May 30, 2006

Du, Du Machst Mir Viel Schmertzen ...

TRULY IT IS AN IRONY OF IRONIES. In just nine days or so, the 2006 World Cup will get underway in Germany, and those fortunate few who shall watch the matches live will be forced to drink beer from the one nation on Earth where soccer is an afterthought. Furthermore, the beer in question is not even a decent American beer (such as Samuel Adams) but Budweiser -- that fizzy, lighter-than-light, cheap imitation of beer.

You see, Bud is the Official Beer Sponsor of the 2006 FIFA World Cup -- as it is for the 2010 and 2014 contests -- and as such it will pretty much be the ONLY beer on tap. (Under a cooperation agreement, Bitburger will also be available, but you'll probably have to ask).

I have to admit I find this state of affairs downright horrifying, yet at the same time, I find it extremely funny. I mean, not even the Germans deserve to have Bud forced upon them, especially during an event which for many is practically of religious significance. On the other hand, every time I think about this, it makes me want to go into hysterics ("THAT'LL teach 'em to side with the French!").

Perhaps this is my part-German sense of humor at work.

What an indignity it must be for them, though! God! There perhaps aren't many good comparisons for us here, but imagine if your favorite pizza restaurant had its entire stock replaced with those cheese-laden monstrosities from Pizza Hut. Or if all the Mexican restaurants in California were replaced with Taco Bells. Furthermore, imagine that you were looking forward to having those things at the Super Bowl, but then learned you couldn't. You, being rational, would be really angry.

The Germans are really angry too -- well, at the very least, they're rather upset, as you can see on certain Web sites (klicken on the "Gallery" link to see what I mean). Even politicians are getting into the act. Franz Maget, head of the Bavarian Social Democratic Party, in condemning Bud's being on tap, has even gone so far as to say, "We have a duty to public welfare and must not poison visitors to World Cup venues."
Chairman Maget also called Bud "the worst beer in the world."

I do not wish to quibble much with Chairman Maget's characterization, but I don't think calling Bud the worst beer in the world is entirely accurate. After all, the Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. makes roughly thirty beers, beer-related drinks and beverages that kinda-sorta relate to beer.

These include something called "B^E", which the firm describes as a "great mixture of beer and unique flavors" which one drinks "straight up, on the rocks or mixed; and "TILT," a "berry-flavored malt beverage with caffeine, guarana, ginseng and a bright-orange color." Last but not least, though, one must mention that Anheuser-Busch is the company behind "Natty UP," a product described as "caffeinated beer with real beer taste ... not sweet."

"Natty UP. party down," Anheuser-Busch advises.

Clearly, among this stellar line of beers and beer products, Bud is like a bottle of Dom Perignon placed carelessly next to the Franzia display. (Dear Moet et Chandon: please forgive this analogy). But then, comparing Bud itself to Dom Perignon would be like comparing a newt to Erasmus. Now, the gulf might not be as wide in that equation if one replaced Dom Perignon with a quality German beer. But it would still be so wide that any attempt to cross it would remain ludicrous.

In such a situation, one almost pities Anheuser-Busch. Why, no less than The Nation magazine has written sympathetically about the treacherous spot in which the brewer finds itself. (Strangely, the magazine's writer argues the brewery's steps to create heavier beers are a mistake). However, the key word there is "almost." It's hard to pity folks so far behind the curve -- even if one would take no joy should they, in nine days, commit the marketing world's equivalent of an own goal.

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May 28, 2006

60 Percent of the Time, It's Appalling Every Time!

IF DONE CORRECTLY, the application of a permanent tattoo onto the human form can be an aesthetically-pleasing sight, or at the very least a good conversation starter. Sadly, however, the vast majority of people fail to properly plan out their body art, a state of affairs which generally results in situations that are extremely unfortunate.

The most common of these situations results when a foolish white person, often under the influence of alcohol, directs the tattoo artist to ink him or her with characters from a foreign tongue, viz. and to wit:

INQUISITIVE MAN: Say! Nice tattoo! What do the characters mean?
TATTOOED MAN: They mean "strength and honor!"
CHINESE MAN: Actually, they say, "A thousand years' health to His Excellency President Hu Jintao."
TATTOOED MAN: Eh -- what?
INQUISITIVE MAN (to TATTOOED MAN): What are you, some kind of Communist?
TATTOOED MAN: I am not a Communist!
CHINESE MAN: Oh, don't worry, man. Believe me, I've seen worse.

This problem is so widespread, in fact, that there are entire blogs devoted to it, to say nothing of actual news stories. They also make for interesting individual entries on blogs. However, such unfortunate cultural misunderstandings pale next to the pictoral monstrosities with which some people decorate themselves.

I mean, my God -- what the hell were thinking? Especially that guy who got the tattoo of Ron-frickin'- Burgundy from "Anchorman" on his forearm?

I mean, that's just ri-god-damn-diculous.

(via Emily Jones, who also addresses the subject of unfortunate foreign-language tattoos)

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May 27, 2006

A Travesty and Abomination Against Film-Making

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

Today’s Feature: "The Da Vinci Code"

FOR MANY PEOPLE, the outlandish theology put forward in “The Da Vinci Code” has been a cause for grave concern. I must admit, though, it is not a concern I have shared. After all, the holy and apostolic Roman Catholic Church has weathered the Arian and Pelagian heresies, the Great Schism with the eastern Church in 1054, the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. portraying priests in 1981’s “The Cannonball Run.” Surely the Church will survive this latest affront to its majesty and dignity.

Still, there’s no denying the film brings up many theological questions. For instance, is the existence of “The Da Vinci Code,” which runs a ridiculous 149 minutes, compatible with the idea of a loving and benevolent God? While it may surprise you, the answer is actually yes. God has given us free will to see the picture or not to see it. Besides, human suffering goes hand-in-hand with the doctrine of original sin, and “The Da Vinci Code” reflects both the existence of original sin and the commission of many new iniquities.

Of course, I should caution my views are solely my own. Those readers seeking an official Catholic opinion on the film ought visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ site, and see what the Church’s licentiates have to say on the matter. That said, “The Da Vinci Code” is an utterly silly and pretentious movie, full of laughably convoluted plot twists which work only because various characters take leave of their God-given senses. Furthermore, I would say the Catholic Church and the prelature of Opus Dei have very little to worry about due to the film’s success. If anything, the movie will get people more interested in both the Church and Opus Dei, and only good could come from that.

In the MEANTIME ...  E-O-Eleven!

FAITH UNDER FIRE: Some theologians believe “The Da Vinci Code” movie could prove as damaging to the Catholic Church’s image as 1981’s “The Cannonball Run” (at left). Other experts, however, argue that given the U.S. Church’s attempts to be “like crazy” and “with it” during the 1970s, such an event would be utterly impossible.

Anyway, here’s “The Da Vinci Code’s” plot. As usual, spoilers follow, so you have officially been warned.

The film begins with Harvard Prof. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) providing aid and comfort to America’s enemies, by which I mean he’s lecturing a group of Parisian college students. Then, as he is taking part in a book signing, a veritable army of French policemen from the Central Directorate of Judicial Police arrive and start asking him all sorts of questions about a body they’ve found – in full view of the college types.

With a police force like this, it’s no surprise it took the French authorities two weeks to quelch last year’s nationwide rioting. Unsurprisingly, it is also the first in a series of classic blunders the CDJP commits under the command of their fearless leader, Capt. Fache (Jean Reno). Capt. Fache brings Langdon to the Louvre for the supposed purpose of having him look over the corpse of scholar Jacques Sauniere, but we soon learn that Opus Dei member Fache plans to arrest Langdon for Sauniere’s murder.

Of course, the audience saw the murder take place a few minutes earlier, just one of several annoying simultaneous-action/flashback type of things which take place throughout the film. An intelligent movie would have had this happen off-screen, but sadly, “The Da Vinci Code” is not all that bright.

The movie starts out with the monk-assassin Silas (Paul Bettany) dispatching Sauniere in the Louvre. Unfortunately, he fires just one shot, which only mortally wounds Sauniere. In addition to violating the First Commandment of Assassin’s School, this apparently leaves Sauniere alive for roughly 45 minutes, giving him plenty of time to scrawl out messages to his grand-daughter, update his living will, add Langdon on MySpace, and what not.

Fortunately for Langdon, however, he is saved from Fache’s clutches due to the convenient appearance of Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), gardien de la paix stagiaire and Sauniere's grand daughter, who quickly convinces him he is in grave danger. Through a clever stratagem, the pair manage to trick the CDJP into thinking Langdon has managed to escape the building. So as the police rush off in their tiny little police cars with the air horns blaring, Langdon and Neveu rush off and begin a mad dash across France for freedom. What a boring mad dash it is, too.

This leads us to three major complaints the educated movie-goer can find with “The Da Vinci Code.” The first is that the main characters always escape situations in which they are trapped via deceptions so simple even a college student could put a stop to them -- if only the people charged with doing the stopping were a bit more patient! The second is that for specialists in their fields, they spend an incredible amount of time engaging in what’s known in science-fiction writing as “the data dump” – that is, explaining things to the reader through unnecessary dialogue.

The third complaint, though, is perhaps the most grave, and that has to do with how the movie looks at theology and the Church. It’s just a mess. I mean, even a movie should do its best to be coherent. Yet “The Da Vinci Code” just pulls things from here and there, and as such, it gets so silly that the plot becomes as thin as a spider web, and it soon breaks apart from its own fragility.

That’s not to say “The Da Vinci Code” is entirely bad – the cinematography is quite well done, and the scenery is downright beautiful. Even a bad script can’t erase the beauty one finds in old churches, and there are many scenes filmed at major landmarks which are downright stunning.

It is in one of these remarkably beautiful places, as the movie enters its denouement, where the germ of evil plants itself amidst a feel-good ending.

You see, Langdon, in an opinion one would fully expect from a Harvard religion professor, tells Neveu something to this effect: first, that what she personally believes is all that really matters; and second, that the historical record shows Christ was a great teacher and inspiration to mankind, and nothing more.

If there is anything evil in this film, it is expressed not in the hours of discussion about clerical plots, secret societies and marginal gospels long ago deemed unworthy, but rather here. Both of these ideas are morally and theologically ruinous. To believe the first is to confuse desire with belief, and to put personal experience above accepted truth – in short, to spiritually put one’s head in the sand like an ostrich. After all, will not God do His judging according to His own standards, or will He use yours or mine or those of your next-door neighbor?

As for the second idea, C.S. Lewis discussed that lie far better than I ever could, in his Mere Christianity. Back during the Second World War, this is what he wrote on the topic:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2006

Modified American Plans

RECENTLY, THE Associated Press reported about an Arizona voter initiative that, if the people of that state were to approve, would give one lucky citizen $1 million just for casting a ballot in an election. This idea, which is particularly silly even for this day and age, reminds one of Benjamin Franklin's famous quip: "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."

Still, this story got me thinking. The folks behind the Arizona idea are pushing it because they want more people to vote. It stands to reason that with $1 million up for grabs, more people than ever would turn out to vote.

Now, personally, I don't think that's a proper way to encourage voter participation in our democracy. However, we as a society do want Americans to save more money. A major prize, if offered as an incentive to save, would cause people -- especially those not already saving -- to storm the doors of any financial institution offering products with that incentive attached.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that we -- whether it's the U.S. Treasury or the private sector -- might want to start looking into the idea of offering a lottery bond scheme, similar to the United Kingdom's scheme, which National Savings and Investments operates. It works like this: customers buy bonds, redeemable on demand, in which their capital is guaranteed. The interest from all the bonds is put into a prize pool. A computer then selects bond numbers at random and pays out (tax-free) prizes regularly, presently ranging from GBP 50 to GBP 1,000,000.

The trick, of course, is to encourage more people to save more money, but without putting other financial products at a disadvantage. After all, we want people to keep putting money in their 401(k)s and Roth IRAs and their brokerage accounts. Yet we'd also want savers to get some guaranteed return on their money, so we would probably want to only put some of the interest towards a prize pool, as opposed to all of it.

Anyway, that's just an idea that I had -- and undoubtedly, an idea others have had as well. As for the name of any such bond scheme, though, the Modified American Plan has a hell of a ring to it.

(via Boston Gal's Open Wallet)

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Line of the Week Dept.

"IN OTHER WORDS, Mills seems to believe that the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl could be the 21st century's Antietam."

-- Dean Barrett
"The Red and the Blue"
The Weekly Standard

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Then Again, Maybe Purgatory Has its Merits

A NEW YORK TRAFFIC WARDEN has been charged with writing dozens of fake parking tickets, the Associated Press has reported. If convicted on charges of official misconduct and falsifying business records, the warden could face up to four years in prison:

Nivea Cloud was accused of writing 27 tickets in three hours in seven locations on May 12, inventing infractions just one to four minutes apart in the same place, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

She was seen sitting in her police car, parked in a handicapped spot, more than a mile away from where the vehicles cited on her tickets supposedly were illegally parked, Brown said.

"As a municipal worker entrusted with such enormous financial powers over motorists and a duty and responsibility to uphold the law, the defendant's alleged conduct is outrageous," Brown said in a news release announcing the charges.


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Next, They'll Tell the Kids to Buy Foreign Cars

THERE ARE DAYS when I look at life and see things which make me wonder if our grandchildren will describe our time, a la Butthead from the old cartoon, as "back when people were stupid."

Recently, The Detroit News published an op-ed which reported that Michigan's educational establishment decided the words "American" and "Americans" were right out when describing, well, American history. Here's the gist of Judge Michael Warren's essay:

In perhaps a well-intentioned, but pernicious example of political correctness, the Michigan Department of Education is attempting to ban the "America" and "American" from our public schools. Even though the word "America" appears in the department's own civics and government benchmarks, the department's style protocol for the Michigan Education Assessment Program requires that "America" and "Americans" be expunged from our testing and grade level expectations. Last week, the department ordered that our hard-working teachers not utter the words.

The Department of Education asserts that "Americans" includes Mexicans, Canadians and others in the Western Hemisphere, so referring to U.S. residents as Americans is inappropriate. In the department's view, "America" happens to include South, Central and North America. Accordingly, when referring to the colonial period, the state bureaucracy requires teachers to refer to "the colonies of North America" or "North Americans." After the American Revolution, the nation is called the United States (not of America).

The News also notes part of an educational consultant's thoughts on the matter: "It is ethnocentric for the United States to claim the entire hemisphere."

Actually, to be precise about it, claiming the entire hemisphere is "the Monroe Doctrine." That said, as a proud Michigander at heart, I must admit being surprised that Michigan's educational authorities are going down this route. The Great Lakes State, you see, has an unemployment rate of some 7.2 percent, well above the national rate of 4.7 percent. Good local schools, of course, tend to matter when companies look at creating jobs.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2006

Well, At Least Purgatory is Still Right Out

LOYAL RANT READERS know I find it greatly annoying when well-meaning but foolish parents name their children something strange: so much so, in fact, that I’m apparently becoming an expert on it. I can assure you that, much to my surprise and delight, a 2004 entry from The Rant has been named source material for the Dutch Wikipedia entry on stupid celebrity names. As the entry is in Dutch, I have no idea what it actually says, but considering Holland’s proud mercantile traditions, I can only assume the best.

I was disheartened again, though, to see that another unfortunate trend in naming one’s children has recently emerged in American life. The New York Times has the story in full:

In 1999, there were only eight newborn American girls named Nevaeh. Last year, it was the 70th-most-popular name for baby girls, ahead of Sara, Vanessa and Amanda.

The spectacular rise of Nevaeh (commonly pronounced nah-VAY-uh) has little precedent, name experts say. They watched it break into the top 1,000 of girls' names in 2001 at No. 266, the third-highest debut ever. Four years later it cracked the top 100 with 4,457 newborn Nevaehs, having made the fastest climb among all names in more than a century, the entire period for which the Social Security Administration has such records.

Nevaeh is not in the Bible or any religious text. It is not from a foreign language. It is not the name of a celebrity, real or fictional. Nevaeh is Heaven spelled backward.

It is also, one hesitates to mention, how one commonly pronounces NIVEA, the skin-care product brand from Hamburg-based Beiersdorf AG, which is notable for its smarmy television commercials. Somebody – make that somebodies -- at The New York Times failed to notice this.

That omission aside, the Times still managed to have fun with the story on an institutional level. For instance, somebody at the Times decided the story would be perfect for Jennifer 8. Lee, whose middle name is actually the number eight, to cover. Somebody at the Times also came up with the clever headline: “And if It’s a Boy, Will It Be Lleh?” Ha, ha!

Now, that second item is one of those cutesy little digs which might make a man momentarily question the Nineteenth Amendment. However, it is instead properly repudiated with a polite request for the Times copy desk to go stifle itself. Or, at the very least, a grumbled invocation of Sesuj Tsirhc.

But let’s be serious for a moment.

The name, as you’ve guessed, rings a sour note with me. It’s not merely that it may be confused with a similar-sounding skin-care product, or that it will also likely prove a challenge for many to spell. To me, the name is a walking billboard proclaiming the self-centeredness and indulgence of those who conferred it upon their child. Some might even consider it a warning sign: a placard, if you will, notifying other adults that said child’s parents will undoubtedly and immediately bore them to tears with dull stories about their little tyke. Yes, you may have just met them ten minutes ago, but be ready to reap the whirlwind when the pathetic helicopter parents blast off about the latest indignity the cruel world has heaped upon their little angel.

Such indulgence is particularly unfortunate when it affects children. It’s symptomatic, I think, of the weakening of the traditional family dynamic in American life, and the unspoken covenant that reminds one of how important the shared bonds of one’s last name are. For instance, back in the old days, parents would routinely mete out worse punishment to their child than their child’s teachers would. This was not merely because the kid needed direction, but because he had embarrassed his parents, a far graver sin. Nowadays, parents don’t seem to feel a bit of shame when little Johnny acts up, and instead attack the teachers or coaches or whomever disciplined their brat – even though doing so has connotations which are far more negative. It’s very, very strange, but perhaps understandable in a popular culture which places far more importance on the individual than on family.

“Nevaeh” is also unfortunate for the standard reasons I dislike out-there names. It has no ethnic connotation and no indication of one’s family traditions, meaning that anyone with the name loses out on positives that might be associated with it. Furthermore, there’s a danger the name may pick up negative associations. As Steve Levitt and Steve Dubner pointed out in “Freakonomics,” the original name – Heaven – is generally indicative of low educational status in a family. It would be particularly unfortunate if Nevaeh were to face a similar fate.

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May 16, 2006

In Other News, the Sky is Blue

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STUDY: Northwest Airlines ranks last in customer service.

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May 14, 2006

No One Said Anything About Floods

YOU KNOW HOW I said yesterday that we had a considerable bit of rain here in Manchester, and that it had rained all day? Well, the rain never stopped. It's still raining. It's been raining so much that they're apparently cleaning up water damage down in one of the basement apartments, and they've put up plastic tarps near other basement windows to ward away water. Variations on this theme are taking place in roughly eight of New Hampshire's ten counties.

Speaking of eight, that's roughly how many inches of rain we've received here in Manchester over the past two days, according to the National Weather Service -- and that's just as of 7 p.m. tonight. In some places it's even worse. Amazingly, though, it's still not going to stop. On Monday, the forecast calls for a 100 pc chance of rain. Things may clear up on Tuesday, although we're still facing a better than 50 pc chance of rain that day too.

I suppose I just want to note for the record that, when I moved here to New Hampshire, I knew about the winters, and I knew about the cold and ice and snow. But no one said anything about continuous downpours and flooding that could make a visitor think he'd landed in Blade Runner.

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May 13, 2006

The Perils of Gardening and the City of Brotherly Shove

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Edition of ...

An occasional Rant feature

IT IS A STRANGE DAY here in Manchester. Although it is one of the few days so far this year in which my allergies and sinuses are not causing me complete and total agony, it is pouring outside and has been for the past several hours. This means that I'm spending yet another day indoors and away from evil pollen-spreading plants, which for reasons I don't understand trouble me here far worse than they did back home or in California.

Still, the forced time inside has its advantages. For instance, I've done a lot of sleeping, which is always a fine way to spend a weekend. I've also watched some soccer and read a bit, and I'll probably watch a movie later before turning in early. Apparently, New Hampshire may experience floods like we haven't experienced since -- well, last year -- so I'll want to be ready for tomorrow. In the meantime, though, I think it's time for yet another edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered, the semi-regular feature in which I look at The Rant's search-engine queries. They're all over the board this time, but as disturbing as usual.

QUERY: everyone can be a gardener. perhaps you have a window box or a tub or enjoy relaxing outside in the summer

ANSWER: I'm sorry, but you're incorrect. For instance, I can't be a gardener, because I failed to inherit the gardening gene from my parents. Furthermore, I find the outdoors -- with the exception of certain national parks and remote desert areas -- generally irritating and wretched. If I wanted to be outdoors, I'd go someplace where being outside was actually possible for most of the year.

QUERY: wretched winnipeg band

ANSWER: One can't be all that hard to find.

QUERY: pimped out subaru legacy

ANSWER: Somehow, I just can't imagine a pimped-out subaru legacy attracting the envy and attention of one's peers, even if it did hop. God! Can you imagine it? "Ay, yo! Check out that ... Subaru?!"

QUERY: charter cable disconnect still on

ANSWER: Television may be a vast wasteland, but there's nothing like a FREE vast wasteland, particularly if you're still getting the pay channels.

QUERY: it makes no sense living in the suburbs

ANSWER: I wholeheartedly agree. Of course, I'm also single and have no children. It may be that married couples with children have different outlooks on life.

QUERY: socialist pornography

ANSWER: Oh dear.

QUERY: what huge city is called city of brotherly shove on account of its supposed rudeness?

ANSWER: Wichita.

QUERY: what does it mean that my home equity line of credit is maxed out

ANSWER: It means I'm damned glad not to be in your shoes. Also: get advice from a certified financial planner before it's too late.

QUERY: high school reunions suck

ANSWER: That's why I've studiously avoided even considering attending one of my high school reunions.

QUERY: where to find champale for sale?

ANSWER: You'll find it next to the "wines not made from grapes" section at your local liquor store of dubious reputation. Look for the 32 oz. bottles. It may or may not be available in flavors other than the "classic" Champale taste, which I've been told is a cross between flat Mello Yello and horse piss.

QUERY: perks of senior year in high school

ANSWER: Well, you certainly get to enjoy four -- and perhaps even eight -- months of erroneously believing you're on top of the world and you have a bright future ahead of you. Such feelings are better reserved for your early twenties, when you're just out of college.

QUERY: cheap and pleasant places to live in california

ANSWER: Well, which is it?

QUERY: stupid question white people ask

ANSWER: The potential for humor here is so vast I'm going to just let folks think about that for a sec.

QUERY: free make a person suffer hoodoo and voodoo spells

ANSWER: I'm sorry, but if you want to harness evil forces from the world of the dead, you're going to have to pay. That's kind of part and parcel with the whole deal.

QUERY: repercussions from drinking 17 bottles of vodka in 2 weeks

ANSWER: Your liver might not be up for bottle No. 18.

QUERY: kangaroo meat tastes like

ANSWER: Chicken.

QUERY: how many miles is too many taurus

ANSWER: This all depends on how your Taurus is functioning. Many people may think that because a Taurus is old or otherwise has lots of miles on it, the car is no longer useful. This is crap. As long as the car manages to start and actually moves forward, you should drive it until it runs into the ground or becomes too expensive to repair around inspection time. Questions about reliability can be solved through paying $60 or so for a membership with the American Automobile Association.

QUERY: how to pump your own gas

ANSWER: First, insert your debit or credit card into the gas pump. Curse loudly and vow vengeance on the various nogoodniks responsible for gasoline prices approaching $3 per gallon. Remove the pump and insert it into the fuel tank. Pump gas while angrily muttering about the cost of gasoline, the annoying gas pumps which supposedly cut down on gas vapors, and the irrationality seen daily on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Pump gas until the auto shut-off function kicks in. Top off the tank to the nearest dollar. Curse loudly upon receiving receipt.

QUERY: dating a journalist

ANSWER: NO! DON'T! Oops -- sorry. Reflex action. I mean, good decision! Dating a journalist has lots of important perks and benefits which go along with it. Perhaps the most noteworthy is that dating a journalist provides one with some of the "cool factor" associated with dating musicians, artists, poets, etc., while still secure in the knowledge that said journalist is earning "a steady income." Of course, journalism has its challenges: but rest assured that dating a journalist has plenty of perks, such as knowing or being able to find out quickly where all the good restaurants in town are, and so on.

Anyway, that's it for this edition of "Your Search Engine Queries Answered." Tune in next time when we look at bad cooking, how much to tip at the car wash and why I'm probably going to retire in the southwest. Until then, thanks for visiting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Less Than One Month to Go ...

THE WORLD CUP, which combines the excitement of good soccer with the passionate fury one often associates with international incidents, starts in less than four weeks. Truly this is a fabulous thing, especially because the Detroit Red Wings got knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round, and the NBA finals will probably be rather boring. As such, the World Cup will help me survive what would otherwise be a typically tough summer sports drought.

I suspect I am like most World Cup fans in that I root for teams based solely on blind nationalism and, to a lesser extent, underdog status. While this World Cup doesn't contain many of the nations I would love to see lose horribly on the football pitch, there's still plenty of teams I'd enjoy watching lose. For instance, I'd love it if Germany were to lose badly this year. I'd also like it if Brazil, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia got blitzed. And if France loses too, that'd be like a bonus. As for the teams I'm actually rooting for, they include the USA -- because the Euros would be apoplectic if we won -- and Mexico, because Mexico and Canada are my traditional "strong second" teams.

In June and July, my blogging will undoubtedly reflect what's happening in the Cup, so to make things easier, I thought would present readers with an extended summary of my hopes for who wins the first 16 games of the 48-game first round. I'll advise regarding the remaining 32 games at a later date:

1. Germany v. Costa Rica: Costa Rica
2. Poland v. Ecuador: Poland
3. England v. Paraguay: Paraguay
4. Trinidad v. Sweden: T&T
5. Argentina v. Ivory Coast: Ivory Coast
6. Serbia v. Netherlands: Netherlands
7. Mexico v. Iran: Mexico
8. Angola v. Portugal: Angola
9. Australia v. Japan: Australia
10. USA v. Czech Republic: USA
11. Italy v. Ghana: Ghana
12. ROK v. Togo: Republic of Korea
13. France v. Switzerland: Switzerland
14. Brazil v. Croatia: Croatia
15. Spain v. Ukraine: Ukraine
16. Tunisia v. Saudi Arabia: Tunisia

I offer my sincere apologies to readers from countries whom I shall soon root against in the Cup. In most cases, I'm simply rooting for the underdog as opposed to rooting against your team. However, if your country's government has recently defaulted on its debts, nationalized industries, not supported America on the foreign stage or otherwise been generally irritating, then I hope your national team places 32nd and gets laughed at by neighboring countries. That said, may the best team win, as long as it's not Brazil.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 08, 2006

Boy, and Just Think of the Late Fees

CHINESE BANKS have an appalling bad-loan debt load -- conservatively estimated at nearly $900 billion -- and more bad loans could be on the way when certain Chinese property markets cool off, according to the good folks at accountancy firm Ernst & Young. Interestingly, that's roughly the amount of foreign reserves that China has managed to accumulate.

The problem with non-performing loans is that they have a tendency to create insolvencies: not only among the badly-run companies that are hemorrhaging money, but also among the banks which had loaned out the cash. If the loans are simply kept as non-performing, there's at least hope -- no matter how academic -- that things will get back up to speed eventually. Still, the Chinese finance technocrats must be sweating bullets, for this is a problem that has continued to get worse.

It will be interesting to see if and how this situation affects the U.S. Department of the Treasury's delayed report on whether China is unfairly manipulating its currency.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pecunia Non Olet -- But That Doesn't Mean It Changes Things

IN ITS SUNDAY Styles section this week, The New York Times had an interesting although strange article on how money affects friendship. The long and short of the piece was that people in this world aren't economically equal, and this causes much angst and heartache amongst people -- both with and without lots of money -- who are concerned about what others think about them.

The Times' story largely deals not with necessities but with luxuries: the meals out, and the vacations, and fancy clothing, but mostly about meals out. That's why I found the story a bit strange. Recently, I had the chance to catch with many of my friends, who come from varying social backgrounds and who each have different financial circumstances. Yet not once did anything approaching disharmony ever come up while eating out: sometimes I bought and sometimes others bought and most of the time, it was Dutch. In fact, I can't think of a time when money ever has come up as an issue among my friends. I just have to think that people who worry about these types of things are a bit more high-strung about social things in general.

Certainly I am high-strung at times, but not about social things, and not about material goods. I'm not a car person and not an electronics person and not a clothes person. The only real consumer goods that I get excited about are books. Now, that's certainly not to say that I don't appreciate or value the finer things in life -- I most certainly do! It's just that I'm not stressing out over the need to acquire the latest and greatest stuff. The nine-year-old car I have now works well and so does my 24-inch television set and my apartment furniture and my computer. When these things break, they can be replaced with newer goods. That's pretty much all there is to it.

Besides, I can't deviate from The Plan (the Benjamin Kepple Provident Fund Scheme) which I have devised to plot out my eventual semi-retirement to a lifestyle filled with fun and adventure -- or, at the very least, the creature comforts any successful advertising executive would have enjoyed during the early Sixties. For me, that makes it easier to avoid temptation, because I keep contributing to that larger goal. That may occasionally cause short-term issues but in the long run, I hope it will prove worthwhile.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 03, 2006

Wedded Bliss

NEW YORK is the greatest city on Earth, yet to me the idea of living there has always seemed on par with the idea of living on Mars. You see, as a Midwesterner at heart, I’d never fully adjust to the idea that moving on up means exchanging one overly-cramped apartment for another some blocks away. I’d also never fully adjust to the idea that certain little extras in life, such as “a second bedroom,” would warrant paying four figures each month for an apartment. Plus, there’s congestion and pollution and the Yankees and hipsters and high taxes. Oh, and those people who ride bicycles through traffic to make social statements.

Oh, sure, I know the old saying about New York: if one can make it there, one can make it anywhere. But would one really want to make it in New York? After all, to paraphrase another old saying, the trouble with being rich is that you have to hang out with rich people. This conundrum is best exemplified in the wedding and celebrations section of The New York Times, where wretched people with money openly draw attention to their disgusting vapidity and appalling decadence.

Fortunately, though, the Tri-State Area has produced Zach and his Veiled Conceit blog, which has once again started to mercilessly skewer those portrayed in the Times’ weddings section -- and not a moment too soon! As such, I challenge Rant readers to read Zach’s entry on Mr and Mrs Austin Stark without laughing hysterically. If you can do so, you may have a future as one of the Queen's guards.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

In Sickness and ...

AND THE LORD God said, "Behold, the people enjoy warm weather, and they feel warmth upon their persons; even though they had a markedly mild winter. Now no New England weather shall restrain them, and they will soon tolerate anything. Come, let us go down and spread pestilence among them; not anything really bad, but annoying enough to cause disease and foulness, so that they may again properly respect the vagaries of New England's climate."

-- 1 Benjamin 30:3

SORRY I’ve been quiet. I’ve been sick. May God save me from all colds -- and especially this one, with its sore throat and ache and fever and congestion, plus the sharp piercing pain in my side when I sneeze or cough. Blech.

How miserable have I been? Well, consider this. After work on Sunday, I stopped at the grocery. I felt so listless and wretched that I didn’t even mind when, in Aisle 3, I encountered a couple whose badly-supervised daughter was cheerfully coughing over everything in sight. Talk about an appalling lack of respect for public health -- I mean, the girl didn't even try to cover her mouth.

Normally, such behavior would send my Societal Disdain Circuits into first gear, and I would privately wonder why the parents hadn't bothered teaching their child the basics of personal hygiene. Instead, I was just confounded. I glanced at the youngster and figured, well, whatever she caught, it can’t be any worse than what I’m stuck with.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack