Here, Post 9-11
Orson Welles once said he hated watching television as much
as he hated peanuts, but he couldn't stop eating peanuts.
Watching the presidential campaign unfold it's a feeling
many of know better than we'd like to.
Disgusted by whichever candidate we distrust, exasperated
by those who speak for or believe them, it's easy to
pull back into ourselves and imagine somehow that we're
not exactly participants in all this, just bemused observers,
though of course we're not. Yes, the election is playing
out as just what it is, the big television show. In
fact the whole campaign so far has been about television.
All the issues that have dominated come from television ads
and televised responses and how each new one affects the score.
Its the ultimate "reality-based" television show.
And we love shows like that because they're all about
humiliation and shame, and we're far more interested
in seeing who the loser is, because we know the Survivor's
going to be the most ruthless and least truthful player. So
basically we stay tuned, even fixate on the contestants, because
we're dying to see who's going to get nailed next.
Bad of course but true, and it's only starting in earnest
for this election cycle.
Three years ago one perfect September morning, our world shifted
hard. And even as, with time, we come to understand better
the changed reality we share, there's much that's
hard to see, even for those of us whose lives weren't
personally ripped open by the events of 9-11. Here in our
part of God's country we've been luckier than
in some places. We feel safer and we are safer than
many Americans; it's something we're grateful
for and the relative safety of our homes and our region isn't
lost on most of us. But apart from the financial insecurity
over these years that's reflected in the savings some
of us have and how they haven't grown, we've been
pretty insulated. Yes, we see changes, the weakness in the
broader economy, the rise in real estate values and the problems
that's caused for people seeking new and affordable
homes. We've had a road closure at the Ashokan Reservoir
that's effectively moved 1,500 people ten minutes drive
time further from civilization than they thought they lived.
It's unfortunate but it isn't likely to change.
We're not looking to minimize that problem but so far
that's been the worst of the local downside and we're
making our adjustments.
To some degree even these problems are at least partially
offset by trends that are basically positive, and that we
see in the strengths and resiliency of our communities, our
schools, our collective life, and our institutions. There's
the continuing shift, clearly accelerated by 9-11, from part-time
to full time residents. There are signs of an increasing sophistication
in the way that we track and assess the effectiveness and
the accountability of local government. Even our county legislature
is showing shows signs of responsiveness and maturity few
of us ever really expected to see anytime soon. And yes, that's
partly a reflection of a changing demographic but it's
also a reflection of the higher expectations people have now.
We think the truth, odd as it might sound, is that what's
frightening about the future for many parts of the country
are likely to play out here in ways that are basically positive,
certainly economically positive. And so we think the future,
here in our mountains, is as close to solid as it can be,
given the world we live in now as opposed to the one we lived
in just a few years ago.
Having said that though, we also have to step back and look
at the broader changes our nation's going through, because
whatever society we're building here in the Catskills,
we're Americans first. And the big shift we're
in the midst of, at least unless the national direction changes,
is the shift into The Permanent War, sometimes called The
War On Terror. We're right to be afraid of millions
of people who want to kill us. We're right to try and
protect ourselves as effectively as we can, and we'd
be negligent not to look at every means available and every
solution possible, wars included. But we also have to remember
that every solution's bought at a price and whether
we as country can afford what's being sold isn't
so clear. The permanent war is a package deal, at the heart
of the package is fear, and few things sell as well. In fact
the harder it's sold the more we're willing to
buy, and if we're afraid enough, any price is fine.
This war's even got its own home shopping network, which
you can tune in on any number of television news channels
to be properly and regularly terrorized. We're
not saying the permanent war is the end of the world, but
it's clearly one of the choices ahead, though it won't
appear on any ballot. And we're not saying the choice
is black and white, some parts of the economy will do well,
and some people will benefit. What's $4 a gallon for
heating oil, if in return, we feel safer? When we're
at war people don't fly unless they really have to,
and given our proximity New York City, the tourism and lodging
industries may do very well. But as we say, everything
comes at a price.
As teenagers, many of us read George Orwell's "1984",
a chillingly prescient novel about a country ruled by fear
and slogans and terrorized by television, its constitution
gutted and its history changed daily to serve its leaders.
He may have missed the date by 20 years, but if there ever
was a time to read it again, it's now.