November 30, 2003

Quick Thanksgiving Report

SOLON, Ohio -- WE ARE QUITE PLEASED to report this evening that we managed to lose a full eight pounds over the Thanksgiving holiday. We can assure you that, according to the electronic scale which Mr and Mrs Kepple have in their bath, our weight fell from 237 to 229 pounds in the span of about fifty-six hours.

Of course, we were awfully sick during the holiday. For we did have a fever that spiked at 102 degrees, and we largely did nothing but lie listlessly on the sofa as we watched football and movies with our folks. Still, we can't help wonder whether the simple act of going home enlightened our spirits and rejuvenated our being.

For despite our illness, it was absolutely wonderful to be home, even if it was for just three days. It was nice to see our family again, and to share a meal, and to spend time just doing nothing. It was wonderful to watch the news and talk about politics and the economy and everything else. After being gone for so very long, the three days at home made us really appreciate all our blessings in life, and to feel very thankful for everything that we have. Now that all is said and done, we feel pretty good physically, and fantastic mentally.

There is much more we could write -- and we will do so, soon -- but for now, that should serve in terms of an early report. Here's hoping that you too had a great Thanksgiving, and that you were able to spend it with your family and friends. And if for some reason you weren't -- you were working, or you were on duty, or you were serving our nation overseas -- please know that here at The Rant, we very much appreciate the sacrifices that you've made. We also very much hope that when the next Thanksgiving rolls around, you'll have the chance to spend the holiday just as we did this year.

Minus the fever, of course!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:08 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 29, 2003

A First-Class Trip

DETROIT -- AS THIS KEEPS WITH the spirit of decadence which loyal Rant readers have long suspected lurks in our soul, we figure no one will be shocked to learn that we splurged on a first-class air-travel upgrade this afternoon.

We fully agree this purchase of services, which cost us $55, was entirely unwarranted. Indeed, the funds would have been better used to bolster our retirement accounts. However, we were not feeling very rational at the time. Feeling a bit ill from our previous flight, and having been quite sick over the Thanksgiving holiday, we very much wanted desperately to avoid getting stuck in some sardine tin of a cabin for the remainder of our journey. So we went for it.

However, as we sat in our spacious and comfortable chair, and put our feet up on the footrest while we dined on a surprisingly-decent meal, we wondered whether we had made an economically-justified decision. True, there were intangibles: we could blog about this, and we got to keep the boarding pass as a neat memento of the occasion. But when it came down to tangibles, we weren't sure that we were getting a good deal out of the matter.

So we ran a bit of math, using a formula we shall now enshrine as Kepple's First Law of Air Travel Upgrades. As we would like this formula to benefit all mankind, we shall publish it in the name of freedom:

((T(min) / C + A + D) * 1/2(T) )+ H= $

Or, in English:

Take the time of said flight in minutes, and divide by the variables Comfort, Accommodation, and Drinks. Multiply that sum by one-half the time of said flight in minutes, and add in the Hassle factor, also expressed in minutes. This defines the appropriate price premium (or, "$") one should pay for a first-class upgrade or ticket.

Now, admittedly, these are malleable variables. However, they may be approximated as follows:

COMFORT is measured in a unit known as the kilobalm, lit. "one thousand balms".

Now, a balm is not the direct opposite of the widely-used measuring unit for pain -- which writer Ed Bolme has termed a hurt* -- but it is close enough so that it can represent the absence of pain.

In this case, one kilobalm is equivalent to each time you do not have your knees crushed by the lout sitting in front of you; each time you do not have your chair kicked by the spiteful brute sitting behind you; or each time you do not have your feet or knees stepped on or otherwise bruised by the drinks cart.

ACCOMMODATION is an easier number to quantify: it is, simply, the number of passengers in economy class who will NOT be able to use the special first-class lavatory. This number may be adjusted, if you wish, to reflect the cost in dollars of the special first class meal you get to eat. If you wish to make this adjustment, add 5 to this number.

DRINKS represents, simply, the amount of free alcohol in ounces you can consume in the first-class cabin during the flight.

The HASSLE factor represents the time in minutes that you do not spend stuck standing in the aisle trying to maneuver into your seat, and in futile and unseemly attempts to disembark from the aircraft after landing.

Now, we can clearly see that purchasing a first-class upgrade on short airplane trips is foolish. Consider a flight from Cleveland to Detroit -- the first leg of our flight today.

The flight was 40 minutes long. Had we been in first class on that flight, we would have not had our knees crushed by the lout in front of us a full 9 times, which equals 9 kilobalms of comfort. There were 80 passengers in economy class, and we could have consumed two ounces of alcohol (or one gin miniature). The Hassle factor would have worked out to about 10, given the flight.

Hence, (((40 / (15 + 80 + 2)) * 20) + 10 = $18.25.

Since it would be pretty much near impossible to purchase a first-class upgrade for $18.25, or a first-class ticket for $18.25 more than an economy class ticket, the purchase would be foolhardy, reckless, decadent and immoral.

But what about longer flights? Let's look at our flight from Detroit to Manchester.

The flight was 100 minutes long. We estimate we enjoyed a full 37 kilobalms of comfort on the flight. There were 150 passengers, and had we wanted, we could have had a full six ounces of alcohol (three gin miniatures). The Hassle factor was a full 15 minutes.

Hence, (((100 / (37 + 150 + 6)) * 50) + 15 = $40.90.

And there you have it. Our decision was clearly unjustified and wasteful. In addition to feeling very guilty and rather embarrassed about the whole thing, we shall make up for it by eliminating an additional $14.10 from this month's entertainment budget, in addition to the $55 cost of the upgrade.

We also promise never to do such a thing again. Further, we can say we learned that an important maxim applicable in most situations also applies to air travel.

Namely, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

* Mr Bolme, writing in his book Title Deleted for Security Reasons, has noted that one hurt is the rough equivalent of suffering one bite from a mosquito. We are writing from memory, but we believe that Mr Bolme further wrote that a broken bone is equal to 600 kilohurts, while having one's lips caught in a car door is equal to something like 6.3 megahurts.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 24, 2003

Pax Americana

CLEARLY WE'RE HAVING ONE of those fundamental cultural disconnects this morning. You see, we can't understand why James Lileks' retort against Iraqi blogger/Guardian writer Salam Pax has created such a fuss, as it seems entirely reasonable to us.

Now, you likely know what Mr Lileks wrote about the whole situation. Today, he apologized for using a popular if crude two-word rejoinder in response to Mr Pax's argument, in which Mr Pax complains that things are not getting back to normal as quickly as one might have hoped.

Still, Mr Lileks' initial words have created much discord. For instance, Brian Linse writes: "Fuck You, Lileks, you coward. Stay in MN where your wannabe bullshit will still impress someone enough to cut you a check."

Meanwhile, Arthur Silber writes: "Please note that Lileks writes this from the great comfort of his affluent life in Minnesota, where he is undoubtedly tortured by the earth-shattering question as to just how much he ought to spend on Gnat's Christmas presents this year.

Has Lileks ever lived under a vicious totalitarian regime? If he admits that Salam Pax knows more about the situation than Lileks himself does, how exactly does Lileks know that it is "precisely" because of "people like" Salam Pax that the Saddam regime "would have prospered into the next generation"? Have four of Lileks' relatives gone missing? Has one of Lileks' friends been summarily executed? Has one of Lileks' close friends "never returned"?

I suspect, indeed I am certain, that the answers to all these questions are a resounding: No. In which case, Mr. Lileks, the only proper response to you is the one you make to Salam Pax: Fuck you. How dare you? How dare anyone?

Mr Lileks, of course, can defend himself very well in this matter, so we will leave that to him. What we do not understand is why his words created such a stir in the first place. Here's our thinking.

Let's say that, in 2023, some home-grown Communists have somehow taken over the United States, and we were unable to flee to Bermuda with our secret stash of gold and negotiable bearer instruments. Let us further say that said Communists have made it clear that anyone stepping out of line will be dealt with in an extreme and final manner. In addition, let us say that the Communists have an eye to liquidating any troublesome writers that formerly supported the old order of democratic capitalism. But wait! A short while, after a particularly short but effective conflict, the French come to our aid and liberate us from our bondage.

The last thing we'd do six months down the line is complain -- in our bad French -- that the electricity is only on eleven hours out of the day, particularly if many of our fellow Americans were doing all they could to gum up the works. We are sorry, but we don't see how such griping would particularly help matters. Firstly, it would be particularly unseemly and gauche to gripe in such a smarmy way -- that complaint, perhaps, might wound the upper-class Mr Pax more than anything -- and secondly, it does nothing to address the situation at hand.

We dare say that if the above situation were ever to come about, we would -- we don't know -- actually help our liberators in bringing about peace and order, as it would a) speed along the process of having us manage our own affairs and b) assist in getting things back to normal. Both of these things, we think, are what we would want, and probably pretty close to what Iraqis would like now.

We agree that is oversimplifying matters, but even still, that is how we see it. As such, we approve of Mr Lileks' rhetorical slap against Mr Pax. In our mind, it was both needed and well-deserved.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

That's Right -- HAIL to the Victors!

"It doesn't matter where we go,'' Larry Stevens said before walking into Michigan's boisterous locker room. "We beat Ohio State!''

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:14 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 22, 2003

The Knights of Bushido

FIFTY-EIGHT YEARS AFTER the end of the Second World War, a team of Japanese investigators is looking into unconfirmed reports that a few soldiers of Japan's Imperial Army are still fighting on in the Philippines.

Wow. That's ... there just aren't any words. But what a sad situation that would be, if the reports turn out to be true.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 21, 2003

Homeward Bound!

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SIX YEARS, I shall be at home next week celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Six years! My God! How I have missed it!

How I have missed all the holidays for which I haven't been home over the years -- the Christmas Eves on which I returned to a dark apartment; the sterile and cookout-less Independence Days, the quiet New Year's Eves spent with a bottle of gin.

It all couldn't be helped, of course. Like nearly all Americans, I must toil for my daily bread; and when work called, I had to follow, whether it took me to sunny California or cold New England. Further, I knew what I was getting into when I took those positions, and I cannot complain. But I can thank all those who have helped make those holidays brighter, whether it was inviting me to a Christmas Eve party or bringing me a plate of turkey on Thanksgiving. They were acts of kindness which I shall always appreciate.

This year, though, it will be so very nice to go back home; to walk in from the cold and damp into the warmth and light of family and great home cooking and good conversation and all the rest of it.


THANKSGIVING, I think, is one of those holidays which are not fully appreciated until one is an adult.

Most children, if I had to hazard a guess, likely view the day as a bit of a wash. Spending time with family from whom they are not far enough away to really miss, ending up at a wobbly kiddie table with their siblings and cousins, and then watching the Detroit Lions play football -- all of these are experiences which kids are probably too young to appreciate.

For adults, though, it is an entirely different matter. We're old enough to realize how important -- and how nice -- it is to see one's family again; and to really appreciate the meal that was cooked; and all the rest of it. We are old enough to be truly grateful for the traditions which have been passed down through family history.

In my memory, those family traditions are more centered around Christmas and New Year's than Thanksgiving; although I must say I think my memory is clouded because, as a child, I looked forward to Christmas more. It wasn't just because the days were shorter and the weather was worse; there just seemed to be more time to really celebrate the holiday. I guess you could also say there was more of a run-up to the day itself. Besides, I have never been super-enthusiastic about Thanksgiving turkey* -- quelle horreur! -- even if I do very much like the side dishes.

You should know that when it comes to Christmas Eve celebrations, you can always count on a few things at the Kepple house. There will be jumbo shrimp cocktails and the blue cheese dip and pretzels served during the evening, along with a pretty fabulous buffet-style meal; there will be wine and sparkling grape juice and other drinks served; there will be family movie watching, and there will be at least one (1) gift exchange, perhaps more if we can convince my parents (Mr & Mrs Kepple). When I was much younger, my father would add in certain flourishes, such as sneaking outside in the dead of night to ring sleigh bells for a good ten minutes. Soon after, my brother and I would fall asleep, knowing full well that St. Nicholas was well on his way.

This was the highlight of a rather long run-up to the Christmas holiday, and more often than not we would spend a few days** in western Pennsylvania -- where our family's roots are -- with our extended family. I particularly enjoyed that as a child, as it usually meant a really fabulous holiday meal, to say nothing of the annual Kepple ping-pong tournament in the basement of my grandmother's home. I should note that this tourney was sometimes held around Thanksgiving, but no matter the holiday, Dad usually won the trophy -- and there was a trophy.

New Year's Day, meanwhile, is ushered in with the traditional dinner of pork chops and sauerkraut. This is for good luck. Given the way that 2003 largely went, you can be damn sure I'm going to eat that all day this time around. (Mother: please e-mail me the recipe).

Still, that's not to say at all that Thanksgiving was discounted; not in the least. It very much was and is a time of family. There were many glorious dinners with relatives from far and near, both at home in Michigan and in Pennsylvania. Those reunions and those family dinners mean as much to me now as the Christmas celebrations did, and time has made me value Thanksgiving much more than I had in the past.

And this year, I am very much looking forward to walking through the door on Thanksgiving morning and smelling a cooking turkey, and seeing my family again for the first time in almost six months. I am very much looking forward to the cranberry sauce and the green-bean casserole and the potatoes -- and especially the twenty-five pound turkey which Mother has undoubtedly bought!

For a very short while, I will get to come in from the cold.

* Don't worry. This will not come as a great shock to anyone in the Kepple household, although everyone else likes turkey much more than me. Further, as a gentleman, I can assure you that I *do* eat the turkey without complaint and I *do* like it, it's just not my favorite thing. Furthermore, I most certainly *do not* attempt to have it substituted with some un-American turkey substitute. However, I will say I am psyched about having a "Terducken" for Thanksgiving when I have a family of my own. That should make everyone happy.

** Not only would we spend a few days in Pennsylvania, we'd spend a couple of days traveling for the trip. It was eight hours from our home in western Michigan to see our family, and boy! those were some crazy trips. Horrible snow, white-out conditions, frozen car doors and windows ... it really was unbelievable some years.

That said, if any of you are making a similar trip and there's a bad storm out, stop over at Clay's Family Restaurant in Fremont, Ind. It's right off I-69, near the Indiana-Michigan line. Haven't been there in more than a decade, but the food was always pretty good.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

Misery, Delayed

WE HAVE JUST REALIZED that despite the fact Thanksgiving is but just one week away, we remain free of hideous snow here in lovely Manchester. Oh, how sweet it is.

For this is how winter is supposed to be. By rights, snow is acceptable in limited amounts from Thanksgiving until Christmas, with the inevitable deluge tolerated for a six-week period between Boxing Day and our birthday in February. After this, winter must retreat behind the Arctic Circle until it can return next December.

The amazing thing is that it is certainly looking as if this will be the case. What a God-send it is, too! No cleaning off the car in the morning; no warming up the engine; no cursing our cheap $10 snowbrush that we bought at the gas station because we completely forgot to winterize the Taurus and even worse, forgot our gloves were in the trunk.

So while we are not confident things will stay this good, we can say we are cautiously optimistic winter will stay where it belongs: somewhere else.

We so very much hope.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack




TO: The Sydney Morning Herald

FR: Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant

RE: Webdiary

SIR -- We wish to register a complaint about the "Webdiary" feature in the electronic edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Specifically, we refer you to this particular entry, which appeared on 20 November 2003.

Please be advised that we think this feature consistently embarrasses not only your fine publication, but also the great nation of Australia.

You see, your publication is a regular source of information for many Americans who do not know where else they may turn for information about your country. As such, folks here rely on the Sydney Morning Herald for timely, informative and comprehensive articles about goings-on there. Webdiary fails miserably at doing any of these things; instead, it seems to offer readers rather a lot of apoplectic ranting about.

Furthermore, these apoplectic rantings, presented as they are in some degenerate corruption of the English tongue, are so histrionic in tone that they make us wonder whether Webdiary is some kind of in-country joke; a joke that we, as foreigners, just don't understand. We would suggest these things are not exactly helping matters.

For instance, we note that in the article we cite above, the lead author of Webdiary, Ms Margo Kingston, is quoted as writing elsewhere: "A growing proportion of the media are behaving as propagandists, not as journalists." It is bad enough that proportion is a singular collective -- the copy desk ought have caught that and reworked the sentence -- but we do not understand how one draws such a conclusion. Surely with the Code of Ethics at the Sydney Morning Herald, a code that we are sure is emulated across Australia, this could not be the case.

That is just one example -- but the collective effect of such writing is that we in America are very much concerned about our Australian friends. Perhaps it might not be a bad idea to take a few weeks off in the country and rest up a bit; soothe the frayed nerves, have a nice glass of Shiraz, etc. etc.

We would have sent this letter to you privately, but we could not find any contact information on-site other than the Letters editor. With all the similar letters we assume he receives, we did not want to burden him with having to edit, proof, and condense our correspondence. After all, he only has space to print 25-30 letters each day. We know you get many more than that there, so we thought we would save him the trouble and print our letter in the public domain.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration in this matter.

Very sincerely,

Benjamin Kepple
Chief Executive Officer
Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant, Inc.
"Your Hometown Nostalgia Source"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:12 PM | TrackBack

More Quahog for All

THE FAMILY GUY is a well-liked favorite here at The Rant, particularly for that one episode where Peter and the Griffin family go on the lam and head down South, only to create much havoc when they interrupt the re-enactment of Appomattox.

