Ducking World Affairs

October 23, 2007
Compiled by Jon Garfunkel

The following are one-sentence excerpts of some 189 letters posted on Thomas Friedman’s “Talking World Affairs” blog for calendar year 2007. The last post was on September 19, 2007. This is part of the TimesSelect Reader series.

PRAISE & ECHOES

  1. “Excellent as usual.”

  2. “However, the goal should be as you have outlined and close to what Sen. Biden has proposed.”

  3. “Excellent analysis that draws the right set of distinctions and could actually set a doable policy.”

  4. “The silence is, as all things Bush, a calculated move to keep the home front quiet once again. Shame on them!”

  5. “If he accuses bin Laden of mass murder, the logical question is this: Why did he drop the U.S. pursuit of bin Laden and al Qaeda in order to pursue a phantom enemy in Iraq?”

  6. “Efficiency is very good business and our resort has proven this, as have many other businesses. Thank you — keep up the great work.”

  7. “Very interesting, and definitely worth trying”

  8. “One very simple step everyone can take now with a small investment is to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs.”

  9. “You should write about the need to plan and build energy conscious urban and suburban communities now.”

  10. “I think that the wholesale electric market must make the first move, and that is not happening in the Southeast.”

  11. “How many other similarly rational and impassioned columns have you and others written? Again I ask, who’s listening?”

  12. “I wish that we could trade this president because the Iraq situation needs somebody to come in fresh, without the baggage of the last four-plus years and the psychological pummeling taken by the neocons long held beliefs about what regime change would mean and do in Iraq.”

  13. “Please keep writing so that we can keep reading.”

  14. “I’m gratified that your recent editorial showed a little more anger, and a little less understanding, about this administration’s policies — or the lack thereof.”

  15. “today’s column about in or out is on the money”

  16. “Over many years I have deeply appreciated your insight and knowledge of the Middle East and its complexities”

  17. “Once again, you have managed to describe things so fully and accurately, it’s astonishing I recently described you as a modern-day F.D.R., giving fireside chats to explain the world to people.”

  18. “You know more about the Middle East than anyone I’ve read and I think your coverage is very balanced and fair. “

  19. “It’s good to know that the Senate’s Majority Leader or someone on his staff reads your work”

  20. ” I think you have diplomatically stated what I believe to be the case: Arab culture does best under a benevolent dictatorship.”

  21. “Sir, your article about the masks is brilliant. Down to earth and in the meantime it comprises the metaphysics of masks. Enviable. My subscription is worth every penny.”

  22. “Good article, and oh, so true.”

  23. “Mr. Friedman, a brilliant, brilliant insight and analogy. No one has said it better.”

  24. “Re: today’s column ‘Failing by Example,’ Monica Goodling is certainly not the sole example of the Bush administration’s and the Republican Party’s extreme disregard, not to say obvious disdain, for the rules of democracy, at least in the U.S.”

  25. “Thank you for educating the public on environmental issues that would otherwise go underreported. Our children owe you a debt of gratitude for galvanizing the world’s attention.”

  26. “Wow, that column is so overdue”

  27. “The Bush administration does not wish to bring decent, pluralistic, progressive governance to Iraq any more than it wants that for the U.S.”

  28. “Well done. This time round you got it right. Plain, straight talking. Nice to know there are a few among the pundits who can admit error and shift position based on the facts.”

  29. “Your column ‘The Hail Mary Pass’ is, once again, a passionate and brilliant synopsis of exactly what the world needs at the present time.”

  30. “One can infer this from reading your otherwise excellent writings on the subject, but it seems to me that it would be better if you could explicitly tie the two points together.”

  31. “I spent five months working in Rwanda, and you are exactly right about business in Africa”

  32. “Thank you for something refreshing, honest and motivating.”

  33. “Your piece today about Barack Obama being a role model abroad was terrific, and made me long for a similar piece about his being a potential role model here at home, especially for African Americans”

  34. “Your well-crafted article should add to your sizeable fan club”

  35. “The words and deeds of the Saudis, both its royal family and its citizens, show little in the way of moderation and tolerance”

  36. “Great column! The Bush strategy is now clear — deny, delay and change the subject”

  37. “As an investment banker and board member of E.D., I was so pleased to see an article that succinctly outlines the new face of environmentalism.”

  38. “Your column today, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Know, Don’t Help,’ is one of the best and to-the-point articles I’ve read on this Iraq war.”

  39. “Another great column today that hit the nail on the head”

  40. ” Thank you for writing today’s column. It was one of the most powerful things you’ve written, and very courageous”

  41. “Bravo!! Our leaders are incapable of understanding the behavioral dynamics of this struggle”

  42. “Thank you for a terrific article.”

  43. “I would be very interested to know what they [members of Congress and Presidential candidates] think of your proposals and if anyone has the political will to make the tough choices. “

  44. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to find an exit more than President Bush. Your strategy seems a straightforward and logical way out, both for the U.S. and for a president looking for a legacy”

  45. “I generally like your column, and I strongly agree with your concept that a cut in U.S. oil consumption is the touchstone for a whole array of major improvements”

  46. “I would agree with you that defusing Iran would be one of the most vital maneuvers in pacifying the Middle East”

  47. “Outstanding column on the smart political move to make in the Middle East. Simple, clear, and direct”

  48. “It was was so nice and refreshing to read something positive and insightful in your recent article ‘Not-So-Strange-Bedfellow.”

  49. “Bravo, Mr. Friedman, for a level-headed view of the U.S.-Iran relations. I am an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who finds himself in complete agreement with every word you said in your column today”

  50. “I do think you about have it right on Iraq. “

  51. ” I agree with you. The silence is deafening. As important, where is the American Muslim outrage?”

  52. “Our house is on fire. We humans have lit the match and piled on the fuel in a crescendo of technological exuberance that has left us feeling increasingly omnipotent and unaccountable”

  53. “It has hit home for me. I’ve seen bikinis and shorts in Maine for a month now, and people are still denying it”

  54. “I applaud you for constantly beating the green-energy drum.”

  55. “Thank you for today’s column on Governor Schweitzer. “

  56. “Exactly! Democracy exists by the consent of the governed, and requires tolerance and compromise of majority and minority alike”



ADDENDA & TANGENTS

  1. “A key difference between America and China is that China’s elite is interested in building up their country, while America’s has withdrawn from the rest of society and are trying to rip it off for as much as they can get”

  2. “There are two more cynical reasons we are now getting some measure of Sunni cooperation”

  3. “If energy efficiency is the fifth fuel, the sixth fuel is population control — and it should be the first.”

  4. “Regarding your August 22 column, Nevada Power has a program you might like.”

  5. “decentralize control over the power grid.”

  6. “It is time to bring them all to the table, even Iran, and sort this out. “

  7. “But you might not fully appreciate how being videotaped cuts both ways.”

  8. “After reading your article today, I decided to Google myself for the first time in five years. I was shocked at how much more of my work was now available online.”

  9. “I much enjoyed your column on the role of modern information technology in promoting transparency. I wonder if it might be useful for political pundits to post their past predictions and assessments in some public place to allow readers to evaluate the accuracy of those comments. “

  10. “Your column reminded me of something that happened to me this year as a school librarian”

  11. ” What you describe in your piece is exactly what is happening in Canada.”

  12. “I took a wrong turn from math to law many years ago, but I haven’t considered returning, even though I loved math”

  13. “I believe that young people will be the ones who will opt for whatever life style changes must be undertaken to preserve the environment. “

  14. “It seems to me that the strongest case one could make for an Obama presidency right now is rarely articulated: it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world.”

  15. “As a Texan who has seen a tremendous rise in the amount I am paying in electric rates since deregulation I am not optimistic that any of these agreements will come to pass.”

  16. “What is being overlooked is how the U.S. is leading the world in paying third-world countries — China, India, Brazil, etc. — to produce products in the least environmentally sensitive manner”

  17. “I wish that you had pointed out that Bush’s request to the American people to support the war was to go shopping and keep the economy going”

  18. “Perhaps what has happened in Veterans Administration care is indicative of an administration that avoided fighting in Vietnam”

  19. “[Russia] Sounds remarkably like America”

  20. “I hope in another of your enlightening columns you will address George Bush’s excesses in the same way you speak of Putin’s”

  21. “Not very much different from the present day U.S., except that in the U.S., key energy companies control the government.”

  22. “But, in the absence of a carbon tax, or any other comprehensive American government policies — mileage standards, investment in public transportation, alternative energies, ending suburban sprawl, etc. — to bring about this reduced consumption, do we not need high

  23. oil prices for private consumers to be motivate to conserve and reduce demand? “

  24. “You might have also pointed out, however, that all of this talk about CAFE and ethanol merely reinforce existing paradigms about our transportation systems. “

  25. “But why aren’t you chiding your readers to go out and buy greener themselves? “

  26. “Allowing electric meters to run backwards everywhere both benefits people, and shows them the impact every month of their actions. “

  27. ” But as we think of precedents, it’s worth noting that even seemingly focused big efforts of the recent past, such as the Manhattan Project, were not nearly as cut-and-dried as they appear in retrospect.”

  28. “I’d like to add to the mix the idea of a war tax, a requirement that the additional funds required for the war be raised by a surcharge on incomes perhaps limited to those above the U.S. median”

  29. “One reason people haven’t demanded more action on climate change could be that global warming sounds nice”

QUIBBLES

  1. “You are wrong that Iraq is not mentioned in China.”

  2. “But there was a sentence there that, I believe, deserves an entire daily column.”

  3. “I assume that your reference to saving watts comes directly from the company’s promotion, but it’s still an imprecise way of phrasing the goal. “

  4. “I may be entirely incorrect, but as our Parliament closes down in summer — and, I thought, so did your Congress?”

  5. “However, I think that you are overreacting to the fact that the Iraqi lawmakers are going on vacation in August”

  6. “My comment is simple: beware of two-option thinking.”

  7. “You also leave yourself open to criticism with the claim that Islamist extremists are virtually the only suicide bombers when the Tamil Tigers numbers of ‘freedom fighters’ are far ahead of the Islamists.”

  8. “Thing is, Dubai is part of the U.A.E. — and for that matter, isn’t it technically an emirate, rather than a monarchy? “

  9. “I agree with your interpretation of the masks, though as a matter of slight historical interest there is another possibility”

  10. “While your column is basically accurate and insightful, it understates the problems in the Justice Department”

  11. “Much of the discussion about the termination of the U.S. Attorneys has contained confusion about this issue. “

  12. “Your analysis of how Nasrallah might be criticized by an Arab commission was lucid and on the mark, but you left out something important which, while it would not have been part of any commissions finding, nonetheless has great bearing on Nasrallah’s behavior”

  13. “In your mea culpa speech for the president, you failed to mention the extent that the American policies and particularly the occupation of Iraq actually motivate terrorism”

  14. “Interesting column, but the world won’t believe a word of it coming from the mouth of President Bush”

  15. “Einstein got his Nobel Prize not from his theories of relativity, but for his 1905 explanation of the photoelectric effect.”

  16. “The truth of the matter is that money is a commodity and will flow to the place where the risk/ reward ratio is the greatest. Though most investors understand business risk they do not want to take political risks.”

  17. ” However, it seems like Senator Hillary Clinton would have a leg up in world opinion simply because she will be associated with her husband — and from all accounts, Bill Clinton is popular throughout much of the world.”

  18. “While there is no doubt that Barack Obama is exceedingly popular outside the borders of the U.S., I believe that former president Bill Clinton ranks even higher on the popularity scale, especially among the street of Africa, Asia and Europe.”

  19. “I can tell you that from marketplaces in Beijing, China, to the small shops of Cozco, Peru, there are photos prominently displayed of only one other U.S. president or politician who was and remains so very highly regarded. His name is Bill Clinton.”

  20. “We cannot get the richest one percent of Americans to give back the huge tax cuts given them by the Bush administration”

  21. “However, the California plan will never work unless there is a worldwide agreement to control carbon dioxide. “

  22. “While the general moral you propose may also hold to some extent, you skewed your argument by not according this hugely important fact its due place.”

  23. “Therefore, I would suggest that the $3.50 price be phased in over a period of time greater than the troop withdrawal”

  24. “Great idea, but it is never going to happen as long as we are tight with Saudi Arabia. The oil companies will never let it happen either. Look at Exxon’s profit last year.”

  25. “While I am not an Iran expert, as a Jew with Iranian roots, I have followed the post 1977 treatment of Jews in Iran and wish to disagree. Iranian Jews may be free to practice, but they are under constant suspicion for Zionist activities. “

  26. “My one concern about pulling out is the possibility you cite of a wider regional conflict — which I fear could escalate readily into a world war. “

  27. “However, I think the more apt analogy is to compare the handling of Saddam’s hanging or, better yet, the hypothetical sentence conversion to Nixon’s pardon by Ford.”



RHETORICAL CRITICISM

  1. “Your oversimplification is unworthy of you.”

  2. “I read your column about paying utilities to promote greater energy efficiency in people’s homes. I must say that it sounds totally impractical and would lead to all kinds of abuses”

  3. “Somehow, in contrast to your previous columns, the analysis does not ring true. “

  4. “But, please, stop saying that Spain got out of Iraq to get out of the line of fire.”

  5. “I take strong exception to your claim that bin Laden and the jihadists are responsible for killing more Muslims than anyone in the world today”

  6. ” It seems to me you are overtly critical of Nasrallah because you know who your reading base is. Although you lambast Bush for his poor leadership, you’ve never called for his resignation.”

  7. “I still admire your writings, but I disagree with your approach”

  8. ” I don’t know what the answer is for Iraq, but I do know that you can’t milk a bull. “

  9. “In your essay about Einstein, I think you put forward a common misconception about math/physics research, and possibly also of Einstein’s career. “

  10. “Your attempt to establish a causality between creative scientific thinking and academic environment or broad freedoms must be preceded by a more careful reading of scientific history and nature of fundamental scientific discoveries”

  11. “The shanty towns of Nairobi did not exist in 1967, and the reasons have very little to do with drought or global warming and everything to do with a runaway birth rate that has driven the population from eight million to 32 million over the last 40 years.”

  12. “The problem with global climate change is that it is something that happens naturally as a part of the dynamic Earth. “

  13. “The idea of setting a floor on the price of gas through a federal tax is never going to fly — Republicans and Democrats would be committing political suicide.”

  14. “While I do agree with the overall thrust of your comments, you do yourself a disservice by over-simplifying”

  15. “Though I agree with both your major recommendations, particularly the oil floor, I’m extraordinarily skeptical regarding the idea that U.S. threats to leave will motivate a change in Iraqi behavior.”

  16. “However, the institution of a gas tax will hurt just the sort of people whom you would purport to help.”

  17. “I am troubled that you skipped over the major barrier to the governor’s proposal so lightly.”

  18. “I applaud Governor Schweitzer’s enthusiasm, but coal has numerous problems. “

  19. “Tom, its time to retake Chemistry 101. You can’t burn coal without producing carbon dioxide. “

  20. “I wouldn’t compare increasing our troop strength to a married couple. I would compare it to the Vietnam war”



EMOTIONAL CRITICICSM

  1. “It is difficult to believe that you have any conscience or regret for the disquieting effect that you offered to the entire war movement. “

  2. “However, your last paragraph falls off the cliff in reference to dealing with Islamic terrorism.”

  3. “But please, don’t promote the fantasy of attacking Iran.”

  4. “I do feel that the case for man-made global warming has now become a moral crusade that is very dangerous for all of us”

  5. “The truth of the matter is that we who have a higher standard of living than most of the world have the most to lose. “

  6. “Aren’t the Israelis old enough to assess their own interest and grasp what could well be the best initiative ever? “

  7. “The media bears responsibility as well because of the lack of moral clarity in the face of facts that the war was started and is continuing because as a people our bellies are full and our moral backbone is gone”

  8. “I really think that we play into their hands when we get sucked into making this an issue of religious ideology — when what we really need to confront is political and economic.”

  9. “You still continue to believe that this war was winnable.”

  10. “However, I question the common sense of allowing visas to students from Iran or any other hostile nation to enter our country. “

  11. “Do you really believe that, as you say, ‘If Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had spent as much time plotting the toppling of Saddam Hussein as they did the toppling of Colin Powell, Iraq today would be Switzerland’? It is a nice rhetorical flourish, but it is just not true.”

  12. “I agree that we made it worse than it had to be, but it’s to easy to look back and say if we had done this or that, everything would have been peaceful.”

  13. “I am a Saudi and would love to have peace with Israel. It is the U.S. stopping the region from having peace by not being fair or honest.”

  14. “I think you’re unfairly raising expectations for Democrats by suggesting that they somehow can, and should, fix what’s wrong with George Bush”

QUESTIONS:

  1. “In today’s column, you state that China has different enemies than the U.S. What do you think are the underlying cause of this current status?”

  2. “So you are correct, the Chinese have a ‘What, me worry?’ foreign policy. Is that our model?”

  3. ” I had hoped your column would deal with an issue that has bothered me because no one explains it”

  4. “couldn’t the Federal government have a role to play in all this by providing incentives to the states to encourage them to support the utilities in developing energy efficiencies?”

  5. “Are you sure the opposite isn’t true, and key Iraqis hope that Mr. Bush will walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises”

  6. “I’d really like to hear more insight on this prospect — the whys, hows, costs, benefits, etc. of pursuing such a strategy. [defending Kurdistan]

  7. “How can we expect Islamic leaders to correct this attitude if they may have an only slightly less malignant version of it themselves?”

  8. “Though incisive, wouldn’t your suggestions be better directed at and focused on the Western half of the solution? “

  9. “Is there room for character or integrity in a world where people are primarily motivated by the fear of being exposed? “

  10. “war by suicide bomber is the most depraved form of social disintegration known in history. Can you mull this over just a bit?”

  11. “Is it not true, as Hamas leaders claim, that the U.S. is trying to destroy them? “

  12. “I reminded me that it would be great to see you write another, related column: the lessons that the U.S. can learn from Israel’s brief war in Lebanon”

  13. “Why work very hard for a middle class lifestyle when you can work less hard for a luxurious lifestyle?”

  14. “There is just one issue where I do not understand your opinion and where I seriously disagree: nuclear energy.”

  15. “Can you explain why Sunni-Shiite bloodshed outside Baghdad is not viewed as impeding reconciliation”

  16. “Thanks for suggesting in today’s column that elements in Iraq such as Shiite militias may have gone underground so that U.S. troops will be used against their military and political opponents. Is the U.S. fighting their sectarian war for them?”

  17. ” is all well and good that the Israeli economy is doing so splendidly, but somehow you forgot to mention the huge amount of foreign aid that we are giving Israel each year. If they are doing so well, why can’t this amount be gradually reduced?”

  18. “Couldn’t help but notice that Condi Rice is conspicuously missing from the piece. Is she not a player in the administration’s internal battles? “

  19. “How about a tax on tyranny — a tax on oil imports, with the full amount collected to be refunded annually to all taxpayers equally.”

  20. “My question is this: How do poor rural areas, often with little or no access to public transportation and/or carpooling, cope with the higher gas tax? “

  21. “Do you have any thoughts as to how there could be a workable compromise — i.e., partial subsidy to provide immediate relief for true hardship while simultaneously using the extra revenue to finance carpool incentives and mass transit until better energy efficient cars are allowed into the marketplace? Maybe a phased-in approach?”

  22. “So, is there an equilibrium point between high and low prices that could accomplish both simultaneously, or do we first attack the renewable energy problem and leave the despots until later?”

  23. “I wonder if you neglected to mention a factor that’s been all over the news this week: Iran’s financial and material support of the Shiite militias and death squads. “

  24. “All religions have sects and offshoots. But in most cases, they don’t become so violently divided that they are willing to put to death people of their own belief simply over some details that are interpreted differently.”

  25. “Do we in fact, after four years of war, have no understanding of what motivates our opponents? “

  26. “Could such compelling individuals not come from the Muslim communities in Europe and the U.S., where they would have the freedom to voice an appeal for reconciliation and renewal?”

  27. “Is it possible that the refusal of the Iraqi government to amend the constitution to meet Sunni security needs legitimizes the violence?”

  28. “One in particular that I would like to see explored is the potential conservation benefit of using trains for long-distance freight movement instead of today’s long-haul trucks. How much energy would be saved? “

  29. “Question: Won’t China’s and India’s ever-increasing energy needs counter-balance our decreasing energy needs and keep the price of oil high, to the point that these petro-authoritarians won’t really feel the pinch?”

  30. “What is our moral responsibility to the Iraqi people?”

  31. “Why not, then, make the commitment of any additional troops contingent on the government’s finishing the Constitutional work of guaranteeing the Sunnis access to oil and governance.”

  32. “Have the negative effects of strip mining on the land been eliminated or reduced?”

  33. “I can understand how clean coal technology can reduce mercury and other emissions from coal burning. But what about carbon dioxide?”

  34. “Even if it’s possible one day to turn coal into a green energy source with regard to emissions, what’s the answer to reducing the negative physical impact that coal mining has on the land?”



DESPARATELY IN NEED OF A RESPONSE

  1. “It’s not hard to take issue with the Turkish brand of democracy, but why can’t this most progressive of Arab nations be the leader in global integration, women’s empowerment and modern education that you described in your column? “

  2. “I’ve noticed that these face masks are also used in the United States by S.W.A.T. teams and other police raiding parties, and we have all seen pictures of Iraqi forces collaborating with the U.S. forces wearing those same masks.”

  3. “why not make Jerusalem an independent country, like the Vatican?”

  4. “However when viewed from overseas, it can never be claimed that, say, Roosevelt — the example you gave — did all that much”

  5. “Why not offer the Israelis a treaty of trade and defense with the U.S. in exchange for their peace treaties with the Arabs?”

  6. “I would not be at all surprised to learn that the picture you saw of Peretz looking through binoculars with the caps still on was a doctored picture.”

  7. “The problem as I see it, is conservatives in this country haven’t really learned the lessons of Vietnam or Iraq and would shoot down any attempt to give a country the freedom they need to develop as being against our short term national interests.”

  8. “Perhaps you can help me understand how resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli situation will be the source of Middle East stability.”

  9. “If we are naturally selecting for cooperative behaviors, then democratic forms of government are a part of nature. Totalitarian behavioral norms require the repression of internal opposition exemplifying uncooperative behaviors, and are therefore bound for extinction.”