Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Genius Of Matt Taibbi

Over at Alternet, the Rolling Stone writer does a masterful job taking down Thomas Friedman's latest hack-attack, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I think I'm in a minority - I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree and thought it among the dumbest, most pointless books ever written. The World is Flat was an insult to the intelligence of beavers, let alone thinking persons. I was disgusted with Friedman's cheerleading of Bush's War in Iraq, and his lack of any sense of culpability when it all went down the crapper. I say "in the minority" because I know there are some who read this blog who like his writing, and have enjoyed his work.

Matt Taibbi, on the other hand, hits the moustache on the nose, as it were, with this one. He not only doesn't like what Friedman has to say. He doesn't like the way he says the things he says. He doesn't like his odd "research" habits. The following passage from Taibbi's article is a masterful destruction of the lack of logic, thought, and any real sense in Friedman. It's also funny as all get out.
In Hot, Flat and Crowded, the money shot comes when Friedman starts doodling on a napkin over lunch with Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. The pre-lunching Friedman starts drawing, and the wisdom just comes pouring out:
I laid out my napkin and drew a graph showing how there seemed to be a rough correlation between the price of oil, between 1975 and 2005, and the pace of freedom in oil-producing states during those same years.

Friedman then draws his napkin-graph, and much to the pundit's surprise, it turns out that there is almost an exact correlation between high oil prices and "unfreedom"! The graph contains two lines, one showing a rising-and-then-descending slope of "freedom," and one showing a descending-and-then-rising course of oil prices.

Friedman plots exactly four points on the graph over the course of those 30 years. In 1989, as oil prices are falling, Friedman writes, "Berlin Wall Torn Down." In 1993, again as oil prices are low, he writes, "Nigeria Privatizes First Oil Field." 1997, oil prices still low, "Iran Calls for Dialogue of Civilizations." Then, finally, 2005, a year of high oil prices: "Iran Calls for Israel's destruction."
I looked at [the graph] and thought: "Gosh, what a neat trick!" Then I sat down and drew up my own graph, called "Size of Valerie Bertinelli's Ass, 1985-2008 Versus Happiness." It turns out that there is an almost exact correlation!
That was so much fun, I drew another one! This one is called "American Pork Belly Prices Versus What Midgets Think About Australia 1972-2002."
Or how about this one, called "Number of One-Eyed Retarded Flies in the State of North Carolina Versus Likelihood of Nuclear Combat on Indian Subcontinent."
Obviously this sounds like a flippant analysis, but that's more or less exactly what Friedman is up to here. If you're going to draw a line that measures the level of "freedom" across the entire world and on that line plot just four randomly selected points in time over the course of 30 years -- and one of your top four "freedom points" in a 30-year period of human history is the privatization of a Nigerian oil field -- well, what the fuck? What can't you argue, if that's how you're going to make your point?

I am so grateful for this wonderful, funny, iconoclastic takedown of one of the principle purveyors of so much that passes for wisdom and insight and even, so help us all, journalistic excellence that I would frame it. I do recommend everyone read it. Click the link. C'mon.

Virtual Tin Cup

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