September 30, 2007

Today's Lesson: Complacency Kills

WELL, THE STEELERS ARE BACK! Unfortunately, it's the team from 2006 -- the team of the blown opportunities, the mindless turnovers, the mental errors. Sadly, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon, losing 21-14 in a game that wasn't as close as that score might indicate.

As Arizona's old coach might have said, they were who we thought they were, and we let 'em off the hook.

Going into the second half of the game, leading 7-0, I was confident the Steelers would turn on the jets and deliver a beatdown on the Cardinals. We had, after all, squelched their offense in the first half and our defense played well. I had concerns about our offense, particularly the performance of our offensive line and the collapse of our running game, but I was hopeful we would correct those and play up to par. A while later, Pittsburgh has given up 21 unanswered points and we've got the ball with just five minutes or so left. Blech. At least it was an exciting finish.

I have to think it was complacency that led to our undoing. After all, who would have thought Arizona -- Arizona, for God's sake -- would play so well given their performance in their last three games? However, I am hopeful this loss will serve as a wakeup call to the Steelers, and they'll be back on track next Sunday at Heinz Field. We had a great opportunity today to go up two games in the AFC North and we didn't seize it. Next week, when we have that opportunity again, I think the Steelers will grab it by the horns.

Also, I would like to congratulate the Cleveland Browns and their fans on their well-deserved win over the Baltimore Ravens today. That was a beautiful thing. Plus, since the Steelers lost, the Browns fans are happy and content -- in a sort of sad, peculiar way -- but they're happy and content nonetheless. So thank you, Cleveland, for beating the Ravens and keeping Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. It was much appreciated. Just don't get your hopes up too much, because you WILL be smacked down later this season at Heinz Field.

Our loss today does, however, put me in a bit of a quandary -- who the devil do I root for tomorrow night? Do I root for New England, even though their victory would give them a one-game lead in terms of playoff advantage, or do I root for Cincinnati, even though their victory would put them within one game of the Steelers? At this point, I am inclined to root for the Bungles, just because a victory there would make all the Patriots fans -- the same Patriots fans who stole my Hines Ward car magnet -- grumpy this week. But if the Bungles lost, it would put them 1-3 and in deep trouble in terms of winning the division. This may just be a game-time decision!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bring the Pain

OH, WHAT A JOYOUS SATURDAY. There are few things I enjoy more than watching underdogs knock off highly-ranked teams (provided the highly-ranked team is, you know, not Michigan) and so yesterday's college football action was a beautiful thing. Well, actually, it was even better. It wasn't just beautiful in the way a sunrise on a clear day is beautiful, or a pretty girl is beautiful: this was an otherworldly beauty, a Dave Bowman-into-the-monolith beautiful, an angelic beautiful that announces in its terrible and shimmering glory: "Be not afraid."

Let us review the glorious landscape, shall we? (Note: Rankings under 25 are derived from Massey Ratings' composite index).

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No. 3 Oklahoma lost to No. 60 Colorado, 27-24
No. 4 Florida lost to No. 37 Auburn, 20-17
No. 5 West Virginia lost to No. 18 South Florida, 21-13 (on Friday
No. 7 Texas lost to No. 57 Kansas State, 41-21
No. 10 Rutgers lost to No. 65 Maryland, 34-24
No. 11 Oregon lost to No. 6 California, 31-24
No. 13 Clemson lost to No. 59 Georgia Tech, 13-3
No. 21 Penn State lost to No. 31 Illinois, 27-20
No. 22 Alabama lost to No. 29 Florida State, 21-14

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That's NINE Top 25 teams -- favorites all -- getting knocked on their keisters this weekend -- and five in the Top 10! The teams that managed to win yesterday also didn't have an easy time of it -- No. 1 USC, for instance, only managed to beat No. 41 Washington by three points, and No. 2 LSU struggled with Tulane for a bit, which is pretty pathetic when you consider Tulane is one of the worst teams in college football.

Anyway, I was loving this, even if I did want Minnesota to knock off Ohio State, a task at which they unsurprisingly failed. I mean, where does one begin? At the stroke of midnight, as the college football action faded, I was half expecting a host of cherubim and seraphim to proclaim, "Blessed are the underdogs, for they shall inherit the earth."

But I suppose this depends on one's point of view. After all, Joe Paterno famously dismissed Michigan's loss to Appalachian State with the quip, "I always thought when they put the devil down below, that was one of the great upsets of all time." So not everyone may be as enamored with all this upset talk as I am. Speaking of Mr Scratch, though, I must admit there is an uncharitable side to all my glee.

Simply put, the teams of my enemies have been defeated, and I am glad. I fully admit that, as a Michigan fan, I want them to suffer as I have suffered.

That said, I did not take all that much pleasure in watching Oklahoma lose to Colorado, nor in hearing of Texas' loss to Kansas State. As a Big Ten partisan, I do not wish ill upon the Big 12 Conference and generally like it when their teams, save Nebraska, perform well. This is because the Big 12 serves as a good counterweight to the barbarian and degenerate Southeastern Conference, whose teams I generally despise. (I realize this may seem strange to some of my readers, but as a Northerner and Midwesterner I can assure you this is just one of those regional rivalry things that some coastal residents just don't get).

SEC FAN: Hey! You can't say that about my conference! We're the best in all of college foot--
ME: Not so fast, my friend!
(WHAM!)
SEC FAN: OUCH! You -- you hit me with a frying pan again! You son of a --
(WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!)
(THUD)

Right! Now, where was I? Ah, yes, the SEC.

How wonderful was it to see cruel Florida get thrown down yesterday? Oh, my! As a matter of course, I don't like Auburn but I was more than happy to root for them against the hated Gators, one of the many Florida teams I despise. Oh, how fabulous it was to see the Swamp get drained, and to behold the suffering of its partisans ("It sucked with the sucking of a thousand burning suns of suck.") May God curse them with 6-6 seasons from here until the end of time!

Also, I don't know how many readers caught the West Virginia-South Florida game on Friday, but that was a glorious and splendid thing. I do not like West Virginia, because they're always overrated and for years have run roughshod over the Big East conference. Also, as my family as roots in western Pennsylvania, I am bound by contract not to like them. So to see a good, upstart football program like South Florida defeat them is fabulous. South Florida is probably the only football team in Florida I like -- they play hard, they've built themselves up from nothing and unlike nearly all the other Florida teams, they're a classy good-hearted bunch.

I was shocked to see Rutgers lost to ... *snicker* *guffaw* ... Maryland. I mean, come on, guys. I have a soft spot in my heart for Rutgers football -- one I daresay every football fan north of the Mason-Dixon shares -- so that was a bit disappointing. I was also not entirely thrilled Clemson lost. I have to say that even though I am not generally a fan of Southern football teams, I do like Clemson and Wake Forest. For one thing, they're in the ACC, which is a far more genteel and upstanding conference than the SEC. For another, they're generally not the best teams in their conference, which puts me in their corner. Plus, Clemson's stadium -- "Death Valley" -- impresses me. (Also, the girls are cute. Which reminds me: how the hell did Florida manage to get all the pretty girls in the front rows and in convenient proximity to the television cameras? They were something -- although as Florida partisans, damaged goods to this Michigan fan. But I digress).

Which leaves us with Penn State and Alabama. I felt bad for Penn State losing to the Fighting Zooks; or rather, I felt bad for my father, who has long rooted for the Nittany Lions. You see, Dad despairs about Penn State's prospects; he fears the team's performance will hurt its recruiting, even though Paterno remains coach. After all, the kids today weren't even born when Penn State enjoyed its glory days, and what do the kids know of Paterno? Still, I have to give credit to Illinois for picking themselves up and building from a perennial doormat to a decent team.

And then, there's Alabama. Truly God is benevolent and merciful, for Alabama has lost two in a row and its evil coach, Nick Saban, has lost two in a row. How I detest Saban -- he of Michigan State infamy. True, the loss was not truly flawless, for the winning team was Florida State, with their stupid tomahawk chop and stupid war chant and thuggish, wretched players. But still -- I will take it. The way I see, Alabama's loss can only be my gain and I am cool with that.

So -- to recap -- this was a weekend in which pretty much everything went great, college-football wise. Oh, joy and rapture. And with Michigan playing its red-headed stepchild from Ypsilanti next week, next week will hopefully go just as well. I am looking forward to it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2007

Fundamentals: Good in Investing, Good in Football

I FULLY ADMIT I'm not the most savvy person in the world when it comes to advanced mathematics. Even though I've been blessed with aptitude for the basic stuff, and can do somewhat complex calculations in my head, my brain shorts out whenever I'm faced with tough mathematics. It was only with the most concerted effort that I managed to get a "C" in basic calculus in college, and the idea of me doing anything beyond that has always seemed pretty laughable. Similarly, crunching statistical calculations has always been a wretched experience for me, and I've hated the subject ever since my days at Michigan.

Fortunately, out in the real world, I've quickly discovered I don't need to do any complex calculations. Other people, who are good at these things, will do the calculations and spit out the data, leaving me to simply interpret the data and draw conclusions accordingly. Keeping this in mind, I would note the excellent work being done by people far smarter than me at Football Outsiders. These statistical geniuses have crunched the data, pored over the statistics, and come up with seemingly irrefutable evidence of how the season is going to go. (As it happens, I learned of this site through Behind the Steel Curtain, an excellent Steelers blog).

Anyway, the good people at Football Outsiders have found the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 94 pc chance of making the NFL's playoffs this year, an 80 pc chance of winning the AFC North and a 61 pc chance of earning a "bye" week -- in other words, earning a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the playoffs. This is better than every other team in the NFL save one -- and I think we all know which team THAT is. The statistics are even MORE resounding when one looks at the other teams in the AFC North. The evil Baltimore Ravens, for instance, have just a 57 pc chance of making the playoffs, while the Cincinnati Bengals have just a 17 pc chance of making it. As for Cleveland, well, hope springs eternal.

Of course, these are just projections and projections have a way of changing. Still, they are fascinating. As of this week, Pittsburgh, according to this wonderful site, has an 18 pc chance of winning the Super Bowl this year. New England has a 17 pc chance, while Dallas has a 11 pc chance and Tampa Bay also has an 11 pc chance. Of course, this is partially where the whole interpretation thing comes in. Everyone knows it is fundamentally impossible for an NFC team to actually win the Big Game, so we can just throw those numbers in the waste bin and focus on the AFC teams. The Indianapolis Colts have a 9 pc chance of repeating this year, while evil Baltimore has a 4 pc chance of winning. As for Cincinnati and Cleveland -- well, hope springs eternal.

So what does this all mean, you ask?

I don't know, Babs. But I do know this: Pittsburgh looks pretty darn good this year, and so does New England. Baltimore already looks tired three games into the season, and Cincinnati's defense is working about as well as the Maginot Line. As for Cleveland, I'm hoping they'll go 8-8 and I think they can beat Baltimore on Sunday. We shall see!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

For Now, Our March to the Big Ten Title Continues

SO I WAS AT WORK today when one of my colleagues called over to me and asked, "Hey, Ben. How's Michigan doing?" Truly, there are few crueler questions the guys at the office could have asked me. You see, this is because these colleagues know perfectly well how Michigan's college football team is doing at any given time. Thus, it was with a sinking heart that I checked myself and found that Northwestern -- Northwestern, for goodness' sake! -- was beating Michigan 16-7.

Uh, no.

Fortunately, however, Northwestern gave up the ghost in the fourth quarter -- turning the ball over like crazy -- and Michigan rallied to win against a team that should never have been in contention with the mighty Wolverines, but was until late in the second half. Anyway, Michigan 28, Northwestern 16, and our drive to win the Big Ten is still alive. Go team!

I talked with my folks after I got home today and I got the impression Dad wasn't too thrilled with Penn State's performance against the Fighting Zooks. Illinois is not a bad team but they should have not have been able to knock off the Nittany Lions. Once again, though, Illinois had a secret weapon -- Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter. Oops.

Well, Penn State fans can at least sleep easy knowing Morelli's a senior. I just hope Morelli doesn't end up playing for my beloved Manchester Wolves, next year, because we're going to need a good quarterback. Maybe he can go up to Calgary and play for the Stampeders.

I was pleased to see South Florida knock off West Virginia on Friday -- what a great game THAT was -- primarily because West Virginia annoys me. They seem perennially overrated, especially now that the Big East conference has become one of the nation's better football conferences. Speaking of overrated, what the hell happened to Oklahoma? I am stunned they lost to Colorado. I mean, come on. It's Colorado. Weren't they supposed to, you know, stink? I am also surprised at Kansas State's dominance of Texas today.

I was not, however, surprised to see Michigan State's players happy and cheerful today after injuring a Wisconsin player on a tough hit. That's the type of classless and gauche display for which these scoundrels are known. I do hope Wisconsin pulls out a victory today, just because the Spartans will fold like a cheap suit once they endure a tough loss. They always do. I look forward to the annual Michigan-Michigan State game later in the year, when -- God willing -- we will humble them.

I am also looking forward to a good slate of pro football action tomorrow. Good luck to the Cleveland Browns as they play the evil Baltimore Ravens, and good luck to the Pittsburgh Steelers as they march to Arizona and take on the Arizona Cardinals. Not that we'll need it, of course, but it can't hurt.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 28, 2007

Guinea Worm Officially Surpassed as Worst Pestilence

LOYAL RANT READERS may recall my impassioned "what the hell?" response when I discovered the hideous parasite known as the Guinea worm. Well, even though I am glad to report our efforts to wipe out this nightmarish creature are well underway, I have some bad news: the Guinea worm has officially been surpassed as the worst menace facing mankind.

You know, because no one ever said anything about the ghastly brain-eating amoeba which festers in the lakes of our great nation. What the hell is this all about? I mean, I'm sorry, but we're not supposed to live in an era when some tiny, one-celled parasites can just go up a swimmer's nose and start feasting on tissue without so much as a by-your-leave. Clearly, our wildlife and public health officials must take all appropriate actions -- up to and including the mass poisoning of all water-borne life in affected areas -- to protect God-fearing people from this wretched, evil menace.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2007

The Joys of Economy

SO I RECENTLY GOT a nice surprise from my hosting provider -- the good people at Verve Hosting, based in my home state of Michigan. Apparently, they went ahead and changed my hosting package -- giving me 20 GB worth of bandwidth per month, compared to my old 15 GB, and more storage space on their servers. Nice, eh? Did I mention they also cut the monthly price by 33 pc? Advances in technology rule -- particularly when you're a late adopter like me, and have no need for pricey electronic gadgetry.

Along those lines, I have to admit I was a bit stunned when I walked through the aisles of my local electronics store recently and saw how cheap everything had become in just a couple of years. For instance, when I bought my 26" color television some three years ago, it cost me about $300. It is nothing fancy but it is nice and it does the job. At the time, a similarly-sized flat-panel television would have cost well over $1,000, and perhaps $2,000. But I found that such televisions could be bought for as little as $500 or so for an off-brand and about $700 or so from a quality brand.

Similarly, I was surprised to find how inexpensive many modern appliances were. A decent refrigerator -- again, nothing fancy -- could be had for about $400 or so, although there were some models that cost significantly more than that. But even the cheapo models were frost-free designs and had features that made my own refrigerator (or, more correctly, my landlord's) seem obsolete. Also, the washers and dryers seemed cheap too, with basic models starting at just $300 or so.

I must admit that as a bachelor and a renter, I don't really know how these prices compare to how things were in the past, although simple economics dictates that as supply of a product increases the price falls accordingly.

I recall my father talking about when his family bought their first television back in the 1950s -- it was described to him as a "radio with pictures," something he found understandably amazing at the time. Now, a $300 black-and-white television back in 1952 cost the equivalent of about $2,200 today, while the amazing invention of color television cost the equivalent of about $10,000 today. As it happens, an "automatic washing machine" also cost about $300 in 1952, and was undoubtedly about as basic as one could get. So we can see that with time, prices generally fall sharply* -- and this process is seemingly accelerating. Why, the iPhone was only on the market for two months before its price was chopped considerably.

So again, we have a good object lesson in the virtue of patience when it comes to buying expensive goods, particularly electronics. And sometimes, the price gets chopped for you!

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* But not always, as we can see from this example using 1953 price data:

This helpful salve
cost $0.35
inflation's kept
the price alive

Burma-Shave

(Thirty-five cents back in the day was worth the equivalent of $2.64 today -- and a good-quality jar of shaving cream will run about $2.79. Sadly, it won't be Burma-Shave shaving cream, as it was discontinued in 1966.)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Non Credo Quia Absurdum

SO TODAY, AS I bemoaned the fate of my Hines Ward car magnet, one of my colleagues at work politely suggested that -- horror of horrors -- a Pittsburgh Steelers fan might have swiped my decal praising everyone's favorite wide receiver. Then, I got an e-mail from my friend Chris suggesting the exact same thing, viz. and to wit:

Now, Ben, you and I both know it would be beneath the dignity of a Pats fan to touch that silly thing. Clearly the OTHER Steeler fan in New Hampshire, mindful of how hard such items are to come by in the Granite State, was the one who swiped it. Indeed, he probably was watching the game with you at your Steeler sports bar last week, and spotted and grabbed your magnet when he went outside to relieve himself.

Balderdash!

Admittedly, for a moment, I considered this possibility. But then I realized that my parents had picked me up that day to go to the sports bar -- which is a Patriots bar, I should note, but devotes a special room to the Steelers games. Ergo, that couldn't have happened. As my Hines Ward magnet went missing sometime between Saturday night and Tuesday afternoon, and there are a lot more Patriots fans than Steelers fans in New Hampshire, it stands to reason that a Pats fan swiped my car magnet. Thus, the idea of a Steelers fan stealing my magnet is -- well, I just can't believe it.

After all, no Steelers fan -- particularly if he was an honest-to-God Yinzer -- would ever deface another Steelers fan's automobile. That is just not done in the Iron City, or anywhere else in the Rust Belt / the Foundry / the Greater Chicago-Pittsburgh Metroplex. Besides, the Steelers fan would undoubtedly have enough Pittsburgh memorabilia -- perhaps even one of those giant, 48-square-foot "You're in Steelers Country" banners -- to make taking the decal pointless. Thus, it is a theory I just can't believe, and I can't believe it because it is impossible.

I can, however, understand why a Patriots fan would take my magnet. After all, we have five Super Bowl victories, while they only have three. Jealousy makes people do strange things sometimes.

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

The Patriots Fans Stole My Hines Ward Car Magnet

YOU KNOW, I was willing to overlook the Patriots' Spygate scandal. I was willing to overlook the fact that the Patriots play in an absurdly easy division. I was willing to overlook the fact Pariots Coach Bill Belichick is an arrogant schmuck who may or may not be a homewrecker. But I have now been pushed too far.

You see, I think the Patriots fans stole my Hines Ward car magnet.

At least, that's the most probable reason why my Hines Ward car magnet -- which rhetorically asked those who viewed it whether they had everyone's favorite wide receiver on their team -- suddenly disappeared from my vehicle's exterior.

After all, consider that this magnet survived a journey through the home turf of the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans, the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers, the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants and the New York Jets without going missing. Consider that this magnet has survived several car washes, torrential downpours, and various other natural and man-made phenomena. Consider that this magnet only went missing after the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone 3-0, and consider that I live in the heart of Patriots Nation. So while it is possible that a Patriots fan was not actually responsible for the disappearance of my car magnet, it is certainly not a probable outcome.

Thus, I am disappointed beyond words and outraged that some degenerate would go so far as to remove a decal from another man's automobile. You just don't do that. It's wrong. It's criminal. It's the most anti-social act I've ever seen. Well, OK, it isn't, but you get my point. That decal cost me ... well, OK, a few minutes' pay. But still -- it's not like I can just saunter over to a great Steelers gift shop, like the one they had in Breezewood, Pa., and pick up a new one.

In this file photo, Mr Ward bests the Patriots' secondary yet again.

I just don't understand it. I mean, why would a football fan vandalize another football fan's automobile? What kind of people are these up here? Nothing like this would ever happen back home, where people recognize the values of fair play, good sportsmanship, and that messing with another man's car is a good way to get yourself beaten to a bloody pulp. Of course, I realize the magnet may actually just have fallen off, or fallen prey to some physical force I didn't notice, and if I learn that's the case I will of course apologize to Patriots Nation for this anguished post. But I think somebody just swiped the thing.

As I said, I'm incredibly disappointed. Patriots fans, for all their faults, are generally nice and classy people who aren't jerks. Did not one of my best friends, a Patriots fan to the core, actually send me a Terrible Towel when he was in Pittsburgh? Yes, he did. But it seems that lately I am experiencing the dark side of Patriots fandom and I do not like it one bit.

So I must respond in the only way I know how -- becoming an even more fanatical booster of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, while also generally rooting for the Patriots to lose, unless they're playing one of the Steelers' not-Cleveland divisional opponents. Oh, and now I'm looking forward even more to Dec. 9, when the Steelers march into New England to exact revenge for the losses of years past. It shall be glorious.

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

September 25, 2007

Report: Parallel Universes Actually Do Exist

A TEAM OF OXFORD SCIENTISTS has mathematically proven parallel universes actually do exist, according to a Press Association report. Apparently, the scientists' findings -- which one observer called "one of the most important developments in the history of science" -- explain formerly unknown elements of quantum physics. Under the "branching out" model the scientists have proposed, each event in the universe causes a split between our universe and a newly-created parallel universe in which the outcome came out differently. The Press Association reports:

The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed.

In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.

A motorist who has a near miss, for instance, might feel relieved at his lucky escape. But in a parallel universe, another version of the same driver will have been killed. Yet another universe will see the motorist recover after treatment in hospital. The number of alternative scenarios is endless.

It is a bizarre idea which has been dismissed as fanciful by many experts. But the new research from Oxford shows that it offers a mathematical answer to quantum conundrums that cannot be dismissed lightly - and suggests that Dr Everett, who was a Phd student at Princeton University when he came up with the theory, was on the right track.

It should be worth noting, however, that these discoveries didn't come as a surprise to many observers.

"Science fiction writers have been talking about this for years," said Benjamin Kepple, a millionaire investor from Ventura, Calif., as he exited his Mercedes after work one evening. "But I have to admit, I can't imagine a world where I didn't act on that hot stock tip from a friend of mine just before the height of the Internet boom. I mean, that was the basis for my entire fortune."

"It's taken me a while to get to this point, but think how long I'd have to wait if I hadn't made that investment," said Kepple, as he prepared to take his hot blonde wife out to dinner.

"That's an interesting idea," said Benjamin Kepple, an accountant living in Rochester, N.Y. "But I have to say I've been pretty happy with my life so far. Attending Grove City was a great decision and put me on the road to being a pretty damned good accountant, if I do say so myself. Plus, based on our forecasts for 3Q and 4Q 2007, I should be getting a pretty sweet raise."

"Well, at least I can take comfort in this -- given my life's circumstances, there's almost no way a parallel version of me exists in a universe where the Nazis won World War II," said Benjamin Kepple, an unemployed copywriter in Ann Arbor, Mich. "But I sure wish I lived in a world where I had steady employment. I mean, the unemployment rate here is skyrocketing -- it's past 11 pc now, they said -- and the inflation is just murder."

"My God, that's wonderful news," said Capt. Benjamin Kepple, an officer in the Kalamazoo County Self Defense Forces, located in what used to be the state of Michigan. "I mean, that means there's hope -- hope that other versions of me live in worlds where the Soviets didn't bomb us to hell back in 1985. Maybe they'll devise ways to get to these other worlds."

"In the meantime, I just want a steak and a beer. It's been so long. But under Gen. Mulcahy's glorious leadership, we will all have steak and beer soon enough. We've already captured Battle Creek and our forces are spreading out into the countryside, and they'll offer us tribute or pay," said Capt. Kepple, shouldering his rifle. "And if the Empire of Lansing starts acting up, we'll deal with them too."

"Of course, you have to admit these other universes might be a bit strange, or even ridiculous," Capt. Kepple said. "I mean, can you imagine it if I ended up in some place like New Hampshire? God, there's a thought!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Let's Play Unemployment Bingo!

SO I WAS AT THE PHARMACY today when the pharmacist, who was buying some goods up front, mentioned to the cashier he had just ordered a car from General Motors Corp. Unfortunately, said the pharmacist, he had ordered the car just as General Motors went on strike, meaning it would be a long time before he received his vehicle. My reaction to this can be summed up as follows: Uhhhhhhhhhhhh ...

What the hell? I thought negotiations were going -- well, they were negotiations, which are never fun, but nobody said anything about a strike. Maybe this is just what happens when I take a weekend off to watch football. So my question is this: how bad will things get now in my home state of Michigan?

Clearly the UAW's leaders felt a strike was their last and best hope to force the company to make concessions regarding job security, which was supposedly the rationale for the walkout. That's the idea behind a strike -- a union tries to make it more painful for the company to settle their differences than to have the union continue with the job action. Plus, striking GM is a shot against the bow to Ford and Chrysler. Still, a strike is so disruptive things must have been going pretty badly for the UAW to order their people off the job.

The trouble for the union is that I don't think General Motors is going to make any major concessions. General Motors may be at a point where they've privately said the hell with it -- let's take our chances with this thing. The UAW has 73,000 workers out on the line, each getting $200 a week in strike pay and medical coverage. According to the New York Times, the union's $900 million in the strike bank is good enough for a two-month walkout. However, GM has $23 billion in the bank and more than two months' worth of inventory. If GM decides that it can last four or even five months with the workers on strike, it may decide to go for it if its leaders think they'll emerge stronger afterwards. By that time, of course, General Motors may decide to bring in replacement workers -- if it can do so under the terms of the contract -- and then things will really get ugly.

Things may not get to that point, however. Let's face it: although these are workers with good jobs, how many of them are prepared to live on strike pay for several weeks? Not many, I'm guessing. Here's how one GM worker described her situation:

"Oh my God, here they come," said Anita Ahrens, 39. "This is unreal."

Ahrens has seven years at the plant, where she works nights installing speakers in sport utility vehicles. She waited Monday for her husband, Ron Ahrens, who has worked there for 21 years.

The couple has three children, including a college freshman, and Ahrens worried about how they would pay their bills.

"This is horrible, but we're die-hard union, so we have to," Ahrens said. "We got a mortgage, two car payments and tons of freaking bills."

Now, based on that, do you think Mr and Mrs Ahrens can take three or four months out on the line? I don't believe they can, and there are undoubtedly lots of workers in the same boat. I remember reading an old saw that said a typical American family would be out of cash a week after losing a job -- and sure, there are credit cards and friends and family and other sources of money -- but after a while, things would get really unpleasant. Sure, there's a lot of bravado from the workers right now, but the workers admit no one wins when there's a strike.

But as a Michigander, and thus someone who will always have a soft spot for his home state, I am more worried right now about the chain-reaction effects. Things were bad enough already back home. I mean, when I was there in spring, people I didn't know from Adam asked me about jobs in New Hampshire after two minutes of talk. That's how bad it is. Also, the state government is bleeding red ink, property values are falling, the roads are shot, and Lloyd Carr is still Michigan's football coach. Thus, you can see the state is going to hell in a handbasket. This will only make things worse.

Excluding its corporate headquarters staff, General Motors has 57,495 employees in the Great Lakes State, according to its Web site, and all of them are probably reaching for the antacid right about now. As it happens, that's 1.1 pc of Michigan's entire labor force.

Unemployment in Michigan is already 7.4 pc and 8 pc in the state's southeastern industrial heart. Based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, this strike will have the effective impact of pushing statewide unemployment in Michigan to about 9 pc, and perhaps 9.5 pc in the southeast. I'm basing those numbers on two factors: the hourly workers are probably screwed and the salaried workers are probably scared, and I'm assuming all will accordingly cut back on their spending, whether they have to do so or just want to do so. Those numbers are also highly optimistic -- because when GM stops, all of its suppliers will eventually stop, and have to lay off their own people. I don't even know how many workers those folks employ.

But what's going to happen to all the other businesses? After all, when people stop spending, that means money stops flowing into local businesses. God help the poor souls who own restaurants and gift shops and all those other outlets for the workingman's discretionary income, and God help the people who work there, because they could find themselves out of work if this strike lasts a long time. Plus, economic disruption is kind of like waves crashing in on the beach -- small ones won't damage a sand castle, but a few of the big ones in succession will wipe the castle out in short order. Even if one is clever and builds a moat to divert the oncoming tide.

I guess about all the workers can do, aside from praying the strike will end soon, is make up some cards for unemployment bingo. Your local autoworkers are your free square. And for all my people back home, I hope you don't find your numbers called anytime soon.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2007

The Steel Curtain Returns

SO THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers steamrolled to victory over a better, but still hapless, San Francisco 49ers squad yesterday. Ah, the thrill of victory, and the thrill of victory -- it makes a football fan happy. Especially when one's team wins 37-16, and only gives up a meaningless touchdown near the end of the game. Pittsburgh played well: it shut down San Francisco's run offense and held the team to three field goals when the game was in contention. That was particularly impressive considering a Classic Steeler Football Moment -- Roethlisberger fumbling on the second play of the Steelers' opening possession -- early on. But things turned around quickly from there, as Allen Rossum ran back the 49ers' kickoff for a touchdown. (Thanks, Atlanta!)

Oh, and the Bungles lost again. Ha ha!

I have to say, if things continue to go this way, Pittsburgh is assured a division title and a playoff spot. The Ravens, despite being 2-1, already look tired and don't seem nearly as formidable as they were last year. The Browns -- more on them in a bit -- are still the Browns, and the wheels are coming off the Bengals bus. They've now lost two in a row and next week get to play the Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium. God help them! I do not root for the Patriots often but in a divisional match like this, I'm going to cheer on Mad Genius Hobo Coach and his batallion of alarmingly good players. All in all, though, I am confident about Pittsburgh's chances to win the AFC North.

I am also confident about Pittsburgh's playoff chances, although I don't think any of the top three teams in the AFC -- New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh -- have really been tested yet. Of the three, only Indianapolis has faced tough competition, from divisional opponents Houston and Tennessee. Pittsburgh has had one quasi-challenging game and two cupcake opponents, and the same could be said for New England. The Pats look scary-good, but it is easy to look scary-good against the Bills and the Jets. Plus, New England's thumping of the San Diego Chargers last week is diminished now that the Chargers have gone from hero to zero in just one season. (Somewhere, Marty Schottenheimer is laughing his ass off). Anyway, we'll see whether the Pats -- and the Steelers -- are all they're cracked up to be as the season goes on. (Especially since the Pats play the Colts and Steelers this season! Football rules).

I watched the Steelers game with my folks, and we stuck around for the Browns game against the Raiders. God, what a heartbreaker that was. The Browns gave up 16 points and then came back to score 17 unanswered points, prompting a duel between the teams that went to the final seconds. The Browns were facing a 40 yard field goal attempt to win the game -- AND IT GOT BLOCKED. Maximum suckage.

It may seem strange for a Steelers fan to root for the Browns. No Browns fan, as they all have issues about Pittsburgh, would ever root for the Steelers. But I like the Browns and will generally root for them unless they're playing the Steelers. They're a hard team to dislike and especially hard to dislike when your own team has beaten them eight times in a row. Also, Art Modell can rot in the fiery bowels of perdition. But it's still worth noting that even after that heartwrenching loss, the Browns are not in last place. Heh heh heh.

I was disappointed to see the Chicago Bears blow their game against the evil Dallas Cowboys. I mean, come on. This was almost as frustrating as watching the evil Baltimore Ravens -- may God damn them -- beat the Arizona Cardinals. Oh, and that reminds me: I am not a fan of Keith Olbermann, but the man was right on when he criticized the Philadelphia Eagles' hideous, miserable, disgusting throwback uniforms. They should have gone with the pale green 1960 uniforms, as Olbermann said, not the awful Depression-era yellow-and-blues.

But ah well. Next week should be a good one and I am looking forward to it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2007

Hail. Hail to the Victors.

OH, JOY AND RAPTURE. My Michigan Wolverines DID open Big Ten conference play with a win yesterday afternoon over the Penn State Nittany Lions, and DID step up on defense, and DID prevent Penn State from scoring a touchdown in the Wolverines' 14-9 victory at Michigan Stadium. Truly the football gods are merciful, and truly does Anthony Morelli suck.

As it happened, the game showed conclusively what I had been saying all week -- that Michigan's secret weapon in the game was none other than Morelli, Penn State's wretched quarterback. For Morelli stupidly fumbled the ball at Penn State's own 10 yard line and Michigan recovered, allowing Michigan's backup quarterback to walk the ball into the end zone just two plays later. Despite this and many other amazing displays of incompetence on Morelli's part, Dad actually kept his composure throughout the game and gave the quarterback credit at the end of it all for playing what he described as a pretty good game. Had Morelli not fumbled the ball here -- and had not Penn State fumbled the ball on Michigan's 10 yard line a while later -- the outcome of the game may well have been different. But in the end Michigan won -- the ninth such victory over Penn State in as many games. Oh, joy!

This game also serves as proof that Michigan plays its best football, and will almost always rise to the occasion, when it is given the chance to ruin other teams' seasons. Speaking of, where the hell is "Wofford" and how did it beat Appalachian State? Also, does this mean "Wofford" could beat Michigan in the Big House? And why does it have a yappy little dog as a mascot?

Anyway, it was great to watch the game with my parents too. There was plenty of back-and-forth between me and my father as we teased each other about each school's respective setbacks on the field, but I have to say most of our ire was eventually directed at the awful commentary. I mean, my God. By the end of the first quarter both me and my Dad were kinda like, "Gee, I think I'd prefer having Musburger here." Yeah, it was definitely a footrace to the bottom with ABC's C-team doing the announcing.

I don't know, maybe this is some kind of punishment for starting out the season 0-2 -- we ended up with the scintillating broadcast team of Brad Nessler, Bob Griese and (God help us) Paul Maguire. Oh, swell. About the only smart thing they did during the game was give a plug to the original Cottage Inn. Dad was annoyed with Griese, who in Dad's opinion spends most of his time trying to make himself look smart, and particularly annoyed with Maguire, whose barely-coherent babbling only serves to point out the obvious.

For instance, after one play, Maguire spent a good thirty seconds praising the skills of a Michigan player because -- wait for it -- he shifted the ball from one side to the other during a run. This is, of course, standard operating procedure for any football player on a breakaway, because it protects the ball from opposing players. However, to hear Maguire's rendition of this play, you would have thought the guy successfully turned the corner on a double-reverse, spinned around two Penn State players and jumped over a third, got thirty yards after that, then went over and kissed a cheerleader, and then body surfed around the student section for two minutes.

Plus, there's the fact Maguire -- who was a punter, for Christ's sake -- is the real-life football version of those two old guys on The Muppet Show whose sole purpose was to criticize the show on the field, except he's more ornery because a tarantula crawled up his ass and died back in 1963. Crikey. Can't we get announcers who don't suck? Oh, speaking of announcers who suck, could someone please call ESPN and tell the idiots who called the Syracuse-Louisville game that although the Syracuse-Louisville result was a huge upset, it was NOT an earth-shattering great upset worthy of recognition for all time? (Trust me, as a Michigan fan I know about these).

Anyway. Michigan won, Penn State lost. Sweet! Oh, Georgia beat Alabama (yay), Mississippi came so close to beating Florida (good try), and Ball State was oh! so! close! to beating Nebraska. Oh, how I wish that had actually happened.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2007

We Must Defeat Penn State

SO I'VE BEEN BUSY this week getting ready for the arrival of Mr and Mrs Kepple from Ohio. Now that that work is done, I can reflect again on the important topics of our time. This week, clearly the most important topic is the Michigan-Penn State football game scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Michigan Stadium (and televised nationally on the ABC television network).

It is clear Michigan must (and God willing shall) defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions. Winning against the nation's No. 10 college football team would be a glorious start to Michigan's Big Ten season, and would energize a team which experienced two soul-crushing losses in the first two games of the season. Besides, Dad has been waiting a long time for Penn State to beat the Maize and Blue, and I'll be mortified if that actually happens.

The last two years, he has been in New Hampshire to watch the game with me, and for the last two years, he has been disappointed. It would be most uncool if I was forced to bear Michigan's loss, because even though I know Dad will be magnanimous in such an event, he will be secretly joyful and privately exult in the Nittany Lions' victory. He may be so joyful that he will let his stoicism slip just slightly, prompting a gleeful shout of "BOOYAH!" sometime in the fourth quarter.

As it happens, Penn State hasn't beaten Michigan SINCE 1996. They've lost their last eight straight games -- the teams didn't meet for a couple of years -- and I have to admit I don't want things to change any time soon. We even beat them in 2005, when Michigan had an abysmal season (we went 7-5, which for Michigan is particularly unacceptable). That we beat them in 2005 gives me hope we'll be able to beat them in 2007.

After all, let's face it -- Michigan has a Secret Weapon. That Secret Weapon is none other than Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli, who sucks. Watching Morelli "play" will undoubtedly be a highlight for me, because Morelli's suckitude drives Dad into fits of apoplectic frustration. Furthermore, I can take heart knowing that no matter how bad Morelli plays, nothing short of a major injury will cause Joe Paterno to yank him from the game and put in Daryll Clark.

Plus, Penn State's opponents have been uniformily craptacular so far: Florida International, Notre Dame and Buffalo. Craptacular might actually be kind, considering FIU is probably the worst football team in all of Division I-A, Notre Dame hasn't managed to score an offensive touchdown, and Buffalo -- well, my God. It's Buffalo. This is a team whose fans rushed the field when they beat the TEMPLE OWLS a while back. Michigan's opponents have been better, although we did play Notre Dame as well. We beat the Flailing Irish 38-0, while PSU won 31-10. This alone suggests Michigan may have an advantage.

To be sure, Penn State has some advantages over Michigan. I remain convinced that JoePa, who is as wily and cranky as ever, will figure out how to outcoach and outfox Lloyd Carr, Michigan's exasperating head coach. And don't get me started on Michigan's hideous offensive playcalling. Let's face it -- Penn State can win the game if they just prepare for the run up the middle on first and second downs. I don't care if it's Mike Hart doing the running, either; an effective running game needs an effective passing game and vice versa. Plus, their defense will undoubtedly prove better than our own unit, which would have trouble defending against a junior high squad.

Still, I can only hope that Michigan's desperation NOT to be 1-3 following this game, and to salvage something of their season, will prove a stronger intangible than Penn State's desire to finally win one against Michigan. Speaking of Michigan, Lou Holtz called us "an arrogant bunch" tonight during halftime of the A&M-Miami game. I think he is just jealous.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2007

Now Let Them Enforce It Dept.

A NEBRASKA STATE SENATOR angry over frivolous lawsuits has filed suit against God -- yes, Him -- in an attempt to show, well, I guess it's a variation on the "you can indict a ham sandwich" principle.

You can read the complaint here, although it's only moderately funny. You would think that Sen. Ernie Chambers, the long-serving legislator who filed the suit, would have gone to town with the thing, but hey.

Still, I am surprised that Sen Chambers, as an atheist, would go so far as to admit -- even in court papers -- the possibility that God is real. I mean, the man could have sued the Easter Bunny instead (you know, for recklessly promoting tooth decay among America's most vulnerable) and it would have made the same point, without having to go into those difficult questions about God's existence.

Anyway, Sen Chambers wants God to stop with all the disasters and the smiting and the locusts and what not, and cut out all the promises to cause such things (e.g. Deut. 6:14-16: Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, Who is among you, is a jealous God and His anger will burn against you, and He will destroy you from the face of the land.).

The Rant wishes Sen Chambers luck in having the Nebraska courts enforce any decision handed down.

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

Why I'm Still Renting (or, Happy Monday, Campers!)

SOME TIME AGO, I was talking about housing prices out at this-or-that event and after a discussion of the market, the older person I was speaking with expressed pity -- yes, pity -- at the fact I rent an apartment. Essentially, she said, it was a shame I and other young people had missed the run-up in home prices and generally wouldn't be able to afford homes.

I found this a bit much, but since I am rarely pitied I figured I would take it. I didn't mention the three key reasons why I haven't bought a home: the prices in my local market were higher than I was willing to pay; the state of the market made it economical to rent, and my real housing cost has decreased over time; and I've been able to put money in the stock market, which has seen some nice returns. It's been more than a year since I had that conversation, but these three factors haven't changed any. Until they do, I'm out of the housing game. (There's also that whole "not married, no kids" thing, but hey).

Hedge fund manager Barry Ritholtz, at Seeking Alpha, writes today that prices may well continue falling. Mr Ritholtz cites the continued rise in inventory of homes for sale -- now at 6.6 pc of the total housing market -- and says this real-estate cycle could be worse than the 1988-1996 bear/flat market in homes. Mr Ritholtz writes:

Prices have failed to come down enough to jump start more activity. Sellers have been stubbornly sticking to their imagined top tick prices of 2005.

Thus, supply remains high, and if we believe the NAR or OFHEO, prices have slipped only slightly. Econ 101 informs us that until prices fall appreciably, the inventory situation will not improve.

There is a psychological component to all this: it very much reminds me of the investors who when having missed selling Amazon (AMZN) at $400 and Yahoo (YHOO) at $200 and EMC (EMC) at $80 and Cisco (CSCO) at $60, refused to take 10% less. So they ended up riding the stocks all the way to multi year lows.

So they held onto stocks, hoping to sell again at higher prices, all the while prices fell.

One can imagine home sellers doing something similar. In their minds, their selling prices are "anchored" at the prices they imagined getting at the top.

Do read that article -- the graph along with it, comparing inventory numbers in the bear market of 1988-1992 and the present situation, will give you pause.

I do agree with Mr Ritholtz that there is a psychological factor to this. A friend of mine told me about his attempts to buy a home -- a home, mind you, which was not all that and a bag of chips -- but who was constantly frustrated due to the idiocy of the seller, who would not budge on the price. As one might expect, my friend did not proceed with the deal and the home remained on the market.

There are good reasons for why we're seeing a spike in inventory. Foreclosures are up, credit standards have been tightened, and there's continued economic uncertainty. The first two obviously have an impact on prices; adding supply while cutting demand. But it's that third one that's really the killer. It's a hell of a lot easier to take the plunge when there's a boom and everyone is getting rich than it is when things look shaky.

Besides, if the economy does fall into recession, it could push things over the edge. The striking thing about this housing downturn is that it's happening even as the economy remains fundamentally strong. Inflation is mild, we're doing well in terms of growth and there's low unemployment. If the wheels start coming off the bus, it could conceivably contribute to a widespread housing-market correction.

Of course, that's already happening in some places, like south Florida and Arizona and what not. Furthermore, since all housing markets are local, it's conceivable that some markets might actually improve as others collapse. That said, I do wonder if continued economic pressures will eventually push us into recession at some point. Sometimes it takes just a spark to set off a massive economic forest fire, and while I think it would take a lot to push us over the edge, perhaps we're heading towards the threshold.

Speaking of sparks that could set off a massive economic forest fire -- it would appear Northern Rock is finished, if this article in The Telegraph is correct. Customers have now taken out £2 billion from the bank (or 8 pc of its deposits), its share price has crashed and depositors, even today, are doing what anyone would do in this type of situation: they're crowding the bank and demanding their money. The authorities have tried to stem the panic, and have said the bank will not fail; but understandably that means nothing to the poor bastards queueing at the branches. After all, what else would they say?

The real question now is whether OTHER banks in the UK (or elsewhere) are facing the same type of mortgage-related troubles Northern Rock has, or are otherwise in a world of pain. Certainly the market is skittish about that; bank stocks on the LSE are getting hit in the head with a crowbar. And if the answer is yes, this could all possibly get worse rather quickly.

Happy Monday!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2007

Change. I Fear Change.

FOR A FOOTBALL FAN, these past few weeks have been absolutely crazy. To be perfectly blunt, it's a strange and exciting new world out there and I'm not sure if I like it.

The shot heard 'round the world, of course, was Michigan's loss to Appalachian State, the biggest upset in all of collegiate football history. But that was just the start of all this craziness. I mean, Utah beat No. 11 UCLA. What the hell was that all about? Auburn not only lost to South Florida, they lost to Mississippi State (yay!). Arkansas lost to Alabama (boo!). Kentucky knocked off Louisville, Tennessee has been having its head stomped on, and Notre Dame -- THEY'RE RANKED EIGHTIETH. I mean, I'm sorry, but when Notre Dame is ranked two spots below Bowling Green, something crazy is going on. What, I don't know, but if I start hearing trumpets blast I'm not going to be entirely surprised.

And that's just college football. Pro football is even stranger. I mean, for the love of God -- the Detroit Lions are 2-0. No, that's not a typo. They're 2-0. They're playing the Eagles next week in Philadelphia, which is as good a reason as any to hope the Lions go 3-0. Of course, if they do go 3-0, it will represent football prowess not seen in Detroit since Axel Foley was wearing a Lions jacket. But not only are the Lions 2-0, so are the Green Bay Packers, who haven't had a decent team in years. Oh, and the Houston Texans -- who have always, always, always sucked -- are 2-0. Meanwhile, formerly good teams -- like the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints -- are doing absolutely horrible.

Oh, and the New England Patriots are playing like they're the '78 Steelers. Goddammit.

On the bright side, though, the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers are atop the AFC North division, as they should be. So I can deal with this whole "crazy change" stuff as long as Pittsburgh makes it to the playoffs. Also, please let the Patriots lose in the first round or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Patriots Stole Signals WHY?

I MEAN, MY GOD. It's not even halftime and the New England Patriots are up 24-0 over the San Diego Chargers, who were formerly a good team but have apparently suffered from a lack of Smartyball lately. Boy. I mean, the Patriots are stomping them into the ground like they're ... Oakland or something.

So why exactly were the Patriots cheating again? Gad.

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

Michigan-Notre Dame Recap

DIDN'T GET TO SEE the Michigan-Notre Dame game on Saturday? Well, here's a great recap -- and just two minutes, 16 seconds long. Enjoy!

(video by Jeremy Bronson/ via M Go Blog)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pittsburgh Marches on to Victory

AH, THE JOYS OF SUNDAY. The glorious Pittsburgh Steelers have marched on to yet another victory, humbling the wretched Buffalo Bills, 26-3, in a game that can charitably be described as a rout. While the Steelers got off to a somewhat slow start -- scoring four field goals in the first half, but no touchdowns -- the passing game got going in the second half and Pittsburgh cruised to victory. I also enjoyed watching Buffalo's Lee Evans get not one, but two, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties two plays in a row. The first was for spiking the ball after managing to get a first down. The second was for, and I quote, "for getting in the official's face" when Mr Evans thought a pass-interference call should have been assessed against the Steelers, but was not forthcoming. Nice moves, idiot.

So that was nice. Like last week, I watched the game at Billy's Sports Bar and Grill in the special Steelers Room. The Buffalo fans present talked a good game but at the end slunk out of the bar, dejected and morose. I was QUITE pleased, however, to see the Cleveland Browns knock off the felonious Cincinnati Bengals, 51-45. What -- a -- game. It went down to the final minute, and Cincinnati looked like it might manage to pull off a victory until Cleveland cornerback Lee Bodden made a fabulous interception with just 21 seconds to go. Game, set, match.

I got the chance to watch the Cleveland-Cincinnati game as well, and it was a fabulous game from the get-go. When the Pittsburgh game ended up, the remaining Steelers fans all started rooting for the Browns -- along with Hapless Browns Fan Rick, who was downright ecstatic that his team managed to win. He was not having an easy time of it, especially at the end, when Cleveland fullback, on the Browns' last time, Lawrence Vickers dropped a short pass while wide open. That could have sealed the game, but Mr Vickers started running with the ball before he had it, so to speak. Oops.

Still, a hearty congratulations to the Browns for their victory over the hated Bengals. The best part, of course, is that there's plenty of good football still to come!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2007

Touchdown Jesus Wept

SOME TIME DURING the third quarter, as the Michigan Wolverines continued to roll on over the Flailing Irish of Notre Dame, I received a call from my good friend Matt. Matt informed me that he was also watching the game, and said he expected me to write a long post extolling the virtues of Michigan's football program.

Well, it was good to see the men get back on track, although I don't think we can rest on our laurels anytime soon. Yes, we beat Notre Dame, and normally, this glorious triumph would be cause for great celebration. Was not the first Michigan football game I ever watched at that fine institution a last-second victory over Notre Dame, as our kicker's field goal try flew through the uprights under the placid gaze of Touchdown Jesus? Did we, the students, not run up and down the hall screaming and carrying Michigan's standard, and did we not sing "Hail to the Victors" with gusto? Aye, we did. We did indeed.

But our celebrations today must be tempered, for we are now 1-2 and won our sole victory against an opponent ranked No. 58. We ourselves were only ranked No. 49 prior to the win. As such, there is a long way to go before we can truly celebrate. We must throw down Penn State next week, and Michigan State thereafter, and Ohio State last of all. Only then can we celebrate our glorious victories as is our right.

Still, we looked good today. A 38-0 shutout IS a 38-0 shutout and there is something to be said for that. I like Ryan Mallett, this new freshman quarterback of ours. I like him a lot. I thought our defense's effort this time was much improved. Oh, and Mike Hart -- my God. Wow.

Of course, again -- all these wonderful accomplishments were carried out against Notre Dame's walking undead, whose performance was so wretched and miserable that Loy Norrix High School's football team could have beaten them today. What the hell happened to Notre Dame? Sure, the shine had worn off over the past few years, but they truly looked awful out there. Awful.

In other football news, I was greatly pleased to see Southern Mississippi defeat the Auburn Tigers today. There are few things more enjoyable than watching Auburn and its insufferable coach lose. And how about Utah -- Utah, for God's sake -- beating UCLA? I also have to give mad props to the University of Central Florida for nearly beating Texas, and good on The Citadel for giving Wisconsin hell. Now let's hope Nebraska can knock off USC!

UPDATE: Auburn fan Simon From Jersey informs me that Mississippi State University defeated Auburn, not Southern Mississippi. This is apparently worse. However, The Rant regrets the error.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Run on the Bank!

WELL, I NEVER THOUGHT I'd see the day when crazed depositors would crowd bank branches demanding to take their money out, but that's apparently what's happened in the case of Britain's Northern Rock bank, which on Friday saw bunches of depositors crowd its branches around the country. Wow. Unfortunately, The Telegraph -- which I think has had the best coverage -- is having Web issues right now, but all the British papers are covering it.

THE TIMES: Run on the bank
THE TIMES: Tempers start to fray as panic-stricken pensioners demand their money back
THE GUARDIAN: Between Rock and a hard place: savers besiege bank
THE GUARDIAN: "They've got a problem if a director is here."
THE GUARDIAN: Banking shares suffer amid fears of another Northern Rock
THE INDEPENDENT: "Takeover may be Rock's only hope"

So how much did the panicked depositors take out? Oh, try about £1 BILLION. (That was according to The Telegraph, which isn't loading up). That's roughly 4 pc of the bank's £24 billion in total deposits.

It seems extremely unlikely Northern Rock will actually fail, however. The Bank of England has agreed to step in and lend it money to make sure Northern Rock meets all its obligations. However, I can still see why people are crowding the branches in desperation to try and get their money out. Since the British equivalent of the FDIC only insures the first £2,000 in an account pound-per-pound, anything above that is subject to at least some kind of loss. The regulators will cover 90 pc of the next £35,000, but beyond that, you're on your own.

This serves as yet another reminder why it pays to Not Put All of One's Eggs in One Basket. Here in the U.S., bank and credit union deposits are fully insured up to $100,000; while brokerage deposits are insured through the SIPC (cash up to $100,000; cash and securities up to $500,000). Still, it makes sense to start spreading the wealth around even before one gets to that point. I mean, I don't know about you, but the last thing I want is to go through what must be the Not Fun Process of trying to get my money back from a failed institution, and I'd REALLY hate to go through it if ALL my money was in the place.

In Northern Rock's case, there were many reports of people withdrawing hundreds of thousands of pounds on deposit with the bank, and in one case, as much as £1 million. The couple who had the million pounds on deposit barricaded a bank manager in her office when they were told they couldn't take all the money out without notice.

Still, it seems about all Northern Rock's troubles will amount to is a lot of heartburn. With the Bank of England's offer to lend the institution money, it should remain sound even as it figures out how to refinance nearly three billion pounds worth of short-term commercial paper over the next six months. This, you see, was the Rock's Achilles heel. It borrowed billions on the credit markets to lend out to homeowners. Unfortunately, with the subprime crisis and subsequent credit crunch, it can't get that money any more -- which is why it's borrowing from the Bank of England, and at a Not Fun Interest Rate.

But what if it turns out the heartburn is indicative of something really bad? The worst thing, of course, would be if OTHER banks started saying, "Gee, we can't get any money from the credit markets either, and we need help." That could make Northern Rock's issues look tame in comparison. And then, of course, there's the larger issues with Britain's economy.

Apparently, Northern Rock was a pretty aggressive mortgage-lender. Although it didn't have a lot of sub-prime exposure, it made some pretty "out there" loans -- including some that offered homeowners mortgages up to 125 pc of the value of their homes. (Uh, OK). And Britain's mortgage market is weird -- apparently, most people have ARMs as opposed to fixed mortgages. And housing prices have actually fallen a bit over the past year, following years of appreciation.

Gee. This sounds familiar.

The danger -- although one that's still far out on the horizon at this point -- is that Britain will spiral down into recession as its housing market stumbles, consumer spending stalls or falls and investors start looking for other places to put their capital. And if Britain catches cold, it could spread.

It doesn't seem to make sense to actively worry about this -- if it happens, no one will be able to stop it -- but I do think it's yet another sign people should consider whether to be a wee bit more cautious about their own affairs. In other words, save more, spend less, and put off big purchases until you get in a stronger financial position.

Of course, I realize some readers might suggest this advice, if everyone followed it, would actually send the economy into recession. But I'm not too worried. Most people don't tend to tighten their belts until it's too late.

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

September 14, 2007

The Shine's Come Off the Halo

ALEA JACTA EST. We learn tonight that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has fined New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick $500,000, fined the Pats $250,000, and penalized them with the loss of either their first-round draft pick or their second- and third-round draft picks in 2008, depending on whether they make the playoffs or not.

Well, that seems fair enough, I guess. Half a million dollars is still half a million dollars, even if the coach makes far more than that in any given year, and losing a first-round draft pick -- because the Pats will make the playoffs this year, barring a Steelers-esque meltdown -- is quite a punishment. It is not as severe as the punishment my good friend Chris Weinkopf, a Patriots fan to his core, suggested: that the Pats be forced to forfeit their game against the Jets. That, Mr Weinkopf said, would surely deter teams from taking part in this type of foolishness.

Speaking of Mr Weinkopf, he sent me a nice note this evening complaining about my Hines Ward post. Mr Weinkopf, referring to the 2001 AFC Championship Game about which Mr Ward had aired his suspicions, wrote:

Surely a sideline cameraman had nothing to do with the Steelers' letting Troy Brown return a punt for a TD in that game. Or letting a field goal get blocked and returned for another TD. Or letting DREW FREAKING BLEDSOE torch them for yet another TD when Brady went down with an injury.

LOOO-ZER.

This is all well and good, Chris, but who am I to argue with the genius and sophistication of Mr Ward? For that matter, who are YOU to argue with the genius and sophistication of Mr Ward? Clearly, as an expert on the game of football, Mr Ward's comments are clearly correct and just.

Still, I think the real damage to the Patriots is that which has been done to their squeaky-clean reputation. As I discussed with Chris over the past couple of nights, they had such a strong image that their organization's ruthlessness was routinely overlooked, but that certainly won't be the case now. Plus, lots of people outside New England liked the Patriots because they were a good team that seemed to play above board -- there was no showboating, its players didn't get in trouble, and what have you. Those fans may well find other teams now.

However, as Chris and I discussed, there is one way the Pats can put this mini-scandal to rest pretty quickly, and that's through beating the San Diego Chargers to a pulp on Sunday night. This may be easier than it sounds -- San Diego's offense looked wretched against the Chicago Bears last week. Still, I think a defeat against a good Chargers squad would shut a lot of people up, particularly if the victory was a commanding one. On the other hand, if the Patriots lose, this tempest-in-a-teapot may continue for some time to come.

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September 13, 2007

Salud!

WOOLWORTHS GROUP PLC, the British discount retailer, has shocked the world of wine in announcing it will sell a £5 bottle of Champagne -- actual Champagne, not sparkling wine. That, according to The Telegraph, has "alarmed wine experts" (it would, wouldn't it?) and led to questions about how the company can actually manage to sell the stuff for just £5 per bottle. However, it has also received something approaching acclaim from the newspaper's wine critic, who writes: "It isn't dry enough for me, but I've had a hell of a lot worse at many times the price."

I guess we'll see how well it sells. I myself am not much of a Champagne drinker, but I do know that when I do drink it, I'm doing so on a special occasion -- and somehow, cheap Champagne wouldn't seem to fit the bill. Still, I certainly approve of the idea, particularly if it lets more people enjoy the stuff. Plus, if people want Champagne just because they want Champagne, it would *definitely* seem to fit the bill.

I myself have two minds -- well, actually three -- about the proper way to approach drinking and the drinks one buys. My general rule for wine is that one ought drink the cheap stuff on an everyday basis while saving the good bottles for special occasions. That's not to say bad wine, but rather inexpensive wine, which can be had for a few dollars per bottle if you know where to get it. Besides, not minding the regular stuff makes the good stuff so much better when you actually do drink it.

When it comes to hard liquor, though, I take a different tack. My general rule for hard liquor is to drink top-shelf stuff, but only do so sparingly. I figure it's far better to abstain than drink cheap liquor, which is usually awful. The end result is that it makes the times I do drink the hard stuff far more enjoyable. Plus, it takes a lot less to get me drunk, which means my nights out are relatively cheap.

However, while I might be willing to swill cheap wine in the privacy of my own home, I would never serve it to a guest and certainly never send it to someone I know. If you have guests over to your house, you should get out the good stuff and enjoy your company. The same goes for hard liquor: I have a bottle of Patron Añejo and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire ready to go here at Rant Headquarters the next time I have guests over. (I even had a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, but I drank that with Simon From Jersey the last time he was up in the Granite State).

As for beer -- well, what can one say? There are few things in life worse than bad beer, so again, I think it's better to abstain from drinking than partake of some watered-down American pilsner. Even if the watered-down pilsner in question has a hell of an advertising campaign. The good news here, however, is that excellent beer isn't expensive at all, so it's not like one actually has to abstain from drinking. For perhaps a dollar more per bottle -- if that -- you can get an excellent and pleasing brew that is filling, substantial, and tasty. Plus, when one considers that one good beer can have the same results one would get from two or three mediocre beers, it actually works out to be cost-effective.

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Hines Ward: "Oh, They Knew"

WELL, IT WOULD NOW appear the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers have joined in the pile-up against the New England Patriots, which The Rant submits as further proof the Pats are cheating scoundrels and generally up to no good. Hines Ward, everyone's favorite wide receiver, said the Patriots somehow managed to know the Steelers' calls in the 2001 AFC Championship Game. Well, that would explain a lot, wouldn't it?

Meanwhile, the Steelers' coaching staff say Pats coach Bill Belichick has been doing this for years, even when he was coaching in Cleveland (not that it helped). While Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't come right out and say the Pats were cheating, he wasn't exactly surprised, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"You hear rumors of things of that nature. It's nothing new. In terms of confirming it, it's never been confirmed in any instance to my knowledge. But usually where there is smoke, there's fire. Those rumors are founded on something. So it's not totally shocking, no."

Also, for those Pats fans wondering whether the Steelers have a few jokers to hide, it should be noted we have been caught breaking league rules twice and each time lost a third-round draft pick. The first time, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was back in 1978, when we, uh, accidentally practiced with shoulder pads during a mini-camp. The second time was in 2001, when we got punished for a salary cap violation -- a minor oversight, one could say. In both cases the offenses and punishments were notably minor, and certainly not cheating, like the Patriots have apparently been cheating.

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Behold the Pats Fans, For They Are Not Happy

BEING SPORTING, THE RANT would like to note two particularly well-written essays from fans of the New England Patriots about the present scandal surrounding their team. Suffice it to say these die-hard Patriots fans aren't exactly happy with their team's alleged skullduggery.

First, I would note this excerpt from a long essay from Chris Weinkopf, my dear friend and Patriots fan. Mr Weinkopf writes:

Still, cheating is cheating, and now all of Patriot Nation is disgraced and disgusted.

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick -- a disagreeable genius who puts winning above all else -- has always been a master of finding new ways to get an advantage over other teams. In this case, I suspect, he thought some legalistic parsing of the words would make his offense amount to something less than a violation of the rules. But by all indications, that explanation isn't going to fly with NFL brass.

At last, Belichick's arrogance seems to have caught up with him. What he did wasn't just unethical; it was idiotic. The team he got busted for spying on was the New York Jets -- coached by his own former assistant, Eric Mangini, and boasting a video staff that included two former Patriots videographers. They knew what Belichick was up to because they were in on the gig when they worked for him. Trying the ploy against them was a recipe for disaster. But as they say, sin makes you stupid.

Which leaves us Pats fans ... where? Say it ain't so, Bill. How can we keep on rooting for you?

Mr Weinkopf goes on to look at the overall problems facing the NFL in general, and the essay is good reading for any football fan.

Secondly, I would note a more impassioned post from Patriots fan Basegirl, who is REALLY not happy with the Patriots for screwing things up. She writes, in part:

In addition, do you realize what this is doing to your fan base? We're very upset. You've put us in the unenviable position of having to defend the team's indefensible actions to freakin' Steelers and Colts fans (I've still never met an actual Colts fan), and Chargers players since The Danian obviously has something to say about this. WE WERE PERFECTLY HAPPY KNOWING THAT WE WERE WINNING BECAUSE WE WERE BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE. And I'm not saying that we're not. I still think we are, BUT I DON'T APPRECIATE THE ABUSE I'M GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE HERE. Do you understand?

As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan myself, I gladly admit that -- well, look, I'm loving this. I am hoping against hope it stretches out for weeks on end and distracts the Patriots from winning, and the team doesn't make the playoffs. After all, if the Pats do make the playoffs, there's a chance -- however remote -- they could open an industrial-sized can of whoopass on the Steelers and dash our hopes for a sixth Super Bowl victory.

Still, I must admit these two posts are fine examples of the class and decorum one generally expects from Patriots fans. Of course, many Patriots fans are convinced the rest of the league is out to get them and thus will refuse to acknowledge their team did anything wrong. But just because we are all out to get them doesn't take away from the gravity and wrongness of the sin in question. This is something these two writers realize, and it is to their credit and their team's credit that they do so.

And it must really stink to get crap from Colts fans. Ugh. The Colts. With their ONE* Super Bowl victory. God, the indignity of it all. I feel your pain, Pats fans. Really, I do.

------------
* Super Bowl V doesn't count. That was the Baltimore Colts, which in The Rant's view was a different franchise, no matter how much one wants to parse it. They left that Super Bowl victory behind when they scuttled out of Baltimore in the dead of night.

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Time Equals (Glorious, Tax-Free) Money

THE BOSTON GLOBE has published (reg. required) a neat little article on the concept of "time banks," which essentially act as a favor-bank for people within a community. For instance, if Mr Smith spends an hour shuttling Mr Jones to the grocery, he receives credit for one hour's worth of services he can "cash" from Mr Thompson for another service, such as fixing his broken freezer.

This is a particularly clever idea and I'm pleased to see it has taken hold throughout much of the United States. It reminds me of an old Eric Frank Russell story -- written in 1951 -- in which an entire society bases its economy around such a system. The society in question necessarily had very strong community ties because everyone depended on everyone else for assistance. And I do hope the idea spreads: in an age when commercial ties have largely supplanted age-old networks of family and community, these time banks could prove valuable for citizens.

After all, let's say Mr Smith spends three hours per week performing time-bank services. After a month, he could earn enough time for three evenings of free babysitting -- which could save him perhaps $100 or so. Or, he could engage someone to rake his yard, perhaps saving $100 or $200 that he would have spent on a landscaping service. True, one could certainly argue that had he been employed in steady work for those twelve hours, he could earn more than he would save, thus making the transaction uneconomical. But the intangible value -- the goodwill, one might say -- of the work would have its benefits. After all, if you need a ride to the airport, the convenience factor alone of getting a free ride might outweigh the cost and intangible hassles of having to otherwise arrange for transport, thus making the transaction economical. Plus, since the transactions are necessarily tax-free, Mr Smith's return is actually greater than one might otherwise expect.

Of course, one does wonder about taxes in this situation, but I do think the time banks are on solid ground.

According to the IRS's Tax Topic 420 (Bartering Income), services arranged through bartering are taxable. Thus, if I as a writer agreed to look over my plumber's manuscript in return for the plumber fixing my broken toilet, both of us would have to declare the market value of those services as income. This is because the Government is clever and does not want people to use bartering as a means to sneakily reduce their taxable income.

But under the Government's definition of barter income, "the term does not include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis." That would appear to be the case here. After all, if an attorney agrees to ferry an elderly resident to the grocery, and in return receives a ride to the airport later from a handyman, one can't really say there was a commercial point to the transaction, as neither the lawyer or handyman are regularly engaged in offering rides.

Obviously, the concept of a "time bank" is far more amenable to people who are not highly compensated, as their labors are not as monetarily valuable and as such they have the most to gain (or least to lose) from such a system. An accountant who charges $250 per hour for his services would undoubtedly be better off just working more and buying the services he needs. But for a waitress making $10 an hour, it could have real benefits, particularly if the outlay she would normally expend on services offered through a "time bank" exceeds any wages she could make through traditional work.

(via Boston Gal's Open Wallet)

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September 12, 2007

Roll the Blogs

AFTER CONSIDERABLE THOUGHT, I’ve made some changes to my “blogroll” – that is, the links of Rant Approved Blogs that appear in the left-hand column of this page. In part, this was a housekeeping measure, as I’ve removed several blogs that have gone dormant, although hopefully for only a short period of time. But the new listing also reflects a shift in my own personal interests.

As a result, I’ve grouped the list a bit differently than I have in the past. Previously, the blogs were largely sorted based on their geography; however, I’ve changed things so they appear by subject. Three of the groupings deal with matters near and dear to my heart: collegiate and professional football, the way it was meant to be played; the stock markets and other high-finance related matters; and personal financial issues. There are special groupings for what timewise are arguably my secondary interests at this point – namely, blogs devoted to the arts, culture and literature; and the exploits of the Boston Red Sox, whom I like but have subordinated to the pleasures of football.

Also, I’ve put people I know personally in their own separate listing, as well as the blogs I read for their insights on the subjects of the day. Finally, there are separate listings for Canadian bloggers and bloggers based abroad. While I must admit my interest in politics has considerably cooled over the past few years, it is still important to keep up with these things, particularly because developments here and abroad tend to have implications – and generally, not good implications – for my bottom line.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I think my readers will appreciate the changes. After all, you’re reading because you have the same interests that I do. Thus, it makes sense you’ll like these blogs. Lastly, I would note two things. First, if your blog was previously here and it now isn’t, it’s probably because it went silent a while back. I’m still checking in, though, and if you start blogging again I’ll re-add it. Second, if you know of any good blogs I should add, let me know – my e-mail is to the left – and I’ll check them out. (And if anyone knows how to fix my comments section, please, for the love of God, e-mail me).

Anyway, here’s a look at the blogs added to my blogroll, viz. and to wit:

FOOTBALL

We’ll start out with blogs devoted to the University of Michigan’s football program, which is near and dear to my heart, yet causes me so much pain. I’ve added a couple of good ones here, namely: M Go Blog and Maize ‘n Brew. M Go Blog is “horribly, admirably partisan” and as such I like it. It has insightful commentary and analysis, and has an impressive comments section. (The Oregon open thread post had like 1,300 comments on it, which is more than I’ve ever had since I've been blogging, even when the comments were working). Maize ‘n Brew also has lots of good analysis and commentary, and like many of the football blogs added is part of the Sports Blog Nation network. Both sites are fiercely passionate and I like that.

But of course, football is not just a game for college students. So I’ve also added several blogs devoted to the greatest football team of all time, the glorious and storied Pittsburgh Steelers. As the Steelers are pretty much my only hope for salvaging this football season, which has started out so horrendously college-wise, I’m going to keep a close eye on these blogs.

First up is Behind the Steel Curtain, an enjoyable blog devoted to the Steelers with plenty of analysis and commentary. I’ve also added Die Hard Steel, a good Steelers blog, and the NFL Fanhouse’s Pittsburgh Steelers blog, which keeps a close eye on the team. Also, I’ve added two other blogs – the Cincy Jungle blog and Dawgs by Nature – which look at the craptacular play of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. The Bungles and the Clowns, the Steelers’ generally hapless division rivals in the AFC North, are worth keeping an eye on given the possibility, however remote, they could defeat the Steelers.

Also added are sites for the NFL, the CFL, the Arena Football League, the af2 minor-league arena football league, the All-American Football League now in development, and the semi-pro British American Football League. (My team in the BAFL was formerly the Personal Assurance Knights, just because they were named after an insurance company. But now that they changed their name, I have to find a new team, because I haven’t any idea where “Farnham” is).

HIGH FINANCE

We’ll start out with Between the Hedges, a portfolio manager’s commentary on the financial markets. While I myself do not trade regularly – when I buy stocks, I prefer to sit on them until the end of time – this site is worth visiting for the data and updates alone, and the author does a really good job keeping on top of news coming out of the markets. Another good site, focused on economic data and analysis, is Econbrowser, which – as one might expect – two university economists run.

I’ve also added Seeking Alpha, which a market analyst founded some years back and serves as a great aggregator for news and commentary about the markets. There’s good stuff here if you look. I especially like the focus on global markets.

On a related note, I’ve added Controlled Greed to the mix, which looks at the business of investing in undervalued stocks, thus proving that while greed is good, controlled greed is even better. I’ve also added Andrew Tobias, he of “The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need” fame. And generally speaking, I don’t think that title is all that wrong. Mr Tobias spends much of his time posting about politics, which doesn’t really interest me, and various stock picks, which also doesn’t interest me, as I keep my own counsel on these types of things. But there’s still some good finance stuff there.

PERSONAL FINANCE

At the top of the list here is Boston Gal’s Open Wallet. Our Boston Gal is a thirty-something professional who has amassed roughly half a million and has a Magic Number roughly six times that amount. She seems well on her way to hitting that eventually too, so consider me impressed. This is a daily read of mine, not only because she covers all manner of personal finance topics, but also has interesting tidbits on sales and other ways to save more or spend less.

As an aside, it shouldn’t surprise folks that the best personal-finance blogs out there are written by women. My gut feeling is that it’s due to the different ways men and women typically approach money, as these following examples show:

WOMAN: There is no way I’m investing in nobusinessplan.com.
MAN: Ooooooh! Nobusinessplan.com’s having an IPO! Get me in for 500 shares! Yes! It’s going up! BOOYAH! No, wait, it’s going down! NO! Dammit! Hello? Lenny? Sell all my NBP and short it! What’s that? Yes, of course on margin! You think I’m getting out of my long position on pork bellies now? You kidding?

WOMAN: I’ve got some extra money, so I’ll put it towards a certificate of deposit.
MAN: A CD? Are you kidding me? I’ve got my money on a sure thing – COME ON you stupid horse! Go! Go! Go! Come ON – no! NO NO NO! You did not just break in the stretch! You stupid horse! I hope you get sent to a glue factory! Oh, it’s all rigged anyway!

Simply put, men are more prone to taking risks, which can work out great but often burns us in the end. Women, on the other hand, are generally more cautious. This can mean lower returns (sometimes, too low returns) but a correspondingly lower risk of having one’s capital blown out. The trick, of course, is to get the risk-return equation that suits you – one with healthy “upside potential” while still ensuring your capital won’t get eaten. Making up for capital losses is hard to do.

I also like Everybody Loves Your Money, another personal-finance blog that makes the astute observation that, well, everybody loves your money and its correlary that no one should love your money more than you. I also like Free Money Finance, which is a smartly-written blog, and My Money Thinks.

Lastly, another personal-finance blog I like is Hustle and Cash Flow (the name alone is priceless). The blogger behind it provides “regularly scheduled sporadic posting on various matters of economics, personal finance, and how it all relates to my job.” As it happens, our blogger’s job is as an exotic dancer.

Ah! Now you’re really interested, aren’t you? Well, readers expecting salacious pictures shall be disappointed, but the commentary doesn’t disappoint. She writes well about personal finance, economics and, sometimes, her line of work, and it’s all quite interesting.

So there you have it. Enjoy!

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September 11, 2007

Patriot Games

SO TODAY I received a nice note from my good friend Chris Weinkopf in which he protested against The Rant's continued lack of comments, which prevented Mr Weinkopf (and undoubtedly other) New England Patriots fans from responding to the charges their team was being naughty. As a gentleman and sporting individual, I wish to make clear that I will gladly post responses from Patriots fans who wish to defend their squad. Just e-mail me and sound off.

That said, do note that just for the record, making fun of the Michigan Wolverines' woes -- although undoubtedly fun and enjoyable -- will not get you off the hook. After all, as a Wolverines fan, I am not off the hook for their ineptitude and must grin and bear the slings and arrows that come my way.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reason No. 42,218 Why the Los Angeles Times Sucks

WHEN TIME MAGAZINE recently published a list of history's worst-ever automobiles, there were plenty of obvious choices that made the list. The Ford Edsel, the AMC Gremlin, the Sachsenring Trabant, the Zastava Yugo -- one could go on. But amazingly, TIME also included on the list -- wait for it -- the Model T!

But wait, you say. Wasn't the Model T an unqualified success? Wasn't it a triumph of manufacturing? Wasn't it so popular that it had a twenty year production run and sold millions upon millions of units? And wasn't it so cheap that everyone, even a hod carrier making $2,000 per year, could afford it if he scrimped and saved? (I mean, by the Twenties the Model T's price was down to less than $300, arguably putting it within reach of even common laborers.) Well, according to TIME, that's the problem:

Let's stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation's economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse's "disassembly line" — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers' boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.

What the hell is wrong with these people? I mean, they're either stupid or evil, and I don't know which. How could anyone be against economic progress and growth, particularly when that economic progress and growth enabled the working classes to enjoy at least some of the fruits of America's industrialization? Particularly when one considers how the automobile was a key factor in contributing to the growth of the West and the Sun Belt?

As it turns out the lead writer on this TIME special was none other than Dan Neil, the auto columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Why exactly Mr Neil assented to this idiocy, I don't know -- maybe he had one too many bad commutes and while sitting in traffic on The 10 one day, decided that he'd had enough of this shit and suddenly became a convert to the supposed glories of mass transit.

But one cannot blame the automobile for outdated urban planning. I downright love driving -- it is one of my few hobbies -- and I relish each chance I get to go for a drive. That said, one of the things I loved about living in Washington was the capital's fantastic public transit system, which quickly and effortlessly moved people around the city. If only the Metro would operate 24 hours, and if only the Silver and Purple lines would get built!

Here in Manchester, N.H., we don't have near enough people for a subway and our bus system is hub-and-spoke, making it inconvenient for short trips. For instance, if I want to go to the grocery some two miles away, I have to take the No. 7 bus downtown and transfer to the No. 2 bus. It's roughly 12 minutes downtown, but I'd miss the No. 7 bus heading outbound and so would have to wait 35 minutes for the next one, upon which it would take an additional 10 minutes to get to the grocery. Thus, the total travel time would be about an hour each way, or roughly twice the time it would take me to walk to the store and back.

So it's a good thing I have my trusty Ford Taurus handy. Mr Neil and TIME might wish in their hearts the autoways were open and clear for the elites, but for my money, I'd rather have the traffic and congestion if it means all can share in our nation's economic prosperity.

(via Tim Blair)

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September 10, 2007

My Alma Mater is Downright Shameless Sometimes

THIS EVENING, I got a nice call from the University of Michigan, which is apparently still laboring under the delusion that I want to give it money. I tend to avoid these calls through the judicious use of Caller ID, although on days when I'm feeling particularly clever I pick up the phone and immediately hang up. Yet these efforts of mine, although somewhat satisfying, have not deterred my alma mater from trying desperately to get its hands on my cash.

So when the phone rang just now, I looked again at my Caller ID and initially decided that I would again not answer the phone. Then I thought about Saturday and the Saturday before that and I grinned as I hit the talk button.

The girl on the other end of the line was a polite student who started off the conversation through confirming my address and asking some polite questions about what I did for work. Despite my great desire to tell the student that I sold methamphetamine for a living and, on the side, stole copper from utility lines, I actually answered these questions succintly and honestly, and demonstrated I was in fact gainfully employed.

This, in retrospect, was Mistake Number One. For our student then informed me that she was raising money for scholarships, and after a bit of babble about how my donation would help needy students without the wherewithal to otherwise attend Michigan, asked me if I would be interested in donating $250 for the cause.

I about choked.

However, after regaining my train of thought, I said this was out of the question. Well, actually, I said, "$250?! I'm a journalist -- I don't have that kind of money!" (Left unsaid was the phrase: "at least, not that I'd give to my bloody college.") Besides, I said, I sure wasn't inclined to give money to the University of Michigan while Lloyd Carr continued to coach the football program.

This garnered sympathy from my inquisitor to a point. However, she then went into a spiel about how the University was truly needy and suffering from budget cuts -- and who the hell isn't? -- and how there were just 572 scholarships available to 18,000+ undergraduate students, and would I be interested in donating just $100?

ME: "No! I'm not interested in donating anything."
SOLICITOR: "Would you be interested if we were 2-0 right now?"
ME: "I'd certainly be more *open* to it!"

It was about this point, if I remember rightly, that my solicitor suggested that, surely, withholding my donations from the school's scholarship program was unfairly taking things out on the unfortunate students and not the athletic department. I had to bite my tongue at this argument. So now it's my fault the University is so damned stupid in how it allocates its endowment proceeds? It's my fault my alma mater can't manage its football program?

Although, given the source, this blame-the-prospective-donor argument isn't all that surprising. Let's say, for instance, that a couple was getting their heat shut off because the gas company wasn't giving them a break. At the University of Michigan, neither the couple nor the gas company would be held to account, but rather the cruel and uncaring society that did not recognize the universal human right to gas heat and did not allocate billions to ensuring everyone had adequate gas heat, even during the Bitter Memphis Winter.

But anyway. I held firm and so my solicitor ratcheted down again. Apparently, ineffective Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman -- "who is not firing Lloyd Carr" -- has embarked on a program to match the scholarships or somehow stretch the money, I don't know what, and could I give just $50? Hmmmm. Let me think about that. Oh, that's right, the answer is always No!

Well, how about $35?

No! Non! Nein! Nyet!

At this point, the poor girl gave up and half-heartedly said something about understanding that "not everyone can give" -- can had nothing to do with it -- but thanked me for my time and assured me the University would check back in future, to make sure its contact information was up to date and what not. This news was almost enough to make me look into moving someplace where I could avoid the University's solicitations, like rural Guatemala. Trouble is, I don't think I could watch football there.

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Report: New England Patriots Dirty Cheating Scoundrels

WELL! IT LOOKS LIKE the New England Patriots may have been adding nitro to the tank!

According to no less a source than the Boston Herald, the Patriots have been accused of stealing signals during their game on Sunday with the New York Jets. But here's the thing -- it apparently wasn't a one-time deal. The Herald also reports the Green Bay Packers AND the Detroit Lions caught them doing the same thing last year.

I am shocked and appalled at these reports. Not because the Patriots were allegedly stealing signals, of course: that's the type of sneaky, underhanded move that one would expect from the team. But as one commenter on the Herald's Web site has already said: why would they steal signals from the Jets, the Packers and the Lions? I mean, my God. That's just embarrassing. It's not like they were stealing signals from teams who they would have trouble beating.

According to the Herald report, the Pats could lose a draft pick if the league's competition committee decides to sanction them for the infraction. But many questions remain unanswered. Here's a list of questions and thoughts I have about the matter:

* Does this mean we have to stop making fun of Mike Holmgren for always shielding his mouth with the playchart? Because he's looking really smart right now.

* Does this mean we can stop listening to broadcasters praising Bill Belichick as if he's some kind of mad genius? I mean, if this report is true, then one can argue Mad Genius Hobo Coach and his staff have had some help along the way, just like one of those old lifelike chess-playing machines that actually had some chess master hidden inside making the moves.

* I have to admit, I always thought the Oakland Raiders would have gotten caught first at doing something like this. For their part, Raiders fans are probably wondering why Al Davis hasn't ordered this set-up for every game at McAfee Coliseum.

* The Steelers play the Patriots in Foxboro on Dec. 9. Does this mean Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will incorporate plenty of weird gadget plays into the mix? Even if the Pats did steal our signals, they'd still have a hell of a time defending against a crazy double-reverse bomb to the post.

* This should prove a nice black eye for the Patriots as they go through the season, and should result in even more opprobrium and disgust directed their way from the rest of the league. I can dig it.

* A memo to Chris Weinkopf: Ha! Ha! HAHAHAHAHA!

* Can the league pass some sort of special dispensation allowing the Cleveland Browns to steal their opponents' play calls and signals? They clearly need some sort of extra boost, and a boost more powerful than they can get from Brady Quinn. Their opponents could call the plays, a Cleveland front-office guy could then signal over to the Browns' sideline using semaphore flags, and the Browns could react accordingly. I mean, that way, at least they'd have a fighting chance.

Anyway, I'm sure we'll figure out in the end just what exactly happened. In the meantime, though, I think Patriots fans should be ashamed and humiliated at the very idea their team would do such a thing. I mean, the Steelers would never ever do something like this, because Mr Rooney would not have approved. And even if the Steelers HAVE, at least they're not dumb enough to get caught!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 09, 2007

Thank God For Sundays

WELL, FINALLY SOMETHING'S gone right for me this football season: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the greatest football team in the history of sport, pretty much crushed the Cleveland Browns at Browns Stadium today, 34-7. As one might expect, I was thrilled to see a team I support actually win. I was also thrilled to see Ben Roethlisberger throw four touchdown passes, and thrilled to see the offense perform adequately well and the defense perform quite well. Six sacks. Five turnovers forced. We're back!

But here's perhaps the most important news for Steelers fans, at least in the Manchester, N.H. area and surrounding environs: Billy's Sports Bar & Grill, a Patriots bar at 34 Tarrytown Road in Manchester, has apparently set aside their small back room for fans of the Black & Gold.

So not only did I get to watch the game, I got to watch it with a small band of Steeler faithful. Maximum coolness. We also watched the game with one unfortunate Browns fan, a Youngstown native (oy) who really stayed with it until the Steelers made it 24-0, at which point he kind of collapsed into a stunned silence. We all felt sorry for the guy: not only was he outnumbered twenty to one, he was forced to grin and bear it as the Steelers fans cheered and screamed. Really, when you got right down to it, we all kind of felt sorry for the Brownies.

Generally speaking, the rest of the games didn't go as I had hoped, but the Steelers victory made it all OK. The New England Patriots crushed the Jets, the Miami Dolphins lost to the Washington Redskins due to an overtime field goal, and the Buffalo Bills lost a heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos. I mean, New England's going to be tough enough in the AFC East without the other teams making it easy for them. We had a few Buffalo fans in the Steelers room, and they were in tough shape. I was pleased to see Tennessee knock off Jacksonville, though. That was nice.

Of course, Pittsburgh plays Buffalo next week, so we'll be back in the thick of it for next week's game. One of the Bills faithful had the audacity to trash-talk the Steelers, although I didn't mind this gauche and unjustified boasting. After all, as I pointed out, our backup quarterback, Charlie Batch, is a better QB than J.P. Losman, the Bills' ineffective starting QB, so even IF Ben Roethlisberger had suffered an ankle injury in the Cleveland game, we would be fine.

Also, I was stunned that a few of the Patriots faithful -- watching the Pats-Jets game in the main room -- were rather pleased when New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was hurt in the game. Obviously, this was just a few of the dozens of Patriots faithful present, but still. If there's one thing you expect from Patriots fans, it's that they're a classy bunch. True, this befits their generally effete, aristocratic, fair-weather fandom and their secret first love for baseball, but there's no denying you would rather watch football with a Pats fan than fans of most teams in the league -- especially if they're Cowboys or Raiders fans, who are scoundrels and deserve nothing but scorn and derision.

Of course, football's not over this weekend! I am hoping against hope the New York Giants will defeat the Dallas Cowboys tonight, for although I don't like either team the Giants are less annoying than the Cowboys. And then there are tomorrow night's matches. I think the Arizona Cardinals will prove tough against the San Francisco 49ers -- we shall see -- and as for Baltimore and Cincinnati ...

Uh, I don't know what to think of this game. I mean, I hate Baltimore. But I hate Cincinnati too. Do I want Baltimore to win because it means the Bungles will fall to 0-1 right away, and thus lose out on a potential tie-breaker? Or do I want the Bungles to win because Baltimore doesn't need any extra wins? I'm very torn here. But I have a feeling that no matter who loses, I'll be able to find the cloud behind the silver lining.

UPDATE: Oh! Forgot to mention another good thing about Pats fans -- they hate Peyton Manning almost as much as Steelers fans do. So that makes most of them OK in my book.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2007

It's the End of the World As I Know It, and I'm Not Fine

They tried to make me go retire, but I said no, no, no.

-- Lloyd Carr
(with apologies to Amy Winehouse)

GIVEN MICHIGAN's 39-7 loss today to the University of Oregon Ducks (!), I thought long and hard about what to title this post. "Just Shoot Me" seemed like a good fit, except for the tiny possibility some well-intentioned reader might carry it out. "What a Kick in the Teeth" and "It's Like I Got Hit in the Head with a Crowbar" also seemed to fit, although at the rate things are going I'll need to save those for future weeks. So I'm sticking with the one I've got.

For let's face it. This is the end of the college football world as I know it; as we all know it. The University of Michigan Wolverines, America's most storied and glorious college football team, are playing like a bunch of rank amateurs. Not only did Michigan lose to a pesky I-AA team, we lost to Oregon. Oregon, a mediocre team at best in a mediocre conference. Now everyone is talking about the Pac-10 -- the Pac-10! -- as some kind of emerging football powerhouse. I mean, holy Mary.

This loss today wasn't just a loss; it represents a real problem at Michigan. We've now lost four games straight, something that hasn't happened since 1967. We've lost two back-to-back home games to start the season, something that hasn't happened since 1959. Oregon racked up 624 yards against Michigan's formerly vaunted defense. 624 yards! And it gets worse -- here's a run-down of just how bad it was. Or you could just read Mitch Albom's column, and his stinging quip: "I hate to put it this way, but there were Lions games that were less embarrassing than this."

Oh, the pain. Oh, the agony.

The long and short of this is that some serious ass-kicking needs to go on at Michigan, and NOW. Someone needs to point out to Lloyd Carr, our idiot coach, that everyone has figured out he's going to run the ball up the middle on first down. Someone needs to point out to the folks farther down the line that our secondary sucks and our defense has more holes than Swiss cheese. Someone needs to get on the horn to Bill Martin, our soft and weak athletic director, and tell him to start putting pressure on our coaching staff to get the bloody job done. And if they don't get the job done, they need to start getting cashiered.

And a lot of people need to get on the phone to our ineffectual president, Mary Sue Coleman, and tell her that unless things change, the money's going to start disappearing. We all know that only money talks with these folks, and they won't do anything unless their precious cash starts drying up. Thus, I would call upon all alumni who actually give money to the University of Michigan to start calling, e-mailing, sending smoke signals -- anything -- and make your displeasure known.

I would, but I don't give any money to the University because I'm cheap. So as a result my broadsides against my alma mater are necessarily limited in their effectiveness. Still, all Michigan alumni everywhere must start beating the drum and demanding that things change, before the entire season is irrevocably lost and lasting damage to Michigan's football program sets in.

Also the students should take over the Administration building. Go ahead, it's fun!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2007

Woooooooo! We're No. 32! We're No. 32!

IF YOU'RE A FOOTBALL FAN like me, you generally find the major college football rankings out there -- the AP poll and the USA Today coaches poll -- a bit lackluster. For one thing, they only rank the top 25 teams, which isn't very helpful in a division of 120 squads. For another, these polls can sometimes be a bit weird, ranking some teams higher than they ought -- ahem -- and others correspondingly lower.

However, there are sites out there that offer a more comprehensive look at college football rankings. One is Kenneth Massey's Massey Ratings site, which crunches the numbers from more than 30 polls and rankings. In doing so, it offers a good look at all 120 I-A* teams. This week's figures show the University of Michigan's football squad, which had been ranked No. 5 in the major polls, now checks in at ... No. 32.

I hate to say it, but given how Michigan performed last week, I think that's a bit generous.

Still, hope springs eternal and the Wolverines can get a boost to their season this weekend through knocking off the scrappy Oregon Ducks, now No. 28 on the list. Provided we beat No. 52 ranked Notre Dame in the following week, we should be physically and mentally prepared at that point to face the highly-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, whom you KNOW are just waiting to pound Michigan into the dirt. We have ruined too many of their seasons in the past few years and they would love to kick us when we're down.

Also, it's worth noting Michigan State is ranked No. 57 on this list. They too are going to gun for us but this suggests they shouldn't get their hopes up. Yet.

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* Also, what lame-o at the NCAA decided they were going to rename the I-A and I-AA designations with the monikers "Football Bowl Subdivision" and "Football Championship Subdivision?" It just doesn't work. So I'm sticking with I-A and I-AA, because -- wait for it -- those actually make sense.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 04, 2007

One for the Bookmark Files

CONVENIENTLY ENOUGH, The Telegraph of London has put all their reporting on the subprime crisis onto one Web page, which can be accessed here. It's got all the latest news updates about the crisis -- the LIBOR is through the roof apparently -- the Ambrose Evans-Pritchard commentaries, and more.

It is a good site for anyone hoping to learn about the "high finance" aspects of our present crisis and, just as important, keep up with the latest news on the matter. The English papers have really done a good job at covering this, probably because the crisis has affected the City and Europe more than it has affected us.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Proof I Watch Too Much CNBC

SO EARLIER TODAY I was doing some business with a large corporation that shall go unnamed, when the topic of conversation turned to how I had heard of the corporation in question. Well, I said, it was the television advertisements on CNBC. Unfortunately, this immediately led me to think of some other advertisements that had appeared with alarming frequency on the business channel, and I got the theme song for those other advertisements stuck in my head.

It's still stuck in my head. More than twelve hours later. Thus, I'm writing this entry in the hopes I can get the theme out of my head. But that's not the worst part. You see, it'd be one thing if the theme was Rhapsody in Blue, the theme for United Airlines, or another nice classical piece. But this is grating and annoying. And the worst part of all is what the advertisements were for.

Yes, those commercials. My God.

Now, I realize that many readers may be shaking their heads thinking, "Uh, I don't get it." Others, however, are shrieking with laughter, and would be sympathetic if only they could stop laughing so hard their sides hurt and they were straining to keep from wetting themselves. I don't have any issues in that regard, either, which makes it doubly embarrassing to admit I got this song stuck in my head.

About the only good thing about this is that I've learned the wretched, awful people behind these commercials are facing a federal indictment for myriad alleged sins, a summary of which may be found here. All I have to say is there's an awful lot of money in exploiting the fears of insecure men. Also, make the whistling stop. Please, make it stop.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Am to Blame for Everyone Now Hating Bottled Water

SO I WAS OVER AT The Mad Pigeon's site when I noticed he had posted a couple of links about the environmental impacts of people drinking bottled water. Apparently, drinking bottled water used to be good, until too many people started doing so and then it became bad. As I myself started buying bottled water just recently, I can only conclude my decision to start buying the stuff in bulk is behind this shift in attitudes.

This should be no surprise to anyone, as my purchasing habits are perhaps single-handedly the best indicator for America's marketers to determine when particular goods or services are no longer cool. After all, what happened after I bought my swell new television set a few years ago? Everyone started buying flat-screen TVs. What happened when I bought my DVD player a short while before that? It wasn't much longer before talk of a "format war" between the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats started popping up. So now that word got out that I started buying bottled water -- in those plastic-wrapped cases, no less -- it is only natural that bottled water would be scorned, shunned, mocked and reviled by the fashionable elites.

I could, of course, care less about this. That's because I do not buy plain bottled water, but rather the flavored bottled water that tastes like something other than water, yet has water-like properties. It's value-added water! This, then, somewhat justifies the price I pay for it, which works out to something on the order of 42 cents a bottle, 84 cents a liter, or $3.16 per gallon. This is, I realize, wasteful and decadent -- at least when viewed alone. However, when viewed in proper context -- as an alternative beverage purchase -- it is not all that expensive. It is slightly less expensive than the diet, flavored iced tea I buy (50 cents a bottle, $1 a liter, or $3.80 per gallon) and slightly more expensive than the diet cola I buy (this week, 24 cents a can, or 69 cents a liter, or $2.61 per gallon). And since variety is the spice of life, I can somewhat justify the purchase.

Yes, it would be far cheaper to have a glass of tap water with dinner, but the tap water here tastes ... well, it tastes off, like everywhere else in the country. And although that could be rectified with a good water pitcher, which retails for about $25 or so, I like the metallic raspberry tang taste that goes with my value-added flavored water beverage product.

In any event, I am confident the market will work all this out in the end. It stands to reason that if people start to value the environmental risks as untenable compared to the reward they'll get from an icy cold bottle of purified water, fewer people will buy bottled water. This should cause the demand (and eventually the supply) of bottled water to fall accordingly. Hopefully this will lead to some kind of bottled water glut, in which the stuff goes on sale and I can get a whole bunch of it cheap. Thus, market forces should make everyone happy -- at least until the latest new craze came along for people to get in a sniff about.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 03, 2007

Of Course, Things Could Always Be Worse

DESPITE MICHIGAN'S LOSS on Saturday to Appalachian State University, it should be noted there were no reports of rioting, unruly behavior, mob actions or other general rowdiness following the game. In fact, of the 13 people arrested at the game -- out of 109,218 fans who were there -- 12 were arrested for underage consumption of alcohol.

This good behavior is in stark contrast to how things are at a Certain Other Institution a bit south and east of Ann Arbor. The latest proof of Michigan's civilized superiority over its arch-rivals in Columbus, Ohio, comes straight from the mouth of ... Ohio State's most recent president! The Columbus Dispatch has the shocking story of how former Ohio State president Karen Holbrook described game-day behavior at the school:

Holbrook said in the interview for the president's post at Florida Gulf Coast University that, when she arrived at OSU in 2002, she found Buckeye fans who were looking for any excuse to riot. It was "a culture of rioting," she said.

The videotaped interview was provided to The Dispatch by the Fort Myers, Fla., school.

"When you win a game, you riot. When you lose a game, you riot. When spring comes, you riot. [...]" Holbrook said on the tape. "They think it's fun to flip cars, to really have absolute drunken orgies. … I don't want to be at a place that has this kind of culture as a norm." ...

During the videotaped interview, she said she didn't witness bad game-day behavior at OSU, because on game days she would "go to a lovely brunch with a wonderful group of people, and walk over to the stadium and sit in the box."

But she had been told by another university official that if she ventured out into the neighborhood, she would be appalled. So she said she asked university officials to film students' behavior on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game in 2002.

The film, she said, showed that by 8 a.m. there were people dead drunk "doing disgusting things, unbelievable things."

The film culminated in that year's late-night riot, in which cars and sofas burned, police lobbed tear gas and OSU fans threatened departing Michigan fans.

"Seven thousand people flipped nine cars, burned them, kicked in windows of things," Holbrook said on the videotape.

Now, the newspaper reports that Holbrook has "softened" her remarks now that they've been made public, but I think it's clear she was speaking her mind when she was in that interview. It just goes to show that even though Michigan is down right now, we will always be better than the barbarians in Columbus. Always. And to any Ohio State alumni who may be reading this right now, I have one thing to say to you:

Space, you uncivilized scoundrels! Space!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Report: Michigan Law Students Plan Suit Against ASU

Breach-of-Contract Suit Charges "ASU Agreed
to Lose by at Least Two Touchdowns"

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Plaintiffs: "We Didn't Pay Them $400,000 To Win"
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ASU: Suit "Without Merit," "Pathetic."

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A group of students from the University of Michigan's Law School have announced plans to file a breach-of-contract suit against Appalachian State University, charging the school knew full well it was "supposed to lose by at least two touchdowns."

The news was the latest development following Michigan's humiliating loss to the ASU Mountaineers on Saturday, which saw the storied program fall to the Carolina upstarts, 34-32. The students, reportedly infuriated at learning Michigan had paid $400,000 to the school for its appearance, spent hours examining the contract between the two institutions and said they had found "clear evidence of negligence, breach of contract, and tortious interference with Michigan's business."

"Simply put, we didn't pay these guys $400,000 to come here and win," said Kellow Stragler, a second-year law student at Michigan. "Why, in Section 16, Subsection 4, Paragraph II, Item VI of the contract between Michigan and ASU, it states clearly that the visitors will 'endeavor to play the best football they can during the first half of the Game, while ensuring at the end of the Game they will have lost by at least fourteen (14) points.' Obviously, ASU breached that item of the contract and so we are suing for damages."

Stragler said the suit, which would be filed in Washtenaw County Trial Court later this week, would request compensatory damages of $400,000, punitive damages of $1.2 million and "any other relief the court deems just and proper, including the shaving of ASU Chancellor Kenneth Peacock's head."

Legal experts said the case, although seemingly meritless, might actually have a good chance to succeed.

"Ever since The Citadel beat Arkansas in a stunning upset some years ago, clever schools like Michigan have routinely included such riders in their contracts when scheduling early-season games," said Pace University law professor Steven Poullaire. "True, these riders are often buried deep within the contracts, and the details kept secret from the players and football staff. But it's still very strange that ASU didn't take some form of action to keep its bargain, such as suggesting ASU coach Jerry Moore 'take a break' in the fourth quarter, or 'accidentally' only have eight men on the field during a key play."

Appalachian State University officials, not having seen the lawsuit, declined to comment. However, an unnamed school official said the lawsuit "would be completely without merit."

"Hey, you saw that second half," the official said. "It's not our fault Michigan was so incompetent that it couldn't take advantage of the many opportunities we gave them to right the ship."

The students' suit against ASU isn't the only legal action that may arise from Michigan's loss. Michigan Fans Against Losing, an alumni group, reportedly plans to file a $1 billion lawsuit against the university, citing factors ranging from economic damages to severe emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. That suit is expected to mirror a 2000 lawsuit aggrieved Ohio State University fans filed against that school, which resulted in the firing of embattled coach John Cooper and the distribution of a sweater vest to every Buckeye fan.

In other news, a poll from The Michigan Daily found that 75 percent of respondents wanted head coach Lloyd Carr fired for the debacle, compared to 20 percent who were against firing Carr. The remaning five percent responded to the poll with the "What's football?" answer, but observers agreed these five percent were milksop Easterners whose beliefs were unworthy of further consideration.

"What's football?!" said clearly exasperated U-M senior Ernest Burnham, of Traverse City. "Goddamned nouveau riche Easterners, with their foofy pseudo-sports and wretched prep school educations. I guess they were too busy watching the U.S. Open or something."

"Oh, I say, Willingham, why don't we have some tea and cucumber sandwiches before jaunting off to the lacrosse match? It'll be capital good fun!" said Burnham, affecting a faux English accent. "I mean, what the hell is wrong with these people? Christ."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2007

Football Loss Sends Michigan Into Existential Crisis

Diag Preacher Gains Record Audience
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Interest in Islamic Fundamentalism "Up 600 pc"
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"This is Bullshit," Say Students Exploring Zen Meditation Techniques

By FLIP ARGENTI
The Sporting Rant

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan's stunning football loss Saturday to the Appalachian State Mountaineers has sent the school's Ann Arbor campus into a full-blown existential crisis. Students are struggling to reconcile the loss with the tenets of secular humanism, ruthless ambition and naked greed that have long been cherished traditions at the elite academic institution.

Meanwhile, fallout from the Maize and Blue's loss continued to spread throughout the greater Ann Arbor area, as the Arborland Mall was the scene of a pitched battle Saturday evening between students from the school and nearby Eastern Michigan University. Police said a group of EMU students, upon encountering a group of Michigan students, started pointing and laughing in their direction while heckling them about the loss. Enraged, the U-M students charged the group in a flying wedge formation, resulting in a brawl of "quasi-epic proportions." Eight people were hurt.

"I haven't seen it this bad ever," said Frank Muldoon, a U-M graduate student and chief blogger at "Arbor Day," a local blog devoted to U-M and Ann Arbor issues. "Oh, sure, there was Rocket Left back in 1994, during my freshman year. Boy, did that stink. Then, there was Clockgate back in 2004, and Michigan's loss to Nebraska in the 2005 Alamo Bowl. But nothing even compares to the rancor I've seen since we lost to Appalachian State."

"My God. Appalachian State," Muldoon said. "There are no words."

But on Sunday afternoon, Diag preacher Ted Wormsley found himself ministering to several hundred forlorn U-M students at the campus landmark. Wormsley, like many of his itinerant colleagues a fiery and unyielding preacher, has been responsible for sending thousands of students further into the arms of Michigan's secular culture each year. While confident his rewards await him in heaven, Wormsley's earthly rewards have generally consisted of scorn and abuse heaped on him from passing students. But that was not the case today.

"Friends, I KNOW how you feel now," Wormsley said to an audience of several hundred enraptured students. "You are lost, adrift, hopeless; wondering why the God of your fathers has foresaken you in your time of need. You just want to turn to the sky and scream, why, God, why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!"

"Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!" Wormsley added.

"But I must tell you this. God has HIDDEN His face from you today as DIVINE PUNISHMENT for your wrongdoing! Verily, I say to you, victory can be achieved next week, and the week after that, and all through the season if ONLY you forsake the evils of drink and marihuana and the other perils of modern life -- like fornication! Oh, and disco dancing is right out too. And you may not order from Pizza House LATER than 2 a.m., for God-FEARING people are asleep by then," Wormsley said.

Wormsley's sermon, which lasted roughly 90 minutes and touched on matters ranging from the dangers of heavy metal music to the creeping influence of Freemasonry, was met -- for perhaps the first time in Michigan history -- with murmured assent and scattered applause.

"Gee, if Brother Ted says I have to give up my pirated cable television connection -- with all the unscrambled adult channels -- AND my late night runs for chapatis to guarantee victory for the team, I guess I'll have to do it," said U-M junior Floyd Marvinson. "I mean, we can't lose to Penn State this year, and we'll never hear the end of it if we lose to Michigan State."

"If it means we win a bowl game this year, I'll commit to a chaste lifestyle," said U-M senior Pete Poindextrus. "Somehow. I mean, that's like six months of ... but I'll do it. I have to do it. God forgive me should I lapse!"

But students aren't just embracing Christian fundamentalism. Interest in what campus officials call "hardline, extremist Islamic views" has skyrocketed since Michigan's loss.

"Really, what it comes down to is this. Given our loss to Appalachian State, what will cause fans of other teams to react the way they should when they encounter Michigan fans? A shout of Go Blue! or a shout of Ya'llah, infidels! My team wishes yours dead!" said a sullen and angry Chadrick Horace, a U-M sophomore. "The way things are going, it sure looks like the second to me, so I'm considering a switch."

"By the way, did you like that? I got it from a computer game," said Horace, who during his time at Michigan has only worshipped Milwaukee's Best beer and Scarlett Johansson. "Also, I'm working on my sullen, hostile stare for when those wretched idolaters from Ohio State come up in November. With God's aid, we shall defeat them and their cursed anthropomorphic mascot!"

Those on campus also say some other belief systems have suffered a corresponding drop in interest since Michigan's loss. For instance, a philosophy professor who tried to rally his students' spirits over the weekend was pelted with books and lambasted with angry chants.

"Yeah, I remember what he said. He was going on about how Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger,' and then everybody just snapped," said U-M junior Karen St. Waldo. "I mean, what the hell? Do you feel any stronger? I certainly don't. This sucks. This sucks beyond belief."

A disturbance was also reported at a meeting of a student group devoted to Zen Buddhist meditation techniques. Attendees said that U-M junior Zack Belding stood up as the group was deep in thought, and shouted, "This is bullshit!" Belding, citing the stress of the loss to Appalachian State, then proclaimed he was "through with this peace and love crap" and "going out for a goddamn porterhouse."

"He was going on and on about the football game and how just sitting there only made it worse," recalled U-M graduate student Zephyr Nieldegard. "He destroyed the harmony of the entire group in seconds. It was horrible. Then he kicked open the door and stomped out, shouting about how he was going to -- ugh -- eat meat."

"I really don't know what Michelle sees in him anyway," Nieldegard added.

Campus officials say they are aware of the situation and are taking steps to address it. An additional twenty public safety officers have been deputized to the University's police force, where they will engage in student-pacification activities such as ticketing students' bicycles, ticketing students' cars, and ticketing students for petty offenses such as chalking sidewalks, loitering and possessing patchouli.

"Yes, I realize this may seem a bit counter-intuitive," said Inspector Clyde Argyle of the University's Department of Public Safety. "However, you have to understand that a lot of this is about students being angry. All we have to do is direct that anger against a monolithic force the students can do nothing about, and that would be us and our devotion to making sure the parking laws and petty ordinances of the campus are enforced at all times. Soon, they'll again be up in arms about our ever-present parking officers and they'll forget all about this."

"This all comes from the top, too," Argyle said. "I mean, I think we can all agree it would be a disaster if the students actually got together and worked on a clever plan to force the University to actually fire Lloyd Carr and Bill Martin, his miserable satrap of a boss. That's why we're following that old maxim -- God is with the patient, if they but know how to wait."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2007

Putting the Game into Perspective

HOW BAD WAS MICHIGAN'S loss to Appalachian State today? Well, I believe this comparison will make it clear even to readers who aren't die-hard football fans.

MICHIGAN'S ADVERTISING:

APPALACHIAN STATE'S ADVERTISING:

I mean, CRIMINY.

It is worth noting what one YouTube commenter said about the Michigan ad: "Michigan could be behind by a million at half time and it still wouldn't matter. What can an opposing school do, advertising wise, against this? Space, bitches!"

Unfortunately, though, it does matter when Michigan is behind when the final whistle blows. Still, as a loyal and proud Michigan alumnus, I must admit I think along those lines whenever I see this ad. Space, bitches!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Some More Worcestershire Sauce With My Crow, Please

TWO DAYS AGO, I wrote the following in my post about the opening week of the college football season:

With a few exceptions, I always root for the underdog in these early games of the season, just because I think it would be fabulous if one of them actually managed to knock off a school that in all likelihood paid the underdog hundreds of thousands of dollars to appear. That goes double if the favorite is a ranked team, because that will mean one less competitor to challenge the University of Michigan for the national title.

Thus, it was only natural that out of all the easy, gimme, tune-up chump games that were scheduled for the opening week, MY TEAM WOULD LOSE. Furthermore, not only did my beloved, fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines lose, they lost to Appalachian State University, 34-32.

I do believe Mike Heather, a 65-year-old Michigan fan from Grand Rapids, summed up Michigan fans' sentiments pretty well. He told the Ann Arbor News:

"How the (expletive) does (expletive) Appalachian State dominate us like that?" he said. "I can't believe it. Other than the first minute or two, they were so much better than us. There's no (expletive) way we should lose that game."

Appalachian State! Mother of God! Could there be anything more humiliating than losing to Appalachian State? Apparently not, because they're calling this the biggest upset in Michigan football history, if not in the entire history of college football. And that's saying something. I mean, Americans have been playing college football since 1875. It is such an amazing upset that it prompted the Sunday Morning Quarterback blog to write, "This shakes the foundation of my comprehension of the world to such a vastly greater extent than any upset, sighting, conspiracy theory, apparition, miracle or act of nature I could possibly cite. This is frogs raining from heaven. This is physically impossible."

This is not to take away from Appalachian State's victory, which they fought for every inch of the way, even in the second half when it was clear their defense was exhausted and their offense began to stumble. It was a hell of an accomplishment for them. Yes, they may have been I-AA champions, but it is one thing to beat the likes of the University of Massachusetts and another to play in front of 110,000 screaming fans at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., and beat Michigan, the winningest team in all of college football history. The disparity between I-A and I-AA schools is so great -- in terms of money and facilities and all that -- that Appalachian State's victory is even more impressive.

But even as the good people of Boone, N.C., celebrate their victory, Michigan fans are adrift. Michael Brooks, a Michigan fan and blogger in Toledo, sums up how most are feeling when he writes, "I think I am going to vomit." For one Michigan fan -- that would be me -- it is time to eat a good-sized helping of crow.

Please, pass the worcestershire sauce.

The enormity of this loss forces me to admit that Michigan, at least this year, may not be as good a team as I thought it would be. Furthermore, it seems almost certain that another football team will win this year's national championship, as it will now prove almost impossible for Michigan to recoup its highly-ranked status, even if it runs the table through the rest of the season. Even worse, it would appear the LSU Tigers, the USC Trojans, the Florida Gators, and several other teams are without question better than we are. And in the Big Ten, several games one might have considered likely Michigan wins (Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin) now look a heck of a lot tougher than one might hope.

So I am humbled. We are all humbled. The season has already become a "rebuilding year," just one week into the twelve-week-long session. But for all those non-Michigan fans reveling in the Evil Empire's defeat -- that would be pretty much everyone else in the nation, I believe -- I would caution you: we will strike back. We always do. And now, we're really angry.

Which leads us to the next question: how should Michigan react to this defeat? After all, as with most evil empires, failure is most certainly not an option at Michigan. Thus, someone should be severely punished for this. Somebody must pay. Maybe even somebodies.

It seems clear, based on fan reaction to this humiliation, that Coach Lloyd Carr must be at the top of the list. Today's failure shows the man is as clumsy as he is stupid, and he has failed us for the last time. He must be disciplined appropriately. If Michigan's leadership had any guts, they would cashier this idiot tonight and make Ron English -- our glorious savior-in-waiting -- head coach. Sadly, our soft and weak overlords will almost certainly keep Carr around through the end of the season. As a result, they will also almost certainly keep around the new special teams coach, who isn't apparently very special considering Michigan suffered not one, but TWO blocked field goals during the game.

But oh well. Michigan can still have a meaningful season despite this blow. We play some of our best football when we're dashing the hopes and dreams of our rivals, and we're pretty good at that. Plus, there's still the NFL season and the CFL season on which I can focus. So not all is lost. And again, for those who are cheering our loss now, remember: we will be back. And we're really angry.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack