June 29, 2004

Grits: It's What's for Government

OUR ENTERTAINMENT this past evening was to watch the Canadian election returns via the only live feed we could get: the French-language arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. What follows are our observations from a night of watching election returns in a language we couldn't understand:

* There really is a rather European-like nation on our northern border. As Americans, we ought be cautious.

* We do not care if it makes perfect sense for the CBC to send its French feed onto cable systems here in New Hampshire. For election returns, please throw Peter Mansbridge on the set and have done with it.

* Where was Paul Martin watching the election footage? From roughly 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., we saw all of one clip featuring the Prime Minister. He didn't appear all that happy, but that's probably understandable given the results from last night. Also, it appeared as if he and his wife were watching from a badly-furnished condominium. In short, this was not what one expects from a head of Government.

* The CBC instead spent a lot of time focusing on someone called Gilles Duceppe, whom we understand is a former Communist in charge of the French separatist party. We guess he had a hell of a night -- 54 seats is rather a lot -- as the TV showed all sorts of happy Quebecers cheering for Mr Duceppe at some kind of election event.

* One of the CBC reporters in the field had a startling resemblance to Zonker Harris.

* It would prove helpful for American viewers if the CBC would put marquees up to identify their anchormen once in a while. Not once did we see the French broadcaster -- the guy with the receding brown hair -- identified for the audience. Nor was the analyst guy with the bright gold tie ever identified, as far as we could tell.

* We would ask that the CBC only count seat figures when an MP has actually won his riding. Americans watching might think that when a party's total goes down for a moment, it's the Canadian equivalent of having the networks take back Florida from Al Gore, and this is not so. In that vein, noting returns when only dozens of votes have been counted in a riding isn't all that helpful.

* Does this result mean the Canadian dollar will drop back to a reasonable level against the greenback? It's no fun going to Canada when the exchange rate is over 70 cents.

* We switched off the results and went to bed not long after an exchange between the unnamed French broadcaster and someone called Peter MacKay, who is an MP for the Conservative Party. This led to the only exchange of the night which made it clear to us how the election turned out, as the Tories were expected to do better than they did. The French broadcaster issued a variety of questions in Canadian French, and when Mr MacKay hesitated, the broadcaster helpfully followed up with the only English we heard the entire evening: "What happened?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 27, 2004

More Fun With Books

VIA EMILY JONES, we have learned of a new game using random quotations from books in one's library. The rules are as follows:

1. Take five books off your bookshelf.
2. Book No. 1 -- first sentence.
3. Book No. 2 -- last sentence on page fifty.
4. Book No. 3 -- second sentence on page one hundred.
5. Book No. 4 -- next to the last sentence on page one hundred fifty.
6. Book No. 5 -- final sentence of the book.
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.

Therefore, we grabbed five books off our nearest shelf and gave it a whirl. The results follow:

Aloft on dazzling white wings, the great cranes wheel in the sky and float down for a landing in a richly forested, unspoiled two-and-a-half mile strip of land that stretches like a ribbon for 150 miles across the waist of the Korean peninsula. But they were unlike us in many ways and better than us in many ways, an idea which simply cannot be tolerated by people who believe that change is always a forward movement and who are so determined to judge history by the standards of the present.

The other was a French priest of the Missions Etrangeres named Louis Delmarre. In Germany there was an even steeper increase in both public debt and paper currency, and only strict price controls prevented an inflationary explosion during the last two years of the war. Nothing could represent a more dangerous threat to the liberty of individual Americans.

Say! That's pretty slick!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | TrackBack

Smoking Cessation Update

ACCORDING TO THIS Web site, which is devoted to selling systems related to quitting smoking, nicotine-withdrawal symptoms include:

* Headache.
* Nausea.
* Constipation or diarrhea.
* Falling heart rate and blood pressure.
* Fatigue, drowsiness and insomnia.
* Irritability.
* Difficulty concentrating.
* Anxiety.
* Depression.
* Increased hunger and caloric intake.
* Increased pleasantness of the taste of sweets.
* Tobacco cravings.

They ain't just whistling Dixie. Jesus God.

For regular Rant readers who have been following our journey as we Try Yet Again to Quit Smoking, we are now about 60 hours into not having any cigarettes. For those of you who are just joining us, you should know that we are doing this because we finally realized that we were killing ourselves with the smoking, and therefore we are trying to cut out our two-packs-of-Marlboro-Red-100s-per-day habit.

We do not mean for The Rant to turn into a constant update on our own efforts to quit smoking. However, we can assure you that we no longer have the ability to concentrate on anything other than our nicotine-withdrawal symptoms. This is why we have not written any vacation updates. In any event, though, we do want to give everyone an update on where we stand.

In terms of physical effects while wearing a nicotine patch, we are suffering from headache, nausea, lightheadedness, increased appetite, the sweats, coughing fits, difficulty ... ah .... concentrating, irritability, a complete inability to .... concentrate ... wait, we mentioned that ... and insomnia. Also, we are having dreams of an intensity not normally seen outside of the University of Michigan's annual Hash Bash. Most of these symptoms are caused because we are receiving only half our standard daily nicotine dose.

We expected to suffer from all of these things, although we must say we are most shocked at the insomnia and the coughing. True, we did look on-line and find out that quitting smoking has the effect of doubling the effectiveness of caffeine. Still, we are amazed to see just how powerful the sensation is. As for the coughing fits, they're actually kind of enjoyable; we get a rush every time, because our lungs are spitting up tar.

