Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friedman Incognito

The mustachioed marvel begins his latest column, "This Time is Different," with the text of a letter to the editor that recently appeared in the Beaufort Gazette, a small daily newspaper in Bluffton, South Carolina. The letter's author is identified as one "Mark Mykleby," a "friend" of Friedman "who works in the Pentagon."

Mykleby's letter is suspicious for a number of reasons. First, in both content and style, it bears a striking resemblance to Friedman's own writing. In fact, minus the quotation marks, it could pass for any of the eight trillion columns Friedman has churned out in the past decade about the urgent need to reduce oil consumption and promote alternative energy. To wit:

This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ... Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something.

Second, the name Mark Mykleby sounds made up. I don't know why, but it does. Certainly the alliteration has something to do with it. Add in the vague occupation description and the fact that he's writing letters to a tiny newspaper in South Carolina despite the fact that, if he works at the Pentagon, he must live in the D.C. area, and it's enough to raise eyebrows.

I see two possibilities here:

1) There is nobody named Mark Mykleby, and both the man and his letter are fictions of Friedman's imagination. It's possible that this letter actually appeared in the Beaufort Gazette, but that doesn't rule out the possibility that it was planted there by Friedman himself, writing under a psuedonym. This theory is strengthened by the fact that over the years, Friedman has penned a number of columns in which he pretends he's somebody else (like the U.S. President) and writes letters or speeches in their name. If so, this would represent a troubling but immensely exciting development. Though on the one hand it represents a serious breach of journalistic ethics, on the other hand I can't wait to see what exciting adventures Friedman has planned for his alternate persona. Come to think of it, alliterative names do seem to be popular choices for secret identities (see Parker, Peter and Banner, Bruce.)

2) Friedman is telling the truth -- there is a person named Mark Mykleby, he does work at the Pentagon, he is friends with Friedman, and he did write this letter. This is also a troubling possibility, for two reasons. First, because it raises the prospect of an army of wannabe Friedmans roaming the land, flooding "Letters to the Editor" pages with derivative Friedman columns. Second, because it once again reinforces a puzzling tendency in Friedman's recent columns to rely on extended quotes from people who think and talk exactly like he does. (Those wishing for an in-depth look at this phenomenon should see the earlier post, "(See above).")

The rest of the column is pretty standard late-Mannerist Friedman fare, detailing how the latest major news story is a crisis but also a moment of opportunity, and demonstrates the urgency of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, boosting American innovation and a bunch of other pet Friedman proposals that may or may not have anything to do with the major news story itself.

Also amusing is the disembodied quote from "corporate strategy consultant" Peter Schwartz in the next-to-last paragraph. What's it doing there? Your guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kids Say the Politically Profoundest Things

Having spent three summers as a camp counselor and one year as an elementary school teacher, I feel like I have at least a rudimentary understanding of the workings of the child mind. Which is why the following section of the mustachioed marvel's latest column, on the Gulf oil spill, struck me as so absurd:

Answering those questions is the president’s great opportunity here, but he has to think like a kid. Kids get it. They ask: Why would we want to stay dependent on an energy source that could destroy so many birds, fish, beaches and ecosystems before the next generation has a chance to enjoy them? Why aren’t we doing more to create clean power and energy efficiency when so many others, even China, are doing so? And, Daddy, why can’t you even mention the words “carbon tax,” when the carbon we spill into the atmosphere every day is just as dangerous to our future as the crude oil that has been spilling into the gulf?

That is what a child would want to know if he or she could vote.

Granted, I haven't spent much time discussing the oil spill with twelve-year-olds. But I'd be willing to bet that very, very few of them have spent the last couple weeks pondering the politics of a carbon tax or the dangers of falling behind the Chinese in the race to develop clean energy technologies. And I can guarantee you that those are NOT the questions a child would want to want to ask if he or she could vote. Instead, those questions would probably be things like: "Are you in favor of extending recess?" "Do you think there should be more ice cream in school lunches?" and "Would you consider appointing Justin Bieber to a seat on the Supreme Court?"

Essentially, what we have here is Friedman recognizing that, however reasonable his proposals are, very few other pundits and political figures have spoken up in support of them. To compensate, he engages in the time-honored political tradition of projecting your views onto others and casting them as cheerleaders for your approach. (See Nixon, Richard M.: "Silent Majority.") This despite that fact that the rationale for doing so might be pretty thin -- keep in mind that here, what prompted this summary of kid public opinion was a single question from Malia Obama about whether her dad had plugged the oil leak. Let's hope Bo doesn't bark disapprovingly when he sees video of the leak on television, lest we find Friedman boasting that the dogs are behind him, too.