Atanu Dey On India's Development

The World is Mad (followup)

In response to my mentioning Thomas Friedman in my post The World is Mad, Prashant Kothari posted a comment and included an article from the NY Press titled Flathead. He did not warn me to fasten my seat-belt before reading the article and I ended up rolling on the floor laughing my head off. I was tickled but also felt envy: wish I could write like that. Then I consoled myself with the thought that since I had not actually read Tom Friedman’s books (only those articles that my friends enthusiastically send over), I can be forgiven. If I had taken the trouble to read him, I told myself, perhaps I would have written something like what Matt Tiabbi wrote:

To recap: Friedman, imagining himself Columbus, journeys toward India. Columbus, he notes, traveled in three ships; Friedman “had Lufthansa business class.” When he reaches India—Bangalore to be specific—he immediately plays golf. His caddy, he notes with interest, wears a cap with the 3M logo. Surrounding the golf course are billboards for Texas Instruments and Pizza Hut. The Pizza Hut billboard reads: “Gigabites of Taste.” Because he sees a Pizza Hut ad on the way to a golf course, something that could never happen in America, Friedman concludes: “No, this definitely wasn’t Kansas.”

After golf, he meets Nilekani, who casually mentions that the playing field is level. A nothing phrase, but Friedman has traveled all the way around the world to hear it. Man travels to India, plays golf, sees Pizza Hut billboard, listens to Indian CEO mutter small talk, writes 470-page book reversing the course of 2000 years of human thought. That he misattributes his thesis to Nilekani is perfect: Friedman is a person who not only speaks in malapropisms, he also hears malapropisms. Told level; heard flat. This is the intellectual version of Far Out Space Nuts, when NASA repairman Bob Denver sets a whole sitcom in motion by pressing “launch” instead of “lunch” in a space capsule. And once he hits that button, the rocket takes off.

Read the entire article but be warned: it is funny. Thanks Prashant. It is the wonders of internet that gives one access to the writings of far off people from the comforts of one’s home.

  • http://ravikumar.blogdrive.com Ravi

    Like yourself, I’ve never had an oppurtunity to read any of Friedman’s books. But I do subscribe to the newsletter of the NYT and have read many of his essays – he writes well and with clarity of thought. To deny him that is to make a mockery of expressing one’s point of view. As much as Mr. Tiabbi deserves the right to express his opinion via the ‘lampoon’ style of writing, perhaps HE should write a book and I’d like to see how intelligent he’s is; after all, thats what he’s really striving to impress us all with!

  • http://n.a. t.k.

    Friedman also was one of the early cheerleaders of the Iraq war. Follow this to see how below the bluster lies complete analytical confusion:
    http://kamakshya.blogspot.com/
    ciao…

  • http://indicview.blogspot.com Kiran

    Imagine you make a great movie. You spend years working on the script, talking to financiers, convincing the stars, getting a director and generally slogging your butt out to make that master piece, because you believe it in. Or for whatever reason – but in the end you make a great movie. You make a Black or a Forrest Gump or a Titanic and you are critically acclaimed all over the world for your effort.

    Now take a cheapstake like me who had neither the patience, dedication nor the talent to emulate you. So what is my easiest ticket to ride on your fame – fame that you have rightfully earned after decades in the business? I will “swim against the tide” and write one hell of a parody on your movie – criticizing every aspect of your master piece – giving every scene a twist that makes it sound ridiculous (yes anyone can do that to any movie). Now should someone sit back and laugh at my parody or should they spit on me in disgust? I am sorry but I feel the latter towards this Taibbi character.

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    In response to Ravi’s comment “…he writes well and with clarity of thought…”, I am only expressing a personal opinon that I think Mr. Friedman does not write well and his thinking is confused at best. Tiabbi comments on Friedman is right on the dot — again, in my opinion.

    As t.k. pointed out, Friedman was an enthusiastic cheerleader of Bush’s illegal war in Iraq. It was that fact that soured my opinion of Friedman. But once again, I repeat, it is my personal opinion and I may be entirely mistaken and Friedman may be one of the most astute observers of our times and he writes absolutely fantastically.

    As to Kiran’s comment: funny you should say that. I was about to use a similar analogy. Here is how I was going to put it. Have you ever seen a movie and thought that it sucked? Well, I guess you have. Now your assessment that the movie sucked cannot be countered by saying, “Hey, if you thought that the movie sucked, why don’t you make a movie better than that yourself?” Because otherwise no one can ever be critical of movies unless one is a George Lucas or a Quentin Tarantino or Alfred Hitchcock.

    To belabor the point, one does not have to be a star director before one concludes that a particular movie sucked majorly. So also, one can be reasonably dissatisfied with a particular book without being a best-selling author. And just as it is not a crime to be a huge fan of some author, it is also not a crime to be a severe critic as well. It is a free world out there and reasonable people may disagree in their various assessments.

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  • http://indicview.blogspot.com Kiran

    I agree with you entirely. If I have a right to be disgusting, who is anyone to stop me? :) It is just that there is no comparison really between the depth of Friedman’s writings and the shallowness of Taibbi’s analysis. But yes, everyone has a right to choose whether they will like something or not.

  • http://jyote.blogspot.com Jyoti Iyer

    Hi Atanu,

    I agree with you. To use the Titanic example, just because it took all that time ,labour and money to buid the ship, didn’t mean it wasn’t substandard. People found out the hard way. A critical review by no means is an instant ticket to glory, it could be a valid argument to get people to reflect and inspect the issue from an other point of view. Unfortunately critical thinking and free speech these days seem to be oxymorons.

  • Navin

    Atanu, Kiran et al,

    http://www.prasnation.com/cinematicrain/?p=597#more-597

    this link has a more meaningful denoucement of Friedman’s work. Its a good read.

  • http://cinematicrain.com adithemopur

    Mr Friedman got my goat with the lexus and the olive tree, and what navin pointed to is just a little part of the mistrust i have for mr friedman’s honesty.

    glad to see i am not alone in my dark little world :)

  • http://ravikumar.blogdrive.com Ravi

    My ignorance is boundless; my knowledge, shallow! I accept your opinion gracefully, Atanu! :)

  • Kirthi Ramakrishnan

    Pardon the long post, but I couldn’t help it. Having the New York Times as my local newspaper for almost a decade, and having actually shelled out hard-earned money to purchase his first two books, this is what I have to say about Mr. Friedman. This is not just related to his newfound flatness, but his overall work, the effect of which is not visible unless you figure out who he is talking to.

    His motivation is the same as classical liberal internationalists (read imperialists) along “Wilsonian” ideals. His ideal status quo would be the world arrangement right after World War II with a “benign” but powerful America that will lead the world. He would simply like to replace (or add to) Europe and Japan with India and China, because he clearly recognizes the demographic shift in importance (read they will buy more arms from the US. If we don’t sell, someone else will).

    He wants the US government to spend on science (NIH, NSF, NASA etc.), compel big business to focus on American interests, intervene abroad militarily or otherwise to promote democracy (read markets for American companies). In other words he wants a nanny American state that will subsidize cost, privatize profit, and be socially liberal. If that means a few governments have to be toppled, and a few corrupt dictatorships supported, hey “grow up, that’s the price of doing business”. He is very clear about it when he talks about the iron fist behind the velvet glove.

    This approach relies very heavily on the approval and stability of the American white collar managerial class. A few million educated Indians and Chinese, coupled with free capital mobility, is sufficient to shake up this stability, at least temporarily. So, somehow their interests have to be protected without impinging on corporate freedom. It is a difficult job, and it costs something. So, government intervention is necessary, and people have to be riled up to get it to act without disturbing big business.

    Now, if you are a certain variety of patriotic American (I am not talking red state fundamentalists) who believes in America’s image of liberalism, tolerance, a force for good et al, this is very appealing. Especially, if your job is in jeopardy. If you are big business, this is very appealing because it smacks of government subsidies for research and development. If you are part of the emerging jetset in developing economies and seek approval from the West, you feel pretty smug and happy. If you are the Saudi or Pakistani establishment that comes in for lots of criticism, you don’t care anyway because you have US support already.

    So, he advances his agenda while being everybody’s friend, and threatening nobody. I’d say, he is one clever son of a bitch, and a very dangerous one. Do not underestimate his ilk.

  • http://www.drmalpani.com Dr Malpani, MD

    You don’t need to be a hen to criticise an omelette !