Friday, March 25, 2011

David Brooks Call Out the Kettle

If you're like me and you've wondering, when is David Brooks going to review Qaddafi's book of teachings so that I can truly understand what's going on in Libya, wait no longer! Actually, the review is as vapid as one would expect. (If Qaddafi would review Brook's new book The Social Animal (Die, yuppie scum!) , that might be pretty entertaining). But it does include this gem:
Along the way he offers banal observations as if nobody had ever thought of them before.
Wait, isn't that Brooks' entire schtick? What's next, is he going to criticize Qadaffi for beginning every passage, "There are two schools of thought when it comes to . . . "?

I look forward to Friedman critiquing the Madman for using mixed and mangled metaphors and Dowd calling him out for reducing every issue, no matter how serious, as schoolyard gossip as well Qadaffi's annoying tendency to rely way too much on cloying nicknames.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Last Days of Disco in Libya?

The weapon of choice for our chickenhawks is the public letter. Nothing demonstrates your resolve to spend taxpayer money to send other people's kids to kill in other countries then putting your name on a letter written by someone else.

So it comes as no surprise to find that this letter from the Foreign Policy Initiative urging Obama to institute a "no-fly zone" and "explore the option of targeted strikes against regime assets" is signed by the usual suspects. Robert Kagan. Marty Peretz. Max Boot. William Taft!?!? Paul Bremer. Bill Kristol. And of course, the loathsome Michael O'Hanlon who long ago discovered the best way to get your name in the New York Times is to advocate for Muslim deaths from the "liberal-leaning" Brookings Institute.

But one signatory stands out among the usual cast of Cheneys and Podhoretzez: Whit Stillman. Remember Whit, the film director who burst on the scene with Metropolitan in 1990, followed it up with Barcelona in 1994, and finished his Manhattan trilogy in 1998 with The Last Days of Disco before vanishing from film-making without a trace? (Maybe there was a trace; I didn't really look.)

Apparently, Whit's "sly depictions of the "urban haute bourgeosie" (thanks, Wikipedia!) qualify him as a "foreign policy expert." Because I'm looking at the press release from the Foreign Policy Institute and its entitled "Foreign Policy Experts Urge President to Take Action to Halt Violence in Libya."

OK. I'm not being fair. I actually really like (or liked -- I wonder if they hold up) the trilogy. And, in reality, old Whit is almost certainly no less of an "expert" than the rest of the horrible signers. Not to mention, having celebrities like Tim Robbins or Elmo sign your public letters has always been a tactic that activists use to draw attention to their cause.

But that's kinda the point. Whit Stillman is not exactly a household name. Back when he made movies, how many people knew who Whit was outside of my clique of Chris Eigeman-quoting friends? The Last Days of Disco grossed less than $3 million in the US. At 1998 ticket prices, that's 500,000 people tops. And that was 13 years ago!

So if he's not an expert and he's not a celebrity, why is he listed on the letter? Two very uneducated guesses:
  • The Chuck Norris wasn't available theory. I've always been pretty skeptical of the idea that Hollywood was a bastion of the left. After all, as David Sirota recently noted in Salon, Hollywood has a long history of working with the Pentagon to produce movies that are remarkably similar to chickenhawks wildest fantasies. But this Whit incident has me wondering if the top 3 million people in show business aren't actually all Pinkos. "We really need a celebrity on this letter. Bieber won't take our calls? Crap. Chuck said no? Darn. What about that guy who made a movie about prep school kids on vacation twenty years ago?"
  • The Whit Stillman has a really bad PR team theory. Is it a coincidence that Whit signed the letter at the same time that his first movie in 13 years is coming out? How could it be? "Whit, 99.5% of the population has never heard of you and the other .5% find your movies about the insufferable navel gazing of the privileged to be incredibly cloying. I've got three words for how we solve both these problems: Paul "Fuckin" Bremer."
Other theories?

P.S. Fire Tom Friedman

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good Stuff

A friend of Jonathan Chait's edit this Friedman column down to nothing but mixed metaphors and cliches:

And even better: My new hero Sarah Carr joins the Pantheon of all-time great Friedman takedowns (next to Taibbi and the pieing): Makes yesterday's FTF on the same column look rather lame, I know, but it's always been about the movement.

Fire Tom Friedman.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

These Are A Few Of Tom Friedman's Favorite Things

My inbox has been flooded with emails asking for my take on today’s Tommy column. (OK – I got one email but that’s a record), in which everyone’s favorite mustachioed, graying (new pic!) gas bag speculates on the “not so obvious” causes of the uprisings in the Middle East.

Before we get to the what, let’s start with the why. Why he would write a column that my emailer succinctly described as “so bad it's like he parodying himself. Or like Taibbi is ventriloquisting him.”

Egypt, Tunisia, et al should have been Tommy’s Charlie Sheen moment, shuttling from studio to studio so he could explain to us what was really going on. (Sorry – every blog post I’ve read this week has had an awkward Charlie Sheen reference and I’m pretty much a follower). After all, for years he’s been our Middle East expert, the one we turn to for Gladwellesque oversimplifications and fact-free meta-narratives so we can sound cocktail party literate and give our racist impulses a nice pseudo-intellectual veneer.

But it didn’t happen. First, Kristof beat Tommy to the punch. Badly. While Kristof was writing riveting accounts from Tunisia, Tommy was taking his annual 6-week X-mas vacation. Tommy didn’t reach Cairo until a full two-weeks after January 25, when everyone who was anyone was already there; hell, Anderson Cooper had already been beaten up by the time Tommy finally filed from Tahrir Square. (Tellingly, Kristof went on to Bahrain and Tripoli while Tommy retreated to Bethesda).

More damaging than being late was the fact that suddenly he had a lot of competition. Who needs Thomas L. Friedman when our pundit class, after locating Tunisia on a map (or not), was instantly transformed into experts on Arab history & culture, regional political parties, etc . . . ? Or when the Brookings Institute alone has 9,000 on-call Middle East experts to remind to stop being so enthralled with the exhilarating images because what really matters is how this will affect the U.S. and Israel. (Less cynically, the sheer volume of time spent on events, not to mention our access these days to all sorts of delicious media, meant that lots of us were having our eyes opened by lots of brilliant people we’d never heard of before.)

So if I had to guess about today’s column, it’s Tommy’s attempt to put his unique stamp on the events of 2011. And give credit where credit is due. It is, um, unique. Tommy’s list of not-so-obvious factors begins with:

THE OBAMA FACTOR Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president. I’m convinced that listening to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: “Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.” I’d put that in my mix of forces fueling these revolts.
There’s something almost touching about the fact that Friedman thinks everyone thinks the way he does: Meaningless observation about two things sorta having something in common (“Obama has a penis . . . )” leads to light bulb moment! Never mind that Friedman’s fictional young Arab actually has nothing in common with President Obama besides the fact that Tommy named him Hussein. After all, Obama is not actually a Muslim and (h/t Fire Tom Friedman’s Sister) in Egypt, where the median age is 24, our 49-year-old President is almost certainly not considered young.

But this puzzling paragraph becomes clearer as Tommy lists the rest of his “factors”: Obama. Google Earth. Israel. The Beijing Olympics. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. It’s not Five Not So Obvious Factors. It’s Five Things Tommy Really Likes! (If Egypt have revolted 10 years earlier, it would have been golf, Taco Bell, Wikipedia, and the Amazing Race). Write about your passion – isn’t that what they say? Even if it doesn’t have a fuckin’ thing to do with what you’re ostensibly writing about.

And besides, have you used Google Earth? You can find your own house on it! And no matter what you think of the Chinese, you gotta admit they throw one helluva an Olympics. Surely there was at least one Egyptian kid out there who said, “Holy shit! Look at those fireworks. Time to get rid of my U.S. backed torture regime!” As for Prime Minister Fayyad – Tommy’s already invested several columns in predicting that he would be the change agent in the Arab/Muslim world. It’s really important for the Friedman brand that he keep peddling that one, even though no matter how laughable people who actually know something about the region may find it. And while its true that Fire Tom Friedman's research team was unable to find a single instance of a young Egyptian citing Fayyad as inspiration, it's also true that we don't have access to the thoughts of the young Arabs Tommy invents for supporting evidence.

With all the breathtaking changes going on in the world right now, isn’t it comforting to know that some things, some people, stay absolutely the same?

Fire Tom Friedman