Monday, October 01, 2007

An op-ed to examine, and the issue of stupidity

Students in my world history class were asking for help with assignment #1 today, and one piece of advice I gave was that they might learn a lesson in focus by looking at an opinion piece on the editorial page of a major newspaper. Op-eds usually are restricted to 800 words, and our first assignment's meant to have no more than 750. You can't say much in that length. I thought looking at a pro at work might be helpful. Or more than one.

Here's a possibility. Thomas Friedman, a well-known columnist for the New York Times wrote today that 9/11 has made America stupid, isolated and increasingly, backward. A key passage reads:

Look at our infrastructure. It’s not just the bridge that fell in my hometown, Minneapolis. Fly from Zurich’s ultramodern airport to La Guardia’s dump. It is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. I still can’t get uninterrupted cellphone service between my home in Bethesda and my office in D.C. But I recently bought a pocket cellphone at the Beijing airport and immediately called my wife in Bethesda — crystal clear.

I just attended the China clean car conference, where Chinese automakers were boasting that their 2008 cars will meet “Euro 4” — European Union — emissions standards. We used to be the gold standard. We aren’t anymore. Last July, Microsoft, fed up with American restrictions on importing brain talent, opened its newest software development center in Vancouver. That’s in Canada, folks. If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?

We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy.
Friedman's not making a rigorous argument (see below) but he packs a lot of supporting material for his thesis into about 790 words.

For what it's worth, I disagree that stupidity is the only problem afflicting the USA. See the Washington Post column by Jim Rokakis, where he explains how predatory lenders are wrecking American towns, and how they have got away with it, and a piece on the growing number of American security guards while the USA loses productive jobs. (Cited from the Group News Blog because I couldn't find the original article at Too Much.)

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