February 25, 2005

How to Retire Without Really Trying

THE RANTING RAVEN has a nice little chart showing folks how they can set aside money in their 401(k) retirement accounts without really having to make any sacrifices whatsoever. Basically, it's a variant of the economist-devised Save More Tomorrow plan, which works quite well -- but we link to it here as a reminder for those folks who may be wondering how they can a) save for retirement and b) do everything else in life.

It is not a perfect chart, as the Raven only counts principal in his balances, which doesn't take into account any compounded growth over the years. That would boost the totals far higher. For example, after 5 years he has an initial investment of about $20,000 in his hypothetical 401(k) account. At an ensuing 8 pc annual return, that initial $20,000 (excluding further contributions) would double to $40,000 after about 9 more years.

But one advantage to Raven's chart is that it shows even the extraordinarily risk-averse how much money can be socked away over time using a Save More Tomorrow approach, even at a real return of 0 pc. And some day, even that might count for something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Time to Shut Up Dept.

OK, SO DIG THIS: Randy Washington, 24, of the fittingly-named municipality of Dolton, Ill., allegedly robs a bank inside a grocery store. After tying up the employees, Mr Washington and his comrades in the heist reportedly make off with $81,000 in cash. Investigators have absolutely no leads in the case, and as such, the crime goes unsolved for several months.

Until Mr Washington allegedly called a radio station and bragged about the whole scheme. He was subsequently arrested and faces a charge of bank robbery in federal court. The charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:14 AM | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

Maybe We'll Stick with Best Western ...

OH NO. No. No. No.

We have just learned from USA Today that hotel stays may grow intolerable and snarky, now that some hotel chains are revamping things for the young people. While this could be considered good news -- after all, people other than Baby Boomers do spend money -- it is particularly bad when some of the proposed changes are disturbing to consider.

Here are three particularly salient paragraphs from the USA Today story, which makes use of annoying phrases such as the "under-40 set" (we may vomit) and "Gen Xers" (prima facie evidence of ne plus ultra lameness). The paper writes:

The adjustments are needed because Gen Xers make different demands than the older baby boomers for style and ambience, Internet service and creature comforts.

The sketch of the Gen X traveler, as developed by market researchers, goes like this: They crave branded items — for example, Starbucks, not coffee. Paradoxically, they're less loyal than older travelers to single brands. As a result, they're willing to scour the Web to find a boutique hotel oozing with attitude, instead of simply booking the same chain hotel their family booked for their 1980s vacations.

And they fiercely insist on "their way," whether that means being able to check e-mail while sipping a mojito in the lobby bar, or having the choice of soy or low-fat milk for their cafe latte.

Please pardon us while we fiercely stomp upon this idiocy about Generation X, whether it means we have to digress for 500 words, or have the choice of using a scalpel or chainsaw for the dissection.

First thing first: you can't lump everyone from 1961-1981 -- the traditional Generation X dates -- in one generation. It just doesn't work. Someone born in 1961 was enjoying his first toke and using words like "groovy" and lusting after the neighbor's AMC Pacer about the time we came home from hospital in swaddling clothes. Therefore, it's not tough to conclude that we and Mr Dazed-and-Confused don't exactly share the same tastes.

As for where one might draw the dividing lines, we're not exactly sure, but we think a bit of additional stratification might help a bit. It seems to us that folks born between 1961 and 1966 had their formative years in the mid- to late Seventies, while those born between 1967 and 1973 came of age in the early to mid-Eighties. Those born between 1974 and 1979 came of age in the late Eighties and early Nineties, while those born between 1980 and 1985 came of age in the mid- to late Nineties. As such, they had wildly different experiences growing up, and these are reflected in their personal tastes. (For those of you who know us personally, think of how different our tastes are compared to those of our younger brother).

This leads us to our next point, which is that we don't know anyone who "craves branded items," who would voluntarily endure "attitude" from a lodging establishment, who would really care about the milk put in his or her coffee, or who would "fiercely insist" upon anything at a hotel, because it's not cool to harangue the staff at the front desk. It's not their fault the people in reservations overbooked all the smoking rooms, is it?

So that explains why we're somewhat mystified at all these changes some hotel chains are considering. For instance, according to USA Today's sidebar, one such change involves telling staff to be informal and engage in banter with the customers. Yeah, there's a real winner. We don't know about the rest of you, but the last thing we want at a hotel is for some clerk to give us the same spiel we'd get down at Applebee's -- especially if we're paying more than $100 per night.

But of course, we can now have the Applebee's right in the hotel too. USA Today informs us that because "the Gen X man" makes hotel choices based on whether there's a serious sports bar on site (!), all the hotel chains are going to start replacing their lounges. Great. So much for our chances of getting a decent omelet in the morning.

Still, if there is a bright side to this, it's that some of the proposed changes very much make sense. For instance, the shaving mirrors which don't fog up after one showers -- those would be convenient. Better television channels would also be rather nice -- we'd like all the news channels, plus Bloomberg, please. As for those 24-hour gift shop/emergency bath-supply deals? Definitely a smart move.

And you know, maybe we're just wrong on this one. Maybe the sports bars and what not really will work and boost revenues. But speaking as a somewhat-frequent traveler, we just hope these hotels don't forget the basics in their drive to become more with it.

That would really prove a turnoff for us and, we suspect, many other people our age. At the end of the day, what we personally want is a clean room and a decent bath and good service and a place where we can get a quick and pretty good breakfast in the morning -- if not at the hotel, then at least nearby.

As it turns out, the reasonably-priced chains (think Howard Johnson's, think Best Western) do a surprisingly good job of this, because that's been their prime focus. They've also been able, as we noted, to keep their prices reasonable -- which is our own prime focus.

Could the major players lure us away with goodies that justify our paying $40 or $50 more per night? Perhaps -- but only if those goodies had a direct impact on the two hours or so per day we would spend awake in a hotel room. After all, the point to traveling isn't to spend time in a room, but rather to spend time in the place one is visiting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

An Extreme Victory

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 20-21 -- THERE IS SOMETHING to be said for a band which plays seven original songs in a set and every one of them proves a winner. Such performances are rare but beautiful things, of course -- too often when listening to live music, one finds oneself secretly wishing for a fast-forward button, or grooving along only to have a massive tempo switch. So when a band not only avoids these kinds of pitfalls, but produces downright amazing songs which one wants to hear again -- it's worthy of note.

We are pleased to report that New Jersey-based "Mouth of Wilson" is such a band, and also pleased to report that our lifelong friend Simon from Jersey is the drummer in "Mouth of Wilson." We saw the band play a set at The Five Spot nightclub in the Old City here, and they were frickin' awesome. We mean, they're that good. Professional-grade good. And as the set in question was played during competition -- a first-round bracket in Philadelphia-based competition of the Emergenza Music Festival -- it went especially well, as "Mouth of Wilson" proved the victor.

They would have won on musical talent alone, but as we understand it, the first such round is based solely on fan support. Therefore, the guys behind "Mouth of Wilson" actually chartered a bus to ferry fans from central New Jersey down to the City of Brotherly Shove.

Now this was fun. Along with Loyal Rant Reader Mike Nagy -- hi, Mike! -- we joined roughly 45 other music-loving people on a bus ride in which heavy drinking commenced from the moment the genial Russian driver started the engine. As it turned out, the bus had its own passenger-pacification system (they showed "Mystic Pizza" on the video system) but this was not enough to calm the hordes of fans desperate for the sweet tones of "Mouth of Wilson." It was also not enough to calm the hordes on the way back. How Mr Nagy managed to get any sleep at all on the return trip -- punctured as it was with drunken argument (sample question: "Springsteen: deity or Communist?") -- is absolutely beyond us.

As for the rest of our trip -- well, we shall get to that in short order. But for those music fans in the central New Jersey area, we would encourage them to go check out "Mouth of Wilson." They're next playing at the Conduit in Trenton on March 12.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Back ... Wednesday Night, Actually

WELL, as it turned out, we've been incredibly busy with all sorts of various crap that's come down the pike today, so ... we're going to have to delay our blogging for a day or so. Gah. That'll teach us.

However, what we will have in the upcoming days are reports from our recent trip to New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pa.; a few movie reviews (all good, as it turned out); and various discussions on all manner of eclectic topics. Said topics will likely include the future of various emerging markets, the relative strength of the U.S. dollar vis-a-vis other reserve currencies, and celebrities.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:34 PM | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time Dept.

OK, ONE LAST POST before we go.

The Times of London has a downright surreal report about environment activists who tried to bring trading at the International Petroleum Exchange to a halt. The protestors got onto the trading floor and started blowing whistles, letting off noisemakers, and so on. The idea was that all the noise would stop the open-outcry trading which happens at the exchange.

The Times reveals the protest was going quite well -- until the enraged traders began beating the crap out of the protestors:

WHEN 35 Greenpeace protesters stormed the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) yesterday they had planned the operation in great detail.

What they were not prepared for was the post-prandial aggression of oil traders who kicked and punched them back on to the pavement.

“We bit off more than we could chew. They were just Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs,” one protester said, rubbing his bruised skull. “I’ve never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view.”

Another said: “I took on a Texan Swat team at Esso last year and they were angels compared with this lot.” Behind him, on the balcony of the pub opposite the IPE, a bleary-eyed trader, pint in hand, yelled: “Sod off, Swampy.”

The traders are alleged to have grabbed the protestors and applied brute force through severe punches and kicks, starting from when the protest began until the traders forcibly threw the activists out of the exchange. The traders are also alleged to have tried crushing the protestors by pushing really large file cabinets on top of them. Two of the 35 protestors were hospitalized following the incident, The Times said.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 17, 2005

The Rant is Away ...

... UNTIL TUESDAY, FEB. 22. As per usual, we invite readers to wander around the site, read the archives, check out the sites on the blogroll, etc. For those of you who will soon get some time off, have a good long weekend.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:37 PM | TrackBack

Time to Ratchet Down the Expectations

JAMES LILEKS has today written a hard-hitting Bleat on the matter of parenting, a subject which he addresses through examining a Newsweek article on the topic of motherhood.

We shall not address Mr Lileks' post here, as it discusses certain topics which we do not discuss on The Rant. But we do wish to note, as he did, a part of the Newsweek article which struck us as a bit off.

The magazine's scribe writes as follows:

Women today mother in the excessive, control-freakish way that they do in part because they are psychologically conditioned to do so. But they also do it because, to a large extent, they have to. Because they are unsupported, because their children are not taken care of, in any meaningful way, by society at large. Because there is right now no widespread feeling of social responsibility—for children, for families, for anyone, really—and so they must take everything onto themselves.

As I write this, I have an image fresh in my mind: the face of a friend, the mother of a first-grader, who I ran into one morning right before Christmas.

She was in the midst of organizing a class party. This meant shopping. Color-coordinating paper goods. Piecework, pre-gluing of arts-and-crafts projects. Uniformity of felt textures. Of buttons and beads. There were the phone calls, too. From other parents. With criticism and "constructive" comments that had her up at night, playing over conversations in her mind. "I can't take it anymore," she said to me. "I hate everyone and everything. I am going insane."

That first paragraph's a doozy, isn't it? Like Mr Lileks, we would not deny that motherhood is a difficult and often tough experience. But for one to say that society offers no support for mothers or children -- or anyone else, for that matter -- is a bit much.

After all, we are all constantly bombarded with messages and edicts and policy papers which remind everyone how important parents and children and the elderly are. Along with this, billions upon billions of dollars are regularly doled out from the public fisc to help these groups. Whether it's free public education, child tax credits, welfare schemes, government pension programs or health care for the aged, this country shells out rather a lot to support children, parents and lots of other people. We do not intend for the foregoing to serve either as criticism or support for those measures, because we know folks have differing views about them. (You all can argue elsewhere whether we collectively need more or less support for those endeavors). But we would note those things do, in fact, exist. That's just the way it is.

In fact, now that we think of it, the only people who don't get outright support from society in some way are young, jobholding, single people with no children and no home through which they can claim a mortgage-interest deduction. Say! Wait a minute ...

But let's move on, for the first paragraph wasn't the one which really struck us as a bit odd. It was the second and third, which describe that poor woman going crazy over a party for schoolchildren.

As we read through that, it seemed to us the schoolchildren were entirely secondary to the mix -- all the fuss and bother and expense and everything else were being driven by the mother, who was consciously or subsconsciously seeking approval from her fellow parents, and who wanted to make sure everything was all right because of that. For if things weren't all right, Mrs Smith from across the way would make a catty remark at the bridge group, and Mrs Jones and Mrs Thompson would disinvite the poor woman from the neighborhood potluck, and scandal and calamity would result -- especially if Gladys over on Spruce Street got word of things.

Now, that's just madness.

We do, though, think parents -- hell, not just parents, everyone -- would be better off physically, financially and emotionally were they to chuck out the present rules of engagement and focus mightily on three key principles.

The first principle is that people ought not get uptight about what others in their social set think of them.

This is not, of course, to suggest that people ought act in an uncharitable and selfish manner injurious to their fellow citizens. That would be anti-social and rude, and could result in substantial civil and criminal penalties if the injuries were severe enough. However, we do think it's a bit silly to worry about what the frickin' neighbors -- who are probably spendthrift and indolent anyway -- think about how a couple raises their children, or anything else. Life is too short to worry -- actually worry -- about Mr and Mrs Jones. Therefore, people ought use their finite worry reserves carefully.

The second principle is that people ought not spoil their children. If there is one lesson which children ought learn early and frequently, it's that they're going to have to get over it. They can't have the sugary cereal and they can't have the new doll and they can't go to the beer bash and they can't spend the summer idling about.

Obviously, they have to have some reward or incentive structure in their lives, but that just makes them appreciate hard work or the special treat all the more.

Consider: when we were very young and growing up, Mr and Mrs Kepple decreed that we would receive one (1) serving of carbonated beverage per week -- the "Sunday Coke," which was awarded after we attended church services and settled down for quality football.

If we recall rightly, this generations-long tradition was handed down from Mr Kepple's father, who also decreed that his children would receive one (1) Coke per week. And it was a very good idea, because we wanted that Sunday Coke like nothing else -- even when Mrs Kepple decided that she would buy the decaffeinated diet version of the stuff. (If we recall rightly, we complained mightily about this, but lost the argument).

Later, of course, we bought lots of carbonated drinks -- but it was largely on our own dime, with the money we earned from unpleasant and frustrating physical labor during high school. But you can see how the principle was established -- and much later in life, we've come to realize just what a virtue it is to believe in delayed gratification. We have every intention of repeating this scheme with our own eventual children.

The third principle, though, is perhaps most important -- realizing one can't have it all, and accepting it. It seems to us that lots of folks these days have bought into the idea they can have everything they want without sacrificing for it. But life requires sacrifice. The lawyer or bond trader who wants to make a mint has to work seventy-plus hours a week; the family who wants to save for college costs has to settle for a lesser vacation, etc. These tradeoffs have always existed and will always exist -- to believe that they do not exist, just because one wants it to be that way, doesn't make any sense.

Of course, we do realize that it's hard -- damnably hard -- to suddenly switch tracks after charging hard in one direction for so very long. But we do think that for some folks out there, trying might pay dividends.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

De asini umbra disceptare

WE NOTE with interest that several of our blogging colleagues are discussing whether those who believe in God are more likely to meet their Maker through accident than those who do not believe in the Almighty. It is an interesting question, although thus far, the only thing that's been proven is the old saw about economists not reaching a conclusion.

The first entry in this whole debate comes from Will Wilkinson, who writes in part:

In a fit of Beckerite rational choice reasoning, I decided that theists ought to have higher rates of death by accident. If I believe that heaven is infinite bliss, then I should be quite eager to join my maker ... So, one should expect that theists who believe in perpetual Miami would take more risks than those who do not so believe, and that thus, death-by-accident ought to be higher among believer than non-believers.

My guess is that there is no difference in rates of death-by-accident among believers and non-believers. If my guess is correct, then there's another reason to believe that many people don't really believe in God, even though they think they do. Or, at least, there's a reason for rational choice economists to believe meta-atheism.

In response, Tyler Cowen writes:

Most of all, theists should have stronger reasons to live. They have their own selfish reasons, plus whatever role they think they are supposed to be playing in God's plan. So they ought to take fewer chances; indeed the data suggest that both religious belief and religious participation are correlated with longer lifespans. And even if theists believe death is paradise, that will come sooner or later in any case. In other words, heaven brings an "income effect," not a "substitution effect." We need of course two auxiliary assumptions. First, theists, given their perceived roles in God's plan, do not feel a strong impatience to arrive in heaven. Second, the method of death under consideration should not affect the probability of heaven vs. hell.

Megan McArdle, meanwhile, argues on Mr Cowen's side:

What, after all, is the goal of theists? To spend eternity with their Maker. Eternity, as we all know, is infinitely long. So they cannot add to the time that they spend with Our Heavenly Father, since "infinity + 30 years" = "infinity"...

... On the other hand, assuming that they have some utility to life on this side of The Great Divide, they can add to their net "mortal" utility, by having more human years, without subtracting from their total "Hosannas on Highest" years. It's a winning strategy for the rational theistic value-maximiser.

So, to sum up, we have two nays and one yea in favor of the proposition. Out of the three, Ms McArdle has written the briefest and smartest answer to the question at hand. Yet because none of the three writers fully address the theological implications of such a question, their answers necessarily fall short. Furthermore, the question's theological implications explain exactly why one cannot answer the question one way or the other. Hence the argument itself is making a mountain out of a molehill.

For all three arguments have the same glaring, fundamental flaw: the idea that all religious believers have the end goal of getting to Heaven. Yet this is not the case, for that's not the point of religious belief. The end goal for religious believers is to do His will in all things, to pursue whatever calling He puts before them. If Heaven is a result of that, then wonderful. If it is not, then the faithful can only accede to His judgment in the matter.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:30 PM | TrackBack

It's as Bad as Battlefield Earth!

AS A PUBLIC SERVICE to our readers and the Internet community at large, we have wasted most of an hour tonight watching "The Gastineau Girls," the new reality-television program from the E! Entertainment Network. Since the New York television critics all panned the show and no one in the provinces gave a damn, we figured SOMEONE had to watch it and record its badness for posterity.

Because it's bad. It's embarrassingly bad. It's so bad that spoilt milk gives off a better stench, so bad that a dinner of haggis and kippers would be more palatable, and so bad that four weeks on the Islip garbage barge might prove preferable. In fact, it's so bad, it's the reality-television equivalent of "Battlefield Earth."

We mean, good God. What the hell were the people at E! thinking when they gave the green-light for this train wreck? Not that E! is known for quality or brain-enriching programming, but this show was so astonishingly stupid that it should have given even those geniuses pause. Really.

Basically, this show follows the lives -- such as they are -- of Lisa Gastineau and her 22-year-old daughter, Brittny. Yes, Brittny. Anyway, prior to the show, Mrs Gastineau was best known for being married to Mark Gastineau, the former New York Jets football player, and for her role in Gastineau v. Gastineau, 151 Misc. 2d 813, 573 N.Y.S.2d 819, 821 (Supp. 1991). Prior to the show, Miss Gastineau was known for being ... well, Mrs Gastineau's daughter. Why exactly these two were considered suitable stars for a reality TV show is beyond us. There ain't that many Jets fans out there, after all.

We mean, you know it's bad when the show needs a lot of help from some poor actor forced to play the role of a supposed apartment doorman. We can assure readers this is a role so unfortunate that studios ought pay a luxury tax, to the Screen Actors Guild, for the sole purpose of keeping actors from having to do things like this. It'd just be the right thing to do, you know?

Anyway, back to the Gastineaus. Aside from serving as living proof for Juvenal's embittered declaration (intolerabilius nihil est quam femina dives), neither of these two ... do anything. We mean, it's pathetic. There's a bunch of complaining about all the daughter's crap in their shared apartment, which soon turns into more complaining that the daughter has wantonly violated Mom's lease agreement by harboring a rather large dog at home. Then, we get to watch even more complaining and whining, which is interspersed with silly attempts to find work and remarks about how wonderful it is to be pretty and have lots of gaudy jewelry. About 45 minutes into it, a pet psychologist had been summoned to deal with the dog's neuroses, and it was at this point that we reached for our Bad Television Sickness Companion.

In short, this is a television disaster not seen since the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978 -- you know, the one featuring the 15 minutes of un-subtitled Wookie conversation and the surprise appearance of Jefferson Starship. We strongly suggest that everyone concerned take steps to ensure "The Gastineau Girls" show meets a similar fate. Let it be quietly dropped from the airwaves, and never mentioned again.

Now, we realize that E! might not be amenable to this suggestion, coming as it does from a mere pajamahadeen. Therefore, we would ask the city, county and state of New York to take all measures necessary to shut down future production, or at the very least put out some kind of disclaimer telling the provinces that New Yorkers really aren't like this. Otherwise, the very heart and soul of New York -- to say nothing of its tourist trade -- could be in dire peril.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

A Very, Very Bad Idea

WE HAVE LEARNED, via CBS News, that certain states -- hi, Oregon! -- are "mulling" a scheme in which drivers would pay tax not on the amount of gasoline their cars consume but rather on the miles those drivers put on their vehicles. For reasons we don't entirely understand, this proposal has been put forth as a reasonable policy solution, when it's clearly a Communist plot designed to subvert our rights and freedoms.

Admittedly, the idea has not gone far. Notice how the CBS correspondent uses the word "mulling" to describe what Oregon is doing. This is a fancy journalism word which means "let's run it up the flagpole and see if someone salutes," and that's where the folks in Oregon are at with this thing.

Still, we're disappointed to see that CBS was only able to find one guy to say on camera the idea was a bad one, especially considering the one guy was a college student. Surely they could have found someone else to shoot the thing down -- or, at the very least, point out that Oregon has other weird ideas, such as refusing to let its citizens pump their own gasoline.

But then again, perhaps we expect too much -- after all, the CBS brass are all in New York, where the idea of actually owning and driving a car makes about as much sense as stabbing oneself with a spork. For those of us out in the provinces, though, this is an idea which would make any sane person suffer a case of apoplexy. And were such a plan enacted in our home state of Michigan, we daresay the place would actually revolt.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:26 PM | TrackBack

February 13, 2005

In the Long Run, We're All Nauseous

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

An occasional Rant feature – Special Valentine’s Day edition!

LOYAL RANT READERS will have undoubtedly noticed it’s been several months since we last scanned our search logs for depressing, nauseating and downright disturbing examples of idiocy and depravity. Part of this was due to time constraints, as it takes quite a while to compile all the data and pick out the really amazing stuff. But part was also due to a bit of fatigue with the entries.

We can assure readers that scanning through our search-engine logs is enough to cause us to despair. While some searchers arrive at The Rant looking for important and meaningful information related to personal finance, news from abroad and other salient matters, the vast majority of searchers continue to look for material related to celebrity weight-loss schemes, people doing objectionable things in public, theme songs played during advertisements, and other things which contribute nothing to the sum of human knowledge. Such searches are even more disturbing when one considers that we’re not exactly the No. 1 search on Google for many of those things, as it means people really went through the lists looking for this or that. Still, that said, we must say we’d think it quite cool if we ended up as the No. 1 search for Lord Keynes’ immortal quote: “In the long run, we are all dead.”

But we digress. In any event, here are the latest and greatest search-engine queries between December 2004 and February 2005, for your amusement:

QUERY: things not to say on valentine’s

ANSWER: Well, here’s a few we thought up off the top of our heads. First, there’s the old never-never: “Well, it’s cubic zirconium.” Then, there’s: “But it’ll help you with the dishes.” Other things not to say include: “Oh, I couldn’t get a reservation,” “But roses cost $75,” “What DID they do to your hair?” and lastly, “Well, I thought we could skip Valentine’s Day this year.” If our male readers do in fact say any of these things, we would encourage you to look forward to President’s Day, when all the nice sofas go on sale.

QUERY: commericalism of valentine’s

ANSWER: We personally do not approve of the commericalism surrounding Valentine’s Day. After all, the cost of spirits goes up something fierce, and that makes it more expensive for us to indulge our own Valentine’s Day traditions, which involve sad rumination and drinking alone.

QUERY: sweet love memo


My dear beloved,
I’ll say just three little words:
Endorse the pre-nup.

What? OK, OK. How’s about this?

Dearest beloved,
Valentine’s Day shouldn’t mean
loss of consortium.

Gad. OK, so that doesn’t work either. Sorry. We’re in this rut.

QUERY: cruel valentines

ANSWER: See above.

QUERY: nauseous valentine

ANSWER: That would be us.

QUERY: mile high club penalties

ANSWER: Well, first thing’s first – if you’re on the same flight we are, we’re going to be rather displeased you made the common lavatory unusuable for us and the other passengers. Second, the airline is going to be rather unhappy with you for the same reason. That should be bad enough, but we’re sure there’s some kind of federal law mandating severe penalties for such awful behavior. There’s a federal law for everything else. Lastly, you’re bound to knock yourself out if the pilot suddenly flies into a spat of turbulence.

QUERY: lewd and laviscous behavior definition

ANSWER: Well, there ya go.

QUERY: public display of affection inside the workplace

ANSWER: In a right-thinking company, you’d kiss any chance of promotion goodbye.

QUERY: why do men expect sex on the first date

ANSWER: Men generally don’t. However, many men strive for having sex on the first date because it precludes having a second and third date, and all those minor things like commitment and fidelity and what not. Also, it’s fun. Speaking personally, though, we are not the type to go all out, simply because we’re very cautious in that regard.

QUERY: how to make an excellent impression on a man

ANSWER: As Clint Eastwood said: “Try knocking on the door.” (No, really. It's that easy. If you show interest in him, he'll probably be quite pleased with that and will thus have an excellent impression).

QUERY: men who cut women down

ANSWER: Well, they aren’t worth your time nor your trouble, because they aren’t frickin’ men. We’re serious. Any man who has to cut down his wife or girlfriend to make himself feel better about his own miserable, wretched existence isn’t much of a man, and isn’t deserving of what he’s managed to acquire thus far in life.

QUERY: hacking into you ex’s e-mail account

ANSWER: Oh, get over it. Get over yourself. Jesus.

QUERY: dating a journalist

ANSWER: NO! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T! YOU – oh, just a moment, we’ve a letter from our fellow journalists. Let’s see here … um. Ooooh. Eeesh. OK, let’s try again.

Dating a journalist is a clear ticket to happiness, as your date will undoubtedly be handsome, witty, and free of any and all personal problems whatsoever. Why, dating a journalist is a sure ticket to upward social mobility!

There! That’s better!

QUERY: charter communications billing me for cable movies i did not watch

ANSWER: Yeah, right! Good luck with that, buddy! Just out of curiosity, do you have teenagers in the home? That might explain your problem right there.

QUERY: how human being have sex

ANSWER: Son, The Rant is intended for adults only. Now run along.

QUERY: corruption husband stigma

ANSWER: Yes, there’s probably rather a lot of stigma there, but don’t worry – it only attaches to your husband. The wife is generally innocent in these situations and everyone usually recognizes that. Unless you haven’t been all that nice to people. In that case, they’re not going to shed any tears for you either. But we are sure such a situation does not apply to you.

QUERY: men love curves

ANSWER: Yes, we do. Most of us. There are some men who do like very thin women. But that’s them.

QUERY: top five things men are attracted to in women

ANSWER: a compatible personality, good looks, intelligence, a matching outlook on life, and a good disposition. But let’s move on.

QUERY: dragnet far-out groovy

ANSWER: No, no. The quote is, “You’re pretty high and far out. What kind of kick are you on, son?” Heh. Boy. It makes you feel for our grandparents’ generation, it really does.

QUERY: crime happen because lack of moral

ANSWER: Well, that’s one good reason, certainly.

QUERY: petty theft can I own a gun?

ANSWER: In our mind, it’s not a question of can, it’s a question of should, and so far, we’re not very convinced. But of course the answer depends on your jurisdiction.

QUERY: now warning labels are indelibly etched into gun barrels as though men have somehow forgotten that guns are dangerous things.

ANSWER: Well, blame the guy who asked the last question, not us.

QUERY: suing stockbroker over stock market losses

ANSWER: Dude, what part of “past performance is no indication of future results” didn’t you get? Why would you even think of suing your stockbroker? Good Lord. You made the decision to buy the security, didn’t you? Yes. You did. As such, we expect you read the prospectus and did your research and did understand you could – wait for it – lose money on your investment. In any event, we don’t know whether you can or not, but we’d expect you’ll end up in arbitration, as the brokerages are wise to these things.

QUERY: investing for stupid people

ANSWER: First thing, you need an advisor to guide you, but make sure you keep control over the accounts. Second, stick to simple things like index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Also, past performance is no indicator of future results. And read the prospectus before you invest in anything. And use a discount broker. And a fool and his money are soon parted. Finally, and most important, we’re not a licensed financial advisor or anything like that, so do not construe this as legal or financial advice, people can and do lose money, etc. etc. etc.

QUERY: effects that hyperinflation can have on the usefulness of financial statements

ANSWER: Well, for starters, it’d be useful to lop off a few of the zeros.

QUERY: percentage american millionaires

ANSWER: Last time we checked, about 2 pc (one in 50) of American households had more than $1 million. This drops off sharply though by the time one gets to $5 million – only 0.2 pc (one in 500) of American households have more than that.

QUERY: number of households in america with net worth of $50 million or more

ANSWER: We don’t know, but it ain’t many. There are only about 30,000 with more than $30 million, and that’s for all of North America, according to this year’s 2004 World Wealth Report from Merrill Lynch and Capgemini. So if you figure that Canada has 3,000 of them, that leaves 27,000 for the United States. How many of those have more than $50 million? We’ll guess and say perhaps 10,000 – at the higher levels, the herd thins out quickly. There are 111,278,000 households in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, so that means about one out of every 11,000 households is extremely wealthy. These are not, of course, evenly distributed throughout America, though – Manhattan will have far more of them than Syracuse.

QUERY: which suburb of los angeles best for children

ANSWER: That would be none of them.

QUERY: stupid customers making this up

ANSWER: Oh, let ‘em return the clothes already. Geez.

QUERY: simple ... spells employment

ANSWER: We have one, but it requires a lot of concentration. OK, ready? First – concentrate very hard, and go to your closet. In this closet, you will find a shirt and a tie and dress slacks. Put them on. Then, concentrate hard again, and will yourself to go out and get a job application. Success should follow shortly.

QUERY: i am being manipulated

ANSWER: You don’t say.

QUERY: should you have speak english if you live in new jersey?


QUERY: how many carbohydrates are in sauerkraut?

ANSWER: There are 14 grams of carbs in one pound of sauerkraut, all of which are dietary fiber.

QUERY: paris hilton is horrible

ANSWER: Questions, please. Statements of fact don’t count.

QUERY: nick coleman sucks.

ANSWER: We said questions, dammit!

QUERY: what does one for the thumb mean?

ANSWER: It means to win a fifth Super Bowl, thus providing a team with a championship ring for players to wear on the thumb.

QUERY: steelers one for the thumb in 81 shirts

ANSWER: Oh, God. Oh. We could weep. That said, where could we get one of those shirts? Having one would just rule. And speaking of the Steelers ...

QUERY: sammy davis jr song eo eleven


It’s all a state of mind
Whether or not you find
That place down there or heaven
In the meantime,

Well, there’s always next year, we suppose. And with that, we hope everyone has a very happy Valentine’s Day – or at the very least, survives it intact!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 12, 2005

Mobile Phone Bought!

OOOOOOOO. So we finally bought a mobile phone today, roughly two decades after they were first introduced to the American public. Yeah. Now we're hip and with it.

Those who know us are well aware of our long-standing antipathy towards mobile phones. When we moved to California back in the late Nineties, we resolved that we would keep to our Midwestern traditions. As such, this meant we weren't going to mess around with anything we deemed weird or un-Midwestern, including: a) sunglasses, b) mobile phones, c) heroin and d) fusion cuisine. And despite the fact that everyone we knew in California had a mobile phone, we resisted.

Fast forward to our time here in New Hampshire, and we still resisted having a mobile phone. After all, it wasn't like we needed the thing. But we decided today that, with the time we spend on the road, it was probably smart for us to sign up for a mobile phone plan. So we did. Now, we have a phone that does things like ... make and receive calls. We also have a ring tone that ... sounds like a telephone. We also have a calling scheme that allows us about four hours of Anyhoo Minutes and fourteen hours of Inconvenient Calling per month.

So we are psyched at finally joining the Mobile Phone Revolution. Our family and friends will receive our new number once we get around to setting the thing up. The number will be made available to the general public, as Lileks once put it, at Nix o'clock on the 12th of Never, two thousand no five.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:25 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

What We're Reading

WE RECENTLY had the good fortune to pick up a copy of Ibn Khaldun's The Muqaddimah: an Introduction to History at the bookstore. While we have not had a chance to really sit down and read it, the parts we have read have been downright amazing. We mean: wow. We don't think we've ever read a medieval history that has been so lucid, so clear, or so downright on the money it blows everything else out of the water.

Obviously, there's a lot of dated thinking in the book -- Ibn Khaldun did write it in the 14th century. But other parts of his work are incredibly advanced for someone who lived then. People often look to the past and grumble that they were born years or decades or centuries too late; but Ibn Khaldun was a man born about 500 years too early. For instance, he has a downright amazing grasp of economics -- and in some ways, is practically modern in his outlook on that.

That achievement is even more amazing when one considers the world history of the dismal science, an experience which can best be compared to a man in a dark room fumbling for several scattered light switches. The Greeks and Romans had the basics (private property, good! trade, good! currency, good!) figured out, but they were clueless when it came to figuring out larger stuff. That failure to do so sundered Europe for centuries -- and it wasn't until the Late Middle Ages that people started figuring things out again. Even then, it wasn't until Smith came along that people really started to get a handle on things.

So that's why Ibn Khaldun is such an amazing figure, because he gets it. Just consider the following section of his work:


36. Taxation and the reason for low and high tax revenues

It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.

The reason for this is that when the dynasty follows the ways of Islam, it imposes only such taxes as are stipulated by the religious law, such as charity taxes, the land tax, and the poll tax. These have fixed limits that cannot be exceeded.

When the dynasty follows the ways of group feeling and political superiority, it necessarily has at first a desert attitude, as has been mentioned before. The desert attitude requires kindness, reverence, humility, respect for the property of other people, and disinclination to appropriate it, except in rare instances. Therefore, the individual imposts and assessments, which together constitute the tax revenue, are low. When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total, increases.

When the dynasty continues in power and their rulers follow each other in succession, they become sophisticated. The Bedouin attitude and simplicity lose their significance, and the Bedouin qualities of moderation and restraint disappear. Royal authority with its tyranny and sedentary culture that stimulates sophistication, make their appearance. The people of the dynasty then acquire qualities of character related to cleverness. Their customs and needs become more varied because of the propsperity and luxury in which they are immersed.

As a result, the individual imposts and assessments upon the subjects, agricultural laborers, farmers, and all the other taxpayers, increase. Every individual impost and assessment is greatly increased, in order to obtain a higher tax revenue. Customs duties are placed upon articles of commerce and levied at the city gates. Then, gradual increases in the amount of the assessments succeed each other regularly, in correspondence with the gradual increase in the luxury customs and many needs of the dynasty and the spending required in connection with them.

Eventually, the taxes will weigh heavily upon the subjects and overburden them. Heavy taxes become an obligation and tradition, because the increases took place gradually, and no one knows specifically who increased them or levied them. They lie upon the subjects like an obligation and tradition.

The assessments increase beyond the limits of equity. The result is that the interest of the subjects in cultural enterprises disappears, since when they compare expenditures and taxes with their income and gain and see the little profit they make, they lose all hope. Therefore, many of them refrain from all cultural activity. The result is that the total tax revenue goes down, as individual assessments go down. Often, when the decrease is noted, the amounts of individual imposts are increased. This is considered a means of compensating for the decrease.

Finally, individual imposts and assessments reach their limit. It would be of no avail to increase them further. The costs of all cultural enterprise are now too high, the taxes are too heavy, and the profits anticipated fail to materialize. Finally, civilization is destroyed, because the incentive for cultural activity is gone. It is the dynasty that suffers from the situation, because it profits from cultural activity.


Sound familiar?

Obviously, society still argues today about how low the low ought be, but the idea as a whole is generally accepted. So we look forward to reading the rest of Ibn Khaldun's work, to see what else he learned far before most of us.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:03 PM | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

So Much for That Old-Time Hockey

SIMON FROM JERSEY, who is a devoted hockey fan, has written a smart essay on the National Hockey League lockout. Among other things, Mr Einspahr notes the general irrationality of the NHL Players' Association, which is being stubborn at the negotiating table. He writes:

The owners aren't budging....NOT NOW, NOT IN 2006, NOT IN 2009. At worst, the NHL will dissolve and some semblance of a league will reform WITH A CAP. Either the players can come along and play ball, or FUCK 'EM. This is what the players don't realize, or seem willing to accept. The NHL, as much I absolutely love it, is not on the same page as MLB, the NBA, and the NFL. Golf, Tennis, even the WNBA are more successful. The players and owners need to find common ground and figure out how to fix the game or no one will be making any money at all. What's 42% of nothing? That's what I thought. The longer the game sits on the shelf, the more the essential casual fans the league is desperately trying to convert will disappear forever.

Mr Einspahr writes as this year's NHL season is pretty much in its death throes; even if it were salvaged, the league would hold a pathetic 28-game season and then, of course, the playoffs. We daresay they might as well kill it now and save everyone all the bother.

After all, as Mr Einspahr points out, most folks are not wailing and gnashing their teeth at the league's absence. At its best, top-level professional hockey is America's No. 5 Sport, falling behind football, baseball, basketball and, of course, auto racing. Although hockey has become successful over the years, it still has that faint aura of an unfortunate import which just didn't take off, kind of like an Isuzu Stylus sedan. And now that hockey's gone, Americans have reacted much like they did when the Stylus sedan went away -- that is, by not minding.

Like Mr Einspahr, we too wonder just what the devil's going through the players' minds. We are not unsympathetic to their hatred for a salary cap; after all, were hockey to enjoy a renaissance, this probably would limit their earnings potential. But on the other hand, we don't see how they can do anything but accept the owners' proposal for one.

For the players' backs are against the wall. Since the league says it has lost $500 million over the past two years, and will continue to lose money if nothing is done, it makes perfect sense for the league to do everything in its power to fix things before the ships sink. If that means playing with replacements, they'll do it. If that means putting ads on the jerseys and naming the men's rooms after sponsors, they'll do it. It's much easier to pay good players an average of $500,000 per year than it is to pay great players close to $2 million. And since athletic talent is a renewable resource, it's not as if the present crop of players offers a skill set that can't be duplicated eventually.

So the owners will win -- the only question is when the players will realize that. We have absolutely no idea when that might be, but if this year's season is finished, we would guess that would happen around this time next year. We'd also guess that by then, the NHL would have started using replacement players.

For while many athletes are savvy with money, there are many who aren't; and as TIME magazine recently reported, in Europe, players aren't exactly making what they were making here. As time goes on, some will undoubtedly feel the financial pinch, and more will realize they had a pretty good deal going. When that happens, they'll start coming back into the fold. The only other question, though, is whether they'll do so while hockey fans still give a damn.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:43 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 08, 2005

DPRK Calls for "Team America" Ban

THE NORTH KOREANS are officially upset about "Team America," the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has reported.

It seems the film -- which mercilessly mocks Dear Leader Kim Jong-il -- has prompted the DPRK's embassy in the Czech Republic to demand a ban on the movie. Czech officials, naturally, rejected this out of hand.

Now, if this was the DPRK's public reaction to the film, we would love to know what the DPRK's private reaction was. Has the Dear Leader actually seen it? If so, how many people did he throw in the shark tank afterwards? And what were the embassy officials thinking anyway? You'd think the smart ones would have known this would have done absolutely no good.

Besides, it's not the Czech Republic they ought worry about -- it's Poland.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:24 PM | TrackBack

The Stupor Bowl

WE CAN'T THINK of any nice way to say this, so we'll just come out and say it: the commercials this year bit the wax tadpole. They were horrible. They were unbelievably and incredibly lame.

This is not to say all the commercials were awful. We cracked a smile at the one for the Ford Mustang (yeah!), and we liked the one where the guy at the convenience store got beaten with the baseball bat. Also, the soldier in the airport commercial was well-done and poignant.

But God! Sunday night made us miss the Internet bubble, it really did. Back then, the ad firms came up with really creative and memorable spots, like the infamous Outpost.com ad (the marching band attacked by the wolves) and the EDS "Herding Cats" ad. Even after the bubble burst, the advertisers had great fun with it (the E*TRADE chimp riding through the dot-com ghost town. We loved that). This year paled in comparison. Will ANYONE remember ANY of these ads a week from now, much less several years from now? No. Of course not. Because the ads sucked.

So the question is: who do we blame for ruining this year's Super Bowl?

Well, we suppose we can first blame Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, those wretched, imbecilic, pathetic imitation pop stars. Gawd. They just had to frickin' cause trouble, didn't they, with that stupid and tawdry stunt during last year's halftime show. That was the truly frustrating thing about that whole mess, of course. It wasn't "shocking," it was crass and foul and showed as much subtlety as throwing chum into a shark tank. So it was offensive AND dumb, and the latter aspect was the worse sin. We are glad, though, that in the fallout both of them have subsequently disappeared from the public eye. We can only hope that market forces cause their permanent proscription from the airwaves.

Yet one cannot solely lay the blame on those two. We believe that most of the liability for this year's lousy commercials can be equally divided between the Fox television network, the National Football League, and the ad agencies which created the commercials in question.

After all, as The Arizona Republic reports today, officials with the NFL were "upset" over one advertisement for "GoDaddy.com" -- whatever that is -- and complained to Fox, which then killed later airings of the ad.

This advertisement was a clever, and pretty funny, spoof on the fallout from last year's debacle. Yet NFL officials were upset about it, which to us says they're complete and utter killjoys. After all, last year's troubles were due to the half-time show, not a bunch of advertisements. Besides, there's something to be said for being able to laugh at one's misfortune.

As for Fox, we learn from the Republic the network killed several proposed ads, and the creators of other ads pulled their ads from the lineup before the game. We think this was overcautious in the extreme on everybody's part. Fortunately for the advertisers, though, people everywhere are now going to see these "banned" spots. Also, it was dumb to throw off the Miller ads -- after all, watching Miller and Anheuser-Busch go at it would have kept us glued to our seat for hours.

But despite all this, we can't let the ad agencies off the hook either, for they could have come up with spots which were a) clever, b) funny, and c) not entirely and utterly predictable. Just because the ads had to be somewhat tasteful this time around didn't mean the people behind them couldn't have come up with some decent jokes and unexpected surprises.

Now, it may come as a surprise to some that we complain the lack of swell ads "ruined" the Super Bowl, as it was a heck of a game until late in the fourth quarter. But we did not have a horse in the race -- the Patriots knocked out our beloved Steelers during the AFC Championship -- and as such, we wanted some great ads to keep things interesting. Instead, we half-watched the game and half-watched the ads and grinned once in a while and mostly just went about our daily work. Given that ratings fell year-over-year for the Really Big Game, we can only conclude that at least a few other folks out there did much the same.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:06 PM | TrackBack

Silver Writes a Golden Essay

STEVE SILVER has posted a smart essay on the mainstream media that all bloggers ought read -- especially those bloggers who frequently criticize the media for supposed bias in all things. As excerpts cannot do justice to Mr Silver's work, we would encourage everyone to read it in its entirety.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:33 PM | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

Great Moments in Intellectual Property Law

AND NOW, for something completely different:


As often happens in the hip-hop world, two rappers became embroiled in a dispute over who owned the rights to a song that utilized a popular phrase. And it took the musical ear of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to settle the matter.

Positive Black Talk Inc., et al. v. Cash Money Records, et al. plunged the conservative appellate court into the world of booming bass lines and popular street slang.

Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King, who wrote the opinion, boiled the case down to a dispute between Louisiana rappers Juvenile and D.J. Jubilee over who owned the rights to a song "that included the poetic four-word phrase 'back that ass up.'"

We can assure readers the above is not a joke, but an actual news article from Texas Lawyer magazine. It's based on a Jan. 13 decision (see here and here) from the 5th Circuit.

Aside from the idea of rappers engaging in court battles -- we look forward to rap songs including the phrases injunctive relief and writ of mandamus -- what really makes the story funny are the people involved in deciding and analyzing the appeal. It's somewhat similar to the one funny scene in "Scary Movie 2," where the upper-crust partygoers gather 'round a piano to sing Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass."

The judge who wrote the opinion, for instance, likes Brahms; the experts quoted in the story include practicing IP attorneys and university professors. However, lest music lovers fear the case was entirely out of order, we would note a jury originally found for the defendants.

(via The Artful Writer)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Dumbest Thing We've Heard in Months

A COLORADO WOMAN has won $871.70 in small claims court from two of her teenaged neighbors after the girls -- wait for it -- left cookies on her doorstep.

The Denver Post reveals the story in its entirety. This story, by the by, would be downright hilarious if the facts therein weren't God's honest truth. We note the following excerpts from the story as prima facie evidence of that:

Inside one of the nine scattered rural homes south of Durango that got cookies that night, a 49-year-old woman became so terrified by the knocks on her door around 10:30 p.m. that she called the sheriff's department. Deputies determined that no crime had been committed.

But Wanita Renea Young ended up in the hospital emergency room the next day after suffering a severe anxiety attack she thought might be a heart attack.

A Durango judge Thursday awarded Young almost $900 to recoup her medical bills. She received nothing for pain and suffering.

"The victory wasn't sweet," Young said Thursday afternoon. "I'm not gloating about it. I just hope the girls learned a lesson."

Well, we're sure they did -- it doesn't pay to do nice things for one's neighbor, if said neighbor is a wretched damnfool moron so clueless she can't discern the difference between an anxiety attack and a heart attack. An anxiety attack does, as Ms Young related in the story, include symptoms like an upset stomach and shaking. Symptoms of a coronary, on the other hand, include severe pain in the chest and elsewhere in the upper torso, shortness of breath, nausea, and death. If one is too dim to discern between one and the other, one ought not sue for damages because of this.

Ms Young -- who also had the gall to claim following the case that the girls showed "very poor judgment" -- also said she thought the girls ought not have been running to and fro in the dark. Her exact words were: "Something bad could have happened to them."

Well, something bad did happen -- they got sued by their crank neighbor. By the by, just as further evidence that Ms Young ain't the brightest bulb in the lamp store, consider Ms Young's stellar reasoning during and following the cookie-leaving incident:

But Young, home with her own 18-year-old daughter and her elderly mother, said she saw shadowy figures who banged and banged at her door. When she called out, "Who's there?" no one answered. The figures ran off.

She thought perhaps they were burglars or some neighbors she had tangled with in the past, she said.

We don't know about you, but last time we checked, burglars do not make a point of banging about the door of a home which is clearly occupied. This is because doing so causes a homeowner to get out his twelve-gauge. However, we will admit we're not all that surprised to see Ms Young admit she has tangled with some of her neighbors in the past. They're probably not all that fond of her either.

Further evidence of Ms Young's wretchedness is this: the families had offered to pay her medical expenses to drop the matter, and she refused to accept. Again, from the Post:

The families had offered to pay Young's medical bills if she would agree to indemnify the families against future claims.

Young wouldn't sign the agreement. She said the families' apologies rang false and weren't delivered in person. The matter went to court.

Good God, can you blame them for not delivering the apologies in person? After all, if Ms Young can have an anxiety attack over having cookies left on her doorstep, what would happen during the apology session? But still, we submit this fact does not put Ms Young in a good light, given she would not accept what any typical person would consider a more-than-reasonable remedy. Given the excerpts of the apologies in the Post article, we also don't see how any reasonable person could consider such apologies insincere.

The worst part of all this, of course, is that the two teenaged girls -- who are both around the age when they'll graduate from high school -- did the cookie-baking as a way to avoid a dance party. This dance party, they said, would have -- wait for it -- drinking and cursing. Not only that, one of the teens got permission from her father to do the baking after she got her livestock-tending chores done. This whole mess is a textbook instance of bad things happening to good people.

The cookie defense fund is here.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:37 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

But Isn't Poverty a Bad Thing?

WE WERE APPALLED to read a story recently in The New York Times, in which the newspaper tells us that Ireland is suffering a major case of guilt and pensiveness. Apparently, the Celtic Tiger has managed to get rather a lot of money over the years, and this is causing the usual suspects to worry. The Times writes:

But that new status is bringing with it an identity crisis, one that is forcing the country, and its government, to grapple with the flip side of wealth and the obligations that money imposes. While few people argue that Ireland was better off 20 years ago, some are beginning to point out that national wealth alone, without introspection, does not necessarily bring happiness. It can, in fact, bring new problems.

How, for example, should a country once known for sending legions of people abroad deal with its own crop of immigrants? What does it mean to be Irish, given that so much of the national psyche is tied up in centuries of poverty?

Irish newspapers have been filled with accounts of the pitfalls of growth, secularization and wealth, some of them trivial, a few of them serious: suicide is at record levels, divorce is increasingly common, property prices are soaring, traffic is horrendous, personal debt is spiraling up, faceless commuter suburbs are sprouting and teenagers are taking too many drugs and buying too many things. Even the high cost of a cup of coffee has become a lightning rod, prompting people here to label the country Rip-Off Ireland.

And this paragraph, later on in the Times story, sums it up quite well:

Eradicating poverty, everyone agrees, is a worthwhile goal. But Ireland was so poor for so long, and its poverty was so ingrained in its identity, that some wonder whether Irish culture and character - its keen sense of community, its sharp humor in the face of hardship - will be steamrolled by the rollicking economy.

We don't know about you, but this reminds us of those stories about the sensitive types who get upset when some village in Africa finally gets electric power. Such complaints are, of course, idle and senseless, because they steamroll the idea the villagers might just want electricity. The same principle, we submit, applies here. So we are glad Ireland's doing so well, and are glad the quality-of-life there is improving, and we very much hope it continues. This is because, last time we checked, it's not fun being impoverished.

But let's not stop there, please. As an example of the pain which impoverishment causes a nation, we present the case of Scotland, which some of our ancestors fled long ago for a better life here in America. And when one compares Ireland to Scotland these days ... it's not pretty.

Consider: were an Irish person abroad to visit Ireland, he would visit a vibrant, pleasant island which is comfortable, wealthy, and where nearly everyone has a job. Not only that, they have an enviable and proud shared culture.

Scots, on the other hand -- well, Scots've got Robbie Burns and haggis. Also we could watch in horror as the respective fans of Rangers and Celtic beat the stuffing out of each other.

This is downright frustrating. It's also frustrating that a full 266,000 Scots are supposedly "incapacitated" and receiving dole payments, and a full one out of four adult Scots have no job. That figure rises to one out of three in Glasgow. In fact, the dependency is so bad that, as Fraser Nelson wrote recently in The Scotsman, that "a two-parent family with a stay-at-home mother, average income and a mortgage is only £4 a week better off than a single-parent household reliant entirely on benefits."

The end result, of course, is clear. As Prof JP Duguid, of Inverness, put it in a letter to that fine publication: "Heavy taxation to fund welfare and its administration crushes businesses and deters careful couples on modest incomes from having enough children. Careless couples and single parents are left to populate the nation with an increasing proportion of badly brought up, ill-behaved children."

We would add, an increasing proportion of children who won't have good jobs or much chance of escaping the poverty in which they were born. This is what happens when one erodes the family unit through well-meaning but badly-conceived ideas.

And as if all this wasn't bad enough, the Scots are becoming a nation of spendthrifts. That's ... they're Scots, for God's sakes. Whatever happened to the values of work and thrift? Whatever happened to "keeping the Sabbath, and everything else?"

Ugh. We can't go on. Anyway, to recap -- poverty sucks. And we're very happy for Ireland, not only because they're doing well, but because they've apparently figured out what not to do. We wish we could say the same of our own homelands.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:21 AM | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Fever 'n' Ague Caught

HEY, EVERYBODY. Sorry for not posting recently, but we have caught a particularly awful cold/flu/sinus-thingy. As such, we are suffering the tortures of the damned. Normal posting should resume sometime ... aaagh ... oh, Sunday or Monday or what not. At the latest.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:53 PM | TrackBack