Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mix-up at the Times

In an uncharacteristic goof, the Web editors at the New York Times appear to have erroneously attributed a garden variety Friedman column about global flattening to fellow columnist Maureen Dowd. Either that, or Ms. Dowd is now donning a mustache of her own.

What's next — Friedman writing catty columns about the most superficial, personality-driven aspects of our political process, chock-full of demeaning nicknames and snark?

Gail Collins, Nicholas Kristof, Bill Herbert, Frank Rich and Paul Krugman — we urge you to stand strong and resist the temptation to replace your consistently excellent commentary on politics, economics and culture with formulaic columns about off-shoring and globalization. Meanwhile, David Brooks and Bill Kristol — you are free to do as you please, because, truth be told, we stopped reading you months ago.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Please, stop eating, please.

Tom does his bit:
So, I have a confession and a suggestion. The confession: I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”
We would do well to follow his example. Not just in terms of interrupting other people's meals, though that would be a start, but in the earnestness with which we should try to save this interdependent and precariously balanced world. "Please". Imagine what his eyes looked like, the sadness. How poignant must his pleading have been. And note the modesty - how could anyone not be aware of The Mustache??

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Excellent news!

Yes, dear readers, it would appear that the mustachioed marvel has introduced a brand-new weapon to his analytical arsenal: massive hyperbole. Either that, or there's actually a chance that several of President-elect Obama's inaugural balls will be held in soup kitchens.

Also, Friedman uses the term "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals" to describe certain members of the House of Representatives. Which ones? He doesn't say, but presumably, they know who they are. Of course, this epithet bears striking resemblance to the "knuckle-head" favored by a certain blowhard talk-show host at Fox News. Is this a sign of the coming O'Reilly-fication of Friedman's column? We can only hope.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: some preliminary comments

I feel the time has come to draw your attention to the latest offspring of Tom's ever-fertile imagination. The picture, you will note, is an obvious reference to Book IV of Paradise Lost, which is reflective of Tom's long-standing appreciation of Milton (he once wrote a treatise on outsourcing in Pushkin sonnets, but was unable to find a publisher bold enough to follow through) and the epic-theological leitmotif that runs through his work like a soaring tiger of insight. The sphere in the middle is representative of a bygone world, and the people on it (I think they're people) are the sorts of people who reject Tom's counter-intuitive yet deeply profound truths about the world 2.0 in which we habit so precariously on the edge of a green precipice with new horizons and interconnected bonds of informational speed and - sorry, carried away there.

As for the book:
In June 2004, I was visiting London with my daughter Orly, and one evening we went to see the play Billy Elliot at a theater near Victoria Station. During intermission, I was standing up, stretching my legs in the aisle next to my seat, when a stranger approached and asked me, "Are you Mr. Friedman?" When I nodded yes, he introduced himself: "My name is Emad Tinawi. I am a Syrian-American working for Booz Allen," the consulting firm. Tinawi said that while he disagreed with some of the columns I had written, particularly on the Middle East, there was one column he especially liked and still kept.
This is from the first page. Regular readers will note that this has many of the classic hallmarks of a Tom nugget of wisdom. The inclusion of seemingly irrelevant details, like the leg stretching in the plane (this is not, of course irrelevant: Tom;s adventures nearly always begin on aircraft, which is symbolic both of his prose and the image of Tom as a modern day Indiana Jones of political economy) and the name of the play. The properly high ratio of proper nouns to arguments. The fact that Tom's interlocutor specified the multinational for which he works, and the careful hyphenation of his ethnicity. The entire adventure, a delightful vignette of global intercultural dialogue, takes place in London; it is disappointing not to have a "metropolitan trio" in this story, of course - "Bethesda, Beijing, Bangok" or some such alliterative treat. But Tom cannot do everything at once. Please be reasonable. I must also add that there are no metaphors, mixed or otherwise, but I hasten to add that the book will not have a deficit of this trademark literary device. Most of all, though, the use of an anecdote to open the book is typical of Tom's incredible idiographic sensitivity to the particular, his grounding of the global in the local, and the way in which Tom - with such ease, such disdain - casts aside such minor hindrances as causal inference, falsifiable statements, deductive theories, or epistemological constraints like reasonableness; this is trule the audacity of flatness.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The mustache has spoken

From the oracle's latest polished gems of wisdom:
America is surely the only nation that could — in the same decade — go to war against a president named Hussein (Saddam of Iraq), threaten to use force against a country whose most revered religious martyr is named Hussein (Iran) and then elect its own president who’s middle-named Hussein.

Is this a great country or what?
Or nothing, the mustache has spoken: America is a great country indeed. And it is surely only the counterintuitive wisdom and apparent non sequiturs of the Friedmeister that demonstrate this to ordinary folks like us.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friedman, explained

Those interested in a penetrating analysis of the Friedman phenomenon might consider picking up a copy of this week's New Yorker, which features Ian Parker's 12-page profile of the man behind this blog's namesake mustache. Though the piece unfortunately contains only two, relatively brief references to the mustache itself, it is positively brimming with anecdotes and observations shedding light on the personal braggadocio and sheer intellectual vapidity of this self-styled arbiter of international opinion.

Highlights include:

- Friedman employing an analogy to describe his own predilection towards analogy: "There's a pinball game going on in my head. Balls bouncing around."

- A lunch conversation with his friends at the National Press Club conducted "almost entirely in metaphors."

- The revelation that Pottery Barn in fact has no policy bearing any resemblance to the famed "Pottery Barn rule" Friedman cited to describe America's responsibilities after the invasion of Iraq.

- His matter-of-fact statement, made without a hint of self-reflection, that "I write my books by writing my books ... I don't start with six months of research."

- The author learning that upon hearing Paul Krugman had been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, the most common reaction at the Times was, "How's Tom going to take that?" The author earlier remarks upon Friedman's evident difficulty reconciling the conflict between "the desire to have achievement recognized and the knowledge that one shouldn't brag." He also describes a one-on-one conversation by noting that Friedman "was gracious, but spoke to me as if to a room full of people."

- A venture capitalist reporting that Friedman is "the most cited thinker in business conversations" — a statement sure to fill you with confidence about the country's economic future.

- The author's description of Friedman's career as one "of growing reach ... and of rising rhetorical chutzpah."

- The author reporting that Friedman, "who is known for staking a claim on an idea by giving it a nickname," often refers to his wife, Ann, as Anncarta, for the key role she plays in his writing process.

- Friedman recalling how he became "pregnant" with the idea for his latest book. No doubt, the image of a sweating, grunting Friedman giving birth to his newest conceptual offspring is one that most readers will be happy to have.

- His wife's recollection that the letters Friedman sent her during their period of courtship "were not romantic ... They were Middle East peace plans."

- Friedman making the blissfully confused statement, "I'm not out to conquer the world. It's much more an inward-looking patriotism. I want everyone to become an American."

- Nandan Nilekani — familiar to disciples of Friedman lore as the inspiration for the columnist's "The world is flat!" revelation — explaining Friedman's role as "an intellectual entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs succeed because they get a business idea and then they move faster than the rest, they bring the product to market. He does the same in an intellectual sense." Which is fine, provided that you think ideas should be produced by means of the same process that has brought us, say, Beanie Babies, the deep-fried Twinkie, or the endless aisles of cheaply made, useless crap you can find at your neighborhood Wal Mart.

Thank you, Mr. Parker — a finer portrait of our beloved oracle of flatness has never been painted.