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.

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