July 31, 2007

Report: Brady Quinn Suffering from Delusions of Grandeur

WRITING IN SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, columnist Peter King tackles a subject near and dear to the hearts of Cleveland Browns fans everywhere: namely, what the hell is wrong with Brady Quinn?

Mr King makes the reasonable case that Quinn's decision to hold out for better terms on a contract is not going to help him in the long run, and that everyone from die-hard Browns fans to club personnel are wondering why the devil Quinn hasn't figured this out. As if that wasn't bad enough, the rookie quarterback apparently believes he is God's gift to Cleveland football, even though with each passing day fewer and fewer people in northeastern Ohio hold that view.

Mr King writes:

But the Quinn story is a little bit different because, after he was drafted 22nd overall by Cleveland, it was widely assumed his experienced agent, Tom Condon, would want the Notre Dame quarterback to get paid far better than the slot for the No. 22 pick. There's some logic there because Quinn performed better his last two years at Notre Dame than a guy who you'd normally see get taken in the 20s. But the slot is the slot. And the Browns are not paying him like the No. 11 pick just because they had him graded far better than No. 22.

It isn't just the front office that's frustrated with Quinn. Players are usually business-will-be-business guys, but I got a sense a few of his teammates think Quinn is out of mind for not being in camp. And he shouldn't expect a welcome mat whenever he arrives. After one minicamp practice in the spring, veteran nose tackle Ted Washington, whose role, in part, is to put rookies in their place, yelled at Quinn for being such an attention magnet. "Remember, you ain't done nothing yet," Washington hollered. Spirit of the team stuff, yes. But pointed and with meaning.

I'm told the Browns and Condon are extremely close on the dollar amount in the contract, with only structure and early guaranteed money now standing in the way. It's at times like this when an intelligent player such as Quinn needs to make a call to his agent and say: "Whatever we're arguing about right now in terms of structure isn't worth it. I need to be in camp and I need to be in camp yesterday."

Compounding the problem is that Quinn did an autograph show in Cleveland earlier this summer and charged $75 per autographed photo. Talk about rubbing the locals the wrong way. That, combined with this ill-advised holdout, led one Browns insider to tell me the team wouldn't be surprised when Quinn finally reported to training camp, there would probably be a segment of fans on hand that would boo him. It's absolutely amazing that Quinn, who could have run for mayor in May, now would be lucky to get elected dog-catcher.

It is The Rant's professional opinion that Quinn is a coddled and mediocre quarterback, whose collegiate performance was not indicative of any great talent but rather the efficacy of the Notre Dame squad on which he played. It is also The Rant's opinion that Quinn, who got his ass beaten like a steel drum when he faced better collegiate squads at Michigan, USC and LSU, is this year's Ryan Leaf Waiting to Happen.

This is not to condemn the Browns for choosing Quinn in the first round of the NFL draft. Not at all. The Browns were extraordinarily clever, in my mind, to trade draft slots to the Dallas Cowboys for the chance to pick up Quinn. They had already done great picking Joe Thomas, the offensive lineman, in the first round and so to pick up Quinn later in that round was an inspired choice.

However, it seems strange the Quinn camp doesn't recognize just how far the Browns went out on a limb for their man. After all, had the Browns not drafted Quinn in the first round, it seems perfectly conceivable to think the Great White Hype could well have fallen into the second round of the draft, in which his earnings potential would be impacted even more than it already has been. Yet Quinn's agent apparently believes his client deserves to get paid like one of the draft's top choices. This is unrealistic at best and insanity at worst.

The reason Quinn went at No. 22 was because a lot of NFL teams took a look at Quinn and reasonably decided he wasn't all that special. It also seems doubtful the Browns thought Quinn would be a panacea for their woes -- after all, they already had two somewhat decent quarterbacks in the persons of Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. As such, Cleveland's choice of Quinn was nothing more than a value proposition, a chance to get a potentially good quarterback on the cheap. If it paid off, great; if not, Quinn was trade bait. For, as Mr King noted in his column, Quinn hasn't done anything yet.

I had not heard the story that Quinn had charged $75 for autographed photos while in Cleveland. However, knowing the northeast Ohio area as I do, I can imagine people looked upon this as a special sort of perfidy, a shameless and wretched act committed solely for personal gain and without consideration of the fans' feelings. It undoubtedly came off as a move reminiscent of Art Modell, whose popularity in northeastern Ohio is a few steps below that of syphilis. In hindsight, it may not have been the best decision for Quinn.

As for this holdout business, if not ended soon, it will also prove not to have been the best decision for Quinn. The boy and his entourage apparently believe Cleveland needs them more than they need Cleveland, but I think that opinion is based on a grave misreading of both the Browns organization and, perhaps more importantly, the Browns' fans. After all, this is a team that has suffered for years and the idea that Cleveland's downtrodden fans will warm to Quinn like a campfire in the Yukon doesn't carry a lot of water. Cleveland's fans are going to want results, results and more results before they open their arms up to the brat, and if they don't get them they'll have no qualms about running him out of town on a rail.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Alleged Men Allege "Ladies Night" Discrimination

LOYAL RANT READERS know that when it comes to matters of romance, I am a staunch traditionalist. I refuse to allow my dates to pay for dinner, I like sending flowers and I am polite and respectful to my dates. In short, I try to conduct myself in a manner befitting an educated and modern man, while still adhering to the old standards that call for men to act, well, like men.

Apparently, these old standards are not holding up the way they once did. This was made perfectly clear to me a while back when I was out at a local watering hole with friends and colleagues from work, and discovered that at this particular establishment, the male clientele were largely mouth-breathing vermin lacking both in manners and self-control. Their behavior was so appalling, in fact, that I spent much of the evening in a sort of shocked silence, watching as the drunken louts wandered about and vainly attempted to remedy the fact they would be going home alone that night.

However, my utter and complete contempt for such wretchedness does not stop there. The way I see it, men -- simply because they're men -- need to hold themselves to pretty high standards. At the very least, they ought hold up to the Basic Commandments of Manliness as Expressed in Major Motion Pictures, viz. and to wit:

1. When faced with adversity, shoulder your burden appropriately. Acting like Johnny Fontaine is discouraged.

2. A man ought contribute his fair financial share to a relationship. Not doing so is a failure that must be corrected. Purposely failing to do so, and overly taking advantage of your partner's money for your own gain, is an extremely grievous sin. This principle is perhaps most succinctly summed up in Ace Rothstein's famous take down of ne'er-do-well Lester Diamond in the coffee shop. However, this principle has been established among men for millenia, as one sees in the Inferno, Canto XVIII, 64-66:

While he was speaking one of the devils struck him
With his long whip, and said to him: "Go on,
Pimp, you'll make no money from women here."

3. Complaining about things you ought not complain about will put you in a bad light. This is perhaps best shown in that scene from "Ghostbusters" when Venkman and the EPA guy square off in the Mayor's office. But we'll get back to this in a bit.

For, speaking of complaining about things one ought not complain about, I note with displeasure that various men -- or, rather, the weak, soulless, excuses for men these people are -- have launched a campaign against the practice of bars and other establishments offering "ladies nights." Ladies nights, of course, are promotional events in which women are offered free or discounted admission as an incentive to hang around said establishments, thus giving men more of an incentive to show up and spend their money on overpriced, watered-down liquor, in the largely vain hope they'll get lucky that evening.

Perhaps the most noteworthy example of this untouchable caste is Mr Roy Den Hollander, a lawyer in New York, who recently whined to ABC News about the brutal injustice he has suffered as a result of this practice:

Roy Den Hollander is a New York lawyer who says Ladies' Night drinks and admission specials are unconstitutional, and he says he's suffered personally. Hollander is also a graduate of Columbia Business School and seems like a guy who should be able to get into a decent bar and afford the drinks. So what irks him?

"I'm tired of having my rights violated and being treated as a second-class citizen," said Hollander, who is seeking class-action status for his suit in federal court. ...

Hollander seeks to be the lead plaintiff and the representing attorney in a class-action suit against several Manhattan venues including the China Club, Copacabana Nightclub, A.E.R. Nightclub and Sol. As a patron of these venues, he alleges that Ladies' Night discounts violate the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection to "similarly situated" persons.

If this thing actually DOES go to court, you can imagine the defense would have a field day.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And therefore, ISN'T IT TRUE that ---
PLAINTIFF: Objection! Your Honor, the defense is badgering the witness, who happens to be, well, me.
JUDGE: Oh? Counselor, what do you say to that?
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's true, Your Honor. This man has no dick.
JUDGE: Overruled! Continue, counselor.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, that's what I heard!

So help me out here: what kind of man not only whines about Ladies Nights, but also seems to honestly believe that he is having his rights violated and being treated like a second-class citizen? Did I miss something? I mean, the charge here is that the man essentially has to pay a few bucks more for his night out. Not that he was given a literacy test when he went to register for the vote, not that he is being forced to use separate water fountains, and not that he was failing to receive equal protection from the state, but that he has to pay a few dollars more for his night out -- money, one ought note, that he would probably spend ANYWAY on drinks for the ladies whom he charges get an unfair advantage. (Unless the guy is really a jackass, which given the suit I suppose is within the realm of possibility).

What goes on in a man's head to get him to such a wretched, puerile, miserable state? I mean, did he just get turned down one too many times and decided to take it out on all the nightclubs where he got shot down? And for those readers who might, in the back of their minds, wonder whether under the present application of the law that Mr Hollander might have a case, dismiss that thought immediately, because that ain't the point. The point is that no real man would ever consider a Ladies Night promotion somehow undesirable, much less actually try to make a federal case out of it.

After all, Ladies Night promotions are perfectly in tune with the immutable laws of economics. As such, they should be unequivocably supported without fail. A typical nightclub can attract plenty of male customers, who have a high demand (D) for female customers. To meet this demand, the nightclub must ensure that it has a high supply (S) of female customers to hit equilibrium. There are plenty of ways a nightclub can push the supply curve upward and outward, as we can see here:

Clever readers will note this analysis does not conform to traditional supply-demand models. However, the given parameters do not conform to traditional supply-demand economics, but rather reflect societal norms, pressures and other factors. You know, because men like to be around women. Also, our model is based on an open society where the numbers of men and women are roughly equal and for all intents and purposes infinite.

Anyway, the point is that Ladies Night promotions tend to -- wait for it -- attract women to nightclubs, particularly nightclubs they might not have otherwise attended. As such, they can only be good things for men. Mr Hollander and his ilk's rash attack against this cherished institution is thus an attack against all men, and accordingly, he must be cruelly mocked and ridiculed until he drops his suit accordingly. If that doesn't work, we must call upon the day's Leading Arbiters of Manliness -- I refer to the Men of the Square Table -- to perform an inquest on Mr Hollander's Membership in the Male Gender.

Oh, wait. The ad series got canceled. Well, in that case, this calls for drastic action.

Thus, I, Benjamin Kepple, DO hereby issue a temporary injunction REVOKING Mr Hollander's Man Status and all the rights and benefits deriving from and associated with it. Further, I DEMAND that Mr Hollander SURRENDER to an established Court his superior pay, superior benefits and his football-watching privileges, and SUBMIT to any other remedy the Court deems just and proper, until a recognized authority on these matters can issue its own superseding judgment. SO ORDERED at Manchester, New Hampshire, on July 31, 2007.

Also, since Mr Hollander's action would almost certainly cause American women economic injury, The Rant would politely request that women abstain from sleeping with Mr Hollander until he changes his mind about things. Hey, if that tactic could end a war, it should cause Mr Hollander to fold like a cheap tent.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 30, 2007

An Open Letter to Stonewall Kitchen LLC of York, Maine

TO: Stonewall Kitchen

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: Mustard is supposed to be hot



RECENTLY, I PURCHASED a small container of your "Horseradish Mustard" product, which according to your Web site is "intensely flavored with the distinctive taste of horseradish" and will "enhance any recipe" in which a customer makes use of it. As Stonewall Kitchen LLC is a purveyor of gourmet foods, and I picked up this small container from a gourmet foods store, I thought for sure I would have a good experience with your "Horseradish Mustard." Oh, how wrong I was.

This evening, I prepared chicken sandwiches for my supper and found, much to my great annoyance, that not only was your "Horseradish Mustard" not even remotely spicy or intense, it had a flavor that could only be charitably described as "delicate." Mustard, as you well know, is not supposed to be delicate. Mustard is supposed to be hot -- hence the name, derived from the Latin mustum ardens, in which ardens can be translated as "burning." Your mustard was so not burning that I was forced to rely on hot pepper sauce to get some kick, and I almost turned to a jar of jalapeno pepper slices I had to derive the heat I desired; the heat, I would again note, that most certainly did not come from your "horseradish mustard."

Now, as I see it, there are two possible explanations for why your mustard did not cut it.

First, it is entirely conceivable the small container of mustard I bought had been on the shelf of the gourmet foods purveyor for quite some time, meaning the fiery mustard heat had dissipated. Certainly this has been seen in other prepared mustards and so it is entirely plausible this was also the case here. If this is in fact the case, I would encourage you to improve your quality control accordingly.

However, it is also entirely conceivable you purposely designed the "horseradish mustard" to be not all-that-spicy, in which case you are committing treason against gastronomy and a fraud against buyers of your "horseradish mustard," which notably failed to cause my eyes to water, my sinuses to clear up, my pores to open or my body to sweat. Indeed, the spice kick I have now is solely due to the liberal application of hot pepper sauce to my dinner. This spick kick is something which your "horseradish mustard" ought to have done.

I'm sorry, but when I applied half the jar of your condiment to my sandwiches, and spread the stuff on with what an impartial observer could only describe as reckless abandon, I expected a spice kick. Yet I did not get it, leaving me a most aggrieved and disappointed customer. If I had wanted a bland mustard whose sole taste could be best described as "a little tangy," I would have picked up some goddamn French's.

Given this particularly unfortunate experience, I would ask that Stonewall Kitchen look at its quality control processes and tinker with its recipes so that when you advertise a mustard as hot, it's actually hot. I don't think that's too much to ask in this wonderful day of economic globalization.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 29, 2007

It's FAAAAAAANdemonium!

YOU KNOW, I'VE BEEN to some crazy arena football games in my day, but last night's match-up between my local Manchester Wolves squad and our evil minor-league rival, the Florida Firecats, has to take the cake.

Last night was Manchester's "Fan Appreciation Night," and I must say the whole place descended into faaaaandemonium rather quickly -- but in a good way. It was a remarkably close but remarkably fun game and a lot of that had to do with the Zany Antics taking place both on and off the field.

For instance, in an arena football first for me, the back judge got drilled in the head with a pass from Manchester's very own Mark Radlinski. Fortunately, the referee was not hurt and he was able to continue with the game despite getting beaned with an absolute bullet of a throw. The referee's sacrifice was rewarded later, when his block was ruled the "stop of the game" up on the jumbotron.

Also, I have to give credit to one young lad who won the "touchdown dance" competition with moves so bold and smooth that he received a standing ovation from many fans, including myself. The segment is simple: three youngsters are each given a football and run into the endzone with it, after which they perform various dance moves to celebrate a touchdown. The winner is chosen through popular acclaim. Tonight's winner, a boy perhaps 11 or 12 years of age and standing all of 5'2" or so, took the football and ran with it into the endzone. After dropping the ball, he walked over and gave a big, long hug to a very surprised (and very cute) cheerleader. This received raucous acclaim from the crowd and the boy won the competition with ease.

The smoothness of this move made me momentarily consider whether I could do the same thing during the after-game on-field meet-up, but I realized a) I would get slapped and b) stomped on by the offensive line. But I definitely have to give the kid credit -- even though I fear he'll end up being a heartbreaker someday.

In a related display of chutzpah, a teenager won a barbecue grill by showing off his "grill" -- which he had cleverly adorned with false gold teeth. I don't know what exactly he'll do with the thing, but he definitely earned it.

Speaking of chutzpah, one of the enjoyable things about this game was that the Florida players seemed to have a lot of fun in a very boisterous and taunting manner. During the pre-game show, it appeared from the stands as if one of the Florida players gave the new Miss New Hampshire his phone number -- or at least tried to put the moves on her -- as both were down on the field. I got a kick out of this. Also, when a key penalty went against the Wolves during the game, one Florida player stood behind the referee and mimicked his call of the penalty. While annoying, it was funny.

The best part, though, was that Manchester got into the act too. After scoring a touchdown on a play in which Florida had obviously been offsides, Manchester coach Ben Bennett went out on the field and himself mimicked the referee's call from the same position. Yeah.

For that matter, so did the crowd. The fans and players shouted at each other. For instance, after one play in which Manchester wide receiver Ari Confesor took a tough hit into the boards, one of the Florida players not involved in the play did a little dance. This annoyed the crowd greatly, as you can see from my admittedly inexact summary of the discussion:

MANCHESTER FAN: Hey! What are you dancing for? The guy gets slammed into the wall and you're dancing?
FIRECAT: Drink your beer!
SECOND MANCHESTER FAN: Go back to Florida!

Also, I had another first this past evening, in witnessing a particularly crazy play in which not one, not two, but THREE players went over the boards and into the first row not five feet away from me. They landed on top of two very surprised fans whose drinks went flying and who just didn't have time to prepare for the collision. My reaction -- "Dear GOD" -- pretty much sums up how everyone reacted.

There were also two other firsts that I saw. First, I noticed that Blitz, everyone's favorite mascot, was more than happy to oblige when hot female fans decided they wanted to hug him. Second, the conclusion of the season-long ice-cream eating contest showed the event was similar to the old saying about making partner at a law firm: you get rewarded for eating ice cream ... with more ice cream. The "winning" competitors chosen from over the season were offered the chance to beat the world's ice-cream eating record: roughly 32 scoops of the stuff in nine minutes, 22 seconds.

Now, after about two scoops of ice cream, I get brain freeze. But these folks were ... well ... committed to the task at hand. To the point where they started eating with their hands and shoveling the ice cream into their mouths. To the point where at the end of it, one competitor had ice cream all over his face and running down his chin. It is amazing what people will do for ... well, ice cream.

As for the game, it was -- as I said -- a close one. Manchester started out the game in typical Manchester fashion, by which I mean they gave up a touchdown on the first drive and then found themselves stopped with a field goal at the endzone. Florida recovered quickly, and as their next drive approached our goal line one of their players decided to get fancy with the ball and reach out for a couple of extra yards. This prompted defensive back Allistair Sebastien to say, "Oh, hell no," and grab the ball out of the Florida player's hand as he was heading towards the ground. There was no whistle. Mr Sebastien ran back 20 yards or so and soon afterwards, Manchester was ahead 10-3.

After some good back and forth and some defensive stops, Manchester was ahead of Florida 22-21 in the closing minute of the first half when, to everyone's surprise, the Wolves went for an on-side kick. Our recovery was flawless and we were able to score a touchdown on the ensuing possession, giving Florida just seconds to try a failed attempt at scoring themselves. When we got the ball first to start the second half, Manchester marched down the field and scored another touchdown, putting us up 35-21.

So far so good. But then, Florida came back. Next thing we knew, it was 42-40 and Florida tried to tie the game, but with no success. Late in the fourth quarter, we marched down the field, only to be stopped near the end zone and to make a field goal attempt. Now the score was 45-40, but there was roughly a minute to play and under the league's timing rules, more than enough time to score a touchdown.

As the clock wound down, the excitement was intense. The crowd -- the largest of any home game thus far this year, I would imagine -- was super-involved and shouting for the defense. The defense did what they could but Florida kept marching, and with just four seconds to go, a Florida player caught a pass, made a quick move and went into the endzone.

Oh, woe. Oh, calam -- but wait! The referees ruled the Florida player had been pushed out of bounds at the last minute! Still, that gave Florida one last shot with five yards to victory and four seconds left on the clock. This, simply put, was it. The crowd was on its feet. The play was called. And ....

We won! We won we won we won! Manchester 45, Florida 40.

Not only did that increase my arena-football attendance winning streak to twelve games -- the last loss I witnessed was on June 23, 2006 -- but it also means Manchester gets at least one home playoff game. I already have arranged for the tickets and will be there on Friday for the playoff opener. YAY! MORE FOOTBALL! And since playoff tickets are cheaper than regular-season games, this is like some kind of bonus.

This team may give me heartburn but I like their chances to win this year's ArenaCup. Go Wolves!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2007

I Must Admit ...

ONE OF THE BIG REASONS I'm looking forward to this year's football season is because we'll have an all-new, updated, 2007 version of this classic commercial:

And from 2005 ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eight Days to Go ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Now Here's a Scary Thought

SO MY BROTHER sent me a nice note recently about my new football-related top banner. He liked it, he said, except he really thought I should make one improvement:

JESSE: Dude, I like the new banner, but I have to say… I think you should incorporate Marty into it!

I offered up a pleasant but reasoned response to this suggestion:

ME: If I decide to have a banner in which all the people I DON'T LIKE in football are on there, I'll certainly consider it :-D.

Soon afterwards, I got a response. I reacted as one might expect:

JESSE: Say, something like this, perhaps?


I should, however, note that Jesse's banner would have been perfect if he had only included Jerry Jones in place of Art Rooney. Mr Rooney would have wanted it that way, because Mr Rooney would not have wanted anything to do with players like Messrs Owens and Manning.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cat Food, People. Cat. Food.

THIS WEEK, FIDELITY INVESTMENTS released a rather alarming study that found people aren't saving enough in their 401(k) accounts. While I fully admit the cynics among us might quip this "news" is about as alarming as word the sun rises in the east, it's the numbers contained within the study that are cause for concern.

Typical Baby Boomers -- who are now between the ages of 43 and 61 -- have $38,000 in their 401(k) accounts, according to Fidelity, which is in a good position to know these things. $38,000. Typical Generation Xers -- that would be my generation, between the ages of 27 and 42 -- have just $15,000. Typical Generation Yers -- those between the ages of 18 and 26 -- have a pathetic $2,100 saved. While average balances are much higher -- respectively, $89,000, $34,000 and $6,000 -- this is because higher-earners are skewing the pool.

So, I'll say it again. $38,000. It's a figure that ranges from unnerving at best to catastrophic at worst. Let's do some quick calculations and show why.

If we assume a typical worker is making $50,000 per year, and saves 7 pc of his income in a 401(k) -- that's roughly the average deferral rate -- that works out to annual contributions of $3,500 per annum. If we assume post-inflation growth of 5 pc per year, a 43-year-old starting out with $38,000 will have about $270,000 at age 65. Under the four-percent-rule (a good rule of thumb to prevent inflation and withdrawals from eating your account), this would generate retirement income of $10,800 per year or $900 per month. Before taxes. Now, that's not bad, especially if folks can draw on other sources of retirement income, like pensions and IRAs and Social Security -- but I bet a lot of folks would prefer it to be higher. I mean, I think folks would want to have fun in their retirement, and not have to content themselves with watching daytime television.

On the other hand, if you're 61 and have $38,000 in your account, that will add up to just $61,000 or so when you're 65 and get your gold watch. That works out to income of $2,440 per annum or about $200 per month. Before taxes. If one has plenty of other income, that may not be a concern; but I have a feeling that most folks in this spot will end up relying -- God help them -- on Social Security to pay most of the bills. As time goes on, and emergencies and other matters cause the money to run out, this will almost certainly mean the retiree will end up living in some soulless high-rise housing project, where narcotics dealing takes place in the stairwells and the poor residents end up seriously considering Fluffy's supper so they can afford their medications.

So Baby Boomers should save more. But younger people shouldn't take it easy either. After all, this is the best time to save because we're not dealing with college educations and the kids' braces and kitchen renovations. Besides, let's be perfectly honest -- we're completely hosed when it comes to Social Security. (The program is expected to go broke about when I retire, so I'm figuring that a restructured program will pay me about half what I'm "owed" under current rules.) So, we should save more to reflect the fact our Government is going to ream us accordingly.

Of course, there's always the question of how much one should save. Since everyone's circumstances are different, it's a number that everyone must calculate for themselves; but when it comes to a 401(k) plan, I've always liked the 10 pc number. For one thing, it's a nice round number, and if you know me I am all about that. For another, it's enough to ensure a lot of savings while not going overboard with the 401(k), which is just one pillar of a retirement strategy. For a third, saving 10 pc in a 401(k) will eventually mean not missing that 10 pc in one's pay, which will result in a nice surprise come retirement time and you've got more money than you had anticipated needing.

When you're getting your gold watch and a hearty handshake, you'd rather have a nice surprise in store than a not-so-nice one.

(via Boston Gal's Open Wallet)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2007

Great Moments in Broadcasting

EXECUTIVES AT AN Illinois broadcasting company are red-faced after "falling asleep on the job" when requesting call letters from the Federal Communications Commission for new broadcast stations, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports in a rather funny story.

Skokie-based KM Communications Inc. requested -- and received -- a particularly unfortunate combination for a low-power digital television station planned for Wailuku, Maui. The Rant will not mention just what this combination was, due to the combination in question, but would note the following three items. First, U.S. broadcasting stations located west of the Mississippi River have call signs starting with the letter K; the call sign in question would NOT go down well with approximately half the U.S. population; and the only scoundrels who would be fine with it tend to drink heavily while complaining about their alimony payments and the supposed crookedness of the nation's family law system.

While the company is thanking its lucky stars THIS particular combination got caught before things got out of hand, executives also rescinded their request for KWTF for a radio station in Arizona. That seemed a bit much. I mean, I don't know about you, but I think that'd be a perfect call sign for one of those all-day talk radio stations. What better call sign* for a station whose sole purpose is to broadcast the remarks of angry radio commenters and their even angrier listeners? KWTF-FM is NOW on the AIR!

This incident is the latest in a long series in which radio stations request clever or stupid call signs and manage to somehow get them past the FCC's auspices. Perhaps the most famous of these was when KENO-AM, Las Vegas' first radio station, managed to get its call letters through without a hitch. (KENO later picked up a sister station, KENO-FM, which later changed its call letters to the even more clever KOMP).

The FCC even has a nice database that people can use to check call-letter assignments. A short search on this site shows there is no KRAP anywhere in America, nor any KVCH or KUR, but there is a KRUD-AM in Honolulu. And east of the Mississippi, there are questionable call signs as well. Springfield, Mass., is home to a talk radio station with the callsign of WHYN-AM. And it's not clear to me whether the folks at the unfortunately named WANK-FM, in Mt. Vernon, Ky., realize the alternative meaning of their call sign.

But I have to give credit to the good folks at WZUP-FM in Rose Hill, NC, for their cleverness in getting such a neat call sign. Unsurprisingly, it is a college radio station. Another college-based radio station, WWJD-FM, plays Christian music from its home base in the stupidly-named town of Pippa Passes, Ky. (This town name is almost as funny as Cooter, Mo., but not really. Yes, Cooter, Mo. It really exists. I passed it on the freeway during my trip. I nearly crashed the car).

Anyway, now that the FCC has automated its call-sign lettering process, it seems almost certain that similar incidents like this are slated to appear. Of course, there are so many four-letter call signs out there. But I wouldn't be surprised to hear down the road that some tiny station in Idaho got KOCK for its letters, or that WSHT managed to get on the air near Buffalo. As the Star-Bulletin story shows, sometimes, things have a way of slipping through.


* Aside from WFAN-AM, of course. Ira from Staten Island, you're on the air!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 26, 2007

Oh, the Annoyances of Modern Life

OVER AT DAVE BARRY'S BLOG, Dave's research assistant Judi Smith has written a post about an issue troubling millions of Americans -- that goddamned e-mail feature that pops up and asks you to send a reply to the sender informing them you have, in fact, read their e-mail.

Of course, I certainly don't mind sending a response if I have a business relationship with the person, and the e-mail in question is an important one and one where the sender truly needs to know if I got it. Unfortunately, this is only the case with approximately 3 pc of the e-mails I get that have the feature activated. As for the remainder, not only do I not know the senders from Adam, the topics of their e-mail are inevitably banal and useless. As such, I react like any American would in such a situation: I openly pray for God to quickly deliver His swift and terrible justice to the sender, and dispatch the wretched cur to the special place in Hell where such people go. (Flatterers: 8th circle, 2nd chasm).

I mean, look. I'm busy. If I'm interested in your e-mail, I'll -- wait for it -- actually write back asking for further information. Until then -- for the love of God -- chill. Sure, it may be that your e-mail is semi-interesting, and if that's the case I'll get back to you in a couple of days when I'm not busy with other, more important things that my bosses wanted done yesterday. In the meantime, have a nice lunch out. Have a martini. Make paper airplanes out of the Dunleavy Report and shoot them around your cubicle. Do not bother me.

And especially don't bother me with a follow-up phone call the next day enquiring if I got your e-mail. Holy cow. Of course I got your e-mail. If I was interested in it, I would have called you and we would have had a nice talk. Calling me -- especially if I'm up to my eyeballs in real work -- is not a way to get me excited and interested in your product or service.

I wish I knew who came up with the brilliant idea that such a feature was not only a good idea, but that it must be used on every single e-mail that gets sent out, no matter how trivial its importance. They could use a good kick. I mean, 99 times out of 100 a simple e-mail will do the job. They all get read. There's no need to be pushy about it.

If there's a silver lining to this mess, though, it's that most people -- being smart and industrious -- intuitively know that a simple e-mail works. They know that responses might not be immediately forthcoming, for one of 100 reasons, but they trust the information got there.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2007

A New Way to Save the Earth AND Pay 19 pc Interest

SO I WAS OUT AT DINNER this evening reading The New York Times and I noticed, buried within the recesses of the Business Day section, that a unit of the General Electric Co. has come up with a new credit card -- a new credit card guaranteed to wipe out guilt! At least that's what I inferred from scribe Claudia Deutsch's lead, at any rate:

Feel guilty about fueling up that gas guzzler or buying that box of incandescent bulbs? Would you feel better if, instead of frequent flier miles or cash, your credit card’s rewards program allowed you to offset your role in global warming?

As one might expect, my answers, respectively, were No and No. But still, for people out there who are feeling guilty about their impact on the environment -- yes, you, with your reliance on modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity! -- this card is just for you.

Cardholders who sign up for the GE Money Earth Rewards Platinum MasterCard -- boy, that's a mouthful -- will, in lieu of useful things like airline miles or actual cash back, pay for carbon offsets. For every $100 purchased on the card, $1 will be spent on a carbon offset.

Carbon offsets, for those unfamiliar with the idea, are voluntary payments people make to offset the environmental damage they're causing through, well, existing. These payments are spent on things like renewable energy projects, tree planting, and other eco-friendly projects that "offset" carbon dioxide emissions from not-eco-friendly places like coal-fired power plants. This, proponents say, will help reduce man's impact on the environment, reduce the effects of climate change, and so on. (Now, if only we could get the developing world on board ...).

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I don't really have anything bad to say about this idea. After all, it seems like a clever way for General Electric to tap a new market for its credit card products. Plus, according to the Times story, GE is heavily involved in its own carbon offset programs as an investor in projects and producer of goods used in these projects. In business, they call this a "win-win." I don't know if GE was clever enough to actively tie the two together, but it sure would be a good idea.

I don't even have anything bad to say about carbon offsets, either. If people are voluntarily making such payments in an effort to reduce their environmental impacts, I can't see how that's anything other than a net good. However, I do take issue with one statement a GE official made in the story, which was this:

“We are not sending a message that you can buy your way out of your environmental responsibility,” said Lorraine Bolsinger, vice president of GE Ecomagination. “We’re offering another tool in the kit for reducing carbon footprints.”

I don't mean to quibble, but let's be honest: the whole reason carbon offsets exist is because people want to buy their way out of their "environmental responsibilites" while still enjoying the fruits of a resource-, energy-rich life. Not that I find anything wrong with this either. These are, after all, voluntary payments and if people want to make them, then that's their business.

However, the trouble with carbon offsets is that they're ungodly inefficient. Consider how the process works. Let's say 10,000 people each spend $100 on carbon offsets, for a total offset payment of $1 million. This money is then sent to the carbon offset processor, which decides where it is spent, but naturally keeping a bit of the money for overhead and such. The remaining money is invested in a wind farm. Several giant windmills are built as a result, and they generate clean power for the electricity market.

Wind power generally costs about $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity to get up and running. So if we say that $900,000 is spent on the turbines and what not, that creates an extra 900 kW worth of electric capacity. If we further assume the plant will run at half-capacity over the year, that will mean a typical output of 450 kW. With a typical residential power bill at 500kWh per month, the new wind plant will create enough energy for several hundred homes.

Let's say the prevailing cost of power is $0.10 per kWh. Assuming constant output of 450 kW, that would result in electricity being generated worth $394,200 per year. It would also offset carbon emissions by about one ton per megawatt-hour, for a total offset of 3,942 tons of CO2 per annum. (0.45 * 8760, the number of hours in a year).

Now let's say that instead of buying carbon offsets, the 10,000 people collectively decide to reduce their power consumption by 15 percent. (They go sparingly on the air conditoning). At 500 kWh per month, that works out to 75 kWh per customer, for a 900 kWh reduction per customer over the course of a year. (At a dime per kWh, that works out to about the same amount spent on the carbon offset). With 10,000 customers, that works out to a total reduction of nine megawatt-hours per year, for a savings of $900,000. Not only that, but each person would save the equivalent of 1,100 pounds of carbon emissions. Not offset, but save. That works out to about 5,500 tons of CO2 per annum (0.55 * 10,000).

This is a simple example but I do think it shows the power of conservation. Not only do people save money instead of spending it, the environmental effects are greater -- for you're not just off-setting the use of coal power or some such, you're actually reducing it. If one expands on this example, one can see the potential benefits are even greater.

Power is a strange resource. Since it can't be stored, it must be constantly produced, and when demand rises sky-high so does its price, as power companies must often buy on the spot market to satisfy their customers' demand. Since demand is so great, new renewable energy projects add just a few drops in the supply bucket, and as such have no impact on price. But if demand were to drop sharply, so would the price. I wasn't able to find information on-line tonight about the price elasticity of electricity, so I don't know how much the power cost might drop, but I think it's a reasonable assumption to say power costs could drop at least moderately.

For instance, let's say our 10,000 customers were joined by a whole bunch of other people who decided to save money and turn off their air conditioning. If that pushed down overall power rates by 1/10th of a cent per kWh, it would save each of our 10,000 customers an additional $5.10 per year, for a total net savings of $51,000 on top of the $900,000 they were already saving. So, to recap: conservation means saving more money and cuts down on environmental nastiness. But mostly it saves money, which one does not do when one voluntarily pays others for carbon offsets.

Speaking of saving money, the interest rate on the new GE Money Earth Rewards Platinum MasterCard ranges from between 13 pc and 19 pc per annum, depending on a cardholder's credit history. It might be worthwhile to forgo the "free" carbon offsets and just pay cash for them when you're feeling particularly guilty. Unless, of course, you can use your offsets to pay for Ted Turner running around in a superhero costume:


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 24, 2007


ONE OF THE SAD THINGS about the Michael Vick indictment, as many have noted, is that it robs Atlanta Falcons fans of a great joy this year -- the hope and anticipation and excitement that goes along with the start of training camp and the pre-season.

Just a month ago, Falcons fans could look to this year's season and hope for the best. Now, they're facing the real possibility of having Joey Harrington as their starting quarterback. Consequently, they're also facing a season that, at best, will result in a Green Bay Packers-like performance and, at worst, an Oakland Raiders-like disaster.

Not only that, but the Falcons fans must gird themselves for weeks, if not months, of mockery. Why, even the baseball players are laughing at the Falcons. Look at the small-time California team giving away free tickets in return for Vick memorabilia, which it will then burn. One could argue that baseball, with its doping scandals, vastly-overpaid stars and teams still suffering from the 1994 strike, has no business telling football about anything. But that is how things stand and for the Falcons this year's outlook seems decidedly bleak.

The good news, though, is that there are 31 other teams in professional football, and all of them -- even Detroit -- can hope against hope that this year will be the year. Obviously, there are teams that have a better shot than others. The New England Patriots -- for reasons I can't fully understand -- are currently far and away the favorite to win Super Bowl XLII. Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers will field a strong team. The Indianapolis Colts will do so as well. That said, one also can't rule out Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Tennessee, and the New York Jets. Hell, even fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills have cause for hope. And in the second-tier NFC, fans of Chicago and New Orleans and Seattle have a great shot at seeing their teams make it to the big dance.

But even the lesser teams can hope against hope now. For instance, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns will have recuperated from the devastating injuries that plagued their squads last year; the Washington Redskins can hope for redemption; the Dallas Cowboys can hope the Romo-Owens combination will really catch fire. Why, I bet fans of the Oakland Raiders are even dreaming of a season where they win six games.

It is a powerful thing, hope. For a football fan, hope is what gets you through the tough times, through the interminable losses, through the valleys that never seem to end. Hope is what keeps you coming back week after week. Hope is what keeps you putting on the hats and jerseys every Sunday. Hope is what keeps you watching in the fourth quarter when all seems lost but there's still a tiny chance of victory.

For it is not winning but losing that truly defines the football fan -- the inevitable losses to more powerful teams, the inexplicable losses to lesser teams, the post-season dreams dashed on a frozen December night. Losing -- and the pain and suffering and gnashing of teeth that goes along with it -- is a constant. It is the natural state of things. It pierces the heart and wounds the soul deeper than any icy wind. And for 31 of 32 teams this year, it will arrive again. It may arrive during the first frost in November or a storm in the bleak mid-winter, but it will arrive.

It will not, however, arrive for many more weeks. Now, the fields bask in the glow of the sun. Now, there is hope -- hope that this year will be the year. Whatever team you support* -- whether it's the Steelers or the Patriots or even the Falcons -- savor this time. Relish it. And believe!


* Well, unless you're a Philadelphia Eagles fan. In that case, God help you. Except He won't, because He has clearly cursed your wretched city like He cursed Egypt of old. That's what you get for booing Santa Claus.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2007

An Ode to Joey Harrington

THIS EVENING, IT WAS ANNOUNCED that Michael Vick, the embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback, has been ordered to stay away from the Falcons' training camp until the NFL has reviewed his situation. As this may well prove the first in a long series of unfortunate developments for Mr Vick, The Rant would like to salute the poor sap who will likely find himself in Mr Vick's place this season -- Joey Harrington, the hapless former starter for the Detroit Lions.


Falcons Fans' Ode to Joey Harrington
(sung to the tune of Monty Python's "Henry Kissinger")

Joey Harrington --
you're a scary one,
with your passes incomplete;
badly do you fare,
land on your derriere,
when the pass rush can't be beat.
I know they say that you are just a mess,
and soft and weak and inept, but hey, you're under stress.

Joey Harrington -- you're a scary one,
but win some games this year!

Joey Harrington --
you're a scary one,
you're the backup, incomplete.
With your overthrows, and routes always blown,
you're, for a D-line, just fresh meat.
All right, so people say that you're just lame --
but you've got better game than Walter,
and rate a sixty-eight.

Joey Harrington -- you're a scary one,
but win some games this year!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Random Thoughts on a Monday

DEAR GOD, I COULD GO for a double-double right about now. That and one of those perfect orders of fresh-cut French fries and a nice soda. Unfortunately, the nearest In-N-Out Burger location is 2,681 miles away from my house.

Thus, it would take me roughly 40 hours of driving -- each way -- for me to get a No. 1 Combo from the In-N-Out Burger in Prescott, Ariz. Alternatively, I could fly to Sky Harbor in Phoenix, which would probably take about eight hours with connections and an extra hour's worth of driving around Phoenix -- again, each way -- to satisfy my fix. Some might suggest this would be inappropriate, given the financial expense and envrionmental costs related in making such a journey, but I do not agree. In this case, I think we can all agree the market would bear the costs; sadly, it is the time issue that makes it impractical.

So this got me to thinking. If I can't get to an In-N-Out Burger, there must somehow be a way to get an In-N-Out Burger to me. Some Westerners, taking pity on their Eastern brethren, have cleverly brought double-doubles aboard aircraft for delivery upon arrival. However, this solution is clearly imperfect, because a double-double must be served hot and right off the grill. Also, while there is talk the chain will soon expand, its plans only call for opening up shops in southern Utah next year.

The natural places for the chain's first Utah stores, to my mind, would be in St. George and Cedar City. The most-easterly store in Nevada is in Las Vegas; it opened in 1992. Unfortunately, depending on where the stores are located, this represents a pace of eastward expansion of 7.43 miles per year for a St. George location and 10.63 miles per year for a Cedar City location. Thus, the chain will reach Manchester sometime between February 2250 and December 2356. Although I have an Internal Reserve of Spite that should keep me alive for a downright amazing length of time, I find it doubtful that I'll make it to 2250, even with the amazing advances in medical technology we're seeing.

So clearly the only option is to somehow convince In-N-Out Burgers Inc. to make a reasonable expansion to the East Coast. To be sure, this would be a difficult operation. Since the company relies on all-fresh ingredients, even going so far as to set up its own meat-packing plant, it would have to replicate its operation from the ground up. It would also have to take care not to over-expand, as that has killed even popular chains, such as Krispy Kreme.

However, I came up with a really clever idea. As it happens, we have an abandoned meat-packing plant here in Manchester, which Tyson Foods Inc. shut down a while back. This would be a perfect place for In-N-Out Burger to set up an East Coast operation. We're only 90 minutes from Boston and four hours to New York, and New Hampshire has a great business and tax climate. As a former Los Angeles resident, I can assure the executives of In-N-Out Burgers Inc. that New Hampshire rules.

What's that? Well, OK, yes -- so the Tyson plant is already being redeveloped, and plans have already been drawn up for its new use and the land has already been sold. But surely those are just minor technical matters. I'm sure that were In-N-Out executives were to come in and say, "Hey, you know what? This would be a good home for a meat-packing plant," some sort of deal could be worked out. Plus, it would create a special Meatpacking District right here in Manchester -- and with actual meatpacking, no less! -- that would undoubtedly turn into a thriving residential and commercial district, thus satisfying the original redevelopment goals.

I mean, it's worth a shot, anyway. And if that plan isn't a good one, I'm sure the good people at In-N-Out Burgers Inc. could come up with their own plan. Quite frankly, I don't care what it takes. Does it mean filling in acres of wetlands? Delaying a housing project? Tearing down a school? Moving a freeway? Fine with me.

Please. I'm begging you. You can't get a decent fast-food burger here for love or money and I don't know how much longer I can hold out. Please, In-N-Out -- for the love of God, come back east!


FOR THE RECORD, this clever idea sure beats the hell of having the neighbor's teenaged son come over and mow the lawn.

A MAN WHOSE hay wagon recently caught on fire did what any American would do in such a situation: he drove around frantically looking for a hose to put out the fire. Unfortunately, the flaming hay wagon sparked several other fires as he drove around the countryside looking for aid. You have one guess as to where this took place.

THIS IS ALL WELL AND GOOD -- but why does Philadelphia's mayor have bodyguards?

THERE'S A COUNTRY SONG in this somewhere. Just a hunch.


IT'D BE A LOT EASIER to have some sympathy -- any sympathy, really -- for Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee under investigation for allegedly being a crooked, dirty, mobbed-up louse, if the guy wasn't apparently such a douchebag of the highest degree. You've got to love any guy who tries to get his mail carrier cashiered.


THE MANCHESTER WOLVES, my city's minor-league arena football team, is in the playoffs. Hell yeah. On Saturday we beat the Albany Conquest, who despite their name make the French look like military geniuses. And this Saturday, if we beat the Florida Firecats, we should be golden for an opening home playoff game. Yeah.

Unfortunately, beating Florida will be tough. They're 11-4 for a reason and are a consistently powerful team. If we don't manage to pull it off, though, there's still hope -- we'll need Bakersfield to beat the (Fresno) Central Valley Coyotes and the Fort Wayne Fusion to knock off the Quad Cities Steamwheelers. Both these outcomes are well within the realm of probability and it would be VERY cool if we got at least one -- and perhaps more -- playoff games at home.

The ArenaCup championship game is being played this year in Bossier City, La., so I won't be able to travel to the game if Manchester makes it, but I'm hopeful it will be televised here.


A WHILE BACK, I was having dinner with Simon From Jersey at Palace of Asia in Lawrenceville, N.J., and among the topics of discussion that night was a key issue affecting Americans everywhere: the amazing difficulty people have in finding a consistently decent Indian lunch buffet.

To be sure, there are great Indian buffets out there. For instance, when I lived in Los Angeles, I frequently dined at Jaipur: Cuisine of India, which had a downright oustanding buffet day in and day out. Don't just take my word for it either. Jaipur, for those of you who are wondering, is on West Pico near that giant mall; you will not be disappointed if you try it!

Also, while I haven't had the lunch buffet at Palace of Asia, the dinners there are so outstanding that I must believe its lunch buffet is at least good and likely excellent. (Our dinner, for those who wonder, included naan, puri, chicken saagwala, lamb korma, beef vindaloo and bengan bhartha, an eggplant dish. Heavenly. And yes, they do beef -- which was a surprise but a welcome one).

Still, let's be blunt. It's tough finding a good Indian buffet. This is largely because many of the buffets are small, and only have a selection of perhaps six or seven dishes -- and arguably only four, when one leaves out the old standards like chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken. Often times, one will encounter weak curries, and bread pakora, and vegetarian dishes that range from the grim to the godawful. Simon and I, for instance, both detest that one dish with cauliflower and peas served up in a particularly unappetizing sauce. We both agree there's nothing inherently wrong with the dish per se-- after all, other diners gladly eat it -- but we're just not fans of it.

I am proud to report, however, that I recently scored a jackpot with the lunch buffet at Palace of India, one of Manchester's two Indian restaurants. The standbys were there as always, but they excelled with the other dishes: saag paneer, mixed vegetable korma, vegetable pakoras, chicken curry and -- God be praised -- chicken vindaloo. The only down side was that it was lunch, and as such the vindaloo was not very vindaloo, i.e., painfully and fiery hot. But wow. 9.5 out of 10 for my repast two weeks ago.


SO FOOTBALL SEASON is almost here and I can't wait. Thinking about the upcoming season today, I was reminded of a conversation I had a while back that truly shows how American football has an ecumenical appeal. I had been dining out at Cafe Momo, a Nepalese -- yes, Nepalese -- restaurant here in Manchester.

My sinuses had been acting up and I figured the fiery Nepali cuisine would help clear things out. I had no idea. I ordered a bowl of the gundruk soup, a spicy dish made from cured mustard leaves. Holy Mother of God, I have never had anything so hot in my life. This statement, I would add, comes from a man who frequently eats jalapeno peppers and famously writhed about in pain after eating super-spicy chicken wings. I mean, it was scorchingly, utterly, completely hot; the type of heat that leaves you drenched in sweat and begging for water, but God! so good. So so so so good afterwards, when the spice buzz takes effect.

Anyway, as I was suffering through the initial stages, I noticed the waiter/maitre'd -- it is a very small restaurant -- was wearing a Green Bay Packers jacket. Fittingly too, as it was quite cold outside. This intrigued me, and I inquired as to how long he had been a Packers fan.

"Oh," he said, "My wife got this for me. You know who I really like? The Raiders."

I was taken aback for a moment. After all, my team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) and his team are traditional enemies, and there's a bit of bad blood stemming from our great rivalry in the Seventies. But still, when you're living in Patriots Nation, you tend to bond with fans from elsewhere who also root for teams other than New England. So we got to talking and had a great conversation about football and our triumphs and disappointments and where we hoped things would go in the future. Fantastic. I felt the restaurant feeling great not only from the food but the conversation, and who would have expected it?


WELL, THAT'S ALL for now. Keep an eye out this week for some site changes -- including the banner and the blogroll -- and as we get closer to September, expect more in the way of football blogging. I plan to spend a good portion of my Sundays down at my local sports bar, cheering on the Steelers (provided I can get one of the roughly 57 TVs there tuned into the game).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2007

The Rant Announces Staff Appreciation Day

LOYAL RANT READERS have come, over the years, to learn a bit about how The Rant operates. For instance, Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc. is domiciled in Bermuda and has its main offices in Manchester, N.H. It is from our Manchester offices that the vast majority of the site's content production is done -- with chief writer Benjamin Kepple doing most of the reporting, commentary, and so on.

But many readers may have noticed that The Rant often relies on "on-the-ground" reporting from affiliated publications, such as the Financial Rant and The Sporting Rant. These reports are compiled from our crack staff of reporters and commentators located around the world. Here at The Rant, we think it's important to give credit to the men who make Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant as good as it is.

So, as part of this year's Staff Appreciation Day, we'd like to introduce everyone to our reporting team. Speaking for everyone here at The Rant, I'd like to congratulate all our writers for all their hard work. Without their efforts, The Rant wouldn't be nearly as fun or enjoyable. So, thank you, gentlemen. And I'd also like to thank all of The Rant's readers, who have stuck with The Rant for more than five years now. It's been a joy and a pleasure working for you.


Benjamin Kepple
CEO, Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc.
"Your Hometown Nostalgia Source"
Hamilton, Bermuda



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

Slamming the Trunk

IT'S ALWAYS SWELL when the tranquility of a nice Sunday afternoon is shattered through reading something so patently stupid it boggles the mind. Sadly, I myself experienced this just a short while ago when I discovered a silly and wretched commentary from Mrs Penelope Trunk, a business journalist who wrote an essay entitled, "It Doesn't Matter That Journalists Misquote Everyone." As Loyal Rant Readers might imagine, this essay sent my blood pressure through the roof and I spent a good ten minutes pacing around my living room in a state of intense agitation.

So what was it about Mrs Trunk's column, you ask, that got me in such a state? Well, there were two things in particular that annoyed me. The first was the column itself, which amazed me with its breezy stupidity. The second was that Mrs Trunk, who is a financial journalist in only the most generous sense of the phrase, has no business lecturing real reporters about how we go about our trade. For that matter, I doubt she has any business lecturing business people how to go about their work.

Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this thing, let's review Mrs Trunk's qualifications. According to her biography, she spent ten years as an executive in the software industry. This sounds impressive until you consider her work was in marketing. She then founded two companies, although the names and eventual disposition of those companies is unclear. Mrs Trunk was then able to parlay this -- and for this I give her credit -- into syndicated columnist work.

Mrs Trunk's column appears in more than 200 publications. This sounds impressive until you consider how much syndicated columnists get for each column they write (hint: it ain't much). She is also a careers columnist for The Boston Globe and Yahoo! Finance, and has written a book called "Brazen Careerist: The NEW Rules for Success." As Mrs Trunk's book is presently ranked No. 8,864 in terms of sales on amazon.com, I give Mrs Trunk credit for writing a book that people want to buy, as I approve heartily of writers making money. This does not, however, take away from the fact that her work is the business-journalism equivalent of soft-core pornography. Sure, it's fun to read and people like it, but it also doesn't require a lot of mental energy and it covers stuff that people intuitively know already.

Speaking of mental energy, I would invite readers to peruse Mrs Trunk's brief biography on The Huffington Post's Web site, where her essay appeared. Whether she wrote it herself, or allowed through her own inaction for it to appear as it does, she should be ashamed:

Penelope Trunk is that author of the book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success (Warner Business 2007). She is a career columnist at The Boston Globe and Yahoo Finance. Her syndicated column has run in more than 200 publications. She writes a blog called Brazen Careerist that receives about 350,000 page view a month. Earlier, she was a software executive, and then she founded two companies. She has been through an IPO, an acquisition and a bankruptcy. Before that, she played professional beach volleyball.

Let's see -- one, two, three, four, five, SIX errors in seven sentences. Mrs Trunk is "the author," not "that author;" she is a careers columnist, not a "career" columnist with lifetime tenure; her syndicated column runs in more than 200 publications; and "page views" is the proper plural. Errors five and six involve comma placement; there should be a comma after "Warner Business" and arguably no comma after "executive." What's that? So the last two are quibbling matters. I don't care. Six errors in seven sentences, folks. This is not exactly a confidence booster here, particularly for someone who makes a living telling people how to win friends and influence people.

But I digress. Back to Mrs Trunk's column, the column that aggravated me so. The first few sentences rather annoyed me.

As a journalist I hear all the time from people in business that they are misquoted. And you know what? People need to get over that, and I'm going to tell you why.

Now, one might think this lede is actually sympathetic to journalists, particularly business journalists. But here's the thing. Journalists have an obligation to get their quotes right and their stories right, and to present what people say accurately. Sources shouldn't have to "get over" it if a reporter screws things up. Sources, who take time out of their day to help reporters on deadline, deserve better.

I'm certainly not going to deny people get misquoted in the press. This is because reporters are human and, from time to time, screw things up. However, there's a difference between "I didn't like the story the reporter wrote" and "the reporter screwed up what I said." It's sloppy for Mrs Trunk to breezily lump the two together. Sure, people sometimes tell others they got misquoted because they didn't like how the story turned out, and it's a useful face-saving measure. But if a reporter screws up in expressing the views a source has stated, the record needs to be corrected.

Mrs Trunk continues:

The reason that everyone thinks journalists misquote them is that the person who is writing is the one who gets to tell the story. No two people tell the same story. ...

Journalists who think they are telling "the truth" don't understand the truth. We each have our own truth. When you leave out details, you might leave out what is unimportant to you but very important to someone else, and things start feeling untrue to the person who wishes you included something else.

Recruiters, by the way, know this well. If I get fired from three jobs but I only report that during that period I taught dance lessons to toddlers, I am not lying. I am merely telling the part of the story that I want to tell. No one can tell every part of every story. The details are infinite. But in this case, the fact that I left off the details most important to the recruiter makes the recruiter feel like it's lying. But it's not. I'm telling my version of the story.

So everyone feels misquoted because people say 20 or 30 sentences for every one sentence that a journalist prints. It's always in the context of the journalist's story, not the speaker's story.

Here's my advice: If you do an interview with a journalist, don't expect the journalist to be there to tell your story. The journalist gets paid to tell her own stories which you might or might not be a part of. And journalists, don't be so arrogant to think you are not "one of those" who misquotes everyone. Because that is to say that your story is the right story. But it's not. We each have a story. And whether or not someone actually said what you said they said, they will probably still feel misquoted.

How Mrs Trunk got to write a column on anything is absolutely amazing.

One barely knows where to start in condemning this milquetoast, limp-wristed wreck of a column, so we'll start with the idea of objective truth.

Although it is fashionable these days for people to claim that truth is relative, this collegiate idiocy does not tend to stand up in the business world, where numbers are numbers and facts are facts. If I report that Company X has paid $Y for Building Z, then I'm putting it out there as the truth. Either I'm right -- and I nearly always am -- or I screwed up and I'm wrong. If Company A lays off B number of employees and does so for reason C, and tells me as such, there's the truth right there.

So the truth here isn't all that difficult to understand. It is in fact out there. It's not all that difficult to report. So for a glorified marketing consultant to tell me that truth is relative is downright ridiculous.

It's also downright ridiculous for Mrs Trunk to suggest, as she does, that selective recall somehow allows one to present "the truth" when it does not paint a complete picture of a situation. Lying through omitting crucial details is still lying, whether Mrs Trunk wants to admit it or not. If a reporter wrote a story about a business deal, and purposely left out crucial details so that Situation A was presented as reality when it was in fact Situation B, then the reporter has committed a fraud upon his readers.

What really gets me, though, is that Mrs Trunk -- despite existing at the margins of journalism -- has the audacity to tell others in her field they ought not arrogantly assume they don't misquote sources. Leaving out instances of human error, real reporters who deal with real business matters work very diligently to make sure they get the story right. For this dilletante to suggest otherwise is brash and insulting.

The real frustrating thing about Mrs Trunk's column is that it again reinforces the idea that journalists are hopelessly biased and spend hours each day trying to think up ways to screw the God-fearing American public. Consider, over at Dean's World, writer Dave Price's reaction:

Sadly, such notions of rigorous intellectual honesty and absolute truth don't even rate lip service from our media, thanks to attitudes like this. Instead of being a reliable source of objective, factual news, the media forces anyone seeking truth to de-filter the narrator's bias from every "story" -- often with extremely troubling consequences.

See what I mean? Journalists have enough problems without people like Mrs Trunk making things worse. Then, there's Mr Esmay's comment to Mr Price's response. Mr Esmay writes:

The most obnoxious example of this sort of press behavior is the "reports" they give on poll results. Newspapers are especially notorious about this: instead of printing the questions exactly as they were asked, and then just giving the numbers, they "interpret" the poll for you. That's where bogus things like "most Americans believed Saddam was behind 9/11" bullshit stories came from, just for example.

As someone who has written a few "poll" or "report" stories in his day, I've always worked to summarize the poll or report as opposed to interpreting it. It's just data, after all, and the readers are more than capable of intrepreting the data themselves. The important things to summarize are the poll results, its methodology, its margin of error -- and of course, where the readers can find a copy of the whole thing if they're interested in learning more. That's not to say there's no place for intrepretation -- after all, the data may show trends and those trends are worth reporting -- but again, data is data. There's only so much reading of the tea leaves one can do, and if reporters must go all out looking for deeper meaning, they should get other sources to do the interpreting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Terrell Owens Demands Vick Suspension

The Sporting Rant

DALLAS -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens yesterday called for the NFL to immediately suspend embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, charging the allegations surrounding Vick's federal indictment were "cruel, callous, and most importantly, taking the media's focus away from me."

Owens, whose ability to score touchdowns in the second-tier National Football Conference is only matched by his ability to drop crucial passes in games, called a press conference to discuss the matter outside Texas Stadium. Owens declared he was "completely disgusted" with media coverage of the Vick affair, saying "it was all he had seen on shows like NFL Live" and that he wanted things to change quickly.

"You know, it's only a week before training camp starts and I haven't heard a goddamn word about all the stunts I'm expecting to pull during the regular season, much less the pre-season," said a visibly annoyed Owens. "Why, in the first few weeks alone, I'm planning to miss key team meetings, openly complain about Wade Phillips, get in Tony Romo's face for not passing me the ball all the time, and drop at least four key passes during pre-season matchups. But has anyone so much mentioned my name in the past two weeks? Hell, no!"

"Also, I'm going to throw a cup of Gatorade at Jason Garrett when he's not looking, in revenge for some imagined petty slight. But have you heard anything about that? Let's see -- no, of course not. Hell, I even sent (agent Drew) Rosenhaus over to scream at Jerry Jones and it didn't even get so much as a write-up in the Dallas Morning News."

"They're not even here, are they?" Owens said, as he looked out over the assembled media, which consisted of one reporter and three bored-looking interns half-heartedly taking notes. "This is ridiculous."

During the remainder of the press conference, Owens said he was considering working Vick's situation into his famous post-touchdown celebrations, including walking a football on a leash, pretending to shoot the football for poor performance, and pulling a Vick jersey out of his helmet and stomping on it.

News of Owens' complaints did not impress other teams in the National Football Conference, most notably the Falcons, which called Owens' press conference "particularly unfortunate."

"It's rather sad, and actually a bit pathetic, when a player from another team would so brazenly try to capitalize on an unfortunate and disappointing situation involving an Atlanta Falcon," said a Falcons front-office official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Besides, isn't it about time for the man to retire? He's been in the league for more than ten years now and still hasn't managed to figure out basic concepts like teamwork."

Nor did Owens find much sympathy from teams in the superior American Football Conference, which dismissed Owens' remarks as "an outburst typical of a washed-up, mediocre player" who would be severely tested were he to actually play against a decent AFC team.

"Please," said Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, when informed of Owens' remarks. "I'm in the same situation and you don't see Ocho Cinco complaining. I do my talking on the field, where it earns me ever-increasing fines from the league office and opprobrium from fans of other teams."

"Just wait 'til you see what I have planned for our first game against Cleveland," Johnson added.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Over-Under for Falcons-Bengals Game Set at 15

The Sporting Rant

ATLANTA -- Professional odds-makers have set the "over-under" for the Pre-Season Week 3 game between the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals at 15, citing rumors the legal troubles now faced by the teams' players could "just be the tip of the iceberg."

"With 10 Bengals players arrested in the last 14 months, and Falcons quarterback Michael Vick getting indicted last week, it seems almost certain the teams will face more legal problems as time goes on," said odds-maker Tim "Timmy the Greek" Konstantinos. "Two things seem pretty clear. First, both squads aren't comprised of the brightest bulbs in the lamp store, and second, neither team has any idea how to handle its morally-compromised players. So we're initially setting the over-under line for the game at 15, representing the number of players arrested, indicted, facing suspension or otherwise having engaged in immoral acts as of game time."

"This seems likely given the expanded roster both teams will be fielding, plus the seemingly limitless capacity for the teams' players to get into trouble," Konstantinos said. "I mean, it doesn't take much -- a disorderly conduct charge here, a fight or two there, and before you know it half the squad will require permission to travel out of state. You really can't underestimate the proficiency of either team."

Fellow odds-makers shared Konstantinos' assessment.

"Fifteen seems like a reasonable number to me," said Edward "Teddy the Sharp" O'Callahan, an odds-maker and sports consultant based in Nevada. "Clearly these teams have all the right stuff to get close to that limit without too much trouble, and they could easily surpass it given the stress involved with training camp and the pre-season."

Officials with the NFL declined comment on the matter, although they privately noted that other teams in the league have considerably lower numbers. For instance, Konstantinos has set the over-under for the Hall of Fame Game, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, at 1/2.

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

July 21, 2007

The Culling of the Books

IN A SHOCK MOVE, I've decided that I'm going to cull my extensive collection of books. No, really. I'm going to go through the whole collection and sell the ones I no longer want or need. Stop laughing -- I'm not kidding.

As Loyal Rant Readers know, I am a bit of a book enthusiast, to the point where I deliberately avoid shopping at bookstores because I know that if I enter a bookstore, I will inevitably end up buying several books. Over the years, this bibilophilia has caused me to amass hundreds of books. Most of these are at home in Ohio, on the shelves and in the closet of my bedroom there, but I also have several hundred books in my apartment. Many of these are located in the back bedroom that I never use, and many are in a giant banker's box. While I wouldn't say the state of affairs is patently ridiculous, I would say it's about time to cull the herd before things get out of hand. Books, at least in my life, are kind of like dry-cleaning hangers -- they tend to multiply when I'm not looking and next thing I know I've got bunches all over the place.

Some readers, I know, will remain skeptical of this announcement until I actually go through with it, but I think this time I am really and truly serious. The only question remains: what the devil do I do with all of them?

Now I know I'm damn well NOT going to get rid of my books on business, finance, economics or economic history. Those are important to my work and are thus indispensable. I mean, I've got records of commodities prices going back four thousand years in some of these volumes. Sure, it's entirely possible -- in fact, rather probable -- that I'll never need to draw upon the fluctuating price for grain in ancient Babylonia or commodity prices in ancient Greece, but that's not the point. The point is that I will have the knowledge handy if and when I need it. Why, in 50 years, when I have grandchildren going on about this or that, I'll be able to pull out that knowledge in a jiffy:

That's right, son. 100 drachmas to the mina and 60 minae to the talent. Owned. Besides, as my collection in that arena grows, it will hopefully become at least semi-valuable and sought after, leading to a nice tax deduction for my estate in 70 or 80 years.

I am also not getting rid of my precious history boxed sets, either. Oh, no. The Decline and Fall stays. So does Runciman's three-volume History of the Crusades. The three-volume Klemperer diaries? Mine forever. The seminal history works stay too. Commager & Morris' The Spirit of Seventy-Six stays on my shelves until the end of time.

So what do I plan to scrap, you ask? Well, I have a bunch of books on political science that I haven't read in a while and don't have any interest in reading further, so those will probably go. I have some old travel volumes I no longer need and I bet I can get rid of those cheap. But perhaps the most culling will be done from my paperback collection, where I'll get rid of the science fiction novels and other mind candy that once brought me lots of enjoyment, but are now being wasted just sitting there.

Of course, therein lies the question: how do I get rid of these while still recapturing the little value they have? The hard-covers won't be too much of a challenge -- those I can sell to clever shops like these and I should be able to get five or ten cents on the dollar. But the paperbacks are another matter. Paperbacks are cheap and have practically no value at all, and I would be inclined to sell them at fire sale prices (10 cents to 50 cents per book) if only I could find a buyer. The trouble is that I need cash in exchange; store credit doesn't do me much good, because I'm trying to get rid of the books, not get new ones that will start filling my shelves again.

Simply put, I want to be a paperback seller, but I haven't the foggiest idea of how to go about selling the books, even for next to nothing. Paying for shipping doesn't make much sense either, so that kind of rules out eBay and all the other on-line marketplaces. A yard sale doesn't work either, because I don't have a yard. Oh, well. I'm sure I'll think of something. I'll have plenty of time to think while I'm going through the stacks.

On a related note, I'm going to take this opportunity to post what is perhaps my favorite modern poem, from the poet Clive James.


The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots--
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
"My boobs will give everyone hours of fun."

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error--
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2007

Why People Hate Sport Utility Vehicles

AS I UNDERSTAND IT, there's been a lot of talk recently about some guy in Washington, D.C., who had his Hummer sport-utility vehicle vandalized while parked on the street. The story got major play in The Washington Post, because owner Gareth Groves, 32, had the $38,000 SUV for all of five days before two masked men broke every window, slashed the tires, and dug the message "FOR THE ENVIRON" into the body. Thus far, the response from the nation has ranged from outrage to a feeling that, although it shouldn't have happened, Mr Groves kinda got what he deserved.

I can understand the first response but not the second.

After all, as Vincent Vega famously put it in "Pulp Fiction," you don't fuck with another man's automobile. That Mr Vega was a hit man only goes to show how deep a crime this is against conventional morality. Like Mr Vega, I too share a sense of outrage against the anti-social hellions who would do something so beastly as to damage someone else's automobile. I personally believe that car vandals should face punishment so severe it would give a judge in Singapore pause.

That said, though, I don't understand why people believe Mr Groves, through his choice in vehicle, somehow invited the crime against himself. After all, how is that their business what kind of car Mr Groves drives? It's his money and his life and he has a right, under our glorious capitalist system, to purchase whatever type of car he wishes. If that is a $38,000 Hummer H2 or a $10,000 Ford Focus, that is his decision and his decision alone.

This is not to say I consider Mr Groves the brightest bulb in the lamp store. For one thing, Mr Groves paid $38,000 for a constantly depreciating asset, which is not generally a recipe for financial success. For another, Mr Groves paid $38,000 for a vehicle when he was 32 years old, when a good chunk of that money could have been invested instead. This would, in time, have allowed him to buy several sport-utility vehicles of his choice. This also suggests Mr Groves is a bit dim. For a third, it's worth noting that Mr Groves still lives with his mother. As such, spending $38,000 on a car is ridiculous.

Also, in the photo of Mr Groves, it appears he is wearing a San Diego Chargers away jersey. Still, even though Mr Groves' recent auto purchase might have made him the Marty Schottenheimer of the car-buying public, that doesn't mean the man deserved to get his car wrecked.

I do think I understand why people generally detest sport-utility vehicles, though, and I don't think it has much to do with the environment. Rather, it has to do with driving conditions.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I drive a Ford Taurus sedan. I have always driven a Ford Taurus sedan (or similar) and I will probably do so for a long time to come. This is because I like sedans. I am a sedan person. Sedans, to my mind, are practical, understated and elegant. For their drivers, they offer up an aura of smart sophistication that shows others the sedan's owner is an intelligent yet grounded sort, confident in his own image and ability. Plus, they're relatively easy to park.

On the other hand, consider how SUV drivers are viewed. Everyone has driven down the freeway at one point or another and found themselves at the mercy of an incompetent SUV driver breathing down one's neck, even though one is going well over the speed limit. This incompetence, combined with a lack of respect for the machine they're driving and a lack of respect for others on the road, annoys drivers of more traditional vehicles. People tend to get a lot more annoyed about others' driving habits when others are driving vehicles considerably larger than their own, and that's generally because people are well aware of the laws of physics. An incompetent driver operating a Kia Spectra is considerably less dangerous than an incompetent driving a Cadillac Escalade.

I would suggest this is what lies behind most of the animus directed against sport-utility vehicles, and not concerns over the environment. The environment is just a secondary focus. It may amplify the hatred but it does not cause it.

Still, the amount of hatred directed at SUV drivers does surprise me. After all, plenty of SUV drivers have perfectly good reason for owning their vehicles -- they may live in a rural area, or need to haul stuff, or what have you. Plus, our glorious capitalist system has a way of balancing things out. Look how many SUV drivers are now driving less because gasoline prices are so high. The way I see it, there's no need to vandalize SUVs or berate their drivers -- just chuckle softly when you see them filling up at the gas station!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Uhhhhhhhhhhh ...

SO I HAD A GREAT POST up about Bear Stearns' hedge-fund collapse and all that. Note the word "had." About the same time my blog's server went through a "server migration," the damned thing disappeared -- not only from the site, but from my archives as well. I have no idea how this happened and I am trying to fix it, but the file has gone kaputski.

This is so NOT cool and with it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2007

The (Allegedly) Losing Ways of Michael Vick and Friends

ACCORDING TO THE SMOKING GUN, a federal grand jury has indicted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three other men on one count each of "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture."

It should be noted upfront that Mr Vick has said previously that he was rarely at the Smithfield, Va., residence where authorities charge the dogfighting operation was run. He also has said he had no idea it might have been used in a criminal enterprise, and blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity, according to the Associated Press.

However, if all the allegations contained in the grand jury's indictment are in fact true, it paints a very disturbing picture of Mr Vick's morality and that of his associates. For instance, in Paragraph 53 of the indictment, the grand jury charges that "in or about March of 2003, (Purnell) Peace, after consulting with Vick about the losing pit bull's condition, executed the losing dog by wetting the dog down with water and electrocuting the animal." The pit bull's loss in a recent fight, the indictment charged, cost Vick & Co. some $13,000.

As if that wasn't fucked up enough, the indictment charges the dog-fighting operation routinely did away with animals it thought would not fight well or had lost bouts in which a large amount of money was at stake.

As depraved and immoral as these allegations are, however, what also amazes me is the stupidity of all the alleged partners in the scheme. If Mr Vick was in fact involved, he surely deserves the harshest glare from the spotlight, for he will have thrown away his multi-million dollar football career on a wretched and barbaric blood sport. Furthermore, if what the indictment says is true, Mr Vick is clearly an idiot of the highest degree. Consider the following charges:

1. Mr Vick's nickname, according to the indictment, is "Ookie."

Yes, that's right, "Ookie." What the hell kind of nickname is that? All the other losers mentioned in the court papers had at least understandable, if not imaginative, nicknames. But Ookie? I mean, I'm sorry, but when I think about badass nicknames that suggest a man can kick tail and take names, Ookie does not spring to the top of the list. Ookie sounds like the nickname of a guy you send to get sandwiches from the corner deli.

2. Mr Vick is alarmingly well-paid in his other work.

In 2004, Mr Vick signed a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons. This contract was worth $130 million with a $37 million signing bonus. I'll repeat that again: $130 million with a $37 million signing bonus.

We can discuss another day why the Atlanta Falcons' management has the collective brainpower of an addled egg. For now, though, let's look at the fact Mr Vick has finished just two years of his contract, and if convicted will lose out on a huge portion of that $130 million. Certainly he would never work again as a major-league football player. To throw that type of money away in pursuit of anything is madness, much less engaging in a vile and foul activity like dogfighting, as Mr Vick has been charged with so doing.

3. The alleged dogfighting operation may well have lost money.

It stands to reason the indictment would not cover the entire universe of fights Mr Vick and his cohorts are charged with conspiring to bring about. Nor would it cover the entire universe of expenditures laid out for the operation. However, if you look at the fights in question, you can discern that of the 15 fights mentioned in the indictment, the operation lost some $17,900 on the bouts. Here's an accounting:

Fight 1 (See Paragraph 18) ($500)
Fight 2 (See Paragraph 24) $1,000
Fight 3 (See Paragraph 29) $1,000
Fight 4 (See Paragraph 32) $1,500
Fight 5 (See Paragraph 35) $5,000
Fight 6 (See Paragraph 38) $1,000
Fight 7 (See Paragraph 41) $3,600
Fight 8 (See Paragraph 44) $1,500
Fight 9 (See Paragraph 50) ($13,000)
Fight 10 (See Paragraph 54) ($10,000)
Fight 11 (See Paragraph 58) ($3,000)
Fight 12 (See Paragraph 63) ($1,500)
Fight 13 (See Paragraph 66) $3,500
Fight 14 (See Paragraph 71) (11,000)
Fight 15 (See Paragraph 77) 3,000

Subtotal of fight gains (losses) ($17,900)

This last item, I would submit, would show that Mr Vick and his associates -- if convicted of the charges brought against them -- are not the brightest bulbs in the lamp store.

One could argue this analysis is meaningless; after all, with the money Mr Vick was making, what would he care if he lost comparatively miniscule amounts here and there? But I would suggest that to Mr Vick's associates, and to those in the underground world of dog-fighting, they were large sums of money indeed.

Thus, it seems rational to conclude those in the dog-fighting world may well have looked hungrily upon the money Mr Vick and his cohorts allegedly put up for fight purses, and saw the whole operation as an easy mark. That goes especially when one looks at the big ticket losses allegedly racked up. If they did what the indictment charges they did, the indictment's accounting would show Mr Vick and his companions might have been able to handle the small fish, but when they came up against larger and smarter players, they were out of their league and paid dearly for it.

Speaking of being out of their league, the Falcons have issued a statement regarding Mr Vick's indictment. One could perhaps describe it as a bit tepid. However, on behalf of everyone here at The Rant, I would offer my sincere condolences to the team and its long-suffering fans, who have only seen their team in one Super Bowl and have yet to win the Big Game despite 40 years of trying.

OK, now that that's out of the way -- you guys thought 7-9 was bad last year? Hah! Have fun with Joey Harrington as your starting quarterback, you scoundrels!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Strengths and Weaknesses

SO AS I MENTIONED BELOW, the Commerce Department has a kick ass site for trade statistics. If you ever need a source for this type of data, the TradeStats Express engine is the way to go.

One of the neat things about the site is that it shows just what exactly we're exporting to the rest of the world in terms of real material goods. As readers know, our economy has been moving away from being based on making real material goods for quite some time. The American economy is roughly $13.2 trillion -- about 28 pc of the world total GDP -- and only about 20 pc of it is based on making stuff. About 79 pc is based on people performing services for other people, and the remaining 1 pc feed the other 99 pc.

Much of our industrial output is consumed domestically, of course, but we do send about $1 trillion in finished goods abroad every year. (Unfortunately, we're bringing in $1.8 trillion each year, but that's a story for another day). The figures, as far as I can tell, don't include products like software or similar goods that aren't really manufactures; but the numbers tell an interesting story.


AMERICA'S EXPORTS as of 2006 (approximate)

Nuclear reactors, machinery, parts, boilers, etc.: $182 billion
Electric machinery, parts, etc.: $146 billion
Vehicles and parts (excluding rail cars): $92 billion
Aircraft, spacecraft and parts: $67 billion
Medical and surgical instruments: $43 billion
Plastics and related goods: $42 billion


Furniture: $7.6 billion
Meat and edible meat offal: $6.6 billion
Fine art and antiques: $5.5 billion
Guns and ammunition: $2.9 billion
Chocolates and cocoa-based products: $896 million


Fur, artificial fur, and related products: $287 million
Stuff made from cork: $70 million
Silk products: $56 million
Wickerware, woven baskets, etc.: $40 million
Umbrellas, riding crops, buggy whips: $17 million




AMERICA'S IMPORTS as of 2006 (approximate)

Oil, oil, oil: $334 billion
Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and parts: $244 billion
Electric machinery, televisions, and so on: $229 billion
Vehicles: $215 billion
Surgical and medical instruments: $51 billion


Wood, wood charcoal, wood articles: $23 billion
Shoes: $19 billion
Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $16 billion
Fish: $10.2 billion
Leather art, including purses: $9.5 billion
Perfumes: $7 billion


Hats: $1.6 billion
Musical instruments: $1.4 billion
Wickerware, woven baskets, etc.: $452 million
Furs, natural and artificial, and manufactures: $392 million
Cork products: $223 million

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Isle of Shoals

SO APPARENTLY LE MONDE is thrilled about the stellar rise of the euro against the U.S. dollar, as Joe Noory over at No Pasaran! reveals. As evidence of this, he notes a cartoon in which an overly-fed bureaucrat -- complete with euro-embossed fascist armband -- measures up (or rather, down) an ever-shrinking George Washington. Mr Noory's comment is as follows:


Celebrating the “strength” of the overvalued Euro, our intrepid Le Monde cartoonist can’t even bring himself to use the color blue. Instead, while favoring book-burning red, he doesn’t seem to realize that he lives in an export economy where their overpriced rubbish now costs even more.


It's especially problematic when you consider what exactly France exports. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce -- which has a kick ass site for trade statistics -- we gauche Yankee capitalists imported some $37.1 billion of French goods in 2006. Industrial products made up 27 pc of the total, while pharmaceuticals were about 10 pc.

As it turns out, the stuff you tend to think about when you think of French imports was actually a small portion of the total. We imported about $2.8 billion annually (or 7.5 pc) in terms of wine, liquor, vinegar and beverages; $1.9 billion (or 5.2 pc) in fine art and collectibles; some $1.3 billion in terms of perfumes and such; about $191 million in non-knitted apparel; $70 million in pre-made food and related products; about $55 million in chocolates; $34 million worth of shoes; $985,000 worth of tobacco and, last AND least, some $234,000 worth of woven baskets and wickerware. During 2006, the euro was worth about $1.20 to $1.30.

What's interesting about the trade statistics is how they shift over time. For instance, Americans like French reactor parts and similar goods, and are willing to pay for them, as evidenced by the fact we bought nearly $6 billion worth in 2006, up from about $5.2 billion in 2001. That goes the same for wine and spirits, up from about $1.6 billion in 2001 to $2.8 billion last year. But there's no denying that French exports in other categories are off -- way off -- from where they once were.

Art purchases are down -- from $2.2 billion in 2001 to $1.9 billion last year. Sporting equipment is off from $89 million to $54 million. Cotton is down from $42 million to $26 million. Coffee and tea are down from $16 million to $5 million. Fruit and nut products, from $9 million to $2 million. The market for French tobaccos has practically disappeared and as for wickerware, it's fast heading downhill too.

But perhaps most alarming for the French is their losses in aircraft and parts -- down from $5.8 billion to $4.3 billion -- and electric machinery -- down from $2.2 billion to $1.8 billion. About the only similar comparable loss the U.S. has, meanwhile, is in machinery -- down from about $2.1 billion to $1.9 billion.

On an overall basis, the U.S. has grown its imports to France from about $19.9 billion to $24.2 billion from 2001-2006, a 21.7 pc increase. France's imports to the U.S. have grown from about $30.3 billion to $37.1 billion, an increase of 22.6 pc. Sounds good for everyone, doesn't it? There's just one problem.

In 2001, the euro started out being worth about 95 cents. At the end of 2006, it was worth about $1.32. That's an increase of 39 pc in dollar terms in just five years. The dollar, meanwhile, went from being worth about 1.05 euros to being worth about 76 euro cents. That's a drop of 29 pc in euro terms. (I double-checked the math on this. If Currency A drops from being worth 2 units of Currency B to 1 unit, that's a 50 pc drop; if Currency B appreciates from being worth 0.5 units of Currency A to 1 unit of Currency B, that's a 100 pc gain, despite it looking funny).

So although France earned $37.1 billion on its imports in 2006, the currency fluctuation meant that the $37.1 billion was worth just 28.1 billion euros, compared to a 2001 valuation of 31.8 billion euros on that $30.3 billion in exports. Simply put, they're worse off than they were five years ago. Meanwhile, we're getting five billion more dollars a year for our exports than we were back in 2001.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Now, I realize that trade doesn't exist in a vacuum. The world economy has grown over the past few years and France's loss isn't necessarily America's gain. Depending on the product, it might be Mexico's gain or China's gain or Canada's gain. For instance, the sharp decrease in fruits and nuts being imported from France may well be due to Central America producing a lot of cheap fruit that Americans are buying instead.

That's borne out in the Commerce statistics. Our trade deficit with France was roughly $12 billion per year as of 2006, up from $10 billion in 2001. But on an overall basis, our trade deficit doubled to -- God save us -- $817 billion in 2006 from $410 billion in 2001. That France's share of the pie has shrunk shows how our other trading partners are profiting from an expensive euro.

Along those lines, it's worth noting that although the euro has appreciated notably in the last few years, other currencies -- such as the Chinese yuan and the Mexican peso -- have not. The yuan has only appreciated about 6 pc in the past year or so and that's largely a function of China artificially depressing its value; the Mexican peso has fallen in value against the dollar this decade. (It used to be 9 pesos to the dollar, now it's 11).

The long and short is that the euro's rise makes things even more difficult for France and its neighbors. (Yes, our $24.1 billion will get far fewer euros than it once would have, but that doesn't really matter, because we're sending all our dollars to Asia for cheap electronics).

Meanwhile the euro keeps increasing in value -- it's now at $1.38, according to the market. If it keeps going higher, there's going to be a lot of pain in the forecast for the French -- and overall, those pains will be far sharper than the American tourist who discovers his dollars don't go nearly as far as they once did on the Old Continent.

In the meantime, though, I would invite the French to use their supercharged euros the way so many of our trading partners have in the past -- through making risky investments in loss-leaders that allow us Americans to get our dollars back cleverly and sneakily.

*cough* Pebble Beach *cough* *cough* Chrysler Corp. *cough*

Please. We need the money.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 16, 2007

Then Again, the Kepple Land Corp. Has a Nice Ring to It

AS I MENTIONED IN MY POST below, I'm perfectly happy with renting my present accommodations and, at least for the moment, see no reason why I ought change this state of affairs. However, only God knows what the future holds and it's entirely feasible that within a few years I'll find myself owning a place.

One big advantage of owning a place, as I see it, is that it would eventually open the door for me to pursue future real-estate development. If there's one thing I've learned over the past several years, it's that there's real money to be made in holding real estate. That's not simply because property values tend to go up with time, but because property investment generates cash while offering plenty of swell tax incentives along with it. Plus, arrangements can be made so that one doesn't have to have to deal with backed-up drains and broken windows and all that maintenance stuff that can cause so many headaches for a landlord.

I remember being shocked when I first learned that one can actually depreciate the value of one's residential real-estate holdings over time for tax purposes. I mean, it's counter-intuitive -- values generally go up over time and yet one can gradually write-off the cost of one's holding. That only applies to the buildings on a property and not the land, but still -- being able to depreciate a residential investment property over 27.5 years is a pretty amazing deal. At nearly 4 pc per annum, that expense is large enough to shield a good portion of one's cash flow from the tax man.

Of course, the IRS doesn't let an investor keep the gain forever. When one sells an investment property, the accumulated depreciation reduces the cost basis for the building, and the Government will demand its due accordingly. But since buildings have a way of standing the test of time, one could conceivably hold a property for decades, thus enjoying tax-free growth until the time came to sell. And even then, careful planning can ensure the Government is held at bay for the tax, through the miracle of the 1031 exchange. A 1031 exchange is a clever little tax plan in which an investor can essentially trade up on his gain.

For instance, let's say an investor buys a condo (Condo A) for $50,000 and ten years later that condo has appreciated in value to $100,000. Let's also say the value of the underlying land has stayed flat at $10,000. If Investor A decides to sell, he would have to pay tax on the gains, which would be $50,000 in appreciation plus his depreciation recapture, in this case, $14,520 (36.3 pc of $40,000) for a total of $64,520. But through doing some planning beforehand, the investor can plow all his money into Condo B, priced at $100,000, and defer his gains for tax purposes.

The beauty and power of this scheme can't be understated. Taxes eat wealth. As a result, deferring tax for as long as possible while enjoying gains increases one's wealth. This is a big reason why Warren Buffett is so rich; instead of churning his holdings here and there over the years, he held on to everything and as such deferred his gains. That turned what would be a $2 billion or $3 billion fortune into a $50 billion one.

I recall a Chinese tycoon who, when asked about how one could be successful in real-estate, summed up his philosophy as follows: "wait, wait and wait." Yeah, that sounds about right.

Oh, I almost forgot. As I've learned from other folks involved in real-estate investing, one doesn't have to be a hands-on guy dealing with clogged drains. Instead, one can procure the services of a property management company, which for a share of the rent will handle all the affairs related to a property, allowing one to sit back and feel particularly clever. True, one will have to find a good management firm and the returns one would enjoy would be less than if one was a direct landlord. But there's more to life than dealing with angry tenants and cleaning out gutters.

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

For Now, I Think I'll Stick with Renting

AS SOMEONE WHO RENTS his living accommodations in a local real-estate market that can still be described as "a bit warm," I've always found it fascinating how people respond to my decision to continue renting an apartment. Their reactions run the gamut from amazement to befuddlement, and in a few cases, even pity. I haven't yet figured out how to respond to these reactions without being smart, so I generally try to be polite about things and offer my congratulations on the homeowners' own success.

Of course, I have my own rationale for renting. Perhaps the most notable factor is that I'm single and have no children and as such, value the freedom that renting on a month-to-month basis provides. That's not the only reason why I rent, though. Renting, as The Economist pointed out some time ago, is the financial equivalent of "shorting" the housing market, and while I certainly missed the boat earlier this decade as of late this strategy has worked in my favor.

Plus, I have the best landlord ever. Of course, it helps that I'm a quiet tenant who always pays the rent on time and doesn't engage in activity that would endanger my security deposit. Still, the long and short of it is that my landlord has raised my rent a total of 1.3 pc over the past six years, while inflation over that six year period has run roughly 17 pc. Thus, my rent is roughly 16 pc cheaper now than it was when I first signed on for the apartment. This is even better when you consider that Casa Ben is a swell two-bedroom apartment in a great part of town, and I get both heat and hot water thrown in. Oh, and an off-street parking space. This example shows that I rule.

Also, the money that I would have been spending on homeowner's insurance and property tax and what not if I had bought a place has gone straight into savings. In part, this is why the pity response amazes me. Sure, I may not have bought property, but I DID manage to take advantage of the stock-market recession of earlier this decade, and in the past 5 years the S&P 500 has risen 68.5 pc. It's not like I've been sitting on the sidelines or something.

Of course, part of the reason I missed the boat back when I moved here was that I was 25 years old, had just moved cross-country and started a new job. As a result, I was in no position to buy anything. Now that I am 31, I have to admit the homeowner bug is starting to bite, even if it's on the frequency of an occasional mosquito as opposed to an army of fire ants crawling over my legs.

So recently I've found myself checking property Web sites and idly scanning real-estate listings, even though I'm single and don't even use all the space I'm renting right now. I do these searches for two key reasons. First, if I scan them long enough, I get my vicarious home-ownership thrills through doing that, and the home-ownership bug eventually goes away. That goes especially if I think about all the Not Fun Chores I'd have to do as a homeowner, like mowing the lawn and paying for expensive, unexpected repairs. Second, I might come across a reasonably priced residence, particularly if it's in foreclosure and there's a chance I could lowball the bank.

So you can imagine that when I went on-line just now, I was pleased to see that a house was on offer here in Manchester for just $99,000. Wow, I thought -- $99,000! Plus, the listing in question mentioned the seller was motivated (always good) and that the home in question was located "close to downtown." That's generally a good thing here, even if back home the phrase "close to downtown" is parlance for, as Egon Spengler put it, "the neighborhood looks like a demilitarized zone." All in all, according to the listing, the home would be a "great opportunity" for an investor or builder.

Of course, there was one teensy catch to the whole deal:

I've heard of a fire sale, but this is ridiculous.

Now, I have to give credit to whomever the listing agent was for this deal, as the whole "major structure fire" bit WAS listed front and center in the ad AND he put up photos of the major structure fire in question. That takes guts. Plus -- although the temptation must have been great -- there were no lines about the home being a "fixer-upper" "in need of TLC" or what have you.

Still, the depressing thing about the ad was that, when you got down to brass tacks, the seller was essentially asking $99,000 for the lot -- and perhaps more, depending on if the buyer had to actually demolish the home himself or sink untold amounts of cash into the money pit to rehabilitate the place. Compare this to my home town back in Michigan, where the median home price is about $90,000, and the situation can be summed up in three words: depressing, depressing, depressing.

So, for the moment, I think I'm going to stick with renting -- unless I can find a nice repossesed condo that somehow manages to fit my needs. Sellers take note, though -- those needs include minor issues such as "all four walls" and "being fit for human habitation."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2007

Bobblehead Doll, Good. Hard-Fought Victory, Better!

AFTER A QUARTER OR SO OF PLAY during tonight's minor-league arena football game between the Manchester Wolves and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, I thought for sure writing tonight's synopsis was going to be simple. In fact, the way things were going, I didn't think I was going to have to write anything. I could simply allow Jim Mora to do the talking for me:

But when the game was over, I realized that using Mr Mora's famed analysis wasn't going to be a proper fit. Much to my surprise and joy, the Wolves managed to fight back from a 21-0 deficit AND BEAT THE UNDEFEATED PIONEERS by a score of 49-46. God knows it was close, and the Pioneers nearly managed to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, but Manchester held on and WE WON.

I still can't believe we managed to pull it off. The first half of the game showed just how scarily good the Pioneers -- who came into the game 13-0 -- can be when they're firing on all cylinders. Their offense was tight and efficient; their defense was spot on as well. After a ruthless opening drive to make the score 7-0, the Pioneers managed to intercept tipped balls on the Wolves' next two possessions. Suddenly, it's 21-0 and I'm wondering if we'll manage to score before halftime.

But something happened along the way -- Manchester started regaining its confidence and its defense began to click. By halftime it was 31-21, and Manchester's defense kept fighting. Suddenly, our boys are up 35-31 in the third quarter and soon after made it 42-31. But the Pioneers weren't done yet, and they managed to claw back within three points in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. This was an even more impressive accomplishment when you consider some of the great plays our defense made. DB Travis Pugh, for instance, somehow managed to strip the ball from a Pioneer receiver as he was heading for the endzone, and Manchester recovered the ball in the endzone. For Mr Pugh, it was a punishing play and he was down on the turf for several minutes, but he was able to recover. That was just one of two fumbles he forced this evening.

Up 49-46 with about a minute to play in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Manchester was about to put the game away -- but then, the Pioneers again intercepted the ball on a short pass bound for the endzone. Oh, woe. Oh, calamity. It's Jerome Bettis' fumble on a smaller stage. One minute to go and the Pioneers have the ball and it looked as if they would both score and run out the clock, leaving Manchester no time to get the go-ahead touchdown.

But the Pioneers came up eight yards short. On their first two downs in our red zone, the Pioneers' passes were broken up, and on the third down -- with 9.1 seconds to go -- our defensive line overpowered the Pioneers and quickly took down quarterback Ryan Vena for a sack. With no time outs left, that was that -- and the fans in the stand went wild.

Although, they had been pretty wild all night. I don't think I've ever been to a Wolves game where the crowd was so loud and so boisterous and so into the game. Hell, we even got an honest-to-God wave going, amidst the shouting and cheering for our defense. It was just fun. Plus, I even got this sweet bobblehead doll of the Wolves' mascot, Blitz, which is now perched on the top shelf of my computer desk. That's like some kind of bonus.

I must admit that part of me feels as if I should claim at least some of the credit for the Wolves' win tonight, through my very presence in the stands. You see, this now makes the tenth arena-football game in a row I've attended in which the home team has won -- a streak which has lasted for more than a year. That not only includes one af2 playoff game, it includes a big-league AFL game I saw on my May vacation, in which the lowly Grand Rapids Rampage shocked the much better Colorado Crush.

I think all can agree, though, that that would be a bit silly. Manchester earned this win and earned it playing hard and smart. Both sides played their guts out -- the match was so intense that one Pioneer player even started throwing up on the field. (This, I did not need to see). Both sides also proved something important tonight.

The Pioneers proved that if one had to pick a single team to win this year's ArenaCup, they would be an awfully good choice. The Wolves proved that they can play with the league's best teams and beat them -- something that will come important come playoff time. Hopefully, we'll play at least one of those playoff games at home.

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

July 13, 2007

75 Word Brief Contains Four Typos, One Error

THE WRATH OF AN AGGRIEVED WRITER can be terrible yet beautiful to behold. For instance, witness Giles Coren's famous 2002 response to a sub-editor's mistake in The Times of London, in which the sub-editor had changed a crucial word in a book review Mr Coren wrote. To start his review, Mr Coren had written: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Very clever. All 26 letters of the alphabet in a 35-letter sentence." Sadly, one of the "the's" got replaced with an "a," thus bolluxing up Mr Coren's lead.

In response, Mr Coren wrote a response that is particularly unsuitable for those who find strong language offensive, and I can assure readers it is so foul it makes a 16th century English sailor look like the Archbishop of Canterbury. But now that you've been warned, let's just say the man was not happy:


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. How fucking difficult is that? It's the sentence that bestrides the fucking book I reviewed for you. It is the sentence I wrote first in my fucking review. It is 35 fucking letters long, which is why I wrote that it was. And so some useless ---- sub-editor decides to change it to "jumps over a lazy dog" can you fucking count? Can you see that that makes it a 33 letter sentence? So it looks as if I can't count, and the ----ing author of the book, poor Mr Dunn, cannot count. The whole bastard book turns on the sentence being as I fucking wrote it. And that it is exactly 35 letters long. Why do you meddle? What do you think you achieve with that kind of dumb-witted smart-arsery? Why do you change things you do not understand without consulting? Why do you believe you know best when you know fuck all? Jack shit.

That is as bad as editing can be. Fuck, I hope you're proud. It will be small relief for the author that nobody reads your poxy magazine.

Never ever ask me to write something for you. And don't pay me. I'd rather take £400 quid for assassinating a crack whore's only child in a revenge killing for a busted drug deal - my integrity would be less compromised.

Jesus fucking wept I don't know what else to say."


Now, I should note that -- being pedantic -- I went back through Mr Coren's original e-mail missive and fixed all the capitalization. I did so because sentences without capitalization annoy me to no end and I'll be damned if they appear on The Rant. Also, I redacted two instances of a particularly offensive word; click on the link if you wish to see the original. However, as I kept Mr Coren's missive otherwise intact, I am confident history's judgment will be on my side.

Anyway, Mr Coren's response naturally caused other writers to ask the obvious question: how the hell do you get £400 for a book review in this day and age? That aside, though, I was reminded of Mr Coren's outburst when I read the reaction Patrick Hughes had to a write-up of his new book in his local paper, The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun.

On the good side, the paper had given Mr Hughes a 75 word write-up about his new book. On the bad side, Mr Hughes discovered the write-up had four glaring typographical errors -- including one in the brief hed -- and a stupid style/factual mistake at the end of it. The mistakes are so egregious, in fact, that they challenge Mr Coren's charge that the screw-up with his book review was "as bad as editing can be." (Go give it a look. If you're a journalist -- and many of my readers are -- you'll be crying your eyes out with laughter).

As one might expect, Mr Hughes is not happy. His response, in part, reads as follows:

So, uh, fuck the Gainesville Sun. It sucks. If that sorry sham-ass excuse for a newspaper ever came into contact with real journalism it'd flame on like a vampire douching with holy water. I hope Osama bin Laden packs a Ford Pinto with fire ants and SARS and flies it into the building. I hope Chris Benoit comes back from the dead to babysit its kids. I hope its editors never ever learn how to spell "the," and all its advertisers get mad and leave, and the only people willing to buy any space in it until the end of time are American Apparel and Hitler. Seriously — fuck you, Gainesville Sun. Fuck. You.
Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2007

It's the End of the World As We Know It

THE CANADIAN DOLLAR is nearly worth a dollar.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Stupidest Idea in Years

SO APPARENTLY political commentator Larry Sabato will release a book this fall arguing for more than a score of fundamental changes to the U.S. Constitution. Since the document has worked well for more than two hundred years, the idea that it suddenly needs changing seems a bit much, but Dr Sabato apparently thinks otherwise. However, although such rhetoric tends to sell books, it's pretty clear many of his ideas are non-starters. Particularly his idea regarding fundamental changes to the U.S. Senate, which I do think is the stupidest idea I've heard in years.

The idea, according to Joseph Knippenberg of the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, is this:


Because each state, regardless of population, elects two of the 100 senators, just 17 percent of the nation’s population elects a majority of the Senate. Sabato would expand the Senate by giving the 10 most populous states two additional senators, the next 15 most populous states one new senator and the District of Columbia its first senator.


Speaking as a resident of a Small State, I believe I speak for all my fellow Small State friends and colleagues when I say: Oh, hell no. The whole idea the Founders had for creating Congress as they did was to prevent Small States (like, say, New Hampshire) from getting picked on by Large States (like, say, New York). Conversely, Large States get bunches of representatives in the House while Small States like New Hampshire get hardly any. This balance is unequivocably fair and just, and just because Large States aren't content with the power they hold doesn't mean they should try taking more from Small States.

Besides, let's look at the states that would get FOUR Senators under Dr Sabato's plan. They are, in order of population: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and New Jersey. I think everyone can agree our system of Government would not be greatly improved through giving these states even more power. I mean, my God. Can you imagine Ohio having FOUR Senators? (If you listen carefully, you can hear my father spewing his morning coffee all over his computer screen).

All that aside, I must say the peculiar case of Texas has always fascinated me. I've never understood why the Texans don't take advantage of their right to form five separate states and thus gain eight net senators as a result. (See the Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States, approved March 1, 1845, which explicitly gives them the right to do this). I mean, for God's sake, it couldn't be that hard to work out the arrangements between the five separate entities, and they could jointly run certain commonly-owned properties, such as the University of Texas system. Plus, you think anyone else would mess with Texas in the Senate if all 10 Senators got together as a bloc? Heck no.

(via Meg McArdle)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 11, 2007

It's Foxtastic!

SO I WAS OUT HAVING DINNER this evening when, through no fault of my own, I accidentally took notice of "The O'Reilly Factor" on a television in the restaurant's bar. Normally, exposure to the No Spin Zone sends me spinning with a bad case of ennui, but during this instant the show had asked its viewers to respond to a snap poll over a Major Issue Facing Americans Today. Namely, which is worse -- the oil companies or the airlines?

This type of question does not bode well for the launch of the Fox Business Network. Still, as I savored my filet mignon this evening, this silly and foxtastic question got me to thinking for a few minutes. The answer, at least to my mind, is obvious. It's the airlines, of course. Here's why:

Oil companies and their associated refining operations produce scarce goods (oil, gasoline, diesel and other various distillates) that are universally needed. Airlines, for their part, provide a universally-needed service to their customers. In each industry there are limited suppliers and extremely high demand; both industries operate under significant Government regulation and restrictions on their activities; and both industries would have trouble sponsoring an event honoring motherhood and apple pie, much less their own core business activities.

But there are significant differences between these two industries. Although oil companies' products are expensive, their products are universally available to purchase if one has the money, and the products do what they're supposed to do: run engines. After all, when was the last time you went to the gas station and you couldn't get any gas for love or money? For young people like me, that would be never. You might not want to pay upwards of $3 per gallon for gasoline, but the stuff's there when you need it. Plus, here's another good thing about oil companies -- they make money for their shareholders, which last time I checked was why companies were in business.

Contrast this state of affairs to the airline industry, where mismanagement and incompetence has been raised to an art form par excellence. Air travelers whose flights are on time and whose luggage arrives intact don't simply expect that as par for the course. These days, they consider it lucky, and on some airlines, miraculous. While the oil industry gives you oil and gas for your money, airlines give you travel -- but with nothing near the reliability and friendliness you get at your local gas station. Every air traveler has had awful experiences: the unexplained cancellations, the overbooked flights, the frustrating waits on standby. Hell, things are so bad these days the Dalai Lama would have trouble keeping a cool head, especially if he was flying Northwest.

Plus, when was the last time you heard about an airline's stockholders making out like bandits? (I mean, aside from Southwest). Over the decades, the airline industry has blown through untold billions of investors' dollars trying to keep the large carriers afloat, and it will undoubtedly spend billions more in the future. It would be one thing if they were making money hand over fist, but they're having enough trouble keeping the lights on.

Even on style points, I have to give the oil companies the edge. After all, no one was griping and moaning about their plight back in the late Nineties, when the stuff sold for $10 a barrel and gasoline could be found for 79 cents a gallon. Now that oil's more than $70 a barrel, suddenly the oil companies are the greatest threat to the American way of life since disco music. I am sorry, but I don't buy it. As unlikely as it may seem today, the price of oil may very well crash again far off in the future -- but you'll still be able to procure the goods without any trouble whatsoever. I long for the day when the same can be said for my flight out of Detroit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 10, 2007

Sometimes, A Picture Says a Thousand Words ...

... AND SOMETIMES, IT SAYS but a few. In the case of the following image, I would submit the picture says just 84 words, which are these:

Professional football in America is a special game -- a unique game. Played nowhere else on Earth, it is a rare game. The men who play it make it so. Pro football is a mirror of early America -- reflecting toughness, courage and self-denial. That's in stark contrast to Major League Baseball, which couldn't muster up toughness, courage and self-denial among its players even if the stadium hawkers were selling them at a discount. Gawd. Ooooooooh, it's sprinkling -- quick, go get the tarp!

Yes, the Boys of Summer have decided to make Dane Cook -- the alleged comedian and general societal irritant -- as their post-season pitchman for 2007. Were this a campaign for breakfast cereal or something, I'd blame McCann Erickson, the ad agency behind this boondoggle. But MLB should have known better and so I must lay the blame solely at their feet. What the hell were they thinking?

I mean, look at the guy. As many have already noted, Dane-o looks like a complete douchebag. Not only that, Don Cheadle has more gravitas in his pinky finger than Dane Cook has in his entire body. So if MLB's goal was to highlight the great stories of baseball's past, why use this lump to do it? I mean, I don't know about you guys, but Cook doesn't inspire me to think about past glories and champions of years past; rather, he inspires me to think about how cool it would be if someone hit him repeatedly with a two-by-four.

But don't just take my word for it. Go have a look at the comments at Deadspin, which are decidedly against MLB's decision in the matter. There's the aggrieved fan who wrote: "Major League Baseball: Trying really hard to make its most die hard fans hate it since 1995." There's the clever copywriter who quipped: "I think MLB is up for a Clio in the category of Marketing Douchebaggery." There's the cynical observer who wrote: "Hell, this might even make Red Sox Nation hate itself." And perhaps the unkindest cut came from a fellow in the mid-Atlantic who wrote: "As a Yankees fan, I love this."


Well, let's look at the bright side -- it's only 26 days until the Hall of Fame Game. 26 little days ...

(via Steve Silver, who says simply, "Please. No.")

(with apologies to John Facenda and the rest of the NFL Films gang).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Jefferson City of Presidents

HERE'S A NEAT LITTLE QUIZ to get your brain awake prior to your morning coffee: name all the Presidents of the United States within ten minutes. It's an easy enough quiz until you start getting into the obscure guys from the 19th century. After two minutes of cruising along and two minutes of dragging up information from the obscure reaches of my brain, I finally gave up after getting 42 out of 43 correct. As for No. 43, I can assure readers that he is to Presidents what Jefferson City, Mo., is to state capitals. Not much happened during his tenure and the only time he's ever remembered is on quizzes like this!

(via D. M. Darlington)

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July 09, 2007

Report: Students Indebted for College Not Inclined to Give Colleges More Money

THE OBSERVATION ABOVE might seem on par with statements such as "the sun rises in the east" and "it hurts to get hit in the head with a hammer," but apparently it reflects a state of affairs worrying enough that colleges are taking note of it. Why, The Boston Globe has even written an in-depth feature article on this supposedly worrying trend, which has college administrators furrowing their brows and trying to think up new and clever schemes to separate students from their money. But so far, many students remain unmoved, as the Globe reports:

The fund-raising appeals started even before Adam Minsky received his diploma from Boston University six weeks ago. The envelope not so subtly left on his plate at the senior breakfast. The tug on his heartstrings with a request to donate in honor of a favorite professor. E-mails asking the class of 2007 for a token $20.07.

Proud (Boston University) grad that he is, Minsky is immune to the message, thanks to his $40,000 in debt.

"I got a great deal with my financial aid, but I'm still paying tens of thousands of dollars," said the Orlando, Fla., native. "And now they want more money? I think it's just ludicrous."

University fund-raisers are increasingly worried over young graduates like Minsky. They fear that with student debt ballooning today, campus coffers may be suffering tomorrow.

I think we can all agree this would be a horrible development. Think of all the poor academics out there who could find themselves bereft of support from various colleges. Think of all the professors forced out onto the street, offering to write for food hackneyed English theses on mediocre writers whose sole cleverness was reflected in the topics they wrote about. Think of all the administrators who would find themselves without tempests in teapots to manage, without the vicarious thrills of meddling in the petty affairs of their students. There would be despair and anguish and benefit concerts and ... but I digress.

In any event, I can certainly sympathize with Mr Minsky, as his reaction to receiving fund-raising letters was pretty much identical to my own upon graduating from the University of Michigan. As much as I love Michigan, I will almost certainly never donate so much as a red cent to my alma mater, which when it comes to alumni fundraising matters is classless, gauche, wretched and contemptible.

Quite frankly, I think colleges would pay to wait a few years before they started hitting up their former students for money. When I graduated from Michigan, I was acutely aware of how much money it had cost to attend that fine institution, and my attention was focused on other expensive matters -- such as moving out to California, where I had managed to land a job. Yet Michigan's solicitations for money were almost comical in their audacity; why, we were even solicited for money during commencement.

As one might imagine, at first I reacted to these calls and letters with silent scorn, giving each a mental two-word response as I threw them into the wastebasket. Then I started getting passive-aggressive: for instance, on a day when I felt particularly spiteful, I taped a penny onto the response form and mailed it back in. Then I went on the offensive, and started actually publicly writing about these letters and making fun of them.

Yet despite all these things, Michigan has never given up hope that it will someday, somehow extract money from my miserly person. Why, even today I get letters from Michigan asking me to donate. The last one asked me to donate to the school's Chemistry Department, which was a riot since I never took a chemistry course in school. (A follow-up letter said this was a mistake, but I was almost hooked that time -- I always felt sorry for the chem students). Once every few months, they even call me once a day for several days in the hopes they'll get me to donate. (Thank God I have Caller ID -- this lets me answer the phone and hang it up immediately).

As you can see, Michigan's donation system is a bit impersonal and bureaucratic. Perhaps that's par for the course at a school where one of the first things incoming freshmen are taught is, "If you see a line, go stand in it." But I can't for the life of me see giving money -- even restricted money -- to an institution that will, in my mind, find a way to spend it as if it was water. I'd rather give money to deserving students in my chronically recessional hometown, where there is no work and things seem pretty tough. (As it happens, there's a great program that already does this). Heck, compared to a university, there are a LOT of places where donations go farther and make real differences in people's lives.

I fully admit I think my perspective would be different if I had received assistance from Michigan to attend, and that aid had made a marked difference in my later financial situation. Instead, as a commenter at Boston Gal's Open Wallet put it, I look at my schooling as a business transaction -- nothing more and nothing less. So, as far as I'm concerned, Michigan and me are even.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Medice, Cura Te Ipsum

OVER AT DR MAURICE Bernstein's Bioethics Discussion Blog, Dr Bernstein has revealed that -- at least according to Google -- physicians are the most hated professionals in American life. This has prompted Dr Bernstein to ask how doctors can improve things -- after all, in Dr Bernstein's unscientific experiment, more people apparently hate doctors than they do lawyers. No, really.

According to Dr Bernstein's informal survey, some 18,300 results came up when one entered "I hate doctors" into Google, compared to 10,100 results for "I hate lawyers," 994 results for "I hate politicians," and 684 results for "I hate insurance companies." Interestingly, Dr Bernstein did not enter "I hate reporters," although a quick search just now reveals 1,440 hits for that particular query, and "I hate journalists" brought up 1,760 hits, for a total of 3,200 hits. This makes journalists the fourth-most-hated profession in American life -- just behind being Peyton Manning, who recorded a total of 3,740 results. (In any event, it's all the broadcast boys' fault, and that's all I'm saying on that).

As for me personally, I generally like doctors. This is because their efforts over the past 31 years have managed to keep me alive against all odds, and in addition I have a pretty good quality of life as a result. Not only that, I like my GP and the various specialists I see for this and that. (I also generally like lawyers, but that's what happens when half your friends go into law). I even like my dentist, who is a cheerful and pleasant sort. (I am, God save me, seeing him on Tuesday).

But are there things doctors could do differently to change their image and improve their care? I think there are, and I think the expressions of dislike recorded for doctors may stem from a cultural clash between the old-school style of medicine and the modern day alienation so many Americans have towards established institutions.

Now, as I understand it, back in the old days people generally did what their doctors told them -- doctor's orders and all that. Plus, given the set-up of the health care system back in the day, doctors had more freedom to actually practice medicine than they do these days. There was not the culture of defensive medicine that sometimes results in patients undergoing myriad tests for no discernible reason other than they might have a malpractice lawyer on speed-dial. Nor were the costs of medicine such a big factor -- with the advent of modern medical technology, the cure for what ails you often proves quite expensive.

Those two modern developments haven't helped doctors, I don't think, but I also think doctors have become much more forceful in addressing preventive medicine issues. Herein may lie one of the problems. There are few things more annoying than going into the doctor's office and being scolded -- not advised, but scolded -- for X, Y and Z when the patient knows damn well he ought to quit X, Y and Z. There are a lot of things about medicine that aren't exactly rocket science and it is frustrating to get lectured about these facts.

For instance, here's one of the disappointments I had with my own medical care. A while back, I had gone in to see a nutritionist for tips on keeping my weight under control; I am a diabetic and sadly overweight, so the doctors were trying to keep tabs on that. The discussion of lunch came up -- I have an irregular work schedule and I'm not really able to pack a lunch, and sometimes my lunch choices are limited. Somehow we got on the discussion of Subway sandwiches, and I mentioned I sometimes got a foot-long roast-beef sub for lunch. I was advised to cut that down to the six-inch sub because the foot-long sub had too much bread.

Now, this might have proven an acceptable suggestion if I was 5-foot-6 and weighed 160 pounds, but I'm 6-foot-4 and weigh 240 pounds. On a daily basis, my body runs through about 3,000 calories even with my sedentary lifestyle; the Subway roast-beef sub has about 650 calories or something. Had I cut that in half, I knew full well that about 4 p.m. I would be starving and down at the vending machines eating something I really ought not. But the way the advice was dispensed seemed so unyielding that I just held my tongue and politely listened to various other advice, little of which I actually followed because it again seemed unrealistic to my own circumstances.

Contrast this with an appointment I had recently with a specialist I saw for my diabetes, who advised me my sugar levels were too high and that additional action needed taken. The doctor came in, sat down, explained my options and then his recommendation. He then gave me a choice of treatment options to follow; I concurred with his recommendation and started up taking insulin injections again.

The big difference here is that in the second case, the doctor treated me like I was a functioning adult, and that went a long way. I think doctors may too often know what's best for the patient without hearing out what exactly the patient has to say about the matter, and I think they may deliver that advice without considering what the patient's circumstances are. Combine that with the pressures of modern-day medicine -- the assembly-line feel of going in for an appointment, the paperwork headaches, the time-constrained visits -- and it can prove a bit frustrating for the patient, who is almost certainly giving up time away from work/family/activities to go in for an appointment he didn't want to endure anyway.

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July 08, 2007

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

AT FIRST BLUSH, IT SEEMS like a problem that would be nice to have: different bosses end up telling their workers they have different days off. For most folks, this would be a great way to take a long weekend. Unfortunately, this state of affairs is taking place in the Gaza Strip, and the poor civil servants are instead caught in the crossfire. The Scotsman has the story:


As if life was not already difficult enough for the 1.4 million people living in the impoverished and war-torn Gaza Strip, they have now been presented with an almost impossible dilemma. They can either take off the Hamas weekend of Thursday and Friday - and risk not being paid by Fatah - or face the wrath of the all-powerful Hamas gunmen by observing the Fatah weekend on Friday and Saturday.

While Hamas controls the streets of Gaza, it is the Fatah-aligned rival government in the West Bank that pays their salaries.

The dispute, which is due to continue today, turned violent on Thursday when ministry of finance staff arrived at work in keeping with the directive from the government in Ramallah.

They found the doors chained shut and guarded by troops from Hamas' Executive Force who threatened to arrest the employees if they did not leave.

According to workers, the Hamas militiamen fired in the air and when the employees still refused to leave, shot into the ground near one of them.


Now, I don't know about you, but for me this state of affairs wouldn't be exactly conducive to getting a lot of work done. Crikey, they're accountants, for God's sake -- you don't shoot at the accountants. In fact, I'd say I'd be rather passive-aggressive at this point.

As such, I wouldn't blame the poor finance ministry folks for putting in the minimal amount of work at their positions while spending most of their time engaging in more lucrative pursuits, such as currency speculation, hoarding goods and arms smuggling. Actually, since the Palestinian authorities now owe the workers 18 months back salary, I can't say I'd blame the workers if they put out tip jars right on their desks and explicitly made large tips a condition for getting anything done.

However, I do think that if the finance ministry workers got together with the other civil servants, they could put a stop to this foolishness quick enough. With the weekend dispute going the way it is, it makes perfect sense for the civil servants to take three days off. It's not much of a stretch, then, to take seven days off in a week and adhere to that schedule until the idiots running Gaza give in. Trust me, it would work:

GUNMAN: Hello? Hello! Yes ... wait, what? What do you mean I'm overdrawn? A service charge? What service charge? ATM withdrawals? We don't have any ATMs! Well, a service charge couldn't be ... how many shekels? Ya'llah! Get your supervisor on the phone! What do you mean, he has the day off? El khara dah?

SECOND GUNMAN: Heh. You're overdrawn again, aren't you?

GUNMAN: No I'm -- you stay out of this! Hello? Now listen up, you wad al haram, I'll put your frickin' head on a pike if you don't put the money back in -- *click*click* -- hello? Hello! Goddammit!

I'm telling you, if the machinery ground to a halt, this whole weekend business would fix itself faster than you could say Jack Robinson. You think the average gunman knows how to operate an automated clearinghouse?

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

July 07, 2007

Quit While You're Ahead Dept.

THE LAWYER WHO FILED a $52 million lawsuit against a Washington dry-cleaning establishment over a lost pair of pants -- a suit that saw the trial judge rule the man was "entitled to no relief whatsoever" -- is appealing the verdict in the case, ABC News reports.

I don't know about you folks, but this seems to me like the legal equivalent of holding up a sign on a crowded street that says, "Please! Please hit me over the head repeatedly with a hammer!" This is especially the case given the court is now considering whether to force the attorney to pay the dry-cleaners' legal costs, which now top $83,000. As such, appealing the judgment sounds about as smart as waving a red flag in front of a charging bull.

But hey. Considering the man rejected a settlement offer of some $12,000 before the case went to court, we're clearly not dealing with the brightest bulb in the lamp store.

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Should've Seen This Coming Dept.

FROM AUSTRALIA'S HERALD SUN: A HONG Kong woman who blinded her boyfriend in one eye in a fight six years ago has been jailed for jabbing a chopstick into his other eye.

Well, I've got nothing to add.

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The Location of This Should Surprise No One

A MICHIGAN MAN faces drug charges after police said he was selling marijuana from his ice-cream truck, authorities said yesterday. According to the Associated Press, police arrested the man in Benton Township after stopping the truck in a mobile home park and discovering -- well, they sure as hell weren't push-ups:

After authorities got tips about the alleged pot-peddler, a deputy "heard jingling bells" about 2 p.m. Thursday and saw the ice cream truck entering a mobile home park, Berrien County sheriff's Lt. Keith Hafer said in a written statement.

Deputy John Hopkins stopped the truck, spoke with the driver and "detected the odor of marijuana coming from the truck (along with tutti-frutti and a couple other flavors) ," Hafer wrote.

Authorities searched the van and found several packages of marijuana under the dashboard, the statement said.

The 36-year-old suspect was jailed while awaiting arraignment on charges of marijuana possession with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug vehicle. He also faces an outstanding warrant for skipping child support, Hafer said.

Authorities released the vehicle to the vending company "in spite of an effort by Narcotics Officers to devise a way to forfeit the vehicle and its icy cold treats," Hafer said. He said police would seek revocation of the company's license to operate in Benton Township.

For the record, The Rant would like to commend Lt Hafer for having fun with this one. Heh. It sounds as if releasing the ice cream truck back to the company was the right thing to do, but when it's summer, and it's hot outside, you can't blame the guys for trying.

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July 06, 2007

The Confidence Trick

AS LOYAL RANT READERS KNOW, I devote a good portion of my energy here on the site to discussing issues related to business, wealth and class issues. In large part, it is because I enjoy the thrill of the hunt. There's something I find deeply inspiring about the athletes who struggle for a shot at the big time, the businessmen who produce new ideas and new products, and the investors who seek profit in places seemingly incapable of supporting growth. Perhaps the best part about this is that, as a writer, I get to chronicle all these things without actually having to shoulder the responsibilities that go along with those efforts. After all, things can and do go wrong, and when they do they often turn out badly.

Of course, as with any human endeavor, there is an ugly side to this as well as a beautiful one. The unfortunate reality of life is that for every hundred businessmen who work hard at building their companies, there is one who turns out to be a rotten apple. For every hundred athletes striving for the big time, there is one who arrogantly collects a seven-figure paycheck whilst underperforming. And for every hundred success stories -- or at least every ten or twelve -- there is one rotten miscreant who spits in the punch bowl, ruining things for everyone.

This helps explain why The Rant holds such contempt and disdain for people like the Hilton family, whose inexcusable public behavior only serves to make things difficult for everyone else. But I can assure readers the Hiltons are not the only target of scorn and ridicule here. Oh, no. Every clown with more money than sense, and every wealthy spendthrift, and every gauche, inarticulate, half-educated pus-for-brains is equally as deserving of righteous condemnation.

It is in that spirit that I would note with disapproval a forthcoming book that hopes to capitalize on Americans' latest obsession: the moneyed but useless twit. This book, "The Official Filthy Rich Handbook," seeks to give readers advice on emulating the wretched dolts who flaunt their money in public, and thus guide them in how to act just like the people nobody else can stand. As if that wasn't enough, the publisher wants $10.95 for the bloody thing.

This, my friends, is an insult that cannot be borne.

So I daresay it would be a good idea to look at what exactly the book promises to explain in its description, and tell the entire Internet about it, in the hopes it will save someone somewhere their hard-earned $11. Before we begin, though, let's look at the book description from the publisher, the ironically-named Workman Publishing Co.:

In the spirit of The Official Preppy Handbook—the 1.3 million-copy bestseller that taught us all how to be top drawer—here is a dead-on, deadpan guide to living large in the land of plenty. Packed with wry insight and savvy, The Official Filthy Rich Handbook yanks the monogrammed pashmina off a world few mortals get to see. An actual instruction manual, this nuts-and-bolts guide (phone numbers included) feeds our endless fascination with the world of the loaded while offering practical instruction for those who aspire to join them.

The difference between a majordomo and a butler. The proper way to name your houses. Acceptable Privet Height: A Cautionary Tale. Meet your new peers in the Plutocrat Primer—including The Speculator, The Thrillionaire, The Moguless, The Heirhead—and the mooches and scoundrels to know and avoid. Cosmetic procedures for you and your children. The right spots to party in Sardinia, Aspen, Napa, St. Barts. Bodyguards—ex-Mossad vs. ex-NYPD. The Top 10 Charities. Why the Filthy Rich swim nude. The Official Filthy Rich–Approved List of Rehab Centers. Why it's so hard to break into the art market (and how to do it). Fun gadgets: La Cimballi M3 Cappucino Station, the Toto Washlet S300 no-paper toilet. Colleges you'll want your kids to drop out of. What to wear when interviewing with the co-op board. And much, much more.

Oh, dear.

As much as it pains me to write this, I am afraid the book in question will impart about as much class as wearing a clearly-borrowed dinner jacket when one's out at a fancy restaurant, but wasn't told in advance the establishment had a dress code. In fact, to be perfectly blunt, people who read this book and then follow its advice will almost certainly be called out as parvenus and climbers. However, devoted as I am to the free flow of information, I'm going to answer some of these questions so no one will have to waste their $11. So, here we go!

The difference between a majordomo and a butler.

A butler is the head servant in a household, who oversees the other servants and makes sure everything works well. A majordomo is responsible for an estate's financial and managerial concerns, and outranks the butler.

The proper way to name your houses.

A while back, I had a great conversation with my dear friend Simon From Jersey about the proper convention for naming one's homes. We agreed it would be clever to adopt chi chi-sounding names that were actually giant inside jokes or unfortunate happenstances. (Simon's perfect house name, as I recall, was "Nutwich.")

If one must be pretentious enough to name one's home, one may as well pick something that sounds refined but not cutesy or twee. However, if I ever have more than one home, I will not have a public name for my residences. Instead, I'll refer to them in corporate style, in which the name of the home corresponds to the city or town where it is located. This might mean I have a condo named "Secaucus" someday, but I don't care.

Acceptable Privet Height: A Cautionary Tale.

A privet is a type of hedge. That said, you don't need to know how tall the hedges should be, because if you are really filthy rich than you'll have a gardener to handle that for you.

Cosmetic procedures for you and your children.

It's not cricket to give your children cosmetic surgery, because it makes you look vain and them look spoiled. If they must have cosmetic surgery, wait until they're a reasonable age -- like 25 or something -- and then keep it quiet.

The right spots to party in Sardinia, Aspen, Napa, St. Barts.

This chapter, I take it, is for those who want to want to learn intimately that the trouble with being rich is that you have to hang out with rich people. That said, Saint-Barthélemy has been a "hip" and "go-to" place for ... Gawd, years. If you really want to impress people, go relax on Saba for a week. Here's an even better idea: go someplace you really want to go and hang what everyone else thinks.

The Top 10 Charities

Nothing says class like openly and publicly giving a wad of money to an established charity, particularly if it is for some trendy cause, or better yet, one in which you're helping rocks and trees and chipmunks as opposed to your fellow man.

The Official Filthy Rich–Approved List of Rehab Centers.

Uh, last time I checked, you weren't supposed to talk about such things in public company.

Why it's so hard to break into the art market (and how to do it).

Now this actually might be something rather useful -- after all, investing in art can be lucrative and enjoyable. Of course, it can also be costly and miserable, with the added down side of having people encourage you to buy hideous modern art. But hey -- there's always classic car collecting.

Fun gadgets: La Cimballi M3 Cappucino Station, the Toto Washlet S300 no-paper toilet.

OK, so one makes coffee and the other has a bidet and a dryer! Gee, and here I thought I'd arrived when I stayed at a hotel with a telephone in the bathroom.

Colleges you'll want your kids to drop out of.

You don't want your kids to drop out of college. If they did, it would signal that worst of all fates: downward social mobility. That's because unless wealth is carefully managed, it dissipates throughout the generations. The best bet is to ensure your kids go to a top-ranked but non-snobby school, such as The University of Michigan.

What to wear when interviewing with the co-op board.

This may reflect my roots as a Midwesterner, but the idea of having to go hat in hand to a panel of judges for the privilege of buying an expensive apartment is downright horrifying. Here's a better idea: go get a nice detached place with a yard and a garage where you can actually do what you want within your property lines and the covenants of your local homeowner's association.

Well! That was easy! Hopefully that saved somebody out there $11 (plus tax, if applicable).

Of course, I must stress that I am not in fact a member of the "moneyed overclass," as the book calls those with more than $30 million. Indeed, I am but a member of the upper middle lower class and as such undoubtedly have no business talking about this at all. Still, in the event there were people out there who really wanted to act "rich," here are my suggestions:

1. Be nice to people. Be particularly nice to people not as fortunate as you.
2. Never openly express anger at people who aren't as fortunate as you, who haven't had the same opportunities, or who are your direct subordinates.
3. Don't care about what the neighbors think. But don't give the neighbors anything to think about.
4. As Andy Tobias once wrote in a similar list: Do not buy a boat.
5. Be confident and be yourself. No, really. Be yourself! Enjoy life, take things easy.

I would submit that through following these simple steps, one can live a happy and productive life without trying to ape what the von Joneses down the street are doing. Even better, these things are all free -- no expensive trips, shopping sprees or other extravagance required. All it takes is a bit of self-confidence and the occasional helping of chutzpah, and you're all set.

(via Gawker)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 05, 2007

Copa America -- The Hottest Spot South of Havana

TALK ABOUT ADDING INSULT TO INJURY. It was bad enough the United States turned in the worst performance among the twelve teams taking part in this year's Copa America tourney, but now we learn the Venezuelan Government harrassed the American security officials guarding the team. The charge comes from no less a personage than the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the wretched socialist state:

Ambassador William Brownfield told Reuters two State Department diplomatic security agents were detained for two hours at Maracaibo airport when they arrived to provide security for US players at this month's Copa America hosted by Venezuela.

"They jacked us around at the airport and then revoked the weapons permits," Brownfield said on his last day as ambassador in a country whose President Hugo Chavez is openly hostile to Washington.

"It is an unusual way of doing business," he added.

The US team, which has suffered heavy defeats in its opening games, has generally received good cooperation from Venezuelan authorities during the tournament, the ambassador said.

But the detentions and a formal note from the foreign ministry withdrawing permission for any of the 10 agents at the tournament to have guns is symptomatic of the increasingly sour ties between the United States and its No. 4 oil supplier.

Well, ties between Venezuela and the United States have always been sour, if you get my drift. Heh. That's an oil joke!

In all seriousness, though, I have to say Venezuela's Government is getting more annoying with each passing day. It's bad enough the Government is slowly destroying what had been a somewhat prosperous nation, but the Minimum Leader's extraterritorial ambitions are starting to prove somewhat troublesome. This latest stunt is just another indication Col Chavez is a most irresponsible leader, and the potential threat his Government poses to regional stability should not be ignored.

(via Val Prieto & Co.)

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SI: Bengals Owner on Par With Team

CINCINNATI BENGALS OWNER Mike Brown has been ranked the worst owner of an NFL franchise by none other than Sports Illustrated magazine. Columnist Michael Silver charges that Brown, in addition to overseeing a team whose players suffer an amazing number of brushes with the law, also said some rather stupid things at a recent NFL team owners meeting. In bestowing Mr Brown with the last-place ranking, Mr Silver writes:


"Boy, Brown has sure done a fantastic job of bringing the Bengals into the 21st Century. Once known merely as a pathetic football team whose on-field ineptitude mirrored management's cheap, clueless approach -- the Bungles -- Brown's team has now become a national punch line, his players the poster children for malfeasance. Welcome to Sin City, or Cinci for short.

Until very recently, Brown sat back and watched as clowns like Chris Henry did incomprehensibly stupid things like get arrested for handgun charges while wearing his own jersey and kept their roster spots. You'd think someone who employs so many miscreants (10 Bengals players have been arrested in the last 14 months) would be careful about invoking the names of certain notorious villains, but this is what Brown did in front of more than 50 of his peers at last March's owners' meetings. In the midst of a complaint about the current stadium-building plan that is part of the league's revenue-sharing arrangement, Brown was reminded by a fellow owner that he had taken advantage of the same plan (and a provision that allowed him to waive the club-seat premiums that normally go to visiting teams) upon opening Paul Brown Stadium several years earlier. According to a witness, Brown replied, "Look, it seemed like a good thing in the beginning. A lot of people think a lot of things are good in the beginning. A lot of people thought Hitler was good in the beginning."


Well, now. That's just like school on a snow day, isn't it?* At this rate, Mr Brown's going to make Donald Sterling look like a paragon of sports management. I mean, it says something when you get ranked worse than the Fords.

In Mr Silver's column, other owners in the NFL's AFC North Division fare considerably better. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Dan Rooney -- and Art Rooney II -- were ranked ninth. Why the Rooneys were not ranked No. 1 is ridiculous, but Mr Silver seems to acknowledge this truth in his essay: "Last year I had Rooney ranked 10th, and many of you folks reacted like I'd just rated democracy as the 10th-best form of government."

Steve Bisciotti of the Baltimore Ravens was ranked 13th -- which seems a bit high, but hey -- while Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner was ranked 22nd.

* (No -- class!)

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July 04, 2007

Report: Accused Drug Suspect With $200m in House "Couldn't Get Small Change"

El Diario Rant


MEXICO CITY -- Attorneys for Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman facing drug charges related to his alleged illicit importation of psuedoephedrine, said yesterday an immense hoard of cash found in Mr Zhenli's home resulted from his "continued and complete failure to get any small change" in Mexico.

Federal agents reportedly found a total of US$205 million in cash plus US$22 million in assorted currencies and traveler's checks in Mr Zhenli's home, located in a well-to-do section of Mexico City. However, Mr Zhenli's attorneys said the cache resulted from a years-long struggle with bureaux de change in Mexico, in which Mr Zhenli attempted vainly to get 20 and 50 peso notes, plus coinage, for small purchases.

"Despite Señor Zhenli's success as the owner of a pharmaceuticals company, receipts from his dealings with local banks and currency-exchange parlors show his financial dealings became increasingly desperate over the past several months," attorney Juan Abogado said. "For instance, on Feb. 6, Señor Zhenli tried to buy US$10,000 worth of small-peso notes at a local change house to buy groceries, cigarettes and other sundry items. At the window, he received 107 1,000 peso notes and three 200 peso notes, with the cashier promising to 'make up the difference tomorrow.' On Feb. 18, when Señor Zhenli cashed in some traveler's checks, the cashier handed him a stack of 500 peso notes, leaving Señor Zhenli unable to buy so much as an horchata at a nearby cafe."

"This man is clearly a victim of a failed currency-distribution policy," Abogado said, adding that Zhenli, bereft of 20 peso notes, had not been able to buy deodorant in four months. "The reason he had all this cash at his home was that he simply couldn't spend it."

Mr Zhenli, according to the International Herald Tribune, "rocked the political world here by suggesting, through his lawyer in New York, that the labor secretary, Javier Lozano Alarcon, had threatened him last year if Mr Zhenli told anyone about Mr Alarcon's secret stash of 20 peso notes and small coins held in Mr Alarcon's office safe."

On Tuesday, the IHT reported, Secretary Alarcon called the charges "false, absurd, untrue, crooked and perverse."

"It's absolutely ridiculous for Señor Zhenli to suggest, as he does, that I have a 'two meter high' stack of 20 peso notes plus myriad small change in my office safe," Secretary Alarcon said. "I haven't seen a 20 peso note in about three weeks, much less a stack of them. As for the small change bit, the idea that I or anyone else in Mexico has seen a five centavo or ten centavo coin in recent memory is so ludicrous as to be laughable."

"I did find this five-peso coin in my sofa cushions though," Secretary Alarcon said cheerfully as the assembled reporters oooohed and ahhhhed. "I'm going to buy a Fanta!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Millionaires Than Ever Before!

THERE ARE NOW 9.3 million millionaires* on God's green earth, according to the latest edition of the World Wealth Report from CapGemini and Merrill Lynch. Out of these, a full 3.2 million are located in North America, while approximately 95,000 of the worldwide total have investable assets in excess of US$30 million. Roughly 40,000 of those 95,000 individuals are located within North America, according to the report.

Based on my analyses from previous years (see below), this is in line with what I had expected to see for this year. Once again, the number of super-wealthy individuals is about one percent of the overall total of the rich population, thus suggesting the distribution of wealth among the rich remains pyramid-like in shape.

Unfortunately, this year's report doesn't break down the bands inside that pyramid. However, if we work from the assumption the distribution remains about the same in past years, we can derive certain calculations from that. In prior years, roughly 90 pc of the report's North American millionaires had between $1 million and $5 million in assets, while the remaining 10 pc had more than $5 million. About a third of that latter group had more than $10 million in assets (representing 3.33 pc of the total) while a third of that third (about 1.25 pc of the total) had more than $20 million in assets. Those with over $30 million represented 0.8 pc of the total millionaire population in the United States.

This time around, we can see the highest band has expanded slightly, but I would be shocked if there was any major difference in terms of the overall wealth distribution. So, with 3.2 million North Americans with more than $1 million in investable assets, we can deduce there are about 320,000 with more than $5 million, and roughly 105,000 with more than $10 million. That's out of a total population of roughly 300 million Americans and 30 million Canadians. As that works out to roughly 125 million households, we can thus estimate that roughly one out of 40 North American households has more than $1 million in investable assets -- which sounds about right compared to previous years. (It's actually an improvement).

The long and short of all this is that the bar is getting higher, but it isn't rising so fast that those trying to jump it are ending up face-first on the mat. The addition of nearly one million North American millionaires over the past five years is a good sign that social mobility is continuing -- and that those of us who aren't millionaires will benefit from their wealth. After all, many of these newly-minted millionaires spend their money on weird and outlandish things, which spurs the economy, which in turn boosts the holdings of everyone else.**

* Arguably, there are more than 9.3 million, as the World Wealth Report only counts those with more than $1 million in investable assets, a designation that excludes the value of one's primary residence. However, if you're like me, you view your primary residence as a sort of "Oh my God, I lost my job" type of bank that you can draw on in emergencies. Of course, my primary residence is rented, so I'm out of luck there -- but hey. The housing market is ... well, interesting right now.

** As a member of the ... well, as my friend Matt famously put it, the upper middle lower class, I approve of ridiculous spending which boosts my own portfolio.


The Mr Horse School of Economic Analysis
More Fun with Wealth and Class
A Fool and Your Money

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 03, 2007

Let's Review: We Won, They Lost, and That's Final

UH OH -- SPACESHIP EARTH IS facing yet another crisis of unparalleled proportions! The crisis this time apparently stems from the fact that mankind, which has spread over the earth and subjugated it to our mighty productive will, is using an alarming share of the world's plant resources. According to a team of German and Austrian scientists, this state of affairs means that other species are losing out, and that's bad.

Why exactly this is bad, I'm not exactly sure. After all, it's not like the other species of God's green earth have automobiles, electricity, air conditioning, refrigerators, or Coca-Cola to produce on a daily basis. Hell, they don't even have opposable thumbs. So I'm not exactly sure why we should be all that concerned, given that mankind is only using 24 percent of the Earth's plant resources in our continued efforts to shape nature to our liking. The rest of the world's species will just have to cope. Well, that is, if the soulless beasts had the capacity to cope, instead of relying on their base, animalistic instincts for survival.

Besides, if nature's lower orders were really all that concerned with the fact that mankind was using up all the plants, they'd do one of two things. One, they'd mount some sort of organized counterattack, or two, they'd invent some nifty device to capture the Sun's inexhaustible energy. Last time I checked, they haven't yet managed to do either of these things, although I understand raccoons cause all sorts of trouble in the suburbs.

Perhaps the most blatant idiocy in the news reports about this study came from an Australian agriculturalist. A University of Melbourne professor, with the ridiculous name of Snow Barlow, told the Sydney Morning Herald her view of the study, which was this: "Here we are, just one species on the earth, and we're grabbing a quarter of the renewable resources … we're probably being a bit greedy."

The mind boggles that Dr Barlow has been allowed to teach a class in anything, much less agriculture. But Dr Barlow's comment somewhat misses the point, which is that mankind is the dominant species on earth, and as such might have a perfectly good reason for using that much. Of course, if you ask me, I'm rather annoyed the percentage is that low. After all, three-quarters of the world's plant energy is apparently being wasted and used for no productive purpose, and that can't be good. So I would call upon the world's agriculturalists to figure out a way to boost this measure accordingly. We might just need it for the next crisis facing Spaceship Earth.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 02, 2007

Those Lazy, Hazy, (and Very) Crazy Days of Summer

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

An occasional Rant feature

ONE OF THE THINGS I like about summer here in New Hampshire is that, for much of the season, the temperatures are actually somewhat pleasant. For instance, this entire week the mercury should not crack 80 degrees, and the nights will be cool and comfortable. This week is especially nice because of the Fourth of July, and aside from the occasional ruckus -- a few nights ago, either someone was setting off fireworks or al-Qaeda was shelling my neighborhood -- folks can take some time just to relax and have fun.

Unfortunately, this doesn't hold for the rest of the country, where the stifling heat and wretched humidity keep people indoors far more often. This gives them plenty of time to go on-line and do on-line searches that, if they didn't prompt howls of laughter from my end of the computer, would amount to some type of Biblical plague, viz.


AND LO! THE MULTITUDE DID pour forth onto the Internet, and soon discovered the search engines which brought forth wisdom such as existed in the Tree of Knowledge. And the multitude began to search for the answers they sought, saying, “Come, let us search for the answers we have sought, for everything on-line is apparently in English. Behold, the people is one, and we have all one language; now nothing shall be restrained from us.”

So the multitude went forth and Googled about all that which they had wondered, and it was good. But some lost their way from the narrow path, and began searching for homework answers and celebrity news and other information on seemingly unrelated Web sites, saying, “Come, let us search for homework answers and celebrity news and other information on seemingly unrelated Web sites, for it will be easier and there’s a small chance this might actually work.”

And lo, many of those came to Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant to have their search engine queries answered. And Kepple said, “Behold, the multitude have stumbled upon The Rant looking for wisdom, and except for a few people asking decent questions, the multitude are out of their ever-loving minds. Let us go and confound their queries, so they may not receive their answers, but be thrown down like Capernaum into the depths, and subjected to mockery and schadenfreude and the occasional answer that seems helpful but really and truly is so very wrong.”

So Kepple wrote installments of his “Your Search Engine Queries Answered” feature, but to his surprise the multitude did not scatter upon the face of the Earth, but rather kept visiting his site in increasing numbers. And it was good – until a day far in the future, when Kepple found his scheduled stay in Purgatory had been markedly increased, and he had to carry heavy rocks and deal with the purifying fire and watch endless reruns of Three’s Company until his eyes bled.


What's that? You think I'm kidding. Oh, no I'm not. I can assure you that even though July is just two days old, the searches that have been coming in are downright -- I mean, they'd be unbelievable if I didn't see them with my own eyes. I mean, look at this first one:

QUERY: captain planet planeteers knitting patterns

ANSWER: Wait, what? Captain Planet? Knitting patterns? Captain Planet is bad enough but Captain Planet knitting patterns -- I mean, come on. The show's over. The kids, unless their parents are rabid environmentalists who live in the Pacific Northwest, won't be enthused. Besides, while all cartoons have an element of ridiculousness in them, Captain Planet was particularly ridiculous. You know, because a bunch of teenagers acting like a mini-United Nations are naturally the best choice to save the world from the supposed depradations of nuclear power and gunky engine buildup.

Besides, as this clever video shows, The Power Was Not in Fact Yours. The Power is ... Ted Turner's!

But moving on --- well, before we do that, dig Robot Chicken's "Charlie Brown Special" parody. Best line: "I fear that having a positive attitude, with strong Christian overtones, won't save us this time -- I said, strong Christian overtones!"

QUERY: florida gators

ANSWER: Well, you won't find much about the Gators here at The Rant, but you'll find plenty of information here about the team.

QUERY: couple misbehaving at stadium

ANSWER: If a couple is misbehaving at a stadium -- by which one means being involved in activities that don't involve watching the sporting event at hand -- it is perfectly acceptable to ask a stadium usher to intervene and have the usher ask politely for them to stop. Barring that, throw your hot dog at them.

QUERY: kansas city police videotape romantic encounters in mall parking lot

ANSWER: Generally speaking, it's a poor idea to engage in romantic encounters in places where the local vice squad can actively arrest participants in said encounters for not bothering to get a hotel room.

QUERY: sweatshirt coca-cola jesus christ

ANSWER: Now that's a Midwestern trifecta of clothing-design genius!

QUERY: can you catch the ball off the wall in the endzone in arena football

ANSWER: Yes -- you -- can. This is part of the enjoyable fun of arenaball.

QUERY: danger of tab drink

ANSWER: This depends. The regular Tab drink is good for you and has saccarhine, which everyone loves. The new Tab Energy drink, on the other hand, may cause those who drink it an unfortunate case of "trying to fit in with the crowd but failing miserably at it."

QUERY: eeob haunted

ANSWER: The Old Executive Office Building -- now known as the EEOB, for Eisenhower -- is in fact haunted. It is rumored the ghosts that haunt its hallowed halls include John Nance Garner, Raymond Moley, and Harold Stassen, the last of whom is occasionally seen in the dead of night around at that entrance heading over to the West Wing, looking rather forlorn. Also, the entire Nixon Cabinet.

QUERY: vernors in new hampshire

ANSWER: You can't get Vernors in New Hampshire. It's Vernors! As such, it's only available in the Midwest. Still, you wouldn't want to bring any here. The New Englanders are already angry at the Midwest for our power-plant emissions and if you brought in Vernors they'd really get angry and suddenly the Government's fuel-mileage standards would go to 60 mpg. Let's not provoke them.

QUERY: planning a cheap hippie wedding

ANSWER: First off, in all seriousness, I must congratulate you on having an inexpensive wedding. There is nothing wrong with having a nice wedding but generally speaking people these days spend far too much money on the events. That said, I'm concerned about this whole "hippie wedding" thing. Many of your guests will undoubtedly not be hippies, so it would be advisable to:

* spare them the agony of listening to bad self-written vows, particularly if those vows include some silliness about reducing the couple's carbon footprint.
* have at least one entree with meat -- glorious, wonderful, fat-laden meat -- for guests who are not vegetarian and who think organic farming is a recipe for contracting salmonella.
* have the guests forego their commitments to the environment for just one day and insist they wear traditional deodorant, particularly if the ceremony takes place in a stifling hot church.
* ask for gifts that are easy and useful for all involved: such as those newfangled low-wattage eco-friendly light bulbs.

QUERY: living very cheaply

ANSWER: It's surprisingly easy to live cheaply. Basically, you have to spend less than you earn. Now, after that, you basically have to lower your fixed expenses as much as you can. One you've done that, you save a bunch afterwards. The end result is that you have a nice cushion on which you can fall back if there's any hiccups in life, and you don't have to worry about paying various outlandish bills.

QUERY: low carb low sugar diets and night terrors

ANSWER: That sounds like a reasonable and expected side effect to such a wretched diet. Your body is clearly screaming out for Haagen-Dazs, so treat yourself to a scoop before bedtime once in a while.

QUERY: what is the number one thing men do to aggravate women

ANSWER: I'd have to say leaving the toilet seat up, although there are so many other things: prolonged unemployment, drunkenness, carousing until the wee small hours of the morning, losing one's pay at the track, slouching about the house -- I mean, we could spend hours listing contenders.

QUERY: which hit eighties movie featured rejuvenated senior citizens ?

ANSWER: Red Dawn.

QUERY: as a man i hate mice

ANSWER: A good thing, too! Mice spread disease and cause property damage. They are an utter scourge and must be wiped out with extreme prejudice.

QUERY: sample letter to movie critics

ANSWER: Dear Movie Critic: I am shocked and appalled at your (miserable / illogical / ungodly stupid) review of (film). Everyone knows that (said film) is a (masterpiece of cinema / crime against humanity) that should (be shown again and again in college town movie theatres / be shown again and again in college town movie theatres). How you ever got to be a critic of anything is absolutely amazing. Please do us all a favor and (go back to writing on the metro desk / take up more fitting employment, such as a convenience store clerk).

QUERY: americans stop buying french products

ANSWER: Uh, I think M Sarkozy's election officially put the French boycott to bed. Which is good, because I like Roquefort and pinot noir and Michelin tires.

QUERY: where s bile stored if you do not have a gall bladder?

ANSWER: It's not. It goes straight into the intestines, which can cause a bit of irritation for those who have had their gall bladders removed. Of course, this also may explain why The Rant has not expressed any emotion other than cranky sarcasm for the past few years.

QUERY: strange brew tavern topless pictures

ANSWER: If this is the same tavern I'm thinking of, I can't believe for a moment the pictures came out in that dimly lit, smoke-filled establishment. Apologies.

QUERY: minnesota viking sending naked text message

ANSWER: This should surprise no one.

QUERY: steelers baby gifts

ANSWER: A good idea -- but be careful. After all, for all you know, the recipient of said gifts may grow up to become a fan of a different team (*cough* the Browns *cough*) and may in later life be traumatized by said baby gifts, particularly if there are pictures floating about showing said baby wearing said gifts. I know, I know -- what are the chances of someone giving up their allegiance to the beloved Steelers for a second-rate, struggling franchise?

QUERY: photos and pictures of ben roethlisberger being sacked

ANSWER: You have SO visited the wrong site.

QUERY: bud light real men of genius cincinnati bengals

ANSWER: We salute you, Mr Hapless Cincinnati Bengals Fan! ("Mr Hapless Cincinnati Bengals Fan!") You're there every year, hoping against hope to beat the Steelers in the playoffs. ("Got those lotto tickets!") ... of course, I kid. Bengals fans who are interested in their team's players will find more information here.

QUERY: as an customer support executive how can i make customer satsify

ANSWER: OK, first off, let's get something straight. You're not an executive. You do not have a company car, an expense account, a country club membership, or a key to the executive washroom. Hell, you don't even get to use the middle managers' washrooms. You're making an hourly wage.

However, here are a few tips. First, do what customers want -- within reason -- with a minimum of feedback. Second, don't use any corporate or internal jargon when responding to a question. Third, if you don't know something, say so. Fourth, be friendly and polite if the customer is as well.

QUERY: sarah lucas i can eat a lobster impeccably

ANSWER: I'm glad Ms Lucas can do so, because I certainly can't. Indeed, to this day my family still talks about the Drawn Butter Incident as if it resulted in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

QUERY: throwing out cigarette window freeway ticket fine california

ANSWER: That would be $271 plus court costs. Sacramento thanks you.

QUERY: if there was one defining attribute of the patriots success it was coaching synergy. the public's attention the new england patriots' first pro-football championship offers a refreshing example of the power of true teamwork.

ANSWER: Oh, shut up.

QUERY: what the world needs now is love sweet love it s the only thing that there s just too little of what the world needs now is love sweet love no not just for some but for everyone

ANSWER: Oh, shut up.

QUERY: burgled stolen lava lamps

ANSWER: Attention all cars, attention all cars, suspect is wearing bell-bottoms AND has his shirt unbuttoned to the waist. Assume ... well, dangerous, anyway.

QUERY: maureen dowd times select content how we re animalistic -- in good ways and bad

ANSWER: One of the nice things about "Times Select" is that it's put all of its opinion columnists "behind the pay wall." This means that I haven't been exposed to a Maureen Dowd column in years, for which I am very grateful to the New York Times Co. Inc. You know, because nothing says "paper of record" like a column in which the writer has trouble constructing a decent paragraph and whose insight consists of observations that any college freshman with an iBook could've come up with.

QUERY: I hate Peyton Manning

ANSWER: Heh. Did you know that if you Google "I hate Peyton Manning" that this site is ranked 10th out of 384,000 possible hits? It ranks seventh out of like 3,800 if you put the phrase in quotes. I'm proud that my utter disdain, contempt and scorn for Mr Problem with Protection has been so noticed. I hate Peyton Manning.

QUERY: stupid raider fans

ANSWER: I don't think Raiders fans are stupid. Hapless, yes; tormented, yes; kicked in the teeth one too many times, yes. After all, you'd be angry too if you had Al Davis in charge of your team. But while some Raiders fans are obnoxious, classless boors with a penchant for drunkenness and doing strange things in support of their team, one can't say Raiders fans are stupid. Besides, they're Raiders fans. The way Oakland's been these past few years, you've got a better shot rooting for Detroit.

(Fire Millen).

QUERY: really inexpensive cleveland browns t-shirts

ANSWER: Wait until November or December. You won't have too much trouble at that point.

QUERY: example of predestination

ANSWER: Super Bowl III -- Jets 16, Colts 7.

QUERY: starship song played in for a better life commercial

ANSWER: We built this business on rock and roll!

QUERY: bad egg sulphur smell linked to spiritualism

ANSWER: Well, yeah -- generally because the smell is linked to conjuring up horrible demons from the world of the dead. But you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.

QUERY: in r.i. does a landlord have the right to refuse renting an apartment eo an owner of a pet companion dog

ANSWER: I have no idea, but it's Rhode Island, so I'm guessing the answer is No. In fact, I'll go so far as to suggest that about the only right landlords in Rhode Island have is to prevent prospective tenants from crashing a unit en masse and demanding squatters' rights to the place.

QUERY: united states wants to rule the world

ANSWER: We've got enough problems as is without having to rule more than six billion angry, disaffected people who already blame us for all their troubles.

QUERY: $3.75 for a coke at the movie theatre

ANSWER: There's a very good reason we don't want to rule the world -- we're already paying $3.75 for a Coke at the movies and God knows we don't want it going any higher. I have to admit, though, this is one reason why I don't go to the movies nearly as often as I did before. I don't mind paying $8 or $9 to watch a movie, even if it's crappy (which provides the extra bonus of having something to blog about). But when one adds in the concessions costs, the price of a ticket goes up to $15 or $16 with the purchase of just one popcorn and soda. That's a little steep for a movie that, seven times out of ten, isn't all that great anyway.

Anyway, that's it for this edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Tune in next time when we discuss ... well, I don't know yet, but I'm sure it will be fascinating as always. Until then, keep an eye out for more fun content here at The Rant -- your Maximum Leader for making fun of people's stupid search engine requests.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack