Home » China » Thomas Friedman reports progress in Mexican baby names

Thomas Friedman reports progress in Mexican baby names

Havana hotel where foreign affairs columnists can afford room service but not Russian breakfast.

In the mid 1990s, before the responsibilities of The New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist were largely reduced to complaining about the deficiencies of the Arab/Muslim world, Thomas Friedman used to write with more frequency about things like Mexico.

In fact, one of the landmarks of Friedman’s journalism career occurs in a 1995 article that begins with “Ricarda Martinez, a 60-year-old Mexican peasant living in a tumbledown shack on the edge of Mexico City,” whom he describes as “peeling cactus from her garden” while denying awareness of “dollar-linked peso bonds, George Soros or Merrill Lynch’s emerging markets fund.” This is one of the rare historical instances in which Friedman identifies and interacts with someone who is not a CEO, politician, “Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen,” or “Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.”

The prompt evolution of Friedman’s investigatory techniques is evident, however, in subsequent dispatches from other Latin American locations in which cactus peels do not figure into the lede:

Flipping through the room-service menu at my Havana hotel the other morning, I noticed it listed four types of breakfast: American, Continental, Creole and Russian. Now, there aren’t too many places in the world where you find ‘Russian breakfast’ on the menu, especially this one, which consisted of caviar, smoked salmon and champagne for $125! Only a Russian businessman with an account at the Bank of New York could afford that breakfast.”

As for who can afford to be flipping through the room service menu at the five-star Meliá Cohiba in Cuba’s capital city, it is presumably the same character who continues to be shuttled all over the world while newspapers are downsizing and competent journalists are being laid off.

Friedman’s employers have thus far failed to take advantage of his exuberance over such phenomena as the Internet and to suggest that he use it rather than plane trips to devise his political and economic theories. Had they done so, the following revelation of April 1, 2004—the product of a visit to Mexico that took place during a lull in pontification about the parallels between Spain’s withdrawal from Iraq and the Munich Pact with Hitler—might have been averted:

I hadn’t been to Mexico since 1996, so it definitely caught my ear when I started to hear two non-Spanish words on this trip that I’d never heard here before: ‘China’ and ‘India.’”

The point of the new vocabulary, we learn, is that “these two countries are running off with jobs and markets that Mexicans once thought they owned.” Friedman’s immunity to editing is meanwhile demonstrated by the absence of a correction at the end of his next article reading:

In my last article, published on April Fool’s Day, I reported that ‘China’ and ‘India’ were not Spanish words. They are.”

Friedman’s latest Mexican jaunt has unearthed more non-Spanish words, and his May 1, 2010 communiqué from Mexico City warns that, while “Wal-Mart de Mexico is expected to open 300 new stores… this year, thanks to growing Mexican demand for consumer goods… Mexico’s drug cartels will probably open just as many new smuggling routes into America thanks to our growing demand for marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth.”

Friedman goes on to pinpoint the “three groups… now wrestling to shape Mexico’s future”: “the Narcos,” “the No’s,” and “the Naftas.” He advises rooting for the final group, which he notes has been described by Mexican economist Luis de la Calle as the “meritocratic middle class” and is comprised of “people who came from the countryside to work in new industries spawned by Nafta.”

Stressing that this is only one of two Mexican middle classes, Friedman explains why he has labeled the other middle class “the No’s”:

…because they are the primary force opposing any reform that would involve privatizing state-owned companies, like Pemex, opening the oil or electricity sectors to foreign investors or domestic competition, or bringing best-practices and accountability to Mexican schools, where union control has kept Mexico’s public education among the worst in the world.”

It is thus not clear why an institution by the name of Carlos Marx appears alongside John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Instituto Wisdom in a sample list of private schools in poor, Nafta-inhabited areas of Mexico City compiled by economist de la Calle in his research of the meritocratic middle class. Oblivious to potential discrepancies, Friedman explains the choice of school names as “appealing to the aspirations of Mexicans, about 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line but 75 percent of whom identify themselves as ‘middle class’ in polls.” This clarification is not accompanied by the detection of a third Mexican middle class dubbed the “Not really middle class” to compete with the Naftas and the No’s, nor is it accompanied by speculation as to whether Ricarda Martínez has moved beyond cactus-peeling.

Additionally cited in Friedman’s analysis are the results of de la Calle’s study of the top 50 Mexican baby names of 2008:

The most popular for girls, he said, included ‘Elizabeth, Evelyn, Abigail, Karen, Marilyn and Jaqueline, and for boys Alexander, Jonathan, Kevin, Christian and Bryan.’ Not only Juans.”

In case we did not fully comprehend the difficulties faced by the Spanish language in adapting to modern civilization from his 2004 observations on China and India, Friedman goes on to predict that “the Naftas from the Instituto Wisdom” will be to thank for real political and economic reform in Mexico. As for the Narcos, Friedman maintains that Mexican President Felipe Calderón “is bravely trying to take them on, but the Narcos have bigger guns than the Mexican Army.”

A May 11 article in Friedman’s own newspaper, however, reports that Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán (“Shorty” in the non-Spanish version) “is a master at buying off top police officers and soldiers,” which suggests that the current Mexican panorama might be slightly more complex than a competition between 3 groups starting with the letter N.

Advertisements

7 Comments

  1. MRW says:

    Reading Friedman is like reading a teenager’s diary. He picks up the latest hot idea from dinner discussions with foreigns he finds fascinating , then spins his columns late that night in his room.

    I can’t remember the occasion, but, according to Friedman himself, he reported on a big night at the White House by going to lunch at the WH seven hours before and extrapolating what was going to happen that night.

  2. John Verity says:

    Friedman is an embarrassment to the Times and to journalism as a whole. Bravo to Ms. Fernández for further exposing this over-rated, overpaid blowhard. He oughta be ashamed of himself – for wasting so much newsprint and for pushing other voices off the page.

  3. Tony Abdo says:

    That was funny stuff about Tomboy. Thanks.

  4. Ken says:

    I wonder if it will make the New York Times Bestseller List? Oh, that would be wonderful to see.
    Write on!

  5. richmx2 says:

    I’m wondering whether Friedman knows that the Carlos Marx school is on calle Carlos Marx in Unidad Habitacional Allepelalli (Delegacion Xochimilco, D.F.) which also has streets named Federico Engles and José Stalin? I used to pass in on the bus and was always amused to see it was across the street from the Princesa Diana school. With they had school basketball teams: would love to see a headline like “Marxists slaughter Princesses” or “Royals Beat Reds”.

    Geeze, private schools in Mexico just seem to pick names out of a hat. English names were popular for a time, but it doesn’t indicate the politics of the parents or their ambitions or anything else.

  6. […] over the years have exposed such trends as the “collective madness” of Palestinians and the progress in Mexican baby names to more NAFTA-friendly alternatives than Juan, such as Alexander and […]

  7. […] a 2010 visit to Mexico City, Friedman reported that, despite attempts by anti-NAFTA Mexicans to thwart progress by remaining poor, a promising […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: