And so the morning went. It was a mix of false confidence, bafflement and fear in the faces of grizzled stock market pit operators, pension fund managers, Ivy League finance professors, hedge fund operatives, elegant European financiers, worldly Muslim bankers, hard-faced New York asset managers, richly dressed private-equity fund owners, shrewd Asian bankers, and an occasional foolish-looking politician shaking his fist futilely at the disgraced former Lehman Brothers CEO.
This pitiable parade of recently powerful personages got me thinking of what it would have been like if there had been a cable medical television network in 1348 to report on the emerging plague that came to be known to history as the Black Death. Early reports in December 1347 would have announced unusual deaths near the docks of Genoa. This would have been attributed (and was at the time) to a recent rain of frogs, serpents, lizards, scorpions and other venomous animals in the lands between Persia and China.
As the plague reached Burgundy in the middle of 1348, the results of a study ordered by the king would have been reported. A commission of University of Paris professors concluded that the catastrophe was caused by the astrological place of Saturn in the house of Jupiter. Medieval experts had long been aware of the dangers that the feared planet Saturn could give rise to when in certain conjunctions.
The cable medical news network's Rhineland correspondent certainly would have reported on the possible success at holding back the plague that the Germans seemed to be having for a while as a result of the urgent intervention of the flagellants -- a group of monks and laymen who believed the plague was the direct result of human sin (see, for comparison, the current explanation by Obama and McCain that greed has caused the financial crisis). The flagellants whipped themselves in public for the public good.
After that was seen to fail, undoubtedly the worldwide viewers of the medieval TV network would have seen in Strasbourg on St. Valentine's Day, Saturday, Jan. 9, 1349, the ritualistic burning to death of 1,884 Jews, who were thought to be causing the plague by poisoning wells. After the burning, the mob would have been seen holding on high the synagogue's ram horn, which carefully was described at the time as the device to secretly signal the enemies of Strasbourg to descend on the city and destroy it.
Notwithstanding the best efforts of the most trusted experts at the time, one-third of European humanity was killed by the Black Death. An old order was destroyed. Because of the premature occupation of those millions of graves, the increased value of surviving labor began the birth of the modern world. And 660 year later, experts still are debating whether it was fleas on rats, anthrax, some form of mad cow disease or some other phenomenon that caused those terrible days of tribulation.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.