Oct. 31, 2008

After a quarter-century without even a single major sports championship in Philadelphia, the Phillies actually won the 2008 World Series. In the wake of such a long drought, it didn’t take me long to decide whether I should attend the victory parade.

By coincidence, the celebration was scheduled on Halloween, not to mention my 34th birthday. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than a glorious day out in the city, celebrating our local heroes.

I met up with my sister Meghan and some of her friends in Havertown at around 10 a.m., and our group walked over to the Wynnewood Avenue station on SEPTA’s high-speed line. Several packed trains blew past us, but after an increasingly anxious wait, one empty train finally picked us up. Among a giddy mob of fans, we switched trains at 69th Street Terminal, and again at Broad Street. In hindsight, we were extremely fortunate that mass transit worked out for us — SEPTA was so overwhelmed by the unprecedented demand that it eventually shut down all city-bound trains.

We arrived at the Pattison Avenue station at around 1 p.m., where I immediately spotted a fan holding up an amusing hand-drawn poster that read, METS FANS ARE AT WORK. Meg’s friend Pete had managed to pick up a bunch of tickets for a big celebration inside Citizens Bank Park, and since the procession down Broad Street was taking much longer than expected to arrive in South Philly, we simply milled around near the third base gate of the ballpark, high-fiving random strangers (many of them in costume!) on a bright, picture-perfect afternoon.

At around 4 p.m., we made our way into Citizens Bank Park. Each player entered the stadium riding in a separate convertible, and many of them gave short speeches to the adoring crowd. Chase Utley’s impromptu F-bomb, while admittedly inappropriate for the younger fans in attendance, sent the audience into a roaring frenzy. And Jimmy Rollins clearly enjoyed getting a rise out of the crowd by mentioning the preseason favorite Mets and their star pitcher Johan Santana, adding, “It takes more than one player to bring home a championship.”

After the ceremony concluded, I bought an official World Series T-shirt (for the concert-esque price of $35), then briefly met up with my friend Jeff and his sister Chrissie outside the park. As daylight quickly faded, our remaining group of five rode the trains out of the city, relieved by a much easier and less crowded journey home. After arriving back in the suburbs, we grabbed dinner at Havertown Pizza, then looked through the hilarious digital photos and video clips that we’d all taken throughout the day.

Check out the photos from our fun-filled day, and stay tuned for some thoughts about the significance of the Phillies’ triumph.

[ No. 475 ]

Oct. 29, 2008

My head is spinning at the moment, and I have so many things to say that I can barely sit still, let alone type anything even remotely understandable.

I will have much, much more to write over the next few days. But for now, less than one hour after watching one of the most glorious moments in Philadelphia’s history, I will mark the occasion by simply stating the following:


[ No. 474 ]

Oct. 26, 2008

Election 2008

It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since my first presidential endorsement in 2004. But the time has come for us to select our next president once again, so here’s the 2008 edition, issue by issue:

  1. The economy. Obviously, this is the centerpiece of the 2008 race. Unemployment continues to climb, the stock market has fallen to unthinkable depths, the housing industry is a complete mess, and credit remains hard to come by. People are genuinely scared, and understandably, they want some answers.
  2. Obama rightly focuses on what the middle class needs: more jobs, income tax relief, and an end to tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas. By contrast, McCain actually admitted earlier this year that economics are not his strong suit, and temporarily suspended his campaign during the financial meltdown. That doesn’t sound like a “steady hand at the tiller” to me. While the president doesn’t have complete control over the state of the economy, McCain’s self-described weakness in financial matters and hasty behavior during an economic crisis are cause for major concern.
  3. Energy. To their credit, both candidates recognize the urgency of finding alternative sources of fuel and reducing our regrettable (and largely preventable) dependence on oil from the Middle East. But McCain is overly preoccupied with offshore drilling, which is an insufficient and short-term solution. By comparison, Obama favors a much more effective, forward-thinking energy plan that will greatly improve our country’s energy independence, and more importantly, our environmental impact on the world.
  4. Terrorism. Over seven years have passed since the Sept. 11 attacks, but terrorists remain a serious threat to our country. McCain prefers to keep our troops in Iraq indefinitely, while Obama feels that we must gradually scale down our engagement in Iraq and focus on the tribal regions of Pakistan, an area in which al-Qaeda is actively regrouping. Barack Obama has specifically emphasized the objective of finding and killing Osama bin Laden (a task that we have stupidly outsourced to Pakistan to the tune of $10 billion with no results), while John McCain remains fixated on an endless, fraudulent war in Iraq.
  5. Running mates. Obama’s selection for vice president, Sen. Joseph Biden, is extremely knowledgeable and experienced, especially in terms of foreign policy. The decision to choose Biden as the Democratic running mate is an encouraging example of Obama’s wisdom in surrounding himself with people who can help him govern effectively.
  6. McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin was an irresponsible gimmick, ostensibly intended to galvanize the far-right members of the GOP. Palin practically revels in her naïveté, cannot answer simple questions from the media, and is frighteningly misinformed about the VP job itself (hint: the veep is absolutely not in charge of the Senate). Palin has a penchant for referring to herself as a “Washington outsider” and a “maverick,” but this country actually needs a VP who is more of an insider — someone who is unquestionably ready to assume the presidency at a moment’s notice, and Sarah Palin fails that test. Given McCain’s advanced age and history with melanoma, his choice of Palin as his running mate is extremely troubling.
  7. Campaign approach. Compared with the substantive issues of the day, this is a relatively minor point, but the overall tone of this election has reached a sickening nadir. McCain is a man of honor in many respects, but his campaign has tried to distract voters with fear (e.g., Bill Ayers), not issues. The GOP approach seems to consist solely of character assaults, most of which are exaggerated or simply untrue. In particular, Palin has failed to rebuke the few but vocal supporters at her rallies who yell deranged epithets against Obama, including, “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” Such threats should never be tolerated at a campaign event.
  8. To be fair, Obama has his share of negative ads as well. But by comparison, McCain’s attacks are downright shameful, and only seek to divide this nation at a time when we desperately need to be united.

*     *     *     *     *

One side note: It’s telling that several notable long-time Republicans, ranging from Gen. Colin Powell, who spoke at length on Meet the Press on Oct. 19, to Philadelphia talk-radio host, Michael Smerconish, whose Inquirer editorial was published on the same weekend, have publicly endorsed Obama for president. The latter example is particularly surprising, since Smerconish personally acknowledges that his endorsement will alienate many of his listeners and jeopardize his career opportunities in the conservative media. But I’m impressed that he ignored the mindless GOP talking points. Instead, get this — Smerconish actually decided to think for himself. Many others in this country should consider doing the same.

I certainly don’t expect any presidential candidate to have all of the answers to our complex problems, both domestic and abroad. But Barack Obama’s central message of hope, although admittedly trite, reflects the optimism of the American dream. The U.S. is indeed better than the last eight years, and Obama has the intellectual curiosity to help this country move in a more progressive and inclusive direction.

The verdict: Obama/Biden.

[ No. 473 ]

Oct. 18, 2008

Last year, I was thrilled just to see the Phillies win the National League East division and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993. That glee was short-lived, however, as the Rockies swept the Phillies in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.

This time around, the Fightin’ Phils passed their best-of-five 2008 NLDS test by eliminating the Brewers in four games. If that wasn’t enough, the Phillies also closed out the best-of-seven NLCS with a 5–1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

That means — and I can’t believe that I’m typing these words — the Phillies will actually play in the World Series. It will be the 104th series ever played, but the Phillies will only be making their sixth appearance in the Fall Classic. They’ve won the coveted title just once — back in 1980, when I was about six years old.

The Phillies have every right to rejoice over their National League title, but I really like the fact that they’re still focused on the big prize. During their post-game comments last night, the players were clearly elated about winning the pennant, but nearly every one of them made sure to mention the phrase “four more wins.” The National League crown simply isn’t enough; they’re hungry for the title, and they know their fans feel the same way.

Game 1 of the 2008 World Series, in which the Phillies will face either the Boston Red Sox or the Tampa Bay Rays, will take place on Oct. 23. I can’t wait!

[ No. 472 ]

Oct. 14, 2008

During my drive home from the gym tonight (yes, I’ve finally resumed that routine), I spotted the following vanity license plate on a black Lexus sedan:


To prevent any confusion about the driver’s team of choice, the plate was framed in a Yankees license plate holder for good measure.

The custom Pennsylvania plate appeared to be quite new, so Mr. Lexus must have chosen it well after the Yankees’ most recent World Series title, which took place eight years ago. In fact, his timing couldn’t have been much worse, considering the Yankees missed the playoffs this season after 13 consecutive appearances from 1995 through 2007.

So, the Yankees are number one? Um, not so much.

[ No. 471 ]

Oct. 13, 2008

Last night, during the Phillies’ 7–2 loss to the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS, L.A. pitcher Hiroki Kuroda tossed a dangerously high pitch over the head of Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino, apparently in retaliation for an errant Brett Myers pitch during the previous game.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed before a fight broke out. But before and after the game, some players openly spoke about the importance of “protecting their teammates,” which is a thinly veiled euphemism for “intimidating the other side by attempting to kill them.”

If I live to be 100 years old, I will never understand how throwing 90 mph fastballs at an opponent’s head has become a tacit and strangely acceptable strategy in professional baseball. While it’s quite difficult to determine whether a specific pitch is intentionally aimed at a batter or not, the league simply must find a way to penalize players for this potentially deadly practice.

Then again, given how long it took Major League Baseball to crack down on rampant steroid use, I won’t hold my breath.

[ No. 470 ]

Oct. 10, 2008

I’ll admit that I’m not helping matters by dwelling on this relentless Wall Street nightmare, but I feel strangely compelled to document this fact:

As of the market close on Oct. 9, the S&P 500 was down 38% year-to-date.

Remember the bear market of 2000–2002, when the S&P plunged 40.1%? Well, that drop took place over the course of three calendar years. In 2008, we’re approaching the same amount of losses in about one-quarter of the same time span. If that fact doesn’t take your breath away, I don’t know what will.

In an excellent New York Times article (“Switching to Cash May Feel Safe, but Risks Remain”) that should be required reading for every American, we learn that, between Oct. 1 and Oct. 6, investors collectively removed $19 billion from stock-based mutual funds, ostensibly fleeing to “safer” investments.

Nineteen thousand million dollars. In six days.

Most investors are understandably petrified by now, and I’d be lying if I said that this tailspin doesn’t concern me in the least. However, I fail to comprehend why people insist on selling their stocks when the damage has already been done. Such investors are simply locking in their losses, and quite frankly, they are myopic sheep for doing so. And largely thanks to them, we can dispense with the word recession, which sounds like a mild euphemism for this crisis; this is nothing short of a full-fledged panic.

Oh, by the way, the U.S. deficit has become so massive that the famous National Debt Clock in New York actually ran out of digits. This week, the sign was updated to include a 14th digit so that it can once again display the full, nauseating amount:

The new 14-digit National Debt Clock

Ten trillion dollars. Now there’s a number that Dr. Evil would be proud of.

[ No. 469 ]

Photo credit: AP/CNN

Oct. 6, 2008

Quick history lesson: Lehman Brothers was founded by three Bavarian immigrants in Montgomery, Ala., in 1850 and stayed in business for two-thirds of American history. The firm managed to survive the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, and the Sept. 11 attacks.

But thanks to greed and incompetence of the highest order, the once-proud Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and was sold to Barclays last month. Its chief executive, Richard S. Fuld, Jr., pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars while betting the company’s future on hopelessly complicated investments. And as we learned from testimony at a House panel earlier today, even as the firm was going under, Lehman made sure that three of its top executives left with nearly $20 million in bonuses for their stellar performance.

Here’s the distinguished CEO, leaving the hearing among his adoring fans:

Richard S. Fuld, Jr., chief executive of Lehman Brothers

This man caused thousands of people to lose their jobs and is partially responsible for a devastating financial crisis that has shaken the global economy to its core. According to an article in today’s New York Times, the disaster at Lehman has caused Fuld to lose 90% of his previous net worth of $1 billion, but that means he’s still worth nine figures.

Heck of a job, Mr. Fuld. Take a bow.

[ No. 468 ]

Photo credit: Associated Press

Oct. 2, 2008

Politics aside — and trust me, I’ll get to that soon — I have a complaint about CNN’s coverage of the vice presidential debate earlier tonight.

Shortly after 9 p.m., I switched from the end of the Phillies/Brewers playoff game (a huge 5–2 Phils win!) over to CNN. As Joseph Biden and Sarah Palin traded some early verbal jabs, my eyes kept drifting to the bottom of the screen. There, next to a graphic that read, UNCOMMITTED OHIO VOTERS, CNN displayed a moving line graph that tracked the real-time reactions of random male and female voters from Columbus, ostensibly because Ohio will be a key battleground state in the election.

The constantly shifting EKG “pulse” along the bottom of the screen was terribly distracting from the actual content of the debate, and along with the CNN logo and an occasional two-line summary of the question at hand, the on-screen graphics took up nearly one-third of the screen. Within 15 minutes, I simply had to change the channel and watch the coverage on MSNBC instead.

A polite request to CNN: Please, please, please just let us watch the next two presidential debates (on Oct. 7 in Nashville and Oct. 15 on Long Island) without any stupid, real-time opinion meters. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the instant reactions of a few dozen Midwesterners. Just announce the poll numbers after the debate has sunk in, and I’ll promptly ignore those figures, too.

[ No. 467 ]