The black swan in the library with a candlestick

Matt Taibibi on that windbag with one idea, Thomas Friedman.

“The folksiness will irk some critics … But criticizing Friedman for humanizing and boiling down big topics is like complaining that Mick Jagger used sex to sell songs: It is what he does well.” –John Micklethwait, review of Thank You for Being Late, in The New York Times

With apologies to Mr. Micklethwait, the hands that typed these lines implying Thomas Friedman is a Mick Jagger of letters should be chopped off and mailed to the singer’s doorstep in penance. Mick Jagger could excite the world in one note, while Thomas Friedman needs 461 pages to say, “Shit happens.”

It is what he does; it is not what he does well.

We will remember Friedman for interviewing 76 percent of the world’s taxi drivers, for predicting “the next six months will be critical” on 14 occasions over two and a half years (birthing the neologism, “the Friedman unit“), and for his unmatched, God-given ability to write nonsensical metaphors, like his classic “rule of holes”: “When you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

He tries too hard, and it’s incredibly grating. Friedman gets on my nerves so badly I can’t read him.

For nearly two decades now, Friedman has been telling us that something big is happening, technology is growing at a rate beyond the ability of humans to adapt (this is where the part about noticing everyone has a cell phone comes in), and that we have to stop doing things the old way and take a brave step into the future.

He wrote this column so many times that even four years ago – eight Friedman units – Hamilton Nolan wrote a piece in Gawker titled “Thomas Friedman writes his only column again” (Friedman’s “only column” has by now outlived hundreds of media outlets, Gawker and my own New York Press among them)…

A very conservative guess is that Friedman has written this column at least a hundred times. Maybe 200. Maybe more.

And he’s written all of them badly, I’ll wager.

Take the chapter about Mother Nature, which opens with a story about a day in July, 2015 when the heat index in southern Iran reached 163 degrees. That news item gives the author an opening to introduce the concept of a “black elephant,” an ominous (if you know Friedman) term apparently explained to him by environmentalist Adam Sweidan:

“[It is] a cross between a ‘black swan’ – a rare, low-probability, unanticipated event with enormous ramifications – and ‘the elephant in the room’: a problem that is widely visible to everyone, yet that no one wants to address, even though we absolutely know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences.”

You would think he could just say, “The climate change problem is a cross between a black swan and the elephant in the room – or, as I like to call it, a Black Elephant.”

You would if you didn’t know he’s Thomas Friedman.

Read the whole thing.

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