December 31, 2003

Short Notes on Culture, Language, &c.

WE OUGHT CLOSE THIS YEAR with a rather light-hearted yet serious post, and we found the inspiration for it over at Sheila O'Malley's site. Ms O'Malley, you see, has directed her readers to a particular site explaining the behavioral traits of Rhode Islanders.

We found this site particularly interesting, because it confirmed our inner belief that after close to three years living in New Hampshire, we are starting to learn a bit about how New England works. Indeed, we did know what coffee syrup was, we know what quahogs are, and we know what "ProJo" stands for (but never mind that).

Now, hailing as we do from the Rust Belt, we realize that folks Out West may not realize why this is so significant. After all, most Midwesterners consider "New England" synonymous with "Massachusetts." We realize that will appall many of our friends from New England, but it's true. However, we can assure our readers that in our years here, we have learned that this is very much not the case. Indeed, we don't merely value the differences inherent in each state's culture and ethics, we cherish them.

There's a lot we have yet to learn about the other New England states, true; and we will admit we still don't understand certain things, such as why people from Massachusetts are really, really bad drivers. But we have seen a lot of New Hampshire over the past few years, and we can say that on the whole, it is a very, very good place to live.

One final point: we found the comments about language very interesting as well. While we know few readers have actually heard us speak, we can assure you that we have pretty much* erased any trace of an accent from our voice: it is as Standard American as one can get. However, what we have not lost are all the words and phrases we have picked up along the way.

So I-93, a highway, is rendered as "the 93" or "the freeway"; we sit not on a sofa, but a "davenport;" we drink not pop but "soda," we don't have cravings, we're instead "jonesing;" we refer to all bad traffic accidents as "Sig Alerts," and so on and so forth. This may be why our speech comes off as incomprehensible to most people; but hey. Life needs a bit of variety.

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* While likely difficult to notice, we tend to think we retain a minor part of a Western Pennsylvanian accent, as our family is from there. We have found, to our surprise, that we can place a Pittsburgh-area accent despite infrequent visits to the area.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 25, 2003

This Silent Night (Our Spiritually-Oriented Christmas Entry)

THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID for moments of silence -- not the fleeting moments in which a man is given the chance to bow his head, but rather those instances of absolute quiet in which one becomes acutely aware of one's surroundings. One such moment I had came a couple weeks ago: I was outside of a gas station during a snowstorm in the dead of night, and the roads were deserted. It was so quiet I could hear my heart beat.

It is in those moments where a person's innermost thoughts come to bear; and I had another of those moments this Christmas night.

After I got home from the movie (see entry below), I went on-line, and idly checked my referral logs for the site. I saw a site listed that I hadn't noticed before. I had no idea how I got mentioned there, but I apparently had; and so I went and gave it a look.

Ten minutes later, my heart was in my throat and I was on the verge of tears -- and it has been a very long time since I cried. For the site's first entry struck at the deepest part of my soul; that place where I keep my innermost hopes and dreams, as well as my fears.

Those who know me well are aware I don't open up much about those things. I may complain once in a while about my lot -- we all do that -- but in my personal life, I do everything I can to be strong. I do everything I can to be that shoulder for others to rest upon. I do that not merely because I want to be there for the people in my life; but also because I work in a hard business and I sometimes have to deal with a lot of hard things. Tenacity, as it turns out, remains very much an important life skill even in this comfortable age.

Still, there are always those things which can pierce the strongest armor; and that entry had several things which pierced mine.

The essay in question is a Christmas story. It was written by a woman named Denita: not too much older than I, apparently in Texas, whose brother was born in physical circumstances quite similar to my own. Three months premature; in a rather bad way right at the start, surgeries along the way, stuck in an incubator for months. He and I were even born about the same time, in the mid-Seventies. These are the similarities.

The difference is that he was not as lucky as I was.

For the only way you can tell I went through all that is from the scars on my body: the tracheotomy scar on my neck, the massive scar on my side from when they tied off my paten ductus. That those scars are all the evidence which remains of the struggle is a true blessing. There were so very many like me who did not make it; and there were others who did, but who still carry severe health problems. In the case of Denita's brother, it was hydrocephalus: a rare condition in which fluids build up on the brain.

In her essay, she writes about an instance when that nearly killed him. After he had healed up, and things were back to normal again, she wrote: "Somewhere along the way that month, I stopped giving a damn about getting presents." And, as she writes later, she knows damn well that the Christmas gifts under the tree are not the gifts which matter. It is a truism which in my life, I too often forget. That I do often forget that prompts nothing but a sense of burning shame in my heart.

For I ought remember that I am damned lucky to have any of what I have: not merely a success here or there in life, or the material goods which I possess, but an amazing set of life experiences and wonderful amazing friends and my family, whom I hold so very dear in my heart. The world and everything in it cannot replace those things, nor substitute for them. Neither can they replace the pleasures of life which I have been so lucky to enjoy -- whether something as complex as the act of putting words to print as I am doing now, or as simple as breathing.

And so, this Christmas, having regained that necessary sense of perspective, I stand a man very much humbled. It is something for which I am very thankful, and I hope that three months or a year down the line, I will have not again forgotten the lessons of which I was reminded tonight. It would do me much good, I think, if this time around they actually stick.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fa-La-Frickin'-La (Our Temporally-Oriented Christmas Entry)

WE CAN ASSURE OUR READERS that we spent this Christmas Day in the time-honored tradition of bachelors everywhere: namely, we slept in late, we went out for dinner, and we went to the cinema, where we watched a relatively decent film. It was not how we would have preferred to spend the holiday, but it did suffice.

"GAD!", PERSONIFIED: In this still image from the 1983 film "A Christmas Story," Darren McGavin carries himself in a manner astonishingly similar to how we looked and acted immediately after waking up today.

We had originally planned to spend the day at home, on the assumption that practically nothing would be open on the holiday. However, after arising at the sinful hour of 12:30 p.m., we decided that we would at least decide to make a day of it. So after a few hours on-line, we got ready and ventured out. And we can assure you that we learned many things this fine day:

* For instance, we learned that even on Christmas Day, people will look at you rather oddly should you forget to comb your hair before going out in public.

* Chinese restaurants, in addition to 24-hour filling stations, perform an important public service to the nation. Targeted tax breaks for these businesses might not be such a bad idea.

* Peking Duck really is all it's cracked up to be. Even though duck meat can be quite fatty, we would argue the combination of hoisin sauce and a lot of vegetables make it quite a healthy dish. Further, since the only carbohydrates come from the pancakes, it would probably fit in with anyone trying to stick with an Atkins Diet. If you can't stand duck meat, go for the chicken variant.

* The waiter at the Chinese restaurant will not chop off the duck's head at tableside; indeed, one will not even get the duck's head. Despite this disappointment, we found our waiter did prepare the dish expertly.

* Movie theatre concession stands offend our sense of ethics. We did not appreciate the clerk's repeated insistence that we purchase a soft-drink larger than the 32 oz. "small" size. Paying $3 was bad enough, but we rationalized this based on market forces. But nothing can justify paying close to $5 for soda, bad CD embedded in the lid or not.

* Speaking of bad, we noticed that the movie theatres around town have replaced their hideous, pre-show slide-style advertisements with hideous, pre-show video advertisements. Now that's unpleasant. With the old advertisements, one could at least ignore them. But it is impossible to ignore packaged pitches for bad movies, bad music, and most of all bad products, when the pitches are as loud as some jet engines.

* Again speaking of bad, we noticed -- couldn't help but notice -- that a couple sitting a few rows in front of us started making out at the show's start, even though the house lights were still on. It wasn't the making-out which bothered us, mind you. What struck as odd was the fact they were making out at a showing of The Last Samurai.

* The Last Samurai was actually a pretty good film, except for a few minor points.

(WARNING: IN THE FOLLOWING, WE SPOIL THE PLOT).

The first point with which we took issue was Tom Cruise, whose acting ability continues to underwhelm us. He was not aided, of course, by an annoying and preachy script that did its best to mock modern life. That was our second big gripe: as a student of history, we were biting our lip watching old-style bushido held up as some pleasant, rustic alternative to the cruel workings of industrial civilization.

This, of course, is pure and unadulterated crap. We are sorry, but we just can't buy into the idea that an oppressed peasantry -- taxed to the hilt by a parasitic warrior class, and whose sole right was to work the land their fathers had -- really had it all that great in pre-Meiji Japan. Further, we nearly gagged at the end, when we saw the actor playing Emperor Meiji proclaim that while modernization was good, so was old-style bushido -- for Japan could not forget its identity or from whence it came. And lo! the Kwantung Army was born!

The battle scenes were very cool, although this was our third point of complaint: for we must say we were amused at the tactical simplicty which the script gave them. Gad. It was as if the Emperor's generals woke up in the morning and said to themselves, "Gee, I'd really like to be cashiered for my own incompetence today."

Watching as a four-star general sent his entire forward force after a fleeing enemy was bad enough -- but to then have thousands of trained men thrown into a panic because of a simple flanking maneuver nearly caused us to knock over our overpriced drink onto the floor.

But still, it was a fun movie and we enjoyed it -- and there were certainly worse things we could have done on Christmas. Like, let's say, nothing at all.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 24, 2003

Beef Futures: They're What's for Sale

YEP. WE CALLED IT. From the Reuters news agency:

At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, there was no interest in beef futures contracts, which fell the market limit of 1.5 cents, or 150 points.

"There's nobody willing to buy a contract," said Chuck Levitt of Alaron Trading Corp. "This is not going to stop until the contract has lost probably a thousand points."

With daily limits on how far prices can drop, Levitt said he thinks it will be next week before there is demand for beef futures contracts.

A 150 point fall is equivalent to a drop of 1.6 percent. That may not sound like much; but remember the volatility inherent there. Remember the leverage.

And if the market keeps falling ... well, just watch as the pain compounds.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:19 PM | TrackBack

... And on Earth, Peace Among Men

GIVEN THAT THIS IS CHRISTMAS EVE, we naturally recall the words of the heavenly host which so long ago announced Christ's birth: "Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace among men." Unfortunately, because Man has fallen from Grace and has a knack for ruining a good thing, Christmas today does not focus on such a message. Instead, society's preparations for the holiday seem to embody a different Biblical message: "I bring not peace, but the sword!"

OK, so that's a bit over the top. However, the thought did flash through our mind today, twenty minutes after we made the foolish decision to venture out into the muck on Christmas Eve Day. Good Lord. We have never seen our local mall so packed; have never seen traffic there that bad; have never seen so many otherwise-intelligent people driven out of their senses. (And all we wanted was lunch and The Economist!)

At least that's the only rationale of which we could think to explain just WHY so many drivers decided they'd go ahead and BLOCK A FREEWAY OFF-RAMP INTERSECTION. It also, we thought, explained why people were driven to anger upon learning a mall kiosk was out of Britney Spears calendars; explained why people waited until the very last minute to buy their gifts.

But we were heartened to see that despite the crowds and malaise and exhaustion, that people still seemed to have the right idea when it came to the holiday itself. For in the afternoon, as behind its veil of clouds the sun crept lower in the sky, something wonderful happened:

People started going home.

We can assure you that this was not merely a few tired shoppers leaving the establishment; this was a veritable exodus. Hundreds of drivers, forming a line of cars stretching what must have been halfway around the mall in question, patiently waited their turn to leave the grounds. It was the first moment of order, pure and blissful order, that we had seen the entire day. And it was good.

So perhaps our commercialism hasn't screwed up Christmas entirely. Yes, we focus too much on the shopping and the presents and the fourth-quarter numbers and the omnipresent sales which desperate retailers grant the multitudes at this time every year. But when all was said and done, folks still seemed to remember the things that mattered: their family and their friends, the time they would share together this evening, and the small joys of simply going home for a nice long weekend.

And, as midnight approaches tonight, we think they will probably also remember the force behind the Christmas holiday itself. Not St Nicholas, but his Superior.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:03 PM | TrackBack

Say a Prayer for the Trading Men

ATTENTION RANT READERS: Should any of you hold live or feeder cattle futures or options on such futures, please accept The Rant's sincere sympathy. It will likely be a perfectly nightmarish day for you today, and we must say we feel very badly for anyone stuck with any cattle futures, no matter their expiry date. We further hope the discovery of mad cow disease in one -- one! -- cow in Washington state, a cow not even destined for the food supply, will not ruin your Christmas.

We understand that many readers may not see why we consider this of such import. After all, we here at The Rant realize that commodities investing is akin to thermonuclear war (as the movie put it, the only way to win is not to play). This is because futures trading combines an incredible amount of leverage with the potential for incredible volatility -- which means that big shifts in any given market can result in vast losses (or, in theory, profits). Further, unlike investing in equities and bonds, futures' performance are credited to or debited from one's account on a daily basis. That means a speculator pretty much has no chance to recover from a ruinous loss. It is a very, very dangerous game.

We imagine that today, a lot of people are going to learn that the hard way. For if cattle futures take the hit some folks say they will, it will mean quite a few people will find their investments wiped out this Christmas Eve.

Wonderful life, isn't it?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:52 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2003

What IS It About Europe?

FIRST THE HEAT KILLS 15,000 people in France, primarily because no one could be bothered to keep an eye on them. Now, the cold kills 2,500 people in Britain.

Neither of these things are understandable, at least not to us. Twenty-five hundred people? Good Lord. Here in the United States, a good heat wave will kill a few hundred people at most, and we can't remember the last time cold killed anyone, unless they were lost out in a storm.

So what IS it about things on the other side of the Atlantic? Explanations and comments are welcome -- 'cause we just don't get this one bit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:23 PM | TrackBack

And So, the Fur Flies

WE NOTE WITH DISPLEASURE that an animal-welfare pressure group has again stooped to abhorrent lows in preaching its hatred of furred clothing. It seems this particular group has decided to stake out performances of "The Nutcracker" and give innocent children leaflets that condemn their mothers for wearing fur. Indeed, as the leaflets have a drawing of a housewife repeatedly stabbing Peter Rabbit and the legend, "YOUR MOMMY KILLS ANIMALS!" upon them, we would submit that perhaps condemn is too polite a term. Vilify might be more accurate.

Consider the goal of this tactic:

"Kids will see the bloody truth behind their moms’ pretentious pelts. Accompanied by graphic photographs of skinned carcasses and animals languishing on fur farms, children will read: "Lots of wonderful foxes, raccoons, and other animals are kept by mean farmers who squish them into cages so small that they can hardly move. They never get to play or swim or have fun. All they can do is cry-just so your greedy mommy can have that fur coat to show off in when she walks the streets."

We find this particularly unfortunate.

While we do admit that a fur coat may be seen as an unnecessary extravagance, it does have two redeeming features: its utility and its value as an asset. By that, we mean it keeps people warm, and in the event of societal collapse, it can be put up for hock. A fur coat also has great intangible value. By that, we mean it will look rather stunning on our (eventual) Foxy Wife, and we will earn credits in our marriage ledger for weeks following the purchase. These intangibles thus make the purchase of a mink coat a reasonable and prudent investment, and we can assure Rant readers that we will someday buy our (eventual) Foxy Wife a fur coat for those very reasons. Unless she happens not to like fur for some reason, in which case we'll opt for the diamond tennis bracelet.

Now, we can see why the activists would be dismayed if the targets of their disdain owned several fur coats. We would not personally approve of such a thing. That would be foolish and wasteful, and the money would be better spent on appreciable assets or charitable giving.

However, to openly condemn people for spending their money as they see fit is churlish and wretched. If people spend money wastefully, it is almost always their own business -- and good does come out of that for others.

This is because such spending leads to A) greater social equality, as the wasters burn through their store of cash and begin a slow economic descent; B) greater economic opportunities for society as a whole, as the impact of that spending is magnified throughout; and C) quiet self-satisfaction for those Americans who are smart enough to live slightly beneath their means, and will eventually live out their years in blissful happiness.

But we digress. For our complaint is not merely limited to the envy and class hatred we see in this loathesome screed. It extends to the puerile idea that animals are on the same level as Man.

Now, we here at The Rant rather like animals, provided they're domesticated. We further agree that animals bring joy into many people's lives, and that it is important to recognize the bonds people have with animals.

However, while it is clearly preferable to not treat animals cruelly if it can be helped, we have no compunction about the ideas of eating animals for food, killing them for food (although we don't hunt) or putting them to other uses. And if they're wild animals, we do not see them as "wonderful." We do not see them as playing or swimming or having fun -- we see them as attacking livestock, spreading pestilence, and causing untold nuisances.

Of course, there is no telling the folks handing out the fliers about this state of affairs. We do note, however, that the flier distributors will be dressed up as foxes and raccoons during their stunt. They had best hope no bystander accuses them of being the raccoons which tipped over the garbage cans the previous night, or there could be trouble!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:58 PM | TrackBack

December 22, 2003

And Now, It's Earthquake Season

FIRST THE FIRES, now this. I'm just feeling very thankful that - to the best of my knowledge - everyone I know out in Southern California is all right.

I haven't heard yet from two people I know near Los Angeles, but as there haven't been any reports of real trouble in that part of the state, I am confident that all is well there. However, I did hear from a former colleague of mine who works in San Luis Obispo. He and his family are unhurt. Their house swayed and shook -- it was quite a quake -- but it is still standing and apparently undamaged.

So thank God for that. And Tony -- if by chance you're reading this -- stay safe out there, and best of luck over the next few days.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:10 PM | TrackBack

December 21, 2003

An Insult Which Cannot Be Borne

WHILE WE WERE ORIGINALLY PLANNING to resume posting tomorrow, we should note that -- thanks to Sasha Castel -- we have discovered a fine blog about pizza. The problem is that this fine blog unfairly castigates and maligns the Chicago School of Pizzamaking. As such, we are appalled.

Now look. Everyone knows* the best pizza in America is made at Gino's East in Chicago -- the original Gino's East, where there's graffiti all over the place and you'll wait two hours in a blocks-long line to get a table -- that Gino's East. It has been 15 years since we ate there, but we still remember how bloody good it was -- and how one pizza was more than enough for our family of four.

Now this is not to denigrate the New York School. We appreciate the sheer goodness of a proper New York slice -- grease and all. We appreciate that there's some sort of magic to folding the slice and throwing oregano and hot peppers all over it (because there's no flavor in the slice itself, perhaps?) and all that. We further appreciate the fact that New York pizza cannot be made properly outside the greater New York area. As our friend G.T. told us once in a drunken fit, it's the water. So we're fine with that. And -- in all seriousness -- when we have a yen for thin-crust pizza, we agree that New York is the only place to go for it. Especially if the establishment we buy from has a really good sauce and doesn't drown the thing in cheese.

However, we would humbly say that when all is said and done, we prefer our slices to be substantive. Go ahead and denigrate our Midwestern roots, but faugh! we refuse to sit idly by as our beloved Chicago deep dish pizza is unfairly criticized.

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* Yes, we realize those are fighting words.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:11 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

The Rant is Away ...

... UNTIL MONDAY, DEC. 22.

From "our house" to "you and yours," have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Even though we'll be back before either of those holidays take place.

In the meantime, please have a look around the archives, visit the great writers to whom we have linked in the left-hand column, and just have a bit of fun. That's what we plan to do over the next few days. Also, we hope not to get the typhus.

So kick back, relax. We hope your holidays go wonderfully this year, and God bless. And as always, thanks very much for reading.

Cordially,

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

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:51 AM | TrackBack

An Exercise in Gleeful Cruelty

IT IS RARE that we observe the pure essence of human stupidity in its raw, primal form, but we have done so this very evening. You see, thanks to the efforts of folks like Tim Blair and Emily Jones, we have discovered a column from George Monbiot in The Guardian condemning the airplane.

Yes, you read that right.

Now, in normal circumstances, we could stop right there, for clearly this Monbiot fellow is an idiot of the highest degree. Furthermore, as Mr Monbiot is obviously incapable of coming to grips with certain realities of modern life, it would be unseemly for us to rhetorically flay his work.

However, we note that Mr Monbiot has amazingly achieved several academic distinctions, and is involved in several British pressure groups. Further, his argument is so beyond the pale, so miserably stupid, and so base and degenerate it shocks even us -- and we are not easily shocked anymore.

Thus, a compromise. We will confine our criticism to two key paragraphs which we think sum up the sheer lunacy of his argument. They are as follows:

The $1,000 (the Wright brothers) spent on developing their beast is just about the only expenditure on this doom machine that has not been state-assisted. All over the world, the aircraft industry was built by means of government spending. All over the world, it is sustained today through tax breaks and hidden subsidies. Mysteriously exempt from both fuel duty and VAT, airlines in Britain dodge some £10bn of tax a year. The aeroplane, in other words, is still treated by governments as a social good.

This might have something to do with the fact that prime ministers and presidents use it more often than anyone else. Or it might reflect the perennial male obsession with the instruments of control.

Or, Mr Monbiot, it just MIGHT have something to do with the spread of GLOBAL COMMERCE, which RAISES THE LIVING STANDARDS of everyone on God's green Earth -- you dull-witted, progress-hating, neo-Luddite hippie oldthinker.

Gad. It's a true pity that Marshall McLuhan isn't around to rhetorically skewer this stupid get, because McLuhan would be perfect for the job. We think he would be the first to say it's amazing how Monbiot got to teach a class in anything.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:42 AM | TrackBack

December 16, 2003

We Have Officially Written Off Seattle

WE HAVE LEARNED THAT the city of Seattle has decided to make recycling mandatory for all city residents and businesses, starting in 2005. Since this was done for no real reason, we at The Rant have officially written Seattle off.

Thus, Seattle joins cities such as Eugene, Ore., Berkeley, Calif., and Burlington, Vt., as places which we consider too weird for right-thinking people to live. While we have no animus towards recycling if it is done on a voluntary or incentive basis -- we grew up in a state where empty soda cans were almost a substitute currency* -- we think a little justification should be given if recycling is going to be imposed.

Now, it is true that forced recycling would cut the city's garbage costs by $2 million per annum. No matter what one's view on the idea, that's at least a good rationale for it. But the main impetus for the move, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer report on the matter, is apparently because Seattle is supposed to be an environmentally-conscious city. As such, its citizens are going to be forced to live up to that image whether they like it or not. We find that pathetic.

A sign of how important this is to Seattle is evidenced in the P-I report, which proudly notes that Seattle is a leader in water conservation. With all the rainy days that place has, what the devil's the point?

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* Any Michigan resident knows full well the value of an aluminum soda can, which there is redeemable for 10 cents at any grocery. Indeed, we recall that as college students, we and many other folks would save cases upon cases of soda cans in the event we needed ready cash. It was further deemed decadent and wasteful to throw out soda cans, which might explain why Michigan has the highest rate of aluminum can recycling in America.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:53 PM | TrackBack

December 14, 2003

WE GOT HIM!

Now it's his turn.

And God willing, we'll have him soon enough.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How Bleak Life Is ...

IF THE WEATHER REPORTS are any indication, this is what we expect to see when we look outside our apartment windows on Monday morning.

OK, OK. So things aren't going to be that bad. We will have some semblance of daylight to see us through a particularly nasty winter storm headed our way. Still, as always, we fear this storm will bring with it the usual amount of death and devastation -- to say nothing of the chance our car's battery will decide to give up the ghost. We're also not particularly thrilled about forecasts which predict A) a foot of snow B) ice pellets C) dire warnings about travel conditions and D) The Dreaded Wintry Mix.

And to think -- it's not even officially winter yet.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 13, 2003

Introducing The Rant's Bermuda Index

RANT READERS WILL UNDOUBTEDLY NOTE -- gee, it's not like you can miss it -- the rather large banner in the left-hand column of this page noting something called "The Rant's Bermuda Index." However, as the graphic does not explain what The Bermuda Index signifies, an explanation is warranted. So here goes:

Last night, as we were hobbled by fatigue and frustration, we penned an awfully angry post on an incident at the University of California at Davis, in which we learned that some joyless thought-police type had registered a grievance over the inclusion of the word "holiday" in a department's "holiday party." As we wrote then, our apoplexy nearly caused us to blow out our spleen.

Later, though, we realized that this was -- when all was said and done -- a minor aggravation in the grand scheme. However, we also realized that if too many aggravations were to come down the pike at once, our nerves would be entirely shot. That would reduce us to a shuddering, angry, unpleasant state, in which we constantly mumbled about the impending dangers of Bolshevism.

Hence, to prevent that breakdown from happening, we have instituted The Bermuda Index.

The Bermuda Index runs on a scale from 0 to 100, and is similar to a stock index, in that it can go up or down at random for no particular reason. However, like the market, certain things -- societal stupidity, our dealings with idiots, and other unfortunate incidents -- will be used to explain the movement of the index, whether or not there is any correlation.

Something minor, like the UC-Davis incident, may warrant adding two points; something really minor, such as that televised reality-show wedding, may warrant adding one-tenth of a point. Something major -- let's say an auto accident in which some idiot rammed his SUV into my Taurus because he was talking on his mobile phone -- would be worth adding 30 or 40 points.

A reading of 0 means that all is right with the world, I am feeling fine, and the week just seems to be getting better and better. A reading of 100 means that I am on the verge of losing my last marbles, and to prevent that from happening, I have gone on vacation to Bermuda for at least a week.

So there you have it -- The Bermuda Index: tracking both my own sanity, and that of our nation. It will be updated weekly or as circumstances warrant.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:24 PM | TrackBack

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year ...

... UNLESS YOU'RE A WRETCHED, holiday-hating, anti-religious spoil-fun who can't stand that the vast majority of the people around you are having a fine time celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah.

One such person apparently works at the University of California at Davis, if an e-mail which K-Lo @ NRO received on Thursday afternoon is any guide. We quote the e-mail in its entirety:

Thought you might find this interesting........

I work in a department of about 150 people for the University of California, Davis. We have been told that we can't even call it a "Holiday" party any longer. One sole kook decided that the word "holiday" implies religion and whined to our dean that the word offended her because of that. The dean promptly caved and told us that our party was now being called the "Annual" party.

I would love to hear anyone who can top that. This has to rank pretty high on the ridiculousness meter.

(staring at screen in silence)

(crickets chirp)

(dog howls at moon)

GAD.

Yeah, we know that we shouldn't be shocked and awed at such amazing stupidity and boorishness. The incident in question did happen at the University of California at Davis; the behavior described therein does exemplify a lack of tact that only an academic could possess; and we do recall Kissinger's old dictum.*

Even still, the apoplexy we suffered upon reading that e-mail nearly blew out our spleen. What the devil is wrong with some people? Perhaps the better question would be: Why the devil do the rest of us put up with it?

Well, by jingo, we here at The Rant are not going to put up with it any longer. We have had it up to here with milquetoast greetings and amorphous celebrations. We are sick and tired of kowtowing to this mindless imbecility. And the whole let's-deny-religion-actually-exists-in-life schtick is right out.

So, in that spirit, we wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah this year. And if the mere mention of those holidays happens to offend you, or gets under your skin, or somehow annoys you ...

Well, you'll get over it.

-----
* "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:17 AM | TrackBack

December 12, 2003

Keep Building That Fence

BARBARISM is the only word that can be used to describe conduct in a recent student government election at a university in the West Bank, on which the Associated Press recently reported.

The AP reports:

In a West Bank university election for the student leadership that focused on which party had killed the most Israelis, the violent Hamas swept to victory Wednesday, defeating Yasser Arafat's Fatah.

The campaign for the student government council at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah featured exploding models of Israeli buses and claims of prowess based on Israeli casualties.

The amazing thing is that the story gets worse from there; indeed, it is shocking beyond belief. We are not kidding. It is that bad.

So read the whole thing. Observe how the road map to peace is being torn up, shredded, used to wipe up coffee stains on the dash and then thrown out the window.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:55 AM | TrackBack

Dreaming of the Past

"WHEN I WAS YOUNG I, too, had many dreams. Most of them came to be forgotten, but I see nothing in this to regret. For although recalling the past may make you happy, it may sometimes also make you lonely, and there is no point in clinging in spirit to lonely bygone days. However, my trouble is that I cannot forget completely, and these stories have resulted from what I have been unable to erase from my memory."

-- Lu Hsun, Introduction, Call to Arms.

--------

LONG AGO, WHEN WE WERE YOUNG, we picked up for the first time a book of Ray Bradbury's stories, and were enchanted from the moment we set eyes on his work. Actually, to be perfectly precise, we were enchanted from the moment we set eyes on the back-cover copy describing his work, which informed us that Mr Bradbury wrote stories of Man's "glorious past" -- and his "dismal future."

As we thumb through a collection of Mr Bradbury's stories this evening, we find that stories of both types are very much in evidence. There are, of course, the stories of small towns and baseball games and endless summers. But there are darker stories as well -- the stories where men fought against their newly-automated life, and sought refuge from cities and worlds ruined by nuclear devastation and leprosy bombs. Indeed, we recall that in one story, Mr Bradbury portrayed a couple who tried to escape into the past itself from a nightmarish future.

They failed, of course. They could not escape the world into which they were born. Perhaps Mr Bradbury's message is that we cannot do so either, no matter how much we try. But, by God, some of us in this life keep on trying anyway.

Now, of course, anyone who has read Mr Bradbury's work in detail knows full well that he is not a fan of Puritanism. Aye, he most certainly is not a fan of those whom he so memorably called the Spoil-Funs, those whom he accused of having mercurochrome for blood, those who would despoil his work in the name of what we now call political correctness.

Sheila O'Malley is not a fan of Puritanism either. Click on the link; read her whole essay; ponder it for a good long time. For if you're like us, it will make you do rather a lot of thinking.

Ms O'Malley writes:

I do believe that there is such a thing as morality, I do believe in a morality that is not subjective and not relative. There is such a thing as Good, and there is such a thing as Bad.

But yearning after the legendary good old days when children respected their parents and families ate dinner together and people went to church and had the "right" values seems foolhardy, ahistorical, and downright simple-minded. People in the 1940s had tormented family lives. You just never heard about it! Parents beat their kids. Girls got pregnant in high school. But nobody talked about it. There was a muzzle over the mess of life. Staring at the past thru rosy "those were the days" goggles seems like a waste of time.

Read Catcher in the Rye. Hell, let's go further back. Read Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Read Wuthering Heights. Read Anna Karenina. Read Oliver Twist. Read The Bible, for God's sake! People behave HEINOUSLY in the Bible, on occasion. There is no utopian past. It does not exist ...

At a later point, she continues:

"So I get very impatient with people who scold me. Who take it upon themselves to scold the entire world. Whose reason for living is to scream at other people, "This world is going to hell in a handbasket!"

Dude, if you'd just stop screaming about that handbasket, then maybe your schedule would clear up a little bit, so that you could actually have some FUN. Why do you care so much about how other people live their lives?

I basically care if people murder people, if people run a crackhouse on my block, I care if people break the law, I care if children are abandoned or abused. But I do not care what music they listen to. I do not care who they have sex with. I do not care if they are married or unmarried. I do not think that it's my business to teach the rest of the world the proper way to live. Plenty of people probably disapprove of MY lifestyle, but that's THEIR problem. ..."

And she finishes with the following:

"Also - as a coda: Little red flags go up in my mind when I hear people say stuff about "these days", or "what'sa mattah with kids today" or "whatever happened to concepts like honor or family?"

Enforced nostalgia. Willful romanticization of the past.

No thanks. I'm not interested."

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. We should again note that we have merely excerpted certain sections of Ms O'Malley's essay, and we very strongly encourage our readers to look over it in its entirety.

As for our thoughts on the matter, we certainly agree that when it comes to people's personal habits or lifestyles, a good scolding is far less effective in changing them than it used to be.

For as the world has gotten "smaller" with the introduction of new technology, it has also gotten much more disconnected. No longer do people worry about what The Neighbors or Folks Down at the Club think about how they live their lives. Gad, we at The Rant don't even know our neighbors, and we doubt that many people our age have more than a cursory knowledge of what goes on in their neighbors' lives -- or in the lives of the guys or gals they see down at the bar each payday. In short, the old aphorism that honey attracts more flies than vinegar is really appropriate in this day and age.

That said, we do think nostalgia can be a force for good. But before we continue, let us say that we are not taking issue with what Ms O'Malley wrote. She's focusing on scolds, not nostalgia. Besides, we made our complaint the last time, and she was very pleasant about the whole thing, and gave us a nice hyperlink and said some very complimentary things about our work, etc. etc. But we really don't intend to be critical; we're just spelling out our own thoughts on the matter.

Ms O'Malley is right that there were things wrong with the past. We didn't treat everyone equally -- that's a big one right there. We accepted familial violence, a point which Ms O'Malley specifically notes. We didn't talk about issues as thoroughly or as openly as we do today -- although we did talk about them. As C.S. Lewis noted about one such issue:

"They tell you that sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing it up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess."

Dr Lewis first spoke those words in the early Forties. But of course it was a different world then; a world where some things were better. That was, for example, notable in the area of familial stability -- in 1940, there were six marriages for every divorce; now, the ratio is two to one. The rate for births out of wedlock was about five percent back then; now such births are a third of the total. On this subject, we don't think it's a bad thing to want to turn back the clock. It may be unattainable, we admit; but we think it's still worth trying to do.

So, how do we as a society do that, and many other things for which we ought strive? We don't do it by being cruel, that's for sure; and that said, please permit us one digression.

Even in this enlightened age we are cruel far too often to those who have made some bad choices, or fallen prey to addiction, or otherwise made a mess of things.

That's not to say we can simply give people pass after pass, or that we can excuse the behavior. At some point we have to let them go; and/or punish them accordingly, if they have done wrong against society. But we can certainly give people second chances if they deserve and want them, and we ought to do so. Furthermore, we can act with compassion and charity -- not only to offer them a helping hand, but to show them that there's a better way to live.

But back to the family stability issue. In this case, we think that if we directed more of our resources -- in every respect -- to promoting the importance of a strong family unit, it would help. And God knows we as a society can't get on our high horse about it. We have to admit to ourselves and those to whom we are reaching out (in this case, teenagers) that we have fallen, we have screwed up, we have made a mess of things -- and we just don't want to see them go through the same troubles we have. Let's leave scolding out of it.

And thus, we return to one key point of Ms O'Malley's argument: that nostalgia, instead of being a useful force in life, can truly become disabling. Instead of dealing with the problems at hand, we focus on the fact that (to kind-of expand on her example) we didn't need no welfare state and everybody pulled his weight and gee! our old LaSalle ran great. Then we go about beating everyone over the head -- look how we deal with smoking and drinking, for instance.

The danger of this tactic, of course, is that it lets nostalgia for the past cloud the reality of the present. And again, we shall have Mr Bradbury enter the picture, for he once wrote a good story about that literally happening.

The spacefarers he wrote about had arrived on Mars one day to find that everything -- everything -- was just like their childhoods back on Earth. Their old friends and family were all there, and the town in which they landed was very much like their old hometowns. It all seemed odd, but no one really paid attention -- until that night, when the leader of that third expedition to Mars finally figured out it was all a ruse:

"Captain John Black broke and ran across the room. He screamed. He screamed twice. He never reached the door."

We very much appreciate the need to remember the past. But even as we appreciate and respect how things were, let's make sure that we can get to the door of the future -- and that we open it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

One Song Gets Played, They All Get Played!

WE WISH TO REGISTER A COMPLAINT about some of the radio stations here in Southern New Hampshire. A full three out of six preset stations on our automobile's FM dial have decided to play Christmas carols on a twenty-four hour basis. This apparent national trend was cute for about the first week after Thanksgiving, but we're starting to get sick of it.

Well, we are sick of it. We'll admit that.

OK, fine. We're now so bloody sick of Christmas music that we get visibly ill whenever we hear some cheap, commercialized, overproduced crap masquerading as a tribute to that holy day.

Now, we do our best to contain our body's horrible, involuntary physical reactions when we hear these Very Special Songs. But we know that, thanks to certain songs, we will one day cause panic when we vomit all over our car's windshield during rush hour traffic. That would be a mild reaction, too -- the type of thing we'd expect if we were inadvertently exposed to yet another bad rendition of "Winter Wonderland" or "Feliz Navidad." And we can assure you that if we hear that frickin' Chipmunks song one more time, we're going to have ourselves forcibly sedated.

And we don't even want to think of our reaction if we hear Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" again. You know the song -- the really bad mid-Seventies cheesy-synthesizer version. The last time we heard it, it got stuck in our head for three hours. Have you any idea what kind of mental torture that was?

The choir of children sing their song
Ding dong, ding dong
Ding dong, ding Ohhhh
Ohhhhhhh

Three hours, we tell you. Three -- hours!

And it gets worse! We are reliably informed that somewhere out in radioland, disc jockeys have in their possession copies of a Christmas album from Destiny's Child.

Now, we can assure readers that we actually like a lot of that band's music. "Survivor," for instance, is a very catchy song. However, in the interest of research, we decided to listen to one song from their Christmas album. That experience leads us to believe that if we listened to that album in its entirety, we would most certainly get in the spirit of Christmas. If, that is, the true spirit of Christmas involved suffering congestive heart failure.

But we do not mean to single out Destiny's Child -- there are a lot of pop music types doing Christmas remakes, and they all seem similarly miserable. We even heard a rumor that N*SYNC had done some Christmas remakes. However, we know there's no truth to that at all. After all, had they done so, it would have signaled the coming of the Apocalypse.

Despite our complaints, though, rest assured that the radio stations haven't been able to ruin Christmas music entirely for us. We still very much enjoy classic renditions of the old standards -- O Holy Night, We Three Kings of Orient Are, I'll Be Home for Christmas. And no one -- not even Destiny's Child -- could ruin the Carol of the Bells, which we consider the greatest and the best Christmas carol of all.

They got pretty close, though.

----
(link via Allison, who is similarly sick of the constant Christmas music)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 08, 2003

When Nature Attacks

AS PART OF HIS LONG-STANDING QUEST to raise the level of discourse among Americans, Dean Esmay has linked to the text of a Michael Crichton speech on the environment. In this address, Mr Crichton looks at issues surrounding the environment with a very, very sharp lens.

We particularly found one portion of this speech of interest:

In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die.

Now, we cannot independently confirm the veracity of Mr Crichton's views on this matter, although we do believe them to be awfully sound.

We do believe that it's important to have a clean environment, so folks -- if they desire -- can go and enjoy the country without having to deal with smoggy air and tainted water; so folks can go see the natural wonders God has given us; and so folks can go see how things used to be before Man's guiding hand reshaped the landscape. How we accomplish that as a society is another matter entirely, but we would argue that folks everywhere pretty much agree that goal is a good one to have.

That said, we go further than Mr Crichton in his remarks. We here at The Rant do not merely respect nature; we generally fear it. Indeed, we hold to what we call the Annie Hall Theory of Communing with Nature.

In short, when faced with a hostile living thing such as a giant spider, our initial reaction is to kill it, for God's sake. If we are unable to do so, we have two options: retreat from the field of battle, or somehow prevail upon William F. Buckley to kill the spider. (If readers have no idea what we are talking about, clickez ici).

Indeed, long-time Rant readers know full well about our inability to deal with citified nature, i.e. the scavenging animals which in the summertime lurk around our dwelling and cause trouble. Indeed, we were quite shaken when we last found ourselves dealing with a meddlesome skunk, which had the audacity to attempt spraying us with its foul-smelling ichor one summer evening. Sadly, we were not able to finish the war of aggression which this bold woodland creature began against us; but we are hopeful that the skunk was subsequently contained, and sent someplace to prevent it from ever again unleashing its weapon of mass stinkification.

Given this example, readers will undoubtedly find it no surprise to know that real nature is not something we're all that keen about. If other folks want to go out and enjoy the woods and streams, that's their business. But as for us, we'll stick with the sterile, ultraviolet, tame arena of the indoors. Especially during black-fly season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 06, 2003

Yet Another Compendium of Idiocy

GAD. WE HAD THOUGHT, for a fleeting moment, that we would be allowed to enjoy the Christmas holidays without any notably stupid incidents taking place in society. Sadly, however, a few Americans decided that not even upcoming holy days would keep them from inflicting such things upon us.

Here at The Rant, we are in a particularly annoyed mood tonight for a few reasons. First, the snow is falling heavily, and does not stop. Second, our newly-purchased copy of Sarah McLachlan's latest CD will not jive with our computer's primary music program, and instead defaults to using the advertisement-ridden, third-rate music program which we do not like. Third, we need junk carbohydrates like you wouldn't believe, but Item One has pretty much stopped us from getting those this evening. Fourth, our nerves are shot. Clearly, you can see why we are not exactly happy and joyous.

However, we are going to put this frustration to perfectly good use, and blog about annoying, inexplicable, frustrating and nauseatingly-inane things. Besides, in about thirty minutes, our sedatives will kick in. That means we have a limited window in which to work before we is stoned immaculate.

So! Let us commence!

KICKING OFF the Parade of Madness this evening is the controversy about the poor seven-year-old whose teacher disciplined him after he informed a classmate that his parents are homosexual.

Two things really upset us about this whole situation. The first was that the teacher went way over the top in dealing with a situation that normal people would have left to the parents of the children concerned. The second was the note sent home with the boy; look at it. It is so insulting and downright mean-spirited to the boy's parents, it boggles the mind. It shows a real disdain for parental authority and responsibility, if you ask us.

While we're at it, we note with shock and extreme displeasure that the teacher, while quick to swoop down upon the boy for his spoken words, has apparently done little to correct his skills with written language. To us, the boy's writing in that letter home is even more scary than the letter itself -- for the boy appears, for all intents and purposes, illiterate.

True, he is only seven years old, and one does not want to be so negative about any youngster's educational progress. But while we are confident his present disciplinary woes will be corrected, we are far less hopeful that the folks in charge of his studies will go as far to ensure he can actually write.

NEXT UP on this miserable parade is the case of a Texas woman who became so enraged at not having mayonnaise put on her hamburger that she ran over a hapless restaurant manager.

The good news is that the manager, a productive and God-fearing person, did not die. Also, the woman who ran over the manager will spend 10 years in prison. The bad news is that for one woman's want of mayonnaise -- wretched, evil condiment that it is -- the good people of Texas shall spend hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping this person behind bars. We think a better punishment could have been meted out.

Before we get into that, though -- what is it about some people that they think they can just hurl abuse at service workers, or for that matter, anyone else? Now, we understand that everyone can have a bad day, but for some people it really seems to be a constant part of their personality. It's just uncalled for, and indicative of some true wretchedness in people's hearts.

Anyway, we think the woman should have been sentenced to ten years of flipping hamburgers and forced to repay the manager, the McDonalds Corporation, and any insurers involved for their losses sustained when said woman completely lost it in the drive-thru.

For as that restaurant manager put it so well: "I put the mayonnaise on her burger. I took the onions and the mustard off. What did I do?"

LASTLY, we would suggest filing this item under the "Ah, Shit!" department, in terms of a good story that went to perdition rather quickly. It turns out that the shopper reportedly trampled in a stampede for cheap Chinese DVD players has a history of filing slip-and-fall claims.

The funny thing about the whole incident is that it is entirely plausible that things happened as the shopper and her sister said they did -- but the prior claims now cast a very long shadow of doubt over their story. If so, that would be quite a way to learn a lesson most people pick up at the age of five: don't act like the boy who cries wolf.

That's all for this Compendium of Idiocy installment. In the meantime, we hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and that the weather where you live isn't too awful. Not that we care about our bad weather any more -- woooooo-boy -- it's so damned pretty ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:53 PM | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

"I'D WARN PEOPLE that a lot of international markets are really risky. Think about the Turkish or Russian markets. Or look at France. It's a lovely country. But they don't work for much of the summer. And they have a social security and government pension program that's ferociously overextended.

So I don't see any great panacea there for investors. If people want more in international than what they get in U.S. equity funds, I certainly wouldn't begrudge them 10% to 15% dedicated to international exposure. But they definitely don't need 50% or anywhere near that amount."

-- Jack Bogle
Chairman (ret)., the Vanguard Group

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:48 AM | TrackBack

Lad Mag's Beauty List Perplexing

IN A MOVE WHICH WE HOPE defies our critics' occasional crack that we are in fact more machine than man, we can assure readers that we spent some of our early morning checking out FHM's list of the 100 Sexiest Women. Sadly, though, we are a bit chagrined to admit that we have never heard of most of the women listed therein.

This may suggest that we need to really stop poring over documents dealing with taxation policy, manufacturing data, and economic history in our spare time. To that, we will readily confess. However, using the same rhetorical power which lets us hold forth on economic matters, we do believe we can respond to Ben Domenech's summary of the lad mag's list: have men gone mad?

Yes, they bloody well have.

Now, there is no denying that all the women listed upon FHM's list -- who buys these magazines, anyway? -- are foxes. We are more than glad to give them that. What we cannot understand is why so many of the ladies we particularly fancy are ranked near the end of this list.

The idea that Monica Bellucci (Te Deum laudamus!) is ranked 77th is ... it's just wrong, OK? We are sorry, but Ms Bellucci does not deserve to be in the lowest quartile of anything, much less a list like this. And while we were pleased to see that Jamie Sale (how we rejoiced when she beat out Kournikova in some ESPN poll on a similar matter) rightfully tops Courteney Cox Arquette, Ms Sale should rank higher than 92nd. And we would ask that Scott Rubush take note that Sofia Vergara is ... 95th! God's truth, now that is insanity!

As Rant readers well know, though, we do not consider beauty merely a dimension of sight. For us, it is mandatory to add in the dimension of sound, and the dimension of mind. We would put a special emphasis on that final word, just as Serling did. So we while we were pleased to see that Maria Bartiromo was listed as No. 81, we do not fully understand how Alicia (Pink) Moore ranks No. 56. Surely, the whole angry-at-everyone motif is being a bit overweighted in the final tally. And while we would not dispute Jessica Simpson's inclusion on the list, we don't see why she gets No. 40, while actress and University of Michigan graduate Lucy Liu is only ranked No. 42 and Harvard undergraduate Natalie Portman is ranked No. 59.

Adding to this sense of befuddlement on our part are those listed in the higher echelons of the list. We have no idea who Leeann Tweeden is, for instance. We further have no idea who Eliza Dushku, Kristin Kreuk, Catherine Bell, and Brooke Burke are either. We are sorry, but until folks like this start appearing on the Sunday morning talk shows, you just can't expect us to recognize them the way we'd recognize Mort Kondracke. Which reminds us -- not one FOX News presenter gets named? Come on, now. Shouldn't Heather Nauert have received at least an honorable mention or something?

Finally, we ought say that we don't see how anyone in the Top 10 of FHM's list got there this year, with three exceptions. The first two exceptions are Anna Kournikova and Britney Spears. In Ms Kournikova's case, she was married to Sergei Federov, and as a Red Wings hockey fan, that is enough for us. In Ms Spears' case ... well, she's quite a dish. That, and she's been savvy enough to keep quiet on political matters.

Indeed, we would go so far to say that we're surprised to see Ms Spears was not ranked No. 1 on the list. But there's just something about a Bond girl that propels them to stratospheric heights, wouldn't you say?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:22 AM | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

Amor vincit omnia!

WE HAVE SOME WONDERFUL NEWS to share with loyal Rant readers this evening. We have just learned that our dear friend Lee Bockhorn has proposed to his fair lady.

And She Said Yes!

So we are thrilled to offer our hearty congratulations to Lee and Giulietta on their engagement! As one might expect, we are just beside ourselves with excitement and joy for you both. What an amazing and wonderful thing love is!

If only there were words to express how incredibly happy we feel right now.

May God bless you as you embark together on this most wondrous of life's journeys; and again, congratulations!

------

A wedding is planned for next summer or fall.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:36 AM | TrackBack

That Old-Time Morality v. the New Cultural Reality

SHEILA O'MALLEY has written a quite fascinating essay examining what one might call the social outlook of old-fashioned traditionalists like us here at The Rant. Given the nature of the essay, it is perhaps inevitable that there are political overtones to it; but as we see it, such overtones should be considered ultimately superfluous to the deeper questions which Ms O'Malley addresses.

Those deeper questions deal with the very bedrock upon which our society is built: whether we can return to our glorious post-war past; what the impact of societal change will be; how we react to art and deal with human sexuality; and the role of Government vis-a-vis the individual. At their core, such things are not partisan issues.

They are, however, extremely important issues. For if certain points of view carry the day, it may very well mean fundamental changes in how America operates as a society. Undoubtedly, some of these changes would be very much for the best; but many of them might not be. As such, the wheat must be separated from the chaff.

That said, we find it unfortunate that Ms O'Malley paints traditionalists with such a wide brush in her essay. The end result is a skewed portrait, we think, of the traditionalist mindset. But let us present her arguments, for she deserves to have them presented in her own voice. We would also strongly encourage readers to read her essay in its entirety.

In any event -- Ms O'Malley writes:

I do not think there is a past which is so glorious that we should "go back to it". The very concept of "going back" is so ... anti-reality ... that I cannot get behind it, and I cannot countenance it.

If you're a human being, if you are connected to yourself as a part of the human race, then you know, in your heart, that you can never "go back". There is no "back there". You cannot halt change. And wanting to halt change - on a political level, or on a human level - is a sign of dysfunction. Sorry, but it is. It's like an 80 year old woman, wearing deep purple lipstick, dressing in skintight clothes, trying to pick up 24 year old boys. I mean, God bless her for trying! But she has not halted the clock - she cannot halt the clock no matter what she does - she is still 80 years old. You cannot go back in time.

I have a friend who constantly romanticizes what it was to be a child, or a teenager ... "Wouldn't it be great to go back to such a simpler time?"

To my view, she is ignoring huge chunks of reality in order to say that. I say to her, "I don't know ... In retrospect I may be able to laugh at what I thought was tragic when I was 7 years old, or 14 years old ... but at the time, while I was in it, I remember feeling all KINDS of emotions, not just happy ones. I remember feeling insecure, unhappy, scared, intimidated ... I don't want to 'go back' to that time ... because it wasn't all good."

We think this is a particularly acute point, because it is certainly true that not only can one not return to the Good Old Days, the Good Old Days were not as good as we remember them. It is human nature to excise the bad when thinking of the good.

But do traditionalists really want to go back to the halcyon days of old? No more than we would want to permanently move to Maui or St. Martin or some other vacation destination. They are wonderful places to visit, of course, but one would probably not want to live there; it's not home. Even back in the Good Old Days, a fellow named Rod Serling made some quality television examining how folks then wanted to go back to what they considered the Good Old Days.

That said, it is foolish to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For we have lost sight of so many good things that our old society had in plenty: a greater reverence for religion; greater clarity in terms of defining right and wrong; a greater willingness to accept personal responsibility. We have not lost sight of those things entirely, of course; but things have changed. There is no denying that.

To fervently hope that we, as a society, take the good things from the past and really apply them to the future should not be considered foolishness. It should rather be considered thoughtful. And, as we have no doubt that folks who do not think like us in many respects would hold a similar mindset, why is it legitimate for them but not for us?

But Ms O'Malley continues:

Here's a quote from the article I link to above: "Conservatives once defined themselves as “standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’” This antiquated thinking doesn’t suit (if it ever did) young generations who see the future as promising more freedom, more prosperity, and more potential. We don’t want to freeze progress; we want to unbridle it. " ...

... That's why people like me, people not so easily classified, people who think artists should have the freedom to express themselves however the hell they want to, and then let the PUBLIC decide whether or not they like it, people who love art, and culture, and who live on the fringes of normal society, want absolutely NOTHING to do with the social conservatives who try to push this conservative agenda.

Left unsaid in the quote Ms O'Malley references is a particular time element. The quote in question comes from none other than William F. Buckley Jr, who was writing in the Fifties. An examination of the near-collapse of traditional culture during the late Sixties and Seventies shows that this was by no means an unreasonable position for Mr Buckley to hold.

Today, of course, we as a society are in the opposite position we were then. No one in American life today still seriously believes in many of the tenets held dear during what Heinlein called the Crazy Years. No one still thinks Communism is a good idea; no one thinks fondly of wage and price controls and fuel rationing and pleather and the unlimited welfare state. Everyone in authority considers these ideas as outdated as leaded gasoline. We all may have different ideas of what progress entails and how to proceed in future. But, as we said above, those differences are irrelevant to the topic at hand. What we can say is that as a society, we've moved on from that particular way of thinking.

But then we have Ms O'Malley's paragraph.

We were not under the impression that we here at The Rant, traditionalists though we are, were openly hostile to the arts and modern culture. Indeed, we can assure Ms O'Malley that we are appreciate of both things. We enjoy modern music, even going so far as to enjoy rap music.

That admission may very well cost us our membership down at the Old Fashioned Club, but we do recognize the talent embodied in the music of Eminem, and also musicians such as Dr Dre and the late Tupac Shakur. Really. (We think a lot of rap music is patently miserable too, but that is simply because much of it is incompetent rambling, solely dedicated to glorifying irresponsible sexual practices and the feckless purchase of designer goods and other depreciable assets).

In any event, we would argue that liking such music is not incompatible with the shizzle our nizzle dribble down in VA. Word.

But let us move on. After a bit, Ms O'Malley continues on about the subject of art. At one point, she admonishes traditionalists to not confuse propaganda with good art. That is a fair enough point, but our question is this: is art for art's sake always a truly good thing?

For there is rather a lot of bad art out there -- puerile, blasphemous, wretched stuff in every medium of the field. We do not disagree, obviously, with the idea that artists as a class should be allowed to "express" themselves -- even if some would probably be better served by a lot of intensive technical training in their fields. But shouldn't we value good art over bad?

Are we traditionalists supposed to clap and cheer just because some third-rate hack happens to find art in -- for instance -- throwing dung on a representation of the Virgin Mary? Are we supposed to acquiesce in silence if we do not care for something patently offensive? It is one thing if an artist puts such art on private display, but must we as a society give acclaim and backing in our museums to art that is no more than worthless juvenalia?

Finally, we would note that at the end of Ms O'Malley's article, she writes a few blanket generalizations; things that we find astounding taken at their face value. For instance, the ideas that traditionalists are against a clean environment and against the works of Madeline L'Engle --

Now that's frustrating. It really is. And we're just going to leave it at that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:07 AM | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

We're All About Comparative Advantage

DEAN ESMAY has posted a thoughtful essay oriented around economics and the recent upswing in manufacturing activity.

Mr Esmay writes:

I was rather shocked to learn that the manufacturing sector of the economy is on an upswing. I'm perplexed. We've been transitioning away from an industrial-based to an information-based economy for at least the last 25 years. People who decry this always strike me as a little odd ...

What I don't quite understand is why manufacturing jobs would be increasing in the U.S. at this time. Apparently I'm not the only one surprised by this, though.

As we've always found such things interesting here at The Rant, we would like to throw our hat into the ring on this issue.

The reason America has lost manufacturing jobs over the past few decades is because we've mostly lost our comparative advantage in manufacturing. That's pretty much all there is to it.

It is true that one could argue that productivity increases have also accounted for lost jobs, although that doesn't carry as much water as one might expect. When it comes to manufacturing, productivity increases come either through speedups -- that is, squeezing more work out of the employees -- or through innovation. In the former case, there's a limit to how much you can wring out before you have to add folks onto the payroll. In the latter case, that innovation may cost jobs in the short run, but will usually create many more jobs in the long run. Remember how things turned out with the telephone operators.

But back to the comparative advantage issue. Now that America must compete on a global playing field, we find that we're losing rather a lot of unskilled and skilled positions to overseas firms. The reason, of course, is cost. When a worker in China costs a firm $1,000 per year and an American worker costs $28,000, the firm is going to go with China. There is little that can be done about this.

Now, the Chinese can make textiles and silicon chips and automobiles very well -- they have both an educated and cheap workforce, which is a very tough combination to beat. Other nations also bring a lot to the table.

But they won't be able to do everything. That's why U.S. manufacturing will never die. It may be reduced in scope, but it will never die.

U.S. firms, with their just-in-time delivery systems and built-in pressure to keep inventories low, will simply need a level of manufacturing work done here. That's to say nothing of the political reasons for having such work here -- the big Government contractors and other large industrial firms will do what they can to keep costs down, but they will keep an eye to not ticking off the folks who make the ultimate buying decisions. Soon there could even be tax incentives for keeping work here, and those would most certainly play a part in firms' decisions about where to produce their goods.

But the real reason manufacturing will never die is because of American innovation. It is one thing for the Chinese to make clothes and silicon chips; but as our knowledge base grows ever wider, we will develop new processes, new equipment, new devices. These will naturally be made in America, the operations' nerve center. We would be quite surprised if it such things could be outsourced quickly to overseas operations.

In short, while we may have lost our comparative advantage in many subsectors of the manufacturing field, we will regain it over and over again as our firms come up with new and better products.

Of course, that is a long-term view. In the short-term, we're probably seeing more manufacturing activity primarily because inventories are low, and firms now need to again produce things. If jobs come along with that, it will be because there's a limit to how much a firm can wring out of its people before it has to add folks onto the payroll.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

Swell New Digs

SAY, EVERYBODY! ALLISON BARNES has an entirely new site design, now that she's switched her already-fine site over to Movable Type! And it is a very swell set-up indeed. We encourage all of you to check it out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:06 PM | TrackBack

One Minor Quibble

THE ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP of Australia has declared that under that nation's immigration policy, Jesus would most certainly not have been given any room at the Australian Inn.

It is a stretch of a point, of course; and a sloppy one. It is one thing for a nation to show compassion for their fellow men, and another thing entirely to abandon any sort of immigration policy. But that's not our real bone of contention. We're just surprised that the Archbishop made his statement in the first place.

After all, if Christ had wanted to go to Australia, it stands to reason He would have no trouble doing so.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:02 PM | TrackBack

On a Serious Note About Europe ...

WE WERE VERY PLEASED to see that the European Jewish Congress published a report on anti-Semitism on the Continent, which EU officials scrapped for political reasons. Now we will all be able to see how the scourge of anti-Semitism has worsened there as of late.

We would also note our extreme displeasure with how European officials handled the whole matter. It is amazing to think they may have truly learned nothing from the Continent's history.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:45 PM | TrackBack

That Guy in the Red Suit

WE HAVE LEARNED OF A PATENTLY WEIRD STORY from the AFP today -- so weird that we are inclined to ignore it. However, we present it as proof of our long-standing suspicion that the Old World, with the exception of certain Ideologically Sound Nations, has fallen into decadence and decay.

Folks, it would appear that the Europeans have turned Santa Claus into a Communist.

Don't believe us, eh? Well, we were naturally skeptical of the idea too. But then we read the AFP's story! From it, we learn that good Santa Claus receives cultural subsidies from the European Union; is angry at his reindeer for breaking EU environment regulations; and thinks that modern children these days are too materialistic.

Well, OK. They are. But if Euroclaus here can't see he's part of the problem, what with the socialist bailout scheme he's got going for his inefficient and wasteful toy plant, then he's not going to be much help in fixing things. Gad. We sure as heck see his plan: give the kids loads and loads of free toys today, and tomorrow they'll want all sorts of other stuff for free. Like spa treatments under the government health plan.

Gee. Maybe Santa could spark a return to sanity. He could start by giving the elves less than eight weeks vacation and eleven paid holidays!

But of course, he wouldn't do that -- after all, that would cause IG Spielwaren to start trouble, and that would ruin everything. It was bad enough when Santa Claus suggested the elves retire at 57 instead of 55, remember?

Now, we fully admit that this story is not entirely bad. After all, St Nicholas is a practicing Christian, yet amazingly receives cultural subsidies from the materialists in Brussels.

But what kind of saint would demand payback from little children, as the Santa in the AFP story does? Does he not ask sneeringly, "And what do they give in return?" Yes! He does! Well -- that explains why he got the subsidies, then! Clearly he sold out his beliefs to jump on board the gravy train.

Unless, of course, this is all simply disinformation. It's entirely possible, of course. After all, such a warning from the AFP ("Watch out kiddies -- Santa's definitely in a bad mood this year") could very well be a ruse to cover up for Europe's continuing economic malaise. After all, it's a lot easier to blame some imaginary figure for one's woes, instead of rightfully castigating the stifling status quo.

----
(Hey, what can we say? Satire in, satire out -- and Merry Christmas to everyone).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 PM | TrackBack