September 30, 2005

Report: Dimbulbs Take Field for MSU

AND NOW, for some Pre-Game Heckling.

In today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, the paper has analyzed myriad professional and collegiate football programs, based on the leaked results of how the programs' players have done on a standardized intelligence test. In a happy coincidence, this analysis includes The University of Michigan's football program, plus the program of the state's Cowtipping Agricultural School in East Lansing.

While the exam results contained some surprises -- for instance, Evil Nebraska ranked 10th out of 39 programs -- some things turned out as one might expect. The University of Michigan ranked 14th out of 39th schools listed, and NFL prospects from Michigan achieved an average score of 21.7. This was a better showing, one might note, than that of The Ohio State University, which ranked 17th on the WSJ's list.

But then we come to Michigan State University. The WSJ writes: "So much for Michigan State: Graduation rates and test scores for its system's players are at the bottom of the pack, and it hasn't ranked in the final AP poll for four years."

Such words can't do justice to MSU's true failure. The team ranked an abysmal 38th out of 39 teams on the WSJ's list. Since No. 39 was the University of Miami (Fla.), MSU's average score of 16.6 clearly shows that Michigan has been, is now, and always will be the better school in any and all endeavors the two happen to undertake. Should Michigan somehow lose on Saturday, it will clearly be a statistical outlier -- a blip due to bad luck, bad officialing, or East Lansing thuggery.

But I know that Michigan has no plans to lose. That's because Michigan lives for days like Saturday -- if only because the Wolverines get to remind other schools that the other schools aren't all that and a bag of chips.

Last week, MSU's football squad planted its school flag on Notre Dame's turf after beating the Fighting Irish at home 44-41. It was a true example of the thuggery and lack of sportsmanship, the classlessness and braggadocio, which one so often finds in the third-rate. I very much hope that Michigan will get to again remind MSU that they're not all that and a bag of chips. I very much hope that, as Lou Holtz said, the next flag MSU plants will be one which says, "We surrender."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Coach Carr? It's Really Time to Retire

HOW MANY LICKS does it take to force the retirement of a Michigan football coach? The answer used to be, "The world may never know." But now that the University of Michigan Wolverines have a 2-2 record, we may find out the answer soon enough.

I mean, come on. It's entirely conceivable the Wolverines could end the year with a losing record, given how well certain schools in our schedule are playing this year. Should that happen, there should be some professional recriminations as a result.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:22 PM | TrackBack

The Organic Seeds of Discontent

SO HELP ME GOD, I did some of my grocery shopping this past week at a “natural foods” store. This will undoubtedly shock those who know me, as I strongly believe in American agribusiness's power to improve food through the use of preservatives, irradiation and chemicals like acesulfame potassium, the Diet Cherry Coke additive. But I happened to chance across the store and went on in, as I’ve found “natural foods” stores often offer good deals or have a different product selection than the larger groceries.

I’m still amazed, though, that it took me so long to discover the store in question. It’s located off a new shopping plaza here in town, but I routinely drove past the place without even knowing it was there. Partially, this was due to my amazing ability to not notice the obvious; for instance, it took me three years to notice the kitchen sink in my apartment had one of those spray nozzle things. But it was also because the store’s sign was designed more to fit in with the scheme of the building rather than to attract customers like me, who often shop at the giant supermarket just one hundred yards away.

Still, though, I found the store, and it was good. Of course, I always feel like a fish out of water in such places, particularly if my mind gets stuck in cynical mode. I mean, I've never been impressed with products whose sole selling point is their supposed "authenticity," as I don't see how anything can truly be inauthentic. (It can be bad, yes. But inauthentic?) I also don't hesitate to eschew organic products if their non-organic product is better.

Still, these stores do have their intangible advantages. For instance, there are always cute women shopping at such places. There are also always strange and outlandish products available for purchase, such as the organic Bible-based pasta.

At least that was my original judgment regarding the Ezekiel 4:9 brand pasta, a flourless pasta which contains several grains and lentils and what not. True, the company only mentions the verse in passing, and focuses on the fact that when all the things (wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt) are combined (per the direction of the LORD our God in the verse) it makes for a surprisingly protein-rich food. Still, though, my thought was: good God -- first pasta, what next? The Ezekiel 25:17 Big Kahuna Tofu Burger? (“That IS a TASTY burger!”) Leviticus 15 hygiene products? (Let’s not go there).

Then I wondered about Ezekiel 4.

Now, like most Christians, I had no idea what the Book of Ezekiel covered, because it’s one of those Biblical books one just tends to accidentally forget. I mean, do you – and here I refer to my Christian readers – remember any verses from the Book of Nahum? No, you don’t. You also don’t remember any from the Book of Haggai, Micah or Habbakuk either. That’s because these are Relatively Obscure Old Testament Books, and Christians tend to skip ahead to the New Testament once they hit Isaiah. And that’s just the Protestant version of the Bible; there are several Extra Bonus Biblical books to accidentally forget when one becomes Roman Catholic.

Well, as it turns out, Ezekiel 4 is all about the Babylonians wrecking Jerusalem, which presents all sorts of questions. Such as, should I even eat the pasta for dinner like normal, or should I save it in my disaster hoard in case of a blizzard? I mean, just look at Ezekiel 4:16-17:

Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with fearfulness, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and waste away under their punishment.”

Yep. Disaster hoard. Definitely disaster hoard.

Moving on from the pasta aisle, though, I found this store had a small section in which one could buy coffee. I must admit I'm not much of a coffee drinker myself, even though I do like it and I like coffee-flavored things. It was here, though, where I found the yin and yang of the natural foods movement, at noontime in the garden of good and evil.

For here, in the coffee section, a battle was taking place: between the fundamentally good desire to live modestly and treat one's fellow men honestly and decently, and the fundamentally craven desire to boast of one's cultural savvy and sophistication, even if unmerited. You see, there was a couple examining the java for sale, and they were having an argument over it. To paraphrase their discussion, it went something like this:

The woman thought it particularly important to buy the “fair trade” coffee on offer. Such coffee provides the buyer with a guarantee that the coffee’s producers were only minimally oppressed in growing the stuff, and even got an above-market price in the bargain.

Horrified, the man pointed out that the "fair trade" coffee on offer was ground, and intimated he would sooner drink dish water than buy pre-ground coffee, which would have flavor issues. He made a point of not selecting the fair trade coffee his wife/significant other/life companion had chosen.

Annoyed, the woman politely asked whether he wanted to screw over the poor workers who harvested the precious whole coffee beans he so desired.

This caused the man to fall back upon the technical merits of whole-bean coffee, arrogantly explaining to his wife about things like the fragrant, flavor-improving oils within each whole coffee bean.

By this point in the argument, I was biting my lip, so I moved on. But my initial analysis was confirmed when I saw the man in question make a big show of carrying an entire frickin' box of organic vegetables to the register, announcing that he couldn't wait to put them in his home juicer. I couldn't wait for his wife to knock him upside the head with her purse because he was being such an arrogant fuckwit, but unfortunately, that didn't happen.

As one might imagine, I was far more inclined to agree with the woman in the argument, although I admit on technical grounds that both had sound reasoning. But I think the woman won out anyway, and here's why.

There's something to be said for people who make a point of sticking up for their principles on an economic basis. That doesn't happen as much as it should, and it's particularly inspiring when it means making a sacrifice, as buying the fair-trade coffee would have meant. After all, it probably would have lost its flavor pretty quick.

There's also something to be said for moderate living. I've always liked the idea of saving "the good stuff" -- whether it's coffee or drink or food -- for special occasions, because that makes one enjoy the good stuff more. Plus, one never risks having one's luxury become a necessity, something which Andrew Tobias and others have warned against.

Conversely, it's pretty frickin' pathetic when a man publicly argues about supermarket coffee. I mean, it's supermarket coffee. It is not, as a general rule, anything one would write home to mother about. It's bad taste enough to pull out the talking points when one buys Jamaican Blue Mountain or Kona coffee, but to lecture one's wife when buying the Manager's Special "Sorry, We Lost Track" Blend is just amazingly oafish.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:16 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

Zut -- Frickin' -- Alors

WELL, THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT just lost any and all general-principle grounds it may have had to argue against American policy. Why, you ask? Well, as this article in the Israeli daily Haaretz shows, the French foreign minister is as dumb as a bag of rocks, and as such has no standing to ever criticize anyone else ever again.

Go read it. You'll agree.

It's appalling to think the French Government managed to find a less capable foreign minister than now-Prime Minister Villepin, but they somehow did. I mean, come on.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:29 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

Ah, Sweet Victory!

PITTSBURGH WON. Oakland lost. It was a good weekend for professional football. I'm especially looking forward to this Sunday, when the glorious Steelers take on the New England Patriots, who strangely lost last week to the Carolina Panthers. I'm sure it will be a tough game though, nevertheless, and salute the Patriots fans who brave Heinz Field this weekend.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Decline and Fall

DEAN ESMAY has jumpstarted an argument over the question of whether the United States is in decline. He argues in the negative on the matter, and disputes writers who had obliquely argued the question in the affirmative. Plus, as a tangential aside, Mr Esmay goes on to attack ancient Rome, and now everyone’s beating up on the Romans. As M. Tullius Cicero once put it, excitabat fluctus in simpulo.

Still, it is an interesting topic when one thinks of it, the decline and fall of nations. The small ones tend to get swallowed up in war and politics, the larger ones tend to burn out after their economies collapse. Sometimes, of course, it is a combination of both traumas. Sometimes it involves neither. All that said, though, I – like Mr Esmay – don’t see the United States going down the tubes anytime soon. Rather, I’d say we’re doing a hell of a lot better now than we were a quarter of a century ago.

In fact, I have concrete proof of this. Through a thorough analysis of political and social trends, economic data, and other indicators, I have conclusively determined that American life and society has improved considerably from our last overall “low point,” which we hit on July 12, 1979.

What? No, really. July 12, 1979.

OK, fine. I can see why some will question my designation of July 12, 1979, as the most recent low point in American political and economic history. After all, lots of bad things happened after July 12 that year. On July 19, for instance, the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua. On August 27, the IRA killed Mountbatten. On Sept. 7, Chrysler got a federal bailout, and on Christmas Eve, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Admittedly, lots of bad things had already happened prior to July 12 too. The Shah fell in Iran, there was another energy crisis, inflation was running at 11 pc, the Chinese invaded Vietnam and Three Mile Island went on the fritz. Heck, if that wasn’t enough, Skylab – that cheap lame-o excuse for a space station we had – fell out of orbit on July 11. Fortunately, though, the Government swiftly responded to all these problems and created the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Unfortunately, the “Dollar of the Future” reminded everyone about the 11 pc inflation.

But all this undoubtedly helps explain why people were so frickin’ angry back on July 12, 1979. And it was on July 12, 1979, when this happened:

Tom Hayden? You have a phone call. Thomas Hayden. Please pick up the red courtesy phone ...

DISCO INFERNO: Thousands of people rush the field at Comiskey Park in Chicago during the infamous Disco Sucks Riot of July 12, 1979. More than 50,000 disco-hating fans had descended on the baseball park to watch several thousand disco records get blown up. Sadly, violence and destruction soon erupted.

I mean, my God. Look at it. Thousands of people in pleather and corduroy and bad haircuts and gamey T-shirts trampling over the grounds of an iconic American institution, rebelling against the misery and pointlessness of their wretched lives -- lives so awful they couldn’t even count on steady supplies of gasoline. I mean, we’re talking maximum suckage here, folks – suckage so foul people my age have trouble comprehending how frickin’ awful it was. Pleather and gas lines and Carly Simon?

Yeeesh. All I knew back on July 12, 1979, was that the Kepple household had a lot in the way of Furniture of the Future. Also, we had a pretty grim-looking kitchen.

So why is the Disco Sucks Riot the “low point” in a low point year? Well, it was only after July 12 that one first began to see positive changes happening in American society; the groundwork, if you will, for a brighter future.

For instance, on Sept. 7, ESPN went on the air. And on Oct. 6, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and his fellow governors took the first steps to break the stagflation gripping America. A few months later, the Pittsburgh Steelers would go on to win Super Bowl XIV, their fourth victory in the “big game.”

Clearly, the future looked good. And just a little while later, America had its confidence back – knowing that International Communism would eventually be destroyed, and that the American way of life ruled. Then we got a call from Japan Inc. -- but that is a story for another time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:07 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 13, 2005

Coach Carr? It's Time to Retire

Champions of ... well, maybe next year.

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION: LLOYD CARR, The University of Michigan's football coach (center), is seen here during happier times with starting quarterback Chad Henne (at left). In an unforgivable lapse, the Michigan football squad has now lost two years in a row to Notre Dame.

IF YOU HAD BEEN an observer standing outside my apartment here in Manchester, N.H. this Saturday afternoon, you might have wondered why exactly shouts of "NOOOOOO!" and even "GODDAMMIT!" would occasionally erupt from my abode, particularly since I am a generally quiet person. I am not known for shouting anything, much less profane and wicked calls for the LORD our God to smite the University of Notre Dame football team.

However, had you been inside watching the Notre Dame-Michigan game along with me, you would have understood why I was so disheartened. For any amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth is justified when one's alma mater turns over the ball twice in the "red zone," that is, on the verge of scoring. Such wailing is also justified when one's alma mater fails to enter the 21st century in terms of play-calling. And it is definitely justified when one's alma mater does not score a frickin' touchdown until there's just 3:47 left in the fourth quarter. Michigan's loss to Notre Dame this Saturday was unacceptable, particularly since it was the second year in a row such a thing has happened.

You see, losing to Notre Dame is a stinging rebuke for anyone affiliated with Michigan. It is not the worst defeat Michigan's football program can suffer during a year, but it is the type of defeat that makes one want to work harder and get better. This is especially true because of later and more important battles Michigan faces, in which we must remind certain second-rate institutions that we rule.

(I mean, my God. How awful would it be to lose to those cow-tippers over at Michigan State? I remember one year when I was in school: a bunch of East Lansing dimbulbs arrived on campus during the week before the game. After chalking graffiti all over campus, they stood on the Diag with a cowbell and shouted cheers. But no one gave a damn because it was midterms and we were all drinking and smoking to get through it and we all wondered when the second-rate State losers with their limited career opportunities and pathetic school mascot had mid-terms. And don't get me started on Ohio State, which requires its own post).

But moving on. We learn from The Detroit Free Press this week that Coach Carr is -- now that all is lost -- worried about Michigan's offense. This is a week after Coach Carr was worried about our defense. Next week, perhaps, he will worry about the special teams should some Eastern Michigan kick returner do something extraordinary. Speaking personally, though, I think these problems would solve themselves if Coach Carr was worried about his job.

When it comes to college football, I'm convinced -- rightly or wrongly -- that all failure stems from the top in one way or another. This past week was undoubtedly a reflection of that. It wasn't merely that the players performed badly; the calls they were given to execute also made matters bad. Was that quarterback sneak attempt, which ended in a fumble, really necessary on first and goal when the ball was at the 1 yard line? Did Michigan really have to pass into crowded territory, which resulted in an interception, on a separate touchdown try? In both cases, I submit the answer is No.

But that is how Coach Carr likes his football -- overly cautious and conservative and unimaginative. To the casual viewer, it must appear as if, on two out of every three downs, Michigan runs the ball up the middle; a play that may, if luck holds, earn the team as much as three yards. The remaining plays are spent pursuing boring passes that may, if luck holds, earn enough yards to come up just short of the first down. Once in a blue moon, a long pass is thrown or a clever end-around is made, but these are seemingly so infrequent one would sooner attribute their success to pagan sacrifice than to proper coaching.

In summary, Coach needs to mix it up.

Will he? No. He will not.

Therefore, I submit -- just like many other Michigan fans out there have done -- that it is time for Coach Carr to retire. But since he won't do so voluntarily, we Michigan alumni must make our displeasure heard. Clearly, we must refuse to give any money to the University of Michigan until Coach Carr retires or beats those bastards down at Ohio State, in which case all will be forgiven as per usual.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

Ben's Reading List

NOW THAT my weekend is here -- huzzah -- I've set aside a few books I plan to start reading in those rare moments this fall when I'm not watching sport. I must admit, though, that I'm not entirely sure about how some of these particular titles will turn out.

First up on my list is Howard Karger's Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy. In summary, Prof Karger's work looks at how pawnbrokers, check cashing shops, payday advance lenders, and myriad other businesses legally extract great sums of money from the poor. Prof Karger argues the practices of these firms are immoral and exploitative.

I'm only a little way through it so far, but Prof Karger's work seems as if it will prove more useful for its empirical research than its conclusions. There's no denying that those who patronize such establishments often get a raw deal. Still, one must ask whether it would be better for those customers to face the alternative of having no credit at all. Perhaps it would be, but I'd venture to guess that those who would agree with that statement aren't in the position of having their lights shut off. We'll see how Prof Karger deals with that idea.

One must also ask whether a borrower, knowing the terms of the agreement through which he is provided credit, and agreeing to them of his own volition, can thus be "exploited." This is not to argue that the poor bastard isn't getting nailed to the wall when he pawns his DVD player. I am, however, suggesting that folks generally know what they're getting into when they walk into the store. We'll see how Prof Karger deals with that idea too.

Oh, and one last thing. Maybe it's just me, but I'm feeling a bit shortchanged at having paid $24.95 for a thin volume that's roughly 250 pages in length. I mean, maybe that's some kind of inside joke, but come on.

I'm feeling considerably more optimistic about C.V. Wedgwood's The Thirty Years War, which I'm reading as part of my continued attempts to learn about what life was like for my ancestors back on the Old Continent. (Delving into family history is a really good way to get perspective on things).

Anyway, I have no doubt Dame Wedgwood's work will prove eminently thrilling and good history, as she received high marks for this volume. One quibble, though -- the foreword to the book, which a Princeton historian wrote, is annoyingly fawning in tone. The man goes so far as to call Dame Wedgwood "the greatest narrative historian of the twentieth century," which is just silly. But again, that's just a quibble. I have no qualms about being shortchanged on this volume -- particularly at 520 pages!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:27 AM | TrackBack

September 06, 2005

A Very Busy Week

IT'S BEEN AN AMAZINGLY busy week here in Manchester: not only have I been working a great deal, including over half of the long weekend, I had a great weekend visit from my friend Simon, plus lots of other exciting goings-on. The long and short of it: I'll be back at the end of the week. 'Til then ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:51 PM | TrackBack