Sects and Tikriti and the Moustache of Understanding


It’s been seven years since the New York Observer published this guide to writing  your own Thomas Friedman column, but it remains the definitive instruction manual. Thank you to the Carpetblogger for reminding me of it. 

Begin your first paragraph with a grandiose sentence and end with a terse, startlingly unexpected contradiction:

 a. The future of civilization depends upon open communication between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon. If the two don’t speak to each other, the world edges closer to the precipice of total war. If, on the other hand, they manage to engage in open conversation and resolve their differences, Israelis could soon be celebrating Seders in Saudi Arabia. But for now, the two men can’t speak. Why? You can’t make a collect call from Bethlehem. …

6. Name-drop heavily, particularly describing intimate situations involving hard-to-reach people:

 a. The Jacuzzi was nearly full when Ayman al-Zawahiri, former surgeon and now Al Qaeda’s head of operations, slid in.

 b. It was Thomas Pynchon on the phone. “Tommy,” he said, probably aware we share that name ….

 c. Despite the bumpy flight, I felt comfortable in the hands of a pilot as experienced as Amelia Earhart.

7. Include unknowns from hostile places who have come to espouse rational Western thought and culture:

 a. I visited Mohammed bin Faisal Al-Hijazi, former top aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, now a reformer and graduate of the Wharton Business School.

Now, I laugh, but I must say that the “Beirut” part of From Beirut to Jerusalem was magnificent journalism and the best description of Beirut I’ve ever read. So I laugh respectfully.

But I just received Michael Totten’s new book, The Road to Fatima Gate, in the mail (thank you, Encounter Books!), so it may well be that I’m about to read an even better description of Beirut. I have very high expectations. Still, until I read it, Friedman holds the top prize.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t laugh at him–in a respectful way–which is why I also remind you of the moustache of understanding:


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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    I really need to grow a mustache soon. As it is, Gillette has discontinued Sensor, and Mach III is an improvement–the blades last about 1/3rd less long. So this is how I will compensate.

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  2. Profile Photo Member

    I’m looking forward to some subscriber produced Friedman articles in this thread.

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  3. Profile Photo Inactive

    I am going to drive that lexus around that olive tree and right off the edge of the earth.

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  4. Profile Photo Inactive

    One new Friedman rule. Mention somewhere, preferably near the beginning of the article, something like “If only we could govern America like China for a day, we could solve [fill in your problem of choice].”

    Claire, like you, I found part of From Beirut to Jerusalem to be compelling. His later books appear to follow a simple formula: “take a simple idea, ignore all contrary evidence, and then beat it to death for about 400 pages.”

    Is this what happens you read your own press clippings?

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