Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who are we in 2009? Who are you? – Samuel Huntington and Pete Townsend

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/31/08

It could be the work of the Trickster that when the renowned political scientist, Samuel Huntington, passed away recently, the vastly more popular Pete Townsend, a Brit bard noted for smashing stuff up onstage, is awarded for life work at the Kennedy Center. The work of each can be summarized by three words: Who are we? Which is the title of Huntington’s last book. And Who are You? asked by Townsend.

It is not really a fair question and that is the point. It is a question only asked when the thing you used to be or thought you were is broken or no longer works. In Huntington’s case, it asks you to go back and find it again and restore it. Like the Protestant Ethic. Be like that again.

Fouad Ajami’s perceptive comments in the Wall Street Journal this morning summarize Huntington: “He wrote in that book [Who are we] of the ‘American Creed,’ and of its erosion among the elites. Its key elements -- the English language, Christianity, religious commitment, English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals -- he said are derived from the ‘distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.’”

Townsend’s question, first posed to the world at Woodstock, where he shared the stage with Swami Satchidananda, Neil Young and Joan Baez, called out the original stuff of the same tradition: Were you ever what you said you were or was it all just power and aerial bombing and invested money and royal and wealthy friends and its subsidiary illusions; priests and cardinals accompanying the conquistadors and bribed judges and righteous readings of habeas corpus to enemy combatants while common criminals were being drawn and quartered and torn to bits amid dog fights and cheering crowds in the public common? The Protestant Ethic all the work of an allegorical deaf, dumb and blind kid playing pinball, envisioned as a god king?

In Huntington’s case it was late to ask. Much earlier, in the 1950s, William Allen Whyte in The Organization Man, had made the claim that the Protestant Ethic had already yielded to the corporate “yes man” and – a term were are hearing again this week – the “empty suit” – in our time, one which made no distinction of race, sex, creed or sexual orientation. Every suit equally empty.

And Whyte, like Huntington, had a parallel event as well, a fraternal dissident twin who asked not only who are we but better yet, who are we and where do we think we are going? Does the Protestant Ethic still drive the bus or is it Dean Moriarty chattering endlessly a grungy Buddhist chant on Benzedrine: Where goest thou America in thy shiny car in the night?

Possibly in 2009 we will not ask these questions and it is a good thing. It is good because we are not going anywhere. We are already there. And there are those among us who never ask because they know who they are because they are bound to the earth and know their place on it. Like Andrew Jackson, who viewed the hand-wringers and introverts of his time as dilettantes and introverts, come to that state because their time had past and it passed them by. Even the great and honored dead – Adams, Jefferson and Washington – made no impression on him because they had all come to the end of things and there was still work ahead to be done. Different work and different people doing the work. Work Jackson would do.

We are at the end of things today. The end of the Renaissance; the end of the West, said dean of letters Jacques Barzun; the end of the century, the end of the millennium, even the end of the 2,000 year Platonic month.

Jackson didn’t fear the end of the colonial period. He saw only the beginning of his own period.

That, I think, is where we are as we enter 2009, and that is where we have been going all along in Jack Kerouac’s shiny car in the night.

The beginning is just ahead in Texas, in Arizona, in Colorado . . . Wyoming and Alaska – always in the heartland, the land of beginnings. Take a cue from the Woodstock swami. Don’t ask in the Land of the Free, just be. Be lucky to be here.

Jackson is not here yet to awakening it again, but soon he – or she – will be. In 2009, maybe, or the next one.

It’s coming. It’s coming.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Finding Canada: A fast train across North America

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/26/08

Tom Friedman has some good ideas. He wants us to wake up, reboot, get going. He’s been at it for months, years, now. We need his energy, his maturity and his perspective.

In a column this week he talks about riding a state-of-the-art fast train across China, then arriving home to the waste land of Penn Station in New York and heading south on the broken trail to D.C.

We need fast trains and new cars. But to get these new things we need a fresh start. And instead of looking north to south, from New York to D.C., we might have better luck looking east to west; traveling, like Frasier, from Boston to Seattle. We could make new friends across the way in Canada.

Canada is our best friend on earth. More like a sister. As novelist Robertson Davies said, Canada is the introverted aspect of our own extraverted nature. And if any of y’all were ever forced through TQM management seminars you would have found that the creative awakenings in the organization comes from the introverts.

Canada is also like a filter: It takes from us our best aspects and discards the worst.

With help from our friends in the Great White North fast trains would be a practical and convenient way to get from place to place and even coast to coast. I live exactly mid way between Montreal and Boston. For us, who spend time in both, it seems an odd disconnect from most other Americans who see an impenetrable brick wall on our northern border. When we lived in Michigan years back a neighbor described the area as bordered in the north by the blissful tundra of the Upper Peninsula. What’s above, I asked. Nothing, she said, meaning Canada. For most North Americans, Canada is the undiscovered country.

One difference in Canada is that there is a lot of empty space between cities and major living places. When you leave Quebec City, the next major stop is Montreal, two hours away. Then Ottawa and Toronto, both hours away with little in between. And when you head west there is even more space; native environment for a fast train.

As Friedman has pointed out in past essays these past few years, we are living on borrowed money and that money is borrowed from China. Our economic boom of recent times has little to show for it but oversized SUVs and tacky MacMansions; empty wrappers with plummeting resale value. Other economic booms have left something behind; railroads, TV, computers, roads, but we are seeing little but waste for our profligate spending. Other booms have been financed abroad. As a comprehensive article on China trade in today’s New York Times points out, the railroads were financed last century by Britain.

Economic reality in our time comes via the Pacific with China, and historian Niall Ferguson refers to our current economic condition as Chimerica, a singular economic union between America and China. But much of the cash goes to Canada as well and British Columbia has become a major destination for Chinese immigrants and high end cash.

We in the west are turning east. Here near the top we have found that it is much easier to get to western destinations by driving an hour north across the Canadian border. You can make it to Detroit in a day with a few pleasant stops at Tim Horton’s. By fast train it would be a lot shorter. To Vancouver as well, dropping down then to Seattle. And all along the line, from California to British Columbia, then across to Quebec and down to Massachusetts and New York, are premiers and governors and mayors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mike Bloomberg who have much sympathy with ideas of green travel and trade where authorities in other states might oppose.

Where would the money come from? China. Where it is coming from now. And as a joint venture between the U.S. and Canada. It would be a practical destination for some of Obama’s infrastructure and bailout money and unlike many of the simply pork projects proposed by local mayors, it would apply cash to relevant and well needed public works.

Our economic reality is that more trade in our new century will cross the Pacific than the Atlantic. And the action and passion economy brings with it will awaken places like San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, just as the Atlantic transit did Boston, Philadelphia and New York in the 1800s.

It may be an ugly development of global warming that trade and commerce will also start traveling across the pole in the near future, but it is a fact of life which will demand new security arrangements between the United States and Canada in a dangerous world. Russia’s new interests in the artic should also bring America and Canada closer together and engender a greater North American cultural sensibility, especially with the northern states. Americans gain everything by a closer friendship with Canada and closer relations may soon be a practical necessity for both of us.

A number of Canadians are already as hot on fast trains as Friedman is, due to the existence of a functioning Greens Party in Canada.

“If we had access to Canadian-made Bombardier trains that people do in China and Spain and other advanced countries … the trip from coast to coast would be 18 hours instead of five days,” says Elizabeth May of the Canadian Green Party.

But for Americans to go in on something like this, Canada needs to be demystified. We’d have to learn to understand why a Canadian woman, lost in a snow bank for three days, first apologizes to rescue workers who dig her out. We’d have to learn to understand why grown men tear up at the thought of Dougie Gilmore, a 40-year-old hockey player, crawling off the ice on his hands and knees in his final game.

We’d have to learn about loons, canoes, Don Cherry and The Rocket.

Canada is vast and beautiful and strong. For myself, finding Canada has been like finding something in myself I left behind long ago. It was good to get it back.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sympathy for Bernard Madoff: The sun also sets

by Bernie Quigley

for The Hill on 12/23/08

The mainstream press will be telling us this Christmas that the motive behind Bernard Madoff's impressive heist was greed. It's not. It never is. It is hard to say in under two words what motivated Madoff. It took F. Scott Fitzgerald many more words.

And in a moment of almost spooky turnings, Bernie is almost an exact reenactment of Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. He is our own 3.0 version of Jay Gatsby, much as Obama appears to be on occasion a 3.0 version of JFK.

Most telling are the purchases Bernie made with is 50 billion. They are pure symbols, like the house Fitzgerald created for Gatsby in the New York hills of plenty. Bernie's striving and desires are similar to Gatsby's. Money mattered little or not at all. It was all about who he was and is in terms of all the other people, and how he would be seen and experienced within them. As if he himself was a piece of the furniture, like his houses and estates in all the best places; pieces of furniture in our own collective dream. Compared to say Bill Clinton, who time will symbolize by 50 golden watches and a cigar; symbols of the striver who never really gets to where he wants to go - a vision which yields in the direction of the end of life even with his own kind and generation.

I have a hard time disliking Bernie in the same way that I feel a reader would find it hard to dislike Jay Gatsby. In a way, Bernie is like the best of us and the worst of us at the same time, even those of us among the have nots, like the Quigleys.

If I was ever to be sent to prison, it would probably be some place like D.C. general population or maybe Folsom Prison. But in a gentleman's prison like Allentown, in western Pennsylvania, I think Bernie would make a good cell mate.

Compared to Bill Clinton and his fifty gaudy gold watches, Bernie's symbolism is both gaudy and sublime at the same time. Like Gatsby. As cell mates we could talk together about Torah and the Tao which are like that. Bernie is at a good age and is able now to go onto the better things of life; the things of “returning” - “ . . . in returning and rest we cane be saved . . .”it says in my prayer book – and for that it doesn't matter if you are in jail or on the 64th block of Park Avenue with Caroline Kennedy and Mike Bloomberg. It's all ahead for Bernie.

Being in jail with Clinton could get tedious. His friend Vernon Jordan says all they talk about on the golf course is “pussy.” Probably at Folsom you would get a generally higher order of convict. That, according to Johnny Cash, who knew it well. In Folsom's general population, if Johnny's sympathies are any telling, you don't get sons who turn their fathers in as they do where Bernie will be sent.

I keep thinking about Bernie because I've been listening lately to economists; “grown men . . .” as Senator Fritz Hollings once said, who actually talk about “jump starting the economy.”

When you get to the core of their understanding you find a literary fountain that is less than auspicious. For Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and recent Nobel laureate, it is science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote a kind of sociology with a scientific bent, but with a science perspective of ascending power which would have been likely rejected as narrow and incomplete by Einstein, Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli.

And celebrity economist Alan Greenspan – referred to as a wizard by Al Gore in his presidential campaign – who reveals a similar Ayn Randian perspective. Both Rand and Asimov were popular novelists in the 1950s and 1960s but I'm not sure they hold up in the Twilight generation. Both suggest the individual alone in the world; an individual alone and at odds with and on the make against all others.

But Bernie, like Gatsby, is vastly more subtle and complex. If you went to gentleman's jail with these other guys there would be nothing to talk about but football. And again, you'd do better in analysis and perspective with that probably at Folsom.

Both these economists have said recently, who knew? Who could have predicted this world fiscal crisis?

Possibly Bernie. His selection of symbols rather than actual gold watches indicates an abiding vision of the ephemeral transit of the human condition that might be seen at its beginning even as divine in origin and fully predictable as the world and its people run through their cosmic cycles.

Almost certainly, Fitzgerald would have known. He wrote The Great Gatsby five years before the great crash of 1929 to which our current mischief is now begin compared. It was published in 1925, four years before the crash. His friend, Earnest Hemingway, published The Sun Also Rises in 1926, three years before the crash.

These two books are companion pieces and might be nice Christmas presents for fledgling economists, because they well anticipated the crash of 1929. By 1925 the American soul had well come out of the gilded age – much like the Clinton 1990s when grown up men predicted that the Dow was headed for 35,000 – and there would be no going back.

We are there again with Bernie this time - our own Jay Gatsby - and likewise, we will not be going back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Caroline Kennedy for Senate

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/17/08

It could be said that the war on Iraq was brought across by the tenacious will and determination of one man, George W. Bush, and the lack of it by many others.

Yet several have distinguished themselves as noble and fearless individuals in this season of the expedient, Robert Byrd, the gray Champion from West Virginia, who, recalling the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, opposed the invasion from the start. Another was Susan Eisenhower who crossed party lines and abandoned her family tradition – one of the most respected in American history – to support Barack Obama.

But no one has shown the keen political instinct, timing and leadership of Caroline Kennedy. This long and occasionally dreary presidential race found its turning point when Kennedy, in an op ed letter to the New York Times, endorsed Obama for president. Just before, the New York Times had endorsed Senator Clinton as expected. But the Kennedy endorsement turned the corner for Obama. The next day, Caroline’s Uncle Teddy followed suit and the Democratic Party took a new, restorative direction.

This is true and natural leadership and people with this gift should be drafted into government.

The entire presidential race has exposed a weakness in leadership and a decline of substance in the Democratic Party. The presidency is a management position and the Democratic rank and file has shown little interest in its competent managers. Governors of the greatest ability, like Virginia’s former governor Mark Warner and Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, were ignored, as were managers of important states like Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell and most complex and creative places, like NewYork’s independent mayor, Mike Bloomberg.

Classically, the Senate requires a different style of leadership as senators should be sent to learn, discuss and advise. And they should bring something with them. Ideally, an individual should have varied experience to bring to this task and senators should come from varied walks of life.

As a mother, a lawyer, a very successful charity worker and fund raiser and a true blue New Yorker, Kennedy brings a wealth of experience to this task and it is the kind of varied experience the Senate calls for. She has exactly the kind of background needed for the job.

That she comes with a famous name cannot be separated from her or from us. As a child, playing at her father’s feet in the Oval Office is one of the most charmed moments of the post-war period; a moment recalled as our own world family’s.

But when we respond to the name of a well known historical figure known for character or cunning, be it Eisenhower or Kennedy, it is far different than to the fame of an actor or celebrity. We recall something within ourselves of the highest order and something we need to find within ourselves to survive and flourish.

Yet there is no telling if they can and will deliver and choosing a family name has historically brought disappointment, even led to the degeneration of the process to narrow generational identification and even to the monarchist tendency.

There will be none of this with Caroline Kennedy.In fact, her presence in the Senate and as a political representative of New York will have a restorative effect. It will help to reverse this trend by raising the standard of leadership back to the highest standard.

And here in the northeast and everywhere, Caroline Kennedy in the Senate could also conceivably begin to heal an ache that has been felt these past 40-some years from the loss of a gift which was given to us then taken away. Something to which we should hold fast to this time and not let go.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Frost’s Woods on a Snowy Evening: Will House and Cutty hook up?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/13/08

It can’t be the most auspicious of Solstice turnings when in the prequel of the President Elect his friends are already starting to go to jail. And this Pre-President already compared before the start to Kennedy, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jesus. But on this very beautiful and cold night in the White Mountains I am glad of one thing. Although a fine wordsman, he is not being compared to Robert Frost.

I’ve always had problems with Frost, especially because his house is near my house. Because of that “ . . . darkest winter of the year,” thing, often illustrated on tourist novelties up here by an old Yankee riding along on a horse and sleigh through a heavy snow, with bells silenced at the edge of the forest, so as not to alert the packs of dogs, wolves and coyotes who start to get hungry starting now.

That could stress you out enough to write a poem.

Frost might have had the experience we had recently when a pack of coyotes in the last moon cycle surrounded our house in the night and sang in a chorus for a week. We, the people in the house, were delighted but our big dog was so stressed out that the fur fell off his ears and our little dog, who suggests food anyway, refused to poop outside for a week and had to be retrained.

But what else is disturbing about Frost, not counting the thing at the Kennedy inauguration where the lectern he was reading at caught on fire – that should tell you something right there – is that it is not that dark on Winter Solstice which is when you think about that poem.

Tonight on the full moon with five inches of new snow and a crystal clear cold it is so bright that you cast a shadow at midnight. It’s beautiful. Like a very bright blue-tinted black and white photograph. It is the brightest night even of the year actually, because the moon is closest to the earth. The darkest evening of the year would be around July. I guess.

I know, because I heard it on The Sopranos in an episode about the daughter in college what Frost is really talking about with the woods: Death. He saw Death in the woods.

That’s where I have trouble. Especially when I drive by the Frost house. Because if you go to his house and stand at the edge of the woods, you wouldn’t see Death. You would see Bode Miller.

Bode Miller lives practically across the street from the Frost house.

In case you don’t know, Miller is a skier and lives on the side of a mountain in a house his father built in the hippie days. It is missing a few things that Frost had like a toilet and electricity but it has a distinct charm all its own.

But Miller is more than just a skier. He is the fastest man alive and so fiercely individualistic that he always has issues with team leadership. If fact, you could say that he has plenty of issues with authority. In fact, he is kind of wild and crazy; kind of a Dukes of Hazard here in the White Mountains. In fact, here in these parts he might be considered the spirit of the mountain itself; the spirit of a clear and cold night like this – the light in the woods, maybe, that turns on at Solstice, known in the mythology of the tradition as the Deathless Child, the Earth Mother’s Sun King, born annually on Winter Solstice.

And that’s why I get disturbed by Frost’s poem. Because when I look at the forest from Frost’s house I don’t see Death. I see light in the forest. I see Bode Miller.

I used to read Frost’s poems and Remembrance of Things Past and Lermontov’s What Is To Be Done to understand the deep things in life and to find the answers to the big questions, but gave that up long ago.

The rabbis tell us that the gods hide in plain sight and in low places. The answers to the big questions are always right before your eyes.

Right now I’d say the biggest question is not about Iraq, Afghanistan, Obama or Bush; the question is not will Al Gore save the world or will Obama save Detroit. This big question is this: Will House and Cutty hook up?

This question has plagued our culture for years now like a cat mournfully dragging a sock through an old house in the night. Our fate rests on it.

In case you don’t know, Dr. House is the protagonist in the clever TV show House and Dr. Cutty is his boss.

House sees through the eyes of Sherlock, the detective, to solve problems which no one else can find the solution to, always confounding and amazing his sedentary Watson, Dr. Wilson. Like Sherlock, he is a drug addict and like Sherlock, he is a singular genius. But TV always tells the truth, as the rabbis say, and this is a tale told well of the American condition in our times and it is a tale of democracy and competence.

You could say that House presents the flip side of the American ideal and its vision of all of us created equal, an ideal which contains its own vanity and self inflation. All are equal on House, but all are idiots.

Actually, there are several levels of idiot which might be considered class distinctions. There is the world at large – the horde – which comes in daily to the clinic. These are the ground feeders. Then there is a higher degree of idiot; the doctors and the somnambulant professional class like, well, like auto executives and senators. Left in their hands, the patient always dies; sometimes a horrid death – occasionally the patient explodes.

The only people who are really alive on this show; that is, like Bode Miller is alive, are House and Cutty.

But House is a cripple. He is universally despised for his professional excellent and intuition by the professional class. He has been fired from every hospital he has worked at. Only Cutty can see that he is the genius at the center of the world – last season he actually traveled to the Land of the Dead to solve a case – and that he is the Single Combat Warrior at the center of things on whose instincts the world virtually depends for survival.

But he barely survives himself in a world which worships the generic and the midlin. He walks with a cane. But it is really a sword cane. He is the last of the surviving Templars, here to discriminate truth from illusion to find the cause of sickness.

Cutty is played by Lisa Edelstein, one of the most beautiful women on earth. This is relevant to the story not only because House thinks she is hot and is always distracted by her, but because she is beautiful beyond hot. She is beautiful as Rebecca, the rabbi’s daughter and the spirit of the earth itself is beautiful. Rebecca, like Cutty, is a healer who restores Ivanhoe to live and you get that in the telling.

Like when House last year traveled in the Land of the Dead himself to find the cause of a friend’s death, she would sleep by his hospital bead and hold his hand. House is the warrior who lives in the world to make the world; whose task is to make the world on our behalf. Cutty alone comes from the earth and holds him to the world. Without Cutty we are all dead. Or maybe instead, like the patients who come to the clinic, we are not really alive.

Will Cutty and House hook up? I think they must. This is the story of Ivanhoe and Rebecca, a mythic creation myth of the west. It is Logos and Eros; the marriage of the Earth Mother and her agent in the external world.

We read today that five million Mexicans have traveled together in devotion to the Divine Mother – motivated to do so by “troubled times” we are told by Washington Post, conscientiously echoing the Obama misunderstand of why people pray and why they hunt – and the ashram business in Woodstock is booming as well. Maybe we are finding Rebecca again.

With House and Cutty we begin again. And this time around we begin the millennium.

I think we are finally past it. The millennium is past with Y2K and Armageddon and that and that and that and all of that. Now it is all ahead of us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Arnold is the God that Failed – Is California a failed state? Do we still have failure? Do we still have states?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/11/08

It is becoming a pitiful end to an auspicious beginning. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governator, riding in on a white horse like Vishnu, come to awaken a new age.

He loved California as George W. Bush loved Texas; as Jefferson loved Virginia. Or so it seemed. To some eyes he was the Titan conjured in the zodiac pouring water; the Aquarian arrived in the Promised Land. Instead, California found unprecedented drought and endless fire.

In many ways Arnold was the best representative of America in our California manifestation, born free in the sun and unbeholden, welcoming the millennium’s new beginnings. And in a magnificently beautiful and temperate state just recently in historical perspective come into its own, he might have set a standard which would have lived on in mythology for centuries. He could have been California’s Original Man.

It was a moment a great stress when Arnold was sent to the Governor’s chair in California. We were in the midst of the Iraq war and anxiety brought forth three magi in response; Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And like the three bears, the first was too cold, the next was just right but the third bear, the Governator, was too hot. Maybe Californians felt calling forth The Big Man would most effectively protect them against terrorism. But the bear on the California flag looks inward. Maybe it was all a romance.

We were trapped by an illusion. Ronald Reagan was a movie actor and a governor. Arnold was a movie actor and a governor. It occurred to us that Arnold might be therefore a successful President, like Reagan. There was a Constitutional barrier to that but so there is for Secretaries of State who have raised the pay grade as Senators. We left these qualms behind long ago.

Arnold was Big. Big is Beautiful in a state which worships Power. But we have learned from Hollywood’s true sage, Obi-wan Kenobi, that there is treachery in those with the dual nature and it contains a riddle: When they come in twos, you have to ask, which is the Emperor and which is the Sith? It is best explained perhaps by Niels Bohr: One can be a Particle or one can be a Wave, but not both at the same time. Reagan was not so much an actor as an entertainer. He said so himself. His true nature was governor. The actor part was his shade. Arnold, it has to be said today, is a failed governor. But he was a great actor. The governor part was a romance

And we hear today that in all likelihood that he will find himself a job in the Obama administration. The romance which is Obama.

Failure used to be a good and time-honored human mechanism. It used to teach us what we are good at and what we are not so good at. It used to teach us who we are and who we are not. Do we still have failure?

Since we have neither king nor gods here in the Land of the Free it was worth a try. Arnold was sent to Sacramento in an unprecedented procedure. California, almost overnight, in a heightened state of anxiety, threw out the elected governor, Gray Davis. But California was in a state of economic crisis and its economy was compared by famous economists like Paul Krugman of The New York Times to one of those countries near the equator where it is too hot to work in the day so people have the good luck to be able to chew federally-issued coca leafs in the afternoon and sing at night. A radical transition in the political procedures would be justified provided that Arnold could restore California’s character and economic viability. Make it more like, say, Texas.

Beneath the anxiety of the war on Iraq, there was a true crisis here. Californians, whose economy was the size of France’s we were frequently told, were not able to find a way to live within a budget. It is a little like those unfortunate people we hear of today who bought houses larger than they could afford, but bigger. The size of France.

"It's not because of [California's] economy, because it's deep and diverse," David Hitchcock, primary credit analyst for California with Standard & Poor's, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "It's because, financially, they've had budgets that have not proved realistic. They've had large deficits and they've only been able to pay for their budgets through borrowing for the last couple years."

Perhaps, like France, California was not ready for independent statehood. California was on the verge of becoming a failed economic state and could poison the entire national economy. That was Arnold’s assigned task: To save California, first, by bringing it into budget. That was all he needed to do. Charm would do the rest.

A confluence of the national recession and years of legislative budget games is squeezing the Golden State as never before, Ben Arnoldy reports in the Monitor. Although it's not the largest budget gap the state has ever faced, this time it will be harder for California to get help from private lenders. Standard & Poor's now ranks it lower than any other state except Louisiana, which shares the same rating.

But will lawmakers finally make the tough budget decisions they've put off for so long?

"Because California does have a perennial budget crisis, it's very easy to fall into the 'boy who cried wolf' syndrome," Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, tells the Monitor. "This time the sky is really falling."

California lawmakers just got a Henry Paulson-like ultimatum from state officials: If they don't act, the state could be forced to suspend road, bridge, and other public-works projects as early as next week. Come March, California will be out of cash for even day-to-day operations.

A question today which has to be asked as governors like Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Jim Douglas of Vermont rush to Obama for a bailout is, do states today really still exist? Being a state is like being an independent grown up. If you have to keep going back to sleep on Daddy-o’s couch at age 30, if you still bring your laundry over for Mom to wash, if you’re still wearing an earring at age 60 like Bill Ayers, are you actually a grown up?

Are states like Texas and Alaska which find pride in seeking to balance their budgets different from the rest of us which seek bailouts? I bring it up because I have had trouble in my New Hampshire town in getting them to fly a state flag under the American flag in the town common. Do we still have states or are we a country now of tribes like ancient Egypt. Or is that pseudo-tribes; ad hoc and temporary groups identifying with ethnic strain, old-world religion, sexual orientation or generation - a country in transit waiting for an awakening? Have we been absorbed entirely into the participation mystique, that destroyer of all individuality?

At the beginning of the war on Iraq I suggested up here in New Hampshire that there was a states rights defense against a federal government on the march to immoral wars and untenable budgets, but only if the country recalled that we were so designed. California still had a strong regional identity and so did the Pacific Northwest. As a governor who loved his state and identified with it, Schwarzenegger was a beacon of light from this perspective.

California’s budget deficit has widened to $14.8 billion for the next seven months, $3.6 billion more than forecast last month, amid lawmaker disagreement on how to close the gap, Bloomberg reports, as California prepares to enter federal receivership. That which rises in the night passes quickly.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Born in Texas – Rick Perry’s opportunity

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/09/08

Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in Texas. Could be that something will happen in Texas to make us different kinds of individuals in the world and a different kind of country. Something from which there will be no turning back. Could be that destiny awaits us in Texas.

When George W. Bush, the First Texan, leaves the White House there will first be, as he says, a hanging, but then there will be a reappraisal of his actions in the White House primarily about one issue, the invasion of Iraq. Already, W’s brother Jeb is being considered for the Senate in 2010 and onward and upward to the Presidency in 2012 or beyond, with hopes of extending the legacy of the Bush family to a third Bush in the White House.

But this is the question that should be asked: Should George W. Bush’s actions and initiatives be seen in context of his family or of his region? In other words, when Bush initiated bold action against Iraq after 9/11 was he acting as a Bush or as a Texan?

The fate of the Republican Party rests within this riddle.

For several years now we have been bemoaning a slip into a monarchist tendency as both parties have been promoting families and admired individuals; the Clintons and the Bushes, and now the Kennedys again as Obama pitches Caroline Kennedy into the Senate. It is assumed that the relative will be like the forebear and it is that perception that sends conservatives today to look to Jeb Bush, W’s younger brother and the former governor of Florida. But that fundamental premise may be misguided.

For many in the Jeb camp – many in the Northeast, including liberals – W is seen as the wayward son; a frontier caricature, as he is presented in the current Oliver Stone movie bearing his initial, while Jeb is the “good” Bush.

George the Father – H.W. – would never have run off and blasted his way into Baghdad just to bag Saddam Hussein. In the first Gulf War he remained on the edge of Armageddon and his wise advisor, Brent Scowcroft, today a friend of Obama, publicly warned of the consequences of W’s invasion. So it is assumed today that the “good” Jeb will be more like the temperate father and will be a comfort to a war worn body politic looking for a little rest.

I think this is misunderstood. W is a Texan. It’s got nothing to do with the other Bushes. He loves Texas as Jefferson loved Virginia. In going into Iraq, W was not acting like a bad Bush, but like a good Texan.

This is the fork in the road for conservatives and each trail now has a premise and a tradition. Soon each will have its own leader. The moderate, Eastern conservatives like Colin Powell and Peggy Noonan will call for Jeb or somebody just like him with hopes of following in the tradition of Father George. But a new path is growing here and in time could be seen to have opened with W, the Texan, not W the Bush. The natural leader for this new direction is Rick Perry, Governor of Texas.

Perry, a fifth generation Texan born to ranchers in little Paint Creek, just north of Abilene, literally follows in the footsteps of George W. Bush as the current Governor of Texas. And if this whole process these last eight years is seen as not so much about the Bushes but instead about Texas and the rise of Texas and the South and Southwest – Southern historian Dan Carter once used the phrase “The Southernization of America” - this view would more readily conform to the paths of economy and demographics since the Second World War and the trajectory of history it presages.

Conservatives are reaching a fork in the road; a split between the small government trend which took its initiative with Ronald Reagan, and more traditional conservatives like H.W. Bush with sensibilities formed in the Northeast.

And there is a disturbance in the force now, expressed by the influential conservative commentator William Kristol in a recent New York Times column.

Kristol writes: “But conservatives should think twice before charging into battle against Obama under the banner of ‘small-government conservatism.’ It’s a banner many Republicans and conservatives have rediscovered since the election and have been waving around energetically. Jeb Bush, now considering a Senate run in 2010, even went so far as to tell Politico last month, ‘There should not be such a thing as a big-government Republican.’”

I think it has been assumed that Jeb would not adopt the small-government position, organic to the oldest traditions of the South, Texas and the Southwest, but would instead lead conservatives hoping to bond now with Obama and support the bailouts. A view well expressed by Emil W. Henry Jr., assistant secretary of the Treasury from 2005 to 2007. As he wrote recently in The Washington Post: “We view sound economic growth as the best way to promote prosperity and protect economic freedom.

Infrastructure expenditures are capital investment for future growth. By investing in the reduction of air, automotive and rail congestion and by improving the reliability of our power supply, we will increase productivity and foster competitiveness.”

As Kristol points out, in his two terms as governor, state spending actually increased by over 50% with Jeb.

There is a tone of anxiety in Kristol’s column, titled, Small Isn’t Beautiful. It comes because a number of conservative governors, starting with South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, are backing away from Obama and the bailouts. Perry has signed on and being governor of the biggest and most prominent state in the red realm, he is the natural leader of this new movement.

Here he is with Sanford in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “As governors and citizens, we've grown increasingly concerned over the past weeks as Washington has thrown bailout after bailout at the national economy with little to show for it.

“In the process, the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction -- toward a ‘bailout mentality’ where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions. We're asking other governors from both sides of the political aisle to join with us in opposing further federal bailout intervention for three reasons. First, we're crossing the Rubicon with regard to debt.”

Americans phoned and emailed into Congress ten to one in opposition to the Wall Street bailout first proposed by Hank Paulson. Neither party in power spoke to that group. Sanford and Perry do and if this is an awakening constituency, we too will have crossed a river; the Mississippi, like Davy Crockett, on his way to the Alamo.

This is not to say what W would do regarding the bailouts, but to say that W actually is a Texan, got there by love, and he does understand the sensibilities of natural-born Texans like Perry. Most Easterners do not and default to brother Jeb.

There is some irony that Kristol and his friends and family in actual generosity of spirit first welcomed the South and Texas into the political parlor of conservatives when most in the northeast then and today disparaged them as rubes, rustics and dangerous populists and radicals. They followed together into Iraq as a fair-minded cultural coalition but one possibly with quite different motives and objectives. That friendship could break apart now.

Texans are tough. I opposed the war on Iraq from the first morning of the invasion, eviscerating the belligerent Bush and savaging his fellow Texan, Karl Rove, on BBC radio and in dozens of articles thereafter. And denounced as well the weak and vacillating Democrats in the Congress who enabled and appeased them.

But the one person I came to respect through this whole process is George W. Bush. Had only 20 Democratic Senators had the courage of conviction and the tenacity of purpose that Bush had, the war in Iraq would never have happened.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

John Lennon revisited . . .

Have received thoughtful comments on John Lennon as the anniversary of his death approaches. Here is an essay on Lennon from my manuscript The Titan and the Egg: Entering the Aquarian Constellation:

On the 25th Anniversary of His Death

"Is it not written in your law . . . you are gods?" John 10:34

"The crosses are all full," said the lay brother.
"Then we must make another cross. If we do not make an end of him another will, for who can eat and sleep in peace while men like him are going about the world?" -
"The Crucifixion of the Outcast," Celtic tale retold by William Butler Yeats in Mythologies

"Zen demands intelligence and will-power, as do all the greater things which desire to become real." These are the words of C. G. Jung in the introduction to D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. Jung’s words and observations would win him a place top row center, right next to Edgar Allen Poe, on the cover of Sgt. Peppers. In the 1950s Suzuki was always referred to as Dr. Suzuki – much as Richard Gere is referred to as only Richard today by Tibetan Buddhists. It is kind of an honorarium, a title. Dr. Suzuki was a solid forefather on the path East and one of the very first learned Masters to come from the East to the West.

In the 1950s he taught at Columbia University and was a celebrity in New York City, an exotic but common monk with a great smile and a pure vision of Zen. Personal experience is everything in Zen, said Dr. Suzuki. No ideas are intelligible to those who have no backing in experience. Mystification is far from being the object of Zen itself, but to those who have not touched the central fact of life Zen inevitable appears as mystifying. Penetrate through the conceptual superstructure and what is imagined to be a mystification will at once disappear, and at the same time there will be an enlightenment known as satori.

Dr. Suzuki talked straight: personal experience is everything in Zen. The purpose of life is love. I’m not sure if John Lennon read these words but perhaps his wife, Yoko Ono, did. She was a key figure in the avant garde art scene in New York City at the time and had been in New York for a long time, even as a student at Sarah Lawrence. She was well known as a conceptual artist before she met John Lennon, and lived and worked in the same realm as people like John Cage and Marcel Duchamp. These would be the first people in New York to listen to Dr. Suzuki.

The art students were always the first to catch on, and John Lennon and his friend Stu Sutcliffe were the art students who started The Beatles. They were like pilot fish for the rest of us who were born at the end of the war and it was quite a large school of fish. 40 million people. All our fathers had been warriors. We were all the same age and born within months of one another, conceived by men who had been a long time without women, directly on return from war in Asia and Europe.

For us it was a bristling, exciting respite between childhood and adulthood and we were interested in new things. There were no teachers around to deflect our learning, no priests to lead us astray. For the briefest period, all of the shields were down. Other voices would come shortly. Swami Yogananda, who wrote The Autobiography of a Yogi, would become very popular for awhile. John said he read about half of it, which I thought was pretty good, as I’d only managed about 80 pages. Later, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Tolstoy. But Suzuki’s message entered the river of our generation at the same time as John entered our river. At first much of the Zen around New York was dark, misunderstood in the West as nihilism, the shadow which withered the Western heart after 500 years of exploration and dominance. But John and Stu understood Dr. Suzuki’s Zen message that love is the purpose of life.

John is said to have started The Beatles to have something to do with Stu. When McCartney entered the group he drove them to become more serious and businesslike. But at first it was always John and Stu. Stu had the artist’s eye for style – naming the group The Beatles after seeing Lee Marvin and Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones. Lee Marvin’s motorcycle gang was called The Beetles. Stu always attracted the coolest people as well. And when they went to Berlin before the group was fully formed he attracted the beautiful photographer Astrid Kirchherr, who would become an anima figure – a muse – to the group and open them up in the mind in new ways and awaken new music and images.

An avante garde photographer in Germany, she and her friends, including Klaus Voorman, traveled in the seedy night scene in Berlin and met the group there, which was still going under the name of The Silver Beatles. She gave them the playful Beatles haircuts. Friendship would bind them. Stu married Astrid and Klaus later drew the cover picture for the Revolver album, and much later, after The Beatles had broken up, he played as a background musician on the Imagine album.

Personal experience would guide the fledgling poet as well, and like many ordinary men before him, Lennon became great when someone he loved died. He would remember them all. And he would remember Stu, who never returned to England with them.

I know I’ll always feel affection, for people and things that went before. I know I’ll always think about them.

But it was different with Stu.

In my life, I loved you more.

This requiem, this love song, is considered today to be one of the greatest songs ever written. It is the beginning of the artist’s journey for John Lennon.

The Sixties was a cacophony of a million sounds and smells and voices and music and colors and textures, but especially music. The electric guitar was like a key; an ancient iron ornamented key to a mediaeval dream door that would open to an age.

Every age, be it short or long, has a beginning, a middle and an end, like a person’s life, and this age was no exception. This age, someone pointed out, came with its own sound track. And it rose and fell rather quickly.

At the center was The Beatles and the Sixties rose and fell with the fate of the Beatles. And at dead center, the man in the center of the Beatles was John Lennon.

From beginning to end The Beatles was about John Lennon. He was not the most important innovator or instigator of the period, except perhaps in music, but the music would eventually become secondary to his life, as literature had become secondary to Tolstoy.

He was one of us, common and working class, but of course, more gifted. And the transformation he made, we made. Eventually he left The Beatles behind to complete the passage himself. He was the Man at the Center who made passage with us and for us and completed the journey on our behalf. And I don’t think we could have or would have completed passage without him.

The remaining Beatles say they were transformed by Bob Dylan like the rest of us were. John was as well. It shows in his pictures. It shows in his clothes and in music like Norwegian Wood, a folksy, spare song inspired by the folk scene, written when the Beatles would begin to rise to a higher artistic level. John, they say, wanted to conquer the world, which The Beatles did with ease. Then, when they heard Bob Dylan, they aspired to be artists.

Dylan opened the gate and performed the Rite of Entry to the age with his soulful cohort Joan Baez, and the age rose to the center when The Beatles reached their artistic apex. Then followed the rite of exit with Joni Mitchell and the howling animal cries of Neil Young, mourning the passing of the brief and sacred moment.

The Beatles, at the top of their creative arc -- that would be somewhere within the Sgt. Peppers area -- brought the defining moment to a generation. Some 30 years later, in January, 2001, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd contrasted the generation with George Bush, Jr., who last week threatened to cast the first veto of this presidency to overthrow Congress’s attempt to ban his policy of allowing the torture of military prisoners.

In his first month in office she wrote, “He said he never liked the Beatles after they got into that ‘kind of a weird psychedelic period.’” One either crossed the river or did not, and those who did not, struggled to create a counter-force. (Ten weeks into his presidency Dowd reported going hungry for a shred of modernity. “Bush II has reeled backward so fast, economically, environmentally, globally, culturally, it’s redolent of Dorothy clicking her way from the shimmering spires of Oz to a depressed black-and-white Kansas,” she lamented. “What’s next? Asbestos, DDT, bomb shelters, filterless cigarettes? Patti Page?”)

Not unlike George Bush, John Lennon was preoccupied with Jesus. You could see it early on with the trouble he got into when the Beatles were first big. Fans would crowd them and overwhelm them and once John said to a crowd of reporters, “We’re more popular than Jesus.” There was no arrogance to it, but subtle awareness. The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Yet Bush and Lennon couldn’t be more far apart in their quests.

In The Tao of Jung, psychiatrist and Jung scholar David H. Rosen discusses C.G. Jung’s decent into the shadowy world of the collective unconscious, the world beyond the conscious ego. On the way into the “cave” of the unconscious stood a dwarf with a leathery skin, as if he were mummified, which Jung squeezed past. Rosen explains this in terms of Indian mythology: “Shiva steps on a dwarf that represents the ego when this deity does its creative dance of death and rebirth.”

Likewise with the Beatles. When they began their real creative work, they left behind the casings of their early ego identity, pictured as four mop-top wax dummies in early Beatles suits at what appears to be a burial on the cover of the Sgt. Peppers album, while the “new” Beatles appeared above like butterflies just left the cocoon in brightly colored satins and playful epaulets.

At the building vortex of their work, John went through a classic shaman’s arc, the same as the one described by Dante in The Divine Comedy; the same ascribed to Jesus by his followers thus, “. . .he descended into hell the third day . . . . he ascended into heaven.” (As E.C. Krupp writes that Santa Claus, an archaic remnant of a Norse shaman, enters the subtle realms of the archetypal shamanic journey by descending the chimney to the Underworld and flying through the Cosmic Heavens with magical reindeer.)

This is the classic pattern of the journey of the shaman described by anthropologists and it occurred with John as the Beatles rose to the top of their creative arc. IN this kind of psychological transformation, the man or woman who is about to enter into Unconscious falls, out of nowhere and against his or her will, into a funk. He falls into a torpor, a sickness of the mind and heart and feels a worthlessness to his life. He goes through a period of spiritual death and descends deep into the earth. Afterwards, he ascends and rises into heaven. Finally he emerges transfigured and enlightened god king, leaves the celestial place and comes out, usually down from a mountain, with a simple transforming idea for the tribe, a gift from the Land of the Dead.

Lennon went through such a transformation, falling into a psychological funk and getting fat and afraid at the peak of the Beatles initial popularity (“Help,” he sang. “I’m a loser, and I’m not what I appear to be.”) Then at the Revolver album, something new began to happen. Suddenly there is a sense of entering the river, an image which occurs in dreams at times of birth or death (“turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,”) and at times of psychological transformation. In Buddhism and Taoism, it is the sign of a new awakening.

He sang a second song on the same album about floating downstream in a transcendent, blissful sleep, while everyone thinks he is just lazy, (but “I don’t mind,” he sings, “I think they’re crazy”). Some say I’m Only Sleeping is aesthetically the best song he ever composed.

In terms of anthropology, this is the first orientation of an earth shaman finding his feet in the Underworld – the creative unconscious – the world under the earth, where he will take you down with him into the density of the earth, but this is the Subtle Realm of the earth, the Underworld, where “nothing is real” in Strawberry Fields.

And there he finds clarity and confidence, but in a new world, the world of the Unconscious where there is understanding of all you see with eyes closed, and the old world becomes a shell, a mere caricature of psychic life.

The shaman then ascends out of the earth and into the sky, like Jesus rising out of the tomb and entering heaven. John and the Beatles rise then to the very height of their work in Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. And here at their best work is the shaman’s archetypal journey to the heavens in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Like the Underworld of Strawberry Fields, the Astral Heavens also have otherworldly features, like newspaper taxies and magical rivers with tangerine trees and marmalade skies (like the tree “showered with reddish blossoms” blazed in light, a cosmic vision Jung had – a “vision of unearthly beauty” which oddly enough, took place in Liverpool, home of the Fab Four. Lennon’s dream vision in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds also echo’s Dante’s, looking upon the stars from above, in Paradise: “I saw light in the shape of a river/Flashing golden between two banks/Tinted in colors of marvelous spring./Out of the stream came living sparks/Which settled on the flowers on every side/Like rubies ringed with gold . . .”).

At the peak, John wrote a song called I am the Walrus in which he invoked the Upanishads, which along with The Autobiography of a Yogi was very popular back in those days. John wrote, “I am he,” about the swimming together of all of us at the peak of the Sixties, and “we are all together.” “I am the Eggman,” he sang, with his characteristic Liverpool humor, “. . . they are the Eggmen. I am the Walrus.”

Lennon’s favorite book was Alice in Wonderland and the Abbey Road album contained a snippet of Lewis Carroll's prose. He may have drawn on Lewis Carroll’s wise Walrus, who would fit right in on Sgt. Peppers, holding forth on cabbages and kings to a horde of oysters.

It is all comic and hidden, but it reflects an awareness he had about being a man at the center of a world in transformation. The words, “I am he,” are from the core of Eastern spirituality and are well known to its practitioners. Shimon Malin’s recent book Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and Reality, a Western Perspective offers an explanation from science: He writes, “Erwin Schrödinger had the experience of finding the soul of the universe within himself, as his own ultimate identity. He expressed his finding as follows: Inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you – and all other conscious beings as such – are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is, in a certain sense, the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in the sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: Tat twam asi, this is you [or I am he or this is that]. Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the east and in the west, I am above and below, I am this whole world’.”

Malin writes that Wolfgang Pauli, when asked if he believed in a personal God, responded with an answer that suggests a mandala: “May I rephrase your question? I myself should prefer the following formulation: Can you, or anyone else, reach the central order of things or events, whose existence seems beyond doubt, as directly as you can reach the soul of another human being? I am using the term “soul” quite deliberately so as not to be misunderstood. If you put your question like that, I would say yes.”

This expression reflects the sentiment of the Upanishads in which the Atman (the Eggman) or the individual soul, finds itself at one with another individual soul, then another, then the whole soul, the world soul, the God consciousness, the Brahmin (the Walrus). It is what Jesus had become after he had gone through the Transfiguration, referring to himself as at one with the God force, at One with the Father. This is the Brahma consciousness.

The Beatles were at their peak with Sergeant Peppers. There John would find fulfillment, anthropologically speaking. Then he would journey to the East, although Paul and Ringo were bored, and find the mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a father figure to him, but a Great Father, a spiritual father, not an earthly father.

The shaman’s work is essentially over by then, except to bring the gift idea to the community. The shaman has brought the tribe with him through the transformation of the Unconscious. It is up to us after that.

Yet some of the Beatles greatest work would come as they traveled down the back side of the mountain. The White Album is still a favorite to fans. One song, I’m So Tired, wonderfully reflects the rite of exit of the exhausted artist that comes at the end of the transformational passage, balancing the liberating I’m Only Sleeping, at the rite of entry.

It is characteristic of the dark side of the passage that the archetypes reverse themselves and show themselves not as they are in the holistic form of the inner life, but just the opposite, shattered in the outside world, reflecting that the center has been passed through and we have once again entered the flat consciousness of the everyday world. And in this instance, it was a hostile world at war in Vietnam and on the streets and campuses of the United States (“Happiness is a warm gun,” sang John)

“Can one live with a shattered glass?” the guru classically asks a Tibetan monk who has just found Enlightenment.

And here – classically - the Beatles reject their psychological god-king, the Maharishi, and even publicly denounce him. Here John sings, “My mother is of the sky.” Lucy is of the sky, his anima, his female counterpart whom he found in transcendent journey. Mother is of the earth. And the tricksters continue their playful treachery, fooling their audience and keeping them off guard with pranks like this one: “ . . . here’s another clue for you all. The Walrus was Paul.”

The Walrus, of course, was John.

Coming off the backside of the mountain – and on return form India - John sometimes believed he was carrying – channeling, we say – Jesus and said so to the Beatles. And he made occasional references, even paraphrasing the Gospel of Thomas “. . . the inside is out/the outside is in. . .” on the White Album.

The full text is, “Jesus said to them:/When you make the two one,/and make the inside like the outside,/and the outside like the inside,/and the upper side like the under side,/and (in such a way) that you make the man/(with) the woman a single one,/in order that the man is not man and the/woman is not woman; when you make eyes in place of an eye,/and a hand in place of a hand,/and a foot in place of a foot,/an image in place of an image;/then you will go into [the kingdom].” – from The Gospel of Thomas.

This preoccupation with Jesus appears again and again. “Christ, you know it ain’t easy,” he sang in one of his last songs, suggesting in The Ballad of John and Yoko that he, like Jesus, would be crucified.

Certainly Lennon made himself look like Jesus at the end of the Beatles. On their last album cover, Abbey Road, he is dressed all in white, like Jesus after the Transfiguration, with the Beatles trailing him across the road, like the Three Celestial Ones (see this blog in January, 2006 for the Three Celestial Ones), following in his wake. (And cultism would abound in the Beatle myth. The old Catholic myth about the three secrets revealed to the children at Fatima by the Blessed Mother took a pernicious turn into hippie lore in the late 1990s when the Pope revealed the third secret to be about a “man in white” who would be gunned down when he returned from the mountain top. The Pope, who had been wounded in an attack at the same time that Lennon was murdered, revealed the contents of the letter to the public because he said the prophecy had been fulfilled. John Paul II, who wore white garments at public ceremonies, claimed to be the man identified in the prophecy.)

Even later, at the very end of his life Jesus is suggested. All through the most creative period, the shaman’s journey from Sgt. Peppers to the end of Abbey Road, John wore a special flowered talisman around his neck. Afterwards, he stopped wearing it. But in New York, in one of the later pictures ever taken of him, a well-known photograph where he is wearing a t-shirt that says New York City across the front, there is a tiny cross hanging from his neck.

At the end of the Beatles period John continued in a prophet’s journey. Like Moses and the Bodhisattva, he returns from a celestial vision on top of the mountain with a simple transforming idea, as Moses did with the tablets.

It is the same idea that has occurred throughout the century but is new to our century here in the West. It is Emerson’s message and here it is again expressed ten years before the Beatles by C.G. Jung: “Our world has shrunk, and it is dawning on us that humanity is one, with one psyche. Humanity is a not inconsiderable virtue which should prompt Christians, for the sake of charity – the greatest of all virtues – to set a good example and acknowledge that though there is only one truth it speaks in many tongues, and that if we still cannot see this it is simply due to lack of understanding. No one is so godlike that he alone knows the true word.” As Woodstock guru Satchidananda put it, “One truth, many paths.”

It is the same idea that Leo Tolstoy, a Great Father figure to the non-violence movement of the Sixties, had brought to the world after his night of the dark soul when he went through a religious transformation.

Lennon, with his wife Yoko Ono, entered the peace movement when he left the Beatles, and like Tolstoy later in life, attempted to apply his natural gifts didactically to public purpose. He is said to have been reading Tolstoy’s late non-fiction work on religion and non-violence as many were in the late 1960s, and his final word, the simple transforming idea he brought down from the mountain is precisely the same thought as Tolstoy’s: Imagine there’s no country, it isn’t hard to do. . . Imagine all the people living life in peace.

Tolstoy claimed that there was one singular thought in Christ’s work and that was do not return violence with violence. On this he built the doctrine that would inspire Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the anti-war activists of the 1960s. Furthermore, in Patriotism and Government, Tolstoy wrote that patriotism was a practicable solution for nations early in their development, but it was time now to abandon national prejudices. Even Ghandi, who he corresponded with and who admired Tolstoy enormously, had failed in this, he said. The non-violent approach was the right approach, but, said Tolstoy, declaring the nation to be Hindu, “ruins everything.”

It was time for the removal of all barriers. No country, and no religion, too. This would be Lennon’s final impression on the people: Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you can, no hell below us, a brotherhood of man.

This is precisely Tolstoy’s religious conviction at the end of his life. He advocated abandoning identity with a particular prophet as one would abandon nationalism.

In one of his last writings on the subject Tolstoy clearly states his opinion: “Attributing a prophetic mission peculiar to certain beings such as Moses, Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah as well as several others is one of the major causes of division and hatred between men.”

John’s swan song, Imagine, reflects timeless Buddhist sentiment like that presented in What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, which had gained popularity in the Sixties. And is likely an intentional reconstruction of Tolstoyan philosophy which was deeply influenced by Buddhism and Taoism. Intended or not, it completes the shaman’s journey and begins the transformation of the group.

Imagine also bears a relationship to The Gospel of Thomas. Elaine Pagel's book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, states that in Thomas’s account, Jesus challenges those who mistake the kingdom of God for an otherworldly place or a future event: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will get there before you . . .” In a word, Imagine there’s no heaven.

William Butler Yeats writes: “What portion in the world can the artist have/Who has awakened from the common dream/But dissipation and despair?” Such was the lot of John Lennon.

Late in life, broken and in pain, he wrote, “I was the Walrus, but now I’m John.”

One of his biographers writes that he was never happy again after the Sgt. Peppers period. The pictures show it. He never smiled again for the camera after he returned from India.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Requiem for the Walrus – John Lennon remembered

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/04/08

"Is it not written in your law you are gods?" John 10:34

John Lennon was gunned down and killed 28 years ago next Monday in New York City. This event goes largely unnoticed in the press today, but in 1969, at the peak of the war in Vietnam, John Lennon was the most important man in the world.

The high point of his art and work was several years before when he used the expression "I am he," at the beginning of one of his most important and entertaining songs at the height of the hippie days. Lennon was, in his time, a generational shaman. He awakened his own generation between childhood and adulthood. But today he resonates in the world as a pure force all of his own.

Had there been no John Lennon then there would perhaps be no Dalai Lama here today in the West, for in his journey to the East in his life and work he took half the world with him and that journey took the chill and fright and mystery and fear out of the things of the East. Possibly there would not have come that later pre-Calvin earth shaman, Harry Potter. Possibly there would be no Edward and Carlisle Cullen and Bella Swan.

"I am he," is an expression widely understood in the East – it is in a sense the essence of the East. The classic explanation in the Hindu is that a person alone in the world at some point finds an enlightenment within herself or himself; a celestial inner god, the Atman. And if that person continues on the path, which in the East would be considered the Path of God, then at the top of the mountain she or he might find wholeness with all the others and wholeness with the universe.

For the first the journeyer could think and say, "I am the Atman." Then at the peak s/he would say, "I am the Brahman." Lennon played on these phrases in classical Liverpool humor. He followed the Hindu phrase I am he (he was no longer who he was when he started, but he had become something else which was within him and the others and everyone, everything, everywhere . . .) not with "I am the Atman, I am the Brahman," but instead with: I am the Eggman, I am the Walrus.

Listening to Senators, Governors, Presidents, Attorneys General and outright louts and war criminals these past few years talk about their religious "convictions" – these women and men of faith and the religious burghers who joyfully in the name of the Prince of Peace endorsed torture, "50 more years of war," and barbaric practices unheard of among the English-speaking people since the 12th century, I began to think of how entirely screwed I would feel today if I was a young man, just beginning on life's journey. And what a joy and a pleasure it was to hear instead these charmed and encouraging words by John Lennon, when I was a young man, even hearing them for the first time in a war zone in South East Asia.

John’s swan song, Imagine, reflects timeless Buddhist sentiment like that presented in What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, which had gained popularity in the Sixties. It is likely an intentional reconstruction of Tolstoyan philosophy which was deeply influenced by Buddhism and Taoism. From what I have been told, it was something Lennon was familiar with.

Imagine also bears a relationship to The Gospel of Thomas, which he quoted from in the earlier music ("When the inside is out . . . the outside is in . . ."). Elaine Pagel's book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, states that in Thomas’s account, Jesus challenges those who mistake the kingdom of God for an otherworldly place or a future event: Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will get there before you . . ." In a word, Imagine there’s no heaven.

William Butler Yeats writes: "What portion in the world can the artist have/Who has awakened from the common dream/But dissipation and despair?" Such was the lot of John Lennon.

Late in life, broken and in pain, he sang, "I was the Walrus, but now I’m John."

One of his biographers writes that he was never happy again after the Sgt. Peppers period. The pictures show it. He never smiled again for the cameras after he returned from India.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sarah Palin and The Jacksonian Republicans – the revolt of the rustics

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/04/08

Tobin Harshaw, The Opinionator at The New York Times, can’t resist the woman in the red dress. He cites a report by Politico’s Andy Barr that Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss credited Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with firing up his base.

“I can’t overstate the impact she had down here,” Chambliss told Fox News. “When she walks in a room, folks just explode.”

This could be a significant historic turning. There are now two schools of Republicans: The traditional H.W. Bush conservatives which young son Jeb will likely lead again into the Senate in 2010 and the others; those who just explode when the Governor of Alaska walks into the room.

These must be called Jacksonian Republicans - heartland populists rising up now in opposition to the Eastern Establishment. A similar countervailing movement divided the country red and blue when it was called North and South. It might well or better have been called frontier west vs. the Eastern Gentry; the ruling class, if you will, of Adams, Jefferson and even Washington in the 1830s. Cohesion was only restored by conquest 30 years later.

Chambliss’s comments bear out the observations of The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard, who directly after the election found lots of folk who wanted to talk about Palin. Peggy Noonan, on the other hand, returning from a conference, said the name brought only appreciative laughter. Perhaps she was protecting her base.

When Noonan brought her inspired wordmanship to Ronald Reagan and his Vice President George H.W. Bush the phrase and the concept “compassionate conservative” began to appear and it came to identify a new approach for Republicans. It evolved at a time in which Catholic social theory was becoming an influence on Republicans.

This could well identify George H.W. Bush, Noonan, and the traditional conservatives of the Eastern bent who were once politically polarized in opposition to Catholics here in the Northeast. Jeb Bush, younger brother of W and former governor of Florida, could well bring this evolving tradition to a higher profile in Washington when he runs for Senate in 2010. Jeb is what we used to call a “good Catholic”; that is, a devout Catholic committed to its discipline. So is Bobby Jindal, governor of Lousiana, who could well be Jeb’s running mate in 2012.

But the real division today in Republican politics is not about religion which, in a fair and democratic state should be irrelevant, but about economics.

And there is a growing backlash against the bailouts throughout the heartland which many of the traditional Republicans holding national office today have supported. Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, and Rick Perry, governor of Texas, have recently spoken in opposition to the bailouts. Likewise, Mike Huckabee and others oppose.

They, and Palin and Mitt Romney as well, speak to the frontier spirit of the heartland and the independent nature of Americans who live away from the coastal cities. The traditional Eastern Republicans are moving toward a Europeanist position and so are the Democrats. They are moving toward an economic system which might be considered a Hamilton-Marx hybrid. The Jacksonian Republicans are moving in the opposite direction.

W. Bush was actually the first Jacksonian Republican. His clear distaste of things Eastern and European in his first term awakened a new theme in opposition. This was in fact, very Emersonian, as the Concord Bard saw default to Europeanism as a decadent retreat; a default of America’s unique character and responsibilities. Americans were not Europeans and were born free of that - we could more readily find our fuller nature here in the new world on farm or town common, or heading west to the forest.

Purely from a marketing point of view, the Jacksonian Republicans could have a future. Politicians are subject to market trends same as ad and TV executives and Obama’s Democrats may already have jumped the shark. In the last year Kelsey Grammar, star of the hit comedy Frasier, and Jerry Seinfeld have both attempted to repackage themselves. Both were brilliant and archetypal representatives of the Clinton era and both seemed shocked that their return efforts failed this year.

They failed because the Clinton age is over. Obama has made the same marketing mistake in trying to repackage Hillary and the Democrats’ own brilliant but troublesome Plaxico, hubby Bill, who is struggling now to get just any job in this administration and will probably get one. Good luck with that.

This week on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Madeline Albright, Secretary of State in the Bill administration, in referring to Hillary as Obama’s Secretary of State, said Hillary would be good to “reintroduce America to the world.” She used the exact phrasing Hillary used during the campaign when she said as President, she would first send Bill around the world for the same purpose. Grammar, who seems to be at loose ends now that they have cancelled his new show, told Mike Huckabee that he might run for office in California. Perhaps he could get a position in the Obama administration.

If Obama’s only success is in being the first black President it will grow stale fast. He has already succeeded in that. By 2012 we will be ready for something new. We were already in 2008 but so far have seen only nostalgia. Perhaps the Democrats have lost their purpose in a varied, service economy; nostalgia is always a symptom of lost purpose and direction.

If so, the real fork in the road ahead will be between the H.W. Bush Republicans in the Eastern tradition and the new renegade Jacksonian Republicans that Sarah Palin is awakening now throughout the heartland.