May 29, 2004

It Gives One Indigestion Just Thinking About It

IT IS NOT OFTEN we read an argument which causes us physical pain, but then it is not often we read something which goes so strongly against certain bedrock principles we hold very dear. You see, we were following various links about this morning, looking for interesting things, and we noticed a British blogger who has called for a ban on junk-food advertisements in that nation. They're inconvenient, you see.

Yes, that is the rationale offered. The blogger advancing this argument, who goes by the sobriquet of "Harry," explains as follows. We've made a few changes, in parentheses, just for clarity's sake:

Then there are the burger chains particular(ly) McDonalds who use the oldest trick in the book for bribing kids - they offer them a free toy. My daughter once confessed she doesn't actually like hamburgers or chicken nuggets but still when she sees the golden arches she demands we stop.

So on the one hand we as parents are getting all this information and encouragement to choose the healthy options and yet we allow the enemies of a nutritious diet to beam their propaganda into our homes, through children's television channels ...

... These (Government-run) educational campaigns are only a waste of money if we allow them to be outflanked by those who spend millions on encouraging kids away from a healthy lifestyle.

Is it not now time for the junk food dealers to be given the same treatment as those who trade in alcohol and tobacco?

It is high time we had a blanket ban on advertising unhealthy products to kids.

What do you think?

Now, we cannot generally complain with Harry's tone here, as he lays out his argument in a straightforward and modest manner; so modest, in fact, that one might even call it milquetoast. Well, OK, not milquetoast. The "enemies of a nutritious diet" bit sounds like war propaganda. Our point is merely that we do not agree with his position -- but we couldn't really argue with the tenor of the post, you know? It was polite.

But then we saw Harry's response to those commenting on his stand, and we felt rather apoplectic all of a sudden. Awful feeling, that; it wears on the nerves and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And so, with the fires of Hades at our backs, we decided we would have to offer a public condemnation of the offending response, along with rebutting the substance of the argument itself.

For when one reasonable respondent pointed out that Harry could tell his daughter No when she asked for various unhealthy food items, Harry's response was this:

I do. But why should I have to?

Oh, well, because you're a man, that's why. Why should I have to indeed. Good Lord, why should we have to pay our bills and get our car's oil changed and clean the bath? It's part of life.

Now we were not alone in feeling this way; not fifteen minutes after Harry wrote his response, the same respondent made a similar point, noting that Harry was indeed a father and implying that such things were his job. At this, Harry parried, writing as follows:

Ok, forget the parenting angle for a moment and look at this way Emily. We spend millions on educating kids to eat healthy food. Yet we let those who undermine these efforts to push their products in the face of our kids.

Why? What harm would it do to ban them?

Well, we're not going to forget the parenting angle, not a bit; for it is that which is central to the discussion.

Now, back when we were growing up -- that would be the Eighties -- we grew up in a home where our parents did their very best to ensure we ate properly. A key proviso of this regime was that, in our youth, fast food was a relatively rare thing and sugary sodas were difficult to obtain. Indeed, we were alloted but one (1) can of Coca-Cola per week -- on Sundays -- and even then it was caffeine-free so it was No Fun. But even then we enjoyed it!

While our memories of that time are of course a bit hazy, we can also say that an important part of this regime was the fact our parents said No rather frequently. They did so even though we were undoubtedly horrible about the whole thing, and caused rather a fuss, but hey.

We will admit that times have changed now, and that when we eventually find a girl and get married and have children, we may eat out more frequently than we did when we were growing up. Still, we have figured out plans to ensure the kids turn out all right. The first linchpin of our scheme is that we won't take them to any fast-food restaurant unless we are in truly dire straits. The second linchpin is that we plan to hammer home Important Life Lessons While The Kids Are Younger. That way they'll actually listen to us. And the third and final linchpin is that we shall endeavor to make every moment a teachable moment, as such:

KIDS: Daddy! Daddy! We want hamburgers!

US: Hamburgers? Well, we can do that, but we'll have to go to Ted's House of Ribs. Mmmmm. Ribs.

KIDS: NOOOOOOO. We want toys!

US: Kids, remember what I said a few nights ago, when you saw the commercials on television and you wanted the toys? Remember how we talked about the way they were made?

WIFE: Oh, God, Ben. Not the Chinese sweatshop lecture again.

US: Sweetie, it's better they learn it now. They'll learn it sometime, and what if they learned about the new economic realities on the playground?

WIFE: I'll remember that in a few years.

US: Cute -- anyway, kids, it's not only that, though. Remember how we talked about how the food wasn't as healthy as a meal at home? Remember how we talked about how Daddy ate that food all the time and he didn't exercise at all and all that combined together made him unhealthy?

SON: Yeah! You were fat and had diabetes!

US: Right! (Mind your tone when you speak to your father). Now, what's another important reason to have a good sit-down meal?

DAUGHTER: You get -- yech -- vegetables.

US: Exactly! And you want to be healthy when you grow up, right?

KIDS: Yeah.

US: Bravo. Now -- for an extra quarter in your allowance -- tell me another reason why it's important for us to dine out at Ted's.

KIDS: You bought their zero-coupon bonds!

US: Yes! And I bought them at 36 cents on the dollar, and they're going to mature in just three years! And we want to make sure they mature because they're part of the aggressive portion of your Section 529 plans! Good job!

KIDS: Can we have the quarters now?

US: Sure thing. Here you go.

WIFE: Oh, Ben! Honestly.

KIDS: Hey! You only gave us fifteen cents each!

US: Did you think they'd be treated any different than your regular allowance?

KIDS: Yeah, but ...

US: Sorry, guys. Even the raises get taxed and socked away in the retirement accounts.

KIDS: WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Now, we realize that such plans could pose potential problems: after all, what if our wife was having a bad day, and the last thing she wanted was for the kids to get upset because we had introduced them yet again to the vicious realities of the modern world of work? Then we might end up spending the night on the sofabed in the guest bedroom. But no sacrifice, of course, would be too great for our children.

As for the advertisements, we think there's a simple way to counteract their pull: namely, tone down the amount of television the kids watch and making sure they watch good television.

Back when we were very young, our parents did this by monopolizing (as was their right) the nice television set in the family room for their shows. This meant we spent more than one late afternoon watching that one channel which showed a combination of community-news announcements and stock tickers, and looking for various equity prices and reporting on their changes in valuation to Mr Kepple. Then, after a television-free dinner, it was on to the Nightly Business Report and, if it was Friday, that one talking-heads show followed by Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser. Gawd, we even memorized the frickin' Wall $treet Week theme; we still know it by heart. Hence, we are living proof that such schemes work, although we don't think our parents had actually planned for such a thing to happen.

Of course, a few years later we started watching Nickelodeon and everything went to hell with adolescence.

But the point holds: we never felt any real draw to fast-food when we were young, and we still try to avoid it today. What really did us in was the lack of physical exercise; and if we had done more of it over the years, we'd be in much better shape. We don't fault our folks for this one bit -- there comes a time when one can't force a kid to do ANYTHING, and this was one thing we just didn't want to do. For that matter, we still don't. But we'll get it eventually. So will most of the kids these days, if they're pointed in the right direction.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

This Glacial-Paced Flick Can Wait 'Til The Day After Tomorrow

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
BAD CINEMA WITH BEN

Today's Film: "The Day After Tomorrow"

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, it seems those in charge of promoting various movies take pride in the scenes which earn their films restrictive ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America. True, they don't generally go over the top in such matters; we have yet to see a ratings warning trumpeting the very hot love scene between Actor A and Actress B. However, "The Day After Tomorrow's" warning still has that breathless feel to it: rated PG-13 for INTENSE SITUATIONS OF PERIL.

The hell they were. Gawd.

Never has a disaster movie portrayed the end of the world as we know it in such a lacksadasial manner. It was as if the entire cast and crew got doped up on Xanax before filming, and then transferred that lovely feeling of sedation onto the silver screen. This laid-back feeling wasn't limited to the human actors in the movie, either; the two true Scenes O' Destruction could be best described as underwhelming and uninspired.

Of course, the disaster scenes weren't entirely disappointing. Seeing tornadoes erase a good portion of Los Angeles was cool, although only because we got a chance to look for our former residence near Venice Beach. A decent job was done with the tidal wave hitting Manhattan, although we must say we remain amazed at how actors are able to outrun even the fastest-moving natural disasters.

"It's like my stock options after the tech bubble burst." In this scene from "The Day After Tomorrow," Sam Hall (Jake Gyllenhaal) really regrets his decision to leave General Electric for a job on Silicon Alley. (PHOTO CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox)

Anyway, here's the plot. Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, a climatologist for the U.S. Government who traipses around the world doing research. When he's not doing this, he spends his days annoying high-level Government officials and making dire predictions at United Nations climate conferences. Normally, this would get him shipped back to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, but a giant storm conveniently breaks out in the interim. This gives him a chance to further harangue said top-level officials.

Meanwhile, Scottish researchers are doing all the heavy lifting. They figure out the Gulf Stream is shutting down, which is leading to havoc all over the globe. They last long enough to get this critical data to the Americans, who then analyze it and realize the world is in deep trouble. However, they conveniently arrive at this conclusion too late to save New York or Los Angeles. This sets up the stage for Jack to undertake a quixotic quest to save his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is holed up with a few fellow survivors of nature's fury at the New York Public Library.

But wait, you ask. If Hall is a climatologist, and has reason to believe the world is in deep trouble, why would he have let Sam go on a trip to New York with classmates from school? Other reviewers have also asked that question, and our answer is: beats the hell out of us. Also, to be fair, it wasn't entirely clear the world was going to hell in a handbasket when Sam's folks signed his permission slip.

Here in New York, though, there are Subplots Aplenty: such as scenes dealing with Sam's crush on classmate Laura (Emmy Rossum), an argument over which books to burn for warmth (leading to the best lines in the film, we thought) and so on. In short, it's all very contrived, but they get a few good lines out of the whole deal.

But the fact it's so contrived also leads to the question: why the devil is the movie so bloody slow?. Good Lord. All the good stuff is over an hour into the film, and the second half doesn't even come close to carrying the burden of stupid dialogue, outrageous plot points, and everything else which the filmmakers forced onto it.

The really damnable thing about "The Day After Tomorrow" is how bloody laid-back it all is. That's what really does it in.

Look, we don't think it's too much to ask for a little bit of insanity to break out among the characters portrayed. Western Civilization is, after all, ending; and as such, one would expect a good portion of the populace to riot and loot, to say nothing of running around screaming in terror. Yet this was the most orderly civilization-shattering destruction ever seen on screen.

The true scope of how pathetic it all was really comes to light when one compares "The Day After Tomorrow" with "The Midnight Sun," an old episode of "The Twilight Zone."

The thing which Rod Serling got -- and which Roland Emmerich still hasn't -- is that generally speaking, people don't hold up too well under these types of circumstances. They just don't. As an example, here's one scene from "The Midnight Sun" which puts it all in perspective. Norma and her landlady, Mrs Bronson, are listening to the radio in Norma's apartment:

NORMA (to Mrs Bronson): I think I was the calmest person in the store. One woman just stood in the middle of the room and cried. (pause) Cried like a baby; pleading for someone to help her ...

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, this is station WNYG, coming on the air to bring you essential news. First, a bulletin from the Police Department: keep your doors locked, and prepare to protect yourselves if necessary with any weapons you might have. The majority of the police force has been assigned to the crowded highways outside this deserted city, and citizens remaining in New York may have to protect themselves from the cranks and looters known to be roaming the streets.

From the weather bureau ... the temperature stood at 110 degrees at 11 o'clock this morning. Humidity 91 percent. Forecast for tomorrow ... forecast for tomorrow ... hot. More of the same, only hotter -- I don't care! Who are they kidding with this weather report stuff?

Ladies and gentlemen! Tomorrow you can fry eggs on sidewalks, heat up soup in the ocean and get help from wandering maniacs if you choose! What d'you mean, panic? Who's left to panic? Heh. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm told that my departing from the script might panic you, and -- let me alone! D'you hear me? Let me alone! Let go of me!

(instrumental music)

The entire episode is full of things like that, and it's an accurate portrayal of what happens to people when catastrophe strikes. It is not flashy or showy or preachy. There are no amazing scenes of destruction. But it is very well done.

Interestingly enough, aside from one major twist at the end, "The Midnight's Sun's" plot is exactly the opposite that of "The Day After Tomorrow." It is a shame that statement can be applied across the board in comparing the two. For had things been different, "The Day After Tomorrow" could have been a pretty good movie. Instead, it was so poorly received that once it finished, people bolted for the doors; and a couple of folks even got up and left before it was over. Perhaps they just wanted to go outside and enjoy a few minutes of the sun.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 27, 2004

In the Eye of the Beholder, After All

IT WAS A BAD DAY for visual artists in England yesterday. For as we learned via Brian Micklethwait, the London-based Samizdata correspondent, a large warehouse fire in the City destroyed many works of modern art; and furthermore, many of that nation's leading art collectors considered these works Quite Important.

In an article from The Guardian which Mr Micklethwait helpfully provides, the scope of the loss is catalogued:

Today a painful task will begin in Leyton, east London: picking through the remains of a devastating fire which destroyed a huge warehouse containing priceless works of art.

Many of the lost works are from the collection of Charles Saatchi. It is thought that they may include Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell.

Tracey Emin's famous Everyone I Have Ever Slept With may be another: the tent appliqued with the names of her past lovers was the star of the famous Royal Academy Sensation! exhibition and to many became emblematic of the endeavours of a generation of young British artists. "I don't know what specific pieces have been lost," Mr Saatchi said yesterday. "So far it has been a day of many rumours." ...

... The confusion about which pieces have succumbed stems partly from Momart's uncertainty about what was stored in the building, Mr Saatchi said. Work by Sarah Lucas, famed for substituting parts of the human body with poultry, fried eggs and vegetables in her pieces, was also feared to have been destroyed.

Now, we must say we felt awfully guilty upon reading Mr Micklethwait's response to this development. After all, as a writer, there is nothing we fear more than fire in terms of potential loss to our work; although in our case it is the destruction of unfinished material that is of concern. After all, once we publish our work on the blog or anyplace else, it has been disseminated. Yet we can see why this news would cause instinctive pain to any visual artist or painter, because one can't really replace destroyed artwork. As such, we are ashamed to say we found Mr Micklethwait's response, well, a bit funny:

"No no no. This was not "devastating." This was an art happening. These people need to dispense with their outdated ways of seeing so-called "reality" and instead look at the world in a new way. This fire did not destroy, it merely moved some objects from one state of being to another Ö We need to think beyond "specific pieces" to the totality of life ...

Now, we do of course understand Mr Micklethwait's point. It is quite a stretch for most rational people to go along with getting lectured -- that word is too-often accurate -- from artists about how they see the world. We can further see the satisfaction one might derive from throwing artists' pseudo-analysis back at them; even if seizing upon a relative tragedy is awfully cruel.

But, moving on, we do owe a debt to Mr Micklethwait for pointing out this Guardian story to us, as it seizes upon several broad ideas which we don't understand. First, the idea that art is priceless; second, why modern art gets the acclaim it does; third, why the loss of the destroyed artwork represents a great loss to society as a whole.

On the first point, it seems clear that a better word to describe art would be irreplacable. For it stands to reason that art is not priceless per se. Art may provide much in the way of intangible pleasures, yes, but the intangibles impact the tangible piece of artwork. Hence, art has a price; that is how artists earn their living, and at least part of why art collectors buy the stuff -- it may go up in value.

To take that a step further, while we have no doubt Mr Saatchi stores great sentimental and emotional value in the art he had bought, we can also surmise that its destruction will result in an insurance settlement. Thus, art has a price. Q. E. D.

Admittedly, we can't say we envy Mr Saatchi's insurance adjusters, as well as the adjusters for the other collectors who lost works in the fire. For one wonders how to set a fair-market value on a large tent on which an artist has emblazoned the names of her ex-lovers. True, we could have looked at such a work and -- after a bit -- said, ah, there's a point; but for the most part, we would have looked at the thing and questioned its value as art. It's a frickin' tent with names on it. How is this any different from someone spray-painting an overpass?

Now, perhaps it's just us, but it seems few art critics today admit that part of what makes art art is that an artist has a skill. A painter, for instance, has the job of putting onto an easel a representation of the things which he is painting. Professional painters do that job better than those who are not professionals. The same goes for actors and writers and musicians and so on down the line. For try as one might, one can't get away from the fact that some people are better -- due to training, talent, and time invested -- at certain skills than others.

We may be able to write a decent sentence here or there, but we sure as hell can't fix our car if it decides to have a mechanical failure. Why should a similar concept not hold when it comes to art? Yet given the weird and preposterous critical acclaim given to badly-conceived visual art these days, it would appear the old standards have gone out the window. There used to be a difference between judging art and judging politics, even if an artwork was inherently political.

The end result, to borrow a line from Matt, the Telegraph's cartoonist, is that the average Joe seeing visual art these days instinctively thinks his three-year-old could do a better job. And one also wonders how much acclaim a future era's critics would have given some of the destroyed art, especially if the art in question was the noxious tent with the artist's lovers named on it. If in the future they greatly dislike such things, would that not impact just how much of a loss was actually suffered in the here and now?

Of course, perhaps they would think such art brilliant. Beauty is all in the eye of the beholder, after all.

* * *

SPEAKING OF BEAUTY -- although a different kind -- we took note of this article in the New York Times about attractive women who play classical music. We are fans of classical music, so of course we highly approve of this trend; but it seems that some in the classical-music world are having trouble dealing with it.

This to us is silly. When it comes right down to it, we don't think that hard-core classical music fans are going to buy recordings based on the fact the soloist is a fox. The quality of the orchestra, yes; the quality of the recording, yes; the music itself, yes; but the fact the soloist is a babe? No. In such a highly-competitive field, looks alone will not seal the deal. They just won't. And while we will admit that looks could give a performer a boost when it came to a live performace, we do not think even the most beautiful performer could count on her looks to erase the consequences of hitting bad notes.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

At Least It Wasn't Tuna Fish

WHOA. NOW HERE'S SOMETHING you don't see every day.

According to this news report, a criminal on trial in Beaumont, Texas, successfully disabled the electroshock-belt he was wearing ... with a ham sandwich. The unidentified man, who was later convicted on aggravated robbery charges, proceeded to attack a witness who had testified to his anti-social behavior.

(via Geoff Brown)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 26, 2004

On the Straight and Narrow Highway, a Directing Sign is Found

Oh No!
It's Time for Another Installment of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED

A Recurring Rant Feature

------

YES, IT'S TIME AGAIN to provide Quick and Easy Enlightenment to those Rant readers who have arrived here via a search engine. Readers unfamiliar with this recurring feature, which we write about once a month, should know we provide this as a service to readers who inquire about varied topics. For these folks, it's a reflecting sign which they can let shine within their mind, showing them the colors that are real.

OK, so we don't know exactly what that means. But our marketing people said using that phrase would prove we're "far out" and "with it." Anyway, let's let the spinning wheel spin, shall we?

QUERY: michelle duggar

ANSWER: We would direct readers to our entry from April 9 about the Duggars of Springdale, Ark. Apparently they now have fifteen children, and still want more.

QUERY: public nudity

ANSWER: For the last time, we most certainly do NOT have anything related to that here. We have every intention of keeping our site safe for God-fearing Americans who visit during their lunch hours, or what was their lunch hour before work forced them to eat at their desks.

QUERY: random knowledge

ANSWER: We can't believe we're the 15th site on Google for this term. On the other hand, our post about random knowledge is certainly random knowledge indeed, as nobody remembers John Law anymore.

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ANSWER: EV'-RY-BO-DY ... wants to rule the world. That said: no, we bloody well don't. If Americans had wanted to rule the world, we wouldn't have given back the Philippines, now would we?

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ANSWER: According to this excellent guide book we just bought, the proper Englishman wears a frock coat, a grass skirt, and one of those big giant buffalo hats. Also, remember that when visiting Britain, it is "good form" to compliment the locals on their excellent English, and to make loud and snarky remarks in the pubs about gasoline prices. The stuff costs nearly $7 per gallon at present exchange rates, you see.

What d'you mean, the book's wrong? It's got a Hungarian-English phrase guide and everything!

I will not buy this record, it is scratched.

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ANSWER: Ayuh.

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ANSWER: That would be the pets.com sock puppet.

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ANSWER: Keep dreaming!

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ANSWER: Somewhere, someone got a really large fine.

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ANSWER: That would have earned it at least a half-star.

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ANSWER: You know, if you splurge on the fancy stuff, you'll find it's made from grapes.

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ANSWER: Ouch.

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ANSWER: Face it, you're going to have to actually hire counsel to represent you in that nasty business involving you, your lawn mower, the neighbor's kid and that very large rock in the yard. Of course, the fact folks are all calling it the "Mikey Smith tragedy" isn't helping matters.

QUERY: why we should not judge people by their clothes

ANSWER: You don't sound like the type who needs to read the answer, but here it is: judging one's friends on the clothes they wear is just foolish; and in terms of choosing a romantic partner, it is again generally unhelpful, given that one wants to ascertain the heart and soul of a potential mate. On the other hand, in business, one should pay acute attention to such things. That is not so much an issue of clothing; after all, con men dress very well. But with just a few seemingly-innocent questions, one can separate out the serious contenders from the intellectual lightweights.

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ANSWER: See what we mean?

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ANSWER: It's on Lincoln Boulevard, but in Santa Monica, not Los Angeles, if we recall correctly. Offers both good coffee and reasonably-priced legal services. Quite frankly, we're surprised no one in California dreamed up such a concept before.

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ANSWER: Who's Brittany Murphy? For that matter, if we even knew who Brittany Murphy was, how would we know ... OK, we just did a Google image search. Gad. Well, we certainly can't speak as to her weight, but she is awfully thin. Perhaps it's just us, but we just don't find that look very attractive.

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Well, that's it for this edition of "Your Search Engine Queries Answered," a regular Rant feature. Tune in next month for more amazing searches which actually brought people here to The Rant -- for if this month was any indication, next month's going to be a real lulu.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 PM | TrackBack

May 25, 2004

We Noticed the Ring

BECAUSE WE HERE at The Rant concern ourselves with Important Ethical Issues on a daily basis, we were wondering: should women keep their engagement rings if they decide not to get married to the men who gave them the rings?

Now, obviously, we haven't any experience in purchasing a ring. But as we would not have access to any heirloom gems we could use in lieu of doing that, we shall have to buy a ring somewhere down the line. And we know that buying a decent diamond ring for a lady is no joke.

For long ago, out of curiosity, we did some research into how much a quality ring would cost; and to our great shock, we found that a one-carat diamond ring will run roughly five thousand dollars. But while the diamond cartel's suggestion that spending two months' pay on a ring seems a bit silly to us, our research also suggested that buying anything less than a half-carat these days brands one as a cad, a bad provider and a general ne'er-do-well.

Hence the conundrum. Obviously, a respectable man wants to provide his fiancee with a proper ring; and as it shows his commitment to a lady, he does not want to be cheap about it. We're not experts when it comes to dating or relationships; but even we know that having to say "it looks just like a diamond," "I thought you wouldn't notice," and "but it was on sale" are effective and quick ways to buy one a months-long stay on the Living Room Sofa.

On the other hand, spending five thousand on a ring only to have one's beloved spurn one is not exactly a winning proposition. After all, that's two years of car payments on a reasonable vehicle, or 20 months' worth of contributions to one's Roth IRA; and the loss of such capital would represent quite a blow to a young man's savings account.

True, if one is rich, the economics of it all likely matter much less. Then it becomes mostly a matter of pride. As such, we would submit that when Mr Andrew Firestone found out his television-arranged fiancee was keeping the ring on which he spent many thousands of dollars, his ego may have been rather bruised by the whole affair:

Jen Schefft says she and Andrew Firestone of "The Bachelor" have a bond despite their split ó and she's got the engagement ring.

"Obviously, it's a beautiful ring and Andrew said that he bought that for me and that it was mine to keep, so I'm gonna keep it," Schefft says on "The Bachelor: After the Final Rose."

Last May, Firestone proposed to Schefft on the season finale of "The Bachelor." Their breakup was announced in December.

Now the above quotes are from an Associated Press article on the matter; and if Mr Firestone has a response, it was not recorded there. However, we do wonder greatly how strong the bonds between the two are if Ms Schefft is crowing on national television about keeping the rock. That was unseemly and gauche. It is enough, we would suggest, to make a man think Mr Firestone may have escaped from the whole ordeal rather lightly.

However, we certainly do not wish to deliver a one-size-fits-all pronouncement on the issue; and we do think there are circumstances in which it is right and proper for a lady to keep the ring which a man has given her.

For instance, if a man does not hold to the commitment which the diamond ring signifies, we think it perfectly reasonable for a woman to keep the ring. In fact, we think women ought do that in such cases. At the very least, don't do anything rash and throw it back at him in anger, or subject it to the garbage disposal, or what not; that gets chalked up as a "win" in a man's mind, and you don't want that to happen if your man turns out to be a louse.

As a quite-pertinent example, we cite the unfortunate case of Ms Ali Landry and her now ex-husband. The gossip sheets say that Ms Landry's ex-husband was quite a cad, and was most unfaithful to her, even in the days leading up to their wedding. This was made even more amazing by the fact that Ms Landry's ex-husband was That Guy Who Played Slater on "Saved by the Bell."

Really, now. We're sorry, but if you're A-C-Freaking-Slater and you, through luck or craft, somehow manage to convince Ali Landry -- the very foxy Doritos girl -- to marry you, you ought act like a man should. And so, given our reasoning stated above, we hope Ms Landry kept his ring, and decided to auction it on eBay at the first possible moment.

However, it might not be a bad idea were she to have it appraised first. We're just saying.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:13 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Kepple: Live and in Color

THE VIDEO OF OUR appearance on New England Cable News has now been posted on-line. We're featured in the clip found at the very bottom of the page; the segment is about five minutes.

Here's a video still which a friend of ours captured from the show; it's been cropped a bit and deletes the marquee with our name, but we think it rocks. The whole clip is here.

We should probably note, as our employer is prominently noted on-screen in the clip, that our blog is an entirely independent endeavor and is fully separate from our work there. That's noted in the introductory paragraph to the NECN story, and we mentioned that in the clip itself; but we do feel we ought mention it here too, just to ensure there's no confusion. Finally, we'd also again like to thank New England Cable News for having us on the show. We had a lot of fun!

---------
UPDATE, 11:43 PM: If the link to the clip has "fallen off" the main NECN screen, click here for their Science/Technology section.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 23, 2004

Welcome!

WE'D LIKE TO OFFER a very warm welcome to viewers of New England Cable News' "Talk of New England" program, which aired on Monday, May 24, at 9:30 a.m. If all went well, readers will have actually seen us on the show, and are now visiting us as a result.

And if all went well on our end, we now have the technical capabilities to handle each and every visit. We hope we did not screw it up. The test of this, naturally, is whether you are actually reading this message, or you are reading some weird error script which informs you that your request Did Not Pass Go, That You Shall Not Collect $200, That The Little Car Thingy Has Been Impounded by the Authorities, and Also, Your Wheelbarrow's in the Shop. We sincerely hope the former situation applies!

If it does, then we invite you to have a look around; not only at our own site, but also at the excellent sites to the left which we have carefully chosen using our Patented SavvyLink(TM) Process. We have every confidence you'll find those sites engaging, witty and fun to read. Again, welcome.

As for the Loyal Rant Readers who are reading this message and wondering what the deuce we're talking about; well, the long and short of it is that we're scheduled to appear on New England Cable News on Monday at 9:30 a.m. That's in roughly twelve hours or so. Anyway, this is your chance to see us live and in color, as the broadcasters say. We'll be discussing blogs.

So if you live in the six New England states and you get New England Cable News (check your local cable listings) -- check us out!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:23 PM | TrackBack

May 22, 2004

The Old City v. Suburb Debate

MEG McARDLE HAS a good discussion going over at her site about the merits of raising children in the city versus raising them outside of it.

We must say that having no children ourselves, we are glad we haven't any need to worry about such things. All we can do is look at our own experience growing up -- which, in retrospect, was pretty idyllic -- and compare accordingly, now that we've had a few years out in the world.

We grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. As a student and then an adult, we have lived in Ann Arbor, Mich.; a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; and now, Manchester, N.H. Of all these places, we can say hands down that our favorite was Ann Arbor.

For university towns really do offer the best of both worlds. They offer some semblance of urbanity, while still maintaining the higher quality of life one generally finds in a suburb. You'll find great restaurants and cultural events and good bookstores and a cinema that actually shows old or off-beat movies and sporting events and everything else. And if you're lucky, you'll live in a university town where you can walk to everything, but it's not prohibitively expensive to keep your automobile.

This, as we see it, is good not only for adults but their children as well. For the kids will have plenty of things to do, and they won't face many of the dangers or drawbacks which are unfortunately a part of city life. Los Angeles was a great place to live when we were younger, but the unfortunate realities of life which we experienced there (crime, congestion, bad air and an insane cost of living) made it a completely unpalatable place to raise one's children. Oh, don't get us wrong, one does the best one can, no matter where one lives. But that doesn't mean there aren't places which offer a better quality of life for families.

Now, certainly Kalamazoo and Manchester offer a great quality of life for families, particularly Manchester. We must say we consider our present city of residence a fabulous place to raise a family. (If only we had one!) The schools are good, there is virtually no crime, housing is still affordable, and it is easy to get around. But even for a younger person, the Queen City isn't all that bad, and it's getting better with each passing day.

Now, we note that much of the discussion over at Ms McArdle's site discusses living in the City, with a capital C. To us, it is an interesting exchange, but not one that really hits us on a gut level; we couldn't imagine living in New York for any amount of money. It is not that the place is too large or too expensive -- that's something with which we could deal -- but it is simply too different, even when compared to our life in Los Angeles and Washington.

Perhaps it is our Midwestern upbringing, but the idea that one can live in or near a city -- but still not have a house -- is just odd, at least in terms of raising a family. If God ordains that we remain single for our entire life, we have no doubt we'll end up in a condominium. But good heavens! we can't imagine raising our kids in an environment without a yard. Perhaps if we actually lived in New York for a bit we could adjust to such a concept. But until that happens, we'll stick with a plan of action we know works.

That said, we do note that one aspect of the conversation deals with having one's kids become maddened at living in places which to them, are quite boring. When we were growing up, the old joke about our city was There's Nothing to Do in Kalamazoo.

That's funnier if you know the city's de facto motto was "Yes, There Really Is a Kalamazoo!" Still, it is a fair point. How we wanted out of the place by the time we were finished with high school! But, as it turned out, we did in fact get out of there -- and went about as far away as we could get.

That's a typical reaction for many kids, we think, and in our case it was expected. We have long believed that one must go where the work is; and if that means we stay here in Manchester for the rest of our days, or end up in Memphis or Richmond or Ann Arbor ten years hence, then so be it. We further have no doubt that our kids, when we have them, will eventually come to understand.

Someday, at any rate.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 21, 2004

Here's the Truth: That's Just Wrong

WE SHOULD START by saying that we have never much cared for the word "fired." It is a relatively inelegant term for unfortunate circumstances, and as such, we have often preferred other terms in place of it. Others have as well, of course, but these terms are also imperfect. "Let go" is a euphemism; "downsized" is jargon; "rightsized" compounds the sin, and "uninstalled" is just silly. But that last word was actually used back during the tech boom, e.g., "uninstalled vice president."

No, the best word to use in such circumstances is "cashiered."

You see, the word "cashiered" makes perfectly clear to others that one has been drummed out of one's job for cause, yet does not sully the person doing the drumming. So our question is as follows: who, might we ask, is going to get cashiered for this?

For we would very much like to know who in the Hooters restaurant chain is going to get handed his last check, plus severance pay, on Monday morning. We don't need to know names; titles and positions will do. But we would like to know that one or more people will end up without gainful employment due to this, which is so appalling, so wretched, so ... just plain wrong ... that it can only bring shame and condemnation upon those responsible for it.

Click on the links. Go read the stories. Send an e-mail. Then reflect on the moral depravity which caused people to organize such things.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:06 PM | TrackBack

Low Carb Diets in Retreat

OH, THANK GOD. The whole low-carb craze has jumped the shark, according to this report in The Washington Post. It's about time, too.

Now there is much hand-wringing expressed in the article: arguments that God-fearing Americans don't understand the "lifestyle," complaints about falling sales and so on. Also, there are howlers throughout -- even in the story's lead:

The nation's appetite for low-carbohydrate foods seems bottomless, judging by the many low-carb products showing up in supermarkets and the new menu items at restaurants and fast-food chains. And when Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. recently announced slowing sales, it put part of the blame on low-carb diets.

Gee. Last time we checked, in a developed capitalist economy such as ours, "supply" does not equal "demand." Also, perhaps it's just us, but we don't understand why a story about falling sales would start off with a nothing graf contradictory to everything else in the article.

Still, at least one fellow quoted in the Post's story fundamentally gets the problem with low-carb foods. Consider the words of Arne Bey, identified as president and chief executive of leading low-carb manufacturer Keto Foods LLC.

"Many food companies, and even some major food companies . . . have placed substandard-tasting products on the shelves," Bey said. "So what you then have is hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of trial purchasers who are disappointed, and therein lie the seeds of a contraction of demand."

In short: nearly all of it tastes like crap.

Now, of course we do not mean to impugn the quality and tastiness and general good-for-you-ness imbued in Keto Foods' offerings. That said, had we but thought of it, we could have told you a long time ago that nearly all the low-carb stuff out there tastes like crap. You see, we are diabetic; and as such, we have long experience trying out various diabetic-friendly foods which also taste like crap.

Consider our experience two weeks ago. We were out at the pharmacy, refilling the many prescriptions which keep our atrophied body functioning, and we noticed a small package of snack bars for diabetics. We knew these were aimed at diabetics, because of the brand: GLUCERNA.

Initially, because we do not like to be openly reminded of the fact we are diseased, we were not inclined to purchase the GLUCERNA brand of snack bars. Yet we bought them anyway, as the package claimed that the bars had been designed to release their carbohydrates over time, instead of releasing them in the usual spike into the bloodstream that normally occurs. What this meant in real terms was that instead of sugar, the company threw vats of sugar alcohol into the mix. The end result was that, unsurprisingly, the bars tasted like crap.

So, to recap: low-carb foods taste like crap. Should anyone manage to actually figure out how to make them not taste like crap, we have no doubt the world will be their oyster and vast wealth will await them. But we suspect that will be a long way off.

In the meantime, though, we must say we question certain elements of the story vis-a-vis the whole low carb craze, such as this sentence: "But some manufacturers are planning for a time when low-carb diets are no longer the consumer favorite."

When the devil were low-carb foods EVER the consumer favorite? Gad. We wouldn't touch a low-carb anything even if you paid us to do it. Well, if you paid us to do it, we'd eat GLUCERNA bars all day long, but never mind. Our point is that no matter how much one would wish otherwise, one cannot fashion a substitute for the goodness of carbohydrates. We are sorry, but this is the plain truth.

However, we would hate to see people give up a lifestyle choice just because certain prepared foods taste like crap. Here's a secret: if you stop eating carbohydrates, your body -- after four or five days of agonizing pain -- no longer hungers for them. So if you focus on quality foods -- by which we mean lots of beef -- you can counteract your body's natural cravings for carbohydrates by replacing it with its natural craving for protein. Also, eat a lot of vegetables.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Naming One's Children

LIKE MOST RIGHT-THINKING Americans, we too were befuddled to learn that Gwyneth Paltrow, who we understand is an actress, and musician Chris Martin recently named their first-born child "Apple."

Now, this was not merely because the infant weighed in at 9 lbs. 11 oz., and hence was more worthy of the name "Grapefruit." Rather, it was because we couldn't figure out why Mr Martin and Mrs Paltrow, who are reportedly both of sound mind, would give their child such an odd appellation. Fortunately, though, the good people at the Microsoft Corp. have given us a bit of perspective in this regard. Thanks to them, we now understand that in the strange parallel universe in which celebrities exist, such a decision was neither outlandish or impetuous. For in comparison to other celebrities' choices, "Apple" doesn't fall too far from the tree.

What?

Anyway, here's Microsoft's list of the worst celebrity baby names ever:

10. Rumer Glenn, Tallulah Belle and Scout LaRue, daughters of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore

9. Jett, son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston

8. Diezel and Denim, sons of Toni Braxton and Keri Lewis

7. Prince Michael, Prince Michael II (AKA Blanket), and Paris Michael, children of Michael Jackson

6. Speck Wildhorse and Hud, sons of John Mellencamp and Elaine Irwin

5. Pilot Inspektor, son of Jason Lee and Beth Riesgraf

4. Tu Morrow, daughter of Rob Morrow and Debbon Ayre (seriously)

3. Audio Science, son of Shannyn Sossamon and Dallas Clayton

2. Moon Unit, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan, Dweezil, and Diva, children of Frank Zappa

1. Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, and Pixie, daughters of the late Paula Yates (Tiger Lily's dad is the late Michael Hutchence; Bob Geldof is father to the other three)

Now we know folks will have myriad opinions on which of these names is the most appalling. For instance, it is bad form to name one's child after a cheap clothing material; and if one must name one's child after a motor fuel, one ought spell the name of the fuel correctly. Still, we would argue that the worst is unquestionably No 3, Audio Science.

You see, the trouble with that particular name is that it is adaptable to any profession. It is the equivalent of a librarian naming his son Dewey Decimal, or a plumber naming his daughter Roto Rooter. Speaking personally, we can say we very much like the name Benjamin; and are quite glad our parents did not instead name us Fundamentals Tracking, Zero Coupon, or General Ledger Kepple. Buying Opportunity Kepple would have been right out too.

Now, we know the traditional complaints about odd names for children. The other kids at school will tease the badly-named child mercilessly; the badly-named child will get into fights; the badly-named child will get into trouble with the law, etc. But we do not consider those things to be the worst outcome associated with an unfortunate name for a child.

The worst outcome, rather, is this. The Apples and the Moon Units and the Pilots of this world are now permanently saddled, as if a neon sign was placed over their heads, with an advertisement proclaiming that their parents are idiots. That, we think, is a horrible thing.

It's not just that every child wants and needs deeply, in his or her heart, to be proud of his or her folks. We live in a society which has come to prize intelligence above all other traits, because intelligence usually translates into earning power and hence social status. As such, in later life -- when these children begin their careers and start their own families -- their oddball names will prove a handicap. Now, that may not matter if the children in question have parents whose names everyone recognizes. But we can assure you that we -- and, we would submit, most folks -- haven't any idea who Shannyn Sossamon and Dallas Clayton are. Given that, you think Audio Science would get a job at Sotheby's?

Well, certainly Tu Morrow wouldn't. All the European buyers would blink rapidly upon hearing her name, make stilted conversation and break out into a cold sweat. Then one of them would, out of habit, call her Vous Morrow and that would be the end of everything. The end result is that the buyers would get their Faberge eggs from Christie's.

Of course, we realize the celebrities' children may have worse troubles than an unfortunate name. For one thing, they'll grow up in the public's eye, something which we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy. It is hard enough being a kid without feeling as if the whole world wants something from you. But in many ways, as their unfortunate names would seem to indicate, they will have to do quite the job at raising their parents. And that, like their names, goes strongly against the natural order.

(link via Allison Barnes)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:25 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

The Rant Will Return ...

... on Friday, May 21, 2004. We apologize for the temporary hiatus, caused by dyspepsia, lack of sleep, general fatigue, sinus troubles, aches, pains, and what may or may not be the gout. However, we can assure readers that we will have Great New Content on Friday. Scout's honor!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:09 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

It's a Good Thing Homer Was Blind ...

GAD. NOW THAT EVERYONE has let the cat out of the bag about "Troy," we realize we really wouldn't enjoy it all that much if we went to see it. This is unfortunate.

You see, when we saw "The Passion of the Christ," we noticed that "Troy" was one of about four films featured during the previews to the former movie. As we were impressed with such gutsiness -- this is back when everyone was condemning The Passion without seeing it -- we thought we would reward the distributors by plunking down $8 when "Troy" finally came out. Sadly, time has worn away our resolve, and the bad reviews we've seen of "Troy" basically finished it off.

Now, we note that Emily Jones has put the following question to the readers of her excellent site: "Is it acceptable for screenwriters and directors to take liberties with original works of fiction when translating them to film or is this too objectionable? Why?"

Our answer to this question is that it is acceptable for moviemakers to take some liberties with original works of fiction. However, they must be cautious; there is a difference between adapting -- say -- any Robert Ludlum novel, and adapting FRICKING HOMER for the silver screen. With the former, they can do anything they like as long as the actors show enough emotion to convey that Ludlum writes in all italics. With the latter, only time constraints should result in leaving things out, and they ought generally stick to the story as written.

Now, when we say "generally stick," we do see reason for exception. Including the Fall of Troy, as the reviewers say the filmmakers did, makes sense in terms of making a movie audiences will want to watch. On the other hand, in the old literature the Fall of Troy was not exactly pleasant. Basically, the poets wrote that it was conducted in such a downright wrong manner that it caused scandal and inquiries and all manner of chastisement. (Of course, this set up the stage for all the later poems, but never mind).

Anyway, our point is that the filmmakers screwed it up, as the New York Post's Jonathan Foreman has pointed out so well. They screwed up the Trojan Horse bit and they kept certain characters alive while killing off others and did far more than we have time to relate. Mr Foreman's done a fine job in this regard; see here for some more choice excerpts.

Still, we must admit we are disappointed to see that no critic has gone nuclear in condemning the film, simply because there is one condemnation so clever and so obscure that it fits perfectly for this occasion. While our failure to see the movie prevents us from offering it as criticism, we would like to offer it up to any critic who needs a quick and snappy review for the film, should they think the moviegoing public ought not watch it.

Now, readers who have studied the classics may be familiar with a lesser Greek poet known as Stesichorus. Stesichorus lived in the 7th and 6th centuries before Christ. He is little known today, but we personally believe he may be the first established curmudgeon in Western history. Sadly, only fragments of his poetry remain. But if the reviewers are correct, there is one fragment in particular which sounds quite fitting for this movie:

The story is not true.
You never sailed on the benched ships.
You never went to Troy.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 12, 2004

London!

AS WE HAVE just had a nice evening nap and our merely-adequate dinner is cooking in the oven, we figured we'd use the free minutes to do a short bit of blogging. The over-riding issue, of course, remains our upcoming vacation plans.

We are not, we should note, speaking of our June 2004 travel plans, as we have already decided to spend a week tromping around the East Coast: seeing friends, family, and 2.8 trillion cicada bugs which will undoubtedly all cluster outside the hotels at which we stay.

Nor do we speak of our 2006 travel plans, which we have already decided will involve us tromping around the South, the Pacific Northwest and Canada on a rather long car jaunt. For with this latter trip, we are considering inviting a friend -- that would be Simon -- along. This way, the both of us can engage in a road-trip of epic proportions, and test the limits of human endurance for cabin fever. It will be quite a sight when one of us finally loses it out in the wilds near Flin Flon, Manitoba, and beats the other senseless with a tire iron.

No, the vacation of which we speak will likely be sooner, and likely be solo -- unless God favors us most greatly and provides us with great wealth and incredible charm and really nice teeth. Then it would be a trip for two people, if you get our meaning. However, as we fear this is as likely as a visit from St James' ghost in the dead of night, we shall plan for a vacation on our own terms. And so, we declare that in 2005, we are considering paying a visit to London.

However, we must say that we are only considering it at this point.

For we note with grave alarm that it now takes $1.77 to purchase 1 GBP, when by rights that figure should rest around $1.50. If this unfortunate and irrational state of affairs were to hold, we would arrive in Old Blighty only to find the English people would snicker at us in a most unseemly matter.

But they would do more than just snicker. They would mutter under their breaths at our outlandish accent, and laugh as we exchanged our newly-communised money with its foofy peach and blue hues. About all we could do in defense is tell people we were really in town to buy the Wolverhampton football club, and then things would really get out of hand.

We should also add that as an American, we are naturally "frugal," by which we mean cheap. We have been told by reliable sources that in Britain, things which would generally cost $1 in America cost GBP 1, which means we would be ripped off something fierce on a daily basis and have no one to whom to complain. Also, as an American, we place a big emphasis on "value," by which we mean we secretly exult in getting a deal where we clearly make out hand over fist. We are worried there will be few opportunities in Britain for this, as we know that on the other side of the Atlantic, everything is more expensive and smaller in scale to boot. If the dollar is strong, this will not be as grating; but if it is weak, it would be the financial and emotional equivalent of getting hit in the head with a crowbar each day.

So, clearly we can see that our visit will depend much upon the dollar regaining its rightful post as the World's Premiere Currency. However, while we think it likely that will happen, currency considerations are not our only worry.

For we also understand that London is not all that safe; we heard recently that its crime rate was six times that of New York. Of course, given how well things are going in New York, quick math tells us that would mean London's crime rate is roughly twice as bad as New York's was in the Seventies. This is a bit troubling. New York was, after all, rather disturbing back then, if the films of that decade are any indication. And besides, they had gas rationing.

Of course, modern Britain does not have gas rationing; petrol just costs something like GBP 5 per gallon -- except they use liters, which is a whole 'nother ball of wax but never mind. Anyway, the point is that we would not be able to afford driving; and if we drove nonetheless, we'd end up in one of those tiny little Euro cars with the three-cylinder engines. We could not do this as our friends back home might want to see photos of our trip, and we'd naturally have one of us at the driver's seat of a Ford Commune or VW Bundesbank, and we wouldn't be able to live it down for months. This is another disadvantage.

A further disadvantage, of course, is that we are American. We fear this would not go over well with some on the "British street," especially if they brought up the war and all. The last thing we would need is to get in long, drawn-out arguments about why America really is a great and wonderful place, because we've been told that's frowned upon overseas. Instead, we would be forced to grit our teeth and smile weakly as we were informed we were the Devil's servant.

This would not be fun at all. About all we could do is hope beyond hope that the person was really an American expatriate, for in such cases international law would allow us to deck him without consequence. We have no doubt that once we explained to the constables that we were a crazy cowboy Yank, merely settling a dispute with a compatriot in a traditional manner, they would have no problems with the arrangement.

In the end, though, we'll admit that such fears are generally silly. After all, the dollar will rise eventually, the Internet is great for value-shopping, and "the Tube" is an excellent transport system. Also, we are hopeful that traditional British politeness will prevent any Briton who would criticize our nation from doing so to our face.

But all these things mask our true fear about a potential trip to London.

London really seems like a nice place in all the books and articles that we have read, and all the movies which we have seen. It seems quite cosmopolitan, and very trendy, and there are oodles of learned and erudite people, and one would never run out of things to do. Also, it's seemingly open all night. We approve highly of all these things. So what if we were to end up falling in love with the place? What if we fell so hard for it that we ended up wanting to do something crazy, like move there for good?

Ah well. How did the movie put it? Hang on tightly, let go lightly.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:26 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 11, 2004

Elder, on Cinema

WE WERE PLEASED to learn recently that we are not alone in holding embittered, misanthropic thoughts about the state of modern film. Hence, we would present a portion of a column from The Scotsman's Kirk Elder, who has written at length about the issue. We note with a bit of awe that Mr Elder has considerable fortitude in this regard -- how anyone could stomach sitting through one, much less three, truly horrible movies is beyond us. But then we are only one-third Scots.

Mr Elder writes:

But one should never rush to judgment, and since my last memory of going to the cinema was to see Chariots of Fire, in which I appeared momentarily as a spear-carrier, I decided to make a return visit.

It was not a happy experiment. The once-grand cinema has been carved into four small auditoriums, and instead of an informative newsreel, patrons are now bombarded with advertisements for mobile telephones.

I managed to endure three cinematic nightmares before my toothy gnashing caused the management to unload the ejector seat. These were 50 First Dates, Scooby-Doo 2 and Taking Lives. The first of these featured romantic nitwits in Hawaii, the second a computerised dog, and the third a policewoman who, despite being brilliant, didnít spot that the murderer was, quite obviously, the man she didnít suspect.

All three films were grimly competent. The seaside in Hawaii looked endearing, if disappointingly lacking in grass-skirted maidens; the animated dog was almost as revolting as a living canine; and the French-Canadian detectives in Taking Lives looked authentically dumbstruck at the incompetence of their heroine, played by a Miss Angelina Jolie.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:49 PM | TrackBack

Horrible Insect Swarm to Ruin Trip

THIS IS TYPICAL. We finally get a decent summer vacation -- an entire week -- and we find our planned drive around the eastern United States may be affected by billions upon billions of evil cicada bugs, rising from the ground like some kind of satanic pestilence. While we're very glad our trip won't involve any camping, we're still a bit perturbed at this; after all, one can't have a nice week in the country if bugs as loud as automobiles are chirping throughout the nights.

Now, the scientists say that starting around today, these horrible swarms of insects will rise up from beneath the surface, mate frantically and then have the good form to die off en masse. Yet one question we haven't seen answered is how long it takes for this process to happen. Will it take one week? two weeks? three months?

Hence, if our readers happen to know the answer to this question -- either from personal experience with the dreaded swarms or via some scientific analyses -- we would very much like to learn it. Our vacation -- our first real vacation in some fourteen months -- may depend on it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 09, 2004

It's Not an Advertisement, It's ... um, a Pre-Movie!

WE THINK WE HAVE REALIZED why we no longer go to the cinema as much as we once did. Part of it, of course, has to do with the films which our local theatre chain shows. We would not describe them as bad movies, but rather, things which hold little interest for us: comedies which look for the lowest common denominator; predictable high-school films aimed at teenagers; action films in which the film-makers do their best to blow stuff up, and thus don't develop an interesting plot or pay their screenwriters to write a quality script.

Indeed, in the last year, we have seen perhaps two films in the theatre which were not deemed fodder for "Bad Cinema With Ben" -- these being "The Passion of The Christ" and "Lost in Translation." And the second of those we saw in California!

But, as we noted, the dearth of films which we happen to like is only part of why we very rarely go out to the movies. It is because the movie-going experience is no longer especially fun.

We don't know about you, but we are not exactly excited about going to the movies when a seemingly-growing percentage of The Movie-Going Public conducts itself with an appalling lack of comportment. One would think the helpful reminders flashed on screen before each show would convince people to turn off their mobile phones, to not talk during the firm (at least, not during a good film) and otherwise act as if they belonged to a civilized society. Sadly, as these reminders do not seem to work very well, we think movie-house ushers should be given truncheons and the freedom to use them on unruly patrons. At least then, when the ushers came in with their flashlights and distracted you during a crucial point in the film, it would serve a purpose.

But even if such a modest proposal were to be adopted, it would not stop the movie chains from doing their part to make shows less fun. A movie ticket up here in New Hampshire will generally run you around $8 for an evening show; we understand it is more than $10 in New York. This, of course, does not include the cost of over-priced and excessive consumer goods, which are so appalling that even the theatre clerks are embarrassed by it:

CLERK: A small Diet Coke? That'll be $3.75.
US: $3.75? Wait a minute. How small is the small Coke?
CLERK: That's 32 ounces.
US: Thirty-two ounces? God, I'd hate to see the large.
CLERK: Oh, that's $5.75. 64 ounces. It comes in this plastic cup!
US: Whoa.
CLERK: You get free refills with that one.

Quite frankly, we needed about 12 -- maybe 20 ounces -- of Diet Coke during "Van Helsing" yesterday; not 32 and certainly not 64. Sixty-four ounces -- good God. That's a half-fricking-gallon of Diet Coke. We don't even want to know how many ears of corn are sacrificied for each small bag of popcorn.

But perhaps most annoying are what we think could be called pre-movies: not the previews for upcoming films, but the advertisements. We first noticed these when we lived out in Los Angeles. Readers from there will recall those really annoying advertisements for the Los Angeles Times, you know, the ones with the guy monitoring the temperature of the popcorn kernel before it popped and the goofy-looking popcorn jerk? Ah, you DO remember them! We knew you would! Forgive us for bringing them up, though.

Now, we don't deny that such things work: after all, we remember the Times ads, even if they made us even less likely to buy the paper. But back then there was only one ad before the film. Today there are oodles upon oodles of advertisements before a feature, which essentially gets rid of any chance to hold a decent conversation during that time. Indeed, we walked into the theatre ten minutes early for our movie, and we were confronted with several advertisements for television shows we wouldn't watch and products we would not buy unless we under extreme duress.

We have no doubt we were as excited as our fellow movie-goers to learn the Fanta line of sodas -- the red-headed stepchild of fruit-flavored soft drinks -- was still being produced. After all, like most people, we had thought Fanta had gone the way of Eastern Airlines. That said, we did not need to watch minutes upon minutes of a bad short film which, from what we could tell, was dedicated to praising Fanta's powers as an aphrodisiac. We were also forced to watch a lengthy film full of clips from "Sex and the City" -- and while we certainly do not deny that this might have been of interest to some viewers, the clip in which the main character goes into orbit over a pair of Manolo Blahniks only conjured up our Inner Scotsman.

Now, it would have been different if we could have escaped the ads; but there was no doing that. After all, a movie-screen is damn nigh impossible to ignore, and the sound was comparable to a jet engine in intensity. This might be acceptable when watching things blow up, but it is not acceptable when listening to Sarah-Whats-Her-Name's Character Go On About Her Apartment. It just isn't. And when you add in the rest of the ads for upcoming movies, and the filler pabulum about various celebrities, and a seemingly ever-expanding list of previews for upcoming feature films, most of which go over like a lead balloon ...

Well, it's enough to make one very strongly consider Netflix, or whatever it's called.

RELATED: Oliver Willis also addresses the issue.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:46 AM | TrackBack

May 08, 2004

Think Too Hard, and It'll Suck the Life Out of You

Oh No!
It's Time for Another Installment of ...
BAD CINEMA WITH BEN

TODAY'S FEATURE: "Van Helsing"

GEE, KATE BECKINSALE IS REALLY HOT. It is a shame one cannot say the same for "Van Helsing," the movie in which Ms Beckinsale runs around fighting evil denizens of the underworld, and continually looks hot while doing so. For the film has several noteworthy flaws -- it runs too long and its plot is weak and its dialogue is often grim and the acting is similarly so. Still, we will say this for it: it is a great movie if you just sit back and enjoy all the mayhem -- and as we did just that, we must say we actually kind of enjoyed "Van Helsing." Even if, as we could not help but notice, it was not enjoyable enough to prompt all those in the theatre to sit through the ending credits.

Now, we note that many professional movie critics have poked fun at "Van Helsing's" producer, Universal Pictures, for asking them to not reveal the "surprises" which happen during the last 30 minutes of the film. We personally do not understand why Universal decided to do this. It's not just that such a move only further annoys those professional movie critics who look upon Hollywood with bemusement and contempt; it's that the ending isn't very surprising. In fact, the only surprise was that it wasn't more surprising, because weren't we supposed to expect rather a lot from a film which cost $200 million to bring to market?


THE DASHING, DARING VAN HELSING faces an awkward moment after the lady whom he has been sent to help asks him how he jerry-rigged vacuum-cleaner parts into a spiffy repeater-crossbow. (PHOTO CREDIT: Universal Studios).

Anyway, here's the plot. Abraham Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) -- who in the film has his first name changed to Gabriel for some reason -- spends his days running around Europe fighting supernatural evil in its various forms and being persecuted by the French. After teaming up with dweebish sidekick Carl (David Wenham) in Vatican City -- yes, he is only referred to as Carl -- the two head off to Transylvania to help Anna Valerious (the hot Ms Beckinsale) defeat evil Count Vladislaus Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who has been terrorizing the good people of Transylvania and not paying his utility bills and generally making a mess of the place. There's more, of course -- but as we'll have to spoil the film to tell you about it, we'll put all this in the "extended entry" box. If you've already seen the movie or have no plans on watching it, though, do feel free to continue reading...

OK, SO WE KNEW there was trouble in terms of the plot from the very beginning. Consider: things start out with a nice scene of angry Transylvanian villagers with torches and farm implements breaking into the castle of depraved Dr Frankenstein. Yet as the villagers are making their way up to Frankenstein's workshop, Frankenstein and his monster escape through a back door which none of the approximately two thousand villagers thought to guard.

Then, as the villagers catch up with the two, and manage to set the windmill in which they are trapped ablaze, a few vampires start flying overhead. Weirdly, this causes complete and utter panic among the multitudes. After all, they're in Transylvania -- you'd think they'd be used to having vampires about. But hey. Oh, also, Frankenstein's monster doesn't die. This sets the stage for the rest of the film's many regrettable events.

Actually, the entire character of Count Dracula in this film is regrettable. Far from being even a refined gentleman, the Count looks and sounds like a heroin dealer who has managed through wit and guile to rise somewhat far up the food chain. This may seem a bit extreme, but only the Count's presumed access to a rather large supply of opiates would explain the carrying-on of his three wives, whom the Count sends to do his dirty work and treats extremely shabbily. We should add that all three of the women playing the Count's brides are quite hot themselves, which lets the filmmakers show them in very revealing clothing. Of this we approved, except that the one whom we liked the most was dispatched shortly after Van Helsing shows up. Dammit.

Speaking of Van Helsing showing up, there was one scene in the movie at which we raised our eyebrows and which will outrage some readers should they think long enough about it. After Van Helsing kills off the foxiest of the three vampire women, the villagers angrily condemn him; after all, they point out, the vampires only killed one or two people a month. But now that they've fought back, the villagers cry, it will really piss off the terror which walks among them. Van Helsing basically responds, "Yeah, but I can beat the scum."

We don't know if anyone else in the theatre -- there were only about 20 people there -- caught this, but what an attack on Old World attitudes relating to some particular real-world events. True, we could be reading far too much into it; but we do note that Van Helsing discovers that Dracula is creating thousands of vampire spawn so as to attack the good people of Transylvania and the world. And since many of these do actually go out and attack the villagers at one point ... well, it sure seemed pro-war to us.

Anyway, we would also note that mild-mannered sidekick Carl is the only guy to score during the entire film, which happens after he saves the village from the little vampire bastards running amok. We approved mightily of this, as the smart guys in supporting roles hardly ever get any action, despite the fact that at first we did not like Carl.

We primarily did not like Carl because the moviemakers portray him as an 1880s-version of Q, down to the secret laboratory; and we think filmmakers, who are wont to steal from the James Bond franchise, ought not do such things. Still, as he had all the good lines and was a very likable character, we were inclined to give him a pass for this.

Naturally, it is Carl who figures out the Big Secret of where Dracula's lair is located, although why this is a big secret in the first place remains a mystery. After all, as soon as Van Helsing and Co. arrive in the tiny Transylvanian village, chaos erupts; and it seems pretty clear that the vampire hordes are emanating from castle up on yonder hill. Yet supposedly no one figured this out for a good four centuries beforehand; and Carl only figures it out after poring through manuscripts for much of the film, instead of looking out the window at the castle in the distance, and drawing the inference. Of course, these are the same people who traveled to Transylvania in part by ship, despite the fact that a land journey by train would probably be quicker.

It was at this point, late in the film, where things really began to go downhill. We would note that the Count's evil scheme required about 1.21 gigawatts of electricity for it to work, but this does not prevent most of the characters from leaping about on live electrical wires in bad weather. (Kids, please don't try this at home). We would also note that these penultimate scenes are where the worst of the crimes against dialogue take place, and we would further point out that well, gee, Kate Beckinsale is really hot.

There is no need, of course, to go on at length about that. But we would suggest that any movie-goers who decide to go watch "Van Helsing" focus on such things, as it will allow them to not think about the plot and the acting and all the other flaws inherent in the film. Instead, just sit back, watch, and enjoy the story as it presents itself on screen. It will be better for you if you do so, of that we can assure you.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:21 PM | TrackBack

May 04, 2004

Quicker Than a Sarcastic Quip

SHEILA O'MALLEY has written an essay -- of which we very much approve -- which in part condemns the pop star Madonna Ciccone/Ritchie/Whatever for having a most annoying public persona.

Hence, you should go to Ms O'Malley's site and read it, as Ms O'Malley has captured perfectly the emotions which we have long felt regarding Mrs Bermuda Accent. Also, there's some interesting stuff about Hollywood's infatuation with the Kabbalah movement. So go have a look.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Religious Aspects to Risk, Part II

WE HAVE NOTICED THAT The Raving Atheist has fired back a response to our previous entry on neo-paganism, thus setting the stage for a nice argument over religious matters. So we shall set out to refute his missive accordingly, and engage in wanton and cruel bashing of his less erudite disciples.

We should start by saying there is plenty of stuff in both our arguments which obscures the real debate at the core of our disagreement: namely, whether God exists.

For instance, vis-a-vis our previous entry, The Raving Atheist pokes fun at us for saying that spell-casting prompts all manner of unnecessary extravagance on things like incense. The Raving Atheist does not think much of this argument against Wiccanism, as it comes from a Roman Catholic; do we not, he asks, use incense and candles in our own ceremonies?

It is a worthy thrust but one that is easily parried. After all, The Raving Atheist knows full well that candles and incense may be easily disposed with in Catholic ceremonies. The essence of the Mass is in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist; all else is subordinate to that. However, were a Wiccan or other neo-pagan to cast a spell, the components of the spell would be central to that act. Hence one cannot, if one is intellectually honest, compare the two practices that way.

As an aside to this, we note that a commenter -- apparently directed here from The Raving Atheist's site -- has issued a less reasoned response. Hence, we are glad that we shall have the chance to educate this "Nick the Dick" person, who writes as follows:

I wonder who spends more money on holy candles, and holy oils, Pagans or Catholics? Most Catholic churches have more candles than most places Iíve ever seen. Holy water anyone? How about a scepter that sprays holy water, like some voodoo device? Prayers and spells are the same thing Ė bullshit!

The answer to Nick's question is simple: pagans, of course.

Naturally, we speak on a per capita basis, as there are thousands of Roman Catholics for every practicing neo-pagan. But this allows the Catholic faithful to take advantage of economies of scale.

Now, according to Nick's e-mail address, he is a Canadian; so we shall endeavor to put that idea in terms which he will instinctively understand:

1. Let us say the waiting room at a hospital in Shawnigan can hold two severely-ill patients, who face a wait of four hours before being seen by a doctor, and the cost to Government for this is C$1,000 an hour per person. Let us also say the room was then doubled in size. The marginal cost of adding two more deathly-ill people would be much less than that C$1,000 per hour figure, as the Government would not spend any additional money on life-saving equipment or personnel to tend to their needs.

2. Let us say Sheila Copps makes one speech per year in Parliament denouncing Americans in unclassy and gauche terms. As Canadian taxpayers pay C$109,000 per annum for Ms Copps' service to that nation, it would cost them about C$21,800 per American normally reached by Ms Copps' remarks. However, because someone from the National Post happens to be in the press gallery and his report gets picked up on Drudge, the cost per American reached would fall to nearly nothing.

So now, Nick can see that "economies of scale" basically describes what happens when one makes more of any given thing, and the long-run average cost of doing so falls accordingly. The same principle applies with Roman Catholics: we get fabulous deals on candles and incense, and as such, the typical parishioner pays practically nothing for having those items used in service. Meanwhile, your typical neo-pagan would spend $40 to $50 on various products bought from a dingy holistic store in some strip mall. Hence, pagans spend more. Q.E.D. Besides, holy water is free.

But "Nick the Dick" is not alone in offering up such surface criticism. One commenter on The Raving Atheist's site writes as follows:

God give me strength, to deal with all of your annoying and idiotic followers. Give me the strength to turn them against you, and unite the world in peace and justice.

You know, I bet theists are much better at circular reasoning than atheists. They keep having to tie their beliefs in knots, just to make them look straight! I bet that Kepple would also come up with ways that Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Mormonism were tied to Catholicism, if you asked him real nicely. You know--Buddhism is what happens when you convince yourself that people are god...

Actually, last time we checked, Communism is what happens when one becomes convinced that people are like God. But even though we could actually find common ground between various religious traditions -- it's not difficult to find -- we would for the moment like to focus on this larger question of whether God exists.

Now, The Raving Atheist holds the view that there is no God, and as such, he made the argument that prayer and hence religion are meaningless. We can understand that view, but we wonder if he is not basing it on underlying principles which are unsound.

The core argument that any atheist makes rests on two key principles: that God does not exist because He has not been proven to exist, and that God as theists describe Him is an impossibility.

But the flaw in such thinking is NOT just that it stands in the face of all the evidence that suggests that He just might exist after all, and dismisses all that out of hand. It is not that an atheist must come up with Rational Explanations for every unexplained thing, must scour the histories to explain away tales of amazing happenings, and must wash away millennia of established thinking. And nor is it that an atheist must attempt to fit God into a box devised by human logic, and crush said box accordingly.

No. The flaw is in the core argument itself. For the argument an atheist must make to prove his point is not, "God has not been proven to exist, therefore He must not exist." The argument an atheist must make is "God has been proven to not exist, therefore He must not exist."

For all their carping about not having any conclusive proof from theists about God's existence, not one atheist has managed yet to conclusively and scientifically disprove the existence of God. This is, of course, because it cannot be done. Never mind the basic assumptions which The Raving Atheist has set out; they are flawed attempts to impose temporal logic on spiritual matters. Such cutesy arguments might delight the like-minded, but they do not fundamentally address the one thing that might convince theists they were in the wrong: namely, a conclusive and scientific proof that God does not exist.

Can the hard-core atheists provide that? One does not see how they can do so -- yet it would seem as if their position would require it, if only to justify the haughtiness with which they promulgate their arguments.

Personally speaking, we would better understand The Raving Atheist's anti-religious positions if he would merely admit that he has, for whatever reasons, animus towards organized religions and the people who follow them. Really, sir, just come out and say it, and leave it at that.

It is true that doing such a thing, compared to espousing militant atheism, might not be as rebellious or as witty or as well-received with the intellectuals at some dinner party. But perhaps it would be liberating.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 02, 2004

Religious Aspects to Risk

WE NOTE, with no small bit of amusement, that The Raving Atheist has vowed to join the priesthood should he win the New York State Lottery with numbers from a fortune cookie. His continued failure to win the contest's million-dollar jackpot has led to some rather funny entries, such as this one about neo-pagan ethics vis-a-vis earning money via spell-casting.

In this latter essay, The Raving Atheist has picked up on a message-board discussion in which one neo-pagan asks for aid on that very topic. The petitioner asks whether casting spells to win the lottery would have any negative repercussions. As one might expect from someone who would ask such a thing, we would note the supplicant says of the lottery, "the money is coming from a specific place where no one really loses anything." This would suggest the spell-caster ought quit worrying about the lottery and conjure up an economics text.

But we do not mean to be cruel: we do have some small measure of familiarity with neo-paganism, and we could probably answer the supplicant's question. Namely, of course casting spells to win the lottery would have negative repercussions. For one thing, it would prompt the spell-caster to purchase lottery tickets: not merely a losing proposition, but openly advertised as a losing proposition. In America, they are a way for state Governments to gin up money for education spending; The Raving Atheist makes oblique reference to this fact in his essay. But a second consequence is that it would prompt all sorts of expenditures on incense and candles and herbs and oils and maybe some little hoodoo dolls and what not. This would mean the spell-caster would be even more out of pocket, and he would stink up his place with patchouli and candle smoke.

However, the laws of probability do dictate that somewhere around the eighty- millionth try, the spell would actually appear to work. Were this to actually happen, it would cause all sorts of woes and unpleasantness, as a successful money-casting spell also tends to attract lots of old and new friends who need loans. Some of these friends would also offer up crack-brained investment schemes which the spellcaster -- whom we suspect may not be the most financially-savvy person in the West -- would undoubtedly subscribe. The end result is that the spell-caster would be ruined in a few years, and the good relationships he or she enjoyed before the win would be lost, and he or she would not be speaking with his or her family, etc.

Besides, if we recall correctly, Wiccanism (is that the right phrase?) is one of those pleasant and friendly new-age religions; by which we mean practitioners can't (or don't) actually cast malicious spells, because they supposedly backfire to greater effect on the spell-caster. To us, this makes the whole exercise pointless.

For if we were going to all the trouble to cast spells and invoke spiritual powers from the furthest reaches of the netherworld, and hence put our immortal soul in awful jeopardy according to the tenets of our own religion, we would at least want a rival to develop scalp itch or something.

We realize this admission speaks to some defect in our own soul; and of course, we would never do such a thing in the first place. But we're just saying, if we were going to embark on what our spiritual authorites suggest may be the wide path to damnation, we'd want to go all out.

All that said, though, we would take issue with one point The Raving Atheist makes in his essay: the argument that one cannot ask for something directly in prayer. This is silly. Of course one can ask for whatever one wants. It does not ensure one will get it, but one can ask; and if one's prayers are granted, well, it may be that God has granted that particular request. It could be also be coincidence, of course; but one must weigh the probability inherent in the request. Our atheist did get half the equation right, however; it is generally good form to also ask for strength, to accept what may come regardless.

--------
CLARIFICATION, 5/3/04, 11:45 p.m. As we have noticed some small confusion over the direction of our mockery, we should sharpen our original remarks. Hence, we would point out that we are not -- except in the ultimate paragraph -- criticizing The Raving Atheist for his essay, but rather the neo-pagans whom he excerpts in that work. Those who know of the rather sharp arguments in the past between the both of us may be surprised at this present harmony between his and our positions; this is, after all, the person who superimposed a photo of our head on a pig. But hey. Matters of religion, like politics, can often make strange bedfellows.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack