Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:20:38 AM EST
I was recently visited by a cousin who spent his working life in the higher reaches of the USA's permanent government, including policy positions in the Office of Management and Budget and the Commerce Department. He's about seven years older than I and I once thought he was probably the smartest guy in the world. He has a law degree, is quite tall (198 cm) and very handsome. All in all, the kind of guy you debate at your peril.
Me, I live in the provinces--quite near the geographical center of the North American continent and about as far from the rooms where actual decisions are made as is possible. He lives in the District of Columbia itself--a virtual war zone where full-time paranoia is actually a healthy survival skill. I live in freaking Brigadoon--a village so civilized I was actually spooked by how polite everyone was when I first moved here.
Our time together was short--which was probably a good thing because between some powerful pain killers I was taking to cope with some oral surgery and his attitude that Washingtonians have some sort of monopoly on wisdom, I started getting grumpy. I am not of the opinion that the folks who wasted the last eight years ignoring real problems but DID have the time to lie us into a couple of illegal wars were very close to wise. And while he probably considers himself a centrist in NW Washington, he has become, by any reasonable standard, a Economist-reading, neoliberal, right-wing extremist. Also not a good match.
At one point, I suggested that the ONLY way we were every going to be able to address the problems of Peak Oil and Climate Change--issues that surprisingly enough, have attracted his interest--was to bring back the guillotine to clear out the fools who had caused the problems and were unlikely to ever contribute to new solutions. Using his finest "tut-tutting" voice, he assured me that humanity had progressed beyond the historical stage of guillotines. Disgustedly I snorted, "Well, what else do you propose we do with the folks who lied us into two criminal acts of war?" I did back down and suggest that if historical relevancy was the big issue, we COULD ship the war liars to Gitmo instead of recalling the guillotine to service.
At another point, I decided to trash his intellectual base. Remember, the arrogance of the permanent government was once based on facts on the ground. Guys like my cousin could know enough to assume that his facts were just better than anyone else's in the room. He actually knows some of the players. He has access to intelligence reports. He has worked in the departments that collect the data. And most importantly, he has read the Washington Post on his daily commute.
The problem is that none of this means much anymore. Where once you had to be in Washington to see legislative hearings, now you can see them on C-SPAN. Where once you needed your congressman's help to get important documents, now you can download them on the Internet. And of course, the Washington Post is online so the received wisdom of the capital can be accessed by anyone who is interested.
Just because a Post doesn't thump against my door every morning does not mean I cannot know what is in it. And to be perfectly honest, I find most of what is in the Post frightening stupid. To cite one obvious historical example, the Post assumed throughout the 1980s that the Warsaw Pact nation were indeed growing at 3.5% per annum as claimed by our very expensive intelligence services. On the very day the Berlin Wall came down, their pet conservative pundit--an arrogant prig named George Will--was claiming that the fall of the wall was impossible. Of course, being completely wrong made absolutely NO dent in the arrogance of Will OR the Post.
I consider the Washington Post to be just slightly above the Drudge Report for reliability. And of course, because there is SO much good writing on the Internet that one can only read a small fraction of it, reading the Post becomes something you do only to check on what the terminally confused are "thinking" these days. At one point I said, "you cannot understand the big problems like climate change if all you do is read the Post--those lightweights haven't written anything serious in at least 20 years."
I certainly committed heresy in his eyes. And our lunch was mercifully coming to an end. But I was quite serious. Folks who rely on the Post for their worldview are just as ignorant as those who rely on Rush Limbaugh. The only difference is that the post readers considered themselves SO much more respectable and so are SO much less likely to abandon their beliefs. Worse than a "dittohead" is bad indeed.
So yesterday I sent him the following email because I am afraid he might have thought I was joking about the utterly unreliable nature of the Post worldview.
You seem to think that I was being excessive harsh yesterday when I claimed that the Washington Post had not published anything remotely serious for at least 20 years.
So prove me wrong. Send me links to some serious pieces that have been published in the Post.
Here's the criteria:
I'll bet you cannot do it. Because face it, the Washington Post is written, edited, and published by hopelessly ignorant religious nuts. This is the paper that employs George Will, for god's sake. (sheesh)
- It must be on a serious subject. This excludes pieces on why Joe Gibbs feels more comfortable managing a racing team than a football team or why residents in NW Washington are installing more granite countertops in their kitchens.
- It must be scientifically and technologically literate. There can be no mistakes that anyone who stayed awake during high school physics would find preposterous or shock that manufacturing automobiles, for example, is harder than it looks.
- It must contain sound historical context. Journalism in the rest of the world does this routinely so any Post article that is missing context will be immediately rejected.
- Any political piece that explains the "horse-race" element but neglects to explain the issues or why various groups may support or reject an idea will be considered a failure of analysis.
- It cannot be hopelessly provincial. If the article claims something is a good idea from the perspective of Washington or USA, it must also discuss why the other 96% of the earth's populations might find it less than ideal.
- It cannot parrot the positions of right-wing Likudnik Zionists.
I am willing to be proved wrong. But because a stopped watch is right two times a day, I will need at least three examples of when something in the Post was actually written by someone thoughtful, aware, and educated to be convinced.
You know, this IS a matter of life and death. The No. 1 reason this nation cannot meaningfully address the big problems is that the main instrument of communication in the nation's capital has been highjacked by religious extremists and drooling idiots.