Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The new Cold War ... from Team America (really, he calls it that)

From Glen Greenwald, we learn more of TF's latest war:

So congratulations to us. After years of desperately searching, we've finally found our New Soviet Union. Nay-saying opponents of the New War (those who Tom Friedman, in March of 2003, dismissed as "knee-jerk liberals and pacifists") may try to point out that it's a country whose defense spending is less than 1% of our own, has never invaded another country, and could not possibly threaten us, but those are just small details. Iran is our new implacable foe in Tom Friedman's glorious, transcendent struggle -- which, in 2003, on NPR, he called "the beginning of World War III . . . the third great totalitarian challenge in the last, you know, 60 years," and which he today defines this way (featuring an amazingly disingenuous use of parenthesis):

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Autocracy's newest fan

Good news! Three months after this fine blog fell by the wayside, the mustachioed marvel has managed to write something dumb enough to shock it back into existence. The offending paragraph, from his latest column, "Our One-Party Democracy":

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

Yes, you read that correctly. Thomas Friedman -- the neo-liberal, free-market crusader who not so long ago could be found championing a disastrous invasion designed to spread liberty and democracy -- has morphed into a cheerleader for the CCP, an authoritarian party presiding over a brutally repressive political system and an economy that features no small measure of state intervention.

For starters, praising the Chinese Communist Party for its farsightedness on environmental matters is patently absurd. Granted, 2007 was a long time ago, but you'd think that Friedman might still remember "Choking on Growth," a major series his own newspaper ran that year chronicling the tremendous damage China's economic development policies have done to the country's air and water, and the dire consequences this environmental degradation has for public health. Sure, the one-party system makes it relatively easy for the central government to mobilize resources and pour a few billion dollars into electric car research or its renewable energy industry, but the other side of the coin is that China's top-down, development-oriented political system is so riddled with corruption and dysfunction that the government has a hard time enforcing even the most basic environmental regulations at the local level.

More important, of course, is the fact that the "drawbacks" of one-party autocracy that Friedman makes passing reference to include things like, oh, I don't know, the near total absence of freedoms of expression, assembly, petition, religion and so on. If China's leaders are really the "reasonably enlightened group of people" Friedman claims, then I suppose it's a bit curious that they've chosen to reject virtually every political value the Enlightenment stood for, and to preside over a tightly-controlled media and education system that attempts to keep the population in a permanent state of dis-enlightenment as to the history and functioning of their own society. And that's not even to mention the regime's management of its ethnic minorities, an area in which it continues to operate largely on a model adopted from Stalinist Russia.

So, to recap: Authoritarian rulers like Saddam Hussein, who jail dissidents and deny basic freedoms to their people? Targets for regime change. Authoritarian rulers like Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, who jail dissidents, deny basic freedoms to their people ... and build solar panel factories? Targets for Friedman's affections.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Friedman Returns!

After a hiatus of more than a month (not book-leave, one must hope), Friedman has been up to his usual hijinks lately, dropping two columns within the last week about the Middle East.

Yesterday's column, "After Cairo, It's Clinton Time," is grating for two reasons, the first somewhat trivial, the second somewhat not.

Devoted Friedman followers might recall that in 2003, the mustachioed marvel appeared on Charlie Rose to deliver his in-your-face message to America's enemies in Iraq: "Suck. On. This." Well, six years later, Friedman apparently has still not gotten it into his head that the trash-talking is best left for the basketball court (or, in Friedman equivalent, the putting green or tennis court). Reviewing the bloody civil conflict that broke out in the vacuum created by the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, Friedman writes:
Liberated from Saddam's iron fist, each Iraqi community tested its strength against the others, saying in effect: "Show me what you got, baby."
I don't know how many Times editors signed off on that "baby," but if there was ever a single word that was more badly in need of being cut, I can't think of it.

The more troubling element of the column comes in the sixth paragraph, when Friedman writes:
I have never bought the argument that Iraq was the bad war, Afghanistan the good war and Pakistan the necessary war. Folks, they’re all one war with different fronts. It’s a war within the Arab-Muslim world between progressive and anti-modernist forces over how this faith community is going to adapt to modernity — modern education, consensual politics, the balance between religion and state and the rights of women.
A most interesting interpretation, there. (And a very convenient one, for a prominent cheerleader of the Iraq invasion.)

Yup, that's right folks -- the war in Iraq isn't one that we started, based on false intelligence and crackpot visions of transforming the country into a beacon of democracy and progressivism. Instead, it's more like it was already going on, and we just kind of jumped in on the side of the good guys. And what about the Iraq war pulling resources away from the mission in Afghanistan? Nope, folks -- all the same war, can't think about it like that.

Tom, Tom, Tom -- it's six years later, the near-universal consensus among pretty much every human being on the planet is that the invasion was a gigantic mistake, and a terrible way to go about reforming the Arab world ... maybe it's about time you dropped the charade and just admitted it?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Friedman Comes Out Against Torture, Logical Consistency

Take a look at today's column. If anyone can find a coherent position on torture, or the war on terror, or Iraq, or anything at all, for that matter, please let me know, because I sure as hell can't.

Friedman's columns are often vapid, and cliched, and grating, and self-serving, but I'll at least give him this — they're usually pretty clear: We need a carbon tax. We should invest more in science. We should grant more visas to highly educated immigrants. We should invade Iraq and turn it into a beacon of progressivism and democracy. Yada yada yada.

This column, by contrast, is a logical mess. As I understand it, Friedman's position is as follows: Torture is wrong. Obama was right to ban it. Bush Administration officials crossed the line, and members of the military murdered detainees. However, al Qaeda is really, really evil, and terrorists want to kill lots of people, and don't love their children, and they were maybe planning to use weapons of mass destruction. So the rules are different, and we shouldn't prosecute Bush Administration officials. Also, it would be politically divisive, and apparently bipartisanship now ranks above the rule of law and morality on the list of things we should be concerned about upholding.

Oh, and if you thought that defeating al Qaeda in Iraq would make America safer, you were wrong. Because victory in Iraq is actually going to increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack on American soil. Why? Because it's like a Hail Mary pass. And you can't argue with a sports metaphor.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Everybody! Over here! Look at me!

Remember that system of freewheeling global capitalism Thomas Friedman spent the better part of his career championing? Well, it recently drove the world economy off a cliff. So what's the solution? Did you guess fundamental reform of global finance? Good work — but that's only half the answer. What's the other half? Well, it's none other than the same set of environmental policies Friedman has been peddling in his books, columns, lectures and neighborhood grocery store (probably) for the last five or six years.

Yes, in a clever sleight of hand in his most recent column, Friedman manages to recast the financial meltdown as a desperate plea from Mother Nature to reduce carbon emissions. Don't get me wrong — I'm a firm supporter of reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment. But in the true Friedman spirit of colorful if tortured analogies, isn't this a bit like KFC trying to convince us that the economic crisis is a clear indication that we all need to be eating a lot more fried chicken, or Billy Blanks trying to convince us that the only road to economic recovery is for everyone to start doing Tae Bo?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Anti-mustache propaganda

Some people do not appreciate TF's penetrating insights. Their loss. But I will say that the mustache will prevail. He always prevails.

Hat-tip to SC.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

High Mannerism in the Work of Friedman

For someone who frequently extols the virtues of innovation, Thomas Friedman's columns often take a staggeringly unoriginal form. Today's column, about the recession, is a prime example of what might be called the mustachioed marvel's High Mannerist period.

What follows is the outline of many a Friedman column in recent years. Seriously, you could probably program a computer to write these things.


"Are we all crazy?"
By Thomas L. Friedman

The other day, I was talking with my friend from (name of a somewhat exotic Third World country), and he told me something striking: "(Quote that expresses bafflement at some aspect of American politics or society.)"

Really, folks — have we completely lost our minds? Our politicians are all acting like children. Can you believe how stupid they are?

I fear for future generations. Folks, we need to get this country back on track. And we can easily do that if we heed my advice and (painfully obvious policy proposal, almost certainly involving renewable energy, training more scientists or a return to America's classic values, vaguely defined). If we don't do it soon, it might be too late.

"(Quote that basically restates everything Friedman just talked about)," said (some quasi-public figure and good friend of Friedman's, likely to be Johns Hopkins international affairs scholar Michael Mandelbaum or entrepreneur Dov Seidman). "(Quote that once again basically restates everything Friedman said above, only in slightly different way.)"

But I'm optimistic here. Because after all, this is America, the country that (brief, inspirational recap of America's past accomplishments).


And there you have it. Just master this simple outline, and you can try writing your very own Friedman columns at home!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lazy Sunday

To be sure, the mustachioed marvel isn't known for wearing out the old shoe leather. As he told the New Yorker back in November, "I write my books by writing my books ... I don't start with six months of research." However, even by Friedman's own standards, his last two columns have demonstrated a degree of laziness that would make even the most shameless high school slacker cringe.

First, on Wednesday, Friedman made not one, but two points for which the principal evidence was the ordering of suggestions in the Google drop-down search box:

1) "Go to Google and type in these four letters: m-e-r-e. Before you go any further, Google will list the possible things or people you’re searching for, and at the top of that list will be the name “Meredith Whitney.” She comes up before “merengue” and “Meredith Viera.” Who is Meredith Whitney? She is a banking analyst who became famous for declaring last year, long before others, that Citigroup was up to its neck in bad mortgages and would not likely survive in its present form. Do you know how many people have to be searching for you if all you have to do is put in four letters and your name pops up first? A lot!"

Do you know how much gall it takes to submit a column to the most highly respected newspaper on the planet that makes arguments based on such trivial facts? A lot!

Friedman concludes Wednesday's column with this stunning discovery:

2) "For now, though, the banks still threaten to consume the Obama presidency. Indeed, I’m sorry to report that if you just type two letters into Google — “b-a” — the first thing that comes up is not Barack Obama. It’s “Bank of America.” Barack Obama is third."

But good news, everyone! I'm happy to report that if you just type two letters into Google — "d-e" — the first thing that comes up is not depression. It's Dell, as in the computer company. Depression is eighth. The economy's going to be all right, after all!

Sunday's column, meanwhile, leads off with a full paragraph from an Onion article, to illustrate a point about American consumer excess. Tom, I'm not telling you that you're not allowed to engage in Internet procrastination. It's something we all do, from time to time. It's just that, well, it's probably best to avoid drawing attention to it. At least get out of the office and talk to a cabbie, or something.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tom's speaking fees fall; mustache in peril?

"To explain how dire the economic situation is right now, one could mention General Motors, or bring up General Electric, or, hey, there's always the latest jobs report.

The following tidbit of information, however, suggests how serious things really are:

  • Based on data obtained from dinner chit-chat painstakingly gathered throughout the day, it appears that Thomas Friedman's speaking fees have recently fallen by 25%.

Of course, this could be because his speaker profile is a bit out of date."

From Dan Drezner's blog.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mixed Metaphor #45,812

Is it possible that Thomas Friedman mistakes Matt Taibbi's blistering criticism for praise? Not one week after Taibbi's smackdown of the mustachioed marvel for his reliance on nonsensical mixed metaphors, Friedman gives us the following gem in his latest column:
We’re getting perilously close to closing the window on a two-state solution, because the two chief window-closers — Hamas in Gaza and the fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank — have been in the driver’s seats. Hamas is busy making a two-state solution inconceivable, while the settlers have steadily worked to make it impossible.
So, the window is a car window? And not just any car window — but a window in a car with two driver's seats? And these two driver's seats are being occupied by sworn enemies, presumably working at cross purposes? How does that work? OK, so Hamas and the Jewish settlers are driving along, slowly rolling up the window. But won't this just leave them trapped in the car together? Why does either one of them want that? Or maybe there are two separate cars, and Hamas and the settlers drive them to where the window is, and then close it together?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Taibbi does it again

When it comes to poking fun at Thomas Friedman, we here at Mustache of Understanding remain mere amateurs when compared to Matt Taibbi, whose 2005 takedown of Friedman in the New York Press remains by far the finest work in the genre. And now he's done it again. Taibbi's earlier piece, "Flathead," came on the heels of the publication of Friedman's last book, The Word Is Flat. His latest anti-Friedman rant, "Flat N All That," takes on the mustachioed marvel's newest collection of mixed metaphors, non sequiturs and self-aggrandizing anecdotes, Hot, Flat and Crowded. I'm tempted to provide you with all my favorite lines, but I'd highly encourage you to read it all for yourself. It's just that brilliant. (You can find it here.)

Well, OK, one quick teaser:
Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything—just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts— along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 114,000 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

All right — one more, because I just can't help myself:
How about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May: "The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.” First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.

Get your mustache on

By David Rees.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Jihad Is Flat

Score 10 points for Friedman in the "slipping my pet concept into the discussion of everything" category. From his latest missive:

"Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack from Lebanon into Israel in 2006 both undermined the argument that withdrawal led to security and presented Israel with a much more vexing military strategy aimed at neutralizing Israel’s military superiority. Hezbollah created a very “flat” military network, built on small teams of guerrillas and mobile missile-batteries, deeply embedded in the local towns and villages."

Dell call centers in India. China's entry into the WTO. Hezbollah military strategy. Don't you fools see?! It's all connected! To the Flat Cave, Robin!

Monday, January 12, 2009

"When metaphors attack"

From Ezra Klein:

There are days when Thomas Friedman seems to be writing his columns just to screw with Matt Taibbi's head. To wit:

Over the next couple of years, two very big countries, America and China, will give birth to something very important. They’re each going to give birth to close to $1 trillion worth of economic stimulus — in the form of tax cuts, infrastructure, highways, mass transit and new energy systems. But a lot is riding on these two babies. If China and America each give birth to a pig — a big, energy-devouring, climate-spoiling stimulus hog — our kids are done for. It will be the burden of their lifetimes. If they each give birth to a gazelle — a lean, energy-efficient and innovation-friendly stimulus — it will be the opportunity of their lifetimes.