Now, some of our friends have told us about just having done with the withdrawal symptoms, advising we just quit cold turkey. Therefore, for a six-hour period today, we went without both cigarettes or cigarette substitutes. We can only conclude that our experience represented some sort of horrible psychological milestone. Normal people do not, as a matter of course, lie on their beds crying their eyes out while at the same time having white-hot feelings of anger.

We don't know what was worse -- the abject feelings of misery, or knowing just how deeply the nicotine has its claws in our back. Well, OK, the misery was worse. Anyway, when we put on a fresh nicotine patch a few hours ago, we felt our entire body take in the drug. Even our toes got a tingly sensation.

So the long and short of it is that we aren't going to be going cold-turkey any time soon. More news on Monday, we promise.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

Today's Important Life Lesson ...

... NEXT TIME, as Woody Allen might have put it, why not have William F. Buckley kill the spider? As opposed to trying to flambe it yourself, starting a blaze which pretty much destroys your place of employment and causes the evacuation of a major shopping plaza?

Police in upstate New York have charged a worker at a sporting-goods store with doing just that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:18 AM | TrackBack

Self-Improvement Status Report

WE ARE OFFICIALLY Very Irritable due to a lack of smoke. We would again ask for your patience and understanding as we suffer from the sweats and the shakes as we go about our withdrawal from cigarettes. However, there is good news: the blinding headaches and general feelings of unease have not yet set in. We shall continue to provide reports as time goes on.

Today also marks the second day in a row in which we have had a salad for lunch. We plan to continue this trend on weekdays. As we have the ability to eat the exact same thing over and over again for lunch, we plan to order the -- wait for it -- McDonald's Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad pretty much continuously. It has a grand total of 200 calories, including the chicken. Include some balsamic vinaigrette dressing (40 cals) and the whole thing has but 9 grams of fat. On both calorie and fat grounds, that's roughly 13 pc of the daily intake for an average-sized person.

Here's the amazing part:

1. The salads are not merely filling -- amazing in itself -- but also actually taste good. We ate the first salad dry, as we didn't want to lard it up with the fat-laden Caesar dressing provided with it. But the second, which we got with balsamic vinaigrette, was both healthy and good.

2. The salads are also cheaper than a typical fast-food meal, a bit over $4 after tax is thrown in. So we'll not only improve our health, we'll *save money.* Good incentive.

3. The salads, in our opinion, are far better than anything else McDonalds serves on its menu. We would know.

The only complaint which we would make about the salads is that there is not enough variety -- even we need a change once in a great while. It is true there is something called a "Bacon Ranch" salad, as well as a "California Cobb" salad and a "Fiesta" salad. But these latter three salads concern us.

After all, we know full well that in America, the word "Ranch" is synonymous with the word "fat" -- and indeed, without chicken, half of that salad's 130 calories come from fat. We also note that the "Fiesta Salad" has sour cream and taco meat, which are clearly laden with fat. Lastly, while we don't know what McDonalds puts in its Cobb salad, we know that it was a dish we only ate at dinner back when we were young. So we'll avoid that too.

What we'd like -- in our dreams, perhaps -- is the following:

1. The option to forego dressing altogether and instead get a lemon wedge. A bit of lemon juice can do wonders for even a good salad.

2. Salads that focus on one primary ingredient: spinach, cherry tomatoes, and what not. If they are low-calorie and low-fat, yet taste good, we think they'd have a winner.

3. Instead of chicken in the salad ... put in a bit of lobster. Just a wee bit, of course, and not dunked in mayonnaise (Gawd!) or butter, but just a bit of pure and wonderful lobster. We're in New England, this shouldn't be hard to finagle. Plus, they could probably charge $6 for the salad and get away with it.

Anyway, we hope the McDonalds Corporation will consider these suggestions, as we think they could really hit a home run with them, to say nothing of making a surprisingly-decent lunch even better. If we're to keep this up, we'll need all the enticement we can get.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:46 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

Bob's Her Uncle

WE WOULD SUBMIT, only somewhat in jest, that the above rationale could be a plausible explanation for how Ms Jackie Ashley managed to get a writing job with The Guardian.

Ms Ashley, you see, has written an amazingly daft essay in today's edition of that newspaper. She takes the plot summaries of a particular American television show, and projects them onto American foreign policy and how Americans view the world. As if this wasn't bad enough, Ms Ashley then has the gall to compare the United States to Britain when the latter nation was at the height of its power. The argument here was clear: we shall suffer the same fate as Old Blighty, and find ourselves with all the troubles that once faced Callaghan.

Now the television show Ms Ashley mentions is "24," which we understand is a popular thriller on the Fox television network. We do not watch it, but we learn from Ms Ashley's column that it focuses on counter-terrorism personnel in the employ of the American Government. Each episode appears to have thrills and chills in plenty, but the end result is the same: we win, and the America-hating Forces of International Terrorism lose. It is at this point when Ms Ashley's argument goes off the deep end:

This is close enough to the political fantasy underlying the "war on terror" to be worrying. Bush presents himself as a moral leader on a different plane from the "evil-doers" around the world, and plenty of Americans seem to buy it. The use of brilliant technology is constantly held up as a kind of magical answer to global threats - somehow "our" computers and hardware are clever enough to fend the dangers away.

Yet we know it's not true. We know that the wretched of the earth, angry with American arrogance and the brutalities of local US-supported rulers, cannot always be beaten at the last minute, by gun-toting agents or clever computer systems. In the latest episode, the villain (an English one - some things don't change) seems to be threatening to kill millions of Americans because he is appalled by US foreign policies around the world. I assume that in the end he will be found and killed, and the United States will be saved: to have a discussion about the politics of the demon poisoner is simply not on the agenda.

People will say, come on, it's just entertainment: Americans get their wider perspective in the real world, from newspapers and TV news and websites and even from books. But we know the power of popular culture, and the depth of US ignorance about the outside world; and that the vivid subliminal messages from a well-crafted popular drama can have more effect than hundreds of editorials. Perhaps it's pure escapism. Perhaps it makes those of a nervous disposition feel better. But the worry is that this is isolationist, fear-stoking drama which sits easily alongside Fox News, and the prejudiced rantings of the radio shock-jocks.

A century ago, a friendly critic of the British empire would have been entitled to look at its popular imperialist culture - the children's tales of English pluck, and the patriotic-sentimental poems, and the paranoid warnings about the Hun and the Musselman - and ask whether this was a sign of confidence or weakness. And a true observer would surely have said it showed a country too incurious about the rest of the world to keep its global domination. In the brilliantly written and crafted television fantasies of 24, we can see a parallel American ignorance which is just as important. Now just be quiet while I settle down to this week's episode ...

No, quite sorry, we shan't be quiet about this, Ms Ashley. You have thrown the gauntlet in our face, and as such we shall take you up on your impetuous challenge to America and its people. It is for your own good, really.

We would note, as a matter of course, that many Americans are divided on what the proper course of action against the Forces of International Terrorism ought to be. That said, we would also note -- as others have -- that one cannot seriously draw moral equivalency between the President of the United States and those involved with terror networks. It is a stupid and facile argument to make, as well as being insulting to both the office of the Presidency and the American nation.

Further, as many other reasonable people have pointed out, it is one thing not to like the President and not to like his decisions, and to have different ideas of how to solve certain problems; it is another thing entirely to say the Leader of the Free World is no different than The Men Who Flew Passenger Planes into Office Buildings. We would suggest, Ms Ashley, that you confine your argument to the former proposition, for making the latter case would lead one to think you are mad as a March hare.

But then, we do not know what to think about Ms Ashley's amazing suggestion that Americans would seriously discuss the politics of terrorists who were planning to unleash a genocidal attack upon America. It is so asinine that it beggars belief. We can only assume that Ms Ashley leads a charmed life, and as such feels safe from terror attacks and other assorted nastiness because she is Caring and Compassionate and Supports Registered Charities. We admit that may be a bit far-fetched, but we cannot come up with any other reasonable explanation for her bizarre reasoning in this regard.

Speaking of bizarre, we are similarly confounded that Ms Ashley is afraid of isolationism breaking out among the American people. We thought she and many other non-Americans would welcome such trends. On the other hand, if that did happen, the rest of the world would have no one to blame when it inevitably sunk into war and economic malaise. That would ruin Ms Ashley's world view something fierce, wouldn't it? Even worse than the knowledge that we, an American, regularly read newspapers from all over the English-speaking world, keep up with foreign affairs, and even have a collection of some 600 books in our two-bedroom apartment. (Most, by the by, are non-fiction).

But the true measure of Ms Ashley's idiocy is presented in her last paragraph, when she examines historical Britain and feebly attempts to draw parallels with modern America. Let's look at it again:

A century ago, a friendly critic of the British empire would have been entitled to look at its popular imperialist culture - the children's tales of English pluck, and the patriotic-sentimental poems, and the paranoid warnings about the Hun and the Musselman - and ask whether this was a sign of confidence or weakness. And a true observer would surely have said it showed a country too incurious about the rest of the world to keep its global domination.

We don't know about you, but if Britons were issuing warnings about the Hun in 1904, they were neither confident or weak -- they were prescient. After all, last time we checked, the Germans DID start two rather prominent conflicts, the first of which ended up killing 22m people and the second roughly 50m people. Out of those, more than one million died fighting for or living in Britain. Here's the list, Ms Ashley. It should make fascinating reading.

That said, we do not get Ms Ashley's point about the Moslems either. The average American can in fact easily distinguish between their fellow Americans living here like everyone else, and the very tiny percentage of Moslems based overseas who have vowed to destroy us. And if there are a lot of Americans who don't know as much as one might hope about the rest of the world, that really doesn't matter either. There are plenty of other Americans, Ms Ashley, who make a point of doing so.

(link via Emily Jones).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:47 PM | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

We Have (Yet Again) Quit Smoking

“I haven’t been the same since I quit smoking.”
“When was that?”
“Fifteen years ago.”

-- "Annie Hall"

WELL, we’ve officially given up smoking -- again! We think this is our fourth or fifth attempt at doing so, but being the eternal optimists that we are, we are certain that we can fully quit this time around. Besides, we finally realized that if we don’t give it up, we are really and truly in for a world of shit.

The good news, as least as we can ascertain it from the scientists, is that quitting while we are under thirty years of age virtually nullifies the health risks associated with our vile habit. The bad news is we are fairly confident our lifestyle over the past decade, in which we recklessly neglected our health, is beginning to catch up with us. Well, perhaps a better way to put it would be that it has caught up with us, and is now in the process of beating us over the head with a tire iron. So over the next few months, we’re going to have to viciously fight back before our brains get splattered over the pavement.

We do not think we are not exaggerating. Those Loyal Rant Readers who have met us in person can easily ascertain that we’re not exactly in the best of health, but the true extent of this may not be clear. Well, for starters, we’re about forty pounds overweight. We’re diabetic. We’ve what can be reasonably described as high cholesterol, particularly when it comes to our triglyceride count. We have bad sinuses and a weak immune system and an occasionally sour stomach. Of course, we smoke, despite having an already-meagre lung capacity; and while we do some minor exercising, we live what can charitably be described as a sedentary lifestyle. Furthermore, to be perfectly honest, we don’t exactly eat as well as we should. Worst of all, that’s an incomplete listing of the identifiable health concerns we presently face. But it was one health concern, that we are fortunately not yet facing, which has rattled us to the point where we’re actually going to do something about all this.

Heart disease.

In two weeks, we are going to go in for a perfectly routine cardiac examination to see if this awful lifestyle of ours has managed to do any damage to our ticker. We were due for a physical anyway, but after reading up on some articles which uncomfortably reminded us of our own situation, we called our doctor and asked if he could throw this on to the testing battery. At first, the folks at the clinic didn’t get what we meant by a routine cardiac examination, so we said to throw us on a treadmill. But then our doctor got on the line. Here follows a dramatization of our conversation, which lasted under a minute:

PHYSICIAN: I don’t have your chart in front of me, but you have (this) and (that)?
US: Yep.
PHYSICIAN: I’ll call cardiology.

The natural question, we suppose, is how we got to this point in the first place.

Interestingly enough, when we were a child, we were rail-thin. This was primarily due to having a bad case of sleep apnea; excising our tonsils took care of that. We proceeded to rapidly gain weight and eventually became overweight; not downright fat, but we were certainly heavy. On an emotional level, of course, this was not good, as children are generally incorrigible little hellions when it comes to such things. Further, as we were quite uncoordinated when it came to sport, and hated exercise, and were generally the last person picked during any type of organized athletics, we paid no attention to healthy living. It is true that we did play tennis for a while, and we did some exercise in high school, but developing fibromyalgia gave us the excuse we needed to quit all that.

Moving on to college, and we found ourselves away from the one thing which saved us from really having problems – namely, our kitchen table at home, where our parents made sure we got two decent meals a day. Like nearly all college students, we gained an unpleasant amount of weight, and we also developed hypertension and ulcers and all sorts of fun maladies. Life after college wasn’t much better, although we did improve things a bit after we suffered our diabetic shock back in 1998. Our blood pressure, for instance, is much improved since our college days.

Still, things now aren’t where they should be. At six-foot-four, we should probably weigh 200 pounds; we probably weigh 240. Our cholesterol is too high and we’ve been smoking as much as two packs a day.

It may seem odd, given all this, that we’ve let things go like they have. But it’s not really a surprise, when we think about it. For it is one thing to watch one’s health closely when one is forty or fifty or sixty years old; but when one is under thirty, one thinks of oneself as invincible. Besides, we had survived all sorts of things before, so why would this be any different?

The concern this time, though, is that it will be different. Even though the exam is entirely routine and there is nothing to be worried about, there does seem a very small possibility that we have managed to work our way into a heart condition, or perhaps some other trouble with our circulatory system. Even the prospect is extremely troubling. After all, excepting the brain, the heart is the most important part of one’s system; and if the heart goes, the game is over. And we would hate to get fouled out in the first period.

So among the lifestyle changes we’re going to have to – have to – make in the next few months, the first we figured we could reasonably undertake would be to quit smoking. We had our last cigarette this morning, and we’re now on the nicotine patch, and looking forward once again to the wacked-out psychedelic technicolor dreams which go along with it.

We would offer one final caution, though. We figure our nicotine intake has ranged from 30 mg to 40 mg per day as a smoker. Unfortunately, the strongest-strength nicotine patches only provide us with 21 mg per day. Therefore, we estimate that sometime tomorrow evening, we will start getting VERY irritable, and progressively become more strung out as our body adjusts to the first step of the withdrawal. We would ask for your understanding and patience during what should be a particularly unpleasant, if necessary, experience.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:58 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

Administrative Note

VACATION BLOG UPDATES will be posted at the end of this week at the latest. Perhaps sooner, if we can finish them all, but rest assured: they will be posted by the end of this week at the latest. We want to present them as a "complete set," as it were, so it will take me some time to do so.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:08 PM | TrackBack

June 19, 2004

Because "Call Me Crazy" Didn't Have the Same Ring

WE WERE NOT PLANNING to resume posting until Monday evening, but upon our return to the Granite State, we found an e-mail from a good friend informing us that pop singer Madonna has changed her name to Esther. Yes, Esther.

Our friend's reaction to this news -- "Oy gevalt" -- sums up our own feeling on the matter, but we were not about to let the matter go unmentioned. We just needed sleep after our fourteen-hour drive.

So, now that we're rested, we would ask: what the devil is this all about? Is this yet another attempt on Madonna's part to give executives at her record firm more ulcers and indigestion and sleepless nights? No. It could not be. This would mean dealing with someone who had a bit of depth to their character, and we find none in her. Rather, her reasoning appears as out there as she is:

"My mother died when she was very young, of cancer, and I wanted to attach myself to another name," Madonna, 45, told ABC News.

"This is in no way a negation of who my mother was. I wanted to attach myself to the energy of a different name."

We don't get it. We ourselves took on another name when we were confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church, but that doesn't mean we make a big deal out of it or advertise it or would scrap the names our parents gave us. As for the whole "energy of a different name" business, this makes about as much sense as our declaring ourself Irwin, Demiurge of Tax Accountancy. Heck, if that's the idea, we ought declare ourself Constantine XII Palaiologos and demand the Turks return Constantinople to its rightful heirs.

However, we are not entirely appalled at this development. For we can imagine that one or two millenia hence, the historians of that time will pore over the news reports and wonder, a la A Canticle for Leibowitz, why this person appears as Madonna and later as Esther. Given the state of our culture in this day and age, it would not be surprising to find they came to the same conclusion as the monks in Walter Miller's book did.

That is, the situation was prevalent in more than one nation, and on a cultural level, Madonna/Esther were probably the equivalent of another name entirely: "Legion."

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

June 08, 2004

The Rant is Away ...

... UNTIL MONDAY, JUNE 21, due to our "2004 Straight and Narrow Highway Tour." See you when we get back, and have fun scooting around the archives and visiting the other sites on the blogroll, etc.


-- BJK

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:55 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Not a Good Omen

THE OLD SAW the statisticians like to trot out is that half of all American marriages end in divorce. We have long thought this to be a bit of a canard, for it doesn't take into account second marriages and similar circumstances which may arise in life. Besides, if Jennifer Lopez keeps at it, it's going to skew the results something awful.

As we understand it, Mrs Lopez -- who was once a popular entertainer -- has tied the knot with one Marc Anthony, who we understand was once a popular singer. Mr Anthony, if that is his real name, tied the knot after getting a divorce from his wife, a former Miss Universe.

We do not understand why Mr Anthony decided to do this. For one thing, he was married to a former Miss Universe, and for another, he did have young children. This makes him seem like a cad. We only hope the former Mrs Anthony made full use of her rights under the laws of the Dominican Republic, where the divorce was finalized.

Furthermore, while we know we are fond of saying that past performance is not indicative of future results, Mrs Lopez's past performance when it comes to marriage would make even the most bullish hedge-fund manager think twice about such a union. It is true that Mr Anthony does have one advantage over Mrs Lopez's two prior husbands, in that he presumably went to the altar an equal partner. Still, we do not know if this will be enough to counteract Mrs Lopez's divorce habit.

Interestingly enough, neither do several British bookmaking firms who specialize in making good sums of money off suckers. We note with amusement those firms are offering three to one that Mr Anthony and Mrs Lopez will call it quits by the end of this year.

Now, one can easily deduce that the true odds of such a happening are higher than three-to-one; otherwise, the risk-reward scheme becomes unprofitable for the house. Still, we would submit it is Not a Good Omen for Mrs Lopez and Mr Anthony's marriage if the listed odds are but three-to-one. For somewhere, the decision to offer that proposition was met with a serious question: "And what happens if we have to pay off?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 07, 2004

The Ethics of the Mundane

WILLIAM GRIMES, the former restaurant critic of The New York Times, has written a thoughtful and only quasi-snarky essay looking at the morality of spending princely sums of money on dining out. It would appear that some of Mr Grimes' readers were regularly inspired to extreme passion when reading his reviews, and as such condemned him for spending to excess; Mr Grimes responds that he felt not one jot of guilt.

Nor should he have. We have no doubt that Mr Grimes worked very hard to gain his position at the Times, and we salute him for his achievement. Besides, while we have no knowledge of how the Times compensates its food critics, we'd still be quite surprised if any of the money he spent was actually his own. For a Times scribe is well-paid, but not well-paid to the point where he could afford to spend hundreds of dollars per evening on dinner. Furthermore, Mr Grimes does live in metropolitan New York, which means that his check goes considerably less than ours out here in the provinces.

In any event, we must say we generally agree with Mr Grimes' rationale:

The first is utilitarian. The food that goes into my mouth comes out of someone else's. In this Malthusian view, the total food supply is seen as a large pie. Rich people push forward to the table and cut big slices for themselves, leaving their poorer fellow citizens to slice the pie thinner and thinner until, in the end, the truly desperate fight over a single cherry. On an international scale, it is greedy Westerners who load up at the expense of everyone else ....

... There is something amiss in this reasoning. Disparity of incomes and national wealth might or might not be unjust. I'll leave that to others to sort out. But the $500 Manolo Blahnik shoe, the $50,000 car or the $3,000 television set is not, in and of itself, a wrong. And I'm willing to bet that a thorough audit of my impassioned letter writers would turn up one or more of the aforementioned items. For the record, I drove a Honda Civic to many of my dinners, rather than an S.U.V., which means that any potential food guilt should have been prorated by a formula calculating miles per gallon saved. I might also point out that restaurants employ people.

The second objection to fine dining is moral. It boils down to this: It is all right to enjoy food, but not too much. It is all right to eat out, but not to spend too much money doing it. There are two moral impulses intertwined here, the ancient prohibition against gluttony and the more modern Puritan objection to indulging pleasure for its own sake. Add to this ethical cocktail a twist of American pragmatism, the belief that money not spent usefully is money wasted. And what can be more useless than several hundred dollars applied to a six-course French meal that lasts four hours?

Why, eating the French meal in France, of course. Oh, wait. Mr Grimes was asking a rhetorical question. Never mind.

Anyway, we thought Mr Grimes' essay quite interesting, and especially so since he fails to mention a third potential objection to dining out at fine restaurants. Namely, that doing so does have the potential to breed a real nasty behavioral hybrid in people: that strange cross of gluttony and lust and pride that crops up in folks once luxuries become staples. No, really, it's true. Remember that scene in The Screwtape Letters when Screwtape is describing the man's mother, and going on about how nothing is ever good enough for her? There's too much food or too little of it, no one can make a good poached egg anymore and so on? The same behavior, we would argue, can become ingrained in anyone once they do it enough.

Now, we do not intend that as criticism of Mr Grimes' essay; he was the food critic for the Times, and as such it was his job to make judgments. We merely wish to note that for the typical citizen, there is a larger difference than one might think between praising something which is far and away the best in its class, and denigrating something because it does not come up to an inordinately high standard. That, of course, is where the spiritual danger lies, for that latter path leads to lust and gluttony and self-conceit and all sorts of other evils. Also, it's crass.

As an example of this, we would present one traveler's review for a hotel at which we are staying on our upcoming vacation. This negative review was published on a Web site which deals with travel bookings; it came as a surprise to us, as we had stayed at this hotel before and found nothing wrong with it. This is not to say that we thought the place was an oasis of luxury either, but quite frankly, you're not going to get that for $65 per night.

What, may we ask, was Margaret G., of Boston, expecting when she checked in?



Submitted by: Margaret G., of Boston MA USA; October 26, 2003
Date of visit: 10/03
Traveler's Favorite Destination: Paris
Traveler's Rating: (one out of five smiley faces)

This was the worst hotel I have ever stayed in. The driveway has a plywood hand-lettered sign directing traffic. Open the doors to the lobby, and breathe the scent of commercial disinfectant. The hallways have greasy carpet smelling like the Thai restaurant on the first floor. The stairways are littered with overflowing wastebaskets. Our room smelled so badly of smoke that we had to leave the window open all night. I put a towel over the bedding to keep the smell of tobacco in bedspread away from my nose. My request for a non-smoking room was denied.

Best Feature: Location

Needs Improvement: Cleanliness, maintenance

Amenities rated on a 1-5 scale: Rooms, 1; Dining, 1; Public Facilities, 1; Sports/Activities, 1; Entertainment, 1; Service, 1.

This hotel is good for: Students.


We're sorry, we just don't get it. What, was Margaret G. of Boston expecting a quaint little college inn, or a bed and breakfast? Was she expecting a bidet in the toilet? For God's sakes, it's a cheap motel by the freeway, whose prime virtues are 1) it's by the freeway, 2) it costs $65 per night, and 3) fancy extras like blankets and an alarm clock are thrown in free. Also, we suspect the management won't mind if we stumble in three sheets to the wind and throw up in the bathroom, at least as long as we leave a decent tip for the housekeeper.

Really, now. We can assure Margaret G., of Boston, that this is not the worst hotel ever. Oh, no. We remember one lodging establishment where we actually put furniture against the door while we slept; and another motel in particular, which was fine except we misjudged its location, and found ourselves wondering if the sounds we heard from off the premises were gunfire. Those were grim experiences. This place is not grim. Rather, it does the job: clean room, clean bath. That's all one needs. As such, we're going to enjoy staying there no matter what.

But we do not mean to end on a down note; we just think that folks like Margaret G. of Boston ought maintain some frickin' perspective when it comes to these types of things. It is a good rule for living life -- or at the very least, it makes life more enjoyable.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:35 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 06, 2004

A Somber Weekend

GAD. WHAT A WEEKEND. It was a somber and gloomy time for all of us, wasn't it? Before we get back into the thick of things, we ought express our sincere sympathies to the family of President Ronald Reagan, who as all now know passed away Saturday at the age of 93. It is one thing for all of us, as Americans, to lose a leader; but it is another thing entirely for them, to lose a husband and a father. May the President rest in peace.

We also would like to salute those soldiers who, sixty years ago, took the first steps in liberating Western Europe from the Nazi yoke. As long as Man walks on God's Earth, your courage and sacrifice shall never be forgotten; and the whole of civilization stands in your debt.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:13 PM | TrackBack

June 04, 2004

Inspired! (!!!!!!)

WE MUST GIVE kudos to The Commissar for a particularly inspired faux-interview featuring none other than ... well, you'll see. Oh, boy. It is perhaps the funniest send-up we have read in a long time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:13 AM | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

D-O-L-T-S Protest Spelling Bee

IT WOULD APPEAR that Noah Webster's disciples have struck again, this story says:

Members of the American Literacy Society picketed the 77th annual spelling bee, which is sponsored every year by Cincinnati-based Scripps Howard.

The protesters' complaints: English spelling is illogical, and the national spelling bee only reinforces the crazy spellings that they say contribute to dyslexia, high illiteracy and harder lives for immigrants.

"We advocate the modernization of English spelling," said Pete Boardman, 58, of Groton, N.Y. The Cornell University bus driver admitted to being a terrible speller.

Protester Elizabeth Kuizenga, 56, is such a good speller that she teaches English as a second language in San Francisco. She said she got involved in the protest after seeing how much time was wasted teaching spelling in her class.

Good God. Where does one begin with this? We mean, aside from the fact calling these folks the "American Literacy Society" is like calling La Cosa Nostra "The Society of Legitimate Businessmen Who Have Never Been Charged With Any Crime?"

Now, the reason we mention Mr Webster is that he had a thing for phonetic spellings, and as a result of his meddling, American English actually has plenty of changes compared to the Queen's English. On the other hand, if we recall correctly, many of his phoneticisms were deemed silly; and as such, the American people didn't accept them. This is why we still write, for instance, head instead of hed, except when you are writing layout code. So, to make a long story short, we tried it once. It didn't work. No reason to screw things up again.

Still, we don't know if certain easy words to spell (C-R-A-N-K-S comes to mind) would be affected by a phonetic change. And while we certainly are sympathetic to those with language difficulties, we do also know these difficulties can be overcome. Hence, screwing up the English language is right out. One in five Americans may be functionally illiterate, but we do think that a combination of various factors (whether one grows up in a home with books, whether one reads newspapers, quality of education, etc.) which are not directly related to the language cause that.

Finally, we must point out two things. The first is that language is always changing, and even today we create new words and let others rust away. The grammatical rules have nothing to do with this: consider how the acronym COBOL, for instance, would be recognizable to many folks over the age of say 50, but acronyms such as LOL and ROTFL might not make any sense. To take this to a further extreme, consider this:

English, 14th c.

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

English, 2004

When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March's drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;

The second thing we would note is that it is illogical to protest English spelling when doing so does one absolutely no good. Perhaps it would have made more sense for the protestors to do some book-learning (or teach others) instead of traveling across the country to demonstrate. We're just saying.

Of course, we do not wish to sound as if we are entirely antagonistic to the protestors' cause. After all, Ms Kyzenga -- oops -- may have a point. Simplification might have its uses: for instance, it would be so much easier to write Frisco instead of San Francisco. But then, it wouldn't be proper for us to do that, now would it?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:11 PM | TrackBack

Bradbury on Moore: "(Blank)(Blank-blank)"

TODAY'S LESSON for aspiring filmmakers: do not mess around with Ray Bradbury in any way.

We here at The Rant have long considered Mr Bradbury one of America's finest writers, not merely because he is fantastic at his craft, but because he's never been one to pull a punch. Well, in an interview with a Swedish newspaper, Mr Bradbury offered his opinion on filmmaker Michael Moore, whose "Fahrenheit 9/11" will apparently soon be in U.S. theatres.

Mr Bradbury, the author of the excellent "Fahrenheit 451," is not happy with Mr Moore's appropriation of his title. Secular Blasphemy has provided its readers with a translation of the article in which he makes his views known. Go there to see the whole thing:

Mr BRADBURY: Michael Moore is a screwed asshole, that is what I think about that case. He stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission.

Mr Bradbury goes on to say that no one will see Mr Moore's film, and the newspaper says that Mr Bradbury considers Mr Moore a dishonest thief. Also, Mr Bradbury argues that Mr Moore received the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival because the people there hate Americans.

We realize Mr Bradbury might not approve of our characterization of his words, but we do believe that in the creative world, this is what one could describe as a "project beating."

(link via Steve Silver)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:21 PM | TrackBack

Psalms for All Occasions!

THE EVENING STANDARD has reported the Church of England will publish a modified text of Psalm 23 in a forthcoming pocket prayer book. While the version is not the Church's official version for use in services, the excerpt transcribed from "Pocket Prayers For Justice And Peace" is pretty grim:

In a new version published by the Church of England, the words: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" are replaced by: "Even if a full-scale violent confrontation breaks out I will not be afraid, Lord." The new version shares with the traditional one the opening line "The Lord is my shepherd", but the psalmist goes on: "He lets me see a country of justice and peace and directs me towards this land" and that His "shepherd's power and love protect me" - instead of "thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Folks, we think we're pretty safe in arguing that "Pocket Prayers for Justice and Peace" has reached a Critical Desalinization Point. Still, if the Church of England can publish versions of prayers based on things like debt relief and trade issues, we don't see why we ourselves couldn't do the same about other matters. So here are our ideas -- with apologies to the original authors of the Psalms, some of whose lines we borrow outright.

And may God forgive us.


Relief Prayer 37B: Claims Adjusters

Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my lament!
For I have given a man's car a very large dent.
My luck has been awfully bad as of late,
so of course that car was a Jag XK8.
I'm really afraid my premiums will jump,
since that idiot stopped dead for a lousy speed hump.
So deliver me from said fiscal abuse;
let my claims adjuster buy my crappy excuse.

Relief Prayer 88C: Vending Machines

I lift up my eyes to the machine.
From whence does my help come?
No help comes from the maintenance people;
they are all on break.

I want my dollar back,
so I bang the machine most mightily.
Yet the second-rate cupcakes sit there, mocking;
they refuse to fall.

Lord, I really need those cupcakes,
because as You know I went on the Atkins Diet,
and it has been six days since I had carbs;
hence I might just kill.

So I beseech you, oh Lord,
have mercy on Your supplicant;
Deliver to me the cupcakes for which I hunger,
let this kick free them.

Relief Prayer 124: Bad Customer Service

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
for this illiterate moron doesn't understand
this DVD I bought had a thick scratch in it,
making it unplayable.

This pimply-faced twenty-something does so on purpose,
for his bitterness exists without bounds;
as if it's my fault he went for philosophy
at that third-rate school in East Lansing.

He holds fast to his evil purpose, just for kicks;
he claims he can do nothing without clearance,
which I know is a complete and utter lie.
Yet he persists in telling me such falsehoods,
as if I was just born yesterday.
Did they teach him anything in East Lansing?

Clearly he is bitter about my stellar success,
but then of course I went to Ann Arbor;
and also I studied a proper subject.
Yet such reason counts naught with him.
He will not deign to give me store credit,
even though I have the receipt.

But You will stand fast with me, that I know;
and will prevail upon him to act quickly.
Barring that, though, give him the typhus,
or at least some social disease.

Relief Prayer 234: Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck;
I sink in deep payments
and there is no abatement.
I have come into misfortune
and the red ink sweeps over me.
I am weary with my pleading;
my wallet is empty.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for the Fed.

How could they raise the rates right now,
as I just closed on this place last week;
now my loan shall be upside-down
with an impending balloon payment
in a mere five years.
O God, Thou knowest my folly;
buying at the height of the market just killed me.
For zeal for this house has consumed me,
and I paid no attention to the bubble.

But it's such a nice house, really,
with three bedrooms and two baths;
and a decent yard with shade trees.
Now it has become my curse, and worse,
my neighbor absconded with my mower.
O God, prevail upon the Fed and Greenspan;
let them keep rates steady one more quarter,
let me have a soft landing,
for I need some equity
and decent schools for my kids.

Song of Praise 12: Sundry Home Items

O sing to the Lord a new song,
for He has done marvelous things!
He has delivered unto me a crisp twenty
from the dark innards of my sofa cushions;
Now I can purchase a good pizza,
from that place down on Sycamore Street,
and it will count for dinners tonight and tomorrow.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
For I have found a roll of paper towels
when I thought I had used the last one.
Now I can actually clean up that spill
which had conquered the kitchen countertop,
and it will not fester while I am at work.

Relief Prayer 512: Stock Market Investors

My God, my God,
why hast Thou forsaken me?
Why are Thou so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O, my God, I call by day,
but my brokers do not answer;
and by night, their Web site's down.

I wanted to sell shares
in a firm they recommended;
they gave it a strong buy.
But then the earnings reports arrived
and the firm missed expectations;
so I lost ten percent in two days.
In them I trusted; I trusted.
Yet they did not deliver.
Now I am left with my woe and grief.

O God, remind me to think long-term,
to deal with the misery of my 401(k);
which has the only funds in history
with a beta more than one going down
and less than one on the upside.
Let me recall the lessons of compounding,
let me stand fast with dollar-cost averaging,
since the market always goes up,
or at least it's really supposed to.

Give me, O God, the patience to deal
with the speculators and day-traders;
who conspire with hedge funds and short-sellers
to drag down the market each passing day.
Grant me a rally, O Lord, a big rally
and break them like ships thrown onto shore;
Let their schemes and machinations fail,
but deliver me to critical mass.
For buy means hold, and hold means sell,
for ever and ever.


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:12 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Englishman Humiliated for Botched Home Renovation

THIS IS WHY we leave any repair work in our own rented space to the professionals. The BBC reports that one Christopher Pendery, 27, of Loughborough, will serve 160 hours worth of community service for causing thousands of pounds' worth of damage to his rented home.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Mr Pendery -- who like us can be fairly called incompetent when it comes to renovation work -- had perhaps the most piteous defense ever given in a court of law. True, given the sentence, it may very well have worked. But to have one's own defense lawyer call one "stupid," and to then have the judge concur ...

It's just got to be mortifying.

(via Natalie Solent)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:56 PM | TrackBack

Official Ruling Affects Vacation Plans

IN A MOVE WE FIND deeply distressing, the Government of New Jersey has ruled that bars and night clubs may no longer offer women free admission to or discounted drinks at their establishments. As we are going to spend three days in the Garden State later this month, we must protest this arbitrary and capricious decision to make our evenings out with friends less enjoyable.

Fortunately, the state's governor has decried the matter; but it would appear that Drumthwacket cannot actually override its regulators' decision in the case. The Associated Press has the full story:

The state's top civil rights official has ruled that taverns cannot offer discounts to women on ``ladies nights,'' agreeing with a man who claimed such gender-based promotions discriminated against men.

David R. Gillespie said it was not fair for women to get into the Coastline nightclub for free and receive discounted drinks while men paid a $5 cover charge and full price for drinks.

In his ruling Tuesday, J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the state Division on Civil Rights, rejected arguments by the nightclub that ladies nights were a legitimate promotion. Commercial interests do not override the ``important social policy objective of eradicating discrimination,'' he ruled.

Well, we'd like to thank the State of New Jersey for potentially making our vacation less fun!

Sure, we know that as a member of the affected class, we are supposed to be happy knowing that everyone else will now be able to pay the same bogus cover charge and inflated prices for watered-down liquor that we do.

But here's the trouble. You see, because women will now have to pay the same going rate, it is entirely feasible to extrapolate that in two weeks or so, a woman who could well be The Lady We End Up Marrying would NOT be at the same bar we were, because the after-effects of this ruling would have discouraged her from patronizing the bar in question; while before, she may have been given positive incentives to attend that establishment. That sucks.

Furthermore, the knowledge this could happen has caused us great emotional distress and mental anguish, which will lead to a general feeling of malaise and spite, which will lead to us Not Spending The Money We Otherwise Would Have Spent in the Garden State, which will then lead to less-than-anticipated tax revenues for the State of New Jersey.

So really, New Jersey -- thanks a lot! We hope you're BLOODY WELL HAPPY knowing you've made life just a wee bit more difficult for us. For now, if we wish to properly party, we may have to spend $27 on a round-trip train ticket from Trenton to New York.

Although, now that we think of it, that isn't all that bad of an idea.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:28 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack