Each of these items probably merit a thousand words or so, if not more. But I don't feel like I have the time, and I'm less than sure I have the inclination, to give these topics the attention they deserve. So these summaries will have to do.
- Ten Years Gone: Like everyone else, I was thinking about terrorism and its effects last weekend as we reached the tenth anniversary of 9/11. As it happened, I was out of town at a family wedding in Pennsylvania Saturday and into Sunday; at that happy occasion, there was very little talk about 9/11 itself but a surprising number of references, from liberals and conservatives both, to how dysfunctional and depressing our politics are these days. I talked with a very conservative older cousin from South Carolina who's been thinking about running for Congress (he would have primaried Joe "You Lie!" Wilson) who was fully as disgusted with everything as I am; other relatives and family friends made endless passing but blistering references to the mess in Washington.
Nationally, the response to the 9/11--the dumb war in Iraq put entirely on the national credit card, the expansion of the security state, the torture regime and the rest of it--divided the country even more profoundly after the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election, and further deepened cynicism and despair regarding government. In New York City, though, where we suffered the most in both human and psychic terms, the awfulness of that shared experience--the horror of the day itself and the enormous grief of the days and weeks afterward--brought people together, and continues to do so. There was a sense after the attack, which remains today, of "fuck those fundamentalist assholes--I'm staying right here." Bush famously said that the terrorists "hated us for our freedom." I think closer to the truth is that bin Laden hated NYC for the same reason Hitler did: the diversity, the tolerance, the functionality of an open community in which millions of unplanned human interactions every day conduce to an unmatched volume of economic and creative activity.
New York is like DC in that you'll meet very few people "from" here. But I think it's far more common to "become" a New Yorker than a Washingtonian; for all the expense and inconvenience, the place gets its hooks into you, claims you, and changes you. The experience of 9/11, for all its horror and sadness, did something like that as well. In a weird way, it made New York stronger and more of a community. That this didn't happen for the country I think is part of the national tragedy.
- Thanks again, 2008 Phillies. With thirteen games left before the playoffs, the Phillies are on pace to complete the greatest season in their 129-year history. This is the most absurdly loaded baseball team I've ever had the pleasure of rooting for, with three of the five or six best starting pitchers in the league, eight all-stars in the lineup, and tremendously impressive depth--as demonstrated by the fact that they're going to set a franchise wins record despite having lost more than half the lineup to the disabled list at different points this season.
Yet they're still more likely than not to fall short of winning a second world championship in four seasons, owing to a playoff tournament in which the factors that conduce to success over 162 games--depth in the rotation and lineup, a steady managerial hand at the tiller, and the capacity and willingness to change how players are used as circumstances dictate--mean far less than who's hot that week. I'm still pretty sure the 2010 Phillies were the best team in baseball, and they were bounced by a Giants team that had about-as-good pitching and a handful of hitters who were hot while the Phils' mashers went cold. It could happen again--as it did to the Angels in 2008, the 2007 Indians, the Mets and Yankees in 2006, the Cardinals in 2005 and 2004, the Yankees and Braves in 2003... all teams that won the most games in the regular season yet didn't get to celebrate with the big trophy at the end.
If this happens to the 2011 Phillies, it'll suck. The team is both admirable for their accomplishments and likable for who we perceive them to be, and many of their most prominent players--Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco--haven't won it all despite long and accomplished careers. For Philadelphia, though, the psychic necessity for this team to win it all is severely lessened by the fact that their 2008 predecessors already did it... breaking the 25 year championship drought that had even the most rational Philadelphians (admittedly, a low bar) wondering if the town might not in fact be operating under a curse. That such considerations won't be on the minds of fans this October should lessen the tension level to something survivable... though I'll still probably revert to functional alcoholism for the month. I'm not sure how else to do it.
- One to watch. I might actually have an aspirant to political office to seriously cheer for in 2012: Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate who's running against the very pretty Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts. In theory, Warren should be a strong candidate: at a time when the public detests career politicians, she joins the race as a 62 year-old outsider with modest roots and a great story of economic populism to tell. If she wins--and it's kind of extraordinary that even certain folks relatively far out on the right are open to her candidacy. And I felt this way even before seeing the word "workforce" in the top item on her "priorities" web page. In a time when the Democrats have at best allowed and at worst abetted the destruction of the middle class and a concentration of wealth unprecedented in recent history, Warren's message should resonate. Here's hoping,