WHAT ON EARTH WAS THOMAS FRIEDMAN TALKING ABOUT?
January 23, 2015 5:41 PM   Subscribe

The Arab Spring is failing not for lack of bandwidth, but for lack of human understanding that can only be forged when someone is late for breakfast, and you say, "Thank you for being late."
...a lot of people have asked me whether it’s real, and, if so, what on earth Tom Friedman was saying. The answer to the first question is that yes, it is absolutely real. Tom Friedman really did say this, and it really did elicit a hearty round of applause from the assembled plutocrats. The answer to the second question is that I don’t honestly know what Tom Friedman was talking about. But at least I can give you a bit of context. ...
posted by Golden Eternity (61 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Will Tom Friedman ever stop failing upwards? The next six months will prove decisive.
posted by ssr_of_V at 5:48 PM on January 23, 2015 [58 favorites]


I just assume he was announcing his presidential bid.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


A Davos panel with Marissa Mayer and Will.I.am!

This is like that chapter in Hegel where he explains the masters are approximately idiotic.
posted by bukvich at 5:50 PM on January 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


Fifty million foreign cabdrivers can't be wrong!
posted by Bromius at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


See? It wasn't just any old illogical gibberish. It was special Friedman-brand illogical gibberish, and he's trying to make it happen, and unlike "fetch" it probably will happen because rich people love the idea that you can learn everything you need to know about the world by talking to taxi drivers on the way from your five-star hotel to the ecologically disastrous golf course.
posted by No-sword at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


A somewhat related piece from Karl Sharlo (@KarlreMarks). This is great:

The Confused Person's Guide to Understanding Yemen
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Man, I'd love to have his job. With a little practice, I think I could do it even better than him, it's just a bit of disjointed ranting that seems profound at first blush, but is really nonsensical. The American civil war was not about slavery or because of a lack of Facebook, but because of states' rights never had brunch with the Supreme Court, and Lincoln's hat was not sufficiently flat.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:53 PM on January 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


Will Tom Friedman ever stop failing upwards?

The only satisfactory theory I've come up with to explain his career is : poorly worded genie wish.
posted by The Whelk at 5:55 PM on January 23, 2015 [90 favorites]


Friedman: "I wish to have a 12 inch pianist."

Genie: "Awesome. I've now made you a giant dick."

Friendman: "Damn."
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:57 PM on January 23, 2015 [38 favorites]


First of all, at a glance it looked like fifty million cadavers can't be wrong.

Plutocrats: Cartoon dog owners, seeking to form a legitimate political party.
posted by Oyéah at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2015


it's extremely good that our masters are mind-bogglingly stupid and yet through the low cunning of the incurably evil figured out how to manipulate the system so they can take anything they want from us. it's so good.
posted by Awful Peice of Crap at 5:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think he is trying to say that it failed because the people involved weren't selfless enough. If only they had the internet and venture capital on their side, then they could be a real community! or something to that effect.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The next six months will prove decisive.

Well played. Well played indeed.
posted by mhoye at 6:01 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


He was talking about the same thing he's always talking about: himself.
posted by petrilli at 6:01 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


The only satisfactory theory I've come up with to explain his career is : poorly worded genie wish.

I'm not sure he'd be able to make any other kind.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:02 PM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


Real talk, though: if finding out Tom Friedman was applauded at Davos isn't enough to make you want to pile up the barricades and burn down the world, I don't know what will.
posted by mhoye at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


"Thank you for the Tom Friedman Random Column Generator." --not Tom Friedman
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:04 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I used to play the game "which NYT columnist is the worst" but then I was forced to read Kristoff and then Friedman for one unholy globalization class and my brain melted and I moved into a WWII bunker stabilized by surplus copies of the Lexus and the Olive Tree and now I dream of moustaches of understanding.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:06 PM on January 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think I get what he's trying to say but I'm completely confused at who is saying what.

I think he means that you have a house guest who is supposed to come for breakfast. They show up late but you still thank them because, even though they are late, they still showed up.

Maybe how he's applying this to the Arab Spring is by saying that people are stopping support to the Arab Spring movements because of missteps done by those movements and he's criticizing the fact that people expect revolutionaries to make no mistakes and be perfect from the get-go.

But without the context the meaning is lost. We are reacting to a guy's post on Twitter that may not be accurate.

Full disclosure: I'm pretty sure this is the first time I heard of the Friedman guy.
posted by I-baLL at 6:07 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


LRN is an interesting venture in social organization.
posted by Oyéah at 6:11 PM on January 23, 2015


It's almost ten years old now, but Matt Taibbi's review of The World Is Flat ("the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit") pretty much says all one can say about Friedmanese. It's also, IMO, one of the best things Taibbi ever wrote:
Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I'll give you an example, drawn at random from "The World Is Flat." On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written "The Metamorphosis," Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius.
posted by theoddball at 6:12 PM on January 23, 2015 [46 favorites]


The things is, he once wrote this book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem", that I've seen on quite a few respectable people's shelves, which got a very good review review from the NYT, and a respectable treatment from TNR (ooh, wait, that's from Peretz, never mind), and he won the Pulitzer three times working as a foreign corespondent for ten years.

Now, his labels of approval come from institutions that define middlebrow, and sometimes are fooled or miss the point, but they usually are immune to utter bald-faced nonsense, which is what Freidman has become the purveyor of. So does anybody have any idea what the heck happened?
posted by benito.strauss at 6:15 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


He was saying that the Arab Spring was failing due to lack of passive aggression. I mean, "thank you for being late"? Come on.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:22 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would say that Tom Friedman is the Perd Hapley of real life, except that Perd is somewhat endearing.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:23 PM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


I just assume he was announcing his presidential bid.

I just had this whole train of thought that led to asking myself "were the Bush years really so bad?", so congratulations on being the first person who has ever caused me to ask myself that question, I guess. (Also, I will fondly hope, the last...)
posted by brennen at 6:31 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Horseshit" carries so much power that I'm not allowed to say it the house.

Matt Taibbi sometimes over uses it, but it's well used in the quote above.

Even in the charitable reading I-baLL has given us, Friedman's comments are desperately patronizing and condescending. No wonder the plutocrats cheered.
posted by notyou at 6:48 PM on January 23, 2015


Wait wait WAIT. The I-baLL Interpretation makes no sense given the context provided in the article.

The link says "Thank you for being late" is what you say to someone whose lateness has made some room in your schedule so that you have some time to yourself. That's not the meaning for "Thank you for being late" proposed by the I-baLL Interpretation, which is more like "better late than never".
posted by chrchr at 6:56 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Friedman is saying the Arab Spring is failing because their time management skills are too good.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


We may never figure it out. This is like if FOX News produced the Voynich Manuscript.
posted by chrchr at 7:02 PM on January 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


So the Arab Spring has given us a few moments to think about...something?

Still patronizing and condescending (and also passive aggressive as benito.strauss notes; can you imagine if someone actually ever said that to you?)
posted by notyou at 7:03 PM on January 23, 2015


We may never figure it out. This is like if FOX News produced the Voynich Manuscript.
It all makes sense now! The Voynich manuscript produced FOX News, the X Files was Rupert Murdoch's origin story.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:04 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


understanding that can only be forged when someone is late for breakfast, and you say, "Thank you for being late." "Suck. On. This."

FTFH.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 7:14 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]




I read "Beirut to Jerusalem". It was a really quite good mid-90s layman-level "woes of the middle east 101", well-situated historically and culturally ....... and for a popular mainstream western-angled writer, not nearly as intrinsically racist and orientalist as Edward Said suggested it was......it's still a good book (with those caveats taken into account).

Some point shortly after that book was published, Thomas Friedman clearly underwent what I can only describe as fame-induced-brain-damage.

Since then, virtually everything I've had the misfortune to read by him has been the political-economic writing equivalent of this.
posted by lalochezia at 7:32 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Full disclosure: I'm pretty sure this is the first time I heard of the Friedman guy.
posted by I-baLL at 6:07 PM on January 23
[+]     [!]


How is that possible?
posted by jayder at 7:35 PM on January 23, 2015


How is that possible?

A well worded genie wish?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:37 PM on January 23, 2015 [27 favorites]


The Thomas Friedman Random Column Generator?
Obviously inferior to the Random Column Generator Friedman himself uses, which is probably the best Markov Chain program ever devised (sorry, cortex, you've still got work to do; let us know when you hit the NYT Op/Ed page).
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:45 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ok. Dislike Friedman? Why pick a snippet to post in order to show us you dislike him? do not read what you know you will not like unless you relish showing how clever you are...or in order to lie up clever comments by so many others. It is always easy to belittle that which is not very good but what that tells me is that there is a need to score points in the one ups an game, a game with little or no merit
posted by Postroad at 7:54 PM on January 23, 2015


LRN is an interesting venture in social organization.

This really really sounds like spam.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:06 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fine, Poastroad- you explain the quote.


Or don't. Whatever.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:08 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Holy shit! Did that joke go completely over my head? Well played. You must posses THE MOUSTACHE OF UNDERSTANDING!
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:18 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read briefly about LRN, it was interesting, not at all like gelatinous canned, mystery pork product.

If I place my third eye in your moustache of reprimanding, the fire will take your lashes and eyebrows, no secret code here. I, I, I...
posted by Oyéah at 8:31 PM on January 23, 2015


Friedman schedules a breakfast meeting with one of his CEO buddies, and the CEO is 15 minutes late.

Because the CEO is a busy man, but mainly because he wishes to deliver a message to Friedman that he, the CEO, is well above Friedman in the male hierarchy.

Friedman attempts to deflect this insult by thanking the CEO for being late because it gave Friedman time to catch up with himself, and the audience is so appalled by the pathetic weakness of this impotent gesture that they laugh nervously to cover their embarrassment for him.

But they needn't have bothered, because as usual, Friedman has fallen for his own bullshit so completely he doesn't grasp that he's eagerly recounting a tale of his own humiliation.
posted by jamjam at 8:31 PM on January 23, 2015 [16 favorites]


What is the sound of one Friedman clapping?
posted by Edgewise at 8:39 PM on January 23, 2015


Also "WHAT ON EARTH WAS THOMAS FRIEDMAN TALKING ABOUT?" seems like a good name/topic for a blog.
posted by Edgewise at 8:40 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


jamjam, that part holds up okay, but what the HELL does that have to do with the Arab Spring???
posted by chrchr at 8:42 PM on January 23, 2015


I don't know, chrchr -- could it be that Friedman thinks Arab families whose sons were tortured to death by corrupt totalitarian regimes should have thanked the dictators for sparing them the cost of university rather than going into the streets to overthrow them? And thereby reducing the quarterly profits of his CEO buddies with operations in those countries?

That would seem to fit with his general conception of a just world.
posted by jamjam at 9:06 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Like if FOX News produced the Voynich Manuscript
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:08 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


He's saying that the people involved in the Arab Spring aren't as inspired as him, the genius who has the gratitude and enlightenment to say, "Thank you for being late."

petrilli's right, he's just talking about himself.
posted by mokin at 9:15 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


...and the answer is none. None more Friedman.

At this point, there are maybe three doctors in the continental U.S. that are capable of extracting Thomas Friedman from his own ass.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:24 PM on January 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


So does anybody have any idea what the heck happened?

Married into serious money; his wife's daddy was a billionaire real estate developer. Between that and the respectability from a couple of Pulitzers, I think he came around to seeing the advisability of churning out comfortable, non-threatening platitudes for the succor of the ruling class rather than risk going out and stirring shit up. Lots of his colleagues have made a similar journey without the 11,000-square-foot mansion in Bethesda.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:40 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


You do have to wonder how much they have left; GGP, the biggest mall developer in the US (founded by his father-in-law decades ago) took a real shellacking in the financial crisis, and eventually Friedman's brother-in-law was forced out as CEO; in the aftermath of the company's Chapter 11, a cousin sued the family's attorneys because of a $1.7 billion loss to her portfolio. With a B.

A somewhat related piece from Karl Sharlo (@KarlreMarks).

I wish there were a @KarlreMarks for everything I'm interested in. Seriously, one of my favorite Twitter accounts.
posted by dhartung at 1:36 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only satisfactory theory I've come up with to explain his career is : poorly worded genie wish.

See, I keep getting this all mixed up with Milton Friedman, and getting all confused.
posted by happyroach at 3:57 AM on January 24, 2015


TIL about the Friedman Unit.
posted by andreaazure at 7:43 AM on January 24, 2015


"So does anybody have any idea what the heck happened?"

So in college you probably had a couple of writing-heavy classes with 40 students, like in sociology or political science or something, with weekly short assignments. You worked your butt off for the first couple of papers, got As, and then somewhere midsemester you turned in a stinking pile of shit, felt really bad about it because you liked the professor and you were a diligent student and this was C work at best, and then you got it back with an "A" and "good work" scrawled on it. Remember that?

This is because after the first couple of weeks where you turn in A assignments, these professors stop reading your work because they know you're smart and you get it. They focus the bulk of their grading time on the students getting Cs or lower. As long as you knock it out of the park the first few weeks, you can turn in APPALLING BULLSHIT the rest of the semester and chances are good your professor won't notice.

Friedman turned in A work the first couple of weeks of the semester. His professors/editors haven't bothered reading his work ever since. By now he has figured out the game and has realized he can turn in paper consisting entirely of South Park quotes and there will be no actual consequences to his professional life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:13 AM on January 24, 2015 [20 favorites]


being a reporter, and especially a reporter for the nytimes, means you serve a conduit for the information and analysis of the people you are talking to, people who are likely to be both better informed and more intelligent than you are. given the role the nytimes plays as the "paper of record," it's almost better if it's reporters don't have well-formed opinions and ideas of their own...

also, Friedman is the Chauncey Gardiner of the elite US media. The fact that he is a moron speaks more about the role the media plays in the US than anything else. You are fooling yourself if you think that role is about an "informed citizenry" or even the elite exchange of ideas. If other media figures seem more intelligent, it's you who are being fooled.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:37 AM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I bet if Friedman played chess against Bill Kristol they'd argue about which suit was trumps.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Interesting take, EMcG. Though your use of the second person in telling the story is making me laugh, because that is so not the description of my experience in writing-heavy classes in college.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why pick a snippet to post in order to show us you dislike him? do not read what you know you will not like unless you relish showing how clever you are...or in order to lie up clever comments by so many others.

I would be ever so happy to ignore Thomas Friedman, but seeing as the guys who own 98% of the planet are applauding and laughing with (at?) him, I sorta feel obliged to pay attention to what our masters are up to.
posted by straight at 12:43 PM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't he just saying that people need to pause and take thought before acting? That would also connect it easily with the Arab Spring and would be entirely Friedmanesque: a platitude, a bad or wrong idea about what he's talking about, covered up in a tortured metaphor about himself.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:29 PM on January 25, 2015


HOW STUPID IS A DAVOS AUDIENCE, ANYWAY?
In practice, then, when listening to panel discussions, the delegates pay attention to the sentiments and cadences, rather than to the actual words. Which is why Tom Friedman’s Davosbollocks received a substantial round of applause. It wasn’t wise, it wasn’t insightful, it wasn’t even meaningful in any real sense. ...

... (Tom Friedman) knows how to modulate his speech, how to repeat himself, how to draw people in as though he’s telling them something important. When it comes to form, rather than substance, he’s actually very good. When he tied his speechlet up in a manner which clearly indicated “this is the final sentence of my remarks”, the audience was perfectly primed to respond. They’d barely been listening to what he was saying; they just knew that (a) he’d agreed with everybody else on the Importance of Mindfulness; that (b) he’d somehow managed to get the Arab Spring into what he was saying; and that (c) he’d stopped speaking.

In Davos, that’s more than enough for a hearty round of applause. So while Tom Friedman fully deserves all the opprobrium being directed at him, I’m inclined to forgive the audience, at least a little bit. All of us, after all, have occasionally applauded a speech we haven’t listened to.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:43 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


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