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Here There Be Monsters
April 3, 2005 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Thomas L. Friedman, award winning NY Times columnist and author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Longitudes and Attitudes, and From Beirut to Jerusalem, will publish his fourth book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, this week. An article adopted from the book, "It’s a Flat World After All", was printed in the NY Times Magazine today:

In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail for India, going west. He had the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. He never did find India, but he called the people he met 'Indians' and came home and reported to his king and queen: 'The world is round.' I set off for India 512 years later. I knew just which direction I was going. I went east. I had Lufthansa business class, and I came home and reported only to my wife and only in a whisper: 'The world is flat.'
posted by NotMyselfRightNow (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I love and loath Friedman for the same reason: he takes very complex ideas or events, chews them up, then regurgitates them to readers so that even a 10 year old can understand. I love him for being a political popularizer in the same vein as science popularizers like Sagan, but he buys into these oversimplified visualizations too much without accepting them for the broad generalizations that they are.
posted by trinarian at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2005


trinarian -

if you could - be more specific - i read the article from the book, "It's a Flat World After All" and I thought that even though there weren't statistics backing up his claims I have heard those stats before so reading them again wouldn't have made a difference to me. I thought it was a good summary of the next american crisis.
posted by klik99 at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2005


There are still many more barriers in place than acknowledged in the article, yet in essence the article seems correct in its thesis to me. Technology has lowered many barriers to competition in knowledge jobs and it erases much of America and Europe's advantage in this area. Rather than be afraid of this competition I think we should welcome it. Everyone benefits from rising standards of living in a global economy, especially when those being lifted fastest are currently near the bottom. On a personal view I see more and more engineering work being sent to India and China. Companies I work with have benefited handsomely from this arrangement. Of course, they know they are creating competitors in India and China by doing this, but at least they will have established relationships with these new competitors so that they can continue working together for a long time.
posted by caddis at 10:41 AM on April 3, 2005


Matt Tabbi has done some great (and to my taste funny) analyses of Friedman's weaknesses in the New York Press.
posted by senor biggles at 10:49 AM on April 3, 2005


Wait until oil hits $105/barrel. Then we'll see just how "flat" the world really is.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:12 AM on April 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


You're all just a bunch of Islamofascists.
posted by Edible Energy at 11:12 AM on April 3, 2005


I'm not trying to defame Friedman. I think as someone who has spent time in school studying political science, I spurn replacing a solid written thesis with chimeric images. Breaking down the choice of globalization as choosing between wealth or war, industrialization or an agrarian economy (the Lexus and olive tree image/thesis) just doesn't really cut it. There's a lot of gray in between. This "flat earth" thing is cute, and I agree he does have solid facts beginning towards the middle of the essay, but the image again just doesn't really cut it. Again, academics had it out for Sagan & Co for much the same reason - feeling that incredibly intricate topics are being glossed over for mass consumption.
posted by trinarian at 11:19 AM on April 3, 2005


Ha. Tabbi really nails it in that third link, senor biggles, thanks:

The hallmark of the Friedman method is a single metaphor, stretched to column length, that makes no objective sense at all and is layered with other metaphors that make still less sense.

And Friedman:

At one point, summing up the implications of all this, Nilekani uttered a phrase that rang in my ear. He said to me, 'Tom, the playing field is being leveled.' He meant that countries like India were now able to compete equally for global knowledge work as never before -- and that America had better get ready for this. As I left the Infosys campus that evening and bounced along the potholed road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: 'The playing field is being leveled.'

'What Nandan is saying,' I thought, 'is that the playing field is being flattened. Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!'


Crikey, what a loon, by far the worst of the Establishment house intellectuals.

And, you know, I can't read him on the earth's "flatness" without remembering his awful insulting dismissal of the Seattle WTO protestors as "flat-earthers" in Birkenstocks. Even after the WTO *admitted* its process was undemocratic and began to institute changes, Friedman never apologized for that disgustingly wrong-headed assessment at a key point in history. House intellectuals make a habit of being wrong at the key points in history, you know.
posted by mediareport at 11:21 AM on April 3, 2005


I'd like to see business journalism outsourced...
posted by clevershark at 12:05 PM on April 3, 2005


No wonder the Sunday Times cost me $3.50---business class? Tom Friedman, your man on the Indian street.
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:14 PM on April 3, 2005


I'm glad that Friedman exists-- at least he gets people talking. It really is apalling that he's the only public intellectual who regularly publishes thoughtful pieces about the world outside America's borders.

I disagree with him on a lot, and believe that his writing has really gone down hill since From Beirut... another thing that drives me batty about him is that he is frequently dead wrong, but never, ever says so (at least publicly).
posted by cell divide at 12:19 PM on April 3, 2005


Flatism?? Wow, it's almost like the world has become a global village.

More here: "When the world goes flat, reach for a shovel, not a wall." Huh?

His basic point seems to be: despite 9/11, globalization continues, and we need to remain competitive in a changing world. Thanks Tom. But he has talked to some interesting people so there's some good journalism amid the obvious stuff.
posted by Turtle at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2005


Hm, from the above-linked interview: "Intel's doing fine. Why? Because Google invented Google search, and the kind of chips you need for Google search are really specialized."

I think that's incorrect. But whatever! Exciting stuff is happening!! Pay attention!!!
posted by Turtle at 12:29 PM on April 3, 2005


Of course, they know they are creating competitors in India and China by doing this, but at least they will have established relationships with these new competitors so that they can continue working together for a long time.

Maybe like a 'Ha, ha, we don't need you anymore, thanks for those few hundred years of colonialism, now fuck off' kind of relationship?
posted by airguitar at 12:38 PM on April 3, 2005


So it seems several of you don't like the author, but what I'm curious to know is What is wrong in his article?

Remember when Ross Perot said that sucking sound you hear will be jobs leaving the country to Mexico? Well, he was right, except his scope was a bit too narrow.

What are the millions of Americans going to do that would have done the jobs that are gone forever? Do the jobs nobody else wants to do? Of, yeah, those jobs are for the thousands and thousands of illegal aliens our security conscious Feddle Gummint is too busy to notice.

I'm afraid the author may be right - but it looks like all the flattening getting done is happening right here at home.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 12:40 PM on April 3, 2005


Again, academics had it out for Sagan & Co for much the same reason - feeling that incredibly intricate topics are being glossed over for mass consumption.

How is that a bad thing, exactly? The US is lagging in the industrialized world when it comes to educational standards; Coulter, Franken, John Stewart, Limbaugh (among countless others) have replaced intelligent dialogue with one-liners, making anyone with an opinion feel "informed"; and it's true that our jobs are either sent abroad or filled with immigrants (take a look at MIT; majority of grad students aren't white).

The average Joe needs to be aware that slowly but surely the rest of the world is catching up (maybe we're smarter per capita, but when their population is 5 times our size, per capital doesn't even matter anymore). And I applaud Friedman's efforts. He turned me onto the ideas of globalization years ago and since then, though I find his articles to be a bit simplisitic for my taste, I would recommend them to anyone who wouldn't give a hoot otherwise. That's his target audience: middle America. I don't want to live in a country where we have a tiny little sector of Americans we call the academic elite. I'd like the entire country to strive to reach new intellectual heights; Friedman is like a motiational speaker for those who'd rather watch tv or otherwise piss away their lives.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:42 PM on April 3, 2005


So, we tend to go on and on in the USA about Math and Science education, and how we're getting fewer folks entering those fields.

The export of knowledge work is going to accelerate that trend.

Why? We already have the cultural discouragements -- anybody who likes math and science has to run a gauntlet of social slings and arrows growing up, and as an adult, mathematician or chemical engineer just doesn't have the same cache with the opposite sex as lawyer or doctor or even artist. Now combine that with a world in which we have a "race to the bottom" for salaries as companies realize they can hire someone in another country who really knows their stuff for 1/2, 1/3, 1/10 the cost.

So: little cultural respect/incentives, doesn't pay. We're threatening to put engineers nearly on par with garbage collectors. The difference being that (a) we can't outsource garbage collection and (b) some people will still do math and science out of sheer love for the subject. But the smart ones will know to pick a different career.
posted by weston at 1:00 PM on April 3, 2005


The average Joe needs to be aware that slowly but surely the rest of the world is catching up (maybe we're smarter per capita, but when their population is 5 times our size, per capital doesn't even matter anymore).

The problem with Friedman isn't this. The problem with him is that he starts from a fairly unarguable empirical observation (in this case, about the "flattening" of the global work force), and then jumps to conclusions that come out of a completely conventional view of global capitalism that considers these trends to be immutible laws of nature, not the social constructs that they are. (And, no, am not one of those who things everything is a social construct--just, you know, social stuff.)

In this particular case, what I mean is that his conclusion is that we have to "face the facts" that social Darwinism has been globalized, that it is an immutable reality on the par of, say, gravity or electromagnetism, and we will just have to accept that American workers will have to be "more competitive" with other countries as they develop their economies.

But this is a crock. If we bow down before the dictates of this view of global capital (and I say this as a capitalist, after a fashion), the great mass of people will never be "competitive enough." It will truly be a race to to the bottom. Friedman is so deeply embedded in the cliched patterns of thought of conventional globalization (as are, unfortunately, most "antiglobalization" people), that he doesn't realize that the changes that he's talking about will not lead to a globalized middle-class-oriented economy (and the constitutional republics that go with them) like those in the west from 1950-2000. In fact, as the sage of the Krugmanomicon has pointed out, western middle class republics are an endangered species, and global feudalism is a looking like the more likely outcome, at least if the current political zeitgeist holds sway.

Another solution to the same problem--which is to say, another possible future--is one that sees the establishment a global labor movement as an essential component. Personally, I believe that this is inevitable, on a sufficiently long historical time scale. We in the west threw off feudalism the first time, and even if we go back, it will only be temporary. "Globalization" does not just mean one thing, and Friedman is pretty shitty at looking at competing possible futures--he tends to pick one and treat it as a forgone conclusion.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2005


I generally don't mind Friedman, but he's laughably far out of his depth in India, and this "flat world" thesis is born of some spectacularly blinkered reporting on his part. Using Bangalore as a barometer of India's position in the global economy would be like using inner-city Detroit to measure America's.

The world is flat for the (at most) 1/4 of India's billion people with access to higher education, and even then competition for the spaces at the various campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology - the spaces that lead to cushy tech jobs in Bangalore - is so fiercely competititive that (for example) the one guy I know who got into IIT did it only after his father took a year off work to become his full-time tutor in the lead-up to the entrance exam.

Friedman should go back to India and ask the residents of the slums that abut Bombay's airport or the migrant construction workers from Orissa and Bihar who sleep on the median of the Grand Trunk Road what they think about this flat world of his.

On the plus side, this thread gives me a chance to share a howler from a Friedman column last March, which I clipped because it was possibly the most inaccurate thing I'd ever seen written about India. To wit:

"Infosys [Indian tech giant] was spawned in India, a country with few natural resources and a terrible climate."

A country with few natural resources? Someone should've told the British that before they spent 200 years using the place as the natural-resource cornerstone of their empire. A terrible climate? Has he been to Kerala in March? (Or, for that matter, to Texas in August?) This in a column in which Tommy makes the argument that there are "two basic responses to globalization: Infosys and Al Qaeda." Become a billionaire, or level the World Trade Center - take your pick, Third World.
posted by gompa at 1:52 PM on April 3, 2005


anecdote: young woman I knew and her sister came to US from India. One got P{hd and works for UN; other got MA in biz and worked for GE. Both decided to stay in US and get citizenship. Girl at GE had fine job at grand salary. GE closed down her dept....outsourced the entire dept to INDIA!
posted by Postroad at 1:57 PM on April 3, 2005


I must declare an interest by saying I am an admirer of Tom Friedman. Yes, he is writing for a very mainstream and not particularly erudite ‘flyover’ America audience, but he often makes good points and clearly has his heart in the right place. While his analyses are often boiled down into far from watertight generalisations, they are usually in the right direction. Many do not forgive him for his disdain for much of the ‘anti-globalisation movement’, but quite a lot of it does lack intellectual rigour to say the least, and includes rather well fed Westerners who do not understand the aspirations and characteristics of other societies (try not to be provoked by this statement – many IMF adjustment programmes and trade arrangements are breathtakingly stupid and unfair – its just that Hernando de Soto has rather more to say to me than knee-jerk bunkeristas such as Naomi Klein).

The thrust of his argument is hard to refute. While the (probably necessary) overstatement is there as usual, the general evidence for Western decadence walking blindly into a new era when its self-defined superiority can no longer be seen as a given is great. There are probably more people in the Anglophonic world studying sports ‘science’ than any of the real sciences – meanwhile other societies that expect less and work for more, where kids still dream of being a doctor rather than a pop star that can’t sing, will overtake us in every meaningful way.

While it has not happened yet – for example, China looks to remain a low value add manufacturer/assembler for some time, has no world-class companies/brands and totalitarianism is not exactly fuel for innovation (and do you have a handset from Haier or Motorola?), it is in the post.

With the Emperor of the Free World and much of the media and political class in the lead nation of it rather more concerned with the ‘rights’ of the already dead and denying civil rights to gays than educational standards, R&D investment, a world of $100 oil, global warming, the future in general or anything of substance, it looks bleak. Like Britney Spears mindlessly eating a Big Mac in the path of the Shinkansen.
posted by The Salaryman at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2005


The thrust of his argument is hard to refute.

I think I did, Salaryman--while agreeing with your point that being "antiglobalization" is a destructively naive position. Naomi Klein would do herself a favor be realizing that she should be trying to reframe the term "globalization," rather than just saying "no" to it, especially given that she is sincere, as far as I can tell, about pursuing social and economic justice at the global scale.

The issue isn't whether or not there will be globalization, but which kind we will have, and that's my beef with Friedman. His (and maybe your?) dissmissive tone toward critics of "globalization" (i.e., a particular type of globalization), toward those making any attempt to find a globalization that actually works for most living creatures on the planet, is not only offensive to many, but I would argue is based on a deep philosophical error regarding the "ontological status" of what amounts to little more than free-trade, free-market dogma.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:18 PM on April 3, 2005


Gompa, I think Friedman recognizes the impoverishment of most Indians -- he just wasn't willing to come out and say what I think he realized perfectly well: far from being a hindrance to India and China, mass poverty is actually a critical asset for their development.

It's tolerable for Americans to pull "C"s in high school and hang out for a few years in junior college because we insulate people so well from poverty, and pay them so well (in global terms) for unskilled labor.

That kind of comfortable sloth is utterly unthinkable in India -- hence the competition for slots at IIT and IIM and the ability of companies to attract good workers at relatively low wages -- those low wages go very far in an impoverished country.

I spent a week in Chennai and Bangalore myself last year, and that's the impression I got: you wouldn't have the gleaming campus of Infosys (which is very impressive indeed) without the teeming masses of guys in 24" waist jeans desperate for jobs paying 90 rupees a day.
posted by MattD at 2:28 PM on April 3, 2005


Shorter Tom Friedman: The earth is flat, like my EEG.

Older version: Who blew up that olive tree with my Lexus?
posted by nofundy at 2:39 PM on April 3, 2005


There are probably more people in the Anglophonic world studying sports ‘science’ than any of the real sciences

I would love to see a source for this factoid; I don't believe it.
posted by anapestic at 2:53 PM on April 3, 2005


Friedman's writing is something else. My two favorite examples in the article are:

the hot line, which used to connect the Kremlin with the White House, has been replaced by the help line, which connects everyone in America to call centers in Bangalore. While the other end of the hot line might have had Leonid Brezhnev threatening nuclear war, the other end of the help line just has a soft voice eager to help you sort out your AOL bill or collaborate with you on a new piece of software. No, that voice has none of the menace of Nikita Khrushchev pounding a shoe on the table at the United Nations, and it has none of the sinister snarl of the bad guys in 'From Russia With Love.' No, that voice on the help line just has a friendly Indian lilt that masks any sense of threat or challenge. It simply says: 'Hello, my name is Rajiv. Can I help you?'

No, Rajiv, actually you can't.


and the downright creepy:

When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, 'Tom, finish your dinner -- people in China are starving.' But after sailing to the edges of the flat world for a year, I am now telling my own daughters, 'Girls, finish your homework -- people in China and India are starving for your jobs.'
posted by Kattullus at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2005


mondo dentro, you are beautifully succinct and on-point here, avoiding the standard dogmatisms while making the criticism crystal clear. Bravo.
posted by mediareport at 3:03 PM on April 3, 2005


nofundy: comedy gold.

This really is hilarious. I always thought Friedman was a little odd in the writing department, but I never noticed the downright hilarity in it.

My personal favorite is now a bit quoted by Matt Taibbi in one of those really funny bits linked up above by senior biggles, about the apparent rejection of globalism by Indian voters:

"They got it exactly wrong. What Indian voters were saying was not: 'Stop the globalization train, we want to get off.' It was, 'Slow down the globalization train, and build me a better step-stool, because I want to get on.'"
posted by koeselitz at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2005


"They got it exactly wrong. What Indian voters were saying was not: 'Stop the globalization train, we want to get off.' It was, 'Slow down the globalization train, and build me a better step-stool, because I want to get on.'"

This is exactly what I mean by Friedman being either so far out of his depth that he can't grasp the most basic facts about Indian society or else willfully ignoring inconvenient details in order to make his sweeping, mixed-metaphorical generalizations.

In this case, for example, you can only make the error of thinking that the recent Indian federal election was a single electoral message about globalization if you choose to ignore the fact that the Gandhi dynasty's cult of personality swayed no small number of voters, that a portion of the electorate verging on 50 percent is illiterate and was therefore voting for the lotus symbol or telephone symbol or what have you on the ballot, and that any number of voters had been told by their bosses to vote for this or that party or else lose their jobs (or any number of other intimidations and frauds).

And MattD, while I agree with you that Friedman must on some level be aware of the poverty of India's lower-caste majority, my problem is that he never mentions it. He never puts Infosys et al. in the context of a nation with a per capita income of less than US$300.

I worry that there's a big chunk of his readership who knew nothing about India beyond Gandhi and elephants until this outsourcing hubbub, and who might gather from his columns that all of India looks like Bangalore, that India as a whole is "catching up" with the West because of outsourcing, that when an Indian "steals" an American job, that Indian is enjoying the kind of material prosperity the American who lost that job enjoyed.
posted by gompa at 3:43 PM on April 3, 2005


gompa: competition for the spaces at the various campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology - the spaces that lead to cushy tech jobs in Bangalore - is so fiercely competititive that (for example) the one guy I know who got into IIT did it only after his father took a year off work to become his full-time tutor in the lead-up to the entrance exam.

If certain ministers & bureaucrats have their way, from next year, IIT-JEE will be no tougher than regular 12th boards.
posted by Gyan at 3:46 PM on April 3, 2005


I haven't read it, but The Economist certainly hated the living crap out of it.

From their pan:

This kind of imprecision—less kind readers might even use the word “sloppiness”—permeates Mr Friedman's book. It begins with an account of Christopher Columbus, who sets out to find India only to run into the Americas. Mr Friedman claims that this proved Columbus's thesis that the world is round. It did nothing of the kind. Proof that the world is round came only in 1522, when the sole surviving ship from Ferdinand Magellan's little fleet returned to Spain.

Undaunted by this fact, Mr Friedman portrays himself as a modern-day Columbus. Like the Italian sailor, he also makes a startling discovery—this time on a trip to India—though it turns out to be just the opposite of Columbus's. An entrepreneur in Bangalore tells him that “the playing field is being levelled” between competitors there and in America by communications technology. The phrase haunts Mr Friedman. He chews it over, and over, and over. And then it comes to him: “My God, he's telling me the world is flat!”

