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Grapevine’s Atlas: Volume I

About a year ago, I started writing again. To get to that definition of “started”, I have to ignore several potential starts, including my four Game of Thrones pieces published on More Ben, seven amateur podcasts published between May 2018 and May 2019, and a fleet of romantic novels deemed too disgusting for the worst corners of the internet.

If you ignore all that, I’ve put out about twenty pieces since the beginning of July last year. In the same year that my number of written pieces has gone up, my Twitter followers have steadily gone down. At this rate, maybe I’ll hit zero in time for Grapevine’s Atlas: Volume III. There’s something to be said about exclusivity.

My point is that it’s possible you missed out on a few of these when you accidentally hit the “unfollow” button. It happens to the best of us. If the trillion followers on my K-pop stan account saw me follow @bengrapevine, it’d all be over. No more fancams. Anyway, here’s a brief synopsis of the pieces I put out this year, in release order:

A Tale of Two States: This is one my brother asked me to write about the division of the Dakotas. It’s a hard-hitting piece about the logical mechanics that led a bunch of white dudes to divide the state in half horizontally instead of vertically, ruining the state for me forever. Don’t ask me to move back. It’s tainted.

Minnesota’s Flag Is Bad. Let’s Change It: I don’t know what you want me to tell you. Minnesota’s flag is bad (look at it), and we can change that. To be fair, in the year that’s passed since this one came out, a couple of mildly more important issues have put flag reform on the backburner. I guess we can wait a little bit. It’s a really bad flag, though.

A Brief History of “In God We Trust”: I accidentally wrote about South Dakota again. Gotta love a state that thinks wearing masks during a pandemic is government overreach but plastering “GOD” in elementary schools is an A+ use of taxpayer money. Oops, all politics.

The Case for a Bigger House: The first in my American Politics series sponsored by PBS and RayCon. The purported purpose of the House of Representatives is to adequately represent the people of the United States in government. Since its creation, as the country has grown, it grew too in order to keep fairly representing the people. Then, in 1913, it stopped. Why? Lol idk.

The Weight Loss Benefits of an All-Brain Diet: Prion disease might be my number one fear. “Zombie deer” doesn’t begin to describe it. Imagine every cell in your brain gradually (very fast gradually) being overwritten by garbage code. It’s like using Facebook, but it kills you faster.

An American Franksgiving: Remember when the President moved Thanksgiving? This is the family-friendly, pilgrims-and-Indians kickoff cookout story of why we celebrate Thanksgiving when we do.

Our Democracy Is Dumb: I’ve gone off the deep end. This one’s about voting systems and how ours is nasty nonsense. If you’ve watched the same CGP Grey videos I have, you can probably skip this one, as long as you agree to support electoral reform when we get to it in 2064.

Catalonia’s Coprophilic Christmas: I can’t leave Barcelona’s holiday poop traditions alone. Last time I talked about their pooping Christmas log. This one’s about their pooping Christmas guy, a traditional defecating figure they include in their nativity scenes. Let’s wax philosophical about the pope taking a poop.

The Grapevine – Here Comes Santa Claus: This is still the most recent podcast I’ve put out. It’s the story of Santa Claus and how a weird Catholic Saint became a pagan demigod.

844,000 Feet Under the Sea: The Netherlands dredged an entire province from the ocean. How fucking insane is that? Imagine creating East Virginia or New Newfoundland with land that used to be underwater. I can’t wrap my head around it, but I wrote about it anyway.

China’s Counterfeit Cities: China is the world’s manufacturing hub. The country that makes and ships iPhones and luxury clothing just also happens to ship a lot of fake iPhones and luxury clothing. I couldn’t afford to be a hypebeast without it. But China’s counterfeit culture goes a whole lot deeper; they’ve started copying entire cities, from Paris and Amsterdam to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Ye Olde Thorn: What’s up with “ye olde”? I’ll be honest; this one’s an enthusiast piece, but if you’re into stories about language and an explanation of that whole “ye” thing… you’ll get that. That’s what this one’s about.

The War on the Frowning Poop Emoji: Again with the poop. What makes an emoji? Who decides what gets to be an emoji? Why do we have a smiling piece of poop emoji but not a frowning one? And what the fuck is the floating businessman?

Norton I, Emperor of the United States: Just before the American Civil War, one of the richest men in San Francisco lost all his money in the rice trade and declared himself emperor. How his legacy changed San Francisco and the world.

What Day Is It?: A two-parter about calendars, how they work, and where their words come from. Why does February have 28.25 days? Where does “Wednesday” come from? If these questions pique your interest enough to read two full articles, you’re probably me.

The Devil’s Chemist and the Legacy of Evil: In the early 1940s, the German Nazi party committed the worst mass killing in modern history. They didn’t do it alone. Killing people with bullets means someone’s producing the bullets. Killing with gas, someone’s making gas. This is the story of how the Nazi chemical giant’s leaders were tried and convicted for war crimes, and their company ordered to shut down. Its doors stayed open until 2011. Its successor companies are some of the largest pharmaceutical producers in the world.

Fear and Loathing in Saint Louis: The 1904 Summer Olympics were the third modern olympic games, the first to take place in North America, and an absolute, unmitigated disaster-mistake. How the Olympics became a white supremacist-backed race contest.

Death from Below: In 1986, a Cameroonian lake exploded and killed 1,746 people. No bombs, no machines, just nature. Can it happen again?

No Man’s Land: Never since land-hungry European monarchs gobbled up the last free bits of Africa has there been a territory in the Earth’s six inhabited continents not administered by some sort of formal state. But there’s one place no country wants: Bir Tawil. Why? Geopolitical nonsense.

My Meth Dealer, Kim Jong-il: The story of how a cash-strapped dictator cooked and sold crystal meth for the benefit of the glorious juche ideology.

Y’all know I’m a map nerd, so here’s a map:

For each piece, I chose and marked a single location. Some of them are pretty straightforward, like Lake Nyos and the IG Farben headquarters. Others are a little more of a stretch, like the marker in Wyoming meant to symbolize America’s growing horde of zombie deer. There’s a notable cluster of marks in North America, which shouldn’t be super surprising. The similar cluster in Western Europe is a little more concerning; eurocentrism isn’t rad. 

To be totally transparent, a lot of the geographical diversity that does exist in the map is super recent. I first put it together about a month ago and wrote both African pieces and the North Korean piece afterward. To be clear, I don’t feel guilty for not writing about Africa and Asia enough – my sample size is too small. But being able to visualize the least important bias you’ve heard of all year is neat, in a quasi-problematic fashion. It’s not even that I don’t have ideas for geographically diverse pieces – the ideas for Death From Below, No Man’s Land, and My Meth Dealer had all been in the backlog for a while. But they’d been leapfrogged by other stories.

To be doubly fair, it’s a little disingenuous to call my (so far) two-part series about calendars Eurocentric. The markers could have easily gone in Iraq or China. Still, it’s valuable. Maybe.

Before I’d picked up writing internet pieces again a year ago, I hadn’t engaged with the mindless hobby art for a few years. The last pieces I can remember putting up online were the nonsense pseudo-political, quasi-philosophical ramblings I produced in high school. Writing’s fun again. 

On that note, I’ve been throwing some of my older pieces up on Medium, which is like this website, but with the key difference that on there, I can know that no one is reading. Hit me up with a “clap” to covertly embed my stories in with the clickbait “make $50,000 a month from home” pieces that dominate the front page.

More stories soon. Thanks for reading.


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