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April 22, 2005

On reading Thomas Friedman
Posted by Teresa at 12:22 PM *

Most bad art is simply dull. Some inspires livelier reactions; for example, the poetry of Julia Moore and William T. McGonagall, Amanda McKittrick Ros’s novels, Florence Foster Jenkins’ recordings, Edward D. Wood Jr.’s movies, and old Petley Studios postcards.

Whatever else you say about Thomas Friedman—and there’s a great deal more you could say—it’s becoming apparent that he’s one of those rare enlivening bad artists. The man’s no H. C. Turk, but he does meet the minimum requirement, which is that contemplating his work can make your brain seize up and throw a tooth.

Kieran Healy is justifiably in awe:
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.
Kieran Healy’s been a (fcvo)fan of Thomas Friedman for some time, but I’m under the impression that what set him off this time was Matt Taibbi’s Flathead: The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman:
I think it was about five months ago that Press editor Alex Zaitchik whispered to me in the office hallway that Thomas Friedman had a new book coming out. All he knew about it was the title, but that was enough; he approached me with the chilled demeanor of a British spy who has just discovered that Hitler was secretly buying up the world’s manganese supply. Who knew what it meant—but one had to assume the worst.

…I tried not to think about it. But when I heard the book was actually coming out, I started to worry. Among other things, I knew I would be asked to write the review. The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. …

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. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

It’s impossible to divorce The World Is Flat from its rhetorical approach. It’s not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called “the most important columnist in America today.” That it’s Friedman’s own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman’s own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he’s in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country’s most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

Things are true because you say they are. The only thing that matters is how sure you sound when you say it. In politics, this allows America to invade a castrated Iraq in self-defense. In the intellectual world, Friedman is now probing the outer limits of this trick’s potential, and it’s absolutely perfect, a stroke of genius, that he’s choosing to argue that the world is flat. The only thing that would have been better would be if he had chosen to argue that the moon was made of cheese.

And that’s basically what he’s doing here. The internet is speeding up business communications, and global labor markets are more fluid than ever. Therefore, the moon is made of cheese. That is the rhetorical gist of The World Is Flat. It’s brilliant. Only an America-hater could fail to appreciate it.

Start with the title.

The book’s genesis is conversation Friedman has with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys. Nilekani causally mutters to Friedman: “Tom, the playing field is being leveled.” To you and me, an innocent throwaway phrase—the level playing field being, after all, one of the most oft-repeated stock ideas in the history of human interaction. Not to Friedman. Ten minutes after his talk with Nilekani, he is pitching a tent in his company van on the road back from the Infosys campus in Bangalore:
As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the 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!

This is like three pages into the book, and already the premise is totally fucked. Nilekani said level, not flat. The two concepts are completely different. Level is a qualitative idea that implies equality and competitive balance; flat is a physical, geographic concept that Friedman, remember, is openly contrasting—ironically, as it were—with Columbus’s discovery that the world is round. Except for one thing. The significance of Columbus’s discovery was that on a round earth, humanity is more interconnected than on a flat one. On a round earth, the two most distant points are closer together than they are on a flat earth. But Friedman is going to spend the next 470 pages turning the “flat world” into a metaphor for global interconnectedness. Furthermore, he is specifically going to use the word round to describe the old, geographically isolated, unconnected world.
Emboldened stupidity: I like that. It’s a good antidote to writing in which fuzzy metaphors yoked to abstract verbs overtake and engulf phrasal nouns.

Check out the whole article. I particularly recommend Taibbi’s analysis of the calculability of Friedman’s numerical metaphors.

Addendum: And don’t miss the cover image! (Thank you, Avram Grumer.)

Comments on On reading Thomas Friedman:
#1 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 05:38 PM:

"Economics is not like war. It can be win-win. But you need to be at a certain level to be able to claim your share of a global pie that is both expanding and becoming more complex."

Wow! Does that mean that my research on "Pi" and my research on Complexity Theory applied to Mathematical Economics will at last meet an appreciative world, now that Thomas Freidman has prepared the Flat Earth for my revelations? Gimme a slice of that expanding pie real fast, before it won't fit on my plate.

Post-script: maybe you see why I dropped my susbscription to the New York Times. Though I still stop at a Starbucks to read the Science section on Tuesdays.

#2 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 05:42 PM:

Dear me. "The mad dogs have kneed us in the groin while our backs were turned again."

Thinking it over, Friedman's metaphors and his theories suffer both from insufficient thought; he comes off like an sf writer who knows he's got an important theme but doesn't know how to address it, so he writes bad fiction about it, instead. Come to think of it, globalization is a very sfnal theme; I wonder if bad sf is an influence on Friedman.

#3 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 05:44 PM:

And don't skip the cover illo! Especially since I don't think the NY Press archives its covers, so there's be another one behind that link in a few days.

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 06:14 PM:

SF has little to do with it. I'm sure people have been using ill-thought-out metaphors since about ten minutes after metaphors were invented.

Orwell taks about this in "Politics and the English Language". The kind of mixed metaphor that Friedman specializes in is a symptom of a writer who isn't actually thinking about what he's writing, or who just lacks a grasp of the actual details of his subject matter. Check out this Electrolite post from a couple years back:

Friedman: "The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world…and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble."

PNH: "[...] in just one paragraph, in order to puncture a bubble we have to go into a heart, and be ready to kill and die in order to avoid being undermined by the bubble."

The reason Friedman had to resort to those garbled metaphors in the first place was to conceal that he was bascially making shit up. If Friedman actually knew whether Saddam was a threat to the free world, or even to the unfree surrounding regions, he could have given concrete details of the nature of that threat. If he knew that the only way to allay the threat was with military force, he could have provided examples of how non-military approaches had failed to deter Saddam in the past. He believes these things, but lacks the facts to back up those beliefs, so he sort of rummages around in the cluttered closet of his mind, grabs the first metaphors that come to hand, and drags them out like a color-blind man with a wardrobe full of clashing outfits.

(Actually I haven't bothered to track down the full text of the Friedman piece in question. Maybe he does cite actual evidence and numbers. But that'd be miraculously uncharacteristic of him.)

#5 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 07:39 PM:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

--William McGonagall

#6 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 09:42 PM:

Not to pick nits... well, no, sorry, let me start again.

To pick a nit, Columbus did not discover that the world was round. Everyone already knew that. Columbus discovered, or more precisely discovered but never admitted, that the world was a whole lot larger than he thought. But everyone else already knew that, too.

#7 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 10:08 PM:

I am vastly relieved to discover that the cover illo doesn't include a giant pink sea-serpentish thingy rearing up to devour us all. (Oh, but Tommy Boy likes women, doesn't he?)

#8 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 10:09 PM:

Avram, I suppose what gives TF the cast of bad SF for ME is the combination of a broad historical hypothesis with a heap of really confused metaphors, concealing major omissions of thinking.

oh, well. one can watch the TF meta-stew of meta-historical ideas with amusement.

#9 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2005, 10:13 PM:

Alas, he's a pretty normal business book writer. They tend to mangle English. I have the book, haven't read it yet, but am not at all surprised by how badly Taibbi says he mixes his metaphors. I'm reading the book for near-term optimistic futurism, hopefully some good stories from various parts of the world, and that's about it. Fluent prose would be a charming surprise; its absence is merely expected.

I also bought the book because he was a guest on the Daily Show and I'd like more publishers to send their authors there. Next for this treatment is "No god but God" by Reza Aslan, who was on last night and is said to be a really good writer (and even more fabulous by comparison). He says, "I just told a story, a narrative about the evolution of faith and process in Islam." Also "I consider myself a novelist but I don’t get worked up by silly genres. In my mind there are two types of writing: good writing and bad writing."

#10 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 01:25 AM:

Much have I travell'd on the feet of gold,
And many tumbled walls and maidens seen,
Round many horny Africs have I been
Which bards like bosoms in their welkins hold,
Oft of a spare expanse had I been told
That fence-swung Homer looked on as demesne;
Yet never did I breathe its mountains clean
Till I heard Friedman speak out uncontrolled,
Then felt I like some Cousteau of the skies
When a new bubble undermines his ken,
Or sack-like Falstaff, when with precast eyes
He stared at echoes -- and his fellow men
Harked back in multitudes like single spies
Silent, past their peak in Darien.

#11 ::: Greg Horn ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 01:59 AM:

"Things are true because you say they are. The only thing that matters is how sure you sound when you say it."

Okay, I've been called a bastard for doing this to people to throw them off for not questioning what they're told. I have a picture of Hodson Island, much like this one...
http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=1900-11=

Except mine has sea ice and it looks a lot darker and colder. Usually this needs a little build-up to go for the joke. I was born in Cleveland, which is true. Look at the picture of the above webpage, and imagine, someone trying to pass it off as a wistful childhood memory of looking across Lake Erie at Canada. I am amazed at how many people don't question it (Mentally add in a lot of sea ice, and that the picture I show them is a photocopy).

#12 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 09:25 AM:

He is taking the obvious and convoluting it to make it seem terribly profound. I would not guess this was intentional.

It comes off as a cheerleader saying "OMG, I am so mean to everyone" and the rest of the world is saying "thank you, miss obvious." Typical boomer hubris (no offense to all you boomers). In his rush to make ammends, he does the only thing he knows how_ mixes his metaphors_ which only trips him up and lands him, well, flat on his face.

#13 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 10:51 AM:

John M. Ford:

I, for one, appreciated your latest formal occasional parodic verse. In fact, I've never read ANY poem of your that I did not admire. But, it seems, The Academy has long since decided that the kind of poetry written by me and thee is obsolete. This, of course, decided by people with the verbal acuity of Thomas Friedman, and often with even less to say.

The Fortunes of Formalism by David Yezzi.

Of the roughly 230 poems I've had published, some 90% were formal in structure. Moreso, most were explictly Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror. Ghetto inside a ghetto!

Well, we can always win a Rhysling Award.

If a Hugo or a Nebula is a "Gold Medal in the Special Olympics", then what is a Rhysling? I'm proud of mine, by the way.

#14 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 11:19 AM:

Jonathan, the academy isn't monolithic, and there's a fair amount of formal (I hate that word in this context) poetry both produced and valued there.

Also, I'll see your Yezzi and raise you a Steele

That said, Camille Paglia's wonderful recent piece in Salon says some things you'll like.

(A great paragraph at the bottom of that page touches on a cure for academism. Academicism? Hm.)

#15 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 12:20 PM:

adamsj:

Youre right about the heterogeneity of Academe. Your Steele link didn't work for me. "But, true to Paglia's form, there's an incendiary call to arms inside 'Break, Blow, Burn' (a phrase taken from John Donne's 'Holy Sonnet XIV')." Until the author cited Donne, I wondered if "Break, Blow, Burn" was some sort of oral version of "pillage, rape, and burn" that might belong in the bookburning thread.

#16 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 12:29 PM:

Jonathan,

Dammit! And it's run by Perl code, too. Someone is letting down the team.

Here's another link. There are some other interesting titles on that page.

By the way, they've also put Suzette Hayden Elgin's The Ozark Trilogy back in print.

#17 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 01:38 PM:

I saw a link to Taibbi's article yesterday--and almost fell off my chair I was laughing so hard.

#18 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 02:41 PM:

Ezra Klein linked to this review of Friendman's book the other day. The comments thread on his blog is worth reading, if only to giggle at the Venture Capitalist who defends Friedman's crackpot notions with yet more bollockspeak about thinking outside the box, etc.

So many people are Out-Of-The-Box thinkers these days that perhaps we should check the box to see if there's not a dead cat inside.

My take on Friedman (and writing in general): if you can't use the language correctly, it doesn't matter what you're trying to say. Your thesis will be undermined by the fact that you think heard animals hunt and Columbus named the Indians because he was looking for India. (He was actually looking for a route to Hindustan, since India as a country wouldn't exist for another three centuries).

#19 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 03:59 PM:

I heard him plug his book on NPR, and he actually sounded coherent speaking out loud. Weird.

Though I was particularly amused by an anecdote he told about his family: when he was a boy, he was told to eat his dinner because people in China and India are starving; now he tells his daughters to do their homework, because people in China and India are starving for their jobs.

What jobs does he think his daughters will have that cannot be done more cheaply in China and India?

#20 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2005, 09:33 PM:

Keith--

India as a country, with its modern borders, didn't exist in 1492, but that doesn't mean Columbus wasn't looking for India. Africa isn't a country, and wasn't then, but that doesn't mean Vasco da Gama didn't explore its coast.

#21 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 02:55 AM:

You know, I had to go read a paragraph of H.C. Turk just to remind myself of how lucky I am. Yikes.

#22 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 03:32 AM:

"India as a country, with its modern borders, didn't exist in 1492, but that doesn't mean Columbus wasn't looking for India. Africa isn't a country, and wasn't then, but that doesn't mean Vasco da Gama didn't explore its coast."

Columbus was aiming for Japan (which he called "Cathay").

#23 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 08:09 AM:

Columbus was aiming for Japan (which he called "Cathay").

Cathay was China. Japan was known as Chipangu or Cipangu. And he was aiming for them all, although China was probably the most important.

#24 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 08:14 AM:

Keith and Zzedar, the peoples of the Americas became known as "Indians" because Columbus believed he had reached __________

#25 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 10:25 AM:

Lis: according to some in the AIM (I forget the name -- quoted in Mother Jones some years ago) the answer to your question is "a people living in God" (i.e., "in Dios").

#26 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 11:05 AM:

I heard Friedman on NPR about a week ago.

When I heard him describe his trip in from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport into Bentonville as a trip through "Podunk" and "Lil' Abner country", I wanted to jump through the speaker and choke him.

It's not even accurate. I make that drive a dozen times a year. It's just countryside.

Friedman is not much of an observer.

#27 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 11:30 AM:

Lis Carey:

"Keith and Zzedar, the peoples of the Americas became known as 'Indians' because Columbus believed he had reached" __________

Indiana?

#28 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 12:16 PM:

The world view from CEO level
By Jacob Heilbrunn
Los Angeles Times
Book Review section
24 April 2005

The World Is Flat A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century Thomas L. Friedman Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 496 pp., $27.50

[Jacob Heilbrunn is a Los Angeles Times editorial writer and author of a forthcoming book on the history of neoconservatism.]

"If globalization serves as a kind of secular religion for international elites, then Thomas L. Friedman is its high priest. Like a modern-day St. Paul, he travels constantly and tirelessly spreads the gospel about the glories of free trade.... In his important, provocative and infuriating work, 'The World Is Flat,' he has embarked upon a new mission...."

"... Friedman recounts that he first realized the extent of these changes recently at the KGA Golf Club in southern India when his playing partner pointed at two shiny glass-and-steel buildings and declared, 'Aim at either Microsoft or IBM....'"

"...Friedman contends that Americans in coming decades will have to cope with a kind of economic Darwinism: 'You want constantly to acquire new skills, knowledge, and expertise that enable you constantly to be able to create value — something more than vanilla ice cream. You want to learn how to make the latest chocolate sauce, the whipped cream, or the cherries on top, or to deliver it as a belly dancer — in whatever your field of endeavor.' Such folderol makes the Charlie Chaplin film "Modern Times" seem to depict a model of enlightened capitalism...."

"... After years consorting with CEOs at such events as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friedman seems to have become a captive of their world...."


#29 ::: Nell Lancaster ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 01:12 PM:

mythago: What jobs does he think his daughters will have that cannot be done more cheaply in China and India?

Columnists for the New York Times?

Matt Taibbi's pieces have sometimes been deeply irritating (though never because of bad writing). This one redeems him in my eyes for a long time to come.

#30 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 05:13 PM:

adamsj:
When I heard him describe his trip in from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport into Bentonville as a trip through "Podunk" and "Lil' Abner country", I wanted to jump through the speaker and choke him.
Warped geography too. Podunk is actually a place in Massachusetts. Supposedly it was the last unincorporated part of Mass. Now part of East Brookfield.

#31 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 05:29 PM:

There's an area of Virginia Beach, VA that is called Podunk. It got incorporated into VAB when the city annexed entire Princess Anne county.

#32 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 05:49 PM:

I thought Columbus was searching for the East Indies (more or less Indonesia now). He found the West Indies instead (the Caribbean islands).

#33 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 05:58 PM:

Chip beat me to it. "In Dios" is the correct answer. Or one of them any way. There's considerable debate as to just why Indians are called Indians, if they should even be called Indians and not Native Americans (this actually changes depending on tribe, believe it or not. Some Cherokee actually dislike being called Native Americans).

My point was that Columbus didn't name them Indians. This little fact, however, in no way hinders Friedman from grossly mishandling the English language, American history or the habits of grammer as we know them today. If he had a grasp of these things, we wouldn't be having this thread and might instead be discussing the plot holes in the new Star Wars movie, some forthcoming novel we all should run out and read immediately or the best way to make a good pitcher of lemonade. It's almost summer, after all.

#34 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 06:21 PM:

In re: What jobs does he think his daughters will have that cannot be done more cheaply in China and India?

It's not that there will be NO employment in the USA; it's just that as the market globalizes away, a potential NYT columnist in India has just as good a chance of becoming an NYT columnist as someone in New York. Same with programming, customer service, yadda yadda.

I think we're overthinking this whole thing...

How people feel about globalization is, I claim, primarily a function of how much Stuff they have. If you've already got Stuff, being able to exchange it for cheap Stuff from somewhere else is great-- particularly if some of your Stuff is a basic means of production producing a steady income. If, on the other hand, you've got Squat, the prospect of having to compete with everybody else on the planet to manufacture Stuff bites.

As Stephenson put it, globalization means: "...once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider prosperity..."

Anyway, just considering the USA, Friedman has Stuff; most people have Squat. Hence, it's unsurprising Friedman is looking around and saying "The world is just" and most people are looking around and saying "The world is unjust." Frankly, neither statement is useful; globalization is HAPPENING, and whether Friedman is happy or I am dubious isn't going to change it one way or the other.

#35 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 07:15 PM:

Of course, Columbus' attempt to find a shorter route to China was predicated on horrible miscalculation of the size of the Earth; any educated person of late 15th c. Europe knew that the Earth was round, but Columbus was convinced that it was smaller than conventional wisdom said and cherrypicked classical authors to make his case. His out-of-the-box thinking failed to result in his and his crew's deaths only due to running smack into the West Indes (which Columbus insisted validated his crackpot ideas).

You may draw your own conclusions about the meaning of this in relation to Tom Friedman.

#36 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 07:16 PM:

"Keith and Zzedar, the peoples of the Americas became known as 'Indians' because Columbus believed he had reached __________"

Yeah, he thought he had landed there, but that wasn't where he had been intending to land. He just figured he had gotten off course.

#37 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 09:18 PM:

Anyway, just considering the USA, Friedman has Stuff; most people have Squat. Hence, it's unsurprising Friedman is looking around and saying "The world is just"

This a little bit frightens me about the lesser likelihood these days of people whose parents don't have degrees getting degrees themselves and finding an entree into the world of Jobs That Don't Suck.

If you've never known (as, you know, A Real Person) someone who's had a job that really, really sucked, it's probably a whole lot easier to think that it's a different kind of person crappy lives happen to.

#38 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2005, 11:18 PM:

this actually changes depending on tribe, believe it or not. Some Cherokee actually dislike being called Native Americans

The Menominee up in Wisconsin, at least in my limited experience, are the same way.

#39 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 01:32 AM:

i was going to write a long rant, but decided it belonged in its own blog post. check out the TB. that's yours truly

#40 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 12:21 PM:

Tom Friedman is globalization's Carlos Casteneda, and any schmuck with an MBA will do for his Don Juan of the moment.

#41 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 12:26 PM:

Jon H:

"Tom Friedman is globalization's Carlos Casteneda."

Perfect! So humans are actually Luminous Beings shaped like globes, with tentacles emerging from their wallets. This secret was imparted to Tom Friedman by the Gnomes of Zurich, while hallucinating on OPM (Other People's Money).

Wall Stret is a Place of Power. It all makes sense now...

So, if The Eagles actually were influenced by the writings of Carlos Casteneda, what rock group will spring from the fevered brow of Tom Friedman? The name "The World is Flat" is available...

#42 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 03:33 PM:

Particle material, if I ever saw it: "Scientists in Hamburg, Germany, are baffled by the strange deaths of hundreds of toads after they apparently exploded in and around a pond, according to a Local 6 News report."

http://www.local6.com/news/4410396/detail.html

And, yeah, I just bet Local 6 News, of Florida, did that reporting, and sent an intrepid news crew out to Hamburg to get the scoop.

#43 ::: James finds probable comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 04:09 PM:

almostinfamous' post several items above looks very suspiciously to me like comment spam.

#44 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 04:27 PM:

James--I checked the poster's site. Not spam. There is in fact an actual blog at the other end, and there is in fact a rant on about Friedman on the blog, written by somebody hailing from South India. I haven't read much of the blog, or even of the rant, but spam it ain't.

#45 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 05:15 PM:

So, what do the people-descended-from-people-living-in-America-before-Chris-got-here who dislike "native Americans" prefer to be called?

Hopefully not "Indians". I've got entirely too many Indian coworkers for me to be comfortable with needing to distinguish between Indians-from-India and Indians-misnamed-by-unknown-historical-personages.

#46 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 05:35 PM:

It's not that there will be NO employment in the USA; it's just that as the market globalizes away, a potential NYT columnist in India has just as good a chance of becoming an NYT columnist as someone in New York.

Actually, if Friedman's hypothesis is correct, the potential NYT columnist in India has a better chance of publication. Because you can pay the columnist in India less. The NYT-dweller is at a disadvantage. So are Friedman's daughters, unless they go into a industry where they have some advantage other than price. (Quality doesn't seem to be it. Physical presence, maybe; a cartel is a pretty good bet.)

'Globalization is happening and there's nothing we can do' is only true to a point; it's not a force of nature. It's subsidized by the fact that the rules we play by are not the rules everyone else plays by. Globalization evangelists point out that a living wage in China is different than a living wage in the US. They tend to skip over the fact that regulations protecting workers, access to the courts for redress, and a social safety net are different in China than in the US, too.

#47 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 05:50 PM:

mythago writes: "Actually, if Friedman's hypothesis is correct, the potential NYT columnist in India has a better chance of publication. Because you can pay the columnist in India less. The NYT-dweller is at a disadvantage. "

However, I suspect the Times and similar papers would hire locally anyway. They'd still want the social cachet of having Tom Friedmans and David Brookses swanning about at social functions.

#48 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 06:21 PM:

The preference is to be called by the tribal name; one of the objections to both "Indian" and "Native American" is that they imply that all those five hundred nations are (or were) a single group.

#49 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 06:30 PM:

Damien Neil: So, what do the people-descended-from-people-living-in-America-before-Chris-got-here who dislike "native Americans" prefer to be called?

IME, which is primarily in the Eastern US, most prefer to be identified by tribal affiliation. As a collective term, "First Nations" is sometimes used, though not universally accepted. I don't think you're going to find any one term that is.

#50 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 07:10 PM:

So, what do the people-descended-from-people-living-in-America-before-Chris-got-here who dislike "native Americans" prefer to be called?

Sorry: Indians. Or their tribal name, if you're hip enough to know it.

So are Friedman's daughters, unless they go into a industry where they have some advantage other than price.

*cough*prostitution*cough*

#51 ::: Edo ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2005, 08:54 PM:

I'll add to the data in support of what Aconite said a few posts ago. In the part of the Canadian prairies I hail from, "First Nations" is the general and politically correct term, though there's a lot of variety. Some groups self-identify with tribal names or as Indian, Native, and so on. But people outside those groups are advised to stick with "First Nations" until they know which other terms are appropriate.

If you think "Indian" is ambiguous in North American usage, it's even more so for Japanese people. This photo is a case in point.

#52 ::: Alex Merz ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2005, 12:21 AM:

Taibbi's piece reminded me of another:

Cooper's word-sense was singularly dull. When a person has a poor ear
for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He
keeps near the tune, but it is not the tune. When a person has a poor
ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you
perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he
doesn't say it. This is Cooper. He was not a word-musician. His ear
was satisfied with the approximate word. I will furnish some
circumstantial evidence in support of this charge. My instances are
gathered from half a dozen pages of the tale called Deerslayer. He uses
"verbal," for "oral"; "precision," for "facility"; "phenomena," for
"marvels"; "necessary," for "predetermined"; "unsophisticated," for
"primitive"; "preparation," for "expectancy"; "rebuked," for "subdued";
"dependent on," for "resulting from"; "fact," for "condition"; "fact,"
for "conjecture"; "precaution," for "caution"; "explain," for
"determine"; "mortified," for "disappointed"; "meretricious," for
"factitious"; "materially," for "considerably"; "decreasing," for
"deepening"; "increasing," for "disappearing"; "embedded," for
"enclosed"; "treacherous;" for "hostile"; "stood," for "stooped";
"softened," for "replaced"; "rejoined," for "remarked"; "situation," for
"condition"; "different," for "differing"; "insensible," for
"unsentient"; "brevity," for "celerity"; "distrusted," for "suspicious";
"mental imbecility," for "imbecility"; "eyes," for "sight";
"counteracting," for "opposing"; "funeral obsequies," for "obsequies."

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3172

#53 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2005, 12:38 AM:

If not prostitution, massage.

It's pretty hard to outsource massage to India if you live in the US. Also hairstyling, manicuring, and any of the "personal service" professions.

#54 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2005, 09:03 AM:

As one who has had actual working experience with outsourcing, I have to disagree with the poster who said that quality wouldn't be a competing factor in competition with foreigners. It is easy to find cheaper programmers from India. It is very, very difficult to find high quality ones from anywhere.

The message for the 21st century is that it's not enough to know how to do something. You need to be good at what you do. This may seem like a Friedman-esque "duh" type statement, but you only have to look around you to see how many Americans have lost sight of this basic truth.

#55 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2005, 09:53 AM:

One of the few things that gives me comfort when contemplating our possible futures is that in several of the very unlikely apocolyptic ones, the most important thing about Tom Friedman will be that he's made out of meat.

It's not that I want him to be eaten by wild dogs; it's just that his caste has insulated him from the fact that there are people who have to worry about being eaten by wild dogs, and this is far more important to them than exchange rates and derivative futures.

Being a well-fed western white male myself, I can't throw too many stones. But Friedman is so smugly clueless. It's maddening.

#56 ::: Senseless ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2005, 10:38 AM:

"Things are true because you say they are."

The World's not Flat????

I read it on the Internet, it must be....

#57 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2005, 03:31 PM:

My standard way of distinguishing the group formerly called Native Americans from the people from India is to say "feather, not dot" or visa-versa.

#58 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2005, 03:39 PM:

Tom: It's pretty hard to outsource massage to India if you live in the US.

Possible teledildonics offshoot. ("How do I say 'without release' in Hindi?")

#59 ::: Demus ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2005, 05:23 PM:

Avram: Thanks for the reminder not to drink coffee and read the comments at the same time. What a mess.

---

Anyway, I heard Friedman on NPR last week as well, and I had a stronger reaction than I did to the book. In print he is "merely regrettable", listening to him pontificate on a national soapbox left me with equal portions of loathing and incredulous disbelief.

I doubt that he ever saw past the tinted windows of the limo driving him from the airport to the Wal-Mart "world headquarters" on that fateful drive he found so inspiring. And he clearly has NO idea of what macro-economics looks like or how it functions.

His entire interview was composed of stories that went "So I saw this thing..." [insert random micro-economic experience X] "...and a realized that it was causing..." [insert NON-SEQUITUR macro-economic reality Z] "...so I realized I simply had to warn the world."

At no point did either my wife or myself understand why this guy was getting free publicity in the guise of NPR commentary. Friedman is late to the party, everyone else already figured out that outsourcing is going to affect our economy...where's his chapter on "what happens now"?

#60 ::: Ray Tapajna ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 04:20 PM:

Friedman's book The World is Flat is flat itself with flat meaning having little depth of real meaning and dull references. He makes history his own art pallet and paints a picture of things that do not fit together. He ignores many realities of the streets of USA with many looking like they are in 3rd world countries. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans exposed the underclass and the silent depression of our times.
Friedman also ignores the fact that workers have no voice in the process of Globalization and world organizations like the WTO do things outside any democratic process. With his examples, he reverses cause and effect. For one, the Y2k crisis was caused by Globalization and Free Trade with over a million workers losing their jobs in the computer industry.
He uses statistics and spreads them over the years but many of today's statistics do not compute with the past. For example, the unemployment rate reporting in the 1970s was very different from today. Today a person making only a $100 a month is considered employed with only 38% of all workers in the USA qualifying for unemployment insurance.
For more information see http://tapsearch.com/tapartnews
http://tapsearch.com/globalization
http://www.experiencedesignernetwork.com/archives/000636.html " Communications by Rank"

#61 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2010, 01:04 PM:

Returning after a very long time, to #24:

Keith and Zzedar, the peoples of the Americas became known as "Indians" because Columbus believed he had reached __________

Columbus didn't call the folks he found "Indians." He did, however in one of his letters, call then Cannibals. That is, los hombres cannibales, with the Spanish -bal ending meaning "of or pertaining to" tacked onto Cann. He was calling them "The men of the Khan."

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