Doug, I think that the thing that bugs me the most is the fact that in the "old" days, you could be certain that if you bought any lens in the Nikon line up that was annotated "Nikkor", you could be sure you owned on of the best lenses in that focal length at that speed that you could buy. For example, Nikon made three different 35mm lenses f1.4, f2.0 and f2.8. The f1.4 version is considered a classic... still sought today. But you could be confident that the f2.8 model would deliver within its functional range, the best optical performance possible... And it does. The moderate f stop negates the need for CRC and if speed is not required, the lens is very good. Basically, over the history of the line, only a very few lenses were below average... Nikon apologized for the 43-86 zoom (and it wasn't that bad)... and there was a pride in the ownership of the best equipment you could buy.
In the '80's when Nikon decided to seek actively the consumer market... they so designated the lower end lenses with the moniker "series E"... and made no bones about the reduced level of construction. The choice was clear... a Nikkor was a Nikkor, and we paid for them (justifiably so).
You are correct in that with today's technology... lenses can and should be better than ever. I stated that my AF 35mm lens was far superior to my MF version... But a lens should last far longer than 2 years. My budget will not allow me to buy on a reoccurring basis optically great lenses that have a built in expiration date due to short cuts in the mechanical process. Yes, now you can buy the most expensive Nikkors... usually the f2.8 zooms, and they should be fine.... (I don't know for sure, don't own any), but Nikon's history was made from the '60's, '70's, and '80's. Thousands of "war stories" of the legendary toughness of Nikons during wars, riots, in space and harsh environments gave the company it earned reputation. Any "bread and butter" Nikkor was a tool that wouldn't let you down.... the 150 dollar f2.8 or the 700 dollar f1.4... equally strong, equally sharp.
When I hold the current versions of the common range of fixed focus lenses, (my favorites), I some how can't ignore the fact that they don't feel as sound as even the series E lenses that I had in the past.... and these new lenses are called Nikkors. Optics are important, but the sharpest lens that can't hold up to the riggers placed on it will soon lose the confidence of the user who has experienced the other side of the coin... very good lenses that you just can't wear out. I guess that I'd feel better if Nikon would just go ahead and categorize the lenses into clearly delineated groups, as in the old series E days... But I fear the NIKKOR section would get pretty small.