Saturday, April 2

Tom Friedman: Poker Fish

Aces Are Only Worth One, Right??

If you're going to write about something everybody can agree on without much debate, you'd better come up with a novel way to write about it. Enter New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who compared the diplomatic crises Secretaries Of State resolve during their tenure to a poker game:
[E]ventually every secretary gets dealt a poker hand - and you never know when it'll come or what sort of cards it'll contain: the 1973 Middle East war (Henry Kissinger), the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev (George Shultz), the fall of the Berlin Wall (James Baker), Kosovo (Madeleine Albright), Iraq (Colin Powell).
You mean, Secretaries Of State don't know beforehand what sorts of situations they'll encounter? I'm shocked!

This is a bad analogy because a poker hand is a quintessentially random event. What "hands" Condoleezza Rice is dealt, though, is based on all sorts of decidedly non-random events, from how her boss, the President, tackles foreign policy to how well her predecessor, Colin Powell, played his "hand." So being Secretary Of State is less like a poker hand and more like . . . every other job, especially ones in government. But how dull a column would it be if it said something more like "Secretaries Of Health And Human Services, like Michael Leavitt, never know what kind of poker hands they'll get"?

If this weren't bad enough, Friedman immediately proved he has no idea what he's talking about:
And this poker hand is seven-card stud, no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. (served by VodkaPundit)
Guh. The difference between no-limit Texas Hold'em and Seven-Card Stud is kind of like the difference between baseball and slow-pitch softball: the rules and object are the same, but the gameplay is completely different. (To wit, for non-poker players: Stud and Hold'em both use seven cards, but in Hold'em, five cards are common to all players, drastically altering strategy and tactics.)

I won't berate Friedman for his lack of poker knowledge (and to be fair, it could be an editing screwup), but jeez, if you're going to make something the metaphoric lynchpin of your entire column, make sure you get the terms right. If I were going to use ballet as the vehicle to drive one of my posts, I'd at least learn the difference between a pirouette and a . . . a . . . well, that's why I wouldn't do such a thing, because "pirouette" is the only ballet term I know.

Besides, it's not even the worst thing about his column. Aside from the banality of the subject matter (FLASH! Secretaries Of State's tasks are unpredictable, difficult and important!), Friedman serves up several paragraphs of bland succotash about how the crises Secretary Rice face aren't resolving themselves overnight:
Many of the necessary elements for democratization are now in place in Iraq (free and fair elections), in Lebanon (a Syrian withdrawal from Beirut), in Egypt (President Mubarak's commitment to multicandidate presidential elections) and in Gaza (an Israeli commitment to withdraw and Palestinian elections).

But while the necessary conditions may now be in place, the sufficient conditions for democratization are still not present in any of these arenas. The Iraqi election was Jan. 30 and the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis have still not agreed on a government, and the insurgency is still going strong. In Lebanon, the Cedar Revolution is now bogged down in a standoff between pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian Lebanese . . .
A people for whom democracy is a completely new concept haven't gotten with the program after two months? Good heavens, what's taking them so long? I mean, yeah, it took thirteen years for us to go from independence to a stable form of government, but Tom Friedman wasn't sorely lacking for column ideas in the 1780s. Until they hash out their differences, he'll be forced to write columns about how they haven't yet hashed out their differences. (And if he thinks the insurgency is "going strong," I should introduce him to Austin Bay. Or better yet, an article from his own paper.)

And, imagine: the Cedar Revolution lapsing into a struggle with pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian factions. Um . . . that's the point. The anti-Syrians want Syria out of Lebanon and the pro-Syrians don't. Again: a parallel to our own infancy, with revolutionaries standing off with Tories. Evidently, in addition to complete ignorance of poker, it appears Friedman has never cracked open a book on the American Revolution.

You know, writing a column . . . it's kinda like playing poker.

Next time, Tom: fold.


Location: Mishawaka, Indiana, United States

I graduated with an English degree from the University Of Notre Dame in 2001, and in 2008 I have a day job that has nothing to do with my degree but gets the bills paid in a semi-regular fashion. (I have running water five days a week!) The idea is that once I get turned around on my bills, I go to grad school. I also have an idea for cold fusion. Anyone's guess which will be feasible first. In non-work mode, I'm usually reading columns by famous and well-read thinkers, blogs by critically praised writers, or sometimes blogs by overzealous cranks who make me laugh. I yearn to be all three at once; until then I'll settle for being the third. I also have an undying love for the Chicago Cubs and Notre Dame football. Praise them and I'll buy you a beer; curse them and I'll dump it over your head. If that's not enough, I'm becoming quite the fan of no-limit Texas Hold'em. My games have one of two results: I either win all the money or whine because I didn't win all the money.

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August 8, 2005: High Gas Prices
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marchand chronicles has such massive readership and influence that it makes me weep.
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Damn right.


What's Your Line?


I absolutely love the name of your site.

Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson, Power Line
Just the name? Not the content? . . . I'll take it.

You have something in common with Dave Barry, Hemingway, and Mark Steyn: I'm not linking to them, either.


That's good stuff there Mark.

Dean Barnett, Soxblog
Psst, it's "Mike."

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Okay, so I don't really have a copyright. But I still don't want you ripping me off. Reprint it all over the Internet if you like, but give me proper credit and link back to me. Besides, if you're going to plagiarize, steal from someone with some talent.

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