Currently browsing posts filed under "Thomas Friedman"

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Ephs Against Immigration

That Donald Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee and, quite possibly, the next President, stymies many Williams graduates. They would be less shocked by these developments if they could grasp the antipathy to increased immigration among many Americans of less-than-elite educational backgrounds. How can EphBlog help with this process? By pointing out Ephs in favor of reduced immigration! Start with Thomas Friedman, who recently came out in favor of “controlling low-skilled immigration.”

If you want to improve the salaries (and social status?) of low income workers in the United States, then the best place to start is by restricting the supply of people able and willing to do their jobs for less. Supply and demand sets the wages of the workers in the North Adams Walmart. Is Thomas Friedman the only prominent Eph to recognize this fundamental economic reality?

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How to respond to a Tom Friedman appearance

Notorious windbag and NYTimes columnist (yes, I realize that’s redundant) Thomas Friedman has a fond relationship with Williams College, appearing multiple times over the last few years, even delivering the commencement address in 2005. I can’t find a transcript of that address online, but if you’d like to know what he said, you can create a simulation of it here. Willipedia calls him “Williams College’s favorite columnist”, which I think is a base and vile slander against our school.

The two times I saw Tom Friedman at Williams, I left the hall feeling frustrated and impotent because I had not been able to express my feelings fully during the Q&A session. Fortunately, two Brown students have shown us the way. They have increased my respect for Brown tremendously – no longer will I refer to Brown primarily as an object of ridicule and pity; no, Brown University is an institution which breeds courageous benefactors of humanity.

I have been recently scolded for posting irrelevant videos, so here’s a link to the best thing you will see today (or your money back).

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Quiet Columnist

Is Thomas Friedman the most over-rated columnist in America? I think so! Let’s take a tour through yesterday’s offering (hat tip to Will Slack ’11) and see why.

I just spent the past week visiting several colleges — Auburn, the University of Mississippi, Lake Forest and Williams — and I can report that the more I am around this generation of college students, the more I am both baffled and impressed.

I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.

First, does anyone really care about Friedman’s travel schedule? If he were a more interesting guy with original insights, then the details of his meanderings might be worth reading. But he is beyond boring. Do any EphBlog readers, left or right, like his stuff?

Second, how does Friedman know that college students today are more optimistic “than they should be?” He knows little if anything about college students in general; the subset of students who come to talk with him are unlikely to be a random sample from the population. Also, just why shouldn’t college students, or anyone else, be optimistic? Is the world worse off today than it was 10 (or 20 or 50 or 100) years ago? Not that I can see. Look at almost any measure of human well-being, and the world is a better place today than it has ever been before. Why should college students be afraid that this trend won’t continue?

One of the things I feared most after 9/11 — that my daughters would not be able to travel the world with the same carefree attitude my wife and I did at their age — has not come to pass.

Whether it was at Ole Miss or Williams or my alma mater, Brandeis, college students today are not only going abroad to study in record numbers, but they are also going abroad to build homes for the poor in El Salvador in record numbers or volunteering at AIDS clinics in record numbers. Not only has terrorism not deterred them from traveling, they are rolling up their sleeves and diving in deeper than ever.

So, what’s wrong with a little optimism. El Salvador is certainly a much better place than it was 20 years ago. And, by the way, doesn’t the New York Times have editors? No need to repeat “record numbers” twice. And, even better, does Friedman have any actual evidence that college students today are more likely to volunteer their time than back in the day? I doubt it.

The Iraq war may be a mess, but I noticed at Auburn and Old Miss more than a few young men and women proudly wearing their R.O.T.C. uniforms. Many of those not going abroad have channeled their national service impulses into increasingly popular programs at home like “Teach for America,” which has become to this generation what the Peace Corps was to mine.

Teach for America is not “increasingly popular” in a numerically meaningful way. It started with 500 first year teachers in 1990 and now has about 2,000. This is an annualized growth rate of about 8%, much of it in the last couple of years. Now, I like Teach for America and think that it is a fine program, but in raw numbers it hardly makes a difference. In contrast, the Peace Corps was at 15,000 in 1966. Not only was the Peace Corps three times bigger, but as a percentage of the college population, it was much larger and more influential.

But that is a quibble. The main point is that Friedman has no basis for claiming anything like: “Many of those not going abroad have channeled their national service impulses . . .” If anything, I would expect that students who go abroad are more likely, not less likely, to participate in programs like TfA. Friedman certainly doesn’t have any evidence either way.

It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.

Black is white! Freedom is slavery! Thomas Friedman has a clue!

Can you come up with a more inappropriate name for the attitude that Friedman is trying to describe than The Quiet American by Graham Greene? I can’t. Has Friedman even seen the movie, much less read the book?

Some obscure newspaper tells us.

Graham Greene’s new book is quite different from anything he has written before. It is a political novel — or parable — about the war in Indochina, employing its characters less as individuals than as representatives of their nations or political factions. Easily, with long-practiced and even astonishing skill, speaking with the voice of a British reporter who is forced, despite himself, toward political action and commitment, Greene tells a complex but compelling story of intrigue and counter-intrigue, bombing and murder. Into it is mixed the rivalry of two white men for a Vietnamese girl. These elements are all subordinate to the political thesis which they dramatize and which is stated baldly and explicitly throughout the book.

As the title suggests, America is the principal concern. The thesis is quite simply that America is a crassly materialistic and “innocent” nation with no understanding of other peoples. When her representatives intervene in other countries’ affairs it causes only suffering. America should leave Asians to work out their own destinies, even when this means the victory of communism.

Sounds like just the sort of concept that Friedman is getting at with his Generation Q moniker, right? Back to the column.

But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them.

“Huge budget deficit?” What planet is Friedman living on? The budget deficit as a percentage of GDP for the current fiscal year should come in at about 1/2 the post-1970 average. Why believe anything else Friedman writes if he gets basic facts wrong? It is not even clear what an “ecological deficit” is, much less whether the current one is larger. Almost every single measurable aspect of the American natural landscape is better and cleaner now than it was 40 years ago.

There is a good chance that members of Generation Q will spend their entire adult lives digging out from the deficits that we — the “Greediest Generation,” epitomized by George W. Bush — are leaving them.

People who are married to the daughters of billionaires and live in mega-mansions should not throw around terms like “greediest” lightly.

When I was visiting my daughter at her college, she asked me about a terrifying story that ran in this newspaper on Oct. 2, reporting that the Arctic ice cap was melting “to an extent unparalleled in a century or more” — and that the entire Arctic system appears to be “heading toward a new, more watery state” likely triggered by “human-caused global warming.”

“What happened to that Arctic story, Dad?” my daughter asked me. How could the news media just report one day that the Arctic ice was melting far faster than any models predicted “and then the story just disappeared?” Why weren’t any of the candidates talking about it? Didn’t they understand: this has become the big issue on campuses?

I haven’t mentioned Friedman’s daughter by name on this blog before. She is an Eph, class of 2010. It seemed unfair to write about her, in the same way that discussing applicants and admitted students is somehow (potentially) cruel. Nor is she responsible for the sins of her family. But now that she is feeding lines to her Pulitzer-winning father . . .

1) Don’t you just love the way that Friedman sucked up to Williams relentlessly just as his daughter was applying to the College? Her application came in the fall of 2005, just months after Friedman wrote a column praising Williams after speaking at Commencement. You think that the Admissions Office treated her application just like any other? Hah!

2) But it might have been her family wealth, rather than her father’s sucking up, which secured a spot in the class of 2010 for her. The Admissions Office “tags” applications from billionaire families as “development” cases. If your family has given (or might be convinced to give) 6+ figures to Williams, you have an edge.

3) Did Friedman fille receive an advantage from either family fame or wealth? Hard to know! She could be a genius, an AR 1 who would have been admitted to Williams without a famous father or rich family. Isn’t this why we have a school paper? The Record ought to do a story on how much such factors affect admissions at Williams. See Daniel Golden’s The Price of Admissions: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates for background reading. Or start here.

4) But all that is merely prologue. Friedman’s daughter is concerned about the melting icecap. How charming! Why doesn’t she start by asking why her Mom and Dad need to live in an 11,000 square-foot mansion? Talk about a carbon footprint!

No, they don’t seem to understand. They seem to be too busy raising money or buying votes with subsidies for ethanol farmers in Iowa. The candidates could actually use a good kick in the pants on this point. But where is it going to come from?

Not from someone who has probably flown more miles on private jets than all the readers of this blog combined.

Generation Q would be doing itself a favor, and America a favor, if it demanded from every candidate who comes on campus answers to three questions: What is your plan for mitigating climate change? What is your plan for reforming Social Security? What is your plan for dealing with the deficit — so we all won’t be working for China in 20 years?

Social security is a problem, true. But the notion that we will all be “working for China” is incoherent drivel.

America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

Excellent. Let’s start with hypocritical New York Times columnists! A small protest outside Friedman’s mansion would generate more news stories than everything else that TNG does this year. Thanksgiving road-trip, anyone?

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.

Sounds good. And what is the address of the Friedman mansion? And, even better, do you think Friedman flew commercial as he traipsed from Auburn to the University of Mississippi to Lake Forest and, finally, to Williams? I doubt it.

Maybe that’s why what impressed me most on my brief college swing was actually a statue — the life-size statue of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Meredith was the first African-American to be admitted to Ole Miss in 1962. The Meredith bronze is posed as if he is striding toward a tall limestone archway, re-enacting his fateful step onto the then-segregated campus — defying a violent, angry mob and protected by the National Guard.

Above the archway, carved into the stone, is the word “Courage.” That is what real activism looks like. There is no substitute.

Indeed.

UPDATE: Reference to Friedman’s daughter’s name will be removed. Some comments below were edited to reflect this request.

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Friedman on the Purple Bubble

Thomas Friedman has a new opinion piece out today regarding the lack of activism on college campuses, and specifically mentions Williams.

America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

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Time Machine

Didn’t I tell you that EphBlog had a time machine? A few months ago I predicted that Thomas Friedman would say this at Commencement:

Like all my friends I enrolled at the University of Minnesota. But unlike many of my friends, or any of my friends, I decided to major in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. There were not a lot of kids at the University of Minnesota studying Arabic back then. Norwegian, yes; Swedish, yes; Arabic, no. But I loved it; my parents didn’t mind, they could see I enjoyed it. But if I had a dime for every time one of my parents’ friends said to me, “Say Tom, your Dad says you’re studying Arabic, what are you going to do with that?” Well, frankly, it beat the heck out of me.

Turns out that he actually said this:

Like all my friends, I enrolled at the University of Minnesota. But unlike my friends, I decided to major in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. There were not a lot of kids at the University of Minnesota studying Arabic back then. Norwegian, yes; Swedish, yes; Arabic, no. But I loved it; my parents didn’t mind, they could see I enjoyed it. But if I had a dime for every time one of my parents’ friends said to me, “Say Tom, your Dad says you’re studying Arabic, what are you going to do with that?” Well, frankly, it beat the heck out of me.

Classy.

The problem with having famous speakers is that they don’t really care much about Williams. To them it is just another college, another spring morning in an academic gown, another glad-handing College president, another honor. Who even has enough wall space for all the plaques? A few years from now, Friedman won’t remember the differences between this year’s speech at Williams, last years at Washington U or the year before’s at Yale. He’ll have done another half dozen schools, telling each of them about his friends growing up in Minnesota.

None of this is Friedman’s fault. If you are a famous speaker who accepts many awards, you have little choice but to reuse material. Indeed, Friedman is a classier act than Halberstam since he at least changes things a fair amount from year to year.

The lack of class in this case is Williams, and specifically the members of the Honorary Degrees Committee. Why do they insist on honoring people who they know will not return the compliment by honoring Williams with a speech unique to the occasion? It is a weird sort of inferiority complex whereby Williams bestows degrees on people — just for being especially famous/accomplished — who don’t really care about what makes Williams special.

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Anti-Friedman

Professor Marc Lynch doesn’t like Tom Friedman. I don’t like Tom Friedman. This phenomenon is known as harmonic convergence.

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Time Machine

Have I mentioned that EphBlog has a time machine? Tres convenient. I tested it out by going forward to Commencement 2005 and listening to Thomas Friedman’s speech. I was too lazy to write down the whole thing, but here is a typical paragraph.

Like all my friends I enrolled at the University of Minnesota. But unlike many of my friends, or any of my friends, I decided to major in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. There were not a lot of kids at the University of Minnesota studying Arabic back then. Norwegian, yes; Swedish, yes; Arabic, no. But I loved it; my parents didn’t mind, they could see I enjoyed it. But if I had a dime for every time one of my parents’ friends said to me, “Say Tom, your Dad says you’re studying Arabic, what are you going to do with that?” Well, frankly, it beat the heck out of me.

The rest of the speech was [will be — ed. Time travel makes my head hurt.] fine. Friedman tells a few too many goofy stories, but he is obviously a practiced speaker. And all the muckety-mucks at the College have a great deal of fun rubbing shoulders with a three time Pulitzer Prize winner.

Now the cynics among you will claim that I don’t really have a time machine, that all I did was read what Friedman said at the Yale Commencement in 2003:

Like all my friends I enrolled at the University of Minnesota. But unlike many of my friends, or any of my friends, I decided to major in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. There were not a lot of kids at the University of Minnesota studying Arabic back then. Norwegian, yes; Swedish, yes; Arabic, no. But I loved it; my parents didn’t mind, they could see I enjoyed it. But if I had a dime for every time one of my parents’ friends said to me, “Say Tom, your Dad says you’re studying Arabic, what are you going to do with that?” Well, frankly, it beat the heck out of me.

and at Washington University Commencement in 2004:

Like all my friends, I enrolled at the University of Minnesota, but unlike my friends I decided to major in Arabic. There were not a lot of kids at the University of Minnesota studying Arabic back then. Norwegian, yes; Swedish, yes; Arabic, no. But I loved it. My parents didn’t mind. They could see I enjoyed it. But if I had a dime for every time one of my parents’ friends said to me, “Say, Tom, your dad tells me you’re studying Arabic. What in the world are you going to do with that?” Well, frankly, it beat the heck out of me . . .

Well, maybe I don’t really have a time machine. But I hate the way the College insists on having big name commencement speakers who obviously have no special connection to Williams, who might just as easily be somewhere else saying the same things. I suspect that Friedman will not be as pathetic an example of this as David Halberstam was last year. But his speech will not be special; it will not be directed to the Williams graduates of 2005; it will not be heart-felt.

I think that is a shame.

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