Rant On

An incredibly mindless Top 10 list from Newsweek.

I don’t do rants very often, and I try to steer away from the “What a Bunch of Nincompoops We’ve Turned Into” variety.  But I ran across this Top 10 list from the Newsweek webpage today, and – well, some things just have to be done.

The topic of the list is “History-Altering Decisions.”  The list appearing among a bunch of other Top 10 lists indicates it is apparently an attempt by someone to compile a list of Top 10 History-Altering Decisions.  Keep in mind, as you peruse them, that someone probably got paid to put this list together.  It even features contributions from Tom Daschle and John Kerry.

10.  Jeffords Switches Parties (2001) (Daschle)

9.  Yahoo Lets Google Win Search Wars (2004)

8.  McCain Picks Palin

7.  Trevor Graham Sends a Syringe to USADA

6.  Florida Uses Butterfly Ballots

5.  Clinton Signs the Commodities Futures Modernization Act

4.  Iraqi Army Disbanded (2003)

3.  U.S. Turns Back from the Battle of Tora Bora

2.  Flight 93’s Passengers Storm the Cockpit

1.  Kerry Picks Obama to Give Keynote 2004 DNC Address (this one contributed by Senator Kerry, who probably composed the title himself)

First of all, I kid you not.  Just in case it seems like this is too stupid to be anything but a prank.  Maybe it is a prank, I don’t know, but it’s not mine.

So there you go.  Not one of the hundred dates from the last five millennia that have meant life or death to millions; but Jim Jeffords going wobbly, the exposure of doping among athletes, and Kerry Picks Obama to Give Keynote 2004 DNC Address.  That one being #1, I have to confess, makes me almost fall in love with this list.  Almost.

The list is the worse for having at least one non-idiotic “decision” pick in it:  #5, Clinton Signs the Commodities Futures Modernization Act.  The identification of which decision belongs in a Top 10 list, among all the ones that led to the financial meltdown of 2008, may be mistargeted, but the importance of the meltdown itself to history is likely to outstrip everything else alluded to in this list.  The decisions of multiple presidents, federal bureaucrats, and legislators of both parties, about the issue of the government backing easy credit for high-risk borrowers, will, in the aggregate, turn out to have been some of the most significant made in US history, and very possibly in world history as well.

This hint of gravitas merely makes the rest of the list that much more annoying, however.  What kind of list was this supposed to be?  Obviously not one that seriously attempted to adduce the Top 10 History-Altering Decisions, Like, Ever.  Where are the decisions of, basically, any period before the 1990s?  If this list was supposed to be lighthearted, or a joke, what are #5 and #2 doing on it?  Or #3 or #4, for that matter?  Yet their inclusion, except for #5, renders the list asinine if it’s supposed to be a serious approach to even just the last two decades.  And if that’s its intent, the absence from it of Bush’s 2001 decision to fight a “War on Terror” on the offensive, in combat overseas, makes no sense at all.

I was heartened to see that the online comments about this list are highly critical of its ridiculous lack of perspective.  To read this list, you’d think the world started when someone flipped an on/off switch in about 1991.  Gee, that just happens to be about, oh, 18 years ago.  Ga-aahhh-leee, sergeant!  (That sure dates me, doesn’t it?  Quick, name the actor.)

But the list is also, hilariously, designed to build up to the national debut of Barack Obama as “Decision #1,” something most of the reader-critics at the website also pick up on.  The nonsensical superficiality of this device makes it laughable in the extreme, and what’s encouraging is to see how many of Newsweek’s online readers agree.  Park-your-brain-at-the-door Obama-worship doesn’t seem to be as widespread as its prevalence in the traditional media might lead you to think.  Newsweek’s readers seem to assume, sensibly, that the jury of history is still out on Obama and will be for some time to come; it’s early days to be proclaiming anyone’s facilitation of his political ascent – even John Kerry’s – to be history-altering in some monumentally significant way.

I could riff on the solipsism of the 18-year-old college student who thinks his generation is the first one to live in color and actually know anything – but you know what?  I think most 18-year-olds are more self-aware than that.  The person who ought to be taken out behind the woodshed is the one who thought that a list like this would resonate with 18-year-olds.  Is there in fact someone at Newsweek who thinks they’re this stupid?  Obviously this list wasn’t designed to attract interest from anyone much older than about 25.  By 25 most folks have figured out that what created the conditions around them was not the last thing the American president said, but the thousands of years of collective human history that they know maybe .0000000000000001 % of.

Heck, even if you get your history from Hollywood you know too much to be taken in by this list.  A healthy number of people would ask why 1776 isn’t on it, even if they didn’t ask about 1648, 1492, 1453, 732, or 313.  And they’d be smarter than the Newsweek list-compiler to do so.  The real lesson here appears to be the information this list conveys about the employees at Newsweek.  It doesn’t look like the reason they think we’re idiots has anything to do with us.

21 thoughts on “Rant On”

  1. Well, the so called popular culture is straight out of of C.S.Lewis in his science fiction mode. Who explains to the U.S. people that plenty of humans on this planet may see the mid 1950’s writings of Sayyid Qutb as a big turning point in human history. Why do the purveyors of popular culture think the planes smashed into the buildings on 9/11? I think one of the best decisions on 9/11 was the mayor of New York City adamant about not abandoning the island and setting up a make shift headquarters still on Manhattan. Think what it would have meant to the people of Manhattan if they discovered that the political elites had just left them there. Newsweek is a joke.

  2. A number of years ago I canceled my cable TV and went with DirecTV. I was the first person I knew who got DirecTV. Why wasn’t I mentioned on this list? I can now watch every single NFL game! Maybe if it was a Top 11 list, my history altering decision would decorate Newsweek’s pages.

    I saw Tom Daschle once in a convenience type store in Washington DC. He must’ve been the shortest person in Congress. I was almost compelled to ask him where his mother was and if he was lost. I must confess, when he lost his seat to John Thune I had a grin on my face for a week. I couldn’t stand his demagoguery. I was also pretty pleased when he tax cheated himself out of the Health Care game earlier this year (at least officially).

    If Newsweek hasn’t already cashed in its chips in the “objective publication game,” this Top 10 list is getting it closer.

  3. Orcas, don’t forget Rudy sending that $10 million check back to the Saudis. I thought that was a great decision too.

  4. Umm…yeah. And these people are making fun of Palin.

    732 and 1648, huh? Kind of a nice symmetry there as both dates (Potiers is difficult to relate precisely to either Westphalia or Lens – but the amalgam of the two, the latter possibly giving the final impetus to the former (that is Lens to Westphalia)) set the the stage for the respective Carolingian and Capetian (Bourbon) apogees.

  5. Of course, putting the city’s emergency command center inside the WTC wasn’t the mayor’s best idea.
    Had the command center been built in Brooklyn’s Metro-Tech facility as others suggested to the mayor’s staff, instead of an obvious, and already attacked, target, we New Yorkers wouldn’t have felt bereft.
    …and it wouldn’t have taken three days to even settle on an HQ.

    1. That’s interesting ,Fuster. I have a friend here in S.F. who travels in more upscale socio-economic circles than I. She’s still registered as a Democrat. Anyway, she gets much amusement listening to people saying that S.F. will never be attacked by radical Islamists because the whole world knows how liberal the city is. If that trial goes forward in New York every one should be alert. New York is known to have a large Jewish community and they especially would be at risk.

  6. Oh…and another thing OC. Try as he might, Obama isn’t likely to have as much success dismantling the Westphalian system as he would wish. As you note in the comment section of your KSM post, other large nations are none too eager to give up their sovereignty. Even the “best EU citizens” of substance (e.g. France and Germany) are interested in the organization in large part to the extent that it may amplify their wealth power, prestige and wealth.

    Indeed most Germans that I know reasonably well, while in no way parochial, are very proud and enthusiastic nationalists. (IMHO they have a lot to be proud of – the odd Holocaust notwithstanding – and while the perspective on this particular event is perhaps not uniformly what one might wish it is quite obvious that being a proud German in no way precludes viewing it with the appropriate horror and contempt). This proud and enthusiastic nationalism does not, however, preclude them from looking favorably on the U.S. and I must say that they, unlike most of my friends and acquaintances in New York, and in defiance of the wildly pro-Obama German polls, have come to take a less than deliriously enraptured view of our much traveled (at least while in office and on the taxpayer’s money) POTUS.

    A little of topic here, of course, but I would think you might have run into some Teutonic types in your travels (even though they are not particularly well known for their naval prowess -the Kaiser’s efforts in this regard and the sub business with Israel notwithstanding), and I’d be curious to know what your experience with them has been.

  7. Based on nine of the decisions that made that top ten list there is clearly a momentous decision missing.

    Number One should definitely be:
    Monica Lewinsky decides not to launder the dress after talking to Linda Tripp.

    John Kerry decides to go wind surfing also belongs on there; but I’m not sure of the rank.

  8. Number two should be:
    Pauline Gore decides that if one dose of Ritalin a day is good for making little Al more serious and controlled, five doses a day would be really good.

  9. I am inclined to agree with our host on this one – but only on the doubtful premise anyone takes these lists seriously.

    Another difficulty with such a list is ‘causation’. Is the relevant decision the decision of Franz Ferdinand to travel to Sarajevo, or the decision of the Germans to set the Schlieffen Plan into motion?

    It is doubtful if too many top ten list of history altering decisions would involve this country in any case if the principal criterion were the numbers of people whose lives and futures were altered by the decision in question.

    Even limiting ourselves to the last hundred years there are only two or three US candidates for the top-ten list. I remember another list in Newsweek several years ago which purported to rate the most influential people of the 20th century. The list was almost totally comprised of Americans – including some totally obscure US politicians. It failed to include Mao, De Gaulle, or Mandela.

    Lists are great fun, but it takes someone with a complete lack of perspective to compose them – or take them seriously.

    1. Generally yes, but it must be conceded that this particular list is especially idiotic even for the genre, and given the people in question (e.g. John Forbes Kerry et., all and the guys and gals at Newsweek, Evan “Sort of God” Thomas…), one would not be surprised if many of the participants did, indeed, take it seriously.

      P.S. Or was it the decision not to abandon the Schlieffen plan and sue for peace – as Count Schlieffen himself suggested – once it became obvious it wasn’t going to succeed, or to detach the two corps for shipment to the East where they arrived to late to assist the German victory whereas they could have been quite useful in the West and might (might), have been decisive…

      1. Or Moltke’s failure of nerve to stop the trains?

        But of course, all these things pale into insignificance compared to Ellen de Generis’ ‘coming out’. I remember at the time someone gushing that it was the most significant moment in the history of television…….

        Even this card carrying liberal has to admit that Ms. de Generis’ ’emergence’, so to speak, was not the most significant event ever in TV – or even during the five minutes in question.

        But lack of insight and self-importance are not confined to liberaldom. Sadly, self-indulgent folly is universal (and I’m not just thinking of Sarah (the moose) here)

  10. A silly infinite regression.

    If Jimmy hadn’t decided to wear that sweater and talk about malaise or if he had never gone fishing and encountered that rabbit. . .

    If Hillary hadn’t decided to marry Bill. . .

    If Elizabeth had decided to marry just about anybody. . .

    If Abraham hadn’t decided to dismiss Hagar. . .

    If Eve had decided on a pear instead of that apple. . .

  11. Or, a simple modern one with potentially huge implications:

    If that emptyheaded federal loan administrator had decided to call the FBI after her bizarre encounter with Mohammed Atta when he was trying to buy a cropdusting plane. . . no 9/11. . . no moveon. . . no Afghanistan. . . no Iraq – at least not in the time frames they played out.

  12. They are not a real news organisation anyway…. 🙂

    This is just another piece of evidence that American credentialled liberal elites – which is what someone editing Newsweek is, like it or not – are among the most blinkered, insular, parochial, close-minded segment of the population. Perhaps any population.

    It is relativism taken to its logical extreme: Who is to say that the events listed are less important than any other? It is a form of cowardice. Demonstrating the “correct” attitude relieves you from any obligation to wrestle with facts, to exercise judgement.

    In reality, if you seriously tried, you could make a whole number of thought-provoking lists of history-altering events. None of them will the THE list, but that doesn´t mean there is no truth towards which one can struggle.

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