de la Tour du Pin and the daughter of an old nemesis, Beata van Dieman. We also meet new friends, like John “Jaike” Galt (an interesting choice of names), Douglas Crombie, Peter “Doc” Paterson and Thomas Yowney. After many adventures, the mission, of course, is successful. Not everyone survives, however. Returning to London, saddened by the loss of a good friend, Hannay recalls the copy of The Pilgrim’s Progresshe carries in his pocket and Mary’s words to him from years ago: “Before the pilgrimage can be completed the best of Pilgrims has to die.” The book ends with the last few paragraphs of Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons, the day after the French surrender: “…that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say:This was their finest hour.”

Buchan died before the fall of France and the Battle of Britain, unaware of the horrors that would follow. Hannay, in this novel by Harris, retains a sense of honor, untainted by a War that would see the bombing of civilians and the Holocaust. When a pursuing German plane crashes and the pilot dies, Hannay reflects: “Sometimes even the worst of causes can be served by the very best of men.” 

Even if you are not familiar with John Buchan, this is a good read. The language is fittingly dated and the characters distinctly different from the coarse, narcissistic fictional heroes of our time. But its understated-humor and civility are appealingThe Thirty-One Kingsmight even tempt you to pick up a copy of The Thirty-Nine Steps!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Month That Was - October 2018

Sydney M. Williams
30 Bokum Road – Apartment 314
Essex, CT 06426

The Month That Was – October 2018
November 1, 2018

Pale amber sunlight falls across
The reddening October trees…”
                                                                                                        Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)
                                                                                                       The Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson
Published posthumously in 1919

Ignorance about government and its Constitution threatens our nation. The Founders felt the provision of a virtue-inspired public education that includes civics imperative to the survival of the Republic they had created. Noah Webster was direct about the need for a moral sense: “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities.” In the 1950s,” as Paul Volcker mentioned recently to Gillian Tett of the Financial Times, “courses in public administration commanded high status at universities such as Princeton. But now the phrase ‘good government’ is a mockery.” Civics is no longer universally taught. A March 2017 article in neaTodayreported that only 25% of students reach the “proficient” standard on the NAEP Civics Assessment. An article in the November 8, 2016 issue of The Atlanticnoted that 30% of Americans did not know in what century the American Revolution took place. Forty percent thought the Bill of Rights guaranteed the right to vote; 40% did not know that the Constitution gives the right to declare war to Congress; 50% did not know the terms for U.S. Senators and Representatives, and 80% did not know the origin of Lincoln’s unforgettable words: …a government of the people, by the people, for the people…” What does this portend for our countryThe direction the country is moving is not healthy for democracy. We need to calm rhetoric and emphasize the civic virtues critical to a free people.

As we approach the 100thanniversary of the Armistice that ended World War, two books, with lessons for today, are worth noting:George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England, written in 1935. The book covers three crucial events in England – Irish Home Rule, Suffrage and unionization - during the four years preceding the Great War and how attitudes and responses threatened a nation that had been the cradle of liberalism. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914by Christopher Clark covers the two or three decades leading up to the same war. The book was written in 2012 and explores the complex relationships, treaties and alliances that led well-meaning leaders into a conflict during which idealism was destroyed and sixty-million people died. Bad things happen when complacency and ignorance flourish. It is a desire for power that has caused arrogant elitists in the U.S. and Europe, who speak the language of globalism but who act with imperium. The teaching of civics, including the virtues expressed by our Founders would help restore moral principles and maintain freedoms of expression.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold…”

William Butler Yeats published “The Second Coming” in 1919, not long after the shooting stopped. While his words are a hundred years old (and are directed toward a “Second Coming”), they are relevant in a world turned upside down, where passions preclude civil debate. In the West, diversity is no longer measured in ideas, but in identities. When politicians and the media compartmentalize people, distrust is unleashed. We saw it in the Tea Party, and see it in Black Lives Matter, Antifa, White Nationalists and #MeToo. We saw hatred last week when Robert Bowers, using an assault rifle, murdered eleven Jewish worshipers (and wounded six others) at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg. Incredibly, Bowers spent an hour and eighteen minutes in the synagogue terrifying and killing the mostly older crowd. Antisemitism has been on the rise in Europe – up 10% in Germany in the first half of 2018. It has also been on the ruse in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League. We saw hatred in the acts of a Florida nut case, Cesar Altieri Sayoc, who mailed a dozen pipe bombs (none of which exploded) to a number of prominent Democrats. We saw animus in the U.S. during the Kavanaugh hearings, only redeemed by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) reasoned explanation as to why she would vote for Judge Kavanaugh: “We must always remember,” she said, “that is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.” We have seen contempt for conservatives in restaurants where they are chased out and hostility in the Senate galleries where professional protestors heckled Judge Kavanaugh. Mud-slinging politicians have become the norm. Nobody was shocked when Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) had his Spartacus moment, or when Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) encouraged supporters to harass members of the Trump administration. Their attitudes have infected late-night TV and the media. Audiences laughed when Kathy Griffin held up a mask of Mr. Trump’s bloodied head. While the media likes to pin blame on Mr. Trump for the odium that infests our culture, its origins are rooted in a culture that celebrates violence – in movies, music and video games – and in identity politics, which serve to divide, not unite. Mr. Trump, who admittedly does not calm passions, is a consequence, not a cause.

In a supercilious article, Matt Flegenheimer wrote in The New York Timeslast month that Democrats were debating if “going high when Republicans go low” is a good strategy. What is he talking about? Governor Romney went high against President Obama who said he would bring a gun to a knife fight. Senator Collins went high and received death threats. Mr. Trump went low, but that is where his opponents were (and are). The “Swamp” that is Washington cannot be drained because if it were the city would be a ghost town. There is a tendency for those on the left to argue that “hate” speech is not protected by the First Amendment. But we should be careful about traveling that road, because once government puts limits on speech there is no knowing how restrictive they will become. A better answer is for society to instill in its young a sense of virtue. Freedom can only endure where respect for others and responsibility for one’s self exits.  

Yeats’ lines are applicable in Europe, where nationalists and unionists duel. Unintended consequences have arisen, threatening the post-War liberal world order. Election results last month in Bavaria were a manifestation of the problem. Center-right Christian Social Unionists saw their numbers decline from 47.7% of the electorate in 2013 to 35.7% in 2018. Center-left Social Democrats saw their percentage of the vote fall from 23.3% to 9.5%. The big winners were far-left Greens, who went from 10% of the vote in 2013 to 18.7% in 2018, and the far-right Alternative for Germany, which came from no-where in 2013 to 11.1% in 2018. The election in Hesse showed similar results. Angela Merkel, in response, announced she would not run for re-election as party chair of the CDU.

Apart from slow economic growth and an entitlement state that is no longer affordable, Europe’s problems have been debt, immigration and demographics. A single currency was created (1999) before political unification (yet to happen), the opposite of what happened in the United States. Here, political unification came with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, while the Dollar only became the sole currency of the United States with the passage of the National Banking Act of 1863. The Euro has made it impossible for debtor nations, like Greece and Italy, to devalue, while creditor states like Germany do not want to recognize loan losses. Birth rates in Europe have plummeted and the population is aging. The Total Fertility Rate for Europe is 1.58 (2.1 is required for replacement). The median age is 37.7. (In Germany, which now has the world’s lowest fertility rate, the median age is 45.9). William Frey of the Brookings Institute predicts by 2050 the median age for Europeans will be 52.3. Europe’s leaders are conscious that they face declining populations, which leads to a third and more visible concern – immigration. It explains their willingness to accept large numbers of immigrants. In 2015 and 2016, two million refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Europe. Forty percent of children under five are migrants, yet little has been done to assimilate them. Negative effects of unfettered immigration fall on the poor and middle classes. Elites, including government officials, are able to avoid the worst of the consequences because of where they live and where their children go to school. It is the refusal to adopt to changing conditions that has caused a decline in centrist parties.  

One outcome has been a rise in nationalist parties, composed of those who are concerned for jobs, safety, children and a loss of individual freedom. They question the wisdom of Brussels. Many have been condemned as right-wing neo-Nazis by sanctimonious governing and media elites. A book The Virtue of Nationalism, released in September, by Yoram Hazony, an Israeli philosopher, speaks to the conflict between the forces of nationalism and the post-World War II desire for unity, which has led to an omnipotent European Union. Mr. Hazony reminds readers of previous imperial attempts to suppress nation states, from the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, the Holy Roman Empire and the Austria-Hungarian Empire, to the Ottoman Empire, Napoleon’s conquest of western Europe and Hitler’s Third Reich. No matter the name – empire, imperium, realm, reich or union – the result has always been the same: the swapping of individual freedom for security and promised economic prosperity. This is not to suggest that cooperation is not helpful, especially economic and defense, for they are. But culture, custom, language and localized government are facets that distinguish nations that should be preserved, as it is from such countries that freedom emerges and thrives. A European Union that feels so insecure that it acts with contempt toward those who question its’ authority – England, Poland, Italy and Greece – is a Union for whom force will become essential. Extremism is not limited to the far-right any more than tolerance is the purview of the far-left. It is rule of law, liberty and self-government that should be the measure of the value of any society. When passions interfere with reason, things fall apart. The final two lines of Yeats’ opening stanza quoted above, while applicable to Europe are true for the U.S. and remind one of Senator Collins’ words:

“…the best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Why has America become so divided? Identity politics has played a lead role, but also relevant is a 1987 speech by Antonin Scalia delivered to B’nai B’rith in Washington, D.C., entitled “American Values and European Values.” It is included in the posthumously published Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith and Life Well Lived. While Justice Scalia allowed that what we have in common is far greater than where we differ, there are, nevertheless, distinctions: We both believe in free speech, but Europeans are willing to suppress it, if it is offensive – the waving of a Nazi flag, or the mocking of a Muslim. Religion is more important to Americans than to Europeans, in part because people fled to this land to escape religious persecution, while those that stayed found state-controlled religion oppressive. America is more democratic. It can be messy, but it is unimaginable for Americans to live under a system where an unelected European Commission determines what national democracies can and cannot spend and do. As I read Justice Scalia’s words of thirty years ago, it struck me that many on the Left today, including academics, the media and politicians who serve them, have come to resemble their European cousins. If this is true, which I fear it is, then, contrary to what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it is not means that separate us, it is ends.


Two issues overseas claimed attention: The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, U.S. Green Card holder and Washington Post columnist, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And the caravan of Hondurans, organized by Bartolo Fuentes of the left-wing Libre Party (allied with Venezuela and Cuba), which crossed into Guatemala, and then over the Usumacinta River into Mexico, north to the U.S. border.

The first threatens our ties to Saudi Arabia, a relationship that dates back to the close of World War II. As James Baker wrote in a New York Timesop-ed: the murder highlights the “tension between the promotion of America’s values and the protection of our interests.” Mr. Baker added that Saudi Arabia was a strategic partner in stabilizing oil markets and countering Iranian hegemony in the region, but also that “opposition to the killing of dissidents and support for a free and robust press are fundamental American principles.” The killing has given the Turks an opening in their centuries old conflict with the Saudis. Until the First World War, the Ottomans controlled all of what is now Saudi Arabia. Following the banishment of the last Sultan in 1922 and the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924, Turkey became a smaller, secular and somewhat democratic state. The autocratic Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has abandoned any democratic tendencies. He has embraced neo-Ottoman politics and supported the Muslim Brotherhood. One irony of the episode, as Yaroslav Trofimov wrote in a Wall Street Journalarticle, is that Mr. Erdogan has gone from a pariah who jailed journalists to “a paragon of press freedom.”  Lost in the hyperbole of the media was that Mr. Khashoggi was a former press agent for Osama bin Laden. He was not, as Bruce Thornton wrote, “a critic of the Saudi regime for its human rights offenses, but for bin Salmon’s war against the Iranian -supported jihadists in Yemen.” Nevertheless, there will and should be consequences.

The second incident – the caravan making its way north – accentuates the intractable problem of finding a policy solution to immigration that satisfies all parties. It is a conundrum and has been over the past few decades. Leaving the issue unresolved serves both Parties. One claims the other lacks compassion. The other claims the first is looking for political support. But, a nation without borders is no longer a nation. On the other hand, rounding up eleven million illegals is an impossible task and, even if it were possible, contrary to our sense of humanity. We need strong borders, we need legal immigrants and we need to support those legitimately seeking asylum. But citizenship must be earned. What we don’t need are those who come in illegally, live in dark recesses, yet use our resources and participate in our elections. As mentioned above, the caravan was organized by Barbolo Fuentes. It is mainly composed of innocent men, women and children who have been duped by paid human smugglers into believing they will be able to enter the U.S. According to US intelligence sources, the caravan also includes migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. The obvious question: From where is the financing coming? The answer is embedded in another question: Who benefits from chaos in America? China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.


On October 6, in confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh as Justice Kavanaugh, the Senate redeemed itself or, at least, did not worsen its reputation. However, the despicable, McCarthy-like methods of most Democrats on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary – Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse – did their best to denigrate the respect in which the world’s oldest deliberative legislative body is held. The Senate’s purpose, as George Washington once explained to Thomas Jefferson, using as a metaphor the then custom of pouring hot tea into a saucer, is to “cool passions.” This time they scalded themselves.

The U.S., Canada and Mexico announced a new NAFTA agreement, which now must be approved in their respective legislatures. Rome and Brussels were at one-another’s throats over Italy’s budget. Brussels and the UK have not yet decided on the terms for Brexit, making perilous Theresa May’s position at home. At the UN, the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini announced the creation of a new payment channel designed to bypass U.S. sanctions against Iran. Angela Merkel agreed to co-finance a liquified natural gas terminal, though her spokesman added that the decision was independent of any U.S. pressure. The Middle East, which was the birth of three of the world’s most important religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – has, for thousands of years, been a field of battle. The blood being shed in Yemen is a struggle for Mideast hegemony between the Sunnis and the Shias, the former represented by the Saudis, the latter by the Iranians. Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative, long-term Congressman and member of the Social Liberal Party, will become Brazil’s new President. He won 55% of the vote. He replaces Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party who became President when Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s Party was impeached in 2016.  For the past several years, under Socialist leaders, corruption in Brazil has been rampant and the economy has suffered, with unemployment at twelve percent. In Ireland, Michael Higgins was re-elected as president. A Jakarta-based Lion Air Boeing 737 crashed into the Java Sea thirteen minutes after take-off, killing all 189 aboard. The cause is yet to be determined.

Vice President Mike Pence, at the Hudson Institute and sounding like Ronald Reagan, denounced China’s suppression of Tibetans and Uighurs, its plan for tech dominance and its “debt diplomacy” through its “Belt and Road Initiative.” He highlighted a new U.S.-China rivalry based on economics and military strength. Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet next month in Argentina at the G-20. President Trump said he would pull the U.S. from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibits the use of intermediate and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles. The dispute dates back to 2014 when the Obama Administration first accused Russia of violations. “Russia,” according to a senior administration official, “continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency.” A proposed meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin may quash this burgeoning problem. Critics of the President claim he is destroying the structure of liberalism that has allowed the world to avoid a third world war. Supporters suggest his foreign policy has halted America’s decline abroad and reflects a realists’ world view. 


Absent the deadly and devastating Hurricane Michael, which hit Florida’s panhandle with category 4 winds, midterm elections dominated the domestic news. The month began with an expected “Blue Wave,” not surprisingly, as the minority party typically picks up seats in off-year elections. But a combination of the Kavanaugh hearings and the caravan heading north from Honduras worked to temper that wave. Democrats want to turn the conversation to health care; Republicans, to the economy and immigration. As the month ended, the expectation is that Republicans will retain control of the Senate, but the House will fall to Democrats. But, in truth, the elections are too close to call.

In terms of the stock market, October lived up to its reputation. The DJIA declined 5.1 percent. The airwaves and pages were filled with explanations – many of them of the “I told you so” variety – slowing global growth, a peaking domestic economy, high multiples, too-high interest rates (a favorite of the President’s), disappointing revenue growth in the recent quarter, the effect of tariffs (a favorite of the President’s critics). My advice: The market will fluctuate. Keep in mind, stocks are up almost three-fold in the past nine and a half years. On the other hand, the CAGR of the DJIA has been a modest 4.4% since the 21stCentury began. GDP for the third quarter was reported plus 3.5 percent, driven by domestic consumption and defense. Consumer sentiment, at 98.5%, is the strongest since 2000. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969, with Black and Hispanic unemployment at all-time lows. Labor participation, however, remains low at 62.7 percent. For the first time in its history, GE turned to an outsider (but board member), Larry Culp, to replace John Flannery as CEO. The company also cut its dividend to $0.01, affecting 600,000 current and retired GE employees. Sears filed for bankruptcy. Brussel’s said they want to equip regulators with more direct oversight over London clearing houses. The UK objects. The U.S. sides with Britain. A top U.S. bank regulator warned Brussels that Europe’s banks could be cut off from U.S. futures markets, saying the EU was being “completely irresponsible.”


In other news internationally, Palestine was elected to lead the UN’s G77 group of emerging nations, even though it is not recognized as a member state. Meng Honqwei, a Chinese national and Chief of Interpol, was recalled home from his Paris office and stripped of his title. He is now feared dead. Kim Jong Yang of South Korea replaced him. A gunman in Crimea killed seventeen students and wounded dozens, in a shooting at a vocational college. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, was released from a Turkish prison where he had been held for two years. An aborted launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, due to a booster malfunction, left two astronauts – one Russian and one American – unable to reach the International Space Station. No one was hurt. Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings plummeted to 33 percent. He is seen as arrogant and out-of-touch. The death toll from the Tsunami that hit Indonesia in September has now been put at 1,550. William Nordhaus of Yale and Paul Romer of NYU shared the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for their work on climate change and innovation. A painting, “Girl with Balloon,” by the British street artist and prankster Bansky, self-destructed after fetching $1,4 million at Sotheby’s in London. In the decision as to whose face will grace the new £50 note, The New York Timescriticized the possibility of Margaret Thatcher. “She remains,” Amie Tsang wrote, “a sharply divisive figure decades after her tenure.” Meghan Markle announced she is pregnant with a baby who will be seventh in line to the British throne.

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the world series. Twenty people died when the limo carrying them crashed in the small village of Schoharie, New York. A white gunman killed two African-Americans in a Louisville, Kentucky supermarket. In an unusual move, government workers in California unseated Priya Mathur, CALPERS president. She was defeated by Jason Perez, a police official who criticized Ms. Mathur’s focus on environmental and social investing. Mr. Perez emphasized that the fiduciary responsibility of CALPERS is to maximize investor returns. Alan Dershowitz, a liberal professor emeritus from Harvard Law School, said that among the casualties of the Kavanaugh hearings was the ACLU, which claims to be non-partisan, yet spent over a million dollars to oppose Judge Kavanaugh. Hillary and Bill Clinton announced they would visit four cities this year and nine next year, for a “conversation.” The sight of old politicians trying to be relevant is reminiscent of William Jennings Bryant showing up in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. “Stormy” Daniels’ defamation suit against Donald Trump was tossed out and she was told to pay the President’s legal fees. Elizabeth Warren claims she was right, that a DNA test shows she is between 1/64thand 1/1024thNative American. She did not explain why she claimed to be Native American, when employed at the University of Pennsylvania’s and Harvard’s law schools. A memorial erected in 1925 to honor soldiers from Prince George’s County in Maryland killed in the Great War was found to be unlawful by the Fourth U.S. Court of Appeals, as the memorial’s cross shape violates the Constitution. If this decision stands, other memorials may be at risk, including, according to Jeremy Dys writing in the Wall Street Journal, “the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, the Argonne Cross and perhaps the Tomb of the Unknowns.” President Trump found a painting of himself he likes. It is an updated painting by Andy Thomas, which depicts Abraham Lincoln talking to Republican Presidents. Mr. Trump was inserted in the center, with his white shirt drawing the viewers eye.  Rapper Kanye West, wearing a red MAGA hat, visited the President at the White House.

Death claimed Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft at 65. Dave Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer for The New York Timesdied at 93. Joachim Ronneberg, who as a 23-year-old resistance fighter in Norway led a group that destroyed a German hydroelectric plant in 1943. His exploits were memorialized in the 1965 British film, “The Heroes of Telemark,” He died at 99. William “Bill” Coors, former chairman of Adolph Coors Co. and grandson of the founder, died at 102. He had continued to be the official beer tester until his 100thbirthday.

The world is fragile. As Americans, no matter our differences, we should recognize there is no country better equipped to maintain the peace. You don’t see refugees seeking asylum in Russia, China, Cuba or Venezuela. Refugees seem to instinctively understand our wealth is a function of capitalism, which stems from democracy; and that liberty emerges from a moral foundation, which allows for civil give and take of ideas. Don’t let it fail.

Tuesday is election day. Despite the dissonance and a plethora of dissidents, we are fortunate to live in this nation. Everyone eligible should do their duty and vote; it is a sacred right, unavailable to most people in the world and too infrequently exercised here. Welcome to November.