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Monthly Archives: April 2012

10 of Thomas Friedman's Dumbest "Big Ideas"

The following is an excerpt from my piece for AlterNet on 10 lesser-known Friedmanian gems.

In conferring the honor of “Wanker of the Decade” on New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, blogger Duncan Black observed that “truly great wankers possess a kind of glib narcissism, the belief that everything is about them while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility for anything.” The sorry “state of the world is what it is,” Black continued, “in large part because people in positions of great power think this absurd buffoon of man is a Very Serious Person.”

Most readers are presumably familiar with the most prominent theories to have emerged from the brain of Thomas Friedman over the course of his career. To name a few here:

  1. The world is flat.
  2. Countries that have McDonald’s do not go to war with each other—except when they do, in which case it is preferable if the outcome of the conflict indicates that Serbs “wanted to stand in line for burgers, much more than they wanted to stand in line for Kosovo.”
  3. By pure coincidence, the 2011 Arab uprisings were caused by some of Friedman’s own favorite topics: Barack Obama, Google Earth, Israel, the Beijing Olympics, and Salam Fayyad. (See blogger Sarah Carr’s response, in which she notes the additional revolutionary impetus provided by the 2008 Cheese-Rolling Competition near Gloucester, England.)

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Al Jazeera review: The Passion of Bradley Manning

The following is my review for Al Jazeera of civil rights attorney Chase Madar’s new book The Passion of Bradley Manning, just released by O/R Books.

When American civil rights attorney Chase Madar told me he was writing a book entitled The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story of the Suspect Behind the Largest Security Breach in US History, I knew right away that Madar was mentally ill, abusing a range of pharmaceuticals and possibly also epileptic.

My diagnosis was confirmed with the book’s release this month. What else would compel a lawyer to suggest that there is “an injustice hardwired within the system of laws itself”?

A studious ignorance

As Madar demonstrates in The Passion, similarly scientific methods of diagnosis have been employed in the case against Manning, the 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst from Crescent, Oklahoma who is accused of transferring hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
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Tom Friedman’s War on Humanity

The Spring 2012 issue of Jacobin Magazine has just been released and I’m honored to have a featured essay: “Tom Friedman’s War on Humanity”. The following is an excerpt. Click here to subscribe to the magazine’s print edition for a modest sum.

Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist for theNew York Timesonce offered the following insight into his modus operandi: “I often begin writing columns by interviewing myself.”

Some might see this as an unsurprising revelation in light of Edward Said’s appraisal: “It’s as if … what scholars, poets, historians, fighters, and statesmen have done is not as important or as central as what Friedman himself thinks.”

According to Friedman, the purpose of the auto-interviews is merely to analyze his feelings on certain issues. Given that his feelings tend to undergo drastic inter- and sometimes intra-columnar modifications, one potentially convenient byproduct of such an approach to journalism is the impression that Friedman interviews many more people than he actually does.

For example, while one of Friedman’s alter-egos considered blasphemous the “Saddamist” notion that the Iraq war had anything to do with oil, another was of the opinion that the war was “partly about oil,” and another appeared to be under the impression that it was entirely about oil, assigning the blame for U.S. troop deaths in Fallujah to Hummer proprietors. Despite Friedman’s identification as “a liberal on every issue other than this war,” competing layers of his persona defined said conflict as “themost radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched” as well as part of a “neocon strategy.”

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Why Thomas Friedman is Always Wrong

I was recently interviewed by Michael Arria for Motherboard, Vice Magazine’s technology/media/culture site. The following is an excerpt:

Q: I remember, during the WTO protests of 1999, Friedman dismissed those concerned with the detrimental effects of globalization, as “flat-earthers.” Despite the collapse of the American economy, he seems to maintain this view. Although heralded by some as an astute environmental thinker, his green solutions seem to be entirely market-based, which generates obvious issues. His perplexing diatribe about “outgreening Al-Qaeda” comes to mind. Do you think this is an accurate reading?

A: I think Friedman summed up the goal of his intermittent environmental crusade pretty well himself when he announced that “making America the world’s greenest country is not a selfless act of charity or naïve moral indulgence. It is now a core national security and economic interest”.

It would appear that his concern for the environment stems from the conviction that “green” is the next big industry and that America can’t retain its dominant position in the world without being at the head of it. At a talk in Istanbul a few years ago he went as far as to admit that his environmental tome Hot, Flat, and Crowded really had “nothing to do with… environment at heart” but rather constituted “cries of the heart to get my country focused on fixing itself”.

The whole business of “outgreening Al-Qaeda”, which I discuss in detail in the book, is completely ludicrous given that Friedman manages to paint the U.S. military, which holds the distinction of being the top polluter in the world, as a pioneer in green consciousness (or, as the great Doug Henwood put it in a radio interview with me, he makes the U.S. Army look like the Sierra Club). Readers are invited to rejoice over the existence of aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds.

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Pushing the limits of Turkish martyrdom

Speaking with a group of Turks in southwest Turkey recently about the Kurdish issue, I was told bluntly by a 30-year-old partner in a successful real estate business: “I hate Kurds.”

The man subsequently amended his statement such that the object of hatred became “terrorists” rather than a full 20 percent of the Turkish population. The lexical overlap of the two terms was however underscored when he reverted to a discussion of “Kurdish” insistence on making martyrs out of Turkish soldiers.

The Turkish word for martyr, şehit, is the subject of a national rhyme—“Şehitler ölmez vatan bölünmez”—according to which martyrs never die and the homeland will never be divided. Shouted at patriotic rallies and emblazoned on Turkish hillsides, the slogan wards off any secessionist aspirations harbored by members of Turkey’s largest ethnic minority—who, it bears reiterating, were formerly promised autonomy by none other than the iconic founder of said indivisible homeland: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

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