A thought.

Before I go into anything else, I’d like to apologize. Not for my opinion, for my hypocrisy. I posted something on my newsfeed about leaving Facebook behind for a few days until everyone calmed down. I then posted a couple of different things as somewhat passive-aggressive commentary on different aspects of the the unfortunate events in Connecticut. I had fully intended on avoiding social media for a few days. I honestly do not like most peoples political opinions to begin with, and find these opinions considerably less tolerable in the aftermath of any impactful event, positive or negative. I can’t shut them up, and I wouldn’t dream to, to be perfectly honest. But for myself, I had intended to keep quiet.


I have failed. After seeing the “dialogue” (if indeed that is the proper term), I can’t just NOT say anything. So, for the hypocrisy, I am sorry. It tastes awful on my palate.


When I was on my way to work yesterday I heard over the radio preliminary reports of the shooting. Details emerged along the way and, with the aid of several incredibly sad stories I had to deal with independently at work, I spent most of the day teribly depressed and occasionally bordering on tears as I thought of my almost two year old son going to school in the next few years. What could have caused someone to behave like this? What was going on in their brain that they thought this was an appropriate response to…..anything?


I go to break and check my newsfeed from my phone and already, less than 6 hours after the event took place I am already beginning to see calls for increased gun control on one side, and secondhand reports that someone on Fox News is labeling this tragedy as a ‘…result of taking God out of school/this nation moving away from God…’. 




I have spent the entire day feeling like my blood was boiling. First it was the audacity that some people have so little regard for the loss of life at the hands of irrationality or the families of the fallen, second at the brazen politicking. Now, just to clarify, it is not the diversity of opinion that upsets me. I have a great many friends that fall literally all across the political spectrum. I am rather proud of this fact. I have never believed that politics should be any reason to refuse friendship. What spikes my blood pressure is the  immediate rush some people have made to push their own agenda. 


There is a very distinct and identifiable difference between political position and agenda promotion. Agenda promotions care nothing for problem resolution, they only care for the adoption of their own policies. When there is a much more clear correlation between mental illness and mass shootings/domestic terrorism than there has been in the past, and the first thing some people at one end of the spectrum screams is more gun control, you’re really conveying to me that you just dont like guns and will take every opportunity to get rid of them, even at the cost of solving the actual problem. When someone at the other end of the political spectrum witnesses the same event and their response is that such tragedies happen when you turn away from God, you’re really telling me that you reject cultural pluralism and want a Christian dominant nation.

Honestly? The horrible events that occur all around the world on a daily a basis and the only response you can muster is some shameless agenda promotion? You question whats wrong with America, YOU’RE whats wrong with it. You don’t want any solution, you only want YOUR solution, fuck everyone else. Fuck liberty, fuck intellectual  and philosophical diversity, fuck everything that I don’t agree with. Simplistic? Reductionist? probably.


Lets discuss this then. There are a few very basic premises that need to be recognized. I don’t mean agreed with, because you don’t have to like it. These are simple realities. Regardless of the degree of civilization we think we have, this world is wild. Humans are feral beings in strappy sandals and neckties.We comfort ourselves in the false pretext of a ‘social contract’, rock ourselves to sleep at night under the preconceived notion that we are somehow protected by the artifice of government and existence of a legal structure. Now, understand that law enforcement and the legal system does not prevent a single goddamned thing. It responds after the fact. Every. Single. Time. At best we have learned some of the tendencies of the people that desire to break these laws and we try to implement activities that would discourage them. Things like making the police visibly present as a deterrent, or installing an alarm system. We cuddle ourselves with a binky made from hollow reassurances that “people wont break the law because they dont want to go to jail” or “criminals that go to jail just made bad decisions in their life and just need to be punished and deserve it”. 


Jenga… Bitch. This is all self-delusion. Its selfish ignorance. We can’t face the reality that we are simply bare faced neanderthals with shitty coping skills. No amount of legislation has ever, or will ever stop someone from doing something that they particularly want to do. You want to stop mass shootings? Dont take away guns, they’ll just do it with knives. Take away knives, they’ll do it with rocks. “But Ben, at least with knives or rocks it will be more difficult to accomplish and be less fatal over all”. I refuse to settle for “less fatal”, “more difficult to accomplish”. Why can we not recognize that there is a problem, even if with only rocks, when a person decides that the only way resolve their issue is to maim and murder as many people as possible? THIS is the problem. Not guns. Not lack of God. 


How about, instead, we focus on opening up our arms, learning who our neighbors are, reaching out to friends and family and strangers and letting them know that its ok if they have a problem. Its ok to seek to out help and that they’ll have the support of their loved ones while they get help. Instead of removing guns, lets focus on learning resolution skills and coping skills. With a little thought and effort it is entirely possible to make guns  obsolete without ever increasing restrictions. That, of course, is entirely dependent on people becoming more rational, more caring, more compassionate and more interested in resolution and compromise than they are in domination and “winning” the argument retrospectively.


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I can’t possibly add more to this right now, but the bottom line is, how hard is it just to be civil with people you disagree with?

Justine Graykin

It’s been a rough couple of months. Losing the first cat wasn’t so bad (I wrote a nice article for the newspaper about that). The second cat was a lot harder (see the previous post). But that was nothing.  Nothing.

My brother-in-law called yesterday morning and told me my sister had died. I didn’t even know she was ill. Everyone else did. All her friends, the entire family, her church. Not me. Because she had expressly told them she didn’t want me to be told. They had their chance to visit her in the hospice where she lay dying of cancer. Not me. They begged her to let them tell me. She refused. Why?

Because I am an atheist.

It was her final gesture to me, her final retribution for my lack of belief in her god.

We had been estranged for a long time because I did not…

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Disney, Lucasfilm and Me

Its a few days late, but I’ve been busy, sue me…..


Ill be honest, my knee-jerk reaction to the news that valley native George Lucas (thats right, I work in Modesto, past home to Georgie Lucas and setting of American Graffitti) had sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4.05 BILLION was “oh, ok whatever”. Then it became “goddammit! now the movies are going to get worse!”, and finally its become somewhere in between. Lemme esplain…..

On the one hand, I grew up on a dirty version of Star Wars, one where Han shoots first and flips the barkeep a chit, Jedi shamelessly remove limbs from surly bar patrons, gang bosses keep personal slaves on shackles, poorly performing naval officers are chocked to death on the spot without guilt, friends are still possibly enemies and a pirate is ONLY out for himself. It was overall a darker, grittier universe where salvation, justice and redemption came out of very personally rewarding behavior. The return of Han and Chewie at the end of Episode IV was only successful because Han spent the entire film prior to that being completely self-interested and selfish and the payoff was the surprise run in at the trench, saving Luke’s butt. Lucas would go on to re-edit Ep IV so that Greedo shoots first and insert a bunch of other comedically cuddly antics in the cut scenes of Jawas on Rontos and other nonsense….

I guess what Im saying is, if Lucas is doing that to his own work, what in the hell do you think that Disney will do to it? The SW universe will become more glossed over, evil will be more generically evil, good will become more saccharine and cloyingly ‘good’ and there really wont be much unexpected happening. Anyone who has read a few books or watched a few decent films will be able to guess what “twists” will happen. Applied to Ep’s 7-9, what are they going to do? If they follow much of the established, published literature, there are a lot of great characters to use and build from, but they will lose much of the depth that was present in the writing because they were more morally complex that Disney can really deal with. One might argue that the Pirates of the Caribbean was full of moral pitfalls and complexity, but those films enjoyed the pretext that they were Pirates, and such, already morally dubious so as long as they finished or hinted at a morality that developed an inch or two towards the ‘good’ end of the spectrum they were safe. TheGood vs Evil nature of the SW universe however, makes it easy for Disney to foul it all up.


On the other hand now…..am I going to throw my money at the projection screen and go see the new movies? OF FUCKING COURSE I AM YOU DUMMIES! Are you kidding me? Even after they’ve proven that they fouled the entire thing up, Ill still see the films at least. On top of that, there is one thing that Disney does exceedingly well: develop intellectual properties that sell well to the entire family without losing their kid-friendliness. (See the Pirates franchise, the Marvel films minus Sony’s Spiderman, Haunted Mansion to a lesser extent). I have no doubt that if I had not grown up a Star Wars kid, my kid will now undoubtedly grow up as one , connecting to the new series, which will give me something to bond with him over (not to mention a reason to force feed him the classic, unedited versions of 4-5-6)


Perhaps you can see now why I’m on the fence about this whole thing? I can say this: at the very least Lucas has done some good with this transaction because he is set to donate the proceeds from the sale to an as of yet unnamed (although there are educated guesses) to children’s education.


A Preface to Any Future Political Posts…

I dont want to become defined as a political blogger, but my undergrad is in Political Science, I’m completing a Masters in Public Administration and am applying to a Doctoral program for Political Science, so sometimes political entries on here are simply unavoidable.

If you read this (or any other political piece I write) and feel like Im attacking you in some way, just assume I am and take a hike. Im not interested in partisan debate, ludicrous ad hominem attacks, or frankly, dealing with people too blind to see that they don’t actually understand how government or politics function. It would be much simpler for you to just be offended and go away.

It’s not that I’m not opposed to intellectual conflict, quite the opposite, I welcome it. I’m just violently allergic to myopic stupidity. Feel free to disagree and challenge anything, just don’t be that guy……

……… You can carry on now…

Special interests

Going after special interest groups for buying politicians votes is like going after the guy your wife is cheating on you with…Its just shortsighted and idiotic. This country is comprised of nothing but individuals with individual interests and pursuits. What should really grate your cheese are politicians that are obviously ignoring their districts and servicing primarily special interests. These are the people you put into office to represent you, but you’re getting pissed at the ones that are offer the bribes (or what amount to bribes)?! Thats the cart pushing the donkey. Turn it around, you don’t like your rep being beholden to special interests? Vote in a new guy, if he/she fails, vote someone else in… its called political evolution. Once the politicians get a whiff that they won’t have a job very long if they don’t service their constituents at least as much as they service special interests, they’ll starting getting things done that you ask of them. Its pretty simple people. Special interests aren’t the problem, your shitty vote is the problem. Start caring more about the legislative and political process and less about television and Facebook, and there might be some positive progress…


rant over…


I held her hand firmly, it was still warm despite her paper-thin skin and bony fingers. In the palm of my hand I could feel her acrylics gently rubbing, slowly, and with that all I could think of was every visit between 8 and 12 years old. Every saturday morning when her and my grandfather would get up early, pick up coffee, donuts, and occasionally a handful of little trinkets for the three of us to play with, come by for an hour or so to visit before heading out to get her nails and hair done and his fun project of that weekend. People say that your sense of smell is the most powerful of our faculties because it carries such strongly developed linkages to memories and emotions. It seems to me its the other way around perhaps. Powerful memories, experiences that at the time of occurrence carry deeply personal and significant emotional value, are marked by a sensory annotation unique to that experience. As we grow further away from that experience and it becomes an increasingly distant memory, the more likely it is that the sensory annotation becomes the trigger for the memory, rather than the reverse.

Whatever was the catalyst of my recollection, I looked over to her face, much thinner, less expressive and interested in the world and all I could do was try not to break down and bawl. This was not my grandmother. My grandmother was robust, supremely curious and interested in the world, reading detective novels and science fiction, treating us to pay-per-view wrestling.

I glanced at the clock on the wall and leaned over and kissed her forehead.

“Ok Grandma, I’ve got to head out to now. I’ll see you later, I love you.”

“Oh? ok honey. Thank you, I love you too, I always knew you were different, special.”

I got up, walked out the front door and spent five minutes trying to catch my breath and wipe my eyes. The next time I saw her, she had no idea who I was and thought she was her 23-year-old self and back in Brooklyn.