Monday, June 28, 2010

Making Monday Worse: the Failure of Americans, Englishmen, and the Washington Post

Another week has arrived, and with it come a host of reasons to stay in bed with the lights off, quietly weeping. For US soccer fans, there was the 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana, which came days after maybe the most exciting goal in team history. Just when we were flapping our mouths about how this is going to be our year, how we could get to the semi-finals with wins over Ghana and Uruguay, we got dissected like a frog in an 8th-grade biology class by the Ghanaians, who played the kind of beautifully precise, technically perfect soccer in the first half that Americans have never been able to pull off for more than a minute at a time. Yeah, we—and by “we” I mean, “those 11-odd guys I have no relationship with whatsoever”—played better in the second half, but all of those missed chances will be haunting the dreams of soccer fans for four years, while non-fans like Glenn Beck and Rick Reilly mock us for caring about a sissy sport.

It could be worse—we could be English. At least we Americans can take some pride in finishing first in our group and nearly advancing to the quarter-finals. The English, on the other hand, really, really cared about the World Cup, thought their team was good enough to make a deep run, and ended up barely escaping the group stage before getting dismantled by historical rivals Germany. It's a bad sign when your fans are recapping the games and conclude by saying, “Americans will never completely understand how crap it is, most of the time, to be English. We might have cute accents and be good at cocktail parties. But we are mostly losers.”

Of course, at least the English can have cocktail parties and have a soccer team, unlike, say, Haiti, where their refugee tents would be unsuitable to host cocktail parties even if they weren't collapsing due to the wind and the rain. Everyone wants to build more permanent shelters that actually have walls and a ceiling, but the land ownership issues are “complex,” so little is getting done.

Speaking of institutional incompetence, the Washington Post has been in the news lately, this time for firing Dave Weigel, a liberal-leaning blogger who was reporting on the conservative movement. He lost his job because of some comments he made on a mass emailing list about wishing Matt Drudge would light himself on fire and Rush Limbaugh would die—which, of course, reinforced the belief among conservatives that the Post is just a bunch of sneering liberals who hate anyone to the right of Ralph Nader. Some, like Tyler Cowen, bemoaned the total lack of privacy that media figures have nowadays, while others blamed the Post for not defining what Weigel's job was supposed to be—was he supposed to offer a conservative point of view, or act as a kind of anthropologist studying the strange ways of the “Paultards,” as Weigel called them? The Post's own ombudsman noted, “His departure...raises questions about whether The Post has adequately defined the role of bloggers like Weigel. Are they neutral reporters or ideologues?”

Another question might be, are those the only two options? Couldn't a reporter who has a different point of view than the subjects he's covering make some interesting observations as long as that reporter makes his biases clear and makes an effort to withhold judgement? Clearly, the man for the job wasn't Weigel, but I'd rather see liberals reporting on conservatives, and vice versa, than Tea Partiers covering themselves. The notion of “objective” reporting is thankfully pretty much dead, but journalists who disagree with their subjects (but are willing to hear them out) can offer an interesting perspective. Unfortunately, most of the criticism of Weigel boiled down to “He's a liberal! He can't write about conservatives!”

Then there are the times when journalists just need to call a spade a spade, or in this case call a hate-filled rally a hate-filled rally: some Brooklynites recently decided to protest a mosque because, basically, they didn't like Muslims. The protestors didn't even feel the need to hide their anti-Islam sentiment behind coded language the way most racists do. “If they build a mosque there, I'm going to bomb the mosque,” said one protestor. All we can hope for is that like many Americans, that man is not only filled with hate, but also lazy.

You know who isn't lazy? Government officials in Afghanistan, at least when they have to protect one another from corruption charges. That's what those liberals at the Washington Post say in the latest article about corruption in Afghanistan, just another in a long string of pieces indicting the guys that the US is supporting with aid money and military support. It's becoming increasingly clear that, just as we're not particularly good soccer players, Americans don't make good neo-colonial overlords. It might be time to take a page from England's playbook: forget ruling the world and work on our cocktail-party charm.

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