The flatulence of Tom Friedman

Jonah Goldberg steamrolls America’s silliest would-be grand thinker:

All this reductio ad flatus stemmed from a conversation Friedman had with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys, in Banga­lore, India. Nilekani said something that was intellectu­ally, uh, flat about the effects of globalization on international competition: “Tom, the playing field is being leveled.”

“As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the road back to Bangalore,” Friedman explains, “I kept chewing on that phrase: The playing field is being leveled.” Indeed, he masticated it to the point where it was meaningless cud and then had his eureka moment: “What Nandan is saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened . . . Flattened? Flattened? My God, he’s telling me the world is flat!”

The rational response to this is: “My God! That is so not what he’s saying!” As countless others have noted, saying that a playing field is level is not remotely the same thing as saying that the world is flat, even metaphorically. Playing fields are defined by rules, often highly complex, that the participants agree to in advance; “leveling the playing field” means making competition in a specified arena fair….

He claims to be simplifying complex ideas and making them more understandable. But what he is in fact doing is taking an already simple idea — say, that of a level playing field — and making it meaningless. You can boil something down to the essentials, but if you keep boiling it you’re just left with nonsense. The level playing field is already a boiled-down idea, comprehensible by high-school sophomores and Charlie Rose alike. Friedman’s alchemist’s brain transmutes the dross of the banal into the bullion of bull.

Unlike Paul Krugman, however, Friedman’s ideas are essentially harmless. Although some of them, such as his wistful advocacy of totalitarian rule in the Chinese mode, would be rightly seen as dangerous in the mind of a more substantive writer, Friedman’s essential silliness which is best exemplified by his incompetent abuse of metaphors renders him little more than a delightfully comic figure. He is the funny pages of the NYT op/ed paper. When the intelligent reader reads a Krugman editorial, he often finds his eyes narrowing as he thinks “that bastard damn well knows better than that!” But when he reads Friedman, he can always relax and chuckle at the absurd literary juggling in the knowledge that no matter how important the editorial purports to be, it is no more to be taken seriously than a Maureen Dowd column.

Mailvox: in which we hear from Densa

Clearly the world needs a club to honor those intrepid commenters who don’t let their possession of sub-68 IQs stand in the way of taking part in the grand democratic discourse that is the Internet. Here are three magnificent examples:

“I am extremely disturbed by your complete lack of compassion. I am cursed with the knowledge that all life is one, and it is terrible to know that there are people like you who believe that I will suffer horribly for eternity, and that you are okay with that. And you think of yourself as being ‘righteous’. And some people believe you. My tears will never run dry.”

First, this is absolutely false. One will search eight years of columns and 8,313 posts on this blog in vain for any evidence that I think of myself as being righteous or even ‘righteous’. As a Christian, I know perfectly well that I am not righteous because no one is or has ever been righteous except for the Son of Man. And more importantly, any righteousness that is achieved though him is on offer to everyone. It’s true, I am perfectly okay with people drowning because they are too proud to grab onto the lifeline and burning to death because they reject the idea that the building is on fire. Because if God has troubled to grant them free will, who am I to wish to take it from them? Why should anyone feel any compassion for those who are willfully, pridefully, and unnecessarily embracing their own destruction?

I am extremely sympathetic to the doubters, to the skeptics, and to those who seek and have not yet found. But I have only contempt for those who refuse to see the abyss yawning ahead of them because they are too busy looking back and down at their noses at everyone else, all the while crowing how stupid they all are for going a different way.

Jared Diamond’s argument makes perfect sense. Of course early humans living on what we now call continental Europe were the most environmentally advantaged in the world at the time by having more indigenous domesticable animal and plant species. Wild pigs and sheep were simply easier to domesticate than Africa’s lions or wildebeasts. How hard is this to understand?

It is hard to understand because it doesn’t align temporally with recorded human history. If “early humans living on what we now call continental Europe were the most environmentally advantaged in the world at the time”, it would be inexplicable how continental European civilization should have remained so stubbornly backward in comparison with various non-European civilizations such as the Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, and even Mayan civilizations. Even if one cites Greek civilization, in which case one is primarily referring to Athenian society, the Diamond hypothesis doesn’t explain how Hellenic accomplishments eluded what is by far the greater part of continental Europe.

“The church wasn’t persecuting anyone ‘using a scientific or medical process’. No one. Not even Galileo.” …is one of the biggest pieces of nonsense I’ve seen in awhile. No, Galileo wasn’t put in a prison cell, but he was absolutely persecuted for heresy by the Inquisition of the Catholic Church for his writing in support of the Copernican model of heliocentrism and put on house arrest for the remainder of his life. This is well-documented. I’ve heard Christians do lots of revisionist history, but this is a new one to me. Holy crap.

Actually, that is accurate history, not revisionist. Notice how he does not cite a single example of an individual persecuted for using a scientific or medical process, mostly because there aren’t any. As for Galileo, he was not prosecuted for writing in support of the Catholic ecclesiastic’s model of heliocentrism, whose book had been in the possession of every major mathematician and astronomer for the 90 years prior to Galileo’s trial. Even Wikipedia is clear on the reason Galileo found himself in hot water.

The book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, was published in 1632, with formal authorization from the Inquisition and papal permission…. Pope Urban VIII had personally asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism in the book, and to be careful not to advocate heliocentrism. He made another request, that his own views on the matter be included in Galileo’s book. Only the latter of those requests was fulfilled by Galileo. Whether unknowingly or deliberately, Simplicio, the defender of the Aristotelian Geocentric view in “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, was often caught in his own errors and sometimes came across as a fool. Indeed, although Galileo states in the preface of his book that the character is named after a famous Aristotelian philosopher (Simplicius in Latin, Simplicio in Italian), the name “Simplicio” in Italian also has the connotation of “simpleton.”[99] This portrayal of Simplicio made “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” appear as an advocacy book: an attack on Aristotelian geocentrism and defence of the Copernican theory. Unfortunately for his relationship with the Pope, Galileo put the words of Urban VIII into the mouth of Simplicio.

So Galileo disobeyed and betrayed the Pope, then publicly attacked him and made him look like a fool. The fact that Galileo wasn’t simply beheaded on the spot, as would have likely been the case if he had treated any other medieval ruler this way, is testimony to how reasonable the Roman Inquisition was. The most ridiculous thing about the attempt to cite the Galileo incident as proof that the Christianity is anti-science is that geocentrism was a pagan concept while heliocentrism was developed by a Christian canon who took Church orders and may have been a full priest.

Hitchens outs himself

This self-outing isn’t exactly a jaw-dropping revelation. It may also explain an amount of Christopher Hitchens’s obsession with religious strictures on sexual behavior, to say nothing of his bizarre, quasi-Islamic vision of secular paradise provided in god is Not Great:

Which two ministers of Margaret Thatcher’s government had gay relations with the writer Christopher Hitchens while at Oxford? Since Hitchens’s extraordinary claim emerged this week, the louche figure, now 60, who has been married twice, has fended off all requests for further information…. For although he has always enjoyed a reputation as a womaniser, at Oxford Hitchens was known to be bisexual. According to one contemporary: ‘He had a reputation for being AC/DC and, although a Trot, he was fancied by quite a few gay Tories and moved in those circles.’

Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before Dawkins comes out too. All that incoherent rage against the Christian faith exhibited by the New Atheists doesn’t come from an intellectual or even a rational place. It wouldn’t surprise me if pictures of Hitchens dressed in Nazi regalia surfaced at some point in time either. Unlike Dawkins, Hitchens is a likable, if roguish, character, but sometimes he really appears to be more of a likable caricature.

WND column

The Cross of Debt

Ordinary people, farmers and fishermen, taxpayers, doctors, nurses, teachers are being asked to shoulder through their taxes a burden that was created by irresponsible greedy bankers.
– Iceland President Olafur Grimsson, March 5, 2010

In October 2008, polls showed that the majority of the American people, 56 percent, were opposed to the $700 billion TARP bill that funded the bank bailouts at the cost of $2,334 to each and every 300 million of them. Despite some initial resistance shown by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, the bankers succeeded in overriding the will of the American people, thanks to their elected officials who purport to represent them. So much for democracy in America.