October 29, 2003

Random Facts, but Expected Result

SHEILA O'MALLEY has a fabulous post up -- a sort of stream-of-consciousness entry in which she lists a variety of facts about herself, in bullet-point style. It is testament to her skill as a writer that she is able to take such a simple form of expression and turn it into art.

I must also say that I have been remiss in waiting until now to thank Sheila for her very kind and generous words about the work here at The Rant.

Recently, as many Rant readers know, Sheila celebrated her one-year anniversary as a blogger. As part of this, she wrote up a list of bloggers whose sites she reads, and thanked them for doing what they do. I happened to be among those listed, and her words left me feeling not merely surprised -- the post came as a bolt out of the blue -- but also very humbled and certainly very appreciative.

And I will say this, too -- her words could not have come at a better time. It had been a pretty tough week here; one of many tough weeks that I've had throughout this young and cruel century of ours. I have had my high points along the way, and they have been truly wonderful; but the low points have driven me to despair more than once. War and death and uncertainty is not a formula which leads to happiness! But to receive such a compliment, as I did, was quite cheering -- and, as it turned out, a small note of goodness that other life events here in New Hampshire have recently compounded into chords and stanzas of goodness. God willing, they will quickly multiply to a symphony. We shall see, I suppose.

In the meantime, I shall very much look forward to reading more of Sheila's work on her excellent site.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 28, 2003

Reality Television and Social Trauma

FOX NEWS AND OTHER MEDIA have informed us that a plethora of reality-television shows are in the works about those whom one might call folks with money. Indeed, some of them are even airing now. We do not fully understand why anyone would voluntarily watch such things, but as we realize an awful lot of time and expense has been taken to convince people to do so, we feel this phenomenon is worth writing about.

We don’t think they’re all bad. No, really. We don’t. After all, this show about a semi-popular entertainer shows that every person in American society can do very well, even if he or she is an idiot. Gad.

We are sorry for being so blunt, but we cannot understand how a person of sound mind can truly not tell the difference between chicken and tuna. As the writer Linda Holmes has noted, this was not an isolated incident with Mrs Jessica Simpson, the semi-popular entertainer in question:

“She once declined an order of Buffalo wings with the fairly grave statement that she doesn’t eat buffalo. As a friend of hers pointed out, it had apparently never occurred to her to wonder, given her understanding of the etymology, where on a buffalo you would find the wings to begin with.”

Of course, we can’t understand why eating buffalo is all that big a deal either. We can certainly respect not eating red meat for religious or digestive reasons, but we see no reason why bison should be singled out within that category as unworthy of consumption. After all, it tastes better than regular beef and is healthier to boot. But, as we learn in Ms Holmes’ article, we should not expect Mrs Simpson to think along such lines, as we are informed she is apparently hopeless in quite a few other regards as well.

Now, to be objective, we should note that Mrs Simpson has her defenders, such as Illinigirl, who writes as follows:

“Yes she says stupid things and is a bit spoiled, but at least she has her head on straight. She's come through teen stardom fairly well and seemingly stood by her morals and remained close to her family.”

Well, that is certainly a fair point, and we will admit that we are not all that familiar with Mrs Simpson’s career, so we will take Illinigirl’s word as gospel. What we don’t understand, though, is why anyone would watch this particular show with Mrs Simpson on it. As evidence of our inability to comprehend such things, we harken back to the five-minute period some years ago in which our brother inadvertently exposed us to a reality-television show starring Anna Nicole Smith. We were so shaken at watching this train-wreck of a program – polysyllabic words were high points – that we don’t think even a stiff dose of gin could have lifted our spirits. What, in the name of God, would cause such people to voluntarily make fools of themselves before a national television audience?

But, of course, these people are entertainers, and we will allow for the tiniest possibility that they realize exactly what they are doing, and are in fact laughing all the way to the bank. (We do not really believe that, of course; there is no reason to act stupid when, as in these shows, one draws his or her pay regardless of how he or she comes across). We further will allow that while one can criticize entertainers for being vapid or appallingly ignorant of world affairs, one can not criticize them for being foolish in terms of their marketing savvy. They have not only extended their earning potential, they have diversified their revenues through these shows; and we extend a tip of the hat to them (or the people behind them) for making all that happen.

That said, we would very much like to throw our hat in disgust at the people starring in a related but different type of reality show. Apparently, a plague of programs are taking a look at the lives not of the wealthy, but of the wealthy’s indolent and feckless progeny. We were and are thoroughly appalled at this development.

For, you see, we have every intent of someday becoming wealthy through lots of hard work and prudent investing of the cash we will earn through our labors. We have run the calculations and found that even on our middle-class income, we can do quite well for ourselves as long as we are dedicated and smart about things. Indeed, by the time we are sixty years of age, we expect to have reached what a certain very wise man calls “the land of critical mass.”

Hence, we were not at all pleased to learn that there were shows being produced in which the decadent, spoilt, whinging larvae of the nouveau riche are prancing about and spending more money on clothing in one shopping trip than most average folks earn in a good quarter.

This is not because we don’t want them to spend so foolishly. We approve mightily of that, because it helps the economy. We just don’t want them to do it in front of millions of people who don’t have the same resources. It’s not just that it’s unseemly to do so – it’s that we know what sometimes happens when moneyed folks have gone publicly overboard in doing that …

CHICAGO, 2074: Revolutionary Leader Ernest B.B. Sinclair delivers a speech to Party faithful after seizing power. INSET: P. Martin Kepple (2018-2075), the famed writer, contemplates a chess-board as he is being denounced as a “blood-sucking fascist insect capitalist” in a May Day speech. During the turbulent years of 2072-2074, Kepple was one of many Americans prevented from escaping to exile in Bermuda. (PHOTO CREDIT: The Newspeak Dictionary).

We do not, obviously, hold the kids entirely responsible for their indiscretion. We do, however, hold their feckless and irresponsible parents entirely to account. Therefore, we would kindly ask them to prevail upon their children and have them stop -- or at the very least, grow up a bit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:56 PM | TrackBack

October 23, 2003

Uh oh.

WE ARE LOOKING OUT our main living-room window this morning and we must say we're a bit awestruck. We're not awestruck in a good way, though; rather, we're feeling a bit sick. Sick in that George Jump, "God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly" way.

You see, there is snow falling in Manchester. On Oct. 23. This violates our long-standing policies on weather, which is that snow is forbidden to appear before the first of November ...

but gee! It is awfully pretty. We wish we had a digital camera; but as we do not, we shall have to describe what we're seeing. Across from our window, the leaves are down on all the trees save one. This last tree, which we think is a sycamore or something, is about 90 percent of the way there; it is a glorious mix of red and orange and yellow and green. The snow, which was coming down heavier earlier this morning but is now relatively light, has covered the leaves on one major branch facing our window. It is an astonishingly pretty thing.

That's not the prettiest thing we have seen today, though! We just went into the spare bedroom we don't use to look out and get a glimpse of the car out in the parking lot. And lo! While snow has covered all the OTHER cars in the lot, our car remains free of any taint of snow. Thank God Almighty!

OK, that's it. We are going to go convalesce and take a LONG winter's nap. See you next week!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:13 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Christianity and the Free Market

FORBES MAGAZINE'S ON-LINE VERSION recently presented an extensive if largely standard collection of archived articles on what that institution termed “Christian Capitalism.” It was not a remarkable set of articles – for the most part, they covered subjects that had already been covered in extremis, and they did so with a very wide brush.

In a way, that was a surprise, given that Forbes has always come off as a delightfully old-fashioned publication vis-à-vis religious matters. This is a publication that still prints a verse of Scripture in each edition. This is a publication which rewards its readers for their Scriptural contributions with a set of “Thoughts on the Business of Life.” This is a publication whose editorial mantra has long been “with all thy getting, get understanding.”

That’s not to say Forbes did not touch on faith matters at all in this collection from the back numbers, and we were pleased to see that they included an old but downright fabulous essay from Reynolds Price on the subject. But we suppose that we have such high expectations for the magazine that we thought they would touch more on what we consider a subject of key importance – the relevance and necessity of religious morality as it pertains to business.

Perhaps this was a reflection of how business has too often been conducted throughout the ages – portrayed best in Van Reymerswaele’s old painting, “The Moneychanger and His Wife.” Or perhaps it was a reflection of our modern era, in which religion is too often just a thing for holy days of obligation, and a secondary matter until Death knocks upon one’s door. But whatever the underlying causes, we were still disappointed. For we wish they would have touched on subjects that we thought compelling, or that would make for some great stories. Such as how folks at the highest levels of business grapple with the question of what most old hands in business would deem excessive executive compensation, and whether they take any steps in their personal life to deal with that.

Instead, we got the usual articles: many about the business of religion, and most seemingly written with what one might call a slight note of disapproval.

For instance, there was a large story on the business operations of the evangelical megachurches. The article was all well and good, but it has been done. (The real story there is how the megachurches have affected the operations of older houses of worship, and that angle was not pursued). There was an old story about the Archdiocese of Boston’s extensive real-estate holdings, which too had been done. There was a story about an evangelical book-publishing house which found its big best-seller was no longer selling as well, and stories that seemed included solely for hype reasons. (Specifically, we refer to the articles on Christian video-game manufacturers and movie producers and music labels, which we have never considered all that noteworthy, because the product largely hasn’t crossed over into the mainstream). And, of course, there was the inevitable Wal-Mart angle. Glory!

But the business of religion ain’t the story anymore. The story is the religion of business.

For religious morality – the two ideas go hand-in-hand – is key to the free enterprise system as we know it. It is the internal compass that has guided men for millenia – that merchants should use untampered weights and measures, that tavern-owners ought not water the drinks, and that modern businessmen play by the rules. It is also an external force which helps keep men in line. Earthly law may warrant physical or judicial trials for those who fail to live up to the bargains they make or the standards of fair play, but it is spiritual law which warrants a far harsher punishment for such offenders. One might hesitate to screw his partners out of their hard-earned if he thought the punishment was not merely three years at a minimum-security prison, but an eternity spent crushed under his own folly.*

Yet one senses these old-time standards have gone out the window.

We realize, of course, that men were no more virtuous in the past than they are today, and that there have always been cheats and swindlers and liars among us (two words: Paperwork Crisis). Still, we think the difference between the businessmen of today and the businessmen of the Fifties and early Sixties is that folks today are a bit more brazen about things. They’re not as inclined to think, when they are caught and all is lost, that they did anything wrong. They’re more prone to the viciousness which free enterprise can encourage in a person lacking morals. And they’ve become more consumed with wealth than with their own honor.

The trouble with all this is not merely that such acts are unseemly and gauche, or that they corrupt both the person who commits them and those whom he harms. It is that such criminal and/or anti-social dealings damage the fabric that we have woven, and make it less likely that our great system of free enterprise will continue as it has been doing.

For what those folks, who are often on the highest levels of our society, apparently fail to realize is that those a bit farther down on the totem pole are starting to get a bit upset. They are not happy that their investments went up in smoke. They are not happy chief executives are paid two hundred times what their assembly-line workers earn in a year. They are not happy at thinking themselves cut out of the gravy train. Now, we do not think things will come to a head ten or twenty or even fifty years hence, but we have a sneaking suspicion that if these trends in society continue, that things will eventually boil over for our grandchildren.

This is not to say that honest wealth is a bad thing; that would be silly. Wealth is clearly a good thing in life – as evidenced by the fact readers are sitting at their computer desks reading this and not baking bricks in Peshawar for a buck a day. And hard work and drive and ambition and cleverness are also wonderful things. We just wish that the bad effects which wealth can sometimes create – materialism and indolence and acedia and all the rest – would not be as prevalent as they are in today’s society. For if these latter sins are cut out, men would not only treat each other better, they would ensure that the system that allowed them to do so well will continue on unabated into the future.

So to make sure we keep things as good as we’ve got them, we would hope that our men of commerce would voluntarily give an eye towards the greater things in life – that they make an extra-special effort to act honestly and charitably and decently. But since we know all of them are doing so at present, we would also ask that they keep an eye on their friends and colleages. Just in case.

* See the Inferno, Canto VII.

ALSO: This has been a hell of a week here for us, so we will return to regular blogging after a few days break. We will be back perhaps as early as Saturday, but probably not until Monday. See you then!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:57 AM | TrackBack

October 21, 2003

Oh, HELL No!

With a predicted high of 43 degrees and a low of 33 degrees Fahrenheit, snow showers are forecast for Manchester tomorrow.

This is very disheartening. We had the stuff before All Saints' Day last year, and the whole miserable season saw us dealing with a massive deluge of ice and slush and snowfall. As such, we are patently appalled at the thought of seeing even one snowflake before the first of November. And if General Winter would be so kind as to hold off his forces until Thanksgiving, we'd be all right with that too. Besides, it's not as if Winter wouldn't have five other months with which to work.

But since the chances of this happening are about nil, we are going to take Pre-emptive Measures. Namely, we're going to get out the fur blankets, stock up on frozen and canned goods, and start an inventory of Casa Ben to find things we can easily chop up for fuel.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:22 PM | TrackBack

October 20, 2003

Changing the World, One Shipment at a Time

DEAN ESMAY has published an update on Operation Give, a private effort which an active-duty U.S. soldier on tour in Iraq began to give Iraqi children toys, candy, and other sundry items. It is perhaps no surprise to our historically-minded readers that the program is based on a similar effort done in Germany after the Second World War.

However, back in the old days, they didn't have the Internet.

In the three weeks since the publicity effort got underway, the group has raised $8,000, secured corporate sponsorship, has warehouses in Baltimore and Baghdad, and a corps of volunteers in both the United States and Iraq to assist them with shipping and distribution. Last but certainly not least, hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of goods have been sent to needy Iraqi children.

For a few reasons, we think this is an incredible accomplishment. But we would go even farther and say that it is a world-changing one as well.

For this effort is not simply a testament to the goodness of average Americans, and to their senses of compassion, charity and kindness. Were it solely that, it would be powerful in its own right. But more importantly, Operation Give is winning over the hearts and minds of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of Iraqi children and their families.

The people behind it are not merely creating gratitude and appreciation towards our nation and its men in uniform. They are also offering their hands in friendship to a long-suffering and tired people. We would suggest that their doing so increases the chance that Iraqis will respond in kind. We would further suggest that this will lend support to our rebuilding efforts, and that in turn will help the Iraqi people create a nation which will serve as a beacon of freedom and hope to all who suffer under tyranny.

Therefore, we would submit that we and all Americans owe a debt of thanks to Chief Wiggles, the blogger-soldier behind the effort, and all those who have taken the time and consideration to offer their aid.

May God bless you and your efforts.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:03 PM | TrackBack

October 17, 2003

Ain't THAT a Kick in the Head

Show me a man without a dream,
and I'll show you a man that's dead
Real dead ...

Once I had me a dream, but that dream
Got kicked in the head
Dream dead ...

I nearly had me that chauffeur
and that black long limousine
E-O-Eleven ...
E-O-Eleven ...

I nearly had me that penthouse
All them stacks of folding green
Eleven ...
Eleven ...

Some judge is gonna say
I'm putting you away
For four score years and seven --
in the meantime, E-O-leven ...

-- Sammy Davis Jr.

DEAR GOD, IT HURTS. It is the next morning and it still hurts.

Loyal readers know that we here at The Rant are not die-hard baseball fans. In fact, we daresay the past few weeks may have come as somewhat of a surprise, since we are usually only this passionate when it comes to America's greatest game -- professional football.

But over the past few weeks, we found ourselves living in the midst of Red Sox Nation, and we were caught up in the frenzy like everyone else. We gleefully chanted along as the Boston radio stations played the "Yankees Suck!" song (chorus: "Yankees SUCK! Yankees SUCK!") and cheered as Our Boys took on the Evil Empire. We were not expecting to lose last evening. Oh, certainly, we always thought it a possibility -- but after we had built up four runs right off the bat, we hadn't expected it. And we weren't expecting the loss -- in the eleventh inning, for God's sake -- to feel like such a kick in the head.

Yet it did. And while we do not feel that we are experiencing one-hundredth of the pain and agony and disappointment which long-time Red Sox fans, both around New England and the world, must be dealing with -- we can say that on this lonely morning, it feels like we've got cleat marks on our back. It is not a good feeling.

We realize that the gentlemanly thing to do is wish the New York Yankees well on their journey, and hope that they prevail against the Florida Marlins in the World Series. It is ONLY this sense of obligation to a higher moral code that lets us write that. For the Yankees may as well win this next World Series. It would seem wrong to let the fickle fair-weather Floridians take it.

But, quite frankly, we do not care. We are not going to watch the World Series. Nor are we going to write about it. A New York-Florida series holds absolutely no interest for us, and we daresay it will hold no interest for anyone north of Tallahassee or west of the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. For a New York-Florida series is, at its best, a regional matchup. At worst, it is a series between New York and New Jersey and New York-New Jersey's retirement home. As such, no one outside of those areas will very much care. Why should they?

Nor do we think we will get all that excited about baseball again.

We will say that we gained an appreciation for the strategy and tactics of the game, something that we failed to appreciate before this grim October. We will say that we came to appreciate baseball as an athletic competition. No longer will we look at it, and sneer at its glacially slow pace and its unexplainably-long season and its other oddities. We now realize that it rightfully has a place in the pantheon of American sport.

But Gad! to have to go through last night's experience again and again? We do not know if we could take it. We do not know if we want to resign ourselves to living out years of frustration and disappointment. It may just be too painful a thing to bear.

RELATED: Yankees fans react to their victory in the friendly and sportsmanlike manner to which we've all become accustomed. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans who are emotionally over last night's loss* might want to consider buying one of these.

* Trust us. If you're still aching from last night's game, don't click on the link. Or at least don't blame us for not warning you.

NOTICE: I wanted this entry on top all day, so I screwed around with the timing feature. I actually wrote it about 9 a.m.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Shock Fury Horror!

WOODY ALLEN FAMOUSLY SAID that you can't tell folks that you stole and robbed banks for a living, because people would hold it against you. However, thanks to the most disturbing site we've seen in a long time, you CAN tell folks about that -- and so much more!

Yes, thanks to these good people, humanity's fallen nature and general spiritual rot is made public. It's all anonymous, but Gad! it has to be one of the most disturbing things we've seen in years.

Consider the following things to which otherwise normal people admitted. We have left their entries' spelling and grammatical errors intact:

I once made conterfeit money from my computer and spent at least $200 at various places. Im not suprised i did it as much as i was surpised how easy it was

When my boss was away in meetings, I would go into his office, put my feet up on his desk and play around with his palmpilot. I would also install games on his computer and play them over the internet.

I'm a man in his 20s. Recently I found a girl's make up bag on the floor in a nightclub. I took it home, and tried putting the make up on.

Sickness! depravity! corruption! And these are just the entries we felt we could print!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 AM | TrackBack

Reds in Space! (Part Two)

AS SO OFTEN HAPPENS here at The Rant, a heated but enlightened discussion about one of our posts has taken place on someone else's site. Why these types of things happen is beyond us, but they do. In this case, it could be that Dean Esmay gets more traffic, perhaps, than Benjamin Kepple! But such is life!

In any event, only one writer at Mr Esmay's site has directly taken a pot-shot at our argument about the Communist Chinese's successful space mission. Mr Arnold Harris writes as follows:

Mr Keppel (sic) expresses fears in connection with China's space program which has inserted a orbiter and pilot into near space and returned them safely to earth.

For those who would put too much stock in his arguments, he also expresses the policy that the present Taiwan government in Taipeh is the legitimate government of China's "twenty-two renegade provinces, five autonomous regions and four municipalities, in addition to the special zones of Hong Kong and Macao."

This is the same kind of mentality that publishes maps of the Middle Eastern states in which no state of Israel appears. (Commonly done by cartographers in Eqypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and much of the rest of the Arab world, and which helps explain why they always lose their wars and are considered "a little people, a silly people".)

With all due respect to Mr Harris, we find his little bullet directed our way a bit of a stretch. Firstly, to compare our non-recognition of Communist China's Government to a denial of Israel's legitimacy is off-base in the extreme. There are many reasons for this, but we shall only offer two in particular, because we find them most compelling.

The first is purely semantic. Namely, Israel is one nation -- it exists as a singular entity, with one Government presiding over all of it. In China's case, the nation is divided -- two Governments preside over different parts of the nation.

Were one to express the view that Israel's Government is illegitimate -- which we, like Mr Harris, think is a stupid, backward and capricious view -- one would be in essence saying Israel has no right to exist. That we reject in its entirety. On the other hand, recognizing one of the two Chinese Governments shows that we most certainly recognize China's right to exist. We just want the democratic Chinese in charge.

The second reason is purely moral. We could go on at length to show why Mr Harris' comparison is very much off-kilter, but we will leave it at the following:

* Number of Chinese citizens intentionally killed by the Communist Chinese Government: roughly 65 million.

* Number of Israeli citizens intentionally killed by the Israeli Government: Zero.

That is clear enough, we hope, to make the point. For if the Communist Chinese insist that we recognize only one China, that is fine. But don't expect us to recognize them as its rightful leaders.

It was not the Republic of China on Taiwan which intentionally killed millions upon millions of its own people. It was not the Republic of China on Taiwan which conducted mass terror campaigns in the pursuit of ideological purity. It was not the Republic of China on Taiwan that sent its own nation sliding backward into penury, starvation and fear. And it was not the Republic of China on Taiwan that approved of its citizens turning into vigilantes and shouting slogans such as this:

If the father is brave, the son will be a hero
If he's a reactionary, the son will be an asshole
If you're a revolutionary, step forward and join us
If you're not, get lost!

Get lost!
We're gonna chase you out of your fucking job!
Kill! Kill! Kill!

Admittedly, the Nationalists were bastards at times too -- but they were never like that. And they figured it out eventually. So today, if we have to side with one Chinese Government over the other -- than we'll side with the folks on the right side.

Oh, by the way: The Washington Times has an interesting report today on the space mission. It turns out the Communist Chinese were putting the Shenzhou V's flight to military use -- and they are dead-set on having their space program work towards military ends.

In short, we were right.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:57 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Reds in Space! (addendum)

WE REALIZED we forgot to cite the marching song quote. It's in The Black Book of Communism, p. 529 (fourth American printing, 2001).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:55 AM | TrackBack

October 16, 2003

Chicago Man Prevents Armageddon

THIS MAN has saved all of us.

Now, we know what you're thinking. The bespectacled dork pictured above is not worthy of such recognition. Not when he grabbed the foul ball that eventually led the Florida Marlins to overtake the Chicago Cubs -- the Cubs, for God's sake -- in Game Six of the National League's championship series. You're thinking that this unfortunate wretch deserves merely scorn, condemnation and a good dousing in beer and peanut shells!

But friends, I say to you -- this man took one for the human team. Sure, he'll never forget the fact that he set in motion that horrible chain of events on Tuesday night -- but consider the alternative! He has prevented a Cubs - Red Sox World Series, and in doing so has saved the world from Armageddon itself.

Now, this is not a new theory -- indeed, many of our colleagues at work were, on Tuesday, discussing this theory set forth by one Mr Stephen King. But we can assure you that we saw the Signs being laid out before us. For lo! we left work today, and storm clouds DID blot out the sun, and there WAS much wind and rain and a general disturbance in the FORCE. And it DID look like that END SCENE in "Donnie Darko." Also there was an angel flying in midheaven, proclaiming: "Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made Heaven and Earth, the sea and the foundations of water."

We here at The Rant were a bit concerned at all this, for these happenings transpired as the Red Sox had just overtaken the New York Yankees in their own Game Six. The hourglass for The End Times had clearly been set in motion.

But, as our Lord once noted, no man knoweth the day nor the hour. This was apparently just a trial run.

And as the Cubs went down to defeat this evening, we have no doubts that folks in Wrigleyville are wailing and gnashing their teeth. We also have no doubts that some folks are hoping for furious anger to come down upon this wretched soul. But we would remind them of the virtues of compassion and charity. Let no man disparage this headphone-wearing schnook. Let no man remind him about what happened five years hence.

Besides. We think he's suffered enough.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

Reds in Space!

COMMUNIST CHINA* has successfully conducted a manned space mission into low-Earth orbit. We at The Rant consider this development somewhat troubling.

Now, the blogosphere's reaction to the event has been pretty muted. Dean Esmay -- from whom we stole most of the links in this article, with not even a by-your-leave -- remarked that he hoped it would spur more private investment into space, so as to eliminate needing NASA's involvement in getting there. Others, such as Rand Simberg, were unimpressed with the mission. And Andrew Cory said of the taikonaut, "You make me proud to be human!"

However, some folks closer to Communist China than all of us are a bit more concerned, and we think they are right to feel that way. Consider what engineer Frank Kung pointed out to the Associated Press: "Whatever China does, it does to strengthen its defense, so this is not good for Taiwan." Seoul-based designer Lee Won-hak, meanwhile, said much the same: "I feel a bit threatened by the country’s development."

Now, obviously, one space launch is not a sign we ought to panic any time soon. However, we should be prepared for Communist China to advance quickly in developing its nascent space program. We should further be prepared to counter the inevitable military uses for that program, which its armed forces will almost certainly develop. That's not to say we should address this issue itching for a fight, but merely to say that it might be a good idea to have the infrastructure in place to combat any potential threats.

Also: we must get to Mars before they do.


* style note: We realize that the use of "Communist China" may seem a bit archaic. However, we consider the legitimate Chinese government to be based in Taipei. The Beijing-based Government merely happens to lead 22 renegade provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities, in addition to the special zones of Hong Kong and Macao.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

Cowboy Up!

HERE AT THE RANT, we recently received a missive from a good friend of ours who closed his letter with the phrase, "GO YANKEES," followed by a full twenty-six exclamation points.

Unfortunately for our good friend, these twenty-six exclamation points UTTERLY FAILED to bring his beloved Yankees a victory in last night's contest against the Boston Red Sox. While we do not wish to begin "talking smack" -- as we fear that Babe Ruth will claw his way out of his grave, shamble onto the pitch, and proceed to throttle Derek Lowe during the seventh-inning stretch on Tuesday -- we would offer some gentle teasing about last night's matchup. Besides, we figure that doing so will merely "cancel out the karma" and lead to a fair and even matchup between these two fine the valiant Red Sox and that other team.

So, old friend, yippie-ki-yay to your Yankees and their $164 million payroll and that oafish lout of a franchise operator you have down there. :-)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

Attention New Hampshire Liquor Distributors

Please. Start distributing this. We're beggin' ya.

No, really. Please start distributing it. We need such beer here in New Hampshire. We need a good brown ale with a very clever marketing campaign and a catchy title and social cachet to boot. Besides, the moxie of it all is endearing and heartwarming. I'd order a case.

(link via Catallarchy)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:14 PM | TrackBack

October 11, 2003

Now Here's an Idea

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Eager to please a key Florida constituency, President Bush directed his secretary of state and his Cuban-born housing secretary Friday to recommend ways to achieve a transition to democracy in Cuba after 44 years under Fidel Castro.

We have plenty of ideas, but they all involve a pine box for El Lider Maximo.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:30 AM | TrackBack

Amazingly, It's Not a Joke

THIS IS A VERBATIM lead from an AFP story:

The US State Department has lodged a vehement complaint with prominent conservative televangelist Pat Robertson for comments suggesting that its Foggy Bottom headquarters should be destroyed with nuclear weapons, officials said.

Spokesman Richard Boucher called the remarks -- which Robertson made last week on his nationally televised "700 Club" program -- "despicable" and a senior department official said a protest had been made "at the highest level."

If the State Department has somehow achieved a connection with God Himself, we think the American people ought to know about this.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:21 AM | TrackBack

October 10, 2003

A Fool and Your Money ...

BEFORE WE EXAMINE the latest angry screed from Michael Moore on economics, the business of business, and supposed corporate malfeasance, we would present some historic examples of how commercial operations have worked throughout human history. They are lengthy examples, but we hope you find them both interesting and meaningful to the topic at hand.

"And you see that fellow in the freedman's seat? He's already made a pile and lost it. What a life! But I don't envy him. After the first million the going got sticky. Right now I'll bet he's mortgaged every hair on his head. But it wasn't his fault. He's too honest, that's his trouble, and his crooked friends stripped him to feather their own nests. One thing's sure: once your little kettle stops cooking and the business starts to slide, you get the brushoff from your friends. And, you know, he had a fine, respectable business too. Undertaking. Ate like a king: boars roasted whole, pastry as tall as buildings, pheasants, chefs, pastrycooks, the whole works. Why, he's had more wine spilled under his table than most men have in their cellars. Life? Hell, it was a dream! Then, when things started sliding, he got scared his creditors would think he was broke. So he advertised an auction:


-- Petronius, The Satyricon, circa A.D. 60

"The greatest danger to Medieval banking was in granting loans to European monarchs to finance wars. The use of mercenary armies and field artillery increased the costs of mounting military operations. To finance these activities, rulers were often willing to repay loans at extremely high rates of interest sometimes as high as 45 to 60 percent. Yet if they were unable to repay the loans, they simply did not. Most of the bank failures of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance were the result of large loans to rulers who refused to pay their debts. The Bardi and Peruzzi banks suffered greatly when England's monarchs refused to pay for loans acquired to finance the Hundred Years' War."

-- "Banking in the Middle Ages," University of Calgary.

"By 1634, the rage for owning tulips had spread to the middle classes of Dutch society. Merchants and shopkeepers began to vie with one and another for single tulip bulbs. How bad did it get? Well, at the height of tulip mania in 1635, a single tulip bulb was sold for the following items:

• four tons of wheat
• eight tons of rye
• one bed
• four oxen
• eight pigs
• 12 sheep
• one suit of clothes
• two casks of wine
• four tons of beer
• two tons of butter
• 1,000 pounds of cheese
• one silver drinking cup.

The present day value of all these items? Nearly $35,000! Can you imagine spending $35,000 for a single tulip bulb? This was happening in Holland in the mid-17th century. It was getting so bizarre that people were selling everything they owned – their homes, their livestock, everything – for the privilege of owning tulips, on the expectation that the bulbs would continue to grow in value."

-- Ric Edelman, "Tulip Bulbs and the Stock Market."

"It was not so much the little trader or speculator who was struck by yesterday's cyclone; it was the rich men of the country, the institutions which have purchased common stocks, the investment trusts and investors of all kinds. The little speculators were mostly blown out of their accounts by the long decline from early September. Thousands of them went headlong out of the market on Thursday. It was the big man, however, whose holdings were endangered yesterday and who threw his holdings into the Stock Exchange for just what they would bring, when hysteria finally seized him."

-- The New York Times, Oct. 29, 1929 (emphasis added)

"What a difference a year makes. Last December, Time magazine anointed Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos as its "Person of the Year." In prose bordering on the erotic, the magazine gushed, "Jeff Bezos loves being on the move. He sits in the back of a white van, beaming as usual, surrounded by an entourage of lanky young lieutenants from Amazon.com, the Web's biggest retail store and, someday, if Bezos gets it right, Earth's Biggest Store."

Fast-forward to December 21, 2000, at approximately 9:30 p.m. Amazon's stock had closed at $15.19 per share -- down more than $86 from its 52-week high of $102, a nearly seven-fold drop from the glory days. And there was Bezos on MSNBC, looking slightly punch-drunk, a loopy grin on his face, offering variations on the theme of What Happened?

As the media have proclaimed endlessly this year, and especially during the stock-market slide of the past few weeks, 2000 will end as the Year of the Dot-Com Meltdown. E- commerce Web sites have gone down left and right. Pets.com. Living.com. DrKoop.com. Furniture.com. Toysmart.com. One of the early pioneers, eToys.com, may run out of cash and close its doors as early as March. Locally, Internet incubator CMGI's stock has crashed so sickeningly that shareholders are calling for chairman David Wetherell's head.

-- "Reality Bursts Dot-Com Bubble," Dan Kennedy, The Boston Phoenix, Dec. 28, 2000.

Potential customers were greeted by a uniformed Houston police officer as they entered the door Tuesday and then by Lay family spokeswoman Kelly Kimberly.

The store hasn't officially opened but is doing business with those who show up. Kimberly told people that if they found an item without a price to just ask and one could quickly be found.

Kimberly said (Linda) Lay's decision to open the store has nothing to do with the family's perils since the downfall of the energy trading company her husband once headed.

"This is just a practical way to utilize all of their furniture and to utilize this building, which is one of her real estate investments," the family's spokeswoman said. "She realized it was just stuff and other people might have a use for it."

-- "Linda Lay Dumps Baubles," CBS News, May 22, 2002


THINGS SURE HAVEN'T CHANGED -- not even in twenty centuries. Actually, one can go back even farther to find instances of people getting screwed out of their hard-earned capital due to fraud, speculative mania, or general stupidity. The historian Lionel Casson notes that documents exist even from the year 2000 B.C. documenting this constant of human existence. Witness this letter he cites in one of his books, from two businessmen in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Assur to their trading partners in what is now eastern Turkey:

"Thirty years ago, you left the city of Assur. You have never made a deposit since, and we have not recovered one shekel of silver from you, but we have never made you feel bad about this. Our tablets have been going to you with caravan after caravan, but no report from you has ever come here."

In short, it's not as if malfeasance or mania or speculation is new, or out of the ordinary. So then, the question is: why is it that today, so many folks seem to think they can simply ignore their responsibility to protect themselves from bad advice, bad decision-making, and bad investments?

Personally, we are not all that sympathetic to people who lost a great percentage of their wealth in dot-com, telecom, or energy-trading stocks. That's not to say we don't think it bit the wax tadpole something fierce, but Gad.

With the first sector, anyone who took time to research the companies would have seen they were built on sand; with the second, they would have seen supply-and-demand were way out of whack; and with the third, they wouldn't have been able to understand what the hell the folks at Enron were doing. Since the IRS and savvy business people also had no idea what the hell they were doing, that should have set off warning bells. And while we certainly feel bad for the Enron rank-and-file who had invested all their retirement money in company stock, one of the key rules of retirement planning is that people ought not invest all their money in company stock anyway.

Yet, Michael Moore seems to think that not only should people be able to make bad decisions with abandon, people should also take none of the blame for their own bad decisions. Instead, he charges, we should blame greedy corporate executives, whom he says all have it in for us and want to turn us into a nation of modern-day serfs. So let's look at his words in The Guardian, shall we?

Mr Moore writes:

Perhaps the biggest success in the war on terror has been its ability to distract the nation from the corporate war on us. In the two years since the attacks of 9/11, American businesses have been on a punch-drunk rampage that has left millions of average Americans with their savings gone and their pensions looted, their hopes for a comfortable future for their families diminished or extinguished. The business bandits (and their government accomplices) who have wrecked our economy have tried to blame it on the terrorists, they have tried to blame it on Clinton, and they have tried to blame it on us.

Well, there's no denying that the terror attacks on Sept. 11 did cause a temporary economic setback. Unfortunately for Mr Moore, all the broader indices are up sharply this year. Indeed, here at The Rant, we've done pretty well for ourselves with a nice diversified mix of investments. We suspect that many others are also doing gangbusters.

Of course, if one was highly invested in the Internet sector, and lost 90 percent of their nest egg, a gain of 15 or 20 percent this year will bring their remaining $0.10 per dollar to a mere $0.12 or so. On the other hand, unlike Mr Moore, we don't see why people should be excused from having made the bad decisions in the first place. It is not as if Corporate America put guns to people's heads, and ordered them to buy shares in NoBusinessPlan.com.

But, in fact, the wholesale destruction of our economic future is based solely on the greed of the corporate mojahedin.

The takeover has happened right under our noses. We've been force-fed some mighty powerful "drugs" to keep us quiet while we're being mugged by this lawless gang of CEOs. One of these drugs is called fear and the other is called Horatio Alger.

The fear drug works like this: you are repeatedly told that bad, scary people are going to kill you, so place all your trust in us, your corporate leaders, and we will protect you. But since we know what's best, don't question us if we want you to foot the bill for our tax cut, or if we decide to slash your health benefits or jack up the cost of buying a home. And if you don't shut up and toe the line and work your ass off, we will sack you - and then just try to find a new job in this economy, punk!

We don't know about you, but we certainly don't look to General Electric to protect us from al-Qaida. We also don't see how corporate America is responsible for increased housing costs. We can see environment regulations which hinder development as one factor in that. A societal change that has led to an increasing emphasis on real-estate investment would be another.

In terms of health care, we think that if people took better care of themselves -- take note, Mr Moore -- health costs might decrease. Cutting down on frivolous lawsuits, which impact malpractice-insurance costs, might also help; so would opening markets to competition. Besides, both the Government and health-insurers realize the cost-increases aren't sustainable, and they'll basically force doctors and hospitals to take less. In the end, it will all balance out.

It will especially do so in terms of the labor market. Five years ago, there was an intense labor shortage; and demography will ensure there is a labor shortage again, perhaps in five or ten years' time. It will be sparked when folks like Mr Moore begin to retire.

The other drug is nicer. It is first prescribed to us as children in the form of a fairy tale - but a fairy tale that can actually come true! It is the Horatio Alger myth. Alger was one of the most popular American writers of the late 1800s. His stories featured characters from impoverished backgrounds who, through pluck and determination and hard work, were able to make huge successes of themselves in this land of boundless opportunity. The message was that anyone can make it in America, and make it big.

Oh, God forbid people should actually work hard in this day and age. God forbid they should actually act responsibly and prudently and look towards the future. God forbid folks should actually try to do well for themselves. Since when did these things become bad?

We are addicted to this happy rags-to-riches myth in this country. People in other industrialised democracies are content to make a good enough living to pay their bills and raise their families. Few have a cutthroat desire to strike it rich. They live in reality, where there are only going to be a few rich people, and you are not going to be one of them. So get used to it.

Actually, this is a semi-decent point. The vast majority of people aren't going to be rich; after all, wealth is relative and the economics of it does have an odd, sort of pyramid-like structure to it. Still, the reason people in other industrialized democracies don't do as well is not simply because they're not ambitious; it's because their Governments don't give them the tools to do as well. They are taxed to the hilt, or they're prevented from working as much as they could; or they're over-regulated, and so on. And the reason Americans aren't as rich as they could be is because they spend too much and save too little.

Of course, Mr Moore seems to think that it's wrong to want to do well in life. That's unfortunate.

Of course, rich people in those countries are very careful not to upset the balance. Even though there are greedy bastards among them, they do have some limits placed on them. In the manufacturing sector, for example, British CEOs make 24 times as much as their average workers - the widest gap in Europe. German CEOs only make 15 times more than their employees, while Swedish CEOs get 13 times as much. But here in the US, the average CEO makes 411 times the salaries of their blue-collar workers. Wealthy Europeans pay up to 65% in taxes, and they know better than to bitch too loud about it or the people will make them fork over even more.

We don't disagree with one of Mr Moore's points -- that executive compensation in the United States is seriously and fundamentally out of whack. That said, his argument is a bit much. It's not just rich people in Europe who get hit up at tax time. This graph from the OECD puts it all in perspective. In America, only 26.3 percent of GDP is eaten up by taxes at all levels of Government -- and that was in 2002, so it should be a little lower now. In Britain, it is about 37 percent; in France, about 45 percent; and in Sweden, it is over 50 percent.

Besides, the wealthy don't need to "bitch" about high taxes -- they can just move their money across borders. It happens all the time. There is nothing stopping, for instance, a national of the United Kingdom moving to Monaco for the sole purpose of becoming a tax exile. Here in the United States, it's a bit more tricky -- our Government confiscates a good portion of one's wealth if one decides to permanently emigrate.

Oh, and at one time the rich in America did have a marginal tax rate of 70 percent. That was during the boom years of the Seventies. You remember those, right, Mr Moore? Yep, folks today get all teary-eyed thinking about how great the stagflation and unemployment and fuel shocks and disco music were back then.

But that's unfair, really -- we can't believe that even Michael Moore would want to take us back to the glory days of the Seventies. No one could possibly be that crazy.

In the US, we are afraid to sock it to them. We hate to put our CEOs in prison when they break the law...

Why all the perp walks then?

... We are more than happy to cut their taxes even as ours go up!

Since when is an across-the-board tax cut a tax increase? There's no getting around this.

... We don't want to do anything that could harm us on that day we end up millionaires. It's so believable because we have seen it come true. In every community there's at least one person prancing around as the rags-to-riches poster child, conveying the not-so-subtle message: "SEE! I MADE IT! YOU CAN, TOO!!"

Yes, and Mr Moore, your neighbors are tired of it.

Actually, can you imagine having this guy as a neighbor? Gad. You'd invite him over for a barbecue and not only would he eat all the hamburgers and the shish-kabobs and corn-on-the-cob, he'd be one of those snarky know-it-all types who likes nothing more to do than corner you at a party. Then he'd insult you because your grill was made in Japan and your wine of choice wasn't from France. By the end of the night, you'd be about ready to put arsenic in the mustard just to shut him up.

But we digress.

It is this seductive myth that led so many millions of working people to become investors in the stock market during the 90s. They saw how rich the rich got in the 80s and thought, "Hey, this could happen to me!"

The wealthy did everything they could to encourage this attitude. Understand that in 1980 only 20% of Americans owned a share of stock. Wall Street was the rich man's game and it was off-limits to the average Joe and Jane. Near the end of the 1980s, though, the rich were pretty much tapped out with their excess profits and could not figure out how to make the market keep growing. I don't know if it was the brainstorm of one genius at a brokerage firm or the smooth conspiracy of all the well-heeled, but the game became, "Hey, let's convince the middle class to give us their money and we can get even richer!"

We now have proof that Mr Moore lives in Bizarro World, for this has to be the stupidest rationale we have ever seen to explain the dot-com bubble. Maybe, just maybe, the middle-class were doing so well that they needed a place to put their money where they could earn a reasonable return. After all, the CD paying 4 percent interest per year and the savings bonds just weren't cutting it. So they turned to the equity markets.

Suddenly, it seemed like everyone I knew jumped on the stock market bandwagon. They let their unions invest all their pension money in stocks. Story after story ran in the media about how everyday working people were going to be able to retire as near-millionaires! It was like a fever that infected everyone. Workers immediately cashed their pay cheques and called their broker to buy more stocks. Their broker!

We find it very hard to believe that Mr Moore was not among the "everyone I knew" crowd. Oh, and we love the whole bit about folks "letting" their unions invest the pension money in stock.

For one, we are union members ourselves here at The Rant. While we are not yet vested in our pension and know little about its workings, we are pretty sure that we have absolutely no power when it comes to our union pension funds. We mean none. Our pension plan could put all the money into cattle futures and alpaca farms, and we'd have absolutely no say about it. For another, we damn well don't want our pension money sitting in some vault someplace when it could be potentially earning a decent return.

But it was a sham. It was all a ruse concocted by the corporate powers-that-be who never had any intention of letting you into their club. They just needed your money to take them to that next level, the one that insulates them from ever having to actually work for a living. They knew the big boom of the 90s couldn't last, so they needed your money to artificially inflate the value of their companies so their stocks would reach such a phantasmal price that, when it was time to cash out, they would be set for life, no matter how bad the economy got.

Well, let's face it, a lot of those high-flying wheelers-and-dealers went broke and got thrown out on their asses too when the bubble burst. But hey.

And that's what happened. While the average sucker was listening to all the blowhards on CNBC tell him that he should buy even more stock, the ultra-rich were quietly getting out of the market, selling off the stocks of their own company first. In September 2002, Fortune magazine released a staggering list of these corporate crooks who made off like bandits while their company's stock prices had dropped 75% or more between 1999 and 2002.

What! my God! INSIDERS have been SELLING STOCK in their OWN COMPANIES! Oh wait. That has to be disclosed, doesn't it? There are rules and regulations surrounding that, right? That information is all out in the open at sites like this, isn't it? Which means that anyone with an on-line connection could actually, we don't know, check themselves to see which way the wind was blowing?

At the top of the list of these evildoers was Qwest Communications. At its peak, Qwest shares traded at nearly $40. Three years later the same shares were worth $1. Over that period, Qwest's director, Phil Anschutz, and its former CEO, Joe Nacchio, and the other officers made off with $2.26bn simply by selling out before the price hit rock bottom.

We want to know if Mr Moore was a stockholder in Qwest, and if so, how much money he lost. We also want to know if he would be at the top of the suckers list.

Meanwhile, the average investor stayed in, listening to all the rotten advice. And the market kept going down, down, down. More than four trillion dollars was lost in the stock market. Another trillion dollars in pension funds and university endowments is now no longer there.

In Michael Moore's world, you don't have to do research or read the prospectus before sending money! Besides, why should anyone have to read that pamphlet with all those big words, anyway? Who knew there'd be "risk" involved, and the potential for "losing" cash?

So, here's my question: after fleecing the American public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be?

What is Mr Moore talking about? We've had people complaining about the tax cut since it was an idea on a napkin. It's one thing not to like the tax cut; that we can argue about another time. But it's another to just pull facts out of thin air and pass them off as truth.

I think it's because we're still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary, the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that maybe, just maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big after all. So don't attack the rich man, because one day that rich man may be me!

Listen, friends, you have to face the truth: you are never going to be rich. The chance of that happening is about one in a million. Not only are you never going to be rich, but you are going to have to live the rest of your life busting your butt just to pay the cable bill and the music and art classes for your kid at the public school where they used to be free.

We'll be honest. We think this is crap. As Tim Blair has pointed out, there are over 2 million American millionaires; but the reality is even better than that. There are 2,219,000 households which have a net worth of over $1 million. Mr Blair writes that one's chances of becoming a millionaire are now down to one in 140; although it is really about 1 in 49. Furthermore, since 8.1 percent of U.S. households have a net worth greater than $500,000, it should be pretty clear that folks can do well if they're just smart about things. If they just plan for the long term, and they're wise about their spending, and they don't buy the fanciest new car on the market, they should be all right.

And it is only going to get worse. Forget about a pension, forget about social security, forget about your kids taking care of you when you get old because they are barely going to have the money to take care of themselves.

We don't know about you, but we have never thought a pension or Social Security would "be there for us" when it was our time to retire. We're a bit cautious here at The Rant and as such have never ruled out the prospect of having to hoard gold, ammunition and whisky as a hedge against roving bands of hyper-survivalists in our golden years.

Oh, and as for our kids taking care of us when we get old, that's the last thing we want to happen. That's not to say we wouldn't appreciate their help when the time came for us to enter into the winter of our life; but expecting them to take care of us? Gosh. Maybe that's why so many folks get so worked up at youth sporting events: their retirement plans involve banking on Junior to sign an endorsement deal.

Anyway, Mr Moore goes on to complain about the supposed injustice of companies taking out life-insurance policies on their lower-level employees. Personally, we think this is a bit macabre, but nothing to get all worked up about.

Still, we find it amazing that Mr Moore hasn't grasped a fundamental truth about how the economy and business and life itself works: that when all is said and done, you simply have to do your homework, be long on caution and short on trust. Andrew Tobias, the noted financial writer, summed it up well when he wrote about insurance sold through television (and pitched by folks like Dick Van Dyke and Gavin MacLeod) and so-called hometown investment clubs:

"Trust no one. It kills me to say that, and I'll admit there are exceptions -- but the list is shorter than you think. I mean, my God: if you can't trust Murray! If you can't trust the Beardstown Ladies!"

Yep. It's a cruel world out there. My God: if you can't trust Michael Moore! ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:19 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 08, 2003

And Now on to What REALLY Interests You




We here at The Rant admit that we care little for baseball, much preferring football to America's traditional pastime. But Gad! the sheer excitement we have witnessed surrounding both the Cubs' and the Red Sox's advancement to the pennant series really makes for an exciting time around here. We were cheering along with the Red Sox fans when they clawed their way back from two down against Oakland.

So we wish both the Cubs and the Red Sox well as they go ahead in the playoffs. We will admit that we are slightly concerned, though. After all, if both teams were to advance to the World Series, we might just consider this a sign that, as in 28 Days, The End Times are Extremely Friggin' Nigh.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:01 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 07, 2003

Other Arnold, Sex Actress Battle for 10th Place

WE HERE AT THE RANT will leave to others commentary on what California's gubernatorial recall election means to the Golden State. We just don't think one key story should be ignored. Namely, how all the candidates who had absolutely no (UPDATE: well, OK, a very tiny) chance of winning the second part of the recall question fared at the polls.

Fortunately, thanks to the State of California's excellent Web site, we can see first-hand just how the other 125 or so candidates performed. And look! With 8.6 percent of the precincts reporting, the ex-child star has a slight lead over the sex actress! The guy who smashes watermelons for a living is close behind ...

2. BUSTAMANTE: 31.0 pc
3. McCLINTOCK: 12.0 pc ...

10. COLEMAN: 1,642 votes - 0.2 pc
11. COOK: 1,316 votes - 0.0 pc ...
15. GALLAGHER: 918 votes - 0.0 pc

It could be worse, though, for them. Todd Richard Lewis, No. 135 on the list at present, has so far garnered only 15 votes.


UPDATE, 11:51 PM With 14 percent of precincts reporting, Todd Richard Lewis is now tied for 116th place with 70 votes. Kevin Richter has fallen to No. 135, with 39 votes. Coleman and Cook now struggling for 11th place, as Van Vo jumps to No. 10 with 2,129 votes.

UPDATE, 12:04 AM: The foxy account-executive girl is beating the foxy computer programmer girl. With 14 percent of precincts reporting, Brooke Adams is in 29th place, while Georgy Russell ranks No. 43.

UPDATE, 12:10 AM: Coleman, Cook still battling it out for 11th place, with 15.8 percent of precincts reporting. Gallagher falls to 17th place. Billboard model Angelyne ranks No. 26, proving the billboards around town still leave the vast majority of Angelenos a bit confused. Richter is still in the basement, with a mere 44 votes.

UPDATE, 12:21 AM: COLEMAN SURGES to 10th PLACE! Van Vo in 11th, Cook in 12th. Cook now has 0.2 percent of the vote, California says.

UPDATE, 12:30 AM: But wait! The foxy computer-programmer girl now ranks No. 38, with Adams at No. 32!

FINAL UPDATE, 12:41 AM: Well, the battle of Coleman v. Cook doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon, as Gary Coleman is still in 10th place and Mary Cook is in 11th. In any event, we are going to bed, and will see how things turn out in the morning.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

An Ode to File-Sharers

WE RECENTLY REALIZED that while the Recording Industry Association of America has filed lawsuits against hundreds upon hundreds of people accused of illegal file-sharing, all the news reports we've seen have been in reference to those folks who have settled with the recording companies. As we figure it's only a matter of time before one of the brave (read: crazy) souls on the receiving end of those lawsuits actually tries to fight it, we offer the following ode*:

(with apologies to Otis Redding)

Sittin' here under the gun
I'll be sittin' when the day is done
Watchin' the jury roll in
Then I'll watch 'em go away again

I'm sittin' in the dock, at bay
Hoping the tide turns my way
Ooh, I'm just sittin' in the dock, at bay
Wastin' time ...

I left my home in Georgia
Got served by the RIAA
It's 'cause they're a bunch of morons
asking eighteen for some J-Lo -- no way!

So, I'm just sittin' in the dock, at bay
Hoping the tide turns my way
Ooh, I'm just sittin' in the dock, at bay
Wastin' time ...

Look like nothing's gonna change
Every CD still gonna sound the same
I can't do what their people tell me to do
Which is settle up -- and pay

Just sittin' here, wanting to groan
And this press corps just won't leave me alone
Two thousand miles I roamed
'Cause their lawyers forgot to file near home

Now, I'm just gonna sit in the dock, at bay
Hoping the tide turns my way
Ooh, I'm just sittin' in the dock, at bay
Wastin' time ...



* Note to humorless recording-industry people: This is parody. This means that we can't be sued, even if you really don't like it.

* Note to humorless recording-industry attorneys: No, really. See Hustler v. Falwell, 485 US 46.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Underwhelming and Uninspiring

Oh No!
It's Yet Another Installment of ...

Today's Film: Underworld

"UNDERWORLD" IS NOT A FILM FOR THINKING MOVIE-GOERS, we are sad to report. Based upon the interesting if somewhat odd premise that two groups of supernatural creatures are secretly warring with each other, we do believe that "Underworld" could have made for a decent or perhaps even good movie-going experience. Unfortunately, we knew not five minutes into the movie that it would be neither decent nor good, and we knew ten minutes into it that we had found ourselves condemned to two hours of anguish and pain.

For "Underworld" is underwhelming and uninspiring in every respect. It is a badly-directed, badly-scripted, badly-written, and badly-rationalized movie that even falls short in the categories in which such bad films are usually good. For while one had hoped the scenery and style and hot girls wearing slinky costumes might have made up for it, "Underworld" failed to live up to its potential in even that regard. All in all, it made for a rather disappointing film experience.

Of course, our streak of bad luck continued as we went into the film. For the lax projectionist started the film late, and the theatre management decided it would load up reams of previews on top of that. And lo, we did watch in bemusement as advertisements for an upcoming stupid horror film and an upcoming stupid crime drama were splashed across the silver screen, to be followed by an ad for yet another upcoming stupid horror film. Interspersed between the first two trailers and the latter were trailers for three films, all of which consisted entirely of recycled or remade content. And, as we were reeling from the nausea and revulsion which these trailers had induced in us, we were thrown into the main film not thirty seconds later.

That says a lot about "Underworld." For one area in which it did excel was throwing the viewer into situations which made absolutely no sense at the time, and only became half-comprehensible about 90 minutes into the picture. Gad.

Anyway, here's the plot. Unbeknownst to God-fearing and mortal humans, clans of vampires and werewolves have been fighting a clandestine war against each other for a good thousand years. As time has marched ever on, the two groups have gone from being hunted down by an angry mediaeval citizenry to successfully adapting to modern, 21st-century life. By this, we mean that the vampires became securities litigators whilst the werewolves became a street gang, albeit a well-spoken street gang. OK, so that's not entirely accurate -- the vampires have actually gone into industry, while the werewolves have gone into the exciting but non-permanent field of anti-government agitation. At least they seem like rebels. We can't tell, because it's not fully explained what it is they do.

Anyway, whilst hunting down the werewolves, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) realizes that the beasties are actually searching for a lowly human. Why this is, no one knows, but the idea of learning more about it is immediately nixed by her incompetent and weaselly superior, Kraven (Shane Brolly). (They named him Kraven. Christ. Idiots!)

As it turns out, the lowly human (Scott Speedman) -- with the eminently European name of Michael Corvin -- is central to the werewolves creating a new line of vampire/werewolf crossbreeds. These hybrid monstrosities would, after passing their Section 7(a) exams, then bring the war to a swift conclusion. At least that's the idea of Lucian (Michael Sheen), the werewolves' leader. As one would expect, Selene and Corvin fall in love, and there is much in the way of hand-wringing about that ("Say! Guess who's coming to dinner?") Then, after a bit of dithering about, this leads to much gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. Denouement follows.

The backdrop for all this silliness is a city in cinema's Twilight Zone. We know this is the case because it has all sorts of pretty mediaeval architecture and gargoyles on the parapet and all that, and because some of the signs look as if they are in German. The license plates on the cars are also done up in that indecipherable and foreign way. On the other hand, everyone speaks English, and speak in a variety of English or American accents, and all the accoutrements -- software, police cars, and so forth -- are all identified in English. One would think the film producers would have been smart enough to realize that a police car ought to say "POLIZEI" instead of "POLICE" on it, or at least given their readers credit for figuring it out themselves.

We cannot begin to explain the full silliness inherent in this film. Gad. First off, the vampires use silver-tinged bullets to kill off the werewolves, as werewolves really don't care for the stuff. Unfortunately, as any student of mythology can tell you, neither do the vampires. The werewolves, for their part, somehow have infused sunlight into their own projectiles. This causes vampires much distress but unfortunately does not seem to jive with physics.

But boy. That's not all. There is a scene in which Kate Beckinsale manages to take two measly machine pistols to shoot her way through a floor. There is a scene in which one of the werewolves somehow manages to outrun a Jaguar XJR sedan. There is a scene in which the high-tech vampiric fortress -- in which there may be 200 to 300 vampires at any one time, despite local fire codes -- has its electrical power cut off with the flip of one switch. Thus proving that vampires are decadent and stupid creatures, as any rational folks would have thrown in a triple-redundancy system.

We also did not think much of the vaunted photography and scenery and costuming that supposedly kept the film from sinking under the weight of its own idiocy. Everyone has already made the comparisons to "The Matrix" movies, and everyone has already concurred with the argument that these failed to jump the high bar. For instance, the vampiric fortress -- for all its Old World charm -- was in sore need of redecorating, having last been redone in 1870 or so. And let's face it -- leather and corsets and all that can be nice, but all that failed to hold my interest for more than three seconds.

So if you must see "Underworld," we would advise waiting until you see it under the "New Releases" section of your local video store, or perhaps under a sign that reads "Bargain Bin." To make any more of an effort for this underachieving cinematic wreck wouldn't be fair. After all, why should you expend so much effort when the folks behind it apparently didn't?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:08 AM | TrackBack

October 06, 2003

This Cannot Be Borne

WE HAVE LEARNED that The Raving Atheist has devised a "Blog Code" to ascertain meaning from a series of blogs authored by people whom our atheist calls "Godidiots." As it turns out, The Rant is among these seven or so blogs which attracted The Raving Atheist's attention.

Using these supposed code-breaking skills, The Raving Atheist has claimed to deduce the inherent meaning of The Rant, based on the full title of our blog. This supposed meaning is as follows:

An inane, blasted, pimply jerk.
Limp and nasty plebian jerk.
Jerky, pliant, damnable penis.

The Raving Atheist writes, as sort of an afterthought to somehow lessen the indignity he has heaped upon us, "I never thought he was that much of a jerk."

We do appreciate that. But quite frankly, we could also care less. That is not what has our hackles up. Nor do the comments about being "limp and nasty," or being "pliant" and a "damnable penis." We can deal with these baseless and crude attacks against our character.

But plebian ?


To respond to this insult against our good name, we turn to one of our illustrious ancestors, Hans Peter Koeppel (1644-1719), the noted Gerichtschoffe; one-time Mayor of Dehlingen, Alsace; landlord; and fourth of his line. We have translated from the original German transcript:


Ye Raving Epicurean, who writeth in a most Unseemly and Gauche manner so that he may better Castigate the God-fearing Christian men and women of ye civil society, doth Overreach himself most precariously. Was it not similar Incivility which led to the cruel treatment of my beloved Wife, whom the Uncouth people notoriously Tried in Diemeringen in 1673? Yea; I would argue thusly; and I Reject his scurrilious Non-sense accordingly.

For while Fortune decreed that an Aristocratic birth was not our lot, Providence and human Labor saw to it that our fortunes improved over time. These Labors did not go for Naught, and I can only thank Almighty God for his generosity and Blessing upon our house, and the generations upon generations which came after my Time upon this mortal coil. With His assent, these works shall ever Increase.

I do Understand that a particular great-great-grandson of my great-grandson has sometimes been a bit rash in his Judgments, but I must attribute this to Youth and Inexperience. With time, he shall cast away such Tomfoolery, and begin undertaking the pursuits of a true gentleman.

Also, as one learned man of Yr. time might say, "Ye Raving Epicurean knows nothing of my work. He means my whole fallacy is wrong. How he ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing."


And to quote another learned man: "Boy, don't you wish life was like this?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:16 AM | TrackBack

October 05, 2003

New Play on an Old Joke

THEN I SAW another mighty angel coming down from Heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring; when he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from Heaven saying, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down."

-- The Revelation to John, 10:1-4

Verily, we can assure you what the seven thunders said. They said: "The Cubs will again win in the postseason."

(link via Illinigirl)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

Where Have I Been, You Wonder


We here at The Rant must apologize to our legions of loyal readers for not really updating over the past week. Oh, sure, we had that tiny little brief on Friday night talking about Jean Chretien, but that really doesn't count at all, now does it? No, it does not.

Anyway, we have had one of those weeks. No, really -- we have had one of those weeks. We are talking a week so bad that we half-expected Rod Serling to step out of the shadows here at Rant headquarters and deliver a long soliloquy as we were blogging.

Mr SERLING: "Meet Benjamin Kepple, a little-known writer in a medium-sized modern American city. Little does he know, as he sits there wheezing and gasping, recovering from an internal malady, that external forces will soon deliver him into a nightmarish world of fear and frustration. A world we call The Twilight Zone."

Now, we admit that this may be a bit of an exaggeration. OK, it is. Things truly weren't that bad. We have not experienced things that would make us suspect divine forces had decided to make us a successor to Job. Still, what really amazed us was that there were a number of little not-good things that went along with the major not-good happenings; things that truly made us realize It Was Certainly Not Going to Be Our Week. Whether it was our chronic inability to pump gas for an even dollar amount at the service station, or Michigan's inexcusable loss to Iowa, or the botched delivery of our dinner one night, or our spilling things in the kitchen, it all added up. The icing on the cake, perhaps, was on Friday.

We were returning a DVD to our useless local video store. As the establishment was closed at that time in the morning, we were forced to use the outside hatch which lets patrons return their videos outside the store's operating hours. We were checking to see whether the DVD was in fact the DVD we had rented, and not one of our favorite war films, when we found ourselves struggling with the cheap plastic case it was in.

Pop! goes the case. Out! goes the DVD. Into the nearby public ashtray.

We then stared at the cursed thing for a good minute or so in wonderment. For clearly it was a sign; a sign telling us that we were going to be in it for the long haul. But lo! we can assure our readers that we are in quite high spirits. Quite high spirits, indeed.

For we have noticed in our lives that when things go poorly for an extended period of time, they snap back with amazing force sooner or later. God willing it will be sooner, but who can say? In the meantime, we know that with the support of all those very near and dear to us, we shall make it through; and that all will be well in the end. And so on, until morning.

No, really. That's not sarcasm. We are doing quite well.

Of course, we realize that this long explanatory will do little to nothing to answer the key question loyal Rant readers are undoubtedly wondering, which is: when will The Rant resume normal operations?

Pretty soon, we'd say. We're thinking Tuesday. No, really. Tuesday.

We can say with relative certainty that this week, we will have updates on some pretty good writing printed in overseas publications; some long essays on social phenomena here in the United States; and a Bad Cinema with Ben update. Saucy!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:36 PM | TrackBack

October 03, 2003

Little Guy from Shawnigan Eyes Smoking Big Joint

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER Jean Chretien has once again expressed da Canadian value, as Mark Steyn once termed it. It seems the 69-year-old PM told the Winnipeg Free Press that he may very well toke up after he retires his office, provided a bill decriminalizing cannabis takes effect.

Here are, for your edification, Mr Chretien's own words:

"I don't know what is marijuana. Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."

Yes, these are in fact the words of the Canadian head of Government. We would suggest that certain Canadians, primarily those who have not yet been cured of the dangerous SMUG virus, reflect on those eloquent statements the next time they criticize Our President for his alleged linguistic deficiencies vis-a-vis pronouncing terms related to atomic weaponry.

Oui, nous réalisons que Chretien est le Québec, et comme tels
pourraient être plus compréhensibles en français. Cela a indiqué,
il apparemment les essoreuses qui aussi.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:14 PM | TrackBack