March 29, 2004

Wonderful News

IT WOULD APPEAR that our sinus problem has cleared up.

Thank God.

Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.

Of course, one can never tell with these things -- an otherwise perfectly fine day with just the right amount of pollen can absolutely ruin things. But it is just so nice to be able to breathe and concentrate and not feel as if a New York construction crew is using our head as a testing device for its latest pneumatic drill.

So we can assure Rant readers that from now on, we will have a happy and positive spin on things here at the site. Of course, this sense of "happiness" will be akin to that one episode of "Ren & Stimpy" where Stimpy puts the Joy Helmet or whatever it is on Ren's head and Ren runs around screaming, "STEEEMPY! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!"

But hey. While it lasts ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:36 AM | TrackBack

March 28, 2004

The Canadians Must Be Stopped

SO! CANADA IS EXPLORING whether to form some kind of formal union with the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean.

Oh, no they didn't.

We believe this perfectly good tax haven island nation must not be allowed to fall into Canada's clutches -- no matter how much plotting and scheming they do.

For one thing, we know full well that the Canadians will take this virtually tax-free island and impose the Canadian brand of socialism on it. This means that not only would everything in the islands have to have French language signs, folks would pay vast percentages of their income in all manner of taxes.

Secondly, we also know that the Turks & Caicos Islands use the US dollar, the world's most respected currency. If they joined Canada, they'd end up using the rouble Canadian dollar, and as such the value of their income and holdings would be subject to the loonie's rise and fall. We submit this would probably suck.

Lastly, if any country is going to start running around and colonizing places, the United States ought to be the one to do it. Thus we should get first dibs on any Caribbean nation thinking about signing up with a northern neighbor.

However, this is not to say we do not understand our Canadian brothers' motives -- we just think they should consider dealing with a nation with which they're more in tune. Like, say, Castro's Cuba.

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

March 27, 2004

Statistics, Jobs, and the Equity Markets

READING THE FINANCE WIRES earlier this morning, we were quite amused at a story from the Reuters news agency which discussed the upcoming jobs report from the Federal Government. We found this story funny because it spoke of Wall Street's supposed hunger for meaningful jobs data that proved to "investors" that the economy was truly on the rebound. We do not exactly see things this way.

One reason is because the Feds' job number (the Current Employment Statistics survey) is widely recognized to be incomplete. That's not to say it is not valid -- only that it is limited. You see, that datum generally focuses on larger corporations -- as opposed to small businesses and self-employed folks which generally drive job growth during a recovery.

It is not only respected thinkers like Dean Esmay or Bill Hobbs who are pointing this out. We can assure you that any seasoned veteran in the finance world will tell you much the same thing. And the Feds themselves caution that one must take in both payroll and household employment surveys to get an accurate view of the economic picture. That same paper, interestingly, shows a slight difference between the surveys regarding the number of jobs created (or lost) in America from the period of March 2001 to Feb. 2004.

What's the difference, you ask? Oh, just 2.8 million. On the payroll survey, we have seen a net loss of 2.35 million jobs over that time frame. Yet on the household survey, we see a net gain of 449,000 jobs. If you tweak the latter survey to make it more like the former, you still see a net gain of 208,000 jobs. Our read on this is that perhaps the true number is somewhere in the middle of the 2.35 million loss and the 449,000 gain.

Now of course the payroll matter is the only one the market is concerned about, because the publicly traded firms are going to fall under its purview. If firms are hiring, that's generally a good sign for them. But we can't say this is a complete picture of the economy.

Besides, the whole premise of the article is iffy anyway. To say that "investors" are hungering for a good job number is not entirely accurate. An investor who holds for the long-term might certainly like it, but it is not going to drive his buying or selling decisions. On the other hand, speculators have undoubtedly been buying on rumor and will undoubtedly sell on the news when the jobs figure comes out next week. Our market moves the way it does not because of individual investors, but rather the institutional holders, hedge funds, and day-trading types who are all looking to make quick profits. But, then, we are not going to be convinced by a story that has this rather odd paragraph in it:

Of the 1,030 companies that have issued statements about their first-quarter results, 53 percent said their results would be better than forecast, 15 percent said they would be on target, and 54 percent said they would miss estimates, according to Thomson First Call.

Wow! That's 122 percent! Say, wait a minute.

N.B. Over at his excellent Web site, journalist Bill Hobbs has noted the astonishing growth in the formation of limited-liability corporations. These are corporate structures that basically give sole proprietors and partnerships the same legal safeguards as a corporation. Also the money is taxed just once.

Mr Hobbs argues that this accounts for a lot of previously unnoticed job growth. We personally would caution against reading too much into the growth of LLC structures, as this recent surge may A) in part be due to conversion from other structural forms, such as the sole proprietorship; and B) in part be due to the real-estate sector, where it is standard practice for a real-estate firm to create LLCs for each individual building it may own. That's just two examples. However, that said, we do think Mr Hobbs may be on to something with his work, and we wish him well as he pursues it.

UPDATE: Mr Kepple has pointed out that low hiring is not exactly bad for Wall Street, either. As hiring workers costs money, this has a direct impact on a corporation's bottom line. Low hiring also keeps interest rates low, which is a boon for Wall Street.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:16 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 26, 2004

Maximum Overdrive

MACH SEVEN? We're working on a plane that goes Mach SEVEN? Gad.

Of course the prototype is only twelve feet long, but still ... that's fast enough to cross the continental United States in something like forty minutes.

Oh, we've got to spend more on this. Any project that could potentially keep people -- especially us -- from having any more layovers in Newark is worth doing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:30 PM | TrackBack

And You Can't Pump Your Own Gas, Either

WE DIRECT ALL RANT READERS to this hysterically funny driving tutorial aimed especially at residents of New Jersey. We can assure you this is one of the funniest things we have seen on the Internet in quite some time.

(via Allison Barnes)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:48 PM | TrackBack

Infighting Fierce, Stakes Small

WE HAVE BEEN INFORMED that a heated discussion has broken out over whether it is right for a practicing Christian to use mockery in castigating one's enemies. To be honest, we do not know what to make of this, but our initial thought is that everyone involved would be well served by going out for a good walk.

Now, this all started when Joshua Claybourn, an Indianapolis blogger, thought it funny that a certain dead terrorist bore a remarkable resemblence to Saruman. Yes, the bad wizard in the "Lord of the Rings" movies. Anyway, he then blogged about it. This prompted such ire that Mr Claybourn was moved to defend himself, and then other people jumped in, and now one can't read three lines of anything without being confronted with Holy Scripture. In short, it is the religious version of Kissinger's old dictum.

We are reminded of C. S. Lewis' remarks that one ought not argue with a fellow believer about such things, except in private, lest the discord between the two prove embarrassing for the faith. But since that principle has gone to hell in a handbasket, we may as well address a few points on the matter.

1. Christianity is not served by beating up on a graduate student for a parody.
2. Mockery has its purposes. In fact, it can be extraordinarily useful.
3. Getting openly bent out of shape about these things is unseemly.

That's pretty much all we have to say on the whole affair. However, we do note that one of Mr Claybourn's opponents, the Rev Mike Murdock, has argued that because he has followed Christ since before Mr Claybourn shuffled on this mortal coil, his argument matters more.

Sadly, Rev Murdock seems unaware that for American young people, this automatic respect generally only holds for those born before about 1930, because they beat the Nazis. Well, that, and they're responsible for the prosperity of the post-war period.

But we digress. Our point is merely that no matter one's age, one is going to have to justify one's argument accordingly, if one expects it to be taken seriously. We offer no apology for this view, either; it is merely one of the lessons which we young folk have learned from our parents' generation, and learned very well.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:32 PM | TrackBack

It's Time for Plan B


by Xinhua Staff

Chinese Government officials refused yesterday to revalue the nation's currency, known alternately as the yuan or renminbi, in a meeting with American officials. Here, in this revamped Associated Press photo, former California Assembly speaker Herb Wesson fails miserably in an attempt to convince Chinese negotiators to devalue The People's Money; a move which would make inferior American goods more competitive.

According to a Chinese trade official who would only give his surname, Hu, Wesson's move was met with snickering on the part of the Chinese delegation.

"Flying groin kick! Hmm. Very interesting!" one Chinese diplomat reportedly said at the Sacramento conference. "Sadly, your pitiful Yankee antics are no match for our glorious legions of revolutionary cadres, schooled as they are in Jiang Zemin Thought."

"China will never be defeated," the diplomat added.

Wesson was reportedly recovering in a California hospital following the talks, after his third move (a variation of the classic "Harmonious Thousand-Fists" technique) and his seventh (the old "Drunken Eagle Claw" trick) were rebuffed with great force by a Chinese official. The official, whom sources identified as one Ah Q, body-slammed imitation foreign devil Wesson onto the conference table.

(via Ben Domenech's "Pic Needs a Caption" entry)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:54 AM | TrackBack

March 24, 2004

Now, It's Time for Breakdown

WE MUST APOLOGIZE AGAIN for the dearth of posts as of late. As it turns out, we have had yet another bout with our sinuses, and as such were patently miserable for much of this week. This latest bout was particularly ominous, as it came with fever, chills, and assorted pains throughout the rest of our body. That and we had the strangest dreams, the crazy full-fledged technicolor dreams which end badly and leave you in a cold sweat (1).

As such, we have been walking around the last few days looking like Richard Conte in that one episode of “The Twilight Zone." You know, the one in which his character is exhausted and has a bad heart; the one where you can tell he has serious issues because his necktie is loosened. That is kind of how things are going here. Still, now that the anti-biotics are kicking in to combat the sinus infection, we thought we would share some observations we made over the past week or so:

* Here in America, there is some great news: the welfare caseload is lower than ... well, practically since we started the program. No, really.

As it turns out, a mere 4.9 million people – approximately 1.6 percent of the American public – are presently on the dole. This is just 34 percent the number who were on the dole back in the early Nineties – the peak in both numerical and percentage terms – and the lowest percentage since 1960, when they first apparently started keeping track. In fact, using other figures, one sees that this is about equal to the percentage of people on welfare in 1950.

You know, that's really impressive for a nation. It says something about American culture, and something good: that we're willing to help people out if they're really in a jam and need assistance, but in the end, we recognize that they -- and only they -- can get themselves out of that jam. Of course, there are a few cases in which those receiving aid are truly unable to do that; but even then, we provide for them. So, working from that low 1.6 percent rate, we will soon get to the point where we literally won't be able to improve it.

Germany, by way of comparison, has a population of just 82 million and approximately 4.2 million on the dole. That's roughly five percent, and most are there not because of bad luck or circumstance but simply because they can draw a check. Of course, Germany has an 11.1 percent official unemployment rate, but ... Gawd.

11.1 percent. Could you imagine it? (2)

* Again on the domestic front, we note with displeasure that necessity forced us to shop at a certain large retailer, and we were underwhelmed with its commitment to quality.

This complaint has nothing, we can assure you, to do with the firm's low prices or volume purchasing – nothing to do with the fact the savings exacted out of their suppliers are passed on to us, the consumer. No. This has to do with the fact that we waited a full 15 minutes in line because no one could find the price on a pink bath towel which the nice elderly woman in front of us was purchasing.

Really. This was an amazing display of retail incompetence, the likes of which we have not seen in many a year. First, the cashier asked the lady what the price was, and she naturally didn’t know. However, because she was brought up in a moral era, she did not respond with instinctive savvy – that is, underpricing it, but still being reasonable (“Why, I think it’s $1.99.”). Not that she should have done so anyway, but hey.

In any event, this led to the cashier having to perform a price check, which apparently involved calling eighteen different departments in a vain attempt to get one of the employees to pick up the phone. Then, after an employee finally did pick up the phone, they had to actually find the towel – and that employee seemed to have as much trouble as we do in finding what we want in the place. The minutes ticked by, and there was no response. A similar situation took place in another line, which aggrieved one customer as it was apparently the only line in which one could purchase cigarettes. Tick. Tock. Tick.

By now, the nice elderly lady had that fussy look common to many senior citizens; not that she was fussy, just that she was kind of embarrassed that her transaction was bogging things down so. Not that it was her fault, of course; but as we said, she was brought up in a moral era, and this transaction had taken every principle of scientific management and wadded them up into a tiny ball. Tick. Tock. Tick. We looked around for a magazine we could read.

Finally, the towel arrived, and this firm could be assured that its $2.97 would be properly booked and accounted for. On the other hand, there is no telling how much in sales it lost because we vowed to try a different store next time -- even if they do have those carbon-flourescent light bulbs we like because they save on utility costs. And cheap, too.

* We recently made a dinner without even thinking whether it was healthy, and now we fear it is going to come back to haunt us.

A while back, we had unthinkingly purchased one of those easily-prepared meals where everything comes in cans or packets and all you do is add water. You do have to bake it, but even we can manage that. In any event, this was sitting on the shelf, and we realized we had probably best eat it before whatever was inside the box developed sentience and started leading the other canned goods in a revolt.

So we made it. It tasted fine, if by fine we mean it was barely adequate, even for someone in our line of work. Still, we realized halfway through that we were basically eating fat: complete, utter, total fat. Gravy and potatoes and chicken and biscuits = fat. Yes, even in the chicken, because on second reflection we don’t think there was any meat in it at all.

Ugh. Now we have to eat Subway for a week to make up for it.

* OK, so that last part bit the wax tadpole. We don't care.

We're in a feisty mood again as of late, a situation which ... well, we haven't decided whether our sinus infection caused it, or whether killing off the infection has caused a return to our natural perpetually-annoyed state. What we will say is that we wouldn't wish a sinus infection on our worst enemies.

Then again ... no, we still wouldn't. For those of you who also suffer such problems know how patently horrible they are: the blinding pain, the watery eyes, the crushing and merciless pressure that seemingly envelopes all points in one's head.

We do readily admit that there are far worse things from which to suffer in this life. However, as the veteran of several surgeries, the odd medical trauma and other ailments, we can readily say that we have never suffered such misery as we have with our sinus problems. That's probably because we knew that with all those other things, they'd eventually come to an end.

And speaking of which, it is time for us to get some sleep. So, again, sorry for the lack of posting, and we'll be back to normal soon enough.

(1) We hardly ever remember our dreams; and even worse, we seem to very rarely have pleasant dreams. Rather, the dreams we do remember always seem equal parts of Bradbury, Serling, and Edward Gorey. They are generally very nasty affairs in which we are inevitably the victim: we get thrown out of airplanes and end up trapped in deadly situations and find ourselves in horribly byzantine bureaucratic struggles. We face financial ruin and despair, hellfire and brimstone, fear and terror, all "beyond the wall of sleep."

Interestingly, we have found we are prone to recalling these nightmares when we eat heavily before going to bed; which would explain the heartburn we sometimes have in the mornings. This is one reason why we no longer snack before turning in for the night; it helps to ensure our experiences during sleep are walled off into our subconscious. It is a true pity we haven't found the secret as to which foods, if any, prompt good dreams.

We have also found that a key factor behind remembering our nightmares is whether we wear the air mask we have to treat our sleep apnea. When we don't wear it, we spend our sleep fighting to breathe, and we think this may explain why our brain gets so feisty. For when we do wear it, we are dead to the world. We've slept through earthquakes while wearing it.

However, to present a balanced picture, our good dreams are amazing. The last which we remember may have been ... oh, about six months or so, but we still recall it. We should point out that it was nothing erotic or manic, and that it did not otherwise depict some amazing success which we have little hope to achieve. Rather, it was calm and peaceful and quiet; and we awoke refreshed, committed to facing the world on a bright sunny morning. In the end, one can't complain a bit.

(2) God, would that suck. 11.1 percent? That's like Seventies-era unemployment, or something. Actually, we don't even think it was that bad then; so the last time we as a society experienced that was probably back in the Thirties.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:37 PM | TrackBack

March 20, 2004

Scotland Faces Cultural, Economic Ruin

WE WERE INCENSED TO LEARN recently that Scotland is defunding state university positions in classical-language teaching. Actually, we should say "position," as The Scotsman reports the post being axed was the last one in the entire country dedicated to instructing others how to teach Latin and Greek. This has naturally infuriated academics, who rightly note the connections between the old languages and their modern uses in art, science, and so on.

As if that wasn't bad enough, we note that the Scottish Executive's scheme to get more working-class students into university is failing miserably.

Not that the kids could fall back on a meaningful secondary education anyway. Think back, now: do you recall "The Silver Chair," the fourth Narnia book by C.S. Lewis, in which he describes the horrible post-modern school which Jill and Scrubb attend? Well, apparently every school is Scotland is going to end up just like it, if this article is any guide. It seems that Scottish teachers associate the Protestant and Roman Catholic brands of Christianity as bigoted and out-of-touch with the kids, so out they'll go.

Of course, no matter if the kids merely complete secondary school or go on to university, they're going to have a bleak time of it out in the real world. It seems the United Kingdom's Government is destroying savings incentives and other programs designed to help folks get ahead in life.

Ugh. It's just so appalling to us, and it would be even if we weren't part-Scots.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:31 PM | TrackBack

Legal Grind

WE HAVE NOTICED that as blogging becomes ever more popular, more and more bloggers are facing threats of legal action because of something they have written. Many times this writing is a parody, which mocks either words or images to make a satirical point.

As far as we can tell, such parodies are protected under the First Amendment. However, it seems that many people in America do not realize this. As some of these people have managed to gain positions in industry, they have access to highly-skilled legal professionals. Hence, when they get annoyed at something they read or see, they can call these attorneys at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday just as the attorneys are about to leave for Maine, and order the attorneys to deal with the alleged offenders forthwith. The attorneys, knowing that their pals from law school are already on their way up to Ogunquit for the lobster bake, will quickly dash off a threatening missive to placate their angry client – all the while wondering why they didn’t join the Peace Corps instead.

Now, this has led to some pretty funny legal filings, such as the notorious Global United Rayon and Cosmetics Corp. v. Bob’s Blog case, 673 U.S. 1198 (2003). In court filings, plaintiffs alleged that in October of 2001, one Robert X. Udall of Old Rochelle, N.Y., had committed offenses including “trademark infringement,” “patent infringement,” “defamation,” “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” “loss of consortium,” “making plaintiff’s counsel miss his flight,” and “causing plaintiff’s counsel’s hospitalization after suffering cardiac arrest as he was trying to get to his dinner reservation.” Plaintiffs alleged these offenses were in connection with Mr Udall’s on-line complaint that his wife didn’t like the Global United Rayon-brand lipstick he bought her for their anniversary.

While such sloppiness might have led to the suit being thrown out, Mr Udall made the mistake of thinking it was a joke, and he did not pursue the matter. This resulted in a default judgment against Mr Udall. Despite his subsequent appeals, the Supreme Court had no choice but to agree to the plaintiff’s demand that Mr Udall be drawn and quartered at daybreak.

As you can see, these things are serious business. But fear not! We here at Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant offer for your enlightenment an Actual Sample Letter* which we sent in response to one of these dunning letters. It follows:


8 January 2004

Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant Inc.
“Your Hometown Nostalgia Source”
901 Burnaby St., Suite One
Hamilton HM 11

Mr. Upshaw P. Belvedere IV
Somehow, Passed & Thebar PLLC
590-C Avenue of the Americas, Suite 8997-2
New York, New York, 10021


Dear Sir,

Please be advised we are in receipt of your letter, dated 6 January 2004, regarding your clients CLM Cyclosis Inc. and Chinese Wall Zombie Bond LLC, each of which is a New York-based market analysis firm.

We understand your clients (“The Bastards”) are upset with our American subsidiary’s depiction of their work on 4 January 2004, to wit: “All’s Fair in Love and Business,” ( We also understand that as counsel, you are obligated to act on behalf of The Bastards’ interests, no matter how contrary to established case law and general principle their complaints (“Damned Nonsense”) are. That said, you are advised that The Bastards’ Damned Nonsense is completely unwarranted, given long-established legal principles governing works of parody, farce, satire, and the like. Hence, we are sure you or your intern (“Indentured Servant”) will find Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 US 46 (1988), fascinating reading. We would also remind you of Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994), which clarified that a satirist may create parodies for profit. We’re sure you remember it from your days at law school (“That Diploma Mill.”)

Again, though, we do understand that your job is to defend The Bastards’ interests; so we would never accuse you personally of vexatious litigation, barratry or the intentional tort of abuse of process. However, please do be advised that any Further Legal Action (“Harrassment”) on The Bastards’ part will be met with a measured and warranted counter-response (“Scorched Earth Policy”). We would consider it most unfortunate if we had to implement a Scorched Earth Policy, and hope we haven’t any need for that. It would be quite regrettable (“A Public Relations Nightmare”) if we were forced to go to major media, various Internet sites, and take other counter-measures to help ensure we received appropriate relief from a Court in this matter.

We are confident that after careful consideration of the facts and relevant case law, you will agree that this was all merely an unfortunate misunderstanding. As such, we consider this matter closed. However, if you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.


General Counsel
Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant Inc.

Chief Executive Officer
Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant Inc.

Cc: File
Style section, The Washington Post


*IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE: Anyone who actually faces this or any other type of lawsuit in real life should NEVER send a letter like this, especially to a practicing attorney. They should instead contact a respectable lawyer immediately, and pay him or her write something that actually can stand up on its own two feet. We are not lawyers and cannot help. Furthermore, the preceding is intended as parody and entertainment only, and should not be construed as legal advice, assistance, or opinion, even if we did send something similar although not as nasty once to a collection agency that screwed up our medical bills. Offer void in Puerto Rico and Vermont. Call now and you can get the amazing Stain-B-Gon scrub-brush ABSOLUTELY FREE. Many will enter, few will win. Certain terms and restrictions apply. By reading the above essay, you agree that you have waived any and all rights to sue for damages, injury, or other claims that may result from reading this article. It's a dessert topping AND kills germs! Estoppel doctrine aggravated damages injunction pray for relief wherefore ordered.

Wow. You got all the way down here?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:21 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 18, 2004

Burning Up His Publisher's Investment

WE HAVE ONE WORD to say regarding this sales report on disgraced plagarist Jayson Blair's book: sweet.

A mere 1,386 copies were sold through last Sunday -- its first week -- according to Nielsen BookScan, which covers about 70 percent of the market. As of this writing, it is also ranked approximately 5,000 in sales on Los Angeles-based New Millennium Press gave Mr Blair a $150,000 advance and printed up 250,000 copies.

It would appear Mr Blair is on his way to committing the second cardinal sin in the writing world, namely: earn one's publisher his advance back, or face ruin and despair. We estimate that Mr Blair has perhaps earned just $6,000 -- maybe $7,000 -- against that sum, which means his work will almost certainly prove a disaster for his publishing house.

If you put up your ear to your computer speaker, you can hear us playing the world's smallest violin!

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


OVER AT HIS SWELL NEW SITE, Steve Silver has penned a short commentary on the question of women keeping their maiden names after marriage, as well as the recent bawdy trendiness surrounding hyphenated names. Mr Silver works off an essay by the feminist Katie Roiphe.

We'll admit we have mixed feelings about pretty much all aspects of this.

Like Mr Silver, we would have absolutely no problem if our eventual wife wanted to keep her own name; although that said, we must admit we'd prefer if she took our last name. Everyone else in our family has done this, and it'd be less confusing, and besides, we think being a Kepple rules. On the other hand, we would understand it perfectly if our eventual wife were to keep her name for professional reasons, and in that regard, it is such a small issue that it is not worth arguing.

As for any eventual children, though, we must say we would never permit our children to have a hyphenated last name, with one exception: if we happened to marry into European nobility. Then it would be perfectly acceptable (even if Kepple-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha would be wordy). Although, we note that even then, it would be unnecessary since surname and house would be differentiated. Also, there is that tiny matter of the fact there is no chance of this happening.

So we can stand with our original assertion that our children will be known as Kepples, whether they like it or not. Besides, our ancestors did not suffer through centuries of war, oppression and famine only to have their descendents screw things up. We owe them that much!

But -- again, the caveat -- we do think it a good idea to pay homage to the mother's family in naming one's children, as has been done in our family. It's not difficult to do; one can easily use names of maternal relatives, or the mother's maiden name as a first or middle name.

That said, we think making up a name solely because a man and his wife think it cute is ... No. This is most certainly not cute. This is silly. As such, we would rather eat glass than change our name to "Kepwell" or some such absurdity. Really, the very idea strikes us as being so damned collegiate -- which, as it happens, is the place we first heard of someone doing such a thing.

That is what we consider the "all-time low" -- and on this, we differ with Mr Silver, who argues that for a man to hyphenate his last name along with his wife is the ultimate indignity. We must say we find that practice a bit odd -- but it is more understandable than actually destroying one's name and effectively severing a man's ties with his ancestors.

One last thought on this matter: Ms Roiphe takes note of the problems that cropped up when women kept their names back in the old days. In doing so, Ms Roiphe quotes from a 1925 newspaper report about these "Lucy Stoners," as they were once known:

"Some of its resulting confusions are indelicate and therefore may merely be hinted at. Many moral hotel clerks are troubled at the assignment of rooms to the traveling Lucy Stoners and their husbands."

Absolutely priceless. Of course, in our experience, we have found that in this day and age the moral hotel clerks merely assume a couple is man and wife, and write up the bills accordingly. Without going into further detail, we would merely say that when we first discovered that "Mr and Mrs Kepple" were listed on the register, we found the idea very, very nice.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:10 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 16, 2004

It's All About Me

SO EVERYONE* IS FILLING OUT this particular "firsts" and "lasts" quiz which gives insight into their personal history, psyche, and so on. Naturally, I had to do the same thing, so here you go -- more information than you probably wanted to know about Benjamin Kepple.


* FIRST JOB: Staff writer, researcher, copy editor, etc. etc., in terms of my first job in which I actually supported myself through my labor.
* FIRST SCREEN NAME: Why not ask me what I had for lunch on March 16, 1999? Oh, that's right. Jaipur! On W. Pico Blvd.! Gad, was that a good Indian buffet, or was that a good Indian buffet? Mmmmmm. Chicken tikka.
* FIRST SELF-PURCHASED CD: I have no idea. In retrospect, however, I am sure that it bit the wax tadpole.
* FIRST PIERCING/TATTOO: Well, that wouldn't fit the image, would it?
* FIRST ENEMY: A particular student in elementary school and onward, whose name I do not wish to sully my pages. He has, though, apparently no Internet presence at all. Gad. In this day and age?


* LAST BIG CAR RIDE: To Western Pennsylvania, for my grandfather's funeral.
* LAST KISS: About six months ago.
* LAST LIBRARY BOOK: A 17th century account of King Philip's War. Not that I checked it out -- one couldn't -- but I needed it for my research in school.
* LAST MOVIE SEEN: "The Passion of the Christ."
* LAST BEVERAGE DRANK: Diet Coke -- with lime!
* LAST FOOD CONSUMED: Boston Market chicken pot pie.
* LAST PHONE CALL: to Mr Kepple.
* LAST CD PLAYED: "The Passion of the Christ" soundtrack.
* LAST ANNOYANCE: I can think of several off the top of my head, but I'll settle for having to park at a parking-metered space this morning and put money in it, even though I was parked there too early to have a good portion of those minutes count. Also my sinus pain.
* LAST SODA DRINK: Diet Coke -- with lime!
* LAST ICE CREAM EATEN: Three weeks ago I had a small bowl -- like one scoop -- of Haagen-Dazs Mango Sorbet.
* LAST TIME SCOLDED: Sunday. It wasn't my fault!
* LAST SHIRT WORN: A slightly-worn white dress shirt.

I ....

* I AM: annoyed and dyspeptic.
* I WANT: tranquility.
* I HAVE: a case of the nerves.
* I WISH: my faults would not undo me.
* I HATE: the irresponsible, the intellectually dishonest, and the craven, generally speaking. It isn't so much hate as contempt, though; a true, blistering, vicious hate is another level entirely which I reserve for really unspeakable events, circumstances, and so on. There is a difference.
* I FEAR: mental decay, blindness, obscurity, Hell.
* I HEAR: instrumental music.
* I SEARCH: for truth.
* I WONDER: what in hell am I doing with my life? And why haven't I written that book yet? While we're at it, am I here for a reason? If so, a little direction would be appreciated from some corner of the universe.
* I REGRET: a few things, but I don't dwell on them. I can't.
* I LOVE: my family, my friends, my country.
* I ALWAYS: think (and worry, and ponder, and such).
* I AM NOT: humble (this is Flaw No. 1).
* I DANCE: when I want to! I can leave your friends behind! 'Cause your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance, well they're no friends of mine! By which I mean half an hour a day in my living room, as exercise. (I can dance! I can dance! Everything's outta control!)
* I SING: during Mass.
* I CRY: when I'm alone.


* YOU KEEP A DIARY: if the blog counts, yes.
* YOU LIKE TO COOK: Yes. A pity I am only proficient at a few dishes.
* YOU HAVE A SECRET NOT SHARED WITH ANYONE: I don't know; I don't believe so, actually. I guess it depends what one terms a secret.


* HAVE A CRUSH: No. A crush implies infatuation, and I am not currently infatuated with anyone of the fair sex at present. Had there been actual infatuation going on in my life, you'd be able to tell, as I'd be ... well, God, I am such a better person when I have a crush.
* WANT TO GET MARRIED: Yes. Fortunately, after studying my family history, I've found I have plenty of time. (Hans Peter Koeppel, I salute you).
* GET MOTION SICKNESS: I get sick when I drive sometimes.
* THINK YOU'RE A HEALTH FREAK: This depends. If you mean someone who is overly concerned with his physical condition, no. If you mean someone whose doctors routinely ask questions such as, "How? How are you still here after all that?", then yes.
* EYE COLOR: Kind of a grey-green, but they shift and sparkle and what not, from what I understand. I really like my eyes in terms of how they look, they're one of my better features.
* BIRTHPLACE: East of the Mississippi, north of the Mason-Dixon.


* NUMBER: One.
* COLOR: Blue. No, green!
* DAY: Thursday.
* MONTH: December.
* SONG(S): Several.
* SEASON: Autumn.
* DRINK: Gin.


* MILK, DARK, OR WHITE CHOCOLATE: Dark. Especially if coffee-flavored.
* VANILLA OR CHOCOLATE: Always chocolate. Always. But this is a flawed question. For, I ask, how can one resist the inherent goodness of the Arby's Jamocha(R) shake? One cannot, unless one is a Communist, and thus likes strawberry shakes. I have here -- uh, in this briefcase -- a list of prominent strawberry shake drinkers!


* CRIED: No.
* SAID, "I LOVE YOU.": Yes, to my father.
* WRITTEN A REAL LETTER: No. I write actual letters on e-mail, but haven't done so in the last 24 hours. This is because I suck.
* MADE A GIRL MOAN: No, I haven't.

Well! There you have it -- more information than you ever wanted to know about me, Benjamin Kepple -- in a quiz so clearly important I actually wrote about it in the first-person singular. I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog updates.

And if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hide.

* By everyone, I mean many of the people I read regularly: folks like Sheila and Emily and Bill and other folks.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 13, 2004

The World's Problems (Condensed)

WE WERE TALKING with Andrew Dodge some time ago, when he mentioned we ought to do as his site had done, and take a look at the world's five greatest problems. We were quite enthusiastic about this endeavor, and would have written about it post-haste if we hadn't had our bout with sinus troubles. Constantly feeling as if one has been hit in the head with a large polo mallet is not, sadly, conducive to the creative process.

In any event, we gave Mr Dodge's proposal much thought, and after some time decided that we ought to try our hand at it. So here goes: our listing of the five great problems in the world.

1. Lack of the Rule of Law

This may seem an unusual Item No. 1., but as we see it, much of the world's problems have this as their root cause. Furthermore, we would say that if this problem was fully resolved around the world, a great many of the issues most of humanity experiences today -- poverty, corruption, forced migration, etc., -- would be notably reduced.

There are a great many reasons why the lack of the rule of law is so widespread. There is political instability, of course, which does not lend itself to a functioning legal system. On the other extreme, you have dictatorial Governments which for all intents and purposes rule by fiat. But much of the world lies somewhere in the middle: there is a recognized legal system, but it is so badly-administered, burdensome and corrupt that people find it far easier or just necessary to work outside it.

The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has done the lion's share of the labor on this boring but amazingly important issue (see his "The Mystery of Capital" for much more on it).

The issue here is simple, and Mr de Soto does a masterful job of explaining it: illegal capital is not, to use one of our favorite words, fungible. That is, it can't be converted to other uses or purposes. Legal capital, on the other hand, can be. For instance, here in the United States, because a homeowner can prove his ownership via title, his home becomes fungible: he can get a home-equity line of credit, "cash out" equity if his home significantly appreciates in value, and so on. This does wonders for economic growth. But as Mr de Soto points out, so many people in this world go outside the legal route to buy homes, run businesses, and so on, that their capital is -- as he put it -- "dead."

The end result: trillions upon trillions of dollars worth of wealth exists in the Third World, and no one can get to it. Fix this problem, and we might just find that many other problems get fixed along with it.

2. Lack of Political Stability

This is related to the above, but it’s generally a fair statement to say that in the absence of political stability, there is precious little economic stability to go along with it. An absence of economic stability leads to misery and general unpleasantness – and if that wasn’t bad enough, has the potential to cause political instability to both neighboring nations and other places in the world.

3. Slavery

How many slaves exist today? We have seen estimates ranging from 27 million on the conservative end to 200 million on the liberal; and it is perhaps reasonable to say the reality in somewhere in the middle.

It takes many forms, of course, and outright slavery -- the actual buying and selling of persons -- is generally done only in secret. But there is also debt slavery and white slavery (that is, forced prostitution) and child slavery; and the fact this barbaric practice continues in this day and age is horrible. Since many of the nations where this takes place cannot or will not address the issue, we are hopeful our Government will -- and very strenuously.

4. Lack of Personal Freedom

The big five -- freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and the right to petition the Government -- are sadly lacking in one way or another in most nations. We consider America the most free nation on Earth, and we very much hope other societies will follow our lead in this regard.

5. Lack of Migratory Freedom

We'll be honest -- we see no reason why any person on Earth, if said person is not happy with the way things are going in his country of residence, should not feel free to quit and go elsewhere; provided the elsewhere in question doesn't have a problem with it. Also, it would behoove nations to not tax their citizens up the wazoo if they decide to emigrate, and then keep taxing them after they've left. We don't know who came up with that particular idea -- well, actually, we do -- but we must say that it is awfully unfair.

However, with that said, we should stress that everyone everywhere ought always pay all the taxes they owe -- it's the right thing to do, first; and second, it is a very, very, very bad idea to annoy Governments with unlimited resources at their command. Don't give us that Kentucky forgot to sign the Sixteenth Amendment crap either. Just pay. Yes, we know from experience that paying self-employment tax is about as much fun as getting one's finger caught in a car door. Just pay. It will save you headaches down the line. This has been a public service announcement from Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant.


GIVEN THE EVENTS in Madrid this week -- to say nothing of the past three years -- we realize many readers may wonder why we have not included terrorism on the Top Five list above. Our thinking on that is as follows.

At the core of it, terrorism is only successful if a) it is sustained, b) it in itself results in bringing about the key objectives its practitioners wish to achieve and c) it brings about significant damage to the political or economic stability of a nation. On all counts, al-Qaeda and their ilk have failed miserably. As for Madrid, we can say that whomever was behind the Madrid blasts has incurred the wrath and enmity of hundreds of millions of people -- people who want nothing more than to tear those responsible to pieces. As such, while those terrorists may have killed 200 people, they have themselves put an end to their movement's ambitions, goals, and lives. If ETA was behind it, they're finished; and if al-Qaeda was behind it, it's well on its way to being finished.

That does not mean that constant vigilance against terrorism is not required. Because certain forms of terrorism could result in items A and C above, it is incumbent upon Governments to protect against it. And the human toll which a catastrophic attack brings is, of course, more than reason enough to guard against terrorist acts ever happening again.

However, because the Governments of the West have realized over the past three years that terrorism is something with which they ought to be very much concerned, we do not believe that terrorism will prove all that successful in future. If those who practice such barbarism have not yet got the message they will suffer the ultimate reprisal for their actions, they will get it -- in the form of a bullet.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:57 AM | TrackBack

March 11, 2004

Something Rather Odd is Happening

SOMETHING VERY ODD has happened to our metabolism in the past week or so, or at least that is how it appears to us.

As readers know from our entry below, we have suffered grievous physical maladies as of late regarding our sinuses and a rather unpleasant cold. Indeed, we felt so particularly miserable on Tuesday that we only had one proper meal -- which consisted of three main components: first, a microwaved bowl of brown rice and vegetables; second, a small glass of milk; and third, approximately ten pills of varying size, shape and color to address our various physical ailments (diabetes, high cholesterol, stress, acid reflux, sinus problems, congestion, etc. etc.). Yes, we know we don't take good care of ourselves; we can discuss that later.

Anyway, the next morning we had two sausage biscuits at McDonalds for breakfast, because the idea of something horribly fatty seemed rather good. This was at about 8 a.m. At 6 p.m., we had yet another bowl of brown rice and vegetables.

Today, we had a blueberry muffin for breakfast, and because we were dying for more carbohydrates, a low-carbohydrate brownie. Then, because we realized we were feeling rather blahed about having the McDonalds the day prior, we had Subway for lunch -- a large roast beef sandwich made the way we like it (that is, with cheese, red onions, lettuce, jalapeno peppers, topped with a light bit of olive oil). This evening we had yet another microwaved meal -- but THIS time it was vegetarian chili with rice. Also there was a slice of cornbread. All we had to drink was water and Diet Coke over the past few days; and today only, we did aerobics for about 30 minutes.

What's odd about this is not only that we're slightly thinner, but that we aren't all that hungry either. We can't understand why this is happening. Usually, when we lose weight, it's because we've undergone some kind of terrible medical trauma and some minor internal organ has gone kaput far before the warranty date. That's how we got from 270 to 240, and then from 240 to 230. But this ... this is just odd. It's as if we're losing weight like normal people lose weight.

Gad. The very idea.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Is This a Threat, or a Promise?

WE NOTE THAT HOWARD STERN is threatening to quit his radio show again, as reported in this lengthy dispatch from

"The Howard Stern saga continues. Although Infinity is saying they will stand by their man, Stern is threatening to quit anyway if President Bush signs new indecency legislation into law ... Stern replied by saying that if Bush signs the bill, he will resign as soon as it becomes a law. In fact, he went as far as to say that he's so tired of getting censored every morning that he may resign anyway, even if the bill isn't signed by Bush. Stern lamented that he just wants to do comedy his way, and radio has become too much of a battle."

What, may we ask, is the downside here?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 PM | TrackBack


WE RECALL THAT on the Saturday following the Sept. 11 attacks, we received an Instant Message from a woman in Australia, completely out of the blue. We talked perhaps for 45 minutes, but the gist of that conversation can be summed up as follows: the Australian expressed her sorrow and her support for Americans, and we thanked her accordingly.

This meant a lot to us at the time, as we were not exactly in a charitable mood, and we very much appreciated it later when the Australian Government stood by us in our continuing war against terror. Another of our allies in that fight, of course, was the Spanish Government.

Today, 192 Spaniards are dead and over 1,200 of them wounded after a terror attack against train commuters during the morning rush hour. We do not have the words to say how sincerely sorry we are that Spain is suffering a horror close to what America as a nation suffered two-and-a-half years ago. But we can say that we will stand with Spain during this most horrible of times, and we sincerely hope that those responsible for this inhuman, barbaric act will soon be brought to justice -- in either this world or the next.

(For further updates on the attack, visit The Command Post.)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:26 PM | TrackBack

March 10, 2004

The Agony and ... Well, the Agony

WE MUST APOLOGIZE for not having posted any new blog entries over the last five days. However, we can assure you that for the most part, we were not having all that much fun during this little break of ours. Oh no. Rather, we were in agonizing pain for much of it.

For with the coming of spring comes our annual Bout With Sinus Troubles, and along with that came a particularly bad cold. As such, we suffered through awful aches and pains and hardly ate; and we spent most of our free time sneezing, sniffling, and praying for God to somehow deliver us from this malady. After a couple of days of it, we didn't care how He did it, either. If He would have caused a jackhammer bit to fly off and drive into our forehead, we would have thanked Him for relieving the awful pressure.

That said, we are doing a bit better now, although posting will be rather light for the next few days. However, we can assure you that we'll be back in action soon -- provided we don't suffer a relapse of that pounding, aching, miserable, incapacitating pain.

NOTE: We just checked our voice mail to find a message from Simon From Jersey. A building in his apartment complex caught fire last night, and his car was apparently within spitting distance of the blaze. We are still waiting to hear the fate of the car -- but we must say that in comparison, we find our sinus troubles far more bearable.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 05, 2004

Pop Culture Delivers Quite a Surprise

SO WE WERE ON OUR WAY to the dentist's office today, and we happened to hear the new Avril Lavigne song ("Don't Tell Me") on the radio. We had heard it a couple of times before, and we hadn't really listened to the lyrics; but when we minded them on this rainy afternoon, we were quite surprised.

It's an amazing song, really; not merely because it's good music, but rather because of the message inherent in it.

You can read the lyrics here. After you do so, you may ask the same question we did: when was the last time a song like this got airplay on the radio? We certainly couldn't remember, and we thought it was kind of nice.

As we think this song shows Miss Lavigne is a force for social stability and sound judgment among youth, we call on all Rant readers to purchase her next album. If that is not possible, then we would ask readers to at least look the other way when they discover the kids have illegally downloaded it. Let them listen for a few days, and then deliver the stern lecture about the virtues of property rights and avoiding a lawsuit from angry, large recording companies.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:05 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

It's A Good Thing

ON THE WAY DOWN: IN THIS OCT. 2004 file photo from the Associated Press, former homemaking doyenne Martha Stewart is seen lecturing inmates on kitchen duty at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W. Va. On Mar. 5, 2004, Stewart was convicted on conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice charges related to her sale of stock in ImClone, a pharmaceutical firm.

GIVEN THAT MS STEWART has announced she will appeal the verdict rendered against her today, we will refrain from applying some of the great rhetorical flourishes which the British press uses to describe criminals. Such as, for instance, "EVIL MARTHA STEWART." It would also not be fair to say, for instance, "STEWART FACES RUIN AFTER SHOCK STOCK VERDICT FURY."

Still, we can imagine Ms Stewart is in for a world of financial hurt. The stock price of her firm is in the process of collapsing. And while the courts may have thrown out the charges related to her alleged deception of investors in her firm, don't think for a moment that legions of securities lawyers will pass on filing their own civil suits on that matter. They will do everything they can to hold Ms Stewart personally and professionally liable for such alleged misdeeds.

We once heard that for every dollar MSO's stock fell in value, Ms Stewart lost something on the order of $30 million. If that equation is still valid, then this afternoon, Ms Stewart lost somewhere on the order of $100 million with that guilty verdict, and we predict that all she has gone through is only the beginning for her. When all is said and done, we think she will be quite humbled: not ruined, but certainly much poorer.

Admittedly, we won't be shedding any tears if that happens. Ms Stewart has long been known as ... difficult, as the Associated Press noted in its story on the matter:

Stewart had a reputation before the trial as a ruthless businesswoman, and in court she was portrayed as rude, insulting, demanding and cheap. According to testimony, she once threatened to take her business elsewhere because she did not like her brokerage's telephone hold music.

Whatever you think about today's verdict, we would argue that at least on karma and general principle grounds, it was very much deserved. As such, we are hopeful that Ms Stewart will find that in losing the world, she can regain her soul. And if for some reason she fails to learn that lesson, then we can say we have been right to hold Ms Stewart beneath contempt these past few years.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 04, 2004

Oh, Come On!

stone heart
Heart of Stone

What is Your Heart REALLY Made of?
brought to you by Quizilla

JUST BECAUSE WE ARE slightly pedantic and arrogant and aloof and cautious and depressed and moody and cynical, to say nothing of always writing in the first-person plural, does not mean we have a heart of stone. Gad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:19 PM | TrackBack

The Legal Equal of Pining for the Fjords

IN YET ANOTHER DISPLAY of our peculiarly odd sense of humor, we must share this story from The New York Times with our readers. We must also give Times scribe Adam Liptak major style points for his particular choice of words and quotes.

Mr Liptak informs us that judges are beginning to politely suggest (by which we mean, "cruelly mock in public documents") that lawyers whose writing is at best subpar ought to improve their skills with the pen. We first read his story at the office today, and the following quote from it sent us into such hysterics that we were unable to do any work for a good fifteen minutes. Indeed, our sides ached, we laughed so hard.

Mr Liptak writes:

The judge, Gregory K. Orme, wrote in a dissent in a zoning case that he had been persuaded of the plaintiff's position in spite of rather than because of its filings. He chastised the plaintiff's lawyer, Stephen G. Homer, for his "unrestrained and unnecessary use of the bold, underline, and 'all caps' functions of word processing or his repeated use of exclamation marks to emphasize points in his briefs."

"While I appreciate a zealous advocate as much as anyone, such techniques, which really amount to a written form of shouting, are simply inappropriate in an appellate brief," Judge Orme continued. "It is counterproductive for counsel to litter his brief with burdensome material such as "WRONG! WRONG ANALYSIS! WRONG RESULT! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!"

Mr Homer declined to comment, the Times said. This is a shame, for we here at The Rant want to know if this "zoning case" was actually an argument over a dead parrot.

Mr Liptak also notes that a second judge -- to be fair, the main focus of the story -- docked a lawyer over $30,000 for his badly-written legal briefs.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:01 PM | TrackBack

March 01, 2004

It is Spring! Be Very, Very Cautious

IT WAS FIFTY-SOME DEGREES here in Manchester today; and as we walked out of work, the weather was actually palatable to the point where we and another colleague could actually have a conversation. How wonderful it was after all these wretched months of ice and snow and cold! Yet we also have this sense of foreboding about it ... a sort of wariness, if you will.

We have not seen any geese flying north for the year yet, but we are hopeful that they will soon pass our way; if in fact any do fly over New Hampshire on their journey. It has been a long time since we actually looked up at the sky to check. In any event, Sheila O'Malley has sighted them, however; and she has a nice reflection on that.

This reminiscence has generated a great deal of conversation on her site, and one aspect to that conversation is how the coming of spring-time makes one feel connected to one's ancestors. This naturally led us to thinking, and we realized that our ancestors probably had very ... cautious ... ways of thinking about the coming of spring-time. We offer the following dramatizations as examples:

ALSATIAN NEIGHBOR: The priest says this is the first day of spring.
JOHANNES KOEPPEL: Oh, swell! Spring! Tell you what: you start preparing the shot and the flintlocks, and I'll go round up the townspeople.
NEIGHBOR: You're getting excitable again.
KOEPPEL: I'm not excited, I'm getting prepared. Who do you think it will be this year? The French or the Germans?
NEIGHBOR: I'm sorry?
KOEPPEL: Look, I just rebuilt the barn we spent six weeks raising a few years back! I'm sick of this! Why can't they ... I don't know ... go fight in Flanders or something?
NEIGHBOR: Oh, come off it. It's what, 1642? This war's going to end sometime soon. Besides, we're miles from anywhere ...
KOEPPEL: You just don't get it, do you?

(three decades later ...)

HANS PETER KOEPPEL: Oh! It's spring!
JOHANNES: Great. Son, I run an inn. Now that it's getting warmer, the villagers of Dehlingen won't come here to warm up and buy our high-quality beer and other spirits. They'll get blitzed at home -- that neighbor of yours has a still, I just know it! And what if they start causing trouble and spreading slanderous lies and rumors?
HANS: What! How could such things happen in this year of Our Lord 1673? It's going to be a great year.
JOHANNES: Yeah, well, even still, I've got a bad feeling about this. The way things are going, there's going to be trouble. I have a feeling I'm not going to exactly like 1674, let's just put it that way.

Thankfully, a few years later, our ancestor Johannes Andreas Koeppel was able to make his way to America -- and knowing modern European history as we do, we are truly grateful that he made that decision two-and-a-half centuries ago. Still, we think these dramatizations explain much about how, subconsciously, we view the coming of spring. For while we are glad when it arrives, we are also imbued with an instinctive caution -- which reminds us everything can all go to hell in a moment's time.

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

The Passion About "The Passion"

ANY REACTION TO JAMI BERNARD'S most recent column in the New York Daily News, in which she details the slings and arrows sent her way since her one-star review of "The Passion of the Christ," should start out with a spirited defense of her position.

For Ms Bernard writes that some of those responding to her passionate critique of the film went far beyond the boundaries of respectable opinion. She writes that many people who wrote to her assumed that since she did not care for the movie, she was therefore Jewish; and further writes that many of these same people dragged out several vicious canards regarding Jews. As such, we feel it quite important to condemn such hateful and bigoted remarks on the part of these letter writers.

Several years ago, back in our salad days, we once wrote an article with a friend and colleague which drew similar criticism directed against the both of us. So while any right-thinking person should condemn such vicious criticism with immediate effect, we feel we personally have an obligation to doubly condemn it for being not just wrong, but evil as well. Hence, we sincerely empathize with Ms Bernard's position in this regard; we know how painful it is to learn of such uncouth sentiment.

That noted, it is a sincere pity that the rest of her column, to say nothing of her original review of the movie, was not as eloquently written as the one section we have cited. We are not, as readers know, experts on film; but we do like to think that we are somewhat competent at writing. And this is why we must say we were astonished by several things in both works.

For instance, we were astonished at Ms Bernard's sheer hubris in both the latter half of her reaction column and her review of "The Passion" itself. But that was not all. You see, as a writer ourselves, we found it amazing that someone would fire off a truly sharp and nasty essay -- as Ms Bernard did with her review of "The Passion" -- and then not substantively defend it!

Good heavens, Ms Bernard! Stand -- and -- deliver! You hated the film. You had your reasons. You expected you would get a hostile reaction -- not merely from cranks and bigots, but from rational and thoughtful readers. Given all this, why on Earth would you write such condescending, elitist claptrap in response to that latter group? We mean, for someone who writes, "My tools, meanwhile, are words," why do you make the writer's equivalent of chopping off your thumb with a table saw -- to wit:

What interests me as a movie critic is the profusion of people who do not understand or care how to evaluate a movie.

They don't see how film images are juxtaposed to create a desired emotion, that what is left out of a screenplay can be as important as what is kept in, and how constantly and subliminally manipulative a medium this is. They cannot see through filmmaking's beautiful deceptions.

Now look. We're writers. We know these preceding two paragraphs which Ms Bernard has written can be boiled down to one simple sentence: "Those who disagree with me are idiots." Yes, she argues here that people -- in the autocratic sense of the term, i.e. the unwashed rabble -- are too stupid to get, on the gut level, what she writes.

That Ms Bernard should be so unthinking in this matter is appalling. Consider: this is someone who watches movies and writes about them for a living. As such, her work is not merely a luxury, made possible in the macro-economic sense through the sweat and toil and production of millions of men and women in the factories and offices of our great nation. No -- it is an extravagance. Yet, sadly, Ms Bernard has seemingly forgotten this; and in doing so, she has forgotten her audience.

Why do many people not think highly of what critics like Ms Bernard think about certain movies? That's perhaps simpler to answer than one might think, really.

First, the technical expertise that folks like Ms Bernard have in spades means little to them. That's not to say, of course, that most film-goers cannot appreciate new techniques -- they loved them in "The Matrix", for instance. But when most folks see a movie -- and we certainly include ourselves in this group -- they don't scrutinize every single detail; they see it as a whole more than as the sum of its parts.

Second, film critics as a class seem to be a bit pretentious. Actually, we will go further, and say that a few -- but certainly, certainly not all -- professional film critics validate Mao's saying that the more books one reads, the stupider one gets*. They are officially too far removed from reality, as a certain former official for a foreign Government might have said. Now, why this is, we do not know. But it seems to us that there's a noxious combination at work here: writing about cultural works whilst being amazingly out of touch with the culture as a whole.

Of course, this doesn't matter nearly as much if one is writing for a specialized audience, but for a mass-market publication? The mind boggles. Even with the technical training and the study and the learning one has, one must remember to write for one's audience. Ms Bernard has not done this.

As such, it will come as no surprise to learn that Ms Bernard compounds her error as she continues:

There is a famous Magritte painting of a smoker's pipe, under which are the words (in French): This is not a pipe. In other words, the representation of an object should not be confused with the object itself.

Many people mistake a movie for the actual subject, and likewise mistake movie reviews for comments on historical events.

Interesting choice of words here, isn't it? We mean, given her review of "The Passion" and all. The review where Ms Bernard flatly declares "The Passion" is not faithful to history; the review where she compares it to Nazi propaganda films; the review where she sees fit to expound upon her own take on this world. Yes, so very odd people would mistake Ms Bernard's review in this way. Perhaps if she stuck to writing about the movie itself -- as she claims is her job -- instead of denouncing it with a passion, she might have had a case. But she did not; and as such, we are not in the slightest impressed with her argument here.

But, after a bit, she continues:

My main objection to "The Passion" is that Gibson has used the tools at his disposal to disguise sadism as piety. My tools, meanwhile, are words.

But it takes more words than there is commonly room for in a newspaper to encompass all the fine print. Otherwise, I would have cited Soviet theories of montage to explain how Gibson turned that despicable historical figure Pontius Pilate into a sympathetic character and the Jews into an undifferentiated, bloodthirsty mob.

Due to space limitations, film reviews are like compressed files. Not all readers are able to "unstuff" them.

Ms Bernard? As a matter of fact, we have Mr McLuhan right over here. Gad. Look, we like being pedantic; we admit it; it is a temptation to which we often succumb. This, though, is just light years beyond pedantry -- even educated readers are going to mistake "Soviet theories of montage" as "that scene in that one movie where the baby carriage goes down the steps."

But that's not what really gets us. What really gets us is that we don't see how someone who is as technically skilled and film-oriented as Ms Bernard could honestly draw the conclusions she did from the movie. We just don't. It doesn't make sense.

We will say that we thought Pilate's character in the film was much too soft than we would have preferred. Pilate was not, as others have noted from the accounts of Tacitus and Philo of Alexandria, a sensitive person when it came to religious matters. In short, he was generally a bastard. This, we should add, is why historians say Pilate ended up suppressing rebellions all the time when he was procurator. We do not think history says clearly that Pilate was a complete tyrant, just because there's not that much we have on which to go. We would note, though, that the Gospel of John gives the impression that this was the last thing Pilate wanted to deal with; not because he was kind-hearted, but because he had enough problems of his own making.

But to say the Jews depicted in the movie were an undifferentiated, bloodthirsty mob is to us ludicrous, as we noted in our own chock-full-of-spoilers review. The Sanhedrin were divided; the people were divided; everyone was divided. It's made awfully clear, at least to us, that this was the case. Even in the crowd scenes, Caiaphas was clearly portrayed as the one force behind it all. (Are we missing something? Are we just not getting it? We mean, it just seemed as if this was truly apparent to any movie-goer).

So, naturally, this got us to thinking -- if we were surprised at this interpretation of the film, what else would we be surprised at in Ms Bernard's review? Well, let's have a look.

She starts out by saying that no child should see this movie; a perfectly agreeable sentiment. Then she writes that even adults are at risk -- she doesn't say why they are at risk, but still, that in itself is not distressing. But then she writes this:

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.

What? What? Isn't this ... a bit harsh?

Good heavens. We assume that Ms Bernard, a student of film, has seen those films. Hence, we assume that she knows how hateful, how vile, how awful they were. How can one make such an implicit comparison? Factually, of course, it's not true -- MEMRI has more on this -- but the whole premise is not true. That's to say nothing of trivializing just how brutish and horrible those Nazi films were, in the process of making such a premise. There are some things one ought not argue about "The Passion" -- and Ms Bernard's third sentence is one of them.

But she continues:

It is sickening, much more brutal than any "Lethal Weapon."

The violence is grotesque, savage and often fetishized in slo-mo. At least in Hollywood spectacles that kind of violence is tempered with cartoonish distancing effects; not so here. And yet "The Passion" is also undeniably powerful.

We should note we have no complaint with this argument, and find it entirely reasonable. But then, Ms Bernard flips back into maddened-critic mode!

Because of all the media coverage of this movie and the way it was shown only to handpicked sympathizers until yesterday's screening for movie critics, many questions hang in the air: Is it historically accurate?

Of course not. As with any movie, even a documentary, this one reflects the views of its filmmakers, who are entitled and expected to use their art persuasively. Gibson has been up-front about his own religious agenda.

What? How can one flatly say it is "of course not" historically accurate? We can see quibbling with certain parts, or noting where artistic license is taken. But to dismiss the whole thing out of hand is either clumsy or disingenuous; we don't know which.

And then, Ms Bernard reverses into standard-critic mode:

But is it any good?

"The Passion" - once you strip away all the controversy and religious fervor - is a technically proficient account of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

The movie is sanctimonious in a way that impedes dramatic flow and limits characterizations to the saintly and the droolingly vulgar.

That said, there are many things in its favor - a heroic physical effort by star Jim Caviezel; stunning cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, and the chutzpah to have the actors speak in the dead language of Aramaic (with some subtitles).

We find these perfectly reasonable analyses of the movie, even if we don't fully agree with them entirely; and especially so given Ms Bernard's work as a professional film critic. This is what she is supposed to do. And then comes the next few paragraphs:

Is Gibson devout, or is he mad?

Had Gibson claimed Napoleon helped him direct, instead of divine spirits, the answer would be clear. Even so, a touch of madness is often a good thing in a director.

But "The Passion" feels like a propaganda tool rather than entertainment for a general audience.

OK, this is just getting ridiculous. Now, it's as if Jekyll and Hyde are writing the review. On a technical level with the writing, one would think one could separate the dispassionate review of the film with the enraged parts.

Ms Bernard continues:

Is it anti-Semitic?


Jews are vilified, in ways both little and big, pretty much nonstop for two hours, seven minutes.

Gibson cuts from the hook nose of one bad Jewish character to the hook nose of another in the ensuing scene.

Unless we're really not remembering things right, we don't recall that the slave who got his ear cut off, the Twelve Apostles, Mary, Mary Magdalene, the dissenting priests, the wailing people along the crucifixion route, Simon of Cyrene, the good thief next to Christ, the kids who found Judas Iscariot a bit strange, and many others were vilified in the movie. We didn't even think the crowds were vilified either. Caiaphas, yes. A few of the priests, perhaps. But we honestly don't see how one can make such a blanket statement.

He misappropriates an important line from the Jewish celebration of Pesach ("Why is this night different from all other nights?") and slaps it onto a Christian context.

Most unforgivable is that Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), the Roman governor of Palestine who decreed that Jesus be crucified, is portrayed as a sensitive, kind-hearted soul who is sickened by the tortures the Jewish mobs heap upon his prisoner.

Back to rationality again. Now, we do see how people might get offended at this, and it is Ms Bernard's job to point something like this out. We can see where it fit in this film, but we have no doubt that might annoy some people; just as if someone appropriated Christian verse and applied it to a movie promoting, perhaps, Buddhism. And, as we've said, we don't agree with the portrayal of Pilate.

The most offensive line of the script, which was co-written by Gibson with Benedict Fitzgerald, about Jews accepting blame, was not cut from the movie, as initially reported. Only its subtitle was removed.

Would readers fluent in Aramaic kindly raise their hands? OK, that would be no one -- or at least not many of you. (We have a lot of university readers). Removing the subtitle is, for all intents and purposes, the same as removing the line; because only a few scholars would be able to tell the difference. The average viewer is not going to follow the Latin, much less the Aramaic. They just aren't.

"Passion" assumes the audience already knows Christianity 101, and plunges right into the aftermath of the Last Supper. Taunted by an effeminate, seductive Satan and anticipating betrayal, Christ suffers.

Oh, does He suffer.

The movie is a compendium of tortures that would horrify the regulars at an S&M club. Gibson spares not one cringing closeup to showcase what he imagines Jesus must have endured.

The lashings are so brutal that chunks of flesh go flying and blood rains like outtakes of "Kill Bill."

And back again we go! This is something that many viewers have said; without a religious background, a viewer would have no context. And it's a legitimate argument. Of course, this did get Christians to go back and study the New Testament again, so perhaps that's a good thing. Also, we think the description of the violence ... well, it's crudely expressed, but we see no fault in that description.

One quibble, though. Satan was not seductive. Satan looks, as one friend of ours noted, like Marilyn Manson. Ick.

The Romans capture their prey with the help of a terminally regretful Judas, then haul Him around to be whipped, beaten, spat upon, mutilated and finally crucified - all with the cheering encouragement of a ghoulish mob of Jews. No one in the crowd speaks up for Jesus, not even, strangely, his mother (Maia Morgenstern).

Religious intolerance has been used as an excuse for some of history's worst atrocities. "The Passion of the Christ" is a brutal, nasty film that demonizes Jews at an unfortunate time in history.

Whatever happened to the idea that the centerpiece of every major religion is love?

This isn't a movie review. It's a Tilt-a-Whirl. A clumsy Tilt-a-Whirl, too.

We must ask -- what exactly did Ms Bernard want out of "The Passion?" Did she want it to appear like a debate in the General Assembly of the United Nations? Did she not want any of the violence in it? What?

We ask, because if we knew this, we would know why she so disliked it. As it stands now, we can't understand why she did; because she finds fault with the movie that we can't see. And this really bothers us. It bothers us because both our natural conclusions in the matter are so disagreeable: either we are completely missing a whole lot that we ought not be missing, or Ms Bernard has allowed her outlook on life to obscure the truth of what this film was, and what it meant to viewers like us.

In the film, of course, Pilate asks Christ, "What is truth?" It seems that nearly two thousand years after Pilate spoke those words, we as a society -- as human beings -- are still arguing that question. Perhaps we will do so until the end of time. But it seems such a pity that we must.

* Just for the record: we detest Chairman Mao and consider this quote to have the same intellectual gravity as Ford's outlandish saying that "history is bunk." But in this one isolated example, it serves our purpose.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack