Why Our Main Stream News Media Sucks – “Benefit Of The Doubt” Edition

Dear Stephanie Ruhl (sorry for using you as an example but you’ll thank me in the end):

I write this as a fan — someone who respects your talent and skill as a financial reporter. You know your stuff. But, when you turn from analyzing numbers (and what they could mean) to analyzing humans (and what they could mean), you lose your way. Take the subject of Donald Trump. You report on him every single day.

Every single day, Donald Trump does something that an American president should never do. He says something that a grown up should never say. He commits crimes, violates long-standing norms, openly betrays the country — hell, part of the running joke we’re all in on is the idea that Donald Trump does something bad, wrong or illegal every day. In a courtroom, this would be called “Preponderance Of Evidence”.

Think of it as a connect the dots picture like this one…

The preponderance of the available evidence says “It’s an elephant”. But, as the dots aren’t actually connected — and the elephant completely revealed — I guess one could think the picture could be something else but considering the preponderance of the evidence, you’d have to be a moron to go there. Seriously — a moron. It’s not a picture of anything else and was never going to be a picture of anything else. To ask “But, what if it’s a picture of a whale?” would be stupid. If we were to engage with you and your question, we’d have to point out how all the evidence points to the picture being an elephant.

Wasted time, wasted energy, wasted everything. That’s what happens when you give the benefit of the doubt to things that do not deserve any such benefit. And yet — every day, as you report on Donald Trump — you give him the benefit of the doubt. As if maybe he isn’t a racist… or a misogynist… or a corrupt criminal… or a traitor.

No, no, no, you surely think — “I’m just being objective”. Fair enough. Objectivity is essential to good journalism. Objectivity is perspective. But having perspective means you DON’T have to entertain things that your perspective deems unworthy. And having perspective means you KNOW there are plenty of things unworthy — of your time, your energy, your “but, what if…?” questions.

“But, what if…?” is not journalism. It’s you (or a journalist like you) being foolish and credulous. It’s you trading in your skepticism for a steno pad.

But, what if our country really isn’t facing an existential crisis because the president and his political party sold us out for money, power and permanent minority rule?

Connect the dots, damn it. Even simpler — Connect THE dot…

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When It Comes To Cannabis, I’m Strain Specific

I approach cannabis from the point of view of “What do I want cannabis to do for me right now?”. In the world of legalized cannabis, that should be the operating principle. To think cannabis is only good for “getting high” is very old fashioned thinking. And very misinformed.

While the labels “indica” & “sativa” are becoming less valuable (pretty much every strain has been hybridized one way or another), the botanists hard at work on the strains we like, are making those strains the equivalent of cabernet sauvingnon clones. When we get to fully legal, fully licensed — and fully regulated — legal cannabis (the only choice for a business that’s lived so long as a criminal enterprise), the ideal should be a cross between a Big Mac’s universality of design and a grape varietal’s individual expression as realized by a talented winemaker and the wine’s growing conditions.

A gram of Durban Poison should be like a bottle of cabernet. There can even be (will be) levels of quality. Just as there are two-buck-Chuck quaffing cabs & bottles of Opus One worth hundreds of dollars, there are already top shelf expressions of cannabis strains and lesser versions — probably all shake (the leftovers at the bottom of a cannabis canister).

Durban Poison — Not merely a good strain, a great one.

I wasn’t a pot smoker in high school. Pot put me to sleep and that wasn’t interesting to me. In college, I discovered cocaine. And even though I once spotted a friend my semester money to buy a pound of who knows what, up until late middle age, my relationship with cannabis was mostly non-existent. Life, middle age, financial hardships, depression — by my mid 50’s, I was sleeping maybe two or three hours a night and none of it was restful. I was popping OTC sleeping meds — Simply Sleep knockoffs mostly — and getting little to nothing from them except memory loss (there’s data that says those products can do that to us if over-used). Living in California — where it was medically legal (only at the time), I said “why not?”

“Sleeping issues,” I told my first budtender. “Skywalker,” he replied. Though I chuckled that first time at what I thought was a cute name that dispensary had come up with, I learned fast — Skywalker is a recognized strain (whose name must now change because of issues the Walt Disney Company has with their intellectual property — it’s now being called Mischka instead; that means — fully licensed cannabis dealers won’t/can’t call this cannabis product Skywalker anymore). Go to most any dispensary in LA and Skywalker will be on the menu.

The Skywalker worked for me. From that night forward, I may not ever have slept as much as I perhaps should but my five solid hours a night are like nectar to my brain. Perhaps I’m just a five-hours-a-nighter. I awake every morning feeling rested and ready for the day.

When I next visited that first dispensary, I was curious. What was in all the other canisters behind the counter? Turned out, cannabis was far more complicated, nuanced, wine-like in nature.

I use cannabis from the start of my day — usually around 5 am — to the end of my day. I like to segue into work head with GG4 (formerly known as Gorilla Glue #4). I love that feeling as the cannabis kicks in — a soft lift to my mood, a feeling of mental focus, of contentment. From there, once a little caffeine enters the mix, I move to my sativa lineup. These days that includes Durban Poison, Jack-The-Ripper (when I can get it), Super Lemon Haze, Clementine and (the unfortunately named) Killing Field.

Put a little of the hybrid Trainwreck on top of that (I love layering strains — we’ll talk about that another time) and you’ll want to clean your house with a toothbrush — you get that dialed in.

All of those sativas bring focus and mental energy. Each, having a different terpene profile, has a different flavor and a slightly different quality to its mental focus. None is quite like DP though for its evenness. I can’t recommend it strongly enough as a workday strain.

As the day winds down, I like to move away from the sativas (or the strains that bring all that focus) toward the more relaxing strains. Kalifa Kush… Bruce Banner #3, Platinum GSC, Cherry Pie, Pineapple Express — all are great for transitioning to a less go-get-em head and a more “Hey, what’s good on the tele tonight?” frame of mind.

Why Are We All So Addicted To Our Own Bullshit? Easy — We’re Addicted To It BECAUSE It’s “Ours”…

I almost learned the hard way how addicted I was to bullshit. My bullshit nearly killed me. For real.

Long story short, I kept a secret from myself for 45 years — that I was molested (twice) when I was 14. If I think of my hypomanic mind as a black box theater filled with projections (my thoughts), this memory sat in a file drawer in a closet in an office far at the back of the theater, up a long metal staircase. The memory glowed inside its drawer.

I always knew it was there.

That I denied this thing happened to me — that was bullshit. But it’s something that victims of sexual assault do as a survival strategy. We blame ourselves. It seems logical. And since it was our fault, we convince ourselves that we deserve every terrible thing that ever flows from it. I became so convinced this bullshit was true that I came within literal inches of killing myself.

I count myself extremely lucky. Between a magnificent therapist, a mood stabilizer (at a minimal dose) that keeps my depression caged and loads of THC to help get my hypomania focused (I highly recommend Durban Poison during the day — it delivers a smooth, even feeling of clear-headed mental energy), I get through my days with a high degree of happiness now. As I started to get healthy, I saw (to my horror) that not only had my own bullshit tried to kill me, my bullshit was undermining every other facet of my life, too.

From the moment I woke up in the morning, I was seeing the world through the bullshit color lenses I kept by my bedside and put on the instant I woke up. I breathed deeply the bullshit scented fumes rising from the piles of bullshit that I had left by my bed the night before. I thought things based on bullshit, did things based on bullshit, said things based on bullshit.

And I was shocked, shocked, I tell ya, when I got bullshit back in response.

Now, let’s be real. No one’s ever going to live 100% bullshit free. Bullshit is hardwired into our genome. Take bullshit away from us and there’d be no religion (not the worst thing that could happen to us). Take bullshit away from us and a lot of relationships would instantly metastasize and die. Take bullshit away from us and Donald Trump would be serving multiple life terms in a federal penitentiary already — alongside pretty much every single Republican.

Bullshit comes in 4 “flavors” or levels…

Level 1: Incidental Bullshit

  • Your 5 year old asks if there’s Santa Claus; you say yes.
  • It’s 6 am.  You have to get up.  You don’t want to.  “Five more minutes,” you tell yourself – you won’t be late.  Bullshit – you know damned well you’ll be late.  You do it anyway.
  • “One more spoonful of ice cream won’t matter to my diet/diabetes.”
  • “Why did you look at me funny when I took one more spoonful of ice cream?”
  •  “Have a nice day” (no matter who says it, no matter why).

Incidental Bullshit is water off a duck’s back.  Life’s just too short to get too hung up on this kind of low grade truthiness.  It’s petty mostly.  Meaningless and forgettable.  However:  This is the ‘shit’ that ‘happens’.  It just does.  What are any of us going to do about it?  Nothing.  Moving on…

Level 2: Tolerable Bullshit

  • Your 10 year old – who’s starting to figure things out – asks if there’s a Santa Claus; you say yes.
  • Your bff always brings a bottle of red wine when she comes over – except you drink white wine.  What kind of guest is that?  You could say something, but you don’t; you’ll keep the peace instead.
  • You both know damned well whose turn it is to clean the bathroom – but you do it better anyway, so…
  •  “I love you” said under duress.

Tolerable Bullshit will challenge you occasionally – is it actually tolerable?  Small doses – no problem.  More than that?   It could easily start to feel just like bullshit.

Level 3: Red Flag Warning Bullshit

  • Your 20 year old asks – for real – if there’s a Santa Claus.
  • “I don’t have a drinking problem.”
  • “My phone’s battery died.  No, really – I swear it!”

You know it in your gut – it ain’t right.  It doesn’t add up or it just plain smells.  This is the bullshit that leaves a mark – or worse.  Deal with it now – you’ll probably be okay.  Ignore the warning and this bullshit will likely morph into –

Level 4: Utter Bullshit

  • “I alone can fix it.”
  • “No collusion.”
  •  “I don’t deserve to be here”

This is the stuff that kills.  It changes lives forever.  And it’s bullshit.

Getting rid of our own bullshit is hard. You have to own it in order to get rid of it. Think of it as confession — except there’s no church. YOU are the church. YOU know where all your bodies are buried because YOU’RE the one who buried them.

Does living (or trying to live) bullshit free work? Yeah — it does. I’m so busy dealing with my own bullshit that I never have time to worry (let alone think about) anyone else’s bullshit. That means I don’t judge their bullshit anymore — they’re all as consumed & dominated by their bullshit as I am.

What do you have to lose — trying to live bullshit free — except your bullshit?

What The Hell Do Ya Do When Ya Realize — Half The Entertainment Ya Love Was Made By Racists Or Pervs?

So I’m flipping around the satellite television last night — something I rarely get to do in my house. But, having the house to myself, the only person there to argue with me was me. I agreed to behave.

When “Gone With The Wind” popped up on the channel guide — over on Turner Classic Movies — I went for it. I’m a movie buff to the core. Hell, I write screenplays (occasionally for a living even). I can remember when I was in high school and MGM rereleased Gone With The Wind to theaters. My friend Andrea Zipper and I went equally apeshit over it.

I still have visual memories on file of Andrea’s remarkable ability to morph her face into Clark Gable’s. They looked nothing alike, I assure you.

I arrived just as Atlanta was burning to the ground. The back half of the movie (including intermission) comprises losing the war and suffering through reconstruction. That’s SLAVE HOLDERS (who never apologize to their former slaves for stealing their labor but whose former slaves never stop behaving like slaves) suffering deprivations. After losing a war. Over slavery.

We acknowledge — as a culture — that D. W. Griffith’s technically brilliant “Birth Of A Nation” is deplorably racist from its first frame to its last. But, have we stopped to consider that lots of other “technically brilliant” books and movies are equally racist (just not so blatant)? “Gone With The Wind” isn’t technically brilliant (though it’s an example of great craftsmanship and artistry) but it contains a character that makes the piece brilliant: Scarlett O’Hara.

In a lot of ways, Scarlett is a very modern character trapped in antebellum times. She’s a resilent, goal-oriented pragmatist. She does everything she can to pursue the thing she wants most — Ashley Wilkes — even after she knows he’s not the man she needs him to be. That’s the antebellum part of her character. A modern author writing Scarlett today wouldn’t dream of Scarlett continuing to want a weak partner like Ashley. Aside from that though (and her inherent racism), Scarlett’s a dynamo. She’s a survivor: smart, determined and pragmatic. She’ll do what she has to do. And if it all comes a crapper? Tomorrow is another day.

But there’s the racism in her heart. And she’s our hero. Our other hero in the piece — Rhett Butler — is just as racist (even if it seems kinder and gentler). Captain Butler has risked his life for the Confederacy. That makes him a traitor. And a slavery enabler.

In the end, I had to turn off “Gone With The Wind“. All that normalized racism just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.

It brought to mind what happened the night before while I was flipping channels and found Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” playing. Allen made “Sleeper” back before “Annie Hall” turned him into a filmmaker. Even though “Sleeper” is one of Allen’s “funny movies”, I couldn’t watch it without thinking of the whole Soon-Yi story… and all the other stories about Woody Allen.

“Manhattan” horrifies me now. A grown man dating an inappropriately under-aged HIGH SCHOOL GIRL should have been the movie’s deal-breaker — why no studio would put up the money to make it. Let’s compare it to to Lolita for a moment — its most obvious relative. Lolita is a satire whose whole point is Humbert Humbert’s perversion. Humbert comes to a terrible end as does his nemesis Quilty. They both end badly because they lusted after Lolita.

While the age difference between Allen’s character and Mariel Hemingway’s character does get talked about — it’s never really seen as grossly inappropriate; in fact, it’s understood to be okay ultimately. At the end of the movie — where Allen casts himself as Charlie Chaplin at the end of “City Lights” — the sad lover whose love will go unrequited — the under-aged girl character overlooks every bit of her inappropriately older lovers’ terrible behavior and attitude toward her. What’s worst: the thing Allen’s character craves — and fears losing — is the thing he destroyed at the start: Tracy’s innocence.

I can’t watch “Manhattan” now. Can’t watch any of Woody Allen’s work. That kills me because an awful lot of it IS brilliant. Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes & Misdemeanors and Brodway Danny Rose are all great filmmaking. Great comedy but also great art.

But I cannot separate an artist from his or her product. An artist is defined by the prism inside their head — that thing through which Life refracts and translates into art. In Woody Allen, that same prism that refracts life experience into great movies also refracts some very unhealthy, misogynistic attitudes about women. In the absence of the Soon-Yi story in his bio, jokes about one’s ex-wife play one way. But, knowing that Allen was attracted to, secretly courted and married a girl he should NEVER have looked at “that way” — it colors those formerly funny one-liners.

There was chatter about Kevin Spacey going back eons here in the showbiz trenches. Sexual predation has been part of Hollywood’s business model going back to when the first guy showed up in LA with a movie camera and a dream. He’s got great taste in material, does Kevin. He’s a good actor with lots of range. But he’s a predator — and his love for boy’s bottoms is the bottomest line there is.

Can’t watch “The Usual Suspects” anymore… Can’t watch “American Beauty“…

While we’re at it — and we should be at it because this is all racist bullshit that we have to stop excusing as being “of its time and place” — “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (the movie, not the book) has to stop playing because Irish to his core Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese character is offensive even on paper — never mind seeing it brought to horrible, embarrassingly racist life…

The same goes for every Charlie Chan movie in TMC’s vault. Charlie Chan was played by white guys like SWEDISH Warner Oland, mostly SCOTTISH Sidney Toler and POLISH-JEWISH Ross Martin.

And, though it pains me deeply to write this, the same should probably go for classic movies like “Lawrence Of Arabia” and “A Passage To India” wherein one of my favorite actors ever — Alec Guinness played an Arab and then an Indian. Sir Alec’s saving grace — he wasn’t mocking his characters like, say, an American actor in blackface or Mickey Rooney. Seriously, if you’ve never seen it – this tiny slice of the movie’s opening is all you need to know…

I’d complain about losing all the great movies of my youth to racists, racism and racist memes but that just seems to “First World Problem”, know what I mean?

Donald Trump Is The American Caligula… That’s Not A Good Thing

Not A Revelation: Donald Trump thinks he’s King… or, in German — “Kaiser” — the Germanification of the name “Caesar”.

But Donald Trump is such an incompetent, that he can’t even get being a “Caesar” right. He’s gone and modeled himself after another Roman emperor — Caligula.

We keep reaching for the words to describe our times — times that are increasingly indescribable. The word Michelle Goldberg used today is perfect (until the Trumpanistas surpass it): “Debauched”. We live in Debauched Times because the man occupying the White House is a modern, Adderall-huffing, bloated orange Caligula.

Donald Trump has destroyed every bit of common decency we ever associated with ourselves. While the real Caligula probably wasn’t anywhere near as insane as the Caligula in our imaginations (his enemies wrote the histories), the more we experience Donald Trump and his myriad debaucheries, the more we have to look at Caligula and ask “Okay, but what if he really was that bad?”

In addition to killing everyone he feared (including the men who put him in power), Caligula declared himself a god. He replaced the heads on the statues of gods all around Rome with his own head. Most famously, Caligula wanted to make his horse consul. Between and around all that, Caligula epitomized debauchery in every form. If it felt good to him, he did it.

Or, as Caligula himself put it: “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”

That sounds almost painfully like “I alone can fix it”.

Just as Caligula debauched (and debased) an already debaucheded Roman society, so too is Donald Trump taking our worst instincts and feeding them Trumpian steroids. We stand by, watching (disapproving — horrified even), but, in fact, doing nothing to stop it while the debauchery continues unabated. We have blown past moments of what should have been end-of-the-line absurdity — images that previously would have defined a presidency and ended it on the spot —

Instead, these images have become shards in a massive mosaic that, if you look at it one way, looks exactly like Donald Trump. But, if you turn your head and look at it slightly askew? You see the deeper problem within: Massive, systemic, foundational REPUBLICAN corruption.

This shouldn’t be a revelation (though it apparently is — and that’s horrifying): Our problem isn’t Donald Trump, it’s the whole damned Republican Party. It’s the 1% trying desperately to make minority rule (by them) a permanent fixture of American political and social life. They have already hijacked the judiciary (that would be Mitch McConnell denying Merrick Garland or any Obama judicial appointment a hearing then cramming every doctrinaire conservative shithead into the openings deliberately left behind). They’ve already used two stolen SCOTUS seats to make political gerrymandering a permanent fixture — thus putting the legislative branch in their clutches forever.

Democrats may win the overwhelming majority of the votes but gerrymandering dilutes those votes down to where a handful of Republicans can beat them. With the legislative branch permanently in their hands, the executive is easy — especially when concurrently you’ve been remaking the presidency as a side show Caesar-ship. Just not the right Casear…

An Ode To The Civilizing Influence Of Cannabis

As I write this, I’m waiting for the final bowl of my nighttime meds (I started with Skywalker then finished with a bowl of Godfather with a little Afghani sprinkled on top. In a few minutes the combined effects of those strains should fuse into a feeling of delicious, creamy sleepiness that I can surrender to at will; if I get distracted — my mind will be there to deal with whatever it is. When I turn my mind back to bed — the creamy sleepiness will be right there where I “left it”.

I don’t call cannabis’ impact on my brain “being high”. Being “high” isn’t my goal when I use cannabis (that’s just me — everyone has their own relationship with cannabis and that’s as it should be!) My whole approach to using cannabis starts with a question: “What do I want cannabis to do for me?” If I want to be sleepy (as now), I reach for one of my indicas.

Tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I’ll start my day with a hybrid called GG4 (having woken up feeling refreshed thanks to my cannabis sleeping meds). A sativa dominant brings a soft focus to my mind which makes for a nice transition from the restful sleep. Combined with my one mug of coffee for the day (caffeine and my prostate don’t get along anymore), the world comes into complete focus. The caffeine’s rush is familiar. The GG4’s effect is more like when you’re sitting in the optometrist’s chair and she’s asking which of the two letter A’s is sharper. The GG4 makes it sharper. Appreciably so.

The great revelation to me was that one could work on cannabis. I write (and, if I get lucky, I also get to produce what I write if I get so lucky as to sell the damned thing) and my writing relies on precision. There’s a reason all the musicians who created jazz down in New Orleans took to cannabis like nothing else. That’s literally. They couldn’t create or play their instruments when drunk. Heroin might be attractive but you couldn’t work with it in your system (never mind the mess it’d make of you). But cannabis was different. Even indicas open your mind.

The way I understand it is this. Our synapses work like digital circuits. They’re either open or closed. THC (in concert with the particular strain’s turpenes) causes more of your synapses to be open. More information is flowing into your brain because the cannabis has made your brain more receptive to it. That sensation of too much information can make you feel paranoid. The reason cannabis makes some people feel paranoid is because it makes those people more aware of everything. Every sound even.

Here’s a dirty secret the world will eventually catch up to. Cannabis does not do to our brains what alcohol does. Biochemically speaking. There’s lots of data to back up our laws prohibiting drinking and driving. Our assumption that cannabis has the exact same effect isn’t based on anything — least of all the practical experience of the cannabis smoker.

Now, I wouldn’t smoke an indica and get behind the wheel but a bowl of Durban Poison is a whole other matter. DP, if you don’t know, is a classic sativa. Sativas don’t make you feel sleepy; quite the opposite. Sativas give you mental focus. They sharpen the mind. After my first bowl of GG4 in the morning, I move on to Durban Poison or one of a half dozen other sativas currently in my rotation (I love having choices and cannabis provides so many) — Clementine, Killing Fields (not big on that name), Jack The Ripper (okay — I’ll grant you, there’s a strange pattern here), Dutch Treat if I can Find it.

There IS data — published by our very own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — that says (hell, I’ll even quote them!) “When the odds ratios were adjusted for demographic variable of age, gender, and race/ethnicity the significant increased risk of crash involvement associated with THC disappeared.” The same report points out drivers under the influence of THC (unlike drunk drivers) stay within the lines. They maintain a safe following distance and drive at the speed limit. They drive that way because they’re processing more information as they drive.

I won’t say that cannabis makes anyone a better driver (though I know for a fact it makes me considerably better), but it does not make anyone a worse driver. That’s statistics talking.

I smoke a bowl of Durban Poison before I play tennis. Often, midway through, I’ll smoke another bowl (we’re talking two hits and a count of fifteen). The effect is greater focus. The short court warm up I do with my long-time tennis partner is always great fun; she’s an athlete, I’m not. The focus I get from cannabis makes up enough of the difference to make our game competitive. With DP in my brain, the game slows down. I see where I need to be. I see where the ball needs to be (when I return it). I see the spin on the ball as I approach it. And I watch the ball all the way through my follow-through.

The mood stabilizer I take gives alcohol a wretched aftertaste. I had to give up drinking. Truth be told, I don’t miss alcohol a bit. But I miss the camaraderie of alcohol as its still the more accepted way to self-medicate socially (despite the mess alcohol causes in so many lives). It’s strange now to be the only non-drinker at a party or social gathering — and to watch your friends or family slowly become less coherent.

Put a bunch of pot smokers in a room together and they’re incredibly social. They love sharing. Passing a joint around is part of pot culture.

I’ll close with this. If a soccer (football) stadium filled with people smoked cannabis instead of drinking beer, there would never be any rioting or violence at the end of a match. The fans would all be too busy hugging each other, laughing together or sleeping.

Yes, yes — cannabis isn’t a panacea. It isn’t for everyone. What in this world IS “for everyone”? But cannabis can make your life better. Life is hard enough on a good day. The silly idea that self-medicating is bad is just that — silly. Being a sentient creature on planet earth is hard. One needs a buffer between our sentientness and stone cold reality.

Let me know when someone clever thinks they’ve found something better than cannabis. By then, I’m sure I’ll really need the laugh.

I Made A Terrific New Friend Yesterday — My Diametric Opposite

I am not making this up. I met my diametric opposite a few days ago. We kinda it it off. By yesterday, when we parted ways, I couldn’t get him out of my head.

Come the fall, my daughter will matriculate at UC-Davis. Despite the havoc Prop 13 wreaked upon California’s educational system, our state universities remain a shining example of what public education can be. For two days, we were both plunged into the University’s culture — my daughter off with the students, me off with the parents. As this isn’t my first time at the UC Rodeo, I was familiar with the tropes. The nuggets of good, UC-Davis-specific info were massively outnumbered by well-meaning-but-generic suggestions about dealing with our freshman angst and our own.

My new friend Gary and I started chatting — just because we were sitting near each other while waiting for one of the information sessions to start. We all wore badges with our names, our student’s first name and their intended major. That way, all the parents had a way to break the ice with each other — just by reading each others’ badges.

I’m not subtle in a room. Gary saw me immediately for what I was — a progressive. Gary did a little “lawyerly” poking around. He showed me a picture of a Remington rifle he was interested in buying. It was a nice-looking rifle. Not my thing but, still, my under-reaction surprised Gary.

The subject of marijuana had come up. I forget why. It seems to come up a lot around me. Gary had recently developed type 2 diabetes. When he and I and the two other hookey-playing dads sat down for an off-campus beer, Gary and I were the only non-drinkers. I asked if he ever used cannabis instead. Gary said he almost did once (at UC-Davis — he was a very proud alum) but hadn’t since — and really couldn’t because of his work.

Gary, ya see, is a judge. A very conservative judge from a very conservative part of California. The instant I heard Gary was a judge, I was captivated. I grew up a surgeon’s son. While I thought of my dad as “dad”, other people revered my dad because of what he did — and did for them. Working as I have in show business, I’ve seen people be revered because they can memorize dialogue and act it out on cue. But, perhaps because I grew up being unimpressed, I became immune to being impressed. Gary being a judge (never mind his politics) made him a guy with a job I wanted to know more about. The perfect basis for a friendship.

Now, I hope Gary will forgive me for this. I’m about to give away his secret. He’s a profoundly decent man. His care and compassion for drug addicts — his work on their behalf to keep them out of the penal system (but with the penal system’s threat very real) makes him a hero. There’s a saying in the Talmud: “Save one life, you save the world”. I told Gary that’s what he was doing. He downplayed it. The last laugh is mine — I’m shouting it from the rooftops here.

The truth is, because Gary isn’t a doctrinaire conservative — and I’m a pragmatic progressive — we found an amazing amount of, if not common ground, then ground where structures could be built where we both could live. It’s funny how when you put politics — even differing politics — inside decent people, one hears the differences but one also sees a way to get past them. Decency is a remarkable thing, I tell ya!

Decency means you have to listen sometimes — and wait your turn to counter. You have to argue facts and not feelings. You have to stay reasoned and reasonable.

I have a confession to make. I used what my new friend Gary told me about himself against him. And he let me. The subject of Donald Trump came up. The subject of Russia came up. The subject of Robert Mueller and The Mueller Report came up.

Gary said he hadn’t read the report, didn’t intend to, and thought it was a waste of time. That’s when I played dirty. I talked to my new friend Gary as the compassionate, law-abiding judge I knew he was — there was video, news reporting — testimonials from drug addicts who’d been saved from their own demons. Gary is especially fond of his time in drug court. He’s put more than a few demons to the sword there.

I put Robert Mueller into Gary’s courtroom,. Was Mueller a “good witness”? Purple Heart War Hero… Second longest-serving FBI Director… a man who’d spent his whole career as a public servant — whose reputation even now remains sterling. I asked — if the evidence presented in the 488 page Mueller Report was evidence presented in HIS courtroom, how would Gary feel about it?

I told you — Gary is a very decent man. He did not disagree that AG Bill Barr misrepresented Robert Mueller and his work product. The more we talked about the subject, the quieter Gary became. I don’t argue feelings. I argue facts (and I can back up everything with receipts if needed because I’ve learned the hard way — it sucks being humiliated by someone who does bring proof that they know whereof they speak). But feelings are part of the equation and depending on how intense those feelings are, the facts can easily get de-contextualized. A fact out of context is a statistic waiting to be abused.

Gary and I talked about the 2nd amendment too. We talked about how it’s worded. We talked about guns and gun culture. Though it pains me to say it, i don’t see how we’d ever make America a giant gun-free zone. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work toward it. My bet is the more women flood the political system, the tighter gun restrictions will be because mothers hate the thought of anyone’s baby getting shot.

Guns will be a series of conversations we’ll have over time, I bet. I believe we will have those conversations. And though we won’t see eye-to-eye, I believe we’ll begin to see ways to bridge the chasm. Decency, I believe, will make the chasm harder to maintain. I hope that Gary’s decency was a reflection of my own. Having someone listen to you — really listen — changes things.

I bonded with Gary. I found a compadre (and a partner in crime). I found someone whose world fascinates me — as my world fascinates him. I doubt we’ll ever have the same war stories.

As someone who rages against political opponents like a fool shrieking into the void, I found it incredibly satisfying to listen. To ask questions. To understand the perspective that made another person who they are.

I guess that’s what happened. I looked inside the heart of another person — and saw them beneath what they thought.

I can’t say for sure if this new friendship will endure. I want it to. I already come away from it enriched by it.