Wednesday, April 7, 2010

He's No Expert

When I pulled up our hero's column this morning and saw that it began "I'm no expert on ... ", I was filled with excitement. What would the end of that sentence be? "The judicious use of metaphors"? "Understanding the limits of American power"? "Leading a lifestyle that conforms to the low-carbon gospel I preach?" My mind raced as I considered the possibilities.

The full sentence turned out to be: "I'm no expert on American politics, but I do know something about holes." Later on in the paragraph, he shows us just how much of an expert on holes he is, sharing his "first rule of holes": "When you're in one, stop digging."

OK, two things, Tom. First, if you're no expert on American politics, then WHY HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING COLUMN AFTER COLUMN ABOUT IT IN THE PAGES OF THE NATION'S MOST PRESTIGIOUS NEWSPAPER FOR THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS?????? And not just writing columns, but publishing books, appearing on television and giving lectures all over country? It'd be one thing for Friedman, who doesn't have an MD, to say, "I'm no expert on open-heart surgery" before offering a thought or two on the subject. Similarly, it'd be OK for a heart surgeon to say, "I'm no expert on American politics" before making an off-hand remark. However, this is the equivalent of the heart surgeon saying, "I'm no expert on open-heart surgery" before picking up a scalpel and cutting somebody open. If you're no expert on open-heart surgery, then how did you get a job as a surgeon? And why are you about to operate on that guy???

(Did you see what I did there? I used the power of metaphors to make my point more vivid. That's right, Tom -- two can play at this game ...)

Second, an expert on "holes"? Seriously? What the hell does that even mean? (There are any number of raunchy, off-color jokes that I could make here, but I'll leave you to your imaginations.) Also, if somebody is in a hole with a shovel, isn't it quite likely that he wanted to dig a hole in the first place? If not, why did he get a shovel and start digging? I get the point, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive for internal consistency in a metaphor's logic.

I know what you're thinking -- that this is just a throw-away opening, a way for Tom to come off as folksy and self-deprecating. Yes, that's quite possibly the case. But it doesn't make it any less dumb. Moreover, the rest of the column really does drive home the point that Friedman probably isn't qualified to be writing about American politics for the New York Times. In it, he argues that we're seeing the emergence of a new electoral bloc -- the "Newocracy" (clever, huh?) -- composed of managers of multinational corporations, technology entrepreneurs and "aspirational members of the meritocracy," which I guess means high school seniors applying to Ivy League colleges, or something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he makes this argument without citing a shred of opinion polling or empirical data, instead relying on a series of quotes repeating his main points from some Baruch College professor named Edward Goldberg.

Like all readers, I eagerly await the unveiling of Tom's remaining "rules of holes."

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