December 31, 2004

Great Moments in American Stinginess

TOTAL COMMITMENT, four years (1948-52). EXPENDITURE, $13 billion in post-war dollars.
$100 billion in today's dollars. REBUILDING WAR-RAVAGED EUROPE: priceless.

PEACE CORPS COMMITMENT: 43 years. TOTAL VOLUNTEERS: 178,000, in 138 nations.


WE COULD CONTINUE, but you already knew where we were going with that. So you are far ahead of America's Friends in the United Nations, who saw fit to criticize the United States for its "stinginess" regarding tsunami-related relief aid, before wisely deciding to shut up.

Already the United States Government has donated $35 million to relief efforts, a number that is certain to grow as the relief requirements are accordingly ascertained. The U.S. Government has said the $35 million will be the start of a "multiyear, multibillion-dollar international relief and recovery effort." Oh, and that doesn't count the cost of sending 15,000 troops, 16 warships, 17 winged aircraft, and 25 helicopters to help. We'll add that in later.

But Americans' private giving is also quite impressive. The total thus far has well passed the $125 million mark -- and $7.5 million alone has been raised on for the Red Cross. (The neat thing about that latter page is that one can refresh it: thousands of dollars are being donated each second).

In comparison, the Government of Britain has pledged $95 million in aid, Sweden has committed $75.5 million, Spain is offering $68 million, and France plans to spend $57 million. Other nations pledging aid include Japan ($40 million), the Netherlands ($36 million), Canada ($32.8 million), Germany ($27 million), Australia ($27 million), Portugal ($11 million), Saudi Arabia ($10 million) and Qatar ($10 million). But they have not committed the logistical resources which we have. (Aid figures are from the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Of course, it is no surprise that Certain People are complaining about the U.S. response even now. We note this Press Association report from The Scotsman, citing a BBC 4 radio interview:

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.

The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world’s response.

But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said.

“Only really the UN can do that job,” she told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme.

“It is the only body that has the moral authority. But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers.”

Ms Short said the coalition countries did not have good records on responding to international disasters.

She said the US was “very bad at coordinating with anyone” and India had its own problems to deal with.

“I don’t know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system,” she added.

We would suggest this explains why MP Short is the former International Development Secretary. After all, if the United Nations was in charge, the millions which have been pledged for aid would conveniently disappear in a sea of waste and corruption. As such, to get the job done, the United States and its partners must do things on their own.

For those in Europe and the United Nations who would complain about our efforts, we have but one suggestion: stop whining, roll up your sleeves and give us a hand.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 30, 2004

"Ozzy Shouldn't Have Done This"

FANS OF POPULAR CULTURE will recall that some years ago, there was a rather enjoyable cartoon program known as "Beavis and Butthead," in which the two title characters were mocked mercilessly.

For reasons we can't entirely understand, the show generated all sorts of controversy, despite the fact that it implicitly criticized absentee parenting, political correctness, and general stupidity. Had people watched it more closely, they might have realized this. That said, there were things so obvious in this world their inherent wrongness even got through to Beavis and Butthead. One of these was a particularly unfortunate music video from Ozzy Osbourne; and during their viewing of this train wreck, Butthead remarked, "Uh ... Ozzy shouldn't have done this."

No, he ought not have. Nick Coleman, who has skillfully used his membership in The Newspaper Guild to secure his wretched column at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, ought not have done this. Basically, he suffers an apparent nervous breakdown in print, accusing the guys over at PowerLine of ... well, something or other. Like them, we can't really figure out what he's angry about. He does, however, make career-ending references to the PowerLine guys' menhood, as well as several other embarrassing remarks.

You'll have to take our word on this, as Mr Coleman's column cannot be fully accessed unless one provides his or her name, address, e-mail, gender, birthdate, blood type, Social Security or Tax Identification number, car registration, immigration status and various other biometric and public health records to the Strib's Data Guardians. In return for this, you apparently get updates on the Vikings football franchise *snicker* *guffaw*. As we'd rather eat glass than do this, we assume you'll feel the same way.

We would note, though, that Mr Coleman does consider himself a journalist. After all, consider some of the Important Work which Mr Coleman has done over the years. In one of the column excerpts we found on-line, Mr Coleman writes:

In 1990, I reported that this newspaper's endorsement of DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich was decided by then-publisher and Perpich crony Roger Parkinson. He had quashed the decision of the newspaper's editorial board, which had voted in favor of the Republican challenger, Arne Carlson.

The truth got out, the Republican won and the public was served.

Yeah, that's Brave Reporting right there. Why, it may have required -- wait for it -- minutes of griping and moaning with fellow writers to get the scoop! And what an outrage! The paper's publisher ... was, well, doing what he had every right to do as the boss of the outfit. It's the editorial page, after all, right? But Mr Coleman and the editorial board didn't agree with it! Therefore, it's an outrage!

We're sorry, but no. It is outrageous, though, that Mr Coleman has written at least two columns attacking these bloggers for ... blogging. And it's pathetic when, in response, the bloggers kick his butt all the way to Duluth.

Mr Coleman ought to have learned by now that if a journalist is going to slam a blogger, he has to have cause. This cause must necessarily be more than "the blogger doesn't like my column." Furthermore, if a journalist does such a thing, he needs to do such a complete job that the blogger thinks the wrath of Heaven has fallen upon him. There is no place for any emotion, save properly-applied humor, in such work. Just get out the scalpel and chainsaw, and use them accordingly.

Now, we realize readers may wonder why, if Mr Coleman writes such a lousy column, he is permitted to keep his job. Well, as we said, Mr Coleman does work at a Guild shop. So the man's pretty much golden. But we do know this is not the first time Mr Coleman has gone bye-bye in this manner.

Therefore, if the Strib is obligated to pay Mr Coleman his minimum compensation of $65,884 per annum (not including merit pay, differentials, and other pay schemes which may exist at the Strib), why not have him do something that won't regularly embarrass everyone else at the office?

We suggest general assignment. It's fun, and it's something new every day, and it requires one to write clearly. It sounds like Mr Coleman needs to rediscover all three of these things.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 27, 2004


YEAH. YEAH. YEAH. We are downright thrilled with the news that Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko soundly defeated Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich in yesterday's Ukrainian elections. We look forward to Ukraine's continuing progress towards personal freedom and economic well-being for its people, and wish the Ukrainian people all the best in the coming years.

Of course, Mr Yanukovich is not all that happy at losing to President Yushchenko. This is perhaps understandable. After all, had Mr Yanukovich's sympathizers done their job correctly, President Yushchenko would now find himself six feet underground. Had his henchmen done their jobs correctly, no one would have noticed that President Yushchenko "lost" the first election. Therefore, Mr Yanukovich finds himself forced to resort to ... the law courts.

Hoo boy. Well, we can only imagine the arguments Mr Yanukovich's lawyers will dream up in an attempt to wrest the election from President Yushchenko. But we have some ideas ...



10. Yushchenko's side monopolized Ukraine's strategic reserve of hot women, creating a fundamental disadvantage for Yanukovich.

9. Yushchenko's last-minute endorsements from Aquaman and Hawkman violated Ukrainian electoral reform law.

8. Elderly pensioners in eastern Ukraine voted en masse for Pat Buchanan.

7. "Ukrainians Coming Together" revealed as group behind ads linking Yanukovich, dioxin manufacturers.

6. UCT's "Tell Viktor Yanukovich to Stop Poisoning His Opponents" TV spots were slanderous.

5. International poll observers' demands for "rule of law" and "no beating up of the election workers" intimidated Yanukovich voters.

4. The Guardian's letter-writing campaign to swing district of Kompaniivka, in the pivotal Kirovohrad region, didn't work out as planned.

3. Hundreds of pro-Yushchenko ballots "conveniently discovered" in Alice, Texas.

2. Electoral contracts for delivering ballots were awarded to US Airways.


1. Tsar Vladimir I is NOT amused.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:40 PM | TrackBack

Think Merchandising, Man!

DEAN ESMAY is contemplating a name change for his extremely popular and always-informative blog, Dean's World. Mr Esmay reveals that when he started the blog, the name was somewhat of a joke; and further, his blog has evolved considerably since he named it such. Plus, he thinks the name cheesy.

We feel compelled to advise Mr Esmay that, in our humble opinion, he ought keep his blog named "Dean's World." After all, he does have six thousand visitors per day, which is no joke; and as such he has developed a rather well-known brand around the "Dean's World" name. Therefore, we don't think he should change the name at all. Rather, he should trademark it.

Then, to top it all off, Mr Esmay could develop a Nifty Catch-Phrase to go along with it. We mean, just think of the merchandising and promotional opportunities which the Dean's World (TM) name offers. T-shirts! Hats! Mouse pads! Tip jars! All branded under one cohesive, well-recognized label -- with the Added Marketing Power of a Nifty Catch-Phrase. Hey, it worked for Emeril Lagasse (R), didn't it? And he's got at least two Nifty Catch-Phrases.

So we would encourage Mr Esmay to keep the trusted "Dean's World" mark, just as we here at The Rant have kept Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant as the title for our blog. This despite the fact we hardly post daily anymore, and don't rant nearly as much. But then, we have to keep it. Changing the name would be a major hassle with the regulators, and we'd suddenly have all our e-mails rerouted to Fiji, and we'd miss our earnings targets and we'd get a nasty call from the home office. These would not be good things.

So again, we would strongly encourage Mr Esmay to keep the "Dean's World" name. But he is encouraging comment from readers about the idea, so go over and chip in your two cents.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:11 PM | TrackBack


THE NEW YORK TIMES has an interesting article today on the woes which faced air travelers over the Christmas holiday, and warns they could be a sign of far worse troubles to come in future.

In 2005, according to the NYT, the six remaining main-line carriers plan to slash $7.5 billion in spending and 20,000 jobs along with it. This has understandably left workers rather unhappy. The NYT reports:

For passengers, the irreversible retrenchment by the airline industry, which has shrunk by a quarter since the start of the decade, has meant the loss of food service, a reduction in routes, flight delays, lost baggage and other headaches.

But if employees' reactions to these kinds of changes are anything like what US Airways experienced over the weekend, consumers are in for more serious disruptions.

Yesterday, US Airways, which is operating in bankruptcy, canceled 29 flights, on top of 300 cancellations on Friday and Saturday, when unusually high numbers of baggage handlers in Philadelphia and flight attendants elsewhere called in sick. Union officials said the sick calls were not organized.

Comair, a regional carrier for Delta Air Lines, also canceled flights for a second day. The airline canceled all 1,100 of its flights on Saturday after a computer malfunctioned, stranding passengers in cities like Cincinnati and Atlanta. The airline planned to operate just 172 flights yesterday and to return to normal by noon on Wednesday, according to the Air Line Pilots Association.

The newspaper goes on to note specific troubles at US Airways, which has faced strike threats from employees; and the story suggests gently that US Airways' chief executive probably ought have taken a pay cut himself when he insisted upon one for the troops. (Dude! Don't you remember what happened to Don Carty? Geez).

Now, given our own personal experiences on airlines including US Scareways, American't, Incontinental and Hellta, we admit we don't really have much confidence in the major carriers. We can sympathize with the workers fighting the good fight, but only up to a point; and our sympathy wanes each time we see the vats of red ink which pour forth from the airlines' balance sheets.

For let's face it: the airlines' old way of doing business is D-E-A-D dead, and the airlines will be as well if they aren't able to regroup and get back in the game. If their trade unions fail to recognize this, they'll be shit out of luck quicker than one can say Jack Robinson, and they won't have jobs or working conditions over which they can haggle.

And the trade unions are apparently failing to realize this. As the NYT mentioned, one of the reasons why US Airways screwed up so badly this past weekend was because of "sickouts." Their unions understandably insist this was an unorganized effort, because "sickouts" are grounds for unfair labor-practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board. But we also know how such wildcat job actions work: employees get together independently and decide upon an action, in a manner similar to prisoners plotting an escape, whilst the unions conveniently look the other way with a wink and a nod. It is one of those little truths that one can never publish, that's all.

So while we hate to say it, we can't see any other option for the major carriers than to start over from a blank slate -- scrap everyone's compensation agreements, from the lowliest ticket agents to the chief executives, and have them collectively suffer until things get back in the black. Then they can fight over compensation, which would hopefully involve a great deal of profit-sharing and other schemes which would ensure everyone at an airline would win when things went well, and lost when things went poorly.

We note with disapproval, however, the NYT's hints about the Joys of a Regulated Airline Industry. We don't know about you, but we don't miss the days of $600 coach tickets and horrible airline food and luggage that somehow traveled around the world while its owners were stuck in Newark. Screw that. Let the chips fall where they may, and in the meantime, we're flying Southwest. There's something to be said for being free to travel 'round the country.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

It's Like Some Kind of Bad Joke

READERS OF THE New York Daily News will find themselves either horrified or snickering at the tabloid's latest "exclusive" report, which informs us that New York is getting "dramatically shortchanged" in the annual appropriations game.

Well, perhaps "shortchanged" isn't the correct word to use, but as both The Rant and the Daily News are family publications, we shan't mention the more precise terms which some might prefer. We shall, however, note the downright hysterical tone which the Daily News uses in its story. Indeed, the newspaper uses words like "robbery," "outrage" and "ripped off" to describe the fact New York didn't get everything it wanted this year. It goes on to complain that New York sends $11 billion more to Washington than it gives back this year, and -- worst of all! -- this "injustice" was perpetrated by "hicks (and) yokels."

This is like some kind of bad joke.

We do not disagree with the Daily News' main contention: in the aggregate, New York has long been used as a piggy bank for Washington. It has also long been used as a piggy bank for Albany, and we wait breathlessly for the Daily News' expose on Upstate New York's Fiscal Treachery. But, that said, a closer look at the numbers shows that perhaps the Daily News ought have kept quiet about the whole thing. And quite frankly, New York was a fiscal cesspit for so long that the paper's outrage boggles the mind.

For instance, we do seem to recall that only federal loans kept the city from going broke in the mid-Seventies. These federal loans were to the tune of $2.3 billion per annum, or roughly $10 billion in today's dollars. These were needed because New York was, well, a wretched, corrupt, inefficient, badly-run hellhole.

Oh, yes it was.

We quote from Robert Hargreaves' "Superpower: A Portrait of America in the 1970s" to make our point. Mr Hargreaves' work is a useful resource for our long-standing thesis that almost everything which happened in the Seventies was bad, and his section on New York helps confirm it.

Mr Hargreaves writes:

By combining the old commissions into ten federal-style administrations, (Mayor John) Lindsay attempted to streamline the rickety machinery of government. But according to his critics, the main result of the reforms has been to add one more layer to an already unwieldy administration, so that the city now employs over 413,000 workers, an increase of more than a quarter since Lindsay took office.

Whether the city is any more efficient now is a moot point. "Genghis Khan conquered Asia with an army only half the size of New York City's civil service," one of Lindsay's opponents has said. And in 1972, New York state auditors reported that what they termed "underutilization of employee time" was widespread in the city. Welfare employees, they reported, waste about two-thirds of their time, while the productivity of water-meter readers was less than half that of workers doing similar jobs in private industry; this cost the city about $2 million a year more than it should have done. New Yorkers pay per capita half as much again for police protection as the average American and two thirds more for their garbage collection .... it now costs more to collect a ton of New York garbage than it does to mine a ton of Kentucky coal.

We could go on. For in his book, Mr Hargreaves wrote sixteen pages about New York's innumerable failings when it came to matters of Government, as well as its civic corruption and its criminality.

Now, readers will reasonably point out that Mr Hargreaves was writing in the Seventies, and things have changed much since then. Mayor Rudy Giuliani's impressive reforms, especially in terms of crime, did not merely make New York livable again -- they made the city a desirable place to live, even to outsiders. Later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg also oversaw major reforms, such as his Initiatives Outlawing Fun. No longer would New York face widespread national mockery for its failings, such as in the famous Saturday Night Live skit which encouraged tourists to read pamphlets such as "So You've Been Shot."

Yet one thing hasn't changed: New York continues to suck money from the domestic fisc like nobody's business. You see, as the writer Steven Malanga elegantly noted in the City Journal some time back, the reason New York sends more cash to Washington than it gets back is purely defense-related. Take out defense cash, and the true picture is revealed.

Mr Malanga writes:

New York perpetually has what is known as a “balance of payments” deficit with Washington, because the city sends far more in taxes to the federal government than it receives in federal spending. Over the years, New York politicians have argued that the federal government should redress that imbalance by funneling ever more money to the city for domestic programs. But the argument has mostly been a loser down in Washington, because—despite the overall balance-of-payments deficit—New York already gets more than its share of most domestic programs.

For example, New York receives an astounding $1,285 per capita from Washington in Medicaid spending, compared with a national average of just $425 per capita, and average payments in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles of just $514 and $468, respectively. The city also receives about twice the national average on spending per capita for food stamps, and four times the average on welfare. In all of these categories, New York also receives substantially more per capita than other large cities. For years, in fact, the city ranked first in average domestic spending on the late Senator Patrick Moynihan’s well-known studies.

Federal officials and representatives who oversee these and other programs know this, which is one reason why the balance of payments argument never gets any traction in Washington and why, on some programs, like Medicaid, it’s likely New York will receive less of the federal pie over time, not more.

What actually causes the city’s payments deficit with Washington is the fact that the Defense Department spends so little money here in the city—an average of just $75 per capita, compared with defense spending of about $835 per capita nationwide ...

This is just a portion of Mr Malanga's devastating analysis, and he goes on to address New York's unwillingness to accept cash inflows which are defense-related. Perhaps the Daily News ought have considered this before it condemned the "hicks" and "yokels" who balked at serving up New York's demands on a silver platter.

It is this last point, however, in which we shamefully take pleasure. As a proud Midwesterner, we admit we are downright gleeful watching certain New Yorkers wail about getting the shaft from those duplicitous and untrustworthy types in Kansas and Indiana and Tennessee.

Yes, in terms of sheer regionalism, it is indeed quite sweet to watch those same New Yorkers -- who sneer at and mock their less sophisticated and urbane brethren -- squawk when they think Flyover Country has been taking them for a ride. What, one wonders, will happen when they discover it is something folks in Flyover Country have become quite good at over the years, and in more ways than they can imagine?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:18 AM | TrackBack

December 17, 2004

Rant Away Past Boxing Day

DUE TO VARIOUS Christmas holiday pressures, the mad and frenetic pace of our life in general at present, and various other concerns, we figure we ought advise readers that The Rant will be away through Sunday, Dec. 26. We may post during that interval, but we cannot promise it -- we are just up to our eyeballs in stuff.

We would, though, like to thank all of our readers for their continued visits to The Rant this year. The traffic statistics and feedback, we must say, have been downright amazing and awfully humbling; and we do hope that you've enjoyed the time you've spent here. We look forward to seeing you again when we return on Monday, Dec. 27.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all,

-- Ben Kepple

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:23 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

The Socio-Economics of Speech and Writing

OLIVER WILLIS has kicked off an interesting discussion about the prevalence of "ebonics" usage in society today. Mr Willis makes the sound argument that "ebonics" is not a dialect per se, but rather flawed English, and his comments have struck quite a chord with people. His first entry on the matter drew some 58 comments and several track-backs, while his second entry has thus far produced more than 100 comments.

Many of the comments have apparently driven Mr Willis to despair. He writes:

We've got some folks making the crazy argument that ebonics isn't just bad grammar and horrible English, but an honest-to-goodness "dialect" that has to be translated for people.

Is it any wonder why so many black kids think the way they do? These kids aren't speaking properly, and people are encouraging it. Wait until reality smacks them in the face.

We must say we agree with Mr Willis' argument. That said, though, we think the problem he discusses exists on a societal basis -- among people of all races, all colors, and all backgrounds. "Ebonics" is merely one facet of it. The overall concern we have is that a seemingly ever-growing number of Americans, no matter their race, do not have fundamental command of the English language -- either in speech or in writing. This is horribly problematic for myriad reasons.

On an individual level, of course, the problem manifests itself through lost opportunities at both school and work. One who lacks mastery in English will not only not succeed in a university-level academic environment, they will find doors slammed in their face both when looking for work, and when seeking promotion in an organization. Nor do we think we are exaggerating this problem: a recent New York Times article found that many otherwise intelligent people could not construct a simple sentence in business correspondence. As such, many corporate offices were sending their staff to receive remedial writing instruction as a result.

That in itself is astonishing, quite frankly.

After all, the standard move in such a case would be to cashier the unlearned staff, because they appeared hopelessly incompetent. But because firms are spending money on writing courses, it suggests in part that their employees' potential replacements would be similarly unskilled. And that's not good on a societal level, either in the present or the far future.

In the present, of course, it means our workers are less competitive and less qualified to do their jobs compared with their better-educated foreign counterparts. It is unfortunate many jobs in manufacturing and the services are being shipped overseas; but, it does not help things when the foreigners can write better English than the natives. Therefore, a lack of English mastery among American workers eats away at the nation's competitive advantage.

But the future problems this state of affairs may cause are even more frightening.

Look, we already know that income inequality is increasing: the Gini coefficient doesn't lie. (The coefficient measures inequality on a scale of 0 to 1 -- at 0, everyone makes the same amount, at 1, you have one winner and infinite losers). The U.S. Census Bureau has found that between the years 1980 to 2001, the Gini coefficient in America rose from 0.365 to 0.435.

Now, there are plenty of reasons for why that number jumped so high in the past two decades (the historical low was in 1968, at 0.348). Here are a few of them.

First, America's tax structure fundamentally changed in the early Eighties. However, this is not to say the wealth wasn't being handed out prior to that switch. You see, because the prior regime was punitive (with top rates ranging from 91 percent in the Fifties to 70 percent in the Seventies), the switch to our present system made it better for people to accept cash renumeration as opposed to perks (the company car and such). Therefore, this shows up in the results, and is why we made 1980 our initial comparison point.

Second, our economy moved away from an industrial focus to a service-oriented focus. Manufacturing was once a middle-class occupation, and more people worked in the field; now, fewer such jobs can be truly described as middle-class, and only 14 percent of our workforce holds jobs in the field. Conversely, 16 percent of the workforce engages in selling things to others on a resale or wholesale level, and even more workers provide services to others. As these jobs often require less skill and there is more demand for them among workers, they do not pay nearly as well. (Demand here is in the economic sense, i.e., "I need a job," not "Gee, I'd love to work at a call center").

Third, a "winner take all" compensation culture took root in American life. One often hears of chief executives making ridiculous amounts of compensation; but it was not always this way. Consider one example we once heard about, which we paraphrase here:

Back in the late Seventies, there was a chief executive who did a masterful job at turning around his company. It was a truly amazing feat, and made oodles of money for shareholders. So upon the CEO's retirement, the Board of Directors gave him a special bonus for carrying out his mission so well over the years.

The chief executive was awarded -- wait for it -- ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Conversely, successful chief executives these days do very well in comparison. One outrageous example we would note is that of Dick Grasso, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange, who had a salary package in the NINE FIGURES over several years. And even if CEOs are unsuccessful, they'll still reap several millions or tens of millions of dollars for their bumbling.

And yes, these things have a way of filtering down -- but only so far.

After all, the Executive Team must also be compensated well as a result of the CEO's bloated salary, or else they'll get angry and go somewhere else. The same applies to their subordinates too. But while even a low-level vice-president will likely do quite well for himself, the middle managers will get fewer crumbs, and the rank-and-file will only get whipsawed from a vicious labor market.

Now, we do not intend to condemn such compensation schemes here. The Rant of the Angry Shareholder will have to wait. But the reason we bring this up is simple.

The guys at the top make more money because they're at the top. They got to the top through hard work and effort and sweat and tears. But they also got there because they were quite good at what they did. In business, being very good requires certain core skills -- such as being able to communicate effectively in speech and in writing. Without those skills, one cannot advance; and without advancement, one is finished.

To all this, we must add that many of these core competencies are first developed at home and in school. It stands to reason that a better-educated and richer worker, who does everything he can to ensure his children learn the same skills he has, will give his children a better chance at succeeding in life. Conversely, if a less-educated and poorer worker does little to encourage education among his children, then his children will have a lesser chance at succeeding in life.

Now, obviously these things have a way of reversing themselves: there are plenty of children from poor families, in which education was highly valued, who have done very well. There are also plenty of children from rich families, in which the parents could care less, who end up accomplishing nothing.

But still, the trends worry us. Unless people do something -- and individual effort is where things will be won or lost -- they face a horrible vicious cycle in which they are trapped in relative poverty and despair, wanting to get out of it but having no way to do so.

And we can assure you this vicious cycle will entrap people of all races and colors and creeds. Indeed, it does not discriminate. The Gini coefficient numbers show that inequality between rich and poor blacks and Hispanics is even worse than it is between whites.

One big broad conclusion we can draw from those numbers is this: that the educated, regardless of race, are leaving their less-educated peers far behind in the great race. And if their peers do not realize quickly the need for catching up, they will have a devil of a time all the way to the finish line.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:56 PM | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

The Joys of Parenting

WE MUST APPLAUD Harlan and Cat Barnard, of Enterprise, Fla., for their recent judicious use of the nuclear option in dealing with their indolent progeny.

As many readers may know, Mr and Mrs Barnard were sick and tired of having their children refuse to help out around the house. Therefore, they went on strike and told the kids to pretty much fend for themselves. While we do not know if Mr and Mrs Barnard were expecting such a frenzy over their action, we do believe they've managed to humiliate their children on a national scale. For typical American parents, this is an unrivaled accomplishment -- far outshining the "ride to school in the jalopy" trick.

We do feel slightly sorry for the Barnards' two children, as they're probably not enjoying all the attention. However, we must still applaud the Barnards for their strong stand. After all, they're treating their children like adults. That's not only good parenting, it's something which teenagers are constantly demanding. And we further have no doubt that around the Enterprise area, teenagers are suddenly rediscovering the joys of honest work. ("You'll mow the lawn, son, or I'm calling the Investigative News Squad at Channel Eight!")

We are displeased about one aspect of the story, however. The Associated Press informs us that one "well-intentioned" neighbor saw fit to call the authorities about the situation. We're sorry, but anyone who calls in the Government on family matters ought have a pretty high degree of proof -- or at least a very reasonable suspicion -- before doing so. Would it have really been too much to waddle on over to the Barnards' driveway and ask them what was happening?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 11, 2004

Oy, What a Week

WE ARE PRESENTLY recovering from a rather stressful week. Fortunately, nothing particularly nasty took place over the past seven days -- but we've had to deal with a lot of little end-of-year things: Christmas shopping, financial planning, vacation planning, and the like; and we were again at the doctor's. Combined with our work schedule, it hasn't given us all that much time to blog, so this explains why we've been so quiet as of late.

We do plan to get back into the swing of things on Monday, God willing. We did want to drop folks a note, though, before people get worried about us again.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:08 AM | TrackBack

December 06, 2004

Mr Kepple Goes to Washington

IT'S A SHAME the comments feature melted, because we can't think of anything better suited for a caption contest than the above photo. This was taken on our recent trip to Washington, D.C. Our friend Lee went above and beyond in arranging tours for us and his family of The West Wing and The White House. Both tours were amazing, and we are deeply appreciative of his efforts to make those possible.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:59 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 03, 2004

Quick Cinematic Notes

SOLON, Ohio -- OVER Thanksgiving, we can assure you we spent much of our time simply watching movies. Some of these movies were quite enjoyable, while others were merely tolerable and still others, putrid wastes of the celluloid on which they were printed. What follows is a quick summary of each film:

DAS BOOT: Grim guy-oriented film about depressed, neurotic German sailors who very much rue their decision to sign up with the Kriegsmarine. Stock characters include the Battle-Hardened Captain, the Embittered Officers, the Initially Fanatic Nazi and the War Correspondent. All soon learn they should have spent more time writing their wills. (Forty thousand men served on U-Boats during the Second World War. Only 4,000 managed to avoid death or capture).

The movie lasts some three-and-a-half hours, but we do wonder if the director just used the same footage again and again at points. For over and over again, we see the U-96 attack British merchant convoys. Then the sub dives, and gets a fierce pasting from British destroyers. The sub escapes, and rises from the waters in triumph. Rinse. Repeat.

Still, this is our only complaint, as the movie is amazing in terms of its cinematography and its depiction of submarine warfare. Plus, the famous ending remains a True Cinematic Masterpiece. If you haven't seen it, you ought do so. And root for the Brits if you like.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION: Kickass. Kickass. Kickass.

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN: Shockingly gratuitous coming-of-age story set in Mexico, featuring unsympathetic and dislikable characters throughout, except for a few isolated exceptions. Still, the scenery makes it worth watching, and it cleverly attacks the PRI, which mollified us somewhat. It also has a depressing yet realistic ending that adds to the film, although in general we considered it slightly anti-capitalist and more-than-slightly nihilist in its outlook.

THE HUNTER: It's Steve McQueen's last movie! Watch as Steve McQueen portrays a bounty hunter who goes after bad guys, including LeVar Burton. Watch as Steve McQueen kicks ass and takes names. Did we mention Steve McQueen? He is, of course, the only reason worth watching this otherwise mediocre movie.

THE LONGEST YARD: In this hideous 1974 film, Burt Reynolds offers More Empirical Proof that America must treat its Seventies-era cultural relics with proper handling. By this, we mean we ought put nearly all of them in Yucca Mountain along with the radioactive waste.

Yes, we realize such a suggestion might upset people. After all, what if the Seventies-era stuff escaped? Think of it: you're driving along Nevada Highway 375, minding your own business, and you're attacked by an army of mutated, self-aware leisure suits. That would be bad. In "The Longest Yard," Burt Reynolds wears a leisure suit, and it is bad. Plus he has that Seventies-era mustache thing going. With these as indicators of American culture back in the day, no wonder the rest of the world hates us.

Anyway, though. We could only get through the first 15 minutes of this movie. The plot, if one could call it that, was that Burt Reynolds' character went to prison after stealing his girlfriend's Maserati. Here we have more proof that the Seventies sucked. We are sure the Maserati was a masterpiece of design at the time, but it reminded us uncomfortably of a Datsun coupe. Of course, all the other cars back then were crap too. But we digress. Florida's authorities soon deal with Burt Reynolds' character, and send him to the hoosegow to cool off for a while.

Soon, ol' Burt finds himself dealing with a crooked warden and sadistic guard captain, who demand he take charge of a prisoners' football squad. It was at this point that we realized "The Longest Yard" would be even MORE craptacular than we had initially expected. Lacking the mental fortitude to withstand such an awful feature, we withdrew from the family room and went in search of Diet Cherry Coke. Yet we remain bothered, for we understand that "The Longest Yard" was actually quite popular.

How America got through that decade, we don't know. We just don't know. We suspect "The French Connection" acted as a cultural opiate.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:39 PM | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

The Comment Lamp is Out

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Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:55 PM | TrackBack

Bushels of Choucroute

THE AXIS OF Ungodly Specialty Foods has struck again! Repeatedly!

We encourage all Rant readers to look over MEP Daniel Hannan's fascinating -- and disturbing -- account of dealings in the European Parliament. It seems the EU's new transport commissioner, Jacques Barrot, conveniently forgot to mention he was once convicted (and later pardoned) in a political-funding scandal. The reaction to this news, as MEP Hannan writes in The Telegraph, was as follows:

But the way MEPs reacted to (MEP Nigel) Farage's revelation was horrible. One by one they rose to threaten him with legal action. The Liberal leader, Graham Watson, likened him to the football hooligans who had disgraced Britain in Europe. A fomer colleague of Barrot's, Jacques Toubon, rushed up and down the aisle, apparently looking for someone to punch (Robert Kilroy-Silk, recognising him as the minister who had tried to ban the English language from French airwaves, told him mischievously that no one would understand him unless he spoke English, which sent him into a choking fit). All this because Farage was doing the job that the rest of us ought to have done.

MEP Hannan further notes:

We have an agriculture commissioner who makes money from the CAP, a competition commissioner who, after only two days, has already run into conflicts of interest, and an anti-fraud commissioner who was recently involved in a fraud case (although he was acquitted).

We also love this quote from the accompanying news story on the matter:

The furore has baffled officials in France, where the affair - involving £2.5 million of public money, misappropriated for campaign funding by the Social Democratic Centre (CDS) party when Mr Barrot was party secretary - had been largely forgotten.

As for our reaction to this whole mess ... well, we can only encourage everyone to read both articles in full. We would restrain our comment to one of Woody Allen's famous lines, namely:

"What kinda Government you guys GOT here?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Horror Next Door

IN CATCHING UP on our blog reading, we were shocked to learn that one of Perry de Havilland's neighbors in Chelsea, London, was recently murdered in a home-invasion burglary. John Monckton's wife, Homeyra, was badly injured in the attack as well.

Mr de Havilland is understandably infuriated with the British authorities, given the United Kingdom's unjust policies for dealing with crime. He writes:

Of course the state forbids people like the Moncktons from owning the means to defend themselves. And the CCTV cameras on our street? I cannot tell you how much better they must make everyone around here feel. The police who have closed off my street are festooned with all manner of weapons and body armour but given that their actual role in modern Britain is little more than clearing up the mess after another disarmed householder has been butchered, perhaps waterproof coveralls and mops would be more suitable equipment for our tax funded 'guardians.'

Bitter? You bet. The world is full of predators and we are required to face them disarmed and as much in fear of the law as the criminal who attack us.

We would ask readers to keep the Monckton family in their thoughts and prayers, and we are deeply sorry for the pain they and their friends are going through.

One truly horrible aspect of this story, from our viewpoint here in New Hampshire, is that this is not the first instance of gruesome criminality which has affected bloggers or those close to them.

A few months back, Chavezista thugs in Caracas shot the mother of an acquaintance, with whom we once worked. And just last month, Wayne Wides in South Africa wrote about a newly-married friend of his who, along with his wife, was shot during a home invasion. (We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers as well, and wish them a speedy recovery).

Mr Wides writes:

One of the implications of having one's friend shot at home is that it does make you more aware of the crime locally. But while it's saddening to hear him say ''it's his own fault' and that it was 'because he's been too casual in the garden in the past' (for goodness sake man, you have barbed wire on seven foot walls, a motion sensor security system and it's your garden), it's a reminder of the need for a rethink on the strategy of crime and how we've come to accept it as normal.

We have to admit we think of crime as "normal," by which we mean to say we have a preventive mindset towards it. For instance, we always -- always -- lock our car, and we don't answer the door if we don't know who it is, and we keep an eye to being well aware of our surroundings. But these are lessons we learned in rougher places than our current city of residence, which has crime rates that are nothing compared to our hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Here in Manchester, N.H., we have roughly 20 pc of the violent crime and half the property crime which old K'zoo experiences. Some of the differences are downright shocking: for instance, Manchester's rate for aggravated assaults is roughly 10 pc that of the Celery City. This despite the fact that Manchester is practically a suburb of Boston.

There are undoubtedly many reasons why Manchester is a safe city, but we suspect one big reason is that the authorities here do not consider crime "normal." For once that happens, and the broken windows start appearing and minor crimes go ignored, that's when the slippery slope to chaos begins.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:14 PM | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

Not Dead Yet, Amazingly

SO WE TAKE a mere eight days off from our blog, five of which were due to various Thanksgiving-oriented happenings, and our friends start sending us notes inquiring about our health, our personal situation, and whether we are in fact still breathing. (The answers, respectively, are "lousy," "fair-to-middlin'," and "surprisingly, yes.")

For we can assure readers that earlier this week, a case of food poisoning caused us much agony. Classic buffet germ. That said, we know full well what caused our ailment, and what establishment was to blame for it. This misery was further compounded when, during our day to recuperate, our lunch caught on fire in the microwave. No, we are not kidding: smoke rushed into the kitchen, we staggered over to open the living room window, and spent much of the day spraying air freshener from a prone position on the couch.

Fortunately, however, once we realized the problem, we immediately shut the microwave door. Thus, the fumes were prevented from spreading. And we can assure readers that this minor incident was through no fault of our own, for we followed the directions on the package to the letter.

BUT MOVING ON. Alert readers will have undoubtedly noticed we changed the banner over the blog. It was either that or a really large orange picture, and we preferred the former. Anyway, readers using the Firefox browser should refresh the page after arrival, as it will fix any display problems you see beforehand.

ALSO: OUR PHOTO, by our good friend Matthew S. Schwartz, was taken in front of St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C. It was taken roughly an hour before we served as best man in the wedding of our good friend Lee Bockhorn. In the photo, we are keeping top eye out for the Wretched Florist, whose insufferable delay nearly caused the best man to have a heart attack. However, the florist DID show up just in time, praise God, and the ceremony was beautiful.

Mr Bockhorn won the hand of the lovely Giulietta Zanichelli, and the couple have just returned from their honeymoon in California. We will have a full report on all our best-manly duties once we get all the source material, i.e. photos, together. Until then -- Lee and Giulietta, congratulations!

SHEILA O'MALLEY posted some wonderful essays while in Ireland recently. We encourage all readers to give them a look. In that vein, we would also note that Ms O'Malley's work made us a bit envious.

For one thing, we have been so busy lately that a vacation sounds really good about now. But more importantly, Ms O'Malley has an ancestral homeland which is fun to visit. We, on the other hand, have Old Countries which just make us thank God our ancestors got the hell out. For now, we'll just refer to those nations as the Axis of Ungodly Specialty Foods.

CHOUCROUTE, anyone? Mmmmm. It's Old Europe's kim chi!

QUOTE OF THE DAY, by Simon From Jersey: "A new Collective Bargaining Agreement would have to be signed by around December 15th to save the 2004-2005 Regular Season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. By all accounts, this is about as likely as Paris Hilton becoming a nun."

It is also about as likely as our staying coherent if we go ten more minutes without sleep. So, with that, good night -- and we're back!

Let's not get excited.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack