December 31, 2006

Out With the Old, and Now Let's Go Blue

AH, THE NEW YEAR. A time for reflection, and a time for hope. There are few times better than this to think about one's plans and dreams, and to again pledge to make progress towards attaining them. Further, there are few times better than this to look at the calamities and outrages which plague modern life, and to hope that in the coming year, we shall enjoy peace on earth, and good will to men.

Fortunately for my purposes, though, it's more than an hour until the New Year rolls around. That means I can spend the waning minutes of 2006 rehashing old rivalries, settling grudges, and generally rubbing salt in others' gaping wounds! Yes, there's nothing better than spending the last vestiges of an old year in a bilious display of scorn and contempt. What's that? Why yes, we do have Exhibit A ready. Here you go!

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Gotcha!

Oh, how wonderful it was to watch today as the Pittsburgh Steelers threw the Cincinnati Bengals down to the ground. Well, actually it was rather nerve-wracking and at times extremely frustrating, even though it turned out all right.

For instance, there was that fourth-quarter penalty against Steelers linebacker James Farrior for "roughing the passer," just because Farrior actually had the gall to tackle Bengals QB Carson Palmer. Now look. Even though it may have seemed to Bengals fans like we wanted to blow out Palmer's other knee, the rules of the game do permit actually tacking the quarterback and forcing him to the ground. Then there was that whole "potentially game-winning drive" the Bengals nearly pulled off at the end. Fortunately, though, that didn't work out either.

But anyway. It was a hard-fought and emotionally-draining game. That said, it had its moments -- for instance, there was that great play in the third quarter, when Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison picked up Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson and body-slammed him into the turf. Sure, it may have cost us 15 yards, but watching Cero Puntos get slammed down into the muck of Paul Brown Stadium was worth it. Especially when they kept replaying it over and over again.

Now, as fun as it was to beat Cincinnati at home, this was magnified due to the game's importance. Cincinnati had to win if it wanted to go to the playoffs; now, they will spend the playoffs watching television due to their loss. Of course, the Steelers are in the same boat, but it was a special thing indeed to put the icing on the Bengals' cake: a cake of collapse and suffering. I mean, the Bengals weren't happy. As Palmer said after the game: "That's just another game we shouldn't have lost to another team we feel we're better than."

Yeah, well, guess what, Carson -- Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't end HIS sentences with prepositions. Face it: we beat you last year when it mattered and we beat you this year when it mattered and we'll hopefully do it again next year. Welcome to Endsville, son. We'll see you next August.

Gee, I feel better already. I guess the thought of having an essentially meaningless end to this year's football season somewhat stuck in my craw a bit. In any event, I do want to end on some positive notes:

* First off, I'd like to congratulate both the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs for making into the playoffs this year. I don't think anyone knows how exactly that happened, but we're all certainly very happy about it. After all, as a result the AFC Wild Card games are going to kick ass like nobody's business.

I mean, I don't know about you, but I'm damned excited about the idea of the Chefs knocking off the evil Indianapolis Colts. Also, the Jets-Patriots game should be fun too, and a great grudge match between the teams. Besides, we needed another New England-Denver playoff like a hole in the head. Officially, I will observe the match as a disinterested spectator hopeful the game will be a good one; but there's something to be said for underdogs. Hell, even the NFC playoffs will be fun to watch -- New York at Philly? Dallas at Seattle? I'm so there. Go Giants and go Seachickens.

* Secondly, here's hoping my beloved Michigan Wolverines get the job done in the Rose Bowl Game tommorrow afternoon. The whole nation is rooting for you, except all the Bengals fans reading this post, because they know a Michigan loss would break my heart. Also, they're from Ohio anyway and so I can't really blame them for rooting against Ann Arbor -- even though I am sticking with conference loyalty and hoping Ohio State stomps all over Florida in the national championship.

But enough for now. The old year is fading fast and will soon be history; the New Year approaches. Let us hope for happy times ahead, for victories not yet won and accomplishments not yet dreamed. Let us hope for peace on earth, and good will toward men. Also, if it's not too late, let us hope Michigan has arranged for that commercial to play during the Rose Bowl -- you know, the one where the Apollo capsule with the all-Michigan crew flies around in orbit. Yeah. That'll really tick off those prepster scoundrels at USC.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Pittsburgh v. Cincinnati in 90 Minutes

BECAUSE IF WE CAN'T GO TO THE PLAYOFFS, NO ONE CAN:

--------

Finishing 7-9 is ugly. Finishing 8-8 is still ugly -- but better.

-- Larry Foote
Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers

-------

Misery loves company, and we're looking for company.

-- Bill Cowher
Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers


-------

You can throw out the record books when these two get together. In fact, that would probably be best, given the results of the 2006 campaign for both squads.

-- the Rev. Uncle Dave
Cincinnati Bengals fan

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 30, 2006

The Relative Worth of Things

I DIDN'T HAVE TIME to blog about this prior to the Christmas break, but it's still worth mentioning. A while back, the New York Times reported on the fascinating case of a woman whose sister had sent her a giant lump of some unidentified substance, and asked her to find out what it is. Then, it emerged the substance could be ambergris, the rare perfume additive. Suddenly, the woman -- a hard-working yet relatively impecunious lady -- was looking at a much improved retirement.

Amazingly, the story pegged the value of ambergris at $10/gram, or $10,000 per kilo. This is astounding because ambergris is essentially whale vomit. Yet the whale vomit, as we can see, is worth half its weight in gold and is more expensive than many other fine products:

--------------
PRODUCT/ VALUE per KILOGRAM

DIAMONDS / $33 million (1)
RHODIUM / ~$162,000 (2)
GOLD / ~$20,450 (3)
WHALE VOMIT / $10,000
CAVIAR (fine grade Ossetra): $7,400
TRUFFLES (white, exc. grade): $4,000
CIGARS (Cohiba Esplendidos, Cuba): $2,667 (4)
SHARK FINS (dried, retail): $700
CHAMPAGNE: $212/kg (5)

(1) Based on an estimated price of $6,600 for one one-carat stone, G-grade color and VS2 clarity
(2) Who knew rhodium was the most precious of the metals? (And who knew what rhodium was? Not me!)
(3) Based on a price of $636 per troy oz.
(4) Based on a per-cigar weight of 15 grams.
(5) Dom Perignon '98; based on liquid-to-dry measure conversion @ 28.3g per fluid oz.

--------------

Now, on the face of it, these comparisons seem somewhat ridiculous, kind of like how tulip bulb mania produced tulip bulbs worth the equivalent of 400 tons of herring. However, there's no denying ambergris is quite rare and as such can command the price being asked for it.

This, then, leads to my question: why the hell are people hunting whales if the whales are vomiting up gold? I'm just thinking out loud here, but crikey. Even if we assume sperm whales are too big to capture and harvest for aquaculture purposes -- they are 50 feet long or some such -- you'd think people would figure out a way to get them to puke up the stuff without too much difficulty. Of course, I realize that if this could have been done, it probably would have been. Still, it makes the whole whale-hunting thing seem awfully inefficient.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 29, 2006

I Must Admit, I Did Not See That Coming

IN THE EVENT any of my readers have any sort of connection with Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, I would congratulate you on your downright stunning victory in the Insight Bowl over the University of Minnesota, the greatest comeback in all of collegiate bowl history.

I mean, scoring four unanswered touchdowns plus a field goal in less than 20 minutes was not just impressive. It was astounding. True, this scoring bout came against Minnesota, which is known for folding like a cheap suit, but still -- Minnesota had played so well during the first two-thirds of the game it seemed impossible they could screw up the remainder. Yet they did. I don't know what to say to Minnesota fans, except that I understand the nights are very long and cold up in the North Star State. As such, you might want to start drinking heavily, and let up around ... oh, let's say Groundhog Day.

As for me, I can't believe I actually saw this comeback happen in front of my eyes. Iffy bowl game, Friday night, NFL network, early blowout; I must be one of approximately eighteen people who saw it live.

Still, I'm a little disappointed. As a Michigan alumnus, I would like to note that I was rooting for Minnesota in the Insight Bowl, as well as for Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl. Yet tonight both these teams failed to achieve victory; Minnesota against a team from the Big 12; Purdue against the ACC's Maryland. This is unacceptable.

We can't have Big Ten teams falling down on the job during bowl season -- especially if those games involve playing against teams from the evil and wretched Southeastern Conference, and even more so if those games involve overrated teams from a certain conference out west. Now, we have five more bowl games to go; let's go out there and get the job done.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ticket Punched

SADDAM HUSSEIN has now been welcomed to Hell.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So You Got One -- Now Don't Get Cocky!

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL today had a nice story about renters who eschewed buying property throughout the recent housing boom, and now due to the market’s downturn finally feel vindicated.

However, it is perhaps no surprise to learn many of these people have become insufferable and annoying, and are running around cackling with glee instead of quietly enjoying their triumph. I mean, it’s kind of embarrassing. The way these guys have been carrying on, it’s almost as if they’re about ready to burst into song at the latest drop of bad news: “New home sales are down again! Wrote a song about it! Goes like this!”

Home sales are down and interest rates rising
News of foreclosures are always good tidings
Gloomy cash forecasts and ARM payments that sting --
These are a few of my favorite things!

Now, as one such renter, I must say I’m not a fan of playing I-told-you-so. You see, nearly all the property-owners I know live in parts of the country which haven’t seen a real-estate boom, or they otherwise discuss their gains in hushed tones and with a palpable sense of astonishment. They have not, in other words, acted like many who were merely in the right place at the right time, and then talked about it until the people around them wanted to vomit in the punch bowl.

I’m also not a fan because even though I’m a renter, I don’t want the housing market to crash. You see, if it does, then everyone is going to start looking for apartments again, and I’m going to get squeezed. Also, if the housing market truly does crash, it may very well herald Bad Times Ahead, and that could result in yours truly entering a world of economic pain. As a general rule, I’m not down with economic pain, particularly if it interferes with my supplies of Diet Cherry Coke.

But I’m especially not a fan because many of these renters appear to be getting overconfident in their own abilities to predict the market, and are treating the housing market like a commodity market and not housing, which is kind of its own unique bailiwick. I mean, come on, guys, don’t get cocky just because you got one right. Everyone needs a place to live, after all, and life events can turn renters into buyers and vice-versa.

For instance, one key reason I don’t own a home is because there is no Mrs Kepple, and I've always thought it made sense to buy after I got married and set roots down in a community. Also, when I do eventually buy a home, I might consider the market overvalued at that point in time, but since I’d buy on long-term assumptions, present valuations could very well have relatively little impact on my decision. I just think this is a market that's much more complex than people give it credit for, and that goes for whether prices are headed up or down.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 27, 2006

Rewarding! Very, Very, Very Rewarding!

SLATE MAGAZINE has helpfully published "Ads We Hate," an article examining television commercials which provoke reactions ranging from mild distaste to complete nausea. Strangely, this article makes absolutely no mention of Citibank's alarming and wretched commercials with the strange European who values something called "rewards points" the same way you or I would value things like "cash money" or "concert tickets." You can figure out the tagline.

What's annoying about this commercial -- aside from the omnipresent tagline -- is this focus on something called "rewards points," which seem like a cross between corporate scrip and the prizes people used to choose on old episodes of "Wheel of Fortune." Here at The Rant, there are only two acceptable forms of credit-card usage reimbursement: A) cash back and B) airline miles. Anything else seems a bit foolish.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 26, 2006

A James Taylor Kind of Christmas

*snicker* *guffaw* *snort*

CHRISTMAS EVE, as Mom put it, was not a good night for football fans throughout Keppledom. The Steelers lost and the Browns lost and the Colts lost and the Bengals lost -- and boy, did the Bengals lose. That snap went back and Mom shouted from the kitchen and Dad started from the sofa and I shouted in glee as the players scrambled and the Bengals' hopes were dashed. The announcers called that blown extra point at Denver, which would have tied the game with just 41 seconds left in the game, a football tragedy. They were absolutely right.

Yet that's the way things go in football. Still, even in tragedy good things may result. For instance, now that the Cincinnati Bengals blew it, the upcoming Sunday game will carry a lot of weight -- and that's nice, considering a Cincinnati win would have rendered the game essentially meaningless.

Arguably, it still is essentially meaningless for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati's opponents, who will spend the playoffs in front of their television sets. However, that doesn't take into account how much Pittsburgh would enjoy knocking the Bengals -- with their wide receiver's crazy antics and their whiny quarterback and their felony-prone player contingent -- out of the post-season entirely. Yes. Now this essentially meaningless game has suddenly become ... important. Crucial, even.

Heh heh heh.

It's time to show the Bengals how we do things downtown.

Pittsburgh 35 - Cincinnati 31.

DESPITE THE KEPPLE CLAN's football woes, however, I certainly had a good Christmas and I'm very thankful I was able to spend it Back Home with my family. As I live several hundred miles from both my parents and my brother, I'm not able to see them all that much in person. That's also unfortunately the case with my extended family. Still, the Internet helps a lot in that regard and I'm thankful I'm able to keep in touch with folks.

This year, the unseasonable weather -- no snow here, no snow back home -- made it feel a little different. As a Northerner, I always associated Christmas with snow and cold weather in general. There has been precious little of that this year, and as much as I hate to say it, I'm missing it a wee bit. That's not to say Christmas felt less like the holiday, because it very much felt like Christmas. It just felt a little different: call it a James Taylor type of Christmas, as opposed to a Sarah McLachlan singing traditional holiday favorites type of Christmas. Yeah. That'll sum it up.

One of the things I like about going back home for the holidays is that there's absolutely no stress at all. Not only that, I generally get to sleep in as much as I want, eat far better than I do back home, and do little in the way of actual work. So for those few days it is somewhat like a spa vacation, particularly when I return to Manchester and realize that not only will dinner not cook itself, dinner requires more than the few meagre ingredients I have in the refrigerator.

The best thing I like, though, is the time I get to spend with family. This year was an excellent Christmas in that regard: it was just fun and nice and pleasant and reminded me how lucky I am in life. We all went out to see a comedy show on Saturday night; spent Christmas Eve watching football and having a great dinner and, at the end of it, unwrapping gifts, viz.:

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

READER: Uh, do you always wear collared shirts?
ME: Yeah, most of the time, unless I'm doing chores, in which case I have a few T-shirts.
READER: God, you are SO LAME.

Anyway, what can I say? I'm practical. I'm also mindful of sales, which explains the work shirts. Some of those were just $8 each. I offer this as prima facie evidence that I rule. (Seriously, though, Mom, Dad and Jesse, thank you very very much for the Christmas gifts.)

BUT MOVING ON. I must apologize for not posting lately but things here have been hectic to say the least. The Christmas holiday tends to do that, but it's amazing how things can suddenly fall out of the blue.

For instance, on Wednesday the Venerable Ford Taurus -- I guess I can call it venerable, given that it's 9 years old and has 130,000 miles on it -- decided that its ignition switch would go out of joint. Oddly, it decided to do this right after I did all my errands and had a nice breakfast, but before I needed to go to work. While I got to work on time anyway, the repair has been a pain and as such I am now driving a rental car. It is a Chevy Cobalt coupe. It drives well and handles nice, but God knows I feel (and look) ridiculous driving it. Especially given that I'm six-foot-four.

Anyway, as I'm a sedan person by trade, I have decided that I will soon purchase a New Slightly Used Ford Taurus to replace the Family Truckster, Third of its Line. Yes, yes, I know readers are saying things to the effect of, "God, you are SO LAME." But I like the cars and they do what I need of them. Plus they're really inexpensive, because the rental fleets eventually have to get rid of the things. This is good for drivers like me, who for a variety of reasons would feel a bit guilty about buying foreign-branded automobiles, even though I live in foreign-car-friendly New England.

I've also been suffering from a long-lasting cold/sinus issue that has made my life icky over the past several weeks. Such conditions are hell for anyone who suffers through them, but this one was made really nasty due to the presence of a hideously bad sore throat -- so bad that I even lost my voice for a few days this month. (This was particularly unfortunate for a variety of reasons, such as the minor fact my job requires me to talk to people all the day long). All in all, I was feeling poorly enough so that blogging wasn't exactly the closest thing to mind; but now that I've recovered, my blogging should resume accordingly.

Anyway, that's it for now, but I do hope everyone out there was able to have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Enjoyable Non-Traditional Holiday of One's Choice, such as the Festival of Navigating Municipal Winter Parking Bans. Although that would require snow, which we haven't had yet here. But winter has plenty of time to go.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

And Merry Christmas to All ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2006

The Wild Card Picture

WHY YES, THE PITTSBURGH Steelers DID beat the lowly Carolina Panthers 37-3 today, in a performance that can be fairly described as complete and utter domination. More importantly, though, the victory moves the Steelers from the unfortunate category of "not yet mathematically eliminated" to the designation of "on the bubble," which I believe all can agree is a HUGE boost in the Steelers' fortunes.

Of course, I know there are some readers who might suggest such a description is akin to saying that mauve is a distinct color from lavender or lilac or red-violet. All are different shades of purple, yes, but purple nonetheless. As such, these teams are not, to use the technical term, "yet in the playoffs by any means." But that's not any fun. Besides, Pittsburgh plays Baltimore next week, so I may only have a week to indulge in this line of thinking.

As of now the Kansas City Chiefs are getting their schottenheimers kicked by the San Diego Chargers, so I'll assume Kansas City continues to stink up the joint and loses. Thus, after tonight, we'll have FOUR AFC teams at 7-7 after tonight, three more teams at 8-6, and an eighth team -- the Cincinnati Bengals -- that could go either 9-5 as of Monday or 8-6, depending if they beat or lose to the Indianapolis Colts. (God save me, I'm going to have to root for Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football.) Let's further assume the Bungles revert to their old form and play badly the whole night; that would also bring them to 8-6. With two weeks to go, that would make the AFC Wild Card picture look like this:

---------------

CINCINNATI*, DENVER*, JACKSONVILLE, N.Y. JETS: 8-6
KANSAS CITY, BUFFALO, TENNESSEE, PITTSBURGH: 7-7
MIAMI: 6-8^

* temporarily holds Wild Card spot
^ completely screwed

----------------

Now, let us review the possibilities. Miami, as noted, won't make it. This is because the Dolphins stink. Also, they can't play in cold weather, have a schmuck for a coach and have a snowball's chance of beating the Colts and the Jets over the next two weeks.

Of course, it WOULD be great if the Dolphins could beat the Jets next week. That loss could well derail the Jets' hopes, given the intra-division tiebreaker. Also, if Oakland could pull off a miracle win to end the season, that would be great too. I mean, really now -- the Jets? In the playoffs? The mind staggers under the possibility. Nobody's taken these guys seriously since Namath, and I haven't seen any cause for change in that regard.

Now, as for Buffalo. That ain't gonna happen either. They've got to play Baltimore on New Year's Eve, a game they will lose. They also have to play Tennessee the week before, and they'll undoubtedly lose that one too. It is true that Tennessee has been on fire lately, but it's also worth noting that during the last week of the season, the Titans must play the New England Patriots. The Patriots don't like losing.

Right now, San Diego has an 11 point lead over Kansas City, so I'm going to guess they're not going to blow it. But the Chefs aren't out of the mix yet -- they get to play Oakland next week. I can't believe I'm going to have to root for Oakland. (Get thee behind me, Satan). Then, the Chiefs play Jacksonville.

Oh, yeah, Jacksonville. Say, the Patriots play Jacksonville next week. Sweet. (Wait a minute. Oh, no. Not the Patriots. I can't -- sigh -- oh boy. Um. Woo. Go Patriots. Temporarily). Well, it's pretty easy to conclude New England will do OK against Jacksonville, hopefully. So if they lost to New England and beat Kansas City, that would be the perfect scenario.

Denver, at 8-6, is also in a tough spot. They have to beat the evil Cincinnati Bengals and they must beat the San Francisco 49ers to be assured of a playoff spot. But they could just beat one of the two and they have an iffy divisional record. Cincinnati, at 8-6, has to play evil Denver and then, at the very end of the season, must play ... the Pittsburgh Steelers. One hopes the Steelers will, this time around, introduce Mr Zero Mucho -- or whatever his tagline is -- to how we do things downtown.

Anyway, based on my analysis, it seems clear Pittsburgh can still make it into the playoff picture, provided the following events take place:

-----------

1. Pittsburgh beats Baltimore and then Cincinnati. (putting PIT at 9-7)
2. Cincinnati loses to Pittsburgh, Denver and Indianapolis. (putting CIN at 8-8)
3. Tennessee loses to New England. (putting TEN at 8-8)
4. Denver loses to San Francisco. (putting DEN at 9-7)
5. New York loses to either Oakland or Miami. (putting NYJ at 9-7)
6. Kansas City loses to Oakland. (putting KC at 8-8)
7. Jacksonville loses to New England and Kansas City. (putting JAX at 8-8).
8. Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall vows, then takes, revenge against Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens for Owens' inexcusable behavior in the teams' recent meeting. Or the NFL fines Mr Owens again, whichever comes first.

(UPDATE, 12/20: Oops! The initial version of this had Tennessee losing to Baltimore instead of New England, which would've been fine except the teams don't play. Also, this had Kansas City losing to Jacksonville, as opposed to winning. Sorry. This goes to show the playoff system remains completely cloudy and impossible to predict, although the Bungles should have a rough time of things. Also, my initial version somehow left out the clear Item No. 9, which is that the Detroit Lions fire Matt Millen. The Rant regrets the errors. )

--------------
Oops! Did Terrell Owens somehow make his way into the AFC playoff report? Well, it was clearly only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, did that, so I figured I'd do it and get it out of the way. Besides, think of it as priming for all the crap television broadcasts in which "T.O.'s" antics are discussed. They're coming. We all know they're coming.

But I digress. Anyway, should this scenario take place, it would leave three teams tied at 9-7. Pittsburgh, through virtue of its superior intradivisional record, would thus knock out Denver, and earn either the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. It is possible and, heck, it may even be probable in a week or so -- although it could also fall apart in a matter of hours. Hell, it probably WILL fall apart in a matter of hours. But if that's the case, then the Colts lose and that can't be so bad.

Also, it has come to my attention that the teams in that other football conference are also vying for playoff spots, although I haven't been paying as much attention to the NFC's struggles. After all, the idea that the NFC team could actually win the Super Bowl is so outlandish that there's no real point in discussing the matter. Particularly given the way the Chargers are playing right now. Holy Christ, that's a good squad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15, 2006

And Now, a Special Holiday Interlude

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, There's Potentially One Less Thing to Worry About

THE PLAIN DEALER of Cleveland reports that a trucker stands accused of throwing chunks of iron ore at motorists on US 422, a highway southeast of Cleveland. The trucker reportedly told police he threw the iron ore out of anger that the oncoming drivers wouldn't switch off their high-beams. The paper says:

Bright lights gave truck driver Glenn Rogers Jr. a not-so-bright idea, according to the Geauga County Sheriff's Office. Rogers told investigators that he hurled hunks of iron ore at oncoming traffic to express his displeasure with staring into approaching high beams, Chief Deputy Scott Hildenbrand said Wednesday. Rogers was trying to "knock out" headlights with his tosses, Hildenbrand said.

Authorities said that Rogers may be responsible for dozens of smashed windshields reported on Geauga roadways -- predominantly along U.S. 422 east of LaDue Reservoir -- over the past three months.

Rogers, 40, of Elyria pleaded not guilty in Chardon Municipal Court to three felony charges of vehicular vandalism. Police Prosecutor Dennis Coyne said additional charges are expected when the case gets presented to the county's grand jury.

Rogers spent Wednesday in the Geauga County Jail and could not be reached. His fiancée and mother attended the morning court hearing, but declined comment, as did his attorney, public defender Robert Umholtz.

Fortunately, my travels along US 422 are well west of the reservoir, even when I'm driving to the Cleveland area from points east. But still, this is one of those vaguely disturbing stories that makes me wonder about Back Home sometimes ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Yet Remarkably, There's No Mention of Jean Chretien

FROM THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL: "Man with no pulse considered a medical breakthrough."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 11, 2006

Phrases One Doesn't Want to Hear

THERE ARE MANY PHRASES in life which, when spoken, generally prompt a sense of fear and dread in those to whom they're directed. "Irrational exuberance" was a famous one, and "not economically viable" is always sure to elicit groans and whimpers. For football fans, though, one of the key phrases one doesn't want to hear is "not yet mathematically eliminated."

Yet that very phrase was used on Sunday and used in connection with none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers, which at 6-7 are two games behind the main Wild Card contenders of Cincinnati and Jacksonville. There are just three games left in the regular season, which means Pittsburgh is in dire straits indeed, and almost certain to spend the post-season at home.

I have a feeling it's going to be a looooooooong 2007.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

One Light Goes Out, They All Go Out

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Edition of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!

A very special holiday edition of an occasional Rant feature

AH, DECEMBER! With Christmas Day fast approaching, Americans everywhere are doing their holiday shopping, getting ready to visit relatives, and planning to enjoy some time off around the end of the year. As such, it will surprise no one to learn The Rant has accordingly seen more disturbing and alarming search-engine queries than ever. Gad.

Now, this is not to say I don’t like the Christmas season – I do very much indeed. It’s just I don’t understand certain recent developments surrounding the celebration of Christmas. For instance, I fully appreciate and value the fact people like to go out shopping for Christmas gifts, even when the malls are horribly crowded and parking is impossible to find. That said, I don’t understand why people start their shopping around the time I’m having a second piece of pie on Thanksgiving night.

I mean, I don’t know about you, but joining an angry mob in an attempt to buy purposely-limited quantities of cheap Chinese electronics ain’t my idea of fun. I also don’t know what prompts people to assault other shoppers over parking spaces, why some radio stations play Christmas carols all the time during December, and who exactly is responsible for pushing back the Christmas shopping season to Columbus Day. Fifty years ago, this would have been seen as prima facie evidence of decay in our Republic. Today, it’s – well, it’s seen as prima facie evidence of decay in our Republic. Yet it goes completely unchecked, apparently because we’re all too busy making sure the shipping companies are getting our packages sent on time.

But anyway. It’s Christmas time, so I can assure you even I have a smile on my face – well, I will at the end of the week, anyway. Now let us talk of many things.

QUERY: class of 94 here i come

ANSWER: As a member of the Class of ’94, I can assure readers that I hate this fucking commercial. That’s primarily because it makes me feel old. I’m not old. I’m only 30. I have no business even thinking about high school reunions. For that matter, I have no business thinking about lots of life’s important milestones which traditionally come before one’s high school reunion. Thus, I would prefer not to think about the fact my tenth high school reunion – if people my age organize such things anymore – has come and gone.

QUERY: funny side of daylight saving

ANSWER: Hey, here’s an idea, why not look for the funny side of a root canal? Why not look for the funny side of getting beaten about the head with a tire iron? Now look, there’s nothing funny about daylight saving time, which cruel German imperialists first put into practice during World War I. It’s worth noting these are the same cruel, pointy-helmeted imperialists who saw nothing wrong with chemical warfare. Yet today, hardly anyone complains when Americans’ precious sleep cycles are disrupted and shattered for weeks at a time.

QUERY: sick Christmas music

ANSWER: Well, first on the list has to be that horrible Paul McCartney song from the Seventies, which I shan’t name lest anyone get it in their heads and – oh, damn. Too late, I see. Sorry. Anyway, this particular song is so hideously bad that it’s almost enough to make me root for the soon-to-be-former Lady McCartney in the couple’s divorce proceedings, if indeed Lady McCartney can in fact lose her title in such a manner. Almost enough, but not quite.

But I digress. You all know the song of which I write, I am sure. It was released in 1979, and I would further note it lends credence to my theory 1979 was the year in which America hit its cultural nadir. It also hit No. 6 on the UK singles chart that year, which I submit is proof Scotland must and shall declare independence before it’s too late.

QUERY: why is christmas a good day

ANSWER: Football! Turkey! Gift-giving! A day off work! Even better, all sorts of goods – including gold, myrrh and frankincense – are frequently on sale following the big day, particularly when the retailers start getting desperate to reach their sales targets. Also, I seem to remember something about a manger and wise men and a really bright star, but it’s late and I’m tired.

QUERY: when the rapture comes we

ANSWER: I don’t know about you, but I’m going to … let’s see here … ah, yes! … “hide in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?’ ”

Before that, though, I’m stealing your sport-utility vehicle.

QUERY: atheist the-divine-comedy

ANSWER: Sixth circle, fiery tombs, so on and so forth – which actually isn’t all that horrible for Dante’s Inferno.

QUERY: why do bad things happen in threes

ANSWER: It’s all a matter of perspective that bad things happen in threes. You must transcend this outlook on life to realize the larger picture, that good things generally happen more often than not.

QUERY: what do we call the imaginary circle around the earth whch lies halfway between the north and south pole

ANSWER: That would be the International Date Line.

QUERY: how long is winter going to be

ANSWER: Two weeks too long, of course.

QUERY: swarming insects michigan

ANSWER: Yeah, that sounds about right.

QUERY: am i here for a reason ?

ANSWER: Well, God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He?

QUERY: football commentators that hate the ravens

ANSWER: Hi there!

QUERY: taking soy milk in luggage to mexico

ANSWER: Boy, the customs folks are going to have fun with you. I don’t think there’s really any reason why you actually need to lug the soy milk to Mexico. Just drink beer or soda like everyone else.

QUERY: bring back the 55 mph speed limit

ANSWER: Uh … no.

QUERY: what is currency speculation

ANSWER: Currency speculation is just that: speculating that the value of a particular currency vis-à-vis a second currency will rise or fall. For instance, one may speculate that the dollar will rise against the pound, or the yen will rise against the euro, or what have you. Unfortunately, as making any significant sum requires an alarming amount of leverage, guessing wrong has a tendency to wipe out one’s position rather quickly.

QUERY: every man a speculator

ANSWER: Given the increasing amount of speculative offerings out there, we’re getting closer than ever to this. Also, that’s the title of a good history of Wall Street.

QUERY: percent of invited guests who show up to weddings

ANSWER: Speaking of every man a speculator … actually, I have no idea how to answer this question. Furthermore, as a man, I don’t think I have any business offering my thoughts on this question. However, generally speaking, I would suggest not skimping on the lobster or whatever you plan to serve during the wedding dinner.

QUERY: raison why you should not drink soda

ANSWER: That’s like asking for a reason not to drink water.

QUERY: money affects friendship

ANSWER: Thank God it hasn’t in my life, and I’d like to think that’s the case in most people’s lives. I think most people realize that everyone’s situations are different, and that no matter whether one has more or less money than another, there are very real tradeoffs which take place as a result of that income disparity. It is one thing to be envious of a man who makes six figures, but strangely, there’s never any envy of the blown vacations and eighty-hour work weeks and missed family events. Conversely, one ought not be jealous of another man’s time or occupation without appreciating the sacrifices he is making as a result. But I would suggest that any and all such financial issues can be resolved through a healthy dose of self-confidence and, if possible, through living below one’s means.

QUERY: flaunting one’s wealth

ANSWER: Flaunting one’s wealth is classless and gauche. That’s not to say one ought not enjoy one’s wealth, but it’s not right to make a scene with it or otherwise act like some wretched celebutante.

QUERY: two jefferson dollar bills are worth how much money?

ANSWER: They would generally be worth, oh, about $2.

QUERY: low end gin brands

ANSWER: Gin is an excellent spirit precisely because one can purchase the best gin on the market for $20 for a fifth, thus obviating the need to purchase cheap gin, which can be especially vile.

QUERY: fundamental analysts are wasting their time when operating in a semi-strong efficient market

ANSWER: That’s assuming you believe in efficient market theory, which I certainly do not. The efficient market theory, to my mind, requires that people and markets operate in a logical, sane and coldly orderly manner. Yet time and again, history has shown that people and markets can and do go stark raving loony for extended periods of time, all based on the thinnest of hopes and the most outlandish of dreams.

QUERY: what did keynes mean in long run we all dead

ANSWER: (blink) (blink) (crickets chirp)

QUERY: did you find the directing sign on the straight and narrow highway

ANSWER: Yes! And my quarter-life crisis is just ahead!

QUERY: since hong kong government doesn t provide a decent pension fund for the senior citizens reached the age of 65 only stupid assholes want to retire in hong kong

ANSWER: So it’s the Government’s fault you didn’t properly invest in your Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme?

QUERY: parents naming children fights

ANSWER: It is important for each parent to hold Veto Power over the ideas one’s spouse has for naming their children. The spousal veto should ensure both parents can settle on a name both like and which won’t embarrass the child in later life.

QUERY: pimped out mercury sable

ANSWER: Now there’s a phrase I didn’t expect to see.

QUERY: trumpet sheet music for europe s the final countdown

ANSWER: And there’s another!

QUERY: bud light real men of genius cincinnati bengals fan

ANSWER: I find it impossible to believe a Cincinnati Bengals fan could be named one of Bud Light’s “Real Men of Genius.”

QUERY: christmas ideas for employees

ANSWER: As I’m not the partying type, I tend to think *not* holding an office Christmas party is generally a good idea. This would probably come as a silent relief to nearly everyone, as well as prevent all sorts of unfortunate incidents from taking place, such as Ted tripping on an extension cord and landing face down in the potato salad. If people really want to have a fun time together around the holidays, they can get together and go out carousing on their own time. It’s more fun for them, less of a liability concern for you, and a win-win alliance all around. Yeah. That’s it. A win-win alliance.

Anyway, in all seriousness, I do hope that all of my readers have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a Pleasant Yule – or an enjoyable otherwise-applicable holiday, like Winterval or something. Thanks for continuing to read The Rant despite my all-too frequent absences, and I look forward to continuing to write it in the weeks and months and years ahead.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 08, 2006

First Snowfall Reported Today

MANCHESTER, N.H. has recorded its first decent snowfall of the winter today. Right now, it's a balmy 18 degrees outside, with a windchill of four degrees and 17 mile-per-hour winds, gusting to 25 mph. We're supposed to receive snow through late afternoon.

I hope the late start this year doesn't mean it will snow in mid-April.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wholly Guacamole

Alien: “What’s that?”
Scotty (holding up bottle): “It’s … it’s green.”

-- Star Trek

RESIDENTS OF CALIFORNIA, as any former or current Golden Stater will tell you, take their guacamole quite seriously. It’s understandable why, too. Avocados are so plentiful in California that it’s not all that unusual for people to have avocado trees in their backyards. Combine that with an abundance of restaurants serving Mexican and Californian cuisine, and you’ve got a discerning populace used to extremely fresh and extremely well-prepared guacamole.

This helps explain my interest in a lawsuit filed against Kraft Foods Inc., which makes a product called “Kraft Dips Guacamole.” According to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles resident Brenda Lifsey has filed suit against the food company, charging it with fraud related to their guacamole product.

Last year, Mrs Lifsey bought the product and made some dip with it, only to discover to her horror that “Kraft Dips Guacamole” had practically no avocado in it. Naturally, the most reasonable course of action available to Mrs Lifsey was to file a civil suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. According to the Times, she seeks to prevent Kraft from marketing the product as guacamole, as well as attorney’s fees and punitive damages. The lawsuit seeks class-action status – and understandably so, considering the sought-after compensatory and punitive damages here would otherwise amount to roughly $12.

Now, some folks have asked whether Mrs Lifsey could have actually read the label before buying the product, or asked for her money back, or written a nastygram to the company, or complained to the store, rather than sue. Some people have also argued that Mrs Lifsey knowingly purchased a product from Kraft Foods Inc., and as such knew or should have known it would taste like crap.

There’s definitely something to that last point, if you ask me. I mean, for God’s sake, this is a company which sells a macaroni-and-cheese product in which the “cheese” is a powdery orange substance. Not only that, but Kraft’s deluxe macaroni-and-cheese product is made with Velveeta, a substance which can detarnish silver and unclog one’s kitchen drains. Thus, one could feasibly argue Mrs Lifsey knew, or should have known, what the devil she was getting into when she bought the package of “Kraft Dips Guacamole.”

That said, though, it’s fundamentally wrong to pass off a chemical stew as honest-to-God guacamole. According to the Times, Kraft’s product is “a whipped paste made from partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey and food starch.” They even use yellow and blue dyes to make it green.

And that, my friends, is just so wrong on so many levels. It would be one thing if it was called an avocado-influenced dip or something like that, but if you’re calling it guacamole, it should by rights have enough avocado in it so that you don’t have to artificially color it green.

The good news for consumers, however, is that actual guacamole can be bought ready-made at the store. For instance, Calavo Growers Inc. – based in the friendly small city of Santa Paula, Calif. – produces a guacamole with avocado, onion, salt, cilantro, garlic, and that’s all. It runs about $4 for a package, and I’ve found it does the trick when I’ve had a guacamole jones but haven’t wanted to spend an hour making the stuff.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 07, 2006

Well, That Was a Good Start to the Weekend

SAY, MAYBE THERE'S HOPE for the Pittsburgh Steelers yet -- if not this season, then perhaps next year. After all, it's hard to feel anything but optimism when one's team takes a division rival to school, 27-7, and does so in a bitterly cold night game given national television exposure.

It wasn't just that QB Ben Roethlisberger did well, it was that everyone did well. Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington made some great catches, the offensive line was outstanding and Willie Parker, instead of falling down for a gain of one yard every first down, ran for a team record 223 yards. Plus, the defense -- although a little too porous on the pass for my liking -- held our opponents to just 18 yards rushing.

Gee, at this rate, the Steelers will crack the .500 barrier before we know it. Plus, with four weeks left in the season, it's entirely possible the Steelers could still make the playoffs. Admittedly, the chance of that happening is a bit slim, but hey. Keep hope alive.

Also, admittedly, this great victory came against the Cleveland Browns, although I don't want to beat up too badly on our divisional foes tonight. Part of that is because their new quarterback, whom no one ever heard of prior to Cleveland's win last week against Kansas City, did extremely well under the circumstances (21-37, 276, 1/1). It's not his fault his receivers couldn't hold onto the ball this evening, and it's not his fault Cleveland's run game couldn't get anything going either. However, he clearly has a lot of potential and did a lot to keep the game from being a total embarrassment for the Brownies. I mean, as the game went on, I kinda wanted Cleveland to score at least once.

But anyway. The important thing here is that Pittsburgh won, and we're just one game away from being .500. Now all we need is for Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Denver and the New York Jets to all lose this weekend, and it'll really bollux up the AFC playoff picture. OK, so Cincinnati is playing Oakland. But I'd be good with four out of five.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 03, 2006

Gee, I Feel Better Already

DESPITE MY DISAPPOINTMENT with the way the BCS turned out (see the post below), I do have to say that on the whole, it was a pretty damned good football weekend. Wake Forest won the ACC Championship; UCLA beat USC; Rutgers came oh so close to beating West Virginia; and Navy beat Army. Yeah. Even on the pro side, the Steelers actually managed to win. As did the Browns, which was a bit of a surprise.

Weekends like this, I think, are why people love this game.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Now Let Us Turn to the Work Which Must Be Done

SO ENDS THE BUSINESS of college football's regular season. This evening, the Bowl Championship Series alignments were announced, and it was revealed the University of Florida Gators will face the Ohio State University Buckeyes in the national championship game. The University of Michigan Wolverines, which ended up in third place after USC fell to UCLA on Saturday (!), will face the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl.

Of course, I'm a bit disappointed about this. However, I also knew in my heart only a Florida loss on Saturday would cement Michigan's place in the national championship. Although we had only lost that one game to Ohio State, and by a margin of just three points, we had lost and so a rematch would have been anticlimatic.

Still, all that is now in the past, and Ohio State and Michigan must each now turn to the work which must be done. Simply put, both squads must do all they can in the next month to prepare for the January games, which will be against tough and seasoned opponents. Then, when January arrives, Ohio State must utterly destroy Florida, while Michigan must throw the Trojans down to the ground.

This isn't just about conference loyalty, or proving to the world OSU and Michigan are the two best teams in college football. This is about the hopes and dreams of millions of football fans from around this great nation, who would truly enjoy it if both USC and Florida got knocked on their asses next month. I mean, it's always fun watching the second-rate prepsters at USC cry in their beers whenever their football team loses, and it's always fun watching the arrogant Gators get their jaws snapped shut. Unless they're playing Florida State, which I detest even more, but that's another post entirely.

Anyway, Florida has so annoyed me this season I'm about to write something which would have been unthinkable for me just a month ago: I am going to root for Ohio State in the national championship game. Not only am I going to root for them, I'm going to stand up and cheer whenever they score a touchdown. I'm going to yell at the television whenever Jim Tressel's squad kicks an extra point, because they could have gone for two. Simply put, I want Ohio State to play so hard against Florida the Buckeyes leave the game wearing alligator shoes.

Much of this is because of Florida's coach, the classless and gauche Urban Meyer, who has spent much of the past couple of weeks whining about the BCS and openly advocating for Florida's inclusion in the championship. Now that Florida is in the game, the boorish simpleton is clucking about like a satisfied hen. As he said on Sunday of Florida's berth, "It's well deserved, and I'm proud of it."

(grind teeth)

I will simply applaud Michigan coach Lloyd Carr for his measured and appropriate response to Meyer's shameless antics. I will also applaud Coach Carr for his wise decision to stay silent on the matter until Sunday morning, when all was pretty much decided. Unlike certain schools, the University of Michigan does not need to lobby for a place in a national championship game.

That's because Michigan's football team has something which Florida's doesn't. Well, actually, it has many things, but a key one of those things is discipline. Now, discipline is a hallmark of any quality football program, but something which one may find lacking in a collegiate football squad from Florida. To be fair, the Florida Gators seem to be the most well-run football program of any in the wretched state, but even that doesn't say much. After all, it doesn't take a lot to improve upon the behavior one finds at -- oh, let's say the private University of Miami, or even certain other schools in the Florida college system:

(n.b. clip contains sound)

There are other versions of that tape out there with the actual sound footage on them. Some feature the comments of the game analyst, a one-time Miami football player who practically cheered on the fighting Miami squad. The man was later fired for his remarks, but it says something that players were engaged in a massive brawl, some swinging their helmets as weapons, and it met with approval.

What? Yeah, OK, so Florida technically has "nothing to do with all that" and this whole line of inquiry is "a complete cheap shot." That's not the point. The point is ... well, I wanted to show the clip. Also, even though Florida may be the least aggravating of the state's college football squads, they're still incredibly aggravating. As such, they must be crushed underfoot and beaten like a cheap rug.

But I digress. Ohio State, please go out and mercilessly crush Florida next month, if only because it could shut Urban Meyer up for as many as three weeks; or, at the very least, embarrass him horribly. That would be a beautiful thing.

As for my Wolverines, I hope they soundly defeat USC. For one thing, it's USC, whom everyone dislikes. But if that isn't reason enough, there's always the fact the Pac 10 is a generally overrated conference which needs to get knocked down a peg or two. Michigan, I think, is just the team to do this. So go forth, men of Michigan, and return Champions of the West.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 02, 2006

The Blogger is Sick

SO THERE I WAS on Wednesday night, feeling sick as a dog and doing my best to not faint in the seemingly immobile line at the pharmacy. I would have preferred to have gone straight home, but I needed medicine. I had run out of cold remedies at home, and the over-the-counter drugs available don’t have the full-force ingredients I need when I’m trying to get over a bad cold.

I need the full-force ingredients because I suffer from chronic sinus problems, the severity of which can make my life a hopeless, wretched nightmare: I keep hoping to wake up, yet stumble around in a dreary haze as the pressure and pain bears down all around me. Those who have sinus trouble will instantly sympathize with my plight; those who who don’t have it ought pray they never do. It’s that bad.

Anyway, the trouble on Wednesday was that I couldn’t buy the cold medicine I needed except through the pharmacy checkout stand. This is because the medicines – at least the ones which work, anyway – have pseudoephedrine or similar substances in them. These work very well – so well, in fact, that clever narcotics traffickers have figured out how to break down the medicines and cook them up into methamphetamine.

As such, some time back the Government decided it would put a crimp into the meth producers’ schemes. The idea, from what I can gather, was to make it as bureaucratic and cumbersome as possible to buy decent cold medicine, and restrict the amount one could purchase at any given time. After a while, the meth producers would get so worn down with waiting in line and producing ID and filling out paperwork that they would quit and engage in more wholesome activities, like golf or benefit fraud.

Unfortunately, caught in the midst of this are the God-fearing cold and allergy sufferers of America, particularly those with hideous sinus conditions.

Now, with this complaint of mine, I don’t mean to diminish the fact that meth is a very real scourge, particularly in rural parts of the country. After all, it’s fair to say that any drug that can keep a user awake for a week, while also potentially causing that user to intermittently scream about the spiders crawling under his skin, is not something with which one ought fool around. Also, there’s the whole meth mouth thing, with the necrotic gums and rotting teeth.

So I do understand where the Government is coming from on this one. I just wish they would let me buy two boxes of the medicine at a time, that’s all. Had I been able to do that this week, I could’ve not made an extra trip to the pharmacy on Friday morning, in which I repeated the whole process again, down to the ten minute wait in line. This was especially not fun given how I was feeling at the time. As such, I hope the Government will tweak – well, let’s say reform – the regime it has put in place.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack