John McQuaid: Rebuttal of Outlook Rebuttal
It's nice to be so amusingly fisked. Here are a few thoughts in response.
On the lack of hard data. It's not clear exactly what you're after. Statistics on declining infrastructure? On dams and levees? On contracting performance? Dropping those into the piece wouldn't satisfy, in all probability, because you could still say Katrina, stoves blowing up, etc. are merely random failures. There's no single statistic that measures declining "national competence." And across a range of general statistics - economy, crime, etc. - America is doing quite well.
But that goes to your basic misreading of the piece - which doesn't address the American economy or society as a whole, but rather the functioning of the American government and our politics. When I say it's a uniquely bad historical moment, I don't mean this is the worst crisis we've ever faced, but that there is something unprecedented in the current run of screw-ups in various national undertakings. That those screw-ups are related, and part of a pattern, is not exactly a secret, or hard to see. Does anyone really think that the ineptitude on display on so many levels in Iraq, and before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, have nothing to do with each other? Or that once Bush leaves office, it will all go away?
Many of the other points are rhetorical. For instance:
"Maybe our infrastructure is standing up about as well as could be expected, given that we've failed to spend enough money to repair it and instead built anti-missile defense systems that cost tens of billions of dollars. Is this a case of a "Can't Do Nation," or just one that has its priorities mixed up?"
Of course, we *can* repair our infrastructure. But if that doesn't happen because of "mixed-up priorities," how exactly does that differ from "can't-do"? ("Can't do" is of course an inversion of "can-do," which refers less to actual, functional ability than to the willingness to tackle a problem.)
"I wouldn't criticize anyone working in a war zone even if a kitchen stove went thermonuclear and did a China Syndrome number down through the crust of the earth. The serious incompetency can be found in this hemisphere, in the nation's capital."
It's a bit odd to declare that all contractors (and everyone else) in Iraq, even those installing kitchens in the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy, can do no wrong because they're in a war zone. In any case, my point is identical to yours: that the contracting problems are a direct result of questionable policies devised in Washington.
"But it's not clear that outsourcing has anything to do with most of the main Can't Do examples in McQuaid's article (though I think it may have played a key role in the Walter Reed fiasco)."
Contracting is certainly a factor in Iraq (though I agree it pales next to the strategic error of the invasion itself), in New Orleans (where flawed levees were designed by a contracted design firm, and a contractor mishandling the distribution of billions in housing money, most of which has not reached its intended recipients), and generically in infrastructure issues. The underlying problem, however, is not outsourcing itself, but a political system that is driven by pork and earmarks, which indiscriminately feeds money to private industry based more on power politics than any sensible accounting of priorities. Why do we get a Bridge to Nowhere, while other bridges are crumbling?
-- John McQuaid
[He'll have the last word on this. I'm going off in search of something else to rebut.]
In other news...I watched Beckham's MLS debut last night on TV and can report that he was absolutely brilliant at his trademark move -- taking off his shirt and exhibiting his sculpted abs.
Though unable to run, and a non-factor on the pitch, his handsome Greco-Roman features provided thrills for the sell-out crowd, as did his ability, on several occasions, to kick the ball more or less in the right direction.
Best of all was the post-game interview in which the superstar revealed that he has a geeky voice that belongs to someone wearing a pocket protector.
[Wilbon is a bit skeptical but captures the spirit of the night:
'From the camera flashes that popped in the 36th minute when he stood and began to warm up behind the visitors' bench you'd have thought Barry Bonds was in the house trying to hit 756. Beckham, with or without his hottie wife, is a stylish, fabulously handsome world celebrity. He's a star even when he sits, or warms up, or indicates before the game he might play 20 minutes of a 90-minute game. There simply aren't a lot of athletes who can pack the house in D.C. when it's 95 degrees or thereabouts, humidity smothering, rain threatening. Beckham did that last night, put 46,686 fannies in RFK Stadium, which is five grand more than ever watched the Nationals at RFK this season.']
This guy Steve Coll can really write. We should try to hire him at the Post.
'No railroad family could forestall the automobile, and no newspaper family can prevent the eventual end of newspapers in their old, accustomed form. Reporting without fear or favor arose from newspapers but is not inherently tied to them or even to the search for a well-turned sentence. Most of what matters about the coming media age is already being decided outside of traditional newsrooms, on YouTube and countless other Web sites, or in the advertising agencies that calibrate Google search results with the mouse-clicking habits of young consumers. Perhaps Google or its ilk will find it profitable or desirable to fund independent, expert foreign correspondence; or to support investigations of corporate and government power; or to train the sort of journalists who feel free to call out their employers' pay packages on the proverbial front page, although there are no signs of this yet. Or perhaps the Sulzbergers and the Grahams can adapt their public trusts successfully to the new technologies. And even if their efforts fail to become profitable these families might still preserve their newsrooms' independence by converting them into nonprofit foundations, similar to what the Poynter family did with the St. Petersburg Times, in Florida.
'The tenets and the traditions of unfettered journalism are marrow in our constitutional system. The Journal matters most of all because it has been a rare American incubator of the values and the skills necessary to carry out independent reporting, and because the newspaper has continually demonstrated through its stories how the First Amendment is supposed to work. Rupert Murdoch's vanquishing of the Bancrofts reminds us that even small outposts of besieged values are worth fighting for if the alternative may be their extinction.'
Boodler kbertocci directs us to this howler of a Times story on women ordering steaks to impress their dates:
Restaurateurs and veterans of the dating scene say that for many women, meat is no longer murder. Instead, meat is strategy...
... ordering a salad displays an unappealing mousiness.
"It seems wimpy, insipid, childish," said Michelle Heller, 34, a copy editor at TV Guide. "I don't want to be considered vapid and uninteresting."
Ordering meat, on the other hand, is a declarative statement, something along the lines of "I am woman, hear me chew."
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