In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.
November 12, 2003 6:01 AM   Subscribe

"In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car." Analyzing the writings of NYTimes' Thomas Friedman. via atrios
posted by skallas (27 comments total)
great piece, thanks for the link. Another line that seems to come up a lot with Friedman: "Some things are true even if George Bush believes them."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:10 AM on November 12, 2003

Isn't Friedman the world's greatest straw man right now though? He's apparently defending the administration's policies on Iraq while writing for the NYTimes, which is thought of as a liberal paper.

This probably wouldn't be an issue if the press wasn't as politicized, but I doubt Friedman has a large conservative following. Is the target of his articles the group of left-minded people who have supported action in Iraq?
posted by mikeh at 6:15 AM on November 12, 2003

What's a pagoda?
posted by gregb1007 at 6:35 AM on November 12, 2003

posted by BirdD0g at 6:51 AM on November 12, 2003

Cleaning Fee A cleaning fee deposit of £10/€16 will be debited from your credit/debit card when you make a booking. The 'Bring it back clean' policy is designed to reduce customer costs. If you bring your car back clean, there is no extra cost to you. If you want us to clean the car we will do it for £10/€16. The cleaning fee deposit will be refunded when the car is returned, if the car is returned clean.
From here.

posted by i_cola at 7:10 AM on November 12, 2003

shouldn't he be doing a foriegn policy for dummies column in motor trend?

i agree with his stand on reducing dependency on foriegn oil and the "crash course" on developing new energy sources ... but what's with the simpleton, 5th grade level, broken record business - any given column sounds like a rehash of 4 or 5 of his previously over simplified sappy columns. i defy any fan of friedman to try listening to "longitudes and attitudes" on tape from end to end.
posted by specialk420 at 7:40 AM on November 12, 2003

I was Stuck...Stuck in a pagoda ...with Tricia Toyota

My guess is that Friedman is either milking his Lexus & the Olive Tree analogy for all it's worth, or is secretly jealous of Mickey Kaus' double life
as a journalist and car reviewer.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:58 AM on November 12, 2003

Taibbi used to write and run shop at the viciously funny Moscow based English expat faux-tabloid The Exile. You can still root around their archives for some classic Taibbi. Warning: not for the faint of heart.
posted by zaelic at 7:59 AM on November 12, 2003

mikeh: I guess the liberal reputation also explains this other columnist.
posted by raysmj at 8:01 AM on November 12, 2003

raysmj: I don't get your point. What are you trying to say by linking to Kristof (one of their better columnists)?

skallas: Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 8:19 AM on November 12, 2003

I bet William Safire and David Brooks would be surprised to find themselves labelled as liberals. As a matter of fact, the NYT seems to have more conservative columnists than liberals.
Where do they get this "liberal " reputation, anyway?
posted by faceonmars at 8:25 AM on November 12, 2003

Where do they get this "liberal " reputation, anyway?

They occasionally print bad news about the Bush administration.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:34 AM on November 12, 2003

1. Kristof's whole piece excoriates liberals for being upset with Bush, when they have every reason to be - and plenty of people who would describe themselves as moderate or moderate-to-liberal (myself included) are mad at Bush, and have every legitimate reason to be. I'm as saddened and worried as I am pissed off, however, by what's happened in this country for the past couple of years.

2. His bit about the "great awakening" is hardly worth a response. He'd have a much different attitude about this if he lived in, say, Alabama, home of Roy Moore.

If you look through the comments, you'll find plenty of others frustrated with this column. It's very Friedman-esque, a liberal-attacks-liberals thing, and very poorly argued.
posted by raysmj at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2003

I washed rental cars. I was an assistant at a car rental place in college.
posted by nyxxxx at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2003

Heh. We washed our rental car. Only it was a truck, hauling all Rob's posessions from LA to Mpls, and it needed a bath because it got so coated with dead bugs on the highway.

Oh, you mean this isn't really about washing rental cars? So sorry.
posted by GaelFC at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2003

Washing is all they do to rental cars. Your Chevy Cavalier may have a flat tire, and an empty gas tank, and dents, and smell like smoke and hooker inside, but at least it's a glistening golden beige.

* curses Enterprise of Las Vegas *
posted by PrinceValium at 9:33 AM on November 12, 2003

And sometimes the NYTimes just avoids unpopular news altogether.
posted by homunculus at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2003

I've heard interviews with Friedman before and the depth of his ignorance is only superseded by the fact he is complete goofball. It has little to do with whether he takes a liberal or conservative stance and more to do with the fact he admits to not really researching anything beyond his narrow mental grasp. Here we have a foreign affairs correspondent who never even read any part of the bush admin's "roadmap to peace". Friedman's brand of irresponsible journalism is far more damaging than anything you find on FOX.

Note to self: purchase Friedman voodoo doll.
posted by quadog at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2003

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 cringefull 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 11:06 AM on November 12, 2003

Friedman as basically a good natured lunkhead out of his depth

troutfishing, you've just made my day. For some time I've tried to figure out why I couldn't dislike Friedman as much as his idiotic views would seem to require, and I think you've hit the nail on the head. I'll chip in a quarter towards the Lexus.
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2003

After driving my rental sunfire over mountain passes and up a glacier, I felt the least I could do was wash off all the crusted on mosquitos and layers of dirt.
posted by futureproof at 1:04 PM on November 12, 2003

"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. The result is a giant, gnarled mass of incoherent imagery."

Taibbi took on Friedman, with even funnier results, earlier this year in a NY Press column. As an Atrios poster put it, "this man is a national treasure."
posted by jed at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2003

i agree with the lunkhead comment as well. friedman's fatuous column has always irritated me but at the same time i don't think he's an idealogue with an agenda, just a reporter out of his depth.
posted by jcruelty at 2:21 PM on November 12, 2003

Wasn't Friedman against the invasion before it took place? He came to speak at my college last October during the buildup to war, and he made very clear that he felt it was completely wrong to invade Iraq. The crowd cheered loudly.

So has he just done a complete 180 here, or just muddled up his position?'ve confused me again!!
posted by fishbulb at 5:04 PM on November 12, 2003

I called his office regularly from overseas, sent him rambling two-page letters, harassed him in 100 different ways. Once, I even called the office of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and, pretending to be Friedman himself, screamed at Sulzberger’s secretary. I told her that I was pissed, that "Arthur better get his car out of my fucking parking space" and that "golf this weekend [was] out of the fucking question."

I’d be curious to know how that one panned out...

Hey, thanks, jed! That one's a corker--I liked this one, too:

In this piece, Friedman revives the ancient "Too Much Democracy" argument, a clunky descendant of the theory that giving blacks the vote would rob them of their natural cheerfulness and musicality. Used in Vietnam in 1955 and countless times since, the idea here is that in Iraq, as in all other places where the population is savage and lacking the wisdom and intellectual enlightenment we enjoy in America, too much democracy can be a bad thing. Elections might just be counterproductive.

Now, that's invective.
posted by y2karl at 6:10 PM on November 12, 2003

fishbulb - I heard him sometime in January, I think, and he was then spouting the "flowering of democracy in the Mideast as a result of the successful democratization of Iraq" line which sounds so good in the abstract. I think he was larding in some generous dollops of 'Saddam is a bad man' rhetoric as well. Maybe Friedman hasn't read anything directly off PNAC's website, but he sounded at the time as if he were gobbling up the methamphetamine fantasy chunks excreted out of NeoCon-dom (to be hawked to the public by the servile press) like a hungry dog at a bowl of Dinty Moore stew. Mmmmm. Gobble gobble chomp chomp. Lick. Pant pant. Wag wag.

But I guess Friedman has every reason to believe that the wildly improbable can happen - after all, he writes for the Times, doesn't he.

languagehat - thanks. You cheered me up - I know it's sincere as you don't mince spark plugs...errr, I mean words. I just couldn't resist putting Friedman back on the grill so that some more of his rhetorical fat could ooze out and drip onto hot coals to impart that delicious charred, smoky flavor we all love. And besides, I have to act smart for a while to atone for that especially dumb thing I posted sometime in the indefinite past somewhere out in the blogosphere....

* twiddles thumbs, whistles off key, stares purposefully about *
posted by troutfishing at 7:14 PM on November 12, 2003

After reading this then watching Reporting America at War
Which Side Are You On? #102
may understand the comment, What's a pagoda?,"Pagoda in the middle" from the Vietnam War. Now can see that those from the era would feel it is.

"Pagoda in the middle": suicide bombings; Iraq:Vietnam; Bush:JFK/LBJ then Afghanistan:The Bay of Pigs. Both the press then & today informed with us or you're against the US.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:40 AM on November 13, 2003

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