November 29, 2005

We Need Some Immaculate Perception

ON NIGHTS LIKE THIS, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan can be really, really tough.

Perhaps one of the greatest maladies with which Steelers fans must deal is the constant urge to scream at the television, because the Steelers’ playcalling is both transparent and stupidly repetitive. I’m sorry, but if even I can predict when Pittsburgh’s going to run, it’s time to mix things up a bit. And when the running game isn’t working, it’s time to start passing. If John Madden* can figure this out, Bill Cowher should as well. It also might have been a good idea to do more long passing earlier in the game.

That said, I’m not going to deny that if Pittsburgh had recovered their surprise onside kick at the start of the second half, I would be writing that Coach Cowher was a genius and a wonder. Unfortunately, the evil Indianapolis Colts recovered it and went on to run roughshod over Pittsburgh for the entire second half, eventually winning 26-7.

Not. Extreme.

However, I must admit the Colts really put on a fine show during the game, and if they keep that up through the playoffs the team will earn Super Bowl rings. They pretty much stopped Pittsburgh’s offense (except for that one touchdown) and, except for Troy Polamalu's interception, ran holes through Pittsburgh’s defense too. Pittsburgh was outplayed and outmanned and outrun, and it hurt to watch.

So I’d like to congratulate Colts coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison and linebacker Cato June on their victory. Even though the Colts play in a weather-proof dome, which to any real football fan is abomination and heresy, and indicative of the Dolts' eternal lameness. Still, it was a victory -- and heck, I’d even like to congratulate that annoying squeaky-clean do-gooder quarterback of theirs.

Whatever his name is.

D-caf. I need to switch to D-caf.

* For non-football fans: John “Coach Obvious” Madden, one-time coach of the evil Oakland Raiders, is now an announcer. He’s kind of like football’s Yogi Berra, generally because football doesn’t have a Yogi Berra. At least not one whom I know about.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

The Rant is Away --

-- AND WILL RETURN following the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory -- one would most certainly hope -- on Monday Night Football this Nov. 28. Colts delenda est, or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 18, 2005

We Who Are About to Win Salute You

IT WILL BE forty-odd degrees in Ann Arbor at game time tomorrow, not cold enough to cause frostbite but cold enough to make three hours on the football field a test of strength and endurance. It is in this weather that the evil Ohio State Buckeyes, presently ranked No. 9 in the nation, will attempt to defeat the glorious Michigan Wolverines. They will fail.

At least, they should fail, if only on general principle grounds. After all, this is what Michigan does when other teams have championship hopes and aspirations to play in nationally-televised bowl games: we beat them. It doesn’t matter how we do that. We may beat them with a last-second play, or we may beat them through trickery and deception, or we may beat them like a steel drum right from the first kickoff. What matters is that we beat them. For ruining other people’s seasons is what we Michiganders do, especially if our own season is shot. And when it comes to the Buckeyes of the Ohio State University, we are especially good at ruining their football seasons. Indeed, Michigan Stadium is where Ohio State’s dreams go to die.

Tomorrow, the teams will meet for the 102nd time since 1897, and Michigan will surely earn its 58th win in the series, which it presently leads 57-38-6. This despite the fact that Ohio State has probably had a better football squad most of those years, and certainly does this year. In fact, were Ohio State to win tomorrow – as wretched and awful as the idea is – they would probably be eligible for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl or something. However, I’m confident Michigan’s longstanding tradition of ruining Ohio State’s hopes for a national title or a big bowl game will once again hold this year.

True, it’s going to be a tough match, and no Michigan fan underestimates the menace which the Ohio State Buckeyes present, particularly since coach Jim Tressel came aboard. That’s something which Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski explains particularly well in his essay on the game, with the ingenious and excellent title of “Oh, How We Hate Ohio State:”

You might recall Ohio State once had a fine coach by the name of John Cooper who won lots and lots of games. But astute Buckeyes fans noticed he was 2-10-1 against the Wolverines and demanded he be fired.

Cooper was replaced by Jim Tressel, who somehow is 3-1 against Michigan's Lloyd Carr despite wearing the geekiest sweater vest you've ever seen. We're never sure if Tressel is coaching football or teaching fifth-grade math. Put a sweatshirt on, man.

Almost immediately, Tressel swiped some of Michigan's trademark arrogance without even asking. When he arrived, he began counting down the days to Ohio State's first visit to Ann Arbor. Then he had the audacity to win that game. Later, he hired, er, signed a running back by the name of Maurice Clarett and won a national title.

Now, I realize it’s somewhat tough for non-Midwesterners to grasp just how important this annual contest is, but I’ll do my best to explain. First, one must understand the history behind the teams’ mutual hatred, and second, one must understand the places from which both teams hail.

(It seems that many people, particularly on the East and West Coasts, have a tendency to lump Midwestern states into the same basket. It is astounding ignorance, to be sure, and many Midwesterners take great offense when outsiders make the mistake of confusing, say, Michigan with Wisconsin, or Indiana with Iowa. They won’t say anything about it, of course, because they’re too polite to do so; but back home it really gets on people’s nerves. But anyway).

Michigan and Ohio have long hated each other. How much so, you ask? Well, back in 1835-1836, the two states fought a war.

A war over Toledo.

In retrospect, this probably wasn’t a good idea. Fortunately, though, it wasn’t much of a war: both states’ militias got lost in a giant primordial swamp, and the only combat took place during a bar fight (an Ohioan stabbed a Michigander). Still, they actually had a war, and it was in wrapping up the war that Michigan scored its first victory against Ohio. Namely, we tricked them into keeping Toledo.

You see, when Michigan entered the Union in 1837, we had to give up our claim to the Toledo area as a condition of our signing up. In exchange, we got most of the Upper Peninsula, which has mining and timber resources. Plus, it’s great for vacationing too. Ohio, meanwhile, got stuck with Toledo. So it was only natural this long-standing bitterness would transfer over to a football rivalry between the two states’ flagship educational institutions.

What a rivalry it’s been, too. It’s exacerbated because of the stark gaps in educational quality and general coolness which exist between Michigan and Ohio State. You’ll see that this weekend when the two schools run their promotional commercials.

Ohio State will almost certainly run some lame-o, cheaply produced, politically correct snoozefest about how some liberal arts major is making big strides on some mediocre research project. Michigan, on the other hand, will almost certainly point out our key involvement in the Apollo 15 space mission, in which all of the astronauts on board were Michigan alumni. Yeah. They put Michigan’s flag on the Moon too, which rules.

Oh, and what kind of a school has a frickin’ acorn for its mascot? Jesus Christ.

But anyway. It’s sure to be a hard-fought, tough battle at Michigan Stadium this Saturday, and I must salute the Buckeyes in advance for the excellent and powerful athleticism which they’ll undoubtedly show during the game. It won’t be enough, of course, and we’ll break the Buckeyes like Octavian broke Antony, but I will say they always put forward a great effort.

Besides, it could be worse. They could be from East Lansing.

Hail to the victors valiant!
Hail to the conquering heroes!
Hail, hail, to Michigan, the leaders and the best!
Hail to the victors valiant!
Hail to the conquering heroes!
Hail, hail, to Michigan, the champions of the West!

Go Blue!

UPDATE, 4:26 PM, 11/19/05: Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

HOW did that happen? We had them where we wanted them and SOMEHOW, evil Ohio State won! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. Clearly Coach Carr must be held responsible.

It's time for him to retire.

I mean, what does it say when Coach Carr's supporters are ... Notre Dame fans?!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 15, 2005

Great Moments in American Journalism

RECENTLY, THE Associated Press issued the following correction:

In a Nov. 12 story about Dolly Parton's brother developing a theater, the Associated Press reported erroneously that she and others sang a few country songs at a groundbreaking. They performed "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner," not any country songs.

I don't even want to know.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:09 PM | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

If Maddox Starts, That's an Emergency

OH MY GOD, I can't believe that Charlie Batch, the Pittsburgh Steelers' backup quarterback, broke his passing hand in tonight's game against the Cleveland Browns. Quite frankly, if a plague of locusts had descended upon Heinz Field tonight, it would not have been worse.

In part, that's because the locusts might have plagued Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback, to the point where he couldn't throw the football. As such, this would prevent Maddox from throwing any interceptions. Prior to the game tonight, he threw 3 interceptions on 28 attempts, and during tonight's game the interception he threw was nullified due to a defensive penalty.

I mean, Maddox's performance was so bad tonight that even the ESPN Sunday Night Football announcers were rooting for him to throw a complete pass. One of 'em -- I think it was Theismann -- even said, "Come on, Tommy." It's pretty pathetic when the ESPN Sunday Night idiots stop insulting Maddox and start openly sympathizing with him.

The worst thing about Maddox is that, because he is so awful, his very presence in a game strikes fear and nausea into Pittsburgh Steelers fans everywhere. Consider the conversation I had with my brother, a Cleveland Browns fan, when it was announced Maddox was starting the second half in tonight's game:

(Jesse picks up).

Of course, it was a minute or so later that Maddox managed to hand the ball off, in a reverse-kinda-play, to none other than wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who then threw the ball 51 yards to fellow wide receiver Hines Ward for a touchdown, prompting the following call:

(Jesse picks up).
ME: Who's laughing now?! WHO'S -- LAUGHING -- NOW?!
JESSE: I can't believe that actually happened.

Now that the game is over -- and Cleveland got their heads handed to them, 34-21 -- let's look at the statistics for the game:


Maddox, T.: 4/7 for 22 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT* (* 0 due to penalty)
Randle El, A.: 1/1 for 51 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT


Randle El, A.: 2 attempts for 10 yards; long, 12.


Randle El, A.: 2 receptions for 19 yards; long, 15.


Randle El, A.: 3 returns for an average of 5.3 yards; long, 8.

Also, once upon a time, Randle El was starting quarterback for the University of Indiana football team.

Clearly, Antwaan Randle El should take over as backup quarterback until Charlie Batch is healed. Presently, wide receiver Randle El is the "emergency quarterback," and plays that position only in the event none of the QBs can do the job. To my mind, the possibility that Tommy Maddox might start for the Pittsburgh Steelers qualifies as a Grade A, bona fide, four alarm damn-the-torpedoes emergency, and as such, Randle El needs to get the nod if Roethlisberger or Batch can't start next week.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 12, 2005

Currency Speculation Made Easy

WHILE EXPLORING the wonders of the Internet recently, I stumbled across Boston Gal’s Open Wallet, a very useful personal-finance blog that has a bunch of interesting links and posts. For instance, I learned that I can now spend my spare change on, thanks to the good people at Coinstar. Extreme.

Also quite interesting was a post which the site’s author, who cleverly goes by the name of “Jane Dough,” wrote about an Internet bank offering certificates of deposit denominated in foreign currencies. In short, these products (“Currency CDs”) let one speculate on the currency markets while also, in most cases, earning interest on one’s FDIC-insured deposit. Jane, in noting the Mexican peso CD offers a 6.75 pc annual interest rate, asks for her readers’ thoughts on the idea and also asks whether a weakened dollar would make a Currency CD a better or worse investment. So, Jane, here you go.

I suppose I’d start by saying this appears to be a pretty complicated product, and as such, one would want to tread very cautiously before investing in it: reading up on the prospectus, making sure one knows about associated fees, restrictions, and so on. Furthermore, because currency markets are inherently risky, one ought only consider investing in such a thing if one had plenty of other money set aside.

That said, my gut reaction is that if one is looking for an investment to hedge against a fall in the dollar, there are plenty of other stores of value – real estate, precious metals, etc. – in which one could put one’s money. Still, in certain circumstances, I could see someone investing in a Currency CD. That’s provided the investment was minimal (no more than 1 pc of one’s worth, tops) and one’s net worth was more than sufficient to withstand the potential loss of the entire investment. But more on that in a bit.

First, though, there’s the question of the risk-reward one runs with the thing.

Let’s say, for instance, that Jane wanted to buy a three-month, $10,000 Currency CD denominated in Mexican pesos (MXN). At a recent exchange rate, that would mean Jane would have 107,310 MXN in her possession. If the peso was absolutely stable, three months from now Jane would have 109,120 MXN, based on the CD’s 6.75 pc annualized interest rate. That's a profit of 1,810 MXN.

Now, in Mexico, 1,810 MXN is enough to buy a really, really nice dinner for four, including vino tinto y propina. But of course, the real question is whether the pesos would be worth as much or more as they were when Jane bought the CD. If they were (i.e., the dollar weakened) she’d be golden. If they’re not (i.e., the dollar strengthened), she’s in trouble – and hopefully not like all the investors in history whom the peso has burnt in a particularly wretched way.

However, let’s say the Mexican peso was remarkably stable, and there was no currency fluctuation at all. Jane would still have that 1,810 MXN/ US$168.75 profit. Sounds great, right? Well, yeah, but not as great as you might think. After all, remember the opportunity cost that went along with investing the money in the first place.

The same bank which offers the Currency CDs also offers standard CDs in U.S. dollars. These have absolutely no currency risk, and in addition, have about as little practical risk as one can get. Among these standard CDs is a three-month CD, and that recently paid an annualized 4.06 pc. On a quarterly basis, that would provide Jane with a payment of $101.50 in interest for each $10,000 she put into a certificate.

So let’s examine the two options. With the three-month standard CD, one would earn $101.50 in interest on a $10,000 certificate. With the three-month Currency CD in MXN, and assuming no valuation changes, one would earn $168.75 in interest on a $10,000 certificate, a difference of $67.25. That’s a difference of just over $20 per month.

For $20, I think it’d be a better bet to take the standard CD, just so one wouldn’t have the urge to constantly check the latest exchange rates, wonder about developing geopolitical trends, or what not.

However, there is one limited circumstance in which I could see one putting money into an extremely sound foreign currency via a Currency CD, and that’s as a hedge against general societal malaise or utter economic disaster. The idea would be that one could use the money to get through the trouble and then have some start-up cash for when things turned around. Still, in my mind that’s the type of thing only the rich ought consider, and even then, as a very minute portion of one’s portfolio. For the rest of us, there are better places to put our money.

As for Jane’s second question, she asks whether a weakened dollar would make a Currency CD more attractive. The short answer is no. That’s because it doesn’t matter where the dollar starts, only where it finishes. The dollar could weaken further against the currency in question, or it could strengthen. That expected future valuation should be the only driver in one’s thinking.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:39 AM | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

I Have Bronzed the Introductory E-Mail from Mr Kirk Elder

MR KIRK ELDER, whom Rant readers know as the writer behind such clever lines as "I was convinced I had stumbled into the departure lounge of Hell," and "the Sturmey-Archer gears have three settings: Agony, Inner Turmoil and Dropkick Me, Jesus, Through The Goalposts of Life," now has a blog.


At Mr Elder's blog, you can see plenty of new work several times a week from Mr Elder, such as: "Mr Sean Connery Must Ride In On A Milkfloat Of Human Kindness And Save Edinburgh's Beautiful Cameo Cinema." (Opening line: "I read in The Herald that Edinburgh's Cameo Cinema is to be sold, and its main auditorium transformed into a 'super-bar.' Oh, how the heart sinks.")

Speaking of, I was disappointed to read on Mr Elder's blog that "for many years a columnist on The Scotsman newspaper, he is currently 'in recovery' from the experience." This sounds, as we say in America, Not Extreme. I mean, the Kirk Elder column was the only reason I read that paper.

Anyway, go on over and have a look -- I think Mr Elder's blog may become a favorite for lots of folks.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:12 PM | TrackBack

Your Guide to Understanding the Midwest, Part II

DOES ANYONE KNOW where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

Your Guide to Understanding the Midwest, Part I

SIMON FROM JERSEY has, on his blog, reprinted a rather nice essay about how college students from the Great State of Michigan would change a light bulb. This easy comparison sheet, which is being forwarded around the Internet, will prove helpful to anyone hoping to learn more about the Rust Belt, particularly in regards to its internal jealousies and rivalries:

At MICHIGAN, it takes three students to change a light bulb: one to change it, and the other two to talk about how they did it every bit as good as an Ivy Leaguer.

At MICHIGAN STATE, it takes 2,000 students: one to change the bulb, and the other 1,999 to riot and set it on fire.

For the rest, visit Simon's excellent blog.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 AM | TrackBack

November 06, 2005

It is Autumn: the Season of Miracles

THAT LINE MAY have come from a General Motors commercial, but somehow, that makes it all the more fitting to describe this weekend's football. How did the Northwestern Wildcats manage that amazing comeback against the University of Iowa, and from whence came the wind that helped put the Cleveland Browns over the Tennessee Titans? How did the Kansas City Chiefs manage to score that game-winning touchdown as time ran out, a minute after the Oakland Raiders had scored a touchdown to take the lead?

And behold the miracle of all miracles -- the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Yes, even though Pittsburgh had Charlie Batch in as quarterback, Charlie Batch threw but one interception, and as such it was good enough. Besides, who would've thought Troy Polamalu would have run that Brett Favre fumble back 77 yards for a touchdown, oh my good God.

Oh, sure, the weekend wasn't perfect. The Detroit Lions, who are inept but lovable, lost again. It's not something one really feels bad about, of course, as the Lions haven't been playing up to par since 1957. Still, losing to the Minnesota Vikings isn't cool no matter what team you are, the Lions or the Hamilton TigerCats or the Loy Norrix High School Knights.

And no football weekend is complete without watching the iffy NFL coverage on ESPN. Perhaps it's the network's format, but they seem to have this obsession with individual players over teams that has always annoyed me. I was pleased to learn tonight that I was not the only one with this conviction.

As Dad back home put it, ESPN has been treating the Philadelphia Eagles' suspension of wide receiver Terrell Owens like it was the assassination of Lincoln. And this was before ESPN's Sunday night game even started (the game, in which the Eagles play the Washington Redskins, will go live in a few minutes). Dad and I agreed that "TO's" actions didn't seem to make sense: after all, Dad asked, what teams would sign him after all these shenanigans? (My response, that the Cowboys and Raiders would sign him, drew a grudging assent. Still, Dad argued -- and I agreed -- that all this silliness wouldn't help TO).

All this silliness does not help the Eagles out either, but after much thought, I do hope the Eagles win tonight against the evil Washington Redskins. I do not generally care for the Eagles, finding in them less of that grand American spirit which the Pittsburgh Steelers exemplify. But I can root for them tonight, if only because they seem to deserve a win after all they've been through. As General Motors said, it is autumn -- the season of miracles. And we shall see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 04, 2005

Uh oh, KO

DISTURBING NEWS from The Coca-Cola Co. today. While Diet Cherry Coke will be unaffected -- thank God -- reports the company is getting rid of its vanilla-flavored soft drinks. Coca-Cola's replacing them with some weird upstart beverages:

The Atlanta-based beverage giant said the simultaneous launch of Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke and Black Cherry Vanilla Coke is a first for Coca-Cola North America. "Cherry-flavored beverages are experiencing significant growth, as are no-calorie soft drinks," said Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Trademark, Coca-Cola North America. "Our innovative fusion of real cola, luscious black cherry, and smooth vanilla flavors creates a taste that is complex and delicious."

I hear they taste a bit like Dr. Pepper.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:48 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 03, 2005

Cor Blimey, That's Awful

TO BORROW FROM Mencken: "Thus Kevin Federline's album begins. God knows how it ends!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Charlie Batch to the Rescue!

OH CRIKEY. Charlie Batch will be Pittsburgh's starting quarterback on Sunday. The Charlie Batch who's thrown eight passes in four seasons, the Charlie Batch whose last quarterback rating was 68, the Charlie Batch who once played for the Lions. He's going to start the game in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger. Clearly, the Pittsburgh Steelers are ...

Well, maybe we're not doomed after all.

After all, Charlie Batch has lots of things going for him, such as the fact he's not Tommy Maddox. Plus, with practically no playing history in recent years, this fresh start will give him a chance to really impress folks. Also, the Green Bay Packers aren't exactly playing like Lombardi would have hoped.

All in all, that should mean victory this weekend at Lambeau Field. At least, I hope it will mean victory this weekend at Lambeau Field.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:05 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 01, 2005

Trampling Out the Vintage

SO TONIGHT I was going through The Rant's referral files and found, to my great annoyance, that Communist bandwidth thieves were siphoning off The Rant's precious bandwidth reserves. I couldn't believe it -- here I am, providing a free service to the general public and my loyal readership, and scoundrels are taking undue advantage of it.

Well, they're not taking advantage of it anymore. Heh. Dig how clever I was: I found the file to which the bandwidth thief had linked, and for just a few minutes, I pulled the "switcheroo" trick. For five minutes or so, this image was visible on the thief's site instead:

Yes, I do rule. I took the image down after a few minutes, just because I didn't want to make it too embarrassing, but I was greatly pleased with how it turned out. And should similar stunts happen in future, I'll be prepared.

The image, by the way, is Photoshopped -- the original is from that site with all the bad album covers. The photo is of the Rev. Robert White, from his album, "The Reverend in Rhythm." I don't think anyone knows what happened to Father Bob -- at least not on the Internet -- but there will at least be one kinda-cool mention for the guy.

Oh, and one last thing: please don't hotlink the anti-hotlinking image. That would be wrong.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:30 PM | TrackBack