Friedman Embarrasses Us in New Zealand

Tom Friedman - Artist's ConceptionThomas Friedman was in New Zealand late last year and he did a radio interview with Kim Hill. She beats the shit out of him. From his first word Friedman is on the defense, I assume because he already knew who Hill was. It is nice to hear someone go after him. In the United States, I’ve only ever heard fawning interviews.

There are a couple of things that really stand out. One is how Friedman is constantly trying to walk back his entire career. A few times he says that he didn’t create globalization and (supposed) free market economics; he just reported on it. While this is technically true, Friedman has been one of the biggest and most influential cheerleaders for this conservative utopia.

He also claims that we went too far in the free market direction and that now we are adjusting in the other direction. He says this many times. But I don’t see the evidence for it. In fact, if Romney is elected President, we will push forward in the loony free market direction faster than we ever have before. But what is most annoying about Friedman’s comments is how his own writing has pushed against any trend to ameliorate the problems associated with his neo-liberal doctrine. The most obvious example of this is his constant wish that Obama would “move to the center!” But Obama is already radically free market. The only changes he’s made to the government have been very minor things around the edges. If Friedman can’t applaud these things, then he is not for curbing the abuses of the free market.

One thing he said really blew my mind, and it caused me to start writing this. He seems to think there are only two options. The first is his: free market radicalism with some (apparently) minor government programs to stop people from starving to death. The second is what he claims is the option of anyone who would question him: shut the borders. So it’s either America or North Korea: which would you rather have? This is a ridiculous comparison, of course. Canada is as globalized as the United States, but things are better there. Sweden is as globalized as the United States, but things are better there. Things are even better in the United Kingdom!

But in claiming that his free market utopia is the only possible future, he claims that people don’t want to go back. People don’t want to give up their iPhones. Okay. People don’t want to give up the internet. What?! The internet?! The internet came out of a government program. The web came out of work by a bunch of socialist European physicists. The internet is not the result of globalization and unregulated markets.

In addition to the complete stupidity of his claim, I think it is telling of Friedman and those of his ilk. For most of the people I know, the internet is best summed up by Wikipedia and YouTube (but not the professional YouTube, just the junk that people put out). For Friedman, the internet is about commerce. Before Amazon and iTunes, Friedman didn’t care about the internet, if he had even heard of it. If you can’t buy or sell things, what is the point?

This can be taken further. Friedman’s whole approach to the world is consumerism. It is all about getting more iPods in more hands. He has no interest in the music that is played on those devices. And frankly, he has no interest in technological development. As Ha-Joon Chang has documented, it is very often the case that only by limiting competition can we build new, vital industries. The MP3 player was around long before Apple entered the market. And all Apple did was package the device well and make it much, much, much less free with their licencing system.

I used to be embarrassed when George W. Bush went abroad. But the truth is there is an endless supply of American idiots to embarrass our country. I’m glad that Bush has mostly disappeared. But I fear we will be cursed with Friedman to his dying breathe.

Has anyone ever choked on a mustache?

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald on Salon for link to radio show.

Ad Revenue

ClickWhat I’m about to say has nothing to do with this site. The only ads on this site are for Amazon, and I only get money if you actually buy something. And then it is only 4% of the purchase price and that doesn’t include shipping which is often the most expensive part. I’m thinking of taking down the ads. But eventually, when the site is getting more than 1000 unique visitors per day (it is now at around 400), I will start doing regular ads. So what I’m about to say could some day affect me, but that isn’t why I’m talking about it.

Click on ads. And not just once. Click on the ad and click on one of the ad site’s links. Don’t click on an ad and click back. Google (and probably other ad companies) see this as a mistake and don’t credit the site. I also recommend clicking on political ads of things you find really vile. I know the natural tendency is to never click on such ads, but this is wrongheaded. Make them pay a dime for you having had to look at their awfulness.

I’m not telling you to do this as a scam. This is an effort to keep the internet strong. Ad revenue is falling fast. Some have suggested that Facebook is doomed in the long run (ten years). This is very important (but I’m not recommending that you click on Facebook ads—I don’t see Facebook’s demise being bad, but if ad revenue is hurting them, imagine what it is doing to everyone else). But it isn’t the only issue.

Many ads are just like billboards along the highway. For example, I just saw one for Ben & Jerry’s. I know from my own experience with Google AdSense, that at least most websites do not get paid for this ad unless someone clicks on it. Yet it works perfectly as an ad; having seen it, I am much more likely to buy ice cream tonight. So I clicked on the ad. I clicked around their site. I made sure that the website got its dime, but much more important, I made sure that Ben & Jerry’s paid their dime.

Don’t think of clicking on ads as a sign that you’re an easy mark. Think of it as a charitable contribution to making the internet viable. Think of it as a way to support the websites you like. Most of all, think of it as a way of making advertisers pay for the services they receive.

Update (25 July 2012 9:36 pm)

When I was at the grocery store early this evening, I stopped and checked out the ice cream. In particular, I was looking at the Ben & Jerry’s. (People who think advertising doesn’t affect them are fooling themselves.) It was only because I remembered seeing the ad that I decided not to buy any. And I’m regretting it right now!

BTW: Stephen Colbert’s AmeriCone Dream is a very good ice cream. Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Late Night Snack’ is as bad as it sounds. While it is true that I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to ice cream, you can trust me: you will like AmericCone Dream; you may not like Late Night Snack; and if you have taste, you will think that it is just weird (but not in a good way).

Psychopaths and Turtles

Cecil TurtleI’m not nearly one of the first to find this amazing video. And it probably won’t get that big because, you know, it’s amazing. It is really great. It has the two things that every great video needs: new information about something totally useless and humor of the nerd variety. On the second front, there are some jokes about what I assume are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I like this just from the standpoint that I don’t know what’s going on.

On the first front, this video offers up some excellent useless information. When I started reading the introduction to the video, I thought it was talking about how much people swerve to avoid hitting animals. It didn’t occur to me that people would swerve to hit an animal—at least beyond psychopaths. And yet, this guy finds that fully 6% of drivers will intentionally kill animals. This is shocking. And as he points out: turtles? Really?! Cecil Turtle? This makes me feel even worse about our society, and as you know, I wasn’t starting very high up the scale.

All the people who stop to help the animals are inspiring, however. Even people who are afraid! The woman with the plums is trying to disturb the snake to get it to move off the road. And I have a theory about the guy who threw rocks at the spider. He was trying to get it off the road—to save it. When that didn’t work, he assumed that the spider was fatally injured and so he killed it to end its suffering. So again: a fearful person nonetheless trying to help an animal.

Based upon his numbers, it looks like 25 out of his 1000 people sample stopped to help the animals. That’s 2.5% or less than half as many as intentionally killed animals. That’s not a happy thought.

Finally, there is the issue of what kinds of cars are driven by the animal murderers. He doesn’t provide us with information about what the distribution of all cars are, so we can’t be at all rigorous here. However, his data do indicate what we already know to be true: people in trucks and SUVs are more likely to be assholes. It is also true that men are more likely to drive trucks and SUVs. But then, that’s pretty much saying the same thing.

This video comes from The Undiscovered Space. I’m so impressed with him that I’m putting him on my Off Sites list.

Update (25 July 2012 11:27 am)

In a graph on the video, he indicates that 1.7% of snakes and 4.0% of turtles were saved. I don’t think he had equal numbers of tests for each animal. I say this, because he indicated that 4% of the animal savers were science haters. There was only one science hater, so there had to be 25 total animal savers. This is where I got the 2.5% number above. If there were equal numbers of tests for each animal, this number would be 1.4%.

EU Break Up and War

European Union Break UpThis morning, Paul Krugman speculates about how the impending Eurozone disaster will affect the political climate. In particular, since all of the “reasonable center” parties have been on board with the disastrous austerity program, once the end comes, the only political parties that won’t be soiled will be those on the far left and right.

I don’t doubt that this is correct. But it seems to me that we are looking at something far more dangerous: anger. Let’s suppose that Greece leaves the Euro. There will be much disruption, but the main thing that the Greek people will remember are the years that the European elites—especially Germany—made them suffer for nothing.

Sure, extremist political parties can be problematic. (See, for example, the United States under Bush, which went to war in Iraq when the people were against it.) But it is so much easier for these parties to really cause problems if the people themselves are angry. And when that anger is largely justifiable: watch out!

What is amazing about this is how the elites in Europe don’t see the problem. They don’t seem to be aware that their comfortable lifestyles are dependent upon the consent of weaker countries. Regardless of how morally superior those in northern Europe may feel compared to those in southern Europe (wrongly in my opinion), the people in southern Europe still need to live. And like all people, they will do what they must to survive and even thrive.

But I’ve seen the same thing within the United States. The rich are determined to turn this country into a banana republic. And as long as this system is stable, it is great for them. But people will only allow themselves to sink so low before they will rebel. The rich should want somewhat greater equality because it provides for stability of a society in which they do very well. But instead, they ignore this, in the name of shortsighted greed. They believe they are morally superior to the poor (wrongly in my opinion), but that won’t mean much if there is a revolution.

The same goes for Germany and frankly, all of Europe. They may survive the EU break up. But are they really confident that it won’t lead to war 20 or 30 years from now? I’m not.