I am in awe

by Kieran Healy on April 21, 2005

It takes a long, long apprenticeship laboring the Augean stables of Globollocks to write a sentence like this:

The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been—but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.

Amazing. Tom Friedman is a God. No, not a God so much as a moustachioed force of nature, pumped up on the steroids of globalization, a canary in the coalmine of an interconnected era whose tentacles are spreading over the face of a New Economy savannah where old lions are left standing at their waterholes, unaware that the young Turks—and Indians—have both hands on the wheel of fortune favors the brave face the music to their ears to the, uh, ground.

{ 35 comments }

1

mrjauk 04.21.05 at 10:24 pm

Everytime I read (oo read about) Friedman on globalization, I go back to this gem of a column at the Prospect.

http://www.prospect.org/print/V11/13/devil5.html

Here’s the first part:

“I was changing planes at the new airport in Jakarta the other day, on the way to Stockholm from Vladivostok. Three young Bangladeshi boys sat in the passenger lounge, watching The Power Rangers on satellite TV. Their mother–garbed in the traditional sari–talked to her cousin, a migrant worker who sold German-designed Walkman knockoffs in Hong Kong, on a shiny new Samsung cell phone. Sitting to one side of them was a young Chinese émigré on his way to Toronto to work for a software company, and on the other a business-suited Rastafarian making a connection to Bratislava. Meanwhile, a couple of Tuareg tribesmen sat cross-legged in front of the ticket counter, cooking yams over a flaming mound of ticket stubs.

What’s my point? I don’t actually have one–but opening my columns with strings of clichéd cultural juxtapositions really cuts down my workload.”

2

Neil 04.21.05 at 10:35 pm

3

Matt 04.21.05 at 11:10 pm

If Friedman were an academic we could put this in the academic put-downs, but it’s good enough to put here- from the review by Matt Tabbi that Neil links to:
“he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius.”

4

david 04.21.05 at 11:18 pm

Who came up with “whatever the opposite of epiphanies are?” Cause I think Taibbi’s riffing.

5

ogged 04.21.05 at 11:24 pm

What universe am I in? Matt, that’s the link Kieran posted, and David, Kieran came up with “oppposite of epiphany.” Let me guess, the next commenter will say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Kieran Healy did a post about Tom Friedman?”

6

Neil 04.21.05 at 11:30 pm

My fault, Ogged. Didn’t check Kieran’s link.

But it *would* be nice if Kieran did a post about Tom Friedman.

7

ogged 04.21.05 at 11:34 pm

I knew it!

8

Matt 04.22.05 at 12:13 am

Ah- I thought Kieran had linked to something long by Friedman himself, and I damned well wasn’t going to read _that_. Tabbi is good fun, though- his old “Press Review” pieces in The eXile beating up on Friedman were classic stuff, and his “gorilla journalism” was pure brilliance.

9

Barry Freed 04.22.05 at 12:41 am

I’m not sure I should be here. Tell me, is this the post about Tom Friedman?

10

raj 04.22.05 at 1:40 am

The NYPress article linked to was funny as heck. Thanks.

11

Publius 04.22.05 at 1:55 am

My latest theory: what American-style Global Capitalism does better than any system ever invented… is generate oodles of cheap gadgets.

It’s the most outstanding system on Earth for technophiles and technology fetishists. Of course, it botches most of the other things it attempts, but that’s tangential to my point. Nor do I mean to trivialise the good achieved by democratising and popularising technology. But The “American Century” and the “Age of Invention” were contemporaneous, and I don’t think that was a coincidence; nor was the popularisation and commoditisation of technology that accompanied both the Enlightement (i.e. steam engine) and the Rennaisance (i.e. printing press).

I never thought that this theory would help explain Friedman, but I sense that it does. The guy *really* loves his gadgets, and he’s a populist about them: feeding the world is less important to Friedman than assuring they all have plenty of his beloved gadgets.

Truly, he is the Father Christmas of consumer electronics.

12

bad Jim 04.22.05 at 1:58 am

Think of Friedman as a pilot fish, timorously gleaning bits of meat from between the teeth of sharks.

13

bad Jim 04.22.05 at 2:56 am

Or, if we continue to think of Friedman as a god, consider him just another of the lares and penates, peculiar to our household, to whom occasional obeisance is required. One might annoint his statuette with oil. Like the lamentable Brooks, whose might be annointed with ordure.

14

dsquared 04.22.05 at 3:48 am

Mocking other people’s mixed metaphors is the lowest form of wit, but my God it works.

My personal theory is that Friedman is Bizarro World’s JK Galbraith, and he’s trying to get back home.

15

Tim Worstall 04.22.05 at 4:56 am

Ah, The eXile, yes, always a rush to get that each fortnight in Moscow back when. Forgotten the name of their previous paper, they had one earlier which went bust/got taken over.

16

rea 04.22.05 at 6:47 am

He will be taking up arms against a sea of troubles, next . . .

17

derrida derider 04.22.05 at 6:51 am

Friedman is a real puzzle. For years he’s been producing unadulterated crap. Yet years ago I read “From Beirut to Jerusalem” – and it was bloody good. If power corrupts, does hobnobbing with the powerful merely corrupt prose?

18

Nicholas Gruen 04.22.05 at 7:32 am

My feelings entirely Keiran. Maybe I should have called this cartoon “The Pan-amphibian Tom Freidman look alike play-off”.

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008763.html

19

dsquared 04.22.05 at 7:36 am

Friedman is actually all right when he’s writing about the Middle East, AFAICT; he did Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford and is pretty well connected. It’s the globalisation stuff that’s always bad, because he gets out of his depth really quickly and becomes logorrheaic. Today he’s just talking about Tony Blair and the “Labor Party”, btw.

20

Billy Banter 04.22.05 at 8:06 am

>”he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius”.

Er… doesn’t this actually say the opposite of what the author intended it to say?

21

strewelpeter 04.22.05 at 9:23 am

emmm maybe not:
“he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse (-1), incapable (-1) of rendering even the smallest details without (-1) genius”
-1*-1–1 = -1
=> hes no joyce or flaubert :)

22

mq 04.22.05 at 9:25 am

That Taibbi column is pretty mild compared to what the Exile crowd used to write about Friedman. I think he is gradually beating them into submission with sheer volume of bad prose. Here a couple of “golden oldies” from the last few years — enjoy!

Review of “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”

http://www.exile.ru/books/review92.html

Metaphor madness:

http://www.nypress.com/16/20/news&columns/cage.cfm

Tom Friedman gets outsourced:

http://www.exile.ru/2004-March-04/outsourcing_thomas_friedman.html

23

strewelpeter 04.22.05 at 9:33 am

Those links were great thanks.
I had only vaguely heard of this guy when I read through his peice in the Guardian yesterday in which he detailed where every individual part of his laptop was made. Then he threw in this gem:
“UPS ships 13.5 million packages a day – which means that at any given moment, 2% of the world’s GDP is in the back of a UPS delivery truck”

Theres logic for you.

24

Matt 04.22.05 at 9:34 am

Brilliant. Even as an inexperienced undergraduate assigned to read “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” for a globalization seminar, I knew something was horribly amiss. Inept turns of phrase, incessant name- and place-dropping, childishly oversimplified worldview. Oh, the humanity.

25

Billy Banter 04.22.05 at 10:25 am

>“he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse (-1), incapable (-1) of rendering even the smallest details without (-1) genius”
1*1—1 = -1
=> hes no joyce or flaubert :)

Strewelpeter, you should be in government with logic like that! :)

Just in case you’re not joking: “incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius” means the opposite of what “he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse” is saying.

This will be clearer if you replace “rendering even the smallest details” with “x-ing”. That gives you “incapable of x-ing without genius”. That is, every time he x-es, he does it with genius. he can’t do x without being a genius about it. Not what was meant.

26

Ereshkigal 04.22.05 at 10:49 am

The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened…

Doesn’t he have an editor? Did the walls fall down before the windows were opened? Why open a window that only looks to the ground– even in a metaphorical sense?

I just can’t get past the silliness of his imagery long enough to appreciate the true ineptitude of his flat earth metaphor.

27

1MaNLan 04.22.05 at 1:04 pm

I would have liked it better if the canary’s testicles were spreading over the face of the new economy Savannah…. But, no matter, still reveals Friedman nicely while having a bit of fun.

28

Pete 04.22.05 at 1:18 pm

Billy Banter, I think Taibbi is saying that Friedman is a genius, a “genius of literary incompetence.”

29

xy 04.22.05 at 1:52 pm

Friedman is incapable of rendering the most banal detail without stupidity.

30

Chris Martin 04.22.05 at 2:41 pm

31

Billy Banter 04.23.05 at 2:57 am

>Billy Banter, I think Taibbi is saying that Friedman is a genius, a “genius of literary incompetence.”

But his sentence doesn’t say that either! (Maybe he’s been reading too much Friedman, and his brain is starting to melt down).

32

Robert 04.23.05 at 12:36 pm

Tom Friedman – the columnist for people too dumb to understand Norman Angell.

33

Jim Harrison 04.24.05 at 6:12 pm

It would be unrealistic to expect anybody to maintain the quality of their prose, let alone their integrity, after so many years of playing to the cheap seats.

34

Rn Grntz 04.25.05 at 2:21 pm

Y cn b gns f ltrry ncmptnc t!

http://www.mcswnys.nt/2004/4/28wrd.html

35

nick 04.25.05 at 12:42 pm

Robert Fisk tends to use the epithet ‘my old chum, the increasingly messianic Tom Friedman’. Curiously, Airmiles appears to be the only person to leave Jerusalem and then get a messiah complex. Must be all those cheap consumer electronics.

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