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September 21, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

That Used to Be Us Tom Friedman has long beaten the English Language like a mule. His new book, "That Used to Be Us" is no exception.

In his WSJ review of Tom Friedman's new book, Andrew Ferguson says what we've all been thinking about Tom Friedman for a long time.
posted by Ironmouth (58 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Two links to Friedman's own website, and none to the Metafilter discussion of Taibbi's classic essay about Friedman's writing?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:02 AM on September 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


If there's one thing people all across the US ideological spectrum can agree to, its that Thomas Friedman is a buffoon.
posted by chadmalik at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think Ferguson stole that particular Friedmanism about holes and shovels from Matt Taibbi's takedown of his previous book, which is much funnier and doesn't resort to Strunck & White or Orwell to call TLF a shitty writer.
posted by theodolite at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2011


Actually, this is the more classic essay...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Was really hoping this would be an entire op-ed about how the title should actually be "That Used to Be We."

Also, this post needs some love and attention.
posted by eugenen at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Andrew Ferguson says what we've all been thinking about Tom Friedman for a long time.

Not all of us. Nowhere does Ferguson mention Friedman's resemblance to a jovial walrus.
posted by Bromius at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2011 [15 favorites]


hehe, best part of the essay
"Readers will wonder, like the early environmentalist Tonto, "What do you mean 'we,' kemo sabe?""
posted by real_paris at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2011


I don't believe there is such a thing as Tom Friedman, this thought keeps me sane.
posted by The Whelk at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mr. Friedman can turn a phrase into cliché faster than any Madison Avenue jingle writer. He announces that "America declared war on math and physics." Three paragraphs later, we learn that we're "waging war on math and physics." Three sentences later: "We went to war against math and physics." And onto the next page: "We need a systemic response to both our math and physics challenges, not a war on both." Three sentences later: We must "reverse the damage we have done by making war on both math and physics," because, we learn two sentences later, soon the war on terror "won't seem nearly as important as the wars we waged against physics and math." He must think we're idiots.

lol
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Beat it like a rented mule," was what I thought the idiom was. However, for Friedman, "beat like an outsourced mule" may be more apt.
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Otoh, Strategy guru John Hagel is singing his/book's praises:

http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2011/09/a-welcome-call-to-greatness.html
posted by infini at 10:18 AM on September 21, 2011


Was that whole article a setup to belittle the idea of carbon regulation in the penultimate paragraph?
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Let's not attribute ulterior anti-regulatory motives to the Wall Street Journal!
posted by Bromius at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Metafilter: “Better two cell phones than a fish in your zipper.”
posted by spicynuts at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2011


This post is also incomplete without David Rees' magnificent "How Green Was My Mustache."

As for Mr. Ferguson, he wins some sort of prize for First Breezy Mention of Solyndra As Reductionist Argument Against Renewable Energy In Toto:
We will use revenues to create a "clean energy" industry with millions of "green jobs" like the ones that were eliminated earlier this month at Solyndra.
Bonus points for scare-quoting clean energy, like the whole notion's suspect. I bet he's a big fan of "free markets."
posted by gompa at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


The lack of punctuation made me believe that the article's title was "That Used to Be Us(,) Tom Friedman". This put me in mind of Madonna's "This Used to be My Playground". Good times.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:36 AM on September 21, 2011


Pursuant to gompa's remark above, this is the part where I celebrate the best malapropism to yet occur within a Friedman Thread. Prepare yourselves, and travel back to January 17, 2009, when CheeseDigestsAll created this glorious achievement:

porn-starched

Simply glorious. Look at it. Feel the way it rolls off the tongue. Savor the speaking of it. A true marvel. We should all be blessed with the ability to create words like this.

CheeseDigestsAll, I salute you with as much earnest enthusiasm as can be mustered across the Internet. I am beside myself with anticipation of something equally wonderful in this Friedman Thread.

...and I am 100% totally not kidding. Not even the tiniest bit. Simply glorious. If Friedman Threads served no other purpose, their utility was proven on that day.
posted by aramaic at 10:36 AM on September 21, 2011


The Friedman is a unit of time equal to six months.

The More You Know
posted by odinsdream at 10:39 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree with Ira Glass on this one.
posted by benzenedream at 10:54 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


>We will use revenues to create a "clean energy" industry with millions of "green jobs" like the ones that were eliminated earlier this month at Solyndra.<

I read this, looked up and saw WSJ, moved on.
posted by bongo_x at 10:55 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, that China's cliff pushing the envelope frame. Awesome.
posted by DU at 10:55 AM on September 21, 2011


The Friedman is a unit of time equal to six months.

Speaking as an old school Eschatonian (where my pseudonym originated) and a follower of Atrios since the days of The Horse, I regret to inform you that this definition is not quite correct.

A Friedman Unit is equal to another six months.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:12 AM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've generally used "Friedman" in the sense of "an incredibly strained metaphor".
posted by brundlefly at 11:16 AM on September 21, 2011


How about an A for effort? The man tries...
posted by infini at 11:26 AM on September 21, 2011


How about an A for effort? The man tries...

If anything ever needed a citation...
posted by odinsdream at 11:29 AM on September 21, 2011


I'd say he is trying.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:30 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there's one thing people all across the US ideological spectrum can agree to, its that Thomas Friedman is a buffoon.

Just the US?
posted by Skeptic at 11:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like Sisyphus on a flat world, Tom Friedman will never run out ideas about the stuff near the rock he pushes, made by the workers of a Tennessee Toyota plant on their break time where potato vodka from the previously unfree Poland gave the workers the idea and their cousins the concept of spreading lots of "stuff" in Tom Friedman's path fro him to observe, ruminate about (like the ruminants that do man's heavy lifting around the world) and write about. Meanwhile, we get to complain about Tom Friedman without ever having to buy one of his books, thanks to the Internets!
posted by kozad at 11:57 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


However, for Friedman, "beat like an outsourced mule" may be more apt.

"War on mules"?
posted by mullacc at 12:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the more recent Taibbi review linked above:

This is Friedman’s life: He flies around the world, eats pricey lunches with other rich people and draws conclusions about the future of humanity by looking out his hotel window and counting the Applebee’s signs.

I don't think another word about him need be written.
posted by emjaybee at 12:14 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Beat it like a rented mule," was what I thought the idiom was. However, for Friedman, "beat like an outsourced mule" may be more apt.
Tom Friedman has the courage to beat the dead 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one is talking about. You know, the one in the one in the china shop.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


"War on mules"?

We need to go into the mules villages and they need to hear us loud and clear: "Suck. On. This"
posted by delmoi at 12:27 PM on September 21, 2011


Was really hoping this would be an entire op-ed about how the title should actually be "That Used to Be We."

OUI
PVJ
QWK
RXL
SYM
TZN
UAO
VBP
WCQ
XDR
YES

Yes, that used to be oui.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:37 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Mr. Friedman can turn a phrase into cliché faster than any Madison Avenue jingle writer. He announces that "America declared war on math and physics." Three paragraphs later, we learn that we're "waging war on math and physics." Three sentences later: "We went to war against math and physics." And onto the next page: "We need a systemic response to both our math and physics challenges, not a war on both." Three sentences later: We must "reverse the damage we have done by making war on both math and physics," because, we learn two sentences later, soon the war on terror "won't seem nearly as important as the wars we waged against physics and math." He must think we're idiots.

Pretty bad, granted, but isn't catching this kind of stuff what editors are for?
posted by IndigoJones at 12:54 PM on September 21, 2011


I was starting to feel bad about myself, because I really, really enjoy hearing people say bad things about Thomas Friedman. And I know that isn't the best part of me, and I start to develop sympathy for Friedman, and then someone like Delmoi comes along and reminds me of this, and *poof* all sympathy is gone.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:05 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thomas Friedman Clogged My Toilet
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was starting to feel bad about myself, because I really, really enjoy hearing people say bad things about Thomas Friedman. And I know that isn't the best part of me, and I start to develop sympathy for Friedman, and then someone like Delmoi comes along and reminds me of this , and *poof* all sympathy is gone.

God that clip is just terrible.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:31 PM on September 21, 2011


I once had a dream, a propos of nothing, that I grabbed Thomas Friedman by his stupid mustache, and gave him a proper beating during the entire course of the dream. Like all night, curb stomping, Godfather with the trashcan lid kind of beating. Now I am not a violent man, and I have no idea why I was dreaming of Thomas Friedman, but I woke up incredibly satisfied.

Almost as much as from the dream I had where I slapped Jonah Goldberg until he cried... I should probably ease off of reading politics.
posted by X-Himy at 1:40 PM on September 21, 2011


Maybe the Friedman Unit can spawn the Metafilter Friedman Unit -- the amount of time between shitting-on-Friedman threads....

Lots to dislike or loathe about the guy (his support for the War on Iraq among them), but relatively few prominent columnists regularly remind us that the U.S. (government's) approach to energy use is at least questionable. With that, if he's talking to rich and/or high-level people in China or elsewhere who are directly involved with investing in renewable energy, running the solar-panel factories, etc., who else is he supposed to talk to?

Oh by the way, Taibbi (who I generally like) took heat for writing about Bachmann's Minnesota because he didn't visit the district and liberal people said he rehashed tired stereotypes to cast the area as the land of kooks.
posted by ambient2 at 1:43 PM on September 21, 2011


It's kind of a fascinating phrase, "That Used to be us". I think I know what it means, I think it is a statement of regret or remorse over a changed state of being. A statement made while looking at a photograph, say, in which you are young and still in the aspirational phase of life. But it doesn't really mean a fucking thing. "That used to be us" but now we are different? Now we are ... ? Once, in the past, we were who we are but the who we are of right now, here, in the present, and right now we are not who we are but actually some pale shadow of who we were. Which means we are simultaneously not in the past or the present. So really, "we have never been." because if we only ever were back then, but then only who we are now yet now are not but only who we were.
It makes me think Friedman should be smacked, but not too hard, open-handed, on the back of the head.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:16 PM on September 21, 2011


Maybe the Friedman Unit can spawn the Metafilter Friedman Unit -- the amount of time between shitting-on-Friedman threads....

Unnecessary and redundant. He will produce another book worth shitting on in approximately one Friedman Unit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:43 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be funny if the 'L' in 'Thomas L. Friedman' stood for Lamar?
posted by MattMangels at 4:14 PM on September 21, 2011


This template - Book Title: Long subtitle to explain the theme to people who wouldn't understand what the book is about without the subtitle, or so the publishers think - I hate it.
posted by vidur at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2011


Jeez, IndigoJones, what did editors ever do to you? And my guess is that either Friedman is too important for his publisher to rein in, or that the turgid slop we see has nothing on the fetid wreck originally handed to the hapless editors.
posted by emjaybee at 6:25 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


My book proposal. From Beruit to WTF Word Salad: A Profile of Thomas Freedman.
posted by humanfont at 6:34 PM on September 21, 2011


vidur: "This template - Book Title: Long subtitle to explain the theme to people who wouldn't understand what the book is about without the subtitle, or so the publishers think - I hate it."

My dad wants to write a book called Subtitle: The Inability of Contemporary Writers of Non-fiction to Limit the Length of Their Titles.
posted by brundlefly at 6:50 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the first semester of my philosophy degree, I took the core requirement course Critical Thinking, taught by a bright and entertainingly smart-ass New Yorker (yes, I know "smart-ass New Yorker" is a redundancy) from the Communications dept. whose degrees were in rhetoric, not philosophy or journalism. Among other things, we covered in exhaustive detail the various forms of logical fallacies, and the methods of "two-mindedness" - being able to argue either side of an argument (or even to argue why the two sides presented were a false opposition, and reframe the matter at hand.)

For our mid-term and final papers, we were told to pick and analyze something from a current paper or magazine; it could be an ad, an article, or an opinion piece - anything that attempted persuasion. For the final, I chose a Chevron ad that appeared in the front of the New Yorker magazine. Unpacking its combination of textual and visual assertions & arguments was a fairly straightforward matter. But for the mid-term I'd chosen one of Friedman's NYT op-eds (silly me), where, apparently, he was trying to convince Dubya to follow his advice on some green economics & energy policy, so that Dubya would essentially be his mouthpiece when giving an upcoming planned speech before Congress (IIRC - it may have been a TV speech that was planned.) There was little hope of unpacking an at least coherent, if flawed and dissembling, argument (such as Chevron's copy writers' slippery attempt) from Friedman's cryptomegalomania; instead, I could only zero in on the sheer preposterousness of his implicit assumptions (e.g., that Bush or anyone around him would be at all serious about anything green), and point out the various non-sequiturs that peppered his prose in lieu of actual supporting arguments for his main obsession ("obsession" seems a more appropriate word than "theme".) It was frustrating from the point of view of a logician, but satisfying in a dismal sort of way to explore a little more deeply than I might have otherwise just why Friedman makes my skin crawl.

In retrospect, he stands out as an exemplar of "not even wrong". It's hard to have an argument (at least one worth having) with someone who's rarely even coherent.

(The TA who graded my mid-term must not have been familiar with Friedman - this is Canada, and I guess it's possible not to encounter his ravings in the press here - because he wondered in a note at the end if Friedman was being tongue-in-cheek. Nope. I don't think the man has the self-awareness to be ironic. A man who waved pom-poms (erratically) for Bush's war being satirical towards Bush a few years later? C'mon.)
posted by Philofacts at 7:00 PM on September 21, 2011


"This template - Book Title: Long subtitle to explain the theme to people who wouldn't understand what the book is about without the subtitle, or so the publishers think - I hate it."

My dad wants to write a book called Subtitle: The Inability of Contemporary Writers of Non-fiction to Limit the Length of Their Titles.


My colleague sent me an email suggesting I limit my blog post titles to 10 words to make it easier to RT
posted by infini at 8:18 PM on September 21, 2011


You, too, can get rich making white upper-middle class people of middling intelligence feel better about themselves.

Cf. David Brooks
posted by bardic at 8:21 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what we fucking need is a Friedman-Ipsum generator
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:58 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what we fucking need is a Friedman-Ipsum generator

Here you go.

Despite these cryptic Friedman-Ipsum texts' extreme redundancy and repetitiveness, they still cannot be decoded by applying the Friedman Test.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:23 PM on September 21, 2011


I actually know someone related to Friedman. It always makes me feel awkward when people bash him, especially when they get violent or question his right to live. I know, public figure, but he's also someone's dad, you know?
posted by MadamM at 10:27 PM on September 21, 2011


No one ever gave me directions like this for more signs of the key agent of change, the dynamic force in Globalization 3.0-the thing that gives it its unique character-is the newfound power for individuals to source work anywhere. I just love it.” David Neeleman, the founder and CEO of JetBlue Airways Corp., has a critical mass of talent that can chop up any piece of work from home, have swelled during the Vietnam era. My classmates' parents worked at Electric Boat, the Navy and the magical Spice Islands of the nation-state or the Industrial Revolution. In the fast-food business, time is truly money: shaving even five seconds off the Web and summarized in a different world. A massive resort-size swimming pool nestles amid boulders and manicured lawns, adjacent to a whole lot of American people to flatten their accents in order to compete in a bottle of bottled water. A bottle of bottled water. A bottle of bottled water is by Carrier, and even the bottled water.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:29 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


MadamM i am actually grateful to him for the comedy he provides
plus he has a pleasant face like a rancher/grandpa of some kind
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:31 PM on September 21, 2011


Yeah, I made a Friedman-Ipsum text from his editorials. I'll give you a sample text, made by extracting the 13th sentence of several NYTimes editorials, and appending them. And then I'll tell you a terrible thing I discovered.

The Palestinian Authority, which has made concrete strides in the past five years at building the institutions and security forces of a state in the West Bank — making life there quieter than ever for Israel — finally said to itself: “Our state-building has not prompted Israel to halt settlements or engage in steps to separate, so all we’re doing is sustaining Israel’s occupation. And real conservatives would understand that the Tea Party has become the Tea Kettle Party. For example, when a storm comes, in many cases there is more water available in the atmosphere and rainfall is heavier. He did so using many ideas — like payroll tax cuts — that Republicans should embrace. The truth spread widely to drown out all the lies that the colonel broadcast over the airwaves.

While scanning through these editorials, I started to notice a few patterns. In fact, such a strong pattern that it is obvious these editorials are absolutely formulaic. They could be written by a bot. I don't intend to torture myself by doing extensive textual analysis, but here's how a Friedman editorial works, I'll even attempt to write it Friedmanesquely.

---

Tom Friedman, a self-important New York Times columnist, often starts his editorials with a lengthy, bombastic sentence full of his own assumptions about the subject. Usually the lede paragraph contains a reference to something that is placed in "quotation marks." Then some sentence fragments. More fragments. Pithy pointless pablum. Annoying alliterations. And then an imaginary character speaks, "This is something Tom Friedman would say himself, but he must do it indirectly." And then -- much to the annoyance of his readers -- Friedman writes several sentences with subjunctive clauses; they are set off with em dashes or a semicolon.

Now a counterpoint. Shall we beg the question? View his lame premise from the opposite side, in an attempt at "balance?" Of course. The answer is so simple: the exact opposite of what any rational person would think. The truth is irrational. Is your mind blown yet? Tom Friedman is so brilliant; he can create a straw man and then its opposite - and then they stare each other down. The ideas challenge each other, like gunfighters in the dusty, metaphorical streets of Tombstone, Arizona.

By at least the third paragraph, a quotation is inserted, with as foreign sounding a name as possible. Mukayigubiwera Nipahuyatosa retorted, "my opinions completely agree with the bombastic premise of this article." Nipahuyatosa (or "Nipa" to his friends, like world traveler Thomas Friedman) is an invaluable resource for larding the article with throwaway quotes. Many of these quotes are "paraphrased but in quotations," or a snappy direct quotation, "with a 'Keyword' in single quotations." (And often there is an oddly punctuated, paragraph ending, parenthetical sentence that does not belong in parentheses.)

Of course, by this time Friedman has used several of his stereotypical metaphors. For me to invent one on my own would be as difficult as sewing a live tarantula onto an American Flag that was made in China. But the total righteousness of Friedman's opinion should be obvious by this point in the editorial. If it is not obvious, Friedman will point it out to you.

As we approach the midpoint of the 1000 word editorial, it is necessary to impress the audience with Friedman's connections. While staying at Camp David in early November 2003, President George Bush said, "Freedie, you write good. Your book stuff makes me look smart. I'm fixin' to read me one of them, someday." An irrelevant statistic is necessary, the price of bing cherries in Washington State in 1932 was twelve cents per bushel. A non sequitur is useful. If one hectare of cherry groves in Washington produced a hundred pecks of cherries, they would be more expensive in the Heartland of America, where True Americans really appreciate the taste of a good cherry pie. Perhaps that is even more American than Apple Pie.

Now, the editorial is coming to its conclusion. All there is left to do is reassert the brilliance of Tom Friedman's observations. Gore Vidal once said he was "positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise." But Friedman is incapable of making such an ironic observation. His conclusion is simple. Friedman's ideas are obvious and right -- if you recognize they are right, you should be proud of yourself -- but they will never happen. The world is not prepared for Tom Friedman's brilliance.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:20 PM on September 21, 2011 [18 favorites]


I'm actually saddened by the idea that Tom might not be smart enough to know to laugh on the way to the bank.
posted by odinsdream at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2011


I'm actually saddened by the idea that Tom might not be smart enough to know to laugh on the way to the bank.

Yup; I'm torn between annoyance and pity from seeing just how damn earnest the guy is. (Leaning more towards annoyance, since such earnestness is usually the product of a gargantuan ego. One thinks of Trump's utter humourlessness.)
posted by Philofacts at 7:49 PM on September 22, 2011


a dude in a dude's world
posted by past at 7:50 PM on September 22, 2011


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