February 27, 2006

It's Water Under the ... um ... er ...

PITY SHANNON PETERSON. The Denver condominium owner works as a special-education teacher, and as such has a work schedule that requires her to rise in the early morning, bathe and get ready for work, and so on. Unfortunately for Ms Peterson, her upstairs neighbors say the noise from the complex's plumbing is so bad that they can't sleep through her early-morning baths.

Clearly, the neighbors' best course of action was to file a civil suit against Ms Peterson.

Yes, according to the Denver Post, senior citizens Marvin and Goldie Smith have sued Ms Peterson in Denver District Court, charging her with "reckless and negligent use of her bathtub."

What? No, I'm not kidding you. That's what the Post's story said. It also said that Ms Peterson "can't believe she's being used for bathing before leaving for work."

And the Post's story continues:


"I've done everything I can think of to work this out," she said. "I've had maintenance men remove all my tile and insulate the pipes. I've had sound engineers measure my unit and others in the building. Nothing's abnormal. Even the homeowners' board investigated and told the Smiths they should install sound barriers in their unit."

So the Smiths called their son, Sheldon, a partner in the Holland and Hart law firm. He sent a letter, threatening Peterson that her "intransigence ... and tortuous conduct have resulted in incredible sleep deprivation for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Your obstinacy has ruled the day. That will now cease."

He then ordered Peterson to stop running water in her bathtub before 8 a.m. But the homeowners' association stepped into the fray and wrote Smith a letter that his request didn't comply with the building's rules.

Contacted by telephone, Sheldon Smith said Peterson "refuses to cooperate. She complains about everything."


I don't know about you, but I'd complain like there was no tomorrow if my neighbors slapped me with a civil suit because I was practicing proper hygiene. I mean, God Almighty -- where does one begin?

Well, here's the obvious first question. Consider: the elder Smiths filed a civil suit against their downstairs neighbor because of bad plumbing, even though said neighbor had arguably done far more than she was legally and morally required to do in trying to fix the problem. Further, it was a problem that was not even arguably hers. Given all this, was anyone surprised to learn the Smiths' son was a lawyer? Anyone?

I jest, of course. Still, this has to be one of those cases that makes attorneys everywhere groan over their morning coffees. Yeah, I know the story merely discusses a filing and not a result, and I know the story doesn't provide links to all the paperwork. That said, all that can't take away from the fact that a practicing lawyer, certified to appear in a professional capacity before a court of law, accepted this case and sued a person because of that person's alleged "reckless and negligent use of her bathtub."

And in the unlikely event the suit itself hasn't caused you to groan, the quote from the cease-and-desist letter certainly ought. Let's look at those lines again:

"(Your) intransigence ... and tortuous conduct have resulted in incredible sleep deprivation for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Your obstinacy has ruled the day. That will now cease."

Eh? What the hell does that mean? Don't the second and third sentences contradict each other? What kind of cease-and-desist letter is this?

I mean, wouldn't the silky-smooth/iron-fist-velvet-glove idea (Approved Legal Tactic 17A) have worked a heck of a lot better in this situation? You know, something to the effect of, "We would consider it most unfortunate if we had to pursue legal action to obtain a satisfactory remedy for our long-suffering clients. We trust you'll take appropriate steps to make such action on our part unnecessary."

I agree, it also might not have worked, but at least it wouldn't have left the recipient dreaming about ways to injunct the letter into the sending attorney's alimentary canal. Ordering a private citizen to not take baths in one's own home until a certain hour would cause anyone to become annoyed -- and in this case, so annoyed that the recipient freely spoke with a reporter, whose story then became national news. I would imagine that such a result was not what Counselor Smith was anticipating when he first sent his note.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:29 PM | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

An Extraordinarily Busy Week

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- I have to apologize for going AWOL the past week, especially after getting kudos from readers for resuming a more regular posting schedule. But your correspondent has been quite busy, and so much so that he has earned himself a dateline.

This past weekend, I went on a trip to the nation's capital, where I was attending a conference in the Maryland suburbs. It was a great time and I had a lot of fun, especially because I was able to see my old friend Lee and his wife Giulietta, and their four-month-old son. That was really nice, since I hadn't seen them in more than a year.

Since I've returned, things have been busy with work, life and everything else. That's made it difficult to keep on a regular posting schedule, but I should post more frequently as things get back to normal. In the meantime, though, thanks as always for reading!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of High School

AS IT TURNED OUT, I didn’t really enjoy any lazy hazy crazy days in life until I went out to Los Angeles in my early twenties. Still, high school was a memorable and fun time for me: so memorable and fun, in fact, that I’ve only mentioned my high school once by name here on The Rant. Furthermore, I only mentioned it while comparing it to the Detroit Lions, thus underscoring the fondness with which I remember it.

Heh. I'm going to have fun with this one.

With that, I’ll kick off my version of the “High School Meme Post” which has started making its way around the Internet. I first saw the meme at Sheila's site. In my version, though, I did invert the order of the final two questions because I thought it worked better with my post.

Anyway, here goes.

1. Where did you graduate from and what year?

I graduated from this school, which I shall not name, in 1994. I’m not mentioning the name of the school for one reason: I want all my readers to go visit its Web site. Go on, take a minute, and look at it. Look how badly it sucks.

I mean, come on. It’s straight out of ’96. Furthermore, I don’t think the Web site is a good introduction to a school which says it’s working to “ensure that each student graduates with the academic and social skills necessary to participate fully and responsibly as a life-long learner in a global and changing society.”

Then again, maybe it is a good introduction. According to the staff directory posted at the Web site, my high school now has something called a “Student Responsibility Center.” I have no idea what that is, but I suspect it was formerly known as the “Internal Suspension Classroom.” In any event, it might be a good idea to have the troublemaking kids “Do Something Productive” like updating the school Web site, because “Complete Economic Obsolesence” would suck something fierce.

2. Did you have school pride?

Who wrote this survey? Mary Lou Retton?

3. Was your prom a night to remember?

I didn’t attend my high school prom. I had no interest in attending. I mean, think about it: I’m supposed to spend all night at a school-sponsored event, with the people I didn’t like in high school, listening to bad music and drinking fruit punch? Come on. Besides, I was a nerd in high school. I didn’t do anything wild until later.

4. Do you own all four yearbooks?

I own the yearbook from my senior year, provided that “storing the yearbook at my folks’ house in suburban Cleveland” is equivalent to “ownership.”

5. What was the worst trouble you ever got into?

You read the answer to question number three, right? I wouldn’t have known how to get into trouble if I tried. Of course, there was that one time when I was racing Simon From Jersey (who was then Not From Jersey) down Westnedge Avenue, and I got pulled over by the police, but was released with a verbal warning. (If the kids tried a stunt like that today, they’d be taking the bus until they were 24).

6. What kind of people did you hang out with?

It was an eclectic and cool group of people. I liked them.

7. What was your number one choice of college in high school?

I wanted to go to Michigan. As it turned out, that’s where I went.

8. What radio station did you rock out to?

The only radio station I remember from back in the day was WKFR-FM. For the most part, I think I listened to tapes or CDs – I wasn’t much of a radio listener. Looking at WKFR-FM’s Web site, which also blows chunks, I still wouldn’t be much of a radio listener.

9. Were you involved in any organizations or clubs?

For a short while – like three weeks – I was involved with the intramural bowling squad. Hey, you laugh, but in Kalamazoo, Mich., bowling was serious business.

10. What were your favorite classes in high school?

History and English. As such, it made perfect sense for me to spend half my day at a magnet school specializing in math and science.

11. Who was your big crush in high school?

As readers of The Rant know, I make a point of not discussing my love life on the Internet. I mean, my parents read this. My friends read this. My coworkers read this. Most importantly, I’ve found that potential dates may read this, and the last thing I need is to get in trouble with 150 million American women, all of whom share notes.

However, I did have a big crush on this one girl all throughout high school. This came to an end when I asked her out to dinner and a movie, and she laughed at me. Then she asked me whether I was joking. Then, she asked if a friend of mine, whom she had broken up with prior to my asking, had put me up to the stunt. Then, she ripped out my heart with her bare hands and flung it about like a volleyball before stomping on it repeatedly and roasting it on a spit.

No, wait. That last bit was just part of the dramatization. Still, the experience was most certainly not fun.

12. Would you say you've changed a lot since high school?

Yes. In high school, I was only a pale half-formed shadow of who I am today. ("He's more machine now than man, twisted and evil.")

13. What do you miss the most about it?

I miss most that feeling of having graduated. You know, the feeling of having one door close and another door open, of having one chapter come to an end and having another one begin. The feeling of unlimited possibility with absolutely no responsibilities ---

Oh wait. That was college. Never mind.

14. Your worst memory of high school?

Scroll back up to Item 11.

15. Did you have a car?

Yes – I – did. My first car, which I received when I was 17 and a half years old, was a 1987 Mercury Sable. This car taught me the value of patience, especially when I drove it home from college for Thanksgiving with a broken radiator fan, a broken heating system, and a broken defrost system.

16. What were your school colors?

Blue and white. Yes, our school colors were lame-o.

17. Who were your favorite teachers?

Actually, my favorite teacher was probably Mr Burch. Primarily because we spent an entire semester during his senior year English class studying Don Quixote – and with good reason, because Cervantes rules (and is better than Shakespeare by a long shot). Also, Mr Burch told me to write every day, which I started doing and enjoyed.

18. Did you own a cell phone in high school?

When I was in high school, we didn’t have cell phones at all, much less cell phones with fancy-schmancy ring tones and digital cameras and anytime minutes. Oh no. Only responsible well-paid adults had cell phones.

The best people my age could do was to have something called a “beeper.” People would call this “beeper” and enter their telephone numbers, and the “beeper” would “beep.” This gave the wearer a certain cachet, and made him seem important.

I don't know who wrote this quiz, but given that question, I have a feeling they'd be surprised to learn that people once wore actual wall clocks -- yes, on their persons -- as a fashion statement. No, really. It's true. Stop laughing.

19. Did you leave campus for lunch?

Yes! One of the little perks of attending the magnet school in town for a half-day. Another little perk: no gym class.

20. If so, where was your favorite place to go eat?

Taco Bell. I remember that you could order lunch for under $4. Actually, now that I think about it, you can still order lunch for under $4.

21. Were you always late to class?

No. This was because my high school, in one of its periodic fits of discipline, mandated that students who were late to class would be caught up in a dragnet and detained for the period in an unpleasant study hall type of thing.

Also, I was always lucky when it came to class scheduling. This could pose a challenge at my high school, which may be one of the worst surviving examples of post-war architecture in the United States. For one thing, the two school buildings seemed entirely made out of glass, cinder blocks and uremic-colored bricks. For another, it was a spread-out campus, with lots of separate wings and pathways. So, conceivably, someone could have a class in the B wing and then, in five minutes, have to somehow make it all the way to the J wing.

Making matters worse, there was no order to the wings at all – new students could easily get lost looking for the D wing, which if I recall right was under the K wing, or end up exiled in the M wing, which was creepy.

22. Did you ever have to stay for Saturday School?

No. Also, I don’t like this quiz. It makes me feel old.

23. Did you ever ditch?

Yes. Actually, during my senior year, I’m amazed that the attendance people at my high school didn’t send home a nastygram, since I made a regular habit of skipping my morning classes. I mean, I didn’t see any need to go to typing class when I was already typing fifty-some words per minute. I also didn’t see any need to attend Spanish class, which wasn’t the best-taught course I had.

24. What kind of job did you have?

I was a grill cook at a McDonald’s restaurant. I could write a book about this experience, but now that I’m older, I find that this job makes me very sympathetic (in most cases) to present-day fast-food workers. However, I have been annoyed when I’ve had special requests denied that I know, or believe I know, can actually be fulfilled.

25. Do you wish you were still in high school?

That’s like asking a dog if he’d still like to be in his cage.

26. When it comes time for the reunion, will you be there?

If by “there,” you mean “relaxing on St. Kitts,” then yes.

Although, I do wonder: maybe I should someday go back for one of my high school reunions. I mean, it'd be interesting to see how everyone turned out, and I'm sure there are acquaintances I had that would be neat to catch up with again. (I already keep in touch well with my best friend from high school, Simon From Jersey).

Besides, remember that Enterprise Rent-a-Car commercial that had the chubsy guy from the Capital One commercials in it? You know, the one where he looks in the mirror and says hesitantly, "Class of '94, here I come," but all turns out well when he arrives in a Cadillac? And he picks up not one but two hot girls, who applaud him for his style and clear financial acumen?

Well, we'll see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love

Oh No!
It’s Yet Another Installment of …

An occasional Rant feature

AH, VALENTINE’S DAY. For many, it’s a day of sweet romance; a day on which couples can express their love, devotion and fidelity, or at the very least have at it like rabbits in heat. For others, Valentine’s Day is a sad and embittered time; a day on which bad memories surface and past regrets are drowned in oceans of drink.

Then, there are the people who are simply clueless. Many of these arrive at The Rant through search engines. Their queries reflect myriad emotions: romantic haplessness, hidden fury, and desperate secrets.

Some undoubtedly had a deer-in-the-headlights look about them when they fired up Yahoo! or Google, and perhaps at this writing, they are bumbling through the flowers section at the supermarket, hoping their hastily-bought bouquets of yellow or orange roses will do the trick. Some undoubtedly had figured out their beloved had bought them a blender for their special day. Others, perhaps, were scared out of their wits, praying they wouldn’t say the wrong things over dinner.

Fortunately, though, we’re solutions providers here at The Rant, and our business is providing solutions, particularly to search-engine queries. So without further ado, here’s a special Valentine’s Day edition of “Your Search Engine Queries Answered” – for all of you who were riding high in April, but shot down in May.

QUERY: things not to say on your valentine s date...

ANSWER: Well, there are a variety of things a man ought not say on one's valentine's date. However, thanks to modern technology, computers can now figure out the things one especially ought not say on one's date. Here's a list of the worst sayings:

5. "I can't believe you ordered the salad and the lobster. Am I made of money?"
4. "I haven't seen a dress like that since Murray threw up on Kay back in '78."
3. "I like these fancy places with the napkin dispensers."
2. "Honey! Look! The bed's got Magic Fingers(TM)!"
1. "Oh, don't worry, the doctor said that cleared up."

QUERY: woman kills man

ANSWER: That's because he got her a new crock pot for Valentine's Day. How many times must it be said? DO NOT BUY APPLIANCES FOR VALENTINE'S DAY.

QUERY: woman kills man with high heel shoe

ANSWER: That's because he got her a new vacuum cleaner.

QUERY: she said shed like to score some reefer and a 40 she ll know that i m the best that she ll never have lyrics

ANSWER: I don't know about you, but it would disturb me somewhat if I was bluntly told my heart's desire wished for some reefer and a really large bottle of beer, malt liquor or other fortified beverage. Mostly because I'd prefer my significant other not drink Boone's Farm or anything that routinely has "fortified" applied as an adjective.

QUERY: narcissist boss attracted to subordinate

ANSWER: I suppose you should file a complaint with your human resources office, as that type of behavior really isn't tolerated any more. Unless, of course, you're already in the human resources department, in which case I don't know what you do. It's not like HR departments can forward their complaints to the Internal Affairs Bureau and let them deal with it.

QUERY: i hate paris hilton jessica britney americans greedy middle class sex no talent

ANSWER: BING BING BING BING BING! We've got another loyal Rant reader!

QUERY: why people wears sexual clothes

ANSWER: People wear sexually-revealing clothes because they want to go where the people dance. They want some action, and to both give action and get some too. Also, they love the nightlife, and want to boogie on the disco 'round, oh yeah.

QUERY: lumber yard nudists

ANSWER: There can't be a worse place for a nudist than a lumber yard. There just can't.

QUERY: public display of affection on a first date

ANSWER: I am not a big fan of public displays of affection, simply because I don't think they're very polite to others. Holding hands is fine; a hug or a kiss is fine, but anything more is a bit much. In private, on the other hand ...

QUERY: jesus is coming for dinner

ANSWER: Well, for Pete's sake, make sure to serve white wine with the main course. If you serve red wine, He's going to think you're serving it because He's Jesus. Also, before you start getting airs about having Christ over for supper, remember that He made a point about dining with folks who have serious frickin' issues.

QUERY: me and my neighbor s wife

ANSWER: Maybe Jesus should have dinner with *you*, because you've broken Commandments Six and Nine right from the get-go. Gad.

QUERY: valentine s day after an affair

ANSWER: Geez. I don't know how to answer that one.

QUERY: nice sweet reasonable love quotes about moving on

ANSWER: There aren't any. Besides, be honest with the poor sap and tell him why things just didn't work out. In the end, it'll be easier for all concerned.

QUERY: all fair in love and business

ANSWER: Dude, this is the United States of America, not Hong Kong. Being unfair in business will get you in serious trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Being unfair in love will get you in serious trouble with 150 million American women. Either way, honesty and fair play are the best policies.

QUERY: catholicism comparison to wiccanism

ANSWER: I'd answer this but I'd get in trouble.

QUERY: i burn i pine i parish

ANSWER: I'd answer this but I'd really get in trouble.

QUERY: valentine s day investing quote

ANSWER: Money can't buy you love. It can, however, buy you a really sweet car which will upstage your neighbors and make you the envy of the block.

QUERY: decent diamond size for engagement ring

ANSWER: As I understand it, a one-carat diamond engagement ring is accepted as the industry standard. This will cost you several thousand dollars, but I have no doubt that it's very much worth it.

QUERY: valentine s day and consumerism

ANSWER: Certainly, Valentine's Day is laden with consumerist sentiment, something which may dismay some folks. However, I view it like this: there are a few days in the year in which it makes sense to spend lots of money, and Valentine's Day seems like one of them. So I don't see any problems with spending lots of cash on Valentine's Day, provided you're still being smart with your money.

QUERY: valentine card with doing sex pose.

ANSWER: Meet John Smith. A schlub, a yutz, a loser: a man who spent the night on the sofa, all thanks to a pathetic Valentine's Day card he saw in the discount bin at the novelty store. Little does John know, though, that the next morning, he'll awake in The Twilight Zone.

Well, that's it for this edition of "Your Search Engine Queries Answered!" Tune in next time when Benjamin Kepple confronts disturbing queries about tax issues, fiscal concerns and God knows what else.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 13, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but I certainly wish I had some of these for Valentine's Day. Considering that they'd help me deal with the anguish of my wretched and miserable existence, and wouldn't have any unfortunate side effects.

OK, so my existence isn't wretched and miserable. I'll still take the "dejected" box, though, for what will undoubtedly be obvious reasons :-D.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:31 PM | TrackBack

Live Long, and Pay Me the Money You Owe Me

THERE’S A really cool story in The New York Times today regarding prosper.com, a San Francisco-based service which acts as a clearinghouse for individual lenders and borrowers. The Times describes the service as “like lending to a friend, except you’ll get interest.”

Personally, I think that analogy only makes sense if you’re Bert Gordon in “The Hustler” and you’re lending to your friend Eddie Felson. The rates at which people on the site are willing to borrow seem downright amazing when taken alone: 9 pc to 12 pc looks about average, and there are several requests to borrow at 15 pc or higher.

Still, when one puts it in perspective, even a loan at 15 pc is made on better terms than one would get through a traditional credit card. And why the hell should the credit card companies have a monopoly on squeezing people for every cent they’ve got allowing people to fulfill their dreams?

From the Times:

"We looked at eBay and said, 'Why can't we do this for money?' " said Chris Larsen, Prosper's chief executive.

Mr. Larsen, who founded and led E-Loan, an online lender that was bought last year for $300 million by Popular Inc., says Prosper could save borrowers and lenders money because it was a leaner operation than traditional financial institutions. He noted that consumers make, at most, about 4 percent on their savings accounts, which banks then lend to credit card customers at 14 percent or more.

"That's just a huge spread," Mr. Larsen said. "We think if you allow people to participate directly, it's a more efficient marketplace. People can make a better return on their deposits, which then become the source of credit to others."

Prosper has an incredibly innovative idea here, and it certainly seems like it could work. It gives its lenders lots of neat tools, such as being able to sort potential borrowers by credit rating, reducing risk through making multiple loans in small amounts, and judging for oneself whether the borrower is credit worthy. Plus, the potential returns are impressive.

Of course, there’s a reason the potential returns are better: there’s more risk involved. For this whole shebang to work, Prosper’s lenders have to be willing to shoulder the risk of making unsecured personal loans to borrowers, and perhaps borrowers with less-than-perfect credit. Plus, even though the site has safeguards to help prevent defaults – such as the satisfaction of knowing your wayword debtor will get bugged by a collection agency until he pays up – a default is still a default. So the risk of losing money here seems quite real.

Still, it’s a fascinating site to check out, if only because it’s neat to see how the site’s mini-market is working. For instance, one man consolidating his credit card debt has nearly reached his goal of borrowing $10,000 at 9 pc. Another person, also consolidating debt, is nearly halfway to getting a $2,500 loan at 12 pc. Meanwhile, the guy who wants to borrow $14,000 at 1 pc per year has gotten no takers at all. It just goes to show that even on the Internet, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:13 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Every Man a Speculator Dept.

OVER HERE on the East Coast, there's no better way to get people animated and excited than starting a conversation about the housing market. That's why Zillow.com, the all-new property-data aggregator, will soon be the next big thing.

Zillow is a free on-line real-estate appraisal system, with more than 60 million properties in the United States listed. It lets you see how much your house is worth at any given time. But why stop there? See how much your neighbors' houses are worth! See what your coworkers' homes are worth! Track your home's value on a weekly basis if you want! Snicker as your home appreciates in value compared to the home of the guy who was such a bore at that dinner party last week!

Heck, the site even gets me interested, and I don't even own a home. In fact, I don't even make full use of the room in my two-bedroom apartment. But that's testament to Zillow's allure.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:23 AM | TrackBack

Where Have Harvey Danger Gone?

I WAS listening to Harvey Danger's album ("Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?") as I blogged this morning and the question popped into my mind. As it turned out, they're right over here. Who knew?

Harvey Danger's big 1998 hit, "Flagpole Sitta," has some of the best sarcastic ranty lyrics ever written in the late Nineties, at least I think so. I mean, dig these:

Been around the world and found
that only stupid people are breeding;
the cretins cloning and feeding;
and I don't even own a TV!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:00 AM | TrackBack

If You Can't Afford the Tip, Don't Eat at the Restaurant

RECENTLY, The Boston Globe had a fascinating story looking at how homeowners ensconsed in massive newly-built homes decorated their dwellings. The newspaper found that not only did many "McMansion" owners underuse rooms in their cavernous residences, some actually had trouble properly decorating their homes.

Here's the money graf from the Globe's story*:

It's fair to say that the average family with a new oversize home doesn't have what it needs to fill it up. ''It's hard to stretch the modest furnishings you brought from your 1,500-square-foot Boston brownstone into 10,000 square feet," says Needham interior decorator (Sheri) Edsall, who has done work for several clients with huge homes. ''What usually happens is they space their furniture out -- a piece in this room, a piece in that room -- and then they run out of furniture. And they're cash poor. Almost everyone ends up with one or two rooms that are unfinished. They have tumbleweeds rolling through them. The kids end up riding their bikes in them."

There are a few amusing anecdotes sprinkled throughout the Globe's story, such as the homeowner who admits that the new home her family has moved into is "way over our heads." Another homeowner has a room simply called "the bonus room" in her family's 13-room manse: it has a pool table in it and not much else, except perhaps a repository of bad luck. But my favorite anecdote from the story is as follows:

Mary Beth Orfao calls one of the 16 rooms in her elegant 11,000-square-foot custom-designed manse in Concord ''the family library corner." (There's also a living room, family room, guest suite, ''husband's retreat," ''Costco room" for storing groceries, crafts room, personal gym, and room designated for the family dog, Carmela, with a dog shower, dog wallpaper, and a heated slate floor.) The library corner has custom cherry cabinetry, a reading chair, and a desk. ''My husband uses the room, and the kids get tutored here," she says.

Isn't that an amazing paragraph? I think so. It reeks of both upper-middle-class pretension and upper-class parvenudom. I mean, come on: a family library corner? Why not just call it a library? Maybe there aren't enough books. Along those lines, why not call the "husband's retreat" an office or a study? Somehow, I can't imagine the man casually saying, "Darling, I'll be in the husband's retreat until brunch." Yet strangely, the home with the "husband's retreat" also has a "Costco room." Not a pantry or storage room -- a "Costco room."

This statistic is also worth noting:

Number of rooms for domestic servants mentioned in story: 0
Number of rooms for dogs mentioned in story: 1

I realize that it is extremely expensive to have live-in staff, and household tasks are often outsourced these days (a search for "domestic help" on Google retrieves 681,000 hits). Plus, it could be a matter of taste. Still, though, it seems strange one would have 16 rooms, 11,000 square feet and an entire room made over for a dog -- yet no mention of any space set aside for potential workers.

A lot about this story seems strange, really, to the point where it raises alarm bells in the back of my head. If we go back to the first quote from Edsall, the interior decorator, it seems that lots of people have too much house and not enough money to properly enjoy it. Not so much people like the Orfaos, who clearly have money, but the cash-poor folks Edsall mentions. The latter group seems to have forgotten the old maxim that if one can't afford the tip, one ought not eat at the restaurant.

Why is that a worry? Well, what the devil happens if the economy goes south again, or interest rates keep rising, or some localized real-estate bubble goes pop? If a considerable number of people are having trouble furnishing their homes, it stands to reason that with a few bad life events, they could feasibly someday have trouble paying their mortgages. Should the dynamics in the housing market change, it could have an impact on consumer spending and other fuels which keep the national economic engine running. And if that sputters, God help us all.

* registration required, the bastards.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:46 AM | TrackBack

February 08, 2006

Cringing at Senescence

BACK IN THE DAY, Matt Groening drew a clever cartoon in which a young boy grew older and older with each panel. The young boy kept waiting for something to happen, only to suddenly reach adulthood with the thought, “What happened?”

Well, now that I’ve turned 30 years old – God help me – I’m thinking along much the same lines. What the hell happened?

I’m not just saying that because I had a fun time at the surprise gathering my friends arranged at the Strange Brew Tavern, either. I mean, here it is I’m 30, and for the first time in my life I feel as if the open door which existed for certain things might be starting to inch shut.

For instance: at the Strange Brew earlier this week, my friends, being clever and knowledgeable about matters of love, advised me that telling women it was my birthday would be an amazingly successful pick up line. I demurred at this suggestion. Why, you ask? Well, what’s the attribute associated with one’s birthday? One’s age.

I don’t know about you, but having to mention the big three-oh seemed about as sexy as giving one’s beloved an electric mixer for Valentine’s Day. I mean, really. It seems to me that change on the odometer has suddenly deducted key viability points from my profile. Prospective fathers-in-law will prove even more skeptical; prospective girlfriends will face more questions from their friends about that old guy they met.

But then again, maybe not.

After all, now that I’m 30, I’m older but also wiser, giving my traditional outlook on life a memorable and refined touch. This should work wonders for me on the dating scene, especially when my competitors in the market keep mentioning their new pickup trucks. Plus, I have all sorts of great paper attributes (good job! good degree! saving for retirement!) that will now mean even more to offset the slight negatives (unhealthy interest in economic history, occasional instances of maddening doltishness, love handles) that I admittedly possess. Also, I’m smart and funny, and like traveling and long walks.

Did I mention I’m 6’4”? No, really!

But anyhoo. Any lingering doubts I’ve had about turning 30 are tempered with the knowledge that at the age of 30, I have it materially better than any of my ancestors did. For instance, when my father was my age, he had to deal with recession and stagflation and wondering whether he could buy gasoline. When my father’s father was my age, America was still dealing with the Great Depression, and the Nazis had invaded western Europe. And when my father’s grandfather was my age … well, it was 1913, which meant all sorts of future bad things were about ready to happen: income taxes and World War I and Spanish flu and Prohibition. That’s a truly grim turn of events, if one thinks about it. Not only would my great-grandfather have had all that weighing on his mind while working for the coal company, his only legal remedy at hand for dealing with it was a strawberry milkshake.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

A Notice to People Who Advise of "Must Read" Material

THIS EVENING, I was surprised but pleased to find that a commenter had quickly left a comment on my post lauding the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory in the Super Bowl. My happiness turned to dismay, however, upon finding that said commenter had merely advised about a "must read" story about terror suspect Zacarias Moussasoui.

Much to my annoyance, I found the Moussasoui story had no mention of football at all. Instead, Moussasoui was causing trouble in court again, similar to how he has caused trouble in the past. As such, this certainly does not qualify for inclusion in a post about the Super Bowl and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In future, The Rant would ask that "must read" stories be sent via e-mail to the address listed in the left-hand column. The Rant would further ask that readers refrain from bogarting the comment threads.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:35 PM | TrackBack

Let the Gloating Begin

So who's sad now, Mr Stevens? Hmmmmm?

IT'S TOUGH being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan in New England. For one thing, being here during football season usually means a weekly diet of watching the New England Patriots beat up some hapless opponent. For another, when Pittsburgh games are actually broadcast here, they usually involve the New England Patriots beating the Steelers.

But the real reason it's tough is because, when the Steelers finally do win a Super Bowl after 25 years, everyone in New England is pleasant and gracious. It's "the Steelers deserved it" this, and "I was thinking of you during the game" that, plus a hearty congratulations from all concerned. I mean, it's been a constant wishing of good will and cheer.

What's that? Yes, I know it was nice and considerate. That's the problem! How can I gloat over the Steelers' grand and glorious victory when everyone I know is so happy for me and well-adjusted about it?

That's why I'm turning to the Internet. You see, on the Internet, there are plenty of sports fans out there furious about the Steelers' victory.

I know this because sports-talk radio stations make vast sums of money each year. You see, I figure that if sports-talk radio listeners will spend hours listening to angry middle-aged couch potatoes scream about the New York Yankees, there must be at least a few sports fans who a) are similarly fixated on the Steelers' victory and b) have Internet access. So to you, my fanatic Steeler-hating sports-talk radio listening audience, I say: "Ooooooooooooooh. If you listen closely, you can hear the world's smallest violin playing for you right now!"

Of course, I should note that the Seattle Seahawks played pretty well in comparison to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, even if the Seahawks struggled with concepts like "basic time management," "kicking the ball through the uprights" and "catching the ball on key plays." Speaking of which, I have a call for Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens. A call for Mr Stevens -- ah, there you are. It's your Mom on the phone. She says you suck!

Notice how I cleverly waited until after the game to talk smack about the Super Bowl, and not before! This prevents me, unlike Mr Stevens, from having to go through any embarrassing backpedaling after the game -- the game in which the winning quarterback was Ben Roethlisberger, and not Matt Hasselbeck or Peyton Manning.

Heh. Peyton Manning. I hate Peyton Manning.

I have hated Peyton Manning ever since I was in college and the controversy over the Heisman Trophy in 1997. (Michigan's Charles Woodson, one of the best defensive players ever in college football, won the award; Mr Manning was second, and his backers hated that).

Now that Mr Manning plays for the Colts, I've taken great joy in watching him get in trouble, such as when Steelers OLB Joey Porter "signed Peyton's melon" on two consecutive plays during the AFC Divisional Championship. Yeah. God, that ruled.

Of course, after that game, Mr Manning had the gall to essentially say that his offensive linesmen hadn't done their jobs, which was classless and gauche and prima facie evidence that he can't win when it counts. Quite frankly, Peyton, it's not your offensive line's fault that you run around panicking whenever a pass rusher gets within three yards. And it's not your offensive line's fault that the Colts lost and you went home and didn't make it again to the Super Bowl, which this year the Steelers won. Also, you only won 13 games in a row because you're in a division with Houston and Tennessee, so there.


God, that felt good. For weeks upon weeks I've been keeping all that pent-up energy inside. I didn't want to gloat about beating the Colts and then have the Steelers get crushed in the following week of the playoffs, and I especially didn't want to gloat in the event we lost to Seattle. As I know full well, it's no fun to eat crow.

But putting the gloating aside -- it was all meant with good cheer and humor, I assure you -- I have to say just how proud I am to be a Steelers fan. Watching my team win the Super Bowl was an amazing experience.

It was a great feeling to see Pittsburgh's reputation restored: not simply as a first-class football team, but a team which other squads must conquer to bridge the gap between being good and being great. For this, I must thank the Steelers' hard-working players, and Coach Cowher, and especially the owner, Mr Rooney, who hoisted the trophy on Sunday night. Thank you for a season to remember.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:32 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 01, 2006

America is the Greatest Nation Ever

WHY, YOU ASK? Well, one could mention the Constitution and the whole "rule of law" and "personal freedom" stuff, but there's also the fact that in America, people can go into a restaurant and order a 100-patty hamburger -- with cheese! And not only will the restaurant staff be happy to make up the order, they'll help celebrate when a party of eight somehow manages to finishes the behemoth.

It should be noted the burger in question is an In-n-Out Burger 100x100, which is essentially a "double-double with cheese," except with 98 extra meat patties and 98 extra slices of cheese.

I have no idea how these eight people managed to eat the thing.

I mean, come on -- just one double-double makes a meal, and two will be filling for anyone except a professional football player. Yet some in the party of eight ate the equivalent of TEN double-doubles. They ate the undercooked patties at the very end. Hell, they apparently even got fries, according to the photos.

And how did the store handle this, you might ask? They went to work making that $97.66 burger, set about creating a storage mechanism for the three-foot high construct, and in short, made it happen. It's that type of dedication to capitalism and the free market which makes America great, competitive, and prosperous.

(via Capitalist Lion)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack