The Talking Dog

May 8, 2010, The Age of Incompetence

I'm not complaining mind you, that would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad
evidently did not apparently get training from any serious terrorist organization
, as widely reported... the last thing I'd like to see is yet another major atrocity in the heart of the city in which I and my family live and work. But this is a week that must make us ask over and over and over again... how do people get their jobs? Mr. Shahzad, for example, got an MBA degree and had a job in the financial sector... despite , evidently, being enough of a loser to manage to lose that job, have his house foreclosed on, return to Pakistan, and come back to try to be a terrorist, all while not being competent enough even at being a terrorist to know even the right fertilizer to use, or how to cover up his tracks to prevent being almost immediately caught. That part doesn't bother me: if terrorists were smarter, or more competent, they would manage to kill a lot more of us, I am somewhat bothered by the reporting on the subject, which will teach future terrorists a great deal, Then again... given CSI, NCIS, and Law and Order and their ilk, much is out there.,.. and yet... Shahzad still couldn't pull it off.

But why stop with him? Our best and brightest-- in terms of what they are paid, to be sure-- managed to come very close to melting down the financial system with what appeared to be a simple clerical mistake in trade execution, Meanwhile, another human error (or lots of them) that led to the Gulf mega-spill could not be corrected with a large containment structure. Dmitri Orlov, btw, brilliantly juxtaposes the incompetence that surrounded Chernobyl and that surrounding the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Honestly, folks.,. we went to the moon using pencil, paper and slide rules. Why is everything falling apart on us? Not even terrorists know what the hell they are doing (and we won't even mention our efforts to thwart them, such as the vaunted "no-fly list" which Mr. Shahzad almost evaded by the simple expedient of the fact that airlines weren't actually required to look at the no-fly list!) And we won't talk about the fact that a rather nasty bit of policy on our part-- unmanned drones that kill dozens if not hundreds of innocent people for each suspected "terrorist" they hit-- might be fueling more than resentment... but a whole generation of Shahzads. And notice the incompetent response: morons like Joe Lieberman proposing we strip citizenship first and ask questions later, presumably so we can go right to waterboarding!

In part, we can look at our "leaders" of late, and ask if, while certainly sporting degrees from our elite educational institutions (our last four Presidents had degrees from Yale, Harvard or both)... Joe Lieberman went to Yale too btw... are symptomatic of something else? Obviously, we can extrapolate across the board, to business, culture, academia and so forth, and ask the same question,,, wtf do these fancy credentials mean? Is there anyone... liberal or conservative, who would tell us that Yale undergrad and Harvard MBA George W. Bush was a superior leader to Eureka College's Ronald Reagan, or degree-less Harry Truman, Abe Lincoln and George Washington? Somewhat different eras, to be sure... but I miss the era when it at least seemed that people gave a crap about anything besides their own personal ambition, how much money they can make, and how effectively they can pad their own resumes. When achievements of actual substance mattered in some way.

And, at the core of everything, was competence, because mere connections wouldn't save your ass unless it were the family business... which you might well drive into the ground by being a turkey. Now, it seems, no enterprise anywhere-- from al Qaeda to Alcoa to Alabama-- seems to be safe from the scourge of rank incompetence in their midst, and the rank incompetents often sport gaudy credentials of some kind or other, But what do they mean?

We have no idea anymore: we selected Barack Obama (among whose credentials is the same undergraduate degree-- BA, 1983, Columbia, Political Science-- as myself) to be our President simply because he managed to get elected president of the Harvard Law Review, which seems to sound impressive... and yet, there is no record that the man ever practiced law, or for that matter, ever had a real job since he was 24 years old. I'm just saying: he's performing about as well as expected as President... it's just that's probably not going to overcompensate a world in which everyone seems to be incompetent, and yet demand top notch compensation for it (the Greek civil service now willing to kill for their privileges, evidently),.

At some point, we will have to own up to it one way or another. We can either take steps to correct it... or we can learn to enjoy the inevitable collapse that a generalized inability to do seemingly anything will bring us. The smart money will bet on the latter, as even recognizing that we have a problem may take more competence than we have. This has been... "The Age of Incompetence."