October 30, 2004

The Stakes Are So Small Dept.

WE HAVE LEARNED, via Simon From Jersey, that the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has started offering its students a course on -- wait for it -- "American Idol."

We would direct readers to read all of Mr Einspahr's essay, as he did a nice compare and contrast between his college experience and that of students at UNC-Charlotte. We must add, though, that our initial reaction was similar to that of our fellow Michigan alum:

My friends and I took Astronomy, Philosophy, History, Logic, or Computer Programming to fill our extraneous requirements, not this shit. I never had TIME to take a class like this, let alone get OFFERED one. Maybe it was the Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus II that got in the way. Or that the few free credit hours we DID have were spent on our diversity requirement, which if you were studious, could be filled by a meaningful course like Biological Anthropology. I wanted to take a class in the music school, but it was on Music Theory and 16th-19th Century composers, not on 2nd-rate imitators butchering shitty songs in between shameless self-promotion and commercial whore-mongering. It's just getting embarrassing to read this shit. What's next, a class on the effect the show "Friends" has had on consumer culture in the midst of 1990's economic prosperity???

Dammit, Simon, don't give them any ideas.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:24 AM | TrackBack

That Unbearable Fragility

WE READ with interest this morning some excellent posts about the latest trend in reality television, which has to do with chronicling the "makeovers" of regular people. Such shows basically throw those appearing on them through a ringer of plastic surgery, counseling and other things, and examine how the contestants fare in the end.

Now, both the posts we reference take rather a dim view of the phenomenon, as the writers of each worry about the influence such programming will have on the shows' young and impressionable viewership. We ourselves tend to think such feelings are justified. For instance, on one of the shows referenced, a participant is asked whether she has any advice for teenagers considering elective plastic surgery. That's a bit troubling, and not merely for the message that sends about plastic surgery. Since the human body often doesn't stop development until one is in one's twenties, such surgeries can prove a bit tricky.

But we will leave the discussion of messages to others. What really strikes us about this whole phenomenon is that everyone involved with these shows seem to possess what one might call an unbearable fragility of self. That is, they feel compelled for some reason to insist they are Happy With Themselves and are Strong in Spirit and such. Hugo Schwyzer notes this as well. He writes:

This is the contemporary (and nonsensical) cultural gospel: changing yourself in order to make yourself feel better about yourself is acceptable as long as you already love yourself. The sin lies in admitting that you don't really love yourself; the sin lies in admitting that you aren't autonomous and self-sufficient and all of those other things our culture tells young women they need to be.

Here, Mr Schwyzer stops, but he is certainly on to something, and it is not something limited to young women. There exists in our present culture a syndrome -- made up of envy and pride and avarice and anger -- that propels many people to make a point of proving themselves to others. It explains much about what drives some people to buy expensive automobiles and get plastic surgery and demand really nice appliances and so on -- they do so not merely because these things are inherently good, but also because they want to show the rest of the world that they've made it.

But here's the awful joke -- no one who has made it needs to do that.

We imagine that our readers probably know of at least one person who has made it in this life, under whatever definition one wants to use for that term, yet is very humble about this. We would also submit that many Rant readers are in that position themselves.

For such people are not hard to find. They exist across the social spectrum: the small businessman who owns the corner store; the construction worker who looks at his family and his life, and realizes he's got it good; the rich man who makes a point of being private about his wealth. Not only do these people not particularly give a damn about keeping up with the Joneses, they think the Joneses can go to hell if the Joneses don't agree with how they see things. And in living this way, they have thrown one more trophy onto their own walls of success.

So, given that, why do some of those who have made it feel the need to flaunt it? We can't say we really know. Perhaps it is insecurity which drives them. Perhaps it is vanity or cruelty or anger. We do know, though, that we have always felt saddened when we've met folks in this situation. We've met a lot of good people in our day who are pointlessly making themselves miserable; and at the center of that misery is pride.

Interestingly enough, we would submit one can see an example of this in a work from one of these shows' creators: namely, the preface to some official show companion. This preface is a rather stunning piece of work. It's not really arrogant per se, but it is conceited; it contains paragraph upon paragraph of how accomplished and wonderful the writer is. As such, the writer comes off as the type of person one prays to avoid at a dinner party. Consider this gem of wisdom:

Becoming a Swan requires faith. And I don't mean religion. I mean the faith that you'll be taken care of in the universe if you do your work.

This might have been considered insightful, had people not been saying this for close to three thousand years. But one quickly learns that such examples are not isolated. For instance, the creator told this to The Washington Post:

But I am saying, pick whatever you want. If you want to become a vegan, knock yourself out. If you've had a bunch of kids and your stomach sags, it's not a big deal if you want help with that. Life is really short and really hard for women, and whatever is going to make you feel better about yourself, do it."

We suppose now would be a bad time to mention that this "really short" life is, on average, roughly six years shorter for men. But we digress. Before we close, we do want to return to one of Mr Schwyzer's points, and that has to deal with the fact there are many folks out there who aren't happy with themselves. That, of course, is at the heart of why people agree to appear on these shows. The trouble, though, is this: it gives these folks hope they can run away from their problems, and we fear they will eventually find that an impossibility.

In the end, though, we have to wish them all the best. For they do seem awfully sad, and awfully consumed by that unbearable fragility of self. One can't cast aspersion on someone who has desperately hoped for a way out of his or her present circumstances, and thinks he or she has found the way to do so. We do think it acceptable, though, to wish these reality-show participants would see the inherent goodness which exists inside them -- and always has.

(via Camassia)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:32 AM | TrackBack

Last of the Carbohydrates

YESTERDAY, OUR DOCTORS -- who have grown markedly concerned about our miserable health -- ordered us to start on "The South Beach Diet," an eating regimen which from what we can tell forbids one to derive any pleasure from food whatsoever. As one might expect, we were most disappointed at this news. For it was yet another Grand Day of Reckoning, during which we were forced to confront unpleasant realities about our life. Our shock came not from knowing we were mortal, but instead came from knowing that our mortal existence was about to experience a bit of a downgrade.

This epiphany came to us as we sat in a conference room at the hospital, looking at a vast array of health-conscious food products lined up on a counter. We have never cared for such things, as we have seen them as pale substitutes for the real thing: after all, why not have just a wee bit of butter instead of globs of Butter-Flavored Cholesterol-Lowering Synthetic Spread? Yet there they were, sitting before us: all promising wonderful health benefits such as More Calcium and Lowered Risk of Heart Disease, yet remaining in our eyes flavorless, milquetoast, and wretched. It was an awfully depressing thing, and we despaired greatly at the thought of having to eat the stuff.

However, based on our analysis of "The South Beach Diet," we may just crave these things when all is said and done.

The diet, as we learned, is essentially a detoxification program for the body. Over the next two weeks, we shall be restricted to eating just 40 grams of fat per day. This is perhaps 15 percent of our standard caloric intake, figuring we would eat a total of 2,400 calories per day at maximum. Of this amount, only one-quarter can come in the form of saturated fat (i.e., bacon grease, lard, the good stuff). The hardest cut, however, comes in the form of carbohydrates. We will get none of these over the next two weeks. It is fair to say our reaction was akin to that one scene in "The Golden Child," when Eddie Murphy inquires as to just how many people have accomplished a particular physical feat.

For we know how our body works, you see. We know that even though our brain is ordering it to deal with the lack of carbohydrates, it will resist with all due force. At the end of the second day, we have no doubt we will be suffering intensely; and at the end of the first week, we may start hallucinating about cupcakes and assorted goodies.

Perhaps the greatest annoyance is that "The South Beach Diet" requires some skill in cookery, of which we have only a modest amount. We ought say that we very much appreciated those close to us who politely offered their advice in this matter, but we were so downhearted we didn't really return their enthusiasm. The joys of making endless desserts from ricotta cheese weren't readily apparent; and the thought of making the other recipes wasn't all that appealing either. The idea of a crustless, vegetable-heavy quiche-like dish just soured us (after all, as Gaces de la Bugne once put it, si tu veux que du pate tate, fais mettre des oeufs en la pate.*).

Yet despite these complaints, with them comes a sense of resignation. For the alternatives to this are far worse, and they are many; ranging from the slow death that comes with heart disease to the agonies of pancreatitis. As our present health has undoubtedly accelerated the pace which we would contract such medical terrors, we are faced with the unpleasant reality that we have come to the end of the line. One thing must go: our bad habits, or us. And although we admit very much that we'd prefer to leave these things up to God, we do suspect He would not care for us wrecking one of His temples.


* "If you want a pie that's tasty, have eggs put in the pastry." So said the man who served three French kings in the 14th century.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 28, 2004

Cinematic Sins Reveal the Worst in Us

WELL, WE NOW have certain proof that we're in serious need of a good two weeks in the country. For the past hour and a half, we have been watching "Bedazzled." Yes, that movie with Elizabeth Hurley playing the Devil.

You know, it's bad enough we honestly can't remember how we started watching this, but perhaps even more disturbing is that we're continuing to watch it. We mean, it's not as if Ms Hurley makes a convincing Devil; it's like she's the third-rate, temporary fill-in for George Burns. Mr Burns, of course, had that role figured out back when he played it. He wasn't about to let any greedy human weasel out of his or her contract. That's because he was evil. That's what he did. And then he enjoyed watching the human squirm in the midst of it all, which was really evil. Besides, if we recall right, he also drove that kick-ass evil KITT-like corvette.

Ms Hurley, on the other hand, is turning in a performance that would get her sent to the House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters, as a certain diabolic missive once termed it.

Despite this, though, we actually find ourself rooting for Ms Hurley, even though it is wicked for us to do so. You see, we're already so annoyed with the main character that we can't wait for her to cast him down into ...

What! No. NO!

OK, dig this: The guy has not only managed to weasel out of his stupid agreement, he's gone and Developed a Spine. Now he's Bested the Workplace Bullies and Found a Different but Great Girl who is Not the Girl He Originally Liked. Even worse, he's realizing The Truth Lies Within and other Pop-Culture Platitudes About Life. We'd like to think that's a very sly joke on the part of the screenwriter -- perhaps the guy isn't out of the woods yet -- but no, all is well and he has a new and improved outlook on things. Hey, and look! The Devil's just a very likable evil spirit after all, isn't ... she. He. It. Blah.

Oh, God!


(As penance for the above really nasty post, we will re-read The Screwtape Letters for much of this evening).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:44 PM | TrackBack

Rant Declines Sale Proposal

Rant Executives "Blew Off" Sale Inquiry,
Angry Shareholders Complain
Advocate Charges: Leaders Ought to Have
Heard Out Proposal Before Trashing It
Kepple Responds: "Think Long Term, Will You?"

Financial Rant

HAMILTON, Bermuda -- Executives with Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc., an Internet content provider based here, angrily reacted to shareholder complaints about the firm's handling of a potential site sale.

The complaining shareholders in the now privately-held company own just a few percent of the firm's total stock. Burned after the share price plummeted in the wake of the dot-com boom, they held onto their almost-worthless stock in hopes The Rant would eventually be sold or return to the markets as a public entity. Now, they're furious at what they call a "rash and foolish move" which "only benefits management."

"Look, I'm as ready as the next guy to admit I screwed up," said Ira Pflugerpepper, a shareholder from Fearnot, Pa., who initially bought when shares were trading at $0.50. "That said, last time I checked, the managers of a company are supposed to look out for the shareholders, aren't they? And if the shareholders could make anything out of this, why the hell didn't the suits go for it?"

"Now look here -- we're working on building value in this company," chief executive Benjamin Kepple said at a press conference yesterday. "Yes, we got a nice letter that was, at first glance, an apparently serious quasi-spam inquiry regarding the possible sale of our site. We're very flattered. That said, there is no way we're going to have anything to do with it. Even to entertain such things, we need documents, and there were precious little of those along with the proposal in question."

"We know that a few of our investors have been disappointed their ADRs went south in the dot-com boom," Kepple continued, "but we refuse to do anything that could impact the brand in ways other than those set out in our Strategic Plan. Editorial control rests in one party: us. Managerial control rests in one party: us. We are completely and utterly independent. And that's the way it's going to be. End of discussion."

When asked what kind of offer The Rant would consider, Kepple shot back, "Well, more money than you can imagine." When a reporter countered that he could imagine quite a bit, Kepple responded: "No reward is worth that."

Kepple's comments came as embarrassing document disclosures shined some light on The Rant's byzantine equity structure. Kepple, despite having little initial capital, was able to seize control of his firm in 2002 after forcing the share price to plummet to just pennies. He then was able to take it private, cementing the deal. The documents, which a former employee revealed to a reporter, showed the following people and groups were owners of The Rant:


Benjamin Kepple: 17.6 pc

Kepple Provident Fund Scheme Trust: 33.1 pc
(controlled by Kepple)

Insiders/Management: 7.4 pc
(includes CTO Ned Henries, CFO Ted Hamilton, VP Sales/Mktg Quinn Quimbley, and other personnel.)

Shark & Condemnem Co. Inc.: 1.1 pc

Minority Interest: 11.2 pc

The owners of the remaining 29.6 pc are still unclear, a source said, but are thought to include a firm based in the U.S. state of Ohio. Kepple, when asked about the list, declined comment.

However, the conference was not without some news. After persistent questioning, The Rant revealed certain traffic data. Based on the number of total visitors (including repeats), The Rant believes it has achieved levels of traffic comparable to "the average circulation of a very small weekly newspaper."

"Admittedly, it's ... well, you know that scene in 'Superman' where Lex Luthor is describing his plans for California? And he discovers his henchman Otis secretly named a tiny little town in the California desert 'Otisburg'?" Kepple asked.

"Compared to the blogosphere and the media overall, this is kinda like that. But boy! It's still pretty neat."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 26, 2004

Cuba's Latest Scheme

Cuban strongman Fidel Castro took a small step towards a free Cuba last week.

(photo via Val Prieto)

IT SEEMS the Maximum Leader's nasty fall last week has loosened his grasp on economic concepts even further than before. Cuba has announced tonight it will halt use of the imperialist Yankee dollar on the island. The decree goes into effect next month.

The Associated Press reports:

The resolution announced Monday by Cuba's Central Bank seemed aimed at finding new sources for foreign reserves as the U.S. government steps up efforts to prevent dollars from reaching the island as part of a strategy to undermine Fidel Castro's government. Cuba's national currency, the peso, cannot be used with international partners.

"Beginning on November 8, the convertible peso will begin to circulate in substitution of the dollar throughout the national territory," Castro said in a written message read by his chief aide Carlos Valenciaga.

In his message, Castro asked Cubans to tell relatives living abroad to send them money in other foreign currencies, such as euros, British sterling or Swiss francs.

The move was likely to hurt mostly those Cubans who receive American dollars from relatives living in the United States.

Cubans and others on the island can still hold dollars in unlimited quantities and can change them into pesos before the new policy takes effect. But they will have to pay a 10 percent charge to exchange dollars afterward.

"In the short term, there may be a slip in the remittances," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which tracks business between the two countries. Some estimates on annual remittances to Cuba are as high as US$1 billion (euro780 million).

"But going into the holidays, people in Miami and New Jersey won't want the holidays for their families on the island to be even more miserable," he said, predicting remittances from those major Cuban American communities would pick up again, despite the difficulty of sending them and the 10 percent charge.

We are amazed Castro's regime thinks this idea is going to work; to our eyes, it seems to play right into the hands of the U.S. Government.

From a regime-survival point of view, we admit the idea looks workable. It will have several short-term positives for the regime:

First. It will force USD-holding Cubans to eventually spend down their dollars should they wish to buy scarce goods (e.g. appliances, cooking oil) from Government-run hard-currency stores. Obviously, these dollars could still be used surreptitiously for payments in the tiny private sector, but sheer necessity will force Cubans to cough them up eventually. Result: Cubans will become more beholden to the regime, which controls the supply of (internally-convertible) Cuban pesos (CUP), the "red won" of Cuba's economy.

Second. The exchange surcharge will effectively devalue the CUP v. the USD, meaning the Cuban regime will steal 10 percent of its citizens' wealth held in dollars. Even worse, if this surcharge goes through, the Cuban government could decide to increase it over time, thus robbing the people of even more wealth. And in theory, the Cubans could seize all the dollars now on the island, giving their holders CUP in exchange. The problem here, of course, is that the non-convertible CUP is one of those currencies that tends to depreciate quickly in an internal market.

Third. The move may cause Cubans abroad to send other hard currencies to the island (EUR, GBP, etc.) in place of dollars. It probably wouldn't be too difficult for Cuba to exchange these currencies for dollars -- or use them in place of dollars -- should the need arise.

However, there is one big flaw in this scheme, and that's in terms of the remittances which Cubans abroad send to the island. The regime clearly hopes that Cubans abroad will send home as many (or more) dollars as they did before its plan goes into effect. But let us say that Cubans abroad, knowing their dollars are being essentially stolen by a regime they hate, decide to reduce their dollar shipments accordingly. They won't cut them off, but where they sent $100 per month before, perhaps they might send $80 -- or $50. And even if they sent the same amount in a different currency, transaction costs involved would cut into those funds. In the end, Cuba could end up with even less in its hard currency reserves than it has now -- and that could cause problems once it runs out of cash.

Of course, the regime's new policy could also cause a lot of more immediate problems, in terms of civil unrest and general unhappiness with the people in charge. That will be of more concern to Castro's followers than to Castro, though -- for they're the ones who will reap the whirlwind when he shuffles off this mortal coil. What a pity the man did not break his neck in that fall, as it would have made things much easier for all concerned!

But the devil will take Castro soon enough; for like any tyrant among men, he knows how to wait.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:33 AM | TrackBack

October 25, 2004


Winter is nature's way of saying, "Up yours."

-- Robert Byrne

WE HAVE NOTICED over the past few years that many people, upon learning we originally hail from the fading industrial city of Kalamazoo, Mich., think a result of our upbringing is that we're "used" to New Hampshire winters. We would like to take this opportunity to refute, once and for all, such idle assumptions.

'Cause we ain't used to 'em. Never have been. Never will be. That dog won't hunt, day late and a dollar short, can't get from here to there, nada, no way, No. No, No, No.

For let's face it: winter brings with it disease and misery and inconvenience and physical pain, and we can practically guarantee we shall fall prey to all of these things over the next six months. Certainly the first has already arrived: we are presently fighting something rather awful, a nasty respiratory illness which is clogging our throat and lungs and causing us to ache all over. It's generally a bad sign when one can feel one's lymph nodes, no?

But we are not unused to feeling badly -- our last Gee We Feel 100 Percent Day was in September -- so we can kind of shrug this off. It's the rest of winter's agonies that really get to us, viz.:

* Misery. Remember that episode of "The Twilight Zone" where the Earth gets knocked out of its orbit and the weather changes and everyone goes insane contemplating their impending and inevitable demise? ("Panic? Who's left to panic? Heh. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm told my departure from the script may cause ... hey! Let go of me!")

OK, so we don't suffer anything like that. But still -- on Dec. 21, we here in the city of Manchester will receive all of nine hours and four minutes of daylight. That's it. And this really gets to us; we cannot stand having such little sun. Even worse, we're on the wrong end of the Eastern Time Zone. When we were Back Home Years Ago, the unpleasant winter darkness in morning was offset due to a reasonable sunset time. Here, it's backwards -- it is light when we get up, but the sun sets in the middle of the afternoon. By the time we leave the office it is pitch black. The end result is that we only get direct exposure to the sun during our morning commute.

We are sorry, but these ten minutes do not do it, especially if it's cloudy out. So we go home and turn on the lights and try to avoid sinking into gloom. It's just not a recipe for happiness and good cheer, that's all we're saying.

*Inconvenience. In an amazing stroke of good fortune, the long-range weather forecasts show we are not expected to deal with snow until Nov. 5. This past year, snow first fell on Oct. 23, so we are pleased about this.

Yet we know, deep in our heart, that when November rolls around, there will be much in the way of personal injury and property damage. This is because people forget how to drive when winter starts. They never take it easy and they never go slow and they never allow for extra time to get to their destination. It will happen every place north of the Sun Belt, and we doubt our fair city will be an exception.

But that's just the start of it. For with the snow comes ice and sleet and the Dreaded Wintry Mix. And lo! The people WILL lose much time, and WILL have to get up early to get the driveway plowed. And the COMMUTE will take 35 MINUTES, longer if the people FORGET to buy decent SNOWBRUSHES for their cars. Thus it is written; thus it will be. Kyrie, elesion.

* Physical Pain. But the misery and inconvenience of winter are not the worst things, we think. For we can assure readers that our winters in Michigan pale to New England winters when it comes to cold, wind and general physical hazards.

In Kalamazoo, the most snow that we ever received in a day -- to the best of our memory -- was 13 inches. That was an exceptional occurrence. The coldest it ever got was perhaps 10 to 12 degrees below zero, that during the night. This again was exceptional.

Here in New Hampshire, we routinely receive a foot, a foot-and-a-half, two feet of snow during a good storm. It is relentless. And the cold! Good God! We had several nights down near 20 degrees below zero last winter. And this is southern New Hampshire. Up north, it became so cold that if you wanted your car to start in the morning, you had to keep it running all night.

But what really does it is the wind -- the bone-chilling, awful, miserable wind. It is not Chicago, but it does seem awfully like Ann Arbor, Mich., -- where what got you was not the snow, but the wind chill. The wind here cuts through you like a knife, and we're not looking forward to yet another year of it.

We do believe C.S. Lewis said it best, when he wrote that people didn't so much like winter, they instead liked the feeling of protection from it. We agree. And the way we see it, we can get some pretty good protection down in Miami.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2004

The Circles of AOHell

THIRTY MINUTES, 17 seconds. This is how long it took this evening for us to cancel our dial-up Internet service with America On-Line.

It was a process which required two phone calls, several instances of raising our voice, one demand to speak with a supervisor, and one threat of complaint to Government regulators, but we finally managed to convince the wretched malcontents to cancel our service. We no longer needed it, you see, as we finally signed up for a cable modem. But we remain so infuriated with the downright underhandedness of AOL's cancellation process that we figured we'd tell the world. After all, this is a company that prides itself on being customer-friendly. And since we are vindictive beyond belief, we figure the best way to punish AOL for its insolence is to warn as many of its potential customers as possible about AOL's customer service.

We suppose we should start with an explanation of how we signed up for the service in the first place. This is easy: it came with our computer, and it was convenient for us to sign up. All we needed it for was the connection, and as everyone knows, it is a pain in the ass to switch one's e-mail back and forth. So we have remained with it for the past few years. But when we finally got a broadband connection, we clearly had no use for a dial-up service; and as Mr Kepple pointed out to us, cancelling our AOL service would save us a good chunk of change.

So, with those parameters established firmly in our mind, we called this evening about 6:30. After a few minutes wading through AOL's unpleasant computerized answering system, we were put on the phone with a customer-service type. At first, we were inclined to like the guy, as he was a southerner, and we figured he was working in one of those economically-depressed areas where one is grateful for call-center work. This camaraderie lasted roughly 45 seconds. For the next 10 minutes, we can assure you our conversation was unproductive. It was a classic attrition strategy, in which they do everything they can to keep one on board with the service. Despairing of actually getting our account cancelled -- it was as if we were talking to David Spade in one of those commercials -- we agreed to settle for a free month's worth of service on AOL's broadband platform.

We then had dinner, put our laundry in the wash, and called back. By now, we were downright annoyed. Our first call, from soup to nuts, lasted for 17 minutes and 35 seconds, and the thought of spending even more time on the phone was not making us very cordial. This time, though, we resolved to be fully firm and go on the warpath.

This time we were transferred to what was almost certainly a foreign-run call-center operation. We suspect this for a few reasons: first, there was a tiny but noticeable delay in the voice transmission; second, the operators spoke English fluently but did not have the native ease which one would find in an American; and third, the folks had a slight accent to their speech.

This somewhat rattled us, as we felt bad about having to be a jerk to the foreign staff, who of course make practically nothing in Bangalore or wherever these things are based. But we did not feel bad for long, as despite our explanations, we went through the same goddamn spiel a second time. Eventually, we got a supervisor on the phone, and after a pointed mention about potentially filing a complaint with Federal regulators, he agreed to cancel our service, gave us a confirmation number to that effect, and the hassle was finally over.

Still, though. Half an hour to cancel service? Even with the obligatory pitches and cajoles, this is a process that shouldn't take more than five minutes. Our only thought is that this whole process speaks much about the company -- which has seen its stock price fall nearly 80 pc over the past few years. It seems to us that if they're going to such pathetic lengths to keep what customers they have, there must be a reason for it. And we suspect that reason is not one which would bring applause at the annual shareholders' meeting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Fool and His Money ...

WE WERE INTRIGUED to learn this morning that The Independent, a quality British newspaper, has done some fine reporting on a rather disturbing thing: namely, many Britons are absolutely clueless about personal finance. And when we say absolutely clueless, we very much mean it.

The newspaper reports:

Nearly four out of five people do not know that APR refers to the interest and other costs of a loan, four in ten admit they do not understand mortgages or ISAs, and a third lack confidence in their financial affairs.

These are some of the results of a survey conducted by Mori for the Institute of Financial Services (IFS), the rebranded name for the Chartered Institute of Bankers, which says it is shocked by what it discovered about financial illiteracy in Britain. Gavin Shreeve, the IFS chief executive, said: "We are already becoming aware of the consequences of large sections of the population not saving enough now for the future. This report quantifies the financial literacy gap that exists in the UK. Unless tackled, this will lead to an over-reliance on the state in old age, as people continue to be unable or unwilling to determine the right solutions to their own needs."

The survey of 1,920 adults found that just over a quarter did not know that a financial adviser was someone who is supposed to offer clients appropriate guidance on money matters in line with their own circumstances.

One in five did not understand the concept of inflation. Nearly a third did not know that insurance products are designed to protect their owners from unforeseen events. Shockingly, says the IFS, only 30 per cent could calculate four per cent interest on £2,000 over two years (it's £160).

We have to admit we're really surprised at The Independent's report. That four out of five people haven't any clue what an APR is -- that's just astounding. That two out of five do not understand their mortgages is downright alarming. We are less surprised that two out of five don't understand ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts -- Britain's equivalent of a Roth IRA), as the rules governing ISAs are pretty complex. However, even allowing for our unusual interest in such things, we still think that's incredible. With Google's help, we grasped the basic concepts surrounding ISAs in about fifteen minutes. So even if a Briton knew very little about financial matters, he or she should still be able to pick up the ball and run with it after a bit of study.

What especially got to us, though, was that a good many Britons hadn't a clue about things like inflation and interest calculations. For we realized that if things were this bad in Britain, they were probably as bad here in the United States. That's really bothersome, as if people don't understand these basic things, they're prone to making a lot of poor money decisions, and prone to having unscrupulous types take advantage of them, and so on. To say nothing of how emasculating not having that knowledge would be. So, we hope that folks here in the United States will take a keen look at beefing up personal-finance education -- for like Britain, we could probably use it.


AS AN ASIDE to our remaining readers from the UK (those whom we have not mightily offended with our recent jingoistic sniping) we would ask the following: has there been any real discussion about reforming the UK's pension system?

We're just wondering. You see, we were surfing The Pension Service's Web site -- yes, we know, we're pathetic -- and it seems like you guys are getting a raw deal. Here in America, we have what are called 401(k)s, which have contribution rules similar to your Additional State/Occupational Pension schemes, except we can invest our contributions in the market. Plus, we own the accounts, so if we kick off we don't lose out. Has anyone brought up the idea of reforming the UK's pension schemes to look more like 401(k)s?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:17 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 22, 2004

It's Not Over Yet

WE MUST ADMIT we feel a bit chagrined about the Boston Red Sox's glorious, history-making pennant win. This is not, we hasten to assure readers, because we were not incredibly enthused about the Sox throwing the Yankees down to the ground. We thought that kicked ass. Rather, the reason we feel chagrined is because we have only been a Red Sox fan for roughly one year.

As such, we feel somewhat similar to a soldier brought in to a combat zone near the very end of hostilities. The battle was won, but we did precious little fighting in it. And now, all the soldiers who have been in combat for years upon years are looking at our clean uniform and our shiny shoes and thinking, "Oh, Christ. Look at the new lieutenant."

Still, though, we must say we're not completely green. We did, after all, watch last year's horror of an American League Championship Series, in which we and our fellow members of Red Sox Nation received a sharp stick in the eye courtesy of New York. It was in this series where we first learned to appreciate baseball; to appreciate the game had strategy, to appreciate that there was far more to it than hitting a ball with a stick. The pain and anguish which we felt, upon watching the Red Sox lose that series, may have paled compared to that which so many Red Sox fans have felt over the years. But we suffered it nonetheless. And so this year, we watched the games on TV and grew to love this fine game of baseball.

And this year, the Red Sox did it, and have put themselves within striking distance of the World Championship for the first time in some two decades. God! how great it would be if they won -- not so much for us, but for all those who have long believed in the Boston Red Sox.

But there is much more to do. We have scaled the cliffs at Normandy; now we must press on to Berlin. It is only then that our victory will be complete. So over the next several days, we shall cheer on the Red Sox without guilt -- and enjoin them to give the Cards hell.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

America 3, Britain 0

WE ARE QUITE pleased to note this morning -- after everyone else, as per usual -- that The Guardian has abandoned its attempt to influence the American election. We first noted our displeasure here, and we are glad to see that reason finally prevailed among The Guardian's staff.

We are inclined to be gleeful about it all, given the reception which the idea had on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, as The Telegraph noted:

(Ian Katz, of The Guardian) insisted: "Folks in Clark County itself have best recognised the spirit of the enterprise. Local media coverage has been consistently fair and good humoured."

"Good-humoured" headlines in the local newspaper, the Springfield News-Sun have included "Butt Out Brits, voters say" and "Trashing letter campaign" - a reference to the fact that the first woman to receive a letter from a Guardian reader, Beverly Coale, threw it away, fearing it was from a terrorist.

We congratulate Mrs Coale for her unceasing vigilance in this regard. Especially because, as Tim Blair noted, she could have recieved the letter which one Ken Loach dashed off before tea-time. The text of Mr Loach's letter includes these two heartwarming paragraphs:

You seek to dominate all others by demanding access to all markets on your terms, so that local industries and small farmers go to the wall.

You have supported brutal dictators, like Augusto Pinochet, General Suharto and Saddam Hussein, who, over the years, have murdered and tortured with your administration's approval.

We would love to know how the Ohioan recipient of Mr Loach's letter responded when he or she saw it. However, as we likely won't learn that, we would offer our own succinct response. It has two words. We trust Mr Loach would have little difficulty in figuring it out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:51 AM | TrackBack

October 20, 2004

Que Quiere?!

Oh No!
It’s Time for Yet Another Installment of …

A recurring Rant feature

WE CAN ASSURE readers that our search-engine logs are starting to get a bit depressing. It is not merely that the searches are getting weirder as time goes on, although that is somewhat troubling. What really amazes us is the volume. You would be shocked to learn how many people do searches regarding, to choose one popular phrase, “loss of consortium.” But that is not the only non-unique search. Apparently, many search-engine users who arrive at The Rant are looking for private details about celebrities’ lives, plagiarism-worthy essays, and resources related to the federal prisons system.

This would be disturbing enough, except for the massive number of strange queries from individuals. These queries are so … ah, different … that one might say the people entering them are constituents of The Twilight Zone’s Dimension of Mind. It’s getting downright creepy. Fortunately, however, we here at The Rant exist to fulfill our readers’ requests. Hence, let us turn to the latest edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered!

QUERY: what does per diem mean for workers

ANSWER: The per diem (lit., “one meal”) often refers to a stipend given to employees who are traveling, but who for some reason do not merit an expense account. As such, this stipend is sometimes only enough to cover the cost of one meal, generally a breakfast croissanwich from Burger King. If one is lucky, one can also buy those French toast sticks, and save them for lunch. Some workers, though, may receive enough cash to stay at a Holiday Inn. Remember: the idea behind the per diem is to spend as little of your own money as possible, with the hope of ending up-limit for your trip.

QUERY: invest $100 000 in (firm deleted) and receive a golf vacation

ANSWER: You seem more interested in the golf than the brokerage. Why not invest $90,000 with another brokerage that doesn’t have to lure you with a golf vacation, and spend the $10,000 on a trip to Pebble Beach? Heck, that $10,000 might even buy you a really great set of clubs, plus a lesson to help eradicate that troublesome slice of yours.

QUERY: stealing from large corporations

ANSWER: Stealing from large corporations is a bad idea. For one thing, it’s wrong. For another, they have many nasty and sneaky ways of catching you doing so. For a third, when they do catch you, you will be subjected to a most painful and grievous disgorgement process that may involve prison time. Instead, we would suggest that you demand stock options or other appropriate compensation increases at your next review session.

QUERY: more wealth more evil

ANSWER: Or: more wealth more good. It stands to reason that anyone with more of anything can have a correspondingly greater impact because of that. But merely having those things does not prepossess one to become more good or more evil.

QUERY: dave coulier net worth

ANSWER: Your life – it lacks meaning, yes?

QUERY: saddam hussein saves a bunch of money on his car insurance by switching to geico

ANSWER: Oh, if only they'd make THAT into a commercial.

QUERY: need to find an rich person an man that gives away out free money right now to day

ANSWER: Boy, YOU came to the wrong Web site, didn’t you?

QUERY: not just whistling dixie

ANSWER: You’re still not getting any of our money.

QUERY: mercantile insurance company ltd. bangladesh lottery result

ANSWER: Your bank must love dealing with idiots like you.

QUERY: peace corp disqualif

ANSWER: It’s no wonder, given your spelling. On the other hand, though, how the devil does anyone get disqualified from the Peace Corps? It’s the Peace Corps. As far as we can tell, the only exclusion it ever did was to get people excluded from the infantry.

QUERY: jennifer lopez not a good entertainer

ANSWER: We’re sorry, we deal with queries here at The Rant, not statements of fact. Please rephrase your request.

QUERY: determining the use of ethos, pathos logos

ANSWER: Good luck getting a jobos with what you’ve learned in THAT class.

QUERY: understanding reality television

ANSWER: We’ve decided to put this into a simple and easy equation for you. Non-union actors + hot people + no shame = $$$$$. And yes, it IS all about money. This is how it has always been.

QUERY: american culture concerned with popularity

ANSWER: We don’t know if it’s applicable to the culture as a whole, but certainly many Americans are concerned about their popularity. We have not been one of these people, as those who know us can attest, for a very long time.

QUERY: not taking things too personally

ANSWER: That has a LOT to do with why we care little about popularity. If someone does not like us, we figure they’ll get over it eventually.

QUERY: ben and stimpy

ANSWER: We are not the blogging equivalent of Ren Hoek.

QUERY: interpersonal relationship of metrosexuality

ANSWER: It’s all – all – about you.

QUERY: clothes make the man

ANSWER: Faugh.

QUERY: what is it like to be overly thin in American society?

ANSWER: You are so asking the wrong person. We haven’t been overly thin since the third grade, and that was because we were a sickly child. So we don’t know. We would, though, venture to guess this is a good thing until one’s metabolism gives out.

QUERY: can employers still make women wear skirts?

ANSWER: Say. There’s a tough one. Boy. We have no expert knowledge on this particular subject, but we would say that we think an employer can certainly require an appropriate dress code in a workplace. Yet unless the skirt is part of a uniform, we do not see how one could require wearing a skirt.

QUERY: descriptive essay on an undesirable place

ANSWER: We’re sorry, but The Rant’s expected essay on this topic (“Holy Christ, We’re in Sheboygan”) is not due until later this decade. Please check back then.

QUERY: santa red suit communist

ANSWER: We’ve suspected this for a long time. After all, he gives away toys away for free, and that’s communism at its finest.

QUERY: the joys of market speculation

ANSWER: O ye who churn your account, begone from here.

QUERY: former stockbroker what can I do?

ANSWER: Consider a career in personal financial-planning. There’s definitely a market in that, as many Americans have no idea what to do with their money.

QUERY: why music today stinks

ANSWER: In a word, Autotune.

QUERY: stesichorus homer

ANSWER: Stesichorus rules. He is perhaps the first Greek known to register his disagreement in writing about the story of the Trojan war. This was because he was bitter:

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

QUERY: young posh and loaded ben

ANSWER: Well, we suppose there’s something to be said for two out of three.

QUERY: under thirty years old high cholesterol

ANSWER: This is very not fun. We know.

QUERY: men are wrong

ANSWER: You must really be fun on dates!

QUERY: why do men act strange when their attracted to you

ANSWER: Hormones have much to do with this.

QUERY: how do men respond to love?

ANSWER: They respond well. We can assure readers that we ourselves stop smoking, lose weight, become cheerful and enjoy life when we are in love. Readers are therefore asked not to draw anything at all from the tone of our recent posts.

QUERY: christmas making-out

ANSWER: Do it AFTER the kids go to bed, for God’s sakes!

QUERY: plastic surgery ali landry

ANSWER: Naaaaaaaah. Not that we would know personally, of course – but boy! That guy who played A.C. Slater really screwed things up, didn’t he? God. What a schmuck.

QUERY: a really good thought before I go to sleep

ANSWER: See: Landry, Ali.

QUERY: one dollar movie theatre by crossroads mall in okla city ok area

ANSWER: Ooooh. Dollar theatres still exist? Amazing. Anyway, we would definitely suggest attending the dollar theatre if you are looking to catch great first-run releases such as “Who’s the Man?,” “Lucas,” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”

Well, that’s it for this month’s edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Next time, we’ll discuss the euro, Wyoming’s state song, and health-chest congestion (all of which, we would submit, are unfortunate things).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 16, 2004

Traveling Abroad

AS LONG-TIME Rant readers know well, we had been considering taking our major vacation next year in London. However, things have changed, and it looks like we shall instead spend that week in the highlands of central Mexico. There were several reasons for the switch: we would spend time with family, and it was cheaper, more laid-back, and so on.

However, we recently came across an article which made us downright grateful Mr and Mrs Kepple invited us to spend the week in Mexico. Namely, this rather disturbing tale of anti-Americanism in Britain. Even though we knew from Americans who have lived in Britain that such sentiment was prevalent there, it still came as a shock; for these events were on par with the type of anger one would expect to find only in France or Germany. It makes us glad to know we will be spending our dollars in a country which, even though its people and Government may not always agree with the gringos, continues to be friendly and welcoming.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:47 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

America. Yeah!

THIS PAST EVENING, our good friend Scott Rubush joined us here in Manchester for a viewing of "Team America: World Police." We can assure readers that this film is crude, naughty, and very disrepectful of established authority and opinion. We can also assure readers that both we and Mr Rubush laughed our asses off.

We suppose our favorite thing about "Team America" was watching Kim Jong-il get mercilessly mocked throughout the entire picture. This was not only funny, it was practically a public service, given that not enough people in the United States are familiar with the DPRK's "Dear Leader." We also liked the mockery directed at various entertainers, as it was brutal and unrelenting.

We do wonder how "Team America" will go over outside of the United States. We would have to think it would not do very well in Europe, primarily because the Eiffel Tower is accidentally destroyed and the Europeans might not like the anti-Arab-terrorist aspect of things. However, we were glad to see the film was made without considering all that. That's why it's funny. Plus, the low-brow aspects of the film's humor will ensure everyone gets the joke. So we would encourage all readers to go and see "Team America" -- it will brighten your day considerably.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 13, 2004


FOR THOSE readers watching the Red Sox-Yankees game ... did you just see that guy sitting behind home plate get bopped in the head with the foul ball? He was talking with some lady, when all of a sudden ... WHAP! Now he is complaining mightily to the guy next to him.

We can't believe it took us so long to discover this sport.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blip on the Radar Dept.

TONIGHT, the valiant Boston Red Sox are locked in combat with the New York Yankees, and the third and final Presidential debate is being held in Arizona. Our question: given these events, is anyone paying attention to the National Hockey League lockout?

Apparently not. That's pretty pathetic when you think about it -- for if the baseball or football leagues had faced such an event, Americans would be wailing and rending their garments. It also speaks to the challenges facing the premier professional hockey league. Aside from the economics of it all, both the owners and players face the possibility that Americans -- especially casual fans -- will simply give up on hockey if the lockout carries on too long. And if that happens, everyone loses.

Hopefully, though, both sides will see reason eventually, and come up with an innovative revenue-sharing agreement that ensures both owners and players get their fair share. Personally, we like the idea of profit-sharing; that in addition to a reasonable base salary for players, they'd get a cut of total revenues above a certain agreed-upon point. It seems to us that'd make everyone on both sides work harder to make bank for a team.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Back Again!

OOOOOH. The guys at JibJab Media ("This Land is Your Land") have come up with a new bipartisan political film. It is almost as good as "This Land," so go have a look.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:51 PM | TrackBack

Didn't This End Two Centuries Ago?

WE HAVE LEARNED this evening that The Guardian, a once-respectable British newspaper, has embarked upon a scheme to give its readers "a say" in the upcoming US elections. This scheme consists of having its readers send letters to unsuspecting American voters residing in Clark County, Ohio, with entreaties in an attempt to sway these voters' choices -- one way or the other --on Election Day.

Now, we see their game perfectly clear. First they'll start sending letters. Then it will switch to phone calls. The next thing we'll know, there'll be squads of Hessian mercenaries roving the landscape, demanding quarter in our homes!

For it is bad enough when any foreign group attempts to meddle with our domestic affairs, but far worse when an English group does so. After all, when we wanted to have a say in how England was run, Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts. That, of course, led to a series of unfortunate events in which we were forced to run roughshod over England -- first in 1776, again in 1812.

Please, lads. Don't make us do it a third time.

We suppose now would be a good time to mention that The Guardian, and its Sunday Observer, may be contacted at 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER, United Kingdom. Remember that the English are unfailingly polite, so feel free to blast the Loyalists something fierce.


As an aside, we would note that due to The Guardian's set-up, only one voter address is being sent to any individual e-mail address. This is to prevent Clark County voters from being deluged with mail. We would only say that this evening, we paid the tiniest bit of homage to our great ancestors who fought in the American Revolution.

(link via Emily Jones, who is similarly appalled).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 PM | TrackBack

October 11, 2004

"In the Long Run, We Are All Dead"

YOU CAN SAY what you like about Lord Keynes and his economics, but we would submit to you this evening that his famous quip was spot on in dealing with the business of life.

We have noticed over the years that many otherwise right-thinking and responsible people get very much bothered at events and circumstances which are meaningless in the long run. As recent evidence of this, we would present a New York Times article about the state of youth soccer in an upper-crust suburb of that city. This suburb, you see, is apparently in an honest-to-God furore over how their youngsters ought take part in the sport.

It is a fascinating read, because it highlights the acedic and sclerotic nature of such places: many things that truly matter are left ignored, while any attempts to rock the boat are considered threats on par with root rot, criminality and Bolshevism. And while we would not condemn people for speaking their minds on issues of import to them, we do feel compelled to say, "For God's sakes. It's youth soccer." And really -- could there be anything less important in life than youth soccer?

Consider our own experience with the sport as indicative. We can assure readers that we spent eight full years taking part in youth soccer matches. During this great and storied career, we scored all of four goals, one of which was against an empty net. Our main contribution to our team was to act as a defenseman, by which we mean we kicked the ball back up the field whenever it came into our territory. Also, whenever we went after the ball, we sometimes ran into opposing players and knocked them down. The lessons we learned from this experience were as follows:

1. We're not very adept at playing soccer.
2. Perhaps we ought work at something at which we're more competent.
3. Orange slices are not adequate incentive for an hour's time on the pitch.

Now, we are proud to say that Mr and Mrs Kepple Were Not Especially Worked Up About Youth Soccer either. Oh, they came to the games and cheered us on, and they sometimes brought the orange slices. Other than that, though, they were perfectly fine to let us go about doing our thing. There was no complaining about the injustice of a coach and no whining about so-and-so being a favorite or what not. They had far more important things to worry about, and focused on those things.

The brilliance of this strategy hit home years later when we realized we had internalized a lot of things surrounding those important issues (such as what the closing tick was) and were applying them in our daily life. Also, as a boy, we were encouraged to focus on things we liked, which eventually led to our happy and pleasant life today. In short, our parents focused on the long run.

Now, we realize that some critics may point out Lord Keynes' quote was intended to denigrate all long-term thinking, as he was greatly focused on short-term solutions. However, we have always thought his words were more meaningful under our contrary interpretation. Short-term problems generally don't last; but God! to think of all the time and energy wasted on dealing with them! How much better it is to focus on the long run, and not worry about the short-term problems. We may eventually all be dead, but at the least we can enjoy things in the meantime.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 10, 2004

Oil for Food, and Oil Vis-a-Vis Food

WE HAVE SPENT much of this evening poring over the lengthy report recently issued by Mr Charles Duelfer, the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. It is a fascinating document, and while we do not expect anyone to read all 918 pages in it, we do encourage people to look over Volume I's Regime Finance and Procurement section. Specifically Annex B, which has the nasty alleged corruption information. Read it closely if you get a free hour or so; it's fascinating stuff.

Our main thoughts this evening, however, deal with oil in a different way. We note with concern that the price of New York crude is now over $53 per barrel. To be exact, it is at $53.31/bbl, which at 42 gallons to the barrel, equates to roughly $1.27 per unrefined gallon.

This is rather expensive, and we are mildly annoyed about this. We liked things much better when there was an oil glut on the market and we could buy unleaded for next to nothing. We also liked things much better when hedge funds and speculators were not artificially boosting oil's price. But we recognize the market at work, and therefore we shan't complain about it. Besides, these high prices give us something to which we can look forward: namely, a really spectacular price crash in which the speculators get blitzed something fierce. Heh heh heh.

Still, despite the higher price of gasoline at the pump (we recently paid $1.94 per gallon, which bit), we have not really changed our driving habits. This is because fuel costs are a small percentage of our monthly outlays, and even if the price shot up above $2 per gallon, we would continue as normal. But there would be a point at when we would certainly cut back, and we hit upon that tonight.

We have decided that we will change our driving habits when the price of gasoline at the pump becomes more expensive than a commodity which we prize even more than gasoline: namely, Diet Cherry Coke. In our life, you see, Diet Cherry Coke is as much a necessity as gasoline, and it is surprisingly similar to petrol in other ways.

For Diet Cherry Coke is a "boutique" soda, in that it is a different formulation than regular Coke. There are supply concerns about Diet Cherry Coke, in that the few stores which carry it here in New Hampshire could run out at any time. And lastly, Diet Cherry Coke is a commodity which costs virtually nothing to produce, yet is sold for far more than its inherent value.

We can assure you that we pay between $2.50 and $3.79 for twelve 12-oz. cans of Diet Cherry Coke, which are delivered in Half-Case Fridge Packs. (There are no two-liter bottles of the stuff). This is an average cost of $3.15 per half-case. A half-case contains 144 oz. of Diet Cherry Coke, or 1.125 gallons, bringing the per-gallon price of Diet Cherry Coke to $2.80.

Now, the way we see it, Diet Cherry Coke is far more important to us than oil. It is far easier for us to get oil than it is to get Diet Cherry Coke, and while we could deal with shortages of oil, we can't really deal with shortages of Diet Cherry Coke. And lastly, oil isn't something which a monopoly produces; but our stock of Diet Cherry Coke is directly subject to the whims of the Good People at Coca-Cola. Should they decide to stop selling it, we are doomed.

So should the price of gasoline hit $2.80 per gallon, we would warn the oil firms that we're going to have to cut back something fierce on our driving. We are not going to pay through the nose for a commodity whose utility to us is outstripped by its cost. We'll apply our savings to buying Diet Cherry Coke in bulk. And who knows -- if we buy enough and we're lucky, perhaps we could even sign up for some kind of Diet Cherry Coke voucher program!

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

October 06, 2004

The Humiliation of Doom

EARLIER THIS EVENING, we were playing a bit of multiplayer Doom 3, the popular "first-person shooter" game. We can assure you this enjoyable, but often-frustrating pursuit, has proven instructive for us in many ways.

What are some of these lessons, you ask? Allow us to explain:

One. It is galling when one's player gets shot, finds himself fried, or meets the wrong end of a shoulder-fired missile. It is especially galling when one's player does so thanks to the actions of one's own teammates.

One-B. It is gratifying to turn said teammates into ashes with heavy weaponry, even if it does cost the team a point. They have to learn sooner or later.

Two. That said, it is mortifying to see teenagers with such proficiency at kicking our ass on a regular basis, especially with the rocket launcher. We are sorry, but it's not exactly helpful for our own morale if an opposing teenager is able to jump up, dodge our fire, ready and aim his rocket launcher, and successfully turn us into dog food with a thousand-to-one shot.

Three. Fortunately, teenagers generally haven't figured out small-unit tactics. This evening, we were able to deal out much pain and suffering to our opponents simply through teamwork. Three of the players on our side monopolized an area of the game map chock full of weapons, and then blasted any of the opposition that so much dared to challenge us. Yeah. Move. Get out the way.

Clearly, we can see it's simple for a player to win "Doom 3" on a multi-player setting. Work together with your teammates, keep an eye on your back, and always -- always -- let the teenagers rush into situations first.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 05, 2004

Dodge Published

ANDREW DODGE has had a collection of horror stories, based in the world which H.P. Lovecraft created, published. Go have a look.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 02, 2004

In the Future, Everyone Will Get Linked for 15 Minutes

YOU REMEMBER Bill Burkett? The guy at the center of the CBS Memogate scandal? He apparently has his own blog. No, we're not kidding.

Now, we say "apparently" because we are allowing for the possibility Mr Burkett has nothing to do with the blog, which was started on Sept. 29. However, the blog is entirely devoted to Mr Burkett's plight vis-a-vis CBS, the domain name is billburkett.us, and the one poster ("Administrator") has a username of "billburkett." So if Mr Burkett is not writing it himself, he certainly has a defender out there who is.

Anyhow, Mr Burkett (or, if not Mr Burkett, his proxy) is getting a rather ... warm ... welcome from the blogosphere. Note this entry from Sept. 30:

Articles and posts will be removed periodically to keep this site refreshed.

This is not a site for harrassment. Posts that deal without fact and are deemed harrassing in nature will not be posted.

(link via Dean's World, which reminds us: Dean will be on Boston-based WBIX radio today from noon to 2:30 p.m., on the "Pundit Review" radio show. That's 1060 AM on your radio dial, or you can listen live here).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

Good Weekend Reading

WITH THE MARKET going gangbusters today -- as we write, all the big indexes are up more than 1 pc -- we have no doubt readers will pay more attention than normal to the financial world this weekend.

Therefore, we would direct readers to this week's Carnival of the Capitalists. We are horribly late in posting about it, but it contains lots of neat stuff.

For instance, how could one resist a post entitled, "It's risk, Jim, but not as we know it!" One could not. Also, in really cool business news, some guy sold his blog for $15,000. This is an amazing story, although it is not clear to us whether that is USD 15,000 or CDN 15,000, which would be worth USD 11,872.50.

(Wait a minute. The loonie can't be worth 79 cents ... OK, apparently it can. Oh, God. Even the Australian dollar is at 72 cents. The pound's up to a buck-eighty. Well, so much for that foreign travel we were considering for next year).

In any event, we would like to very much thank Evelyn Rodriguez of Crossroads Dispatches for all her work in compiling and posting this week's Carnival, as well as for hosting it at her site. We must also say we were quite surprised and pleased to see our entry on small investors' dealings with large brokerages given such prominence!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:25 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Like Watching a Train Wreck

WE SUPPOSE we should start the morning off with a sincere apology -- again -- for not blogging much this week. We have been busy with the business of life as of late, and it's kept us from writing in this space. And boy! have there been things we've wanted to write about.

First on that list would be Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman's essay on the blogosphere. Wow. If there was ever a work which could be summed up in the phrase "particularly unfortunate," this is it.

We can assure readers will find Mr Coleman's column akin to watching a train wreck: it is awful and appalling, yet one can't tear oneself away from the event at hand. It is an excellent primer on how professional journalists ought not respond to the bloggers in their midst. For Mr Coleman's work is not simply badly written, something that would make it merely forgettable. It is a petulant and juvenile whinge-session, a work which gives the impression that Mr Coleman, in writing it, reverted to his nine-year-old self being beaten on a playground. All in all, it's actually pretty embarrassing.

Based on such an analysis, we know our readers now expect us to engage in an old-fashioned line-by-line Kepple Special fisking, so we shall. However, we would encourage readers to read all of Mr Coleman's essay, accessible via the above link. The excerpts we publish below will be in italics, while our response will immediately follow in plain text.

Mr Coleman writes:

But here's what really makes bloggers mad: I know stuff.

I covered Minneapolis City Hall, back when Republicans controlled the City Council. I have reported from almost every county in the state, I have covered murders, floods, tornadoes, World Series and six governors.

In other words, I didn't just blog this stuff up at midnight.

We would submit Mr Coleman ought not engage in such self-flattery, as it is unseemly and gauche. While we have not seen the work in question which criticizes him, we must say we would be greatly surprised if the blogosphere was truly gnashing its teeth and rending its garments at Mr Coleman's sermons delivered from on high. But if it was -- we do not discount this possibility -- than we suggest this would not be due to Mr Coleman's store of knowledge.

Herein lies Mr Coleman's first error; he defensively sets forth his qualifications. Mr Coleman, you are a journalist working for a major metropolitan daily. You do not need to do this. If you wish to attack, attack; don't parry. And as for the blogging at midnight comment, we might remind Mr Coleman that bloggers do generally hold gainful employment, which means they may not have the luxury of pursuing their craft on someone else's dime.

And as for being a political stooge, unlike the bloggies, I don't give money to politicians, I don't put campaign signs on my lawn, I don't attend political events as anything other than a reporter, I don't drink with pols and I have an ear trained to detect baloney.

Mr Coleman, if a blogger has a motivation like you describe, a reader will probably figure it out. And if a blogger is foolish enough to cavalierly discount his opposition, said opposition will pester him in the comments, and portray his work in an unflattering light on their own blogs, and so forth. Hence the blogosphere is the ultimate bulls -- uh, baloney -- detector.

Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists? No. Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.

Real journalists. Heh. Sloppy! Real reporters, you mean, Mr Coleman; real newsmen, you mean. There is something to be said for precision.

After all, there is a difference between a reporter and a journalist, in that all reporters are journalists but not vice versa. After all, opinion writers and syndicated columnists and analysts are journalists, but they may often or completely rely on someone else's shoe-leather to do their jobs.

But even after clearing up that inconsistency, Mr Coleman, you're wrong. If you knew where to look in the blogosphere, you'd find real reporting -- whether on major issues of the day or on happenings around someone's neighborhood. Oh, and that reminds us: don't the folks who like listening to the scanner out in East Wherever also call your newsroom once in a while? Maybe it wasn't bright to insult these conscientious and good people.

Bloggers don't know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon. Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square -- without editors, correction policies or community standards. And so their tripe is often as vicious as it is vacuous ...

We have pondered long over Mr Coleman's incomprehensible first sentence in that paragraph. We have no idea what he is talking about. But as for the rest of it, let's examine it.

Among his many duties, an editor has three key functions: first, he reads over the copy and improves it, or tells the reporter how to improve it; second, he canes his reporter across the knees for screwing up; and third, he keeps an ear to the ground and determines if his reporter ought work on something.

Now, these things are vitally important when one is producing a publication for the purpose of making money. One needs clear copy and one needs accurate copy and one needs relevant copy. A blogger, working for free, only needs pay extra-special attention to the second item, that is, not screwing up. A blogger can self-edit and decide for himself about what he wants to write, and if the copy is sloppy or not relevant, that is his loss alone. And even with the second item, there is an Editing Function at work -- after all, if the blogger screws up, he hears about it from his fellow bloggers. And that sucks.

As for correction policies, we would submit that bloggers are pretty smart about this too. When they screw up, they say so -- and quickly. Mr Coleman has apparently forgotten that libel and slander laws do apply to bloggers, and bloggers know it.

Lastly, as for community standards -- oh boy. Mr Coleman. Dude. It's the Internet. If you don't like something, you don't have to read it. And bloggers follow the same standards as newspapers do -- they're going to say what they think, but they're not going to print something if they think their audience would find it horribly objectionable. For instance, Mr Coleman, you write for a family newspaper, which children and the elderly and the religious read. This is why you had to use the word "baloney" instead of a certain other word. Bloggers often don't have those same self-imposed constraints.

... We are not dealing with journalism, people. We are dealing with Internet chat rooms: sleazy and unreliable, with no accountability. Most bloggers are not fit to carry a reporter's notebook.

This, quite frankly, is crap. One question immediately springs to mind: how are bloggers unreliable if they rely on the media to do much of their blogging? But that aside, Mr Coleman could have done a much better job at addressing this and his many other points, such as they are, throughout his column.

For one thing, Mr Coleman could have pointed out that bloggers are free of two constraints that journalists do face: namely, space and time. After all, it is no joke to reduce, let's say, a 200-page GAO report to 500 words -- and do that within an hour or two. It is not as easy as it seems, and it takes a lot of practice to get good at it.

But that said, Mr Coleman should have recognized one simple truth about bloggers: they make reporting better. It is no longer the dressing down from a furious editor which reporters must fear; they must now expect furious and public criticism from the outside. But Mr Coleman has forgotten that these critics are reading the work, and quite frankly, what better thing could a reporter ask for? Some of that criticism may be off-base, yes. But much of it will help him improve -- and constant improvement is as vital for the reporter's trade as it is for any other.

Well, that's it. Thus endeth the lesson. For an excellent example of the style in which Mr Coleman should have written his column, we would direct readers to the blog of Mr Coleman's fellow Star-Tribune columnist, James Lileks. Mr Lileks focuses on many of the same topics we did, especially regarding editing and the space issue. And if one is looking for a gleeful romp, we would direct readers to Australian reporter-journalist Tim Blair's excellent blog.

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