May 29, 2005

The Gallic Wars*

I HAVE BUT four days to go until my gall bladder, via something called an electric cautery device, is divided into three -- well, four -- well, lots of parts. I know you're bored with me going on about this, but I can't say enough just how much I want rid of this damned thing. I guess this is what happens when one's often in pain: it becomes the issue of the day.

It's hard to explain just how I feel physically, but I feel gray and washed out. I often feel fatigued, and if I have an attack for whatever reason it just ruins my productivity at work. And I certainly face the world with a lot less joy than I did previously! It's different than how I felt with my appendix, when I just had a pain in my side that hurt like the dickens. Now, I have a pain that varies in its intensity, but with side effects that range from annoying to truly aggravating.

But I only have four more days of this and then I shall be on the mend. This too shall pass.

By the way, if any Loyal Rant Readers should -- God forbid -- end up having a gall bladder attack or similar ailment, I have to say that Subway sandwiches present an easy and economical temporary fix for many of the digestive issues. I'm eating one a day. There's hardly any fat if you order the right ones, and if you avoid the oils, cheese and spicy peppers, they're perfect. So they might help if, like me, you've a bit of wait for surgery (but for the love of God, follow your doctor's instructions and diet information and all that).

* title suggested by: Simon From Jersey, whose site you ought visit regularly.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Democracy Project

THERE'S LOTS of interesting stuff over on the Democracy Project's blog. Go give it a look.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:55 PM | TrackBack

Not the Brightest Bulb in the Lamp Store Dept.

AS A FORMER YOUNG PERSON, I know that some parents these days very much want their children to consider them "cool" and "groovy," even as their own parental instincts warn them that being "cool" and "groovy" ought wait until their offspring have reached majority.

I would offer up this Associated Press article as prima facie evidence that alleged attempts at "being with it" aren't merely ill-advised, but can potentially result in criminal prosecution, viz. and to wit:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A mother faces criminal charges after she hired a stripper to dance at her 16-year-old son's birthday party. Anette Pharris, 34, has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and involving a minor in obscene acts. The boy's father, the stripper and two others also face charges.

But wait, there's more! According to police, Pharris not only took photos at the party, she took the film to a local drugstore for development.

(via Dean)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:47 PM | TrackBack

Constitution Blogging

FOR THOSE Rant readers who are interested further in matters related to the proposed European Constitution, I would heartily recommend the EU Referendum blog and the EU Reporter.

As for me, I'm going to simply hope the thing remains dead and buried, and further hope that Britain doesn't wake up one day and learn it's expected to beat it back with a shovel.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:16 PM | TrackBack

Just Asking ...

I SUPPOSE THIS is a bad time to ask, but d'you think this means Americans can go all-out in criticizing France for not being a team player, good ally, respectful of international law and all that?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:48 PM | TrackBack

May 28, 2005

Your Brain on ...

NATALIE SOLENT said it best: "They called it Operation Overlord?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:02 AM | TrackBack

Tip o' the Iceberg Dept.

BBC HEADLINE: "Bolivia admiral denies coup plan."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:59 AM | TrackBack

May 27, 2005


VIA ANDREW DODGE, I have learned of this excellent and authoritative primer on how to prepare the perfect dry martini.*

Joseph Dobrian's work is, as far as I can tell, impeccable in its logic, sense of style, and direction on the subject. It not only addresses major issues such as the shaken v. stirred debate, it also deals with the silly concept of a "vodka martini." Indeed, one wonders just how Mr Dobrian would react to being offered some of the weirder corruptions of the perfect drink, including -- and I kid you not -- something called a "chocolate martini." I mean, my God.

But anyway. Rant readers who read Mr Dobrian's work -- and I hope you will -- will undoubtedly see why I think so highly of it.

* The perfect martini described therein will, unfortunately, prove unacceptable to those who consider the use of lemon peel as a garnish, as opposed to an olive, equivalent to asking for lemonade.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:28 PM | TrackBack

The Mitigated Gall (Part II)

SO IT'S SURGERY for your humble correspondent after all -- but not until next Thursday! I fully agree it may seem odd to look forward to surgery, but the pain and aggravation that I'm dealing with because of my gall bladder is enough for that. I want this dealt with, and soon! Plus, the surgeon is a very sharp guy.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck on my no-fat no-oil no-dairy diet for -- God save me -- at least a week. Next Saturday, I might be able to stomach a cheeseburger, and I'll hope -- hope -- to be "fully operational" again sometime in mid-June.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 25, 2005

The Mitigated Gall

WELL. I NEVER thought I would see the day when I would have trouble summoning up enough bile to function. In fact, I daresay all those who know me would be shocked at the very thought. I mean, don't "Benjamin Kepple" and "bile" go hand in hand?

Not anymore, perhaps.

It appears I've developed Some Sort of Trouble with my gall bladder, although it's not entirely clear what's causing that. While it's still possible something other than the gall bladder could be causing the trouble, my doctors and I strongly suspect the gall bladder is the source of the problem. To make a long story short, it looks as if not enough bile is getting where it needs to go.

Unfortunately, this has caused and is causing me a bit of pain, particularly when it comes to eating. There's nothing like an onslaught of horrible shooting pain in your gut to ruin lunch. The most serious incident thus far happened on Tuesday afternoon, and that began even before I started into the second Big Mac. A few hours later, I was in the doctor's office.

I'd been experiencing pain for several days prior to my bad experience on Tuesday, and in some cases that pain was quite prolonged. Still, I had never thought to connect it up with my gall bladder. After all, I'd had my appendix out, and the pain wasn't bad enough to really cause me concern. Then came Tuesday.

In any event, it wasn't really clear on Tuesday what was causing the trouble, although the gall bladder was a significant possibility. As the gall bladder releases bile to aid the digestion of fatty foods, my doctor sternly warned me against eating fatty foods after I left the clinic.

Naturally, I completely disregarded this advice. But I had a good reason, or so I thought.

Well, I did! I figured that if it WAS my gall bladder causing me trouble, there was one good way for me to ascertain that. Namely, eat fatty foods. So, when I came home, I had a slice of bread with some peanut butter on it. Then I had another slice. Then I was in significant pain for several minutes -- not bad enough to cause me to collapse or scream in agony, but bad enough to elicit some gasping.

Anyway, I still think it was a pretty slick idea. You see, a few hours later, I repeated the experiment. This time, though, I had a big heaping bowl of Cream of Rice cereal. Cream of Rice has no fat at all, no cholesterol, no sugar and no salt. It also has no taste, really, of which to speak. But I was able to eat it with only a little bit of unpleasantness.

But hey. If one good thing comes out of this, it's that I'll improve my diet. As part of the diagnostic work today, I had an ultrasound test (it's a boy) and learned, in so many words, that I had too much gut fat for it to work.

Oh, don't worry. They didn't actually tell me that, of course. But because the test didn't work, I had to go to one of the local hospitals to take other tests, and I naturally read my ultrasound report on the way over. And it seems to me that having one's ultrasound "compromised due to habitus in body" is a $100,000 term for saying: "Patient is a lardass."

And because patient is a lardass (well, I'm 6'4" and 250 lbs.), I had to go over to one of the local hospitals and have even more tests done. My reaction to this news was somewhat akin to Ren Hoek's sense of resignation upon seeing the eye chart. You remember the eye chart from "Ren and Stimpy," right?


Remember that episode? God, I loved that show. Anyway, the worst of these was a test in which the doctors chemically induce the gall bladder to work to see if there's a problem with it. So it was like my experiment, except worse, because the chemical test also induces a great deal of nausea. Plus, there's this (admittedly nifty) camera equipment which requires the patient to stay absolutely still. What really got to me, though, was that right during the middle of it, somebody switched channels on the exam room television!

Admittedly, I couldn't see the television, but I had been listening to the news on and off during the test. You know, because cable news is always so calming. Anyway, as my nausea slowly worsened, it eventually dawned on me that I was now listening to something new. Instead of Wolf Blitzer, there were ads for barbecued ribs ... and more barbecued things ... and then an ad for that show with Rachael Ray ... OH, NO THEY DIDN'T. I mean, I'm having trouble with eating basic staples, and I'm stuck listening to the Food Network? NOOOOOOOOO ---

But ah well. In all seriousness, I can only express a great deal of gratitude to the doctors, nurses and other support staff who have helped me out during my latest brush with physical unpleasantness. They really have done first-class work and I have been amazed at both the results and speed of the process thus far.

Besides, I am going to look on the Bright Side of Things. Today's tests were successful, which means I hopefully don't have to have any more tests in the future. Plus, I'll start to eat a lot healthier, because eating a severe diet helps eliminate most of the pain I've been experiencing.

Based on my "avoid oils, dairy products and fatty foods" diet, that means pizza's out and subs are out and hamburgers are right bloody out, while dressing-free salads, dry pasta and other goodies are in! Yes, with my Practically Vegetarian Diet, I'm certain to start feeling better and looking better soon enough!

I consult with the surgeon on Friday.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:31 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 23, 2005

A Special Thank You to The New York Times

GEE, THANKS, GUYS. Thanks for putting one of my favorite vacation/relaxation spots right there in the Sunday travel section. That's just great. Now everyone's going to want to visit San Miguel de Allende and I will be priced out from visiting on my own.

But one of the advantages of having been to a place mentioned in The New York Times travel section is that I can fisk -- I mean, critique -- the writer's version of events. Consider how the Times article begins:

WHY GO NOW: The jacaranda trees are blooming, and so too is this 16th-century colonial town, thanks to an ambitious renewal effort that is halfway through its two-year run. Every building along the narrow cobblestone streets has been repainted in the colors of a desert sunset: ocher and sienna, deep orange and clay red. The government is restoring churches and theaters, rebuilding plazas and illuminating the arches of the plaza and the ornate spires of the main church with Disneylandlike brightness.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately, writer James C. McKinley Jr. has neglected to mention a few minor points -- such as the fact that seemingly random street reconstruction work is also going on (or at least it was, when I was visiting).

Not that it's a big deal -- it's really not -- but I just wanted to point it out. Oh, and that reminds me -- cobblestones may look pretty, and may be historic, but God -- there's something to be said for nice, level streets with nice, level pavement.

But I quibble, and unjustly so.

A real complaint with Mr McKinley's essay might have to do with the fact that it was published in May. During the days, San Miguel can get frickin' hot during late spring, even at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The combination of "really hot weather" and "oxygen deprivation" means one might want not to just jaunt down to San Miguel for the weekend. If you're going to stay, give it some time.

By the by, the Times mentions several hotels in San Miguel, but don't rule out renting a house either. It's not as crazy as it sounds and it can be a pretty amazing experience in itself. Obviously, one can't just rent a house on the fly, but with planning it can be really cool -- and perhaps a good deal cheaper than many of the hotels which the Times mentions. (That said, should a Loyal Rant Reader decide to rent out Casa Carino please invite me along for the party).

Anyway! Back to it. The Times continues:

WHERE TO EAT: Yes, it's expensive - especially for Mexico - but one night should be devoted to La Capilla, (7) Cuna de Allende 10, (52-415) 152-0698, which serves innovative seafood and poultry dishes on a terrace that used to be part of the Parroquia church. The chefs create sauces with mango and other exotic fruits, cheeses and local spices, making even red snapper an adventure. A three-course meal for two runs $150 to $200. The music from the schmaltzy piano bar leaves something to be desired.

Note to husbands, boyfriends, etc.: Mr McKinley is right that one night during one's trip ought be devoted to La Capilla. That would be because:

* the Parroquia, the main church in San Miguel, WHICH IS amazing, is lit up and breathtakingly beautiful;

* from La Capilla's terrace, you WILL have the best dining view of the lit-up Parroquia in all its glory, and --

* if you take your date to La Capilla, and throw down 2,000+ pesos on the three-course meal, you are virtually guaranteed to make wild and passionate love later that night.

Sadly, I was single on my trip -- but I can assure you the view is THAT amazing. So make sure you sit upstairs, out on the terrace. Also, make sure you go on a night when the Parroquia is lit up!

After all, why d'you think you're paying 2,000+ pesos? It's true the food is very good, but when I was there, it was just that -- very good, but not amazingly so. It was not of the oh-my-God-do-you-remember-that-meal variety, so I think Mr McKinley was a wee bit too generous.

That said, for amazingly good food, go to Nirvana. I am not generally a fan of fusion cuisine, but Nirvana won me over. Nirvana served up meals one remembers.

The Times man was right on, though, about Bugumbilia -- it had the best traditional Mexican food ever. He also had this useful advice:

HOW TO GET THERE: The closest international airport is about 66 miles away, near Guanajuato. ... Several van services at the airport will take you to San Miguel for about $70, among them Reyna Polanco Tours, (52-415) 152-4193, Julian Cartas, (52-415)152-0079, or Rafael Tovar, (52-415) 152-7196.

Tip well. Tip especially well if one is traveling with another gringo, and one mistakenly takes the other gringo's bag, and one thus causes Jorge to drive all the way back across town to make the switch. But do enjoy the drive between Guanajuato/Leon and San Miguel -- it is pretty country and it should set you on the path to relaxation -- which is, of course, the main reason to visit San Miguel de Allende.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 22, 2005

So What Happens if ...

QUICK QUESTION: what happens if China revalues the yuan, or the U.S. takes action (e.g., a blanket tariff) which for all intents and purposes serves as a revaluation?

I was just thinking about this today, that's all. But it's interesting and worrisome all at the same time. For instance, what would happen to Wal-Mart? Sure, it could shift some of its supply network to lower-cost locales, but it couldn't shift all of it that quickly, could it? I mean, Wal-Mart spending alone accounts for 1 pc of China's GDP.

And would what happen elsewhere in the U.S.? I mean, if we assume the yuan is about 40 pc undervalued -- it's trading at about eight to one -- we can then assume that a fair value is five to one. Suddenly, all those Chinese goods we've been buying -- from Wal-Mart and everywhere else -- are going to get a lot more expensive awfully quickly.

Which leads to the next question: what would happen in China? If all the big multinationals keep looking for lower costs elsewhere -- and places with those do exist -- then what would that shift elsewhere mean to the world's second-most powerful nation?

I find these questions very disquieting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Well, That Was Unexpected

SO THAT'S what happens when you cross the nightmarish visions of H.P. Lovecraft with the straightforward fundamentalism of Jack Chick. Who knew it could be so damned funny?

(via Dean)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:43 PM | TrackBack

Oh Yes, Wyoming!

WHY AM I so positive about Wyoming all of a sudden, you ask? Because crap like this does NOT happen in Wyoming.

Actually, as I've noted before, nothing seems to happen in Wyoming. As of this writing, the top story on the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle's Web site is: "Many in favor of Frudenthal." This refers not to Wyoming's version of Vernors or something, but to the state's Governor, whose first name is Dave. But if that type of cordiality's not excitement enough, consider the second-biggest story: 175 people in Cheyenne got together and listened to an author speak -- and on a Saturday afternoon!

You know, it sounds kind of nice.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 21, 2005

I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke

HERE'S ONE MORE reason why I exclusively drink Coca-Cola products, unless for whatever reason I end up at some restaurant which has a contractual agreement to serve the third-rate bilge from PepsiCo masquerading as liquid refreshment: the Coca-Cola company would never do something this stupid.

(I mean, aside from introducing New Coke back in 1985. That was a lulu.)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:20 PM | TrackBack

More College Fun

AS SOME Loyal Rant Readers may know, it is my qualified opinion that -- aside from the Southwestern desert -- the most agreeable place to live in the United States is the city of Ann Arbor, Mich.*, and its surrounding environs. Small city, university environment, great restaurants, temperate climate**, one can do a lot of walking, an OK cost of living if one doesn't mind having roommates. All good things in Benjamin Kepple's book.

Plus, I mean, the name. Ann Arbor. It's kind of humorous, unlike the names of places where the Real Work of the Nation is Done. I mean, think about Manchester for a second. It's not funny, and the city would be offended at the very thought. That goes double for Boston and triple for Philadelphia. But Ann Arbor? Funny. Especially when it leads to Web sites with funny names like this.

Actually, that Web site is a pretty handy reference, because it means I can keep track of how things are Slowly Being Changed Back at My Old Stomping Grounds. I try to get back to Ann Arbor every couple of years and every time I do return, I inevitably end up asking myself what the hell happened to Restaurant X and Store Y and Drinking Establishment Z. I mean, the last time I went back, the Arbordale Mall had suddenly reinvented itself into a kickass shopping plaza. But now I can keep track, even though I am 800 miles away.
And behold! there are lots of blogs dealing with Ann Arbor matters. And many of them are funny.

* The link leads us to one downside about Ann Arbor. Notice how on the city's main page, perhaps the most prominent feature has to do with paying parking tickets online. This is for good reason.

** Yes, it bloody well is a temperate climate. My God. If you don't believe me, go to Lake Havasu City in the summer -- or New Hampshire in the winter!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Laborare est Orare

GOD! WHAT A long week I've had. In the office late most of the week, and an extra day on top of that. This, Loyal Rant Readers, is why I have not posted much at all this week. I've been tired -- I am tired -- and when I am tired I don't do my best work; and since I don't like posting on the blog unless I write posts you'll enjoy AND of which I am proud, that's why there's been the verbal silence.

But I have to admit that I like the long hours, even though I find it taxing in every sense of the word. It's a difficult thing to explain, but if you've ever had one of those days where you come home from work feeling worn out and exhausted but good, like you've accomplished something, you'll know what I mean. They're days when I feel a kinship, I guess, with my ancestors -- who toiled in the fields and the shops and the mines and later, much later, in the offices. I can stand and look them in the eyes and say, "Even though I too often fail to show it, I have not forgotten what you have done for me."

But anyway -- back to work! Well, back to blogging, anyway. I will try to post more frequently in future. Oh, and if you've gotten this far, dig this site. It's weird and creepy yet strangely, one gets drawn into it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:22 PM | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Just for the Record --

-- THERE'S A LOT of interesting stuff over at Asymmetrical Information today. Go have a look.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:29 PM | TrackBack

Mouth of Wilson Triumphs Again

MOUTH OF WILSON, the excellent band from Trenton, N.J., whose shows you ought attend often, just blitzed the competition in a semi-final bracket of the Emergenza Music Festival.

This was a pretty big deal for Mouth of Wilson and the six guys in it -- including Simon From Jersey, the band's drummer. They proceed next to the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia for the final on June 18.

And, there's even better news for Loyal Rant Readers: instead of having to read about how wonderful Mouth of Wilson is, you can now download some of the group's very early demo tracks here. All three songs featured are quite good, although I think I like "Pressure" best of them.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fox in the Doghouse

IT SEEMS Mexican President Vicente Fox is in rather a lot of trouble north of the border. You see, when President Fox was in Puerto Vallarta last week, he was apparently trying to explain the importance of Mexican workers vis-a-vis the American economy. Instead, the following insensitive statement came out of President Fox's mouth:

"There's no doubt that Mexican men and women -- full of dignity, willpower and a capacity for work -- are doing the work that not even blacks want to do in the United States."

When I first heard about this, I was downright stupefied. I mean, President Fox ought know better than to say such a ridiculous thing. And if the comment wasn't bad enough, he's sticking to it.

President Fox is lucky the NEWSWEEK Koran story fiasco is now using up most of the media's/blogosphere's oxygen. As such, any fallout from his unfortunate remark will be limited.

However, fallout has a way of lingering about, and time may show that President Fox made an extraordinary blunder on Friday. After all, it could be embarrassing if people really began looking at how ethnic minorities and illegal migrants are treated in the United Mexican States.

UPDATE, 10:31 PM: President Fox has apologized for his statement, and said he "regretted" any hurt feelings it caused.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:21 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2005

Weekend Report

SAY! IT'S another weekend survey from RTG. Here, yet again, are my answers to 14 out of the 15 questions she presented. (Item No. 14 was political in nature and hence struck off). ANYHOO -- here you go:

1. Name three people you consider heroes.

Looking at the wider world, I don't have any heroes. There are certainly people out there whom I admire, and for whom I have the utmost respect, and to whom I look up, and so on -- but actual heroes? No. Anyway, though, if I had to think of three people outside my circle of family and friends whom I greatly admired, those would be Alexander Hamilton, C.S. Lewis, and William Shirer.

2. What qualities attract you to others?

I like people who are intelligent and well-read. I like people who are fun to be with, who have a good sense of humor, and who have many of the same common interests and/or a desire to try new things.

3. What qualities do you think other people are attracted to in you?

I have a good sense of humor, and I'm down for whatever, and I'm extremely low-maintenance.

4. Where do you want to go today?

I want to go to the desert, because there is pollen everywhere up here in New Hampshire and it makes my eyes water and my head congested. The way to escape this annual trauma is for me to go someplace where there are few flowering plants and very little humidity. The desert fits the bill.

Right now, I'd like to head out on old Route 66 for a drive -- out in eastern California, the part of the state which can be accurately described as, a la Star Wars, The Point Which is Farthest From.

By the by, while I'm thinking of it, Rant readers are advised that, thanks to some very happy coincidences (increased vacation time from work, alignment of the planets and so on), I'll be taking a Kickass Vacation Trip sometime in 2006. The details of the "Oh Christ, I'm Thirty" Tour must still all be worked out, but it looks at this point as if I could get two weeks off in a row.

5. What's your favorite curse word?

Now look, this is a family-friendly site. Well, it's kind of a family-friendly site -- OK, fine, no one who hasn't yet achieved the age of majority in his or her state, province or similar jurisdiction ought read this. Anyway, my favorite curse word is The One Magical Word -- you know, the one that can fill in for pretty much everything in a sentence.

For more information, click here. But be advised: the link, whilst very very funny, has sound and as such is Not Safe For Work. So use all due caution in clicking on it, although aside from the language, there's not any obscenity. Well, not really any.

6. What lights you up and blisses you out?

Oh, I haven't done any of THAT since college. But I suppose one thing which really blisses me out is traveling; it really is a love of mine. Someday I'll write a post on why this is so.

7. What qualities do you dislike in others?

For starters, I dislike it when people think they're all that and a bag of chips, generally because they are not, in fact, all that and a bag of chips. I dislike it when people fail to operate their motor vehicles competently, shout into their mobile telephones at inopportune times, and make a big deal out of ordering expensive vodka. Also, I dislike it when people have a thrombo in public over other people smoking cigarettes.

8. Do you speak any foreign languages?

I speak enough Spanish to get me in trouble, but I must admit I'm not very good even at that. My trouble is that I think in English, so I'm not as quick on the draw as I'd like. Interestingly enough, when I went to central Mexico back in March, practically everyone I met spoke English. That was somewhat surreal -- almost as surreal as watching "A Day Without a Mexican" in Mexico. (It's a long story. But I liked the movie, even if its premise and execution are both a bit ham-handed).

9. Recommend a book you think RTG readers should check out.

William Shirer's "The Nightmare Years: 1930-1940." Mr Shirer was a pioneering radio and print journalist who covered Germany and other hot spots in Europe during the Thirties.

10. Angels are to cargo nets as _____ is to swimsuit mishaps.

Ah ... ahem. Sorry. Just got distracted there for a moment thinking about the swimsuit mishaps bit. Anyway, I don't know.

11. Name at least one person you'd have a fling with (besides your significant other - I'm looking for celebs here.)

NOW I'm really going to be distracted. But if I had to pick just one person to have a fling with, I have to say it would be Monica Bellucci. I mean, my God.

12. What happens when we die?

Well, this depends. I obviously have as much insight as any other person not in direct contact with the spiritual world, but here's my guess. There will be three outcomes, and of the outcomes there will be three: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Or places roughly corresponding to each -- after all, for all I know, they'll call Hell "Indianapolis." But you get my point.

I won't speculate on Heaven or Hell because I don't see myself ending up in either, at least not to start. Fully keeping in mind that I am setting myself up for a Really Nasty Surprise some sixty years hence, I do think that I will end up in Purgatory. Here, I imagine I will be tasked with working at Purgatory's Central Bank, which is fighting a seemingly-eternal case of stagflation. Furthermore, the Central Bank would be located in a city not unlike C.S. Lewis' city in "The Great Divorce," except it wouldn't be as, well, hellish. However, I still couldn't get any decent Indian food, and I'd be forced to rely on public transit, and I'd come home to an awful third-floor walkup. There would be gin, though. Not very good gin. Yet gin nonetheless.

But I ought go on no longer; for as Dr Lewis noted, there is little value in factual curiosity about just what's on the other side. And besides, to borrow again from Dr Lewis -- we'll find out sooner or later what's there. Whether we like it or not is a different matter!

13. Do you believe in anything supernatural?

Well, it depends on what you mean by supernatural. If you mean things like vampires and werewolves and banshees and all the rest, the answer is certainly No.

14. (Struck for political content).

15. Why is the sky blue?

Rayleigh scattering! -- as this excellent article found via Google shows. I like Google.

OK, that's it -- back to the regularly-scheduled programming. Or unregularly-scheduled programming, given everything else happening these days...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:09 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

Ad Vitam Paramus

I MISSED THIS when it was originally published last year, but the BBC did a really interesting series on life in Somalia, the only country on Earth which does not have a functioning Government.

It's a very sad story; what little order that exists in country is thanks to warlords who have momentarily stopped oppressing the people. Still, gunmen routinely exact tribute from those who work for a living. Consider the wretched fate of Mr Mahamut Issa Abdi, who extracts steel rods from the crumbling U.S. embassy in Mogadishu:

I sell the rods to people who are building new houses. It's really hard work - and very hot - but it's the only way I can support my family at the moment. I have been doing this for about three years and have gone 3km around the wall.

I earn 1,000 Somali shillings (6.5 US cents) for each rod. I get about 20 rods a day but I have to give half of them to the gunman who controls the area I work.

Mr Abdi's fate has improved somewhat -- according to the latest figures from New York, the Somali shilling (SOS) trades at about 3,000 to the dollar. So he actually grosses about $6 per day -- but only nets $3, which still makes it about the worst wage one can draw in the world (he has a wife and three children). Mr Abdi understandably wants to improve his lot, and hopes a new Government could help.

I hope so too.

Go on over to the BBC and have a look.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:55 PM | TrackBack

May 10, 2005

It's Like Dean Martin Impersonating a Priest

SO THE HUFFINGTON POST had its big launch on Monday! With a promised cast of hundreds of celebrities, writers and other folks ready and waiting to dive into the blogosphere, plus a whole host of coverage from the mainstream media, commentator Arianna Huffington's giant group blog was set to make a huge splash. And in this, it succeeded. Unfortunately, the splash was the blogging equivalent of doing a bellyflop in front of ALL the popular kids at the pool.

I mean, it's not good when the major story about your blog's launch comes from the L.A. Weekly, and it's the blogging equivalent of a zeppelin raid on London. Nikki Finke, who wrote the Weekly's story, wrote that Ms Huffington's "blog is such a bomb that it's the box-office equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one." This is one of the kinder things which Ms Finke wrote in her article.

I suppose my own thoughts, for what they're worth, is that I find The Huffington Post a bit disquieting. You know, kind of like how watching Dean Martin impersonate a priest is a bit disquieting, or kind of like how watching an old episode of Dragnet can sometimes be a bit disquieting. ("You think you're pretty cool and far out, don't you, son?")

I mean, that's the vibe I get from the thing. It is authentic only in its inauthenticity. It is trying to be cool and with it, and it's trying to reach out to the young people, and it ain't working. Where are the comments? Where's the search feature? Sure, I can comment on news stories, but I don't care about that -- I want the ability to comment on the blog posts. What the hell? And there are no trackbacks either -- not that they work anyway, but you know, what gives?

I mean, for God's sake, The Huffington Post has a User Agreement. I dunno, maybe big blogs and corporate-level endeavors really need these things, but Gad. By the by, dig the fourth article -- which may remind some of another Article Four -- as it is representative of the Agreement as a whole:

4. (a) Unless expressly permitted, you may not copy, reproduce, distribute, publish, enter into a database, display, perform, modify, create derivative works, transmit, or in any way exploit any part of this Service, except as permitted under the last sentence of this Section 4(a) and except that you may make one print copy that is limited to occasional articles of personal interest only. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing (but subject to the last sentence of this Section 4(a)), you may not distribute any part of this Service over any network, including, without limitation, a local area network, nor sell or offer it for sale. In addition, these files may not be used to construct any kind of database. Just as THP from time to time excerpts materials from other sources in order to support the various commentaries and writings contained herein, we respect the right of others to make "fair use" of the materials contained on THP; accordingly, you may from time to time excerpt and use materials set forth on this site, provided, that you must give the original author credit and such use must be for a non-commercial purpose only and not, for example, for re-sale.

Well, just for that, I'm going to print out TWO copies of the User Agreement! Look! My hand is OVER the printer's power button! HA! HA! HAHAHAHA! Well, I would print them out, except the copyblock of capital letters in Article Six is hurting my eyes. The goggles! They do nothing!

But anyway. All of these things could be forgiven if The Huffington Post didn't have two major flaws. Simply put, the thing's not particularly funny and it's not as interesting as it could be. There's no utility in the damn thing. I mean, I got a chuckle out of one post; the rest either weren't intended to be funny or were, but failed at it. As for the interesting part -- THP is thus far covering a lot of stuff that I can get somewhere else. That's all well and good, but one thing I like to do is read the debates which real people have about various issues, and I can't really do that on THP like I can elsewhere.

So -- at the end of the day, I see things like this: THP wasn't a bad idea, but could have been done better. That said, it needs to improve quickly, unless its backers want it to end up like Tina Brown's last talk show.

(UPDATE, 1:19 A.M.: Make that very quickly. Lileks just said he wasn't impressed).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 09, 2005

Sound the Retreat

IN RE: MASON/WILBANKS, I have found myself roundly condemned because I said the ditched groom, John Mason, should be commended for sticking with his decision to marry Jennifer Wilbanks, the bride-to-be who left him at the altar. And ran away to New Mexico. And told authorities she'd been kidnapped, etc. etc.

I had written my essay before I read this article in The New York Post. Based on the article, in which it emerges that Ms Wilbanks allegedly HAD DONE THIS TO SOMEONE ELSE BEFORE, I must now disavow my prior words of encouragement. I would also ask Mr Mason to consider the following advice:

Run, John! Run like hell!

UPDATE: But there is good news!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:48 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 06, 2005

It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing ...

I DON'T KNOW how many Rant readers watched the British elections on Thursday night, but I'll say this -- in terms of on-air entertainment, the United Kingdom does a far better job than the United States when it comes to elections.

And that's just wrong. But I'll get to that in a bit.

For now, I'll simply note it was also wrong that C-SPAN, the wonderful channel that it is, would cut away from coverage mid-way through the night. It should've gone until at least 1 a.m. EDT, and I hope the channel will devote more resources in future to foreign elections. We do need to know what's going on in these places, after all. Besides, it was fun watching everyone at the BBC suffer brain rot by trying to broadcast at three in the morning.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the UK's election process, based upon watching a few hours of the BBC's election coverage, which was simulcast here in the United States:

* SO WHEN DID the Beeb hire Mr Wizard to do their election coverage? Christ, the way that guy in the orange shirt was going on about percentages and vote-shifts, I was half expecting him to break out vinegar and baking soda to demonstrate what happened to Boris Johnson’s hair. But give orange-shirt guy credit for his enthusiasm. Also, the swingometer thingy was cool. We need one here.

* HERE’S PROOF the Brits retain some semblance of cultural superiority over their American cousins.

When WE have elections, our candidates host fancy parties at swank hotels, and only make an appearance after they know the results. When the BRITS have elections, they force ALL the candidates to meet in the local high school gymnasium, and only then do they say who won. The British clearly have the better system, if only because you get to see the guy from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party -- in the wacky suit -- next to the right honorable gentleman serving the constituency of East Perth-Wolverhampton.

* SPEAKING OF CANDIDATES – what was up with those ribbon things? Is that some rule enshrined in Britain’s Unwritten Constitution? Candidates for public office must look like judges at a county fair chili cook-off?

* HERE’S MORE PROOF the Brits retain some semblance of cultural superiority over their American cousins. When WE have elections, we conduct the commentary surrounding them with the Strictest Decorum and Proper Respect. When the BRITS have elections, everyone runs around stabbing each other in the back, especially if somebody lost a seat. They also go after the media too – how great it was to hear Ken Clarke declare, “Your exit poll is boring.”

* ALSO: Six weeks or so is certainly enough time to hold a campaign. Those of you who like longer campaigns should consider moving to New Hampshire. We’re just three years out from Primary Day!

* FURTHER PROOF: In Britain, calling one’s election strategy a “decapitation” scheme will make one look clever. In America, doing the same will earn one a visit from 39 separate federal agencies with police powers, all of which are empowered to stomp all over one’s person.

* I WENT OUT for British food in honor of the election (mmmm! chicken tikka!) halfway through the C-SPAN coverage, so I guess I missed the whole Galloway-Paxson fracas. Or maybe it was after C-SPAN switched off. Anyway, what from what I read of the transcript -- Jesus God Almighty.

Imagine if Jim Lehrer – the only American newscaster in a similar post – just suddenly released 28 years of pent-up aggression and kept asking such-and-such a politician the same loaded, jackass question over and over again. And imagine he did it so smarmily that Dan Rather looked humble in comparison. That is exactly what Jeremy Paxson did in this interview.

Before hearing about it, I actually thought the BBC did an OK job with their coverage – certainly it seemed like they had EVERYONE ON STAFF either behind or in front of a camera!

BUT ANYWAY. As I mentioned before, the BBC's coverage proves that America has a second-rate election reporting system. This must improve immediately.

We need angry and embittered commentators either gleeful or despondent over results, we need passionate on-air coverage, and we need the same anchors on air until they start babbling due to exhaustion. We also need swingometers, neat computer graphics with little fake army guys, and most of all, cute broadcast reporters with British accents. And they say the BBC viewer gets no value for his TV tax!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

How a *Man* Lives

I LIKE THIS John Mason guy we've all been hearing about in the papers.

This particular Mr Mason is not the John Mason who announces for the Detroit Pistons basketball squad, but rather the John Mason from Georgia whose fiancee got cold feet and fled town before their wedding. As we all know, her disappearance sparked a nationwide media frenzy.

Yet despite this, Mr Mason (from Georgia) has announced to the world that he STILLLLLL wants to MARRRRRRRRY Ms Jennifer Wilbanks, even though she -- well, for God's sake, she ran out on their wedding. My God. Anyway, here is Mr Mason's reaction to the events, according to the Associated Press:

The jilted groom whose bride-to-be ran away four days before their wedding still wants to marry fiancee Jennifer Wilbanks, saying, "Haven't we all made mistakes?"

"Just because we haven't walked down the aisle, just because we haven't stood in front of 500 people and said our I Do's, my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger, and I'm not backing down from that," John Mason said Monday in an interview with Fox News' Hannity & Colmes show. ...

... Mason said he has given the 32-year-old Wilbanks her ring back — she had left it at the house — and said they still planned to marry.

Now this, I would submit, is how a man acts when he faces an admittedly awkward and tough situation. Really, now. This guy had just been through an absolute nightmare. Yet he's not judgmental, he's not embittered, he still loves his fiancee and he's ready to let bygones be bygones -- unless the local authorities press charges against his fiancee, in which case Mr Mason is going to be the first to defend her honor.

This is astonishingly chivalrous of Mr Mason and I think he should be applauded for his devotion and fidelity.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:26 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

When Getting There Ain't Half the Fun

WASHINGTON, BOSTON, NEW YORK, SAN FRANCISCO. These are the places where The New York Times found people to speak about the ghastly, hideous, horrible idea of lowering the speed limit back to 55 mph. Yes, you read that right. Fifty-five miles per hour.

Gee. Maybe it would have been nice for the guys writing the story to, I don't know, see how the idea would have played in Michigan. Or New Hampshire. Or North Dakota or Tennessee or Arizona. You know, places where people actually use automobiles or light trucks to travel long distances on a regular basis. These are also places, one reckons, where most people would consider the return of the 55 mph speed limit a Biblical curse, along the lines of a plague of locusts or having one's teeth ripped out in an industrial accident.

But no. That would have required -- well, flipping through a phone book looking up strange area codes. Plus, given the tone of the article from Messrs Jad Mouawad and Simon Romero, it's pretty clear they don't particularly care what those people out in the provinces think. It's also pretty clear they don't know much about life out in the provinces, either.

I mean, consider this gem of a paragraph:

Instead of opting for small fuel-efficient cars, people switched to large sport utility vehicles and larger pickups. As drivers groaned and states fought for their right to speed, the limit was raised.

Memo to The New York Times: out here in the provinces, people actually use these "light trucks" to -- wait for it -- haul stuff around, especially when going on vacation or doing yard work. Plus, out here in the provinces, some people actually have more than one or two children, and as such these light trucks are useful.

Lastly, you may be dimly aware that the United States continues to have a domestic auto industry. Their light trucks are superior to those which foreign suppliers produce. Further, as amazing as it may seem, some people actually prefer God-fearing domestic vehicles instead of foofy and underpowered foreign cars.

But the Times article is a laundry list of bad ideas -- either they don't work, or even worse they do work, but have such awful economic consequences we'd all be worse off than before. For instance:

Other industrialized countries, especially in Europe, have been much more successful than the United States and have managed to actually lower oil demand, or at least keep it in check. That comes from higher diesel use and higher taxes. In France and Germany, a gallon of gasoline sells for as much as $6, with taxes accounting for about 80 percent of that.

Few politicians in America might risk ridicule or rejection by explicitly supporting higher taxes on gasoline, one of the surest ways to limit the nation's dependence on oil.

Perhaps the Times has forgotten that, even in New York, the economy is fueled through transport. All those organic vegetables and chi-chi fou-fou scented candles and movie-popcorn containers and ridiculous clothing items are brought into or shipped around the city on -- wait for it -- trucks. As such, increasing the cost of transport tends to increase the cost of everything else, making for a world of pain.

Speaking of which, it's strange how the writers don't see how the above-mentioned paragraph fails to jive with this paragraph lower down:

Still, Americans can expect to pay record prices for gasoline this summer. According to the latest national average compiled by the Energy Department, gasoline prices at the pump averaged $2.24 a gallon, up 42 cents from last year; they are expected to touch a record $2.35 a gallon this summer.

Polls show that higher gasoline prices are increasingly hurting Americans, and the president is pressing Congress to revive an energy bill that has been stalled for four years.

If people are getting hurt at $2.25 a gallon, what would happen if gasoline taxes kicked it up to $4 or $5 or $6 per gallon? Eh? I mean, come on. Besides, we have all seen the stories about how people are dealing with gasoline prices -- they're cutting back on driving if they can do so. This would seem to suggest that we can dispense with all the Seventies-era ideas, because the market is already eating into demand.

Besides, it's not as if the Seventies-era ideas worked all that well. Consider this paragraph down near the end:

Roland Hwang, the vehicles policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, estimated the savings of the speed limit in 1983 at 2.5 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, or 2.2 percent of the total use for these types of fuels.

2.2 percent? That's it? That's why we'd bring back the 55 mph speed limit? It sounds like the NYT guys take the subway. And it also sounds like they should've done more work on the story, and should've talked with folks who actually drive all the time. Fortunately, I know the perfect place to do this.

The next time the Times decides to write a story about speed limits, I would invite them to actually send a writer out to the US-23 corridor, which runs from Ann Arbor, Mich., to a bit west of Toledo, Ohio.

This road, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a four-lane highway and pretty much a straight shot between the two points. As such, it is one of the closest things America has to an autobahn. The top speed on it is just 70 mph, but in general drivers will do well above 80 mph; I have been passed on the right while doing 85. Yet barring inclement weather, the road is perfectly fine to drive on at that speed. Traffic flows smoothly and I can't say I ever saw an accident on it.

I can't say anyone traveling the road would take kindly to a 55 mph speed limit, either. So hopefully the Times will broaden its horizons a little bit. Because there are lots of us who would rather eat glass than drive 55. Besides, as many of us from the provinces know, getting there often ain't half the fun.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:20 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 01, 2005

Weekend Survey

RIGHT THINKING GIRL recently posted a rather nice "weekend survey," which asked a series of 10 questions for readers/other bloggers to answer.

Here are my answers to the questions she presented, viz. and to wit:

1. What movies would you like to live in? (Note: This question was directly lifted from The Sheila Variations. If you haven't checked her out, you really need to.)

Gad – movies I would like to live in. That’s a tough one. I mean, with the historical movies, it’d be kind of tough because you’d know how things would turn out. I can just imagine it –

CHAMBERLAIN: -- and I believe it is peace for our time.
ME: Uh. Dude. What the hell?
ME: He’s not going to stop with Czechoslovakia, moron.
CHAMBERLAIN: But I have this agreement, and –
ME: If you attack NOW you might have a chance at stopping him before the Wehrmacht goes fully operational and crushes Poland. Oh, and –
CHAMBERLAIN: Guards! Seize him!
ME: -- what! Hey! Let go of me! You rotten — OUCH!

2. Name one thing you do better than anybody else.

I have a good head for remembering numbers and doing mental arithmetic. Obviously I’m not the best in the world at these things, but I do have an aptitude for figures. This aptitude stops at calculus, however – I am completely useless with integrals, although I finally got derivatives.

3. What's your background?

Well, let’s see. I’m a twenty-something white guy of German, French and Scottish ancestry. I grew up in Michigan, went to school in Michigan, and still have a soft place in my heart for the Great Lakes State, particularly the Ann Arbor-Detroit area. I’m now living in New Hampshire, which is a lot like Back Home, although I also spent time in California (got burned out on the place) and a wee bit of time in Washington, D.C. (which rules).

4. If your friends would be completely honest and tell you what they think about you, would you want to know?

No, I would bloody well NOT want to know – unless, of course, it was actually good. A key part of friendship is overlooking someone’s minor faults, irritating tics and whatnot – because in the end such things are immaterial compared to all the wonderful things which led you to be friends in the first place. However, I can now say that I’ve really really quit smoking – and that’s got to make me a lot more agreeable to be around.

5. What's the last good book you read?

I re-read Walter Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” It really is a fabulous book – it’s not merely an engaging story, it’s great in terms of how it deals with spiritual matters. It’s definitely worth a read. Plus, it’s funny.

6. If you were a cartoon character, what would your name be, what would you look like, and what would you do?

After long and serious thought on the matter, I’ve decided my cartoon character would be named "Ward Randall." My character would look a lot like Helmut Dantine’s character in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

You know, like this:

But Ward Randall would not be shot by Warren Oates. Oh no. Ward Randall would never be shot by anyone like Warren Oates, because Ward Randall would not let anyone armed with more than a bag of chips near his immediate person. He would be careful and he would be smart, as both these traits would be necessary for him to pull off his quasi-nefarious schemes.

Yes, you read that right -- quasi-nefarious. That’s because Ward Randall would only be partially evil, and that on days when his sinuses were acting up. He would have lots of good days too. Besides, normal cartoon bad guys always want to make Big Statements and Wreak Havoc, and that's madness.

I mean, Gad. First it’s a plan to blow up Mount Rushmore; then it’s a plan to steal the Hope Diamond or a scheme to take over Topeka. Trouble is, these geniuses never realize that none of these great ideas ever work, and the end result is prison or worse. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the sheer indignity of having one’s arch-nemesis bask in the glory and adoration of the people after one was thwarted – feh!

Ward Randall would not be about having Lieutenant (j.g.) Freedom come along and ruin his plans. No. That would not work. So what would Ward Randall do, you ask?

Well, you know those “convenience charges” that you get when you buy concert tickets? That’s Ward Randall’s work right there. Inexplicable “surcharges” on your phone bill? Ward Randall. Gas prices went up, even though the price of oil went down? Ward Randall. Some electronics firm held up your rebate? Ward Randall.

Ward Randall would then use the millions upon millions of dollars generated through these annoying but perfectly legal schemes to a) work at destabilizing the European Union and b) have massive, Bacchanalian parties at his pad, which would have that late Sixties, “Diamonds Are Forever” feel to it. Also, he would help all his friends out with registering their cars, getting cable television service, or what not. So you can see he’s not such a bad sort after all. And when the chips were down and the fate of the world was at stake – well, Ward Randall would be fighting right alongside the good guys.

7. Are you going to buy a copy of my new book?

Yes! Absolutely! Just buy a copy of mine -- when I finish it, that is. IF I finish it.

8. Tell me one thing you are glad you finished.

I’m glad I’m finished listening to my annoying, pot-smoking neighbors having domestic disputes – because, praise God almighty, they moved out yesterday. Yeah. OK, so that’s not the intent of the question. I don’t care. I’m glad they moved out.

9. Give me one piece of wisdom your mother told you.

Mrs Kepple always told me that I would find love when I least expected it. I can say with certainty that this has held through my entire romantic life.

10. Name a few overrated blogs and a few underrated blogs.

Well, I don’t think it serves any purpose to name “overrated” blogs. After all, who am I to question the wisdom of the market? Who am I to question the Demiurge of Fortune? Who am I to question the idea that the customer is always right? Plus, as Mom used to say – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

However, I will say that many of the blogs on my blogroll deserve to be read more, and many deserve to be read on a daily basis. In fact, if you came here JUST to use my blogroll, and didn’t even read any of the entries on which I spent SO MUCH TIME laboring, I would be cool with that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:42 PM | TrackBack