The Grenade of Understanding: Winners of the Write-Like-Friedman Challenge - Rolling Stone
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The Grenade of Understanding: Winners of the Write-Like-Friedman Challenge

Readers answered the call, and the responses were outstanding


Actual hand grenade; winners get a replica

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Outstanding responses to yesterday’s “Synthesize Tom Friedman” challenge. I feel like the washed-up, aging teacher who takes on a class of initially-bored prep school students who over the course of a semester surprise the old man with their incredible passion for the material – basically I’m Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, only without the depressing Robert-Sean-Leonard-kills-himself ending. I also feel like doing that thing tennis players do after matches, when they walk off the court and applaud the crowd by clapping a hand and a racket together. (With that gratefully serious expression that says, “No, no, you don’t clap for me – I clap for you!”). Or maybe I just feel like playing tennis with Robin Williams. It’s so hard to know – it all gets so mixed up after a while.

Which brings me to Friedman. There were so many excellent entries in yesterday’s challenge, which asked readers to boil down Friedman’s metaphor-jammed column on Syria (which described our Iraq invasion as the U.S diving on a grenade we ourselves exploded, by pulling out the pin of Saddam Hussein) to a single paragraph, that I couldn’t narrow it down to just one winner. So in the end, there will be four winners, each receiving a hand-grenade paperweight trophy.

Even narrowing it down to four was a tough task. Some comments weren’t real entries but just riffs, but they were on the mark; they won’t get a grenade, but they deserve mention. For instance, “westcoast” wrote:

Op/Ed Copy desk: “Hey, Kristof missed deadline, what should we do?” Keller: “Do a word-cloud of Friedman Middle East columns.”

I doubt that’s what took place, but it something like that did happen, we’d have a hard time knowing the difference. Then there was Grione45’s deadly-accurate Fargo reference:

To quote Stan Grossman of Fargo fame … “You’re sayin’… What’re you sayin”?

We had not one, not two, but three haikus submitted. I’m a strong proponent of the haiku and I think people should communicate by haiku more often, randomly, at all times of the day. I’ve often thought it would be a good conflict-resolution method: force people to express their grievances in rigid 5-7-5 format. “He who cannot be named” entered the following “Friedku,” which I think was outstanding for its Friedmanesque take on the yin-yang concept:

Taxi Driver in Beiruit
Iron Fist for Peace
Midwife Birthing Midwife

“Jalmos” countered with:

Friedman metaphors
more complex than the conflict
sans reality

This is an excellent point: a metaphor is supposed to make things clearer, but it’s actually easier to understand Mesopotamian politics than some of these columns. Lastly, “12pounddictionary” used a Byronesque flourish to shave a syllable from the word “exploding” (one of Friedman’s favorite words) to create this:

Fists of ‘xploding clay
Acid bonds burn Arab lives
Freidman’s neocon dreams

And now for the winners. The first grenade goes to “Shlok,” whose noir take on Friedman was really stirring — would make a great movie, like an upside-down, on-acid version of Out of the Past:

The same nightmare. 24/7/365. Always her, hopeless and beautiful. Giant sounds and lights mark a fight within the faith. Fire rages across her face. Acid eats her away. I fall on a grenade, then pull the pin. She tears, triggers, explodes. The midwife pounds chainsaw-nails-into-Saddam’s-head and suddenly she’s back. She’s chaos, she’s venom unleashed. Too little trust, I know, but I am alone, standing between her and chaos. What to do?

Then there was Robert Green, whom many readers voted for. He gets marks for the sheer ambition of his “quantum entanglement” take on Friedman. It’s a bit long, but then again, so was The World Is Flat:

In order to salvage Syria, which is and isn’t falling apart, we need to follow and not follow the path we did and didn’t follow in Iraq. That requires a hand grenade, both post-explosion and pre-explosion, and a pregnant woman who has and hasn’t had a pottery baby. We should allow our enemy, the lawyer Russia, who is our friend, to get and not get involved in the non/crisis.

Using (and not using) our Iraq experience, or lack thereof, we mus(n)t continue, or stop, our current path by digging a hole, and filling it in, with the bones of those we saved by being there, as we allowed them all to be killed. We can throw their bones into the hole, which we shouldn’t be digging.

If 2006 has taught us anything, it’s that 2012 is 2006 on steroids, minus steroids, in 2003. I can sum up by saying I stand by and repudiate all my previous statements about Iraq as regards Syria (as regards Iraq). I have NOT taken this acid that is corroding at my soul, but I am tripping balls.

Schrondinger’s columnist

Again, marks for the high-concept approach: layering the uncertainty principle atop a Friedman column is pretty much automatically funny. They should use this as an exercise in a 100-level course at Steven Wright University.

“UVP” was the one that earned the biggest out-loud laugh from me:

Hey man, have you ever noticed how a hand grenade is like a piece of pottery? And this is like what happened in Iraq? Have you ever looked at your hand, man? It looks like a country!

Friedman just always sounds to me like he’s completely stoned.

A friend of mine and I discussed this last night. I insisted that I didn’t think Friedman smoked weed. My friend, a doctor, just shrugged. “You’d be surprised how many people smoke weed,” said the friend, who is only vaguely familiar with Friedman. “A lot of people you’d never expect to smoke weed.”

“I just don’t think he’s that kind of guy,” I said. My friend shrugged again, unconvinced. Then I thought about it some. I guess it’s possible. The biggest reason I doubt it is that writing that kind of stuff while high would make me depressed – all those images of flying acid and ripped wombs, and cars without steering wheels, and deepening holes and squeezing fists and so on. I couldn’t handle that.

Moving on: I loved the entry by “Richard Rollington”:

Iraq was fisted by the United States, and on experiencing such explosive pleasure knocked over a china cabinet while ejaculating acid. Syria’s on her knees begging to be next.

I started to read this aloud to my wife and she laughed so hard after the first line, I couldn’t finish. The thing is, it’s metaphorically very close to what Friedman wrote, and it was done in two sentences. Beautiful and concise.

Lastly, I’m going to hand out a bonus grenade, if he/she wants to claim it, to @PaulRyanPeak, who tweeted a totally worthy response:

Friedman is brilliant. Iraq was like the cigarette we had to smoke so we could get cancer so we could cure the cancer.

It wasn’t entered formally on this site, but that’s a grenade-worthy take.

Winners, please send mailing addresses to We’ll get you your prizes soon, and we’d even appreciate photos of the winners clutching their trophies. Perhaps we’ll do a bigger contest next year. A 2013 Mustache International? Who’s feeling the poetry?

In This Article: Syria, Thomas Friedman


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