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Roy Griffis

On Making Caviar from Bull Crap: 4 Book Recommendations for Ben Rhodes

There was once an aspiring writer named Ben Rhodes, “in the second year of the M.F.A. program at N.Y.U., writing short stories about losers in garden apartments and imagining that soon he would be published in literary magazines, acquire an agent and produce a novel by the time he turned 26.”  This wunderkind ended up as the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, using his creative gifts to the service of communicating/selling Barack Obama’s vision to the world, among his accomplishments “Rhodes strategized and ran the successful Iran-deal messaging campaign, helped negotiate the opening of American relations with Cuba after a hiatus of more than 50 years and has been a co-writer of all of Obama’s major foreign-policy speeches.”

That is what used to be known as running in fast company. But all good things have to end, and Mr. Rhodes is in need of a new gig. Since it’s possible that term of public service dulled his creative abilities, here’s a handy list of books that might help him rediscover his mojo, and to follow his true calling.

When Dad Dies in Disgrace

Like a lot of people my age, I was first introduced to Bill Cosby on vinyl LPs.  My father shared his love of Cosby’s comedy with me, and he delighted in watching me discover some of Cosby’s classic bits like “The Chicken Heart that Ate New York City” and his sketches about a dubious Noah trying to understand what God is saying to him. “What’s a cubit?”

For me, Cosby was part of my awakening to, well, the stupidity of racism: watching him on Johnny Carson in the early ’70s when I lived in Tampa, Florida (then struggling with the forced integration of their schools), and hearing my new friends laughing at Cosby’s jokes while they said to one another “That n—–’s funny as hell.”  While I could only stare at them and wonder Why would anyone call this smart, decent guy that word?


From My Cold, Dead, Facts

Or Why I’m Joining the NRA

As a veteran who once held a security clearance (along with marksmen and expert ribbons in certain firearms), a tax-payer for over 40 years, and a guy who’s only seen the inside of a jail cell while doing research, I find Dandy David Hogg unqualified to lecture me on responsible gun-ownership…

Don’t Play Those Funky Politics, Black Boy

Wherein Mr. West’s Brethren School Him on his Proper Place

When I was but a lad in Nebraska, one-hit wonders released their epic paean to the seductive joys of finding one’s groove and getting down wid it.

Since our only exposure to the song was courtesy of the blown-out speakers of the AM radio in my Dad’s ’54 Chevy truck, the most we nascent deplorables could make out was the bouncy beat and the repeated admonition “Play that funky music, white boy.”

Talk about words to live by.  It wasn’t until I was older (with access to better sound systems) that I began to appreciate the crazy joy in the music.  But speaking of crazy and music, we have Kanye West, a fellow with no shortage of confidence and very debatable musical ability.

A Man, Measured

The newest installment in an ongoing series of essays on culture

Having a birthday this week lead me to some reflection.  Not on myself, of course, since I’m already too hip for the room. But I’d just seen the very decent 12 Strong the weekend before and I’d been contemplating why this enjoyable story of duty, heroism, and general smack-down of some very real, very bad guys had performed rather poorly at the box office after receiving the traditional golden shower from a lot of film critics.

To ask the question is to answer it: because it’s an enjoyable story of duty, heroism, and a general smack-down of some very real, very bad guys.

Imagining a Good Message Movie

Hint: First, make a good film

This year’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water applied this “building a story using only good-think legos” method and managed to squeeze a lot of them into one drippy film. Trouser Trout and the Hot Mute Chick­ –– working title –– was able to hit the trifecta of (allegedly) timeless tropes: saintly black woman is heroic, bad guy is a Bible-quoting sexual abuser who loves torture, and the saintly gay character is the quiet moral guide and center of the film. But wait, there’s more! Bonus points for the communist spy character who turns out to have a heart of gold.

New Fiction: Ringside at the Circus of the Fallen

An Honorable Mention from The Heroes Half of The Contest

Robert was waiting at Zinnia Hotel, well up in the rather barren hills north of Burbank, that evening in early spring 1937. He was to meet a friend at the Grill, the hotel’s bar and curving dining room, when a foursome had arrived to take a booth. The two men and two women –– a somewhat Rubeneseque matron and a wide-eyed olive-skinned young girl who could scarcely have been sixteen, both of them overdressed for the room –– slid into the bench seats, the women on the inside while the men bookended them on either side.  They seemed an odd group for this nightclub.

The Anti-Trump Zone: A Land Beyond Imagination

When the personal is political then every goddamned thing is political, and that’s just insane

From the New York Review of Books, in a discussion of the work of Rod Serling, after a description of a how a character suffers from fevered dreams, comes what is a tiresome and all-too-predictable (bordering on, if not actually invading and annexing) cliché: “I also wake up adrift, in a desperate and unfamiliar reality, wondering if the last year in America has been a dream—I too expect catastrophe, but it’s impossible to know from which direction it will come, whether I am right to trust my senses or if I’m merely sleepwalking while the actual danger becomes ever-more present.  One thing I do know is that I’m not alone: since the election of Donald Trump, it’s become commonplace to compare the new normal to living in the Twilight Zone.”

From the wails of our betters, you’d think the Nazi flag was flapping over the entrance of the Pentagon…

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