February 28, 2004

IT DRAINS YOU. That we can say of "The Passion of the Christ." It drains you physically and emotionally and spiritually and leaves you sitting in the theatre soaked in cold sweat as the credits flash at the end. It crumbles the walls you have built around your soul. It hulls out your pride like one scoops out the innards of a melon. And in the end, at least for us, we felt ... we felt broken by this film. It hit that deep, and that hard, and it did so over, and over, and over again.

We will give it our utmost here to give an accurate rendition of what happened in the hours preceding, during and following our viewing of the film. It may not be our top form; we do not think we have fully regained our composure; but this may be the way for us to give our truest and best account of the matter. We must warn you that we have to spoil the movie in writing about it; we simply must in order to explain its full effect on us. So we've put much of this review in the extended entry box. If you've seen the movie, feel free to click on the link below; if you haven't, please don't. Go see the movie, and then read it.

For those readers unfamiliar with The Rant, we should clarify that when we say we throughout our work here, it is the same as writing in the singular. Normally that is not a concern when we write -- but we did not go to "The Passion" alone this afternoon.

Indeed, we can assure you that we went with our friend and blogging colleague Andre Vladimir Sebastian, who for a few months ran the now-defunct "Curveball" blog. Mr Sebastian had picked out an excellent theatre some miles south of here, and so this afternoon, we went.

After being pleasantly surprised at the ticket prices -- just $4.75! -- we eagerly sprang for both tickets, leaving Mr Sebastian to pay for the goods at the concession stand. After a bit of scrounging about for some change -- Mr Sebastian found that even the small order had drained him of his ready cash -- we proceeded through the hallways of the multiplex to the theatre in which "The Passion" was showing. Perhaps it was here that we first noticed something was different.

Actually, it was Mr Sebastian who did so. For as we both looked up the rows of seats, looking for two seats that were together, people waved to us and invited us to sit near them. As we sat down, Mr Sebastian remarked that had never before happened to him at a theatre, and we had to agree that our experience had been the same. Mr Sebastian also noted the audience: it was largely older, although there was a girl sitting two seats away from Mr Sebastian who was quite young -- say thirteen or fourteen years old. Later, we and Mr Sebastian both wondered how she reacted to the film; certainly we personally thought it not a movie for children -- in any respect.

IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW where to begin discussing "The Passion." It is an immensely moving work in every respect of the word. There were times when we recoiled in horror; times when our heart bled; times when we felt truly and utterly anguished. We have no doubt that this was Mel Gibson's intent when he created the film, and in that respect Mr Gibson succeeded beyond all our expectations.

We cannot say whether "The Passion" will serve as an evangelical tool; as Mr Sebastian noted following the film, its violence is so extreme that it may repel non-Christian viewers who might otherwise be open to the message. But we can say that for believing Christians -- as we are -- "The Passion" will be an intensely moving and haunting experience. It is not a movie that one would want to watch immediately again; indeed, as Mr Sebastian noted, one does not need to watch it more than once. For the message will stick, and it will keep a viewer thinking about it for a very long time afterwards.

We believed the narrative generally stuck to how it was written in the New Testament; but we enjoyed Mr Gibson's use of artistic license throughout the film, and thought it was pretty well done. Mr Sebastian pointed out that Mr Gibson makes use of some old tried-and-true tactics; the sudden-entry into the room, for instance. But he also noted that they work -- and they do. It may have been old hat, but by Jove, we jumped in our seats when Mr Gibson intended us to do so.

We also enjoyed the little flourishes: for instance, when Satan sent forth the snake towards Christ, as the Devil taunted Christ at the Mount of Olives. The overt use of Satan -- perhaps the most notable aspect of artistic license to appear in the movie -- was well-done. We especially thought that of the scene where Satan and Mary stare at each other as they make their way through the crowds on opposite sides of the crucifixtion route. If one had to point out a subtle theological message from Mr Gibson in this movie, perhaps that was it. For there you had Mary, for so brief an instant, take on the role of Michael.

The violence is perhaps the most striking feature about the film; we can only describe it as a continual escalation of pain, both for Christ in the film and for a viewer in the audience. We were shaken enough when the Roman soldiers started to beat Him with canes; and we were doubly shaken when they progressed to using the horrible flagellum. We counted along in anguish as the soldiers screamed in Latin ... twenty-one! twenty-two! twenty-three! But at the end of it, when they unlocked the chains -- only to turn Him over to flay His front!

But the most horrible part was the crucifixion, and there, it hovered at and then went over the top for us. It was bad enough to see Christ so beaten and bloody that his flesh was worn away to the bone at points. But watching as the nails were driven home -- that was almost too much. Hearing the crunch of the bones as the soldiers broke the thieves' legs to ensure their demise was gruesome. But what really got to us was the crow. We did not need to see the evil thief's eyes being plucked out.

However, now that it has been a few hours since we left the theatre, we must say we felt that almost all of the violence was justified -- to get the point across about just what Christ suffered, and how much.

Another point "The Passion" made very well was the chaos that accompanied Christ's crucifixion. It's not something that we ever thought about before, but it made sense when we thought about it afterwards. And what chaos! People lining the streets, wailing and struggling with the escort taking Christ to Golgotha; the people watching in horror as Christ was flayed; the conflict as Pilate stood before the crowd. It was chaos, smouldering and rebellious, and something that a few men turned to their advantage.

For after seeing "The Passion," we must say we did not find it anti-Semitic. We watched with a critical eye in that regard, or so we thought, and we just didn't see it. At least to us, the movie stands as a powerful rejection of the blood libel, that is, the hateful and evil doctrine of holding Jews collectively responsible for Christ's death.

We must say when we watched the movie, we thought the script took pains to focus on one man -- Caiaphas -- as the instigator in the matter. Not the priests, not the people -- Caiaphas. Even in the crowd scenes, perhaps the most provocative in terms of this issue, it is Caiaphas who clearly is behind things. Not the people.

Finally, we would note that Christ says in the film that no man on Earth has the power to subdue Him if He had not wished for that to happen. In the end, all of mankind shares the responsibility wholly and equally; and something that should not be overlooked is that He forgave us for it.

We honestly believe that people who see the movie will find it as we did. Furthermore, we cannot see how any thinking, rational person would come away from this movie wanting to "kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth," as Maureen Dowd claims. Ms Dowd's seemingly reflexive hostility to the film was ... well, we don't get it. She watched the film, and took away nothing from it. That is something that we cannot fundamentally understand; we cannot grasp how one could watch this film and not be moved. But her words, if you wish to read them, are available via the above link; and they speak for themselves.

No, one will not want to kick in anyone's teeth when one leaves this movie. One will be too shell-shocked, too distraught, too shaken to feel anything but miserable after watching "The Passion." Mr Sebastian noted at least three people crying during the film, and we can assure you we were very close to openly crying ourselves. For while the film ends with Christ's resurrection, it is too brief to erase the trauma of the proceeding two hours. And so, as the credits rolled, we sat and watched in silence, stunned and scarred.

Then, we got up and we went to the men's room and we threw water over our face. We walked out of the multiplex, past the lines of people, and said nothing. When we were outside, we stopped for a bit, and we paused along with Mr Sebastian and took note of the other releases playing.

It was then that Mr Sebastian made a particularly astute observation.

As we both looked at the listings for "Along Came Polly" and "50 First Dates" and "Cheaper by the Dozen," Mr Sebastian said: after seeing something like that, how could you watch these movies? How could you waste your time watching these?

How indeed? The very idea of watching them seemed silly. Here you had "The Passion," a work that treated the most important of subjects with what we thought was dignity and respect and fairness, and then you had these other movies; all of which looked insipid, mindless, and gauche.

Mr Sebastian's words got us to thinking. Perhaps there are some other things in our life which we focus far too much of our time and energy and thought upon. Perhaps we ought to rebalance our life portfolio, and start focusing more on things that are a bit more important. It will come as no surprise to hear we did a lot of thinking on the drive back. The daze was wearing off. In its place was reflection, and sadness, and most of all, grief.

When we arrived home, we got a Diet Coke out of the fridge, took off our jacket and threw it on the futon. As we walked over to the computer to begin writing, we looked up -- straight at the small crucifix mounted to the wall above our work desk.

And we wept.

OTHER BLOGGERS' REVIEWS of "The Passion of the Christ" include those from Allison Barnes, Ben Domenech, Sheila O'Malley, Stephen Silver, and Chris Weinkopf. These are certainly not the only reviews out there, so keep top eye out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:24 PM | TrackBack

February 25, 2004

Channeling Our Inner Ex-PFC Wintergreen

You're Catch-22!
by Joseph Heller
Incredibly witty and funny, you have a taste for irony in all that you see. It seems that life has put you in perpetually untenable situations, and your sense of humor is all that gets you through them. These experiences have also made you an ardent pacifist, though you present your message with tongue sewn into cheek. You could coin a phrase that replaces the word "paradox" for millions of people.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Irony? Oh, dear readers, if only you knew. If only you knew!

(via Sheila)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:08 AM | TrackBack

February 24, 2004

Mad Englishmen and Other Topics

WE NOTE WITH DISPLEASURE that one Oliver James, writing in this week's edition of The Observer, has taken a rather sneering attitude towards American religious attitudes in an essay about mental illness.

We are not surprised at Mr James' conclusions, as his entire essay is badly-written from the first sentence. Indeed, in that first sentence, Mr James asserts that "psychiatrists maintain that you can no more be a bit mad than a bit pregnant." Perhaps scholarship holds differently on the other side of the pond, but we have never known such views to hold sway here.

For instance, several years ago, we personally suffered from bouts with clinical depression. This was cured over time with the assistance of medication, and we no longer are treated for it. As such, one could argue that our particular case was less severe than a person who needed both therapy and medication for treatment; and that second case was itself less severe than a depression case requiring hospitalization for treatment. Hence, Mr James' argument that there is in fact a spectrum from sanity to madness is entirely specious; or, as we would say here in the United States: well, duh.

So why Mr James sees the need to bring religion into the debate is beyond us, especially when there is nothing to debate. But, in any event, he writes:

Delusional beliefs, like thinking you are a poached egg, are another crucial sign of madness. About one in seven Americans believe they have seen a UFO, and 3.7m claim they have been abducted by aliens. Half agree with the statement: 'The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.' OK, the Yanks are nuts.

The first point, that one in seven Americans, or approximately 40 million people, believe they have seen a UFO largely cannot largely be chalked up to delusional beliefs. Plenty of people see odd things in the sky. These things are, of course, later found to be passenger jets or weather balloons or weird cloud formations, or some other rational explanation is given for their appearance: such as the testing of an advanced fighter aircraft. But simply seeing an unidentified flying object is not prima facie evidence that little green men are in command of it, and that should be apparent.

True, Mr James points out that 1.3 percent of the American public do believe that little green men are in command of such UFOs, and these poor souls believe that said alien life forms have temporarily absconded with them for unknown purposes. However, given that this estimate was likely drawn from a survey sample of just a few thousand persons, it seems foolish to automatically extrapolate that 3.7 million Americans find the idea of a man from Mars eating cars and bars and now guitars all that plausible. Even if they did, one could simply argue that this myth was easily spread among those few people who are easily suspectible to believing in such things. Being mad is not, in many cases, the same as being witless.

Which, of course, makes Mr James' final point about Americans' belief in the Bible's accuracy and source even more insulting. One ought not compare religious belief to madness or witlessness; to do so is both morally repugnant and intellectually puerile. If one wants to argue the pros and cons of religious belief on an intellectual or theological level, that is one thing. But to dismiss it across the board is to show an amazing amount of disrepect for those who do believe in it.

Now we do not personally believe the Bible is the actual Word of God; as a Roman Catholic, we believe it is the inspired Word of God as written by Man. That is a different interpretation than that shared by many of our Protestant friends; but we have no quarrel with them for holding their views, and we respect their faith, even though we may not personally believe in some particular points of their doctrine.

Yet the way Mr James writes, he puts religious belief on the same plane as whether one believes one will get a check in the mail later this week. This intellectual laziness boggles our mind. It would be no different than us saying, hypothetically, that 15 percent of Britons still believe the old version of Clause IV in the Labour Party's Constitution* is a reasonable policy solution despite history's general verdict to the contrary -- and thus, they are mad.

Now it would be perfectly silly for us to argue such a thing, because one cannot link mental health to political or religious belief. Apparently Mr James sees it differently, and that's unfortunate. But as he does, we would be quite interested to know just what he thinks about certain issues. Perhaps he needs some good time off in the country.

(via Emily Jones)

* The old version of Clause IV essentially calls for the forcible nationalization of industry, a doctrine now thoroughly rejected by all major political entities in the developed world.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:26 PM | TrackBack

February 23, 2004

If They Called it European Kim Chi ...

... WE SUBMIT FOLKS would generally eat more sauerkraut than they do now. Of course, sauerkraut is not as flavorful as kim chi, but it is still something that can be enjoyed provided one gets used to the stuff.

On the other hand, there are times when people go too far in this regard.

No, really. When we say "too far," we mean too far. Too far as in, "That ain't right" too far. Too far as in, "Lileks could write a sequel based on this" too far. You see, we have discovered that some madman has developed a recipe which puts sauerkraut in chicken parmesan.

Yes! For between the chicken and the tomato sauce and -- oh God -- the parmesan and mozzarella cheese -- one must layer fourteen ounces of sauerkraut. We don't know about you, but the idea of sauerkraut co-existing with mozzarella cheese is enough to turn even our stomach. Good God. It's appalling -- it's monstrous -- it's ghastly!

Unsurprisingly, no one took credit for this meisterwerk, which leads us to the only possible conclusion. Namely, that late in the Second World War, an evil Nazi chef dreamed this up to get back at the Italians for overthrowing Mussolini. Oh, and if that wasn't bad enough, look at this recipe for the so-called Happy Hour Pie. Marshmallows, yes ... Oreo cookies, yes .... fourteen ounces of sauerkraut ... pass the whiskey. The whole frickin' bottle.

We won't even discuss the submitted recipe for sauerkraut Jell-O, except to say: Mr Lileks, there's a gold mine out there.

Moving on, though, we have found that it's not just sauerkraut which falls victim to such gastronomical foul play. Even simple things like eggs can be ruined, as we see with this recipe description: "Enjoy these pickled eggs with a rosy complexion courtesy of beet juice."

We don't know about you, but we don't see any enjoyment coming from a meal described with the phrases "pickled eggs" and "courtesy of beet juice."

But that's not all. We were further quite disturbed to learn that recipes still exist for meals which contain potted meat, such as this recipe for potted meat and egg sandwiches.

Oh, sure, it might not be a bad idea to have this reference on file. One never knows if the whole of society will collapse beyond repair in some cataclysmic event. One never knows if a hole in the fabric of space-time will transport one back to 1895. But these recipes are being put forward as if the writers actually expected people to make them given our unprecedented prosperity ...

Sorry. We just can't go on. And we're sorry if you were eating lunch at the computer and had to read this entry and now you're feeling queasy and you won't finish your essay/ get the contract signed / close the Winkler account / and so on because of it. But this was just wrong on so many levels.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

From Our Feared Recipe Collection

Oh No!
It's Time for an Installment of ...

WE WERE BLESSED TONIGHT with a bit of spare time on our hands, so we were able to spend much of our time doing needed chores: cleaning, doing the laundry, and best of all, actually cooking a proper meal.

Now, because we are having an iffy-to-decent week thus far, we decided tonight that we would cook a perfectly healthy and economical meal -- and one that superstition holds will bring us good luck. Hence, we prepared a casserole-dish full of our Pork and Sauerkraut recipe (lit. Waswirinderkücheammontag-gelassenhaben).

We have adapted (read: largely stolen) this recipe from a variety of sources, including one of those cheap Barnes & Noble cookery books ("The Cook's Encyclopedia of French Cooking") and the back of the supermarket sauerkraut package, but we think it works. We have also adapted it to suit our own tastes, as well; for instance, the bookstore cookery book informs us we should ruin the dish with apple juice and white wine, in addition to things like juniper berries. Other recipes call for brown sugar, or such absurdities as cream of mushroom soup. Amazingly, some even call for putting corn into the dish.

We are naturally skeptical of such adulterations, as we don't think our Alsatian forebears could just go out and buy corn and cream of mushroom soup. We also have one added bonus to our version, as we see it: it is lower in carbohydrates due to the omission of potatoes, a common and reasonable ingredient in many recipes. But anyway: here are our two recipes for Pork and Sauerkraut:

Ben's Easily-Prepared Pork & Sauerkraut
Perfect for a late and pleasing supper, a Sunday lunch, or when the French or Germans have besieged your region again and you've only got a few hours before heading to the basement shelter*

You Will Need:
3-4 pork chops, for perhaps one pound of meat
1 lb. bag or can of sauerkraut, drained
1 properly strong white onion, chopped
salt and pepper
high-quality beer (such as Sam Adams)
also a relatively deep skillet

1. Chop the onion, taking care to avoid wiping your eyes and burning them. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, apply a couple of tablespoons of oil to the skillet, and heat it to medium-high or so. Fry up the pork chops and the onion for a few minutes, until the pork chops are browned and the onion is a bit soft.

3. Add in the drained sauerkraut, along with the salt, pepper, and a bit of the beer. Simmer for about two hours or so, adding beer to the skillet and down your throat as required.

4. Serve up. Pork and sauerkraut is supposed to bring luck, and you're probably going to need it. Drink with the beer in which you simmered the whole mess. Enjoy until finished, or until you can hear the mortar fire in the distance. In the latter case, store for easy reheating the next day.

* Here's more information on long-suffering Alsace.

Ben's Moderate-Skill Pork & Sauerkraut
Perfect for New Year's Day, or when one has a yen to engage in some decent cooking, has a Saturday afternoon free, or wants to celebrate throwing off the yoke of some oppressor

You Will Need:
3-4 pork chops, for perhaps one pound of meat
1 lb. bag or can of sauerkraut, drained
1 lb. extremely-high quality bratwurst or other German sausage
1 properly strong white onion, chopped
2 or 3 strips of bacon
salt and pepper
garlic powder
good spice mixture, such as Montreal Steak seasoning
high-quality beer (such as Sam Adams)
also a relatively deep skillet and a good baking dish
Tagamet or other anti-stomach ailment medication

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop up the bacon and the onion. Set aside. Spray your skillet with cooking spray or throw in 2 tbsp. or so of cooking oil.
2. Fry the bacon and the onion a few minutes. Transfer to your baking dish. Add in the drained sauerkraut to the baking dish, pour about 2/3rds of a bottle of beer over the mixture, cover with alumnium foil, and throw in the oven.
3. Whilst the vegetables are cooking, rub the pork chops with the aforementioned spices. Fry the chops until they are browned. As this is happening, defrost or otherwise ensure the sausages are at room temperature.
4. When the chops are done, set aside. Remove the baking dish from the oven after about twenty minutes or so, and throw in the sausages and pork chops.
5. Recover the dish, and let the sucker cook for about an hour and a half. This is a good time to get a head start on cleaning the other dishes. Also, if you have a weak stomach, take some Tagamet while you're thinking of it.
6. Remove the dish from the oven, and let stand for a minute or two. Then serve and enjoy -- drink the same type of beer which you used to cook the whole casserole. Pork and sauerkraut is supposed to bring good luck, making this a fine dish to serve prior to asking for a raise, hoping your car passes its annual inspection, and so on.
6b. Also, if applicable, denounce that neighbor you don't like as a collaborationist.

Anyway, now that our latest batch of our pork-and-sauerkraut is done, we're going to go and enjoy it. We hope you've enjoyed this installment of "Stuck in the Kitchen with Ben," and look forward to providing you with future updates.

Note: each recipe makes enough for between two to three, if not more, meals for a sedentary 28-year-old New Hampshire resident. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 20, 2004

In Praise of The Old Car

WILLIAM McGURN HAS A fabulous column in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, in which he informs readers of the delight in owning a perfectly functional yet ancient and unsightly automobile. We agree entirely with his argument, and encourage readers to give his words much thought.

The benefits of doing so are not merely financial. Mr McGurn, who owns a 1992 Subaru Legacy wagon with 146,000 miles to its credit, notes there are also emotional benefits to running one's automobile into the ground. He writes:

These are not the cars in the TV commercials featuring drivers gliding through deserts, mountain roads and even urban jungles cocooned in their little bubbles of luxury, not infrequently soothed by strains of Mozart emanating from a stunning sound system. Such ads are selling purity and perfection. But those of us who drive vehicles that have long ago surrendered their virginity and endured their dings and dents have our own satisfaction: the almost Franciscan liberation that comes from owning something of little or no monetary value.

What a wanton sense of freedom this evokes. Amid parking lots of Volvos and BMWs, with their little red security lights flickering on their dashboards, my car sits unlocked and unmolested. At supermarkets it rests completely indifferent to the threat of errant shopping carts. While others suck in their breath when they hand over their keys to some 17-year-old garage attendant, I remain unperturbed. And on those days when I must drive in Manhattan, I drive with something better than Fahrvergnugen: the security of knowing the minor fender bender can do me no real harm.

One point Mr McGurn does leave out, but which is worth noting, is that owning an older vehicle will generally save an American rather a lot of money at tax time.

Consider: here in Manchester, we had our yearly encounter with the Government today. Since the tax system in New Hampshire is generally based on one's wealth, as opposed to one's income, we get off quite lightly in this regard; for we do not own property in land, and our other wealth does not meet the rather high thresholds for paying tax to the authorities. As such, this year, we are paying just $115 in tax to the city and the state, and this is based on our automobile. It will be even less next year, and even less the year after. (By the way, this process -- including paying off two parking tickets -- took all of twelve minutes. In dealing with the Government of California, it took us twelve minutes just to find out which line in which we were supposed to stand).

Admittedly, that $115 figure is not completely representative. For the laws of New Hampshire do not allow us to operate our vehicle were it considered dangerous to ourselves and others. This is why we had to pay $24 this past weekend to have the car inspected by a state-approved inspector. As one might have expected, we found the $24 rapidly turned into $250, as our vehicle -- a 1997 Ford Taurus with about 100,000 miles on it -- was lacking a few chi-chi fou-fou luxury items (working brake lights) that needed repair. Also, something called the "left front inner tie rod" was failing, and if we didn't fix it, it would soon result in that wheel falling off. Still, this was only the second repair -- aside from preventive maintenance -- that we have ever done. And since the car is ours outright, there's no way we're going to buy a new one before we absolutely have to.

Hence, we share Mr McGurn's wanton sense of freedom. For instance, when we came out from the theatre one day to find some punk-ass, clap-addled little hellion had keyed our phat ride, we didn't mind one jot. True, had we caught him at it, we would have done the fellow grievous injury; as the movie said, it is fundamentally wrong to screw around with another man's car. But, as he had fled the scene, we merrily got into our vehicle and simply told ourselves we'd put his unmentionables in a frickin' vise should we ever meet the fellow*.

OK, so we don't exactly share Mr McGurn's carefree sentiment. Our Ford Taurus is still an asset of ours, even if it is highly depreciated and the leather is wearing off the steering wheel and one of the stereo speakers no longer works. But, that said, we also know that the time is drawing near for us to get ourselves a new car. Hence, we are able to drive our automobile with absolute impunity.

Potholes? No problem. Bumps in the road? No problem. For that matter, who needs a road? For did not the car survive when we took it up to Malibu that one day with Simon From Jersey, and went up and down all those dirt tracks on the hills to catch the views? It did indeed. Not that we would do that again, of course, for we are now much older and wiser. But we did it once! And that means we could do it again! If we absolutely had to.

We would also note that owning a relatively older car frees us from the psychological burdens many face vis-a-vis automobiles.

For instance, some people believe that they must purchase the latest and greatest automobile every few years. Now if one "is into" cars, this would be fine; but in many cases it is due solely to ego. This latter rationale is rather silly in our opinion, as unless one is rich this is a recipe for financial disaster. Meanwhile, other people will look down upon those who do not own the latest and greatest automobile, for reasons that we truly can't understand. Even when we lived in Los Angeles, we couldn't understand it. The city is very much in love with the automobile, yes; but it was more likely there than anyplace else that one's car would get wrecked by an uninsured driver, stolen and chopped up into its component pieces, or end up as Exhibit Q in the prosecution of some citizen who led the police on a freeway chase from Van Nuys down to Torrance.

Hence, as we find both avenues of conduct reprehensible and classless, we have voluntarily taken ourselves out of that game entirely. Oddly enough, it is a good feeling. And so, we look forward to driving our Taurus a good 100,000 additional miles before it is sent to the Giant Dead Car Lot, presently located in Sheboygan. We do not look forward to that final day, but we know it will come, so we may as well acquiesce to that. But we will do so only when we absolutely have to.

* We are, of course, kidding in that regard.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 19, 2004

This is a Test


Had this been an actual emergency, we would have preceded this post with a great deal of screaming and ranting. Well, we wouldn't have posted anything, since we'd be well on our way to cross the Canadian border as part of our Bermuda Escape Plan.

UPDATE: This is an ADDITIONAL TEST to see if the trackbacks work.

UPDATE AGAIN: Not only do the trackbacks work ... we have now ensured that all the comment spam has been blitzed. Sahweet. Thanks Dean!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hometown Takes Brave Stand v. Girlfriend-Serenading

OH, WELL, THANK GOD FOR THIS: it is apparently illegal in our home town of Kalamazoo, Mich., to serenade one's girlfriend.

Now, admittedly, we were at first a bit skeptical that the authorities in our home town had enacted such a useless and stupid piece of legislation. After all, our home city had plenty of other problems with which to deal, such as narcotics trafficking, murder, and so forth. And this was before the place really went to hell, as we understand has happened since our departure.

However, apparently they have. For Section 21-11 ("Yelling, Whistling, etc.") of the city's Code of Ordinances clearly states:

Yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing at any time or place, so as to disturb the quiet, comfort, or repose of any person, is prohibited. The occupant or person in charge of any building emitting such noise and the person owning or operating any vehicle or device emitting such noise shall be deemed responsible therefor and shall be in violation of this section.

Well. We are proud to see that the City of Kalamazoo has taken Bold Action in stamping out this public menace. We also note that other sections of the city code prohibit the playing of musical instruments should they disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of any person. That'll teach those damned student guitar players!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 18, 2004

E-Mail Difficulties -- Please Stand By

READERS WHO HAVE SENT e-mail to our address listed at left recently should be advised that we are experiencing some minor technical difficulties. We are able to read your e-mails ... we just can't send anything at present.

This situation is being addressed. Officials are looking into the problem, and we expect it to be resolved shortly.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:15 PM | TrackBack

February 17, 2004

Mr Silver Hits the Bulls-Eye

WE WERE QUITE PLEASED to learn that Stephen Silver, a blogger for whom we have the utmost respect, has denounced the appalling tendency of female Hollywood celebrities to become dangerously thin.

Mr Silver also decries the trend for popular magazines to put these "allegedly hot" celebrities on their cover, moves which he argues force other female celebrities to also lose weight. As an example of this, he notes the attention paid to Christina Aguilera and Drew Barrymore, who are respectively an entertainer and an actress:

Drew Barrymore is on the cover of this week's People Magazine, trumpeting her recent loss of 20 pounds as she promotes her new movie "50 First Dates." The movie was filmed prior to her weight loss, and Barrymore is now apparently every bit as skinny as her boyfriend, Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti.

There's just one problem with all this: Barrymore looks better in the movie than in the magazine. Like many other actresses, most notably Renee Zellweger and Kate Winslet, Drew was about a hundred times sexier when she had curves, such as on a Vanity Fair cover last year, before apparently succumbing to pressure to starve herself down to People Magazine-approved levels. It's almost as bad as last fall's US Weekly expose of "How Christina Lost the Weight," published after the truly vile Christina Aguilera dropped from 90 pounds all the way back down to 80.

What sort of message does it send when these very attractive women -- who are still thinner than most people as it is -- are expected to drop even more weight, in order to "compete" with the likes of Paris Hilton?

After a bit more, Mr Silver then continues:

By putting allegedly "hot" women like Paris, Christina, and Brittany Murphy on one magazine cover after another, the publishers of the world are not only driving countless young girls to bulimia, but they're encouraging other celebrities who aren't rail-thin to go in that direction, to the detriment of both their attractiveness and, more importantly, their health. I've always heard women make this argument, but I'd really like to start hearing more men say it as well. I mean, does any guy think Sarah Jessica Parker is hot?

Now, we can only speak for ourselves in this matter, but our answer to Mr Silver's final question is a decided Not Really, No. So there you have it, sir; your opinion seconded.

Long-time Rant readers will recall that back when we lived in Los Angeles, we once found ourselves in the same elevator with Mrs Parker and her husband, the actor Matthew Broderick. For whatever reason, they had decided to visit the Century City-area building* in which we worked at the time; and we can assure you their identities were confirmed by the other gentleman on board the elevator with us -- after Mrs Parker and Mr Broderick had departed, of course**.

Anyway, this meant we were approximately two feet away from both Mrs Parker and Mr Broderick for roughly forty-five seconds. As both were dressed rather casually, we were able to see them without the benefit of stage makeup, klieg lights, and so forth. We will say only that we found both rather thin, shorter than we expected, and otherwise physically unremarkable. We could tell, though, where both would light up the camera in terms of their facial appearance. They were better looking in that regard than the average person, although even then, it wasn't as if one would suddenly take notice.

That said, we must say we wholeheartedly agree with Mr Silver's argument: this long-running and horrible trend towards extreme thinness on the part of female celebrities is awfully disturbing.

To be perfectly blunt, we are simply not turned on by women whose physical appearance instinctively makes us think they've been checked into a methadone clinic. Conversely, we certainly fancy women with curves -- we have long considered actresses like Kate Winslet (Oh God!) supremely foxy -- and especially so if they have a great personality and a remarkably high intelligence quotient to boot.

We have not seen Ms Barrymore act in a movie since we saw "The Wedding Singer," a movie which we particularly enjoyed***. As such, our memory is not good enough to make an independent analysis of Mr Silver's argument. However, we further have no reason to doubt his words, and certainly we believe that Ms Barrymore was thin as is in "The Wedding Singer." If she has lost any more weight since that time, we would consider that particularly unfortunate.

In addition, we are frankly appalled to learn that Miss Aguilera, who stands approximately five-foot-three, weighs but 80 pounds. This equates to a rough density of approximately 1.3 pounds per inch. Were Miss Aguilera the same density as we were -- we stand six-foot-four -- we note with alarm that she would stand all of two feet and one inch tall. We are male, of course, and we are somewhat overweight; but even still, this indicator should suggest that Miss Aguilera is underweight at the very least.

Now, we do not know if these celebrities are attempting to compete with Paris Hilton and Miss Hilton's ilk for the public limelight. One would think that since they are each celebrites in differing media, competition would be generally limited in this regard. Further, the entertainment media seem to take a very "flavor-of-the-month" stand towards celebrities these days, thus ensuring that only the most popular celebrities gain lasting fame and glory. We would argue (pray?) that Miss Hilton does not rank in such a group -- and we certainly hope that in two years' time she will be but a distant memory; a scar, if you will, on America's cultural psyche.

That said, we must admit we are positively amazed that anyone finds Miss Hilton attractive at all. Everything we have read regarding her public persona suggests that she is not particularly intelligent or educated, and we can detect little trace of a noteworthy personality in her. We admit that we could be wrong in this assessment -- we don't know her, after all -- but we have not seen anything to change our mind. Furthermore, to be cruel about it, she's scrawny. Gad! Were she in far different economic circumstances, we would half expect to find ourselves on some street corner giving her a buck and wishing that her life changed for the better -- that's how abnormally thin she appears. It's supremely off-putting, and we would go so far as to say we consider it downright ghastly.

As for the impact which the marketing of these dangerously thin celebrites has on American girls and women, we would very much hope that American girls and women pay it little mind.

Sadly, though, we can imagine this set of circumstances likely has an influence on many women and especially teenaged girls -- especially if they do not realize the great lengths which are taken in terms of packaging the celebrities in question. Furthermore, the enduring popularity of the "heroin chic" look likely does cause many celebrities to engage in "fad diets" and other such weight-loss techniques; hence causing them to get dangerously thin, and perpetuating this unfortunate cycle.

We aren't entirely sure what can be done to right this situation; although we would like it if a cacophony of male voices from the blogosphere would scream out and assure the women of America that yes, we do very much like curves. If enough men do this, it would get noticed; and perhaps it would help shift the attitudes on this issue. In time, one might hope, this would filter into the fashion and entertainment worlds.

It is not something about which we are overly optimistic. But at this point, anything is worth an attempt.

* This building, on W. Pico Blvd. near Century City and the Beverly Hills Country Club, was popularly known among many workers as "the building someone's son-in-law designed."

** It is generally considered impolite and gauche among Angelenos to accost a celebrity or otherwise act in an annoying fashion towards them. Hence, if we remember right, we did not address any words to Mrs Parker and Mr Broderick. Besides, what were we supposed to say? "Godzilla really bit the wax tadpole?" "First floor! Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?"

*** This should not be considered an indictment of Ms Barrymore's acting abilities: it's just that we haven't seen her in anything since "The Wedding Singer."

**** And who the deuce is Brittany Murphy?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:26 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 15, 2004

It's All-Out War Over "Star Wars"

IT WOULD APPEAR THAT a considerable number of Americans -- at least 53,371, anyway -- are rather upset with George Lucas.

As we understand it, folks are upset because Mr Lucas, the filmmaker behind the "Star Wars" movies, is releasing the DVD versions of the first three films in their "lame-o special edition" format, as opposed to their "pristine theatrical" format. This means that instead of watching the movies in all their original glory, "Star Wars" fans will instead be forced to watch the not-so-special special effects, editing changes, and other annoyances thrown in when the films were re-released in theatres some time back.

Yet despite this fevered opposition, LucasFilm Ltd. is sticking to its guns:


"We realize there's a lot of debate out there," says [LucasFilm VP Jim] Ward. "But this is not a democracy. We love our fans, but this is about art and filmmaking. [George] has decided that the sole version he wants available is this one."


Oh. Well, if it's about art and filmmaking! Perhaps we are just a bit cynical, but when we hear the words art and filmmaking in the same sentence, they are processed in our brain as the word ego.

Now, of course, such a pejorative does not hold if one is paying another a particularly nice compliment; but when it's self-referential -- as it is here -- it strikes us as a bit much. It reminds us of a line C.S. Lewis put in the mouth of one of his diabolical characters: "No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did."

For Mr Lucas is not a great artist, nor is he all that good of a film-maker. Let's be plain here: in both cases, he is pretty middling when compared with his peers on the cinematic scene.

Now, this is not meant as critically as it might seem. There is no denying that Mr Lucas is, or at least was at one time, a hell of a great storyteller. It was his mastery of this aspect of the creative arts which propelled him to his success. That, combined with his extraordinary foresight relative to the business side of moviemaking, turned Mr Lucas' efforts into an incredible franchise. Happily for him, Mr Lucas became extremely wealthy in the process.

Sadly for us, though, Mr Lucas' skill set only exhibited itself in the first two films. Why this was, we cannot say, but let's face it: it's been downhill ever since "The Return of the Jedi." And until Mr Lucas "gets back to his roots," we fear that this slide shall continue.

What really surprises us, though, is the business thinking behind Mr Lucas' move. True, as others have already said, Mr Lucas may decide to release the original films at some later date, as a way to sell more product. Still, it would seem Mr Lucas now runs the risk of alienating the "Star Wars" fan base, especially the casual fan base; thus depressing the potential market for sales of his films. Certainly we would not buy the "special edition" movies on DVD, and if people feel strongly enough about the issue, we would point out that nothing prevents them from also not buying them. And just think what would happen if everyone took this to heart!

"THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY:" At left, LucasFilm official J.Q. "Fritz" McConnell informs the public of the firm's decision at a January 2004 press conference. But in December 2005, with sales of the "special edition" movies not up to desired results, Mr McConnell is enlisted in the firm's "personal marketing effort" to disaffected "Star Wars" fans. At right, he is shown attempting to cajole Romney Schmidt into buying the movies at Mr Schmidt's Muncie, Ind., residence.

Of course, the above is a joke; a joke made possible through the use of video-captures from "The Obsolete Man," an episode of "The Twilight Zone" which aired back in 1961. For those of you who have not seen it, we can assure you it is remarkable television -- just as one would expect from Rod Serling, who wrote and produced the episode in question.

Now, in a way, Mr Serling was somewhat like Mr Lucas: both were extremely successful in their lines of work, and both weren't pleased with some aspects of that work. In Mr Serling's case, he hated the fact that commercials would chop up his show; in Mr Lucas's case, he apparently wasn't pleased the original "Star Wars" movies were somehow -- in his mind -- limited.

The difference, though, is that Mr Serling did not pick up his football and go home. That to us is both telling and admirable, but we would expect no less from someone whose work we hold in such high esteem; someone whom we believe had more art in his pinky finger than Mr Lucas has in his entire being.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:09 PM | TrackBack

February 12, 2004

Rhythm in Exile

WE UNDERSTAND that a certain blogger, who goes by the name of "Matt," has offered up quite a popular question about music. Matt has asked bloggers to name the compact discs which they would take with them were they on a desert island or their house burned down.

This is quite a question! Not so much because it would be difficult to name the compact discs in question, but because -- well, we'd be exiled on a desert island and the house had been burnt down (to us, these things go hand-in-hand). As such, the last thing we would take to such an isle would be our favorite compact discs. Instead, we would take gold; lots of gold. Some silver too, so we could make change. For we can see this happening:

ISLANDER: Yes, what do you want?
US: Hi! Jack and I here -- he's my bodyguard, whilst I'm his long-lost pal -- have fled the United States after a Soviet-style revolution. We're looking for food and water. Also shelter. And one of those spit thingies so we can roast game.
ISLANDER: What are you, some kind of beatnik? Just go to the market down the road. They've got hamburger patties on sale this week. And you can get a hibachi.
US: Yes, but the trouble is ---
ISLANDER: Well? Out with it, man!
US: I only have my ten favorite CDs with me. It's all Jack has too.
ISLANDER: Oh, not again.
US: Well, what do you want? Dear God! We just barely got out with our lives! After all, when the rebels took the airports, they didn't exactly ask for a by-your-leave ...
ISLANDER: Look. A CD is nothing. We just got file-sharing!
US: What!
ISLANDER: Yes! We've downloaded ALL the songs we want! Besides, the record companies aren't exactly in a position to sue us -- they're too busy guarding their warehouses with hired mercenaries! Heh. Who knew civil authority in California would collapse so quickly?
US: Well ... shit. Sorry to have troubled you, then.
ISLANDER: Oh, no trouble a'tall.
US: Say, that reminds us. Have you -- Gad -- some kind of refugee office around here? You must.
US: Maybe?
ISLANDER: Heh heh heh.
US: Don't give us that shoe-on-the-other-foot crap. Not now.

As you can see, our CDs would be entirely worthless in such a situation -- especially if they were Top 40. On the other hand, everyone loves gold and silver! Especially if it's minted in a recognized coin standard! Why, in the physical space of ten compact discs, we could easily store $10,000 worth of gold and silver coins -- and that's at today's values. If -- God forbid -- we were in such a situation, they would prove useful. (1)

We realize that things may not be as dire as that -- although they would still be dire indeed if we ended up in exile on a desert island. We mean, New Caledonia is Plan C -- our escape hatch should Bermuda (Plan A) deem us not rich enough to enter (2) and The Isle of Man (Plan B) closes up to outsiders. (3) At least we could count on the first two places to stay stable -- but New Caledonia? Gad! On the other hand, we expect we could get a lot of its cheapo currency with our gold cache.

On the other hand, having some CDs from home would be nice while we were out on the beach sipping mai tais. So here they are:

10. Our special "War and Remembrance" Soundtrack CD. Because it'd probably be rather fitting in such a situation. It's too bad we'd have a devil of a time taking our DVD collection along with.

9. Peter Gabriel, "Shaking the Tree." Because no one should be without a Peter Gabriel Greatest Hits collection.

8. "Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House." If we're going to be exiled close to New Zealand, we'd better get used to music from New Zealanders. Actually, this is a hell of a disc; beautiful music.

7. "The Beach Boys -- Greatest Hits." This is for after we get a bit established on the island and start zipping around in a power boat. Hello, Sloop John B.

6. Chris Isaak, "Always Got Tonight." This is just a kick-ass CD, at least we think so. We like every song on it. It is an actual, honest-to-God album.

5. The Beatles, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." This will provide fun nostalgia when we're sixty-four.

4. Jimmy Buffett, "Songs You Know By Heart." Because our exile was nobody's fault. Hell, it could be our fault. OK, so it was our own damn fault.

3. Our Two-Disc James Bond Theme Songs CD Set. Because not even the collapse of civilization could strip the inherent coolness away from James Bond. Even if the Timothy Dalton movies came pretty close to doing just that.

2. Bach at Zwolle. A truly fabulous collection of Bach's organ works, on a truly stunning pipe organ. It has to be heard to be believed, that's how good it is.

and finally ...

1. Mozart, Requiem. OK, so a recording of a funeral Mass may seem a bit of a downer. But we think that it would be nice to have, just because it is an incredible recording -- and we can imagine we would need frequent reminders of our fragile spiritual state, out on that desert isle.

So there you have it -- Our Music Collection in Exile. We'll make sure to put these in the safety-deposit box, next to the stash of gold.


(1) DO NOT, on the basis of this essay, go out and purchase krugerrands or other precious-metal-based investments. Jesus. We're clearly joking here. And even if you really must possess specie, please -- go easy on it. We ourselves would in no circumstance hold more than one percent of our worth in the stuff, and it would require an extreme set of circumstances (and an extreme amount of worth!) for even that. But that's just us: you must make your own decisions. And read the prospectus before you invest anything, and realize past performance is not indicative of future results, and all that. Also talk anything over with a certified financial planner.

(2) While we still believe our Bermuda Escape Plan is sound, we know that in the event of general collapse, many other people will flee to Bermuda too. The island can't hold all of us. Since those others undoubtedly have more to offer Bermuda in the way of skills, money, and so on, we realize the Bermudans could send us back postage due.

(3) We also realize the Manxians -- we think that's right -- might not be all that pleased to see us either, even if we agreed to work as a lowly bookkeeper. See Note 2. As such, the research staff has informed us that we might need to consider places larger than Washington (the city, not the state) which could serve as refuge.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 11, 2004

WE ARE STUNNED that this has received such little notice .... but South Dakota's House of Representatives has just passed a bill outlawing abortion by a 54-14 margin.

The state's Senate is also expected to pass the law, which declares life begins at conception. The law in full may be read here.

(via Ben Domenech)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:11 PM | TrackBack

Valentine's Day, and its Cruel Stings & Arrows

WE WERE NOT SURPRISED TO LEARN that St Valentine, whilst best known for overseeing the affairs of lovers, the affianced, and happy marriages, has taken on many additional spiritual roles necessary in our modern era. For instance, he is the patron saint of bee keepers, in addition to travelers, and also for young people as a whole.

We did, though, find it funny that some of these modern roles fit in well with St Valentine’s original oversight over love. Consider that he is the saint to invoke if one wishes to avoid fainting in front of one’s betrothed. Consider that, at least indirectly, he is the saint to invoke if one wants to find a nice Valentine’s Day card at the stores; for he is the patron saint of greeting card manufacturers. And finally, consider that Valentine of Rome is also the saint to invoke against plague.

Gad. One can only imagine the prayer for that:

St Valentine, the saint whom love hails
Last night I had much wine and ale
This rap let me beat
The clap let me cheat
It’s my ass on the line should you fail

That sound you hear? It’s St Peter writing up an order for us to spend an additional million years in Purgatory. However, before we go off to practice our agnus Deis in preparation, we would like to address certain issues surrounding Valentine’s Day and our own thoughts about the holiday itself.


NOW THERE ARE SOME FOLKS who say that the holiday was invented recently on commercialist grounds; but this, we would argue, is not true. As the Catholic Forum’s Patron Saints Index says, the holiday may actually stem from the Christian usurpation of a pagan rite focused on Februata Juno, the Roman goddess of sex and fertility. It was also formalized in a more modern way in the 15th century.

For us, these religious and historical overtones to the holiday give it more meaning; and should there be Christian readers of ours who do not care for how the holiday is presently practiced, we would submit that studying the religious aspects of Valentine’s Day could make it a more meaningful and substantive experience. Certainly no one could deny the blessings of love and passion were anything less than gifts from God. Furthermore, while we agree that a man who devotes himself to such things only on this day is a cad, we do believe that setting the day aside as special, as important, can do much to strengthen the bonds which exist between lovers.

That said, why this strengthening must happen in public is another thing entirely, and we’ve bloody well had it up to here with it! God’s truth! it’s enough to turn a perfectly well-adjusted single man such as ourself into a caustic, embittered wretch who wishes nothing but doom and gloom upon his luckier brethren. Please, people! Enjoy your bliss in private. We’re begging ya.

For we can assure you that we single folk have very long memories indeed, and shall remember your unthinking pride months or years hence, when you are crying in your beer and proclaiming – like Rutebeuf of Troyes – that God has made you a companion to Job. Don’t get us wrong, of course; we have no complaint with you being happy – we want you to be happy. We want you to enjoy your nice dinners out, and your walks afterwards, and your shared, blissful congress long into the early morning. We only ask that on this feast day of St Valentine, that you not wander into our smoke-filled drinking dens, looking all chipper. We only ask that you not make pointed references to our marital or relationship status. We only ask that you not engage in lustful passion where we can see it. For we do not mind holding hands, or walking arm-in-arm, or even long hugs and kisses. But we very much mind it when you two are going at it like dogs in heat, all social caution thrown to the wind in your animalistic frenzy. Take that inside! Have at least some common decency, if only for the rest of us! For we can assure you that we are not going to be thrilled if simple manners force us to shout warnings about the presence of children, the elderly and the prudish; if the social compact requires us to icily tell you to get a frickin’ room. You see, some of us do not overly care for Valentine’s Day.

Now, Sheila O’Malley is one such person. She informs us that, as a single person, she finds the day “supremely obnoxious;” and further says that her temperment is not attuned to such things:

“My temperment is more ironic, more cynical and does not tolerate overt forms of sentimentality. This seems to be an Irish thing, frankly (Think of the raucous partying that takes place at Irish wakes. I submit that this is a cultural mindset.) It’s not the same thing as being uncomfortable with emotion, or keeping a stiff-upper-lip, or anything like that. I just, for whatever reason, feel very ITCHY when someone is showering me with romance, romance, romance. My entire psyche screams, as some poor man is proclaiming his devotion through the flickering candlelight: MAKE A JOKE.”

Sadly, we are unsure how our own culture may impact our own romantic temperment; the Old Continent has been mostly scoured from our system. Even our present culture – which, for lack of a better word, one could say is Western Pennsylvanian – is being lost. This is not to say traces of it don’t remain in us – such as our unflagging ability to eat sauerkraut, scrapple and like foods –- Foods It’s Best Not to Think Much About. But there is little of that left.

Cultural issues aside, though, we can assure you we do not presently care for how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States.

The reason why is not, as with some, that we are overtly opposed on sentimental grounds to the day. Nor are we all that upset about its commercial aspect.

For at our core, we are hopeless romantics to the point where our fellow men would turn nauseous. Indeed, it is almost effete, we have such a bad case of it. Consider: not only do we like and enjoy buying roses, we actually do our best to use the colors of the roses to convey our intention: red for love, yellow for joy, white for true-we’re-not-going-out-yet-but-I-very-very-much-like-you, and red and white roses when gasdgawrevffffff –

Sorry. Commitment reflex. Guy thing.

Anyhoo, as we said, this romantic reflex is deeply engrained in our psyche. Of course, we do know and appreciate the difference between this and wasteful extravagance; by which we mean in many ways we are downright cheap. Romantic or not, we’re still part Scots. But this frugality is largely personal; we have tasted the joys of self-deprivation and long-term thinking, and have seen that they are good. When it comes to spending our money on a lady – provided it is affordable and within our long-term financial plan – well, that’s a different story.

For us, at any rate, we could no further be prevented from doing that than the damned could escape from Dante’s Hell – indeed, like those wretches, it is a case where initial fear turns into complete desire. And besides, what better things could we spend our limited money on?

There is, of course, a catch to all this – and not merely that we do need to fund our retirement accounts. That catch, of course, is that such things come from our own heart; they are not things which can be compelled. For material goods mean nothing in and of themselves; one cannot buy love, one cannot buy affection, one cannot buy happiness or good spirits or true friends. For those things come from deep within the souls of men; to argue otherwise is to pose an unallowable contradiction.

In short, it’s the thought that counts – but it is important, we think, for a man to make clear that he has taken rather a long time to think about such matters.


SO IF IT IS NOT the sentiment and not the commercialism that causes us to dislike Valentine’s Day, what is the cause? Well, it’s simple, really.

First, we are getting tired of being left out in the cold.

We would very much like to take part in all these joyous outings and bacchanalian festivities, but Fate and our own foolishness have yet again combined to ensure that we shall not. Of course, we realize that it is patently unmanly to wail and gnash our teeth as we are doing, and we hold no one but ourselves accountable for this state of affairs. Our faults have indeed undone us. But still, this is all somewhat bothersome. For this is the one area in our life where we have – thus far – truly and utterly failed; and that failure gnaws at our soul like sulfuric acid.

Second, we are sick of being reminded of this fact for weeks upon weeks before Feb. 14.

It is the cultural equivalent of being forced to watch inappropriate public displays of affection. It is rot and ruin and decadence, all wrapped up into one miserable gauche package. We do not mind a culture that encourages consumerism around Valentine’s Day; but we do find it annoying when we are subjected to that from the day after New Year’s.

Third, we are dismayed that what should be a happy day for so many couples is turned into a day of misery and grief.

Now, we certainly do not mind advertisements that entice people to buy nice things; but we detest the fact that millions of people will try to meet some impossible standard this Feb. 14, and fail miserably at it. We detest the fact that on Valentine’s Day this year, millions upon millions of otherwise well-adjusted men and women will look at the gifts from those special to them, and sneer because on some materialist level, it does not hold up to expectations.

Now, we’ll admit that sneering – or worse – is an acceptable response if a lover buys his beloved a kitchen appliance. But barring that or some other inexcusable fault -- if these men and women do not realize how lucky they are, then God help them.

As an example of this state of affairs, we cite an instance which Ms O’Malley once saw with her own eyes, as she was riding the train with friends one Valentine’s Day. It is a particularly odd example of the above phenomenon:

“The train was filled with couples. And - it was like a zombie movie or something -everyone had the same expression: all the girls looked smug and happy, clutching their bouquets, and all the guys at their side looked like twitchy hunted animals.”

Now, if that is not exactly the type of skewed thing we’re talking about, then Bob’s your uncle. And it is very sad that our society can and does take what should be a happy day for all concerned, and ruins it.


BUT THEN AGAIN, WHO KNOWS? Perhaps we are being a bit curmudgeonly about the whole thing; perhaps we ought lighten up a bit. For we should know that when it comes to the ways of love, they are as irrational and complex and maddening and wonderful as anything in this life. Clearly this is a realm, where despite our fondest wishes, the intellect does not reign supreme and the sweet light of reason holds little sway.

For was it not Carlyle who said that love, while not altogether delirium, had many points in common with it? Was it not Hugo who said that love caused the stars themselves to pass through a man’s soul? And did not Dante, he who channeled the soul of Virgil, write amazingly of love’s irrationality?

Your science cannot take account of her
She controls, takes decisions, executes them
In her kingdom, as other gods in theirs.

Her permutations go on without trace
Necessity ensures that she is rapid
So you no sooner have a thing than you lose it

And this is she who is so crucified
Even by those who ought to praise her most
They blame her, but it is nothing but defamation:

But she is blessed and she does not hear
With the other primal creatures, she is happy
She rules her kingdom and enjoys her blessedness.

Well, no, actually, he didn’t. These words dealt with the vagarities of fortune. But we would submit that those words, which Dante has Virgil say so that God’s plan may be explained, could in many circumstances apply to love as well. For Dante knew, perhaps better than any man, of love’s cruelties. But he also intrinsically knew, deep in his heart, that earthly love is in itself a facet of that primal Love, the Love "which moves the sun and the other stars."

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(1) See Inferno VII, 85-96; also the the final line, Paradiso XXXIII, 145.

NOTICE: If you really don't like Valentine's Day, we suggest that you visit the good people at despair.com. Especially check out their "Bittersweets" collection of rueful candy hearts in six sad flavors -- they're emblazoned with sayings like "TABLE FOR 1," "I CRY ON Q," and "U C MY BLOG?"

Hey, wait a minute.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 10, 2004

Rant Endorses Call v. Oversexed Imbecility

HAMILTON, Bermuda -- Benjamin Kepple Inc., a privately-held corporation which produces Internet commentary, has today issued an endorsement for an Internet-led boycott of the Music Television (MTV) network:

"The Company strongly encourages all honest and hard-working people to join this good and just action," chief executive Benjamin Kepple said during a conference call at the firm's headquarters. "We mean, really. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired of not finding anything to watch on the damned channel, and as such we refuse to watch it any further."

"Apparently, it's too much to ask for the shows aired on this miserable outlet to reflect any shred of intelligence, decency, or artistic merit," Kepple said. "Gad. Look, we're not asking for 'Masterpiece Theatre' here -- we'd just like a show that caters somewhat to thinking human beings."

"All we have now are shows that feature the spoilt offspring of classless nouveaux riches, spendthrift musicians who waste their money on depreciable assets, oversexed newly-weds who act as if they're intellectually enfeebled, and worst of all, shows that highlight the antics of sub-literate young people given the chance to live rent-free in a 'pimped-out crib.' We think this is appalling and gauche," Kepple continued. "As key members of the 18-34 male demographic, The Company's executive staff would ask that MTV set aside 30 minutes of its daily programming to feature persons, either real or portrayed by actors, who are of average or above-average education and/or intelligence."

"Music would be nice too," Kepple added.

Among the other requests made by Benjamin Kepple Inc.'s executive staff:

* "The Real World" should have at least one character who has a background as an accountant or certified financial planner.
* Arguments on shows over popular-culture, sex, or other taboo issues should be replaced with arguments on the future of America's retirement system, the state of the nation's current account-deficit, or tort law.
* Images of wealth should be countered with informational statements from young professionals informing viewers about the usual ways one builds wealth. Barring this, the stars should be forced to read Jacob Riis' "How the Other Half Lives."

The move by Benjamin Kepple Inc., a firm which turned private when its formerly high-flying stock was delisted after the collapse of the "tech bubble," is expected to cause tiny ripples of agreement and discontent in the extremely-competitive personal-content publishing sector.

However, analysts were cautious as to the impact which the move would have on the firm's customers -- or the firm itself.

"We think most 'readers,' as they are known in the industry, will already agree with Kepple's stance, and they're probably not watching MTV either," said Charles Wapnard, an analyst with Closet Indexer Investments, a New York-based mutual fund company. "However, I do think some could heed the call, and certainly growth for Kepple's operations cannot be ruled out in its wake."

Others held dissenting views.

"Don't tell me they're going on about that Super Bowl stuff again," said Tad O. Payne, an analyst with Covered, Calls and Praying, a Chicago-based hedge fund operator. "It's -- been -- done. It's a disaster in the works, I'm telling you. This could have a heavy negative impact on the firm's underlying performance."

However, company officials rebutted such criticism.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhh," Kepple said in a high-pitched, mocking tone. "Tad O. Payne says it's a disaster in the making."

"Well, listen up, chump," Kepple growled, "We're confident in our strategies, and sure they'll succeed when all is said and done. Furthermore, we have plenty of new product lines to trot out in the event MTV turns into American Bandstand, don't you worry. In the meantime, we're confident this is an extreme, and folks like Tad O. Payne of fancy-schmancy Covered Calls always get it when there's extremes."

Benjamin Kepple Inc., a Bermuda-based corporation, is the parent company of Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant, an Internet personal-content publishing concern. It has offices in New Hampshire, Grand Cayman, and Chennai, India.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:25 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 07, 2004

Oh, The Places We'll Go

WE MUST ADMIT that our post about the states to which we have traveled, a post which was first intended to be nothing more than a "one-off" or space-filling device, has sparked a serious case of wanderlust in our soul. After all, one can see from the map that our experience is by no means complete; and even in the states in which we have managed to spend time, our travels have sometimes been limited.

For instance, let's look at the state of Oregon. We hated Oregon. Indeed, we can assure you that our trip there some years back caused us to develop a visceral and open dislike for the place. So much so, in fact, that Oregon immediately earned a spot on our "weird" list of states; and we pledged never to return unless there was some dire emergency forcing us to go there.

We had flown in on business to Eugene -- yes, Eugene -- and arrived on a particularly cold and rainy weekend, in which the temperature never rose above 45 degrees and the sun never deigned to show its face until the morning of our departure. After checking in at our particularly uninspiring motel -- the type of place which only minimally meets the guidelines set forth by its franchiser -- we were able to wander around this miserable city for a while, and see what it had to offer.

Gad. At first glance, we don't think we've ever seen such an odd third-tier city in our life.

On one hand, you had the University of Oregon and the population it attracted, the hippies and professors and bohemian students, which supported what to us seemed an amazing number of coffee shops and health food stores and establishments selling narcotics paraphenalia. On the other hand, you had the rest of Eugene. There was a loggers' convention in town that weekend, and the rest of the city seemed full of tired and grim people, which the immutable forces of economics were slowly grinding down into poverty and despair.

Now, obviously, this picture of Oregon was merely a snapshot of one place at one particular time, and clearly not a full picture of one place in particular. But it was sufficiently off-kilter to raise serious questions in our mind about it. And as the annoyances of the weekend grew -- the constant rain, the aggravating idealism, the horrible green-and-yellow color scheme everywhere and the fact we couldn't pump our own gasoline -- made us dislike the place even more. By the end of the weekend, we were convinced Eugene was a small outpost on the edge of The Twilight Zone; and we were glad to return to Southern California, which in comparison seemed sane and normal.

However, we have mellowed over the years, and we realize that our initial impression of Oregon may have been a bit unfair. After all, we never did get to Portland or to the eastern scrub country; and there was no denying the country around Eugene was awfully beautiful. So unless Oregon does something that really puts us in a bad mood, we are more than willing to give it a second chance.

We would like this second chance to come in the form of a really bitchin' road trip.

This, we think, is how America ought to be experienced, and we only wish that we had the time to see all that we wanted to see. For we have never traveled to the Great Plains; never traversed the Deep South; never experienced the Pacific Northwest. But one cannot do these things when one can only take one week in vacation at a time.

So we must wait until we can get a few weeks' vacation -- 2006 or 2008 seems the earliest bet in this regard -- and then have at it. We can already imagine it: that wonderful first leg, from New Hampshire to Chicago, and then the trip would really begin along the plains -- from Minnesota all the way to Seattle. That would take one week. Then, we'd head south from there -- to Southern California, and east to Utah, along the 15 and the 70. Then, once deep into Utah, we'd take the old US 666 route down to Gallup, N.M., where we'd pick up the 40 and high-tail it east. There's another week, by our reckoning.

Now we'll get back to Gallup in a moment, but let's continue on for a second. We would take the 40 east, but instead of doing as usual and picking up I-44 to head home, we'd continue on, swinging south at Little Rock and heading for Louisiana. Then, it would be across the Deep South in a wide arc, heading to Columbia, S.C., and then heading north back home to New Hampshire. Upon our return we would have lobstah to celebrate.

By our reckoning, this whole trip should take about a month's time -- and we think we can eventually get that month's time if we are judicious about our vacation use. We would have to go sparingly with time off this year and next, but gee! wouldn't it be worth it to have an entire month to see the country!

We admit that this might seem an odd sort of "dream vacation." But for us, you see, it represents kind of a rite-of-passage. For our parents (Mr and Mrs Kepple) once had an entire month of vacation time when they were young, and they traveled around the country just as we hope to do. They had the fortune to live through what we can only imagine -- and this is where Gallup, N.M. comes into play.

You should know that we have been lucky enough to experience cross-country journeys twice in our lives -- once, going West when we moved to Los Angeles, and once returning East, when we left Los Angeles. It was this second trip, which we made along with Dad, where we really had a great deal of fun.

Indeed, it is from him and from this trip that we learned some hard-and-fast rules about road-tripping. Some of these lessons were explicit, others implicit, but we learned them just the same. So, without further ado, here they are:


One. Never eat at a fast-food restaurant while on the road.

We can assure you that in the week we spent traveling from the Pacific to the Atlantic, that we did not eat one fast-food meal. No. We ate actual sit-down meals along every stop of our journey, no matter what the time and place.

Now, the beauty of this system was not merely that fast-food is generally crap and one shouldn't eat it. And we do think that if the fast-food in question is particularly noteworthy (e.g. "In-N-Out Burger"), one can make an exception to this rule. But it must be really good fast food. Because it would be a damnfool thing to do were one to miss out on all the glories of regional cuisine; the spicy food of the Southwest and the diners along the Plains; good Southern cooking and so on. And there's something refreshing about going into some old-fashioned diner, sitting down at a booth or the counter, and ordering good food. It takes your mind off things, lets you relax for an hour or so.

But there was something just amazing and wonderful and lovely about getting up so very early out there in the New Mexico desert and going to breakfast, and waking up over a good cup of coffee and a fiery omelette. Instead of rushing about, you could talk and laugh and relax and really look forward to your day. And that's one hell of a thing.

Two. Even if your day entirely involves driving, always have a goal at the end of it, or even in the middle of it.

There is no reason why one should have to miss one's favorite television show or rush by some famed landmark when one is road-tripping. Indeed, it will make the drive -- especially if it is a tedious stretch -- go much quicker.

Three. There is no need to be a spendthrift whilst on a road-trip; indeed, part of the fun to it is getting all that you can out of it, while spending as little as possible.

We learned that on our cross-country journey, there was no need to stay at extravagant or even middling hotels; indeed, the Best Western motel guide was very much our friend and loyal companion. (It still is today). Why we stayed at Best Western motels the whole trip became clear as time went on: they were clean, they had a shower, a bed, and a television, and they were surprisingly inexpensive much of the time. That's a hard combination to beat. Save your money for the fun stuff, like a side trip to New York or something.

Four. Plan accordingly. You always want to make sure that you have a place to spend the night, enough gas in the car to make it through Arizona, and enough time to get where you want to go. We can assure you that Dad planned out our trip meticulously and we had no problems along the way. Of course, this does not mean we would plan the big trip TOO far out in advance; God knows the car might give up the ghost in Tulsa or something. But we would give it at least four days' to a week's lead time.

Five. Never set one's eyeglasses down in a spot where your traveling companion can sit on them and break them, causing one much grief and consternation and a furious search for a repair shop in the phone book. Not that it was our fault anyway.

We would add a lesson Six, which we did not learn from our father but which we consider smart anyway. Namely, when driving cross-country, don't pick up any hitch-hikers wearing shabby suits. Even if they are going your way.

Now, we must say that we have given some thought to the logistics of our trip other than merely the time quotient. We do realize that since the trip would put a good 8,000 miles on our car, it would do for us to have a relatively new automobile. We further realize that the trip would require a significant amount of ready cash, just in case the car gave up the ghost in Tulsa. We figure five thousand would be about right, although it could conceivably run even more than that.

Finally, though, there is the question of whether we go with a traveling companion. Our initial assessment is to say No; as one must take into account the question of cabin fever. After all, a man certainly does not want to break up with his girl because of an argument they had in Dubuque; and a man certainly does not want to have a long friendship tested because of a quarrel over who gets to drive through the Petrified Forest.

But on the other hand, we know full well that things could get awfully lonely on those long drives to nowhere, and so we might just chance it. For it is difficult to have a good conversation when one's only companions at breakfast are a cup of coffee and the New Mexico sun.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:15 PM | TrackBack

February 06, 2004

What? No Loss of Consortium?

WE WERE BEMUSED to learn that a Tennessee woman, prompted by the licentious display during the half-time show of America's most famous sporting event, has gone ahead with a particularly American response to that bawdiness. By this, we mean that she is suing Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, CBS, MTV and Viacom.

The woman alleges that she, as well as other American television viewers, suffered "outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury" from the broadcast. She further alleges that Americans have suffered a loss of "standing and credibility" in the world at large due to the broadcast. She is asking for billions of dollars, but has graciously filed her lawsuit on behalf of all viewers who watched the program.

Quite frankly, we don't know what impresses us more: the fact that she actually went to the trouble to file the lawsuit, or that an actual bar-approved attorney agreed to file it. After all, there is clearly no need for such a suit: the law provides plenty of relief as is, and many are preparing to do a dance routine on Viacom's collective keister. And we do not think much of clogging the courts merely to make a statement.

However, if this act was in fact a statement, we wish that the lady in question and her attorney had gone over the top with things. Never mind "serious injury" -- hell, our spleen gave out just minutes after learning of what happened -- let's throw in something good here: emotional distress, loss of consortium, the gout, scabies, athlete's foot, uncontrollable nausea.

Of course, we jest. We would never suggest that anyone go this far -- especially since the defendants could well use a particularly disturbing new legal tactic* in response:

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So, madam. You allege that this Super Bowl incident caused you, and I quote, "outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury," am I correct?
PLAINTIFF: That's right.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well. That's interesting. For I have here in my possession a signed notice from the very next day proving you saved a lot of money on your car insurance!
GALLERY: (gasps)(begins muttering)
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This wasn't serious injury at all, was it? This was actually "good news," wasn't it, ma'am?
JUDGE: Overruled. Continue.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Did you or did you not save $143 per year on that insurance?
PLAINTIFF: Well, it wasn't that much, it's an '82 Ford and ...
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your honor, I would like to submit into evidence Exhibit G, this being the sworm statement of Mrs Burton P Schrenk, the plaintiff's neighbor. Mrs Schrenk notes that the plaintiff said, and I quote, "If I hadn't been so sick of the television, I never would have opened that direct mail advertisement." Isn't that what you said, ma'am?
PLAINTIFF: All right, all right! So I did!
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your honor, I move for --
JUDGE: -- Case dismissed!
GALLERY: (now in uproar)
BAILIFF: Stick around, everybody! The next case involves a man dressed up like a rabbit!

Fight fire with fire, that's what we always say.

* Hey, if everyone else is using a GEICO joke, we can too.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:09 AM | TrackBack

February 01, 2004

Why We Quit Watching the Halftime Show

WELL. APPARENTLY there's some SHOCK FURY HORROR over this year's Super Bowl half-time show, in which musician Justin Timberlake ripped off part of musician Janet Jackson's dress at the end of their performance. CBS has already apologized for the incident, which prompted a bunch of angry calls to their New York headquarters.

We did not see the incident in question, as we have long avoided watching the Super Bowl's half-time show. We think it an over-hyped, over-produced performance lacking any redeeming value, entertainment or otherwise; and this year's stunts have confirmed that things have not changed. We would further submit that given the advance play for the show, this little incident was likely planned. For aside from the photo showing the tassle -- why a tassle if it wasn't thought out? -- Matt Drudge reports the OK for the stunt was given at CBS' highest echelons.

Our question does not so much have to deal with the incident itself, although we find it quite disappointing that millions of young football fans have likely asked their parents some troublesome questions following it. That said, we do wonder what kind of idiots are in charge of the Columbia Broadcasting Service and its sister Music Television network.

Really, now. Even those involved in American television should have the brains to know it's not smart to broadcast apparent or actual partial-nudity during the year's most-watched broadcast. Especially since the broadcast is mostly being watched by Middle America, which does not put up with such things when children are present. And that goes double if the half-time show was being broadcast to the developing world -- we hope it wasn't -- because many there already consider America decadent due to our sex-drenched popular culture.

However, we are pleased to note that fallout is already taking place; and we look forward to seeing continued consequences for this particularly stupid stunt. Therefore, we would call on the management of Viacom, the parent corporation of both CBS and MTV, to begin sacking those responsible forthwith -- or at least one or two of them. Sometimes, that's all it takes to send the message.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:29 PM | TrackBack

This Explains Much, We Think

THE STATES WE HAVE VISITED are in red, whilst the states we have not visited are in olive green.

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

A picture is worth a thousand words ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack