Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Free Santino

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 3/10/09

Now that Republicans have defaulted to their cult figure, Rush Limbaugh, it is maybe time to go back and clean the stables. Same for the Democrats. They appear no better off, sporting their “new Kennedy” – second time around – with a full set of ideas that they themselves fully repudiated by 1985. With no place to go, they turned back the clock. We are at the end of something here; something bigger than Obama and Bush.

Luckily there is one among us with the initiative, leadership, work ethic and determination to carry us across this gulf: Santino the chimp.

Santino is a chimpanzee who lives in Furuvik Zoo just north of Stockholm. He has impressed his scientists and keepers lately with his ability to plan ahead. He collects stones before opening time so he can have them at the ready to throw at visitors when the zoo opens. His preparations include not only stockpiling stones, but also fashioning projectiles from pieces of cement that break off the artificial rocks in his habitat.

Santino collects stones and hides them in different places before the zoo opens. Certain individuals seem to bother him and he keeps a look out for them. He has taken the leadership of the other chimps in his group. None of the others knew how make projectiles or store and throw stones until Santino came around.

Our time is a between – a bardo, the Tibetans call it – a death-like period that is not yet finished with the old thing, but not yet started with the new thing. And strangely it feels like the last days of the Nixon administration. Maybe because Nixon is strangely starring in two movies right now, one light, one dark.

Whatever might be said about Nixon as a politician, he was a perceptive writer and historian and may have missed his calling. He once made a point about how history can emerge out of nowhere. It can turn on a dime and run unexpectedly for a hundred years.

It once turned like that between noon and four thirty p.m. on October 21, 1805 when Lord Nelson turned back Napolean’s fleet in a sea battle that came to be called Trafalgar. Before that hour England appeared to be finished, overwhelmed and beaten down by the Americans and the French. But it was only a gulf; a breach in time between epochs, and England’s great century was still ahead.

For awhile, Nelson said, just before he died, it looked like it could go either way. That it went England’s way was due entirely to the character and fidelity of Nelson.

We are perhaps in such a breach today with no Nelson in sight. But we do have Santino and that’s impressive. This is the way the world begins again. With one man or woman who, like Captain Jason Nesmith of Galaxy Quest, never, never gives up. Or in this case, a chimp.