Sunday, October 12, 2008


Hockey Moms vs. Friends of the Bat: The dynamics of economic confidence - Sarah drops the puck

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill at 10/11/08

In this season of the leaf, coyotes come in packs howling and chanting as if one with the night when the moon clears in the frosty air. It is more stirring to the soul than the Mozart high mass in the 1607 cathedral we visit occasionally in Montreal: Lao Tsu’s phrase sails in – Why do you want to change the world? The world is perfect as it is.

And with the leaves appear the peepers as well – in buses ending a journey from as far away as Japan. We try to look folkloric for their cameras as they are good for the local economy.

Friends and family appear as well in leaf season, but in these visits a life of division has occurred. We lived and worked professional in NYC but for the last 18 years have been on a farm at the edge of Appalachia rearing kids and raising sheep, then closer to the woods here in the White Mountains.

Friends visiting from below require watching because the coyotes are adapting to them. Without prior warning visitors will strike out into the woods with dog on leash. Sometimes they come back with only the leash. The coyotes, and the wolves higher up, have learned that a dog on leash makes for a tasty snack in the season of sparse food supply. (Note to visitors: Collies will fight to the death even with bears and make joyful companions. Most others succumb.)

Bears too bring issues. And bats and fisher cats. Fishers will come right up to you on the porch when you are sitting with your cat and carry her back to the woods.

Bears are our friends but they are bears. Bats too. They eat mosquitoes. A NYTs columnist who keeps a few Murray McMurray chickens on the outskirts of New York City writes about bats chirping contentedly like tiny flying elves and roosting like chickens above his bedroom in a dreamy sleep. He appears to have informed an entire generation of leaf peepers as to the nature of our friend the bat.

We’ve actually had up to a hundred bats nesting for so long in one of our old houses that their urine sank the ceiling and composted the rafters. It was a challenge to get rid of them when we bought the house because no one knew how to. It can be a terrifying awakening to find a half dozen of them trapped inside a room on that exact moment every spring when the light and temperature is exactly right and they awaken together circling children sleeping. But all of our city and suburban visitors are all friends of the bat.

I sometimes wish they were better informed because when new people come up here to visit and often in later years when they stay to live and a bear comes into their yard to take their bird feeder back to the woods, they find it charming the first time. Next time it is annoying. Third occurrence they call the police or some state agent who comes to take the bear away. I think they imagine that they are taking the bear off to some desolate place far away from people. But the new urban arrivals have inadvertently tamed the bear and conditioned its behavior and the bear will often be killed to keep him from coming back.

Likewise the bats. The joy of watching humankind’s hope eating up all the mosquitoes – symbiote to our own evolution apparently - fades quickly when just one gets in the house. And out of nowhere that primeval terror – genetic memory maybe – of bats in the hair screaming bloody murder at night alone in the forest.

Again, as with the bear, the bat dies. Because the new people will call the exterminator. It is the easiest thing in the world to get rid of bats without injury to them or anyone else once you get the swing of it, but I am the only person I know who knows how to do it other than the guy I learned it from at a bat store in Ann Arbor. The local papers which pitch to the new people regularly run a bats-are-our-friends piece every spring when the bats awaken. They have never run a how-to-get-a-bat-out-of-your-house (or hair) piece. So they call the exterminator.

But what I find troubling is that people love bats in the first place. Bats do not want people to love them. They do not like you. They want you to be afraid of them and over the millennia have developed effective ways to frighten you half to death with astonishing skill which I have experienced again and again, occasionally 30 feet up on a ladder.

How did these city and suburban people come to develop this friend-of-the-bat thing in the first place?

I bring it up because I love bats myself but feel that is because I have an intrinsically dark nature and always identify with the coyote when she dines al fresco on a tasty little dachshund visiting from Brooklyn Heights rather than the critter eaten.

What is going on here is class division. Apart from the occasional Brahmins, beautiful in facial structure, with huge hands but sometimes toothless and often living these days by selling firewood off family land (most have moved to Colorado or Alaska or are on the Supreme Court); you see them occasionally at the country fair, there are two kinds of people who live up here. The people who cross country ski or planned to when they came up here, and the people who ride snow machines.

This is a critical division in America today and that is how it plays out up here. It is a clear division between the working class and what I would call the upper-working class. Upper working class because all of the people I know and most of the people in this region are one-generation, two at the most, away from kin who worked either in field or factory. And like the fishermen turned banker in Iceland then back to fishermen, these past weeks many of these also began their journey back.

They feel that they have risen to higher ground, so to speak, but the grungy working class still snaps at their heals. Classically newly arrived people in the middle class despise the working class from which they rose (see The Sopranos). But middle class is an in-between state – neither master nor man is Tolstoy’s phrase - and really unsustainable for a vastly large group over a very long period, and the oldest blues tunes inform us to stop on the red and go on the green and don’t you get caught by Mr. Inbetween. But there we are; desiring the chaired professorship at the highest levels, Harvard and Yale, even a spot on the Supreme Court, but still with the demands of lumpen proletariat and calling on the feds for health care, 401k, retirement and more and more to ease the pain of aging alone.

The needs and demands of the 40 million or so my age in the friends-of-the-bats class are, in the long term, unsustainable and today the fate of our country hangs on this division between them and the snow machine drivers.

This division goes way back. I would mark the cultural beginnings to a very specific event. In 1977 when a large swarth of the upper working class began to identify with two guys on the radio to fix their cars with common Boston accents like my own because they went to MIT and one of them teaches at a university someplace. This was a fatal pretension. That’s not what you want in a car guy. What you want is photographs of the chief with his arm around Dale Earnhardt at the Wilkesboro track proudly displayed, like in Mike Lavoie’s garage here in my town.

In an earlier day, this condition of the upper working class was called lace curtain. It meant that people in these parts who worked generally in factories, saw themselves as rising to a higher level and disavowed the fellow workers to take a job say at a car dealership. In the South, where people are more religious and identified more with church, I’ve seen it where someone would get a raise or a new management position and change religion form Baptist to Episcopalian.

It is important to think about this now because this class division is taking a coherent political shape due to the fiscal crisis. There are actually three things working together now: the fiscal crisis, the 10-to-one calls to Congress in opposition to the bailout and Sarah Palin.

There was a time when people voted 10-to-1 on an issue the Democratic Party identified with the 10. No longer. Today both parties identify with the one. The Democrats left the common people behind with the Clinton/Hillary/Gore presidency. The common class were left to whoever would take them. From then till now, even since Reagan, the old industrial class has been an amorphous force, like the Pirandello narrative of actors looking for a play. They have needed a leader to crystallize their awakening and none was on the horizon.

But the Democrats, since becoming friend-of-the-bat and tuning in to Click and Clack have shown no interest. The Democrats today are the women in the room who come and go talking of Michaelangelo, who T.S. Eliot described in his end-of-the-world dreamscape of J. Alfred Prufrock. Profrock today would be their avatar, as Eliot wrote of the transition of a fierce culture born of Lord Nelson to one which spiraled in descent to hollow men who abandoned Sweeney, the common man of the Liverpool docks and the heartland and the hardy wellspring of any society. If you have no Sweeney you have nothing and the Democrats today have abandoned Sweeney.

The fiscal crisis could crystallize this division and bring it to a fateful transition. There are three possibilities. First: It will be like the Great Depression. This is what the conventional wisdom says; the conditioned reflex of the horde and its daily press. It is almost always wrong because it looks only to past moments and not to the specific conditions of the present crisis. Two: This crisis will be for New York like the crisis of 9/11, as NY mayor Mike Bloomberg says. Much more reasonable by a man who is smart and mature in judgment on these matters. 9/11 occurred when we were not prepared for crisis but were still in the delusion of the Clinton era expecting the stocks to go up to 35,000. This time we are prepared for crisis and someone like Bloomberg is likely to handle it better if he is allowed to. Three: Applying the perspective of psychoanalyst Edward Edinger who sees in theory an “eros” moment bringing down all cultural (“logos”) systems; a brief glimpse of the coyote alone in the woods and the masqueraders see themselves momentarily in the generational house of cards it built. A systemic shutter appears through the entire system when it all appears as vanity and self-aggrandizing illusion. That is where Sarah Palin came in and that is the terror she sends to the hearts of the eloi, globally well invested in the dual-headed Eastern establishment. The crisis and the announcement of Sarah Palin as VP were parallel events.

If the Edinger-type scenario is the operative one, the market shock is primarily a psychological one which exposes the inherent weakness of the entire global economic system. This is important because we have heard consistently on the best of the talk shows all week that the core of our economic system is “confidence” but not once have we heard about the actually dynamics of confidence in economy and government; a cultural issue from which all the technical issues evolve. If this scenario is correct the markets will begin to repair shortly. Possibly by the end of the week.

If so, Bush could be seen as a hero who saved the world in two weeks (Halloween, thereabouts) and McCain/Palin will rise. If the crisis persists, Obama will proceed.

But today anger is growing. As CNN reports, one man at a McCain rally said he was "scared of an Obama presidency." McCain later told the man he should not fear Obama.

"I want to be president of the United States, and I don't want Obama to be," he said. "But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as President of the United States."
McCain's response was met with boos from the crowd.

The anger now in the McCain camp is anger between red and blue states and class anger between common class snow machine riders and leisure class friends of the bat.

No matter what happens in this election. Sweeney must be acknowledged. Sweeney is god king and always determines the fate of a country so long as there is still life force left in that country.

Peggy Noonan writes that the Tina Fey caricatures of Sarah Palin are an act of love. They are not. They are a defensive strategy of the waning leisure class against Sweeney who threatens to overpower them now that he has found his forest spirit. And tonight anxiety runs high as she drops the puck among the most badass of all Sweeneys, the Broad Street Bullies, at the Flyers opener in Philadelphia.

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