And lo! The good people at 20th Century Fox said, "We may make more."

(via Ben Domenech)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:58 PM | TrackBack

Calif. Officials Allege: Wacko Jacko Sicko Pedo

WE ATTEMPTED TO FIND REAL NEWS about which to comment upon today, but all the television news channels are going on about a has-been musician whom California officials allege molested a twelve-year-old boy. The shock fury horror of it all may be found here, along with details of the allegations which the musician in question faces. We should also note that attorneys for the singer have very much denied the charges, calling them "outrageous" and "false."

Now, this is not to say we think the news stories about this musician should not be run -- clearly they ought to be, given the nature of celebrity and the alleged criminal conduct in question. However, we are very much having trouble with the fact, that at present, said stories are deemed more worthy of note than the President's speech in London, the al-Qaeda terror attacks in Istanbul, and the penalty phase in one of the two Washington-area sniper cases. It is one thing to make note of what's happening; it is another thing entirely to focus on that exclusively.

It was so over the top today that at least one major television news channel exhaustively covered the landing of a private plane in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the subsequent disembarkation of that plane's passengers. Unfortunately, it was not the plane containing the musician in question, and there was much egg on the faces of all concerned. Yet the coverage continued, and we daresay that nothing short of a hydrogen bomb explosion would have deterred the network from its committed course.

We can't be the only ones who find all this disturbing in every possible way.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:39 PM | TrackBack

November 17, 2003

Not Yet A Good Role Model, Either

WE HAVE LEARNED THIS EVENING, by way of Allison Barnes' excellent site, that pop musician Britney Spears considers herself a role model for youth. Ms Barnes, we think, has summed up the matter well: "This I don't dispute. She is a role model, but perhaps not a good one."

Ms Barnes also takes note of the key quote in the Associated Press story which she references:

"In a radio interview to be broadcast Monday, the 21-year-old pop star said parents should not be worried if their children want to copy her.

"I probably have more older fans than the younger ones, but I think the reason why everyone talks about the younger fans so much is because the parents are concerned," Spears was quoted as saying. "And in the end they shouldn't be concerned because they should trust their kids and believe in their kids."

We here at The Rant do not have any children. However, we can assure Ms Spears that we have every intention of trusting and believing in our children when we have them. The only caveat is that they will have had to reach the age of majority. Based on the experiences of our own youth, in which we were sullen and passive-aggressive, we have no intention of trusting our children during their adolescent years.

Now, we fully admit that we may very well trust our eventual children at that time, as there is always the possibility that they will be good as gold. However, despite our best efforts in the matter, we consider this possibility a slim one. As such, we fully intend to be watchful parents. We can further say that if our teenaged daughter(s) were ever to dress like Ms Spears does for her concerts, we would have a Conniption Fit, the likes of which not seen since Senator Kefauver grilled the Mafia:

DAUGHTER (in doorway of study): Hi, Daddy!

ME (typing away at computer): Hello! No.


ME: No. Just a pre-emptive thing, really.

DAUGHTER: I haven't even asked you anything yet!

ME: Oh, I know! However, I know that you're going to ask if you can borrow my car. Hence the No. When YOU get older and YOU start paying your own bills and YOU sell a book, YOU can spend the proceeds on an outlandishly-expensive automobile symbolizing your own mid-life crisis. Until then, however, the answer is No.

DAUGHTER: That's not even what I came to talk to you about!

ME: Oh! Carry on.

DAUGHTER: I just wanted to let you know I'm going out with Rick, and ...

ME: Oh, OK. Wait a minute. Who's Rick? Have I met Rick? Is this Rick a Humphrey Bogart-like Rick or an ominous be-mulleted Eighties-era rocker-type Rick?

DAUGHTER: Oh, he's the musician at ...


DAUGHTER: Daddy, he's ...

ME: He had BEST not have blue hair!

DAUGHTER: ... he's going to be here in fifteen minutes, so you can meet him! He's in a swing band!

ME: Oh, well, that's different then! I always knew you had top choice in the fellows. Now, let's ... (turning away from machine) ... SWEET MERCIFUL GOD ALMIGHTY!


ME: What! What do you mean, 'What?' You know very well what -- you're half-dressed for the occasion, that's what! Good God. You're dressing like Britney Spears during a concert, for Heaven's sake!


ME: Never mind. Now, sweetie, you know you ought not dress like that. You and I and your Mother had this discussion already, didn't we? Now that I think of it, we also discussed the importance of choosing high-quality guys with which to date, to say nothing of the safety issues. This musician of yours is undoubtedly a Casanova of dubious chivalric qualities, and ...

DAUGHTER: Rick's parents are writers.

ME: Oh. Well, good Lord! Why didn't you say so before?

And so the story closes, with our future self content knowing that our daughter is going out with the clearly well-mannered scion of fellow writers. Hey, they may be crazy, but at least we'll know where we stand. We also hope that Ms Spears will rest easy knowing that we will trust and believe in our kids. Provided we have an awful lot of verification to go with that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:09 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 15, 2003

The Creation of Wealth ...

... IS AIDED BY RELIGIOUS BELIEF, The Economist reports on its excellent Web site. It is also apparently in the magazine's print edition this week, but since our useless news agent failed YET AGAIN to have The Economist on sale, we wouldn't know.

In any event, The Economist writes that Harvard economists Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary have found as follows:

The most striking conclusion, though, is that belief in the afterlife, heaven and hell are good for economic growth. Of these, fear of hell is by far the most powerful, but all three indicators have a bigger impact on economic performance than merely turning up for church. The authors surmise, therefore, that religion works via belief, not practice. A parish priest might tell you that simply going through the motions will bring you little benefit in the next world. If Mr Barro and Ms McCleary are right, it does you little good in this one either.

We here at The Rant do not find this at all surprising, but we have our own thoughts about why religious belief drives economic growth.

The first is that morality is the natural product of a societal belief in God. The roots of this morality run extremely deep -- so much so, that people who are not actively religious hold to the morals they were taught in their youth; and even people who have no use for religion adhere to that morality. In the latter case, that's due to both such folks' hard-wired sense of right and wrong, and societal pressure, namely how their colleagues or friends or family would look upon their conduct. True, the laws of our nation also forbid activity which we deem to be wrong. But those laws only serve as punishment for wrongdoers. They in themselves do not prevent wrongdoers from committing anti-social acts in the first place.

An active religious believer, we think, will also adhere to his religion's guidelines regarding lifestyle. One might assume that a goodly sense of moderation, temperance and duty would go along with such belief; and as such, the believer would be personally strengthened by it. It then follows that such a believer would have stronger ties to his community, his place of employment, and-- this is the key -- his family.

We know -- thanks to the work of folks like Patrick Fagan at The Heritage Foundation -- that strong family ties go hand-in-hand with economic well-being. We further know that a strong family will actively prevent both adults and children from engaging in anti-social or otherwise detrimental behavior. Obviously, these things are not absolute, but they certainly do help.

Along with this sense of duty to one's family also comes a sense of obligation -- the inherent desire to provide for one's family, the desire to have one's children be better off than one was in life. Like religion, all these things are good things. It also does much to explain one issue which The Economist's writer brought up: why societies such as China, in which fear of a monotheistic Hell is not at all widespread, are doing very well. The Chinese tradition, of course, has an admirable emphasis on both family and order -- e.g. Confucius' Six Relationships. Confucianism also holds as its highest order the command to do what is right.

Of course, giving into temptation and avarice and all of mankind's other myriad faults do much to make living up to these guidelines difficult. This may also hint at why belief in Hell acts as an economic engine: because for folks who believe in Hell, committing anti-social acts won't just earn one a fine or jail time, but a ticket to Perdition.

(Link via Jane Galt)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 14, 2003

Cultural Disconnect Dept.

THE BBC REPORTS that Boy George's (nee George O'Dowd) musical , which recently opened in New York, has been "savaged" by American critics. We are not all that displeased about the situation, either.

We can assure our readers that this has nothing to do with Mr O'Dowd. Indeed, we fully admit that we once regularly listened to Culture Club, although we can safely say that we have not done so for nigh on fifteen years. Our complaints with "Taboo" are purely modern-day in reference.

Our first complaint about "Taboo," which is admittedly snarky, is that Rosie O'Donnell brought the show to New York. As we believe Ms O'Donnell to be a mediocre person on her good days and an annoying, insensitive, boorish and classless person on her bad days, we aren't all that saddened to see an enterprise of hers fail. Perhaps this will restore some humility to her bearing; a quality which she desperately needs, if the recent trial over the failure of the magazine bearing her name is any indication. Basically, we do not take kindly to people who browbeat others with those others' health problems.

Our second complaint about "Taboo" is summed up in this quote from the BBC's report on the matter:

The musical, which was penned by George, has been rewritten by US playwright Charles Busch to make it appeal more to US audiences.

Perhaps it is just us, but we are constantly amazed that the people in charge of entertainment in this country apparently think it is necessary to Americanize foreign productions, or even make domestic productions set elsewhere in the world so bloody American. One would think that if an American program were shown in Britain, the British would -- we don't know -- realize that it was an American program and watch accordingly. Why the reverse does not also hold staggers us.

Really, now -- can one imagine watching Monty Python with all sorts of American references? Obviously not.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

A Momentary Descent into Geekdom

WE WORKED FOR A BIT on the banner last evening, as you can undoubtedly tell. As usual, this led to a good deal of thinking on our part. For we had decided to remove Mr Bob Harris (Bill Murray's character in "Lost in Translation") but were unsure with whom we would replace him. We ended up choosing Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan's character in "Star Trek").

There were a number of good reasons for this. Using Mr Scott allows us to both make note of our Scots ancestry and show our respect for folks who get things done in this world. At the same time, it allows us to emphasize our frequent exasperation with certain aspects of American popular culture in a very Jim Traficant-like way. We fully understand that to Loyal Rant Readers, our thinking may involve too much time, too much effort, and too much justification on our part. But we do take our efforts here at The Rant very seriously.

However, we do have to admit that Mr Scott was not our first choice. Our first choice was Admiral Piett. We are somewhat ashamed to admit that this proves that beneath our rational, real-world, cold exterior, a dormant geekiness still exists. We have very much managed to suppress this over the years -- we got older, we were concentrating on other things, etc. -- but once in a very great while it will still make itself known.

Now, we realize that a good 90 percent of our readership -- perhaps 99.3 percent -- will have no idea of whom we are speaking. Indeed, we asked one fellow of our acquaintance who we deemed likely to know who the fellow was, and even he had no clue. In any event, Adm Piett is the likeable and proper commander of a Super Star Destroyer in the second and third installments of the "Star Wars" series. His key noteworthy quotes ("Right," "Carry on," and "Bounty hunters. We don't need that scum!") are delivered with the proper bearing and gravity which we would expect. As readers might imagine, we approved heartily of the Admiral's performance. Besides, we think that behind all that talk about "peace" and "freedom," the Rebels had plans to nationalize Imperial industry and impose wage-and-price controls. There was a perfectly good reason why their turbolasers were Red!

We decided against Adm Piett in the end, though, because we realized that most -- OK, all -- of our readers would not see this. Besides, we couldn't get the picture just right in Photoshop. But that's not to say he might not appear in future, though. Hell, if we can have Agent Smith on our banner, we can damn well have a Star Wars character too.

RELATED: If you still have absolutely no idea of whom we are speaking, you may visit this excellent Star Wars fan site devoted entirely to Admiral Piett.

We were as surprised as you are. And yes, the whole thing is about a Star Wars character whom even the site notes ranks No. 17 on a list of the Top 20 characters in the series. This, friends, is why the Internet rules.

VERY GEEK-RELATED COMMENT: What? No Web site devoted entirely to Wedge Antilles?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:40 AM | TrackBack

November 11, 2003

Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?

JOHN HAWKINS HAS COMPILED a list of the 20 people, living or dead (and at the peak of their abilities), which a selection of bloggers have determined as History's Most Interesting Dinner Companions. The list is both a sign of the times and an insight into the influences which have had an effect on the bloggers in question. First on the list is Jesus Christ, followed by Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. We found the selection of Christ as tops on the list both reassuring -- because it shows that Christianity's influence remains strong -- but also a bit intriguing.

You see, we here at The Rant know that we would be rather intimidated were we to dine with our Lord and Savior. We can see ourselves spending rather a lot of time attempting to craft a dinner menu, and then agonizing over whether we made the right decisions about it. We can imagine that process would have a Lileksian touch of humor to it, too. ("Oh, swell. He's going to think we're having bread because He's Jesus.")

Given that, we couldn't exactly ask Him to bring wine, either. Even so, we can imagine He would bring a nice bottle of red anyway -- not too expensive, but still good. Then, the atheist we'd have mistakenly invited would challenge Him to transform the San Pellegrino. That's another problem too, while we're thinking about it. What do we do about the guest list? After all, look what happened the last time He had dinner with friends.

On the other hand, though, we don't think He would be all that concerned about how dinner turned out, provided we did our best to do a nice job. We daresay He might actually go for some pizza and beer -- nice and relaxing, that!

In any event, many folks -- among them Sheila O'Malley -- have created their own list of people with whom they would like to have dinner. So we will too, as it seems like a fun thing to think about.

First up on the list: Dante. Definitely Dante. As a fellow writer, we think we'd get along famously with him. It is not merely that he was perhaps the greatest writer of the medieval era; it is that the guy had that quiet self-confidence we very much admire:

According to Sercambi, Dante was invited by King Robert to the Neapolitan court and, like the poet he was, arrived carelessly dressed. It was dinnertime and, owing to his appearance, he was seated at the tail end of the table. Since he was hungry, he ate anyway, but as soon as the meal was over he left town. Appalled at having mistreated the great poet, the king dispatched a messenger and invited him back to court.

This time Dante arrived richly attired, which caused the king to seat him "at the top of the first table, right next to his own." Service had hardly begun when the poet began tipping meat and wine all over his fine clothes. The king was astonished and asked what he was behaving in this way.

Dante replied, "Your Majesty, I know that in paying me this great honour you are in fact honoring my clothes, and I wanted those clothes to benefit from the food that is being served. And I shall tell you frankly that I had no less genius or common sense when I came the first time, when I was seated at the tail end of the table because I was poorly dressed..."

-- from The Medieval Kitchen

As it was much harder to kick ass and take names in the Middle Ages than it is today, we must say we strongly approve of Dante's action: not because it was all that gentlemanly but because it showed he had his priorities in the right place. For dinner, therefore, we would go to one of those good Italian restaurants in New York which stays open until after last call. But nowhere that would require a jacket.

Some others on our list, which would be by no means complete:

* Luca Pacioli. Woefully underappreciated in our view, his treatise on mathematics and finance helped set the groundwork for our society to enjoy our high standard of living.

* C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity and other theological works in the 20th century. Dr Lewis' work has had the most impact on our religious thinking.

* Miguel de Cervantes. If you had spent an entire semester of high school English reading the unabridged Quixote and analyzing it and falling in love with it, you would say the same.

* John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, Inc. We very much admire Mr Bogle for his candidness and honesty in matters financial.

* Johann Sebastian Bach, whose organ works we consider among the highest musical accomplishments of man.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ask a Stupid Question ...

SOME PEOPLE SAY that there are no such things as stupid questions. We here at The Rant know this is patently untrue -- not merely because of our line of work, but because we have a very cool site statistics program. This program, using technological wizadry far beyond our ken, somehow captures all the queries put forth and stores them.

Trust us. There are stupid questions out there. However, as a Public Service to our readers here at The Rant, we are again offering Snappy Answers to YOUR Search Questions. Well, actually not YOUR search questions, because Loyal Rant Readers have no need to search on-site for such things. Rather, these are the search questions of OTHER PEOPLE WHO STUMBLED ACROSS THIS SITE FOR REASONS WE CAN'T EVEN FATHOM.

In any event: let us begin. Search topics are in bold.

big ben

We've heard all the jokes. They're still not funny.

bob guinney

We understand he is on television. Perhaps if you watched that device, you could see more of him. On the other hand, you could always read a book. We would suggest this one.

devastatin dave

You'd find that under the Rap Music Clearly Aimed at White People section.

video immaculate reception

With the Steelers at 2-6, we miss it too. But Gad! what a catch! Thirty-two years later, we still like watching it. Especially since Franco pulled it off against the Raiders.

nude in public

People ought not do such things.

why do we belive in the tooth fairy

The same reason people once believed in universal disarmament back in the Thirties, and the same reason people once believed in a 55 mph speed limit. Speaking of, we still suffer emotional trauma years after we saw a Seventies-era commercial in which a rock musician and an average pleather-wearing guy get into an argument about that issue. ("Seventy!" "FIIIIFFFFFTY-FIVE!") Hence, we hope the rock star, whomever he was, caught social disease.

jesse kepple

This is our younger and more popular brother.

who eat water buffalo

We don't know, but we hope they have plenty of Pepto-Bismol.

guy smoking joint

Not since college, we haven't. And even then, we only toked up three times and we never got high off the stuff. This was because "Ernie," a friend's supplier, was scum.

tanga s jazz

It's in Tampa. We know this because when we were in college, we once attended a conference in Tampa at a luxury hotel. Much to our amusement, this hotel was right across the way from this establishment. We most certainly did not go to what was then the Tanga Lounge there during our trip, but it did become a very, very funny joke at the time.

You had to be there for the joke, we can assure you.

zip zap rap

We understand this CD is a good listen when, as the commercial put it, one wants to sit back and drink an import whilst watching the market reports.

devon aoki profile sex picture

Dude. Go away.

all with toys thomas & friends

Look. Whatever Thomas and friends do in their own bedroom is their own business. Leave us out of it.


Proper names don't have dashes, unless the person in question is a rock musician and thinks he needs to adopt a silly name to sell records.

earning money in middle ages

This was difficult, not only due to the lack of technology and political stability at the time, but also because savings vehicles were non-existent. Also, money as the ancients knew it had generally fallen into disuse due to the feudalist society in place at the time. That feudalist society largely revolved around payment in goods and services as opposed to cash. However, as time went on, things improved dramatically due to the reintroduction of proper coinage, the advent of double-entry bookkeeping, and the introduction of Arabic as opposed to Roman numerals.

That said, if you've invented a time machine, we'd encourage you to go into banking or trading. That was better than being a serf. Just don't loan money to those warmongering monarchs.

underworld corvin 12th century

It was a stupid movie. We told you that already. Go watch "Lost in Translation" instead.

clubbing baby seals

Well! You, sir, have just won yourself a complimentary drink from Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant. When we go whaling next November, we'll make sure to let you know. Bring your harpoon, and a good winter coat -- it gets cold out on the Gulf of Maine.

That's it for now -- but tune in a couple weeks for more Snappy Answers to YOUR -- um, NOT YOURS, BUT OTHER PEOPLE'S Search Questions!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 10, 2003

EU Caves, Agrees Kilts Aren't Skirts

BRUSSELS HAS AGREED to back down from classifying kilts as skirts, The Scotsman has reported. The move came after the EU's statistics agency agreed to list Scotland's national garment as menswear.

Well, good. The whole story, the first part of which Andrew Dodge has posted, is appalling. First you have some Eurocrat demanding that kilts be declared as skirts. Then Brussels said that if the good kilt-makers of Scotland were not to comply with this demand, they could face fines of up to 1000 pounds. The highest levels of Government had to be called in to have this problem solved.

Now, we here at The Rant are not experts on the matter. We are only partially Scots; perhaps one-third of our ancestry is such, at most. Further, we do note that the modern kilt was the invention of an English (!) industrialist in the 1700s. 'Struth!

That said, even we can tell it is very much still Scotland's national garment, and no whinging excitable Eurocrat should ever have dared to insult the good people of Scotland as such. Of course, there could be one bright side to this whole affair. Perhaps the Scots will start wondering why some foreign lan dhen cac bureaucrat can levy thousand-pound fines on their heads for not filling out a statistics form.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:58 PM | TrackBack

November 09, 2003

The Fat of the Land

DEAN AND ROSEMARY ESMAY have posted some great essays (here and here), respectively on the issues of dieting and obesity. They have written some really thought-provoking stuff on those issues, and how we as a society deal with them. In fact, this issue hits so close to home for us here at The Rant that we are going to refer to ourself in the singular for this entry, from this point forward.

SOCIETY HAS NOT DONE AND DOES NOT DO a good job of dealing with obesity. This is for a variety of reasons. First, we have an unhealthy and materialist view of the ideal human form. Second, we then apply this miscast view to everyone within society, whether or not it ought to be applied towards individuals. Third, we are rather beastly to those who fall short of the ideal which we have set. There are certainly personal factors as well, but I shall deal with those in a bit. Let's look first at the issue of form -- or rather, let's have C.S. Lewis look at it:

"The age of jazz has succeeded the the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. Since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female's chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children. And that is not all.

We have engineered a great increase in the license which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and smore lender and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be. Yet at the same time, the modern world is taught to believe that it is being "frank" and "healthy" and getting back to nature. As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist -- making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important, and at the same time making the demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!"

-- The Screwtape Letters (Letter XX)

Now, Dr Lewis wrote the above bit of diabolical advice -- for that is exactly and literally what it was supposed to be -- back during the Second World War. Since then, of course, things have gotten much worse. Advances in medical technology have made plastic surgery possible, letting millions of people get around the course which nature set out for them. Advances in printing and photography have made it easy to airbrush away any flaws which could otherwise blemish a magazine's cover model. And even though such things are regularly pointed out when one of those models suffers a rare attack of guilt, the society-at-large pays no mind to their impassionated arguments: that even they don't look like their image on the cover of such-and-such a rag. And, therefore, Screwtape's dark prediction has come about with a force that not even he might have imagined.

This unachievable ideal, of course, bears down on everyone within society, whether we want to admit it or not. This is inherently unreasonable, of course; most of us cannot spend four hours a day at the gym, or subsist solely on wheat germ and mashed yeast. Furthermore, all of us are just not going to be really thin, no matter what we do. Yet the farther one is away from the ideal, the more grief one gets from others -- and the more grief they give themselves.

Mrs Esmay wrote about this, and better than I could: but it is true that we don't look at a really heavy person and say to ourselves that it might be due to factors beyond their control. I think this is because most folks don't have weight trouble -- or if they do, they don't see it any differently than how they see their own situation, for right or for wrong. Namely, that they could fix their own personal weight issues if they'd eat less and exercise more.

Now you should know that I am six-foot-four inches tall and about 235 pounds. I'm guessing that about 25 of these 35 extra pounds exist in my paunch, and this bothers me.

That said, it doesn't bother me much. Being me, and hence secure in the knowledge that I rule, I know that my wit, charm, intelligence and quiet confidence (arrogance?) will count for far more than some fitness buff's muscularity any day of the week. But still, once in a while I will look in the mirror, and I wonder why the hell I've let myself go. I think I could fix the problem if I went to the gym, and ate a lot better, and did some weight training, but life tends to get in the way of all these things. Especially in my line of work, which often requires long and irregular hours on the job. (I have, to my credit, started taking a multivitamin each day).

Still, it's not something I fret about or even think about all that much. And it just really bothers me that people are so cruel to others because of weight issues, and it really saddens me when people -- men as well as women -- beat themselves up because of it. It's a wrong formula all around. In the former case, it says something about people who are mean about that type of stuff -- it speaks to their insecurities and their fears and just the state of their soul. In the latter case, I just want in my heart for folks to see just how wonderful and beautiful they are -- that they too rule -- and focus on all the good stuff they've got going for them. Let's face it, as Andy Tobias might have put it were he not writing about finance: there are lots of overly thin people out there, but there aren't that many who can quote the classics or fix cars or make a decent tomato sauce. And while the body image will fade with time, those other things will never go out of style.

One other point: do people really find that overly thin look all that sexy? Maybe it's just me, but Gad! I just find the whole heroin-chic thing a bit disturbing.

Finally -- Dean makes some very interesting points about diet and exercise, and how those affect the seriously or morbidly obese. We ought to remind ourselves that for people with severe weight trouble, there may be some serious issues behind it that have nothing to do with how much they eat.

I have absolutely no evidence to back up what I'm going to say here -- this is just my own thinking -- but I have to think that there's something about our diet that has caused us to collectively get heavier. I don't mean in terms of how many calories we take in, but rather of what those calories consist.

I know that the food I eat is pretty carbohydrate-intensive, even though I have to avoid overdoing carbohydrates because of some medical conditions I have. Sometimes you just can't avoid the things.

I also wonder if all the refined sugar put into our food has something to do with it too. In ancient and medieval times, sugar was a rarity -- honey was about all they regularly had to sweeten things, and even that was often tough to get. Now it seems difficult to avoid the stuff.

Consider: this evening I had a healthy high-protein meal. I had two links of very lean chicken sausage (I know a fellow here in town who makes a point of cutting out all the gristle and much of the fat) and some spinach. Also I had a roll, which I only felt quasi-guilty about because it was very good and it was fresh baked, not some packaged crap. For dessert I had a cup of yogurt, which I had thought would be a healthy alternative to ice cream or chocolate. Oh, how wrong I was.

After I ate my six-ounce yogurt cup (see! I'm being good, really!) I looked at the nutritional label and about choked. Twenty-eight grams of refined sugar this stuff had in it! Second ingredient: sugar; fourth ingredient: high fructose corn syrup! It's as if I had a Snickers bar after that healthy meal. No wonder I'm in such a bad way! Even worse, I bought a bunch of these yogurt cups because they were on sale, which means I'll feel guilty about throwing them out. Dammit.

Yet looking at my own adult life, I have to think that eating all this refined sugar and all these carbohydrates -- which one of my relatives, who is as thin as a European and in far better health than I, refers to as "crap" -- has really done a number on my own personal health. And it's funny how people in other parts of the world -- like, say, Europe -- don't have the same issues with obesity that we do here in America. Who knows? Maybe there is something to it all.

So this week -- and in the coming weeks -- I am going to force myself to eat like a European. Or at least I am going to try. Wish me luck.

(The title to this entry is the same as that of Michael Fumento's book on the subject. One cannot copyright titles, of course, but I thought I should give credit where credit is due).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:32 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 07, 2003

Chin UP, Man!

KIM DU TOIT has delivered an epic entry on the subject of manliness, and the relative lack of it which he claims exists in modern-day culture. In short, Mr du Toit argues that men have abandoned their manly virtues -- but lays the blame for that at the feet of a supposed years-long campaign of denigration against the male gender.

While we do agree with some of his points -- particularly those decrying the excessive regulation, aversity to risk, and abdication of personal responsibility which seems to have affected American life -- we do not agree with his knee-jerk argument that a long-standing anti-male campaign is much to blame for it. Rather, we see such changes as indicative of the society of the Sixties and the Seventies, which all people now agree put forward a lot of rather destructive ideas now deemed unworkable. We further find Mr du Toit's essay, while powerfully written and passionate in its appeal, to be a bit much. To our way of thinking, it shows a particular lack of what our father calls mental toughness -- and, as such, is un-manly at its core.

Near the beginning of his essay, Mr du Toit spells out a number of disturbing trends which he argues are asymptomatic of the problem at hand. He writes as follows:

"Now, little boys in grade school are suspended for playing cowboys and Indians, cops and crooks, and all the other familiar variations of "good guy vs. bad guy" that helped them learn, at an early age, what it was like to have decent men hunt you down, because you were a lawbreaker.

Now, men are taught that violence is bad -- that when a thief breaks into your house, or threatens you in the street, that the proper way to deal with this is to "give him what he wants", instead of taking a horsewhip to the rascal or shooting him dead where he stands.

Now, men's fashion includes not a man dressed in a three-piece suit, but a tight sweater worn by a man with breasts.

Now, warning labels are indelibly etched into gun barrels, as though men have somehow forgotten that guns are dangerous things.

Now, men are given Ritalin as little boys, so that their natural aggressiveness, curiosity and restlessness can be controlled, instead of nurtured and directed."

We would not disagree with Mr du Toit that many of these things are unfortunate, particularly the decline of the three-piece suit and the warning labels etched into gun barrels. It is rather dismaying to think that some Americans are both so lawsuit-happy and mentally-deficient they force our society to cater to their stupidity (to say nothing of the conditions which led to that happening).

But we are not convinced that, for example, giving one's wallet to an armed thief is a weak decision. It makes little sense to argue with a man holding a handgun, after all. However, we do note that in the United States, a man is still able to defend his home with lethal force; provided he does not do something so cowardly as to shoot a fleeing burglar in the back.

But Mr du Toit continues:

How did we get to this?

In the first instance, what we have to understand is that America is first and foremost, a culture dominated by one figure: Mother. It wasn't always so: there was a time when it was Father who ruled the home, worked at his job, and voted.

But in the twentieth century, women became more and more involved in the body politic, and in industry, and in the media -- and mostly, this has not been a good thing. When women got the vote, it was inevitable that government was going to become more powerful, more intrusive, and more "protective" (ie. more coddling), because women are hard-wired to treasure security more than uncertainty and danger. It was therefore inevitable that their feminine influence on politics was going to emphasize (lowercase "s") social security.

Well, there you have Mr du Toit's argument. What we find odd, though, is that Mr du Toit fails to draw the natural conclusion of his words: there was a time when it was Father who ruled the home, worked at his job, and voted. Well, today, there are plenty of homes without fathers, plenty of men who refuse to work, and plenty of men who don't go to the polls each November. Women have not even entered the equation yet. So, as such, we find it impossible to hold women responsible for the failings of men: men who abdicated their responsibility to their children, who do not engage in productive labor, either at home or outside it; and who can't even be bothered to take an hour to cast a ballot. Men have only themselves to blame for becoming louts.

In short, Mr du Toit has it entirely backwards.

As for women's participation in industry, politics and the media, we do not see this as bad as all. We find it rather stupid for a society to hold back 50 percent of its potential, much less for reasons which could only be described as nostalgia. We also find it a bit specious to argue that women took American society in a particular direction: for it should be clear that, like men, women do not think in lockstep. It should be clear that both sexes had a hand in things along the way.

Mr du Toit continues:

I am aware of the fury that this statement is going to arouse, and I don't care a fig.

What I care about is the fact that since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a concerted campaign to denigrate men, to reduce them to figures of fun, and to render them impotent, figuratively speaking.

I'm going to illustrate this by talking about TV, because TV is a reliable barometer of our culture.

In the 1950s, the TV Dad was seen as the lovable goofball -- perhaps the beginning of the trend -- BUT he was still the one who brought home the bacon, and was the main source of discipline (think of the line: "Wait until your father gets home!").

From that, we went to this: the Cheerios TV ad.

Now, for those who haven't seen this piece of shit, I'm going to go over it, from memory, because it epitomizes everything I hate about the campaign to pussify men. The scene opens at the morning breakfast table, where the two kids are sitting with Dad at the table, while Mom prepares stuff on the kitchen counter. The dialogue goes something like this:

Little girl (note, not little boy): Daddy, why do we eat Cheerios?
Dad: Because they contain fiber, and all sorts of stuff that's good for the heart. I eat it now, because of that.
LG: Did you always eat stuff that was bad for your heart, Daddy?
Dad (humorously): I did, until I met your mother.
Mother (not humorously): Daddy did a lot of stupid things before he met your mother.

Now, every time I see that TV ad, I have to be restrained from shooting the TV with a .45 Colt. If you want a microcosm of how men have become less than men, this is the perfect example.

To argue that such things are part of a concerted campaign to denigrate men is ludicrous. As a writer, we can assure Rant readers that television executives and advertising folks care about one thing, and one thing only: making money with a minimum of fuss.

So it is only natural that as the culture changed, television culture would change along with it. In the Fifties and early Sixties, when the nuclear family was predominant, the television shows would feature ... nuclear families. Now that the old-style nuclear family (Dad works, Mom works at home, 2.3 kids) makes up just 10 percent of the American demographic , it makes less economic sense to feature nuclear families on television when it comes time to cast for a new sitcom. (That's not to say there's not a lot of unfortunate stuff happening with the wasteland of modern American television. We're just not convinced it's an evil plot).

As for the Cheerios ad, why Mr du Toit is so appalled is beyond us. It's a goddamned cereal ad. Get over it already.

Now, Mr du Toit writes on at length, but this condemnation of a frickin' cereal ad is what leads us to the crux of our complaint with Mr du Toit's argument. For it is not merely an argument pointing out things wrong with society, or even a reasoned complaint about where those things go wrong. Rather, it has an element of griping and whining added to it. In fact, it reminds us of that scene in "The Godfather," where Johnny Fontaine breaks down in front of Don Corleone.

At one point, Mr du Toit even said that all the male golfers in a tourney which featured a female golfer should have joined a male colleague in refusing to play. What's up with that? A real man would have accepted the female golfer's challenge, and then done everything he could to have beaten her and every other opponent he had in the tournament.

For crying in one's beer does not remove the challenges put before a man in this life, and neither is manliness about firing weaponry, making crude jokes, or fixing automobiles. Rather, it is about acting with honor and distinction in all things, learning from every situation he encounters, fulfilling his duties to his family, and giving the other fella hell at every possible opportunity. We would humbly suggest that if men across America were to step up to the plate in these and many other areas, they would gain back for the gender a lot of the respect which it has lost over the years.

And, as Mr du Toit recognizes such elements of being a "Real Man," we look forward to him joining us in a call for men in society to step up to the plate like they once did.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:30 PM | TrackBack

More Sanity from The Scotsman

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE between an entertainment writer and an Actual Working Journalist? Actual Working Journalists write things like this:

At this point I should point out that (Jennifer) Lopez is not some ancient emperor revered as a living god who has fallen through a rift in the space time continuum and is having a hard time adjusting. She is in fact a light entertainer. To be precise she is an unoriginal, manufactured, future-has-been, whose music is too dull to be played in lifts and who recently made one of the worst films of all time ever, Orca the Killer Whale included.

If it's true she demanded staff (at the North British hotel) did not look at her, what's depressing is not that J-Lo is so deluded about her own importance as to make such a request but that others took her seriously. Someone in her 100-strong entourage of lackeys should have had the guts to give her a reality check. And the management of the North British (OK, OK, Balmoral) should have looked her in the eye - yes, eye - and chucked her out into Princes Street.

Even Philip of Macedon was told regularly: "Remember thou art mortal."

J-Lo needs something similar. "Remember thou made Gigli."

That's Stewart Kirkpatrick writing, in The Scotsman. Go read the whole thing.

NOTICE to American teenaged readers: Philip of Macedon was the father of Alexander the Great.

What do you mean you have no idea what we're talking about? Do they teach nothing in these schools? ALEXANDER. Lived in the third century BC, conquered pretty much of the known world, etc. What's that? Yes, one might say the wack fool got as far as remote Indiana.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:31 AM | TrackBack

You Say You Want Some Revolutions

Oh No!
It's Time For Another Installment of ...

Today's Feature: "The Matrix: Revolutions"

WE HAD A SNEAKING SUSPICION that "Revolutions" would turn out the way it did. One warning sign was that critics weren't as thrilled about the film as they were with the two previous installments of The Matrix series. Another was that the theatre was only 20 percent full, despite there being both a 10:30 p.m. and a 10:50 p.m. showing of the film. As it turned out, those critics were all right about it. Despite our hopes, they were all right about it.

For "Revolutions" has a case of sequel-itis so bad that at one point during the film, right-thinking Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) found himself with some new partners: Agents Mahoney, Hightower and Tackleberry.

Ha, ha! Of course, we jest. But Gad! there were so many awful cliches and so much silliness that we were bloody well near expecting to find Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity) had been replaced with Kate "NEEEEEEEEO!" Capshaw. We are perfectly serious when we say that*. For we found "Revolutions" incredibly disappointing in nearly every respect.

First point of complaint: the acting is even worse in this go-round than in the first two movies. Perhaps it's just us, but we think it telling that Mr Weaving turned in a far better performance than any of the other main characters, and he's playing the part of a robot. Yeah, OK, so he's an evil computer program -- don't you nitpick -- but the point still holds. Mr Reeves delivers his lines as if he had suffered a lobotomy before shooting; and none of the other lead actors are much better.

Now, to spell out the rest of our complaints, we realize we will have to include a great many spoilers in doing so. However, because some Rant readers may still want to see the movie, we are placing said spoilers in the "extended entry" box.

Hence, if you still wish to see the film without having it ruined, don't click on the link. On the other hand, if you would like a rare chance to see us write in an unrestrained fashion -- click on.

* This joke seems so obvious we can't believe we were the first to come up with it. If you know who did, please leave a note in the comments.

SEE? IT WASN'T WORTH YOUR $9 for an evening show anyway!

Anyway, our second complaint has to do with Agent Smith: namely, where the devil is he? Good God. We're guessing it took nearly an hour before we saw our favorite right-thinking plainclothesman show up to knock some sense into those troublesome do-gooders. Even then, it was a brief showing, and we had to wait until the inevitable mano-a-mano fight scene for Smith to really get into good form.

This circumstance, quite frankly, was appalling. Smith was the main bad guy in the first film and also in the second; he is reduced to a shadowy figure of evil in the third and final installment. In place of Agent Smith screen time, we instead get to see bunches upon bunches of battle scenes in which the crazed machines fight the plucky humans.

This is not to say the battle scenes were not impressive; indeed, we admit that they were pretty cool. They were also so extensive we feel the scenes certainly had to satiate any male viewer's inner thirst for watching lots of expensive heavy machinery explode with great effect. That said, they were also so extensive they very much took away from the rest of the film.

There is much more that we could complain about; indeed, we could go on for six or seven more paragraphs. But we shall limit our complaint to perhaps the biggest flaw in "Revolutions" -- namely, the ending.

GAD. This was the most unsatisfying and miserable ending to a movie we've seen in a very, very long time.

You see, near the end, Neo and Trinity go off to the machines' city in an attempt to prevent Zion -- the human city -- from being destroyed. Along the way, there is much trouble after Neo fails to destroy everything in their path, and Trinity is badly injured. To be perfectly precise about it, she is shish-kabobed six ways from Sunday on a variety of sharp metallic objects. Anyway, one would think these wounds would cause her to expire immediately; but no!

Rather, she survives long enough for her and Neo to have an extended conversation about their estate planning. Not even Hamlet went on at such length. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the good people of Zion are dying en masse as they fight on against the loathesome machines. Yet we're supposed to feel, as a much better actor might once have put it, that Neo and Trinity's problems amount to a hill of beans.

Neo, after that, soldiers on into the machines' city: in fact, he gets to the very point where he needs to be so that he may end everything. Then, right as he comes face to face with the machines' collective intellect, he changes into Jacques Chirac and cuts a deal. In return for peace, he declares, he shall destroy Agent Smith once and for all. Needless to say, Neo wins, and the war stops. All the machines go back home while the bruised and battered humans begin looking over their insurance policies.

Now we ask you: what the hell kind of ending is that? Good Lord. It's as if back in 1943, the Allies all of a sudden said, "Hey, we've taken back most of Italy -- that's far enough." After all, in this line of thinking, it's better to have peace in our time than actually free people suffering from tyranny and torment. And, as such, everyone stops fighting, and all is well with the world again; at least, as some of the computer programs note, until the next war breaks out.

We are sorry, but this doesn't cut it for us. Oh, sure, we expect things to go perfectly well over in Europe in terms of fan reaction to the ending, but for us, it just didn't cut it at all.

Sadly, when it came to "Revolutions," there was precious little that cut it at all.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:14 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 06, 2003

I've Got Your Spoon Right Here...

WE SINCERELY HOPE the final installment of the "Matrix" series -- "The Matrix: Revolutions" -- does not suck, as certain folks are warning us about the possibility. However, we are about to go find out for ourselves.

Expect a "Cinema With Ben" update in the wee hours of Friday -- look between the hours of 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:15 PM | TrackBack

November 05, 2003

Vanitas Vanitatem!

Meet to perfume our burying;
These have but their growing prime,
And man does flourish but his time:
Survey our progress from our birth;
We are set, we grow, we turn to earth.
Courts adieu, and all delights,
All bewitching appetites!
Sweetest breath and clearest eye,
Like perfumes, go out and die;
And consequently this is done
As shadows wait upon the sun.
Vain ambition of kings
Who seek by trophies and dead things
To leave a living name behind,
And weave but nets to catch the wind

-- John Webster, in The Devil's Law-Case, 1623.

AH, VANITY -- the classic lesser vice.

It is interesting how this particular fault has recently grown so prominent in American life. Not nearly as dangerous to one's soul as cruel self-conceit, gnawing envy or even a relaxed state of acedia, vanity is a comparatively lighter sin. That is not to say vanity is harmless, of course -- it can certainly steer one down the easy path to ruin. Still, one often finds vanity is a consequence of minor things, such as the quality of a person's wardrobe or a person's automobile. As such, it is often a minor person who succumbs to the vice.

Really, now. Is there anything of lesser consequence in life than a person who can't get over how great he or she is -- especially if he or she acts that way because of the clothes or the looks or the car he or she has? Is there anything more annoying, more nauseating, more wretched? Perhaps, but we are hard-pressed to think of any examples.

For in one year, of course, the designer clothes will have faded and torn, and gone out-of-style; while in ten years, the fancy car once thought so great shall rust on the same junk pile as an economy sedan. Looks will fade with time as well. Yet the vain person never entertains such thoughts. Rather, he or she giddily bounces along in life, not caring one whit about anything or anyone other than me-me-me-ME!. The end result is that they are neither good, but they are not really bad either; they just are, then are forgotten. And, as our Lord said, they are the type He would spit out of His mouth.

But while God knows the flaws and faults we each have, discerning such things in others is far more difficult for people. However, the job has recently gotten much easier, thanks to a new dating site for people who are vain and insipid!

We are bemused, horrified, and appreciative of this all at the same time.

First, we find it exceedingly funny that a Web site aimed at vain people has any members at all. After all, would not the vain feel themselves above dealing with what they'd conceivably see as a scandalous enterprise?

Secondly, we think it's pretty bloody grim when people are putting such stock in transient things. It is one thing to have high standards, of course, and we think it understandable for people to have reasonable "base requirements" in relation to the opposite sex. But it is another thing entirely to put such stock in, for instance, looks or money. 'Cause looks certainly don't last, and fortunes are subject to Fortune.

That said, we come to our last point -- namely, that we find it most helpful that these folks are self-segregating themselves into a community of future unfortunates. We would submit that those who still hold long-term views on life, and consequently have little patience for such foolishness, will hence be less likely to run across or deal with these people. In short, it could very well just make things a wee bit easier for single folks who have their heads on straight.

One final note before we move on. We do not wish to be seen as saying we don't think the idea is a brilliant concept. It is, and clearly the people behind the project had a good idea. They may be partially evil, but from a business perspective, we can't see how such a site wouldn't have legs.

Proof of this intelligence is displayed in one line on a page in which the company describes its offerings. The firm's spokesman, Mr Vanity, writes as follows: "Our current members consist of published writers, MIT grads, Harvard MBAs ..." (emphasis added)

As Shirer might have put it: "Clever man!"

(link via Moxie)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 04, 2003

A Merit Badge in Blogging

WE COULDN'T HELP BUT NOTICE that Dean Esmay, kung-fu master of blogging which he is, has declared us to be a veritable Eagle Scout when it comes to this pursuit of ours. We certainly appreciate this acclaim from one of the blogosphere's leading lights, and will of course strive to meet the Eagle Scout designation, which readers may see if they click the preceding link.

One thing that did interest us, however, was a caution mentioned in that designation. According to the good people at "Flame Warriors," Eagle Scout bloggers are prone to turning into so-called Jekyll-and-Hyde types. In our case, we personally think this concern is very much unwarranted.

As long-time readers know, we only very rarely take to task people with whom we disagree, and it is only on the merits of their arguments that we offer up our criticism. It is certainly not due to personal factors, as the Jekyll-and-Hyde description so cruelly suggests. Further, when we do disagree with other writers or bloggers, we believe that our criticism is well-thought out, subtle, and restrained. And they got everything they deserved, too, the disgusting --

Oh! Dear God. We don't know what came over us for a second, there. Anyway, again, we thank Mr Esmay for his kind words, and look forward to continue serving our readers in the manner to which they are accustomed.

Also -- this guy stole our chair!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:53 PM | TrackBack

November 03, 2003

Fear, Loathing at Brandeis

STEPHEN SILVER has been all over a controversy at Brandeis University involving that college's student newspaper, editorial oversight, and what one might term a very, very unfortunate choice of words on the part of one student writer.

The end result is that there's wicked fierce infighting going on down in Waltham, Mass.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:45 PM | TrackBack

More Cultural Detritus!

LONG-TIME READERS of The Rant know well our deeply-held belief that Everything Bad in Modern American Life is directly or indirectly related to the Seventies. Well, along with fuel shocks, stagflation, wage-price controls, disco music and pleather, we now have an additional indictment to hand down against that decade:

Really, really hideous album covers.

OK, to be fair, there are a few album covers in there from the Eighties, most noteworthy Devastatin' Dave's "Zip Zap Rap" (we don't want to know), and an oldies record showing young people from the late Fifties engaged in what then passed for uninhibited craziness. But to our eye, there's a lot of LP awfulness either from or influenced by the Bad Decade therein.

(Thanks, Lee, for the heads-up.)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:11 PM | TrackBack

November 01, 2003

Neil Cavuto's Really, Really Bad Day

GAWD. IT WOULD APPEAR NEIL CAVUTO is officially sick and tired of being sick and tired vis-a-vis the failings of America's various service industries.

In what we're guessing is about 800 words, Mr Cavuto expresses anger at his local movie-theatre operator, his physician, a restaurant at which he had a meal, and a major airline. Mr Cavuto is upset because all of these people or institutions brazenly lied to him in terms of the time they would provide their services. Actually, upset does not perhaps do justice to Mr Cavuto's writing. Perhaps a better descriptive would be "histrionics not seen since the days of Spiro Agnew."

We do not personally understand why Mr Cavuto is so upset. Of course the service one receives in America is generally bad -- this is, very simply, a function of market economics and organizational dynamics. Any large bureaucracy usually fails consistently in providing services to clients who are marginal to their bottom lines. With many corporations, this is even built into their business models.

For instance, let's look at the practice of banking. Now, large individual depositors with a banking institution -- say, those with account balances of more than $100,000, or perhaps $250,000 -- may avail themselves of a private banker who will attend to all their needs. The reason for this is simple: as banking laws have become more relaxed, said private bankers can encourage their clients to use the bank for more than just a money-market-based checking account.

On the other hand, the hoi polloi will find themselves lucky to speak with a low-level supervisor when a deposit is misrouted or a check is lost, and may even find themselves being charged for services that were previously regarded as free-by-rights (e.g. a charge to use an actual bank teller).
Indeed, small depositors are often looked on as nuisances, although most financial institutions are smart enough to realize that word-of-mouth complaints about their services are not beneficial.

This is not to say that we rank-and-file types do not have some economic recourse -- we can, of course, choose other service providers if we are so inclined. We here at The Rant also use what we call the Jack Ryan Plan in our dealings with firms whose services we buy. By this, we mean that we act as honorably and decently as we can until the company screws up. When that screw-up happens, we make it our mission in life to gain satisfaction from the offending company. We have found that a combination of polite letter-writing and friendly phone conversations often works wonders. And if that doesn't work, we cheerily inform the other party that it would be very much a shame if we had to pursue litigation or inform Government regulators of their transgressions. Not that we would do such a thing, of course. But even the threat usually does the job -- and did in the one time we had to resort to this tactic*.

Furthermore, we would suggest that Mr Cavuto's reaction is exactly the wrong one at that. The answer is not to get mad about things. The reason for this is because the person with which one is dealing, who most likely does not do as well as the complaintant, will react in a passive-aggressive manner and make it his mission in life to make one's problems even worse**. Rather, there are three right things to do.

First, be pleasant and cordial in all one's dealings; second, strive to do everything you can to solve the problem; and third, always, always take care of the people who help you out around Christmas time.

* This situation involved late-mailed hospital invoices, an incompetent medical-services provider, an unhelpful collection agency, and bills that went unpaid for more than a year due to said incompetent medical-services provider, who failed to remit its notices to our insurer. After a session of letter-writing and a phone call, we not only managed to have the problems resolved, some current billings of minor consequence were also written off, in error. So we came out ahead on the deal.

** This is especially helpful in dealing with airlines. We recall one situation in which our syrupy-politeness and general cordiality not only managed to get us a most agreeable new flight arrangement, we were given a first-class upgrade on the second leg of our journey.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

It's a Dead Man's Party!

WELL, HALLOWEEN'S OVER. Not that we took much notice of the whole thing. Oh, sure, we read a good book and quaffed down a few pumpkin-flavored beers along the way, but when all was said and done we came home and went to straight to bed. It was decidedly unspooky, but since the only bit of black magic we believe in comes once a quarter, we haven't been really excited about Halloween since we were thirteen years old.

In a way, this is rather unfortunate, because we always enjoyed Halloween Back Home Years Ago, as Scorsese put it. Now, looking back at things with an adult mind, we can't understand what the devil we were so excited about -- yeah, the candy was fun, and so was tramping about in the dark, as was staying up late on a school night. Still, even in our sanitized adult existence, we do see one redeeming feature of the day: it was the last day of fun before miserable November. As a child in western Michigan, we knew that once Halloween was done, we would not see the sun for six weeks.

That said, of course, we don't see why some folks are so worked up about Halloween as a supposedly evil influence. We never engaged in toilet-papering anyone's home. Neither did we egg someone's mailbox, nor did we soap folks' windows. The only truly un-Godly thing we did on Halloween was raise money for the United Nations, and that was because we attended a friendly but squishy church as a youth.

Yet there are apparently many folks who believe Halloween is a truly evil night, although we find their assertions weird and unsettling. Thanks to bloggers such as Scott Ward, we are informed of these peculiar arguments. Mr Ward does the yeoman's work of fisking one particular example, which tells the story of some otherwise God-fearing children turned into Satan's minions because Beelzebub's servants on Earth have spiked chocolates with razor blades and narcotics. All ends well when a reformed pagan informs the kiddies' parents of the trouble, and exorcises the budding signs of individuality within the children.

Quite frankly, we think such claims are intellectually dishonest and spiritually ridiculous. First, the anti-Halloween types don't pay any attention to April 30, the German Walpurgisnacht and another traditional day of evil. Secondly, we cannot believe that Lucifer is so stupid he would devise a plan that could be easily foiled by watchful parents. In our house growing up, we got no chocolate until our parents checked every last piece of candy, and confiscated all the Milky Ways as their handling fee. Thirdly, and most importantly, one cannot blame Halloween for societal acedia. Gad.

Now look. Beating up on a holiday because its tenets include A) family fun, and B) great third quarters for the world's chocolate firms, makes absolutely no sense. It also makes no sense to single out Oct. 31 as a supposedly evil day, when one could pick days at random -- let's say Jan. 8 and May 1 and June 12 -- and find a similar amount of evil happening on those days as well. So why exactly a minority of Christians continue in this counter-productive caterwauling is beyond us. We would suggest they lighten up -- or at least follow the very smart advice which Mr Josh Claybourn offers on the subject. If they can't do even those things, then they ought to find another holiday to revile. (We suggest Arbor Day).

No matter which course of action they take, however, we would strongly suggest having a few pumpkin-infused beers along with it. Enough of those will put even the most sour fellow in a festive mood!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack