Friday, March 27, 2009

I have failed

I know that you, Gentle Reader, look to me for my opinions on issues of globalization. As such, I imagine that you are all anticipating my take on yesterday's Charlie Rose show, not the part on female desire, but the interview with Nandan Nilekani, co-chair of big Indian offshorer Infosys, who has a new book, and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who has the same old books to plug.

I wanted to watch and listen and give my impressions, to offer up some insights as to what I saw as flaws in the logic, on how these high priests of globalization would discuss changes to the model in light of the world financial crisis. Of course, I didn't expect them to take up basic questions of how American politicians justify visa policy or offshoring, but I could hope.

And then they launched into the interview, and the first thing they talked about was how Nandan gave Tom the idea for his Einsteinian revelation that, THE WORLD IS FLAT. It's a story that sums up the work of Friedman so well that I recreate it here (from the transcript on Rose's web site):
CHARLIE ROSE: The least. Just quickly, let’s review that. What happened? You were in India.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: And Nandan was actually out of the country when I came over. And we had shot about 60 hours of film over 11 days. And over those 11 days, I was getting this sinking feeling that something really big had happened with globalization, and I had missed it. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

And the last interview was with Nandan. He just came back. And the film crew was setting up in his office. I was sitting on the couch outside. Nandan came out, we sat down, I took out my laptop, as is my habit, and started interviewing him.

And at one point, Nandan said, “Tom, I’ve got to tell you, the global economic playing field is being leveled.” And it all just sort of -- I said global economic -- leveled -- and I wrote down in my notebook -- and we did the interview. But that just stuck in my head. And in the Jeep on the way back to the hotel, I just kept going over the global economic playing field is being leveled. I said the global -- but Nandan said global economic playing field is kind of being flattened. And then it just sort of popped into my head that what Nandan Nilekani, India’s premiere engineer-entrepreneur was telling me was that the world was flat, and that was a book.

And then we actually went over to his house that day. It was your birthday, I think, right?
You know, historians of the future are going to be so lucky. We have little idea how Tolstoy came up with the concept of War and Peace, but we have in laborious detail the story of how Tom Friedman came up with the flat world idea. And we will also know that Friedman was a very important man, because he dealt only with very important people, and was even invited to their homes on his birthday.

I don't want to belabor the infelicities that define the "thought entity" that was Tom Friedman (but I can't resist one; as David Smick showed in his book, the financial world is curved, even crooked; Friedman's flat world is a vinyl sheet laid on a non-smooth underfloor, and we're seeing the results of that now - it's a lousy analogy, and I'm royally tired of it), but, as he launched into this story for the umpteenth time, I couldn't take it any more. I grabbed the remote and turned to something, anything else.

You see, I could just tell how this interview was going to go. Friedman, there for no appreciable reason other than to give his NYT bestseller cred to his buddy's new book, was going to butt into the conversation whenever he could with yet another faux insight, and Rose would let him get away with it. Nilekani would likely get very little time to talk about his book, even though Charlie would hold it up a couple of times. The viewers would gain no insight into, well, anything. Then Charlie, Tom, and Nandan would head out to one of New York's finest steakhouses for a big piece of beef and a couple of bottles of wine, while Charlie and Nandan would wait around for another Friedman gem ("It's interesting that beef and wine are both red, and businesspeople love both of them, but they hate it when their numbers are in the red - there's a book there, and I'll call it "The Redding of Business.")

In the interest of serving my public, I went back today and checked out the transcript of the interview (mercifully, there isn't one of the steak dinner). And it went just as I said. Nilekani made some banal observations about the challenges facing India today - his book may be better than that, I don't know. Any attempt to dig deeper was interrupted by Friedman's usual drivel (six-lane superhighway, market and Mother Nature hitting a wall, sustainable living, we're not too big to fail - all the usual stuff that real people have been seeing for years, but comes as revelation to this Pulitzer winner).

What's sad is what's always sad. There is a real opportunity to ask Nilekani some tough probing questions. They don't have to be adversarial, they just have to be firm, recognizing the challenges that confront these two nations. Maybe he's dealt with them in his book, maybe he hasn't, but they are questions that won't be asked on any broadcast outlet in this country other than, possibly, PBS.

And Charlie Rose missed this chance, so busy was he offering hospitality just short of cigars and brandy. But it isn't polite to let Friedman ramble on in the same vein as he always does, it's a disservice to the viewers. Rose needs to emerge from what I like to call his Friedman fog; if Tom's presence isn't a help, get him off the show.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics