January 30, 2007

But Is This Man REALLY From Michigan?

RECENTLY, I WAS PERUSING the on-line edition of the Detroit Free Press, when I stumbled across a rather different story the paper's driving columnist had authored.

Apparently, changes in Michigan law have boosted the speed limit on several freeways from 65 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour, but the signs on those roads haven't yet been changed to reflect that. As such, it understandably prompted Matt Helms to write about the matter, pointing out to motorists that one could in fact drive 70. But what I didn't understand was Mr Helms' lead, which ran as follows:

You're tooling down the freeway at 70 m.p.h., keeping an eye out for cops because signs say the speed limit is 65. Relax! You're driving perfectly legally. It's one of the state's best-kept road secrets that the signs are wrong, and no cop is going to stop you.

As a Michigan native who has lived in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, and who has traveled extensively throughout the Great Lakes State, this is a lead which forces me to ask: is Mr Helms really from Michigan, or is he doing the driving column from some place a bit more placid, like Sheboygan, Wisc.?

I'm sorry, but I think my fellow Michiganders would agree that were one to actually "tool down the freeway" at a mere "70 miles per hour," one would find oneself crushed between a Mack truck and a Ford Excursion sooner than one could start ranting about the wretched roads. After all, this is Michigan -- home to the American auto industry, and home to the Motor City, the City That Moves the World. The way people Back Home drive, one would think the state's speed limits are just friendly suggestions, suggestions which carry penalties similar to those associated with tearing off the tags on a mattress.

Of course, anyone who has actually received a ticket from the authorities in Michigan knows the authorities don't screw around. Trust me on this -- it sucks. That said, having driven on all the major freeways in Michigan, I also know people just don't drive 70 miles per hour. Nor have they ever worried about getting a ticket while driving 70.

Gad -- I mean, here's just one example. US-23 is a four-lane highway which, in part, runs from between northwest Ohio to Ann Arbor. This stretch of road is practically a straight line. I can assure readers that I have driven on this road at 85 miles per hour, and in doing so, have been frequently passed on the right.

But here's the thing. It's not just that road. When I was driving back to my home town of Kalamazoo last year, I found myself being tailgated on I-94 when I was driving in the upper 70s and lower 80s, even though I was traveling as fast as I could in heavy traffic. Around the Detroit area, the traffic ran at an equally frantic pace, and based on my travels elsewhere in the state, I can't imagine Michiganders driving 70 unless their vehicles were equipped with speed governors. Throughout most of Michigan, there's just too much open space and too little traffic, and everywhere else folks drive as if they're drag racing. I mean, it's so bad it's on par with the 405, and as a former Angeleno that says something.

On a related matter, though, I would note that Mr Helms also advises motorists to stick with driving 55 miles per hour in certain 55 mile per hour zones around Detroit, such as on I-94, I-96, and M-10 (the Lodge). Again, Mr Helms seems to pose this as a matter of law. In reality, anyone who drove faster than 55 mph on these horribly-maintained roads would experience mechanical troubles with their cars, including flat tires, wrenched alignments, and rear axle assemblies being ripped from cars so fast it would impress an eating champion at Ribfest.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 29, 2007

An American's Home is His Castle

(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
The Distinctive Properties and Estates Section
of The Wall Street Journal).

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, I've come to realize that few things in American life excite people as much as the residential real-estate market. As a younger man and a renter, this is not an excitement I particularly share, as for most people my age it is a big step when one simply finds a place with a dishwasher, or a separate washer and dryer. Why, some days even the idea of a carport seems like an unimaginable luxury.

Still, I do find the discussions people have about their real-estate fascinating, particularly when they get to talking about the market itself. People talk about which way prices have moved, and which way they should move; they talk about the insufferable cheapness of buyers or the wretched stubbornness of sellers. People will also sometimes offer friendly advice about the market, and taken together, these myriad opinions are as different as the snowflakes at Mont-Tremblant. Indeed, it is enough to make any renter confused. Should I buy now? Should I wait? Should I buy in the city or an hour north? Should I buy a condo or a house?

The way I see it, though, there's an easier solution than to worry about these questions. Namely, I read the The Distinctive Properties and Estates Section of The Wall Street Journal, along with its affiliated sections like the City Residences listings. This way, I can live vicariously through the experiences of overpaid investment bankers and other buyers who, despite a knack for squeezing the last pennies out of a major equity trade or making money through exchanging cotton futures for contracts on frozen orange juice, will pay ridiculous sums of money for semi-desirable property.

Of course, I am an admitted skeptic when it comes to these types of things, which makes it even more enjoyable. For instance, one recent advertisement referred to a New Jersey home which was allegedly "distinguished by interior and exterior magnificence." Have it all covered, do we? Then, there was the one-bedroom New York apartment notable for its "amazing details" -- at the seven-figure price the owners were asking, the details better have included solid-gold fixtures in the bath.

Also, apparently every other listing proclaimed a buyer would live on one of such-and-such's "most prestigious estates" in a "gated community" -- in short, a "once in a lifetime" experience for any executive, at least until he went to a dinner party at the nicer home of Murray, that sycophantic bastard down on the bond desk. All the superlatives and descriptives and blaring of trumpets are enough to give one a nose bleed.

I did like the advertisement, though, from the unnamed Florida broker who proclaimed his area was full of "SELLERS IN PAIN." I thought it rather inventive and frank, both of which are selling points in my book. And of course, there are plenty of homes listed which are downright spectacular and which I will never be able to afford until I finish the Great American Novel, which has been languishing for years. But there's something to be said for a little vicarious living as opposed to seriously pining away for the unobtainable.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2007

Tequila Sunrise

SO ON FRIDAY NIGHT, I went out and partied with a bunch of friends from the office. No, really, I did! I can assure everyone I had a great time and I really enjoyed myself, although I started feeling sleepy after midnight. The next morning, I found there was good reason for that, as I was really tired.

Here's a dramatization of how I reacted to waking up on Saturday morning, after a night of actual drinking and about six hours' sleep:

I suspect a key contributor to this was the tequila I had during the evening.

Some readers may be familiar with the country song, "Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo," in which singer Tracy Byrd regales his listeners about quickly imbibing ten shots of the erstwhile spirit during a night at the bar. This action supposedly prompts Mr Byrd to engage in a desultory pattern of behavior, ending with him starting to drink tequila again. However, I can assure readers Mr Byrd's song is a complete and utter fantasy. This is because the tequila would have burned through the man's throat somewhere around Shot No. 7, prompting him to drop to the ground in agonizing pain.

Furthermore, in the event Mr Byrd's central nervous system could have stayed intact to the point of managing a tenth shot in rapid succession, it is dubious anyone would have remained in close proximity to serve him one. After all, at that point it would be feasible that the additional shots of Jose Cuervo might have built up in Mr Byrd's trachea, prompting an conflagration that would go down in local lore, kinda like the unfortunate Denny Pratt tragedy.

So, yeah, the stuff I had was a bit strong and I had four shots of it over a two hour period. Strangely, though, I was completely sober at the end of those two hours, and that somewhat surprised me. I drink very little as a matter of course, so four shots of tequila should have had me stumbling around the bar yodeling and insulting the other customers. I mean, I didn't even have a hangover the next morning.

In fact, I actually felt really good.

Thus, I think we can conclude the night was a success, particularly since I didn't wake up with the horrible shooting pains in my shoulders and back that seem to crop up more and more frequently these days. Who knew that tequila could serve as a balm of Gilead? Also, I learned that if I need something really strong, I'll order a shot of Jagermeister.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2007

But Gentlemen, That's Not the Point

THE NEW YORK TIMES has a fascinating article today on retirement savings which poses the question: are people actually saving too much for their retirement?

While I agree the idea sounds completely absurd, it appears an increasing number of scholars have concluded many Americans might be doing just that. Their thinking goes like this: since the various financial calculators out there are overly cautious in terms of their predictions, they end up telling users they need far more capital than they actually require for retirement. The Times reports:

Nevertheless, a small band of economists from universities, research institutions and the government are clearly expressing the blasphemy that many Americans could be saving less than they are being told to by the financial services industry — and spending more — while they are younger. The negative savings rate, they say, is wildly distorted.

According to them, the financial industry, with its ostensibly objective online calculators, overstates how much money someone will need in retirement. Some, in fact, contend that financial firms have a pointed interest in persuading people to save much more than they need because the companies earn fees on managing that money.

The more realistic amount could be as little as half the typical recommendation made by Fidelity, Vanguard or any number of other financial institutions.

For a middle-income couple, that could mean trading $400,000 in retirement money for about $3,000 a year more during prime working years to spend on education or home improvement. “For a middle-class household, that’s a lot of money,” said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor, who is on the forefront of this research into spending and savings, and is selling his own retirement calculator.

Now, I have to say this argument seems a bit like tilting at windmills. After all, what the hell good does it do people to tell them they only need X for retirement instead of 2X or 3X, when they're not even close to X in the first place? It might make more sense to encourage people to keep on saving, and then have them figure out ways they could eventually use the extra money -- whether that means retiring sooner or buying a vacation home or God knows what.

With Fidelity reporting the average 401(k) balance is about $62,000, according to the NYT, it would appear that not enough retirement saving is going on among the general populace. It looks to me that people are counting on the equity in their homes as the key driver in their retirement planning, and while I know that is the largest asset many Americans have, overly relying on one's home does have that aura of putting all of one's eggs into one basket.

Besides, saving for retirement isn't just about saving for retirement. Building a nest egg through a workplace-saving scheme is an excellent way to hedge against unplanned calamity in future. That savings pot can (usually) be drawn on for medical emergencies, an extended stretch of unemployment, or what not. While tapping retirement funds ought to be a last resort -- especially given the tax implications -- having that money there does provide peace of mind. There's no price tag one can put on that.

As for the idea that people ought spend some of the money they are presently saving, that is a godless and wretched idea. OK, so it might be all right if the money was spent on goods and services expected to provide future valuation, but let's be honest. Most people, and I would certainly include myself in this category, would simply spend the extra money away on things of temporary value -- such as excellent breakfasts out, a glass bauble or three, and various tchotchkes of little economic value. Far better to save the money and be prepared for rainy days!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Now, March to the Sea!

TODAY IN ALABAMA, a glorious squad of college football players from the North cruised to a 27-0 victory over their colleagues from the South, which apparently and satisfyingly played rather badly. I had forgotten about the Senior Bowl, and as such didn't watch it today, so I will simply have to be content with the press accounts. It may be a small victory after this football season for the ages, but I'll take it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2007

In My Opinion, This Sucks

FOR THE RECORD, it is 1.4 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) here in Manchester this morning, according to the weather station located a short distance down my street. The windchill is down to roughly -18F below and given stronger winds expected for today, that should fall even further. The predicted high for today? Oh, let's call it eight degrees.

In comparison, it's THIRTY DEGREES right now at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Just on general principle grounds, people shouldn't have to live in places colder than Antarctica.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Give This Man the Nobel Prize

REPORT: North Carolina scientist creates caffeinated baked goods.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 25, 2007

Because Wretchedness is Universally Recognized

WELL, HERE'S A HEADLINE that scares the hell out of me: "Bud's Super Bowl ads take on an international flavor."

The good people at USA Today have the full story. Apparently, the Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. are concerned about the declining U.S. fortunes of their Budweiser product (which in The Rant's opinion tastes like horse piss). According to USA Today, as imports have gained market share at Bud's expense, the company has decided they're going to try and promote Budweiser as a "world beer" during the Super Bowl.

No, I'm not making that up. That's what the paper said:

"The Budweiser brand — which has been losing market share domestically for several years — is being re-billed as a "world" beer. As imported beer sales have climbed, Anheuser-Busch has been buying up import brands in recent years. And its Super Bowl ads seem to be doing less flag-waving and more global hugs.

Two Bud spots will end with a logo of the globe behind the familiar Budweiser symbol.

For A-B, it's a new world — of competition.

"We have lots of equity in our traditional American heritage," says (Bob Lachky, executive vice president of global industry development). "But most people don't know that Budweiser is one of the world's most popular beers." In fact, it's second only to Bud Light as the world's best-selling beer."

A world beer, eh? One wonders what the folks at Budweiser Budvar will think about that. For that matter, one wonders what the rest of the world's going to think about that, or at the very least the Europeans, who mastered the art of brewing. I am confident my European readers are already reading this and snickering, or perhaps more properly gasping in horror, at the very idea of Bud being promoted as a world beer. That's somewhat like promoting some wretched, cheese-drenched Pizza Hut creation as a "world pizza."

Simply put, it's not going to work. It's not going to work precisely because Bud is a mass-produced American beer and, as such, represents everything associated with mass-produced American beer. Meanwhile, these ads will be shown during the one American sporting event which gets broadcast around the world, and everyone abroad is going to either a) laugh at us even harder or b) hate us even more than they already do. I mean, can you imagine it? Here you'll have people in God-knows-where, already having trouble figuring out what a "nickel defense" is and why the Colts quarterback stinks to high heaven, and then they're going to wonder why the Americans insist on drinking thin, watery beer.

Also, for the record, The Rant is astounded that Bud and Bud Light are the world's best-selling beers. Why, even the Canadians are drinking the stuff -- and they always claim to know better!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2007

And Now, the Super Bowl! (Oh, Joy.)

YOU KNOW, I MUST SAY I looked pretty damned smart around the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, when the New England Patriots were leading the Indianapolis Colts 21-3. You see, earlier in the week, I had cleverly predicted a Patriots victory to my fellow Kepples Back Home, nearly all of whom were rooting for Indianapolis. This prediction, largely based on general principle, was met with complete and utter silence when I issued it. But then, in the second quarter, I received a call from Mr Kepple.

Dad described his call as "pre-emptive" in nature, given the Patriots' domination over the Colts up to that point in the game. Instead of gloating, however, I simply said the game had a long way to go and noted there was still plenty of time left. Dad admired my statesmanship.

"You're being too nice," he said suspiciously.

True, I said, but I pledged that if the Patriots pulled things off, I would be perfectly nasty about the matter on my blog. Until then, though, I wasn't going to say a thing. That's because I knew the Colts were perfectly capable of pulling off some implausible comeback. Hell, it had happened to Pittsburgh last year, and that nearly sunk Pittsburgh's run for the trophy. It wasn't likely to happen to New England, I figured, but it could.

And it did.

Shit.

Now, that reaction may come as a surprise to many people, as I'm a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I do not generally root for the Patriots in the regular season*. I do not fawn over the supposed genius of Bill Belichick, I do not swoon over quarterback Tom Brady (although he too is a Michigan alum) and I think the Pats benefit greatly from playing in a weak division. Also, for years they had the Steelers' number -- and that still bothers me.

But having lived in New England for nearly six years now (my God!), I've found myself liking the Patriots more, and I certainly have realized one must respect them. They're a good football team on any given Sunday and in the post-season, they're a great football team. Plus, if the Steelers or my Designated Alternate Teams** aren't in the mix, there's little reason not to root for the Patriots -- particularly if they end up playing a team I hate, like the evil Baltimore Ravens.

Also, after thinking about the matter, I realize I don't really like the Colts all that much. Oh, I like Tony Dungy, of course. Everyone likes Tony Dungy, because he is a good guy. But I don't really have any reasons for liking anyone else on the team. Besides, they play in a dome the whole year round. True, there are styles of football for which that is acceptable, but I can't in good conscience approve of any NFL team that purposely avoids dealing with the vagaries and challenges of the weather. If the Green Bay Packers still play outdoors in the dead of winter, so can everyone else.

But alas, the Colts won.

So now what?

True, there is the Super Bowl ahead, but as a colleague of mine said at work today, it will be difficult to fight apathy. Chicago? Indianapolis? Ooooooooooooooh. If it had been Chicago-New England it would have at least had some historic significance, but this matchup is just grim, primarily due to the wretchedness of the Bears offense. The game will likely turn into a rout somewhere in the third quarter; the Colts will glide to victory; Peyton Manning will win his Super Bowl ring. Then, after the game, he will be named a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire whilst drinking Gatorade and exhorting people to use their priceless debit cards so the card processors can increase their fee revenues. May God help us all.

Anyway. We'll have the Super Bowl, and then the Pro Bowl, which no one ever watches because everyone knows the AFC will crush the NFC like a bug. And then ... uh ... uh oh. Um, we're going to have to wait eight months for college and pro football to start again. True, there are other sports to watch, like baseball and basketball and hockey, but it's going to be pretty tough without football.

Unless, of course, you're like me and will find ways to watch football. Thus, as a public service announcement, here's a general listing of all the minor-league professional football available being played during the spring and summer. (You're welcome!)

The ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE: At the very least, we'll have 26 AFL games broadcast throughout the spring and summer, starting on Sunday, March 4. Even though people often cut down arena football, it's quite an exciting game. Defense plays a surprisingly large role in the game, and with extremely narrow goal-posts and rebound nets, the kicking game becomes far more than just an afterthought. The season will run through July 29, when ArenaBowl XXI is played in New Orleans. (NOTE: The Rant will support the Philadelphia Soul this spring due to the ex-Manchester players on the squad).

THE AF2 league: The arenafootball2 league (AF2) is arena football's minor league, in which players develop their skills. They can earn promotion to the AFL, in which case they can play full-time and conceivably make it to the NFL. Games start on Thursday, March 29, and the regular season runs through the end of July. You'll probably have to listen to the radio if you can't make the games, but you should make the games if you can -- they make for a fun and generally inexpensive night out. (The Rant, as you know, will support the Manchester Wolves).

NFL EUROPE: NFL Europe games start on Saturday, April 14. Many of the games are broadcast via tape delay -- which stinks -- but the NFL Network has generally carried at least one game live a week, often on Saturday afternoons. Not only do these games provide Quality Football Action, they also allow football fans to become familiar with players who will soon fight for spots on their NFL teams during the pre-season. Why, just a few minutes of watching Shane Boyd play in an NFL Europe game made me look like an expert when he played for the Steelers during the preseason this year. So when you get really desperate for football in mid- to late spring, you know where you can turn. (The Rant supports the Cologne Centurions).

The CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE: So it's summer. It's hot. It's muggy. The last thing you want to do is go outdoors and commune with nature and all that crap. That's when the Canadian Football League comes in, with its three downs and twelve men and metric football field***. True, it starts in June, and during the fall the games are impossible to find on US television, and you forget about it halfway through September until November rolls around and, oh! the Grey Cup's on! and Pittsburgh played at one o'clock anyway, so ... (The Rant supports -- who else -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders).

If all that doesn't at least pique your interest about "off-season" football, consider this: the chances of stumbling across a Peyton Manning-related advertisement will probably be close to zero. If you ask me, that's reason enough to watch.

----------

* Unless, of course, the Pats are playing a team which I hate and believe must be destroyed. These teams include the Baltimore Ravens, the Oakland Raiders, and all the teams in the NFC East division.

** The Rant's secondary team is the Cleveland Browns. The Rant's tertiary team is the Detroit Lions.

*** In Canadian football, the football field is 110 yards long (a "metric football field") as opposed to the standard 100 yard ("short") football field used in the United States. Furthermore, the endzones are 20 yards deep by 65 yards wide, which is exactly one "hectare" in area. That's compared to the US endzone of 10 yards by 53 1/3 yards.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 20, 2007

The Agony and -- Well, the Agony

Numb me -- drill me --
floss me -- bill me.

-- Weird Al Yankovic, “Cavity Search”

IF GOD HAD WANTED MAN to have perfectly straight, whiter-than-white teeth, He would have put immense amounts of naturally-occurring fluoride into the lakes and streams which feed the world's municipal water systems. Then again, given the events of Genesis, perhaps having wretched dental issues is all simply part of the burden associated with original sin. In fact, given what I went through Friday, I’d say that sounds about right.

On Friday, you see, I went for the second part of a Not Fun Dental Procedure known as root scaling and planing. (The first part had taken place the previous Friday, and it also proved to be Not Fun. In fact, when I submitted a claim form for the work, I put down “Not Fun Dental Work” to describe the procedure). The reason this procedure is not fun is because it is a deep-cleaning of the teeth and gums, which flushes out all the plaque and other unpleasantness in there. Since the work is done around the roots of the teeth, it requires several shots of novocaine to get to the point where work can proceed.

Just for the record, you know the procedure isn’t fun when your dentist fully admits that the shots are going to hurt, and actually somewhat commiserates throughout the process. It’s one thing to get a shot in the back of the mouth, which hurts a little but is fully bearable, and another thing entirely to get a shot in the palate, which hurts to the point where I shouted in discomfort. Fortunately, it was by far the worst part of the procedure, but it was a just wretched few moments there.

That said, the combination of adrenaline and numbness was something else – I got out of the chair an hour later in a cold sweat and feeling as if I’d nearly gotten hit by a train. But the good news is that several hours later, my mouth felt better and I was able to go out and have a nice dinner. Well, that and I don’t have to go back to the dentist until May.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2007

Alarming! Very, Very, Very Alarming!

OH NO!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!

An occasional Rant feature

SOMEHOW I MISSED this glorious news, but recently I learned that Citigroup's wretched ad campaign with the vaguely Eastern European guys got canned several months before it was scheduled to wrap up. I wish I had known this when the news broke before Christmas, for it would have made everyone's holiday at home even better. Gee, we probably would have had a nice bottle of wine just to celebrate that news alone. My God, can you believe those ads were originally scheduled to run through March?

But although news of the campaign's end was wonderful, what remains rather alarming is how the campaign took hold in people's minds, as if the commercials were the advertising variant of phenobarbital. True, many people exposed to them were able to resist the ads, despite suffering symptoms similar to those one has with a bad sinus infection. Others, though, clearly broke down soon after the ads' assault, and quickly had the ads' catch phrase utterly inserted into their psyche.

This is the only explanation of which I can think to explain why A FULL SIX PERCENT of searches to The Rant in January involved some rendition of the phrase, "Rewarding! Very, very, very rewarding!" I mean, I haven't seen anything this bad since that goddam paper clip in Microsoft Word. You remember the paper clip, right? No? Here's a reminder:

Here's another fun version -- albeit shorter, foreign, profane, and violent. But we all felt this way, right?

But I digress. Anyway, to put the figure in proper perspective, it's worth nothing that variations of the "rewarding" theme turned up EVEN MORE in The Rant's search logs than various search strings related to sex and pornography. The latter subjects attract an alarming number of hits despite The Rant's almost complete lack of discussion on such matters. So I really don't know what to think of this, except that it suggests a level of banality in today's life that is very, very, very alarming.

Without further ado, though, here's a look at some of the OTHER search terms from the New Year. This will be a relatively short list but hopefully will turn out all right:

QUERY: dump lloyd carr

ANSWER: Gee, you lose to Ohio State and lose the Rose Bowl and suddenly everyone forgets the 11 games Michigan won beforehand. OK, so I wouldn't mind if the guy retired, but I don't think we can throw the man out. He went 11-2, for Pete's sake, and that's not bad. There's always next year and we'll recover.

QUERY: coca cola thieves

ANSWER: Stealing Coca-Cola is depraved and wretched in all but the most dire of circumstances, such as a large-scale thermonuclear war. I mean, can you imagine if people just stole Coca-Cola at whim what it would be like? Anarchy and bedlam!

QUERY: taurus no heat

ANSWER: A colleague of mine who had this issue recently said the blower motor had shorted out. A service call might prove necessary. Or it could just be a fun Ford Taurus quirk, the type of thing which just happens for no reason. I've noticed these start to happen on my car, although my Taurus will be ten years old this year and has 130,000 miles on it and I still really like it.

QUERY: i hate peyton manning

ANSWER: You know, variations on THIS theme were the third most popular search at The Rant so far this month! I wonder why. Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I hope you'll continue to stop by. Here's a fun video helping to explain why I hate Peyton Manning and hope New England's defense "signs his melon" repeatedly on Sunday:

QUERY: car door latch freeze

ANSWER: You may be able to prevent this in future by spraying the locks with WD-40. A liberal application of the stuff should force out any moisture inside the lock mechanism, which is what freezes. Open the door, spray inside the lock, open and close the door several times to make it stick. This tactic has worked for me several times and I've had no problems as a result.

QUERY: seattle is depressing

ANSWER: You're not going to find me arguing with that complaint.

QUERY: tricks of investing

ANSWER: Buy. Hold.

QUERY: who are the old coaches in the coor beer commercials

ANSWER: Wait, I'm sorry, what? The old coaches? How can ... OK, now I feel old. Geez. I mean, it's not like they dug up old footage of Tom Landry and worked him into the commercials, now is it? Also, although I've generally hated these commercials, I like the one with Jim Mora. That one was clever, although I have to admit I liked it largely because they got the "Playoffs?!" rant into the script.

QUERY: how to say nothing in 500words essay

ANSWER: I'll spot you one of the 500 right now: synergy. Now go on, get to work!

QUERY: is gall bladder pain bad

ANSWER: Until it's removed, yes. There's nothing like getting wracked with random spasms of excruciating pain despite subsisting on a diet that eschews fats and spice.

QUERY: natty up caffeinated beer

ANSWER: Ah, isn't that beside the point? Last time I checked, beer had ... alcohol. Which is a depressant. Which would seem to make the idea of making it caffeinated a bit pointless.

QUERY: how much do arena football players earn?

ANSWER: This can range from $200/game in the af2 league to $80,000 per year in the AFL.

QUERY: cheap bengals shirts

ANSWER: But aren't they all?

QUERY: ridiculous beckham america

ANSWER: I'm glad someone agrees with me!

QUERY: celebrity worship syndrome solution

ANSWER: Beats me. I do think, though, that the reason people tend to closely follow every detail of celebrities' lives is that it lets them live vicariously through the celebrities in question. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that in moderation but for some it clearly becomes more than simply an interest. This would suggest to me, anyway, that the person is inwardly dissatisfied with things about his or her life and takes interest in the celebrity to focus attention away from that dissatisfaction.

Speaking of dissatisfied, I'm somewhat dissatisfied with how this entry turned out, given that I should have done a better job with it. But it's late and I'm tired, so I'm going to go to bed. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a good weekend and that you enjoy the football on Sunday. Yeah.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2007

Everything Old is New Again Dept.

THE NEW YORK TIMES reports that AT&T will on Monday start phasing out the Cingular name for its wireless business, which will be replaced with AT&T. The Times reports:

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AT&T will not disclose the budget for the campaign, which will continue for five or six months — leading to the partnership with Apple on the new iPhone, scheduled for midyear.

A campaign last year to promote AT&T as the new brand name of SBC Communications cost an estimated $1 billion.

That campaign followed the acquisition of AT&T by SBC, whose chairman and chief executive, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., has long believed in the power of the AT&T brand to attract attention in the crowded telecommunications market.

“We did rigorous research; we did not enter this decision lightly,” Wendy Clark, senior vice president for advertising at AT&T in San Antonio, said yesterday of the decision to change the name of Cingular, the nation’s largest mobile carrier.

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Well, regardless of why AT&T is making the switch, I'm glad they're doing it. Particularly because I think Cingular is a stupid name for any firm, much less a telephone company. AT&T, on the other hand, has that old-school gravitas going for it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shock Horror at Beckham Yank Soccer Deal

SO DAVID BECKHAM, the English soccer star, has ended his time at Real Madrid to play for five years at the Los Angeles Galaxy, a well-regarded team in America’s Major League Soccer. For agreeing to this deal, he will be paid a downright ridiculous sum of money – a sum that could even reach $250 million.

There’s no polite way to say this, so I may as well just spit it out. I think this will prove the worst decision in American business history since New Coke was introduced back in 1985. No, really. I’m serious. Paying that type of money for a well-regarded athlete in a respected sport would be ridiculous even by U.S. standards; but to pay that type of money for an over-the-hill 31-year-old in a sport few people care about is downright insane. To continue on this point, let’s review for a moment the relative popularity, and cultural weight, given to the array of professional sports* in the United States:

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1. Football (professional and college)
2. Baseball (MLB and minor leagues)
3. Basketball (professional and college)
4. Hockey (NHL and minor leagues)
5. Golf
6. Tennis
7. Arena/indoor football
8. Boxing
9. Canadian football
10. Professional soccer
11. Jai alai

* Although some observers might consider auto racing “America’s No. 1 sport,” The Rant steadfastly refuses to recognize its most popular variant, stock car racing, as an actual honest-to-God sport. This is because The Rant can’t understand why anyone would spend time watching cars drive around in circles when one could instead watch the sports listed above. Still, were it included, it would probably rank No. 3 in this list.

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I fully admit my quick survey is entirely unscientific, and I can imagine soccer fans are grinding their teeth at the injustice of it. After all, U.S. professional soccer is televised, and although only one MLS team makes a profit, each game attracts an average of 20,000 fans to the nation’s soccer stadia. This is impressive on its face, although put in proper perspective it becomes less so. Consider that the NFL’s European league, largely based in Germany, has similar attendance rates for its games and has at the very least an American television deal. But last time I checked, American football wasn’t taking Europe by storm, and there is no reason to think soccer will do so here.

Part of me wonders whether Mr Beckham truly realizes, in his gut, just how marginalized professional soccer is in the United States. I don’t know if one can unless one has lived in America for a while. Sure, we have soccer on television, but we also have the best games available from Latin America and overseas, so there’s less reason to watch American soccer. Plus, soccer’s a bit off compared to most American sports. Who the hell wants to watch a game where the score could, after 90 minutes plus extra time, very likely be 0-0? And what the hell’s with all the ties in the first place? God. I’ll go so far as to say the only advantage soccer has over American football is its team-based promotion and relegation system – which is quite cool – but MLS doesn’t even have that.

Part of me also wonders whether the Galaxy and its corporate ownership got a bit blinded by Mr Beckham’s star power. Reportedly, only $50 million of Beckham’s pay will result from his soccer salary, although he could earn a total of $100 million due to profit-sharing. The rest will come from endorsement deals and jersey sales. Still, it seems like a hell of a chance for the team, doesn’t it? It is one thing to get a bit of nice publicity during the cold month of January, but another thing entirely for that to translate into dollars and cents come spring, or whenever it is the MLS season starts. And two years from now, will people still go to soccer games because Beckham will be playing in them?

That all remains to be seen, of course. In the meantime, we can all sit back and watch as the cultural ambassadors from what’s left of Britain arrive in Los Angeles. I am certainly not an expert on the machinations of the entertainment-industrial complex, but I would be surprised if “Posh and Becks” get the same type of play they do in the rest of the world. I mean, he plays soccer. She used to be a Spice Girl. These might be tough hurdles to overcome in a nation which cares little about those things.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 08, 2007

I Don't Frickin' Believe It

YOU KNOW, THIS HAS BEEN A pretty tough football season here at The Rant. While my Michigan Wolverines performed quite admirably this year, they lost to Ohio State again and then were soundly defeated by USC in the Rose Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers were subpar all season and didn’t make the playoffs. Then, the few teams I liked which made the playoffs all got knocked out, so now it will be hard to root for any Super Bowl contender. As for college bowl season, that’s pretty been pretty grim too.

That’s not to say there haven’t been victories along the way. For instance, it was nice when Penn State knocked off Tennessee and Wisconsin beat Arkansas, and Rutgers won too, which was fun. But everything else during bowl season has kinda sucked. Navy lost a squeaker and Iowa went down fighting and Wake Forest got felled. And now – oh, God.

I’m sorry, but the idea of frickin’ Florida – that wretched, godawful, miserable uncivilized excuse for a university – being named National Champion of College Football makes me nauseous. What the hell happened to Ohio State?

As one can deduce, I had gone into the game thinking Ohio State would win, and as a result, I figured the boosters of the Southeastern Conference might actually shut up for a week. But now we’re going to have to listen to them go on about how wonderful the SEC is and how it is supposedly superior to every other football conference in America, even though none of its teams could handle a game in the snow.

What’s that? Of course it’s ungracious of me to react this way. It’s pre-emptive, reactionary ungraciousness. But there’s nothing wrong with that in this case, because we’re dealing with the SEC. These guys have ungracious down cold. I mean, just look at that moron Auburn coach who was complaining about his team’s ranking in the fifth week, only to see his team to get knocked on its ass the next week. And just look at Florida coach Urban Meyer’s classless whining about the national championship game itself. Hell, look how the man egged on the Florida crowd late in the fourth quarter. You don’t see Big Ten coaches pulling those types of shenanigans.

Before this year, I was never much of a believer in the idea of conference loyalty, but let me tell you, I’m sold now.

Fellow alumni of the Big Ten Conference, I propose that during the college football postseason, we all root for the SEC to be destroyed in all its bowl appearances, and also root for the general humiliation of the Pac 10 and the ACC. Further, I propose we all root for our fellow Big Ten schools to kick ass in their bowl appearances. Also the MAC, because they’re our peeps. And Big East schools, as individual circumstances permit.

But since we’ll have to wait until next year to unleash this grand strategy, in the meantime I suppose I ought congratulate Florida on playing an excellent game. Their defense was top-notch and their offense also performed extremely well, and despite that great kickoff return at the start, Ohio State couldn’t seem to get things going. So, congratulations to all the Florida players.

Anyway. College football season is over. Pro football season – as much as I want Smartyball to triumph in the Super Bowl – may as well be. So while I’m counting down the days until arenaball starts, here’s hoping the (well, at least my) 2007 football season will turn out better than it did in 2006.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2007

Now, If Only We Could Get Rid of Our Canadian Coins

A DALLAS-BASED CHAIN of pizza shops will on Monday start accepting Mexican pesos for cash payments, the Dallas Morning News has reported. The Pizza Patron chain, which the News said markets heavily to Latinos, figures the move will prove popular with its core market. There are, however, catches. First, the shops will only accept peso notes, as opposed to coins. Second, change will be given in U.S. currency. Third, and perhaps most notably, pesos will be accepted at a 12 to 1 ratio with the U.S. dollar; the present rate is about 11 to 1.

I'll be interested to see how this turns out, if only because the Pizza Patron chain has discovered a practical use for all those excess 20, 50 and 100 peso notes people bring across the border with them, but don't bother changing at the bank or the change bureau because it's not worth the hassle. Selling pesos far away from the Mexican border can be a frustrating experience. First you have to find a branch of your bank that will buy them; then the transaction can be a pain; and finally, the bank pays a miserly rate when it does buy. It's just not worth the trouble if you've got an extra 50 or 100 pesos in your wallet that for some reason you didn't spend in Mexico.

Of course, it is wise for the chain to only accept peso notes. Coins would prove heavy and impractical. Besides, no one would be fool enough to spend peso coins in an American pizza shop, as that would take even more coinage out of the already-strapped Mexican system. What's that? You don't believe me? OK, fine. Look at this list of Mexican coins. Notice how it refers to something called the "five centavo coin." Notice again how it refers to a coin allegedly in the amount of "twenty centavos." Readers, I can assure you that outside of Los Pinos or a museum, no one has seen one of those coins in years.

It is also wise for the chain to effectively buy the pesos at a discount (or, alternatively, sell pizza at a premium). Pizza Patron is effectively buying its pesos at 8.33 cents per peso when the real value is now about 9.09 cents; a profit of 0.75 cents per peso spent in its stores. Now, let's say on a typical day the chain takes in 100,000 pesos from its 59 stores (for an average of US$140 per day per store). That's a gross profit of $750 just on the currency transaction. Over a year's time, that's a gross profit of $273,000.

Now, the chain says it must buy at a lesser rate due to the expense of changing the pesos into dollars. That's fair enough, but I can't believe the firm doesn't realize some sort of profit anyway. Even at a change bureau, the premium charged tourists off the street is only 1.5 or 2 pc, not the roughly 8 pc gross profit Pizza Patron would realize. Even if its bank charged 4 pc, Pizza Patron would still do all right. But as I can't believe the firm's bank would go out of its way to upset a good customer, a customer which would very much like this idea to work, I must believe Pizza Patron has found a way to get a good rate for its exchange.

So this seems like a very clever idea that, if it all works out, could very well please both the chain's customers and its accountants. That's a rare thing indeed!

As an aside, I have to say it would be great if more places in the north would accept Canadian currency in payment for goods and services. As a Michigander, I grew up under the assumption that Canadian money, although a bit weird and not as cool as U.S. money, was still perfectly viable for use in commerce. Furthermore, Canadian coins were often accepted at par with the God-fearing coinage of the United States. Yet now I find that practically no one will accept Canadian coins, despite the fact they're worth nearly as much as U.S. coinage. This annoys me, as it forces me to be sneaky in dumping my Canadian coins on unsuspecting souls, and I'd prefer to spend the money honorably.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Summed Up in One Word: "Sweet"

YOU KNOW, because laughter makes the pain go away. The horrible, gut-wrenching pain. (Giants and Cowboys fans, welcome aboard!)

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

Wait, WHAT?

WAIT A MINUTE. Explain to me how Dallas actually managed to lose the game which I stupidly turned off in disgust somewhere in the third quarter. A safety? A botched field goal attempt? What the hell? More importantly, where was all this when I checked the stupid online NFL scoreboard and it clearly said, Dallas 20 - Seahawks 13, with ten seconds left in the fourth quarter?

I mean, that WAS what it said, I'm sure of it.

Oh, come on. You don't think I would have REALLY posted the entry below without honestly believing the Cowboys won, do you? I mean, for Pete's sake, there are few things I enjoy more than watching Dallas lose. Plus, since this loss was a season-ender, it really puts all the Cowboys fans in a bad mood -- AND it means there's great potential for months of off-season bickering between Messrs Jones, Parcells and Owens, the Unholy Trinity of Dallas Football.

Yeah. Let the arguing begin!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2007

*Grumble* *Grumble* *Grumble*

SO THE COLTS WON and the Chiefs lost and the Cowboys won and the Seahawks lost (or not; see above -- eds.) in today's NFL playoff matches. As someone who dislikes Indianapolis and detests Dallas, I found this most annoying. So annoying, in fact, that I'm going to reserve comments on the whole matter until later, when I can think clearly about these events. Until then, though, as a cheer-up enjoy the commercial which has actually caused me to warm up to Dunkin' Donuts. But only slightly.

For the record, "Fratalian" was the language I was conversing in tonight to express my amazement and surprise at how the Colts brought the hammer down on Kansas City. I mean, come on. Stupid Peyton Manning throws three interceptions and suddenly the rest of the team shows up? Crikey. Of course, Kansas City played horribly* the entire game, but boy.

* Is there a more graphic phrase than "horribly" to use at that point in the sentence? Such as, say, "incredibly incompetent football?" I'm sorry, but when one's kicker shanks a 23-yard field goal off the uprights -- after a momentum-changing turnover and drive -- there's something wrong with one's football team.

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

January 01, 2007

A Grudging Congratulations to USC

THE RANT WOULD like to offer its congratulations to the University of Southern California for its admittedly excellent win today over my beloved Michigan Wolverines. Despite its lesser academic credentials and its reputation as a haven for the overprivileged, to say nothing of its focus on foofy disciplines such as film, USC played an excellent game today and should be congratulated for its Rose Bowl victory. As we Michiganders know, it's tough to go through a football season with only two losses. So, again, congratulations to the USC Trojans for playing a great game and shredding our secondary six ways from Sunday.

God almighty, did they EVER shred our secondary. Oh, and they beat up our offensive line. Oh, and they sacked our quarterback practically every other play. Oh, and they outcoached us. In short, this USC lineup wasn't the same team that lost to UCLA. That said, there's always next year -- which will probably be another good one for the Michigan Wolverines, given our plethora of returning players.

But I digress. Again, my congratulations to USC and USC's football team on their victory. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cry in my beer.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack