December 31, 2007

Well, We're All Going to Hell (And Happy New Year!)

I TAKE IT MOST of my readers will end up reading this sometime on Jan. 1, so allow me to wish all of you my best and my hopes you'll have a happy and prosperous New Year. Unfortunately, it would appear that for many Americans, 2008 isn't going to be all that prosperous -- and accordingly, not all that happy.*

There are a couple of pieces of Bad News out there for Americans, particularly middle- and lower middle-class folks, who are most at risk of facing the negative consequences that go along with reduced valuations on real property. The first piece of Bad News comes from The Times of London, which reports that America's housing market could see price declines commesurate with the Japanese flu of the Nineties. It took years for Japan to get over that bug, which it caught when real-estate prices collapsed and sent the country into a wretched deflationary spiral. The trouble with this report is that it's not from some wacky gold bug, but rather Prof Robert Shiller of Yale University. Prof Shiller is the guy who coined the "irrational exuberence" phrase, so we can guess the man knows what he's talking about. Also, he is an expert on the residential real-estate market. His prognosis isn't good:

Professor Shiller, co-founder of the respected S&P Case/Shiller house-price index, said: “American real estate values have already lost around $1 trillion [£503 billion]. That could easily increase threefold over the next few years. This is a much bigger issue than sub-prime. We are talking trillions of dollars’ worth of losses.”

He said that US futures markets had priced in further declines in house prices in the short term, with contracts on the S&P Shiller index pointing to decreases of up to 14 per cent.

“Over the next five years, the futures contracts are pointing to losses of around 35 per cent in some areas, such as Florida, California and Las Vegas. There is a good chance that this housing recession will go on for years,” he said.

Professor Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance, a phrase later used by Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said: “This is a classic bubble scenario. A few years ago house prices got very high, pushed up because of investor expectations. Americans have fuelled the myth that prices would never fall, that values could only go up. People believed the story. Now there is a very real chance of a big recession.”

I have to admit I would normally approve of falling house prices, as they would mean I would, you know, "actually be able to buy a place." But I don't want those to come along with a deep and prolonged recession, because that could mean me losing my job, and having a job would be rather important were I actually to jump on the property ladder. I also don't want a deep and prolonged recession because that could well hit me where I do have money -- in the equity markets. Is it too much to ask for a nice Goldilocks economy (not too hot, not too cold) where salaries can slowly rise to the point where housing values are actually sustainable? I guess it is.

But if that wasn't bad enough news, the Los Angeles Times recently had a rather alarming story on Americans who have been taking out increasingly hefty loans on their vehicles -- and doing so through rolling over their loans on their former vehicles. Since vehicles depreciate in value, this is something akin to financial suicide on the part of the borrowers -- and it may also hit the people loaning them the money.

Now, when you read the story, you'll be downright stunned at what one might charitably call the innumeracy of the people taking out these loans. You may also, like me, have an initial reaction that the buyers made their beds and now they can lie in them. But that's not exactly helpful, now is it? Besides, it's one thing if it's only the borrowers getting fleeced, because they should have known what they were getting into -- but it's another thing entirely if the situation helps spur an economic slowdown which ends up biting investors in the collective ass.

The LAT reports:

Americans haven't just been taking out risky mortgages for homes in the last few years; they've also been signing larger automobile loans for significantly longer terms than they used to.

As a result, people are slipping into a perpetual cycle of automobile debt that experts think could lead to a new credit crunch extending from dealerships to driveways and all the way to Wall Street.

Gone are the days of the three-year car loan. The length of the average automobile loan hit five years, four months in October, up more than six months from 2002, according to the Federal Reserve. And nearly 45% of loans written today are for longer than six years. Even some staid lenders owned by the carmakers, such as Toyota Financial Services and Ford Credit, are offering seven-year financing. And a few credit unions, particularly in the West, are tinkering with the eight-year note.

At the same time, the amount of money drivers owe on their cars is soaring. In October, the average amount financed hit $30,738, up $3,500 in just a year and nearly 40% in the last decade, according to the Fed. More troubling, today's average car owner owes $4,221 more than the vehicle is worth at the time it's sold -- up from $3,529 in 2002, according to industry analyst Edmunds.

Quite frankly, this boggles my mind. I fully admit I'm not like most people when it comes to cars -- all I want in my car is a V6 engine -- but still, this is crazy.

I can't tell you how much I absolutely detest having a car note, and I have made it one of my financial goals to pay off the goddamned thing as soon as I can. Readers may recall I bought the Family Truckster back in February, and at the time I arranged for a payment plan that would have the car paid off in 32 months. I now own 62 pc of the car and will have it paid off at the end of the year, God willing, for a total loan term of 23 months. At the latest I will have it paid off in March 2009, for a loan term of 25 months. When I do pay it off, I will jump for joy and sing hosannas and look forward to having several hundred dollars per month added back onto my bottom line. Not only that, the car itself should last for a good six or seven years beyond that.

One of the reasons I don't like having a car note is because it requires me to make loan payments, and that's annoying. Another reason is that although the car is depreciating in value, it is still an asset and useful -- after all, if worse came to worst, I could sleep in the stupid thing and drive around looking for places to get a shower. There's something to be said for having that freedom. Another advantage of paying my car loan off quickly is that I'll have equity in the car -- and that could come in handy down the line. After all, if someone runs into the car next summer and it is totaled, I'll get a rather nice check that will let me buy another car without hassles and without a lot of associated debt.

I mean, my God. Borrowing thirty thousand for a car! Can you imagine it? (Please say no).

As I said, it's not really the borrowers' situations that bothers me -- it's everyone else who indirectly relies on those folks to keep earning and keep spending. After all, people in tough spots financially will do whatever they can to keep their cars, which give them the freedom to live in this day and age. If that means keeping up with the extra high payments on their car notes, they'll spend less on other stuff, which will hurt all of us.

Anyway, to recap: housing prices falling, people up to necks in hock, gloomy forecast again. I know I should secretly wish this state of affairs continues so I can cleverly take advantage of it down the line, but I suppose I'm having a minor crisis of confidence. This is so not cool and with it.

* Money doesn't buy happiness. However, not having money isn't exactly a ticket to paradise either.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Doomed, I Tell You! DOOMED!

ARE YOU NOT A PATRIOTS FAN? Are you thus feeling a bit gloomy about the playoffs, wondering if the whole thing is thus a fait accompli? Well, my friends, our salvation may have arrived -- and not a moment too soon:

The Patriots are doomed, I tell you! DOOMED! (Then again, if they can overcome the Legendary Curse of the Sports Illustrated Cover, maybe they would be the best team in all of NFL history).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Let the Recriminations Begin!

THE EVIL BALTIMORE RAVENS have cashiered head coach Brian Billick, who ineptly "led" his godless, undisciplined and depraved team to a nine-game losing streak this season and a final record of 5-11.

This naturally concerns me, as there are few things I hate more in life than the wretched Baltimore squad. Over the past few years, Billick proved a dependably stupid coach whose ineptitude could always be counted on as a plus factor for Baltimore's opponents. Now that he's gone, though, it opens up the possibility Baltimore could get a decent coach who would start rebuilding the team, and eventually making it into an opponent other teams would have to actually worry about. That can't be good. As such, my concern over this development far outweighs my admitted joy at seeing Billick get what he deserves.

In other failure-is-not-an-option news, the Miami Dolphins have started cleaning house now that Bill Parcells has taken charge of its operation. This can only be a good thing, as an improving Miami will hopefully improve to the point where it can beat the New England Patriots one game a season. As long as they don't hire Billick as coach, they should be fine.

Also, 82-year-old Marv Levy has taken his leave of the Buffalo Bills. No smart-aleck remarks on me from this one: Mr Levy was a good guy and his willingness to help out the team during a tough point in its history should be commended.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

2008 NFL Schedules Announced

THE NFL HAS RELEASED the 2008 scheduling matrix for the league's teams. As a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, my reaction to this news can be summed up in one word:


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 30, 2007

The Seven Lean Months, They Are A Comin'

WITH BOWL WEEK UNDERWAY and the NFL playoffs soon upon us, football fans' excitement is necessarily tempered with the realization that in just a month, the professional football season will be over. Then, the true test of willpower begins, for it will be seven long months before our teams again take the field in regular-season play. For football fans everywhere, this is a drought that no other sporting events can truly quench.

Oh, sure, there are substitutes. For instance, some people -- especially here in the Northeast -- will turn to America's second sport of baseball to pass the time. Others will look forward to March Madness and later, the NBA playoffs. Some even may look forward to the NHL playoffs. But for true football fans, these don't really muster up in comparison to the greatest sport of all time.

However, there is good news. Thanks to America's glorious capitalist system, the immutable laws of economics and the realization this seven-month football drought created a massive market inefficiency, 2008 should mean PLENTY of professional football will be available to football fans during the off-season. Here's a handy guide to the various minor leagues that will play during the off season:

As you can see, things get started again less than a month after the Super Bowl, when the Arena Football League starts up again. You'll be able to see AFL games on ABC and ESPN. The af2, the AFL's development league, starts up at the end of March with live games in smaller cities all around the nation.

But then, in April, the All-American Football League starts up play for the first time. Spring football, college rules, ten-game season. The teams are primarily based in the South, although I will be rooting for Team Michigan, which will play at Ford Field -- the home of the Detroit Lions. There's no word on TV arrangements yet, but I have to think they'll have some -- perhaps with one of the cable companies' sports networks. We'll see. In any event, if you're a Southerner, and you crave football action, and it's spring, you might want to give their games a shot.

In late June the Canadian Football League starts its regular-season play. Here at The Rant, we're hoping the CFL figures out a way to get live games throughout the season broadcast in New England. Right now, the situation is less than optimal because the games are broadcast on NESN, which is understandably more interested with the Red Sox and other Boston-related sports than the CFL. I mean, one time I was looking forward to watching a CFL game with my favorite team -- the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- and NESN broadcast a Paw Sox game instead. Yes, the Paw Sox. Yes, the AAA team from Rhode Island. No, I was not happy at this.

In August, there's rumors the United Football League will start up play. There's not too much news about the league yet except that it is now winnowing down its selection sites for teams. Basically, from what I can tell, the whole UFL concept is based on rectifying a market inefficiency. It plans to broadcast games on Friday nights, this being a time when the NFL is forbidden from broadcasting games under the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act. It also plans to base teams in cities where there aren't presently NFL teams, including Los Angeles, Mexico City and Las Vegas. Thus, this should allow the UFL to compete without pulling a USFL and trying to go mano-a-mano with the NFL.

Please God, let it work. Please.

Of course, by August we'll be getting ready for the NFL and college football seasons again, and football fans everywhere will be well again. Still, though, this year promises to contain plenty of glorious professional football action under a variety of different rule schemes and leagues. Which is good. Very good indeed.

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

A Team That Can't Be Beat (Perhaps), and Other Football Stuff

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT the rest of you, but I certainly got an unpleasant sense of foreboding in the fourth quarter of last night's game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

For three quarters of the game, the Giants had outplayed the Patriots, but in the fourth they were clearly starting to run out of gas. It wasn't much longer before Eli Manning, the Giants' middling quarterback, threw an interception and the wheels began to fall off the Giants bus. The end result, of course, we all know: the Patriots, who had been down 28-16, came roaring back and were suddenly ahead 31-28. Soon after that, it was 38-35 and the game was over and the Patriots, whom America has loved to hate this year (and with some good reason), stood triumphant. For the first time in 35 years, America had an NFL team that went undefeated in the regular season.

Of course, as others have pointed out, there have been other teams who have gone undefeated in the regular season other than the '72 Dolphins. There were a couple of teams in the Thirties that ran the table in the regular season. But no one remembers them because they didn't win the NFL championship; and New England, accordingly, must win the Super Bowl if they want to be hailed as one of history's greatest football teams.*

Can they do that? It seems very possible -- but I'm not sure. It will depend on how the playoffs go.

Certainly having the bye week and the No. 1 seed, with its conferral of home-field advantage, will help. Certainly the fact they're healthier compared to other playoff teams in the AFC helps: the Pittsburgh Steelers are pretty banged up and the Indianapolis Colts are really banged up. I also don't think the Patriots would lose to Cleveland (Tennessee?) should the No. 6 seed somehow emerge victorious from the Wild Card games in a week's time.

That said, though, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers are in the hunt, and I think both these teams are underrated: Jacksonville, because it's a small market, never gets the respect it deserves despite being a consistent playoff contender; and San Diego is much improved from earlier this year. The Patriots -- and their fans --would do well not to underestimate either franchise as the playoffs get under way.

It's also possible -- however unlikely -- that the NFC contender in the Super Bowl could pose a threat to the Patriots' plans. As a fierce AFC partisan, I fully and cheerfully admit that I do not give the NFC -- being the league's second tier -- the respect it deserves. Still, some of their squads -- most notably Dallas -- seem much improved this year and it's possible they could pull out an upset.

We shall see. In the meantime, though, even I must congratulate the Patriots on a job well done this season, as much as it pains me to do so. Watching last night's game, there were definitely moments -- as there were during many of the Pats' games this season -- where my reaction to their inhumanly good play was summed up in one word: goddamn!


LOYAL RANT READERS know my brother, Jesse, is a loyal and stalwart fan of the Cleveland Browns. He knows an amazing amount about the team and its players, follows the team's games and progress religiously, and has developed the most prized virtue among Browns fans: hating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Well, I am proud to announce that Jesse's devotion to the Browns is even impressive than I thought. I know this because I was at home in northeast Ohio with the Kepple family watching the Browns-Bengals game last Sunday. During this game, I learned that Jesse has perfectly channeled the stoicism of Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel into his football watching.

Anyone who watches a Browns game will soon become familiar with Mr Crennel's reaction to blown plays, awful turnovers, stupid penalties or dazzling displays of incompetence on the part of his players. That is to say, there is no reaction. Whenever something bad happens, the camera will inevitably focus on Mr Crennel and he will stand there mute and immobile, surveying the situation with the weary gaze of a man who has seen it all before and will undoubtedly see it again.

Last week, Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson threw four interceptions in the Browns' 19-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a loss that cost them a guaranteed playoff spot and a loss that came about precisely because of those interceptions. My brother did not react in the slightest. He surveyed the situation with the weary gaze of a fan who has seen it all before and will undoubtedly see it again, although I can see why he hopes that wouldn't be the case. I asked him how he managed to do this, because it's the exact opposite of how i react to the Steelers doing badly. His response could be summed up like this: I've seen them lose a lot, you know.

I do hope the Browns make it in the playoffs. I do hope they go far in them, although not at the expense of the Steelers. It'd be nice for everyone in Cleveland.

As for me -- how do I react to the Steelers losing? Well, if you can, check out that NFL fantasy football commercial that has Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" as the music. Watch how the one Steelers fan is shouting in despair at the television and later is curled up on the sofa clawing at a pillow in agony. It's kind of like that.


THE DETROIT LIONS are my No. 3 team in the NFL, behind the Steelers and the Browns, and I have to say I think they're screwing the pooch once again. The Detroit Free Press reports that offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be cashiered after the Lions' game against the Packers today.

If you ask me, throwing Martz under the bus is only symptomatic of a larger problem with the Lions, in that their front-office management stinks. At best, they'll be 8-8 after a season that saw them start out at 6-2.

Still, 8-8 would be a heck of an improvement for the Lions, which have stunk to high heaven for decades. I mean, since they won the 1957 NFL championship, they've won one playoff game. Yes, one game -- in fifty years. So why get rid of Martz now? Why not let him develop his strategies and staff?


AS FOR THE STEELERS' POSTSEASON, I have become one with how it might turn out. I would like it if we won one playoff game; I would be pleased if we made it to the AFC Championship Game; I would be ecstatic if we made it to the Super Bowl again. It is only just and right that the Steelers be the first team to get six Super Bowl rings.

Still, I know all these scenarios are unlikely, and so I am taking a healthier, more balanced approach to the NFL playoffs. Thus, in the event that Pittsburgh loses in the post-season, I'm going to look forward to next year and start thinking about how wonderful it will be when football season starts up again. Kind of like this:

And from there, let's take it away!


* Note that I said "one of history's greatest football teams." The 2007 New England Patriots can't be the greatest team, because the greatest football team of all time is the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers. This is an indisputable and incontrovertible fact. Not only did the '78 Steelers have such luminaries as Bradshaw, Harris, Stallworth and Swann on offense, the team also had Jack Ham and "Mean Joe" Greene on defense. As evidence of the '78 Steelers' superiority, I would note that if Pats DT Vince Wilfork had poked his finger into Mean Joe Greene's helmet like he did to a Giants player on Saturday night, Mean Joe Greene would have killed him, and in such a way it would even gross out the developers of "Mortal Kombat."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 28, 2007

An Open Letter to the Toyota Motor Corp.

TO: The Toyota Motor Corp.

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: These annoying pop-up ads of yours



Recently, while browsing various sites on the Internet, I have found a most annoying advertisement from your company has disturbed my reading experience. This advertisement consists of some T-shirt wearing hipster telling me to click the advertisement in question so that all my dreams may come true -- provided my dreams in question involve Toyota automobiles. However, I can assure you after being forced to view this advertisement repeatedly, my dreams do not involve Toyota automobiles -- unless I can use one to repeatedly back over the whiny, metrosexual fuckwit actor who continually pops up and harangues me about the supposed coolness of Toyota automobiles.

Which reminds me: Toyotas are most certainly not cool automobiles. Well made, yes; get the job done, yes; cool, no. I'm sorry, but when you get down to brass tacks, a Toyota Camry sedan does not throw off an aura of: "behold my coolness despite being part of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd." No. A Toyota Camry sedan offers to others an image of: "behold my middle-aged suburbanite lifestyle and my newly-acquired tendency to obsess over the quality of local school systems. Watch as I change lanes without using my turn signal, for I am in a rush to get to Whole Foods." While I do not have any problems with this -- I myself drive a Ford Taurus, with the affectionate nickname of the Family Truckster IV -- you don't see me going around proclaiming my supposed automotive coolness, now do you? So neither should you.

Don't get me started about your hybrids, either. I'm from Michigan. I don't care. All I want in my car is a reasonably powered V6 engine. You may have convinced others that spending more money on a hybrid, in an uneconomical transaction that costs more than the potential savings in gasoline expenditures, may be "cool" and "with it" and "a way to show you care," but your Jedi mind tricks won't work on me. If I really want to save money on gas, I'll buy a subcompact or -- wait for it -- even drive less. Gee, there's an idea.

I don't know, maybe I'm a bit frustrated because these ads seem to a) crash Firefox; b) never close, despite me clicking the close button; c) launch with sound when I really don't want sound playing; and d) show up far too often for them to be anything but annoying. In any event, I would ask you, the Toyota Motor Corp., to stop running these advertisements. Also, please fire your ad agency, browbeat your marketing personnel, and use the savings generated from these activities to find a new announcer for your Lexus commercials, because he's getting about as annoying as metrosexual freakout guy. That would really make my dreams come true. I mean, I'm sorry, but if I hear that scoundrel drone on -- in that faux upper-class accent -- about the December to Remember event one more time, I'm going to vomit.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter. Oh, you wouldn't hurt matters either if you put a plant in Michigan, which has a large corps of automobile-industry personnel eager and ready to do something other than watch daytime television.

-- BJK

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

December 26, 2007

Gott im Himmel -- ein Kommunistischer Schurke!

THOSE WACKY GERMAN COMMUNISTS are at it again! This time around, as we understand it, a hue and cry has arisen after one Sahra Wagenknecht, a German communist -- you'd think they'd have learned -- was photographed eating a most unproletarian dish: lobster. Or, as they say over there, haaaaaammer, as in, Die haaaaammer est ist wie Butter.

As a dedicated German communist, Miss Wagenknecht does not actually work for a living. Instead, she sits in the European Parliament at Strasbourg (known in Germany as Diesenettestadtdiewireindrangen) and Brussels. Apparently, MEP Wagenknecht was out having dinner with friends when she made the mistake of ordering the €22* lobster dinner.

Realizing her mistake -- that the poor German lumpenproletariat suffering under the HARTZ IV reforms might not appreciate her choice of meal -- MEP Wagenknecht did what any good communist would do in such a situation. Namely, she used a crafty subterfuge to obtain the camera with the photo from a fellow legislator, and thence deleted the offending images.

Unfortunately, this annoyed the other legislator. Missing a particularly good chance to shut up, the other legislator filed a complaint about the matter, and now everyone is twittering about it, especially the insufferable English. Witness The Guardian's report on the matter:

Germany is appalled that its favourite communist has taken to adopting "tactics at which Stalin was a dab hand," as one newspaper commentator said.

Her cover-up methods have been compared to those of the Siemens boss who had his luxury Rolex watch airbrushed out of a promotion picture because he thought it might upset the public and open him to accusations of fat-cat tendencies.

A clearly embarrassed Wagenknecht - who was brought up on the works of Marx and Engels, joined the East German communists in 1989, and allegedly mourned the fall of the Berlin Wall - has admitted both to eating the lobster, and erasing the pictures.

But she defended her actions.

"I don't do anything that I say others shouldn't do," she told the daily (Die Tageszeitung). "On the contrary, I'm fighting for a society in which everyone can afford to eat lobster."

As to why she erased the pictures? "I didn't like them," she said.

Quite frankly, I don't see why Germans should be surprised at this -- this is, on a very small scale, what the Communists did for roughly 45 years running East Germany. One doubts that Erich Honecker wanted for anything during his time running the wretched place. One also doubts that if the German Reds were to somehow gain power, they would eschew having a bonny old time dining on lobster and caviar and petit-fours, whilst the people scrounged around for any mold-free potato they could find.

But since that will likely never happen, we find ourselves settling for what passes for scandal in Germany these days: Kommunistischerverfangeneressenhummerinderphantastischengaststätte.

Sad little place, isn't it?

* €22 = approx. US$450.

** Actually, MEP Wagenknecht is kinda foxy -- in that frosty postmodern German way.

*** MEP Wagenknecht is affiliated with something called the "Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left" in the Europarliament. I don't know about you, but shouldn't Germans kinda shy away from the whole Nordic thing? I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

**** She was a philosophy major in college. Christ. Could this get any more like a caricature?

***** Yes, it can -- to the point where it requires a fifth post-script! Apparently MEP Wagenknecht is a spokeswoman for something called the Venezuela Avanza solidarity association, which essentially supports evil Hugo Chavez's plans to wreck Venezuela. So, I ask: why is MEP Wagenknecht involved in a group working to deprive Venezuelans of sweet, succulent lobster in all its forms? Well? Oh, and isn't openly interfering in another nation's political workings a bit -- I don't know -- Amerikanisch? Eh?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 25, 2007

My Favorite Restaurant in Manchester Has Burned Down

SO I HAD a great Christmas with my family back in Ohio -- spent some time with my parents, got to hang out with my little brother, and had an all-around great time. Then I got back to New Hampshire and discovered ...



For months on end, I went about once a week to TR Brennan's on Hanover Street for breakfast. This was because they had a downright excellent spread and the best omelettes in all of Manchester, at least in my judgment. Also you could get real hash browns as opposed to these pre-cut flash-frozen home fries a lot of places in New England serve. As if that wasn't enough, their lunch and dinner menu was excellent also -- it was a good place to go for a casual evening meal, and my parents and I frequently went there when they were in town.

But now that's kaputski, at least for a few months -- the owners, God bless them, say they hope to rebuild. But what an absolute disaster! Now I really feel guilty for having taken a break over the holidays from the place; because now I'm going to have to wait MONTHS to get a great omelette again. Plus, they had just repainted the outside and it was really a nice place and -- ugh.

This completely and utterly sucks.

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

December 20, 2007

One Down, One to Go

SO THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the St. Louis Rams this evening, 41-24. For the most part, it was a great game to watch. Pittsburgh's offense ran up and down the field pretty much with impunity -- our first play on offense was an 83-yard reception -- and while our defense didn't look all that great, it did better than in past games. Our special teams remained not very special, but we did have a sweet fake punt play that went for a first down and set up a nice score. Now that's Pittsburgh Football. Hopefully, our offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, will realize that -- like cowbell -- you can never have enough sweet trick plays in the arsenal.

Of course, there were a few minor issues that cropped up during the game. Our run defense still wasn't as good as it could be, and our offensive line remained weak. We had a few dropped balls on defense, Roethlisberger got sacked a bunch of times, and Willie Parker broke his leg and is out for the season. Still, on balance, it was a good game and much needed victory, and --

READERS: Wait, what? Willie Parker broke his leg? Isn't he your best running back?

Well, yes. But we've got strong support in that position from Najeh Davenport and Carey Davis, and --

READERS: Willie Parker broke his leg?

Yeah, OK, I guess. I mean, it didn't look like he did. It wasn't like it was a Theismann-esque injury and the guy's tibia was sticking out. He got carted off into the locker room and it seemed like an ankle injury at first, but as it turned out he broke his leg. I am hoping this is some kind of clever deception, kind of how Tom Brady has supposedly had a "sore right shoulder" since his 11th birthday. But if not, that's the way it goes, and --

READERS: Doesn't this mean you're thoroughly screwed?


READERS: Why is Hines Ward wearing a leather helmet emblazoned with the Steelers logo on the NFL Network's post-game show?

The man just set another team record. He can wear whatever he wants to wear on the post-game show. By which I mean, "I have no idea." Now come on -- we're 10-5, and we're in the perfect position of being able to watch Cleveland and Tennessee battle it out on Sunday with absolutely no worries whatsoever. Even better, we now have ten days to rest up for our epic end-of-season battle with the evil Baltimore Ravens. In the meantime, I'm going to patiently wait for the NFL's latest "Time to Get Your Story Straight" commercial.

Speaking of resting up, The Rant Will Be Away until Thursday, Dec. 27. Until then, check out the archives, the blogs on my blogroll, and what not. Also, I hope all of my readers have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 17, 2007

"Die, Baseball. Die."

REMEMBER A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO when I posted that brief little item about how football is better than baseball for myriad reasons? Well, along those lines, I've got to pass on this downright amazing post from Every Day Should Be Saturday, the excellent college football blog. The title, as you may have guessed, is: "Die, Baseball. Die." If you ask me, its author, who goes by the pseudonym of Mr Orson Swindle, is right on in his assessment of America's second-most-popular sport.

Here's a representative quote from Mr Swindle's magnum opus, which must be read in its entirety. In this portion of his essay, he is describing the game of baseball:

No contact, no passion, no energy, and as much strategy as a game of horse-shoes. Wait, that’s a disservice to horseshoes. None. If someone preens on one more time about the strategy involved in baseball, we will drop a safe on you from a great height, because there’s simply nothing going on out there. At least the British admit the whole thing is a front for beer-drinking and lolling around outside for a few days. We’d like it if baseball games lasted three days like cricket test-matches, if only because the epic drunk you’d get on would likely get Viking war songs written about you, your friends, and the time you each drank a 24-pack before noon without dying.

As a writer, I can only stand in awe and salute his ingeniousness.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Summing Up Michigan's Coaching Choice

THERE'S ONLY ONE WORD that can truly do justice to the University of Michigan's successful hiring of West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez. That word is: HAIL.

For a full run-down on what it means and all that, go visit M Go Blog, which is doing a great job at explaining all of this and what it will mean for the team. The gist, from what I can surmise, is that we'll have a great coach who knows the spread offense inside and out, and can teach our team how to defend against it. This has been a huge problem for Michigan in years past and now, we're finally going to get that handled. Again: HAIL.

It will undoubtedly take time for Rodriguez to get everything in order at Michigan, but I'm confident that within a couple of years, he'll have us back in fighting form. That means that within a few years, we won't have to take any more crap from Ohio State and the SEC and all the Big Ten-haters out there. I am really excited about this and looking forward to Michigan football in the years to come.

Oh, and the fact Rodriguez came from West Virginia, and all the Mountaineers are rending their garments and gnashing their teeth? That's like some kind of sweet bonus. I can understand why they're upset, I guess, but I'm just too happy about getting Rodriguez to coach our team to care what they think. Well, except for a little bit of gloating. And so I have just one word to say to West Virginia:


Oh, and HAIL. HAIL to the Victors!

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

Ladies Night Post Prompts Angry Response

BACK IN JULY, I wrote a rather scathing post about men -- or, as I wrote at the time, the "weak, soulless excuses for men these people are" -- who were all hot and bothered over the practice of nightclubs offering "ladies' night" promotions. Some of these men have actually gone to court, in an attempt to prove the promotions discriminate against men through offering women free admission or cheaper drinks, and I was appalled at such conduct.

After all, I argued, no real man would argue against "ladies' night" promotions. That's because "ladies' night" promotions are net positives for men in attendance at these nightclubs, because they boost female attendance at these venues, and men approve of partying with women. Plus, even if one wants to argue about whether these practices discriminate against men, the supposed damage is so small that no real man should complain about it. I mean, I'm sorry, but paying $5 to get into some nightspot when women pay $0 -- and on some crappy night, like a Tuesday -- is not morally equivalent to facing a literacy test when registering to vote.

Anyway, I wrote this post back in July and since my comments weren't working, it disappeared into the vast Internet ether and no one said a thing. There were no angry retorts on other blogs, no impassioned e-mails, no nothing. So you can imagine my surprise when over the past couple of days, I did get comments from two men who vehemently disagreed with me. Since my original post was so old, I thought I should respond with a new post to trample out the vintage address these disagreements.

I would note that, to properly address my commenters' concerns, I am responding line-by-line to their posts. Those readers who would like to read their posts in their entirety, without my interruptions, may do so at the original post in the above link.

Anyway, our first commenter, who went solely by the name of "Thomas," writes:

Dude, you think Mr.Hollander's lawsuit is a joke? Do you know that in several states, this practice is illegal? in Hawaii, Iowa, Oregon, and in California also??

So what if it's illegal in several states? That just shows the various states you mentioned -- particularly Oregon -- are screwed up. It does not take away from my fundamental point -- that this state of affairs is not something which men should get all hot and bothered about. Just because the state legislatures of Oregon and Hawaii and Iowa and California took an extra dose of the stupid pill does not mean the other states in the union ought follow them in their idiocy.

This is discrimination, period. I personally don't care, this is what the law calls " De Minimis", they don't really enforce it. But any man, has the right to demand equality.

If you personally don't care, then why did you write the comment? Besides, if it is truly a de minimis matter, then it's not something to get worked up about, then is it? As for "demanding equality," if this is all men have to get worked up about, there's precious little deserving of complaint.

What about homosexual men? why they have to pay more if they are not interested in females? The tell me that they can go to " gay nightclubs", that's nonsense. They can go wherever the hell they want to go.

I'm sorry, but that's a bit of a non sequitur. A homosexual who goes to an establishment offering a "ladies' night" promotion is not being treated differently than any other man, thus nullifying any charge of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Also, since no one is forcing him to go to any particular establishment, one would be hardpressed to say that he was being damaged as a result of paying a few dollars more for his cover charge or drinks than women at the same establishment.

The state of New Jersey made ladies' night legal, but that can't last for long, somebody will take it to the Supreme Court, and guess what? The law in NJ will get overturned. True, one out 700,000 men would demand equal pricing, men have lots of ego, lot of pride, and they don't want to be humilliated due to peer pressure, being called names. Other men don't care at all, they don't have nothing to lose, that is Mr. Hollander.

Sure, somebody may well take it to the Supreme Court. Get back to me when the Supreme Court agrees to hear such a case. That's another kettle of fish entirely.

Btw, do you know that most female lawyers agree with him? I guess he can get laid with them, or he still can get laid moving to Thailand. This " sex-rationale" is just stereotype and just plain stupid.

So what if "most female lawyers" agree with Mr Hollander? I've made no claims about what women may or may not feel about the matter; I am arguing the point solely from a man's point of view.

Anyway, that was our first comment. I think our second commenter, who went by the handle of "dudeasp," had a better grasp on my argument, even if he erroneously believes I am wrong. "Dudeasp" wrote as follows:

I am a traditional 30 something male. Who always pays on a date. And I don't have trouble finding dates or girlfriends. So please don't accuse me of being gay, or not being able to get laid just because you can't defend your position. I don't have any problem in that department.

Hey, pal, you brought it up, not me!

OK, now that we have established that. I think women should pay equal cover and equal prices for drinks. As a gentleman, I want to deal with ladies, not rude obnoxious golddiggers. And furthermore, I don't want to subsidize a bunch of girls whom I don't know, nor want to know. It is just plain wrong, and has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with chivalry.

I would agree that it is sound advice to avoid "rude obnoxious golddiggers," as you put it. However, I don't believe one can assume that women who go to a bar or nightclub because they're offered economic incentives to do so count as golddiggers. I mean, in most cases, we're talking about five bucks. The good life can't be achieved on five bucks.

As for the subsidy question, how can you argue that through your paying a cover charge that you're subsidizing women at an establishment? It's the bar or nightclub owner who is doing the subsidizing, in the hopes he'll gain more business through offering those incentives.

Besides, no one is forcing you to go to the establishment in question. So if you don't want to "subsidize" women that you have no intention of getting to know better, then don't go to the bar offering the ladies a price break. Go to your neighborhood bar or take out that girl from the office for a nice seafood dinner. It's hard for me to sympathize with your position when you admit from the get-go that you have no intention of meeting the girls at a bar offering one of thse promotions. OK, fine. Go somewhere else. Problem solved.

Its a matter of fairness and justice, and a bunch of women milking the system and men for what they are worth.

Last time I checked, it was the bar and nightclub owners who were all for "ladies' nights." As a result, I don't think you can argue that "ladies' nights" are Strategy 37B of the Great Feminine Global Conspiracy and their Grand Campaign to Make Men Obsolete by 2050. That you would argue that women are abusing the system and men for their own gain, to be blunt, suggests you have far deeper issues than I can hope to address in this post.

What is chivalry these days anyway, what is the womens role in chivalry? Ever ask yourself that? What standard are women held to? What is our expectation of them in terms of chivalry? I do my part. Feminism has killed their role.

No, I have never asked myself that. That's not the point. You call yourself a gentleman and I like to think I am one myself. The whole idea of being gentlemanly is that you hold your own conduct to a higher standard regardless of what happens around you. Let's say you're out on a date, and you do the gentlemanly thing and you move to hold the door open for your date, and your date responds with a smart-aleck comment. Now, you might not think much of that; after all, you were only trying to be nice and do what you felt was proper, and it might not exactly inspire you to ask her out for a second date. But why in the name of God would you let that concern you? It goes with the territory in this day and age; surely it is not difficult to adapt accordingly.

Its not about the money, its the principle. How would this play out if the roles were reversed? Should historically girls colleges give male admits a free ride, while only women pay tuition? That sounds like an idea? What would the feminists say about that?

Beats me. However, I have heard no complaints about preferences given to men who undertake studies in traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing. That said, I don't think widening the argument makes a lot of sense in this case. After all, we're not talking about college admissions or awarding contracts -- we're talking about whether having women receive discounts at a nightclub really and truly hurts men. In my view, the answer is a clear and definitive No.

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

The Playoffs?! I Just Hope We Can Win a Game!

THERE ARE FEW THINGS more frustrating in life than having one's football team not only lose positive momentum, but start screwing the pooch so badly their incompetence threatens to undo all the good work they've done in a season. My reaction to the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday can be summed up in the immortal words of Jim Mora:

"We threw that game. We gave it away by doing that. We gave 'em the frickin' game. In my opinion, that sucked. What's that? The playoffs?! Don't talk about the playoffs! Are you kidding me?! The playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!"

I mean, my God. Our vaunted defense -- which normally strikes respect and fear into even the strongest team -- fell apart like a house of cards yesterday. Not only did they allow Jacksonville to go up 22-7 in the third quarter, they fell apart when our offense finally caught fire and tied the game up at 22-22. You'd think, after that type of momentum shift, the defense would be able to hold. Oh, no. The defense couldn't stop the run to save their lives and Jacksonville marched down the field and got the go-ahead touchdown.

You know Pittsburgh's loss was really bad when a Cleveland Browns fan -- whom I shall not identify to protect his standing among the Browns faithful -- sends you a note saying, "Sucks about the Steelers (I guess)." I mean, let's face it -- watching Pittsburgh lose is one of the few joys Browns fans have in this life. But come on. Not only is Pittsburgh now in real danger of losing the AFC North title, we're in real danger of getting shut out of the playoffs.

You see, unfortunately, the evil Tennessee Titans somehow remain in the Wild Card hunt. Right now, they're on the bubble -- ranked No. 7, they stand one game behind Pittsburgh and Cleveland for the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. Pittsburgh has the No. 4 seed at present, while Cleveland stands at No. 6 -- we own the tie-breaker over the Browns. But our poor play yesterday puts us in jeopardy of ending up at No. 7.

Right now, the Titans are at 8-6, while Pittsburgh and Cleveland both stand at 9-5. As I understand it, the Titans can make the playoffs if they win both of their remaining games and they get some help from the other teams. For instance, if Jacksonville loses both its upcoming games -- not bloody likely -- Tennessee will be in the playoffs. But if Pittsburgh loses both its upcoming games -- again, not very likely -- the Titans will be in the playoffs too.

But the other scenarios are more problematic. If Cleveland wins both of its games over the next two weeks -- a real possibility -- and Pittsburgh loses to Baltimore -- it will put Cleveland atop the AFC North with an 11-5 record. Pittsburgh, at 10-6, would then face a Titans squad with a 10-6 record, and the Titans would probably win the tiebreaker based on the strength of the teams it beat. That would leave Pittsburgh on the outside looking in -- and what a disaster that would be.

The good news is that Tennessee has to play Indianapolis -- at Indy -- the last game of the season. A loss to the Colts would render all these questions moot. (They play the New York Jets next week in Tennessee, but a loss there is far less likely). Also, if Cleveland loses to Cincinnati in the Battle of Ohio next week, that could also save us, but rooting for that outcome would mean rooting for the Bengals, and that's morally unpalatable.

The long and short of it is that Pittsburgh MUST WIN these final two games -- the first against the St. Louis Rams, the second against the Baltimore Ravens. I hate to say it but I'm not sure either of these games are gimmes -- even if they might have been that way just a few weeks ago. Hopefully, Pittsburgh will get its act together and soon, and not only for its fans.

Coach Tomlin is not amused.

What was interesting about yesterday's loss, though, was that we Steelers fans weren't alone in agonizing over our team's performance. I know this because I was at Billy's Sports Bar here in Manchester, and could hear the groans from all the New England Patriots fans wondering why their team was performing so poorly against the New York Jets. The Pats fans I know are somewhat concerned about their team's apparent willingness to ease off the gas during games in which they are heavily favored. That's because these are Classic Trap Games in which a bit of luck can result in the underdog winning outright.

Also, you should have heard the Buffalo Bills fans yesterday. Boy, did they come out of the woodwork -- the Bills fans outnumbered the Steelers faithful in the special Steelers room, and as a result the sound was switched over to the Cleveland-Buffalo game. I didn't mind this because I wanted to see that game as well, and it was played in Classic Blizzard Conditions, which is the best weather for football. But the Browns shut off the Bills' lights and as a result the Bills' inability to do anything on offense produced plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

So I guess it could have Just Been One of Those Days. The trouble, though, is that doesn't leave us any margin for error in the next two weeks -- and God help us, we're playing again on Thursday. And we'd better do better than we did on Sunday, or else we're not going to have a post-season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:50 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 15, 2007

Christmas Carols for Today's Age

ONE OF THE OLD JOYS of the Christmas season used to be that everyone dusted off their Christmas music compilations and played them for an evening or two, allowing everyone to get in the Christmas spirit. Now, of course, the soulless marketers and cheap radio stations start playing Christmas music somewhere around Veterans' Day, and everyone gets sick of Christmas music before Advent. So their message gets a bit lost in the grand rush of consumerism. And although I like consumerism -- don't get me wrong -- even I find it a bit ridiculous.

I could put up with the rash of Christmas music if it started playing around a decent time -- like, the Friday before Christmas. But since that's never going to happen again in my lifetime, I've come up with some alternative lyrics to traditional favorites that better reflect our modern capitalist age. That's because the real reason for the season isn't going to register on people's radar screens until Dec. 23 or Dec. 24. So, with that, here you go: Christmas Carols for Today's Age!

(NOTICE: If you ARE in a Christmasy mood, please be forewarned these "Christmas carols" get increasingly cynical, curmudgeonly and Scrooge-like as you progress. So you might want to skip these. Unless, like me, you have a morbid and wicked sense of humor).


Do You Hear What I Hear?
(with apologies to Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne)

Said the trader to the specialist,
do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, specialist,
do you see what I see?
It's down, it's down --
the market's uptight
with a ticker tape full of fright
with a ticker tape full of fright

Said the specialist to the trading chief,
do you hear what I hear?
Whispers on the sly, trading chief
do you hear what I hear?
A cut, a cut --
what we want to see
with a report due out by three
with a report due out by three

Said the trading chief to the big M.D.
do you know what I know?
in your grand office, big M.D.,
do you know what I know?
The Fed, the Fed,
plans to be quite bold,
let us buy up euros and gold!
let us buy up euros and gold!

Said the boss to the people everywhere,
Listen to what I say:
fifty points, people everywhere
Listen to what I say:
Rate cuts, rate cuts
there's reason to hope!
They will bring us rallies and growth!
They will bring us rallies and growth!

Rate cuts, rate cuts,
There's reason to hope!
They will bring us rallies and growth!


It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
(with apologies to Andy Williams)

It's the most wonderful time of the year --
with the markets all selling
and everyone telling you
no bonus here--
it's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's the hap-happiest season of all!
With those insincere greetings
and those wretched meetings
when margins gets called --
it's the hap-happiest season of all!

There'll be parties for boasting
bad headaches for dosing;
and making out after the show;
there'll be weird lawsuit stories
and tales of the glories
of Christmases long long ago!

It's the most wonderful time of the year!
There'll be lots of loud groaning
and bitching and moaning
when swag don't appear --
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

There'll be parties for boasting
bad headaches for dosing;
and making out after the show;
there'll be weird lawsuit stories
and tales of the glories
of Christmases long long ago!

It's the most wonderful time --
the most wonderful time --
the most wonderful time --
of the year!


Let it Go! Let it Go! Let it Go!
(based on "Let it Snow!")
(with apologies to Sammy Cahn)

Oh, our new mortgage rate is frightful
and the lenders are being spiteful
since we've no fixed-rate loan,
let it go! let it go! let it go!

It doesn't show signs of stoppin'
the adjustments are eye-poppin'
our hopes are at all-new lows;
let it go! let it go! let it go!

When we finally walk away,
how we'll hate our new credit report,
but these lenders are so damned tight,
their big losses will make us warm!

The American dream is dying,
and our blood pressure's still rising
but as long as they hold that note,
let it go!
let it go!
let it go! let it go! let it go!


It's the Holiday Season!
(with apologies to Andy Williams)

Happy holiday!
Happy holiday!
While the registers keep ringing,
Happy holiday to you!

It's the holiday season,
-- the prices are going way down
the credit card interest makes you frown
and under your debts you seem to drown
-- you'll be goin' down the toilet, down!
(You'll be goin' down the toilet, down!)

It's the holiday season,
and Santa Claus has made a toy
wanted by good girls and good little boys;
get one now, or there won't be joy --
you'll be goin' down the toilet, down!
(You'll be goin' down the toilet, down!)

You'll have a big ice pack upon your back,
and lots of aches from all the shopping --
so eat the peppermint stick for ol' St. Nick,
'cause that's about all that's free!

It's the holiday season!
So buy presents and watch the clock
(you may need to sell some stock)
or just exactly at twelve o'clock --
you'll be going down the toilet, down!
(You'll be goin' down the toilet, down!)

You'll have a big ice pack upon your back,
and lots of aches from all the shopping --
so eat the peppermint stick for ol' St. Nick,
'cause that's about all that's free!

It's the holiday season!
So buy presents and watch the clock
(you may need to sell some stock)
or just exactly at twelve o'clockl
you'll be going down the toilet, down!
(You'll be goin' down the toilet, down!)

Happy holiday! Happy holiday!
While the registers keep ringing --
happy holiday to you!


Merry Christmas, everybody! (No, really. I mean it this time. Merry Christmas to everyone, and I do hope that you and your families have a wonderful holiday and a prosperous New Year).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stag-FLATION! (Part II)

RELATED: The story from the Financial Times.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 13, 2007

Alarming Report: Browns Have 13 pc Chance of Winning Division

NO, REALLY. A 13.8 pc chance, according to the good people at Football Outsiders, who would know these things. Even more amazing, the once-lowly Cleveland Browns have a 76 pc chance of making it into the NFL playoffs. As of now, they have a 7 pc chance of being the AFC's No. 3 seed, a 6 pc chance of being the AFC's No. 4 seed, a 17 pc chance of being the AFC's No. 5 seed and a 45 percent chance of being the No. 6 seed. That last position, as all Pittsburgh Steelers fans know well, does not necessarily consign one to post-season oblivion.

I have to admit that, as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I am slightly concerned about this. Not concerned much, not actively worried, but it's something that has appeared on my radar screen. I mean, my God. What if Cleveland actually managed to beat out Pittsburgh for the AFC North title?

It's not as crazy as it sounds. Over the next three games of the regular season, Pittsburgh must play Jacksonville, St. Louis, and Baltimore. Jacksonville is a strong team, and Baltimore could decide to show up and stick it to the Steelers. So it is entirely possible we could lose two of these three games (the Rams suck, so we'll count that as a likely win). Cleveland, on the other hand, plays Buffalo, Cincinnati and San Francisco. The Browns could potentially win all three of those games. While we do have the tie-breaker over Cleveland, we must win our next two games just to be safe.

This greatly concerns me, as I won't hear the end of it if lowly Cleveland goes on a tear and manages to somehow stand astride the AFC North. I mean, that would blow. The playoffs aren't going to be easy as is, and I don't want them made any harder just because Cleveland somehow sucked out a divisional title. Pittsburgh must win the AFC North -- if only because we'll probably get to play Cleveland in the post-season, and get to beat them yet again.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

My Solution: Watch More Football

THE MITCHELL REPORT on steroid abuse in baseball was released today. This is marginally less interesting to me than the Broncos-Texans game on the NFL Network tonight.

For any baseball fans out there who are bummed out about the Mitchell report and what it means for baseball, my suggestion is to watch more football. Just because football rules. And if that's not enough reason to switch to watching football, here's some more good reasons.

This is a commercial for baseball's postseason:

And this is a shoe company's football-related commercial:

That kinda says it all, doesn't it? Baseball: lame. Football: cool. Even when it's only part of the equation.

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

Today's Tip: Don't Mess With A Texan's Breakfast

SELF-PROCLAIMED TEXAN Randy Taylor is a serious man: a man set in his ways and fine with them. We know this because Mr Taylor called the customer complaint line established by the makers of Jimmy Dean sausage, and left a two-minute complaint for the firm over its supposed decision to reduce the size of its sausage tubes. Mr Taylor argues he cannot feed his family of five on a mere 12 ounce tube of sausage, and demands that Jimmy Dean return to its 16 ounce package forthwith. Downsizing to a 12 oz. package, Mr Taylor argues, represents unfair profiteering on the part of the sausage-maker at the expense of a hardworking American family. (Or, as Mr Taylor put it, "Save money, save money, save money -- fuck, I wanna eat, goddammit.")

The full audio of Mr Taylor's complaint can be heard here. The first 75 seconds are free of profanity, although he does get worked up after that. Especially at the end, when he is apparently talking to one of his children but has not yet ended the call.

As Mr Taylor noted at the beginning of his call, he did not know where "you people" at Jimmy Dean were based, so I did some looking for him. Apparently, the Sara Lee Corp., based in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, Ill., produces the stuff. Sara Lee (NYSE: SLE) has a market capitalization of some $12 billion and made $504 million on revenues of about $12.3 billion in fiscal year 2007. Thus, at first blush, Mr Taylor's comment may seem to be the cri de coeur of a solid workingman against a giant food distribution concern.

However, after doing some basic research, I do wonder if Mr Taylor may have made a mistake. Perusing Jimmy Dean's Web site, one finds that although the "light" version of its sausage comes in a 12 oz. container, one can purchase a full pound of the regular sausage. Or two pounds. Hell, Mr Taylor could go out and buy a three pound tube of Jimmy Dean sausage if he so wished, if the company's Web site is correct.

Much has been made of the family breakfast which Mr Taylor describes as regular eating for his household, but I daresay people may be reading too much into that. At least I hope. As Mr Taylor sounds like a man who works for a living, and his family sounds like people who work for a living, it is arguable that an entire pound worth of sausage for a family of five -- plus a whole buncha fried eggs -- is a reasonable breakfast, if they are engaged in heavy, physical labor. Then again, it might be a completely ridiculous breakfast. I don't know.

I would quibble with one facet of Mr Taylor's argument. On the recording, Mr Taylor says, "As far as your 16 oz. maple and sage (sausage), I don't eat that. I'm not from the North." Hey, pal, we don't eat it either! As one person commenting about this recording has already said, we eat scrapple in the North. Yeah. Scrapple. Although, there are various reasons why we don't eat it all that much.

(Thanks to Jesse).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2007

So Much for Guarantees

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

December 09, 2007


THE RANT WOULD LIKE to congratulate the New England Patriots for their impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers today. Although the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers played well during the first half, the Patriots shut down our offense in the second half and our defense couldn't stop their ferocious pass assault. It was certainly a humbling moment for me and the rest of Steelers Country and I can only hope we learn lessons from this debacle and apply them should we meet the Patriots again in the playoffs. Since we may just do so.

I'd also like to congratulate my good friend Chris Weinkopf in California, with whom I was in constant contact throughout much of the game, until I finally surrendered and decided to go have a good cry. Chris was gentlemanly and kind during the game, whereas I was a bit -- well -- boisterous -- when I got my hopes up. But even as Pittsburgh was thrown down to the ground, he did not needle me or exult in his team's victory. Of course, I wouldn't have done so either, even if I was a bit exuberant at the Steelers' first-half performance.

I am hopeful that should Pittsburgh and New England meet again in the playoffs -- likely during the AFC Conference Championship -- that Pittsburgh will perform better, particularly on those deep pass plays where the SAFETIES NEED TO REMEMBER TO COVER DEEP RECEIVERS, EVEN IF THE PLAY LOOKS LIKE A RUN. Not that I am bitter. Nor am I bitter that backup free safety Anthony Smith got burned several times during the game. Not at all. Why, I would not even exult in glee if Mr Rooney agreed to trade Mr Smith to the Miami Dolphins in return for some spare equipment and a seafood dinner. Or if Mr Smith was busted to the practice squad. Or if Mr Smith were to end up playing in Calgary.

But anyway -- I must salute Patriots Nation, particularly my coworkers at the office, for their team's excellent victory today. I'll be ready for the lumps on Tuesday when I return to work. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cutting Off One's Nose to Spite One's Face

AS SOMEONE WHO WRITES for a living, albeit in a different field, I have made no secret here I am fully and completely in support of the Writers Guild of America in their strike against their paymasters, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Simply put, as a writer myself, I think it's important that writers get paid for their work, and receive a fair share of the revenues that result from their efforts. This is a notoriously difficult thing in the entertainment industry, where normal business procedures revolve around screwing writers whilst an army of producers and to a lesser extent actors get all the money.

Fittingly enough given the issues on the table, the best place to get information about the month-old strike is on an Internet site known as Deadline Hollywood Daily, which veteran journalist Nikki Finke writes. At present, we learn from Ms Finke, the AMPTP are playing hardball and have walked away from negotiations, while the WGA is understandably refusing to give into the producers' demands.

For the moment, anyway, the networks are doing fine. Their revenues aren't great but their costs are way down and that means profit and profit is good. But that situation can't last forever, of course. So my question is this: at what point, from the producers' view, does allowing the writers' strike to continue mean they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces?

I mean, as a member of the Key 18-34 Demographic, about all I watch on television are professional sports and, to a lesser extent, news programs. This is because the shows the Hollywood producers vomit out onto the airwaves are shit. Should the strike continue, the airwaves will be increasingly filled with reality television programs and game shows and other entertainment that will prove particularly foul shit. As such, they're not going to gain much of an audience among people like me, who have some measure of disposable income and are prone to cleverly-produced advertisements for imported beer, electronic gadgetry and major durable goods, viz:

How I wish I could justify buying one of those. Oh, well. Anyway, my point is this. We already know the ratings are down because of the strike, which means people have already stopped watching network television as a result. That trend should continue because, as amazing as it may seem to the brain trust in Los Angeles, the American people have a limit as to how much crap they can stomach. No, really. I'm not kidding.

Sure, there's a demographic out there that will lap up everything thrown at it, but it's fair to say in our winner-take-all society they won't have the resources to buy the goods advertisers want to sell them. In the meantime, though, most viewers will seek out other forms of entertainment in an increasingly fractionalized marketplace. Will they return once the strike is over? At least some won't -- and if nothing good is on, well, then it's really up in the air.

One wonders how much that will have an effect on the networks' bottom lines. They may be doing all right for the moment, but in the end they may come to realize their hardball tactics have meant they've cut off their noses to spite their faces.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 08, 2007


SO TONIGHT, I WAS thinking about what every normal person thinks about on a Saturday night: inflation figures.

Earlier this week, I was surfing around the Internet when I came to a fascinating site called Shadow Government Statistics, which a researcher in Oakland, Calif., compiles. It's a subscription site but I found the main graph on it particularly interesting. Apparently, the Government has changed the way it calculates inflation, and Dr John Williams has been tracking not only the Government's official inflation rate but also the old inflation rate, the way it used to be calculated. Sadly, the inflation rate -- when calculated like it used to be -- is significantly higher than the official rate. By, like, four percentage points.

This means, as one can deduce from the helpful main graph on Dr Williams' site, that official inflation is now around 3 pc, while the arguably real rate of inflation is about 7 pc. One could thus argue we've gone from a situation where inflation is under control to one where inflation is now somewhat worrisome. Even worse, one could argue that if this real inflation gets any higher, we'll find ourselves dealing with stagflation. This is doubleplusungood.

But then -- how does one measure the thing?

On one hand, we know the prices of basic staples and goods are increasing. We know food prices have gone up, that energy prices have gone up, and that medical costs have gone up. In all three cases, one can point to double-digit annual cost increases. The price of housing has gone up remarkably over the past several years, this present downturn notwithstanding. The price of raw materials has increased markedly, as one can see from looking at the commodities markets.

On the other hand, though, we know that technological innovation, competition among businesses, and unbalanced trade equations have helped push the price of many goods down. For instance, computers and other electronic gadgets have become cheaper as technology improves. One could argue the cost of clothing and other essential goods has gone down due to cheap imports from abroad. Technological innovation has also arguably pushed down the cost of major durable goods. For instance, my new used car is more technologically advanced than my old car, even though it cost half what my old car cost back in 1998.

This puts us in a quandary. For we also know that in some cases, official statistics are often subject to extensive revision. For instance, the Government's jobs figures are reported every month on a preliminary basis. Later, we learn revisions were made and suddenly, the picture is far brighter (or dimmer) than it had been. Yet everyone jumps on the initial report and no one notices the revised numbers.

This leads me to two conclusions. The first is that one can solve the initial quandary through splitting the difference, putting inflation at about five percent or so. This may not be an elegant solution but it would at least counter the Government's seemingly low inflation figures with data that reflects real-world experience. The second is to argue that there are really two different inflation rates: one for the elite and one for the masses. A significant uptick in food and energy prices will necessarily hit the poor harder than it would the middle or upper-middle class, while a drop in electronics prices will necesssarily benefit the better-off portion of society more than the poor.

See, this is why you read The Rant -- because you know that you'll necessarily get something different, because I'm one of four people interested in these types of things!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 06, 2007

Inadvertently Funny Line of the Month

"The really amazing part of this whole process is the fact that there is substantial documentation to prove all of the allegations of our lawsuit."

-- Daniel Duffy
Chief Executive
Sebastian River Holdings Inc. (SBRV.PK)

(as seen on PR Newswire)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2007

Mad Englishwoman Calls for Reintroduction of Rationing

I'VE READ SOME STRANGE THINGS in my time, but this essay from Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting must really take the cake. Ms Bunting, noting that no less a pillar of competency than the United Nations has said the developed world must cut its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 to stave off climate change, believes that only a low-consumption economy will allow this happenstance to come about. As such, she believes that state-ordered rationing -- with the little passbooks and everything -- is the best way to make this come about.

And, as Ms Bunting notes, it's been done before! She writes:

Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the second world war. This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book Ecological Debt, demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals (and their ability to act on that coffee-stained pamphlet), but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax. This will be the stuff of 21st-century politics - something that, right now, all the main political parties are much too scared to admit.

I don't mean to be a spoilsport here, but isn't it worth noting the reason Britain had the rationing was because, you know, they were fighting the Nazis? I mean, I don't know about you, but to me, "fighting the Nazis" makes it a heck of a lot easier to ration stuff compared to "preventing climate change." Especially when you consider the potential tradeoffs. An Englishman who gave up beef in the early Forties at least knew his sacrifice would help Our Boys kill the ravaging Hitlerite hordes stomping over Europe. An Englishman who gave up beef today would have to be content with saving mosquitoes and polar bears and fruit bats and a wide variety of God's creatures who really could care less about his existence, and who would tear him to pieces if given the opportunity. They're animals; that's what they do. They don't wax on eloquently about the beauty of the Government's latest white paper on ecological engineering.

Besides, a big reason rationing was in existence -- and why it worked -- was because Britain, during the war, was in many ways a closed economy. After all, it wasn't exactly easy to conduct trade when the U-Boats were sinking everything in sight. Rationing only works in a time of scarceness, not of plenty. On a related note, it's worth noting what happened during and after the war when outside influences were able to arrive in Britain. Myriad legions of American troops -- who, if I recall correctly, were oversexed, overpaid and over here -- descended upon Britain and got all the girls. Sixty thousand marriages resulted from our occupation of the British Isles and God knows how much other stuff went on. If Britain re-introduced rationing, it would mean that all sorts of foreigners -- and especially Americans -- would swoop in and get all the girls. So I would ask the English and Ms Bunting: do you really want this to happen again?

Hey, wait a minute.

You know, on second thought, I've changed my mind. Therefore, I call on all Britons to immediately implement Ms Bunting's rationing plan. Come on, do it! It's for the planet, you selfish scoundrels! Start patiently queueing up for passbooks and ration cards and dig out your copies of those old recipe booklets from the Ministry of Food. They should be at your local libraries.

Once you've done that, it shouldn't take much longer for you to start queueing up for your weekly allotments of cooking fat and tinned vegetables. Oh, and let me know when you've got things underway, because I've called dibs on asking out Geri Halliwell. Foxy!

(via Samizdata)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 04, 2007

This Was Funny At the Time

REMEMBER THIS COMMERCIAL? Heh. I loved this when it came out. The kicker, of course, is the possibility E*Trade Financial Corp. may go the same way as, and the sock puppet. Heh. It's the Blade Runner curse for the 21st century!

Anyway, much to my annoyance, I am now losing money on ETFC, which is now down to $3.91 per share. What's that? OK, so I'm only losing $20. No, not $20,000 -- $20. I told you I didn't invest much in the stupid thing, and I wasn't kidding. I mean, I'm not that crazy. But I digress.

Over the past couple of days, ETFC has had its ass kicked because yet another idiot analyst downgraded it -- this time because of the Citadel deal. The analyst set a target price of $2 and said the company wouldn't make any money in 2008.

How do I know the analyst is an idiot? Because I own the stock. Duh. If he upgraded it, he'd be a genius.

In all seriousness, though, this is what happens when you buy an extremely volatile stock in an extremely volatile market and approximately 90 percent of the volume involves day traders, hedge funds and other speculators trying to squeeze out pennies on their trades. I have no doubt the analyst is an extremely smart and reasonable person, and it's entirely possible his report will prove correct, just like it's entirely possible that Citigroup analyst's report -- which started this whole rigamarole -- will prove correct. However, I am guessing that Mr Ken Griffin, Citadel's chief, is smarter than the analysts.

After all, if Mr Griffin's investment goes south, Citadel is out upwards of $2 billion, because the fund's $1.75 billion loan will go bye-bye and its $400m in E*Trade stock will be worth less than a roll of toilet paper. (Those certificates aren't Charmin soft). As a result, I figure Mr Griffin is not going to let E*Trade collapse. I also figure he just plans to wait until the market turns eventually, and then cackle maniacally as he reaps in untold profits as a result of the deal. In the meantime, he can do fun things like castigate E*Trade's management at company board meetings.

As a result, I figure I can keep my E*Trade stock for a while, because I bought it at an near-low (even if it is now lower) and it will hopefully rebound sometime in the near future. Like next Tuesday. But even if it takes until 2010 or 2011, that's not really a concern for me, because I'm looking at a pretty nifty risk-reward equation. If it bombs, I'm out a few hundred bucks. If it scores, I could theoretically do pretty well. Now comes the waiting game. Winning it will require a bit of intestinal fortitude.

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The beta on ETFC is 3.16. You'd have to be downright certifiable to think this would be a safe, prudent and reasonable investment. As such, it would make sense to buy an industrial-sized bottle of Pepto-Bismol if you were actually crazy enough to buy into it. Speaking of Pepto-Bismol, look at PG -- it's near a 52-week-high! I wonder if there's any connection. Nah.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Here Comes Another Bubble ...


The last time this happened, didn't we all agree we weren't going to let the goddamned tech-savvy teenagers put us over a barrel again? Didn't we? I'm just pointing it out. I seem to remember distinctly we all agreed we wouldn't let anyone who couldn't be bothered to wear a suit to an investor presentation get any venture capital money. Oh, and we weren't going to invest with anyone who regularly used the word "dude" in conversation.

Anyway. My favorite stanza? I mean, aside from the blogging comments?

make yourself a million bucks
partly skill, mostly luck
now you can afford a down payment
on a small house

Heard that, brother. Anyway, this video is a beautiful thing. With the exception of Google, I think it's probably true.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 03, 2007

Consider the Gauntlet Thrown

OH, JOY! OH, RAPTURE! How wonderful was it to see the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers -- actually looking somewhat glorious -- defeat the hated Cincinnati Bengals Sunday evening at Heinz Field. While the Bengals got off to a strong start, driving for a touchdown on their opening possession, that was about all they could do offensively in the Steelers' triumphant 24-10 victory. As for the Steelers, the running game looked pretty sharp, the offensive line actually performed well, our receivers were outstanding and our defense was phenomenal.

Perhaps the best part was that we achieved the victory without Santonio Holmes, Troy Polamalu, Najeh Davenport and Marvel Smith -- four of our top players. They've been hurt. I suspect that our clever coach, Mr Mike Tomlin, decided to rest the four so they'll be in top shape for our game against the evil New England Patriots next week. We'll get to the Patriots in a bit, but first we must talk smack about the Bengals.

Boy, did they stink up the joint. While I have to admit that even I have a soft spot for Chad Johnson, the Bengals' flamboyant wide receiver, I do not share such emotion when it comes to the Bengals' other key wide receiver, the loathesome T. J. Houshmandzadeh. No. 84's key contribution to the game tonight involved whining to the officials about imagined infractions the Steelers' defenders supposedly committed, and it was enjoyable to see his frustration and anger. This is, after all, a player who wiped his feet with a Terrible Towel, and as such no Steelers fan can ever show him mercy, much less respect. As for the Bengals organization, like all Steelers fans I hope they are able to work out the extended legal troubles facing so many of their players, because it's clearly a distraction for them. That doesn't make for good football.

Now, I would remind the Bengals and their fans that there's always next year, and that you'll have a chance to beat us then. In the meantime, go home. Take a powder. Get a relaxing massage. It'll help take your mind off your 4-8 record and your blown playoff hopes, to say nothing of this:

Who dey? We dey.

The other NFL action today was pretty exciting. I thought Cleveland got robbed in its comeback attempt against the Arizona Cardinals, and I was sorry to see the Browns lose. Not entirely sorry, though, because it put Pittsburgh one game closer to winning the AFC North and giving us an automatic playoff berth. I was sorry to hear the Minnesota Vikings blew out the Detroit Lions, and I was also sorry to see the New York Giants launch an amazing comeback against the Chicago Bears. I don't like the Giants and I don't like their coach and I don't like their quarterback, the younger brother of Rocket Arm, and so I was sorry to see them emerge victorious from a hard-fought game.

Speaking of hard-fought games, I was somewhat pleased to see the Buffalo Bills pull off a victory against the Washington Redskins. I felt bad about the whole Sean Taylor situation, of course -- what a tragedy for such a talented athlete to be cut down in his prime, and while at home defending his family from intruders. Still, I'm certainly not a Redskins fan, and for the Bills to pull off the win thanks to an idiotic coaching decision on the part of Joe Gibbs -- well, I'm not going to complain about it. I did feel a moment of pity for Gibbs, though -- he knew it had cost his team the game and you could see the hurt and regret on his face. They have certainly had a bad week.

I was not at all pleased to see the Indianapolis Colts and Rocket Arm cruise to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, especially because it seemed as if Jacksonville really had some good momentum going for them. But they just couldn't get the job done.

But moving on. On Sunday evening, the gang back at Heinz Field put up a banner that taunted the New England Patriots with the legend: "Five Rings. No Cheating." For the record, I'd like to say that I do not consider this the wisest thing Pittsburgh fans could have done leading into next week's game. Now the Patriots will undoubtedly get all worked up and make a point of throwing everything at us, when it seemed pretty clear this was setting up to be a Classic Trap Game in which we could have sneaked into Foxboro and lit out with a victory.

But what's done is done. Furthermore, since the fans at Heinz Field decided to go great guns with the trash-talking, I guess that frees me up to talk smack about the New England Patriots. Even though I'm going to regret it. Even though I've been talking about our upcoming game against the Pats with the phrase "God help us" attached at the end of every sentence. Even though I'm going to get teased about it at work all next week, after New England beats us 42-3. Let's get the party started.

It pains me to write what I'm about to write, because I'm writing about a Michigan man and I don't like to speak ill of fellow Michigan graduates. But here goes:

Tom Brady is a candyass.

There. I said it. And I'm sorry I had to say it, but someone must. Have you ever noticed how much Brady whines to the officials? Let's say there's a hard-fought defensive blitz that pressures Brady considerably, and half a second after Brady releases the ball a defensive lineman lays a hand on him, potentially smudging that glare-reducing stuff the players wear. Quarterback Candyass will gripe and moan to the officials. Does a call not go Brady's way? Gripe and moan. Does the offensive line get overpowered? Gripe and moan.

I mean, I'm sorry, but come on. It's petulant and unmanly and conduct unbecoming of a Michigan graduate. So I would ask Brady to stop it. Because I don't want to see it on Sunday afternoon. Especially if Pittsburgh's defense plays like Pittsburgh's defense and shreds Brady's Five Layers of Protection and slams him to that not-grass turf-stuff New England has at its field. Play the game.

That said, I can only hope that Pittsburgh's defense plays like Pittsburgh's defense next week, because Brady is too good for us not to bring anything other than our "A game" to the contest. We have got to hurry him. We have got to sack him. We have got to make him throw interceptions. In short, we've got to make him break. New England has too many offensive weapons for us to not throw everything we have at him.

On the other side of the ball, I can only hope Pittsburgh's offensive line -- which looks improved -- will play at top form. I can also only hope our receiving corps will play at top form. New England has a good defense, but it's not a great defense and there's opportunity for us if we don't make stupid decisions. Traditionally, Pittsburgh fans are willing to give Parker a fumble and Roethlisberger an interception, but in this game, we've got to rescind the allowance and demand top form. If only to humble Evil Genius Hobo Coach.

For let's face it -- most football fans, myself included, would like the Patriots if it wasn't for Bill Belichick, whose professional conduct makes the Grinch look like Santa Claus. Every player on the Patriots, after all, is likeable -- although Brady annoys me because he is so good, I actually kind of like the guy, and I like Maroney and Samuel and Bruschi and the Five Layers of Protection. But Belichick fouls the nest. For me, as a Pittsburgh fan, the most enjoyable thing about the idea of beating the Patriots isn't just that we'll have proved to the league that we can compete -- it's that we'll have humbled that son-of-a-gun. Oh, and it'll shut up Tony Kornheiser for as much as three minutes.

Regardless, though, even though I don't like the Patriots and don't like Belichick and wish Tommy Boy would stop whining, I must say that I still give the Patriots the Boba Fett Nod of Respect. They're too good not to do so. And since the Patriots are so good that they may well beat the Steelers like 56-7 on Sunday, and I'll be mocked until June as a result, I have just one request for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they go into Foxboro:

Leave nothing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack