Friedman Nails Palin

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not a big fan of Thomas Friedman (see here for reasons), but even a stopped watch is right twice a day.

In today’s column, Friedman takes the measure of Palin and finds her wanting:

Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan. And yet, at the same time, she declared that Americans who pay their fair share of taxes to support all those government-led endeavors should not be considered patriotic.

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first.

Even though he is taking this stand long after the matter of Palin is settled in the mind of any honest American, I glad to hear his voice in the chorus.

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The World’s Top Public Intellectuals Are…

Friday, June 27, 2008

Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine held voting for the top 100 public intellectuals earlier this year. The results are available now. They are surprising at first, and then not. The top 10 were all Muslims, a result that arose from bald politicking and religious and national identification among the voters. Although this might invalidate the results for some, they are still important for two reasons:

1) It shows a genuine desire and effort by the Muslim intellectual class to bring their public debates into the global consciousness. The brightest people residing in Islamic states do not want to be isolated and misunderstood.

2) This is a valuable education for people in the West (and around the world). To be honest, I had only ever heard of four of the men (and they’re all men) in the top ten. And among those, I had only a passing familiarity with three of them.

Perhaps I am horribly uninformed, or perhaps not. I will confess that my five votes were biased towards the West (they’re either American or English), though there were many more that I wished I could have voted for. In any case, I chose:

Craig Venter
David Petraeus
Tony Judt
Lee Smolin
Richard Dawkins

The results are also interesting because you know the people on the list care about where they rank. Salman Rushdie beat Christopher Hitchens (Amis wasn’t even on the list). Poor Ian Buruma finished dead last. Thomas Friedman was in the middle of the pack. And still other names shouldn’t have been there at all (I’ll leave you to judge who).

In any case, the results merit consideration, so here you go:

Foreign Policy Top 20 Summary
Prospect Top 100 List


Ranking the New York Times Columnists

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The editorial page of the New York Times is arguably the most influential in the world. Lately, I’ve begun to feel that the page has grown a little stale. In an attempt to understand why, I decided to rank the columnists who regularly appear there. This ranking system is presented beginning with the worst columnist (#11) and continues to the best (#1), and is measured on a purely subjective qualitative scale.

So, without further ado:

11. Irving Kristol’s son. This smug, lizard-faced, son-of-privilege delights in writing columns that he believes tweak the noses of the Times liberal readership. This is, as far as I can tell, his only goal. When he signed on, he was already way overexposed writing and editing for the Weekly Standard, appearing on Fox News, etc. It still remains a mystery why the NY Times felt this “useful idiot” needed another platform. A disastrous addition, expect him to be gone in one year.

10. Thomas Friedman. This self-important Iraq War supporter is responsible for foisting the worst metaphor in the history of metaphors upon an unsuspecting public with “The World is Flat.” A globalist lapdog, he is beloved by a middle-brow audience for his “Aftab Meets the Future” columns and equivocal analyses of complex situations. Rarely worth the read (now he’s going green, ugh), somehow he’s the star of the paper. He’ll be there for as long as he wants.

9. Roger Cohen. The Parisian Partisan. Combines a love of France with oddly unsexy writing. He is a longtime foreign correspondent who originally appeared as a columnist in the International Herald Tribune. His opinions reflect a bien-pensant benignity that would be right at home during cocktails at Bernard Kouchner’s. His columns are eminently skippable. Seems like a decent fellow, though.

8. Nicholas Kristof. In a word? Borrrrring. He bleeds for the world and wants you to bleed, too. Darfur, sex trafficking, the occasional toe dipped into the Middle East. Somehow he makes these topics seem even more wonkishly mind-numbing than they actually are. I appreciate the effort, I really do, but I don’t read him very often. If I’m ever feeling too pleased with life, I’ll give him a shot, but otherwise I’d sooner read the letters to the editor.

7. Charles Blow. Haven’t the faintest idea who this is. He’s listed on the website as publishing every other Saturday. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything he’s written.

6. David Brooks. Brooks is still capable of a broad social insight and a truly thought-provoking piece, but he might be overtaxed by the demands of the paper. He seems to want to come up with a fresh idea for every column and some of them are hurting (did you read that weird, dorky one about the magic of the Middle Ages?). That said, Brooks is a good writer and a smart guy and he should stay. Maybe just one column a week?

5. Paul Krugman. It pains me to put him here because he was, easily, the best columnist they had during the Bush years. His scalding attacks left you breathless with their intelligence, research, and evocative writing. But Krugman might be like Churchill; without a war, he’s just an irritating eccentric. Now that Bush is winding down, Krugman’s political columns have become flat and, often, misguided. Despite that, he’s got to stay, if only for his brilliant and clear writing on economics and related topics.

4. Bob Herbert. Even when he’s writing about something dull or obvious, which is fairly often, Herbert draws me in. His prose style makes convincing points without unnecessary flair and he’s capable of tugging on the heart strings. When Herbert writes about sex trafficking, you read it. He is a powerful, populist force on a sometimes sadly removed opinion page. He’s there to stay.

3. Maureen Dowd. The paper’s other big star, she’s clever as all hell and loves to show it. Plus, she’s kind of hot for an older broad. I don’t have much to complain about with Dowd, except that she’s a little bitter about men. She’s got a bead on Washington and a sense of fairness and common sense backed up by a wicked vocabulary and the tools to wield it like a knife.

2. Gail Collins. I’m surprised by this one myself. Collins used to run the page and now writes on Mondays and Thursdays. I’ve been reading her columns on the campaign and they are laugh-out-loud funny. I swear I’m on the subway snorting into my shirt. She happily deflates any political pretension and serves up a serious dose of real world perspective. She has quickly supplanted Dowd as the best (Irish-American?) woman on the page.

And, the winner is:

1. Frank Rich. Rich is always on-point, always ahead of the game, always capable of a new, interesting idea or a startling insight. His prose is accessible, but nuanced. He brings gravity and seriousness to his columns while sacrificing nothing in terms of, yes, pleasure in reading. Rich writes once a week on Sundays and this is a good perch for him. His column is the first one I check in the Week in Review.

So there you have it. My suggestion is that Andrew Rosenthal gets rid of the last five (or keep Blow, but give him real shot) and adds some fresh blood to the page. Here, as an added bonus, are my suggestions for the additions:

To fill the foreign policy hole: Tony Judt and Fareed Zakaria

To supplement internally: Michiko Kakutani (with guns blazing), Natalie Angier (they definitely need more science writing on the editorial page), Gretchen Morgenson (and good business writing too), and, if she isn’t taking a buyout and retiring forever, Linda Greenhouse.

To add a little youthful point-counterpoint: Matt Taibbi and Jonah Goldberg.

That’s it.


Thomas Friedman Returns

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Globalist lapdog and Iraq War Supporter Thomas Friedman returned to the editorial page of the New York Times today. He had been away working on a book about the Green Economy.

Friedman is one of the “useful idiots” who supplied the journalistic cover for Bush’s disastrous Iraq War. His complicity is all the more shameful because he seemed to have understood the half-baked assumptions and dubious motives that led to the war in the first place. With Irving Kristol’s son, that makes two key neo-con morons on the NY Times editorial page.

Didn’t Judith Miller get fired for this?

Oh, one other thing, “the world is flat” is the worst metaphor in the history of metaphors. That this continues to be used widely (particularly in advertising) is deeply disturbing.