Friday, October 31, 2008


Obama and Elvis: Not far from the maddening crowd

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/31/08

Obama took this region by storm around February some time – only eight months ago - around the time of the will.i.am video, which rhapsodized a very good speech he gave here in New Hampshire featuring the phrase, yes we can, the night he lost to Hillary. Now with just a few days left, elation appears to be yielding to apprehension here in the north country of New England.

You see several opaque manifestations: They are not raising much money in the hills; there are not many signs; almost no one comes to the door except school children recruited by Obama-leaning and perhaps obsessed teachers – those who were timid at the beginning of the war on Iraq when they were needed to be brave, now feeling empowered.

Many of those who opposed the war on the first day and on every day thereafter until Robert Gates took over appear to be turning away. Obama did the right thing in opposing the war, said one critic, but his rave run for President compares to the Spice Girls and the spice quickly wears off when the likes of Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel join the group. A local political cartoon this week says as the leaves turn, so liberals turn conservative. And not even waiting for the election, an old trusty stalwart of Yankee character and independence, who writes a column in Vermont, bemoaning the lack of a center in politics today has begun to grumble about a third party. It is all quiet here in the mountains.

I can think of one reason for this, and this is why I backed away from Obama: the crowds. It is not his doing; it just happened that way, but the Obama phenomenon can now be compared to the scratchy TV images my mother made us look away from when Elvis danced on the Ed Sullivan Show and teens swooned and tore at their clothing; when he arrived at the airport, some had to be carried out in ambulances. They faint at Obama speeches as well. I’ve seen them do it, and Obama is smooth as silk when it happens, calling for help in a calm voice; it’s all part of the happening, all in a day’s work. But this is why John Lennon stopped The Beatles from doing live concerts; they were wheeling down paraplegics to watch from the front row and it gave him the willies. They had come to see him as savior of some kind and Lennon saw a kind of madness growing in the crowd. Likewise Obama, today perhaps.

There is much not to like about us here in the northern mountains. Many of us come here because people on the flatland don’t like us and we don’t like them. But one thing to our credit: We do not like crowds and we do not like being part of a crowd. That is why we come here. It diminishes us as individuals. Our spirit fathers, Emerson and Thoreau in particular, speak in opposition to it at every turn and it goes against every grain in our traditional New England character. The size of the crowds; a 100 thousand in Colorado, the Obama chant – yes we can, yes we can, yes we can - may be having an effect up here.

And it may be telling us something about ourselves, something even possibly about the crowds which grew with Elvis and The Beatles. Nothing like this happened in America prior to WW II; we found our God in small and unpretentious rural churches, stone urban cathedrals and subtle synagogues. It may be telling us that we have become something in time unintended by the Founders; that 240 years of free and unfettered democracy has turned us out of the republic - and a republic specifically requires full individualism for both the fey and the rugged - to faces in a crowd.

Fouad Ajami has some thoughts on this in a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal.

“There is something odd -- and dare I say novel -- in American politics about the crowds that have been greeting Barack Obama on his campaign trail,” he writes. “Hitherto, crowds have not been a prominent feature of American politics. We associate them with the temper of Third World societies. We think of places like Argentina and Egypt and Iran, of multitudes brought together by their zeal for a Peron or a Nasser or a Khomeini. In these kinds of societies, the crowd comes forth to affirm its faith in a redeemer: a man who would set the world right.”

The crowd is based on an illusion of equality, he says, citing Nobel laureate Elias Canetti’s classic Crowds and Power. Its quest is for that moment when "distinctions are thrown off and all become equal. It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd."

These vast crowds turning out for Obama in St. Louis, Portland and Denver are a measure of America’s distress. This election has at its core a desire to settle the unfinished account of the presidential election eight years ago, says Ajami. It is the rematch that John Kerry had not delivered on.

That is why I think some of us have turned away up here. I opposed the war on the first day out of Buddhist principles first begun to be acquired 41 years ago when I saw people die in warfare and was part of the theater which brought their deaths. It taught the lesson that expediency and accommodation of the crowd is the dependable tool of those who seek war: the crowd can always be counted to appease power until the going gets rough. But I have no grudge today against Bush, Rove or Cheney. They did what they had to do and I did what I had to do. The war is over. Let’s go on to the next thing. If we both act with character to our beliefs and experiences we will rise to be a stronger country. But it takes longer; years, decades, millennia perhaps. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.

In making the case for Obama today, Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan agrees with Ajami that Obama’s “runaway train” serves as a practical rebuke to the past five years. But she says it needs rebuking.

That is the problem: Rebuke is the way of the Revenge Demon; it is the weakling’s path to opposition - those who were not brave when they were needed to be brave, but came later when the path was safe to express their venom. They are driving the train. This is what poisoned the culture in the 1970s in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam and could do so again today, turning this crowd into a horde.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The McGovern Effect

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/29/08

I felt we were getting back to the McGovern effect during the first days of the fiscal crash when Massachusetts representative Barney Frank took the mike on Capital Hill. It was the I’m in charge moment for Frank who has been waiting for as long as I can remember for his close-up. He’s been around my neighborhood half my life as he represents the town where I grew up; smoking cigars and chattering on Boston’s all-night TV shows and generally offering up kookie amusements whenever the camera happened to turn in his direction; bon mots and insider jokes; references always coded to amuse our own kind and geared to tweak or offend the others, which was practically everybody west of Amherst.

So there he was finally in the spotlight, telling the world, “ . . . my boy friend says I need a haircut,” and making references to Andy Kaufman, a Saturday Night Live comic who did Elvis impersonations better than Elvis, but who’s time had come and gone 35 years ago.

Now Saturday Night Live is back. They’ve recently even wheeled out Bill Murray of the original crew. Keeping Buddhist hours myself, I’d forgotten all about it. Saturday Night Live was one of those post-Sixties generational bonding things like McGovern, Doonesbury and smoking dope that I thought pretty much passed into the ozone when John Belushi and Andy Kaufman did in the early ‘80s, and now I find it has remained dormant like Norma Desmond, waiting, waiting - 30, 40 years alone in the night on Saturday - waiting for the call from Mr. DeMille.

What is fairly astonishing in this return of the ‘70s with its politicians and cultural effects is that it feels exactly the same. There are even gas lines and nervous cries that the end is near with Al Gore playing the role of Carl Sagan. Frank immediately calls for a 25% decrease in military spending and John Kerry calls for an FDR-style federalization of everything. It is like a strange M. Night Shyamalan movie; the sudden return of a former day with nothing in between; no Reagan, no Bush, not even a Clinton. In fact, I think there is a new TV show like that – a detective getting lost in the 70s like we are – featuring Michael Imperioli as a cop in a Fu Manchu mustache.

We have what I think of as a McGovern ethic up here in New England; an attitude we took when he ran for president against Richard Nixon in 1972 which gave us a sense of moral superiority in failure. George McGovern lost 49 states to one, the one being Massachusetts, but this total failure – virtually an abdication of political will at a critical moment - is always thought of as a great victory up here. We like to fail. It may make us irrelevant but we feel more special than grungy snow machine riders and hockey players with no front teeth and lipstick wearers and people who have babies.

When I was working as a volunteer for Wesley Clark in his primary campaign up here in New Hampshire in 2004 his state director said with glowing heart, “It’s just like George McGovern again.” I knew we were finished.

I’m not so certain as the main stream of the press that Obama will win this; it is too much like McGovern times.

Douglas MacKinnon, the press secretary for Bob Dole had some thoughts on this recently in the The New York Times.

“Why do Democrats sometimes lose when all indications are that they will coast to victory?” he asked. “One reason that has gained traction in certain quarters is that the people who control the Republican Party understand and respect their opponents. Republicans think Democrats are wrong, but Democrats think Republicans are stupid, and that’s why Democrats lose.”

Now it has pushed all the way back, as far as it can go; all the way back to Barney Frank, Saturday Night Live and the crew at Elaine’s, New York’s fashionable upper east side spot where the beautiful people of the 1970s would go to see and be seen. The extreme edge of esoteric liberal culture feels it is taking victory.

MacKinnon repeated a story of the movie critic Pauline Kael for The New Yorker, who in the face of Nixon crushing McGovern in the 1972 presidential election allegedly said, “How can he have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”

While always vehemently denied, he says, much of the mainstream news media is more comfortable with the mindset of the left and of Barack Obama.

MacKinnon also looks at the ugly side of this equation. Race is going to be a factor in this election, he says. How much, no one knows. A New York Times/CBS News poll gave some indication when it found out that “one-third of voters said they knew someone who would not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black.”

There is another aspect to this. I was in a group last week where we were asked how many people don’t wear seat belts. Only one raised the hand, but in this live-free-or-die state where it is legal not to wear seat belts, 45% do not. When there is a moral or ethical quality to a question asked in public people often take a complex, opaque, Jesuit approach in orienteering toward the truth. It might not make any difference if someone asks who are you going to vote for, Bill Clinton or Bob Dole? But when someone asks, who are you going to vote for, John McCain or Barack Obama, the question can be heard to have subtle intent or to imply at least in shade or degree: Would you vote for Barack Obama for President or are you a racist?

Doug Wilder, the black governor of Virginia between 1990 and 1994, had a 10% lead in the polls and won by only one percent.

Here in northern New England where conspicuous display of political piety is part of our vanity and self inflation, there seems to be little enthusiasm for this race. Only two people have come to the door for Obama, one of them nasty, compared to 2004 when we had a constant stream of solicitors for weeks on end.

And 200 yards away in Vermont, the most liberal of all states, the conservative Republican governor, Jim Douglas, who reminds Bush of Bob Newhart, has raised $1.25 million in his reelection campaign while his Democratic challenger Gaye Symington has raised only one-third of that, $493,545.

Money talks. And up here it is saying something different than the pollsters are.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Tibetan Prayer Flags as Economic Indicators: Laffer – “The Age of Prosperity is Over”

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/27/08

Last year, Arthur B. Laffer co-authored a book titled The End of Prosperity. Today he has an opinion piece worth reading in The Wall Street Journal. Little did we know then how appropriate its release would be earlier this month, he writes.

The day ahead is not auspicious he writes: ” . . . just watch how Congress and Barney Frank run the banks. If you thought they did a bad job running the post office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the military, just wait till you see what they'll do with Wall Street.”

But “Who knew?” asked Alan Greenspan, in televised hearings this week on the financial collapse.

As we work our way through the “stages of grief” - L. Gordon Crovitz’s phrase - it might be worth while if only in hindsight to note that a brave few who systematically analyzed the passages of history did know and predicted the downturn. One of the most prominent books on history’s critical turnings in the last 15 years, The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us about America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, predicted collapse in or near America’s 60th post-war year. This is the 62nd post-war year

“Just after the millennium,” the authors wrote, “America will enter a new era that will culminate with a crisis comparable to the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. The survival of the nation will almost certainly be at stake.”

Economist Harry S. Dent also predicted it: "This is like winter coming,” he says. Dent, an author and consultant told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. is headed for a slump that will last until 2020. It will take that long for the financial wreckage from this boom-bust cycle to be cleared away and for the 79.4 million strong “Millennial Generation” -- most of whom are still in high school or college -- to enter adulthood and start buying homes, cars and gadgets of their own.

“It happens once every 80 years,” Dent says of this sort of demographics-driven economic cycle. “It's going to be difficult.”

Both these projections work on theories of historical cycles which indicate that history runs in 80-year cycles and the cycle ends after the third post-war generation, which falls 60 years after the post-war “creation.” The entire culture and all of its generational furniture, themes and artifacts travel through a fully-predictable human process much like that which follows inherited money: After three generations there is generally nothing left.

The Strauss/Howe perspective is based on theories drawn from observation by Roman historians. But ancient Taoist philosophers and Zen mystics also found the 60 year, three-generation break.

Indeed, it is everywhere in the east, even flying on Tibetan prayer flags in the Himalayas.

The sequence of Tibetan prayer flags reflects the human progress of rise and decline from birth to death in individuals and in cultures as well. The flags fly in this sequence: white, red, green, gold, dark blue.

In the current American cycle: White - birth (1945, Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at Yalta); Red - the power awakening (Eisenhower’s 1950s - building America’s coastal economy and subsequent world economy); Green - spiritual refreshment and renewal (John Lennon leads The Beatles to the East; Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; the Summer of Love – 1967 - the Sixties in the spiritual sense); Gold (Reagan/Clinton period in which wealth reaches its top - "the golden years"); Dark Blue - death, or as Tibetans see it "the between" – end of the life cycle and return to the Earth Mother. The cycle begins again with White – rebirth - 20 years later.

In the Strauss/Howe perspective the “death” in the last historical cycle began in 1929. The reawakening began in 1946; 17 years. As we find economic "death" today in 2008 as Laffer and Dent imply, rebirth should begin around 2025.

Good to know as world capital flees to the yen.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Who’s Afraid of Sarah Palin? – “ . . . the Black House . . . “ - the Howard Dean Syndrome – Sarah & Arnold Schwarzenegger: McCain’s Mother and Child Reunion

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/23/08

It is panic in the streets just below here in the liberal corner of New England. Not since Neo’s mythic Journey into the Unconscious has a woman in a red dress caused such a glitch in the matrix. In the end, it is a Red State/Blue State thing and red dress is having a catalytic effect.

With “ . . . denunciations mounting . . . “ a law professor at UC Davis writes in the LA Times that it is time voters had the right to split their tickets, although it doesn’t seem possible yet that Sarah Palin is so great a threat to the Republic as FDR’s enemies saw him to be when they rigged the system to set term limits, or when they prevented Alexander Hamilton from becoming executive by outlawing the foreign born. Like a writer censured, exiled or blacklisted, she must find it flattering.

And back east here at MIT there is a big conference to get rid of the Electoral System, an attempt at each and every time they try for the blue states of the east – NY East – and the west – NY West – to disenfranchise the red states of the heartland in the middle. But the heartland has found its champion. As Gerald F. Seib of The Wall Street Journal writes: “She has star power. And the bottom line is this: On Nov. 5, she will be either vice president-elect or the best-known young figure in a Republican party that will be angry, disenchanted with its existing leadership and probably ready to rebuild around a conservative core that loves her. Either way, she is and figures to remain the biggest fund-raiser in her party, which is a sure way to win friends and allies. In short, the excellent adventure of Sarah Palin will continue.”

*

We are at a major turning of events no doubt, but it is still in the churning phase. As predicted (by Dick Morris) the polls are beginning to flatten out as voting day approaches. An AP poll since October 15 (after the first phase of the crash) has Obama at 44% and McCain at 43%. But Obama has not only lost his big lead, he has also lost that terrific smile that first attracted the general run of us to him. At times he appears now on the verge of grim.

It was a mistake to randomly suggest that Colin Powell might find a place in his administration. The horde appreciated it at first, but those who opposed the war in Iraq should question his judgment. Powell was key enabler and patsy to Cheney/Rove/Wolfowitz and Co. and to some important degree the invasion hinged on Powell’s endorsement. And it was a “feeling” rather than a “thinking” administrative decision on Obama’s part and provides a clue to how he would make decisions in the Oval Office; the way university committees and benevolent associations like the Walter Annenberg Foundation make decisions and appointments. After Powell’s disgraceful performance at the UN in which he presented false evidence for WMDs in Iraq, for which his life’s work will unfortunately be remembered, the chance of him serving in any other administration, Democratic or Republican, would hover around zero. Now comes the endorsement of Scott McClellan, Bush’s former press secretary who was not brave when he needed to be brave but only later when the book contract opened up, whose nature is neither hot nor cold; a simple expedient and man without a country.

And that nice elderly lady who said she’s been waiting all her life for this – a black president – sort of touched the heart in a mawkish way at first, till she went on to say that an Obama victory would be turning the White House into the Black House. The phrasing was repeated with √©lan and enthusiasm by a well known and well distinguished Princeton professor on The News Hour the other night and Gwen Ifill quickly cut him off. It is a bitter perspective and one from which creativity rarely rises through.

I spoke briefly to Obama up here early on and felt the original charge that awakened his personality was positive and creative and I am sure of it. And this is not what he thought he meant to people at all, and it is no help. But that is what he is getting now and we are seeing apprehension: Do those displaced and out-of-time entrenched in the university who channel delusion and nihilism from generations past and those on the street who harbor vengeance see Obama as their agent, their Revenge Demon, their messiah? Is he becoming an avenging angel to turncoat and coward and whole voting blocks and strata of people that he doesn’t really know very well and he probably wouldn’t like if he did?

Or is Obama now experiencing the Howard Dean Syndrome? The sudden uh-oh moment of awakening that this is no longer a liberal parlor amusement sprung on Oprah that might have with luck yielded a new job or a least a book, but now he could actually become President.

*

A long stab: Having been in the region at the same time he was and knowing more or less the same people, a feeling that what Obama learned at Columbia was more attuned to the economic and demographic issues of the 1840s, reprised again for the 1930s and modeled and adapted yet again to different times – to our times, but it never really fit and it didn’t work. And if he is elected in 2008, these ideas will not solve the financial crisis which is the only real issue as of last month, and Mitt Romney will be elected to clean the stables in 2012.

But if McCain is elected he will eventually take the advice of practical, capable and competent friends like Rob Portman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And people will like Arnold, who yesterday gave Sarah Palin a strong endorsement.

They liked Arnold 30 years ago when he first arrived in the movies it is said because Arnold brought the “strong man” archetype to movies and to the culture when we as a country had gotten weak and confused and celebrated our own failures and rhapsodized our disgrace and rationalized our defeats. We found compensation and equilibrium in the presence and image of a man stunningly strong and beautiful in the body on the screen; a real-life superman. “We need these archetypes,” said a well-known movie critic of the period. Take a look: We have become weak and confused again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


To Save the Economy, Turn East – John Kerry’s good idea

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/22/08

As the American economy goes the way of Iceland, technicians daily suggest new initiatives, and not just Keynesians or free marketeers like Ron Paul, but Chaos Theorists with more exotic ideas like the Black Swan theory, which warns us that the end of the world is possible - because anything is possible. Throughout, almost none have come up with practical ways to deal day to day as we roll into the future.

But NYTs columnist Tom Friedman has. And he has been relentless in keeping the stick on the ice. Issues of economy are about work and the way we work and our attitudes toward work will bring us through as they always have. Friedman is a practical cat, not driven by ideological drivel, but with a pragmatic approach to issues and consistently he has looked to India in the global economy, seeing a friendship there that could awaken America’s flagging work ethic and bring a vigorous new working partnership in which both our nations could thrive.

John Kerry, the Senator from Massachusetts, has recently reflected some of these ideas in an essay in the Asian edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Kerry also calls for closer cultural ties with India. The 2008 Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted this spring found that 66% of Indians had a favorable opinion of the United States, while 69% believed that U.S. foreign policy accounts for India's interests in last year's Pew survey.

Kerry sees in an Indian-American relationship advantage in foreign policy. But he also says, “U.S.-India relations must be about more than exchanging nuclear fuel or technology. The next president must work to achieve broad-based cooperation that reflects the shared principles, shared threats, and ever deepening ties between our two economies and societies.”

It stuck in my mind because recently I’d been driving through the old neighborhoods and found myself in a small city near Boston, one built after the great crash of 1837. By 1860 the economy was booming again and virtually every stone and brick house in this city would have housed an Irish family, some by then into their second generation, but most all of whom had arrived since 1840. The presence of the Irish in Boston changed the city to the point where it was considered an Irish city a hundred years later. But today, prominently displayed in the grocery store window of a recent immigrant was a large poster of Ganesha, the child of Shiva and Parvati with the head of an elephant, known in India as the Remover of Obstacles.

I felt it was perfectly natural there; a kind of homecoming. The Irish have all become Americans by now, and here was an image the earlier Transcendentalist poets and their political friends - Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Mary Moody Emerson, Theodore Parker – would have been perfectly familiar with, as they were fully inspired by Hindu influences. To the point that, when Emerson published a poem called “Brahma” in The Atlantic Monthly, the oldest New Englanders began to be called Brahmins.

If Kerry wanted to expand the India connection, there couldn’t be a better place to start than Boston and the New England regions. And there couldn’t be a better time as now we are at the break point of the old and the springpoint of the new.

The recent financial troubles bring a change in the world and if the contours of history are followed closely, it can be seen as a familiar change, although there has been little discussion of this in the daily press. But Joe White at The Wall Street Journal has been making relevant points.

“Baby Boomers have pumped up the global economy with their profligate ways for nearly two decades,” he writes. “It's been a great party. Now the music's over.”

But what Baby Boomers of all persuasions have done, he writes, without dispute and to an unprecedented degree, is spend money instead of saving it. During the 1990s, Baby Boomers accounted for about half of all consumer spending in the U.S., according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute study.

Baby Boomers are rounding into the final laps of their careers, says White, largely untested and unprepared for what could be the worst economic crisis in their lifetimes. The sluggish 1970s and early 1980s overshadowed the college years and early work lives of the bulk of the Boom generation. But with a few mild hiccups, it's been easy riding since then. Till now. Now the Baby Boomers are running out or cash.

And running out of options: “Some economists and demographers say the Baby Boomers themselves are driving the current turmoil.”

The problem is, there’s so many of them (of us). 79 million people born between 1946 and 1964.

"This is like winter coming,” Harry S. Dent, an author and consultant who says the U.S. is headed for a slump that will last until 2020, tells White. It will take that long for the financial wreckage from this boom-bust cycle to be cleared away and for the 79.4 million strong “Millennial Generation” -- most of whom are still in high school or college -- to enter adulthood and start buying homes, cars and gadgets of their own. “It happens once every 80 years,” Dent says of this sort of demographics-driven economic cycle. “It's going to be difficult.”

Unlike many economists, Dent and the demographers he talks about converge economy with culture and see a greater picture, because as some historians have written in the last 15 years, historical periods are made up of four-generation, 80 years periods. It is this that Dent refers to when he says that it happens every 80 years.

Briefly, the first postwar generation (Eisenhower) builds a matrix for the economy to grow. The second generation (Boomers) build the economy and the third generation (Gen X) fulfills it. Then in the 60th year it begins to die. If you look to the previous historical period in the U.S. (1865 – 1946), the culture began to sag in 1925 and Wall Street crashed in 1929, the 64th year and the end of the first three post-war generations. In the previous historical period (1776 to 1865) the great depression began in 1837, the 61st year into the cycle. As all Boomers know, the historical period is now in its 62nd year because we are all 62.

This could go on longer that Dent says. The honored tradition in the past historical cycle was for the man of the house to do the right thing and die at around age 60, leaving a widow to live a little longer. But the boomer generation has quit smoking and drinking and all the bad things, works out at the Y with a personal trainer, eats tofu and does tai chi. Men and women both could go on indefinitely. Or at least for 25 more years. That is a long time for the general culture to carry 80 million unproductive people. My next door neighbor is 107. The lady up the street who just passed away was 111.

Dent creates a practical picture, one based on generations and the demographics from which economy evolves. What becomes clear is that at this point – the 60 year break – it is not a case of economy rising and receding but of one historic period ending and another entirely different one starting again in ten or 15 years. That is exactly what happened in the last historic cycle. The old world ended in 1929 and a new world began in 1945. And that is exactly what happened in the previous historical period. The old world ended in 1837 and a new world began in 1865. And that is exactly what is happening today. The old world ended in 2008.

It will take awhile to begin again.

The next President may be the least fortunate as it will take awhile for the realities of the new economy and culture to sink in. By 2012 we may begin to gain perspective.

Of the last two cycles, it is questionable as to whether or not the federal government under FDR had any important impact on the economy. Some say it federal intrusion made it worse. It is clear however that the economy only awakened again after World War II; that is, war cured the economy. This should be studied and considered.

The earlier cycle where federal intrusion was minor in comparison had more auspicious results. And the reality is that the world we live in today here in New England started with the crash of 1837. To dig out, it required a massive influx of new citizens – millions of them – from Ireland to begin a new world on top of the old world and visions of a new ways of work on top of old bromides. New work, new culture, new ways of doing business resulted and created a new America. Such an influx of new citizens this time from India – millions of them – might do the same today.

New York mayor Mike Bloomberg has made the point again and again that immigrants have always been the lifeblood of American progress, wealth and creativity. They bring new attitudes. They leave the old behind and awaken the new. When new people come here they change and we change. The millions of Irish Catholics who arrived in Unitarian New England in the 1840s overwhelmed the states, but they were later relied on to fight in the Civil War. The Protestant business class eventually fled when they got the upper hand, as Prescott Bush and his class did, to Texas. But in three generations his sons would embrace Catholicism, the core of contention between their classes since 1558.

India has population issues today just as Ireland did in 1840. A couple of million Hindus working at all levels of the economy would have a cheering effect and a positive influence here in New England. And there would be little culture clash between Hindu and Christian up here as we don’t get that fired up about those things.

And given the history of the Brahmins and the Transcendentalists, it is not exactly the same as going to an alien and hostile place as the Catholics of Ireland who sailed to Boston did. Emerson’s aunt retained the Vedic texts in her library, Thoreau argued the veracity of Krishna’s advice to Arguna on the field of battle in the Bhagavad Gita and Emerson and Thoreau went frequently to Alcott’s kitchen for discussion and study of the Hindu texts. The Ganesha poster seemed a harbinger. Maybe it is, to paraphrase Chief Joseph, that the spirit of the Brahmins still walks among us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Make New York City the 51st State

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/21/08

New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg usually gets what he wants and having more money than Canada doesn’t hurt. What I like about him is that he doesn’t seem to mind the money and it doesn’t seem to get in his way, and with approval ratings that sometimes spike at 80% in a very cranky city, most others don’t seem to mind.

But Reuters reports that New York City voters are split on whether Bloomberg should be allowed to run for a third term and 89 percent believe the issue should be decided by a referendum, not the city council.

The Quinnipiac University poll indicated 51 percent of New Yorkers oppose extending the city's eight-year term limit to 12 years, while 45 percent support the move.

We should begin to get acclimated to breaking traditions to find greater relevance and versatility than we have been assigned by history in one-size-fits-all federalism. Much creativity in our economy and culture gets stifled simply because keeping the code that the Great Fathers signed on to in 1776 has become conditioned reflex. If a business or university ran by rules fixed 230 years ago it would be long gone.

The Protestant Ethic is over. Welcome to the participation mystique. Nature brings us forward and the states and regions should adapt their circumstances to meet the challenges and changes in the culture of the times. Bloomberg and his buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger are two of the most innovative politicians in the country. At a time of crisis; at a time of new beginnings, we need to find the best among us to bring us forward and sign on to them the freedom they need to fully manifest their abilities. The last two presidential administrations have not done so.

And RE Bloomberg’s buddy Arnold, it is only situational political sparing which prevents one not native-born from becoming chief. Like term-limits, it is ad hoc legislation designed to keep one specific individual from making progress in a vastly different historical era. World history sometimes shows its greatest leaps forward when a newcomer from out-of-town takes the helm, bringing new attitudes and strengths. That we block ourselves off from such historical awakenings is narrow and provincial.

But right now New York City needs its own awakening. Wall Street is down, the New York Times reads like a Christian Science Monitor for aging yuppies and the Yankees stink. It has been long sinking. Some say it was all over for New York City back in 1964. Much earlier, James Thurber is said to have written on the bathroom ceiling of The New Yorker, “Too late,” addressed to anyone who would look up.

And recently, the news has been nothing but bad. Bloomberg has been a representative figure for the city and his ideas, like taxing cars going into Manhattan and going green on the city’s cab fleet, are good ones, but his best initiatives have been stifled at the state level.

He might brush off an old idea that Norman Mailer and journalist Jimmy Breslin campaigned on when they ran for office in the late 1960s: Make New York City the 51st state. That would end the blockages and turf battles with Albany and make New York City an autonomous vortex of innovation. Making New York City and independent city-state would also give the city the cachet it deserves and the independence it requires for the full expression of its creativity. And it could bring capital back to Wall Street.

For Mailer, running for mayor of New York City was a work of both performance art and Mao theater. Once New York City became the 51st state, he said, he would have moved up to governor.

Likewise, Bloomberg would then be governor of New York City. It would give him the perch to see across the heartland and across the oceans east and west. And it would give New York City the freedom and autonomy a great, creative vortex needs.

New York City has little in common with the rest of the state. New York City should answer direct to the federal government in Washington and under some circumstances it should have the ability to go alone. California under Schwarzenegger and Connecticut under governor Jodi Rell have recently challenged the feds on environmental issues and have determined that under some circumstances they will go their own way. New York City should join them and should lead the way on these initiatives, but is hampered in doing so by Albany.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Obama should reject the Powell endorsement

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/20/08

Rose Kennedy is said to have asked at one point, “When are the nice people going to invite us over?” the phrase has a distinctive cadence for people of that realm. My mother likewise took the measure of people in the nice barometer, but it was late in her life and her important work was over. Nice meant not coarse, not vulgar or common. There had been a long history of that and now some success and they wanted people to act nice.

At the end of difficult and trying things you want something nice. You want the deaths in the house forgotten, the Depression, the swarming horde escaping the Famine and the diseases that wiped out entire blocks – the 100 who died to the one who survived as Pat Moynihan has written; the half of the family which died from tb and brown lung in the cotton mills, the suicides and murders and the chronic alcoholism which plagued the entire race; the rosaries, the mourning, the requiem masses; the scent of so many babies who didn’t make it past two and the silence of the dead which never went away.

At the end you want to forget all that. You want things to be nice. You want an Oldsmobile; a Hoover vacuum cleaner and a set of encyclopedias. You want Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney. Today she would want Peggy Noonan and Colin Powell. Today my mother would think they were nice and she would think that Barack Obama is nice too.

But nice has problems. Primarily, nice engenders cowardice. When all you want in a person’s character is the appearance of verisimilitude, you will readily sign on to the invasion of Iraq like Hillary, Bill and Joe Biden did, and like the 75% of Americans who followed their leadership. You will accept it pleasantly when a politician lies outright and without guile; bald face and direct as Colin Powell did when he presented phony evidence to the UN.

These are the nice people of today. What they lacked in their singular big career test – the Clintons, Biden and Powell and the others who submitted like Rusian peasants pulling their forelock to Bush, Rove, Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and co. – was character. And they left the rest of us at the mercy of the horde.

This war in Iraq was accommodated and enabled by those who did not stand up when it was the time to stand up. This war came about because people like Al Gore stood up against it nine months too late and Hillary stood up against it a year too late when the market surveys began to turn and Biden after that when everybody else was beginning to stand up. And Bill Clinton in particular, who never stood up at all, ever.

And it happened because these people allowed it to happen when everyone knew even at the very beginning that it was a lie. Wolfowitz, Feith and George Bush depended on these people: They were their most important allies. They knew they would accommodate and appease and not start to complain until the going got rough.

It could have been stopped if one man – only one – had stood up. Someone brave like Walter Reuther who stood up on the wall facing the armed federal goons and opened his shirt and challenged them to fire their first shots into his chest. It could have been stopped if one man or woman instinctively snapped to attention and faced the opposition as Anwar Sadat did in his very last moment. Or even someone like Cyrus Vance who stood up and walked out of the room on Jimmy Carter’s crazy, fanciful and irresponsible foray into the desert. Or someone like Eliot Richardson, who refused the criminally disturbed orders of the Nixon administration.

This war could have been stopped cold if someone had done the same thing to Bush/Cheney/Rove. Wesley Clark spoke up direct and he could have been that man. But no one knew who he was then. Had Colin Powell done the same it would have changed everything.

Powell delivered a speech to the UN on February 5, 2003, to make the case for the war on Iraq by presenting U.S. intelligence that purported to prove that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Powell showed slides alleging that Saddam had bioweapons labs mounted on trucks that would be almost impossible to find.

"It was anything but an intelligence document,” said Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s chief. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."

What the country needed at the time was someone widely respected like Powell to say no and because he was so widely known and respected, it was Powell’s responsibility to do so. It was his greatest test. It was his moment of truth. But Cheney/Rove knew they could count on him to be their patsy and he was. Had he resigned his post he could have saved the day.

In that regard Powell holds some of the greatest responsibility for the tragedy of the last five years: He was perhaps the one man who could have changed direction. That he didn’t do so was a primary failure.

Powell could have run for president in 2004 if he had taken Wesley Clark’s position on the war at the beginning and if he had walked out to the room as Eliot Richardson and Vance under different circumstances. He would have won in a landslide and he would have been America’s first black president.

But in fully supporting the Bush/Cheney war at the moment of truth Powell has shown himself to love his master more than he loved himself; that is, more than he loved the truth.

When the crisis moment came to decide to do the right thing or do what the boss said, Powell did the boss’s bidding.

Most people today don’t even remember that Powell is black, but that he crossed party lines to vote for Obama clearly brings it back.

I first supported Obama because he opposed the war in Iraq and I was reminded somewhat of Malcolm X by his clarity and presence. I say that in a good way. Because Malcolm, who came from the dark side of the Civil Rights movement, was one of those men who was not afraid to die even when he saw it coming. And like my mother, Malcolm had a way with words and divided his world as my mother did between the vulgar and the nice; Joe the Plumber and Peggy Noonan.

Malcolm called himself a “Field Negro.” But he had another name for those who found their way to the white man’s parlor and lived submissively there, trading loss of honor for social standing by doing “boss’s” bidding. And it wasn’t nice.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fast Food Journalism: The Great Depression in an Afternoon – Clinton is the god that failed; Obama the new planetary god king – McCain chooses the West.

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/18/08

Within moments of the first shock to Wall Street – just as Henry Paulson rushed into the room - the crisis was compared to the Great Depression. It is exactly like the invasion of Iraq. To crank up propaganda, apparatchiks, including McCain’s sycophant Lindsey Graham, were dispatched to the Stephanopoulos show to declare the bombing of the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon to Pearl Harbor; to compare the invasion of Iraq to the Normandy invasion and to imply that the capture of some random, bearded terrorist whose name and position has long been forgotten was as important as the Allied occupation of Paris.

It must be that little three-by-five card that all journalists today carry with them that says, “history repeats itself.” Actually, human misery repeats itself. The cycles of history and culture are far more complex and if they suggest anything in our time it is not the Great Depression and the Second World War but the division of American between red and blue and East and West in the first days of Andrew Jackson.

Most journalists today learned two things in college: John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. And they learned Lincoln in high school. So when history “repeats itself” it defaults back to one of those three. In the coastal realms east and west – the blue states – Jackson was never mentioned. It threw them off entirely when Jim Webb, the senator from Virginia, first brought him up in 2004. They didn’t know who he was or why he was supposed to be important. FDR is important. Kennedy is important. So everything that happens today relates to those eras and whatever happens next in the new world will resonate from those periods.

Obama first suggested JFK and he even gave a speech in Germany to pretend to be like JFK. Then after the moving tribute by will.i.am he began to seem to some like Lincoln. But today Obama, endorsed by The Washington Post and the LA Times, is the new FDR.

We read now virtually everywhere that Obama is a slam dunk. The New Great Depression is under control because the New FDR has arrived. Possibly the most myopic analysis is from Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post. He writes that since the fiscal crisis overlaps both nation states and continents, we need now a New New Deal, as anyone can see. But what the really onward and upward types should be looking for today is “ . . . a new planetary level of governance.”

These are the priests who accompany the conquistadors. Clinton was the god that failed: Obama is the new planetary god king. We better get moving. A second opinion is only denial and delay.

But we might note that FDR did not come to power in 1929, a week after the infamous Wall Street crash. He came to power in 1933, four years later and was well prepared to act on patterns that had persisted for four years. Maybe before we start, we take a glance as that recidivist offender, The Wall Street Journal, which reports this Saturday that the Dow actually gained 5% this week.

There is panic in the streets. But in one way the panic in this presidential race is not about the fiscal crisis but is about that collective soup which was the participation mystique of 1968 and the two groups which are still stuck and swirling in its vortex, those of their generation who admire Bill Ayers – and Ayers is given “tantalizing offers” from Harvard and dines with Professor Fish because a vast part of his generation, many of whom took sanctuary at the university in 1968 and never left, admires him and still feels represented by him – and John McCain. The one who bombed the Pentagon and the other who executed the Pentagon’s will and suffered for years as a POW. Clearly this moment is unresolved. But sometimes these moments are never resolved. Time moves on, leaving generations unresolved and tangled in its web.

The vision of Obama as planetary god king is an extension of Clinton. The same group saw Clinton that way and he certainly saw himself that way. But the trouble with Clinton one-worldism or Obama one-worldism is that the world outside our borders sometimes likes us and sometimes it doesn’t. It comes more naturally to the world outside to not like us and the world outside sometimes comes to like us a lot when we have a president who is unpopular at home. Generally, the world outside our borders – Europe in particular – sees America as a kind of extended New York, which it was from 1865 to about the mid 1970s when the red states began to awaken. But like New York and its western colony, Los Angeles, Europe is in almost full denial of the very existence of the South, the Southwest and the Midwest.

And that is what is awakening here since the mid-1970s; the natural rise of heartland America to actual power due to shifts in economy and population, yielding to the red states the ability to leverage power in the culture at large and in the political agenda. That is what is creating a panic today on the coasts, east and west. History is seeing its moment forward at the beginning of the new century. And red America – the indigenous America, which attends NASCAR races, which goes to the Baptist Church and the Assembly of God, which doesn’t have a passport and has never been to Europe, has found a champion who wears lipstick and is moving toward its awakening moment.

John McCain looks strangely happy these days although he is way down in the polls. I’ve never seen him so happy before. It is odd – he is starting to look different; a little like Paul Simon he is so happy. Mitt Romney understands it correctly: McCain is not happy because he thinks he is going to win although he might. In all of his writing McCain looks back well beyond Khe Sanh, Quang Tri and Kent State; he looks to his father and his fathers before and finds himself acting and sustaining that centuries-old continuum.

And here near the end of his life’s journey he has made one decision which could well be his final decision and the only historically important decision of his life. And possibly he is the only person on earth who could have made it: It was always beween New York and his Eastern friends or the West and his ancesters. And he has chosen the West.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Palin, Hitler, Obama, Farrakhan: The World Questions America’s Authority

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/16/08

With only a short time left a slight change sets in. The “lipstick” thing is finished with. Clich√© is the fast food which sustains the banality of the establishment press and this one has run its course. And Tina Fey, naturally reticent and a true artist, said, “I don’t know . . . ” when asked if she would be reprising the Palin schtick. To caricature is to possess and territorialize one’s other, as they say in Lost. There is no such thing as a joke. (Dr. Freud, no?) That they wheeled out an old hack and has-been like Bill Murray to steal her light must have been an embarrassment to her.

At some point the appearance of poor taste - even brutish poor taste - arises. Which is to say it is unfair. And Doonesbury, that Beetle Bailey for the Leftover From the Sixties crowd, which has always been unfair, suddenly brings questions to CNN as to whether Trudeau’s caricature of Palin is satire or bias.

It is, of course, bias, egged on and engendered possibly by those considered more enlightened like NYTs essayist Frank Rich, who two-weeks back presented a purely evil “satire” of Palin’s pregnant daughter. And NYTs essayist and foreign correspondent Roger Cohen, who informs us this week in a column on Palin that the quirks of history sometime bring “really weird” people to power. The Germans know all about that, he said; a mnemonic devise clearly designed to compare Sarah Palin to Hitler.

Yet in the same few days, the NYTs, for the first time as far as I can see, has run a front page headline calling Palin the most riveting speaker in the campaign season, which was well obvious to the 4,000 people who came out to see her yesterday here in New Hampshire and has been since she first took the podium. And Maureen Dowd, who has enabled the scorn of these Nantucket liberals all along, finally suggests that Sarah Palin may well be a fine wine not yet aged. (Is it not possible that Dowd and these others are just too long in the tooth?)

Mrs. Longfellow Deeds may not be sent back to Alaska quite yet.

And speaking of Leftover From the Sixties, Hillary Clinton’s very casual remark that there is about “zero chance” that she will run for president in 2012 is not so much about her actual intentions in 2012 as it is about her campaign’s self assurance that Obama will win in November and be the Democratic party’s standard in 2012. But this same self assurance has carried through the Clinton campaign and so far it has been a feature of their consistent mismanagement and failure. If McCain wins she will of course reconsider.

If enough light has begun to come into the room to see Palin as she is, the dynamic voice in the awakening of a new heartland phase of conservative politics, perhaps this rise from denial will also bring a reappraisal of Obama. That Sarah is not one of us is the one side of the coin. That Obama is our man is the other. The questions about the Obama ally, ACORN, allegedly initiating widespread voter fraud, are legitimate. Questions about Obama and his Three Kings - one a preacher as mad as Rasputin, one a Chicago gangster, one a terrorist - are legitimate.

It is tending to bleed through everywhere now. Jesse Jackson said: "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, the “decades of putting Israel's interests first” would end once Obama became president. This from someone who hates him and wants to castrate him. The anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan on the other hand, loves him and says more or less the same thing.

“I've studied Mr. Ayers's work for years and read most of his books,” writes Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in today’s Wall Street Journal. “His hatred of America is as virulent as when he planted a bomb at the Pentagon. And this hatred informs his educational ‘reform’ efforts. Of course, Mr. Obama isn't going to appoint him to run the education department. But the media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country's politics and public schools.”

Not long ago Obama’s views on education were considered visionary by no less than the conservative NYTs columnist David Brooks, who criticized McCain for not sharing in them.

This election is fully about the world financial crisis. If it booms again as it did Monday and sustains a boom over the next few weeks, McCain could still win. If it continues to decline - overnight the Nikkei dropped 11% - Obama will proceed.

But much more is at stake here. The fiscal crisis today could have happened at any time in the last year or in the next two years. It is not a coincidence that happened today and increases in intensity as the election grows nearer. There is no such thing as an accident. (Freud again.) The world outside our borders has come to question America’s authority. Maybe that steady hand on the tiller since Reagan - since Eisenhower - was only stabilized by Prozac. Maybe the angel left entirely when Manny Ramirez moved to Los Angeles.

The uncertainty of the presidential race and the questions of character and personality of the candidates could well be a destabilizing factor in the world markets. But in a crisis environment - and we have long been in a crisis of authority in this country - people at one point suddenly reach a solid state of sense and sensibility to face the crisis. Canada, my good neighbor an hour to the north which is very much like America but better behaved and more inclined to keep the stick on the ice, voted in legislative elections yesterday to retain conservative Stephen Harper’s group in office. Harper is considered a Canadian parallel event to George Bush. It could be a harbinger for McCain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

George Bush Saves the World

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/14/08

The Tony Auth cartoon in our morning paper shows a graph of the World Financial System with a snake moving downward and cut into pieces with each piece marked Britain, Japan, Europe, etc. Maybe they sent it up from Philadelphia and it just arrived. Paul Krugman, the economist at the NYTs has likewise been pitching the end of the world as of last Friday. He’s since won a Noble Prize for his visionary scenarios, most of which are dark. Krugman says he got into economics by reading Isaac Asimov in college. Possibly the Swede elders thought Krugman an appropriate dog to catch the bone after declaring the entire American race to be too stupid and linear to receive a prize for literature. I wonder if the Swedes knew that Krugman’s economics is Asimov fundamentalism?

What a difference a weekend makes. Today, the world crisis is over. Yesterday the stock markets jumped 900 points, the greatest single day gain in history. Last night the Asian markets jumped 15%. “World Stocks Soar on Bank Rescue Plans,” is the AP headline this morning. George Bush saved the world. And with two weeks to go before the election.

In new Quinnipiac University polls conducted in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal and Washingtonpost.com out today Obama has taken a significant lead over McCain in four battleground states, as much as 54% to 37% in Wisconsin. But look at the dates of the polling: The surveys were conducted from 10/8 to 10/12; that is, from last Wednesday to Sunday, the days of rapid slide and economic decline. Prior to the financial crisis, McCain and Obama were running dead even. Obama rose with the fiscal crisis, interpreted widely as being another issue of White House incompetence, like Katrina and the first inroads to Iraq.

But stocks and world markets could stabilize now. Comparisons to the Great Depression, ubiquitous in the press, were overwrought. Stocks in 1929 were in the hands of the very few and the very rich. Today, hundreds of millions hold stocks and such vast and diverse distribution is a stabilizing factor.

David Brooks has a thoughtful column on the economic dilemma in today’s NYTs. “Big government ahead,” he says and the times favor Obama: “What we’re going to see, in short, is the Gingrich revolution in reverse and on steroids. There will be a big increase in spending and deficits. In normal times, moderates could have restrained the zeal on the left. In an economic crisis, not a chance.”

Yes, but perhaps the fear and loathing has been over reported. The 900 point gain on Wall Street yesterday suggests that there is a large secondary wave of investors out there – out there around the world – ready to put up cash on acceptable risk just three days after stocks lost 20 percent of their value. Commentators last night on Nightly Business Report predicted a rise in the Dow Jones to 13,000 by Christmas.

Nothing succeeds like success. If Obama gained through perceived failure by Bush and Henry Paulson, McCain could well gain it back if their efforts in this crisis prove successful. Next weeks polls should be more telling.

We could be back to flat even in polling as we were at the beginning. But Obama has two problems now. His vital connection with the likes of Bill Ayers in the formative days of his career is casting legitimate shadows on his campaign. One has to ask, how could a politician with any serious ambition be so stupid as to start his political career in the house of two of the country’s most notorious violent radicals in their day? As McCain said the other day, Obama is a good and decent man. But he certainly is a rallying point for those who hate America, including his half-mad preacher friends and the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, who sees him as a messiah.

His other problem is the venomous nihilism of liberal bloggers. Liberalism has found its Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, not in just the one or two thugs on the radio, but in a horde of locusts on the internet. They have poisoned the air, much as the underground presses did in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when they helped to cripple the chances of main stream politicians like Hubert Humphrey. As it did in the day of hippie vs. hardhat, the country could well polarize again in opposition on November 4.

Early in his campaign Obama said he had little interest in the primary liberal blogs; he didn’t see much there. Unfortunately today, he is stuck with them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain Should Announce His Front Line Today: Romney, Portman, Schwarzenegger

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/13/08

By choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president, John McCain has upset the apple cart here and abroad. All of the expectations have suddenly flipped.

On the first initiative it was a masterful move: It brought him full into the race on an equal par with Obama when Obama’s ratings were soaring. It was a maverick move at just the perfect turning moment. It is time for another maverick move: McCain should publicly name his Cabinet today, particularly his minister of finance and that should be Mitt Romney.

A maverick should be the sparkling agent among the burghers and lawyers who carries the theme and keeps them alive and vital. But if McCain followed up with another maverick, or an odd ball or an edge city agent, the results would be disastrous.

And because of the global financial crisis we need to know now who the candidates would chose as Treasury secretary and perhaps chief of staff as well. The fiscal crisis is felt more deeply here and abroad than the war in Iraq: war is avocation, money is real.

What makes McCain an interesting man and an empathetic politician is his ability to get along with so many different kinds of folk; Ted Kennedy, the Dalai Lama, John Glenn, Arnold Schwarzenegger. On the other hand he has gambling pals and is chummy with a few crack pots. It makes for a full life.

The choice of Governor Palin has brought both flair and acrimony to the campaign. Not since the Baudelaire orphans encountered Count Olaf has the liberal press been so disarmed. The establishment press and its associated culture are seeing a vision of the future and they are not in it. But there is one legitimate question which arises from the choice of Palin. Will McCain fill the rest of his cabinet with mavericks?

A president’s cabinet should work best as a kind of “TQM quality circle”; a group of balanced personalities which form a kind of round table in which the chief executive is complemented, fulfilled and extended. The soul of such a team is best a rising spirit, and Palin well brings that spirit from the heartland much as Andrew Jackson did. But that spirit needs to be contained and institutionalized; managed and amended if it is to make progress and join history. It needs to be ordered and marshaled into a coherent package.

Naming the cabinet ahead of time is a fairly new idea brought up in the 2004 race. But what is the point of a maverick if not to open new ideas? If McCain named his cabinet today Obama would name his by Friday.

When Henry Paulson first rushed into the Oval Office with his bail out proposal, McCain first answered a few questions with Mitt Romney by his side. The country would respond to Romney as a stabilizing strength in this fiscal environment and while he wouldn’t be my first choice if war with Russia was on the horizon, I’d like to see him today – right now – committed to the McCain administration as an agent in the world fiscal crisis in a tangible way. A public announcement to that effect might even help stabilize the world markets, as the Republican agents in the Bush White House today appear to have lost their influence. And the Obama advisers who can potentially be seen in the Oval Office as per 2009 are a varied lot; some of whom bear responsibility for bringing about the disaster in the first place. It would be nice to know who Obama would chose as well. The age is upon us and it changes radically in just over two weeks. Part of what is driving the crash is a crisis of authority in Washington driven by uncertainty. This would help in that regard.

Romney said this weekend that what the country needs and what McCain needs is not a tactical plan, as we have been seeing from Paulson and the G-7, but a strategic and long range vision and plan. And possibly Romney alone understands what is freaking out the unfortunate Baudelaire children of Wall Street and the NYTs and causing this bad beginning: As he said in his speech at the Republican convention, the philosophical core of this series of unfortunate events which will invariable proceed, is a cultural division between Eastern Establishment and the rising identity of the western states.

An announcement of Romney might not only stabilize the rough financial seas. It would also accentuate the essential theme rising with the McCain candidacy. As NYTs columnist David Brooks has said, McCain is torn between the libertarian West philosophy of Barry Goldwater, and an actual heart-felt eastern liberalism found through collegial friendships in Congress with people like Joe Lieberman and Ted Kennedy. With the choice of Palin McCain has made his life’s decision and he has chosen the rising West. Romney is the perfect agent to materialize and advance this awakening spirit into policy and process.

McCain might announce a full front line. My choice would be Romney, Rob Portman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger is on the fence with a difficult condition in California, but it has now become a dilemma for clerks he seems bored with it. He would likely find a place in either Obama’s administration or McCain’s. McCain might seek a commitment.

A McCain administration featuring Palin, Schwarzenegger, Portman and Romney would form a Quaternity; an inspired package of spirit, order and managed execution – a “TQM quality circle” of excellence like we have rarely seen in post-war history. But the world outside lacks the psychological resources, character and imagination of the Baudelaire children and to some extent the faint-of-heart journalists who have gone apoplectic at the choice of Palin have legitimate concerns as to weather Body Miller, Madonna or the Bat Boy will suddenly appear in a McCain administration. But even Phil Gramm, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman in a McCain cabinet would have the country running to the Obama or Hillary camp well before 2012.

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.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Waiting for Spiderman: What Would Mike Bloomberg Do? (W.W.M.B.D?)

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/08/08

Steve Fraser, who writes about Wall Street, noticed the other day a banner in the crowd there that said, “Jump!”

It recalls an image of 1929 which has become a conditioned reflex: Wall Street bankers, the few and the brave in 1929, losing the fortunes overnight and jumping out of windows.

In the wake of the Wall Street crash of 2008, 1929 immediately comes to mind, and with it comes visions of Wall Street jumpers, soup kitchens and long lines of the unemployed stretching around corners. And it brings a panic call for Spiderman to come and save us again, incarnate as he was in that bygone era in the person of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We hear it everywhere. Rosa Brooks, the LA Times columnist says it is time for an FDR moment.

“Taking office during the depths of the Depression, FDR didn't just talk, and he didn't just tinker,” she writes. “He launched the New Deal, the ambitious package of relief, reform and recovery programs that most economists credit with helping steer the nation back to prosperity.”

Joe Biden started it, telling Katie Couric, "When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed," It was an instant Bidenism as Herbert Hoover was still president during the Crash of 1929 and Americans had no TVs. Tells you something right there. But we get the point.

Today there is a whole army out there of 60 and 70 somethings and older who have been waiting for the FDR moment for as long as I can remember and I can remember at least as far back as 1952, just like Joe Biden.

Two thoughts: First, Roosevelt was the great man of the day because he constitutionally refused to do what Biden and Brooks and probably a few tens of million of others want to do. When the crisis occurred, he ignored the conditioned reflex, which always looks to past scenarios and a world irrelevant to the changing and continuing circumstances. It would be to try to solve a problem using the wrong paradigm. Like trying to solve the military issues of WW II by asking what would Stonewall Jackson do? Or trying to solve issues in the tribal war in the deserts of Iraq by asking what would Eisenhower do? Roosevelt looked to current conditions in the new world order which evolved out of the end of a long labor-based industrial cycle with its own unique conditions and the rise to global prominence under Woodrow Wilson.

It is inconceivable that Roosevelt would look to solutions of 80 years past as we are asking leaders to do today – that would be 1853 in Roosevelt’s day. That’s exactly what Herbert Hoover would have done.

Second: Roosevelt’s programs did not bring the nation back to prosperity. World War II did. Military victory in Japan and in Europe did. Or better yet, victory in WW II brought the nation to a new prosperity as America had never been really prosperous in a uniform way before. These two elements – relief in the Great Depression and entry into World War II - cannot be separated. Roosevelt was smart and more than anyone in the professions in his era, he was a man of his time. He knew war was coming from his first day in office and everything else he did was secondary to that.

I can remember back to 1952 just as Biden can and like Biden, I grew up on the edge of one of the grimyest of mill towns in world history. My memory is different. In my town, there were 150 stone and glass cotton mills built in the mid-1800s. A million and a half Irish immigrants and French Canadians came to work in them including my father and all of my ancestors. They all went out of business or moved away starting in 1929. When I was born in 1946, just at war’s end, all the mills were empty. My father worked in the last cotton mill to close. He was the electrician. He shut the lights out.

It was a grim place to grow up. Many of us looked forward to getting out of town as soon as we could. Because the old economy never recovered. It ended. Then after the war a new kind of economy started again, but it was a very different economy and it started someplace else.

As a therapeutic exercise it might be worth while now to read Nicholas Baker’s book Human Smoke, which in spite of its biases and pacifist issues clearly and heavily documents the rise of Roosevelt and Churchill to prominence, on occasion illuminating their darkest corners. Because if we go into this financial crisis today with the same boyish wonder and idolatry we hold for leaders past we will fail. It is the same approach we took into Iraq.

Our situation today is entirely different from the crash of 1929. It is one thing to nationalize a nation of factory workers – they are already a kind of army – and something else entirely to nationalize a rich and varied economy of malls and yogurt shops, small manufacturers of high-tech items and niche markets; the primarily local business interests which have evolved since war’s end to fill the American wilderness. We will tend to think globally, as we must have been thinking in 1999 when the Clinton administration repealed the Glass Steagall Act and 90 Senators voted to do so, when the time may be coming to begin to think about acting locally and regionally, as Germany did this week when Angela Merkel declared that Germany would not support a EU-wide umbrella for Europe’s savings but a German one. EU is an abstraction and an avocation, its fate still to be determined. Germany is a real place.

Already, our usual rush to judgment and ill-conceived action based on conditioned patterns of thinking in crisis appear to have amplified our initial failure. The 700 billion bail out of Wall Street looks, as Mark Lander phrased it in the NYTs, like “ . . . a pebble tossed into a churning sea.” That is why it is called a crisis: because the conditioned patterns of thinking no longer work.

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been interesting to watch this week. Like Merkel, his first instinct was not to look to the vast external economic abstraction, but instead to look homeward. This week Bloomberg decided to seek a third term in New York, apparently abandoning any intentions of working on the federal level in a new administration. It is the right thing to do as it concretely addresses our first problem: New York needs to be cured because if New York fails we as a nation will fail.

Maybe only because we are from different local but interlinked tribes in the same place – Red Sox Nation - that I identify with Bloomberg’s style of leadership. On purely the tribal level as it plays up here, I’ve always had greater confidence in his ability to govern than other prominent local people like John Kerry, and even Jack Kennedy. Bloomberg has old soul as well as new soul as some in Boston’s currents do, so he isn’t blinded by novelty and when the shiny new toy fails it isn’t the end of the world. And I wouldn’t expect to see him with the What Would Roosevelt Do? (W.W.R.D?) bracelet or look to Jesus or Spiderman for solutions to current issues of economy and governance.

Bloomberg has a kind of classic managerial character which is the second or third called to solve the task after the first two have failed.

It may be our karma or punishment, which is probably the same thing, that we approach what might be one of our greatest challenges and conceivable a challenge to our very existence just five weeks before a presidential election and neither candidate appears to have a clue about economy.

But as Bloomberg said recently (but before the economic crisis), the next president will be an adult. A suggestion which I feel implies that we are better off in this than we would have been these past sixteen years.

He himself has considered running for president these last several years. I hope he hasn’t ruled it out in 2012 because few have followed the contours of our historical period as it arises to us with such grace and aplomb, abandoning political party identification as these antiquated and anachronistic orders become irrelevant to our evolving circumstances, and promptly leaving one career for the next as soon as the last has been accomplished.

In a speech in London this week, Bloomberg told the Telegraph that the global economy was ". . . facing the worst confidence crisis in our lifetime,” and that "the pain is going to be spread far and wide. . . . It is going to affect anyone who wants to borrow money to buy a car or a house or to expand their business or take out a student loan.”

But he rejected analogies to the Great Depression. "We have a short term crisis that we have to address. If we don't it could lead to something much longer."
How does the future look? "If it rains today I am disappointed that I cannot go out and play golf but I still think my golf game is good and that is what it is likely to be.”

Sage Taoist advice: We are and will be what we have always been. And to solve our problems we will have to find among us and bring forth leaders to act on our behalf, not in transformation, to make us something else we want to be or think we would be better off being, but to bring us back to ourselves and to do it successfully.

Monday, October 06, 2008


A Nobel Prize for Kurt Cobain

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/06/08

I was a little disappointed to read the other day that an American would likely not get the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.

"Europe is still the center of the literary world," not the United States, said Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize. He suggested that American writers were "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture."

He added: "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

Too bad. I thought Neil Young was sure to get it this time. Dang. Not even on the list.

“Thinking your mind was my own in a dream/What would you wonder and how would it seem?” I like that part – like the Taoist tale of the man who dreamed of a guru and in a moment of Awakening saw that the guru was dreaming of him.

And the next line: “Living in castles a bit at a time/The King started laughing and talking in rhyme.” Could be a scene right out of the Upanishads in which a cosmic vision of the Self emerges as the Sword of Discrimination cuts away day-to-day illusion. Nice.

About 100 years ago someone asked Bob Dylan who he thought was the greatest poet of the age. He said Smokey Robinson of the Motown group, Smokey and the Miracles. I did a little research and looked through the past few winners of the Nobel laureates for literature. Smokey wasn’t on the list either.

I don’t know. The people who decide these things are Old Swedish Men (Old Swedish Men of every race, creed, color, sex and sexual orientation, of course) and live in tiny little rooms in a cold and gnarly land like I do and they never go anyplace fun. I know they have never paddled the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Wisconsin and heard the night cry of the loon or been to the Dixie Classic or drove all night to Nashville and got tattoos - (I’m quite certain that not one of these venerables has a tattoo of the Zig-Zag man on his forearm like my friend Burt has).

Indeed, it is a well-known fact that these people only leave their rooms once a year to grant these awards. Maybe they should just try moving the awards to someplace more interesting like Afghanistan or Africa or India or Tobaccoville, North Carolina, and see what happens. And take away that thing that says you have to be an Old Swedish Man (but of any race, creed, color, sex and sexual orientation, of course) to be one of these judges.

I bet if you just took six random tribal elders (and you don’t have to be old to be an elder) – three men and three women – from Nigeria or Bali or Uzbekistan and asked them to make an objective study and draw up a list of the most dynamic and influential poets and writers in the American century since Victory in Japan they would come up with something entirely different. Smokey might even make the list. Maybe Neil too. And Eminem and Hank Williams and Laura Nyro and Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain.

It is possible that the Nobel Committee for Literature, like the British crown under the pending doom of Camilla and Charles, is a little out of touch. For any writer or artist, winning an award is always a sign that you are getting out of touch; that you have been institutionalized. It is much more flattering to be censored or, as I once was, forbidden to talk to anyone in an entire university without permission from the Vice President.

A Nobel Prize and your time is up. And so is giving an award. Queen Elizabeth not long ago gave an award to Tommy Franks, making him a knight and putting him in the same crowd as that English life insurance salesman, Paul McCartney. And Mick Jagger, Friend of Bill. He got one too. You remember him. He does football games and Bar Mitzvahs now. That’s why the gods take the great ones young, before they can start getting awards and selling life insurance.

I mean there really hasn’t been anything around that you could actually call literature – Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Mann, William Butler Yeats, Emerson, Willa Cather, Tolstoy – at least since the Second World War. And except for the occasional Japanese courtesan, the art form of writing novels, for which Nobel Prizes in Literature are most frequently awarded, is an almost purely European form in case they haven’t noticed. The ones who win always appeal to the European or New York sensibility. Tolstoy said it was for the entertainment of a bored parlor culture of people with nothing better to do. He abandoned the craft in mid life. Novel writing is the opposite of zen, which tries to reduce the reliance on words until the words disappear altogether like a canoe passing into the night on a river.

What is inherent in the giving of these awards is the idea of a superior sensibility which should advise power. In the age of Johnny Bravo and the Powder Puff Girls – America’s Siegfried and the River Sirens – the Swedes look for a higher voice which would advise the throne. But mostly the throne doesn’t listen. Indeed, the work of the chosen poets and writers of the Nobel committee is generally known only to the pot-bound, jargon-speaking and jargon-thinking, autonomous world of the English Department because nobody else pays attention.

And that is not only my consideration. Here is Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English department at Yale, who writes on a variety of contemporary poets, speaking here on that dark twin who lingers under the stairs of the Academy, Lit-Crit: “When did you last read a book of literary criticism?” he asks. (Not since Moe’s Bar went Po-Mo.) “Not recently, most people who do not write criticism themselves will answer. Criticism today is impenetrable and irrelevant, since it is jargon-ridden and no longer interested in literature.”

In the days of Victoria, the toni crowd at the Marlborough House might have had a perverse interest in Wilde, Gide, Yeats and co. and the formidable group of artists and writers who stopped by William Morris’s kitchen. Even up until 1914 when a remarkable individual like T.E. Lawrence could enjoy celebrity both as a warrior and a literary lion.

But not today. Not since victory on the Western Front in 1917. Our world is a direct democracy – there is no enlightened eloi class of the Academy which speaks on our behalf. Nor does it speak to the more influential on our behalf. We speak for ourselves and if we want to name our kids Thursday or Track and start our own religion we in this very public age will do so, and we will probably also form an internet group for that purpose and for other families with Thursday children.

The Nobels might think of retooling. Maybe they should take a cue from the gaudy and unabashedly proletariat Academy Awards and give a variety of awards for specific tasks. Something like this: The Nobel Prize for Perfect Spelling and Grammar to Joan Didion; The Victoria, Empress of India, Award for Telling Foreign Devils How to Act to Salmon Rushdie; The Most Pissed off Young ‘Un Award to Suketu Mehta (his recent book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found is actually well work reading, so he might not qualify). That way you could generate the gushy and dynamic tension like on Academy Awards night, instead of just that one short newspaper paragraph every year to someone you usually never heard of before and will almost certainly never hear of again.

Then again, it might even be time for these Nobel committee guys to think of going back to the old alma mater for some of that mid-life (or later) counseling on changing careers. They do that now.

British poet Harold Pinter won the award in 2005. Pinter says he was influenced by Jimmy Joyce and his shadow-kin Beckett. (Does not every lace-curtain South Boston Irish family like my own have their own Samuel Beckett, his angular bird’s face into the soup and grimly muttering something oblique and incomprehensible to himself throughout Thanksgiving Dinner? Is it that all the literary types who are not Irish secretly want to have an uncle or an auntie like that?).

But Pinter didn’t win the award because he was Joycian or Beckettesque. And it is not to say that Pinter is a bad playwright and I have nothing against him except that he wears a Greek fisherman’s hat. But clearly he got the award in 2005 for yelling about the American invasion of Iraq, which seems a little like getting too sensitive to the trends of the mass culture that these Nobel guys really hate.

The Nobel committee often attempts to affect the flow of human events in the world by giving awards that way. A poke in the eye to the Establishment, it is supposed to be.

Myself I would like to see an award go to Leonard Cohen, the primordial “ . . . little Jew who wrote the Bible . . .” he calls himself, who lives today in a Buddhist monastery in San Francisco. Was ever a journey so sublime? He wrote a touching Jesus poem (“Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water . . .”) when I was little and he is about the only talented writer from my generation who passed into the land of the dead for 20 years and came back into my life again a generation later via my kids. Back in the Sixties everybody like him, which in itself qualifies him for disqualification for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Anyway, I can’t see the Nobel committee liking his work. He also wrote the catchy theme song at the beginning of The Sopranos (“Woke up this morning . . . got myself a gun . . .”) but I doubt they watch that. David Chase, who wrote The Sopranos also deserves the Literature Prize, possibly more than anyone today, but his chances are about as likely as Neil’s.

I’d also like to see Nora Ephron get a life award as she is the fish that swims not at the front but near the front of the school and where she goes the generation goes and here at the very latter end of the American century to some extent the world still goes. And follows with uncanny precision. In the first and perhaps only century of and for the ordinary and common people of the world she writes of love between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But I’d also like to see Ingmar Bergman and Bernardo Bertolucci get one too. Of course, they write movies and the Nobel Committee has that thing about only giving to plays staged in stark basement theaters and to poetry written with quills. And of course, one of them is dead but in literature, death shouldn’t matter that much.

Anyway, I don’t think any of those people would be interested in these awards. It would be like being put in a crate. They would perhaps prefer the distinguished company of those left out like Leo Tolstoy who The Nobel Prize in Literature passed over in its first year, 1901, for the poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme. Ever since, it has been a time-honored tradition.

How about this: a Nobel Prize for the Dead, to go back and retrieve Bergman and those others – Tolstoy, Proust, Hardy, Chekhov, Ibsen, Joyce, Conrad, Kafka, Breckt to name a few - who the committee overlooked. That way Neil and Smokey and Laura Nyro and Kurt might even get one eventually. And change the standards as well. Give the awards not just to writers but to writers/singers/musicians/dancers - to anyone who’s spirit soared and who lived for love and died for love and took his craft to be a sacred task in that river and followed that muse relentlessly to his destiny.

Where is that Deathless Child now? Where is his song?