Of course, the entrepreneur, even by Mr Friedman's own account, said nothing of the kind. But Mr Friedman has discovered his metaphor for globalisation, and now nothing will stop him. He shows his readers no mercy, proceeding to flog this inaccurate and empty image to death over hundreds of pages.

posted by Sticherbeast at 4:08 PM on April 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


He shows his readers no mercy, proceeding to flog this inaccurate and empty image to death over hundreds of pages.

*shuts coffin, hammers nails*
posted by mediareport at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2005


Hernando de Soto has rather more to say to me

Hear hear, and a few cheers for Hernando de Soto. I'm slowly digesting The Other Path.
posted by weston at 4:28 PM on April 3, 2005


clevershark: Outsourcing Thomas Friedman.

rant: Thomas Friedman is one of those people that are possesed of the uncanny ability to ignore completely, or not learn at all, whatever fact conflicts with he pre-decided establishment views. To say that he performs a service by informing people of world events, is scary. He systematically misinforms. The articles in which he does not make at least one factual error, doesn't preassume what he intends to prove, doesn't magnify the trivial or trivialize the important are few and far between. In the rare occasions I have found myself agreeing with the man, it has forced me to rethink my position.

mondo dentro:
Naomi Klein would do herself a favor be realizing that she should be trying to reframe the term "globalization," rather than just saying "no" to it
Your wish was her command:
As the unofficial spokesperson for the anti-globalization movement, Naomi Klein wants everyone to quit calling it the "anti-globalization movement."

"The irony of the media-imposed label, 'anti-globalization,' is that we in this movement have been turning globalization into a lived reality, perhaps more so than even the most multinational of corporate executives," she writes. Klein and a globeful of protesters are building connections from "landless farmers in Brazil, to teachers in Argentina, to fast food workers in Italy... to migrant tomato pickers in Florida."
This was back in 2002, mind you. Generally the more cohernt criticisms of neoliberal globalisation have refused the label "anti-globalisation" which they find absurd. See f.e. Noam Chomsky's view on this:
DM: A lot of eminent scholars are fond of using the phrase "anti-globalization movement." What do you think of that label?

NC: As I've said repeatedly, including at the World Social forum, it's just plain propaganda. I mean "globalization" used in a neutral sense just means "international integration." The World Social Forum in fact is a perfect example of globalization at the level of people. I mean you have people from India, Africa, Brazil, Latin America, North America, Europe, just about everywhere, from every walk of life, who have somewhat common concerns and interests. That's globalization. In fact, globalization itself has been the guiding vision of the workers' movements on the left since their origins in the 19th century. That's why every labor union is called an International even though they are not international. That's the aspiration, and that's how the several Internationals were formed, true internationals. In fact the World Social Forum is probably the first time there has been any development grassroots-up that merits the term "international." There is just no way for these movements to be anti-globalization. They are perfect instances of globalization. The term has come to be used in recent years as a kind of a technical term which doesn't refer to globalization, but refers to a very specific form of international economic integration...
posted by talos at 4:55 PM on April 3, 2005


"I don't want to live in a country where we have a tiny little sector of Americans we call the academic elite." - SeizeTheDay

My comparison to Sagan was a compliment. I'm a news junkie, not an astronomer. Because of a childhood taste for science fiction, I found myself wanting to know more about hard science as a teenager. I turned to Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan for that and was rewarded immensely.

Science is a lot more objective than international relations though, and simplified theories of relativity can only be so far off the mark compared to a simplified take on the global economy, where there is no one right way of looking at it.

I applaud Friedman for trying to educate readers and though his allusions are often goofy, I could see how they would help someone unfamiliar with the content understand it better. Furthermore, because his arguments are both simplistic and often wrong, they provide a good starting point for readers to learn how to make more intelligent rebuttals.

I'd still prefer to offer Friedman up for public consumption on TV and in print than some party blowhard or quantative political scientist.
posted by trinarian at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2005


The Economist should really learn that you need to make sure your own facts are in order before nitpicking others. The world wasn't shown to be round by Columbus, no, but neither was it shown to be round in 1522. The world has been known to be round for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks certainly knew it. Hell, Eratosthenes calculated the diameter of the Earth in like 200 BC. How can you calculate something's diameter unless it is round?
posted by Justinian at 6:59 PM on April 3, 2005


How can you calculate something's diameter unless it is round?

Discs are round, but not spherical.

/meaningless pedantry
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2005


Known to be round and shown to be round are not quite the same though.
posted by talos at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2005


Yeah, I'm consistently amazed that the myth of the flat earth is taken as a given by so many. Columbus' controversial claim, which turned out to be wrong, was that the earth was quite a bit smaller than it is, and that a western route to india would be efficient. But the spherical earth was not in dispute.
posted by mdn at 7:31 PM on April 3, 2005


"Friedman has been wrong more often than most cab drivers and barbers in the country." - Stirling Newberry


Ah, Morris......


posted by troutfishing at 7:53 PM on April 3, 2005


"You see, Friedman's brain is like a 1969 Corvette, potentially a powerful and fast car except that it's got a broken tie rod in the steering assembly and so Friedman doesn't steer the damn thing as much as careen at high speed - from tortured analogies comparing countries to cars, to bizarre hyperbole ("The French are now the Enemy", and then to reheated, overcooked goulashes of NeoCon pro invasion rhetoric.....and then back, of course to cars and wheels again.

But one of my favorite flavors of Friedman that Matt Taibbi leaves unmentioned is Friedman's air - weirdly incongruous given his experience and wide travels - of always being the breathless ingenue. Even though I'm alternately annoyed, appalled. and incredulous as I read the droppings he leaves in his wake - somehow I like him in spite of it; I think this is due to the sense I get from Friedman's writing that, as he moves through the world wrapped in his reputation ("Thomas Friedman, man of keen eye and piercing intellect, NYT columnist and internationally renowned writer of 'The Lexus and the Olive Tree' "), he actually is staring around, wide eyed in gaping astonishment, as his brain sputterers and backfires in the attempt to process it all and cram it into some frame - usually having to do with cars and wheels, I guess - of reference which provides a soothing balm to his secret fears that he just doesn't get it.

I heard Friedman on NPR talking about Iraq and his reasons for supporting an invasion (to Terry Gross, I think) and was struck by Friedman's revelation that his wife was strongly opposed to the invasion on the basis that it would be a really dumb thing to do. This candid admission gave me a sense, somehow, of Friedman as basically a good natured lunkhead out of his depth and yet convincing many in the chattering classes of his great profundity by confusing them with his tortured use of language which often obscures more than it illuminates.

In this way, Friedman is not unlike Jerzy Kosinski's Chauncey Gardner, immortalized by Peter Sellars in "Being There", who viewed all of life through the metaphor of garden, except that to Friedman, all of life seems to be a car.

Which makes me wonder - does Mr. Friedman even own a car? It wouldn't be surprising if he did not. He travels a lot, and probably lives in NYC. Maybe if his readers took up a collection and bought him something nice, a Lexus say, he'd put the lid on the auto stuff and develop some new and equally cringeful metaphor - but at least it would be fresh ( for a few columns anyway ) and he probably could milk it for his next big book."

posted by troutfishing at 7:57 PM on April 3, 2005


Nothing like a good Morris-roast.
posted by troutfishing at 7:58 PM on April 3, 2005


Oh, I should clarify - Friedman reminds me of that stupid cat food commercial cat, "morris" - so I've taken the liberty of replacing his first name. I think "Morris" suits him better : like the cat, he's slow, complacent..... but basically agreeable.
posted by troutfishing at 8:02 PM on April 3, 2005


gompa:

In this case, for example, you can only make the error of thinking that the recent Indian federal election was a single electoral message about globalization

I hate generalisations about India as much as anyone else, but just to point out: the globalisation-anti-globalisation framing of last year's elections was primarily because of the electoral battle in the state of Andhra Pradesh. AP had a clearly "reformist" chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, whose focus was on using technology to kick-start the state's economy; he was stoutly defeated by his contender whose main plank was the increasing spate of suicides by farmers. The then ruling NDA primarily lost in AP and Bihar,but it had a fairly positive result in other parts of the country.

So yes, while it is erroneous to say that all of India voted on globalisation, it is nevertheless correct to say that the vote swing away from the NDA was in no small part influenced by the globalisation debate.

He never puts Infosys et al. in the context of a nation with a per capita income of less than US$300.

Actually, the World Bank says that the per-capita-GDP figure for 2003 was US$530. My economist-junkie friend says that this is probably misleading; a more accurate figure would be GDP-by-Purchasing-Power-Parity, which would be US$2900 in 2004.

Which was Friedman's point all along, dont you think; that because of Infosys et al, we've increased our per-capita levels from sub-US$300 to US$600-ish now.

Point well taken about natural resources, though; I, too, found it extremely ironic for him to mention that Bangalore, and by extension, the Deccan plateau, was bereft of natural resources. I mean, entire kingdoms were fought over for the control of those lucrative diamond and gold mines in the region.
posted by the cydonian at 10:45 PM on April 3, 2005


Great thread:

cydonian, while those would be the aggregate numbers it would also be instructive to look at city/ non city distributions of income, usually in developing countries there's a great proportion of that money owned by a small percentage of the population.

also for those who like to talk about books but not read them the washington post has a review of the book with the same sorts of criticisms
posted by stratastar at 11:20 PM on April 3, 2005


ugh it's late:
I seem to have forgotten that there are lots of poor people who live in cities too...
posted by stratastar at 11:24 PM on April 3, 2005


talos:

Thanks for setting me straight on Ms. Klein's position on the g-word, and for the links to her and the redoubtable Dr. C's writings on the topic. I'm only too happy to see that I was aiming my criticism in the wrong direction.

Is it OK if I stand by my Friedman bashing, though?
posted by mondo dentro at 11:34 PM on April 3, 2005


Tommy on Kosovo:
"Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let's see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance."

Tommy on Iraq:
"Anyone who thinks President Bush is doing this for political reasons is nuts."

Tommy on France:
"It's time we Americans came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy".

Tommy on young Palestinians:
"Dad, there is a Pakistani gentleman at the door selling a suitcase nuclear bomb. He wants a check for $100,000, and I would like to personally deliver the suitcase to Tel Aviv." And dad is going to write the check."

Tommy on his business-class job:
"I have my frustrating moments, but I always want to come back the next day, and that is the real test"
posted by matteo at 12:05 AM on April 4, 2005


Thank you all for this thread.... takes me back to the halcyon days when I learned stuff by reading the 'filter. [/cheerleader]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:34 AM on April 4, 2005


Nobody mentioned Friedman's (now-obsolete) theory that "nations with McDonald's franchises don't go to war with each other". With a little more conspiratorial acumen, the big movers and shakers could have shut down the Yugoslavian McD's before we commenced to the bombing.

My favorite Friedman analogy was that in the internet age tuna companies can't market dolphin contaminated tuna fish because their children "don't want Flipper killed".
posted by bukvich at 7:45 AM on April 4, 2005


Fuck Thomas Friedman. He tossed his journalist hat out the window after 9/11, though people still make the mistake of valuing his comments based on the quality of his pre-9/11 work. At the very least, don't take anything he says about the ME at face value. Unless you're looking for easily-digestible Israel apologism.

though his allusions are often goofy, I could see how they would help someone unfamiliar with the content understand it better

His wrtiing style is definitely accessible to a wide audience, but I believe he crafts this style more to propogate his agenda than to bring "understanding" to the people. He's an imperial apologist, a racist, an ethnocentrist and a classist who has learned to make you swallow his soup and thank him for helping you understand.

/rant
posted by scarabic at 11:17 PM on April 5, 2005


No no! - He's a fat, slow, complacent tabby performing crude little tricks for bits of Tuna.
posted by troutfishing at 6:38 AM on April 26, 2005


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