Christmas 2015

I am writing this just after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to relax with family and enjoy wonderful pies (also turkey). It is a respite from a troubled world.

And the world is troubled in late 2015. Syrian refugees are flooding Europe, Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris, in Beirut, in Mali. Russians flexing military might in Syria. Turks shooting down Russians. Our President trying mightily to appear he has a plan. He does not. Thank goodness for Pope Francis. He is in Africa spreading love and common sense on global warming. The Pope seems to be the only beacon of hope just at the moment.

Personally 2015 was a year of 50ths: my 50th Reunion at the Naval Academy and the 50th Reunion of our American Rhodes Scholar Class. Both were memorable

The Rhodes Reunion was here in Maine on a beautiful long weekend in mid-September. We had a fine group of almost forty scholars and spouses or significant others. The Reunion was a nice blend of discussion and Maine coast excursions. One highlight was an afternoon cruise on the Kennebec River in Bath as part of a tour of the Maine Maritime Museum. We saw a classic part of the Maine coast complete with historic lighthouses, as well as the beautifully restored shipyard that houses the Museum. We also had lively discussions of the issues of the day and about our post-retirement engagement. Who could ask for more.

The 50th at the Naval Academy was different, in part because we had over 700 attendees. Still, the bonds formed by the banks of the Severn are strong and unique. I was able to reconnect with several old friends and company-mates. I was part of the winning team at our Class golf tournament - a nice, if improbable, memory.

There were other memorable anniversaries. 2015 was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the battle that ended the Napoleonic Era in Europe. The battle could have gone to the French but for the timely arrival of the Prussians, causing the Duke of Wellington to famously remark "It was a close run thing". Of course, we devotees of Admiral Horatio Nelson believe the French fate had been sealed a few years earlier at the Battle of Trafalgar.

2015 was also the 150th anniversary of Alice going down the rabbit hole. This event has engendered many reminisces including a new biography of Charles Dodgson, the Oxford don who penned the work. All of this prodded me to get out our copy and try to re-read it. It is a strange and bizarre tale. The Disney version was much more fun.

On the sports scene in 2015 let us acknowledge the Rugby and Cricket World Cups. The Rugby World Cup this fall in England reinforced the dominance of New Zealand's All Blacks, continuing a remarkable run of global victories. The New Zealanders convincingly dispatched Australia in the final. But as a South African friend said, the game of this tourney was the semi-final with South Africa. The All Blacks prevailed 20-18 in a hard fought battle of attrition.

The Cricket World Cup was a wonderful event held in New Zealand and Australia this spring. Australia, the favorites, prevailed in the final against host New Zealand with some remarkable bowling. However, the match to watch was again a semi-final, this one the match between New Zealand and South Africa. The match came down to the last over (an over being 7 balls or "pitches" in baseball parlance). This close a match is almost unheard of in cricket. New Zealand won it on a "six" (something like a home run) on the next to last ball. Check it out on YouTube. It may make a cricket fan of you.

On more serious matters I recommend two books: The Founders and Finance, by Thomas McCraw and Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Thomas Putnam. The Founders and Finance is the story of how Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin built the US financial system. It is an extraordinary story, particularly from the perspective of Alexander Hamilton - a founding father who has rarely gotten the recognition he deserves.

In Our Kids Robert Putnam, an accomplished sociologist, has documented just how far we have moved from the American Dream. It is sobering. He tells this from the perspective of his home town, Port Clinton, Ohio. Putnam opens his book with "Port Clinton in 1959 is a good place to begin because it reminds us how far we have traveled away from the American Dream". If you still believe in the Dream in which the kid from the other side of the tracks works hard in school, goes on to college and finds wealth and happiness, think again.

Our kids deserve at least the same chance we had. They are not getting it. The vast gulfs of income inequality have all but devoured the American Dream, making the odds way too long. There are things we can do about this. Putnam offers practical suggestions.

As 2015 closes I look back on much that is disturbing in our country. We seem to have lost the knack for problem-solving that has been such a part of the American experience. If I had just one wish for my country it would be to recover that vital piece: the willingness to tackle big problems. We have so much to build on.

My best wishes for a 2016 filled with problems little enough to solve.