January 28, 2005

In Hoc Signo Vinces

OVER AT Arguing with Signposts, Bryan has decried the present trend among certain Christians to appropriate pop-culture symbols for use on T-shirts, knick-knacks and other religious-themed goods. Bryan finds this, and we quote, "sickening," and has inquired about other folks' views on the subject.

Now, we personally think such practices are acceptable, provided they are done in moderation, and with the greater glory of God and His church in mind. Sadly, we do not believe the purveyors of these goods hold too strictly to that ideal. It's not merely the rampant profiteering that bothers us, either. What annoys us about this trend is that in practice, it has diluted and tarnished the message of the faith.

We are sorry, but wearing a T-shirt which proclaims the Glory of the Risen Lord has nothing to do with the Glory of the Risen Lord. Rather, it has to do with the Glory of the Person Wearing the Shirt, who can now proclaim to all who see him that he is a Virtuous and God-fearing Member of the Elect. In general, one ought not do such a thing. For doing so doesn't merely direct attention away from the faith, it also can subtly point the person wearing the shirt down the wrong path. (There's nothing like a little pride to eat away at one's spiritual foundations).

We submit this state of affairs holds for anyone who displays similar goods in such fashion. For instance, those annoying metal fish on the backs of cars, a public symbol of one's belief in Christ. We personally see those as unfortunate. For one thing, it seems to run counter to His admonition regarding the folks who pray in public. For another, it has spawned an entire cottage industry among clever secularists, who have designed displays showing the fish being eaten by a larger Darwin fish. Upping the ante by having a THIRD God fish eat the Darwin fish is not, in our view, how Christians ought go about spreading the Gospel.

As for the bumper stickers which proclaim the car in front of us will be left without a driver when the Rapture comes, we would merely say the drivers of such cars are likely going to be in for quite a surprise.

We must say that many who wear these shirts and put this stuff on their cars are perfectly well-meaning, God-fearing people. We do not mean to impugn their motives or their intent; we merely would caution them as to the effects of their actions. Our true ire is saved for those who produce such offerings.

For those producing these goods have much higher moral hurdles to jump. A Christian who sells religious wares for his living ought have an eye to the consequences of his labors. It is one thing to produce a true work of art or a craft of amazing beauty in His service, but another to produce cheap goods for general consumption -- especially if, as Bryan notes, the goods are derivative off commercial goods which others have developed.

But it is not merely the cheapness of such goods which are of concern. There is also the question of one's motives and actions in producing them. Does the purveyor keep true to His message? Does he treat his workers well? Does he compensate them adequately? Is he charitable? Does he tithe? Did he take risks in producing the goods? Where do the profits go? All these things are factors which Christian buyers of such goods must consider, and we would encourage Christians to keep an eye on such matters. And we would note there is no sin in making inexpensive religious goods, or making a profit on them. It is merely that the goods must be well-made and well-conceived, and the profits must be used wisely.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, we would note we recently purchased a religious good -- a trade paperback copy of St Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life. St Francis is our patron saint -- we were confirmed under that name in the Roman church, and he is one of the three saints charged with overseeing our profession. We paid $15 for the book, and bought it from a church bookstore, meaning any end-line profits went to support one of our local churches.

Interestingly enough, when we first took a look at St Francis' work, we opened the book at random and found our eyes resting on this sentence: "By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." Christians will recognize those are not St Francis' words, but those of his Editor; but the message holds all the same. It is something we hope purveyors of religious goods will keep in mind for the future.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Now That's Just Wrong

WE PRESENT the following quote verbatim as a sign The Powers That Be ought not treat their rank-and-file workers like idiots:

The boxes have to have their bar codes scanned and if they scan correctly, we hear Homer Simpson scream "WOO-HOO!" And if they aren't scanned correctly we hear Homer Simpson scream "D'OH!" So all frickin' day it was "WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! D'OH! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! WOO-HOO! D'OH!"

Go read the rest. Please.

(via Dodge)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:16 PM | TrackBack

Michigan Firm Cashiers Employee Smokers

WELL, HERE'S an incentive which might get smokers to quit: a Michigan health-administration firm has cashiered all its employees who smoke -- even if the employees only smoked on their own time.

The Associated Press reports that top officials at Weyco Inc. put the policy in place to guard against rising health-care costs. They gave employees quite some time to kick their habit, and 14 smokers who work there did. One quit before the policy went into effect, and four others were struck off when they refused to take a test to determine if they smoked. Company founder Howard Weyers was quoted as saying he didn't want "to pay for the results of smoking."

Now, we ourselves are a bit ambivalent about Weyco's move. Not because of the firing: we think companies should be able to hire and fire whomever they wish. But this is the type of nannyism that makes us wonder if Mr Weyers and his management team have delusional rajah complexes.

In some ways, we don't see this as being too different from the Virginia telecoms firm which forced employees using its cafeteria to eat vegetarian food. When we wrote about that story back in November, one of our commenters said:

Imposing one's own ideas on your employees when those ideas are not related to business issues is certain to cause ill will among many. And in this case, it probably reflects the boss' overly egostical sense of self importance accompanied by a need on his part to show others that he can control them ...

Perhaps the company's sales, profits, quality, customer satisfaction and innovation are all so excellent that it can afford to keep the employess focused on how they are being manipulated for the amusement of management rather than having them attend to the core business functions, but I tend to suspect otherwise.

But in other ways, we admit it is different than the Virginia case. Weyco is a health-administration firm, and so perhaps it's not unreasonable to demand its employees live moderate lives in terms of their vices. After all, it wouldn't do if a sales associate were to light up after making a presentation. We would also note Weyco gave its employees plenty of time to kick their habit or find other work, and that's not something which should go unmentioned. It also helped them kick their habit, which is also something worth mentioning. So they handled it much better than they could have.

Still, there are other ways than firing people to get one's employees to quit smoking, ones which will have far more positive results than simply cashiering the staff. For instance, employees who smoke could perhaps be forced to pay a premium on their health insurance. That's just one slap out of many which a firm could employ. A company could also refuse to offer raises or promotions to its smoking employees, or just forbid smoking on company property. That alone would probably cause employees to try the patch. Combined with appropriate bennies for workers who do quit, it would probably work quite well without consequent losses in morale.

But sacking employees -- Weyco will now have to find four new workers, five if one counts the guy who quit -- is a wasteful and inefficient way to make one's point. After all, the company is going to have to immediately pay to hire these replacements, have them trained, and so on. Furthermore, 26.1 percent of Michiganders smoke, meaning the company has effectively shut out that portion of the labor pool. In theory, Weyco could lose out if it only hires non-smoking applicants -- for what if some hypothetical smoker was the best candidate for a job? If he was productive and competent, would hypothetical higher health costs automatically outweigh the positives he brought to the table? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

Besides, the employees still at Weyco -- and prospective employees -- could feasibly wonder: what's coming down the pike next? Most likely, of course, the answer is nothing. But if the company fires smokers, would the firm move on to regulating its employees' drinking, sex lives and eating habits? Because all of those things can impact health costs as well. Smoking is bad, but so is being overweight, promiscuous, or a heavy drinker.

So while we can't argue about Weyco's right to fire smokers, or argue the company was patently unreasonable in how it handled the matter, we do think Weyco would have been better served with using lighter slaps and better perks in its crusade against employee smoking.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:03 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

Study: This Monday "Most Depressing" Day in Year

BRITISH PSYCHOLOGIST Cliff Arnall has discovered that Jan. 24 -- that's an hour away, for those of us on Eastern Standard Time -- is the most depressing day in the year. Dr Arnall's work takes into account variables including the weather, one's motivational levels, and the last time one attempted quitting a particular vice.

MSNBC reports:

Arnall, who specializes in seasonal disorders at the University of Cardiff, Wales, created a formula that takes into account numerous feelings to devise peoples' lowest point.

The model is: ([W + (D-d)] x TQ) / (M x NA)

The equation is broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action.

Arnall found that while days technically get longer after Dec. 21, cyclonic weather systems take hold in January, bringing low, dark clouds to Britain. Meanwhile, the majority of people break their healthy resolutions six to seven days into the new year, and even the hangers-on have fallen off the wagon, torn off the nicotine patches and eaten the fridge empty by the third week. Any residual dregs of holiday cheer and family fun have kicked the bucket by Jan. 24.

"Following the initial thrill of New Year's celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in," Arnall said. "The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills."

While we feel Dr Arnall's work is not entirely complete -- it makes no allowances for having one's team lose the AFC Championship, one's relationship status, or one's dealing with general stupidity in this life -- we do wish to thank Dr Arnall for reminding us that Monday will literally be the worst day in the year.

Thanks, Dr Arnall. THANKS A LOT.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:42 PM | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

Just for the Record ...

IT'S 1 P.M. It is four degrees outside. The wind chill is -16. This is just wrong in every possible way.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:50 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Economics of Smoking

LIVING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, we have found, is such a comfortable existence that going to other states in the Union can sometimes cause us to suffer fear and nausea.

For instance, when we were back in Ohio for the Christmas holidays, we went to the bookstore and bought $18 worth of goods. When the clerk informed us that we owed $19.44, we actually thought there was a mistake until we remembered Cuyahoga County has an 8 pc sales tax. In New Hampshire, of course, the sales tax is 0 pc.

We wish we could say this was an isolated incident, but it is certainly not. When we were in Washington, D.C., recently, we blanched at the amount of tax we paid on our hotel rooms (12 pc, as opposed to New Hampshire's 8 pc). When we talk with friends in California, we inevitably recall how much we paid in income taxes (9.3 pc in the Golden State, compared to 0 pc here). But the incredible thing is this. The shock and anguish we feel going elsewhere is nothing near that which our friends and loved ones feel when they come here.

For they are suddenly confronted with the fact that in New Hampshire, goods in the stores cost ... just what the prices say they cost. Then they'll inquire as to the rent we're paying on our apartment, and they learn our real housing cost has actually gone down since we moved here. Then, the real surprise comes.

"You pay HOW MUCH for cigarettes?"

It depends on the brand, of course, but it ain't much. If one buys Marlboros -- and who doesn't? -- one will pay somewhere around $25 a carton, taxes included. If one buys the off-price brands, one can expect to pay $20 a carton, perhaps even less.

Now, we personally suffer from what we call the California Effect, which to say our time there caused certain "benchmark prices" for goods and services to stick in our mind. Therefore, we get angry when the price of gasoline goes up -- but only if it goes higher than $1.75. We get annoyed when the price of milk goes up, but only if it goes above $4 per gallon. And in our mind, the benchmark price for a carton of cigarettes is $45, and less in Nevada.

For our friends a bit farther down on the Eastern Seaboard, the only way they can pay $45 per carton is if they buy out of somebody's trunk. We knew the prices down there were bad enough to warrant taking New Hampshire cigarettes on the road with us, but we had no idea how bad they were until we read about this sad story out of New York.

It seems that certain New Yorkers, facing $7.50 per pack prices at minimum for their smokes, decided to be clever and order cigarettes off the Internet. This seemed like a win-win: the smoker got cheap cigarettes, the buyer made his sale, and so on. But the loser in the equation was the city of New York, which found itself losing out on its $1.50 per pack of tax revenue. In all, a New York City smoker pays $3 in tax on each pack of smokes.

Now, the New York Daily News informs us the city is Not Happy about this, and is dunning a whole bunch of smokers for the city taxes they owe. Apparently, the buyers are supposed to voluntarily pay the tax if they buy cheap cigarettes from elsewhere.

This seems a bit much, if you ask us. Not so much in terms of the law -- the law is the law, even if it is stupid -- but in general principle terms.

After all, it's one thing if you're dealing with income taxes -- those are taxes to which everyone is subject (and with April 15 coming up, we remind all Rant readers to pay all the taxes they owe to everyone). But when it comes to sales and use taxes, which vary between states, it seems unjust to make people suffer simply because other jurisdictions are more competitive than the ones in which they live. And on general principle grounds -- if not, apparently, legal grounds -- this seems like tax avoidance, not tax evasion.

It also amazes us the city of New York thinks Civic Virtue will trump the basic laws of economics. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in keeping with his Crusade Against Fun, has no sympathy for the smokers who avoided their taxes. Yet the laws of supply and demand are inviolate. As long as cigarette prices in the city are extraordinarily high, people will take extraordinary measures to find cheaper cigarettes. It's not rocket science. It's basic, entry-level stuff that any adult knows.

It's also no surprise that other jurisdictions are following suit, as New York's move was so extreme it gave them lots of incentive to do so.

For instance, let's look at New Jersey and nearby states as an example.

When New York City put a $3 per pack combined tax in place, New Jersey's taxes were $2.05 per pack. That gave them 95 cents in breathing room to manuever -- actually, a bit more, as New Jersey's cigarettes were previously 47 cents costlier per pack than New York City's. New Jersey soon raised its cigarette tax to $2.40 per pack -- and why not? They had the pricing power to do that, and it was politically easy after New York City decided to walk the plank. Pennsylvania did the same thing, hiking its cigarette tax from $1 per pack to $1.30 per pack. Despite the increase, they still preserved their price advantage over New Jersey accordingly. Nearby Virginia also increased its cigarette taxes, from 2.5 cents per pack to 20 cents per pack.

What's interesting about this is that none of these states lowered their cigarette taxes. That to us would seem the best move economically, because it would move the demand curve outward. But the experts say that increased prices will cause people to give up the filthy habit, and that's cheaper and better in the long run anyway. We don't know if that's true, but we have seen anecdotal evidence to suggest it.

Speaking personally, though, we can say increased prices would not have an impact on our smoking habits. Further, because we are a student of economics, we would find a way or make one to ensure we came out revenue-neutral on the deal. For instance, we can and would give up one dinner out per month just on general principle grounds -- it would be a painless way to slap the grasping hand reaching for our wallet.

Of course, in terms of smokers' personal economy, it would be far cheaper for us all if we just gave up the damned cigarettes in the first place. Smokers would be greatly helped in this regard if the cessation products were generally covered under health insurance, or were cheaper than smoking in the first place. But that is a subject for another post.

(cigarette tax information from the American Lung Association).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

Door Bonking


-- Dick Dietrich

DESPITE THE TITLE -- heh heh heh -- we can assure readers this post is not about that, or anything related to that, at all. No. This deals with something entirely different -- namely, our car.

Like everywhere else in America, New Hampshire has seen its share of patently weird weather over the past week or so. Here in the Granite State, we had rather a lot of rain, and then bone-chilling cold following it. While we were originally thankful for the spate of abnormally warm weather late last week, we have now come to realize it was Satan's handiwork. You see, over the past two days, we have found ourselves facing the troublesome automotive problem known as "door bonking."

"Door bonking" -- as it's called because of the sound that goes with it -- is the opposite of most cold-weather auto troubles. These generally deal with frozen locks and windows that refuse to roll down, things which prevent one from getting into one's car. "Door bonking," on the other hand, means that when one gets into one's car after a cold spell, one finds the door latch gets jammed, and as such one can't close the driver's side door. This is very uncool, as the following things happen:

1) The dome light goes on and stays on, because the door isn't closed. This is often followed by an annoying dinging noise from the car.
2) Because the door isn't closed, a driver may attempt to jimmy it closed using persuasion, brute force, and finally, outbursts of profanity not seen since Drake went after the Spanish treasure fleet.
3) The driver will not drive the car, as he could fall out of it upon making a right turn at an otherwise placid intersection.

It was natural the first instance of this happened on Sunday, when we were rushing to get to work. However, after a few despondent minutes, we realized the severe temperature change in the prior 48 hours -- combined with the humidity -- had somehow caused the car to get annoyed. Therefore, we simply warmed it up, and once the door latch secured, off we went.

Thinking we had solved the problem -- for it did not reappear over the next 36 hours -- we were no longer concerned. However, tonight it happened again -- when we were leaving work. After waiting for the car to warm up, we then realized we needed to Take Drastic Action. Clearly the only option was to go look on the Internet for information.

Well, as it turned out, we were somewhat lucky: we found that applying something called "silicone spray" would act as a water repellent, thus preventing any future freezes. Therefore, we sallied forth to a Very Large Chain Store, knowing for sure the store would have the stuff.

The Very Large Chain Store did not have silicone spray.

This was most annoying. We did, however, learn how this particular chain delivers such amazing returns for its investors. Apparently, they broadcast security-camera images of customers cluelessly wandering around looking for various goods to the staff, all of whom are hiding in a back storeroom. These broadcasts boost employee morale to the point where they work at peak efficiency for the store stocking shelves, thus maximizing revenue flows. Yes, we are bitter -- but quite frankly, when we have to literally walk half the length of a store to find someone, and the only thing they do is page an employee who himself doesn't bother showing up, we don't exactly see Customer Service as a high priority.

In any event, 20 minutes after our futile attempts to actually get an employee to help us look for "silicone spray," the guy at the sporting goods desk informed us the chain did not carry the stuff. We were most amazed at this, because we were sure the Chinese had mastered the production of pretty much everything. But instead, we were told "any hardware store" would carry the spray, and we ought go there.

At this point, we were ready to concede defeat. However, a Helpful Citizen at the weaponry counter came to our rescue. This enlightened soul kindly told us that WD-40 would solve the problem, and displace any moisture affecting our door latch. We, of course, had WD-40 in our car, having found it quite useful for fixing lots of the car's minor ailments. So, we went home and liberally applied the stuff to the affected area, and we closed the door with the lightest amount of force possible.

It shut.

So we would like to offer a public thanks to this Helpful Citizen, who charitably acted as a Good Samaritan and will hopefully have this remembered on the Final Day. Also, we got a kickass extendable snowbrush while we were at the store. Do they even have snow in Guangdong?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:04 AM | TrackBack

January 15, 2005

Getting Our Blood Boiling

WE HAVE NOTICED, in the past few days, that certain well-meaning but stupid people are putting really long and really off-topic essays in our comments boxes. Even though such a trend is to be expected under the laws of economics, this is most annoying.

After all, we do realize our comments feature represents an easy and convenient way for readers to post their opinions, and at no cost to them. Sadly, certain people have taken advantage of this in the past few days, and have posted extremely long compositions --- 2,000 to 3,000 words in length -- reflective only of their own warped world view or their own personal troubles. Such people seem to live in a fun fantasy world where actions do not have consequences, and where the costs of an inherent good count for nothing as long as they reap the benefits. Thus, we hope to disabuse them of such socialist thinking.

We would remind these certain few that while The Rant is provided free for the enjoyment of its readership, The Rant is not without its costs. Indeed, aside from the main American office in Manchester, N.H., and our corporate headquarters in Bermuda, we also have satellite offices in Grand Cayman and Chennai, India. We are also mulling the idea of opening an office in Liechtenstein. Therefore, you can see it takes a lot of time and effort to produce The Rant on a daily -- or near-daily -- basis.

It also, of course, takes money. We can assure readers that our costs have tripled since we first began the blog, and costs would increase further if we exceeded our bandwidth allotment. We can also assure readers that according to Ned Henries, head of The Rant's Information Technology Department, our comments feature is quite widely-read -- even if just one comment is posted. Thus, Mr Henries explains, every time a massive essay is posted in the comments, it could be read (or at least accessed) two or three hundred times before IT staff realize it exists. As such, our bandwidth usage increases greatly because of such scheming. Plus, the IT staff must deal with removing the post and spend minutes cursing the writer. As such, this increases our marginal cost of operating the site.

Increasing our marginal cost is bad. However, the business of business is to turn increasing costs into profit; and Mr Henries has discovered a neat way to turn this into a revenue stream for The Rant. While charity forces us to water down Mr Henries' scheme, it remained a good one, and as such, here it is:

People who abuse the comment system -- that is, through posting patently ridiculous essays of at least 750 words on matters irrelevant to the post in question -- may be subject to having their e-mail and other identifying information harvested by our crack IT team. Our crack IT team may then sell this information on the open market to the highest bidder. We might just do it for free, but we'd prefer to get something for our pains.

We would hasten to assure regular and long-time Loyal Rant Readers they have nothing to fear from our new Abusive Comment Scheme. After all, they have been models of decorum and fair play during all of this, and they most of all deserve protection from comment abusers. We're also pretty sure many of them face similar troubles on their own blogs, and have wondered themselves about how to deal with this.

We see this "solution" as a "win-win" for everyone: not only will our regular readers get to enjoy harangue-free comments again, we'll get to turn a real problem into something which "adds value" to our "core business model." Therefore, it seems to us that no one can reasonably complain about it, and those that would should get their own blogs.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:28 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Bookseller Cashiered for Blogging

WE NOTE WITH INTEREST a story out of Scotland today, in which one Joe Gordon, a bookseller for the Waterstone's chain, has been cashiered for venting about his job on his blog.

As we understand it from The Guardian, Mr Gordon's blog sometimes made mention of his boss, using impressively inventive prose. For instance, Mr Gordon referred to his supervisor as "Evil Boss." But he did not stop there. Mr Gordon declared his immediate superior was a "sandal-wearing bastard" and used other colorful phrases to describe the man -- and was so clever in this regard we actually had to look some of those phrases up. Unfortunately for Mr Gordon, Waterstone's was keeping an eye on his blog, and decided to cashier him at its first opportunity for gross misconduct.

Now, we do think Mr Gordon screwed up mightily in referring to his work and his workplace on his blog. This would generally put one on thin ice anyway if this was not cleared first, but to openly criticize one's immediate superior is pretty much just asking for a good kick in the ass. It is no surprise Waterstone's got rid of him, especially if Mr Gordon was giving his boss a hard time.

But Mr Gordon has a few jokers of his own to play. For one thing, he worked in a rank-and-file capacity. As such, his transgressions were necessarily less consequential than if, say, a marketing executive fell into the pool at a company function. For another, we understand Mr Gordon was an experienced employee and quite competent in his work. But we see two trump cards for Mr Gordon that might not otherwise apply in a more normal situation; for instance, if Mr Gordon was a district sales manager for a tire firm.

The most obvious trump card, of course, is that Mr Gordon worked for a bookseller. As such, he will get sympathy up the wazoo, and Waterstone's is going to find itself in the midst of a public-relations nightmare. Actually, it already is. For the story is all over the British press, and pretty much every blogger in the world is going to discuss it in the next three days. For bloggers are kind of like piranhas in this respect: if the piranhas find a cow standing in the water, all of them gang up to devour it. It is impossible to counteract such harsh and overbearing criticism from all corners -- absolutely impossible. If anything good comes out of this, it will be that public-relations folks everywhere now know what not to do when such situations arise. They could have just spoken with him and left it -- he would have gotten the message.

But let's say it again: Mr Gordon worked for a bookseller. As such, there is the very real question of whether Mr Gordon has actually sinned. For everyone expects bookstore employees, like folks working at record shops, to be at least a bit passionate. In our view, Mr Gordon could have written all manner of outlandish things and no one would have batted an eye; it's just that he didn't consider the consequences when calling his boss, and we quote -- oh, hold on. It's the phone.

STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: You are not putting that phrase in your essay. Absolutely not.
Mr KEPPLE: What, a cheeky s-------?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Quit that! It's right out. Who ever heard of a seven-letter curse word starting with S?
Mr KEPPLE: Well, he wrote it. What am I supposed to do?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: You may use the word "frack."
Mr KEPPLE: Well, frack. Hey, wait. Doesn't that violate Interoffice Style Memorandum No. 78? The one which forbids us from using words and phrases invented in the Seventies?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Nope. Battlestar Galactica had a spinoff in 1980, in which Starbuck returned in the last episode.
Mr KEPPLE: Yeah? Well, up your nose with a garden --
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Do we have to call HR on this?

Frack. OK, anyway. Bookstore employee. Passionate about stuff. Expected. Not a big deal in grand scheme. Especially when his blog is -- or rather, was -- under the radar.

But as we said, this is not the only trump card which Mr Gordon holds in his hand. The other is that Mr Gordon is a Scot, and as such, he can (hopefully) count on the aid of other Scots. Being of part-Scots ancestry ourself, we don't understand how a God-fearing Scot in bloody Scotland can just be expected to not speak up about things. Especially if some English firm cashiers him for speaking up, because that'll just make him speak up on general principle.

So while we do think Mr Gordon did err, we can only wish him the best -- and are confident he'll soon get back on his feet. For as someone long ago once said, "the worst can be handled when it is known."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:27 AM | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

Men, Explained

(We have written an UPDATE to this post, see below. -- BJK).

MAUREEN DOWD -- whom we suspect may have had a bad week -- has written an amazingly petulant column complaining about men. It seems Ms Dowd believes the coarser sex is increasingly interested in marrying women of lesser status, while accomplished women of greater status are left out in the cold. This has made Ms Dowd upset -- and she even goes so far as to wonder whether feminism was some kind of "cruel hoax."

Well, of course it was. But before we get into that aspect of things, let's look at men and why it is they're supposedly more attracted these days to women in subordinate positions. (They're not, but we'll get into that). Ms Dowd, you may take notes, if you'd like.

Now, we should first start off with saying that we are not the type of man inclined to marry his secretary, although we would never rule anything out.

We do know our own soul, and because of this, we know we not only want but need a woman who is very well-educated and very intelligent. And while secretaries by definition fall into this category (you try the job sometime) many women have decided they do not want to be secretaries, and instead have become doctors and lawyers and actuaries and economists and what not. Therefore, it stands to reason our eventual wife will likely have a professional background, and will likely be quite accomplished in her field. (She will have enough smarts, for instance, to realize that one never, ever, ever crosses a secretary, lest the wrath of Heaven fall upon one, causing one to wail and gnash one's teeth).

So we have one of our base minima established. Next, we must add in two other base minima. These deal with physical beauty and personality. The beauty aspect is something which, as a man, is hard-wired into our system and which we cannot ignore. For instance, we like women with curves, and nothing is going to change our predisposition for this. But more important than the first two criteria is a woman's personality -- we want someone who is nice and caring and kind and preferably religious and likes children and shares our interests and isn't inclined to cut our balls off at the first opportunity.

There. We got it out into the open. We do apologize for the coarseness of that last remark -- unseemly, we know -- but there is no better way to encapsulate what we mean. We men have enough trouble in this world without getting undeserved crap from our wives. (Sometimes -- many times -- we do deserve it, but that is another kettle of fish entirely).

Now, we realize many of our readers may complain that we have boiled down how men work into a simple equation: X (sub I) + X (sub B) + X (sub P) = Y; IF all X values > 80, AND X (sub P) > 100 and Y > 300, THEN call tomorrow for second date. But the thing is, this is kind of how men work. We're simple that way. Men are fundamentally different from women, whose decision-making processes remain unknown to Guy Scientists.

(However, early research indicates those processes are somewhat like incredibly-complex flow charts, except the variables keep moving around in the charts without notice, and the relative values of the variables keep changing, and variables may disappear and reappear with no forewarning whatsoever. Success on this front is expected eventually, once Guy Scientists stop blowing up bridges and begin focusing on key questions, such as the Football Season Issue).

Sorry. Couldn't resist. Anyway, back to the matter of undeserved crap from one's spouse.

One of the things for which men hunger, if they have reached that point in development where they recognize and appreciate manly virtues, is a partner in every sense of the word. We personally want someone with whom we can talk and with whom we can share new things and with whom we can present a united front to the outside world. This last item is incredibly important. In short, we want someone who is going to offer us unqualified support -- just as we would offer them unqualified support.

We do not mean that in the sense of "we'll have someone to do the dishes." We mean that we need a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on (or at least pour out our heart upon) and so on. The last thing we need is for our wife to act like Clytemnestra. Then, we'd have to deal with scorn and unpleasantness heaped upon us when we got back from a hard day's work at the office, and we'd have to watch ourselves in the bath, and it'd be a huge mess.

We should further note we do not expect women to consider "unqualified support" as the equivalent of "letting the man not hold up his end of the bargain." For there are things men must either do or be capable of doing for things to balance. He must, for instance, be willing to work to support his family. He must be willing to show the proper love and devotion to his wife and family. He must be willing to defend his family from the world, even if it means sacrificing everything in the process. In short, these are virtues which men must have for a relationship to work. This explains why, despite certain regrettable instances in our popular culture, nearly all men despise those who Dante memorably called "pimps, troublemakers and other suchlike scum."

But what we do expect in terms of that "unqualified support" is not to be cut down unnecessarily. For instance, if we were sitting on our sofa and not out looking for work, then a reminder of one's mission might be justified; but if we were looking for work but simply didn't have any luck yet, then such a remark would be unjustified. A man would not dare openly criticize his wife if he didn't like some aspect of her appearance; but women like Ms Dowd must recognize the same must hold if, for instance, her eventual husband failed to get a promotion at work.

Quite frankly, we do believe most professional women realize this; it's just that others haven't gotten the memo yet. As for Ms Dowd, we don't exactly see why she is so surprised men aren't attracted to women who upbraid and criticize them at every opportunity. Does she think the economics of competition stop during working hours? Let's take a look at one example Ms Dowd notes in her column, about these relationships she criticizes so.

Ms Dowd writes:

In James Brooks's "Spanglish," Adam Sandler, as a Los Angeles chef, falls for his hot Mexican maid. The maid, who cleans up after Mr. Sandler without being able to speak English, is presented as the ideal woman. The wife, played by Téa Leoni, is repellent: a jangly, yakking, overachieving, overexercised, unfaithful, shallow she-monster who has just lost her job with a commercial design firm. Picture Faye Dunaway in "Network" if she'd had to stay home, or Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" without the charm.

Ms Dowd writes later in her article:

Art is imitating life, turning women who seek equality into selfish narcissists and objects of rejection, rather than affection.

Gee, we don't know about you, but we suspect Mr Sandler's attraction to his maid in the movie is based on the fact that his movie wife is, and we quote, a "yakking ... unfaithful, shallow she-monster."

Of course he's going to want out of that marriage. Any man would want out of it. It's not a difficult thing to understand. Nor is it difficult to understand why men would be attracted to people who actually seem to love them for who they are. If Mr Sandler's movie wife was a decent human being, the attraction to the maid would not exist. God in Heaven! Only Ms Dowd could confuse personality issues with social status, and somehow think the latter is to blame for the misery which some in this life experience.

As for feminism, we had written earlier that it was indeed a cruel hoax, and we should explain why we think that way. It's simple, really.

Now, some tenets of feminism, for instance, having women in the workplace and letting them compete with men for jobs, were perfectly good things. We were smart to have introduced those things into our society.

But the Sexual Revolution, despite its initial intent, actually ended up being an incredible gift for men. It's not merely that it presented men with lots more opportunities to get action. It's that the Sexual Revolution released men from all the bonds to which they once had to submit to get action in the first place. If there's no incentive to marry, marriage will decline. If there's no disincentive to divorce, divorce will increase. The results of changing the rules aren't rocket science. And when one works out the new equations, one finds that in the end, we are all the poorer.

UPDATE, 8:17 p.m.: Based on some of the e-mails we have received, we should qualify a few things, as we would feel awful if we were being mis-understood. We have done so above in a couple of spots, but we'll do so again here. Our point is not at all to suggest that women in professional positions are undesireable -- far from it, trust us. Nor are we arguing that women in professional positions are inclined to have it in for men.

Rather, we merely wished to say that Ms Dowd is confusing personality issues with social status. So let's be perfectly clear about that. It's just that at the end of the day, men want wives, not carbon copies of their bosses. That's something which we think most women understand, and explains why so many professional women have happy and successful relationships. It's just that Ms Dowd seems to think holding a white-collar job can wash away everything else.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:11 PM | TrackBack

The Year That Was

VIA ALLISON BARNES, we have learned of a new "meme" floating around the blogosphere which has bloggers noting the first sentences of their first posts from each month during the year. In doing this, we realized a few things:

1) We really need to eat better and get more sleep.
2) We need to inform our readers better when we're going away.
3) We are really tired all of the time.
4) This is really a fun hobby.

JANUARY: WE HAVE BEEN AMUSED to see all the analysis, the shock, the hand-wringing coming from fans of the Washington Redskins football franchise following the resignation of Steve Spurrier, the team's head coach.

FEBRUARY: THE STATES WE HAVE VISITED are in red, whilst the states we have not visited are in olive green.

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

APRIL: HAMILTON, BERMUDA -- Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant, an Internet content provider based here, said its Web site was hacked sometime around 10 p.m. last night. The company has blamed Communism.

MAY: WE NOTE, with no small bit of amusement, that The Raving Atheist has vowed to join the priesthood should he win the New York State Lottery with numbers from a fortune cookie.

JUNE: IN A MOVE WE FIND deeply distressing, the Government of New Jersey has ruled that bars and night clubs may no longer offer women free admission to or discounted drinks at their establishments.

JULY: (By MacKENZIE LAURIER, Rant Canada) OTTAWA – Relations between Canada and the United States are at a new low after prominent Canadians accused America of influencing its election, and an advertising campaign launched immediately following the race hasn’t helped matters.

AUGUST: WE HAD BEEN inclined to applaud Halle Berry, whom we once saw in a James Bond film, for recently making some strong statements against the practice of women having plastic surgery.

SEPTEMBER: WE SUPPOSE we owe our readers a bit of an explanation as to where the devil we’ve been for the past week, and an apology for not bothering to post a message regarding our absence.

OCTOBER: WE SUPPOSE we should start the morning off with a sincere apology -- again -- for not blogging much this week.

NOVEMBER: FEELING FATIGUED and a bit bored this past Saturday, we splurged on a copy of “Rome: Total War,” the latest strategy game from the good, fine people at Creative Assembly Ltd. Our reaction to the program can be summed up in one word: wow.

DECEMBER: 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.")

Stick with us as we roar into 2005, folks! Of course, we're already in 2005, but you know what we mean.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:02 AM | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Well, We'll Stop Complaining

THE TINY HAMLET of Kaktovik, Alaska, is in the midst of a rather nasty blizzard which has forced temperatures to twenty below zero and wind chills to sixty below zero. These are conditions which make even us, somewhat used to New Hampshire's brutal winters, shudder.

Their power went out three days ago.

We are happy to note that rescue efforts to help the village, which had been stuck in a meterological nightmare of "Twilight Zone" proportions, have largely succeeded. Most homes in Kaktovik have had their power restored, and two tons of equipment were scheduled to be shipped -- by snowmobiles, if necessary. (The point of origin for that equipment was another hamlet, with the understandable name of Deadhorse).

We would further note that -- with the air temperature in Manchester supposed to reach at least 50 degrees tomorrow -- we shall not complain about New Hampshire winters for ... gee, maybe as long as a week.

(link via Simon From Jersey)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:47 PM | TrackBack

There'll Always Be an England ...

... BUT MUST the English keep footing the bill for these folks?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:27 PM | TrackBack

Haven't They Suffered Enough?

WE WERE PLEASED to learn that a New Jersey school district concluded it wouldn't be Educationally Enriching for one of its middle schools to serve as a backdrop for the wretched antics of "The Simple Life."

After all, the kids are from South Jersey. They've suffered enough. They don't need that horrible dimwit and her miserable friend playacting during school hours. Especially considering the two were going to "work" as "substitute teachers" during the filming. Dear God -- what were these administrators thinking when they gave the initial greenlight? We are simply astounded such a thing would be even seriously entertained, much less approved.

Even more discouraging, what were the parents in this tiny hamlet thinking? Thank God about 10 pc stood up for righteousness and decency -- but 90 pc said it was perfectly all right for their kids to be televised on "The Simple Life?" The very thought is enough to give us dyspepsia for a week.

Speaking of dyspepsia, we have always wondered -- what do the neighbors of the starlets' families think about all this? We've always just wanted to know, that's all. Because if we were their neighbors, we would disinvite them from all the trendy parties and big social events and other such things which we understand many wealthy people take quite seriously. Just as punishment for letting their wretched offspring run amok.

We mean, God. Attention, Mr and Mrs Hilton: it's not cool when your kid's major apparent achievement -- after four generations of wealth-building -- is to seemingly reattain the status of parvenu.

(link via Sheila)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:17 PM | TrackBack

Kepple Deconstructed

WE NOTE with approval that much scorn has been directed at the North Korean Government's recent propaganda campaign to have its citizens cut their hair in accordance with Kimilsungism. In such conversations about this, we note further that talk often naturally turns to the question of whether the Dear Leader has all his marbles, whether his elevator goes to the top floor, etc.

Our answer to that is simple: we don't know, Babs. But we do believe the Dear Leader is certainly evil, based merely upon the weird and obsessive personality cult which he has forced upon half the Korean people. We base this observation on one particularly interesting experience which happened to us long ago, the end result of which we recently learned about.

You see, we can assure you that a Major Textbook still being used today, in introductory English college classes all over this great nation, features one of our essays as an example item. As such, untold thousands of students, fresh out of high school, are studying our work. This is the "upside."

The "downside" is that it features one of our collegiate essays. As such, we won't mention the text nor the book nor its publisher; for not only can we not bear to look at the thing without groaning in agony, we expect readers would react the same way we do upon reading it: with a bit of nausea. Not merely because we can't bear to look at our collegiate work, but because we can't bear to think we didn't get any money out of it.

After all, this textbook sells new for close to $60. It is a giant tome. The publisher offers a companion CD along with it. If we had a nickel for every book sold, we'd probably have ... we don't know, more money than we do now. We don't know what's worse, really: that some college students are paying full freight for it, or that we're not getting any of their money. (Clever students are buying the book second-hand on-line, for roughly 25 pc of the price).

We do not intend this as a complaint, of course. In all seriousness, we were very flattered and remain very flattered the professors who wrote the tome were interested in our work. So we gave our permission willingly and are glad we did, for in terms of getting our name out there, the investment paid off in spades.

But we digress, something of which the authors of the tome in question would undoubtedly disapprove. Anyway, we stumbled across this text completely by accident a few weeks ago, and we saw what went along with our work. (We had, naturally, completely forgotten about the whole thing; it had, if we recall rightly, been like five or six years since we'd given our OK).

We can assure you there are Actual Textbook Exercises devoted to deconstructing our essay. (What does Kepple mean, why does he use this-or-that phrase, etc.) The whole shebang takes up like ... dear God, like eight pages of this book. It's astounding. It's unbelievable. More than that, it's disturbing, for two reasons. Either college students are so ill-equipped these days they must read a textbook to discern what we meant, or we wrote it so badly they need prompts from the tome's authors. In any event, we felt quite discomforted upon reading these exercises.

After all, we wrote the damn thing in like an hour. We were 19 years old when we wrote it (and 20 when it was originally published). We're not people who write things well enough to be deconstructed as if they were the Gospel. And Jim Roberts kicked our ass in the counterpoint! So what the devil made it so great, anyway?

We submit this is the proper internal response for having one's work deconstructed. North Korea's Dear Leader, on the other hand, seems to think that people ought by rights hold him up as someone to be examined and admired and studied and what not. Therefore, we can deduce his psyche has been rather warped over the years, and he is a clear and present danger to himself and others. And, while we're at it, we would note for our collegiate readers that The Rant is the only Official Canon of Benjamin Kepple Thought.

Sorry. Couldn't resist that last bit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

It's Like a Bad Joke Dept.

A UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI law professor, who holds three doctoral degrees, reportedly gets stuck in the middle of a classic Internet e-mail/check swindle.

Involving $1,681,582.50.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:51 PM | TrackBack

Memo to the New York Jets

WE UNDERSTAND certain players with the New York Jets football team have publicly expressed confidence they'll win when they play the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers this Saturday at Heinz Field.

Running back Curtis Martin said the team expects to win the game. And defensive end Shaun Ellis also stuck by comments he made on Dec. 12, in which he said much the same:

"If we come back here, we'll beat them. I honestly believe that with my heart. They are a great team, but if we come back here, I really think we'll beat them."

This was after the Jets LOST 17-6 against the Steelers.

Now, we -- like the Steelers -- are bemused at such smack-talk, coming as it does from a team which only made the playoffs after the Steelers beat Buffalo in the final week of the season. However, while we will watch the game with merely cautious optimism, we would offer the Jets and their fans one piece of sound advice for Saturday:

It's not manly to cry in your beer.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

Disconnect with Reality Dept.

WIN MYERS, over at the always-excellent Democracy Project blog, has the details on a disturbing and rather weird report from The New York Post. It seems a national cable information network has allegedly forced out an older female staffer, and replaced her with younger employees to boost ratings. The younger employees also supposedly wear sexier clothing. The former forecaster detailed her charges in the Post story, of which Dr Myers has made note.

Dr Myers is writing about nothing other than ... The Weather Channel.

No, we're not kidding. Go check it out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:38 PM | TrackBack

Call the Inspectors

WE DO HOPE the Government will soon look into a recent case of malfeasance which has troubled our sleep as of late. Apparently, someone at the Census Bureau has renamed Washington state's Bevis Lake as "Butthead Lake" in its internal records.

Washington state wildlife officials say it's all a joke, but clearly, the Government must launch an investigation into this right away. After all, there's a very real danger this "practical joker" could turn his attention to other lakes and water bodies. As such, we are gravely concerned that Kepple Lake, located in Washington state's Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, could next fall victim to the Census employee's machinations! And we can't have that happen!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Whence Came All These People?

IN THE LATE 18th century, the French writer Hector St. John de Crevecouer wrote that question in examining just who these people called "Americans" were. In the early 21st century, we at The Rant were forced to ask the same question when accidentally confronted with a list of various celebrities who may or may not prove "this year's hottest couple." (See the poll, at right).

Now, as is typical for these types of things, the list in question maddeningly referred to many of these celebrities by their first or last names alone, viz. and to wit:

Kournikova & Iglesias
Beyonce & Jay-Z
Britney & Kevin
Cameron & Justin
Martin & Paltrow
David & Victoria Beckham
Elton John & David Furnish
Hugh Grant & Jemima Khan
J.Lo & Mark Anthony
Jude Law & Sienna Miller
Liz Hurley & Arun Nayer
Rod Stewart & Penny

We recognized a few of the names on the list, of course, but we must admit we were a bit stupefied upon encountering some of them. This greatly bothered us. For the way this list was presented, it was as if people were more interested in celebrities than pressing matters like benefits law or state pension-scheme reforms! And clearly, we were Missing Out Greatly if we knew the answer to questions such as "Are QDROs Issued Nunc Pro Tunc Valid under ERISA?"* but couldn't tell you who "Arun Nayer" or "Penny" was if our lives depended on it.

Therefore, we turned to The Rant's pop-culture expert and lowly unpaid intern, Edward "Ted" Callahan, who is receiving credit at the University of California-Santa Cruz for his work here. Mr Callahan gave us an answer to our simple question, "Whence came all these people?"

* Yes, according to benefit lawyer B. Janell Grenier (see link above). Counselor Grenier answers the question regarding nunc pro tunc ("now for then") in depth, but the basic premise is this: a Qualified Domestic Relations Order generally allows attachment of one's pension-scheme payments for child support, alimony, etc. We know this only because we read it in our pension-scheme booklet last week, and pensions are covered by ERISA, the federal law governing a lot of retirement-related stuff. Receiving a QDRO in the mail is generally a sign your life is unpleasant.

A transcript of our conversation follows:

Mr CALLAHAN: Hey, chief.

Mr KEPPLE: Hey, Ted. Say! You get that thing with the RIAA straightened out?

Mr CALLAHAN: Yeah, just last week. It's great to be back, although I enjoyed hiding in Belize!

Mr KEPPLE: I'll bet. What'd they sue you for, anyway?

Mr CALLAHAN: I downloaded a copy of Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life." I didn't pay for it and I did it on purpose -- and I'll do it again!

Mr KEPPLE: Stevie Wonder? You got sued over Stevie Wonder?

Mr CALLAHAN: Yeah. Oh, God, it was awful. And then, when I tried to call the media, the editors and reporters laughed so hard they fell out of their chairs. Is it my fault I liked the song? IS IT?

Mr KEPPLE: Uh ... right. Anyway, Ted, you've got to help me with this celebrity-related stuff. Whence came all these people?

Mr CALLAHAN: Did you just say "whence?"

Mr KEPPLE: Since you've been gone, the Standards Department got all sorts of teeth, what with Sarbanes-Oxley and all. "Whence came" is apparently a good phrase to use in place of "who the hell are."

Mr CALLAHAN: Dude. Censorship sucks!

Mr KEPPLE: What are you talking about?

Mr CALLAHAN: You can't say hell anymore? What about (DELETED) and (DELETED) and (DELETED-DELETED-DELETED)? ... God.

Mr KEPPLE: It's not censorship. It's business. Get over it.

Mr CALLAHAN: Yeah, all right. OK, anyway, you were asking about the people listed in this Internet poll. Kournikova and Iglesias, that's the tennis player and the musician.

Mr KEPPLE: Ah, right! Uh. Wait. Aren't they forty years apart? Maria Kournikova's only like 17.

Mr CALLAHAN: No, no. That's Sharapova. This one's older and not as talented. Anyway, she's marrying Julio's son, who's a singer.

Mr KEPPLE: Beyonce and Jay-Z. She's the singer, and ... wait, what does he do again? Oh, that's right! He did "California Love." I love that song.

Mr CALLAHAN: No, no. That was Dr Dre. Jay-Z did ... you wouldn't have heard of the songs.

Mr KEPPLE: Britney and Kevin. Maybe we can skip this one.

Mr CALLAHAN: It'd be best, sir. The IT Department ran an analysis on their relationship like you asked. It broke the UNIBLAB 6000.

Mr KEPPLE: What! We paid hundreds of dollars for that machine!

Mr CALLAHAN: It blew out all the vacuum tubes! Oh, God. Even worse, (Chief Technology Officer Ned) Mr Henries got entangled in one of the tape drives when it blew. The Fire Department's still trying to get him unstuck.

Mr KEPPLE: Good God! ... uh. Moving on. Cameron and Justin. Well, we certainly wish Mr Bueller and Mr Timberlane the best of luck.

Mr CALLAHAN: That's Ms Diaz, sir. She was in that one movie you liked, "There's Something About Mary."

Mr KEPPLE: Oh, God! Of course! With Chris Elliott! Now there's an underappreciated actor, eh? Did you ever see "Cabin Boy?"


Mr KEPPLE: C'mon, Callahan, you're hip and with it! "Cabin Boy!" Well, I never saw it either. But Simon from Jersey liked it, I think.

Mr KEPPLE: Martin and Paltrow. Well, they can't be that important if the list refers to their last names, so let's move on. David and Victoria Beckham. Oh! She was in the Spice Girls! The redhead!


Mr KEPPLE: Whatever happened to the redhead anyway? God. She was hotter than ... well, we don't know, but she was superfoxy.

Mr CALLAHAN: She did some work for the United Nations, and ...


Mr CALLAHAN: It wasn't like ...

Mr KEPPLE: Oh, God, no. Not the United Nations!

Mr CALLAHAN: I'm sorry, sir.

Mr KEPPLE: So am I! Well, never mind then. As for Mr Beckham, well, hey. Real Madrid. Oy vey. Elton John ... nah, that's not going anywhere either ... say, Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan are on this list! Sweet!

Mr CALLAHAN: We all thought you'd approve, sir.

Mr KEPPLE: God, yes. Gee, that's pretty cool, I knew about one of these celebrity couples, right? Boy, Mr Grant got himself quite a catch, didn't he? Hope it works out for both of them. But who are these other people?

Mr CALLAHAN: Well, there's this one actress dating this one singer, and she was in Gigl --

Mr KEPPLE: Not Gi --

Mr CALLAHAN: Really, she was in Gi --

Mr KEPPLE: Why is she still on any list anywhere?

Mr CALLAHAN: We don't really know. The IT Department is looking into it now. We should have results shortly. But the Visicalc spreadsheets aren't working like they ought ...

Mr KEPPLE: Well, let's move on. Jude Law ... he was in that one movie with Tom Hanks, the mob movie. She sounds American.

Mr CALLAHAN: Very good, sir!

Mr KEPPLE: Well, moving on here ... Liz Hurley, never mind ... Rod Stewart and Penny. Penny? Doesn't she have a last name?

Mr CALLAHAN: Yessir. Here's a photo, sir.

Mr KEPPLE: Good Lord.


Mr KEPPLE: Maybe I ought to've been a musician.

Mr CALLAHAN: It does have its advantages, sir.

Mr KEPPLE: But I still don't understand where all these celebrities came from! It's like ... like we're deluged with these people, who crop up everywhere, yet no one really and truly deeply cares about them or their middling careers or anything else! I mean, Rod Stewart, for God's sake?

Mr CALLAHAN: We have a theory, sir! We're calling it The Dave Clark Five Law. Basically, what we've found is that the entertainment media likes new celebrities to present challenges to the old, because it increases sales, and recycling news about unpopular or minor celebrities also increases sales among those folks' fan bases. Hence, it pays for everyone to keep promoting various stars in concert with recording firms and movie studios and all that. And everyone involved makes money!

Mr KEPPLE: Really?

Mr CALLAHAN: Pretty much.

Mr KEPPLE: Oh, well, that's all right then. It's the market at work, and God knows I can't argue with that. But how do I keep on top of all this news, to keep current and with it?

Mr CALLAHAN: Television, sir.

Mr KEPPLE: God help me.

SO THERE you have it. Clearly, we need to watch more badly-presented entertainment news -- after all, doing so might have Tangible Economic Benefits! We'll make sure to keep Rant readers updated on the latest news involving New and Important Stars such as Lindsay Valderrama and ... well, other New and Important Stars! Just as soon as we can find a way to cash in like everybody else, of course.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:03 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Coffee: the Agony and the Ecstasy

WE NOTE WITH APPROVAL this handy list, which explains in plain English the myriad options one has when ordering at locations of the Starbucks Coffee Co., the friendly neighborhood coffeehouse with a market capitalization of $23 billion.

While we have not had Starbucks coffee in roughly 18 months -- and have no plans to drink it anytime soon -- we do think this list will go a long way in preventing us from looking like an idiot on the rare instances when we do order it. For when we wander into Starbucks, we generally want one of two things, those being either a small coffee or one of those caramel-laden thingies. As the Company does not describe the items as such, we usually end up holding up the line and we aggravate all the people in patchouli. Therefore, we salute the author of this list for providing us with a handy reference guide as we decide upon one of 190,080 possible permutations for our coffee drink.

Now, we do realize that many readers may express shock and amazement at our admission that we have ever had Starbucks coffee, for a few reasons. First, we see the practice of buying coffee out as wasteful and decadent; second, we prefer other ways to secure our daily requirement of caffeine; and third, we distrust and fear everything that goes along with the Starbucks Experience. We do not begrudge those who do enjoy that, of course -- it IS, after all, their right -- but that said, we see no reason on God's Green Earth why we ought pay $4 for one of Starbucks' drinks. After all, look at what we're getting for that $4 -- uninspired service, overpriced ingredients and an environmentally-friendly cup. And if we wanted a milkshake, we'd go somewhere else.

But this is not to denigrate the joy -- nay, the ecstasy -- of a good cup of coffee, which we occasionally enjoy. Nor is it to denigrate the many coffee-flavored things which exist here in New England. For instance, in New Hampshire, it is possible to buy "coffee milk" -- a downright heavenly blend of milk and coffee syrup. It is one of our few dietary luxuries, and we enjoy it much. Why, just tonight, we had a small glass of coffee-flavored soya milk for dessert -- which not only tastes great, but it provides a weak little kick to the system. And for our money, you can't beat Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. We have only had those on very rare occasions, but they're worth every cent.

Kona beans, we would note, run about $16 per pound; Jamaican Blue Mountain beans run anywhere from $27 to $40 per pound, depending on your supplier. At forty cups to the pound, this puts the per-cup price of Kona at 40 cents, while Jamaican Blue will run you a buck at most. It is thus understandable how Starbucks has nearly a 12 pc operating margin.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:11 PM | TrackBack

Comrades! Struggle Valiantly to Get a Haircut!

IN AN EVIL SCHEME to convince the Western world there are absolutely no problems whatsoever in North Korea, Pyongyang has declared war upon the latest social menace lurking about: men with bad haircuts!

No, we're not kidding. The BBC reports the North Korean Government is singling out and humiliating men with bad haircuts, going so far as to harass their wives and condemn their workplaces. Yes, they can do that there. And the campaign -- "Let Us Trim Our Hair in Accordance with Socialist Lifestyle" -- is moving fast; so fast, we daresay they'll have a concentration camp People's Glorious Revolutionary Retraining Facility up in no time.

However, we have to think a Lot of People are going to get in Serious Trouble for publicizing this all over North Korea. After all, a certain someone perms his hair regularly. Surely the bureaucrats in Pyongyang are not suggesting their Dear Leader was in error when he decided Elvis was a paragon of the juche (self-reliance) idea.

Still, we are glad to see North Korea, as we said, has absolutely no problems with which to deal. Therefore, it seems to us the world could dispense with all those offers of economic aid and technical assistance with the country's nuclear-power plants -- which of course are used for entirely peaceful purposes. After all, North Korea doesn't need our help anyway. For that would contradict the juche idea, and how could one ever argue with the juche idea? One could not.

But let us not dwell on such small matters. After all, life in North Korea doesn't just mean taking part in the Festival of Patriotic Songs every other weekend -- it also provides many other benefits! As One Free Korea notes:

Besides plenty of "solidarity," what else can you find in Pyongyang? Bowling! A KFA tour means you get the near-exclusive use of what's obviously a multi-million dollar bowling alley bought with money that didn't go to buy food or medicine for starving people that North Korea wants us to believe it really, really wishes it could feed, but for all those natural disasters.

They have bowling TOO? Gee, never mind the haircuts -- comrades! Let us struggle to get strikes and spares for the advancement of the nation!

(via NKZone)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

Hello, Trenton!

OUR DEAR FRIEND Simon from Jersey is performing with his band, "Mouth of Wilson," in Trenton this Saturday. They'll be at The Conduit, 439 South Broad St., starting at roughly 9:30 p.m. Click on the link above for more details.

SFJ is on the drums, and we can assure Rant readers in the central New Jersey area that Mr Einspahr is extremely proficient. So if you're in the area, go check 'em out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Meddler and a Cad

MEMO TO RICHARD GERE: Don't try to help.

Please, just don't try to help. We know you mean well, we know you're sensitive, we know you're with it and such -- but that said, don't try to help. Especially when you're attempting to help boost turnout in an election for top offices in the Palestinian Authority. Not only do the Palestinians not care what you think, they actually get somewhat annoyed when they learn you're a Yankee. The Reuters news agency has more on this interesting story:

Well known for his vocal support of Tibet's Dalai Lama and celebrated for his captivating good looks, Gere urged Palestinians in a television commercial broadcast ahead of Sunday's poll in the West Bank and Gaza to get out to vote for a new president to succeed Yasser Arafat, who died in November.

"Hi, I'm Richard Gere and I'm speaking for the entire world. We're with you during this election time. It's really important. Get out and vote," Gere said in the advertisement. He repeated the final phrase in Arabic.

But many voters, already struggling with the labyrinthine politics of the West Bank and Gaza, say they have never heard of the actor who swept Debra Winger off her feet as a dashing Navy officer in the 1982 film "An Officer and a Gentleman" and were even less interested when they were told he's an American.

"I don't even know who the candidates are other than Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), let alone this Gere," Gaza soap factory worker Manar an-Najar told Reuters.

We realize this snippet from the Reuters story will prompt many of our readers to consider important questions, such as: "What the devil are they talking about, captivating good looks?"

We mean, come on. It's Richard Gere. We're sorry, but we don't see it. We'd give him handsome, in a sort of vague and roundabout way, but he ain't what we'd call captivating. Harrison Ford is captivating. Robert Redford is captivating. Paul Newman is captivating. But Richard Gere? No.

To us, at any rate, Mr Gere is just above Ben Affleck in terms of looks and just below Gilbert Gottfried in terms of being annoying. That's even kind of unfair to Mr Gottfried, because he knows full well he's annoying, and has fun with it. Mr Gere, on the other hand, would cause us to suffer an unfortunate nosebleed not five minutes after meeting him, because he's so damned sensitive about everything.

So it's a pity Mr Gere wasn't a bit more sensitive about the "speaking for the entire world" bit while he was at it. Sure, one can't complain about the message itself, but what an awful way to put it! We don't know about you, but if we were in the place of that poor soap-factory worker, we don't think we'd be all that happy if some rich, spoilt movie actor were to lecture us from on high about our election -- especially if he claimed to have the world behind him.

But we suppose we ought cut Mr Gere a lot of slack. He did not, after all, write the advertisement, and it could have been any of a hundred celebrities in his place had he chosen not to take part. So we cannot fault him for his intent, or even for his follow-through. We can wish, though, that he had used his alleged charm to convince the folks behind the advertisement that their American-style script might not have been the best motivator.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 04, 2005

Rant Accounting Dept. Does Happy Dance

Financial Rant

HAMILTON, Bermuda -- Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant, Inc., released its traffic numbers for the year 2004 today. The figures represent the highest-ever viewership of content at the site, even though the firm faced what officials called "major negative externalities," such as really bad colds.

Conservative estimates for FY 2004 reveal the site had 39,972 unique visitors and 95,623 visits in total. These figures do not include robot or other automatic traffic, nor do they include figures from Dec. 8, which company officials said were inexplicably lost in a computer failure. However, more liberal estimates -- calculated via a different program and extrapolated for all twelve months -- show the site may have had as many as 63,955 unique visitors, and a total of 152,996 total visits during FY 2004. These work out to daily averages of 110 unique visitors per day in the conservative scheme and 175 in the liberal scheme, with total visits estimated at 261 and 419 per day respectively. Half of the visits came between October and December.

"Well, either way you cut it, we're still pretty stunned at this," said Benjamin Kepple, The Rant's chief executive. "Given our large traffic uptick continuing since the end of the third quarter, we see significant room for improvement upon these already great results."

Traffic for the first four days of 2005 is approximately 35 percent of the traffic seen during all of January 2004, Kepple said.

"We are downright amazed at the site's popularity and wish to sincerely thank our readers for their continued readership," Kepple said. "We would also like to extend a special thanks to Ted Hamilton, our chief financial officer. Sadly, Ted could not be with us today, as he has scurvy related to over-work. But we'd still like to thank Ted for his month's worth of non-stop labor tallying up the numbers."

"We're sending Ted a fruit basket," Kepple added. "It's got these nifty tangerine-orange hybrid thingies."

Based upon traffic figures, the company revealed that approximately 90 pc of The Rant's visitors were American, while 10 pc came from outside the United States.

Leading non-American nations were Canada (1.44 pc), Japan (1.1 pc), Germany (1.1 pc) and Italy (1.1 pc). Lagging non-American nations included Vietnam (16 visits), Syria (5 visits), Rwanda (3 visits), Venezuela (2 visits), land controlled by the Palestinian Authority (1 visit), and Myanmar (1 visit).

"We have no idea how anyone from Myanmar managed to get access to the Internet, much less visit the site," Kepple said. "But as long as our visitor wasn't in the junta, we'll be happy."

83 pc of the site's visitors arrived through direct bookmarks or typing in the site address, while 9 pc arrived through search engines and 6 pc arrived through trackbacks or links. The remainder arrived through unknown means. Of these visitors, a full 5 pc spent more than an hour at the site during their visit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 03, 2005

Mark Your Calendars

SAY, EVERYBODY! We're scheduled to appear tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 4) on New England Cable News' "Talk of New England" program. We and other panelists will discuss bloggers' reactions to the South Asian tsunami disaster. Check your local listings for channel information.

The live segment will likely air between 9:15 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. There may be repeats later in the morning. We will also endeavor to provide a Web cast of the video after we return home from work. Speaking of which, we would again note that our endeavors here at The Rant are completely independent, and unassociated with our employer.

We hope you'll tune in if you can. Until then, have a good one!

UPDATE, 8 p.m.: Look for the "Talk of New England: Blogs" link to see a Webcast of the video from today's program.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

It's 2005 -- God Help Us

How many times have I been down hard
and looked up and saw him smiling like a shining dime?
Hope that he would stay and tell me why
he was so happy, if he had the time
Oh, I wish there was a way to race him,
catch a flyin' horse and chase him,
everybody's goin' to the moon! (me and you!)
Everybody's goin' -- it'll be quite soon!
It's customary songs like this use a word like spoon,
of the light of the silvery --
we'll take a flight to the silvery -- (you know!)
everybody's goin' to the moon!

-- The Three Degrees, in "The French Connection" (1971)

"What kind of future is THIS? And where ARE the damn picturephones? They PROMISED me PICTUREPHONES!"

-- Biff, "This Modern World" (2002)

WELL, HERE WE ARE. Another year older, another year wiser, looking hopefully but cautiously towards the future. (Still no lunar colonies and still no home videophones, but never mind).

For us personally, 2004 was not a bad year, although certainly not a good one. We lost people close to us, but we did all right at work and did all right financially and did all right in terms of our personal life. For the world, one could perhaps describe 2004 in the aggregate as relatively awful. It was not the worst year we have had, of course; but the tragedies of the South Asian tsunami and the Darfur genocide marred things significantly. Add in the Madrid train bombings, the Florida hurricanes, and various other manmade and natural disasters, and it seemed like a worse year than most in recent history.

But this is not to say it was all bad -- we had stability and slow growth and the power of international terrorism waned a bit. Whatever one thinks of the election results from around the world, the only bad effects from them were emotional. The world economy got a bit stronger, and in most places, didn't overheat. There were no nuclear explosions, no industrial-scale poisonings, no acts of barbarism which shook the foundations of civilization. All in all, that's something for which to be thankful. For the chaos such events would cause would, in the end, prove far more devastating in human terms than the waves which swamped the coasts of Indonesia and Thailand and Burma -- and the deaths would go, as the analysts say, "unseen."

But what of 2005? We would not hazard a guess as to the vagaries of Fortune; but we do hope it will prove a better year than this last. We are admittedly more hopeful on a personal scale than we are looking at the world stage. But even on that former front, we wonder what time will bring.

For we are often reminded of our own weaknesses and failings and the crosses which we bear; and once in a great while, the thought escapes from the back of our mind: will this year will be the year when Bad Things Happen to us, as opposed to some rhetorical Good Person? We suppose we feel rather lucky in that regard -- we have not yet had the tragedies and diseases and general low points in life which so many others have suffered.

Yet along with that thought comes hope and appreciation, the knowledge that while the inevitable will someday visit us all, we personally have had a good run of things. Sometimes that has been wild and crazy and even surreal, but it has thus far been a good run nonetheless, and hopefully that shall continue. We could not dare to ask for more. So with that, we shall do our best to enjoy what we have been given, and continue to take life as it comes.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 02, 2005

Let's Throw Another Log on the Fire

WE HAVE LEARNED, via the always excellent Dean's World, that Lake Superior State University has once again issued its list of words and phrases which ought be banished to the deepest pit in Linguistic Hell. These include "sales event," "enemy combatant," "safe and effective," "I approved this message" and "blog."

That last item, we submit, is proof that people at Lake Superior State University are very clever. But we also have our own suggestions for inclusion on this year's Banished Words list:

* UTILIZE -- Attention, American businessmen: using the word "utilize" makes you look like an idiot. The correct word, as you might have guessed, is "use." Use it instead of "utilize," which sounds like an euphemism for shady practices down at the gas company.

* ENHANCE -- Throw this word onto the ashheap of your word-processing dictionary, and you'll improve your writing.

* TELEVISION EVENT -- We have mixed feelings about throwing this one onto the fire, because the phrase "television event" is a clear sign we really wouldn't want to watch the program described as such. Still, we suggest using clearer language to describe such programming, such as "crap."

* RISKY SCHEME -- Scheme is a perfectly good word. It means "plan."

* SEE OUR AD IN ... -- What, we have to look at another advertisement to see what you couldn't put in the one we're watching now? Why don't you just give us a frickin' Web site we can check out?

* INNER DEMONS -- What, as opposed to the openly-visible hellspawn? You're sick. You need help. Deal with it.

* CREATIVE ACCOUNTING -- Look, it's according to GAAP or it ain't. If the latter holds, perhaps other words such as "fraudulent" and "jailworthy" might apply.

* FEATURING -- in the chain-restaurant sense of the term, which is to sex up an Uninspiring Chicken Dish through listing mediocre ingredients used in making it. They're not JUST chicken fajitas, they're chicken fajitas FEATURING Jack Daniel's(R) Old-Tyme Moonshine and Cough Remedy(TM)!

* PARTNERING -- If you've hired a consultancy firm, just come out and say you've hired a consultancy firm.

Blech. Now we feel nauseous.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack